SEC Week 6 predictions

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
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Now we're talking. Three SEC West games between top 15 teams, plus a Tennessee-Florida rivalry game with Will Muschamp fighting for his job. Which teams will take a giant step toward the playoff this weekend? Let's get on with the picks.

Why Tennessee wins: The Vols have lost two straight but went toe-to-toe with Georgia in a tough road environment. Now they return home, where they've played well this season and let's be honest: Justin Worley has outplayed Jeff Driskel so far this year. Quarterback play goes a long way in a tightly contested game, which this could be. So give me the home team with the better quarterback. Florida had an off week and the Gators needed it badly, but they still have a lot of work to do. Tennessee 30, Florida 24 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Florida wins: Through the first three games, Florida is trending in the wrong direction. The Gators were lucky to survive against Kentucky and then were throttled by Alabama the next week. But I think they bounce back Saturday. They had a week off, which is a good remedy for any struggling team, and they’re better up front, especially with the return of starting left tackle D.J. Humphries. Florida 31, Tennessee 24 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why Texas A&M wins: Arkansas was probably the worst matchup for A&M in the entire SEC and the Aggies survived -- barely. Defending Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson won’t be a treat for A&M, either, but Mississippi State’s beleaguered secondary is in for a long Saturday. This should be a great game, but my money’s on Kenny Hill & Co. putting up a few more points. Texas A&M 30, Mississippi State 21 -- David Ching

Why Mississippi State wins: Is there anything Prescott can’t do? The kid can embarrass defenses with his arm and his legs, and with the holes in the defense A&M showed us against Arkansas, I think he’s going to have another big day. It’ll be interesting to see how Mississippi State’s secondary holds up against Hill, but I think they can put pressure on him up front. This one is coming down to the very end, and with a bruising back like Robinson helping Prescott, the Bulldogs get another big West win. Mississippi State 31, Texas A&M 28 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Alabama wins: I went back and forth with this one so many times because I think Ole Miss has the offense to hurt Alabama. That up-tempo play won’t be kind to the Crimson Tide, but having two weeks to prepare is a major advantage. This is by far the best team either has faced to this point, and I just don’t think Ole Miss will be able to run the ball. That means the Tide can put pressure on Bo Wallace and force him to make mistakes. Those mistakes late will have Bama walking out of the Grove with a close win in front of the “GameDay” crew. Alabama 27, Ole Miss 23 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Ole Miss wins: This isn't your daddy's Ole Miss. This isn't even your slightly older brother's. This version of the Rebs is different with a talented group of pass-rushers, a ball-hawking secondary and one of the best wide receivers in the country. Throw in the fact that the game's in Oxford and that Ole Miss runs the hurry-up, no-huddle as well as anyone, and you've got the right ingredients for an upset. Ole Miss 34, Alabama 31 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Auburn wins big: It’s not as much that I think Auburn is that good -- the offense still isn’t quite in sync. It’s more that I don’t trust LSU freshman quarterback Brandon Harris. The talent is there, but he’s making his first start in what will be a raucous atmosphere on the Plains. And this isn’t last year’s Auburn defense. The front four will make life difficult for Harris and the LSU offense. Auburn 31, LSU 14 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why LSU keeps it close: Clearly none of us has been too impressed with LSU's defense, but Auburn's defense has yet to contend with a passing game like the one it will see on Saturday. Though just a true freshman, Harris has "an NFL arm," according to none other than Gus Malzahn. Expect lots of drama on the Plains. Auburn will prevail in front of the home crowd, but this one could come down to which team has the ball last. Auburn 34, LSU 30 -- Jeff Barlis

Why South Carolina wins: Kentucky is one of the feel-good stories in the SEC this season and South Carolina currently exists somewhere on the opposite end of the happiness spectrum. The Gamecocks might go into meltdown mode if they lose to the Wildcats. I won’t rule out that possibility -- the Wildcats are vastly improved this season, but South Carolina still feels like the safer pick. South Carolina 30, Kentucky 20 -- David Ching

Why Kentucky wins: I predicted this early in the week, before Dorian Baker and Stanley "Boom" Williams were suspended. But despite my newfound misgivings, I'm not backing off. This is a classic case of two teams going in opposite directions. Za'Darius Smith and Bud Dupree will harass Dylan Thompson into a few interceptions, which A.J. Stamps may or may not pick off, and the Wildcats will score just enough points to win in regulation. Kentucky 30, South Carolina 24 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Georgia wins big: We all like Georgia big, and it's easy to see why. The Bulldogs are deeper and more talented and have arguably college football's best player in Todd Gurley. Vanderbilt has struggled out of the gate and might be without quarterback Patton Robinette for this game. It doesn't look pretty for the Commodores. Georgia 42, Vanderbilt 10 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Standings
Jeff Barlis 44-5
Chris Low 44-5
Edward Aschoff 43-6
David Ching 43-6
Greg Ostendorf 43-6
Sam Khan Jr. 42-7
Alex Scarborough 41-8

Replay: SEC Spreecast

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
2:45
PM ET
Watch a replay of ESPN.com reporters Edward Aschoff, David Ching and Chris Low previewing a monster week of SEC action. They broke down Alabama-Ole Miss, Mississippi State-Texas A&M and LSU-Auburn, while also talking Todd Gurley's Heisman chances and answered viewer questions.

