LSU Tigers: Texas A&M

If the SEC has plenty of one thing, it's athletes.

Every year we see running backs and wide receivers that can make one move and go the distance. They're explosive in every sense of the word. They're quick, fast and utterly elusive.

In 2013, Henry Josey and Tre Mason were home run hitters at running back. Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews routinely burned defenses deep at receiver. Heck, who can forget Johnny Manziel's big-play antics at quarterback?

But all of those playmakers have moved on. Now it's time for a new group of explosive athletes to emerge on offense in the SEC.

Here's a rundown of each team's most dangerous weapons:
  • Alabama: A talented return man, Christion Jones knows how to operate in space and break free from the defense. Amari Cooper, meanwhile, has the feet of a ballerina and can dance away from coverage just as well -- or run right by it. After experiencing a down sophomore year due to injury, he should return to his freshman form where he had 19 receptions for 20 yards or more. And don’t lose sight of Kenyan Drake while you’re at it. Even on limited carries last season he had 29 rushes of 10 or more yards.
  • Auburn: Speed is in ample supply at Auburn, from quarterback to receiver to running back. Nick Marshall’s agility and big-play ability under center speaks for itself. Meanwhile, Sammie Coates has some of the best straight-line speed you’ll find in the country. And, finally, running back Corey Grant is one of the league’s all-time burners, having reportedly clocked a sub-4.2 second 40-yard dash. He had 29 rushes of 10 or more yards last season and averaged a whopping 9.8 yards per carry.
  • Arkansas: Bret Bielema needs some help at receiver. Sure, Keon Hatcher (12.8 yards per catch) showed some promise late and the return of Demetrius Wilson from injury is reason for hope. But ultimately the real big-play ability on offense comes from the running backs. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined for 56 rushes for 10 or more yards last season -- a number that would have tied for third nationally behind Jordan Lynch (64) and Taysom Hill (60).
  • Florida: Andre Debose, when healthy, is an athlete with world-class speed. After all, he was a state track champion in high school, running the 100-meter dash in 10.68 seconds. It’s part of why he already holds the school record of four kickoff returns for touchdowns -- a record tied for tops in SEC history with Willie Gault, Felix Jones and Brandon Boykin. How's that for good company? With two major injuries hopefully now in his past, Debose is a threat to score at both receiver and in the return game.
  • Georgia: Malcolm Mitchell will be a welcome return at receiver after missing all but one game last season with a torn ACL. When he was healthy, he was able to run in the neighborhood of a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. He and Chris Conley, who led the team in receiving yards last year, can stress any secondary. That’s not to mention Justin Scott-Wesley, who was a state champion in both the 100- and 200-meter dash in high school.
  • Kentucky: You should know Javess Blue's name, but chances are that many of you probably don’t. Unfortunately his work at receiver flew mostly under the radar at Kentucky in 2013. His five catches of 20-plus yards may not sound overwhelming, but you have to remember he did that without much help from his quarterbacks. Still, Blue is a burner to the tune of a 4.29 second 40-yard dash.
  • LSU: Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. will be missed. But coach Les Miles wasn’t left lacking for playmakers on offense when they went on to the NFL. Terrence Magee was quietly one of the most explosive backs in the league last season with 10 rushes for 20 or more yards. Even so, No. 1 overall recruit Leonard Fournette might overshadow him. Fournette is not just big and strong, he’s also fast. (Think of a young Adrian Peterson). And while we’re talking true freshmen, Malachi Dupre has the chance to make an immediate impact at receiver. The former five-star prospect runs in the 4.5-second 40-yard dash range, and has impressive size and a vertical to match.
  • Mississippi State: It’s a make or break year for Mississippi State’s offense. In the past coach Dan Mullen has struggled to find playmakers. Now he has three guys who can really spread out a defense. Jameon Lewis, who has the tools of a poor man’s Percy Harvin, is a great underneath receiver, and Brandon Holloway, who can play either running back or receiver, is lightning quick and deadly in space. With De’Runnya Wilson standing at 6-foot-5 with the leaping ability of a true basketball player (he's a forward for the Bulldogs, in case you didn't know), Mullen’s offense should be able to attack every level of the secondary.
  • Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel lost a lot of firepower on both sides of the ball this offseason. But even with Dorial Green-Beckham and LaDamian Washington no longer in Columbia, there are still plenty of dangerous weapons on offense. Russell Hansbrough is a talented back who had 20 rushes for 10 or more yards in 2013. Then factor in Bud Sasser (13.88 yards per play) and Marcus Murphy (17 career touchdowns four different ways: rushing, kickoff return, punt return and receiving), and the Tiger offense should be able to stretch the field just fine.
  • Ole Miss: By now you ought to know about Laquon Treadwell, who finished second only to Jordan Matthews in the SEC in total receptions last season (72). He became the first player in school history to be named SEC Freshman of the Year by the league coaches. Though he may lack elite top-end speed, he more than makes up for it with his elusiveness and ability to make yards after the catch. And don’t sleep on running back Jaylen Walton. In addition to being the team's primary kick returner, he also rushed for 523 yards last season. His 29 receptions were fourth on the team and he led all Rebs with eight total touchdowns.
  • South Carolina: Dylan Thompson may not have a lot of height at receiver, but he’s got plenty of speed. Shaq Roland is an All-SEC type of talent, if he can play with some consistency. His 18.2 yards per play last year ranked 15th nationally (minimum 25 touches). Opposite him at receiver is Damiere Byrd, who could be the fastest player in the league. His 17.3 yards per play ranked 20th nationally and an impressive 72.7 percent of his receptions went for either a first down or a touchdown.
  • Tennessee: Outside of a spectacular one-handed grab against South Carolina, Marquez North and his 13 yards per catch were somewhat lost in the shuffle last season. At 6-foot-4 and in the neighborhood of 220 pounds, he shouldn’t have the speed he does. With his size and athleticism (he won the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics 110-meter hurdles at the age of 12), he’s a threat to burn any defensive back in the SEC.
  • Texas A&M: All credit goes to Kevin Sumlin for pulling in some top-tier athletes on the recruiting trail the past two years. Trey Williams, who still has to adjust to the ins and outs of the running back position, has the speed and agility to be a breakout star this season. Meanwhile, there’s Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil to consider. They’ll wow you in different ways -- Noil is all moves and agility and speed, while Seals-Jones is pure height and jumping ability -- but both are threats to score from anywhere on the field.
  • Vanderbilt: The first sentence of Brian Kimbrow’s high school scouting report by ESPN says it all: “Kimbrow may be small but he's an electrifying running back prospect with excellent speed and quickness.” When you think of his running style, think of Warrick Dunn. Kimbrow came on strong as a freshman in 2012 with 413 yards on only 66 carries, but he saw his production taper off last year behind Jerron Seymour and Wesley Tate on the depth chart. Now he has a fresh start under new coach Derek Mason, who showed a major commitment to the running game while at Stanford.

