NCF Nation: Georgia Bulldogs

A lot of talent has already come off the board, but there’s still quality at the top of the ESPN 300 that could give at least 10 teams a shot at the second-best class. Plus, Penn State's James Franklin continues to be the most talked about coach in the Washington D.C. metro area.
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The ginormous question surrounding Georgia's football team after news broke of Todd Gurley's suspension has been whether the Bulldogs could win without arguably the nation's best player.

Well, after two games sans Gurley, who still leads the SEC with 773 rushing yards, the Bulldogs haven't really needed him. In two convincing wins -- on the road, mind you -- the Dawgs have put the running game squarely on true freshman Nick Chubb and he's, well, run away with that responsibility.

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsIn 99 carries through Week 8 this season, rookie Nick Chubb has taken over Georgia's rushing load and he isn't showing signs of slowing down.
The bruising, 5-foot-10, 228-pound frosh looked nothing like a youngster when he first stepped on the field and dazzled the country with his moves and strength in the opening win against Clemson, and he transformed into a certified manimal with his 345 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the past two games as the feature back for the Bulldogs.

"Nick's gonna be special. We know that," senior cornerback Damian Swann said. "Right now, he's taking on a very big load and he's handling it well. ... You've seen him on the past two Saturdays. He's got a bright future in Athens."

Unfortunately for the SEC, the future is now, and Chubb has been amazing filling in, especially with how much he has played. In the past two games, Chubb has carried the ball 68 times, eclipsing 30 carries in each outing. Gurley has never even carried the ball 30 times in a single game at Georgia.

After carrying it 38 times for 143 yards at Missouri, Chubb turned right around and ran 30 times for a career-high 202 yards and two touchdowns. How good was that? Chubb became just the third freshman in Georgia history to rush for more than 200 yards in a game (Herschel Walker, Rodney Hampton).

Chubb has five touchdowns and is eighth in the SEC with 569 rushing yards.

"He's taken the majority of the carries and it doesn't seem to faze him," quarterback Hutson Mason said. "The guy's a special cat. He's got to be the best freshman running back in the country. You give it to him 20 or 40 times and it just seems like he's going to keep pounding it. It's awesome."

That's all fine and dandy now, but it certainly begs the question. With Gurley out and running backs Keith Marshall and Sony Michel nursing injuries, are the Bulldogs running their young thoroughbred, who already had thumb surgery, too much? Does the colt need to take some plays off and rest his body with Gurley's return uncertain?

"He's built for it," coach Mark Richt said. "He's very, very tough physically and mentally. He's strong. He came from high school in Cedartown [Georgia] where they're just tough. They coach tough. Their offseason's tough. He didn't get babied in high school at all. He was not one of those guys where you could sit there and say he was given anything because he was a very good football player. He had to earn it every day in practice and every offseason workout."

The bye week will certainly help any sort of fatigue Chubb has, but with the way he has played in back-to-back weeks -- remember: On the road -- I don't know if another game would slow him down. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon on his 43-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter on Saturday, and then he just went back to bulldozing guys for the rest of the game.

If he needs a rest, he isn't showing it.

"It's super impressive because that guy's durable," wide receiver Chris Conley said. "He doesn't complain, he does what he's told and he puts his head down and grinds for the team."

Players aren't surprised at how well Chubb has played. They saw the chiseled snapshots of him running track in high school before he enrolled. They saw him pulverize teammates during offseason drills. They watched him lift, cringed as he squatted ungodly amounts and saw the pain he inflicted during practice.

This was what the Bulldogs expected, and they haven't missed a beat without Gurley leading the pack.

"We know how special that kid is," Swann said.

Yes, and so does the entire country.

SEC bowl projections: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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The SEC’s ability to get two teams into the College Football Playoff field is what should and will generate the most headlines as we push toward the final month of the season.

Each highly ranked team that loses -- hello, Baylor, Notre Dame and Oklahoma -- makes it seem like more of a possibility, but we’re not yet ready to project that half of the playoff teams will come from the SEC.

We’ll stick with top-ranked Mississippi State as the SEC's playoff pick for now, but Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia remain in the middle of the discussion as well. Those teams still have several key games ahead that will determine the top half of the SEC’s postseason pecking order.

Meanwhile, the bottom half of the pecking order should also become a source of late-season drama. After their losses on Saturday, we’re dropping Arkansas (3-4) and Florida (3-3) from this week’s bowl projections and adding Tennessee (3-4), although none of those teams is a sure bet at this point. Kentucky (5-2) gets to stay in, but the Wildcats are coming off a 41-3 loss at LSU and will face a challenging second half of the schedule where earning another victory (and achieving bowl eligibility) might be tough.

At any rate, there is assuredly plenty of movement ahead in these projections, but here is where we are entering the ninth week of the regular season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Cotton Bowl: Alabama
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: LSU
Outback Bowl: Missouri
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Texas A&M
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Tennessee
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Kentucky

SEC helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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The only good thing about a day full of blowouts in the SEC is that there are plenty of helmet stickers to hand out.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: How do you top a 143-yard, one-touchdown performance in your first collegiate start? By rushing for 202 yards and two touchdowns in your second start. That's exactly what Chubb did in place of the suspended Todd Gurley on Saturday, leading Georgia past Arkansas, 45-32. He became only the third freshman in school history to rush for more than 200 yards in a game (Herschel Walker, Rodney Hampton). As long as Chubb keeps getting 30-plus carries a game, he's going to keep showing up on this list.

Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss: Don't get me wrong. Senquez Golson is deserving of a helmet sticker with two interceptions on Saturday. But it was Haynes and the defensive line that set the tone for the Rebels. They held Tennessee to zero rushing yards in large part thanks to nine sacks on the night. Haynes led the way with five tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during the 34-3 win. The freshman might not get the recognition of his counterpart Robert Nkemdiche, but he's one of the SEC's better young stars whom nobody's talking about.

