Video: Impact Of 2013 Iron Bowl On 2014 Edition

November, 27, 2014
Nov 27

In the teams’ first meeting since Chris Davis’ miraculous Kick Six, college football reporter Chris Low breaks down Saturday’s rivalry game between No. 15 Auburn and No. 1 Alabama.
We just wanted to take the time to wish all of our loyal readers a very Happy Thanksgiving! Indulge and give thanks for all the good things in your life.

We have a lot to be thankful here on the SEC blog, and we wouldn't be here without you guys. We also wouldn't be here without all those talented football players and coaches taking the field this weekend.

It all starts tonight with LSU taking on Texas A&M in College Station. I know that neither team is involved in the SEC championship game or the College Football Playoff, but that game is going to be fun. Can LSU's offense register a pulse? Will Kyle Allen be able to carve up the Tigers' defense?

I don't know, but I do know that I'll be chowing down on turkey and pie before, during and after that game is over.

Stuff yourselves and think about all the things you're thankful for. Also, enjoy this weekend's slate of games in the SEC!

Memories, meaning of Iron Bowl

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
The Iron Bowl is like no other rivalry in sports. From Bear Bryant to Bo Jackson to Harvey Updyke, there's simply nothing that compares to Alabama vs. Auburn. It has turned players such as Van Tiffin and Chris Davis into legends. It's where the term "house divided" originated. It's on the minds of the coaches, players and fans 365 days a year.

If you haven't been a part of it, it's hard to understand. But to help with that, here's a look at the Iron Bowl rivalry from those closest to it:

Jay Jacobs, athletics director, Auburn
On the significance of the Iron Bowl: "It's a rivalry that is different than anything else because we all live together. Some rivalries are divided by borders, but this one has no borders. You're living with each other year round after that game. When you win that game, you have a little bit more pride and when you lose it, the other team has a little bit more pride."

To read the full story, click here.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There were plenty of times when Blake Sims could have packed it in, said enough was enough and resigned himself to not playing quarterback for the University of Alabama.

Way back in the spring, he could have thrown in the towel. He’d just tossed two interceptions during the final practice of camp, and Jake Coker, the strong-armed transfer from Florida State, was expected to waltz into Tuscaloosa and take over.

But Sims surged ahead of Coker during fall camp, won the job and started the season off on a tear, throwing eight touchdowns and two interceptions during the first four games.

It was great. Until it wasn’t.

Alabama, ranked No. 1 in the coaches' poll, then lost on the road at Ole Miss. Sims was ineffective, completing 19 of 31 passes with no touchdowns and one interception. He looked ordinary again. He looked uncomfortable, like someone who was still learning to play quarterback, not someone who could lead an offense to a national championship.

For three quarters of the following game, those suspicions were on the verge of being confirmed. Sims couldn’t get anything going and Alabama fell behind on the road against an unranked Arkansas team that hadn’t won a conference game in two years. The only thing at stake was everything, the entire season. Back-to-back losses would have meant the end of Alabama’s playoff hopes.

[+] EnlargeBlake Sims
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesBlake Sims waited a long time for his turn, and he's made the most of it. He has 12 touchdowns and one interception since an Oct. 4 loss at Ole Miss.
It was then that Sims came into his own. With the season hanging in the balance, he proved to be the quarterback Alabama needed.

Whatever happens on Saturday against No. 15 Auburn, Sims’ comeback is complete. Whether you take the long view of the spring until now or dive deeper into three game-clinching drives, you’ll see a quarterback who matured into the leader of a team fighting for playoff contention.

Oct. 11: Fayetteville, Arkansas

It would prove to be his first comeback.

Down 13-7 on the road, Sims got the ball with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.

Seven plays and 50 yards later, Sims faced a pivotal third-and-3 inside the red zone.

Sims took the snap, scrambled to his right and slung his arm across his body. DeAndrew White, in the middle of the end zone, came down with the pass.

“When we had to score, he became a real vocal guy,” said running back T.J. Yeldon. “He was firing us up and getting us motivated to go and score a touchdown.”

Nov. 8: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Every Alabama quarterback has to survive Death Valley.

AJ McCarron did it two years ago when he orchestrated a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. His TD pass to Yeldon saved the season and sent Alabama to the national championship.

Sims, who is close friends with McCarron, got the same opportunity.

Down 13-10 with less than a minute left in regulation, Sims had to act. On third-and-4, he scrambled for the first down. After an uncharacteristic drop by Amari Cooper, Sims took the next snap, darted to his right and found Christion Jones for 16 yards.

Sims killed the clock with 12 seconds left, went to the sideline and watched the game-tying field goal split the uprights.

“Blake kind of said, 'This is where we have to do it right here,'” said offensive tackle Austin Shepherd. “We all kind of said, ‘Let’s go.’ Kind of a surreal experience. We knew we could do it.”

