Georgia Bulldogs: Dorial Green-Beckham
We’re counting down the five most pressing questions facing the SEC this spring, in no particular order of importance. First, how do you replace all the veteran quarterbacks the league enjoyed in 2013?
When spring camps open over the next few weeks -- the first being Texas A&M on Friday -- that question will begin to be answered. With each snap and each team meeting, leaders will emerge. Some staffs will look for a winner heading into the summer so they can avoid a quarterback controversy come fall, while others will have to sweat it out through the offseason.
Texas A&M: Surprises will undoubtedly occur, as we saw only a few years ago when a scrappy freshman from Kerrville, Texas, beat out the presumptive favorite to land the starting job at Texas A&M. The Aggies stumbled upon Manziel, and Jameill Showers was quickly forgotten. Kenny Hill and Matt Joeckel are this year’s frontrunners, but they’ll have competition in another freshman nipping at their heels in Kyle Allen. The Arizona native is more of a pure passer than a running quarterback, but he has the tools to sling the ball around in Kevin Sumlin’s offense.
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier didn’t mince words when he saidDylan Thompson is “without question going to be our quarterback.” He even asked, “Why open it up when he’s the only one who’s played?” Thompson, a rising senior, doesn’t have the athleticism to break containment quite like Shaw, but Thompson can still move the chains with his feet when necessary. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound South Carolina native doesn’t lack for arm strength and might even have more pure throwing ability than Shaw. But where Thompson must match Shaw is intangibles. There wasn’t a more dynamic leader in the SEC than Shaw last year, and the Gamecocks will miss that kind of will power under center in 2014. While the starting job is Thompson’s to lose, don’t sleep on redshirt freshman Connor Mitch. The former four-star recruit could push Thompson this spring.
Missouri: The race to replace Franklin comes down to one quarterback and one quarterback alone: Maty Mauk. The rising redshirt sophomore showed last season that he can control the offense, starting four games in which he averaged 227.5 yards, 2.5 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions per game. More importantly, he won three of the four games with the only loss coming in double overtime against South Carolina. He’ll learn from that experience and take over a team that will be moving on from the loss of big-time playmakers Henry Josey, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas. Having the ultra-talented Dorial Green-Beckham back will help, but an arrest on drug charges in January has clouded his future.
Georgia: Despite what wasn’t a great performance to end last season -- 21-of-39 for 320 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Nebraska -- Hutson Mason is still the overwhelming favorite to replace Murray. Why? Because Mark Richt and the coaching staff have essentially been grooming Mason to take over for years now, redshirting him in 2012 so he would have a year left to play in 2014. Mason was once a three-star quarterback who put up huge numbers running the spread at Lassiter High School in nearby Marietta, and with Todd Gurley behind him, he won’t be asked to do too much his first year starting. While he might be a year away, don’t write off Faton Bauta just yet. The 6-3, 216-pound redshirt sophomore has impressed the staff with his work ethic and could find his way into some playing time.
Alabama: Oddly enough, the quarterback many presume will take over for McCarron won’t actually arrive until the summer. Jacob Coker, the heralded transfer from Florida State, will be a little late finishing his degree in Tallahassee, which leaves a big opportunity for the rest of Alabama’s quarterbacks to make a first impression. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will instead have his focus on Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman this spring. Sims, who best fits the mold of a run-first quarterback, has a lot of work ahead of him to prove he can play from the pocket. Morris, meanwhile, didn’t get much time as a redshirt freshman last season and needs to improve his decision-making from the last time we saw him at A-Day. Bateman and McLeod are relative unknowns after redshirting last season, but Bateman, a four-star recruit, does come with a lofty pedigree. The wild card is David Cornwell, the four-star recruit who enrolled in January and will benefit from the fresh start all of the quarterbacks will get under Kiffin.
- Nearly 30 SEC players have announced plans to enter the NFL draft early.
- The State's Neil White ranks the SEC teams hit hardest by NFL draft early entries, with LSU and South Carolina leading the way.
