SEC: Tennessee Volunteers

SEC morning links

September, 15, 2014
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Arkansas' 49-28 win at Texas Tech was a big one for the Hogs in the Bret Bielema era, perhaps the biggest to date. It's a sign of a program showing improvement after a rough 2013. In the aftermath, much of the discussion focused on the Razorbacks' running game, led by Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and that big Arkansas offensive line. Rightfully so. But what is easy to overlook is the performance of the Razorbacks' defense, which took some body blows early but had an impressive second half, holding the high-powered Red Raiders to just seven points. New defensive coordinator Robb Smith's crew stood up to the challenge Texas Tech presented and helped Arkansas score a seminal win as a result.

Though they lost, Kentucky opened a lot of eyes on Saturday night in the Swamp. Taking Florida to three overtimes in a 36-30 loss is notable for a program that has been a cellar dweller. One of the reasons for the Wildcats' ability to compete is the increased talent on the field they've gathered in recruiting under coach Mark Stoops. Several of those young Wildcats, especially receiver Garrett Johnson, give Kentucky reason for hope in the future.

Alabama coach Nick Saban is often cited as one of the most detailed-oriented coaches around. That may be true, but it doesn't apply to every part of the game, apparently. Asked after Saturday's win over Southern Mississippi about the play of left guard Leon Brown, Saban admitted that he doesn't pay much attention to the offensive linemen. As a former quarterback and defensive back, he focuses on the skill players. He emphasized that the linemen are important but that he doesn't even "watch them during individual [drills]." You can see the video, where Saban smiles and jokes his way through the soliloquy, here.

Around the SEC
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SEC bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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We're creeping closer and closer to the meat of conference season in the SEC. That just means things will get a little clearer in the bowl picture for the league.

We had a major shakeup at the top of our predictions with South Carolina's 38-35 upset win over Georgia, but we're still going with one SEC team making the College Football Playoff and 11 teams from the league making it into the postseason:

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

Video: No. 4 Oklahoma 34, Tennessee 10

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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video 
No. 4 Oklahoma improved to 3-0 on the season with a 34-10 victory over Tennessee.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
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UMass at Vanderbilt, FSN
When these teams met last season in Foxborough, Massachusetts, it was a competitive game before a Vandy team that would win nine games locked down a 24-7 victory. UMass gave Colorado a scare before falling 41-38 last weekend, so reeling Vandy had better come to play or it might be on upset alert.

Central Florida at No. 20 Missouri, SEC Network
When last we saw UCF, the Knights were suffering a heartbreaking 26-24 loss to Penn State in their season-opening matchup in Ireland. Mizzou is a 10-point favorite over the Knights, who won the Fiesta Bowl last season before stars Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson jumped to the NFL, but the opener made it clear that UCF can still compete with Power 5 opposition.

3:30 p.m. ET

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Georgia
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley and No. 6 Georgia are looking for a second consecutive win over No. 24 South Carolina.
No. 6 Georgia at No. 24 South Carolina, CBS
Georgia's visits to South Carolina are almost always must-see TV, although these trips are rarely much fun for Mark Richt's Bulldogs. Even when Georgia has won in Columbia -- and it has lost its past two trips to Williams-Brice Stadium -- the outcome has frequently been in doubt even in the final seconds. Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley should get plenty of work for Georgia in this one.

Arkansas at Texas Tech, ABC
Here's a fun clash of cultures for a national TV audience, which will see Bret Bielema's ground-and-pound face Kliff Kingsbury's passing attack. Texas Tech has a couple of nail-biter nonconference wins on its resume, while Arkansas is coming off a 73-7 drubbing of Nicholls State. The home team is a narrow favorite here, but this could be a good one.

4 p.m. ET

Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 14 Ole Miss, SEC Network
This looked like a sneaky good game before the season, with ULL coming off three consecutive bowl appearances. But the Ragin' Cajuns absorbed a 48-20 beating from Louisiana Tech last week and Ole Miss dominated Vanderbilt in Nashville, so it doesn't look like an upset is in the cards for this one.

Mississippi State at South Alabama, ESPNEWS
This will be the first time an SEC opponent has played at South Alabama and excitement is high in Mobile -- particularly after the Jaguars opened the season with a win and Mississippi State struggled to put away UAB for a while last Saturday. Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott and company need to turn in a complete performance with a trip to LSU ahead next week.

