LSU Tigers: Maxwell Smith

Final SEC Power Rankings

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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We're done with the 2013 college football season, so it's time to see how all 14 SEC teams finished the year in our final set of conference power rankings. It was a collaborative effort on our side, and we think it jibes pretty well:

1. Auburn (12-2, 7-1 SEC; last ranking: 1): The Tigers lost a heartbreaker to Florida State in the Vizio BCS National Championship, but they did exactly what Gus Malzahn predicted: make the biggest turnaround in college football. Auburn had the nation's best running game behind Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason and a championship attitude that grew all season. The future looks very bright on the Plains.

2. South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC; LR: 3): With a 10-point victory over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, South Carolina became only the fourth team in the country to win at least 11 games in each of the past two seasons. The Gamecocks made a fun, end-of-the-year run at Atlanta but fell short with a loss to Tennessee and an equally as fun Missouri run.

3. Missouri (12-2, 7-1 SEC; LR: 4): These Tigers also had a magical 2013. After rebounding from a five-win 2012 season, Mizzou won the SEC East Division, displayed one of the conference's best, most explosive offenses and ended the season with a back-and-forth victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Gary Pinkel went from the hot seat to beloved by erasing an ugly SEC debut with a stellar encore.

4. Alabama (11-2, 7-1 SEC; LR: 2): The Crimson Tide's SEC and BCS title game chances ended on a miraculous "Kick Six" by Auburn's Chris Davis in the Iron Bowl. With no national championship at stake for the first time since 2010, Alabama failed to match Oklahoma's toughness and intensity in its 45-31 Allstate Sugar Bowl loss. Despite another impressive regular season, the Tide's chance to make a case as the nation's best team ended inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

5. LSU (10-3, 5-3; LR: 5): We never really knew what we were going to get from these Tigers (so many Tigers!), but after their loss to Alabama on Nov. 9, they closed the season on a tear with three straight wins. Even without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger (ACL) for their bowl game, the Tigers grinded out a 21-14 Outback Bowl win over Iowa on the back of running back Jeremy Hill and his 216 yards and two touchdowns.

6. Texas A&M (9-4, 4-4 SEC; LR: 6): Of course Johnny Manziel went out in style. A month after ending the regular season on a two-game losing streak, Johnny Football helped orchestrate a comeback win after a 21-point halftime deficit to Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl with 455 total yards and five touchdowns. Texas A&M outscored the Blue Devils 35-10 in the second half to win 52-48. What a Johnny Football way to say goodbye.

7. Vanderbilt (9-4, 4-4 SEC; LR: 7): For the first time in school history, Vandy won nine games in back-to-back seasons and consecutive bowl games. The Commodores went undefeated in November for the second straight year and beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season for the first time ever. Their reward? Saying goodbye to coach James Franklin, who left to become Penn State's head coach.

8. Georgia (8-5, 5-3 SEC; LR: 8): The Bulldogs started the season as the favorite to win the East, but injuries and a young, struggling defense knocked Georgia out of contention late. Even with how poorly the defense played at times, you have to wonder what might have been had injuries to receivers and the loss of Todd Gurley for a month not happened. The Bulldogs ended the season with a 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

9. Mississippi State (7-6, 3-5 SEC; LR: 9): What looked like a disaster of a season ended with three consecutive wins. The first two were overtime victories and the last one was a 44-7 blowout of Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Dan Mullen's popularity level in Starkville took a hit, but he enters his fifth season with much higher expectations with a solid offense and defense returning.

10. Ole Miss (8-5, 3-5 SEC; LR: 10): What started as a promising season hit a bit of snag in October before the Rebels reeled off four consecutive victories to turn things around. Ole Miss lost to Missouri and Mississippi State to close the regular season but bounced back with an impressive, 25-17 victory over Georgia Tech in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Eight wins, despite injuries and depth issues, was impressive for Hugh Freeze in his second season.

11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LR: 11): For the third year in a row, the Vols failed to make it to a bowl game, but you can tell that the attitudes are different in Knoxville. There's a bit more excitement with Butch Jones in town, especially after that upset win over No. 11 South Carolina. The next step is development on both sides of the ball. Tennessee struggled with quarterback play all season and owned the SEC's No. 11 defense, allowing 418.4 yards per game.

12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LR: 12): For the first time since 1979, the Gators had a losing season. For the first time in more than 20 years, Florida failed to make a bowl game. The Gators suffered 15 season-ending injuries, 10 to starters, including quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Florida ranked 113th nationally in total offense, lost to Football Championship Subdivision foe Georgia Southern (at home) and said goodbye to offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis after the season.

13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LR: 13): The first year of the Bret Bielema era was a dud on the field, as the Razorbacks lost a school-record nine straight games to close the season. Arkansas owned the SEC's worst passing offense (114th nationally) but had quite the spark in freshman running back Alex Collins. The next step for the Hogs is getting the right players on both sides to fit Bielema's system.

14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LR: 14): It was a tough first season for Mark Stoops in Lexington, but he really was behind from the start. This team struggled with positive consistency, and it didn't help that the staff had to rotate quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow all season. Kentucky was 13th in the SEC in both total offense and total defense.