- Jeremy Pruitt brings a “you get what you earn” mentality to his job -- which is now defensive coordinator at Georgia -- according to his former boss, Rush Propst.
- ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is interviewing for the head coaching job at Vanderbilt.
- Kentucky football recruit Matt Elam's practice jersey from the Army All-American Bowl was listed for sale on eBay, but the seller canceled the auction because of the attention it generated online.
- Quarterback Jeff Driskel is excited about the up-tempo offense Kurt Roper plans to install at Florida.
- Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, a South Carolina graduate, is talking up Gamecocks star Jadeveon Clowney with his franchise holding the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
- Defensive coordinator Chris Ash -- now co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State -- became the second former Wisconsin assistant to leave Bret Bielema's Arkansas staff after their first season with the Razorbacks.
- Tony Brown's signing is a boon for both Alabama football and track.
- High school coaches in Tennessee say it will be difficult for James Franklin's successor at Vanderbilt to match his work as a recruiter.
- Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les Koenning will reportedly leave Starkville to become receivers coach at Texas.
- Auburn's Shon Coleman is trying to turn raw potential into a starter's role.
- Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron will skip the Senior Bowl, which is played in his hometown of Mobile, Ala.
- The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Bryan Burwell writes that Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham's poor decisions cloud his future.
Winston tops his list, but he also had four players from the SEC -- Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon and Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham -- on there.
I like all four of those choices, and it should be noted that like me, he doesn't see Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel or Auburn running back Tre Mason returning to school in 2014. That's why you won't find them on his list.
I think Gurley might have the best chance out of this bunch because he pretty much proved that he's one of the country's best players -- regardless of position -- when he's healthy. And he really was never 100 percent after that ankle injury, yet still managed to finish with 903 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes for 344 yards and five more scores.
In what could be his final year in Athens, Gurley could have a big, big year if he stays healthy.
So who are some other SEC players to keep an eye on in the Heisman race? Well it's way, way too early, but who cares? I'd love to have A&M's Mike Evans on this list, but I think after back-to-back monster seasons, Manziel's top receiving target is off to greener pastures.
1. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: Because I think LSU running back Jeremy Hill isn't long for the SEC and will likely take his talents to the NFL, Davis gets my top spot. He's great between the tackles, can hit the home run play on the outside and isn't too bad in the passing game. He's fourth in the SEC with 1,134 rushing yards and has 11 touchdowns. He also has caught 32 passes for 342 yards.
2. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU: It might be hard for him to stay at LSU after a tremendous junior year, but if he does, he should get some early Heisman love. He'll have a new quarterback, but Beckham showed this season that he certainly has go-to talent and he'll get some extra Heisman attention with his play in the return game. Not only did Beckham catch 57 passes for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season, he registered 947 return yards.
3. Henry Josey, RB, Missouri: A year and a half removed from shredding his knee, Josey made the ultimate comeback with 1,074 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He was one of the most explosive backs in the SEC and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. More than 700 of Josey's yards came in SEC play this season. DGB will get most of the preseason love in Columbia this fall, but Josey has everything it takes to be an elite back in this league.
4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: He had a relatively quiet regular season, but Cooper has what it takes to be a real superstar in this league. We saw major flashes of it during his freshman year, but nagging injuries cut his production in 2013. He caught 36 passes for 615 yards and four touchdowns, including a 99-yarder against Auburn. Cooper is a deep threat and can make the tough catches in traffic. If he's healthy, he could make a Heisman push, as he becomes the prime go-to guy for Alabama's new quarterback.
5. Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri: OK, so we've been down this path before. A lot of hype dumped on a relatively inexperienced player. Usually, it doesn't pan out. The good news for Mauk is that he got some valuable playing time during the regular season. He learned from James Franklin and then performed swimmingly in his place after Franklin missed a month with a shoulder injury. Mauk knows the offense backward and forward, is a threat to run and pass, and should still have some nice offensive weapons around him next fall. During the regular season, he threw for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he rushed for another 156 yards and a touchdown.
