SEC's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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There are once again some big games around the SEC this weekend. The Florida at Alabama game should draw many top recruits, as will the LSU-Mississippi State game. There will be many recruits taking unofficial visits and even a few taking official visits. Here is a closer look at some top expected visitors.

SEC morning links

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
8:00
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1. A lot has been made of the matchup of Amari Cooper and Vernon Hargreaves III, and rightfully so. But there's a piece to the puzzle that seems to have gone overlooked in the buildup to Alabama-Florida this week: the play of the offensive line. This is the SEC after all, and there's a good chance the game comes down to who controls the line of scrimmage best. If Blake Sims and Jeff Driskel aren't protected, it won't matter how well they throw the football. Florida center Max Garcia said the line plans to combat Alabama's defensive front, "with heart." Though the Gator o-line lacks depth, it's full of experience with all five starters being upperclassmen. On the other side is Alabama, which has a true freshman starting at left tackle in Cam Robinson. He could be the key to the game. Though the former five-star prospect has played well this season, he hasn't played in a game of this magnitude yet, and he hasn't seen a group of edge rushers like Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard yet. If there was ever a game not to make a rookie mistake, it will be Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

2. Jalen Hurd got a nice pick-me-up after Tennessee lost on the road at Oklahoma. The former four-star recruit turned promising freshman tailback checked his phone after the 34-10 loss and saw a notification on Twitter. And look at who it was. No, Faux Pelini didn't strike again. Instead, it was former Ohio State and NFL star Eddie George showing Hurd some love on the twittersphere. George, like a lot of us, saw in Hurd a potential star. Time will tell how Hurd's career turns out, but for now he can revel in the praise of an idol. "That just makes me happy," Hurd said.



3. For the first time in a long time, South Carolina doesn't have a two-quarterback system to worry about. In fact, we might not even know who Dylan Thompson's backup is at this point. It might be Pharoh Cooper, if you look at the number snaps taken in games. On the depth chart, Connor Mitch and Perry Orth are both listed as No. 2. It's a matter of semantics, of course, but the larger point might be the fact that there isn't even a whiff of a QB controversy in Columbia. When's the last time we could say that? Spurrier hasn't been the least bit tempted to pull Thompson from the game, and it's a testament to how well the veteran quarterback has played. So far, Thompson has made his four-year wait worth it. The redshirt senior has thrown eight touchdowns and three interceptions, and is averaging just over 300 yards passing per game. If he keeps this up, he might soon be in the conversation of the SEC's best quarterbacks. His 82.1 QBR rating ranks fourth in the league.
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Florida football coach Will Muschamp joined The Paul Finebaum Show to discuss the Gators' game against Alabama.
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Recruiting reporters Erik McKinney, Damon Sayles, Derek Tyson and Tom VanHaaren join ESPN's Phil Murphy to discuss some upcoming decisions for ESPN 300 recruits and a pair of five-star prospects who recently postponed their commitment date.

Florida Gators have talent to compete 

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
3:00
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When Alabama and Florida square off on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS), the two teams will display some of the top talent in the country. In fact, according to the expected two-deep depth charts, Alabama and Florida will showcase 56 players that were ranked in the ESPN 300 (changed from ESPN 150 to ESPN 300 in 2013) and the ESPN JC 300 coming out of high school or junior college.


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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier beamed when he sprang into his postgame press conference room Saturday evening. He had just watched his Gamecocks shock No. 6 Georgia -- the team picked by many to represent the SEC in the College Football Playoff after just one game -- 38-35 with a gutsy, yet controversial, call to go for it on fourth-and-inches.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier again got the best of Georgia and showed that South Carolina will make noise in the SEC Eastern Division.
The Head Ball Coach, who was labeled "done" by some after an unconvincing 1-1 start that featured an epic beat down from Texas A&M, was smiling once again after besting his favorite SEC pinata -- Georgia.

Spurrier got his 16th win over Georgia -- the most by any coach over the Dawgs -- and his fourth out of the last five meetings. He and his team also showed that what we thought of South Carolina heading into last weekend wasn't exactly true. There are still issues with the Gamecocks, especially on defense, but we were quick to write off the very team picked in the preseason to win the SEC Eastern Division.

"This is a good one," Spurrier said of Saturday's win. "I knew we had a good chance to beat them when I heard [ESPN radio host Paul] Finebaum picked them [Georgia] to win by about 25 points. He picked Alabama to beat Oklahoma by 25 [in last season’s Allstate Sugar Bowl] too. I said, 'We gotta chance tonight then.'”

