SEC Week 3 predictions

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
After a slow Week 2 (in which everyone agreed on all 12 games and got them all right), we're back with some disagreement and competitive games this weekend. Can Georgia keep rolling or will South Carolina wipe away the taste from its season-opening loss? Can Tennessee hang with Oklahoma? And will poor Vanderbilt finally get in the win column?

Let's get on with the picks:

Why Georgia wins: Behind Todd Gurley's beastly performance, the Bulldogs rushed for 328 yards and 8 yards per carry in their win over Clemson. South Carolina's defense has surrendered 150.5 rushing yards per game. The Gamecocks’ inability to get pressure with their defensive line will haunt them. A Georgia game plan that uses Gurley early and often will wear the Gamecocks out. Georgia 34, South Carolina 20 -- Edward Aschoff

Why South Carolina wins: While South Carolina's defense has left much to be desired, the Gamecocks are a different team with Mike Davis healthier and getting his touches. He'll help South Carolina keep the ball and create more manageable down-and-distance situations for Dylan Thompson. Gurley will get his yards, no question. But the Gamecocks have had the Dawgs' number in Columbia, and that's not going to change this year. South Carolina 28, Georgia 24 -- Chris Low

Why Arkansas wins: After ending their 10-game losing streak, the Razorbacks are going for two in a row. Expect a shootout. Tech's defense has given up 61 combined points to two inferior opponents, while Arkansas has started a total of eight true freshmen on defense. But the Hogs get the edge because their offensive firepower is on the ground, not the air. Arkansas 42, Texas Tech 33 -- Jeff Barlis

Why Texas Tech wins: Sure, Arkansas won 73-7 last week while the Red Raiders have struggled in their first two games. I’m not buying it. I think Davis Webb will pick apart an unproven Razorbacks secondary and Texas Tech will win at home in a shootout. Texas Tech 42, Arkansas 38 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why Florida wins big: Regardless of what you think about Florida's first opponent, it's clear the Gators' offense is better under Kurt Roper. Kentucky provides a challenge on both sides of the ball, but the Gators are just too talented on defense to allow the Wildcats to keep this one close. Expect Florida's offense to move faster and throw a few new things at the Wildcats to keep them guessing. Florida 38, Kentucky 10 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Kentucky keeps it close: The Wildcats are confident. The players have been looking to this game since July, and Jojo Kemp was even talking trash this week. They believe they can win, though, and if Florida gets caught looking ahead to Alabama, it could spell trouble for the Gators. Florida 21, Kentucky 17 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why Oklahoma wins big: Tennessee has played much better than I expected. QB Justin Worley looks like a new man. With TB Jalen Hurd, TE Ethan Wolf and WRs Marquez North, Pig Howard and Von Pearson, the offense is dangerous. But the O-line is suspect and the D-line is largely untested. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is good in the trenches and experienced where it counts. Going to Norman will be too much for the young Vols. Oklahoma 38, Tennessee 10 -- Alex Scarborough

How Tennessee keeps it close: The Vols have plenty of playmakers like North and Hurd, and Worley will have to keep getting the ball to them. The Vols will also need to continue excelling on third down. Having played an FBS-high 22 true freshmen, Butch Jones’ young squad will have to weather the storm. The Vols will hang around but ultimately fall short. Oklahoma 42, Tennessee 27 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Vanderbilt wins: The Commodores can't possibly lose a third straight at home, can they? It has been a nightmarish start for Derek Mason. The QB carousel, which has been disastrous, continues. After being embarrassed in their first two games, I'm betting they'll play like a team with their backs against the wall. If the Commodores take care of the ball, they should win. Vanderbilt 20, UMass 16 – Sam Khan Jr.

