LSU Tigers: Kiehl Frazier
1. Alabama (5-0; LW: 1): The Tide was off last week, so it didn't have a chance to widen its lead on the SEC and the rest of the country. The last thing Alabama's upcoming opponents want is a rested Tide team. I can only imagine the extra work Nick Saban put his team through in order to clean up all those little things.
2. South Carolina (6-0; LW: 4): The Gamecocks completely dominated Georgia over the weekend. South Carolina's offense is extremely balanced and looks like it can just jump on Marcus Lattimore's shoulders at this point. He's just getting stronger and stronger. The defense is smothering up front and stopping that defensive line has been a nightmare for teams. But road games at LSU and Florida will be tough.
3. Florida (5-0; LW: 5): The Gators might not have the most exciting offense, but that defense is tremendous. Florida put a load of pressure on LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger over the weekend and clobbered the Tigers' running game. Behind Mike Gillislee, the Gators pounded LSU with their running game, but the passing game is still a concern. If Florida can get more through the air, this offense could start to really give defenses fits.
4. LSU (5-1; LW: 2): It's obvious that the Tigers can't put everything on their defense. Even with how talented LSU is on the defensive side of the ball, the offense needs major work, especially in the passing game. Mettenberger hasn't come close to living up to the hype and just doesn't look comfortable standing in LSU's pocket. The running game was one of the SEC's best, but was quieted against Florida because there just wasn't the threat to pass. No offensive balance could doom this team.
5. Georgia (5-1; LW: 3): The concern about the defense continues to grow after the Bulldogs' 28-point loss to the Gamecocks. USC was intent on running and Georgia couldn't do anything to stop it, allowing 232 rushing yards. Jarvis Jones has been a non-factor for the past two weeks and Aaron Murray's big-game struggles came right back in Columbia, S.C. The good news is the Bulldogs have the SEC East's easiest schedule from here on out.
6. Mississippi State (5-0; LW: 6): These Bulldogs weren't flashy, but they were very efficient against Kentucky. Tyler Russell is one of seven FBS quarterbacks with 10-plus passing touchdowns and fewer than two interceptions this season, while LaDarius Perkins is the only player in the SEC to be in the top two in rushing yards per game (99.8) and all-purpose yards per game (130.0). That defense has been pretty stout as well, as the Bulldogs have trailed for just 10:19 this season.
7. Texas A&M (4-1; LW: 7): Johnny Manziel grabbed hero status in Oxford, Miss., over the weekend. The redshirt freshman quarterback led the Aggies to 13 straight points in the fourth quarter, after trailing Ole Miss by 10. He had a nifty 29-yard touchdown run to trim the Rebels' lead to four and then found Ryan Swope for the game-winning 20-yard touchdown pass with 1:46 remaining. What's more impressive is the Aggies got the win despite committing six turnovers.
8. Tennessee (3-2; LW: 8): The Vols were off, but have a very important matchup with Mississippi State this weekend. We finally saw good balance out of the Vols against an SEC opponent in their shootout loss to Georgia two weeks ago, but most of the extra time Tennessee had better have been devoted to doing something about that defense. The Vols are 13th in the SEC in total defense (425.8 yards per game), and that just won't cut it if Tennessee is going to make any sort of second-half run.
9. Vanderbilt (2-3; LW: 12): The Commodores got a big win on the road at Missouri. Like prior games, Vandy wasn't great when it had the ball, but it played tough for four quarters and outlasted a banged-up Mizzou team. The defense really has been impressive for most of the season, but the Commodores have to get more out of the offense.
10. Ole Miss (3-3; LW: 10): After a heartbreaking loss to the Aggies, Ole Miss now has lost 16 straight SEC games. Blowing that 10-point lead in the fourth quarter probably will haunt this team all week. There's no doubt the Rebels can move the ball, but costly turnovers have doomed this offense. The defense has made strides since last season, but there's still too much break in this unit.