SEC's lunch links

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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It's still primetime in the silly season for college football coaches.

So when big dominoes fall, like Texas hiring Charlie Strong and Penn State's Bill O'Brien leaving for the NFL, the ripples fuel a whole new round of the coaching carousel.

Former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is back at Louisville, one of his former stops) to replace Strong. Will PSU hire James Franklin away from Vanderbilt? Stay tuned!

SEC lunchtime links

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
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Mississippi State held on for a tight, 28-22 victory over Kentucky for its first SEC victory Thursday and that got things started in Week 9 of SEC play. We'll start with a couple takes from the game before delving into the rest of the talking points heading into the rest of the weekend in SEC football:

What to watch in the SEC: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
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Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:


1. Thursday night football: It gets started tonight with Mississippi State hosting Kentucky. Both teams are searching for their first SEC win of the season. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has seen his team take some lumps and has shuffled its quarterbacks. Maxwell Smith will get the start because Jalen Whitlow was injured against Alabama. Mississippi State had to turn to Dak Prescott after Tyler Russell was knocked out of the season opener against Oklahoma State with a concussion, and though Russell has since returned, Prescott is still getting playing time.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTexas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is hoping Johnny Manziel will be able to play against Vanderbilt.
2. Manziel: To play or not to play? If it seems that we've been down this road before, it's because we have. People want to know whether Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel will play Saturday. He suffered an apparent shoulder injury in a 45-41 loss to Auburn but returned to finish the final 9:06 of the game, playing with pain in that throwing shoulder. Coach Kevin Sumlin isn't tipping his hand, simply calling Manziel "hopeful" for Saturday's game against Vanderbilt.

3. Can Mauk and Mizzou keep it going? Missouri freshman quarterback Maty Mauk made his first start last week in place of the injured James Franklin and was solid, completing 18-of-36 passes for 295 yards plus a touchdown and interception in a win over Florida. The Tigers (7-0, 3-0) hold at least a two-game lead in the loss column over the rest of the SEC East and host No. 21 South Carolina on Saturday. It's another test for the Tigers, who passed their last two -- at Georgia and versus Florida -- with flying colors.

4. Dylan Thompson gets the call for the Gamecocks: South Carolina starting quarterback Connor Shaw sprained his left knee, and coach Steve Spurrier said Thompson will get the start Saturday against Missouri. Spurrier said Shaw could potentially be the backup and could take some snaps if the Gamecocks needed it, but Thompson will be the guy at game time. He has appeared in all but one game this season, completing 29-of-51 passes for 421 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

5. Shifting safeties for Bama: Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury and will be replaced by sophomore Landon Collins. He already has two starts under his belt this season (when Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was out), but now Collins will be lining up next to Clinton-Dix, who's returning from a suspension. Collins is eager for his chance, though losing the leadership that Sunseri provided isn't ideal.

6. Another Vols upset?: It'll be tough since Tennessee heads to Bryant-Denny Stadium to take on No. 1 Alabama, but the Vols have raised eyebrows in recent weeks. They were within a blink of upsetting Georgia on Oct. 5, taking the Bulldogs to overtime before losing 34-31, and last week they came away with a 23-21 upset of South Carolina. The past two games have been in the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium, and the Vols must now go on the road against a juggernaut. Tennessee already has taken some lumps from Oregon and Florida on the road this season, but there's definitely a renewed optimism and energy permeating the program under Butch Jones right now.

7. Who's at QB for Vanderbilt? Starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels left last week's game in the second quarter with a left-leg injury and coach James Franklin's depth chart reads: Carta-Samuels or Patton Robinette. Robinette was 9-of-15 passing for 107 yards, a rushing touchdown and an interception in place of Carta-Samuels. Franklin hasn't publicly named a starter, as is the case with the Commodores' opponent -- Texas A&M -- so there's some uncertainty about who will take the first snap for each team when they meet at Kyle Field.

8. Nonconference tilts for three: LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss are all heavy favorites as each dips back into nonconference play this weekend. LSU is hosting Furman, Auburn takes on Florida Atlantic, and Ole Miss meets Idaho. LSU is looking to bounce back from last week's narrow loss at Ole Miss, Auburn hopes to continue the positive momentum from this season that hit a peak with a win at Texas A&M last week, and the Rebels (who upset LSU) are looking for their second straight win in the middle of a six-game homestand.

9. Recovery time for Arkansas, Florida, Georgia: Each of these teams has had its fair share of struggles and injuries, and they're getting a chance to shore those up as all three have a bye. Arkansas is searching for answers after getting beaten the past two weeks by a combined score of 104-7. Florida needs to kick-start a sputtering offense that has left the previously ranked team with two straight losses. Georgia, coming off two losses itself, is hoping to get Todd Gurley and Michael Bennett back next week.

