Alabama Crimson Tide: Jeremy Johnson

SEC's lunch links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
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The SEC has been pumping out internet memes lately. Over the weekend there was Gene Chizik staring down his daughter's prom date. Then during Monday night's basketball national championship game, rapper Drake's many sports allegiances (Kentucky among them) were on display. Oh, and the kid Cats lost to UConn and then acted like they'd never heard of the NBA draft.

Let's swim back into the friendlier waters of SEC football, shall we?

SEC lunchtime links

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
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Spring storylines abound this week around the SEC. Let's take a quick spin around the league to see what's happening.

SEC lunchtime links

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
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Yes, it's that time of year where the talk is centered on the hardwood and brackets, but don't forget, spring football and pro days are in full swing, so there is still much to talk about on the gridiron. A sampling of news, notes and nuggets from around the SEC today:

1993: The forgotten Iron Bowl

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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It's easy to understand the hype for this year's matchup of No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn. But imagine a game so huge that it sold out two stadiums at the same time.

It's the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Iron Bowl, one of the most unusual matchups in the rivalry's history. That year, defending national champion Alabama was 8-1-1 heading into a matchup with 10-0 Auburn.

But since Auburn was on probation, the game at Jordan-Hare Stadium would become the only battle between the Tide and the Tigers not shown on national television since 1981. And fans clamored to watch it: tickets for that game ($500) were more expensive than they are today ($300).

[+] EnlargeIron Bowl
Courtesy Bryant Museum Alabama fans who couldn't get to the '93 Iron Bowl in person watched on the stadium screen at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
As a result, 47,421 tickets were sold at Bryant-Denny Stadium to see the game via simulcast -- to watch a game on an empty field, on a video board that's nowhere near the size or quality seen in stadiums today. It's widely hailed as the only game ever to sell out two stadiums. But in actuality, Bryant-Denny Stadium seated many more; it just didn't make sense to sell more tickets with the limited sight angles.

Whatever hype is being generated now might pale in comparison to the platitudes surrounding the game two decades ago. Not many broadcasts have ever started off like Auburn’s did that day.

"At a remote outpost in frozen South Korea, an Army sergeant tunes his radio to the Armed Forces Network to listen as he pulls guard duty along the DMZ," Auburn announcer Jim Fyffe said. "A Selma native in Fairbanks, Alaska, is hosting a listening party today with his friends, who will hear the game via telephone, all decked out in orange and blue. A sellout crowd of 85,000 will watch in person, while 44,000 more, who scarfed up all the available tickets, will view a closed-circuit telecast in Tuscaloosa, making this the only game to sell out two stadiums at one time.

"It impacts the lives of just about everyone who lives here or ever has. If your team wins, seashells and balloons. But losing means a whole year of pure agony. It's the annual meeting between Auburn and Alabama. Hello again, everybody. War Eagle! from Jordan-Hare Stadium."

Yet despite its lore, in many ways, it's the forgotten Iron Bowl. Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, the hero of the game, has lost pieces of it over the last two decades. Former Auburn coach Terry Bowden has, too. And like any good story, its legend has grown thanks to the limited amount of people who saw it.

[+] EnlargePatrick Nix
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesPatrick Nix knows making a big play in the Iron Bowl is something that will last forever.
But Nix's story carries a message. If current Auburn backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson is listening, Nix says to be ready.

"Someone asked me the other day if this kind of game can make or break somebody, and I think I'm living proof that it can,” Nix said. “You don't know if it's going to be Jeremy Johnson, or it's going to be a backup DB who comes in and makes an interception, or a defensive end that's down the line and makes a crucial sack. You don't know who it will be in a game like this and who will be remembered.

"That's what makes this game so special and this rivalry so special is that it is that big and everyone knows exactly where they are when things like that happen."

Nix is speaking from experience, particularly his time coming off the bench for Auburn in the 1993 Iron Bowl. He came on for the injured Stan White and led a remarkable comeback that sealed the Tigers’ undefeated season.

He has talked about the game countless times, but now, 20 years later, he can't seem to recall who said what and when.

All Nix remembers of that November afternoon is the blasted fourth-and-14 play after White went down with a knee injury. Oddly enough, Nix remembers exactly where his helmet was -- under the bench where a grad assistant left it, just in case. And he can recall fondly how he lobbied his coaches to go for it. Bowden, Auburn's first-year head coach, finally had to tell him to shut up and run the play that very few actually saw, yet everyone professes to remember.

