SEC: Texas A&M Aggies

SEC viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
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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.

Instant Analysis: LSU 23, Texas A&M 17

November, 27, 2014
Nov 27
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video
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- LSU ran, ran and ran some more and survived some missed field goals to hang on to a narrow 23-17 Thanksgiving night win over Texas A&M on Saturday at Kyle Field. There were some highlight-worthy plays, a lot of silliness, and some drama at the end. A look at what transpired:

How the game was won: LSU ran the ball at will to the tune of 384 yards and had two players who passed the century mark (Leonard Fournette and quarterback Anthony Jennings). Texas A&M might be known for its offense but it was the Tigers who were dominant in that category, outgaining the Aggies 491-228. The Tigers also survived a late A&M rally when defensive back Jalen Collins intercepted a deep pass from Kyle Allen after LSU defensive lineman Sione Teuhema appeared to be offside. There was no call, however, and the Tigers ran the clock out to secure the victory.

Game ball goes to: Fournette. The true freshman finished with a season-high 146 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. He averaged 7.7 yards per carry, broke his fair share of tackles and was consistent in falling forward for extra yardage. He wasn’t the only one compiling big yardage against the Texas A&M defense, but he was the best of the bunch Thursday night.

What it means: The Tigers wrap up their regular season on a positive note, ending their two-game losing streak. They never have lost three games in a row under Les Miles and keep that record intact. More importantly, the Tigers got the kind of offensive performance they needed after getting shut out at Arkansas 17-0 on Nov. 15. Meanwhile, the Aggies finish the regular season with two consecutive losses complete with brutal defensive performances.

Best play: No doubt it was Fournette’s 22-yard touchdown run with 4:33 to go in the second quarter. The true freshman showed off his sheer power and strength by running right through Texas A&M safety Howard Matthews on his way to the end zone. I repeat, Fournette is a true freshman.

video What's next: The Tigers close out the regular season at 8-4 (4-4 in the SEC) while the Aggies fall to 7-5 (3-5). Both teams now await word on their bowl destinations.

SEC bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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After taking care of business against teams they were favored against, Alabama and Mississippi State hung on to their No. 1 and No. 4 spots, respectively, in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.

And the SEC got another team bowl eligible, as Arkansas earned its sixth win with a 30-0 victory over Ole Miss. So that's 11 bowl-eligible teams and counting in the SEC, including the entire SEC West.

As we head into the final week of regular-season play ahead of the SEC championship game, two teams have a shot at claiming bowl eligibility that haven't already: Kentucky and Tennessee. Kentucky's task is tough, going to No. 22 Louisville, Tennessee's is considerably more feasible, as the Volunteers travel to Vanderbilt.

Georgia, if it wins this weekend against Georgia Tech, looks to be in good position for a New Year's Six bid. There's still much to be decided, with the Egg Bowl and the Iron Bowl on deck. Alabama and Mississippi State must win to maintain their spots, if they don't, chaos will ensue.

But assuming the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs prevail, here's how we think it'll pan out as of today, with 12 SEC bowl-eligible teams projected:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Ole Miss
TaxSlayer Bowl: Florida
Outback Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Tennessee
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
Whether recruits are attending games this holiday weekend or watching on television, all eyes around the recruiting world will be focused on several rivalry games. From the Iron Bowl to the Egg Bowl there will be recruiting implications throughout the conference this weekend. Here’s a closer look at how these game might affect the top remaining recruits.

John ChavisDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsJohn Chavis' defense has stymied the Aggies for the past two seasons.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Since joining the SEC, Texas A&M enjoyed victory against every team in the SEC West -- except one.

LSU.

The Tigers were the thorn in the Aggies' side the last two seasons and Les Miles' bunch is the one team that one could say truly has Texas A&M's number so far. The Aggies' next opportunity to flip the script comes Thanksgiving night when they host LSU at Kyle Field.

The reasons LSU ruled the Aggies are numerous, but it starts with the Tigers' defense. LSU had answers for whatever the Aggies threw at them, including Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. In 2012, LSU held Texas A&M to its second-fewest offensive yards in a game (410) that season. Only Florida, who squared off against the Aggies' in Manziel's college debut, were better. But the Tigers had three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and sacked Manziel three times in a 24-19 victory.

In 2013, a physically beat-up Manziel led the Aggies into Death Valley and the offense sputtered, posting a season-low 299 yards and only 10 points in a 24-point loss.

"We talked about that a little bit," Texas A&M center Ben Compton said. "It's been bugging us the past couple years that they've gotten the best of us the last two years. They played hard and kicked our butt the last two years. We hope to be able to change some of that."