SEC morning links

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
8:00
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1. Stop me if you've heard this one before. On Tuesday, Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said he and Will Muschamp are on the same page. Despite looking horrendous offensively against Alabama two weeks ago, Roper and Muschamp are standing arm in arm. As a matter of historical context, I'd refer you to this story from late last season where Brent Pease said essentially the same thing. A week later he was fired. Now I'm not saying Roper is going to suffer the same fate, nor should he. But isn't this too early for votes of confidence and closing of the ranks? Much like the product on the field, it's not a good look for the Gators.

2. Arkansas deserves a bye week. After the fight they put up against Texas A&M, the Razorbacks need to catch their breath. As defensive end Trey Flowers said, "We’ve got to go into this off week, prepare for ‘Bama and just keep our heads up.” But what Arkansas really should be doing is recruiting. The saying, "There's no time like the present," should be ringing in every coach's ears. After the hurt Arkansas put on Texas A&M and the dominance it showed a few weeks earlier against Texas Tech, Bret Bielema should be sending a caravan into the Lone Star State to make hay. The Razorbacks are a respectable 22nd in ESPN's Class Rankings today. But with all the positive publicity surrounding the program and all the talk about playing their unique brand of old-school football, Bielema and his staff can do better. They should be beating down every blue-chip offensive lineman's door right now. After all, what's the use in having all this momentum if you're not going to capitalize on it?

3. Now you're starting to look like an SEC team, Kentucky. You're playing with the big boys, suspending multiple players the week of a pivotal game against South Carolina. But all joking aside, the loss of Dorian Baker and Stanley "Boom" Williams hurts. Kentucky has played well on the offensive line and Patrick Towles has done well for himself at quarterback. The one thing Towles needed was help at receiver, and now his third-leading pass-catcher, Baker, is gone. The absence of Williams, who has been a revelation at running back and on special teams, leaves little in the way of explosive playmakers for coach Mark Stoops to turn to. I was thinking upset with Kentucky-South Carolina before this. Now I have to rethink my position. I trust the UK defense, but I don't know whether they'll put up enough points to beat the Gamecocks.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It’s Year Four of Will Muschamp at Florida. It’s Year Four of Jeff Driskel, too.

As losses and criticism have mounted it’s looking like the coach and his quarterback are tied to each other and will sink or swim together.

“We’ll continue to move forward this season and he'll make the Gator Nation proud he's their quarterback,” Muschamp said on Monday. “I know that the majority are. That's the frustrating part, that you've got to listen to the negativity of the small few. But that's part of it."

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp and Jeff Driskel
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsWill Muschamp says Jeff Driskel gives the Gators 'the best chance to win,' but can he win enough to save the beleaguered coach?
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said recently that he is standing by Muschamp. Despite the angry fans who take to social media to call for the coach’s head on a platter, Foley said he’ll look at the entire season before making any evaluation.

“I appreciate that,” Muschamp said. “I’m really concerned with what happens in the building. Those are the things that concern me the most -- our football team and what we need to do to continue to improve.”

Foley is sticking with Muschamp, who is sticking with Driskel.

“Right now Jeff gives us the best opportunity to win,” Muschamp has said repeatedly.

His other option is true freshman Treon Harris, a teenager who arrived on campus in late June and has thrown all of two fourth-quarter passes in his only career game, a blowout win against Eastern Michigan.

Muschamp clearly had enough confidence in Harris to elevate him to the No. 2 quarterback job over fellow true freshman Will Grier, who enrolled in January and participated in spring practice, as well as third-year sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg, who made three starts last season.

But for now, Harris is more of a developmental player than a factor in Florida’s game plan.

“Treon continues to improve,” Muschamp said. “He's going to be a really good football player. I've got all the confidence in the world in him and his abilities and what he presents to our football team.

“When that opportunity presents itself, he'll have an opportunity."

It likely won’t come on Saturday at Tennessee, a game thought to be pivotal in determining the coach’s future at Florida.

