Florida Gators: Michael Bennett

SEC Week 12 primer

November, 16, 2013
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Alabama-LSU was the centerpiece of last week's SEC slate, and while this week won't generate nearly the same national attention, the highlight game on the schedule is brimming with intrigue and significance.

No. 25 Georgia (6-3, 4-2 SEC) travels to No. 7 Auburn (9-1, 5-1). Under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, the Tigers have risen like a phoenix from the ashes of last year's winless SEC ordeal. Auburn QB Nick Marshall is at the center of it all.

Coming off an SEC player of the week performance with 214 yards rushing in a win at Tennessee, the junior will take aim at an improving but still suspect Georgia defense. Marshall, a juco transfer, originally enrolled at Georgia coming out of Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Ga. He was a prolific quarterback and a terrific athlete in high school but was recruited to play cornerback. After one season and five tackles, Marshall was dismissed for violating team rules. He'll lead a pack of hungry Tigers, who can represent the SEC West in Atlanta if they win out.

Georgia is still clinging to some title-game hopes of its own, but far more pressing for the Bulldogs is getting back on track with healthy players. Running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Michael Bennett will each play in a third straight game, allowing offensive coordinator Mike Bobo the luxury of a balanced offense. If record-breaking quarterback Aaron Murray can make today's game into a track meet, the last team with the ball could be the winner.

No. 10 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2) will look to wrap up its conference slate at home with a win against injury-plagued Florida (4-5, 3-4). The Gamecocks are just a half-game behind idle Missouri, which still must play at Ole Miss and at home against Texas A&M. The East race does not appear to be over, however, it is strange not to see the Gators involved in the chase for the division crown. Florida has played in a league-high 10 of the 21 SEC championship games. In the Gamecocks, the Gators today play their third straight opponent coming off a bye week. UF lost the previous two to Georgia and Vanderbilt, falling under .500 for the first time since 1992.

The other night game to watch (at least early on), features an hour-and-a-half bus trip for the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide. Alabama (9-0, 6-0) takes on Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4) in another game that could showcase senior quarterback AJ McCarron, who has the Tide offense absolutely humming since a 25-0 win vs. Ole Miss. Want a stat geek's sense of how well McCarron has been in his last five games (all wins by 21 points or more, by the way)? Since Oct. 1, he's completing 72.7 percent of his third-down passes, which is second in the nation behind Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. And his 96.3 third-down Total QBR in that span ranks fifth in the FBS. The Tide have been rolling, and the big prizes are starting to come into focus. Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs can expect more of the same.

Two early games today offer a chance to catch some rising stars. Ole Miss (6-3, 3-3) plays host to Troy (5-5). The Rebels are looking for a fourth straight win after quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 407 yards and three touchdowns last week in a 34-24 win against Arkansas. Head coach Hugh Freeze's uptempo offense is gathering steam in Oxford, Miss.

Another coach on the rise is James Franklin, who can what was once unthinkable with a win today -- get Vanderbilt into its third bowl game in a row. The Commodores won their last seven games last year (including a win in the Music City Bowl) and have picked up where they left of in terms of late-season success. Vandy won its sixth consecutive November game last Saturday, shocking Florida in the Swamp. Before Franklin took over, VU had lost nine November games in a row. The Commodores (5-4, 2-4) welcome Kentucky (2-7, 0-5), which has struggled mightily under first-year coach Mark Stoops. The Wildcats have beaten just one FBS team -- Miami (Ohio) in Week 2.

Here’s the rundown of today's games:
  • Troy at Ole Miss, noon ET, ESPNU
  • Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC TV
  • Georgia at Auburn, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
  • Florida at South Carolina, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
  • Alabama at Mississippi State, 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Here are five matchups to watch when Georgia has the ball in Saturday's game in Jacksonville:

Todd Gurley's impact
[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsDespite an injury-plagued season, Todd Gurley still rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. He also improved as a receiver and had six TD receptions.
How important is All-SEC tailback Gurley to Georgia's offense? He hasn't played in nearly 15 quarters -- since spraining his ankle in the Sept. 28 win against LSU -- and he's still Georgia's leading rusher by more than 100 yards. Gurley (71-450) will return to the backfield against Florida's stout defense, but will he be the same player he was before the injury? He was averaging 112.5 rushing yards per game but has missed three-and-a-half games, and it's only reasonable to expect some rust on Saturday, particularly when the Gators are allowing just 3.7 yards per carry and 100.7 rushing yards per game (second in the SEC).

