Florida Gators: Tim Tebow

Gators used to being swamped by rain

September, 1, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Steve Spurrier knew what he was doing when he nicknamed Ben Hill Griffin Stadium "The Swamp."

On Saturday night, Florida's season opener against Idaho was delayed and ultimately suspended by lightning, hours of heavy rain and unplayable field conditions.

It looked like this for much of the night:



Anyone who has spent a summer in Florida can testify to the amount of rain that typically falls, and the Gators are used to playing their share of bad weather games. Here are the top five rain-soaked contests in recent UF history.

1. At Tennessee, Sept. 19, 1992: The first season after the SEC was split into two divisions saw Florida and Tennessee become annual foes and permanent rivals. A 45-minute monsoon struck Knoxville in the second half of a game that went from a 17-7 Volunteers' lead to a 31-7 rout. The downpour turned the artificial turf at Neyland Stadium into a giant slip n' slide, giving the Gators' pass-happy offense no chance at a comeback. Tennessee took full advantage of the conditions with a running game that featured James "Little Man" Stewart and Charlie Garner. On the other side of the ball, UF quarterback Shane Matthews was relentlessly pounded by Vols DE Todd Kelly and LB Ben Talley. Beating the No. 4 Gators, 31-14, was a huge upset for No. 14 UT, and it went a long way in helping interim coach Phil Fulmer get hired as Johnny Majors' replacement.

2. Georgia, Oct. 30, 1993: The city of Jacksonville, Florida, was in contention for an NFL expansion franchise but didn't put its best foot forward when heavy rains left the area surrounding the downtown stadium under about a foot of standing water. The field was not in much better shape, as No. 10 Florida went back and forth with unranked Georgia. Unable to grip the ball in the unrelenting rain, Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was replaced by Terry Dean, who led the Gators to a 33-26 lead. In the final two minutes of the game, quarterback Eric Zeier marched Georgia down the field and threw what appeared to be the game-tying touchdown. But officials said UF cornerback Anthone Lott had called timeout and nullified the play. Florida withstood two more pass attempts by Zeier and hung on for the win.

3. Tennessee, Sept. 16, 1995: By the mid-90s, the UF-UT rivalry had become an annual early season glamour game. This one was no exception, matching Wuerffel and the No. 4 Gators against Peyton Manning and his No. 8 Vols. Tennessee had two 16-point leads in the first half, thanks to Manning and receivers Marcus Nash and Joey Kent. The Gators swung momentum in their favor and took the lead in the second half. Then skies opened up, as most of the fourth quarter was played in a non-stop deluge. When it was over, Florida had scored 48 straight points in a 62-37 win, and Wuerffel had thrown an SEC-record six TD passes.

4. Western Kentucky, Sept. 1, 2007: Before Saturday night, the last game in Florida football history that was rained out was the season opener after the Gators won the 2006 BCS national championship game. Taking over as UF's starting quarterback, Tim Tebow made a statement with 300 yards and three touchdowns passing and one rushing TD in Florida's easy 49-3 victory. The Gators' final play before lightning halted the game in the fourth quarter was a 4-yard touchdown run by a backup quarterback named Cam Newton with 8:23 remaining.

5. At Florida State, Nov. 29, 2008: It had rained all day in Tallahassee, Florida, leaving the field a wet, slippery mess with pools of water in both end zones. The indelible image from this game was of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow covered in the Seminoles' garnet paint after diving into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. When Tebow got up and celebrated, his white jersey and face were stained with what looked like blood. The No. 2 Gators won 45-15 on their way to a second national championship in three seasons.

SEC's lunch links

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
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Starting tonight Florida and Alabama tussle for the national championship in softball. After that, we're running out of college sports seasons.
One more time, and with emphasis, the 6-1-1 scheduling format the SEC has settled on going forward stinks.

If the league's not going to play nine conference games (and it should), then the only sensible way to make eight conference games work is to play six divisional foes and two rotating cross-divisional foes -- a 6-0-2 format -- and punt the old 6-1-1 format for good.

A conference really isn't a conference when you go eight years without playing a team that's supposed to be in your conference. And, yet, that's the warped reality of the SEC schedule, at least through 2025. The league office announced Monday a 12-year rotation of cross-divisional opponents for all 14 SEC schools.

Some of the highlights … or lowlights:
  • Alabama and South Carolina won't meet again until 2019 in Columbia, S.C. The two teams last met in 2010, also being in Columbia, when the Gamecocks upset the then No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide 35-21. Moreover, South Carolina won't play again in Tuscaloosa until 2024. The Gamecocks' last visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium came in 2009.
  • Alabama will play Florida in the Swamp again in 2021, a decade after they last met in Gainesville in 2011. Tim Tebow and Nick Saban might both be in the broadcast booth by then.
  • Auburn and Florida won't play again until 2019 when they meet in the Swamp. The Gators' next visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium will come in 2024. Auburn and Florida played every season from 1945-2002. They last met during the 2011 season. Talk about a rivalry slowing fading away.
  • Texas A&M, heading into its third season in the SEC, won't make its first appearance in Neyland Stadium to take on Tennessee until 2023. Heck, by then, Texas might be in the SEC, too.
  • Tennessee won't venture back to Tiger Stadium to face LSU until 2022. Tennessee's last visit to Death Valley came in 2010. That's 12 years in between visits. The Vols have had four head coaches in the last six years.
  • Remember how entertaining that Georgia-LSU game was a year ago with the Bulldogs out-gunning the Tigers for a 44-41 win? Well, they won't play again in Athens until 2025. Uga's grandson could be patrolling the Dawgs' sideline by then.

