Florida Gators: Jordan Matthews

Day 1 of the NFL draft was a good one for the SEC, which had 11 players selected in the first round, including 10 of the first 23 picks.

It's on to the second and third rounds later Friday night, and several more SEC players are sure to hear their names called. A year ago, the SEC had 32 players selected in the top three rounds.

The SEC guys projected to go the earliest when the draft resumes Friday night, in alphabetical order, are Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, South Carolina receiver Bruce Ellington, Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews.

Ellington has seen his stock soar in the months leading up to the draft, and Matthews has everything it takes (size, speed, hands, smarts and character) to be one of those receivers who plays 10-plus seasons in the league.

Here's a checklist of some other SEC players to keep an eye on in the second and third rounds:
On the eve of national signing day, it's always fun to go back and examine where the top players in the SEC from this past season were ranked coming out of high school.

Of the 23 position players who made the 2013 ESPN.com All-SEC team, seven were three-star prospects, according to the ESPN Recruiting Nation rankings. The only five-star prospects were Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Beth Hall/USA TODAY SportsJadeveon Clowney was one of only two five-star recruits on the 2013 ESPN.com All-SEC team.
Even more telling, only eight of the 23 players were ranked among the top 10 players at their respective positions.

Of note, Vanderbilt's record-setting Jordan Matthews was ranked as the No. 153 receiver, Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson was the No. 125 offensive tackle, Arkansas' Travis Swanson was the No. 91 offensive guard, Missouri's Michael Sam was the No. 75 defensive end and LSU's Lamin Barrow was the No. 82 outside linebacker.

Here's a closer look:

OFFENSE

  • QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Three stars, No. 39 QB, Class of 2011. Grade: 78.
  • RB Tre Mason, Auburn: Four stars, No. 21 RB, Class of 2011. Grade: 79.
  • RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: Four stars, No. 55 overall prospect, No. 4 RB, Class of 2012. Grade: 81.
  • WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M: Three stars, No. 52 WR, Class of 2011. Grade: 79.
  • WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: Three stars, No. 153 WR, Class of 2010. Grade: 74.
  • AP Odell Beckham Jr., LSU: Three stars, No. 62 athlete, Class of 2011. Grade: 78.
  • TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia: No. 7 TE, Class of 2009. Grade: 79.
  • OL Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State: No. 125 OT, Class of 2009. Grade: 74.
  • OL Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama: Five stars, No. 3 overall prospect, No. 1 OT, Class of 2011. Grade: 87.
  • OL Jake Matthews, Texas A&M: Four stars, No. 90 overall prospect. No. 7 OT, Class of 2010. Grade: 81.
  • OL Greg Robinson, Auburn: Four stars, No. 10 OG, Class of 2011. Grade: 80.
  • C Travis Swanson, Arkansas: No. 91 OG, Class of 2009. Grade: 76.
DEFENSE

  • DL Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Five stars, No. 1 overall prospect, No. 1 DE, Class of 2011. Grade: 95.
  • DL Dee Ford, Auburn: No. 35 DE, Class of 2009. Grade: 79.
  • DL Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina: Four stars, No. 124 overall prospect, No. 11 DT, Class of 2010. Grade: 81.
  • DL Michael Sam, Missouri: No. 75 DE, Class of 2009. Grade: 76.
  • LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia: Four stars, No. 11 ILB, Class of 2011. Grade: 79.
  • LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Four stars, No. 99 overall prospect, No. 7 OLB, Class of 2010. Grade: 81.
  • LB Lamin Barrow, LSU: No. 82 OLB, Class of 2009. Grade: 76.
  • DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama: Four stars, No. 19 overall prospect, No. 2 S, Class of 2011. Grade: 84.
  • DB E.J. Gaines, Missouri: Three stars, No. 57 CB, Class of 2010. Grade: 76.
  • DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt: Three stars, No. 43 S, Class of 2010. Grade: 78.
  • DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss: Three stars, No. 78 athlete, Class of 2011. Grade: 77.

SEC Senior Bowl recap

January, 27, 2014
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Auburn defensive end Dee Ford made the biggest splash of the SEC players at the Reese's Senior Bowl. He was impressive all week during the practices and walked away from the game with MVP honors after recording a pair of sacks and several other hurries.

