SEC: Kentucky Wildcats

Top sleeper commits: SEC 

December, 19, 2014
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Five-star and ESPN 300 prospects create the most buzz, but with more than a hundred FBS programs competing for talent it takes more than just those top-rated prospects to have success. Rosters are built largely with prospects which enter college with little fanfare, but their development and contributions are key. Every year we see prospects that flew under the radar but developed into some of their conference's top players.

Throughout our evaluations we've come across many players who show promise and are great additions based on their upside for development and/or scheme fit.

Here are five commitments in the SEC that we feel are unheralded, but great additions worth keeping an eye on.

SEC morning links

December, 18, 2014
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Plenty of recruiting news flying across the wire on Wednesday, which was signing day for midterm junior college prospects. Several SEC teams did well in inking JUCOs, led by Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn, three teams that were considered "winners" in Wednesday's junior college sweepstakes. Another SEC winner in recruiting on Wednesday was Texas A&M after it landed ESPN 300 receiver Christian Kirk, the No. 30 overall player in the ESPN 300. The Aggies have done well in the state of Arizona, where Kirk is from, recently, landing quarterback Kyle Allen (now the Aggies' starter) and defensive end Qualen Cunningham (who played as a true freshman) in the 2014 class. Kirk, who brings a strong skill set to College Station, Texas, will be able to join his good buddy Allen in the Aggies' offense next fall.

The Football Writers Association of America released its All-America team and there is plenty of SEC representation on it, including six members on the first team (Amari Cooper, Reese Dismukes, Shane Ray, Benardrick McKinney, Landon Collins and Senquez Golson. The SEC got seven total players on the two teams. On Tuesday, The Associated Press All-America teams were released and the SEC got 15 players across the three squads.

Kentucky had a void to fill at offensive coordinator when Neal Brown left the Wildcats to become the head coach at Troy and it looks like Mark Stoops has his man. Several reports point to West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson as Stoops' pick to replace Brown at the position. It ensures some continuity for the Wildcats, who ran the well-known Air Raid offense under Brown the last two seasons. Dawson is also an Air Raid disciple, having worked under Dana Holgorsen. At West Virginia, Holgorsen was the playcaller, but Dawson has been in the offense long enough to be well-versed in it so the transition to handling those duties at Kentucky should be smooth. West Virginia averaged 502 offensive yards per game (11th nationally) while Kentucky averaged 384.5 yards per game (75th).

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Kentucky season review

December, 16, 2014
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This looked to be the year that Kentucky became more than just a basketball school. A 5-1 start, including a pair of SEC wins, and the Wildcats were primed to reach their first bowl game in four years. There was even talk they could make a run at the East. Then it all came crashing down with a six-game losing streak to finish the season. There’s still optimism in Lexington with Mark Stoops in charge, but the bowl game will have to wait.

Best win: The win over Vanderbilt was pivotal because it was Kentucky’s first conference win in nearly three years, but nothing can top the wild comeback victory against South Carolina the very next week. The Wildcats, who trailed 38-24 early in the fourth quarter, scored three touchdowns in the final eight minutes to pull ahead. The game-winning score came on a pick-6 by defensive end Alvin “Bud” Dupree. The defense got another interception from Ashley Lowery in the final minutes to seal the win. Of note, Jojo Kemp rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns in the game.

Worst loss: Kentucky’s first SEC win could have and probably should have come earlier in the season at the Swamp. The Wildcats played well, better than anybody expected, but came up short in a triple-overtime loss to Florida. In the first overtime, the Gators converted a fourth-and-goal to tie the game and send it to a second overtime. If Kentucky gets a stop there, the streak is over and the players are headed home with a victory. Instead, it turned out to be a gut-wrenching defeat and one that ultimately cost them a chance at playing in a bowl game.

Player of the year: There has not been a more productive player at Kentucky over the last three seasons. But this honor is for 2014 only, and Dupree did not disappoint in his final season with the Wildcats. The All-SEC defensive end finished with 74 tackles and was among the conference leaders in tackles for loss (12.5) and sacks (7.5). He also forced two fumbles, blocked a kick and had five quarterback hurries. The most impressive part was that Dupree played his best games on the biggest stage. He recorded sacks against Mississippi State and Missouri, and he had three tackles for loss and a sack in the season finale at Louisville.

Breakout player: He was inconsistent. He missed two games. But when Stanley “Boom” Williams got the ball in his hands, he was electric. The freshman started slow, easing his way into the running back rotation behind Kemp and Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard, but by the end of the season, he had essentially taken over the position. He rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown against Georgia, and he went for a career-high 126 yards and two touchdowns in the Governor’s Cup three weeks later. Williams finished the season ahead of both Kemp and Heard with 488 yards rushing, and he’ll likely be No. 1 on the depth chart this spring.

