On the day her son was set to make the biggest decision of his life, Lechelle Noil was nervous.

Speedy Noil -- only his mom and a few others close to him call him by his given name, Devante -- was a five-star prospect from New Orleans Edna Karr and was about to choose between Texas A&M and hometown LSU on national television at the 2014 Under Armour All-America game. Noil’s grandmother, Monica, made a joke that summed up what many were feeling.

“'If he doesn't pick LSU, I'm going to pass out,” Lechelle recalls Monica saying. “I had to tell her, 'No, you're not.'”

Lechelle waited until the absolute last moment to reveal to family that her son, the No. 7 player in the 2014 class, bypassed the home-state powerhouse in favor of SEC West foe Texas A&M. At that point, she had no choice but inform family in hopes of avoiding a YouTube recruiting moment on national television a la Landon Collins.

“We felt a lot of pressure family-wise,” Lechelle said. “We had people in our family that said, 'It would be wrong if you don't go [to LSU].'”

More than 10 months later, Noil prepares to face the school he spurned for the first time when Texas A&M hosts LSU on Thanksgiving night at Kyle Field.

* * *

[+] EnlargeSpeedy Noil
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNSpeedy Noil turned heads with this spectacular one-handed grab in his first practice with the Aggies.
Noil, who’s enjoying a solid freshman season for the Aggies, is the type of player who is difficult for out-of-state schools to pull from Louisiana. LSU keeps almost all of the top-level Louisiana talent in state.

"It was one-in-a-million for a kid like Devante to leave, to pass up playing for the home state,” said Louisiana Tech running backs coach Jabbar Juluke, who was Karr’s head coach through Noil’s junior season. “It certainly wasn't anything that LSU did not do. I thought they did an outstanding job of recruiting them.”

“I look at him every now and then and say, 'I can't believe he is here,'” Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty said in February. “He was so unattainable. But with Kevin [Sumlin], I've learned that there's nothing unattainable.”

LSU first offered Noil a scholarship as a sophomore. Growing up in Orleans Parish, he earned his nickname from dominating youth leagues at Cut-Off Park.

Sumlin and his staff overcame not only the natural pull LSU has over home-state prospects but also a family tie to the LSU coaching staff.

Lechelle noted that some schools stopped recruiting Noil when they discovered his cousin was LSU running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson.

“It made some of the other coaches back away from him because they were like, 'It doesn't make no sense to go after him if he has his cousin as the recruiting coach [at LSU],” she said.

Texas A&M didn’t back off. Sumlin, Beaty and then-defensive backs coach Marcel Yates [now at Boise State], who was the recruiter assigned to Louisiana, pressed on.

* * *

Noil zeroed in on five schools: Florida, LSU, Oregon, Texas A&M and USC. LSU was always a factor, but the Aggies, with Sumlin, SEC membership, their high-powered spread offense, Johnny Manziel and a Heisman Trophy, held a certain appeal to Noil.

The Aggies’ presence in the SEC can’t be overstated.

“Kids down this way, they respect SEC football,” said Karr coach Nathaniel Jones, who was Noil’s head coach his senior season. “Other than that, everything else is secondary. If it's not SEC, it's secondary football as far as the college ranks are concerned.”

His official visit to Texas A&M -- the weekend of the Aggies’ 2013 showdown with Alabama -- blew him away, according to his mother. (Like all freshmen at Texas A&M, Noil is prohibited from speaking to the media by Sumlin.) He received ample one-on-one time with the coaching staff, including Sumlin. The Aggies laid out a clear, detailed plan on where they envisioned him fitting in on the field and on the depth chart.

Another critical factor was the fact the Aggies signed one of his Karr teammates, Noel Ellis, in the 2013 class. Ellis served as his official visit host and gave Noil the comfort of having someone he trusted nearby.

“The official visit pretty much showed him that A&M gave him the opportunity that yes, A&M may be the best choice for him,” Noil’s mother said.

The visit went so well that Noil told his mom a month later he wanted to go to Texas A&M. Concerned he was rushing into the decision, she encouraged him to take more time.

