ARLINGTON, Texas -- Malcome Kennedy lay on the turf, trainers tending to his injured left shoulder.

[+] EnlargeEdward Pope & Malcome Kennedy
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M receivers Malcome Kennedy and Edward Pope have combined for 49 receptions and six touchdowns through Week 5 this season.
With 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Aggies trying to march downfield and complete a scoring drive to cap off a come-from-behind win against Arkansas, something was wrong with Texas A&M's senior receiver after he landed squarely on his left side and quickly reached for his shoulder. It was separated.

"I thought he was done," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said afterward.

Kennedy hadn't come this far -- all the way from Cayuga, a small East Texas high school that played in the state's smallest 11-man classification, Class 1A, when he was there and from being a reserve receiver who waited his turn to become a featured target and a senior leader -- to allow shoulder pain to keep him from finishing.

"I felt like I had to go," Kennedy said. "I popped it out of place and the trainers came over, calmed me down and popped it back in. They asked me if I was all right and if I was done. I said 'No. I've got to go.' I just had a lot of adrenaline so it didn't hurt. I still was ready to go."

Moments later, he proved as much, catching a dart from Kenny Hill for the game-winning 25-yard touchdown in Texas A&M's 35-28 overtime win against the Razorbacks.

In many ways, Saturday was a snapshot of what Kennedy means to the Aggies. He usually isn't the first name outsiders think of when discussing Texas A&M receivers. For the past two seasons, that distinction belonged to Mike Evans, a 2014 first-round NFL draft pick who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This season, Kennedy is the elder statesman of the Aggies' deep, young receiving corps, but some were more interested in discussing the bigger (sophomore Ricky Seals-Jones) or faster (true freshman Speedy Noil) young, new toys that the Aggies had to play with.

Meanwhile Kennedy, the dependable "Y" receiver in the Aggies' Air Raid-inspired offense, simply catches footballs -- lots of them -- does his work and speaks up when necessary, leading his group and the offense forward.

"Malcome is the vocal leader of our offense," offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said.

He's also the leading receiver currently. Through five games, he tops the Aggies in catches (33) and receiving yards (378) to go with two scores. His catch total is more than double of the next-best receivers, Edward Pope and Josh Reynolds, who each have 16.

And those who miss the days of Evans, the freakishly-athletic former basketball player who could seemingly catch everything in his stratosphere? Kennedy even showed he has the ability to do that, going up and leaping over an SMU defender on a jump ball on third-and-13 in the first quarter of the Aggies' win against the Mustangs last month. It is the kind of catch few associate with Kennedy, who does the majority of his work across the middle of the field. He has been invaluable to the development of Hill, the Aggies' sophomore sensation quarterback.

"He has helped a lot because he is an easy target to find," Hill said. "He's always getting open. That helps a lot. ...On a third down, he's a guy you can lean on and go to."

For a team that starts two freshmen (Noil and Seals-Jones) and a sophomore (Reynolds) alongside him at receiver, Kennedy is the heart of the receiving corps. He displayed as much Saturday when the Aggies' trailed the Razorbacks by 7 points at halftime and he delivered an inspired speech to his teammates in the locker room.

"At halftime, I walked in with something I was going to say," Sumlin said. "When I got to the door, I'm the last guy there, but Malcome Kennedy was standing at the door, talking to everybody as we're going in. And then he looked at me and said 'I have something I've got to say.' So we went back in, I listened to him for about 30 seconds and I said 'Yeah, that's better than anything I can say.' So we started looking at adjustments offensively for the second half."

Kennedy, a member of the team's leadership council, also has a knack for making big catches. His first such one came in one of biggest games in recent Texas A&M history, the 2012 upset of Alabama. With the Aggies clinging to a six-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, Johnny Manziel launched a pass toward the front left corner of the end zone where Kennedy beat Dee Milliner and hauled in the final points the Aggies would score in their 29-24 landmark victory.

So it's no surprise that when the Aggies need a big catch to move the chains or change the game, he's the one they turn toward.

"When the game's on the line," Spavital said, "Malcome's the guy we're going to."

He knows that. That's why two plays after the shoulder injury, he subbed himself in on third down before the clock expired in regulation. When the Aggies got the ball first in overtime, Spavital called a play that he said he woke up thinking about, one that they called earlier in the game, but didn't work.

Kennedy manned his spot at the "Y" receiver, saw what he liked and the rest is history.

"It was finally the look we wanted," Kennedy said. "The two high safeties; they were playing pretty far off the hash and the linebackers were tucked in the box and they were ready to stop the run so I went in there like I was blocking and I came out full speed and Kenny hit me."

Said Spavital: "I knew that play was going to eventually score for us in this game and it was the perfect opportunity to get it in there to Malcome. ...He made a great misdirection and made a big-time play and won the game for us."

Video: Class rankings Oct. 1 update

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1

National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert breaks down updates to the ESPN class rankings for 2015 football recruiting. Two top-10 classes from the SEC East added ESPN 300 prospects Friday.