For our all-underclassmen team, we decided to use players who are true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or true sophomores. That means Johnny Manziel, a redshirt sophomore, wasn't eligible. I mean he can't make every list!
The criteria for our other lists once again apply. We're basing things on the season they had in 2013, not who will be the better draft prospect in the future.
Here's what we came up with:
QB: Maty Mauk, Missouri
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
WR: Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
OL: Jerald Hawkins, LSU
OL: Denver Kirkland, Arkansas
OL: Alex Kozan, Auburn
C: Evan Boehm, Missouri
AP: Mike Davis, South Carolina
DL: Carl Lawson, Auburn
DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
DL: Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida
DL: Chris Jones, Miss. State
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB: Darian Claiborne, Texas A&M
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Rashard Robinson, LSU
DB: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Georgia
DB: Landon Collins, Alabama
PK: Colby Delahoussaye, LSU
P: Landon Foster, Kentucky
RS: Trey Williams, Texas A&M
QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
WR: Jarvis Landry, LSU
WR: Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
OL: Justin Britt, Missouri
OL: A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
AP: Todd Gurley, Georgia
DL: Kony Ealy, Missouri
DL: Chris Smith, Arkansas
DL: Ego Ferguson, LSU
DL: Markus Golden, Missouri
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
LB: Avery Williamson, Kentucky
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
DB: Chris Davis, Auburn
DB: Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State
PK: Colby Delahoussaye, LSU
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
PR: Christion Jones, Alabama
KR: Christion Jones, Alabama
These would be freshmen, redshirt freshmen and true sophomores -- or players not eligible for the 2014 NFL draft.
Of their top 25 underclassmen, 14 were from the SEC, including seven of the top 10.
In other words, don't look for the talent level in the SEC to drop off any over the next couple of years.
Not surprisingly, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was the No. 1 player on the list. Winston is the heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night in New York City.
Some fans might be a little surprised at who was the top SEC player on the list. Florida true freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III checked in at No. 2. Granted, it was a forgettable season for the Gators, but Hargreaves was outstanding with his ability to cover and make plays. Even though he's only played one season of college football, a lot of the scouts like him as much or more than the Gators' other two heralded cornerbacks -- Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy.
The other SEC players in the top 10 were:
- No. 4 Georgia running back Toddy Gurley
- No. 5 Alabama receiver Amari Cooper
- No. 6 Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham
- No. 8 Florida defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr.
- No. 9 Alabama safety Landon Collins
- No. 10 Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon.
Ole Miss was next with three players, all members of the Rebels' top-5 2013 signing class. Receiver Laquon Treadwell was No. 16, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche No. 18 and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil No. 21.
Interestingly enough, seven of the 25 players on the list were true freshmen from the SEC. One that wasn't on there and will be is Mississippi State defensive tackle Chris Jones, who blossomed as the season progressed and has a chance to be dominant.
Another true freshman from the SEC who will almost certainly play his way onto the list is LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson. Go back and watch him in the Texas A&M game and the job he did on Mike Evans. Robinson wasn't cleared academically until the week of the first game this season, so with an entire spring and an entire preseason camp under his belt next year, Robinson should emerge as one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC.
Here's a rundown of all 14 SEC players who made the list:
- 2. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida, Fr.
- 4. Todd Gurley, Georgia, RB, So.
- 5. Amari Cooper, Alabama, WR, So.
- 6. Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri, WR, So.
- 8. Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida, DE, So.
- 9. Landon Collins, Alabama, S, So.
- 10. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama, RB, So.
- 12. A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama, DT, Fr.
- 15. O.J. Howard, Alabama, TE, Fr.
- 16. Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss, WR, Fr.
- 18. Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, DT, Fr.
- 20. Mike Davis, South Carolina, RB, So.
- 21. Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss, OT, Fr.
- 23. Carl Lawson, Auburn, DE, Fr.
