LSU Tigers: Marcus Lattimore

SEC's most memorable moments in 2012

January, 15, 2013
1/15/13
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We at the SEC blog carried a makeshift camera with us all season and are pleased to provide you with snapshots of some of the more memorable moments from the 2012 season.

Some were obvious. Some weren’t so obvious.

Either way, it was another banner season for the SEC, which produced its seventh consecutive national championship and became the first conference in history to have five of the top 10 teams -- 1. Alabama, T-5. Georgia, T-5. Texas A&M, 8. South Carolina and 9. Florida -- in the final rankings.

Sit back and enjoy.

Alabama’s repeat: Rebounding from a November home loss to Texas A&M, Alabama became the first team since Nebraska in 1994 and 1995 to repeat as national champions with a 42-14 battering of previously unbeaten Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship. The Crimson Tide mauled the Irish physically and scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions. The game was over by the time the second quarter began, and Alabama’s historic run had officially become a dynasty. The Crimson Tide won their third outright national title in four years, the first school to accomplish that feat since Notre Dame in the late 1940s.

[+] EnlargeManziel
John David Mercer/US PresswireJohnny Manziel was at his finest in Texas A&M's upset of Alabama.
Manziel’s magic: The upset heard around the country this season was Texas A&M’s 29-24 win over No. 1-ranked Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium. And who can forget Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel’s performance in that game, a showing that paved the way for Manziel to become the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy? The play that will forever stand out from that game is his 10-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Swope. Manziel somehow managed to avoid the rush up the middle, fumbled the ball to himself in midair and then scrambled left and threw back across his body to a wide-open Swope in the end zone. It was Johnny Football at his finest.

Mosley’s tip: Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley got just enough fingers on the football to deflect Aaron Murray’s pass in the final seconds of the SEC championship game. The ball careened into the hands of Georgia receiver Chris Conley, who slipped to the turf at the Alabama 5-yard line as time expired. Alabama survived 32-28 and earned the right to play for another national championship in one of the most exciting SEC championship games in history.

Clowney’s hit: They’re referring to it as simply “The Hit” in South Carolina. The Gamecocks’ all-world sophomore defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney, leveled Michigan running back Vincent Smith, sending both Smith’s helmet and the ball flying. Clowney snatched the ball up with his left hand in one of those plays that becomes even more jaw dropping every time you see it.

Miles’ outburst: LSU coach Les Miles has been must-see TV for a long time now. But do yourself a favor and go relive his “What a game!” performance during his news conference following LSU’s 41-35 victory over Ole Miss. An emotional Miles even dropped an F-bomb and then implored fans to thank the "spectacular group" of LSU players with this memorable line: “You go find them, throw your arms around them and give them a big kiss on the mouth ... if you're a girl."

Screen to Yeldon: With Tiger Stadium roaring, Alabama awakened offensively in the final minutes, and quarterback AJ McCarron led the Crimson Tide on a game-winning drive that was capped by a 28-yard screen pass to T.J. Yeldon for a touchdown with 51 seconds to play. McCarron was 1-for-7 for 0 yards in the second half before that final drive, which allowed Alabama to escape 21-17.

Franklin’s hug: Vanderbilt’s 38-24 win over North Carolina State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl earned the Commodores their first nine-win season since 1915. Afterward, a Vanderbilt fan made his way into the news conference and thanked second-year coach James Franklin for what he’d done for the program. Franklin stopped the news conference, gave the fan a big hug and told him thanks for sticking with the Commodores. “You’re due for this,” Franklin exclaimed.

Support for Lattimore: No moment was more tear jerking, and yet, heartwarming than the injury to South Carolina star tailback Marcus Lattimore this season. Sadly, Lattimore blew his knee out for the second straight season in the 38-35 win over Tennessee. As he lay on the field in pain after going down with the injury, players, coaches and support personnel from both teams surrounded Lattimore on the field in a touching show of support. It's the kind of thing you rarely, if ever, see on a football field and says volumes about the universal respect Lattimore has as a player and as a person.

Jones' strip: Great players make great plays, and Jarvis Jones' strip of Florida tight end Jordan Reed was the play that sent Georgia to the SEC championship game for the second straight year and kept Florida at home despite a huge turnaround for the Gators this season. Reed was motoring for the end zone with just over two minutes to play in Jacksonville, but Jones was able to punch the ball loose inside the 5, and the Bulldogs recovered in the end zone. It was one of two forced fumbles for Jones, who also had three sacks in the 17-9 win.