Watch: SEC Spreecast, 3 ET

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
Join reporters Edward Aschoff, David Ching and Chris Low at 3 p.m. ET as they preview a monster week of SEC action. They'll break down Alabama-Ole Miss, Mississippi State-Texas A&M and LSU-Auburn, while also talking Todd Gurley's Heisman chances and answering your questions.

Watch: Malzahn talks Auburn schedule

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
"We can put points on them. I think we can put points on anybody.”

Those were the words of Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace prior to last year’s Alabama game. The only problem was the Rebels didn’t score any points, not a one. They were shut out by the Crimson Tide to the tune of 25-0.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
AP Photo/John BazemoreBo Wallace has been locked in this season since a rough first half against Boise State, leading Ole Miss to a No. 11 ranking.
It wasn’t all on Wallace, who finished 17 of 31 for 159 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Ole Miss failed to convert twice on fourth down in Alabama’s red zone, and then there was the lack of a rushing attack. The Rebels only rushed for 46 yards, mustering a measly 1.8 yards per carry.

But none of that mattered after the game. The loss and the shutout came back on Wallace because of the “guarantee” he made beforehand. He took a lot of heat, and it didn’t help that the Rebels proceeded to lose their next two games to Auburn and Texas A&M. It was a difficult stretch for Ole Miss and Wallace.

The senior quarterback has grown up since then. He’s a different player, both on and off the field, as he heads into Saturday’s rematch with No. 3 Alabama.

“I’ve come a long ways,” Wallace said. “I never felt great at all last year, and this year I feel good. Obviously I made a bad decision last week, but other than that, I feel good. I’m confident going into this game. I’m confident in our guys, and we know it’s going to be a big test for us.”

The proof is in the numbers through the first four games. Since a first half against Boise State he’d rather forget, Wallace has thrown for 1,123 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s completing 71 percent of his passes, and he’s third in the SEC in passing yards.

Impressive stats, but Ole Miss hasn’t played anybody nearly as talented as Alabama. How will Wallace fare against the team that shut down him just a year ago?

“Honestly, I’m just going into it like any other week,” he said. “I’ve been here for two years. I’ve played against top-10 teams -- never with the opportunity that we have right now and being undefeated -- but I can’t think about that too much, especially being the quarterback. I have to be the one that’s even-keeled the whole time and when guys get riled up, settle them down.”

That’s the new-found maturity talking. Instead of running his mouth about how many points Ole Miss is going to score Saturday, Wallace is more concerned with keeping his team focused.

A big part of that comes with experience. The former junior college transfer is now in his third season with the Rebels, and he’s made more starts than any other quarterback in the SEC. He’ll be starting his 31st game this weekend, whereas his counterpart, Blake Sims, will be making only his fifth start for Alabama.

“I just think the experience is something that you can’t instill,” UA coach Nick Saban said when asked about Wallace this week. “It’s something that you have to go through and learn, and it’s a tremendous advantage.”

Wallace has accomplished a lot in his time at Ole Miss. He’s led the Rebels to back-to-back bowl games. He’s won the Egg Bowl against rival Mississippi State. He’s knocked off a top-10 team. But there’s one thing he’s yet to do, and that’s beat Alabama.

The last Ole Miss quarterback to accomplish that feat was Eli Manning in 2003, but Wallace is hoping to join that list this Saturday. It’s a chance to put last year’s game behind him.

“Those that know Bo, his mindset really never changes,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “He’ll be as confident as any kid on the field entering Saturday’s game. He’s always that way. It’s a really good quality about him. He’s very resilient. He’ll be looking forward to this game.”
Leonard FournetteAP Photo/Jonathan BachmanLSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette was criticized for striking the pose.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- All of his life, Leonard Fournette has been ahead of the athletic curve, so naturally he was disappointed when his first college game didn't go according to plan.

In LSU's season-opening win against Wisconsin, Fournette ran eight times for 18 yards and returned five kickoffs for 117 yards, while senior Kenny Hilliard instead carried the Tigers' running game. It was an OK debut for a typical freshman running back, but not for the player who was ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class, whom many college football analysts had compared to the greatest college running backs of the last 20 years.

"I was kind of hard on myself because I was so used to having 200-plus rushing yards in a game and I didn't have that, so I was kind of disappointed," Fournette said. "But I talked to Coach, talked to my father and my mother and they were like, ‘This is college now. It's not going to happen [in college] like it used to happen.' "

Maybe that early disappointment also made Fournette want to fast forward his collegiate development. A week later came Fournette's most memorable college moment to date -- one that brought more criticism than praise.

After a 4-yard touchdown run against Sam Houston State, Fournette's first college score, he struck the Heisman Trophy pose in the end zone. LSU coach Les Miles immediately gave Fournette an earful over the freshman's me-first moment and he later apologized to his teammates for what could easily be called a premature celebration.

All of a sudden, he was the subject of national ridicule -- a rude awakening for a player who had been roundly praised since middle school.

"I prayed on it, my parents talked to me, Coach Miles talked to me and just told me, ‘Don't worry about it,' so I got over it," Fournette said of the Heisman backlash.