Muschamp said Driskel took most of the first-team reps during Florida's bye week and would do so again this week. He isn't thinking about playing two quarterbacks against Tennessee.

"Not at this time," he said, adding that Harris has a package of plays but is not scripted to play.

"We go into every game considering some situational things, especially the red zone, to put him in the game. If that opportunity presents itself -- in the Kentucky game and the Alabama game it never did -- we would do that."

Muschamp is careful to point out that Driskel isn’t a lock to keep his job if his struggles continue.

The junior QB completed just 32 percent of his passes for 93 yards with two interceptions in Florida’s 42-21 loss at Alabama.

Clearly there is patience with Driskel, but it’s not unlimited.

Muschamp’s offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper, has plenty of experience using two quarterbacks in tandem, most recently at Duke last season.

Muschamp was asked on Monday if he subscribes to the old coaching adage that if you’re playing two quarterbacks you really don’t have one. In other words, could he see Florida using Driskel and Harris in future game plans?

"We're going to do what it takes to win,” he said. “If that presents itself, that's what we'll do."

It might be what it takes for Muschamp to reach Year Five.
What a weekend ahead in the SEC. There are some premier games pitting ranked teams against each other and others featuring teams with plenty to prove in college football’s premier conference. In our SEC roundtable yesterday, we tackled games we’d pay to see.

Today, we pose the question: Which team has the most to prove Saturday? Our SEC writers take a swing at answering it.

Edward Aschoff: It has to be Florida. If the Gators are going to have any chance in the SEC East race, they have to win this weekend in Knoxville. Also, I think it’s pretty clear this is a must-win for coach Will Muschamp. Is this a team that can legitimately compete in the SEC? We didn’t see it two weeks ago against Alabama, and we honestly don’t know what to expect from the Gators this season. Can Jeff Driskel properly direct this offense? Can the secondary stop blowing assignments? Do the Gators have any mettle? We’ll find out Saturday.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
AP Photo/John BazemoreWith ESPN's "College GameDay" in Oxford, Mississippi, this weekend, Ole Miss certainly has the stage to prove itself against Alabama.
Alex Scarborough: Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M are all undefeated. They have something to prove, certainly, but they’re not staring down the barrel of a shotgun. That would be LSU. The Tigers have everything to prove. We’ll find out against Auburn whether LSU can get back on track or whether this is a rebuilding year. It certainly looked like the latter against Mississippi State. Anthony Jennings played so poorly against New Mexico State that he was replaced by Brandon Harris. Is he the answer? When will the Leonard Fournette we all expected show up? For that matter, when will that swarming, physical LSU defense return? Will the real LSU please stand up?

Jeff Barlis: It'd be easy to pick Ole Miss, but my gut says Mississippi State has more to prove. The Rebels have been a trendy pick as a team on the rise for a while now. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, didn't get voted into the Top 25 until they ended a 23-year losing streak to LSU in Baton Rouge. That was also MSU's first win against a ranked team in its past 16 tries. Expectations haven't been this high in Starkville in a long time. But in order to truly contend for the SEC West, the Bulldogs will have to knock off Texas A&M.

David Ching: There are two ways of looking at this one. On one hand, I want to go with Ole Miss because it’s in unfamiliar territory. The Rebels are rarely good enough for “GameDay” to consider visiting. They’re 2-7 against ranked opponents under Hugh Freeze. I think they’re a good team, but they must prove they’re legitimate. Beating Alabama would be a great start. On the other hand, LSU embarrassed itself against Mississippi State. The Tigers need to prove they’re worthy of a No. 15 ranking, not to mention consideration among the contenders in the West. They desperately need to beat Auburn.

Sam Khan: It’s definitely Ole Miss, for many of the reasons David stated. This is the Rebels’ moment: “College GameDay” in the Grove, Alabama coming to Vaught-Hemingway, a chance to finally prove they are ready to take the next step. The past season, when these teams met and many thought the Rebels would give Alabama trouble, they were shut out. If they’re truly going to contend in the SEC West, this is a game in which the Rebels have to thrive. Plus, this isn’t just about them; it’s also about the balance of power this year in the state of Mississippi. Over in Starkville, a rising rival, Mississippi State, is also undefeated and ranked, has a road win at LSU under its belt and will try to knock off No. 6 Texas A&M. If the Bulldogs can, the Rebels -- who seemed to have the momentum at this time a year ago -- have to keep up.

Greg Ostendorf: It feels like Texas A&M lost this past weekend. Despite a thrilling come-from-behind victory against an improved Arkansas team, everybody is all of a sudden counting the Aggies out. They dropped to No. 3 in this week’s power rankings. They’re underdogs against Mississippi State. Did we all forget how good they looked in the season opener? The past year’s Auburn team didn’t exactly blow out every opponent, and yet they won the conference. I think it’s important for Texas A&M to get back on track this week and play like the team we saw earlier in the season, the team everybody had as a shoo-in for the playoff.

