LSU Tigers: Tyler Murphy

SEC predictions: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
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The ATL Kid and I were both too soft to pick Vanderbilt last week in an upset that several others around the country were predicting.

Sure enough, the Commodores went into the Swamp and made an already forgettable season for Florida that much worse.

That’s the only game we missed last week, both of us going 6-1. Something told me to pick the Commodores. But in my old age, I just couldn’t pull the trigger.

Picking Vanderbilt to win at Florida would be like picking the ATL Kid to get in before 2 o’clock in the morning one night. It just doesn’t happen.

And now that he’s branching out and covering the entire SEC, I will say that he’s become quite the country music fan. We were both bopping to a little “Dixieland Delight” last Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Kid even knew some of the words.

I’m proud of him. He’s truly evolving and still leading by a game in our picks contest. He’s 79-12 (.868) on the season, and I’m 78-13 (.857).

But these next few weeks are where you make your “jingle” in this business.

Here’s the way we see this week’s games going:

TROY at OLE MISS

Chris Low: After winning seven games a year ago in Hugh Freeze’s first season, Ole Miss is thinking bigger and better things this season. The Rebels will extend their winning streak to four straight games Saturday with a victory over Troy, setting up what will be a critical finish against Missouri and Mississippi State. … Ole Miss 47, Troy 17

Edward Aschoff: The Rebels are rolling with both their offense and defense clicking. The last time Troy played an SEC team, the Trojans were throttled by 55. Expect another SEC rout. … Ole Miss 51, Troy 13

KENTUCKY at VANDERBILT

Low: There used to be a time when Vanderbilt hated to see the month of November coming. The Commodores were always too beaten down physically to finish the season with any pop. Those days are long gone, as James Franklin has guided this program to six straight wins in November. Vanderbilt will make it seven in a row Saturday at home against Kentucky. … Vanderbilt 31, Kentucky 17

Aschoff: These programs are going in opposite directions right now. Vandy is riding high after its first win at Florida since 1945, while the Wildcats will miss a bowl game for the third straight year. Vandy will inch closer to potentially having back-to-back eight-win seasons. … Vanderbilt 38, Kentucky 14

ALABAMA at MISSISSIPPI STATE

Low: After watching Alabama in the second half last week against LSU and the way the Crimson Tide broke the Tigers mentally and physically, how could you possibly pick against the two-time defending national champions at this point? Nobody has come within 21 points of them since the 49-42 win at Texas A&M back on Sept. 15. Look for that trend to continue this weekend in Starkville. … Alabama 34, Mississippi State 7

Aschoff: Alabama passed another big test with a commanding win over LSU last week. The Crimson Tide are playing at their best, and Mississippi State has dropped two straight during the gauntlet that is November. People think this could be a trap game, but Nick Saban will have his squad in top shape for the Bulldogs. … Alabama 38, Mississippi State 10

FLORIDA at SOUTH CAROLINA

Low: The injuries and the losses just keep mounting in this nightmare of a season for Florida, which is in danger of having its first losing season since 1979. South Carolina, meanwhile, is rested, coming off a bye and hoping to stay in the Eastern Division race. The Gamecocks also remember the beating they got in Gainesville last season. … South Carolina 31, Florida 13

Aschoff: The Gamecocks are still very much in the SEC Eastern Division hunt, while Florida is fighting for its postseason life. The Gators haven't missed out on a bowl game in 23 years, but with the injuries piling up, Tyler Murphy possibly out and South Carolina playing at another level, the Gamecocks will roll at home. … South Carolina 27, Florida 10

GEORGIA at AUBURN

Low: The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry has ramifications in both the Eastern Division and Western Division races. Auburn has won six in a row and is eyeing a possible Iron Bowl showdown with Alabama with the West title on the line. Georgia is still hanging around in the East race, but needs some help. Both teams can put up points in bunches, but the nod goes to the Tigers and the SEC’s top running game. … Auburn 35, Georgia 28

Aschoff: The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry has a lot on the line this weekend. The Plains will be rocking, as Auburn is still in the SEC West hunt and sniffing a BCS bowl berth. Georgia is barely hanging on in the East, but the Bulldogs are certainly a player. This one will come down to which defense can stop the run. Right now, Auburn's running game has been too much for anyone, as the Tigers have rushed for 280-plus yards seven times this season. … Auburn 34, Georgia 30

SEC Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
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The SEC East is like the Wild West, while Alabama is still in control of the West. Also, eight teams from the SEC are ranked in the AP poll. What a fun conference:

1. Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC; last week: 1): Twitter was ablaze with tweets concerning Alabama's slow start at Kentucky. That worry quickly left after the Crimson Tide scored 31 consecutive points in the first half and cruised to a 48-7 win. Alabama isn't perfect, but it still has a hold on the SEC and is still the country's top team.

2. Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Aggies certainly don't have much of a defense, but it doesn't really matter with Johnny Manziel running the show. For the second consecutive year, Manziel led a come-from-behind, game-winning drive against Ole Miss in Oxford. Not even a freak knee injury could slow him down. As long as he's making defenses look silly, the Aggies are a title contender.

3. LSU (6-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 4): So there's that LSU defense we know and love. After some questionable early play, the Tigers defense held Florida to six points and just 240 yards of offense. With relentless pressure from the LSU defense, Florida's offense wilted inside of Tiger Stadium. LSU's offense wasn't great, but running back Jeremy Hill rushed for 121 yards against the nation's No. 1 rush defense.

4. Missouri (6-0, 2-0 SEC; LW: 7): Yeah, we all saw this one coming. These Tigers are undefeated and have the SEC's second-hottest offense behind Texas A&M. Mizzou strutted into Athens over the weekend and walked out with a win and their chests puffed out after a 41-26 win. The question now is if the Tigers can keep their momentum with quarterback James Franklin sidelined with a shoulder injury. It's Maty Mauk time in Columbia.

5. Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Bulldogs defense struggled in the first half against Mizzou, but offensive mistakes really cost Georgia against the Tigers. Georgia was banged up on both sides of the ball and just didn't have the offensive star power around Aaron Murray to make a run late. It has been a rough week for the state of Georgia in the world of sports, and an unhealthy Bulldogs team is really hurting heading into its trip to Vanderbilt.

6. South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 6): Like LSU, we finally saw a balanced, solid defensive performance in a big game from the Gamecocks. Arkansas' running game churned out more than 200 yards, but the Gamecocks shut down the Hogs passing game, allowing just 30 yards on 4-of-13 passing. Connor Shaw continues to prove that he's made out of titanium and Mike Davis has rushed for 100-plus yards in five of six games.

7. Florida (4-2, 3-1 SEC; LW: 5): The Gators just couldn't get anything going on offense in Baton Rouge. Quarterback Tyler Murphy looked bewildered against LSU's blitz, and the offensive line crumbled under pressure. The offense averaged just 3.5 yards per play. The defense gave up some big plays, but held Zach Mettenberger to just 152 yards and a QBR of 46.7. No one would have blamed Florida's defense if it didn't allow the offense on the plane home Saturday.

8. Auburn (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 8): No, the Tigers weren't playing hefty competition over the weekend, but this team is getting pretty fun to watch. Even without starting quarterback Nick Marshall, the Tigers registered 712 yards behind Jeremy Johnson in their 62-3 win over Western Carolina. Also, 511 of those yards came on the ground. Watch out for these Tigers.

9. Ole Miss (3-3, 1-3 SEC; LW: 9): How do you not run the ball on your final possession with Johnny Football standing on the other sideline? You can't give Manziel time to work with, and after the Rebels threw three straight incomplete passes on their last drive, Manziel was given 2:33 seconds to drive and win the game. He did, and the Rebels, who had their defense gashed, lost their third straight game.

10. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC; LW: 10): The Commodores were off this weekend, so this team got an extra week to work out some of those defensive kinks. They'll need everything to be ironed out with a frustrated Georgia team heading to town. Keep an eye on receiver Jordan Matthews. He has had a stellar start to the year and leads the SEC with 47 receptions and is third with 709 yards.

11. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 12): The Vols were off, but they moved up because of what happened while they were hanging out on the couch this weekend. Plus, almost beating Georgia two weeks ago was pretty impressive. This team still has a long way to go before it's truly competitive in the SEC, but the performance against Georgia might give the Vols some nice momentum for the rest of the season.

12. Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 13): The Bulldogs got quite the scare at home against Bowling Green. With a two-headed quarterback attack of Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott, Mississippi State slipped by the Falcons 21-20. It certainly wasn't pretty, but it was a must-win for the Bulldogs as they look to make it to the postseason. The Bulldogs are off this week, which is probably a good thing, as this team looks to regroup after an up-and-down first half of the season.

13. Arkansas (3-4, 0-3 SEC; LW: 11): Picking the Razorbacks to pull the upset over South Carolina was a major mental lapse on my part. The passing game was nonexistent against the Gamecocks and the defense was trampled on. This team can run the ball, but it just doesn't have an adequate passing game right now to make a real push in Bret Bielema's first season.

14. Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats had some fight early against Alabama, but then the talent difference put the Wildcats back in their place. Coach Mark Stoops said his team doesn't plan to cave and will be competitive from here on out. It has been a rough first year for Stoops, but attitude is everything when it comes to building.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 13, 2013
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It was just another day in the SEC on Saturday. It got started with Missouri's upset win at Georgia and finished with Texas A&M's game-winning field goal to hold off Ole Miss. Now it's time to hand out the helmet stickers for Week 7's top performers.

L'Damian Washington, WR, Missouri: If it hadn't been for the injury, Missouri's James Franklin might have been the one on this list, but it was Washington who stepped up when his quarterback went out. With the lead cut to two and the Tigers in need of a big play, coach Gary Pinkel called on a trick play. Backup quarterback Maty Mauk threw a lateral to wide receiver Bud Sasser who then heaved it toward the end zone. Who was waiting on the other end? Washington. The 6-foot-4 receiver outfought the defender and hauled in the 40-yard touchdown pass. He finished with seven catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns on the day.

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: The Gamecocks had struggled in recent weeks, not putting teams away, but that wasn't the case Saturday against Arkansas. They thrashed the Razorbacks to the tune of 52-7, and Shaw played his best game of the season. The South Carolina quarterback finished 19-of-28 for 219 yards and three touchdowns through the air and tallied his fourth score on a 10-yard run in the third quarter. Shaw has been lights out since returning from a recent shoulder injury. He now has 10 touchdown passes on the season, but more importantly, he has yet to throw an interception after throwing seven a year ago.

The LSU defense: It has been only two weeks since LSU gave up 44 points in a loss to Georgia, but coach Les Miles never gave up on his defense. That confidence paid off Saturday. The Tigers defeated Florida, 17-6, in a good, old-fashioned slugfest, rare for the SEC this season. LSU didn't force a single turnover, but the Tigers held the Gators to just 240 yards of total offense. Tyler Murphy had looked impressive since taking over as Florida's quarterback, but he could get nothing going in Death Valley. The Tigers finished with four sacks and eight tackles for loss. Linebacker Lamin Barrow led the team with 13 tackles.

