Georgia Bulldogs: Mike Gillislee

Here are five matchups to watch when Florida has the ball in Saturday's game in Jacksonville:

Florida's running game vs. Georgia's front seven: This is perhaps the most important matchup on this side of the ball. Florida's offensive identity is built around pounding the run and controlling the clock, and it made hay in that department with Mike Gillislee toting the rock an SEC-high 244 times for 1,152 yards last season. The results have been highly uneven this year with quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Matt Jones sidelined by season-ending injuries. Georgia native Mack Brown (99-359, 3 TDs) is Florida's leading rusher, but he is not the Gators' scariest ball carrier. That honor goes to freshman Kelvin Taylor (28-172, TD), the son of Gator great Fred Taylor. Kelvin has played more recently. The problem is that, like most freshman, he is a liability in pass protection. Until he becomes a more consistent blocker, defenses know what Florida likely intends to do when he lines up in the backfield.

Georgia pass rushers vs. depleted Florida line: The Bulldogs' defense hasn't had much to brag about this season, but they have actually applied fairly consistent pressure against opposing quarterbacks. Georgia is tied for third in the SEC with 19 sacks -- many of which have come from the revitalized defensive line. Defensive end Ray Drew leads the team and is tied for fourth in the SEC with five sacks. Outside linebackers Leonard Floyd (four) and Jordan Jenkins (three) are just behind him. Florida has struggled with its pass protection this season, and it could be an even bigger issue on Saturday now that left tackle D.J. Humphries is out of the picture for the next few games. The Gators have allowed 17 sacks this season -- only Ole Miss and Vanderbilt (19 apiece) have allowed more among SEC teams -- so their injury-depleted line needs to raise its level of play or Florida's offense might have difficulty moving the ball on Saturday. Jarvis Jones, who wreaked havoc against Florida in each of the last two meetings, is no longer on the roster, but Drew, Jenkins and Floyd are good enough to give the Gators problems.

Tyler Murphy on the edge: Driskel's replacement under center, Murphy, started out well enough, leading the Gators to wins against Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas in his first three games. But Murphy took a pounding in the last two games, both losses, and Florida's offense was barely able to generate any scoring punch. He is most effective as a run-pass threat -- Murphy ran 10 times for 84 yards after taking over against Tennessee -- but his Total QBR numbers have fallen off a cliff since his strong start. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Murphy posted an outstanding Total QBR of 93.8 in the first three games, completing 72 percent of his passes, but he averaged an 8.9 QBR against LSU and Missouri -- including a 3.0 against Missouri, the lowest QBR by a Florida starter in the last decade. He'll have to make some things happen with his legs for Florida's offense to be effective Saturday, as he leaves a lot to be desired as a pure drop-back passer.

Containing Florida's receivers: The Gators have pretty much stunk in the passing game over the past few seasons, and 2013 has been no different (12th in the SEC in passing at 175.4 ypg). The speedy Solomon Patton (28-426, 4 TDs) -- whom Georgia safety Shawn Williams bulldog tackled just before he reached the first-down marker on a run last season, knocking Patton out of the game -- has been one of the Gators' only consistent receiving weapons. Otherwise, Florida's receiving corps has been a train wreck this season. Andre Debose is out for the year with an injury. Trey Burton (29-336, TD) has the most catches on the team, but hasn't been particularly consistent. Quinton Dunbar (22-301) is the only other Gator with more than 46 receiving yards. Georgia's secondary has been subpar this season -- the Bulldogs rank 11th in the SEC in pass defense (253.4 ypg) -- so the matchup between its defensive backs and Florida's mediocre wideouts pits two weaknesses against one another.

Burton as wild card: Think back to Florida's 2010 win in Jacksonville. Florida utility man Burton might have been the most effective quarterback on the field that day. Operating out of Florida's Wildcat package, Burton ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns, led the team with five receptions and completed two passes for 26 yards. He still operates out of the Wildcat at times, so keep an eye on the versatile senior, who is capable of impacting the game in a variety of ways.

SEC sends several RBs to NFL combine

February, 19, 2013
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis. Today: Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.

LSU Tigers


Perhaps it says something about LSU's offense in 2012 that among a record 13 players invited to the NFL combine from the Tigers, only two are offensive skill players who are generally considered, at this point, marginal talents. Running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford are the only skill players invited to Indianapolis, which is understandable when one considers LSU was 10th in the SEC in total offense. It's also a sign of youth. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, fullback J.C. Copeland, running back Jeremy Hill and all of LSU's primary threats at wide receiver will return in 2013.