Why UMass wins: Maybe we haven't seen enough of UMass. But I've seen too much of Vanderbilt to know this upset is entirely possible. While I still believe Mason can work in Nashville, the QB situation is a mess and the defense, well, it's given up 39 points per game and 5.3 yards per play. You can't win football games like that, even against lowly UMass. UMass 24, Vanderbilt 21 -- Alex Scarborough

More unanimous picks:

Alabama over Southern Miss: USM lost to Mississippi State by seven touchdowns and will provide a stress-free Saturday for Alabama before its big game against Florida. Alabama 51, Southern Miss 3

Missouri over UCF: Central Florida nearly upset Penn State in the opener, but the Knights won’t have enough to beat Mizzou on the road. Missouri 31, Central Florida 20

Texas A&M over Rice: Another week, another in-state patsy for the Aggies. Expect more big numbers for the A&M offense. Texas A&M 52, Rice 21

Mississippi State over South Alabama: Mississippi State struggled to put away UAB last week, but that won't mean much this week. Mississippi State 35, South Alabama 14

Ole Miss over Louisiana-Lafayette: The Ragin’ Cajuns lost big to Louisiana Tech, so what looked like a relatively interesting matchup might turn into a Rebels blowout. Ole Miss 40, Louisiana-Lafayette 10

LSU over UL Monroe: The Warhawks have upset some SEC teams, but they aren’t coming to Tiger Stadium and spoiling Les Miles’ 11-0 record against in-state teams. LSU 30, ULM 7

Edward Aschoff 21-2
Jeff Barlis 21-2
David Ching 21-2
Sam Khan Jr. 21-2
Chris Low 21-2
Greg Ostendorf 20-3
Alex Scarborough 19-4

SEC morning links

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
Remember the "pop pass" from Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates in last year's Iron Bowl that tied the game with 32 seconds left? Auburn fans (and Alabama fans) sure do. Anybody who watched that game and also saw last week's NFL opener, a 36-16 win for Seattle over Green Bay, saw a strikingly familiar play when Russell Wilson hit Ricardo Lockette for a 33-yard touchdown. Turns out Pete Carroll copied that play from Gus Malzahn (something Carroll noted afterward). Asked about it on Wednesday, Malzahn called it "pretty neat" to see at the NFL level. I'm a fan of seeing the game evolve and seeing the college game influence the pro game and as more coaches who are successful in college make their way into the NFL, I think it's fascinating to see certain concepts pop up at the highest level, like this particular one did. And kudos to Carroll, who noted, "We'll go anywhere to find a play."

As you might have seen in Wednesday's morning links, Kentucky running back Jojo Kemp stirred the pot a little before the Wildcats clash with Florida. When asked about some of the familiar Gators (Kemp is a Florida native and has high school teammates on the Gators' roster) he punctuated his commentary with "It's going to be fun walking out with a victory and rubbing it in their faces." When asked about it on Wednesday, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said he was "furious" and "outraged" by Kemp's comment. Florida players responded swiftly and it wasn't long before Kemp's image and words were posted in the Gators' locker room. My take: It's all in good fun. We're talking about football, not life and death, and there's nothing wrong with a little trash talk going both ways. It makes the middle of the week fun and interesting and gives us something to talk about after the fact. The game will be won or lost on the field on Saturday, not with words on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

Georgia-South Carolina is the game that will garner the most attention this week and rightfully so. It will likely prove to be a factor in the SEC East race down the road and it pits two of the league's -- and the country's -- best running backs, Georgia's Todd Gurley and South Carolina's Mike Davis. The two are actually friendly -- Gurley came to Columbia a few times to hang out with Davis and other friends -- but this trip will be all business for Gurley and the Dawgs. Davis admitted that comparisons to other elite backs is something he thinks about constantly and no doubt the Gamecocks will be looking for a good day from him in hopes of pulling out a victory. Gurley in the meantime, looks to add to his case for the Heisman Trophy after getting a bang-up start on the campaign in Georgia's season-opening win over Clemson.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has put together a top 15 recruiting class that should only get better as we head toward signing day, and Rutgers has a real chance to slow down Penn State’s recruiting momentum in New Jersey this weekend.

