Alabama Crimson Tide: Justin Worley

Editor's note: We’re taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular-season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.

The rundown
2013 overall record: 5-7
2013 SEC record: 2-6, sixth in the Eastern Division
Record all time against Alabama: 37-51-8
Last meeting: Lost 45-10 in 2013

Starters returning
Offense: 5; Defense: 15; Kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
LB A.J. Johnson, QB Justin Worley, WR Marquez North, S Brian Randolph, CB Justin Coleman, CB Cam Sutton

Key losses
OT Antonio Richardson, C James Stone, OT Ja’Wuan James, RB Rajion Neal, DE Jacques Smith, DT Daniel McCullers

2013 statistical leaders (*-returners)
Rushing: Neal (1,124 yards)
Passing: Worley* (1,239 yards, 10 TD, 8 INT)
Receiving: North* (496 yards)
Tackles: Johnson* (106)
Sacks: Corey Miller (6.5)
Interceptions: Randolph (4)

[+] EnlargeButch Jones
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesTennessee coach Butch Jones will have one of the youngest depth charts in the country in 2014.
What they're saying:
“We’re still dealing with the realities of building a football program in an elite conference, but I thought our players were very focused. ... I thought our program benefited from 14 newcomers. I thought they brought a whole other level of energy and competition and that competitive culture that we speak about each and every day. I thought we took tremendous strides improving as a football team and as a football program,” said Tennessee coach Butch Jones, after spring practice

Three things to watch:

1. Youth is served: “Brick by brick” has been the theme of Jones’ tenure at Tennessee. If you follow him on Twitter, you’ll see the “#BrickbyBrick” hashtag often. And most of the time it’s having to do with recruiting. Jones inherited a mess in Knoxville two years ago. He’s spent the time since trying to rebuild through recruiting -- hence the brick symbology. He’s been successful, too, at least as far as recruiting rankings go. This year, Tennessee finished with the No. 5 class in the country, which was long on both talent (18 four-stars) and overall numbers (35 total commits). Of that group, 14 enrolled early with the expectation to compete for playing time as freshmen. All told, we could be looking at a Tennessee depth chart that will be majority first-year and second-year players.

2. Questions in the trenches: Losing Ja’Wuan James and Antonio Richardson hurts enough for Tennessee. Watching center Alex Bullard and guards James Stone and Zach Fulton move on as well is brutal. But if losing the entire starting offensive line from a year ago wasn’t depressing in itself, say sayonara to the defensive line as well. In fact, all four of its starters and a total of six members of the two-deep depth chart are all gone. Good luck with that. If the SEC is truly a line of scrimmage league, then the Vols are in huge trouble. There are some pieces to work with (Kyler Kerbyson and Dontavius Blair on offense, Corey Vereen and Owen Williams on defense) but there’s no getting around that lack of experience.

3. A QB battle: Justin Worley is the starter, if only by default. The former three-star prospect didn’t exactly impress last season when he threw 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Injuries kept him off the field the final four games, but the damage was already done. You have to wonder whether the staff sticks with the senior or looks to the future with someone younger like Nathan Peterman or Josh Dobbs. Whoever starts should have plenty of weapons to work with (Marlin Lane, Marquez North, Alton “Pig” Howard), but without an experienced offensive line to protect them, it could be a long season for Tennessee’s quarterbacks.

Ranking the SEC quarterbacks

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
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Earlier, we ranked all 14 quarterback groups in the SEC. Now, we'll look at who we think will be the top 10 quarterbacks in the league this season.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesWith his experience and talents, Nick Marshall is the SEC's top QB heading into the 2014 season.
1. Nick Marshall, Sr., Auburn: With a spring practice under his belt and a year in Gus Malzahn's offense, Marshall gets the nod as the top quarterback in the league. His athletic ability is off the charts, and even though he was erratic throwing the ball at times last season, he's improved in that area and has some big-time playmakers around him. Marshall also seems to thrive with the game on the line, which is perhaps the best quality a quarterback can possess.

2. Dak Prescott, RJr., Mississippi State: Prescott's upside is tremendous. He's a bullish runner with an equally strong arm and showed some real courage last season playing through injuries and his mother's death. The challenge is for him to become a more polished passer. But in Dan Mullen's offense, Prescott is a perfect fit and should have an All-SEC type of year.

3. Bo Wallace, RSr., Ole Miss: The dean of SEC quarterbacks, Wallace seems to finally be healthy after battling shoulder issues each of the past two seasons. If he stays healthy, he could easily shoot up to the top of these rankings. He needs to cut down on his 27 interceptions over the past two seasons, but he's also accounted for 54 touchdowns during that span.

4. Maty Mauk, RSo., Missouri: Even though the Tigers are losing a ton of firepower at receiver, look for Mauk to be one of the more improved players in the league. He got a taste of it in critical situations last season while filling in for the injured James Franklin, and he delivered. He has the athleticism, arm strength and toughness to be an elite quarterback.

5. Jacob Coker, RJr., Alabama: Every year, it seems, a quarterback comes out of the shadows in the SEC to have a huge year. Cam Newton did it in 2010, Johnny Manziel in 2012 and Marshall last season. Coker could be that guy in 2014 after transferring in from Florida State. His former coach, Jimbo Fisher, says Coker will be the most talented quarterback Nick Saban has had at Alabama.

6. Jeff Driskel, RJr., Florida: The Gators and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper are building what they do offensively around Driskel's strengths. He's a super athlete (and trimmed down some by nearly 15 pounds) and is throwing the ball with renewed confidence. Coming off a broken leg, Driskel has the physical skill set to flourish in Roper's system as he enters his fourth season of college ball.

