Alabama Crimson Tide: Marcus Lattimore

SEC power rankings

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
10:15
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We've come to the end of the regular season for the SEC, so here is our final batch of power rankings until the new year:

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

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

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2012 SEC regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
9:00
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Here we are again talking about another potential national championship for the SEC.

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

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

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

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Week 11 in the SEC

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
1:00
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Here's a quick primer for Week 11 in the SEC:

Arkansas (4-5, 2-3 SEC) at No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2SEC), Noon ET, CBS: The Gamecocks are rested from the bye and the hope is the emotions from Marcus Lattimore's season-ending injury won't hurt this team's mindset. Arkansas escaped Tulsa over the weekend and will have to play its most complete game to top South Carolina. Both have a lot to play for, as a BCS bowl is still in the cards for the Gamecocks, while Arkansas needs two more wins to grab a bowl berth.

Missouri (4-5, 1-5 SEC) at Tennessee (4-5, 0-5 SEC), 12:21 p.m. ET, SECNetwork: Both of these teams are in desperate need of a win. Missouri's offense has sputtered along in SEC play, while Tennessee's defense has been sliced and diced by its opponents all season. Something has to give on Saturday. With Texas A&M still on the schedule, the Tigers might have to get this win if they are going to go bowling, while another Vols win will help take a little heat off of coach Derek Dooley.

Louisiana-Lafayette (5-3) at No. 6 Florida (8-1, 7-1 SEC), 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network: The Gators begin two weeks of cupcake play with the Ragin' Cajuns. The next two weeks should be devoted to figuring things out in the passing game for the Gators. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is getting little help outside of tight end Jordan Reed. The good news for Florida is that Louisiana-Lafayette is 118th nationally in pass defense, so if the Gators are going to get some confidence back in its passing game, Saturday should be a good start.

No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC)at No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: With the Crimson Tide coming off of a very physical and a very emotional win over LSU, the Aggies don't give Alabama the best matchup this weekend. LSU provided a bit of a blueprint on how to beat the Tide, and Texas A&M's high-flying offense is capable of generating some yards and points on this Tide defense. Containing Johnny Manziel will be Alabama's top objective, while the Aggies will be looking to stop the Tide's bullish running game.

No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) at Auburn (2-7, 0-6 SEC), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: A win for Georgia and the Bulldogs are heading to the SEC championship game for the second straight year. After being counted out (again), Georgia is in complete control of the East and is a win away from silencing a lot of those critics in Athens. Auburn finally got its second win of the year last weekend and has a new quarterback in Jonathan Wallace. The offense made strides against New Mexico State and this is a game that the Bulldogs can't overlook. It's a rivalry game and it's a night game in one of college football's best venues.

Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3 SEC) at Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3 SEC), 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU: When it comes to the postseason, this is a must-win for both teams. Vandy is cruising along on a three-game winning streak, while the Rebels are coming off of a blowout loss to Georgia. Ole Miss has dropped two straight to the Commodores and with LSU and Mississippi State remaining, this might be Ole Miss' best chance to get that sixth win. Things are really clicking for the Commodores, and they'll enter Saturday's game with a lot more momentum than the Rebels.

No. 21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2 SEC) at No. 7 LSU(7-2, 3-2 SEC), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Tigers will likely feel quite the hangover from that tough loss to Alabama, but the Bulldogs are coming off of an embarrassing loss to Texas A&M. This will be another night game in Death Valley and the Tigers know they are still in line to reach the Allstate Sugar Bowl if they win out. LSU played its best offensive game of the season, while the Bulldogs have taken plenty of steps back on both sides of the ball in the past two weeks.
Now that you've seen Chris Low's top 25, it's time to see what my list of the top 25 players in the SEC looks like.

I'm not perfect, but I'll try to be:

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Who has been more exciting than Johnny Football? The Aggies aren't 5-1 without him or his 1,600 passing yards, 676 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.

2. Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida: He's powering Florida's offense and he's been the SEC's best back thus far. He's extremely explosive and is strong enough to bully his way to extra yards and wear down defenses.

3. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: He's turning into the dominating player we've really been waiting to see. Some think he might be the best player overall in the conference and is pushing to be next year's No. 1 NFL draft pick.

4. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: At one time, he was a Heisman candidate, but injuries and double-teams stunted that campaign. Still, he's the SEC's best linebacker, can fly around the field and just feasts on opposing quarterbacks.

5. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: He's been Alabama's best defensive player this year and can make plays from just about anywhere on the field. He leads Alabama with 51 tackles, has 2.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.

6. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: Even though he moved from linebacker to defensive end, Moore has been just as dominant as he was last season. He leads the SEC in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (15).

7. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State: This summer, he said he was the SEC's best cornerback and he hasn't disappointed. He has three interceptions on the season and is averaging just 4.7 yards per attempt in man coverage.