Planning for success: Tennessee

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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ESPN’s Paul Finebaum nailed it in 140 characters or less when he tweeted compliments to Tennessee for its moral victories against Oklahoma and Georgia, but added that his alma mater’s football team now must justify the hype building in Knoxville.

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That starts with a win Saturday against Florida (2-1, 1-1 SEC) -- a program that has defeated the Volunteers (2-2, 0-1) nine straight years and in 17 out of the past 21 meetings.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones wouldn’t categorize those two road losses -- 34-10 at No. 4 Oklahoma and 35-32 this past weekend against No. 13 Georgia -- as moral victories. Not publicly anyway. That is what a loser would do, and he clearly doesn’t think that way.

"Every individual in this organization believed that we were going to win," Jones said after the Georgia game. "I am proud of them, but we have to continue to learn from this and then move on. We are going to be a good football team and we are going to win a lot of football games."

As of now, Jones’ record at Tennessee might show that he is a loser (the Vols are 7-9 overall and 2-7 in SEC play since he arrived last season), but nobody who has watched Jones’ young team play would expect that trend to continue for long. Despite playing 22 true freshmen, the most of any FBS program in 2014, Tennessee hung with Oklahoma for most of that game and very easily could have defeated Georgia on Saturday. Considering how well Jones’ staff has recruited lately, the Vols look like a sure bet to rank among the favorites in the SEC East in the near future.

Heck, they might even contend this season, but it has to start with a win against the Gators on Saturday. Will Muschamp’s Florida team spent an entire offseason stewing over a humiliating 4-8 record last fall, and things don’t seem much more pleasant right now after Alabama dominated the Gators prior to last Saturday’s open date.

[+] EnlargeJustin Worley
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsA victory against rival Florida would be an important step for QB Justin Worley and the young Volunteers.
The Gators are ripe for the picking, and Saturday’s game at Neyland Stadium provides a tremendous opportunity for Jones’ program to end its losing streak in what once ranked among the SEC’s top rivalry games. It is relegated to a noon time slot this season while SEC West showdowns dominate the headlines, which indicates one thing: neither program is winning consistently enough.

Jones used last season’s 23-21 upset of South Carolina as evidence that things were moving in the right direction in his first season in Knoxville. That is his only win in nine tries against ranked Tennessee opponents, however. Eventually, showing progress -- but still losing -- against rivals or ranked opponents gets old. That is why Jones’ club needs to end its slide against Florida now, just as Finebaum noted.

Justin Worley has performed well at quarterback and delivered a memorable performance during a comeback effort against Georgia after leaving the game with an elbow injury. Jalen Hurd is a future superstar at tailback. The Vols’ receiving corps is loaded with size and talent.

The offensive and defensive lines face steep experience gaps against most opponents, but their on-the-job training will eventually pay off. And the Vols actually rank first nationally in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 20.8 percent of the time.

There is a lot to like about what is happening at Tennessee, especially if the Vols reach the postseason for the first time since 2010. However, playing in a bowl game becomes a much greater challenge if the Vols fall to 2-3 on Saturday. They still must play Alabama and Ole Miss from the SEC West, along with remaining division games against South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. The only non-division gimme left on the schedule is an Oct. 11 date with Chattanooga.

In other words, now is the time, Vols, if you want to show that the "Brick by Brick" stuff that Jones preaches is actually leading toward something meaningful.

This is a beatable Florida team. Tennessee fans could make a reasonable argument that their team is playing better football this season, and this is the Vols’ chance to prove it. Another moral victory won’t be enough this Saturday.

SEC morning links

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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1. Alabama's players wouldn't bite. When asked about Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt's comments -- "We don't really think Bama is as good as they have been" -- none of the four Crimson Tide players interviewed Monday said anything noteworthy in response. After all, what did you expect? This is Alabama we're talking about. Landon Collins had fans forward him a link to the bulletin board material, but he wasn't about to lob any shots in return. "We're definitely going to give them our best game and see who comes out with the W," Alabama's star safety explained. If he had gone any further, Nick Saban would have had his head. And, frankly, there was no reason to fan the flames. Neither team is what it has been. Blake Sims has played well, but he's no AJ McCarron. C.J. Mosley ain't walking through that door. This isn't your daddy's Ole Miss, either. Prewitt and that secondary are tenacious. The front seven can get after it. As Saban said, "This is the best team we've played all year." If anything, Prewitt's slight jab was just what we needed to set the week off right.

