SEC: Ole Miss Rebels

At first glance: SEC Week 9

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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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 bowl projections: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote: SEC play of the week

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

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

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

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SportsNation

Who had the play of the week in the SEC?

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Discuss (Total votes: 4,396)

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

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

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

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Get ready, Death Valley. ESPN "College GameDay" is coming.

Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and the rest of the gang will descend on Baton Rouge, Louisiana, next weekend for No. 3 Ole Miss vs. LSU. The Rebels (7-0), of course, are undefeated, LSU (6-2) has won two in a row.

And better yet, though "GameDay" is in the morning, it's a night game. You have to love Saturday night in Death Valley. The atmosphere will certainly be electric as Tiger fans "welcome" the unbeaten Rebels into Tiger Stadium.

Best of the visits: SEC

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

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

SEC helmet stickers: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we learned in the SEC: Week 8

October, 18, 2014
Oct 18
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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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It was a defensive struggle early on, but Ole Miss gained some separation in the second quarter and eventually put the game away. There’s a reason the Rebels are ranked No. 3 nationally, and they proved it once again Saturday with a 34-3 win over Tennessee.

How the game was won: One word: Landsharks. This Ole Miss defense lived up to its nickname Saturday night with an absolutely dominant performance against Tennessee. The Rebels finished with nine sacks, three interceptions and held the Volunteers to 189 yards of total offense. There might not be a better defense in all of college football.

Game ball goes to: The pressure created up front was the difference in the game, but how can you not give the game ball to Senquez Golson? The SEC’s interception leader added two more picks, giving him seven on the season. That’s the second most in college football. He just seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

What it means: The Rebels were not as sharp on offense. They struggled out of the gates, and quarterback Bo Wallace completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes. If Saturday’s game showed us anything, it showed us that Ole Miss can still win football games even when the offense is a bit off.

Playoff implication: After back-to-back wins over Alabama and Texas A&M, this was a game in which Ole Miss could’ve let its guard down. But it didn’t. The Rebels took care of business and still control their destiny with just five games remaining. Win them all, and they're looking at the No. 1 seed in the playoff.

Best play: Both of Golson’s interceptions were impressive, but this touchdown catch (below) by Evan Engram took the cake. Ole Miss came out throwing after a turnover, and Wallace threw a ball that most tight ends would have no business catching. Engram isn’t most tight ends. He made an acrobatic catch in the end zone and put the dagger in Tennessee.

video What's next: Ole Miss travels to Baton Rouge next week to face a young LSU team that seems to be improving with every game. The last time the Rebels played in Baton Rouge, they allowed a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds.
Senquez Golson knew the question was coming before he even heard the voice on the other end of the phone.

It was going to be about Trent Richardson. More specifically, it was going to be about what Alabama’s tank-like running back did to him on a mid-October night in 2011.

“Oh yeah,” Ole Miss’ senior cornerback said with a laugh before the Richardson question was completed. “No. 1 team in the country. I was probably the most nervous kid in the country.”

[+] EnlargeSenquez Golson
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesSenquez Golson's fourth-quarter interception iced the game in Ole Miss' win over Alabama.
Before that nervous kid knew it, he was replacing starter Marcus Temple, who broke his ankle, only to be nearly shaken out of his own cleats by a dazzling run and cut from Richardson along the sideline during a 76-yard touchdown run.

The wide-eyed freshman made continuous highlight reels for all the wrong reasons on a play that once defined his career, but never broke him.

“I’ve seen it plenty of times,” Golson said. “I think it kind of helped me more than it hurt me, definitely.”

If only that freshman knew that almost exactly three years later, he’d be making his own highlight play -- against the same team -- that will carry legend-like status for years to come.

Golson helped change the narrative of his Ole Miss story with his game-clinching, tip-toe interception against the same team that victimized him in 2011. The play sent ripples through the Magnolia State and showed just how far Golson has come.