Get the picture?

Saving the annual Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia rivalries were important, which is why the league presidents voted to keep the 6-1-1 format and permanent cross-divisional opponents. But the conference has simply become too detached when certain teams go so long without playing each other in the regular season.

Every player who stays for four years should get the opportunity to face every team in the league at least once. And as a fan, it would be nice to see every team come to your home stadium at least a couple of times before you're too old to climb up to your seats.

Maybe we'll still get to nine conference games at some point, which would solve a lot of problems.

The coaches in the league, except for Saban, don't want any part of nine games. In their mind, eight is plenty, especially if everybody is going out and also playing one nonconference game against a team from one of the other four power conferences.

It's worth mentioning that none of the coaches liked the idea of playing an SEC championship game back in the early 1990s when that subject was first broached by then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer. More than two decades later, it's fair to say they've warmed up to the idea, particularly since it's aided more than a few teams' paths to a national championship.

Here's a look at the cross-divisional rotation for all 14 teams over the next 12 years.

Class of 2006 made biggest impact at UF

February, 21, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's 2006 recruiting class stands alone at the top.

It started off as ESPN's No. 1-ranked class. But two SEC championships and two national championships in three seasons tell the whole story.

Even the Gators' loaded Class of 2007, which can make an argument as UF's most talented recruiting class of all time, cannot argue with all those rings and trophies.

What can't be argued, however, is that Urban Meyer's incredible success at Florida can be traced back to his ability to recruit three transcendent talents and a truckload of starters in this 2006 group.

This week we have counted down Florida's five most impactful recruiting classes of the past decade. The one that made the biggest mark of them all was the Class of 2006.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsIt's safe to say that Tim Tebow's four years at Florida were successful.
The stars: Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes on their own were the kind of recruits who could make a program, the kind who come along once every 10 years or so. Florida signed all three in 2006. Tebow was every bit a college football legend, one of the greatest players and leaders of all time. He sent UF's program into a stratosphere of national attention, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and leading the way to SEC and national titles in 2008. Harvin might be the most talented player ever to wear the orange and blue. And Spikes was the heart-and-soul middle linebacker of three ferocious defenses.

The contributors: Brandon James made an instant impact as an explosive kick returner and finished his career with four SEC and 11 school records for various career kick return and yardage marks. DE Jermaine Cunningham started 38 of 45 games at UF and recorded 19.5 sacks. Riley Cooper started 27 of 51 games and became Tebow's go-to receiver in 2009. Linebacker A.J. Jones started 40 of his 50 games, and Dustin Doe made 18 starts at linebacker. Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders started nearly every game at defensive tackle during Florida's 2008 championship run. Offensive linemen Marcus Gilbert, Carl Johnson and Maurice Hurt redshirted in 2006, but Gilbert and Johnson were starters on Florida's 2008 championship team, and Hurt was a key reserve.

The letdowns: A class known for its highs also had some lows. Jamar Hornsby, an incredible athlete and the No. 6-ranked safety in the Class of 2006, was kicked off the team after pleading no contest to charges of credit card fraud. Cornerback Jacques Rickerson was a top-150 recruit who was kicked off the team in 2008 following his arrest on a felony battery charge. There were some disappointments on the field as well. Offensive tackle Jim Barrie was the No. 28 overall prospect in the country in 2006, but played just one game in his first two seasons before his career ended with a torn ACL. Brandon Antwine was the nation's No. 7-ranked defensive tackle in the class but struggled with injuries throughout his Florida career. RB Mon Williams was the No. 83 overall prospect in 2006 but tore his ACL, moved to linebacker and then transferred. Chevon Walker, another highly rated running back, transferred after one year. Out of 27 signees, there were seven transfers, one player who chose professional baseball (CB Derrick Robinson) and another (lineman Corey Hobbs) who quit football after three seasons to go to law school.

The results: With so many trophies and titles, this class put the Florida program at the epicenter of college football. Much of that success translated to the NFL, as Tebow and Harvin were first-round draft picks and Spikes was picked in the second round. Tebow became a lightning rod for debate about his quarterback skills while leading the Denver Broncos to a playoff victory in January 2012. He is still looking for a chance to extend his playing career. Harvin and Spikes are NFL stars. Florida also had four other players from its Class of 2006 drafted into the NFL -- Cooper, Cunningham, Gilbert and Hurt -- and all four are still active.

Ultimate 300: SEC's top classes 

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
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The SEC has dominated the recruiting world over the past several years. Since 2008, the SEC has had at least three schools finish in the top 10 of the ESPN recruiting class rankings each year. Last year, the conference had an impressive six schools ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes in the country. This year is much of the same, as seven SEC schools are ranked in the top 10.

Here’s a closer look at the five best recruiting SEC schools in the Ultimate ESPN 300.

Ultimate 300: SEC’s top recruits 

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
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The ESPN Ultimate 300 looks back at the best recruits since 2006, and it’s hardly surprising that the SEC made its presence felt in the rankings.

