SEC morning links

October, 10, 2014
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1. Looks like the SEC East race changed a ton as soon as Georgia sent out a news release announcing that its star tailback Todd Gurley is indefinitely suspended. Gurley is reportedly being investigated for accepting extra benefits for memorabilia and/or autographs. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel only sat out the first half of last season’s opener after getting caught up in an autograph-sale scandal. It's unclear how much time Gurley will miss, but he will not play in the Bulldogs’ pivotal game at Missouri on Saturday. Unfortunately for Heisman Trophy contenders, you don’t get to go through life experiences quietly and out of the public eye. This also reignites a reasonable debate about whether a college athlete deserves to have the ability to profit from his or her likeness or signature. This probably won’t be the last time a college star is embroiled in this kind of situation.

2. Without question, one of the biggest games in the SEC this weekend is Ole Miss’ visit to Texas A&M. Manziel led A&M to narrow wins against the Rebels in both 2012 and 2013, but it’s now on Kenny Hill to carry the Aggies’ offense. Those Ole Miss teams weren’t ranked third nationally like this one, though, and these Rebels remember those bitter defeats well. What makes this game particularly intriguing is the matchup between Ole Miss’ defense which might be the best in the SEC and an A&M offense that typically puts up points in droves -- although Mississippi State proved last weekend that the Aggies can be stopped. Here’s a good Ole Miss-A&M breakdown from the Dallas Morning News. One more item to watch on Saturday: If it rains, keep an eye on the turf conditions at new Kyle Field. The field was a mess in the Aggies’ last home game against Rice following a night of heavy rain.

3. Love him or hate him, you can usually expect to hear Steve Spurrier say something interesting. Check out some of his comments on Wednesday night’s call-in show. Gems like, “I am embarrassed at times the way we play.” Spurrier’s South Carolina players say they haven’t lost faith in quarterback Dylan Thompson, but it’s clear that he needs to play better as the Gamecocks hit the stretch run in the SEC East. South Carolina has a week off to lick its wounds after last Saturday’s upset loss to Kentucky. Meanwhile the Wildcats, enter Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe as one of the SEC’s feel-good stories. At 4-1, Kentucky boasts one of the nation’s top pass defenses.

Around the SEC

Florida’s back to its ground-and-pound identity because of its problems in the passing game.

Speaking of the running game, LSU knows it needs to get its ground game going against Florida on Saturday.

Sammie Coates and Duke Williams get most of the headlines, but Auburn’s receiving corps is much deeper than just the two biggest stars.

Arkansas defensive backs coach Clay Jennings compares Alabama receiver Amari Cooper to NFL star Calvin Johnson.

A new sexual assault claim has surfaced in the Vanderbilt rape case from last year.

Tweet of the day

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Recruiting reporters Damon Sayles, Derek Tyson and Tom VanHaaren offer a snapshot of where top uncommitted running backs stand in their college decision processes.
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A tweeted photograph of No. 3 cornerback Kendall Sheffield alongside Alex Rodriguez suggests Sheffield's official visit to USC went well. National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton handicaps the favorites for Sheffield and says USC may not be among them.
On Thursday, Mel Kiper Jr. released his latest Big Board with the Top 25 2015 NFL draft prospects. For fans who follow recruiting, this is a chance to look back at the rankings and grades of players as they moved from the high school to the college level, and now are prepared to break into the NFL next year.

In Kiper's latest Big Board, there are 13 prospects that were rated with four stars or better by ESPN’s Recruiting Nation, as well as six alumni of the Under Armour All-America Game: Leonard Williams, Amari Cooper, Andrus Peat, Jameis Winston, Landon Collins and Dante Fowler Jr.

Here is a quick look at the Top 10.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that SEC teams with one loss are still very capable of reaching the national championship game. There is an even greater chance of that happening this season with the debut of the College Football Playoff. That’s good news for teams like Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and Missouri.

With that said, all four of those one-loss teams still have deficiencies they need to overcome to get back in the playoff conversation.

Alabama: A compliment to Cooper

Amari Cooper has been exceptional this season. Through the first five games, he leads the SEC in receptions (52) and yards (746), and is tied for second in the league with five touchdowns. But despite Cooper’s best efforts against Ole Miss, nine catches for 91 yards, the Alabama passing game still struggled in last Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss.

That is because the Crimson Tide need somebody else to step up.