[+] EnlargeFord
AP Photo/Johnny VyAuburn's Dee Ford was named MVP of the Senior Bowl.
According to ESPN's Scouts Inc. folks, Ford was one of the top five performersInsider last week in Mobile and really shined as an edge pass-rusher. Ford's performance at the Senior Bowl shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who watched him this season in the SEC. He blossomed after struggling with injuries in October and was outstanding in the VIZIO BCS National Championship loss to Florida State. Right now, it sounds like Ford is a solid second-round pick who could potentially sneak into the first round. He doesn't have ideal size (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) to play defensive end in the NFL, but makes up for it with his quickness and burst off the ball. He could be an excellent fit for a 3-4 team as an outside linebacker.

Among the other SEC players who turned heads with their play last week and potentially helped their NFL stock, according to Scouts Inc., were Alabama outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard and Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins. LSU safety Craig Loston and Auburn cornerback Chris Davis also had interceptions in the game. Alabama receiver Kevin Norwood had a 24-yard touchdown catch.

Two SEC players who didn't necessarily help their stock last week, according to the Scouts Inc. staff, were Missouri defensive end Michael Sam and Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews. Sam had a sack in the game, but relied too much on his speed rush. There are also concerns as to whether or not he can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Matthews had a nice 33-yard catch in the game, but the knock on him during the week was that he dropped too many passes and struggled to make contested catches.

SEC shoes to fill in 2014

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
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Earlier, we took a look at some of the underclassmen leaving the SEC and who could replace them at their respective schools. Now it's time to look at 14 pairs of the biggest shoes to fill in the SEC in 2014.

These are either graduates or guys who decided to take their talents to the NFL early. It's never easy to replace top players, but the SEC has a tendency to just reload. Let's see if SEC teams can replace these 14 studs:

ALABAMA

AJ McCarron, QB: He won two national championships and went 36-4 as a starter for Alabama. He was also the first Crimson Tide quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and was an excellent leader. Alabama must now turn to junior Blake Sims and a host of youngsters to fill his spot as Alabama's starter.

ARKANSAS

Zach Hocker, K: A kicker? You bet. Hocker finished his career as the SEC's active career leader in extra points made, extra points attempted, field goals made, field goals attempted points. Hocker ranked in the top-five nationally among active players in field goals made, points, extra points made, extra points attempted and field goals attempted. He was also excellent on kickoffs and has no true heir in 2014.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI Tre Mason's productivity won't be easy to replace for Auburn.
AUBURN

Tre Mason, RB: Replacing the guy who set the single-season school record for rushing yards (1,816) and total offense (2,374) won't be easy at all. Mason carried Auburn's offense for most of the season and led the SEC in rushing and rushing touchdowns (23). The Tigers now turn to Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, who both rushed for more than 600 yards and six touchdowns last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Racean Thomas.

FLORIDA

Dominique Easley, DT: Though his season was cut short by an ACL injury, Easley was so dominant when he was on the field. He was the type of player who didn't have flashy stats but created so many plays for other people. Losing someone as disruptive as Easley really showed as the season continued, as the Gators failed to get consistent pressure on opposing backfields. Leon Orr and Darious Cummings get first crack at trying to replace Easley.

GEORGIA

Aaron Murray, QB: He won a handful of games, went to two SEC championship games and broke a ton of SEC records. Now, Murray is gone, and Hutson Mason has been given the duty of replacing one of the most decorated quarterbacks to ever play in the SEC. Mason got his feet wet early when Murray went down late with an ACL injury, but now this is his team and it's his turn to be a leader.

KENTUCKY

Avery Williamson, LB: In his last two seasons in Lexington, Williamson totaled 237 tackles, including 116 solo stops. A leader of the defense, Williamson was all over the field, and it might take a committee to fill his shoes both in games and in the locker room. Kentucky was able to do more when Williamson was on the field, and now the Wildcats will need to find a new spark at linebacker.

