Texas A&M Aggies: Matt Jones
SEC games are won and lost in the trenches, but the league has always poked its chest out from the running back position.
This season is no different, as the league is once again loaded here:
2. Georgia: When healthy, Todd Gurley is arguably the country’s best running back. He has that rare combination of size, speed and explosion that make him a terror for defenses. Even with nagging injuries, Gurley has 2,374 career rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. Fellow junior Keith Marshall proved to be a great complement to Gurley with his explosiveness, but is coming off a devastating knee injury. Expect freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to get chances, along with youngsters Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman.
3. South Carolina: Junior Mike Davis has the skill to be a Heisman Trophy candidate. He can pound away with his strength and break the big run. He has nearly 1,500 career yards and the talent to make this his last year in college. There isn’t a lot of drop off with Brandon Wilds, either. Injuries have been an issue for him, but when he’s on the field, he usually outworks opponents. He’s also a good blocker and a receiving threat. Shon Carson has shown flashes, but has to put it all together. Keep an eye on David Williams, who could be the back of the future.
4. Arkansas: The Razorbacks didn’t do a lot of good things on offense last season, but Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams presented a formidable duo for opposing defenses. Together, they rushed for 1,985 yards and eight touchdowns. The second number has to increase this season, but if the line improves, these two should produce plenty of headaches this fall. Korliss Marshall only played in eight games last year, but people around the program think he’s the biggest home run threat at running back.
5. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel is gone, but the backfield should be fine by committee. Tra Carson has what it takes to be a bellcow back with his blend of power, explosion and elusiveness. The Aggies could have a solid one-two-punch with Carson and Trey Williams, who might be the most gifted of A&M’s backs. Brandon Williams and James White should get carries too. White looks like the back of the future and is an every-down pounder, while Brandon Williams might be the fastest of the bunch.
6. Auburn: What Tre Mason did last year was nothing short of impressive, and the system he ran will only benefit the guys after him. Seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant both rushed for more than 600 yards last season and each had six touchdowns. Artis-Payne could carry the load, while Grant is used as more of the speed back. Redshirt freshman Peyton Barber could get some carries, but keep an eye on true freshman Racean Thomas, who could really challenge Artis-Payne.
7. LSU: Jeremy Hill might be gone, but Terrence Magee could start for a handful of SEC squads. He rushed for 626 yards and eight touchdowns last season and stole some carries from Hill here and there throughout the season. He isn’t easy to take down and is more elusive than Hill was. But he’ll certainly be pushed by freshman Leonard Fournette, who was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class. Senior Kenny Hilliard returns with more than 1,000 career rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.
8. Florida: This might the Gators’ deepest position. Sophomore Kelvin Taylor started to get more comfortable last season and is faster and more agile right now. He’s trying to be more of an every-down back and carry the load, but will get plenty of help from Mack Brown and Matt Jones. Brown has really turned things around in the last year, while Jones should be 100 percent after knee surgery this spring. The wild card could be freshman Brandon Powell, who could be a real threat in the passing game.
10. Ole Miss: The Rebels have a solid duo to work with in juniors I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. Both registered more than 500 yards last season and were neck-and-neck for most of the spring. Expect an attack by committee where Walton has more of the flash and Mathers uses more power. Jordan Wilkins is a really physical back who is more of a grinder than the other two. There isn’t a workhorse, but all these guys fit what Hugh Freeze wants to do on offense.
11. Mississippi State: Another team with a potentially deadly duo headlining its backfield. Josh Robinson was third on the team last season with 459 yards, but averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He packs a punch and can break the big plays. Nick Griffin had a great spring, but has dealt with multiple ACL injuries. Having him healthy for the first time is huge. There’s excitement about Brandon Holloway moving to running back, and youngsters Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams could get chances this fall.
12. Kentucky: The Wildcats have plenty of questions on offense, but there’s hope at running back. Sophomore Jojo Kemp led the team in rushing last season (482), but will battle Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard, who might be able to do a little more with his athleticism and speed. Josh Clemons is back after sitting out two seasons with injuries, and freshmen Mikel Horton and Stanley Williams will give Kentucky good depth.
13. Tennessee: Senior Marlin Lane has a ton of experience and will relied on even more with Rajion Neal gone, but inconsistency has always been something that has hurt Lane. He’s yet to hit 700 yards in a season, but he’s shown flashes his entire career. Freshman Jalen Hurd, who has great size and athleticism, is being viewed as the real deal in Knoxville and will have very opportunity to grab a good amount of carries this fall after enrolling early. Him taking the starting job wouldn't surprise anyone.
