video

(A. Griffith MISSED)
video

Blake Sims pass complete to Amari Cooper for 80 yds for a TD
video

Nathan Peterman sacked by Xzavier Dickson for a loss of 8 yards to the Alab 46

Who is the best in the West?

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
10:55
AM ET


video

Greg and Booger break down the SEC West on SEC Now
video

Lane Kiffin makes his return to Knoxville Saturday night (7:30 ET/ESPN) to face Tennessee.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Don't look at his feet.

Study nothing but his eyes. How they calmly scan left to right. How they read blockers and study the defense.

T.J. Yeldon will fool you.

On this day, Texas A&M thinks it has Alabama's junior running back figured out. He's hemmed in on all sides. The Aggie defense watches Yeldon plodding behind the line, figuring sooner or later he'll get dragged down for a loss.

But Yeldon doesn't fall. He's waiting, watching. And as soon as a hole opens up, he makes one cut and he's gone. He finishes with 114 yards and two touchdowns.

He's Houdini. Tighten the straightjacket and marvel at how he slips free.

A quiet thinker, a deliberate runner, Yeldon defies the usual style of running backs in that he's neither particularly fast nor powerful. Instead, he's an amalgam of things, a veteran with poise few possess.

As former Alabama great Shaun Alexander is quick to point out, Yeldon isn't Mark Ingram or Trent Richardson or Eddie Lacy. He's not a runaway freight train like Derrick Henry or a bolt of lightning like Kenyan Drake. He is, as Alexander explains, "A confusing monster."

"You come off of Mark and Trent and Lacy, and then comes T.J.," Alexander said. "You say, 'Is he going to be big? Have a nice spin move? Break a few tackles? Or is he going to be a shift guy who makes you miss? Who is he going to be?' Well, he's that guy that can do all the things those Bama running backs can do, it just doesn't look the same, so it almost can make you miss how talented he is.

"He dominates the game and it's done so smooth, almost like it's effortless."

For nearly three years we've watched Yeldon run. During his first college game against Michigan he rushed for 111 yards. Thirteen times since then he's surpassed the century mark. He's become so reliable he's almost been forgotten.

If he averages 109.3 yards over the next six games, he'll break Alexander's school record of 3,565 career rushing yards.

If you can't appreciate Yeldon's brilliance with your own eyes, let us open them for you.

video Vision

Asked what separates Yeldon from other backs, Jalston Fowler said it was simple.

"It's his vision," the fullback answered. "He sees the field really well."

Sometimes it doesn't look like there's a hole to be found.

"You pull up the film and see how he makes these cuts and things and you want to know, how did he see that?" said linebacker Denzel Devall. "I know if I was running the ball I'd never see the hole. I'd probably just bounce it outside or run it up on somebody."

Said Yeldon: "It's something you work on. I watch film a lot and look at the blocking schemes and make my cuts from there."

Mike Vickery saw that point of emphasis when he served as Yeldon's offensive coordinator at Daphne High in South Alabama.

"His football IQ is off the charts," he said. "The more he played, the more things slowed down.

"By the time he left, he not only knew everything he was supposed to do, he knew what the quarterback was supposed to do, he knew the blocking schemes up front, he knew the routes and what every receiver is supposed to do."

video Patience

It's part of who he is.

Reserved and soft-spoken, Yeldon doesn't make a spectacle of himself.

"He's a very introverted guy," Vickery said. "But that does have something to do with being able to mentally see things and have the vision of things before they happen and all the things that play out in his mind."

Alexander figured that was the case. It explains how Yeldon can be so patient running the football.

"That's personality," he said. "Like the guy that says, 'I'm coming here to hit!' or 'I'm going to level somebody on every play!' Well, another guy might say, 'I'm going to sit here and see my way through.' I think before the game starts that person already has that.

"A lot of guys are so anxious to make the big play that they don't understand patience is a part of it. T.J. understands that the big plays have to come over time instead of trying to stress it to happen."

It drives some fans nuts the way Yeldon doesn't lurch toward the line of scrimmage, but often times that's ill-advised. Though he's not thought of as explosive, Yeldon has 25 career rushes for 20-plus yards, which ranks sixth among active running backs.