Todd Gurley: UGA's reluctant star

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
Bo Robinson, Jeff Craddock
Mark Schlabach/ESPNTodd Gurley's high school coaches, Jeff Craddock (left) and Bo Robinson (right), recognized his potential at an early age.

TARBORO, N.C. -- A few people in this small town in eastern North Carolina predicted Georgia running back Todd Gurley's greatness long before he became a leading Heisman Trophy hopeful.

Shannon Simmons, his older brother, saw it when Gurley was only 6 years old. Because Gurley was so good at football, a Pop Warner league in Baltimore made him play on his brother's team, which consisted of kids aged 9 to 11. Gurley was the star of the team.

"I was sitting on the bench," Simmons said. "Everybody gave me grief about it."

Tarboro High School basketball coach Leshaun Jenkins recognized something special in Gurley the first time he met him, during a short organizational meeting for incoming freshmen in the spring of 2008. After spending a few minutes with Gurley, Jenkins told him, "Your name is going to be on the back of a jersey at a major college someday."

Ryan Wells, an assistant coach of Gurley's at Martin Middle School, left a few words of advice for Tarboro High football coach Jeff Craddock. Wells told Craddock that an eighth-grader named Todd Gurley was going to be a great football player someday. Craddock, who didn't know Gurley at the time, wrote his name on the top corner of a white board in his office and waited.

When incoming freshmen reported for preseason camp the next summer, Gurley wasn't there.

(Read full post)

No. 2 OLB Smith has three visits in mind 

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
MONTEZUMA, Ga -- The No. 26 player in the ESPN 300, Roquan Smith, has started to narrow down his college choices. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound athlete admits this list is not final but Georgia, Florida, UCLA, Miami, LSU, USC and Ole Miss are starting to stand out to him.

The product of Macon County High School discussed some of his favorite schools prior to be presented his Under Armour All-America jersey on Wednesday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeRoquan Smith
Tom Hauck for Student SportsRoquan Smith said he's still considering a number of schools and said he will not be making a decision until signing day.
“Those schools -- they have been showing me love since Day 1,” Smith said. "UCLA and Ole Miss were my first two offers so they have been after me since my 10th grade year. It’s big on their behalf. Georgia is the in-state school and they are recruiting me the hardest out of all the schools. Florida has a good thing going on down there. They are starting the program back up the right way. Coach [Will] Muschamp, I know he’s a defensive head coach and they are looking for some ballers on defense.”

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Todd Gurley's stock on the rise

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10

It's an understatement to say that Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley got off to a fast start against Clemson: He set a single-game school record with 293 total yards -- including a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown -- and three rushing scores. I talked to a few NFL evaluators who were in Athens, Georgia, scouting the senior prospects participating in the game, and they couldn't help but notice the junior's performance. In fact, they claimed it would be tough to name five players in the country who make more of an impact for their teams.

Gurley is Scouts, Inc.'s No. 2 back behind Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and the 26th overall prospect in our initial rankings. As always, these rankings are extremely fluid this early in the season. Young players are emerging while others are proving how much work they put in during the offseason, laying down plenty of new tapes to evaluate.

If Gurley continues to build on his record-setting Week 1 performance with another big game at South Carolina on Saturday -- and can remain healthy -- don't be surprised to see him quickly climb up our rankings. And quite possibly end the two-year, first-round drought for running backs. 

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UA jersey tour: Roquan Smith

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
MONTEZUMA, Ga — ESPN 300 outside linebacker Roquan Smith was presented with his Under Armour All-America jersey on Wednesday in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance and held at the Macon County (Georgia) High School gymnasium. A large crowd consisting of family members, students, teammates and faculty members cheered loudly as the jersey was given to the No. 2-ranked outside linebacker in the country.

Macon County head coach Larry Harold said his star linebacker is deserving of the honor.

“He’s a great kid. He’s really humble, down to earth and fun to be around — kind of silly once you get to know him,” Harold said. "He’s grown tremendously from a kid that was shy, wouldn’t say two words to you, to now he’s our team spokesman. Very well spoken and represents his community and school very very well.

