Alabama Crimson Tide: mack brown

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

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
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Spring practice is in full swing at several SEC schools. Let's take a look at some of the headlines from around the league:

• Might Alabama pick up its offensive pace under Lane Kiffin? Not likely.

• Mississippi State's Chris Jones feeds off raw energy, but he's working to improve his technique this spring.

• Despite the prospect of more pass blocking in Auburn's 2014 offense, the offensive linemen's mindset remains unchanged.

• Running backs Mack Brown and Kelvin Taylor reeled off big runs during Florida's practice on Monday.

• What might 2014 look like for Arkansas running back Alex Collins? Sporting Life Arkansas takes a look.

• Praise continues to pour in for Ole Miss offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil after a standout freshman season.

• Darius English had one directive from South Carolina's coaching staff this offseason: add weight to his 6-foot-7 frame.

• Former Vanderbilt receiver Chris Boyd found it difficult to blend in after his dismissal from the program last year.

• Athlon ranks the top 40 players from the SEC during the BCS era.

• Defensive lineman Elijah Daniel sat out as Auburn ran through its fourth practice of the spring on Tuesday.

It's no surprise that Saban is staying

December, 14, 2013
12/14/13
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Now that the latest chapter of “Nick Saban is getting antsy at Alabama” is over, maybe the rest of the college football world will begrudgingly come to the realization that he truly has found a home.

Saban’s not unlike a lot of coaches. By nature, he’s a builder, and he’s built Alabama’s program into the envy of the sport at the collegiate level.

But this is no longer a project for him. This is and will be his legacy, and I think he’s had it in his mind for some time now that Alabama will be his final coaching stop.

I say that based on multiple conversations I’ve had with Saban in recent years as well as with others close to him.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama fans and SEC foes alike can expect many more victory laps for Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa.
When he says there are no other coaching horizons for him, he means it, which was underscored Friday night by the news that Saban and Alabama had agreed to a new long-term deal.

So while the story du jour over the past week has been whether or not Saban would go to Texas, it was never a story in his mind.

Despite what anybody might think about Saban, good or bad, he’s as old-school as it gets when it comes to these situations. There’s not an opening at Texas and might not be one.

The Longhorns still have a coach, at least for now.

Besides, Saban and Mack Brown are friends, and the last thing Saban’s going to be a part of is being perched to swoop in when a coaching colleague -- a colleague who happens to be a friend -- is teetering.

Saban’s new deal will make him richer than he already was, but the salaries coaches make these days are more like monopoly money.

Whatever Alabama pays him, upward of $7 million per year, probably won’t be enough when you consider the success he’s had on the field and the exposure he’s brought to that university.

Think the enormous increase in freshmen applying to Alabama recently has had anything to do with Saban and the Crimson Tide’s three national championships over the past four years?

Ask University of Alabama chancellor Robert Witt that question.

Here’s the other thing: While Saban spent this last whirlwind of a week on the road recruiting, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for Alabama to have his name in the headlines every day.

Typically, the more recruits read and hear about you, the more they like you.

The shock of losing to Auburn in that final game (and the way the Crimson Tide lost) hit everybody at the Capstone hard, Saban included.

One theory making the rounds was that such a crushing loss could be the impetus to chase Saban out of Tuscaloosa and be the perfect segue to a new coaching challenge.

If anything, though, he’s attacked the recruiting trail with as much passion and vigor as he ever has since that 34-28 loss on the Plains and has only thought about what he can do to get Alabama back in a position to win a championship next season.

It’s been a while. The Tide last won one in 2012.

In all seriousness, this next year might be more of a grind than Saban or anybody at Alabama is used to. But it’s the process that he loves, and while key players from the Tide’s historic run such as AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley will be moving on, Saban knows as well as anybody that the infrastructure is in place to win a few more titles.

The next question becomes: How much longer will he coach?

It’s difficult to imagine Saban doing anything but. I’ve asked him a couple of different times what he’ll do when he’s not coaching. He’s never really answered specifically other than to say that he’s not a “sit-around kind of guy.”

In other words, he’ll be fully invested in whatever he’s doing (and he’s pretty good on TV).