8. Chance Warmack, OL, Alabama: He might be the nation's best offensive lineman and he's just blowing defenders up this season. No wonder Alabama can run the ball so well.

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SEC Heisman Watch: Week 8

October, 16, 2012
10/16/12
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We have a new No. 1, and age ain't nothing but a number:

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Sure, he's a freshman. No freshman has ever won the Heisman Trophy, but Manziel has been the most exciting player in the SEC this season. He can hurt teams with his arm and legs and showed it once again in the Aggies' shootout victory over Louisiana Tech. He broke his own SEC record for total offensive yards when he threw for 395 yards with three touchdowns and ran for 181 yards and three more touchdowns. That's 576 yards from one person. Nasty. He's third in the SEC in passing (1,680 yards) and has 14 touchdowns to three interceptions. He also leads the SEC with 676 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

2. Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida: He probably should have been in this spot last week after his 146-yard performance against LSU's defense. Gillislee has quietly gone about his business and leads all SEC running backs with 615 yards and is one of only two backs to average 100 or more yards a game. He also has seven rushing touchdowns. Gillislee ran for just 56 yards against Vanderbilt, but he carried the ball only 13 times because the Gators didn't need to use him that much. Gillislee isn't getting a lot of national love, but he's been one of the best in the SEC this season, and if he has a good performance against South Carolina, it should push him up the national charts.

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What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
10:15
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We have a few exciting matchups in the SEC this weekend, so let's check out what to watch in Week 7:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC power rankings: Week 7

October, 8, 2012
10/08/12
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There's movement all over as we check out the SEC power rankings for Week 7:

1. Alabama (5-0; LW: 1): The Tide was off last week, so it didn't have a chance to widen its lead on the SEC and the rest of the country. The last thing Alabama's upcoming opponents want is a rested Tide team. I can only imagine the extra work Nick Saban put his team through in order to clean up all those little things.

2. South Carolina (6-0; LW: 4): The Gamecocks completely dominated Georgia over the weekend. South Carolina's offense is extremely balanced and looks like it can just jump on Marcus Lattimore's shoulders at this point. He's just getting stronger and stronger. The defense is smothering up front and stopping that defensive line has been a nightmare for teams. But road games at LSU and Florida will be tough.

3. Florida (5-0; LW: 5): The Gators might not have the most exciting offense, but that defense is tremendous. Florida put a load of pressure on LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger over the weekend and clobbered the Tigers' running game. Behind Mike Gillislee, the Gators pounded LSU with their running game, but the passing game is still a concern. If Florida can get more through the air, this offense could start to really give defenses fits.

4. LSU (5-1; LW: 2): It's obvious that the Tigers can't put everything on their defense. Even with how talented LSU is on the defensive side of the ball, the offense needs major work, especially in the passing game. Mettenberger hasn't come close to living up to the hype and just doesn't look comfortable standing in LSU's pocket. The running game was one of the SEC's best, but was quieted against Florida because there just wasn't the threat to pass. No offensive balance could doom this team.

5. Georgia (5-1; LW: 3): The concern about the defense continues to grow after the Bulldogs' 28-point loss to the Gamecocks. USC was intent on running and Georgia couldn't do anything to stop it, allowing 232 rushing yards. Jarvis Jones has been a non-factor for the past two weeks and Aaron Murray's big-game struggles came right back in Columbia, S.C. The good news is the Bulldogs have the SEC East's easiest schedule from here on out.

6. Mississippi State (5-0; LW: 6): These Bulldogs weren't flashy, but they were very efficient against Kentucky. Tyler Russell is one of seven FBS quarterbacks with 10-plus passing touchdowns and fewer than two interceptions this season, while LaDarius Perkins is the only player in the SEC to be in the top two in rushing yards per game (99.8) and all-purpose yards per game (130.0). That defense has been pretty stout as well, as the Bulldogs have trailed for just 10:19 this season.

7. Texas A&M (4-1; LW: 7): Johnny Manziel grabbed hero status in Oxford, Miss., over the weekend. The redshirt freshman quarterback led the Aggies to 13 straight points in the fourth quarter, after trailing Ole Miss by 10. He had a nifty 29-yard touchdown run to trim the Rebels' lead to four and then found Ryan Swope for the game-winning 20-yard touchdown pass with 1:46 remaining. What's more impressive is the Aggies got the win despite committing six turnovers.

8. Tennessee (3-2; LW: 8): The Vols were off, but have a very important matchup with Mississippi State this weekend. We finally saw good balance out of the Vols against an SEC opponent in their shootout loss to Georgia two weeks ago, but most of the extra time Tennessee had better have been devoted to doing something about that defense. The Vols are 13th in the SEC in total defense (425.8 yards per game), and that just won't cut it if Tennessee is going to make any sort of second-half run.