Ranking the SEC wide receivers

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
1:00
PM ET
Earlier today we ranked all 14 teams based on their receivers and tight ends. Now it’s time to focus on the specifics and rank the best of the best in the SEC.

Top 10 wide receivers

[+] EnlargeCooper
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsAfter a slow start, Amari Cooper reminded everyone just how talented he is by the end of the season
1. Amari Cooper, Jr., Alabama: For much of last season, he wasn’t himself. His feet weren’t 100 percent and it showed. But the Cooper who flashed All-SEC ability as a freshman returned to form in his final two games as a sophomore, racking up 15 receptions for 309 yards and a touchdown. He’s a guy who demands -- and routinely beats -- double coverage. Under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, he could become an even greater focal point of the passing game.

2. Laquon Treadwell, So., Ole Miss: Everyone had the feeling he’d be special in his first year at Ole Miss, but it came as a surprise just how ready he was to compete in the SEC. Playing slot, he was one of the best receivers in the league, finishing second only to Jordan Matthews in receptions (72). As a result, coaches voted him SEC Freshman of the Year. At 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds, he has the frame to challenge smaller defensive backs. But it’s his hands and ability to create space that make him special. With Donte Moncrief now gone, he’ll transition to the outside and continue to be a favorite of quarterback Bo Wallace.

