Texas A&M Aggies: Derek Dooley

Final 2012 SEC power rankings

January, 8, 2013
1/08/13
9:00
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We've reached the end to another college football season, and yet again Alabama is on top. Nick Saban is the king of college football, and his Crimson Tide are looking down at the rest of the sport.

So how does the rest of the SEC stack up? Well, we have our final power rankings of the year right here:

1. Alabama (13-1, 7-1 SEC): Total domination in the championship game and three titles in four years? A load of NFL talent on both sides of the ball? Alabama had it all (again), and even with a team that didn't exactly have the same sort of defensive talent as it did a year ago, the Crimson Tide still made it to the BCS title game and came away with a commanding 42-14 victory over Notre Dame in a game that was over when the Tide arrived on South Beach. With the talent Alabama has coming back, the Tide could once again be in the national championship picture.

2. Texas A&M (11-2, 6-2 SEC): Thanks to Johnny Football, the Aggies ended the season as one of the nation's hottest teams. There are some out there who think A&M might be the best team in the country, despite its two losses. Johnny Manziel was the nation's best player and even without Kliff Kingsbury helping him on the sideline against Oklahoma, he ran all over the Sooners for a bowl-record 516 total yards in a total rout. Imagine if both of those Aggies tackles return in 2013.

3. Georgia (12-2, 7-1 SEC): The Bulldogs capped off the 2012 season with a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. It wasn't exactly the bowl the Bulldogs wanted to be in, after coming up just yards short of making it to the BCS title game in Alabama's place, but you have to admire how this team came out and won like it did. Back-to-back SEC title game appearances is nothing for this team to be ashamed of.

4. South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC): The Gamecocks had a legitimate shot at our No. 3 spot, but at the end of the day, Georgia's appearance in Atlanta, coupled with its 14-point bowl win, kept South Carolina behind the Bulldogs. Still, what a year for the Gamecocks. Behind the coaching of Steve Spurrier, South Carolina won 11 games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. The Gamecocks also beat back-to-back ranked opponents to close out the season.

5. Florida (11-2, 7-1 SEC): After entering the postseason with arguably the country's best résumé, the Gators fell flat on their faces against Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Their 10-point loss didn't show just how bad the game was for Florida. The Gators might not have wanted to be there and Florida clearly didn't show up for its first BCS bowl since 2009. But you can't discount what Florida did during the regular season. It didn't have a pretty offense, but it defeated four top-10 teams, including ACC champ Florida State in Tallahassee in a year in which the Gators weren't expected to win nine games.

6. LSU (10-3, 6-2 SEC): The Tigers had a very up-and-down year, and it ended on a very down note with that last-second loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU was totally off its offensive game in the second half, turning to the pass more than the run. With that offense struggling in the fourth quarter, LSU's defense was left huffing and puffing as Tajh Boyd & Co. gutted it for three straight scoring drives. But LSU did win double-digit games for the third straight year, and it took Alabama down to the wire and beat Johnny Football.

7. Vanderbilt (9-4, 5-3 SEC): The Commodores ended the season in historic fashion, with a seven-game winning streak (the longest since 1948), and won five conference games for the first time since 1935 and nine total games for the first time since 1915. That ninth win came in dominating fashion with a 38-24 win over NC State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. The Commodores turned into the team that no one wanted to play at the end of the season, and they carry a ton of momentum into 2013.

8. Ole Miss (7-6, 3-5 SEC): The Rebels had quite the first year under new coach Hugh Freeze. For a program that won just six games in the two previous seasons, Ole Miss grabbed seven, including its first bowl win since 2009, this year. The depth was lacking all year, but the heart wasn't, as the Rebels were much more competitive and won three SEC games after entering the season on a 14-game conference losing streak. Freeze did a tremendous job of changing the culture in Oxford, but the players did a great job of responding to adversity all season.

9. Mississippi State (8-5, 4-4 SEC): A year that started with such promise after a 7-0 start imploded and led to a lot of criticism about the talent on both sides of the ball. The second half of the season proved the first seven games were a farce. A lot of the defensive deficiencies were masked until the month of November, as the Bulldogs went 1-5 to end the year, including a blowout loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and a 34-20 loss to Northwestern in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

10. Missouri (5-7, 2-6 SEC): The Tigers would love to forget their first season in the SEC. This was supposed to be the Big 12 team that succeeded in its first year out of its comfort zone. This team returned too much not to win a few games in the SEC East. But injuries, most notably to quarterback James Franklin and that offensive line, and an offense that was constantly going in reverse made for a rough start in Missouri's new home. Offensive coordinator David Yost resigned at the end of the year, and this team has to find some sort of rhythm/chemistry on offense in 2013.

