Texas A&M Aggies: Alabama

If the SEC has plenty of one thing, it's athletes.

Every year we see running backs and wide receivers that can make one move and go the distance. They're explosive in every sense of the word. They're quick, fast and utterly elusive.

In 2013, Henry Josey and Tre Mason were home run hitters at running back. Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews routinely burned defenses deep at receiver. Heck, who can forget Johnny Manziel's big-play antics at quarterback?

But all of those playmakers have moved on. Now it's time for a new group of explosive athletes to emerge on offense in the SEC.

Here's a rundown of each team's most dangerous weapons:
  • Alabama: A talented return man, Christion Jones knows how to operate in space and break free from the defense. Amari Cooper, meanwhile, has the feet of a ballerina and can dance away from coverage just as well -- or run right by it. After experiencing a down sophomore year due to injury, he should return to his freshman form where he had 19 receptions for 20 yards or more. And don’t lose sight of Kenyan Drake while you’re at it. Even on limited carries last season he had 29 rushes of 10 or more yards.
  • Auburn: Speed is in ample supply at Auburn, from quarterback to receiver to running back. Nick Marshall’s agility and big-play ability under center speaks for itself. Meanwhile, Sammie Coates has some of the best straight-line speed you’ll find in the country. And, finally, running back Corey Grant is one of the league’s all-time burners, having reportedly clocked a sub-4.2 second 40-yard dash. He had 29 rushes of 10 or more yards last season and averaged a whopping 9.8 yards per carry.
  • Arkansas: Bret Bielema needs some help at receiver. Sure, Keon Hatcher (12.8 yards per catch) showed some promise late and the return of Demetrius Wilson from injury is reason for hope. But ultimately the real big-play ability on offense comes from the running backs. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined for 56 rushes for 10 or more yards last season -- a number that would have tied for third nationally behind Jordan Lynch (64) and Taysom Hill (60).
  • Florida: Andre Debose, when healthy, is an athlete with world-class speed. After all, he was a state track champion in high school, running the 100-meter dash in 10.68 seconds. It’s part of why he already holds the school record of four kickoff returns for touchdowns -- a record tied for tops in SEC history with Willie Gault, Felix Jones and Brandon Boykin. How's that for good company? With two major injuries hopefully now in his past, Debose is a threat to score at both receiver and in the return game.
  • Georgia: Malcolm Mitchell will be a welcome return at receiver after missing all but one game last season with a torn ACL. When he was healthy, he was able to run in the neighborhood of a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. He and Chris Conley, who led the team in receiving yards last year, can stress any secondary. That’s not to mention Justin Scott-Wesley, who was a state champion in both the 100- and 200-meter dash in high school.
  • Kentucky: You should know Javess Blue's name, but chances are that many of you probably don’t. Unfortunately his work at receiver flew mostly under the radar at Kentucky in 2013. His five catches of 20-plus yards may not sound overwhelming, but you have to remember he did that without much help from his quarterbacks. Still, Blue is a burner to the tune of a 4.29 second 40-yard dash.
  • LSU: Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. will be missed. But coach Les Miles wasn’t left lacking for playmakers on offense when they went on to the NFL. Terrence Magee was quietly one of the most explosive backs in the league last season with 10 rushes for 20 or more yards. Even so, No. 1 overall recruit Leonard Fournette might overshadow him. Fournette is not just big and strong, he’s also fast. (Think of a young Adrian Peterson). And while we’re talking true freshmen, Malachi Dupre has the chance to make an immediate impact at receiver. The former five-star prospect runs in the 4.5-second 40-yard dash range, and has impressive size and a vertical to match.
