Texas A&M Aggies: Nick Marshall

SEC lunch links

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
12:00
PM ET
Alabama, Auburn and Missouri will all hold their spring games this weekend. To get you ready for all the action, be sure to check out Friday’s lunch links.
Brandon Allen. Nick Marshall. Bo Wallace.

That’s it. That’s the list.

Only three quarterbacks who started double-digit games last season return to the SEC this fall, and one of them isn’t even guaranteed to be a starter.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLes Miles and Nick Saban are in no hurry to name their starting QBs for the fall.
Everywhere you turn in this league, there’s a quarterback competition underway, from Alabama to Georgia, Arkansas to Kentucky, LSU to Texas A&M. Maty Mauk is surely the presumptive starter at Missouri, but even he's not a sure thing. Gary Pinkel says he wants competition, never mind that there were times when Mauk looked better than former starter James Franklin.

But not every coach in the SEC approaches the quarterback position the same way. A quick glance across the league shows a variety of opinions about how to pick a starter.

Mark Stoops is the most urgent-minded coach of the bunch, and given the inconsistency Kentucky had at quarterback last season, it’s easy to understand why. Entering his second season, Stoops said: “I’d love to come out of spring with a clear-cut starter.” That means everyone is in the mix. Maxwell Smith can’t practice while he recovers from shoulder surgery, but Jalen Whitlow, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and even true freshman Drew Barker are in the hunt.

Barker, a four-star prospect according to ESPN, “has a very good opportunity to take control of it,” Stoops said, praising his maturity for such a young quarterback.

“He’s a guy [who] has high expectations [for] himself, and he’s OK with the pressure that comes along with playing that position,” Stoops said. “He’s excited about the opportunity, and I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Bret Bielema isn’t outwardly putting a timetable on anything at Arkansas, but he’s encouraging everyone to compete. Allen started 11 games last season but was up and down, with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Bielema was about as no-nonsense as any coach gets about the situation.

“In theory, the first time we yell out for the [first string, Allen is] going to step out there,” Bielema said before the start of spring practice. “But really, in our program, the competition brings the best out of people.

“So B.A. is going to be the first guy in with the ones, but there will be other guys who get opportunity,” he continued. “Who is able to produce and run the offense effectively and who gives us the best chance to win next year’s opener against Auburn will be at that position.”

Similar to the case at Kentucky, Bielema isn’t counting out his true freshman. Rafe Peavey, another highly-regarded four-star prospect, is going to be allowed to sink or swim. Bielema loves his talent and praised him as a “football junkie.” But he’s not pampering the rookie.

“It’s no different between the right tackle or the quarterback or the safety,” Bielema said. “It’s all about what a freshman can handle, how they adjust to adversity and how they enjoy success.

“The quarterback gets a lot of attention. They’re usually really pretty, really smart, and everybody likes them. But in reality, they’re like everybody else. Those that play well will play and those that don’t will sit.”

While Bielema and Stoops are anxious for a battle, other coaches around the league are more inclined to sit back and wait.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWho will replace Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M's QB? Kevin Sumlin isn't saying anything right now.
LSU coach Les Miles said he has a good sense of the competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. “But it always plays out,” he said, harkening back to when Matt Flynn and JaMarcus Russell duked it out eight years ago. It looked like Flynn had the job in hand after winning a bowl game and watching Russell come into camp out of shape in 2006. But Flynn's body faltered down the stretch and Russell kept going, eventually winning the job.

"I want all the quarterbacks to know that it’s going to be given to no one,” Miles said. “[It’s] earned by the one that plays."

Texas A&M and Alabama are taking similar approaches to replacing Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron. In fact, both Kevin Sumlin and Nick Saban are somewhat defiant about holding the cards close to the vest.

Sumlin has gloated before that when people assumed Jameill Showers would beat out Manziel in 2013, "I didn't name a starter [after spring]; y'all did."

So while we watch Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen jockey for position, don’t expect a starter to be named until close to the season.

Saban, for his part, doesn’t want to hear anything about it. His quarterback competition is essentially on hold until the fall, when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives. Before the start of spring practice, Saban laid out his plan, saying, “Let me be very clear about this: We’re not going to be in a hurry to decide who the quarterback is.”

“You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback,” he added, “and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 'We're going to wait and see.’ ”

The only place in the SEC that doesn’t have to be patient in the matter is South Carolina. Coach Steve Spurrier named Dylan Thompson the starter well before spring practice ever began.

Replacing Connor Shaw won’t be easy, but Spurrier said that Thompson was the guy for the job, no question. A fifth-year senior with plenty of in-game experience, Spurrier didn’t have a doubt in his mind.

“I didn’t know there was any question about it,” he said. “Someone said, ‘You’re just naming him the starting quarterback?’ Well, I just said, ‘Of course I am. Why wouldn’t we?’ ”

Spurrier did it his way. Saban and Sumlin are doing it theirs. Stoops is anxious, and Bielema and Pinkel are only interested in the competition.

Recruiting a quarterback is the furthest thing from an exact science. Finding out who’s ready to start is even more inexact.

