SEC viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
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Troy at No. 13 Georgia, SEC Network: Georgia is coming off a 38-35 loss at South Carolina and is looking for a resounding victory here. The last time these teams met (2007), Georgia won 44-34. This Troy team, however, is 0-3 and allowing 40 points per game while averaging only 20.7. Look for the Bulldogs to jump out early in this one.

3:30 p.m. ET

No. 6 Texas A&M at SMU, ABC/ESPN2: The Aggies come in at 3-0 and they’ve been rolling so far this season. SMU has been a mess, 0-2 and with a new coach: June Jones resigned last week; Tom Mason is serving as the interim head coach and is making his debut. Perhaps the Mustangs are fired up and have a renewed energy, but even if they do, the Aggies are in position for a convincing victory. These teams' past three meetings, dating to 2011, have resulted in a 35.3-point average margin of victory for A&M.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp, Nick Saban
Gary W. Green/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama own a three-game winning streak over Florida. The teams haven't played since 2011, Will Muschamp's first season.
Florida at No. 3 Alabama, CBS: Few are likely giving the Gators much of a shot here because they were pushed to their limits by Kentucky. How well they operate their no-huddle, up-tempo offense will go a long way in determining how well they fare. Meanwhile, eyes continue to focus on the Alabama quarterback situation with Blake Sims and Jacob Coker, and it will be worth watching to see what develops. The Crimson Tide own a three-game winning streak over Florida.

4 p.m. ET

Indiana at No. 18 Missouri, SEC Network: The Tigers are quietly getting it done and look to close out their nonconference schedule 4-0. If they do, it would be the eighth 4-0 start under Gary Pinkel and seventh in nine seasons. Maty Mauk is coming off a four-touchdown-pass performance and Shane Ray is coming off a two-sack, four-tackles-for-loss performance.

7 p.m. ET

Northern Illinois at Arkansas, ESPNU: A victory would give the Razorbacks as many wins this season (three) as they had in all of 2013. That would be a big step forward for Bret Bielema's crew. Northern Illinois is a quality road team, having won 17 in a row in opponents' home stadiums, including one at Northwestern on Sept. 6. Arkansas brings in a second-best-in-the-nation 362 rushing yards per game.

Mississippi State at No. 8 LSU, ESPN: Saturday nights in Death Valley are always fun -- typically for the Tigers. They're 43-2 under Les Miles in Saturday night games at Tiger Stadium. This is a big "prove-it" game for Mississippi State, a team that's 3-0 and trying to take a big step into SEC West contention. Last year's meeting between these two was competitive until a 28-point fourth quarter by LSU.

7:30 p.m. ET

No. 14 South Carolina at Vanderbilt, SEC Network: The Gamecocks got a huge win versus Georgia and are looking to go to 2-1 in league play with a victory here. South Carolina jumped out to a big lead over Vandy the last time these teams met and it's likely to happen again if the Commodores don't get on track quickly. They've struggled mightily out of the gate and had to rally to beat UMass last week. Patton Robinette will start at QB; will coach Derek Mason stick with him this time?
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The MSU Bulldogs go into Baton Rouge on Saturday night having lost 14 in a row to the LSU Tigers.

Five keys for Miss. State-LSU

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Mississippi State (3-0) will attempt to earn its first win at Tiger Stadium in eons when it visits No. 8 LSU (3-0) in Saturday night’s SEC opener for both teams.

Let’s look at five key storylines for the Bulldogs and Tigers as Saturday’s kickoff approaches.

Defending Dak: On Thursday we took a look at the numerous ways that Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott can affect the game. Last week against South Alabama, the Heisman Trophy dark horse became one of only two SEC players in the last decade to have two games where they ran for a touchdown, passed for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass (teammate Jameon Lewis is the other).

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesKeeping QB Dak Prescott contained in the pocket will be a priority for the LSU defense.
Prescott is scary as a runner -- in fact, he’s eighth in the SEC with an average of 91 rushing yards per game -- and scrambler once a pass play breaks down. Like it did successfully against Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, the Tigers’ defensive front must contain Prescott in the pocket in order to limit the havoc he creates once he opts to tuck it and run. He rushed for 103 yards against LSU last season, including a 28-yard touchdown scramble after fleeing the pocket.