  • Mississippi State: It’s a make or break year for Mississippi State’s offense. In the past coach Dan Mullen has struggled to find playmakers. Now he has three guys who can really spread out a defense. Jameon Lewis, who has the tools of a poor man’s Percy Harvin, is a great underneath receiver, and Brandon Holloway, who can play either running back or receiver, is lightning quick and deadly in space. With De’Runnya Wilson standing at 6-foot-5 with the leaping ability of a true basketball player (he's a forward for the Bulldogs, in case you didn't know), Mullen’s offense should be able to attack every level of the secondary.
  • Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel lost a lot of firepower on both sides of the ball this offseason. But even with Dorial Green-Beckham and LaDamian Washington no longer in Columbia, there are still plenty of dangerous weapons on offense. Russell Hansbrough is a talented back who had 20 rushes for 10 or more yards in 2013. Then factor in Bud Sasser (13.88 yards per play) and Marcus Murphy (17 career touchdowns four different ways: rushing, kickoff return, punt return and receiving), and the Tiger offense should be able to stretch the field just fine.
  • Ole Miss: By now you ought to know about Laquon Treadwell, who finished second only to Jordan Matthews in the SEC in total receptions last season (72). He became the first player in school history to be named SEC Freshman of the Year by the league coaches. Though he may lack elite top-end speed, he more than makes up for it with his elusiveness and ability to make yards after the catch. And don’t sleep on running back Jaylen Walton. In addition to being the team's primary kick returner, he also rushed for 523 yards last season. His 29 receptions were fourth on the team and he led all Rebs with eight total touchdowns.
  • South Carolina: Dylan Thompson may not have a lot of height at receiver, but he’s got plenty of speed. Shaq Roland is an All-SEC type of talent, if he can play with some consistency. His 18.2 yards per play last year ranked 15th nationally (minimum 25 touches). Opposite him at receiver is Damiere Byrd, who could be the fastest player in the league. His 17.3 yards per play ranked 20th nationally and an impressive 72.7 percent of his receptions went for either a first down or a touchdown.
  • Tennessee: Outside of a spectacular one-handed grab against South Carolina, Marquez North and his 13 yards per catch were somewhat lost in the shuffle last season. At 6-foot-4 and in the neighborhood of 220 pounds, he shouldn’t have the speed he does. With his size and athleticism (he won the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics 110-meter hurdles at the age of 12), he’s a threat to burn any defensive back in the SEC.
  • Texas A&M: All credit goes to Kevin Sumlin for pulling in some top-tier athletes on the recruiting trail the past two years. Trey Williams, who still has to adjust to the ins and outs of the running back position, has the speed and agility to be a breakout star this season. Meanwhile, there’s Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil to consider. They’ll wow you in different ways -- Noil is all moves and agility and speed, while Seals-Jones is pure height and jumping ability -- but both are threats to score from anywhere on the field.
  • Vanderbilt: The first sentence of Brian Kimbrow’s high school scouting report by ESPN says it all: “Kimbrow may be small but he's an electrifying running back prospect with excellent speed and quickness.” When you think of his running style, think of Warrick Dunn. Kimbrow came on strong as a freshman in 2012 with 413 yards on only 66 carries, but he saw his production taper off last year behind Jerron Seymour and Wesley Tate on the depth chart. Now he has a fresh start under new coach Derek Mason, who showed a major commitment to the running game while at Stanford.