Here’s a look at the top five SEC recruits in the Ultimate ESPN 300:


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SEC all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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It’s time to celebrate the best of the best in the SEC during the BCS era.

So what we’ve done is taken on the monumental task of selecting an All-SEC team from the BCS era, which officially ended last Monday with Florida State’s 34-31 victory over Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

To be eligible, a player had to have played at least one season in the SEC at any time between 1998 and 2013. More weight was given to those players who had longer careers and displayed consistency over the course of their careers.

Before the second-guessing commences, there were some spectacular players -- even a few players who won national awards such as the Heisman Trophy -- that were left off this team.

Nonetheless, it’s one star-studded team.

Here’s a look:

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsTim Tebow accounted for more touchdowns than any player in SEC history.
QB -- Tim Tebow, Florida: A tough call at quarterback, but Tebow had a hand in two national championships, won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and accounted for more touchdowns (145) than anybody in league history.

RB -- Mark Ingram, Alabama: In 2009, Ingram became the first Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy with a 1,658-yard rushing season. He rushed for 42 career touchdowns, breaking Shaun Alexander's school record.

RB -- Darren McFadden, Arkansas: A two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award, McFadden averaged 120.8 rushing yards per game for his career, second only to Herschel Walker and Emmitt Smith in the SEC.

WR -- A.J. Green, Georgia: He combined speed, size and incredible body control to haul in 23 touchdown catches in 31 career games. Green caught more than 50 passes in each season from 2008 to 2010.

WR -- Josh Reed, LSU: The Biletnikoff Award winner as the top receiver in the country in 2001, Reed hauled in 17 touchdown catches in his last two seasons. He set the SEC single-season record in 2001 with 1,740 receiving yards.

TE -- Jason Witten, Tennessee: It’s hard to beat Witten in any era as both a receiving and blocking tight end. He had seven career touchdown catches, including five during his All-SEC junior season in 2002.

AP -- Percy Harvin, Florida: Harvin was Mr. Everything for the Gators on their 2008 national championship team and a two-time All-American. He finished his career with 32 touchdowns (19 rushing and 13 receiving).

OL -- Shawn Andrews, Arkansas: Andrews is the last player to win the Jacobs Award as the SEC’s top blocker in back-to-back seasons (2002 and 2003). The Hogs’ massive offensive tackle was a consensus All-American in both of those seasons.

OL -- Barrett Jones, Alabama: Jones was a part of three national championship teams at Alabama and started at every position on the line but left guard during his career. He won the Rimington Trophy in 2012 as the country’s top center and won the Outland Trophy a year earlier as the Tide’s left tackle.

OL -- Marcus McNeill, Auburn: A two-time All-America selection at offensive tackle, McNeil paved the way for the Tigers' explosive rushing attack and was a huge part of their unbeaten 2004 SEC championship team.

OL -- Chris Samuels, Alabama: The Crimson Tide have been stocked with menacing offensive linemen during their storied history, and Samuels is right there near the top. The big offensive tackle won the Jacobs Award and Outland Trophy in 1999 and helped lead Alabama to an SEC title.

C -- Maurkice Pouncey, Florida: Also a standout guard earlier in his career, Pouncey gravitated to center and won the Rimington Award in 2009 as the nation’s top center. He was a devastating blocker and made 40 starts in 41 career games.

DEFENSE

DL -- Glenn Dorsey, LSU: The most decorated SEC defensive tackle of the BCS era, Dorsey won the Outland Trophy and both the Lombardi and Nagurski awards in 2007. He was the centerpiece of that LSU national championship defense in 2007.

DL -- John Henderson, Tennessee: A two-time All-American, Henderson is one of just five defensive players in the BCS era to win the Outland Trophy (2000) as college football’s most outstanding interior lineman.

[+] Enlarge Jadaveon Clowney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJadaveon Clowney had 24 sacks in three seasons at South Carolina.
DL -- Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Even though his numbers dipped this season, Clowney remains one of the most disruptive defensive ends to play in the SEC during the BCS era. He finished with 47 tackles for loss, including 24 sacks, in 36 career games.

DL -- David Pollack, Georgia: Pollack joined Herschel Walker as Georgia’s only three-time, first-team All-Americans. He racked up a school-record 36 sacks from his defensive end position and was a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year in helping the Bulldogs win the 2002 SEC title, their first in 20 years.

LB -- C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Mosley is the only player in the Nick Saban era at Alabama to have back-to-back 100-tackle seasons and was a part of two national championship teams. He was terrific in coverage and an even better tackler.

LB -- Patrick Willis, Ole Miss: Before he found stardom in the NFL, Willis terrorized the SEC and won the Butkus Award in 2006 as college football’s top linebacker. He was a tackling machine for the Rebels and the quintessential middle linebacker.

LB -- Al Wilson, Tennessee: The heart and soul of Tennessee's 1998 national championship team, Wilson was a playmaking machine at middle linebacker for the Vols. He was a two-time All-SEC selection and consensus All-American his senior season.

CB -- Champ Bailey, Georgia: One of the most versatile players in SEC history, Bailey participated in more than 1,000 plays during the 1998 season and won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s best defensive player.

