SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Reggie Ragland was a four-star prospect. He was 6-foot-3, 245 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in less than 4.7 seconds. SEC coaches fell over themselves chasing after him. He was the No. 2-rated inside linebacker in the country, according to ESPN, and was invited to the Under Armour All-Star Game where he stood out just as much as future teammates T.J. Yeldon, Amari Cooper and Landon Collins.

When Ragland set foot on Alabama’s practice field for the first time, he continued to impress. He didn’t look like a freshman, his legs as thick as tree trunks. Considering his background, his build and his athleticism, he was someone you circled on the roster to watch.

That was three years ago.

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Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's Reggie Ragland, top, is congratulated by teammates after his interception vs. Texas A&M.
When Ragland had "former blue-chip prospect" in front of his name, everything changed. Reality set in. The rigors of the college game caught up with him, as they have so many. Nick Saban’s defensive system wasn’t a quick study. He was buried on the depth chart by Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest. He looked the same physically, but he wasn’t noticeable any longer. Eleven of his 17 tackles as a sophomore came on special teams.

There were glimpses of Ragland’s potential during those first two years on campus, but concrete evidence was hard to come by. While Yeldon, Cooper and Collins emerged as stars, Ragland wondered whether he would ever regain the confidence he possessed as one of the most sought after high school athletes in the country.

Turning to Collins this season, he expressed doubt. Johnson and Mosley were gone and a starting job was all but guaranteed to him, but all he could feel was uncertainty.

"I’ve been out for years," he told Collins.

"Brother, just ball," the All-SEC safety responded. "You’ve been doing it for how many years? All you have to do is go out there, play your game and just ball."

It wasn’t a quick process, but Ragland eventually found his footing. The anxiety he felt dissipated, and he started playing in a way that lived up to his high billing as a freshman: fast, physical, aggressive.

Through seven games, he trails only Collins for the team lead in tackles. He has made five stops behind the line of scrimmage, defended three passes and recovered two fumbles. Against Texas A&M on Saturday, he made one of the plays of the game, leaping high into the air for his first career interception.

"The first game for me I overthought everything," Ragland said. "Because I hadn’t played in a couple of years, everything was fast. But as the weeks went on, everything started slowing down for me and I could see it."

He no longer needs the safeties to tell him what to do, he said. Reading the line of scrimmage and the quarterback’s eyes, he is seeing things before they happen.

Playing fast and confident again, he is a big reason Alabama’s defense ranks third in the nation, giving up 262.1 yards per game.

"Reggie has gotten better and better with every game," Saban said prior to Alabama’s 14-13 win against Arkansas two weeks ago. "I think he’s another one of those guys that didn't have a whole lot of experience before, so as you play and as you gain experience, you realize what it takes to play well.

"You've got to prepare what you've got to look at, how you've got to understand your game plan. You understand that every mental error you make has a consequence in the game. You really focus on paying attention to detail, doing the little things right. You become a lot better, more efficient player and Reggie has certainly done that."

Living by Saban’s words -- "Relax, let loose and have fun" -- Ragland has become a rising star in the SEC.

If the rest of Alabama’s former four- and five-star athletes learn to play the same way, watch out.

"If everybody can get together, the sky’s the limit for us," Ragland said.

He should know.

SEC Heisman Watch: Week 8

October, 21, 2014
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There's no denying that with his team's No. 1 ranking, undefeated record, wins against Top 25 teams and his own performance, Mississippi State's Dak Prescott is still the top contender for the Heisman Trophy from the SEC and, so it seems, he is the national favorite at the moment, depending on where you look (Oregon's Marcus Mariota is getting some love as well, lately).

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Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsAmari Cooper caught eight passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns against Texas A&M.
But when it comes to SEC candidates, Prescott, the league's best quarterback on what is currently the league's best team, is the front-runner. Perhaps we should be paying some attention, however, to the league's best receiver: Alabama's Amari Cooper.

We've had this conversation before. Earlier this season, particularly after his 10-catch, 201-yard, three-touchdown performance against Florida, Cooper's name began to emerge as one deserving of Heisman Trophy candidacy.

Well, in case you forgot about Cooper after two less productive weeks (one in which he was hampered by an injury), he reminded us all on Saturday why he is the standard in the league at his position.

Cooper was dominant in Alabama's 59-0 win against Texas A&M: eight catches, 140 yards, two touchdowns. The Aggies had no answers for Cooper, whom quarterback Blake Sims looked toward early and often in the game. He's big, fast, physical and extremely productive. He has been outstanding this season, with five games of at least 130 receiving yards and 908 receiving yards total, which ranks fourth in the country.