SEC lunchtime links

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
12:00
PM ET
Is anyone else out there as consumed by the Luis Suarez coverage as I am? He bit someone ... during a World Cup match ... on national television ... and then tried to say it was no big deal. Some stories just write themselves.

If you want some context on Suarez the habitual biter, take a few minutes and read Wright Thompson's superb profile: Portrait of a Serial Winner.
An early signing period can’t get here soon enough.

In fact, a number of SEC teams are recruiting as if it already exists.

On Tuesday, Auburn played catch-up with its league brethren by gaining its 16th and 17th total commitments of the 2015 class in four-star offensive lineman Tyler Carr and three-star tight end Jalen Harris. Still, Gus Malzahn’s group trails Alabama (19), South Carolina (19), Mississippi State (18), Tennessee (18) and Texas A&M (18) in terms of its total verbal pledges.

And to think, SEC rules permit only 25 signees per class, per year.

So what’s the rush then? It’s hard to say. In recent years we’ve seen the recruiting calendar steadily accelerated by both the coaches and the players. More and more prospects are committing early, in part to get the process over with but also to secure a spot at their desired school. If you’re a middle-of-the-pack recruit, Alabama offers you a scholarship and you see there are only six spots left in the class, you better act fast.

It’s important to note, however, that without an early signing period in effect, we’re still talking tentative numbers. A verbal commitment is still nonbinding -- on both ends. Players will continue to look elsewhere and other programs will keep trying to poach other schools’ recruits. Coaches will make the scholarship numbers fit, one way or another.

South Carolina’s 19 current commitments may not be the same 19 recruits in a few months time. Ole Miss, on the other hand, has only eight commitments to date and could see that number double by the start of the season. Just look at Auburn, which has gone on a tear since mid-April by nagging 11 total commitments.

Compared to the other big five conferences, the SEC is wasting no time recruiting. The ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 each have only one school in their respective conferences with 16 or more commitments. The Pac-12, meanwhile, has none and is led by Arizona’s 14 commitments.

Other conferences might be clinging to a recruiting era gone by, one where prospects waited until signing day to put pen to paper and decide. An early signing period might change that in the future, but for now the SEC is living in the present, getting while the getting is good.

By last count, 152 of ESPN’s top 300 prospects have already committed. There’s no time to waste.
Editor's note: We’re taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.

The rundown
2013 overall record: 9-4
2013 SEC record: 4-4, third in the Western Division
Record all time against Alabama: 2-4
Last meeting: Lost 49-42 in 2013

Starters returning
Offense: 6; Defense: 10; Kicker/punter: 2

[+] EnlargeHill
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesKenny Hill, or whomever takes over as the Aggies QB, will have plenty of weapons available.
Top returners
OT Cedric Ogbuehi, C Mike Matthews, WR Malcome Kennedy, CB Deshazor Everett, S Floyd Raven

Key losses
QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans, OT Jake Matthews, RB Ben Malena, WR Travis Labhart, NG Kirby Ennis, LB Nate Askew, CB Toney Hurd

2013 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Johnny Manziel (923 yards)
Passing: Johnny Manziel (4,114 yards, 37 TD, 12 INT)
Receiving: Mike Evans (1,394 yards)
Tackles: Steven Jenkins* (96)
Sacks: Shaan Washington*, Gavin Stansbury (3)
Interceptions: Howard Matthews*, Nate Askew (3)

What they're saying
"No doubt, our safety play has got to improve and our D-line play has got to improve. We will have more depth up front, but we'll have more pieces. We just have to get the right pieces in place and get them ready to go,” said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin

Three things to watch:

1. Johnny ain’t the problem: Forget Johnny Manziel for a moment. Believe me, we’ll have time for him later. Finding his successor at quarterback isn’t the biggest problem Sumlin faces in 2014. Instead, it’s the defense, the one that looked utterly lost against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and finished 109th in the country in total defense (behind four other Lone Star State schools: North Texas, Texas State, Texas and Texas Tech). There were injuries, sure, and there were a lot of young players on the field, but there’s no excuse for giving up 32 points per game. The secondary was porous, the tackling terrible and the pass-rush non-existent. But this year is supposed to be better, right? Well, maybe not. Offseason troubles have thrown a huge wrench into a defense that was supposed to be a year wiser and more matured. Two starters (Darian Claiborne and Isaiah Golden) were dismissed from the team, and a third starter, defensive end Gavin Stansbury, got himself arrested on assault charges.