CB -- Patrick Peterson, LSU: No matter where Peterson lined up, he was the most explosive player on the field. As a cornerback, few were better. He won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards in 2010 and scored touchdowns three different ways during his career: punt return (two), interception return and return of a blocked field goal.

S -- Mark Barron, Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s 2011 national championship defense was dripping with talent, but Barron might have been the best of the bunch. He was a three-time All-SEC selection and two-time All-American.

S -- Eric Berry, Tennessee: Berry was as good in coverage as he was blowing up ball carriers. He won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2009 as the top defensive back in the country and was a finalist the previous year. He finished with 14 career interceptions.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK -- Billy Bennett, Georgia: Bennett is the SEC record holder with 87 made field goals from 2000 to 2003. Bennett was equally accurate, connecting on 79 percent of his kicks.

P -- Dustin Colquitt, Tennessee: A finalist for the Ray Guy Award in both 2002 and 2003, Colquitt averaged 43.1 yards a punt during his career. As a junior in 2003, he had 19 punts of 50 yards or longer and 21 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

RS -- Derek Abney, Kentucky: His eight career returns for touchdowns (six punts and two kickoffs) are an SEC record, and six of those came during one season (2002). Abney set seven NCAA records, 11 SEC records and 14 school records.

Week 14 helmet stickers

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here are the Gators' top performances from their 37-7 loss to the No. 2 Seminoles on Saturday:

Loucheiz Purifoy, CB: The junior had a standout day before telling ESPN's Joe Schad that he plans to leave school early and declare for the NFL draft. In the first quarter, Purifoy broke up a Jameis Winston pass with his back to the ball and managed to corral his own deflection for a crowd-pleasing interception. In the second quarter, Purifoy showed off why he has been one of Florida's best special teams gunners in recent memory when he downed a punt at the FSU 4-yard line. At 6-foot and 185 pounds, Purifoy is the No. 5 defensive back eligible for the draft, according to ESPNs Todd McShay. Purifoy finished the season with 24 tackles, two interceptions, seven pass breakups and two sacks. He also had 82 yards on four kickoff returns, 35 yards on three punt returns and 15 yards rushing on one carry.

Quinton Dunbar, WR: With just two catches for 17 yards, the junior did not have a sticker-worthy game overall. But Dunbar continued a very special streak on Saturday and therefore deserves recognition. Dunbar caught a pass in his 28th game in a row. Two weeks ago he surpassed Gators great Carlos Alvarez's mark of a catch in 25 straight games (1969-71). Alvarez, who once held nearly every receiving record at Florida, also happened to be on hand for Saturday's game and led the crowd in the traditional two-bits cheer before the opening kickoff.

Tim Tebow: How about a helmet sticker for old time's sake? The legendary Gator returned to Florida Field to root for a team that bore little resemblance to the dominant UF teams of Tebow's 2006-09 run when he helped lead the Gators to a 26-2 record at the Swamp. He gave a stirring speech to his 2013 brethren before the game, and it appeared to have the desired effect. Tebow preached about overcoming adversity by finding the strength and courage to change yourself. And for nearly two quarters, the Gators were a changed team in one important respect -- they played harder than they had in weeks. Unfortunately, in a 37-7 loss that was marred by so few performances worthy of a helmet sticker, this one goes to Tebow by default.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's only fitting that a season characterized by injuries and an ineffective offense would conclude with a whimper thanks to those same culprits.

But after losing 37-7 to No. 2 Florida State (12-0, 8-0 in the ACC) in the Swamp on Saturday, Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC) can take solace that its season of misery is mercifully over.

[+] EnlargeBurton
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsDespite carrying the ball just twice, Trey Burton led the Gators with 47 yards rushing versus Florida State. Burton left the game with a shoulder injury in the first quarter.
"Very frustrating, difficult day that ends a very frustrating, difficult season," coach Will Muschamp said. "That’s the best way I can sum it up."

Not even an inspirational pregame speech by Gators great Tim Tebow could do more than delay the inevitable.

"What he said to us was, 'Any man that goes down, he has the ability to get back up. But the difference is how that man gets back up, because a man can get down and come back withered, can come back beaten. But a man that goes down and comes back up and is changed and is different from being down, that's who we are. That's who the Gators are. That's how we need to play and that's who we need to be,' " Florida left tackle Max Garcia recounted.

"So, I'm going to stick with that for the rest of my life. It really penetrated my soul."

With Tebow watching on the sidelines, the Gators were bouncing around and showing more emotion than they had in weeks. In front of a nearly full stadium, its fans at full throat, Florida's defense harassed Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston into one of his worst quarters (4-of-6 for 35 yards) of the season.

Winston threw his first interception in three weeks -- an excuse-me catch by Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who broke up the pass with his back to the ball but was able to find and reel in the deflection. It was the Gators' first interception since the second quarter of the Missouri game on Oct. 19.

The crowd roared its approval, and there was more energy in the Swamp than at any point in the season.

Florida outgained FSU 81 yards to 33 in the first quarter, but 50 of those yards came on one Wildcat keeper up the middle by senior Trey Burton. Two plays later, Burton injured his shoulder on another keeper and did not return to the field.

With Burton went half of the offense the Gators were planning to run.

