SEC helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
Separation Saturday lived up to its billing in the SEC with a shocking upset followed by an overtime thriller. It also provided plenty of memorable individual performances across the conference. Here are five who we think are most deserving of a helmet sticker.

Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M: He might only look 16, but Allen played a heck of a game on the road at Auburn in his first ever SEC start. The true freshman went 19 of 29 for 277 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. He was the primary reason the Aggies jumped out to a 35-17 halftime lead as he threw four touchdowns to three different wide receivers in the first 30 minutes. The offense got more conservative in the second half, but he still showed poise down the stretch, protecting the football in a hostile environment and helping his team escape with a 41-38 upset victory.

Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn: The loss stings, but Artis-Payne had a game to remember. The senior, who had rushed for over 100 yards in six of Auburn’s first eight games, eclipsed the 200-yard mark Saturday against Texas A&M. He finished with 30 carries for a career-high 221 yards and two touchdowns. He now has 1,190 yards on the season, becoming the 18th different Auburn player to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. Had he gained one more yard late in the fourth quarter, the Tigers might have won.

Treon Harris, QB, Florida: Who says Florida can’t pass? A week after attempting six passes in the blowout win over Georgia, Harris went 13 of 21 for 215 yards on the road at Vanderbilt. The freshman quarterback also rushed for 49 yards and two touchdowns to help lead the Gators to a 34-10 win, their second win in as many weeks, but what stood out was Harris' accuracy. He showed he could make throws if called upon. It was easily the best performance of his young career at Florida, and maybe a sign of things to come for Gators fans.

Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Georgia: Take your pick from this game. Hutson Mason threw for 174 yards and four touchdowns. Nick Chubb rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown. But McKenzie was a human highlight reel in Georgia’s 63-31 win over Kentucky. The freshman wide receiver took the opening kickoff back 90 yards for a touchdown and later returned a punt 59 yards for his second score of the game. He is believed to be the first Bulldog in the modern era to do both in the same game. McKenzie finished with 187 all-purpose yards.

Blake Sims, QB, Alabama: It wasn’t pretty for three-and-a-half quarters, but when the game was on the line, Sims came through. The senior orchestrated a terrific drive in the final minute to set up a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, and his touchdown pass to DeAndrew White in the first overtime session proved to be the game-winner in Alabama’s 20-13 win over LSU on Saturday. Sims finished 20 of 45 for 209 yards and two touchdowns, but it was his late-game heroics that stood out in a classic defensive battle.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
Another eventful Saturday in the SEC. Here’s what we learned:

Bama is still alive but needs work: It wasn’t pretty, but Alabama’s playoff hopes are still intact after the Crimson Tide survived a thriller in Death Valley 20-13 in overtime. Despite a critical T.J. Yeldon fumble in the final minutes of regulation, the Tide were able to hold LSU to a field goal then benefited from a special-teams miscue as Trent Domingue booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. Blake Sims came up big by directing a game-tying drive then threw a picturesque pass to DeAndrew White for the game-winning touchdown in overtime. With No. 3 Auburn losing on Saturday, Alabama looks poised to move into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, and with No. 1 Mississippi State coming to town next week and the Iron Bowl in three weeks, the Crimson Tide control their own destiny. One thing is clear though: They can’t make the mistakes they did Saturday if they’re going to win out. Sims has to be better in the earlier portions of the game (he missed some open receivers), they can’t drop the football (Amari Cooper had one in crunch time) and surviving a late turnover like the one they had Saturday is hard to replicate against elite teams. They were fortunate to win Saturday; now they must turn the page and improve before the Bulldogs come to Tuscaloosa.

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTexas A&M's Kyle Allen helped diminish Auburn's playoff hopes with a four-touchdown effort.
Auburn’s playoff hopes are likely done: There are a lot of quality one-loss teams remaining in the field; a second loss is a killer for Auburn -- especially coming at home to an unranked team that hadn’t played well since September. For a little bit, it looked like the Tigers would pull off some of the late-game magic that has become a signature trait of theirs in the Gus Malzahn era, but two late fourth-quarter fumbles squashed their hopes and left them with a 41-38 loss. “It hurts,” Malzahn said. “It hurts our team. We have goals and dreams, and we did not get it done tonight.” The turnovers on offense late were one factor, but there were others: the first-half defense was poor and the secondary was torched in the first two quarters. On special teams, an Auburn field goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown to end the first half. The Tigers were sloppy quite a bit on Saturday and they paid for it in the end. Now the Tigers must turn around and head to Georgia next week and close out at Alabama in three weeks, so the road remains tough down the stretch.

