Texas A&M Aggies: Jeremy Hill

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
12:00
PM ET
Plenty going on as spring practices continue in the SEC. We have pro days, coaching talk, players adapting to new positions and even reality TV news in today's lunch links:
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.

SEC's lunch links

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
12:00
PM ET
March Madness is here. A new Cinderella will emerge, and your bracket is bound to start falling apart. For those at work and for those who are taking off early, enjoy a full day of basketball, and for a little football, enjoy today’s lunch links.

Flood of underclassmen leaving SEC

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
2:30
PM ET
The official list will be released by the NFL this weekend, but the latest count of underclassmen leaving the SEC this year is 28. That's after 32 left early a year ago.

The deadline to declare was Wednesday, although players still have a window to change their mind prior to this weekend as long as they don't sign with an agent.

For the second straight year, LSU is losing the most. Seven players with eligibility remaining are leaving early to enter the draft, which is actually down from the 11 players the Tigers lost last year. Alabama is losing five players and Florida and South Carolina four apiece.

Below is an unofficial list:

ALABAMA
OLB Adrian Hubbard, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, DT Jeoffrey Pagan, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S Vinnie Sunseri

AUBURN
RB Tre Mason, OT Greg Robinson

FLORIDA
DL Dominique Easley, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Marcus Roberson, OLB Ronald Powell

LSU
RB Michael Ford, RB Jeremy Hill, OG Trai Turner, WR Odell Beckham Jr., WR Jarvis Landry, DT Ego Ferguson, DT Anthony Johnson

MISSOURI
RB Henry Josey, DE Kony Ealy

OLE MISS
WR Donte Moncrief

SOUTH CAROLINA
DE Jadeveon Clowney WR Bruce Ellington, CB Victor Hampton, DT Kelcy Quarles

TENNESSEE
OT Antonio Richardson

TEXAS A&M
QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans

Final SEC Power Rankings

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
1:00
PM ET
We're done with the 2013 college football season, so it's time to see how all 14 SEC teams finished the year in our final set of conference power rankings. It was a collaborative effort on our side, and we think it jibes pretty well:

1. Auburn (12-2, 7-1 SEC; last ranking: 1): The Tigers lost a heartbreaker to Florida State in the Vizio BCS National Championship, but they did exactly what Gus Malzahn predicted: make the biggest turnaround in college football. Auburn had the nation's best running game behind Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason and a championship attitude that grew all season. The future looks very bright on the Plains.

2. South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC; LR: 3): With a 10-point victory over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, South Carolina became only the fourth team in the country to win at least 11 games in each of the past two seasons. The Gamecocks made a fun, end-of-the-year run at Atlanta but fell short with a loss to Tennessee and an equally as fun Missouri run.

3. Missouri (12-2, 7-1 SEC; LR: 4): These Tigers also had a magical 2013. After rebounding from a five-win 2012 season, Mizzou won the SEC East Division, displayed one of the conference's best, most explosive offenses and ended the season with a back-and-forth victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Gary Pinkel went from the hot seat to beloved by erasing an ugly SEC debut with a stellar encore.

4. Alabama (11-2, 7-1 SEC; LR: 2): The Crimson Tide's SEC and BCS title game chances ended on a miraculous "Kick Six" by Auburn's Chris Davis in the Iron Bowl. With no national championship at stake for the first time since 2010, Alabama failed to match Oklahoma's toughness and intensity in its 45-31 Allstate Sugar Bowl loss. Despite another impressive regular season, the Tide's chance to make a case as the nation's best team ended inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

5. LSU (10-3, 5-3; LR: 5): We never really knew what we were going to get from these Tigers (so many Tigers!), but after their loss to Alabama on Nov. 9, they closed the season on a tear with three straight wins. Even without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger (ACL) for their bowl game, the Tigers grinded out a 21-14 Outback Bowl win over Iowa on the back of running back Jeremy Hill and his 216 yards and two touchdowns.

