SEC: Vanderbilt Commodores

Vanderbilt season review

December, 19, 2014
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This was not the start to his Vanderbilt tenure that Derek Mason wanted or envisioned. A year removed from a second straight nine-win season and three straight bowl games -- both firsts in school history -- the Commodores went 0-8 in SEC games and started the season with an ugly 37-7 loss to Temple at home.

Vandy finished the year with just three wins and ranked near the bottom of the league in every major offensive category. The Commodores also spent most of the year shuffling quarterbacks around, which stunted the offense's growth. Getting outscored 283-102 in SEC play just isn't close to being good enough, and Mason knows that. That's why he made staff changes after the season, including firing offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell and defensive coordinator David Kotulski.

Mason has said that he likes the direction of the program, but the Commodores have a long way to go before returning to being truly competitive in the SEC.

Best win: There weren’t many, but the best of the three had to be the Commodores’ 42-28 win over Old Dominion to open the month of November. Forget who the opponent was, this was the most complete performance of the season for the Commodores. The offense, rolled up a season-high 524 yards of offense and the defense allowed 336 yards, second fewest on the season. We got to see some growth from freshman quarterback Johnny McCrary, who threw for a season-high 281 yards and five touchdowns, and freshman running back Ralph Webb, who rushed for a season-high 166 yards with one touchdown.

Worst loss: The Commodores got blown out in a couple of SEC games this season, but that opening loss to Temple was just unacceptable. The Owls were coming off a 2-10 season, only to walk out of Nashville with a commanding 37-7 win. Vandy was totally inept on offense, registering 278 yards, scoring zero offensive points and turning it over seven times. Three Vandy quarterbacks combined to throw for 224 yards and three interceptions. What’s worse is that players and coaches later said they just weren’t prepared enough for the game -- the first game of the Mason era.

Player of year: The biggest bright spot on offense for the Commodores was Webb, who finished the season ranking 11th in the league in rushing with 907 yards. He was the Commodores’ most consistent offensive player. He rushed for 90-plus yards in four games this season but scored only four touchdowns.

Breakout player: We might be hearing the name Nigel Bowden for a few years. The freshman linebacker was arguably the Commodores’ best defender this season. He led Vandy with 78 total tackles and became the first freshman to lead the team in tackles since since 1998. Bowden, who also led all SEC freshmen in tackles, registered at least five tackles in nine games.

Play of year: The game was well in hand and the Commodores weren’t coming back, but McCrary’s 41-yard pass to David Dudchock in Vandy’s loss to Florida was great. McCray had to dodge a couple of Florida defenders to even get the pass off and then Dudchock went all Odell Beckham Jr. by snatching the pass out of the air with one hand. It wasn’t a play that changed the game or ignited a rally, but it’s one that will make Vandy highlight reels for years. The athleticism, timing and concentration that play took were amazing.

video 2015 outlook: We don’t really know what to expect from the Commodores in 2015. With a handful of coaches leaving, including both coordinators, Mason is kind of starting over. Now, after the season Vandy just had, that could be a good thing. He and that team need a fresh start. Mason has to settle on one quarterback, and McCrary has all the tools needed to be the guy. The defense has some young, solid talent returning, but the offense has to find playmakers at receiver. Bringing some quality talent in this next recruiting class is key, and developing current guys and motivating them will be crucial to future success.

SEC morning links

December, 9, 2014
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1. Monday was a pretty good day for Alabama wide receivers, past and present. Julio Jones finished with 11 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Green Bay on Monday Night Football, and Amari Cooper was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Cooper, who leads the SEC with 115 receptions for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns, becomes the first wide receiver to be invited to New York City since Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. Most believe he’ll be battling it out with Melvin Gordon for runner-up as Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the favorite to win the award, but at least he’s a lock for the Biletkinoff Award, right? For a closer look at all three Heisman finalists, click here.