So while Prescott (whose team was off last weekend) remains the league's premier option currently and we continue to await word on what will happen with suspended Georgia running back Todd Gurley, perhaps we should keep a closer eye on Cooper moving forward.

Here are three other players to keep an eye on:

  • Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss: Wallace wasn't pristine this week (13-of-28, 199 yards), but he was still turnover-free and threw two touchdowns to guide the Rebels to a win over Tennessee. He is averaging 290.7 offensive yards per game in SEC play, while throwing nine touchdowns and zero interceptions in Ole Miss' four conference wins. He is third in the league in passer rating (163.0) and second in passing yards (1,899) and touchdown passes (17).

  • Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were off this week but Robinson has no doubt been an excellent weapon to pair with Prescott this season. He's second in the SEC with 689 rushing yards and yards per carry (7.0) and tied for second with eight rushing touchdowns.

  • Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: We don't know when Gurley will come back as he has missed the last two games, suspended by Georgia while it investigates allegation whether he profited from signing autographs. Even though he sat the last two games, he still leads the SEC in rushing yards (773), yards per carry (8.2) and is tied for second in rushing touchdowns (eight). The longer he's out, the more his chances are hindered, but for now, we'll keep him in the watch.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

October, 21, 2014
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There once again was a lot of big recruiting news from around the Southeastern Conference over the weekend. There was a big commitment, key visits and several new offers. Here's a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the conference.

At first glance: SEC Week 9

October, 20, 2014
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Well, here we are once again after an entire Saturday of lopsided games. What did we learn that we didn't already know? If anything the league revealed itself to be more firmly divided between contenders and pretenders.

We'll just have to look forward to Week 9 for some better SEC entertainment.

Game of the week: No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU
Now this should be fun. Night games at Tiger Stadium usually are. Two straight wins have LSU feeling good and back in the rankings. The Tigers are also back on the fringes of the SEC West race and could throw a giant wrench into the Magnolia State love-fest by upsetting the Rebels. The jury is still out on LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings, who didn't have to do much to beat Florida (110 yards passing) or Kentucky (120 yards passing). The Ole Miss defense, however, promises to give the Tigers their toughest test of the season. This unit is operating at peak performance at just the right time for a visit to Baton Rouge. The Rebs allowed zero rushing yards -- ZERO! -- to Tennessee last Saturday and have given up just six touchdowns in seven games this season. It should be a brawl in the Bayou.

Player under pressure: Maty Mauk, Missouri
The Tigers' gunslinging quarterback has been humbled and harnessed in his last two games -- a disastrous 34-0 home loss to Georgia in which he had five turnovers, and a goofy 42-13 win at Florida in which he was 6-of-18 passing for 20 yards and an interception. Mauk's and Missouri's seasons are nearing a crossroads. After playing what he called the worst game of his life against UGA, Mauk overcame a shaky start at Florida and played in control while the Gators self-destructed. The good news for the Tigers offense is that Mauk & Co. will have a solid chance to work out their issues against Vanderbilt, which will bring one of the worst defenses in the SEC (allowing 415.9 yards a game) to Columbia, Mo.

Coach under the microscope: Lane Kiffin, Alabama
The Tide's offensive coordinator might not have circled the third Saturday in October on his calendar, but you can bet 100,000 ticket-holding Volunteers fans sure did. In 2009 Kiffin coached his one and only season at Tennessee. He was full of promises, bravado and hot air. Other than some solid recruiting, the highlights of his 7-6 season were wins over Georgia and South Carolina and a near-miss at Alabama. Who can forget Bama's Terrance "Mount" Cody swatting away two Tennessee field goals in a 12-10 victory? Well, other than Kiffin? Now that he's back in the SEC, patrolling the Alabama sideline and steering its inconsistent offense, the vitriol is sure to reach a fever pitch on Saturday. Hundreds of students rioted when news broke of Kiffin's sudden departure in 2009. How are they going to treat his return?

Storyline to watch: Division dominance
The SEC West is a powerhouse. The East is a house of cards. So the story goes, and it doesn't seem likely to deviate with No. 1 Mississippi State visiting Kentucky and South Carolina traveling to No. 5 Auburn. The East has lost six of seven cross-division games so far this season, most of them with lopsided results. The much-improved Wildcats were riding high at 5-1 before being thrashed by LSU. Now they'll have to contend with Dak Prescott and his steamrolling MSU offense. South Carolina has the worst defense in the SEC and might need a miracle on the Plains to keep up with Auburn's offense. Don't look for the division script to flip this week.

