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Florida State's close win over Oklahoma State cost the Seminoles some first-place votes, but not enough to knock them from the No. 1 spot in the AP poll.

SEC bowl projections: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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It didn't take long for the bowl projections to see a major shake-up with South Carolina's loss to Texas A&M on opening night. There's also a new SEC team headed to the College Football Playoff in the latest forecast after Georgia had what many are calling the most impressive win from Week 1. We still believe it's unlikely the league gets two teams in the playoff, though.

At this point, we have 11 SEC teams in all making the postseason, but there is still plenty of football left to be played. The projections will fluctuate throughout the season, but here's our best guess after Week 1.

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

Heisman Watch: Gurley tops list

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
3:40
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With the first week of games in the books, ESPN's Heisman Watch has been unveiled and Georgia RB Todd Gurley finds himself in the top spot. That's what happens when you run for 198 yards and two scores and also return a kickoff 100 yards for a third touchdown.

Also representing the SEC is Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill off his record-setting debut and one half of Alabama's dynamic running back duo T.J. Yeldon.

Click here for the full list.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Lane Kiffin and the quarterbacks were what everyone wanted to see when Alabama took the field against West Virginia on Saturday. The Crimson Tide’s new offensive coordinator would be calling plays from the sideline, mere feet away from head coach Nick Saban. And on top of that, he’d be managing the quarterback situation, which promised to pit Blake Sims, the veteran who had paid his dues, versus Jake Coker, the strong-armed transfer from Florida State.

But Kiffin Cam and the QB battle didn’t yield much in the way of controversy. There were no sideline sparks between Kiffin and Saban, and Sims played well enough to hang on at quarterback until the game was essentially over. Coker came on for the final series, only to turn and hand the ball off to the running backs until the clock struck zero.

[+] EnlargeKevin White, Bradley Sylve
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBradley Sylve and the Crimson Tide secondary gave up 365 yards to West Virginia on Saturday.
The offense, it turns out, wasn’t the problem.

The game everyone expected to see against West Virginia wound up being turned on its ear. Alabama’s defense -- you know, the one everyone assumed would return to its 2009-2012 form -- instead laid an egg in the Georgia Dome. Tempo got the best of them once again. West Virginia’s running backs gashed the front seven. Its wide receivers ran roughshod over the secondary. Had it not been for a number of dropped passes, quarterback Clint Trickett might have led the Mountaineers to within reach of a monumental upset.

Returning to Tuscaloosa, Saban took stock of the hard-fought win on Monday. He started out optimistically, praising the team’s effort and the “intangible things” it did, like playing with toughness, competing and not letting one bad play carry over to the next. He pointed out that his defense made “two huge stops inside the 10-yard line” and that when Sims did turn the ball over, it responded by forcing a three-and-out.

That was the good news. But there was plenty of bad. Nearly 400 yards of offense and nine trips inside Alabama’s 40-yard line said so.

“We didn't play very well in the secondary at all,” Saban explained. “We didn't play very well at linebacker. We had too many miscommunications, too many missed coverages, too many missed assignments."

On one play, Jarran Reed doubled back nicely on a screen pass and helped force a minimal gain. But then, Saban said, there was another screen where the lineman didn’t get back and it ended up resulting in a 17-yard pickup.

“I think we have a lot to improve on defensively, all the way around,” he said. “So I'm not disappointed. It is what it is. This is where we are. This is the starting point.”

If Alabama hopes to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff, it better hope so. Because while West Virginia is certainly talented offensively, there are a handful of teams on the schedule that could give the defense even more trouble. Auburn, Ole Miss and Texas A&M all have explosive offenses that like to push the pace. Even Mississippi State, with the improvements its made at receiver and running back, can move the ball in a hurry.

There’s plenty of time to improve, though. Florida Atlantic, which lost 55-7 to Nebraska on Saturday, is up next, and its starting quarterback might not even be available to play. After that it’s Southern Miss, which has won one game since 2011. Neither opponent figures to challenge the defense.

Taking advantage of those tune-ups will be crucial.

By the time Week 4 and Florida comes around, Alabama's defense could take on a different look, especially in the secondary.