Ever since then, Fournette has quietly shown steady improvement. Other SEC freshmen like Tennessee's Jalen Hurd and Texas A&M's Myles Garrett have made bigger national splashes, but last Saturday's win against New Mexico State marked the fourth straight game that Fournette led No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) in rushing.

Each week since the Wisconsin game, Fournette has averaged at least 5 yards per carry, which he believes is a result of improved patience.

"We'll be in the meeting room and watching practice and I'll be seeing [senior running back Terrence Magee] making cuts like I used to make in high school," Fournette said. "I'll just be like, ‘Man I wonder why I can't do that?' I'm always rushing, so I feel like I've just got to be patient, slow down. I've been taking all that to heed and I've been slowing it down and the cuts will be there for me."

Running room and cutback space were certainly available last weekend against New Mexico State, when Fournette broke the 100-yard barrier for the first time at LSU. He finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, all career highs, and credited his offensive line and seniors Magee and Hilliard afterward -- exemplifying another lesson in humility that he learned from the Heisman hoopla.

"Thanks to Kenny, thanks to Terrence, like they're really my mentors. Anything I have a problem with, I come to them," Fournette said. "I never really had a big brother on the football team. I always was the big brother, so I have them and they help me a lot."

The veterans, in turn, credit the rookie for his personal growth. Making the transition from high school legend to SEC freshman can be difficult, but Magee said Fournette adjusted his expectations to fit what LSU has asked of him thus far.

"Every game you're not going to go out and rush for 200 yards, 100 yards, so I think he's a lot more comfortable than what he [was] now and starting to relax and just play his game," Magee said.

That said, Fournette has not fully tapped into his massive potential yet. As Fournette mentioned, he hasn't hit holes decisively at times and, for a player listed at 230 pounds, he has been surprisingly ineffective at breaking tackles.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Fournette ranks 11th in the SEC and 59th nationally with 3.48 yards per carry before making contact with a defender. And yet he's fourth among regulars in his own backfield in yards after contact. Freshman Darrel Williams (3.64 ypc after contact) and Magee (3.18) both rank in the SEC's top 10, but Fournette's average of 2.27 ypc also ranks behind Hilliard (2.53) among LSU regulars.

His game remains a work in progress, but it is easy to envision a game-breaking finished product on the occasions when Fournette accelerates past defenders or leaves one in the dust with a well-placed stiff-arm, as he did on his first touchdown run against NMSU.

Those brief flashes are signs that Fournette is coming along fine, even if he didn't achieve instant superstardom like some expected.

"That's hard, especially with those expectations," center Elliott Porter said. "I don't think nobody in the last 10 years faced quite that much hype."

Prove It: Wild weekend in the SEC West

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
In this week's "Prove It" segment, ESPN's Alex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf discuss the marquee matchups in the SEC West and which team has the most to gain with a win Saturday.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It’s a familiar storyline by now, Alabama attempting to defend the hurry-up, no-huddle.

You know, Nick Saban’s supposed Achilles' heel?

Texas A&M started the talk with Johnny Manziel running laps around the Tide. Then Auburn got on board, punctuated by its last-second miracle on the Plains. Finally, Oklahoma pushed the tempo and won last season's Sugar Bowl, racking up 429 yards of offense. And if you thought it would get better with another offseason to prepare, then the season-opener wasn’t for you. All West Virginia did was march up and down the field in Atlanta, barely missing out on 400 yards of offense thanks to a handful of untimely drops.

[+] EnlargeLaquon Treadwell
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsOle Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell presents a difficult matchup for the Alabama defense.
Saban has defended himself against the less-than-flattering narrative, albeit with mixed results. Because until we see Alabama’s defense actually stop an above-average offense that employs the HUNH (sorry, Florida), we can’t say with any certainty that the riddle has been solved.

That’s what makes this week so important. Against Ole Miss, Alabama will either put the talk to bed or add further fuel to the fire.

The No. 11-ranked Rebels are an up-tempo program, through and through. Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn are buddies, former high school coaches who both believe time spent is time wasted. Bo Wallace, Freeze’s senior quarterback, is in his third year running the HUNH system. With so much familiarity, he can throttle the offense high and low at will. And with the talent surrounding him, there’s no question that Ole Miss’ offense is as dynamic as any Alabama will face this season.

Running back Jaylen Walton is tough to get a hand on, as evidenced by his 6.9 yards per carry coming into this weekend.

Tight end Evan Engram is a matchup nightmare with the size to overpower defensive backs and the speed to run past linebackers.

All wide receiver Cody Core seems to do is catch touchdowns.

Then there’s Laquon Treadwell, arguably one of the top-five receivers in the country. He alone can wreck a secondary.

“He’s, obviously to me, an outstanding player,” Saban said of the much-heralded sophomore on Monday. “He’s got really good size. He’s a really good athlete. He’s got a big catch radius. He can get in and out of breaks. He plays with a lot of toughness, very physical blocker. So he’s the complete package.”

Said Alabama safety Landon Collins: “He's a very quick receiver, explosive. You get the ball in his hands and he can do basically anything with it. We have a lot of respect for him and we're definitely going to look to him and not turn our backs to him because he can be a game-changer.”

