LSU Tigers: Jeff Scott

Here's a good way to survive the dog days of summer -- relive the glory of last year's best college football games.

ESPNU will count down the top 25 games and air all but four of them July 21-Aug. 3. Of course the SEC is well-represented. Game Nos. 6-25 have already been determined. Here's a look.

No. 23 -- Alabama 49, Texas A&M 42
Re-airdate: July 22, 7 p.m. ET
This Week 3 contest was a much-anticipated grudge match after Johnny Manziel and the upstart Aggies had upset the mighty Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2012. The return engagement had fireworks from the start, as A&M's 628 yards were the most given up in Alabama's history.

No. 20 -- Georgia 44, LSU 41
Re-airdate: July 23, 10 p.m. ET
Two teams ranked in the top 10 slugged it out to the tune of nearly 1,000 combined yards, as the quarterback performances by Georgia's Aaron Murray and former teammate Zach Mettenberger were among the best of their careers.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Ray
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsNick Marshall & Co. were involved in four of the season's top 25 games, including three within the top 4.
No. 17 -- Auburn 45, Texas A&M 41
Re-airdate: July 25, 7 p.m. ET
Looking back, this huge upset on the road might have fueled Auburn's amazing season. One year after being beaten 63-21 by the Aggies, the Tigers roared back to national prominence behind QB Nick Marshall and RB Tre Mason. The Auburn defense gave up more than 500 yards to Manziel but came through in the end to preserve the win.
No. 15 -- Georgia 34, Tennessee 31 (OT)
Re-airdate: July 28, 7 p.m. ET
Just think of how differently we would have viewed UT's season had the Vols pulled off this upset. Georgia withstood injuries and a determined Tennessee team, and rallied to tie the game with five seconds left when Murray found Rantavious Wooten for a touchdown. UT's Alton Howard fumbled a sure touchdown in overtime, which set up UGA's game-winning field goal.
No. 11 -- Ole Miss 39, Vanderbilt 35
Re-airdate: July 29, 10 p.m. ET
The opening game of the season set a clear tone for high-scoring offense and thrilling late-game heroics. Vandy raced to a 21-10 halftime lead and then gave up 29 points, including a back-breaking 75-yard touchdown run by Jeff Scott with just over a minute to play.
No. 7 -- South Carolina 27, Missouri 24 (OT)
Re-airdate: July 31, 10 p.m. ET
Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw came off the bench to score 17 fourth-quarter points to send this one into overtime, where the teams traded touchdowns before USC won it with a kick. Missouri was slapped with its first loss of the season, but the Tigers won the rest of their games and the SEC East crown.

Now we need your help choosing a top five, and again the SEC is prominent with four choices available. Voting ends Monday. If you need help deciding, here's how I would rank 'em.

No. 5 -- Texas A&M 52, Duke 48
Manziel penned a memorable swan song in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, as the Aggies and Blue Devils piled up more than 1,200 yards of offense. Manziel passed for 382 yards and four touchdowns, ran for 73 yards and one TD, and led his team back from a 21-point halftime deficit.

No. 4 -- Florida State 34, Auburn 31
The Tigers' miracle season came crashing down when FSU rallied from an 18-point deficit, the largest ever overcome in a BCS championship game. A thrilling fourth quarter closed with Heisman winner Jameis Winston leading the Noles 80 yards in 66 seconds for the win.

No. 2 -- Auburn 43, Georgia 38
Any time a game evokes a nickname it has also earned a place in college football lore. This game got two of them -- "The Prayer at Jordan-Hare" and "The Immaculate Deflection" -- thanks to a 73-yard Hail Mary touchdown that Bulldogs safety Josh Harvey-Clemons tipped to Auburn's Ricardo Louis.

No. 1 -- Auburn 34, Alabama 28
Is there any doubt which game transcended the 2013 season into the history books? With his improbable, last-second, missed field-goal return, Chris Davis' 109-yard touchdown run -- the "Kick Six" -- was forever branded on the sport's collective consciousness.



Today, our SEC position-by-position rankings move to an area that will see plenty of turnover throughout the league: special teams.

There are a ton of SEC heavyweights who lost key special teamers, like league champ Auburn -- which lost punter Steven Clark, kicker Cody Parkey, now-legendary return man Chris Davis and kickoff returner/tailback Tre Mason -- LSU (All-American Odell Beckham) and Alabama (punter Cody Mandell and kicker Cade Foster). That’s just a start.

