Texas A&M Aggies: Hutson Mason

It's May, so we might as well look to the future while we take one last look at the past in order to figure out the present.

Illustrious colleague Mark Schlabach already helped us out with the future portion by posting his Post-Spring Way-Too-Early Top 25. In it, he has seven SEC teams ranked:

2. Alabama

4. Auburn

8. Georgia

10. South Carolina

13. LSU

14. Texas A&M

19. Florida

It's interesting to see Florida ranked inside the top 20, especially after last year's 4-8 season, but there's no way the offense will be that bad again or the injury bug will strike so hard again, right?

With Schlabach having fun with another set of rankings, we thought we'd have a little fun of our own and put together some post-spring SEC Power Rankings! Nothing like starting a little debate right after spring practice.

Let's see how perfect these are:

1. Auburn: Quarterback Nick Marshall is throwing the ball better, meaning the offense could be even more potent in 2014. The defense was much better this spring, with players reacting more than learning. You have to beat the best before you can pass them in the rankings.

2. Alabama: This team is motivated by last season's disappointing final two games. The defense lost valuable leadership and talent, but a hungry bunch lurks on that side. Alabama could be waiting on its starting quarterback -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker -- and if the spring game was any indication, the Crimson Tide certainly need him. The good news is that a wealth of offensive talent returns.

3. South Carolina: It was a quiet spring for the Gamecocks, who should yet again own an exciting offense, headed by Dylan Thompson, Mike Davis and a deep offensive line. There are questions on defense, but the Gamecocks could have budding stars in defensive tackle J.T. Surratt and linebacker Skai Moore. There could be more stars lurking, too.

4. Missouri: The loss of receiver Dorial Green-Beckham hurts an inexperienced receiving corps, but there is some young talent there and no questions at quarterback or running back. The defense should be solid up front, but the secondary has plenty of questions.

5. Georgia: The defense as a whole has a lot to work on, but the offense shouldn't miss a beat. Aaron Murray might be gone, but Hutson Mason looked comfortable this spring and has a ton to work with, starting with Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley at running back and good depth at receiver.

6. Ole Miss: Coach Hugh Freeze didn't even think he'd be talking about bowl games until his third year. Well, he's entering his third year and has a team that could seriously contend for the SEC West title. Bo Wallace's shoulder is finally healthy and the defense has a lot of potential, especially along the line.

7. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return 18 starters from last year's team and could be dangerous this fall. If quarterback Dak Prescott can be a more complete quarterback, this offense could explode. Mississippi State owns possibly the SEC's most underrated defense.

8. LSU: We really don't know what we'll get out of this group. There's plenty of athleticism to go around, but once again the Tigers lost a lot of talent to the NFL. There's excitement about the secondary, and freshman Brandon Harris could be a special player at quarterback.

9. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans are all gone. The offense has a bit of rebuilding to do, but there are young stars in the making on that side of the ball. The defense didn't take many hits from graduation, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done there.

10. Florida: The Gators were healthier this spring, and the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper brought excitement and consistency to the offense. Will any of that translate to the season? Not sure at this point. The good news is that the defense shouldn't drop off too much after losing some valuable pieces to the NFL.

11. Tennessee: The excitement level has certainly increased in Knoxville, and it looks like Butch Jones is building a strong foundation. The defense still has a lot of unknowns, and while it appears the offensive talent has increased, play at quarterback is key and that position is still a little unstable.

12. Vanderbilt: After three great years under James Franklin, Derek Mason is now responsible for continuing the momentum in Nashville. Like Franklin, Mason arrived with no head-coaching experience, but he has a great base to work with. It could take a while for the offense to get going, but there's promise in the defensive front seven.

13. Arkansas: Slowly, Bret Bielema is getting guys to adapt more to his system. Brandon Allen separated himself at quarterback but will have to groom someone into being his go-to receiving target. There is still a lot that has to improve on a team that had one of the SEC's worst offensive and defensive combinations last season.

14. Kentucky: Coach Mark Stoops is certainly more excited about Year 2 in Lexington with some players emerging on the offensive side of the ball. The Wildcats still have to find more consistency in the playmaker department, and they have a quarterback battle on their hands. The secondary is a total unknown at this point, and leaders have to emerge at linebacker and defensive tackle.
AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.
The Madness is all around us, and while basketball is having all the fun, we thought we’d give football a go at the craziness that this month embodies.

While we’ll have to wait a few months until a playoff takes over college football, we thought we’d have a little fun with our own SEC tournament now that the first weekend of games have concluded in this year’s NCAA tournament.

As a tribute to the Big Dance, Chris Low and I have seeded all 14 SEC teams in a tournament of our own to crown our rightful spring SEC champion(s). We’ll spice things up by having different seedings for all 14 teams in our individual tournaments. We have different sites, the top two seeds will receive an opening-round bye and we’ll have an upset or two.

Our first round will feature the No. 3 seed facing the No. 14 seed and the No. 4 seed playing the No. 13 seed, etc.

I’ll debut my bracket first, while Chris will have his prepared later Monday.

After countless hours of deliberation with the selection committee, namely my cat Meeko, here’s what my seedings look like:
1. Auburn
2. Alabama
3. Georgia
4. Ole Miss
5. Missouri
6. South Carolina
7. Mississippi State
8. Texas A&M
9. LSU
10. Florida
11. Tennessee
12. Vanderbilt
13. Arkansas
14. Kentucky
FIRST ROUND

In Nashville, Tenn.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 14 Kentucky: The Bulldogs might be without Aaron Murray for the first time in a long time, but Hutson Mason has plenty of offensive options to pick from. Not having Todd Gurley as an option hurts, but Georgia has enough to get past the Cats in Nashville. Winner: Georgia

No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 11 Tennessee: You'd better believe the Gamecocks are still fuming after that loss to the Vols that eventually cost them a chance to go to Atlanta for the SEC title game last fall. A lot is different for the Gamecocks, but Dylan Thompson works some magic late to avoid the first upset of the tournament. Winner: South Carolina

In Kansas City, Mo.

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 13 Arkansas: The Rebels could be a dark horse to win the SEC this fall, and with so much talent coming back on both sides, Ole Miss could make a nice run in this tournament. Arkansas just has way too many questions on both sides to pull the shocker. Winner: Ole Miss

No. 5 Missouri vs. No. 12 Vanderbilt: Ah, the classic 12-5 upset. There's always one. But the Tigers still have a lot of firepower returning on offense, a stout defensive line and are playing in front of what should be a home crowd. Also, James Franklin and Jordan Matthews are both gone. Winner: Missouri

In Tampa, Fla.

No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 Florida: The Bulldogs are a team on the rise after winning their last three to close the 2013 season. They return a lot from their two-deep and could have a special player in quarterback Dak Prescott. The Gators suffered a rash of injuries, but have quarterback Jeff Driskel back with an offense that fits his skills more. Playing close to home will give the Gators an advantage and the defense will make a stop late to pull our first upset. Winner: Florida

No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 LSU: Both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks and playmakers at receiver. LSU's defense is getting revamped again, but there's still a lot of athleticism across the board. This one is coming down to the wire, but LSU's young, yet stealthy corners will be the difference in another upset. Winner: LSU

SECOND ROUND

In Orlando, Fla.