No hangover for Georgia: If you thought the Bulldogs were going to let the upset loss to Florida affect them moving forward, think again. Mark Richt’s crew responded emphatically, jumping out to a quick three-touchdown lead in Lexington and rolling to a 63-31 win over Kentucky. Georgia had success in all three phases, rolling up 559 offensive yards, holding Kentucky to 139 passing yards on 16 of 31 attempts and scored two special-teams touchdowns -- a kickoff return (90 yards) and punt return (59 yards) for scores by Isaiah McKenzie. Nick Chubb had another great performance at running back (13 carries, 170 yards) and Hutson Mason threw for four scores. The Bulldogs still need help from Missouri in the form of a loss, but they’re still very much alive in the SEC East.

Treon Harris can throw it around: Last week, the Florida quarterback attempted only six passes versus Georgia but on Saturday, the Gators trusted their true freshman more and Harris delivered, completing 13 of 21 passes for 215 yards. There were no touchdown passes, but more importantly, no interceptions and Harris was accurate and showed off his deep ball with this 59-yard beauty to Quinton Dunbar. Harris did solid work on the ground, too, rushing for 49 yards and two touchdowns in Florida’s 34-10 win over Vanderbilt. The Gators need to continue to win and need help from others, but they still have a pulse in the SEC East race.

Kevin Sumlin can still pull a rabbit out of his visor: Texas A&M was a 23-point underdog going into Jordan-Hare Stadium, lost its past three SEC games, had a true freshman quarterback, a beat up offensive line and a defense with a lot of youngsters starting. All the Aggies did was jump out to a 35-17 halftime lead and hang on for dear life to upset the No. 3 team in the nation in its own house. Sumlin’s Aggies pulled off a similar stunt almost two years to the day when they went into Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and took down the No. 1 Crimson Tide 29-24 behind freshman quarterback and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Is Kyle Allen (four touchdown passes) the next star quarterback in Aggieland? It’s too early to say but he had a memorable performance on Saturday at Auburn and he gives the seemingly left-for-dead Aggies some reason for optimism in the final weeks of the regular season. Sure, Auburn made a lot of mistakes, but Texas A&M played better than it had in more than a month, showing flashes of the team that started 5-0 this season.

Saturday's top plays in the SEC

November, 9, 2014


Look back at an exciting week 11 in the Southeastern Conference.

AUBURN, Ala. -- It had the makings of another epic win for Auburn. The Tigers trailed by two touchdowns entering the fourth quarter. They cut it to three and had two chances to take the lead, but it wasn't meant to be. Not this time. Texas A&M recovered two fumbles late and hung on to upset No. 3 Auburn 41-38 on Saturday.

How the game was won: Texas A&M came out firing on all cylinders offensively, jumping out to a 35-17 lead. Miscommunication cost Auburn its chance to complete the comeback win, though. First, with the Tigers knocking on the door to score, quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne bobbled a handoff, and Marshall put it on the turf at the Texas A&M 2 with 2:37 remaining. On the next drive, Reese Dismukes snapped it to Marshall, who wasn't looking, and the Aggies recovered again with 54 seconds left to end Auburn's hopes.

Game ball goes to: The Texas A&M defense made two big stops late in the game, but freshman quarterback Kyle Allen was terrific in his first SEC start and second overall career start. He came out of the gate firing with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Malcome Kennedy on his third throw, and he finished 19-of-29 for 277 yards and four touchdowns. He showed serious moxie on the road.

What it means: This was Gus Malzahn's first loss at home since taking over at Auburn prior to last season, and his first loss as an FBS head coach in the month of November.

Playoff implication: If any two-loss team has a chance to get back in the playoff picture, it's Auburn, based solely on strength of schedule. The Tigers still have road games left at Georgia and Alabama that could boost their résumé. But Saturday's loss makes it mighty tough for Malzahn's bunch to return to the national championship game.

What's next: Auburn will see where it winds up in the latest playoff committee rankings on Tuesday and must regroup before heading to Athens for a battle with Georgia. Texas A&M returns home to host SEC East-leading Missouri.

AUBURN, Ala. -- Freshman Kyle Allen threw four touchdown passes in the first half and Texas A&M recovered two fumbles in the final minutes to cap a 41-38 upset of No. 3 Auburn, likely ending the Tigers' playoff hopes.

The Aggies (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference), who came in as 23-point underdogs, pulled off the kind of dramatic finish that had become an Auburn trademark.

The Tigers (7-2, 4-2, No. 3 CFP) twice appeared to be driving toward a go-ahead touchdown before coughing it up on plays that never really got going. First, Julien Obioha won a scramble for the ball after Nick Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne got tangled up in the backfield.