In overtime, Sims screamed out an audible on second-and-goal. He took the shotgun snap, shuffled his feet and threw a perfect fade to the corner of the end zone for a game-winning touchdown to White.

Nov. 15: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Nick Saban called it, “Probably one of the greatest drives in Alabama history.”

Keep in mind that the longtime head coach is not one for hyperbole.

But the 15-play, 76-yard drive Sims led against then-No. 1 Mississippi State was one for the ages. Sims, who couldn’t seem to make a play in the second half, suddenly clicked into gear after Mississippi State made it a six-point game.

Sims was so calm, so effective. On a pair of third-and-longs, he went through his progressions, saw nothing and scrambled for first downs.

On second-and-goal, he handed the ball off to Yeldon for a touchdown. Alabama went ahead by two scores and ate six minutes off the clock.

“I’m just happy that he’s doing other teams like that, because he does that to us every day at practice during two-minute drill,” said safety Nick Perry. “He’s always with a black jersey, so when we’re going up to try to tackle him, we have to tag him. He’ll always get back in the locker room, ‘Oh, you didn’t touch me. You couldn’t tackle me in a game.’ So when I see him make a play like that [against Mississippi State], I’m like, ‘Oh, well, maybe I wouldn’t tackle him.’”

Saturday: The Iron Bowl

Sims now understands what to expect of these types of games.

“It’s that one play, those 2-3 plays, that determines how the game plays out,” he said.

With Sims’ hands on the ball, Alabama fans should be confident. After leading three pivotal drives already this season, he feels like he’s done it before.

“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Sims said. “It lets my team know that I’m ready to play.”

As a senior, this will be Sims’ only shot starting against Auburn. So what’s at stake isn’t just the season. In many ways, it’s his legacy.

“It’s a great feeling,” Sims said, forever downplaying his emotions. “I’m glad that I got the opportunity to play here at the University of Alabama and I’m trying not to pressure myself too much and think of it like that.

“I’m just trying to go out and have fun with my teammates, and pretty much be in the backyard and have fun and play catch with my wide receivers.”

In other words, Sims is determined to play his game.

“I make my body language look confident so they can go out and play with ease knowing that I’m ready to play,” he said, giving away one of his secrets: deception. Like everyone else, he's eager to play Auburn. “I know the team is ready to play by how we’re walking around the locker room right now. Everybody is excited and ready to play on Saturday.”

The Burning Desire of Texas A&M

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
A BLAZE ERUPTS in the eastern sky -- daybreak comes hard and fast in Texas. A dozen pickup trucks are parked on the dirt of a clearing. A grove of post oak and cedar spreads in three directions. Beyond the woods is a ranch. In a chicken coop over there, something serious must be going down because the roosters are absolutely shrieking, like berserk warriors on the brink of an atrocity. In the beds of the pickups, blanketed forms shift. People are sleeping in there, have been since last night. They're undergraduates from Texas A&M University, and between the sudden sunlight and the animal racket, they begrudgingly arise. They pull on coveralls and sharpen ax blades and pinch black plugs of dip into their gums. Soon the trees in this grove, a pocket of dusty vegetation 30 miles northwest of College Station, will be mostly gone, transfigured into a four-story tower, then torched. The back of one guy's T-shirt says: "Build the Hell Out of Bonfire."

If you've heard of this pyrotechnic Texas A&M tradition -- at one time the most notorious ritual in all of college football -- chances are it's because you remember how its timber immensity, almost complete but not quite, buckled during a work shift in the wee hours of Nov. 18, 1999, and came crashing down in a terrifying cascade. Fifty-eight students, most between the ages of 17 and 21, were crawling all over the stack at the time, engaged in various duties. Twelve of them died, 27 were injured, their bodies crushed and twisted. Suddenly, for the worst of reasons, people around the country were aware of this Aggie tradition, which had evolved into such an institution that it had become a proper noun: Bonfire.

It was also a tradition that had, the news coverage suggested, run amok. An estimated 8,000 undergraduates, some 25 percent of the student population, helped erect Bonfire. It was an entirely student-staffed and student-managed project nonetheless supported by the university and in part financed by it. Incredibly, it now seems, Bonfire was built and burned on campus -- sprinkler systems installed on rooftops to keep Bonfire's cinders from setting the campus ablaze -- and ignited before A&M's annual rivalry game on Thanksgiving Day against the University of Texas. A hundred thousand people would show up for the almost liturgical incineration, an event known as Burn. It comprised 8,000 logs, rose more than 90 feet into the air and weighed in excess of 1,000 tons. It had the shape of a wedding cake but also bore an uncomfortable resemblance to depictions of the Tower of Babel. It was hyped as the biggest bonfire not only in the world but also probably in history. The media seemed to relish reporting that hundreds of gallons of jet fuel were used to ignite it.