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 9 LSU: Last fall, this was the game the served as the emotional turning point for Auburn, even though it was a loss. Auburn has a lot to work with once again on the Plains, and while the defense still has its questions, these Tigers will get revenge in a fun one in the Sunshine State. Winner: Auburn

In New Orleans

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 10 Florida: The Gators will be more consistent on offense in this one. Alabama is still looking to find its defensive playmakers, but will have the advantage in the running game. This one is coming down to the fourth quarter, where corner Vernon Hargreaves III seals it for the Gators with a pick in the end zone on a Cooper Bateman pass intended for Amari Cooper. Winner: Florida

In Houston

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Missouri: Two fast offenses take the field, and the Rebels would love to get back at the Tigers after last season's loss. Maty Mauk has what it takes to direct this Missouri team to a deep run, but Ole Miss' defense is the difference in this one. Keep an eye on that defensive line, which gets a major upgrade in the return of end C.J. Johnson. Winner: Ole Miss

In Charlotte, N.C.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 6 South Carolina: The hope in Athens is that the defense will be improved with Jeremy Pruitt running the show, but watch out for Mike Davis. South Carolina's pounding running back gets the edge in this one with Gurley on the mend. Expect a lot of points in this one, but Davis grinds this one out for the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter. Winner: South Carolina

FINAL FOUR

In Miami

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 4 Ole Miss: You want fast, fast, fast? How about these two teams playing? I mean, Ole Miss got to see tons of speed against Mizzou, and now has to take on Auburn? Expect marathon of scoring, but Bo Wallace is the hero in the end. A gritty fourth-quarter performance puts the Rebels in the title game. Winner: Ole Miss

In Arlington, Texas

No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 10 Florida: It's been a fun run for this spring's Cinderella. Florida's offense is catching up to its defense, but the Gamecocks will find holes in the Gators defense. Thompson hits a few big plays to receiver Shaq Roland and defensive end Gerald Dixon forces a late fumble on a sack of Driskel to run out the clock. Winner: South Carolina

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP

In Atlanta

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 South Carolina: Steve Spurrier is back in Atlanta with a gritty team hungry for a title. The Rebels have the advantage with that high-flying offense and will get some huge catches out of Laquon Treadwell against the inexperienced secondary. Thompson and Davis will keep the Gamecocks in this one for most of the game, but true freshman safety C.J. Hampton seals it for the Rebels with a game-ending interception at midfield. Winner: Ole Miss

SEC's lunchtime links

March, 7, 2014
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Here we are at the end of another week, but thankfully a small taste of football is temporarily returning.

Let's take a look around the SEC as some schools have already opened spring practice and some are preparing for their first workout.
Over the span of their careers they threw for 48,824 passing yards. There were a total 403 touchdown passes among them, and they won 184 games in which they appeared, including 11 bowls and two national championships. They were, arguably, the most talented and productive class of quarterbacks ever to play in the SEC at one time. And now they’re all gone.

[+] EnlargeDylan Thompson
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson saw a lot of playing time last season when Connor Shaw went out.
The SEC had to say goodbye to James Franklin, Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw in January. The void they leave behind is enormous, and while some programs already have an idea of who will take their place next season, not all are so lucky.

We’re counting down the five most pressing questions facing the SEC this spring, in no particular order of importance. First, how do you replace all the veteran quarterbacks the league enjoyed in 2013?

When spring camps open over the next few weeks -- the first being Texas A&M on Friday -- that question will begin to be answered. With each snap and each team meeting, leaders will emerge. Some staffs will look for a winner heading into the summer so they can avoid a quarterback controversy come fall, while others will have to sweat it out through the offseason.

Texas A&M: Surprises will undoubtedly occur, as we saw only a few years ago when a scrappy freshman from Kerrville, Texas, beat out the presumptive favorite to land the starting job at Texas A&M. The Aggies stumbled upon Manziel, and Jameill Showers was quickly forgotten. Kenny Hill and Matt Joeckel are this year’s frontrunners, but they’ll have competition in another freshman nipping at their heels in Kyle Allen. The Arizona native is more of a pure passer than a running quarterback, but he has the tools to sling the ball around in Kevin Sumlin’s offense.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier didn’t mince words when he saidDylan Thompson is “without question going to be our quarterback.” He even asked, “Why open it up when he’s the only one who’s played?” Thompson, a rising senior, doesn’t have the athleticism to break containment quite like Shaw, but Thompson can still move the chains with his feet when necessary. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound South Carolina native doesn’t lack for arm strength and might even have more pure throwing ability than Shaw. But where Thompson must match Shaw is intangibles. There wasn’t a more dynamic leader in the SEC than Shaw last year, and the Gamecocks will miss that kind of will power under center in 2014. While the starting job is Thompson’s to lose, don’t sleep on redshirt freshman Connor Mitch. The former four-star recruit could push Thompson this spring.

Missouri: The race to replace Franklin comes down to one quarterback and one quarterback alone: Maty Mauk. The rising redshirt sophomore showed last season that he can control the offense, starting four games in which he averaged 227.5 yards, 2.5 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions per game. More importantly, he won three of the four games with the only loss coming in double overtime against South Carolina. He’ll learn from that experience and take over a team that will be moving on from the loss of big-time playmakers Henry Josey, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas. Having the ultra-talented Dorial Green-Beckham back will help, but an arrest on drug charges in January has clouded his future.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cornwell
Courtesy of Cornwell familyEarly enrollee and former four-star recruit David Cornwell will get his shot at Alabama's starting QB job this spring.
LSU: The Tigers faithful got a sneak peek at their next quarterback, Anthony Jennings, after Mettenberger tore his ACL and was forced to miss LSU’s bowl game. The rising sophomore didn’t drop anyone’s jaw against Iowa, but he did just enough, throwing for 82 yards on 7 of 19 passing, while letting his supporting cast do the heavy lifting. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, Jennings has the look of a starting quarterback in the SEC. The former four-star recruit played sparingly in 2013, though, attempting just 10 passes prior to the Outback Bowl. He’ll have to contend with Brandon Harris, ESPN’s No. 37 overall prospect and No. 2 dual-threat passer in the 2014 class, along with rising senior Rob Bolden and rising sophomore Hayden Rettig.

Georgia: Despite what wasn’t a great performance to end last season -- 21-of-39 for 320 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Nebraska -- Hutson Mason is still the overwhelming favorite to replace Murray. Why? Because Mark Richt and the coaching staff have essentially been grooming Mason to take over for years now, redshirting him in 2012 so he would have a year left to play in 2014. Mason was once a three-star quarterback who put up huge numbers running the spread at Lassiter High School in nearby Marietta, and with Todd Gurley behind him, he won’t be asked to do too much his first year starting. While he might be a year away, don’t write off Faton Bauta just yet. The 6-3, 216-pound redshirt sophomore has impressed the staff with his work ethic and could find his way into some playing time.

Alabama: Oddly enough, the quarterback many presume will take over for McCarron won’t actually arrive until the summer. Jacob Coker, the heralded transfer from Florida State, will be a little late finishing his degree in Tallahassee, which leaves a big opportunity for the rest of Alabama’s quarterbacks to make a first impression. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will instead have his focus on Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman this spring. Sims, who best fits the mold of a run-first quarterback, has a lot of work ahead of him to prove he can play from the pocket. Morris, meanwhile, didn’t get much time as a redshirt freshman last season and needs to improve his decision-making from the last time we saw him at A-Day. Bateman and McLeod are relative unknowns after redshirting last season, but Bateman, a four-star recruit, does come with a lofty pedigree. The wild card is David Cornwell, the four-star recruit who enrolled in January and will benefit from the fresh start all of the quarterbacks will get under Kiffin.

SEC shoes to fill in 2014

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
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Earlier, we took a look at some of the underclassmen leaving the SEC and who could replace them at their respective schools. Now it's time to look at 14 pairs of the biggest shoes to fill in the SEC in 2014.