"The story has been exaggerated over the years," Nix said. "One time it's me throwing the winning pass, a last-second pass and all this kind of stuff, and none of that was true. It was the middle of the third quarter and we were still losing.

"There's been a lot of talk of 'Nix to Sanders,' and it all starts with that '93 game."

"I'll be honest with you: I probably gave a great speech because I was so excited, but I don't remember," said Bowden, now the head coach at Akron. "I'd like to think I gave a speech that had an impact on the players, but I've given too many that I thought were great but didn't do much. If I did, I'm glad that I did, but over the years, this being the 20th anniversary, too many pregame speeches have run together."

[+] EnlargeJordan-Hare Stadium
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesJordan-Hare Stadium will play host to this year's Iron Bowl, but which team will create a lasting memory?
It's funny, Nix explained, that so many fans remember the touchdown he threw to Frank Sanders as the winning play -- a beautiful lob pass down the near sideline just shy of the goal line -- when in fact it only pulled Auburn within two points. It took a field goal and a late touchdown run to seal the victory.

"The hard work paid off," said Nix, who has gone on to lead the football program at Scottsboro High (Ala.). "The coaches knew how hard I prepared for that moment, never knowing it was going to be like that. And when it came, I took advantage of it."

"When I put Patrick Nix in, his arm's not so strong that he could throw the takeoff to the field side, so I flipped my formation and put Frank in the boundary," Bowden said of the famous touchdown pass. "Well, you see Antonio Langham start to come halfway across the field before he waved himself off. The other cornerback was good, but Antonio was a first-rounder. Well, I always wonder if Frank could have out-jumped Antonio."

A replay of the broadcast can be found online, but for those at the center of the game, some memories have faded in the last 20 years.

"There are a bunch of stories I've heard about where people were when I completed that pass against Alabama," Nix said. "Probably the craziest one was that someone was at a funeral and they were riding in the procession in the car. They were one of the pallbearers and they all wouldn't get out of the car at the funeral because of the fourth-down play. All the pallbearers stayed in the car listening to the radio, and then when it was completed the car just went crazy, rocking and everything. They all had to get out of the car and be very solemn and they were all trying to control themselves at a funeral.

"It's a different rivalry, a different deal and people don't always act quite sane over it. But it's a lot of fun."

SEC lunchtime links

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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We’re already past the midway point, and the SEC is still very much up for grabs. Here’s a look at the latest headlines from Saturday’s action and what it all means.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
12:00
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It's Friday which means it's time for the #SECMailbag. Use the hashtag on Twitter or tweet directly at me at @AlexS_ESPN with your questions and comments. Hurry, and I'll do my best to get them in a post later this afternoon.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray is on the verge of breaking several SEC career records, but also needs to help keep Georgia in the SEC East race.
1. Missouri offense vs. Florida defense: Missouri earned its biggest victory in its year-plus in the SEC last weekend when it beat Georgia. The Tigers' challenging October schedule continues this week when No. 22 Florida brings its fearsome defense to Columbia, and the Tigers must face those Gators without starting quarterback James Franklin, who separated his shoulder against Georgia. Freshman Maty Mauk did a fine job against Georgia's subpar defense, but he will face few stiffer challenges than what he'll face Saturday against a Florida defense that is allowing just 235.3 yards per game. Mizzou is third in the SEC in total offense with an average of 515.7 yards per game, so the many talented skill players at Mauk's disposal will have to give the new starter a hand on Saturday.

2. Record watch in Nashville: In Saturday's Georgia-Vanderbilt game, a handful of SEC career records could fall. With 112 career touchdown passes, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is just two behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record. And with 12,203 career yards of total offense, Murray needs 29 yards to match Tim Tebow's SEC mark. On the other sideline, Vandy's Jordan Matthews needs 97 receiving yards to match Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 yards. Matthews had 119 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season.

3. Gators running game: With the news this week that running back Matt Jones became the seventh Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury, the Gators' running game is now largely in the hands of Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. Brown has been solid enough thus far, rushing for a team-high 340 yards. But Taylor is the guy many Gators fans are excited about. The son of UF great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor has rushed 16 times for 98 yards (6.1 per carry), including 10 carries for 52 yards in last week's slugfest against LSU. Missouri's run defense ranks third in the SEC at 126.2 YPG, but Georgia freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas ran for 157 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry against the Tigers' last week. The Gators probably need Brown and Taylor to be similarly productive in order to hang with the Tigers' prolific offense.