Then, the Tigers drove inside the Texas A&M 30 for one more shot. Marshall appeared to be still calling the play when center Reese Dismukes snapped it. Alonzo Williams recovered with 54 seconds left.

(Read full post)

WR Williams out with knee injury

November, 8, 2014

AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams injured his right knee early in the second quarter of Saturday's 41-38 loss to Texas A&M and was ruled out for the remainder of the game.

Williams tried to make a short catch when Aggies defensive back De'Vante Harris tackled him low, and his helmet made contact with Williams' knee. Williams walked off the field gingerly with help from Auburn trainers. At the time of the injury, Texas A&M had a 21-14 lead.

Williams, a junior college transfer, entered the game with team highs of 37 receptions for 598 yards and five touchdown catches.

(Read full post)

In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Jake Matthews, No. 90 in 2010 class

Some had Matthews pegged to head to USC coming out of Elkins High in Missouri City, Texas, because his father, Bruce Matthews, and uncle, Clay Matthews, both starred for the Trojans. Jake was always more partial to the schools closer to home, providing Texas A&M and Texas strong chances to secure his commitment. The Aggies ultimately won out due in large part to Bruce Matthews have a strong respect for then Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman as an offensive line developer that ran a pro-style offense. Matthews played center, guard and tackle during his high school career. He was a member of a Texas A&M 2010 class that included Luke Joeckel, Damontre Moore (3rd round NFL draft pick in 2013), Cedric Ogbuehi and Malcome Kennedy.

Matthews hit the field running as a freshman in College Station, appearing in 10 games in 2010 at right tackle. He started the last seven contests, earning honorable mention All-Big 12.

The second of three sons of Bruce Matthews to play for Texas A&M, Jake started every game his last three years, earning first team All-SEC honors following his junior season, which included protecting Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Matthews was selected in the first round (No. 6 overall) by the Atlanta Falcons in 2014, joining Joeckel (No. 2 in 2013) as back-to-back Top 10 offensive line draft selections for Texas A&M.

Honorable mention: Major Wright, No. 90 in 2007, and Stephon Tuitt, No. 90 in 2011. Wright was a third-round selection in the 2010 NFL draft out of Florida. He played at South Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas in high school and selected the Gators over Miami and others. Tuitt was a second-round selection (No. 46 overall) in the 2014 NFL draft. He selected Notre Dame over Georgia Tech.

Three keys: Auburn vs. Texas A&M

November, 7, 2014
Everybody keeps talking about Les Miles' 46-4 record at home in night games, but how about Gus Malzahn’s record at home? Auburn is a perfect 13-0 at Jordan-Hare Stadium since Malzahn took over prior to last season, winning by an average of average score of 41.5-19.0.

The second-year coach will put that streak to the test Saturday when the Tigers welcome Texas A&M to town in what will be the last SEC home game for Auburn’s seniors.

Key player: Right tackle Avery Young

Young began the season at guard but has since moved back to right tackle, and Saturday he’ll draw the assignment of trying to slow down Texas A&M’s star freshman Myles Garrett. That’s no easy task. Garrett has already set the freshman record for sacks (11), a mark previously held by Jadeveon Clowney, and he still has three games left to play. As a team, Auburn leads the SEC having only allowed six sacks on the season, but Young and the rest of this offensive line will have their hands full with the Aggies’ talented youngster.

Key question: How will Kyle Allen fare in his first SEC start?

It wasn’t that long ago when another true freshman quarterback was making his first SEC start at Auburn, and it didn’t go so well. LSU’s Brandon Harris went 3-of-14 for 58 yards before getting pulled in the third quarter. Allen is obviously hoping for a better performance Saturday, but he didn’t blow by anybody last week against UL-Monroe. The freshmen threw for 106 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The good news is that Auburn’s defense has struggled recently against the pass, but maybe this is what gets them back on track.

Key stat: Since Malzahn took over as head coach, Auburn is 16-0 when it runs for at least 240 yards and 3-3 when it does not per ESPN Stats & Info.

I’m not sure what’s crazier -- that Malzahn is perfect when his team rushes for more than 240 yards or that they’ve done it 16 times in 22 games. Either way, it shouldn’t be a hard number to reach on Saturday, not against a Texas A&M defense that is 12th in the SEC against the run and not when Auburn has Cameron Artis-Payne, the SEC’s leading rusher. Artis-Payne has gone more than 100 yards six times in eight games this season, and he’s liable to get closer to 200 against the Aggies. Maybe then he’ll start getting recognized outside the SEC.
On any given Saturday, you are bound to see a true freshman make a play. It is becoming the norm in college football, and the SEC is no different. LSU running back Leonard Fournette looks like he’s ready for the NFL right now and Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is as good a pass-rusher as we’ve seen at that age since a kid named Clowney.

