Georgia Bulldogs: Joker Phillips
- 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.
Alabama Crimson Tide
What they are selling: What's not to sell? Alabama is coming off back-to-back national championships, and the Crimson Tide had nine players taken in April's NFL draft, including three in the first round. For the critics who say you won't play early at UA, ask T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper how much they contributed as freshmen.
What they are missing: Although they won a national championship, the Tide didn't generate much pass rush last fall, and they had trouble containing freshman sensation Johnny Manziel. Also, they need to rebuild the offensive line, a unit that anchored the offense last year.
What they are selling: New head coach Bret Bielema runs a completely different offensive system than the previous two Arkansas coaches. The Razorbacks are selling an opportunity for freshmen to come in and earn playing time early in their careers.
What they are missing: The Razorbacks signed only one offensive lineman, Denver Kirkland, who was rated a four-star prospect or higher last year. In this run-heavy system, look for Arkansas to focus on landing talented players along the offensive line.
What they are selling: It's a new regime for Auburn, but there's a familiar face running the show. New head coach Gus Malzahn knows the program from his days as offensive coordinator. He's already shown the ability to recruit, stealing ESPN 150 linebacker Tre Williams away from the Tide. There's a sense of excitement on The Plains again.
What they are missing: Malzahn filled out his first recruiting class with playmakers, but Auburn needs to build up front on the offensive and defensive lines. No matter what offense you run, if you want to win in the SEC, you need to be able to compete up in the trenches.
What they are selling: With no proven wide receivers on the perimeter, Florida is attempting to sell early playing time at the position. A chance to play for one of the best defensive minds in college football in Will Muschamp is another selling point to defensive prospects.
What they are missing: Production on offense. After finishing 114th nationally in passing offense, it will be hard to sell playing time to wide receivers without an explosive passing game in place.
What they are selling: Freshmen, if they're good enough, play early at Georgia. From running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to offensive tackle John Theus to defensive end Jordan Jenkins, several freshmen Bulldogs made major contributions on a team that was a few yards away from making the national championship game.
What they are missing: Georgia has brought in four top-12 recruiting classes in the last four years. Depth might become an issue for some recruits, but Georgia has certainly shown a willingness to play younger players.
What they are selling: After finishing 2-10, Kentucky fired coach Joker Phillips. New head coach Mark Stoops is offering a fresh start and a chance to help build Kentucky in to a contender in the SEC East.
What they are missing: Plain and simple -- tradition. Sure, Kentucky is full of basketball tradition, but the success on the hardwood completely overshadows the football program. A record 50,831 fans attended the Wildcats' spring game, so the interest level is certainly headed in the right direction.
What they are selling: An unprecedented 10 underclassmen declared for the NFL draft. LSU is selling the opportunity, not only for early playing time because of the departures, but a chance to make it to the NFL in three years.
What they are missing: Because of all the departures, there are some holes on both sides of the ball. Depth is now an issue at running back and LSU will need to replace Eric Reid, Kevin Minter, defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan and linebacker Kevin Minter.
Ole Miss Rebels
What they are selling: Ole Miss landed the No. 5-ranked class in the country, including No. 1 overall player Robert Nkemdiche and No. 1 offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. Look for Ole Miss to sell recruits on the opportunity to help build something special under head coach Hugh Freeze.
What they are missing: Freeze brought a creative and innovative offense to the SEC, but the defense is still a work in progress. Ole Miss finished 12th in the SEC in pass defense and will need to continue to build depth in order to compete for the SEC West championship.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
What they are selling: Only 11 of 22 starters return for a team that finished 8-5 last year. The Bulldogs offer recruits a chance to play early and play in the best division in college football.
What they are missing: Mississippi State returns its starting quarterback Tyler Russell, but who will he be throwing to? Last year's four leading receivers, including Chad Bumphis, are gone. Look for the Bulldogs to focus on offensive weapons in this recruiting class.
What they are selling: The Tigers return 14 of 22 starters on a team that went 5-7 in its first year in the SEC East. Missouri runs a fun and innovative offense that is sure to attract recruits, and there is certainly an opportunity to play early.
What they are missing: The defensive line is probably the most critical area on any defense in the SEC, and the Tigers lost their best lineman in Sheldon Richardson. Mizzou must find a viable replacement for Richardson and linebackers Zaviar Gooden and Will Ebner.
South Carolina Gamecocks
What they are selling: The Gamecocks have been dominant on defense over the last few years, and a strong line is a big part of their success. South Carolina is selling an opportunity to be the next Jadeveon Clowney and be a part of one of the top defenses in the SEC.
What they are missing: Hard to believe, but head coach Steve Spurrier needs help at wide receiver. The Gamecocks signed only one wide receiver in their 2013 class. They have young bodies, but not much depth or production from the returning group.