"We were probably going to have 30-35 plays with Trey [at Wildcat quarterback]," Muschamp said. "Some of the misdirection runs now go out of the game plan, so you've got to make adjustments and you've got to change.

"I hurt for Trey because he’s a senior, his last game in the Swamp, so [it's] very difficult for him. He’s a great young man. It just kinda sums up what’s happened this year. Very frustrating."

With Burton's injury, Florida was missing 16 scholarship contributors in this game. And with cornerback Marcus Roberson dealing with an ankle injury in the first half, UF was missing 10 of its original 22 projected starters on offense and defense.

Winston and the Seminoles still led 3-0 after the first quarter, as FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo converted the same 49-yard field goal that his Florida counterpart, Austin Hardin, missed.

A 12-play, 96-yard drive that culminated in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Kelvin Benjamin might have put the game out of reach, but more importantly, it quelled the enthusiasm of the Florida defense and the crowd.

FSU had weathered the early storm of defensive pressure and taken a 17-0 lead into halftime. It tied the lowest first-half scoring output of the season for the Noles, which happened previously against Nevada in Week 2.

A game that looked on paper like a colossal mismatch inevitably turned out that way. The Florida defense couldn't get off the field, thanks to FSU going 9-of-15 on third-down conversions. Meanwhile, Florida went 1-for-11 on third down and averaged 3.9 yards per play on the day.

"You got to maintain the ball against an offense like that," Muschamp said. "You got to take time off the clock. ... We weren’t able to do that. Give them credit. They made plays on third down, and we didn’t. I think we were 1-of-10 or -11 on third down. You got to convert those, and we’ve struggled to make explosives, make third-down conversions. You name it, we haven’t done it.”

In a season of making all the wrong history, the only drama Florida could muster against Florida State was whether the Noles would shut out the Gators for the first time in the 58-game series.

The answer was no, but it was close. And now the Gators boast the nation's second-longest streak of scoring in consecutive games (322, second to Michigan's 374 games in a row).

With one score in the fourth quarter, Florida finished the season with 11 passing touchdowns. It's the fewest since 1989, the season before Steve Spurrier was hired as coach. On the other sideline, sitting out the Noles' final series to let his backup play, Winston had already broken Florida State's single-season record for passing TDs, with three more on Saturday giving him a total of 35.

"It’s been a tough year, difficult to deal with, but it is what it is," a somber Muschamp said when it was over. "Those guys have persevered through some tough times and certainly this season being the iceberg of it all."

Now that it's in the history books, however, Florida's 2013 season might be remembered less as an iceberg and more as the ship that sunk when it struck one.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.

SEC Week 7: Did you know?

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
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We've reached Week 7 in the SEC. Here are some random tidbits you might not have known.

• The matchup between Florida's stellar defense and LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger should be highly intriguing. The Gators lead the nation in Total QBR allowed, with opposing quarterbacks rating just a 13.0 against Florida and completing just 21.1 percent of their passes of 15 yards or longer. Meanwhile, Mettenberger has completed 60 percent of his throws of 15-plus for eight touchdowns, no interceptions and an average of 15.8 yards per attempt.

• Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has led an offensive revival since taking over for Jeff Driskel as the Gators' signal-caller. He hasn't played enough snaps to qualify for ESPN's Total QBR rankings, but only Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty have higher QBRs than Murphy's 93.7 among QBs who have participated in at least 80 action plays.

• South Carolina expects star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to start this week after missing last week's game with a much-debated injury. ESPN Stats and Information reports that Clowney has played 63 percent of South Carolina's defensive snaps this season. Opponents are averaging 5.9 yards per play with Clowney on the field versus 4.8 ypp when he's off.

• Georgia enters Saturday's game against Missouri riding a 15-game winning streak. That's the longest active home winning streak in the conference and the third-longest such streak in school history. The Bulldogs last lost at home against South Carolina on Sept. 10, 2011.

• Expect Alabama to look to establish the run against Kentucky on Saturday. The Crimson Tide are averaging an SEC-high 6.6 yards per designed run in SEC games. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are allowing 5.2 yards per designed run -- second-most in the league. Kentucky has allowed an SEC-high 629 yards before contact on such runs.

• Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray claimed the SEC's career passing yards lead last week against Tennessee. He's closing in on two more career marks. With 11,908 yards of career total offense, Murray is 324 yards behind Tim Tebow's SEC record (12,232). And with 109 career touchdown passes, he's five behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114.

• Ole Miss' no-huddle offense has been a mess of late after a strong start. The Rebels averaged just 1.6 yards per play last week against Auburn when employing the no-huddle after averaging 7.6 yards per play through the first four games when operating out of the no-huddle. Quarterback Bo Wallace was 2-for-10 on passes out of the no-huddle against Auburn after going 19-for-23 in the first four games.

• Arkansas freshman Alex Collins leads the SEC with 651 rushing yards, but his workload has decreased in his first two conference games. Collins was averaging 21.5 carries against nonconference opponents, but that average dipped to 13.5 in SEC play. His average yards per game dipped from 120.3 to 85.0 and his yards after contact per game have dropped steeply, from 73.0 to 27.5.