6. Texas A&M (9-4, 4-4 SEC; LR: 6): Of course Johnny Manziel went out in style. A month after ending the regular season on a two-game losing streak, Johnny Football helped orchestrate a comeback win after a 21-point halftime deficit to Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl with 455 total yards and five touchdowns. Texas A&M outscored the Blue Devils 35-10 in the second half to win 52-48. What a Johnny Football way to say goodbye.

7. Vanderbilt (9-4, 4-4 SEC; LR: 7): For the first time in school history, Vandy won nine games in back-to-back seasons and consecutive bowl games. The Commodores went undefeated in November for the second straight year and beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season for the first time ever. Their reward? Saying goodbye to coach James Franklin, who left to become Penn State's head coach.

8. Georgia (8-5, 5-3 SEC; LR: 8): The Bulldogs started the season as the favorite to win the East, but injuries and a young, struggling defense knocked Georgia out of contention late. Even with how poorly the defense played at times, you have to wonder what might have been had injuries to receivers and the loss of Todd Gurley for a month not happened. The Bulldogs ended the season with a 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

9. Mississippi State (7-6, 3-5 SEC; LR: 9): What looked like a disaster of a season ended with three consecutive wins. The first two were overtime victories and the last one was a 44-7 blowout of Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Dan Mullen's popularity level in Starkville took a hit, but he enters his fifth season with much higher expectations with a solid offense and defense returning.

10. Ole Miss (8-5, 3-5 SEC; LR: 10): What started as a promising season hit a bit of snag in October before the Rebels reeled off four consecutive victories to turn things around. Ole Miss lost to Missouri and Mississippi State to close the regular season but bounced back with an impressive, 25-17 victory over Georgia Tech in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Eight wins, despite injuries and depth issues, was impressive for Hugh Freeze in his second season.

11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LR: 11): For the third year in a row, the Vols failed to make it to a bowl game, but you can tell that the attitudes are different in Knoxville. There's a bit more excitement with Butch Jones in town, especially after that upset win over No. 11 South Carolina. The next step is development on both sides of the ball. Tennessee struggled with quarterback play all season and owned the SEC's No. 11 defense, allowing 418.4 yards per game.

12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LR: 12): For the first time since 1979, the Gators had a losing season. For the first time in more than 20 years, Florida failed to make a bowl game. The Gators suffered 15 season-ending injuries, 10 to starters, including quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Florida ranked 113th nationally in total offense, lost to Football Championship Subdivision foe Georgia Southern (at home) and said goodbye to offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis after the season.

13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LR: 13): The first year of the Bret Bielema era was a dud on the field, as the Razorbacks lost a school-record nine straight games to close the season. Arkansas owned the SEC's worst passing offense (114th nationally) but had quite the spark in freshman running back Alex Collins. The next step for the Hogs is getting the right players on both sides to fit Bielema's system.

14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LR: 14): It was a tough first season for Mark Stoops in Lexington, but he really was behind from the start. This team struggled with positive consistency, and it didn't help that the staff had to rotate quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow all season. Kentucky was 13th in the SEC in both total offense and total defense.
Let's take a look at the best and worst from the SEC during this year's bowl season:

Best game: This had to be Texas A&M's 52-48 comeback win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Right when we thought Johnny Manziel was going out on a low note, he put his team on his shoulders to erase a 21-point deficit. He struggled to get on the same page with his receivers early but finished in style with 455 total yards and five touchdowns. The Aggies outscored Duke 35-10 in the second half.

Worst BCS bowl team without a national title at stake: Alabama has been money under Nick Saban in BCS National Championship games. But the Crimson Tide have laid a pair of eggs now in the Sugar Bowl, the latest coming in an ugly 45-31 loss to Oklahoma last week that saw Alabama turn it over five times and give up 429 yards of total offense. It was reminiscent of Alabama’s 31-17 loss to Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel put on quite a show in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in what turned out to be his final game.
Worst tackle: Though Auburn's defense played very well for the better part of the Tigers' heartbreaking 34-31 loss to Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game, the dagger came on a fumbled defensive effort. Chris Davis and Ryan Smith cost Auburn a big play on the Seminoles' game-winning scoring drive when they both attempted to tackle Rashad Greene after a first-down catch just to the right of the middle of the field. They hit each other more than Greene, who then sprinted down the right sideline for a 49-yard gain to help set up the final score.

