The SEC already has five commitments from players ranked in the top 25 of the ESPN Junior 300. That list includes Greg Little, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2016 and a Texas A&M commit. As a whole, the SEC has 27 commitments in the updated ESPN Junior 300. Here’s a closer look at the updated rankings.
Let’s recap how the dynamic duo, and several other members of the SEC’s true freshman class, performed last Saturday:
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
What he did: Barnett notched seven tackles, four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in the Volunteers’ blowout win against Kentucky.
What it means: He probably wasn’t getting enough attention before, but Barnett is getting it now. Barnett is tied for fifth nationally in tackles for loss with Missouri’s Shane Ray. They share the SEC lead with 18 apiece. Barnett is also third in the SEC with nine sacks.
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
What he did: The return of -- and subsequent injury to -- Todd Gurley generated most of the attention in Saturday’s win against Auburn, but the Chubb Train kept rolling. Georgia’s star freshman ran 19 times for 144 yards and scored touchdowns of 9 and 11 yards. He also caught two passes for 48 yards.
What it means: Chubb has rushed for at least 140 yards in all five games since Gurley was initially suspended. During that time, he has been arguably the SEC’s most dynamic running back. He has run for 815 yards in the past five games and pushed his season total past the 1,000-yard mark (to 1,039) against Auburn.
RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
What he did: He hasn’t put up comparable numbers to Chubb, but Hurd has been impressive while running behind a much less experienced offensive line. He rushed 23 times for 118 yards and scored a 4-yard touchdown against Kentucky. He also made a reception for an 11-yard gain.
What it means: Through 10 games, Hurd has rushed for 716 yards and three touchdowns and ranks third on the team with 27 catches for 177 yards and two more scores. He is easily one of the Volunteers' most valuable offensive players and he’s only getting started.
QB Treon Harris, Florida
What he did: The South Carolina game ended terribly for Florida -- with the Gamecocks tying the score late and winning in overtime -- but Harris is a clear upgrade over Jeff Driskel at quarterback. He completed just 5 of 11 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, but Harris also ran 20 times for 111 yards.
What it means: Starting for the third straight game, Harris suffered his first loss as a starter against the Gamecocks. Nonetheless, Florida has become a more competitive team with him under center. His 100-yard outing was the first by a Florida quarterback since Driskel in 2012.
S Armani Watts, Texas A&M
What he did: The freshman safety made four tackles and broke up two passes in a loss against Missouri, but his biggest play came late in the second quarter when he picked off a Maty Mauk pass at the Texas A&M 12-yard line and returned it 36 yards to the Aggies 48. A&M then drove to Mizzou’s 13 and kicked a field goal at the buzzer to go up 13-6 at halftime.
What it means: Other A&M freshmen like Myles Garrett, Speedy Noil and Kyle Allen have garnered more attention, but Watts has become a solid contributor on defense. He leads the team with three interceptions and 10 passes defended, is second with seven pass breakups and sixth with 52 tackles. It’s shaping up to be a strong rookie season for the young defensive back.
QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: Completed 24 of 35 passes for 237 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a loss to Missouri.
LB Bryson Allen-Williams, South Carolina: Made three tackles, a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble while combining for a sack in a win against Florida.
DB/KR Evan Berry, Tennessee: Vols legend Eric Berry’s younger brother made two tackles and returned three kickoffs for 91 yards (30.3 ypr) with a long of 39 against Kentucky.
WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught three passes for 36 yards and totaled 95 yards on two kickoff returns in a loss to Missouri.
DB Malkom Parrish, Georgia: Made five tackles and forced a fourth-quarter fumble that outside linebacker Davin Bellamy recovered in a win against Auburn.
P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted seven times for 319 yards (45.6 ypp) in a win against Mississippi State with a long of 56.
RB Ish Witter, Missouri: Ran four times for 34 yards and rushed for a key third-quarter touchdown that gave the Tigers a 14-point lead in a 34-27 win over Texas A&M.
On Saturday, arguably the country's best player basically ended his career with a devastating ACL injury in his first game back from a four-game NCAA suspension. Sunday brought us the firing of a coach who did everything right, but win. The work week brought more attention to autograph issues with Florida State's star, and two schools are dealing with horrific allegations away from the field.
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2. Missouri has a simple path to Atlanta. Win two games and the Tigers are back in the SEC championship game. And yet, everybody is writing them off just like they did last year. Sure, this Missouri team lost to Indiana and got blown out by Georgia, the team that’s currently on their heels for the East crown. But both of those games were at home. Surprisingly the road is where the Tigers have thrived. They have won nine straight road games, including seven straight against conference foes. No other SEC team has won more than three in a row. Not Georgia. Not the two Mississippi schools. Not even Alabama. Don’t be so quick to count out Missouri this Saturday just because the game is at Tennessee. Maybe it’s an advantage.