There is no lack of talent in Tuscaloosa. Tight end O.J. Howard is as gifted athletically as you will find at the position, but he is hardly used. Howard finally made a big play last weekend, but he was also responsible for a critical holding penalty on the last drive.

The bigger surprise has been wide receiver Christion Jones. The senior was expected to play a bigger role this season, but he is averaging two catches per game, and his season-high in yards is 52 against Southern Miss. To make matters worse, it was his fumble on a kickoff return that led to Ole Miss scoring the game-winning touchdown.

The loss of Kenyan Drake didn’t help either. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin had been using him out wide in certain sets, and no other back on the team provides that type of versatility.

Georgia: Help in the secondary

At this point, do we even know who’s playing in Georgia’s secondary? The scarier question might be who comes in if one of the starters goes down with injury.

It hasn’t been easy for first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The Bulldogs dismissed two starting defensive backs this offseason, and a third transferred to Louisville. In the past week and a half, the team lost three more defensive backs for various reasons.

Rico Johnson was given a medical disqualification because of a spinal cord injury, Sheldon Dawson is no longer with the team, and Shaquille Jones was dismissed from the team after he was charged with shoplifting. The mass exodus in the secondary leaves Georgia with 10 scholarship defensive backs and very little experience among them.

It didn’t hurt them last week in a win against Vanderbilt, but both Dylan Thompson and Justin Worley have thrown for more than 250 yards and three touchdowns against the Bulldogs already this season. On Saturday, they travel to Missouri to face Maty Mauk, one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks.

It’s too late to add depth at this point, but this UGA secondary is going to have to grow up in a hurry if it wants to reach the playoff.

Missouri: More options for Mauk

Speaking of Mauk, he played his worst game of the season the last time out against South Carolina. At one point in the fourth quarter, he was 9 of 29 for just 52 yards passing. He did lead the Tigers to a stunning come-from-behind victory, but it wasn’t pretty.

The biggest reason for Mauk’s struggles? He was missing two of his top wide receivers -- Jimmie Hunt and Darius White. The two had combined for more than 400 yards receiving and eight touchdowns in the first four games, but the offense wasn’t the same without them. As talented as Mauk is, he still needs playmakers to throw to, and Bud Sasser can’t do it all by himself.

Both Hunt and White are likely to return this Saturday against Georgia in what has become a critical game in the SEC East. That will certainly help, but can you imagine if Missouri still had Dorial Green-Beckham on its roster? It would take an above average position group and make it exceptional.

Instead, the Tigers are going to have to make do with what they have and hope everybody remains healthy the rest of this season.

Texas A&M: Somebody who can tackle

OK, that might seem a bit harsh, but the Aggies' defense looked downright awful last week against Mississippi State. It’s not everybody. Freshman Myles Garrett is a star in this league, and the defensive line has actually played pretty decent this season. The same can’t be said for the linebackers and the secondary, though.

It’s typically not a good sign when three of your top four tacklers are defensive backs. That means running backs are getting to the second level and wide receivers are catching their fair share of passes. It also means your linebackers aren’t making plays.

Justin Bass is second on the team in tackles, but he was a walk-on prior to this season. Jordan Mastrogiovanni is a solid captain for the defense, but he’s missed time because of injury and the jury is still out as to whether he can be a good SEC linebacker.

Texas A&M is missing players like Darian Claiborne, who was dismissed from the team in June. He was third on the team last season with 89 tackles. The loss of TCU transfer A.J. Hilliard, who dislocated his ankle in the season opener at South Carolina, was another big blow to this defense. The staff had high expectations for him.

With three of the next four games against top-10 opponents, the Aggies need to play better on defense to have any chance of making the playoff.

Ole Miss-Texas A&M primer

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9
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How quickly things can change in the SEC. At this time a week ago, many were wondering if Ole Miss had what it took to take a big next step against a perennial conference power and Texas A&M was still getting buzz as a possible College Football Playoff team.

Now it’s the Rebels who are receiving the playoff talk after getting a signature win over Alabama and questions are being raised about the Aggies after the shellacking they took from Mississippi State. It all sets the stage for what should be an interesting Saturday when these two meet at Kyle Field.

Ole Miss (5-0, 2-0 SEC) hosted the last two meetings between these teams at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, but Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1) escaped both times with last-minute victories. Is the third time the charm for the Rebels or will the Aggies make it three straight? Let’s break down some things to watch for Saturday.