Terrence Magee, RB, LSU: It was supposed to be Leonard Fournette with the huge game, but Magee said “move over freshman, I'm taking this one.” Magee rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries in LSU's 41-3 win over Kentucky. That's 14.1 yards per carry for those counting at home. He also happened to be the team's leading receiver with three catches for 44 yards. Fournette might be the LSU running back to watch in the second half, but don't forget about Magee. He's not going anywhere.

Marcus Murphy, RB, Missouri: Murphy wasted no time putting his stamp on Saturday's game in Gainesville, returning the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. But he wasn't done yet. No, he had more in store for the Gators. Murphy made it 14-0 with a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and he would later return a punt 82 yards for another score. The senior finished with 224 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns on the night. He was one of the big reasons why Missouri won 42-13 despite only gaining 119 yards on offense.

Blake Sims, QB, Alabama: T.J. Yeldon, you deserve a helmet sticker. Amari Cooper, you deserve a helmet sticker. Alabama's defense, you deserve a helmet sticker. It was that kind of game for the Crimson Tide. But the nod here goes to Sims, who went 16-of-27 for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the Tide's 59-0 win over Texas A&M. He also made arguably the best move of the day on his 43-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. This team, Sims included, was criticized after last week's win over Arkansas. It responded in a big way.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 8

October, 18, 2014
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It wasn’t as exciting a Saturday as we hoped for, in terms of competitiveness. Every SEC game was decided by double digits. Still, there is plenty to glean from Week 8. Here are the things we learned from the weekend’s action:

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb helped keep Georgia rolling with 202 rushing yards on Saturday.
Georgia is a great team, with or without its biggest star: Even without running back Todd Gurley, this is your SEC East Division favorite. Some, including me, thought the Bulldogs could be stepping into a minefield in going on the road to face an Arkansas team that seemed to be knocking on the door of an SEC win. Well, No. 10 Georgia (6-1) is carrying the flag proudly for the SEC East after they cruised to a 45-32 win, a victory that included 38 first-half points. Running back Nick Chubb (30 carries, 202 yards, two touchdowns) was fantastic, quarterback Hutson Mason was sharp, and the defense came up with four turnovers. There’s no doubt this is one of the best one-loss teams in the country.

Alabama silenced its critics, for now: Nick Saban was a little irritated earlier this week by his fan base’s outsized expectations, which had many disappointed the Crimson Tide “only” beat Arkansas 14-13 (a week after Alabama lost to Ole Miss). Well, there’s nothing to criticize this week. Alabama played about as close to a perfect game as a team can. The Crimson Tide (6-1) had 602 offensive yards, converted 60 percent of their third downs, held Texas A&M to a meager 172 yards, had zero penalties and won the time of possession battle (36:31 to 23:29). Hard to be upset with 59-0. Although two undefeated teams are ahead of Bama in the standings, you never know what might happen. The No. 7 Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes are alive and well at the moment.

Texas A&M has serious soul-searching to do: It’s one thing to lose and quite another to be destroyed the way the Aggies were Saturday by the Crimson Tide. Kevin Sumlin used the words “embarrassing” and “unacceptable” in his postgame news conference, and those are pretty accurate. Alabama controlled the game in every phase while shutting out a Sumlin team for the first time in his seven-year coaching career. The Aggies (5-3) don’t have a game next week, and it’s a good time for them to reevaluate everything about their team, from top to bottom, to figure out why they’ve been dominated by three SEC West foes in the past three weeks.

Kentucky might be on the rise, but there’s still a long way to go: The Wildcats have been one of the surprise teams in the SEC this year, with their 5-1 start and talk of making a bowl game. The progress the program continues to make is admirable, and coach Mark Stoops should be commended for the job done so far, but after a 41-3 loss to LSU, it's clear there still is a lot of progress to be made. LSU handled its business and showed it’s in a different class than the Wildcats (5-2), at least this weekend. This should serve as a good learning experience for a young Kentucky team that still has a bright long-term future.

It’s not getting better in Gainesville anytime soon: There has been a lot of discussion about Will Muschamp’s job, and that isn’t going to die down after Florida’s performance against Missouri. The Gators were hammered 42-13 in their own backyard. What makes it even worse is the Tigers didn’t do it with offense -- Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk threw for only 20 yards and no touchdowns, and Missouri finished with a minuscule 119 offensive yards. The Tigers did their damage with a kickoff return and punt return for touchdowns (both courtesy of Marcus Murphy), as well as an interception return (Darvin Ruise) and fumble return (Markus Golden) for touchdowns. That’s ugly for Florida, who is 3-3 (2-3 in the SEC) with Georgia coming up in two weeks. It looks like it will only get worse before it gets better for the Gators.

Ole Miss’ offense doesn’t have to be great -- just good enough: The No. 3 Rebels (7-0) took some time to get started offensively, as they went scoreless in the first quarter against Tennessee and were down 3-0 in the second quarter. No worries when you “Landshark D.” The 27-yard Aaron Medley field goal was the only points the Vols would get, quarterback Bo Wallace started making some plays, and Ole Miss cruised to a 34-3 victory. The offensive numbers weren’t great (383 total yards for the Rebels), but more importantly, they committed zero turnovers and won time of possession. With the type of defense Ole Miss has (it held Tennessee to zero yards rushing and 3-of-16 on third-down conversion attempts), that’s a recipe for success.
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This was supposed to be the upset pick of the week in the SEC. Many thought this would be the game in which Bret Bielema would notch his first conference win at Arkansas. The only problem was that No. 10 Georgia didn’t get the memo.