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What we learned in the SEC bowls

January, 9, 2013
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Now that the bowl season is over, it's time to take a look back at what we learned in the SEC during the postseason:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesNick Saban and Alabama will be among the favorites to win the national title again next season.
1. It really is Alabama's world: For the second straight year and for the third time in four years, Alabama took home college football's crystal hardware. After the first 15 minutes of the Discover BCS National Championship, it didn't even look like No. 1 Notre Dame deserved to be on the same field as the Crimson Tide. Alabama wore down the Irish defense in the first half, and its defense tormented Notre Dame's offense for about 90 percent of Monday night's game. Nick Saban didn't have his most talented team, but he had his squad way more prepared than Brian Kelly did. Saban's way of making sure his players approach every game the same way proved to be excellent again. Notre Dame was completely overmatched, and with the talent coming back in 2013, Alabama should again be the favorite to win it all. Three-peat?

2. The SEC's dominance is still being challenged: Even though Alabama brought home the SEC's seventh straight BCS title, the SEC's perception is still being challenged. Social media has been buzzing with chants of "overrated" directed toward the SEC because Mississippi State, LSU and Florida all fell flat in their bowl games. Mississippi State lost by 14 to Northwestern, LSU lost to Clemson on a last-second field goal and Florida was run ragged by Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Heading into bowl season, Florida and LSU weren't expected to lose, but they got away from their ground games and paid for it dearly. Still, the SEC went 6-3 (.667) in bowl games, including Texas A&M's 41-13 rout of Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and Georgia and South Carolina downing Big Ten teams. Only the WAC (2-0) and C-USA (4-1) had better winning percentages, and neither had nearly as many bowl teams. So is the SEC down? Well, while the SEC took a couple of bad losses in bowl season, seven teams finished the year in the Associated Press Top 25, including five in the top 10. The Big Ten and Big 12 had losing bowl records, the Pac-12 went 4-4 and the ACC was 4-2. So, if the SEC is overrated, what are the other conferences?

3. Florida's offensive issues are still a major problem: All season, we wondered what we'd see from Florida's offense. However, for 11 games, even if the offense came up short, the Gators found ways to win. Against Louisville, the Gators went in reverse and never got right again. Jeff Driskel threw a pick-six on the first possession, and the offense imploded from there. Mike Gillislee, who was easily Florida's best offensive weapon, carried the ball just nine times. The Gators panicked, but when they had to pass, they couldn't.

This has to be a major concern for the Gators going forward, because Gillislee is graduating and tight end Jordan Reed declared for the NFL draft. Driskel has to find some major help in the passing game this spring/summer, or Florida's offense will get pummeled again. Driskel's health is now a major concern because backup Jacoby Brissett is transferring, leaving the Gators with no experience behind Driskel.

4. More eyes will be on Ole Miss ... and Vanderbilt: Before the season, no one gave Ole Miss a chance at the postseason -- or even five wins -- but the Rebels went out and had a tremendous first year under Hugh Freeze. If not for a couple of horrendous second halves, the Rebels might have won eight games during the regular season. After a dominating performance in their BBVA Compass Bowl win against Pittsburgh, the Rebels could be looking at a spot in preseason Top 25 polls. Most of this team, including what could be a stellar recruiting class, will be in Oxford next fall, so expectations will be much higher.

The same can be said about James Franklin's Vanderbilt Commodores. After a historic nine-win season that ended with a commanding bowl win over NC State, the Commodores will be expected to keep up this act after being even better in Year 2 of the Franklin era. Vandy will lose some talent up front defensively, and Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy will be gone, but a host of playmakers will return, including receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd.

5. Johnny Football's legend just keeps growing: After Texas A&M lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury to Texas Tech, Johnny Manziel's field maturity was really going to be judged in the AT&T Cotton Bowl against the Sooners. Well, all he did without one of his best mentors was set a bowl record for total yards (516) in the Aggies' rout inside Jerry's World. Manziel zigged and zagged as though Kingsbury was feeding him info through an earpiece. People don't understand how much Kingsbury helped Manziel with his composure during games, but Manziel did just fine without him. It shows how much he's grown during his Heisman year. Things will be different next season with some key players also missing on offense, but to see Manziel play like that without Kingsbury has to be very encouraging for Kevin Sumlin and the rest of the Aggies' coaching staff.

