Alabama Crimson Tide: Marcus Murphy

Every four years, we all have soccer fever. I have it 24/7, 365, but the World Cup helps bring out the inner futboler in all of us.

The United States is still trying to catch up to the rest of the world when it comes to the beautiful game, but fans have come out in full force this year to support arguably our most talented World Cup team. And I've even seen it from SEC football players this summer.

Tweets from football players concerning the World Cup have littered my news feed the past couple of weeks. It might be because of the enormous popularity of the "FIFA" video game series, but it's still great to see.

You know what else would be great to see? Athletes like the ones that amaze us every Saturday in the SEC playing some footy. Now, I realize that a lot of these guys might not be the agile athletes that glide all over the pitch with their size, but let's put that aside for a second. Let's expand our minds and have a little fun here. Let's imagine some of the SEC's best current athletes suiting up to make a squad of 11 to play the original football.

We're going with a 4-3-2-1 look, meaning we have four fullbacks and a striker up top. And remember: Please, no biting.

Note: Only one kicker made the cut because most of them played soccer growing up. We wanted to use our imaginations a little more here.

STRIKER
  • Marcus Murphy, RB, Missouri: He looks like a cannonball when he shoots through the line of scrimmage. He's incredibly agile and elusive and would give a healthy Jozy Altidore a run for his money. He makes the most of his opportunities and would be a ball specialist up top.
WINGERS
  • Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida: Yes, he's the SEC's best cornerback, but imagine that speed and athleticism up front. He played soccer growing up, and he's just too agile and quick to keep in the back. Plus, it's a major advantage to have a legitimate ballhawk at forward talk about takeaways at midfield!
  • Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: He was my first choice for goalkeeper because of that wingspan and those hands. But the more I thought about it, I want that speed, strength and athleticism leading the charge up front. He also has tremendous control. Wherever Treadwell is, he's the best pure athlete around.
MIDFIELDERS
  • O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Think Jermaine Jones: Big, fast and powerful. It's going to be tough to get past his intimidating frame, and he has the speed to track the long ball and create a lane for himself when he takes off. He'd be great on set pieces in both boxes with his size, and having him run up and down the field sounds frightening.
  • Landon Collins, S, Alabama: Just try to send the long ball over his head. He's the perfect player to have at center mid. He's your field general/ballhawk, who can take a lot of pressure off the defense. No one is getting behind him and he isn't afraid to challenge opponents. Just call him our enforcer.
  • Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Another big body in the middle who has great explosion. I need my midfield well conditioned, but I also need guys who are going to be able to attack and defend. With Gurley's strength, he won't get out-muscled for balls, and once he gains possession, he's gone. He also has superb field vision to own midfield.
FULLBACKS
  • Corey Grant, RB, Auburn: Like fellow SEC reporter Greg Ostendorf told me, "Think Fabian Johnson." Grant has a ton of speed to carry the ball up and be a threat to score, but he's also incredibly strong, so sitting back and playing defense would be something he'd thrive in on the pitch.
  • Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State: You want a captain and a brick wall heading up the middle of your defense? Well, just look at the thick, rock of a man that is McKinney. He definitely isn't afraid to get physical and with his drop back speed, getting behind him would be terribly tough. Challenge him!
  • Dalvin Tomlinson, DE, Alabama: Who? Yeah, you probably haven't heard of him, but we'll just call him the bowling ball in the back. Somehow, this big bruiser played varsity soccer in high school, so he'd bring good experience to the group. Plus, having an athletic 6-2, 287-pound presence in the middle is scary.
  • Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Like Grant, I love his speed on the back wing. He can carry the ball up and create plays for himself and his teammates, plus he can hustle back if a deep ball is sent. Oh, and that tank-like build will make him tough to beat outside the box.
GOALKEEPER
  • Josh Lambo, K, Texas A&M: As a keeper myself, this was the position I had to make sure was perfect. The only kicker on the team, Lambo started playing soccer at age four and eventually played for the U.S. men's under-20 team. He was also drafted eighth overall by the MLS' FC Dallas in 2008 before making it to A&M. No-brainer, really.

Ranking the SEC kick returners

June, 20, 2014
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Projecting a top 10 among kick returners from the SEC is difficult at this point, as many of those jobs will be up for grabs once preseason practice opens in August.

For instance, who will replace All-American Odell Beckham at LSU? It’s too early to know for sure, but you can bet he will probably be good enough to include on this list once the season gets rolling.

We do, however, know the identities of some of the SEC’s top return men -- starting with the ridiculously talented Christion Jones, Andre Debose and Marcus Murphy. We’ll take an educated guess at some of the other spots in today’s SEC kick return rankings.

[+] EnlargeChristion Jones
Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsElectric return man Christion Jones can be a game-changer for the Crimson Tide.
1. Christion Jones, Alabama: How good is Jones? The SEC’s career leader in kickoff return touchdowns (Debose) is on this list and we’re ranking Jones ahead of him. It’s just plain scary to kick the ball in Jones’ direction as his ranking second in the SEC in both kickoff returns (28.7 yards per return) and punt returns (14.0 ypr), plus his three return touchdowns last season, would indicate.