However, Prescott was only 9-for-20 for 106 yards and an interception against the Tigers’ secondary -- and that bunch has only improved since then. ESPN Stats & Information reports that LSU has limited opposing quarterbacks to an 11.2 Total QBR, which is the best for any FBS pass defense. The Tigers are allowing a 40.2 completion percentage and 3.5 yards per pass attempt, both of which rank second nationally.

With that in mind, if the Tigers’ front can force Prescott to try to beat them with his arm, they would probably consider that a win.

Battle of front sevens: Although containing Prescott will be a challenge, perhaps the biggest test for LSU on Saturday will be along the line of scrimmage.

LSU’s defensive front has dominated since getting gashed early by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon & Co., but Mississippi State’s running game will provide the toughest challenge since Gordon for the Tigers’ interior line. And State boasts an impressive defensive front seven that could overwhelm what has been a so-so LSU offensive line.

The Bulldogs’ defense ranks second nationally with 29 tackles for loss, fourth with 18 pass breakups and eighth with 11 sacks. Defensive end Preston Smith has been named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week in all three weeks this season and linebacker Benardrick McKinney (20 tackles, five tackles for loss) is an impact player. The Bulldogs are surrendering just 80.3 rushing yards per game and 2.3 yards per carry, both of which rank second in the SEC.

That doesn’t bode well for an LSU offense that clearly wants to pound the run. No SEC team has more rushing attempts than LSU’s 157, but the Tigers’ average of 4.3 yards per carry ranks 10th in the conference.

Throwing deep: Then again, if the Anthony Jennings-to-Travin Dural show makes an encore, LSU might not be in such a bad position after all. Mississippi State’s secondary has been susceptible to the big play -- in the UAB game alone, the Blazers passed for 435 yards and had touchdown passes of 88, 81 and 75 yards -- and is surrendering 311.7 passing yards per game.

Jennings connected with Dural for an 80-yard touchdown against Wisconsin and a school-record 94-yard touchdown against Sam Houston State, but Dural has accounted for 58 percent of LSU’s passing yardage (370 of 642 yards) to date. Rest assured that Mississippi State will do its best to force Jennings to spread the ball around to other receivers so that Dural doesn’t take over again.

Eliminating big plays: Mississippi State’s offense has been remarkably productive on first down. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bulldogs have an FBS-high 17 plays on first downs that covered 20 yards or more.

That creates an interesting matchup, as LSU has been stingy about allowing big plays on any down. John Chavis' defense is among three from Power Five conferences that have not allowed a completion covering 15 yards or more. LSU's sports information staff discovered that Louisiana-Monroe’s longest play last Saturday (a 12-yard completion) was the worst in a game against LSU since Mississippi State’s longest play in a 1971 loss also covered just 12 yards.

Mississippi State has spread around its big-play production. Prescott, Lewis, Josh Robinson (who is sixth in the SEC with 96 rushing ypg), Nick Griffin and Damian Williams all have runs of 20 yards or more, while 10 receivers have catches of at least 20 yards.

In contrast, LSU has only seven players who have caught a pass, period, much less one that went for a 20-yard gain. Aside from Dural, only John Diarse and running back Leonard Fournette have receptions that covered at least 20 yards.

Series history: Recent history certainly does not look too pleasant for MSU.

LSU has won 14 in a row against the Bulldogs and 21 of the last 22. State hasn’t beaten LSU since 1999 in Starkville and hasn’t won at Tiger Stadium since 1991. LSU’s average margin of victory over State in four home games since Les Miles became the Tigers’ coach is 20.75 points.

All of that said, coaches on both sides have emphasized that history has nothing to do with what will happen at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night. And while that’s true, the historical trends reinforce why Tiger Stadium developed a reputation as an unpleasant destination for opponents. With its wins coming against Southern Miss, UAB and South Alabama – teams ranked 120th, 87th and 94th in ESPN’s Football Power Index – State likely must play its best game of the season in order to leave Death Valley with a victory.

FPI-based must-see TV for Week 4

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
1:37
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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Gainesville native Blake Sims leads Alabama into Saturday’s game against Florida.
Matchup quality is a metric that ranks games (on a 0-100 scale) based on how good each team is and how close the game is expected to be.

The games ranked highest in matchup quality will be competitive games between two highly ranked teams in ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI). Based on this metric, here are the top four games for Week 4.