This might be the season of new quarterbacks in the SEC, but everywhere there’s a different sense of which way the wind blows.
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.
Setting up the spring in the SEC West:

ALABAMA

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Succeeding McCarron: The Crimson Tide must find the person who will step into AJ McCarron’s shoes. There are several quarterbacks on campus: Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman. The person most have pegged as the favorite, however, won’t be on campus until the summer: Jacob Coker. A transfer from Florida State, Coker is finishing his degree before enrolling at Alabama. But new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will get a chance for a long look at the others this spring.
  • What’s next for Henry?: Running back Derrick Henry has the fans excited after his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance (eight carries, 100 yards), and he brings great size to the position (6-foot-3, 238 pounds). T.J. Yeldon is a returning starter who is more experienced and battle-tested, and there are still other talented backs on the roster, such as Kenyan Drake. But plenty of eyes will be on the sophomore-to-be Henry.
  • Replacing Mosley: Linebacker C.J. Mosley was a decorated star and leader, so his presence will be missed. Alabama has plenty of talent in the pipeline; it’s just not tremendously experienced. Watch for Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland.
ARKANSAS

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Keeping it positive: It’s been rough around Fayetteville, Ark. The Razorbacks closed their season with nine losses in a row; coach Bret Bielema is a focal point in the unpopular NCAA proposal designed to slow down hurry-up offenses; and leading running back Alex Collins served a weeklong suspension last month for unspecified reasons. The Hogs could use some positivity.
  • A new DC: The Razorbacks will be working in a new defensive coordinator, Robb Smith. He came over from the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was the linebackers coach. Smith made a significant impact at his last college stop, Rutgers, where he led the Scarlet Knights' defense to a No. 10 ranking in total defense in 2012.
  • Year 2 progress: Making a drastic change in scheme isn’t easy to do, which is what the Razorbacks tried to accomplish in Bielema's debut season. In the second spring in Fayetteville for Bielema, things should come a little more easily as the Razorbacks continue to institute Bielema's brand of power football.
AUBURN

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Picking up where they left off: The Tigers put together a memorable, magical 2013, and with eight starters returning on offense, keeping that momentum going is key. Replacing running back Tre Mason and O-lineman Greg Robinson won't be easy, but there is still plenty of talent on offense to aid quarterback Nick Marshall.
  • Marshall's progress: Marshall’s ascent last year was impressive, but can he continue it? He’s great with his feet and made some big-time throws last year. As he continues to progress as a passer, it should add another facet to the Tigers’ explosive, up-tempo, multifaceted attack.
  • Improving the defense: The Tigers lost five starters from a group that was suspect at times last season. But defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has a history of improving defenses from Year 1 to Year 2, and it should be interesting to see if he can do that at Auburn.
LSU

Spring start: March 7

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
MISSISSIPPI STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • All eyes on Prescott: With some strong performances to close out the season in the Egg Bowl and in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, quarterback Dak Prescott certainly played the part of an elite SEC quarterback. He'll enter the season with more national attention after putting together some gutsy performances while pushing through some personal adversity last season after the death of his mother.
  • Malone stepping in: Justin Malone was on pace to start at right guard last season, but was lost for the year with a Lisfranc injury in his foot in the season opener against Oklahoma State. With Gabe Jackson gone, the Bulldogs need another solid interior lineman to step up, and a healthy 6-foot-7, 320-pound Malone could be that guy.
  • Offensive staff shuffle: The Bulldogs added some new blood on the offensive coaching staff, bringing in young quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, a former Utah quarterback. Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy were promoted to co-offensive coordinators, though head coach Dan Mullen will continue as the playcaller in games.
OLE MISS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
  • Wallace’s development: Coach Hugh Freeze believes quarterback Bo Wallace will be helped by having more practice this time around; last year, January shoulder surgery had Wallace rehabilitating most of the offseason, and Freeze believes it affected Wallace's arm strength later in the season. A fresh Wallace going into the spring can only help, and as he’s heading into his senior season, the coaching staff will look for more consistency.
  • Status of Nkemdiche and Bryant: Linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant were arrested last month and suspended. Ole Miss is investigating the situation, but their status remains undecided.
  • A healthy Aaron Morris: During the season opener against Vanderbilt, Morris tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. The offensive guard was recently granted a medical hardship waiver to restore that season of eligibility. Getting Morris back healthy for 2014 is important for the Rebels as he is a key piece to their offensive line.
TEXAS A&M

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: None (final practice is April 5)

What to watch:
  • Life after Johnny Manziel: Texas A&M says goodbye to one of the best quarterbacks in college football history and must find his successor. Spring (and fall) practice will be the stage for a three-way battle between senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen. Only one of those three has started a college game (Joeckel), and he played in just one half last August. Whoever wins the competition will be green, but all three have the ability to run the Aggies’ offense.
  • Retooling the defense: The Aggies were pretty awful on defense last season, ranking among the bottom 25 nationally in most defensive statistical categories. They have to get much better on that side of the football if they want to be a real factor in the SEC West race, and that starts in the spring by developing the young front seven and trying to find some answers in the secondary, particularly at the safety positions.
  • New left tackle: This spring, the Aggies will have their third different left tackle in as many seasons. Luke Joeckel rode a stellar 2012 season to the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. Senior Jake Matthews made himself a projected top-10 pick for this year's draft while protecting Manziel last season. This season, Cedric Ogbuehi gets his turn. Ogbuehi has excelled throughout his Texas A&M career on the right side of the offensive line (first at right guard, then at right tackle last season) and is looking to follow in the footsteps of Joeckel and Matthews.