3. There has been talk this week of a possible Texas-Texas A&M matchup in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl. However, it sounds like the Aggies, and maybe more importantly the SEC, want nothing to do with Texas. That got me thinking, though. What are some of the potential bowl matchups that we’d all love to see? And no, I’m not including the semifinal games. They’re going to be must-see TV regardless of who’s playing. These are lesser bowl games involving SEC teams that I’ve seen projected.
- Auburn vs. Notre Dame in the Belk Bowl (The last two BCS runners-up)
- Georgia vs. Wisconsin in the Citrus Bowl (Chubb vs. Gordon)
- Mississippi State vs. TCU in the Fiesta Bowl (Who’s the best team left out?)
- Missouri vs. Nebraska in the Outback Bowl (An old Big 12 rivalry)
I came in with champ. I'm leaving with Him.— Dante fowler (@TheDanteFowler6) November 19, 2014
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That's why Nick Saban and his team have to be ecstatic with their No. 1 ranking in the latest playoff rankings. As long as they win out and win the SEC title, they're headed to New Orleans for the first semifinal game.
Meanwhile, if everything plays out as it should -- and it never does -- the Tide's opponent in the Sugar Bowl would be none other than Mississippi State. That's right. The Bulldogs only dropped to No. 4 after Saturday's loss to Alabama, and that means they're still in good shape for the playoff if they can take care of business against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
The next two weeks should also be interesting for the rest of the conference as a number of teams are fighting for that sixth win and bowl eligibility. Both Florida and South Carolina should get there this Saturday as they play Eastern Kentucky and South Alabama, respectively. It won't be as easy, though, for teams like of Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.
We predict a total of 12 SEC teams becoming bowl eligible by season's end.
College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Alabama
College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: Florida
Outback Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Tennessee
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
Play like a champion. Garner interest from college scouts. Earn scholarships. Treat every scholarship with equal density. Refuse to publicly lean to a program.
Ask Sheffield about a favorite in his recruiting process, and expect an answer that will lead the most persistent, inquisitive person to nowhere. He's quick to say that he's "still wide open with 37 offers."
Ask the five-star cornerback about the Under Armour All-America Game, however, and get a completely different answer. Sheffield was awarded his commemorative jersey on Tuesday in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance.
"It's a huge honor to be an Under Armour All-American. I'm very happy, very excited," Sheffield said. "I've always wanted to be an Under Armour All-American, since I was a little kid. "I just want to get there and have fun and compete."
Hearing Sheffield open up about the game is a treat of sorts, as he's naturally an actions-first kind of athlete. Sheffield prefers letting his game speak for itself -- and it's spoken loud enough for him to earn nearly 40 offers coast to coast.
At 6 foot and 181 pounds, Sheffield is the top-ranked player in Texas and the No. 3 cornerback in the nation. He is No. 8 in the ESPN 300 and has seen a steady rise in the 2015 rankings since its debut last season.
Sheffield's resume has everything college coaches want to hear. His fastest 40-yard dash is 4.37 seconds. He's a cover corner who doesn't mind making the big hits. If he's needed for special teams, he can be a reliable return man, as well.
The world will get a chance to judge for itself when Sheffield competes in the UA game in January. The big question now, however, is, where will Sheffield end up? He's taken official visits to USC, Ohio State and Florida State, and he recently was in Baton Rouge for an unofficial visit to LSU. Sheffield said he'll take an official visit to Alabama next month, and he's expecting to take an unofficial visit for Texas A&M's Thanksgiving game against LSU in College Station.
Sheffield said he plans on taking that fifth official visit. Which team will get it?
"I'm unsure right now," he said. "It'll be one of my 37 offers."
Sheffield will announce his college plans at the UA game. Until then, he's tight-lipped. One thing he won't keep close to the vest is the importance of having a position coach who will push him. He said the winning school will have a coach he can build a quality relationship with, in addition to someone who can potentially take him to the next level.
"That's important to me," Sheffield said. "Real important."
Best player to put on a UA jersey: "Jadeveon Clowney. He's a good athlete, and he was the No. 1 player coming out of high school. He also was the No. 1 draft pick."
Receiver you most want to compete against: "It doesn't matter. I just want to get there and compete."
Your jersey number: "I've always worn No. 11. It's a number I've worn since Little League."
Favorite football memory: "It was my sophomore year in my first year on varsity. I had my first interception, and it was a pick-six. It won the game for us."
Did you know? Sheffield wants to major in sports management. He said the schools he ultimately considers in his top list will have solid sports management programs.
2. Rushing the field after a win over the No. 17 team in the country? That's what happens when you haven't won a conference game in over two years. Arkansas paid the price, though. On Monday, the school was fined $25,000 by the SEC for the post-game celebration, a fine I'm guessing coach Bret Bielema would be happy to pay back after Saturday's win against LSU. The atmosphere hasn't been as jubilant in Baton Rouge this week. It was a historically bad performance by the offense, and Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times writes that it's time for change and more specifically, time for a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator at LSU. The Tigers should fare better next Thursday against a bad Texas A&M defense.