2. I'll admit it: we were a little myopic on the SEC Blog Monday. In a roundtable discussion, our writers were asked to pick their game of the week. The options: Alabama-Ole Miss, Texas A&M-Mississippi State and LSU-Auburn. The reason? Well, it's obvious, seeing as all three games have College Football Playoff implications. But to make sure we cover all our bases, it felt like we ought to make note of the other games on the SEC slate. No, Vanderbilt-Georgia doesn't hold much intrigue. We can skip that. But you could argue that Florida-Tennessee and South Carolina-Kentucky mean something. For the Gators, this feels like a must win. Jeff Driskel needs to crawl out of the hole he's dug for himself, and his coach, Will Muschamp, needs a W to keep his job. The Vols, meanwhile, have to say enough is enough with moral victories and finally close out a big game. And in the case of South Carolina-Kentucky, you're looking at two teams heading in opposite directions. The Gamecocks fell all over themselves yet again Saturday, blowing a late lead against Missouri. Kentucky, on the other hand, broke its winless streak in the SEC by beating Vandy. The Wildcats may be young, but they're dangerous. With a deep group of tailbacks, Bud Dupree and Za'Darious Smith rushing off the edge, and A.J. Stamps making plays in the secondary, South Carolina and the rest of the East better watch out.

3. Not to end our morning jaunt on a sour note, but I was struck by news Monday of the Indianapolis Colts releasing Da'Rick Rogers. I shouldn't be surprised, I know. This is par for the course with Rogers, after all. But once again I was reminded of what a waste of potential the former Tennessee receiver was. To this day I remember seeing him play at Calhoun High in Georgia. He's the best high school player I've ever witnessed in person. Sadly, on the list of all-time SEC talents that never amounted to much, Rogers is right up there with names like Ryan Perrilloux, Mitch Mustain and B.J. Scott. Rogers was everything you wanted in a receiver: tall, physical, explosive. Even in the NFL he flashed All-Pro talent. But something never clicked for him. Maybe there's still time, but not likely. If anything, his story is a cautionary tale for any four- or five-star prospect who thinks talent alone can get the job done.
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Muschamp knows criticism is part of being the QB at Florida but feels that Driskel will make the gator nation proud.

Florida must start finding some answers

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After barely escaping Kentucky's upset bid in Game 2, Florida coach Will Muschamp said his team's problems were correctable.

That tune changed after the Gators were blown out by Alabama the following week. During the bye week UF went back to the drawing board and back to basics with some training camp-like practices to address fundamentals.

Make no mistake, time is running out for Florida to show the progress that is expected after its 4-8 season in 2013.

Here's what's wrong and how to fix it.

Subpar quarterback play
[+] EnlargeTreon Harris
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SportswireThe Gators could look to freshman backup QB Treon Harris to spark the offense.
The problem: Patience is running thin with fourth-year junior Jeff Driskel. He has consistently failed in the passing game, whether it's reading defenses or giving his receivers a chance on deep throws.
The solution: No one should think true freshman backup Treon Harris, a teenager who has thrown all of two passes in his short career, is ready to replace Driskel as the starter. But a two-quarterback system is Florida's best chance at minimizing the damage that comes with Driskel's shortcomings. It should also be noted that Harris' two passes were completed for long touchdowns. He offers more accuracy and better vision. It's up to Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to develop Harris now, because he'll be needed this season.

Push from the offensive line
The problem: After giving up 66 sacks the past two years, Florida's offensive line has shown improvement in pass protection (just two sacks allowed this season). But the Gators need more from their retooled offensive line, which is benefiting from a new scheme that has the ball coming out quicker in the passing game. Florida ran for big yardage against Eastern Michigan and Kentucky but was held to 107 yards by Alabama. In order for the Gators to win games without putting too much in the shaky hands of the quarterback, the running game must step up.
The solution: The pieces are there. Senior guard Trenton Brown, a juco transfer, has improved significantly in his second season at UF and is a road-grader at 6-foot-8, 344 pounds. Redshirt freshman right tackle Roderick Johnson has been one of the Gators' biggest surprises, playing very well in two starts when left tackle D.J. Humphries was hurt. Even with Humphries expected back for the Tennessee game, Johnson should stay in the starting lineup. Moving senior tackle Chaz Green to guard would improve Florida's starting lineup and its bench.

