Georgia Bulldogs: Loucheiz Purifoy

For the eighth consecutive year, the SEC led all conferences with the most NFL draft picks. When all was said and done on Saturday, the SEC had 49 former athletes selected. In 2013, the SEC had a league-record 63 players drafted, and after last year's draft, the league averaged 48.9 players drafted since 2006.

So I guess that whole run of seven straight BCS national championships had some real weight to it, huh?

The last time the SEC didn't lead the nation in draft picks was 2006, when the league had 37 players taken and the Big Ten had 41. This year, the SEC's only real competition in the draft was the ACC, which had 42 players taken.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesJadeveon Clowney is the fourth SEC player to be taken first in the draft since 2006.
On Thursday, the SEC led the rest of the conferences with 11 first-round draft picks, including having Jadeveon Clowney selected No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans. Clowney became the fourth player from the SEC to be taken first in the draft since 2006. The SEC also had four players taken within the first 10 picks of the draft.

LSU led the SEC and the rest of the country with nine draft selections. Alabama was second with eight draft picks.

Every SEC team was represented in the draft, and here's a breakdown of how each school fared:

  • Alabama -- 8
  • Arkansas -- 4
  • Auburn -- 4
  • Florida -- 4
  • Georgia -- 2
  • Kentucky -- 1
  • LSU -- 9
  • Mississippi State -- 1
  • Missouri -- 4
  • Ole Miss -- 1
  • South Carolina -- 2
  • Tennessee -- 3
  • Texas A&M -- 3
  • Vanderbilt -- 3

After all the Johnny Manziel drama from the first night of the draft, the SEC had no shortage of intrigue during the next two days of the draft. Everyone waited for AJ McCarron to get drafted in the second round, but he didn't hear his name until the fifth round (No. 164 by the Cincinnati Bengals), and after Aaron Murray was taken a spot ahead by the Kansas City Chiefs. Zach Mettenberger, the quarterback many thought would go first from the SEC, was selected in the sixth round (No. 178) by the Tennessee Titans.

And perhaps the biggest news from the last two days was Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player to be selected in the draft. The former Missouri defensive end -- and SEC defensive player of the year -- was selected in the seventh round (N0. 249) by the St. Louis Rams, and shared a powerful, historic and emotional scene on live television when he received the news.

It should come as no surprise that the SEC had yet another successful showing at the NFL draft. The league is absolutely stuffed with SEC talent. According to the SEC's official website, the SEC had 340 former players on active 53-man rosters on opening day of the 2013 season. Also, since 2006 the SEC has averaged nearly 280 players per year on NFL opening weekend rosters.

There were some surprising names not called during the three-day draft. Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, who were viewed as top cornerback prospects before the 2013 season, went undrafted, as did former top offensive line prospect Antonio Richardson from Tennessee. Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard and LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson also were left out.

Here's a look at the SEC players taken after Round 1:

ROUND 2

42. Jordan Matthews, WR ,Vanderbilt -- Philadelphia Eagles
44. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama -- Buffalo Bills
51. Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU -- Chicago Bears
55. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU -- Cincinnati Bengals
60. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri -- Carolina Panthers
63. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU -- Miami Dolphins
64. Justin Britt, OT, Missouri -- Seattle Seahawks

ROUND 3

75. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn -- St. Louis Rams
76. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas -- Detroit Lions
81. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State -- Oakland Raiders
90. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss -- Indianapolis Colts
92. Trai Turner, OG, LSU -- Carolina Panthers

ROUND 4

101. Jaylen Watkins, DB, Florida -- Philadelphia Eagles
106. Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina -- San Francisco 49ers
123. Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama -- Seattle Seahawks

ROUND 5

151. Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky -- Tennessee Titans
155. Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia -- Miami Dolphins
156. Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU -- Denver Broncos
159. Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas -- Jacksonville Jaguars
160. Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama -- Arizona Cardinals
163. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia -- Kansas City Chiefs
164. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama -- Cincinnati Bengals
167. Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama -- New Orleans Saints
169. Ronald Powell, LB, Florida -- New Orleans Saints
173. Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt -- Pittsburgh Steelers