Once again, the SEC has Urban Meyer to thank for more conference gold ... or should I say orange and blue ...
Here's this season's SEC bowl lineup:
VIZIO BCS National Championship game, Jan. 6: Auburn vs. Florida State
Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin
AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: LSU vs. Iowa
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31: Texas A&M vs. Duke
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia vs. Nebraska
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31: Mississippi State vs. Rice
BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 4: Vanderbilt vs. Houston
I'm sure we'll have more on all of these bowl games in the coming weeks, but here are our first impressions of this season's lineup:
Best game: VIZIO BCS National Championship game. This one is for all the marbles, and once again the SEC is involved. Real shocker there, even if it is Auburn. Somehow, the SEC found a way, and we now get to see the nation's best rushing offense (335.7 yards per game) take on Florida State's vaunted passing game, which is led by Heisman favorite Jameis Winston. The Noles own the country's 14th-ranked pass defense and rank third nationally in total defense. Auburn is on a special run this season and, with a month to rest and look over things, you have to wonder if coach Gus Malzahn will throw a couple more items into his playbook just for Florida State.
Worst game: TaxSlayer.com Gator. On paper, watching Georgia and Nebraska play each other looks pretty fun. But we've seen this matchup before. We saw it last season in the Capital One Bowl. Obviously, these are different teams, but they have the same uniforms on and the bowl season is about seeing something new and different. This isn't, and Georgia fans will let you know it. It'll probably be a pretty good game, but it would have been a lot better to see both of these two with different opponents.
Sneaky good game: Franklin American Mortgage Music City. The triple option vs. Hugh Freeze's fun spread? Yes, please! The Rebels didn't end the season the way they wanted, but you can see a lot of growth at Ole Miss. The Rebels owned one of the SEC's best offensive attacks, while the Yellow Jackets mirrored Auburn at times on the ground, averaging 311 rushing yards a game. But don't forget that Georgia Tech's defense only gave up an average 350 total yards per game. This should be a good one that has fourth-quarter drama written all over it.
The bowl season will be a success if: All the SEC cares about is bringing home an eighth straight crystal football. Commissioner Mike Slive is looking right at you, Auburn. Beat Florida State, and the SEC ends the BCS right where it started: with a national championship. The league can have a losing record in bowl play, but if it wins the one out in Pasadena, Calif., the conference will be all smiles (even folks in Tuscaloosa) and will still claim its perch atop the college football world.
Chris Low's first impressions
Worst game: BBVA Compass. What does Vanderbilt have to do to get a bowl game higher in the SEC’s pecking order? The Commodores are sitting there with eight regular-season wins for the second straight season and will be making the short trip to Birmingham, Ala. They get a Houston team that enters the postseason having lost three of its last four games. A close second goes to the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, where we get a rematch of last season’s Georgia-Nebraska game from the Capital One Bowl.
Sneaky good game: AT&T Cotton. Two old Big 12 rivals will get it on in Arlington, Texas, and if you like offense, this is your kind of game. Missouri’s passing game, especially now that James Franklin is healthy again, is both balanced and explosive. Dorial Green-Beckham and L’Damian Washington combined for 22 touchdown catches this season. The Tigers’ defense gets a chance for redemption after being shredded by Auburn’s running game, but faces an Oklahoma State offense averaging 39.8 points per game.
The bowl season will be a success if: It’s all about the bling in the SEC. In other words, the onus is on Auburn to make it eight straight national championships. If the streak remains intact, the SEC will have bragging rights for another year. Counting the BCS National Championship game, 10 SEC teams are playing in bowl games. The league went 6-3 last season, so 7-3 sounds about right this season. Then we can all drum up some more propaganda, although Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops might have more to worry about than propaganda -- real or perceived -- when his Sooners take on Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: With two touchdown passes in an easy 45-6 rout of Appalachian State on Saturday, Murray broke the 17-year-old SEC record of Florida's Danny Wuerffel (1993-96) for the most career TD passes. Murray entered the game already holding the SEC career marks for total offense and passing yards. The senior completed 19 of 26 passes for 281 yards in three quarters of work.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Ho-hum. Another week, another compelling argument in the sophomore's case for a second straight Heisman Trophy. Against Mississippi State on Saturday, Johnny Football threw for 446 yards with five touchdown passes (never mind those three interceptions). Honorable mention goes to senior Travis Labhart, once a walk-on, now a scholarship guy who has emerged as a key contributor at receiver. Manziel completed six passes to Labhart for a career-high 102 yards and two touchdowns.
