Alabama Crimson Tide: Gene Chizik

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
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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 power rankings

December, 5, 2012
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We've come to the end of the regular season for the SEC, so here is our final batch of power rankings until the new year:

1. Alabama (12-1; last week: 1): No, Alabama wasn't perfect in its 32-28 victory against Georgia in the SEC title game, but talk about resolve. This team trailed by 11 in the second half, but fought back with a punishing running game and just wore down one of the most talented defenses around to throw itself into the Discover BCS National Championship against Notre Dame. The Crimson Tide will now play for their second national championship in a row, and third in four years.

2. Florida (11-1; LW: 3): The Gators didn't win their division and weren't in Atlanta, but it's hard to find a team with a better résumé. Florida finished the season with four wins against teams currently ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings. Three of them are in the top 10. Florida is headed to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009. The Gators will face Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

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2012 SEC regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012
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Here we are again talking about another potential national championship for the SEC.

Weren’t we having this same conversation last year, the year before that and the year before that?

In fact, does anybody really remember the last time we weren’t having this conversation?

The BCS Championship Game festivities will again include an SEC team this season, and once again, it’s Alabama carrying the banner for the league.

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AJ McCarronMatthew Stockman/Getty ImagesAlabama and the rest of the SEC have proven they're the cream of the crop in college football.
For the seventh straight season, the SEC is headed to the national championship.

The conference has six teams ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings, including three -- Alabama, Georgia and Florida -- in the top four.

Six teams have two or fewer losses on the season, while two more have eight wins.

Six teams rank in the top 25 in defense, and three rank in the top 25 in offense.

Nine of the SEC’s 14 teams are bowl eligible and if not for some dubious play calling on the side of USC in its game with Notre Dame over the weekend, the country would almost have been assured to see yet another all-SEC national championship.

The SEC also has a nation-best six teams ranked in the AP, USA Today and Harris Interactive Polls. The SEC has now had at least five teams ranked in at least one AP Top 25 poll every year since expansion in 1992. Just as in 2011, the conference has had at least five teams ranked in every AP poll throughout the season.

Compared to other BCS conferences, the SEC is tied with the Big 12 with the most bowl eligible teams. With only 10 teams, all but one Big 12 team -- Kansas -- is bowl eligible. And if there weren’t postseason bans at Ohio State and Penn State, the Big Ten would have nine, too.

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Instant analysis: Alabama 49, Auburn 0

November, 24, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- No. 2 Alabama moved a step closer to playing for its third national championship in four years Saturday with a 49-0 thrashing of Auburn in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

It was the second most lopsided Iron Bowl in history. Alabama won 55-0 in 1948.

Here’s an instant analysis from the game:

It was over when: The two teams got off the buses. OK, that’s too easy. Alabama jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead and had 102 total yards to Auburn’s 2. The Crimson Tide went on to score touchdowns on each of their first seven possessions in a game that was a complete mismatch from the opening kick.

Game ball goes to: Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was 15-of-21 for 216 yards and four touchdowns before retiring to the bench midway through the third quarter.

Stat of the game: Alabama’s defense now has gone two consecutive years without giving up any points to Auburn. One of the Tigers’ touchdowns last season came on defense, and the other was on a kickoff return.

Injury report: Alabama receiver Kenny Bell left the game in the first half with what appeared to be a knee injury.

What it means for Alabama: The Crimson Tide (11-1, 7-1 SEC) clinched the Western Division championship and will face Georgia next Saturday in the SEC championship game in Atlanta. A victory would send Alabama to Miami to play in the Discover BCS National Championship Game.

What it means for Auburn: The Tigers (3-9, 0-8) finished the season with their first 0-8 mark in SEC play and their first winless SEC season since 1980. All eyes now will be on coach Gene Chizik, who could be out as early as Sunday or Monday. The Tigers have lost 10 straight SEC games going back to last season.

Five storylines: The Iron Bowl 

November, 22, 2012
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Alabama fumble recoveryAP Photo/Dave MartinAlabama will aim to create turnovers against Auburn as it did in the season's first eight games.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1) is back in the title hunt after a stunning weekend of college football with upsets of Kansas State and Oregon. This Saturday, the Crimson Tide will look to avoid the same fate as they host in-state rival Auburn (3-8, 0-7) at 2:30 p.m. CT.

