SEC: Florida Gators

Muschamp switches QBs to save season

October, 22, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Too little, too late?

Florida coach Will Muschamp is fighting for his job and faces the gargantuan task of getting his Gators back on track before what could be a career-deciding game against Georgia on Nov. 1 in Jacksonville.

Muschamp announced Wednesday that true freshman Treon Harris will start at quarterback, replacing junior Jeff Driskel. It's an obvious move because there is little else this team can do to reverse the tailspin that dates back to the 4-8 season of 2013.

The discord has only grown this season, as Florida (3-3, 2-3 in the SEC) is looking at another dysfunctional offense and another poor record.

[+] EnlargeTreon Harris
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsFlorida freshman Treon Harris, who will replace Jeff Driskel at quarterback, is 12-of-18 passing for 263 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Even legendary Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, as positive a voice as can be found in his role as an analyst for the SEC Network, criticized his alma mater's lack of heart and lack of identity on offense.

Muschamp agreed and said his players are circling the wagons.

"We've just tried to control the controllables. We repeat that to our players a lot," he said. "The things that we can control -- we need to play better, that’s the bottom line. We need to coach better. So those are the things we need to focus on -- improving ourselves and finding an identity offensively in what we can do and what we can do well.

"And block out as much as you can. You're going to hear it. That's part of it playing at a place like the University of Florida."

Irate fans booed Driskel and chanted "Fire Muschamp" during Florida’s 42-13 homecoming loss to Missouri on Saturday. Their frustrations boiled over as the Gators committed six turnovers after having three in each of the previous three games.

Muschamp said he didn't hear the chants but seems to understand what caused them, calling the game "an embarrassing performance, coaching-wise and playing-wise."

Under Muschamp's direction, Florida's offense has consistently ranked among the worst in the FBS: 105th in 2011 (averaging 328.69 yards per game), 103rd in 2012 (334.38 YPG), 115th in 2013 (316.7 YPG) and 101st through six games this season (368.0 YPG).

Florida’s offense has been going in the wrong direction this season, averaging 462.3 yards per game in the first three contests and 273.7 YPG in the last three.

"Fifteen turnovers in the last four games has been a killer for us," Muschamp said. "We can’t afford to turn the ball over. We've lacked production and explosive plays at the quarterback position. I think couple all those things together, we've struggled."

Hence the move from Driskel, who has completed 53.0 percent of his passes, to Harris, who has a completion percentage of 66.7.

The offense has rallied around Harris before. In fact, the 19-year-old led Florida to its only points against Tennessee and Missouri.

Now Florida players must rally to save their season, to save their coaches' jobs, and to save Florida's image.

"[Athletic director Jeremy] Foley said earlier that [Muschamp] is here and he's staying here," senior center Max Garcia said after the Missouri game. "We're going to play that way.

"We're not going to give up on him. We're not going to give up on the team. We don't have any quitters on this team."

Foley reiterated his support on Monday, saying he will continue to "evaluate the season as it plays out."

Muschamp, whose team has lost 10 of its last 13 and eight of its last 10 SEC games, said he appreciated the gesture and hopes team pride will turn things around.

"I think Jeremy sees a lot of the things that are going on in our program, and certainly a huge part of that is winning games, and that's not what we've done," Muschamp said. "But academically, socially, all the things we've done within our program in changing the culture have been outstanding."

Without positive results, will it be too little and too late for Muschamp?

ESPN 300: Five things to know in the SEC 

October, 22, 2014
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The SEC has an impressive 89 committed prospects in the updated ESPN 300 rankings. While the SEC West has been dominant on the field, 13 of the 14 SEC schools are ranked in the top 40 of the RecruitingNation class rankings. Here’s a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 8

October, 22, 2014
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Although Georgia’s Nick Chubb is the headliner for a second straight week after another ridiculous performance, this week’s SEC freshman tracker is heavy on defense -- including a couple of defensive linemen who have already emerged as breakout performers.