T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama: It wasn't much of a start for Yeldon or Drake. Both running backs fumbled early, and the Crimson Tide failed to score in the first quarter against Kentucky as a result of the miscues. However, instead of dwelling on the fumbles, they both redeemed themselves in a big way Saturday night. Yeldon led the way with 124 yards on 16 carries, while Drake gained 106 on 14 carries. They each scored two touchdowns. As a team, Alabama rushed for 299 yards against the Wildcats. Freshman running back Altee Tenpenny got into the mix late with a 7-yard touchdown run, the first of his career.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: It wasn't pretty at times. It was downright ugly with the two second-half turnovers, but in the end, Johnny did what he always does. He made just enough plays to win the football game. The Aggies gave up a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Manziel led them back and answered with a 6-yard touchdown run. After Ole Miss went three-and-out, Manziel orchestrated a flawless two-minute drill that resulted in the game-winning field goal. The Texas A&M quarterback finished 31-of-39 for 346 yards through the air and rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

Five things: Florida at LSU

October, 12, 2013
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It will be a battle of wills when LSU and Florida meet in Death Valley at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Tigers have a powerhouse offense while the Gators sport one of the top defenses in the country. So who gives? We'll find out soon, and in the meantime, here are five things to watch in Baton Rouge, La.:

1. Revenge factor: LSU watched its hope of an undefeated season end swiftly and soundly last year, when it lost a heartbreaker to Florida on the road. Mike Gillislee ran for 146 yards and two touchdowns and Zach Mettenberger barely moved the needle at quarterback for LSU, throwing for 158 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. But that offense seems like a distant memory now as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has breathed new life into LSU's passing game. With largely the same personnel on offense as a year ago, it's safe to assume that Mettenberger & Co. will look at this game as a statement of just how far they've come.

2. Slowing LSU's offense: Will Muschamp and the Florida staff have an unenviable task ahead of them. Do you double team Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry and risk not having a safety near the line of scrimmage? Or do you play man, pull down an extra defender in the box and try to stop Jeremy Hill? Truthfully, there may not be a right answer, not while Zach Mettenberger is throwing the ball like he is. But Florida might have the best chance to solve the riddle of LSU's offense thanks to its depth at cornerback with Loucheiz Purifoy, Vernon Hargreaves and Marcus Roberson.

3. Time for Tyler: Tyler Murphy wasn't supposed to be in this situation, but here he is. When Jeff Driskel went down, it looked like Florida's hopes went down with him. The offense was already stagnant and Murphy was so green under the collar. But Murphy has played well since taking the reins. He's completed 77.5 percent of his passes and has thrown four touchdowns and just one interception in his last two games. But those defenses he's faced, Kentucky and Arkansas, don't have the talent of LSU's. On the road, the challenge will be even greater.

4. But who will he throw the football to?: The Gators' lack of playmakers at wide receiver has been well documented. And if Florida is hoping to change that narrative, it will have to come today against an LSU secondary that has shown some vulnerability. Trey Burton has seen time at almost every position on offense, yet he still leads the team with 22 catches. But he'll need help from speedsters such as Solomon Patton, who has a team-high 348 yards and four touchdowns receiving.

5. Will LSU's defense finally arrive?: LSU coach Les Miles can hang his hat on a three-point second half against Mississippi State all he wants, but it's impossible to ignore the nearly 500 yards of offense the Bulldogs picked up on his defense. While nobody is questioning the talent of LSU's defense, led by tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, the unit as a whole is showing too many of the tell-tale signs of youth. Missed assignments and poor execution have plagued the Tigers, who are allowing an average of 367 yards and 24.7 points per game.

LSU marks Florida's biggest test yet

October, 12, 2013
10/12/13
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Today is the day we learn a lot about Florida. We'll see just how good the nation's No. 2 defense is, and we'll find out if Tyler Murphy is the real deal.

When the 17th-ranked Gators (4-1, 3-0 SEC) run out into Tiger Stadium later today to face No. 10 LSU (5-1, 2-1 SEC), they'll do so with a team still fighting to make its way to Atlanta for the SEC championship game. Right now, many view Florida as a defensive team, but with the Tigers giving up 367 yards and almost 25 points a game, this could be a chance for Florida to wrangle up some points.

But can the Gators do it inside Tiger Stadium against a defense looking to rebound after giving up 41 and 26 points in consecutive games? If Florida is going to upset the Tigers, Murphy has to stay upright, and the offense can't turn the ball over. He has been very efficient throwing the ball so far, completing more than 70 percent of his passes and registering a QBR of 96.5 running the offense. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Gators have 10 touchdowns on 32 drives led by Murphy; they had only five touchdowns on Jeff Driskel's 28 drives.

What will help Murphy is a solid running game. The Gators didn't establish much of one against Arkansas, but Murphy still was able to throw for 230 yards and three touchdowns. LSU's defense was gutted by Georgia's running game early, so that should make Florida feel pretty good.

And keeping the ball away from LSU's offense will be key. The Tigers sport one of SEC's best offenses and might have the most balanced attack with Zach Mettenberger and Jeremy Hill. LSU is averaging 488.8 yards per game, and Mettenberger has thrown for a league-high 1,738 yards and 15 touchdowns. Hill is averaging 118 rushing yards per game.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Florida's defense hasn’t allowed a passing touchdown in its last two games or a regular season opponent to reach a QBR of 60 in its last 15 games. In five games this season, no team has reached a QBR of 30 or passed for at least 170 yards against the Gators. Florida has allowed the lowest Total QBR (13.0) of any defense, and its opponents are completing 46 percent of their passes. Florida's biggest strength has been the secondary, as opponents have completed 21 percent of their passes thrown 15 yards or longer, the third-lowest completion percentage of any AQ conference defense.

If Florida is going to show the SEC that it's for real, it'll have to jump over the hurdle that is LSU.

LSU poses challenge for Murphy

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
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Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsTyler Murphy has been a heads-up QB since taking over the starting job.

New quarterback Tyler Murphy has helped lead an offensive turnaround in Gainesville. While Florida has still been heavily reliant on the run, Murphy’s ability to protect the football and convert in key situations has been a huge upgrade over Jeff Driskel. This week Murphy faces his toughest test as Florida travels to face LSU (Saturday, 3:30 ET).