Yeah, all that negativity we showed the Gamecocks last week didn't go unnoticed in Columbia.

“I’m not going to lie and tell you that I wasn’t watching TV, seeing people say that Georgia was the No. 1 team, have them winning the playoff," South Carolina running back Mike Davis said. "Watching GameDay and seeing all those guys pick UGA, and having [ESPN college football analyst] Kirk [Herbstreit] being the only one who said we were going to win. This is a big confidence booster for our team.”

So South Carolina isn't dead, and it's clear that the SEC East is still very much wide open.

What else were we quick to assume about the SEC?

1. Jake Coker isn't ready: We all thought Coker would be Alabama's starting quarterback. Well, it's Florida week and veteran Blake Sims is very much the guy and has a big lead on Coker. Unlike Coker, Sims is limited with his arm, but he's done nothing to lose the starting job, while Coker has done nothing to take it.

2. Arkansas isn't the pushover it has been: We figured it'd be another ho-hum year for the Razorbacks. Then they challenged Auburn in the first half of their opener and literally ran over Nicholls State and Texas Tech with 933 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Arkansas looks like it can run on anyone.

3. Vanderbilt is in trouble: We thought the talent was still there for Vanderbilt to make another quality run under Derek Mason in his first year with the Commodores. Well, we aren't sure what's up, but the Commodores are lucky to be 1-2 at this point. After getting outscored 78-10 against Temple and Ole Miss, the Dores needed a last-second missed field goal to escape the UMass game.

4. Florida's defense has to climb back to elite status: We questioned Florida's offense, which still has concerns, but we didn't press the defense. Well, it turns out that there are actually real concerns with this younger unit. Coverage breakdowns fueled 369 Kentucky passing yards and three touchdowns. Also, can anyone besides Dante Fowler Jr. rush the passer?

5. Mississippi State's secondary has questions: It's early, but the Bulldogs have had issues in the back end of their defense. Through three games, the Bulldogs have allowed an average of 311.7 passing yards per game. Corner Taveze Calhoun, who garnered tons of preseason praise, and the guys around him at corner and safety have really underperformed to start the season.

6. Texas A&M is still pretty good: Wasn't this team supposed to take a few steps back without Johnny Manziel? Well, the Aggies didn't get the memo. Texas A&M upset South Carolina 52-28 to start the year, the defense looks better and quarterback Kenny Hill leads the SEC with 1,094 yards and has 11 touchdowns. I can't believe someone didn't think an A&M quarterback would throw for 3,000 yards this season ...

7. Kentucky can upset someone: If you watched any part of Florida's triple-overtime win over Kentucky, you'd know the Wildcats are better than they have been in years. Patrick Towles threw for almost 400 yards on the Gators with a handful of playmakers to use that this team hasn't had in a while. Also, that defense is much better with Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith battling for the top defensive end duo in the SEC.

8. Tennessee doesn't have a quarterback issue: We thought there was too much uncertainty surrounding Tennessee's quarterbacks. Well, we were wrong, as Justin Worley has been solid, making tremendous throws through the first two games. He struggled against Oklahoma but is averaging 240 yards per game and has six touchdown passes.

9. Missouri isn't ready to take a step back: We thought there were a lot of questions for Mizzou on both sides of the ball, and there still might be, but this team isn't ready to bow out in the SEC. The competition hasn't been great, but Mizzou has done exactly what's been asked, outscoring teams 125-52.

10. Leonard Fournette isn't Michael Jordan ... yet: We thought Fournette would have at least 1,000 rushing yards and, like, 20 touchdowns at this point. What a disappointment! It's a long season folks, but Fournette is still learning and has just 162 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be great, but we actually have to be patient with him.
Florida sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III's first collegiate interception felt easy from the start.

The Gators were in man coverage against Toledo last season and Hargreaves, in his first game no less, was playing press. Hargreaves was already close to receiver Alonzo Russell, so once his opponent started going into a post route, Hargreaves already had it in his mind that he was going to undercut his man and the route.

Quarterback Terrance Owens was finished before he even released the ball. Hargreaves jumped the route, making a controlled guess that sealed Owens' fate.

"As soon as I undercut it, the quarterback threw it to me," Hargreaves said.

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It was the first of a handful of outstanding plays he would make in his debut season. Hargreaves, who led the Gators with three interceptions and 14 passes defended, earned All-American honors and entered the 2014 season labeled by many as the nation's best cornerback.

Through two games, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound phenom already leads the SEC with five passes defended.