Ole Miss’ key to victory: The Rebels need to continue the effort they’ve put forth defensively this season, which has resulted in only 51 points allowed (only 42 of which truly count against the defense), the fewest touchdowns allowed nationally (four, one of which was a fumble return not against the defense) and has them No. 2 in the SEC in yards per game allowed (277.6). If they can maintain the momentum they’ve had on that side of the ball, then they simply need to take care of the ball offensively, because A&M’s defense will give them chances to make plays.

Texas A&M’s key to victory: The Aggies must not beat themselves. Mississippi State probably would have won last week even if the Aggies didn’t make as many mistakes as they did, but A&M didn’t help itself at all in Starkville. Too many dropped passes and inaccurate throws on offense combined with pursuit and gap issues and poor secondary play on defense all led to Texas A&M’s worst performance of the season. If the Aggies can revert to the team witnessed in the season debut at South Carolina and minimize those errors, they'll like their chances this weekend.

Ole Miss’ X-factor: Quarterback Bo Wallace. For all the talk of “Good Bo” or “Bad Bo,” Wallace came up big when the pressure was on in the fourth quarter against the Crimson Tide. Can he do it again? He might have to in order to score a road win over the Aggies. Piece of advice: go to Laquon Treadwell early and often. The Aggies’ secondary struggled against Mississippi State’s receivers and Treadwell has the type of physical talent to dominate just about anybody who lines up across from him.

Texas A&M’s X-factor: The passing game. Offense isn’t usually a concern for the Aggies, but the aerial attack hasn’t been sharp the last two weeks. Quarterback Kenny Hill and the A&M receivers have struggled to hook up consistently, recording 13 drops in the last two games, according to ESPN Stats and Information (they had 10 in the first four games). And Hill admitted this week that he needs to be more accurate. Against a stingy defense like Ole Miss’ the Aggies must be better than they were against Arkansas and Mississippi State, because opportunities to score could be scarce.

What a win will mean for Ole Miss: The dream season continues. The Rebels are currently in the thick of the College Football Playoff picture right now, and the way to remain there is to keep winning. A victory in College Station would put the Rebels at 6-0 and in a great position moving forward, with four of their final six games at home. The journey is far from over, but each win will make the following weeks bigger and bigger.

What a win will mean for Texas A&M: If the Aggies still have aspirations of getting to Atlanta for the SEC championship or even to the College Football Playoff, the only way to keep them alive is to win the remaining games on the schedule. Could a two-loss team sneak in? Perhaps, but it is best not to bank on that. The SEC West is such a gauntlet that a one-loss team could wind up winning the division (like last season), and the Aggies can keep those hopes alive if they bounce back from last week’s defeat at Mississippi State with a big home win over Ole Miss.
Nearly three years ago, Hugh Freeze and Kevin Sumlin began life as head coaches in the nation's premier conference and few knew what to expect.

People certainly had their opinions. Some were positive about the young coaches on the rise, proficient recruiters with charisma and innovative offensive philosophies; others were critical of perceived deficiencies. Concerns about Freeze centered on minimal FBS coaching experience; many wondered whether Sumlin's offensive style, which shattered records in Conference USA, could succeed in the rugged SEC.

With each in the middle of their third season at their respective programs, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, it's safe to say that both have exceeded expectations. Freeze's third-ranked Rebels (5-0, 2-0 SEC) are the talk of the nation after a landmark victory over Alabama that had goalposts roaming through Oxford. He'll take them to College Station, Texas, on Saturday, where the No. 14 Aggies (5-1, 2-1) and an expected record crowd at Kyle Field await, eager to bounce back from their first loss of the year in what has been an otherwise exceptional season.

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Kevin Sumlin
Jeff Blake/USA TODAY SportsKevin Sumlin has gone 25-7 since he joined the Aggies and the Aggies joined the SEC.
It will be high stakes in prime time for two SEC West contenders, two programs that progressed quicker than many imagined.

Both had daunting tasks when they accepted their current jobs in early December 2011. Freeze took over a program that won just six combined games in the two seasons prior to his arrival; Sumlin was charged with leading Texas A&M into a new conference on the heels of a season of unfulfilled expectations as it exited the Big 12.