6 p.m. ET

Southern Mississippi at No. 3 Alabama, ESPN2
Alabama gets another opportunity to kick around an overmatched nonconference opponent, just as it did last week against Florida Atlantic. The good news for the Crimson Tide, a 48-point favorite, is that most of the starters should be watching from the sideline in the second half, resting up for a visit from Florida next Saturday.

7 p.m. ET

Louisiana-Monroe at No. 10 LSU, ESPNU
Les Miles is a perfect 11-0 against in-state opponents and most of those games have been blowouts, so there is little reason to believe this will be a close contest. That said, the Tigers' secondary should face a reasonable challenge from the Warhawks' no-huddle spread attack.

7:30 p.m. ET

Kentucky at Florida, ESPN
Wildcats running back Jojo Kemp (a native Floridian) poked the bear this week when he made comments about how good it would feel to beat a couple of his former high school teammates -- and current Gators -- and rub it in their faces. Kentucky looks to be a greatly improved team, but it will be a major upset if this game is still close in the fourth quarter, and Kemp's comments probably didn't help the Wildcats' cause.

8 p.m. ET

Tennessee at No. 4 Oklahoma, ABC
As with Kentucky, this is a major measuring-stick game for an improving Tennessee team -- going on the road to face an opponent that virtually nobody expects the Volunteers to challenge. Butch Jones' Vols have been impressive so far, but their inexperience along the line of scrimmage will be their undoing in this one.

9 p.m. ET

Rice at No. 7 Texas A&M, ESPN2
For the second straight Saturday, the Aggies can help SEC viewers get to sleep by drubbing an in-state opponent in a late-night matchup. Rice, a 31-point underdog, might put up more of a fight than Lamar did in losing 73-3 to Texas A&M a week ago, but it won't be much more of one. Kenny Hill and the Aggies win big again.
videoThe last road game Jalen Hurd took part in was just over a year ago when his Beech High School Buccaneers traveled six miles to play Station Camp High School, a game televised on ESPN. The Tennessee commitment did not disappoint, rushing for 177 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries and even adding a late interception.

But that was then. This is now.

On Saturday, Hurd and his fellow Tennessee squad will travel to Norman, Oklahoma, to face a Sooners team that has a home record of 88-5 under current coach Bob Stoops. The hundreds of opposing spectators Hurd faced in high school will be replaced by 82,112 delirious fans inside Memorial Stadium.

[+] EnlargeJalen Hurd
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsRB Jalen Hurd stands out among a group of freshmen who have made an immediate impact with the Volunteers.
“It’s going to be different,” Hurd said. “But that’s when you come in, you look at your teammates and you know that you’ve got each other’s back. Every play you’re going to help your team out to try and get the win.”

Earlier this week, Tennessee coach Butch said that more than half his team will be making their first ever road trip. Some of the younger guys have never even flown in a plane before. It will certainly be a new experience for this young Volunteers squad.

“I’m excited to see how our team responds against one of the top three football teams in the country,” Jones said. “Is the stage too big for them? Do they embrace the challenge? Do we understand what it takes to play winning football on the road?

“I’m looking forward to seeing how fast we can grow up as a football team.”

Through two games, Jones can’t complain. The freshmen have exceeded expectations, and it’s a big reason why the Vols are sitting at 2-0. Hurd, in particular, rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown last Saturday against Arkansas State and became the first UT running back since Arian Foster in 2005 to earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors.

Other freshmen of note from Saturday’s win included tight end Ethan Wolf, who led the team in receptions, and defensive back Todd Kelly Jr., who made his first career start and finished with five tackles.

However, Saturday’s trip to Oklahoma will be a new challenge for the 22 true freshmen who have already played this season.

“It’s my first away game,” Kelly said. “I haven’t really experienced it before, but I know they have an awesome atmosphere. Their fans are great for their team, and we’re going in looking for a win. We’re trying to go 3-0 just as they are. I think it will be a great game, a competitive game, and we’re looking forward to it.”

The experts don’t give Tennessee much of a chance. The latest line from Bovada has the Sooners as a three-touchdown favorite, but there’s a different attitude in Knoxville this year that hasn’t been there in years past.

As Jones said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference, there’s a difference between believing you’re going to win and hoping to win. This team believes it can win.

