Georgia Bulldogs: Gene Chizik

UGA looks toward Marshall matchup

November, 9, 2013

ATHENS, Ga. -- Once his Georgia team took control in the second half of its 45-6 win against Appalachian State on Saturday, coach Mark Richt admittedly had one eye on the score from the Auburn-Tennessee game.

The Bulldogs' next opponent, No. 9 Auburn -- led by former UGA cornerback Nick Marshall, now the Tigers' quarterback -- was thrashing the Volunteers for 444 rushing yards in a 55-23 win. Marshall accounted for 214 of those rushing yards, running for two touchdowns and passing for another.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRay Drew and Georgia's defense held Appalachian State to 32 yards rushing, but will get a stiffer test against Auburn next week.
“When you watch different people throughout the year [during game preparation], you'll see just about everybody's offense by this time of the year,” Richt said. “And they do like to run the ball and they run it well. I'm not shocked.”

That adds more intrigue to the matchup next weekend in Auburn, with the Tigers (9-1, 5-1 SEC) and Georgia (6-3, 4-2) both battling to stay alive in their respective division races -- and Marshall needing a win against his former teammates to keep his team's hopes alive.

“It's a little weird, but I knew whenever he was here that he was a player, and now someone that could have been helping, you're having to try to stop him,” said UGA defensive end Ray Drew, who was a member of Marshall's 2011 signing class at Georgia. “He's having a heck of a year over there, so hopefully he'll have a soft spot seeing that Georgia was the place he signed initially.”

Entering Saturday's games, Auburn led the SEC in rushing at 306.2 yards per game, with Marshall serving as the trigger man for an offense that has regained its bite with Gus Malzahn back on the Plains.

Marshall -- whom Richt dismissed after the 2011 season for breaking team rules -- elected to join Malzahn as a transfer from Garden City Community College.

Just like that, Auburn is once again among the nation's most productive offenses and should provide a major test for a Georgia defense that has made progress since a troubling start to the season.

“It's going to be a challenge, I don't know about fun. As coaches you always like challenges,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “They're believing and they're playing with confidence right now. Their personnel probably fits better what they do now relative to what they did last year. And I think that's a good example of how it's important to get the right people in your system.”

As for Saturday's win, Grantham's defense got off to a slow start, allowing Appalachian State to convert 4 of 6 third down opportunities and control the clock for over 11 minutes. The Mountaineers (2-8) were able to turn those early drives into just two field goals, however, before Grantham's defense awakened.

Georgia limited the Mountaineers to 3-of-12 on third down the rest of the way and 59 total yards (including minus-6 rushing on 18 attempts) in the second half.

Georgia has not allowed an opponent to drive from its own territory to score a touchdown since the second quarter of the Vanderbilt game, a streak that spans 159 minutes of game time.

“The bottom line is once we got through the script, so to speak, of those gadget [plays] and kind of got a feel for how they were running their routes relative to the formations, we pretty much shut them down -- and we didn't give up a touchdown before we did it,” Grantham said. “So anytime you hold a team out of the end zone, I'm going to be happy.”

Georgia led just 14-6 at halftime, with both touchdowns coming on Aaron Murray touchdown passes -- one to Rantavious Wooten, who had a career-high 104 receiving yards, and the other to Michael Bennett.

The second-quarter pass to Bennett gave Murray 115 career touchdown passes, breaking Florida great Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record.

“It definitely is a huge honor to be up there,” said Murray, who passed for 281 yards in his 50th career start. “I'm lucky enough to have played four years here. I think that's the biggest thing: you have to be able to go somewhere and play for a significant amount of time, and I've had that opportunity here to play for now my fourth straight year in a great offense that really allows me to throw the ball around and make plays.”

The Bulldogs poured it on with 31 second-half points -- Todd Gurley, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas all scored on 2-yard runs and Hutson Mason hit Kenneth Towns for a 3-yard touchdown pass -- but it was the defense's play that is the bigger area of interest with Auburn's explosive offense on deck next week.

The glimmer of hope for Georgia's defense is that the Bulldogs might have struggled overall, but Auburn's strength -- running the ball -- is also the area where Grantham's defense has been the most stout. They came in ranked fourth in the SEC, allowing 137.8 rushing yards per game before limiting Appalachian State to 32 yards on 32 attempts.

Now they know their chances of victory likely hinge on containing a player that Grantham initially recruited to help his defense.

