How the SEC West became so dominant

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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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 5 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 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, 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 viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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A look ahead to Saturday's games in the Southeastern Conference. All times Eastern:

Noon

UAB at Arkansas, SEC Network: Bret Bielema will have to wait at least one more week before notching that first SEC victory, but after three straight losses, this Arkansas team needs a win in the worst way. It’s not like the Razorbacks are playing poorly. Even Saturday, after falling apart in the first half, they didn’t give up. They responded in the second half and outplayed Georgia the final 30 minutes. That first conference win is coming. In the meantime, Arkansas can’t afford to overlook UAB. The Blazers put up 34 points on No. 1 Mississippi State earlier in the season, so they’re at least capable of getting in the end zone.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisDak Prescott threw for 268 yards and ran for 33 last season in a 28-22 home victory over Kentucky.
3:30 p.m.

No. 1 Mississippi State at Kentucky, CBS: What happened to Kentucky? This game was shaping up to be one of the biggest games in program history – a top-25 matchup, a chance to take down the No. 1 team in the country – and then it all fell apart at LSU on Saturday. Losing close is one thing, but the Wildcats were dominated in Death Valley. The good news is that they can still take down No. 1 this weekend as this will be Mississippi State’s first game since taking over the top spot. For the Bulldogs, it’s a chance to prove they’re worthy of No. 1 and it’s another opportunity for Dak Prescott to shine in front of a national audience.

4 p.m.

Vanderbilt at Missouri, SEC Network: A week after everybody left Missouri for dead, the Tigers are back in the SEC East race and rolling after a 42-13 win at Florida. The defense feasted on the Gators’ offense, forcing six turnovers and taking two back for touchdowns. That’s bad news for Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary, who will be making his first start for the Commodores. In his first action since the season opener, McCrary went 10-of-16 for 169 yards with one touchdown and one interception Saturday against Charleston Southern. But that was Charleston Southern. This is Missouri. Good luck Mr. McCrary.

7:15 p.m.

No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU, ESPN: Don’t assume that Ole Miss is going to just go to Baton Rouge and handle its business. Yes, the Rebels have arguably the top defense in the SEC. And yes, they’re ranked No. 3 for a reason. But winning on the road at LSU is no easy task. Just ask Les Miles, who is 45-4 as LSU coach in night games at Tiger Stadium. There’s something special about when the sun sets over Death Valley. So don’t be surprised if this game is close in the fourth quarter, and it’s up to Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace to make a play. Wallace did account for more than 350 yards and four touchdowns at LSU two years ago.

7:30 p.m.

No. 4 Alabama at Tennessee, ESPN2: Thank you, Lane Kiffin, for infusing a little life back into this rivalry. He made it interesting back in 2009 when his Tennessee team nearly knocked off the eventual national champs, and he’s doing it again this year with his return to Knoxville as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. You can bet the fans will be a little more rowdy in welcoming Kiffin back to Neyland Stadium on Saturday. But despite all the hoopla surrounding Kiffin, there’s still a game to be played. Alabama comes in as a heavy favorite, and the Vols could be in trouble if quarterback Justin Worley isn’t able to play.

South Carolina at No. 5 Auburn, SEC Network: Gus Malzahn admitted this week that he wears a visor every game because of Steve Spurrier. That’s how much respect and admiration he has for the Head Ball Coach. On Saturday, Malzahn will face Spurrier for the first time as a head coach in a game that Auburn has to win for its playoff hopes. The Tigers are coming off a loss to Mississippi State, and this is their first of four SEC games in four weeks. Meanwhile, South Carolina has not delivered on the preseason hype. A top-10 team before the season, the Gamecocks are barely above water at 4-3.

SEC's top recruiting visits 

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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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
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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.

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College Football Minute

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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SMU chases Mack Brown, Marshall starts trying to get some publicity and three things to watch for this weekend. It's all ahead in the College Football Minute.
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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
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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.

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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
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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
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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


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Best and worst losses for 1-loss teams 

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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For all of the debate about who should be ranked No. 1 among the three undefeated, power-conference teams, the far greater challenge right now when filling out a ballot is ranking the teams with one loss.

There are 15 once-beaten teams in this week's AP Top 25, and eight or nine of them could probably make a legitimate claim to being No. 4. That number of one-loss teams is sure to dwindle in the next few weeks, but there's still a good chance that the selection committee will face the difficult decision of which two or three of those teams to put into the playoff.

Obviously, there's much more to any team's résumé than a single loss, but if the BCS era is an indicator, the nature of that loss could become a major topic of discussion when distinguishing among the once-beaten teams. Perhaps that's because in a sport where there is so little common ground on which to compare top teams, having exactly one loss is the trait they all share.

So, recognizing that this could be a factor in determining which teams get into the playoff, here are the best and worst losses by current Top 25 teams that have only one defeat. The losses are ranked by Game Score, which is a metric developed by ESPN Stats & Information that takes into account quality of the opponent, location of the game, flow of the game and final score. It's important to note that opponent quality adjusts as more games are played, so these Game Scores will also change from week-to-week. (All Game Scores can be seen by clicking team links on the FPI page.)