"He's good at hiding behind the guards and tackles, and then he'll pop up out the ground on you," Devall said.

Said defensive back Jarrick Williams: "You just see him explode through the hole and go, 'Whoa, where did he come from?' It's really shocking."

video Total Package

If Yeldon is so appreciated by his peers, why is he so overlooked by others?

"I have to start all over like a freshman again because I had a bad year last year," Yeldon said heading into this season. Keep in mind that last season he became the first Alabama back ever to rush for 1,000 yards his first two seasons. "I'm just ready to prove I belong at the top."

If today's opinion makers don't see it, history is sure to put Yeldon in rarified air.

"It's hard for me to see [Yeldon] and not compare him to the whole group: the Bobby Humphreys, the Johnny Mussos," Alexander said. "Because he's one of us. He's one of the elite."

For now, Alexander hopes people appreciate Yeldon's worth.

If not at Alabama, then in the NFL.

He'll challenge the idea that the feature back is dead, Alexander said.

"He will allow people to think, 'Well, if you want to you can,'" the former NFL All-Pro and MVP said. "That's what's going to make him a great steal because he will open up the coaches' eyes wherever he goes to that, 'You know what? We can use this guy all day and in any situation.'"

He may not wow you with any one skill, but Yeldon is the complete package.

"It's special what he does," Alexander said. "He just gets it done."

How the SEC West became so dominant

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:30
AM ET
The SEC West has been the center of power in the conference for several years now, but never has the gap been greater than now. By placing a historic four teams in the top five of the AP poll, the West is stronger than ever. That's due in large part to the rise of Mississippi State and Ole Miss, while the likes of Alabama and Auburn remain strong. How has it gotten to this point? Here are five key decisions -- coaching hires, recruiting classes and more -- that made the SEC West what it is today.

Gus Malzahn's return to Auburn
Auburn fans might blame Gene Chizik for the program’s collapse in 2012, but give him credit for what he accomplished. And more importantly, give him credit for hiring Gus Malzahn as his offensive coordinator in 2009. If not for that hire, Malzahn would likely not be the Tigers' coach today. In turn, the Tigers wouldn’t have executed one of the greatest turnarounds in college football history last season, nearly winning a national championship, and there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be top five in the polls this fall. People questioned athletic director Jay Jacobs when he brought Malzahn back to Auburn, but the former high school coach has always been a winner. He’s proving that now. -- Greg Ostendorf

Mullen builds up Mississippi State
He wasn't kind or understanding about the low expectations and the low sense of worth he felt around Mississippi State. Mullen, the former offensive coordinator at Florida, took over as the head coach in Starkville, Mississippi, determined to break down that imaginary wall separating State from becoming a contender.

It started with simply reaching bowl games, but after six seasons, it's turned into championship aspirations. Mullen and his staff have developed overlooked talents into NFL prospects. If you don't think so, just look at QB Dak Prescott or linebacker Benardrick McKinney. Neither was highly sought after in high school, but now they're among the best in the country. -- Alex Scarborough

Hugh Freeze and his 2013 recruiting class
The hire of Hugh Freeze didn’t exactly set off fireworks in Oxford, Mississippi, but he made waves throughout the conference when he took an Ole Miss team that had lost 16 consecutive SEC games to two consecutive bowl wins. But what really had people buzzing was that historic 2013 recruiting class. Freeze signed the No. 1 player in the country, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, and the No. 1 offensive tackle (Laremy Tunsil) and receiver (Laquon Treadwell).