But playing early in the SEC isn’t all about talent. It’s about what position you play, too. Some positions are easier to make a quick transition from high school to college while others take years to adjust.

Here’s a position-by-position look at how easy or difficult it is for a true freshman to play in college (10 being the hardest, 1 being the easiest).

Degree of difficulty: 10
Name the last true freshmen quarterback to have success in the SEC. Exactly. Jeremy Johnson was pretty good for Auburn last season, but that was against Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina. It’s more typical to see debuts similar to what LSU’s Brandon Harris or Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen had this season. Not only do you have to be able to make more accurate throws, but you have to grasp the offense and make quicker reads at the line of scrimmage.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLSU's Leonard Fournette, a true freshman, is making his presence felt in the SEC.
Running back
Degree of difficulty: 3
This number might be higher if not for all the freshman running backs in the SEC who are making it look easy this season. Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb are the two that stand out, but Jalen Hurd has had a solid freshman season at Tennessee and Roc Thomas is beginning to make a bigger impact at Auburn. As long as you are strong enough and fast enough, and you protect the football, you can play running back in the SEC.

Wide receiver
Degree of difficulty: 4
Similar to running back, talent alone can get you on the field early as a wide receiver. There weren’t many like Julio Jones and A.J. Green, but both former SEC stars took the league by storm as freshmen in 2008. Now you’re seeing players like Speedy Noil, Malachi Dupre and Josh Malone step in and make an impact from day one. They might not all be polished, but they can all make plays.

Offensive line
Degree of difficulty: 9
It’s almost impossible for an offensive lineman to play as a true freshman. The game is faster, and you are facing players twice as big and five times stronger than you did in high school. It’s what makes Cam Robinson's season at Alabama that much more impressive. Until a recent ankle injury, Robinson had started every game for the Tide at left tackle, arguably the most important position on the offensive line, and he hasn’t missed a beat.

Defensive line
Degree of difficulty: 7
Defensive tackle? You can almost forget about it. But more and more pass-rushers are coming into the league and playing as freshmen. If you can get to the quarterback, you can play. Garrett is currently second in the SEC with 11 sacks. Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett is second in the league with 14 tackles for loss. The hardest part for a defensive lineman is to maintain that production for a whole season.

Degree of difficulty: 6
Outside linebacker can be similar to defensive end. The coaches will throw you out there on athleticism alone and expect you to make plays. Middle linebacker is a different story. They are typically the quarterback of the defense. They make the calls, which means they need to know the defense inside and out. That can be a lot for a true freshman who has only been on campus for maybe a couple months.

Defensive back
Degree of difficulty: 8
The difference between wide receiver and cornerback is that if you screw up as a wide receiver, the result is likely an incomplete pass. If you screw up as a cornerback, it could wind up being a touchdown for the other team. Coaches rarely trust true freshmen to play in the secondary, especially at cornerback. Safety can be a little easier to pick up, but a missed assignment or busted coverage could still end very poorly.
Kevin Sumlin, Gus MalzahnGetty Images, AP PhotoKevin Sumlin, left, and Gus Malzahn have similar offenses, but use different sideline philosophies.

Before his team faced Auburn last month, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier spoke of the mutual respect he believes exists between head coaches who call plays on offense. Spurrier and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn are among those who wear both hats for their respective programs.

Later asked about those coaches that don’t call plays on either side of the ball for their teams, the always candid Spurrier jokingly speculated how those top men spend their time.

"I think they sit around and say 'What am I going to tell you guys [media] most of the time,'" Spurrier said with a laugh. “Most of them look in on all three phases of their team -- offense, defense, special teams. Some of them are more involved in one or the other -- special teams, defense or what have you. But you really need to ask them what they do all week. I’m not 100 percent sure what they are doing, exactly."

It’s an interesting discussion, and every head coach has his own philosophy. On Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, two offensive-minded head coaches who differ in that area will meet -- Malzahn and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.

Both have built their reputations on high-powered, up-tempo, no-huddle offenses. Malzahn serves as Auburn’s primary offensive play-caller, and Sumlin delegates the duty to his offensive coordinator, something he has done since the start of his head coaching career seven years ago at Houston.

Why do they believe in their respective methods? Malzahn said his passion and habit of calling plays dates to his time as a head coach in the high school ranks. His success juggling the tasks at that level led him to continue to do so when he became a college coach.

"I've always done it all my career," Malzahn said. "When I got into coaching college, I got some good advice: 'Hey, don't change anything that helped you get to where you're at. Do what you feel like your strength is,' and I feel very comfortable doing that."