11. Arkansas (2-4; LW: 13): Just when you think the Hogs are done, they find some strength and walk out of Auburn with a huge win over the struggling Tigers. Auburn has had a plethora of issues this season, but from a mental aspect, this was a big win for Arkansas' team. The Razorbacks aren't totally out of the bowl hunt now, but there's still a lot of ground for this team to make up. Finally holding an offense in check, forcing five turnovers and getting eight sacks is a good start.
12. Missouri (3-3; LW: 9): This has not been the SEC welcome the Tigers expected. Mizzou has been banged up all year and pushed around by its SEC counterparts. James Franklin is out for a few weeks with a knee sprain. Corbin Berkstresser is now the starting quarterback, and he'd better get over his rough performance against Vandy, where he hit only 9 of his 30 passes. Things just get harder, as the Tigers host No. 1 Alabama Saturday.
13. Auburn (1-4; LW: 11): Things just aren't working on the Plains. With an extra week to prepare for the SEC's worst defense, the Tigers mustered only 321 yards of offense against Arkansas and found the end zone once. Kiehl Frazier was benched for Clint Moseley at quarterback, but two fourth-quarter interceptions doomed Auburn. The offense just has too many issues right now, and the Tigers might have lost their chance at a postseason berth with Saturday's no-show.
14. Kentucky (1-5; LW: 14): Injuries have crippled this team and things just aren't getting any better for the Wildcats. Kentucky was forced to play two freshmen at quarterback, and lost one (Patrick Towles) to an ankle injury, against Mississippi State. The Wildcats already were working without their starting running back. Things continue to heat up around Joker Phillips, whose team is hovering around the bottom of the SEC in most offensive and defensive categories.
"I'm not overly optimistic," Miles said when asked about Blue's injury. "I think he's going to come back, but I don't know the length of time."
Pressed on whether Blue might miss the entire season, Miles said he might.
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"More people recruited me as a safety than as a linebacker," said Muncie, who knew which position would be best for his future. "I knew receivers were going to be faster [in college] and I'm not going to lie, I didn't feel like I had the best coverage skills in the world."
Now a starter for LSU at strongside linebacker, listed at a linebacker-looking 6-foot-2, 220 pounds (he has recently lost weight because of an illness), Muncie showed during the Tigers' 12-10 win Saturday over Auburn that he actually has some coverage skills.
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He set an NCAA FCS freshman record with 29 rushing touchdowns last season for the Tigers and has continued that torrid pace with five more in the first three games for Towson (2-1), ranked No. 12 in the FCS's Sports Network poll.
"He's a talented player," Miles said. "He's elusive, has good ball skills."
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And the special teams? Last season was near perfection for a unit that routinely flipped the field. This year, the Tigers are missing field goals, getting penalties on returns and at times are just plain sloppy.
The defense, however, is vintage.
In Saturday's 12-10 win over Auburn, No. 2 LSU allowed the Plainsmen's offense a season-low 183 yards. It was another dominant performance from a unit that entered the night leading the SEC in total defense at 205 yards a game.
Shanna Lockwood/US PresswireLSU linebacker Luke Muncie forced one of Auburn's three turnovers.
"We were tested," said defensive end Sam Montgomery, who was at his disruptive best with 3.5 tackles for loss, including his second sack of the season. "I loved this. I loved the challenge."
The LSU defense kept answering challenges, even when other parts of the team struggled. The offense shot itself in the foot with a fumble in the red zone and another fumble that set Auburn up for a short field on its only touchdown. LSU has now failed to score in red zone possessions more times in four games this season (5) than it did in 14 games last season (4).
The special teams had destructive moments, including one punt return where the return team was flagged for not only a hold on the return, but a dead ball personal foul. There was also a missed field goal late in the game.
"Sloppy," head coach Les Miles called the performance.
Maybe he should leave the defense out of that critique. The defense was even turning the failures of the other phases of the game into positives. When quarterback Zach Mettenberger fumbled a snap on a third-and-goal in the first quarter, giving Auburn the ball at its own 3, Montgomery dumped Auburn running back Tre Mason in the end zone on the very next play for a safety, giving LSU a 2-0 lead and what was eventually the final margin of the game.