Read the full article here. To see how the bonfire was built, click here.
videoOne woman is from Mulga, Alabama, the other from Clanton, Alabama.

They are both grandmothers of six.

One cheers for Alabama; the other for Auburn.

Like most college football fans in the gridiron-crazed state of Alabama, they're mortal enemies this week, as the No. 1 Crimson Tide prepares to play the No. 15 Tigers in Saturday's Iron Bowl at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

"I've never met Tammy, but she really seems to be a sweet girl," said Phyllis Perkins, who is known as "Phyllis from Mulga" on the "Paul Finebaum Show." "But it's Iron Bowl week, so I don't know about her.

"She can probably hurt me physically because she's younger than me. No, I take that back. If she hits me, her ass is grass."

Among Finebaum's legion of loyal and colorful callers, there's none more famous than Perkins, a two-time cancer survivor, and Tammy Bullard, a loyal Auburn fan, who stepped across enemy lines when she married an Alabama fan last year.

Read the full article here.
Nick Saban likes to tell a story about how when he was an assistant at Ohio State he couldn't buy gas in Michigan or even turn in a receipt from "that state up North" while on the recruiting trail. Pat Gazzola, who owns the legendary Catfish Hole in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is still heart-broken that former five-star receiver Dorial Green-Beckham selected Missouri over Arkansas. And who can ever forget the story about Reuben Foster, who signed with Alabama despite having an Auburn tattoo on his arm.

The rivalry games that dominate this week's schedule are a major part of what makes college football so great. But if you think matchups like the Iron Bowl, the Game, the Civil War and the Egg Bowl are only combated on the field, you're sadly mistaken. The same bitterness and hatred displayed on the field almost always carries over to recruiting when rival schools are fighting over the hearts and minds of 17- and 18-year-old superstars.

"You bet rivalries extend to recruiting," said Matt Dudek, Arizona's director of on-campus recruiting and player personnel. "They definitely do, especially because of your rival's close proximity. You're often recruiting the same high schools as your rival because it's in your backyard. You're often recruiting the same players because in most states there are only so many good players. You don't ever want to lose a recruit to the other school across the state."

Read the full article here.
This one might not get the national love of UCLA-USC, Ohio State-Michigan or Auburn-Alabama, but there aren’t many rivalries in the country more fun than Clemson vs. South Carolina. The two programs share virtually nothing in common aside from geography, so picking sides isn’t tough. But the war of words between Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney over the years has elevated the proceedings from national afterthought to comedy gold. While the on-field product has been owned by the Gamecocks, the arrival of Deshaun Watson at Clemson and the underperformance by South Carolina this season makes for a far more interesting matchup between the lines, too. ACC reporter David Hale and SEC reporter Alex Scarborough take a look at how the 2014 installment of Clemson vs. South Carolina breaks down.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsClemson's chances of breaking a five-game losing streak to South Carolina might depend on whether or not Deshaun Watson can go at QB.
Key to victory for South Carolina: The Gamecocks offense isn’t terrible with Mike Davis running the football and Pharoh Cooper at receiver. AJ Cann is one of the best linemen in the country, as a matter of fact. But where South Carolina goes wrong is when it turns the football over, particularly in the passing game. In six wins, quarterback Dylan Thompson has three interceptions. In four losses, he has eight picks. There’s simply not enough on the defensive side of the ball for South Carolina to give away free possessions.

Key to victory for Clemson: For the Tigers, this isn’t a complicated formula. The defensive front needs to stuff South Carolina’s ground game -- something Clemson has done effectively all season, save the opener against Georgia. The offense needs to run the ball, something Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye have done a far better job of the past few weeks. And, most importantly, the QB needs to protect the football. If it’s Watson, Clemson fans will feel a bit more comfortable. If it’s Cole Stoudt, then there are legitimate concerns. But regardless, South Carolina’s pass rush has been nonexistent this season, which should help the Tigers play it safe, even if Stoudt is the one pulling the trigger.

X-factor for South Carolina: History is most definitely on the Gamecocks’ side. Spurrier, as he’s quick to remind everyone, has won the last five contests against his in-state rivals. In fact, none have been close as South Carolina has won each by at least two possessions. The players have changed, but Spurrier clearly has something on Swinney. Rest assured that the Head Ball Coach will have a few tricks up his sleeve as he attempts to extend his bragging rights another year.

