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Danny Kanell and Joey Galloway discuss whether two teams from the SEC will make the College Football Playoff.
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With four teams in the top 10, the SEC West is dominating the college football landscape early in the season. Following Mississippi State's win over LSU, we look at where the Tigers now fall in the race and who the frontrunner in the division is.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Before Saturday's Alabama-Florida game, Amari Cooper and Vernon Hargreaves III acted no different. Both players kept to themselves, showing no emotion despite the magnitude of the game. There was no trash talking when they lined up across from each other on that first play. There was a sense of respect.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonAlabama's Amari Cooper got the best of the personal matchup with Florida's Vernon Hargreaves III, but both played well.
It was no different after the game. Cooper finished with 10 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns, clearly winning the individual matchup, but there to congratulate him afterward was Hargreaves. It didn't matter that Hargreaves was banged up and missed the final eight minutes. He knew he was facing one of the nation's best.

"He just said, 'Good game. You played great," Cooper told reporters after the game. "He's a very humble player. You can tell he comes from a good family.”

Looking back, both played well. Cooper is obviously on another level and showed why he's the better of the two, but Hargreaves didn't have a bad game despite what the stats might indicate.

Alabama found ways to move its top receiver around before the snap and match him up against somebody other than Hargreaves. On two separate plays in the first half, Cooper lined up in the slot with Hargreaves playing outside. The first play went for 37 yards, the second for 79 yards and a touchdown.

When the two were matched up in clear one-on-one situations, Cooper had five catches for 51 yards and one of his three touchdowns. His last score came with Florida's top cornerback on the sideline.

After the game, Alabama coach Nick Saban was complimentary of both.

“Coop did a great job in the game,” Saban said. “We have a lot of respect for their No. 1 guy [Hargreaves]. He is a very good player. But when you have matchups like that with two good players and you analyze the whole thing, both guys will end up making some plays.”

VH3 draws first blood: On its first play from scrimmage, Alabama used Cooper as a decoy and threw a long touchdown to Kenyan Drake on the other side. The next time the Tide got the ball, they ran to Hargreaves' side, and he was ready. Both he and safety Marcus Maye helped strip the ball from Drake, and Hargreaves was the one to recover it before going out of bounds. For the most part, Hargreaves played well against the run and finished with six tackles including one for a loss.

Cooper gets behind defense: How do you leave the SEC's best wide receiver wide open for a 79-yard touchdown pass? It came down to simple miscommunication. Cooper lined up in the slot with Hargreaves on the outside and Florida running zone coverage. The Alabama wide receiver took off on a go route, and because of a mix-up between defensive backs Brian Poole and Keanu Neal, the entire Gators defense had to watch as Cooper caught what might have been the easiest touchdown of his college career. It was simple pitch and catch.

The touchdown that wasn't: Cooper might have had four touchdowns Saturday if not for an offensive pass interference called against him in the third quarter. It was Cooper against Hargreaves, one-on-one, and the Alabama wide receiver gave a little shove before turning around and catching the ball. Once he caught it, he showed off his moves and maneuvered his way through traffic to find the end zone, but it all went for naught. Cooper caught another long pass with Hargreaves draped on him that was called back due to illegal formation.

Cooper shows why he's elite: If there was one play the NFL scouts will turn to when evaluating Cooper, it was his touchdown grab late in the third quarter. Backup quarterback Jake Coker had checked into the game, and it was once again one-on-one with Hargreaves, the matchup everybody wanted to see. Cooper ran a fade to the back of the end zone, and with the ball at its highest point, he went up and simply took it away from Hargreaves, who had good position on the play. It didn't matter who was throwing it. It didn't matter who was covering him. Cooper was catching that ball.

Advantage: Cooper

SEC morning links

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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1. Missouri is still reeling from its surprising home loss to Indiana, a middling Big Ten team. Let that sink in for a minute. The Tigers were favored by 14 or 15 points in most spreads. And lost. For a team that was starting to look like a strong contender in the East Division, it was a shocking upset. Mizzou's worst loss in years. There is no panacea on the horizon. Up next is a road trip to South Carolina, which has ongoing problems of its own after barely escaping Nashville with a win against the Dores. As one would expect, Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier threw around some choice adjectives. The word embarrassing came up a lot. After giving up two kickoff returns for touchdowns, Spurrier announced on Sunday that he will be the Gamecocks' new assistant kickoff coverage coach. That oughta fix it. College GameDay will be in Columbia, S.C., this weekend, which prompted yet more Spurrier being Spurrier:

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2. There wasn't much to learn about Georgia in its 66-0 win against Troy. Or was there? We already knew Todd Gurley was one of the nation's finest players. He hardly broke a sweat on Saturday with six carries for 73 yards, but Georgia hasn't had to overwork Gurley, and still his 9.8 yards per carry leads the FBS. We knew the Bulldogs had some talented youngsters, but who knew true freshmen Sony Michel and Isaiah McKenzie were ready to completely overshadow another injury to former five-star running back Keith Marshall? It seems the only question surrounding Georgia is wither the passing game, fellas? Georgia welcomes Tennessee this weekend along with the chance to see if Hutson Mason needs to do anything other than hand off. For their part, the Vols enjoyed a perfectly timed bye week after three nonconference games and can now go about the business of clawing their way back to SEC relevance.