Preventing Negative Plays
One key area in which Murphy represents an improvement over Driskel is in preventing turnovers and sacks. Florida turned the ball over on 25 percent of the drives that Driskel quarterbacked this season while Murphy has just one turnover since taking over the job against Tennessee.

Driskel’s turnovers had a direct impact on Florida’s fortunes. In the Gators’ only two losses over the past two seasons, he turned the ball over seven times.

Before his injury this season, 17 of the 34 points Florida had allowed came off Driskel turnovers, including a pick-six on his final play against Tennessee. Since Murphy took over, Florida has not allowed any points off turnovers.

Over the last two seasons, LSU has scored the second-most points off turnovers in the SEC. The Tigers have been even more efficient this year in converting miscues into scores, increasing their points per turnover forced from 4.1 in 2012 to 5.0 this year.

Driskel has also been very sack-prone, with sacks on nearly 12 percent of dropbacks in his career, the third-worst rate in FBS in that span. Murphy has been sacked on only five percent of dropbacks this year and has not fumbled the ball once.

Converting in Key Situations
Florida has also improved its red zone and third-down production under Murphy. Florida averaged 2.8 points per red zone drive with Driskel this season compared to 5.2 with Murphy. In Florida’s loss to Miami, the Gators managed one touchdown and one field goal in six drives that reached the red zone, as Driskel had more turnovers (3) than completions (2).

LSU has the ability to give Florida trouble inside the 20-yard line. The Tigers have allowed opponents to score a touchdown on only 48 percent of drives reaching the red zone this season, the second-best rate in the SEC.

Murphy has also been more effective on third downs. His third-down conversion rate on passes is 53 percent, 24 percentage points higher than Driskel. Murphy has also converted 11 first downs on the ground, including seven on third down. Driskel ran for just five first downs this year, with none coming on third down.

Murphy’s ability to use his legs goes beyond third downs. He is averaging 5.6 yards per rush, third-best among SEC quarterbacks (min. 10 rushes), and has the highest rate of rushes gaining at least five yards in that group.

While Murphy has been very efficient in a limited sample size, he has not had to face much adversity. Florida has only thrown the ball on 28 percent of its plays since Murphy took over, and it has not trailed in the second half. Against an LSU team that scores over 45 points per game, Murphy may have to handle an increased workload for the Gators to win Saturday.

SEC Week 7: Did you know?

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
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We've reached Week 7 in the SEC. Here are some random tidbits you might not have known.

• The matchup between Florida's stellar defense and LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger should be highly intriguing. The Gators lead the nation in Total QBR allowed, with opposing quarterbacks rating just a 13.0 against Florida and completing just 21.1 percent of their passes of 15 yards or longer. Meanwhile, Mettenberger has completed 60 percent of his throws of 15-plus for eight touchdowns, no interceptions and an average of 15.8 yards per attempt.

• Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has led an offensive revival since taking over for Jeff Driskel as the Gators' signal-caller. He hasn't played enough snaps to qualify for ESPN's Total QBR rankings, but only Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty have higher QBRs than Murphy's 93.7 among QBs who have participated in at least 80 action plays.

• South Carolina expects star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to start this week after missing last week's game with a much-debated injury. ESPN Stats and Information reports that Clowney has played 63 percent of South Carolina's defensive snaps this season. Opponents are averaging 5.9 yards per play with Clowney on the field versus 4.8 ypp when he's off.

• Georgia enters Saturday's game against Missouri riding a 15-game winning streak. That's the longest active home winning streak in the conference and the third-longest such streak in school history. The Bulldogs last lost at home against South Carolina on Sept. 10, 2011.

• Expect Alabama to look to establish the run against Kentucky on Saturday. The Crimson Tide are averaging an SEC-high 6.6 yards per designed run in SEC games. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are allowing 5.2 yards per designed run -- second-most in the league. Kentucky has allowed an SEC-high 629 yards before contact on such runs.

• Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray claimed the SEC's career passing yards lead last week against Tennessee. He's closing in on two more career marks. With 11,908 yards of career total offense, Murray is 324 yards behind Tim Tebow's SEC record (12,232). And with 109 career touchdown passes, he's five behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114.

• Ole Miss' no-huddle offense has been a mess of late after a strong start. The Rebels averaged just 1.6 yards per play last week against Auburn when employing the no-huddle after averaging 7.6 yards per play through the first four games when operating out of the no-huddle. Quarterback Bo Wallace was 2-for-10 on passes out of the no-huddle against Auburn after going 19-for-23 in the first four games.

• Arkansas freshman Alex Collins leads the SEC with 651 rushing yards, but his workload has decreased in his first two conference games. Collins was averaging 21.5 carries against nonconference opponents, but that average dipped to 13.5 in SEC play. His average yards per game dipped from 120.3 to 85.0 and his yards after contact per game have dropped steeply, from 73.0 to 27.5.

• Aside from its shaky performance in a win against Texas A&M, Alabama's defense has been impressive. Following a shutout against Ole Miss and a 45-3 win last week against Georgia State, the Crimson Tide are now tied with Florida for the SEC lead in scoring defense at 12.2 ppg. Alabama is second in rushing defense (85.8 ypg), second in total defense (299.8) and fifth in pass defense (214.0). The Tide have an SEC-low 25 missed tackles according to ESPN Stats and Information.

• Missouri is first in the SEC in rushing (258.8 ypg) and fourth in passing (285.0). The Tigers rank among only five FBS teams averaging at least 255 yards on the ground and 285 through the air alongside Baylor, Oregon, Washington and UCLA.

• Auburn will hold its 100th observance and 87th homecoming game on Saturday against Western Carolina. The Tigers are 74-8-4 in their previous homecomings. They own a 2-0 all-time record against the Catamounts, winning by a combined 111-6 margin.