9. Vanderbilt (2-3; LW: 12): The Commodores got a big win on the road at Missouri. Like prior games, Vandy wasn't great when it had the ball, but it played tough for four quarters and outlasted a banged-up Mizzou team. The defense really has been impressive for most of the season, but the Commodores have to get more out of the offense.

10. Ole Miss (3-3; LW: 10): After a heartbreaking loss to the Aggies, Ole Miss now has lost 16 straight SEC games. Blowing that 10-point lead in the fourth quarter probably will haunt this team all week. There's no doubt the Rebels can move the ball, but costly turnovers have doomed this offense. The defense has made strides since last season, but there's still too much break in this unit.

11. Arkansas (2-4; LW: 13): Just when you think the Hogs are done, they find some strength and walk out of Auburn with a huge win over the struggling Tigers. Auburn has had a plethora of issues this season, but from a mental aspect, this was a big win for Arkansas' team. The Razorbacks aren't totally out of the bowl hunt now, but there's still a lot of ground for this team to make up. Finally holding an offense in check, forcing five turnovers and getting eight sacks is a good start.

12. Missouri (3-3; LW: 9): This has not been the SEC welcome the Tigers expected. Mizzou has been banged up all year and pushed around by its SEC counterparts. James Franklin is out for a few weeks with a knee sprain. Corbin Berkstresser is now the starting quarterback, and he'd better get over his rough performance against Vandy, where he hit only 9 of his 30 passes. Things just get harder, as the Tigers host No. 1 Alabama Saturday.

13. Auburn (1-4; LW: 11): Things just aren't working on the Plains. With an extra week to prepare for the SEC's worst defense, the Tigers mustered only 321 yards of offense against Arkansas and found the end zone once. Kiehl Frazier was benched for Clint Moseley at quarterback, but two fourth-quarter interceptions doomed Auburn. The offense just has too many issues right now, and the Tigers might have lost their chance at a postseason berth with Saturday's no-show.

14. Kentucky (1-5; LW: 14): Injuries have crippled this team and things just aren't getting any better for the Wildcats. Kentucky was forced to play two freshmen at quarterback, and lost one (Patrick Towles) to an ankle injury, against Mississippi State. The Wildcats already were working without their starting running back. Things continue to heat up around Joker Phillips, whose team is hovering around the bottom of the SEC in most offensive and defensive categories.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 6

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
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It’s the biggest weekend of the season so far in the SEC, and here’s a look at what to watch in Week 6:

1. Lassoing Lattimore: There’s no other way to say it. South Carolina junior running back Marcus Lattimore has owned Georgia. Lattimore rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown last season against the Bulldogs, and he racked up 182 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. Most notably, he’s been money in the fourth quarter. He had 94 of his yards last season in the fourth quarter. And in 2010, he had 56 yards in South Carolina’s final drive to ice the game. The Bulldogs simply haven’t been able to get Lattimore on the ground when it’s counted. Of his 358 rushing yards the last two years against the Bulldogs, 152 have come after contact. If they’re going to win this game, they need to put the clamps on Lattimore early and not allow South Carolina to ride him in the second half. He’s already had a pair of 100-yard rushing games this season against SEC foes Vanderbilt and Kentucky and combined for 145 rushing/receiving yards against Missouri. He’s answered a lot of the questions about whether he could regain his old form post-ACL surgery, but can make a resounding statement Saturday that he’s all the way back.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Lattimore
Zuma Press/Icon SMIWhile Vanderbilt couldn't slow down RB Marcus Lattimore, Georgia plans to give it a try this week.
2. Battle in the trenches I: Georgia’s offensive line faces its toughest test of the season against a South Carolina defensive line that hasn’t given up much of anything this season. Jadeveon Clowney is one of the most explosive pass-rushers in the country and is second in the SEC with 5.5 sacks. Georgia junior left tackle Kenarious Gates will be matched up most of the game against Clowney. The other matchup to keep an eye on is Georgia’s true freshman right tackle, John Theus, against South Carolina senior defensive end Devin Taylor, who’s a fierce pass-rusher in his own right. The Gamecocks have also been a brick wall against the run and are allowing just 2.2 yards per carry. The Bulldogs will need their best game of the season up front offensively.

3. Battle in the trenches II: Similar to Georgia’s offensive line, Florida’s guys up front will also encounter their toughest test of the season. LSU will rotate eight or nine players in the defensive line, and there’s not a lot of drop-off when the starters are resting. Florida has made it known that it wants to run the football, and the Gators will need to if they’re going to keep LSU honest on defense. Not only do the Tigers have a pair of potential first-round draft picks at end in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, but they’re equally stout in the middle with Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson. The offensive line has been the most improved part of Florida’s team this season, but the stakes (and the level of competition) go up considerably on Saturday.