14. Vanderbilt: New coach Derek Mason was pleased with where his running backs were coming out of the spring. Junior Brian Kimbrow, who has a ton of wiggle and speed, is stronger, which should help him between the tackles. The Commodores could have a future star in redshirt freshman Ralph Webb and veteran Jerron Seymour, who led Vandy with 716 rushing yards, is back, giving Vandy some good depth to start the season.
2. Record watch in Nashville: In Saturday's Georgia-Vanderbilt game, a handful of SEC career records could fall. With 112 career touchdown passes, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is just two behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record. And with 12,203 career yards of total offense, Murray needs 29 yards to match Tim Tebow's SEC mark. On the other sideline, Vandy's Jordan Matthews needs 97 receiving yards to match Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 yards. Matthews had 119 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season.
3. Gators running game: With the news this week that running back Matt Jones became the seventh Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury, the Gators' running game is now largely in the hands of Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. Brown has been solid enough thus far, rushing for a team-high 340 yards. But Taylor is the guy many Gators fans are excited about. The son of UF great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor has rushed 16 times for 98 yards (6.1 per carry), including 10 carries for 52 yards in last week's slugfest against LSU. Missouri's run defense ranks third in the SEC at 126.2 YPG, but Georgia freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas ran for 157 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry against the Tigers' last week. The Gators probably need Brown and Taylor to be similarly productive in order to hang with the Tigers' prolific offense.
4. Marshall back for Auburn: After sitting out last week's blowout win against Western Carolina with a knee injury, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall returns to the lineup this week against Texas A&M. Marshall rushed for 140 yards -- the most by an SEC quarterback this season -- in his last game, the Tigers' 30-22 win on Oct. 5 against then-No. 24 Ole Miss. He led the resurgent Tigers to a 4-1 record before taking a seat last week while true freshman Jeremy Johnson played for the first time -- and won SEC Freshman of the Week honors -- against the overmatched Catamounts.
5. Can Georgia recover? With half a dozen starters sidelined last week against Missouri, Georgia lost its first home game since September 2011. Now the Bulldogs limp to Vanderbilt, where they have struggled in two of their last three visits before earning narrow wins. UGA hopes to reach next week's open date with its SEC East hopes still intact. All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley likely still won't play this week, so the Bulldogs' offense must hope Murray, freshman tailbacks Green and Douglas and their crew of replacement wideouts can generate enough offense to outscore the slumping Commodores.
6. Vols back from open date: The last time we saw Tennessee, it came within an eyelash of upsetting then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime. First-year coach Butch Jones' team took last weekend off and now has another enormous test on its hands: a visit from No. 11 South Carolina, which finally seems to be hitting its stride after some early struggles. Volunteers fans are optimistic about the new coaching staff, but their team hasn't beaten a ranked opponent in its last 19 tries. Their next four opponents are all ranked in this week's AP Top 25.
8. Maintaining historic run: The SEC set a record when Auburn jumped into this week's AP Top 25, giving the conference eight ranked teams. But that historic total might be short-lived. At No. 24, Auburn will likely drop out if it loses on Saturday at No. 7 Texas A&M. No. 15 Georgia and No. 22 Florida also can't afford a loss if they want to remain in the poll next week.
9. Repeat performance for Aggies? Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense gained 671 total yards, the most ever allowed by an Auburn defense, in last season's 63-21 win against the Tigers. Those 63 points also represented the third-most points ever scored against the Tigers. If that wasn't the last straw for then-coach Gene Chizik and his staff, it was awfully close. New coach Gus Malzahn has instilled new optimism on the Plains. The Tigers are a ranked team for the first time since November 2011, but the Aggies are still a two-touchdown favorite.
10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.
- Alabama started the season 3-0, but it didn’t look like the No. 1 team in the nation. On Saturday, the Crimson Tide finally played with passion in a shutout victory over Ole Miss.
- Saturday’s loss to Alabama wasn’t pretty, but all things considered, the Ole Miss defense held its own against the Tide.
- When former roommates Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger competed against each other on Saturday, it was Murray who got the last laugh as Georgia defeated LSU in a shootout.
- Mettenberger and Murray will meet again -- if not in December, in the near future on Sunday.
- LSU coach Les Miles always covers for his players, in victory or defeat, but he can’t cover for the Tigers' defensive woes against Georgia.