11. Tennessee (5-7, 1-7 SEC): The Derek Dooley era ended with quite a whimper. For the second straight season, Tennessee missed out on the postseason because of a loss to one of its rivals. Last year, Kentucky ended the Vols' bowl hopes. This time around, Vandy's blowout win on Nov. 17 bounced Tennessee from a postseason appearance. For as much fun as the offense was to watch, the defense was awful for the majority of the season, finishing dead last in the SEC in total defense. New coach Butch Jones has some solid talent to work with, but a ton of questions surround this program.

12. Arkansas (4-8, 2-6 SEC): Many thought the Razorbacks' dreams of a championship season probably ended when Bobby Petrino took that infamous motorcycle ride in April. Boy, were they right. John L. Smith tried to bring some energy to the program, but he and his players fell flat in a 4-8 season that saw the Hogs give up 30 or more points in seven games. The offense lacked its usual explosion and the Hogs began the year 1-4, with a shocking loss to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock, Ark.

13. Auburn (3-9, 0-8 SEC): On paper, the Tigers had a host of young talent, but on the field, they were outmanned just about every single weekend. Auburn roamed around the bottom of most offensive and defensive categories in the SEC all season long. Coach Gene Chizik was fired only two years removed from winning a national title after going winless in conference play and being outscored 129-21 in his final three SEC games, including a 38-0 loss to Georgia and a 49-0 loss to Alabama in the season finale.

14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC): Outside of blowing out a Kent State team that was a win away from making a BCS bowl, nothing went right for the Wildcats this year. Injuries ravaged this team, as it had to turn to two true freshman quarterbacks and never found a consistent playmaker to help out on offense. The offense hovered around the bottom of the SEC all year and the defense surrendered 31 points per game, and coach Joker Phillips was fired before the season even ended.

The SEC's toughest three-game stretches

August, 14, 2012
8/14/12
11:51
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The grind of the SEC is one of the things that separates it from other conferences.

One grueling three-game stretch can easily turn a once promising season into a forgettable one.

With that in mind, we’ll take a look at the toughest, three continuous game stretches in the SEC in 2012. There can’t be a bye week mixed in between games. Here are the top five.

1. Mississippi State -- Oct. 27: Alabama on the road. Nov. 3: Texas A&M at home. Nov 10: LSU on the road.
  • Mississippi State’s first seven games look inviting enough that some in Starkville are wondering if it’s realistic for the Bulldogs to be 6-1 or even 7-0 coming out of that stretch. Either way, they’re going to have their hands full heading into the final portion of the schedule. Any time you have to go on the road to face Alabama and LSU in a span of three weeks, it qualifies as a brutal stretch.

2. Arkansas -- Nov. 10: South Carolina on the road. Nov. 17: Mississippi State on the road. Nov. 23: LSU at home.
  • There were a handful of three-game stretches that warranted consideration for the No. 2 spot on this list. The Hogs won out based on the short week heading into the LSU game. That game will be played on a Friday in Fayetteville after back-to-back road trips to South Carolina and Mississippi State.

3. South Carolina -- Oct. 6: Georgia at home. Oct. 13: LSU on the road. Oct. 20: Florida on the road.
  • The month of October will either make or break South Carolina’s season. The Gamecocks kick off their pivotal stretch with a home game against Georgia, and then comes road trips to LSU and Florida the next two weeks. That’s three games in three weeks against teams that will open the season ranked nationally in the coaches poll.

4. Texas A&M -- Oct. 27: Auburn on the road. Nov. 3: Mississippi State on the road. Nov. 10: Alabama on the road.
  • Texas A&M is the only school in the SEC this season that has to play three straight SEC road games in successive weeks. Playing away from home two weeks in a row in the SEC is daunting enough, but playing in an opposing SEC stadium for three straight weeks is downright brutal.

5. Tennessee -- Oct. 13: Mississippi State on the road. Oct. 20: Alabama at home. Oct. 27: South Carolina on the road.
  • The month of October hasn’t been kind to Derek Dooley and the Vols. In fact, they’re 0-8 against SEC foes in October since Dooley’s arrival. This season, that October stretch starts with a trip to Mississippi State. Then it’s back home to take on Alabama followed by another road trip to South Carolina. The Vols are determined to end their 0-for-October drought, but it won’t be easy.

Looking ahead to Week 1 in the SEC

August, 1, 2012
8/01/12
9:01
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We're inside a month now until the first game of the 2012 season involving an SEC team.