But does Alabama have anyone who can actually cover him? That’s the real question.

Cyrus Jones might be up for the task, but he gives up four inches and 25 pounds. Eddie Jackson is the more physical option, but his health is a concern. Then there’s Tony Brown, who is a five-star talent but lacks experience as a true freshman.

To make matters worse, given the way Ole Miss goes without huddling, Alabama doesn’t have the option to put one man on him.

“We went through this last year in a couple of games when we tried to put a guy on a guy in a game of no-huddle and it really is difficult for the corners to get lined up, so you really can’t,” Saban explained. “I think whoever is on him is going to have to study him and play him and play him well and keep him cut off. ... He’s an outstanding player and that’s a difficult task.”

Whether it’s the unenviable job of stopping Treadwell or the much-talked-about issues with the hurry-up, no-huddle, Alabama is used to a challenge. After so many wins and so many national titles, doubters come with the territory.

According to Collins, it’s just motivation.

“Everybody is going to doubt how we play or how we come out or any aspect of our game,” he said. “We're always going to have that. That's Alabama. We just take that into consideration and use that to push us and motivate us moving forward.”
All week, we're discussing Saturday's terrific slate of games in the SEC West. We looked at which games we'd pay the most to see. We debated which team has the most to prove. Now it's time to talk about the quarterbacks.

The question is simple. With the game on the line, which quarterback would you want leading your team? The answer? Not so easy, but our SEC writers take a stab at it anyway.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertIf the Bulldogs were to find themselves behind in a game, QB Dak Prescott is the player many would prefer to see leading the charge.
Edward Aschoff: I'm taking Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. If I need plays made late in the game, I'm going with someone who can not only fire the ball around but can take off and get plenty of yards with his feet. I'm so new-school in that respect. Give me a mobile quarterback any day over a statue pocket passer. Look at what Prescott did against LSU, in Baton Rouge no less. You're telling me I can have someone who strutted into the intimidating confines of Tiger Stadium and got a win with 373 total yards and three touchdowns? Yeah, sure. Sign me up.

David Ching: There are some good choices here, but I'll take Mississippi State's Prescott. Kenny Hill is an impressive talent with a bunch of weapons at his disposal at Texas A&M. Nick Marshall makes some incredible plays while leading Auburn's prolific offense. Blake Sims and Bo Wallace aren't bad, either. Give me Prescott. I had a front-row seat to watch his improvisational skills occasionally embarrass LSU's defense two weekends ago and came away impressed. He's got his work cut out on Saturday to keep up with Hill and Texas A&M's high-scoring offense, but I'll take my chances with Prescott any time.

Alex Scarborough: What if I say Sims and have him throw screen after screen to Amari Cooper -- the equivalent of an extended handoff? No? That's cheating, you say? OK, fine. If I'm forced to choose, give me Prescott. Something about his intangibles tells me he can win a close game for me. He's a better pure passer than Marshall, he's a more explosive and physical runner than Hill, and he's less Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde than Wallace when it comes to turning over the football. Sims, on the other hand, has never played a meaningful snap on the road, and that gives me pause.

Jeff Barlis: Hands down, Auburn's Marshall is the best clutch quarterback in the SEC. Coach Gus Malzahn said it himself last week: "If you compare him to all the other quarterbacks around the country when the game's on the line, we've got the best guy." Marshall proved it time and time again during the Tigers' miracle run last season, but that was done mostly with his legs. This season, he's shown improvement as a passer as evidenced by the Tigers' huge road win at Kansas State when he started 5-of-13 passing for 56 yards and closed out the game by going 12-of-18 for 175. Marshall will have to come through one more time for Auburn to beat LSU.

Greg Ostendorf: Don't sleep on Wallace. He's much better at home. I was at the LSU game last season when he went 8-of-11 for 71 yards on the final drive to set up Ole Miss for the game-winning field goal. With that said, I'm going to have side with Jeff on this one. Marshall isn't the best quarterback in the SEC. He might not even be in the top three. But when the game is on the line, nobody is better. He orchestrated game-winning drives against both Mississippi State and Texas A&M last season; he threw the touchdown to Sammie Coates that made the kick-six possible in the Iron Bowl; and more recently, he made the clutch third-down throw to put away Kansas State on the road. The kid is as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Sam Khan: I don't think there are very many wrong choices here. I like Prescott and Marshall a lot. Heck, I even like LSU freshman Brandon Harris, though he'll need some more experience before I can fully trust him in that situation. Today, give me Hill. He's as cool a customer as they come and that's what you need with the game on the line -- someone who is poised. Hill showed those characteristics last week, with his team down by 14 points in the fourth quarter. After struggling through three quarters, Hill made every throw he had to make and compiled 204 passing yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a perfectly-thrown dart for the game-winner to Malcome Kennedy in OT. He has come up big in A&M's two biggest games so far. You have to be darn good to earn the tag of "Trill" in Texas.