Florida at Alabama: 91.6 pregame matchup quality
In a meeting of schools that have won four of the past seven SEC titles, third-ranked Alabama is a 73 percent favorite to beat Florida, according to FPI.

These teams will again play a big role in the conference race, as the Gators have the best chance to win the SEC East at 37 percent.

Alabama has a with a 25 percent chance to win the division and a 16 percent chance to win the conference, both best in the SEC.

This game is the only meeting of units ranked in the top 10 of ESPN's efficiency rankings this week, as Florida's ninth-ranked defense will try to slow Alabama's seventh-ranked offense.

Clemson at Florida State: 90.5 pregame matchup quality
This is the only remaining game between ranked teams this week, and the top-ranked Seminoles are a 77 percent favorite over No. 22 Clemson, according to FPI, even without QB Jameis Winston for the first half.

It's only Week 4, but the ACC title may be on the line, as Florida State (61 percent) and Clemson (14 percent) are FPI's favorites to win the conference.

Strength will battle strength, as Clemson ranks fifth in defensive efficiency and will try to slow a Seminoles offense that gained 565 yards of total offense against the Tigers last year.

Florida State won that game 51-14 after leading 27-7 at halftime, with a 93 percent win probability at the break.

Mississippi State at LSU: 90.1 pregame matchup quality
LSU has dominated the series, winning 14 straight and 21 of the last 22 meetings. Mississippi State last beat the Tigers in 1999, a one-point home win.

LSU's pass defense has been its strength this year. The Tigers have allowed the lowest Total QBR in the nation (11.2) and are one of three teams yet to concede a completion on a pass thrown at least 15 yards downfield.

FPI gives the Tigers a 61 percent chance to beat the Bulldogs.

Oklahoma at West Virginia: 87.2 pregame matchup quality
West Virginia has been one of the biggest surprises in the FBS this season. The Mountaineers have jumped 24 spots from their preseason rankings, the third-largest increase of any Power Five school.

FPI gives Oklahoma 77 percent odds to win, and this is one of three remaining games in which the Sooners have a predicted win percentage below 80 (at TCU and vs. Baylor are the others).

That relatively easy schedule means the Sooners have 18 percent odds to win all their remaining games, behind only BYU's 21 percent chances.

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Heather Dinich and Cary Chow look at whether or not Mississippi State can upset No. 8 LSU.

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.

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Brian Griese and Robert Smith make their picks for the biggest games of Week 4 between Clemson-Florida State, Mississippi State-LSU and Miami-Nebraska.

Film review: Defending Dak Prescott

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU’s defense will face no shortage of dual-threat quarterbacks in SEC play, and it will attempt to contain one of the best -- Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott -- right out of the gates in Saturday’s conference opener.

Prescott is a dark-horse candidate in the Heisman Trophy race because of the multiple ways he can affect the game, as evidenced by last week’s win against South Alabama, when he threw a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass on a trick play.

As a passer, Prescott (43-for-72, 696 yards, nine TDs, two INTs in 2014) is effective, but it’s his running ability that makes him especially scary. He is eighth in the SEC with an average of 91.0 rushing yards per game, and he’s averaging 6.8 yards per rushing attempt thus far.

That run-pass combination will be tough to defend, as LSU coach Les Miles is well aware. Miles called Prescott “as good of a player as there is in his position in our conference.”

Let’s take a look at some of the issues LSU must contend with in defending Mississippi State’s quarterback:

RUNS WITH POWER

The multidimensional quarterbacks LSU will face down the road are more from the finesse mold -- think Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace -- than the power mold. Like previous SEC stars Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, the 230-pound Prescott is content to run over tacklers instead of around them.

“I don't know exactly how fast he is, but he carves through the ground very quickly, and when you go to tackle him, you better hit him hard,” Miles said. ”You’d better take him off his feet because he's just a big, physical kid.”

Florida fans might recognize this Tebow-style play from Dan Mullen’s time as the Gators’ offensive coordinator. In last season’s South Carolina game, Prescott takes a shotgun snap, follows a block from running back LaDarius Perkins, and plows between left guard and left tackle for a 1-yard touchdown.

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We could pull any number of short-yardage Prescott clips as visual evidence that there’s more to the Tebow comparison than their matching No. 15 jerseys. Most defenders failed to drag either of them down with arm tackles.