Play of the year: It might not have been the biggest game, but Javess Blue’s one-handed touchdown catch against Louisiana-Monroe was SportsCenter Top 10 material. With a defender on his back, Blue extended his hand to tip the ball to himself, and he used the same hand to somehow pin the ball against his shoulder before he went out of bounds.

video 2015 outlook: This team got over the hump, winning its first SEC game under Stoops, but the second-year coach will be looking for his Wildcats to take the next step in 2015. The offense returns eight starters including quarterback Patrick Towles, who threw for 2,718 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first season as the starter. And the defense, though it will miss Dupree and fellow pass rusher Za’Darius Smith, the majority of the starters will be back. There will also be reinforcements next season as Kentucky has another top 25 recruiting class currently in the fold. As for the schedule, it sets up nicely with five of the first six games at home in the newly renovated Commonwealth Stadium. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Wildcats start 4-2 or even duplicate this year’s 5-1 start. But they have to learn how to finish. If they can do that, then a bowl game is just the beginning.

 

ESPN.com's All-SEC team

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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Now that the Associated Press and the league coaches have spoken and cast their votes for their All-SEC teams, it's time for us to get in on the fun.

We here at the ESPN.com's SEC blog put our heads together for days trying to come up with what we thought was the perfect team, and, of course, we think we got it all right. Correction: We KNOW we got it right.

Here's what we came up with:

OFFENSE

QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: Prescott directed the Bulldogs to their first 10-win season since 1999. He led the SEC with 3,970 yards of offense and was responsible for 228 points (38 touchdowns), which ranks fifth nationally.

RB: Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn: Like Tre Mason before him, Artis-Payne finished the regular season leading the SEC in rushing. The senior rushed for 1,482 yards and 11 touchdowns.

RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia: Only a true freshman, Chubb was second in the SEC with 1,281 rushing yards and tied for first in the league with 12 rushing touchdowns. Chubb rushed for at least 113 yards in the seven games he started.

WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama: The record-breaking athlete and SEC Offensive Player of the Year is easily the nation's best wide receiver and led the nation with 115 receptions for 1,656 yards. He had seven 100-yard receiving games.

WR: D'haquille Williams, Auburn: Just a freak of an athlete, Williams led the Tigers with 45 catches for 730 yards and five touchdowns despite missing two games near the end of the season.

TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss: Engram became the Rebels' top receiving target after Laquon Treadwell went down and finished second on the team with 37 receptions. His 651 receiving yards led all SEC tight ends.

OT/G: Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas: He was one of the SEC's best linemen with his ability to play both inside and outside for the Razorbacks, and he even provided us with a touchdown pass this season.

OG: A.J. Cann, South Carolina: The four-year starter has started 50 of the 51 games he's played in at South Carolina and is a top NFL draft guard prospect who is excellent blocking both the pass and rush.

C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn: The two-time first-team All-SEC member has been the linchpin of the Tigers' offensive line the last two seasons and was excellent in 2014.

OG: Ben Beckwith, Mississippi State: The burly Beckwith was the only player to be named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week three times this season.

OT: La'el Collins, LSU: Another top NFL draft prospect at his position, Collins was good enough to leave early last year, but got even better protecting LSU quarterbacks in 2014.

All-purpose: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: Cooper finished the regular season with 1,242 all-purpose yards and was second in the SEC with 966 receiving yards.

DEFENSE

DL: Shane Ray, Missouri: The SEC Defensive Player of the Year led the league with 14 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. Ray registered at least half a tackle for loss in 12 games this season.

DL: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama: He might not have had the numbers of other defensive linemen around him in this league because of a slow start, but Robinson proved to be one of the league's most disruptive defenders up front.

DL: Dante Fowler Jr., Florida: The hybrid defender was one of the SEC's best pass-rushers this season, leading the Gators with 5.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries.

DL: Trey Flowers, Arkansas: The Hogs' lineman faced more double-teams this season but still cranked out a productive season, leading the team with five sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He also totaled 63 tackles.

LB: Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State: Another guy who didn't put up monster stats, the possible first-round draft pick was the leader of Mississippi State's defense, the most consistent player for the Bulldogs and the unquestioned quarterback of the defense.

LB: Martrell Spaight, Arkansas: He led the league with 123 total tackles and tied for the league lead with 60 solo stops. Spaight also forced two fumbles and recorded 8.5 tackles for loss.

LB: Kwon Alexander, LSU: One of the SEC's most athletic linebackers, Alexander was the ultimate playmaker for the Tigers, leading LSU with 79 tackles with 32 being solo.

CB: Senquez Golson, Ole Miss: Golson did a complete 180 in 2014, becoming one of the nation's best cover corners, as he was second nationally with nine interceptions and first in the SEC with 17 passes defensed.

S: Landon Collins, Alabama: Another top NFL draft prospect, Collins played the role of dynamic ball hawk for the Crimson Tide and was able to make plays all over the field. He led the team with 91 tackles and three interceptions.

S: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss: An All-American last season, Prewitt didn't fall off. While he only registered two interceptions, Prewitt made plays all over the field for the Rebels, not shying away from combat in the box.

CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: The youngster just keeps getting better. He grabbed just two interceptions, but was an excellent one-on-one defender, defending 15 passes.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: JK Scott, Alabama: There's a reason Alabama's fans joked about a potential Heisman run for Scott. He averaged 47 yards per punt with a long of 70 yards, downing 26 inside the 20-yard line and had 18 kicks go 50-plus yards.