SEC lunchtime links

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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The weekend is fast approaching and bowl game action is beginning to heat up. Here are some headlines from around the league today to sink your teeth into:

SEC 2013 wrap

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
10:00
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That cliche about history and its thirst for repeating itself really fits the SEC. Eight years after the SEC captured the first of seven straight BCS national titles, and 16 years after taking the first BCS title, it's closing out the BCS era with one final appearance in the big game.

The league needed a fresh face at a historic place and a little bit of luck to take its talents out west, but it only made sense that the conference that already owns nine BCS titles gets one last shot at another.

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
AP Photo/Dave MartinChris Davis' TD return against Alabama will live forever in SEC lore.
The team with the opportunity to bring commissioner Mike Slive another one of those shiny crystal footballs is Auburn. A three-win SEC bottom-feeder a year ago, the Tigers made the biggest turnaround in college football with an SEC title, 12 wins and some fantastic finishes that play on a loop in the minds of college football fans everywhere.

Auburn didn't have a smothering defense, but it pounded just about every team it faced with the nation's most dangerous rushing attack (335.7 yards per game). Led by Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason (1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns), the Tigers' rushing attack, which features elements of the spread, triple option and power running, crossed the 200-yard mark in 12 games.

Along the way, the Tigers had thrilling endings in wins against Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. The final two showcased a destined Hail Mary from quarterback Nick Marshall against Georgia and an unthinkable last-second, 109-yard touchdown return by Chris Davis on a missed 57-yard field goal attempt by Alabama.

With Auburn in the big game, that means that for the first time since Auburn was last in this game in 2010, Alabama will be watching from home. The Crimson Tide, which will be haunted by Davis' return for the foreseeable future, is headed to the Allstate Sugar Bowl and isn't competing for its third straight national championship.

The Tide seemed to have everything going for them until Davis took a chance. It bested Johnny Football in a shootout and topped LSU in dominating fashion late. But even Nick Saban and the Tide aren't perfect. A last-second decision to attempt a 57-yard field goal changed everything.

But in a year that was so un-SEC for the conference, it was fitting that Alabama missed the big one. Defenses were hard to come by, with only four teams giving up less than 350 yards a game. Only Alabama allowed less than 20 points per game (11.3).

Quarterbacks changed the dynamic of the conference with more shootouts than smashmouth games. Johnny Manziel passed (3,732 yards and 33 touchdowns) his way to New York for the Heisman ceremony, while we said somber goodbyes to Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, Connor Shaw (still the toughest man in the game) and Zach Mettenberger.

Traditional SEC Eastern Division powers Florida and Georgia stumbled thanks to injuries. The Gators were hit the hardest and fell the most, suffering their first losing season since 1979, missing out on a bowl game for the first time in 22 years and losing to Vanderbilt and FCS Georgia Southern at home.

Then there was Missouri, which took the SEC East by storm in another bounce-back year. Headed by a high-flying offense, these Tigers won 11 and made it to Atlanta in their second year in the league, only to meet the buzz saw that is Auburn's running game.

Many things were different all around the league this year, but one thing remained the same: A chance at a national championship is still there. Once again, this league needed luck, but somehow the SEC found a way.

Offensive MVP: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn: Mason was one of the league's most consistent players. He led the SEC with 1,621 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. He set an Auburn record with 23 total touchdowns and 2,137 all-purpose yards. In SEC games, Mason averaged 5.7 yards per carry and crossed the century mark on the ground eight times.

[+] EnlargeVernon Hargreaves III, Michael Bennett
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida CB Vernon Hargreaves III put together an sterling freshman season with three interceptions and 14 passes defensed.
Defensive MVP: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is a close second here, but he just wasn't as consistent as Mosley, who led Alabama with 102 tackles, including 56 solo stops. Mosley was the closest thing to a quarterback on defense that you could find in the country. He can play both the run and pass. He led Alabama with nine tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries.

Newcomer of the year: With Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall spending a year at Georgia, he wasn't eligible. But our top newcomer came in and made an immediate impact in Florida's secondary. Vernon Hargreaves III started the final 10 games of the season, tying for first in the SEC with 14 passes defended (most by a freshman in Florida history). He also had three interceptions and 38 tackles.

Best game: There were so many to choose from this year. You had instant classics with Vanderbilt-Ole Miss, Georgia-LSU, Auburn-Texas A&M, Alabama-Texas A&M, Missouri-South Carolina and Auburn-Georgia. But Alabama-Auburn had the craziest ending of all. In a game that should have gone to overtime, Davis ended things with a remarkable return to give Auburn a 34-28 win over the top-ranked Crimson Tide. Fans stormed the field, and the Tigers eventually found a spot in the BCS title game.

Biggest disappointment: Yes, injuries ravaged the Gators, but a 4-8 record shouldn't happen at a program like Florida. The most embarrassing part about the year was that home loss to Georgia Southern before getting blown out by Florida State. The Gators scored more than 20 points just four times, and offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis were both fired at the end of the season.