Here are five storylines for the game ...

1. Focus on the present, play to win: Alabama players are saying all the right things about keeping their focus on Auburn and not the matchup with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 1. It's an easy thing to say, but harder to practice, as evidenced by the Tide's letdown against Texas A&M. Auburn isn't the talent of Texas A&M, but the Tigers still present challenges. (Remember the struggles LSU had on The Plains).

SEC power rankings: Week 13

November, 19, 2012
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After everything that happened over the weekend, our power rankings didn't really change heading into the final week of the regular season:

1. Alabama (10-1; last week: 1): The Tide didn't have much competition lining up opposition over the weekend, but Alabama took care of business in dominating fashion. Then the team watched as Kansas State and Oregon lost, propelling the Tide back into the BCS title game hunt. Beat Auburn and Georgia, and Alabama is headed back to the national championship. Well played, Nick Saban.

2. Georgia (10-1; LW: 2): Georgia Southern and its triple-option offense really wasn't much of a threat to the Bulldogs, who are right in the thick of the national championship picture. Georgia is playing its best football of the year and it couldn't have come at a better time. A win over Georgia Tech this weekend, and the Bulldogs will be playing for a national championship berth when they face Alabama in the SEC championship game. Remember when all those Georgia "fans" were calling for Mark Richt's job? Yeah, you can sit down now.

3. Florida (10-1; LW: 3): The Gators don't win pretty, but somehow they are 10-1. Two FCS foes really challenged the Gators, but what's even crazier is that with a win over Florida State this weekend, Florida will be headed to a BCS bowl game and if Notre Dame loses, the Gators could be headed to the national championship. The Gators are where they are thanks to a fabulous defense and tremendous special teams. But if Florida wants to have a chance against the Noles, the offense has to be much, much better and it will really help if quarterback Jeff Driskel can come back healthy this week.

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What we learned in the SEC: Week 8

October, 21, 2012
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The eighth week of the college football season has come and gone, so let’s take a look at what we learned Saturday in the SEC:

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel threw four touchdown passes in Florida's 44-11 rout of South Carolina on Saturday.
1. Clarity in the East race: Florida just keeps finding ways to win after seemingly finding ways to lose a year ago. Now, the Gators are a win from clinching the Eastern Division title and earning a berth in the SEC championship game. They pounced on a mistake-prone South Carolina team Saturday for a 44-11 win and can lock up the East crown next weekend with a win over rival Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. The Gators are doing it with superior defense and special teams, excellent adjustments at halftime and a belief that they’re going to wear you down in the second half. While Georgia has looked listless at times during its past two outings (a 29-24 win over Kentucky on Saturday and a 35-7 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 6), the Bulldogs can take a commanding position in the East race with a win over the Gators. From there, Georgia would have a home game with Ole Miss and a road game with Auburn remaining. Florida’s only remaining league game after this weekend is Missouri at home on Nov. 3. The Bulldogs have won just four of the past 22 meetings in this series, including a 24-20 victory last season. Georgia hasn’t won two in a row over Florida since winning three straight from 1987 to 1989. The Bulldogs were without star outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (ankle) in their win over Kentucky, and coach Mark Richt said Sunday that he’s not sure Jones will be able to play against Florida.

2. South Carolina quarterback controversy: Sometimes you’d swear that Steve Spurrier almost likes controversy at the quarterback position. Then again, maybe he’s just such a perfectionist that his patience with his signal-callers is razor-thin. Either way, Spurrier is clearly down on Connor Shaw after the Gamecocks struggled on offense for the second straight week Saturday in a 44-11 loss to Florida. Afterward, Spurrier said South Carolina “stunk from the get go” and called it a “pitiful performance.” He didn’t place all of the blame on Shaw but noted that the quarterback missed several open receivers and was “still running all over the place.” Shaw was benched at halftime in favor of backup Dylan Thompson, and Spurrier said he didn’t know which way he would go at quarterback this coming weekend against Tennessee. Shaw has committed three turnovers in the past two games and been sacked six times, but the Gamecocks’ problems on offense run a lot deeper than just Shaw. They haven’t been able to run the ball effectively the past two weeks. Marcus Lattimore got just three carries against Florida, and the receivers aren’t making any big plays down the field. Shaw certainly hasn’t played his best football the past two games, but he is the same guy the South Carolina coaches were lauding earlier this month for being such a winner and the same guy who’s been playing through a hairline fracture in his throwing shoulder.