By the numbers: UGA-Ole Miss 

November, 2, 2012
11/02/12
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Editor’s note: Each week, the good folks at ESPN Stats and Information will help us take a look inside the numbers that matter prior to Georgia’s games. We’ll share some of their data here on the blog every Friday this fall.

NO. 6 GEORGIA VS. OLE MISS
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.

1: Running back league?: Fresh off a 118-yard outing that Mark Richt described as one of the underrated elements of Georgia’s win against Florida, freshman tailback Todd Gurley now sits third in the SEC in rushing at 92.5 yards per game (120 carries for 740 yards and 10 TDs).

Gurley’s per-game average tumbled after a 39-yard game against South Carolina and a 47-yard game against Kentucky. But he posted his fifth 100-yard outing of the season against the Gators to move back toward the top of the SEC charts.

Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel leads the league with an average of 99.1 rushing yards per game (117-793, 13 TDs). If Manziel, Gurley, Mississippi State’s LaDarius Perkins (95.2 yards per game) or Florida’s Mike Gillislee (91.1) -- the only four players averaging at least 90 yards per game -- fail to increase their per-game average to at least triple digits, it would mark the first time since 1972 that the SEC’s leading rusher didn’t average at least 100 yards per game. Auburn’s Terry Henley led the SEC with 93.7 yards per game that season.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 9

October, 28, 2012
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Alabama is still really, really good, and we have a new king of the East:

1. The East is Georgia's to lose: After being counted out heading into their big matchup with Florida, the Bulldogs are now atop the East again. That brutal loss to South Carolina appears to be nothing more than a distant memory in Athens. All those "for sale" signs fans gathered for Mark Richt's house will have to be used for more constructive means after Georgia topped Florida 17-9. The win didn't clinch the East for the Bulldogs, but they are firmly in the driver's seat with Ole Miss and Auburn as their only remaining SEC opponents. The Rebels are much better than they've been in two years, but Georgia likely will be a heavy favorite in that game, while Auburn continues to stumble along this season. House money is on Georgia to take the East, and if the defense feeds off its performance Saturday, the Bulldogs should cruise into Atlanta.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAJ McCarron was efficient Saturday in throwing for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
2. The gap between Alabama and the rest of the country is widening: It might take an NFL team to stop the Crimson Tide. Alabama feasted on No. 11 Mississippi State on Saturday night with its 38-7 win over the Bulldogs. Such is life for opponents who walk into that Crimson buzz saw. Alabama is allowing just 3.5 yards per play and is outscoring opponents by 32 points a game. Oregon has looked great and is still scoring in its game against Colorado, while Kansas State and Notre Dame look more impressive every week. But Alabama is on a different level. It's the most disciplined team out there, and it's getting better. The Tide might not be as flashy or score as many points as Oregon or Kansas State, but they doesn't need to. They're too busy running on cruise control in the second half of games to care about scoring margins.

3. Florida needs more playmakers: The Gators have lived and died by running and smothering. But Saturday proved that if Florida is really going to rub elbows with the elites in college football, it has to find more offensive playmakers. Running back Mike Gillislee has been good, but he needs help from the passing game because teams are starting to crowd the box to key on him. Right now, tight end Jordan Reed is the only real reliable receiving target. Ironically, his fourth-quarter fumble sealed the Gators' fate against Georgia, but at least he was there to make some sort of play happen. Wide receivers Quinton Dunbar and Frankie Hammond Jr. have been wildly inconsistent, while utility man Trey Burton just hasn't been very effective since the Tennessee game. Jeff Driskel will take a lot of heat for his critical errors and turnovers on Saturday, but he wasn't getting much help. Someone has to emerge to take the pressure off Driskel and Gillislee.

4. Hugh Freeze was the right choice: Some weren't sure whether Ole Miss got it right with Freeze. He wasn't a sexy name in the coaching world, and many thought the Rebels could do better. Well, after Ole Miss' 30-27 win over Arkansas, the Rebels are one win from being bowl-eligible for the first time in two years and matching their win total from the past two years combined. Freeze has totally changed the culture at Ole Miss and has made the Rebels relevant again. The offense has been fun to watch, and this team has real fight in it. Players admitted to giving up during games last year, but this year's team has really bought in to playing for four quarters. This team wasn't supposed to be remotely close to the bowl picture. Now, it's a win from the postseason, and Freeze is a major reason. He deserves to be considered for SEC Coach of the Year.