7. Dylan Thompson, RSr., South Carolina: There wasn't a better reliever in the SEC over the past couple of years than Thompson, who came off the bench in several pressure situations and led the Gamecocks to big wins. With Connor Shaw gone, Thompson now gets a chance to prove that he can get it done as an every-game starter. His forte is throwing the ball from the pocket.

8. Hutson Mason, RSr., Georgia: Mason has waited his turn while sitting behind the record-setter Aaron Murray and even redshirted in 2012 to get this opportunity. He's an accurate passer and knows the offense inside and out. He played late last season after Murray was injured, which should help the transition. Mason's another one who could easily shoot up this list.

9. Justin Worley, Sr., Tennessee: The best news for Worley is that he'll have more guys around him who can make plays. The Vols played their best football last season before Worley injured his thumb. They nearly knocked off Georgia and upset South Carolina with Worley at the helm. He's improved his arm strength and has worked hard this offseason. His senior season should be his best yet.

10. Brandon Allen, RJr., Arkansas: Not much of anything went right with the Hogs' passing game last season, and much of that centered around Allen never really being healthy. To his credit, he continued to fight through injuries and is looking forward to showing what he can do now that he's back to 100 percent. If he stays healthy, Allen could be one of the league's top bounce-back players.

SEC's lunchtime links

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
12:00
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Was HBO's "True Detective" one of the best shows ever? Did Les Miles turn out to be the Yellow King? Hopefully you were able to watch the finale and find out.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
12:00
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As Arkansas and Auburn continue to dispute over game tape, let’s take a look at the latest storylines and injury news in today’s headlines from around the SEC.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
12:00
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Injuries, toughness, targeting, blame and quarterback questions... it's all here in today's edition of the lunchtime links:

SEC Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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Things are getting very interesting in the SEC and we have a little more movement in our Power Rankings this week:

1. Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC; last week: 1): Alabama did everything it was supposed to do in its tuneup against a very overmatched Georgia State team. Nick Saban wanted to get a chunk of his youngsters into the game and 70 players saw action. After its most complete game of the season, Alabama travels to Kentucky for another chance to work on execution.

2. Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC; LW: 2): The Bulldogs won a wild one against Tennessee Saturday, but they lost three key players on offense. Running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley are both out for the year with season-ending knee injuries, and receiver Michael Bennett will miss Saturday's game with a knee injury. Aaron Murray has been superb, but now it's time for this defense to step up and make crucial improvements if Georgia is going to make it back to Atlanta.

3. Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Aggies were off over the weekend, which gave this team a chance to rest and work on everything concerning its defense. Texas A&M still owns the SEC's worst defense (476.8 yards allowed per game), but when you have Johnny Manziel making play after play, it takes some pressure off everyone else. Still, this defense will have to be on point against Ole Miss' high-powered offense in Oxford.

4. LSU (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 4): Well, the Tigers offense just looks terrific right now. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. should all be in contention for the title of "best at their position" in the SEC. The Tigers have churned out more than 400 yards in every game and more than 500 in two. The defense still has its issues, especially stopping the run, but this offense is deadly.

5. Florida (4-1, 3-0 SEC; LW: 6): Believe it or not, the Gators are looking more and more like the most balanced team in the SEC East. Florida owns the SEC's best defense (217 yards allowed per game) and the offense has amassed 400 yards of offense three times this season. In Florida's blowout win over Arkansas on Saturday, new quarterback Tyler Murphy threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns. With this defense and an improving offense, are the Gators turning into a legit contender in the SEC?

6. South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 5): No, the Gamecocks didn't lose to Kentucky over the weekend, but this team just doesn't look focused right now, especially on defense. In their past three games, the Gamecocks have blown a 28-point lead to Vanderbilt, an 18-point lead to UCF and a 21-point lead to Kentucky. The good news is that South Carolina has gone 3-0 during that span, but that sort of sloppy play will catch up to you in this league.

7. Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC; LW: 8): Don't look now, but here come the midwestern Tigers! Mizzou is turning into quite the unit, especially on offense, after blowing out Vanderbilt in Nashville. With its trail mix of offensive talent, the Tigers dropped 51 on the Commodores and found themselves back in the Top 25. Mizzou is second to only Texas A&M in offense in the SEC and has registered more than 500 yards three times, including against Vandy.

8. Auburn (4-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 9): These Tigers tried to give away a 27-9 lead in the third quarter against Ole Miss, but held on for a huge 30-22 win. One thing that really helped out Auburn was the play of its defensive line, as the Rebels only had 124 rushing yards Saturday. On offense, Auburn knows it's going to have to rely heavily on its running game, which churned out 282 yards and three touchdowns Saturday.

9. Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2 SEC; LW: 7): This team has now lost two in a row after such a hot start. The offense was shut out against Alabama and then couldn't run on Auburn's defense. Quarterback Bo Wallace made some bad decisions in Saturday's loss and this team just became way too one-dimensional on the Plains. Who's next? Oh, that would be Johnny Football.

10. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC; LW: 10): The Commodores need a lot of help on defense. It's clear that there are holes all over and if Vandy is going to continue its upward progression, the defense has to improve. Vandy's defense has given up more than 500 yards twice and more than 360 yards four times.

11. Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 11): When Florida forced Arkansas to throw the ball, the Razorbacks just couldn't get anything going. Brandon Allen completed only 17 of his 41 pass attempts, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and registered a QBR of 9.8. For the second time this season, the Hogs had no spark on offense when the running game got stuffed.

12. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 13): What a fight by Tennessee in that heartbreaking loss to Georgia. The Bulldogs did sustain some serious injuries, but Justin Worley delivered some big-time throws and wide receiver Pig Howard is turning into a real playmaker, except for that goal-line fumble. This defense still has a long way to go, but Saturday showed that this team truly has heart.

