SEC morning links

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
8:00
AM ET
1. The news broke Wednesday morning that Georgia running back Todd Gurley will miss two more games once the NCAA finally announced its ruling on his eligibility case. He received approximately $3,000 for autographed memorabilia and has been out of action since the Bulldogs' Oct. 11 game at Florida. A subject of ridicule on Twitter was that the NCAA also ordered Gurley to complete 40 hours of community service. But the biggest penalty is obviously that he'll miss Saturday's game against rival Florida and the following week's visit to Kentucky (plus the Mizzou and Arkansas games he already missed). Georgia coach Mark Richt said Gurley will finish his career “with honor” once he returns for the Nov. 15 Auburn game, but what will the Bulldogs do in the meantime? Florida expects the Bulldogs to hand off to Nick Chubb repeatedly, just as they did in the last two games. A college athlete's ability to profit off his or her name is a hot topic these days, with writers like esteemed colleague Chris Low opining that changes are in order. Even the attorney for Bryan Allen, the memorabilia dealer who turned in Gurley, believes that should be the case.

2. Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian echoed Volunteers coach Butch Jones' prediction that senior quarterback Justin Worley will not be available Saturday against South Carolina. Maybe that won't be such a bad outcome. Sophomore Josh Dobbs offered reason to believe he might be the Vols' quarterback of the future with a strong performance off the bench last Saturday against Alabama. But the Crimson Tide had not prepared for the youngster. South Carolina will have the entire week. He might be the X-factor in Saturday's game at Columbia. Or for the superstitious Gamecocks among us, maybe it will be South Carolina's uniforms. South Carolina will wear black jerseys and black pants on Saturday for the first time since losing 24-14 to Florida in 2009.

3. Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) is clearly the favorite to win the SEC East, but Missouri (6-2, 3-1) can still make some noise if the Bulldogs fall into any sort of slump. The Tigers haven't played particularly well lately, but they have only one conference loss as Kentucky (5-3, 2-3) prepares to visit on Saturday. Both teams will be looking to get back on track for the stretch run. Perhaps Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk found his stride last week against Vanderbilt after several rocky games in a row. Meanwhile, Kentucky needs just one more win to achieve bowl eligibility, but it hasn't won a true road game since the 2010 opener. Not the greatest sign, particularly since its previously productive running game has underperformed lately and coaches are questioning whether they should use fewer backs in the regular rotation.

Around the SEC

" The State asks how South Carolina's disappointing season might impact its 2015 recruiting class.

" Formerly suspended safety Jermaine Whitehead does not appear close to returning to Auburn's starting lineup.

" Derrick Henry is leading an unusually thin group of Alabama running backs this week in practice with an open date ahead.

" LSU is focused on cleaning up its mistakes from last Saturday's Ole Miss game with Alabama ahead next weekend.

" John Kadlec, better known as “Mr. Mizzou” after serving the school as an athlete, coach, administrator and broadcaster, died Wednesday at age 86.

Tweets of the day

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The problems that LSU's offensive line encountered early in the season seemed as numerous as Leonard Fournette scholarship offers.
  • The Tigers weren't healthy.
  • They played without suspended senior center Elliott Porter for the first two games.
  • Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes needed several games to settle on a starting right guard -- a job that eventually went to sophomore Ethan Pocic.
  • Opposing defenses regularly stacked the box because LSU's passing game isn't exactly intimidating.

It was a mess, and it turned the offensive line -- one that returned four starters from 2013 -- into an early disappointment on an offense that was loaded with inexperience elsewhere.

"At first our chemistry, it was kind of off," said Fournette, LSU's freshman tailback who sometimes struggled to find running room behind the line early in the season. "But as the season's going on, we're getting stronger and we're learning our weaknesses as a whole and just getting better at it."

No doubt about that. Last Saturday's 264-yard rushing performance against Ole Miss, which boasted the nation's No. 5 run defense (97.1 ypg) entering the game, was the line's crowning achievement to date. Although turnovers hampered the Tigers throughout the night, Fournette (23 carries for 113 yards), Terrence Magee (12-74) and Kenny Hilliard (12-63) all found regular creases to exploit against the Rebels.