It seems fitting that their SEC tenures have paralleled since the two are longtime friends. They first crossed paths more than a decade ago, toward the end of Freeze's time as a high school head coach at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. He met Sumlin through a mutual friend, current UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.

"When we would go to the AFCA [American Football Coaches Association] convention, I would be fortunate enough that they would let me hang out with them for a little while," Freeze said. "Kevin was just always so kind to me and willing to talk to me about ball or anything."

The pair kept in touch over the years via text messages and phone calls as they each rose through the coaching ranks. When they embarked on their SEC head coaching careers prior to the 2012 season, naturally, they looked toward each other as they navigated their new paths.

"It seems like yesterday that we were asking each other about what to wear to the first [SEC spring] meeting and even SEC media days," Sumlin recalls, smiling.

"We kind of made sure both of us knew what was going on at all those meetings and didn't embarrass ourselves too much," Freeze said jokingly.

Each saw early success. Sumlin's Aggies surprised the SEC in their debut season, going 11-2 and producing college football's first freshman Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel. They scored a historic victory at Alabama on Nov. 10, 2012, a win that shifted national perception of the program.

Freeze's Rebels more than tripled their 2011 win total (two) in his first season, going 7-6 in 2012. Perhaps even more significant was the fact that he signed the country's fifth-ranked recruiting class in February 2013, a class that included the nation's top player, Robert Nkemdiche. The wins might not have matched the Aggies' initially, but people began to pay attention to what was going on in the Magnolia State.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis"It's something that we'll remember for many, many years to come," said Hugh Freeze, who is 20-11 at Ole Miss, of the win over Alabama.
Since then, the Rebels have gradually pushed forward, going 8-5 last year before reaching their crescendo this season. Like Sumlin, Freeze's signature win to date came against the Crimson Tide. The Rebels upset Alabama 23-17 last Saturday, a historic day in Oxford.

"It's something that we'll remember for many, many years to come," said Freeze, who is 20-11 at Ole Miss.

Sumlin has seen firsthand the effect that type of win can have on a program. The buzz from A&M's 2012 win spilled into his recruiting classes, which have ranked in the top 10 each of the past two seasons, and are on track for a third consecutive cycle. Some wondered whether the Aggies would be pushovers in their new league, and they've been anything but, going 25-7 since Sumlin's arrival.

"Alabama is the standard program for college football, particularly when you're in this league, because of their success over the course of the last decade or so and particularly when you're in the [SEC] West," Sumlin said. "So it becomes a big deal for your team but also for your fan base and your university that ‘Hey, look: We can compete with the top of the league,' and in recruiting also. You don't need me to tell you what it can do for you -- all you have to do is look at the postgame [celebration] at Ole Miss and that'll tell you enough, how big it was for them."

Fittingly, the past two battles between Ole Miss and Texas A&M have come down to the final possession, filled with high drama. Nobody will be surprised if that's the case Saturday; it'll likely serve as a shock if either team wins convincingly. The Rebels are now in the thick of the College Football Playoff conversation and will attempt to stay there with a win; the Aggies are on the outside looking in currently, but hold out hope they can re-enter the conversation by winning the remaining games on their schedule.

Both programs being in this position at this point might have seemed a bit far-fetched when Freeze and Sumlin set foot on their respective campuses, but each have made it a reality in similar fashion. From their beliefs in up-tempo offense, to recruiting success, to reputations as a "player's coach," Freeze and Sumlin are building winners their way.

"You look back three years ago … I [don't] think anybody, at that time when both of us were hired, [would] have thought that in Year 3, you'd have No. 14 and No. 3 playing at 8 o'clock at night in front of 106,000 people," Sumlin said. "A lot of things have changed in three years."

SEC Week 7 predictions

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9
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For the second consecutive week, the SEC has two showcase games. A battle of No. 2 Auburn versus No. 3 Mississippi State highlights the action, with No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 14 Texas A&M not far behind. Can this week's games live up to last week's excitement? We'll see. And we'll see if Alex Scarborough can continue making up ground after a 5-1 week that included correctly calling the Ole Miss and Kentucky upsets. Let's get on with the picks.