SEC playoff tracker: Oct. 1

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
October has arrived and most teams have played a third of their regular-season schedule. One team has fallen off our playoff tracker (South Carolina) but the rest remain from last week. Let's dive in and see where the College Football Playoff contenders from the SEC stand as of today:

Alabama Crimson Tide
AP rank: No. 3
Next big obstacle: Oct. 4 at Ole Miss
Reason for optimism: The bye week came at the right time for Alabama. It needed Blake Sims, Jarrick Williams and DeAndrew White healthy for Ole Miss on Saturday. And if it needed any extra motivation, Rebs safety Cody Prewitt delivered, telling reporters that, "We don't think Bama has really been as good as they have been."
Cause for concern: Survive Ole Miss and things don't get any easier. You thought that Oct. 11 trip to Arkansas would be a cake walk? Ha! You thought Texas A&M would be an easier out without Johnny Manziel? That's a good one. That schedule you thought was littered with SEC cupcakes like Tennessee now looks more like a minefield.
Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Mississippi State over Texas A&M. If the Bulldogs can upset Texas A&M and Auburn the next two weeks, the West might loosen up some. --Alex Scarborough

Auburn Tigers
AP rank: No. 5
Next big obstacle: Oct. 4 vs. LSU
Reason for optimism: Nick Marshall continues to look more and more like his old self. On Saturday, he passed for 166 yards and three touchdowns, and he also rushed for 105 yards. His new favorite target? OK, it’s still D'haquille Williams, but fellow wide receiver Quan Bray has emerged as a playmaker on both offense and special teams for the Tigers.
Cause for concern: There are a lot of question marks as to who’s going to play this Saturday against LSU. Linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost are day-to-day with injuries, and starting right tackle Patrick Miller is questionable with an ankle injury. It also looks like Auburn will be without safety Jermaine Whitehead for the third straight game.
Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Ole Miss over Alabama --Greg Ostendorf

Texas A&M Aggies
AP rank: No. 6
Next big obstacle: Oct. 4 at Mississippi State
Reason for optimism: The Aggies passed a big test by showing that their run defense -- while still having a lot of room for improvement -- can do just enough to help them win after being tested thoroughly against Arkansas, the best rushing team in the SEC. The offense also showed it can win when it’s not at its best and Kenny Hill responded to adversity emphatically, showing poise in fourth quarter and overtime. Health-wise, the Aggies are in relatively good shape, which is critical considering what lies ahead.
Cause for concern: The schedule gets only tougher in the next few weeks. This weekend it’s a trip to Starkville to meet undefeated Mississippi State. They return home the following week to host Ole Miss. Then on Oct. 18 they go to Tuscaloosa for a showdown with Alabama. These are all teams and places the Aggies have won before, but now they’re doing it with a team that has a lot of young players in key positions, like quarterback, free safety, defensive end and receiver. This three-week stretch is a monumental test for Texas A&M.
Who they’ll be rooting for this week: LSU over Auburn. (This would help the Aggies jump Auburn in the national rankings and gain an advantage in the standings) --Sam Khan Jr.

Ole Miss Rebels
AP rank: No. 11
Next big obstacle: Oct. 4 vs. Alabama
Reason for optimism: The defense ranks first in the SEC and fourth nationally, allowing 248 yards per game and has 11 takeaways on the season. QB Bo Wallace is also spreading his passes around very nicely. Even with depth an issue at receiver, the Rebels already have five players with double-digit receptions.
Cause for concern: The West is easily the toughest division in college football. There really isn’t a major weak link when it comes to teams on this side of the division, and Ole Miss still has to go through everyone. We’ll find out if Ole Miss has the depth needed to make a real SEC run.
Who they’re rooting for this week: LSU over Auburn --Edward Aschoff

Mississippi State Bulldogs
AP rank: 12
Next big obstacle: Oct. 4 vs. Texas A&M
Reason for optimism: With an open date between their dismantling of LSU and this Saturday’s showdown with Texas A&M, the Bulldogs have had time to rest and scheme to face perhaps the best opponent they’ve played to date. It had to help their confidence to see A&M struggle against Arkansas the way it did, too.
Cause for concern: Mississippi State’s secondary has been one of the team’s few weaknesses, and that’s a bad weakness to have against a high-flying offense like Texas A&M’s. It also doesn’t help that veteran center Dillon Day will miss the A&M game while serving a one-game suspension for unsportsmanlike play against LSU.
Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Alabama over Ole Miss (because why not?) --David Ching

Georgia Bulldogs
AP rank: No. 13
Next big obstacle: Oct. 11 vs. Missouri
Reason for optimism: The SEC East is still a mess, and South Carolina’s loss to Missouri means the Bulldogs once again control their own destiny in the division. Just win, baby, and the Dawgs are headed back to Atlanta. Also, Todd Gurley seems like he’s getting better and better with each week.
Cause for concern: Passing, whether it’s by the Bulldogs or against them. Hutson Mason admitted Saturday that the chemistry between himself and his receivers isn’t where it should be, especially when it comes to throwing the deep ball. Right now, Georgia’s defense can’t stop any sort of passing over the middle of the field.
Who they’re rooting for this week: Tennessee over Florida --Edward Aschoff

LSU Tigers
AP rank: 15
Next big obstacle: Oct. 4 at Auburn
Reason for optimism: It seems unlikely that anyone in the SEC West will finish undefeated, so the Tigers can stick around in this race if they start winning. A win in Saturday’s game at Auburn could potentially jump-start LSU’s chances, especially if Brandon Harris goes off as the new starting quarterback.
Cause for concern: Auburn’s running game has to scare LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis a bit after Mississippi State had so much success against the Tigers two Saturdays ago. LSU might be able to stick around in the SEC West race with two division losses, but a playoff bid would almost be out of the question if the Tigers fall again.
Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Texas A&M over Mississippi State --David Ching

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 5

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
Led by LSU's Brandon Harris and Leonard Fournette and a big group from Tennessee, true freshmen again grabbed the spotlight in the SEC last weekend.

