Georgia Bulldogs: Nick Saban
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Let’s face it. Nobody ever has a bad signing class.
Can you imagine a coach standing up at his post-signing day news conference and proclaiming that that particular class simply didn’t measure up?
However, according to the ESPN Recruiting team, none of the 14 SEC schools finished with lower than a B- this year. Not only that, but seven schools received an A or A-.
So, somebody’s doing something right in this league.
Here’s a look back at a few superlatives from signing day:
But it is not to his mother, Adama Kamara, who had Saban in her den on Wednesday night.
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2. The SEC's dominance is still being challenged: Even though Alabama brought home the SEC's seventh straight BCS title, the SEC's perception is still being challenged. Social media has been buzzing with chants of "overrated" directed toward the SEC because Mississippi State, LSU and Florida all fell flat in their bowl games. Mississippi State lost by 14 to Northwestern, LSU lost to Clemson on a last-second field goal and Florida was run ragged by Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Heading into bowl season, Florida and LSU weren't expected to lose, but they got away from their ground games and paid for it dearly. Still, the SEC went 6-3 (.667) in bowl games, including Texas A&M's 41-13 rout of Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and Georgia and South Carolina downing Big Ten teams. Only the WAC (2-0) and C-USA (4-1) had better winning percentages, and neither had nearly as many bowl teams. So is the SEC down? Well, while the SEC took a couple of bad losses in bowl season, seven teams finished the year in the Associated Press Top 25, including five in the top 10. The Big Ten and Big 12 had losing bowl records, the Pac-12 went 4-4 and the ACC was 4-2. So, if the SEC is overrated, what are the other conferences?
3. Florida's offensive issues are still a major problem: All season, we wondered what we'd see from Florida's offense. However, for 11 games, even if the offense came up short, the Gators found ways to win. Against Louisville, the Gators went in reverse and never got right again. Jeff Driskel threw a pick-six on the first possession, and the offense imploded from there. Mike Gillislee, who was easily Florida's best offensive weapon, carried the ball just nine times. The Gators panicked, but when they had to pass, they couldn't.
This has to be a major concern for the Gators going forward, because Gillislee is graduating and tight end Jordan Reed declared for the NFL draft. Driskel has to find some major help in the passing game this spring/summer, or Florida's offense will get pummeled again. Driskel's health is now a major concern because backup Jacoby Brissett is transferring, leaving the Gators with no experience behind Driskel.
4. More eyes will be on Ole Miss ... and Vanderbilt: Before the season, no one gave Ole Miss a chance at the postseason -- or even five wins -- but the Rebels went out and had a tremendous first year under Hugh Freeze. If not for a couple of horrendous second halves, the Rebels might have won eight games during the regular season. After a dominating performance in their BBVA Compass Bowl win against Pittsburgh, the Rebels could be looking at a spot in preseason Top 25 polls. Most of this team, including what could be a stellar recruiting class, will be in Oxford next fall, so expectations will be much higher.
The same can be said about James Franklin's Vanderbilt Commodores. After a historic nine-win season that ended with a commanding bowl win over NC State, the Commodores will be expected to keep up this act after being even better in Year 2 of the Franklin era. Vandy will lose some talent up front defensively, and Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy will be gone, but a host of playmakers will return, including receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd.
5. Johnny Football's legend just keeps growing: After Texas A&M lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury to Texas Tech, Johnny Manziel's field maturity was really going to be judged in the AT&T Cotton Bowl against the Sooners. Well, all he did without one of his best mentors was set a bowl record for total yards (516) in the Aggies' rout inside Jerry's World. Manziel zigged and zagged as though Kingsbury was feeding him info through an earpiece. People don't understand how much Kingsbury helped Manziel with his composure during games, but Manziel did just fine without him. It shows how much he's grown during his Heisman year. Things will be different next season with some key players also missing on offense, but to see Manziel play like that without Kingsbury has to be very encouraging for Kevin Sumlin and the rest of the Aggies' coaching staff.
Well, Nick Saban and his gang of future NFL ballers proved to us once again that it is indeed Alabama's world, after claiming their second consecutive national title and third in four years Monday night. That ringing in your ears is just the sound of "Roll Tide" being repeated over and over in your head. I've learned there's nothing we can do about it.
But will 2013 bring college football a team that can really stop the Tide? I mean, REALLY stop Alabama from winning a third straight national championship? Well, ESPN's Mark Schlabach seems to believe that the road to Pasadena is paved in crimson and white, as he has Alabama No. 1 in his Way-Too-Early-Top 25 for 2013.