2. Back to Johnny: We weren’t going to make you wait that long to discuss the loss of Manziel. A lot of Alabama fans should be relieved to know he’s gone. His theatrics won’t stress the Crimson Tide any longer. But even as his Heisman Trophy and 5,037 total yards of offense head to Cleveland, the offense he leaves behind in College Station shouldn’t be overlooked. Even with starting wideouts Mike Evans and Travis Labhart gone, there is more than enough talent on campus for Sumlin to cobble together a formidable offense, whether the starting QB is sophomore Kenny Hill or the freshman Kyle Allen. The Aggies are loaded at running back with three talented options there (Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams). And at receiver, it’s an embarrassment of riches. Veterans Malcome Kennedy and Edward Pope are just the tip of the iceberg. Freshmen Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil are the real weapons. Seals-Jones is a clone of Evans, a 6-foot-5 giant who will tower over defensive backs. Noil, the No. 1-rated athlete in the ESPN 300, looks like the SEC’s next Percy Harvin, a terror with the ball in his hands. Johnny is gone but with so many weapons and a strong offensive line (thanks to Cedric Ogbuehi’s return), the Aggies shouldn’t miss a beat.

3. How to break through: There’s an argument to be made that Texas A&M is the most overhyped program in the SEC. Yes, Manziel was a revelation. And, yes, the Aggies were competitive the minute they joined the league. But nonetheless, the wins simply haven’t been there. You’ve got to finish higher than third in your own division before you start becoming a power in the conference -- or nationally, for that matter. It’s Year 3 under Sumlin, which means it’s time to start capitalizing on potential and turn it into production. Sumlin realizes this. This spring he told ESPN, “It's kind of hard to have a target on your back when you finished third in your own division. I think the reason people would say that [we've got a target on us] is because we had unexpected success. But we're trying to go from third to first.” Sumlin knows, “We haven’t arrived in this league.” But they could soon. With the shadow of Johnny Football no longer looming, it will be interesting to see where the program goes next. The offense should be more balanced and run-oriented, a fact that should help the defense stay off the field. If Mark Snyder can turn things around on that side of the ball, then things could get really interesting. The West will still be an uphill battle for the Aggies, but it might be enough to bridge the difference between potential and production.

Ranking the SEC wide receivers

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
1:00
PM ET
Earlier today we ranked all 14 teams based on their receivers and tight ends. Now it’s time to focus on the specifics and rank the best of the best in the SEC.

Top 10 wide receivers

[+] EnlargeCooper
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsAfter a slow start, Amari Cooper reminded everyone just how talented he is by the end of the season
1. Amari Cooper, Jr., Alabama: For much of last season, he wasn’t himself. His feet weren’t 100 percent and it showed. But the Cooper who flashed All-SEC ability as a freshman returned to form in his final two games as a sophomore, racking up 15 receptions for 309 yards and a touchdown. He’s a guy who demands -- and routinely beats -- double coverage. Under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, he could become an even greater focal point of the passing game.

2. Laquon Treadwell, So., Ole Miss: Everyone had the feeling he’d be special in his first year at Ole Miss, but it came as a surprise just how ready he was to compete in the SEC. Playing slot, he was one of the best receivers in the league, finishing second only to Jordan Matthews in receptions (72). As a result, coaches voted him SEC Freshman of the Year. At 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds, he has the frame to challenge smaller defensive backs. But it’s his hands and ability to create space that make him special. With Donte Moncrief now gone, he’ll transition to the outside and continue to be a favorite of quarterback Bo Wallace.

3. Sammie Coates, Jr., Auburn: His game has always been about speed. Running the deep post, he could simply sprint by defenders. But as a junior, Coates is trying to develop a more well-rounded game, focusing on his footwork and strength. It’s scary to think that at 6-2 and 200 pounds, he’s just now learning how to control his body. If he can become more of an option in the short to intermediate passing game then we could see Coates’ game go to another level.

4. Jameon Lewis, Sr., Mississippi State: Consistency is the key for Lewis. Though he finished last season with significant numbers (1,040 total yards, 8 touchdowns), he also came up missing in a few big games (South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama, for example). At 5-9 and 195 pounds, he’s someone coach Dan Mullen will look to get the ball in space, whether that’s on screens or even running the Wildcat. With his burst and elusiveness, he’s a threat to find the end zone every time he touches the football.

