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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
Edward Aschoff, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.
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
- Texas A&M freshman DE Myles Garrett and other injured defenders will likely return for next week's LSU game.
- Missouri teammates rave about safety Braylon Webb's "quiet genius."
- Mississippi State WR De'Runnya Wilson overcomes first-year struggles.
- Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall wants to play QB at the next level but is open to a position switch.
- Ole Miss knows what to expect from Arkansas -- lots of run game.
- LSU QB Anthony Jennings said he ignores fan criticism.
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
Kevin Toliver II with his Under Armour All-America jersey. https://t.co/UpT4RdquwD— Derek Tyson (@DerekTysonESPN) November 20, 2014
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.
The three Trinity players, Kendrick Norton, Kevin Toliver II and Jeff Holland posing with their jersey's. pic.twitter.com/FuCLWUiQ7C— Derek Tyson (@DerekTysonESPN) November 20, 2014
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."
Why Arkansas wins: Arkansas had been knocking at the door for weeks and the Razorbacks finally broke it down last Saturday when they shut out LSU to secure Bret Bielema's first SEC win. Now can they make it two in a row? Ole Miss is favored to record a key road win, but Arkansas' progress this season has impressed me. I'm tiptoeing out on a limb and rolling with the home team. Arkansas 20, Ole Miss 14 -- David Ching
Why Ole Miss wins: This is the definition of a trap game for the Rebels. They’re playing a hungry Arkansas team, fresh off its first SEC win, and they have the Egg Bowl next week. They can’t afford to start looking ahead. There’s just too much on the line for Ole Miss, though. I think the Landsharks defense will come out inspired and Bo Wallace will make just enough plays to win the game. Ole Miss 24, Arkansas 14 -- Greg Ostendorf
Why Tennessee wins: The Volunteers have played great on offense since inserting Josh Dobbs as the starting quarterback. In the last three games, he's averaging 263 passing yards per game and has thrown seven touchdowns and two interceptions, plus he's averaging 96 rushing yards per game and has rushed for four scores. Will that be enough for the Vols to notch just their second win against a ranked team under Butch Jones? Tennessee 24, Missouri 21 -- David Ching
Why Missouri wins: The Tigers haven't lost a road game in nearly two full years, a streak of nine in a row. Neyland Stadium holds quite the crowd, but so does Kyle Field, which drew more than 100,000 last week when Missouri beat the Aggies. And now that Markus Golden's nagging hamstring injury seems to be a nonfactor, the pass rush led by SEC-leading sacker Shane Ray and Golden is at full speed again, which will be a challenge for Josh Dobbs & Co. Missouri 31, Tennessee 27 -- Sam Khan Jr.
Mississippi State over Vanderbilt: The Bulldogs are coming off their first loss, but look for Dak Prescott & Co. to get back on track this week against the struggling Commodores, who are still searching for their first SEC win. Mississippi State 48, Vanderbilt 14
Alabama over Western Carolina: Alabama usually puts these games to bed quickly (and beat Western Carolina 49-0 when they last met in 2012) so expect the similar results here as the Crimson Tide get a tune-up before the Iron Bowl. Alabama 49, Western Carolina 7
Auburn over Samford: Auburn holds a 26-0-1 all-time series advantage over Samford, so don't expect the 28th meeting to buck that trend on the Tigers' senior day at Jordan-Hare. Auburn 52, Samford 6
Georgia over Charleston Southern: Georgia thumped Auburn at home last week to wrap up its SEC campaign, so now the Bulldogs must wait to see if Missouri loses. In the meantime, expect them to make quick work of this Big South foe. Georgia 49, Charleston Southern 3
Florida over Eastern Kentucky: Now that Will Muschamp's job status is clear, the pressure's off. The Gators still have bowl eligibility to play for and look to coast to a win over a quality FCS squad in Eastern Kentucky, which actually beat an FBS team this year: Miami (Ohio). Florida 42, Eastern Kentucky 7
South Carolina over South Alabama: The Gamecocks are looking to secure bowl eligibility. Expect them to build off the momentum of the comeback overtime win over Florida. South Carolina 45, South Alabama 10
Greg Ostendorf 77-17
Edward Aschoff 74-20
Chris Low 74-20
David Ching 73-21
Alex Scarborough 70-24
Sam Khan Jr. 69-25
Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre is trying to resurrect a program in the midst of what is arguably college football's most treacherous minefield. He knows the dangers of the Pac-12 South firsthand; his Buffaloes are camped out in the cellar of it.