That class put the Rebels on the map in early February of 2013, and its on-field contribution has been tremendous, with those three becoming stars in the SEC and tight end Evan Engram transforming into one of the league’s best at his position. As a result, Ole Miss is 7-0 and looking for a playoff berth. -- Edward Aschoff

Dominance on the recruiting trail
Alabama’s run over the past four years has been nothing short of amazing. The Crimson Tide are on pace for their fourth consecutive recruiting title and currently have 21 2015 commitments, including 17 ranked in the ESPN 300. The reputation of the SEC West alone is a compelling recruiting pitch to the top prospects in the country, and Alabama is at the forefront of the dominant division. LSU and Auburn have also done very well, and Mississippi and Mississippi State have made huge strides under Freeze and Mullen, respectively. -- Derek Tyson

Texas A&M joins as Manziel, Sumlin enter
Many felt Texas A&M would take it on the chin upon entering the conference in 2012. The Aggies didn't exactly light it up in their final Big 12 season (7-6), and there were a ton of question marks. Enter Johnny Manziel and Kevin Sumlin. Manziel went on to become the first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy, Sumlin leveraged the team's success to consecutive top-10 recruiting classes, and the Aggies went 20-6 in their first two SEC seasons, including an 11-2 debut in 2012 that included a win over eventual champion Alabama. Some of the struggles expected in Year 1 seem to be surfacing now, though, as the Aggies endure a three-game losing streak. -- Sam Khan Jr.

SEC's top recruiting visits 

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
9:00
AM ET
video
There are again some big games around the SEC this weekend. The Ole Miss at LSU game looks to be loaded with big-time visitors. Tennessee is sure to bring in several high-profile recruits for its game against rival Alabama and Auburn is hoping to reel in a few top prospects for its game against South Carolina. Here’s a closer look at some of the top visitors in the SEC this weekend.

Alabama at Tennessee

Sometimes a millimeter can make the difference between winning and losing. Just ask Georgia.

But a lot of us were guilty of writing off the Bulldogs when they came out on the wrong side of that fourth-down measurement Sept. 13 in their 38-35 loss to South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeDamian Swann
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsThough certainly not an easy one, Georgia appears to have the most manageable path out of the SEC to the College Football Playoff.
All they've done since is reel off five straight wins, the last two on the road with Todd Gurley, the best player in the country, watching from home while suspended.

And while we're all mesmerized with how stout the West has been, the dirty little secret as we enter the final week of October is that Georgia has the most manageable path of any of the SEC teams to the College Football Playoff.

Notice I didn't say the easiest path, because there is no such thing in this league.

But there's also a reason ESPN's Football Power Index projections give Georgia a 43 percent chance of winning the SEC championship. The next closest team is Ole Miss at 26 percent followed by Mississippi State (17 percent), Alabama (8 percent) and Auburn (4 percent).

Think about it, especially if Gurley returns for the November stretch. The Dawgs would essentially have two games against ranked teams standing in their way -- at home against Auburn on Nov. 15 and then possibly the SEC championship game Dec. 6.

Now compare that against the grind the four West teams face.

Auburn still has to play at Ole Miss on Nov. 1, at Georgia on Nov. 15, at Alabama on Nov. 29 and then potentially the SEC championship game. Clearly, the Tigers have the toughest path.

The other three don't have cakewalks, either.

After playing Saturday at Tennessee, Alabama still has to play at LSU on Nov. 8 and then faces Mississippi State at home on Nov. 15, Auburn at home on Nov. 29 and then the SEC championship game if they get by.

Ole Miss travels to LSU on Saturday and then returns home to face Auburn on Nov. 1, travels to Arkansas on Nov. 22, comes back home to play Mississippi State on Nov. 29 and would then have the SEC championship game.

Mississippi State, which plays Saturday at Kentucky, probably has the second toughest road behind Auburn. The Bulldogs have to play at Alabama on Nov. 15 and at Ole Miss on Nov. 29 before perhaps ending with the SEC championship game.

The bottom line: Georgia's hitting its stride at the right time, getting its players back and getting a lot better on defense.

Mark Richt and his staff have done a terrific job keeping this team pointed in the right direction despite the early struggles on defense and the suspension of Gurley.

In the end, the Dawgs just might have their day.

Stroll down memory Lane



Tennessee fans still haven't forgiven Lane Kiffin for leaving them high and dry for USC after only one season in Knoxville, but what they really ought to be mad at him about is his role in what's been an abysmal stretch of quarterback play for the Vols.

Kiffin returns Saturday to Neyland Stadium as Alabama's offensive coordinator and does so with Tennessee senior quarterback Justin Worley struggling just to stay in one piece. Worley has already been sacked 29 times this season and is currently nursing a shoulder injury that's kept him out of practice all week. If he can't go Saturday, Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs could split time under center.