Best catch: Not only was Bruce Ellington’s bobbling, one-handed catch in South Carolina’s 34-24 win over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl a gem, but it also changed the complexion of the game. The 22-yard gain came on fourth-and-7 and set up a 22-yard touchdown catch by Ellington late in the third quarter that put the Gamecocks ahead for good.

Best quote: “I was in a zone I haven’t been in before -- ever. I just wanted this game.” -- Manziel

Best grind-out performance: LSU running back Jeremy Hill, who helped keep LSU out of the upset column against Iowa with his 28 carries for 216 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead 37-yarder with two minutes remaining.

Best multi-purpose performance: About the only thing Connor Shaw didn’t do in his farewell performance for the Gamecocks was intercept a pass. He passed for three touchdowns, ran for a touchdown and also caught a touchdown pass.

Worst defensive breakdown: Big pass plays haunted Georgia’s defense this season, and the 99-yard touchdown pass the Bulldogs gave up in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl was perhaps the worst of the bunch. Nebraska was facing third-and-14 from its own 1 in the fourth quarter when Quincy Enunwa took advantage of a bust in the Georgia secondary and streaked 99 yards to give the Huskers a 24-12 lead. Nebraska finished with just 307 yards of total offense, and 99 came on that one play.

Worst timing: Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch has always been rock solid for the Bulldogs, but his crucial drop on a fourth-and-3 at Nebraska's 16-yard line with less than 30 seconds remaining ended any chance of a Georgia comeback. Lynch would have given the Dawgs a first down inside the 10.

Best individual performance: Manziel delivered a performance for the ages (and a performance that turned out to be his final one at the collegiate level) in rallying the Aggies from a 21-point deficit to beat Duke 52-48 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Manziel was 30-of-38 passing for 382 yards and four touchdowns, and he also rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown.

Best team performance: How about those Mississippi State Bulldogs? Left for dead in late November, the Bulldogs won two straight in overtime to make a bowl game. After getting bumped up to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Mississippi State crushed a Rice team that entered the game winners of nine of their last 10 with a 44-7 showing. Quarterback Dak Prescott had arguably his best game, throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 78 yards and two more scores. The defense also allowed a season-low 145 yards.

SEC all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
9:00
AM ET
Catch your breath yet?

What a bowl season, starting really with Texas A&M's heart-stopping comeback to beat Duke 52-48 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and carrying all the way through the VIZIO BCS National Championship with Florida State's last-minute drive to beat Auburn 34-31.

The SEC finished 7-3 in the postseason, and we're honoring some of the best individual performances with our all-bowl team:

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel's final game at Texas A&M was a memorable one as he threw four TDs and rallied the Aggies from a 21-point deficit.
QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Yes, Connor Shaw was sensational, too, but Manziel brought the Aggies back from a 21-point halftime deficit. He threw four touchdown passes and ran for another in a memorable farewell for Johnny Football.

RB: Tre Mason, Auburn: Until Florida State's late touchdown drive, it looked as if Mason's 37-yard touchdown run would be what everyone was talking about from the BCS title game. He finished with 195 rushing yards against one of the top defenses in the country.

RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU: LSU fans got a nice surprise this week when reports surfaced that Hill planned to return for his junior season. A few days earlier, he gave them a memorable performance in the Outback Bowl with 216 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

WR: Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State: The Rice secondary had no answers for the speedy Lewis, who finished with nine catches for a school-record 220 yards. He had a 28-yard catch to set up the Bulldogs' first touchdown, a 35-yard catch to set up their second touchdown and a 65-yard catch to set up their fourth touchdown, all in first half.

WR: Bruce Ellington, South Carolina: Ellington is leaving early for the NFL and made some NFL-like catches in his farewell. His one-handed, bobbling catch on the fourth-and-7 play was huge. He finished with six catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns and also threw a touchdown pass.

TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia: Lynch would love to have that last pass back, but he still hauled in six catches for 69 yards, including receptions to help set up a couple of field goals.