Here are five SEC true freshmen who stood out last Saturday (and five more worth mentioning):

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did:
Chubb continued to give Todd Gurley the Wally Pipp treatment by carrying 30 times for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 45-32 win at Arkansas. He also caught a pass for an 8-yard gain. In the last two games, Chubb has run 68 times for 345 yards, and the Bulldogs have blasted Missouri and Arkansas on the road.

What it means: If and when Gurley returns to the lineup, he will obviously resume carrying the Bulldogs’ running game. But with the one-time Heisman Trophy frontrunner suspended and Sony Michel and Keith Marshall out with injuries, Georgia desperately needed Chubb to produce, and he has exceeded every reasonable expectation.

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did:
Barnett logged his first game with double-digit tackles, recording 10 in a loss to Ole Miss, and also notched four tackles for loss and two sacks. The game wasn’t particularly competitive -- Ole Miss won 34-3 -- but Barnett clearly ranked among the Volunteers’ top defensive performers.

What it means: He hasn’t been getting the same kind of attention as Texas A&M freshman Myles Garrett, but Barnett might catch up soon. All of a sudden he’s second in the SEC with 9.5 tackles for loss, along with 38 tackles and three sacks.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss

What he did:
In the Rebels’ win against Tennessee, Haynes finished with five tackles, 2.5 sacks and his first career fumble recovery. That continued a dominant recent run in which he has totaled 4.5 sacks in the last two games.

What it means: Haynes leads arguably the SEC’s top defense with 7.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He also leads the SEC with three forced fumbles. The Rebels already have a star-studded defense, and Haynes is quickly adding another name to the list of players to watch.

S Jamal Adams, LSU

What he did:
The Tigers’ highest-rated defensive signee in a well-regarded 2014 recruiting class, Adams had his best game yet in a win against Kentucky. He finished with a career-high eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack, plus he delivered the key block that sprung Tre'Davious White for a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown.

What it means: Simply put, the energetic Adams is showing why those around the LSU program believe he is the next Eric Reid at safety. He is the Tigers’ leading tackler on special teams and is already a leader on their nickel and dime defensive groupings.

S Dominick Sanders, Georgia

What he did:
Sanders started at safety for the seventh straight game and scored for the first time in his college career when he picked up a Brandon Allen fumble and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown. Sanders’ touchdown just before halftime gave Georgia a 38-6 halftime lead.

What it means: Sanders, who also made four tackles against Arkansas, has been one of the more reliable performers in Georgia’s depth-deprived secondary. The Bulldogs still have plenty to clean up on pass defense, but the overall defense continues to make progress under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Other notables:

WR Kendrick Edwards, Arkansas: Caught a 4-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter as the Razorbacks attempted a late rally against Georgia.

QB Treon Harris, Florida: Rotated at quarterback with Jeff Driskel and finished 8-for-12 for 98 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and also rushed eight times for 26 yards.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee: Ran 13 times for 40 yards and caught two passes for 19 yards in a loss to Ole Miss.

WR Josh Malone, Tennessee: Caught five passes for 75 yards in a loss to Ole Miss.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught four passes for 32 yards and returned six kickoffs for 106 yards in a loss to Alabama.

SEC morning links

October, 22, 2014
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1. On Tuesday, my colleague Greg Ostendorf wrote about how Auburn freshman Roc Thomas is primed for a big second half to the season. Watching Thomas from afar, I'd have to agree. While he's not as fast as Corey Grant or as powerful as Cameron Artis-Payne, he's probably Gus Malzahn's most explosive running back when it comes to consistently picking up large chunks of yards. But Ostendorf's piece got me thinking: Who are some other potential second-half stars in the SEC? Here are four that come to mind:
  • Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama: A big body at linebacker who is just now beginning to scratch the surface of his ability. He'll be an integral part of stopping the run against LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.
  • Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: Too obvious? The longer Todd Gurley is sidelined, the faster the freshman back's star rises.
  • AJ Derby, TE, Arkansas: Bret Bielema told me this spring that the former QB had NFL talent as a tight end. We're starting to see more and more of that lately.
  • Brandon Holloway, RB, Mississippi State: A shifty running back with blinding speed that can catch the ball out of the backfield, Holloway is the perfect change of pace to the bruising style of Josh Robinson.