2. Andre Debose, Florida: Debose would have been a candidate for the top spot, but we’re not sure what kind of player he will be when he returns from a torn ACL suffered during preseason camp last season. If his speed and mobility come back, we’re talking about one of the most electric kick returners in SEC history.

3. Marcus Murphy, Missouri: A 2012 All-SEC pick who is capable of garnering All-America attention, particularly because of his skills as a punt returner, Murphy is one of the key returnees for a Tigers club that lost a lot of firepower. He scored 10 touchdowns on offense last season, but didn’t notch a TD on special teams a season after he found the end zone four times on returns. Murphy will compete for the starting tailback job, but thus far his biggest impact at Mizzou has come while serving as an excellent return man.

4. Devrin Young, Tennessee: A breakout candidate for the Vols before a broken hand cost him nearly half of the 2013 season, Young could be a huge difference maker for Tennessee this fall. He’s already fifth in Tennessee history with 1,575 career total kick and punt return yards. If he stays healthy, Young will move up that list in the fall.

5. Trey Williams, Texas A&M: His primary objective is probably to claim the starting running back job, but Williams is also scary as a return specialist. The shifty and lightning-quick junior ranked fifth in the SEC with an average of 25.2 ypr on kickoffs last season, a season after earning SEC All-Freshman team honors as a return man.

6. Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: It looks like both the kick and punt return jobs belong to Cooper after he handled those duties much of the time in 2013. He was a solid kickoff return man (22.4 ypr) and averaged 4.4 yards on nine punt returns. Cooper looks like a Bruce Ellington clone, possessing the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways -- particularly as a return specialist.

[+] EnlargeCorey Grant
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMICorey Grant could have a big season for the Tigers.
7. Corey Grant, Auburn: Grant hasn’t won this job yet, but he seems like a good choice to take over for Tre Mason. He averaged 10.0 yards per carry out of the backfield and 32.0 ypr in just five kickoff returns -- one of which went 90 yards for a touchdown against Tennessee. He has breakaway speed that Auburn’s coaches have to like in this role.

8. Jaylen Walton, Ole Miss: Another guy competing for a 2014 starting running back job, the diminutive Walton was impressive as a return man last season. In addition to his 523 rushing yards as a backfield mate for Jeff Scott and I’Tavius Mathers, he contributed 25 kickoff returns for 515 yards, good for a team-best average of 20.6 ypr.

9. De’Vante Harris, Texas A&M: A solid if unspectacular performer, Harris ranked sixth in the SEC with an average of 6.7 yards per punt return a season ago. He broke the Aggies’ season-long punt return in a win over SMU, snapping off a 30-yard runback.

10. Brandon Holloway, Mississippi State: Let’s make a speculative pick here. Holloway has nowhere near as much experience as Jameon Lewis as a return man, but he made some noise in limited action last season. As a full-time returner, he could become a star – although his hopes of becoming the Bulldogs’ running back might interfere. Holloway averaged 37.7 ypr on three kickoff returns, thanks in large part to a 95-yard runback against Alcorn State, and also had a 23-yard punt return in the Egg Bowl and a 13-yard return in the bowl win over Rice.
Today, our SEC position-by-position rankings move to an area that will see plenty of turnover throughout the league: special teams.

There are a ton of SEC heavyweights who lost key special teamers, like league champ Auburn -- which lost punter Steven Clark, kicker Cody Parkey, now-legendary return man Chris Davis and kickoff returner/tailback Tre Mason -- LSU (All-American Odell Beckham) and Alabama (punter Cody Mandell and kicker Cade Foster). That’s just a start.

The league is full of dynamic playmakers who can become stars in the return game, but as of right now, many SEC teams have questions to answer on special teams. That’s why teams that have returning veterans at those positions sit high in our rankings.

Special teams position rankings

1. Texas A&M: There aren’t many SEC teams that can make this claim, but the Aggies have a clean sweep of returning specialists. Leading the way is an All-American and Ruy Guy Award finalist at punter, Drew Kaser, who broke the school record with a 47.4-yard average last season. Texas A&M also has kicker Josh Lambo (8-for-10 on field goals in 2013), kickoff returner Trey Williams (25.2 yards per return, fifth in the SEC) and punt returner De’Vante Harris (6.7 yards per return, sixth in the SEC) back this fall. That’s a solid collection of talent that should help an Aggies team that certainly has some questions to answer on offense and defense.

2. Missouri: This is another squad that returns the key figures from a season ago, led by versatile return man Marcus Murphy. Murphy was fifth in the SEC in punt returns (7.0) and 11th in kickoff returns (22.2) while also contributing to the Tigers’ solid running game. Andrew Baggett (18-for-25 on field goals, 8.6 points per game) was the SEC’s second-leading scorer among kickers, and he returns along with punter Christian Brinser (41.0 yards per punt).