His speed, instincts, vision and natural playing ability make him a feared cover man and ball hawk. Equipped with more experience and skills, Hargreaves could be even better this season. After two solid performances, he will get his greatest test to date on Saturday in Tuscaloosa: Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper.

"We knew this was coming," Hargreaves said of covering Cooper, who leads the nation with 33 receptions and is third overall with 454 yards. "He's excited. I'm excited. We both know the magnitude of the game and it's going to be a great matchup on Saturday.

"Everybody knows what's coming. Obviously I'm going to be covering him. I'm excited for it."

How exactly will he go about covering his toughest opponent yet? For Hargreaves, it's more instinctual than anything. He said he doesn't like to think too much on the field.

BEFORE THE SNAP

Hargreaves zeros in on opponents, trying quickly to recognize the offensive personnel. He counts the number of receivers, then shifts his focus back to the defensive call.

He concentrates on what his defense is doing, what the play is and what the calls are. Once the assignment is clear, his eyes move back to the receivers.

"Most teams nowadays don't really huddle, so you can't really get a lot of indicators when they break out of the huddle," Hargreaves said. "Really for me, it's the receivers."

Once the offense lines up, Hargreaves figures out his leverage. A receiver lining up really wide forces him to play with inside leverage. An inside receiver means outside leverage.

He plants his feet, balls firm, yet light enough for him to explode out of his stance and glide along the field. His hips are loose, making turning smooth in case the receiver pulls a move.

AFTER THE SNAP

"I understand what [receivers] might do and what they like to do, but other than that, I'm not out there trying to guess routes," Hargreaves said. "It's just all instincts . . . You can't really play off what they might do. You react to what they do do."

His feet are as quick -- if not quicker -- than most of the receivers he covers. His hands snap into position and his arms push as fast as his legs churn, pulling him stride-for-stride with his opponent.

"He's very instinctive, he's fast, quick," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. "But I think probably his greatest asset besides having great ability is he's a very instinctive player."

BALL IN FLIGHT

What's impressive -- and for opponents quite frustrating -- is how Hargreaves plays with his back turned. He relies on his technique and trusts his instincts. If a receiver gets behind him, Hargreaves stays patient. He doesn't panic because he knows he has time.

Hargreaves' eyes shift to the receiver's eyes, which are planted on the ball. Once their hands go up, the ball is close, meaning it's time for Hargreaves to pounce.

"It's something you can work on, you certainly can enhance, but the guy really has a lot of poise with his back to the football," Florida coach Will Muschamp said.

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Hargreaves is still young and learning. His brain is still dissecting new information about players and formations each time he sits down for his film sessions during the week.

"Most of my decisions are calculated," Hargreaves said. "I understand the situation, I understand what's going on in the game."

He'll have to be as calculated as ever against the nation's best Saturday.

Kickoff Live: Week 4 (1 ET)

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
10:35
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ESPN.com reporters Ted Miller, Edward Aschoff and Heather Dinich join host Chantel Jennings to discuss the latest on Jameis Winston and preview the weekend slate of games.

SEC Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
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Week 3 brought some serious action in the SEC, including Florida surviving triple overtime against Kentucky and Vanderbilt escaping against UMass. (And to think, Alex, everyone laughed when you picked the Minutemen.) With three high-profile games on the docket this week, let's get on with the picks.


Why Auburn wins big: Kansas State isn't going to be scared by Auburn's breakneck tempo -- the Wildcats see it against Baylor annually. The difference will come in that tempo combined with the strength and athleticism in Auburn's offensive line that powers the Tigers' running game. Look for the game to be close and competitive initially before the Tigers pull away in the fourth quarter as they wear down the Wildcats up front. Auburn 45, Kansas State 24 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Kansas State keeps it close: When was the last time the SEC ventured into the Midwest to play a Power 5 opponent? Exactly. It's just not done, and with good reason. Expect Kansas State to load the box and dare Auburn to pass. Nick Marshall hasn't thrown the ball all that well thus far, completing 56 percent of his passes for just 151 yards. Auburn 31, Kansas State 24 -- Alex Scarborough


Why LSU wins: LSU has won 14 in a row in this series, but that won’t matter on Saturday. The Tigers will beat Mississippi State again on Saturday because they are the better team -- and it doesn’t hurt that they’re playing at night at Tiger Stadium, a scenario in which they’re 43-3 under Les Miles. LSU 28, Mississippi State 14 -- David Ching