Saban turned 62 in October, and the way he goes at it, seeing him coach into his 70s might be a stretch.

But five or six more years is certainly realistic. He’s in remarkable shape and has the energy of a 20-year-old. He’s reputed to be a pretty salty basketball player even if he does get to pick who guards him on occasion in pick-up games.

This won’t be the last time his name comes up for a job. The next time, it’s likely to be an NFL gig.

But as McCarron cracked this week while traveling on the awards circuit, Miss Terry (Saban’s wife) is the one who runs that house.

And their house in Alabama has become their home.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Texas not making the top four for 2015 star Daylon Mack is an interesting -- and troubling -- development; the top player in Texas is scheduled to announce next week and everything is looking good for the Aggies; and Washington adds a four-star lineman, which could help give the Huskies recruiting momentum before Oregon comes to town.

SEC Friday mailbag: Week 4

September, 20, 2013
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From Jospeh Bowker (@Joe_Bowker10): What are the chances that a one-loss SEC champion gets into the national championship game this year?

It all depends on the rest of college football. There will be plenty of possible candidates -- Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, the loser of the Alabama-LSU game -- but it will be extremely difficult to surpass the likes of Clemson, Ohio State, Oregon or Stanford if any of those teams are still undefeated at the end of the season. The most likely candidate right now is Georgia, which suffered a loss in the opener. If the Bulldogs can run the table and defeat the winner of the West in the SEC title game, it would be hard to keep them out of the national championship. Still, they would need a few things to fall their way, similar to Alabama a year ago.




From Daniel Badger (@badger_daniel): Both Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn are 3-0. Which coach ends up having a better first year at season’s end?

Both coaches have looked impressive in their respective debuts, specifically Bielema whom many doubted coming in. But based on schedules, Malzahn will likely have a better year. Arkansas has to travel to Rutgers on Saturday, and from there the Hogs play five of their next six games against ranked opponents. The only team not in the top 25 is Auburn, which travels to Fayetteville on Nov. 2. It’s a brutal stretch for the Razorbacks, who have to finish the year in Death Valley against LSU. It wouldn’t shock me if Bielema won the head-to-head battle against Malzahn, but the Tigers finish with the better record.




From John Keahey (@jkeahey): Was it that much improvement by Alabama’s offensive line or was Texas A&M’s defensive line just that bad?

It’s too early to say, but I would lean more towards Texas A&M’s defensive line being that bad. They struggled against the likes of Rice and Sam Houston State in the first two games, and it only got worse against Alabama. Give the Tide credit. It was a hostile environment, and they overcame adverity to outscore the Aggies, but the offensive line will still need to improve before the Ole Miss game next weekend and more importantly before LSU comes to town in November. It’s not a lack of talent for Alabama. It’s more of a chemistry issue, and the more the line plays together, the better the unit will become. As for Texas A&M, we’ll know more about the defensive front when it plays at Arkansas next weekend.




From Jared Moore (@TheJaredMoore): Do you think Ole Miss can get more than eight regular season wins?

The Rebels are certainly off to a great start, but three of their next four games are against top-10 teams, and sandwiched in between is a road test at Auburn. They’d be happy to come out of that stretch with two wins. However, the second half of the schedule is much easier. They play six straight home games, including two against Idaho and Troy, and they finish the year at Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. There’s a real possibility they win their final five games, which would put them right at eight even if they lose their next four. They’re not quite there with Alabama or LSU, but they can definitely get to eight or possibly nine wins.




From Tennessee Sports (@SportsNewsTN): What other coaches are the Texas Longhorns pursuing, perhaps in the SEC, Pac-12 or their own conference?

The two coaches most likely to get a call are Baylor’s Art Briles and TCU’s Gary Patterson. They have Texas ties and have been very successful at their respective programs. However, Briles is 57 years old, and Patterson might not be a big enough name for the Longhorns. If they strike out on Nick Saban as expected, Texas could request an interview with UA defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Saban’s right-hand man. He doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but his name always seems to come up for big jobs. Keep an eye on Will Muschamp, too. He was orginally named the successor to Mack Brown, but that fell apart when he left for Florida. Would he leave Florida to go back to Texas?