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: The former Georgia Bulldog and former juco quarterback accounted for 214 of Auburn's 444 rushing yards, running for two touchdowns and passing for another in the No. 9 Tigers' 55-23 dismantling of the home-standing Volunteers. Marshall posted a 99.6 Total QBR despite completing only 3 of 7 passes, but Gus Malzahn didn't need to throw with the success the Tigers were having on the ground. Marshall's 214 yards were the third-most by an SEC quarterback in a game over the last 10 seasons, behind only Heisman winners Manziel (229 yards vs. Oklahoma in 2012) and Cam Newton (217 vs. LSU in 2010).
Missouri's offense: The No. 8 Tigers encountered little resistance in their first league game in the Bluegrass State. Freshman quarterback Maty Mauk threw five touchdown passes to tie Chase Daniel's school record in Mizzou's 48-17 romp past Kentucky. Dorial Green-Beckham broke through in a big way. The 6-foot-6 sophomore, who was the nation's No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2012, had seven catches for 100 yards and four touchdowns. Not to be outdone, running back Henry Josey ran 11 times for 113 yards and two TDs, including an 86-yarder. The Tigers remain a half-game ahead of idle South Carolina in the East division.
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: Even in a 51-41 road loss to Texas A&M, a special heartfelt helmet sticker goes out to Prescott, who lost his mother last Sunday to her battle with cancer. Tyler Russell got the start after Prescott missed the week of practice before Saturday's game, but the two rotated, with Prescott getting the majority of the snaps. The Aggies had difficulty slowing him in the running game, as Prescott ran 16 times for 154 yards (9.6 yards per carry). He was 14-of-26 passing for 149 yards and two touchdowns. It was certainly a determined and inspiring performance under the most difficult of circumstances.
The speed typically increases as a talented, capable player grows more comfortable with what he's doing -- and that's why Shaq Wiggins' interception for a 39-yard touchdown last Saturday against Vanderbilt is an encouraging sign for the freshman cornerback.
“I was sitting there and lining up and trying to figure out what we're going to do and if we were lined up right,” Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “When I saw it on film, Shaq read it in maybe two seconds. He saw that nobody was blocking him and they made a mistake and just left him unblocked. He saw the quarterback go back and he took off in front of the man and just picked it off. That's definitely something you don't see out of many young guys this early in their career.”
This has been far from a banner season for Georgia's beleagured defensive backfield, but Wiggins is quickly emerging as a bright spot. He gave up a couple of long passes against Missouri -- including one for a fourth-quarter touchdown on a double pass -- but has also made some big plays.
He started for the third straight game against Vanderbilt and recorded both an interception and a pass breakup that was nearly his second pick of the game. He said learning how to make better use of his study time has helped him become a more productive defender, as he said he had seen the trick play the Commodores attempted before on film.
“I was kind of confused when all those linemen came out, so I knew it was either going to be a screen or a pass to the other side, to the other receivers. … I just kind of read it before those big linemen got some hands on me and just made a play on the ball,” Wiggins said.
The truly impressive part is that Georgia hadn't worked on that play at all, Jenkins said. The freshman simply made a quick decision that allowed him to short circuit the play before the Commodores knew what hit them.
“I'd never seen an alignment like that before,” Jenkins said. “That wasn't in our dress rehearsal, anything, and you've got to credit Shaq for that.”