10. Keeping the top spot: Alabama started No. 1, and the Crimson Tide occupy the top spot in the debut of this season's BCS standings. Nick Saban & Co. have been downright dominant, with their only close call coming in College Station in a 49-42 win over Texas A&M. Since then, the Tide have allowed just 16 points in five games. They host Tennessee -- a team that's building some momentum itself -- on Saturday and then have a week off before their showdown with LSU on Nov. 9. For now, the Tide continue to carry the torch for the SEC.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
12:00
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Injuries, toughness, targeting, blame and quarterback questions... it's all here in today's edition of the lunchtime links:

What to watch in the SEC: Week 6

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
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1. Avoiding the letdown: Georgia and LSU played a thrilling, memorable contest last weekend. But the Bulldogs and Tigers have SEC opponents on the docket Saturday, and it's imperative for each to not have a hangover from the previous week. Georgia travels to Tennessee, which struggled to beat South Alabama. LSU heads to Starkville, Miss., to meet Mississippi State.

2. First true test for Mizzou: Missouri is quietly undefeated (4-0) but has faced only one power-conference opponent so far (Indiana). Missouri hits the road for its first SEC game of the season at Vanderbilt, a team that has already suffered two SEC defeats (against Ole Miss and South Carolina). It's hard to know what to expect from the Tigers, but we know that both teams can pile up the yards and points, so it should be entertaining.

[+] EnlargeMississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell
Marvin Gentry/US PRESSWIRETyler Russell is likely to return as the starter for Mississippi State on Saturday.
3. Tyler Russell returns: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen indicated that he plans to start quarterback Tyler Russell, who has been sidelined since suffering a concussion in the Bulldogs' season-opening loss to Oklahoma State on Aug. 31. Mullen did leave the door open, saying, "that’s still the plan, and we’ll see how it goes Saturday." But for now, it looks like Russell will start. Russell had a breakout season in 2012, throwing for 2,897 yards and 24 touchdowns.

4. Missing Clinton-Dix: Alabama coach Nick Saban indicated that standout safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. While the timetable, and the violation itself, is unknown, don't expect it to have a major impact, at least in the short term. Alabama has a layup of a game this week against Sun Belt squad Georgia State, and though the Crimson Tide resume SEC play after that, they'll get a struggling Kentucky team. So if anything, the timing of an absence for a star defensive player is good because the Tide can use the coming weeks to develop younger players such as Landon Collins and Geno Smith.

5. Low-scoring affair in the Swamp? Florida's methodical offense hosts an Arkansas team that isn't afraid to run the football, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will be three yards and a cloud of dust Saturday evening. Arkansas showed that it can be an explosive offense and that it can throw the football when starter Brandon Allen returned from a shoulder injury last week and helped the Razorbacks keep up with No. 9 Texas A&M. Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said this week that he still wants his team to have "explosive plays." Florida looks to remain unbeaten in SEC play; Arkansas is looking for its first SEC win under Bret Bielema.

6. Bounce back for Ole Miss? The Rebels’ offense was shut down in its showdown with No. 1 Alabama. The unit managed just 205 yards in a 25-0 loss. Now Ole Miss must go back on the road, traveling to Jordan-Hare Stadium to face an Auburn team that's coming off an open date. Gus Malzahn's crew suffered its first loss of the season against LSU on Sept. 21 If Ole Miss plans to stay in the Top 25, it has to bounce back with a strong performance on the road against the Tigers.

7. Similar backgrounds, philosophies: Speaking of Auburn-Ole Miss, the coaching matchup is a compelling one. Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn were both successful high school football coaches before finding themselves in the college ranks as rising stars. They both are believers in the uptempo style of offense that is becoming a staple in college football, so it should be interesting to see how the offenses fare on Saturday. Both teams are averaging 28.5 points per game this season.

8. Shaw to start: South Carolina starting quarterback Connor Shaw was knocked out of the Gamecocks' 28-25 victory over Central Florida with a shoulder injury and was expected to be out at least two to three weeks, but head coach Steve Spurrier said Wednesday that Shaw will be able to start this Saturday when the Gamecocks host Kentucky. Shaw has practiced this week and, according to Spurrier, looks good throwing. This weekend is also a chance to finish stronger against a struggling Kentucky squad after allowing UCF to linger last week, which led Spurrier to say that he thought his team might have deserved to lose.

9. Who takes charge at QB for UK? Kentucky coach Mark Stoops would like to settle on a starting quarterback between Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow but doesn't believe that either has shown enough to make the coaching staff comfortable enough to tab one of them as the guy. Stoops said they'll continue to evaluate the quarterbacks. In the meantime, he seems to be getting more frustrated as time passes, blasting his team for a poor practice Wednesday, calling it "a wasted day."

10. Tennessee's "smokey grays": The Volunteers, who usually have a classic look in orange and white, will change things up and wear what they call "smokey gray" uniforms against Georgia on Saturday. The team unveiled the uniforms in August. They'll wear gray pants and jerseys with orange numbers and lettering. Back when the jerseys were introduced, head coach Butch Jones noted that Tennessee's 1914 team went undefeated wearing gray. He can only hope it brings similar good fortune Saturday.

SEC lunchtime links

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

SEC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
9:00
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We've gone through three Saturdays in the SEC, and it seems like a billion points have been scored. The times, they are a changin', and so have our Power Rankings:

1. Alabama (2-0, 1-0 SEC; last week: 1): Every offense has looked good against Texas A&M, but seeing the Tide win that shootout in College Station, Texas, was very impressive. AJ McCarron is back in the Heisman race, and Alabama remains the team to beat in the SEC and nationally. However, questions still remain on a defense that gave up the most yards in school history (628) Saturday.