5. Another loss could seal Dooley's fate: If the magic number for wins for Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is eight, the Vols will have to win out to get there. That means getting through November unscathed. It's manageable, with Troy, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky left, but it isn't close to a guarantee. The Vols have to really be hurting after that three-point loss to South Carolina. The defense was abused again, and two Tyler Bray turnovers were costly. This team hasn't won a game in October under Dooley and now has to have a perfect November to reach a bowl game. This team swept November in Dooley's first year and has to do it again if it is to have a chance at eight victories.
Editor’s note: Each week, the good folks at ESPN Stats and Information will help us take a look inside the numbers that matter prior to Georgia’s games. We’ll share some of their data here on the blog every Friday this fall.

NO. 10 GEORGIA VS. NO. 2 FLORIDA
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.

1. Second-half Gators: It is a well-publicized fact that Florida has dominated in the second half this season, coming back from halftime deficits in its wins against Texas A&M, Tennessee and LSU. The Gators allowed a combined six points, 304 yards and six plays of 10 yards or more in the second halves of those games.

A key factor in Florida’s second-half success is that it averages 6 minutes, 30 seconds more in time of possession than its opponents in the third and fourth quarters -- the largest differential in the nation. One reason for that differential is that the Gators run on 77.5 percent of their second-half plays (fifth-most in the FBS) with Mike Gillislee leading the charge.

The senior tailback is averaging 2 more yards per carry in the second half compared to the first in SEC play and has logged 128 of his 311 second-half rushing yards after first contact with a defender:




Note: Gillislee has 128 yards after contact.

2. Big-play Bulldogs: Thus far in seven games, Georgia’s offense has already compiled more plays that covered 30 yards or more (24) than it did in 14 games last season (23). The only game where Georgia didn’t have at least one play of 30-plus was its 35-7 loss to South Carolina.

Prior to the South Carolina game, the last time Georgia failed to have at least one 30-yard play was in its 24-20 win against Florida last season. That sets up an interesting matchup Saturday against a stingy Florida defense. The Gators have surrendered 21 plays of 20-plus yards this season, only three of which were rushes. The three 20-yard runs are tied for the fifth fewest in the FBS and the 21 plays are tied for 12th.




Note: Georgia is tied for the FBS lead in 20-plus-yard plays and 50-plus-yard touchdowns.

3. Murray, King and the deep ball: After accounting for 188 yards on nine catches last week against Kentucky, receiver Tavarres King is on a roll entering the Florida game. Quarterback Aaron Murray is completing 72 percent of his passes when targeting King this season, more than 20 percent better than his targets of King a season ago.

They have been a particularly effective combination on throws of 15 yards or longer. Murray is 9-for-13 on such throws to King with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Last season, Murray completed just 28.1 percent of the same passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

On all throws of 20 yards or longer, Murray has completed 50 percent of his passes compared to 28.8 a season ago. He has five touchdowns and no interceptions on those throws this season after notching 11 TDs and five picks in 2011 (he was 0-for-4 when throwing long against Florida last season).


Game breakdown: Georgia vs. Florida 

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
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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
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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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Big 3: Richt focuses on run defense 

October, 24, 2012
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With an enormously important game against No. 2 Florida ahead on Saturday, Georgia coach Mark Richt used his time Wednesday on the SEC’s weekly teleconference to discuss the importance run defense, momentum and improved defensive intensity will have in the Bulldogs’ showdown with the Gators.

1. Defending the run
Richt has emphasized all week the importance of turnovers in his experience in the Georgia-Florida series. But aside from that key element of the game, he believes Georgia’s ability to slow down Mike Gillislee and the Gators’ dominant rushing attack -- and the Bulldogs struggled in that area last weekend against Kentucky -- will be the biggest determining factor in the outcome.

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SEC Heisman Watch: Week 9

October, 23, 2012
10/23/12
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We have a new No. 1, and he's getting more national Heisman buzz as well:

1. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: People wondered if he could throw when called upon and he did just that against Tennessee. McCarron passed for a career-high 306 yards and had four touchdowns in Alabama's blowout win. He is still one of the country's most efficient passers and is tied for first in the SEC with 16 passing touchdowns. He's one of only two quarterbacks nationally to start seven games without throwing an interception. McCarron has more than 1,400 passing yards and the more Alabama wins, the better for McCarron in this race.

2. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: For the second time this season, a stout defense found a way to shut down Johnny Football in the second half. First, it was Florida, and Saturday it was LSU. Both turned out to be losses for the Aggies. Manziel passed for 276 yards, but threw three interceptions and rushed for only 27 yards. He also was held out of the end zone for the first time this season. Still, Manziel has a chance to get back in this race nationally with strong showings down the home stretch. He's second in the SEC in passing (1,956), second in rushing (703) and has accounted for 24 touchdowns (14 passing, 10 rushing).

3. Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida: South Carolina kept Gillislee in check over the weekend. He carried the ball 19 times for 37 yards, averaging 1.9 yards per carry. The Gamecocks swarmed around him whenever he touched the ball and made his life miserable. There are still plenty more opportunities for Gillislee to make some real Heisman noise, and he'll get a great chance this weekend against Georgia. He's fourth in the SEC in rushing with 652 yards and has seven touchdowns.

4. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: The bye week was great for Murray. He had a true record-breaking night against Kentucky on Saturday, completing a career-high 30 passes for a career-high 427 yards and had four touchdowns. His 427 yards were fourth best in school history and second best in the SEC this season. His 78.95 completion percentage was a school record by a quarterback with at least 30 completions. Murray is now tied for third in the SEC in passing (1,914) and is tied for first with 16 touchdowns. A win over Florida will definitely give him a boost in this race.

5. LaDarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State: Another back with dynamic ability in the SEC. Real shocker there. Perkins has flown under the radar all season, but he leads the SEC in rushing (724) and all-purpose yards (1,002). He can hurt defenses so many different ways when he touches the ball. He isn't just a bruiser; he can outrun a few guys out there. He'll get a chance to really make a name for himself with a big day against No. 1 Alabama Saturday.

GatorNation links: Top 5 rivalry players

October, 22, 2012
10/22/12
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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
Now that you've seen Chris Low's top 25, it's time to see what my list of the top 25 players in the SEC looks like.

I'm not perfect, but I'll try to be:

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Who has been more exciting than Johnny Football? The Aggies aren't 5-1 without him or his 1,600 passing yards, 676 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.

2. Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida: He's powering Florida's offense and he's been the SEC's best back thus far. He's extremely explosive and is strong enough to bully his way to extra yards and wear down defenses.

(Read full post)

SEC Heisman Watch: Week 8

October, 16, 2012
10/16/12
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We have a new No. 1, and age ain't nothing but a number:

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Sure, he's a freshman. No freshman has ever won the Heisman Trophy, but Manziel has been the most exciting player in the SEC this season. He can hurt teams with his arm and legs and showed it once again in the Aggies' shootout victory over Louisiana Tech. He broke his own SEC record for total offensive yards when he threw for 395 yards with three touchdowns and ran for 181 yards and three more touchdowns. That's 576 yards from one person. Nasty. He's third in the SEC in passing (1,680 yards) and has 14 touchdowns to three interceptions. He also leads the SEC with 676 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

(Read full post)

SEC power rankings: Week 7

October, 8, 2012
10/08/12
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There's movement all over as we check out the SEC power rankings for Week 7:

1. Alabama (5-0; LW: 1): The Tide was off last week, so it didn't have a chance to widen its lead on the SEC and the rest of the country. The last thing Alabama's upcoming opponents want is a rested Tide team. I can only imagine the extra work Nick Saban put his team through in order to clean up all those little things.

2. South Carolina (6-0; LW: 4): The Gamecocks completely dominated Georgia over the weekend. South Carolina's offense is extremely balanced and looks like it can just jump on Marcus Lattimore's shoulders at this point. He's just getting stronger and stronger. The defense is smothering up front and stopping that defensive line has been a nightmare for teams. But road games at LSU and Florida will be tough.

3. Florida (5-0; LW: 5): The Gators might not have the most exciting offense, but that defense is tremendous. Florida put a load of pressure on LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger over the weekend and clobbered the Tigers' running game. Behind Mike Gillislee, the Gators pounded LSU with their running game, but the passing game is still a concern. If Florida can get more through the air, this offense could start to really give defenses fits.