BREAKING FROM POCKET

In addition to power, Prescott runs with impressive speed. Check out this 28-yard touchdown scramble from last season’s LSU game.

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LSU defensive end Jermauria Rasco destroys left tackle Charles Siddoway with a spin move and has a clear shot at Prescott, but the Mississippi State quarterback steps forward into the pocket and slips between Ego Ferguson and Danielle Hunter into the open field. Then it becomes a footrace, and he sprints away from linebacker D.J. Welter for a first-quarter touchdown.

LSU’s defensive front seven will certainly have its hands full trying to contain Prescott once he scrambles after initially dropping back to pass.

“It looks like he’s got even bigger since last year, but we’re ready to play physical and run fast. That’s basically what we have to do to prepare for him,” LSU outside linebacker Lamar Louis said.

RUNNING GAME IS DANGEROUS

Prescott’s running ability -- and Mississippi State’s running game in general -- makes defenses that sell out to stop the run susceptible to the occasional big passing play.

Take this 35-yard touchdown pass to Fred Ross from the 2014 opener against Southern Miss. When cornerback Jomez Applewhite abandons Ross to blitz off the edge, Prescott easily hits Ross several yards away from safety Emmanuel Johnson, who is slow in coverage after Prescott fakes a handoff in the backfield. All Ross has to do is make a wide-open catch and break a Johnson tackle attempt at the 5 and he’s in the end zone.

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The threat of Prescott runs and similar run fakes will test LSU’s defensive discipline. If Prescott catches defensive backs looking into the backfield like this, a big play for State might follow.

PRESSURING HIS THROWS

No quarterback likes to throw under pressure. Prescott is not a pro-style passer, but he’s capable of making some impressive throws if he has time to survey the field.

Here’s a pass to Fred Brown from last week’s win against South Alabama that Prescott completes despite cornerback Montell Garner's attempt to disrupt Brown’s route by holding him. Prescott places the ball perfectly over safety Roman Buchanan for a 36-yard gain.

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Earlier in the South Alabama game, Prescott has plenty of time to zip a 15-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Malcolm Johnson where safety Terrell Brigham has no chance to deflect or intercept the pass.

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Thus, LSU’s pass rushers know it will be incumbent on them to keep Prescott in the pocket and make him uncomfortable when he attempts to throw.

“With them having a really good offensive line, we have to make sure that we just attack the line of scrimmage and make sure that we stay in our gaps and clog the holes” LSU defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Prescott has handled the blitz fairly well -- he has five touchdown passes and no interceptions against five or more pass rushers -- although his Total QBR against the blitz is just 48.5. He’ll definitely face extra rushers Saturday, like when defensive back Dwayne Thomas blitzes from LSU’s “Mustang” package.

Regardless of who applies the pressure, the Tigers' rushers will greatly help their cause if they get a hand in Prescott’s line of vision. Take this throw from last season’s 59-26 win in Starkville. Hunter gets in Prescott’s face before he overthrows Jameon Lewis, and Tre'Davious White intercepts the bad throw at the Mississippi State 45. His 40-yard return to the 5 sets up Jeremy Hill's touchdown run on the next play that essentially puts away the LSU win.

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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.

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

SEC morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
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1. The big storyline Wednesday wasn’t from the SEC. It was from the ACC. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, a name SEC fans surely know by now, will sit the first half against Clemson for yet another off-field incident. ESPN’s Mark Schlabach summed it up well in his column: “Funny, the last time I checked, you can’t spell Jameis without ‘me’ and ‘I.’” This got me thinking, though. What player in the SEC could their team not afford to lose for a half? Auburn already showed it can win without its quarterback Nick Marshall, who sat out the first half against Arkansas. Losing Todd Gurley would be rough, but Georgia has a full stable of running backs behind him. Maybe Amari Cooper at Alabama? Or how about on the other side of the ball with Vernon Hargreaves III at Florida? The two will be squaring off this Saturday. But what do you think? Who’s the SEC’s most indispensable player?

2. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will turn 49 next month, one year away from the big 5-0, but that’s nothing compared to his coaching counterpart Thursday night. Bill Snyder, who is in his second stint at Kansas State, is 74 years old. The stadium his team plays in is already named after him. Not a lot of coaches can say that. As for Malzahn, he doesn’t see himself coaching at 74 because according to him, “college football ages you in dog years.” It’s not all that uncommon in the SEC, though. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier turns 70 in April, and others -- including Nick Saban (Alabama), Gary Pinkel (Missouri), and Les Miles (LSU) are all over the age of 60. My guess is that Malzahn will be coaching in the NFL long before he reaches that age, but you never know.

3. It’s been awhile since Mississippi State last beat LSU -- 15 years to be exact. In fact, the Bulldogs have never beat Les Miles since he’s been in Baton Rouge, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen this season. On Wednesday, Miles called this Mississippi State team “as talented and as complete” as any Mississippi State team he’s coached against. He’s not taking this game lightly, and neither will the fans. You can bet that the newly renovated Tiger Stadium will be rocking Saturday night. There are games -- like Sam Houston State and Louisiana Monroe -- and then there are SEC games. This weekend marks the first SEC game.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Of course he doesn't want to come out of the game, but even Connor Neighbors understands the unique threat LSU presents by playing two of its traditional tailbacks at the same time.

The Tigers used that backfield combination -- typically featuring either Darrel Williams or Kenny Hilliard at fullback and either Leonard Fournette or Terrence Magee at tailback -- seven times in last Saturday's 31-0 win against Louisiana-Monroe. Six of those were short-yardage situations where LSU ran a simple fullback dive, achieving three touchdowns, but opposing defensive coordinators must also realize how that personnel grouping presents other threats.

"Obviously we're not going to show all of what we have in our arsenal, but it could be dangerous and I'm all for it. I think maybe I could be in there, too, but you know, it is what it is," chuckled Neighbors, LSU's regular fullback who sacrifices playing time when the Tigers go to the two-tailback look. "As long as we get the W, I don't care how it happens -- if I don't play a snap or if I play 100."

Let's give Neighbors the benefit of the doubt and agree he could do some of the same things that the tailbacks do. Even so, nobody will confuse him for any member of the foursome for whom he typically blocks. Neighbors ran the ball twice and caught seven passes in the entire 2013 season, and he does not have a touch yet this season. The four tailbacks, meanwhile, are threats to break a long run at any time.

Take Williams' 22-yard touchdown burst in the second quarter of the ULM game, for example. He lined up at fullback in front of fellow freshman Fournette on third-and-1 at the ULM 22. But after taking the dive handoff from quarterback Anthony Jennings, not only did Williams achieve a first down, he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and escaped for the Tigers' first touchdown.

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Williams was the recipient of four fullback dive handoffs from that alignment against ULM and rushed for 28 yards, including touchdowns of 22 and 1 yards, as well as gains of 2 and 3 yards that both achieved first downs.

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Hilliard got the other two fullback carries, picking up a first down with a 4-yard run early in the second quarter and scoring a touchdown on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter. He lined up in front of Magee on the touchdown run, flattening ULM safety Cordero Smith as he barreled into the end zone for a score that helped LSU go up 31-0.

"We all practice it," Hilliard said of the dive play. "Me and Darrel have been the main ones getting the reps at it, but it's just something that's going to stay in the playbook and in the game plan. If Coach Cam [Cameron] likes it with the opponent, it's something we're going to keep in."

The play's key to success, Hilliard said, is for the offensive line to get a strong push at the line of scrimmage and for the recipient of the handoff to read the blocking properly.

"If the big guys can move the D-line, just find a little crease and get in there and get a first down or a touchdown," Hilliard said.

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One of the Tigers' toughest runners, Hilliard said he has occasionally moonlighted in the fullback role since his freshman season. He has never caught a pass or done more than carry the ball straight ahead from the position, but there is always the possibility that LSU could add a new wrinkle to the game plan.

"We haven't gotten that fancy with it," Hilliard said of the possibility of catching a fullback screen. "Maybe throughout the year they might give it to me."

Only once did the Tigers attempt something other than a fullback dive in the two-tailback package against ULM, but that play gives opponents something to consider for the future.

On a first-and-10 play at the ULM 46, quarterback Brandon Harris rolled right after faking a handoff to Magee. Fullback Williams was available to Harris as a target for a screen pass, but the quarterback instead overthrew receiver John Diarse along the sideline.