2. With the playoff news and bowl selections, Jim McElwain’s introductory press conference at Florida got lost in the news Sunday, but here’s a look back. He was charming, funny, and while he doesn’t have a nickname for his offense just yet, he did say that “it will be a blast.” That should be music to the ears of Florida fans. Some might be a little skeptical, but others believe he’s the SEC's next superstar coach and the right fit in Gainesville. The Gators will play in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3, and though McElwain isn’t allowed to coach the team, he plans to be there for the game and watch bowl practices to evaluate the players. He’s also keeping busy on the recruiting trail, putting together what could be a significant first class.

3. The Associated Press released its All-SEC team on Monday. A couple things stood out. First, I was a tad surprised Dak Prescott edged out Blake Sims as the first-team quarterback. Both had sensational seasons, but I just felt like Sims played better in bigger games, especially down the stretch. Also, the only three unanimous selections were Cooper, Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson and Alabama safety Landon Collins. Those three names didn’t surprise me, but I thought there’d be more than three unanimous picks. As for the numbers, Alabama led the way with nine players making the list, including six on the first team. Ole Miss, who had five first-team selections, was second with six All-SEC players in all.

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SEC morning links

December, 4, 2014
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1. Derek Mason had to make a move. So he released three coaches yesterday: offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell, wide receivers coach Marc Lubrick and strength coach Bill Hugham. While no one expected Vanderbilt to win many games his first year there, it wasn’t unreasonable to ask for a competitive football team. That didn’t happen as the Dores were blown out and lost every SEC game they played. They even lost to Temple by 30 and struggled to beat lowly Massachusetts and Charleston Southern. The problem goes beyond the coaching staff, though. Finding and settling on a quarterback this offseason is going to be paramount. So will recruiting. After having most of last year’s class hijacked by the departing James Franklin, Mason needs to find a way to infuse more talent into the program -- and quickly.

2. In other "As the Coaching World Turns" news, Tennessee is currently working on a new contract for coach Butch Jones, reports VolQuest.com. Tennessee AD Dave Hart told the site that those conversations are already underway and that, "It will get done in an appropriate fashion" since Jones' focus is on recruiting right now. Jones is already locked into a six-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $18 million, but as we all know by now, that's yesterday's news. Getting Jones under a new, more lucrative and extensive contract will help keep potential suitors at bay. The job he's done getting Tennessee on the right track and into a bowl game this early after the Derek Dooley debacle has not gone unnoticed. Keeping Jones in Knoxville and keeping that program on stable footing would be a wise move. With another stellar recruiting class, the development of last year's class and the maturation of QB Josh Dobbs, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Jones and Tennessee are among the leading contenders in the East next season. Of course, if they win it there will probably have to be a new contract after that.

3. Nick Saban has been calling for more involvement from receivers not named Amari Cooper all season. With good reason, the coach wants Alabama's offense to be more diverse, not just a one-page playbook with No. 9 scribbled in dozens of different languages. Part of that is on coordinator Lane Kiffin, part of it is on QB Blake Sims, but some of the blame rests with the supporting cast. And there's been no more obvious letdown than O.J. Howard. The freakishly athletic tight end was MIA for most of the season. For the first half of the year, you went to the grocery store expecting to see his face on the back of a milk carton. But it appears as if the 6-foot-6 sophomore has hit his stride. He hasn't been great -- seven catches in the past four games -- but it's a start. Howard says now that, "We're on the same page. We're clicking." The problem before? "Probably just not me going to get the ball out of the air," Howard said. "But now I've been doing a pretty good job of it, of going up and getting it and attacking the ball." That's good news for Alabama, which will face more intense scrutiny should it reach the playoff. The more options it has offensively, the better off it will be.

SEC morning links

December, 2, 2014
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1. It's not a huge surprise, but it is noteworthy that South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier confirmed that he'll be back in 2015. In classic Spurrier fashion, he gave a quality soundbite, claiming he'll probably be back for at least a couple more years: “Give me two or three more,” he said. “I used to say four or five, now I’m down to two or three. I mean, I could get in a car wreck, but I’m definitely planning on being back.” One interesting side note is that Spurrier said he doesn't plan, at the moment, to fire any of his assistant coaches. He did intimate that a reorganization of the staff could occur, but the fact that nobody will be dismissed is interesting since defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward came under fire after the Gamecocks defense struggled this season.