4. LSU (5-1; LW: 2): It's obvious that the Tigers can't put everything on their defense. Even with how talented LSU is on the defensive side of the ball, the offense needs major work, especially in the passing game. Mettenberger hasn't come close to living up to the hype and just doesn't look comfortable standing in LSU's pocket. The running game was one of the SEC's best, but was quieted against Florida because there just wasn't the threat to pass. No offensive balance could doom this team.

5. Georgia (5-1; LW: 3): The concern about the defense continues to grow after the Bulldogs' 28-point loss to the Gamecocks. USC was intent on running and Georgia couldn't do anything to stop it, allowing 232 rushing yards. Jarvis Jones has been a non-factor for the past two weeks and Aaron Murray's big-game struggles came right back in Columbia, S.C. The good news is the Bulldogs have the SEC East's easiest schedule from here on out.

6. Mississippi State (5-0; LW: 6): These Bulldogs weren't flashy, but they were very efficient against Kentucky. Tyler Russell is one of seven FBS quarterbacks with 10-plus passing touchdowns and fewer than two interceptions this season, while LaDarius Perkins is the only player in the SEC to be in the top two in rushing yards per game (99.8) and all-purpose yards per game (130.0). That defense has been pretty stout as well, as the Bulldogs have trailed for just 10:19 this season.

7. Texas A&M (4-1; LW: 7): Johnny Manziel grabbed hero status in Oxford, Miss., over the weekend. The redshirt freshman quarterback led the Aggies to 13 straight points in the fourth quarter, after trailing Ole Miss by 10. He had a nifty 29-yard touchdown run to trim the Rebels' lead to four and then found Ryan Swope for the game-winning 20-yard touchdown pass with 1:46 remaining. What's more impressive is the Aggies got the win despite committing six turnovers.

8. Tennessee (3-2; LW: 8): The Vols were off, but have a very important matchup with Mississippi State this weekend. We finally saw good balance out of the Vols against an SEC opponent in their shootout loss to Georgia two weeks ago, but most of the extra time Tennessee had better have been devoted to doing something about that defense. The Vols are 13th in the SEC in total defense (425.8 yards per game), and that just won't cut it if Tennessee is going to make any sort of second-half run.

9. Vanderbilt (2-3; LW: 12): The Commodores got a big win on the road at Missouri. Like prior games, Vandy wasn't great when it had the ball, but it played tough for four quarters and outlasted a banged-up Mizzou team. The defense really has been impressive for most of the season, but the Commodores have to get more out of the offense.

10. Ole Miss (3-3; LW: 10): After a heartbreaking loss to the Aggies, Ole Miss now has lost 16 straight SEC games. Blowing that 10-point lead in the fourth quarter probably will haunt this team all week. There's no doubt the Rebels can move the ball, but costly turnovers have doomed this offense. The defense has made strides since last season, but there's still too much break in this unit.

11. Arkansas (2-4; LW: 13): Just when you think the Hogs are done, they find some strength and walk out of Auburn with a huge win over the struggling Tigers. Auburn has had a plethora of issues this season, but from a mental aspect, this was a big win for Arkansas' team. The Razorbacks aren't totally out of the bowl hunt now, but there's still a lot of ground for this team to make up. Finally holding an offense in check, forcing five turnovers and getting eight sacks is a good start.

12. Missouri (3-3; LW: 9): This has not been the SEC welcome the Tigers expected. Mizzou has been banged up all year and pushed around by its SEC counterparts. James Franklin is out for a few weeks with a knee sprain. Corbin Berkstresser is now the starting quarterback, and he'd better get over his rough performance against Vandy, where he hit only 9 of his 30 passes. Things just get harder, as the Tigers host No. 1 Alabama Saturday.

13. Auburn (1-4; LW: 11): Things just aren't working on the Plains. With an extra week to prepare for the SEC's worst defense, the Tigers mustered only 321 yards of offense against Arkansas and found the end zone once. Kiehl Frazier was benched for Clint Moseley at quarterback, but two fourth-quarter interceptions doomed Auburn. The offense just has too many issues right now, and the Tigers might have lost their chance at a postseason berth with Saturday's no-show.

14. Kentucky (1-5; LW: 14): Injuries have crippled this team and things just aren't getting any better for the Wildcats. Kentucky was forced to play two freshmen at quarterback, and lost one (Patrick Towles) to an ankle injury, against Mississippi State. The Wildcats already were working without their starting running back. Things continue to heat up around Joker Phillips, whose team is hovering around the bottom of the SEC in most offensive and defensive categories.