It's hard to blame him at this point. Sure, Alabama's offensive line won't be nearly as good with Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack leaving. And it will take even more of a hit if/when D.J. Fluker decides to turn pro. But with quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon (we're assuming Eddie Lacy and his sweet spin move are headed to the NFL), wide receiver Amari Cooper and a host of studs on the defense returning, Alabama will again be the team to beat.
But there are some quality teams in the SEC that will fight to dethrone Alabama, and Schlabach has four in his top 10. Texas A&M, which returns the Heisman-winning Johnny Football, ranks fifth, Georgia is sixth, South Carolina is seventh and Florida is 10th. The thing about all those teams is that they all return their starting quarterbacks, with Georgia's Aaron Murray being one of the best in the country alongside Johnny Manziel.
South Carolina will be one of the more balanced teams in the SEC next fall, and if Florida can actually find a passing game in 2013, watch out because that defense will still be fierce, even with a few junior defections.
LSU, checking in at No. 13, is the only other SEC team in Schlabach's top 25. The Tigers are expected to have a better offense, especially with Zach Mettenberger finally finding his comfort zone under center, but a poor offensive showing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl defeat to Clemson and the loss of junior running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware create an uneasy feeling around the offense. Plus, the defense just took a beating as a result of juniors departing for the NFL, especially up front. All-American punter Brad Wing also left.
The good news for LSU is that running back Jeremy Hill is returning, and he'll only be a sophomore.
It's a good list to start off with, but where in the world is Vanderbilt? The Commodores are coming off of a historic season in Nashville. There were nine wins that included a bowl victory, five conference wins and a seven-game winning streak. The quarterback and running back spots might be up for grabs, but Jordan Matthews is coming back, along with fellow receiver Chris Boyd. And most of the rest of the offense remains intact.
There was room for Vandy in there somewhere ...
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.
Can the SEC better that mark this season? We’ll start to find out Dec. 31 when Vanderbilt takes on NC State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
Here’s a look at the best-case/worst-case scenarios for all nine SEC teams this bowl season:
Best case: The stakes are once again sky-high for the Crimson Tide. With a win over Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship, they claim their third outright national title in the past four years, which hasn’t been done since Notre Dame’s run in the 1940s.
Worst case: The Irish clamp down on the Tide defensively, and Alabama simply can’t move the ball in a loss that snaps the SEC’s streak of national championships at six in a row.
Best case: The Gators win their first BCS bowl game since 2009 with a blowout win over Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and head into next season as perhaps the team to beat in the SEC.
Worst case: Some of the same offensive problems that plagued the Gators throughout the season flare up again, and they suffer the humiliation of losing to a Big East team.
Best case: A win against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl gives the Bulldogs their first 12-win season since 2002 when they won 13 and helps ease the pain from their gut-wrenching 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game.
Worst case: The Bulldogs suffer from a serious hangover after their SEC championship game loss and, for the second straight year, end the season with back-to-back losses.
Best case: Quarterback Zach Mettenberger continues his hot streak to end the season, and LSU blows past Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to win 11 games -- the sixth time in eight seasons that Les Miles would have won at least 11 games.
Worst case: LSU gives up too many big plays on defense and simply can’t stop Clemson’s high-powered offense in a loss that dampens an otherwise solid season.
Best case: The Bulldogs shore up their holes on defense and take down Northwestern in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl to win nine games for the second time in three years.
Worst case: Picking up where they left off in their disappointing loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, the Bulldogs suffer their fifth loss in six games to put an ugly bow on a season that started with so much promise.
Best case: Hugh Freeze caps a terrific first season in Oxford with Ole Miss’ first winning record since 2009 and a bowl victory over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. The ghosts of that 16-game SEC losing streak are purged forever.
Worst case: Despite all the progress in Year 1 under Freeze, the Rebels can’t finish the game and lose another close one in the fourth quarter, ensuring their third straight losing season.
Best case: The Gamecocks close the season with their fifth straight win to get to 11 wins for the second straight year thanks to a sack-filled victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
Worst case: The bowl plague returns, and South Carolina goes back to its wretched postseason ways of the past, losing its fourth bowl game in the past five years.
Best case: The Aggies complete a dream first season in the SEC by beating up old Big 12 foe Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl to win their 11th game and send a final resounding message that they’re going to be a serious player in the SEC.