Biggest surprise: Auburn went from winning just three games a year ago to playing in the national championship in Malzahn's first season. The Tigers ranked last in the SEC in total offense last year (305) and head into bowl season ranking second (505.3) in the SEC.
Ten SEC teams are headed to the postseason and one of them is playing the granddaddy of them all. All is right in the college football world below the Mason-Dixon Line, as the SEC looks to extend its BCS title streak to eight in a row.

Once again, the SEC has Urban Meyer to thank for more conference gold ... or should I say orange and blue ...

Here's this season's SEC bowl lineup:

VIZIO BCS National Championship game, Jan. 6: Auburn vs. Florida State
Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin
AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: LSU vs. Iowa
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31: Texas A&M vs. Duke
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia vs. Nebraska
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31: Mississippi State vs. Rice
BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 4: Vanderbilt vs. Houston

I'm sure we'll have more on all of these bowl games in the coming weeks, but here are our first impressions of this season's lineup:

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesCan tailback Tre Mason and the Tigers bring home an eighth consecutive national title for the SEC?
Edward Aschoff's first impressions

Best game: VIZIO BCS National Championship game. This one is for all the marbles, and once again the SEC is involved. Real shocker there, even if it is Auburn. Somehow, the SEC found a way, and we now get to see the nation's best rushing offense (335.7 yards per game) take on Florida State's vaunted passing game, which is led by Heisman favorite Jameis Winston. The Noles own the country's 14th-ranked pass defense and rank third nationally in total defense. Auburn is on a special run this season and, with a month to rest and look over things, you have to wonder if coach Gus Malzahn will throw a couple more items into his playbook just for Florida State.

Worst game: TaxSlayer.com Gator. On paper, watching Georgia and Nebraska play each other looks pretty fun. But we've seen this matchup before. We saw it last season in the Capital One Bowl. Obviously, these are different teams, but they have the same uniforms on and the bowl season is about seeing something new and different. This isn't, and Georgia fans will let you know it. It'll probably be a pretty good game, but it would have been a lot better to see both of these two with different opponents.

Sneaky good game: Franklin American Mortgage Music City. The triple option vs. Hugh Freeze's fun spread? Yes, please! The Rebels didn't end the season the way they wanted, but you can see a lot of growth at Ole Miss. The Rebels owned one of the SEC's best offensive attacks, while the Yellow Jackets mirrored Auburn at times on the ground, averaging 311 rushing yards a game. But don't forget that Georgia Tech's defense only gave up an average 350 total yards per game. This should be a good one that has fourth-quarter drama written all over it.

The bowl season will be a success if: All the SEC cares about is bringing home an eighth straight crystal football. Commissioner Mike Slive is looking right at you, Auburn. Beat Florida State, and the SEC ends the BCS right where it started: with a national championship. The league can have a losing record in bowl play, but if it wins the one out in Pasadena, Calif., the conference will be all smiles (even folks in Tuscaloosa) and will still claim its perch atop the college football world.

Chris Low's first impressions

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisQuarterback James Franklin and Missouri will take on Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
Best game: VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Florida State might be a little more than a touchdown favorite by the oddsmakers, but Auburn is playing lights out on offense. How do you stop that running game? The Seminoles come into the game with the better defense. That’s not debatable. But the Tigers seem to be in their comfort zone when they can turn a game into a track meet. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason are both electrifying playmakers, and Mason has shown that he’s plenty durable, too. The matchup, though, that makes this game so enticing is an Auburn offensive line that has blossomed this season against a talented, athletic Florida State defensive front. Nobody has run the ball against the Seminoles all season. But, then, nobody had run the ball against Alabama this season, either, until Auburn lit up the Tide for 296 rushing yards two weeks ago.

Worst game: BBVA Compass. What does Vanderbilt have to do to get a bowl game higher in the SEC’s pecking order? The Commodores are sitting there with eight regular-season wins for the second straight season and will be making the short trip to Birmingham, Ala. They get a Houston team that enters the postseason having lost three of its last four games. A close second goes to the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, where we get a rematch of last season’s Georgia-Nebraska game from the Capital One Bowl.

Sneaky good game: AT&T Cotton. Two old Big 12 rivals will get it on in Arlington, Texas, and if you like offense, this is your kind of game. Missouri’s passing game, especially now that James Franklin is healthy again, is both balanced and explosive. Dorial Green-Beckham and L’Damian Washington combined for 22 touchdown catches this season. The Tigers’ defense gets a chance for redemption after being shredded by Auburn’s running game, but faces an Oklahoma State offense averaging 39.8 points per game.

The bowl season will be a success if: It’s all about the bling in the SEC. In other words, the onus is on Auburn to make it eight straight national championships. If the streak remains intact, the SEC will have bragging rights for another year. Counting the BCS National Championship game, 10 SEC teams are playing in bowl games. The league went 6-3 last season, so 7-3 sounds about right this season. Then we can all drum up some more propaganda, although Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops might have more to worry about than propaganda -- real or perceived -- when his Sooners take on Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Q&A: Texas A&M DC Mark Snyder

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
3:00
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On Saturday, Auburn and Missouri will meet in the SEC championship game. To preview the game, we spoke with Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, who knows the teams as well as anybody. The Aggies were one of four teams to face both division winners at some point during the season.

Snyder breaks down the game from his vantage point, looks back at Texas A&M’s season and explains why he thinks the SEC will be more defensive next year:

It was Texas A&M’s second year in the SEC. How'd you feel like it went?