These are either graduates or guys who decided to take their talents to the NFL early. It's never easy to replace top players, but the SEC has a tendency to just reload. Let's see if SEC teams can replace these 14 studs:

ALABAMA

AJ McCarron, QB: He won two national championships and went 36-4 as a starter for Alabama. He was also the first Crimson Tide quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and was an excellent leader. Alabama must now turn to junior Blake Sims and a host of youngsters to fill his spot as Alabama's starter.

ARKANSAS

Zach Hocker, K: A kicker? You bet. Hocker finished his career as the SEC's active career leader in extra points made, extra points attempted, field goals made, field goals attempted points. Hocker ranked in the top-five nationally among active players in field goals made, points, extra points made, extra points attempted and field goals attempted. He was also excellent on kickoffs and has no true heir in 2014.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI Tre Mason's productivity won't be easy to replace for Auburn.
AUBURN

Tre Mason, RB: Replacing the guy who set the single-season school record for rushing yards (1,816) and total offense (2,374) won't be easy at all. Mason carried Auburn's offense for most of the season and led the SEC in rushing and rushing touchdowns (23). The Tigers now turn to Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, who both rushed for more than 600 yards and six touchdowns last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Racean Thomas.

FLORIDA

Dominique Easley, DT: Though his season was cut short by an ACL injury, Easley was so dominant when he was on the field. He was the type of player who didn't have flashy stats but created so many plays for other people. Losing someone as disruptive as Easley really showed as the season continued, as the Gators failed to get consistent pressure on opposing backfields. Leon Orr and Darious Cummings get first crack at trying to replace Easley.

GEORGIA

Aaron Murray, QB: He won a handful of games, went to two SEC championship games and broke a ton of SEC records. Now, Murray is gone, and Hutson Mason has been given the duty of replacing one of the most decorated quarterbacks to ever play in the SEC. Mason got his feet wet early when Murray went down late with an ACL injury, but now this is his team and it's his turn to be a leader.

KENTUCKY

Avery Williamson, LB: In his last two seasons in Lexington, Williamson totaled 237 tackles, including 116 solo stops. A leader of the defense, Williamson was all over the field, and it might take a committee to fill his shoes both in games and in the locker room. Kentucky was able to do more when Williamson was on the field, and now the Wildcats will need to find a new spark at linebacker.

LSU

Zach Mettenberger, QB: We got to really see what Mettenberger was capable of once he got comfortable running Cam Cameron's offense. He was third in the SEC with 3,082 passing yards and threw 22 touchdowns. His big-league arm and awareness will truly be missed, as the Tigers turn to a band of inexperienced quarterbacks, starting with Anthony Jennings.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Gabe Jackson, OG: Quietly, he was one of the country's best guards in 2013. He was the anchor of the Bulldogs' line and was arguably the team's best overall player in 2013. Mississippi State has Justin Malone returning from a season-ending foot injury, while former walk-on Ben Beckwith, who replaced Malone, and Jamaal Clayborn should compete for one of the guard spots.

MISSOURI

E.J. Gaines, CB: If not for Gaines' play, Missouri's secondary would have been in a lot of trouble last season. That means the loss of arguably the SEC's best cover corner will hurt that much more in 2014. What will make things even tougher for the Tigers is that two other seniors from the secondary will also be gone, but replacing Gaines is easily the toughest job of all.

OLE MISS

Donte Moncrief, WR: He might not have had the same sort of season as he did in 2012, but Moncrief was yet again Ole Miss' top offensive weapon in 2013. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's such a tough player to cover with his size and strength. He could hit the big play deep or make the tough catches in traffic. The loss of Moncrief now puts the pressure on sophomore-to-be Laquon Treadwell, who led the Rebels in receptions.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson will get the first crack at replacing Connor Shaw as South Carolina's QB.
SOUTH CAROLINA

Connor Shaw, QB: With all due respect to future top-five pick Jadeveon Clowney, Shaw's play, toughness and leadership will be tougher to replace in Columbia. He was the heart of this team and played through all sorts of pain to help lead the Gamecocks to their third straight 11-win season. Dylan Thompson backed him up for the past two seasons and now has to job of following Shaw's impressive career.

TENNESSEE

Antonio Richardson, OT: One of the best offensive linemen in the league, Richardson will be very tough for the Vols to replace in 2014, especially with young quarterbacks littering the backfield. Making matters worse is that the rest of the entire starting offensive line will be gone too. But not having that anchor at left tackle hurts the most.

TEXAS A&M

Johnny Manziel, QB: Yeah, like replacing all the on-field theatrics from someone who won the Heisman Trophy and produced 9,989 career yards of offense and 93 touchdowns will be easy. Manziel could hurt a defense with his arm and legs and was only contained a few times during his two seasons as the Aggies' starter. No one will be able to produce the entertainment Manziel provided.

VANDERBILT

Jordan Matthews, WR: One of the SEC's best all-time receivers is leaving the league. More importantly, he's leaving a Vanderbilt team that now has to find a consistent go-to receiver for its new quarterback. Sophomore-to-be Jordan Cunningham could be the next in line.
Earlier this month, ESPN colleague Adam Rittenberg took a look at some of the stars around the country who you can't forget about in 2014. Georgia running back Todd Gurley and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III made the cut as the 10 stars to watch out for.

As far as sleepers, Alabama running back Derrick Henry, who had a coming out party in the Crimson Tide's Allstate Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, and Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche made the cut.

You can't argue with any of those guys. Nkemdiche can play any position on the defensive line and might make his hay inside in 2014. Hargreaves has shown signs of having true elite corner status -- and he'll be a true sophomore. And we all know that Gurley is capable of being the nation's best back when he's healthy.

So who are some other guys to keep an eye on in the SEC in 2014? Here are 15 other SEC players to keep an eye on next season (in alphabetical order):

Note: These aren't obvious big-name guys, like South Carolina running back Mike Davis, Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham or Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.

