Florida Gators: Tyler Bray

It’s Rankings Week at GatorNation. Every day we’ll rank some aspect of the Florida football program heading into the 2013 season. Today we’re ranking the Football Bowl Subdivision teams on the Gators’ schedule. On Tuesday we’ll rank the top 10 offensive players Florida will face in the fall.

Ranking the schedule

1. Georgia (Nov. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla.): Sure, the Bulldogs lost nine starters on defense, but Aaron Murray, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley are coming back, and that makes them one of the SEC’s best teams. Georgia scored a school-record 529 points last season behind those three, and the offense figures to be explosive again in 2013. It’ll need to be to carry a rebuilt defense.

SEC spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
4:00
PM ET
We're taking a look at key storylines for all seven teams in the SEC Eastern Division.

Chris will take a look at the main issues in the Western Division on Tuesday.

FLORIDA GATORS

Spring start: March 13

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
1. Rebuilding at linebacker: The Gators have to start figuring out the linebacker situation. Do they go with redshirt junior Michael Taylor in the middle, who’s a run-stuffer but has to come off the field in passing downs? Or do they try sophomore Antonio Morrison, who played outside at 218 pounds as a freshman and has hopefully bulked up a bit? The most likely scenario is Morrison, which means UF has to find a weakside linebacker. That could be freshmen early enrollee Daniel McMillian or Alex Anzalone. The strongside starter should be, at least entering the spring, redshirt junior Neiron Ball.

2. Robinson's growth: One of the most scrutinized players this spring will be receiver Demarcus Robinson. He was the only one of UF’s five receiver signees to enroll early and he’ll be given every chance to win a starting spot. UF’s receivers have been below average for the past three seasons and the Gators desperately need someone to become a consistent playmaker. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Robinson, who caught 53 passes for more than 1,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns as a senior at Fort Valley (Ga.) Peach County, is going to be under a lot of pressure to produce.

3. Driskel's confidence: Quarterback Jeff Driskel returns for his second season as a starter, and it’ll be interesting to see how much he improves on his decision-making, release and accuracy. He’s sure to benefit from not splitting reps 50-50 any longer. But just as important as Driskel’s development is what happens behind him with redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg. Neither has thrown a pass in a college game. Why is that important? Because Driskel has not been able to stay healthy in his first two seasons in Gainesville. He missed starts as a freshman and sophomore because of ankle injuries. UF was lucky in 2012 to have Jacoby Brissett, who had played significantly as John Brantley’s backup in 2011. With Brissett transferring to NC State, the Gators no longer have that luxury.

-- Mike DiRocco, GatorNation

GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
1. Rebuilding the defense: Georgia begins its transition to a completely new collection of defensive talent this spring. No longer are Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and John Jenkins on the roster. In fact, the Bulldogs must replace a total of 12 defensive players who were either full-time starters or key contributors, and at some positions, the possible replacements have little to no college experience. That makes this a pivotal time for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to begin identifying which players will fill those roles, as the Bulldogs will have little margin for error when they open the season against Clemson’s explosive offense Aug. 31. Some names to watch this spring: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Sheldon Dawson and Jonathan Taylor.

2. Developing the youngsters: The good news for Grantham and the other defensive coaches is that they brought in a number of January enrollees who should be able to help immediately. Junior college transfer Chris Mayes and John Atkins hope to fill the void left by Jenkins and Kwame Geathers at noseguard. Ryne Rankin and Reggie Carter will immediately enter the mix at linebacker. And cornerback Reggie Wilkerson and safeties Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger can help address Georgia’s depth shortage in a secondary that lost four key players. Georgia’s 13 early enrollees -- more than twice as many January enrollees as Georgia coach Mark Richt has ever brought in before -- will help fill needs on both sides of the ball, but the defense is where the newcomers were most necessary.

3. Offensive line reps: For the most part, Georgia used the same starting lineup along its offensive line throughout the 2012 season and each of those starters should return this fall. But two of those starters -- right guard Chris Burnette and right tackle John Theus -- underwent surgeries during the offseason and will miss all or part of spring practice. There was a good chance that offensive line coach Will Friend was going to deploy more players in his line rotation this fall anyway, but the valuable practice reps that will be available with Burnette and Theus sidelined might make a deeper rotation even more likely. Someone still has to take advantage of the opportunity, however.

-- David Ching, DawgNation

KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Getting used to new coaches: New coaches are roaming Kentucky’s football facility this spring. Mark Stoops brings a more defense-minded philosophy to Lexington, but his coaches will have to get things going on offense if the Wildcats are going to improve in 2013. There are always awkward moments when transitioning to a new staff, but now’s the time to create valuable trust on both sides.

