SEC bowl projections: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
5:00
PM ET
It didn't take long for the bowl projections to see a major shake-up with South Carolina's loss to Texas A&M on opening night. There's also a new SEC team headed to the College Football Playoff in the latest forecast after Georgia had what many are calling the most impressive win from Week 1. We still believe it's unlikely the league gets two teams in the playoff, though.

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

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Georgia
Orange Bowl: Alabama
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn
Capital One Bowl: Texas A&M
TaxSlayer Bowl: LSU
Outback Bowl: South Carolina
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Mississippi State
Belk Bowl: Florida
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Missouri
Birmingham Bowl, Jan. 3: Ole Miss
Duck Commander Independence Bowl, Dec. 27: Tennessee

Heisman Watch: Gurley tops list

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

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

Click here for the full list.

Texas A&M jumps 12 spots

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
2:32
PM ET
video

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

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

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

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

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


(Read full post)


SEC power rankings: Week 1

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

video
video

After week 1 of the season, Cary Chow and Adam Rittenberg look back on which conferences surprised and which left us with more questions than answers.
video

Todd McShay gives his top five running backs in college football, but Adam Rittenberg thinks he has one notable omission.
video

Week one of the college football season is in the books. Time to talk playoffs, right? Adam Rittenberg and Heather Dinich take an early look at what the playoff field looks like.

SEC morning links

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

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

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

More from around the league
Tweet of the day

ATHENS, Georgia -- After only one game, No. 12 Georgia has suddenly become a popular choice to win the SEC East and contend for one of the four spots in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

It should be no surprise then that Bulldogs coach Mark Richt is trying to tap the brakes on UGA's expectations, even after Saturday's 45-21 victory over No. 16 Clemson, which was one of its most complete efforts in several seasons.

“We played one game and we've got a long way to go,” Richt said. “The old saying is true: You're probably never as good as you think and never as bad as you think. You're never as good as you think after a win and never as bad as you think after a loss.”

[+] EnlargeGeorgia's Mark Richt
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports"We played one game and we've got a long way to go," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
While there was plenty to like about the Bulldogs after their opener, mainly their deep stable of running backs and special teams, Georgia still has plenty of work to do.

Georgia's renovated defense threw a shutout in the second half against Clemson, but the Bulldogs' defensive backs were exposed at times during the first 30 minutes. And UGA's passing game didn't seem as potent without injured wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley.

“When you watch the film there's just so much to correct,” Richt said. “We've got to get better in a lot of areas or we're going to be exposed. We know it's just one game. It was a great emotional day, we were at home, we fed off the crowd and we finished strong. It was good but that was just a start.”

And Richt certainly knows how quickly things can go south if the Bulldogs lose at No. 9 South Carolina in on Sept. 13. The Gamecocks were embarrassed by Texas A&M in a 52-28 loss at home on Thursday night. Steve Spurrier has two weeks to turn around his team's defense, starting with Saturday's home game against East Carolina.

“I don't know,” Richt said. “I just think we're really young in so many ways. There are a few veterans who understand the deal, but I don't know how good we are, quite frankly. We had a good performance, we had one good game and even in that game there were things that just need to be corrected. So I'm not going to get too excited yet. We've got a long way to go.”

Other observations from Georgia's opening win over Clemson:

  • Georgia's special teams have been a trouble spot the past few seasons, but they were outstanding against the Tigers. Tailback Todd Gurley returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, and UGA's coverage teams put Clemson in bad position for most of the game. In fact, UGA allowed minus-six yards on two punt returns and an 18-yard average on six kickoff returns. Freshman tailback Sony Michel and cornerback Damian Swann were outstanding covering punts, and the Tigers started eight of their 15 possessions inside their 20-yard line.
  • Mitchell, a junior who missed most of last season with a torn ACL, is still recovering from preseason surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. He watched the Clemson game from the sideline and wasn't using crutches or wearing a brace. Mitchell, who is probably UGA's most explosive receiver, isn't expected back for the South Carolina game, but might be ready to play against Tennessee on Sept. 27. Scott-Wesley, who had 16 catches for 311 yards with two touchdowns last season, might be ready to return from a high ankle sprain in time to play the Gamecocks. Senior receiver Jonathon Rumph also was hurt in practice last week and didn't play against Clemson.
  • With Mitchell sidelined, look for UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to continue to find ways to get explosive 5-foot-8 freshman Isaiah McKenzie the ball. The Bulldogs put McKenzie and Michel in the slot a few times against Clemson, and then motioned them into the backfield to take handoffs.
  • Richt wants Gurley more involved in the offense than he was in the first half against Clemson (he had only four carries), but he'll continue to rotate UGA's running backs. Georgia also wants to do a better job of getting junior Keith Marshall into space, instead of having him try to run through the tackles, where Gurley and freshman Nick Chubb are more effective.
  • New Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who was a part of three national championships at Florida State in 2013 and Alabama in 2011 and '12, was far from satisfied with his defense's effort against Clemson. Pruitt said UGA's defense made fewer mistakes in the second half. “It's not like we did any secret things at halftime,” he said. “If you look at our body of work, there were a lot of guys playing who haven't played a lot of football around here. There were a lot of guys that got their feet wet for the first time. For us, it's going to be a daily grind to get better fundamentally, pay attention to detail and create the right habits.”
video

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's season opener was suspended on Saturday, but it turns out one long night of rain, lightning and delays was punishment enough for three Gators players who had been suspended.

Coach Will Muschamp announced on Monday that starting defensive tackle Darious Cummings, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick will play this Saturday against Eastern Michigan.

Cummings, a senior, and Bostwick, a redshirt freshman, had been suspended for a violation of team rules, while Robinson was being disciplined for what Muschamp called a university sanction.

"They will be back this week with us," Muschamp said. "Not just as far as the suspension of a game, but they've handled a lot of other things for me, as well as Demarcus Robinson, who had a university sanction that's been resolved."

Muschamp had announced the suspensions just hours before the opener against Idaho.

Then the skies opened. After a nearly three-hour delay, Florida fielded the opening kick and lined up for its first play when another lightning strike forced the teams back inside. They would not return.

The game was ultimately suspended due to lightning and unplayable field conditions.

A decision to reschedule or cancel the game has not been reached, and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley had little to say Monday other than reiterating that he hopes to announce a decision in the next day or two.


(Read full post)


video

After a monster performance against Clemson, Todd Gurley's stock is up. Way up.
video

Trevor Matich discusses his top storylines from Week 1, including the most impressive player and team.
The Alabama Crimson Tide couldn’t handle the hurry-up. Clint Trickett might as well have blown kisses to Nick Saban the way he paraded West Virginia's offense up and down the field.

The Auburn Tigers struggled with the power running game. The same Arkansas Razorbacks' offense that ranked last in the SEC a year ago manhandled the Tigers’ front seven, posting 21 points by halftime.

The South Carolina Gamecocks just didn’t show up. Steve Spurrier’s defense laid down for the Texas A&M Aggies. His star running back, Mike Davis, shouldn’t have bothered dressing out.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsLes Miles and LSU joined several SEC teams who won their openers, but looked flawed in the process.
They all entered their season-openers with hopes of competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff, but the SEC’s three highest-ranked teams showed significant flaws in Week 1. The Gamecocks had their doors blown off. The Tide and Tigers won, but it wasn’t pretty. Even the LSU Tigers, a popular dark horse pick to reach the final four, had to be bailed out by a bit of Les Miles magic and the Wisconsin's' abrupt aversion to the running game.

By the time Monday rolled around, the dust settled and the big picture of the SEC became clear, it wasn’t what anyone expected. Somehow it was the Georgia Bulldogs and Texas A&M left standing as seemingly the league’s best hope of reaching the playoff.

But with all due respect to Todd Gurley’s inhuman exploits and Kenny Hill’s inspired performance, should we be sold? For that matter, should we be ready to call anyone the class of the SEC?

Right now there are far more questions than answers. Everyone, it seems, has flaws.

The East is a toss-up. Georgia certainly holds promise, but quarterback Hutson Mason still needs to show he can carry an offense, Gurley has to stay healthy and the secondary must continue improving despite missing so many starters from a season ago. South Carolina, meanwhile, has to do a complete 180 or it will lose to Georgia in two weeks and find itself in an insurmountable hole. Then there are the Florida Gators, who are a complete unknown given Mother Nature’s refusal to let them finally turn the page on 2013.