Here are five who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from Saturday’s SEC games:

QB Brandon Harris, LSU

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesAfter Brandon Harris' 11-of-14 performance against New Mexico State, the Tigers named him the starter against Auburn.
What he did: Harris came off the bench in the second quarter and led LSU’s offense to seven touchdowns in seven possessions in a 63-7 rout of New Mexico State. He was 11-for-14 for 178 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for 36 yards and two scores.

What it means: This is a huge week for Harris. He won SEC Freshman of the Week honors and LSU coach Les Miles announced that Harris will make his first college start on Saturday against Auburn. He’s played mostly in mop-up duty so far, but Harris looked great against Mississippi State and NMSU. His starting assignment makes Saturday’s game exponentially more intriguing.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Against NMSU, Fournette set new season highs for rushing attempts (18) and rushing yards (122) and scored touchdowns of 17 and 5 yards. He also made a 33-yard reception. It was Fournette’s first 100-yard game at LSU.

What it means: Fournette has quietly been LSU’s leading rusher in each of the past four games. He hasn’t been putting up huge numbers, but the Tigers have spread around the carries between four backs, too. Nonetheless, with LSU entering the bulk of its SEC schedule, expect to see more of Fournette in key situations.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss

What he did: With Ole Miss leading Memphis just 10-3 in the fourth quarter, Haynes sacked quarterback Paxton Lynch and forced a fumble that Isaac Gross recovered at the Memphis 23. The Rebels scored on the next play to go up 17-3 and put away their surprisingly narrow win.

What it means: Ole Miss probably beats Memphis even without Haynes’ big play, but victory was no certainty at that point. Getting the win helped Ole Miss stay undefeated and set up a huge game this weekend with No. 3 Alabama.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: Hurd build off of his strong outing against Oklahoma with his first 100-yard game in a 35-32 loss to Georgia. The freshman ran 24 times for 119 yards and a touchdown -- all of which set or matched Hurd’s season highs -- and caught three passes for 19 yards.

What it means: The freshman back and his inexperienced offensive line are starting to find their way. It has been tough sledding in that department for Tennessee, but Hurd’s recent big games have been bright spots.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky

What he did: The versatile Williams ran five times for 27 yards, led the Wildcats with 39 receiving yards on three catches and returned two kickoffs for 56 yards, including a long of 36 in a win against Vanderbilt.

What it means: Unfortunately we won’t see Williams on Saturday against South Carolina since he and three teammates were suspended for reportedly firing air pistols in a campus residence hall. Williams has already become a valuable contributor in the Wildcats’ lineup and they need all the help they can get against the Gamecocks.

Other notables:

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia: Ran 11 times for 32 yards and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass in Georgia’s win over Tennessee.

WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Caught three passes for a team-high 54 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown, in the win against NMSU.

S Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Recorded four tackles and made a leaping interception in Tennessee’s loss against Georgia.

TE Ethan Wolf, Tennessee: Returned from injury and had his most productive game yet, finishing with five catches for 69 yards against Georgia.

LB Tre Williams, Auburn: Played most of the Louisiana Tech game because of injuries to Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy, recorded seven tackles and nearly intercepted a pass.

How Lane Kiffin improved Bama's offense

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesOffensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has brought a new philosophy to Alabama this season.
Monday, Sept. 29, was the one-year anniversary of Lane Kiffin’s infamous firing by USC at the Landmark Aviation Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.

Twelve months later, Kiffin is in charge of perhaps the best unit in college football and leading it to unprecedented success.

Alabama has 2,377 yards this season, breaking a 41-year-old school record for most yards through four games. This, despite starting a quarterback (Blake Sims) who had attempted 39 passes in the first three years of his career.

There are two ways in which Kiffin has changed the offense for the better -- his use of the no-huddle offense and the use of receiver Amari Cooper.

Going no huddle
Alabama has run 138 plays without a huddle this season, almost as many as in the previous three seasons combined. Nine of Alabama’s touchdowns have come out of no-huddle plays, more than in the previous two seasons combined. Alabama has run 14.5 more plays per game than it did last season.

Increasing tempo, however, is not necessarily the goal of the no-huddle offense. It was implemented largely to make things easier for Sims.