2. LSU (3-0, 0-0 SEC; last week: 2): Ladies and gentlemen, this might be the SEC's most complete team. The Tigers can throw (Zach Mettenberger is averaging 265.7 yards per game), run (218.7 yards per game) and rank 10th nationally in total defense (267.7). Sure, the last two opponents have been of the cupcake variety, but this offense didn't look this efficient against cupcakes last season.

3. Texas A&M (2-1, 0-1 SEC; last week: 3): Yes, this defense isn't SEC quality and might not be FBS quality right now, but when you have Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, you're going to be able to score on anyone. Manziel threw for a school-record 464 yards with five touchdowns, while Evans caught seven passes for a school-record 279 yards and a score. This defense needs major work, but this offense won't be stopped by many.

4. Georgia (1-1, 1-0 SEC; last week: 4): The Bulldogs were off, so the defense didn't give up any points. Georgia gets a tuneup in the form of North Texas Saturday before taking on LSU in two weeks. Expect a lot of Bulldogs points and some much-needed improvement from the Dawgs' defense.

5. South Carolina (2-1, 1-1 SEC; last week: 5): The Gamecocks continue to put up points and pile on yards. Through three games, South Carolina has registered 406, 454 and 579 yards, respectively. The Gamecocks let Vanderbilt hang around in their 35-25 win over the Commodores, but the defense turned it up a notch after getting embarrassed by Georgia. South Carolina allowed just 268 yards, and Vandy made just two of 12 third-down conversions.

6. Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0 SEC; last week: 7): A season ago, Bevo ran the Rebels out of the Grove. Saturday night, the Rebels chased Bevo & Co. out of Texas. Last season, the second half was almost a death sentence for the Rebels, but this season, they are outscoring opponents 56-37 and blanked Texas 27-0 in the second half of their 44-23 route of the Longhorns Saturday. As long as the read-option is still legal, the Rebels will be a very dangerous team.

7. Florida (1-1, 0-0 SEC; last week: 6): The Gators were off, which means the staff was probably drilling ball security and execution into its players' brains. Florida is last in the SEC in red zone efficiency (50 percent), and, as a result, the Gators are last in the SEC in scoring offense (40 points in two games). However, the Gators own the SEC's best defense, which also ranks third nationally.

8. Auburn (3-0, 1-0 SEC; last week: 9): Quarterback Nick Marshall really grew up in Auburn's 24-20 win over Mississippi State. He isn't quite Cam Newton, but he looked like a seasoned vet on that last-minute, game-winning drive. The defense still has its issues up front, though. Teams are rushing for almost 160 yards per game against the Tigers and are averaging nearly 5 yards per rush. That defensive line is in for quite the fight this weekend at LSU.

9. Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-2 SEC; last week: 8): Yes, the Commodores have two losses, but they're losses to top-25 teams. And the Commodores were very much in both games. Still, if Vandy is going to make progress and take the next step, these close losses have to turn into wins, especially against teams like South Carolina. There are some holes on defense that have to get plugged.

10. Missouri (2-0, 0-0 SEC; last week: 10): The offense is healthy and the Tigers even got a nice bye week before they travel to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers. The offense has been impressive through two games, averaging 539 yards and 48 points per game, but the competition has been subpar. Indiana's defense, which is allowing 410 yards and nearly 30 points a game, should keep Mizzou's offensive momentum going.

11. Arkansas (3-0, 0-0 SEC; last week: 11): It wasn't a very pretty win over Southern Miss, but I'm sure Bret Bielema will take it. The offense had issues here and there when quarterback Brandon Allen left early with a bruised shoulder. He's expected to be back for Saturday's game at Rutgers. The good news is that the running game didn't suffer, as both Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins rushed for more than 100 yards for the third straight game.

12. Tennessee (2-1, 0-0 SEC; last week: 12): We knew that cross-country trip to Eugene, Ore., would be tough, and Oregon made sure it was a very uncomfortable stay for the Vols. Before the Ducks built a 30-point first-half lead, fans were already chanting "We want Bama!" I can only imagine what Tennessee players were thinking. Things only got worse, as the Ducks registered 687 yards in their 59-14 drubbing of the Vols. Tennessee limps into its matchup with Florida looking for answers on defense.

13. Mississippi State (1-2, 0-1 SEC; last week: 13): For the second straight week, Dak Prescott played pretty well in place of the injured Tyler Russell, but when the defense had to make a stop late against Auburn, it came up short. After two solid outings, Mississippi State's defense struggled to stop Auburn's passing game, and now people in Starkville, Miss., are getting a little antsy. The Bulldogs have lost seven of their past nine games dating back to last season.

14. Kentucky (1-2, 0-0 SEC; last week: 14): The Wildcats put up a fight in the first half of their 27-13 loss to Louisville, but they just couldn't find any sort of consistency on offense. Quarterback Maxwell Smith left in the third quarter with a right shoulder injury, while turnovers and dropped passes stalled the offense whenever it made any attempt to threaten Louisville's lead. The defense gave up 242 rushing yards, but it was gassed by the fourth quarter thanks to an offense that went 0-for-13 on third down.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
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After two weeks, we have some nice movement in our SEC Power Rankings.