3. Georgia: Truth be told, Georgia was frequently terrible on special teams last season. The Bulldogs struggled to generate much of anything in the return game and experienced some issues with blocked punts. Coach Mark Richt changed the way the coaching staff will address special teams during the offseason, and perhaps that will make a difference. The individual specialists are actually pretty good -- particularly kicker Marshall Morgan, who should generate some All-America attention himself. Morgan was 22-for-24 (91.7 percent) and led all SEC kickers with an average of 10.3 points per game, truly one of the best seasons by a kicker in school history. Punters Collin Barber and Adam Erickson were mostly average, which is more than can be said for the Bulldogs’ return men. Keep an eye on freshman Isaiah McKenzie in August to see if he has a chance to contribute in the return game.

4. LSU: The return game will certainly suffer a blow without electric All-American Beckham -- the winner of last season’s Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player -- but LSU has no shortage of athletic players (running back Terrence Magee is one option) whom the coaches can plug into Beckham’s old spots. The Tigers are solid at kicker with Colby Delahoussaye, who led the SEC by making 92.9 percent of his field goals (13 of 14). They held a competition for the punting job during the spring between hot-and-cold Jamie Keehn (41.0 ypp) and walk-on Trent Domingue.

5. South Carolina: Here’s another one where experience helps, although the Gamecocks have much to improve upon this season. Punter Tyler Hull (37.8 ypp) is back, but South Carolina ranked last in the SEC with an average of 34.1 net yards per punt. They were mediocre both returning and covering kickoffs and at returning punts, although Pharoh Cooper (22.4 ypr on kickoffs and 4.4 ypr on punts) might be a breakout candidate for the Gamecocks this fall. Elliott Fry was a solid performer (15-for-18 on field goals, fourth in the SEC with 7.6 ppg) at place-kicker in 2013.

6. Alabama: The Crimson Tide should rank higher on this list by season’s end. After all, they have arguably the SEC’s top return man in Christion Jones (second in the league with 28.7 ypr on kickoffs and second with 14.0 ypr on punts). But they also lost a dynamic punter in Mandell and a place-kicker, Foster, who was solid last season before melting down in the Iron Bowl. Perhaps Adam Griffith (1-for-3 on field goals) will take over the kicking job, but Alabama also has high hopes for signee J.K. Scott, who is capable of kicking or punting in college.

7. Arkansas: The rankings start getting murky around the middle of the pack. Arkansas has a phenomenal punter back in ambidextrous Australian Sam Irwin-Hill (44.3 ypp, fifth in the SEC), but the Razorbacks also lost kicker Zach Hocker (13-for-15 on field goals) and punt returner Javontee Herndon. Kickoff returner Korliss Marshall (22.2 ypr, 10th in the SEC) is back. It would be huge for Arkansas if signee Cole Hedlund, USA Today’s first-team All-USA kicker for the Class of 2014, can come in and take over Hocker’s job.

8. Florida: We’re speculating here that Andre Debose comes back healthy and reclaims his job as the Gators’ kickoff return man. That would be a big deal since Debose is tied for the SEC’s career lead with four kickoff returns for touchdowns. Now-departed Solomon Patton did a great job in his place last season, averaging 29.2 ypr. The Gators also lost punt returner Marcus Roberson (9.2 ypr). The big issue, though, is at kicker, where former top kicking prospect Austin Hardin (4-for-12 on field goals) was awful last season and eventually gave way to Francisco Velez (6-for-8). Likewise, Johnny Townsend (42.0 ypp) took over at punter for former Groza finalist Kyle Christy (39.6) because of a slump, although both are back.

9. Kentucky: Although the Wildcats lost a solid kicker in Joe Mansour (12-for-14 on field goals), they still have several solid players returning. They include punt returner Demarco Robinson (10.4 ypr), kickoff returner Javess Blue (20.4 ypr) and punter Landon Foster (41.3 ypp). Austin MacGinnis, one of the nation’s better kicking prospects in 2013, claimed the place-kicking job during spring practice.

10. Auburn: As with Alabama, we expect Auburn to move up this list during the season. They have the No. 1 kicking prospect from 2013, redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson, taking over for Parkey at place-kicker. They have speedster Corey Grant as an option at kickoff return. And they have another talented redshirt freshman, Jimmy Hutchinson, inheriting the reliable Clark’s spot at punter. Quan Bray might be the man who takes over at punt returner for Davis, who averaged 18.7 ypr (which doesn’t include his 109-yard field goal return to beat Alabama), but he could face a challenge from candidates like Trovon Reed, Marcus Davis or Johnathan Ford.