LSU

Zach Mettenberger, QB: We got to really see what Mettenberger was capable of once he got comfortable running Cam Cameron's offense. He was third in the SEC with 3,082 passing yards and threw 22 touchdowns. His big-league arm and awareness will truly be missed, as the Tigers turn to a band of inexperienced quarterbacks, starting with Anthony Jennings.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Gabe Jackson, OG: Quietly, he was one of the country's best guards in 2013. He was the anchor of the Bulldogs' line and was arguably the team's best overall player in 2013. Mississippi State has Justin Malone returning from a season-ending foot injury, while former walk-on Ben Beckwith, who replaced Malone, and Jamaal Clayborn should compete for one of the guard spots.

MISSOURI

E.J. Gaines, CB: If not for Gaines' play, Missouri's secondary would have been in a lot of trouble last season. That means the loss of arguably the SEC's best cover corner will hurt that much more in 2014. What will make things even tougher for the Tigers is that two other seniors from the secondary will also be gone, but replacing Gaines is easily the toughest job of all.

OLE MISS

Donte Moncrief, WR: He might not have had the same sort of season as he did in 2012, but Moncrief was yet again Ole Miss' top offensive weapon in 2013. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's such a tough player to cover with his size and strength. He could hit the big play deep or make the tough catches in traffic. The loss of Moncrief now puts the pressure on sophomore-to-be Laquon Treadwell, who led the Rebels in receptions.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson will get the first crack at replacing Connor Shaw as South Carolina's QB.
SOUTH CAROLINA

Connor Shaw, QB: With all due respect to future top-five pick Jadeveon Clowney, Shaw's play, toughness and leadership will be tougher to replace in Columbia. He was the heart of this team and played through all sorts of pain to help lead the Gamecocks to their third straight 11-win season. Dylan Thompson backed him up for the past two seasons and now has to job of following Shaw's impressive career.

TENNESSEE

Antonio Richardson, OT: One of the best offensive linemen in the league, Richardson will be very tough for the Vols to replace in 2014, especially with young quarterbacks littering the backfield. Making matters worse is that the rest of the entire starting offensive line will be gone too. But not having that anchor at left tackle hurts the most.

TEXAS A&M

Johnny Manziel, QB: Yeah, like replacing all the on-field theatrics from someone who won the Heisman Trophy and produced 9,989 career yards of offense and 93 touchdowns will be easy. Manziel could hurt a defense with his arm and legs and was only contained a few times during his two seasons as the Aggies' starter. No one will be able to produce the entertainment Manziel provided.

VANDERBILT

Jordan Matthews, WR: One of the SEC's best all-time receivers is leaving the league. More importantly, he's leaving a Vanderbilt team that now has to find a consistent go-to receiver for its new quarterback. Sophomore-to-be Jordan Cunningham could be the next in line.

SEC lunchtime links

December, 24, 2013
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Hope everyone is enjoying their holiday season. We've started bowl season, too, so there are plenty of storylines across the league. Here are a few of them:

18 from SEC named AP All-Americans

December, 17, 2013
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Now that the all-conference teams have rolled out, the Associated Press has unveiled its All-America teams, and they are very SEC-heavy.

Eighteen players from the SEC made the three teams, with six making the first team. The pick that might surprise people was Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt making the first team over Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But Prewitt had a very good season with the Rebels. He tied for first in the SEC with five interceptions in conference play, while totaling six on the season. He also defended 13 passes. Clinton-Dix, who projects as a high draft pick at the safety spot, defended six passes with two interceptions on the season.

Here are all the SEC AP All-Americans:

First team

OFFENSE

OT: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OT: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DE: Michael Sam, Missouri
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
S: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

Second team

OFFENSE

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
OG: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State

DEFENSE

DT: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M

Third team

OFFENSE

QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
OT: Greg Robinson, Auburn
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

DEFENSE

CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

2013 ESPN.com All-SEC team

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
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We still have the bowls to play, but we've gone ahead and selected our 2013 All-SEC team at ESPN.com.

Some of the selections were no-brainers. Others were agonizingly difficult to make. We placed a heavy emphasis on performance in big games, consistency and how a player impacted his team both on and off the field. Durability and being in the lineup the entire season was also a factor. In other words, if a player missed three or four games, we took that into account. And when it was close everywhere else, we looked at SEC-only statistics as the tiebreaker.