What to watch in the SEC: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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We've arrived at Week 3 of the season in the SEC, bringing us to one of the most anticipated matchups of the entire season: Alabama's trip to Texas A&M in a rematch of last season's thriller in Tuscaloosa, when eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and the Aggies upset the eventual BCS champion Crimson Tide 29-24.

But that's not the only game worth watching in the conference this season. Let's take a look at 10 things to watch on Saturday around the conference.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonMaybe it's something, maybe it's nothing, but Nick Saban is 7-1 at Bama in rematch games following a loss, with an average win margin of 20.9 points.
1. Revenge factor in College Station: At No. 6 in this week's AP Top 25, the Aggies won't sneak up on anyone this year. In fact, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban and his troops have stewed over that loss throughout the offseason -- and that has typically been a bad sign for opponents. Since Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, the Tide is 7-1 in rematch games following a loss, with an average margin of victory of 20.9 points. Of course, the Aggies have no intention of simply rolling over before its home crowd. Kevin Sumlin's club leads the SEC in scoring (58.5 ppg), total offense (600.0 ypg) and passing offense (392.0 ypg), so the Aggies should provide an enormous test for a formidable Alabama defense that allowed just 212 yards to Virginia Tech in its first game.

2. Run the X factor for Alabama: How the Aggies' porous defense fares against Alabama's strong running game might be the determining factor Saturday. An A&M defense that was depleted by suspensions has been horrendous so far, ranking last in the SEC by allowing 273 rushing yards per game to Rice and Sam Houston State. Oddly enough, Alabama is last in the league in rushing after totaling only 96 yards on the ground against Virginia Tech, but that trend is sure to be short-lived with star-caliber talent on the offensive line and T.J. Yeldon among the standouts in the backfield. Alabama is sure to try to control the pace of this game by hammering the Aggies' defense with its talented stable of running backs on Saturday. It will require an infinitely more effective performance by A&M's defense than what we've seen thus far if the Aggies are to do an acceptable job against the Tide's ground game.

3. Tough nonconference matchups: The SEC hasn't fared so well in its marquee nonconference games thus far, with Georgia and Florida falling to a pair of ACC opponents, Clemson and Miami, and Mississippi State laying an egg against Oklahoma State. Yes, LSU and Alabama held up their ends of the deal with wins against TCU and Virginia Tech, respectively, but this might be another weekend where SEC teams come up on the short end of high-profile nonconference matchups. As of Tuesday night, Tennessee was a 27.5-point underdog for Saturday's game at Pac-12 powerhouse Oregon, and Kentucky was also a double-digit underdog (plus-13.5) for its in-state rivalry game with Louisville. One of the more intriguing games of the weekend is Ole Miss' visit to a Texas program in turmoil, but the Longhorns are the favorite in that game, as well.

4. Measuring stick for Vols: New Tennessee coach Butch Jones' club has been impressive in its first two games, routing overmatched Austin Peay and Western Kentucky, but its next two games are a completely different animal. The Vols have the pleasure of facing No. 2 Oregon on national TV Saturday, followed by another tough road trip, to No. 18 Florida, the following week. Tennessee ranks 13th nationally with an average of 48.5 points per game and it leads the SEC with a plus-seven turnover margin, but slowing down Oregon's offensive juggernaut in Eugene is no simple task. The Ducks are 27-2 at Autzen Stadium dating back to the start of the 2009 season and at 62.5 points per game in wins against Virginia and Nicholls State, this year's club looks to be just as good as its recent predecessors.

5. Odell Beckham show: LSU's multi-talented return man and receiver punctuated an outstanding night by returning a missed field goal 100 yards for a touchdown last weekend against UAB. He also caught 136 yards worth of passes for three touchdowns against the Blazers. Kent State should provide ample opportunity for Beckham to add to his impressive stats -- he already has 10 catches for 254 yards and three TDs -- before the Tigers jump into conference play next week against Auburn.