LSU's offense took the ensuing free kick and marched down for its only touchdown of the night. Montgomery's play had turned the negative of the first turnover into nine points for LSU.
It was one of those nights where the defense had to carry the load and make it hard for the opposing offense to carry its load
Auburn had to earn all nine first downs (none by penalty). Quarterback Kiehl Frazier ran for his life most of the night and often didn't get away. Safety Micah Eugene, who has found a niche as a blitzing dime back in long-yardage packages, had two of LSU's four sacks of Frazier. Montgomery was in his face all night and Barkevious Mingo had three of LSU's five quarterback hurries.
How disruptive was LSU? Of Auburn's 52 plays, 14 resulted in negative yards and two in interceptions.
"We played a great team," said Frazier, who threw for just 97 yards, completing 13 of 22 passes. "We have to give them all their credit. There's a reason why they're No. 2 in the country."
LSU was at its best in the second half.
After halftime, LSU got both of its interceptions of Frazier, including an interception of his last-play desperation heave by Tharold Simon, his first of the season. Linebacker Luke Muncie picked him off and often blanketed Frazier's favorite and most reliable target, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.
Most importantly, LSU shut out Auburn in the second half after a late AU field goal on its only sustained drive of the night -- 9 plays, 42 yards -- gave the home team a 10-9 lead shortly before halftime.
It started with an impassioned plea by Montgomery at halftime -- "He told them to 'play like me,' Miles said," -- and continued with inspired play. With the offense, which got off to a strong start, sputtering after halftime, the defense stayed under pressure, but kept playing sound football.
Auburn tried to beat LSU with misdirection, but often those plays would result by a disciplined LSU lineman staying home and dumping the Auburn ball-carrier for a loss. Auburn coach Gene Chizik said that running inside on LSU was "extremely difficult" and thought the best bet was to use misdirection to get to the perimeter.
With the Tigers usually not biting on the misdirection, a third of Auburn's 30 run plays resulted in lost yardage. And six of 26 pass plays ended in interceptions and sacks. Almost a third of Auburn's plays were disasters for the offense.
LSU had its disasters too, just not by a defense that was too busy carrying a Tigers team that, otherwise, looked vulnerable in its first real test of the season.
LSU had four sacks of Kiehl Frazier in Saturday's 12-10 win over Auburn, including two by dime back Micah Eugene, who leads LSU with three sacks on the season.
For the season, LSU has eight, all against its two opponents from BCS automatic-qualifier conferences. The first four came in the Tigers' 41-3 win over Washington. In wins over Idaho and North Texas, LSU was held without a sack.
Defensive end Sam Montgomery had his second sack to go with 3.5 tackles for loss. Anthony Johnson also got his first sack of the season.
No. 2 LSU entered Jordan-Hare Stadium as a 20-point favorite Saturday night against Auburn. Instead, the Tigers escaped by the skin of their teeth with a 12-10 victory.
Here's how it transpired in a classic, defensive SEC nail-biter on the Plains.
It was over when: LSU cornerback Tharold Simon intercepted Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier on a fourth down desperation heave to end Auburn's bid at a last-second miracle win.
Game ball goes to: LSU running back Spencer Ware announced his return to college football with a hard-nosed night in place of injured starter Alfred Blue. Ware beat up on Auburn for 90 hard-earned yards on 16 carries. He also caught two passes for 44 yards, one of which was a 33-yard gain on a crucial third and four late in the fourth quarter.
Game ball part II: You probably won't see a better performance from punters this season. LSU punter Brad Wing booted eight balls on the night for 338 yards -- a 42.3-yard average -- with three of those falling inside the Auburn 20. Auburn punter Steven Clark knocked seven punts of his own for 287 yards -- a 41-yard average -- with two of his punts downed inside the LSU 20.