ROUND 6

177. Jeoffrey Pagan, DE, Alabama -- Houston Texans
178. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU -- Tennessee Titans
179. Jon Halapio, OG, Florida -- New England Patriots
181. Alfred Blue, RB, LSU -- Houston Texans
188. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri -- St. Louis Rams
193. Zach Fulton, OG, Tennessee -- Kansas City Chiefs
211. Jay Prosch, FB, Auburn -- Houston Texans
215. Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee -- Pittsburgh Steelers

ROUND 7

216. Andre Hal, S, Vanderbilt -- Houston Texans
227. Kiero Small, FB, Arkansas -- Seattle Seahawks
228. Zach Hocker, K, Arkansas -- Washington Redskins
239. James Wright, WR, LSU -- Cincinnati Bengals
249. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri -- St. Louis Rams
Here are five matchups to watch when Georgia has the ball in Saturday's game in Jacksonville:

Todd Gurley's impact
[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsDespite an injury-plagued season, Todd Gurley still rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. He also improved as a receiver and had six TD receptions.
How important is All-SEC tailback Gurley to Georgia's offense? He hasn't played in nearly 15 quarters -- since spraining his ankle in the Sept. 28 win against LSU -- and he's still Georgia's leading rusher by more than 100 yards. Gurley (71-450) will return to the backfield against Florida's stout defense, but will he be the same player he was before the injury? He was averaging 112.5 rushing yards per game but has missed three-and-a-half games, and it's only reasonable to expect some rust on Saturday, particularly when the Gators are allowing just 3.7 yards per carry and 100.7 rushing yards per game (second in the SEC).

Thanks in part to injuries up front, they weren't as dominant in their last two games, both losses, allowing 175 rushing yards to LSU and 205 to Missouri. But with a few key faces returning up front -- including defensive tackle Damien Jacobs and possibly outside linebacker Ronald Powell -- Florida should pose a major test to Gurley and Georgia's rushing attack.

Georgia's depleted receiving corps vs. Florida secondary
By this point, anybody who follows Georgia football with even a passing interest knows about the debilitating injuries that struck the Bulldogs' offense over the last month. They have been especially debilitating for a once-explosive receiving corps, which lost Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending knee injuries and Michael Bennett and Chris Conley to shorter-term ailments.

Conley is still out, but Bennett should be back from a two-game absence on Saturday, possibly bringing some productivity to a group that has struggled mightily in recent weeks. The Bulldogs passed for just 114 yards in a loss to Vanderbilt, with senior quarterback Aaron Murray failing to complete a pass of at least 20 yards for the first time in his career.

Facing Florida's aggressive secondary is no treat for the Bulldogs' passing game. The Gators surrendered an uncharacteristic 295 passing yards to Missouri in their last game, but with ball hawks like Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and freshman Vernon Hargreaves III leading the charge, Florida leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally in pass defense at 172.4 ypg.

Murray's composure vs. Gators
Murray largely put to rest questions about whether he was a big-game player in nearly flawless performances against South Carolina and LSU earlier this season. A composed performance against Florida on Saturday would place an additional nail in that particular coffin. The Florida native has never gotten off to a great start against the Gators, starting with his very first play as a freshman in 2010 -- when he threw an interception to Florida's Janoris Jenkins. Murray led a comeback to force overtime in that game but threw a back-breaking interception that helped Florida win 34-31 in the extra session. Georgia won each of the last two meetings against the Gators, but Murray was fairly shaky in both, going a combined 27-for-58 for 319 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. Georgia has a chance to build its first three-game winning streak against Florida since 1987-89, but it likely will need Murray to play his best game yet against the Gators for the streak to remain intact.

Will Mike Bobo "let it rip?"
[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneWith a few more weapons to work with, perhaps Aaron Murray and Georgia can open up their offense.
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Tuesday that Georgia needs to "let it rip" against Florida's impressive defense. After calling perhaps the most conservative game of his career in the Bulldogs' loss against Vanderbilt, that philosophy might apply to Bobo more than anyone else. The Bulldogs attempted only two passes of 15 yards or more in the loss to the Commodores and played it as close to the vest as possible -- a strategy that blew up in their face when turnovers and a bogus targeting call helped Vandy rally for a late victory.