4. October grinder: Nobody in the SEC has a tougher October than South Carolina, especially when you consider the Gamecocks don’t have their bye until Nov. 3. It’s the major reason that picking South Carolina to win the East is hard to do. Even if they can pull out a win over No. 5 Georgia on Saturday, they still have to go to No. 4 LSU and to No. 10 Florida the next two weeks followed by a home game with Tennessee to close out the month. LSU’s October slate isn’t a walk in the park. After playing at No. 10 Florida this weekend, the Tigers return home to face No. 6 South Carolina and then hit the road to play Texas A&M the following week. After a bye week, LSU takes on Alabama at home to kick off November. The Gators are also embarking on a grueling stretch. After LSU’s visit, they travel to Vanderbilt and then get No. 6 South Carolina at home and No. 5 Georgia in Jacksonville in back-to-back weeks. Can any of the three get through October unscathed?

5. Gators’ signature moment: Will Muschamp earned his first win over a nationally ranked foe as Florida’s coach back in September when the Gators went into Knoxville and defeated Tennessee. That was a big step for the program, but taking down No. 4 LSU will make a resounding statement to the entire college football world that Florida is indeed back. This is a game the Gators lost by 30 points a year ago. It’s a chance to show how far they’ve progressed since that blowout, not to mention a chance to prove they can play their best football on the biggest of stages.

6. Taking back the Swamp: There was a time, not too long ago, when the Swamp was the best home-field advantage in the SEC. The Gators didn’t just beat teams at home. They buried them amid a deafening roar and usually sweltering heat. It was a lot like walking into the lion’s den for the opposing team, and that’s something the Gators have to get back if they’re going to start winning championships again. They lost five games at home during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. That’s the same number of games they lost at home in Steve Spurrier’s 12 seasons as coach from 1990-2001. And in Urban Meyer’s first five seasons, they only lost twice at home. This Saturday should be a great atmosphere, the first top-10 matchup at the Swamp since the 2006 LSU game.

7. Defenseless defenses: If you’re an old-school defensive junkie, you might want to avoid the Arkansas-Auburn affair. Defense hasn’t been either team’s cup of tea this season, although the Tigers were much better in their last outing two weeks ago against LSU. In nine games, the two defenses have combined to give up 4,228 yards. The one saving grace for Arkansas is that senior quarterback Tyler Wilson has feasted on Auburn. With the way it’s gone for the Hogs this season on defense, they’re going to have to score 35 points to even have a chance. Wilson passed for 262 yards and two touchdowns last season against Auburn and came off the bench in relief of Ryan Mallett in 2010 to pass for 332 yards and four touchdowns.

8. Manziel for Heisman: As a senior at Tivy High School in Kerrville, Texas, Johnny Manziel put up some outrageous numbers. He passed for 45 touchdowns and ran for 30 touchdowns. The Texas A&M fans couldn’t wait to see “Johnny Football” in maroon. He makes his fifth start for the Aggies on Saturday against Ole Miss and is still cranking out unreal numbers, especially for a redshirt freshman. He set an SEC record last week with 557 yards of total offense in the 58-10 drubbing of Arkansas and leads the SEC in total offense with an average of 365 yards per game. How long can he keep up this pace? Well, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin says Manziel is becoming a better quarterback every game, and while Ole Miss isn’t as bad as Arkansas on defense, the Rebels have still given up some big numbers this season. Either way, Manziel’s playing at a level right now that he could easily have close to 2,000 yards in total offense through his first five games as a starter.

9. Not turning it over: Not only is Mississippi State not turning the ball over, but the Bulldogs are also tied for the SEC lead in forcing turnovers. Through four games, they’ve forced 15 turnovers and committed only two, which is a big reason they’re unbeaten. A plus-13 turnover ratio, which is No. 1 nationally among all FBS teams, is going to mask a lot of other issues. The Bulldogs, who travel to Kentucky on Saturday, have played well to this point and have been resourceful, but they’ve by no means been dominant. What they’ve done is win the turnover battle in all four of their games, and they’ve been at least plus-three in the turnover department in three of those games. That’s a recipe for a lot of wins regardless of where you rank statistically in other areas. Case in point: Mississippi State is 10th in the SEC right now in total offense and eighth in total defense.

10. Finding some offense: Missouri and Vanderbilt meet on Saturday in Columbia, Mo., and both teams hope to cure some serious offensive ills. The Tigers have scored just 24 points on offense in their last two games, and one of those touchdowns came at garbage time in the waning seconds of a 31-10 loss to South Carolina two weeks ago. It’s been even more difficult for the Commodores to score points. In fact, they’ve yet to score a touchdown in the second half in any of their three games against FBS foes this season and have managed just two field goals after the break in those three games. One of the common denominators for both teams has been the inability to sustain drives. Missouri is next-to-last in the SEC in third-down conversion (20-of-73) and Vanderbilt is last (13-of-56).