X-Factor for Clemson: Is it an X-factor if it’s the only thing anyone is talking about? Watson is clearly the difference maker in this game, and whether he takes the field or not (he’s currently day-to-day with a knee injury) likely tells the story of whether the Tigers’ offense can move the ball enough to win. Clemson has certainly found ample ways to lose this game in recent years, but for Tigers fans, Watson represents a changing of the guard. He brings an air of confidence that Clemson has clearly been lacking, but he also brings by far the Tigers’ most potent offensive threat. But perhaps as big a question as whether he’ll even play is whether that knee will afford him the mobility that has been so crucial to his success.

Scarborough’s favorite moment from the rivalry: Sorry, South Carolina, but great games have great finishes, and it’s amazing to think that for as long as these two teams have been playing one another there has been only one game end with a score at the buzzer. That seminal moment belonged to the leg of Clemson kicker Mark Buchholz, whose 35-yard try was true, giving the Tigers a come-from-behind win in Columbia in 2007.

Hale’s favorite moment from the rivalry: It’s probably wrong to say it’s my favorite moment, but the fight between the two teams 10 years ago certainly turned the rivalry from a local one into a national one. Of course, the best moments of this rivalry have always had little to do with what’s happening on the field. In the parlance of Steve Spurrier, “talking season” is always more fun, and perhaps no rivalry in American has had more pointed and amusing jabs than this one (again, largely courtesy of the Ol’ Ball Coach). Is there a second Death Valley besides the one at LSU? Now that’s some expert trolling.

Updated recruiting class rankings

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
Success on the recruiting trail has given some programs much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and that includes a few teams whose recent triumphs have led to a rise in the class rankings.

One of those teams is UCLA, which, just prior to beating cross-town rival USC Saturday, were able to score a victory on the recruiting trail as well, landing a key in-state commitment. ESPN 300 DE Keisean Lucier-South became the Bruins?? fifth 300 prospect and first on the defensive side of the ball. A rangy and promising prospect, the top-five defensive end has the ability to give UCLA a defender that can create problems coming off the edge as both a run defender and likely more immediately as a pass-rusher.

Ole Miss also landed a key in-state commit in ESPN 300 OG Javon Patterson, a big and athletic prospect at the position, who combined with 2014 signee Rod Taylor, could allow the Rebels to anchor their O-Line with a formidable pair of guards.

Check out the full rankings here.

Video: Herbstreit's Gameplan Breakdown

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26

Kirk Herbstreit looks at the five big rivalry games of the week that not only give state bragging rights but also have direct implications on the College Football Playoff.

SEC Week 14 predictions

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
After a quiet Week 13, the SEC closes out the 2014 regular season with a flourish. It starts with LSU vs. Texas A&M tomorrow and is followed by at least two rivalry games -- the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl -- with playoff implications. Meanwhile, can Florida send Will Muschamp off with a huge upset of Florida State? Can Missouri win another East division crown? And will Arkansas ever lose again? Let's get on with the picks:

Why LSU wins: The game coming in College Station, Texas, worries me. So does that shutout at Arkansas two weeks ago. But in the end, I believe in John Chavis and the LSU defense. I think he's got Texas A&M's number. Without a strong inside running game, I expect the burden to fall on Kyle Allen's shoulders, and that's good news for an opportunistic LSU secondary. LSU 24, Texas A&M 20 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Texas A&M wins: Did you know Les Miles has never lost three straight games in his nine seasons at LSU? Crazy, right? Knowing that, the safe pick is the Tigers. But I simply don't trust this LSU offense. I haven't all season and I'm not about to now. Meanwhile, I think Texas A&M has too much firepower on offense, especially when you give Kevin Sumlin an extra couple of days to prepare. Texas A&M 27, LSU 24 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why Alabama wins big: Maybe if Auburn receiver Duke Williams plays -- and it sounds like he will -- Auburn can keep this thing competitive. But it's difficult to imagine this struggling team going into Tuscaloosa and finding a way to win. Not with a defense that seems to have regressed over the course of the season. With Auburn's offense slowing down a bit, too, it seems like Alabama will win comfortably. Alabama 38, Auburn 17 -- David Ching