- With Johnny Manziel and a balanced rushing attack, the Texas A&M offense keeps getting better, but eventually the Aggies will need their young defense to mature.
- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is hopeful that quarterback Connor Shaw will return in two weeks. In the meantime, Dylan Thompson will start for the Gamecocks.
- The Florida coaches raved about running back Matt Jones coming into the season. They knew they weren't wrong. Jones stepped up for the Gators with a career-high 176 yards against Kentucky on Saturday.
- Auburn has had a week to prepare for what could be its biggest game of the season.
- For better or worse, Justin Worley is Tennessee’s quarterback. Coach Butch Jones stuck with Worley in Saturday’s win over South Alabama.
2. A chance to bounce back for Alabama's secondary: The Crimson Tide were victorious last week, but their defensive backs were torched against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans. Manziel threw for 464 yards against the Tide and Evans routinely beat man-to-man coverage. Head coach Nick Saban hinted this week that not everybody's jobs might be safe in the secondary, so it'll be worth watching if there are any changes back there when Alabama hosts Colorado State on Saturday.
3. Continued success from Mettenberger: Through three games, LSU looks like a capable passing team behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. He completed 65.2 percent of his passes (45 of 69) for 797 yards and nine touchdowns with zero interceptions. He has thrown eight touchdown passes in his past two games. These are all positive developments for the Tigers, who want to be able to make teams pay in the air when they stack the box to control the running game. Can Mettenberger continue the solid play when LSU hosts Auburn?
4. Reversing course for Georgia run D: The Bulldogs have allowed a whopping 211.5 yards per game on the ground in their first two games, putting them 102nd in the nation in the category. They're also allowing 6.2 yards per carry. It's worth noting that Georgia opened up with a schedule as tough as anybody's, playing a pair of top-15 teams out of the gate. But figures like that won't get it done when Georgia gets into the meat of its SEC schedule. This weekend's matchup against Conference USA foe North Texas is a chance for the Bulldogs to shore up things on the defensive end before a huge showdown with renowned running team LSU the following week.
5. Can A&M's D show signs of life?: The Aggies were dominated by Alabama's offensive line last week in a 49-42 loss and overall, the Aggies haven't been proficient at stopping other teams, particularly on the ground. They've allowed more than 200 rushing yards in each of their three games, and against Alabama failed to generate a pass rush. This week they host SMU and it will be the second straight week that the Aggies have most of their starting defensive players available and not subjected to a suspension of some sort. Now that most of the key players are back, namely linebacker Steven Jenkins, will the Aggies show some improvement on the defensive side of the ball?
6. Renewing a rivalry that's been one-sided of late: Florida and Tennessee meet at The Swamp on Saturday and the Gators are going to try to extend an eight-game winning streak against the Volunteers. The last time the Vols defeated Florida was in 2004, a 30-28 win in Neyland Stadium. This is the first installment of the rivalry for Butch Jones as Tennessee's head coach though. The Vols are coming off a 59-14 pounding at Oregon; fortunately for them Florida's offense is nowhere near as high-powered. The No. 19 Gators have their own wounds to lick, having lost to Miami 21-16 last time out and with key players like Jeff Driskel and Matt Jones trying to get to full strength healthwise. It's the SEC opener for both so it's an important game, no matter how you slice it.
7. Bulldogs, Commodores look to get back on winning track: Mississippi State and Vanderbilt both suffered SEC losses last week: The Bulldogs dropped a 24-20 decision to Auburn while the Commodores fell 35-25 to South Carolina. Mississippi State hosts Sun Belt squad Troy while Vandy travels to Massachusetts. Both teams are 1-2 and though wins won't help their efforts in SEC play, where both are winless so far, simply going out and getting a win -- which both should here -- will be a needed positive
8. Allen or Derby at QB for Arkansas?: Starting quarterback Brandon Allen injured his shoulder in a 24-3 win over Southern Miss last week and backup A.J. Derby relieved him during the Razorbacks' victory. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema hasn't publicly said for certain that Derby will start and hasn't ruled out Allen, but will monitor the progress of his shoulder before making the decision. Don't be surprised if Derby gets the start. He went 4-for-6 for 36 yards in relief duty. He was at Iowa his first two years before transferring to Coffeyville Community College and eventually Arkansas.
9. Mizzou looking for 3-0: The Tigers are looking for their third straight win, heading on the road to Indiana after a pair of home victories over Murray State and Toledo. While nobody will consider their nonconference schedule daunting, wins are wins. Quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey are healthy, the team is productive (averaging 539 offensive yards per game and 48 points) and the confidence that comes with success can be contagious. Another win this week over Indiana and next week over Arkansas State would give the Tigers a lot of momentum heading into SEC play.