What they are selling: A fresh start under new head coach Butch Jones. Since 2011, Tennessee has finished with the No. 13, 21 and 29 recruiting classes in the country. There plenty of holes to fill, and any incoming freshman will have plenty of opportunities to earn a starting spot.
What they are missing: Tennessee lost wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to the NFL draft and must replace their production on the outside. The Volunteers are also thin in the secondary and will look to recruiting to plug some key holes on defense.
Texas A&M Aggies
What they are selling: There is a lot to sell a recruit on at Texas A&M right now. An explosive offense which led the SEC in total offense by more than 100 yards a game, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and a team that went into Tuscaloosa and handed Alabama its only loss last season.
What they are missing: There are still some holes to fill on defense. The Aggies finished with the No. 8-ranked defense in the SEC and the No. 10-ranked pass defense in the league. They also need to replace talented defensive end Damontre Moore, who is now in the NFL.
What they are selling: Head coach James Franklin has taken Vanderbilt to a bowl in two consecutive years, and the Commodores are bringing in a solid recruiting class. Selling recruits on an opportunity to play at Vanderbilt during one of the best eras in the school's football history is enticing to high school recruits.
What they are missing: Vanderbilt is not yet on par with other SEC schools as far as facilities. The Commodores, though, are certainly headed in the right direction. A new indoor practice facility is being constructed, and stadium renovations are in the planning stages.
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So how does the rest of the SEC stack up? Well, we have our final power rankings of the year right here:
1. Alabama (13-1, 7-1 SEC): Total domination in the championship game and three titles in four years? A load of NFL talent on both sides of the ball? Alabama had it all (again), and even with a team that didn't exactly have the same sort of defensive talent as it did a year ago, the Crimson Tide still made it to the BCS title game and came away with a commanding 42-14 victory over Notre Dame in a game that was over when the Tide arrived on South Beach. With the talent Alabama has coming back, the Tide could once again be in the national championship picture.
2. Texas A&M (11-2, 6-2 SEC): Thanks to Johnny Football, the Aggies ended the season as one of the nation's hottest teams. There are some out there who think A&M might be the best team in the country, despite its two losses. Johnny Manziel was the nation's best player and even without Kliff Kingsbury helping him on the sideline against Oklahoma, he ran all over the Sooners for a bowl-record 516 total yards in a total rout. Imagine if both of those Aggies tackles return in 2013.
3. Georgia (12-2, 7-1 SEC): The Bulldogs capped off the 2012 season with a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. It wasn't exactly the bowl the Bulldogs wanted to be in, after coming up just yards short of making it to the BCS title game in Alabama's place, but you have to admire how this team came out and won like it did. Back-to-back SEC title game appearances is nothing for this team to be ashamed of.
4. South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC): The Gamecocks had a legitimate shot at our No. 3 spot, but at the end of the day, Georgia's appearance in Atlanta, coupled with its 14-point bowl win, kept South Carolina behind the Bulldogs. Still, what a year for the Gamecocks. Behind the coaching of Steve Spurrier, South Carolina won 11 games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. The Gamecocks also beat back-to-back ranked opponents to close out the season.
5. Florida (11-2, 7-1 SEC): After entering the postseason with arguably the country's best résumé, the Gators fell flat on their faces against Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Their 10-point loss didn't show just how bad the game was for Florida. The Gators might not have wanted to be there and Florida clearly didn't show up for its first BCS bowl since 2009. But you can't discount what Florida did during the regular season. It didn't have a pretty offense, but it defeated four top-10 teams, including ACC champ Florida State in Tallahassee in a year in which the Gators weren't expected to win nine games.
6. LSU (10-3, 6-2 SEC): The Tigers had a very up-and-down year, and it ended on a very down note with that last-second loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU was totally off its offensive game in the second half, turning to the pass more than the run. With that offense struggling in the fourth quarter, LSU's defense was left huffing and puffing as Tajh Boyd & Co. gutted it for three straight scoring drives. But LSU did win double-digit games for the third straight year, and it took Alabama down to the wire and beat Johnny Football.
7. Vanderbilt (9-4, 5-3 SEC): The Commodores ended the season in historic fashion, with a seven-game winning streak (the longest since 1948), and won five conference games for the first time since 1935 and nine total games for the first time since 1915. That ninth win came in dominating fashion with a 38-24 win over NC State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. The Commodores turned into the team that no one wanted to play at the end of the season, and they carry a ton of momentum into 2013.
8. Ole Miss (7-6, 3-5 SEC): The Rebels had quite the first year under new coach Hugh Freeze. For a program that won just six games in the two previous seasons, Ole Miss grabbed seven, including its first bowl win since 2009, this year. The depth was lacking all year, but the heart wasn't, as the Rebels were much more competitive and won three SEC games after entering the season on a 14-game conference losing streak. Freeze did a tremendous job of changing the culture in Oxford, but the players did a great job of responding to adversity all season.