13. Mississippi State (2-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 12): This defense was impressive in the Bulldogs' two victories over lesser competition, but in three losses, Mississippi State has given up more than 400 yards each time. LSU racked up 59 points and more than 500 yards of offense Saturday. The Bulldogs kept things close for most of the night against the Tigers, but were totally overmatched in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 28-0.

14. Kentucky (1-4, 0-2 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats put up quite the fight against South Carolina and almost pulled off a huge upset at home. You could see some improvement and development on the offensive side against the Gamecocks, and it's important that it carry over going forward. This team just doesn't have the horses right now to really compete in the SEC.

SEC lunchtime links

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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Everybody is still recovering from the weekend that was in the SEC. Let's see what people are saying about the top games and performances from Week 5.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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It was another wild weekend in the SEC. Here are five things we learned around the conference in Week 5.

Georgia and LSU are title contenders: Everything about the game lived up to the hype. Well, except maybe the defenses, but we'll get to that later. LSU and Georgia nonetheless played a game for the ages Saturday afternoon, with quarterbacks Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray trading blows seemingly every time their teams got the football. Georgia ultimately prevailed, of course, but it's impossible to walk away not feeling like both teams are well positioned to make a run at an SEC championship. It's only LSU's first loss, and we've seen how that's no deterrent to making a run at the postseason. The Tigers will get their shot at No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 9. And Georgia, by winning, avoided a dreaded second loss on its resume. The Bulldogs seasoning-opening loss to Clemson actually might end up adding some style points in the end. With Florida's offense struggling and South Carolina playing inconsistent football, Mark Richt has to feel good about his program's position in the East.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesMike Davis helped South Carolina salvage a win at UCF with 150 rushing yards in the second half.
Get used to high scoring games: Calm down all you doomsday sayers: The SEC isn't imploding before your very eyes. Yes, it is very unusual to see this many shootouts in a league that's long prided itself on dominating defense. Georgia and LSU used to win in knockdown drag-outs, but Saturday was so much different as the schools combined for 943 yards and 85 points. But what happened in Athens, Ga., wasn't the final nail in the coffin of SEC defenses. Let the season progress. Mettenberger and Murray are two of the best passers in the country, and the LSU and Georgia defenses are very young. They're talented. They'll learn. And they're not going to be happy with what happened, neither one of them. Alabama pitched a shutout against a high powered Ole Miss offense, and Florida gave up just one touchdown to Kentucky. When it comes to defense, maybe not all is lost. Not yet.

Alabama showed why its No. 1: The week was all about questioning Alabama -- everything from the secondary to the offensive line to whether the Tide was actually worthy of being ranked No. 1. Nick Saban asked for positivity from his fan base and warned against playing to expectations. Alabama's head coach wasn't worried about answering any one question in particular, just the simple matter of whether his team could beat No. 21 Ole Miss. As it turns out, his team won and answered most of the questions in the process. The Tide's defense was dominant once again, pitching a shutout against Ole Miss' high powered offense, and the offense, which couldn't move the ball consistently or effectively on the ground before, suddenly rediscovered both. Alabama ran for a season-high 254 yards against the Rebels and moved the chains, converting on 8 of 17 third-downs. In short, Alabama looked like itself again, thumping a ranked team at home.

Mike Davis belongs in the conversation: He doesn't usually come up much when discussing the league's top tailbacks. T.J. Yeldon and Todd Gurley usually dominate that conversation. But Mike Davis' name belongs in that group. The South Carolina sophomore has earned his stripes through four games this season, rushing for 508 yards and six touchdowns. The Gamecocks needed every one of his 167 yards Saturday afternoon against UCF, 150 of which came in the second half of the 3-point win on the road in Orlando.

Tennessee is a ways off: This was supposed to be the much needed breather before returning to its gauntlet of a schedule. The Vols, fresh off beatings at the hands of Oregon and Florida in consecutive weeks, couldn't get out of their own way against lowly South Alabama at home on Saturday, winning by the skin of their teeth, 31-24. Maybe they were looking ahead to Georgia and South Carolina, which come to town the following two weeks. Whatever the reason, Butch Jones shouldn't be happy. Tennessee wasted a 24-point lead before holding on with a late interception on fourth-and-goal. Justin Worley and the Vols offense turned the ball over three times and were just 4 of 11 on third downs.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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Showcasing two big showdowns between ranked conference teams -- LSU at Georgia and Ole Miss at Alabama -- this looks like a more promising weekend of SEC football than the one that preceded it. Let's take a look at 10 things to watch around the league this Saturday:

1. Another top-10 matchup for Georgia: A common criticism leading into last season's SEC championship game was that Georgia hadn't played anybody. Well the schedule has certainly toughened up since then. Starting with that game against then-No. 2 (and eventual BCS champion) Alabama, the Bulldogs have faced No. 2, No. 16 (Nebraska), No. 8 (Clemson), No. 6 (South Carolina) and now-No. 6 LSU in their last six games. The Bulldogs are 2-2 in those games heading into Saturday's key conference showdown at Sanford Stadium -- LSU's first game this season in an opponent's stadium.

