Ranking the SEC bowl games

December, 10, 2014
12/10/14
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1. Allstate Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

This game is the top one for obvious reasons, primarily, it’s the one bowl game involving the SEC that has real stakes -- the winner goes to the national championship game. If the College Football Playoff semifinal wasn’t strong enough for you, it matches two of the most well-known head coaches in the game right now, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. Those two did battle before when Meyer was at Florida, so the reunion should be plenty compelling.

2. Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU

This is the only other SEC bowl that matches up two top-10 teams. TCU was one of the teams left at the altar by the selection committee, so it’s probable that the Horned Frogs would like to stomp a highly-regarded SEC team to make a statement. Ole Miss has had an impressive season and can secure only its seventh 10-win campaign in school history and its third since 1971.

3. Belk Bowl: Georgia vs. Louisville

It’s the Grantham Bowl. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s current team (Louisville) takes on his previous team (Georgia). It’s a safe bet he’d like to have his unit excel en route to a Cardinal win. The Cardinal defense is sixth nationally in yards per game allowed (293.2) but it’ll get tested by the Georgia running game, led by freshman sensation Nick Chubb (1,281 yards), who leads Georgia’s 12th-ranked rushing attack (255 yards per game).

4. Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin

You have two of the nation’s top rushing teams as well as two pretty good running backs in this one. There’s the nation’s top individual rusher, Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon (2,336 yards) against Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne (1,482) who leads the SEC. Wisconsin averages a whopping 314 rushing yards per game, third in the nation while Auburn posts a hefty 258.5 (11th).

5. AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas A&M vs. West Virginia

If you like scoring, you’ll enjoy this one. Both teams average more than 33 points per game and they each throw it around a lot, averaging more than 300 passing yards per game. There are familiar faces on the coaching staffs as well. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen worked for Kevin Sumlin for two seasons at Houston and Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital worked for Holgorsen at Oklahoma State and West Virginia before going to A&M. It’s Air Raid everywhere.

6. Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

He wasn’t a Heisman finalist but Dak Prescott was in the Heisman conversation for much of the season. It’s definitely worth tuning in to see Prescott and his partner-in-crime, running back Josh Robinson, who is aptly nicknamed “Bowling ball.” Georgia Tech is worth a watch for traditionalists, as the Yellow Jackets run the triple option well: just ask Georgia (who they beat in overtime) or Florida State (a team they stayed step-for-step with for much of the night).

7. Advocare V100 Texas Bowl: Arkansas vs. Texas

Long live the Southwest Conference. This is a throwback battle if there ever was one. These teams are both in the top 30 nationally in defense, each allowing fewer than 350 yards per game. The job Bret Bielema has done to get the Razorbacks to a bowl this season is noteworthy, while Charlie Strong seems to be laying the foundation for future success at Texas. Also, Strong has history in Arkansas -- he was born in Batesville and played for Central Arkansas. He said Tuesday this will be the first time he’ll root against the Hogs.

8. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: LSU vs. Notre Dame

Considering the profile of these two programs, you wouldn’t expect this game to be this far down the list. While the two teams have strong histories, this season hasn’t been stellar for either. There’s plenty of intrigue, though, from getting to see LSU’s star freshmen (Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre, Jamal Adams, etc.) to the quarterback situation at Notre Dame, where Brian Kelly has opened up competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire. For what it’s worth, Les Miles said bowl prep will also be an important evaluation time for his quarterbacks, Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris.

9. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Missouri vs. Minnesota

This one may not have the sizzle on the surface but it matches two quality teams, both ranked in the Top 25. Missouri features two of the league’s best pass-rushers, Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Those two are worth watching alone, even if the Tigers’ offense isn’t always. Minnesota features one of the nation’s top rushers, running back David Cobb, who is ninth in rushing yards this season (1,548).

10. Duck Commander Independence Bowl: South Carolina vs. Miami

This game could become a feeding frenzy for Miami running back Duke Johnson, who is 12th in the country in rushing yards (1,520). South Carolina allows 214.4 rushing yards per game, 107th nationally. But the Gamecocks can score plenty of points, they average 33.3. Keep an eye on Pharoh Cooper, a dynamic receiver and returner who can do it all, including pass, and has 1,164 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns this season.