9. Mississippi State (8-5, 4-4 SEC): A year that started with such promise after a 7-0 start imploded and led to a lot of criticism about the talent on both sides of the ball. The second half of the season proved the first seven games were a farce. A lot of the defensive deficiencies were masked until the month of November, as the Bulldogs went 1-5 to end the year, including a blowout loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and a 34-20 loss to Northwestern in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.
10. Missouri (5-7, 2-6 SEC): The Tigers would love to forget their first season in the SEC. This was supposed to be the Big 12 team that succeeded in its first year out of its comfort zone. This team returned too much not to win a few games in the SEC East. But injuries, most notably to quarterback James Franklin and that offensive line, and an offense that was constantly going in reverse made for a rough start in Missouri's new home. Offensive coordinator David Yost resigned at the end of the year, and this team has to find some sort of rhythm/chemistry on offense in 2013.
11. Tennessee (5-7, 1-7 SEC): The Derek Dooley era ended with quite a whimper. For the second straight season, Tennessee missed out on the postseason because of a loss to one of its rivals. Last year, Kentucky ended the Vols' bowl hopes. This time around, Vandy's blowout win on Nov. 17 bounced Tennessee from a postseason appearance. For as much fun as the offense was to watch, the defense was awful for the majority of the season, finishing dead last in the SEC in total defense. New coach Butch Jones has some solid talent to work with, but a ton of questions surround this program.
12. Arkansas (4-8, 2-6 SEC): Many thought the Razorbacks' dreams of a championship season probably ended when Bobby Petrino took that infamous motorcycle ride in April. Boy, were they right. John L. Smith tried to bring some energy to the program, but he and his players fell flat in a 4-8 season that saw the Hogs give up 30 or more points in seven games. The offense lacked its usual explosion and the Hogs began the year 1-4, with a shocking loss to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock, Ark.
13. Auburn (3-9, 0-8 SEC): On paper, the Tigers had a host of young talent, but on the field, they were outmanned just about every single weekend. Auburn roamed around the bottom of most offensive and defensive categories in the SEC all season long. Coach Gene Chizik was fired only two years removed from winning a national title after going winless in conference play and being outscored 129-21 in his final three SEC games, including a 38-0 loss to Georgia and a 49-0 loss to Alabama in the season finale.
14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC): Outside of blowing out a Kent State team that was a win away from making a BCS bowl, nothing went right for the Wildcats this year. Injuries ravaged this team, as it had to turn to two true freshman quarterbacks and never found a consistent playmaker to help out on offense. The offense hovered around the bottom of the SEC all year and the defense surrendered 31 points per game, and coach Joker Phillips was fired before the season even ended.
1. Alabama (12-1; last week: 1): No, Alabama wasn't perfect in its 32-28 victory against Georgia in the SEC title game, but talk about resolve. This team trailed by 11 in the second half, but fought back with a punishing running game and just wore down one of the most talented defenses around to throw itself into the Discover BCS National Championship against Notre Dame. The Crimson Tide will now play for their second national championship in a row, and third in four years.
2. Florida (11-1; LW: 3): The Gators didn't win their division and weren't in Atlanta, but it's hard to find a team with a better résumé. Florida finished the season with four wins against teams currently ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings. Three of them are in the top 10. Florida is headed to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009. The Gators will face Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Here we are again talking about another potential national championship for the SEC.
Weren’t we having this same conversation last year, the year before that and the year before that?
In fact, does anybody really remember the last time we weren’t having this conversation?
The BCS Championship Game festivities will again include an SEC team this season, and once again, it’s Alabama carrying the banner for the league.
If you think everybody else in college football is tired of seeing the SEC win all the time, try taking the temperature of fans in Baton Rouge, La., or Athens, Ga., or Auburn, Ala., over how tired they are of seeing Alabama win all the time.
The Crimson Tide will be chasing history Jan. 7 in the Discover BCS National Championship game against Notre Dame when they go after their third national title in the past four years. The last team to win three outright national titles in a four-year span was Notre Dame in 1946, 1947 and 1949.
An Alabama victory in Miami would mark the seventh consecutive national championship for the SEC, which might have been as balanced and strong across the board this season as any of the seasons during its national championship run.
The final BCS standings looked more like the SEC standings. Six of the top 10 teams were from the SEC, and all six won at least 10 games.
And talk about beating up on each other.
Texas A&M, in its first season in the SEC, waltzed into Bryant-Denny Stadium and upset Alabama 29-24 with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Georgia lost by four touchdowns to South Carolina back in October, but rebounded to make its second consecutive appearance in the SEC championship game. It wasn’t until the final play that Alabama’s 32-28 win over Georgia was decided last weekend in Atlanta.