• Aside from its shaky performance in a win against Texas A&M, Alabama's defense has been impressive. Following a shutout against Ole Miss and a 45-3 win last week against Georgia State, the Crimson Tide are now tied with Florida for the SEC lead in scoring defense at 12.2 ppg. Alabama is second in rushing defense (85.8 ypg), second in total defense (299.8) and fifth in pass defense (214.0). The Tide have an SEC-low 25 missed tackles according to ESPN Stats and Information.

• Missouri is first in the SEC in rushing (258.8 ypg) and fourth in passing (285.0). The Tigers rank among only five FBS teams averaging at least 255 yards on the ground and 285 through the air alongside Baylor, Oregon, Washington and UCLA.

• Auburn will hold its 100th observance and 87th homecoming game on Saturday against Western Carolina. The Tigers are 74-8-4 in their previous homecomings. They own a 2-0 all-time record against the Catamounts, winning by a combined 111-6 margin.

• It's also homecoming at Mississippi State and a reunion between three Bulldogs coaches with a program where they once worked: Bowling Green. Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and assistants Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy coached at Bowling Green in 2001-02. Mullen also met his wife Megan while coaching there.

SEC Week 6: Did you know?

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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Not a ton of marquee games matching up ranked teams this week in the SEC, but some interesting matchups nonetheless, like Auburn-Ole Miss, Missouri-Vanderbilt and Arkansas-Florida, among others. Here are some statistical notes from around the league, with an assist from ESPN Stats & Information:
  • Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray is likely to become the SEC's career passing yardage leader on Saturday when the Bulldogs travel to Tennessee. He trails the current leader, former Georgia quarterback David Greene, by just 99 yards on the all-time SEC passing yardage list (Greene's record total is 11,528). Murray (11,249 passing yards) has never thrown for fewer than 109 yards in a game throughout his 45-game career.
  • Murray still needs 573 total offensive yards to catch former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow (12,232 yards) who holds the SEC's career total offense record. Murray has 11,659 total offensive yards to his name.
  • LSU has done well to avoid allowing one loss turn into two. The Tigers, who lost to Georgia in a thriller last week, haven't lost consecutive SEC games since 2009. They haven't lost two games consecutively, regardless of opponent, since 2008. Under head coach Les Miles, LSU is 20-1 following a loss (including season openers after a loss to end the previous season).
  • This is the first time in LSU history that the team has scored at least 30 points in each of the first five games of the season.
  • South Carolina's 169 rushes are the most the Gamecocks have recorded through four games since Steve Spurrier was hired as their head coach prior to the 2005 season. They've rushed for at least 220 yards in each of those first four games and are averaging 5.32 yards per carry, which is tied for 24th in the country.
  • Spurrier has been extremely successful against the Gamecocks' opponent this week, Kentucky. He owns a 19-1 career record against Kentucky.
  • Florida's rushing defense is No. 1 nationally in yards allowed per game (53.5) and it is the only defense to hold every opponent to fewer than 75 rushing yards this season. The average AQ conference team hits opponents at or behind the line of scrimmage 42 percent of the time; Florida has done it 57 percent of the time this year. The Gators also allow the second-fewest yards before contact per game, with 15. Only Michigan State (12.8 yards allowed before contact per game) has a better average.
  • While Florida's run defense has been dominant, Arkansas' rushing attack has been superb. The Razorbacks are second in the SEC in rushing yards per game (237) and freshman Alex Collins leads the conference with 597 rushing yards this year. So it will be interesting to watch who wins the battle when Arkansas runs the football against the Gators.
  • Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is one of two quarterbacks in the FBS with at least 115 pass attempts and zero interceptions (Wallace has attempted 118 passes this year). Idaho's Chad Chalich is the only other player holding that distinction right now.
  • Auburn, which hosts Ole Miss, hasn't loss to the Rebels at home since 2003. The Rebels' quarterback that year? Eli Manning.
  • Alabama holds a 28-3 nonconference record under Nick Saban and is 21-0 in nonconference games since the start of the 2009 season. The Crimson Tide are also 13-1 all-time against current Sun Belt teams. The Tide host Sun Belt member Georgia State on Saturday.
  • Since taking over for injured quarterback Jeff Driskel, Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has a 96.1 QBR, which would be second in the FBS if he had enough snaps to qualify for the national rankings. But in nine fewer drives than Driskel, Murphy has guided the Gators to more touchdowns (seven to Driskel's five), fewer turnovers (three to Driskel's seven) and fewer three-and-out series (four to Driskel's eight). A healthy Matt Jones at running back certainly doesn't hurt Murphy in that regard, either.
  • Tennessee has lost 18 straight games to teams ranked in the Associated Press poll. The last win by the Volunteers over an AP top 10 team was in 2006 against Georgia in Athens. The Vols will get a crack at Georgia, currently ranked No. 6, at Neyland Stadium.
  • Mississippi State has lost 11 consecutive games against ranked opponents. The Bulldogs’ last win over such a team was in 2010 over then-No. 22 Florida. As for top 10 teams, which their opponent on Saturday (LSU) is, the Bulldogs haven't beaten one of those since Sept. 30, 2000 (then-No. 3 Florida).
  • A Kentucky loss to South Carolina would drop the Wildcats to a 1-4 start in back-to-back seasons. The last time that happened was 2004-05.
  • Missouri is the only school in the country currently with four players who have rushed for 215 yards or more this season. The quartet consists of: running backs Russell Hansbrough (335 yards), Henry Josey (238), Marcus Murphy (224) and quarterback James Franklin (215).
  • Vanderbilt senior kicker Carey Spear hit a 50-yard field goal against UAB last week to become the Commodores' first kicker to hit four field goals of 50 yards or better in his career. His career best was 54 yards against South Carolina on Sept. 14 and that's also the second-longest field goal by an SEC player this season (Georgia's Marshall Morgan hit a 55-yarder against LSU last week).
The SEC coaches have spoken, and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is only good enough to garner second-team status on the 2013 preseason All-SEC team.