• It's also homecoming at Mississippi State and a reunion between three Bulldogs coaches with a program where they once worked: Bowling Green. Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and assistants Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy coached at Bowling Green in 2001-02. Mullen also met his wife Megan while coaching there.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning for success: LSU

October, 10, 2013
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The partnership between LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Cam Cameron is still in the honeymoon stage, but it will face its toughest test to date when Florida visits on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesThings have clicked for Zach Mettenberger thus far this season, but the LSU senior QB will face his toughest test to date against Florida.
Thus far, Tigers fans could hardly have expected more from their quarterback, Mettenberger, and first-year offensive coordinator, Cameron, who have turned LSU's formerly unimaginative offense into a juggernaut.

“I think Zach in his fifth year, or in his final year in college, kind of looks around and goes, 'I kind of got this. I understand this,' ” LSU coach Les Miles said of Mettenberger, who ranks fifth nationally with a Total QBR of 92.3. “Then to take a mentor that can fine tune the thought process, I just think it's exactly the right thing.”

No. 10 LSU (5-1, 2-1 SEC) and its talented offense -- which also boasts tailback Jeremy Hill and wideouts Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. -- hasn't had to function against a defense like that of No. 17 Florida (4-1, 3-0), however.

The Gators lead the SEC in scoring defense (12.2 ppg), total defense (217 ypg), passing defense (152 ypg) and rushing defense (65 ypg) and come in having just held Arkansas' powerful rushing attack to just 111 yards in last Saturday's 30-10 victory.

Florida coach Will Muschamp said this week that he'd be happy to win 51-50 on Saturday at Tiger Stadium, as long as his team comes out on the winning end. And a close game would be a reasonable expectation, as the annual cross-divisional rivals have split their last 10 meetings, with six of those 10 games being decided by 10 points or less.

Miles agreed that a one-point win would suit him, as well, although he would prefer to see his defense return to the imposing style of years past that has been absent for most of this season.

“I can tell you this: It's not nearly as much fun when it's a game that you feel like you may have to just score more than the opponent,” Miles said. “I like how our defense is coming, an I think we'll get back to great LSU defense very quickly.”

The Tigers took a step in the right direction in last week's 59-26 win over Mississippi State when they outscored the Bulldogs 31-3 in the second half. They hope it's a sign that their young defense has turned a corner.

“We came out in the second half and everybody had it on their mind and said, 'Hey, we're going to communicate, get the calls and play great football,' ” defensive lineman Anthony Johnson said.

They'll get a shot at a Florida offense on Saturday that has improved with Tyler Murphy under center, but still ranks 93rd nationally in scoring at 25 ppg. That means the strength-versus-strength matchup between the LSU offense and Florida defense will be the showdown worth watching -- and the Tigers like their chances with Cameron calling plays for Mettenberger.

“Coach Cameron's always talking about, 'It's not them, it's us. It's what we can do right and if we do things right, nobody can beat us,' ” offensive lineman Vadal Alexander said.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
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Check out some of today's headlines from around the SEC.

" Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin committed an 'inadvertent secondary NCAA infraction' for tweeting at a recruit.

" South Carolina's Steve Spurrier said he's unsure whether the Gamecocks can fix their fourth-quarter defensive woes.

" Tyler Murphy aims to join a group of Florida quarterbacks who have found success against LSU.

" Coming off a big win at Vanderbilt, Missouri has a chance to shake up the SEC East race.

" A strong second half against Mississippi State helped LSU's shaky defense gain confidence.

" Chad Lindsay has made a smooth transition at center for Alabama.

" Georgia has been exceptional in its ability to overcome adversity.

" Auburn is closing in on bowl eligibility, but the Tigers want more.

" Alabama game closes out Kentucky's string of four consecutive top-20 opponents.

" Arkansas tries to keep spirits high after losses.

" Fourth-quarter troubles dog Mississippi State.

" Ole Miss leads the nation in fourth-down attempts, thanks to Hugh Freeze's aggressive nature.

Collision course: SEC

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
10:30
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Sometimes you can see the matchups coming. In college football, every so often you know when the big games, the ones that will determine conference and national championships, will be. In the SEC, we're only halfway through the season and already we can look ahead to two key games that should determine who travels to Atlanta to compete for the conference championship:

Games: Florida-Georgia and LSU-Alabama.

What’s at stake: In a word, "everything," seeing as the winner of these two games will likely represent their divisions in the SEC title game. Whether it's Florida or Georgia from the East or LSU or Alabama out of the West, the two teams that make it to Atlanta will be playing for not just a conference title come December, but likely a shot at the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif., as well. All four teams are currently ranked in the Top 25, with only top-ranked Alabama remaining undefeated. But one loss (so long as it doesn't come in the Georgia Dome) won't keep an SEC team out of the national title picture, as seven consecutive seasons with an SEC team hoisting the crystal football can attest.

Roadblocks/derailment opportunities: Alabama needs only to avoid the proverbial banana peel in the road with three more games against unranked opponents (Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee) and a bye week before it hosts LSU. Star safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and starting center Ryan Kelly should be back with the Tide by then, and an extra week to rest and prepare always helps. But for LSU, the road to Tuscaloosa, Ala., is not so simple, as it must first deal with No. 6 Florida at home on Saturday and then a trip to Ole Miss the following week. The way LSU's defense has played of late, neither game seems like a cinch victory.

Obviously, Florida's biggest obstacle is this weekend as well. The Gators are still breaking in a young, inexperienced quarterback in Tyler Murphy, and while the defense has played well, it has not faced an offense like LSU's yet. Past LSU, Florida will go on the road to face a surprisingly unbeaten Missouri team that has momentum squarely on its side. Georgia, though, will get Missouri first this weekend. And after the litany of injuries the Bulldogs have experienced in recent weeks, it will be a wonder if Mark Richt's team can hobble its way to Jacksonville without another loss.