2. Saturday will be Missouri's fourth conference championship game of the Gary Pinkel era, and the Tigers have yet to win one. Last year's 59-42 loss to Auburn was, in fact, the closest they've come to winning in terms of final margin. Missouri plans to ignore that history when it faces No. 1 Alabama on Saturday. “We prepare for this game like we prepare for any game, and we won’t ever change that,” Pinkel said. “This is the fifth divisional championship we have won in the last eight years and we have not won a conference championship in the Big 12 or the SEC. That’s my responsibility, so hopefully we can play well and have an opportunity to do that.”

3. Two SEC assistant coaches who have had strong seasons found themselves named as finalists Monday for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation's top assistant coach. Those two? Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel. Not coincidentally, both are coaching teams that are playing in the SEC championship game. Steckel's defense has been key for the Tigers, who have endured an inconsistent offense this season. And the work Kiffin has done with starter Blake Sims and the Alabama offense is noteworthy, considering the Crimson Tide have even mixed it up at times, going to a faster tempo, something unusual for Nick Saban.

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Remember when the SEC used to be a defensive league?

In certain quarters, it still is. But there are more than a few teams in this league, proud of its black-and-blue heritage, in desperate need of a defensive facelift.

It’s the reason former Florida coach Will Muschamp could break the bank when it comes to a defensive coordinator’s salary.

Only two days have passed since Muschamp coached his final game with the Gators, and already he’s being tied to defensive coordinator jobs that are open and some that aren’t open.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
AP Photo/Stephen B. MortonWill Muschamp will be in high demand as a defensive coordinator and could very well stay in the SEC.
As Muschamp said himself, he didn’t win enough games at Florida to survive as head coach. But as a defensive coach, he’s on a short list of the most respected minds in the game.

That’s why Auburn is in hot pursuit after firing Ellis Johnson, and the Tigers are one of many. Texas A&M is also looking for somebody to come in and pick up the pieces of a defense that has been shredded the last two seasons.

There’s not an opening at South Carolina -- yet. But Steve Spurrier will almost certainly make some changes after seeing the Gamecocks fall off the table defensively this season on the heels of three straight top-5 finishes in the SEC in total defense from 2011-13.

Going into this season, there were already two SEC defensive coordinators making more than $1 million per year. Alabama’s Kirby Smart was at $1.35 million and LSU’s John Chavis at $1.3 million. It was money well spent. Chavis’ Tigers finished first in the SEC in total defense, and Smart’s Crimson Tide were third. They both ranked in the top 10 nationally as well in scoring defense. LSU was third (16.4 points per game) and the Tide sixth (16.9 points per game).

Muschamp is in a position where he can afford to wait and see what is out there, if he so chooses. Wherever he lands, don’t be surprised if he gets a deal that pays him in excess of $1.5 million annually.

The college game has changed dramatically with no-huddle offenses and seemingly everybody spreading it out and playing fast-break basketball on a football field.

Even Alabama is spreading it out under first-year coordinator Lane Kiffin and running some no-huddle, which is saying something. Kiffin’s boss, if you hadn’t noticed, isn’t a big fan of the fastball offenses, but Nick Saban is very much a fan of winning. He also is smart enough to know that you at least better have the capability to play that way with the climate we’re in right now in college football.

The tricky part is finding the right fit at defensive coordinator on those teams that do want to play offense at the speed of light. As a rule, defensive numbers are going to suffer (and it's difficult to sustain quality defenses over a number of years) when its offense is playing that way because it’s hard to practice the way most defenses want to practice in that system.

It’s not impossible, though. Look at what Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack did with that defense this season. The Rebels were first nationally in scoring defense and 14th in total defense.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, though, understood what he had in that defense this season and played to it. At times, the Rebels played slower than normal.