2. Can Ole Miss keep its mojo alive?: Resurgent Ole Miss already has a couple of impressive wins on its resume, winning at Vanderbilt in the closing minutes and running away from Texas in the fourth quarter in Austin. Good luck this weekend, though, Rebels. No. 1 Alabama -- which will host No. 21 Ole Miss on Saturday evening -- is in a far different class than the aforementioned opponents. Ole Miss has won in Tuscaloosa only once (1988), and that doesn't figure to change this weekend, even if Alabama's offense has underwhelmed lately.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
AP Photo/Phil SandlinCan Tyler Murphy keep Florida moving in the right direction?
3. All eyes on Murphy: When Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel went down with a season-ending injury last week, little-used backup Tyler Murphy got his first chance to shine. Murphy took advantage of that opportunity, completing 8 of 14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown and rushing for another score in a 31-17 win over Tennessee. Now he's THE guy after watching an assortment of Gators take snaps ahead of him over the last three years. He'll be taking his shots against a Kentucky program that hasn't beaten Florida in 26 years -- the second-longest active series winning streak in the country.

4. Clash of styles in Fayetteville: The offensive approaches in Saturday's Texas A&M-Arkansas game could hardly be more different. On one hand, you have the wide-open Kevin Sumlin offense at A&M, with triggerman Johnny Manziel helping the Aggies post 602.2 yards and 50.2 points per game -- both SEC highs. Arkansas has run the ball effectively (246.0 ypg, third in the SEC), but that's about it. If the Razorbacks have any hope of hanging with A&M, they'd better hope that their impressive running back tandem of Alex Collins (SEC-high 120.2 ypg) and Jonathan Williams (second at 104.5) can extend clock-eating drives that keep Manziel and company on the sideline.

5. Mettenberger's homecoming: One of the most popular storylines this week concerns LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger returning home to Georgia, where he competed with Aaron Murray for the starting job in 2010 before being dismissed from the team after an offseason arrest. Mettenberger's mother is a longtime employee in Georgia's football office, and Bulldogs coach Mark Richt gave her the week off to avoid the obvious conflict of interest that accompanies this game week. Players from both sides have answered plenty of Mettenberger-related questions, and the Tigers' quarterback seemed to be getting chapped by the subject by midweek. LSU needs him to play a composed game on Saturday, so this is a distraction that the Tigers didn't need.

6. Can South Carolina finish?: Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks built a 28-0 lead in their last game against Vanderbilt, only to see the Commodores rally to within 35-25 early in the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks protected that lead the rest of the way, but it was hardly a positive sign when they had scored only six points in the fourth quarter the week before in a 41-30 loss to Georgia after it was 24-all at halftime. Playing at Central Florida (3-0), which beat Penn State in its last game, South Carolina might not be able to afford another sloppy second half.

7. Alabama's cornerback competition: Nick Saban's defense rotated five cornerbacks last week against Colorado State with two veterans out of the lineup. Deion Belue should be back in the lineup against Ole Miss, but the Rebels' up-tempo offense is much more capable of exploiting defensive vulnerabilities than the Tide's previous opponent. Alabama needs to get its secondary concerns sorted out quickly or the Rebels could make things interesting on Saturday.

8. Mizzou angling for 4-0: Saturday's game against Arkansas State marks the fourth straight nonconference matchup for the Tigers. That means it's all SEC games from here on out, and there are some tough ones on the list. Mizzou has posted some nice yardage totals so far in wins against Murray State, Toledo and Indiana. With a challenging October schedule ahead (at Vanderbilt, at Georgia, Florida, South Carolina), quarterback James Franklin and company need to keep the offensive momentum going.

9. Get-well game in Knoxville: Following two straight horrendous showings -- against Oregon and Florida -- things aren't looking too pretty for first-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones. The Volunteers desperately need a win against South Alabama on Saturday or it could get really ugly in October with Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama on the schedule. The first step for Jones is settling on a quarterback, with Justin Worley apparently stepping back into the starting job he lost last week before replacement Nathan Peterman injured his hand against Florida.

10. Will the real Commodores please stand up?: Coach James Franklin raised expectations in Nashville with a nine-win season last year, but Vanderbilt hasn't even looked like a bowl team in the wake of a sexual assault case that rocked the team and campus. Vandy is 2-2 overall and 0-2 in league play coming off last week's underwhelming 24-7 win at UMass. The Commodores reached the 2012 postseason based largely on wins against second-tier foes like Saturday's opponent, UAB. If they want to play in another bowl this season, they need to start getting their act together against the Blazers.

SEC predictions: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
9:00
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And just like that, The Kid has a nice two-game lead. For two straight weeks, I tried to help Chris out. I tried to feed him the goods, but he just wouldn't listen.

When he seemed so confident about Texas rebounding against the Rebels, I told him to have some faith in Ole Miss. But Chris put too much faith in a wounded Bevo.

Last week, I distinctly remember when I submitted my picks that Chris said, "Just send them in when you get a chance. There's no way we have anything different." Naturally, I assumed he was thinking like me and had Rutgers winning at home over Arkansas. Alas, Chris was blinded by all those rushing yards the Hogs churned out during the first three weeks of the season.

Chris was too busy hollerin' Pig Sooie when I tried to tell him about Brandon Allen's health and Rutgers' run defense. I heard rumblings from Baton Rouge, La., that Chris was trying to get media members to call the hogs with him in the press box when Arkansas went up 24-7 in the third quarter.

What's the old saying about counting your chickens?

It's just good to be The Kid.

After going 9-0 last week (yes, that makes two straight perfect weeks), I own a 40-3 (.930) record, while Chris is 38-5 (.884) after going 8-1.