As coach Nick Saban told after Alabama’s Week 1 win over West Virginia: “It's easier to communicate when you're going no-huddle because you just have code words and short words for plays and passes and that kind of stuff. It eliminates the communication in the huddle, it makes it easier for the quarterback, so that's the reason that we went to it to settle Blake (Sims) down in the game.”

Alabama has increased the number of plays run out of no huddle every week this season. Over their last two games, the Tide have run more plays without a huddle than with one.

The offense has relied on short passes in the no huddle, as Sims averages 5.4 air yards per attempt on such plays.

But he has been efficient with those passes, as his 77.8 completion percentage and his 95.3 QBR are both second among Power Five quarterbacks with at least 20 passes.

Using Amari Cooper
Kiffin has also learned to exploit receiver Amari Cooper. After an injury-plagued start to his 2013 season, Cooper has started 2014 on fire, leading the nation in receiving yards per game (163.8). Cooper averages 14 targets per game this season.

In his first two years, he had one game with more than 11 targets, last season’s Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. Cooper leads FBS receivers with 6.3 first-down targets per game.

Kiffin has varied the target distance. Twelve of Cooper’s 25 first-down targets have come on passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and the other 13 have come on longer throws. On both target distances, quarterbacks average more than 10 yards per attempt when targeting Cooper.

The early-down success has helped the Tide on third downs. Alabama leads the FBS in third-down conversion rate (61.8 percent), due in large part to facing an average of 5.1 yards to get the first down on third down. That’s the second-shortest average distance in the FBS and 1.4 yards less than last season.
The Ole Miss Rebels know exactly what's at stake on Saturday.

Big, bad Bama is headed to the Grove -- along with ESPN's "College GameDay" for the very first time -- and it's been years since expectations were this lofty in Oxford, Mississippi.

On Saturday, the college football world will have its eye on the state of Mississippi with No. 6 Texas A&M playing at No. 12 Mississippi State about 95 miles south of 11th-ranked Ole Miss' clash with No. 3 Alabama.

That means the Rebels have a lot to prove in front of a whole lot of people.

Two weeks ago, Mississippi State made a statement with its first win against LSU since 1999 with an impressive 34-29 win inside Tiger Stadium. Now, it's the Rebels' turn.

[+] EnlargeOle Miss' Bo Wallace
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images"It's daylight (and) dark from our sophomore year when going down to Baton Rouge and just playing with LSU was a moral victory," quarterback Bo Wallace said. "Now it's 'We have to win these games.'"
"We've been building toward this, not just this game, but this season," linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said. "We're all brothers in arms who play for each other and we believe in each other and we're ready for this."

That No. 11 ranking shows how far the program has come under third-year coach Hugh Freeze, but it also stands as a status symbol that many people just aren't sure the Rebels currently deserve.

If the Rebels want to be taken seriously, they need to be competitive, yes, but they probably have to win, too, because it's very easy to throw shade at the preseason hype machine.

"In this room, we expect to compete Saturday," said Freeze, who is 19-11 at Ole Miss. "We expect to have a chance to win it. I know our kids feel that way. I know our coaches feel that way. I don't know that we will -- I have no idea what the scoreboard will say at the end -- but I expect our kids to go and compete and have a shot."

But we've seen this story before. Ole Miss has some ruthless demons it's looking to exorcise this weekend, including stopping a 10-game losing streak to Alabama and erasing last year's 25-0 loss to the Tide after a 3-0 start. The recent history at Ole Miss hasn't exactly been nice when the expectations have been high.

Remember Sept. 24, 2009? Rebels fans sure do. That's when No. 4 Ole Miss, fresh off that remarkable 2008 season that featured an upset of eventual national champion Florida and hearing all sorts of BCS chatter, imploded on national television with an ugly 16-10 loss to an unranked South Carolina team that finished the year 7-6.

Looking for more painful memories Rebels fans? How about Nov. 22 2003, when the 15th-ranked Rebels lost a heartbreaker to No. 3 LSU at home? A win away from their first trip to the SEC championship game in Atlanta, the Rebels watched automatic kicker Jonathan Nichols miss two field goals and star quarterback Eli Manning trip over a lineman while pulling away from his center to end the game.

LSU won 17-14.

A year prior, a 21st-ranked Ole Miss squad was blown out 42-7 by No. 24 Alabama. And in 1999, on the cusp of a potential nine-win season for the first time since 1992, the Rebels (No. 23) walked out of Starkville, Mississippi, with a 23-20 loss to the 18th-ranked Bulldogs.

Over the past three seasons, the Rebels have gone a miserable 2-15 (.118) against teams that have finished the season nationally ranked in one of the final polls, including 0-9 against top-10 teams.

The jury is very much out on Ole Miss. This is a program that's history of national relevancy doesn't even register on the college football Richter scale anymore, recently had a shameful 16-game SEC losing streak and is still waiting to play in Atlanta for an SEC title.

However, the arrival of Freeze and the emergence of a historic 2013 recruiting class have brought hope -- and confidence -- to Oxford. A win on Saturday would move the Rebels from dark horse to legitimate contender.

"I tell the people that want us to win the SEC West every year, I don't know if that will ever happen, but I do know that we can be good enough to compete every year and I think that's where we are right now," Freeze said.