3. Sammie Coates, Jr., Auburn: His game has always been about speed. Running the deep post, he could simply sprint by defenders. But as a junior, Coates is trying to develop a more well-rounded game, focusing on his footwork and strength. It’s scary to think that at 6-2 and 200 pounds, he’s just now learning how to control his body. If he can become more of an option in the short to intermediate passing game then we could see Coates’ game go to another level.

4. Jameon Lewis, Sr., Mississippi State: Consistency is the key for Lewis. Though he finished last season with significant numbers (1,040 total yards, 8 touchdowns), he also came up missing in a few big games (South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama, for example). At 5-9 and 195 pounds, he’s someone coach Dan Mullen will look to get the ball in space, whether that’s on screens or even running the Wildcat. With his burst and elusiveness, he’s a threat to find the end zone every time he touches the football.

5. Malcolm Mitchell, Jr., Georgia: Every conversation involving Mitchell requires the caveat "if healthy." After putting up 40-plus receptions as a freshman and a sophomore, he was lost for all of last season with a torn ACL. Now, as Hutson Mason put it, "He's about as close to 100 percent as he'll be." If healthy, he's a matchup nightmare with the ability to score from anywhere on the field.

6. Christion Jones, Sr., Alabama: Like Lewis, Jones is another elusive sub-6 foot receiver coaches look to get the ball whenever possible. Because when he touches the football, he has the ability to make someone miss and score. With Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell no longer on campus, expect more looks for Jones.

[+] EnlargeMarquez North
Charles Mitchell/Icon SMIMarquez North has the size, speed and hands to make a big impact for the Vols.
7. Marquez North, So., Tennessee: Do we have to remind you of his one-handed catch against South Carolina? Do we have to point out that he’s 6-4, 221 pounds and can run after the catch? If you saw him rack up 38 catches and 496 yards as a true freshman last year, you probably can’t forget it. It’s scary to think what he could do with consistent play at quarterback.

8. D’haquille Williams, Jr., Auburn: There may not be a more hyped receiver in the SEC this year than Williams. And it’s with good reason. He wasn’t just the No. 1 receiver in ESPN’s Junior College 50, he was the No. 1 player overall. At 6-2 and 216 pounds, his athleticism is spectacular. While it remains to be seen how he grasps the offense and how he jells with quarterback Nick Marshall, all the ingredients are there for Williams to be one of the best receivers in the league.

9. Ricky Seals-Jones, RS Fr., Texas A&M: We could have put any one of three Aggies receivers on this list. Malcome Kennedy has a history of solid production, and Speedy Noil has the potential to be a star in this league. But in balancing potential and experience, Seals-Jones won out. After redshirting last season, he should have a good grasp of the offense. And at 6-5 and 225

10. Travin Dural, So., LSU: You'll have to forgive everyone for overlooking Dural last season. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham were that good. But their departures have created a vacuum at receiver, and Dural appears ready to step into that vortex. Lanky and explosive, he could become a favorite target of whoever starts under center for LSU.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 13, 2014
May 13
12:00
PM ET
What's a world without mock drafts? An odd one, I suppose, as baseball and playoff basketball takes center stage.

But as our good buddy at the SEC offices Chuck Dunlap pointed out on Monday: "Eight weeks from today SEC Football Media Days begin." And because Dunlap knows his audience, he followed that tweet with another: "I feel like I just ruined the entire summer of every single person who writes in some capacity about college football." Sort of.

SEC lunchtime links

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
12:00
PM ET
Yes, it's Monday and we've survived the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and everything in between. Maybe we can move on to the matter at hand: bowl season.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
12:00
PM ET
It's Friday, which means it's time for the SEC Mailbag. Submit your questions or comments about everything from the battle in the East to the Heisman Trophy race to whether or not Alabama will repeat as national champions. Anything you want to talk about, it's easy: get on Twitter and use the hashtag #SECMailbag or tweet directly at me to have your questions answered on the blog later today.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
12:00
PM ET
Hungry for football already? Remember that Ohio takes on Bowling Green and Buffalo goes toe-to-toe with Toledo tonight.

