Georgia Bulldogs: Gary Pinkel
We're checking out what all 14 teams did to fill holes, and we're looking at which holes still remain. We'll start with the SEC East:
Needs filled: LB, OL, DB, WR, DT -- The Gators had one of the most complete classes out there, finishing second in the ESPN class rankings. Florida landed the top cornerback prospect (No. 3 nationally) in Vernon Hargreaves III, defensive tackles Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick, linebackers Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin, and safeties Keanu Neal and Marcell Harris. The Gators also added five wide receivers, including ESPN 150 members Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood.
Holes remaining: DE -- Will Muschamp seemed thrilled with his class, but he probably would have liked to get a least one more defensive end. The Gators missed on a few, including Tashawn Bower, who almost picked the Gators before signing with LSU. Four-stars Jordan Sherit and Antonio Riles were the only defensive ends in this class.
Needs filled: ILB, S -- The Bulldogs had to replace a few bodies at middle linebacker, and did so by signing four. The star of the group is four-star ESPN 300 member Johnny O'Neal, who is the No. 5 inside linebacker in the county. Tim Kimbrough and Ryne Rankin, both ESPN 300 members, also signed with the Dawgs. Georgia also signed five safeties, including two junior college standouts. The top safety in this class is ESPN 150 member Tray Matthews.
Holes remaining: Elite OT, elite RB, elite DT -- Mark Richt was pleased with his 32-man signing class, but he knows it could have been better if a few elite players had signed with Georgia. The Dawgs barely missed on top offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss), No. 4 running back Alvin Kamara (Alabama) and No. 2 defensive tackle Montravius Adams (Auburn).
1. Taking the East: It'll be quite the party in Jacksonville on Saturday, as this game will essentially decide the SEC East. If Florida wins, the Gators are headed back to Atlanta for the first time since 2009. A Georgia win gives the Bulldogs the edge in the East race from here on out. The Gators haven't dealt with success like this lately, so it'll be interesting to see how this team comes out against a Bulldogs team that has its back against the wall, just like last season. One thing playing in Georgia's favor is this team has been here before and fought its way out of a corner ... all the way to the SEC championship game.
Denny Medley/US PresswireThe Bulldogs need to get pressure on Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who has only been sacked 13 times this season.
3. Arkansas' revival: Remember when the Razorbacks were basically dead in the water? Well, Arkansas has won two straight and things are starting to click for the Hogs. Their last two wins have come against Auburn and Kentucky, but wins are wins in this league, and Arkansas' confidence is flowing right now. Saturday's game with Ole Miss is crucial as far as Arkansas' bowl hopes go. The Hogs need three more wins and one of them has to come Saturday with the gauntlet that is November coming up. Players said the bye week helped clean up some of the little things, and that defense will have to be at its best against Ole Miss' high-powered offense.
4. Slowing down the run: Going back to the Hogs' defense, if Arkansas is going to control Ole Miss' offense, it has to stop the Rebels on the ground. Ole Miss is fourth in the SEC in rushing, averaging 211.4 yards per game. Arkansas has stopped the run well in its past two games, but neither of those running games were on par with Ole Miss' rush game. Tennessee and Georgia also have to control the opposing run games. Florida is third in the league in rushing and its offense has gone the way of its rushing attack for most of the year. If the Bulldogs can force Florida into more passing situations, it could benefit Georgia. The same goes for Tennessee, as the Gamecocks will look to run Marcus Lattimore as much as possible. Connor Shaw struggled throwing the ball last week, so the Vols will try to make him beat them Saturday.
5. Georgia's defensive toughness: Senior safety Shawn Williams created a stir when he called the play of his defense "soft" and then proceeded to name which linebackers should be playing more. Some feelings were hurt, but Mark Richt hopes it motivates his players. Williams' words very well could, but the pressure is now on him to play one of his best games. But this defense has to toughen up as a whole. It hasn't played well in the past three games, and that has to change against Florida's tough running game. Giving up big plays have really hurt this defense lately, and Georgia can't afford that Saturday.