“He's big, he's physical. We thought he would be a good player and felt like he could contribute to us being an SEC competitive team defensively,” Grantham said of Marshall. “So we'll obviously get ready for him come Sunday.”

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray is on the verge of breaking several SEC career records, but also needs to help keep Georgia in the SEC East race.
1. Missouri offense vs. Florida defense: Missouri earned its biggest victory in its year-plus in the SEC last weekend when it beat Georgia. The Tigers' challenging October schedule continues this week when No. 22 Florida brings its fearsome defense to Columbia, and the Tigers must face those Gators without starting quarterback James Franklin, who separated his shoulder against Georgia. Freshman Maty Mauk did a fine job against Georgia's subpar defense, but he will face few stiffer challenges than what he'll face Saturday against a Florida defense that is allowing just 235.3 yards per game. Mizzou is third in the SEC in total offense with an average of 515.7 yards per game, so the many talented skill players at Mauk's disposal will have to give the new starter a hand on Saturday.

2. Record watch in Nashville: In Saturday's Georgia-Vanderbilt game, a handful of SEC career records could fall. With 112 career touchdown passes, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is just two behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record. And with 12,203 career yards of total offense, Murray needs 29 yards to match Tim Tebow's SEC mark. On the other sideline, Vandy's Jordan Matthews needs 97 receiving yards to match Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 yards. Matthews had 119 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season.

3. Gators running game: With the news this week that running back Matt Jones became the seventh Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury, the Gators' running game is now largely in the hands of Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. Brown has been solid enough thus far, rushing for a team-high 340 yards. But Taylor is the guy many Gators fans are excited about. The son of UF great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor has rushed 16 times for 98 yards (6.1 per carry), including 10 carries for 52 yards in last week's slugfest against LSU. Missouri's run defense ranks third in the SEC at 126.2 YPG, but Georgia freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas ran for 157 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry against the Tigers' last week. The Gators probably need Brown and Taylor to be similarly productive in order to hang with the Tigers' prolific offense.

4. Marshall back for Auburn: After sitting out last week's blowout win against Western Carolina with a knee injury, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall returns to the lineup this week against Texas A&M. Marshall rushed for 140 yards -- the most by an SEC quarterback this season -- in his last game, the Tigers' 30-22 win on Oct. 5 against then-No. 24 Ole Miss. He led the resurgent Tigers to a 4-1 record before taking a seat last week while true freshman Jeremy Johnson played for the first time -- and won SEC Freshman of the Week honors -- against the overmatched Catamounts.

5. Can Georgia recover? With half a dozen starters sidelined last week against Missouri, Georgia lost its first home game since September 2011. Now the Bulldogs limp to Vanderbilt, where they have struggled in two of their last three visits before earning narrow wins. UGA hopes to reach next week's open date with its SEC East hopes still intact. All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley likely still won't play this week, so the Bulldogs' offense must hope Murray, freshman tailbacks Green and Douglas and their crew of replacement wideouts can generate enough offense to outscore the slumping Commodores.

6. Vols back from open date: The last time we saw Tennessee, it came within an eyelash of upsetting then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime. First-year coach Butch Jones' team took last weekend off and now has another enormous test on its hands: a visit from No. 11 South Carolina, which finally seems to be hitting its stride after some early struggles. Volunteers fans are optimistic about the new coaching staff, but their team hasn't beaten a ranked opponent in its last 19 tries. Their next four opponents are all ranked in this week's AP Top 25.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze and Bo Wallace will try to snap Ole Miss' losing streak against LSU this weekend.
7. Can Hogs “snap out of it?” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said this week that he doesn't want his players to be a bunch of “Debbie Downers” after Saturday's 52-7 loss to South Carolina. That was the Razorbacks' fourth straight loss, the most lopsided loss of Bielema's coaching career and matching his worst defeat as a head coach. Unfortunately for Arkansas, it visits No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, where it will be a four-touchdown underdog. It could be a long second half of the season for the Razorbacks.

8. Maintaining historic run: The SEC set a record when Auburn jumped into this week's AP Top 25, giving the conference eight ranked teams. But that historic total might be short-lived. At No. 24, Auburn will likely drop out if it loses on Saturday at No. 7 Texas A&M. No. 15 Georgia and No. 22 Florida also can't afford a loss if they want to remain in the poll next week.