Texas A&M featured one of the nation's top offenses the last two seasons and the Aggies led the SEC in scoring offense and yards per game both seasons. So what did LSU do to quiet the A&M attack? Look no further than the talent on the roster and its utilization by "The Chief," LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis.

"I think it's just our talent and the 'Mustang' package that Chief has come with over at LSU," Tigers' defensive back Jalen Mills said. "It's been run ever since, and that helps a lot."

LSU's Mustang package is basically a dime formation with three defensive linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs. The Tigers use the defense against teams that spread it out like Texas A&M and given LSU's defensive talent and speed, Chavis' bunch has experienced much success with it.

This season, LSU leads the SEC in pass-efficiency defense (97.57) and passing yards allowed (164). They're second nationally in the former category, sixth in the latter. That bodes well against a Texas A&M team that is 10th in passing yards per game (first in the SEC) and is 13th nationally in pass attempts (452).

"They've been very effective," Sumlin said of the LSU defense. "They've been athletic, had some different people on the field, they've done a nice job. [Chavis] has done a nice job this year too.

"John Chavis' record stands for itself defensively and he's as good as there is in the country."

The challenge will be different this year for LSU. The Tigers were charged with corralling Manziel, but since he's gone, the Aggies now have a true freshman behind center: Kyle Allen. The four-star recruit will make his fourth career start on Thursday and the Tigers know to expect a more patient pocket passer than the player they faced the last two years.

"He's not Johnny Manziel with all the scrambling," Mills said. "He's a dual-threat guy, but he's not doing as much running around as Johnny did. You really see him sitting in there and trying to fling it, so with that, you have to play a little more coverage and just play all the routes down the field."

The Tigers aren't underestimating Allen, though.

"You say a true freshman, when we talked about Johnny Manziel, he was considered a freshman and he came in and won the Heisman," Mills said. "So you can't go in a game thinking a guy, 'Oh he's a freshman' and you have to try to wait on his mistakes. You have to go in and play your football."

In order to win, the Aggies will have to solve Chavis, the Mustang package and perform better offensively than they did the last two seasons. They're aware of it.

"Great defense," Texas A&M senior receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "I've watched them play a few times and I know they have one of the top passing defenses and they have a great secondary. All those guys are pretty athletic, pretty physical... . We know we're going to have a task. They have a good front and we're going to have to run fast routes, do what we do as an offense, tempo-style."

SEC has been entertaining in 2014

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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Whether you love the SEC or not, it's hard to argue against its entertainment value in 2014. The cannibalization of the SEC West and the mostly miserable play of the SEC East provided followers with two hotly contested divisional races that are coming down to the final weekend.

We saw the state of Mississippi take over the state of Alabama in one weekend. We saw the rise of Bulldogs and the fall of Gators. The West was wild and the East was,well, there.

There's SEC bias everywhere and still a chance for two SEC teams to make it into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesFor Dak Prescott and Mississippi State, plenty will be on the line in the Egg Bowl on Saturday.
 Offense was supposed to be down with so many seasoned quarterbacks gone, but 13 teams are scoring more than 27 points per game and eight are averaging more than 421 yards per game.

The SEC had two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, who both still have at least another weekend to impress everyone.

The league started the season with seven teams ranked in the AP Poll. Six are ranked in the AP Poll now, and Alabama and Mississippi State are ranked in the top four of the College Football Playoff Rankings. Both are also still in the running for the SEC West title.

From top to bottom, this league has been way more competitive than usual. Just think about this for a second: The West will be decided by the Iron Bowl and the Egg Bowl. The Iron Bowl made plenty of sense at the beginning of the year because you had the defending SEC champs in Auburn returning just about everyone, while Alabama was Alabama.

But the Egg Bowl? Mississippi State and Ole Miss? Sure, these two teams had the personnel to compete in the West, but to have the Egg Bowl actually mean something when you think of Atlanta is great for the league. Both serious playoff aspirations, and now Ole Miss is set up to play major spoiler for the Bulldogs.

Arkansas is relevant again. Bret Bielema's Hogs are rejuvenated and dangerous. After losing 17 straight SEC games, Arkansas has now won two straight by a combined 47-0. Those wins came against LSU and Ole Miss, both ranked. And Ole Miss was still in line for a spot in Atlanta and maybe a trip to the playoff, but the Hogs saw to it that Ole Miss' special run ended in a 30-0 romp.

Texas A&M fooled us with that commanding opening victory, but then it suffered three straight SEC losses before beating Auburn, who at the time was playing like one of the nation's best teams. LSU has a slew of young talent and beat Ole Miss before taking Alabama to overtime. Just wait until next year ...