    • Caleb Azubike, DE, Vanderbilt: The junior defensive end quietly had four sacks and led the Commodores with 10 tackles for loss. He has all the athletic ability to be a star in this league. If he plays with the motor he's capable of, he could wreak havoc in 2014.
    • Darian Claiborne, LB, Texas A&M: As a freshman, Claiborne was a pleasant surprise on a bad Texas A&M defense. He finished the year with 69 tackles, hitting the double-digit mark in games five times. With Steven Jenkins gone, Claiborne could be relied up even more at linebacker, as he turns more into the quarterback of the defense.
    • [+] EnlargeAlex Collins
      Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsArkansas RB Alex Collins rushed for 1,026 yards and four TDs in his freshman season.
      Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas: He finished his freshman year with 1,026 rushing yards and four touchdowns. After rushing for 100-plus yards in four of his first five games, Collins failed to reach the century mark again. He's the pounder Bret Bielema wants, but he can also make moves and be a home run threat.
    • Landon Collins, S, Alabama: The junior-to-be had a solid 2013 season. He filled in at both free and strong safety because of injuries and will see even more time on the field with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri leaving early for the NFL draft. He was second on the team with 70 tackles, defended eight passes and had two interceptions.
    • Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia: The 2013 season was supposed to be about Jordan Jenkins taking over for Jarvis Jones on the outside. But it was Floyd, a freshman, who stole the show at times at linebacker, leading the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks and was second with 10 tackles for loss.
    • O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: While he only caught 14 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns in his first season, Howard could have a bright future ahead. He's too big for defensive backs and too fast for linebackers. Getting him on the field more this fall will go a long for Alabama's new quarterback.
    • Chris Jones, DE, Mississippi State: He lived up to his billing as a top high school defensive end in Year 1. He finished the year with three sacks and seven tackles for loss, but was also credited with 10 quarterback hurries. He has all the qualities of an elite pass-rusher and could be even more of a problem for offenses in 2014.
    • Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn: Another freshman standout in 2013, Lawson finished the year with 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He only had 20 tackles on the year, but with Dee Ford leaving, Lawson has a chance to see the field even more in 2014, but needs to get in the weight room and needs to be more consistent.
    • Hutson Mason, QB, Georgia: He has had to sit and bide his time for a few years, but this is his team in 2014. He filled in for Aaron Murray (ACL) during the last two games of the season, passing for 619 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions as the starter. He'll have plenty of offensive weapons to use next fall as well.
    • Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri: He filled in while starter James Franklin dealt with a shoulder injury, passing for 910 yards and 10 touchdowns as a starter. Mauk also went 3-1 during that span and helped the Tigers win the SEC East in their second season in the league. Now, he's the full-time starter in Columbia.
    • [+] EnlargeMarquez North
      Charles Mitchell/Icon SMIWR Marquez North showed all the skills to be a big-time playmaker for the Vols.
      Marquez North, WR, Tennessee: North made some noise as a freshman, leading the Vols with 496 yards on 38 catches. He only caught one touchdown, but showed flashes of being a consistent go-to threat for the Vols moving forward, and he certainly showed off his athleticism with this sweet catch against South Carolina. Getting more comfortable with the offense this spring will pay dividends.
    • Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: He spent most of the year switching in and out with Tyler Russell, but now takes over the offensive reins. After throwing for 283 yards with three touchdowns and rushing for another 78 yards and two more scores in the Bulldogs' bowl win over Rice, Prescott made a lot of heads turn. He's perfect for Dan Mullen's offense and should be even better with his top five receiving targets returning.
    • Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU: Yet again, another freshman corner stepped up nicely for the Tigers. Robinson only started two games during the season, including the Outback Bowl, but displayed a lot of upside when he saw the field. He's fast, athletic and rangy, and could be even more of a nuisance for quarterbacks in 2014.
    • Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida: Taylor saw his carries increase during the second half of the season. The son of former Florida great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor rushed for 525 yards and four touchdowns. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's shifty and can grind out extra yards.
    • Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: With Donte Moncrief gone, Treadwell becomes the guy at receiver for the Rebels. He led Ole Miss with 72 catches and should improve on his 608 yards. The thing about Treadwell is he's so gifted athletically. He's the kind of person who can step on any field or court, or put a tennis racket in his hand, and he'll make something special happen.

SEC bowl picks

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
11:20
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Ready or not, the bowl season is upon us, and the first of 10 games involving SEC teams kicks off later Monday when Mississippi State takes on Rice in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

As my esteemed colleague, Edward Aschoff, has reminded you at every turn over the last few weeks, he takes a three-game lead into the bowl games. It’s reminiscent of a year ago when I dug myself a hole and couldn’t climb out of it.

We’ll see if I have better luck this time.

The only game we’re not picking at this point is the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. We’ll wait until we’re a little closer to the Jan. 6 matchup between Auburn and Florida State to unveil our picks for that contest.

Edward is 97-17 (.851) for the season after correctly picking Auburn to beat Missouri in the SEC championship game. I’m 94-20 (.825) after picking the wrong set of Tigers in that game.

But we’re all about the future on the SEC blog, and let’s hope my vision into the future is at least three games better than the ATL Kid’s.

Here’s a look at our picks:

FRANKLIN AMERICAN MORTGAGE MUSIC CITY BOWL

Edward Aschoff: The Rebels didn't end the season on a very high note, as losses to Missouri and Mississippi State put a bit of a damper on an otherwise impressive season. But this team is highly motivated for this game and should have the advantage in the playmaker department. … Ole Miss 24, Georgia Tech 21

Chris Low: Ole Miss’ offense went missing the last two regular-season games. The Rebels managed just one offensive touchdown in losses to Missouri and Mississippi State. It’s never much fun going up against a triple-option offense, either, but Ole Miss and Bo Wallace will gain a little redemption heading into the offseason. … Ole Miss 31, Georgia Tech 21

AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL

Aschoff: The Bulldogs pulled out back-to-back overtime wins to get into this game. It wasn't a pretty season, but Dan Mullen has now guided his team to a fourth straight bowl game for the first time in school history. While the Bulldogs are riding high, Rice has won nine out of 10 and has the running game to frustrate Mississippi State's defense. … Rice 24, Mississippi State 21

Low: Having a healthy Dak Prescott will be huge for Mississippi State, which also happens to be playing its best defense of the season. The Bulldogs won’t completely shut down Rice’s running game, but will slow it down enough to get the Owls out of their comfort zone. There will be a ton of maroon in the stands at the Liberty Bowl, and their short trip back home will be a happy one. … Mississippi State 28, Rice 24

CHICK-FIL-A BOWL

Aschoff: Johnny Manziel is no stranger to the ATL, but he finally gets a shot at getting a victory inside the Georgia Dome. The Aggies ended the season on a bit of a skid, but the layoff should give them a chance to get both healthy and focused. Duke has been a great story this year, but the Blue Devils just don't have the athletes to slow down A&M. … Texas A&M 41, Duke 27

Low: It’s Manziel’s last stand in a Texas A&M uniform, and he’s hoping to go out a lot better than he finished the regular season. The Aggies had better not sleep on a Duke team that hasn’t won a bowl game in more than 50 years. The Blue Devils are a capable and confident bunch, but a rested, healthier Manziel will be too much for the Duke defense. … Texas A&M 45, Duke 28

TAXSLAYER.COM GATOR BOWL

Aschoff: The Hutson Mason era takes yet another big step forward. If only we hadn't seen this game a year ago. Still, the Bulldogs should be motivated to get some momentum going into the offseason. This one should feature a lot of scoring and some big plays from Todd Gurley, which will prove to be the difference. … Georgia 38, Nebraska 31

Low: Even without record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, Georgia is a heavy favorite. Nebraska didn’t play particularly well during the second half of the season and enters the game having lost two of its last three. Bowl rematches aren’t ideal, but the Dawgs will get a glimpse of the future with QB Mason leading them to their ninth win of the season. … Georgia 35, Nebraska 24

BBVA COMPASS BOWL

Aschoff: After another successful season under James Franklin, the Commodores are headed to a school-record third straight bowl game. Two fun offenses take the field in Birmingham, but Vandy will be without its starting quarterback. This is a big stage for Patton Robinette, but having Jordan Matthews next to him to make plays should take the pressure off him. … Vanderbilt 23, Houston 21

Low: Think of the money you could have won in Vegas had you predicted Vanderbilt to win nine games in back-to-back seasons. The Commodores can do just that if they can take care of Houston in Birmingham. The Cougars hit the skids down the stretch and lost three of their last four games. They were held to 17 points or fewer in all three losses. The Commodores' secondary, one of the better ones in the SEC, will be the difference in this game. ... Vanderbilt 28, Houston 23

OUTBACK BOWL

Aschoff: The Tigers showed some real heart and guts after losing to Alabama in early November. But with Zach Mettenberger out with a knee injury, the Tigers turn to freshman Anthony Jennings. Iowa doesn't light the scoreboard up, but it grinds games out and isn't afraid to get really physical. There's something about the Hawkeyes and the SEC, and it doesn't bode well for the Tigers, who know all too well how dangerous Iowa is. … Iowa 24, LSU 20

Low: Like Georgia and Vanderbilt, LSU will be playing without its starting quarterback in the bowl game. Mettenberger injured his knee in the regular-season finale. Jennings will have his hands full, but he has enough offensive firepower around him in the form of Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. that the Tigers will snap their two-game bowl losing streak. … LSU 27, Iowa 23