10. Time to heal up, improve, for Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina: With these three teams having an open date this week, it's a chance to heal up any lingering injuries and work on fundamentals to help the team get better. Ole Miss probably would rather keep things going after a strong 3-0 start, including a win at Texas on Saturday, but the Rebels instead get extra time to prepare for No. 1 Alabama. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney could use the rest to reset from what has been a rough start, and this week can be a valuable teaching time for someone like head coach Mark Stoops at Kentucky, whose team is 1-2 after the first three weeks.
- Cyrus Kouandjio says "people misunderstood" Alabama's offensive line after Game 1. But following an impressive showing this past weekend, it's safe to say no one is doubting them now.
- When Auburn and LSU meet this Saturday, it will be a battle of two of the best red-zone offenses in the SEC.
- Brandon Allen hasn't been ruled out yet, but Arkansas' players are rallying around backup quarterback AJ Derby as preparation for Rutgers begins.
- Johnny Manziel's improbable 12-yard heave for a first down against Alabama -- you know the play -- has given Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin a valuable teaching opportunity.
- With Mo Couch indefinitely ineligibile, a pair of Tennessee defensive tackles have a big chance ahead of them.
- Matt Jones looked good in his return to the football field against Miami, but Florida's starting tailback says he was still getting back into the groove. After a bye week to prepare, Jones is eager to get back to form this weekend.
- Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott was new to starting for the Bulldogs against Auburn, but he quickly found himself a favorite target in Joe Morrow.
- A buzzsaw awaits Ole Miss after a terrific start to the season.
- Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith's much talked about shoulder seems to be healing well and he should be good to go against Florida.
- The numbers are bad. Georgia's run defense is truly a work in progress.
- Les Miles says preparation is key for LSU's defense when it goes up against Auburn's uptempo attack this weekend.
The second week of the college football season is upon us.
Some exceeded expectations in Week 1, others fell short. In the SEC, a few coaches made debuts at new programs, a few key players suffered injuries that will affect their teams and there is buzz, both good and bad, surrounding some of the league’s most visible stars.
Here are 10 things to keep an eye on in the SEC in Week 2:
2. What's next for Manziel? Johnny Manziel's return to the field for Texas A&M yielded terrific on-field results (6-of-8 passing, 94 yards, three touchdown passes) as well as a firestorm of media criticism as a result of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he committed and a few celebrations. Whether he likes it or not, all eyes are on him and as Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said, "people want to make a story out of anything that happens on this team right now." Will there be more non-football conversation circulating Manziel after the Aggies play Sam Houston State on Saturday?
3. Jones returns for UF: Sophomore running back Matt Jones returns to the Florida lineup this weekend as the Gators travel to Miami. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones missed three weeks of practice while recovering from a viral infection and offensive coordinator Brent Pease said Jones will see plenty of touches in his return, perhaps as many as 25 carries.
4. Familiar foe for Malzahn: Auburn and new coach Gus Malzahn are hosting a team that he's quite familiar with -- Arkansas State. Malzahn spent last year as the Red Wolves' head coach, leading them to a 9-3 record and a conference championship before departing for Auburn prior to the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Arkansas State's new coach is former Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who led the Red Wolves to a 62-11 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff in his debut. Meanwhile, Malzahn's new team escaped with a 31-24 win over Washington State behind new starting quarterback Nick Marshall.
5. Prescott likely to start for Mississippi State: Starting quarterback Tyler Russell sustained a concussion in the Bulldogs' loss Saturday to Oklahoma State and is doubtful to play this weekend against Alcorn State. That means coach Dan Mullen will likely turn to backup Dak Prescott, a 6-2, 230-pound sophomore, to fill in. The dual-threat quarterback brings an ability to run the football to the Bulldogs' offense, recording 131 yards on 32 carries in spot duty last season. Mullen said he's confident in Prescott.
6. Adjustments to be made for Georgia: A season-opening 38-35 loss to talented ACC foe Clemson yielded an injured receiver (Malcolm Mitchell is out for the season after an ACL injury suffered while celebrating a Todd Gurley touchdown) and displayed a struggling offensive line. Quarterback Aaron Murray rarely had time to throw against Clemson and the Bulldogs are facing a talented South Carolina defensive front. But the Clemson loss can be easily forgotten if the Bulldogs open SEC play with a win over a top-10 team and fellow SEC East squad.