4. Marshall back for Auburn: After sitting out last week's blowout win against Western Carolina with a knee injury, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall returns to the lineup this week against Texas A&M. Marshall rushed for 140 yards -- the most by an SEC quarterback this season -- in his last game, the Tigers' 30-22 win on Oct. 5 against then-No. 24 Ole Miss. He led the resurgent Tigers to a 4-1 record before taking a seat last week while true freshman Jeremy Johnson played for the first time -- and won SEC Freshman of the Week honors -- against the overmatched Catamounts.

5. Can Georgia recover? With half a dozen starters sidelined last week against Missouri, Georgia lost its first home game since September 2011. Now the Bulldogs limp to Vanderbilt, where they have struggled in two of their last three visits before earning narrow wins. UGA hopes to reach next week's open date with its SEC East hopes still intact. All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley likely still won't play this week, so the Bulldogs' offense must hope Murray, freshman tailbacks Green and Douglas and their crew of replacement wideouts can generate enough offense to outscore the slumping Commodores.

6. Vols back from open date: The last time we saw Tennessee, it came within an eyelash of upsetting then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime. First-year coach Butch Jones' team took last weekend off and now has another enormous test on its hands: a visit from No. 11 South Carolina, which finally seems to be hitting its stride after some early struggles. Volunteers fans are optimistic about the new coaching staff, but their team hasn't beaten a ranked opponent in its last 19 tries. Their next four opponents are all ranked in this week's AP Top 25.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze and Bo Wallace will try to snap Ole Miss' losing streak against LSU this weekend.
7. Can Hogs “snap out of it?” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said this week that he doesn't want his players to be a bunch of “Debbie Downers” after Saturday's 52-7 loss to South Carolina. That was the Razorbacks' fourth straight loss, the most lopsided loss of Bielema's coaching career and matching his worst defeat as a head coach. Unfortunately for Arkansas, it visits No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, where it will be a four-touchdown underdog. It could be a long second half of the season for the Razorbacks.

8. Maintaining historic run: The SEC set a record when Auburn jumped into this week's AP Top 25, giving the conference eight ranked teams. But that historic total might be short-lived. At No. 24, Auburn will likely drop out if it loses on Saturday at No. 7 Texas A&M. No. 15 Georgia and No. 22 Florida also can't afford a loss if they want to remain in the poll next week.

9. Repeat performance for Aggies? Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense gained 671 total yards, the most ever allowed by an Auburn defense, in last season's 63-21 win against the Tigers. Those 63 points also represented the third-most points ever scored against the Tigers. If that wasn't the last straw for then-coach Gene Chizik and his staff, it was awfully close. New coach Gus Malzahn has instilled new optimism on the Plains. The Tigers are a ranked team for the first time since November 2011, but the Aggies are still a two-touchdown favorite.

10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
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No, I'm not going to stand up here and scream, "Hump Day!" like that lazy camel. Instead, I'll simply point out that since it is Wednesday we're only some 24 merciful hours away from a quality college football game between No. 10 Miami and North Carolina. And I think we can all agree that watching football is much more enjoyable than watching an animal sell us insurance.
  • ESPN's Mark May and Lou Holtz debated whether Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was the most valuable player in college football this past weekend. What was McCarron's response? Pretty much what you'd expect: "It's an honor but I'd be the first one to tell you I'm nothing without these guys."
  • Nick Marshall will start at quarterback for Auburn against Texas A&M this weekend, but Jeremy Johnson is supposed to play too. It will be interesting to see how he's used. As coach Gus Malzahn put it, "We don't want to give all our secrets away."
  • Arkansas is standing by its struggling quarterback with a road trip to Alabama coming this Saturday. Brandon Allen hasn't played well of late, but coach Bret Bielema insists, "There's no doubt in my mind that he gives us the best option, 100 percent."
  • Steve Spurrier did what any good coach should when he stood up and vouched for his quarterback. South Carolina's Connor Shaw isn't viewed as an NFL prospect, but Spurrier believes he should be.
  • "How does he exert control on me?" Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease responded when asked whether coach Will Muschamp, a defensive guy at heart, was handcuffing his play-calling. After struggling offensively, it's easy to see why people are trying to connect the dots as to why.
  • A roster decimated by injuries has left Ole Miss with few options.
  • "It's really not anything magical," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham explained. There are reasons why the defense has struggled, but it all comes down to execution.
  • Texas A&M senior wide receiver Travis Labhart took the long road to College Station. When teammates kidded him about acting like he'd been in the endzone before, his response was classic: "And I was just like 'I haven't.' Not in five years."
  • It's easy to look at Johnny Manziel and the wealth of talent in College Station and ask how much coach Kevin Sumlin really has to do with Texas A&M success. When answering that question, though, you come to the conclusion that he's an elite coach.
  • Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson is ready for his rematch with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.
  • The circumstances are irrelevant. The fact that there were any empty seats in Tigers Stadium when Florida came to town reflected poorly on LSU football.
  • In following Missouri's blueprint, Vanderbilt hopes to turn up the pressure on Georgia and quarterback Aaron Murray.
  • As reports of his injury status circulated Saturday, Missouri quarterback James Franklin was totally in the dark. His phone dead, he focused solely on what would come next. While he heals, he says he's looking to help Maty Mauk under center.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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The SEC East is like the Wild West, while Alabama is still in control of the West. Also, eight teams from the SEC are ranked in the AP poll. What a fun conference:

1. Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC; last week: 1): Twitter was ablaze with tweets concerning Alabama's slow start at Kentucky. That worry quickly left after the Crimson Tide scored 31 consecutive points in the first half and cruised to a 48-7 win. Alabama isn't perfect, but it still has a hold on the SEC and is still the country's top team.

2. Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Aggies certainly don't have much of a defense, but it doesn't really matter with Johnny Manziel running the show. For the second consecutive year, Manziel led a come-from-behind, game-winning drive against Ole Miss in Oxford. Not even a freak knee injury could slow him down. As long as he's making defenses look silly, the Aggies are a title contender.

3. LSU (6-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 4): So there's that LSU defense we know and love. After some questionable early play, the Tigers defense held Florida to six points and just 240 yards of offense. With relentless pressure from the LSU defense, Florida's offense wilted inside of Tiger Stadium. LSU's offense wasn't great, but running back Jeremy Hill rushed for 121 yards against the nation's No. 1 rush defense.

4. Missouri (6-0, 2-0 SEC; LW: 7): Yeah, we all saw this one coming. These Tigers are undefeated and have the SEC's second-hottest offense behind Texas A&M. Mizzou strutted into Athens over the weekend and walked out with a win and their chests puffed out after a 41-26 win. The question now is if the Tigers can keep their momentum with quarterback James Franklin sidelined with a shoulder injury. It's Maty Mauk time in Columbia.

5. Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Bulldogs defense struggled in the first half against Mizzou, but offensive mistakes really cost Georgia against the Tigers. Georgia was banged up on both sides of the ball and just didn't have the offensive star power around Aaron Murray to make a run late. It has been a rough week for the state of Georgia in the world of sports, and an unhealthy Bulldogs team is really hurting heading into its trip to Vanderbilt.

6. South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 6): Like LSU, we finally saw a balanced, solid defensive performance in a big game from the Gamecocks. Arkansas' running game churned out more than 200 yards, but the Gamecocks shut down the Hogs passing game, allowing just 30 yards on 4-of-13 passing. Connor Shaw continues to prove that he's made out of titanium and Mike Davis has rushed for 100-plus yards in five of six games.

7. Florida (4-2, 3-1 SEC; LW: 5): The Gators just couldn't get anything going on offense in Baton Rouge. Quarterback Tyler Murphy looked bewildered against LSU's blitz, and the offensive line crumbled under pressure. The offense averaged just 3.5 yards per play. The defense gave up some big plays, but held Zach Mettenberger to just 152 yards and a QBR of 46.7. No one would have blamed Florida's defense if it didn't allow the offense on the plane home Saturday.

8. Auburn (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 8): No, the Tigers weren't playing hefty competition over the weekend, but this team is getting pretty fun to watch. Even without starting quarterback Nick Marshall, the Tigers registered 712 yards behind Jeremy Johnson in their 62-3 win over Western Carolina. Also, 511 of those yards came on the ground. Watch out for these Tigers.

9. Ole Miss (3-3, 1-3 SEC; LW: 9): How do you not run the ball on your final possession with Johnny Football standing on the other sideline? You can't give Manziel time to work with, and after the Rebels threw three straight incomplete passes on their last drive, Manziel was given 2:33 seconds to drive and win the game. He did, and the Rebels, who had their defense gashed, lost their third straight game.

10. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC; LW: 10): The Commodores were off this weekend, so this team got an extra week to work out some of those defensive kinks. They'll need everything to be ironed out with a frustrated Georgia team heading to town. Keep an eye on receiver Jordan Matthews. He has had a stellar start to the year and leads the SEC with 47 receptions and is third with 709 yards.

11. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 12): The Vols were off, but they moved up because of what happened while they were hanging out on the couch this weekend. Plus, almost beating Georgia two weeks ago was pretty impressive. This team still has a long way to go before it's truly competitive in the SEC, but the performance against Georgia might give the Vols some nice momentum for the rest of the season.

12. Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 13): The Bulldogs got quite the scare at home against Bowling Green. With a two-headed quarterback attack of Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott, Mississippi State slipped by the Falcons 21-20. It certainly wasn't pretty, but it was a must-win for the Bulldogs as they look to make it to the postseason. The Bulldogs are off this week, which is probably a good thing, as this team looks to regroup after an up-and-down first half of the season.

13. Arkansas (3-4, 0-3 SEC; LW: 11): Picking the Razorbacks to pull the upset over South Carolina was a major mental lapse on my part. The passing game was nonexistent against the Gamecocks and the defense was trampled on. This team can run the ball, but it just doesn't have an adequate passing game right now to make a real push in Bret Bielema's first season.

14. Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats had some fight early against Alabama, but then the talent difference put the Wildcats back in their place. Coach Mark Stoops said his team doesn't plan to cave and will be competitive from here on out. It has been a rough first year for Stoops, but attitude is everything when it comes to building.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 7

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
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Here are five things we learned in the SEC on Saturday:

We've got a race (Part 1): With its win against depleted Georgia on Saturday, Missouri jumped into the driver's seat in the SEC East. But this might be an ugly horse race as we move down the stretch. The Tigers are 2-0 in league play for now, but they lost quarterback James Franklin to a shoulder injury and still must face Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M. Previous division favorite Georgia has major injury issues of its own with a game against Florida and a trip to Auburn still on tap. Florida dropped its first conference game on Saturday (at LSU) and still must visit Missouri and South Carolina and face Georgia in Jacksonville. With its dominant win over Arkansas on Saturday, South Carolina suddenly looks like a contender again, but it still needs Georgia to lose another SEC game and must win at Missouri and at home against Florida. In other words, we've got gridlock ahead. It's entirely possible -- maybe even likely -- that whichever team represents the East in the SEC championship game will come in with two conference losses.

We've got a race (Part 2): Have we forgiven Alabama for its defensive shortcomings against Texas A&M yet? Because it's high time we did. A week or two back, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Florida has the best defense in the SEC. Alabama has thrown its hat back into the ring lately, however. Kentucky's third-quarter touchdown on Saturday ended a 14-quarter streak (dating back to the A&M game) in which Alabama opponents (Colorado State, Ole Miss, Georgia State and Kentucky) had failed to reach the end zone. Over that stretch, Alabama had outscored its opponents 125-9. Florida hasn't done anything to lose the crown -- the Gators held LSU's talented offense to just 327 yards and 17 points on Saturday, after all -- but Alabama is making up ground quickly.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesJadeveon Clowney and South Carolina made it clear they aren't taking the rest of the season off.
Rumors of their demise ... : There has been a seemingly endless array of drama at South Carolina since the season started, much of which centered around star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Entering Saturday's game at Arkansas, Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks had won three straight since their Week 2 loss at Georgia, but each game saw the Gamecocks barely holding on for narrow wins. Then came Saturday's 52-7 win against the Razorbacks, which represents the biggest loss in Arkansas coach Bret Bielema's career and perhaps a corner turned by the Gamecocks.

No Marshall, no problem: Nick Marshall missed Auburn's 62-3 win over Western Carolina on Saturday, but that's not the main reason freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson played -- and started -- for the first time this year. He played as an insurance policy, in case Marshall's injured knee prevents him from playing next week against Texas A&M. Marshall led the Tigers to a 4-1 record to open the season, and coach Gus Malzahn said he will reclaim the starting role once his knee is healthy enough for him to play again. But just in case Marshall's not ready come Week 8, Johnson's performance -- 17-for-21 for 201 yards and four touchdowns -- in Saturday's win was nice practice for the freshman ahead of a trip to College Station.