Key stat: LSU committed nine penalties for 80 yards, several of them coming in dead-ball situations. The Bayou Bengals committed two costly turnovers in the first half, but they bounced back to force three Auburn turnovers in the second half.
Key stat part II: LSU scored its only touchdown of the night with 4:18 to play in the first quarter -- a one-yard run from running back Michael Ford. Auburn held the Tigers out of the end zone for the next 49 minutes of play after that.
What it means: This was LSU's first big test of the season -- the Tigers' first SEC game and their first trip outside the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium. To say they didn't live up to the No. 2 ranking is an understatement. The Tigers played ugly, and their offense at times displayed the same problems that limited LSU in 2011. That said, the LSU defense did its part by holding Auburn to a mere 183 yards of offense, and the Tigers got the all-important win.
Auburn showed resiliency in fighting to the end after a disappointing 1-2 start to the season. But moral victories don't count for much in the SEC, and Auburn is now an ugly 0-2 in SEC play. Frazier looked better than he did against Mississippi State, but he still only threw for 97 yards and threw two costly picks.
It's a hot one out here, even though it's technically fall. But that's the South ...
Props to Auburn's student section for coming out early and coming out fired up. While I was walking around this town and eating at Momma Goldberg's, I didn't get much of a positive vibe from Auburn fans. People who I talked to seemed to be hoping for more of a good effort from their Tigers than a win over No. 2 LSU.
But the students flooded the student section as soon as they were let loose inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. Good for them.
Hey, crazy things always happen in this game.
On paper, things certainly aren't in Auburn's favor. LSU pounds the ball with its running game and pounds opponents up front with its defensive line. LSU entered the day with the SEC's best rushing game and defense. The Bayou Bengals like to pressure the quarterback, and that isn't good for Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who has struggled mightily through the first three games of the season. He has to play with more confidence, but he'll have his hands full with the likes of Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan up front.
If Auburn is going to pull the upset, its offense has to generate some sort of running game in order to open things up for Frazier. The problem, however, is that LSU doesn't like to give up rushing yards. Through three games, LSU has surrendered just 141 rushing yards.
To put that in perspective, LSU has scored 145 points on the season.
If Auburn wants to have a chance in this game, it has to toughen up on both offense and defense. Coach Gene Chizik has stressed just how physical this team has to be week in and week out in the SEC, and through three weeks, these Tigers just haven't been tough enough.
That has to change this evening.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's a series that has brought us earthquakes (during LSU's 1988 win in Baton Rouge), fires (in 1996, when the old Auburn Sports Arena burned down outside Jordan-Hare Stadium) and hurricanes (in 2004, when Hurricane Ivan brushed by Auburn).
There have been plenty of strange happenings around the Auburn-LSU series, which will be renewed Saturday when No. 2 LSU (3-0) visits Jordan-Hare to face AU (1-2), but perhaps none more strange for LSU than the story of Cecil "The Diesel" Collins.
To those who follow LSU closely, Collins is one of the great talents ever to play running back at LSU, but he played a mere four games for the Tigers. In his only season, he was suspended for the 1997 opener for violating team rules, then piled up 596 yards in four games before being lost for the season to a broken leg.
His highlight game was 15 years ago Thursday, when he piled up 232 rushing yards against an Auburn team that eventually won the SEC West, in no small part because it escaped Baton Rouge with a 31-28 win on Collins' big night. But so good was Collins, there was talk that he would become a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy the next season.
Instead, in June 1998, he was arrested for unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling and assault (reduced from sexual assault) in a Baton Rouge apartment, an incident he blamed on sleepwalking. He was kicked off LSU's team, resurfaced at McNeese State, and washed up after two unspectacular games for failing a drug test.
He briefly went to jail (the failed drug test was a violation of his bond for the original charges), got a shot with the Miami Dolphins in 1999, had a decent rookie season, then broke into another apartment in 1999 in Miami, for which he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The incident, he said, occurred because he wanted to watch a woman sleep.
