Georgia Bulldogs: Zac Stacy
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.
Let’s review some of what I learned from watching a recording of ESPN2’s broadcast in this week’s “Upon Further Review.”
• I don’t want to go too far overboard in praising Georgia’s offensive line. Interviewing Will Friend will condition you in that way, I guess. But they truly have played great in the last two games. I don’t know how many times I’ve written down Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee’s names for pulling and knocking a potential tackler out of the screen while rewatching the last two games, but it has been a frequent occurrence. Great job on their parts.
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Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET
Sanford Stadium/Athens, Ga.
Records: Georgia 3-0 (1-0 SEC), Vanderbilt 1-2 (0-1)
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We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:
1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.
David Ching: I will be most intrigued to see James Franklin and the Missouri offense this fall, largely because it will be the first opportunity to gauge whether the Tigers can actually compete in the SEC.
Georgia visits Missouri on Sept. 8 in the former Big 12 program’s first game as an SEC competitor. Many observers have circled the matchup as a potential trap game for the Bulldogs, who will likely enter the season with a top-10 ranking. Franklin and the high-powered offense are the reason the Tigers might have a shot to pull off the upset.
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1. Alabama: The defense will get hit the hardest by graduation and the NFL draft, but Alabama's offense should be better. While it's almost a forgone conclusion that junior running back Trent Richardson will declare for the NFL draft, Alabama returns a veteran offensive line, has a good set of up-and-coming receivers and has some pretty talented running backs to work with, including pounder Eddie Lacy. Oh, and that quarterback ain't too bad, either.
2. LSU: The Tigers might have come up short in the big one, but it's not like LSU is going anywhere. That defense that ranked second nationally was made up by a slew of youngsters. LSU returns double-digit starters next year, including most of its front seven. A major bright spot for this team is that former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger will now get his chance, and has skill that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee lacked.
Time to find out who’s hot and who’s not in the SEC:
LSU’s running game: If you really want to know what running the football with a purpose looks like, watch LSU run the ball. The Tigers mash people up front, and they’re so deep at running back that you can’t keep track of who’s in the game. Trying to slow down their running game in the second half is like trying to stop a tidal wave.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino: If you’re an accomplished lip reader, the television cameras caught Petrino mouthing some not-so-nice things while gesturing across the field to the LSU sideline in the final minutes of Friday’s game. The post-game handshake was awkward, too, when it looked Petrino sort of pulled away. Asked if they had words, LSU coach Les Miles cracked, “Not many.”
Vanderbilt’s offense: It’s hard to believe this is the same offense that went back-to-back games against South Carolina and Alabama without scoring a touchdown. The Commodores routed Wake Forest 41-7 last Saturday and rolled up 481 yards in total offense. It’s been a total metamorphosis, and everybody deserves credit -- the offensive coaches, quarterback Jordan Rodgers, running back Zac Stacy, receiver Jordan Matthews and an offensive line that might be the most improved unit in the league.
Florida’s offense: The Gators have shown up in this space more than once this season for their offensive ineptitude. Come to think of it, they did last season, too. Surely, it can’t get any worse on that side of the ball in Gainesville, but it’s also difficult to look ahead to next season and make a strong case for why the Gators will be appreciably better.
LSU’s defense: Even without injured starting safety Eric Reid, the Tigers were dominant in their 41-17 win against Arkansas and the Hogs’ high-powered offense. The Hogs managed just 89 total yards in the second half. LSU’s first-team defense has now gone six straight games without allowing a touchdown in the second half.
Auburn’s finish: There was a time this season when it looked like Auburn might hang in there and be one of the surprise teams in the league. But the Tigers unraveled down the stretch. Not only did they lose three of their last four SEC games, but they lost those games by a combined 132-31 margin.