Cyrus Jones has shown signs of improvement at corner, but Bradley Sylve had a rough go of it on Saturday. Five-star freshmen Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey are itching to take their spots in the starting lineup, but for now the fear is that their inexperience will lead to busts in coverage. Eddie Jackson might be the answer, but the sophomore is only five months removed from a torn ACL. He was cleared to play recently, according to Saban, but his status is uncertain as of today.

On top of that, veteran nickel back Jarrick Williams is out for the next four weeks with a fractured foot.

The good news is there’s time to find the right personnel and fix some of the issues we saw against West Virginia. The bad news is there are so many issues in the first place.

Maybe after so much time and energy devoted to Kiffin and the quarterbacks this offseason, it’s worth finally turning our attention to the other side of the football. It’s there where the most things are happening.

Texas A&M jumps 12 spots

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
2:34
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The Texas A&M Aggies, buoyed by their victory over South Carolina, moved up 12 spots to No. 9 in the AP Top 25 after the opening weekend of college football.

The top four in the rankings -- Florida State, Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma -- are unchanged, but the No. 1 Seminoles and No. 2 Crimson Tide lost some support in the first poll of the regular season after close victories against heavy underdogs.

Texas A&M began the post-Johnny Manziel era with a 52-28 victory at South Carolina. The loss dropped the Gamecocks from No. 9 to No. 21.

Georgia, led by running back Todd Gurley, rose six spots to No. 6 -- even earning two first-place votes -- after a 45-21 victory over then-No. 16 Clemson, which tumbled seven spots to No. 23.

Florida State dropped from 57 first-place votes to 46 after pulling out a 37-31 victory against Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, Alabama dropped 44 points in the media-panel voting, getting just one first-place vote, after beating West Virginia.


(Read full post)


SEC power rankings: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
2:00
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The first week of games brought about a big shake-up in the SEC power rankings. From the dominance of Texas A&M and Georgia to the struggles of Alabama, it was a wild week that should set the stage for a wide-open season. But remember, it's only the first week.

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Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.
These are the best debates to have, the ones that don't have a wrong answer.

Would you rather have Georgia's group of running backs or Alabama's?

If you gave the 120 other FBS coaches in the country a choice, their answer would likely be, "Yes."

You can't go wrong with either, you see.

But for the sake of argument, we had Edward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough take sides.

Edward Aschoff: Don't get me wrong, I love what Georgia has at tailback. I think Todd Gurley is the best player in the country, regardless of position. A healthy Keith Marshall is scary, and those freshmen could be special.

But Alabama still has the best running back duo in the SEC with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Both of those guys could start at just about any school in the country, and they have health on their side. Yeldon has carried the ball 405 times for 2,469 yards and 28 touchdowns in his career and has missed only one game because of an injury. Gurley missed a month of work last year and Marshall missed most of last season with a knee injury.

What we've seen from Yeldon and Henry in the past two games has been nothing short of fantastic. The two have combined to rush for 411 yards and five touchdowns on 65 carries. That's 6.3 yards per touch. Yeldon has had fumbling issues in the past, but the Yeldon we saw against West Virginia ran with that ball tucked tightly. He also ran with a purpose and looked faster than ever. He became the first back at Alabama to ever rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, and if he can continue to run with the power and speed that he displayed Saturday, he'll get to 1,000 again.

And that's even with Henry chugging right alongside him. I think Henry, who looks a like a tank on the field, could hit 1,000 yards as well. He's a bigger, more physical runner than Yeldon, but has that explosive speed to hit the home run ball. These two are going to absolutely punish defenses.

Don't forget about Kenyan Drake (982 career yards) or big ol' Jalston Fowler. When Drake gets on the field, he's the most dynamic running back the Tide has. He's the fastest and shiftiest of the three. He'll get more chances to run the ball and he'll show off that lightning speed and Playstation moves. Fowler doesn't have the speed that any of those other backs have, but he just runs people over. He's one of the toughest runners in the league.

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Alex Scarborough: It appears Aschoff beat me to the punch. The conservative in me -- don't even think I mean politics, OK? -- says to go with the backfield less likely to fail. And that, to me, is Alabama's. Yeldon has been the most consistent tailback in the county since bursting onto the scene as a true freshman in 2012. He's never had injury concerns and can do it all on the field: run, block, catch passes. His steady hand, combined with the dynamite talents of Henry and Drake, makes for a terrific trio at offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's disposal.