“It will take a four-quarter game, and we’re going to have to come with our A-game, which we will,” Hurd said.

As a coach, that’s the attitude you want from your young stars. But at the end of the day, there’s only so much you can do to try to prepare them. This isn’t Station Camp High School anymore. This is Oklahoma.

“You never really know,” Jones said. “You try to do the crowd noises and the different things in practice, but you never really know how they’re going to respond until you’re on that game field and it’s for real.”

This Saturday, it will be for real.

How Tennessee can hang with Oklahoma 

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
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Trevor KnightKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsThe Vols would be wise to blitz QB Trevor Knight and force OU to rely heavily on the passing game.
Tennessee has held steady at most Vegas books as a three-touchdown underdog Saturday at Oklahoma. It would clearly be a significant, ahead-of-schedule upset if the Volunteers were to win in Norman, Oklahoma.

Even UT coach Butch Jones was aware this week of Bob Stoops’ 88-5 home record. (I tried to be comforting, reminding Jones that three of the five losses have come since 2011.)

But c'mon, we've learned enough about college football to know that the unexpected is to be expected. Week 3 looks on paper like a dud, so naturally it will provide indelible games and impactful results. That’s how it goes.

For Tennessee, here's the game plan that can, at minimum, keep the Vols hanging around in the second half on the road against the Oklahoma Sooners.

Knight under center



Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight is the central character, after talking with Big 12 and SEC coaches about the game.

If Tennessee has designs on winning, or at least staying in the game, it needs to do the following where Knight is concerned:

Hit him: “Knight doesn’t like [to be hit],” a Big 12 coach told me. “He didn’t finish some games last year.”

Let’s be clear: No one is advocating trying to injure a player, not at all, but it’s significant to note that coaches still aren’t sold on Knight’s durability.

We know Knight became a darling after the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama -- but he could not finish the previous game against Oklahoma State. Backup Blake Bell entered and bailed out the Sooners with a late TD drive, the only offensive TD of the game for OU.

SEC morning links

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
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Nothing like a little fun in the middle of football season. While Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley was sitting in for head football coach Will Muschamp on a weekly radio spot, Muschamp called into the show under the name "Bill from Gainesville." Muschamp proceeded to talk about how much better Foley was than Muschamp on the air, suggesting he replace Muschamp for the rest of the season on the show and talked about the last-place Boston Red Sox. You can listen to the full audio here.

I missed this earlier this week but couldn't resist posting it. Any time Nick Saban says something you don't necessarily expect to hear, it's interesting. This time, it was Saban using the words "beast mode" in a press conference. This isn't the first time Saban has used "beast" (he used it after motivational speaker Eric Thomas visited Alabama) but this is the first time I can recall he has used "beast mode" in this setting and he was referencing his players and Thomas' words, saying "everybody wants to be a beast."

And in case you missed it, the parents of Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill are working on trademarking the nickname "Kenny Trill" which blew up last week after the sophomore quarterback said he liked the nickname. I get the sense that this is as much about protecting Hill and keeping others from profiting off of it (someone else filed for it before Hill's parents did) than it is the Hills trying to profit off of their son's name down the road. Even so, I find it interesting, and maybe even puzzling, that fans, media and others in between feel it necessary that Hill has a nickname. Just because his predecessor, Johnny Manziel, had a cool nickname "Johnny Football," doesn't mean Hill needs one, especially after only two starts. For what it's worth, I like the nickname as a lifelong Houston resident (Houston rapper Bun B, who originally hails from Port Arthur, Texas, popularized the word "Trill," which is a hybrid of "true" and "real"), but if Bun B says Hill has to earn it first, then I'm on team Bun. To Hill's credit, he said he doesn't care too much about the nickname, but his teammates love it.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

The 2016 season can’t get here soon enough. That’s when the SEC mandate for at least one Power 5 nonconference game will go into effect. But how will the SEC fare when that day does arrive? Exactly how good is the conference outside its own borders? And how does its scheduling practices match up with others?

Bowls are only one thing

The SEC went 7-3 in bowl games last season. Since 2000, the league is a robust 26 games above .500 in bowl games, which is a better win-loss differential than the ACC (minus-5), Big 12 (even), Big Ten (minus-23) and Pac-12 (plus-5).

Go ahead, fans of the SEC: Thump your chest at that.