7. Can Stoops and Kentucky bounce back? There was a lot of buzz surrounding the debut of new Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops but it was killed by a season-opening loss to Western Kentucky. The Wildcats host Miami (Ohio) and are double-digit favorites. It's imperative to erase the taste of last week's loss with a win this week for UK.
8. Intriguing matchup in Knoxville: Tennessee cruised to a win over FCS foe Austin Peay in the opening week but now get a little bit of a tougher test in Bobby Petrino's Western Kentucky squad, which is fresh off its upset of Kentucky. The Volunteers are favored and rightfully so, and they're a higher caliber opponent than Kentucky. It would be a tough task for the Hilltoppers to pull off in Neyland Stadium, but it's worth at least keeping an eye on as Petrino tries to start 2-0 against SEC foes while Tennessee's Butch Jones looks to keep positive momentum going.
9. Ole Miss looking for others to emerge: The Rebels lost guard Aaron Morris to a season-ending knee injury and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche for 4-6 weeks because of a meniscus tear. Though they have an FCS foe in Southeast Missouri State, the Rebels will need others to step up in their absences.
10. Mettenberger looking to build on Week 1: In his first game under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger did enough to guide the Tigers to a 37-27 win over TCU. This week against UAB, he told reporters he has to be a little more accurate than his 16-for-32 showing, which was otherwise solid, yielding 251 yards and a touchdown pass.
Will the SEC's magic number end at the lucky number of seven? Is eight just too great?
Well, according to them, it isn't in any danger, yet. Kiper admits that the league is more vulnerable now than it was last year, which is safe to say, but he's not ready to call a slow start to the year the end all for the sport's most-dominant conference.
McShay still thinks that an imperfect Alabama is still much better than the rest of the pack. Plus, he's still convinced the SEC has some other worthy national championship contenders.
The SEC saw some slow starters here and there, but I'm not ready to write off the conference after Week 1.
Here's why: The SEC has more than just Alabama. There are still five other worthy title contenders. Let's take a look at them and where they stand in the championship realm:
Alabama: The Crimson Tide beat Virginia Tech by 25 points inside the Georgia Dome over the weekend, but what everyone took from that game was the play of the offensive line. It wasn't great. It was actually pretty ugly, but that will change. Some kinks have to get ironed out, and Nick Saban will make sure of it. As for the defense, it looked pretty fast and pretty physical over the weekend. Things will be a lot tighter after the bye week. Trending: Same
LSU: Someone on this blog has been pretty adamant about people not sleeping on the Tigers. I can't really recall his name, but he's the sharpest dressed man in the business. Anyway, DO NOT SLEEP ON THE TIGERS! There might be a revamped defense down on the Bayou, but LSU still has a ton of speed and athleticism on that side of the ball. The Tigers' defense overwhelmed TCU on Saturday, and the offense put up nearly 450 yards of offense. This team is good, folks. Trending: Up
South Carolina: The defense was solid, the offense was balanced and the Gamecocks head into Week 2 with a ton of confidence and momentum. Sure, Jadeveon Clowney wasn't his best, but he had a slow start to last season, too. Plus, he was sick. We here at the SEC blog will give him a pass this week (but only this week!). The defense faces a tougher task in stopping Georgia's offense Saturday, but it'll be interesting to see how the Bulldogs defend running back Mike Davis, who could be a budding star. Trending: Up
Texas A&M: When Johnny Manziel was throwing the ball, he actually looked pretty good. For a player known more for his time away from the field during the offseason, he looked like someone who took all of his practice time very seriously. He didn't put up eye-popping stats, but he went through his progressions and didn't lock onto receivers. But he can't pick up silly taunting penalties anymore. Just be the Johnny Football who wowed us last year. Also, the defense might have been down a few starters, but to give up more than 500 yards to Rice is unacceptable. Trending: Same, but close to trending down
Florida: No one really wanted to see a bowl of vanilla ice cream sitting in the middle of the Swamp Saturday, but that's exactly what you got when Florida's offense took the field. The passing game opened up a little more in the first half and backup running back Mack Brown looked very good, but it was a bit of snoozer in the second half. The defense was outstanding against that uptempo offense, but the offense was pretty boring. With the return of starting running back Matt Jones and more on the line Saturday, I expect that to change this weekend against Miami. Trending: Same
Georgia: The Bulldogs did not have a very good Saturday against Clemson. Offensively, they put up more than 500 yards, but the offensive line struggled in pass protection and top wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell is out for the season after tearing his ACL. On defense, the Bulldogs couldn't tackle and failed to contain Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bulldogs had 10 missed tackles Saturday (they totaled 106 all last season). More work needs to be done in Athens than originally thought. Trending: Down
Outside of our weekly picks, we've taken the time to list our 10 fearless predictions before the start of the season. I'll list mine below, while you can check out some of fellow SEC blogger Chris Low's predictions for the season in his weekly column on Friday.