Golson, who admits he hasn’t seen the interception against Alabama, leads the SEC with five interceptions after entering the season with six-career picks. He was a forgotten player in Oxford before reshaping his life, on and off the field.

“It’s been a process for me, but it’s been a good one,” Golson said of his Ole Miss career.

Golson arrived in Oxford in 2011 as a highly touted football prospect who turned down a $1.1 million contract from the Boston Red Sox. The talent was there, but he was raw, which held Golson back early.

Like the athlete who played Wildcat quarterback, receiver, safety, linebacker and little corner in high school, Golson thought he’d get by on his athleticism. That didn’t exactly work out, as Golson struggled to learn the Rebels’ defense. He couldn’t process things fast enough. His study habits suffered and he basically just became another face on the team.

“It was frustrating at first when you know that you can do something, but you don’t see the results that you want,” Golson said. “I had to find myself, study the position and understand what I had to do to get better.”

Golson put baseball in his rearview mirror after his freshman year, but dealt with two average seasons of football, accumulating marginal stats and 16 starts in 24 games. He also dealt with working with three different position coaches in three years.

He sought advice from former NFL defensive backs -- and fellow south Mississippians -- Mario Edwards and Terrell Buckley to get his technique down, but it wasn’t until he began changing his preparation and his body following his sophomore year did he really start to take the game seriously, Golson said.

“I always knew that I could be a pretty good football player, but I just knew that I was going to have to figure it out,” he said.

Now, Golson says he can see things before they happen in games. He recognizes formations and tendencies from film in mere seconds on the field. His brain is buzzing in games, and his body follows.

Physically, he’s become a chiseled 176 pounds. His liquid intake is “straight water and juices every now and then.” He doesn’t drink alcohol or eat late. He went from inhaling McDonald’s to grilling lean protein at home.

Golson also made the weight room his sanctuary, taking workouts more seriously than ever this past offseason.

The transformation Golson has made is staggering consider where he came from. When coach Hugh Freeze met the sophomore version of Golson, he questioned whether he had the heart, drive and discipline to be good enough for his team.

Those thoughts crept back into Freeze’s head over the summer when Golson was arrested for disorderly conduct. Charges were eventually dropped, and it proved as yet another learning experience, but Golson's focus never wavered.

“Now that he has made the decision to be dedicated and to be a team player that buys into our core values and the way we want to do things, his talent on the field has really taken off,” Freeze said. “He’s just dedicated himself this year and during the offseason to be the best he can be. I’m thrilled that he’s getting the results on the field.”

Golson’s had a special start to his final year with the Rebels, but he’s far from done. He craves championships, is on track to graduate and is seeking to return to the baseball team next spring.

So much for squandering his talents.

“I’m trying to kill three birds with one stone in the same year,” Golson said.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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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.

SEC's top recruiting visits 

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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There are once again some big games around the SEC this weekend. The Texas A&M at Alabama game looks to be loaded with big-time visitors. Ole Miss will have several recruits on hand for its game against Tennessee. LSU is also hoping to capitalize on its big win over Florida last week by bringing in several recruits for its home game against Kentucky. Here’s a closer look at some of the top visitors in the SEC this weekend.

SEC morning links

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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It's easy to overreact to the results of one game, and Texas A&M is classic evidence of that this season. One blowout road win over a South Carolina team that was ranked high in the preseason, but has turned out not to be good as advertised, created strong feelings about the Aggies' chances early this season. The same can be said for quarterback Kenny Hill, the Aggies' sophomore who will be making just his eighth career start on Saturday when the Aggies' head to Alabama. Remember the "Johnny Who?" and "Kenny Trill" comments after he broke Johnny Manziel's passing yards record in the win over the Gamecocks? Hill and the rest of Aggieland are learning that life in the SEC West with a young quarterback isn't so easy after two convincing losses to two undefeated Mississippi teams have brought everyone back down to Earth. Six turnovers in those last two games have been one of many factors stalling the Aggies' usually high-powered offense. Whether he and the rest of the offense can bounce back from their issues will go a long way in deciding how competitive a game it will be in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.