The league is full of dynamic playmakers who can become stars in the return game, but as of right now, many SEC teams have questions to answer on special teams. That’s why teams that have returning veterans at those positions sit high in our rankings.

Special teams position rankings

1. Texas A&M: There aren’t many SEC teams that can make this claim, but the Aggies have a clean sweep of returning specialists. Leading the way is an All-American and Ruy Guy Award finalist at punter, Drew Kaser, who broke the school record with a 47.4-yard average last season. Texas A&M also has kicker Josh Lambo (8-for-10 on field goals in 2013), kickoff returner Trey Williams (25.2 yards per return, fifth in the SEC) and punt returner De’Vante Harris (6.7 yards per return, sixth in the SEC) back this fall. That’s a solid collection of talent that should help an Aggies team that certainly has some questions to answer on offense and defense.

2. Missouri: This is another squad that returns the key figures from a season ago, led by versatile return man Marcus Murphy. Murphy was fifth in the SEC in punt returns (7.0) and 11th in kickoff returns (22.2) while also contributing to the Tigers’ solid running game. Andrew Baggett (18-for-25 on field goals, 8.6 points per game) was the SEC’s second-leading scorer among kickers, and he returns along with punter Christian Brinser (41.0 yards per punt).

3. Georgia: Truth be told, Georgia was frequently terrible on special teams last season. The Bulldogs struggled to generate much of anything in the return game and experienced some issues with blocked punts. Coach Mark Richt changed the way the coaching staff will address special teams during the offseason, and perhaps that will make a difference. The individual specialists are actually pretty good -- particularly kicker Marshall Morgan, who should generate some All-America attention himself. Morgan was 22-for-24 (91.7 percent) and led all SEC kickers with an average of 10.3 points per game, truly one of the best seasons by a kicker in school history. Punters Collin Barber and Adam Erickson were mostly average, which is more than can be said for the Bulldogs’ return men. Keep an eye on freshman Isaiah McKenzie in August to see if he has a chance to contribute in the return game.

4. LSU: The return game will certainly suffer a blow without electric All-American Beckham -- the winner of last season’s Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player -- but LSU has no shortage of athletic players (running back Terrence Magee is one option) whom the coaches can plug into Beckham’s old spots. The Tigers are solid at kicker with Colby Delahoussaye, who led the SEC by making 92.9 percent of his field goals (13 of 14). They held a competition for the punting job during the spring between hot-and-cold Jamie Keehn (41.0 ypp) and walk-on Trent Domingue.

5. South Carolina: Here’s another one where experience helps, although the Gamecocks have much to improve upon this season. Punter Tyler Hull (37.8 ypp) is back, but South Carolina ranked last in the SEC with an average of 34.1 net yards per punt. They were mediocre both returning and covering kickoffs and at returning punts, although Pharoh Cooper (22.4 ypr on kickoffs and 4.4 ypr on punts) might be a breakout candidate for the Gamecocks this fall. Elliott Fry was a solid performer (15-for-18 on field goals, fourth in the SEC with 7.6 ppg) at place-kicker in 2013.

6. Alabama: The Crimson Tide should rank higher on this list by season’s end. After all, they have arguably the SEC’s top return man in Christion Jones (second in the league with 28.7 ypr on kickoffs and second with 14.0 ypr on punts). But they also lost a dynamic punter in Mandell and a place-kicker, Foster, who was solid last season before melting down in the Iron Bowl. Perhaps Adam Griffith (1-for-3 on field goals) will take over the kicking job, but Alabama also has high hopes for signee J.K. Scott, who is capable of kicking or punting in college.

7. Arkansas: The rankings start getting murky around the middle of the pack. Arkansas has a phenomenal punter back in ambidextrous Australian Sam Irwin-Hill (44.3 ypp, fifth in the SEC), but the Razorbacks also lost kicker Zach Hocker (13-for-15 on field goals) and punt returner Javontee Herndon. Kickoff returner Korliss Marshall (22.2 ypr, 10th in the SEC) is back. It would be huge for Arkansas if signee Cole Hedlund, USA Today’s first-team All-USA kicker for the Class of 2014, can come in and take over Hocker’s job.

8. Florida: We’re speculating here that Andre Debose comes back healthy and reclaims his job as the Gators’ kickoff return man. That would be a big deal since Debose is tied for the SEC’s career lead with four kickoff returns for touchdowns. Now-departed Solomon Patton did a great job in his place last season, averaging 29.2 ypr. The Gators also lost punt returner Marcus Roberson (9.2 ypr). The big issue, though, is at kicker, where former top kicking prospect Austin Hardin (4-for-12 on field goals) was awful last season and eventually gave way to Francisco Velez (6-for-8). Likewise, Johnny Townsend (42.0 ypp) took over at punter for former Groza finalist Kyle Christy (39.6) because of a slump, although both are back.