Thanks in part to injuries up front, they weren't as dominant in their last two games, both losses, allowing 175 rushing yards to LSU and 205 to Missouri. But with a few key faces returning up front -- including defensive tackle Damien Jacobs and possibly outside linebacker Ronald Powell -- Florida should pose a major test to Gurley and Georgia's rushing attack.

Georgia's depleted receiving corps vs. Florida secondary
By this point, anybody who follows Georgia football with even a passing interest knows about the debilitating injuries that struck the Bulldogs' offense over the last month. They have been especially debilitating for a once-explosive receiving corps, which lost Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending knee injuries and Michael Bennett and Chris Conley to shorter-term ailments.

Conley is still out, but Bennett should be back from a two-game absence on Saturday, possibly bringing some productivity to a group that has struggled mightily in recent weeks. The Bulldogs passed for just 114 yards in a loss to Vanderbilt, with senior quarterback Aaron Murray failing to complete a pass of at least 20 yards for the first time in his career.

Facing Florida's aggressive secondary is no treat for the Bulldogs' passing game. The Gators surrendered an uncharacteristic 295 passing yards to Missouri in their last game, but with ball hawks like Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and freshman Vernon Hargreaves III leading the charge, Florida leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally in pass defense at 172.4 ypg.

Murray's composure vs. Gators
Murray largely put to rest questions about whether he was a big-game player in nearly flawless performances against South Carolina and LSU earlier this season. A composed performance against Florida on Saturday would place an additional nail in that particular coffin. The Florida native has never gotten off to a great start against the Gators, starting with his very first play as a freshman in 2010 -- when he threw an interception to Florida's Janoris Jenkins. Murray led a comeback to force overtime in that game but threw a back-breaking interception that helped Florida win 34-31 in the extra session. Georgia won each of the last two meetings against the Gators, but Murray was fairly shaky in both, going a combined 27-for-58 for 319 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. Georgia has a chance to build its first three-game winning streak against Florida since 1987-89, but it likely will need Murray to play his best game yet against the Gators for the streak to remain intact.

Will Mike Bobo "let it rip?"
[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneWith a few more weapons to work with, perhaps Aaron Murray and Georgia can open up their offense.
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Tuesday that Georgia needs to "let it rip" against Florida's impressive defense. After calling perhaps the most conservative game of his career in the Bulldogs' loss against Vanderbilt, that philosophy might apply to Bobo more than anyone else. The Bulldogs attempted only two passes of 15 yards or more in the loss to the Commodores and played it as close to the vest as possible -- a strategy that blew up in their face when turnovers and a bogus targeting call helped Vandy rally for a late victory.

With Gurley and Bennett back in the lineup, Georgia's offense should have some more punch on Saturday, and that will be necessary against Florida's tough defense. Bobo likely must break out of the conservatism that set in with multiple offensive weapons sidelined and show some aggressiveness if Georgia is to break through against the Gators.

Florida's pass rushers vs. Georgia offensive line
If Powell is able to play on Saturday, that would provide a huge shot in the arm for Florida's pass rush. Powell has Jarvis Jones-like ability, but injuries have been a regular problem for the junior. Even if he doesn't play, Georgia's offensive line -- which has dealt with consistency issues for much of the season -- will have its hands full with buck Dante Fowler Jr., who almost single-handedly kept the Gators afloat against Missouri even when the offense was performing pitifully.

Fowler leads the team with three sacks, eight tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles. He hasn't gotten a ton of help from his comrades up front -- Florida is tied for 10th in the league with 11 sacks -- but getting some line depth back should help. Georgia's line has struggled against speedy edge rushers, particularly in the Clemson and Missouri losses, so keep an eye on the edges Saturday.
ATHENS, Ga. -- The moment Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett's 24-yard overtime field goal attempt dinged off the right upright at Faurot Field on Saturday night, three fan bases exploded.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsMark Richt and his Bulldogs look to stay in the SEC East race with a win over rival Florida.
Clearly, one was South Carolina, which had just pulled off the 27-24, come-from-behind win, but at the exact same moment, Florida and Georgia fans, players and coaches celebrated at once, as they climbed right back into the SEC Eastern Division race.