Why Georgia wins: What I like about Georgia in this game is the simple fact that the Bulldogs have Todd Gurley in the backfield, and Missouri’s interior linemen are still suspect. When your running back is averaging more than 8 yards per rush, you’re in good hands even when your downfield passing game is inconsistent. The Bulldogs will dial up pressure to frustrate QB Maty Mauk and grind out a fourth-quarter win. Georgia 30, Missouri 24 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Missouri wins: Forget the Indiana loss last month. That's history. If the SEC has taught us anything, it's to expect the unexpected. I don't like picking against the team with the best player (Georgia and Todd Gurley), but I do like these three things: good quarterback play, a good pass rush and home-field advantage. Missouri has all three of those ingredients with Mauk, Shane Ray and Markus Golden and a chance to host the Bulldogs for the first time since their first SEC game in 2012. Missouri 35, Georgia 31 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Auburn wins: Mississippi State clearly has the athletes to play with Auburn and will play at home, which is a big advantage. But can the Bulldogs handle the spotlight that they now occupy? Auburn is accustomed to this kind of hoopla, and its proven ability to produce at crunch time might be just enough to help the Tigers squeak by. Auburn 38, Mississippi State 35 -- David Ching

Why Mississippi State wins: Two reasons. First, I think it’s important for Auburn to get off to a fast start, and I think that’s going to be difficult in a hostile environment. The Tigers struggled early at Kansas State, but their defense bailed them out. I don’t see that happening this week. The combination of Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson is just too good. Secondly, the Mississippi State defense is big, physical and equipped to handle Auburn’s rushing attack. Just look at last year’s game. Mississippi State 35, Auburn 27 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why Alabama wins big: Alabama may not be built to stop the hurry-up, no-huddle offense. But with big inside linebackers and even bigger nose guards, handling a physical running team like Arkansas shouldn't be a problem. With extra motivation from last week's loss at Ole Miss, look for the Crimson Tide to come out firing on all cylinders. Alabama 28, Arkansas 13 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Arkansas keeps it close: Nick Saban said it himself -- Arkansas is the nation's most improved team. Coming off a deflating loss, the Tide are beat up after losing three key players last week. The Razorbacks, meanwhile, are hungry to win their first SEC game under Bret Bielema. These are two of the SEC's best rushing teams. Arkansas does it a bit better, running for 219 yards a game compared to Alabama's 195. With rain in the forecast for Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Saturday, this is certain to be a tightly contested game, but Bama will escape. Alabama 30, Arkansas 28 -- Jeff Barlis

Why Florida wins: After an ugly comeback win over Tennessee, the Gators had to deal with some serious off-field issues this week. You have to wonder about them mentally, especially quarterback Jeff Driskel. But Florida is at home and its defense is riding high. Running back Matt Jones will be the difference for the Gators, as LSU owns the SEC’s worst rushing defense (184.3 yards allowed per game). Florida 17, LSU 14 -- Edward Aschoff

Why LSU wins: Which of these programs would you want to be right now? The one that frequently looks inept because of youthful growing pains or the one that seems to crumble a bit more each day? A Jeff Driskel-Anthony Jennings quarterback matchup might appeal only to masochists, but this could still be an entertaining game -- particularly if you're the type who rubbernecks while passing a car crash. LSU 21, Florida 10 -- David Ching

Why Ole Miss wins: The past two times these teams met, the Aggies have stolen wins with some late-game magic courtesy of Johnny Manziel. Well, he's in Cleveland now and this is a better Ole Miss defense than in the past two years (No. 1 in fewest TDs allowed, No. 6 in yards per game). QB Bo Wallace came up huge against Alabama; expect him to look to stud WR Laquon Treadwell early and often against this struggling Texas A&M secondary. Ole Miss 23, Texas A&M 20 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Texas A&M wins: There are a couple of things going on here. First, you wonder if Ole Miss is getting too big too soon. Second, you wonder if Texas A&M's offense can be held in check two weeks in a row. I see a letdown coming for the Rebs on the road and the Aggies getting right back on track against a top team in what should be a shootout. Texas A&M 35, Ole Miss 31 -- Alex Scarborough

More unanimous picks:

Kentucky over UL Monroe: The Wildcats are rolling and a win Saturday would put them at five wins, one away from becoming bowl eligible. Kentucky 27, UL Monroe 7

Tennessee over Chattanooga: After three straight losses, the Vols need to get back on track. How do you do that? Host an FCS team. Tennessee 41, Chattanooga 7