3. That sound of laughter you're hearing off in the distance? It's Lane Kiffin basking in the afterglow of Alabama's 42-21 smackdown of the Gators. His offense so thoroughly dominated Florida's defense, the Gators set a record for the most yards allowed in school history. Dating to his time as head coach at Tennessee, that kind of performance against the hated Gators was something Kiffin could only dream about. On Saturday, his quarterback threw for 445 yards -- second only to Scott Hunter's 484 in Alabama history -- and his money wide receiver was the clear winner in a much-anticipated matchup with one of the best cover cornerbacks in college football. Today, receiver Amari Cooper is a legitimate Heisman candidate. We suspected he might be the best wideout in the country, but there is now a totally different perception of quarterback Blake Sims (who deflected some of the praise to Kiffin, by the way). If Alabama's offense can keep up this kind of balance and ruthless efficiency, the only sound we'll be hearing will be the chattering teeth of defensive coordinators.

Around the SEC
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Early Offer: Tough times ahead for UF? 

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
10:45
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Recruiting in the SEC is already difficult, but the difficulty in Gainesville is about to be ratcheted up even more as rival recruiters are already pressuring Florida recruits to reconsider. Plus, it was clear Saturday night that Oregon needs help on the offensive line, but the good news is that help is on the way.

SEC bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Alabama reinforced its position as a College Football Playoff contender by obliterating Florida on Saturday, while Mississippi State and Georgia also jumped in this week’s SEC bowl projections.

We’re also adding a 12th team -- Arkansas -- to the list after the Razorbacks crushed Northern Illinois to improve to 3-1. Arkansas has an awfully difficult schedule down the stretch, but we will give Bret Bielema's club the benefit of the doubt for now and project it to reach at least six wins.

Here is our full SEC list entering the fifth week of the season:

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

SEC Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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It was a wild week in the SEC. Mississippi State dominated in Death Valley and then had to hold on as Les Miles and LSU tried to cook up another miracle. Alabama shook off some sloppy play early to outclass Florida in Tuscaloosa. And Missouri suffered a shocking home loss to an Indiana team coming off a loss to Bowling Green.

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, 21, 2014
Sep 21
1:12
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There were some great games around the SEC over the weekend. Several 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:

Auburn commit D’Anfernee McGriff took an unofficial visit to Alabama for it’s impressive 42-21 victory over Florida on Saturday. The ESPN 300 member has been committed to Auburn since April but it appears the Alabama visit made quite an impression on him.
Here is a photo of five-star Alabama quarterback commit Blake Barnett, his father Lance Barnett and Nick Saban during an unofficial visit to Tuscaloosa, Alabama over the summer. Barnett did attend the game on Saturday and his father tweeted out his thoughts on how Alabama's offense looked in the first half against the Gators. ESPN 300 outside linebacker Adonis Thomas, a Florida commit, was scheduled to visit Alabama but was not able to attend. Thomas chose Florida over Alabama back at the beginning of August, but after the game yesterday, it appears things could be changing based on a tweet he sent out. Though LSU suffered a disappointing 34-29 home loss to Mississippi State, the Tigers still had several visitors on campus. ESPN Jr. 300 cornerback Chad Clay Tweeted a photo of himself along with who appears to be former NBA great Karl Malone in the background. With Mississippi State's big win, several recruits were impressed with what the Bulldogs were able to do in Death Valley. Florida commit Tre Jackson was impressed with what he saw from MSU as was current commit Keith Mixon. 2016 cornerback prospect Elijah Pankey attended Vanderbilt's game against South Carolina. Even though the Commodores fell short against the Gamecocks they still put on a impressive performance in front of several recruits.

SEC Stock Watch: Bama up, Florida down

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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ESPN reporters Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough break down Alabama's 42-21 win over Florida and what it means for each program moving forward.

Drawing conclusions from Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Week 4: Oregon vs. Washington StateChris Morris for ESPN

Each Sunday during the season, ESPN.com will highlight four storylines that had an impact on the College Football Playoff race.

Mississippi State 34, No. 8 LSU 29

Louisiana native Dak Prescott passed for 268 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 105 and a TD at Tiger Stadium as the Bulldogs snapped a 14-game losing streak to LSU.


No. 1 Florida State 23, No. 22 Clemson 17 (OT)

Jameis Winston, suspended for the game after making "offensive and vulgar" comments earlier this week on campus, was reduced to cheerleader as Karlos Williams scored on a 12-yard touchdown run to rally Florida State past Clemson in overtime.