Worst case: After all the Johnny Football hype that goes along with winning the Heisman Trophy, Johnny Manziel finally plays like a redshirt freshman. The Aggies can’t stop the Sooners in a disappointing season-ending loss in Cowboys Stadium.
Best case: In just two seasons, James Franklin guides the Commodores to their first nine-win season since 1915 with a win against NC State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl -- Vanderbilt's third bowl win.
Worst case: After six straight wins to close the regular season, the Commodores can't get it back against the Wolfpack after the layoff and squander their chance to get their only win of the season over a team that finished the regular season with a winning record.
SEC drama: It doesn’t get much better than Alabama’s 32-28 win over Georgia last Saturday in the SEC championship game. And, really, the league needed a good game after duds each of the past two years. Both teams showed a lot of moxie and a lot of resolve, and the battle on the line of scrimmage epitomized what SEC football is all about. The interest around the country was already massive. The winner earned the right to play in the Discover BCS National Championship Game. But with the game coming down to the final play, it made for the kind of drama that brings the most reserved fan to the edge of his seat. It’s the first time since the 2008 SEC championship game when Florida played a flawless fourth quarter to outlast Alabama that the game was decided in the final quarter. Tickets certainly weren’t cheap. But if you paid $600 or $700 a pop, at least you got your money’s worth.
Notre Dame’s chances: Notre Dame might be unbeaten and ranked No. 1. But already, the prevailing sentiment in and around college football is that the Irish don’t stand much of a chance against Alabama. The Crimson Tide are favored by more than 10 points in some quarters. Think Brian Kelly loves being such a decided underdog when his team hasn’t lost a game this season? You bet he does.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin: He has done wonders for the Commodores’ program and has become a coaching commodity. Keeping him in Nashville long term will be difficult, but Vanderbilt has stepped up to the plate with a new deal for Franklin that will pay him more than $3 million per year and guarantee in writing upgrades to Vanderbilt Stadium and the football complex.
Georgia’s record in big games: Mark Richt was peeved at the question and understandably so. His team had just lost on the last play of the game and showed a lot of heart in driving right back down the field in that last minute and knocking on the door of Alabama’s end zone. But the fact is that Georgia hasn’t won a lot of marquee games over the past few years. The Bulldogs have lost nine of their past 12 games against nationally ranked opponents.
Alabama center Barrett Jones: The whole Alabama offensive line deserves some serious props. But for Jones to play most of that game essentially on one leg after injuring his foot in the first quarter -- and play the way he did against Georgia’s touted interior personnel -- tells you all you need to know about Jones and his deep sense of team. You win with great players in the SEC, but you also win with great people.
Coach search candor: With three SEC schools -- Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee -- still looking for head coaches, we’re reminded that the one true gospel as it relates to coach searches is that nobody ever tells the complete truth. The only thing more prevalent than the untruths floating around out there is the misinformation. No coach ever interviews for a job. No athletic director ever gets turned down by a coach. No agent ever leverages one school against another.
Georgia’s run defense: What Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo said prior to the SEC championship game was probably accurate. He went on ESPN Radio and said Georgia was more talented than Alabama. “We have better players at each position, across the board, especially on defense,” Rambo said. And when the NFL draft rolls around the next two years, he probably will be proved correct. But talent only matters when you play up to that talent, and the Bulldogs might as well have been playing with walk-ons Saturday when it came to stopping the run. Alabama lined up and hit Georgia in the mouth over and over again, and the Bulldogs wanted no part of it. The Crimson Tide finished with an SEC championship game-record 350 rushing yards. On one drive in the second half, they ran the same play five straight times. It was a total mismatch, and there’s no way it should have been. Echoing what Rambo said last week, there are probably six players on that Georgia defense who will play in the NFL. And, sure, Alabama is outstanding on the offensive line with its own collection of future NFL players, but there’s no excuse for getting pummeled the way the Bulldogs did in their run defense.
Two players barely a year out of high school football would decide the fate of Alabama’s 2012 season.
Boy did it pay off.
“Two big plays by freshmen there,” senior center Barrett Jones said.
Big doesn’t even begin to describe them. You need more hyperbole for this one, like mammoth or gargantuan.
The first play came on third-and-5 at the 50-yard line. Georgia held a 28-25 lead, and it appeared that the Tide were squandering their great field position. With about four minutes remaining, quarterback AJ McCarron stuck the ball in T.J. Yeldon’s gut, and the frosh cut to the right side and barreled his way past the first-down marker.