Georgia’s Aaron Murray was voted first team by the coaches and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel second team. Alabama’s AJ McCarron was the third-team quarterback.

It’s a good thing the SEC stopped releasing the coaches’ preseason team in conjunction with the SEC media days.

Could you imagine the circus that would have ensued -- all the coaches being polled on who didn’t vote for Manziel?

It would have been the Tim Tebow-Steve Spurrier soap opera all over again in 2009 when the Head Ball Coach was the only one of the SEC coaches who didn’t vote Tebow first team, and it became THE story at the SEC media days that year.

Spurrier acknowledged that he wasn’t the one who filled out his ballot (a common practice among coaches) and then signed off on it without paying it much attention.

In this case, it’s obvious that several coaches didn’t vote for Johnny Football, who set an SEC record last season with 5,116 yards of total offense on his way to becoming the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy.

Manziel already has enough controversy swirling around him with the ongoing NCAA investigation into whether or not he took money for signing autographs. Those close to him insist that he was already salivating at the thought of carving apart a few defenses and taking out his frustration over all the scrutiny he’s received during the offseason.

Granted, Manziel brought much of that scrutiny on himself. But, now, he has even more motivation.

The coaches in this league either think Murray is better or they think Manziel might stumble under the glare of that scrutiny.

Of course, Texas A&M isn’t really saying anything about Manziel’s status this season other than its chancellor questioning some of the media’s reporting in the matter.

If Manziel plays -- and most close to the situation seem to think that he will – you can bet that it will make for great theater.

But, then, when is Johnny Football not great theater?

Regardless of who anybody thinks should genuinely be the SEC’s first-team quarterback, the truth is that the league has three of the best in the country.

Murray has a chance to become only the third player in FBS history to pass for 3,000 yards in four straight seasons and is 20 touchdown passes away from surpassing former Florida Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel as the SEC’s career leader in touchdown passes (114).

All McCarron has done is lead Alabama to back-to-back national championships. He threw 30 touchdown passes and only three interceptions last season and has played brilliantly in each of the last two BCS National Championship Games. He would become the first FBS quarterback in history to win three national championships if the Tide take home another crystal trophy this season.

Anyway, let the great debate begin.

Alabama placed a league-high five players on the first team. The Crimson Tide had a total of 16 players on all three teams. Georgia and LSU each had eight players receive recognition, while Florida and Tennessee each had seven.

Interestingly enough, South Carolina only had five players selected and Texas A&M four, and both of those teams will start the season ranked in the top 10 nationally. Kentucky is the only school in the league that had fewer than four players named to the All-SEC team.

Coaches were not permitted to vote for their own player.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tim Tebow fans are starting to own quite a jersey collection. Since that can get expensive, Tebow's alma mater is trying to help out his fans.

Tim Tebow
Bill Greene/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesThe media isn't alone in Tebowmania, something that the New England Patriots and Florida's alumni association recognize.
In his first three seasons in the NFL, Tebow has played for the Denver Broncos and New York Jets. His latest stop is New England, and the University of Florida is offering a discount for any alumni association member who wants to add Tebow’s No. 5 Patriots jersey -- he can’t wear No. 15 because that’s QB Ryan Mallett’s number -- to their closet.

UF Alumni Association members can receive $10 off per single purchase of an official, adult-sized Tebow jersey from the Patriots’ Pro Shop. Alumni association members must log into the members’ only section of the UFAA website to get the redemption code.

The offer is only good until June 26, however. The school notified association members of the deal via email on Monday.

Danita D. Nias, the executive director and senior associate vice president of the UFAA, said a Patriots representative approached her group shortly after the club signed Tebow on June 11 and said the pro shop was receiving numerous requests for Tebow jerseys and wanted to know if the alumni association wanted to work with the team in any way.

Nias decided the best way would be by offering the discount to UFAA members.

"People love Tim Tebow. They love him," Nias said. "We have 92 Gator Clubs around the country and we just finished our football fling with coach [Will] Muschamp. At each one, at every auction, every Tebow jersey was gone.

"Now we have another one to add to the mix."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jeff Driskel is entering his second season as Florida’s starting quarterback, and that comes with expectations.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesIt seems likely that Jeff Driskel will run more in Florida's new offense in 2014.
The bar was set somewhat low in 2012, because Driskel and Jacoby Brissett were sophomores who had seen minimal playing time in 2011 -- and neither was very good when they did get on the field. Driskel did have some very good moments in his first season as a starter, but he also had some terrible ones, too.

Now that he has a year in coordinator Brent Pease’s system, the left side of the offensive line has been upgraded, and he has improved his ability to read coverages and change the pass protections when needed, Driskel should be better. That’s what UF coach Will Muschamp is hoping, anyway.