5. Malcolm Mitchell, Jr., Georgia: Every conversation involving Mitchell requires the caveat "if healthy." After putting up 40-plus receptions as a freshman and a sophomore, he was lost for all of last season with a torn ACL. Now, as Hutson Mason put it, "He's about as close to 100 percent as he'll be." If healthy, he's a matchup nightmare with the ability to score from anywhere on the field.

6. Christion Jones, Sr., Alabama: Like Lewis, Jones is another elusive sub-6 foot receiver coaches look to get the ball whenever possible. Because when he touches the football, he has the ability to make someone miss and score. With Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell no longer on campus, expect more looks for Jones.

[+] EnlargeMarquez North
Charles Mitchell/Icon SMIMarquez North has the size, speed and hands to make a big impact for the Vols.
7. Marquez North, So., Tennessee: Do we have to remind you of his one-handed catch against South Carolina? Do we have to point out that he’s 6-4, 221 pounds and can run after the catch? If you saw him rack up 38 catches and 496 yards as a true freshman last year, you probably can’t forget it. It’s scary to think what he could do with consistent play at quarterback.

8. D’haquille Williams, Jr., Auburn: There may not be a more hyped receiver in the SEC this year than Williams. And it’s with good reason. He wasn’t just the No. 1 receiver in ESPN’s Junior College 50, he was the No. 1 player overall. At 6-2 and 216 pounds, his athleticism is spectacular. While it remains to be seen how he grasps the offense and how he jells with quarterback Nick Marshall, all the ingredients are there for Williams to be one of the best receivers in the league.

9. Ricky Seals-Jones, RS Fr., Texas A&M: We could have put any one of three Aggies receivers on this list. Malcome Kennedy has a history of solid production, and Speedy Noil has the potential to be a star in this league. But in balancing potential and experience, Seals-Jones won out. After redshirting last season, he should have a good grasp of the offense. And at 6-5 and 225

10. Travin Dural, So., LSU: You'll have to forgive everyone for overlooking Dural last season. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham were that good. But their departures have created a vacuum at receiver, and Dural appears ready to step into that vortex. Lanky and explosive, he could become a favorite target of whoever starts under center for LSU.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 13, 2014
May 13
12:00
PM ET
What's a world without mock drafts? An odd one, I suppose, as baseball and playoff basketball takes center stage.

But as our good buddy at the SEC offices Chuck Dunlap pointed out on Monday: "Eight weeks from today SEC Football Media Days begin." And because Dunlap knows his audience, he followed that tweet with another: "I feel like I just ruined the entire summer of every single person who writes in some capacity about college football." Sort of.

SEC lunchtime links

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
12:00
PM ET
So this is the new College Football Playoff? On Monday, tickets to the first-ever title game under the new format became available for purchase. But the cheapest premium seats -- sounds like something of an oxymoron, doesn't it? -- come at the hefty price of $2,000.
The SEC was merely human when it came to the ESPN All-America team. The league that has dominated college football for the past decade or so came up well short of the ACC's nine total selections. In all, five players from the SEC were chosen.

Alabama and Texas A&M finished tied for the most selections among SEC schools with two apiece.

Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley and junior safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix represented the Tide. Mosley became the first player in the Nick Saban era at Alabama to register 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons, and Clinton-Dix, despite missing a few games while being cleared by the NCAA, racked up two interceptions and six passes defensed.

Offensive tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans were chosen from Texas A&M. Evans, at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, was nearly unstoppable. He led the SEC with 12 touchdown receptions and averaged a whopping 20.3 yards per catch. Matthews, who paved the way for the Aggies run game and protected Johnny Manziel's blind side, developed into an Outland Trophy finalist and the No. 3 NFL prospect on Scouts Inc.'s draft board.

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam also made the cut. He may have begun the season under the radar, but he didn't end that way. He finished the regular season with the most sacks in the SEC (10.5) and the most tackles for loss (18).

For the entire 2013 All-America team, click here.