Why Mississippi State wins: How good is LSU? I watched the first half against Wisconsin and was less than impressed. I still don’t trust Anthony Jennings at quarterback. Meanwhile, Mississippi State comes in with a little bit of a chip on its shoulder, having not won in Death Valley since 1991, and Dak Prescott, a Louisiana native, gave the LSU defense fits in last year’s game. Mississippi State 24, LSU 21 -- Greg Ostendorf


Why Alabama wins big: After scoring just three points in the first half and needing triple overtime to beat Kentucky last week, there are some serious concerns for Florida heading into a tough environment at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama's defensive line should create a miserable afternoon for Florida's offense, specifically quarterback Jeff Driskel. Alabama 36, Florida 16 -- Jeff Barlis

Why Florida keeps it close: After a triple-overtime win against Kentucky, people are down on the Gators. But despite last week's scare, Florida is better than it was last year. I can already hear the silly homer chants, and I'm sure Jeff is snickering at me, but if Florida's communication and pass protection hadn't been so bad last week, I'd be tempted to pick Florida in the upset. Notice that I said "tempted." I think you'll see a defensive struggle, but Alabama's running game will be too much and the Crimson Tide will pull away late. Alabama 24, Florida 13 -- Edward Aschoff

More unanimous picks:

Georgia over Troy: Now you can show off that passing game, Georgia. The Bulldogs won't need much of Todd Gurley, as the coaches look to get more out of Hutson Mason's arm. Georgia 51, Troy 10

Texas A&M over SMU: Kenny Trill adds to his flashy numbers and the defense continues to look better in a road rout that will leave Eric Dickerson looking to take a blowtorch to his former program. Texas A&M 65, SMU 13

Missouri over Indiana: These Tigers don't need -- or want -- respect, and they'll continue to quietly go about their business with another convincing victory that will just lead to more Mizzou fans yelling at that @AschoffESPN Twitter account. Missouri 45, Indiana 20

Arkansas over Northern Illinois: Northern Illinois actually has had a respectable run defense through three games, so maybe the Hogs won't rush for 400 yards on Saturday. Maybe. Arkansas 48, Northern Illinois 21

South Carolina over Vanderbilt: After a thrilling 38-35 victory over SEC East favorite Georgia, the Gamecocks must get back on the field. Expect a slow start, but no fourth-quarter visor-throwing from the HBC. South Carolina 34, Vanderbilt 14

Unanimous summaries and scores by Edward Aschoff.

Standings
Chris Low 32-2
Edward Aschoff 31-3
Jeff Barlis 31-3
David Ching 31-3
Sam Khan Jr. 30-4
Greg Ostendorf 29-5
Alex Scarborough 27-7
Georgia has offered boxing great Evander Holyfield’s son a scholarship, and the Dawgs seem ready to deliver the knockout. Plus, Kansas State hosts Auburn in one of the biggest games ever in Manhattan, but there won’t be a lot of recruits in the stands.


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Watch: SEC Spreecast replay

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
2:50
PM ET
ESPN.com reporters Edward Aschoff, David Ching, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough got together to debate the hottest topics in the SEC as well as preview this weekend's biggest games, including Auburn-Kansas State, Florida-Alabama and Mississippi State-LSU. Get ready for this week's big games by watching now.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If there was ever a time not to make a bad decision, it was during the second half against Southern Miss, up three touchdowns with a big game against Florida on the horizon.

Alabama should have been focused on getting out of the game unscathed, but instead Nick Perry took matters into his own hands, making helmet-to-helmet contact with a defenseless receiver. The veteran safety was flagged on the play, ejected from the game, and, by rule, will have to sit out the first half of Saturday’s game against SEC rival Florida.

It was a tough break for an Alabama defense already missing Jarrick Williams, who fractured his foot against West Virginia. With Williams and Perry out, the secondary is missing its two most experienced defensive backs. The two have combined for 25 career starts, while their potential replacements, Geno Smith and Jabriel Washington, have combined for three starts since 2012.

“We just have to work everyone and see how we end up,” said coach Nick Saban. “Now that we lost Jarrick, who’s a safety, and Nick for half a game, we are getting a little thin there.”

Since Florida likes to spread the field with three and four receivers, the loss of Perry creates a domino effect. When Smith shifts back to safety, he vacates the nickel cornerback position. That means either Tony Brown or Maurice Smith have to come off the bench and fill in. Smith saw limited action as a freshman last season and Brown, a former five-star recruit, just arrived on campus in January.

Asked what they’ll miss most with Perry and Williams out, safety Landon Collins said, “Knowledge.”

“Other than that, we’ll have other guys step up,” he added.