The Bulldogs -- sans Todd Gurley -- jumped out to a big 38-6 halftime lead and held off the Hogs in the second half to win 45-32 in Little Rock.

How the game was won: Where do we begin? Hutson Mason was sharp. Nick Chubb was on a different level. But for the second straight week, this Georgia defense set the tone early. Four turnovers forced, three sacks, a blocked extra point. The Bulldogs might have let their guard down at times in the second half, but it was still another impressive outing. Damian Swann led the way with 11 tackles, two forced fumbles, a sack and an interception.

Game ball goes to: As good as Swann was on defense, Chubb was that much more impressive for the offense. The freshman carried the load once again with Gurley out, finishing with 30 carries for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Chris Conley deserves a shout out here as well. He had five catches for 128 yards and a touchdown for the Bulldogs.

What it means: The SEC East finally broke through against the West. This was the best and potentially only chance for the East to win a cross-division game this season, and Georgia got it done. It was also the first time a team from the West had been beaten by somebody outside of its own division this season.

Playoff implication: All of a sudden, Georgia looks like a serious contender for the College Football Playoff and can you imagine if Gurley comes back at some point this season? This team could challenge the Magnolia State for bragging rights in the SEC.

Best play: Have we mentioned Chubb’s name yet? The freshman had a lot of impressive runs on the day, but his 43-yard touchdown in the second quarter was Gurley-esque. He exploded through the hole, outran the Arkansas safeties and raced into the end zone untouched. The score put the Bulldogs up 17-6, and they never looked back.

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What's next: Georgia gets a week off before its game with Florida in Jacksonville. Arkansas, who showed plenty of fight in the second half, will get UAB at home next week before a trip to No. 1 Mississippi State in two weeks.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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A look ahead to Saturday's games in the Southeastern Conference. All times Eastern:

Noon

Furman at South Carolina, SEC Network: Poor Furman, you couldn’t have picked a worse time to play South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been stewing the past two weeks about their loss at Kentucky. You think they will play with something to prove Saturday at home? For Mike Davis, Dylan Thompson and that offense, it’s a chance to put up a bunch of points and gain some much-needed confidence. For the defense, it’s a chance to take a step in the right direction and actually stop an opponent with some consistency. In reality, this game might as well be a scrimmage for South Carolina. But nonetheless, it’s an important springboard into the second half of the schedule, when the Gamecocks can either continue to circle the drain or rebound and regain the respect they have lost this season.

3:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama will have their hands full against Texas A&M on Saturday.
No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 7 Alabama, CBS: Only one team will leave Bryant-Denny Stadium with hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff. The Aggies, coming off back-to-back losses, are on the razor’s edge, and the Crimson Tide, coming off a loss at Ole Miss and a one-point win at unranked Arkansas, are teetering. Alabama’s defense has played much better of late, but its secondary will be put to the test by Kenny Hill and the A&M passing game. Conversely, Hill could feel the pressure considering his line hasn’t played well the past two games and Alabama’s defensive front has the size and talent to get into the backfield. One thing is certain, though: Emotions should be running high come kickoff as both teams have something to prove.

4 p.m.

No. 10 Georgia at Arkansas, SEC Network: Time to find out the answer to the question that has been on the mind of SEC fans everywhere: How would Arkansas do in the dreadful East Division? The Hogs have played well this season, but haven't been able to overcome Texas A&M and Alabama. Against Georgia, will Bret Bielema’s squad break through? The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are riding high after a dominant performance at Missouri in which the absence of Todd Gurley was hardly felt in the final outcome. They now lead the East, and the race hardly appears close. Leonard Floyd and that defense will be put to the test, though. And Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason won’t face as porous a secondary as Missouri’s this time around.

7 p.m.

Missouri at Florida, ESPN2: Watch out for turnovers. Florida and Missouri have combined to give the ball away 11 times in October alone. Just last week, Maty Mauk threw four interceptions against Georgia, and Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel had two costly interceptions against LSU. In other words, both defenses should be licking their chops. The difference in this game, however, could be the running backs. If Florida can establish the run and negate the pressure from Missouri’s Shane Ray and Markus Golden, the Gators should be in good shape. However, if Missouri can get Russell Hansbrough & Co. going, the pressure should fall off Mauk’s shoulders. It’s a lot of what-ifs, but for two teams headed in the wrong direction, should that really surprise you?

Tennessee at No. 3 Ole Miss, ESPN: The Vols have been knocking on the door this season, but the divide between competitive football and winning football has been tough to cross. Will they do it against No. 3-ranked Ole Miss? On the road? Now that’s asking a lot of Butch Jones' young squad, which is high on talent (Jalen Hurd, Cameron Sutton, etc.) but low on experience. The Rebs, meanwhile, have both confidence and experience on their side. If anyone thought their home win against Alabama was a fluke, they changed their mind after watching them go on the road and destroy Texas A&M. So long as quarterback Bo Wallace continues to take care of the football and that defense stays healthy, it’s hard to imagine Ole Miss having a hiccup game.

Kentucky at LSU, SEC Network: This game feels a lot like a battle of youth and momentum. On the one side, you have Kentucky, which has surprised many with the way it jumped out to a 5-1 record, most recently beating South Carolina at home. Patrick Towles has played well and the defense has been aggressive. But the Cats are young and don’t have pedigree on their side. On the other hand, you have LSU, which has gone from a dark horse playoff contender to unranked and outside the conversation in the West. But don’t count out Les Miles’ squad just yet. After beating Florida in The Swamp, the Tigers could have confidence going for them. And considering all the young talent in Baton Rouge, that is a scary thought.
Not everyone can be a first-team All-SEC selection. When we created our midseason all-conference team, we understood that some players would be left off. When you have Dak Prescott making a Heisman run, other quarterbacks are forgotten. But that doesn’t mean we should go without mentioning those who didn’t make the cut. Here’s a rundown of some of the SEC's most underrated players at the midseason point.