"I felt like we had just won a game," said Georgia wide receiver Rhett McGowan, sporting the same boyish smile he likely had late Saturday night.

While both programs, which face each other in their annual Outdoor Party in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, are unranked with identical 4-3 (3-2 SEC) records, they scored major victories without playing a down. Mizzou's loss resurrected the Dawgs and Gators, even though they're both a game back of the Tigers, who own head-to-head tiebreakers over both.

Still, if both teams win out and see a couple more Mizzou losses, the winner of Saturday's game could sneak into Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

"It gave us a little hope," Florida defensive back Cody Riggs said. "I went crazy. I was jumping around the house. I actually called [safety] Jaylen [Watkins], I was like ‘We’re back in it! We’re back!’ We’ve still got a chance."

The chances are slim, but they are there. It doesn't help either that both will literally limp into EverBank Field, as injuries have ravaged the two this season.

Florida is dealing with eight season-ending injuries (four starters), including quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley, while Georgia has watched nearly every capable skill player go down. Running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin-Scott Wesley are all out for the year with ACL injuries, while receiver Chris Conley (ankle) is doubtful for Saturday.

"I don't think there's any other team besides the [New England] Patriots that's more beat up than us and Florida," Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said.

Even coach Mark Richt had to chuckle at the sight of his depth chart Tuesday. Standing in front of a throng of media members, Richt released a sarcastic snicker when he looked at the available receivers on this week's depth chart.

"Kenny Towns will be available to play," Richt said.

"Also, [Michael] Erdman -- Erdman is ready.”

Not exactly Mitchell or Conley.

The good news is that receiver Michael Bennett (knee) and running back Todd Gurley (ankle) should be available on Saturday, but safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons are still in limbo.

Then there's Florida.

Linebacker Ronald Powell (ankle) is questionable, while linebacker Darrin Kitchens (shoulder) and tight end Colin Thompson (foot) are doubtful. Florida will get defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (head) back, and quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) should be fine.

Outside of injuries, on-field play has hampered those two as well. Florida's offense has stalled in each of its three losses, while Georgia's young, inexperienced defense has had plenty of growing pains.

Because of that, both will face each other on a two-game losing streak for the first time since 1926 and unranked for the second time since 1979.

For the Gators, the past two games have been an offensive nightmare. After averaging 393.4 yards per game and 5.6 yards per play during the first five games, Florida has averaged 195.5 yards per game and 3.1 yards per play while converting just 28.1 percent of its third downs since.

Georgia's defense ranks 58th nationally (390.1 yards per game) and is giving up 5.5 yards per play. It has registered just seven turnovers this season, tied for last in the SEC. To put that into perspective, former Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones forced three fumbles and recovered two in his two games against Florida.

This game has lost some of its luster nationally, and neither will be playing for a national championship this season, but that doesn't mean it isn't important. A war of attrition will replace the party in Jacksonville, but that won't stop each side from seething at the sight of the other's color combination.

"If you can’t get excited about playing Florida in that venue, you shouldn’t be a Bulldog. Period," Richt said. "We all understand that. I think everybody is going to get their blood pumping for that.

"Both of us are just fighting like mad to stay in the race. With another loss, I don’t know if mathematically or not it knocks us out, but it’d be pretty tough.”

Added Murphy: "It’s kind of like a one-game playoff. If you lose, your season is kind of done or down in the dumps. Both teams are going to come out hungry and ready to go."

Lynch called the Florida-Georgia rivalry the midseason "gauntlet of college football." This has major East implications and it's a bitter rivalry. They both celebrated Saturday's victory, but when they see each other, true disdain will emerge, which should be motivation enough.

"It's not a one-way street, they legitimately hate us too," Lynch said. "It's nothing like I've ever seen before.

"I'll raise my kids to hate Florida just as anyone else. Even if they go play football at Brown, they'll still root for Georgia over Florida. That's just how it is."

Injury impact: SEC

October, 24, 2013
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The injury bug has been sucking the life out of teams in the SEC this season. The SEC East has been hit especially hard this season, and here are the three teams in the league that have been affected the most:

1. Florida: Not exactly what the Gators want to be ranked first in, but Florida runs away with this one. The 4-3 Gators lost starting right tackle Chaz Green (shoulder) and wide receiver Andre Debose (knee) for the season during fall camp and have seen six more season-ending injuries since, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. They dressed only 13 healthy defenders in the loss to Missouri. Quarterback Tyler Murphy is still dealing with a lingering shoulder injury.