Ole Miss' resurgence: The Rebels entered the season with a 14-game SEC losing streak. But under the guidance of first-year coach Hugh Freeze, they scrapped their way to a 7-6 season, which included a resounding 41-24 win over rival Mississippi State in the regular-season finale after three straight losses to the Bulldogs. The Rebels then followed that up with a 38-17 rout of Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Hotty Toddy!

SEC power rankings

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
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We've come to the end of the regular season for the SEC, so here is our final batch of power rankings until the new year:

1. Alabama (12-1; last week: 1): No, Alabama wasn't perfect in its 32-28 victory against Georgia in the SEC title game, but talk about resolve. This team trailed by 11 in the second half, but fought back with a punishing running game and just wore down one of the most talented defenses around to throw itself into the Discover BCS National Championship against Notre Dame. The Crimson Tide will now play for their second national championship in a row, and third in four years.

2. Florida (11-1; LW: 3): The Gators didn't win their division and weren't in Atlanta, but it's hard to find a team with a better résumé. Florida finished the season with four wins against teams currently ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings. Three of them are in the top 10. Florida is headed to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009. The Gators will face Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

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2012 SEC regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
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Here we are again talking about another potential national championship for the SEC.

Weren’t we having this same conversation last year, the year before that and the year before that?

In fact, does anybody really remember the last time we weren’t having this conversation?

The BCS Championship Game festivities will again include an SEC team this season, and once again, it’s Alabama carrying the banner for the league.

If you think everybody else in college football is tired of seeing the SEC win all the time, try taking the temperature of fans in Baton Rouge, La., or Athens, Ga., or Auburn, Ala., over how tired they are of seeing Alabama win all the time.

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Week 11 in the SEC

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
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Here's a quick primer for Week 11 in the SEC:

Arkansas (4-5, 2-3 SEC) at No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2SEC), Noon ET, CBS: The Gamecocks are rested from the bye and the hope is the emotions from Marcus Lattimore's season-ending injury won't hurt this team's mindset. Arkansas escaped Tulsa over the weekend and will have to play its most complete game to top South Carolina. Both have a lot to play for, as a BCS bowl is still in the cards for the Gamecocks, while Arkansas needs two more wins to grab a bowl berth.

Missouri (4-5, 1-5 SEC) at Tennessee (4-5, 0-5 SEC), 12:21 p.m. ET, SECNetwork: Both of these teams are in desperate need of a win. Missouri's offense has sputtered along in SEC play, while Tennessee's defense has been sliced and diced by its opponents all season. Something has to give on Saturday. With Texas A&M still on the schedule, the Tigers might have to get this win if they are going to go bowling, while another Vols win will help take a little heat off of coach Derek Dooley.

Louisiana-Lafayette (5-3) at No. 6 Florida (8-1, 7-1 SEC), 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network: The Gators begin two weeks of cupcake play with the Ragin' Cajuns. The next two weeks should be devoted to figuring things out in the passing game for the Gators. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is getting little help outside of tight end Jordan Reed. The good news for Florida is that Louisiana-Lafayette is 118th nationally in pass defense, so if the Gators are going to get some confidence back in its passing game, Saturday should be a good start.

No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC)at No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: With the Crimson Tide coming off of a very physical and a very emotional win over LSU, the Aggies don't give Alabama the best matchup this weekend. LSU provided a bit of a blueprint on how to beat the Tide, and Texas A&M's high-flying offense is capable of generating some yards and points on this Tide defense. Containing Johnny Manziel will be Alabama's top objective, while the Aggies will be looking to stop the Tide's bullish running game.

No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) at Auburn (2-7, 0-6 SEC), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: A win for Georgia and the Bulldogs are heading to the SEC championship game for the second straight year. After being counted out (again), Georgia is in complete control of the East and is a win away from silencing a lot of those critics in Athens. Auburn finally got its second win of the year last weekend and has a new quarterback in Jonathan Wallace. The offense made strides against New Mexico State and this is a game that the Bulldogs can't overlook. It's a rivalry game and it's a night game in one of college football's best venues.

Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3 SEC) at Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3 SEC), 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU: When it comes to the postseason, this is a must-win for both teams. Vandy is cruising along on a three-game winning streak, while the Rebels are coming off of a blowout loss to Georgia. Ole Miss has dropped two straight to the Commodores and with LSU and Mississippi State remaining, this might be Ole Miss' best chance to get that sixth win. Things are really clicking for the Commodores, and they'll enter Saturday's game with a lot more momentum than the Rebels.