In fact, longtime Tennessee follower Brent Hubbs of Volquest.com dug up a stat this week that's staggering. In their last 35 SEC games, the Vols have thrown 42 touchdown passes and 57 interceptions while starting five quarterbacks.

With those kind of numbers, is it really a surprise that Tennessee is 7-28 in SEC play over that stretch?

As a comparison, Alabama has thrown 66 touchdown passes and just 14 interceptions during its last 35 SEC games. The Tide started three quarterbacks during that span, including AJ McCarron for all but nine of those games.

So yes, you better be good up front. You need to protect the quarterback on offense and pressure the quarterback on defense. But more than ever, you also better be darn good at quarterback, not to mention experienced, efficient and healthy.

What's all this have to do with Kiffin?

Upon taking the Tennessee job, he sent word to a couple of quarterbacks the Vols had committed under the previous regime that they needed to look elsewhere -- and they did.

Their names? Tajh Boyd and Bryce Petty.

Landsharks attack



This is the best Ole Miss defense since ...

The measuring stick in Oxford, at least over the past 55 years, would be the 1962 defense, which was the backbone of the Rebels' 10-0 national championship team. That unit allowed just 19 points in six SEC contests.

This year's defense has given up just six touchdowns in its first seven games, while scoring four of its own off takeaways. And one of the six it gave up came on the last play of the game against Texas A&M with the Rebels leading 35-14. Ole Miss leads the country in scoring defense, allowing an average of 10.6 points per game.

Even more telling, Ole Miss' plus-19.4 defensive efficiency is on pace to be the best for any team in the past 10 seasons. Team efficiency is the point contributions of each unit to the team's schedule-adjusted scoring margin, on a per-game basis. According to ESPN's Stats ∓ Info, the Rebels have forced at least two turnovers in six of their seven games this season, tied for the most in FBS.

It's no coincidence Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is slowing the tempo on offense. Smart coaches aren't so programmed into playing a certain way they can't adjust. Freeze is playing more to his defense right now.

And with that defense, why wouldn't he?

SEC morning links

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
8:00
AM ET
1. Who is the best one-loss team in the country? That is the most intriguing debate in college football right now. With four teams in the top 5, it has to be somebody from the SEC, right? Well, the rest of the nation might disagree and claim SEC bias. On Thursday, ESPN Insider Brad Edwards used a metric called Game Score to rank the losses of each playoff contender. The best loss, with a score of 72, was Alabama's loss at Ole Miss. The worst (27) was Ohio State losing at home to Virginia Tech. That seems fair. What I don't agree with is putting Auburn's loss to Mississippi State among the worst losses with a score of 46. Sure, the Tigers lost by double digits, but it was on the road against the No. 1 team in the country. And they overcame a 21-0 deficit to make it a one-score game in the second half.

1a. On the same scale, Notre Dame's recent loss to Florida State was among the best losses, but it still might have cost the Fighting Irish a shot at the playoff according to Gregg Doyel. The new Indianapolis Star columnist writes that while it was a good loss, the Irish are lacking any good wins. I tend to agree. I figured SEC fans would, too. Read the full piece here.

2. So I was going to call out Texas A&M for backing out of its home-and-home series with Oregon in 2018 and 2019, but then the Aggies went and scheduled a home-and-home with Clemson those same years. Now personally, I would have loved to have seen the Aggies and the Ducks and all the points that would have ensued. But who knows where those two programs will be in four years? All I know is that there are some enticing non-conference matchups on the slate for 2019. Check these games out:
  • Texas A&M at Clemson
  • Notre Dame at Georgia
  • LSU at Texas
  • Kansas State at Mississippi State
  • Michigan at Arkansas

Even that last game could be intriguing assuming Michigan has hired a new coach and that Bret Bielema has the Razorbacks among the SEC contenders by then. And they haven't yet, but you can go ahead and count on both Alabama and Auburn scheduling a quality non-conference that year.