Why Auburn keeps it close: It's the Iron Bowl. Just because Auburn hasn't played so hot recently doesn't mean we should expect the Tigers to roll over and play dead. Expect Auburn to put up a strong fight in hopes of spoiling the Tide's season. Alabama 28, Auburn 24 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Mississippi State wins big: One team won 51-0, the other lost 30-0. So it seems fairly obvious which is headed in the right direction. Ole Miss still seems to be reeling from the Auburn loss and the Laquon Treadwell injury, while Mississippi State has bounced back and has the look of a team still playing for a future. Mississippi State 35, Ole Miss 17 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Ole Miss keeps it close: This is the Egg Bowl. For as beaten down as Ole Miss is -- physically and mentally -- the Rebels will be fired up to ruin the Bulldogs' season. Bo Wallace is ready to erase the images of #Wallacing, and Hugh Freeze wants the Egg back in Oxford. Both quarterbacks will turn it over, but Mississippi State's power run game will be the difference. Mississippi State 27, Ole Miss 24 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Florida State wins big: Florida should have the emotional edge entering the game, wanting to send its coach out on the right note. But that's a short-term proposition. On the road in Tallahassee, Florida State might have to weather an early storm, but I expect the Noles to take control of the game late and run away for a double-digit lead before the fourth quarter ever begins. Florida State 40, Florida 14 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Florida keeps it close: Florida has nothing to lose in this one. This is Muschamp's last game with the Gators, and those players want to send him out on their shoulders, a la Ron Zook in 2004. Florida's running game will keep FSU's defense in check, but Jameis Winston will prove to be the difference late, yet again. Florida State 24, Florida 21 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Arkansas wins: While watching Missouri's last couple of games, it became apparent that running east and west against the Tigers is not a recipe for success. But north and south? Ask Georgia how that works. If Missouri can stop Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Arkansas' downhill running game, it will win -- especially if Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen is unable to play. Gary Pinkel deserves a ton of credit for dragging a mediocre team to another SEC East title if the Tigers win. Arkansas 30, Missouri 27 -- David Ching

Why Missouri wins: This was easily the toughest game to pick. Arkansas is another team with nothing to lose and no pressure, while EVERYTHING is on the line and there's a mountain of pressure for Mizzou. Arkansas is hot and Mizzou has forgotten how to lose. It doesn't matter who I picked in this one, I'll probably be wrong, but I'm going to assume Mizzou takes advantage of being at home this time. Missouri 20, Arkansas 17 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Georgia wins big: No offense to Georgia Tech, but if nobody in the SEC has been able to slow down Georgia this season, I don't see an ACC team doing it. The Bulldogs lead the conference, averaging 43.3 points per game, and they've done it primarily without star running back Todd Gurley. I expect another big day from his replacement Nick Chubb and this offense against the Yellow Jackets. Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 28 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why Georgia Tech keeps it close: The frustration of having beaten Georgia just once over the past 13 seasons is without question a motivator for Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets are also playing their best football of the season -- and they can run the ball. Did you see Georgia's run defense against Florida? Georgia has too much firepower on offense to drop this one at home and has played better on defense the past few weeks, but Georgia Tech will keep it close with its option attack that gives everybody fits. Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 27 -- Chris Low

Why South Carolina wins: To be clear, I think Clemson has the better team here. I've thought that other times in the past five years, too, and South Carolina still won by double digits every time. Even home-field advantage hasn't helped the Tigers, as Steve Spurrier is 3-1 in Death Valley since taking over as the Gamecocks' coach in 2005. Until Dabo Swinney shakes his Spurrier curse, I'm riding with the HBC. South Carolina 31, Clemson 20 -- David Ching

Why Clemson wins: If the Tigers are going to end their losing streak to South Carolina, this is the team to do it against. South Carolina's defense has been its Achilles' heel all season and though it has had two good performances of late, they came against Florida and South Alabama. The health of Clemson QB Deshaun Watson is key here for the Tigers. Clemson 34, South Carolina 31 -- Sam Khan Jr.

More unanimous picks:

Louisville over Kentucky: This year's Governor's Cup features two teams trending in opposite directions. The Wildcats have lost five straight while their in-state rival has won three of its last four. Louisville 31, Kentucky 14

Tennessee over Vanderbilt: Tennessee's motto the "Power of One" has become the "Power of Six'" as in six wins and bowl eligibility. That's the goal now for the Volunteers. A win and they play in a bowl game. That's motivation enough. Tennessee 31, Vanderbilt 10

Greg Ostendorf 84-18
Edward Aschoff 81-21
David Ching 80-22
Chris Low 80-22
Sam Khan Jr. 76-26
Alex Scarborough 76-26

Kickoff Show: Week 14 (1 ET)

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
AM ET's Ivan Maisel, Ted Miller and Adam Rittenberg join host Chantel Jennings to discuss rivalry week in college football and its impact of the playoff landscape. They will also answer your questions live.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 13

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
Compared to two weekends ago, when the SEC's true freshmen collectively had their best Saturday of the season, last weekend was relatively quiet for the group. Still, several of the rookies had big games on Saturday.

Here are five who stood out and six more notables:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: In the Volunteers' loss to Missouri, Barnett finished second on the team with eight tackles, plus he posted half a tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries.

What it means: The freshman continues to be one of the SEC's most consistent pass-rushers, increasing his total of tackles for loss to 18.5 against Mizzou. He is second in the SEC in TFLs and his nine sacks are tied for third with teammate Curt Maggitt.

KOR Evan Berry, Tennessee

What he did: The little brother of Volunteers legend Eric Berry, Evan returned four kickoffs for 121 yards (30.3 yards per return) against Missouri, including a 58-yard runback in the second quarter that set up a field goal.