The Tigers' fourth-quarter drive was an offensive lineman's dream. Thirteen plays, 95 yards, and each of the first 12 plays was a run. LSU coach Les Miles later described it as "a middle-1970s drive."

Finally, once the Tigers had driven to the Ole Miss 3, quarterback Anthony Jennings faked a dive handoff to Hilliard, rolled right and hit wide-open tight end Logan Stokes with the game-winning touchdown.

The Rebels never saw it coming, and why would they?

"I think that [the 12 straight runs] had a lot to do with it," Stokes said, "especially because during a lot of those runs when I was in, I was the back-side tight end cutting off or cutting the guy or doing something like that. So I think that when I sold it and I think that the fact that everybody up front sold it just how we had been learning those plays, it just worked out perfect for me."

This might have been the line's most impressive performance, but it had been building to this point for weeks. Many LSU fans' eyes probably rolled when Miles said the line gave a strong performance in a 41-7 loss at Auburn -- it did, but LSU got down so quickly that depending solely on the run didn't make sense -- but its improvement has been more obvious in the last three games.

Florida came in allowing barely more than 100 yards on the ground when LSU ran for 195 -- including 140 and two touchdowns from Fournette -- against the Gators. The momentum continued the following week when LSU abused Kentucky for 303 rushing yards on 51 attempts.

"We knew last week they figured out who they want to be," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said after LSU handed his Rebels their first loss of the season. "That's the best offensive line we've played and their running backs are very, very good."

This coming from a coach whose team has already faced Alabama, LSU's next opponent, which typically boasts one of the conference's top offensive lines.

The Crimson Tide's defense isn't too shabby, either, as it currently ranks second nationally against the run (78.1 ypg). Moving the ball on the ground against Alabama will be another measuring stick of the line's recent progress.

"From Florida and on, I think we've played a lot better. Auburn, actually, we played a lot better," Porter said. "We keep on improving and keep on being together. That's what we've done a good job at in practice, in the game, talking in meetings -- everything is coming together as one."

It took longer than expected for that to occur, but LSU's line is finally playing at the high level many expected during the summer. The line combined with a stingy defense to lead the Tigers to the Ole Miss upset and will certainly be one of the driving forces if LSU takes down Alabama on Nov. 8.

"Hats off to our offensive linemen," said Stokes, who joined the Tigers last year from Northeast Mississippi Community College. "I remember looking at Elliott Porter one time and just telling him, ‘Last drive, man. Give us all you got.' … For me to come in from a junior college and just walk in and get to be around those guys and see how it's done, it's a great feeling. I don't ever question us when we get in the fourth quarter because of the leadership we have up front."

Inside Les Miles' office

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
2:30
PM ET
A great coach's office is like a museum, full of history and mementos, personal and professional.

Each week this season, ESPN.com will give you a tour of a college football coach's inner sanctum.

Today's stop: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the office of Les Miles.
video

If you're among the college football fans buying into the #SECBias conspiracy, you probably wouldn't have liked the old BCS formula any better than the new College Football Playoff's selection committee.

Wes Colley, whose computer standings were part of the BCS formula for the past 16 years, said there's a good chance the BCS formula also would have ranked three SEC teams in the top four if the system were still being used.

According to Colley's BCS proxy standings, Mississippi State and Florida State, the only two undefeated teams left from Power 5 conferences, would have been ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, followed by No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn.

The 12-person selection committee that will choose the four teams for the inaugural College Football Playoff had Mississippi State and FSU at the top teams in the first rankings released Tuesday night, followed by No. 3 Auburn and No. 4 Ole Miss.

"When I saw the top 25 from the committee, I thought it was reasonable," said Colley, an astrophysical scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. "I had a couple of question marks. I'm not really quite sure why they're so down on LSU. But it certainly seemed like a reasonable go at it."