A strange story, indeed. Perhaps every bit as strange as arenas burning down outside a stadium or touchdown celebrations that register as earthquakes (that was on Eddie Fuller's game-winning touchdown catch in LSU's 7-6 win in 1988).
Will another strange chapter be written Saturday?
Three Things to Watch:
1. Running like a Diesel?: Every week, AU's defense must feel like the 1997 defense trying to stop Collins. Auburn is last in the SEC in rush defense, allowing 217 yards a game. LSU leads the SEC in rushing (269.3 ypg). Even with LSU missing injured starting RB Alfred Blue, Auburn has its hands full.
2. Youth is served: LSU first-year starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger will get his first road start and first SEC start Saturday. His counterpart, Kiehl Frazier, is also a first-year starter who has struggled (two touchdowns, five interceptions).
3. Still Badgering: Even without Tyrann Mathieu, LSU leads the SEC in total defense (205 yards per game), bettering even the impressive numbers of Alabama (210 ypg). Can Frazier and Auburn make a dent?
LSU Tigers to Watch
1. RB Kenny Hilliard: The most likely choice to replace Blue as the starter, he leads LSU and is third in the SEC with 303 rushing yards, and he leads the SEC with six touchdowns.
2. DT Anthony Johnson: Off to a strong start (11 tackles, 2.5 for loss), the sophomore will be a key figure against an Auburn team that will present LSU's defense with the most physical rushing game it has faced so far.
3. Mettenberger: In his first true road and SEC test, will the LSU quarterback continue to blossom or be overwhelmed by a road environment?
Auburn Tigers to watch
1. RB Onterio McCalebb: McCalebb is second on the team in rushing (214 yards on 31 carries), but has game-changing, big-play ability. He has a 100-yard kick return for a TD this season, and in 2010 his 70-yard TD run against LSU was a game-winner in a 24-17 AU win.
2. DE Corey Lemonier: With three sacks and a blocked kick, Lemonier's the kind of disruptive force who can change the course of a game for an underdog.
3. Frazier: The sophomore will probably have to play the best game of his young career for Auburn to have a chance.
AU special teams vs. LSU special teams: LSU prides itself on special teams and has an all-American punter (Brad Wing), the SEC's most accurate field goal kicker in 2011 (Drew Alleman) and return threats (Odell Beckham, Jr., already has a punt return for a TD). Auburn is also good with McCalebb's TD return, a 6-for-6 season so far for kicker Cody Parkey, and three blocked kicks.
By the numbers
5-1: Auburn's record in the last five home games against LSU.
1980: The last year Auburn started SEC play 0-2, a record it's hoping to avoid Saturday.
8: SEC West championships claimed by the winner of the LSU-Auburn game in the last 12 years.
1. An opportunity, a stumbling block?
For 1-2 Auburn, a win Saturday would erase the memories of early struggles, including losses to Clemson and Mississippi State and a near-loss, in overtime, against Louisiana-Monroe while cooling down the seat of coach Gene Chizik. For 3-0 LSU, Auburn represents the first team with the physicality and SEC speed to challenge LSU at its strengths.
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The Bayou Bengals were without three key players that day in running back Spencer Ware and defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon, all suspended for one game for violation of the school's drug policy.
Instead of it being a devastating blow, LSU simply shrugged it off. Ron Brooks, starting for Mathieu, had an interception he returned for a touchdown. Derrick Bryant, a rarely-used senior, took the fifth defensive back role and had a sack. Little-used true freshman running back Kenny Hilliard took Ware's role as LSU's physical runner and rambled for 65 yards on 10 carries.
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1. Quarterback health: The statuses of Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and South Carolina's Connor Shaw are still unknown. Wilson suffered a head injury against Louisiana-Monroe, while Shaw is still nursing a bruised shoulder from Week 1. For the Gamecocks, losing Shaw for the second straight week won't really hurt South Carolina's offense. It was just fine without him against East Carolina. However, Arkansas isn't in the same position. Brandon Allen completed just 6 of 20 passes against Louisiana-Monroe in place of Wilson. Not having Wilson will make Saturday's game against No. 1 Alabama that much tougher for the Razorbacks.