2. Finding offensive playmakers: Stoops might have a strong defensive background, but the Wildcats have to find answers on offense. Injuries were an issue last year, but for two straight years the Wildcats had real problems finding consistent playmakers on offense. Quarterback Maxwell Smith returns, but he needs more than just wide receiver La’Rod King to help him. Getting running back Josh Clemons back would be big, but expect the coaches to turn to a young group of receivers and running backs.

3. Tougher team: One thing Stoops wants from his players is a tougher identity. Stoops wants to build a stronger team from the ground up. He’s taking a page from Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin when it comes to preparing his new team. This spring, we’ll see just how much of an emphasis the coaches put on the weight room and conditioning before hitting the football side of things.

MISSOURI TIGERS

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. Josey's rehab: The Tigers will be keeping tabs on running back Henry Josey, who missed all of 2012 after suffering a devastating knee injury midway through the 2011 season. He was the Big 12’s best running back before his injury and Mizzou needs him back. The staff has had to be patient, but this could be a crucial time in his rehab, as he looks to get his football legs back.

2. Rebuilding the front seven: Mizzou must replace a lot in its front seven. Star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson’s absence leaves a gaping hole up front, while linebackers Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden must be replaced. Lucas Vincent will be first in line to take Richardson’s spot, while Darvin Ruise, Donovan Bonner and Michael Scherer are three players to watch at linebacker.

3. Toughening up: Injuries ravaged Mizzou’s offense last year, but it’s clear that Mizzou wasn’t in the playing shape that it would have liked to be in during its first year in the SEC. Injuries are part of the game, but gaining that toughness factor this spring will go a long way for the Tigers in 2013. The SEC is more than just a grind, and the Tigers found out the hard way that conditioning in this league is a little different than in the Big 12.

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. New backfield options: Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles are gone, so the Gamecocks will have to turn to their younger backs. Brandon Wilds missed the 2012 season with an ankle injury but should return this spring. Rising sophomore Mike Davis has all the tools to be a big-time player for the Gamecocks and could be the top option in the Gamecocks’ backfield. Shifty Shon Carson also returns from a knee injury, so South Carolina will have a solid group to work with this spring.

2. QB controversy: Quarterback Connor Shaw might be tabbed as the starter, but with him out for the spring, Dylan Thompson will take the first-team reps. Thompson proved to be very valuable last year, and both will play this fall. Thompson has become one of the most vocal players on the team and is a strong leader. A good spring could bring some real controversy to the position.

3. Holes at linebacker: South Carolina will be without its two-deep at linebacker and “Spur” DeVonte Holloman is gone. That means there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to finding viable replacements. Sharrod Golightly will get the early crack at the Spur, and keep an eye on Kaiwan Lews, who was a true freshman last year and has a lot of potential to work with.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

Spring start: March 9

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. New coaches on the block: With Butch Jones in town, the Vols have to get used to their third head coach in five springs. Jones and his staff have helped bring some much-needed energy to the program since arriving, but now it’s time to develop vital on-field chemistry between the coaches and players.

2. Receiving help: The Vols’ offense took at major hit at receiver. Juniors Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson made the leap to the NFL, while deep threat Zach Rogers and tight end Mychal Rivera graduated. Tennessee will now turn to a host of inexperienced receiving targets, including rising sophomore Alton Howard and early enrollee Paul Harris.

3. Quarterback battle: With Tyler Bray leaving for the NFL, Tennessee will work with rising junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. Worley has the edge when it comes to game experience, but with a new staff, this battle will be wide-open. They will also need to make strides before freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson get on campus this summer.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Replacing Rodgers: Quarterback Jordan Rodgers is gone. The good news is Austyn Carta-Samuels has good experience after starting two years at Wyoming before transferring to Vandy. Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette is someone the coaches also are excited about, especially with his dual-threat ability, and should really push Carta-Samuels the whole spring.

2. Running back battles: The Commodores lost star running back Zac Stacy, so veteran Wesley Tate, who has bounced around positions, and rising sophomore Brian Kimbrow, who has the do-everything look to him at running back, will share reps. Warren Norman and Jerron Seymour also return, making for quite the talented backfield.

3. Keeping the edge: Now that another very successful season under James Franklin is over, the Dores have to continue to keep the edge that got them to where they are. It might sound like a broken record, but Vanderbilt still has to prove that it isn’t the Vandy of old. People are certainly taking the Dores more seriously, but keeping that edge is important for more growth.

SEC spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
1:39
PM ET
We're taking a look at key storylines for all seven teams in the SEC Eastern Division.

Chris will take a look at the main issues in the Western Division on Tuesday.

FLORIDA GATORS

Spring start: March 13

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
1. Rebuilding at linebacker: The Gators have to start figuring out the linebacker situation. Do they go with redshirt junior Michael Taylor in the middle, who’s a run-stuffer but has to come off the field in passing downs? Or do they try sophomore Antonio Morrison, who played outside at 218 pounds as a freshman and has hopefully bulked up a bit? The most likely scenario is Morrison, which means UF has to find a weakside linebacker. That could be freshmen early enrollee Daniel McMillian or Alex Anzalone. The strongside starter should be, at least entering the spring, redshirt junior Neiron Ball.