9. Kentucky: Although the Wildcats lost a solid kicker in Joe Mansour (12-for-14 on field goals), they still have several solid players returning. They include punt returner Demarco Robinson (10.4 ypr), kickoff returner Javess Blue (20.4 ypr) and punter Landon Foster (41.3 ypp). Austin MacGinnis, one of the nation’s better kicking prospects in 2013, claimed the place-kicking job during spring practice.

10. Auburn: As with Alabama, we expect Auburn to move up this list during the season. They have the No. 1 kicking prospect from 2013, redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson, taking over for Parkey at place-kicker. They have speedster Corey Grant as an option at kickoff return. And they have another talented redshirt freshman, Jimmy Hutchinson, inheriting the reliable Clark’s spot at punter. Quan Bray might be the man who takes over at punt returner for Davis, who averaged 18.7 ypr (which doesn’t include his 109-yard field goal return to beat Alabama), but he could face a challenge from candidates like Trovon Reed, Marcus Davis or Johnathan Ford.

11. Tennessee: Considering how the Volunteers lost punter/kicker Michael Palardy (third in SEC with 44.5 yards per punt and 14-for-17 on field goals), it’s a good thing that they signed top kicking prospect and Under Armour All-American Aaron Medley. Tennessee has return man Devrin Young (25.9 ypr on kickoffs and 7.9 on punts) and backup punt return man Jacob Carter (9.3 ypr) back, as well.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return most everyone from last season (minus punter Baker Swedenburg, who averaged 42.5 ypp), but it remains to be determined whether that’s a good thing. They were mediocre or worse in most special teams departments in 2013 – especially at place-kicker, where Devon Bell (6-for-14 on field goals) and Evan Sobiesk (3-for-6) were hardly reliable. Bell (41.2 ypp) was a decent punter, but could face a challenge from signee Logan Cooke on kickoffs and punts. Return man Jameon Lewis (23.5 ypr on kickoffs and 2.3 on punts) is back, as is speedster Brandon Holloway (37.7 ypr on three kickoffs and 18.0 ypr on two punts), who is trying to crack the starting lineup at running back, but could become a dynamic return man if given the opportunity.

13. Ole Miss: By losing punter Tyler Campbell (44.4 ypp, fourth in the SEC), kicker Andrew Ritter (16-for-24 on field goals) and punt returner Jeff Scott (12.7 ypr), Ole Miss has plenty of holes to fill. They have kickoff returner Jaylen Walton (20.6 ypr) back and also signed the No. 2 kicking prospect for 2014, Gary Wunderlich, who is capable of becoming a standout performer as both a kicker and punter.

14. Vanderbilt: New coach Derek Mason didn’t seem particularly enthused about his special teams units after spring practice. The Commodores lost kicker Carey Spear (15-for-19 on field goals) and potential replacement Tommy Openshaw struggled during spring scrimmages, potentially opening the door for a walk-on. Punter Taylor Hudson (42.9 ypp, seventh in the SEC) is back, but he and competitor Colby Cooke were apparently not very consistent this spring, either. Vandy lost punt returner Jonathan Krause (3.6 ypr) and returns leading kickoff return man Darrius Sims (22.8 ypr, eighth in the SEC).

SEC Week 13: Did you know?

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
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With SEC rivalry week on deck next week, this might feel like the calm before the storm. But there are still a few games on Saturday that carry major bowl implications -- including Missouri-Ole Miss, LSU-Texas A&M and Tennessee-Vanderbilt.