Here's to our picks and me taking a three-game lead:

ARKANSAS STATE at MISSOURI

Chris Low: Missouri is putting up a ton of points and rolling right along. The Tigers return home after winning at Indiana a week ago and won’t have any problem with Arkansas State to go to 4-0 on the season. … Missouri 48, Arkansas State 21

Edward Aschoff: The Tigers have looked great on offense thus far, and I don't anticipate that stopping this week with Arkansas State in town. … Missouri 45, Arkansas State 17

SOUTH ALABAMA at TENNESSEE

Low: Justin Worley is back as Tennessee’s starting quarterback, and the important thing for the Vols is everybody playing better around him on offense. After two straight losses, they’ll take out a little frustration this week at home against South Alabama. … Tennessee 34, South Alabama 17

Aschoff: There's no question that Tennessee has a lot to work on on both sides of the ball, but this game will give Worley a chance to get some of the rhythm back that he lost in the Swamp. … Tennessee 38, South Alabama 13

UAB at VANDERBILT

Low: It was anything but a rousing performance last week by Vanderbilt at UMass. The Commodores played well enough to win, but that’s about it. Look for James Franklin’s bunch to turn up the volume this week at home. … Vanderbilt 37, UAB 14

Aschoff: The Commodores didn't exactly excite anyone with their win over UMass last week, but something tells me we'll see a much more explosive offensive performance this week. … Vanderbilt 38, UAB 17

SOUTH CAROLINA at UCF

Low: Talk about a game that has danger written all over it. The Gamecocks had better clean up their mistakes and take their A-game to UCF, or they’re going to be in trouble. They’ve had an extra week to prepare, and Connor Shaw and the offense are clicking right now. … South Carolina 31, UCF 21

Aschoff: This isn't an easy road trip for the Gamecocks. UCF is undefeated and averaging more than 30 points a game. The bye week gave South Carolina time to rest, but this one will be closer than Steve Spurrier will like. … South Carolina 31, UCF 24

FLORIDA at KENTUCKY

Low: One of these days, Kentucky is going to beat Florida again, but it won’t be this Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. The Gators will make it 27 in a row over the Wildcats. … Florida 24, Kentucky 7

Aschoff: The Gators lost two of their top players for the season in less than seven days and have to go on the road with a first-time starter at quarterback. Still, the defense has too many weapons not to get the Gators to 2-0 in SEC play. … Florida 27, Kentucky 7

TEXAS A&M at ARKANSAS

Low: It sounds like Arkansas will be without starting quarterback Allen for the second straight week, and when you’re playing Johnny Manziel & Co., you better be ready to score points in bunches. The Hogs won’t be able to keep up Saturday. … Texas A&M 41, Arkansas 21

Aschoff: The Aggies offense is running on all cylinders, while the Razorbacks will likely be without their starting quarterback again. Not a good sign for the Hogs. … Texas A&M 45, Arkansas 20

OLE MISS at ALABAMA

Low: Ole Miss is healthy and bubbling with confidence. The Rebels also have the playmakers on offense to give Alabama problems. The Crimson Tide have sort of turned it off and on this season, which drives Nick Saban crazy, but they know what’s at stake Saturday. … Alabama 35, Ole Miss 21

Aschoff: This was actually a closer game than the score indicated last season. The Rebels have the offense to top the Tide, but you have to think that Alabama's defense is tired of hearing about its shortcomings. This one will come down to the fourth quarter, and Alabama will have just a little more in the tank. … Alabama 31, Ole Miss 23

LSU at GEORGIA

Low: It’s the Zach Mettenberger Bowl. Well, not really, but Mettenberger’s return to Sanford Stadium has certainly dominated the headlines this week. The difference in this top-10 matchup, though, will be Aaron Murray and a Georgia offense that will produce enough big plays to keep the Bulldogs unbeaten in the SEC. … Georgia 38, LSU 31

Aschoff: It sounds cliché, but whichever team wins the battle up front is going to win this game. Both teams want to establish the run, and both teams have monster running games. The Todd Gurley-Jeremy Hill matchup might be one for the ages, too. Georgia survived a similar game against South Carolina, but something tells me LSU's defense is going to make a play or two late to seal this one. … LSU 35, Georgia 31

SEC lunchtime links

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
12:00
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There's plenty going on in SEC country. From the weekend that was to the key matchups on the horizon, such as Alabama-Ole Miss and Georgia-LSU, here are some key reads from around the league:

SEC Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
9:00
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Another week means another set of Power Rankings in college football's top conference:

1. Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC; last week: 1): The Crimson Tide looked a little sluggish at times in a 31-6 win over Colorado State, but did you really think Nick Saban was going to have his guys hammer a former assistant? Yeah, neither did I. People are getting a little concerned with this team, especially with the shaky play in the secondary, but Saban has never been one for truly mashing cupcakes.

2. LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC; LW: 2): The Bayou Bengals just keep rolling, but Auburn certainly gave LSU its best test so far. Gus Malzahn's up-tempo spread registered 437 yards on LSU's defense, including 213 on the ground. But LSU spent another day in the 200-200 club when it came to passing and rushing. Jeremy Hill had a monster game with 183 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries.

3. Texas A&M (3-1, 0-1 SEC; LW: 3): We wanted to see improvement from the Aggies' defense and we got it on Saturday. While the defense did surrender 434 yards, it allowed only 13 points. That's 20 points fewer than the average allowed going into the game! Johnny Manziel had another big outing and the offense churned out nearly 600 yards.

4. Georgia (2-1, 1-0 SEC; LW: 4): If not for some major special teams blunders, the Dawgs would have had a much larger margin of victory over North Texas. Special teams has been a problem for Georgia over the last few years, and that's dangerous heading into the meat of conference play. The offense is still red-hot, while the defense allowed just one score and finally kept an opponent under 450 yards of offense (245).

5. South Carolina (2-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 5): The Gamecocks were off this week, which should have given the defense more time to prep and study what it did against Vanderbilt. That was an impressive showing by this group, and it has to keep going with a tricky road trip to face unbeaten Central Florida this weekend.

6. Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0 SEC; LW: 6): The Rebels were off, which meant guys could get healthy, but it did slow down some of the momentum from that huge win at Texas. No problem. All Ole Miss has to do is get up for a trip to Tuscaloosa to take on No. 1 Alabama. With an offense that's averaging a little less than 500 yards per game and is scoring almost 40 points a contest, Saturday's showdown should be pretty fun.

7. Florida (2-1, 1-0 SEC; LW: 7): The Gators were dealt a tough blow when starting quarterback Jeff Driskel went down with a broken fibula in the first quarter in their 31-17 win over Tennessee. He's out for the season and now fourth-year junior backup Tyler Murphy is in. While he looked good against Tennessee, you can't measure too much against a defense with as many holes as the Vols have. Even with an elite defense, Florida is still quite the enigma in the East.

8. Missouri (3-0, 0-0 SEC; LW: 10): All of a sudden, the Tigers' offense looks pretty exciting as it's averaging 47 points and almost 600 yards a game. Say what you will about the competition it's had to face; this team is on fire when it has the ball and that's something we didn't see at all last year. Going on the road to blow out Indiana was a nice victory for Mizzou as it prepares for its last nonconference foe (Arkansas State) before conference play begins.

9. Auburn (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 8): The Tigers' offense was able to move the ball against LSU, but turning it over three times and going 6-for-17 on third downs won't win you many games in this conference. Also, giving up nearly 7 yards per play to LSU won't help you out, either. It's still a work in progress on the Plains, but you can see the development continue across the board for Malzahn's team.

10. Vanderbilt (2-2, 0-2 SEC; LW: 9): It was a win, but it wasn't the most glamorous win for the Commodores this weekend. Credit the UMass defense, which held Vandy to just 239 yards and 10 points through the first three quarters. Then the Dores wore down UMass to score 14 more points and generate 167 yards in the fourth quarter.

11. Arkansas (3-1, 0-0 SEC; LW: 11): The Razorbacks really gave up a golden opportunity on the road against Rutgers. After leading 24-7 late in the third quarter, the Scarlet Knights rallied to score 21 unanswered points in their 28-24 win. The Hogs' ground game, which was averaging a little less than 300 yards per game, managed just 101 yards against Rutgers. That was a bad loss for a team in rebuilding mode.

12. Mississippi State (2-2, 0-1 SEC; LW: 13): Quietly, Mississippi State ran Troy out of the state Saturday with an impressive 62-7 win over the Trojans. With Dak Prescott still handling quarterback duties, the Bulldogs gained 551 yards of offense and both Prescott and receiver Jameon Lewis rushed for, threw for and caught touchdowns Saturday night. The defense also held Troy to only 186 yards of total offense.

13. Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC; LW: 12): When the Vols went up 7-0 in the first quarter against Florida, people in the press box joked that Butch Jones should just take a knee every down before punting in order to keep the ball away from Florida's defense. Well, he didn't, and his team turned it over six times, including four interceptions between Nathan Peterman and Justin Worley. The offense is in desperate need of playmakers and a consistent quarterback, while the defense allowed a quarterback with no true game experience to lead the Gators to a season-high 31 points and 218 total yards with two touchdowns.

14. Kentucky (1-2, 0-1 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats were off after a tough loss to Louisville the previous week. The defense played better against the Cardinals and now has to face a Florida team with a new, very inexperienced quarterback. The question is whether the Wildcats' situation at quarterback is any better.
Just because it's the bye week in Tuscaloosa, Ala., it doesn't mean all is lost. Nick Saban and Alabama have Saturday off, but an astute fan of the Crimson Tide will have plenty to pay attention to around the SEC.