It was a play everyone inside the Georgia Dome or plastered to a TV set knew was coming.
Yet Georgia’s defense, which had been giving up rushing yards like men give up beads at Mardi Gras, couldn’t stop the force that was Yeldon.
“He went out there and just ran people over,” offensive lineman D.J. Fluker said of the 6-foot-2, 216-pounder. “You can’t find that too often.”
It was a simple post play to the left side, where it’s better if Amari Cooper releases on the inside. He cut outside and stopped momentarily as he looked for McCarron. Once he saw the play was coming, he left a helpless Damian Swann in his dust before hauling McCarron’s perfectly thrown pass and waltzing into the end zone to give Alabama the winning score in a 32-28 victory.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and I wanted to come out here and be a big-time player,” said Cooper, who finished with a game-high seven catches for 127 yards and the key score. “I envisioned it before it happened, and it came true.”
He probably envisioned it because it looked easy on film, as he and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier felt confident taking shots at the Dawgs.
“That’s what we want as receivers,” Cooper said. “We want to take those shots, and that’s what we did.”
It helps that Cooper, who goes by the nickname Hollywood because of his on-field skill, is an extraordinary athlete. Before his touchdown, his play of the night came when he went up top and snatched a 44-yard prayer from McCarron away from one of the most physical players in the game in safety Bacarri Rambo in the second quarter. After that, he spent the rest of the night sprinting past or cutting by Georgia defenders and bailing Alabama’s offense out in crucial situations.
“He’s able to do the things that you would think a normal freshman wouldn’t do,” Tide linebacker Nico Johnson said. “He’s making big plays in big games, like he did today.
“He takes it and runs with it and lives to that name. He’s something special.”
To Jones, Cooper just has a different gear than a lot of players. One moment he is side-by-side with a defender; the next, he’s gone -- with the ball.
“He’s one of the fastest people I’ve ever seen,” Jones said.
Cooper stretched the field and gave Alabama more running room, which helped free Yeldon, who entered the game with just three 100-yard performances but carried the ball a game-high 25 times for a backbreaking 153 yards and a touchdown. While giving Eddie Lacy the occasional breather, Yeldon helped Alabama register an SEC championship record 350 rushing yards Saturday.
“It’s like he’s been here three times himself,” Lacy said. “As a freshman, you can’t ask him to play any better than he did tonight.”
You can’t ask more from either. They did so much for Alabama in the biggest game of either's career. Yeldon had nine runs that resulted in first downs, while Cooper had three first-down plays. Together, they touched the ball 32 times for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
Johnson tells both Cooper and Yeldon before every game to play with purpose. On Saturday, they did that and then some. This is only the beginning for these fabulous freshmen.
“I’m glad they’re freshmen because they are going to be here for a while,” offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio said.
That has to be a scary thought for the rest of the league.
2. Making plays at receiver: Both teams have suffered casualties at receiver this season. Most recently, Alabama lost Kenny Bell for the season when he broke his leg last week against Auburn. Georgia earlier this season lost Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown to injuries. Tavarres King has quietly had a big season for the Bulldogs with eight touchdown catches, and Malcolm Mitchell will also be key in this game with his ability to make big plays down the field. More than ever, Alabama will lean on freshman Amari Cooper in the passing game with Bell out. Cooper has eight touchdown catches and is averaging 17 yards per catch. Alabama coach Nick Saban is also prepared to pull the redshirt off Chris Black, who hurt his shoulder in August and underwent surgery. Black is healthy and wants to play in this game.
3. Denting Alabama’s defense: Alabama leads the country in scoring defense for the second straight season. One of the reasons why is that the Crimson Tide simply don’t give up big plays. They have allowed 89 plays this season that have gained 10 yards or more, which is nine fewer than any other Football Bowl Subdivision team. Opponents are averaging 1.9 drives per game against Alabama that reach the red zone, the lowest average among FBS teams. Running the ball in the red zone against Alabama has been nearly impossible. The Crimson Tide are allowing 0.82 yards per rush in the red zone this season, the lowest average in FBS. What makes this such an intriguing matchup is that Georgia has specialized in generating big plays on offense. The Bulldogs have 75 plays that have gained 20 yards or more, which ranks seventh among FBS teams. The only game this season that they didn’t have a play of at least 30 yards was their 35-7 loss to South Carolina.