As we prepare to enter the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, here are a few interesting tidbits from our friends at ESPN Stats and Information concerning this weekend's games.
  • Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel posted eye-popping numbers last season, but he remains on pace to match -- if not surpass -- those stats this season. Through 10 games last fall, he had an 89.5 Opponent-Adjusted Total QBR, while he has an 89.6 this year. His average of 392.4 total yards per game is up from 379.4 last year. And he leads the FBS with an average of 39 touchdowns rushing or passing, which is up from his 33 at this point last season. Entering Saturday's game at LSU, Manziel remains unbeaten in his career away from home. He's 9-0 away from Kyle Field with an opponent-adjusted QBR of at least 85 in every game -- the longest streak for any player in the last 10 seasons.
  • Missouri's James Franklin returns to the starting lineup against Ole Miss for the first time since injuring his shoulder against Georgia in Week 7. He was averaging 6.9 yards per play and boasted an 80.7 QBR when injured. Freshman Maty Mauk did an admirable job in Franklin's absence. He led the Tigers to a 3-1 record, although his average of 6.7 yards per play and 68.7 QBR both trail the totals for Franklin.
  • LSU held Texas A&M to 19 points last season in College Station in the Tigers' 24-19 win. That was the only game in Manziel's career that he did not account for a touchdown. His opponent-adjusted QBR that day was 51.2, the lowest single-game mark of his career by 21.3 points.
  • Chattanooga might as well not even bother blitzing Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron on Saturday. When opponents have sent five or more pass rushers, McCarron has thrown an SEC-high 14 touchdowns against just one interception. Meanwhile, Alabama's pass rush has been consistent, blitz or no blitz. The Crimson Tide has pressured opposing quarterbacks on 26 percent of their dropbacks, the highest percentage in the SEC.
  • LSU running back Jeremy Hill averages an SEC-high 8.0 yards per carry on rushes between the tackles (min. 50 carries). On such runs, Hill had season lows in yards (23) and yards per carry (3.8) in the Tigers' last game, a loss to Alabama.
  • Missouri's pass rush has also been effective without needing to blitz. The Tigers have sent four or fewer pass rushers on 88 percent of opponent dropbacks -- the highest percentage of any AQ defense. Nonetheless, the Tigers have an AQ-high 29 sacks and are tied for the national lead with 81 pressures (hurries plus knockdowns). Michael Sam leads the SEC with 10 sacks and Kony Ealy leads the league with 25 pressures. Sam has 23, which is tied for second with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Georgia's Leonard Floyd.
  • Entering Saturday's game against Coastal Carolina, South Carolina running back Mike Davis has 477 rushing yards after contact this season. Only Auburn's Tre Mason and Alabama's T.J. Yeldon have more among SEC ball carriers.
  • The combination of Jeff Scott's combination of breakaway speed and some good blocking by the Ole Miss offensive line allowed Scott to make it at least 5 yards past the line of scrimmage before first contact on 45 percent of his carries. That's the highest percentage of any AQ running back who has at least 50 carries.
  • South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw is dangerous as a runner, but he has been lethal when passing from the pocket this season. He is completing 67 percent of his pocket passes with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions this season. On throws outside the pocket, Shaw is completing 37.2 percent with five touchdowns and one pick.
  • Texas A&M's defense has allowed an AQ-high 57 runs on which the opponent gained 5 yards or more after first contact. The Aggies are also allowing an SEC-high 5.7 yards per carry on designed runs.
  • LSU is tied for sixth in the FBS with 70 offensive plays that covered 20 yards or more this season. The Tigers had just 59 such plays in all of 2012.
  • Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace's completion percentage is nearly 10 percentage points higher at home (69.2) than on the road (59.6). The Rebels are 5-1 in Oxford versus 2-2 anywhere else, and Wallace has tossed 13 touchdowns against three interceptions at home versus his 4-2 split on the road.

SEC Week 8 primer

October, 19, 2013
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It looked like it could be a Saturday full of upsets last weekend when Missouri stunned Georgia to start the day. The Tigers' road victory shook up the SEC East and put them squarely in the driver’s seat for a trip to Atlanta. Ole Miss nearly followed suit in the nightcap until Johnny Manziel led Texas A&M back in the final minutes. Will the Aggies luck run out this weekend against Auburn? Will there be another upset? We shall see.

[+] EnlargeMauk
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsCan redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk, making his first career start, keep the ball rolling for Mizzou?
Everybody is still a little surprised that Missouri is one of two undefeated teams left in the SEC at the midway point -- the other being the two-time defending champ Alabama. But the Tigers have won back-to-back conference road games, they’re ranked No. 14, and they’re finally starting to earn some respect. However, they will be without quarterback James Franklin for the next three to five weeks because of a shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk will start in Franklin’s place Saturday when Missouri welcomes a Florida team that ranks first in the FBS in QBR defense. The Gators lost their quarterback earlier this year, too, but the defense has kept them in contention for the SEC East. A loss Saturday could cripple Florida’s chances.