Remember, I'm not a certified psychic, so a couple of these might seem a little off. But for the most part I'm pretty confident that at least 99 percent of what I write will absolutely happen ...
1. The SEC will win its eighth consecutive national championship. Alabama is the class of the SEC, and it continues to look down at the rest of the country. The Crimson Tide are the favorites to close out the BCS era with a title, and the SEC has some other worthy contenders. Alabama isn't perfect, but a lot of teams would kill for Alabama's weaknesses. It'll be a three-peat for the Tide.
3. Manziel will miss out on the 3,000/1,000 club. I'm not saying Johnny Football will take a major stumble (though it's possible), but it would be tough for anyone to repeat what Manziel did last year. Tim Tebow failed to mirror his 2007 Heisman season but still had a fine career. People adapt and things change. Manziel could still have a great season, but he either won't rush for 1,000 yards or throw for 3,000.
4. The SEC will have 11 bowl-eligible teams. The SEC sent only nine teams bowling last year, but I expect that number to increase. All nine from last year should return to the postseason, but keep an eye on Auburn, which has the capability to surpass the six-win mark with Gus Malzahn back in town. And someone else will get to six wins. My candidates: Missouri and Tennessee.
5. Vanderbilt will pull a major upset. This is the year. This is the team that does it for James Franklin. He likes what he has coming back on both sides of the ball, and he's thrilled with his defensive depth in the front seven. Look out Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M. One of you will fall to the Commodores.
6. Jadeveon Clowney will get at least 15 sacks. It won't be easy, but a faster, more focused Clowney will surpass his mark of 13 sacks that he had last year. The pressure is on for Clowney to deliver, but if there's any player in the country who can live up to the hype, it's Clowney. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has said it before: If Clowney doesn't want to be blocked, he won't be. He won't be blocked much this fall. Teams will try to game plan around him, but you just can't keep a freak like that down.
7. T.J. Yeldon will lead the SEC in rushing. Gurley might be the SEC's best running back, but something tells me Yeldon is going to have a special year. Both will have to deal with sharing carries, but I don't see Yeldon sharing as much as Gurley. As a backup last year, Yeldon rushed for 1,108 yards. Now, he's the starter.
8. Florida will get back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers. Believe it or not, the Gators have never had running backs rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive years. That will change this fall, as Matt Jones will follow Mike Gillislee's 1,152-yard season in 2012 with his own 1,000-yard season. He'll miss Week 1, but that won't stop him from have a four-digit season.
9. The targeting rule will cost a team a win. The rule is all about safety, and that's great, but it's tricky and will cost a team in 2013. Players are making split decisions and so are refs. Coaches are unsure about the rule -- and the ejections -- and in at least one SEC game the targeting rule will send a player to the showers early and cost his team a victory.
10. Ohio State will figure out a way to lose to the SEC ... again. Whether it's in the national championship or another postseason bowl, the Buckeyes will find a way to do what they do best: lose to the SEC. Urban Meyer had a ton of success while at Florida, but it'll be a rude awakening for him when he has to face the SEC again.
I mean, it's no big deal or anything, but I completely dominated the picks last year. The ATL Kid showed no mercy. Chris just didn't have the focus that you'd expect from a veteran. He started covering this league when I still had training wheels on my bike and chocolate stains on my shirts. (OK, those are still there.)
I spent the entire offseason gloating over how my beautiful 107-15 (.877) record looked down at Chris' 100-22 (.820) record and scoffed. But I also did some homework. I studied film. I might have had the championship belt around my waist, but today is a new day -- a new season.
Last year's picks mean nothing (except in the realm of blogger pride), so I have to start over. I'll starting lifting and running more in the mornings in order to get my mind and body right for the days ahead.
One championship was nice, but I'm looking for more rings and more bragging rights, and that all starts with a strong Week 1.