It’s hard to argue with the results. Last season, Auburn was No. 1 in the nation in rushing yards per game (328.29), No. 8 in yards per play (6.92), 11th in yards per game (501.3) and 12th in scoring offense (39.5). This season the Tigers are eighth in rushing (276.88), fifth in yards per play (6.97), 16th in yards per game (497.5) and 13th in scoring (38.8).

Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have a strong rapport and ongoing discussion during games that yields the results.

"It’s just kind of constant back-and-forth dialogue from there," Lashlee said. "A lot of in-drive stuff for us is feel and based off things we’ve seen so far. If one of us feels really good about something, we say it and usually roll with it.

"Usually Coach [Malzahn] would get in a good rhythm, and I’m just trying to be that sounding board -- keep things on his mind or remind him certain things are there. Sometimes he’ll say 'What do you want?' It works good back-and-forth so far together."

Malzahn says Lashlee’s work during the week allows Malzahn to handle his head coaching duties and not solely focus on offensive game-planning.

"I'm very fortunate to have a guy like Rhett Lashlee who can do a lot of legwork during the week, preparation and everything that goes with that, and it allows me to be a head coach," Malzahn said. "But I do enjoy calling plays on Saturday."

Being a play-caller as a head coach was something Sumlin gave much thought to when he accepted his first head coaching job at Houston prior to the 2008 season. In the end, he felt assuming the duty might stretch him too thin when it came to being able to juggle that task and building the type of program he wanted.

He had success hiring coordinators. The first two he hired -- Dana Holgorsen and Kliff Kingsbury -- moved on to head coaching jobs after having success under Sumlin.

"I just thought there are so many things to do, so many things that go on that it was going to be very difficult for me to establish a program, get a program going at the level [I wanted] -- whether it was at Houston or here [at Texas A&M] -- to really do that during a game," Sumlin said. "When I was a coordinator I couldn't tell you what was going on [with] special teams or defensively, because we were always worried about what was happening [offensively]."

He also feels delegating that responsibility helped him be better in other areas.

"We played in a lot of really, really close games, and I think history will tell you that we've had a great track history in close games of clock management and what happens at the end of close games," Sumlin said. "I think that had a lot to do with me, along with the staff, being able to communicate and see the whole picture rather than being myopic on the situation."

Though the Aggies have struggled lately offensively, Sumlin’s head coaching career has been filled with significant offensive success, lending credibility to the approach. His current offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital, has the freedom to call the game as he sees fit, just like the others who preceded him in that position under Sumlin. Though the head coach does have his input, he saves it for breaks in the action.

"It's in-between drives that we discuss what we need to do, and a lot of it is personnel issues about what we're capable of doing from protection to running the ball, to how the quarterback is handling the situation right now and what's going to be easiest, and what's the situation on the clock," Spavial said. "Coach Sumlin is going to step in and voice his opinion if needed, but he really doesn't mess with me that often during the course of a drive."

SEC Week 11 predictions

November, 6, 2014
All eyes will be on Death Valley this week when Nick Saban takes Alabama into Baton Rouge to face a resurgent LSU squad. A win by the Tide keeps them on a playoff path. A victory by the Tigers and they can start dreaming of making a late run. Outside of that game, there's not much excitement in the league this week. Texas A&M's swoon has taken the juice out of its matchup with Auburn. Ole Miss and Mississippi State should feast on cupcakes, and it's hard to get excited about Georgia after its performance last week. So we'll go all-in on LSU-Alabama, the only game our writers disagreed on.

Edward Aschoff: So much is riding on this game. LSU can legitimately get back in the SEC hunt, while Alabama’s SEC and playoff hopes hinge on a win in Death Valley. Both teams are hitting their strides, but Alabama is a little banged up. Honestly, this is a coin flip. I think we're in for another defensive struggle, and while LSU’s defense hasn’t been as consistent as Alabama’s, I love the way it’s playing right now. The offense doesn’t have to be great -- and it won’t be -- but the defense is going to force mistakes and put that bullying run game in great position to make plays on the positive side of the field. Expect some beautiful Bayou brilliance from the Mad Hatter. LSU 17, Alabama 14

David Ching: A month ago, most LSU fans dreaded this game because the Tigers looked nothing like the hard-nosed Les Miles teams of old. They’ve gotten back to LSU’s trademark style -- leaning on power running and feisty defense -- during a three-game winning streak that has the Tigers back in the conversation for a playoff spot. However, beating Alabama requires proficiency at quarterback that the Tigers haven't displayed yet. Unless Anthony Jennings plays the best game of his career, Alabama escapes this slobberknocker with a narrow win. Alabama 24, LSU 23