Georgia and South Carolina are also in the mix for the East, and both play on the road this Saturday. The injury-riddled Bulldogs will look to bounce back with a trip to Vanderbilt. They have won the last six meetings against the Commodores and 17 of the last 18. Quarterback Aaron Murray should pass Tim Tebow for the top spot in total offense in SEC history, as he needs just 30 yards to do so. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks are coming off an impressive victory at Arkansas and will travel to Tennessee this weekend. The Volunteers had the week off after nearly upsetting Georgia their last time out. Neyland Stadium has become a home away from home for Steve Spurrier, who will be coaching his 13th game inside the historic venue.

In the West, the game of the day will be down in College Station, Texas, between a pair of ranked teams -- No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 24 Auburn. It might be 'the first one to score 50 wins' as the game features two of the top offenses in the SEC. The Aggies have Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, who was brilliant last week against Ole Miss, while the Tigers boast the No. 1 rushing attack in the conference. Auburn will also welcome back quarterback Nick Marshall, who missed the last game because of a knee injury. The junior college transfer rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Ole Miss his last time out. When these two teams met a year ago, Texas A&M rolled, 63-21.

The other game to keep an eye on in the West is LSU and Ole Miss. The Tigers had to score a late touchdown last year to survive Hugh Freeze’s upstart team, but will it come down to the wire again this year? The Rebels are pretty banged up after the Texas A&M game. They lost four starters on defense, and running back Jeff Scott is not expected to play because of a thigh bruise he suffered against the Aggies. They’re also catching LSU at the wrong time. The Tigers’ defense played its best game of the season last week in a 17-6 win over Florida. It could spell trouble for Ole Miss, which has been owned by LSU in recent years.

And how can we forget Alabama, the nation’s No. 1 team? The Crimson Tide keep chugging along, and they’re heavy favorites again this week at home against Arkansas. The biggest storyline from this game will be the return of Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. On Friday, it was announced that Clinton-Dix had been reinstated from his two-game suspension after being notified by the NCAA that he is again eligible to play. The question is how much will he play against the Razorbacks? Here’s a rundown of Saturday’s games:

  • Georgia at Vanderbilt, Noon ET, CBS
  • South Carolina at Tennessee, Noon ET, ESPN
  • Florida at Missouri, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC TV
  • Auburn at Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
  • LSU at Ole Miss, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
  • Arkansas at Alabama, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Five things: LSU-Ole Miss

October, 19, 2013
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LSU and Ole Miss are headed in opposite directions. The Tigers have won two straight games since a crushing defeat to Georgia, whereas the Rebels have lost three in a row since starting the season 3-0. Les Miles and company would like to continue the current trend Saturday when LSU visits Ole Miss.

Upset alert: Ole Miss came within a hair of pulling the upset over No. 9 Texas A&M last weekend, but reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel proved to be too much. The Rebels will get another shot this Saturday when No. 6 LSU comes to town. Regardless of rankings, the Rebels tend to play well against the Tigers. Seven of the last 11 meetings between the two have been decided by a touchdown or less, including last year’s contest that saw LSU squeak by with a touchdown in the final seconds. Ole Miss gets LSU at home this time around, and the Rebels are hungry for an upset.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyRebels QB Bo Wallace torched LSU last season, accounting for 364 total yards and four touchdowns.
Slowing down Bo: The reason Ole Miss was able to hang with LSU last year had a lot to do with quarterback Bo Wallace. Despite three interceptions, Wallace threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 54 yards and two scores. Outside of the turnovers, LSU had no answer for the junior college transfer. This season, Wallace started off hot but struggled on the road at Alabama and Auburn. He returned to form last week with 301 yards passing and three touchdowns against Texas A&M. Ole Miss will need another big-time performance from him if it wants to spring an upset.

Mettenberger drought: It has been nearly five quarters since Zach Mettenberger last threw a touchdown pass. Okay, that's not much of a drought, but for a guy who has been the most-improved signal caller in the SEC this season, it's something. It wasn't that Mettenberger struggled last week against Florida, it was more that the Tigers wanted to impose their will on the ground. The LSU quarterback is still fifth in the FBS in opponent-adjusted QBR this season (90.8), a tenth of a point behind Florida State's Jameis Winston. But the game plan likely will change this week, and Mettenberger should have plenty of opportunities to end the drought.

Home-run threat: Maybe it's because of Mettenberger's improved play. Maybe it's because of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, the top wide receiver tandem in the SEC. But whatever it is, LSU has thrived on the big play this season. The Tigers have 50 plays of 20 yards or more, second most in the FBS behind Oregon (56). They had 59 such plays all of last season. That big-play ability could continue this weekend against an Ole Miss defense that gave up 587 yards to Texas A&M last week.