SEC power rankings: Week 6

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
9:00
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Separation Saturday is approaching in the SEC ... but here are where our power rankings look to start the week:

1. Alabama (5-0; LW: 1): The Crimson Tide's offense didn't look great against Ole Miss and the defense actually gave up two touchdowns, but Alabama left the weekend with a 19-point win. Alabama looked a little lethargic out on the field, but the Rebels put up a better fight than most expected. This team has talked about cleaning up execution issues on offense and will get an extra week to do that with the bye here.

2. LSU (5-0; LW: 2): The Tigers are skating on thin ice in our power rankings. The previous week's sluggish win over Auburn was one thing, but the Tigers really struggled against Towson. What was most surprising about LSU's performance was how poorly the Tigers defended the run, as Towson gained 188 yards on the ground. One positive was that we finally saw more of a downfield passing game from Zach Mettenberger, and Odell Beckham Jr. stepped up in a big way at receiver.

3. Georgia (5-0; LW: 3): The Bulldogs could be considered 2b after the way LSU played, but Georgia's defense really struggled against Tennessee. We all knew the Vols had the potential to hurt this group, but Georgia's defense was absolutely gutted for 478 yards and gave up 37 of the Vols' 44 points. Things have to be cleaned up, but with the way that offense is playing, it's going to be tough for teams to keep up in a shootout with the Dawgs.

4. South Carolina (5-0; LW: 4): The Gamecocks gave their fans a bit of a scare after being down 10 to Kentucky at the half Saturday. All was forgiven after a dominating second half during which South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 31-0. Connor Shaw continues to throw the ball with splendid accuracy, while Marcus Lattimore is looking stronger and stronger out there. However, the Gamecocks can't afford a sluggish start against Georgia this weekend.

5. Florida (4-0; LW: 5): The Gators were off this weekend, so players got some much-needed rest and time to heal. It also gave Florida a little extra time to scout No. 4 LSU, which travels to the Swamp on Saturday. Florida has to feel a little more confident about this weekend after watching another ugly win by LSU. But expect the intensity to be way up for the Tigers. Saturday should be pretty fun to watch.

6. Mississippi State (4-0; LW: 6): The Bulldogs were on their bye over the weekend. Quietly, the Bulldogs have had a very impressive start to the season. Their past two games should have been won by bigger margins, but this team is still undefeated and has the potential to be a 6-1 or 7-0 team heading into the last weekend of the month. On the season, only five teams have trailed for less time than Mississippi State.

7. Texas A&M (3-1; LW: 8): The Aggies just keep pounding away on offense. Johnny Manziel and his crew walked all over Arkansas' defense, racking up 716 yards of offense and 58 points in their blowout win against the reeling Razorbacks. We know that Texas A&M can score points and generate a lot of yards, but we saw a little too much bend out of A&M's defense against the Hogs, as they surrendered 515 yards to Arkansas.

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SEC helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 30, 2012
9/30/12
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Here's a look at the SEC's best from the weekend:

Sanders Commings, CB, Georgia: There wasn't much for Georgia's defense to be happy about in that 51-44 shootout with Tennessee, but Commings came up with some big plays for the Bulldogs. He intercepted two of Tyler Bray's passes, including the one to seal the game when he jumped in front of Bray's final prayer with only seconds remaining in Saturday's game. Commings also registered five tackles.

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: The freshman receiver came through in a big way in the second quarter of Alabama's 33-14 victory over Ole Miss when he grabbed back-to-back touchdown passes from 16 and 12 yards out. Cooper was quarterback AJ McCarron's favorite target on the night, as he caught a game-high eight passes and led all receivers with 84 yards.

Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: You can tell Lattimore is just getting stronger every time get gets out on the field. After carrying the ball just five times for 12 yards in the first half against Kentucky, Lattimore grabbed 18 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. For those counting at home, he finished the day with a season-high 120 yards. He also caught three passes for 16 yards in the 38-17 win.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: It was just another day for Manziel, as he and his teammates walked all over Arkansas' defense. The redshirt freshman wanted a victory badly, and he did all he could to secure the Aggies' 58-10 blowout. He completed 29 of his 38 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball 14 times for 104 yards, including a long of 52 yards, and a touchdown.

Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia: Another freshman makes our list. Todd Gurley might have the better stats on the season, but Marshall was key to the Bulldogs' success Saturday, as he carried the ball 10 times for 164 yards and scored touchdowns from 75 and 72 yards out. His 72-yard scamper late in the third quarter eventually stood as the Bulldogs' game-winning score.

Mike Bobo, offensive coordinator, Georgia: Hats off to Georgia's playcaller. Bobo hasn't exactly been a fan favorite in Athens, Ga., but he made Tennessee's defense look silly with the way he game planned for Saturday. He helped the Bulldogs be extremely balanced in their plays and created the right mismatches to help Georgia run all over the Vols' defense. Georgia registered its third straight 500-plus-yard game by totaling 560 yards against the Vols. The Dawgs rushed for 282 yards and threw for 278. Through five games, there's no question that Georgia has the SEC's best offense, and Bobo's play calling and roster management has been a big reason why.