11. TaxSlayer Bowl: Tennessee vs. Iowa

Tennessee is thrilled to be in a bowl. You might even say they’re happy. It’s the first time in a bowl since 2010 for the Volunteers. There’s still a long way to go to get this proud program back to where it wants to be but they’re moving in the right direction. The Vols have a ton of talented freshmen on the roster who played key roles this season and sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who came on strong late in the season, seems to have a bright future in Knoxville.

12. Birmingham Bowl: Florida vs. East Carolina

Any time you go into a game with an interim coach, it’s not ideal. That’s what the Gators have to do after firing Will Muschamp. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will serve as the interim coach. For Florida fans, this is a chance to scout a future opponent -- the Gators and Pirates meet Sept. 12 next season. East Carolina brings a high-powered offense led by quarterback Shane Carden, who is second nationally in passing yards (4,309). That should be a good test for a talented Florida defense. The continued development of true freshman quarterback Treon Harris is also worth keeping an eye on.

SEC morning links

December, 10, 2014
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1. The coaching carousel is heating up and while Auburn looks close to replacing one assistant coach, it might be on the verge of losing another. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has emerged as a candidate for the head coaching job at Tulsa. Lashlee's current boss, Gus Malzahn, spent two years on staff at Tulsa in 2007 and 2008. The school has already interviewed Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital for the opening. Meanwhile, Travis Haney reported that Auburn is the favorite Insider to land former Florida coach Will Muschamp as its defensive coordinator. Muschamp, who is currently in the Caribbean on vacation, has also been targeted by South Carolina and Texas A&M for the same position.

2. Lashlee isn't the only offensive coordinator in Alabama making headlines. In what some considered an upset, Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin did not win the Frank Broyles Award on Tuesday. The award, which honors the nation's top assistant coach, went to Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman instead. However, Kiffin was in attendance and spoke publicly for the first time since the beginning of fall practice. He was quite entertaining, too, when talking about his boss Nick Saban. What does Saban say tell him on the sideline? “Hey Lane, I love you so much,” Kiffin joked. “Thank you so much for coming here. Can you please stop throwing the ball so much and just run it a few more times please.” Maybe that's why Saban has kept his offensive coordinator off-limits to the media this season.

3. More honors were given out Tuesday. A day after releasing its All-SEC team, the Associated Press named Amari Cooper the conference's offensive player of the year and Shane Ray the defensive player of the year. Ray became the second straight Missouri player to win the award, joining last year's recipient Michael Sam. The league's coaches also put out their All-SEC team Tuesday, and it looked similar to the AP. Dak Prescott was voted first-team quarterback ahead of Blake Sims, and names like Cooper, Ray, and Landon Collins were all on the list as well. In all, 12 of the 14 SEC teams had at least one player on the first team. Stay tuned this week as we at the SEC blog will be releasing our All-SEC first team on Friday.

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Tigers, Irish both face QB questions

December, 9, 2014
12/09/14
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Anthony Jennings and Everett Golson will both compete to start at quarterback for their respective teams in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. The comparison between the two players essentially ends there.

LSU's Jennings and Notre Dame's Golson both struggled down the stretch, but they struggled in entirely different ways.

Golson
Quarterback is an essential playmaking position in Notre Dame's offense, and while Golson's yardage (3,355) and touchdown (29) totals are among the nation's best, he was a turnover dispenser in the second half of the season. Golson tossed 10 interceptions and lost three fumbles in the Fighting Irish's final six games -- a stretch where they won just once.

Notre Dame (7-5) coach Brian Kelly said Sunday that the team will hold open competition for playing time at all positions, including quarterback, after yanking Golson in the second quarter of a season-ending 49-14 loss at USC and going with redshirt freshman Malik Zaire once the Trojans took a 35-0 lead.



"There's a way I want that position to operate, and it's going to operate the way that I want it to operate," Kelly said. "If you operate it the way that I want it done, you'll be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame."

Meanwhile, the quarterback position has typically been a playmaking afterthought this season at LSU (8-4), which has placed more of an emphasis on protecting the football than taking aggressive shots downfield. Jennings has been successful in that regard -- he tossed seven interceptions and lost two fumbles this fall -- but the Tigers' offense also went into deep lulls at times with Jennings at the helm.

LSU coach Les Miles said Sunday that bowl practice would be an important evaluation time as the season-long competition continues between sophomore Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris.

"Absolutely it is," Miles said. "It's that time that you continue to compete, you continue to press your quarterbacks to throw it, run it and do the things that we're going to ask them to do."