With that in mind, we set out to deliver an Alabama-centric primer for all the weekend's action. Here are six games every Tide fan should watch:
  • No. 7 Texas A&M vs. Sam Houston State: Oh, Johnny Football, you're a never-ending source of consternation these days. Whatever you do, however nonsensical or ill-advised, the cameras will be watching. And so will we. So pay attention Tide fans, but not just to the gimmicks on the football field. Pay attention to the X's and O's, too. The Aggies are next on Alabama's docket. Without former franchise left tackle Luke Joeckel, how will the protection hold up? Without pass-rush specialist Damontre Moore, how will the defensive line perform? And without veteran wideout Ryan Swope, how will the receiver corps look? Say what you will about Manziel's talent -- it cannot be understated -- but the team he returned to in College Station, Texas, this offseason was not the same one he played with a year ago. Watch closely for how he and the offense as a whole perform, and pay even closer attention to the play of the front seven on defense. Alabama's offensive line struggled against Virginia Tech's front seven a week ago. Will the Aggies have the playmakers up front to replicate that success?
  • Tennessee vs. Western Kentucky: Butch Jones couldn't have asked for a better debut against Austin Peay, trouncing the Governors 45-0 at home to start the season. Quarterback Justin Worley threw for three scores and didn't do anything to lose the starting job while Raijon Neal rushed for 141 yards behind what looks to be one of the best offensive lines in all of college football. But there was never much doubt the Vols could handle lowly Austin Peay. And it looked like Week 2 might set up favorably, too, but that was before Western Kentucky upset Kentucky. Bobby Petrino welcomed himself back to the game in a big way, and now he has a chance to make an even bigger splash against Tennessee. Watch for how the Vols offense moves the ball against better competition. After all, UT lost its top three pass-catchers from a season ago. And pay close attention to the secondary, which was one of the worst in the SEC a season ago. Petrino will be balanced on offense, but he'll likely take some shots downfield to see how far the Vols secondary has come.
  • Mississippi State vs. Alcorn State: To put it plainly, Mississippi State's offense looked bad against Oklahoma State in the Bulldogs' season opener. Scoring three points against a team that gave up more than 28 points per game a year ago was underwhelming. Tyler Russell couldn't move the ball through the air, and the offense couldn't finish off drives. And with Russell out against Alcorn State because of a concussion, it remains to be seen how Mississippi State's offense will respond. Dak Prescott will step in under center and might be able to provide a spark for the offense with his ability to move the ball with his feet. If he does, we could be looking at a two-quarterback system come Week 3. Dan Mullen needs to find someone, anyone, who can move the ball downfield. But don't flip channels when the Bulldogs defense comes on the field. Geoff Collins' bunch played well against Oklahoma State, but after losing starting safety Jay Hughes for the season, the secondary, which lost three of four starters from a season ago, has to prove itself more now than ever.
  • LSU vs. UAB: Give Les Miles credit for going to Texas and beating a good TCU team to open the season. The game wasn't always pretty for the Tigers, but the offense looked improved, and the defense showed plenty of promise. Should LSU generate that killer instinct, it could be a dangerous team come SEC play. The one player to watch against UAB is Zach Mettenberger. LSU's senior quarterback threw the ball well against the Horned Frogs and looked like a different player than we saw a year ago -- decisive, efficient, confident. If he keeps that up and progresses into a consistent 200-yard passer, LSU could finally have the type of balanced offense its been in search of for what seems like a decade now. We know the Tigers will be good on defense, run the ball well and have the playmakers on the outside. It all comes down to the play of the quarterback for LSU to take that next step.
  • Auburn vs. Arkansas State: The Gus Malzahn era at Auburn got off to a so-so start in Week 1 against Washington State. There was the good: the running game did well and the defense created turnovers. And there was the bad: Nick Marshall was underwhelming under center, and the defense, while explosive, did surrender plenty of yards through the air. All in all, though, the Tigers looked like a better team than they did a year ago. But Week 2 will be a big test. Not only is it the final game before the start of SEC play, but it's also Malzahn's turn to face his former team, Arkansas State. And make no mistake, the Red Wolves are a dangerous football team. Auburn should be able to move the ball against Arkansas State, but the real test will come on defense. The Red Wolves, who averaged close to 400 yards per game a season ago, put up 62 points in their opener and will have the added incentive of facing a coach that bailed after just one season.
  • No. 11 Georgia vs. No. 6 South Carolina: Whoever wins this game could wind up representing the SEC East in the conference championship, though Florida, obviously, will have something to say about that. Nonetheless, the Georgia-South Carolina game is one to pay close attention to. Georgia, which nearly beat Alabama a year ago, is in a tough position coming off a loss to Clemson to start the season. Starting off 0-2 could crush its title hopes in a hurry. South Carolina, though, is sitting pretty coming off a strong win against North Carolina in Week 1. Steve Spurrier's offense was explosive, the running game was effective, and the defense played well against the Tar Heels. But against Georgia we'll see if that growth is real. South Carolina still has question marks at linebacker and receiver, and while the Bulldogs' defense is young, it's still chocked full of talent. Getting Josh Harvey-Clemons back could be the boost Georgia has been missing.

SEC preseason power rankings

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
9:00
AM ET
It's officially game week! We all thought it wouldn't come, but it's finally here, and in just three days we'll have our first college football games of the 2013 season!

And what's a better way to kick off one of the most glorious weeks of the year than debuting the first set of power rankings for the season?

Here's where all 14 SEC teams rank in my eyes heading into the first weekend of the season:

1. Alabama: The two-time defending national champion brings back an extremely talented defense and an All-American candidate at quarterback who will have a slew of weapons to work with. The question is if there's a team not named Alabama that can stop the Tide from winning its third straight BCS national title.

2. Texas A&M: Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel has received all the wrong kinds of attention this year, but as long as he's the Aggies' quarterback, A&M should again contend for the SEC West. Even with an ongoing investigation swirling around Johnny Football and his autographs, it doesn't sound like A&M plans to sit its star for Saturday's opener against Rice.

3. Georgia: The Bulldogs lost a wealth of defensive experience from last year's team, but they still will operate with one of the nation's best offenses. There should be no shortage of points in Georgia's opening matchup against Clemson on Saturday, and it'll provide a nice test for the Dawgs' young defense.

4. South Carolina: There are questions at linebacker and in the secondary, but having arguably the SEC's best defensive line could help mask some issues behind it early. Oh, and Jadeveon Clowney is still roaming around out there. The Gamecocks also should have quite the balanced offense to work with this fall, even if two quarterbacks are sharing snaps at times.

5. Florida: The defense lost some key starters from last year, but it looks like year's defense won't miss much of a beat given the quality reps returners got last year. The offense is still a mystery, especially the passing game, as a consistent receiving target has to emerge. Also, not having running back Matt Jones after the first week would be a major blow.

6. LSU: The return of running back Jeremy Hill and the maturation of quarterback Zach Mettenberger mean the Tigers should have a better and more explosive offense in 2013. It'll help to have a solid line and all of Mettenberger's top receiving targets returning, but can that rebuilt defense help get LSU back into BCS contention this fall?

7. Vanderbilt: Off-field distractions could be clouding the minds of these players, but coach James Franklin has made sure to keep his guys as focused as possible. Expectations are higher than ever, as a very good -- and underrated -- defense returns, while the offense has the potential to be very explosive again. However, if starting receiver Chris Boyd misses time due to his suspension, Vanderbilt could be in trouble.

8. Ole Miss: The expectations are higher in Oxford than they have been in years, but second-year coach Hugh Freeze would like those tempered a bit. Nineteen starters return, including All-SEC candidates Donte Moncrief and Bo Wallace. It's hard not to think the Rebels will build off the success Freeze had in his first year. Depth is still an issue in certain areas, and the start of the schedule is brutal.