Speaking of up-and-down quarterbacks, Missouri's Maty Mauk knows the feeling. He had a solid start to the season but had a dismal day in a 34-0 loss to Georgia last week. After a five-turnover performance against the Bulldogs, Mauk said he's aware of the criticism from some fans, who wanted Gary Pinkel to yank him, but it doesn't faze Mauk. Pinkel said it never crossed his mind and offered a vote of confidence to the quarterback, saying "He's our guy." Mauk and the Tigers will have a chance for redemption when they head to The Swamp to take on Florida. The Gators know firsthand that Mauk can play after going for 295 passing yards against Florida last season.

The Todd Gurley autograph saga continues. Georgia officials met with NCAA officials in Indianapolis on Thursday and gave us an update -- in the form of no real update. In a statement, Georgia said "there is no news at this time and no further comment necessary." An NCAA spokesperson did note that it is awaiting a request for reinstatement from Georgia. If the Bulldogs are to make such a request, they have to resolve any issues surrounding his eligibility before doing so. For what it's worth, coach Mark Richt tweeted early Thursday morning that he's "not anticipating [Gurley's status] to change this week."

Around the SEC
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SEC morning links

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
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Kentucky's turnaround has been one of the best stories in the SEC this season. What Mark Stoops and his staff has accomplished in Year 2 on the job is remarkable as the Wildcats (5-1) are one win away from bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. Much of the credit goes to the influx of talent from Stoops' recruiting but it's not only about the young guys. Stoops said the veterans on the Kentucky roster have played a big role, too. He's right. Players like quarterback Patrick Towles and defensive end Bud Dupree were already on campus when Stoops took over. The elder statesmen on the team say Stoops has gone out of his way to make sure they know how much he values his veterans. Senior fullback D.J. Warren even said he wishes he could stick around longer. "I tell myself all the time I wish I was a freshman right now," he said.

With Mike Slive announcing that this will be his final year as SEC commissioner, speculation has naturally turned to who will replace him. The odds-on favorite many have pointed to nationally is SEC executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer Greg Sankey. The praise from colleagues is effusive, from commissioners of other conferences to athletic directors within the SEC. Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said "Bottom line, I think he has the potential to be one of the truly great leaders in intercollegiate athletics." Sankey has strong credentials and his day-to-day handling of SEC operations while Slive worked on major projects in recent years certainly makes him a natural fit.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs are talking a lot about No. 1 these days since they hold the top spot in the national rankings. As Mullen and his quarterback, Dak Prescott discuss the situation, they're saying all the right things about staying focused, not paying attention to the noise, etc. What's more important than what they say is how they react to the spotlight. Handling success can be a challenge. I have no doubt that Mullen, who has been on a national championship team at Florida, knows how to navigate this and meet that challenge. It'll be fun to watch as the Bulldogs experience life on top.

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An examination of the current state of SEC defenses will tell you a couple of things.

Scoring and yardage are both down halfway through the season in head-to-head conference play compared to where the league was at this point last year. On paper, defenses appear to be on pace to look more like they did in 2012 than 2013.

But the numbers – and there were lots of them – aren’t too far off from last season, compared to the halfway point and the final totals.

With nine teams breaking in new starting quarterbacks – five underclassmen – I wanted to see if there would be a drastic difference in how defenses looked statistically.

(Note: The numbers used in this research came via ESPN Stats & Information’s statistical database.)

SEC defenses are allowing 358.6 yards per game and 402.3 yards per game in conference play. Seven defenses are ranked within the top 50 in total defense; six made the cut halfway through last year. At this point last year, defenses were allowing 376.3 yards per game and 423.5 yards per game in SEC play. In 2012, when defense was king, those numbers were down to 361.3 and 373.8 at the end of the season.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertSEC defenses such as Mississippi State's are statistically a little more stout than they were in 2013.
Defenses are currently allowing 5.66 yards per play in league games and 3.28 offensive touchdowns per game. Last year, SEC defenses ended the season allowing 5.91 yards per play and 3.54 offensive touchdowns in conference play.