K: Austin MacGinnis, Kentucky: He connected on 21 of his 27 attempts and hit 8 of 12 from 40 yards and beyond, including a long of 54 yards.

KR: Marcus Murphy, Missouri: Murphy averaged 29.9 yards per kickoff return (478 yards) and scored two touchdowns. He also had 273 punt return yards and a touchdown.

SEC morning links

December, 12, 2014
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1. The postseason recognition keeps rolling in for Alabama’s Amari Cooper and Missouri’s Shane Ray. They were among five SEC players (along with Alabama’s Arie Kouandjio and J.K Scott and Ole Miss’ Senquez Golson) named to USA Today’s first-team All-America roster on Thursday. Three more SEC players (LSU’s La’el Collins, Alabama’s Landon Collins and Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche) made the second team. Cooper and Ray have already won multiple All-SEC and conference offensive and defensive player of the year awards, respectively. On Saturday, Cooper will learn whether he won the biggest award in the sport, the Heisman Trophy. He’s up against Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. Cooper and Ray are both considered to rank among the NFL’s top draft prospects, should they skip their final seasons of eligibility. Ray’s big season pushed him up draft boards, and Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin recently said he expects Cooper to enter the draft, where he would likely be the first receiver selected.

2. Which side of the ball is the best fit for Nick Marshall? That was a question when he started his college career – Georgia used him at cornerback as a freshman before he eventually wound up at Auburn and became a star quarterback – and it’s a question now. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said on a conference call Thursday that he views the super-athletic Marshall as a defensive back prospect in the NFL. Marshall said earlier this year that he wants to try to play quarterback in the pros, but has said more recently that he’s open to changing positions.

3. This was a tough year to determine the most deserving candidate for the SEC’s coach of the year award, but Missouri’s Gary Pinkel was the pick among his peers. He’s certainly got a strong case, having led the Tigers to a 10-3 record and a second straight SEC East title. Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen also made strong arguments this season. The Associated Press and Athlon handed Mullen the SEC’s top coaching honor, for instance, and he’s also a finalist for the Maxwell Football Club’s national coach of the year award. Obviously Alabama’s Nick Saban belongs in the conversation, as well, although he seems to be penalized somehow for winning big so consistently. Nonetheless, Pinkel’s not a bad choice. It’s tough to argue with the coaches themselves.

Around the SEC

" The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Michael Carvell wrote that Alabama coach Saban urged Georgia commit Jonathan Ledbetter to make a “business decision” when deciding whether to sign with Alabama or UGA.

" Wisconsin’s former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez will serve as interim coach when the Badgers face Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

" Nebraska’s Courtney Love and Greg Hart are expected to transfer to Kentucky for the spring semester.

" Arkansas and Texas traveled similar paths in order to face each other in a bowl game.

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SEC morning links

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
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1. The race to replace senior Bo Wallace as Ole Miss’ quarterback just got a bit more interesting. ESPN JC50 prospect Chad Kelly committed to the Rebels on Wednesday, and the former Clemson backup will have two years to play two at Ole Miss. With Wallace, a three-year starter, leaving the team after the 2014 season, the Rebels had a huge question at quarterback for 2015. DeVante Kincade, Ryan Buchanan and Kendrick Doss are all freshmen with limited game experience at best. Kelly adds a veteran presence to the group, having played in five games at Clemson in 2013, and he might become an immediate frontrunner Insider to claim the job once he arrives on campus.

2. It probably won’t come as much of a surprise that three of the five FBS assistant coaches who make more than $1 million per year reside in the SEC: Alabama’s Kirby Smart and LSU’s Cam Cameron and John Chavis. This according to USA Today’s assistant coach salary database that it published on Wednesday. Not surprisingly, the SEC also had three of the top four highest-paid coaching staffs (LSU, Alabama and Auburn) and six of the top 13 (adding Texas A&M, South Carolina and Georgia). Take a look. They also have a database for head coaches (eight SEC coaches are in the top 20, led by Alabama’s Nick Saban) and a multiple-byline feature on assistants like Dennis Erickson and Greg Robinson who now make a comfortable living after once serving as head coaches.

3. The Jacobs Blocking Trophy -- which goes to the player selected by the SEC’s coaches as the league’s top blocker -- is one of the conference's oldest awards. LSU’s La’el Collins won the award on Wednesday, joining a list of dozens of winners who wound up playing in the NFL. Collins could already be doing that if he wanted. It was an option after he earned All-SEC honors as a junior, but unlike many of his teammates in recent seasons, Collins opted to play his senior season at LSU. It seems to have been a wise decision. Several publications have covered this territory already, but with college football’s underclassmen preparing to make their announcements on whether they will make early jumps to the pros, Collins serves as a good reminder of how players who return can sometimes help their cause. Because of an outstanding senior season, Collins will almost certainly be a much wealthier man for having waited than he would have been had he entered the 2014 draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider both include Collins among their top 27 overall prospects. That leap doesn’t happen for every draft prospect who stays, but it’s a nice story -- and it’s a valuable lesson for players who are in similar positions this year.