The East hasn't exactly wowed anyone all year, but with things so even, the race to Atlanta has been a fun one to follow. Georgia -- clearly the most talented team on that side of the division -- might not even make it to the title game because of losses to South Carolina and Florida, who have combined to lose nine SEC games. Those pesky Missouri Tigers are now a win away from back-to-back Atlanta trips. The team that barely had an offensive pulse for most of the SEC season just doesn't know how to lose anymore. Remember when it was embarrassed by a bad Indiana team at home and then got trounced 34-0 at home to Georgia? Well, Missouri is 5-0 since.

Mizzou isn't as good as it was last year, but that doesn't matter one bit. The defense has been outstanding in SEC play, allowing just 302.6 yards and 19.9 points per game in seven league games. With the defense being so good, Maty Mauk's inconsistent play at quarterback gets considerably overshadowed. The defense turned it up 10 notches, thanks in large part by ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden, who have combined for 22 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss.

Mizzou ain't pretty, but it's winning. Deal with it.

South Carolina was supposed to win the East, but owns the division's worst defense and loved blowing fourth-quarter leads. Then, the Gamecocks somehow beat a slightly surging Florida team in comeback fashion that cost Will Muschamp his job.

Kentucky's offense had bite during a 5-1 start, but after five straight losses, it's pumpkin time for the Wildcats. Tennessee has been so up-and-down, but the emergence of quarterback Joshua Dobbs at least makes the offense watchable. Florida had a rain out, a couple of bad blowouts, two quarterbacks, nearly three overtime games, plenty of heartache and blew out Georgia.

Go figure.

The SEC has been a blast. It hasn't always been great, and there's no dominant team, but there's been plenty of fun drama along the way ... and two weekends still remain.

SEC morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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Arkansas' continued progress has been interesting to see this season and one area they showed significant progress in is third-down success. Last season the Razorbacks were 54th nationally in offensive third-down success rate (41.7 percent) but this season, they're 10th (49.3 percent). That's a huge improvement and it was evident in their 17-0 win over LSU when the Hogs were 10-of-17 against the Tigers on third down, a team that usually stops teams on third down (the Tigers are second in the SEC allowing only a 33.1 percent third-down conversion rate to opponents).

Nobody's happy with the defensive performances this season at South Carolina, but the same can be said at other places around the conference, or the country for that matter. The Gamecocks aren't alone. Texas A&M has seen its fair share of struggles that has its defensive coordinator under the microscope. Auburn has had a rough go lately too, though Gus Malzahn showed support for Ellis Johnson. Still, fans want results and they haven't been good for the Gamecocks, who are last in the league in scoring defense (32.7 points per game).

Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs is the Volunteers' present and future at the position but his predecessor, Justin Worley celebrated his 22nd birthday on Thursday by sharing words with Tennessee fans in an open letter. Worley, whose senior season was cut short after he underwent surgery for a torn labrum earlier this month, shares plenty of candid words and vivid images of his time in Knoxville, which is pretty cool to see.

Around the SEC
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has long been known as an offensive mind. Though he was a linebacker in his playing days at Purdue, Sumlin’s coaching career as an assistant was on the offensive side of the football, a trend that began in his first job under former Washington State coach Mike Price more than two decades ago. Even as a head coach, Sumlin has had a reputation for offensive prowess, including his knack for having star quarterbacks.

As his third season in Aggieland winds down and fans decry the defensive performances Texas A&M has put on the field this season -- which follows a poor 2013 -- it’s worth taking a look at how defenses have fared under Sumlin’s watch. While coordinators and defensive assistants do the heavy lifting, Sumlin ultimately puts those individuals in place by hiring them.

[+] EnlargeMark Snyder
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsMark Snyder's defense is ranked 101st against the pass and 70th against the run this season.
In his seven seasons as a head coach, only two seasons have yielded what could be considered good defensive results: his fourth and final season at Houston in 2011 and his first season at Texas A&M in 2012.

Looking at key categories such as scoring defense, third-down defense and turnover margin, the results were generally good in those areas those seasons. Houston was 35th nationally in scoring defense (22.4 points per game), 44th in third-down conversion rate allowed (37.3 percent) and tied for third nationally in turnover margin (plus-16) in 2011. In Sumlin’s first season at Texas A&M, the Aggies were 26th in scoring defense (21.8), 16th on third downs (32.4 percent) though they weren’t good on turnovers (a minus-five margin tied them for 87th nationally).