No. 2 Oregon 38, Washington State 31

Marcus Mariota threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 58 net yards despite being sacked seven times as the Ducks scraped by the Cougars 38-31.


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SEC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Can you feel the drama building? We're just starting to get into the meat of the SEC schedule and already the league is spinning off its axis with excitement. Here are this week's best performances:

Blake Sims and Amari Cooper, Alabama: Everyone suspected Cooper might be the nation's best receiver, but who saw this coming from Sims? The Crimson Tide dismantled Florida 42-21 and Sims' 445 yards passing -- second best in the school's storied history -- was the biggest reason why. Equally unstoppable was Cooper, who caught 10 passes for 201 yards and three TDs. Much of Cooper's production came against the defense of UF cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, thought to be one of the nation's finest.

Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson, Mississippi State: Time after time this dynamic duo sliced through the heart of the LSU defense en route to the Bulldogs' first win in Baton Rouge in nearly 23 years. LSU's late rally made the final score 34-29, which diminished State's dominance for most of the game. Prescott passed for 268 yards and two TDs. He ran 22 times for 105 yards and another score in building MSU's 34-10 lead. Meanwhile, Robinson was a deadly efficient complement, running for a career-high 197 yards and a TD on 16 carries (12.3 yards per carry). The Bulldogs' offense was firing on all cylinders and racked up 570 yards with standouts all around. The empty seats in Death Valley were a testament to just how demoralizing Mississippi State's performance was for the No. 8 Tigers and their fans.

Auburn's run defense: Holding a run-heavy team like Kansas State to 40 yards on the ground is exactly how you win huge nonconference road games. The Tigers did that in Thursday's 20-14 win in Manhattan, Kansas. The Wildcats came in averaging 236 yards a game on the ground, but Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had his front seven ready. When called upon, safeties Joshua Holsey (11 tackles) and Rudy Ford (eight tackles) cleaned up the leftovers.

Arkansas' run game: We might want to reserve a weekly spot for this unit, as it seems there is absolutely no slowing down Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and their under-appreciated blockers. The Razorbacks were rolling once again in their 52-14 rout of Northern Illinois on Saturday. Collins, Williams and Korliss Marshall combined to rush for 188 yards on 36 carries. Right guard Denver Kirkland (6-foot-5, 330 pounds), left tackle Dan Skipper (6-10, 316) -- both sophomores -- and senior tight end AJ Derby (6-5, 255) had great success opening some gaping holes.

Sony Michel, Georgia: We knew the heralded true freshman was good, but in garbage time against Troy he laid any doubt to rest. Michel needed just 10 carries to pile up 155 yards (15.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Occasionally running out of the Wildcat, he's already proven to be more than a backup. The future is looking bright for a Bulldogs team that suffocated Troy in a 66-0 romp.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
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Well, that was an interesting day in the SEC. Here's what we learned:

1. The SEC West is clearly the best ... again: It's the same story in the SEC: The West is the best. None of these teams are perfect, but they are the best of the bunch in the SEC. Alabama throttled Florida at home, Auburn went on the road and gutted out a tough win over No. 20 Kansas State, Texas A&M just continues to roll over everyone, Arkansas can run on anyone, Ole Miss is a top-10 team, and Mississippi State walked into Death Valley at night and beat No. 8 LSU team in what turned into a late thriller. We know this LSU team has issues with its passing game and young defense, but give Mississippi State a lot of credit for that performance. There's a reason the West entered the weekend with five ranked teams -- all in the top 10. On the other side of the conference, everyone in the East has issues. The thing about the West is no team is really sticking out as the dominant team in the division, and every one of them is a work in progress, but they've all had really good moments. This is easily the toughest division in all of college football. Whoever comes out of this division might have an automatic ticket to the playoff on principle alone.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertDak Prescott had 373 yards of offense and three touchdowns in a return to his home state.
2. Florida's offense and defense have issues: Where do you even start with Florida's performance in that 42-21 loss to third-ranked Alabama? Despite plenty of opportunities afforded to the offense, the Gators continuously stalled with the ball. Quarterback Jeff Driskel struggled with the same issues that have plagued him his entire career. He was off with his deep throws and had trouble with his reads and threw for just 93 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions on 9-of-28 passing. Even with decent protection for most of the day, Driskel never got into a rhythm and couldn't take advantage of an Alabama secondary trying to find its identity. The defense gave up some big plays in the passing game, especially when the ball went to Amari Cooper (10 catches, 201 yards and three touchdowns). Blake Sims torched Florida's secondary, which struggled with coverage issues all day, for 445 passing yards and four touchdowns, including one of 87 and 79 yards. Yes, Florida's defense was on the field for a very long team, but the Gators allowed 645 total yards ... the most allowed in school history.