With Gurley and Bennett back in the lineup, Georgia's offense should have some more punch on Saturday, and that will be necessary against Florida's tough defense. Bobo likely must break out of the conservatism that set in with multiple offensive weapons sidelined and show some aggressiveness if Georgia is to break through against the Gators.

Florida's pass rushers vs. Georgia offensive line
If Powell is able to play on Saturday, that would provide a huge shot in the arm for Florida's pass rush. Powell has Jarvis Jones-like ability, but injuries have been a regular problem for the junior. Even if he doesn't play, Georgia's offensive line -- which has dealt with consistency issues for much of the season -- will have its hands full with buck Dante Fowler Jr., who almost single-handedly kept the Gators afloat against Missouri even when the offense was performing pitifully.

Fowler leads the team with three sacks, eight tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles. He hasn't gotten a ton of help from his comrades up front -- Florida is tied for 10th in the league with 11 sacks -- but getting some line depth back should help. Georgia's line has struggled against speedy edge rushers, particularly in the Clemson and Missouri losses, so keep an eye on the edges Saturday.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

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1. Will Clowney play?: There have been a lot of rumors flying around about South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and his last-minute decision to sit out against Kentucky. It didn’t go over well with coach Steve Spurrier based on the postgame comments. However, Spurrier defended his star player this week. Once again, Clowney is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas with a muscle strain near his rib area. He returned to practice on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Getty ImagesJames Franklin and Missouri can prove they're legit SEC contenders with a win at Georgia on Saturday.
2. Health concerns at UGA: The Bulldogs survived a scare in Knoxville last weekend, but they didn’t come out unscathed. They lost both running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending injuries while fellow wide receiver Michael Bennett will miss an extended period of time with a knee injury. Georgia will have to bounce back quickly with No. 25 Missouri coming to town on Saturday.

3. Mizzou a legitimate contender? It’s safe to say nobody had Missouri as one of the two unbeaten teams in the SEC heading into Week 7. But after an impressive road win at Vanderbilt, the Tigers are 5-0 and finally starting to gain some respect around the league. The next three weeks will be telling, though, as they play Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

4. LSU’s WRs versus Florida’s CBs: It’s a dream matchup for NFL scouts. LSU features what many consider to be the top wide receiver tandem in college football with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. However, Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy is arguably the top cornerback in the SEC, and playing opposite of him is freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who already has three interceptions. The Gators are also expecting the return of corner Marcus Roberson, another one who could soon be playing on Sundays.

5. Tyler Murphy in Death Valley: Since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback, Murphy has exceeded expectations for the Gators. In three games, he has thrown for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception, and he’s progressively gotten better. However, the junior signal-caller is in for his toughest assignment yet when Florida travels to LSU this weekend. How will he perform in a hostile atmosphere?

6. The return of Cooper: When will we see the real Amari Cooper, the one who had 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman for Alabama? The star wide receiver has been slowed by nagging injuries all season, but he expects to play Saturday against Kentucky. Will he be 100 percent? Quarterback AJ McCarron would love to have him back sooner rather than later.

7. Aggies without Ennis: As if Texas A&M’s rush defense wasn’t bad enough, the Aggies lost Kirby Ennis, one of their top interior linemen, for the season with a torn ACL. The injury comes at a bad time for the Aggies, who have to visit Ole Miss this weekend and deal with Rebels running back Jeff Scott, not to mention quarterback Bo Wallace. The staff will turn to freshman Isaiah Golden, who is expected to start alongside Alonzo Williams in the middle.

8. Shootout in Oxford: The SEC has featured its fair share of shootouts early in the college football season, and Saturday’s game between Ole Miss and Texas A&M could be right up there. Both teams feature an up-tempo offense, and neither one likes to waste much time between plays. It could be a long day for both defenses.