Intriguing matchup: LSU offense vs. Ole Miss defense
As previously described in our game of the week entry, LSU can't expect much from its quarterback in Saturday's matchup against the fearsome Rebels defense. It gives Ole Miss a tremendous advantage to be able to stack the box against the run, but LSU has the horses to give the Rebel defense its toughest test of the season. Tigers senior RB Terrance Magee is coming off a career game with 220 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. He makes a fine pairing with freshman stud Leonard Fournette, LSU's leading rusher with 544 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns. If the Tigers can establish the run against Ole Miss it could open up some play-action passing or at least give Jennings a chance to take some shots with the very capable Travin Dural, a sophomore wide receiver with 26 catches, 665 yards and seven touchdowns. It all starts in the trenches.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Experience means something. If you don’t believe that, look at the SEC this season. Of the four most veteran teams in the league, three are ranked in the top five of the AP and coaches’ polls. South Carolina has flamed out, of course, but Mississippi State, Auburn and Ole Miss are all legitimate playoff contenders.

Then there is Alabama.

According to Phil Steele’s annual Combined Experience Chart, the Crimson Tide entered the season in the bottom half of the SEC and 107th nationally in a formula that breaks down the returning experience of every two-deep depth chart in college football. With AJ McCarron, C.J. Mosley and others graduated or off to the NFL, it made sense. But pundits looked at the run of top-ranked recruiting classes and a coaching staff led by Nick Saban, and trusted it would all work out.

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAn up-and-down season for coach Nick Saban and Alabama hit a high note against Texas A&M.
In a way, it has. Sort of.

Alabama is worthy of its current top-five ranking in the polls, but its journey to this point has been a rocky one. Looking at its season has required taking the long view on things, and that has been difficult to do considering all the ups and downs we have witnessed. One week you are looking at a flawed team, the next you are looking at a dominant one. Then it's simple: rinse and repeat.

It all goes back to youth. If you look at Alabama through the lens of a young team finding itself, then it all starts to make sense: the highs and lows, the mistakes, the struggles on the road. This isn’t the dominant, veteran Alabama team of years past, this is one dealing with growing pains and struggling to forge an identity.

Just look at the week-to-week themes:

  • Week 1: Nervousness sets in. The defense isn’t what we expected. During a closer-than-anticipated win against West Virginia, the secondary struggles and the front seven never can seem to get on the same page.
  • Weeks 2 and 3: Anticipation without resolution. Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic roll over, Blake Sims wins the quarterback competition, but we were still unsure about the whole of the team.
  • Week 4: Now we know. Alabama so thoroughly dismantles Florida, you would have thought the Tide had won the SEC. There were some concerning turnovers and penalties, but they were easily overlooked.
  • Week 5: The trumpets of greatness play throughout the bye week.
  • Weeks 6 and 7: Stop the music. Turnovers and penalties catch up with Alabama during a late loss at Ole Miss and a narrow win on the road against Arkansas. Sims is no longer sharp, the offensive line struggles, and special teams become an Achille’s heel.
  • Week 8: Utter confusion. The dynasty isn’t dead. Alabama belittles Texas A&M. Sims returns to form, the offensive line dominates and the defense never yields.

As you can see, it’s been something of a whirlwind following Alabama this season.

"This is as close to the Alabama football that we want to try to get from our players in terms of effort, toughness, emotional excitement and execution that we got throughout the game," Saban said following the 59-0 beatdown on Saturday. "Our approach to this game was that we wanted to find what exactly every position and player has to do, and see if you can go out there and dominate your box and do your job. I don’t think we had many penalties; we played with a lot of discipline. Our quarterback executed the system extremely well, and lots of guys made plays."

It was a championship-caliber performance, one that in itself says Alabama is back in the playoff conversation.

But if we are looking at the season as a whole, then we should know not to rush to judgement. This is a young football team, and no one ages overnight. That pendulum of greatness and mediocrity could swing back in the other direction at any moment.

What Alabama needs now is consistency. Starting with a trip to Tennessee on Saturday, the Tide can show that going on the road is no obstacle. Alabama can show maturity by putting together back-to-back good games against quality opponents.

The team is young, so be patient. The potential for Alabama’s players and coaches is certainly there, but there is no need to jump the gun. Haven’t we done enough of that already?