But don’t go too far. Because bowls are only one piece of the puzzle, and it might not be all that significant in the first place. Given the long delay between the end of the regular season and the start of bowl season, coupled with the lack of motivation to play for a better tomorrow, is it really a fair sample to draw from?

If you think so, don’t try telling that to Alabama coach Nick Saban, who said it was a challenge to get his team to “try to play a consolation game” against Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.

Besides, the real test of scheduling isn't who you were selected to play, but who you decided to play of your own free will.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
AP Photo/Butch DillDan Mullen and Mississippi State are among the teams that schedules a lot of FCS opponents historically. But that only tells part of the story.
Last Saturday was horrific for fans

Saturday came and went without a single game of consequence in the SEC.

A week after scheduling nonconference games even Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops would qualify as “toughies” -- West Virginia, Wisconsin, Boise State, Clemson -- the SEC reverted to form and ordered up a bunch of cupcakes.

Alabama dominated Florida Atlantic, LSU trounced Sam Houston State and South Carolina survived East Carolina. Kentucky walloped Ohio and Missouri thumped Toledo. Florida saw Eastern Michigan’s troublesome cinder block wall and launched the Eagles right through it. All told, SEC teams outscored opponents by a cannon-wide margin of 462 points.

It certainly helped that none of those opponents were from Power 5 conferences. Sadly, one wasn’t even an FBS-level program, which we’ll have to get used to as teams pay for the right to beat teams like Western Carolina and Chattanooga.

Since 2004, SEC teams have scheduled 121 FCS opponents. Only four times have they lost. The average margin of victory: 31.5 points per game.

The top five worst offenders at scheduling games against teams outside the major conferences since 2004: Mississippi State (35), Ole miss (33), Arkansas (30), Alabama (30) and Tennessee (30). Outside of SEC newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri, Georgia had the fewest such games with 21.

During the regular season, the SEC is still king

It’s easy to poke fun at the SEC scheduling. When you’re on top, criticism comes with the territory.

But when it comes to scheduling nonconference games against Power 5 opponents, the SEC isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, contrary to the buzz outside the Southeast.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, the SEC has played 111 total regular-season games against Power 5 schools since 2004. Its 69-42 record is the best of the all Power 5 conferences, ahead of the Pac-12 (53-42), the Big 12 (42-42) and the Big Ten (36-45).

Over that time, the SEC has gone 42-23 against the ACC, 12-7 against the Pac-12, 9-8 against the Big 12 and 6-4 against the Big Ten.

Simple math says the SEC hasn’t shied away from playing its Power 5 brethren. The ACC leads the way with its 117 such nonconference games, but the Pac-12 (95), the Big 12 (84) and the Big Ten (81) all lag behind the SEC’s 111 total Power 5 matchups.

It’s going to get better -- sort of

Mark your calendars. Clear out your entire day on Sept. 3, 2016.

College football will (hopefully) be reborn on that day. Why? Because all the talk about improving strength of schedule will finally come to fruition. Alabama will play USC, UCLA will take on Texas A&M and Notre Dame will go to Texas. And those are just the games inside the Lone Star State. LSU and Wisconsin will do battle at Lambeau Field, and Clemson and Auburn will kick off in Atlanta.

It’s going to be a great day for college football fans. Just don’t expect it to last all season. Because while teams are beginning to go all in on premier nonconference games, it’s important to remember that it’s in the singular sense of the word. As in, only one per regular season.

According to FBSchedules.com, the week after Alabama plays USC, it hosts Western Kentucky. LSU, in the six weeks after playing Wisconsin, is set to welcome Southern Miss, Jacksonville State and South Alabama to Baton Rouge. And Auburn? It will be so exhausted with Clemson that it has to play Arkansas State in Week 2.

Unless something changes between now and the opening week of the 2016 season, Mississippi State will start out against South Alabama while Florida hosts the mighty UMass Minutemen. In Week 2, the Gators get the North Texas Mean Green.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 2

September, 10, 2014
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Several true freshmen in the SEC are already starting to make impacts for their teams. Let’s take a look at five who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from the Week 2 in the conference:

Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Fournette probably generated more discussion by what he did after a play -- he struck a Heisman pose after his first career touchdown, against an FCS opponent no less -- than what he did during one. The LSU tailback actually had a good game against Sam Houston State, rushing for 92 yards and a score on 13 carries and making a pair of impressive catches for another 32 yards. But Fournette’s look-at-me antics definitely rubbed LSU coach Les Miles, and many others, the wrong way.