How it unfolds: There's no easy way to determine how the Georgia-Florida game will go, as both teams have serious concerns to address in the short term before they make it to Week 9. The Bulldogs aren't getting many of their injured stars back until next season, and the Gators are stuck with Murphy and an inconsistent offense for the foreseeable future. On the one hand, Florida seems like a precarious contender after losing to Miami, but at the same time those Gators beat Tennessee by two touchdowns. Georgia, meanwhile, needed overtime to edge out the Vols by 3 points.

Like their counterparts in the East, neither Alabama nor LSU are without their fair share of flaws. The Tide has been inconsistent thus far, failing to put together a truly complete game until this past weekend against lowly Georgia State. The passing game has shown flashes, but the rebuilt offensive line has been disappointing at times. And LSU, which struggled to score points in recent years, is suddenly an offensive powerhouse. But an up-and-down defense, one that allowed nearly 500 total yards to Mississippi State this past weekend, needs work. With the game at home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama likely will be favored, but the way this series has unfolded in recent years we're likely looking at a toss-up.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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Things are getting very interesting in the SEC and we have a little more movement in our Power Rankings this week:

1. Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC; last week: 1): Alabama did everything it was supposed to do in its tuneup against a very overmatched Georgia State team. Nick Saban wanted to get a chunk of his youngsters into the game and 70 players saw action. After its most complete game of the season, Alabama travels to Kentucky for another chance to work on execution.

2. Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC; LW: 2): The Bulldogs won a wild one against Tennessee Saturday, but they lost three key players on offense. Running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley are both out for the year with season-ending knee injuries, and receiver Michael Bennett will miss Saturday's game with a knee injury. Aaron Murray has been superb, but now it's time for this defense to step up and make crucial improvements if Georgia is going to make it back to Atlanta.

3. Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Aggies were off over the weekend, which gave this team a chance to rest and work on everything concerning its defense. Texas A&M still owns the SEC's worst defense (476.8 yards allowed per game), but when you have Johnny Manziel making play after play, it takes some pressure off everyone else. Still, this defense will have to be on point against Ole Miss' high-powered offense in Oxford.

4. LSU (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 4): Well, the Tigers offense just looks terrific right now. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. should all be in contention for the title of "best at their position" in the SEC. The Tigers have churned out more than 400 yards in every game and more than 500 in two. The defense still has its issues, especially stopping the run, but this offense is deadly.

5. Florida (4-1, 3-0 SEC; LW: 6): Believe it or not, the Gators are looking more and more like the most balanced team in the SEC East. Florida owns the SEC's best defense (217 yards allowed per game) and the offense has amassed 400 yards of offense three times this season. In Florida's blowout win over Arkansas on Saturday, new quarterback Tyler Murphy threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns. With this defense and an improving offense, are the Gators turning into a legit contender in the SEC?

6. South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 5): No, the Gamecocks didn't lose to Kentucky over the weekend, but this team just doesn't look focused right now, especially on defense. In their past three games, the Gamecocks have blown a 28-point lead to Vanderbilt, an 18-point lead to UCF and a 21-point lead to Kentucky. The good news is that South Carolina has gone 3-0 during that span, but that sort of sloppy play will catch up to you in this league.

7. Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC; LW: 8): Don't look now, but here come the midwestern Tigers! Mizzou is turning into quite the unit, especially on offense, after blowing out Vanderbilt in Nashville. With its trail mix of offensive talent, the Tigers dropped 51 on the Commodores and found themselves back in the Top 25. Mizzou is second to only Texas A&M in offense in the SEC and has registered more than 500 yards three times, including against Vandy.

8. Auburn (4-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 9): These Tigers tried to give away a 27-9 lead in the third quarter against Ole Miss, but held on for a huge 30-22 win. One thing that really helped out Auburn was the play of its defensive line, as the Rebels only had 124 rushing yards Saturday. On offense, Auburn knows it's going to have to rely heavily on its running game, which churned out 282 yards and three touchdowns Saturday.

9. Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2 SEC; LW: 7): This team has now lost two in a row after such a hot start. The offense was shut out against Alabama and then couldn't run on Auburn's defense. Quarterback Bo Wallace made some bad decisions in Saturday's loss and this team just became way too one-dimensional on the Plains. Who's next? Oh, that would be Johnny Football.

10. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC; LW: 10): The Commodores need a lot of help on defense. It's clear that there are holes all over and if Vandy is going to continue its upward progression, the defense has to improve. Vandy's defense has given up more than 500 yards twice and more than 360 yards four times.

11. Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 11): When Florida forced Arkansas to throw the ball, the Razorbacks just couldn't get anything going. Brandon Allen completed only 17 of his 41 pass attempts, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and registered a QBR of 9.8. For the second time this season, the Hogs had no spark on offense when the running game got stuffed.

12. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 13): What a fight by Tennessee in that heartbreaking loss to Georgia. The Bulldogs did sustain some serious injuries, but Justin Worley delivered some big-time throws and wide receiver Pig Howard is turning into a real playmaker, except for that goal-line fumble. This defense still has a long way to go, but Saturday showed that this team truly has heart.

13. Mississippi State (2-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 12): This defense was impressive in the Bulldogs' two victories over lesser competition, but in three losses, Mississippi State has given up more than 400 yards each time. LSU racked up 59 points and more than 500 yards of offense Saturday. The Bulldogs kept things close for most of the night against the Tigers, but were totally overmatched in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 28-0.

14. Kentucky (1-4, 0-2 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats put up quite the fight against South Carolina and almost pulled off a huge upset at home. You could see some improvement and development on the offensive side against the Gamecocks, and it's important that it carry over going forward. This team just doesn't have the horses right now to really compete in the SEC.