No. 21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2 SEC) at No. 7 LSU(7-2, 3-2 SEC), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Tigers will likely feel quite the hangover from that tough loss to Alabama, but the Bulldogs are coming off of an embarrassing loss to Texas A&M. This will be another night game in Death Valley and the Tigers know they are still in line to reach the Allstate Sugar Bowl if they win out. LSU played its best offensive game of the season, while the Bulldogs have taken plenty of steps back on both sides of the ball in the past two weeks.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 9

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
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We've got a few big games in the SEC this weekend and here's what you should be watching out for in Week 9:

1. Taking the East: It'll be quite the party in Jacksonville on Saturday, as this game will essentially decide the SEC East. If Florida wins, the Gators are headed back to Atlanta for the first time since 2009. A Georgia win gives the Bulldogs the edge in the East race from here on out. The Gators haven't dealt with success like this lately, so it'll be interesting to see how this team comes out against a Bulldogs team that has its back against the wall, just like last season. One thing playing in Georgia's favor is this team has been here before and fought its way out of a corner ... all the way to the SEC championship game.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Denny Medley/US PresswireThe Bulldogs need to get pressure on Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who has only been sacked 13 times this season.
2. Pressuring McCarron: A lot of the talk surrounding the Alabama-Mississippi State matchup has dealt with AJ McCarron facing Mississippi State's very talented secondary. But if the Bulldogs are going to stop Alabama's balanced offense, they have to put pressure on McCarron and force him to make mistakes. The Bulldogs haven't been great at hurrying the quarterback this season and have registered just 11 sacks on the year, while Alabama's line has given up just 15 sacks. Obviously, this team has to defend the run, but getting to McCarron is going to be very important for Mississippi State's defense.

3. Arkansas' revival: Remember when the Razorbacks were basically dead in the water? Well, Arkansas has won two straight and things are starting to click for the Hogs. Their last two wins have come against Auburn and Kentucky, but wins are wins in this league, and Arkansas' confidence is flowing right now. Saturday's game with Ole Miss is crucial as far as Arkansas' bowl hopes go. The Hogs need three more wins and one of them has to come Saturday with the gauntlet that is November coming up. Players said the bye week helped clean up some of the little things, and that defense will have to be at its best against Ole Miss' high-powered offense.

4. Slowing down the run: Going back to the Hogs' defense, if Arkansas is going to control Ole Miss' offense, it has to stop the Rebels on the ground. Ole Miss is fourth in the SEC in rushing, averaging 211.4 yards per game. Arkansas has stopped the run well in its past two games, but neither of those running games were on par with Ole Miss' rush game. Tennessee and Georgia also have to control the opposing run games. Florida is third in the league in rushing and its offense has gone the way of its rushing attack for most of the year. If the Bulldogs can force Florida into more passing situations, it could benefit Georgia. The same goes for Tennessee, as the Gamecocks will look to run Marcus Lattimore as much as possible. Connor Shaw struggled throwing the ball last week, so the Vols will try to make him beat them Saturday.

5. Georgia's defensive toughness: Senior safety Shawn Williams created a stir when he called the play of his defense "soft" and then proceeded to name which linebackers should be playing more. Some feelings were hurt, but Mark Richt hopes it motivates his players. Williams' words very well could, but the pressure is now on him to play one of his best games. But this defense has to toughen up as a whole. It hasn't played well in the past three games, and that has to change against Florida's tough running game. Giving up big plays have really hurt this defense lately, and Georgia can't afford that Saturday.

6. Big-game time for Russell: Georgia's Aaron Murray isn't the only one with a lot to prove when it comes to big games this weekend. While he's looking for his third career win over a Top 25 team, Mississippi State's Tyler Russell is looking for a signature win in his career. Beating Alabama would certainly be that win. Russell has been tremendously efficient this season, tossing 15 touchdowns to just one interception. He'll have to be at his absolute best against Alabama's defense. This is the biggest game of his career, so keep an eye on how he deals with that pressure.

7. Johnny Football's rebound: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel found second-half struggles in the loss to LSU, but he'll have the chance to really rebound this weekend against Auburn's floundering defense. The Tigers are giving up more than 400 yards a game, and Manziel has the ability to gash this defense through the air and on the ground. Manziel was getting some Heisman love before the LSU game, but his hopes haven't been destroyed. He can still make a run, and good outings against tough defenses in November will help.