Here's what we came up with:

OFFENSE

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Greg Robinson, Auburn
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas

DEFENSE

DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Dee Ford, Auburn
DL: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
LB: Ramik Wilson, Georgia
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: Lamin Barrow, LSU
DB: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
DB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri
DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Michael Palardy, Tennessee
KR: Solomon Patton, Florida
PR: Chris Davis, Auburn

Alabama leads coaches All-SEC team

December, 10, 2013
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The SEC coaches have spoken, and Alabama has once again taken over their end-of-the-year All-SEC team.

The Crimson Tide led the rest of the league with nine representatives on the coaches' teams, including an SEC-leading five first-team selections. LSU followed with eight total representatives. Texas A&M had four first-team members, while Auburn and Georgia both had three each.

Twelve of the league's 14 teams had at least one player on the first team, while every team was represented on at least one team. Coaches weren't allowed to vote for their own players.

Here are the coaches' first- and second-team selections:

First team

OFFENSE
QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

DEFENSE
DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Dee Ford, Auburn
DL: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: Ramik Wilson, Georgia
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
DB: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
DB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

SPECIAL TEAMS
K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
RS: Christion Jones, Alabama *
RS: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU *

Second team

OFFENSE
QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU
TE: Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
OL: Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
OL: Justin Britt, Missouri
OL: Anthony Steen, Alabama
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas
WR: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
WR: Jarvis Landry, LSU
AP: Marcus Murphy, Missouri

DEFENSE
DL: Anthony Johnson, LSU
DL: Chris Smith, Arkansas
DL: Ed Stinson, Alabama
DL: Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB: Lamin Barrow, LSU
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB: Avery Williamson, Kentucky
DB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
DB: Chris Davis, Auburn
DB: Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt

SPECIAL TEAMS
K: Michael Palardy, Tennessee
P: Cody Mandell, Alabama
RS: Solomon Patton, Florida

-- (*-ties)

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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It wasn’t hot much anywhere in the United States this past weekend. Talk about some nasty, cold weather.

But in the realm of SEC football, we saw temperatures both spike and plummet.

Here’s a look back at Week 13 in the SEC:

GLOWING EMBERS

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/Dave MartinAJ McCarron has the Tide in line for another title shot and himself creeping up on the outside in the Heisman race.
SEC power: At varying times this season, we’ve heard talk about the SEC possibly being down or this not being as strong a year in the league, or about other leagues having caught up. It’s true that Florida and Georgia have had disappointing seasons and that some of the defensive numbers have been out of whack across the league. But looking at the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, there are four SEC teams in the top 10 and five in the top 15. Three of the top five teams in the newest BCS standings released Sunday night are also from the SEC, and all three have chances to play their way into the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game if the chips fall just right these last couple of weeks. Two-time defending national champion Alabama is No. 1 and simply needs to win its last two games to get to Pasadena. But Auburn is No. 4, and with a win at home over Alabama this Saturday, could move into great position to play for the national title if the Tigers could follow that up with a win in the SEC championship game and get Ohio State to lose. The same goes for Missouri, which is No. 5. The Tigers would need to beat Texas A&M at home this weekend and then take down Alabama (or Auburn) in the SEC championship game. At that point, if Ohio State were to stumble, Missouri would be in excellent shape to nab one of those top two spots in the final BCS standings. South Carolina is also a top-10 team and still eyeing a BCS bowl berth if the Gamecocks can knock off Clemson this weekend. All in all, not a bad year for a league that was supposed to be down.

HOT

Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews: They don’t get much better than Matthews, as a player or a person. In his past two games, he has 25 catches for 274 yards and is now the SEC’s career leader in receptions (246) and receiving yardage (3,491 yards). Matthews is the first receiver in SEC history to post back-to-back seasons of 90-plus catches and is two catches shy of the SEC single-season record. The remarkable thing about what he has done this season is that opposing defenses have shadowed him and doubled him, but he just continues to produce. And if you really want to know what kind of person Matthews is, go watch his news conference following Vanderbilt’s 14-10 win over Tennessee on Saturday. He didn’t want to talk about himself. Rather, he wanted to talk about all of the people who had helped him get to this point, including coaches, teammates, family members and fans.