OFFENSE

QB: Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
Bad Bo may be a thing of the past. The formerly inconsistent senior has strung together back-to-back big games when his team has needed them most. He’s currently No. 1 in the SEC in percent of completions gaining 10 or more yards (59.7).

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsAlex Collins is averaging 6.9 yards per carry for the Razorbacks.
RB: Alex Collins, Arkansas
Todd Gurley is the class of the SEC. But Collins is as good as anyone behind him. The true sophomore is fourth in the SEC in rushing yards (634) and ranks third in percent of runs gaining 5 or more yards (55.4). He’s physical (seventh in yards after contact), but he’s also explosive (17 runs of 10 or more yards).

WR: Travin Dural, LSU
But when you say “explosive” you better reference LSU’s sophomore wide receiver. Dural ranks first in the SEC in yards per reception (26.1), second in receiving yards (626) and second in receiving touchdowns (8).

TE: Steven Scheu, Vanderbilt
Not a lot of people are watching Vanderbilt this season, for obvious reasons. But you’re missing out on one of the most productive tight ends in the league. Scheu is second on the Commodores with 19 receptions, 269 yards and one touchdown. Imagine if he had a better quarterback throwing him the football.

OL: David Andrews, Georgia
Forget the Todd Gurley drama, Nick Chubb's emergence and Hutson Mason's inconsistencies. What’s really fueling Georgia is its offensive line Leading that charge is senior center David Andrews. He’s a big reason the Bulldogs rank 12th nationally in rushing yards and Mason has been sacked just eight times.

DEFENSE

DL: Darius Philon, Arkansas
There are a lot of reasons why Arkansas is a better football team this season. The running game is obviously one of them. But the play on the defensive line, and the continued improvement of Philon, is another. Philon has an impressive 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks this season.

LB: Xzavier Dickson, Alabama
Many around Tuscaloosa have been waiting for Dickson’s emergence at outside linebacker. It turns out he was waiting until his senior year. The Georgia native already has five sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss this season, blowing away his previous career totals.

CB: Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
While we wait for Tennessee to break through as a program under coach Butch Jones, there’s one Vol who has already announced himself to the SEC: Sutton. The sophomore corner has come up big in big moments this season. He’s hauled in three interceptions, defended seven passes and even had four tackles for loss.

S: A.J. Stamps, Kentucky
Ever wonder what’s caused the Wildcats to come on so strong this season? Look no further than Stamps, a junior college transfer who has solidified the back end of Mark Stoops’ defense. Stamps has 27 tackles, three interceptions and six passes defended.

SPECIALISTS

K: Francisco Velez, Florida
If you didn’t know his story, reading it should be enough to make you want to root for the guy. If that’s not enough, consider that he ranks fifth in the SEC in field goals made (8), second in overall field goal percentage (88.9, minimum six attempts) and tied for first in field goals of more than 40 yards (8).

P: Landon Foster, Kentucky
It’s not about quantity for Foster. But when it comes to punters in the SEC with a minimum of 20 attempts, he ranks first in percent of punts inside the 20, first in average distance from goal after return and first in fewest punts returned.

KR/PR: Darrius Sims, Vanderbilt
Here’s another Commodore you’ve probably never heard of. Sims, a defensive back by trade, is first in the SEC in kickoff return yards (431), second in yards per kickoff return (30.8) and tied for first in kickoff return touchdowns (2). Nine of his kickoff returns have gained 20 yards or more.
ATHENS, Ga. -- For any relationship to flourish, you need communication.

The same can be said for the maturation and development of Georgia's defense, as communication has been the key to the vast improvements we have seen in the last couple of weeks.

Since closing the month of September by allowing 401 yards of offense and 32 points in a three-point win against Tennessee, the Bulldogs' defense has been outstanding the past two games. Georgia held Vanderbilt to 320 yards and 17 points, then went on the road to shutout Missouri, allowing -- wait for it -- 147 yards. Yes, the Bulldogs, who were dealing with the emotions of not having top player Todd Gurley, went into a hostile SEC environment and completely shut down the Tigers.

[+] EnlargeMauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonSterling Bailey and the Georgia defense held Missouri and QB Maty Mauk to 147 total yards Saturday.
The Dawgs' defense sacked Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk three times, intercepted him four times and held him to 97 yards on 9 of 21 passing.

"The communication in the back end is getting better and better," Georgia coach Mark Richt said about the defensive improvements. "I just think they’re understand more what [defensive coordinator] [Jeremy] Pruitt wants back there, and they’re just doing a good job of getting each other on the same page."

Pruitt, in his first season at Georgia, hasn't been afraid to constantly change things up this season, as Georgia has displayed six different starting defensive lineups in six games. But what has remained constant is the goal to get tighter, more concise communication throughout the defense. The evolution of that has helped players know exactly where they should be and where others should be, defensive end Sterling Bailey said.

What has been so great about a more talkative defensive unit is that even when plays get called wrong or offenses throw some shifts or motions out there, guys are moving together in order to be on the same page. Players are starting to learn how to change at the last minute together.

"You’ve got to be able to make adjustments on the fly," Richt said. "If you don’t, you’ll get exposed."

Through the first four games, Georgia's defense was allowing an average of 338.8 yards per game, 4.7 yards per play, 22.8 points per game and had three interceptions. Take out that 66-0 win against lowly Troy, and yards per game increases to 379.7 yards, and points per game shoots up to 30.3. South Carolina and Tennessee averaged 6.2 and 5.1 yards per play, respectively, against the Bulldogs.