2. The Head Ball Coach took the Florida question in stride. Steve Spurrier says he's not leaving South Carolina for The Swamp to replace Will Muschamp. "No," Spurrier told reporters on Tuesday. "I tell everybody my next move is going to be to Crescent Beach, Fla." It was fun to imagine Spurrier roaming the Florida sideline again, but at 69 years old you knew it wasn't likely, if not altogether impossible. He's comfortable at South Carolina. Things might not be perfect there right now, but the work pales in comparison to what must be done at Florida. The Gators, should they choose to part ways with Muschamp, need a long-term solution, not a splashy stop-gap they'd have to replace sooner than later.

3. Texas A&M is going back to the drawing board. Even the QB position is up for grabs, said coordinator Jake Spavital. But that's not what caught my attention on Tuesday. What piqued my interest was coach Kevin Sumlin's comments about how Saturday's loss at Alabama was an "eye-opener." He said, "This program was founded on three things -- play hard, play smart, be physical." Texas A&M has done none of those things recently. It started with Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but it ended with Alabama breaking its will. There was no aggressiveness from the Aggies' sideline, no fire to show in the second half they're better than the score indicated. They gave up. They wanted to go home. And if you're a coach, that's the worst possible thing you can see. What we're seeing from A&M is that you can't survive in this league on talent alone. You have to have those three things Sumlin discussed, but you have to have them in more than name only.

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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.


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SEC morning links

October, 21, 2014
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1. You knew a statement was coming. On Monday, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley delivered a short message about the status of head coach Will Muschamp: "Our sole focus right now is supporting our coaching staff and players as they prepare for Georgia." There's not much reading between the lines to be done there, especially when you consider the brevity of the statement. But to give in and make a statement in the first place is a sure sign of where things stand. There are six more weeks left in the season. Are you going to issue one release per game the rest of the way? Maybe they'll grow in length as they "evaluate the season as it plays out," as Foley wrote. Maybe they'll become increasingly cryptic or employ a well-placed emoticon to lighten the mood. If you use a decoder, will it spell out the name of each week's leading candidate? Now that would be something. For now, though, we're left with a few throwaway sentences about what appears to be a lame duck coach.

2. I'll admit it, I wasn't very high on Georgia's prospects post-Todd Gurley. In fact, I didn't like the Bulldogs' chances before he was suspended indefinitely. But Mark Richt's squad has shown me something, and it's more than the uber-talented Nick Chubb that's impressed me. Instead, it's how the rest of the team has picked up their play. Hutson Mason has thrown three touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games. And the defense has found a way to create turnovers in bunches, picking off Missouri's Maty Mauk four times and Arkansas' Brandon Allen a pair of times. Leonard Floyd has been a beast rushing the passer and the rest of that front seven showed me something as it held down the Razorbacks' vaunted rushing game. Post-Gurley, Georgia's become a much more complete football team. If and/or when he comes back, he'll only make it better.

3. If there's been one area of Ole Miss' game that's concerned me, it's the offensive line. Though they've played much better than expected, the fact remains that there wasn't a lot of returning experience there from a season ago. Laremy Tunsil was someone you knew you could count on, but the rest was iffy. It turns out offensive coordinator Dan Werner found a good starting five after all, but now his depth will be put to the test as it looks like starting center Ben Still is questionable for the LSU game. As we all know, playing the Tigers in Baton Rouge is most often a battle in the trenches. Without his starting center, will Bo Wallace be as comfortable under center? And will an already limp running game take a step back? It's hard to say exactly, but the timing isn't ideal, that's for sure.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In his most recent postgame news conference, Will Muschamp spoke as quickly as ever, but this time his words were hushed.

There's a pall over his Florida football program, and at this point it doesn't matter if words are screamed or whispered.