Mark Snyder: Obviously, we had some big standards going into the season, but we were so young defensively. We had some injuries, like a lot of teams in the SEC, but I thought as the year went, I saw our defense getting better each and every week. We played pretty decent and had our opportunities against Missouri. Give credit to those guys; they’re good and they got us.

[+] EnlargeMark Snyder
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsMark Snyder sees better times ahead for Texas A&M's young defense.
What’s the mindset now heading into the bowl game?

Snyder: Just get better. Get our younger guys better on my side of the ball. It’s huge getting to a bowl game and having this extra practice time because typically you get into bowl practice and the first week or so you work your young guys to get them ready for next year. For us, those kids are all playing for us. They’re starting. We’re going to have to be careful about how much we do with them, but we’re getting the chance to continue to get better on defense.

Auburn and Missouri will play for the SEC title Saturday. What stands out to you about both of those teams?

Snyder: They got us at different times. Auburn got us earlier than Missouri did. Both have got really good quarterbacks. Nick’s playing well. Obviously, Missouri’s quarterback has played a lot. The difference in the teams I think is Missouri, they’re a very veteran offense -- veteran offensive line, big, tall wide receivers, a quarterback that’s played a lot, a running back that’s back. It’s a very veteran team where Auburn is very, very athletic. They’re just speed across the board from the receiver [Sammie] Coates to Nick Marshall to -- I really like their tailback (Tre Mason), I think he’s really good. If you look at the teams, one’s probably a little bit more experienced, been in the system longer. The other team has tremendous athleticism.

What are your thoughts on Auburn coach Gus Malzahn?

Snyder: He’s done a good job of instilling some beliefs, him and Coach [Gary] Pinkel both. If you look at both of these teams, right now they’re playing with a lot of confidence, so they’re doing a great job instilling some beliefs in their system. For Coach Pinkel, it was a little easier because those guys had been with him for four years. The trick with Gus is this is his first year with some of these guys, and he’s got them to buy in. You need to make a play here or there in those special seasons, and that’s what they’ve done.

Are you surprised with Missouri's run this early in the SEC?

Snyder: Not really. Coach Pinkel has had a culture of success everywhere he’s been. They were pretty beat up last year. You look at a team like Florida, they’re going through it this year, Georgia a little bit, us a little bit. You go through those. The teams with those magical seasons are staying healthy. We were able to do that last year. We didn’t have much depth, but we stayed healthy. That’s half the battle, and that’s hard in this league. There’s got to be some luck involved in there, especially on our side. If you look at the West, it’s every week.

This season was all about the offense in the SEC. A lot of good quarterbacks, a lot of good offenses. Do you see the power shifting back to the defense next season?

Snyder: I would think so. Things are cyclical, there’s no doubt. LSU lost a lot of people on defense. We lost some people, and we were already young, playing with a bunch of freshmen -- Todd [Grantham] was playing with a bunch of freshmen at Georgia -- against some really good quarterbacks. A lot of those guys are moving on now, and it’s not just the quarterbacks. There are going to be some tailbacks, some offensive linemen, just offense in general. And then you’re going to see some of the teams I just mentioned not lose anybody (on defense) and continue to grow up. I will be surprised if you didn’t see better defensive numbers come next year from a bunch of us.

SEC Week 14 primer

November, 30, 2013
11/30/13
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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 Friday mailbag: Week 13

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
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It's time for another edition of the mailbag as we move closer toward season's end. Enjoy it while it lasts, because we're in the home stretch of the college football season. Thanks for the questions, as always.

GRIPR (@GRIPR08): Do you think this year's Iron Bowl is going to be as epic as 2010?

I certainly hope so, and based on the way the seasons have gone, but I think it might be hard to match because of everything that surrounded that game. There are some similarities: There weren't a ton of expectations for Auburn coming into this season, which was similar of the case in 2010 (though they were 8-5 in 2009 and 3-9 in 2012). There's a junior college transfer at quarterback for Auburn (Cam Newton then, Nick Marshall now) who can run the read-option well. And Alabama was favored going into that game, even though they had two losses and Auburn was undefeated. (I'm assuming Alabama will be favored this time around, too.) But when you think of the controversy that surrounded Newton at the time, the Tigers falling behind 24-0 and having to come back to win by a point with national championship dreams and a potential Heisman Trophy hanging in the balance, the 2010 game was one for the ages. If Auburn pulls off an upset this time, maybe it could get into the conversation, but the fashion in which the Tigers won in 2010 really made it special. Either way, it should be a great game because Auburn has a legitimate shot and Alabama has history in the balance as they try to continue marching toward a third consecutive national title.




Ethan Desai (@EDiddy8): Does an 10-2 A&M team go to the Sugar Bowl over a 10-2 Auburn? The Manziel factor has to play a big role for TV purposes.

If it plays out that way -- Auburn loses the Iron Bowl and Texas A&M finishes off by beating LSU and Missouri -- I do think it's very possible that A&M gets chosen for the Sugar Bowl over Auburn, even though the Tigers defeated Texas A&M earlier this season. The reason could be for the very one you stated: the Johnny Manziel factor. The allure of having Manziel for potentially his last college game is intriguing for a bowl game. And depending on how the BCS standings shake out, it's possible Texas A&M could finish the regular season ranked ahead of Auburn. I think both programs would be great choices because both are great stories: A&M with Manziel and Mike Evans and Auburn with the best turnaround of the season after going 3-9 in 2012. But I think you're intuition is correct if it plays out that way and Alabama punches its ticket into the BCS championship game.