Since then, the Bulldogs have given up 233.5 yards per game, 17 points, 4.2 yards per play, and the opponents' third-down conversation rate decreased from 31.7 percent to 10 percent. Georgia also has five interceptions.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, opponents' points per drive against the Dawgs is down from 1.65 through the first four games to .65 in the past two.

Players are evolving within the defense, but they are also using their words more to make things work. They are asking teammates and coaches more questions. Guys are getting calls right more often. The Dawgs are now performing well, both physically and vocally.

"We know that when we communicate, we execute," Bailey said. "When we don’t, things fall apart.

"It’s helping us learn his defense a lot better."

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who has the pleasure of facing Georgia's improved defense on Saturday, has been very impressed with the improvements made under Pruitt, because Pruitt has been able to mold his defense around the talent of the players he has. There is no 'square peg, round hole' in Athens.

"He’s built a scheme there at Georgia that fits his personnel there," Bielema said.

It has only been two games, but Georgia's defense is thriving and generating a ton of momentum for a second-half push. Saturday presents the task of stopping an Arkansas offense averaging 278.7 rushing yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry. That sounds intimidating, but Bailey said this unit isn't worried about numbers anymore. It's concerned with talking itself into a dominating frenzy each week.

"We are not taking any steps back," Bailey said.

SEC releases 2015 football schedule

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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Remember all the complaining we did in September about the drop-off in intrigue between the SEC’s opening-week schedule and the bonanza of nonconference snoozers the following Saturday?

That won’t be an issue in 2015, with the usual slate of SEC-versus-Power Five opponent openers -- including Alabama-Wisconsin, Auburn-Louisville, Texas A&M-Arizona State and the Thursday night opener between South Carolina and North Carolina -- followed by three conference games and Oklahoma-Tennessee in Week 2.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier and South Carolina will be test in 2015, as the Gamecocks play two Power-5 opponents along with eight SEC games.
The SEC released its full 2015 slate on Tuesday night, and those are only a few of the interesting details that fans are sure to obsess over now that their teams’ schedules are official.

After taking a quick glance at the schedules, here are a few more highlights and abnormalities:

  • Georgia’s non-conference slate is nothing special (Louisiana-Monroe, Southern, Georgia Southern, at Georgia Tech), but Mark Richt’s Bulldogs might have drawn the toughest cross-division slates with dates against Alabama and Auburn. Kentucky drawing a Thursday-night matchup against Auburn and a trip to Mississippi State isn’t much of a favor to Mark Stoops, either.
  • UGA-Alabama is one of the most interesting cross-division games on the list. The two programs haven’t met in the regular season since the Crimson Tide spoiled preseason No. 1 Georgia’s 2008 “Blackout” game at Sanford Stadium by jumping out to a 31-0 halftime lead. A few others of interest are Florida-Ole Miss (Oct. 3), Florida-LSU (Oct. 17), Alabama-Tennessee (Oct. 24), Georgia-Auburn (Nov. 14) and a Thursday-night game between Missouri and Mississippi State (Nov. 5).
    2015 SEC cross-divisional games: Alabama (Oct. 3 at Georgia, Oct. 24 vs. Tennessee), Arkansas (Oct. 3 at Tennessee, Nov. 28 vs. Missouri), Auburn (Thursday, Oct. 15 at Kentucky, Nov. 14 vs. Georgia), Florida (Oct. 3 vs. Ole Miss, Oct. 17 at LSU), Georgia (Oct. 3 vs. Alabama, Nov. 14 at Auburn), Kentucky (Thursday, Oct. 15 vs. Auburn, Oct. 24 at Mississippi State), LSU (Oct. 10 at South Carolina, Oct. 17 vs. Florida), Ole Miss (Sept. 26 vs. Vanderbilt, Oct. 3 at Florida), Mississippi State (Oct. 24 vs. Kentucky, Thursday, Nov. 5 at Missouri), Missouri (Thursday, Nov. 5 vs. Mississippi State, Nov. 28 at Arkansas), South Carolina (Oct. 10 vs. LSU, Oct. 31 at Texas A&M), Tennessee (Oct. 3 vs. Arkansas, Oct. 24 at Alabama), Texas A&M (Oct. 31 vs. South Carolina, Nov. 21 at Vanderbilt), Vanderbilt (Sept. 26 at Ole Miss, Nov. 21 vs. Texas A&M).
  • As usual, opening weekend is when most of the SEC-versus-Power Five games will occur, but there are others sprinkled throughout the schedule. Four SEC teams aren’t scheduled to play a Power Five nonconference game, while South Carolina (North Carolina, Clemson) is the only SEC team set to play two.
  • We'll give Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks the early nod as the SEC team with the toughest nonconference schedule. In addition to the neutral-site game with UNC and home game against Clemson, South Carolina will host Central Florida and The Citadel.
    2015 SEC-versus-Power Five: Alabama (Sept. 5 vs. Wisconsin in Dallas), Arkansas (Sept. 19 vs. Texas Tech), Auburn (Sept. 5 vs. Louisville in Atlanta), Florida (Nov. 28 vs. Florida State), Georgia (Nov. 28 at Georgia Tech), Kentucky (Nov. 28 vs. Louisville), LSU (Sept. 26 at Syracuse), Ole Miss (None), Mississippi State (None), Missouri (None), South Carolina (Thursday, Sept. 3 vs. North Carolina in Charlotte, Nov. 28 vs. Clemson), Tennessee (Sept. 12 vs. Oklahoma), Texas A&M (Sept. 5 vs. Arizona State in Houston), Vanderbilt (None).