SEC Week 11: Did you know?

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
10:00
AM ET
Did you know it's already Week 11 of the college football season? Of course you did.

But were you aware that Saturday might be the last time Johnny Manziel plays in front of the home crowd in College Station, Texas? If you didn't, don't worry. That's what we're here for.

Here's a look at some notes from ESPN Stats & Info to get you ready for Week 11:
  • Since allowing 42 points and 628 yards to Texas A&M on Sept. 14, Alabama has allowed just 4.3 points per game and two offensive touchdowns in its last six games.
  • The SEC West race could become a lot more clear depending upon the winner of LSU-Alabama. The Tide has a one-game lead on Auburn in the standings and a win Saturday could set up a monumental Iron Bowl on November 30.
  • Don’t read too much into both teams having a bye entering this game. Alabama has lost three games under Saban when coming off regular season bye week -- all vs. LSU, though LSU also had bye weeks in those matchups.
  • Zach Mettenberger has gone one direction of late and AJ McCarron has gone another. Mettenberger has seen his completion percentage and QBR drop noticeably in his last two games. He threw for 15 touchdowns and two interceptions in his first two games, but four touchdowns and five interceptions in his last two contests. McCarron, meanwhile, has improved his completion percentage and QBR in his last four games. He threw six touchdowns and three interceptions in his first four games, but 10 touchdowns and no picks in his last four contests.
  • Something's got to give. Missouri leads the SEC in turnovers forced (24) and turnover margin plus-15. Missouri also has a streak of 39 straight games with a takeaway, the longest active streak in FBS. Kentucky, however, has turned the ball over just six times all season, fewest among AQ teams.
  • Missouri also leads the SEC in sacks with 27. Defensive end Michael Sam is tied for the FBS lead with 10 sacks and is second in tackles for loss (16).
  • Kentucky has lost 14 straight games against AP-ranked opponents, including all four matchups this season. Its last victory over an AP-ranked team came over No. 10 South Carolina in 2010.
  • Auburn hasn’t been good at avoiding turnovers, but they have been excellent at preventing opponents from scoring points off turnovers. Auburn has committed 13 turnovers this season and is plus-2 in turnover margin, both middle of the pack in the SEC. But Auburn has only allowed just 10 points off turnover all season, tied with Washington for fewest in the FBS.
  • Auburn leads the SEC in rushing yards per game and yards per rush. They are tied for first in rushing touchdowns and, through nine games, they already have 20 more runs of 10 yards or more and 12 more rushing touchdowns than they had all of last season.
  • This is the fourth ranked opponent in four weeks for Tennessee and the seventh ranked opponent in an eight-game stretch. Tennessee snapped its 19-game losing streak against AP-ranked teams three weeks ago by beating then-No. 11 South Carolina. But the Vols are now 1-21 in their last 22 games against AP-ranked opponents.
  • Hard to believe, but this could be Johnny Manziel’s last home game. After this week, Texas A&M has an idle week before finishing with LSU and at Missouri. Manziel is only a sophomore but since he redshirted, he will be three years removed from high school and eligible for the NFL.
  • Texas A&M has reeled off eight straight games with 500 yards of total offense. It would be nine straight, but the Aggies finished with just 486 yards in a season-opening win against Rice. Among all FBS teams in the last 10 seasons, Texas A&M’s streak is tied for the fourth-longest and is the longest by an SEC team.
  • Dan Mullen is in his fifth season with Mississippi State and has a winning record overall (33-26) but has struggled in games against ranked opponents. Mississippi State is 2-19 vs. AP-ranked opponents under Mullen. The last ranked win came in 2010 against Florida and Mississippi State is 0-13 vs. ranked opponent since.
  • Florida has won the last 22 meetings against Vanderbilt. The Commodore's last win came in 1988.
  • With a loss Florida would be below .500 for the first time since it started 1-2 in 1992. Florida has not been below .500 this late in the season (as of Nov. 9) since 1979, when the Gators finished winless. A loss would also give Florida its first four-game losing streak since 2011.
  • Florida’s offense is last in the SEC in both yards per game (334.6) and yards per play (4.9). During Florida’s three-game losing streak, it has averaged just 236.7 yards per game and managed just three offensive touchdowns.
  • Vanderbilt is one of the slowest starting teams in FBS, being outscored 85-24 in the first quarter. That’s the second-worst point differential among BCS-AQ teams. Of the eight worst teams in first-quarter point differential, Vanderbilt is the only school with more than one win. In SEC games, Vanderbilt has been outscored 82-7 in the first quarter.