Joe Losoya (@thirdcoastcoog): Is Manziel a system QB?

I don't think so. I know there have been quarterbacks who have carried that label after playing in the style of offense that Texas A&M employs (which can also be seen in variations at Texas Tech, Washington State, Houston and other places). People tried to give Case Keenum that label at Houston when Kevin Sumlin was the coach there. Does that offensive scheme make it easier to produce bigger passing numbers? Absolutely. The object is to get the ball out quickly to your good athletes in space, creating a high completion percentage and passing yardage. But if you watched Manziel at Kerrville (Texas) Tivy High School (where "Tivy Fight Never Dies" is the rallying cry) or just watched him in general throughout his A&M career, I think it's clear that he's a special talent. The Aggies actually modified their offensive scheme to fit what Manziel does well, adding designed quarterback running plays that you don't normally see in an "Air Raid"-style offense. Manziel, in my opinion, is a one-of-a-kind player at quarterback who has so many tools and incredible athleticism, it makes him almost impossible to defend. I think he'd succeed in any offensive system you put him in.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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Another wild weekend of SEC football is in the books. Let's take a look at what's being talked about around the league on Monday:

SEC Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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It looks like No. 1 and No. 2 in our Power Rankings are in for quite the game in their regular-season finale. As for the rest of the lineup, we had a little more movement after a pretty entertaining weekend:

1. Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC; last week: 1): All title contenders slack. For some reason, it's in their DNA. A week after thumping LSU by 21, Alabama received quite the gut check with a lethargic 20-7 win over Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide mustered just 383 total yards and turned it over four times, but a win is a win at this point. A nice tuneup against Chattanooga is all that remains before what should be an epic bout in the Iron Bowl.

2. Auburn (10-1, 6-1 SEC; LW: 2): Whatever cliche you want to give Saturday's thrilling 43-38 win over Georgia, go for it because it deserved it. The Tigers tried to hand Georgia a comeback win, but Nick Marshall's prayer of a throw had other plans. Say what you will about Auburn's sloppy fourth quarter, this team heads into the bye week with a ton of momentum and in the BCS picture. It must be nice to rest before playing Alabama.

3. Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Tigers were off over the weekend, which means quarterback James Franklin had another week to rest his shoulder before heading to the Grove on Saturday. So much is still in front of this team, and the pressure is on. With South Carolina beating Florida, Mizzou has to win out to claim the SEC Eastern Division.

4. Texas A&M (8-2, 4-2 SEC; LW: 4): The Aggies were also on a bye, which will probably do A&M some good with a trip to LSU on Saturday. Last year, LSU's defense suffocated Johnny Manziel for most of the day in the Tigers' 24-19 win. But neither Manziel nor Kevin Sumlin has lost a road game during their two seasons of work with the Aggies. Tiger Stadium won't intimidate either one.

5. South Carolina (8-2, 6-2 SEC; LW: 5): The Gamecocks certainly made things interesting in their ugly 19-14 win over Florida, but now they are a Mizzou loss away from winning the SEC East for just the second time. It has been an interesting season for South Carolina, but the Gamecocks seem to be hitting their stride and have a chance for a top-10 matchup with Clemson at the end of the season that could be for a BCS bowl game.

6. Ole Miss (7-3, 3-3 SEC; LW: 7): After losing three straight SEC games, the Rebels have now reeled off four wins in a row and are fresh off a 51-21 win over Troy. Quarterback Bo Wallace has been extremely impressive during the Rebels' run, averaging 305 yards with eight touchdowns to two interceptions. Things will be absolutely rocking in Oxford with No. 8 Mizzou heading in for what should be an electrifying night game.

7. LSU (7-3, 3-3; LW: 8): After a deflating loss to Alabama, the Tigers got a chance to rest this weekend. You have to wonder how this team is doing mentally. This year has been the season of mistakes and what-ifs for LSU, and the Tigers can't afford another sloppy performance with Johnny Football coming to town.

8. Vanderbilt (6-4, 3-4 SEC; LW: 9): Just like last year, the Commodores are making another impressive run in November. Last year, Vandy went 4-0 and could be on its way to doing that again. The Commodores weren't dominant in their 22-6 win over Kentucky, but they became bowl eligible for a school-record third straight year and created history with wins over Florida and Georgia this season.

9.Georgia (6-4, 4-3 SEC; LW: 6): It has been a really ugly season for the Bulldogs. Everything in 2013 for the Dawgs can be summed up in the split second it took for Josh Harvey-Clemons to deflect Marshall's last-ditch-effort pass up and into the hands of Ricardo Louis for a touchdown that ripped the Bulldogs' hearts from their chests. Injuries and rookie mistakes have cost the Bulldogs a chance at a third consecutive SEC East title.

10. Florida (4-6, 3-5 SEC; LW: 10): What did you really expect from Florida on Saturday? The Gators, who have dealt with a rash of season-ending injuries, were down to their third-string quarterback in a hostile South Carolina environment. This team didn't quit and had a pretty good game plan until things fell apart in the fourth quarter. For the second time in three years, Florida will finish the year with at least six losses.