Here's a quick glance at Week 1:

THURSDAY, AUG. 30

South Carolina at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • The Gamecocks lost the last time they played on a Thursday night in Nashville. Vanderbilt won 24-17 in Week 2 of the 2008 season.
Texas A&M vs. Louisiana Tech, in Shreveport, La., 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
  • The Kevin Sumlin era at Texas A&M kicks off with one of those games the Aggies won't get much credit for winning, but will get slammed if they lose.
FRIDAY, AUG. 31

Tennessee vs. NC State, Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
  • As openers go, this is about as critical as it gets for Tennessee's Derek Dooley, whose Vols are coming off back-to-back losing seasons.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 1

Buffalo at Georgia, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network
  • After opening against Boise State last season, the Bulldogs get a tune-up to open the 2012 season before traveling to Missouri in Week 2.
Bowling Green at Florida, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • Who will be the Gators' starter at quarterback? Is it Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel? The reality is that they'll both probably end up playing.
Clemson vs. Auburn, Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • This is the rubber game. Auburn rallied to win in overtime in 2010, while Clemson rolled up more than 600 yards of total offense to win easily last season.
North Texas at LSU, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
  • Former Florida assistant Dan McCarney has upgraded North Texas' program significantly, but the Mean Green won't be much of a test for the Tigers.
Jacksonville State at Arkansas, 7 p.m. ET, Pay-per-view
  • As Ole Miss learned the hard way two years ago, the Gamecocks are not one of those teams you want to take lightly.
Central Arkansas at Ole Miss, 7 p.m. ET, Pay-per-view
  • The Rebels, with first-year coach Hugh Freeze at the helm, will be looking to break a seven-game losing streak.
Jackson State at Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net
  • It sounds like the Bulldogs want to throw it more this season with Tyler Russell. The opener should give us an idea of how much more.
Southeastern Louisiana at Missouri, 7 p.m. ET, Pay-per-view
  • All eyes will be on Missouri quarterback James Franklin and his surgically repaired right throwing shoulder.
Michigan vs. Alabama, in Arlington, Texas, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
  • It's easily the most attractive opener of the 2012 season involving an SEC team. Alabama takes its first step toward defending its 2011 national title.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 2

Kentucky at Louisville, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • The Wildcats had won four in a row over their archrivals until the Cardinals prevailed 24-17 in Lexington last season. This is a big one for Joker Phillips & Co.

It's almost time for hundreds of media folk to pile into a swanky ballroom and kick off another year of SEC media days.

The festivities begin Tuesday at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., and last until Thursday afternoon. The event serves as the unofficial kickoff to SEC football season.

So what should we be on the lookout for this year?

Well, the biggest news is all the star power that won't be making the trip. Two of the league's top rushers -- Marcus Lattimore and Christine Michael -- won't be in town. Yes, they are both coming off season-ending injuries, but so is Arkansas' Knile Davis, and he'll be in attendance.

One of the league's best, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray won't be in Hoover, either. Nor will Bulldogs wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell.

Some other big names not on the list include Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Missouri quarterback James Franklin.

There are a lot of interesting storylines revolving around all those players, who serve as faces for their respective programs, and it's disappointing that they won't be around this week.

However, some quality names are on this year's roster, including Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray and South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw.

I'm sure they'll all have plenty to say and should keep us all entertained.

Here are some other things to keep an eye on this week:
  • If you're coming into town, make sure you bring your protective gear for Thursday. That's when Alabama's up, and you'd better believe the lobby will be jam-packed with Tide fans. They come out in full force and expect things to be even tighter this year after that championship.
  • Arkansas players will have to answer a lot of questions surrounding their former coach, Bobby Petrino. How much of a distraction will his exit be this fall?
  • Also, what will new Arkansas coach John L. Smith say? He sure knows how to make a news conference exciting, so don't expect anything to be different in front of all those SEC scribes.
  • One coach not afraid to put on a show while at the podium is South Carolina's Steve Spurrier. The Head Ball Coach has been chirping this year, and he probably won't stop in Hoover.
  • Last year, there were a lot of questions about the quarterback talent in this league. This year, that isn't the case, as the league is as plentiful at the position as it has been in years.
  • Although only Davis will be in town, expect a lot of talk about three of the league's best running backs all coming off major, season-ending injuries.
  • Georgia has had an eventful offseason away from the field, and it's time to see how players and coach Mark Richt are feeling about all of the silly distractions. Also, what's in store for the Bulldogs' running game now that Isaiah Crowell is gone?
  • I wonder how many times Nick Saban and his players will be asked questions about comparisons to the 2010 team. You know how much Saban loves comparison talk. ...
  • Tennessee coach Derek Dooley should field a lot of questions about his job security this week. Regardless of how you feel about the time he's had and all the issues he's had to deal with, his seat is hotter than ever.
  • Texas A&M and Missouri are now officially members of the SEC. How will their players and coaches react to being surrounded by all those SEC writers? And how many more questions will they get about adjusting to their new conference?
  • LSU was on top of the college football world until last year's national championship. The Tigers bring back a boatload of talent, but can they finish things this year?
  • The good news for Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee is their coaches won't have to deal with NCAA questions, unlike last year.

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