All-purpose: Derrick Henry, Alabama: Get ready to see a lot of Henry next season for the Tide. The freshman running back rushed for 100 yards on eight carries, including a 43-yard touchdown run, and also had a 61-yard touchdown catch.

OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M: As left tackles go, Matthews set the standard this season. He was pretty close to flawless in the bowl game, as the Aggies rolled up 541 total yards in their stirring comeback against Duke.

OL: Greg Robinson, Auburn: The BCS title game turned out to be Robinson's final game for Auburn. The junior left tackle is turning pro and heads to the next level on the heels of the kind of performance that became the norm for him this season.

OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs racked up 533 yards of total offense in their 44-7 rout of Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, and Jackson was his usual dominant self at left guard.

OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt: The veteran of that Vanderbilt offensive line asserted himself in the fourth quarter when Houston climbed back into it, and the Commodores made a living running behind him.

C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn: There aren't many centers in America better than Dismukes, and he can hold his head high over the way he played against a talented Florida State interior on defense.

DEFENSE

[+] EnlargeDee Ford
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAuburn's Dee Ford showed why he is one of the nation's best when he recorded two sacks against FSU in the national title game.
DL: Dee Ford, Auburn: Ford had already established himself as one of the top pass-rushers in the SEC this season and then went out and showed it on the biggest stage with two sacks in BCS title game.

DL: D.T. Shackelford, Ole Miss: The Rebels' resilient senior defensive end went out in style with seven total tackles, including a sack, and also had two quarterback hurries.

DL: Kony Ealy, Missouri: Michael Sam received most of the publicity this season for the Tigers, but Ealy was equally productive. He closed out his career with two sacks in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, giving him 9.5 on the season.

DL: Preston Smith, Mississippi State: Smith spearheaded a suffocating defensive effort by the Bulldogs with six total tackles and a quarterback hurry. Rice, after scoring a touchdown on its second possession, was held to 66 total yards the rest of the way.

LB: Serderius Bryant, Ole Miss: Bryant tied for the team lead with eight tackles, including two for loss, and also forced a fumble that led to a safety. The Rebels limited Georgia Tech's option offense to 17 points and 151 rushing yards.

LB: Andrew Wilson, Missouri: The Tigers' senior middle linebacker was everywhere against the Cowboys with 15 total tackles to earn Cotton Bowl Defensive MVP honors.

LB: Skai Moore, South Carolina: Only a freshman, Moore had two interceptions in the Capital One Bowl, the last one coming in the end zone in the fourth quarter with Wisconsin driving.

CB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri: Gaines was one of the most complete cornerbacks in the SEC this season. He capped his career with seven tackles against the Cowboys and an interception at midfield that helped set up a touchdown.

CB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt: Despite playing with a brace on his elbow, Hal led Vanderbilt with nine total tackles, including an interception to seal the game, and also broke up three passes.

S: Craig Loston, LSU: Loston finished with six total tackles, including three for loss. He also had a key interception in the fourth quarter with Iowa threatening on fourth-and-1 at the LSU 16.

S: Toney Hurd, Jr., Texas A&M: Even though Texas A&M was torched on defense, Hurd's 55-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:33 to play was the decisive blow for the Aggies.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia: Morgan kept the Bulldogs in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl by making all four of his field-goal attempts.

P: Steven Clark, Auburn: Clark kept Florida State pinned deep most of the night with perfectly placed punts that looked like pitching wedges. He dropped five of his six punts inside the 20, including one at the 6, one at the 4 and one at the 2.

RS: Marcus Murphy, Missouri: One of the top return specialists in the conference, Murphy combined for 136 yards on kickoff and punt returns against Oklahoma State. He had a long of 38 yards on a first-quarter punt return.

SEC's lunch links

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
12:00
PM ET
It's Johnny Manziel's big day! Will he or won't he leave Texas A&M to go to the NFL? Start biting those fingernails now.