Injured Rebels: Ole Miss already is facing an uphill battle Saturday against LSU, but to make matters worse, they Rebels are going into it shorthanded. They lost four starters on defense in the Texas A&M game, including freshman sensation Robert Nkemdiche and linebacker Serderius Bryant, the team's leader in tackles. None of the four are expected to play this weekend. Ole Miss also will be without starting running back Jeff Scott, who suffered a thigh bruise against the Aggies. Scott leads the team with 434 yards rushing. He is averaging 8.8 yards per carry.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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1. Will Clowney play?: There have been a lot of rumors flying around about South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and his last-minute decision to sit out against Kentucky. It didn’t go over well with coach Steve Spurrier based on the postgame comments. However, Spurrier defended his star player this week. Once again, Clowney is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas with a muscle strain near his rib area. He returned to practice on Wednesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC lunchtime links

September, 26, 2013
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We're a little closer to game day in the SEC. With several notable conference matchups on tap, here's look at some of the storylines, news and notes from around the league:

SEC players of the week

September, 16, 2013
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Here are the SEC players of the week as announced by the league Monday:

OFFENSIVE: AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
  • Completed 20 of 29 passes for a career-high 334 yards with four touchdowns, which tied a career-best for McCarron. His 5-yard pass to Jalston Fowler with 2:28 to play put Alabama up 49-35 and proved to be game-winner.
  • He had touchdown passes of 22, 44 and 51 yards.
  • He's now second all time at Alabama for passing yardage (passing Brodie Croyle) with 6,400 yards.
DEFENSIVE: Ego Ferguson, DE, LSU
  • Led LSU with eight tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack, in the 45-13 win over Kent State. The eight tackles set a career-high for the first-year starter.
  • Anchored an LSU defense that held Kent State to just 58 rushing yards and 248 total yards.
  • LSU held Kent State to 4 of 14 on third-down conversions and just 1.8 yards per rush.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Jeff Scott, PR/RB, Ole Miss
  • Returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown in Ole Miss' 44-23 victory at Texas.
  • Finished with a career-high 243 all-purpose yards, including a career-high 164 rushing yards and another touchdown.
  • The punt return score marked the second of his career.
  • He moved into fourth on the school’s all-purpose yardage list with 3,421 yards.
FRESHMAN: Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
  • Rushed 25 times for 115 yards and one touchdown in 24-3 win over Southern Miss.
  • First freshman in SEC history and first true freshman in NCAA since Adrian Peterson in 2004 to begin career with three consecutive 100-yard rushing games.
  • His touchdown capped a 14-play, 81-yard drive in the fourth quarter that featured eight rushes for 38 yards, an average of 4.8 yards per carry.
  • He leads the SEC and ranks fourth nationally with 418 rushing yards this season, and his average of 139.9 rushing yards per game is second in the SEC and eighth nationally.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Clayton Stadnik, C, South Carolina
  • Making his second consecutive start for the injured Cody Waldrop, Stadnik graded out at 82 percent, playing all 87 snaps at center in the 35-25 win over Vanderbilt.
  • The Gamecock offensive line did not give up a quarterback sack or quarterback hurry while rolling up 579 yards of offense, the second-highest total in the Steve Spurrier era.
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
  • Recorded career-high three sacks as part of five-tackle performance with two quarterback hurries in Arkansas' win over Southern Miss.
  • Had two sacks on Southern Miss’ final drive of the second quarter with Golden Eagles at midfield to preserve a seven-point Arkansas lead going into halftime.
  • His three sacks tied for highest single-game output this season.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
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The first week of the season is in the books in the SEC, and it’s time to pass out some helmet stickers:

Arkansas’ offensive line: There were several candidates on Arkansas’ offense in the Hogs' 34-14 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins each rushed for more than 100 yards. Quarterback Brandon Allen passed for 230 yards and three touchdowns and was sacked only once. When you’re putting up those kinds of numbers on offense and creating that kind of balance, then you’re obviously getting it done on the offensive line. The Hogs finished with 292 rushing yards, their most since churning out 326 yards against UTEP in 2010. First-year coach Bret Bielema is all about a physical running game and was especially complimentary of center Travis Swanson and the way he was able to pull on some plays.