NOT

Ole Miss’ red zone offense: The Rebels will be kicking themselves for a while over their inability to take advantage of chances in the red zone in their 24-10 loss to Missouri. On three trips inside the 20, Ole Miss came away with just a single field goal, which pretty well snuffed out any shot the Rebels had of upsetting the Tigers and potentially getting to 10 wins this season.

HOT

LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson: On your list of true freshmen in the SEC who are destined for stardom, be sure you have Robinson near the top of that list. He did a marvelous job in manning up against Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans on Saturday and helped hold Evans to four catches for 51 yards and no touchdowns. Robinson didn’t become eligible until right before the season began, so he got off to a late start. But the more you watch him, the more he looks like the next great cornerback to come out of the LSU program.

NOT

Bowl-eligible teams: Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee have all been eliminated from bowl contention. Mississippi State has to win against Ole Miss this weekend to extend its postseason streak to four straight years. Otherwise, five teams from the SEC will be staying home for the second consecutive year.

HOT

AJ McCarron’s Heisman chances: We can sit here all day and debate about whether McCarron is truly the most outstanding player in college football. Two things that are not debatable, though, are that he’s one of the most accomplished winners in college football history and is now right in the middle of the Heisman Trophy race with two weeks remaining until the vote. Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Bryce Petty all took big hits last week, and who knows how the off-the-field allegations against Jameis Winston will play out? If McCarron plays well the next two weeks and the Crimson Tide make it to Pasadena, he could very well become only the second Heisman winner in Alabama’s history.

NOT

[+] EnlargePatton Robinette
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsPatton Robinette's late touchdown gave Tennessee its first two-game losing streak to Vanderbilt since the 1920s.
Winning seasons at Tennessee: The Vols are now assured of their fourth straight losing season after falling 14-10 at home to Vanderbilt, the first time since the 1920s that Tennessee has lost two in a row to the Commodores. But you have to go all the way back to 1903-06 to find a stretch when Tennessee had suffered through four straight losing seasons. What’s left for the Vols this season is trying to avoid the first eight-loss season in school history when they travel to Kentucky this Saturday. The dubious “firsts” are piling up for a program that had been to five SEC championship games in 12 years before Phillip Fulmer was pushed out following the 2008 season.

FREEZER BURN

Votes of confidence: OK, I know Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley specified last week that it wasn’t the dreaded vote of confidence he was giving third-year coach Will Muschamp. But come on, that’s exactly what it was. And how many times has that worked out for a coach, where his boss comes out publicly and says his embattled coach is going to be back and have a chance to fix things? After seeing what happened to Florida last week in an embarrassing 26-20 loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern in which the Eagles won at the Swamp without completing a pass, you can’t help but wonder if Foley wishes now that he’d just waited a couple of weeks before he said anything. Why come out this late in the season, at least publicly? All that said, the only choice Florida has (and the right choice) is to give Muschamp another year. Foley knows as well as anybody that there were serious issues with the program when Muschamp took over for Urban Meyer following the 2010 season. Remember, it was Meyer himself who conceded that the program was “broken.” You also don’t fire a guy a year removed from winning 11 games and going to a BCS bowl. Muschamp simply hasn’t been able to get it right on offense, and that has to change if he’s going to be around past a fourth season. He will obviously have to make changes on the offensive side of the ball. But here’s the problem with that: With Muschamp facing a win-or-else season next year, how many top offensive minds are going to be lining up to come to Gainesville under those circumstances? It’s not going to be an easy fix and it’s mind-blowing to see the Gators headed toward their first losing season in more than 30 years. But giving Muschamp a fourth season is the right thing to do … with or without a vote of confidence.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 21, 2013
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Lots of good stuff out there from around the SEC today. Let's dive into some of the best headlines in the lunch links:

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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Nothing was hotter this past weekend than the dramatic ending of that Auburn-Georgia game. Elsewhere in the SEC, though, it wasn’t quite as toasty.