What it means: The freshman speedster took over the kickoff return duties around midseason and has handled the job extremely well. In 13 returns, Berry is averaging 30.9 yards per return with a long of 68 yards against Chattanooga. He has a return of at least 33 yards in each of the six games where he has returned a kick.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: Chubb's string of games with at least 140 rushing yards ended at five, but only because the Bulldogs didn't need to use Chubb after the earlygoing against Charleston Southern. He accumulated 113 rushing yards on just nine carries and scored on touchdown runs of 83 and 8 yards.

What it means: He piled up all of that yardage in the first half alone, so it's not like Chubb's production dropped off at all in the blowout win. In fact, the 83-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was Georgia's longest since 1985 and the eighth-longest in school history. Entering this weekend's game against Georgia Tech, Chubb has 1,152 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and is a full-fledged star who no longer sits in Todd Gurley's shadow.

QB Treon Harris, Florida

What he did: Harris suffered a knee injury in the second quarter of Florida's blowout win against Eastern Kentucky and sat out most of the second half of the 52-3 victory. To that point, he was 4-for-12 passing for 162 yards and two touchdowns, plus he had run five times for 8 yards.

What it means: The good news is that Harris' knee contusion will not keep him out of this week's game against Florida State. Harris has helped the Gators' offense become more effective since he entered the starting lineup four games ago -- a stretch where Florida is 3-1.

DL Gerald Willis, Florida

What he did: Willis recovered a fumble that set up a touchdown and also recorded five tackles and a quarterback hurry in Florida's blowout win against Eastern Kentucky.

What it means: Willis was a huge recruit for the Gators, but has had a quiet first season for the most part. He has just 10 tackles in six games this fall. Willis and several youngsters on the defensive line had good games on Saturday, showing that the future should be bright along the line of scrimmage in 2015 and beyond.

Other notables:

DB Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Recorded a career-high six tackles against Missouri.

PK Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Made field goals of 38 and 39 yards and hit his only PAT try against Missouri.

DB Malkom Parrish, Georgia: Recorded four tackles and a tackle for loss against Charleston Southern.

PK Gunnar Raborn, Alabama: Made field goals of 20 and 28 yards and went 6-for-6 on PATs in a 48-14 win against Western Carolina.

WR Cam Sims, Alabama: Caught a 4-yard touchdown pass for Alabama's first score and finished with three receptions for 33 yards against Western Carolina.

RB Roc Thomas, Auburn: Ran five times for 26 yards against Samford and scored on a 1-yard run, plus he made two receptions for 2 yards.
Trying to get Dan Mullen or anybody at Mississippi State to talk about the what-ifs this week as they relate to the College Football Playoff is about as easy as getting Mullen to utter the words “Ole Miss.”

To Mullen, Ole Miss will forever be the “school up north.”

The Egg Bowl has never carried higher stakes for the Bulldogs, who need to win Saturday in Oxford if they hope to hang onto one of those top four spots in the playoff committee’s final rankings. If Alabama wins later Saturday night against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Mississippi State would be shut out of the SEC championship game regardless of the Egg Bowl result.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsDan Mullen is trying to maintain focus on the Egg Bowl, not its ramifications for the Bulldogs.
If the Bulldogs are shut out of the playoff in that scenario, somebody has some serious explaining to do.

I keep thinking back to Bill Hancock’s comments prior to the season. Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff, said the committee would “evaluate a team based on who they played over 12 games.”

If Mississippi State handles its business Saturday, there won’t be four teams in America that can claim a better résumé than the Bulldogs, who would have gone 7-1 in arguably the toughest division in the history of college football with that one loss coming on the road to the No. 1 team (Alabama) by five points.

That’s not to dismiss what Baylor, Ohio State or TCU has done this season. All three teams have done enough to be in the playoff conversation. But a question the committee members need to be asking is a simple one: What would those three teams’ record be this season had they played Mississippi State’s schedule?

For that matter, what would anybody’s record be?

According to ESPN’s strength of record metric, Mississippi State ranks No. 3 behind only Alabama and Florida State. Strength of record measures how difficult it is to achieve a team’s record, given its schedule.

Nobody is defending Mississippi State’s nonconference schedule this season. But going back to Hancock’s comments, the committee weighs the entire schedule, not just a pocket of the schedule.

With Arkansas moving into ESPN’s power rankings this week at No. 25, that means all seven teams in the SEC West have been ranked in that poll at some point this season. All seven are bowl eligible. One of the knocks against Mississippi State is that some of its wins have lost their luster because those teams have since dropped out of the rankings. The reason they’ve dropped out of the rankings is because the West has cannibalized itself.