SEC bowl projections: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote: SEC play of the week

October, 19, 2014
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Not quite the excitement we might have hoped for in Week 8. Every game involving an SEC team was decided by double digits and the average margin of victory for the winning teams was 33.5 points. That doesn't mean that there wasn't some spectacular plays seen on the field though. There were quite a few, in fact. Here are our five favorites -- let us know which one you think was the best in the SEC in Week 8.

Davis' sweet stiff arm
South Carolina cruised to a 41-10 win against an overmatched Furman squad and Mike Davis' first touchdown run was evidence of that. In the first quarter, Davis' 5-yard touchdown run included an impressive stiff arm of an unsuspecting Furman defender. He then proceeded to absorb more contact as he dove into the end zone.

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Great return sprung by a great block
Return touchdowns on special teams take great individual effort but also a great team effort from those blocking. That was especially true on this 67-yard punt return for a touchdown by LSU's Tre'Davious White, which was sprung by an impressive block by freshman safety Jamal Adams.

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Sims' dazzling run
Alabama was dominant in its 59-0 win against Texas A&M on Saturday and Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims' touchdown run pretty much summed up the kind of day it was in Tuscaloosa. He juked and juked again to make about six Texas A&M defenders miss and sprinted to the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown.

Murphy to the house
It was all about returns for Missouri on Saturday. In its 42-13 win against Florida, the Tigers had two special teams returns for touchdowns and two defensive returns for touchdowns. Marcus Murphy accounted for the special teams scores, a 95-yard kickoff return to open the game and this 82-yard punt return, which was well done.

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Engram stretches out and hauls it in
Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram is one of the league's best at his position and skills like this are why. Bo Wallace was under pressure, had to heave his pass quickly and though it might have been a tad long, Engram stretched out and dove to make a nice catch and a 28-yard touchdown in the front corner of the end zone late in the third quarter of the Rebels' win against Tennessee.

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SEC owns top 5 of AP poll

October, 19, 2014
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The SEC has been historically dominant this season. Just look at the most recent Associated Press poll where it became the first league to ever boast four teams in the top five.

Look even further, though, and you'll see that all four of those teams hail from the West: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

Auburn's Gus Malzahn said it a few weeks ago and other coaches have echoed the statement since: "It's the best division in college football."

This might be the point where you feel sorry for Texas A&M.

The Aggies were the toast of college football for the first month or so of the season. They they went through three-quarters of the West wringer, losing games to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama -- in consecutive weeks.

How anyone will survive the West unscathed is beyond comprehension.

Already, Alabama has lost to Ole Miss and Auburn has lost to Mississippi State. But we're not through with the jockeying for position. Auburn goes to Ole Miss on Nov. 1 and Mississippi State travels to Alabama on Nov. 15. And lest we forget, the top four might not be decided until the final week of the regular season when the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl are played.

The SEC is a bear this season. The West just happens to pack the most heat.

It's crazy to consider how we've arrived here, but it's even crazier to look ahead at what's to come.

Best of the visits: SEC

October, 19, 2014
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From the Alabama’s dominating 59-0 win over Texas A&M, to Georgia's big win over Arkansas on Saturday, there were some big games around the SEC over the weekend. Several prospects attended the games while others watched on television and used social media as a platform to share their experiences. Here's a look at some of the top social media posts from the weekend:

Alabama outside linebacker commit Mekhi Brown tweeted a photo of himself along with five-star Alabama commit Blake Barnett and defensive end Christian Bell. The three players visited Alabama for the Texas A&M game on Saturday.
Barnett also posted another photo of himself along with his dad and head coach Nick Saban before the game. Five-star defensive end Byron Cowart was on an official visit to Alabama this weekend. The No. 2-ranked prospect in the country posted a photo of himself and Saban's wife and a video on Instagram of his experience in Tuscaloosa. Alabama commit Ronnie Harrison tweeted a photo, albeit a sideways photo, of himself in the front row, during the game. ESPN 300 athlete Donte Jackson visited LSU for its big 41-3 win over Kentucky on Saturday night. Jackson came away impressed with how the Tigers played. Ole Miss also had a few visitors including commits Drew Richmond and Ugo Amadi. Both players posted photos on Twitter. Richmond stopped to pose with a fan in his photo. ESPN 300 defensive tackle Kyle Phillips took a visit to Ole Miss this weekend as well and tweeted about his experience. Ole Miss safety commit Cam Ordway posted a photo on Instagram of himself posing with head coach Hugh Freeze and other recruits at the game. Florida suffered a bad 42-13 loss in front of several recruits. ESPN 300 outside linebacker Jeffery Holland was in attendance. Though he didn't say much, his tweet during the game pretty much summed up how everyone else felt about the game.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we learned in the SEC: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alabama lets loose on Texas A&M

October, 18, 2014
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Let your horses run. Let them jump and dance and dominate.