What it means: After barely making an impact in the opener against Wisconsin, Fournette had a bit more room to run in the 56-0 rout of SHSU. His cutback and sprint into the open field on a 40-yard run that set up his touchdown was a thing of beauty. He’ll need to make a lot more of those before thinking about throwing another Heisman pose, though. It was a nice Tiger Stadium debut, but let’s see him do that against some major-conference competition first. (David Ching)

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

What he did: For the second consecutive week, Garrett had a tangible impact on the Aggies’ pass rush. He finished with five tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks and two quarterback hurries vs. Lamar. He already has as many sacks this season (three) as any Texas A&M defender had in all of 2013. He leads the team in that categories as well as hurries (four) this season.

What it means: There was no letdown after a quality Week 1 performance for Garrett. He's not playing like a true freshman; he's playing like a veteran defensive end. That's exactly what the Aggies needed and it's helping the unit as a whole since the Aggies no longer have to blitz to create a pass rush. Between Garrett and sophomore defensive end Daeshon Hall, the Aggies can generate sufficient pass rush with their defensive line alone at this point. (Sam Khan)

Treon Harris, Florida

What he did: Florida’s freshman backup QB was 2-for-2 passing for 148 yards and two touchdowns. His first two collegiate attempts were perfectly thrown balls that went for long TDs. First was a deep ball that Demarcus Robinson caught in stride and then ran past the Eastern Michigan defender, who fell down, for a 70-yard TD. Harris’ second pass was a wheel route to Mark Herndon, who ran virtually untouched to the end zone for a 78-yard TD.

What it means: Harris finished the game with a ridiculous 1051.6 quarterback rating. Starter Jeff Driskel went 31-for-45 for 248 yards and a score in the opener -- which Florida won 65-0 -- so it’s not like his job is in jeopardy. But it’s clear that the Gators have replenished their quarterback depth chart with some impressive talent. (Jeff Barlis)

Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: Hurd helped Tennessee grind out a 34-19 win against Arkansas State by rushing 23 times for 83 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that gave the Volunteers a lead they would not relinquish. The young offensive line is still finding its way in the run-blocking department, but Hurd is already proving himself as a productive runner.

What it means: The freshman is fast emerging as one of the Vols’ top options -- and probably THE top option -- at running back. Hurd leads the team with 112 rushing yards, but is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Tennessee has to develop a more productive running game in order to compete with its most talented opponents, and that shortcoming doesn’t bode well with a trip to Oklahoma on tap this weekend. (David Ching)

Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

What he did: Noil had a breakout game, compiling 191 all-purpose yards in the win over Lamar. He tied for the team lead in receptions (four) for 71 yards, returned a punt for 67 yards and returned a kickoff for 53 yards. His punt return ended prematurely at the Lamar 4-yard line and Kevin Sumlin joked after the game that "We didn't bring you here to fall down at the 4-yard line."

What it means: Noil will finish one of those returns with a touchdown soon enough, given his electric speed and he'll continue to see his role expand in the Aggies' offense. But don't expect Noil to catch 8-10 passes a week; the Aggies have enough receiving options to spread it around generously. As time passes, Noil will become more effective as a receiver and develop into a strong weapon in the offense. (Sam Khan)

Other notables:

QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: After losing the preseason quarterback competition to Kenny Hill, Allen got a chance to play in a blowout win against Lamar and had his ups and downs. He finished 12-for-16 for 122 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

DB Duke Dawson, Florida: The versatile Dawson picked off a pass by EMU quarterback Rob Bolden and returned it for a 36-yard touchdown. Dawson also had a tackle and a quarterback hurry in the Gators’ blowout win.

LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama: Evans made the most of his first chance to contribute on defense, notching two tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry that could have become a second sack if he had done a better job of wrapping up the passer.

QB Brandon Harris, LSU: In his first substantial playing time, Harris came off the bench to go 4-for-5 for 62 yards and a touchdown and also ran for an impressive 46-yard score against SHSU.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky: Williams helped the Wildcats break out to a 17-0 lead in a win against Ohio by busting a 53-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He finished with five carries for 60 yards and a score.