Our All-SEC second team choices

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
2:00
PM ET
On Monday, we gave you guys our All-SEC first team. Today, we thought we'd unveil our second team for 2013. There are so many guys in this league who deserve recognition that we just wouldn't feel good about not having another team to give props to during the holiday season:

OFFENSE

QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
WR: Jarvis Landry, LSU
WR: Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
OL: Justin Britt, Missouri
OL: A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
AP: Todd Gurley, Georgia

DEFENSE

DL: Kony Ealy, Missouri
DL: Chris Smith, Arkansas
DL: Ego Ferguson, LSU
DL: Markus Golden, Missouri
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
LB: Avery Williamson, Kentucky
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
DB: Chris Davis, Auburn
DB: Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: Colby Delahoussaye, LSU
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
PR: Christion Jones, Alabama
KR: Christion Jones, Alabama

Five things: Texas A&M-LSU

November, 23, 2013
11/23/13
7:00
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Saturday afternoon in Death Valley, it all goes down. No. 12 Texas A&M and No. 22 LSU meet in what should be an entertaining SEC clash at 2:30 p.m. local time at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. Here are five things to keep an eye on from the Aggies' perspective:

1. Manziel vs. LSU D and John Chavis: Last season, LSU did the best job of bottling up Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. He threw three interceptions and had career-worst marks in completion percentage, yards per pass attempt and yards per carry in a 24-19 loss. Well, guess what? Manziel is better this year, LSU's defense is far from what it was last season and Texas A&M's offensive scheme has progressed significantly since last October. But the constant on the LSU side, even though most of the 2012 defense is now playing in the NFL, is defensive coordinator John Chavis. The plan he devised against Manziel was effective. Can he pull it off again with a different level of talent in the front seven? And can the improved Manziel make LSU pay with his arm, as he has other teams this season, not just with his feet?

2. A&M D vs. Jeremy Hill and the LSU running game: There's no sugarcoating it -- Texas A&M's run defense has been poor this year, except for a couple games. LSU has a traditional scheme when it comes to running the football, with a fullback and a big physical back who has quickness in Jeremy Hill. As Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said, Hill will try to "concuss you" when he has the football. And in this era of the spread, rarely do teams have to deal with big physical fullbacks, but the Aggies will have to deal with fullback J.C. Copeland, who is 6-0, 270. A&M's run defense ranks 105th in the country. The unit has had a few good games but most recently allowed 299 rushing yards to Mississippi State. And LSU has more than just Hill to throw at the Aggies. The Tigers average 184.8 yards per game on the ground.

3. Elite receivers on display: If you like great receivers in college football, this is a game for you. LSU has one of the best two-receiver tandems in the country in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Texas A&M has a guy who has been arguably the nation's best this year, the 6-foot-5 Mike Evans. All of them are playmakers, productive and fun to watch, so sit back and enjoy when Manziel and Zach Mettenberger are pulling the trigger.

4. The turnover battle: One of the big reasons LSU won this game last year was the turnover battle. The Tigers had 5-0 edge in turnovers last October, and while the Aggies are plus-two this season overall in turnover margin, they aren't immune to them. They committed four against the two ranked teams they played (two each against Alabama and Auburn) and lost the turnover battle both games. LSU on the other hand is minus-four in turnover margin this season.

5. Special teams: With Les Miles, you never know what you're going to get, special teams included. This is another area where LSU won last year when the teams met. A&M had a poor day placekicking, but that has since been rectified. Both teams have quality return specialists: Beckham is one of the best all-purpose guys around, and running back Trey Williams for A&M has been solid lately on kickoff returns. As Kevin Sumlin said, "From the time we get off the bus, our special teams units have to have the hair on the back of their neck up looking for stuff to happen."

SEC Week 13: Did you know?

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
10:00
AM ET
With SEC rivalry week on deck next week, this might feel like the calm before the storm. But there are still a few games on Saturday that carry major bowl implications -- including Missouri-Ole Miss, LSU-Texas A&M and Tennessee-Vanderbilt.