Florida is headed back to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009 thanks to a transformation in Will Muschamp’s second season that saw the Gators go from being soft at times in 2011 to one of the most physical teams in the league this season. Florida will meet Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl after collecting four victories over teams that finished in the top 12 of the final BCS standings.
Steve Spurrier has South Carolina poised to win 11 games for the second straight season. It wasn’t until a year ago that the Gamecocks had ever won 11 games in a season.
The Aggies, who lost close games to Florida and LSU during the first part of the season, showed no signs of stage fright during their first season in the SEC.
So much for Kevin Sumlin’s up-tempo, spread offense not being able to cut it in the SEC. The Aggies led the conference in just about every offensive category and scored 29 or more points in six of their eight league games.
It wasn’t just the old guard that made waves this season.
Ole Miss began the season shouldering a 14-game SEC losing streak, but first-year coach Hugh Freeze guided the Rebels to a bowl game, and probably more importantly, pinned a 41-24 whipping on rival Mississippi State in the regular-season finale.
The SEC has historically chewed up and spit out coaches, and this season was no exception.
Arkansas’ John L. Smith, Auburn’s Gene Chizik, Kentucky’s Joker Phillips and Tennessee’s Derek Dooley were all sent packing. In Chizik’s case, his ouster came just two years removed from winning a national championship, but the Tigers crashed this season with their first 0-8 SEC finish in school history.
It was also another gut-wrenching season for South Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a gruesome-looking knee injury in the Tennessee game and was lost for the season. He was already coming off a torn ACL in his other knee the season before.
On a more positive note, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be in New York this weekend and has a great chance to become the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy.
Johnny Football may well become Johnny Heisman.
Offensive MVP: Manziel. While Manziel is admittedly a big video-game buff, his numbers this season weren’t from a video game. They just looked that way. He broke Cam Newton’s SEC record for total offense in a season and cranked out 4,600 yards while accounting for 43 touchdowns. He also saved his best game for the biggest stage by rolling up 345 yards in total offense against No. 1 Alabama in the Aggies’ 29-24 win.
Defensive MVP: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. This was an extremely tough call, and in any other year, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones and Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore would be runaway winners. But Clowney was the most explosive game-changer in the league this season defensively. He leads the SEC with 13 sacks and is second with 21.5 tackles for loss. Easily one of the best pass-rushers in college football, Clowney became a much more complete player this season as a sophomore.
Newcomer of the Year: Manziel. He was a redshirt freshman by classification, but played liked a seasoned veteran. One of the most impressive things about Manziel is that he learned from earlier losses against Florida and LSU, when he didn’t play as well, then proceeded to carve everybody apart down the stretch. He’s the first freshman in FBS history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. The award for the top true freshman goes to Georgia running back Todd Gurley, who leads the SEC with 1,260 rushing yards.
Biggest surprise: Ole Miss. Florida certainly deserves mention here. Not many people had the Gators winning 11 games and going to a BCS bowl back in August, which is a tribute to Muschamp and his staff. But nobody had the Rebels getting to a bowl game in Freeze’s first season. They’d lost 14 straight SEC games when he arrived. Not only that, but they were way down in scholarship numbers and forced to play a ton of first-year players. They scrapped their way to six wins, and it could have easily been eight or nine wins if they could have held on to a few fourth-quarter leads.
Biggest disappointment: Arkansas. The Hogs went from No. 8 in the country and talking about a national championship in the preseason to sitting at home for the postseason. It was a disaster from the outset, and the team simply didn’t respond to Smith, who stepped in during the spring as interim coach after Bobby Petrino was fired. The Hogs finished 4-8 (2-6 in the SEC). They lost to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock the second week of the season, and it was all downhill from there.
Best game: Alabama 32, Georgia 28, Dec. 1, SEC championship game. The previous few SEC championship games had been blowouts, but this one went down to the final play when the clock ran out on the Bulldogs after Aaron Murray’s tipped pass was caught by Chris Conley at the Alabama 5. Georgia, which led 21-10 midway through the third quarter, drove from its own 15 with 68 seconds to play and no timeouts. But when Conley gathered in the deflected pass and was tackled inbounds, the Bulldogs had no way to stop the clock. Alabama rushed for an SEC championship game-record 350 yards, as the Crimson Tide’s offensive line took matters into its own hands in the second half.
1. Alabama (10-1; last week: 1): The Tide didn't have much competition lining up opposition over the weekend, but Alabama took care of business in dominating fashion. Then the team watched as Kansas State and Oregon lost, propelling the Tide back into the BCS title game hunt. Beat Auburn and Georgia, and Alabama is headed back to the national championship. Well played, Nick Saban.