SEC Quarterback Tracker: Week 2

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
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After Week 2, the quarterback battles in the SEC seem to be dwindling. Nick Marshall returned as the starter for Auburn while it looks like both Kentucky and Tennessee have found their man. The same can’t be said just yet at Alabama and LSU, and nobody knows what’s going on at Vanderbilt. The SEC quarterback tracker is back. Have a look.

Alabama
Starter: Blake Sims
Backup: Jake Coker

How Sims performed: Sims continues to do what coach Nick Saban and his staff value most: manage the offense. It might not be flashy, but Sims has taken what the defense has given him time and time again. Relying on mostly short, quick passes, Sims threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns on 12 of 14 passing against Florida Atlantic. He also ran in a touchdown from 7 yards out.

What it means: Sims has done nothing to lose the starting job, but it's still what he hasn't done -- throw the football deep -- that's most troubling. Coker, on the other hand, can do that. In fact, he seemed intent on chucking it deep in his first real action under center for the Crimson Tide. Coker was 15 of 24 for 202 yards and a touchdown against FAU. But it was what he couldn't do -- manage the offense, minimize mistakes -- that is keeping him from truly challenging Sims. – Alex Scarborough

Sims’ hold on position: 8

Auburn
Starter: Nick Marshall
Backup: Jeremy Johnson

How Marshall performed: After missing the first half in the opener, Marshall returned as the starter in Week 2 and played well. He threw for over 100 yards, rushed for over 100 yards and scored twice. A solid effort, but by no means was it perfect. He completed just 10 of his 19 pass attempts, and he fumbled on the opening drive. With that said, the Auburn offense still racked up over 400 yards through three quarters with Marshall under center.

What it means: The big takeaway from Saturday was that Johnson didn’t see the field until the fourth quarter with the Tigers already ahead 45-13. That’s not the “role” we all envisioned for Johnson after Week 1. I believe it was Gus Malzahn’s way of re-enforcing the fact that Marshall is this team’s quarterback. If there was any doubt at all after the Arkansas game, he wanted to make it crystal clear on Saturday. – Greg Ostendorf

Marshall’s hold on position: 10

Kentucky
Starter: Patrick Towles
Backup: Drew Barker and Reese Phillips

How Towles performed: After passing for 377 yards in the opener, Towles did his damage on the ground in a 20-3 win against Ohio. Towles had 22 rushing attempts (five of which were sacks) for 59 yards, with six runs covering 10 yards or more. He also went 17-for-31 for 170 yards and tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Dorian Baker for the Wildcats’ first score. If there was anything to criticize, it’s that the Wildcats’ offense bogged down after jumping out to a 17-0 lead.

What it means: It was another impressive, and turnover-free, start from Towles, who won the starting job during preseason camp. He’s about to face an enormous step up in competition, however. Saturday’s visit to Florida, which allowed just 125 yards in its season-opening 65-0 win over Eastern Michigan, is going to be one of the toughest tests of the season for Kentucky’s reconstructed offense. If Towles can stay composed and move the offense against the Gators, Kentucky will truly have something to get excited about. – David Ching

Towles’ hold on position: 9

LSU
Starter: Anthony Jennings
Backup: Brandon Harris

How Jennings performed: Jennings took the majority of snaps in a 56-0 rout of Sam Houston State and connected with Travin Dural for three touchdown passes -- including a 94-yard score on LSU’s first play from scrimmage. Jennings also ran eight times for 43 yards and played by far his most efficient game yet out of three college starts. It was another step in the right direction after a solid second half in the Tigers’ comeback win against Wisconsin in the opener.

What it means: We saw Harris (4-5, 62 yards, TD) get his first substantial playing time against SHSU, too, and the freshman made a couple of huge plays -- most notably a 46-yard touchdown run. LSU coach Les Miles was critical of the freshman’s fourth-quarter fumble, but it was overall a strong home debut for Harris. He’s probably not ready to push Jennings for the starting job yet, but we’re going to see a lot more from the freshman as the season progresses. – David Ching

Jennings’ hold on position: 6

Tennessee
Starter: Justin Worley
Backup: Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman

How Worley performed: It was another impressive performance from Worley. He completed nine straight passes to start the game and finished 22 of 38 for 247 yards and two touchdowns. He even rushed for a third score. The only negative came in the third quarter when Arkansas State defensive back Money Hunter, son of Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, dove in front of one of Worley’s passes and intercepted it.