SEC lunchtime links

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
12:00
PM ET
Yes, it's Monday and we've survived the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and everything in between. Maybe we can move on to the matter at hand: bowl season.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
12:00
PM ET
It's Friday, which means it's time for the SEC Mailbag. Submit your questions or comments about everything from the battle in the East to the Heisman Trophy race to whether or not Alabama will repeat as national champions. Anything you want to talk about, it's easy: get on Twitter and use the hashtag #SECMailbag or tweet directly at me to have your questions answered on the blog later today.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
12:00
PM ET
More football? Yes, please. A pair of nine-win teams go head-to-head tonight as Ball State travels to 15th-ranked Northern Illinois.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
12:00
PM ET
Hungry for football already? Remember that Ohio takes on Bowling Green and Buffalo goes toe-to-toe with Toledo tonight.

SEC Week 11: Did you know?

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
10:00
AM ET
Did you know it's already Week 11 of the college football season? Of course you did.

But were you aware that Saturday might be the last time Johnny Manziel plays in front of the home crowd in College Station, Texas? If you didn't, don't worry. That's what we're here for.

Here's a look at some notes from ESPN Stats & Info to get you ready for Week 11:
  • Since allowing 42 points and 628 yards to Texas A&M on Sept. 14, Alabama has allowed just 4.3 points per game and two offensive touchdowns in its last six games.
  • The SEC West race could become a lot more clear depending upon the winner of LSU-Alabama. The Tide has a one-game lead on Auburn in the standings and a win Saturday could set up a monumental Iron Bowl on November 30.
  • Don’t read too much into both teams having a bye entering this game. Alabama has lost three games under Saban when coming off regular season bye week -- all vs. LSU, though LSU also had bye weeks in those matchups.
  • Zach Mettenberger has gone one direction of late and AJ McCarron has gone another. Mettenberger has seen his completion percentage and QBR drop noticeably in his last two games. He threw for 15 touchdowns and two interceptions in his first two games, but four touchdowns and five interceptions in his last two contests. McCarron, meanwhile, has improved his completion percentage and QBR in his last four games. He threw six touchdowns and three interceptions in his first four games, but 10 touchdowns and no picks in his last four contests.
  • Something's got to give. Missouri leads the SEC in turnovers forced (24) and turnover margin plus-15. Missouri also has a streak of 39 straight games with a takeaway, the longest active streak in FBS. Kentucky, however, has turned the ball over just six times all season, fewest among AQ teams.
  • Missouri also leads the SEC in sacks with 27. Defensive end Michael Sam is tied for the FBS lead with 10 sacks and is second in tackles for loss (16).
  • Kentucky has lost 14 straight games against AP-ranked opponents, including all four matchups this season. Its last victory over an AP-ranked team came over No. 10 South Carolina in 2010.
  • Auburn hasn’t been good at avoiding turnovers, but they have been excellent at preventing opponents from scoring points off turnovers. Auburn has committed 13 turnovers this season and is plus-2 in turnover margin, both middle of the pack in the SEC. But Auburn has only allowed just 10 points off turnover all season, tied with Washington for fewest in the FBS.
  • Auburn leads the SEC in rushing yards per game and yards per rush. They are tied for first in rushing touchdowns and, through nine games, they already have 20 more runs of 10 yards or more and 12 more rushing touchdowns than they had all of last season.
  • This is the fourth ranked opponent in four weeks for Tennessee and the seventh ranked opponent in an eight-game stretch. Tennessee snapped its 19-game losing streak against AP-ranked teams three weeks ago by beating then-No. 11 South Carolina. But the Vols are now 1-21 in their last 22 games against AP-ranked opponents.
  • Hard to believe, but this could be Johnny Manziel’s last home game. After this week, Texas A&M has an idle week before finishing with LSU and at Missouri. Manziel is only a sophomore but since he redshirted, he will be three years removed from high school and eligible for the NFL.
  • Texas A&M has reeled off eight straight games with 500 yards of total offense. It would be nine straight, but the Aggies finished with just 486 yards in a season-opening win against Rice. Among all FBS teams in the last 10 seasons, Texas A&M’s streak is tied for the fourth-longest and is the longest by an SEC team.
  • Dan Mullen is in his fifth season with Mississippi State and has a winning record overall (33-26) but has struggled in games against ranked opponents. Mississippi State is 2-19 vs. AP-ranked opponents under Mullen. The last ranked win came in 2010 against Florida and Mississippi State is 0-13 vs. ranked opponent since.
  • Florida has won the last 22 meetings against Vanderbilt. The Commodore's last win came in 1988.
  • With a loss Florida would be below .500 for the first time since it started 1-2 in 1992. Florida has not been below .500 this late in the season (as of Nov. 9) since 1979, when the Gators finished winless. A loss would also give Florida its first four-game losing streak since 2011.
  • Florida’s offense is last in the SEC in both yards per game (334.6) and yards per play (4.9). During Florida’s three-game losing streak, it has averaged just 236.7 yards per game and managed just three offensive touchdowns.
  • Vanderbilt is one of the slowest starting teams in FBS, being outscored 85-24 in the first quarter. That’s the second-worst point differential among BCS-AQ teams. Of the eight worst teams in first-quarter point differential, Vanderbilt is the only school with more than one win. In SEC games, Vanderbilt has been outscored 82-7 in the first quarter.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
10:00
AM ET
Just when we thought we knew something about the SEC, we get a game like the one between South Carolina and Missouri on Saturday night. Here's all that we learned (for now) from the weekend that was:

Missouri wasn't ready: There's a fine line between good and great, and you don't know what exactly that is until you've crossed it. For a moment, we thought Missouri had taken the next step as one of the few remaining undefeated teams in college football. Beating Georgia and Florida was huge for Gary Pinkel's Tigers, but no matter how hard Missouri battled South Carolina on Saturday night, it still lost. At home. After leading 17-0 heading into the fourth quarter. That's hard to stomach when you're ranked in the top five nationally. Granted, not all is lost for Missouri. The SEC East is still a wide-open race. But with one loss and games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M ahead, the Tigers' road to a division title is much shakier than it was coming into the weekend.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw, Cody Gibson, Jordan Diaz
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonConnor Shaw (14) was able to celebrate as he came in off the bench to lead South Carolina's upset of No. 5 Missouri.
Connor Shaw has 'it': What is it that Shaw has? How do you define what separates South Carolina's veteran quarterback from others at the position? Well, after weeks and weeks of trying, I'm done. Whatever "it" is, he has it. He's the definition of a competitor. What he did coming off the bench in the fourth quarter to lead South Carolina's comeback against Missouri was the stuff of legend. The guy was sick and throwing up Friday night. All he did was come on in relief, while down three scores, and lead his team to a victory in hostile territory. Forget his stats. Forget his measurables. Forget how he projects in the NFL. Shaw might be hard to define, but you can recognize a great SEC quarterback when you see one.

Johnny's OK: Man, for a second there, Johnny Manziel had us worried. He landed awkwardly on his arm against Auburn and winced in pain on the sidelines. He continued to play that game, sure, but it remained to be seen how he'd do a week later. Well, it appears that Johnny is still Johnny. Texas A&M beat Vanderbilt 56-24 as its defending Heisman Trophy winner torched the Commodores to the tune of 305 yards and four passing touchdowns. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said, "People thought I was being coy" when he told anyone who'd ask that Manziel's status was questionable. Manziel, meanwhile, never had a doubt, telling reporters, "In my mind I was always going to play."

Jordan Matthews: If it took you this long to realize just how good of a receiver Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews is, your dedication to the SEC might be a little shaky. Either way, Matthews solidified his reputation as one of the best to ever play in the conference on Saturday as he became the SEC's all-time leader in career yards receiving with 3,172, passing former Georgia great Terrence Edwards. The Commodores are not having the season coach James Franklin or anyone else would have hoped, but you can't ignore the stellar play of Matthews. He and Texas A&M's Mike Evans are the top two wideouts in the league and right there in the conversation nationally.