2. Georgia (10-1; LW: 2): Georgia Southern and its triple-option offense really wasn't much of a threat to the Bulldogs, who are right in the thick of the national championship picture. Georgia is playing its best football of the year and it couldn't have come at a better time. A win over Georgia Tech this weekend, and the Bulldogs will be playing for a national championship berth when they face Alabama in the SEC championship game. Remember when all those Georgia "fans" were calling for Mark Richt's job? Yeah, you can sit down now.
3. Florida (10-1; LW: 3): The Gators don't win pretty, but somehow they are 10-1. Two FCS foes really challenged the Gators, but what's even crazier is that with a win over Florida State this weekend, Florida will be headed to a BCS bowl game and if Notre Dame loses, the Gators could be headed to the national championship. The Gators are where they are thanks to a fabulous defense and tremendous special teams. But if Florida wants to have a chance against the Noles, the offense has to be much, much better and it will really help if quarterback Jeff Driskel can come back healthy this week.
4. Texas A&M (9-2; LW: 4): Even without a bye week, the Aggies haven't lost any steam. The offense rolled over Sam Houston State on Saturday and now A&M takes on a banged-up Missouri team that is coming off of a very tough home loss to Syracuse. Johnny Manziel is now at the top of the Heisman charts and the Aggies really are playing for a chance to go to a BCS bowl game. This is the hottest team in the country.
5. LSU (9-2; LW: 5): If you haven't seen Les Miles' meltdown from the weekend, I highly recommend that you do. His team really doesn't look like it has any flops on it right now. The Tigers had a very close game with Ole Miss over the weekend, but that game always seems to be competitive. The offense has picked up in the past few weeks and while the defense stumbled some against the Rebels, it's still one of the best around. Like the teams in front of it in the power rankings, LSU is a win away from being in consideration for a BCS bowl game. If the Sugar Bowl is available, it'll be tough to keep the Tigers out of New Orleans.
6. South Carolina (9-2; LW: 6): Quietly, the Gamecocks have reached nine wins. South Carolina had early troubles with Wofford, which threw the ball only three times Saturday. But Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks have struggled against Wofford in the past. South Carolina was without star Jadeveon Clowney (sprained foot), but he should be back for the Clemson game this week. Don't be surprised if the Gamecocks were looking ahead a little bit to the Tigers. South Carolina is looking for its fourth straight win against archrival Clemson.
7. Vanderbilt (7-4; LW: 7): With a 41-18 drubbing of Tennessee, the Commodores have now won five straight games and have seven wins for the first time since 2007. One more win and Vandy will have eight for the first time since 1982. James Franklin has proved to be the real deal for the Commodores. This team is getting it done in all phases of the game and completely dismantled Tennessee in the second half Saturday. Wake Forest is in need of a win to become bowl eligible, but the Commodores roll in with a load of momentum.
8. Mississippi State (8-3; LW: 8): The Bulldogs regained some of the swagger they lost with three straight blowout losses in SEC play. Now, Arkansas has fallen on some real hard times in Fayetteville, but this was a win that Mississippi State absolutely had to have and it's a performance the Bulldogs needed as well. Mississippi State played arguably its most complete game of the season and quarterback Tyler Russell was about as efficient as ever. When this offense is clicking it's very hard to stop and it heads into the Egg Bowl with its confidence back.
9. Ole Miss (5-6; LW: 9): What an effort by the Rebels down in Baton Rouge. Ole Miss took LSU right down to the wire and became the first team to put up 30-plus points on LSU's defense. Ole Miss' 463 offensive yards are the most the Tigers have given up all season. But when the Rebels needed their defense to stand tall at the end of the game, it just couldn't stop LSU from finding the end zone and putting the game away. This makes three straight very tough losses for the Rebels, who still need one more win to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2009. And they get a much more confident Mississippi State team Saturday at home.
10. Missouri (5-6; LW: 10): How the Tigers couldn't figure out a way to keep the ball away from Syracuse wide receiver Alec Lemon on the Orange's game-winning drive is beyond me. He abused Missouri's defense all night and then somehow was wide-open for Syracuse's game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds left. Mizzou blew an early 14-3 lead and might have blown its bowl chances with the Aggies next on the schedule. The Tigers had to have that win over Syracuse and will now need to contain Johnny Football in order to make it to the postseason. Quarterback James Franklin was banged up again over the weekend, so the Tigers will yet again be monitoring his health this week.
11. Arkansas (4-7; LW: 11): The Hogs' long nightmare of a season is almost over. With the loss to Mississippi State, Arkansas lost its bowl hopes and will play its final game of the 2012 season at home against LSU. We saw some fight from the Hogs down the stretch after a horrible September, but this team was playing catch-up all season. Now, the program can turn its attention to finding a new head coach and starting fresh. No one in Fayetteville is happy about how the season will end, but they have to be relieved to get to the next chapter.
