Texas A&M Aggies: Ricardo Louis

SEC's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
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Ten of the Top 25 tailgating schools reside in the SEC, including all of the top six. Does this surprise anyone?

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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Nothing was hotter this past weekend than the dramatic ending of that Auburn-Georgia game. Elsewhere in the SEC, though, it wasn’t quite as toasty.

Here’s a look at our Week 12 version of Hot and Not in the SEC:

GLOWING EMBERS

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
AP Photo/Dave MartinGus Malzahn already has engineered a seven-win turnaround from 2012's 3-9 debacle.
Auburn’s magical ride: Sometimes, it’s just meant to be. Call it miraculous. Call it lucky. Call it whatever you want. But Nick Marshall’s batted 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis in the final seconds Saturday, lifting Auburn to an improbable 43-38 win over Georgia, kept this magical ride going for the Tigers. They’ve now won seven straight games and will take on No. 1 Alabama in two weeks in the Iron Bowl with the SEC's Western Division championship on the line. Is this really the same team that didn’t win an SEC game a year ago and was outscored 150-21 in its last three SEC contests? That’s an easy answer … no. Gus Malzahn and his veteran staff have come in and restored everything that had seemingly vanished from a program that won a national championship only three years ago. There was certainly more talent on this team than last season’s 3-9 record would suggest, but the difficult part for Malzahn was restoring the Tigers' edge after they went belly-up last season. It's safe to say he has done that. And before anybody says Auburn has been more lucky than good, show me just about any championship team and I’ll show you a team that has had some luck along the way. This team believes right now, and we’re in store for one epic Iron Bowl on the Plains in two weeks.

HOT

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray: He has been around for so long that we’ve probably all taken him for granted, but Murray is one class act and one terrific football player. He did everything he could to bring Georgia back from the dead in the fourth quarter against Auburn. The fifth-year senior has been a rock all season for the Bulldogs despite crippling injuries around him and has exuded class every step of the way.

NOT

Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell: The Bulldogs’ senior quarterback hasn’t been able to catch much of a break this season. He suffered a concussion in the opener and had to miss several games, eventually losing the starting job to Dak Prescott. This past weekend, Russell got another shot against Alabama after Prescott was unable to play because of a shoulder injury, but Russell wasn’t able to finish the game after hurting his shoulder while trying to make a tackle following his fourth-quarter interception.

HOT

Florida’s grit: Nobody is happy in Gator Nation right now, and that starts with coach Will Muschamp. But there’s something to be said for the way Florida fought its guts out Saturday in a tough 19-14 loss to South Carolina. The Gators were down to their third-string quarterback and had an excellent chance to win the game on the road against a top-15 team.

NOT

Preseason rankings: Florida, Georgia and LSU all started the season ranked in the top 12 of the Associated Press poll. As we head into Week 13, those three teams have a combined 13 losses, and LSU still has to face Texas A&M at home this weekend.

HOT

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyJordan Matthews had a season-high 12 receptions as Vanderbilt reached bowl eligibility with a victory over Kentucky.
Vanderbilt: We all know Vanderbilt coach James Franklin doesn’t like to talk about bowl games, but we will. Thanks to the Commodores’ 22-6 victory over Kentucky last weekend, fueled by 12 catches for 141 yards from senior receiver Jordan Matthews, they’re now headed to a bowl game for the third straight season. For perspective, Vanderbilt had been to only four bowl games in its history before Franklin arrived. The Commodores also have a chance to get to nine wins for the second straight season if they can win out over Tennessee, Wake Forest and their bowl opponent.

NOT

Alabama’s focus: Good thing the Crimson Tide’s defense came to play Saturday in Starkville. And good thing the Tide were playing Mississippi State. Against a more talented team, Alabama would have been toast. Four turnovers going forward will mean an end to their national championship run. OK, maybe not this weekend against Chattanooga, but certainly against Auburn in two weeks and any other games after that. Something says this week in practice won’t be a lot of fun for the Tide.

FREEZER BURN

Fans’ patience: It's that time of year again when they’re lining up at the town square. That's a reference to Bobby Bowden’s classic line regarding fans' impatience when a football team or a unit on a football team starts to struggle. Bowden would always say, "They want a hanging at the town square." With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, it's safe to say there are more than a few restless fan bases around the SEC. It remains to be seen who's really in trouble. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley insists that Muschamp will be back for a fourth season, but it's difficult to see Muschamp's offensive staff returning intact. Mississippi State fans aren't thrilled with Dan Mullen right now, and that's despite the Bulldogs still having a chance to go to a fourth straight bowl. The Georgia fans are furious over the way the defense has played this season, although given the Bulldogs' youth, it was obvious they were going to struggle on that side of the ball. If LSU loses to Texas A&M this weekend there could be grumbling on the Bayou about Les Miles. Even first-year coaches aren’t spared. Arkansas has lost seven straight under Bret Bielema, and the fans in the Ozarks are wondering how they could go from 21 wins in 2010 and 2011 to 15 losses in the past two seasons. In this league, there is no equity and even less patience.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
10:00
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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.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.

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