Miles said the competition was close on an almost weekly basis this season, yet it has largely taken place only on the practice field. Jennings started all but one of LSU's games -- a 41-7 loss at Auburn where Harris seemed overwhelmed by the moment -- and the freshman appeared in only two of the Tigers' final six games in the regular season.

True competition would be something entirely new for Notre Dame this season, however. Fourth-year junior Golson, who quarterbacked the Irish in its 2012 BCS championship loss to Alabama, was the obvious choice as the starter once he returned from a season-long academic suspension earlier this year.

Jennings
He got off to a good start in 2014 before both he and his injury-riddled team began to struggle down the stretch. Only one FBS quarterback (New Mexico State's Tyler Rogers, who tossed 23 interceptions and lost six fumbles) turned it over more than Golson's 22 total giveaways this season. Now his talented young competitor -- Zaire was ESPN's No. 6 dual-threat quarterback prospect in the 2013 recruiting class -- will get a chance to overtake him in what could be Golson's final game at Notre Dame.

Kelly said Sunday that Notre Dame submitted Golson's name to be evaluated as a possible early entrant into the NFL draft. Even if he returns, this could be a competition that extends through the offseason and into next fall.

"It may be eight practices [that the competition lasts], it may be a year," Kelly said. "But I'm going to have to see what I need to see from both of them."



The scenario at LSU might be similar. Beyond bowl practice, this will be a huge offseason for Jennings and Harris -- and they could have additional competition at the position next fall. Among the prospects LSU has expressed an interest in is ESPN's No. 1 junior college quarterback Chad Kelly, a former Clemson backup who passed for 434 yards and five touchdowns Insider on Sunday in leading East Mississippi Community College to the NJCAA national title.

But regardless of whether LSU signs an experienced quarterback to compete with the youngsters, the Tigers' bowl workouts and spring practices will be enormously important for Jennings and Harris.

LSU's grind-it-out offensive approach worked at times, but it was unable to keep up in high-scoring games. The Tigers need more from the position than they typically got in 2014, and this is the quarterbacks' final opportunity to prove that they can handle the job.

"If they have designs on being the leader of this team and being that quarterback, this will be a very competitive time even before the game," Miles said.


The 2014 AP All-SEC team

December, 9, 2014
12/09/14
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The 2014 Associated Press All-SEC team was announced on Monday, and it's a pretty strong team overall.

Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper was named Offensive Player of the Year, Missouri defensive end Shane Ray was named Defensive Player of the Year (second straight year for a Missouri defensive end), Mississippi State's Dan Mullen was named Coach of the Year, and Georgia running back Nick Chubb was named Freshman of the Year.

I doubt you'll get much argument on any of those award winners, so congrats to them. They all had tremendous years and deserved some extra accolades at the end of the regular season.

Here's the first team in its entirety:

OFFENSE

QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
RB: Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn
RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama (unanimous)
WR: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina (tie)
WR: Bud Sasser, Missouri (tie)
TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
OL: Ben Beckwith, Mississippi State
OL: Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
AP: Marcus Murphy, Missouri

DEFENSE

DE: Shane Ray, Missouri
DE: Bud Dupree, Kentucky
DT: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
DT: Jonathan Allen, Alabama
LB: Martrell Spaight, Arkansas
LB: Reggie Ragland, Alabama
LB: Amarlo Herrera, Georgia
CB: Senquez Golson, Ole Miss (unanimous)
CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
S: Landon Collins, Alabama (unanimous)
S: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Austin MacGinnis, Kentucky
P: JK Scott, Alabama

There were a couple of players on defense I was surprised about not seeing. No Dante Fowler or even Myles Garrett at one of the defensive end spots? Garrett was tied for second in the SEC with 11 sacks, while Fowler was one of the league's most disruptive linemen, registering 12 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries.

Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney didn't have the numbers he had last year, but he was the leader of the Bulldogs' defense and always the Bulldogs' best defender when he stepped on the field. Even with Mississippi State having more of a rotation at linebacker this season he still led the team with 61 tackles and had three sacks.

To see all three teams, click here.
BATON ROUGE, La. – For the first time since 2005, Les Miles’ first season as LSU’s coach, the Tigers will already be home by the time the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Typically that’s a sign of a disappointing season, which is certainly the case for a Tigers team (8-4) that fell well short of the standard that Miles set in his first decade at LSU. This was not a great season, and if the Tigers fail to win their bowl game, they will match the 2008 team for LSU’s fewest wins in a season under Miles.