8. Making the bowl push: This is an important weekend for a few teams still trying to make postseason runs. Vanderbilt needs three more wins and should get one easily Saturday against UMass. Ole Miss and Arkansas are in a bowl fight as well. The Razorbacks have to win this one if they are going get the three more wins required to become bowl eligible, while getting to five wins on the season now would only help the Rebels, especially with a tough November approaching. Tennessee has a favorable November ahead, but this is a game that could either help or really hurt this team's confidence going forward. Missouri is essentially in a must-win situation for a bowl. November will be a very tough stretch for the Tigers, so beating Kentucky is crucial for the postseason.

9. Getting the offense back on track: Missouri's offense hasn't been very explosive at all this season. Injuries have certainly hurt it, but SEC defenses haven't had much trouble shutting down the Tigers when they have the ball. Coach Gary Pinkel said before the bye week that things had to be simplified on offense, and he thinks that will happen going forward. It starts with backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser being more comfortable in place of James Franklin. South Carolina is also looking to revive its offense after a very poor showing against Florida. The Gators' defense certainly was a big part of South Carolina's struggles, but the passing game was just ugly in general. All eyes will be on Shaw, but having a healthier Lattimore running the ball should help him.

10. Tennessee's fight: The Vols have had some really bad luck when it comes to keeping up in games. They put up a few big plays against Alabama last week, but averaged just 4 yards immediately following plays of 20 or more yards. After big defensive stops, Alabama came roaring back with scoring drives. The Vols also had back-to-back comeback attempts thwarted by opponents in the fourth quarter in the weeks prior. It might not appear likely, but Tennessee could still make it to the postseason and could still win eight games. But the Vols have to keep going mentally. With the losses and all the talk about Derek Dooley's job, it could be easy for this team to quit, but there's too much of the season left. Saturday's game is a chance for redemption. It's early, so Tennessee could catch South Carolina off guard. But if things are too far gone in Knoxville, this team could roll over at the first sign of adversity.

Battered Tigers face biggest challenge

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's almost the perfect storm of problems for LSU's offense this week.

Already, the Tigers are lacking offensive confidence after getting held to 200 yards by Florida in last week's 14-6 loss. Now, the Tigers' struggling offensive line may head into its next game without right guard Josh Williford, who suffered a head injury against the Gators was had not been cleared to play as of Wednesday. If he can't go, Trai Turner would start and give LSU an all-freshman right side of the line.

[+] EnlargeAlex Hurst
John Korduner/Icon SMILeft tackle Alex Hurst has joined the wounded along the LSU offensive line, as Les Miles said he was "nicked" against Florida.
As if that's not enough, Tigers coach Les Miles added Wednesday that left tackle Alex Hurst is dealing with an injury and has also missed practice time for personal reasons. If he can't go, Josh Dworaczyk would start at left tackle.

If either miss the Tigers' next game, No. 9 LSU (5-1, 1-1 in the SEC) will start its fifth offensive line combination in seven games. The Tigers' offensive front is, at best, makeshift.

And who does this patchwork bunch get to try to block this week?

No. 3 South Carolina and perhaps the best defensive line -- save, arguably, LSU's -- in the country. The 6-0 Gamecocks lead the SEC in sacks with 25 and are coming off a breakout performance in a 35-7 win over Georgia.

"We're going to have to work our best as a unit," said LSU left guard La'el Collins, the one offensive lineman who has started every game at one position. "Our goal is going to be to protect ... and protect."

Three things to watch

1. Mismatch? While LSU's defensive line is arguably as good as South Carolina's, the Gamecocks' defensive front appears to have a bigger mismatch against LSU's M.A.S.H. unit of an offensive line. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is perhaps the best pass rusher in the country. Does LSU have anybody who can block him and his teammates?

2. Home field mystique: LSU has won a school-record 21 straight games at Tiger Stadium, the longest current home winning streak in the country, and the Tigers are historically at their best at night. South Carolina has struggled on the road this year, barely getting by Vanderbilt, 17-13 and trailing by 10 points at halftime before subduing Kentucky, 38-17 in Lexington. Can the Death Valley mystique be a factor?

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- When Steve Spurrier was asked Wednesday if he appreciated the process it took to build No. 3 South Carolina into a top-5 team, given that it took much longer than it did at Florida, he was quick to challenge the premise of the question.

"We're only halfway through the year," he said. "We haven't hit the heights we hit at Florida."