1. Alabama (1-0; LW: 1): The Crimson Tide had time to sit and watch an interesting Week 2 in the SEC. The bye week should really pay off for a team preparing for Johnny Football and looking to improve its play along the offensive line.

2. LSU (2-0; LW: 3): Quick, who is second in the SEC in passing yards (533), passer rating (189.4) and tied for first in passing touchdowns (six)? That would be Zach Mettenberger, the same Mettenberger who took two months to get comfortable in LSU's offense last year. Helping him is a stout running game and the SEC's No. 4 defense.

3. Texas A&M (2-0; LW: 4): This is what college football has been waiting for, and the Aggies enter Alabama week fresh off two blowout victories over cupcakes. Johnny Manziel is improving as a passer and A&M again leads the SEC in total offense. However, the Aggies are second to last in the league in total defense (449.5 yards allowed per game) and scoring defense (29.5).

4. Georgia (1-1; LW: 6): The Bulldogs might own the SEC's worst defense statistically, but the offense is equipped to win any potential SEC shootout. Georgia's dramatic win over South Carolina puts the Bulldogs in the SEC East's driver's seat. It's a first for the Bulldogs in a while, and to stay on that path, the defense is going to have to improve, with better opposing defenses showing up on the schedule.

5. South Carolina (1-1; LW: 2): The offense was very good and very balanced against Georgia, but it wasn't enough. The Gamecocks have real issues on defense and lackluster play by Jadeveon Clowney isn't helping. If South Carolina is going to make a charge in the SEC East, both of those things must be corrected.

6. Florida (1-1; LW: 5): The Gators will be kicking themselves for a while after going a miserable 2-for-6 in the red zone in their 21-16 loss to Miami. Once again this season, Florida has an elite defense. But mental mistakes, questionable play calling and five turnovers overshadowed an otherwise decent performance.

7. Ole Miss (2-0; LW: 7): Thanks to a high-octane offense and an improved defense, the Rebels are back in the polls and have a chance to make some national noise with a victory at Texas this weekend. Ole Miss was run out of its own house last year when the Longhorns traveled to Oxford, so the Rebels are hoping to do the same during their trip to Austin on Saturday.

8. Vanderbilt (1-1; LW: 8): A week after a heartbreaking loss to Ole Miss, Vandy responded with a cushy 38-3 win over Austin Peay. The Commodores clearly were the better team, but it was a nice tuneup before heading to Columbia, S.C., to take on the Gamecocks in a game that could propel Vandy up the SEC ranks.

9. Auburn (2-0; LW: 9): Two weeks in and Gus Malzahn and his team are sitting at 2-0. This team isn't having any sort of problem running the ball, but the passing game still needs some work. Also, giving up more than 400 yards per game won't cut it once league play starts this weekend against Mississippi State.

10. Missouri (2-0; LW: 10): The Tigers might have played overmatched opponents during the first two weeks of the season, but there's more excitement around this program because of the offensive production. Quarterback James Franklin, who dealt with a handful of injuries last year, is averaging 265 passing yards in two games and has run for 121 yards in two games.

11. Arkansas (2-0; LW: 11): Bret Bielema said he wanted to create a more physical team in Fayetteville, and that's what he has after two weeks. The Razorbacks lead the SEC in rushing (312.5 yards per game) and freshman Alex Collins leads the SEC with 303 rushing yards. Arkansas gets another tuneup against Southern Miss before traveling to Rutgers on Sept. 21.

12. Tennessee (2-0; LW: 12): Butch Jones is the talk of the town in Knoxville after a 2-0 start, but things get really interesting this week with a trip to Oregon. While the Vols are still trying to figure things out on offense, especially in the passing game, the defense has a league-high nine takeaways. We'll find out a lot more about Tennessee this weekend.

13. Mississippi State (1-1; LW: 13): The Bulldogs put on quite the show on Saturday in their 51-7 win over Alcorn State. Sure, the opponent wasn't very tough. But after an opening loss, this will serve as a confidence-booster. As it has been for the past few years, this weekend's game against Auburn will serve as a momentum-builder for the winner.

14. Kentucky (1-1; LW: 14): Out of nowhere, the Wildcats' offense awoke over the weekend and churned out 675 yards of offense in Kentucky's 41-7 victory over Miami (Ohio). Maxwell Smith has pulled away in the quarterback race and the defense made vast improvements from Week 1 to Week 2. Now it's time to take on bitter rival Louisville.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
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Week 2 was another wild week in the SEC that provided plenty of highlights, and now it’s time to hand out the helmet stickers.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: The monkey is finally off his back. Murray delivered in a big game, in front of a national audience, and the Bulldogs came out victorious. Before Saturday, he had a reputation for losing big games. He lost to Clemson in the opener. He lost to Alabama in last year’s SEC championship. He was 0-3 in his career against South Carolina. That’s all changed now. Murray finished 17-of-23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns. More importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over. It’s just one game, and Georgia still has aspirations of winning an SEC title and then a national title, but Murray can sleep easy for now.