9. Big game for Bielema: After a 3-0 start, Arkansas has quickly fallen back to .500 with three consecutive losses. However, first-year coach Brett Bielema has a chance to notch his first signature victory with the Razorbacks this Saturday when they host No. 14 South Carolina. The Gamecocks have struggled in recent weeks and could be prime for an upset. It’s likely a must-win scenario for Arkansas if the Hogs want to reach a bowl game.

10. Auburn’s quarterback: Who will start for the Tigers against Western Carolina? Starter Nick Marshall injured his knee last weekend against Ole Miss, and although he’s expected to play, coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t made a ruling one way or the other. If Marshall can’t go, Auburn will either turn to returning starter Jonathan Wallace or true freshman Jeremy Johnson.

SEC players of the week

October, 7, 2013
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Here are the SEC players of the week, as announced by the league on Monday:

OFFENSIVE: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
  • Threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns in leading LSU to a 59-26 win over Mississippi State. Completed a career-high 25 passes on 29 attempts in engineering the Tiger offense to 563 total yards and eight touchdowns. His .860 completion percentage is the fourth-highest total for a QB in school history in a game with at least 20 attempts.
  • Became only the third QB in school history, and the first since Rohan Davey in 2001, to have 300 yards passing in back-to-back games. The 59 points were the most for the Tigers in an SEC game since scoring 63 against Kentucky in 1997. LSU has scored 30 points or more in all six games -- a first in school history.
DEFENSIVE: Loucheiz Purifoy, DB, Florida
  • He returned his first career interception for a touchdown (42 yards) that gave Florida a lead it never relinquished. Also made the first sack of his career, pulling Brandon Allen down 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
  • Added four tackles, three pass breakups and a forced fumble in the win over the Razorbacks.
  • Assisted a Gator defense that made two sacks against an Arkansas offense that was allowing just 0.6 sacks per game.
  • Also returned two punts for 17 yards.
  • Named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Marshall Morgan, PK, Georgia
  • Morgan scored 10 points in the Bulldogs’ 34-31 overtime win at Tennessee, including the game-winning 42-yard field goal (first FG game-winner since 2009 for the Bulldogs).
  • Started the game by drilling a career-long 56 yarder to put Georgia up 3-0 (longest FG for the Bulldogs since 2011, the longest on the road in school history, longest in Neyland Stadium history, the longest for any team against Tennessee in history, the longest in the SEC this year).
FRESHMAN: Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
  • True freshman had a career-high six tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss (minus-10 yards) and two sacks (minus-7 yards) and one quarterback hurry.
  • Helped lead Auburn to its first win over a ranked opponent since 2011.
  • Part of an Auburn defensive line that recorded 6.0 sacks and 14.0 tackles for loss, the most sacks by an AU team since 11 vs. Alabama in 2005 and the most TFLs by an AU defense since 2004 vs. Kentucky.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Chris Burnette, OG, Georgia
  • Graded out at 82 percent with six dominator blocks and four knockdowns during Georgia's 34-31 overtime win at Tennessee.
  • Burnette anchored an offense that generated at least 34 points and 400 yards for the fifth consecutive game of the 2013 season.
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
  • Notched a second-straight three-sack game with his three-sack, five-tackle outing Saturday night in Mizzou’s 51-28 win at Vanderbilt. Two of his sacks came on fourth-down plays in the fourth-quarter as Vanderbilt was trying to stage a late rally.
  • The three sacks ties the NCAA single-game high through Oct. 5th this season, and Sam is the only player in the nation so far to record three sacks in a game twice. It’s been done 16 times overall so far, but Sam is the only repeat performer on the single-game list.
  • Sam leads the SEC in both sacks and tackles for loss, and ranks fifth in the NCAA so far in sacks (1.2 per game) and 6th in the NCAA in TFLs (2.0 per game).

SEC lunchtime links

October, 7, 2013
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Here are some of today's headlines from around the SEC.
Someone has to chase down all those speedy skill position players, and the SEC is well equipped with some fine secondaries this fall.