During the BCS era, the six computer ratings (Richard Billingsley, Jeff Anderson and Chris Hester, Jeff Sagarin, Kenneth Massey and Peter Wolfe produced the others that were used since 2001) comprised one-third of the BCS formula. The highest and lowest computer ratings for each team were dropped, and the other four were averaged. The coaches' poll and Associated Press Top 25 poll accounted for the other two-thirds, until the Harris Interactive Poll replaced the AP poll in 2005.


(Read full post)


SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 9

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
10:00
AM ET
Another week, another game where an SEC true freshman running back made a big impression. Nick Chubb and Georgia were off on Saturday, but LSU's Leonard Fournette did a fine job representing the league's freshmen with a 100-yard outing against Ole Miss' vaunted defense.

Here is a recap of how Fournette and some of the SEC's other true freshmen standouts performed last weekend:

S Jamal Adams, LSU

What he did: Although he made five tackles and broke up three passes in a 10-7 win against Ole Miss, Adams once again went viral on the Web for something else entirely. As he had done against Florida's Andre Debose, Adams dramatically flopped to the ground after Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace made contact with him after a play. Once again, Adams' flop drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

What it means: Adams' flops are amusing and all, but the kid has serious game. He is one of LSU's best special teams players and is becoming a playmaker in the Tigers' nickel and dime defensive packages. He is tied for fifth on the team with 42 tackles.

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett was one of Tennessee's top defensive performers against Alabama, recording six tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the Volunteers' 34-20 loss.

What it means: Now a fixture in Tennessee's starting lineup, Barnett has become one of the SEC's top young defensive ends. After adding another 1.5 TFLs against the Crimson Tide, Barnett ranks second in the conference with 11. He's also tied for sixth in the league with four sacks.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Fournette was unquestionably the SEC's top freshman this week, helping LSU gain an upset win over then-No. 3 Ole Miss by rushing 23 times for 113 yards (he did lose a fumble in the end zone, however), catching two passes for 41 yards and returning two kickoffs for 57 yards. He finished with 211 all-purpose yards.

What it means: This was Fournette's third game with at least 100 rushing yards and his second where he cracked the 200-yard mark in all-purpose yards. His high was 225 against Florida. The Ole Miss game pushed him past the 1,000-yard plateau in all-purpose yards this season (1,209).

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: Hurd propelled Tennessee's running game against a stingy Alabama defense, rushing 16 times for 59 yards in a loss to the Crimson Tide. He also caught a team-high six passes for 27 yards.

What it means: He has dealt with injuries recently, but Hurd returned last week to rush for 40 yards against Ole Miss. He seemed to be back to normal against Alabama, registering 86 yards of total offense. The Vols will surely lean heavily on the freshman when they face South Carolina's underwhelming run defense on Saturday.

CB Chris Lammons, South Carolina

What he did: Lammons started at cornerback and finished second on the team with six tackles along with 0.5 tackles for loss in a 42-35 loss against Auburn.

What it means: Lammons started for the second consecutive game and has set a new career high for tackles in both of them. With six against Auburn, he bested the five he posted against Furman the previous week. South Carolina's defense has had major issues this season, and it looks like the Gamecocks are giving Lammons the chance to lock down a job with an eye on the future.

Other notables:

K Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Kicked field goals of 24 and 27 yards and hit both of his PATs in a loss to Alabama.

WR Josh Malone, Tennessee: Caught a 9-yard touchdown pass in a loss to Alabama.

WR Trey Quinn, LSU: Caught two passes for 42 yards in a win against Ole Miss.

CB Tre Tarpley, Vanderbilt: Made two tackles, a tackle for loss and forced a fumble in a loss to Missouri.

RB Roc Thomas, Auburn: Ran eight times for 34 yards in a win against South Carolina.

SEC playoff tracker: Oct. 29

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
9:00
AM ET
The College Football Playoff committee has spoken, and there are four teams from the SEC West in the top six, including three in the top four. Who says the SEC isn’t getting two teams in the playoff? There’s still plenty of football to be played, though. For now, here’s a look at where each SEC playoff contenders stands heading into Week 10.