SEC Week 6 primer

October, 5, 2013
10/05/13
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Last weekend brought some high drama (Georgia-LSU), some high scoring (Georgia-LSU again, along with Arkansas-Texas A&M), a surprisingly close game (Tennessee-South Alabama) and some intrigue (Alabama-Ole Miss, South Carolina-UCF) in SEC play. Will this week bring quite as much of each? Perhaps not, but we shall see.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
AP Photo/Phil SandlinTyler Murphy looks to continue his solid play Saturday against Arkansas.
There are no matchups in the league pitting two ranked teams, but there should be some interesting matchups nonetheless. Arkansas heads to No. 18 Florida in a game pitting one of the SEC's best rushing teams (Arkansas) against the nation's top rushing defense (Florida). The Razorbacks kept up for a while with No. 9 Texas A&M last week, and quarterback Brandon Allen looked good in his return from a shoulder injury, but Florida's defense is a different challenge -- and much tougher one. Can Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy continue to play at the high level he has since taking the place of injured quarterback Jeff Driskel?

No. 6 Georgia has to go on the road after a thrilling win over LSU last week. Tennessee, as mentioned before, escaped by the skin of its teeth against South Alabama, needing a defensive stop inside its own 10 in the final minutes to avoid a home loss. The Bulldogs have their sights set on big goals and want to stay in the SEC East Division title chase, so they can't afford a letdown after last week's dramatic victory. Quarterback Aaron Murray needs just 100 yards to become the SEC's career record holder in passing yards, and he has never thrown for fewer than 109 yards in a game in his career, so expect that to be a formality.

On the flip side, LSU is looking to bounce back after its 44-41 loss to Georgia. The Tigers have to go back on the road for the second straight week, heading to Starkville, Miss., to face Mississippi State and its cowbells. The Bulldogs have been resting a little bit, coming off an open date, and expect to have starting quarterback Tyler Russell back in the lineup for the first time since Week 1 (concussion). LSU has been pretty good about bouncing back from losses under Les Miles; the Tigers haven't lost consecutive games since 2008 and are 20-1 following a loss in the Miles era.

Ole Miss and Auburn should be an interesting one, pitting two coaches, Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn, who both spent more than a dozen years as high school coaches before moving into the college ranks. Ole Miss is coming off a shutout loss to Alabama, one in which the Rebels couldn't get on track offensively, managing just 205 yards. Meanwhile, Auburn had an off week last week after its first loss of the season, a 35-21 loss to LSU on Sept. 21. This will be one of the more telling matchups of the day. Can the Rebels prove their legitimacy by bouncing back and getting a conference road win, or can Auburn take a nice step forward under their new head coach by knocking off a top 25 opponent and moving to 2-1 in the SEC West?

Another compelling matchup is the one between Missouri and Vanderbilt. Mizzou has piled up points and yardage against underwhelming non-conference competition. This is the Tigers' SEC opener, and how they perform today could give us a peek into how seriously they need to be taken. Vandy is 0-2 in SEC play, with the losses coming to Ole Miss and South Carolina. After this week, the Commodores have a three-game stretch where they see Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida, with the latter two on the road. If they don't win today, it might not be pretty in the coming weeks.

No. 1 Alabama has what is a likely snoozer against Sun Belt squad Georgia State, and although South Carolina has struggled to close out games, Kentucky has struggled quite a bit and Steve Spurrier-coached teams have historically been successful against the Wildcats, holding a 19-1 career record. Here's a rundown of Saturday's games:

  • Georgia State at Alabama, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC TV
  • Georgia at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
  • LSU at Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • Arkansas at Florida, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
  • Ole Miss at Auburn, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
  • Missouri at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m. ET, FSN
  • Kentucky at South Carolina, 7:30 p.m. ET, CSS

SEC Friday mailbag: Week 6

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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From Chaz Pike (@a_drpike): Aaron Murray for Heisman!!! When will the nation show him the love and respect he deserves for his body of work?

He’s currently fifth on ESPN’s Heisman Watch, which is too low in my estimation. If Georgia wins the season opener against Clemson, he’s close to the top, if not at the top, but it wasn’t Murray who lost that first game. He threw for 323 yards and ran for a touchdown. Since that loss, he’s helped the Bulldogs knock off two top-10 opponents, throwing for four touchdowns in each game. You can make a strong case for Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, but Murray deserves to be in the conversation with those two. If Georgia keeps winning and makes it to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, expect him to move up on the experts’ poll.




From Ryan Buschmeyer (@rbuschmeyer): Georgia shut down LSU’s running game and put up 196 with Todd Gurley for a half. Concern for Les Miles?

I think there’s more concern with the defense. The talk of Jeremy Hill for Heisman might have been a little premature, but the LSU running back will be fine this season. He still averaged more than four yards per carry against the Bulldogs. However, the defensive woes were troubling. The Tigers lost a lot of talented players off last year’s team. Everybody expected the newcomers to come in and not miss a beat, but it takes time. The unit will improve as the season progresses, but Miles needs to get it fixed before they travel to Ole Miss in two weeks.




From Mike Johnson (@DontAskMeYo): Do you think if Tyler Murphy has a big season that Jeff Driskel gets his job back? What about the recruits’ reaction?

That will be an interesting storyline heading into next season. I would expect the Florida coaches to give Driskel every opportunity to win back the starting quarterback job, but he was less than impressive before he got hurt. As for Murphy, it’s still too early to get a read on him. He’s been solid in his first two appearances, but he has yet to face an upper-echelon team. We’ll know more after the Gators travel to Death Valley next weekend. If Murphy can continue to improve and play well within Florida’s offense, it will be difficult to take the job away. Also, I doubt it has an affect on recruits. It’s still a popular destination for quarterbacks, because the Gators offer the chance to play early.




From Hunter York (@hunteryork1128): Assuming they beat Auburn, if Ole Miss beats Texas A&M, do the Rebels have a realistic chance of going 11-1?