As we prepare to enter the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, here are a few interesting tidbits from our friends at ESPN Stats and Information concerning this weekend's games.
  • Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel posted eye-popping numbers last season, but he remains on pace to match -- if not surpass -- those stats this season. Through 10 games last fall, he had an 89.5 Opponent-Adjusted Total QBR, while he has an 89.6 this year. His average of 392.4 total yards per game is up from 379.4 last year. And he leads the FBS with an average of 39 touchdowns rushing or passing, which is up from his 33 at this point last season. Entering Saturday's game at LSU, Manziel remains unbeaten in his career away from home. He's 9-0 away from Kyle Field with an opponent-adjusted QBR of at least 85 in every game -- the longest streak for any player in the last 10 seasons.
  • Missouri's James Franklin returns to the starting lineup against Ole Miss for the first time since injuring his shoulder against Georgia in Week 7. He was averaging 6.9 yards per play and boasted an 80.7 QBR when injured. Freshman Maty Mauk did an admirable job in Franklin's absence. He led the Tigers to a 3-1 record, although his average of 6.7 yards per play and 68.7 QBR both trail the totals for Franklin.
  • LSU held Texas A&M to 19 points last season in College Station in the Tigers' 24-19 win. That was the only game in Manziel's career that he did not account for a touchdown. His opponent-adjusted QBR that day was 51.2, the lowest single-game mark of his career by 21.3 points.
  • Chattanooga might as well not even bother blitzing Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron on Saturday. When opponents have sent five or more pass rushers, McCarron has thrown an SEC-high 14 touchdowns against just one interception. Meanwhile, Alabama's pass rush has been consistent, blitz or no blitz. The Crimson Tide has pressured opposing quarterbacks on 26 percent of their dropbacks, the highest percentage in the SEC.
  • LSU running back Jeremy Hill averages an SEC-high 8.0 yards per carry on rushes between the tackles (min. 50 carries). On such runs, Hill had season lows in yards (23) and yards per carry (3.8) in the Tigers' last game, a loss to Alabama.
  • Missouri's pass rush has also been effective without needing to blitz. The Tigers have sent four or fewer pass rushers on 88 percent of opponent dropbacks -- the highest percentage of any AQ defense. Nonetheless, the Tigers have an AQ-high 29 sacks and are tied for the national lead with 81 pressures (hurries plus knockdowns). Michael Sam leads the SEC with 10 sacks and Kony Ealy leads the league with 25 pressures. Sam has 23, which is tied for second with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Georgia's Leonard Floyd.
  • Entering Saturday's game against Coastal Carolina, South Carolina running back Mike Davis has 477 rushing yards after contact this season. Only Auburn's Tre Mason and Alabama's T.J. Yeldon have more among SEC ball carriers.
  • The combination of Jeff Scott's combination of breakaway speed and some good blocking by the Ole Miss offensive line allowed Scott to make it at least 5 yards past the line of scrimmage before first contact on 45 percent of his carries. That's the highest percentage of any AQ running back who has at least 50 carries.
  • South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw is dangerous as a runner, but he has been lethal when passing from the pocket this season. He is completing 67 percent of his pocket passes with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions this season. On throws outside the pocket, Shaw is completing 37.2 percent with five touchdowns and one pick.
  • Texas A&M's defense has allowed an AQ-high 57 runs on which the opponent gained 5 yards or more after first contact. The Aggies are also allowing an SEC-high 5.7 yards per carry on designed runs.
  • LSU is tied for sixth in the FBS with 70 offensive plays that covered 20 yards or more this season. The Tigers had just 59 such plays in all of 2012.
  • Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace's completion percentage is nearly 10 percentage points higher at home (69.2) than on the road (59.6). The Rebels are 5-1 in Oxford versus 2-2 anywhere else, and Wallace has tossed 13 touchdowns against three interceptions at home versus his 4-2 split on the road.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- With two weeks to go and two tough opponents on the road, there's still a lot left out there for Texas A&M.

The Aggies' postseason destination will hinge on the results of the next two weeks. So could Johnny Manziel's Heisman Trophy candidacy and the chances of several other individuals, such as receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews, to snag other awards.

If those things are to be attained, the Aggies have a simple task: Win.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel and the Aggies have a chance at a BCS bowl berth if they can win out.
"We've got a couple big stages here for our football team," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "LSU is a prideful program with a great tradition and history. To go over there and play and to be successful there, we're going to have to play well as a team and [Manziel's] going to have to play well. And same thing the following week with Missouri, which will have implications for our league and who represents the [SEC] East. Performances by our complete team and by [Manziel] will have a lot to say about awards for everyone and where we'll be in the bowl conversation."