Around the SEC

" More all-conference honors went out on Wednesday, with the SEC’s coaches naming their individual award winners and Athlon Sports posting its All-SEC team.

" With defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin preparing to coach Florida’s bowl game, the Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley examines how interim coaches have fared in the past with the Gators.

" The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Jennifer Smith explores whether Kentucky’s six-game losing streak to end the season will hurt the Wildcats on the recruiting trail.

" Tennessee coach Butch Jones’ new contract extension increases his buyout to $4 million should he choose to leave before March 2016.

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SEC season recruiting superlatives 

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
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Looking back at the just-completed regular season, it has been another wild year in the SEC, both on the field and in recruiting. There have been several huge commitments, some big decommitments and, as always, a few surprises. Here’s a closer look at the the SEC’s recruiting superlatives.


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SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 14

December, 3, 2014
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The SEC’s true freshmen sent out the regular season with a bang, creating some of the most memorable plays of the entire season in the final weekend.

Here is a recap of how some of the league’s first-year players fared in their final games of the regular season:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett added to his impressive season totals against Vanderbilt by recording five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack in the Volunteers’ 24-17 win.

What it means: Barnett is tied for 13th nationally with 10 sacks and is tied for third with 20.5 TFLs. Not a bad rookie season -- one in which he deserves to become the rare true freshman to earn All-SEC honors as a defensive lineman.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: Chubb had yet another 100-yard game, this time rushing 25 times for 129 yards and a touchdown. He also caught three passes for 36 yards. On the negative side, he lost a fumble at the goal line, which came back to bite Georgia when rival Georgia Tech rallied to win in overtime.

What it means: Considering how he didn’t become Georgia’s feature back until midseason, Chubb’s 1,281 rushing yards (good for second in the SEC) and 12 touchdowns are all the more impressive. He and fellow freshman Sony Michel both lost costly fumbles inside the Tech 5-yard line, but both backs have been impressive overall.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Fournette earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors for his efforts against Texas A&M. The star freshman ran 19 times for 146 yards and scored a highlight-reel touchdown when he ran over A&M safety Howard Matthews. Fournette also returned three kickoffs for 34 yards.

What it means: The touchdown run -- highly reminiscent of a memorable run Georgia legend Herschel Walker made against Tennessee as a freshman -- was one of the plays of the year in the SEC. Fournette has had an up-and-down first season, but he has still posted four 100-yard games and has a respectable 891 rushing yards and eight touchdowns entering bowl season.

video WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

What he did: Not to be outdone by his fellow New Orleans native Fournette, Noil also made highlight reels with his leaping 27-yard touchdown catch over LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White. Noil finished with four catches for 46 yards, returned four kickoffs for 50 yards and returned one punt for 1 yard.

What it means: Noil also lost a fumble on a kickoff return, which LSU recovered and turned into a field goal (and a 17-7 lead) just before halftime. The freshman proved once again he is one of the Aggies’ most explosive players, but that was a costly turnover in A&M's 23-17 loss.

video RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky

What he did: Williams concluded an impressive freshman season with 126 rushing yards and touchdowns of 11 and 14 yards on 18 carries against Louisville. He also caught three passes for 13 yards in the Wildcats’ 44-40 loss.

What it means: One of Kentucky’s highlights came midway through the fourth quarter when Williams bulled his way through three Louisville defenders to score the go-ahead touchdown. The defense couldn’t preserve the lead, meaning the Wildcats fell short of bowl eligibility, but Williams still finished the season with 488 rushing yards, 162 receiving yards and an average of 116.1 all-purpose yards per game.

video Other notables:

DB Jamal Adams, LSU: Recorded a team-high eight tackles, one tackle for loss and broke up a pass in LSU’s win over Texas A&M.

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Made eight tackles and one tackle for loss against Georgia Tech.

WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Caught one pass for 41 yards against Texas A&M.

QB Treon Harris, Florida: Completed 13 of 32 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and also ran nine times for 41 yards against Florida State.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Recorded four tackles against LSU.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss: Made five tackles and a sack against Mississippi State.

DB Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Intercepted a pass and made one tackle against Vanderbilt.

PK Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Made a 36-yard field goal and all three of his PATs in a win against Vanderbilt.

RB Sony Michel, Georgia: Ran nine times for 49 yards but also lost a key fumble at the goal line in the loss to Georgia Tech.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted twice against Auburn and averaged 55.5 yards per attempt, including a long of 70.

DB Devin Voorhies, LSU: Forced Noil’s fumbled kickoff return that led to an LSU field goal before halftime against Texas A&M.

DB Quincy Wilson, Florida: Recorded one tackle for a two-yard loss and also intercepted a Jameis Winston pass in the Gators’ loss to Florida State.

PK Gary Wunderlich, Ole Miss: Made a 39-yard field goal, all four of his PATs and punted once for 46 yards in a win against Mississippi State.

SEC morning links

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
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Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is staying in Oxford and that's good news for the Rebels. It's the third time time in as many seasons that Freeze received a raise but after leading the program to a 9-3 record, a win over Alabama and spending some time in College Football Playoff contention before finishing third in the SEC West, it's clear progress is being made. Keeping him around is a huge deal for the program, which wants to continue this type of success.