In the other five seasons, including this one, Sumlin’s teams have ranked 77th or worse in scoring and 78th or worse on third downs. In four of the previous six seasons, Sumlin's teams have been 92nd nationally or worse in scoring defense and have allowed at least 30 points per game.

Turnover margin has been varied from year to year, though this season the Aggies are 105th in that statistic (minus-six). Aside from 2011 and 2012, Sumlin’s teams have ranked 100th or worse nationally in yards per game (the Aggies are exactly 100th currently, allowing 445.2 yards per game). In 2011 Houston was 62nd (380.3) and in 2012 Texas A&M was 57th (390.2).

Because of the nature of his team’s offensive success and penchant to rank among the top teams nationally in scoring, yards per game and more, Sumlin’s defenses never needed to be perfect. With a potent offense, an elite defense usually hasn’t been necessary to win, evidenced by his 62-27 career record. However, the two best seasons Sumlin’s teams had record-wise were those two: 2011 and 2012 when his teams went a combined 23-3 under his watch.

At Houston, Sumlin made a defensive coordinator change after 2009, his second season, which also meant a scheme change from a base 4-3 alignment to Brian Stewart’s 3-4. The first season under Stewart was difficult but significant improvement was evident in 2011, Sumlin’s final season there as the UH defense posted its best numbers in four years in scoring, yards per game, rushing, passing, third downs, red zone efficiency and turnover margin.

It’s also worth noting that the best season of defense under Sumlin at Houston was one comprised entirely of starters that signed with Sumlin as recruits.

The 2012 season at Texas A&M, Sumlin and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder had the luxury of many veteran defensive players on the roster, such as linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, defensive linemen Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy and safety Steven Terrell.

Seemingly the heart of that 2012 unit, once key players graduated (and Moore exited early for the draft) it left a void of leadership and experience. Filled with underclassmen, the 2013 Texas A&M defense struggled mightily, allowing 32.2 points per game (95th in the country) and 475.8 yards per game (109th). The unit ranked last in the SEC in scoring, yards per game, yards per play, rushing yards per game, yards per rush and red zone efficiency.

The 2014 Texas A&M defense showed some improvement early this season during the team’s 5-0 start but has struggled in the second half. The Aggies are still better in most categories than they were a year ago, but not by much and are trending toward the 2013 numbers. The one area the Aggies have posted their best mark in the past three seasons is goal-to-go efficiency (65.4 percent), where they are 26th nationally.

The most eye-opening numbers have come against the best teams they’ve played this season. Against its best five opponents -- Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri -- Texas A&M has allowed an average of 533.6 offensive yards per game and 40 points per game. And while there are still some players starting that signed under the previous coaching staff, this unit mostly has players recruited by the current staff.

Recruiting in the past two years has been good, though, especially in the 2014 class, which produced true freshman like defensive end Myles Garrett, who is second in the SEC in sacks this season, safety Armani Watts (three interceptions) and linebackers Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker. Getting that talent to translate to on-field results will be crucial for Sumlin and the Aggies moving forward.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 12

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
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Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett were once again the stars of the weekend among the SEC’s true freshmen, with both rookies helping their teams earn blowout wins against conference competitors.

Let’s recap how the dynamic duo, and several other members of the SEC’s true freshman class, performed last Saturday:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett notched seven tackles, four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in the Volunteers’ blowout win against Kentucky.

What it means: He probably wasn’t getting enough attention before, but Barnett is getting it now. Barnett is tied for fifth nationally in tackles for loss with Missouri’s Shane Ray. They share the SEC lead with 18 apiece. Barnett is also third in the SEC with nine sacks.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: The return of -- and subsequent injury to -- Todd Gurley generated most of the attention in Saturday’s win against Auburn, but the Chubb Train kept rolling. Georgia’s star freshman ran 19 times for 144 yards and scored touchdowns of 9 and 11 yards. He also caught two passes for 48 yards.

What it means: Chubb has rushed for at least 140 yards in all five games since Gurley was initially suspended. During that time, he has been arguably the SEC’s most dynamic running back. He has run for 815 yards in the past five games and pushed his season total past the 1,000-yard mark (to 1,039) against Auburn.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: He hasn’t put up comparable numbers to Chubb, but Hurd has been impressive while running behind a much less experienced offensive line. He rushed 23 times for 118 yards and scored a 4-yard touchdown against Kentucky. He also made a reception for an 11-yard gain.

What it means: Through 10 games, Hurd has rushed for 716 yards and three touchdowns and ranks third on the team with 27 catches for 177 yards and two more scores. He is easily one of the Volunteers' most valuable offensive players and he’s only getting started.