CAPITAL ONE BOWL

Aschoff: The Badgers own one of the nation's best rushing attacks, while the Gamecocks have one of the country's best defensive lines. We've found out lately just how fast Jadeveon Clowney can be, and he'll have his hands full with Wisconsin's offensive line and running back duo of Melvin Gordon and James White. Something tells me this Gamecocks' line is excited about the challenge. … South Carolina 27, Wisconsin 20

Low: The Head Ball Coach and the Gamecocks are shooting for their third consecutive 11-win season but will have to go through a tough Wisconsin team to do it. This has all the makings of being one of the best games of the bowl season. Mike Davis will upstage Wisconsin’s two-pronged running attack to give South Carolina its third straight bowl victory. … South Carolina 30, Wisconsin 27

AT&T COTTON BOWL

Aschoff: It's like we'll be watching an old Big 12 game inside Jerry's World! And with the way both of these offenses played during the regular season, the scoreboard will look like it, too. Both of these teams are hungry to prove themselves after losing out on BCS bowl games the last time they went out. Mizzou's defense was run over by Auburn and now has to face a very good passing offense. The good news is that the Tigers can air it out and grind it out themselves. … Missouri 34, Oklahoma State 31

Low: It has been a terrific bounce-back season for Missouri in its second year in the SEC. Getting to the SEC championship game and winning 11 games, especially with starting quarterback James Franklin missing a key stretch of the season, speaks for itself. The Tigers, though, run into an Oklahoma State team in the bowl game that can also score points and is much improved on defense. … Oklahoma State 38, Missouri 34

ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL

Aschoff: Alabama's dream of a BCS title three-peat ended on a miracle play on the Plains, so now the Crimson Tide have to figure out a way to be motivated on Bourbon Street. Oklahoma has a ton of momentum after its upset win over Oklahoma State to get into this game. Bama wanted more, but players sound motivated and they'll carry the responsibility of representing the "SEC propaganda" OU coach Bob Stoops is tired of. … Alabama 31, Oklahoma 14

Low: If not for one of the most improbable plays we’ve seen in college football, maybe ever, Alabama easily could be playing for its third straight national championship. Instead, the Crimson Tide will have to settle for a Sugar Bowl matchup with Oklahoma and are itching to take out a little frustration on the Sooners. That’s no propaganda, either. … Alabama 38, Oklahoma 17

Who has most to prove in SEC bowls?

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
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In a week, the bowl season for the SEC will kick off when Ole Miss takes on Georgia Tech in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tenn.

It's the first of 10 postseason games involving SEC teams, culminating with Auburn facing Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

Who in the SEC has the most to prove this season in the bowl games? We’re talking head coaches, assistant coaches, players, teams and particular units on teams.

Here's a look:

Alabama: It's been a while since Alabama has played in a BCS bowl game when there wasn't a national championship at stake. Not that Alabama fans need to be reminded, but it was the 2009 Allstate Sugar Bowl following a tough loss to Florida in the SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide looked uninspired from the start and were throttled 31-17 by Utah. This year, Oklahoma awaits in the Sugar Bowl, and that bitter loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl won't seem quite so bitter if the Crimson Tide can take care of business in the Big Easy.

Ole Miss' offense: The Rebels managed just one offensive touchdown in their last two games -- both losses -- after putting up big numbers all season long. They were in the red zone three times against Missouri and came away with a grand total of three points, and twice they were at the goal line. They get a chance against Georgia Tech to show what they genuinely are offensively, and you know quarterback Bo Wallace can't wait to get back onto the field after losing that fumble in overtime against Mississippi State.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel will likely end his college career against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Auburn's secondary: Talk about a tall order. The Tigers ranked last in the SEC in pass defense this season, allowing an average of 260.2 yards per game. Now, they have to go up against Jameis Winston, Kelvin Benjamin and a Florida State attack that has generated 40 touchdown passes.

Johnny Manziel: Johnny Football's last collegiate stand will come in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke. He gets a chance to go out with a flourish after a pair of un-Johnny Football-like performances in his last two regular-season games.

Mike Davis: South Carolina's sophomore running back was one of the SEC's breakout stars with 1,134 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. But he was slowed by bruised ribs during the final few weeks of the season. He missed the Coastal Carolina game and was held to 76 rushing yards in the two games against Florida and Clemson. Davis should be back to full strength against Wisconsin and will be looking to upstage the Badgers' one-two rushing punch of Melvin Gordon and James White.

Les Miles: The Mad Hatter has had a lot of success at LSU, but the Tigers' last two postseason experiences haven't been particularly memorable. They collapsed against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season and were shut out against Alabama in the BCS National Championship two years ago. Nobody on the Bayou wants to see that bowl drought extend to three consecutive years.

Vanderbilt's fans: James Franklin has brought unprecedented success to Vanderbilt's program in the last two years, but the Commodores haven't necessarily been a commodity in the eyes of the bowls. The only way that's going to change is for the Commodores to keep winning and for their fans to turn out in force in Birmingham, Ala.

Missouri's defense: When last seen, Missouri was being shredded by Auburn to the tune of 545 rushing yards in a 59-42 SEC championship game loss. The hard part for the Tigers was that they had been stout defensively all season and went into that game allowing just 119 rushing yards per game. They get a chance for redemption in the AT&T Cotton Bowl against an Oklahoma State team that scored 38 or more points in five of its last six games.

Anthony Jennings and Hutson Mason: Fans are always wanting to know what the future looks like. Because of injuries to Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray, we'll get to see the future at quarterback at both LSU and Georgia in their respective bowl games. LSU's Jennings and Georgia's Mason have already shown that they have plenty of game, but the lights will be a little brighter in the postseason.

SEC Week 14 primer

November, 30, 2013
11/30/13
7:00
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Finally, a full slate of SEC games after a couple of weeks of scattered byes and FCS opponents. And what a slate it is.

Seven games remain after Thursday's Egg Bowl and Friday's Arkansas-LSU game, none bigger than No. 1 Alabama at No. 4 Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl. One of the best rivalries in college football has a lot more juice this year, as it's only the second time Alabama and Auburn will play when both are ranked in the top 5 of the AP Poll.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall, Gus Malzahn
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesCan Gus Malzahn and Nick Marshall lead Auburn past No. 1 Alabama?
Hundreds of RVs started arriving on the Plains last week in anticipation of today's battle for SEC West supremacy and the right to represent the division in Atlanta for the SEC championship game next week. Coming off a bye week, the Tigers have a chance to cap their remarkable turnaround season with an upset many thought improbable before the season began.

And while it might be a victory for AU to simply be in a game of this magnitude after going Oh-for-the-SEC last season, try telling Gus Malzahn or QB Nick Marshall to settle for a consolation prize. Alabama's Nick Saban and QB AJ McCarron, on the other hand, look to extend their already loaded legacies with another shot at postseason glory.

The next biggest game on today's slate will decide who represents the SEC East in Atlanta, as Missouri plays host to Texas A&M. These Tigers have a turnaround season of their own brewing, having gone 5-7 with a 2-6 conference record in their first shot at the SEC last year. What better way to complete the 180 and win a division crown than to face the team they came into the SEC with last season?

When the two met for the first time as SEC foes last year in College Station, Texas, Johnny Manziel was 32-of-44 passing for 372 yards and three TDs while running for 67 yards and two more scores. The Aggies cruised in a 59-29 romp that sealed Manziel's Heisman Trophy résumé. This season, Johnny Football is again vying for the Heisman, but he's coming off the worst loss of his career and coach Kevin Sumlin's brief tenure at A&M. The Aggies will have to prove they haven't lost their edge as this season's goals have dwindled. Mizzou, on the other hand, expects to be on a high with a sold-out, black-out-attired crowd urging on what would be one of the biggest wins in school history.