SEC Friday mailbag: Week 8

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
5:00
PM ET
From John Miklos (@John_Miklos21): What are South Carolina's chances of winning the East now?

Alex Scarborough: Missouri is in the driver's seat of the SEC East, for now. A loss at home to Florida on Saturday -- something that's not out of the realm of possibility with James Franklin out -- could shake things up, though. I'm still not sold on Missouri's title hopes, but we'll get to that later in the post. Who I do like to win the East, to answer your question, is South Carolina. The Gamecocks weathered the early storm of the season and are well positioned to make a run at a division title with Connor Shaw and the offense humming along. Even if Missouri wins this weekend, South Carolina will have its chance to go head-to-head with the Tigers on Oct. 26. And outside of a home date with Florida, the rest of South Carolina's conference slate consists of Tennessee and Mississippi State.


From E5 (@e5usa): Best matchup in the SEC this week?

Alex Scarborough: Since I already took a few minutes discussing Missouri-Florida in the "SEC Game of the Week" post earlier, I'll take a shot at Auburn-Texas A&M. That game is interesting for so many reasons. For one, you have to wonder whether the Aggies defense will show up at all this season. With Nick Marshall back under center, Auburn could run up and down the field on offense at Kyle Field. But the Tigers will have to find a way to stop Johnny Manziel, and I just don't see that happening. Auburn's best shot of pulling off the upset is a quick score and a few turnovers to stay in the game. If not, look for Texas A&M to light up the scoreboard and run away with this one as the Aggies quietly gain momentum and positioning in the polls.


From Char B (@TheRealChar1): Do you think Alabama will win big this weekend?

Alex Scarborough: I do. While I like what Bret Bielema is building at Arkansas by focusing on winning the line of scrimmage and running the football, it's still at least a year away from working against the top competition in the SEC. And frankly, what Arkansas does best is what Alabama does even better. Coach Nick Saban built Alabama to stop the run. After weeks and weeks of spread offenses, players such as Vinnie Sunseri and Jarrick Williams are licking their chops to play near the line of scrimmage and put a hat on a hat. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams will struggle to find many running lanes and I expect AJ McCarron and Alabama's offense to have its way against a shaky Razorbacks defense.


From C W Mahr (@drswmahr): Why are there so many doubters of Mizzou? Mauk's history and competition vs. Franklin this fall speaks highly of his ability!