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What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
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We have a few exciting matchups in the SEC this weekend, so let's check out what to watch in Week 7:

1. Mettenberger's poise: LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger just hasn't looked comfortable in his two SEC starts. Granted, they were on the road, but we all expected a lot more from him. But in two SEC starts, Mettenberger has averaged 163.5 passing yards and has completed 50 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and an interception. It appears his confidence has been shot, and he has to get it back or this offense will be in trouble against such a talented South Carolina defense. Expect that Gamecocks front to put a ton of pressure on Mettenberger, which is something he's struggled against all year. If LSU can't balance its offense with the run and pass, it won't beat South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
John David Mercer/US PresswireCan quarterback Bo Wallace get the Rebels a win against conference rival Auburn this week?
2. Chaney's patience: Tennessee is in must-win mode against Mississippi State, but it has the tall task of putting its offense up against the Bulldogs' vaunted secondary. If Tennessee is going to best Mississippi State's defense, it has to be able to run the ball consistently. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said this week that balance is the key and he has to be more patient with his running game. Rajion Neal has been very impressive during the Vols' last two games, but he'll have to be on top of his game again in order to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Tyler Bray. Chaney wants to run the ball more, but he has a tendency to get too pass-heavy at times when things get rough. His patience in the running game will be important.

3. Ending an embarrassing streak: Could this be the weekend Ole Miss finally gets over the SEC hump? The Rebels haven't won an SEC game in 16 tries and are fresh off a heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M. But the Rebels host an Auburn team that has struggled in every phase of the game this year. If Ole Miss is going to turn things around in SEC play, this is the weekend to do it. Auburn is giving up 409.8 yards of offense a game and is last in the SEC in total offense, generating a little more than 300 yards a game. The Rebels have one of the league's best offenses and shouldn't have an issue scoring.

4. Slowing down Marcus Lattimore: South Carolina's running back appears to be getting stronger and healthier each week. He has rushed for 314 yards and five touchdowns in three SEC games and has to be salivating at the thought of facing an LSU defense that surrendered 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns to Florida's Mike Gillislee last week. Gillislee absolutely wore down the Tigers' front, and that's something Lattimore knows a thing or two about. LSU's offense kept its defense on the field and tired in the Swamp, and South Carolina's defense is capable of doing the same thing to the Tigers, so Lattimore could get plenty of chances to exhaust this unit with his pounding style.

5. South Carolina taking another step: The Gamecocks are all the rage in college football. Steve Spurrier has this team ranked in the top five, and a win Saturday might propel South Carolina into the No. 2 spot. But with all the attention on the Gamecocks, can they keep their composure? Atlanta has been the goal all along, but even this team probably didn't expect to receive the attention it has this early in the year. LSU might be wounded, but this is South Carolina's first true road test. This team will be ready for South Carolina, and the Tigers haven't lost back-to-back games since 2008. If South Carolina is going to take the next step in its SEC journey this year, it has to beat LSU in hostile Tiger Stadium.

6. Scoreboard outage in Shreveport: We know that Texas A&M can score points. The Aggies have averaged 51.5 points in four games since their opening loss to Florida. Johnny Manziel and his explosive crew have crippled defenses this year, but they might send Louisiana Tech's defense running. The Bulldogs rank 123rd nationally in total defense, giving up 531 yards a game. They are also giving up 35.8 points per game. Texas A&M has the ability to really light the scoreboard up against this team, but Louisiana Tech has a very talented offense as well. The Bulldogs actually average more yards than the Aggies and are scoring 53.2 points per game. We could have a Big 12 game on our hands.