11. Tennessee (4-6, 1-5 SEC; LW: 11): With Vandy and Kentucky remaining, the Vols are in must-win mode against the Commodores on Saturday. Last year, the Dores ran the Vols out of Nashville with a 41-18 blowout and enter this game on an absolute roll. It has been a tough first year for Butch Jones, but the Vols are coming off of a bye week and have their backs against the wall.

12. Mississippi State (4-6, 1-5 SEC; LW: 12): Even though the Bulldogs lost at home to Alabama over the weekend, their fans cheered them on after the game. A 13-point loss is rarely applauded, but Mississippi State stayed tough against No. 1 Alabama. Still, the Bulldogs now have to win out in order to become bowl eligible for the fourth straight year, and that won't be easy with Ole Miss still on the schedule.

13. Arkansas (3-7, 0-6 SEC; LW: 13): The Hogs were off over the weekend, and you have to hope that the extra time was used to get that passing game going. It's clear that Bret Bielema has been behind the eight ball when it comes to having the types of players he needs for his system. As a result, Arkansas is last in the SEC in passing (149 yards per game) and is riding a seven-game losing streak.

14. Kentucky (2-7, 0-6 SEC; LW: 14): You have to give the Wildcats credit: Despite their record, they haven't quit. That 22-6 loss to Vanderbilt marked the 14th straight SEC loss for Kentucky and the third straight loss to the Commodores. The offense's inconsistency just keeps holding this team back, as the Cats scored on an early 75-yard drive but failed to score again, registering just 262 total yards.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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Wow. What a Saturday. How do you top that?

Fortunately, there are still things to be decided and big games remaining in the SEC. But in the meantime, let's look back at the storylines and what we learned in the league from Saturday’s action:

Just when you think you've seen it all ... guess again. The ending to Auburn versus Georgia will be talked about for a long time to come. People still talk about the "Bluegrass Miracle" when Devery Henderson caught a game-winning 74-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Randall to help LSU stun Kentucky with no time remaining back in 2002, but the "Miracle on the Plains" had a similar feel, only with much higher stakes. Auburn still has a chance at an SEC title if it can win out; Georgia was still holding out hope it could find its way into a tie for the SEC East title. But Nick Marshall's desperation heave on fourth-and-18 wound up bouncing off a Georgia defender (two had a shot to intercept it or knock it down) and into the hands of Ricardo Louis, who walked in for the improbable game-winning score. This really is a dream season for Auburn, considering where the Tigers were at this time a year ago.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/Butch DillIt wasn't always pretty, but AJ McCarron and Alabama did enough to win against Mississippi State.
Alabama can win when not at its best: Saturday was a big-time gut check for the No. 1 Crimson Tide. After their destruction of LSU last week, it seemed all but a formality that they would walk into the BCS title game, but Mississippi State gave them all they could handle. Championship teams have to deal with that and have to win when they're not performing at peak level. That's what happened to Alabama, which got it done, on the road.

It wasn't pretty, but a win's a win for SC: Considering how beaten up Florida is, it's easy to say that South Carolina should have cruised by the Gators. The Gamecocks didn't, having to squeak out a 19-14 victory, but it doesn't matter, because they've done all they can do to this point. Their conference schedule is wrapped (the Gamecocks are 6-2) and all they can do is sit and wait to see if Missouri wins out and clinches the division, or falters and drops a game. The loss Georgia suffered means South Carolina doesn't have to worry about the Bulldogs, and if Mizzou loses, the Gamecocks head to the SEC title game.

Vanderbilt's pretty good in November: At least under James Franklin, that is. The Commodores took care of business against Kentucky, winning 22-6 to make them bowl eligible for the third straight year. Pre-Franklin, Vanderbilt appeared in just four bowl games. Since Franklin took over, Vanderbilt is 8-2 in November and has won seven straight in the month dating back to 2011. The Commodores are hoping to finish like they did last season, when they won five consecutive games. A bonus for the Commodores: Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels returned from injury and went 19-of-24 for 184 yards while wearing a brace on his left knee.

It's going to be a fun finish: Who knew Auburn would be playing for something come the Iron Bowl? Nobody had Missouri winning the SEC East, which the Tigers have a chance to do. There are players in the conference still gunning for the Heisman Trophy, namely Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has a date with LSU waiting (and one at Mizzou after that). No matter what you do, hold on to your hats because it could be a wild finish in these last few weeks, if Saturday was any indication.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
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All eyes were on Saturday's Alabama-LSU showdown, but there were plenty of storylines to take away from the rest of the conference, as well. Here are five things we learned from Week 11 in the SEC.