James Franklin, QB, Missouri: Looking healthy and very much in command, Franklin rolled up 362 yards of total offense in leading Missouri to a 58-14 rout of Murray State. Franklin, who struggled through an injury-plagued junior season, finished 26-of-38 for 318 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed six times for 44 yards. It was the most yards he’s accounted for in a game since racking up 392 yards against Baylor in 2011. The best news for Mizzou fans is that Franklin looked a lot more like the 2011 version of himself than he did the 2012 version.

Christion Jones, WR/RS, Alabama: Jones became the first Alabama player in history to score two special teams touchdowns in one game. The junior receiver returned a kickoff 94 yards and a punt 72 yards for touchdowns. He also got into the act on offense by catching a 38-yard touchdown pass. Jones became the first major college football player to score a touchdown on a punt return, kickoff return and pass reception in the same game since Kentucky’s Derek Abney in 2002.

Jeff Scott, RB, Ole Miss: He might be small in stature (5-foot-7 and 167 pounds), but Scott delivered a mammoth play Thursday in the Rebels' 39-35 win over Vanderbilt. The senior running back left everybody in his wake on an electrifying 75-yard touchdown run with 1:07 to play, answering a Vanderbilt touchdown only seconds earlier. Scott finished with 138 rushing yards on 12 carries and averaged 11.5 yards per rush. He also caught four passes for 25 yards.

Robenson Therezie, S, Auburn: Starting in place of the injured Justin Garrett at the hybrid “star” position in the Tigers’ 4-2-5 defense, Therezie intercepted two passes and had seven total tackles in Auburn’s 31-24 win over Washington State. Therezie’s final interception was a leaping grab in the end zone with Washington State driving for the potential game-tying score in the final five minutes. He returned his first interception 24 yards to the Washington State 28 to set up Auburn’s first touchdown. Therezie’s two interceptions in the opener matched Auburn’s total from all of last season.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
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A few SEC teams were in action last night, the first of the college football season, including a thrilling battle between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Looking back at last night and forward to this weekend's, here are some reads to get you through your Friday:
Now that Edward has unveiled his freshmen of influence in the East this season, I’ll take my shot at those first-year players who will make the biggest impacts in the West.

Remember, we’re picking only true freshmen.

Here goes:

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: One of the key questions for Alabama heading into the season was who would emerge as the big-play threat in the Crimson Tide’s passing game. Enter Cooper, who’s drawn rave reviews from coach Nick Saban and several of Cooper’s veteran teammates. Even though a foot injury has hampered the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Cooper in recent days, he’s given the defending national champions confidence that they won’t be lacking when they decide to throw the football in 2012.

De’Vante Harris, CB, Texas A&M: The Aggies were able to pry Harris away from Oklahoma during the recruiting process, and it’s a good thing. He might very well be starting in the Texas A&M defensive backfield from Day 1. In fact, one of the first players Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin mentioned following last weekend’s scrimmage was Harris, who’s been hard to miss this preseason. He’s played like a veteran, challenges the receivers and has kept his mistakes to a minimum.

I'Tavius Mathers, RB, Ole Miss: Nagging injuries have limited junior running back Jeff Scott this preseason, which has provided a big opportunity for Mathers. Needless to say, he’s taken that opportunity and run with it. So has fellow freshman running back Jaylen Walton. Mathers, who’s right around 200 pounds, has shown the power and strength to get the tough yards, but he also has breakaway speed. He ripped off a 58-yard touchdown run in last weekend’s scrimmage.

Jalen Mills, CB, LSU: He’s not the biggest guy or the fastest guy, but Mills is a fierce competitor and an excellent tackler. Sound familiar? OK, it’s way too premature to compare him to Tyrann Mathieu, but Mills has been mighty impressive during preseason camp with his instincts and nose for the ball. With Mathieu gone, Mills worked with the first-team defense last Saturday during the scrimmage and is pushing to be a fixture in the Tigers’ secondary rotation this season.

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: After enrolling early, Yeldon burst onto the scene this spring and had 91 yards receiving and 88 yards rushing in the A-Day spring game. He had the play of the game on a 50-yard touchdown reception and has picked up where he left off this preseason. The Crimson Tide aren’t short on talent at running back, but Yeldon is the kind of playmaker that demands touches. He’s explosive as a runner and also makes things happen after the catch. Saban will see to it that Yeldon is a big part of the offense.
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.

(Read full post)

Early 2012 SEC power rankings

January, 10, 2012
1/10/12
4:27
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We officially said goodbye to the 2011 season Monday night and crowned the Alabama Crimson Tide as college football's new champions. Now, it's time to shift our focus to 2012. Here's to hoping the Mayans were wrong:

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.