The West is even more convoluted. Texas A&M might be the real deal, but its offense is so young and it is still too early to say whether Mark Snyder has orchestrated the most impressive turnaround in history with that defense. Alabama has serious questions on defense, too, and at quarterback we might be jumping the gun a bit in proclaiming Blake Sims the answer. LSU could very well settle on Anthony Jennings under center, but he has the potential to be a reboot of Jordan Jefferson, which isn’t a good thing. Then there is Auburn, stuck with too many quarterbacks and not enough defenders, not to mention its brutal schedule.

If you’re looking for one of the favorites to run away with it, don’t hold your breath. In fact, if Week 1 showed us anything, it’s that while there are a bunch of good teams in the SEC, there is no one dominant team like in years past.

The Missouri Tigers won handily, the Ole Miss Rebels turned it on in the second half and the Mississippi State Bulldogs cruised to victory. All three should feel good about their dreams of reaching Atlanta.

Arkansas looked improved. So did the Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers. Though none of the them should go booking trips for the postseason, they could play the role of spoilers.

The only real slouches are the Vanderbilt Commodores.

When it comes time for playoff jockeying and the "my conference vs. your conference" disputes, parity will be the SEC’s No. 1 point of emphasis. But it will also be the reason it doesn’t yield an undefeated or even a one-loss team.

Alabama will get better. So will LSU and Auburn. Even South Carolina should improve with time. It is, in fact, only Week 1 we’re talking about.

But first impressions do mean something, and the first look we had of the SEC revealed a pack of teams loaded with potential but saddled with problems.

Until we find out who is ready to take a step forward and lead, it will continue to be a wide open race.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
8:00
AM ET
What a weekend of college football. The SEC kicked off the festivities with three games on Thursday night and wrapped it all up with the Tennessee-Utah State game on Sunday night. Here's a look at the five best performances from Week 1.

Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M: The award for most obvious helmet sticker goes to the Aggies' sophomore quarterback, who dazzled in his first start. Hill broke Johnny Manziel's single-game school record with 511 yards passing. His 44 completions (on 60 attempts) broke another Manziel record and were the second most in SEC history. We'd give a special sticker to head coach Kevin Sumlin if he only wore a helmet, because Sumlin's offense might be the biggest story of the league's opening weekend.

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Another obvious sticker recipient, Gurley carried his Bulldogs to a huge statement win against Clemson. His 293 all-purpose yards broke Rodney Hampton's school single-game record. Gurley had 198 yards rushing with three touchdowns as well as a 100-yard kickoff-return TD that wrestled momentum back for UGA after Clemson had taken a 21-14 lead. As a precaution, Georgia limited his carries to 15, and Gurley still averaged 13.2 yards per carry. Imagine what he could do with a full load.

Alabama running backs: With a new quarterback and a feisty opponent, the Crimson Tide needed every ounce of effort from their stellar backfield tandem. When the final whistle blew and Bama had edged West Virginia, there was little to distinguish between the results of junior T.J. Yeldon (126 yards rushing and two touchdowns) and sophomore Derrick Henry (113 yards and one touchdown). Sometimes Yeldon starts a drive, sometimes Henry does. It's anyone's guess which back finishes them.

Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn: In his second career start for the Tigers, the senior and former juco transfer showed little drop-off as the replacement for star running back Tre Mason. Artis-Payne proved capable of being Auburn's bell cow with a total of 26 carries. After scoring a first-quarter touchdown, he helped the Tigers wear out the Razorbacks defense in the second half with 122 of his career-high 177 rushing yards.

Cody Core, WR, Ole Miss: There were plenty of worthy candidates for Week 1 helmet stickers, but Core deserves to bask in the limelight after dealing with the tragic loss of his mother in late July and then fighting his way up the depth chart in preseason camp to win a starting job. Core had four catches for 110 yards, including the Rebels' two biggest plays of the night -- a 30-yard TD grab in the first quarter to open the scoring and a decisive 76-yard catch-and-run TD in the fourth quarter.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Drive Through: Week 1 Thoughts
After week 1 of the season, Cary Chow and Adam Rittenberg look back on which conferences surprised and which left us with more questions than answers.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 9/6