ESPN 300 OL Matt Burrell names a leader 

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
9:20
PM ET
ESPN 300 offensive lineman Matt Burrell Jr. has already taken an official visit to Ohio State, and that trip has resonated with the No. 61 ranked prospect. He still has four more official visits to take, but Burrell says he has his list in order as it stands.

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Saban praised his team for improved tackling this week against Southern Miss.
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The SEC West schools combined for a record of 18-0 against non-division opponents.

At first glance: SEC Week 4

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
12:00
PM ET
What do we know about the SEC right now? Not as much as we thought we did on Friday, before Kentucky put a triple-overtime scare into Florida, South Carolina toppled Georgia and other conference teams gave us reason to doubt previous assumptions about the SEC hierarchy.

The uncertainty is part of what makes following the league fun, though. With a couple more SEC teams jumping into conference play this week, we should soon gain a better understanding of where things actually stand within the conference. But for now -- with a couple of key SEC games and a huge nonconference matchup on Thursday ahead -- let’s celebrate how many SEC fan bases truly believe their teams have a legitimate chance to make it to Atlanta in December.

A quick look at the week ahead:

Game of the week: Florida at Alabama
Little did we know before the season that Florida’s first major challenge of the fall would come from Kentucky and not from Nick Saban’s juggernaut in Tuscaloosa. Will Muschamp’s team (2-0, 1-0 SEC) needed an all-star performance from receiver Demarcus Robinson (15 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns) and an assist from the back judge who was minding the play clock on a key fourth-down play to beat the Wildcats (2-1, 0-1) in overtime. The Gators need to make a lot of progress in a little time if they’re to have a chance against No. 3 Alabama (3-0), despite the Crimson Tide’s over reliance on dump-off passes to Amari Cooper and occasionally shoddy pass defense. Florida has the ability to make this a competitive game, but it must look a lot more like the team that destroyed Eastern Michigan, 65-0, two weeks ago than the one that easily could have lost to Kentucky.

Player under pressure: Dak Prescott
Mississippi State’s quarterback has been great against three overmatched teams so far (Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama). When they visit No. 8 LSU this weekend, Prescott and the Bulldogs will gain their first real opportunity to prove they’ll be more than a middle-of-the-pack program in the SEC West this season. LSU hasn’t allowed a single point in nine quarters and has outscored opponents 108-0 since falling behind Wisconsin, 24-7, early in the second half of the opener. The Tigers traditionally win comfortably in this series, so the pressure is on Prescott to keep the Bulldogs afloat against by far the best team they will have faced to date.

Coaches under the microscope: Georgia coordinators Mike Bobo and Jeremy Pruitt
A longtime Mark Richt assistant, Bobo has fielded some of the most productive offenses in school history in recent seasons, but he has taken plenty of heat for not handing the ball to Todd Gurley on Saturday with Georgia knocking at the South Carolina goal line with the chance to take a late lead. That decision blew up in Bobo’s face when the drive sputtered and normally solid kicker Marshall Morgan missed a chip-shot field goal. Meanwhile, newcomer Pruitt’s defense was atrocious, surrendering 447 yards of total offense following a solid debut two weeks ago against Clemson. This Saturday’s matchup against Troy shouldn’t provide a major challenge for the Bulldogs, but it will be their next opportunity to get bad tastes out of their mouths.

Storyline to watch: Auburn’s travel schedule
Playing a Thursday night game halfway across the country can’t help but be disruptive for Gus Malzahn’s No. 5 Auburn Tigers (2-0, 1-0). It might be a competitive challenge, too, as the 1,000-mile trip to Manhattan, Kansas, will culminate with Malzahn’s team facing No. 20 Kansas State (2-0). The sunny side of the unusual trip is that Auburn was off last weekend, so it will not play on short rest. Plus the Tigers will have nine days until they host Louisiana Tech on Sept. 27, so they have extra recovery time built into the back end of this trip and a relatively easy nonconference game between K-State and a huge SEC matchup with LSU on Oct. 4. Nonetheless, this odd piece of scheduling will probably create a couple of headaches for Malzahn and his staff.

Intriguing matchup: Arkansas running game against Northern Illinois defense
Fresh off a 438-yard outing in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech, Arkansas’ impressive rushing attack seems to rank among the nation’s best. Jonathan Williams (22 carries, 145 yards, four TDs against Texas Tech) and Alex Collins (27-212, 2 TDs) might be the best tandem in the SEC and the Razorbacks’ offensive line is doing fine work. Let’s see how they fare on Saturday against a Northern Illinois defense that ranks 13th nationally against the run, surrendering 81 yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry. The Huskies posted those numbers in wins against Presbyterian, Northwestern and UNLV, so they certainly haven’t seen the likes of Arkansas’ running game yet. It seems highly likely NIU’s opponent averages might rise a bit after Saturday’s game.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- You can see it in his body language; Blake Sims has settled down. His head isn’t on a swivel any more. His eyes aren’t feverishly bouncing from side to side. His feet have suddenly stopped dancing around inside the pocket. Everything he does on the football field he’s now doing more confidently, and it’s paying off.