So what does that mean for Florida, which is still trying to fill its head coaching vacancy and showed interest in Freeze? Colorado State coach Jim McElwain appears to be the target. Though 22-16 at Colorado State, McElwain led the Rams to a terrific 10-2 campaign this season, earning Mountain West Conference coach of the year honors. He also has SEC experience from his days as Alabama's offensive coordinator (2008-11). One hurdle to overcome is McElwain's massive buyout, with is $7.5 million. It can be reduced, however, based on "extenuating circumstances."

In the aftermath of Mississippi State's Egg Bowl loss to Ole Miss, Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said he didn't think the Bulldogs "were getting in the playoff anyway." Could Tuesday's latest College Football Playoff rankings be evidence of that? Mississippi State was already behind Florida State, who beat Florida, and TCU jumped the Seminoles in the rankings, suggesting that the committee believes TCU's résumé is better than Florida State's. It could be argued that had the Bulldogs beat Ole Miss in Oxford, that the strength of that win would justify moving them above the Seminoles, given how much Florida State struggled to beat a mediocre Florida team, but that would mean the committee would consider leaving FSU out of the top four completely, which seems a tad unlikely.

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SEC morning links

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
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1. The season of coaching changes is upon us. Florida's Will Muschamp is the only head coaching change in the conference so far, but there is coordinator turnover, with perhaps the most notable move coming Sunday when Auburn fired defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. So who is next for the Tigers? Al.com lists five possible candidates. The most intriguing name on that list is clearly Muschamp. He was a graduate assistant there in 1995-96 and defensive coordinator in 2006-07, and the idea of a partnership between himself and Gus Malzahn is enticing. Auburn won't be the only team vying for Muschamp, though; you can bet Texas A&M (who just fired defensive coordinator Mark Snyder) will take a swing at the former Florida coach, too.

2. Remember when Jacob Coker transferred to Alabama this offseason? It seemed like everybody who followed the Crimson Tide expected the former Florida State backup to walk in and take the starting job. Blake Sims, the ever-patient fifth-year senior, waited his turn behind AJ McCarron, battled Coker and the patience paid off. After throwing three interceptions that opened the door for Auburn to take the lead, Sims remained poised and finished strong with 312 passing yards and four touchdowns in the Crimson Tide's 55-44 Iron Bowl victory over Auburn. Throughout this season, Sims has earned Saban's confidence, and rightfully so. Sims and the Tide are a victory away from the College Football Playoff.

3. To the surprise of just about nobody, Missouri is a 14-point underdog heading into its SEC championship game matchup against Alabama. The Tigers (10-2), winners of six in a row, aren't going to be expected by many to beat Alabama. That seems to be OK by them. "“We love it,” sophomore linebacker Michael Scherer said. “We don’t want people to believe in us." The Tigers are of the mind that the more doubters they have, the bigger the proverbial chip on their shoulder will be heading into the game. This will be Missouri's second consecutive SEC East title game, so the Tigers have an idea of what to expect.

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SEC plays of the week: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
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So many games, so many plays to choose from this week. Here are the ones we felt were the best plays in the SEC in Week 14:

Get out of his way
Leonard Fournette is a true freshman. I repeat, a true freshman. So it's almost comical to see him do what he did to Texas A&M senior safety Howard Matthews, a guy who has a reputation for delivering big hits himself. The LSU running back didn't go around but through Matthews en route to this 22-yard touchdown run. As Les Miles said afterward if he saw Fournette coming his way, "I would get out of the way."

video Speedy not only speedy
Thursday's game was a big one for Texas A&M true freshman receiver Speedy Noil personally. A New Orleans' native, Noil was focused and ready to face his home-state power, which was a finalist to land his signature. He showed how fired up he was on this leaping 27-yard touchdown catch over Tre'Davious White. The catch? Top-10 worthy. The celebration? Not so much.

video Gus with a gadget play
Bonus points for creativity. With time winding down in the first half and Auburn looking to add to its lead over Alabama, coach Gus Malzahn dialed up a trick play, calling for a reverse pass that involved a direct snap to Quan Bray and Nick Marshall lining up at receiver. Bray handed off to Corey Grant, who handed it to Marshall, who fired a bomb to Sammie Coates who made an impressive catch between two Alabama defenders at the 1-yard line.

video A two-touchdown swing
Coaches often preach to their players to "play to the whistle," and Georgia showed why that's advice worth heeding. Georgia Tech threatened and nearly scored a touchdown early in the third quarter but Georgia's Damian Swann had other ideas, stripping the ball from quarterback Justin Thomas and sprinting 99 yards for a touchdown. It didn't help translate to a Georgia win as the Bulldogs lost in overtime, but a big play nonetheless.

video "Boom" delivers the boom
Stanley "Boom" Williams proved worthy of his oft-used moniker on this 14-yard touchdown run. Williams powered his way through three Louisville defenders, keeping his feet moving until he crossed the goal line for a fourth-quarter touchdown in Kentucky's 44-40 loss to No. 22 Louisville. The freshman is one of many bright young stars for Big Blue Nation.

video Diving pick and a beauty
Florida did a nice job of turning Florida State over, intercepting quarterback Jameis Winston four times. It wasn't enough for a win, but it was still impressive, like this diving interception by Florida defensive back Quincy Wilson. Not only did he dive, but he bobbled it and secured it on the way down.

video One heck of a halfback pass
A great call by Hugh Freeze to again put the Rebels up by two touchdowns. Bo Wallace pitched the ball to Jordan Wilkins who made a perfect pass to Cody Core, right in stride, for a 31-yard touchdown. Again, the Rebels went up by two touchdowns with the score and it served as the final margin of victory.