If the past is an accurate indicator, then Driskel will be. Most of UF’s recent quarterbacks were better in their second season as a starter than they were in their first season. Here’s a look:

Shane Matthews

1990: Completed 239 of 328 passes (60.6 percent) for 2,962 yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He was a consensus All-SEC first-team pick and was the league’s player of the year after posting four of the top 10 single-game passing totals in SEC history.

1991: Completed 218 of 361 passes (60.4 percent) for 3,130 yards with 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He was a consensus All-SEC first-team pick and was the league’s Player of the Year again -- becoming just the fifth player in SEC history to earn that honor twice. He set 14 school and five SEC records.

Matthews was certainly better in his second season, which was also coach Steve Spurrier’s second season in Gainesville. Spurrier and Matthews shredded the SEC and established the Gators as a program that would annually compete for the national championship.

Danny Wuerffel

1993: Completed 159 of 273 passes (58.2 percent) for 2,230 yards and 22 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. The 22 touchdowns were an NCAA freshman record. He threw for at least three touchdowns in four of his seven starts and set a school record by throwing for at least three touchdowns in four consecutive starts.

1994: Completed 132 of 212 (62.3 percent) passes for 1,734 yards and 18 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He had a streak of 67 consecutive passes without an interception and led UF to the second of their four consecutive SEC titles. He set three Sugar Bowl records, tied another and set two UF bowl game records in the Gators’ loss to FSU.

Wuerffel split time each season with Terry Dean but was the Gators’ leading passer both years. The experience he gained turned out to be invaluable and set the state for his monster seasons in 1995 and 1996, which ended with him winning the Heisman Trophy and the Gators winning the school’s first national championship.

Rex Grossman

2000: Completed 131 of 212 passes (61.8 percent) for 1,866 yards and 21 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Grossman rotated with Jesse Palmer and Brock Berlin early in the season but eventually won the starting job and started eight games as a redshirt freshman, earning Freshman All-American honors. Grossman was the first freshman to win SEC Championship Game MVP honors.

2001: Completed 259 of 395 passes (65.6 percent) for 3,896 yards and 34 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. The 3,896 yards is still a school single-season record and is second on the SEC’s single-season list. Grossman finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting and was a first-team All-American and The Associated Press’ Offensive Player of the Year.

Grossman’s second season as the starter was one of the best in SEC history. He should have won the Heisman Trophy in 2001 and certainly would have been the favorite to win it in 2002 had Spurrier not left for the NFL's Washington Redskins.

Chris Leak

2003: Completed 190 of 320 passes (59.4 percent) for 2,435 yards and 16 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. After rotating with Gavin Dickey and Ingle Martin in the season’s first four games, Leak was given the starting job and led the Gators to a 21-20 come-from-behind victory over Kentucky.

2004: Completed 238 of 399 passes (59.4 percent) for 3,197 yards and 29 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Leak averaged 277 yards per game in the last seven games of the season. He threw six touchdown passes against South Carolina, which tied Wuerffel’s school record for most TD passes in an SEC game.

Leak had more success in his second season as a starter, which came in Larry Fedora’s first and only season as the Gators’ offensive coordinator. Ed Zaunbrecher was the coordinator in 2002-03. Leak and UF’s offense struggled in 2005 in the transition to Urban Meyer’s spread-option offense, but he led the Gators to the 2006 national title.

Tim Tebow

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesTim Tebow's second year as a starter at Florida resulted in a national championship for the Gators.
2007: Completed 234 of 317 passes (68.5 percent) for 3,132 yards and 32 touchdowns with six interceptions and ran for 895 yards and 23 touchdowns. Tebow was the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. He also claimed the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien awards, was The Associated Press’ Offensive Player of the Year, and was a consensus first-team All-American. He became the first player in NCAA history to rush and pass for at least 20 touchdowns.

2008: Completed 192 of 298 passes (64.4 percent) for 2,746 yards and 30 touchdowns with four interceptions and ran for 673 yards and 12 touchdowns. Tebow was a Heisman finalist and won the Maxwell and Manning awards. He also repeated as The Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year. He had a school-record streak of 230 consecutive passes without an interception.

Tebow’s first year as a starter is hard to top, but he came pretty darn close in his second season to equaling what he did in 2007. More importantly, Tebow led the Gators to the program’s third national title in 2008. Tebow will go down as one of the greatest players in college football history. When his career finished, he either tied or owned five NCAA, 13 SEC and 27 school records.

John Brantley

2010: Completed 200 of 329 passes (60.8 percent) for 2,062 yards and nine touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Brantley started every game, but rotated at times with Trey Burton and Jordan Reed.

2011: Completed 144 of 240 passes (60.0 percent) for 2,044 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Brantley suffered an ankle injury against Alabama and missed the next two games. He also left the FSU game with a concussion.

Brantley’s numbers were roughly the same in 2011 as they were in 2010, but in fewer games. Brantley had different head coaches and offensive coordinators in successive seasons, plus he didn’t have anything close to the same weapons around him that the previous quarterbacks did.

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Final Verdict: Hoke Or Muschamp?
Mike Bellotti and Kevin Carter debate which coach is more likely to beat this week's rival between Michigan's Brady Hoke and Florida's Will Muschamp.
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