My guess is that Mississippi State would gladly trade schedules with Baylor, Ohio State or TCU … or even Florida State.

The great unknown at this point, and something that should probably be unnerving for Mississippi State, is how much conference championships will be weighted by the committee. All conference championships aren’t created equal. But if Ohio State wins the Big Ten, for instance, would that trump what Mississippi State has done over the course of the season without winning the SEC title?

Already, ESPN insider Brad Edwards has predicted that Ohio State, No. 6 in the latest rankings, is in good position to vault into the top four should the Buckeyes go on to win the Big Ten title. And that's an Ohio State team dragging around a loss to Virginia Tech, the same Virginia Tech team that lost to Wake Forest a week ago.

We've heard so much about good wins and bad losses, but let's cut to the heart of this debate. In other words, what would be more difficult to accomplish this season -- winning the Big Ten title or winning a share of the SEC West Title? Committee chairman Jeff Long has an excellent resource sitting right down the hall from him. His coach at Arkansas, Bret Bielema, would offer a pretty decent perspective. He went to three straight Rose Bowls at Wisconsin and now has the Hogs playing as well as anybody in the SEC.

Maybe this is all a moot point. Maybe there are still two or three upsets in the works that will clear up the playoff picture, and maybe Ole Miss rains on Mississippi State’s playoff parade this weekend.

But if everything holds steady, and the top teams keep winning, this whole “best four teams” mantra that we’ve heard about since the playoff became a reality is going to be put to the test.

If it’s truly the best four conference champions, then come out and say that. The last time I checked, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work, even though my sense from the beginning was that there would be a considerable push to have four different conferences represented in this first playoff.

Up until now, Mississippi State has been in the top four every week the playoff rankings have been unveiled. So it’s clear the committee has treated the Bulldogs with great respect to this point.

Somehow, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Mississippi State would be a top-four team every week until the very last poll -- the only one that counts.

With it being a four-team playoff, it’s only natural that the No. 4 team would be scrutinized heavily. And for the record, according to ESPN’s strength of schedule rankings, Mississippi State (50th) is ahead of TCU (52nd), Ohio State (55th) and Baylor (61st).

It all makes you wonder if we would even be having this conversation if this were one of the bluebloods in the SEC, say Alabama, Florida, Georgia or LSU, and they had the same résumé as Mississippi State. But it’s not one of the bluebloods. It’s Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs are fighting like hell to shake the stigma that they’re somehow not legit.

Ultimately, it’s up to Mississippi State on Saturday in one of the most anticipated Egg Bowls ever to state its case one last time.

And then it will be in the committee’s hands to sort it all out, and refreshingly, history, tradition and a team's brand are not going to matter as much as the team on the field and what that team has accomplished this season.

At least we can hope.
On the day her son was set to make the biggest decision of his life, Lechelle Noil was nervous.

Speedy Noil -- only his mom and a few others close to him call him by his given name, Devante -- was a five-star prospect from New Orleans Edna Karr and was about to choose between Texas A&M and hometown LSU on national television at the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game. Noil’s grandmother Monica made a joke that summed up what many were feeling.

"'If he doesn't pick LSU, I'm going to pass out,'" Lechelle recalls Monica saying. "I had to tell her, 'No, you're not.'"

Lechelle waited until the absolute last moment to reveal to the family that her son, the No. 7 player in the 2014 class, bypassed the home-state powerhouse in favor of SEC West foe Texas A&M. At that point, she had no choice but inform the family in hopes of avoiding a YouTube recruiting moment on national television a la Landon Collins.

“We felt a lot of pressure family-wise,” Lechelle said. “We had people in our family that said, 'It would be wrong if you don't go [to LSU].'"

More than 10 months later, Noil prepares to face the school he spurned for the first time when Texas A&M hosts LSU on Thanksgiving night at Kyle Field.

* * *

[+] EnlargeSpeedy Noil
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNSpeedy Noil turned heads with this spectacular one-handed grab in his first practice with the Aggies.
Noil, who’s enjoying a solid freshman season for the Aggies, is the type of player who is difficult for out-of-state schools to pull from Louisiana. LSU keeps almost all of the top-level Louisiana talent in-state.

"It was one-in-a-million for a kid like Devante to leave, to pass up playing for the home state,” said Louisiana Tech running backs coach Jabbar Juluke, who was Karr’s head coach through Noil’s junior season. “It certainly wasn't anything that LSU did not do. I thought they did an outstanding job of recruiting them.”

"I look at him every now and then and say, 'I can't believe he is here,'" Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty said in February. "He was so unattainable. But with Kevin [Sumlin], I've learned that there's nothing unattainable."

LSU first offered Noil a scholarship as a sophomore. Growing up in Orleans Parish, he earned his nickname from dominating youth leagues at Cut-Off Park.