Alabama. LSU. Again: Set your countdown clocks. It's happening again. Alabama and LSU are on a collision course to compete in a game that will help determine the SEC West race on Nov. 9. Both teams will have bye weeks to prepare, which means we'll have two weeks to dissect every position battle and scouting report. Oh joy! Top-ranked Alabama absolutely manhandled Tennessee at home on Saturday, beating the Vols 45-10. The only thing in question at Bryant-Denny Stadium was how long the fans would stay to watch. And LSU, despite being upset last weekend by Ole Miss, returned home and took care of business, demolishing Furman 48-16. The troubling news for LSU fans, though, is that Zach Mettenberger seems to have developed a turnover problem. Two interceptions against Furman brought his total to six in the last four games. He threw one pick in his first four contests.

SEC Friday mailbag: Week 8

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
5:00
PM ET
From John Miklos (@John_Miklos21): What are South Carolina's chances of winning the East now?

Alex Scarborough: Missouri is in the driver's seat of the SEC East, for now. A loss at home to Florida on Saturday -- something that's not out of the realm of possibility with James Franklin out -- could shake things up, though. I'm still not sold on Missouri's title hopes, but we'll get to that later in the post. Who I do like to win the East, to answer your question, is South Carolina. The Gamecocks weathered the early storm of the season and are well positioned to make a run at a division title with Connor Shaw and the offense humming along. Even if Missouri wins this weekend, South Carolina will have its chance to go head-to-head with the Tigers on Oct. 26. And outside of a home date with Florida, the rest of South Carolina's conference slate consists of Tennessee and Mississippi State.


From E5 (@e5usa): Best matchup in the SEC this week?

Alex Scarborough: Since I already took a few minutes discussing Missouri-Florida in the "SEC Game of the Week" post earlier, I'll take a shot at Auburn-Texas A&M. That game is interesting for so many reasons. For one, you have to wonder whether the Aggies defense will show up at all this season. With Nick Marshall back under center, Auburn could run up and down the field on offense at Kyle Field. But the Tigers will have to find a way to stop Johnny Manziel, and I just don't see that happening. Auburn's best shot of pulling off the upset is a quick score and a few turnovers to stay in the game. If not, look for Texas A&M to light up the scoreboard and run away with this one as the Aggies quietly gain momentum and positioning in the polls.


From Char B (@TheRealChar1): Do you think Alabama will win big this weekend?

Alex Scarborough: I do. While I like what Bret Bielema is building at Arkansas by focusing on winning the line of scrimmage and running the football, it's still at least a year away from working against the top competition in the SEC. And frankly, what Arkansas does best is what Alabama does even better. Coach Nick Saban built Alabama to stop the run. After weeks and weeks of spread offenses, players such as Vinnie Sunseri and Jarrick Williams are licking their chops to play near the line of scrimmage and put a hat on a hat. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams will struggle to find many running lanes and I expect AJ McCarron and Alabama's offense to have its way against a shaky Razorbacks defense.


From C W Mahr (@drswmahr): Why are there so many doubters of Mizzou? Mauk's history and competition vs. Franklin this fall speaks highly of his ability!

Alex Scarborough: The same people questioning Missouri's legitimacy are the same ones who picked it to finish near the bottom of the SEC, myself included. I certainly didn't see this turnaround coming, even though I should have looked at that early season schedule and known it was possible. Beating Georgia, though, showed me something. While I didn't see it as the upset many did because of Georgia's injuries, beating the Bulldogs by two touchdowns made a statement. Losing James Franklin, though, is killer. That doesn't mean I doubt Maty Mauk's ability. I don't. What concerns me is the loss of continuity. The timing with receivers and the communication with the offensive line won't be the same. You simply can't replace a three-year starter under center and expect no drop-off. It simply doesn't work that way. Florida's defense is among the best in the country. Expect Will Muschamp and his staff to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Mauk on Saturday.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Things to be thankful for
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 11/27
Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29