How would Muschamp fare as a defensive coordinator in a true no-huddle system?

We might find out -- if either Auburn or Texas A&M wins the Muschamp sweepstakes. At the end of the day, good defensive coaches adapt and can coach in any system.

We’re seeing more of the fast-paced, spread offenses in the SEC than ever before. Arkansas, Georgia and LSU are still running the traditional, pro-style sets, and that’s still the base for Alabama, but those teams are in the minority now in the SEC.

Muschamp won’t be the only hot commodity out there this offseason as teams look to shore up their defenses in this video-game era of offensive football.

Somebody’s sure to grab up former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, who was the defensive coordinator on LSU’s 2007 national championship team.

There are others, too, with SEC ties that could be in play. Look at what former Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop did at Penn State this season. The Nittany Lions are ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense. They’re No. 1 in rushing defense. In his three seasons at Vanderbilt, the Commodores were ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense all three years.

In short, everybody loves offense. It’s what sells, but there’s a reason only one team in the last decade has won a national championship with a defense ranked outside the top 10 nationally in total defense.

That one team, by the way, was Auburn in 2010. The Tigers finished 60th nationally that year in total defense.

SEC morning links

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

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

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

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Best of the visits: SEC

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
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From Alabama's big 55-44 win over Auburn on Saturday night to Ole Miss' 31-17 win over in-state rival Mississippi State, there were some incredible SEC games for recruits to watch this weekend. Some prospects attended the games, while others watched on TV 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 in SEC recruiting.

Several recruits posted pictures from the Alabama game Saturday. Five-star Alabama quarterback commit Blake Barnett posted a few pictures of himself at the game and some with other recruits who were also in attendance.


One of the top running backs in the ESPN 300, Damien Harris, also tweeted out a photo, as did ESPN 300 linebacker Ricky DeBerry. Harris has appeared to be a Kentucky lean, but Alabama certainly looks to have made an impression on him.


Recent Georgia athlete commit Jarvis Wilson tweeted out a photo of himself wearing a Georgia uniform and helmet.


ESPN Junior 300 safety Joejuan Williams visited Vanderbilt this weekend and posted a couple different tweets about his experience in Nashville.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 14

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

Let's recap five things we learned:

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

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

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

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

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

SEC viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
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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.

SEC morning links

November, 26, 2014
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1. The new College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday, and there were very few changes at the top. Alabama remained No. 1; Mississippi State held strong at No. 4 (but for how long?); and Georgia is still clinging to hope, up one spot to No. 9. ESPN’s Heather Dinich broke down every playoff scenario for all nine remaining contenders. She says that Mississippi State has the “most precarious” position of the top four teams as the Bulldogs need the Big Ten and/or the Big 12 to stumble if they hope to stay in the playoff. I tend to agree. When the committee chairman talks about the importance of conference championships and how they will be weighed heavily on selection weekend, that doesn’t bode well for MSU.

2. Tired of the “kick-six” yet? I promise this will be the last link. But if you haven’t already, I suggest you go and read Jon Solomon’s piece on how the effects of one of the wildest finishes in college football history are still being felt. It will be worth your time. The Iron Bowl rivalry itself is known for the passion and animosity felt between the two fan bases, but it’s not always that way. Earlier this season, I wrote a story on Alabama quarterback Blake Sims and how he wore a bracelet in support of Kayla Perry, an Auburn student with a rare form of pediatric cancer. Well now, Perry and an Alabama student who has a similar condition will attend Saturday’s game thanks to Kristi Malzahn, wife of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. Kristi surprised the two girls by inviting them to attend the game with her. Watch their story here.