Not yet. Coming off a ground-breaking 35-7 rout of Georgia, the Gamecocks must now go to No. 9 LSU (7 p.m. CDT Saturday, ESPN) and prove it's for real.

Big 3: No rush with run

October, 10, 2012
10/10/12
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With both LSU and South Carolina possession fearsome pass rushes, the theme for LSU's Les Miles and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier Wednesday morning seemed to be more on how they will be marginalized this week when they meet. With both teams leaning on the run, perhaps this won't be the best showcase for pass-rushers like South Carolina's Jadaveon Clowney and LSU's Sam Montgomery.

1. Low impact?: Asked about the possible impact of the two teams' star defensive ends, Spurrier said "If there isn't a lot of passing going on, those pass rushers aren't going to get to show off their skills." In last week's 35-7 win over Georgia, South Carolina only threw 10 passes. Spurrier noted that "LSU doesn't throw it a whole lot" either.

2. Cut, then run: Spurrier said his desire is to get the ball into the hands of running back Marcus Lattimore "as much as possible," but added that he doesn't want to overuse the star running back, who has more carries (116) than any other SEC back and is sixth in yards per game (549 in six games). But Lattimore's presence is a big reason why quarterback Connor Shaw has been an effective runner, often using fakes to Lattimore in Shaw's cut/read option run game.

"[Shaw] has good feet and makes good decisions," Miles said. "He's not going to stay in the pocket any length of time."

3. Get it fixed: Miles said getting LSU's struggling offense moving was his "day job."

"It's the thought process you have when you wake up and go to bed," Miles said. "The players realize nobody's going to get this corrected but us."

LSU's offense has scored one touchdown in its last three games against SEC teams.

SEC power rankings: Week 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to watch in the SEC: Week 6

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
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It’s the biggest weekend of the season so far in the SEC, and here’s a look at what to watch in Week 6:

1. Lassoing Lattimore: There’s no other way to say it. South Carolina junior running back Marcus Lattimore has owned Georgia. Lattimore rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown last season against the Bulldogs, and he racked up 182 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. Most notably, he’s been money in the fourth quarter. He had 94 of his yards last season in the fourth quarter. And in 2010, he had 56 yards in South Carolina’s final drive to ice the game. The Bulldogs simply haven’t been able to get Lattimore on the ground when it’s counted. Of his 358 rushing yards the last two years against the Bulldogs, 152 have come after contact. If they’re going to win this game, they need to put the clamps on Lattimore early and not allow South Carolina to ride him in the second half. He’s already had a pair of 100-yard rushing games this season against SEC foes Vanderbilt and Kentucky and combined for 145 rushing/receiving yards against Missouri. He’s answered a lot of the questions about whether he could regain his old form post-ACL surgery, but can make a resounding statement Saturday that he’s all the way back.

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SEC power rankings: Week 6

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
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Separation Saturday is approaching in the SEC ... but here are where our power rankings look to start the week:

1. Alabama (5-0; LW: 1): The Crimson Tide's offense didn't look great against Ole Miss and the defense actually gave up two touchdowns, but Alabama left the weekend with a 19-point win. Alabama looked a little lethargic out on the field, but the Rebels put up a better fight than most expected. This team has talked about cleaning up execution issues on offense and will get an extra week to do that with the bye here.

2. LSU (5-0; LW: 2): The Tigers are skating on thin ice in our power rankings. The previous week's sluggish win over Auburn was one thing, but the Tigers really struggled against Towson. What was most surprising about LSU's performance was how poorly the Tigers defended the run, as Towson gained 188 yards on the ground. One positive was that we finally saw more of a downfield passing game from Zach Mettenberger, and Odell Beckham Jr. stepped up in a big way at receiver.

3. Georgia (5-0; LW: 3): The Bulldogs could be considered 2b after the way LSU played, but Georgia's defense really struggled against Tennessee. We all knew the Vols had the potential to hurt this group, but Georgia's defense was absolutely gutted for 478 yards and gave up 37 of the Vols' 44 points. Things have to be cleaned up, but with the way that offense is playing, it's going to be tough for teams to keep up in a shootout with the Dawgs.

4. South Carolina (5-0; LW: 4): The Gamecocks gave their fans a bit of a scare after being down 10 to Kentucky at the half Saturday. All was forgiven after a dominating second half during which South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 31-0. Connor Shaw continues to throw the ball with splendid accuracy, while Marcus Lattimore is looking stronger and stronger out there. However, the Gamecocks can't afford a sluggish start against Georgia this weekend.