Waiting in the wings for Missouri to falter is South Carolina, which plays at home in its annual game against in-state rival Clemson. This Palmetto State showdown is a star-studded affair that features two top-10 teams, but the recent history is lopsided in the Gamecocks' favor. Clemson's record-breaking senior QB Tajh Boyd has never beaten South Carolina and will have to shake off the nightmares of last season's game when Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney set USC's school record for sacks in a game with 4.5. The Gamecocks have a chance to do something they've never done before in a series that began in 1896 -- win five games in a row.

Another SEC-ACC showdown looks far less competitive down in the Sunshine State, where sad-sack Florida has the daunting task of trying to end its epic six-game losing streak against the powerhouse No. 2 team in the nation, Florida State. Aside from an unbeaten season, the prospect of a BCS championship game berth and a Heisman Trophy for redshirt freshman sensation Jameis Winston on the line, the Seminoles have a score to settle after last season's 37-26 collapse against the Gators in Tallahassee. Always one of the more physical and intense rivalry games in the nation, Florida-Florida State this year feels more like a mismatch, as the Gators have suffered enough injuries and humiliation to last decades.

The other two SEC-ACC games are also somewhat subdued by recent events, as Georgia visits Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt plays host to Wake Forest. The Bulldogs are still reeling from the loss of star quarterback Aaron Murray, who suffered a torn ACL last week. He will be replaced by Hutson Mason, a fourth-year junior who has the confidence of his coaches and teammates. The taller task for Georgia today will be stopping the Yellow Jackets' triple-option attack.

After beating three straight SEC East foes, Vanderbilt and coach James Franklin have already made history with a third consecutive season that will culminate in a bowl appearance. Facing the Demon Deacons simply provides another opportunity to extend an amazing streak of wins in the month of November. The Commodores haven't lost in November since 2011 and haven't lost to Wake since 2010, before Franklin arrived.

Rounding out the conference schedule is UK's annual tilt with Tennessee, two of the league's bottom-three teams. Had they upset Vanderbilt last week, Butch Jones' Vols could have been playing for a feel-good bowl berth, but the Dores pulled out a last-second comeback and ripped UT's heart out on a fake jump-pass quarterback keeper. Mark Stoops' Wildcats, on the other hand, would be thrilled with any kind of SEC win. Kentucky is 0-7 this season after going winless in league play last year and hasn't won a conference game in its last 15 tries.

  • Florida State at Florida, noon ET, ESPN
  • Wake Forest at Vanderbilt, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC TV
  • Alabama at Auburn, 3:30 p.m., CBS
  • Georgia at Georgia Tech, 3:30 p.m., ABC
  • Clemson at South Carolina, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
  • Tennessee at Kentucky, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
  • Texas A&M at Missouri, 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

SEC lunchtime links

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
12:00
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We’re just a day away from Thanksgiving and the first SEC game of the week. It’s a good time to check out what’s going on around the league.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
10:15
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Call it rivalry week, hate week, whatever you like. It's here, and it should be as memorable as ever when matchups between in-state rivals highlight the SEC lineup. Let's take a look at some of the key points around the league this weekend.

1. For all the marbles: Have you heard the Iron Bowl is this weekend? If not, you probably don't live in Alabama. Allow me to fill you in. Top-ranked Alabama will visit No. 4 Auburn on Saturday. It's a game with major conference and BCS implications, as the winner will represent the SEC West in the league championship game. Likewise, the Eastern Division remains up for grabs. No. 5 Missouri leads, but must defeat No. 21 Texas A&M in order to represent the division in Atlanta. With an A&M win, No. 10 South Carolina will win the East thanks to its victory against Mizzou.

2. In-state hate: The Iron Bowl, which is likely the nastiest in-state rivalry of them all, will receive the most national attention this week because of its championship implications. However, it's certainly not the only place you'll find distaste for the cross-state enemy. It kicks off with Thursday's Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Then you've got Auburn-Alabama, Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Florida-Florida State all on Saturday.

3. ACC vs. SEC: The ACC thought last season that it might finally break through in rivalry games against opponents from the mighty SEC. Then Georgia wiped the floor with Georgia Tech, South Carolina controlled its game against Clemson, and Florida used a 24-point fourth quarter to beat FSU 37-26. This weekend might be a different story, however. At 4-7, Florida is enduring its worst season in decades and enters as a decided underdog against unbeaten FSU. Georgia faces uncertainty with quarterback Aaron Murray sidelined when it visits Tech. And while South Carolina is favored by five points, No. 6 Clemson is ranked higher and is certainly capable of winning in Columbia.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsCan Johnny Manziel keep his Heisman bid alive?
4. Manziel's recovery: Johnny Manziel's chances of winning another Heisman Trophy took a blow with his stumble against LSU last weekend (16-for-41 for 224 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs). They aren't dead yet, though. Manziel's numbers remain competitive -- he ranks fifth nationally with an 89.5 opponent-adjusted Total QBR -- and he has one final chance to impress voters in a marquee game on Saturday night. Missouri's pass rush has been impressive, so Manziel could place himself back in the center of the Heisman conversation with a strong effort against the Tigers.

5. Battle for the boot: How can it be that No. 17 LSU and Arkansas ranked first and third nationally just two seasons ago when they met? When the Razorbacks visit Baton Rouge on Friday with the Golden Boot trophy at stake, they will be 25-point underdogs. Certainly some of that point spread has to do with the Tigers' impressive 34-10 win against Texas A&M. More of it is that Arkansas has been awful for most of the season. The Razorbacks have lost eight straight games, by an average margin of 21 points, as they enter this weekend's finale. While the Battle for the Boot has often ended in crazy fashion, it would be a surprise to see this installment remain competitive into the fourth quarter.

6. Murray's replacement: For the first time since the 2009 season, someone other than Murray will start at quarterback for Georgia. The SEC's all-time leading passer underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that he tore Saturday against Kentucky. The starting nod will go to Hutson Mason, who led Georgia to four touchdowns and a field goal in five possessions against the Wildcats. Georgia Tech has to like seeing a different quarterback under center for the Bulldogs, as Murray was 48-for-65 for 738 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception in three career starts against the Yellow Jackets.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJames Franklin has Vandy on the right track.
7. Will Vandy's run continue? Vanderbilt looked like a possible bowl team at midseason, but that was before the Commodores won four of their past five games -- and could complete the regular season with a four-game winning streak by beating Wake Forest on Saturday. Posting back-to-back eight-win regular seasons would make yet another statement about the progress the program has made under coach James Franklin.

8. Bowl bid at stake in Starkville: Not only will Dan Mullen's Mississippi State club (5-6) be playing Thursday to recapture some of the in-state mojo it lost to Ole Miss in the past year, the Bulldogs must beat the Rebels in order to achieve bowl eligibility. Mullen's three-game winning streak against the Rebels ended last fall when Hugh Freeze's club won handily, 41-24, and then Ole Miss added insult to injury by signing one of the most heralded recruiting classes in school history. It would be another embarrassing blow if Ole Miss beats the Bulldogs to prevent them from reaching the postseason.

9. Clowney vs. Boyd: South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney harassed Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd in last season's win, earning Boyd 4.5 sacks as the Gamecocks beat the Tigers for the fourth time in a row. Boyd finished 11-for-24 for 183 yards and tossed two interceptions -- one of which led to Dylan Thompson's win-clinching touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington. Boyd has been terrible in two starts against South Carolina, and he'll have to perform more consistently against Clowney & Co. in order to end the losing streak.