11. Tennessee: Considering how the Volunteers lost punter/kicker Michael Palardy (third in SEC with 44.5 yards per punt and 14-for-17 on field goals), it’s a good thing that they signed top kicking prospect and Under Armour All-American Aaron Medley. Tennessee has return man Devrin Young (25.9 ypr on kickoffs and 7.9 on punts) and backup punt return man Jacob Carter (9.3 ypr) back, as well.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return most everyone from last season (minus punter Baker Swedenburg, who averaged 42.5 ypp), but it remains to be determined whether that’s a good thing. They were mediocre or worse in most special teams departments in 2013 – especially at place-kicker, where Devon Bell (6-for-14 on field goals) and Evan Sobiesk (3-for-6) were hardly reliable. Bell (41.2 ypp) was a decent punter, but could face a challenge from signee Logan Cooke on kickoffs and punts. Return man Jameon Lewis (23.5 ypr on kickoffs and 2.3 on punts) is back, as is speedster Brandon Holloway (37.7 ypr on three kickoffs and 18.0 ypr on two punts), who is trying to crack the starting lineup at running back, but could become a dynamic return man if given the opportunity.

13. Ole Miss: By losing punter Tyler Campbell (44.4 ypp, fourth in the SEC), kicker Andrew Ritter (16-for-24 on field goals) and punt returner Jeff Scott (12.7 ypr), Ole Miss has plenty of holes to fill. They have kickoff returner Jaylen Walton (20.6 ypr) back and also signed the No. 2 kicking prospect for 2014, Gary Wunderlich, who is capable of becoming a standout performer as both a kicker and punter.

14. Vanderbilt: New coach Derek Mason didn’t seem particularly enthused about his special teams units after spring practice. The Commodores lost kicker Carey Spear (15-for-19 on field goals) and potential replacement Tommy Openshaw struggled during spring scrimmages, potentially opening the door for a walk-on. Punter Taylor Hudson (42.9 ypp, seventh in the SEC) is back, but he and competitor Colby Cooke were apparently not very consistent this spring, either. Vandy lost punt returner Jonathan Krause (3.6 ypr) and returns leading kickoff return man Darrius Sims (22.8 ypr, eighth in the SEC).
Today, we continue our look at each position in the SEC by checking out quite the loaded group: Running backs.

SEC games are won and lost in the trenches, but the league has always poked its chest out from the running back position.

This season is no different, as the league is once again loaded here:

Alabama's TJ Yeldon
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesJunior T.J. Yeldon leads an Alabama running back corps that might be the best in the nation.
1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide might have the nation’s best backfield. T.J. Yeldon enters the 2014 season with 2,343 career rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, while sophomore Derrick Henry, who might be the most talented back on the roster, excels as a bruiser and a cruiser with his pounding frame and elite speed. Junior Kenyan Drake provides a nice change-of-pace with his elusiveness, and the Tide will grind away with mammoth Jalston Fowler.

2. Georgia: When healthy, Todd Gurley is arguably the country’s best running back. He has that rare combination of size, speed and explosion that make him a terror for defenses. Even with nagging injuries, Gurley has 2,374 career rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. Fellow junior Keith Marshall proved to be a great complement to Gurley with his explosiveness, but is coming off a devastating knee injury. Expect freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to get chances, along with youngsters Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman.

3. South Carolina: Junior Mike Davis has the skill to be a Heisman Trophy candidate. He can pound away with his strength and break the big run. He has nearly 1,500 career yards and the talent to make this his last year in college. There isn’t a lot of drop off with Brandon Wilds, either. Injuries have been an issue for him, but when he’s on the field, he usually outworks opponents. He’s also a good blocker and a receiving threat. Shon Carson has shown flashes, but has to put it all together. Keep an eye on David Williams, who could be the back of the future.

4. Arkansas: The Razorbacks didn’t do a lot of good things on offense last season, but Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams presented a formidable duo for opposing defenses. Together, they rushed for 1,985 yards and eight touchdowns. The second number has to increase this season, but if the line improves, these two should produce plenty of headaches this fall. Korliss Marshall only played in eight games last year, but people around the program think he’s the biggest home run threat at running back.

5. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel is gone, but the backfield should be fine by committee. Tra Carson has what it takes to be a bellcow back with his blend of power, explosion and elusiveness. The Aggies could have a solid one-two-punch with Carson and Trey Williams, who might be the most gifted of A&M’s backs. Brandon Williams and James White should get carries too. White looks like the back of the future and is an every-down pounder, while Brandon Williams might be the fastest of the bunch.

6. Auburn: What Tre Mason did last year was nothing short of impressive, and the system he ran will only benefit the guys after him. Seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant both rushed for more than 600 yards last season and each had six touchdowns. Artis-Payne could carry the load, while Grant is used as more of the speed back. Redshirt freshman Peyton Barber could get some carries, but keep an eye on true freshman Racean Thomas, who could really challenge Artis-Payne.

7. LSU: Jeremy Hill might be gone, but Terrence Magee could start for a handful of SEC squads. He rushed for 626 yards and eight touchdowns last season and stole some carries from Hill here and there throughout the season. He isn’t easy to take down and is more elusive than Hill was. But he’ll certainly be pushed by freshman Leonard Fournette, who was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class. Senior Kenny Hilliard returns with more than 1,000 career rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.

8. Florida: This might the Gators’ deepest position. Sophomore Kelvin Taylor started to get more comfortable last season and is faster and more agile right now. He’s trying to be more of an every-down back and carry the load, but will get plenty of help from Mack Brown and Matt Jones. Brown has really turned things around in the last year, while Jones should be 100 percent after knee surgery this spring. The wild card could be freshman Brandon Powell, who could be a real threat in the passing game.