3. I've done a couple stories this season on SEC players showing support for cancer patients, so naturally it caught my attention when I saw a similar piece on Patrick Towles. The Kentucky quarterback has lent support to high school freshman Brady Walz, the nephew of Louisville women's basketball coach Jeff Walz, and even invited him to attend the Wildcats' win over Vanderbilt last month. No, it's not the Iron Bowl, but the Kentucky-Louisville can get pretty heated in the Bluegrass State. This seems to be a growing trend in college football, and there are probably more stories like this that never get told. Kudos to you Mr. Towles. Kentucky hosts No. 1 Mississippi State on Saturday.

Tweet of the day

 
video

National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Matt Schick to break down where several of the top recruits in the nation might commit, including the nation's No. 1 overall prospect, Terry Beckner Jr.

Wallace’s experience an asset for Ole Miss

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
2:43
PM ET

Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesBo Wallace has thrived as a leader for Ole Miss.

Eight weeks into the season, Ole Miss is one of four unbeaten teams. The Rebels’ defense has been impressive, allowing touchdowns on just 6.5 percent of opponent drives, lowest in the FBS this season and on pace to be the second-lowest touchdown percentage in the past 10 seasons behind Alabama in 2011.

On the other side of the field, senior quarterback Bo Wallace’s experience has paced the Rebels’ offense, especially in late-game situations. Entering the 2014 season, Wallace was the most experienced SEC quarterback, with 26 starts, 11 more than any other current SEC quarterback.

Wallace’s experience has paid dividends in the fourth quarter, during which the Rebels have outscored their opponents by an FBS-high 8.4 points per game. Wallace leads the SEC in fourth-quarter Total QBR (90.7) and has the best touchdown-to-interception differential in the nation during the fourth quarter.

Wallace also leads the nation in fourth-quarter yards per attempt (13.4) and touchdowns per pass attempt (23 percent). The FBS averages for those stats are 7.0 yards per attempt and a touchdown percentage of 5 percent.

Wallace displayed his fourth-quarter flair immediately. In the Rebels’ season-opening win against Boise State, they entered the fourth quarter with a one-point lead.

Wallace then led the Rebels to touchdowns on four straight drives to put the game away. In that quarter, Wallace completed 6-of-7 for 175 yards and three touchdowns.

Against Alabama, Ole Miss trailed by seven points entering the fourth quarter. Wallace then completed 6-of-9 for 105 yards and two touchdowns to defeat Alabama.

In addition to his play in the fourth quarter, Wallace has quieted the popular question about which Bo Wallace will show up: Good Bo or Bad Bo?

He has not turned the ball over in four of seven games this season, including his last three games, which is the longest streak of his career. In the second half, he has been nearly flawless, with one turnover and 10 touchdowns this season.

Ole Miss has exceeded the expectations of many, leading the FBS in strength of record and ranking fourth in game control. Read more about strength of record and game control here: Determining the 'most deserving' teams.

According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Ole Miss’ next two matchups -- at the LSU Tigers and at home against the Auburn Tigers -- are the Rebels’ two toughest matchups remaining before a possible conference championship game.

The Rebels have not beaten LSU when both teams were ranked in the AP poll since 1962, and they lost their only matchup with Auburn in 1972, when both teams were ranked. Nevertheless, they are projected to come away with a victory in both games.

video
Only six weeks of the regular season remain. And while the SEC has separated contender from pretender to this point, the jockeying for conference supremacy is far from over. The odds of anyone going undefeated are slim. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, there’s a 36 percent chance all seven teams in the West finish with two or more losses. With that backdrop in mind, let's take a look at which playoff hopefuls have the easiest and toughest roads ahead.

Smoothest sailing

Georgia and Mississippi State have it relatively easy. According to ESPN Stats & Info, their remaining strength of schedule rank 43rd and 47th, respectively.

Georgia survived a tough early season game against Clemson, and despite falling on the road at South Carolina has gotten right back on track. With Florida down, Kentucky coming back down to earth and Georgia Tech fresh off back-to-back losses, the only real test remaining is a Nov. 15 showdown with Auburn -- and that game comes in Athens. Of all the contenders in the SEC, the Dawgs are the only ones with just one game against a ranked opponent remaining.