5. Florida (4-0; LW: 5): The Gators were off this weekend, so players got some much-needed rest and time to heal. It also gave Florida a little extra time to scout No. 4 LSU, which travels to the Swamp on Saturday. Florida has to feel a little more confident about this weekend after watching another ugly win by LSU. But expect the intensity to be way up for the Tigers. Saturday should be pretty fun to watch.

6. Mississippi State (4-0; LW: 6): The Bulldogs were on their bye over the weekend. Quietly, the Bulldogs have had a very impressive start to the season. Their past two games should have been won by bigger margins, but this team is still undefeated and has the potential to be a 6-1 or 7-0 team heading into the last weekend of the month. On the season, only five teams have trailed for less time than Mississippi State.

7. Texas A&M (3-1; LW: 8): The Aggies just keep pounding away on offense. Johnny Manziel and his crew walked all over Arkansas' defense, racking up 716 yards of offense and 58 points in their blowout win against the reeling Razorbacks. We know that Texas A&M can score points and generate a lot of yards, but we saw a little too much bend out of A&M's defense against the Hogs, as they surrendered 515 yards to Arkansas.

8. Tennessee (3-2; LW: 7): We saw a lot more fight out of Tennessee when Georgia went up 17 in the second quarter. The Vols had a couple of real chances to win in Athens, Ga., over the weekend, but late turnovers doomed them. Cue the questions surrounding Tyler Bray in big games. The defense looked overwhelmed and lost at times, but this team can take solace in one thing: It appears Tennessee has found a real SEC running back in Rajion Neal.

9. Missouri (3-2; LW: 9): James Franklin was better throwing the ball on Saturday, but this team has some offensive issues. The Tigers converted just 1 of 11 third downs and were outgained 395-346 against UCF on Saturday. Kendial Lawrence rushed for 104 yards, but Mizzou finished the day with a total of 89 rushing yards, thanks to Franklin's minus-18 yards on the ground. There are just too many athletes on this offense for the Tigers not to be explosive. Right now, they are hurting to find consistent firepower.

10. Ole Miss (3-2; LW: 10): Yes, the Rebels lost, but it's clear this team is more invested and tougher than the past two teams Ole Miss has thrown out there. The Rebels gave Alabama a little bit of a challenge and made it to the end zone twice against Alabama's vaunted defense. This team has to clean up a lot on defense, but that offense has the ability to carry this team to a few more wins this season ... maybe even a bowl berth.

11. Auburn (1-3; LW: 11): The good news for the Tigers is that they got to rest this weekend. The hope is that Auburn's defense takes the momentum it gained from its performance against LSU into this weekend's key game against Arkansas. Arkansas can move the ball, and Auburn's defense struggled mightily for most of September. This is a must-win for both teams and with the way Arkansas' defense has played, Auburn has to feel more comfortable with what its struggling offense can do.

12. Vanderbilt (1-3; LW: 13): The Commodores were off as well, and extra time had to be devoted to tweaking some of the offense. Vandy enters its game at Missouri with the SEC's No. 11 offense and we haven't seen the kind of explosion we saw last year. It doesn't help that there's a quarterback controversy in Nashville. Despite what happened in the Georgia game, the Commodores still own one of the league's top defensive units and provide a tough matchup for Missouri this weekend.

13. Arkansas (1-4; LW: 12): Things just get worse and worse for the Razorbacks. If Tyler Wilson thought his team quit against Alabama, you have to wonder how he feels after the way his Hogs were run out of College Station, Texas, over the weekend. That defense is dreadful and this team is just lost. The offense put up a lot of yards against Texas A&M, but couldn't finish drives and never developed any consistency running the ball. Losing to Auburn this weekend would pretty much end any ounce of hope for a bowl game this year.

14. Kentucky (1-4; LW: 14): For two quarters, Kentucky was on top of the world. Then, things fell apart, and South Carolina scored 31 straight points on the Wildcats. Things just aren't clicking for the Wildcats, and quarterback Maxwell Smith is injured again. This time, he has an ankle injury. This offense just can't do much unless he's in, and he can't stay healthy. The defense has to get tougher, as well. Joker Phillips' hot seat in Kentucky isn't cooling off one bit.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU is off to a 5-0 start, but the Tigers have seen their ranking drop from No. 1 in the first preseason poll to No. 4 in Sunday's latest AP poll.

Why?