[+] EnlargeRussell Hansbrough
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesRussell Hansbrough could be on the verge of a breakout season for Missouri.
9. Missouri: The Tigers might have a gem in junior Russell Hansbrough. He isn’t the biggest back, but he blends power and speed and churned out 6.0 yards per carry last season. Hansbrough is primed for a breakout year and will have a good complement in Marcus Murphy, who is an extremely explosive player at running back and in the return game. Redshirt sophomore Morgan Steward, who is bigger than Mizzou’s typical backs, but might be the fastest of the bunch.

10. Ole Miss: The Rebels have a solid duo to work with in juniors I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. Both registered more than 500 yards last season and were neck-and-neck for most of the spring. Expect an attack by committee where Walton has more of the flash and Mathers uses more power. Jordan Wilkins is a really physical back who is more of a grinder than the other two. There isn’t a workhorse, but all these guys fit what Hugh Freeze wants to do on offense.

11. Mississippi State: Another team with a potentially deadly duo headlining its backfield. Josh Robinson was third on the team last season with 459 yards, but averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He packs a punch and can break the big plays. Nick Griffin had a great spring, but has dealt with multiple ACL injuries. Having him healthy for the first time is huge. There’s excitement about Brandon Holloway moving to running back, and youngsters Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams could get chances this fall.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats have plenty of questions on offense, but there’s hope at running back. Sophomore Jojo Kemp led the team in rushing last season (482), but will battle Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard, who might be able to do a little more with his athleticism and speed. Josh Clemons is back after sitting out two seasons with injuries, and freshmen Mikel Horton and Stanley Williams will give Kentucky good depth.

13. Tennessee: Senior Marlin Lane has a ton of experience and will relied on even more with Rajion Neal gone, but inconsistency has always been something that has hurt Lane. He’s yet to hit 700 yards in a season, but he’s shown flashes his entire career. Freshman Jalen Hurd, who has great size and athleticism, is being viewed as the real deal in Knoxville and will have very opportunity to grab a good amount of carries this fall after enrolling early. Him taking the starting job wouldn't surprise anyone.

14. Vanderbilt: New coach Derek Mason was pleased with where his running backs were coming out of the spring. Junior Brian Kimbrow, who has a ton of wiggle and speed, is stronger, which should help him between the tackles. The Commodores could have a future star in redshirt freshman Ralph Webb and veteran Jerron Seymour, who led Vandy with 716 rushing yards, is back, giving Vandy some good depth to start the season.

SEC's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
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There were 80 fires put out and 21 arrests in Lexington on Saturday night after Kentucky defeated Wisconsin to reach Monday night's college basketball national championship game. Whatever happened to "Act like you've been there before?"

SEC helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
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Here are five individuals (or groups) from around the SEC who earned helmet stickers for their performances on Saturday.

Missouri's running game: The backfield committee of Henry Josey, Marcus Murphy, James Franklin and Russell Hansbrough led the way, as the Tigers racked up 260 yards rushing to handle Ole Miss on the road. Josey was Mizzou's statistical standout with 95 yards, a 6.3-yard average and two touchdowns. Murphy added 67 yards and a touchdown, and Franklin chipped in 42 yards in his return to the starting lineup. The senior quarterback, who averaged 5.3 yards a carry, showed just what a challenge he presents to defenses when they must account for his snap decisions to run, throw or do both. The Tigers have a reliable offense built on the foundation of their diverse running game. It should come in handy at home next week as they aim for Atlanta.

John Chavis: With an assist from some nasty weather, LSU's defensive coordinator architected what might have been a Heisman bid-killer in Death Valley on Saturday. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel was gunning for back-to-back trophies but ran smack into a determined Tigers' D. Manziel was only 16-of-41 passing (a career-low 39 percent) for 224 yards with two interceptions and two sacks. He also had only 54 rushing yards on 12 carries. All told, Johnny Football recorded a career-low 14.9 Total QBR on Saturday. Just as it was in a win at College Station last season, Chavis' key was having his front focus on containment in order to limit Manziel's improvisational magic. Mission accomplished.

Jordan Matthews: Any time Vanderbilt beats instate rival Tennessee in back-to-back seasons (Hint: It hadn't happened since 1925-26), a helmet sticker must be awarded. In a game that was more about two defenses fighting for every yard, the senior wide receiver caught 13 passes for 133 yards and broke the SEC record for career receptions. Matthews now has 246 career receptions and owns the mark previously held by Vandy's Earl Bennett, who caught 236 passes from 2005-07. Matthews also has the SEC record for career yards receiving (3,491).