9. Repeat performance for Aggies? Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense gained 671 total yards, the most ever allowed by an Auburn defense, in last season's 63-21 win against the Tigers. Those 63 points also represented the third-most points ever scored against the Tigers. If that wasn't the last straw for then-coach Gene Chizik and his staff, it was awfully close. New coach Gus Malzahn has instilled new optimism on the Plains. The Tigers are a ranked team for the first time since November 2011, but the Aggies are still a two-touchdown favorite.

10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.

Final 2012 SEC power rankings

January, 8, 2013
We've reached the end to another college football season, and yet again Alabama is on top. Nick Saban is the king of college football, and his Crimson Tide are looking down at the rest of the sport.

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 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.

SEC power rankings

December, 5, 2012
We've come to the end of the regular season for the SEC, so here is our final batch of power rankings until the new year:

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.

(Read full post)

2012 SEC regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012

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.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Kim Klement/USA TODAYAs a sophomore, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney led the SEC with 13.5 sacks.
Vanderbilt won eight games for the first time in 30 years, and second-year coach James Franklin has the Commodores in a bowl game for the second consecutive season for the first time in school history.

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.
AJ McCarronMatthew Stockman/Getty ImagesAlabama and the rest of the SEC have proven they're the cream of the crop in college football.
For the seventh straight season, the SEC is headed to the national championship.

The conference has six teams ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings, including three -- Alabama, Georgia and Florida -- in the top four.

Six teams have two or fewer losses on the season, while two more have eight wins.

Six teams rank in the top 25 in defense, and three rank in the top 25 in offense.

Nine of the SEC’s 14 teams are bowl eligible and if not for some dubious play calling on the side of USC in its game with Notre Dame over the weekend, the country would almost have been assured to see yet another all-SEC national championship.

The SEC also has a nation-best six teams ranked in the AP, USA Today and Harris Interactive Polls. The SEC has now had at least five teams ranked in at least one AP Top 25 poll every year since expansion in 1992. Just as in 2011, the conference has had at least five teams ranked in every AP poll throughout the season.

Compared to other BCS conferences, the SEC is tied with the Big 12 with the most bowl eligible teams. With only 10 teams, all but one Big 12 team -- Kansas -- is bowl eligible. And if there weren’t postseason bans at Ohio State and Penn State, the Big Ten would have nine, too.

The SEC’s resume shows that in a year in which some people called it overrated, the conference still has all the clout it entered the year with and will leave the 2012 season with the label as the nation’s top football conference yet again.

More than half of the SEC is postseason bound and if Ole Miss wins its bowl, the league will have nine teams with a winning record when the 2012 season officially comes to a close.

People will point to the SEC’s out-of-conference schedules, but the SEC as a whole has a history of staying very comfortable when it comes to nonconference opponents. It’s a real drag, yes, but there are ample opportunities for voters to deduct points from SEC teams because of softer non-SEC opponents. But they don’t.

And you can look at the teams’ strength of schedule, but the SEC actually has some of the tougher schedules out there. Nine SEC teams are ranked within the top 25 when it comes to strength of schedule, including six in the top 10. Florida and Missouri are No. 1 and 2, respectively.

Of the six teams ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings, four are ranked in the top 25 of schedule difficulty.

When you look at the SEC, more than the top half pulled its weight in 2012. And when the SEC took on the ACC in two top-12 road matchups in front of the nation over the weekend, the SEC dominated, with Florida beating Florida State 37-26 and South Carolina beating Clemson 27-17.

It has been a very good year for the conference, but you can’t completely dismiss the naysayers. They do have a point when it comes to the strength of the conference from top to bottom.

Nine bowl-eligible teams and six top-tier teams speaks volumes, but there is also a very dark side to the SEC.

With Sunday's firing of Gene Chizik, Auburn joined Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee as teams that will be hiring new head coaches in the coming weeks. Those four teams combined to go a dreadful 14-34, with only three conference wins. Add 5-7 Missouri, and the SEC had five teams fail to reach .500.

Last year, the SEC had only three teams fail to reach the .500 mark during the regular season and had nine bowl-eligible teams. In 2010 and 2009, only two teams fell below .500 before the postseason and 10 went bowling.

It might be bright and sunny at the top, but it’s doom and gloom at the bottom, and that affects the overall perception of the league.

But in the end, the power at the top outweighs the sludge at the bottom. If the playoff started this season, the SEC probably would have two teams in, and right now, the top six teams are playing their best ball of the year.

Some may dismiss the conference’s strength this year because of the struggles at the bottom, but the top appears stronger than ever.