“That is the kind of play Georgia's players are beginning to expect from Wiggins. He has already shot into the backfield on screen passes to record three tackles for a loss and generally displayed the competitiveness and speed that helped make him the highest-rated prospect in Georgia's 2013 signing class according to ESPN's recruiting rankings.
I called it before the game in an interview I did. They asked me who was going to make a play on the ball, who was going to get a strip or an interception or something and I said it was Shaq Wiggins.” Defensive end Garrison Smith on Wiggins' pick-six vs. Vanderbilt.
“I called it before the game in an interview I did,” senior defensive end Garrison Smith said. “They asked me who was going to make a play on the ball, who was going to get a strip or an interception or something and I said it was Shaq Wiggins. Some guys are just gifted with different abilities and he's just one of the guys that I can tell he's got great ball skills. That's one of the things he's good at, so I wasn't surprised at all when he did that.”
Like secondary mates Brendan Langley, Quincy Mauger and Tray Matthews, Wiggins is a freshman who was thrown into the fire because of the Bulldogs' lack of veteran depth at their positions.
They have all experienced their struggles, but a play like his pick-six confirms that the light is clicking on for Wiggins. The big plays he surrendered against Missouri were a painful learning experience, too, but the freshman believes difficult matchups against such high-caliber receivers as Vandy's Jordan Matthews and Mizzou's Dorial Green-Beckham will only help accelerate his development.
Even for a player so small that Jenkins joked with him that Wiggins “looked like a JV high school player playing up in college.”
“I look at myself every day in the mirror and it's always obvious that I'm probably the smallest guy on the field. I just play with a chip on my shoulder,” said Wiggins, who is generously listed at 5-foot-10. “Like a lot of fans and other people say, 'He's too small, can't guard so-and-so receiver,' so I just kind of take that, keep that in the back of my head and make plays. The more plays you make, the more people will start believing in you and feeling comfortable with you on the field. I think I'm kind of proving that.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- One of the teams in Saturday's Georgia-Missouri game is a top-10 team and, until Saturday, felt like the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC East.
Then No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC) barely survived a Tennessee upset bid, winning 34-31 in overtime while losing several key players to injury, while No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0) smashed Vanderbilt 51-28 on its home field. And suddenly the Bulldogs' chances of winning the SEC East -- and their odds of winning Saturday's game at Sanford Stadium -- don't feel like such safe bets anymore.
“I'm not surprised to see Missouri jump in the top 25. They're an undefeated team and played extremely well against a good Vanderbilt team,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team dropped a spot in this week's Associated Press Top 25, while Mizzou entered the poll for the first time since September 2011. “ As far as where we are right now, it doesn't really matter all that much right this minute. What's important, really, is to try to score some points and slow Missouri down a little bit.”
Skeptics had reason to question the validity of that production because of the lower level of competition, but cracking the 50-point barrier in Nashville quieted much of that criticism. Sure, the Commodores aren't at the level of Alabama or Florida on defense, but they had not allowed 50 points to an opponent since 2010.
After demolishing Vandy on Saturday, Missouri passed Georgia for second in the league in total offense (543.8 ypg) and is second in scoring (46.6 ppg). The Tigers will face a Georgia defense that surrendered 277 yards after halftime to Tennessee's underwhelming offense.
Richt disputed the notion, however, that Georgia's fortunes rest on whether its offense is productive on a given Saturday since the defense has consistently struggled.
“I think we're all just one team, we're Georgia, and we know that regardless of the situation or the score, we're expecting our defense to get stops and our offense to score points and whatever it takes to win is all we're worried about right now,” he said.
After at least two Bulldogs -- tailback Keith Marshall, filling in for All-SEC star Todd Gurley, and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley -- suffered season-ending knee injuries against Tennessee. Receiver Michael Bennett also went down with a knee injury that will sideline him for at least the near future.
Quarterback Aaron Murray's late-game heroics saved the Bulldogs from a stunning upset, but they must regroup quickly in order to hang with Missouri's explosive offense where quarterback James Franklin has three of the conference's most productive receivers – Dorial Green-Beckham, Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington -- and the SEC's top rushing attack (258.8 ypg) at his disposal.