  • Texas A&M will actually leave the state of Texas only once in the first 11 weeks of the season (Oct. 24 at Ole Miss). Prior to its Nov. 21 visit to Vanderbilt, A&M will play seven home games and neutral-site games against Arizona State (in Houston) and Arkansas (in Arlington). The Aggies close the season on Saturday, Nov. 28 at LSU, not on Thanksgiving like this season’s finale with the Tigers.
  • With SEC teams getting just one open date apiece in 2015, Ole Miss’ schedule looks like a considerable challenge. The Rebels will play for 10 straight weeks -- including road dates at Alabama, Florida and Auburn -- before taking the weekend off on Nov. 14. They will close the season with a Nov. 21 home game with LSU and the Nov. 28 Egg Bowl at Mississippi State.

Those are just a few of the details that jump out after taking a look at the SEC’s 2015 schedule. Check out the SEC’s official site to see each team’s individual schedule and a week-by-week slate for next fall.

SEC midseason overview

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
10:30
AM ET
The Magnolia State has turned the college football world upside down.

Yes, the emergence of Mississippi State and Ole Miss, two schools that can count their trips to Atlanta for the SEC championship game on exactly one finger, is currently the face of the sport. After becoming just the fifth team in AP poll history to defeat three straight top-10 opponents, Mississippi State is the nation's No. 1 team, its highest ranking ever. After wins against Alabama and Texas A&M, the Rebels rank third.

[+] EnlargeD'haquille Williams
Mike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesAuburn wide receiver D'haquille Williams earns ESPN's newcomer of the year award at the midseason mark for the SEC.
There's a chance that the Egg Bowl could mean more at season's end than the Iron Bowl. There's still a lot of football left, but as things stand now, the road to Atlanta -- and maybe the playoff -- goes through Mississippi.

That isn't to say other teams don't have a chance to detour that trip. Alabama still hosts Mississippi State, and Ole Miss still has to host Auburn and travel to LSU and Arkansas, two teams that are better than you think.

Then there's the East, well, there's Georgia. Before you throw that side of the conference into an active volcano, realize that Georgia is quietly gaining steam after a 34-0 win at Missouri without Todd Gurley, arguably the nation's best player. He's currently suspended for possible violations of NCAA rules, but this team can win the East without him. Just imagine what could happen if he returns.

Let's check out our SEC midseason awards:

Offensive MVP: Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
There hasn't been a better, more consistent quarterback in the SEC. Prescott has 2,089 total yards of offense with 23 touchdowns and has taken down three straight top-10 opponents. He's passed for 200 yards and rushed for 100 yards in four of his past five games. -- Edward Aschoff

Defensive MVP: Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State
He's made a major impact in every game this season for the Bulldogs. He has 19 tackles, including a team-high 6.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks. Smith also has two interceptions, three passes defended, nine quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and blocked two kicks. -- Edward Aschoff

Biggest surprise: Kentucky
Mark Stoops' recruiting success made it clear that the future was becoming brighter in Lexington, but it would be hard to say we expected the Wildcats to be 5-1 right now. They've performed well beyond preseason expectations and are poised to become bowl-bound for the first time since the 2010 season. -- Sam Khan

Biggest disappointment: South Carolina
After winning 11 games in three straight seasons and opening 2014 with a No. 9 national ranking, it all came crashing down quickly for the Gamecocks. Kenny Hill and Texas A&M routed South Carolina in the opener, and the Gamecocks have since lost their last two to Missouri and Kentucky. -- David Ching

Newcomer of the year: D'haquille Williams, WR, Auburn
In his first game, Williams hauled in nine catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. He hasn't looked back since. The junior college transfer has quickly become the favorite target for Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, leading the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns. At this rate, he might only be on the Plains for one season. -- Greg Ostendorf

Best coach: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
It was a slow and steady rise. Mullen had to change everything from the culture to the coaching. It took five years, but he's absolutely changed the perception of Mississippi State football. Ranked No. 1 with a solid defense and a Heisman Trophy contender at QB, Mullen has built a program no one thought possible. -- Alex Scarborough

Game of the year: Bama-Ole Miss
The goal posts left the building. Hotty Toddy did it. Not only did Ole Miss finally beat Alabama, it did so on the biggest stage. Bo Wallace played his best late, Senquez Golson sealed the win with an interception and Oxford partied like it never had before. Katy Perry wasn't surprised -- she was impressed. -- Alex Scarborough

Biggest games of the second half
Mississippi State-Ole Miss
Auburn-Alabama
Auburn-Georgia
Mississippi State-Alabama
Auburn-Ole Miss
Dak Prescott, Bo Wallace, Nick ChubbUSA TODAY Sports, Icon Sportswire, USA TODAY SportsDak Prescott (MSU), Bo Wallace (Ole Miss) and Nick Chubb (Georgia) led impressive wins Saturday.
Like Hugh Freeze does with his Ole Miss team following any game, it's time to physically throw our concerns into the trash. Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Georgia are here to stay.

After all the questions heading into the weekend, we received all the validation we needed with both Mississippi schools topping ranked opponents with the pressure on -- again -- and Georgia going on the road without Todd Gurley and utterly embarrassing Missouri in a 34-0 win.

Following its 38-23 win against then-No. 2 Auburn, Mississippi State is now the No. 1 team in the country. Ole Miss' 35-20 spanking of then-No. 14 Texas A&M has the Rebels third. Georgia has risen to No. 10.

Let this settle in: The Egg Bowl could mean more than the Iron Bowl at season's end. At the moment, "Hotty Toddy" and clanging cowbells are drowning out "War Eagle" and "Roll Tide."

So much for the state of Alabama's unofficial motto of "At least we're not Mississippi."