AJ McCarron: We'll give a nod to Georgia QB Aaron Murray, who similarly feasted on an inferior opponent (four touchdown passes before leaving with an injury). But McCarron had much more on the line in leading the undefeated top-ranked Tide past Chattanooga. Like Murray at Sanford Stadium, McCarron also bore the emotional burden of playing in his final home game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. He was a brutally efficient 13-of-16 passing for 171 yards and two touchdowns (95.9 Total QBR), and he even found time to deliver brother Corey his first career reception. But the most important statistic in McCarron's sterling legacy at Bama is his 36-2 record as a starter, which broke a tie with Jay Barker for the school record.

Terrence Magee: Sure, the junior tailback has played second fiddle to Jeremy Hill all season. But Magee broke out on Saturday with a career-high 149 yards rushing in LSU's win against visiting Texas A&M. The conditions -- cold, wet, blustery and generally miserable -- called for a strong running game. Magee answered the bell early with a 65-yard sprint that put the Aggies defense on its heels and set up the Tigers' first touchdown. Magee led the way for LSU to amass 324 yards on 55 rushes, a ground assault for which A&M had no answer.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
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It’s officially hump day, and as SEC teams prepare for this weekend -- or next if you’re Alabama and LSU -- let’s take a look around the league with today’s edition of the lunch links.

SEC Week 6: Did you know?

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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Not a ton of marquee games matching up ranked teams this week in the SEC, but some interesting matchups nonetheless, like Auburn-Ole Miss, Missouri-Vanderbilt and Arkansas-Florida, among others. Here are some statistical notes from around the league, with an assist from ESPN Stats & Information:
  • Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray is likely to become the SEC's career passing yardage leader on Saturday when the Bulldogs travel to Tennessee. He trails the current leader, former Georgia quarterback David Greene, by just 99 yards on the all-time SEC passing yardage list (Greene's record total is 11,528). Murray (11,249 passing yards) has never thrown for fewer than 109 yards in a game throughout his 45-game career.
  • Murray still needs 573 total offensive yards to catch former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow (12,232 yards) who holds the SEC's career total offense record. Murray has 11,659 total offensive yards to his name.
  • LSU has done well to avoid allowing one loss turn into two. The Tigers, who lost to Georgia in a thriller last week, haven't lost consecutive SEC games since 2009. They haven't lost two games consecutively, regardless of opponent, since 2008. Under head coach Les Miles, LSU is 20-1 following a loss (including season openers after a loss to end the previous season).
  • This is the first time in LSU history that the team has scored at least 30 points in each of the first five games of the season.
  • South Carolina's 169 rushes are the most the Gamecocks have recorded through four games since Steve Spurrier was hired as their head coach prior to the 2005 season. They've rushed for at least 220 yards in each of those first four games and are averaging 5.32 yards per carry, which is tied for 24th in the country.
  • Spurrier has been extremely successful against the Gamecocks' opponent this week, Kentucky. He owns a 19-1 career record against Kentucky.
  • Florida's rushing defense is No. 1 nationally in yards allowed per game (53.5) and it is the only defense to hold every opponent to fewer than 75 rushing yards this season. The average AQ conference team hits opponents at or behind the line of scrimmage 42 percent of the time; Florida has done it 57 percent of the time this year. The Gators also allow the second-fewest yards before contact per game, with 15. Only Michigan State (12.8 yards allowed before contact per game) has a better average.
  • While Florida's run defense has been dominant, Arkansas' rushing attack has been superb. The Razorbacks are second in the SEC in rushing yards per game (237) and freshman Alex Collins leads the conference with 597 rushing yards this year. So it will be interesting to watch who wins the battle when Arkansas runs the football against the Gators.
  • Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is one of two quarterbacks in the FBS with at least 115 pass attempts and zero interceptions (Wallace has attempted 118 passes this year). Idaho's Chad Chalich is the only other player holding that distinction right now.
  • Auburn, which hosts Ole Miss, hasn't loss to the Rebels at home since 2003. The Rebels' quarterback that year? Eli Manning.
  • Alabama holds a 28-3 nonconference record under Nick Saban and is 21-0 in nonconference games since the start of the 2009 season. The Crimson Tide are also 13-1 all-time against current Sun Belt teams. The Tide host Sun Belt member Georgia State on Saturday.
  • Since taking over for injured quarterback Jeff Driskel, Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has a 96.1 QBR, which would be second in the FBS if he had enough snaps to qualify for the national rankings. But in nine fewer drives than Driskel, Murphy has guided the Gators to more touchdowns (seven to Driskel's five), fewer turnovers (three to Driskel's seven) and fewer three-and-out series (four to Driskel's eight). A healthy Matt Jones at running back certainly doesn't hurt Murphy in that regard, either.
  • Tennessee has lost 18 straight games to teams ranked in the Associated Press poll. The last win by the Volunteers over an AP top 10 team was in 2006 against Georgia in Athens. The Vols will get a crack at Georgia, currently ranked No. 6, at Neyland Stadium.
  • Mississippi State has lost 11 consecutive games against ranked opponents. The Bulldogs’ last win over such a team was in 2010 over then-No. 22 Florida. As for top 10 teams, which their opponent on Saturday (LSU) is, the Bulldogs haven't beaten one of those since Sept. 30, 2000 (then-No. 3 Florida).
  • A Kentucky loss to South Carolina would drop the Wildcats to a 1-4 start in back-to-back seasons. The last time that happened was 2004-05.
  • Missouri is the only school in the country currently with four players who have rushed for 215 yards or more this season. The quartet consists of: running backs Russell Hansbrough (335 yards), Henry Josey (238), Marcus Murphy (224) and quarterback James Franklin (215).
  • Vanderbilt senior kicker Carey Spear hit a 50-yard field goal against UAB last week to become the Commodores' first kicker to hit four field goals of 50 yards or better in his career. His career best was 54 yards against South Carolina on Sept. 14 and that's also the second-longest field goal by an SEC player this season (Georgia's Marshall Morgan hit a 55-yarder against LSU last week).