Let's get onto the picks:
NORTH CAROLINA AT SOUTH CAROLINA
Chris Low: It’s the Battle of the Carolinas, or as the Head Ball Coach would say, South Carolina vs. “Dabo’s Carolina.” Not sure Dabo’s Carolina will be able to block Mr. Clowney. Then again, can anybody? ... South Carolina 30, North Carolina 17
Edward Aschoff: This could be the team that gets Steve Spurrier back to the SEC championship game. Jadeveon Clowney and that talented defensive line will make things miserable for UNC's offense all night. ... South Carolina 31, North Carolina 17
OLE MISS AT VANDERBILT
Chris Low: There’s no getting around the rape case and how it will impact the Commodores, especially with junior receiver Chris Boyd being suspended. The Rebels are for real and will finally figure out a way to beat the Commodores after losing five of the last six in this series. ... Ole Miss 24, Vanderbilt 20
Edward Aschoff: Both of these teams are on the rise in the SEC and have higher expectations than usual entering the season. While the Rebels have struggled recently with the Commodores, there's more pressure on Vandy, and Ole Miss will claim its redemption. ... Ole Miss 27, Vanderbilt 24
WESTERN KENTUCKY VS KENTUCKY (in Nashville, Tenn.)
Chris Low: OK, no jokes about Bobby Petrino riding his motorcycle to the game. He gets his first of two straight chances to take down SEC teams, but the Wildcats will stand their ground in Mark Stoops’ debut. ... Kentucky 28, Western Kentucky 21
Edward Aschoff: Mark Stoops doesn't get a cupcake for his first game as Kentucky's new coach. I think it actually benefits him because he'll have a better idea of what he really has. And what he'll have is an opening-day winner. ... Kentucky 24, Western Kentucky 20
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE AT ARKANSAS
Chris Low: Louisiana-Monroe sent the Hogs reeling last season. Now, it’s Louisiana (the Ragin’ Cajuns) who’d like to get a little slice of Pig Sooie. Arkansas is too strong up front defensively to stumble in this one. ... Arkansas 27, Louisiana 17
Edward Aschoff: Bret Bielema and his Hogs are dealing with a lot of injuries, but he'll still have more talent on the field Saturday. We won't know a ton about this team, but starting off 1-0 ain't bad. ... Arkansas 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 17
AUSTIN PEAY AT TENNESSEE
Chris Low: There won’t be many breathers for Butch Jones in his first season at Tennessee, but the only drama in this one will be whether or not the Pride of the Southland Band has enough stamina to still be playing “Rocky Top” in the fourth quarter. ... Tennessee 45, Austin Peay 7
Edward Aschoff: Another new coach makes his debut with a team shrouded in mystery. Jones has a lot of inexperience to work with on offense and it'll be interesting to see how that up-tempo offense looks. ... Tennessee 31, Austin Peay 14
MURRAY STATE AT MISSOURI
Chris Low: It sounds like Henry Josey is healthy again, and all those SEC fans who didn’t get a chance to see him last season while he was sidelined are in for a treat. It won’t be a lot of fun for Murray State trying to tackle him. ... Missouri 38, Murray State 14
Edward Aschoff: The Tigers are healthier and carrying a big chip on their shoulders this season. A more complete Missouri team should take the field this weekend. ... Missouri 41, Murray State 13
WASHINGTON STATE at AUBURN
Chris Low: We know that Mike Leach thinks the bottom half of the Pac-12 is better than the bottom half of the SEC. Here’s his chance to prove it, although the Tigers should be greatly improved this season. ... Auburn 34, Washington State 21
Edward Aschoff: The Tigers have no choice but to get better with Gus Malzahn back on the Plains and Ellis Johnson taking over the defense. You should see lots of points in Malzahn's debut as the head coach. ... Auburn 38, Washington State 20
TOLEDO AT FLORIDA
Chris Low: The latest blow to the Gators was offensive tackle Chaz Green going down for the season, joining already injured running back Matt Jones and guard Jon Halapio. But when you don’t give up any touchdowns, it’s hard to lose. ... Florida 24, Toledo 6
Edward Aschoff: The Gators enter with a banged-up offense that already had a lot of questions. Toledo is far from a pushover, but Florida has the muscle to get by a tricky opening opponent. ... Florida 27, Toledo 10
RICE AT TEXAS A&M
Chris Low: By order of Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman, I will not make any comments concerning a certain Aggies’ quarterback. What I will say is that the Aggies will roll despite No. 2 being on the bench for a half. ... Texas A&M 48, Rice 10
Edward Aschoff: Johnny Football might be sitting out a half, but it wouldn't matter if he were sitting out the entire game. It's finally time for A&M to get back on the playing field. ... Texas A&M 48, Rice 17