3. Mississippi State will challenge for the West title: I wondered why this team wasn't ranked in the Top 25 to begin the season, and then the defense fell asleep in Week 2 and I started to wonder if Mississippi State was for real. Now, after a 34-29 win over LSU in Baton Rouge, you can't sleep on Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs. Sure, this was a rout that got pretty tight late in the fourth quarter, but this is a win the Bulldogs should be ecstatic about. And how about quarterback Dak Prescott? He had his best performance to date in his home state with 373 yards of offense and three touchdowns. Fellow Louisiana native Josh Robinson wasn't too shabby either, as he rushed for 197 yards and a score. Take the Bulldogs lightly at your own risk.

4. The East race is a total crapshoot: Besides a dominating performance from Georgia over Troy, the SEC East didn't have a great day. Florida was blown out by Alabama, Missouri was stunned at home by unranked Big Ten representative Indiana 31-27, and South Carolina slogged through a 48-34 win at Vanderbilt. We saw that Florida's offense still has major issues and Missouri's interior defensive linemen need a lot of work, as Indiana ran for 241 yards on the Tigers. South Carolina still controls its own destiny when it comes to going to Atlanta for the SEC title game, but no one would be shocked to see the Gamecocks drop another one. Will Georgia's defense get better? Will Florida have an offense? Was this a fluke loss for Mizzou? Is Tennessee a real sleeper? A two-loss SEC East champ is not out of the question with so many uncertainties.

5. Will Muschamp's seat is hotter than ever: I have a feeling Bill from Gainesville won't be calling into many radio shows this week. With a loss in which the Gators faded quickly in the second half, Muschamp's seat is roasting in Gainesville. Last year's injury-riddled, 4-8 season was one thing, but Florida has regressed in the past two games this season, which means the Gators have to show vast improvement in two weeks at Tennessee in order to perk an already downtrodden and disheartened fan base. You have to let the season play out, but this was a bad loss for Muschamp's squad, even if Alabama was the No. 3 team in the country. Florida should be competitive in games such as this, and the Gators just weren't after Alabama cleaned up its mistakes in the second half. There were plenty of opportunities for Florida in this one, but the Gators just didn't execute. Florida fans are frustrated with their coach and their quarterback, who are both in their fourth years at UF.

Bama failed the process, won anyway

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
10:32
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- No. 3 Alabama gained 645 total yards Saturday, the fourth highest total in 123 years of Crimson Tide football, and limited Florida to 200 yards, and Nick Saban tried to be happy about it.

Blake Sims, the senior quarterback who has surprised everyone outside of the Alabama program and no one inside it, threw for 445 yards and four touchdowns, and his head coach praised that.

But Alabama coughed up the ball four times and allowed a team with a listless offense to score three touchdowns. The Crimson Tide committed 11 penalties for 80 yards, an uncharacteristic display of mistakes. That's why a game that had no business being close remained in doubt late into the third quarter, before Alabama pulled away to a 42-21 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

In other words, people, Alabama won the game but lost "the process."

The process is shorthand for Saban's coaching. It combines outlandish physical talent with a watchmaker's precision. The Crimson Tide had a lot of the former and not enough of the latter, which led to Saban debating himself throughout his postgame press conference.

"Obviously, everybody that watched the game could tell that there were some things that we did extremely well and some things were pretty sloppy," Saban said.

Saban regards sloppiness as the devil's playground, somewhere between a character deficiency and leprosy. Particularly in the first half, Alabama couldn't have looked less like a Saban-coached team if it had come out in the single-wing. Or leather helmets. Or orange and blue.

"I felt we could have had 900 yards," Alabama offensive tackle Austin Shepherd said. "Just minor things that we've got to fix, uncharacteristic things of us."

Take the penalties. Alabama had three false starts and two snap infractions.

"All of it is game management and execution." Saban said, "We're second-and-1 at the 1, and the quarterback calls the wrong cadence. Everybody might think that, 'Hey, the offensive line messed up.' That's the kind of stuff that we have to be consistent and trust in and believe in and do the right way. It's attention to detail. We've had far too many of those this year, and we've got to get it corrected."

Saban stopped and moved to the other podium in his internal debate.

"But there's also been a tremendous amount of production offensively this year ..."

Saban hired Lane Kiffin because he believed in the controversial coach's ability to run an offense. On Alabama's first play from scrimmage at the Tide's 13-yard line, Kiffin shifted tailback Kenyan Drake


(Read full post)


Alabama Pulls Away From Florida

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
10:17
PM ET


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Alabama used big days from Blake Sims and Amari Cooper to pull away from Florida in the second half for a 42-21 win.

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Will SEC Get Two Teams In Playoff?
Danny Kanell and Joey Galloway discuss whether two teams from the SEC will make the College Football Playoff.
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