12. Tennessee (4-7; LW: 12): It was only a matter of time before Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart dismissed Derek Dooley, and there was no escaping it after the Vols were embarrassed by Vanderbilt. This was Dooley's most talented team, but it was probably his most disappointing season. The Vols are 0-7 in league play and own the SEC's worst defense. The writing might have been on the wall when all of those assistants left before spring practice. Like Arkansas, Tennessee's fan base has to be ready to get to the next stage of this program's life.
13. Auburn (3-8; LW: 13): Well, the Tigers left the Plains winners. It wasn't against a very challenging opponent, but at least the seniors could smile on senior day after such an ugly season that probably won't bring the Tigers a conference win. Now, Auburn will have to deal with all of the talk surrounding Gene Chizik and his future with the program. This is the fourth time Auburn has gone 0-7 in league play and it's overshadowing Chizik's national championship season in 2010. Auburn has one last chance of getting a conference win. Unfortunately, it will have to come against Alabama.
14. Kentucky (2-9; LW: 14): Like Auburn, the Wildcats left their home stadium with a win. Joker Phillips has one last game as Kentucky's head coach, but he'll finish his time in Lexington with a win on senior day, and you know that had to mean a lot to him. Kentucky has resembled an infirmary this fall with all the injuries, but the youngsters who came on in relief duty just weren't getting better week in and week out. The Wildcats, who are at the bottom of the SEC in major offensive and defensive categories, will end the season at Tennessee.
Saturday, 7 p.m.
Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky.
Records: Georgia 5-1 (3-1 SEC), Kentucky 1-6 (0-4)
Last week: Georgia was idle, Kentucky lost 49-7 to Arkansas
1. Pressuring the quarterback: Georgia simply has not done a good enough job of rushing the passer, but that will be a primary objective on Saturday against the Wildcats’ freshman starter, Jalen Whitlow. He’ll be starting for just the third time, having gone 12-for-31 for 156 yards in his first two starts.
2. Returning to form on offense: Count on Georgia working hard to re-establish the running game that faltered against South Carolina when offensive coordinator Mike Bobo opted to lean on the passing game when the Bulldogs fell behind 21-0 early. Freshmen Todd Gurley (81-575, 9 TDs) and Keith Marshall (64-465, 5 TDs) should get a steady diet of touches against Kentucky.
3. Injuries a factor: Not only as Kentucky been devastated by injuries on offense -- Whitlow is the third quarterback to start a game and three different tailbacks have also started because of injuries -- and its defense has been just as bad. The Wildcats started three freshmen in the secondary last week and should start either two or three on the back end against Georgia depending whether previously injured players can return. The Bulldogs also have a major injury question in Jarvis Jones, who had not practiced as of Wednesday since suffering a sprained ankle against South Carolina on Oct. 6.
The 11th-ranked Bulldogs (5-1, 3-1 SEC) -- four-touchdown favorites over the Wildcats (1-6, 0-4) -- have been double-digit favorites against Kentucky several times in the last six seasons and haven’t always won comfortably. Take last season for example, when 30.5-point favorite Georgia trailed for most of the first half before squeaking by with a 19-10 win that clinched the SEC East title.
The injury-depleted Wildcats are once again big underdogs on Saturday, but Georgia is no certainty itself after a flat performance in its last game out -- a 35-7 loss to South Carolina two weekends ago.
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1. Alabama (5-0; LW: 1): The Tide was off last week, so it didn't have a chance to widen its lead on the SEC and the rest of the country. The last thing Alabama's upcoming opponents want is a rested Tide team. I can only imagine the extra work Nick Saban put his team through in order to clean up all those little things.
2. South Carolina (6-0; LW: 4): The Gamecocks completely dominated Georgia over the weekend. South Carolina's offense is extremely balanced and looks like it can just jump on Marcus Lattimore's shoulders at this point. He's just getting stronger and stronger. The defense is smothering up front and stopping that defensive line has been a nightmare for teams. But road games at LSU and Florida will be tough.
3. Florida (5-0; LW: 5): The Gators might not have the most exciting offense, but that defense is tremendous. Florida put a load of pressure on LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger over the weekend and clobbered the Tigers' running game. Behind Mike Gillislee, the Gators pounded LSU with their running game, but the passing game is still a concern. If Florida can get more through the air, this offense could start to really give defenses fits.
4. LSU (5-1; LW: 2): It's obvious that the Tigers can't put everything on their defense. Even with how talented LSU is on the defensive side of the ball, the offense needs major work, especially in the passing game. Mettenberger hasn't come close to living up to the hype and just doesn't look comfortable standing in LSU's pocket. The running game was one of the SEC's best, but was quieted against Florida because there just wasn't the threat to pass. No offensive balance could doom this team.