The season certainly won't be over with a loss to Alabama, but the buzz around the Rebels would dissipate, especially with the rest of a fearsome group of SEC West opponents still lurking on the schedule.

The Rebels don't care about the buzz, but they care about their own momentum. They care about living up to their own expectations and winning the games they expect to be in.

"It's daylight (and) dark from our sophomore year when going down to Baton Rouge and just playing with LSU was a moral victory," quarterback Bo Wallace said. "Now it's ‘We have to win these games, we have to win these big games to take our program to the next level.'"

SEC morning links

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
1. Stop me if you've heard this one before. On Tuesday, Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said he and Will Muschamp are on the same page. Despite looking horrendous offensively against Alabama two weeks ago, Roper and Muschamp are standing arm in arm. As a matter of historical context, I'd refer you to this story from late last season where Brent Pease said essentially the same thing. A week later he was fired. Now I'm not saying Roper is going to suffer the same fate, nor should he. But isn't this too early for votes of confidence and closing of the ranks? Much like the product on the field, it's not a good look for the Gators.

2. Arkansas deserves a bye week. After the fight they put up against Texas A&M, the Razorbacks need to catch their breath. As defensive end Trey Flowers said, "We’ve got to go into this off week, prepare for ‘Bama and just keep our heads up.” But what Arkansas really should be doing is recruiting. The saying, "There's no time like the present," should be ringing in every coach's ears. After the hurt Arkansas put on Texas A&M and the dominance it showed a few weeks earlier against Texas Tech, Bret Bielema should be sending a caravan into the Lone Star State to make hay. The Razorbacks are a respectable 22nd in ESPN's Class Rankings today. But with all the positive publicity surrounding the program and all the talk about playing their unique brand of old-school football, Bielema and his staff can do better. They should be beating down every blue-chip offensive lineman's door right now. After all, what's the use in having all this momentum if you're not going to capitalize on it?

3. Now you're starting to look like an SEC team, Kentucky. You're playing with the big boys, suspending multiple players the week of a pivotal game against South Carolina. But all joking aside, the loss of Dorian Baker and Stanley "Boom" Williams hurts. Kentucky has played well on the offensive line and Patrick Towles has done well for himself at quarterback. The one thing Towles needed was help at receiver, and now his third-leading pass-catcher, Baker, is gone. The absence of Williams, who has been a revelation at running back and on special teams, leaves little in the way of explosive playmakers for coach Mark Stoops to turn to. I was thinking upset with Kentucky-South Carolina before this. Now I have to rethink my position. I trust the UK defense, but I don't know whether they'll put up enough points to beat the Gamecocks.

What are Tennessee and Lil Jon up to?

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Despite a tough schedule, Tennessee is an improved football team -- and no category exemplifies that more than the Vols' third-down defense. A year after finishing 92nd nationally in that statistic, UT currently sits atop the entire country by allowing teams to convert just 11 of 53 third-down attempts (20.8 percent).

What accounts for this vast improvement? An infusion of talent? A scheme change? A new song?

A new song, you ask? Well, yes, the recruiting and marketing machine that is modern-day Tennessee football took Lil Jon's rap song "Turn Down For What?" and turned it into a "Third Down For What" spin-off that blares from the Neyland Stadium speakers this season when an opponent lines up on third down.

The players love it and so does the student section. The new song has been so successful that fans have taken to cranking it up during in-home viewing parties while the Vols are on the road.

Even Lee Greenwood got caught up in the frenzy, wearing a "Third Down For What" shirt during a recent halftime performance of (what else) "God Bless The USA."

So are the Volunteers now going to take this phenomenon to an even greater level? There aren't any clear answers yet, but a Tuesday afternoon tweet from Lil Jon to the official UT football account certainly has plenty of Tennessee fans buzzing.

Is this the funniest start to a copyright conversation ever or could this be the introduction needed to ensure Lil Jon performs "Third Down For What?" live during a game? And could it be as soon as Saturday's showdown with arch-rival Florida?

The Vols -- through a fan-led initiative -- are already pulling out all the stops to try to put a stop to that nine-game losing streak to the Gators. For the first time in the history of 93-year-old Neyland Stadium, UT fans will attempt to mimic the school's distinct orange-and-white checkerboard end zones by "checkerboarding" the entire 102,000-seat cathedral.

That's fine, @Vol_Football. But we'd like you to make something else a reality: Thousands of older-aged SEC fans rising as one on third down and waving their hands up and down as Lil Jon screams out from the sideline and asks them the most important question of all: Third Down For What?

Make it happen, Tennessee.

UPDATE (10/1/14): Then, on Wednesday afternoon, this happened...

We're still not sure quite what it means -- is he actually going to make an appearance at Neyland Saturday? -- but make no mistake, the UT football program is not shying away from the rap star's attention. Today's tweet was RT'd by the official Tennessee football account and by Butch Jones himself. And it had a pair of Vol assistant coaches fired up as well. And don't think Lil Jon isn't having some fun with his newfound popularity among the Vol Nation, retweeting to his one million followers these two messages from UT fans...



Saturday, 10/4