Alex Scarborough: The same people questioning Missouri's legitimacy are the same ones who picked it to finish near the bottom of the SEC, myself included. I certainly didn't see this turnaround coming, even though I should have looked at that early season schedule and known it was possible. Beating Georgia, though, showed me something. While I didn't see it as the upset many did because of Georgia's injuries, beating the Bulldogs by two touchdowns made a statement. Losing James Franklin, though, is killer. That doesn't mean I doubt Maty Mauk's ability. I don't. What concerns me is the loss of continuity. The timing with receivers and the communication with the offensive line won't be the same. You simply can't replace a three-year starter under center and expect no drop-off. It simply doesn't work that way. Florida's defense is among the best in the country. Expect Will Muschamp and his staff to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Mauk on Saturday.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
12:00
PM ET
No, I'm not going to stand up here and scream, "Hump Day!" like that lazy camel. Instead, I'll simply point out that since it is Wednesday we're only some 24 merciful hours away from a quality college football game between No. 10 Miami and North Carolina. And I think we can all agree that watching football is much more enjoyable than watching an animal sell us insurance.
  • ESPN's Mark May and Lou Holtz debated whether Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was the most valuable player in college football this past weekend. What was McCarron's response? Pretty much what you'd expect: "It's an honor but I'd be the first one to tell you I'm nothing without these guys."
  • Nick Marshall will start at quarterback for Auburn against Texas A&M this weekend, but Jeremy Johnson is supposed to play too. It will be interesting to see how he's used. As coach Gus Malzahn put it, "We don't want to give all our secrets away."
  • Arkansas is standing by its struggling quarterback with a road trip to Alabama coming this Saturday. Brandon Allen hasn't played well of late, but coach Bret Bielema insists, "There's no doubt in my mind that he gives us the best option, 100 percent."
  • Steve Spurrier did what any good coach should when he stood up and vouched for his quarterback. South Carolina's Connor Shaw isn't viewed as an NFL prospect, but Spurrier believes he should be.
  • "How does he exert control on me?" Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease responded when asked whether coach Will Muschamp, a defensive guy at heart, was handcuffing his play-calling. After struggling offensively, it's easy to see why people are trying to connect the dots as to why.
  • A roster decimated by injuries has left Ole Miss with few options.
  • "It's really not anything magical," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham explained. There are reasons why the defense has struggled, but it all comes down to execution.
  • Texas A&M senior wide receiver Travis Labhart took the long road to College Station. When teammates kidded him about acting like he'd been in the endzone before, his response was classic: "And I was just like 'I haven't.' Not in five years."
  • It's easy to look at Johnny Manziel and the wealth of talent in College Station and ask how much coach Kevin Sumlin really has to do with Texas A&M success. When answering that question, though, you come to the conclusion that he's an elite coach.
  • Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson is ready for his rematch with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.
  • The circumstances are irrelevant. The fact that there were any empty seats in Tigers Stadium when Florida came to town reflected poorly on LSU football.
  • In following Missouri's blueprint, Vanderbilt hopes to turn up the pressure on Georgia and quarterback Aaron Murray.
  • As reports of his injury status circulated Saturday, Missouri quarterback James Franklin was totally in the dark. His phone dead, he focused solely on what would come next. While he heals, he says he's looking to help Maty Mauk under center.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
12:00
PM ET
What a wild weekend of college football it was. Now that it's Monday, it's time to start the process all over again.

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
11:00
AM ET
We've reached the midway point of the season. And, well, some teams are hot while others are certainly not. Let's take a look.

GLOWING EMBERS

Missouri: Who knew? Prognosticators, both professional and amateur, are surely coming out of the woodwork by now, telling anyone who will listen how they had Missouri atop the SEC East before the start of the season. But tell those people to politely remove their tinfoil hats and drift slowly back to earth. No one had Missouri competing for a chance at the SEC championship. James Franklin hadn't even won the starting quarterback job entering fall camp. And the defense, without its best player in Sheldon Richardson, looked like a significant question mark. Sure, Gary Pinkel's bunch had to get better after all the injuries a year ago, but this? Pinkel's bunch is playing great football and we're only now starting to take notice after the way the Tigers throttled Georgia on the road 41-26. Missouri is in the top three in the SEC in scoring, passing and rushing offense, and most importantly the Tigers are leading the league in turnover margin.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMissouri is riding high after beating Georgia to remain unbeaten and climb to No. 14 in the AP poll.
HOT

SEC in the polls: The SEC set a record on Sunday for the most schools (eight) in The Associated Press college football poll. Though just Alabama remains in the top five, having so many teams scattered throughout the poll says something about the depth of the league. LSU and Texas A&M are both title contenders despite having one loss, and South Carolina isn't far behind at all. Florida, despite losing its starting quarterback, has maintained course, and Georgia, while seriously decimated by injuries, should remain in the top 25 this season. The surprises, though, are what make the league so special. No one had Missouri in the top 15 and very few thought Gus Malzahn could turn around Auburn so quickly, getting it back into the top 25 for the first time since November 2011.