2. Georgia: The 4-3 Bulldogs lost top receiver Malcolm Mitchell for the year to a freak ACL injury in the season opener and then lost running back Keith Marshall and Justin-Scott Wesley to ACL injuries against Tennessee. Starting running back Todd Gurley (ankle) has been out since the LSU game (Sept. 28) and receiver Michael Bennett hasn't played since the Tennessee game (Oct. 5) due to a knee injury. Receiver Chris Conley (ankle) and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) and Tray Matthews are questionable for next week's Florida game.

3. Arkansas: The Razorbacks, who have lost five straight, felt the injury bug before the season when top receiver Demetrius Wilson was lost for the year with a preseason ACL injury while linebacker Otha Peters has played in only five games after breaking his arm during fall camp. Coach Bret Bielema estimated that 10-12 players went down with injuries during fall camp. Quarterback Brandon Allen suffered a shoulder injury early this season and starting defensive tackle Robert Thomas is out for the season with a broken leg.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 21, 2013
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What a wild weekend in the SEC. After a handful of upsets and other compelling developments across the league, there's plenty to chew on. Here's a sampling:

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
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1. Will Clowney play?: There have been a lot of rumors flying around about South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and his last-minute decision to sit out against Kentucky. It didn’t go over well with coach Steve Spurrier based on the postgame comments. However, Spurrier defended his star player this week. Once again, Clowney is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas with a muscle strain near his rib area. He returned to practice on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Getty ImagesJames Franklin and Missouri can prove they're legit SEC contenders with a win at Georgia on Saturday.
2. Health concerns at UGA: The Bulldogs survived a scare in Knoxville last weekend, but they didn’t come out unscathed. They lost both running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending injuries while fellow wide receiver Michael Bennett will miss an extended period of time with a knee injury. Georgia will have to bounce back quickly with No. 25 Missouri coming to town on Saturday.

3. Mizzou a legitimate contender? It’s safe to say nobody had Missouri as one of the two unbeaten teams in the SEC heading into Week 7. But after an impressive road win at Vanderbilt, the Tigers are 5-0 and finally starting to gain some respect around the league. The next three weeks will be telling, though, as they play Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

4. LSU’s WRs versus Florida’s CBs: It’s a dream matchup for NFL scouts. LSU features what many consider to be the top wide receiver tandem in college football with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. However, Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy is arguably the top cornerback in the SEC, and playing opposite of him is freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who already has three interceptions. The Gators are also expecting the return of corner Marcus Roberson, another one who could soon be playing on Sundays.

5. Tyler Murphy in Death Valley: Since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback, Murphy has exceeded expectations for the Gators. In three games, he has thrown for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception, and he’s progressively gotten better. However, the junior signal-caller is in for his toughest assignment yet when Florida travels to LSU this weekend. How will he perform in a hostile atmosphere?

6. The return of Cooper: When will we see the real Amari Cooper, the one who had 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman for Alabama? The star wide receiver has been slowed by nagging injuries all season, but he expects to play Saturday against Kentucky. Will he be 100 percent? Quarterback AJ McCarron would love to have him back sooner rather than later.

7. Aggies without Ennis: As if Texas A&M’s rush defense wasn’t bad enough, the Aggies lost Kirby Ennis, one of their top interior linemen, for the season with a torn ACL. The injury comes at a bad time for the Aggies, who have to visit Ole Miss this weekend and deal with Rebels running back Jeff Scott, not to mention quarterback Bo Wallace. The staff will turn to freshman Isaiah Golden, who is expected to start alongside Alonzo Williams in the middle.

8. Shootout in Oxford: The SEC has featured its fair share of shootouts early in the college football season, and Saturday’s game between Ole Miss and Texas A&M could be right up there. Both teams feature an up-tempo offense, and neither one likes to waste much time between plays. It could be a long day for both defenses.

9. Big game for Bielema: After a 3-0 start, Arkansas has quickly fallen back to .500 with three consecutive losses. However, first-year coach Brett Bielema has a chance to notch his first signature victory with the Razorbacks this Saturday when they host No. 14 South Carolina. The Gamecocks have struggled in recent weeks and could be prime for an upset. It’s likely a must-win scenario for Arkansas if the Hogs want to reach a bowl game.