Two wins and who knows? The No. 12 Aggies (8-2) could find themselves sneaking into the Allstate Sugar Bowl. A loss either week certainly knocks them out of the BCS conversation. Getting to a game of that caliber would be significant for the Aggies, who haven't been to a BCS bowl since 1998.

"We've got to handle them one at a time but everybody understands where we are," Sumlin said. "We're going to have to play well against both these teams and we'll have to play well this week to go into Tiger Stadium and win."

Where the Aggies are is a good place, considering what has led up to this point. They had hopes of contending for the SEC West title and possibly getting to Atlanta, but losses to Alabama and Auburn derailed those. A struggling defense that allowed a combined 1,183 yards to those two teams made it a question if the Aggies would be able to finish how they wanted to -- by winning out.

That still remains a question, as the unit allowed 299 rushing yards to Mississippi State. The defense has shown some improvement since facing Auburn, but is still not to the level it was playing at a year ago, when the Aggies closed out the season with six straight victories.

LSU will be a test, as it is a revamped team offensively. And it's good at running the ball, an area the Aggies struggle to defend.

"They have a very big offensive line and four really good tailbacks," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "Obviously Jeremy [Hill] is the lead dog. He's a very hard runner and you see that on film. We told the kids that he will try to concuss you the best he can. He's that kind of runner. So we've got a challenge in front of us with their running game, no doubt."

At this point last season, the Aggies were all the rage, coming off the road upset of No. 1 Alabama and in the homestretch of Manziel's magical year. This year, the record is the same as it was 10 games into last fall, but having not defeated a ranked team yet this season, the dynamic is different. Part of that is last year's finish, which raised outside expectations coming into this season.

But if the Aggies can finish strong, beat two ranked teams on the road and snag some individual hardware in the process, it would be another step forward for a program trying to establish a presence long term in its new league.

Aggies road streak put to stiff test

November, 20, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Call them the road warriors.

Since coach Kevin Sumlin took over at Texas A&M, the Aggies have been perfect on the road. That run of success will be put to the test on Saturday when the No. 12 Aggies travel to No. 22 LSU to play in Tiger Stadium, also known as Death Valley.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesTexas A&M doesn't lose on the road under Kevin Sumlin, but LSU doesn't lose at home very often. Something has to give on Saturday.
As LSU coach Les Miles once said "It's truly a place where opponents’ dreams come to die."

On Tuesday, Sumlin said "We're trying to keep our dreams alive.”

The task is a tall one for sure. Under Miles, LSU is 55-7 at Tiger Stadium. Since 2010, the Tigers are 25-1 at home, with the lone loss coming to No. 1 Alabama last season.

But the Aggies are pretty good on the road. Since Sumlin took over, the Aggies are 9-0 away from Kyle Field.

Something's got to give.

"It's a tough environment," senior running back Ben Malena said. "It's probably one of the top-five toughest environments for an opposing team to actually go in there and win. Not a lot of people go into Death Valley and win. If you go into Death Valley and win, you've got to beat those guys. It's something we're looking forward to."

The challenges for the Aggies are plentiful, especially when looking back at last season's meeting. LSU was one of two teams to defeat the Aggies last year, doing so 24-19 at Kyle Field. It was a game which Texas A&M lost the turnover battle by a wide margin (5-0) and it was a day of struggles for eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who threw three interceptions that day. Special teams were also an issue, as the Aggies left points on the board with two missed field goals and a missed point after touchdown kick.

All of those things will have to be corrected if the Aggies are to keep their dreams alive. They'll also have to defend a strong LSU running game, led by Jeremy Hill, much better than they've defended the run all season (the Aggies are 105th nationally, allowing 210.7 rush yards per game).

Sumlin spoke with a level of confidence about his group heading into the tough tilt on Saturday. The Aggies have gone and won SEC road games at Arkansas and Ole Miss this year; Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State last year. This test will be a unique one for sure.