Walton shakes and bakes for 91
Hotty Toddy, gosh almighty, Ole Miss won the Egg Bowl. And one of the biggest plays in the game came courtesy of running back Jaylen Walton. Walton evaded at least even would-be Misississippi State tacklers as he reversed field, juked and sprinted to paydirt. It was a huge play that gave Ole Miss a two-touchdown lead and the cushion needed to keep the Bulldogs at arm's length the rest of the way.

Bear Force One goes airborne
They call De'Runnya Wilson "Bear Force One," in Starkville and the 6-foot-5, 215-pound former basketball player showed off some of his leaping skills with a 32-yard touchdown grab over Ole Miss defensive back Kendarius Webster. Wilson simply went airborne, and though he was well covered by Webster, secured the ball for six.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
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Saturday might not have been the SEC's finest day, but the Thanksgiving weekend still provided plenty of impressive, helmet-sticker worthy performances across the conference. Here are the six we think are most deserving from Week 14.

Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn: If not for a guy named Cooper (I'll get to him), Coates would have set the record for most receiving yards in Iron Bowl history. The junior wide receiver torched the Alabama defense all night and finished with five catches for 206 yards and two touchdowns. If he gets a step on the defense, it's over. Quarterback Nick Marshall is as good as there is in the SEC as throwing the deep ball, and he and Coates have a connection that dates back to last season. Marshall was no slouch either. He threw for an Auburn record 456 yards and three touchdowns. But in the end, it wasn't enough. The Tigers lost, 55-44.

Tony Conner, DB, Ole Miss: It was quite a game for the Rebels. Bo Wallace turned in a gritty performance. Jaylen Walton rushed for nearly 150 yards and a touchdown. But it was the return of the Landsharks defense that pushed Ole Miss past rival Mississippi State 31-17 on Saturday, and Conner was especially impressive. The sophomore defensive back finished with seven tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack. He was all over the field for a defense that held Dak Prescott, Josh Robinson and Co. to a mere 163 yards rushing.

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: If Cooper does leave early for the NFL, Auburn will not miss him. The junior wide receiver has played some of his best games in the Iron Bowl, and Saturday was no different. He finished with 13 catches for 224 yards (an Iron Bowl record), and three touchdowns. Now, in three career games against the Tigers, he has 24 catches for 511 yards and six touchdowns. On the season, he leads the SEC with 1,573 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns, and he's all but locked up his invitation to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation. He'd be just the fourth wide receiver to make the trip since 1998.

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: It feels like ages ago since LSU took down Texas A&M, 23-17, on Thanksgiving night, but if you need a reminder, how about Fournette's 22-yard touchdown run in the second quarter? He burst through a hole up the middle, trucked an Aggie defender and bounced outside into the end zone. He looked more like an NFL running back than a college freshman. The LSU star finished with a career-high 146 yards on 19 carries, averaging 7.7 yards per run. SEC defenses could be in trouble next season.

Blake Sims, QB, Alabama: There was a point in Saturday's game when backup quarterback Jake Coker was warming up on the sideline. Sims had just thrown his third interception, Alabama trailed by two scores, and the Crimson Tide were in need of a spark. The coaches opted to stick with Sims, and he delivered. On the very next drive, Sims found Cooper wide open for a 39-yad touchdown pass. He went 10-of-12 for 183 after that third interception, and led Alabama on five consecutive scoring drives, accounting for four touchdowns.

Stanley Williams, RB, Kentucky: We're all about handing out helmet stickers at the SEC blog so why not one more for “Boom” Williams. The freshman was terrific Saturday in Kentucky's 44-40 loss to in-state rival Louisville. He finished with 18 carries for 126 yards and on his second touchdown run to put the Wildcats ahead late, he would not be denied. It was a career day for Williams, who clearly has a bright future in Lexington.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
12:28
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A wild final weekend of the regular season in the SEC ended with Alabama's 55-44 win over rival Auburn in a memorable Iron Bowl on Saturday night.