NOT

Ole Miss: One team that would have made nine SEC schools in the AP Top 25, Ole Miss, dropped from the rankings two weeks ago when it lost to Auburn on the road. That defeat was bad enough. Losing at home to Texas A&M on a last-minute field Saturday night made it even worse. Sure, Ole Miss wasn't favored to win the game, but that didn't dull the sting of seeing another win slip away. Hugh Freeze told anyone who'd listen this offseason to expect some bumps in the road, that his team couldn't live up to the sky-high expectations being forced upon it. But Freeze couldn't help going 3-0 and beating Vanderbilt and Texas on the road. Now his team has come down from its early-season high and the holes we all expected -- offensive line, depth on defense, etc. -- are once again glaring. And with No. 6 LSU up next, things aren't getting any easier for the Rebels.

HOT

The Mad Hatter: Was Florida's defense that good? Was LSU's offense that bad? Did any of that matter? Nitpick all you want at LSU's 17-6 win at home over Florida, but the fact remains Les Miles' bunch won the game, improved to 6-1 on the season and remains right in the thick of the championship race. Yes, we all expected Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to do more through the air, but like a pitcher on the mound without his best stuff, LSU found a way to survive the day with a W. Jeremy Hill proved once again why he's one of the best running backs in the country, and we may have seen LSU's embattled young defense take an important step forward.

NOT

Clowney the villain: I'm reminded of the Jay-Z song "Can I Live," and no, it's not because of the rumor that the rap mogul tried to sign Jadeveon Clowney before the start of the season. Instead, you have to look at South Carolina's embattled defensive end as a point of over-speculation. Let's just let the man live. No, he's not having the Heisman Trophy campaign many hoped for, but so what? How many defensive players win the trophy, anyway? Forget the missed snaps and missed practices and all of the talk that surrounds Clowney and just appreciate his talent. Remember, he'll be gone to the NFL soon. Maybe after weeks and weeks of harping on the negative with very little to show for it, we can just let him play the game and watch him like we would any other player.

[+] EnlargeAlabama Defense
AP Photo/Garry JonesThe Alabama defense had a streak of 14 quarters without yielding a touchdown snapped at Kentucky.
HOT

Alabama's defense: It took two defenders literally running into each other for Alabama to finally surrender an offensive touchdown. Against Kentucky, cornerbacks John Fulton and Jarrick Williams collided in coverage and both fell to the turf. UK wideout Javess Blue gladly caught the wide-open pass and trotted untouched into the end zone. And thus ended Alabama's streak of 14 quarters without allowing a single offensive touchdown. Alabama's defense, which garnered its fair share of criticism after being lit up by Texas A&M -- what defense hasn't? -- has played lights out since.

NOT

Kentucky's offense: The Air Raid 2.0 didn't get an inch off the ground Saturday in Lexington. Kentucky's young offense was dominated by Alabama, held to under 200 yards. It took a fluke play for the Wildcats to even score (see above). Converting on 2 of 12 third downs is bad no matter how you slice it. And to make matters worse, UK starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow looks like he'll miss some time after injuring his ankle. The good news is nothing was broken, but for a player who relies heavily on his mobility, coming back early isn't an option. Give Mark Stoops credit for what he has done on defense, but he has some work to do on the other side of the ball. You're not going to score many points in this league when you're starting a walk-on at wide receiver as UK did on Saturday night.

FREEZER BURN

Homecoming disaster: Steve Spurrier's words after the game said it all. "I do feel badly for Arkansas," the South Carolina coach explained. "That's not fun getting your butt beat at home, homecoming and all." Why Arkansas scheduled the Gamecocks for its homecoming game is anyone's guess. But whoever did it should be second-guessing himself or herself today. In front of alumni and fans, the Hogs jumped out to a 7-0 lead, only to see South Carolina score 52 unanswered points and win going away. The Gamecocks threw for 260 yards to Arkansas' 30 and held the football 43:25 to Arkansas' 16:35. Watching, it felt like there was barely enough time to throw a parade, let alone name a homecoming queen.

SEC Friday mailbag

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
3:00
PM ET
From Zachary (@ZacharySMT): In the hierarchy of the SEC, where do you see the South Carolina program after the Ole Ball Coach retires?