"I think [the Pac-12 South] is the toughest division in college football, period," he proclaimed on Tuesday's conference call.
Uh oh. Those will almost certainly be considered fighting words by many in the Southeast, home of the rugged SEC West.
But MacIntyre's comments bring up a fun chance of examination: What is the toughest division in the country? This season, the argument inevitably boils down to the Pac-12 South -- which is fresh off surpassing its Northern brethren -- and the SEC West, which has maintained the upper hand in that area of the country for several years running now.
Of course, coaches advocate for the division in which they play -- MacIntyre's club is laboring through conference play with an 0-7 record, so we know what camp he's in.
"The [Pac-12 South] is very comparable to the SEC West, and I think people can argue that both ways," he said. "I think we have better quarterbacks. That always makes for a better team, when you have a better quarterback."
We asked for a little help in clarifying the argument from our friends in ESPN Stats and Information and the Football Power Index (FPI).
Although the Pac-12 South has more teams (5) ranked in the AP Top 25 than the SEC West (4), every single team from the SEC West -- including 1-5 Arkansas -- received votes in the most recent AP poll. When accounting for the total amount of poll votes as well as a teams' FPI, the SEC West sum is 97.3, greater than the Pac-12's 90.3.
When it comes to FPI, the SEC West has the advantage with an average rank 10.4, compared to the Pac-12 South, which has an average rank of 30.8. Although there are five teams with .700 or better overall winning percentages in the Pac-12 South, FPI predicts that on a neutral field, every team in the West would have a greater than 50 percent chance to beat two-thirds of the South: Arizona, Utah, Arizona State, and Colorado. According to FPI, UCLA and USC are the only two Pac-12 South teams that would have a better than 50 percent chance of holding their ground against a handful of SEC West teams.
Salt these projections however you like. Perhaps the most important factor in this argument is that Oregon, the Pac-12's top-rated team, resides in the North (Alabama, the SEC's biggest gun, is part of the West, so that gives the division a firepower advantage).
If college football history has taught us anything, this type of debate will rage on unresolved well beyond this season. But MacIntyre, who might know better than most, has cast his vote for the Pac-12 South.
LSU coaches Les Miles and Frank Wilson both predicted recently that Collins could become a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft. And multiple draft analysts seem to agree.
"I think he's a dominant player in a dominant league," Miles said. "I think he looks and can defend himself at the left tackle and left guard spot. Anytime you start looking at guys that can play left guard and tackle, that's pretty strong stuff.
"The point is is what guys need and how they fit. A guy that can play left tackle and left guard, or a guy that is certainly a left tackle or a left-side guy, it just really increases his worth."
One of Collins' stated goals in returning for another year was to prove that he could play left tackle in the pros. He'd shifted there from guard in 2013 and wanted to prove he could handle either spot in the NFL in order to maximize his earning potential.
Collins believes he has done that this fall, when he has been one of the most consistent performers on the team.
"I feel like I kind of established that I can play tackle on the next level, but hey, wherever a team wants to play me at, that's what I'm willing to do," Collins said. "So it doesn't even matter to me. But just the ability to be able to play inside and outside is always a great thing, and right to left side doesn't even matter to me.
"I just try to continue to get better where I'm at right now, though, and that's left tackle. I'm just going out and working hard and just trying to make sure I can get everything that I can out of playing this position."
Apparently Collins and his coaches are not alone in that opinion.
Had he jumped to the pros after his junior season, Collins seemed likely to be selected late in the first round or in the middle rounds of the draft. However, the most recent prospect rankings from NFLDraftScout.com, ESPN's Scouts Inc. and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. all include Collins among the top 20 players.
"I believe he's played tremendously, especially compared to last year," right tackle Jerald Hawkins said. "He just seemed to upgrade his game, especially being with Coach [Jeff] Grimes."
The newest rankings from Scouts Inc. and Todd McShay rank Collins as the No. 16 overall prospect and No. 3 offensive tackle in the upcoming draft class. Collins said he has already been invited to participate in two postseason all-star games, including the Senior Bowl, although he had not accepted an invitation as of last week.