AP Photo/Danny JohnstonCoach John L. Smith and his Razorbacks face a formidable foe in No. 1 Alabama this week.
3. Tennessee’s passing game vs. Florida’s secondary: This game always comes down to the running game, but the difference this time will be Tennessee's passing game against Florida’s secondary. The Gators are loaded with talent back there and made tremendous strides during the second half of the Texas A&M game, while Tennessee might have the best passing game in the SEC, led by quarterback Tyler Bray. The matchups between Justin Hunter and Marcus Roberson and Cordarrelle Patterson and Loucheiz Purifoy should be great. Zach Rogers is another deep threat the Gators have to be careful about, but Matt Elam has the ability to take the deep ball away for Florida. Should be fun.
4. Must-wins: Both Auburn and Vanderbilt are 0-2 and are coming off tough losses. The Commodores blew a halftime lead at Northwestern, while Auburn was overmatched across the board at Mississippi State. The Tigers are struggling with or without the ball this season, and that's a major concern. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier has to get going, and he's facing the team that just knocked off Arkansas. Vandy just can't get anything going on offense. The explosion we expected to see has been mostly absent through two games and the Commodores have to generate some sort of offensive momentum this weekend against Presbyterian.
5. Mississippi State keeping its edge: Now that Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs have gotten over the hump of beating a West opponent not named Ole Miss, the Bulldogs can’t get complacent. That was just one win, and this team has far bigger goals than just beating Auburn. With the schedule Mississippi State has, it’s very possible the Bulldogs could be 6-1 or 7-0 heading into the Alabama game at the end of October. But this team has to focus on Troy and come out strong against a team that won’t be a pushover.
6. Showdown in the Grove: It’s been a long time since a game in Oxford got attention like Saturday’s showdown with Texas has been receiving. It’s eerily similar to the 2003 game with Eli Manning and LSU, although there isn’t hatred in the air. The Grove is gonna be poppin’ and Oxford is expected to double in size. There’s more confidence around that town because Ole Miss is 2-0 for the first time since 2009. The talent difference between Ole Miss and Texas is obvious, but the Rebels have some momentum and some conviction. Can the Rebels stop that burnt orange wave coming to town?
7. The newbie's returns: Missouri and Texas A&M got a nice taste of what life will be like in the SEC last weekend. Now, it's time for both teams to regroup. Both teams lost a lot of steam in the second half, which was expected. Missouri has the challenge of playing Arizona State and its high-flying offense. The Sun Devils have averaged 54 points through two games, averaging 532 offensive yards in the process. The Tigers got into a shootout with Arizona State last year, but can they handle another one after that physical loss to Georgia? The Aggies are taking on SMU in Dallas, and are also recovering from a tough loss to Florida. This is a game where Texas A&M should try to get more out of its running game, which has to generate more production up the middle.
8. Mettenberger’s arm: Through the first two games of the season, we’ve been anxiously waiting to see what Zach Mettenberger could really do in LSU’s offense. So far, he’s yet to eclipse the 200-yard passing mark in a game and has just two touchdowns -- pedestrian numbers compared to what everyone expected. But the Tigers have utilized their running game flawlessly and haven’t needed to send the ball downfield much. Saturday, that should change. It’s time to unleash Mettenberger and get him going more in the offense before LSU gets into conference play.
9. Lattimore’s workload: If Steve Spurrier wanted to push Marcus Lattimore anymore last week, he would have. But the Head Ball Coach gave his workhorse a bit of a rest against East Carolina, running him just 13 times. Maybe Spurrier just wanted to get his new quarterback, Dylan Thompson, a chance to show his stuff in place of Shaw. But as Lattimore continues to return from his knee injury, he’ll need to get more reps and get more comfortable on the field before league play revs up. UAB should provide him the opportunity to do that.