6. Big-game time for Russell: Georgia's Aaron Murray isn't the only one with a lot to prove when it comes to big games this weekend. While he's looking for his third career win over a Top 25 team, Mississippi State's Tyler Russell is looking for a signature win in his career. Beating Alabama would certainly be that win. Russell has been tremendously efficient this season, tossing 15 touchdowns to just one interception. He'll have to be at his absolute best against Alabama's defense. This is the biggest game of his career, so keep an eye on how he deals with that pressure.
7. Johnny Football's rebound: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel found second-half struggles in the loss to LSU, but he'll have the chance to really rebound this weekend against Auburn's floundering defense. The Tigers are giving up more than 400 yards a game, and Manziel has the ability to gash this defense through the air and on the ground. Manziel was getting some Heisman love before the LSU game, but his hopes haven't been destroyed. He can still make a run, and good outings against tough defenses in November will help.
8. Making the bowl push: This is an important weekend for a few teams still trying to make postseason runs. Vanderbilt needs three more wins and should get one easily Saturday against UMass. Ole Miss and Arkansas are in a bowl fight as well. The Razorbacks have to win this one if they are going get the three more wins required to become bowl eligible, while getting to five wins on the season now would only help the Rebels, especially with a tough November approaching. Tennessee has a favorable November ahead, but this is a game that could either help or really hurt this team's confidence going forward. Missouri is essentially in a must-win situation for a bowl. November will be a very tough stretch for the Tigers, so beating Kentucky is crucial for the postseason.
9. Getting the offense back on track: Missouri's offense hasn't been very explosive at all this season. Injuries have certainly hurt it, but SEC defenses haven't had much trouble shutting down the Tigers when they have the ball. Coach Gary Pinkel said before the bye week that things had to be simplified on offense, and he thinks that will happen going forward. It starts with backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser being more comfortable in place of James Franklin. South Carolina is also looking to revive its offense after a very poor showing against Florida. The Gators' defense certainly was a big part of South Carolina's struggles, but the passing game was just ugly in general. All eyes will be on Shaw, but having a healthier Lattimore running the ball should help him.
10. Tennessee's fight: The Vols have had some really bad luck when it comes to keeping up in games. They put up a few big plays against Alabama last week, but averaged just 4 yards immediately following plays of 20 or more yards. After big defensive stops, Alabama came roaring back with scoring drives. The Vols also had back-to-back comeback attempts thwarted by opponents in the fourth quarter in the weeks prior. It might not appear likely, but Tennessee could still make it to the postseason and could still win eight games. But the Vols have to keep going mentally. With the losses and all the talk about Derek Dooley's job, it could be easy for this team to quit, but there's too much of the season left. Saturday's game is a chance for redemption. It's early, so Tennessee could catch South Carolina off guard. But if things are too far gone in Knoxville, this team could roll over at the first sign of adversity.
SEC power: It hasn’t all been good. See Arkansas’ tumble from elite status. See Tennessee’s collapse in the second half last Saturday, and see Auburn’s defense. But a quick scan of the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll shows four SEC teams ranked in the top 7 nationally, including No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 LSU. Georgia is No. 5 this week and South Carolina No. 7. Florida has also moved into the top 15 and checks in at No. 14. For the rest of the country, seeing Alabama and LSU at the top of the polls is probably nauseating. After all, this was supposed to be the year that the SEC’s reign ended, and maybe that will be the case. There’s that vaunted USC team out West that was gunning for the SEC’s big boys this season. The Trojans, though, might want to figure out how to beat Stanford first before moving up to the varsity.
Joker Phillips’ seat: Losing to both Louisville and Western Kentucky was bad enough for the low morale that surrounds the Kentucky program. But, now, the Wildcats need to somehow find four SEC wins to avoid their third straight losing season. It doesn’t look good for Phillips despite the fact that he’s playing a ton of younger players.
Zuma Press/Icon SMIStar South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore has been slowed in his past two games.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron: He’s thrown 152 passes without an interception this season and is third nationally in passing efficiency with a 196.6 rating. McCarron has thrown seven touchdown passes in his first three games and is in total command of that Alabama offense right now.