"On the field he brings tenacity. He’s a kid that never leaves the field — offense, defense and special teams. In this game of spread football where every body is trying to go fast-paced, he’s the one linebacker that can play outside of the box, he can play in the box. He can cover in space. That’s what makes him so unique. That’s why he’s rated so highly. He has safety skills, but he’s filled out to have a linebacker's body. Everybody wants that, especially on the collegiate level.”

Though not a final list, Smith said there are seven schools -- Georgia, Florida, UCLA, Miami, LSU, USC and Ole Miss -- starting to stand out to him right now. He is planning to officially visit Georgia, Florida and UCLA and has not decided on his other two visits.


Eight questions with Roquan Smith

Who is one player you are looking forward to competing against?
Smith: I want to see what Kyler Murray has to offer. With him scrambling around, I want to chase him down and things like that.

If you were to start a team with any other player in your class, who would it be?
Smith: I’d go with Trent [Thompson] to keep some of those big linemen off of me.

Who is the best player to ever play in the Under Armour game that you know of?
Smith: I would say [Jadeveon] Clowney. The first one I remember seeing was Julio [Jones] when I was like 10, but I’d have to say Clowney. He was so disruptive. He looked like a grown man out there playing against kids.

What is your earliest football memory?
Smith: I remember the first day when the coach asked my mother if I could play. That was when I was 5. My older brother had played and the pee-wee coach came to my mom and asked if I could play. She said she didn’t mind as long as I didn’t get hurt.

Which football player did you idolize or be like when you were a kid?
Smith: I’m a big Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis fan. They just play the game with relentless effort. They give everything they have on every possession. You just want to look up to someone like that.

If you could take on any pro player in their sport, who would it be?
Smith: I’d like to see how I’d do against DeSean Jackson, just to see how I’d do. I play linebacker, but I’d like to see how I’d cover him, like as a safety.

What number do you wear?
Smith: I wear No. 1. It’s kind of embarrassing, but my freshman year I wore No. 68. Then my sophomore year I got No. 1 because my new head coach came in and he always gives that to his best linebacker, so now it’s a tradition.

What is the one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Smith: I’m not all that big on attention. I’d rather just sit back, chill and hang out with my boys.

Watch live: SEC Spreecast

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
Join SEC reporters Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough at 3 p.m. ET today as they break down the conference's best quarterbacks and look ahead to Week 3. Will a Georgia or a South Carolina win be better for the conference? Does Tennessee have a shot against Oklahoma? And is Florida for real? They'll debate these questions and more this week.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Aaron Murray couldn’t do it.

Neither could Matthew Stafford.

Even David Greene wasn’t able to pull it off.

There is just something about Williams-Brice Stadium. Georgia has found a way to win its fair share of games there, but it’s never been by lighting up the scoreboard. D.J. Shockley, Quincy Carter and every Bulldogs quarterback since Eric Zeier can attest to that.

It was Zeier, way back on Sept. 3, 1994, who became the last Georgia QB to score more than 20 points in Columbia, South Carolina, winning a nail-bitter, 24-21.

“To think that the last nine times, the most amount of points was 20 — that shocked me when I read that stat,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt on Tuesday. “I knew what it had been for us when I’ve been at Georgia, but I didn’t realize it went back that far.”

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsHutson Mason and the Bulldogs will need to be more balanced on offense to have success on Saturday.
Not many people did. But just about everyone can recall the last two matchups in South Carolina. Georgia lost both games, scoring one total touchdown and 13 points.

That was with Murray at quarterback. If the current SEC record-holder for passing yards, touchdown passes and total offense couldn’t manage, what makes anyone believe Hutson Mason will?

If Georgia hopes to stay undefeated and in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt, Mason, a redshirt senior in his first year starting at quarterback, will have to come up big on Saturday and break the 20-year trend of 21 points or less in Columbia. While South Carolina may be reeling, its offense hasn’t been the problem as it’s averaged 437 yards and 30.5 points per game.