He never took officials to Florida, USC or Oregon. That left LSU and his official visit in December 2013, which didn’t go quite like he hoped.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesKevin Sumlin didn't give up in his pursuit of Speedy Noil and pulled a huge recruiting upset.
“The main thing Speedy stressed to everybody was that he didn't want to do an official visit [to LSU] with a lot of people,” Lechelle said. “But for LSU, I think the mistake was we did it with all their top recruiting players and we didn't have enough time. We had a limited time with Les Miles. We didn't even have much of a sit down with the offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron. The wide receivers coach, whatever I threw at him, he pretty much agreed with. He didn't have the depth chart laid out, nothing. [Speedy] paid attention to that.”

* * *

When decision day arrived, Noil called his mom’s hotel room before the game. He needed either a hat or the gloves of the school he was going to choose.

“Tell me again, have you changed your mind?” Lechelle asked.

Noil told her he was sticking with the Aggies.

Since his arrival in College Station, Texas, Noil earned numerous fans. His confidence was clear from the first day of spring practice, donning a No. 2 jersey mere months after Manziel finished wearing it (Noil wore No. 2 at Karr High also) and catching a one-handed pass during his first Aggies’ practice. In 10 games, Noil leads the team with 1,225 all-purpose yards and has made his mark as both a receiver (513 yards, four touchdowns) and a returner (25 yards per kickoff return, 13.6 yards per punt return).

Noil is not yet where he wants to be as a player or where the Aggies expect him to be in time. Sumlin said Noil is still learning to run routes and read coverages since most of his prep career was spent behind center, not at receiver.

"He's an explosive player in the return game, but he's got to continue to improve as a route-runner and when that happens, it'll be something exciting to see," Sumlin said.

So far, things have worked out well. While he might not be wearing the colors some hoped he would, they’ve been supportive of him and his success in Aggieland.

“A lot of family didn't like it, but once they saw him doing what he's doing at A&M, they said, 'I think that was the best fit for him,’” Lechelle Noil said. “’He made a great decision.'”

Noil is definitely anticipating Thursday’s game, according to his position coach.

“He is quiet by nature, but I can see that he is focused,” Beaty said. “He always wants to play well but I know this is a big game for him personally. He just wants to contribute and get the W.”

With a world of talent, the future is bright for Noil. Friends and family might have long thought that future was at LSU, but the Aggies turned out to be the right fit.

“I think it happened to be the perfect storm,” Jones said. “You have Kevin Sumlin, phenomenal coach, proven, making waves in the SEC. Another big factor is that Texas A&M went to the SEC. Having a teammate there already, having a system there already, Johnny Manziel, Heisman Trophy, it was just a perfect storm that came together at the right time. All things worked out for him. That played a big factor in him choosing Texas A&M.”

SEC bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
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After taking care of business against teams they were favored against, Alabama and Mississippi State hung on to their No. 1 and No. 4 spots, respectively, in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.

And the SEC got another team bowl eligible, as Arkansas earned its sixth win with a 30-0 victory over Ole Miss. So that's 11 bowl-eligible teams and counting in the SEC, including the entire SEC West.

As we head into the final week of regular-season play ahead of the SEC championship game, two teams have a shot at claiming bowl eligibility that haven't already: Kentucky and Tennessee. Kentucky's task is tough, going to No. 22 Louisville, Tennessee's is considerably more feasible, as the Volunteers travel to Vanderbilt.

Georgia, if it wins this weekend against Georgia Tech, looks to be in good position for a New Year's Six bid. There's still much to be decided, with the Egg Bowl and the Iron Bowl on deck. Alabama and Mississippi State must win to maintain their spots, if they don't, chaos will ensue.

But assuming the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs prevail, here's how we think it'll pan out as of today, with 12 SEC bowl-eligible teams projected:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Ole Miss
TaxSlayer Bowl: Florida
Outback Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Tennessee
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
Whether recruits are attending games this holiday weekend or watching on television, all eyes around the recruiting world will be focused on several rivalry games. From the Iron Bowl to the Egg Bowl there will be recruiting implications throughout the conference this weekend. Here’s a closer look at how these game might affect the top remaining recruits.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Travin Dural knew his own mistake contributed to an interception just before halftime against Alabama, and he admitted as much to his teammates in LSU's offensive film review session a couple of days later.

"If I'd have been more physical and more aggressive on my route, I'd have never fell and they would have never caught the pick and they would have never gotten in good position to kick a field goal," said Dural, a sophomore receiver.