Lack of a pass rush
The problem: The Gators have struggled to pressure quarterbacks ever since tackle Dominique Easley was hurt early last season. But with a year to improve and one truly dangerous edge-rusher in Dante Fowler Jr. to play off of, Florida should be able to muster more than two sacks a game. What's worse, the inability to consistently generate a pass rush has exposed Florida's young secondary to big plays.
The solution: The Gators have gotten almost nothing from their defensive tackles, which means Muschamp is likely to move junior end Jonathan Bullard inside more often. Bullard at least has the quickness to make a play or two. At the other end position, Florida must utilize third-year sophomore Alex McCalister, who had the team's only sack against Alabama. Senior OLB Neiron Ball has also shown some ability to get around offensive tackles. Overall, it doesn't look like there are enough pass-rushers emerging this season, so Muschamp will have to get creative with his blitz packages. It's more risky, but nothing is worse than giving a quarterback time to pick apart your secondary.

Gaping holes in the secondary
The problem: After the last three seasons of defense under Muschamp, this year's drop-off has been stunning. Busted assignments, lack of communication, missed tackles and poor coverage have led to a plethora of big plays by UF opponents. Florida saw all four of its starters in the defensive backfield depart after last season and lost both of its starting safeties to the NFL the season before that. There's no doubt a lot of the errors this season can be chalked up to youth. But aside from stalwart corner Vernon Hargreaves III, the Gators' few veterans are also making big mistakes.
The solution: Play the young guys. If the experienced players keep making mistakes, there's nothing to lose. Muschamp said as much last week: "What you’re doing is not working so you might as well try somebody else. That’s where I am right now." The Gators have some very talented true freshmen. Five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor and four-star DB Duke Dawson had the benefit of enrolling in January and participating in spring practice. Along with four-star DB Quincy Wilson, Florida has options. More playing time will only help speed their development.

Justin Worley ready for Florida

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee expects to have quarterback Justin Worley at full strength for Saturday's game with Florida.

The status of Worley's receiving corps is less clear.

Worley sat out three series of the Volunteers' 35-32 loss at Georgia last week when Bulldogs linebacker Jordan Jenkins' helmet hit him in the elbow during a pass rush, but the senior quarterback returned to direct two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.

"He's fine," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Monday. "He kind of hit his funny bone and all that, but he's fine. He'll be 100 percent for the game."

Jones isn't as sure about wide receivers Von Pearson and Josh Smith, who both have high ankle sprains.

Pearson has missed Tennessee's last two games, while Smith sat out the Georgia game. Pearson has seven catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. Smith has 10 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown.

"I'll know a little bit more as the week progresses, but right now I'd say Von is ahead of Josh in terms of recovery," Jones said.


(Read full post)


At first glance: SEC Week 6

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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Finally we've reached the heart of the SEC schedule where nonconference blowouts are a thing of the past. No more directional schools, this week it's nothing but mano-a-mano conference battles.

We're going to start separating the pretenders from the contenders, as division races heat up. It's time to find out a whole lot more about the powerful SEC West, where a whopping six top 15 teams square off. Buckle up!

Game of the week: Alabama at Ole Miss
The No. 3 Tide still have the best chance to win the SEC West -- a 31-percent chance to be exact, according to ESPN's FPI (Football Power Index) -- but their biggest threat of being upset will be waiting at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday. The No. 11 Rebels admitted they were looking ahead to the big game after slogging past Memphis 24-3, but they still turned in another impressive performance by what has become one of the nation's most dominant defenses. Ole Miss kept Memphis out of the end zone and has allowed just two touchdowns on 38 drives this season. The Rebels' run defense was particularly nasty, limiting Memphis to 23 yards on 31 attempts. Alabama is coming off a bye and a dominant, complete performance of its own in a 42-21 thrashing of Florida. It all sets up to be quite a clash in Oxford, Mississippi, the first of what will likely be a handful of glamorous SEC West showdowns.

Player under pressure: Dak Prescott
Last time we saw them, the Bulldogs made quite the statement in beating then-No. 8 LSU for the first time in nearly 15 years and winning in Baton Rouge for the first time in nearly 24 years. Prescott showed all of his dual-threat brilliance in carving up the Tigers' defense, and MSU shot up in the polls after a very big win. In order for the Dogs to keep momentum on their side they now have to beat another top 10 foe. Prescott will be the central figure, and the pressure he'll face is sure to be literal as well as figurative. Texas A&M leads the SEC with 17 sacks in four games. True freshman end Myles Garrett has been a force with 5.5, while linebacker Shaan Washington returned from a broken collarbone last week and recorded two sacks in his first game of the year. One more thing: Prescott will be without his starting center, as Dillon Day will serve a one-game suspension for stomping on two LSU players.