Missouri’s quarterback situation: Who’s the quarterback for the Tigers this coming Saturday against South Carolina? Moreover, who do the Tigers want to be their quarterback? The whole deal with Missouri coach Gary Pinkel coming out and saying that James Franklin refused a painkiller injection was bizarre. Franklin’s shoulder was hurting and he didn’t play in the win over Arizona State. Backup Corbin Berkstresser stepped in and led Missouri to the victory. It will be interesting to see how it plays out from here and whether or not there’s any division on the team.
Florida in the fourth quarter: What a difference a year makes for the Gators, who have outscored their first three opponents this season 27-0 in the fourth quarter. A year ago, they were outscored 72-22 in the fourth quarter of SEC games. Finishing games was a huge emphasis over the offseason in Gainesville, and Will Muschamp’s club has shown some serious mettle in the second half of games this season.
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray: Not only was he 1-of-10 in the fourth quarter against Florida, but Bray’s body language and his lack of leadership were just as disturbing. He’s a super talent and can really throw the football, but he still has a ways to go before he can ever be considered an elite quarterback. He may get there, but he’s not going to do it by piling up numbers against lesser opponents and then disappearing in the big games when his team gets down in the second half.
Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore: Georgia’s Jarvis Jones currently holds the unofficial title as the SEC’s best pass-rusher, but don’t sleep on Moore. The Aggies’ junior had two more sacks last Saturday in the rout of SMU and already has five in two games. He’s been pretty much unblockable to this point.
Ole Miss’ defense: Even in an Xbox game, you don’t give up 66 points and 676 yards of total offense. The Rebels were obliterated by a Texas team that scored on seven straight possessions, including six touchdowns.
Arkansas’ start to the season: Could it get any worse? The 52-0 drubbing by Alabama was Arkansas’ first shutout in Fayetteville since a 7-0 loss to Baylor in 1966. This is a team that had talked openly about winning a national championship in the preseason, but it’s also a team that quit in the second half of the game last Saturday. Senior quarterback Tyler Wilson obviously means a lot to that team, and not having him in the game was a huge blow. There’s no guarantee that he’s going to be out there against Rutgers this coming weekend. So the Hogs might want to find some resolve and also rediscover their pride and do something about salvaging this season before it’s too late. A 1-2 start is terribly disappointing. But it would pale in comparison if the Hogs totally tank and end up with a losing season.
* Might the Missouri game have been the breakout performance from Marlon Brown that we’ve been waiting four years to see? Most Georgia fans likely recall his four catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns in last season’s Vanderbilt game, but the Bulldogs actually just caught the Commodores out of position twice and hit Brown for touchdowns with the exact same play.
Against Missouri, he was everywhere, finishing with a career-high eight catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Yet the first thing he brought up after the game was that he should have had two more catches that he dropped. Brown’s coaches and teammates have raved about his receiving skills for the last two preseasons, only to watch injuries sidetrack him before he ever got going. It looked like more of the same when he missed the Buffalo game with a hamstring strain, following yet another strong preseason, but Saturday’s game provides hope that the results might be different this fall.
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Coach Kevin Sumlin has acknowledged that impact, noting that Texas A&M has "probably gotten a few more visits" and his coaches have had a few more "return phone calls" from recruits who might not otherwise have considered the Aggies if they weren't in what's widely considered to be the nation's premier football conference.
In its home state, it can be a selling point, since Texas A&M is the only school within the state that can allow a Texas high school football product to stay close to his home and still play in the SEC. And Sumlin has acknowledged that while the Aggies can and will recruit nationally, Texas will continue to be their primary emphasis.
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No coach is truly safe around these parts. One moment, you’re on top and being showered with cheers and support. The next, you could be dusting off the old résumé.
The SEC has just one coach who has guided his current team through the conference for 10-plus years -- Georgia’s Mark Richt.
Note: Missouri’s Gary Pinkel is entering his 12th year with the Tigers, but his previous 11 came in the Big 12.
Richt has experienced some uplifting highs and some pretty deflating lows during his 11-plus years in the country’s toughest conference. But he has survived while the SEC has seen 33 different head coaches at the 11 other SEC schools since he arrived at Georgia in 2001.
That's where we come in. As we take a deeper look into programs around the country this week, we're looking at how each program stacks up in every conference. In the SEC, there's always a fierce arms race going on, and getting left behind can be dangerous.