Here's how they rank going into the 2013 season:

1. Florida: The Gators will have arguably the nation's best cornerback duo in potential future first-rounders Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. Purifoy is viewed by many as the nation's top cornerback. He's still raw, but he's a tremendous athlete, has great speed and is getting better at being a pure cover corner. Though Roberson isn't as athletic, he's more polished and has real lockdown ability (14 passes defensed in 2012). Sophomore Brian Poole made tremendous strides this spring at corner, and many think incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the ability to play now. At safety, veterans Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs have moved from corner. Coach Will Muschamp wants to see more from this position, but has plenty of bodies to help Watkins and Riggs, starting with Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman.

[+] EnlargeHaHa Clinton-Dix
AP Photo/Butch DillHaHa Clinton-Dix could emerge as one of the best safeties in the nation.
2. Alabama: First-round corner Dee Milliner and reliable safety Robert Lester are gone, but there's a wealth of young talent in the secondary. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is poised to be an All-American and could be the top safety in the country. Deion Belue emerged as a very reliable cornerback and should be one of the top players at his position in the SEC this year. Sophomore Geno Smith matured quickly last year and was solid this spring, so he shouldn't have a problem stepping into a starting role. Vinnie Sunseri gives Alabama a veteran leader at safety, while sophomore Landon Collins might be ready go from special teams workhorse to starting safety for the Tide.

3. Vanderbilt: Andre Hal is one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC, while Kenny Ladler ranks near the top at the safety position in the SEC. Hal was second in the SEC with 14 pass breakups and added two interceptions last season. Ladler figured out a way to be all over the field last year, leading the team with 90 tackles. His safety partner, Javon Marshall, is back. Marshall and Ladler tied for the team lead with 60 solo tackles and will be one of the league's best safety duos. Replacing Trey Wilson won't be easy, but there are plenty of options, starting with senior Steven Clarke, who was the primary nickel corner.

4. LSU: The Tigers have to replace Eric Reid and Tharold Simon, but have the bodies to make things right, starting with corners Jalen Mills, Jalen Collins and safety Craig Loston. Mills and Collins were thrown onto the field early last season after Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal and grew up in a hurry. Mills started all 13 games and defended seven passes with two interceptions. Loston had trouble reaching his potential early in his career, but has really turned the corner and should be one of the top SEC safeties. Junior Ronald Martin should be fine at the other safety spot, while sophomores Micah Eugene and Corey Thompson are solid backups. Freshman Jeryl Brazil is a freak athlete who should help at corner.

5. Ole Miss: The Rebels gave up more yards and touchdowns through the air than they would have liked last season, but this group showed good flashes here and there. A good spring and a healthy dose of experience should go a long way this fall. Senior Charles Sawyer was very steady at corner after moving from safety and is the leader of this group, while hard-hitting sophomore safety Trae Elston has what it takes to be a top safety in this league. Junior Cody Prewitt leads the charge at the other safety spot, while Senquez Golson will start opposite Sawyer. Highly-touted freshman Antonio Conner could enter the season as the starter at the hybrid "Husky" position. There is a ton of depth in the secondary, starting with big-play machine Nick Brassell, who is back after a juco stint. Quintavius Burdette and Chief Brown provide good reserve options at safety.

6. Texas A&M: What was a young unit in 2012 is all grown up now. The top player back there is corner Deshazor Everett, who became a national name after his game-sealing interception against Alabama. While Everett could be a star, he and top safety Floyd Raven are dealing with legal issues after they were arrested in connection with an April incident at a College Station apartment complex. Getting them on the field is critical for the Aggies. De'Vante Harris enjoyed a solid freshman campaign and proved he can be a shutdown corner. Safety is stacked with veterans such as Raven, Howard Matthews and Toney Hurd Jr., so this unit should be drastically better in 2013.