2. Robinson's growth: One of the most scrutinized players this spring will be receiver Demarcus Robinson. He was the only one of UF’s five receiver signees to enroll early and he’ll be given every chance to win a starting spot. UF’s receivers have been below average for the past three seasons and the Gators desperately need someone to become a consistent playmaker. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Robinson, who caught 53 passes for more than 1,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns as a senior at Fort Valley (Ga.) Peach County, is going to be under a lot of pressure to produce.

3. Driskel's confidence: Quarterback Jeff Driskel returns for his second season as a starter, and it’ll be interesting to see how much he improves on his decision-making, release and accuracy. He’s sure to benefit from not splitting reps 50-50 any longer. But just as important as Driskel’s development is what happens behind him with redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg. Neither has thrown a pass in a college game. Why is that important? Because Driskel has not been able to stay healthy in his first two seasons in Gainesville. He missed starts as a freshman and sophomore because of ankle injuries. UF was lucky in 2012 to have Jacoby Brissett, who had played significantly as John Brantley’s backup in 2011. With Brissett transferring to NC State, the Gators no longer have that luxury.

-- Mike DiRocco, GatorNation

GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
1. Rebuilding the defense: Georgia begins its transition to a completely new collection of defensive talent this spring. No longer are Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and John Jenkins on the roster. In fact, the Bulldogs must replace a total of 12 defensive players who were either full-time starters or key contributors, and at some positions, the possible replacements have little to no college experience. That makes this a pivotal time for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to begin identifying which players will fill those roles, as the Bulldogs will have little margin for error when they open the season against Clemson’s explosive offense Aug. 31. Some names to watch this spring: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Sheldon Dawson and Jonathan Taylor.

2. Developing the youngsters: The good news for Grantham and the other defensive coaches is that they brought in a number of January enrollees who should be able to help immediately. Junior college transfer Chris Mayes and John Atkins hope to fill the void left by Jenkins and Kwame Geathers at noseguard. Ryne Rankin and Reggie Carter will immediately enter the mix at linebacker. And cornerback Reggie Wilkerson and safeties Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger can help address Georgia’s depth shortage in a secondary that lost four key players. Georgia’s 13 early enrollees -- more than twice as many January enrollees as Georgia coach Mark Richt has ever brought in before -- will help fill needs on both sides of the ball, but the defense is where the newcomers were most necessary.

3. Offensive line reps: For the most part, Georgia used the same starting lineup along its offensive line throughout the 2012 season and each of those starters should return this fall. But two of those starters -- right guard Chris Burnette and right tackle John Theus -- underwent surgeries during the offseason and will miss all or part of spring practice. There was a good chance that offensive line coach Will Friend was going to deploy more players in his line rotation this fall anyway, but the valuable practice reps that will be available with Burnette and Theus sidelined might make a deeper rotation even more likely. Someone still has to take advantage of the opportunity, however.

-- David Ching, DawgNation

KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Getting used to new coaches: New coaches are roaming Kentucky’s football facility this spring. Mark Stoops brings a more defense-minded philosophy to Lexington, but his coaches will have to get things going on offense if the Wildcats are going to improve in 2013. There are always awkward moments when transitioning to a new staff, but now’s the time to create valuable trust on both sides.

2. Finding offensive playmakers: Stoops might have a strong defensive background, but the Wildcats have to find answers on offense. Injuries were an issue last year, but for two straight years the Wildcats had real problems finding consistent playmakers on offense. Quarterback Maxwell Smith returns, but he needs more than just wide receiver La’Rod King to help him. Getting running back Josh Clemons back would be big, but expect the coaches to turn to a young group of receivers and running backs.

3. Tougher team: One thing Stoops wants from his players is a tougher identity. Stoops wants to build a stronger team from the ground up. He’s taking a page from Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin when it comes to preparing his new team. This spring, we’ll see just how much of an emphasis the coaches put on the weight room and conditioning before hitting the football side of things.

MISSOURI TIGERS

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. Josey's rehab: The Tigers will be keeping tabs on running back Henry Josey, who missed all of 2012 after suffering a devastating knee injury midway through the 2011 season. He was the Big 12’s best running back before his injury and Mizzou needs him back. The staff has had to be patient, but this could be a crucial time in his rehab, as he looks to get his football legs back.

2. Rebuilding the front seven: Mizzou must replace a lot in its front seven. Star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson’s absence leaves a gaping hole up front, while linebackers Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden must be replaced. Lucas Vincent will be first in line to take Richardson’s spot, while Darvin Ruise, Donovan Bonner and Michael Scherer are three players to watch at linebacker.