“No doubt, they're very good,” Richt said. “We think they're playing at a lot higher level on offense this year than a year ago. I think now their quarterback's healthy and he's just performing so well and you've got big, physical, great-looking receivers, but they're running the ball well. It's not just the passing game, that's for sure. A lot of yards -- they're averaging over 550 yards or so -- a lot of points per game. They're really doing some great things.”
- Tennessee has struggled to create big plays offensively thus far this season. Head coach Butch Jones said the Volunteers need "big chunk plays."
- During the Rebels' off week, head coach Hugh Freeze looked closely at Oregon's explosive offense and found a few things he hopes to add to Ole Miss' attack.
- Ole Miss and Texas A&M both run up-tempo offensive attacks, but they're different in style, which meant adjustments in preparation for the Alabama defense, which faced the Aggies on Sept. 14 and meets the Rebels on Saturday.
- Former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips, who is now a receivers coach at Florida, makes his return to Lexington on the opposite sideline and it's a special return for he and his family.
- The running backs in Georgia-LSU are good ones, particularly Todd Gurley for the Bulldogs and Jeremy Hill for LSU. Though the focus is often on the quarterbacks, Gurley-Hill is an interesting subplot on Saturday.
- Georgia has been spending time trying to improve its special teams.
- South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw is saving his best for last, trying to put together a strong senior campaign.
- Dominique Easley's injury means others will have to step up at defensive tackle for Florida, and that even includes some true freshmen.
- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn won't be watching Alabama-Ole Miss when the game starts; he'll be out on the road recruiting. He will watch it on his own time though, saying "I'll sit down and study it."
- Missouri's big receivers, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas, each reached the 100-yard receiving mark last week, the first time since 2010 that's happened in a single game for the Tigers.
- Mississippi State running back LaDarius Perkins is someone coach Dan Mullen said the Bulldogs want to get the football to.
1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: The Heisman Trophy contender ranked seventh nationally in total offense last season (339.2 ypg) and figures to be a nightmare for Georgia’s rebuilt defense as a running and passing threat. His 36 passing touchdowns and 10 scores on the ground last season attest to the problems he will present.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
1. Hello Missouri, Hello Texas A&M: Even though Missouri has already played a game as an SEC member, Missouri and Texas A&M “officially” become league members Saturday when the Tigers take on Georgia and the Aggies face Florida. It’s fitting that the two newcomers would play traditional powers in their first league games, and it’s also fitting that both would open SEC play at home. The eyes of the league will turn to College Station, Texas, at 3:30 p.m. ET and then to Columbia, Mo., at 7:45 p.m. ET. It is indeed a new day in the SEC.
2. Missouri’s inexperience up front: Blocking Georgia’s defensive front with a veteran offensive line is no easy task, but the Tigers will try to do it a bit short-handed. Senior right guard Jack Meiners is questionable for the game with a knee injury. His size and strength inside would be invaluable against the Bulldogs. Former walk-on Max Copeland is scheduled to start in Meiners’ place. And at left guard, true freshman Evan Boehm is the starter. Senior Travis Ruth was slated to be the starter at left guard, but tore his left triceps tendon in August and underwent surgery.
3. More touches for Gurley: In his debut last week, Georgia freshman running back Todd Gurley carried the ball eight times for 100 yards and had touchdown runs of 55 and 10 yards. He also had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Coach Mark Richt said he would “definitely” like to see Gurley touch the ball more Saturday against Missouri than he did last week. But the Bulldogs aren’t going to forget about fellow freshman Keith Marshall and sophomore Ken Malcome. Richt said Gurley probably would have carried it a few more times last week but that he got a little light-headed after his 100-yard kickoff return.