SEC power rankings: Week 13

November, 19, 2012
After everything that happened over the weekend, our power rankings didn't really change heading into the final week of the regular season:

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.

3 Up, 3 Down: Georgia 38, Auburn 0 

November, 11, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. -- No. 5 Georgia got the win it needed to clinch the SEC East title against Auburn -- and it did so without any resistance whatsoever from a Tigers team that is stumbling toward the finish line.

The Bulldogs (9-1, 7-1 SEC) thoroughly dominated every aspect of Saturday’s game, handing the Tigers (2-8, 0-7) a defeat that might have sealed the fate of embattled head coach Gene Chizik and his staff.

Let’s recap some of the highs and lows of Saturday’s victory:

Dawgs clinch East, add to Tigers' misery

November, 11, 2012

AUBURN, Ala. -- The Deep South’s oldest rivalry didn’t resemble much of a rivalry Saturday night.

In fact, all you really need to know about this game is that one of the loudest cheers of the night came when the Alabama final score flashed across the scoreboard at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

That’s not counting the constant roar from the red-and-black swarm of Georgia fans, who were about the only ones left in the stadium by the time the fourth quarter began.

Georgia’s 38-0 dissection of Auburn was like a dream in a lot of ways, a bad dream if you’re of the Auburn persuasion. It could have just as easily been 58-0. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was done by the end of the third quarter, and the Bulldogs took their foot off the gas pedal after scoring touchdowns on each of their first four possessions.

It was the first shutout in this series since 1976, and Auburn is now one loss away from finishing with its first winless season in the SEC since 1980, which begs an obvious question:

Is this really the same program that won a national championship two years ago?

The same goes for No. 5 Georgia, which clinched its second consecutive trip to the SEC championship game and remained on the periphery of the national championship race.

Is this really the same team that rolled over and played dead at South Carolina back on Oct. 6 and struggled to get past Kentucky two weeks later?

“We weren’t going to let one game ruin our whole season,” Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said of the 35-7 loss to the Gamecocks. “We knew we had the talent to be a championship team. We just had to put it all together, play with more discipline and handle our business.

“It wasn’t about anybody else. It was about us.”

The Bulldogs (9-1, 7-1 SEC) are old pros at this. They faced a similar predicament a year ago after losing their first two games, but regrouped to win 10 consecutive games and play their way into the SEC championship game.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall
John Reed/US PresswireKeith Marshall ran for 105 yards on just eight carries -- 13.1 yards a pop -- in Georgia's rout.
And then this season started with a glut of suspensions on defense, some underwhelming performances on defense and a familiar criticism of Georgia coach Mark Richt -- that his teams don’t consistently play to their talent level.

“People are going to say what they want to say. Coach Richt is a great leader and a great man,” Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo said. “He sets the tone, and just like last year, we knew we weren’t out of anything.”

Simply getting to Atlanta was a coup last season for the Bulldogs, but there was very little celebrating inside their locker room Saturday after clinching their second straight East title.

“It was a little different feeling,” Richt said. “Atlanta’s not the end of the road, we hope.”

On the flip side, this does look like the end of the road for Auburn coach Gene Chizik, whose Tigers have now lost nine consecutive SEC games dating back to last season.

In those nine losses, seven have been by 17 points or more, and Georgia has won the past two meetings between the schools by a combined 83-7 margin.

It’s not just that the Tigers (2-8, 0-7 SEC) are losing. They haven’t even been competitive in a lot of their games, which makes the crash from where this program was two years ago all the more stunning.

Chizik, who would be owed a $7.5 million buyout if he’s not retained, has steadfastly refused to discuss what the future might hold for him. He didn’t deviate from that approach Saturday in the grim aftermath of another embarrassing defeat.

“I don’t entertain those thoughts,” Chizik said. “Again, like I said earlier, I have really one quest. We have two games left, and our seniors have done a lot for this university. They have done a lot for this place, and I hurt for them. Certainly, they never envisioned going out with this type of season, nor did anybody else coaching-wise, either.

“But it’s their last go-around, so I have one focus for them, and that is this week in them playing their last game at home and trying to get a win.”

Chizik repeated several times Saturday that the Tigers didn’t play well in any phase of the game, but he wasn’t buying the notion that he’s lost the team.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

Whether he has or hasn’t, the Auburn program has seemingly lost its way. This league is always going to be cyclical. There are going to be peaks and valleys.

But it might be a while before we see another crash this pronounced, even in the topsy-turvy world of the SEC.