With all of that said, however, LSU’s matchup in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl is as good as an 8-4 team could expect. The Tigers drew Notre Dame (7-5), which like LSU was ranked in the top 10 early in the season before a late slide.

Both programs have played for a national championship within the last four seasons, and while they both finished this regular season with a flop, a game featuring two of the sport’s most successful programs provides a reason to get excited about playing one more game.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsLSU players sound eager for a shot at Notre Dame no matter the bowl game.
“It adds a little more relevancy to the opponent just because it’s such a big-name program. Two great programs, us and them,” LSU offensive lineman Vadal Alexander said. “So you grow up looking at Notre Dame and watching them play since you were little. And it’s always a program that’s in the national spotlight, so it’s easier to really get up for it.

“No matter who the opponent would have been, we would have got up for it, obviously, but definitely Notre Dame, we can get excited for a great team like that, to play them.”

The caliber of the programs should drive interest despite a 3 p.m. ET kickoff on Tuesday, Dec. 30, and the game will add to the considerable history between the Tigers and Fighting Irish.

LSU and Notre Dame have actually played 10 times, the most of any SEC opponent against the Fighting Irish. Both clubs have won five times in series history, so this will be a rubber match of sorts.

“LSU and Notre Dame, they have some history with each other in bowl games,” LSU running back Terrence Magee said. “So growing up, Notre Dame is a big program. They’ve been on the big stage lately playing Alabama in the national championship, and I think it’s going to be a big matchup for us. I’m excited about it.”

Oddly enough, the bowl trip also will help LSU’s seniors cross Nashville off the list of SEC towns where they will have played. The Tigers haven’t played in Music City since 2010 and while several fifth-year seniors (including Connor Neighbors, D.J. Welter, Travis Dickson, Evan Washington and Justin Maclin) were on LSU’s team that season, none of them played in the Tigers’ 27-3 win over Vanderbilt.

Missouri is the only SEC team that LSU hasn’t faced in the last five seasons, and Mizzou, Kentucky and South Carolina are the only SEC towns where the Tigers haven’t played in that period.

But the location of this game is only a footnote. After all, nobody on either of these teams set a preseason goal of finishing the year with a bowl game in Tennessee. It’s the opposition that drives interest for fans and players alike.

“It really doesn’t matter, the destination,” LSU cornerback Jalen Collins said. “I feel like the opponent is the bigger part. It’s who we’re playing and how we finish the game.”

In that regard, both clubs are getting off lucky. Notre Dame lost five of its last six games after ranking as high as fifth at one point. LSU dropped two of the last three after it ranked eighth early in the season.

Obviously the season didn’t end the way fans of either school once hoped, so getting to face a big-name opponent in a bowl game was far from a foregone conclusion. The sunny side of the teams’ late stumbles – certainly from the bowl’s perspective, as this is probably the best pairing in Music City Bowl’s 17-year history – is that they paved the way for a bowl pairing that’s actually interesting.

Both teams were better last season, but Notre Dame’s bowl game against Rutgers and LSU’s against Iowa didn’t do much for anybody. At least now we get to see two of the sport’s most historically significant programs meet. All things considered, that’s not so bad.

SEC morning links

December, 8, 2014
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1. The four-team field for the first-ever College Football Playoff is set. Did the committee get it right? The Big 12 might disagree, but ESPN’s Ivan Maisel believes they did get it right. And who’s to complain? The matchups are fantastic. The SEC will go in with Alabama as its only representative, but the Crimson Tide did get the No. 1 seed. Their opponent in the first semifinal game? None other than Nick Saban’s old nemesis Urban Meyer and his Ohio State team. How great is that? It hasn’t been that long since the two were on top of the SEC, battling it out for supremacy every year. Some say Saban was the reason Meyer left Florida after the 2010 season. Either way, he’s back now.

2. The playoff is great, but that’s just the beginning. The new way of bowl selections might have been confusing, but it worked. There are plenty of intriguing matchups for SEC teams beginning with Ole Miss-TCU and Mississippi State-Georgia Tech on New Year’s Eve as a part of the New Year's Six bowl games. Dan Mullen will return to Miami for the first time since he won the national championship there in 2007 with Florida, and in an unlikely matchup, the Rebels face a TCU team that has to be upset after getting snubbed from the top four. Other bowl games that jumped out to me included Auburn-Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl, LSU-Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, and Arkansas-Texas in the Texas Bowl.