Those numbers aren’t too far off, but it’s interesting that at this point last year, defenses were allowing 3.68 offensive touchdowns per game and 6.14 yards per play in conference play. At the halfway point in 2012, those numbers were 2.75 touchdowns allowed in league play and 5.31 yards per play.

Those numbers dipped slightly in 2013, as eight teams finished in the top 50 in total defense, meaning SEC defenses got better as the year progressed in a league that featured a plethora of talented, veteran quarterbacks.

Scoring is down at the moment, as teams are averaging 1.92 points per drive in SEC play, down from 2.21 last year. Teams are also scoring touchdowns on 24.4 percent of drives after scoring on 27.7 percent last season. Overall, teams are scoring 21.6 points per game on SEC defenses, which is down from 24.2 through Week 7 of last year. The total scoring percentage in league play for offenses is the same as in 2012 (31.9), which is down from 36.9 percent last year.

While the numbers show that defenses are steadily improving, it’s important to note that prolific offenses appear here to stay in a conference built on stout defensive play. That becomes obvious when you look at the fact that teams are allowing just 21.2 less yards per game and almost the same amount of yards per play and touchdowns per game while facing a less-heralded group of quarterbacks.

With more offenses implementing some sort of variation of the spread, teams should continue to move the ball. The addition of more tempo around the league has helped teams, too.

“There has been a push to more athleticism and speed," LSU coach Les Miles said of the evolution of SEC offenses. "We’ve tried to make that adjustment.”

Another interesting note is that takeaways and sacks are up for defenses in 2014, yet offenses are responding well. Defenses have forced 81 turnovers with 48 interceptions. Midway through the 2013 season, defenses forced just 63 turnovers (34 interceptions). In 2012, teams forced 88 turnovers (45 interceptions).

As for sacks, teams have 91 this year after having 90 at this point last year and 123 in 2012, when teams were allowing just 198.85 passing yards per game halfway through the season.

Pressuring quarterbacks is up, but teams are still averaging 234.6 passing yards per game (nearly 10 fewer yards than last year at this time) in SEC play. To Florida coach Will Muschamp, spread offenses help counter the pressure.

"The ball is out of the quarterbacks' hands quickly," Muschamp said. "Pressure is a little overrated, in my opinion, depending on the type of passing game and the passing concepts they're using. You have to be able to play man-to-man. You gotta be able to deny the ball, mix zone with that. It certainly can expose you, as far as deficiencies in coverage and guys who can't tackle in space."

As we go forward, it’ll be interesting to see if defenses continue to trend up or if offenses heat up. Last year, numbers dropped as defenses adjusted to such good quarterback play. Last year's experience isn't there, but could quarterbacks -- and offenses -- catch up to defenses by the end of the year with teams working in space more?

“It’s a different style of football,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who runs the spread. “... It gives some people advantages that years ago they didn’t have.”

“The defense figures it out and the offense goes and finds something else."

SEC playoff tracker: Oct. 15

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
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Another week, another SEC playoff contender is gone. That’s the way it’s been this season, and it was no different this past Saturday. Texas A&M has dropped off the list after a humbling loss at home to Ole Miss. The Aggies have a chance to redeem themselves this weekend at Alabama, but time is running out.

Here’s a look at the remaining SEC contenders, including a new team at the top.

Mississippi State
Record: 6-0 (3-0)
AP rank: No. 1
Next big obstacle: Oct. 25 at Kentucky

Reason for optimism: After beating three straight top-10 teams and jumping last season’s BCS champion Florida State for the top spot in the polls, it’s good to be a Bulldog these days. They still have a couple of tough games ahead, but going 3-0 against LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn entering this Saturday’s open date was an impressive accomplishment.