3. Arkansas and Missouri might be cross-division foes that will meet every season unless the SEC changes its schedule. They might have a huge game this Friday with SEC title hopes on the line. But they’re not rivals, not yet at least. The two sides haven’t played in the regular season since 1963, and they have only met five times ever. Give it time, though. It’s already catching on with some of the players. “Arkansas, they have the word Kansas in it, so it’s got to be a rival,” said Missouri center Evan Boehm. One team who will be directed by Friday’s game is Georgia. If Missouri loses, the Bulldogs are headed to Atlanta for the SEC championship. However, Mark Richt is not planning any Arkansas-Missouri viewing parties for his team.

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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 viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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Saturday feels a little like the calm before the storm in the SEC. There are eight games on the docket, including a couple of intriguing matchups, and yet everybody is already talking about the rivalry games next week. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s a preview of this Saturday’s slate. All times ET.

Noon Eastern Kentucky at Florida, SEC Network: It might be a bit strange to see Will Muschamp on the sideline Saturday considering he won’t be back at Florida next season, but he’s staying on to coach the team’s last two regular-season games. How will the players respond to a coach who’s on his way out? Based on Dante Fowler Jr.'s tweet this week, I'd expect them to come out and play hard for their coach. Also, the Gators become bowl eligible with a win.

South Alabama at South Carolina, ESPN3: Raise your hand if you had South Alabama becoming bowl eligible before South Carolina this season. If your hand is raised, you’re lying. Credit the job Joey Jones has done in his sixth season with the Jaguars, but don’t expect an upset on Saturday. The Gamecocks bounced back from that excruciating overtime loss to Tennessee with a solid, come-from-behind win in the Swamp last weekend.

Charleston Southern at No. 10 Georgia, SEC Network: If there was ever a week to give Nick Chubb a break, this would be it. With Todd Gurley out for the season, Chubb is once again the man in Georgia’s backfield, but fellow freshman Sony Michel is expected to return Saturday, and both he and Brendan Douglas should see plenty of carries. All three backs could be in for a big day against the Buccaneers.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsBo Wallace and Ole Miss will have a tough matchup Saturday against an Arkansas defense fresh off a shutout win over LSU.
3:30 p.m. No. 8 Ole Miss at Arkansas, CBS: After last weekend, Ole Miss still has a chance to win the SEC West. Auburn knocking off Alabama isn’t likely, but crazier things have happened. First, though, the Rebels have to take care of business Saturday against an Arkansas team that is dangerous at home and confident after winning its first conference game in over two years. The Razorbacks allowed a total of 31 points to Alabama, Mississippi State and LSU this season. That doesn’t bode well for Bo Wallace, who will be without top target Laquon Treadwell. With rain in the forecast, points might be hard to come by in this one.

4 p.m. Western Carolina at No. 1 Alabama, SEC Network: The Alabama basketball team had trouble with the Catamounts earlier this week, but I don’t expect much of a struggle for the football team on Saturday. Western Carolina might be a “good little team,” as Nick Saban put it, but the Crimson Tide have dominated all three previous meetings and should do the same this season. If anything, it will give us another look at backup quarterback Jake Coker.

7 p.m. Samford at No. 14 Auburn, ESPNU: There are a lot of connections between these two in-state schools. Samford coach Pat Sullivan won a Heisman Trophy at Auburn back in 1971. Samford assistant coach Kodi Burns played and coached at Auburn. And Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee spent a year at Samford before joining Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State. The game itself won’t be very entertaining, but it should get the Tigers back on track.

7:30 p.m. No. 20 Missouri at Tennessee, ESPN: Missouri has to lose, right? There’s no way the Tigers can get back to Atlanta for the second straight season. Consider this -- Gary Pinkel’s team has won 12 of its past 14 conference games and has won nine straight road games, including seven straight in the SEC. Maybe it’s time we start taking this team seriously. The Tigers are going to have their hands full Saturday against a Tennessee team on the rise. The Volunteers have won back-to-back games with Joshua Dobbs under center, and a win over Missouri would make them bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.