Sumlin and his staff overcame not only the natural pull LSU has over home-state prospects but also a family tie to the LSU coaching staff.

Lechelle noted that some schools stopped recruiting Noil when they discovered his cousin was LSU running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson.

"It made some of the other coaches back away from him because they were like, 'It doesn't make no sense to go after him if he has his cousin as the recruiting coach [at LSU],'" she said.

Texas A&M didn’t back off. Sumlin, Beaty and then-defensive backs coach Marcel Yates (now at Boise State), who was the recruiter assigned to Louisiana, pressed on.

* * *

Noil zeroed in on five schools: Florida, LSU, Oregon, Texas A&M and USC. LSU was always a factor, but the Aggies, with Sumlin, SEC membership, their high-powered spread offense, Johnny Manziel and a Heisman Trophy, held a certain appeal to Noil.

The Aggies’ presence in the SEC can’t be overstated.

“Kids down this way, they respect SEC football,” said Karr coach Nathaniel Jones, who was Noil’s head coach his senior season. “Other than that, everything else is secondary. If it's not SEC, it's secondary football as far as the college ranks are concerned.”

His official visit to Texas A&M -- the weekend of the Aggies’ 2013 showdown with Alabama -- blew him away, according to his mother. (Like all freshmen at Texas A&M, Noil is prohibited from speaking to the media by Sumlin.) He received ample one-on-one time with the coaching staff, including Sumlin. The Aggies laid out a clear, detailed plan on where they envisioned him fitting in on the field and on the depth chart.

Another critical factor was the fact that the Aggies signed one of his Karr teammates, Noel Ellis, in the 2013 class. Ellis served as his official visit host and gave Noil the comfort of having someone he trusted nearby.

“The official visit pretty much showed him that A&M gave him the opportunity that yes, A&M may be the best choice for him,” Noil’s mother said.

The visit went so well that Noil told his mom a month later he wanted to go to Texas A&M. Concerned he was rushing into the decision, she encouraged him to take more time.

He never took officials to Florida, USC or Oregon. That left LSU and his official visit in December 2013, which didn’t go quite as he had hoped.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesKevin Sumlin didn't give up in his pursuit of Speedy Noil and pulled a huge recruiting upset.
“The main thing Speedy stressed to everybody was that he didn't want to do an official visit [to LSU] with a lot of people,” Lechelle said. “But for LSU, I think the mistake was we did it with all their top recruiting players and we didn't have enough time. We had a limited time with Les Miles. We didn't even have much of a sitdown with the offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron. The wide receivers coach, whatever I threw at him, he pretty much agreed with. He didn't have the depth chart laid out, nothing. [Speedy] paid attention to that.”

* * *

When decision day arrived, Noil called his mom’s hotel room before the game. He needed either a hat or the gloves of the school he was going to choose.

“Tell me again, have you changed your mind?” Lechelle asked.

Noil told her he was sticking with the Aggies.

Since his arrival in College Station, Texas, Noil earned numerous fans. His confidence was clear from the first day of spring practice, donning a No. 2 jersey mere months after Manziel finished wearing it (Noil wore No. 2 at Karr High also) and catching a one-handed pass during his first Aggies practice. In 10 games, Noil leads the team with 1,225 all-purpose yards and has made his mark as both a receiver (513 yards, four touchdowns) and a returner (25 yards per kickoff return, 13.6 yards per punt return).

Noil is not yet where he wants to be as a player or where the Aggies expect him to be in time. Sumlin said Noil is still learning to run routes and read coverages since most of his prep career was spent behind center, not at receiver.

"He's an explosive player in the return game, but he's got to continue to improve as a route-runner and when that happens, it'll be something exciting to see," Sumlin said.

So far, things have worked out well. While he might not be wearing the colors some hoped he would, they’ve been supportive of him and his success in Aggieland.

"A lot of family didn't like it, but once they saw him doing what he's doing at A&M, they said, 'I think that was the best fit for him,'" Lechelle Noil said. "'He made a great decision.'"

Noil is definitely anxious for Thursday’s game, according to his position coach.

“He is quiet by nature, but I can see that he is focused,” Beaty said. “He always wants to play well, but I know this is a big game for him personally. He just wants to contribute and get the W.”

With a world of talent, the future is bright for Noil. Friends and family might have long thought that future was at LSU, but the Aggies turned out to be the right fit.

“I think it happened to be the perfect storm,” Jones said. “You have Kevin Sumlin, phenomenal coach, proven, making waves in the SEC. Another big factor is that Texas A&M went to the SEC. Having a teammate there already, having a system there already, Johnny Manziel, Heisman Trophy, it was just a perfect storm that came together at the right time. All things worked out for him. That played a big factor in him choosing Texas A&M.”



Thursday, 11/27
Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29