7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks lost a top-flight safety in D.J. Swearinger and an experienced corner in Akeem Auguste, but they bring back a lot of athleticism and speed. It starts with junior corner Victor Hampton, who has turned into one of South Carolina's best overall players. Jimmy Legree moved back to corner from safety last season and tied for a team-high three interceptions and six pass breakups. Talented sophomore Ahmad Christian will also push to get on the field. Brison Williams is solid at strong safety, while sophomore T.J. Gurley could be a stud at free safety. He'll have to battle with the much-improved Kadetrix Marcus, but Gurley is one of the team's most talented players. There's a lot of inexperience behind the main guys, and the staff is hoping to get more out of former top safety recruit Chaz Elder.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTray Matthews could crack the starting lineup in time for the season opener.
8. Georgia: The Bulldogs lost a ton of production here, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is excited by the talent his youngsters have, especially safety Tray Matthews, who might already be one of the top players at his position in the SEC. He covers a lot of ground, has great instincts and hits with the best of them. There's "old man" Damian Swann, who excelled as both a nickel and boundary corner last year. He's now the guy at corner. Sophomore "Star" Josh Harvey-Clemons might be the most talented player in the secondary and he'll work at both safety and linebacker in certain packages. Sophomore Sheldon Dawson left spring as the other starting corner, and the coaches are excited about his potential, while talented early enrollee Reggie Wilkerson will miss the season after suffering an ACL injury. Sophomore Devin Bowman should help at corner, along with true freshman Shaq Wiggins, a former ESPN 150 member.

9. Mississippi State: Jim Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks, top interception man Darius Slay and longtime starter Corey Broomfield are all gone. It hurts, but the Bulldogs aren't lost in the secondary. Senior Nickoe Whitley has loads of experience, while fellow safety Jay Hughes really stepped up as a valuable leader this spring. Jamerson Love is the most experienced corner coming back and the coaches expect him to break out very soon. But a lot of attention is going to juco transfer Justin Cox, who might be the team's fastest player and looks ready to step right in and be a shutdown corner. The top four guys seem solid, but there is a lot of inexperience behind them.

10. Auburn: Auburn has a lot of experience coming back to a unit that ranked eighth in pass defense last season. That number should be better this year, especially with Ellis Johnson taking over the defense. Corner Chris Davis might have only played nine games last season, but Johnson thinks he could be a special player. Corners Jonathon Mincy and Josh Holsey also saw plenty of time last year, while Jonathan Jones provides solid depth. Safety is covered by the high-flying Demetruce McNeal and Jermaine Whitehead, who were two of the Tigers' top tacklers last year. This group has to be more consistent and has to generate turnovers. Auburn had just two interceptions last year, with one coming from reserve safety Trent Fisher.

11. Missouri: Senior corner E.J. Gaines is one of the best cover corners in the SEC. What he lacks in size, he makes up in athleticism, speed and toughness. He has 27 pass breakups and three interceptions in the last two seasons. Randy Ponder had a solid spring and should start opposite Gaines. He has played in 25 games with five starts. Safety Braylon Webb is back after starting 12 games last year at free safety, while senior Matt White should hold down the other safety spot. Only Gaines and Ponder return with interceptions from last year (one each) and this unit surrendered an average of 333.3 passing yards per game last November.

12. Tennessee: The Vols do bring back experience, but this same group contributed to Tennessee owning the SEC's second worst pass defense (282.5 yards allowed per game). So that means these players have to grow and simply get better on the field. It won't come over night, but the experience gained last season should help. Safeties Byron Moore and Brian Randolph, who is coming back from an ACL injury, provide a solid foundation at safety, while returning starting corner Justin Coleman has to be much better than he was in 2012. Fortunately for the Vols, Coleman made very good strides this spring. Juco transfer Riyahd Jones could come in and start immediately.

13. Arkansas: This is another group that returns a lot of experience, but it was also the SEC's worst pass defense last year. The Razorbacks surrendered 8.2 yards per pass, 285.8 passing yards per game and gave up 24 touchdowns with six interceptions. All four starters -- corners Tevin Mitchel and Will Hines and safeties Eric Bennett and Rohan Gaines -- but all of them have to get better. Mitchel and Gaines have the potential to be big-time players, but they have to be more consistent. This unit should get a boost from juco transfers Tiquention Coleman and Carroll Washington, while redshirt freshman Jared Collins had a pretty good spring.

14. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost two quality starters and are now stuck with a lot of young players. Coach Mark Stoops wasn't too pleased with the play of the secondary this spring, so this won't be a quick fix. Junior safety Ashely Lowery has the playmaking ability Stoops wants back there, but he just resumed working out after his horrific car accident from earlier this year. Youngsters Daron and Zack Blaylock, J.D. Harmon, Cody Quinn, and Fred Tiller all saw good time last season, but their growing pains lasted for most of the season. There was some improvement this spring, but this unit has a long way to go before fall.
It’s Rankings Week at DawgNation. Each day this week, we’ll rank some aspect of Georgia’s football program and the teams and players the Bulldogs will face in the 2013 season.

Today we’re ranking the top-10 defensive players the Bulldogs will face this season. On Thursday, we’ll turn to Georgia’s top-10 impact freshmen.

Top offensive players UGA will face 

June, 25, 2013
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It’s Rankings Week at DawgNation. Each day this week, we’ll rank some aspect of Georgia’s football program and the teams and players the Bulldogs will face in the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesClemson QB Tajh Boyd will be a tough challenge for Georgia's rebuilt defense.
Today we’re ranking the top 10 offensive players the Bulldogs will see this season. On Wednesday, we’ll turn to the top 10 defensive players.

1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: The Heisman Trophy contender ranked seventh nationally in total offense last season (339.2 ypg) and figures to be a nightmare for Georgia’s rebuilt defense as a running and passing threat. His 36 passing touchdowns and 10 scores on the ground last season attest to the problems he will present.


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Top 5 Moments: Mitchell TD drops Gators

December, 14, 2012
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Malcolm MitchellSam Greenwood/Getty ImagesMalcolm Mitchell high stepping acrosse the goal line against Florida was the top moment of 2012.
Editor’s note: Each day this week, we will look back at a memorable moment or series of events from Georgia's 2012 season. In today’s final installment, we recall Malcolm Mitchell's touchdown catch against Florida that proved to be the game-winning score.

ATHENS, Ga. -- There might be a dozen plays from throughout Georgia's season that if the Bulldogs player didn't make the play he did, exactly when he did, the entire trajectory of the season might have been different.

We've covered some of them this week, including Jarvis Jones' key fourth-quarter takeaways in wins against Missouri and Florida and Connor Norman's heads-up onside kick recovery against Kentucky. But perhaps the greatest example of timely playmaking might have come in the Bulldogs' 17-9 win against then-unbeaten Florida, when Malcolm Mitchell turned a short pass into a 45-yard touchdown play.

Mitchell had been locked in a war of wills all afternoon with a fellow motormouth, Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy and actually got himself briefly removed from the game by coach Mark Richt in the fourth quarter for drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a post-play incident with Purifoy.

Purifoy might have won that battle, but Mitchell won the war soon thereafter. Three plays after drawing the 15-yard penalty, Mitchell escaped from Purifoy to catch a third-and-5 pass from Aaron Murray just beyond the first-down marker at Florida's 38. A first down was not all Mitchell had on his mind immediately after shedding the Gators defender and looking at the wide-open swath of green grass in front of him as he turned upfield.

The speedster had sprinted to the Gators' 15 by the time he encountered his next defender, cutting inside a lunging Matt Elam to continue his trek toward the end zone. Next he blasted through tackle attempts by Jon Bostic and De'Ante Saunders at the 5 before high stepping into the end zone for a touchdown that pushed Georgia's lead to 17-9 with 7:11 remaining, with utter delirium breaking out on the Bulldogs' sideline and throughout Georgia's half of EverBank Field.

Jones and the defense still had to make one final stand before the Bulldogs' win was secure, but Georgia desperately needed a touchdown when Mitchell finally made the game's biggest offensive play. The Bulldogs and Gators finished with identical 7-1 SEC records at the end of the regular season, but Georgia's head-to-head win -- made possible by Mitchell's explosive skills with the ball in his hands -- was the difference between an appearance in the conference championship game and watching the game from home.

It also represented the hated Gators' only loss of the season -- and the first time since 1988-89 that Georgia has beaten Florida in back-to-back years -- and blocked Florida from BCS championship game consideration, which in hindsight might be the sweetest part about the victory for Bulldogs fans.

Film study: Georgia vs. Florida 

October, 29, 2012
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Let’s take a look at three key plays from Georgia’s 17-9 upset win against then-No. 2 Florida on Saturday.