9. Auburn: With Gus Malzahn back on the Plains and Ellis Johnson working with the defense, the Tigers have the recipe to be better in 2013. No longer will coaches be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole on offense, and Johnson has proved to be a great at developing talent. Those are two things that lacked in last year's team. Also, Malzahn has said he's very comfortable with junior college transfer quarterback Nick Marshall, who fits his offense perfectly.

10. Mississippi State: Dan Mullen is looking to take the Bulldogs to their fourth straight bowl game. The talent is certainly there to do it, but the road to the postseason will be challenging. Mississippi State has to replace its top four receiving threats and three starters in the secondary, including Jim Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks. Having veterans Tyler Russell and LaDarius Perkins working behind a solid offensive line will help, but this team has to generate more pressure from its defensive line.

11. Missouri: The Tigers' SEC debut didn't go well at all last year, but injuries were a major factor. The offensive line is healthier, but communication issues in the spring really hurt the offense's growth. The hope is that the talent at receiver lives up to its potential, while the defense has to make strides at linebacker and in the secondary.

12. Tennessee: New coach Butch Jones has brought a lot of excitement to the program, and he's building for the future. But in the present, a lot of questions remain, especially on offense. So much receiving talent is gone, and recently named starting quarterback Justin Worley has little experience. The defense returns a lot of experience and should be better-suited to run John Jancek's 4-3 defensive scheme.

13. Arkansas: There's no question Bret Bielema's presence in Fayetteville has generated some much-needed excitement, but the personnel has to match Bielema's intensity. Right now, the name of the game is making sure players adapt to Bielema's more physical style. The inexperienced receiving corps has been ravaged by injuries plus a transfer, and the defense still has a lot of questions at linebacker and in the secondary.

14. Kentucky: New coach Mark Stoops has known since day one that fixing the problems at the offensive skill positions was going to be tough. A quarterback has to be found, consistency at receiver must develop, and the running backs have to stay healthy. Defensively, the line is one of the SEC's best, but there are holes at linebacker and in the secondary. A turnaround is possible, but this team has a long way to go.

SEC media days primer

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
3:00
PM ET
When: Tuesday through Thursday

Where: Hoover, Ala.

Big names in attendance: QB AJ McCarron, Alabama; QB Jeff Driskel, Florida; QB Aaron Murray, Georgia; QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU; WR Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss; QB Tyler Russell, Mississippi State; QB James Franklin, Missouri; DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina; QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Five biggest topics:

1. What's to be done about Johnny Football? There's no question that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has all of the talent to own the college football landscape in what likely will be his final season in College Station, but his off-field social media persona has drawn too much attention. Manziel is allowed to have as much fun as he wants. He's in college and he's young. But he's also one of the best college athletes around, and his team can't repeat what it did last season if he's not 100 percent focused. He, coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive lineman Jake Matthews will get bombarded with questions about controlling Johnny Football away from the field. What will Manziel's take be, and how will he handle the media circus?

2. This hasn't been the best summer for the SEC. Outside all of the Manziel social media drama, the SEC faced some embarrassing arrests during the offseason. The biggest scandal revolves around Vanderbilt's football program, which suspended and then dismissed four players during an investigation by the Nashville Metro Police sex crimes unit. The police and coach James Franklin have been quiet about the situation, but Franklin will have to address it. The earlier he does, the better. He might not have to give too many details, but meeting the incident head-on will save him from further scrutiny and questions. Sumlin also will be asked about the recent arrests of defensive backs Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven and the status of suspended defensive tackle Kirby Ennis. LSU coach Les Miles has been very quiet about running back Jeremy Hill's recent arrest and is letting it play out in the legal system, but chances are Miles will field plenty of questions about Hill and the effect on the team.

3. Four coaches are making their first trips to SEC media days: Arkansas' Bret Bielema, Auburn's Gus Malzahn (first as head coach), Kentucky's Mark Stoops and Tennessee's Butch Jones. All have made early splashes in their own ways, but it's time to deal with the circus that is SEC media days. We'll ask them all about their quarterbacks, offenses and early recruiting success, especially of Jones and Stoops. Bielema likely will field questions about comparing the Big Ten to the SEC ... and his Twitter account. Malzahn will be asked about getting Auburn's offense back to where it was when he was the offensive coordinator. These guys should have "fun" answering every single one of these, too.

4. Will Alabama make it three in a row? And which teams from the SEC can stop the Tide? We know that it's Alabama's world and we are all just trying to figure out the "process." Coach Nick Saban has all of the parts in place to win his third straight national championship and fourth at Alabama in five years. Saban & Co. will continue to talk about avoiding complacency and "fixing" whatever they deem isn't working at 100 percent. But what the country wants to know is who is ready to end the Bama dynasty? Can A&M tackle the Tide for a second straight year? Is LSU tough enough? Can Georgia's defense grow up fast enough? Can Florida's offense figure it out? Does Steve Spurrier have something up his sleeve? The people want to know!

5. There are a lot of unsettled quarterback spots. Auburn had a two-man battle this spring between veteran Kiehl Frazier and rising sophomore Jonathan Wallace. Both left the spring pretty even. Kentucky had three vying for the No. 1 spot in Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith. Whitlow has the slight edge. Missouri had James Franklin, Maty Mauk and Corbin Berkstresser fight it out. It looks like it's down to Franklin and Mauk, but coach Gary Pinkel has been quiet about it. Tennessee has Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman competing. Worley has the edge but little experience. And Vanderbilt watched Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette compete. Carta-Samuels has the lead, but Robinette isn't out of it.

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Bama DB Landon Collins in the Film Room
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