The Tennessee secondary: Many pundits thought Western Kentucky would go into Knoxville and take down the Volunteers, but Tennessee’s defense had other ideas. At one point in the first quarter, it forced five turnovers in a span of six snaps, including two interceptions that were taken back for touchdowns. In all, the Volunteers pulled down five interceptions and held coach Bobby Petrino’s passing offense to just 222 yards through the air. Junior safety Brian Randolph, who missed the majority of last season with a torn ACL, finished with two picks.

Odell Beckham, WR/RS, LSU: What didn’t Beckham do? As a receiver, he had five catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns. He returned a missed field goal 100 yards for a score, and he also added a 60-yard punt return that set up another LSU touchdown. For the game, he finished with 331 all-purpose yards. The junior now has more than 100 yards receiving in both of his first two games and has emerged as a go-to target for quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

The Auburn defensive line: In Week 1, Auburn failed to generate much of a pass rush from its defensive line. After a rigorous week of practice under defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, the line responded. The Tigers had 13 tackles for loss against Arkansas State, including a pair of sacks. They held the Red Wolves to just 150 yards rushing after they had gained 500 on the ground the week before. Defensive end LaDarius Owens led the way up front with eight tackles, two for a loss, and a sack.

Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow, QBs, Kentucky: The Wildcats needed a win in the worst way, and the two quarterbacks delivered against Miami (Ohio). Smith, who started, finished 15-of-23 for 310 yards and three touchdowns while his counterpart Whitlow added 103 yards passing on a 10-for-12 night. Whitlow also rushed for 48 yards and a score. New coach Mark Stoops picked up his first win and has to feel good about his two signal-callers going forward.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 7, 2013
8/07/13
12:00
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Here's a few stories from around the SEC to get you through your lunch hour.
  • Auburn fans can still celebrate victories at Toomer's Corner now that the city has installed a temporary wire structure. The city removed the poisoned oak trees in April.
  • What do SEC coaches think of the other teams in the conference? Athlon asked them anonymously, and some of their answers will surprise you.
  • Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon has no idea how fast he is, but that's okay because he'd rather run somebody over than try and out-run them.
  • Auburn has a tough, physical runner of its own: Cameron Artis-Payne, a junior college transfer who ran for 117 yards in the spring game.
  • LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger is encouraged by the bond he has developed with new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who has previously worked with Joe Flacco and Drew Brees.
  • Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith says he considered surgery for his injured shoulder in the spring but went with constant rehab and conditioning instead.
  • Tennessee receivers coach Zach Azzanni says he has no problem playing freshmen over upperclassmen if they're the best option.
  • South Carolina tight ends Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams will have plenty of opportunities to make plays this season.
  • Having a good season isn't good enough for Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy.
  • The Associated Press' Jim Litzke wonders if Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is in over his head.
  • Georgia coach Mark Richt has no intentions of opening practice.
  • It takes a while to list all the positions that Florida's Trey Burton plays. He's happy to do it.
Call it a trend at this point: None of Mississippi State's final scores are particularly impressive, but the Bulldogs keep winning games.

Mississippi State didn't score again after its first drive of the second half Saturday against Kentucky, but it was enough for a 27-14 win and the program's first 5-0 start since 1999. Given the cringe-worthy nature of Kentucky's first two SEC losses -- a 38-0 loss to Florida and a 38-17 loss to South Carolina -- you might expect more firepower from the Bulldogs.

Make no mistake, though -- this was a State-dominated affair for 60 full minutes, despite the closeness of the scoreline. The Bulldogs controlled the ball for 36 minutes and ground their way to 427 yards of offense, highlighted by a 23-of-39, 269-yard performance from quarterback Tyler Russell.

SEC power rankings: Week 6

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
9:00
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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.

SEC power rankings: Week 5

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
10:29
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Another week and it still remains pretty clear Alabama is top dog in the SEC and nationally.

But has our No. 2 team fallen after a sloppy win on the road?

1. Alabama (4-0; LW: 1): I feel like a broken record, but Alabama dominated yet again Saturday. It's hard to find any real weaknesses in this team. Although the backups did give up a touchdown to Florida Atlantic, so there's that.

2. LSU (4-0; LW: 2): The Tigers looked pretty sloppy offensively in a tough 12-10 win against Auburn Saturday. LSU probably will have its name dragged through the mud after its play this weekend, but all good teams have those hiccup games. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has to play better, but the defense still looks extremely dominant. The goal now is to not let that hiccup bleed into future games.

3. Georgia (4-0; LW: 3): This Bulldogs offense has been really fun to watch through the first four weeks. Quarterback Aaron Murray has looked like a real Heisman candidate at times, while freshman running back Todd Gurley just gets better every time he gets on the field. Georgia completely overwhelmed Vanderbilt and heads into a fun showdown with Tennessee with a load of confidence.

4. South Carolina (4-0; LW: 4): Connor Shaw has proven he's a true player for the Gamecocks. He battled through a hairline fracture in his throwing shoulder to complete 20-of-21 passes in a blowout win against Missouri. You're starting to see more balance from this Gamecocks offense and that will be very important as SEC play continues. The defensive front is also getting stronger each week.