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SEC Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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There's not much disagreement among our reporters this week. OK, there's not any disagreement among our reporters. But they don't necessarily agree on how competitive those games will be. And as everyone knows, the weeks that look boring are always anything but. Let's get on with the picks:



Why Mississippi State wins big: Kentucky’s defense has already surrendered 282 rushing yards to South Carolina and 303 to LSU last week. That doesn’t bode well for Saturday’s game, when Mississippi State will bring the SEC’s top offense (and No. 2 rushing offense at 264.3 yards per game) to Lexington. The Wildcats are improving, but they don’t have the firepower to hang around in this one. Mississippi State 42, Kentucky 17 -- David Ching

Why Kentucky keeps it close: Mississippi State should be rested after having last week off, while Kentucky is still smarting from its 41-3 loss at LSU. The Bulldogs should roll, but it won't be easy. The Wildcats have been a different team at home and have the firepower at defensive end to keep Dak Prescott on his toes. Mark Stoops has instilled the right kind of pride in his team, which means the Wildcats will bounce back and make this a second-half game. Mississippi State 31, Kentucky 27 -- Chris Low



Why Ole Miss wins big: Anthony Jennings has struggled enough throwing the football for LSU, and he'll find it even more difficult against Ole Miss' vaunted secondary. If Jennings turns the ball over and makes Cam Cameron's game plan too one-dimensional, the Rebels will feast. Ole Miss 31, LSU 17 -- Alex Scarborough

Why LSU keeps it close: Ever since getting blown out by Auburn, the Tigers have steadily improved. From barely surviving a trip to Florida to handling upstart Kentucky, LSU's offense and defense have gotten better. Ole Miss' defense presents a supreme challenge, but with senior Terrence Magee and true freshman Leonard Fournette, LSU has the backs to establish a running game and battle the Rebels to the end. Ole Miss 23, LSU 20 -- Jeff Barlis



Why Alabama wins big: This game screams blowout. Alabama’s defense is on fire and the offense just exploded, hanging nearly 60 on Texas A&M. Tennessee hasn’t hit 400 yards since the end of September. Hey, Lane Kiffin is back in Knoxville, so I can only imagine what he has cooked up for Tennessee’s defense -- and those Vols fans. I bet there are more anti-Kiffin signs than Tennessee points in Knoxville on Saturday. Alabama 41, Tennessee 10 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Tennessee keeps it close: Lane Kiffin would love nothing more than to put up a big number on his former team, but this Alabama offense has struggled on the road this season. In their two road games, the Tide have failed to break 20 points. They might reach that number Saturday, but it won’t be easy against a Vols defense that looked inspired in the first half last week. Alabama 24, Tennessee 14 -- Greg Ostendorf

More unanimous picks:

Auburn over South Carolina: Auburn is 12-0 at home under Gus Malzahn and won those by an average of more than 23 points per game. Interesting side note: South Carolina hasn't beaten Auburn since 1933 (though the teams didn't play each other again until 1996); Auburn is 7-0 since then. Auburn 42, South Carolina 21 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Arkansas over UAB: UAB can move the ball (had 548 yards against Mississippi State and kept it close at the half), but slowing down the Razorbacks' elite rushing attack is a tall task. Arkansas 45, UAB 20 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Missouri over Vanderbilt: Mizzou has actually been better on the road than at home, but Vanderbilt has yet to win away from home or an SEC game, period. The Tigers' defense and special teams are coming off great performances at Florida. The offense will join in on the fun Saturday. Missouri 41, Vanderbilt 10 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Standings:
Edward Aschoff: 59-10
Greg Ostendorf: 59-10
Jeff Barlis: 58-11
Chris Low: 58-11
David Ching: 57-12
Alex Scarborough: 56-13
Sam Khan Jr.: 52-17

SEC morning links

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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1. How do you stop Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott? "You're going to have to get to the next guy to find that one out," LSU coach Les Miles said on Wednesday's SEC teleconference. Prescott accounted for over 350 yards and three touchdowns against the Tigers earlier this season. On Saturday, Kentucky will try its luck in stopping or maybe slowing down the Heisman Trophy candidate. Good luck. And speaking of the Heisman Trophy, Prescott told Bleacher Report that his late mother Peggy used to introduce him to people as her Heisman Trophy winner. Watch the full video profile. How can you not root for a guy with his back story to win college football's most prestigious award?

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesMississippi State's Dak Prescott, who had little trouble with Les Miles' LSU, will look to enhance his Heisman chances against Kentucky next.
2. Only Les Miles could turn a question on College GameDay's guest picker into a jab at ESPN's own Kirk Herbstreit. It's been seven years since Herbstreit predicted Miles would leave LSU and take the Michigan job, and the LSU coach has not forgotten. He made that clear Wednesday. He also claimed that he could take Shaquille O'Neal one-on-one in the same response. Only Les. Coincidentally, there are rumblings that the Michigan job could come open again after this season, but the SEC coach whose name keeps coming isn't Miles. It's Dan Mullen. But it doesn't sound like the Mississippi State coach is in a hurry to leave. On Wednesday, he was talking about recruiting and the certain type of recruits he looks for to build a program.

3. Have you heard? Lane Kiffin is returning to Tennessee on Saturday. OK, you're probably tired of hearing about it, but if you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and go read Jon Solomon's piece on the Alabama offensive coordinator. In it, Kiffin's mother Robin says she's "scared to death" for her son's safety and wishes he would coach from the press box against the Volunteers. Even athletic director Mike Hamilton says he wishes Kiffin's first game against Tennessee would have been in Tuscaloosa, not Knoxville. It's certainly an intriguing storyline and one to keep an eye on this weekend, but don't expect more than the normal heckling from Vols fans. I'm more interested to see how Kiffin's offense fares on the road.

Around the SEC
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Upper Deck's Chris Carlin breaks down why his company decided to create its Conference Greats football product, which focuses on the best players and coaches in SEC history.

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College Football Minute
SMU chases Mack Brown, Marshall starts trying to get some publicity and three things to watch for this weekend. It's all ahead in the College Football Minute.
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Saturday, 10/25