3. Toughening up: Injuries ravaged Mizzou’s offense last year, but it’s clear that Mizzou wasn’t in the playing shape that it would have liked to be in during its first year in the SEC. Injuries are part of the game, but gaining that toughness factor this spring will go a long way for the Tigers in 2013. The SEC is more than just a grind, and the Tigers found out the hard way that conditioning in this league is a little different than in the Big 12.

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. New backfield options: Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles are gone, so the Gamecocks will have to turn to their younger backs. Brandon Wilds missed the 2012 season with an ankle injury but should return this spring. Rising sophomore Mike Davis has all the tools to be a big-time player for the Gamecocks and could be the top option in the Gamecocks’ backfield. Shifty Shon Carson also returns from a knee injury, so South Carolina will have a solid group to work with this spring.

2. QB controversy: Quarterback Connor Shaw might be tabbed as the starter, but with him out for the spring, Dylan Thompson will take the first-team reps. Thompson proved to be very valuable last year, and both will play this fall. Thompson has become one of the most vocal players on the team and is a strong leader. A good spring could bring some real controversy to the position.

3. Holes at linebacker: South Carolina will be without its two-deep at linebacker and “Spur” DeVonte Holloman is gone. That means there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to finding viable replacements. Sharrod Golightly will get the early crack at the Spur, and keep an eye on Kaiwan Lews, who was a true freshman last year and has a lot of potential to work with.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

Spring start: March 9

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. New coaches on the block: With Butch Jones in town, the Vols have to get used to their third head coach in five springs. Jones and his staff have helped bring some much-needed energy to the program since arriving, but now it’s time to develop vital on-field chemistry between the coaches and players.

2. Receiving help: The Vols’ offense took at major hit at receiver. Juniors Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson made the leap to the NFL, while deep threat Zach Rogers and tight end Mychal Rivera graduated. Tennessee will now turn to a host of inexperienced receiving targets, including rising sophomore Alton Howard and early enrollee Paul Harris.

3. Quarterback battle: With Tyler Bray leaving for the NFL, Tennessee will work with rising junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. Worley has the edge when it comes to game experience, but with a new staff, this battle will be wide-open. They will also need to make strides before freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson get on campus this summer.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Replacing Rodgers: Quarterback Jordan Rodgers is gone. The good news is Austyn Carta-Samuels has good experience after starting two years at Wyoming before transferring to Vandy. Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette is someone the coaches also are excited about, especially with his dual-threat ability, and should really push Carta-Samuels the whole spring.

2. Running back battles: The Commodores lost star running back Zac Stacy, so veteran Wesley Tate, who has bounced around positions, and rising sophomore Brian Kimbrow, who has the do-everything look to him at running back, will share reps. Warren Norman and Jerron Seymour also return, making for quite the talented backfield.

3. Keeping the edge: Now that another very successful season under James Franklin is over, the Dores have to continue to keep the edge that got them to where they are. It might sound like a broken record, but Vanderbilt still has to prove that it isn’t the Vandy of old. People are certainly taking the Dores more seriously, but keeping that edge is important for more growth.
With the season winding down, we figured we'd start looking to the future. Like, beyond bowl games future.

We are looking into our crystal ball to check out some of the SEC best who could declare for April's NFL draft early. We've talked to people around the league, those in the know at ESPN when it comes to the NFL draft, and came up with the top 10 underclassmen we feel are the best bets to come out and go the highest in next spring's draft.

Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. updated his Big Board Insider this week and featured 12 SEC players in his top 25. Ten were juniors.

We're going in alphabetical order, so here are 10 SEC underclassmen we feel have the highest draft stock:

[+] EnlargeJustin Hunter
Jim Brown/US PresswireTennessee receiver Justin Hunter has the potential to be a first-round pick in the NFL.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee: Pro scouts have drooled over Hunter's natural ability and his breakaway speed. He was a little hesitant on his knee early after undergoing ACL surgery last year, but he's made nice strides as the season has progressed, catching 65 passes for 979 yards and eight touchdowns. He has four 100-plus-yard receiving games, and some think he could be a mid-first-round draft pick in April.

Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: It's hard to find a better left tackle out there. Joeckel entered the season as a surefire first-round pick and has only helped his draft stock with an excellent junior season. He hasn't been rattled by the speed of opposing SEC ends, and has provided very good protection in the pass game. It sounds like he could be the first tackle off the board if he declares early.

Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: He was the SEC's top defender last season, and has been one of the nation's best pass-rushers the last two years. He really can do it all. He drops into coverage, stops the run and constantly harasses quarterbacks. He also never seems to lose energy. He's been banged up this season, but Kiper still has him No. 1 on his Big Board.

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: The Aggies are really getting greedy with their tackles. Matthews has been excellent all season, and could play either right or left tackle in the NFL. He's very powerful and moves well up front. He could be a late first-round pick if he decides to come out.

Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: He has had some struggles lately in coverage, which could hurt his stock, but he's so athletic and so physical that teams will be all over him if he opts to leave early for the NFL. He can play the run, has tremendous speed and has very good field intelligence. He's defended an SEC-high 16 passes this season.

Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU: He might not be burning up the stat books this season, but he might be the nation's fastest pass-rusher. He has been extremely agressive all season against the pass and run. He has great length, and doesn't really have to take on many blocks because of his speed. He entered the season as an early first-round draft pick, and that still seems to be the case.

Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: It's hard to find anyone with the same on-field personality and energy. He might be bigger than Mingo, but he's chased down his fair share of running backs during his career. He has six sacks this season and 11 tackles for loss. He could have left early last year, but decided to stay and still has early first-round potential.

Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: Talk about really breaking out onto the national stage. He was excellent as an outside linebacker last season, but has been an absolute monster at defensive end in his first (and probably only) year in the SEC. He really adjusted to the new 4-3 scheme, and might have played himself into a top-10 pick. He has a team-high 74 tackles, leads the nation with 20 tackles for loss and is tied for first with 12.5 sacks.

Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia: Some think he might be better suited for the NFL than Jones because of his speed, athleticism and instincts. He had a rusty start to his season after serving a four-game suspension, but he's been outstanding in recent weeks. He can make plays all over the field, and should be a first-rounder if he decides to leave school early.

Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: He is arguably Missouri's best player, regardless of position. He's constantly taking on double-teams, but figures out a way to blow them up. He leads Mizzou with 70 tackles, has 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He's quick and can disrupt both the run and pass. However, his recent suspension could make his draft stock fall some.

Keep an eye on ...

Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee: Has all the physical tools to be special in the NFL, but off-field issues could push him out of the first round.

Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: Has been extremely disruptive all year up front for the Gators, and could hear his name called in the second round.

D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: Has had a solid season, but he still needs to develop his game more, and there are more NFL-ready tackles ahead of him.

Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn: Was very productive last season, but has fallen a bit this season. Still has all the tools to be a top 40 pick in April.

Ranking the SEC's quarterbacks

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
5:10
PM ET
In a few weeks, we’re going to have to pick our first-, second- and third-team quarterbacks on the All-SEC team.

That’s going to be difficult enough. A number of different quarterbacks in this league have had their moments this season.

But what if you had to rank the SEC’s top 10 starting quarterbacks based on how they’re playing right now, how they’ve played in key games, how they’ve performed during clutch situations and how they’ve impacted their teams overall?

We’ll attempt to do just that, so let the second-guessing commence:

[+] EnlargeManziel
John David Mercer/US PresswireTexas A&M's Johnny Manziel has passed for 2,780 yards and rushed for 1,014.
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Johnny Football might top this list nationally. With 3,794 yards of total offense, he’s on track to shatter the SEC record of 4,327 yards set by Cam Newton in 2010. The clincher was Manziel’s performance in the win over Alabama on the road.

2. AJ McCarron, Alabama: OK, McCarron wasn’t at his best in the Texas A&M loss, but he’s still thrown 20 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, engineered the game-winning drive at LSU and done everything the coaches have asked him to do this season.

3. Aaron Murray, Georgia: Murray has been red-hot the past two weeks with seven touchdown passes and leads the SEC with a 170.7 efficiency rating. He didn’t play well in the 17-9 win over Florida and struggled even more in the 35-7 loss at South Carolina. The SEC championship game will be huge for Murray.

4. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas: It hasn’t been the kind of season anybody in Arkansas was anticipating, and Wilson has taken his share of lumps. But he’s hung in there and is closing in on his second straight 3,000-yard season.

5. Tyler Bray, Tennessee: Bray’s overall numbers are outstanding with 3,216 yards and 29 touchdowns, and he’s probably playing his best football right now. That said, he simply hasn’t delivered in clutch situations and has thrown an SEC-high nine interceptions in league games.

6. Connor Shaw, South Carolina: Easily one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league, Shaw has played through a fracture in his throwing shoulder and thrown 13 of his 14 touchdown passes against SEC competition. He’s responded like a champ ever since his benching in the Florida loss.

7. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State: His season has mirrored that of the Mississippi State team. He started on fire, but has cooled considerably. Even so, Russell has thrown nine touchdown passes and only three interceptions in SEC games and has given the Bulldogs a legitimate threat throwing the football.

8. Zach Mettenberger, LSU: Mettenberger can thank his past two performances for being this high on the list. He’s looked liked the quarterback everybody thought he would be in the win over Mississippi State and loss to Alabama. He’s passed for 571 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in those two contests.

9. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt: There were some shaky moments early, but Rodgers has settled into a groove and was terrific in leading the Commodores on their game-winning drive last week at Ole Miss. He’s thrown six of his nine touchdown passes in the past three games.