10. Tennessee tumble: There was a point when Tennessee was 4-3 and looked like an SEC East darkhorse after the Volunteers nearly beat Georgia and shocked South Carolina at Neyland Stadium. Then came a run of lopsided losses to three consecutive top-10 teams (Alabama, Missouri and Auburn) and a last-minute defeat against Vanderbilt. With Tennessee now 4-7, we know first-year coach Butch Jones won't lead the Vols to a bowl game, but his team could at least remove some of the bitter taste from its mouth by beating Kentucky, which has lost 15 straight SEC games.

SEC predictions: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
9:00
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The weather last week was rotten all over the country.

Some might say our prognostications on the SEC blog would fall into a similar category.

It was all I could do to break even and finish 4-4 for the week. Edward was 5-3, which means he extended his lead over me to two games.

The ATL Kid is now 89-15 (.856), while I’m 87-17 (.837). We both missed Georgia Southern’s upset of Florida last week. Who did get that one right? We also both whiffed on LSU’s win over Texas A&M.

In addition, I missed Mississippi State’s win over Arkansas and Vanderbilt’s win over Tennessee. Edward missed Missouri’s win over Ole Miss.

So not a pretty showing by either one of us last week.

There are several toss-ups on the docket this week as well as some heated rivalry games. It’s the final week of the regular season, meaning all that’s left are the SEC championship game and bowl games.

Unless I want to finish with the silver medal for the second straight year, I need to bring my “A” game these last few weeks. The Kid, of course, thinks he has it won. He's even talking about letting his cat pick a few games going forward.

Here’s how we see things shaking out in Week 14:

Thursday

OLE MISS at MISSISSIPPI STATE

Chris Low: Mississippi State needs this game if the Bulldogs are going to extend their bowl streak to four straight years. They gave themselves a chance last week with their overtime win at Arkansas, and Dan Mullen and crew will get their biggest win of the season on Thanksgiving Night over the “school up north.” … Mississippi State 30, Ole Miss 27

Edward Aschoff: The Bulldogs have all the momentum after an overtime win against Arkansas and Ole Miss' dreary loss to Missouri. Mississippi State needs a win to make its fourth-straight bowl game, while the Rebels are playing for pride and a second straight win over their arch-rival. … Ole Miss 27, Mississippi State 24

Friday

ARKANSAS at LSU

Low: The end of this season can’t get here soon enough for Arkansas, which has lost a school-worst eight straight games and looking down the barrel of its first nine-loss season in school history. Tiger Stadium is no place to try to get well all of a sudden. … LSU 35, Arkansas 16

Aschoff: All of a sudden, LSU looks like its old self. The defense stood tall against Johnny Manziel and there's an outside chance that the Tigers could make a BCS bowl game. The Hogs have lost eight straight and just don't have the talent to match up with LSU. … LSU 38, Arkansas 17

Saturday

WAKE FOREST at VANDERBILT

Low: Bowl games are quickly becoming old hat for the Commodores. They’re thinking eight regular-season wins again after taking down Tennessee last week. In the past, this might have been a game Vanderbilt would lose. But not anymore. … Vanderbilt 31, Wake Forest 17

Aschoff: Once again, the Commodores are red-hot in the month of November and are looking for back-to-back nine-win seasons. They'll take yet another step forward, as they head to the postseason without a blemish in November. … Vanderbilt 31, Wake Forest 14

FLORIDA STATE at FLORIDA

Low: Talk about two rivals going in opposite directions. Florida has lost six in a row and is headed for its first losing season since 1979. Florida State is two wins away from wrapping up a berth in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. The Seminoles will be doing the chomping in this one. … Florida State 37, Florida 14

Aschoff: Nothing is going right in Gainesville, while the Seminoles are fighting for a spot in the BCS title game. Florida State hasn't scored less than 41 points this season. In the past four games, the Noles have scored 27 touchdowns, while Florida has just 26 touchdowns on the season. Enough said. … Florida State 34, Florida 6

TENNESSEE at KENTUCKY

Low: Between them, Kentucky and Tennessee are a combined 5-41 in SEC play dating back to the start of the 2011 season. The Wildcats’ last SEC win came over Tennessee to close out the 2011 season. They’ve lost 15 in a row in the league. Both teams are limping to the finish, but the Vols will squeeze out an ugly one. … Tennessee 23, Kentucky 21

Aschoff: Neither one of these teams is going to a bowl and both are in major rebuilding modes. But neither team has quit, and that's a good sign for the future. As for Saturday, Tennessee's edge in overall talent will push the Vols to their fifth win of the season. … Tennessee 27, Kentucky 23

GEORGIA at GEORGIA TECH

Low: The Bulldogs will have to finish the season without senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who tore his ACL last week. It’s Hutson Mason’s show now, and he’ll get just enough help from his defense to slip out of Atlanta with a win. … Georgia 34, Georgia Tech 27

Aschoff: The Bulldogs might be down Murray at quarterback, but Mason shouldn't have much of a problem filling in this weekend. Georgia Tech's defense has gotten better and they'd love to leave another dent in the Bulldogs' season, but expect Georgia's run defense to answer the call late. … Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 24

TEXAS A&M at MISSOURI

Low: Seeing Johnny Manziel struggle the way he did last week at LSU was surprising enough. But good luck in shutting him down two weeks in a row. He’ll bounce back with a vintage Johnny Football performance, and Texas A&M will throw a dagger into Missouri’s Eastern Division championship hopes with a wild shootout win. … Texas A&M 41, Missouri 38

Aschoff: If the Tigers win, they are headed to the SEC championship game in their second year in the conference. Manziel's slim Heisman chances could get a major boost with a win in a hostile Mizzou environment. Pressure hasn't gotten to the Tigers all season, and it still won't even with the most exciting player in the country in town. … Missouri 38, Texas A&M 34

CLEMSON at SOUTH CAROLINA

Low: This is one of the more underrated rivalries in college football. And lately, South Carolina has made it a one-sided rivalry with four straight victories in the series. No team has won five straight since Clemson won seven in a row from 1934-40. The Head Ball Coach, though, has had Clemson’s number, and it sounds as though Jadeveon Clowney will be healthy for this game. That’s bad news for the Tigers. … South Carolina 34, Clemson 24

Aschoff: The Gamecocks might not make it to the SEC championship game, but a BCS bowl is still on the line. South Carolina has won four straight against Clemson, but the Tigers are also fighting for a BCS berth. Clowney might not be on the same level as he was last year, but we'll find out if Tajh Boyd truly is scared of him. … South Carolina 31, Clemson 24

ALABAMA at AUBURN

Low: Raise your hand if you predicted back in August that this game would determine the Western Division championship and also have national championship implications for both teams. It’s been an incredible turnaround for Auburn, but even at home on the Plains, the Tigers won’t be able to stymie Alabama’s march to a third straight national title. … Alabama 31, Auburn 21

Aschoff: This is exactly what the Iron Bowl should feel like. The SEC Western Division is on the line and so is the BCS title game. Auburn has made the biggest turnaround in college football, while Alabama has been steady during its run to three straight BCS titles. The Tigers have the SEC's best running game, while Alabama has the league's best rush defense. Something has to give, but Alabama will keep the Tigers one-dimensional and continue its unbeaten run. … Alabama 34, Auburn 23

SEC Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
9:00
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It has been a very exciting year in the SEC, and the final weekend has the potential to be epic for the Power Rankings:

1. Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC; last week: 1): The Crimson Tide had no trouble gobbling up Chattanooga on Saturday. The Tide got a shutout, almost reached 50 points and didn't sustain any serious injuries. Great, because Alabama finishes the season with a trip to Auburn to decide the SEC Western Division.

2. Missouri (10-1, 6-1 SEC; LW: 3): Once again, Mizzou made me look foolish. The Tigers are now 2-1 when I pick against them. Even in an elimination game in the Eastern Division race, the Tigers showed zero nerves in their dominating 24-10 win at Ole Miss. Mizzou improved to 3-1 versus ranked opponents and 5-0 on the road. A win over Texas A&M this weekend clinches the East for Mizzou.