7. Florida's focus: The Gators are riding high off that emotional win over LSU last week. Coach Will Muschamp was celebrating like a little kid, violently pumping his fists and crowd surfing in the locker room. This was a huge win for him and his team, but now it's time to get back to playing football. But this group of Gators isn't used to success. Florida is ranked No. 4 nationally and is starting to get BCS love, but all that would come to a screeching halt with a loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday. The Commodores are feeling good after that road win against Missouri and are fighting for a bowl berth. Florida is on the road, and with South Carolina up next, the Gators can't get caught looking ahead this weekend.

8. Mississippi State's secondary vs Tennessee's passing game: You have the SEC's top passing offense taking on one of the top secondary units around with arguably the best cornerback duo in Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. Bray has an impressive set of receiving toys to play with, but he'll have his hands full against Banks and Slay, who have combined for seven interceptions and haven't allowed any touchdowns. As a whole, Mississippi State has allowed just three passing touchdowns, while Bray has tossed 14 touchdowns. He has six interceptions on the year, and has had an issue with pressing. He can't afford to force things against this secondary because it will make him pay.

9. Alabama's offensive attack: There aren't a lot of glaring issues with No. 1 Alabama, but it will be interesting to see what the offense looks like this weekend against Missouri. Injuries have Alabama down to three scholarship running backs, while the Tide is looking for another deep threat with DeAndrew White going down with a season-ending knee injury. Players have said that execution issues have hurt the offense at times, and now that this team is down some bodies, the little things have to get cleaned up. The good news for Alabama is that Nick Saban got an extra week to prep and get this offense ready with the bye.

10. An Arkansas revival: Don't look now, but Arkansas is slowly crawling out of the canyon it created with a terrible September. Bowl hopes were dashed, but last week's win over Auburn has given this team new life. You still don't know what you're going to get from coach John L. Smith, but his players showed a lot of pride last week. The Razorbacks are dealing with a ton of injuries, but face a Kentucky team riddled with injuries as well. A win for the Razorbacks would really put them right back in the bowl hunt.

Q&A with Auburn writer Erickson 

July, 31, 2012
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Each week at TideNation we will speak with a writer who covers one of Alabama's 2012 opponents. Today we spoke with Joel Erickson, who covers Auburn for the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer.

[+] EnlargeOnterio McCalebb
AP Photo/Austin McAfeeRB Onterio McCalebb should provide Auburn explosiveness out of the backfield in 2012.
Scarborough: A new offensive coordinator, new defensive coordinator, new starting running back and a quarterback competition. The offseason at Auburn has been more tumultuous than usual this year. How has all the turnover affected the program and what kind of changes can we expect under both coordinators?
Erickson: Auburn has had a quarterback battle every year that Gene Chizik has been the head coach, and the return of Onterio McCalebb means that the Tigers have some continuity at the running back position, if not a clear No. 1 option in the absence of Mike Dyer. What really could affect the program is the change in coordinators. Expect Brian VanGorder’s defense to attack more, especially on the defensive line. VanGorder asks his defensive linemen to focus on penetration, rather than reading and reacting like they did under Ted Roof. On the offensive side, the days of Auburn running the hurry-up, no-huddle offense are over. New coordinator Scot Loeffler has kept his cards close to the vest, but Loeffler will likely run some pro-style, some shotgun and some pistol, with an offense tailored to his playmaker’s strengths.

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Tide schedule preview: Auburn 

July, 31, 2012
7/31/12
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[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley and Kiehl Frazier
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAuburn's Kiehl Frazier is expected to have his hands on the ball during key plays in 2012.
The rundown
2011 overall record: 8-5
2011 conference record: 4-4
Record against Alabama: 34-41-1

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SEC post-spring power rankings

May, 18, 2012
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We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:

1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.

2. Alabama: The defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, but coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.

3. South Carolina: A healthy Marcus Lattimore (knee) makes South Carolina an even better contender for the SEC East crown. His status is uncertain, but the pieces around him are pretty impressive. Quarterback Connor Shaw had an impressive spring, and looks ready to be the passer coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be. The defense is once again stacked, especially up front with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. There are questions in the secondary, with two new, young starters in Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety), and senior Akeem Auguste coming back after missing all of last season with a foot injury. Still, Spurrier is chirping about his SEC counterparts, so you know he thinks he's got a good team this year.

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