[+] EnlargeDamon Mitchell
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsLSU may have lost to Arkansas, but its players are working on learning lessons from their mistakes.
Quarterback Anthony Jennings has confessed to mistakes like "an interception that I've thrown that I maybe should have went to the other side of the field or maybe on a run check, I should have went to the other side."

Running back Terrence Magee has stood up in the weekly meeting and told fellow Tigers that he blocked a play incorrectly. Tight end DeSean Smith has fessed up for dropping a pass against Wisconsin and leaping too early when a high throw was coming his way against Arkansas. Offensive lineman Evan Washington has told teammates that he overstepped on pass blocks or came out of his stance too high while blocking an opponent.

In fact, go down the roster. Every regular on LSU's offense has come forward about mistakes at one time or another -- which was part of the reason offensive coordinator Cam Cameron instituted the practice during film sessions at the start of the season.

"It's just giving us a taste of what it's like in the NFL," said senior running back Magee. "Coach Cam said when guys mess up in the NFL, they stand up in the film room and they admit that they messed up and talk about what they're going to do to correct it. It just shows the team that you're accountable for your mistakes and you understand the mistake you made and you're going to try to go out this week in practice and fix it."

Longtime NFL coach Cameron has preached accountability to his young and inexperienced offense this season, consistently reminding his players to focus on doing their jobs correctly instead of worrying about their teammates' assignments. He reinforced that message by asking players to diagnose their own errors during film review without having a coach do it first.

It was an entirely new way to analyze the game for most Tigers.

"It's been very different. I know for me personally in my career, I've never had a coach do that. And I like it," redshirt freshman receiver John Diarse said. "It teaches you not only to accept your mistake as a player, but as a man, as well. You're standing up or speaking up on your behalf and letting the team know that, 'Hey, this is my mess-up and this is what I'm going to do better.' "

When the offense gathers in the team meeting room each Monday to review the previous game with Cameron, the offensive coordinator sometimes calls on players while watching a specific play and asks if they should have done something differently on that down. If they believe they executed their duties correctly, they say so. And if they fell short, they're supposed to own up to the mistake.

Sometimes players even speak up about their mistakes without prompting from the coach.

"We're just all men," Washington said. "They're going to coach us like men and we're going to stand up and tell our mistakes like men."

Entering Thursday's game at Texas A&M (7-4, 3-4 SEC), this has hardly been the typical winning season at LSU (7-4, 3-4). The young offense has struggled for most of the fall and is ranked 11th in the SEC in total offense (373.6 ypg) and 12th in scoring (28 ppg).

It would be easy -- and perhaps expected -- for the locker room to fracture after disappointing outcomes like LSU's 123-yard disaster in its last game, a 17-0 loss to Arkansas. And yet that's where Cameron's accountability policy has come in handy.

The Tigers say they stuck together through that disappointment because of the focus on identifying their own shortcomings and how correcting their individual errors can better the whole.

"Sometimes when you struggle like we have offensively, you get guys that want to point fingers. With this offense, we've had not one guy pointing fingers at everybody," Magee said. "Me, I think it's due to the fact that each guy stands up and owns up to the mistakes they make and holds themself accountable to the whole team."

SEC morning links

November, 25, 2014
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1. It's been 359 days since the "kick-six" in last year's Iron Bowl. And yet, nobody has forgotten what happened -- not the coaches, not the players, not the fans, and certainly not the state of Alabama. In Tuscaloosa, the players have found different ways to cope with the gut-wrenching finish to last year's game. Some use it as motivation. Others turn off the TV when the replay comes on. But for the most part, they have all moved on. It's a new year. That's the same message Gus Malzahn is telling his Auburn team. "I know it will be talked about all week," Malzahn said Monday night on his weekly radio show. "But last year is last year. This is a new year." With or without the "kick-six," this is still the Iron Bowl. As Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said, there's no point in acting like it's "the same as every other game." It's not.