All that matters are results. The ones Muschamp has not delivered.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsWith a 2-8 mark in his past 10 SEC games, one has to wonder how much longer Will Muschamp can survive as Florida's coach.
This past Saturday at the Swamp, with everyone in attendance aware that the coach's job was on the line, the Gators played like his fate was already sealed.

What could have been a stepping-stone game against Missouri to set up an SEC East showdown with Georgia in two weeks was instead a laugher. The Tigers returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and then stepped out of the way as Florida self-destructed.

When it was over Muschamp sounded like a coach out of answers.

"I told them anytime you go have one like this, you look in the mirror and figure what we need to do to improve," he said. "... We've just got to nail it down to some things that we do well, which right now is not that much."

Florida has lost 10 of its past 13 games. In the past two seasons, the Gators' only wins have come against Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.

In four seasons, Muschamp has a 25-19 record. He's 15-14 against SEC competition, including a 2-8 record in his past 10 conference games.

What few supporters were left on Saturday night gave up on their coach in the third quarter. Boos echoed throughout the Swamp, and loud chants of "Fire Muschamp" rained down on the field as fans left in droves.

As usual, the coach took full responsibility and swore to address the issues that are plaguing his team -- a starting quarterback who has had an astonishing 12 turnovers in his past 14 quarters, leaky pass protection, and a corps of receivers who drop balls with frightening regularity.

Reinforcements don't appear to be coming, though, as a lack of player development has compounded Florida's offensive ineptitude.

"It's on me" or something to that effect is what Muschamp has said after every ugly loss, but it's cold comfort to Gators fans who have grown restless and irate as the program has sunk to bottom-tier status in the league it dominated just a few years ago.

Muschamp claimed he did not hear the fans chanting for his ouster, and he vowed to stay focused on his team.

"I'm not going to get concerned about those things I don't have any control of other than this team," he said, "and I think that's the most important thing right now."

What's next for Florida is a tense bye week sure to be filled and fueled by speculation.

Athletic director Jeremy Foley said early in September he would give Muschamp the entire season to show progress before rendering judgement. After last Saturday's loss, Foley reiterated that stance when asked if he would fire his coach midseason.

"C’mon, I’m not going to answer that question," he told Greg Stoda of the Palm Beach Post. "It’s irrelevant. Any evaluations on this team will be made on the season."

After Saturday's ugly display on the field and in the stands, it's hard to imagine this coach and this team turning this ship around. Like last Saturday's game, the momentum has spiraled out of control.

It's also hard to argue that progress has been made, although one player insisted it has.

"We've improved drastically even if the numbers don't say it," senior center Max Garcia said. "We have. I feel it just as a team chemistry-wise. We're a team this year."

At this point in Muschamp's tenure, progress in the locker room likely won't be enough without the results to back it up.

Whether he coaches Florida against Georgia in two weeks or not, the fans chanting "Fire Muschamp" seem certain to get their wish.

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.

SEC morning links

October, 20, 2014
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1. Credit goes to Dan Mullen and his coaching staff for turning Mississippi State into a player on the national stage of college football. It was a slow build, which made for a sturdy foundation. But if you're looking at the program's success today, you ought to look at the program before Mullen arrived. You ought to remember Sylvester Croom. No, he never got Mississippi State near the heights it's experiencing today, but he did a standup job during his five seasons as head coach there. Everyone marveled at the eight-win campaign he engineered in 2007 and the day on Nov. 10 when the Bulldogs finally beat Alabama, Croom's alma mater. It's good to know how gratifying it is for him today to watch where Mississippi State has come since his departure. In his own way, he was a part of it.