Vanderbilt at No. 4 Mississippi State, SEC Network: Dan Mullen was a happy man Tuesday when the latest College Football Playoff rankings came out, as his Bulldogs were still among the four playoff teams despite losing to Alabama the week before. Now the question is: Can they stay in the top four and hold off teams such as TCU, Ohio State and Baylor? Mississippi State has two chances left to impress the committee, beginning with Saturday’s tilt against the Commodores. It’s important the Bulldogs not only win, but win big.

ESPN Jr. 300: What to know in the SEC 

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
10:37
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The SEC already has five commitments from players ranked in the top 25 of the ESPN Junior 300. That list includes Greg Little, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2016 and a Texas A&M commit. As a whole, the SEC has 27 commitments in the updated ESPN Junior 300. Here’s a closer look at the updated rankings.

SEC plays of the week: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
Nov 9
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Another exciting week of SEC football and plenty of great plays to choose from. Here's our five favorites from the weekend that was:

Dandy catch for Dupre
Malachi Dupre is an SEC star in the making. The heavily-recruited true freshman displayed his skills with a nifty one-handed catch near the sideline for a 14-yard touchdown catch with a Alabama defensive back, Cyrus Jones, following step-for-step with him. The call was initially ruled an incompletion but upon an official review, it was shown that Dupre got a foot in bounds with control of the ball for the Tigers' touchdown.

Is that a catch? Yes it is
Vanderbilt was fighting to try to make it a game with Florida late and Davis Dudchock showed some impressive effort. When quarterback Johnny McCrary rolled left and fired a deep pass to Dudchock, the well-covered tight end fended off a defensive back and hauled in the pass with one hand, diving to the turf. It was perhaps the best catch seen in the SEC on Saturday.

video Twice is nice for McKenzie
Georgia was dominant vs. Kentucky and that included on special teams where Isaiah McKenzie had himself a day. He returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, then in the third quarter had this nifty 59-yard punt return for his second touchdown of the day. McKenzie made two nice moves to make the Wildcats miss early, split a couple defenders, got a huge block from a teammate, then hit the gas to sprint to the end zone.

video Tabor's one-handed interception
Florida rolled to a 34-10 win against Vanderbilt and it included big plays on both sides of the ball. Though the game was mostly out of reach for the Commodores late, that didn't keep Florida from making plays like this one-handed interception by Jalen Tabor in the end zone.

video Special teams score for Texas A&M
In what turned out to be a huge play, the Aggies showed off their special teams skills in their upset win at Auburn. With the Tigers lining up for a field goal to end the half, true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett got his hand on the football to block it and cornerback Deshazor Everett, who was playing with a torn elbow tendon, picked it up and sprinted 65 yards to the end zone for a score. It was a 10-point swing right before the half.

Best of the visits: SEC

November, 9, 2014
Nov 9
12:16
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From Alabama’s big 20-13 come-from-behind win over LSU Saturday night to Texas A&M’s big win over Auburn Saturday afternoon, there were some incredible games for recruits to watch this weekend. Some 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:

ESPN 300 guard Matt Burrell Jr. tweeted out a few photos of him during his time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for his official visit to LSU.
LSU commit Kevin Toliver II, who has visited other schools, used his official visit this week to attend the LSU-Alabama game. The five-star cornerback tweeted a picture of his visit itinerary he received when he arrived on campus. Auburn commit D'Anfernee McGriff has been working hard on flipping his friend and fellow Tallahassee, Florida, native John Burt. The four-star Burt took his second visit to Auburn this weekend. Former Florida linebacker commit Adonis Thomas backed off his pledge to the Gators after Florida lost to Missouri earlier in the year. The ESPN 300 took a visit to LSU this weekend and likes the Tigers along with Alabama and Florida. He tweeted out his thoughts on how a few of the games played out on Saturday. Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson took an official visit to LSU this weekend. He shared a photo of LSU's white uniform. ESPN Junior 300 linebacker Michael Divinity shared a photo of himself on the field before the LSU-Alabama game on Saturday night. 2017 athlete Jamyest Williams tweeted a photo from the Mississippi State-Tennessee Martin game.

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