2. The Egg Bowl might not be the Iron Bowl, but there are more than just bragging rights on the line when Mississippi State and Ole Miss square off this Saturday. For the Bulldogs, it will have a direct effect on their playoff aspirations. They not only have to win but win big in order to impress the committee and try and hang on to a spot in the top four. Ole Miss did them no favors this past week with a 30-0 loss to Arkansas. It didn't help that quarterback Bo Wallace sprained his ankle in the first half and never looked like himself after that. But a sprained ankle won't keep Wallace away from Saturday's game, not in his final home game. He's going to give his best Dak Prescott impersonation and play even if he's not 100 percent. It worked out OK for Prescott in last year's Egg Bowl.

3. The season is nearing the end which means it's time to hand out awards and All-American honors. ESPN Insiders Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay got a jump start Monday, putting out their NFL prospect All-America team Insider. Basically, it's a look at what the All-America team would like if voted on by NFL scouts. The team included 10 players from the SEC, more than any other conference. Obvious names like Amari Cooper and Shane Ray were on there, but so were names like Todd Gurley, despite his recent injury, and Alabama fullback Jalston Fowler even though he has just seven carries on the season. Prescott was not on there (because of some quarterback named Marcus Mariota), and both Kiper and McShay agreed on Twitter that it would benefit the Mississippi State quarterback to come back next year.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

 

Early Offer: Malik Jefferson's final 7 

November, 24, 2014
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Malik Jefferson reduced his list to seven schools on Monday, and though the list is hardly a surprise, recruiters think there are still some in store with the No. 35 player in the country.

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video

LSU coach Les Miles addressed the media about how the Tigers are bouncing back and preparing for Texas A&M.
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New York Giant Odell Beckham Jr., a former LSU player, made a spectacular catch vs. the Cowboys and his former coach Les Miles wasn't surprised.

QB will be key if LSU rebounds again

November, 24, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Even in Les Miles' worst season at LSU, he hasn't been in this position before.

The Tigers' coach has had disappointing years in Baton Rouge -- an 8-5 campaign in 2008 stands out -- but even in Miles' worst fall, when the Tigers posted their only losing record in SEC play under his leadership, they still finished third in the Western Division. If Arkansas beats Missouri this week and LSU loses to Texas A&M, Miles' Tigers will essentially finish last in the West at 3-5 in the division.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsCoach Les Miles may be forced to examine whether recruiting a more dynamic, playmaking quarterback is what it will take to stay atop the SEC West.
It would also mark LSU's first three-game losing streak since Miles arrived in 2005 -- a stretch of futility that seemed unthinkable for most of his decade at the school. But that is the harsh reality that LSU faces these days, the product of a roster that was far too young to contend in arguably college football's toughest division.

Let's not chalk up the Thanksgiving night visit to A&M as an automatic loss, however. The Aggies are in no better shape than the Tigers with an identical 7-4 overall record and 3-4 mark in SEC play. In fact, LSU opened as a narrow favorite to win Thursday's game.

Win or lose, LSU will still be at a crossroads as it nears the conclusion of the 2014 season. Winning in College Station would be a nice way to conclude the regular season, and it would prevent the Tigers from posting a losing conference record and plummeting into the division cellar, but Miles and his staff still have plenty to sort out between now and next season's opener against McNeese State.

For starters, is what they're attempting to accomplish on offense sustainable? Is relying almost exclusively on the running game and asking from their quarterbacks only that they not commit turnovers still a strategy that can win championships? Or was this just a one-year regression to past habits based on LSU's inexperience at quarterback, with more aggressive tactics returning once Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris establishes that he can be a reliable playmaker in the SEC?

This offensive quandary feels much like the 2008 season, as well. That year, the Tigers got inconsistent play from a number of young quarterbacks -- particularly Jarrett Lee, who seemingly developed a complex over the number of his interceptions that defenders returned for touchdowns -- and eventually settled on true freshman Jordan Jefferson as the starter. For most of the ensuing six seasons, LSU has employed a run-heavy, quarterback-light offensive philosophy that frequently frustrates Tigers fans.

It's difficult to argue with the overall results, however. By 2010, an emerging defense had helped LSU climb back toward the top of the heap, and the Tigers enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history the following season. Jefferson and Lee were the starters throughout that period and neither of them played like an all-conference quarterback. Perhaps next year either Jennings or Harris will follow their lead, teaming with what should be another strong John Chavis defense to launch LSU on a similar ascent.