Instant analysis: Georgia 38, Auburn 0

November, 10, 2012
Georgia's heading back to the SEC championship game.

The Bulldogs clinched a spot in Atlanta for the second consecutive year after routing Auburn 38-0 on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Georgia (9-1, 7-1 SEC) jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the first half and the result never seemed in doubt. Here's a look at the high points:

It was over when: The teams went into the locker room at the half. The Bulldogs scored on each of their first four drives, all of which covered at least 64 yards. They punted only once in their first seven drives.

Game ball goes to: Running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. The pair led Georgia to a 289-yard rushing effort. Gurley had 116 yards on 11 carries (an average of 10.5 yards a tote) along with a touchdown and Marshall added 105 yards on eight carries (13.1 yard average) with a touchdown of his own.

Key stat: 497. That's how many yards Georgia ended up with, a total that could have been higher if the game wasn't already well in hand by the third quarter. The Bulldogs averaged 7.4 yards per play and Aaron Murray threw for 208 yards on 18 of 24 attempts, including three touchdown tosses.

Key play: Murray connected with receiver Tavarres King for a 55-yard completion with 5:32 left in the second quarter to get the Bulldogs to the Auburn 6. Murray did get a little pressure up the middle as he threw, but made a perfect throw to King over the coverage. The completion set up Georgia's fourth touchdown, which made it 28-0.

What it means: As SEC East Division champions, the Bulldogs will await the SEC West champion for a Dec. 1 showdown in Atlanta. Alabama had the chance to clinch that berth on Saturday but was upset by Texas A&M and will now need a victory over Auburn to clinch the West. For the Tigers (2-8, 0-7), it was another ugly loss in what has become a nightmarish season. They are still without a conference win and it will only continue to increase the pressure on head coach Gene Chizik.

UGA finds familiar faces at Auburn

November, 6, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. -- Most college football coaches adopt a business-first mentality out of necessity.

Many of them -- particularly well-traveled coaches -- cross paths with former co-workers several times per season, but they understand their loyalties must be to their jobs and not to friends with other programs or even their alma maters.

Despite that fact of life within the coaching ranks, Georgia coach Mark Richt and several of the coaches involved in Saturday’s meeting between the fifth-ranked Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1 SEC) and rival Auburn (2-7, 0-6) will face highly unusual circumstances in that regard.

All three men who have served as defensive coordinator for Richt at Georgia will be coaching Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium -- Todd Grantham, who has held the position at Georgia since 2010, and Auburn assistants Brian VanGorder (2001-04) and Willie Martinez (2005-09).

“I love both of them, I love their families, but I think we all know that we’ve got to prepare our teams to play ball and that’s what will be going on from kickoff till the end,” Richt said when asked about VanGorder and Martinez, who were both members of his original staff at UGA.

VanGorder helped Richt put Georgia’s program on the map with a fearsome brand of defense that regularly had the Bulldogs among the national leaders in most defensive statistical categories. He won the 2003 Frank Broyles Award, which goes to the nation’s top assistant coach, before holding a variety of positions in the interim -- most recently defensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons before accepting the same job at Auburn in the offseason.

Meanwhile, Martinez was at Georgia recently enough to have coached with most members of Richt’s staff. Several veteran Bulldogs played under Martinez, as well, which is a more irregular occurrence for players and their former coaches.

“He taught me a lot of things when he was here, so I’m kind of happy to see him because I haven’t seen him in a long time,” said senior safety Bacarri Rambo, who was a freshman in 2009 when Martinez was in his final season as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

That doesn’t mean the reunion will be entirely comfortable, however.

(Read full post)

Scouting report: Auburn 

November, 6, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. -- If it feels like we’ve been here before in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, it’s because we have.

Saturday’s game on the Plains will be the 21st time that the Georgia-Auburn game decided the conference fate of at least one of the teams, whether it was an overall SEC or divisional title. Georgia is 11-8-1 in such situations in series history.

This time, No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) has its SEC East and BCS bowl hopes on the line, while Auburn (2-7, 0-6) is attempting to create a bright spot in an otherwise disastrous season.