SEC Heisman watch: Week 5

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
4:27
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Another week and there's more movement in our Heisman watch:

1. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Murray just keeps impressing with that right arm of his. This past weekend, Murray lit up Vanderbilt's secondary for 250 yards and two touchdowns, completing 78 percent of his passes along the way. Murray is second in the SEC with 1,092 passing yards, is tied for second with 10 passing touchdowns and has a quarterback rating of 182.43. With help from Murray, Georgia has scored 40-plus points in four consecutive games for the first time in school history, and he's had a 100-yard receiver (three different ones) in all of the first four games.

2. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: There might not be a more efficient quarterback in the SEC. He doesn't exactly light up the stat sheet when it comes to yards, but McCarron leads the SEC and ranks fourth nationally with a quarterback rating of 188.63. He's completing 63 percent of his passes and has thrown for 819 yards and 10 touchdowns to zero interceptions. The fact that he's on the No. 1 team in the country and has a chance to get to 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns will only help his Heisman chances going forward.

3. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: Jones was slowed by an injury against Florida Atlantic, but rebounded nicely in the Dawgs' win over Vandy. He registered seven tackles, including three for loss, and a sack. He now has 4.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hurries to go with 24 total tackles this season. You just can't find a better game-changer on defense. He might not fly all over the field like Tyrann Mathieu did when he was a Heisman finalist last year, but his ability to completely change offensive game plans makes him just as dangerous as the Honey Badger was.

4. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Yes, a freshman makes our list. Who cares that a frosh has never won the Heisman? After the first four games of his collegiate career, Gurley leads the SEC in rushing with 406 yards and is averaging 9.2 yards per carry. He's also tied for first in the league with six rushing touchdowns. Oh, and he's been pretty solid on special teams, averaging 34.7 yards per kickoff return, including one that he took to the house in Georgia's opener. After carrying the ball 16 times for 130 yards and two scores against Vandy, Gurley now has three 100-yard rushing performances this season.

5. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: Lattimore shed his knee brace and looked even stronger against Missouri. He rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries and caught seven passes for another 60 yards. He has 320 rushing yards and six touchdowns and has caught 13 passes for 93 yards. Slowly, we're starting to see Lattimore look like his old self as he continues his comeback from last year's season-ending knee injury. He's getting tougher to bring down and looks way more confident in his runs now.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- One man's loss is another man's gain.

Kevin Norwood was on the wrong end of that equation during Saturday's game against Florida Atlantic. Alabama's leading pass-catcher coming into the weekend was forced to sit idly on the bench, waiting out the clock as an injured foot kept him sidelined.

Meanwhile, his fellow receivers didn't miss a beat.

On the third play of the game, Norwood's backup, Kenny Bell, caught a short pass on a crossing route, turned upfield and went 85 yards to the end zone.

"Norwood is like our brother," Bell said after the game. "So we just took everything and put it on our back and played for him today."

Every receiver on the two-deep depth chart had a reception against FAU, other than Norwood, who played just a few snaps before finding a spot on the bench. Bell caught his first touchdown of the year. DeAndrew White had his first game with more than one catch, connecting with quarterback AJ McCarron four times. True freshman Amari Cooper doubled his previous single-game high for receptions, and fellow rookie Cyrus Jones got his first career catch.

"That’s what our receivers can do," McCarron said following the 40-7 win over FAU. "They can make plays. I just have to get them the ball and let them do it."

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What to watch in the SEC: Week 3

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
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We're heading into Week 3 in the SEC, so here's what to watch:

1. Quarterback health: The statuses of Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and South Carolina's Connor Shaw are still unknown. Wilson suffered a head injury against Louisiana-Monroe, while Shaw is still nursing a bruised shoulder from Week 1. For the Gamecocks, losing Shaw for the second straight week won't really hurt South Carolina's offense. It was just fine without him against East Carolina. However, Arkansas isn't in the same position. Brandon Allen completed just 6 of 20 passes against Louisiana-Monroe in place of Wilson. Not having Wilson will make Saturday's game against No. 1 Alabama that much tougher for the Razorbacks.

[+] EnlargeJohn L. Smith
AP Photo/Danny JohnstonCoach John L. Smith and his Razorbacks face a formidable foe in No. 1 Alabama this week.
2. Arkansas' defense: Speaking of the Razorbacks, what has happened to that defense? It was supposed to be more aggressive and more disciplined under Paul Haynes. We saw neither in the second half against Louisiana-Monroe, as the Razorbacks blew a 21-point lead. The defense was shredded against a lesser opponent and now has to play one of the most balanced attacks in the SEC. Last year, Alabama wore down this defense. If Arkansas is going to pick itself up, it has to play much tougher than it has in the first two games. Alabama has far more talent than Arkansas' first opponents and has the capability to really beat this unit down.