3. The only “loser” in the SEC from Sunday’s bowl selections was Georgia. The Bulldogs didn’t end up in the Sunshine State like many predicted they would. Instead, they will make the short three-hour drive to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl. However, the SEC and ACC had to know what they were doing when they paired Georgia up with Louisville. For one, Todd Grantham will face his former team. The Louisville defensive coordinator held the same position at Georgia for four seasons under Mark Richt. The Cardinals also have a pair of former Bulldogs, Josh Harvery-Clemson and Shaq Wiggins. Georgia linebacker Ryne Rankin reached out to Wiggins on Sunday, tweeting “see ya over the holidays big dawg!” This should be fun.

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NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (7-5) vs. LSU TIGERS (8-4)
DEC. 30, 3 P.M. ET, LP FIELD, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE (ESPN)

NOTRE DAME BREAKDOWN

Season highlights:
A 6-0 start gave the Fighting Irish plenty to be excited about, particularly a 31-0 win in their last meeting with Michigan in Week 2. A last-second, fourth-down touchdown pass from Everett Golson to Ben Koyack to beat rival Stanford was huge, too. This sounds like faint praise, but a 31-27 loss to then-No. 2 Florida State -- a game that saw Golson go punch-for-punch with 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston and ended with a go-ahead TD being called back because of penalty -- might have earned Notre Dame more respect nationally than any of its six wins prior to that contest.

Season lowlights: Where to begin? Notre Dame followed that 6-0 start by losing five of its last six, including its final four. The Irish were decimated by injuries defensively, doomed by the simplest of special teams miscues and enter bowl season with a quarterback controversy after Golson's regression led to Malik Zaire entering the 49-14 loss to USC in the finale. A loss like that to the Irish's archival won't sit well, but more perplexing is a 43-40 home overtime loss to a Northwestern team that finished 5-7.

Player to watch: He has been far from consistent, but Will Fuller has emerged as the Irish's best offensive weapon, hauling in 71 passes for 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns (tied for second nationally). There were questions about who would emerge as the Irish's No. 1 target after DaVaris Daniels' season-long suspension, and Fuller, a sophomore, answered them emphatically early.

Motivation factor: At this point it is about pride for Notre Dame. Do the Irish really want to end the season with five straight losses? Do they really want to become the first Brian Kelly team that fails to reach the eight-win total? On top of that, this is a young team that has most of its starters and key reserves returning next season, when expectations were supposed to be very high. Instead, these same characters could be facing a long, unpleasant offseason if their bowl performance is anything like their final month performance. -- Matt Fortuna

vs.
LSU BREAKDOWN

Season highlights:
LSU fans rushed the field after the Tigers’ late defensive stand against Ole Miss, moments after LSU scored the go-ahead touchdown on a pass from Anthony Jennings to tight end Logan Stokes. LSU’s 10-7 win dealt the Rebels their first loss of the season and created optimism in Baton Rouge after the young Tigers got off to an uneven start.

Season lowlights: Take your pick between a 17-0 loss at Arkansas in which LSU’s offense generated just 123 yards or a 41-7 loss at Auburn in which the Tigers failed to convert on a single third down. Both games served as examples of how bad LSU’s offense could look at times with inexperienced quarterbacks Jennings and Brandon Harris struggling to produce consistent play.

Player to watch: Leonard Fournette. The nation’s top overall recruit generated Heisman Trophy buzz before he had even played in a college game. He never really figured into that conversation after a quiet debut performance against Wisconsin. But the freshman running back still had a strong first season (891 rushing yards, eight touchdowns), capped by a season-high 146 yards in the Tigers’ regular-season finale against Texas A&M.

Motivation factor: Les Miles’ teams rarely seem to struggle with motivation, although Tigers fans who watched the Auburn and Arkansas games might disagree with that assessment. This is a young team that continues to develop, though, and they will be looking to head into what should be an improved 2015 by closing out this roller-coaster season with a victory. -- David Ching

SEC bowl projections: Week 15

December, 7, 2014
12/07/14
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Today we finally get to put an end to the speculation, as college football's postseason picture will become clear this afternoon.

We knew the SEC would get one team into the inaugural College Football Playoff when Alabama beat Missouri on Saturday. Nailing down the destinations for the conference's other 11 bowl-eligible teams is much more difficult.