3. What's the one thing we can almost always count on when Alabama plays an FCS team? Nick Saban going off during his weekly news conference about the quality of the opponent and how it doesn't matter. He didn't let us down this week. Saban got a little heated Monday when a reporter asked about the possibility of looking ahead to the rest of the season, aka the Iron Bowl. I think the Crimson Tide should be pretty safe this weekend against Western Carolina. On a different note, Saban was also asked about the music selection in Bryant-Denny Stadium and the updated playlist from Saturday's win against No. 1 Mississippi State. Unfortunately, he's not the DJ. He has nothing to do with what songs play or don't play during games.
Around the SEC
- Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson unfazed by criticism during brutal stretch.
- Running back Todd Gurley goes out the same way he came in at Georgia: A superstar.
- Steve Spurrier laments firing of Muschamp, shoots down rumors of his return to Florida.
We don't need a new DC we just need to Man up, do our jobs and win our 1on1's coaches coach players make plays!— Deshazor Everett (@DeUcE2NiNa9) November 17, 2014
A winnable game going the other way for, among other reasons, a defense that went from bending but not breaking to simply breaking.
Quite simply, the Aggies looked broken on defense.
Saturday’s 34-27 loss to Missouri was a microcosm of the issues that have ailed the defense in critical games against quality teams.
The 587 offensive yards the Aggies yielded on Saturday is consistent with their performance against the best teams on their schedule. Texas A&M allowed a whopping 533.6 offensive yards per game to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri.
The scoring defense has been equally eye-popping as the Aggies allowed 40 points per game (accounting for two defensive touchdowns by Ole Miss) to those five teams.
There were several contributing factors to the latest defensive debacle, of course. The Aggies began the game without two starting defensive linemen, including their best one, as freshman defensive end Myles Garrett and senior defensive tackle Ivan Robinson both missed the game because of injuries.
The Aggies lost more players along the way Saturday night, including two starting linebackers -- freshmen Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker -- who both were injured during the game. Other players who left the game at various points included defensive tackle Alonzo Williams and cornerback Nick Harvey. Senior cornerback Deshazor Everett, who was beaten more than his fair share of times on Saturday, was playing for the second straight week with a torn elbow tendon.
“It had to affect us some,” coach Kevin Sumlin said of Garrett and Robinson’s injuries. “But we have other players that need to step in this time of year and play.”
In the 10th game of an SEC season, injuries are part of the deal. They’re going to happen. The amount of quality depth a team has determines how well it can sustain it; it’s clear the Aggies don’t have enough in certain areas, especially linebacker, and it showed in Saturday’s third quarter when the Tigers compiled 308 yards (including 202 rushing) to turn a 13-6 Texas A&M halftime lead into a 34-20 Missouri lead by time the fourth quarter began.
The fact the Aggies have to rely heavily on two true freshman linebackers -- who have played admirably since being inserted into the starting lineup against Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 1 -- speaks to where the Aggies are defensively.
They’ll have to move on without Walker, who Sumlin said Saturday suffered a broken foot in the second quarter and will miss the rest of the season.
As it sits currently, the Aggies' defense is last in the SEC in yards per game (445.2) and 100th nationally in that category. Many of the other statistical areas are beginning to resemble those in 2013 when the Aggies were at or near the bottom of the SEC in many key categories.
The Aggies are now 13th (out of 14 teams) in the SEC in yards allowed per play (5.85), rushing yards allowed per game (208.91) and yards allowed per rush (4.87). They rank 90th or worse nationally in each of those areas.
They’re also 13th in the SEC in third down conversions allowed, letting opponents move the chains 41.8 percent of the time. That reared its ugly head many times Saturday as Missouri converted 13-of-21 third down attempts. The Tigers were perfect in the third quarter (6 of 6) and were 8 off 11 on third downs in the second half.
With the Aggies trending in a bad direction for the second straight season, tough questions must be asked. Do changes need to be made on the defensive coaching staff, whether it’s defensive coordinator Mark Snyder or otherwise? Young talent is coming in, but how long will it take to build the type of SEC-quality depth needed to make the Aggies a real contender in college football’s toughest division? Can they hold on to the valuable current defensive commits sorely needed, such as ESPN 300 defensive tackle Daylon Mack, or land the uncommitted ones they are intensively pursuing, such ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson and/or cornerback Kendall Sheffield?
Currently, it looks like the Aggies are a long way from that in their third SEC season.
Edward Aschoff, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.
Sumlin sees similarities with LSU
12:00 PM ET South Carolina 21 Clemson 12:00 PM ET 16 Georgia Tech 9 Georgia 12:00 PM ET Kentucky 22 Louisville 3:30 PM ET Florida 3 Florida State 3:30 PM ET 4 Mississippi State 19 Ole Miss 4:00 PM ET Tennessee Vanderbilt 7:45 PM ET 15 Auburn 1 Alabama