"I just kind of take it one week at a time, especially now," Collins said. "I definitely know in the future I'm going to have to take on everything that's coming my way, but I'm just taking it and just trying to embrace my last couple of weeks that I have here and just enjoy it, enjoy it with my teammates."
His time at LSU is winding toward its conclusion. After last Saturday's loss at Arkansas, LSU is 7-4 and far out of the conversation for the SEC title Collins hoped to claim when he decided to play one more college season. He has two games left as a Tiger: the regular-season finale at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night and what will be a mid-level bowl game.
That is far from what Collins envisioned, and yet he will be richer -- figuratively and financially -- for having spent one more season at LSU. Collins believes his time spent with first-year offensive line coach Grimes has benefited him, and he seems to treasure having played a full college career at his hometown college.
"I've been just overwhelmed with falling in love with this place. Ever since I got here, it was always just a great place for me," Collins said. "LSU has just been nothing but good for me. I love the program, I love my coaches, I've learned a lot this year.
"So by me learning so much this year, it really made me realize, ‘Wow, I really wasn't ready to move onto the next level.' So that's why I never really can think about it."
The SEC already has five commitments from players ranked in the top 25 of the ESPN Junior 300. That list includes Greg Little, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2016 and a Texas A&M commit. As a whole, the SEC has 27 commitments in the updated ESPN Junior 300. Here’s a closer look at the updated rankings.
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That's why Nick Saban and his team have to be ecstatic with their No. 1 ranking in the latest playoff rankings. As long as they win out and win the SEC title, they're headed to New Orleans for the first semifinal game.
Meanwhile, if everything plays out as it should -- and it never does -- the Tide's opponent in the Sugar Bowl would be none other than Mississippi State. That's right. The Bulldogs only dropped to No. 4 after Saturday's loss to Alabama, and that means they're still in good shape for the playoff if they can take care of business against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
The next two weeks should also be interesting for the rest of the conference as a number of teams are fighting for that sixth win and bowl eligibility. Both Florida and South Carolina should get there this Saturday as they play Eastern Kentucky and South Alabama, respectively. It won't be as easy, though, for teams like of Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.
We predict a total of 12 SEC teams becoming bowl eligible by season's end.
College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Alabama
College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: Auburn
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
Play like a champion. Garner interest from college scouts. Earn scholarships. Treat every scholarship with equal density. Refuse to publicly lean to a program.
Ask Sheffield about a favorite in his recruiting process, and expect an answer that will lead the most persistent, inquisitive person to nowhere. He's quick to say that he's "still wide open with 37 offers."
Ask the five-star cornerback about the Under Armour All-America Game, however, and get a completely different answer. Sheffield was awarded his commemorative jersey on Tuesday in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance.
"It's a huge honor to be an Under Armour All-American. I'm very happy, very excited," Sheffield said. "I've always wanted to be an Under Armour All-American, since I was a little kid. "I just want to get there and have fun and compete."
Hearing Sheffield open up about the game is a treat of sorts, as he's naturally an actions-first kind of athlete. Sheffield prefers letting his game speak for itself -- and it's spoken loud enough for him to earn nearly 40 offers coast to coast.
At 6 foot and 181 pounds, Sheffield is the top-ranked player in Texas and the No. 3 cornerback in the nation. He is No. 8 in the ESPN 300 and has seen a steady rise in the 2015 rankings since its debut last season.
Sheffield's resume has everything college coaches want to hear. His fastest 40-yard dash is 4.37 seconds. He's a cover corner who doesn't mind making the big hits. If he's needed for special teams, he can be a reliable return man, as well.
The world will get a chance to judge for itself when Sheffield competes in the UA game in January. The big question now, however, is, where will Sheffield end up? He's taken official visits to USC, Ohio State and Florida State, and he recently was in Baton Rouge for an unofficial visit to LSU. Sheffield said he'll take an official visit to Alabama next month, and he's expecting to take an unofficial visit for Texas A&M's Thanksgiving game against LSU in College Station.
Sheffield said he plans on taking that fifth official visit. Which team will get it?
"I'm unsure right now," he said. "It'll be one of my 37 offers."
Sheffield will announce his college plans at the UA game. Until then, he's tight-lipped. One thing he won't keep close to the vest is the importance of having a position coach who will push him. He said the winning school will have a coach he can build a quality relationship with, in addition to someone who can potentially take him to the next level.
"That's important to me," Sheffield said. "Real important."