3. Tennessee’s passing game vs. Florida’s secondary: This game always comes down to the running game, but the difference this time will be Tennessee's passing game against Florida’s secondary. The Gators are loaded with talent back there and made tremendous strides during the second half of the Texas A&M game, while Tennessee might have the best passing game in the SEC, led by quarterback Tyler Bray. The matchups between Justin Hunter and Marcus Roberson and Cordarrelle Patterson and Loucheiz Purifoy should be great. Zach Rogers is another deep threat the Gators have to be careful about, but Matt Elam has the ability to take the deep ball away for Florida. Should be fun.

4. Must-wins: Both Auburn and Vanderbilt are 0-2 and are coming off tough losses. The Commodores blew a halftime lead at Northwestern, while Auburn was overmatched across the board at Mississippi State. The Tigers are struggling with or without the ball this season, and that's a major concern. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier has to get going, and he's facing the team that just knocked off Arkansas. Vandy just can't get anything going on offense. The explosion we expected to see has been mostly absent through two games and the Commodores have to generate some sort of offensive momentum this weekend against Presbyterian.

5. Mississippi State keeping its edge: Now that Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs have gotten over the hump of beating a West opponent not named Ole Miss, the Bulldogs can’t get complacent. That was just one win, and this team has far bigger goals than just beating Auburn. With the schedule Mississippi State has, it’s very possible the Bulldogs could be 6-1 or 7-0 heading into the Alabama game at the end of October. But this team has to focus on Troy and come out strong against a team that won’t be a pushover.

6. Showdown in the Grove: It’s been a long time since a game in Oxford got attention like Saturday’s showdown with Texas has been receiving. It’s eerily similar to the 2003 game with Eli Manning and LSU, although there isn’t hatred in the air. The Grove is gonna be poppin’ and Oxford is expected to double in size. There’s more confidence around that town because Ole Miss is 2-0 for the first time since 2009. The talent difference between Ole Miss and Texas is obvious, but the Rebels have some momentum and some conviction. Can the Rebels stop that burnt orange wave coming to town?

7. The newbie's returns: Missouri and Texas A&M got a nice taste of what life will be like in the SEC last weekend. Now, it's time for both teams to regroup. Both teams lost a lot of steam in the second half, which was expected. Missouri has the challenge of playing Arizona State and its high-flying offense. The Sun Devils have averaged 54 points through two games, averaging 532 offensive yards in the process. The Tigers got into a shootout with Arizona State last year, but can they handle another one after that physical loss to Georgia? The Aggies are taking on SMU in Dallas, and are also recovering from a tough loss to Florida. This is a game where Texas A&M should try to get more out of its running game, which has to generate more production up the middle.

8. Mettenberger’s arm: Through the first two games of the season, we’ve been anxiously waiting to see what Zach Mettenberger could really do in LSU’s offense. So far, he’s yet to eclipse the 200-yard passing mark in a game and has just two touchdowns -- pedestrian numbers compared to what everyone expected. But the Tigers have utilized their running game flawlessly and haven’t needed to send the ball downfield much. Saturday, that should change. It’s time to unleash Mettenberger and get him going more in the offense before LSU gets into conference play.

9. Lattimore’s workload: If Steve Spurrier wanted to push Marcus Lattimore anymore last week, he would have. But the Head Ball Coach gave his workhorse a bit of a rest against East Carolina, running him just 13 times. Maybe Spurrier just wanted to get his new quarterback, Dylan Thompson, a chance to show his stuff in place of Shaw. But as Lattimore continues to return from his knee injury, he’ll need to get more reps and get more comfortable on the field before league play revs up. UAB should provide him the opportunity to do that.

10. Florida’s winning streak: The Gators have had Tennessee’s number for seven straight years now. Not since Dallas Baker’s infamous slap in Knoxville have the Vols bested Florida. This might be Tennessee’s best shot since. There’s no question that this is the best and most complete Vols team Derek Dooley has had. The Vols have cruised through the first two weeks, while Florida’s offense stumbles in with a lot of uncertainty concerning the passing game. Florida might have the edge on defense, but Tennessee’s offense knows how to put up points. Is this the year Tennessee finally gets the Gator off its back?

SEC power rankings: Week 3

September, 10, 2012
9/10/12
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Another week has gone by and there is even more movement in our power rankings.

The top two teams are still the same, but we have a new No. 3 and there are some changes through the middle (LW: Last week's ranking):

1. Alabama (2-0; LW: 1): Despite what Nick Saban might have told the media, his team deserves all the praise it's getting. The Crimson Tide destroyed a ranked Michigan team in a neutral environment and then shut out a very, very overmatched Western Kentucky team. It could have been much worse in Tuscaloosa over the weekend if Saban didn't take his foot off the gas.