5. Georgia (5-1; LW: 3): The concern about the defense continues to grow after the Bulldogs' 28-point loss to the Gamecocks. USC was intent on running and Georgia couldn't do anything to stop it, allowing 232 rushing yards. Jarvis Jones has been a non-factor for the past two weeks and Aaron Murray's big-game struggles came right back in Columbia, S.C. The good news is the Bulldogs have the SEC East's easiest schedule from here on out.
6. Mississippi State (5-0; LW: 6): These Bulldogs weren't flashy, but they were very efficient against Kentucky. Tyler Russell is one of seven FBS quarterbacks with 10-plus passing touchdowns and fewer than two interceptions this season, while LaDarius Perkins is the only player in the SEC to be in the top two in rushing yards per game (99.8) and all-purpose yards per game (130.0). That defense has been pretty stout as well, as the Bulldogs have trailed for just 10:19 this season.
7. Texas A&M (4-1; LW: 7): Johnny Manziel grabbed hero status in Oxford, Miss., over the weekend. The redshirt freshman quarterback led the Aggies to 13 straight points in the fourth quarter, after trailing Ole Miss by 10. He had a nifty 29-yard touchdown run to trim the Rebels' lead to four and then found Ryan Swope for the game-winning 20-yard touchdown pass with 1:46 remaining. What's more impressive is the Aggies got the win despite committing six turnovers.
8. Tennessee (3-2; LW: 8): The Vols were off, but have a very important matchup with Mississippi State this weekend. We finally saw good balance out of the Vols against an SEC opponent in their shootout loss to Georgia two weeks ago, but most of the extra time Tennessee had better have been devoted to doing something about that defense. The Vols are 13th in the SEC in total defense (425.8 yards per game), and that just won't cut it if Tennessee is going to make any sort of second-half run.
9. Vanderbilt (2-3; LW: 12): The Commodores got a big win on the road at Missouri. Like prior games, Vandy wasn't great when it had the ball, but it played tough for four quarters and outlasted a banged-up Mizzou team. The defense really has been impressive for most of the season, but the Commodores have to get more out of the offense.
10. Ole Miss (3-3; LW: 10): After a heartbreaking loss to the Aggies, Ole Miss now has lost 16 straight SEC games. Blowing that 10-point lead in the fourth quarter probably will haunt this team all week. There's no doubt the Rebels can move the ball, but costly turnovers have doomed this offense. The defense has made strides since last season, but there's still too much break in this unit.
11. Arkansas (2-4; LW: 13): Just when you think the Hogs are done, they find some strength and walk out of Auburn with a huge win over the struggling Tigers. Auburn has had a plethora of issues this season, but from a mental aspect, this was a big win for Arkansas' team. The Razorbacks aren't totally out of the bowl hunt now, but there's still a lot of ground for this team to make up. Finally holding an offense in check, forcing five turnovers and getting eight sacks is a good start.
12. Missouri (3-3; LW: 9): This has not been the SEC welcome the Tigers expected. Mizzou has been banged up all year and pushed around by its SEC counterparts. James Franklin is out for a few weeks with a knee sprain. Corbin Berkstresser is now the starting quarterback, and he'd better get over his rough performance against Vandy, where he hit only 9 of his 30 passes. Things just get harder, as the Tigers host No. 1 Alabama Saturday.
13. Auburn (1-4; LW: 11): Things just aren't working on the Plains. With an extra week to prepare for the SEC's worst defense, the Tigers mustered only 321 yards of offense against Arkansas and found the end zone once. Kiehl Frazier was benched for Clint Moseley at quarterback, but two fourth-quarter interceptions doomed Auburn. The offense just has too many issues right now, and the Tigers might have lost their chance at a postseason berth with Saturday's no-show.
14. Kentucky (1-5; LW: 14): Injuries have crippled this team and things just aren't getting any better for the Wildcats. Kentucky was forced to play two freshmen at quarterback, and lost one (Patrick Towles) to an ankle injury, against Mississippi State. The Wildcats already were working without their starting running back. Things continue to heat up around Joker Phillips, whose team is hovering around the bottom of the SEC in most offensive and defensive categories.
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.
6. Mississippi State (4-0; LW: 6): The Bulldogs were on their bye over the weekend. Quietly, the Bulldogs have had a very impressive start to the season. Their past two games should have been won by bigger margins, but this team is still undefeated and has the potential to be a 6-1 or 7-0 team heading into the last weekend of the month. On the season, only five teams have trailed for less time than Mississippi State.
7. Texas A&M (3-1; LW: 8): The Aggies just keep pounding away on offense. Johnny Manziel and his crew walked all over Arkansas' defense, racking up 716 yards of offense and 58 points in their blowout win against the reeling Razorbacks. We know that Texas A&M can score points and generate a lot of yards, but we saw a little too much bend out of A&M's defense against the Hogs, as they surrendered 515 yards to Arkansas.