QB Treon Harris, Florida

What he did: The South Carolina game ended terribly for Florida -- with the Gamecocks tying the score late and winning in overtime -- but Harris is a clear upgrade over Jeff Driskel at quarterback. He completed just 5 of 11 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, but Harris also ran 20 times for 111 yards.

What it means: Starting for the third straight game, Harris suffered his first loss as a starter against the Gamecocks. Nonetheless, Florida has become a more competitive team with him under center. His 100-yard outing was the first by a Florida quarterback since Driskel in 2012.

S Armani Watts, Texas A&M

What he did: The freshman safety made four tackles and broke up two passes in a loss against Missouri, but his biggest play came late in the second quarter when he picked off a Maty Mauk pass at the Texas A&M 12-yard line and returned it 36 yards to the Aggies 48. A&M then drove to Mizzou’s 13 and kicked a field goal at the buzzer to go up 13-6 at halftime.

What it means: Other A&M freshmen like Myles Garrett, Speedy Noil and Kyle Allen have garnered more attention, but Watts has become a solid contributor on defense. He leads the team with three interceptions and 10 passes defended, is second with seven pass breakups and sixth with 52 tackles. It’s shaping up to be a strong rookie season for the young defensive back.

Other notables:

QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: Completed 24 of 35 passes for 237 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a loss to Missouri.

LB Bryson Allen-Williams, South Carolina: Made three tackles, a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble while combining for a sack in a win against Florida.

DB/KR Evan Berry, Tennessee: Vols legend Eric Berry’s younger brother made two tackles and returned three kickoffs for 91 yards (30.3 ypr) with a long of 39 against Kentucky.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught three passes for 36 yards and totaled 95 yards on two kickoff returns in a loss to Missouri.

DB Malkom Parrish, Georgia: Made five tackles and forced a fourth-quarter fumble that outside linebacker Davin Bellamy recovered in a win against Auburn.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted seven times for 319 yards (45.6 ypp) in a win against Mississippi State with a long of 56.

RB Ish Witter, Missouri: Ran four times for 34 yards and rushed for a key third-quarter touchdown that gave the Tigers a 14-point lead in a 34-27 win over Texas A&M.

SEC morning links

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
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1. I had two big takeaways from the latest College Football Playoff rankings that came out Tuesday. First, the committee still likes the SEC. Alabama jumped all the way to No. 1, and despite losing to the Crimson Tide, Mississippi State remained a playoff team at No. 4. Will that last? We’ll see, but for now the Bulldogs have to be happy with where they’re at. The second thing is game control. What is it? It’s basically a calculation of a team’s average in-game win probability or a measure of how exactly a team went about winning (or losing) throughout the game. (Click here if still confused.) Why is it important? The new rankings showed that game control is important to the committee. It’s not just that you win, it’s how you win. For what it’s worth, the SEC has four of the top five teams ranked according to game control.

2. Missouri has a simple path to Atlanta. Win two games and the Tigers are back in the SEC championship game. And yet, everybody is writing them off just like they did last year. Sure, this Missouri team lost to Indiana and got blown out by Georgia, the team that’s currently on their heels for the East crown. But both of those games were at home. Surprisingly the road is where the Tigers have thrived. They have won nine straight road games, including seven straight against conference foes. No other SEC team has won more than three in a row. Not Georgia. Not the two Mississippi schools. Not even Alabama. Don’t be so quick to count out Missouri this Saturday just because the game is at Tennessee. Maybe it’s an advantage.

3. There has been talk this week of a possible Texas-Texas A&M matchup in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl. However, it sounds like the Aggies, and maybe more importantly the SEC, want nothing to do with Texas. That got me thinking, though. What are some of the potential bowl matchups that we’d all love to see? And no, I’m not including the semifinal games. They’re going to be must-see TV regardless of who’s playing. These are lesser bowl games involving SEC teams that I’ve seen projected.
  • Auburn vs. Notre Dame in the Belk Bowl (The last two BCS runners-up)
  • Georgia vs. Wisconsin in the Citrus Bowl (Chubb vs. Gordon)
  • Mississippi State vs. TCU in the Fiesta Bowl (Who’s the best team left out?)
  • Missouri vs. Nebraska in the Outback Bowl (An old Big 12 rivalry)
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SEC bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
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How important is earning the top overall seed in the College Football Playoff? For Alabama, it's very important. It would allow the Tide to play a virtual home game in the Sugar Bowl as opposed to going out West to possibly face Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

That's why Nick Saban and his team have to be ecstatic with their No. 1 ranking in the latest playoff rankings. As long as they win out and win the SEC title, they're headed to New Orleans for the first semifinal game.