Sam Khan Jr.: This game is usually a close, down-to-the-wire affair, and I expect nothing less Saturday night in Death Valley. The Crimson Tide have more to play for, with a top-four spot in the College Football Playoff there for the taking if they can take care of business down the stretch. The Tide have what it takes, ranking in the top 10 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the only team in the FBS with that distinction. And I have a hunch Blake Sims is going to come up big for them this week and make the needed plays to win in this tough road atmosphere. Alabama 24, LSU 17

Chris Low: LSU has done a terrific job of rallying from that crushing 41-7 loss to Auburn, and the Tigers are playing a lot of young players who are starting to come into their own. Tiger Stadium will be electric, no question, and Alabama has been a different team on the road this season. But the Crimson Tide have been more explosive offensively and have the playmakers, namely Amari Cooper, to attack LSU through the air. The Tigers' forte offensively is running the ball, but how many teams line up and mash the ball down the Tide's throats? It will be close. This game always is, but Alabama will force LSU to be one-dimensional and sneak out of the Bayou with a win. Alabama 24, LSU 20

Greg Ostendorf: Part of me doesn’t want to bet against Les Miles at home in a night game. He already burned me once when I made the mistake of picking Ole Miss over LSU. But if anybody is going to go in there and get a win, it’s Nick Saban. I expect a classic knockdown, drag-out fight between the Tide and the Tigers on Saturday. Maybe not quite like the 2011 game in Tuscaloosa, but close. The difference will be Amari Cooper. He’s the best player on the field. Alabama 24, LSU 20

Alex Scarborough: There are two rules for facing the LSU Tigers: get them late in the year and get them at your place. Unfortunately for Alabama, it goes to Death Valley in November. The Tigers' confidence has risen considerably in the past month, their running game is on a roll and the defense has improved. That's not to say the Tide aren't playing well. But Alabama has been different on the road. Inside a raucous Tiger Stadium, communication could be an issue for the offensive line and QB Blake Sims. Penalties and turnovers will be the difference. LSU 20, Alabama 17

Unanimous picks
Georgia over Kentucky: It will be interesting to see how Georgia bounces back from its implosion against Florida -- and the Bulldogs typically struggle when in Lexington -- but expect Mark Richt’s club to get back on track. Georgia 35, Kentucky 17

Ole Miss over Presbyterian: What a perfect spot on the schedule for this game. Following two emotional losses, the Rebels have a chance to sort out their offense without injured receiver Laquon Treadwell against an FCS opponent. Ole Miss 34, Presbyterian 7

Auburn over Texas A&M: At one point we pictured this as a shootout, much like when the Tigers and Aggies met last season. But A&M has been slumping lately and Kyle Allen didn’t provide much reason for optimism in last Saturday's narrow win over Louisiana-Monroe. Auburn 45, Texas A&M 24

Florida over Vanderbilt: Was it temporary Jacksonville magic or did Florida’s offense find something last week by bludgeoning Georgia with the run? Maybe a bit of both. Either way, the Gators leave Nashville with a win. Florida 28, Vanderbilt 14

Mississippi State over UT-Martin: Take control and get the starters out early, Bulldogs. With a closing stretch of Bama-Vandy-Ole Miss still to go, you’ll need Dak Prescott, Josh Robinson & Co. to be as healthy as possible in order to remain undefeated. Mississippi State 38, UT-Martin 3

Greg Ostendorf 68-14
Edward Aschoff 67-15
David Ching 66-16
Chris Low 66-16
Alex Scarborough 65-17
Sam Khan Jr. 61-21

Kyle Allen's opportunity arrives

November, 5, 2014
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Within hours of the announcement that Texas A&M would opt for sophomore Kenny Hill as its starting quarterback for the team's season opener against South Carolina, true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen did what many kids do these days: take to social media.

Allen opened his Twitter account and fired off a five-word tweet, a note to the world that he was down, but not out.

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsTrue freshman QB Kyle Allen will guide Texas A&M on Saturday as the Aggies take on No. 3 Auburn.
"Don't count me out yet," the post read on Allen's Twitter account the night of Aug. 16.

The message was clear: Allen would keep fighting, competing for a chance to start even as the backup. Though it seemed unlikely after Hill's record-setting debut on Aug. 28 that Allen would see the field this season for anything other than marginal playing time, the youngster's time has come.

After making his starting debut Saturday vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Allen will make his second consecutive start this weekend when the Aggies travel to Auburn. Allen will trade the friendly confines of Kyle Field and a Sun Belt Conference opponent for the hostile atmosphere of Jordan-Hare Stadium and the No. 3 team in the nation.