Nonetheless, the play showed that the Tigers can do much more than run fullback dives when they move their tailbacks to fullback -- or any other skill position.

"Every guy that plays in this offense has the ability to line up in the backfield, out there at slot receiver or at the X or Z [receiver], tight end, anything," Magee said. "You have to know because at any given time, somebody may go down and you've got to go in for them and play so you have to know what's going on.

"So it's just something that when they recruit you here and you're learning this offense, it's something that you have to learn. You have to learn every position on the field."

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.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 3

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
10:00
AM ET
Here are five true freshmen in the SEC who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from the Week 3:

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
What he did: Another week, another sack (or two) for Myles Garrett. In Texas A&M’s 38-10 win over Rice, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Garrett tallied 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and eight total tackles. He continues to live up to the hype that surrounded his recruitment and is now second in the country in sacks with 5.5 this season.

What it means: Garrett has already tied the Aggies’ school record for sacks in a season by a freshman and he is on pace to shatter Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC record for sacks by a freshman (eight). If Garrett continues to play the way he has as competition stiffens on A&M’s schedule, we're now talking about an All-SEC-caliber season. (Sam Khan)

Garrett Johnson, Kentucky
What he did: Johnson led the Wildcats with six receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He had three of UK’s biggest plays of the game: A 60-yard touchdown in which Johnson danced between two Florida safeties before running to the end zone; a back-breaking third-down conversion when he beat his man on a 30-yard catch and absorbed a big hit from the safety; then on the next play, Johnson gave Kentucky a 17-13 lead back when he streaked past a confused secondary and hauled in an easy 33-yard touchdown.

What it means: Johnson was Patrick Towles' favorite receiver in a triple-overtime game that opened a lot of eyes. Although the Cats lost, Johnson must have been especially pleased with his performance in The Swamp. The three-star recruit from Winter Garden, Florida, was rated the No. 84 prospect in the state and didn’t have a committable offer from the Gators. (Jeff Barlis)

Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
What he did: Although Oklahoma’s defense completely shut down the Tennessee running game in the first half, Hurd broke runs of 43 and 29 yards after halftime as the Volunteers tried to stay in the game. Oklahoma ultimately pulled away for a 34-10 win, but Hurd gave a standout performance with 97 rushing yards on 14 carries, plus 24 receiving yards on two catches. It was the best rushing outing by a Tennessee true freshman since Bryce Brown in 2009.

What it means: Although he hasn’t started yet, Hurd is Tennessee’s leading rusher with 48 carries for 209 yards and one touchdown. Each week he emerges a bit more as a star in the Vols’ backfield. Up next for Hurd and the Vols’ young offensive line will be a Sept. 27 trip to Georgia in Tennessee’s SEC opener. If the Bulldogs don’t clean up the run defense that South Carolina exploited last Saturday, Hurd might have a field day. (David Ching)

Armani Watts, Texas A&M
What he did: Watts had six tackles against Rice, but perhaps most notable was a play that won't end up on the stat sheet. After a blocked field goal, Watts raced to his own 7-yard line to pick up the ball and run across the width and length of the field for a 93-yard touchdown return. The only problem? A&M was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct as players on the sideline entered the field.

What it means: Though Watts' return didn't count, he has had three good games in an Aggies uniform. He has been one of the pleasant surprises at a position the Aggies sorely needed help: Safety. He's fifth on the team in tackles, leads in pass breakups (three) and has made an interception and two tackles for loss. He has been an impact player with a nose for the football, huge for an A&M defense trying to improve. (Sam Khan)

Darrel Williams, LSU
What he did: Williams took the fewest carries of anyone in LSU’s four-man tailback rotation, but he scored twice -- once on a nifty fullback dive where he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and broke away for a 22-yard scoring run -- and again showed off a powerful running style. Williams finished the game against Louisiana-Monroe with seven carries for 37 yards and is now tied with senior Kenny Hilliard for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with three.