3. Georgia: The Bulldogs might return more starters next year than LSU. After surpassing expectations and challenging LSU for the SEC title, the Bulldogs should enter next fall as the favorites in the SEC East. Stud quarterback Aaron Murray returns and so do most of his weapons. With arguably the easiest schedule (again) in the SEC, Mark Richt will be expected to take his Dawgs back to Atlanta.

4. South Carolina: There won't be any sleeping on the Gamecocks in 2012. After getting 11 wins for only the second time in school history, South Carolina should compete for the SEC East for the third straight year. The Gamecocks return a slew of talent, especially on defense, and saw tremendous improvement in quarterback Connor Shaw. Also, running back Marcus Lattimore should be back and healthy after his devastating season-ending knee injury.

5. Arkansas: The Razorbacks will lose a lot of key players that have helped Arkansas get to where it is under Bobby Petrino. Defensively, five seniors will say goodbye, while the offense will lose three NFL wide receivers. However, that offensive line, which grew up as the season progressed, will be much better and star running back Knile Davis should be back and healthy. Quarterback Tyler Wilson is back, so there shouldn't be much dip in the passing game even with some new faces at receiver.

6. Auburn: Those youngsters on the Plains will be more mature and much improved in 2012. That has to be a scary thought for other SEC members. Auburn doesn't lose much from its 2011 team and gets a great addition to the defensive side of the ball in new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Offensively, there are weapons everywhere, but the key will be finding the right quarterback ... again.

7. Florida: Will Muschamp's first year as the Gators' head coach didn't go as planned, but there is still a lot of talent in Gainesville, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Florida loses just one starter on defense and should have one of the fastest, most aggressive defensive units around the SEC. Getting that offense going will be key to Muschamp's second year, but with all that turnover, it should be a fresh start for this unit.

8. Missouri: This new group of Tigers enters 2012 as a factor in the SEC East. Missouri returns nearly everyone from 2011, including quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, who both put up solid numbers in 2011. The Tigers will no doubt hit some snags as they transition into their new home, but with all the talent that returns, Missouri won't be a pushover in its first year in the SEC.

9. Tennessee: Derek Dooley has the pieces in place on both sides of the ball to compete in the SEC East. That young defense won't be so young in 2012 and quarterback Tyler Bray returns with his deep-threat sidekicks at wide receiver. With a solid offensive line, the next step for Tennessee is to find a consistent running back to help take the pressure off of the passing game. There's a lot of pressure on Dooley to get things done, and he has the talent to in 2012.

10. Texas A&M: The Aggies have the pleasure of entering the SEC as a Western Division team. That's not exactly a warm welcome. It doesn't help that Texas A&M is losing a ton from its 2011 team. There could be six NFL draft picks who won't be back in College Station next season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and top safety Trent Hunter are gone, and so is receiver Jeff Fuller. Christine Michael should do well as Cyrus Gray's replacement at running back, but the core of this team will be gone.

11. Vanderbilt: Year 1 of the James Franklin era was a success and there shouldn't be a lot of drop-off for the Commodores next season. Vandy loses top defenders Chris Marve, Tim Fugger and Casey Hayward, but a lot of veterans return on that side of the ball. Jordan Rodgers is back at quarterback, Zac Stacy returns at running back and wide receivers Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews will be back. Running back and specialist Warren Norman should be back too and the offensive line returns four starters.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lose a lot on both sides of the ball in 2012, but should have a top cornerback combo in Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Losing Fletcher Cox up front will leave a hole on the defensive line and saying goodbye to linebacker Brandon Wilson won't be easy. Tyler Russell will probably get the first crack at quarterback for the Bulldogs, but he will be without his safety net in running back Vick Ballard. The good thing is that the receivers are back, but this team will have to grow up in a hurry.

13. Kentucky: The offensive line will have some missing pieces in 2012 and the defense loses six starters, including star linebacker Danny Trevathan. Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton will battle at quarterback, but with how 2011 ended, Smith might have the advantage. This team struggled mightily on offense and the problem was that there wasn't a lot of improvement throughout the year. The offseason should be dedicated to find ways to get this offense moving.

14. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze steps into a tough situation at Ole Miss. His first order of business needs to be improving the discipline on this team. It was awful in 2011, and if Ole Miss wants to improve it has to clean that up. The defense should get a boost with leader D.T. Shackelford returning from his season-ending knee injury and offensive playmakers Jeff Scott, Donte Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell are back. The offensive line loses some key components, and the quarterback situation is far from figured out.

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