But what if they don't? LSU might be facing a near-total rebuild on its offensive line, and that's hardly an encouraging sign if the Tigers intend to hammer the run 70 percent of the time again next fall. And depending on which underclassmen jump to the NFL, LSU could have other gaping holes to fill -- much like it has in each of the past few years, when the Tigers failed to create the same magic as the 2011 SEC championship club.

It all boils down to the quarterback position. It's difficult to imagine LSU opening up its offense if its coaches aren't confident leaning on the quarterback, and it's apparent that Jennings and Harris don't have their full trust, yet. That makes this an enormous offseason for the position.

If Jennings or Harris or even a mystery third option fails to seize the starting job between now and next August, expect to see more of the same from the Tigers' offense next season. That isn't necessarily a death sentence in the SEC West, particularly since LSU's defense should be tough, but this won't be the West of 2011, either.

Texas A&M's pass-heavy offense is in the division now. Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are all more aggressive on offense. Heck, even Alabama has opened things up under first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Becoming a consistent winner in the division these days almost requires more aggression on offense than once was necessary in the West.

That will be the test for Miles and his staff next season. They felt that grinding it out on offense was the best strategy because of their experience on the offensive line and their lack thereof everywhere else. It kept them in most games, but the Tigers' record indicates this strategy wasn't effective enough.

LSU rebounded from similar circumstances after 2008 without overhauling their offensive philosophy, and Miles doesn't seem like the type to completely change course now. Developing the young skill talent at running back and receiver is important -- and there is plenty of reason to believe that youngsters such as Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn will be even better next season -- but developing a quarterback has to be the top priority.

Miles' tenure proves LSU doesn't need an all-star quarterback to win, but he can't continue to be a liability, either.
John ChavisDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsJohn Chavis' defense has stymied the Aggies for the past two seasons.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Since joining the SEC, Texas A&M enjoyed victory against every team in the SEC West -- except one.

LSU.

The Tigers were the thorn in the Aggies' side the last two seasons and Les Miles' bunch is the one team that one could say truly has Texas A&M's number so far. The Aggies' next opportunity to flip the script comes Thanksgiving night when they host LSU at Kyle Field.

The reasons LSU ruled the Aggies are numerous, but it starts with the Tigers' defense. LSU had answers for whatever the Aggies threw at them, including Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. In 2012, LSU held Texas A&M to its second-fewest offensive yards in a game (410) that season. Only Florida, who squared off against the Aggies' in Manziel's college debut, were better. But the Tigers had three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and sacked Manziel three times in a 24-19 victory.

In 2013, a physically beat-up Manziel led the Aggies into Death Valley and the offense sputtered, posting a season-low 299 yards and only 10 points in a 24-point loss.

"We talked about that a little bit," Texas A&M center Ben Compton said. "It's been bugging us the past couple years that they've gotten the best of us the last two years. They played hard and kicked our butt the last two years. We hope to be able to change some of that."

Texas A&M featured one of the nation's top offenses the last two seasons and the Aggies led the SEC in scoring offense and yards per game both seasons. So what did LSU do to quiet the A&M attack? Look no further than the talent on the roster and its utilization by "The Chief," LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis.

"I think it's just our talent and the 'Mustang' package that Chief has come with over at LSU," Tigers' defensive back Jalen Mills said. "It's been run ever since, and that helps a lot."

LSU's Mustang package is basically a dime formation with three defensive linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs. The Tigers use the defense against teams that spread it out like Texas A&M and given LSU's defensive talent and speed, Chavis' bunch has experienced much success with it.

This season, LSU leads the SEC in pass-efficiency defense (97.57) and passing yards allowed (164). They're second nationally in the former category, sixth in the latter. That bodes well against a Texas A&M team that is 10th in passing yards per game (first in the SEC) and is 13th nationally in pass attempts (452).

"They've been very effective," Sumlin said of the LSU defense. "They've been athletic, had some different people on the field, they've done a nice job. [Chavis] has done a nice job this year too.

"John Chavis' record stands for itself defensively and he's as good as there is in the country."

The challenge will be different this year for LSU. The Tigers were charged with corralling Manziel, but since he's gone, the Aggies now have a true freshman behind center: Kyle Allen. The four-star recruit will make his fourth career start on Thursday and the Tigers know to expect a more patient pocket passer than the player they faced the last two years.