Here’s a look at our Week 12 version of Hot and Not in the SEC:

GLOWING EMBERS

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
AP Photo/Dave MartinGus Malzahn already has engineered a seven-win turnaround from 2012's 3-9 debacle.
Auburn’s magical ride: Sometimes, it’s just meant to be. Call it miraculous. Call it lucky. Call it whatever you want. But Nick Marshall’s batted 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis in the final seconds Saturday, lifting Auburn to an improbable 43-38 win over Georgia, kept this magical ride going for the Tigers. They’ve now won seven straight games and will take on No. 1 Alabama in two weeks in the Iron Bowl with the SEC's Western Division championship on the line. Is this really the same team that didn’t win an SEC game a year ago and was outscored 150-21 in its last three SEC contests? That’s an easy answer … no. Gus Malzahn and his veteran staff have come in and restored everything that had seemingly vanished from a program that won a national championship only three years ago. There was certainly more talent on this team than last season’s 3-9 record would suggest, but the difficult part for Malzahn was restoring the Tigers' edge after they went belly-up last season. It's safe to say he has done that. And before anybody says Auburn has been more lucky than good, show me just about any championship team and I’ll show you a team that has had some luck along the way. This team believes right now, and we’re in store for one epic Iron Bowl on the Plains in two weeks.

HOT

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray: He has been around for so long that we’ve probably all taken him for granted, but Murray is one class act and one terrific football player. He did everything he could to bring Georgia back from the dead in the fourth quarter against Auburn. The fifth-year senior has been a rock all season for the Bulldogs despite crippling injuries around him and has exuded class every step of the way.

NOT

Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell: The Bulldogs’ senior quarterback hasn’t been able to catch much of a break this season. He suffered a concussion in the opener and had to miss several games, eventually losing the starting job to Dak Prescott. This past weekend, Russell got another shot against Alabama after Prescott was unable to play because of a shoulder injury, but Russell wasn’t able to finish the game after hurting his shoulder while trying to make a tackle following his fourth-quarter interception.

HOT

Florida’s grit: Nobody is happy in Gator Nation right now, and that starts with coach Will Muschamp. But there’s something to be said for the way Florida fought its guts out Saturday in a tough 19-14 loss to South Carolina. The Gators were down to their third-string quarterback and had an excellent chance to win the game on the road against a top-15 team.

NOT

Preseason rankings: Florida, Georgia and LSU all started the season ranked in the top 12 of the Associated Press poll. As we head into Week 13, those three teams have a combined 13 losses, and LSU still has to face Texas A&M at home this weekend.

HOT

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyJordan Matthews had a season-high 12 receptions as Vanderbilt reached bowl eligibility with a victory over Kentucky.
Vanderbilt: We all know Vanderbilt coach James Franklin doesn’t like to talk about bowl games, but we will. Thanks to the Commodores’ 22-6 victory over Kentucky last weekend, fueled by 12 catches for 141 yards from senior receiver Jordan Matthews, they’re now headed to a bowl game for the third straight season. For perspective, Vanderbilt had been to only four bowl games in its history before Franklin arrived. The Commodores also have a chance to get to nine wins for the second straight season if they can win out over Tennessee, Wake Forest and their bowl opponent.

NOT

Alabama’s focus: Good thing the Crimson Tide’s defense came to play Saturday in Starkville. And good thing the Tide were playing Mississippi State. Against a more talented team, Alabama would have been toast. Four turnovers going forward will mean an end to their national championship run. OK, maybe not this weekend against Chattanooga, but certainly against Auburn in two weeks and any other games after that. Something says this week in practice won’t be a lot of fun for the Tide.