4. Driskel takes the reins: It’s Jeff Driskel's job, and Florida coach Will Muschamp has told him that there’s no need to be looking over his shoulder Saturday. It was important that the Gators settle on a starting quarterback prior to going to Texas A&M, and that’s exactly what Muschamp did coming out of Florida’s ho-hum 27-14 season-opening victory over Bowling Green. Driskel is a better runner than Jacoby Brissett and has a better chance of extending the play when things break down. More than anything, though, it’s going to be imperative that the Gators play well around Driskel. The running game looks to be in good hands with Mike Gillislee, but the Gators are going to need more big plays like the one Frankie Hammond turned in against Bowling Green. He took a quick out, shook a tackle and turned it into a 50-yard touchdown. It’s been a while since the Florida receivers have made those kind of plays consistently.
6. Ascending to No. 1: Alabama coach Nick Saban scolded the media this week for not giving Western Kentucky proper respect. That said, we’ll change the subject a little bit from the impending blowout this Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide moved to No. 1 in both polls after routing then-No. 8 Michigan 41-14 in the season opener. Since the preseason Associated Press poll began in 1950, only two teams have ascended to No. 1 in the poll after Week 1 and stayed there the rest of the season. Nebraska did it in 1971 after Notre Dame was the preseason No. 1 selection, and USC did it in 1972 after Nebraska was tabbed preseason No. 1.
7. Connor Shaw’s status: There’s still no final word on whether South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw will play Saturday against East Carolina, but he gave a thumbs-up to reporters as he left the practice field Wednesday. Coach Steve Spurrier said it could be a game-time decision. Spurrier said the key was Shaw being able to throw effectively Wednesday and Thursday in practice without considerable pain. Shaw’s teammates said he looked like his old self Wednesday in practice. Shaw is dealing with a bruised right (throwing) shoulder after taking a knee to the shoulder area last Thursday against Vanderbilt. Wednesday was the first time he’d done anything in practice since the season-opening victory over the Commodores. Sophomore Dylan Thompson is Shaw’s backup.
8. Breaking through in the SEC opener: Dropping the SEC opener hasn’t just been a problem for Mississippi State since Dan Mullen has been on the job. The Bulldogs haven’t won their SEC opener since 1999, when they beat South Carolina 17-0. They started 8-0 that season. Under Mullen, they’ve lost their past three SEC openers to Auburn, including the past two by a combined 10 points. The Bulldogs get a chance to end that drought Saturday when Auburn visits Scott Field. It’s also a chance for Mullen to break through in the West. His only three wins over Western Division foes since taking the job in 2009 have been over Ole Miss. He’s 0-12 against everybody else in the West.
9. LSU’s running back carousel: As problems go in this league, it’s a great one to have. LSU may have too many good running backs ... if that’s possible. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue each rushed for more than 100 yards in LSU’s opener. Hilliard had 141, and Blue, who started the game, had 123. A year ago, it was Michael Ford and Spencer Ware carrying most of the load for the Tigers in the running game, although Hilliard’s role grew later in the season. Ford led the team with 756 yards in 2011, and Ware had 707 yards. Ford had eight carries for 50 yards in the opener. His eligibility had been in question until he won an appeal the week before the game. Ware didn’t play in the opener after he was slowed by a thigh injury. Can you play four running backs and keep them all happy? Something says the Tigers are going to find out. Either way, it’s a sweet luxury to have.
10. Hamilton does Little Rock: Arkansas senior receiver Cobi Hamilton left the Hogs’ opener last week in the first quarter after catching two passes for 13 yards. Arkansas didn’t specify his injury other than to say it was above his shoulders. Coach John L. Smith said Hamilton should be fine for this week, which goes without saying. The game is in Little Rock, and Hamilton has been at his best in War Memorial Stadium. He’s played in six games there for the Hogs and has 22 catches for 644 yards and seven touchdowns. Three of his five 100-yard receiving games have come in Little Rock. In other words, if you have Hamilton on your fantasy team, you might want to be sure he’s in your lineup this week.
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:
1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.
Recruit Comparison: Murray to Allen
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35