"It'll take a really good effort from all three phases -- offense, defense and special teams -- for us to go in there and win," Sumlin said. "Right now where we are, we're about as healthy as we've been. We've got a lot of energy. Our guys understand our schemes as much as any time this year. Even though I said it's going to take a lot, I think right now we're in a position where guys understand what we're doing and we're looking forward to going and playing."

SEC lunchtime links

November, 7, 2013
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We've got football tonight. In fact, there are a couple of pretty big games. That means we're almost to what could be an important weekend in the SEC.

Here are some links from around the league:

SEC: November stretch run

November, 1, 2013
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This has been an interesting season of SEC football so far, and we're set up for what should be a magnificent finish.

The SEC East got turned upside down, with an unexpected team (Missouri) rising to the top, while the SEC West has seen Alabama do what Alabama does. There have been some epic games (like Georgia-LSU in September and Missouri-South Carolina last week), some terrific individual performances (Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans going for 279 and 287 receiving yards against Alabama and Auburn, respectively), lots of injuries, and compelling storylines to follow (the rise of LSU's offense, the Jadeveon Clowney saga, and anything involving Johnny Manziel).

[+] EnlargeSaban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWith games remaining against LSU and much-improved Auburn, Nick Saban and Alabama will have a tough time marching through the final month of the season.
Some new coaches (Gus Malzahn at Auburn, Butch Jones at Tennessee) have reason to smile so far, while others (Bret Bielema at Arkansas, Mark Stoops at Kentucky) have endured some mighty struggles. What's left in the coming weeks? Plenty. With six ranked teams in the conference, four of which are in the SEC West, there's still some great theater ahead in the final month of SEC football.

Teams with the most to prove: Florida and Georgia. Those two teams meet this weekend and, at the start of the year, it appeared to be a game that would have major implications on the SEC East championship. Instead, it's a battle between two teams simply trying to stay alive in that chase. Both have been beat up by injuries quite a bit this season. Because of that and various other reasons, both teams have performed below preseason expectations. But depending on how Missouri and South Carolina finish, the Bulldogs or Gators could still find themselves in the division race if they can get on track in November.

Teams with the most to lose: Alabama and Missouri. The Crimson Tide have kept a stranglehold on the No. 1 spot since the preseason. The final month of the season, however, won't be quite the cakewalk that October was as a battle against LSU looms, as does the Iron Bowl against a much-improved Auburn squad. With undefeated teams like Oregon and Florida State behind them in the BCS standings, there's a lot on the line for the Tide. Missouri still leads the SEC East, but last week's loss to South Carolina makes things interesting with the Tigers having four SEC games left and just a one-game lead in the loss column over South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Three players to keep an eye on: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is still in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race. Even though he's running third in some straw polls behind Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, a strong November will help his chances, and let's be honest, there might not be anyone as exciting or compelling to watch as Johnny Football. South Carolina running back Mike Davis leads the SEC in rushing yards (930) and has averaged a solid 6.2 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns; he has been a linchpin for the Gamecocks this season. But right behind him in the league rushing title chase is LSU's Jeremy Hill, who trails by only 8 yards (922) and has averaged a whopping 7.2 yard per carry to go with 12 touchdowns. It should be fun to see which of these two has the stronger finish.

Biggest trap game: Missouri at Ole Miss. It's not as if the Tigers will be overlooking the Rebels when they meet in Oxford, Miss., but assuming Missouri takes care of business the next two weeks against Tennessee and Kentucky and maintains its lead in the SEC East, the final two games will be a doozy as the Tigers to try to close out the year and clinch a berth to Atlanta. Texas A&M will travel to Columbia, Mo., for the regular-season finale on Nov. 30, but traveling to Oxford and getting a win over Ole Miss isn't easy, as LSU learned last month. Missouri will be asked to do so with a lot on the line. A key question: Will James Franklin be healthy enough to take the snaps by then, or will it still be freshman Maty Mauk?

Fearless November prediction: Auburn goes 4-0 in November, including an upset of No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, wins the SEC West title and heads to Atlanta for the SEC championship. Led by Gus Malzahn, the Tigers complete one of the best turnaround seasons in recent memory. How's that for fearless?

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