"He's not Johnny Manziel with all the scrambling," Mills said. "He's a dual-threat guy, but he's not doing as much running around as Johnny did. You really see him sitting in there and trying to fling it, so with that, you have to play a little more coverage and just play all the routes down the field."

The Tigers aren't underestimating Allen, though.

"You say a true freshman, when we talked about Johnny Manziel, he was considered a freshman and he came in and won the Heisman," Mills said. "So you can't go in a game thinking a guy, 'Oh he's a freshman' and you have to try to wait on his mistakes. You have to go in and play your football."

In order to win, the Aggies will have to solve Chavis, the Mustang package and perform better offensively than they did the last two seasons. They're aware of it.

"Great defense," Texas A&M senior receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "I've watched them play a few times and I know they have one of the top passing defenses and they have a great secondary. All those guys are pretty athletic, pretty physical... . We know we're going to have a task. They have a good front and we're going to have to run fast routes, do what we do as an offense, tempo-style."

SEC has been entertaining in 2014

November, 24, 2014
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Whether you love the SEC or not, it's hard to argue against its entertainment value in 2014. The cannibalization of the SEC West and the mostly miserable play of the SEC East provided followers with two hotly contested divisional races that are coming down to the final weekend.

We saw the state of Mississippi take over the state of Alabama in one weekend. We saw the rise of Bulldogs and the fall of Gators. The West was wild and the East was,well, there.

There's SEC bias everywhere and still a chance for two SEC teams to make it into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesFor Dak Prescott and Mississippi State, plenty will be on the line in the Egg Bowl on Saturday.
 Offense was supposed to be down with so many seasoned quarterbacks gone, but 13 teams are scoring more than 27 points per game and eight are averaging more than 421 yards per game.

The SEC had two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, who both still have at least another weekend to impress everyone.

The league started the season with seven teams ranked in the AP Poll. Six are ranked in the AP Poll now, and Alabama and Mississippi State are ranked in the top four of the College Football Playoff Rankings. Both are also still in the running for the SEC West title.

From top to bottom, this league has been way more competitive than usual. Just think about this for a second: The West will be decided by the Iron Bowl and the Egg Bowl. The Iron Bowl made plenty of sense at the beginning of the year because you had the defending SEC champs in Auburn returning just about everyone, while Alabama was Alabama.

But the Egg Bowl? Mississippi State and Ole Miss? Sure, these two teams had the personnel to compete in the West, but to have the Egg Bowl actually mean something when you think of Atlanta is great for the league. Both serious playoff aspirations, and now Ole Miss is set up to play major spoiler for the Bulldogs.

Arkansas is relevant again. Bret Bielema's Hogs are rejuvenated and dangerous. After losing 17 straight SEC games, Arkansas has now won two straight by a combined 47-0. Those wins came against LSU and Ole Miss, both ranked. And Ole Miss was still in line for a spot in Atlanta and maybe a trip to the playoff, but the Hogs saw to it that Ole Miss' special run ended in a 30-0 romp.

Texas A&M fooled us with that commanding opening victory, but then it suffered three straight SEC losses before beating Auburn, who at the time was playing like one of the nation's best teams. LSU has a slew of young talent and beat Ole Miss before taking Alabama to overtime. Just wait until next year ...

The East hasn't exactly wowed anyone all year, but with things so even, the race to Atlanta has been a fun one to follow. Georgia -- clearly the most talented team on that side of the division -- might not even make it to the title game because of losses to South Carolina and Florida, who have combined to lose nine SEC games. Those pesky Missouri Tigers are now a win away from back-to-back Atlanta trips. The team that barely had an offensive pulse for most of the SEC season just doesn't know how to lose anymore. Remember when it was embarrassed by a bad Indiana team at home and then got trounced 34-0 at home to Georgia? Well, Missouri is 5-0 since.

Mizzou isn't as good as it was last year, but that doesn't matter one bit. The defense has been outstanding in SEC play, allowing just 302.6 yards and 19.9 points per game in seven league games. With the defense being so good, Maty Mauk's inconsistent play at quarterback gets considerably overshadowed. The defense turned it up 10 notches, thanks in large part by ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden, who have combined for 22 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss.

Mizzou ain't pretty, but it's winning. Deal with it.