Bacarri Rambo’s interception



Rob Foldy/US Presswire

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The main storyline that will come out of this year's edition of the Georgia-Florida rivalry is ugliness. Saturday's four-hour marathon was a grinding affair of turnovers and penalties -- an absurd amount of both of them. But it's safe to say nobody wearing red and black will care much, as the Bulldogs slogged their way to a 17-9 win -- their first back-to-back wins against Florida since 1988-89 -- and pole position in the SEC East championship race.

Here's how it played out in Jacksonville, Fla.:

It was over when: Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones stripped Florida tight end Jordan Reed on the Bulldogs' 5-yard line with two minutes to play. Georgia recovered in its own end zone and subsequently ran the clock out. The turnover denied the Gators an opportunity at a first-and-goal and a potential game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion.

Game ball goes to: Much was made of how badly the Bulldogs needed Jones to step up after he missed the narrow win against Kentucky. Suffice to say Jones got the memo. He almost single-handedly mauled the Florida offense, as he finished with 13 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. It was only fitting that Jones made the play that preserved the win.

Key play: The Georgia passing game delivered one of its only big moments when it absolutely had to, at the midpoint of the fourth quarter. Aaron Murray beat a Florida blitz on third-and-5 to find wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell on a 7-yard curl route. Mitchell shook off Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy and beat three other tacklers on the way to a 45-yard touchdown and a 17-9 lead. Mitchell's big moment came just two plays after he was hit with a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Key play part II: Trailing 7-6, Florida faced a second-and-goal from the Georgia 5-yard line with 17 seconds until halftime. The Gators had the opportunity to take a lead with either a touchdown or a field goal, but Driskel rolled to his right and fired across his body into end zone traffic. Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo nabbed it for an interception to preserve the Bulldogs' slim advantage. It was perhaps the most costly of Driskel's mistakes in an uncharacteristic game for the young quarterback.

Key stat: The game saw a staggering total of nine turnovers -- six by the Gators, three by the Bulldogs. Georgia converted just 1 of 11 third downs. Perhaps the most amazing stat: The referees threw a total of 24 flags during the 60 minutes of game play. Georgia drew 14 flags for 132 yards; Florida earned 10 for 95 yards.

Key stat part II: Florida entered the game averaging 212 rushing yards per game. Georgia's defense limited the Gators to just 81 yards on 41 carries, while Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley racked up 124 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.

What it means: The Bulldogs now become the favorite to claim a second consecutive SEC East title and advance to the SEC championship game in Atlanta. All is not lost for Florida, however. The Bulldogs must still face Ole Miss next week, and their annual rivalry game against Auburn comes on the road in two weeks. If the Gators can hold serve against Missouri, there is still some hope of a division title.

Game breakdown: Georgia vs. Florida 

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
7:00
AM ET
NO. 10 GEORGIA VS. NO. 2 FLORIDA
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
CBS

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Q&A with GatorNation's Michael DiRocco 

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
9:12
AM ET
With No. 10 Georgia’s showdown with No. 2 Florida only a couple of days away, we sought out perspective from the Sunshine State on what to expect from Saturday’s game in Jacksonville, Fla.

ESPN GatorNation beat writer Michael DiRocco was kind enough to answer five questions about the game that could very well determine this season’s SEC East champion:

Q: The most obvious factor in Florida’s turnaround is that it’s getting solid play from Jeff Driskel at quarterback instead of last season’s revolving door of uncertainty. Is that all it took? Why else is this Florida team so much better?

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GatorNation links: Top 5 rivalry players

October, 22, 2012
10/22/12
3:35
PM ET
Note: During this rivalry week, DawgNation will offer you a peek behind enemy lines with links to GatorNation stories.

Michael DiRocco writes: Georgia's Herschel Walker and Florida's Danny Wuerffel are two of the top-five performers in the Florida-Georgia rivalry all-time.

DiRocco: Florida's offense is suspect this season, but the Gators' excellense on special teams has helped with field position.

DiRocco Insider: Florida 10: Week 8 power rankings

DiRocco Insider: Scouting report: Georgia

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