6. Rebels primed for upset?: What do we make of Saturday night's Ole Miss-Texas game in Austin? The Longhorns won last year's game in Oxford by five touchdowns, but they hadn't just performed so poorly that coach Mack Brown felt compelled to fire a coordinator two games into the season. Texas' defense was horrendous last week, allowing 550 rushing yards -- the most by an opponent in school history -- in a 40-21 loss at BYU. That prompted Brown to reassign defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and bring back Greg Robinson to take his job. Flash forward to this weekend. At No. 25, Ole Miss is ranked for the first time since 2009, and the Rebels aren't too shabby on offense with an average of 510.5 yards per game. That matchup between Hugh Freeze's up-and-coming team and a Texas club on the verge of imploding makes for one of the weekend's most compelling storylines.

7. Arkansas' running game: Those around the conference are starting to take notice of the new-look ground game that first-year Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has brought to Fayetteville. Once a pass-heavy offense under Bobby Petrino, Arkansas is 11th nationally with an average of 312.5 rushing yards per game. The Razorbacks have both the No. 6 (Alex Collins at 151.5 yards per game) and No. 12 (Jonathan Williams, 138.5 ypg) rushers in the country, and they'll face a Southern Miss defense this weekend that has been vulnerable against the run so far, ranking 81st with an average of 179.0 yards against.

8. Gamecocks, Commodores with something to prove: Steve Spurrier was livid after the way his defense performed in last week's loss to Georgia, vowing that the Gamecocks would change things up to force more turnovers. The Gamecocks risk falling out of the SEC East race if they suffer another division loss, so games like Saturday's visit from Vanderbilt are essentially must-wins. Although there have been a few near-misses, the Commodores are still in search of their first win against the East's power trio of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. With an SEC-high eight sacks and an overall productive defense, the Commodores might be able to give themselves a chance in Columbia if they contain South Carolina's offense and hit a big play or two against a Gamecocks defense in transition.

9. Enormous test for Kentucky secondary: Saturday's matchup against Louisville is a minor nightmare for a Kentucky team that lists three freshmen and four sophomores on the two-deep at its five secondary positions. Led by Heisman contender Teddy Bridgewater (376.0 ypg, 9 TDs, 1 INT) at quarterback, Louisville possesses one of the most potent passing offenses in the country. Kentucky has actually defended the pass fairly well so far, ranking fourth in the SEC with 147.0 yards allowed per game and limiting opponents to an 11.5-percent conversion rate on third down, but the Wildcats posted those numbers against Western Kentucky and Miami (Ohio). Defensive end Za'Darius Smith (an SEC-high four sacks) and company must get after Bridgewater for the Wildcats to have a chance on Saturday.

10. Bowl implications for Auburn, Mississippi State: For a pair of teams harboring mid-level bowl hopes, Saturday's matchup is a big one. Already 2-0, Auburn is a win away from matching its win total for all of last season. But with games remaining against LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama, bowl eligibility likely hinges on beating the Mississippi States of the world. Dan Mullen's Bulldogs, meanwhile, are desperate to right the ship after dropping six of their last games since starting the 2012 season 7-0. They flat-out stunk in a 21-3 loss to open the season against Oklahoma State and still have all of the West's heavyweights left on the schedule, plus South Carolina. The loser of this one might very well be home for Christmas.
After we put the first weekend of the college football season to bed, ESPN NFL draft gurus Mel Kiper and Todd McShay brought up the argument on a lot of people's minds: Could the SEC's impressive streak of national championships end in 2013?

Will the SEC's magic number end at the lucky number of seven? Is eight just too great?

Well, according to them, it isn't in any danger, yet. Kiper admits that the league is more vulnerable now than it was last year, which is safe to say, but he's not ready to call a slow start to the year the end all for the sport's most-dominant conference.

McShay still thinks that an imperfect Alabama is still much better than the rest of the pack. Plus, he's still convinced the SEC has some other worthy national championship contenders.

The SEC saw some slow starters here and there, but I'm not ready to write off the conference after Week 1.