Coach under the microscope: Florida's Will Muschamp
Muschamp probably has this category to himself until his Gators start winning and pulling off upsets. Florida's loss to Alabama was not unexpected, but the way it went down -- more ineptitude on offense and a school record for yards allowed on defense -- pushed fans to the brink. Even some of Muschamp's die-hard supporters had to be talked off their nearest ledge. If the noise was that loud after UF's loss to a juggernaut program like Alabama, what would happen if the Gators lose to Tennessee for the first time in nearly 10 years? The Volunteers are an improving bunch. They came oh-so-close to beating Georgia on the road last week, and they're still hungry for respect. Florida, coming off a bye, will have to get its act together in order to pull off a win at Neyland Stadium.

Storyline to watch: Will Brandon Harris start?
LSU's visit to No. 5 Auburn has an entirely different feel after the Bayou Bengals' season-long quarterback controversy took a turn for the decisive. True freshman Brandon Harris was electrifying in relief of Anthony Jennings. Harris was 11-of-14 passing for 178 yards and directed the LSU offense to seven touchdowns on seven possessions. After the game, coach Les Miles declined to name Harris the starter, saying LSU's way is to thoroughly evaluate before making a decision. With all due respect, that's a bunch of hooey. Harris obviously gives LSU its best chance to pull what would be an enormous upset both in terms of the national stage and the division race. It won't be easy against Auburn's improving defense. The Tigers have allowed only three plays of 25 yards or more this season, tied for the second fewest in the FBS.

Intriguing matchup: South Carolina at Kentucky
While the West division deserves all the attention it's going to get on Saturday, the East is quietly trying to sort itself out. Upstart Kentucky finally removed a very large monkey off its back by beating Vanderbilt and snapping a 17-game conference losing streak. In order to earn respect, the Wildcats' next task is to score an upset. Kentucky and its fans will be fired up for this home game, and the Gamecocks are ripe for the picking after blowing a 20-7 lead in the fourth quarter against division-leading Missouri. Kentucky's improving offense will stretch USC's struggling defense. But the most intriguing matchup in this one is on the other side of the ball, where the Cats' defense is coming off its best performance against an SEC foe since 1996. UK held Vanderbilt to 139 yards last week. If the Wildcats can contain the Gamecocks' offense, it might not even take a shootout to earn that elusive signature win.

SEC morning links

September, 29, 2014
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1. Fresh off its win over Memphis on Saturday, Ole Miss was already taking shots at Alabama. Safety Cody Prewitt said he doesn’t believe the Crimson Tide are as good as they have been in recent years. It might be a little early to say that; after all, just last year, Prewitt’s Rebels were shut out in Tuscaloosa, 25-0. A lot has changed since that game, though. The Ole Miss defense, which has allowed just two touchdowns through the first four games, is much improved, and quarterback Bo Wallace is a year older. At Alabama, the offense looks more balanced under new coordinator Lane Kiffin, and they’re even using their own version of the no-huddle offense. It’s one of many intriguing matchups in the SEC this weekend.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertWill LSU turn to Brandon Harris in hostile territory at Auburn?
2. Speaking of intriguing matchups, how about LSU traveling to Auburn on Saturday? Les Miles' team has won six of the last seven against Auburn, but his Tigers opened up as 7.5-point underdogs on the road. A big reason for that is the uncertainty at quarterback. Miles has yet to name a starter, but after Saturday’s victory over New Mexico State, it was pretty clear who played better. The question will be whether Miles wants to give freshman Brandon Harris his first start on the road, in a hostile environment. The Auburn defense isn’t worried as much about the opposing quarterback; it’s worried about getting healthy after three starters were banged up in a 45-17 victory over Louisiana Tech on Saturday.

3. What happened to South Carolina on Saturday? It looked like the Gamecocks were well on their way to beating Missouri and grabbing hold of the SEC East. Then, all of a sudden, it all slipped away. A day later, Steve Spurrier saw his team’s streak of 69 consecutive weeks in the AP Top 25 come to an end. The good news is that despite the loss to Missouri and despite dropping out of the polls, South Carolina is still not out of the SEC race. The bad news is that they have to travel to Lexington this weekend to face much-improved Kentucky team, and the local beat writers are already saying that Spurrier’s team looks beatable again this week. We’ll know a lot more about both teams following Saturday’s game.

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SEC bowl projections: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
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Alabama was off this week, so it remains in the top spot as a College Football Playoff representative, but we have some movement in the next couple of teams in this week’s SEC bowl projections.

We’re moving Auburn up a spot in place of Texas A&M, which won but showed it might still have some work to do after needing a furious rally and a few breaks to escape with an overtime win over Arkansas.

Also, despite the Razorbacks’ loss, we’ll stick with them finding a way to get three more wins and bowl eligibility this season. They proved they’re a quality team that’s making progress, although they have a brutal schedule to navigate the rest of the way.