A schedule against five teams with a combined 8-14 record -- a list that includes teams from the FCS (2-2 Towson), the WAC (0-5 Idaho) and The Sun Belt (2-3 North Texas) -- has done little to inspire. Even LSU's one SEC game so far was versus a 1-3 Auburn team that appears to be going through a down year. And LSU struggled to win that one, holding on for a 12-10 win.

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What to watch in the SEC: Week 3

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
10:15
AM ET
We're heading into Week 3 in the SEC, so here's what to watch:

1. Quarterback health: The statuses of Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and South Carolina's Connor Shaw are still unknown. Wilson suffered a head injury against Louisiana-Monroe, while Shaw is still nursing a bruised shoulder from Week 1. For the Gamecocks, losing Shaw for the second straight week won't really hurt South Carolina's offense. It was just fine without him against East Carolina. However, Arkansas isn't in the same position. Brandon Allen completed just 6 of 20 passes against Louisiana-Monroe in place of Wilson. Not having Wilson will make Saturday's game against No. 1 Alabama that much tougher for the Razorbacks.

[+] EnlargeJohn L. Smith
AP Photo/Danny JohnstonCoach John L. Smith and his Razorbacks face a formidable foe in No. 1 Alabama this week.
2. Arkansas' defense: Speaking of the Razorbacks, what has happened to that defense? It was supposed to be more aggressive and more disciplined under Paul Haynes. We saw neither in the second half against Louisiana-Monroe, as the Razorbacks blew a 21-point lead. The defense was shredded against a lesser opponent and now has to play one of the most balanced attacks in the SEC. Last year, Alabama wore down this defense. If Arkansas is going to pick itself up, it has to play much tougher than it has in the first two games. Alabama has far more talent than Arkansas' first opponents and has the capability to really beat this unit down.

3. Tennessee’s passing game vs. Florida’s secondary: This game always comes down to the running game, but the difference this time will be Tennessee's passing game against Florida’s secondary. The Gators are loaded with talent back there and made tremendous strides during the second half of the Texas A&M game, while Tennessee might have the best passing game in the SEC, led by quarterback Tyler Bray. The matchups between Justin Hunter and Marcus Roberson and Cordarrelle Patterson and Loucheiz Purifoy should be great. Zach Rogers is another deep threat the Gators have to be careful about, but Matt Elam has the ability to take the deep ball away for Florida. Should be fun.

4. Must-wins: Both Auburn and Vanderbilt are 0-2 and are coming off tough losses. The Commodores blew a halftime lead at Northwestern, while Auburn was overmatched across the board at Mississippi State. The Tigers are struggling with or without the ball this season, and that's a major concern. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier has to get going, and he's facing the team that just knocked off Arkansas. Vandy just can't get anything going on offense. The explosion we expected to see has been mostly absent through two games and the Commodores have to generate some sort of offensive momentum this weekend against Presbyterian.

5. Mississippi State keeping its edge: Now that Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs have gotten over the hump of beating a West opponent not named Ole Miss, the Bulldogs can’t get complacent. That was just one win, and this team has far bigger goals than just beating Auburn. With the schedule Mississippi State has, it’s very possible the Bulldogs could be 6-1 or 7-0 heading into the Alabama game at the end of October. But this team has to focus on Troy and come out strong against a team that won’t be a pushover.

6. Showdown in the Grove: It’s been a long time since a game in Oxford got attention like Saturday’s showdown with Texas has been receiving. It’s eerily similar to the 2003 game with Eli Manning and LSU, although there isn’t hatred in the air. The Grove is gonna be poppin’ and Oxford is expected to double in size. There’s more confidence around that town because Ole Miss is 2-0 for the first time since 2009. The talent difference between Ole Miss and Texas is obvious, but the Rebels have some momentum and some conviction. Can the Rebels stop that burnt orange wave coming to town?

7. The newbie's returns: Missouri and Texas A&M got a nice taste of what life will be like in the SEC last weekend. Now, it's time for both teams to regroup. Both teams lost a lot of steam in the second half, which was expected. Missouri has the challenge of playing Arizona State and its high-flying offense. The Sun Devils have averaged 54 points through two games, averaging 532 offensive yards in the process. The Tigers got into a shootout with Arizona State last year, but can they handle another one after that physical loss to Georgia? The Aggies are taking on SMU in Dallas, and are also recovering from a tough loss to Florida. This is a game where Texas A&M should try to get more out of its running game, which has to generate more production up the middle.