Here's why: The SEC has more than just Alabama. There are still five other worthy title contenders. Let's take a look at them and where they stand in the championship realm:

Alabama: The Crimson Tide beat Virginia Tech by 25 points inside the Georgia Dome over the weekend, but what everyone took from that game was the play of the offensive line. It wasn't great. It was actually pretty ugly, but that will change. Some kinks have to get ironed out, and Nick Saban will make sure of it. As for the defense, it looked pretty fast and pretty physical over the weekend. Things will be a lot tighter after the bye week. Trending: Same

LSU: Someone on this blog has been pretty adamant about people not sleeping on the Tigers. I can't really recall his name, but he's the sharpest dressed man in the business. Anyway, DO NOT SLEEP ON THE TIGERS! There might be a revamped defense down on the Bayou, but LSU still has a ton of speed and athleticism on that side of the ball. The Tigers' defense overwhelmed TCU on Saturday, and the offense put up nearly 450 yards of offense. This team is good, folks. Trending: Up

South Carolina: The defense was solid, the offense was balanced and the Gamecocks head into Week 2 with a ton of confidence and momentum. Sure, Jadeveon Clowney wasn't his best, but he had a slow start to last season, too. Plus, he was sick. We here at the SEC blog will give him a pass this week (but only this week!). The defense faces a tougher task in stopping Georgia's offense Saturday, but it'll be interesting to see how the Bulldogs defend running back Mike Davis, who could be a budding star. Trending: Up

Texas A&M: When Johnny Manziel was throwing the ball, he actually looked pretty good. For a player known more for his time away from the field during the offseason, he looked like someone who took all of his practice time very seriously. He didn't put up eye-popping stats, but he went through his progressions and didn't lock onto receivers. But he can't pick up silly taunting penalties anymore. Just be the Johnny Football who wowed us last year. Also, the defense might have been down a few starters, but to give up more than 500 yards to Rice is unacceptable. Trending: Same, but close to trending down

Florida: No one really wanted to see a bowl of vanilla ice cream sitting in the middle of the Swamp Saturday, but that's exactly what you got when Florida's offense took the field. The passing game opened up a little more in the first half and backup running back Mack Brown looked very good, but it was a bit of snoozer in the second half. The defense was outstanding against that uptempo offense, but the offense was pretty boring. With the return of starting running back Matt Jones and more on the line Saturday, I expect that to change this weekend against Miami. Trending: Same

Georgia: The Bulldogs did not have a very good Saturday against Clemson. Offensively, they put up more than 500 yards, but the offensive line struggled in pass protection and top wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell is out for the season after tearing his ACL. On defense, the Bulldogs couldn't tackle and failed to contain Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bulldogs had 10 missed tackles Saturday (they totaled 106 all last season). More work needs to be done in Athens than originally thought. Trending: Down

SEC lunchtime links

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
2:20
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Happy Labor Day, SEC fans. With the first weekend of SEC football in the books, there's much to analyze and discuss. Here are some links from around the league for your holiday reading pleasure:

Video: SEC preseason impact players

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
4:00
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Chris Low looks around the SEC at those players who've made big splashes this preseason.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
12:00
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Here's a little reading to get your weekend jump-started.
  • With all the attention on autographs and NCAA violations, Alabama coach Nick Saban says he trusts his players not to take money to sign.
  • The Crimson Tide had a pretty high-profile guest speaker on Thursday: New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who spoke to the team about complacency, selfishness and accountability.
  • Auburn coach Gus Malzahn took an unusual step to try and get some separation in the Tigers' quarterback competition. He let all four of them get hit during a scrimmage in the hopes of generating some separation.
  • The Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate, citing sources, reported that LSU guard Josh Wilford suffered a concussion during practice on Thursday and it may be a career-threatening injury.
  • Kiero Small took a long road to Arkansas -- one that included military school and junior college -- and it has helped shape the fullback into the heart and soul of the Razorbacks.
  • One of the reasons Mississippi State's Cedric Ogbuehi is happy about his move from guard to tackle is the fact that tackles make more money in the NFL.
  • Recruiting is a never-ending grind for coaches, as Georgia's assistants can attest.
  • The Bulldogs also have a couple of pretty impressive freshmen defensive backs.
  • Florida has a trio of replacement players -- linebacker Michael Taylor, quarterback Tyler Murphy and running back Mack Brown -- who have capably filled in for injured and suspended teammates in the first week of camp. Two of those players -- quarterback Jeff Driskel and linebacker Antonio Morrison -- returned to the practice field Thursday night.
  • The newfound enthusiasm around Kentucky football has the Wildcats' seniors encouraged about their final season.
  • You know what the Tennessee football program could use? A little luck, Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel columnist John Adams says.
  • South Carolina's third-fastest player is a walk-on wide receiver who is a cousin of former Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. He's keeping that last part mostly to himself.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 5, 2013
8/05/13
3:17
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A little lunchtime reading from around the SEC:
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The viewing public wants it, the league commissioner wants it and frankly it's good for the health of the sport as a whole. SEC schools need to improve their nonconference schedules and remove all doubt about any supposed lack of strength of schedule.