Vanderbilt over Charleston Southern: After the UMass game, nothing should be taken for granted, but Derek Mason should get win No. 2 on Saturday. Vanderbilt 31, CSU 14

Standings
Chris Low: 48-7
Edward Aschoff: 47-8
Jeff Barlis: 47-8
Greg Ostendorf: 47-8
Alex Scarborough: 46-9
David Ching: 45-10
Sam Khan Jr.: 44-11

SEC morning links

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9
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1. Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron took the first opportunity to back away from critical comments he made in a radio interview this week. He now maintains that his critiques of the leadership on this year's Crimson Tide and comments about how Nick Saban might “handcuff” his offensive coordinators were taken out of context when the comments went viral, which represents the “ugly side of the media.” Earlier in the day, Saban disagreed with McCarron's comments about how the team lacks “true leaders like we had last year” by saying, “I don't know how AJ would really know.” McCarron might be telling the truth in saying his comments reflected a message he didn't intend to send, but blaming the blowback on the media is lame. He said what he said. If he meant something else, he should have said that.

2. Mississippi State won't just get back formerly suspended center Dillon Day for this Saturday's matchup with Auburn. The Bulldogs should get receiver Jameon Lewis back, as well, for one of the biggest games in school history. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen is trying to keep things in perspective about State's hot start, but that's no easy feat around Starkville these days. The Bulldogs are confident about defending Auburn's offense after faring well against it in 2013, but the Tigers still pulled out a late win that was a pivotal point in their turnaround that led to an SEC title and a spot in the BCS championship game.

3. Fans often dislike early kickoffs, but Georgia prefers it for this week's visit to Missouri with another long road trip on tap for next Saturday against Arkansas. The Bulldogs requested an earlier kickoff Saturday in order to better cope with those travel concerns. But don't expect to hear any more about it from Georgia's players this week. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt cut off media access to the players -- including Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley -- after Tuesday's media sessions with the pivotal SEC East game ahead. Folks at Missouri had plenty to say about Gurley, however. Just check out the comments in Monday's notes from the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Around the SEC:

We all know polls are never wrong, so this is completely relevant. A survey of 800 Kentucky adults showed that 51 percent believed that Kentucky will beat Louisville in next month's Governor's Cup game. Louisville has won the last three meetings between the teams, but got only 27 percent of the vote.

Police in Athens (Ga.)-Clarke County filed a warrant charging wide receiver prospect Darnell Salomon with continuing to use an iPhone that he said he did not steal from a female UGA athlete's dorm room while visiting campus.

The quarterback battle at Florida is not the one we expected after last Saturday's win over Tennessee. It's between Will Grier and Skyler Mornhinweg for the backup spot behind Jeff Driskel.

Texas A&M is extremely happy to be playing back at Kyle Field in Saturday's game against No. 3 Ole Miss.

Tweet of the day:

Video: SEC Prove It -- Can Texas A&M, Alabama recover?

October, 8, 2014
Oct 8
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Both Alabama and Texas A&M suffered their first loss last week. In this edition of Prove It, Alex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf discuss what that means going forward and which team is more likely to respond.
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National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert discusses which programs have the best chance of ending the Tide's three-year run atop the ESPN class rankings.

SEC playoff tracker: Oct. 8

October, 8, 2014
Oct 8
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We’re not even at the halfway point of the season, and there’s already been a major shakeup among the SEC playoff contenders. The state of Mississippi is on the rise with wins over Alabama and Texas A&M last Saturday while LSU has fallen off the list after another bad loss to Auburn. Here’s a look at where the remaining contenders stand heading into Week 7.

Auburn
Record: 5-0 (2-0)
AP rank: No. 2
Next big obstacle: Oct. 11 at Mississippi State

Reason for optimism: What’s not to like about Auburn’s win over LSU? Nick Marshall played his most complete game of the season; Sammie Coates looked like the deep threat we saw all of last year; and the defense continued to impress, holding LSU to 0 of 13 on third down. Through the first five games, the Tigers have only allowed 24 second-half points. This team seems to be playing its best football right now.

Cause for concern: Saturday’s matchup against Mississippi State won’t be easy. Dak Prescott is playing as well as anybody in the country right now, and the defense returns eight starters from a unit that held Auburn to a season-low 120 yards rushing last season. There’s also the fact that it’s on the road. Winning SEC West games on the road has proven mighty difficult.