SEC Friday mailbag

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
3:00
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From Zachary (@ZacharySMT): In the hierarchy of the SEC, where do you see the South Carolina program after the Ole Ball Coach retires?

Alex Scarborough: I'd tell you it all depends on who would be hired as his replacement, but you already know that. Steve Spurrier has built a solid program in his time at South Carolina, and I don't see it as one that would fall apart dramatically should he leave. There's plenty of talent on both sides of the football, especially in terms of skill players on offense and big front-seven guys on defense. Whoever the South Carolina administration hires will have an enormous task ahead of them, though, and I'd prepare for a slight dip in the early going as things are settled. People have to remember where that program was before Spurrier, with 12 sub-.500 finishes since 1980 and not a single division title. He basically built it from nothing. Competing against North Carolina and the rest of the SEC for recruits isn't easy, and the SEC East only continues to improve.


From Press Thornton (@thornton_press): Your prediction on Bama-Ole Miss?

Alex Scarborough: Ah, I knew someone would ask this. And here I'd gone the whole week without making an official prediction. Well, I guess that streak ends here. While I'd like to say with certainty either way, I can't get behind either team completely. That said, I expect that if Alabama sorts out some of the kinks and plays to its standard, the home team will win and remain undefeated. But Ole Miss has a real shot to knock off the Tide in Tuscaloosa. If Hugh Freeze can get the tempo going and pressure Alabama's lackluster, thin secondary, the Rebels could pull off the upset. And with the receivers he has at his disposal, I think they're entirely capable of doing it. I see it as a high-scoring game either way and I give Ole Miss a 33 percent chance of winning the shootout.


From Joe Piccoli (@joepic8049): Missouri's three-man running back rotation a little overlooked right now?

Alex Scarborough: I'm looking at Missouri's rushing statistics now, and I'd have to say so. The Tigers are 33rd nationally in rushing yards (810), 17th in rushing yards per game (270) and 17th in rushing touchdowns (17). Russell Hansborough, Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy are doing an excellent job. But -- and here's where I'll counter those numbers -- I don't think I'm ready to say they're overlooked to a large extent. Frankly, Missouri hasn't faced anyone of consequence. The Tigers haven't played an SEC game and let's face it, Murray State, Toledo and Indiana aren't exactly stalwarts when it comes to stopping the run. Since I'm in a stats mood, Toledo and Indiana are ranked 67th and 117th nationally in rushing yards per game, and Murray State doesn't even show up on my readout. (Further inspection shows the Racers are allowing 173.5 yards per game on the ground.) While I like what I've seen from Missouri's running game so far, I want to see it continue past Arkansas State and on into Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in October.


From Fake Ned (@FakeNed): Is the SEC West stronger than last year with the improvement of Mississippi?

Alex Scarborough: That's a tough thing to say based on how good it was last year, when Alabama won the national championship, Texas A&M took the world by storm and LSU continued to do its thing. But I don't see any of those teams as being significantly better than a year ago. Alabama has shown it's flawed on defense and up front on the offensive line, Texas A&M's defense can leak like a sieve at times and LSU is so young that I don't know what to expect from them. LSU's offense is certainly improved, but the second half against Auburn gave me pause. That said, I see improvement at the back end of the West with Ole Miss continuing its surge, Auburn rebuilding in a hurry and Arkansas looking much improved. If the division is better or worse than a year ago, it's not by a wide margin.

SEC power rankings: Week 8

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
9:00
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We have a little more movement this week, but one thing remains the same: Alabama is clearly the team to beat.

1. Alabama (6-0; last week: 1): After a week off, the Crimson Tide ran right over Missouri in the first half before bad weather delayed the game. At that point, it seemed weather was the only thing that could stop Alabama. It pretty much proved true as the Tide dismantled the Tigers, holding them to a special-teams score and 129 yards of offense. Alabama outrushed Mizzou 362-3. Yeah, this team is pretty good.

2. Florida (6-0; LW: 3): Saturday set up like a trap game, and the Gators were pretty sloppy against Vanderbilt but again came alive in the second half. Jeff Driskel couldn't be stopped on the ground, rushing for 177 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-sealing 70-yard touchdown scamper. Florida still doesn't have much of a passing game, but the Gators can run and play defense. That goes a long way in the SEC.