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

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

SEC Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
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There's a new No. 1 this week following Texas A&M's struggles to get by a rapidly improving Arkansas team. But considering Auburn took down those same Razorbacks 45-21 earlier this season, the Aggies' overtime victory wasn't enough to keep them on top. Beyond that, South Carolina keeps sliding, while the conference gets ready for a trio of huge games Saturday in Ole Miss-Alabama, Mississippi State-Texas A&M and Auburn-LSU.

Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.
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Two of college football's proudest programs are scraping close to rock bottom this year. Combined, Michigan and Florida have lost 15 of their last 20 games. Which program is in a worse spot at the moment? Edward Aschoff and Dan Murphy debate:

Edward Aschoff: In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately realm that college football resides in, Florida and Michigan haven't exactly done a lot for their respective fan bases in the last couple of years.

But which team is in the most troubling situation? Well, here’s why Florida has to get things back on track faster than Michigan: Look at how strong the SEC is right now compared to the Big Ten? The talent gap in the SEC between the top of the conference and the middle of the pack is tightening, while the bottom is getting better ... even if Vanderbilt has fallen off since James Franklin left.

Florida's 42-21 loss at Alabama this past weekend did coach Will Muschamp no favors with Florida’s fan base. The defense, which is Muschamp’s specialty, surrendered 645 yards, the most allowed in school history. And the offense looked as anemic as it did last season, even when Alabama’s defense gave it plenty of early opportunities to make some big plays.

And while things got a little more discouraging for fans in Gainesville, things are looking good for other teams around the league. Georgia and South Carolina haven’t exactly looked like world-beaters this year, but would anyone pick the Gators to beat either right now? What about Missouri? Kentucky took Florida to three overtimes, and you have to think that Tennessee will be favored next week at home against the Gators.

Arkansas already looks much better than it did last year, and both of the Mississippi schools are ranked inside the top 15. Do I need to say anything about Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M when it comes to the national spotlight?

The fact of the matter is that we still don’t know what kind of team Florida is. The offense went from looking good to regressing. The defense is younger and needs a lot of work. Against arguably the best team on its schedule, Florida was blown away and was barely competitive. Remember, Florida fans were looking for a moral victory heading into this game. No way that’s the new standard, right?

Recruits are on the fence about the Gators, and we just don’t know in which direction this program is going inside a league that's more competitive from top to bottom than we've seen in a long time.

Things could turn around after that bad Alabama loss, but if they don’t, Florida’s program could be playing a really dangerous game of catch up in the nation's toughest conference.

Dan Murphy: The same things creating a sense of urgency for the Gators -- recruiting and the power of the SEC that Edward mentioned -- are what ultimately put them in a better position than Michigan to pull out of their current rough spot. The road to recovery for the Wolverines looks longer and more painful than for their counterparts at Florida.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Robin Alam/Icon SportswireBrady Hoke and the Wolverines are at recruiting disadvantage with SEC schools like Florida.
Even the most institutional college football powers go through their ebbs and flows. It wasn’t that long ago that people questioned if Alabama could ever return to its Bear Bryant-era glory days. The two proven ways to pull out of that cycle are to catch lightning in a bottle with a special player (Look at what Johnny Manziel has done to bring Texas A&M back to the upper echelon) or to scrap everything and start fresh, like the Crimson Tide did by hiring Nick Saban in 2007.

In either case, Florida has an innate advantage to get back on track faster.

The recruiting grounds around Gainesville are far more fertile than in the Midwest. The SEC's reputation as “big boy football” has top players from outside that corner of the country clamoring for a chance to play against the best. Florida has finished higher than Michigan in recruiting ranks every year since 2010, when it had the No. 1 class in the nation. Lightning is unpredictable, but the odds of a special, program-changing athlete choosing the Gators are higher.

Michigan can't compete with those natural resources. Other resources (facilities and bank account) at Michigan are on par with just about any athletic department in the country. The available talent and regional passion, though, make the SEC a more popular choice among rising coaching stars just like for the prospects. Both programs have the means to make a big-splash hire if they decide to part ways with their current coaching staffs, but the Gators are probably picking from a bigger pool of candidates.

Finally, the questions and complaints around Michigan’s program don’t stop with head coach Brady Hoke. Everyone from the backup quarterback (whoever that might be this week) to Hoke to athletic director Dave Brandon has come under fire during a lackluster 2-2 start to the season.

Brandon's future in Ann Arbor is as much in doubt as Hoke's. Jeremy Foley has been Florida's athletic director for more than 20 years and worked in the department since 1981. He at least provides a solid foundation for a smoother changing of the guard if that time should come.

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QB Driskel will make Gator nation proud
Muschamp knows criticism is part of being the QB at Florida but feels that Driskel will make the gator nation proud.
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