Who they’ll be rooting for: Texas A&M over Ole Miss (If Auburn and Texas A&M both win Saturday, the Tigers will be the only undefeated team left in the SEC.) -- Greg Ostendorf

Mississippi State
Record: 5-0 (2-0)
AP rank: No. 3 (Tied)
Next big obstacle: Oct. 11 vs. Auburn

Reason for optimism: Did you see the Bulldogs destroy LSU and Texas A&M in their first two SEC games? There’s hardly a reason NOT to be optimistic right now if you’re a Mississippi State fan. Prescott and the offense are rolling and the defense largely dominated the previously unbeaten Aggies, who had been posting video-game stats, last Saturday. State is definitely on a roll right now.

Cause for concern: Auburn brings two of the SEC’s most talented receivers to Starkville on Saturday in Coates and D'haquille Williams, and the Tigers have proven they can make plays down the field in addition to their potent ground game. State just did a good job against A&M’s passing game, but the Aggies still gained 365 yards and could have had many more if not for a flurry of dropped passes.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Texas A&M over Ole Miss -- David Ching

Ole Miss
Record: 5-0 (2-0)
AP rank: No. 3 (Tied)
Next big obstacle: Oct. 11 at Texas A&M

Reason for optimism: The Rebels just beat then-No. 3 Alabama, a team Ole Miss hadn’t beaten since 2003. The defense ranks fifth national in total defense (277.6 yards per game) and has given up just four touchdowns. Also, quarterback Bo Wallace had a tremendous performance against the Crimson Tide, throwing for 251 yard with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Cause for concern: The West is still the toughest division in college football. Yes, Texas A&M was embarrassed at Mississippi State, but the Rebels get the Aggies at the worst possible time. I’m positive they’ll be jacked up to knock the Rebels down a peg. The running game has to get better. Ole Miss ranks 12th in the SEC in rushing (143 yards per game and just 3.7 yards per carry).

Who they’re rooting for this week: Auburn over Mississippi State – Edward Aschoff

Alabama
Record: 4-1 (1-1)
AP rank: No. 7
Next big obstacle: Oct. 18 vs. Texas A&M

Reason for optimism: Alabama lost on the road by less than a touchdown to a ranked team. As far as losses go, it could have been worse. Against a traditional offense like Arkansas', the Tide defense should do alright. A win over the Razorbacks and then the next week against Texas A&M would surely right the ship.

Cause for concern: Not a whole lot went right against Ole Miss. Blake Sims regressed, the O-line struggled, the defense gave up too many big plays late, and the special teams were abysmal. Throw in the fact that Kenyan Drake is out for the foreseeable future and Ryan Kelly and Denzel Devall are sidelined for at least the next few weeks, and you're looking at possibly one too many question marks in a loaded SEC West.

Who they’ll be rooting for: Mississippi State can do Alabama some favors, first by knocking off undefeated Auburn on Saturday and then beating in-state rival Ole Miss down the road. – Alex Scarborough

Georgia
Record: 4-1 (2-1)
AP rank: No. 13
Next big obstacle: Oct. 11 at Missouri

Reason for optimism: When you have Todd Gurley on your team, you can win any game you play because he’s the best player in the country. He leads the SEC with 773 rushing yards, 8.2 yards per carry and eight touchdowns. The East is still a mess, South Carolina now has three losses, Tennessee has two and Florida is an anomaly. Beat Mizzou, and the East could be Georgia’s.

Cause for concern: We still have to see if the Bulldogs will be able to throw the ball down field with some consistency. Malcolm Mitchell is back, which should help Hutson Mason, but we’ re still waiting to see if deep threat Justin Scott-Wesley will suit up. Gurley has Georgia’s longest pass -- 50 yards.

Who they’re rooting for this week: LSU over Florida -- Edward Aschoff

Texas A&M
Record: 5-1 (2-1)
AP rank: No. 14
Next big obstacle: Oct. 11 vs. Ole Miss

Reason for optimism: The Aggies get four of their last six games at home, including the showdown with Ole Miss as well as Missouri and LSU. They also have two off weeks before season's end. Texas A&M's loss to Mississippi State hurts, but at the pace the Bulldogs are going, that could prove to be a better loss than most others, comparatively speaking, when the Aggies' resume is compared to other one-loss teams (should Texas A&M win out from here).