10. Jeff Driskel, Florida: The Gators’ passing game has been anything but dynamic this season, but Driskel has made a ton of big plays in key games both running and passing. He’s accounted for 12 touchdowns in eight league games and has been intercepted only three times. He was sidelined last week with a sprained ankle.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 8

October, 21, 2012
10/21/12
11:34
AM ET
The eighth week of the college football season has come and gone, so let’s take a look at what we learned Saturday in the SEC:

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel threw four touchdown passes in Florida's 44-11 rout of South Carolina on Saturday.
1. Clarity in the East race: Florida just keeps finding ways to win after seemingly finding ways to lose a year ago. Now, the Gators are a win from clinching the Eastern Division title and earning a berth in the SEC championship game. They pounced on a mistake-prone South Carolina team Saturday for a 44-11 win and can lock up the East crown next weekend with a win over rival Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. The Gators are doing it with superior defense and special teams, excellent adjustments at halftime and a belief that they’re going to wear you down in the second half. While Georgia has looked listless at times during its past two outings (a 29-24 win over Kentucky on Saturday and a 35-7 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 6), the Bulldogs can take a commanding position in the East race with a win over the Gators. From there, Georgia would have a home game with Ole Miss and a road game with Auburn remaining. Florida’s only remaining league game after this weekend is Missouri at home on Nov. 3. The Bulldogs have won just four of the past 22 meetings in this series, including a 24-20 victory last season. Georgia hasn’t won two in a row over Florida since winning three straight from 1987 to 1989. The Bulldogs were without star outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (ankle) in their win over Kentucky, and coach Mark Richt said Sunday that he’s not sure Jones will be able to play against Florida.

2. South Carolina quarterback controversy: Sometimes you’d swear that Steve Spurrier almost likes controversy at the quarterback position. Then again, maybe he’s just such a perfectionist that his patience with his signal-callers is razor-thin. Either way, Spurrier is clearly down on Connor Shaw after the Gamecocks struggled on offense for the second straight week Saturday in a 44-11 loss to Florida. Afterward, Spurrier said South Carolina “stunk from the get go” and called it a “pitiful performance.” He didn’t place all of the blame on Shaw but noted that the quarterback missed several open receivers and was “still running all over the place.” Shaw was benched at halftime in favor of backup Dylan Thompson, and Spurrier said he didn’t know which way he would go at quarterback this coming weekend against Tennessee. Shaw has committed three turnovers in the past two games and been sacked six times, but the Gamecocks’ problems on offense run a lot deeper than just Shaw. They haven’t been able to run the ball effectively the past two weeks. Marcus Lattimore got just three carries against Florida, and the receivers aren’t making any big plays down the field. Shaw certainly hasn’t played his best football the past two games, but he is the same guy the South Carolina coaches were lauding earlier this month for being such a winner and the same guy who’s been playing through a hairline fracture in his throwing shoulder.

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SEC power rankings: Week 8

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
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We have a little more movement this week, but one thing remains the same: Alabama is clearly the team to beat.

1. Alabama (6-0; last week: 1): After a week off, the Crimson Tide ran right over Missouri in the first half before bad weather delayed the game. At that point, it seemed weather was the only thing that could stop Alabama. It pretty much proved true as the Tide dismantled the Tigers, holding them to a special-teams score and 129 yards of offense. Alabama outrushed Mizzou 362-3. Yeah, this team is pretty good.

2. Florida (6-0; LW: 3): Saturday set up like a trap game, and the Gators were pretty sloppy against Vanderbilt but again came alive in the second half. Jeff Driskel couldn't be stopped on the ground, rushing for 177 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-sealing 70-yard touchdown scamper. Florida still doesn't have much of a passing game, but the Gators can run and play defense. That goes a long way in the SEC.

3. LSU (6-1; LW: 4): The Tigers aren't done just yet. After stumbling out of the Swamp last week, LSU was the tougher team over the weekend against South Carolina. What was most impressive was how well that makeshift offensive line played. Three underclassmen started and pushed the Gamecocks' vaunted defensive line around. Like Florida, this team isn't a threat to pass, but it showed again that it can run with the best of them, registering 258 rushing yards Saturday. This team is still very much in the hunt for the SEC.

4. South Carolina (6-1; LW: 2): The Gamecocks were outplayed and dominated in the stats book by LSU, but lost by only two points ... in Death Valley. That's impressive. South Carolina did the little things for as long as it could to keep the Tigers at bay, but costly turnovers from Connor Shaw doomed the Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier and Jadeveon Clowney wondered whether some players were scared of the Tigers. That fear had better dissolve before the Gamecocks take on Florida this weekend.