Even after historic wins by the Mississippi schools, we weren't sure if they could get it done a second week in a row. (However, yours truly picked both to win.) And without Gurley, your Heisman favorite before his suspension, we had no clue what mental state the Dawgs would be in having to travel all the way to Columbia, Missouri, for a crucial conference game.

Well, all three told us to stay calm and carry on, proving they are still on track for special seasons. We can stop downplaying the success of the Magnolia State's best, and Georgia freshman Nick Chubb, who rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown against Mizzou, appears capable of carrying the load for as long as Gurley is out.

With Mizzou tanking, Florida giving LSU a victory in the Swamp, Vanderbilt long gone and South Carolina and Tennessee lagging behind, Kentucky shares the top spot with Georgia in the SEC East race. With all due respect to a much improved Wildcats team, I think we would all agree Georgia is the clear-cut favorite to win the East, with or without Gurley. The offense put trust in Chubb and quarterback Hutson Mason, and both delivered in the clutch. A defense that still had us on the fence played its most complete game of the season. Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk was never comfortable, throwing four interceptions and getting sacked three times, and the running game mustered a paltry 50 yards.

Georgia allowed just 10 first downs and Mizzou never even made it into the red zone. It's clear the loss to Indiana wasn't an anomaly for the Tigers, and they aren't the contenders we once thought, but don't take anything away from Georgia. If you weren't impressed with Georgia, you just weren't watching. Without their best player, the Dawgs dominated, and the East is now theirs for the taking.

With the way things are going, it appears Georgia will be on a crash course to meet one of those Mississippi schools in Atlanta for the SEC championship. For the first time, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are both 3-0 in conference play.

Where do we even begin with these teams and why we can no longer take them lightly? Ole Miss became the first team to shut out Kevin Sumlin's Aggies at the half. Mississippi State became the fifth team in AP Poll history to defeat three straight top-10 teams. Ole Miss has allowed six offensive touchdowns this season, and its defense has scored four. Mississippi State has an SEC-high 47 tackles for loss and has held opponents to just six touchdowns in 19 red-zone appearances.

Mississippi State handled the No. 2 team in the country with a 15-point win, and the Rebels marched into College Station and beat an angry Aggies team in front of an SEC-record crowd of 110,633. Both teams won by 15, but let's not kid ourselves, the margins of victory could have been bigger for both teams.

You need more validation? How about the fact that Mississippi State now has the nation's second-longest winning streak at nine? How about both teams having 16 takeaways? You want clutch? Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, who appears to have exorcised "Bad Bo," has seven total touchdowns to zero turnovers in SEC play, and Mississippi State wide receiver De'Runnya Wilson has a nation-leading five touchdown catches on third down.

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, and running back Josh Robinson might be the SEC's toughest runner, outside of Gurley.

These teams have bite, and it's time to give them the respect they deserve. There is a ton of football left, especially with the Mississippi schools having to continue their runs through the gauntlet that is the SEC West, but this past weekend showed us these teams are for real.

The SEC is trudging through a cacophony of barks, cowbells and "Hotty Toddys," and there is just no getting around it. Deal with it.
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Let’s not go overboard.

Let’s not even try to make the argument Georgia is better today than it was a week ago.

Let’s not pretend you can have a Heisman Trophy contender ripped off a team and have that met with sustained improvement.

Football, in the long term, just doesn’t work that way. Ask Texas A&M about life after Johnny or South Carolina about its now Clowney-less defense; they’ll tell you.

[+] EnlargeChubb
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb was fantastic against Missouri, but make no mistake -- Georgia is not the same team without Todd Gurley.
Georgia may indeed be the class of the SEC East after the way it manhandled Missouri this past weekend. It was every bit the statement game players described afterward.

“We had a chip on our shoulder as far as we don't have Todd (Gurley) and everyone thinks that the world is falling apart,” quarterback Hutson Mason said. “So we took it upon ourselves that we need to show everybody that there are 10 other guys on our offense that are making this thing go and 11 other guys on defense. It was a very big inspirational win, and a lot of emotions went into it.”

But today the question becomes how far that wave of emotion will take Georgia.

Nearly 48 hours after the Bulldogs celebrated in Columbia, it’s time to see whether what happened Saturday is truly sustainable.

Looking ahead less than a week, it’s hard to imagine what worked against Missouri will work against Arkansas this Saturday.

It’s hard to imagine Georgia’s defense, the real force behind the win at Missouri, will have another perfect day on third down, stuffing all seven attempts to move the chains.

Don’t expect another four-interception performance either. Georgia had four picks total coming into last weekend and Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen may not attempt more than four passes per quarter this Saturday.

Leonard Floyd, who terrorized Missouri’s Maty Mauk into all those mistakes, won’t be able to pin his ears back and rush the passer so freely. Not against Arkansas’ running game. It was good Floyd got four QB hurries last Saturday because he’ll likely drift back to the average of 1.6 hurries per game he had coming into the weekend.

Georgia’s defense has indeed come a long ways, but it probably won’t allow 50 yards rushing as it did against Missouri, which was essentially half its average coming into the game. If anything, we know Arkansas is going to run the football. With Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and that hefty offensive line, the Razorbacks are averaging the most rushing yards per game in the SEC and the 10th most in the country (278.7).

"They are a physical bunch of players," Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday. "They're a reflection of their coach. Those guys are playing that way on both sides of the ball. It's going to be a tremendous physical challenge for our players, no doubt."

Yes, Georgia’s offense will have to adjust as well.

Mason, who said he has adopted a more free-wheeling attitude under center, will have to continue making a greater impact on Mike Bobo’s offense. The fifth-year senior won’t face many secondaries as porous as Missouri’s, which entered the weekend allowing 236.4 yards passing per game. Arkansas may have lost to Alabama and Texas A&M, but Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks found a way to hamstring both teams’ previously prolific passing games.