Today, we're ranking each coaching job in the SEC. We considered a lot of factors, including location, tradition, support, fan bases, facilities and recruiting access.
Here's how we ranked all 14 SEC jobs.
1. Florida: For starters, Florida is all about location, location, location. It's in a state that produces some of the country's top talent and it's a state that players around the country will flock to. Thanks to Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, Florida has become a national brand like Ohio State, USC, Notre Dame and Texas. Recent significant facility upgrades and a tremendous fan base have only helped this be the top job in the SEC.
The addition of Missouri and Texas A&M means teams will have to play six divisional games instead of five, making things a little complicated.
Right now, it looks as though the most likely format, which could be set as early as Friday, will be a 6-1-1 model. That gives teams six divisional games, one permanent crossover game and rotating crossover. The rotating crossover no longer would be a traditional two-year home-and-home series. It simply would be a one-year rotation. It’s the same model that will be used for the 2012 season.
LSU coach Les Miles said he’d like the structure of future SEC schedules to be “definable,” and wouldn’t mind if the league re-examined how it chose permanent crossovers.
"Legitimately tell me about how you're picking crossover games,” Miles said at the spring meetings Tuesday. “Is it the best team in the East, the best team in the West, top three and top three? OK, if you guys want to do that, let's do that. It might change the matches, but if you want to say, 'Well, we really are going to seed the best teams versus the lesser teams,' well, OK, let's do that, but define the structure and let's stay with it.
“In my mind, here’s what happened: They added two teams this go-round, and very conceivably they could add another two. So let’s build a structure that’s desirable and helps build toward a champion.”
Slive said talks would become more detailed as the week continued, and while he wouldn’t go into detail about formats or permanent opponents, he did say he sensed that most of the schools wanted to keep their permanent crossover games.
Those games likely would be Alabama-Tennessee, Arkansas-Missouri, Auburn-Georgia, Florida-LSU, Kentucky-Mississippi State, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt and Texas A&M-South Carolina. However, there has been talk of the Florida-LSU series possibly not being renewed.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he expects Arkansas to become Mizzou’s permanent crossover, which should help create a rivalry between the two schools.
"That's what I'm told is probably going to happen," Pinkel said. "To me, just tell me who our rival is, and then they'll be our rival. Obviously, we're adjacent to [Arkansas]. Obviously, we've been associated with [Texas A&M] for years. That's above me. Nobody has asked me for my opinion."
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze said they’d prefer to keep their schools' current permanent Eastern Division opponents -- Kentucky and Vanderbilt, respectively.
“Having that, it gives you a little bit of a rivalry,” Mullen said about playing Kentucky each year. “I do think in the last three years being there … you see that rivalry spill over. I know in basketball it is that way for everybody, but because we play them every year in football, because there’s that familiarity it spills into basketball, it spills into baseball.
“That works for us, and geographically it works for us as far as East teams go.”
Added Freeze: “I’d like to continue with Vandy. That’s been a healthy rivalry game. In recent pasts it’s been very equal, and it’s a good game for fans to watch. We’ve got a lot of people in Nashville, and we recruit that area, and it’s just good for us and good for them.”
CBSSports.com reported Tuesday that the SEC will create a model for the next 12 years, but Slive told reporters Tuesday that wasn’t necessarily the case.
"That's a long time," Slive said. "I'm not sure that's what we'll do."
What seems sure is that the league won’t go to a nine-game conference schedule. It essentially forces the conference champion to play 10 SEC games, and adding just one more to the regular season has drawn little interest from coaches.
“None at all,” Freeze said. “Not from me.”
We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:
1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.
- Florida returns 10 starters on defense where the Gators ranked eighth nationally in total defense (299.5 yards per game) in 2011. The Gators ranked second in the nation in third-down defense in 2011, holding opponents to 48-for-176 (.273).
- Florida returns 14 of its top 15 tacklers for the 2012 season, including leading tackler senior linebacker Jon Bostic, who tallied 94 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Also returning for the Gators are their second and third leading tacklers, junior safety Matt Elam who recorded 78 tackles, a team-leading 11 tackles for a loss and a team-high-tying two interceptions, and junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins who totaled 75 tackles and a team-best six pass break-ups.