Let's recap five things we learned:

Bow down to the ACC: Well this is new. A couple of the games were close, but the ACC won all four of its rivalry games against SEC opponents on Saturday. With Louisville joining the ACC this year and moving its rivalry game with Kentucky to the final weekend of the regular season, that brought the number of ACC-SEC finales to four (joining Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech and South Carolina-Clemson). The SEC hadn't gone 0-4 in those games since 2000 and hadn't done any worse than 2-2 since 2003.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAmari Cooper and Alabama are now the SEC's only legitimate candidate for the College Football Playoff.
Postseason picture: With Ole Miss knocking off No. 4 Mississippi State 31-17 the SEC is down to one legit playoff contender: No. 1 Alabama, which had to rally to beat Auburn on Saturday. The Crimson Tide will assuredly remain in the top four if they beat Missouri in next Saturday's SEC championship game, but if they don't? Gasp ... the SEC will likely be left out of the playoff. On the brighter side from an SEC perspective, Tennessee's 24-17 win over Vanderbilt gave the conference 12 bowl-eligible teams. It would have been 13 if Kentucky hadn't fallen just short in its upset bid against Louisville, losing 44-40.

Mizzou got it done: Let's take a moment to celebrate Missouri. The Tigers sit in the middle of the pack (or worse) in the vast majority of SEC team statistical categories, but Gary Pinkel's Tigers still bounced back from ugly losses to Indiana and Georgia to win the East for a second straight season. Did they play the easiest conference schedule in the league? Without question. Should they apologize for that? Absolutely not. Georgia blew it. South Carolina and Florida stunk up the division for most of the year. Mizzou was the only one that did what it needed to do, and kudos to Pinkel's team for getting the job done.

No excuses, Georgia: Saturday's 30-24 loss to Georgia Tech -- which went to overtime on Georgia Tech's 53-yard field goal at the buzzer and ended with a Hutson Mason interception at the Georgia Tech 5 -- added insult to injury for Georgia. The Bulldogs' error-filled loss was a reminder of their many missed opportunities. Georgia beat the team that will represent the SEC East in the conference championship game, Missouri, 34-0 on the road. And yet it lost to South Carolina and Florida, which were mediocre at best. This Georgia team should have been in the conversation for a playoff berth, but some seriously uninspired football allowed Missouri to slip into the SEC title game and let Georgia Tech snap a five-game series losing streak on Saturday.

Home field matters: Think home-field advantage doesn't matter in a rivalry game? Look down Saturday's results: Out of seven traditional rivalry games played Saturday, five home teams (Alabama, Ole Miss, Clemson, Louisville and Florida State) won. It could have been six if Georgia hadn't choked away a lead in the final 18 seconds of regulation. That includes two huge games in the playoff picture (Alabama and Ole Miss) and another (Clemson over South Carolina) that snapped a five-game series losing streak.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
10:00
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What more could you want to finish the regular season?

There are games with playoff implications, division implications and bowl implications to choose from. There's even a Friday afternoon game to get you through to the weekend.

The SEC's regular season has been crazy so far. Now it's time to see whether it ends with a flourish.

Friday, Nov. 28

2:30 p.m.

Arkansas at No. 17 Missouri, CBS: All right, Missouri, you've been doubted all season. You've been knocked as soft on defense and woefully inconsistent on offense. You were laughed out of the room when you lost to Indiana. But here you are a win away from claiming the Eastern Division crown for a second straight season. The only thing standing in your way is Arkansas, which has won back-to-back SEC games in convincing fashion.

Saturday, Nov. 29

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsCan South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier notch his sixth straight win over Clemson?
Noon

Kentucky at No. 22 Louisville, ESPN2: If Mark Stoops' Kentucky Wildcats are going to reach a bowl game ahead of schedule, it's not going to be easy. It would mean breaking a five-game losing streak on the road at Louisville, which would easily be their most impressive win of the season. The problem is the Cardinals boast one of the best defenses in the country.

South Carolina at No. 21 Clemson, ESPN: There's not a lot on the line for either team other than pride, which is good because there's plenty of it in this rivalry. The back-and-forth between Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney the past few years has been worth the price of admission, and on Saturday we'll find out whether the Head Ball Coach can extend his winning streak over Clemson and Swinney to six games.

No. 16 Georgia Tech at No. 9 Georgia, SEC Network: If Missouri somehow loses to Arkansas and gives Georgia the Eastern Division title, that's not the end of the story. Because if the Bulldogs want to somehow sneak back into the playoff conversation, it will take more than backing into Atlanta. It will take beating Georgia Tech convincingly, and that won't be easy seeing as the Yellow Jackets average 327.9 yards per game rushing and have won four games in a row.

3:30 p.m.

No. 4 Mississippi State at No. 19 Ole Miss, CBS: Talk about two teams going in opposite directions. On the one hand, there's Ole Miss, which fell deeper into the dumps last week by losing at Arkansas 30-0. On the other hand, there's Mississippi State, which redeemed itself after a tough loss at Alabama by beating Vanderbilt 51-0. With the Bulldogs playing for a spot in the playoff and the Rebs playing for pride, it's clear which team has the greater inspiration to win the Egg Bowl.

Florida at No. 3 Florida State, ESPN: Speaking of inspiration, it will be interesting to see how Florida comes out for coach Will Muschamp's final time leading the Gators. Will his end be Ron Zookian? Or will it be one final, unceremonious note? While that's unclear, one thing is certain: Florida State likes to make things interesting. The Seminoles have struggled against teams they were supposed to blow out before. Could we be looking at a repeat?