At the same time, Georgia can’t continue asking Nick Chubb to touch the ball 40-plus times per game as he did against Missouri. Sure, he made a fan out of all of us when he bulldozed his way to 143 yards rushing and one touchdown. But Georgia’s backfield looks like a MASH unit these days with Gurley questioned by the NCAA and Keith Marshall and Sony Michel examined by doctors. Richt has to be careful, even if he’s not saying so.

"We've seen him in practice. We've seen him in the games," Richt said. "Every time Nick got in there, he looked pretty impressive. He didn't complain and he didn't look fatigued."

You have to admire the determination to carry the football 38 times as a true freshman. You even have to admire the collective results: 34 points and three rushing touchdowns from three different players. But when you look deeper at Georgia’s 3.6 yards per carry against a weak Missouri front seven, you should have a hard time believing that’s a sustainable formula.

The saying, "Three yards and a cloud of dust" isn’t a compliment, remember? Explosive plays are vital.

That’s where Gurley comes in.

Don’t take anything away from Georgia’s win at Missouri. Don’t put down the offense, which was practically flawless. Don’t put down the defense, which flew to the football and played its best game of the season.

But don’t forget what Gurley brings to the table.

Don’t forget that he makes plays no one else in college football can. He makes Chubb more effective, lifts the average yards per rush considerably and, in turn, makes things easier for Mason. Even the defense gets a break when he takes the offense on long drives.

Georgia can survive without Gurley. The Missouri game showed us as much. But without No. 3, the Bulldogs just aren’t the same.

We’ll find out against Arkansas whether the difference is enough to cost them.

SEC bowl projections: Week 7

October, 12, 2014
Oct 12
8:00
PM ET
It's one of those topics of discussion that lurks on the periphery of college football: Can the SEC get two teams into the College Football Playoff?

After the past couple of weeks, maybe that question should be: Can the state of Mississippi get two teams into the playoff?

The Bulldogs and Rebels have been that good. MSU jumped over Florida State and into the No. 1 spot in both polls, while Ole Miss remained in the No. 3 spot in the rankings.

These are heady times in the Magnolia State. But the Egg Bowl looms large and is late enough in the season that it's certain to bloody the loser's résumé.

With all of the parity in college football, all of the chaos and the fact that the SEC West still has a lot more self-destruction to come, let's not put two SEC teams into the playoff just yet.

Here is our full list of conference bowl teams entering the eighth week of the season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Cotton Bowl: Auburn
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: Alabama
TaxSlayer Bowl: Texas A&M
Outback Bowl: Missouri
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: Arkansas
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Kentucky
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: South Carolina
Birmingham Bowl: Florida

SEC helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 12, 2014
Oct 12
9:00
AM ET
Landsharks and cowbells. That’s the best way to describe Week 7 in the SEC. Now it’s our turn to find deserving recipients for this week’s helmet stickers.

Javess Blue, WR, Kentucky: Can you earn a helmet sticker on one play? If it’s a one-handed touchdown grab with a defender draped all over you, then yes, you’re deserving. Blue had arguably the SEC’s catch of the year in Saturday’s 48-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe. If that wasn’t enough, he also hauled in a separate 83-yard touchdown grab earlier in the game and finished with three catches for 109 yards and the two scores.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: The last time Chubb saw more than 30 carries in a game he was still playing for Cedartown High School. On Saturday, the freshman ran the ball 38 times for 143 yards and a touchdown in Georgia’s 34-0 win over Missouri. For good measure, he added four catches for 31 yards. No, he’s not Todd Gurley, but Chubb sure did an admirable job filling in for the Heisman Trophy contender. There’s no telling when, or if, Gurley comes back, but Chubb proved he’s more than capable of handling the load. Now give the kid a day off.

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Chubb wasn’t the only freshman running back to have a breakthrough game Saturday. Fournette, the nation’s No. 1 recruit last year, finished with a career-high 140 yards and two touchdowns in LSU’s 30-27 win over Florida. And he must have learned his lesson because there were no Heisman poses after his touchdowns this time around. Love him or hate him, Fournette is a rising star in the SEC. This won’t be his last 100-yard game, and it certainly won’t be his last helmet sticker.

Cody Prewitt, DB, Ole Miss: Everybody in the Ole Miss secondary deserves a helmet sticker after Saturday’s 35-20 win over Texas A&M, but the nod goes to Prewitt because he’s the senior captain and because his 75-yard interception return for a touchdown was the turning point in the game. He also had seven tackles. But this helmet sticker could just as easily have gone to Tony Conner, who led the team with 11 tackles, or Senquez Golson, who had his second interception in as many weeks. It was a feeding frenzy for the “Landsharks,” who stymied Kenny Hill and held Texas A&M scoreless in the first half, the first time that’s happened under Kevin Sumlin.

Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State: Yes, Dak Prescott was really good again and probably should be on this list, but it was Mississippi State’s defense that came up with big play after big play in Saturday’s 38-23 win over Auburn. The Bulldogs forced four turnovers against Auburn, and as always, Smith was in the middle of it all. He didn’t add to his interception total, but the senior defensive end did finish with four tackles, one sack and four quarterback hurries. He’s been a big reason behind the success of this defense in the first half of the season.

Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Georgia: Normally helmet stickers are for players only, but how about the job Pruitt has done with this Georgia defense? The Bulldogs forced five turnovers in the shutout win over Missouri on Saturday. It was a unit that was much maligned after the South Carolina game, but with the SEC East on the line, the defense stepped up and played its best game of the season. Credit the first-year coordinator.

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