But if I'm going for sheer upside, there's no question in my mind Georgia is the backfield to choose. Gurley, when healthy, is the best player in the country, hands down. He's big, strong and explosive. Backs that well built aren't supposed run as fast as he does. Yet he's the one guy I look at in the SEC and know he can take over the game whenever he wants. Just look at Saturday against Clemson. He got the ball only four times in the first half. So what'd he do? He went in on special teams and took the kickoff 100-plus yards for a touchdown. In the second half he ran for 154 yards, doing everything he could to win the Heisman Trophy Week 1 of the season.

You think Henry is a beast? Just look at Nick Chubb. You didn't need to see the freakish Herschel Walker-type photo that surfaced of him this summer to know how physically gifted the true freshman is. All you had to do was watch Clemson's defenders struggle to tackle him Saturday. He was a bowling ball with jets, running around or right through would-be tacklers. No one in college football has a better yards per rush average (17.5) than he does (minimum four carries).

Oh, and lest we forget, there's also Keith Marshall and Sony Michel to consider. When Marshall is healthy, we all know what he brings to the table. But Michel, another freshman, has the chance to be special. He's a lot like Drake. Each time he touched the football against Clemson, it looked as if he was shot out of a cannon. Six carries for 33 yards may not sound like much, but watch the tape.

Good luck to the poor souls trying to tackle Michel, Marshall and Chubb after Gurley has pounded them for three quarters. With Georgia's emerging offensive line, it looks like power football is the way to go.

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After week 1 of the season, Cary Chow and Adam Rittenberg look back on which conferences surprised and which left us with more questions than answers.
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Todd McShay gives his top five running backs in college football, but Adam Rittenberg thinks he has one notable omission.
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Week one of the college football season is in the books. Time to talk playoffs, right? Adam Rittenberg and Heather Dinich take an early look at what the playoff field looks like.

SEC morning links

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
8:00
AM ET
1. So while Blake Sims earned the right to start for Alabama in the season opener against West Virginia, his 250-yard performance in the Crimson Tide's 33-23 win wasn't enough to cement him as the starter going forward. He'll likely be the guy who walks out with the starters against Florida Atlantic on Saturday, but expect to see him share snaps with Jake Coker. As Nick Saban puts it, there's still a quarterback competition going on in Tuscaloosa. The good news is that the Tide doesn't really need a true starter until the week of the Florida game, which isn't until Sept. 20. Don't have a starter set then? Well, that certainly isn't ideal. Speaking of quarterbacks, it didn't matter who Auburn threw out under center, Arkansas' defense just couldn't stop either of them. Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson combined to throw for nearly 300 yards, with Johnson throwing for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Now, here's the problem for Arkansas: Expect a lot more of that read-option because that's what the majority of the SEC West will be running this fall.

2. You guys have to feel bad for the Gators, right? I mean put your college colors aside for a second and think about the fact that a program looking to rebound from a disaster of a season was soooooo ready to get back on the field and debut its new offense only to be washed away by a swamp inside the Swamp. So instead of joining all the fun with everyone else in the country, Florida and Idaho huddled inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for hours while it poured and lightening bolts shot through the skies. Florida coach Will Muschamp, who is very much coaching for his job this year, said he supported the officials' decision to suspend the game due to weather and unsafe field conditions. Whether or not that game will be played at a future date is unknown at this point. They both have a bye week on Oct. 25, which just so happens to be the week before Florida's crucial game with Georgia. Yeah, you try convincing Muschamp and athletic director Jeremy Foley to play a game during the open week before Georgia. No, seriously. ... Well, the good news for the Gators is that when their season officially opens this Saturday against Eastern Michigan they'll have three suspended players back. Now, before you bash Mushcamp, remember that Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin did something similar in 2012 with the postponed Louisiana Tech game.

3. Georgia coach Mark Richt thinks the running back group that he has now is the best he's ever had. Yeah, I'd agree with that when you consider that the Bulldogs had 328 rushing yards and averaged 8 yards per carry against Clemson. Todd Gurley, who I think is the nation's best player, got 198 of those yards and had three rushing touchdowns. Chubb had 70 yards and a touchdown on four carries and Sony Michel had 33 yards on six carries. By the way, those two are true freshmen. And Keith Marshall will only get better as he comes back from his knee injury.