10. Auburn’s quarterback: Who will start for the Tigers against Western Carolina? Starter Nick Marshall injured his knee last weekend against Ole Miss, and although he’s expected to play, coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t made a ruling one way or the other. If Marshall can’t go, Auburn will either turn to returning starter Jonathan Wallace or true freshman Jeremy Johnson.


Welcome to Missouri's world, SEC East. It isn't so pretty, is it?

A year ago, the Tigers were wrapped in bandages and chugging Robitussin every week of their debut season in the SEC. Now, it seems like the top teams in the SEC East are doing the same thing as we head into the sixth week of the 2013 season.

Florida, Georgia and South Carolina are dealing with injuries, and it looks like Missouri is actually the healthiest team and is starting to make some noise in the conference after its 51-28 thrashing of Vanderbilt in Nashville over the weekend.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesGeorgia sophomore running back Keith Marshall is out for the season with a torn ACL.
It literally looks like the last man standing will win the SEC East this year, as injuries continue to pile up.

Just look at the Georgia Bulldogs. Heavy favorites to win the division after their 44-41 win against LSU two Saturdays ago, the Bulldogs are now in the realm of the unknown after losing three key offensive players to knee injuries in a thrilling overtime win over Tennessee. Running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley are out for the rest of the season with ACL injuries, while receiver Michael Bennett will have to undergo surgery to find out the extent of his knee injury and will miss Saturday's game against Missouri.

Receiver Malcolm Mitchell was already lost for the season with an ACL injury, and running back Todd Gurley is sidelined with an ankle injury. Punter Collin Barber left Saturday's game early with a concussion, and Georgia was without receiver Jonathon Rumph (hamstring) and safeties Tray Matthews (hamstring) and Connor Norman (concussion) for the entire game.

So, Mark Richt, have you ever seen that many injuries in a game before?

“Not like that," he said following Saturday's game. "It's just such a shame."

It really is for the Bulldogs, and now Georgia's lead in the East doesn't look so insurmountable.

Florida came away from the weekend with quite the performance in its 30-10 win over Arkansas. What was so impressive, other than another dominating defensive performance? Well, the passing game stepped up when the Hogs buried Florida's running game.

Yes, you read that correctly. Florida's passing game stepped up and quarterback Tyler Murphy, who just so happens to be in for the injured Jeff Driskel (broken leg), threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns.

Arkansas certainly doesn't have the most intimidating defense, but Florida has to be feeling pretty good about last Saturday. Can the Gators sustain that? This team is down Driskel and its best overall player in defensive tackle Dominique Easley (ACL). Another big injury could cost the Gators a shot at Atlanta. Murphy has to stay upright if this team is even going to have a chance.

South Carolina watched quarterback Connor Shaw go down with a shoulder sprain against Central Florida only to bounce back and play well against Kentucky Saturday. Do injuries even affect this kid anymore? Still, his aggressive style makes him very susceptible to injuries.

It's become clear that injuries are affecting Jadeveon Clowney, who has played well below average this season. He's dealt with illness, a toe injury and now ribs. His coaches didn't even know he wasn't playing against Kentucky until right before the game.

"[If Clowney] wants to play, we will welcome him to come play for the team if he wants," Spurrier said after the game. "But if he doesn't want to play, he doesn't have to play. Simple as that."

The problem is that having him on the field -- even if he isn't playing close to 100 percent -- creates an issue for offenses. They've directed plays away from him and now they don't have to. Against the Wildcats, South Carolina's defense surrendered a 21-point lead. This defense has struggled, and it absolutely cannot afford anymore injuries at this point.

Then there's healthy, confident Mizzou. This was the team that couldn't get out of the infirmary last year. Now it's second in the SEC in total offense (543.8 yards per game), scoring (46.6) and sacks (15).

Mizzou has a chance to take a mighty step forward this weekend with a trip to Athens. The Dawgs beat up on the Tigers last year, but it's Georgia that enters Saturday's game battered and bruised. Mizzou should already be considered a threat in the East, but if the Tigers can keep bandages off their stripes, it'll be an exciting four-team race to Atlanta in the East.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 7, 2013
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Here are some of today's headlines from around the SEC.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
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Let's hand out some recognition for outstanding play on Saturday with this week's SEC helmet stickers.