Mason and the Bulldogs will have to keep up -- and not rely exclusively on the running game.

A steady diet of Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb beat down Clemson in Georgia’s impressive season-opening win in Athens two weeks ago. But the offense was predictably lopsided as Mason threw for only 131 yards and no touchdowns.

South Carolina's stack-the-box, dare-you-to-pass defense isn’t likely to be so susceptible. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has struggled the first two weeks of the season, but Richt called him an “outstanding coach” who has had “lights-out defensive teams over the years.”

Richt he expects a “bloody” game in Columbia. Both teams have “outstanding” running backs and “can pound” the football, he said.

“Everybody in the world knows we’re going to run the ball, and everyone knows South Carolina likes to run the ball,” said Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera.

But while Richt is looking for “a fistfight” and Herrera is eager for a battle in the trenches, there has to be some balance, and Mason and the Georgia receivers must be the ones to provide it.

Mason said he can sleep easier knowing Jadeveon Clowney won’t be on the Gamecocks' sideline, but he might struggle after being told of the 20-year streak of offensive futility on Tuesday.

“I probably could have gone without knowing that," he said.

More realistically, though, it doesn’t mean much to him.

“The past couple of years I’ve been here I can recall what those games were like,” he said, “... but I’m not going through the film library looking at the 1997 Georgia vs. Clemson game."

Mason does expect some stress on Saturday, however. The noise will play a big factor, he said, as will South Carolina’s expected defensive tendencies.

“You can’t be naive,” he said. “Teams are definitely going to understand that Todd is our biggest weapon.”

“When we get those one-on-one opportunities against South Carolina, we have to be able to take advantage of them,” he added. “If we don’t, we may still be able to find a way to win. But I don’t really like our chances if we can’t throw the ball effectively.”

It’s going to be tough sledding, especially with Richt announcing that wide receivers Justin Scott-Wesley, Jonathon Rumph and Malcolm Mitchell aren’t expected to play.

Despite that, Chris Conley believes his fellow (healthy) receivers will perform. He said to count on Isaiah McKenzie, Kenny Towns and Blake Tibbs stepping up.

With South Carolina playing primarily a one-high safety scheme, he said, “You force people to throw the ball.”

“That’s just a basic fact of football,” he explained. “... Scheme wise, there are going to be those opportunities to throw the ball, but it’s going to come down to us executing the game plan and being on the right page.”

Even with so much of the focus directed on stopping Georgia's running game, don’t look for coaches to air it out.

“I just want us to execute what we call,” Richt said. “We’ve got a long track record of throwing the ball extremely well around here, but I know our number one goal is to win and do whatever it takes to win.”

“That particular trend [of not throwing a lot] wouldn’t bother me if we didn’t have to,” he continued. “And I’ll say this: Hutson’s main goal is to win. He doesn’t need to put any pressure on himself other than doing the things that will help Georgia win.”

Load the box, center David Andrews said. He dares anyone to do it.

“We still need to be able to run the ball even if they do load the box,” he said. “If not, that opens up our passing game. It’s just a win-win all the way around.”

#SceneAndHeard Lunch Break: Sept. 10 

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
In today's lunch break, it's time to take a look at the chances some school unseats Alabama for the nation's top 2015 recruiting class with national signing day 147 days away. When looking at where classes are now, and the likelihood of where many top prospects will potentially land, there are two schools that have a realistic shot to unseat the Crimson Tide -- Georgia and Florida State.

Can Georgia finish No. 1?
There is not a program in the country that enjoyed a more fruitful July and August on the recruiting trail than the Bulldogs. With the efforts and momentum created with the hire of Jeremy Pruitt as defensive coordinator, along with the work of the entire staff with an increased presence on social media, Georgia is positioned nicely to make a run for No. 1.

Should the Bulldogs go into Columbia, South Carolina, and beat South Carolina, a 10-win regular season looks like a strong possibility, as well as a huge leg up in getting to the SEC championship game.