What it means: Through the first two games, Worley is looking like the most improved player in the SEC. The two touchdown throws to Marquez North on Saturday were not easy throws, and he put them on the money. The senior quarterback will have to play a nearly flawless game this weekend if the Volunteers hope to upset Oklahoma on the road, but win or lose, Worley is still the guy for Tennessee. – Greg Ostendorf

Worley’s hold on position: 9

Texas A&M
Starter: Kenny Hill
Backup: Kyle Allen

How Hill performed: Hill wasn't quite as accurate in his second game (17-of-26) as he was in his debut (44-of-60) but still performed well, throwing for 283 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said he wants to see Hill improve on his intermediate and deep-pass accuracy and the Aggies took more shots downfield in their win over Lamar than they did in their season opener vs. South Carolina. Allen got some work in both the first and second half once the Aggies had a big lead.

What it means: Spavital called the game in such a way to work on some areas where Hill isn't as strong and by doing that, Hill was out of his comfort zone a little, but he handled it well overall and turned in a strong performance. A game against an FCS opponent was an opportune time to get a live look at how Allen would perform. He had some freshman moments, like throwing an interception on his first drive, but bounced back well. Still, Hill did just fine and while Allen is not backing down, Hill is the starter. – Sam Khan

Hill’s hold on position: 10

Vanderbilt
Starter: TBD
Options: Wade Freebeck, Johnny McCrary, Stephen Rivers, Patton Robinette

How Rivers performed: Rivers got the nod last week but the performance wasn't pretty. He was 6-of-25 passing for 60 yards and no touchdowns in a 41-3 loss to Ole Miss. Head coach Derek Mason noted that "we should have done a better job of using those guys' skill sets and getting the ball in playmakers' hands," and said that they've made schematic changes as a result. It is worth noting that Mason stuck with Rivers for the entire game Saturday rather than playing musical chairs with the quarterbacks, as he did in the season-opening loss to Temple.

What it means: The Commodores still don't have a starter at the moment, as Mason referenced the quarterbacks will compete for the right to start this week. Now, there's a fourth name in the mix in addition to Rivers, Robinette and McCrary -- Freebeck, the true freshman from Florida. Mason said he's very much in the competition this week. Who starts this weekend against Massachusetts is anyone's guess. For what it's worth, Mason promised "explosive offense." We'll see. – Sam Khan

Rivers’ hold on the position: 0

SEC morning links

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
8:00
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Everybody’s talking about the Ray Rice incident, and though I don’t plan to share my two cents -- I’ll leave that to the NFL writers -- I thought what South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told the media Tuesday was very poignant and well said. When asked about Rice and what happened, Spurrier simply said, “if you ever hit a girl, you are not going to play on our team, you are finished.” Spurrier has dismissed two players during his career for the violation of that rule. He went on to say, “I can’t understand why every coach doesn’t have that rule and every company doesn’t have that rule for their employees ... It’s amazing that America has sort of put up with it or compromised. That's just something that should never happen." Credit Spurrier for speaking up and giving his opinion. Watch the video here.

In other news, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops still has no love for the SEC. As his Sooners prepare for Saturday’s matchup with Tennessee, Stoops was asked about the belief that the SEC has better athletes. “I don’t know,” he said. “That hasn’t been the case in our experience. Whenever we’ve played, that hasn’t been much of a difference.” Point taken. Oklahoma most recently beat Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl, but Stoops had lost three straight against the SEC before that game. He's 4-4 against the league all time. Monday’s press conference was actually toned down for the Sooners coach, who has been much more vocal about his feelings in the past.

As soon as June Jones resigned from his head coaching position at SMU this week, rumors started circulating around Jake Spavital as a potential replacement. The Texas A&M offensive coordinator addressed the rumors Tuesday, calling it “an honor” to be mentioned, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s still a lot of football to be played this season. That got me thinking, though. Who are some of the other young, up-and-coming coordinators in the SEC? I’ve lost count of all the jobs Kirby Smart has been linked to. Both Jeremy Pruitt and Kurt Roper are new to the SEC this year, but it might not be long before they’re both head coaches. And Rhett Lashlee isn’t much different than Spavital -- a bright, young offensive mind.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
10:00
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video
Despite the weak slate of SEC football games over the weekend there was still a lot of news in the world of recruiting. From commitments, to big offers, to decision dates to sick one-handed interceptions, this weekend was full of news. Here’s a closer look at the latest happening from around the SEC.