Nick Marshall: Auburn's quarterback led the Tigers to their first win over a ranked opponent under Gus Malzahn by rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in a 30-22 win against No. 24 Ole Miss. Marshall was clearly bothered by a leg injury that kept him from running as Ole Miss attempted a late comeback, but his earlier rushing yards -- plus an 11-for-17 passing performance for 93 yards -- allowed the Tigers to hold on for a win.

Missouri's offense: There was more than enough reason to question what unbeaten Missouri had accomplished thus far before jumping into SEC play at Vanderbilt on Saturday. But the Tigers' offensive explosion in a 51-28 win in Nashville showed what they can do. James Franklin passed for 278 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 63 more, and the Tigers totaled 245 rushing yards to move to 5-0 with a trip to Georgia on deck next weekend.

Solomon Patton: Undersized senior receiver Patton came into Florida's game against Arkansas with just 303 career receiving yards and two touchdowns, but he made some of the biggest plays in the Gators' 30-10 victory. Patton hauled in touchdown passes of 51 and 38 yards and finished with six catches for 124 yards. The Gators' stout defense did a good job limiting Arkansas' powerful rushing attack and Patton provided enough of an offensive spark to help the Gators to pull away in the second half.

Aaron Murray: With All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley already sidelined by injury, Murray lost tailback Keith Marshall and receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley to apparently serious injuries during Saturday's game against Tennessee. But somehow Georgia's senior quarterback led his cobbled-together offense to just enough points to win 34-31 in overtime. Murray broke David Greene's SEC career passing record in the first half and led the Bulldogs to the game-tying touchdown with a 2-yard pass to Rantavious Wooten with 5 seconds remaining. Murray finished 19 of 35 for 196 yards and three touchdowns and also set up a key second-half touchdown with a 57-yard run.

Odell Beckham Jr.: He had a critical fumble in last week's loss to Georgia, but Beckham Jr. was nearly unstoppable in Saturday's 59-26 win against Mississippi State. He sparked LSU's 28-0 run to close the game with a 33-yard touchdown catch and run from Zach Mettenberger, who was also outstanding with 340 yards on 25 of 29 passing. Beckham finished with nine catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns, with his first a leaping 14-yard grab with 17 seconds left until halftime, giving the Tigers a 28-23 edge at the break.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn experienced a lot of lows during the 2011 season, but perhaps the lowest came against Georgia.

It wasn’t that the Gators got out-scored 21-3 after taking a 17-3 lead -- although that was agonizing for Quinn, too. It’s what the Bulldogs did in the game’s final 5:32.

Protecting a three-point lead, the Bulldogs methodically ate clock and never gave up the ball -- partly because of a costly penalty on a third down that extended the drive.

"It was certainly a low point for me," Quinn said Wednesday as the No. 2 Gators (7-0, 6-0 SEC) prepared for Saturday’s rematch with the No. 10 Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1). "When you look back at it we had chances to win the game and when you don’t, it eats at you for a long time. When you’re thinking about it or when you put the film on during the offseason to start on the study for them … and then certainly the number of times we’ve seen that sequence of plays this year, during this week especially, is hard."

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The SEC East now has the 'Big Three'

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
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With all due respect to the SEC West, the East has it going on this year.

I said before the season that the West had the muscle, but the East would be more fun to watch.

Well, after four weeks, it looks like the East doesn’t just have a more exciting race on its hands but the Big Three now reside on that side of the conference.

Now, before my Twitter feed gets spammed and I have to go into hiding in some bunker located in or around the city of Atlanta, hear me out.

Alabama and LSU are still the cream of the crop. They are the two best teams in the SEC, and might be the two best teams in the nation. Don’t let LSU’s ugly win over Auburn fool you. The Tigers are still extremely talented and that defense is just as fierce.

But after that, the East has the West beat. Arkansas, which was a part of the West's talented trio, has fallen to the bottom of the division and could be struggling to make a bowl. Mississippi State has looked good, but those lackluster wins against overmatched teams make me nervous.

Your new Big Three, ladies and gentlemen: Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. And each has to be taken seriously when it comes to winning the SEC.

I'm not saying they're better than Alabama or LSU, but they have a legitimate chance of ending the West’s reign of terror.