South Carolina was supposed to win the East, but owns the division's worst defense and loved blowing fourth-quarter leads. Then, the Gamecocks somehow beat a slightly surging Florida team in comeback fashion that cost Will Muschamp his job.

Kentucky's offense had bite during a 5-1 start, but after five straight losses, it's pumpkin time for the Wildcats. Tennessee has been so up-and-down, but the emergence of quarterback Joshua Dobbs at least makes the offense watchable. Florida had a rain out, a couple of bad blowouts, two quarterbacks, nearly three overtime games, plenty of heartache and blew out Georgia.

Go figure.

The SEC has been a blast. It hasn't always been great, and there's no dominant team, but there's been plenty of fun drama along the way ... and two weekends still remain.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
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Will Arkansas ever give up another point? For the second consecutive week, the surging Razorbacks shut out a Top 25 team, as they continue to move up the SEC Power Rankings. Outside of that, the day mostly held true to form, as most squads got ready for rivalry week by hosting FCS teams.

Edward Aschoff, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.

SEC morning links

November, 21, 2014
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Arkansas' continued progress has been interesting to see this season and one area they showed significant progress in is third-down success. Last season the Razorbacks were 54th nationally in offensive third-down success rate (41.7 percent) but this season, they're 10th (49.3 percent). That's a huge improvement and it was evident in their 17-0 win over LSU when the Hogs were 10-of-17 against the Tigers on third down, a team that usually stops teams on third down (the Tigers are second in the SEC allowing only a 33.1 percent third-down conversion rate to opponents).

Nobody's happy with the defensive performances this season at South Carolina, but the same can be said at other places around the conference, or the country for that matter. The Gamecocks aren't alone. Texas A&M has seen its fair share of struggles that has its defensive coordinator under the microscope. Auburn has had a rough go lately too, though Gus Malzahn showed support for Ellis Johnson. Still, fans want results and they haven't been good for the Gamecocks, who are last in the league in scoring defense (32.7 points per game).

Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs is the Volunteers' present and future at the position but his predecessor, Justin Worley celebrated his 22nd birthday on Thursday by sharing words with Tennessee fans in an open letter. Worley, whose senior season was cut short after he underwent surgery for a torn labrum earlier this month, shares plenty of candid words and vivid images of his time in Knoxville, which is pretty cool to see.

Around the SEC

UA jersey tour: Kevin Toliver II

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Five-star defensive back Kevin Toliver II was presented with his Under Armour All-America Game jersey Thursday afternoon in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance. The ceremony took place in front of friends, coaches, teammates and media members at the Trinity Christian School auditorium in Jacksonville, Florida.

The No. 1-ranked cornerback and the sixth-ranked player overall in the ESPN 300 said he felt honored to be selected to one of the top All-American games in the country.

“It feels very good to be selected to the Under Armour All-America game,” Toliver said. “This is an accomplishment that I wanted to receive in my life and I just can’t wait to showcase my talents on the field."

Toliver has been committed to LSU for over two years. The talented cornerback has never seemed to waiver, however, he has taken visits to Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Florida State and many wonder how strong his commitment to the Tigers really is. Toliver said his last trip to Baton Rouge certainly helped answer some questions he had.

“My last visit to LSU for that Alabama game was real good,” Toliver said. “I got to experience one of the loudest stadiums in the country and it was a very good experience for me and it just made my commitment stronger.”
Seven questions with Kevin Toliver II

Who was the best player you ever saw play in the Under Armour game?

Toliver: Just last year when I got a chance to stand on the sideline and see what the players go through and everything and seeing how they interact on the field. It was cool watching all of them. Speedy Noil really stood out to me though.

If you could start a team with any other player in your class who would it be?

Toliver: I would have to say Derwin James. Think we’d have a great team.

If you could go one-on-one with any other player in the country who would it be?

Toliver: Tyron Johnson, the No. 1 wide receiver in the country.

What's your earliest football memory?

Toliver: I’d say when I got my first offer from FIU. It was just a stepping stone and let me know to keep working hard and know that my parents wouldn’t have to pay for college if I keep working.

If you could take on a professional athlete in their sport, who would it be and why?

Toliver: I’d say Michael Crabtree. He talks a lot, I talk a lot. I think it would be a good matchup.