Best player to put on a UA jersey: "Jadeveon Clowney. He's a good athlete, and he was the No. 1 player coming out of high school. He also was the No. 1 draft pick."
Receiver you most want to compete against: "It doesn't matter. I just want to get there and compete."
Your jersey number: "I've always worn No. 11. It's a number I've worn since Little League."
Favorite football memory: "It was my sophomore year in my first year on varsity. I had my first interception, and it was a pick-six. It won the game for us."
Did you know? Sheffield wants to major in sports management. He said the schools he ultimately considers in his top list will have solid sports management programs.
Even before Saturday’s shutout loss at Arkansas, the sophomore quarterback was frank in admitting that he must do a better job if he is to remain the Tigers’ starter.
“I think that we had the potential to go undefeated this year. I think if I would have played better in a couple of those games, I think we would have won those games,” Jennings said last week, speaking to reporters after an LSU practice for the first time this season. “So we just have to continue to get better, and I think that if we continue to get better, we’ll be a great team.”
Much of the blame falls on an offense that accounted for just 123 yards against the Razorbacks while missing starting left guard Vadal Alexander for the entire game and starting center Elliott Porter for much of it. The resulting shuffle left the only aspect of LSU’s offense that has shown any consistency -- its downhill running game -- in shambles.
“Those starting five had a cohesiveness that they built throughout the season,” Jennings said after the game. “So having those two guys go down, it was big.”
Jennings’ inability to move the offense with the pass only compounded the problem, as the first-year starter passed for fewer than 100 yards for the second straight week. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 87 yards against Arkansas, a week after going 8-of-26 for 76 yards in an overtime loss to Alabama.
“[It was] subpar at best,” Jennings said. “I have to improve.”
In fairness to Jennings, he regularly had to run for his life after dropping back to throw. The reworked offensive line rarely gave him time to survey the field, but Jennings continued to struggle at delivering accurate throws even when the protection was adequate.
That’s why Tigers coach Les Miles said after the game that his biggest concern was not quarterback play, but the protection issues that occurred with Alexander and Porter out of the lineup.
Miles said Alexander will likely be back in time for the Tigers’ visit to Texas A&M (7-4, 3-4) on Thanksgiving Day, but Porter is doubtful. Thus, Miles and his staff have about 10 days to figure out a backup plan along the line -- and perhaps with the player taking snaps behind it.
“At this point in time, the guy sitting in my seat, we’re looking for answers,” Miles said after the Arkansas game.
It would be simplistic -- and probably incorrect -- to say that a quarterback change would solve the Tigers’ offensive problems. But earlier in the year when Jennings struggled against Mississippi State and New Mexico State, Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron turned to true freshman Brandon Harris, and he delivered positive results both times.
Harris has barely seen the field since making a lone disastrous start against Auburn (3-of-14, 58 yards), on a night when LSU failed to achieve a single third-down conversion. Whether angry fans like it or not, Harris clearly does not have his coaches’ confidence, as evidenced by Miles’ post-Arkansas explanation for why he never played Harris against the Razorbacks.
“What we’re trying to do is make 10 other players effective, as well,” Miles said. “But at this point in time, I think it’s a quality opinion. Could I get some other guys some playing time? I wouldn’t disagree with that. But I think we went with Anthony for the reasons that it gives us our best chance at victory.”
Perhaps the extra time between games will give Harris a better chance to steal snaps from Jennings. But if Miles and Cameron stick with the sophomore for the A&M game and the bowl game that follows, Jennings knows what he’s giving the offense is not good enough.
Not now, and not if he expects to become more than a one-year starter.
“I know that if I play better, the other guys around me play better and this team plays better, so I don’t know if [I’m taking the] blame,” Jennings said last week. “I know that I can play better, knowing my abilities to play football at a high level. So I just have to go out on the practice field, continue to get better and then when game day comes, I’ve got to continue to execute.”
Saturday's top plays in the SEC
Final Eastern Kentucky 3 Florida 52 Final Charleston Southern 9 10 Georgia 55 Final South Alabama 12 South Carolina 37 Final 8 Ole Miss 0 Arkansas 30 Final Western Carolina 14 1 Alabama 48 Final Samford 7 14 Auburn 31 Final 20 Missouri 29 Tennessee 21 Final Vanderbilt 0 4 Mississippi State 51