4 p.m.

Tennessee at Vanderbilt, SEC Network: Not a lot of people thought Tennessee would make a bowl game this year. Not with a schedule that included tough nonconference games against Utah State, Arkansas State and Oklahoma. But lo and behold, the Vols are one game away from bowl eligibility, and the only opponent left is Vanderbilt. Easy, right? It should be, seeing as the Commodores haven't won an SEC game all season.


7:45 p.m.

No. 15 Auburn at No. 1 Alabama, ESPN: The best Auburn can hope for is to play the role of spoiler, to crush Alabama's dreams of an SEC title and a playoff berth with one final regular-season swing. And in a rivalry as intense as the Iron Bowl, that might be enough. But the fact of the matter is Auburn just isn't playing good football these days. Alabama has won huge games against LSU and Mississippi State in recent weeks, while Auburn has fallen woefully flat with losses to Texas A&M and Georgia.
Florida State SeminolesTim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLosing to Florida would surely knock the Seminoles out of the College Football Playoff conversation.
The story line gets regurgitated the last weekend in November, every single season. At this point, does it really need to be said just how badly the ACC has to beat its SEC rivals come Saturday?

Well, yes. Because the results carry even more significance now that we are in in the College Football Playoff era. Just look at the way the ACC has been dismissed as a conference. Unbeaten Florida State is ranked behind two one-loss teams in the only rankings that matter -- as much an indictment about the Seminoles’ close wins as it is about the perception of the ACC as a whole.

While it has been convenient for many to dismiss what Florida State has accomplished, it has been just as convenient to dismiss the accomplishments of No. 18 Georgia Tech, No. 22 Louisville and No. 24 Clemson. But it may be less difficult to do so if all four teams come through and all win this weekend.

The last time Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson swept their SEC rivals was in 2000. The last time they posted a winning record against them was in 2008, when Georgia Tech and Clemson came out victorious. That also happens to be the last time both teams won their SEC rivalry game.

This might be their best shot at a sweep in years. With Kentucky-Louisville now added into the mix, the Cards, Florida State and Clemson are favored to win. All three are at home; all three are the only teams ranked in the matchup. Georgia Tech is the only underdog, though the Jackets go into their game off a bye, with a four-game winning streak under their belts.

To take it one step further, the FPI game projections show:

  • Florida State with a predicted 73 percent win percentage over Florida.
  • Louisville with a predicted 77 percent win percentage over Kentucky.
  • Clemson with a predicted 62.5 percent win percentage over South Carolina.
  • Georgia with a predicted 80 percent win percentage over Georgia Tech.

“Winning would help the league a lot but it’s going to be how does the media portray it?” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “When I was here in ’08, my first year, we beat Georgia and Clemson beat South Carolina … but nobody said much about it. It was like, ‘Oh.’ Now the next year when they beat us, it was a big deal so would it help the league? Sure. Anytime we can go head to head with the SEC and win a game it helps the league.”

Johnson brings up an excellent point. Will a potential sweep be diminished in value because they are all against SEC East teams? Georgia is the only ranked SEC squad in the group. Florida and South Carolina have been disappointments; Kentucky is not bowl eligible. Georgia is the only school among the four with a winning record in SEC play.

So the East is not even close to its counterparts in the West, creating a no-win situation. If the ACC does well in these games, people may not dish out as much credit as they should. If the ACC winds up with a losing record, get ready for more finger pointing and laughter.

If we are looking a little closer at the matchups, there are two teams that cannot afford to lose: Florida State and Clemson. If Florida pulls the upset, Florida State will be out of the College Football Playoff, the worst result imaginable for a league that only has the Noles in the mix.

The stakes are high for Dabo Swinney and Clemson, too. After beating South Carolina as interim coach in 2008, he has gone 0-5. For the first time since 2009, Clemson will be the only ranked team in the matchup. Clemson has the No. 1 defense in the nation; South Carolina has the No. 87 defense in the nation. While Deshaun Watson’s status remains up in the air, the feeling is that Clemson simply cannot afford to lose this game again, not when it has so many obvious advantages.

“The last five years, we’ve had 15 turnovers and they’ve had three,” Swinney said. “That affects everything. That affects your plays per game, it affects your time of possession, it affects the way things are called, field position, on and on and on and on. That’s definitely something we have to get changed for us to have a chance to win the game. There’s no doubt about it.”

Georgia Tech also has lost five straight to Georgia, and 12 of the last 13. Last season, the Jackets blew an early 20-0 lead and lost 41-34 in double overtime. Todd Gurley scored both overtime touchdowns for the Bulldogs. He won't play Saturday.

While Georgia Tech has a Top 25 ranking and spot in the ACC championship game, a win over Georgia would only add to an already stellar season.

“The atmosphere is different about this week because it’s a must-win game,” Georgia Tech safety Jamal Golden said. “You don’t want to give them bragging rights for the next 365 days. You just have to hear it over and over again that you can’t beat them. It’s one of those games you look forward to playing.”

It’s one of those games that has to fall in the ACC win column this year.

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