4. Winning the big ones: This is a stage Alabama is accustomed to being on, and the Crimson Tide have been at their best in marquee games under Saban. They are 3-1 against nationally ranked teams this season and have won nine of their past 11 games against nationally ranked foes. Georgia, on the other hand, has faced just two nationally ranked teams this season. The Bulldogs beat Florida 17-9 and lost to South Carolina 35-7. Georgia has struggled the past few seasons against nationally ranked opponents, losing eight of its last 11 games to teams ranked in the Top 25. The win over Florida on Oct. 27 was Georgia’s first win against a top-10 opponent since the 2009 season and its first win against an SEC team ranked in the top 10 since beating No. 9 Florida 42-30 in 2007.
5. Forcing turnovers: It’s no coincidence that Alabama and Georgia lost the turnover battle in each of their losses this season. Alabama turned the ball over three times in its 29-24 loss to Texas A&M, which didn’t turn the ball over at all. Georgia had one turnover and South Carolina none in the Bulldogs’ loss to the Gamecocks. Which defense can force the most turnovers in this game? Alabama has scored 157 points off turnovers this season, the most in the SEC and fourth most in the FBS. For the season, Alabama is plus-14 and Georgia plus-9 in turnover margin. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has thrown just two interceptions all season, and both came in the Texas A&M loss. Murray has thrown seven interceptions this season but hasn’t thrown any in five of his last six outings. The exception was the Florida game when he threw three.
Well, I'm sure Chris will remember exactly what I did this November. And it wasn't pretty if you weren't on Team Edward.
After Chris and I had a couple of tight weeks, I blew this bad boy wide open when I added two more games to my total after going 8-1 over the weekend to extend my lead to seven games with an impressive 100-12 (.893) record. I missed on Florida-Florida State, but I don't think anyone other than Will Muschamp really knows what the Gators will do week in and week out.
Although my dear friend Cary pleaded with me to pick his Gators last week to guarantee I'd go a perfect 9-0. I guess we know who the real "expert" is because he was spot on with his prediction.
Still, I'm just happy I'm not in Chris' boat, which is currently leaking and has a Jaws-size great white circling it. After an ugly weekend that saw him go 6-3, Chris now sits with a record of 93-19 (.830). We both dropped the ball on Florida, but Chris also picked Mississippi State over Ole Miss and Clemson over South Carolina. I understand the Mississippi State pick, because the Rebels had lost three straight. But Clemson over South Carolina? Chris must have been sipping that Tiger Kool-Aid supplied by ACC blogger Heather Dinich and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney before he made that pick.
“You know how they do me when it comes to pass rush and they throw two, three guys on me,” said Jones, who has been stuck on 10.5 sacks this season since last facing a more traditional offense three weeks ago against Auburn. “But it’s fun to get back in the range of it so we can run our defense and get out of this Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern mess. I hated the last two weeks of practice.”
Jones certainly expects to spend more time rushing Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron in Saturday’s SEC championship game than he did against Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern, who combined to attempt only 25 passes while focusing largely on the running game. Getting to McCarron against the Crimson Tide’s vaunted offensive line is a different story altogether.
At first glance, the Tide’s line has been fairly pedestrian in protecting the quarterback, ranking fourth in the SEC with 20 sacks allowed for a total of minus-161 yards -- a pace just ahead of Georgia’s 22 sacks allowed for minus-145. But Alabama surrendered six of those sacks for minus-48 in a 35-0 win against Western Kentucky. Otherwise, Alabama has not surrendered more than two sacks in any game, and none since Texas A&M sacked McCarron twice in dealing Alabama (11-1) its only loss of the season Nov. 10.
“They’ve got three All-Americans up there that are big and physical,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said, referring to Alabama center Barrett Jones, left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker. “The reason their running backs have had success is one, the running backs are talented, but the offensive line makes some holes for them. They do a good job of getting them some running lanes, they keep the quarterback clean in the pocket.
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.
“I just love hitting and in football I can’t foul out,” Carter said. “I get in foul trouble sometimes in basketball when I come out after playing football. I played some offense at my old school but my heart is on defense. I just want to hit.”
Most football players talk about their love of hitting but only a few speak of it with the intensity Carter does. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound junior has turned his love of hitting into scholarship offers from Arkansas, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Penn State, Syracuse, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Other offers are likely on the way because of the blows Carter delivers, such as this one from the game against Parkview (Ga.) High School:
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