The SEC East now has the 'Big Three'

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
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video
With all due respect to the SEC West, the East has it going on this year.

I said before the season that the West had the muscle, but the East would be more fun to watch.

Well, after four weeks, it looks like the East doesn’t just have a more exciting race on its hands but the Big Three now reside on that side of the conference.

Now, before my Twitter feed gets spammed and I have to go into hiding in some bunker located in or around the city of Atlanta, hear me out.

Alabama and LSU are still the cream of the crop. They are the two best teams in the SEC, and might be the two best teams in the nation. Don’t let LSU’s ugly win over Auburn fool you. The Tigers are still extremely talented and that defense is just as fierce.

But after that, the East has the West beat. Arkansas, which was a part of the West's talented trio, has fallen to the bottom of the division and could be struggling to make a bowl. Mississippi State has looked good, but those lackluster wins against overmatched teams make me nervous.

Your new Big Three, ladies and gentlemen: Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. And each has to be taken seriously when it comes to winning the SEC.

I'm not saying they're better than Alabama or LSU, but they have a legitimate chance of ending the West’s reign of terror.

I’ll start with the Bulldogs:

GEORGIA (No. 5, 4-0)
  • The Bulldogs have the SEC’s best offense. Georgia leads the league with 530 yards of offense a game and is as balanced as they come. Aaron Murray is passing for 273 yards a game and has tossed 10 touchdowns to two interceptions. Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett all have double-digit catches on the season and have combined for eight touchdowns.
  • Freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have turned into quite the rushing duo, combing for 670 yards and nine touchdowns. Gurley currently leads the SEC with 406 rushing yards and is averaging 9.2 yards per carry.
  • Where Georgia could have issues is with its run defense. The Dawgs are eighth in the SEC in rush defense (135.5 yards per game) and Alabama and LSU love to run the ball and wear down opponents. Georgia should know. But that should improve with the return of Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree. They will fill some of the holes we’ve seen on defense and help take some of that bend away.
SOUTH CAROLINA (No. 6, 4-0)
  • We’ve seen a lot more balance out of the Gamecocks’ offense in the past couple of weeks and it looks like Marcus Lattimore is getting stronger. He has the ability to wear down those defensive lines and open up the passing game for Connor Shaw. We’ll find out how much Lattimore is needed when South Carolina travels to LSU on Oct. 13.
  • Shaw might have a fracture in his shoulder, but he’s shown that he’s extremely tough and South Carolina will need that. He also showed against Missouri that he’s got what it takes to really sling the ball, as he completed his last 20 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Balance will be key, and this offense is full of it.
  • The secondary still has questions, but it’s getting better every week. South Carolina gives up a good chunk of yards through the air, but the Gamecocks have five interceptions and have allowed just three passing touchdowns. The play up front has really helped the secondary, as the Gamecocks are second in the SEC with 15 sacks. Jadeveon Clowney leads South Carolina with 4.5 sacks and is starting to find his groove.
FLORIDA (No. 11, 4-0)
  • The Gators finally have an offense. They still struggle some in the first half, but the Gators have outscored opponents 78-13 in the second half and haven’t allowed any points in the fourth quarter. Alabama can’t even say that! That’s a credit to Florida’s conditioning and solid halftime adjustments.
  • Florida also has a true downhill runner in Mike Gillislee, who is second in the SEC with 402 rushing yards, and have a budding star in quarterback Jeff Driskel. He can hurt teams with his legs and arm and has shown tremendous poise in harsh road conditions. This team has to find another consistent receiving threat outside of Jordan Reed.
  • Florida has shown some bend in its rush defense, and was pounded on the ground by Alabama and LSU last year. The Gators have to be tougher up front if they want a chance at claiming the SEC. Play in the box is crucial, and the Gators didn’t do very well at all in this area last year when they were clobbered by the Tide and Tigers. Florida’s date with LSU in the Swamp on Oct. 6 will tell us what that front can really do.

None of these teams are perfect, but they’re all pretty good. Georgia is probably equipped with the most talent in the East, but South Carolina and Florida aren’t far behind.

Watching these three beat each other up this fall is gonna be fun, but watching one of them try to take down one of the big dogs on the other side of the tracks will be especially entertaining.

Don’t sleep on the East this year.

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SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
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Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
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Thursday, 1/1
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