Both Collins and junior cornerback Cyrus Jones were matter-of-fact about the sudden departure of their teammates.

Part of it was gamesmanship, to be sure, but part of it is the culture at Alabama. Last season there was never much settled in the secondary as Maurice Smith, Eddie Jackson, John Fulton and Jones all rotated at cornerback. At safety, Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix both missed chunks of time. Meanwhile, Perry was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.

While Jones could admit that it “puts more pressure on the older guys to hold down the fort,” he wouldn’t concede much with Perry out for the first half and Williams not expected to play.

“You just have to go out there and play with a lot of confidence,” he said of Smith, Brown and Washington. “Those guys are just eager for their time and are ready to make plays when they’re called upon. We definitely don’t take a step down from when we have somebody go out.”

That’s the hope at least.

If there was any good news to come out of the aftermath of the game against Southern Miss, it was that starting cornerback Eddie Jackson isn’t seriously injured. The sophomore, who returned from a torn ACL last week, came up limping in the first half. Medical trainers tended to him on the sideline, but Saban said after the game that it wasn’t structural. A bruised quad, he said, “I don’t think it’s anything serious.”

'Prove it': Bigger game for Driskel or Sims?

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
1:00
PM ET
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In this week's 'Prove It' video, Alex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf take a look at the two quarterbacks in the Alabama-Florida matchup -- Jeff Driskel and Blake Sims -- and which one has more to prove this Saturday.

Muschamp known to overcome adversity

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
12:38
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Muschamp has a 17-inch steel rod on display in his office.

It was implanted in his leg following a high school baseball injury that nearly ended his college football career before it started.

If you ask him about it, the first words from his mouth are those of his father: Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you handle it.

It's something he says all the time now. As a tribute to his father's wisdom, Muschamp often turns to this thought in times of trial.

There is no doubt he has seen some of his toughest trials in the past year.

In his third season as coach of the Florida Gators, his team crumbled under a rash of injuries and posted a 4-8 record, the school's worst since 1979.

Off the field was worse. In May, Muschamp's father, Larry, died suddenly at 79 after complications following intestinal surgery.

"He was very close to Larry," Will's mother, Sally, said this week, "and I know that he, like all of us, is hurting. But I don't think the others have had the adversity that Will's had."

Muschamp has chosen to embrace adversity. That's the advice his father always gave. But in his youth, Will didn't always see positives in the struggle.

Click here to read the rest of this story.

And for an inside look at Muschamp's office, including the steel rod he keeps behind his desk, click here.

SEC morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
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Much was made of offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's hire at Florida this offseason. He was brought to inject life into a struggling unit and so far, he has done that -- hiccups in the first half against Kentucky notwithstanding. The true measuring stick for the Gators' offensive progress will come this week at Alabama. Fortunately for the Gators, Roper has experience against the Crimson Tide, though it wasn't a good experience (Duke lost to Alabama 62-13 in 2010 when Roper was with the Blue Devils). These are different circumstances and Roper has Will Muschamp -- who knows Nick Saban well from his days as an assistant on his staff -- as a resource. While Florida still has plenty of room for improvement, Saturday's clash in Tuscaloosa will be revealing when it comes to understanding how far the Gators' offense has come in a short time.

Texas A&M hasn't taken a step back -- like many thought they would in the post Johnny Manziel-era -- and contributions from the Aggies' freshmen is a big part of that equation. So far, 14 true freshmen from the Aggies' fourth-ranked 2014 recruiting class have seen the field and several have become impact players immediately: defensive end Myles Garrett, safety Armani Watts and receiver Speedy Noil, just to name a few. The Aggies' move to the SEC did quite a bit for the program in terms of visibility, fundraising, image but the impact has probably been felt most in recruiting, where the Aggies have hauled in two consecutive top-10 recruiting classes and are on track for a third straight this fall.

Vanderbilt started three different quarterbacks in their first three games, and suffice it to say, it has been an adventure. Against Massachusetts, true freshman Wade Freebeck started but Patton Robinette -- the Game 1 starter -- came in later to lead a comeback victory. What to make of the way coach Derek Mason has handled quarterbacks? It certainly has been a guessing game for fans and observers. This week, Mason said Robinette is starting and he's sticking with him until there's a reason to go another direction. Here's hoping that is the case. Robinette was pulled quickly in the opener against Temple but perhaps gained confidence from his relief performance last week. Confidence can be a fragile thing with a quarterback since it's a position of high visibility. Hopefully Mason can help Robinette keep that confidence up and stick with him through thick and thin, which would show the rest of the team that it should be confident in him as well.

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