Road warriors: Once Texas A&M survived Ole Miss' upset bid, the Aggies joined three other SEC teams that won on the road Saturday. Missouri ended Georgia's 15-game home winning streak -- which was the league's longest active streak -- South Carolina won big at Arkansas, Alabama blasted Kentucky and the Aggies rallied to win 41-38 in Oxford. Florida was the league's only road loser on Saturday. Alabama, Missouri and Texas A&M are all 2-0 away from home in league play this season.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
10:20
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1. Will Clowney play?: There have been a lot of rumors flying around about South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and his last-minute decision to sit out against Kentucky. It didn’t go over well with coach Steve Spurrier based on the postgame comments. However, Spurrier defended his star player this week. Once again, Clowney is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas with a muscle strain near his rib area. He returned to practice on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Getty ImagesJames Franklin and Missouri can prove they're legit SEC contenders with a win at Georgia on Saturday.
2. Health concerns at UGA: The Bulldogs survived a scare in Knoxville last weekend, but they didn’t come out unscathed. They lost both running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending injuries while fellow wide receiver Michael Bennett will miss an extended period of time with a knee injury. Georgia will have to bounce back quickly with No. 25 Missouri coming to town on Saturday.

3. Mizzou a legitimate contender? It’s safe to say nobody had Missouri as one of the two unbeaten teams in the SEC heading into Week 7. But after an impressive road win at Vanderbilt, the Tigers are 5-0 and finally starting to gain some respect around the league. The next three weeks will be telling, though, as they play Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

4. LSU’s WRs versus Florida’s CBs: It’s a dream matchup for NFL scouts. LSU features what many consider to be the top wide receiver tandem in college football with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. However, Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy is arguably the top cornerback in the SEC, and playing opposite of him is freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who already has three interceptions. The Gators are also expecting the return of corner Marcus Roberson, another one who could soon be playing on Sundays.

5. Tyler Murphy in Death Valley: Since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback, Murphy has exceeded expectations for the Gators. In three games, he has thrown for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception, and he’s progressively gotten better. However, the junior signal-caller is in for his toughest assignment yet when Florida travels to LSU this weekend. How will he perform in a hostile atmosphere?

6. The return of Cooper: When will we see the real Amari Cooper, the one who had 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman for Alabama? The star wide receiver has been slowed by nagging injuries all season, but he expects to play Saturday against Kentucky. Will he be 100 percent? Quarterback AJ McCarron would love to have him back sooner rather than later.

7. Aggies without Ennis: As if Texas A&M’s rush defense wasn’t bad enough, the Aggies lost Kirby Ennis, one of their top interior linemen, for the season with a torn ACL. The injury comes at a bad time for the Aggies, who have to visit Ole Miss this weekend and deal with Rebels running back Jeff Scott, not to mention quarterback Bo Wallace. The staff will turn to freshman Isaiah Golden, who is expected to start alongside Alonzo Williams in the middle.

8. Shootout in Oxford: The SEC has featured its fair share of shootouts early in the college football season, and Saturday’s game between Ole Miss and Texas A&M could be right up there. Both teams feature an up-tempo offense, and neither one likes to waste much time between plays. It could be a long day for both defenses.

9. Big game for Bielema: After a 3-0 start, Arkansas has quickly fallen back to .500 with three consecutive losses. However, first-year coach Brett Bielema has a chance to notch his first signature victory with the Razorbacks this Saturday when they host No. 14 South Carolina. The Gamecocks have struggled in recent weeks and could be prime for an upset. It’s likely a must-win scenario for Arkansas if the Hogs want to reach a bowl game.

10. Auburn’s quarterback: Who will start for the Tigers against Western Carolina? Starter Nick Marshall injured his knee last weekend against Ole Miss, and although he’s expected to play, coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t made a ruling one way or the other. If Marshall can’t go, Auburn will either turn to returning starter Jonathan Wallace or true freshman Jeremy Johnson.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
12:10
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We're closing in on Week 6 in the SEC. Find out the latest rumblings in Thursday's sampling of news and notes from across the league.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
12:00
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Nobody likes Mondays, but everyone loves reading about the SEC. Here are a few stories to get you through the start of the week.

Podcast: Talking Tide, Aggies and more

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
2:00
PM ET
In the latest edition of the ESPNU College Football podcast, ESPN.com senior writer Ivan Maisel visits with SEC Bloggers Chris Low and Edward Aschoff about several topics, including the quarterback situation at Auburn, the importance of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and the the latest surrounding Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Click here for the podcast.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
12:15
PM ET
We're less than three weeks from the first college football games of the season, but there is still plenty of lineup shuffling occurring at some SEC schools. Take a look below.

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