MISSISSIPPI STATE VS OKLAHOMA STATE (Houston, Texas)
Chris Low: The Bulldogs want to bring more pressure on defense this season. They’re going to need to in this one, but they will have a hard time scoring with the Cowboys. ... Oklahoma State 37, Mississippi State 24
Edward Aschoff: A lot of questions remain for the Bulldogs, and it won't be easy for this defense to slow down Oklahoma State's high-powered passing game. ... Oklahoma State 34, Mississippi State 21
LSU VS TCU (in Arlington, Texas)
Chris Low: Les Miles isn’t saying whether Jeremy Hill will play in the opener. He’s “withholding” that information. Something else that will be withheld is TCU touchdowns. This LSU defense might be young, but it’s not lacking talent. ... LSU 28, TCU 16
Edward Aschoff: The Tigers might be the must undervalued team in the SEC. Miles always has his teams prepared for these out-of-conference games, and you'll see a more explosive offense that's fast and athletic and will overpower the Horned Frogs. ... LSU 31, TCU 17
ALABAMA VS VIRGINIA TECH (in Atlanta)
Chris Low: This is not your father’s Virginia Tech team. The Hokies simply don’t have enough firepower to keep it close against the two-time defending national champions. ... Alabama 35, Virginia Tech 10
Edward Aschoff: Alabama likes these big openers. The process is strong with Crimson Tide players and Virginia Tech is hurting. Alabama comes in more talented, and the Hokies just don't have the horses to keep up in Atlanta. ... Alabama 38, Virginia Tech 13
GEORGIA AT CLEMSON
Chris Low: It’s the most compelling opener of the season and should also be the most entertaining. If you like points, sit back and enjoy. The Dawgs will hold up a little better in the secondary and sneak out with a win. ... Georgia 35, Clemson 31
Edward Aschoff: This is the main event. Both teams have high-octane offenses and both have defenses littered with questions. Georgia has a lot of talent on defense, but it's young. This game is going to come down to which defense makes a play late -- and home-field advantage. ... Clemson 34, Georgia 31
College football prognosticator Phil Steele continues his look at the top depth charts around the country. Today, we're looking at his top running back depth charts .
Steele has three SEC teams on his list, with Georgia taking his top spot. Alabama is No. 2, while Texas A&M is 14th.
It's hard to argue against having Georgia No. 1. The Bulldogs bring back the top one-two rushing punch in Todd Gurley, who led SEC running backs with 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns, and slasher Keith Marshall. The duo combined for 2,144 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. There isn't much behind these two, but they did just fine with the majority of the carries last year.
As for the Aggies, they're also very deep at running back. Leading rusher Ben Malena (808 yards) is back, and he'll be working with some younger but very talented teammates. Brandon Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma, has the potential to be very special. Then you have Oregon transfer Tra Carson and sophomore Trey Williams. There is a lot of speed and athleticism in Texas A&M's running back stable.
I'd also keep an eye on Florida, LSU and Ole Miss this fall. The Gators will be led by sophomore Matt Jones, who had a very good spring and should pick up right where Mike Gillislee left off. He'll also get help from redshirt junior Mack Brown, who left spring as the No. 2 back, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane. Taylor had a good spring and Lane should come in and help right away.
LSU might have made Steele's list if Jeremy Hill wasn't suspended from the team. Hill's recent arrest has his future at LSU in doubt, but if he plays this fall he'll be one of the league's best. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue are nothing to sneeze at. Both have shown flashes in the past and Blue should be healed from a knee injury that cost him most of his 2012 season. Losing Hill will really hurt, but the Tigers have a solid duo in Hilliard and Blue to work with.
Ole Miss returns rushing leader Jeff Scott and a talented bunch of youngsters. Scott is a solid all-purpose-type back, while sophomores I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton came on strong late last year and this spring. True freshman Mark Dodson will get his chance to see the field as well after a strong spring.
Spears has high hopes for Texas A&M
TBD Bowling Green Tennessee TBD Wisconsin Alabama TBD UTEP Arkansas TBD Louisville Auburn TBD New Mexico State Florida TBD Louisiana-Monroe Georgia TBD Louisiana-Lafayette Kentucky TBD McNeese State LSU TBD Southeast Missouri State Missouri TBD Tennessee-Martin Ole Miss TBD Mississippi State Southern Miss TBD Arizona State Texas A&M TBD Western Kentucky Vanderbilt