Nick Saban wanted that. He wanted his guys loose. Forget being anxious, he said, and just play football. Have fun. Be fast. Recalling the story of Secretariat he hoped to "just let 'em run."

Alabama hit its stride on Saturday afternoon, blowing past Texas A&M for a 59-0 win that had the previously sluggish Crimson Tide looking like playoff contenders once again.

T.J. Yeldon dodged and darted his way to 114 yards and two touchdowns.

Derrick Henry churned his long legs for 70 yards and a touchdown of his own.

Even Blake Sims let loose in the second quarter, running by a slew of defenders for a spectacular 43-yard touchdown.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon, Austin Shepherd
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonT.J. Yeldon and Austin Shepard celebrate one of Yeldon's two touchdowns against Texas A&M.
Alabama fired on all cylinders while Texas A&M flamed out. It proved to be the Tide’s largest margin of victory in more than 30 years.

The emotion Saban said his team had been lacking was instead ramped up to an 11. The normally business-like Crimson Tide played the game like kids again.

If you’ve never seen a group of 280-pound men jump up and down to a beat, it really is something. A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen and the rest of Alabama’s defensive linemen couldn’t sit still. During each kickoff, they huddled on the edge of the field and danced to the music played over the loudspeaker.

Amped up, they took the field and held Texas A&M to 31 yards rushing on 24 carries. They sacked Kenny Hill six times and forced an interception. The Aggies were shut out for the first time since 2003.

It wasn’t just emotion, though. Alabama won by being faster, stronger and more aggressive. It was smarter, with no turnovers and zero penalties.

"There was a lot of anxiety on our team," Saban said, "a lot of guys worrying about expectations, about being defined by external factors.

"Everybody has to forget about all that other stuff," he added. "It does affect you. It affects a lot of teams. That’s why you see these top teams struggling."

On a day when Alabama could do no wrong, Texas A&M was left with nothing but second-guessing.

The Aggies ran defender after defender at Amari Cooper but never could wrangle the junior receiver as he racked up 140 yards and two touchdowns. Keeping up with all their missed tackles was a dizzying task. Mark Snyder’s defense gave up 45 points and 449 yards of offense -- in the first half.

"However you cut it, that performance was unacceptable and embarrassing," said coach Kevin Sumlin. "Alabama had a lot to do with that, but we have to get back to work and examine where we are right now and how we can get better."

Given the stark contrast in the quality of play, it’s hard to make any sweeping statements about the prospects of Alabama. It’s surely back in the playoff conversation, but this is still the same team that lost at Ole Miss and nearly fell to unranked Arkansas a week later.

But for now the critics should be silenced.

Saban wanted more emotion. He wanted his horses to run.

On Saturday, he got the right attitude and the right results.
[+] EnlargeKenyan Drake
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsKenyan Drake kept treats on hand during Alabama's win Saturday.
Nick Saban isn't alone.

The love the Alabama head coach has for Little Debbie's Oatmeal Creme Pies is evidently rubbing off on his players.

Injured tailback Kenyan Drake was spotted on the sidelines with a box of them in his injury scooter during the Crimson Tide's 59-0 win over Texas A&M on Saturday.

Saban reportedly eats two of the treats for breakfast every morning.

Drake is out for the season after fracturing his leg during Alabama's loss to Ole Miss on Oct. 4, but he's remained in high spirits by outfitting his scooter with a "KDx17" license plate.

After the game, Drake joked about the scene on Twitter.




The first two times Alabama and Texas A&M met as SEC members, they provided us with some entertaining games. Sadly, the same can’t be said for today as Alabama routed the Aggies 59-0 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. The game was over early on, but here is the gist of it all:

How the game was won: Alabama showed up, Texas A&M didn’t. That’s the bottom line. The Crimson Tide dominated in all three phases of the game, and it was over before halftime. They embarrassed the Aggies to the tune of 45-0 in the first two quarters. Alabama had 449 yards at halftime, Texas A&M had 51. The Crimson Tide were 7-of-9 on third downs in the first half, the Aggies were 0-for-6. I could go on, but you get the picture. The second half was academic.