10. Florida’s winning streak: The Gators have had Tennessee’s number for seven straight years now. Not since Dallas Baker’s infamous slap in Knoxville have the Vols bested Florida. This might be Tennessee’s best shot since. There’s no question that this is the best and most complete Vols team Derek Dooley has had. The Vols have cruised through the first two weeks, while Florida’s offense stumbles in with a lot of uncertainty concerning the passing game. Florida might have the edge on defense, but Tennessee’s offense knows how to put up points. Is this the year Tennessee finally gets the Gator off its back?
After hundreds of days of having to watch and follow inferior sports, take up new hobbies and do extra cute things with your better half just to pass the time, we are finally here.
It's college football season, again! The helmets are perfectly shined. The jerseys are hung so neatly and ironed so sweetly. You've gone to the store in advance to prep for the artery-bursting feast that awaits this weekend. Some are even lucky enough to be tailgating as we speak!
Cue up the bands, the grills and the fryers and the big-screen TVs. It's football season, and here's what to watch in the SEC this week:
C. Michael Bergen/The State/MCT/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina's Marcus Lattimore is one of three star running backs to keep an eye on this weekend.
2. Quarterback battles: Florida and Ole Miss still don’t know who their starting quarterbacks will be. Florida coach Will Muschamp said Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will alternate quarters to start Saturday’s game, while Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze anticipates playing both Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti in the opener. This could be the final round of competition at both schools.
3. Questionable offensive lines: So many offensive lines have questions entering the fall. Keep an eye on Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Auburn and Georgia are working in a few new parts, while Florida is hoping most of the parts from last year’s line have improved. Mizzou has all sorts of injury issues and Kentucky, Ole Miss and Vandy are just hoping to stay healthy because depth is an issue for all three.
1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.
You won't see any change really, but we have more confidence in some teams now than we did before:
1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide hauled in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class last week and not only did Nick Saban sign a handful of top-rated players, but he met all of Alabama's major needs with the 2012 class. There are a few freshmen who could make early impacts in Tuscaloosa, including athlete Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla./Arnold), and wide receivers Chris Black (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) and Amari Cooper (Miami, Fla./Miami Northwestern).
2. LSU: The Tigers' class wasn't as highly rated as some recent ones, but Les Miles and his coaches brought in a solid group and there are a few defense players who might see some playing time early. Three starting linebackers need to be replaced and a few freshmen will get their chances. While LSU lost Torshiro Davis ((Shreveport, La./Woodlawn) flipped to Texas, the Tigers brought in ESPNU 150 linebackers Kwon Alexander (Oxford, Ala.) and Ronnie Feist (Edgard, La./West Saint John).
3. Georgia: The Bulldogs needed to get bigger up front and add a couple of playmaking linebackers. Georgia did just that with the handful of athletic defensive linemen signed and grabbed top outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes), who should thrive in Todd Grantham's 3-4. Georgia's offense could be even better this fall with Keith Marshall (Raleigh, N.C./Millbrook) helping Isaiah Crowell, and the wide receiver depth returning.
4. South Carolina: Talk about underrated. South Carolina didn't make much noise at all on national signing day, but the Gamecocks brought in a very balanced class and have a few players who should contribute early to a team that will yet again compete for the SEC East title. Two freshmen to keep an eye on in 2012 are wide receiver Shaq Roland (Lexington, S.C.) and safety Chaz Elder (College Park, Ga./Benjamin E. Banneker).
5. Arkansas: It seemed like the Razorbacks were headed for a very strong finish to its 2012 recruiting class, but watched as top receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (Springfield, Mo./Hillcrest) and four-star offensive tackle Jordan Diamond (Chicago, Ill./Simeon) committed elsewhere. However, Arkansas is still waiting on top athlete Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) and signed some pretty talented wide receivers to add to that high-flying offense. Defensive depth was a need and Arkansas added six defensive linemen and snatched Tennessee linebacker commit Otha Peters (Covington, La./Covington) late.