Alabama still king: For the first 30 minutes, it looked like it was going to be another epic clash between the Tide and the Tigers. However, the nation's No. 1 team imposed its will in the second half and rolled to a 38-17 victory. AJ McCarron threw three touchdown passes; T.J. Yeldon rushed for 133 yards and two scores, and the defense held LSU to 43 yards on the ground, sacking quarterback Zach Mettenberger four times. It was the first challenging game the Tide have played in more than a month, and it proved why they are still the No. 1 team. On a weekend when Oregon suffered its first loss, Alabama not only remained unbeaten but showed why it's the favorite to win a third consecutive national championship.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/Dave MartinWith three touchdown passes against LSU, is AJ McCarron finally hearing some Heisman buzz?
Heisman hopefuls: With another solid performance in a big game, is it time we put McCarron back in the Heisman trophy race? It's safe to say that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has emerged as the front-runner after the weekend, but McCarron certainly helped himself against LSU. And don't forget about Johnny Manziel, last year's Heisman winner. The Texas A&M quarterback put up more ridiculous numbers Saturday, throwing for 446 yards and five touchdowns at home against Mississippi State. Manziel is on pace to surpass his numbers from last year, but the Aggies' loss to Alabama early in the season could influence voters. Both McCarron and Manziel have marquee games still left to pad their resumes.

Year of the Tiger: Who would've guessed Auburn and Missouri would be No. 2 and No. 3 in the SEC, chasing down Alabama? Both Tigers teams have had terrific seasons, and they continued Saturday with impressive road wins. Ninth-ranked Auburn went to Tennessee and blew out a Volunteers team that had been dangerous at home. Quarterback Nick Marshall rushed for 214 yards and two scores as the SEC's top-rushing offense put up 444 yards on the ground. Missouri also took care of business against a struggling Kentucky team. Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, a former five-star recruit, caught seven passes for 100 yards and four touchdowns. Both teams should remain in the top 10 when the BCS standings come out Sunday.

Trouble in Gainesville: Florida's season went from bad to worse Saturday. The Gators, who have been decimated by injuries, were on a three-game losing streak but hopeful they could turn it around at home against Vanderbilt. It didn't happen. Despite giving up nearly twice as many yards, the Commodores knocked off Florida 34-17 for their first win in Gainesville since 1945. The Gators turned the ball over four times. What does this mean for head coach Will Muschamp? He should get a pass because of all the injuries, but this is the type of loss that could lead to unemployment. Florida now has to win at South Carolina or at home against Florida State just to reach a bowl game.

Gaining momentum: It seems like a long time since Ole Miss lost those three consecutive games to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M. The Rebels have quietly righted the ship, and they have a legitimate chance to win out. On Saturday, they looked impressive in a 34-24 win over Arkansas. Quarterback Bo Wallace finished 26-of-33 and threw for a career-high 407 yards. The win made Ole Miss bowl eligible for the second straight year under coach Hugh Freeze, but this team wants more. They want to finish with nine wins and play in a New Year's Day bowl game. That means the Rebels will have to upset Missouri at home in two weeks and finish the season with a win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Neither is out of the question.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
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With apologies to Nick Saban, AJ McCarron, T.J. Yeldon, C.J. Mosley and all of the pageantry that accompanied the SEC's annual marquee regular-season matchup, there were just too many noteworthy performances to go handing out helmet stickers to the rolling Tide's usual suspects.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: With two touchdown passes in an easy 45-6 rout of Appalachian State on Saturday, Murray broke the 17-year-old SEC record of Florida's Danny Wuerffel (1993-96) for the most career TD passes. Murray entered the game already holding the SEC career marks for total offense and passing yards. The senior completed 19 of 26 passes for 281 yards in three quarters of work.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Ho-hum. Another week, another compelling argument in the sophomore's case for a second straight Heisman Trophy. Against Mississippi State on Saturday, Johnny Football threw for 446 yards with five touchdown passes (never mind those three interceptions). Honorable mention goes to senior Travis Labhart, once a walk-on, now a scholarship guy who has emerged as a key contributor at receiver. Manziel completed six passes to Labhart for a career-high 102 yards and two touchdowns.

Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: The former Georgia Bulldog and former juco quarterback accounted for 214 of Auburn's 444 rushing yards, running for two touchdowns and passing for another in the No. 9 Tigers' 55-23 dismantling of the home-standing Volunteers. Marshall posted a 99.6 Total QBR despite completing only 3 of 7 passes, but Gus Malzahn didn't need to throw with the success the Tigers were having on the ground. Marshall's 214 yards were the third-most by an SEC quarterback in a game over the last 10 seasons, behind only Heisman winners Manziel (229 yards vs. Oklahoma in 2012) and Cam Newton (217 vs. LSU in 2010).

Missouri's offense: The No. 8 Tigers encountered little resistance in their first league game in the Bluegrass State. Freshman quarterback Maty Mauk threw five touchdown passes to tie Chase Daniel's school record in Mizzou's 48-17 romp past Kentucky. Dorial Green-Beckham broke through in a big way. The 6-foot-6 sophomore, who was the nation's No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2012, had seven catches for 100 yards and four touchdowns. Not to be outdone, running back Henry Josey ran 11 times for 113 yards and two TDs, including an 86-yarder. The Tigers remain a half-game ahead of idle South Carolina in the East division.

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: Even in a 51-41 road loss to Texas A&M, a special heartfelt helmet sticker goes out to Prescott, who lost his mother last Sunday to her battle with cancer. Tyler Russell got the start after Prescott missed the week of practice before Saturday's game, but the two rotated, with Prescott getting the majority of the snaps. The Aggies had difficulty slowing him in the running game, as Prescott ran 16 times for 154 yards (9.6 yards per carry). He was 14-of-26 passing for 149 yards and two touchdowns. It was certainly a determined and inspiring performance under the most difficult of circumstances.

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