Sims is Alabama’s starting quarterback.

Through three games, the redshirt senior hasn’t done anything to lose the job. He’s connected on 75 percent of his passes, throwing for 646 yards and four touchdowns. He’s also run for 102 yards and two scores. His total QBR of 89.6 ranks sixth nationally, ahead of Jameis Winston and Trevor Knight.

[+] EnlargeBlake Sims
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama quarterback Blake Sims has a higher QBR than Jameis Winston three games into the season.
But more importantly, the former running back/receiver has executed Lane Kiffin’s offense with near-perfect precision, while his chief competition, Jake Coker, has struggled to call the right play and make the right decisions. Too many times Nick Saban has had to pat the former Florida State transfer on the behind and walk him through what he did wrong.

Coker may get there before it’s all said and done, but in the meantime there’s no doubt who is in charge. And who would have guessed a month ago it would be Sims?

Ken Mastrole says he saw it coming. The former NFL quarterback turned personal QB coach worked with Sims for nearly 100 hours this offseason, working on the mechanics of Sims' throwing motion, his release point and the way his feet move when he delivers the football.

But the specifics of Sims’ game that everyone seems so concerned with didn’t bother Mastrole all that much. There were always going to be questions about Sims’ arm strength, he understood. There was always going to be some hitch in his delivery. Rather than starting over, he wanted to make the best, most confident version of Sims.

In conversations, in phone calls and in text messages, Mastrole coached Sims on how to do the job of a quarterback. He told Sims about having his teammates’ backs, taking his linemen out to dinner and handling adversity. They even spoke about how to handle “the transfer situation,” as Mastrole put it.

“Embrace it, get to know each other,” he told Sims of Coker’s late arrival.

Sims won the locker room early, but the way it translated on the field wasn’t expected by many. Not after what we saw during the spring game, when Sims looked out of sorts, throwing two interceptions and lucking out when a defensive back dropped a third.

“He just wanted to get back to work,” Mastrole said. “When he got down here, we just shut it out. We didn’t talk about A-Day.”

Now Sims is a new man.

“He’s gelling very well for a first year in the offense,” Mastrole said. “He looks very confident and very poised. I love his demeanor.”

His teammates do, too.

Brian Vogler, a fellow senior at tight end, said he hasn’t been surprised by how far Sims has come.

“He’s a smart football player,” Vogler said. “He makes the right decisions and he has the great ability to make things happen with his feet. It’s a whole new dimension to our offense.

“He’s really matured over these last three games.”

Maybe it was during the summer or maybe it was the spring, Vogler couldn’t remember. But at some point he saw things click for Sims.

“He zoned in and said, ‘It’s time to lock down. I haven’t taken these last four years as seriously. It’s time to lock in and do what I can to be the best quarterback,’” Vogler said.

Cyrus Jones, a junior cornerback, goes against Sims every day in practice. To him, it was just a matter of time before Sims gelled within the offense. As Jones put it, “Experience is definitely in the key. ... You can’t play this game without confidence.

“I had confidence in Blake since Day 1,” he said. “I know what kind of athlete he is. I know what type of drive he has and what type of focus he has. I’m not surprised he’s playing as well as he is.”

But this much better? How many people in their heart of hearts expected that?

“Do we want to continue working both quarterbacks and work both guys? Absolutely,” Saban said. “Jake needs to play and develop confidence, but I think we’re going to have to make decisions on a week-to-week basis on who gives us the best opportunity to win. Right now Blake is probably more confident. If that remains that way, he’s probably going to start.”

"The first game I was trusting the line,” Sims said. “I was trusting the wide receivers. And as the games go by, I'm trusting them more and more, and they're trusting me that I'll get the ball there.”

If he continues to play well Saturday against SEC rival Florida, Sims may never surrender the starting job. But that’s a big if. The Gators have one of the best defenses in the SEC and boast one of the top cornerbacks in the country in Vernon Hargreaves III. Those quick passes to Amari Cooper and all the yards after catch he’s accumulated might not be so easy to come by.

Mastrole’s advice to Sims heading into the biggest test of his career? Don’t change.

“Just trust your offense,” Mastrole said. “Play within the system. No stage is too big. It’s just another opportunity to go out there and play the game you love.

“It’s a kid’s game. Take all the pressure off and just go out there, trust your preparation during the week and go out there and executing the offense. Don’t even worry about the jerseys lining up on the other side.”