Here are our best guesses in the final hours before we will know for sure:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: Ole Miss
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Mississippi State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Missouri
Outback Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Arkansas
Advocare V100 Texas Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: Georgia
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Tennessee
Birmingham Bowl: Florida
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: South Carolina

SEC Power Rankings: Week 15

December, 7, 2014
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A lot has changed from our preseason list -- South Carolina at No. 3? Vanderbilt ahead of Arkansas? We'd prefer to forget those. But one thing that is the same as in our initial rankings is Alabama on top. The Crimson Tide relinquished the top spot at times, but when it mattered, Nick Saban's crew stood tall.



Edward Aschoff, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.

#SceneAndHeard: Tyron Johnson talks Top 5 

December, 6, 2014
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NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Warren Easton High is headed to the state championship game for the first since 1958 after a 43-36 win against Plaquemine on Friday night. One of the main reasons why is ESPN300 No. 25 Tyron Johnson.

On Friday morning before the huge win last night, the Under Armour All-America Game selection tweeted out his top five.

.

With LSU ace recruiter Frank Wilson and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Georgia assistants Mike Bobo and Tony Ball, and Auburn's Dameyune Craig all on hand, Johnson showed his talent with a 60-yard punt return for a score, the game winning touchdown run and four receptions for 50 yards.

Following the huge win for Eagles, the nations No. 2-ranked wide receiver gave thoughts on his Top 5:

Auburn: Auburn is a great school, a great passing offense, Duke (Williams) from Louisiana went there from juco and now will go pro. It would be a good fit for me.

Georgia: Coach [Tony} Ball is out here supporting me tonight. He’s a great coach and knows his stuff.

The SEC's run of the year

December, 5, 2014
12/05/14
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video

The SEC Network takes a look back at the best runs in the SEC from the regular season.
video

The top nine wide receivers in the ESPN 300 will play in the Under Armour All-America Game and five have yet to announce a college decision. Recruiting reporters nationwide offer the latest on the undeclared wideouts.
Leonard Fournette voiced a common position among LSU players after last week’s win over Texas A&M when a reporter asked if he had a preference where the Tigers go bowling.

“It don’t matter,” said Fournette, LSU’s star freshman running back. “As long as I’m playing with my team.”

Sporting an atypical 8-4 record, the Tigers are unlikely to appear in a big-name bowl game, as they have nearly every year in the 2000s. And yet because of the team’s youth, LSU coach Les Miles pointed out that an extra two weeks of postseason practice might benefit the Tigers even more than their usual time spent preparing for a bowl.

“A young team gets better,” Miles said. “You have 15 spring practices. There’s a potential of at least 12 [bowl practices], maybe more. It kind of depends on the bowl you’re selected to participate in.”

Miles and the Tigers will learn their postseason destination on Sunday, and it’s possible that they will wind up in a bowl game where the program has little or no previous experience. Of the five games where LSU seems most likely to play, it has never appeared in three (AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl and Belk Bowl) and has played in another (TaxSlayer Bowl, formerly known as the Gator) just once.

According to a sampling of national bowl projections, the most popular picks for LSU are the Texas Bowl at Houston’s NRG Stadium – where the Tigers opened the season with a win against Wisconsin – and the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach and Brett McMurphy were split along those lines in this week’s bowl projections, with Schlabach predicting that LSU would face Texas win the Texas Bowl and McMurphy slotting the Tigers against Louisville in the TaxSlayer.

Texas and West Virginia (four each) were the most common projected LSU opponents, followed by Louisville (two).

Here are three possible bowl scenarios for the Tigers (all times ET):

ADVOCARE V100 TEXAS BOWL
Date: Dec. 29 at Houston’s NRG Stadium
Time/TV: 9 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Big 12 No. 4 vs. SEC No. 3-8
Projected opponents: Texas, West Virginia
LSU’s history in bowl: None

TAXSLAYER BOWL
Date:
Jan. 2 at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field
Time/TV: 3:20 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Big Ten No. 5 vs. No. SEC 3-8
Projected opponents: Louisville, Maryland
LSU’s history in bowl: Beat South Carolina 30-13 in 1987

AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL
Date:
Dec. 29 at Memphis’ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Time/TV: 2 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Big 12 No. 5 vs. SEC No. 3-8
Projected opponent: West Virginia
LSU’s history in bowl: Lost 20-15 to Missouri in 1978 and lost 21-7 to Baylor in 1985