Cause for concern: The defense is good, but it’s still prone to giving up chunks of yardage. The Bulldogs are 13th in the SEC in total defense (428.8 ypg) and last against the pass (308.3). State has controlled all three SEC games thus far, but it still needs to become more consistent defensively so Dak Prescott doesn’t have to carry the Bulldogs every game.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Tennessee over Ole Miss -- David Ching

Ole Miss
Record: 6-0 (3-0)
AP rank: No. 3
Next big obstacle: Oct. 25 at LSU

Reason for optimism: After beating No. 3 Alabama at home, the Rebels went on the road and dismantled Texas A&M in a game that wasn’t even close as its 35-20 score showed. The defense has allowed six touchdowns, yet has scored four of its own. In three SEC games, Bo Wallace has seven touchdowns and zero turnovers.

Cause for concern: The West is still tough, and the Rebels have to go on the road to play LSU and Arkansas, two teams that are better than their records indicate, and still have Auburn and Mississippi State on the schedule. The Rebels rank 12th in the SEC and 85th nationally in rushing (146.5 yards per game and just 3.9 yards per carry).

Who they’re rooting for this week: Texas A&M over Alabama -- Edward Aschoff

Auburn
Record: 5-1 (2-1)
AP rank: No. 6
Next big obstacle: Oct. 25 vs. South Carolina

Reason for optimism: Take away the two interceptions, and Nick Marshall actually played a decent game against Mississippi State. He threw for over 200 yards, rushed for over 100 yards and scored two touchdowns. The defense also did its part, forcing four turnovers and holding the Bulldogs to just 10 points in the second half.

Cause for concern: It starts with the turnovers. Auburn cannot turn the ball over four times and expect to beat a good team. But maybe more troubling was how much the Tigers struggled when they got in the red zone. They came in as one of the top red-zone offenses in the country, but on three straight trips in the second quarter, they managed just six points.

Who they’re rooting for this week: Texas A&M over Alabama. An Ole Miss loss would be nice, but Auburn will always root against its in-state rival. -- Greg Ostendorf

Alabama
Record: 5-1 (2-1 SEC)
AP rank: No. 7
Next big obstacle: Oct. 18 vs. Texas A&M

Reason for optimism: Alabama was fortunate to escape Arkansas with a win this past weekend, dodging a number of mistakes and turnovers to beat the Razorbacks by 1 point. Improvement is needed, but at 5-1, nothing is off the table for the Crimson Tide.

Cause for concern: It was bad enough to go on the road and lose at Ole Miss. But when Alabama followed that up with a lackluster performance at Arkansas, it signaled cause for concern. If the offense continues to stay in this current funk, the Tide are a very beatable football team.

Who they’ll be rooting for: Mississippi State did its job beating Auburn last weekend. Now Tennessee needs to find a way to knock off Ole Miss and trim the list of undefeated teams in the West to one. -- Alex Scarborough

Georgia
Record: 5-1 (3-1)
AP rank: No. 10
Next big obstacle: Oct. 18 at Arkansas (in Little Rock)

Reason for optimism: The defense has vastly improved as the season has gone on. Since giving up 401 yards and 32 points to Tennessee, the Bulldogs have allowed an average of 233.5 yards in the last two games and shut out Missouri on the road. The East is Georgia’s to lose. Yes, Kentucky is 2-1 in SEC play, but the Bulldogs have a chance to be favored in their remaining SEC games.

Cause for concern: Even though Nick Chubb had the game of his life against Mizzou, Todd Gurley is arguably the best player in the country, and not having him reduces Georgia’s chances of making it into the playoff. Chubb is good, but he isn’t Gurley and he currently doesn’t have anyone to really spare him like he did for Gurley.

Who they’re rooting for this week: Missouri over Florida -- Edward Aschoff

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