What it means: Williams has been impressive in limited work in the Tigers’ last two nonconference games. While he won’t become LSU’s No. 1 running back this season, he has flashed some versatility by contributing at both tailback and fullback. He and Hilliard took the bulk of LSU’s short-yardage carries against ULM, so Williams has clearly done enough to expect to see more of him once the Tigers open SEC play this weekend against Mississippi State. (David Ching)

Other notables:

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Carter recovered a Brandon Wilds fumble at the South Carolina 26-yard line to set up a field goal that gave Georgia a 10-7 lead in the first quarter. He finished the day with three tackles, a fumble recovery and a quarterback pressure.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU: Fournette ran 10 times for 52 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown, caught a 20-yard pass and returned the opening kickoff 40 yards in a win against Louisiana-Monroe.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Noil caught three passes for 71 yards and scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass against Rice before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury.

CB Henre' Toliver, Arkansas: Toliver started for the first time and helped the Razorbacks put the finishing touches on an enormous win over Texas Tech by intercepting a Davis Webb pass at the Arkansas 15-yard line on the Red Raiders’ final possession.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky: Williams made one of Kentucky’s plays of the night against Florida. On the Wildcats’ first overtime possession, he ran right after catching a pass, then reversed field all the way to the opposite sideline and dove to the pylon for a 25-yard touchdown that put Kentucky up 27-20.

SEC Quarterback Tracker: Week 3

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
9:00
AM ET
The SEC quarterback competitions are fading fast. Nick Marshall is back for Auburn. Patrick Towles (Kentucky) and Justin Worley (Tennessee) have exceeded expectations. And Kenny Hill has gone from competing for the starting job to competing for the Heisman Trophy.

That leaves Alabama, LSU and Vanderbilt. All three schools seem to have settled on a signal caller for the time being, but how long will it last? We should find out a lot more this Saturday as they all have SEC opponents on the docket.

Alabama
Starter: Blake Sims
Backup: Jake Coker

How Sims performed: Alabama fans are starting to accept that Sims is the team’s quarterback and why not? The senior hasn’t done anything to relinquish the job. If anything, he’s shown improvement with each game. On Saturday against Southern Miss, he completed 12 of his 17 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 46 yards and a score. Both Coker and Alec Morris came in during the second half, but neither played meaningful minutes.

What it means: Sims is the starting quarterback until he gives up the job. If he keeps managing the offense and not turning over the football, the coaches are not going to pull him. That said, he faces his toughest test this Saturday against Florida. The Gators return all four starters on the defensive line, and with Vernon Hargreaves III at cornerback, Sims can no longer only throw the ball to his favorite receiver Amari Cooper. Will we see Coker? Not unless things go awry, but Sims has to play well for Alabama to win. – Greg Ostendorf

Sims’ hold on position: 8.5

LSU
Starter: Anthony Jennings
Backup: Brandon Harris

How Jennings performed: Although Jennings (11-for-18 for 139 yards, INT) tossed his first interception of the season in last Saturday’s 31-0 win against Louisiana-Monroe, he continues to do a solid if unspectacular job at quarterback. His passing numbers would have been better if not for a series of drops and he’s minimizing his mistakes. He also showed some nifty moves in escaping from a sack and then ran for a 22-yard gain. To this point, he has been what LSU’s coaches want him to be: A steady game manager.

What it means: The ULM game made it even more evident that Jennings holds a clear lead over Harris as the starter. Jennings played every offensive snap until the Tigers led 24-0 late in the third quarter. Once Harris got into the game, he screwed up at least two play calls and had to scramble for yardage once everyone else ran a different direction than he expected. Until he has a firm grasp on the playbook, Harris won’t truly challenge for the starting job. – David Ching

Jennings’ hold on position: 8

Vanderbilt
Starter: Patton Robinette
Backup: Wade Freebeck, Stephen Rivers, Johnny McCrary

How Robinette performed: Exploring all options to find a quarterback, Derek Mason went with the true freshman Freebeck against UMass. That experiment lasted all of a quarter before Mason pulled him in favor of Robinette, the team’s original starter. The sophomore took advantage. In three quarters, Robinette threw for 147 yards, rushed for 35 yards and scored two touchdowns to lead the Commodores back from an 11-point second-half deficit and notch their first win of the season.

What it means: Has Vanderbilt finally settled on a quarterback? Don’t assume anything with Mason calling the shots, but he did say Tuesday that Robinette is their guy until something happens to change that. It sounds like Robinette will have a longer leash this Saturday against South Carolina, and maybe that will give him a little added confidence. It also wouldn’t be surprising if a different quarterback finished the game. – Greg Ostendorf

Robinette’s hold on position: 4

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