I’ll start with the Bulldogs:

GEORGIA (No. 5, 4-0)
  • The Bulldogs have the SEC’s best offense. Georgia leads the league with 530 yards of offense a game and is as balanced as they come. Aaron Murray is passing for 273 yards a game and has tossed 10 touchdowns to two interceptions. Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett all have double-digit catches on the season and have combined for eight touchdowns.
  • Freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have turned into quite the rushing duo, combing for 670 yards and nine touchdowns. Gurley currently leads the SEC with 406 rushing yards and is averaging 9.2 yards per carry.
  • Where Georgia could have issues is with its run defense. The Dawgs are eighth in the SEC in rush defense (135.5 yards per game) and Alabama and LSU love to run the ball and wear down opponents. Georgia should know. But that should improve with the return of Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree. They will fill some of the holes we’ve seen on defense and help take some of that bend away.
SOUTH CAROLINA (No. 6, 4-0)
  • We’ve seen a lot more balance out of the Gamecocks’ offense in the past couple of weeks and it looks like Marcus Lattimore is getting stronger. He has the ability to wear down those defensive lines and open up the passing game for Connor Shaw. We’ll find out how much Lattimore is needed when South Carolina travels to LSU on Oct. 13.
  • Shaw might have a fracture in his shoulder, but he’s shown that he’s extremely tough and South Carolina will need that. He also showed against Missouri that he’s got what it takes to really sling the ball, as he completed his last 20 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Balance will be key, and this offense is full of it.
  • The secondary still has questions, but it’s getting better every week. South Carolina gives up a good chunk of yards through the air, but the Gamecocks have five interceptions and have allowed just three passing touchdowns. The play up front has really helped the secondary, as the Gamecocks are second in the SEC with 15 sacks. Jadeveon Clowney leads South Carolina with 4.5 sacks and is starting to find his groove.
FLORIDA (No. 11, 4-0)
  • The Gators finally have an offense. They still struggle some in the first half, but the Gators have outscored opponents 78-13 in the second half and haven’t allowed any points in the fourth quarter. Alabama can’t even say that! That’s a credit to Florida’s conditioning and solid halftime adjustments.
  • Florida also has a true downhill runner in Mike Gillislee, who is second in the SEC with 402 rushing yards, and have a budding star in quarterback Jeff Driskel. He can hurt teams with his legs and arm and has shown tremendous poise in harsh road conditions. This team has to find another consistent receiving threat outside of Jordan Reed.
  • Florida has shown some bend in its rush defense, and was pounded on the ground by Alabama and LSU last year. The Gators have to be tougher up front if they want a chance at claiming the SEC. Play in the box is crucial, and the Gators didn’t do very well at all in this area last year when they were clobbered by the Tide and Tigers. Florida’s date with LSU in the Swamp on Oct. 6 will tell us what that front can really do.

None of these teams are perfect, but they’re all pretty good. Georgia is probably equipped with the most talent in the East, but South Carolina and Florida aren’t far behind.

Watching these three beat each other up this fall is gonna be fun, but watching one of them try to take down one of the big dogs on the other side of the tracks will be especially entertaining.

Don’t sleep on the East this year.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

(Read full post)

ESPN’s GatorNation brings you the 30 things you need to know about Florida’s upcoming 2012 season. For 30 weekdays, we’ll preview games, talk about trends, spotlight players and positions, and give you pretty much everything you need to know to be ready for the season before the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Let’s face it, the Florida-Georgia rivalry had gotten boring.

Florida’s lopsided victories in the 1990s and relatively uneventful games in the early 2000s had turned what was once one of the most bitter rivalries in college football into just another game.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia touchdown
Palm Beach Post/ZUMA Press/Icon SMIThe entire Georgia team rushed the field after scoring the opening touchdown against Florida in 2007.
But things have heated up again over the past five years -- thanks in part to some questionable actions -- and now the rivalry between the SEC schools is as intense as ever. Players danced, eyes were almost gouged, and the infamous choke sign made an appearance.

Oh, yeah, and there’s the matter of Florida’s coach having played at Georgia, too.

Can’t wait to see what happens this year when the teams meet at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Oct. 27.

THE INTENSITY IS BACK

Why has the Florida-Georgia rivalry heated up again? How about these five reasons:

(Read full post)

Now that you've seen the recruiting needs for the SEC Western Division teams, it's time to check what teams in the East needed to focus on when it came to recruiting for the 2012 class:

FLORIDA

Offensive line: There's no getting around how much Florida's offensive line struggled in 2011. Florida doesn't lose a lot from its line, but the Gators need more talent. There are a lot of questions surrounding this position and getting qualities bodies is a must.