The Big Orange Nation: The ground is quaking right now on Rocky Top coming off Tennessee’s first loss to Kentucky since 1984, which ensured the Vols’ second straight losing season. The last time that happened was 1910 and 1911. It’s Tennessee’s fourth losing season in the past seven years, and even though a lot of the fans want to give second-year coach Derek Dooley the benefit of the doubt because of the situation he walked into in terms of player attrition and the NCAA cloud hovering, the gloves have come off after the loss to Kentucky. Several former Tennessee players, some who played on the Vols’ 1998 national championship game, went on a Knoxville radio show the day after the loss and unloaded on Dooley. It’s a broken football program right now, and Dooley’s going to get at least one more year to fix it. But if the Vols don’t make some major strides next season, one more year might be all he gets.
Co-OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: Richardson rushed for a career-high 203 yards on 27 carries and also scored on a five-yard reception in Alabama’s 42-14 win at Auburn. It marked the 11th 200-yard rushing game in Alabamahistory and the first since Mark Ingram (246 vs. South Carolina in 2009). Richardson now leads the SEC and is ranked sixth nationally, averaging 131.9 yards per game. It was his 9th 100-yard rushing game of the season.
Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: Shaw completed 14-of-20 passes for 210 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions and rushed for a career-best 107 yards on 19 carries and another score in South Carolina’s 34-13 win against Clemson. Shaw became the first Gamecocks quarterback since 2002 to rush for more than 100 yards in a game. His touchdown passes were from 49, 2 and 18 yards and his scoring run came from 15 yards out.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU: Mathieu collected eight total tackles, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown in LSU’s 41-17 win against Arkansas. He spent most of the game playing the safety position for the first time in his career. He started at safety instead of his usual cornerback spot, in place of an injured Eric Reid. Mathieu helped the Tigers limit Arkansas to 10 points and 254 total yards. The ‘Hogs 207 passing yards was their season-low. His 92-yard punt return tied the score at 14-14 in the second quarter. He forced a fumble on the Razorbacks next possession at the LSU 34-yard line.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Ryan Tydlacka, P, Kentucky: Tydlacka punted nine times for a 43.6 yard average in Kentucky’s 10-7 win against Tennessee. He had a long of 64 yards and also landed a punt inside the 20-yard line. Due to his hang time and placement, the Wildcats did not allow any returns yards against the Vols. Tennessee's average starting field position on Tydlacka’s punts was its own 23-yard line.
Co-OFFENSIVE LINEMEN OF THE WEEK
Kyle Fischer, OT, Vanderbilt: Fischer’s blocking was instrumental in Vanderbilt amassing 297 rushing yards in a 41-7 win at Wake Forest. A first-year co-captain, Fischer was part of an offensive line that did not allow a quarterback sack while producing 24 first downs and 481 total offensive yards. Commodores running back Zac Stacy ran behind blocks by Fischer on touchdown carries of 20 and 40 yards.
William Vlachos, C, Alabama: Vlachos received the Tide’s top grade on the offensive line -- 97 percent -- in Alabama’s 42-14 win at Auburn. His 97 percent grade tied for the highest of any Alabama offensive lineman this season. He did not allow a sack or pressure and had no missed assignments or penalties. Alabama averaged 6.1 yards per rush and totaled 397 yards (213 rushing / 184 passing) against the Tigers.
Co-DEFENSIVE LINEMEN OF THE WEEK
Garrison Smith, DE, Georgia: Smith came off the bench to tally a career-high seven tackles, including 1.5 for losses, during a 31-17 win at Georgia Tech. After starting defensive end DeAngelo Tyson left the game after the second play with an ankle injury, Smith took over on the line and helped the Bulldogs slow the Yellow Jackets’ spread option. Smith, whose previous career high in tackles was three, helped hold Georgia Tech to its second lowest point total of the year.
Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State: Cox recorded five total tackles with two for losses, a forced fumble and quarterback pressure in Mississippi State’s 31-3 win against Ole Miss. Cox led a Bulldogs front that allowed only 25 rushing yards on 16 first-half attempts and 92 yards on 42 carries in the game.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
Kenny Hilliard, RB, LSU: Hilliard posted career highs in carries (19) and rushing yards (102) in LSU’s 41-17 win against Arkansas. He scored on a six-yard run in the second quarter to pull the Tigers to within 14-7. Hilliard averaged 5.4 yards per carry and did not have a negative rush in the game. He led an LSU rushing attack that accounted for 286 net yards and three touchdowns.