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Fremeau: Handicapping the SEC title race

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
Who has the best chance of having the best regular-season record in the SEC? Which top-10 team has the toughest path? Brian Fremeau's updated Fremeau Effeciency Index has the answers.

Georgia has the best chance at emerging from the regular season with an 11-1 or 12-0 record (42 percent), while there's only a 29 percent chance that anyone from the conference finishes the regular season with an undefeated record.

Click here Insider for the odds on Alabama, Missouri, LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Auburn.

SEC One on One: Chris Conley

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10


The Georgia Bulldog says there are no cupcakes in the SEC

Handicapping the SEC title race

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10

There are so many contenders in the SEC, it looks more and more likely that the conference could get left out of the College Football Playoff. Outrageous, perhaps, but not unfathomable.

Through the first two weeks of the season, we don't know enough about the selection committee's priorities or whether the performances on the books so far are significant indicators of how the rest of the season will play out. But we project that half of the SEC teams could position themselves to be part of the playoff mix in December ---seven teams are currently ranked among the top 15 in our opponent-adjusted drive efficiency ratings.

But there is a lot of football left to be played, including 13 conference games among those seven contenders. And escaping the regular season with fewer than two losses will be a big challenge for pretty much everyone in the SEC.

Our updated FEI projections indicate that there is only a 29 percent chance that any team will emerge from the SEC with a perfect regular-season record, and there is a 14 percent chance that none will finish better than 10-2. Combine that with what would likely be a relative toss-up in the SEC championship game, and there is a good chance that the eventual conference winner will have at least two marks in the loss column.

The top SEC teams likely will have strong schedule-strength arguments when the committee begins its deliberations, but the top contenders in the other Power 5 conferences (including the Big Ten) are more likely to have better records. Below, we run down the obstacles that lie ahead in the SEC pecking order for best overall regular-season record.

Georgia Bulldogs

Likelihood of finishing 11-1 or 12-0: 42 percent
Most likely record: 10-2 (34 percent)

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SEC morning links

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
Everybody’s talking about the Ray Rice incident, and though I don’t plan to share my two cents -- I’ll leave that to the NFL writers -- I thought what South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told the media Tuesday was very poignant and well said. When asked about Rice and what happened, Spurrier simply said, “if you ever hit a girl, you are not going to play on our team, you are finished.” Spurrier has dismissed two players during his career for the violation of that rule. He went on to say, “I can’t understand why every coach doesn’t have that rule and every company doesn’t have that rule for their employees ... It’s amazing that America has sort of put up with it or compromised. That's just something that should never happen." Credit Spurrier for speaking up and giving his opinion. Watch the video here.

In other news, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops still has no love for the SEC. As his Sooners prepare for Saturday’s matchup with Tennessee, Stoops was asked about the belief that the SEC has better athletes. “I don’t know,” he said. “That hasn’t been the case in our experience. Whenever we’ve played, that hasn’t been much of a difference.” Point taken. Oklahoma most recently beat Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl, but Stoops had lost three straight against the SEC before that game. He's 4-4 against the league all time. Monday’s press conference was actually toned down for the Sooners coach, who has been much more vocal about his feelings in the past.

As soon as June Jones resigned from his head coaching position at SMU this week, rumors started circulating around Jake Spavital as a potential replacement. The Texas A&M offensive coordinator addressed the rumors Tuesday, calling it “an honor” to be mentioned, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s still a lot of football to be played this season. That got me thinking, though. Who are some of the other young, up-and-coming coordinators in the SEC? I’ve lost count of all the jobs Kirby Smart has been linked to. Both Jeremy Pruitt and Kurt Roper are new to the SEC this year, but it might not be long before they’re both head coaches. And Rhett Lashlee isn’t much different than Spavital -- a bright, young offensive mind.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day


Kirk Herbstreit previews Saturday's matchup between Georgia and South Carolina.


Drive Through: Resurgent Gamecocks
After their 38-35 upset of No. 6 Georgia, are South Carolina's playoff hopes back on track? And where does Georgia go from here?