2. Bye weeks are a great opportunity for most teams to reboot and recharge. Florida, however, is not one of those teams. What's said to be good timing probably couldn't be any worse. There's no game to distract us. There's no opponent to focus on. The only stat to know is 38.9. That's UF's winning percentage since the start of the 2013 season. For the next week-plus, that's all we're going to hear about. We'll see tape of Jeff Driskel's mistakes and the reaction to Saturday's embarrassing loss to Missouri. Sure, a bye week means Florida can't lose another game, but it won't stop the bleeding. It won't stop the steady chorus of boos directed at Will Muschamp. It won't stop websites like HireDanMullen.com from popping up. Nothing about a week away will keep the wolves at bay. If anything, it will make their howls amplified.

3. It was a small nugget. In fact, it didn't even lead the story. But the fact that Korliss Marshall is suspended is news. As Bret Bielema said, he's out three to four weeks for unspecified reasons. But that's not the kicker. What should take you aback is what else Bielema said of the situation: "He’s only got one more opportunity to get it right. If he doesn’t get it right, it will probably be one of the saddest stories in my coaching career because he’s got a lot of talent, he’s got a great heart." Wow. That's sending a message. It sounds like whatever Marshall's done, it's not minor. Or at the very least it's the latest in a string of events. But either way, Bielema's right; if Marshall doesn't get back on the field for the Razorbacks, it's a shame. He has the potential to be an outstanding running back. The fact that we're already questioning the long-term viability of the sophomore's career is troubling to say the least.

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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

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.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ole Miss’ offense doesn’t have to be great -- just good enough: The No. 3 Rebels (7-0) took some time to get started offensively, as they went scoreless in the first quarter against Tennessee and were down 3-0 in the second quarter. No worries when you “Landshark D.” The 27-yard Aaron Medley field goal was the only points the Vols would get, quarterback Bo Wallace started making some plays, and Ole Miss cruised to a 34-3 victory. The offensive numbers weren’t great (383 total yards for the Rebels), but more importantly, they committed zero turnovers and won time of possession. With the type of defense Ole Miss has (it held Tennessee to zero yards rushing and 3-of-16 on third-down conversion attempts), that’s a recipe for success.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In a battle of two SEC East teams coming off painful home losses last week, only Missouri showed up. The Tigers beat the Florida Gators soundly, 42-13, on Saturday night.

How the game was won: Florida just couldn't get out of its own way in a dysfunctional performance reminiscent of the 2013 team that went 4-8 and lost its last seven games. The Gators played two quarterbacks, starting junior QB Jeff Driskel, who had four turnovers (11 in his past 14 quarters) before being benched for true freshman Treon Harris, who had two turnovers of his own. Missouri wisely went into an offensive shell with just 119 total yards and didn't give Florida a chance to get back into the game.

Game ball goes to: The Missouri defense didn't have to do much more than let Florida self-destruct, but give credit to the Tigers for pressuring both Florida quarterbacks into enough sacks and turnovers to turn the game into a laugher and send the home fans to the exits early in the third quarter.

What it means: Despite their ugly shutout loss to Georgia, the Tigers still have life in the SEC East race. The same cannot be said for the lifeless Gators, who could have set up a showdown with Georgia but laid an egg. It was Florida's second straight homecoming loss -- the Gators were beaten by Vanderbilt last season -- and the natives are restless. There were loud boos for Driskel and chants of "Fire Muschamp."

Best play: There was so little offense and so little point to this game after the first quarter that the play of the game might as well go to the special teams. Marcus Murphy took the opening kickoff and ran untouched up the middle for a 95-yard touchdown. It accurately set the tone for the game. Murphy's return gave him six career TD returns, breaking a tie with Jeremy Maclin for the Missouri record. Murphy went on to score on an 82-yard punt return in the third quarter.

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What's next: Missouri (5-2, 2-1 in the SEC) hosts Vanderbilt next Saturday. Florida (3-3, 2-3) might spend its bye week dealing with intense questions about its head coach's job security.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
10:00
AM ET
A look ahead to Saturday's games in the Southeastern Conference. All times Eastern:

Noon

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

3:30 p.m.

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

4 p.m.

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

7 p.m.

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

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

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

OFFENSE

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

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

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

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

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

DEFENSE

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

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

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

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

SPECIALISTS

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

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

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

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