8. Mettenberger’s arm: Through the first two games of the season, we’ve been anxiously waiting to see what Zach Mettenberger could really do in LSU’s offense. So far, he’s yet to eclipse the 200-yard passing mark in a game and has just two touchdowns -- pedestrian numbers compared to what everyone expected. But the Tigers have utilized their running game flawlessly and haven’t needed to send the ball downfield much. Saturday, that should change. It’s time to unleash Mettenberger and get him going more in the offense before LSU gets into conference play.

9. Lattimore’s workload: If Steve Spurrier wanted to push Marcus Lattimore anymore last week, he would have. But the Head Ball Coach gave his workhorse a bit of a rest against East Carolina, running him just 13 times. Maybe Spurrier just wanted to get his new quarterback, Dylan Thompson, a chance to show his stuff in place of Shaw. But as Lattimore continues to return from his knee injury, he’ll need to get more reps and get more comfortable on the field before league play revs up. UAB should provide him the opportunity to do that.

10. Florida’s winning streak: The Gators have had Tennessee’s number for seven straight years now. Not since Dallas Baker’s infamous slap in Knoxville have the Vols bested Florida. This might be Tennessee’s best shot since. There’s no question that this is the best and most complete Vols team Derek Dooley has had. The Vols have cruised through the first two weeks, while Florida’s offense stumbles in with a lot of uncertainty concerning the passing game. Florida might have the edge on defense, but Tennessee’s offense knows how to put up points. Is this the year Tennessee finally gets the Gator off its back?

Week 2 in the SEC

September, 3, 2012
9/03/12
1:04
PM ET
Here's a quick primer for Week 2 in the SEC:

SATURDAY

Auburn (0-1) at Mississippi State (1-0), Noon ET, ESPN: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is looking for his first win against a West opponent not named Ole Miss. Auburn is looking to rebound after its rush defense was shredded against Clemson. It won't get easier for that defense Saturday. This game set the tone for both teams last year and probably will again.

East Carolina (1-0) at No. 9 South Carolina (1-0), 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network: Quarterback Connor Shaw's shoulder will be monitored all week, and the receivers have got to step up this week. The good news is that Marcus Lattimore shook off the rust early in his return against Vanderbilt and is back to his bullish ways. The Gamecocks know all too well that they can't sleep on the Pirates, so the focus should be good this week.

No. 23 Florida (1-0) at Texas A&M (0-0), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Gators have named Jeff Driskel the starting quarterback and that's a step in the right direction. This offense struggled mightily in the opener, but now those players know who their quarterback is. That can only help with chemistry and timing. The Aggies are opening the season with Florida after their original opener was postponed. Florida's defense could provide first-time starting quarterback Johnny Manziel with a bunch of problems, but this team will be itching to get on the field. Expect an electric environment in College Station.

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What to watch in the SEC: Week 1

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
10:15
AM ET
It's here.

After hundreds of days of having to watch and follow inferior sports, take up new hobbies and do extra cute things with your better half just to pass the time, we are finally here.

It's college football season, again! The helmets are perfectly shined. The jerseys are hung so neatly and ironed so sweetly. You've gone to the store in advance to prep for the artery-bursting feast that awaits this weekend. Some are even lucky enough to be tailgating as we speak!

Cue up the bands, the grills and the fryers and the big-screen TVs. It's football season, and here's what to watch in the SEC this week:

[+] EnlargeMarcus Lattimore
C. Michael Bergen/The State/MCT/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina's Marcus Lattimore is one of three star running backs to keep an eye on this weekend.
1. Running backs return: If not for Texas A&M’s game getting postponed, we’d get to see three elite running backs returning to the field after injuries cut their 2011 seasons short. Christine Michael's debut will have to wait, but we’ll still get to see how South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Arkansas’ Knile Davis do with the ball in their hands. When they’re 100 percent, it’s hard to find two better running backs out there.

2. Quarterback battles: Florida and Ole Miss still don’t know who their starting quarterbacks will be. Florida coach Will Muschamp said Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will alternate quarters to start Saturday’s game, while Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze anticipates playing both Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti in the opener. This could be the final round of competition at both schools.

3. Questionable offensive lines: So many offensive lines have questions entering the fall. Keep an eye on Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Auburn and Georgia are working in a few new parts, while Florida is hoping most of the parts from last year’s line have improved. Mizzou has all sorts of injury issues and Kentucky, Ole Miss and Vandy are just hoping to stay healthy because depth is an issue for all three.

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