3. LSU (6-1; LW: 4): The Tigers aren't done just yet. After stumbling out of the Swamp last week, LSU was the tougher team over the weekend against South Carolina. What was most impressive was how well that makeshift offensive line played. Three underclassmen started and pushed the Gamecocks' vaunted defensive line around. Like Florida, this team isn't a threat to pass, but it showed again that it can run with the best of them, registering 258 rushing yards Saturday. This team is still very much in the hunt for the SEC.

4. South Carolina (6-1; LW: 2): The Gamecocks were outplayed and dominated in the stats book by LSU, but lost by only two points ... in Death Valley. That's impressive. South Carolina did the little things for as long as it could to keep the Tigers at bay, but costly turnovers from Connor Shaw doomed the Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier and Jadeveon Clowney wondered whether some players were scared of the Tigers. That fear had better dissolve before the Gamecocks take on Florida this weekend.

5. Georgia (5-1; LW: 5): The Bulldogs were off, and the hope is that the defense received some major attention over the break. The good news for Georgia is that its second-half schedule isn't daunting. Florida is the toughest matchup, and the Gators could be a little sore after taking on South Carolina this weekend. If you think the Bulldogs are out of the East race after that extremely sloppy showing against South Carolina, you're sadly mistaken.

6. Mississippi State (6-0; LW: 6): The Bulldogs wanted to leave the weekend with more respect, and that happened after they should some resiliency against a Vols team that came charging back. While Tennessee put up some points, Mississippi State's incredibly talented secondary shut down Tyler Bray, holding him to just 148 passing yards. Quarterback Tyler Russell looks better and better each week. On the season, he has 1,382 yards with 12 touchdowns to one interception.

7. Texas A&M (5-1; LW: 7): Johnny Manziel is pretty good, wouldn't you say? I'm convinced he isn't a freshman. He might make his coaches nervous sometimes with his gunslinger mentality, but when a play needs to be made, he'll make it. Now, for as explosive as that offense is, the defense has had some holes in it this year. In the past three games, the Aggies have given up an average of 531 yards and surrendered 57 points to Louisiana Tech in Saturday's shootout win. Now, we'll see what Johnny Football can do against that nasty LSU defense.

(Read full post)

3 Up, 3 Down: Bama 42, Missouri 10 

October, 14, 2012
10/14/12
8:30
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COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A look at the good and bad from Alabama's 42-10 win over Missouri on the road on Saturday afternoon.

THREE UP
1. Running game: Eddie Lacy wasted no time taking advantage of the Missouri defense, sprinting 73 yards for a score on the second play from scrimmage. He finished the game with 178 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries. His cohort in the backfield, freshman T.J. Yeldon, was no slouch, either. He ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns of his own. All told, Alabama averaged 7.7 yards per rush attempt.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- It looked like the only thing that could stop the University of Alabama in the first half was the weather, and that’s exactly what happened.

With the Crimson Tide leading Missouri 27-0 midway through the second quarter, lightning strikes in the area delayed the game for 40 minutes. Alabama never really looked the same after the delay, but still won easily, 42-10.

Alabama rushed for 351 yards against the Tigers. Both Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon easily surpassed the 100-yard mark, and all six of the Tide’s touchdowns came on the ground. Quarterback AJ McCarron finished 16-of-21 for 171 yards.

It was over when: On the second play from scrimmage, Lacy broke a 73-yard touchdown run to give Alabama a quick lead. The Tide scored the game’s first 28 points, and although Missouri made it competitive in the second half, it was clear who the better team was on Saturday. Lacy finished with 176 yards and three touchdowns.

Game ball goes to: Lacy may have had more rushing yards in the game, but it’s Yeldon, a true freshman, who gets the game ball. On a day when McCarron and the offense struggled at times, especially in the second half, Yeldon kept making plays. He had 18 carries for 144 yards and two touchdowns, and he helped put the game out of reach.

Stat of the game: Missouri’s lone touchdown came on a 98-yard kickoff return from Marcus Murphy. It the fourth time Murphy has returned a kick for a touchdown this season, which sets a school record. He had taken three punts back for scores through the first six games.

Unsung hero: Alabama’s C.J. Mosley set the tone early for the defense. The junior linebacker rocked Mizzou quarterback Corbin Berkstresser twice in the first quarter and seemed to make plays all over the field. As a whole, the defense held the Tigers to 152 total yards and forced three turnovers.

What it means for Alabama: The game couldn’t have started any better for the nation’s No. 1 team. Alabama jumped out to a 27-0 lead midway through the second quarter and looked unbeatable, but then the lightning struck. A 40-minute weather delay stopped the Tide’s run and gave Missouri a spark. UA didn’t score again until the fourth quarter. Still, Alabama took care of business and passed another SEC road test.

What it means for Missouri: It took a weather delay and a kick return for a touchdown, but Missouri finally started playing football towards the end of the first half. The defense clamped down in the second half. The offense struggled for the second week in a row with Berkstresser under center, but they should get a lift when James Franklin returns. For how bad the first half was, the Tigers played much better in the second half.

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