8. Tennessee (3-2; LW: 7): We saw a lot more fight out of Tennessee when Georgia went up 17 in the second quarter. The Vols had a couple of real chances to win in Athens, Ga., over the weekend, but late turnovers doomed them. Cue the questions surrounding Tyler Bray in big games. The defense looked overwhelmed and lost at times, but this team can take solace in one thing: It appears Tennessee has found a real SEC running back in Rajion Neal.
9. Missouri (3-2; LW: 9): James Franklin was better throwing the ball on Saturday, but this team has some offensive issues. The Tigers converted just 1 of 11 third downs and were outgained 395-346 against UCF on Saturday. Kendial Lawrence rushed for 104 yards, but Mizzou finished the day with a total of 89 rushing yards, thanks to Franklin's minus-18 yards on the ground. There are just too many athletes on this offense for the Tigers not to be explosive. Right now, they are hurting to find consistent firepower.
10. Ole Miss (3-2; LW: 10): Yes, the Rebels lost, but it's clear this team is more invested and tougher than the past two teams Ole Miss has thrown out there. The Rebels gave Alabama a little bit of a challenge and made it to the end zone twice against Alabama's vaunted defense. This team has to clean up a lot on defense, but that offense has the ability to carry this team to a few more wins this season ... maybe even a bowl berth.
11. Auburn (1-3; LW: 11): The good news for the Tigers is that they got to rest this weekend. The hope is that Auburn's defense takes the momentum it gained from its performance against LSU into this weekend's key game against Arkansas. Arkansas can move the ball, and Auburn's defense struggled mightily for most of September. This is a must-win for both teams and with the way Arkansas' defense has played, Auburn has to feel more comfortable with what its struggling offense can do.
12. Vanderbilt (1-3; LW: 13): The Commodores were off as well, and extra time had to be devoted to tweaking some of the offense. Vandy enters its game at Missouri with the SEC's No. 11 offense and we haven't seen the kind of explosion we saw last year. It doesn't help that there's a quarterback controversy in Nashville. Despite what happened in the Georgia game, the Commodores still own one of the league's top defensive units and provide a tough matchup for Missouri this weekend.
13. Arkansas (1-4; LW: 12): Things just get worse and worse for the Razorbacks. If Tyler Wilson thought his team quit against Alabama, you have to wonder how he feels after the way his Hogs were run out of College Station, Texas, over the weekend. That defense is dreadful and this team is just lost. The offense put up a lot of yards against Texas A&M, but couldn't finish drives and never developed any consistency running the ball. Losing to Auburn this weekend would pretty much end any ounce of hope for a bowl game this year.
14. Kentucky (1-4; LW: 14): For two quarters, Kentucky was on top of the world. Then, things fell apart, and South Carolina scored 31 straight points on the Wildcats. Things just aren't clicking for the Wildcats, and quarterback Maxwell Smith is injured again. This time, he has an ankle injury. This offense just can't do much unless he's in, and he can't stay healthy. The defense has to get tougher, as well. Joker Phillips' hot seat in Kentucky isn't cooling off one bit.
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.
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.
It is apparent that the fans in Knoxville are dissatisfied after the team missed out on the SEC championship game through four straight years -- the Vols' longest drought since 1992-96, when Florida went to each of the first five league title games. The Vols have given no indication that they are ready to contend for an SEC East title, so their drought is likely to reach five this fall.
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- Two major areas new offensive coordinator Brent Pease needs to hit during his first offseason with the Gators is running back and wide receiver. Florida must find a downhill running back for Pease's offense, and a reliable go-to wide receiver -- two things Florida lacked in 2011.
- With quarterback John Brantley graduating, Pease must find a new starting quarterback. That means developing rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel, who struggled in relief of Brantley at times last season, and Tyler Murphy, who has yet to take a snap.
- Toughen up mentally and physically. The Gators ranked 89th nationally in penalties, and were called out by coach Will Muschamp as being too soft in his first season. Soft can't win in the SEC.
- The Bulldogs' coaching staff needs to toughen running back Isaiah Crowell up. As the season went on he visited Georgia's training table more than the end zone in games. He was even booed by Georgia fans when he limped off the Georgia Dome field in the SEC title game. The Bulldogs were inconsistent running the ball because their lead back was always nicked up.
- Getting the offensive line ready will be key to 2012. The Bulldogs will have to replace three seniors on that line, including All-SEC performers Cordy Glenn and Ben Jones.
New ESPN 300 Top 10 Revealed
TBD Boise State Ole Miss TBD Temple Vanderbilt TBD Texas A&M South Carolina
TBD Arkansas Auburn TBD Idaho Florida TBD Clemson Georgia TBD Tennessee-Martin Kentucky TBD South Dakota State Missouri TBD LSU Wisconsin TBD West Virginia Alabama TBD Southern Miss Mississippi State