5. Georgia (5-1; LW: 5): The Bulldogs were off, and the hope is that the defense received some major attention over the break. The good news for Georgia is that its second-half schedule isn't daunting. Florida is the toughest matchup, and the Gators could be a little sore after taking on South Carolina this weekend. If you think the Bulldogs are out of the East race after that extremely sloppy showing against South Carolina, you're sadly mistaken.

6. Mississippi State (6-0; LW: 6): The Bulldogs wanted to leave the weekend with more respect, and that happened after they should some resiliency against a Vols team that came charging back. While Tennessee put up some points, Mississippi State's incredibly talented secondary shut down Tyler Bray, holding him to just 148 passing yards. Quarterback Tyler Russell looks better and better each week. On the season, he has 1,382 yards with 12 touchdowns to one interception.

7. Texas A&M (5-1; LW: 7): Johnny Manziel is pretty good, wouldn't you say? I'm convinced he isn't a freshman. He might make his coaches nervous sometimes with his gunslinger mentality, but when a play needs to be made, he'll make it. Now, for as explosive as that offense is, the defense has had some holes in it this year. In the past three games, the Aggies have given up an average of 531 yards and surrendered 57 points to Louisiana Tech in Saturday's shootout win. Now, we'll see what Johnny Football can do against that nasty LSU defense.

8. Ole Miss (4-3; LW: 10): The Rebels finally did it. Nearly two years to the day, Ole Miss finally grabbed another SEC win. The Rebels' 41-20 win over Auburn stopped a 16-game conference losing streak, and it's obvious things are changing in Oxford. Coach Hugh Freeze really has changed the culture of that program, and players are buying in for the first time in a very long while. This offense has been very fun to watch, and if this team can cut down on turnovers, it could be a bigger threat to better competition.

9. Arkansas (3-4; LW: 11): After a miserable first month of the season, the Razorbacks have some life after two straight SEC wins. This team is back in the bowl hunt and is starting to see more consistency on offense. The Hogs might have hung 60 on Kentucky if not for a weather-shortened evening in Fayetteville. Arkansas enters its bye week with more confidence, and there's still a lot of pride flowing throughout this team.

10. Tennessee (3-3; LW: 8): The Vols had another valiant comeback effort but just couldn't get it done in the end. After racing back in the second quarter against Georgia two weeks ago, Tennessee battled back from a 13-point halftime deficit to Mississippi State. But that defense can't get off the field in the second half. This team has shown a lot of fight in its past two games, but it just hasn't been enough. Derek Dooley's seat is only getting hotter and hotter in Knoxville, and he's dangerously close to not reaching eight wins.

11. Vanderbilt (2-4; LW: 9): The Commodores had some really good moments against Florida, then had some old Vandy moments as well. This team couldn't stop the run to save its life Saturday, as the Gators racked up 326 rushing yards. You have to love the attitude this team plays with, but you need more than just attitude to win games. The Commodores have to finish drives and get more big plays out of the offense.

12. Missouri (3-4; LW: 12): The Tigers ran into a well-rested buzz saw over the weekend when Alabama came to town. The offense had no answers for Alabama's defense, and the only points the Tigers mustered came on special teams. Right now, punt returner Marcus Murphy is the best scoring threat this team has, as the offense continues to have major issues across the board. One bright spot has been defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. He leads the team in tackles and has been Mizzou's best player. But he can't do it by himself.

13. Auburn (1-5; LW: 13): Things are just getting worse and worse on the Plains. The Tigers made a change at quarterback, but the offense generated just 213 yards and turned it over twice after having the ball for nearly 10 minutes more than Ole Miss. The defense was again walked on by its opponent, and you can tell that not everyone is all in at Auburn. When you look at how far this team has fallen, it's hard to comprehend that it won the national championship in 2010.

14. Kentucky (1-6; LW: 14): If not for Mother Nature, the Wildcats might have surrendered 40 more points to Arkansas. The Hogs did whatever they wanted to a Kentucky team that has just been ravaged by injuries this season. That young talent has had to mature quickly, but growing pains are holding this team back. The silver lining for the Wildcats is that all of those youngsters are getting valuable playing time for the future.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

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

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

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

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

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

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida nearly doubled its season total in sacks after taking down LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger four times in a 14-6 victory on Saturday.

Linebackers Jon Bostic and Lerentee McCray, safety Josh Evans and defensive tackle Damien Jacobs each recorded a sack. The Gators had only five sacks in their first four games, but UF coach Will Muschamp said that was more a result of the style of offenses the Gators faced in the first four games than a lack of production from the pass rushers.

[+] EnlargeLerentee McCray
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida senior buck linebacker Lerentee McCray collects one of the Gators' four sacks against LSU.
Bowling Green and Texas A&M were teams that used short, quick timing passes that didn’t allow enough time for UF’s rushers to get to the quarterback. Kentucky used a rolling pocket to keep the rush off backup QB Morgan Newton. The only team that used a seven-step drop and wanted to throw the ball vertically down the field was Tennessee -- and the Gators sacked QB Tyler Bray three times.