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What we learned in the SEC: Week 8

October, 21, 2012
The eighth week of the college football season has come and gone, so let’s take a look at what we learned Saturday in the SEC:

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel threw four touchdown passes in Florida's 44-11 rout of South Carolina on Saturday.
1. Clarity in the East race: Florida just keeps finding ways to win after seemingly finding ways to lose a year ago. Now, the Gators are a win from clinching the Eastern Division title and earning a berth in the SEC championship game. They pounced on a mistake-prone South Carolina team Saturday for a 44-11 win and can lock up the East crown next weekend with a win over rival Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. The Gators are doing it with superior defense and special teams, excellent adjustments at halftime and a belief that they’re going to wear you down in the second half. While Georgia has looked listless at times during its past two outings (a 29-24 win over Kentucky on Saturday and a 35-7 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 6), the Bulldogs can take a commanding position in the East race with a win over the Gators. From there, Georgia would have a home game with Ole Miss and a road game with Auburn remaining. Florida’s only remaining league game after this weekend is Missouri at home on Nov. 3. The Bulldogs have won just four of the past 22 meetings in this series, including a 24-20 victory last season. Georgia hasn’t won two in a row over Florida since winning three straight from 1987 to 1989. The Bulldogs were without star outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (ankle) in their win over Kentucky, and coach Mark Richt said Sunday that he’s not sure Jones will be able to play against Florida.

2. South Carolina quarterback controversy: Sometimes you’d swear that Steve Spurrier almost likes controversy at the quarterback position. Then again, maybe he’s just such a perfectionist that his patience with his signal-callers is razor-thin. Either way, Spurrier is clearly down on Connor Shaw after the Gamecocks struggled on offense for the second straight week Saturday in a 44-11 loss to Florida. Afterward, Spurrier said South Carolina “stunk from the get go” and called it a “pitiful performance.” He didn’t place all of the blame on Shaw but noted that the quarterback missed several open receivers and was “still running all over the place.” Shaw was benched at halftime in favor of backup Dylan Thompson, and Spurrier said he didn’t know which way he would go at quarterback this coming weekend against Tennessee. Shaw has committed three turnovers in the past two games and been sacked six times, but the Gamecocks’ problems on offense run a lot deeper than just Shaw. They haven’t been able to run the ball effectively the past two weeks. Marcus Lattimore got just three carries against Florida, and the receivers aren’t making any big plays down the field. Shaw certainly hasn’t played his best football the past two games, but he is the same guy the South Carolina coaches were lauding earlier this month for being such a winner and the same guy who’s been playing through a hairline fracture in his throwing shoulder.

(Read full post)

3 Up, 3 Down: Georgia opponents 

October, 14, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. -- With No. 14 Georgia’s regular season at the halfway mark and the Bulldogs taking this weekend off, let’s take a look at the good and bad among their six remaining opponents:

1. Florida: Streaking Florida has been one of the biggest surprises in the SEC this season. After last weekend’s upset of defending conference champion LSU, the Gators (6-0, 5-0 SEC) catapulted to No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 and avoided a letdown at Vanderbilt.

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What we learned in the SEC: Week 2

September, 9, 2012
Week 2 is over with and we feel we know teams a little better now.

Here's what we've learned so far in the SEC:

1. Arkansas' defense isn't ready for prime time: The Razorbacks' defense entered the season surrounded by criticism and uncertainty. In Saturday's stunning 34-31 overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe, the defense didn't do anything to lessen the criticism and worry. Arkansas' defense surrendered 550 total yards, including 412 passing yards by quarterback Kolton Browning. Browning also threw three touchdown passes and ran for 69 yards, including the 16-yard game-winning touchdown. The Warhawks also converted 6 of 7 fourth downs, including Browning's last scamper. This Arkansas defense was pushed around by Alabama and LSU last year, and was pushed around Saturday by a program that has never beaten a ranked team.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Dak Dillon/US PresswireQB Aaron Murray (242 yards, 3 TDs) and Georgia ended their victory over Missouri on a 24-0 run.
2. Georgia has true resiliency: The Bulldogs walked into a hostile environment at Missouri and left with a big SEC victory. The Tigers threw everything at Georgia's depleted defense, and the Bulldogs responded with a strong fourth quarter, when the defense totally shut down the Tigers. Georgia outscored Missouri 17-0 in the fourth and finished the game on a 24-0 run after being down 20-17 late in the third quarter. Georgia outscored Mizzou 32-10 in the second half. Mizzou might not have been ranked, but this was a signature win for the Bulldogs. Georgia has struggled recently away from home, but the Bulldogs kept pounding away when their backs were against the wall. We saw the type of fight out of a team with the talent to make an SEC title run.

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Easiest Path To The 2015 College Football Playoff
Heather Dinich takes a look at which schools have the easiest path to the 2015 College Football Playoffs.