2. LSU (2-0; LW: 2): The Tigers haven't been very flashy, but they haven't needed to. LSU is giving up just 201 yards a game and only 3.47 yards per play. Washington was just another victim when it came to the Tigers' ferocious running game, which has averaged 279 yards in the first two games. LSU hasn't really been tested, but there's no denying that this team is good and should only get better.

3. Georgia (2-0, 1-0; LW: 4): The Bulldogs got a big win in Missouri over the weekend. This team's resiliency has been questioned in the past, but it played at its best in Columbia, Mo., with its back against the wall. Once the Bulldogs get back to full strength on defense, we'll really see how much talent Mark Richt is working with in Athens.

4. South Carolina (2-0, 1-0; LW: 5): Connor Shaw was out and Marcus Lattimore failed to eclipse the 50-yard rushing mark, but the Gamecocks had absolutely no problem overwhelming East Carolina. Dylan Thompson filled in well for Shaw, passing for 330 yards and three touchdowns, while the defense shut down the run. The secondary still has some issues to work out, though.

5. Tennessee (2-0; LW: 6): We're still not sure just how good Tennessee is, but it sure is fun watching that offense. Yes, the quality of opponents can be questioned, but both the offense and defense have looked very good, and there is finally quality depth in Knoxville. Tyler Bray continues to impress with his arm, and he has plenty of weapons to work with. He and his team get a real test Saturday against No. 18 Florida at home.

6. Florida (2-0, 1-0; LW: 7): The Gators squeaked out a win that probably wouldn't have come in the two years prior. It wasn't very pretty overall, but Florida was very impressive after all those second-half adjustments against Texas A&M. This team is tougher and looks more like the physical team Will Muschamp wants. Saturday's trip to Knoxville could really set the tone for the Gators moving forward.

7. Mississippi State (2-0, 1-0; LW: 8): Dan Mullen finally got a win over an SEC West opponent not named Ole Miss with that 28-10 win against Auburn over the weekend. Now, it's all about capitalizing on the weekend's success. The defense totally dominated the Tigers' offense, while Tyler Russell looked as poised as ever. If this team continues to play like it has in the first two weeks, Mississippi State could be 6-1 or 7-0 heading into the Alabama game in late October.

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SEC power rankings: Week 2

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
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The first weekend of the college football season brought some changes to our power rankings. As we enter Week 2, some teams are trending down, while others are on the up. And some look pretty much like we thought they'd look in their first games.

It's still early, but this weekend could help to better shape the conference race, especially in the SEC East where Florida travels to Texas A&M and Georgia heads to Missouri. Also, keep an eye on Mississippi State's home game with Auburn.

OK, time for the rankings:

1. Alabama (1-0): The Crimson Tide made quite the statement by absolutely dominating No. 8 Michigan inside Cowboys Stadium. The defense, which lost a host of top talent from last year's national championship team, took Denard Robinson out of the game from the start. The offense should be fun to watch this fall with freshman T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy carrying the ball and AJ McCarron throwing to those young, explosive receivers.

2. LSU (1-0): It's not like the Tigers looked bad against overmatched North Texas, but Alabama's performance was just that good. Zach Mettenberger did well in his LSU debut, passing for 192 yards and a touchdown, while running backs Kenny Hilliard (141 yards) and Alfred Blue (123) pounded away at North Texas' defense. The Tigers racked up 508 total yards and limited North Texas to just nine first downs and 219 total yards.

3. Arkansas (1-0): We know Arkansas can score and churn out yards. The Hogs made both of those things look very easy against Jacksonville State, especially quarterback Tyler Wilson, who threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns Saturday. But the defense still has some questions surrounding it, as the Hogs gave up 24 points. The defense settled down the second half and gave up 322 total yards, which was one yard less than the average given up by top 15 teams this weekend.

4. Georgia (1-0): The Bulldogs' defense is obviously hurting without Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree and it showed in the win over Buffalo. There was a lot of give in the pass defense and the Bulldogs struggled stopping quarterback runs. Improving in both of those areas will be crucial heading into the Missouri game. The offense looked pretty good, especially with freshman running back Todd Gurley carrying the ball. He registered 100 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.

5. South Carolina (1-0): The offense was shaky when it came to throwing the ball, and it certainly wasn't any better after quarterback Connor Shaw went down with that shoulder injury. His health is critical, as there isn't much experience at all behind him. Running back Marcus Lattimore looked solid in his return and was back to his workhorse ways. The defense played well overall, but the secondary still has concerns.

6. Tennessee (1-0): Everything went right for the Vols against NC State. It became blatenly obvious that they have more depth across the board now than they've had during Derek Dooley's tenure. Getting the tough yards running the ball was still an issue at times, but Marlin Lane showed that he might have what it takes to be that explosive running back Tennessee needs. Tyler Bray had no issue throwing the ball with Justin Hunter back and newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson going off.

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Alabama Pulls Away From Florida
Alabama used big days from Blake Sims and Amari Cooper to pull away from Florida in the second half for a 42-21 win.
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