3. Auburn (10-1, 6-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Tigers were off and dropped only because of Mizzou's major win in a hostile environment against the 24th-ranked Rebels. Auburn got some much-needed rest and relaxation before ending the regular season with a colossal Iron Bowl matchup with archrival Alabama. Something will have to give when Auburn's spread rushing attack (320.3 yards per game) meets Alabama's rushing defense (91.3 yards per game).

4. South Carolina (9-2, 6-2 SEC; LW: 5): In what could have been a sloppy outing for the Gamecocks in a tuneup against Coastal Carolina before rival Clemson heads to town, South Carolina was utterly dominant. The Gamecocks rolled 70-10 behind 639 yards and three takeaways. It has been a fun season for the Gamecocks, but now they become part-time Aggies fans this weekend. An A&M win over Mizzou would lock up the East for South Carolina.

5. LSU (8-3, 4-3 SEC; LW: 7): Just when we think LSU might stumble with the nation's best player and the SEC's best offense in town, the Tigers pull what should be considered a shocker in a 34-10 win over A&M. The most impressive part was how the LSU defense contained Johnny Manziel for the second straight year. Manziel totaled just 278 yards of offense, threw two interceptions and completed 16 of 41 pass attempts. A win over Arkansas on Friday could put the Tigers in line for an appearance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

6. Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3 SEC; LW: 4): The Aggies' 24-point loss in Death Valley stopped a nine-game road winning streak for A&M. Manziel was again bested by Les Miles and that LSU defense. Once again, the Aggies had few answers on defense as they surrendered 517 yards, including 324 rushing, and allowed LSU to convert 11 of 17 third-down attempts. The Aggies had the ball for less than 20 minutes.

7. Ole Miss (7-4, 3-4 SEC; LW: 6): Sure, Missouri was the better team in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, but some baffling play-calling really cost the Rebels at key moments in their 14-point loss to the Tigers. You can't get cute near the goal line, and you can't get only three points on three trips to the red zone. Quarterback Bo Wallace really struggled in the second half and was battling illness all night.

8. Vanderbilt (7-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 9): Coach James Franklin has won eight straight games in the month of November and now has beaten Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season (first time in school history). For the third year in a row, the Commodores are going bowling and could win nine games for the second straight season. A fake jump pass to win with 16 seconds remaining? Wow!

9. Georgia (7-4, 5-3 SEC; LW: 9): The Bulldogs took care of a struggling Kentucky team, but lost their best player in Aaron Murray to a torn ACL. It had to be a bittersweet senior night in Athens. While Georgia registered 602 yards and 59 points, the loss of Murray is absolutely heartbreaking. He has been more than just a great player during his career and will be greatly missed. The Hutson Mason era officially begins at Georgia.

10. Mississippi State (5-6, 2-5 SEC; LW: 12): And just like that, these Bulldogs are back in the bowl hunt. It might have taken overtime against Arkansas, but Mississippi State is now a win over Ole Miss in Thursday's Egg Bowl away from making it back to the postseason for the fourth year in a row. The Bulldogs certainly have momentum going into Thursday, but the situation at quarterback is still concerning with Tyler Russell's injury issues.

11. Tennessee (4-7, 1-6 SEC; LW: 11): It had to be gut-wrenching for the Vols on Saturday. A last-second, fake jump pass by Vandy stunned a team that is now eliminated from the postseason for the third straight season. Tennessee hung tough and dealt with a little late controversy, but it's good to see that this team isn't afraid to fight. The Vols lost to Vandy in consecutive years for the first time since the 1920s.

12. Florida (4-7, 3-5 SEC; LW: 10): It has just gone from bad to worse in Gainesville. The Gators were officially knocked out of bowl contention with a stunning 26-20 loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, which failed to complete any passes. It was easily the worst loss in school history and it's obvious this team has quit. This is Florida's first losing season since 1979 and the Gators' 22-year bowl streak is over.

13. Arkansas (3-8, 0-7 SEC; LW: 13): The Razorbacks put up a good fight in their overtime loss to Mississippi State, but eight straight losses will keep you behind a Florida team coming off an embarrassing home loss. This is the first time the Hogs have ever lost eight straight and they are very much in danger of suffering their first winless SEC season with the year ending Friday at LSU.

14. Kentucky (2-9, 0-7 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats have now lost 15 straight SEC games and a loss to Tennessee this weekend would give Kentucky back-to-back 0-8 records in league play. The Wildcats mustered only 211 yards of offense and converted just 3 of 12 third-down attempts against Georgia's young defense.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
10:00
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We saw an overtime win by Mississippi State over Arkansas on Saturday, a last-minute win by Vanderbilt over Tennessee and a shocking win by FCS team Georgia Southern over traditional power Florida. In short, it was just another wacky Saturday in the SEC.

Here are five things we learned around the league:

Division races going down to the wire: Both the Eastern and Western Division races will go down to the final weekend. Missouri's 24-10 win over Ole Miss means the Tigers can clinch the East -- in its second season in the conference -- by beating Texas A&M Saturday in Columbia. If the Tigers lose, South Carolina will win the division by virtue of its head-to-head win against Mizzou. In the West, Saturday's Iron Bowl will settle the division when Alabama visits Auburn. Right now the unbeaten Crimson Tide have the edge, but the one-loss Tigers would win the tiebreaker if they can upset the Tide.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJohnny Manziel struggled against LSU on Saturday, just as he did against the Tigers last year.
Miles has Manziel's number: Johnny Manziel has run circles around almost everyone in his two seasons as Texas A&M's quarterback, but the defending Heisman Trophy winner hasn't fared well in two starts against LSU. In Saturday's 34-10 loss to the Tigers, Manziel finished 16-for-41 for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Les Miles' Tigers have limited Manziel to a 21.5 Total QBR in two games, and Saturday's loss was the first time he did not complete at least 50 percent of his passes.

Vandy's rabbit's foot still working: Vanderbilt backup quarterback Patton Robinette faked a jump pass to freeze a defender and ran for the game-winning touchdown against rival Tennessee with 16 seconds to play. This after Tennessee nearly stopped Commodores quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels on fourth-and-inches, only to have the initial call that he was stopped short overturned on replay. Vandy now has back-to-back wins over its in-state rival for the first time since a run of six consecutive wins over the Volunteers from 1920 to '26. The Commodores (7-4, 4-4 SEC) have won four of their last five games after sitting at 3-3 early in the season.

Murray's starting streak could end: Georgia laid a vicious 59-17 beating on Kentucky a week after a devastating loss at Auburn, but an injury to Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray put a damper on senior night. He injured his left knee in the second quarter and did not return, and coach Mark Richt said afterward that the SEC's all-time leading passer is unlikely to play Saturday against Georgia Tech. Murray has started every game of his college career so far -- he matched David Greene's school record for career starts by a non-kicker (52) -- but the Bulldogs might have to rely on backup Hutson Mason against the rival Yellow Jackets.

More mayhem for Florida: Will Muschamp's job status at Florida already seemed to be in jeopardy -- despite recent assurances to the contrary from his bosses -- even before Saturday's 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern. But the Gators fell to 4-7 with Saturday's defeat -- the program's first to a current FCS program since losing against Villanova in 1946 -- even though Georgia Southern didn't complete any of its three passes. The Eagles ran for 429 yards and held off a final Florida drive to pull the upset. That doesn't bode well for the embattled coaching staff. Florida will fail to play in a bowl game for the first time since 1990 -- Steve Spurrier's first season in Gainesville when the Gators were ineligible to go to a bowl because they were on probation.

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