With that in mind, TideNation takes a look at 10 nonconference opponents we'd like to see on Alabama's schedule:

Boise State
Last Meeting: N/A

Who wouldn't want to see college football's David vs. Goliath? For the past decade we've watched as Boise State has won game after game on its blue turf, reaching bowl games in the process. And each year we've heard college football fans complain about their schedule. Well, why not change that? Why not put a super power like Alabama on the docket and prove once and for all whether the Smurf turf is anything more than a parlor trick?


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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Football is a game of imitation. Coaches beg, borrow and steal from one another. In the fraternity, it's a matter of good form, if not outright flattery.

[+] EnlargePatrick Suddes
University of TexasPatrick Suddes, who recently went to Texas as the Longhorns' director of player personnel, is one of several Alabama staffers to leave this offseason.
Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner had no idea his Single-wing look would become the Wildcat offense we know today. He couldn't have known Kentucky would popularize the formation. Arkansas would call it the Wild Hog, Ole Miss the Wild Rebel and Virginia Tech the Wild Turkey; none even slightly distinguishable from the other. What mattered was it worked.

Though the use of the Wildcat has waned in recent years, there was once a time where you couldn't turn on the television without seeing it. High school, college, the NFL; they all followed the movement.

And now, the trend is toward all things Alabama. You can't scan the college football landscape without seeing the influence of the Crimson Tide and their head coach, Nick Saban. After three championships in four years, the sport has stopped wondering "Why them?" and started asking "Why not us, too?"

Whether it's Alabama's offensive scheme, its defensive alignment or the structure of its coaching staff, everyone is after the Tide's secret recipe. It's why year after year programs poach assistant coaches from under Saban's wing. This offseason alone, three position coaches were hired away, two of which took jobs in the NFL.

The University of Texas, spoiled with talent yet thirsting for success, has turned to Tuscaloosa as a roadmap in its return to prominence. Coach Mack Brown, a man who used to set the curve, is trying to catch up in Austin.

Less than a month after watching Alabama nab two top in-state recruits from under his nose -- A'Shawn Robinson and Maurice Smith -- Brown shook up his staff, creating a position for director of player development. With the posting, Brown acknowledged whose lead he was following.

(Read full post)

AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown’s theory of "If you can’t beat them, hire them" has continued.

The Longhorns on Thursday hired Patrick Suddes, associate director of football operations at the University of Alabama. Suddes will be Texas’ director of player personnel, the school announced. Suddes is Texas’ second hire in the last three years from Alabama, as Brown hired away defensive line coach Bo Davis away from Alabama in 2011. Suddes had spent the last six seasons at Alabama, including the last five as associate director of football operations.

At Texas, Suddes will be charged with overseeing the recruiting process and creating new multimedia avenues for Texas to reach out and stay in contact with recruits and coaches.

In describing what he was looking for when Texas listed the position on Feb. 21, Brown said: "What we feel like it needs to be is as good a recruiting coordinator as there is in the country and that would mean a guy that can look at the new rules and see, what can we send out, and be the best. One time we were the best in our media guides and one time we were the best in our website. Right now I don't think we are, and that's who this person we think needs to be.’’

Suddes will also coordinate Texas football camps and the annual clinic for high school coaches.

(Read full post)

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