FREEZER BURN

Fans’ patience: It's that time of year again when they’re lining up at the town square. That's a reference to Bobby Bowden’s classic line regarding fans' impatience when a football team or a unit on a football team starts to struggle. Bowden would always say, "They want a hanging at the town square." With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, it's safe to say there are more than a few restless fan bases around the SEC. It remains to be seen who's really in trouble. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley insists that Muschamp will be back for a fourth season, but it's difficult to see Muschamp's offensive staff returning intact. Mississippi State fans aren't thrilled with Dan Mullen right now, and that's despite the Bulldogs still having a chance to go to a fourth straight bowl. The Georgia fans are furious over the way the defense has played this season, although given the Bulldogs' youth, it was obvious they were going to struggle on that side of the ball. If LSU loses to Texas A&M this weekend there could be grumbling on the Bayou about Les Miles. Even first-year coaches aren’t spared. Arkansas has lost seven straight under Bret Bielema, and the fans in the Ozarks are wondering how they could go from 21 wins in 2010 and 2011 to 15 losses in the past two seasons. In this league, there is no equity and even less patience.

Top five WR comparisons 

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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Wide receivers are a dime a dozen. They come in all shapes and sizes and in Costco size amounts. It’s the one position that can provide just about any roster the necessary talent to create plays because there is such a high supply. You don’t necessarily need the highest-profile player in recruiting to succeed at the next level. This has been proven over the years with the likes of Michael Crabtree, Justin Blackmon and even Amari Cooper, who was lightly recruited. Below are our top five players at the wide receiver position and who they remind us of.

Planning for success: Florida

November, 7, 2013
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Another week, and another injury for Florida's football team.

Offensive tackle Tyler Moore's broken elbow (via a scooter accident) now gives the Gators nine season-ending injuries and more headaches for an offense that has been in the dumps for the last month.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Taylor, Shaq Wiggins
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesOf all the players who were early enrollees at Florida last year, RB Kelvin Taylor was the one to make the biggest impact.
Florida hasn't won a game since beating Arkansas 30-10 on Oct. 5, and the Gators haven't hit 400 yards of offense since Sept. 28 against Kentucky.

So how do the 4-4 Gators (3-3 SEC) get a homecoming victory over Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4)? Play like there's no tomorrow.

Each week, we've talked about how Florida needs to run the ball or create more plays in the passing game. We've talked about a need for the offensive line to toughen up. We've talked about the offense needing to be more creative.

For the last three weeks, none of that has happened and the Gators have gone 0-3. Gators coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat and a 6-6 season might be on the horizon -- so could a 5-7 one. It's time to realize that no drastic changes are coming to an offense that has lost its starting quarterback, starting running back and its three most experienced offensive linemen for the season.

It's become a mental game for the Gators. Vanderbilt poses a threat because the Commodores have more confidence, are fighting for a bowl berth, have had an extra week to prepare and have a defensive line that could make Florida's beat up O-line miserable. Vandy coach James Franklin will have his Commodores acting like sharks with chum in the Swamp, so Muschamp has to make sure his wounded Gators aren't left helpless.

Last week's 23-20 loss to Georgia could linger this weekend. The SEC Eastern Division championship is beyond a long shot at this point, so pride and a bowl game are on the line. Muschamp's job looks to be safe through this season, but a loss to Vanderbilt would make things a lot harder for him in Gainesville.

Muschamp said after the Missouri game that he and his team would come out of the corner they backed themselves into swinging. They landed some punches in the second half against Georgia, but not enough. Now those punches have to connect on Saturday, or this team is toast.

Florida certainly has the talent advantage on defense, but with Jordan Matthews at receiver, the Commodores will make some plays. That means the offense has to do its part. Kelvin Taylor has to open things up in the running game and extend plays with his feet. Tyler Murphy has to be more efficient in the pocket. When he as time, he can't be tentative like he has been. He has to make plays down the field. And this makeshift offensive line has to come together and gel better than it has all season.

If there was ever a must-win situation for the Gators, this is it. A win moves Florida closer to the postseason. A loss, and who knows what sort of mindset this team will have going forward.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 28, 2013
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We’re already past the midway point, and the SEC is still very much up for grabs. Here’s a look at the latest headlines from Saturday’s action and what it all means.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 18, 2013
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It's Friday which means it's time for the #SECMailbag. Use the hashtag on Twitter or tweet directly at me at @AlexS_ESPN with your questions and comments. Hurry, and I'll do my best to get them in a post later this afternoon.

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Rick Reilly tells how Jets wide receiver David Nelson's charitable work in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake led to his caring for a number of orphans, who reside in a fully staffed home Nelson maintains on the island.
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