Those might all be typical coaching cliches, but they’ve gotten Sims this far. Now we’ll see if they can carry him to the next level.

SEC morning links

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
8:00
AM ET
Arkansas' 49-28 win at Texas Tech was a big one for the Hogs in the Bret Bielema era, perhaps the biggest to date. It's a sign of a program showing improvement after a rough 2013. In the aftermath, much of the discussion focused on the Razorbacks' running game, led by Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and that big Arkansas offensive line. Rightfully so. But what is easy to overlook is the performance of the Razorbacks' defense, which took some body blows early but had an impressive second half, holding the high-powered Red Raiders to just seven points. New defensive coordinator Robb Smith's crew stood up to the challenge Texas Tech presented and helped Arkansas score a seminal win as a result.

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

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

Around the SEC
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Early Offer: Sunderland a key get for OU 

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
10:15
PM ET
Oklahoma landed two high-profile recruits this weekend, but scoring a pledge from ESPN 300 safety Will Sunderland Jr. is about as big as it gets. Plus, Boston College will be able to use its victory over then top-10 USC as a big selling point on the recruiting trail.


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SEC bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
8:00
PM ET
We're creeping closer and closer to the meat of conference season in the SEC. That just means things will get a little clearer in the bowl picture for the league.

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

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

SEC Reigns Over AP Rankings

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
3:23
PM ET


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ESPN College Football Insider Brett McMurphy discusses the latest Associated Press college football poll, where the SEC has an unprecedented seven teams in the top 15.

SEC again dominates AP poll

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:07
PM ET
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South Carolina's win over Georgia vaulted the Gamecocks 10 spots to No. 14 in The Associated Press college football poll, giving the Southeastern Conference an unprecedented seven teams in the top 15.

The SEC had eight teams ranked in the poll for the third straight week and five teams in the top 10 for two weeks running. Alabama was third behind No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Oregon, followed by No. 5 Auburn, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 8 LSU and No. 10 Ole Miss.

Georgia fell to No. 13 after losing to the Gamecocks 38-35, and Missouri was No. 18.

Florida State, which was off, had 37 first-place votes, losing one to the Ducks, who had 17.


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SEC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:00
PM ET
There's a new No. 1 in the SEC Power Rankings following South Carolina's triumph over Georgia. The teams at the top of this week's rankings weren't tested this week, but that could change Saturday, when Florida travels to Alabama and Mississippi State heads to LSU. This week's shakeup could be just the beginning.

Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.

Best of the visits: SEC

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
1:25
PM ET
There were some great games around the SEC over the weekend. Several prospects attended games and used social media as a platform to share their experiences. Here's a look at some of the top social media posts:

The No. 2-ranked inside linebacker in the country, Roquan Smith, visited South Carolina for its 38-35 victory over Georgia. The Under Armour All-American tweeted out a picture of his family in Williams-Brice Stadium. Georgia is one of Smith’s favorite schools, while South Carolina has fallen behind. A big win against the Bulldogs could have given the Gamecocks a boost.



Former Florida defensive back commit Marcus Lewis is still considering Kentucky and Florida. The four-star prospect might not have attended the game, but Lewis was definitely watching on TV. The ESPN 300 prospect tweeted out his thoughts on how Kentucky looked.



David Womack tweeted a picture of his son, Matt Womack, an LSU commit, with Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Womack has been committed to LSU since July, but it appears the Alabama offer could give this three-star offensive lineman something to think about.



Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson, despite suffering a shoulder injury Friday night, visited Florida for the third consecutive week. In this photo he tweeted out, Jefferson is in the Florida locker room holding a “Chucky” doll. The doll, which is usually taken through the Gator Walk prior to the game, is a recent Florida defensive tradition started by New England Patriots defensive tackle and former Florida player Dominique Easley and passed down to defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.



ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Brandon McIlwain poses with his mom for a photo in front of Williams-Brice Stadium. McIlwain has narrowed down his choices to South Carolina, Duke, Florida, Auburn, Penn State and Virginia Tech. The strong-armed quarterback is one of the top signal-callers in the country for 2016.



Miami running back commit Dexter Williams visited Florida for its thrilling 36-30 victory over Kentucky. Despite his commitment to the Hurricanes, the Gators have continued to pursue Williams. Williams tweeted about his time in Gainesville.



2017 OL prospect Jack Anderson, who already holds offers from Arizona State, New Mexico, Texas Tech and UAB, visited Texas A&M for its 38-10 victory over Rice on Saturday night.

No. 3 Alabama 52, Southern Miss 12

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
9:55
PM ET
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Quarterback Blake Sims recorded three touchdowns as No. 3 Alabama cruised to a 52-12 win over Southern Miss on Saturday.
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Blake Sims will be Alabama's quarterback as the team heads next into SEC play.

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Saban praised his team for improved tackling this week against Southern Miss.
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