5. Florida (4-0; LW: 5): The Gators seem to be growing up with each week. After back-to-back tough road wins, Florida shut out Kentucky at home and now has two weeks to prepare for LSU. This really has become more of the blue-collar team Will Muschamp wants, but we'll really find out how tough Florida is when LSU ventures into the Swamp.

6. Mississippi State (4-0; LW: 6): Dan Mullen wasn't exactly pleased with the effort the Bulldogs gave in their lackluster 30-10 win against South Alabama, but a win is a win these days. This team can't be too happy with the way it has played in the past two weeks, but it's still undefeated. It's obvious players are losing focus against lesser opponents, and that should change with SEC play starting back up next week.

7. Tennessee (3-1; LW: 7): There were some tense moments in the Vols' win over Akron Saturday, but the second half belonged to Tennessee. Tyler Bray showed off that cannon of a right arm, passing for 401 yards and four touchdowns. The running game also got going with Rajion Neal rushing for a career-high 151 yards. The key for this team is to duplicate those kinds of efforts against SEC opponents.

8. Texas A&M (2-1; LW: 9): Man, the Aggies know how to use that football, right? In the past two games (both wins), A&M has averaged 526.5 yards and 59 points. Sure, you can point your nose up at the competition, but those are pretty good numbers for a team dealing with a brand new coaching staff and philosophy. Let's see how this offense performs with the SEC slate coming up.

9. Missouri (2-2; LW:8): The Tigers just didn't put up much of a fight against South Carolina. Both the offensive and defensive lines got pushed around and it's looking more and more like the size up front is an issue for this team. Mizzou has too much talent offensively not to get the ball moving, but the Tigers failed to get big plays against South Carolina. You have to wonder what sort of offensive changes might come heading into the Central Florida game.

10. Ole Miss (3-1; LW: 11): The Rebels really rebounded from that Texas blowout with a 39-point shutout of Tulane. Through four games, Ole Miss is third in the SEC in total offense (488 yards per game) and is averaging 36.8 points per game. This team has to cut down on the turnovers and the defense still needs some work, but the product on the field is much better than it has been the past two years.

11. Auburn (1-3; LW: 10): The Tigers suffered a tough loss at home to LSU over the weekend. It was a game in which Auburn played its toughest ball of the season, but just didn't have anything going on offense. Like, absolutely nothing. The defense made strides, but the offense is still a major concern. Defense wins championships, but you have to put points on the board and move the ball, and Auburn has issues doing both, scoring only 20 points in two SEC games.

12. Arkansas (1-3; LW: 12): Things just aren't working in Fayetteville, Ark. Tyler Wilson returned against Rutgers, but he couldn't help a defense that gave up 525 yards in the loss to the Scarlet Knights. Arkansas has now lost three straight -- all in the state of Arkansas -- and it's fair to say that leadership is lacking inside that locker room. There shouldn't be any smiling this week as the Hogs prepare for Texas A&M.

13. Vanderbilt (1-3; LW: 13): The Commodores had nothing in the tank against Georgia. For a team that is supposed to have a different attitude, Vandy lacked any form of passion in its 45-point loss to the Bulldogs. The defense was shredded and the offense just never got into rhythm. This team is also dealing with quarterback issues. You never know who is going to be throwing the ball for the Commodores, and that's not a good thing.

14. Kentucky (1-3; LW: 14): Nothing seems to be going right for the Wildcats. Maxwell Smith missed Saturday's loss to Florida with a bum shoulder and Morgan Newton did noting to help in Smith's place. Kentucky's offense has lacked any sort of consistency this season and the defense has been walked over. The bad news is that things get a lot tougher for the Wildcats with the teeth of the schedule coming up.

Predictions: SEC Week 3

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
9:00
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I’m proud to report that the ATL Kid and I are both 21-2 (.913) two weeks into our picks contest.

What’s regrettable is that all of our picks have been the same to this point. He talks about the NCAA investigating me for taking a sneak peek at whom he’s picking every week.

I’ve already complained to SEC commissioner Mike Slive about the Kid airing his dirty laundry in public. After all, we have a stated protocol for how to handle these things, but kids today aren’t real big on rules.

Maybe that’s why the Kid gets me his picks about 3 o’clock in the morning every Thursday after carousing around Atlanta with his pal, Oscar.

We were both 9-2 last week and missed Louisiana-Monroe’s 34-31 upset of Arkansas and Northwestern’s 23-13 win over Vanderbilt, which didn't score a second-half touchdown in either of its first two games.

We’ll have some separation this week, because our picks aren’t all the same.

It’s grudge time on the SEC blog as the Kid’s alma mater (Florida) takes on my alma mater (Tennessee). There hasn’t been a lot of trash talk, although I told him he should have to sing “Rocky Top” on video if the Vols win.

His Gators have owned this series, so there’s not a lot I can say. They’ve won the past seven games. The last time Tennessee won, the Kid was still playing youth soccer somewhere and sitting on the bench with a juice box on one side of him and his orange slices on the other.

I hear he still rolls that way.