[+] EnlargeThompson Mississippi
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesThe remainder of Mississippi State's schedule ranks as relatively easy compared to the rest of the SEC.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, is on a good track after beating a slew of ranked teams in LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. Now comes a bit of a breather with Arkansas followed by UT Martin. There's a road date with Alabama on Nov. 15, but then it's on to lowly Vanderbilt the week before the Egg Bowl versus rival Ole Miss.

Roughest waters

Between Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss, it’s hard to say who has it worst. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Alabama has the weakest remaining strength of schedule of the three, but the Tide rank 21st nationally in that category. Auburn comes in at No. 16 and Ole Miss No. 14.

Anecdotally, it's hard to argue against Auburn having the most brutal remaining schedule in the SEC. The Tigers, having already played Kansas State, LSU and Mississippi State, get South Carolina, Ole Miss and Texas A&M in the next three weeks. Then it's on to Georgia, and two weeks later there's a trip to Alabama. Of the five SEC teams still in playoff contention, Auburn is the only one with three ranked teams left to play.

Ole Miss doesn't have it much easier, though. The Rebs go to LSU on Saturday, which is never an easy task. And while Presbyterian and a bye week provide a breather, finishing in consecutive weeks with Arkansas and Mississippi State will be a physically taxing challenge.

Alabama will feel the Rebs' pain, though. The Tide travel to Tennessee this Saturday, followed by a much needed week off. But after that comes a trip to LSU and then a home date with Mississippi State. Two weeks later, it’s Auburn coming to town.

Where we’ll settle things

The final weekend in November could be utter mayhem. In a good way.

With all due respect to Georgia-Georgia Tech, that Saturday will be all about two rivalry games in the West. In the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl, we could find out a) who will play in the SEC championship game in Atlanta and b) who will present their case to the selection committee as a non-title winning candidate.

It's conceivable Auburn beats Ole Miss and Mississippi State loses to Alabama. If that's the case and everyone is tied at one loss, then it becomes a matter of tiebreakers.

To win the division, Alabama would have to beat Auburn and have Ole Miss lose to State. Auburn would need the opposite. State, on the other hand, would need to beat Ole Miss and have Alabama lose to Auburn. And just because it's only fair, Ole Miss would need the exact opposite scenario to play out.

The only thing that could make that better is if both games were played simultaneously.

Kiffin's Return To Knoxville

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
12:19
PM ET


video

Trevor Matich and Adam Rittenberg look back on Lane Kiffin's time at Tennessee and what to expect when returns with Alabama this weekend.

Tale of the tape: Alabama vs. Tennessee 

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
12:00
PM ET
video
The Alabama at Tennessee game on Saturday night will feature two teams who appear to be on very different paths. For Alabama, the No. 4-ranked team in the country, it's near the top both on the field and in recruiting. For Tennessee, the Volunteers are 0-3 in the SEC and 3-4 overall. At first glance it looks like this could be a blowout; after all the SEC West has had its way with the SEC East this year -- and it still might be -- but Tennessee’s focus isn’t necessarily about making the college football playoff this year but rather competing and building for the future.

Under second-year head coach Butch Jones, Tennessee is taking its lumps, but with a top-five recruiting class last year and working on another top-five class this year -- the Vols are heading in the right direction. There is a new energy around the Tennessee program and it all starts with recruiting.

With 21 commits, including 17 ranked in the ESPN 300, Alabama is on pace for its fourth consecutive recruiting title. Tennessee, meanwhile, has 26 commitments, including eight ranked in the ESPN 300 and is hoping to bring in players who fill immediate needs and others who can add depth in key areas. The Vols lead the nation in true freshmen who have played with over 20 and several freshmen including Jalen Hurd, Todd Kelly Jr. and Derek Barnett have made significant contributions this year.

Alabama freshmen Cam Robinson and Tony Brown have also made an impact as freshmen, but with the depth Nick Saban has built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the need for immediate impact players is far less necessary than what it is in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Instant impact recruit


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

1Q ALA (A. Griffith MISSED)
VIDEO PLAYLIST video