What would you like to improve on before you get to LSU?

Toliver: I’d say just my all around skills at defensive back. I just need to work on everything. Everybody is good at the next level.

What’s something about yourself that not many people know about?

Toliver: How hard I work away from the field when nobody is looking.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU has played in some games where opposing offenses leaned heavily on the pass, but the Tigers have yet to face an opponent that likes to fling it around as much as Texas A&M.

Only five teams in the nation have attempted more passes than Texas A&M's 452, a total that is 77 more than the next-closest SEC team. That sets up an intriguing matchup with an LSU secondary that ranks second nationally in pass-efficiency defense (97.57), fifth in passing yards allowed (164) and leads the SEC in both categories.

"As a defensive back, you look forward to that," said LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White, whose team will visit Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night. "You want to match up against passing teams because it gives you more opportunities to get your hands on balls and make plays."

LSU (7-4, 3-4 SEC) has faced eight opposing quarterbacks who attempted at least 25 passes in a game, with Alabama's Blake Sims (20-for-45 for 209 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime win) attempting the most. Nobody else has come particularly close to Texas A&M's average of 41.1 attempts per game.

That means White and his fellow defensive backs could be busy, and their task might be even more demanding with cornerback Rashard Robinson -- one of the stars of LSU's 34-10 win against A&M (7-4, 3-4) last season -- not expected to play.

"He's indefinitely suspended," LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday night when asked about Robinson's status for the A&M game.

Robinson spent most of last season's game matched up against Aggies star Mike Evans, and Robinson more than held his own by limiting the Biletnikoff Award finalist to four catches for 51 yards -- 38 of which came on a late reception with another Tiger in coverage.

With or without Robinson, LSU will have its hands full against the Aggies' dynamic receiving corps. Evans is now playing in the NFL, but A&M still has a group that is reminiscent of Missouri's talented bunch last season. Not only are they productive receivers -- the Aggies have five players with at least 443 receiving yards -- but they possess NFL size.

Three of the Aggies' top five wideouts (Ricky Seals-Jones, Josh Reynolds and Edward Pope) are listed at either 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5. That creates a matchup advantage for A&M over most defensive backs, LSU's included. Robinson is the Tigers' tallest defensive back at 6-3, and the next-tallest contributors are Collins and safety Ronald Martin at 6-2.

Miles said starters White and Collins will obviously see the majority of the cornerback reps, with the next options being freshman Ed Paris and safety Jalen Mills if necessary.

"I think it'll be interesting," Miles said. "I think one that'll be a challenge for our guys to get to the passer and I think there'll be certainly some coverage responsibilities that have to be shored up and technique worked on, but I think that's being done. I kind of like the plan thus far."

Pressuring Aggies starter Kyle Allen into rushed throws would definitely help LSU's cause. In two SEC starts, the true freshman quarterback has tossed seven touchdowns against two interceptions and is averaging 257 passing yards per game.

The Tigers have done a decent job of applying pressure, but have cashed in with just 17 sacks and nine interceptions -- totals that rank 10th and ninth in the conference.

"I think we're in around the passer pretty much," Miles said. "I wish we'd have gotten [sacks], chasing quarterbacks around when we'd liked to have gotten some contact on [them] -- several different games. But I think we have the potential to get into the backfield."

However the Tigers can generate some mistakes -- particularly if they lead to turnovers -- it will come in handy next week. LSU's slumping offense was without starting offensive linemen Vadal Alexander and Elliott Porter for most of the Arkansas game, when it generated just 123 total yards, and Miles said Wednesday that Alexander should be back for A&M, but Porter will not.

Even against A&M's mediocre defense, next week's game might be another slog for LSU's offense, which could certainly use all the field-position advantages it can get. If those breaks don't come, A&M won't have the only passing offense that will be an X factor in the game.

Tigers quarterback Anthony Jennings passed for just 87 yards against Arkansas, which probably would not be enough for LSU to keep up with with a prolific Aggies offense.

"We needed to not be as predictable, run and pass, and we needed to certainly hit," Miles said after Wednesday's practice. "When we go to pass, we need to complete and throw better, and we're not throwing the ball like we can. We threw the ball extremely well tonight and we'll throw the ball better in this game Thursday."

 

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