That said, let’s roll through this week’s picks:

PRESBYTERIAN at VANDERBILT

Chris Low: The Commodores are trying to recover from an 0-2 start. This is one they not only need to win, but need to win convincingly. ... Vanderbilt 35, Presbyterian 7

Edward Aschoff: We'll finally see the explosive play we've been waiting on from Vanderbilt's offense in this must-win for the Commodores. ... Vanderbilt 41, Presbyterian 10

UAB at SOUTH CAROLINA

Chris Low: The Gamecocks romped last week with backup quarterback Dylan Thompson passing for three touchdowns. Regardless of who’s at quarterback this week, the Gamecocks will cruise again. ... South Carolina 42, UAB 10

Edward Aschoff: Connor Shaw might not play, but the Gamecocks should be just fine again. Expect a little more Marcus Lattimore this week. ... South Carolina 38, UAB 13

MISSISSIPPI STATE at TROY

Chris Low: Going on the road to play in one of these games is never ideal for an SEC team, but the Bulldogs have built up too much momentum to stumble now. ... Mississippi State 31, Troy 14

Edward Aschoff: The Bulldogs are coming off their first SEC-opening win since 1999, but can't lose their edge. They won't this weekend. ... Mississippi State 38, Troy 14

IDAHO at LSU

Chris Low: The Tigers keep losing players, but they keep winning big. Nobody’s really challenged them yet, and that’s not going to change this Saturday. ... LSU 45, Idaho 6

Edward Aschoff: The Tigers looked much better all around in Week 2, and that trend should continue Saturday. This is the weekend we see the passing game really open up. ... LSU 48, Idaho 3

WESTERN KENTUCKY at KENTUCKY

Chris Low: Western Kentucky is one of the Sun Belt Conference’s better teams this season, but Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith is one of the SEC’s hottest quarterbacks right now. ... Kentucky 28, Western Kentucky 21

Edward Aschoff: The Wildcats know they have to win out in nonconference play if they want to make a bowl game. They should have no problem getting past Western Kentucky. ... Kentucky 41, Western Kentucky 13

FLORIDA ATLANTIC at GEORGIA

Chris Low: The Bulldogs are getting two defensive starters back for this game, which will make it an even longer night for the already outmanned Owls. ... Georgia 52, Florida Atlantic 7

Edward Aschoff: The Bulldogs get one last tuneup before really diving into SEC play. The Dawgs should roll Saturday. ... Georgia 45, Florida Atlantic 10

TEXAS A&M at SMU

Chris Low: The Aggies stay in Texas but go on the road to face the Mustangs. Johnny Manziel & Co. will see to it that they finish the game this time. ... Texas A&M 34, SMU 21

Edward Aschoff: The jitters are gone, and a game is under the Aggies' belts. Expect to see more of Texas A&M's offense to be unveiled Saturday. ... Texas A&M 34, SMU 14

LOUISIANA-MONROE at AUBURN

Chris Low: Ask Arkansas if the Warhawks should be taken lightly. In fact, the best thing that could have happened to Auburn was seeing what happened to the Hogs last week. ... Auburn 31, La.-Monroe 21

Edward Aschoff: The Tigers are in desperate need of a win and some confidence on both sides of the ball. The Warhawks might have upset Arkansas, but Auburn will rebound Saturday on the Plains. ... Auburn 31, La.-Monroe 17

TEXAS at OLE MISS

Chris Low: The Grove will be at its best Saturday. The Rebels will also need to be at their best to pull the upset. They’ll make it close, but they don’t have quite enough firepower yet to close the deal. ... Texas 28, Ole Miss 24

Edward Aschoff: An epic party is expected in Oxford this weekend, and confidence is high at Ole Miss. The Rebels should hang around early, but Texas just has too much talent. ... Texas 34, Ole Miss 21

ARIZONA STATE at MISSOURI

Chris Low: Loosen up the old neck, because this could turn into a track meet. The Tigers are hurting on their offensive line but have enough playmakers to outlast the Sun Devils. ... Missouri 38, Arizona State 31

Edward Aschoff: The Tigers are coming off of a tough, physical loss to Georgia. Mizzou might be a little banged up, but it'll outlast Arizona State in another shootout Saturday. ... Missouri 31, Arizona State 27

ALABAMA at ARKANSAS

Chris Low: The Hogs were embarrassed by what happened in Little Rock last week. They’ll put up a fight, but the Crimson Tide have too much muscle in the trenches. ... Alabama 37, Arkansas 13

Edward Aschoff: The luster of this game has certainly been lost, but the Hogs have to be extremely motivated underdogs. However, even a healthy Tyler Wilson might not have enough to take down this Alabama team. ... Alabama 31, Arkansas 10

FLORIDA at TENNESSEE

Chris Low: The last time Tennessee beat Florida, Ron Zook was coaching the Gators and Phillip Fulmer was coaching the Vols. Both teams have visions of contending in the East, but Tennessee’s passing game will be the difference in this one. ... Tennessee 31, Florida 28

Edward Aschoff: Tennessee might have the flashiest passing game around, but Florida's defense is riding high after that second half at Texas A&M. The Gators are underdogs, but that defense will keep the Gators and their winning streak going against Tennessee. ... Florida 24, Tennessee 21

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