Cause for concern: These next two weeks are rough. Ole Miss comes in red hot after toppling Alabama and the following week, the Aggies must go to Tuscaloosa. If they happen to pass those two tests, a battle with Auburn in Jordan-Hare awaits on Nov. 8. Also, in the last two weeks, the Aggies have really only played two or three good periods out of their last nine (including overtime vs. Arkansas). They must improve from their awful showing at Mississippi State.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Mississippi State over Auburn. The more one-loss teams, the better for A&M. -- Sam Khan Jr.

Help is on the way: SEC 

October, 8, 2014
Oct 8
10:00
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video
Almost midway through the season and teams such as Arkansas and Texas A&M have shown the obvious strengths of their teams with their running backs and wide receivers, respectively. But in most cases every team has an apparent weakness, too. Here’s a closer look at how each team in the SEC will address its needs through recruiting.


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SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 6

October, 8, 2014
Oct 8
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True freshmen made some huge plays in a crazy Saturday around the SEC, which continues a weekly trend around the conference.

Here are five who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from last Saturday:

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: The freshman formed a productive 1-2 punch with Heisman Trophy contender Todd Gurley, rushing for 78 yards and a touchdown on eight carries against Vanderbilt. He also caught a pair of passes for 11 yards.

What it means: Chubb won SEC Co-Freshman of the Week honors for his tough running, joining position mate Sony Michel among Georgia players to win the award this season. Chubb is Georgia’s second-leading rusher with 224 yards on 31 carries and figures to get plenty more work behind Gurley.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

What he did: His team’s loss to Mississippi State was far from a banner day for Texas A&M’s defense, but Garrett had another solid outing. He led the Aggies with 10 tackles and notched a sack for an 8-yard loss.

What it means: He’s only halfway through his first season, but Garrett already holds the Texas A&M record for sacks by a freshman with 6.5. He hasn’t single-handedly solved the Aggies’ problems on the defensive front, but they’re much better off because of Garrett’s presence.

QB Treon Harris, Florida

What he did: Harris replaced struggling starter Jeff Driskel on the final drive of the third quarter and led Florida from a 9-0 deficit to a 10-9 victory over Tennessee. Harris’ stats (2-for-4 for 17 yards, plus 24 rushing yards on four attempts) weren’t eye-popping, but he gave Florida’s offense a spark for the first time against the Volunteers.

What it means: Obviously Harris has greater concerns than playing time right now -- he was accused of sexual assault after the game and has since been suspended -- so it’s difficult to project anything related to football. Harris might have overtaken Driskel as Florida’s starter if not for his off-field issues.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

What he did: Noil made some absurd plays in the loss to Mississippi State and led the Aggies with 158 all-purpose yards. He caught three passes for 50 yards and two touchdowns, plus he returned a punt for 22 yards and five kickoffs for 86 yards.

What it means: Quarterback Kenny Hill spread around the completions against Mississippi State, but he and Noil hooked up for a couple of highlight-reel completions. It’s clear that the Aggies believe they have a star in Noil -- and they already do.

CB Jalen Tabor, Florida

What he did: Tabor also sparked the Gators’ comeback by sacking Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley, forcing a fumble and recovering it at the Vols’ 30-yard line. Florida converted that turnover into its only touchdown of the game. Tabor also notched five tackles in the win.

What it means: Tabor split the conference’s Freshman of the Week award with Chubb because of his solid play against the Vols. He started at cornerback opposite Vernon Hargreaves and did a solid job against a talented crew of UT receivers.

Other notables:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee: Recorded six tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack in a loss to Florida.

TE Jeb Blazevich, Georgia: Caught three passes for 86 yards against Vanderbilt, most notably a 50-yard completion on a direct-snap pass from running back Todd Gurley.

CB Tony Brown, Alabama: Made four tackles, broke up a pass and blocked a PAT in a loss to Ole Miss.

DB Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Intercepted a pass for the second straight game and made two tackles in a loss to Florida.

P JK Scott, Alabama: Punted six times and averaged 51.8 yards per punt (with a long of 64) and placed three inside the 20-yard line in a loss to Ole Miss.
Want to impress a star recruit? Make an entrance at his game like Kevin Sumlin does in the Swagcopter or James Franklin in The Flyin' Lion. Plus, this year’s Red River Rivalry has lost some of its luster with recruits.


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