"I think we’ve pressured pretty well but we haven’t faced a team other than Tennessee that throws the ball vertically down the field," Muschamp said. "We can talk about pressuring all you want, [but] you’re not going to get there [against those type of teams] in most situations. We’ve been pressuring them but we’ve been more effective this game."

Bostic and Evans’ sacks came on blitzes. McCray was able to beat the tackle around the edge, and Jacobs’ sack was the result of him helping collapse the pocket in the middle.

SEC power rankings: Week 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday Night QB: Scouting during the bye 

September, 30, 2012
9/30/12
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida not playing on Saturday presented the chance to get a look at some of the Gators’ upcoming opponents.

Here’s a breakdown of what Florida fans should like about what they saw and what should be a concern when they play.

LSU

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SEC power rankings: Week 5

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
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Another week and it still remains pretty clear Alabama is top dog in the SEC and nationally.

But has our No. 2 team fallen after a sloppy win on the road?

1. Alabama (4-0; LW: 1): I feel like a broken record, but Alabama dominated yet again Saturday. It's hard to find any real weaknesses in this team. Although the backups did give up a touchdown to Florida Atlantic, so there's that.

2. LSU (4-0; LW: 2): The Tigers looked pretty sloppy offensively in a tough 12-10 win against Auburn Saturday. LSU probably will have its name dragged through the mud after its play this weekend, but all good teams have those hiccup games. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has to play better, but the defense still looks extremely dominant. The goal now is to not let that hiccup bleed into future games.

3. Georgia (4-0; LW: 3): This Bulldogs offense has been really fun to watch through the first four weeks. Quarterback Aaron Murray has looked like a real Heisman candidate at times, while freshman running back Todd Gurley just gets better every time he gets on the field. Georgia completely overwhelmed Vanderbilt and heads into a fun showdown with Tennessee with a load of confidence.

4. South Carolina (4-0; LW: 4): Connor Shaw has proven he's a true player for the Gamecocks. He battled through a hairline fracture in his throwing shoulder to complete 20-of-21 passes in a blowout win against Missouri. You're starting to see more balance from this Gamecocks offense and that will be very important as SEC play continues. The defensive front is also getting stronger each week.

5. Florida (4-0; LW: 5): The Gators seem to be growing up with each week. After back-to-back tough road wins, Florida shut out Kentucky at home and now has two weeks to prepare for LSU. This really has become more of the blue-collar team Will Muschamp wants, but we'll really find out how tough Florida is when LSU ventures into the Swamp.

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3 up, 3 down: Florida 38, Kentucky 0 

September, 23, 2012
9/23/12
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida didn’t need to rally from a halftime deficit this week, instead rolling to an easy victory over Kentucky on Saturday. Here are the good and the bad from the Gators’ 38-0 shutout of the Wildcats at Florida Field.

THREE UP

1. Turnovers: Florida’s coaching staff has been harping on forcing more turnovers throughout the offseason and the Gators intercepted UK QB Morgan Newton three times. Jaylen Watkins returned one for a touchdown. UF could have had two more interceptions but couldn’t come down with the ball. UF also locked down UK WRs La’Rod King and Aaron Boyd. The two entered the game averaging a combined 13.7 catches per game. King caught three passes and Boyd none.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 14 Florida plays host to Kentucky on Saturday in the Gators’ first Southeastern Conference home game. The Gators (3-0, 2-0 SEC) haven’t lost at home to the Wildcats (1-2, 0-0) since 1979.

Here's five storylines for the game:

1. Streaking: Florida has won 25 consecutive games in the series, which is the nation’s longest current winning streak in FBS by a team over a major opponent in an uninterrupted series. The Wildcats haven’t beaten the Gators since 1986. Most of the games haven’t been close, especially lately. The Gators have failed to win by three or less points only once (2003), have outscored the Wildcats 200-31 in the last four meetings, and have won the last eight meetings by an average of 29 points. Kentucky, however, has recently snapped two other substantial losing streaks. Before a 31-28 victory over South Carolina in 2010, the Wildcats were 0-17 against teams coached by Steve Spurrier. Last season UK beat Tennessee 10-7 to snap a 26-game losing streak.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida is playing better defensively in the second half and fourth quarter partly because of what the Gators are doing in the first half.

UF's additional depth along the defensive line and at linebacker means the Gators are playing more players early in the game, which is keeping their top-line players fresher for the second half. That has been especially noticeable in their two SEC games. Florida held Texas A&M and Tennessee to just 125 combined yards, forced two turnovers and forced nine punts in the fourth quarter.

"At the end of the game you really need those guys to go win the game," defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Wednesday afternoon.

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