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SEC morning links

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
8:00
AM ET
How good was Calvin Johnson last night? If you missed the game, Megatron put on a show with seven catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. That got me thinking. Is there a future Calvin Johnson in the SEC? Even though he’s on pace to shatter the record book at Alabama, Amari Cooper isn’t nearly as big or as physical as Johnson. He reminds me more of a Keenan Allen or a Reggie Wayne in his prime. When I think of Johnson, I think of players such as Marquez North at Tennessee or Ricky Seals-Jones at Texas A&M. Former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, now at Oklahoma, is another one that fits the bill. It will be interesting to see how all of these guys translate to the NFL one day. Both Cooper and Green-Beckham are among Todd McShay’s top 32 prospects for 2015 (Insider).

Despite all of the emerging wide receivers, the SEC is still a running back-driven league this season. After Week 1, Georgia’s Todd Gurley established himself as the early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. As he prepares for Saturday’s showdown at South Carolina, here are 10 things to know about the Dawgs’ star. The Gamecocks have a pretty good back of their own in Mike Davis, and he certainly has Georgia’s attention after rushing for 149 yards and a touchdown in last year’s matchup. T.J. Yeldon is another obvious name, but how about Cameron Artis-Payne at Auburn? The senior has rushed for 289 yards through two games, the most by an Auburn back in his first two games since Rudi Johnson in 2000.

It was not a huge surprise to see Maty Mauk named the SEC offensive player of the week. He threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns against Toledo this past weekend, and there’s a lot more where that came from, especially with the deep ball. Seven of Mauk’s 34 completions this season have been of 25 yards or more. Meanwhile, Toledo will have to find a new quarterback. Former Alabama transfer Phillip Ely tore his ACL in Saturday’s game and will miss the rest of the season. Gary Pinkel’s thoughts? “I don’t wish that on any team -- even Kansas.” A quick jab from Pinkel. It’s too bad the two schools don’t play each other anymore. That was one of the more underrated rivalries in college football.

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SEC bowl projections: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
8:00
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It wasn't much of an eventful week in the SEC with so many teams playing weaker opponents and only one conference game, with Ole Miss routing Vanderbilt. As a result, there are no major shakeups in this week's bowl projections from last week's. Georgia had the weekend off, so it is still riding its impressive Week 1 victory to sit atop the list. We are still projecting only one SEC team in the College Football Playoff at the moment, though that could change down the road.

We are still projecting 11 SEC teams to make the postseason. Noting that these projections will fluctuate quite a bit throughout the season, here's our best guess after Week 2:

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

Best of the visits: SEC

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
12:34
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The slate of games in the Southeastern Conference weren’t overly impressive this weekend, but there were several prospects who did take unofficial visits. From five-star defensive ends Byron Cowart and CeCe Jefferson making a return trip to Florida to watch the Gators dismantle Eastern Michigan 65-0 to new Kentucky commit Jeremiah Dinson witnessing the Wildcats beat Ohio 20-7 — several recruits used social media to show highlights from their trip. Here’s a closer look at some of the top social media posts from recruits around the SEC this weekend.

Dinson, a 6-foot, 180-pounds cornerback from Miami (Fla.) American announced he was committing to Kentucky during an unofficial visit to Lexington. Dinson also had offers from Arkansas, Connecticut, NC State and several others.
Tennessee picked up a big commitment from ESPN Junior 300 defensive back Marquill Osborne. The product of Hough High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, is the 130th-ranked player in the class of 2016 and committed to the Vols during an unofficial visit to Knoxville. Arguably the top sophomore in the country, Dylan Moses, visited LSU on Saturday and his father, Edward Moses, tweeted a picture of his son and current LSU running back Leonard Fournette who scored his first collegiate touchdown on Saturday night. Moses, a Baton Rouge native, is already committed to the Tigers. Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson visited Florida for the second consecutive week and took a selfie in front of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. Jefferson won't announce his decision until signing day but the Gators appear to be one of his favorites. Another ESPN 300 prospect, Ryan Davis, also visited Florida on Saturday. Davis was impressed by Florida's offense, including freshmen Treo Harris who threw for 148 yards and two touchdowns on only two completions.

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