Alex Scarborough: I'd tell you it all depends on who would be hired as his replacement, but you already know that. Steve Spurrier has built a solid program in his time at South Carolina, and I don't see it as one that would fall apart dramatically should he leave. There's plenty of talent on both sides of the football, especially in terms of skill players on offense and big front-seven guys on defense. Whoever the South Carolina administration hires will have an enormous task ahead of them, though, and I'd prepare for a slight dip in the early going as things are settled. People have to remember where that program was before Spurrier, with 12 sub-.500 finishes since 1980 and not a single division title. He basically built it from nothing. Competing against North Carolina and the rest of the SEC for recruits isn't easy, and the SEC East only continues to improve.


From Press Thornton (@thornton_press): Your prediction on Bama-Ole Miss?

Alex Scarborough: Ah, I knew someone would ask this. And here I'd gone the whole week without making an official prediction. Well, I guess that streak ends here. While I'd like to say with certainty either way, I can't get behind either team completely. That said, I expect that if Alabama sorts out some of the kinks and plays to its standard, the home team will win and remain undefeated. But Ole Miss has a real shot to knock off the Tide in Tuscaloosa. If Hugh Freeze can get the tempo going and pressure Alabama's lackluster, thin secondary, the Rebels could pull off the upset. And with the receivers he has at his disposal, I think they're entirely capable of doing it. I see it as a high-scoring game either way and I give Ole Miss a 33 percent chance of winning the shootout.


From Joe Piccoli (@joepic8049): Missouri's three-man running back rotation a little overlooked right now?

Alex Scarborough: I'm looking at Missouri's rushing statistics now, and I'd have to say so. The Tigers are 33rd nationally in rushing yards (810), 17th in rushing yards per game (270) and 17th in rushing touchdowns (17). Russell Hansborough, Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy are doing an excellent job. But -- and here's where I'll counter those numbers -- I don't think I'm ready to say they're overlooked to a large extent. Frankly, Missouri hasn't faced anyone of consequence. The Tigers haven't played an SEC game and let's face it, Murray State, Toledo and Indiana aren't exactly stalwarts when it comes to stopping the run. Since I'm in a stats mood, Toledo and Indiana are ranked 67th and 117th nationally in rushing yards per game, and Murray State doesn't even show up on my readout. (Further inspection shows the Racers are allowing 173.5 yards per game on the ground.) While I like what I've seen from Missouri's running game so far, I want to see it continue past Arkansas State and on into Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in October.


From Fake Ned (@FakeNed): Is the SEC West stronger than last year with the improvement of Mississippi?

Alex Scarborough: That's a tough thing to say based on how good it was last year, when Alabama won the national championship, Texas A&M took the world by storm and LSU continued to do its thing. But I don't see any of those teams as being significantly better than a year ago. Alabama has shown it's flawed on defense and up front on the offensive line, Texas A&M's defense can leak like a sieve at times and LSU is so young that I don't know what to expect from them. LSU's offense is certainly improved, but the second half against Auburn gave me pause. That said, I see improvement at the back end of the West with Ole Miss continuing its surge, Auburn rebuilding in a hurry and Arkansas looking much improved. If the division is better or worse than a year ago, it's not by a wide margin.

SEC lunchtime links

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
12:00
PM ET
Clemson's win over NC State last night was only the appetizer. We're only 24 hours away from a full slate of college football games, including a few exciting inter-conference matchups in the SEC.

SEC lunch links

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
12:00
PM ET
We've got a good one tonight as No. 3 Clemson goes against conference foe North Carolina State. It's not the SEC, I know, but we'll make due. Georgia fans looking to remain in the title picture should hope for a Clemson blowout to keep making that one early loss look better and better on the resume.

SEC lunchtime links

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
12:00
PM ET
It's Hump Day, and, no, I'm not going to shout it like an overly eager camel in a crowded office. Instead, I'll just note that we're halfway to another exciting week of college football and only a day away from No. 3 Clemson going up against North Carolina State.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Intriguing SEC bowl games
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Saturday, 1/10
Monday, 1/12