Meanwhile, if everything plays out as it should -- and it never does -- the Tide's opponent in the Sugar Bowl would be none other than Mississippi State. That's right. The Bulldogs only dropped to No. 4 after Saturday's loss to Alabama, and that means they're still in good shape for the playoff if they can take care of business against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.

The next two weeks should also be interesting for the rest of the conference as a number of teams are fighting for that sixth win and bowl eligibility. Both Florida and South Carolina should get there this Saturday as they play Eastern Kentucky and South Alabama, respectively. It won't be as easy, though, for teams like of Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.

We predict a total of 12 SEC teams becoming bowl eligible by season's end.

College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Alabama
College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: Florida
Outback Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Tennessee
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas

SEC morning links

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
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1. Has Florida hired a coach yet? OK, I guess I'm being impatient. Nothing is going to happen until after the season, but athletic director Jeremy Foley did say he hopes to have a coach by December, which means it might only be a month before we know who is going to replace Will Muschamp. Foley also said he plans to look for a coach who can bring that offensive spark back to The Swamp. Gus Malzahn, anyone? Malzahn's buddy Hugh Freeze would also fit the description, but it sounds like the Ole Miss coach is in line for a raise after the season. Freeze added that he and his family are extremely happy in Oxford, which is no surprise considering he grew up there. It hasn't been that long, though, since Rich Rodriguez left his alma mater West Virginia to take the Michigan job. I'm just saying.

2. Rushing the field after a win over the No. 17 team in the country? That's what happens when you haven't won a conference game in over two years. Arkansas paid the price, though. On Monday, the school was fined $25,000 by the SEC for the post-game celebration, a fine I'm guessing coach Bret Bielema would be happy to pay back after Saturday's win against LSU. The atmosphere hasn't been as jubilant in Baton Rouge this week. It was a historically bad performance by the offense, and Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times writes that it's time for change and more specifically, time for a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator at LSU. The Tigers should fare better next Thursday against a bad Texas A&M defense.

3. What's the one thing we can almost always count on when Alabama plays an FCS team? Nick Saban going off during his weekly news conference about the quality of the opponent and how it doesn't matter. He didn't let us down this week. Saban got a little heated Monday when a reporter asked about the possibility of looking ahead to the rest of the season, aka the Iron Bowl. I think the Crimson Tide should be pretty safe this weekend against Western Carolina. On a different note, Saban was also asked about the music selection in Bryant-Denny Stadium and the updated playlist from Saturday's win against No. 1 Mississippi State. Unfortunately, he's not the DJ. He has nothing to do with what songs play or don't play during games.

Around the SEC
  • Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson unfazed by criticism during brutal stretch.
  • Running back Todd Gurley goes out the same way he came in at Georgia: A superstar.
  • Steve Spurrier laments firing of Muschamp, shoots down rumors of his return to Florida.
Tweet of the day

Aggies' defense dismal again

November, 17, 2014
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — It was a scene on Saturday that has become all-too-familiar for those who have followed Texas A&M closely the last two seasons.

A winnable game going the other way for, among other reasons, a defense that went from bending but not breaking to simply breaking.

Quite simply, the Aggies looked broken on defense.

Saturday’s 34-27 loss to Missouri was a microcosm of the issues that have ailed the defense in critical games against quality teams.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk, Daeshon Hall
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsThe Texas A&M defense got shredded by Missouri in the second half on Saturday.
The Aggies allowed Missouri a season-high 337 rushing yards, nearly 200 more yards than the Tigers’ season average entering the game (159.9). The 28 points allowed to the Tigers in the third quarter alone were more than the Missouri offense compiled in the last six games, dating to a 38-10 win over Central Florida on Sept. 13 (the Tigers’ 42-point output against Florida was powered by four combined special teams and defensive scores).

The 587 offensive yards the Aggies yielded on Saturday is consistent with their performance against the best teams on their schedule. Texas A&M allowed a whopping 533.6 offensive yards per game to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri.

The scoring defense has been equally eye-popping as the Aggies allowed 40 points per game (accounting for two defensive touchdowns by Ole Miss) to those five teams.

There were several contributing factors to the latest defensive debacle, of course. The Aggies began the game without two starting defensive linemen, including their best one, as freshman defensive end Myles Garrett and senior defensive tackle Ivan Robinson both missed the game because of injuries.