Running back: Florida loses seniors Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, and will enter the fall with unproven players in Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown. As Florida continues to move closer to a more traditional/pro-style offense, the Gators also need to add size to the position.

Wide receiver: Again, this is a position in which the Gators need to improve in the talent category. Florida lost just one senior from last year's squad, but unproven players lurk. What Florida needs to get in this class is a true playmaker at receiver. There is hope that Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and Frankie Hammond can step up, but some solid competition won't hurt.

GEORGIA

Offensive line: Georgia loses three starters in Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson. The Bulldogs would like to add a few more big bodies up front in this class to help with all that unproven depth.

Linebacker: In Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense, linebackers are extremely important. The Bulldogs will likely lose a couple bodies at outside linebacker next year, including star Jarvis Jones, and would like to add a couple of true playmakers at that position in this class.

Wide receiver: Come 2013, Georgia will have taken some hits at its wide receiver depth. There is young talent in Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, but veterans like Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten will be gone. Adding a couple standouts at wide receiver in this class would be nice.

KENTUCKY

Offensive playmakers: Whether it comes at quarterback, wide receiver, running back or tight end, the Wildcats need to find players who can make plays when they get the ball in their hands. Kentucky's offense was hard to watch all season because there was no one who could consistently move the ball.

Offensive line: Kentucky loses three starters -- Chandler Burden, Stuart Hines and Billy Joe Murphy -- from its offensive line and needs to load up here in this class. There is a handful of young players at each offensive line position, but the Wildcats need to think about adding more for the future.

Defensive back: Veterans are leaving the Wildcats' secondary, so it's time to stock up. Winston Guy, Taiedo Smith, Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley will all be gone, meaning the Wildcats are in need of adding some depth to both the cornerback and safety positions.

MISSOURI

Running back: Leading rusher Henry Josey suffered a severe knee injury toward the end of the 2011 season and the Tigers have some veterans jam packed at the top of the depth chart at the position. Getting help to add to future rosters would really help this offense as it moves to the SEC.

Defensive line: The Tigers are losing three starters along the defensive line and 10 players from 2011 will be gone by the end of next season. There are some youngsters there, but it's time to getting into restocking mode along the defensive line. Also, this is where games are won and lost in the SEC. Finding more athleticism here is crucial.

Offensive line: Like the defensive line, Missouri will lose three starters here. There are some bodies to fill in for now, but you can never have too many offensive linemen and now that the Tigers are headed to the SEC, getting some bigger, more athletic linemen will be key to survival in this jungle.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Defensive line: The Gamecocks have gotten a ton of production from here lately, but South Carolina will lose two starters in Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson. South Carolina might want to add to defensive end the most, with Ingram leaving and Devin Taylor getting ready to depart in a year.

Linebacker: Over the next two years, the Gamecocks will lose some quality players at linebacker and even the spur position. A handful of veterans occupy the depth chart at linebacker, so that means South Carolina needs to add a few quality bodies for the future.

Defensive back: South Carolina's depth in its defensive backfield could be considered thin. The Gamecocks are down two starters at cornerback and will lose solid players in D.J. Swearinger and DeVonte Holloman in 2013.

TENNESSEE

Running back: The Vols never figured out how to run the ball last year and will now turn to a group of unproven running backs. Marlin Lane has the talent to excel, but he needs to be more consistent. Finding a couple talented backs in this class would help this position tremendously.

Defensive tackle: The Vols need some help inside, and now that they are moving to the 3-4, getting quality nose guards is a must for Tennessee. Adding some girth inside will be very important in order to improving this position.

Defensive back: Tennessee will say goodbye to quite a bit of their defensive backs in the next couple of years, so getting a head start on adding to players to both safety and corner would be a plus.

VANDERBILT

Offensive line: The Commodores return the bulk of their offensive line next year, but after that, Vanderbilt will be pretty thin and very young up front. Adding four or five bodies to the offensive line would go a long way for Vanderbilt.

Linebacker: Vanderbilt loses one starter, in Chris Marve, here for next season, but the year after will see a lot of turnover at the position, with four rising seniors on the roster.

Defensive end: Two starters — Tim Fugger and T.J. Greenstone — are gone and Vanderbilt will lose a handful more after the 2012 season. Getting some help at this position is another must for coach James Franklin.

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