LSU’S BOWL POSSIBILITIES
Here is a sampling of 15 national publications’ bowl projections for LSU and the Tigers’ projected opponent (where available):
Bill Bender, Sporting News:
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (versus West Virginia)
Chuck Carlton, Dallas Morning News: AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (versus Texas)
Zac Ellis, SI.com: TaxSlayer Bowl (versus Maryland)
Mike Huguenin, NFL.com: AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (versus Texas)
Jason Kirk, SBNation.com: AutoZone Liberty Bowl (versus West Virginia)
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports: TaxSlayer Bowl (versus Louisville)
Stewart Mandel, FoxSports.com: Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (versus Notre Dame)
Brett McMurphy, ESPN.com: TaxSlayer Bowl (versus Louisville)
Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com: AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (versus Texas)
Brant Parsons, Orlando Sentinel: Belk Bowl (versus Notre Dame)
Scott Rabalais, Baton Rouge Advocate: TaxSlayer Bowl
Alex Scarborough, ESPN.com: TaxSlayer Bowl
Mark Schlabach, ESPN.com: AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (versus Texas)
Phil Steele, PhilSteele.com: AutoZone Liberty Bowl (versus West Virginia)
Jim Tomlin, Tampa Bay Times: AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (versus West Virginia)
Dwayne Thomas was in a vulnerable position when hundreds of LSU fans rushed the field at Tiger Stadium following an Oct. 25 win against Ole Miss.

The sophomore defensive back was on crutches, less than a week removed from surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee, and easily could have toppled over in the frenzied crowd. Luckily he had a convoy of teammates and support staff to keep him safe on the way to the locker room.

“Jermauria Rasco, he was on my side. I had some great strength and conditioning coaches on my side and we were just all walking in,” Thomas recalled. “Jamal [Adams] was right behind me, Rickey [Jefferson] was right in front of me and we all just were walking in with people coming up and grabbing, excited. I was just like, ‘OK, let’s do this. Let’s go in the crowd.’

“It actually was fun because being in the house so much [that week after surgery], not being around a lot of people, it was just so boring. To see that excitement when people rushed the field, I’d never been a part of that before so I enjoyed that moment. I kind of wanted to be out there, so I told them I wanted to stay out there and I didn’t want to go inside.”

That was the closest to on-field excitement that Thomas came in the second half of the season since he injured his knee in Game 5 against New Mexico State. The Tigers were 4-1 at the time and ranked 15th nationally, with Thomas starting to develop as a star in John Chavis’ “Mustang” defensive package.

He was rushing the quarterback off the edge, as he often does in the Mustang, when he suffered the season-ending knee injury. It was Thomas’ second season-ending injury at LSU, as he took a medical redshirt in 2012 after suffering a sports hernia that kept him from playing in the final nine games that fall.

“When they were like, ‘It’s a torn ACL,’ it kind of hit me emotionally a little bit because I was having an exciting season,” said Thomas, who had 24 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, an interception and a key fumble recovery (against Mississippi State) before the injury. “It was fun to start off fast for me and it was just a little setback and I just felt like I could bounce back from this because it’s just a torn ACL. It’s not like I tore my meniscus or anything else bad with that. I’m just ready to get back. My ACL’s healing faster than a lot of people really think it would.”

In fact, he thinks he’ll be ready to go when the Tigers open spring practice.

“He’s working hard,” LSU coach Les Miles said last week. “His rehabilitation is coming along very nicely. Hope to have him back for spring. I don't know if that’s possible, but as hard as he’s working, we would think that’s likely.”

Thomas’ return would bolster a secondary that might need a player with his capabilities next season. The Tigers will definitely lose senior starter Ronald Martin, while juniors Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins are eligible to enter the NFL draft and suspended starter Rashard Robinson’s future at LSU is in doubt.

The secondary fared well overall even without Thomas available – LSU is second nationally in pass efficiency defense (98.7) and fifth in passing yards allowed (162.3) – but the group might need his veteran presence in 2015. Not to mention his playmaking ability.

“He’s a different type of player and he brings a spark to our defense,” sophomore cornerback Tre’Davious White said. “But even without him bringing that spark, I feel like we’re not really missing anything. We’re missing him as a person and as a player, and we’re missing his playmaking ability, but I feel like as a secondary, we performed well this year. I feel like with him, it’ll make it even better.”

In the meantime, he will continue to rehab the injury and attempt to assist his teammates from the sideline while taking notes about opponents’ tendencies. That knowledge will come in handy if Thomas makes it back to the field according to his expected timetable.