The Aggies lost more players along the way Saturday night, including two starting linebackers -- freshmen Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker -- who both were injured during the game. Other players who left the game at various points included defensive tackle Alonzo Williams and cornerback Nick Harvey. Senior cornerback Deshazor Everett, who was beaten more than his fair share of times on Saturday, was playing for the second straight week with a torn elbow tendon.

“It had to affect us some,” coach Kevin Sumlin said of Garrett and Robinson’s injuries. “But we have other players that need to step in this time of year and play.”

In the 10th game of an SEC season, injuries are part of the deal. They’re going to happen. The amount of quality depth a team has determines how well it can sustain it; it’s clear the Aggies don’t have enough in certain areas, especially linebacker, and it showed in Saturday’s third quarter when the Tigers compiled 308 yards (including 202 rushing) to turn a 13-6 Texas A&M halftime lead into a 34-20 Missouri lead by time the fourth quarter began.

The fact the Aggies have to rely heavily on two true freshman linebackers -- who have played admirably since being inserted into the starting lineup against Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 1 -- speaks to where the Aggies are defensively.

They’ll have to move on without Walker, who Sumlin said Saturday suffered a broken foot in the second quarter and will miss the rest of the season.

As it sits currently, the Aggies' defense is last in the SEC in yards per game (445.2) and 100th nationally in that category. Many of the other statistical areas are beginning to resemble those in 2013 when the Aggies were at or near the bottom of the SEC in many key categories.

The Aggies are now 13th (out of 14 teams) in the SEC in yards allowed per play (5.85), rushing yards allowed per game (208.91) and yards allowed per rush (4.87). They rank 90th or worse nationally in each of those areas.

They’re also 13th in the SEC in third down conversions allowed, letting opponents move the chains 41.8 percent of the time. That reared its ugly head many times Saturday as Missouri converted 13-of-21 third down attempts. The Tigers were perfect in the third quarter (6 of 6) and were 8 off 11 on third downs in the second half.

With the Aggies trending in a bad direction for the second straight season, tough questions must be asked. Do changes need to be made on the defensive coaching staff, whether it’s defensive coordinator Mark Snyder or otherwise? Young talent is coming in, but how long will it take to build the type of SEC-quality depth needed to make the Aggies a real contender in college football’s toughest division? Can they hold on to the valuable current defensive commits sorely needed, such as ESPN 300 defensive tackle Daylon Mack, or land the uncommitted ones they are intensively pursuing, such ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson and/or cornerback Kendall Sheffield?

Currently, it looks like the Aggies are a long way from that in their third SEC season.
Quietly, the Missouri Tigers are atop the SEC East standings and control their destiny. This was supposed to be Georgia or South Carolina's division to lose, but thanks to some great play by the Tigers' defense in SEC play, Missouri is staring at back-to-back trips to the SEC championship game.

It hasn't been very pretty when the Tigers have had the ball, but there's no denying that the defense has rebounded tremendously after giving up 241 rushing yards in that embarrassing home loss to Indiana.

We all figured the Tigers wouldn't be very relevant in the SEC after that loss, and while the offense has actually gotten worse since that game, the defense has been one of the SEC's best. In five conference games since the Indiana game, the Tigers have allowed an average of 299.6 total yards of offense per game, good enough for second in the SEC in league play. The Tigers have actually allowed an SEC-low 3.99 yards per play against conference opponents.

[+] EnlargeShane Ray
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonShane Ray and the Missouri defense stifled Texas A&M a year ago and will look to do the same on Saturday.
How's that rush defense that was so bad against the Hoosiers? Well, it's giving up a league-low 2.9 yards per rush and is second in the conference allowing 121.6 yards in SEC play. Mizzou has forced only eight turnovers during that span, but according to ESPN Stats & Information, teams are scoring on just 24.2 percent of their drives against the Tigers and are punting on 50 percent of them.

Yes, all of that occurred during a stretch that involved a crushing 34-0 loss to Georgia at home.

“I don’t think there’s anything magical there," coach Gary Pinkel said of Mizzou's defensive improvements. "I think we stay positive and we always focus on getting better in practice. The experience of playing over and over again -- game in and game out against good competition -- either makes you better or worse and it’s made us a better football team.”

While Mizzou's offense went from averaging 430 yards in nonconference play to a paltry 250.2 yards of offense and a league-low 4.05 yards per play against SEC teams, the defense has been there to pick up the pieces. The last time Mizzou's defense was on the field, it dominated Kentucky's improved Air Raid offense, holding the Wildcats to just 260 yards and allowing quarterback Patrick Towles to throw for just 158 yards.

In a year in which most of the attention was supposed to be paid to the offense, Mizzou's defense has carried the Tigers to the top of the East.