"That's a lot of pressure for an 18-year-old kid to get thrown into," Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said.

That's an understatement.

The Aggies hope Allen can handle it, because there are precious few alternatives. Hill will be serving the second of a two-game suspension and won't make the trip. The only other quarterback on the two-deep depth chart is Conner McQueen, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship fewer than three months ago.

Texas A&M can only work with what it has, which is Allen, an ESPN 300 recruit and the No. 1-rated pocket passer in the 2014 class.

"I think he can handle it and it's up to us to get him calmed down," Spavital said. "He's going to have nerves, it's going to be a hostile environment, there's going to be a lot of things happening in between plays and he's just got to calm down, relax, communicate it clearly and just go out there and compete and do what he's always done.

"I always tell him 'Cut it loose. Who cares what happens? Go out there, have fun and play to the best of your ability.'"

When Allen enrolled at Texas A&M in January, there were many outside the program that assumed the Scottsdale, Arizona, product could be starting from Day 1, given his lofty status as a recruit. Johnny Manziel's shoes were left to fill and only unproven quarterbacks resided on the Aggies' roster to fill them.

With a season of experience and a knowledge of the Aggies' style of offense that dated back to his high school days on his side, Hill won the job during an offseason and training camp competition. Upon breaking Manziel's single-game passing yardage record in his starting debut vs. South Carolina, virtually no one questioned coach Kevin Sumlin and Spavital's decision to start the sophomore.

After a 5-0 start, Hill faltered as did the Aggies' offense in a three-game losing streak. During an off week that followed that stretch, Spavital said Allen beat out Hill during practice for the right to start against Louisiana-Monroe. Before kickoff, the team announced Hill would be suspended for the following two games for a violation of team rules and athletic department policies.

Allen led the Aggies to a touchdown drive to start the game and a 21-10 halftime lead Saturday but had his fair share of struggles, too, finishing 13-of-28 passing for 106 yards with a touchdown, an interception and taking three sacks with a scaled-down playbook to ease him into his first start.

"We had a lot of thoughts of max protecting him, keeping it down and keeping the game plan simple, not making him think as much," Spavital said. "There's a lot of nerves that every kid goes through in his first start. I thought he handled it pretty well."

How the 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback has handled himself since arriving in Aggieland is one of the strengths in his short career. During training camp, McQueen mentioned how impressed he was with the youngster's maturity.

"He came in here at 17 years old, can't even buy a lottery ticket yet and he's more professional about the quarterback position than anybody I've ever met in my entire life," McQueen said in August. "He came here with a goal and he's trying to attain it right now."

Physically, Allen is gifted. His arm talent, stature, intelligence and confidence were among the things that attracted Spavital -- and dozens of other colleges -- to Allen during the recruiting process. After his first start, teammates lauded him, even though the offensive production left much to be desired.

"Kyle is young but he controls that huddle," offensive lineman Ben Compton said. "He knows that he is the guy and he worked all week and whenever his name was called he was ready."

Spavital praised Allen's approach, which he said hasn't changed from the moment he arrived. The Aggies are hopeful he can make significant improvement in a short amount of time as they hit the road as heavy underdogs. The job is his to take, Spavital said, so Saturday becomes a golden opportunity for the golden-armed Allen.

"A lot of times, when you announce that starter at the beginning of the year, they'll be set back from that," Spavital said. "Kyle wasn't that way. He came in and kept working and I think he worked even harder. That's just the ambition that he has to get the starting job.

"He's getting better each week. He's probably his hardest critic, and it's good to see him coming in here and take the effort to keep getting better."

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 10

November, 5, 2014
True freshmen from around the SEC were relatively quiet two Saturdays ago, but they were back in full force over the weekend, with players on both offense and defense making big impacts.

Here is a recap of what the top five true freshmen accomplished, plus five more notables:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
What he did:
The defenses didn’t exactly dominate the South Carolina-Tennessee game, but Barnett made some huge plays in the Volunteers’ comeback win, including a sack of South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson in overtime. Barnett finished with five tackles, three sacks and two quarterback hurries.

What it means: Barnett is already one of the SEC’s top pass-rushers. He is second in the league with 14 tackles for loss and is tied for fifth with six sacks. That’s impressive production for any player, but it’s incredible for a true freshman.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
What he did:
Chubb got off to a hot start against Florida with 100 rushing yards -- and a beautiful touchdown run -- in the first quarter. He and the Bulldogs bogged down on offense a bit afterward, with Florida running away with an upset win. Chubb still finished with impressive totals, however: 21 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown, plus five catches for 59 yards and another score.