Those are two big ifs. Auburn presents a difficult challenge on the road this weekend, and that Manziel kid at Texas A&M is pretty good. However, if they win both games, I still don’t see the Rebels going 11-1. Right after they play the Aggies, they host LSU, their third top-10 opponent in four weeks. Under the right circumstances, Ole Miss could pull an upset over the Tigers, but not coming off three SEC West games in a row. After that brutal stretch, the schedule does set up nicely for the Rebels the rest of the way. It wouldn’t surprise me if they win out after LSU, but 11-1 is a little too optimistic for this team.




From Joey Smith (@JoeySmithMIZ): Is a road win at Vandy enough for Mizzou to start earning some respect and to be seen as a real threat in the East?

From Jordan Walker (@JabberWalker01): Where do you see Mizzou finishing this year?

Missouri is one of two undefeated teams left in the SEC, but it’s hard to get too excited when the Tigers, who finished 2-6 in the SEC a year ago, have yet to play a conference game. A win at Vanderbilt would definitely be a good start, but the real tests come later in the month when they host Florida and South Carolina in back-to-back weeks. Still, Saturday’s game will be a good measuring stick for this team. If Missouri wins, I think they can finish as high as third in the East, but with a loss, I see them finishing towards the bottom again and possibly looking for a new coach after the season.

SEC Week 6: Did you know?

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
10:00
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Not a ton of marquee games matching up ranked teams this week in the SEC, but some interesting matchups nonetheless, like Auburn-Ole Miss, Missouri-Vanderbilt and Arkansas-Florida, among others. Here are some statistical notes from around the league, with an assist from ESPN Stats & Information:
  • Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray is likely to become the SEC's career passing yardage leader on Saturday when the Bulldogs travel to Tennessee. He trails the current leader, former Georgia quarterback David Greene, by just 99 yards on the all-time SEC passing yardage list (Greene's record total is 11,528). Murray (11,249 passing yards) has never thrown for fewer than 109 yards in a game throughout his 45-game career.
  • Murray still needs 573 total offensive yards to catch former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow (12,232 yards) who holds the SEC's career total offense record. Murray has 11,659 total offensive yards to his name.
  • LSU has done well to avoid allowing one loss turn into two. The Tigers, who lost to Georgia in a thriller last week, haven't lost consecutive SEC games since 2009. They haven't lost two games consecutively, regardless of opponent, since 2008. Under head coach Les Miles, LSU is 20-1 following a loss (including season openers after a loss to end the previous season).
  • This is the first time in LSU history that the team has scored at least 30 points in each of the first five games of the season.
  • South Carolina's 169 rushes are the most the Gamecocks have recorded through four games since Steve Spurrier was hired as their head coach prior to the 2005 season. They've rushed for at least 220 yards in each of those first four games and are averaging 5.32 yards per carry, which is tied for 24th in the country.
  • Spurrier has been extremely successful against the Gamecocks' opponent this week, Kentucky. He owns a 19-1 career record against Kentucky.
  • Florida's rushing defense is No. 1 nationally in yards allowed per game (53.5) and it is the only defense to hold every opponent to fewer than 75 rushing yards this season. The average AQ conference team hits opponents at or behind the line of scrimmage 42 percent of the time; Florida has done it 57 percent of the time this year. The Gators also allow the second-fewest yards before contact per game, with 15. Only Michigan State (12.8 yards allowed before contact per game) has a better average.
  • While Florida's run defense has been dominant, Arkansas' rushing attack has been superb. The Razorbacks are second in the SEC in rushing yards per game (237) and freshman Alex Collins leads the conference with 597 rushing yards this year. So it will be interesting to watch who wins the battle when Arkansas runs the football against the Gators.
  • Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is one of two quarterbacks in the FBS with at least 115 pass attempts and zero interceptions (Wallace has attempted 118 passes this year). Idaho's Chad Chalich is the only other player holding that distinction right now.
  • Auburn, which hosts Ole Miss, hasn't loss to the Rebels at home since 2003. The Rebels' quarterback that year? Eli Manning.
  • Alabama holds a 28-3 nonconference record under Nick Saban and is 21-0 in nonconference games since the start of the 2009 season. The Crimson Tide are also 13-1 all-time against current Sun Belt teams. The Tide host Sun Belt member Georgia State on Saturday.
  • Since taking over for injured quarterback Jeff Driskel, Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has a 96.1 QBR, which would be second in the FBS if he had enough snaps to qualify for the national rankings. But in nine fewer drives than Driskel, Murphy has guided the Gators to more touchdowns (seven to Driskel's five), fewer turnovers (three to Driskel's seven) and fewer three-and-out series (four to Driskel's eight). A healthy Matt Jones at running back certainly doesn't hurt Murphy in that regard, either.
  • Tennessee has lost 18 straight games to teams ranked in the Associated Press poll. The last win by the Volunteers over an AP top 10 team was in 2006 against Georgia in Athens. The Vols will get a crack at Georgia, currently ranked No. 6, at Neyland Stadium.
  • Mississippi State has lost 11 consecutive games against ranked opponents. The Bulldogs’ last win over such a team was in 2010 over then-No. 22 Florida. As for top 10 teams, which their opponent on Saturday (LSU) is, the Bulldogs haven't beaten one of those since Sept. 30, 2000 (then-No. 3 Florida).
  • A Kentucky loss to South Carolina would drop the Wildcats to a 1-4 start in back-to-back seasons. The last time that happened was 2004-05.
  • Missouri is the only school in the country currently with four players who have rushed for 215 yards or more this season. The quartet consists of: running backs Russell Hansbrough (335 yards), Henry Josey (238), Marcus Murphy (224) and quarterback James Franklin (215).
  • Vanderbilt senior kicker Carey Spear hit a 50-yard field goal against UAB last week to become the Commodores' first kicker to hit four field goals of 50 yards or better in his career. His career best was 54 yards against South Carolina on Sept. 14 and that's also the second-longest field goal by an SEC player this season (Georgia's Marshall Morgan hit a 55-yarder against LSU last week).

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