6. Auburn: Before Auburn could complete its recruiting class, it had to find someone to run its offense. The Tigers lured Scot Loeffler away from Temple, getting a coach who knows a thing about teaching quarterbacks. Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier should be ecstatic. The loss of Michael Dyer hurts, but Auburn has a stable of running backs to work with and signed one of the best offensive line classes around. Also, athlete Ricardo Louis (Miami Beach, Fla/Miami Beach Senior) could be a real playmaker at wide receiver.
7. Florida: Will Muschamp wanted his team to get tougher and he took a step in the right direction by hitting the line of scrimmage hard in his first full recruiting class. He also got a big back in Matt Jones (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) and having D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, N.C./Mallard Creek) in early should really help the offensive line. Florida is also waiting for a potential receiving threat in Stefon Diggs (Olney, Md./Our Lady of Good Counsel). Muschamp feels better about this team's attitude and expects a more resilient squad in 2012.
8. Missouri: These Tigers could come in and frustrate some of its new SEC East family with the depth it returns. No one is quite sure if top running back Henry Josey will return in 2012 after a major knee injury, but the Tigers added a very complete back in Morgan Steward (Kansas City, Mo./Staley), who could compete for playing time early. But Missouri took home the biggest national signing day prize when Green-Beckham picked Missouri. Mizzou lacked a big-play receiving threat until now.
9. Tennessee: There is a lot of talent returning in Knoxville and the Vols added some quality depth with its 2012 recruiting class. Tennessee took a hit when top inside linebacker Dalton Santos (Van, Texas) flipped to Texas and needed to add a big-time running back to help that offense, but grabbing junior college wide receiver Cordarrelle Paterson (Rock Hill, S.C./Hutchinson Community College) was big. He'll add to an already solid receiving tandem and could provide more leadership. Tyler Bray should have a fun offseason.
10. Texas A&M: The Aggies lose a lot heading into their first season as a part of the SEC Western Division, but helped the future by signing a top-25 class. Running back Trey Williams (Houston, Texas/Andy Dekaney) could provide an early spark for the offense with Cyrus Gray leaving. The receivers got some needed help with the signing of No. 3 receiver Thomas Johnson of Dallas, and outside linebacker Jordan Richmond (Denton, Texas/Billy Ryan) should see early playing time as well.
11. Vanderbilt: James Franklin's first full class at Vanderbilt was a total success. He showed that he won't just compete on the field with the SEC big boys but he'll recruit with them too. He beat out a few bigger schools for ESPNU 150 athlete Brian Kimbrow (Memphis, Tenn./East) and the Commodores added a lot of bigger bodies up front and at linebacker. Vandy's veterans shouldn't have an issue mingling with this solid recruiting class.
12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs will head into the spring looking to jump start their offense. There is a lot of depth and three senior starters returning at wide receiver, but some oomph needs to return to this offense. It's officially Tyler Russell's time at QB and LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin could be a powerful one-two running back punch. Where Mississippi State really struck gold in recruiting was up front, where the Bulldogs added three top defensive linemen, including No. 13 tackle Quay Evans (Morton, Miss.).
13. Kentucky: The Wildcats need playmakers on offense and having running back Josh Clemons come back at full health this year, will go a long way. But Kentucky desperately needed to add more with its 2012 recruiting class. The Wildcats are hoping dual-threat quarterback Patrick Towles (Fort Thomas, Ky./Highlands) can help in that department. Kentucky won't get anywhere without developing the talent already on campus and that's most important at this point.
14. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze had some defensive success in his first recruiting class as the Rebels' head coach. There is a good foundation with ESPNU 150 defensive tackle Issac Gross of Batesville, Miss., and ESPNU 150 defensive end Channing Ward of Aberdeen, Miss., and the secondary got a boost when safety Trae Elston (Oxford, Ala.) picked Ole Miss over LSU. Now, Freeze turns his attention to players a part of a two-win 2011 season. Generating discipline and finding leaders are key for a program glued to the bottom of the SEC.