What it means: Chubb also lost his first fumble of the season at the end of a 35-yard run in the third quarter, ending a drive when the Bulldogs were trying to scratch their way back into the game. Nonetheless, nobody will pin this loss -- their first since Todd Gurley was suspended -- on Chubb. The freshman has one more game until Gurley returns to the lineup, and Chubb has been outstanding thus far.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
What he did:
Sure it was against Louisiana-Monroe, but Garrett still was a force as the Aggies snapped a three-game losing streak. He finished with six tackles, 3.5 sacks and one hurry in the 21-16 win against the Warhawks.

What it means: As with Barnett, Garrett already ranks among the top players at his position. He now has 11 sacks, which is a record for an SEC freshman, and sits just behind Barnett in TFLs with 12.5. What’s scary is he’s only going to keep getting better.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
What he did:
Hurd had his best game as a Vol against South Carolina, rushing 21 times for 125 yards and catching seven passes for 58 yards and a score. His biggest play of the game came midway through the fourth quarter, when he caught a fourth-down pass from Josh Dobbs and not only spun past the first-down marker, but bolted 21 yards for a touchdown to keep the Vols’ comeback bid alive.

What it means: Hurd has made this list before and he will almost certainly make it again. He’s that good. The touchdown catch might have been his biggest play of the season, as it trimmed South Carolina’s lead to 35-28 with 6:34 to play. If he gets stopped short of the marker for a turnover on downs, it’s difficult to imagine that Tennessee completes its comeback.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M
What he did:
Noil’s numbers from the Louisiana-Monroe game -- five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown, plus 51 yards on four punt returns -- are nice, but what we’ll remember is his spectacular 39-yard touchdown catch after it was deflected by a defender.

What it means: It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time since Noil’s second-quarter catch gave the Aggies a 21-7 lead against an underwhelming opponent, but it wound up making a big difference. Texas A&M’s offense bogged down in the second half and the Aggies barely held on for a 21-16 win. If they don’t get six points from the freshman’s acrobatic catch, who knows what might have happened.

video Other notables:

QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: Endured a rocky starting debut against ULM, hitting 13 of 28 passes for 106 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

K Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Missed his first two field goals (from 43 and 45 yards), but hit the game-winning kick from 32 yards in overtime against South Carolina. Medley also went 6-for-6 on PATs.

RB Dallas Rivers, Vanderbilt: Ran 17 times for 73 yards and returned three kickoffs for 44 yards in a win against Old Dominion.

S Armani Watts, Texas A&M: Registered five tackles against ULM and also intercepted one pass and broke up another.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky: Ran 12 times for 39 yards against Missouri and caught five passes for 58 yards.

SEC morning links

November, 5, 2014
1. The new College Football Playoff rankings are out. Ole Miss dropped down to No. 11 after its loss to Auburn, but the SEC West still has three teams in the top 5. No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 3 Auburn stayed in place, but Alabama moved up a spot to No. 5. Too high? Some might argue that TCU belongs ahead of the Tide, but as Brad Edwards explains, the committee used the eye test (In) when choosing between the two teams. Don’t worry. There’s still plenty of football left to be played. In fact, here’s a look at the top 10 remaining games that will have the most impact on the playoff. Not surprisingly, five of the 10 come from the SEC including Saturday’s tilt in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, between Alabama and LSU.

2. After Saturday’s loss to Florida, Georgia dropped to No. 20 in the latest playoff rankings. The good news, though, is that star running back Todd Gurley will be reinstated next weekend when the Bulldogs host Auburn. On Tuesday, UGA athletic director Greg McGarity made his first public comments since Gurley’s suspension and provided a detailed look into how the university handled the case. McGarity also said that Gurley never considered quitting the team to focus on his pro prospects. The All-SEC back will miss Saturday's game at Kentucky which means a heavy dose of freshman Nick Chubb. However, Mark Richt indicated that fellow freshman Sony Michel might be ready to return to the backfield against the Wildcats.

3. Tennessee might have found its quarterback of the future (I’ll get to that), but senior Justin Worley has played his final game as a Volunteer. The Week 1 starter got hurt a couple weeks ago at Ole Miss, and head coach Butch Jones announced Tuesday that Worley will miss the rest of the season with a torn labrum. He remained upbeat despite the news, tweeting his gratitude to the fans. A thumb injury cost Worley the last four games of last year, too. Now to the future and Joshua Dobbs. The sophomore lit up South Carolina this past Saturday, and some are already tabbing him as an emerging superstar in college football. That might be jumping the gun, but UT fans should certainly be excited about the kid.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day



Ranking the new SEC defensive coordinators
Greg McElroy ranks the best new defensive coordinator hires in the SEC.