“It was tough in the beginning, but I’m over the mental thing. I’m just looking at all the positive coming out of it,” Thomas said. “The season is almost over. ... It just flew by, and next thing you know we’re going to be in spring and camp and I’m going to be right there on the field with those guys."

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 14

December, 3, 2014
12/03/14
10:00
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The SEC’s true freshmen sent out the regular season with a bang, creating some of the most memorable plays of the entire season in the final weekend.

Here is a recap of how some of the league’s first-year players fared in their final games of the regular season:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett added to his impressive season totals against Vanderbilt by recording five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack in the Volunteers’ 24-17 win.

What it means: Barnett is tied for 13th nationally with 10 sacks and is tied for third with 20.5 TFLs. Not a bad rookie season -- one in which he deserves to become the rare true freshman to earn All-SEC honors as a defensive lineman.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: Chubb had yet another 100-yard game, this time rushing 25 times for 129 yards and a touchdown. He also caught three passes for 36 yards. On the negative side, he lost a fumble at the goal line, which came back to bite Georgia when rival Georgia Tech rallied to win in overtime.

What it means: Considering how he didn’t become Georgia’s feature back until midseason, Chubb’s 1,281 rushing yards (good for second in the SEC) and 12 touchdowns are all the more impressive. He and fellow freshman Sony Michel both lost costly fumbles inside the Tech 5-yard line, but both backs have been impressive overall.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Fournette earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors for his efforts against Texas A&M. The star freshman ran 19 times for 146 yards and scored a highlight-reel touchdown when he ran over A&M safety Howard Matthews. Fournette also returned three kickoffs for 34 yards.

What it means: The touchdown run -- highly reminiscent of a memorable run Georgia legend Herschel Walker made against Tennessee as a freshman -- was one of the plays of the year in the SEC. Fournette has had an up-and-down first season, but he has still posted four 100-yard games and has a respectable 891 rushing yards and eight touchdowns entering bowl season.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

What he did: Not to be outdone by his fellow New Orleans native Fournette, Noil also made highlight reels with his leaping 27-yard touchdown catch over LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White. Noil finished with four catches for 46 yards, returned four kickoffs for 50 yards and returned one punt for 1 yard.

What it means: Noil also lost a fumble on a kickoff return, which LSU recovered and turned into a field goal (and a 17-7 lead) just before halftime. The freshman proved once again he is one of the Aggies’ most explosive players, but that was a costly turnover in A&M's 23-17 loss.

video RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky

What he did: Williams concluded an impressive freshman season with 126 rushing yards and touchdowns of 11 and 14 yards on 18 carries against Louisville. He also caught three passes for 13 yards in the Wildcats’ 44-40 loss.

What it means: One of Kentucky’s highlights came midway through the fourth quarter when Williams bulled his way through three Louisville defenders to score the go-ahead touchdown. The defense couldn’t preserve the lead, meaning the Wildcats fell short of bowl eligibility, but Williams still finished the season with 488 rushing yards, 162 receiving yards and an average of 116.1 all-purpose yards per game.

video Other notables:

DB Jamal Adams, LSU: Recorded a team-high eight tackles, one tackle for loss and broke up a pass in LSU’s win over Texas A&M.

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Made eight tackles and one tackle for loss against Georgia Tech.

WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Caught one pass for 41 yards against Texas A&M.

QB Treon Harris, Florida: Completed 13 of 32 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and also ran nine times for 41 yards against Florida State.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Recorded four tackles against LSU.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss: Made five tackles and a sack against Mississippi State.

DB Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Intercepted a pass and made one tackle against Vanderbilt.

PK Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Made a 36-yard field goal and all three of his PATs in a win against Vanderbilt.

RB Sony Michel, Georgia: Ran nine times for 49 yards but also lost a key fumble at the goal line in the loss to Georgia Tech.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted twice against Auburn and averaged 55.5 yards per attempt, including a long of 70.

DB Devin Voorhies, LSU: Forced Noil’s fumbled kickoff return that led to an LSU field goal before halftime against Texas A&M.

DB Quincy Wilson, Florida: Recorded one tackle for a two-yard loss and also intercepted a Jameis Winston pass in the Gators’ loss to Florida State.

PK Gary Wunderlich, Ole Miss: Made a 39-yard field goal, all four of his PATs and punted once for 46 yards in a win against Mississippi State.

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