Game ball goes to: Nick Saban. After a loss two weeks ago to Ole Miss and a not-so-pretty win over Arkansas that caused some heartache among the Crimson Tide faithful (and caused Saban to go postal to fans’ reactions to a one-point win), he had his team ready to go from the jump. Alabama pummeled the Aggies in every way possible and will likely silence the critics for the time being. Saban also became the first coach to shut out a Kevin Sumlin-coached team in his seven-year head-coaching career.

What it means: Alabama fans can calm down. The Crimson Tide only have one loss, and there are still many games left before season’s end. They still have everything left to play for. For the Aggies, this is the wake-up call of all wake-up calls. After three straight losses, and this one in embarrassing fashion, Texas A&M must re-evaluate everything heading into its off week. A season that once looked promising is now looking disastrous.

Playoff implication: The Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes are still alive. They only have one loss, and who knows what will happen with the two Mississippi teams with more than a month left in the season? A&M, on the other hand, was already out of it before Saturday.

What's next: Alabama gets a rivalry game as it travels to Knoxville to take on Tennessee next week. Texas A&M is off, and it’s clear the Aggies need all the time they can get to regroup.

Alabama-Texas A&M primer

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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Since Texas A&M joined the SEC, the Aggies and Alabama have had memorable battles. There was Johnny Manziel’s coming-out party in 2012 when the Aggies upset the Crimson Tide, Alabama traveled to College Station last year to get redemption, outlasting Texas A&M in a shootout. The third annual meeting between these SEC West foes takes place Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. This time, both teams could use some positive momentum in the form of a win. Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC) beat Arkansas 14-13 last week but has plenty of concerns stemming from the win and the Tide lost to Ole Miss the week prior. Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2), meanwhile, took beatings at the hands of Mississippi State and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks. What should we expect Saturday? Alex Scarborough and Sam Khan Jr. break it down:

Alabama's key to victory: If Alabama's offensive line can't move the ball effectively then all bets are off. We've seen the past two weeks what Lane Kiffin's offense looks like when the running game can't get going, especially this past weekend when the Tide mustered just 66 yards rushing against Arkansas. But Texas A&M's defensive front is among the most porous in the SEC. If Alabama can reestablish the run then everything else falls into place: It takes the pressure off Blake Sims in the passing game and helps the defense by keeping Kenny Hill and Co. off the field.

Texas A&M’s key to victory: The Aggies need to get off to a quick start. They seem to be at their best when they get into an offensive rhythm early. Remember 2012? The Aggies jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter against Alabama. That’s probably asking too much this time around, but considering how much the offense has struggled the last two weeks, it behooves the Aggies to get points on the board early, otherwise it could facilitate a “here we go again” feeling and result in the Aggies trying to play catch-up, which they haven’t done a good job of in recent weeks.

Alabama’s X-factor: I'm still not sold on Alabama's secondary, especially in a game where the opponent can throw the ball effectively to four or five receivers on any down. The Tide just doesn't have enough quality depth at cornerback this year. That's why the play of Alabama's defensive line will be huge against Texas A&M. The Aggie o-line hasn't been great in recent weeks, so A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen and Co. have a chance to get after the quarterback. If they do that, it will be a boost to the secondary and potentially create a few turnovers that gets the defense off the field.

Texas A&M’s X-factor: There are several items to choose from here from offensive line play, which was not good last week, to secondary play or the defensive play as a whole. The bottom line is for the Aggies to have a chance, they need to be able to force some turnovers and make timely stops in crucial situations, like third downs or in the red zone. I don’t think anybody expects them to shut down Alabama’s running game or contain Amari Cooper, but if they can be good in those three areas defensively, they’ll have a fighting chance.

What a win will mean for Alabama: Well for starters it keeps the Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes alive. Considering some of the discussion that followed the “ugly” win at Arkansas, you might be fooled into thinking Alabama is out of it. On the contrary. There are still plenty of big games left, including showdowns with Mississippi State and of course, the Iron Bowl against Auburn. A win might get some folks to step back from the ledge after one loss and one not-so-pretty win a week ago.

What a win will mean for Texas A&M: It would generate some much-needed positive momentum. The Aggies don’t want to take a three-game losing streak into their off week so a win on Saturday would help restore some confidence, especially for the Aggies young players. It also could serve as a springboard for a solid finish to the season, which includes two off weeks, one nonconference opponent and three SEC foes (two at home).

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