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Texas is down a quarterback for BYU, Melvin Gordon's disappearance is explained, and the Alabama quarterback saga continues.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama learned a lot from its season-opening win over West Virginia on Saturday, but it came at a cost as the Crimson Tide lost a pair of veteran starters for a significant amount of time.

Jarrick Williams, a senior defensive back with 10 career starts, will miss four weeks with a fractured foot, and DeAndrew White, a senior starting wide receiver, will miss two weeks with a shoulder injury, coach Nick Saban announced Monday.

Who will be throwing the football to White's replacement at receiver, though, remains unclear.

Saban committed to playing both Blake Sims and Jake Coker against Florida Atlantic on Saturday, but the coach wouldn't say how the two would share reps.

"When I figure it out, I won't tell you," Saban said with a smile.

Sims started and played all but a few snaps against West Virginia, completing 73 percent of his pass attempts. Coker came on late, handing the ball off a few times before the game ended.

"I still don't hesitate to say there's a quarterback competition," Saban said.

Saban said Geno Smith and Maurice Smith are the options to start in place of Williams at the "star" position.


(Read full post)


ATLANTA -- Blake Sims wouldn’t say if he ever thought there was a question that he’d be Alabama’s starting quarterback on Saturday. But the faint smile he tried to contain when asked might have said otherwise.

Regardless of whether Sims ever worried about beating out Jacob Coker during fall camp, the starting job is his, and after a decent first start -- and win -- it’s clear his team has the utmost trust in him to be the leader in Tuscaloosa.

“He earned that position to start and did a fantastic job at it,” safety Landon Collins said.

[+] EnlargeBlake Sims, Karl Joseph
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsBlake Sims completed 24-of-33 passes for 250 yards in his debut as starter.
Of course there were hiccups for Sims, who is now in charge of leading the No. 2 team in the country. There were underthrows, overthrows and throws behind receivers. Sims will by no means earn any Heisman points with his performance during the Crimson Tide’s 33-23 win over West Virginia on Saturday inside the Georgia Dome, but he earned a ton of respect from his teammates and coaches with 250 yards and an interception. And we all know that openers can tell you only so much about what a team or individual players will look like come November.

Sims knows he was far from perfect, but he also knows he rebounded well after some poor plays to march the Tide down the field for scoring drives. He actually directed back-to-back scoring drives twice in the first half of his debut. He was a leader who calmed guys down in the huddle. And he learned from his own mistakes as the game went on.

Most importantly, he learned that handing the ball off to T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry will make his job much easier, and targeting Amari Cooper is a very, very good thing. He hit Cooper 12 times for 130 yards, and it’s no surprise that his first attempt went Cooper’s way, which resulted in a 24-yard pickup.

“It got the nerves out. That let me know that everybody’s behind me,” Sims said.

Oh, and they were. Players said they never got down on Sims when he struggled or got out of rhythm in the second half. His coach even went against his own nature and implemented some no-huddle in the second half to get Sims more comfortable and loosen him up after a slow start.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the guy,” offensive lineman Austin Shepherd said. “I’ve been here five years with him and I’m happy [for him]. He played an awesome game.

“I told him before the game, ‘Man, we got you. Don’t worry about a thing. Whatever you do, we’ll back you 100 percent and we’ll get you out of it.’”

Coach Nick Saban said Sims got a little rattled in the second half and called some formations incorrectly that forced the Tide to burn a couple of timeouts. Saban even flirted with the idea of bringing Coker in, but decided to leave Sims in and see how the no-huddle helped him.

Good call.

“That one little stretch in the second quarter where we got a little bit out of sync was really the only time, but I thought Blake did a really good job,” Saban said. “… But all in all for him to throw for 250 yards, he did a pretty good job of executing, and I’m happy with his progress.”

Sims was happy with his performance but understands he still has a ways to go. There were easy throws that he just plain missed on, but he turned around and stood tall with some big passes to extend drives. He threw out of bounds when he needed. He checked down when he had to. And his legs got him out of a few sticky situations.

“I feel like I did OK,” Sims said. “I can get better in all situations.”

He’ll have to, and the next few tuneups before facing Florida’s defense should help him do that.

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Florida State Still No. 1 In AP Poll
Florida State's close win over Oklahoma State cost the Seminoles some first-place votes, but not enough to knock them from the No. 1 spot in the AP poll.
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