Instead of Maty Mauk leading this team with his arm, it has been defensive end Shane Ray leading the team with his freakish ability to harass quarterbacks just about every time he puts his hand in the ground. The redshirt junior leads the SEC with 12 sacks, a school record, and 16 tackles for loss. He has five multi-sack games this year.

As a team, Mizzou is near the top of the SEC with 31 sacks and 69 tackles for loss. The pass-rush led by Ray and senior Markus Golden has guided that, but the Tigers are also getting better play inside, especially from nose guard Harold Brantley, who has four sacks this season.

“We have more guys making plays," Pinkel said.

All that remains for Mizzou are three games against SEC opponents -- Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas -- that have a combined conference record of 4-12. The road to Atlanta is firmly in the hands of the Tigers, but that first stop at A&M will be interesting for the defense.

The Aggies just dismantled Auburn's struggling defense for 453 yards, 277 passing yards and four touchdowns from new starting quarterback Kyle Allen. Both teams provide difficult matchups for each other, but A&M coach Kevin Sumlin understands he has a much more difficult challenge this weekend than what he saw on the Plains.

“They’re one of the top defenses in our league, and it’s because of scheme and because of talent and how they play," Sumlin said.

The offense might not exactly be pulling its weight right now, but the defense has been outstanding. The offense will have to get better if the Tigers want to get through the next three games unscathed, but the defense doesn't appear to have a problem with shouldering most of the responsibility.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 12

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
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It's now or never for many teams in the SEC.

After Saturday, only two weeks of the regular season remain.

Want to reach Atlanta and play in the conference championship? This is the time to prove it.

Noon

South Carolina at Florida, SEC Network: A win over South Carolina would mean a lot of things for Florida. It would mean an automatic bowl bid, continued hope of winning the East and, possibly, another year for coach Will Muschamp. It's funny how a month ago none of those things seemed likely, but thanks to the spark Treon Harris has provided at quarterback, Florida is in a much different place today. Meanwhile, South Carolina is moving in the opposite direction. Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks have lost two straight, and the coach's future is suddenly a topic for debate.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen, Nick Saban
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesWill Dan Mullen and No. 1 Mississippi State finally get a win over Nick Saban and No. 5 Alabama?
3:30 p.m.

No. 1 Mississippi State at No. 5 Alabama, CBS: Dan Mullen already got the Texas A&M and LSU monkeys off his back this season. So will he keep up the good work and finally beat Alabama, the only remaining SEC West team that has eluded him as coach of Mississippi State? It won't be easy, and Mullen's Bulldogs won't be favored heading into Tuscaloosa despite their No. 1 overall ranking.

4 p.m.

Kentucky at Tennessee, SEC Network: These are two young teams moving toward a bright future, but which will reach a bowl game ahead of schedule? Because that's what this game ultimately boils down to. Tennessee, at 4-5, must win two of its next three to get into a bowl. Meanwhile, Kentucky either takes care of business against the Volunteers or waits two weeks to try and upset Louisville to reach six wins and a bowl berth.

7:15 p.m.

No. 9 Auburn at No. 15 Georgia, ESPN: We could wind up seeing the most rushing yards in a single game this season when Georgia hosts Auburn between the hedges. After all, neither defense is particularly adept at stopping the run and, at the same time, both offenses are catered to the running game. And that's not to mention the return of Todd Gurley. Georgia's star running back has been itching to get back on the football field after his four-game suspension. He might just try and make up for all those lost carries in one game.

7:30 p.m.

Missouri at No. 24 Texas A&M, SEC Network: It has been a roller-coaster ride for Texas A&M, as it started off 5-0 before losing three straight. The fall from No. 6 in the AP poll to unranked felt devastating. Starting quarterback Kenny Hill was suspended, and it seemed as if the Aggies would throw in the towel on the season. But then last weekend happened. Kyle Allen made some plays in the passing game, and Texas A&M upset Auburn. Now the question becomes where the Aggies go from here. With no hope of reaching the playoff, will they continue their upward climb against a Missouri team that sits atop the SEC East?

8 p.m.

No. 17 LSU at Arkansas, ESPN 2: Fans of old-school football, rejoice! We have the game for you. When Arkansas hosts LSU, there will be fullbacks and offensive linemen galore, plenty of huddling and an abundance of running the football. There will even be freezing temperatures to set the mood. Bret Bielema has to be positively giddy. This is the "normal American football" Arkansas' coach so cherishes. Plus, it's an opportunity for his Razorbacks to break their unlucky streak of 17 conference games without a win.

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