Mississippi State
Record: 7-0 (4-0)
Rank: No. 1
Next big obstacle: Nov. 15 at Alabama

Reason for optimism: Entering Saturday’s game with Arkansas, Mississippi State ranks first nationally in both strength of record (which measures the difficulty in achieving its record based on its strength of schedule) and game control (which gauges its command of games from beginning to end) according to ESPN Stats & Information. In other words, the Bulldogs have earned their No. 1 national ranking.

Cause for concern: There are still two top-10 opponents left on the schedule, and the Bulldogs will face both of them on the road. On Nov. 15, they’ll visit Alabama (State is 0-2 in Tuscaloosa under Dan Mullen and has won there just twice since 1957) and end the regular season with a trip to Ole Miss (the home team in the Egg Bowl is 12-2 in the 2000s).

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Auburn at Ole Miss

-- David Ching

Auburn
Record: 6-1 (3-1)
Rank: No. 3
Next big obstacle: Nov. 1 at No. 4 Ole Miss

Reason for optimism: How can Auburn not be happy? At No. 3, the Tigers are the top-ranked one-loss team according to the committee. They’re ahead of Oregon, TCU, Notre Dame and even in-state rival Alabama. On the field, they have to be happy with the way the offense looked this past weekend against South Carolina. Nick Marshall and Co. seem to be clicking again after playing their most complete game of the season.

Cause for concern: It was only one game, but the Auburn defense took a major step backward Saturday. The Tigers couldn’t get off the field at times, and they allowed South Carolina to throw for 416 yards and five touchdowns. Not to mention, the Tigers also have arguably the most treacherous road ahead among the playoff contenders.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Sure, it would be nice to see No. 1 or No. 2 go down, but Auburn should also pull for Kansas State to handle its business at home against Oklahoma State. That nonconference win looks better and better with each Wildcat victory.

-- Greg Ostendorf

Ole Miss
Record: 7-1 (4-1)
Rank: No. 4
Next big obstacle: Nov. 1 vs. No. 3 Auburn

Reason for optimism: Despite losing at LSU this past weekend, the Rebels aren’t out of the playoff race by any means. That shiny No. 4 ranking proves that the committee has been very impressed with what the Rebels have done to this point. Ole Miss also gets Auburn and Mississippi State at home, somewhat smoothing out the road to Atlanta.

Cause for concern: Well, that loss destroyed the chance at a perfect season, and we saw what happens when you couple an average running game with a quarterback who loses the mental edge with an opponent’s crowd. Bo Wallace was never in rhythm against LSU (just look at that ugly game-clinching interception) and the running game just wasn’t a threat.

Who they’re rooting for this week: Arkansas over Mississippi State

-- Edward Aschoff

Alabama
Record: 7-1 (4-1)
Rank: No. 6
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 at No. 19 LSU

Reason for optimism: Given the way Alabama struggled in a loss at Ole Miss and a narrow win at Arkansas, there were questions about whether Lane Kiffin's offense could go on the road. But they were answered Saturday when the Tide went to Rocky Top and dominated Tennessee 34-20.

Cause for concern: If you want LSU, you want them early. You want the young, unsure team that lost to Mississippi State, not the confident, maturing bunch that upset Ole Miss. Alabama gets the latter, a team that now believes it can beat anyone, especially in Tiger Stadium.

Who they’ll be rooting for: The SEC will take care of itself, so in order to get two teams from the conference in -- and increase Bama's chances of making the playoff -- Tide fans should be hoping for Louisville to beat Florida State or Stanford to beat Oregon.

-- Alex Scarborough

Georgia
Record: 6-1 (4-1)
Rank: No. 11
Next big obstacle: Nov. 1 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville, Florida)

Reason for optimism: Find a true competitor in the East, and then maybe the Dawgs would have to look over their shoulders down the home stretch. There just isn’t a team right now that anyone thinks can seriously contend with the Dawgs in November. The defense is now on the same page with the offense, and that’s a great sign.

Cause for concern: We are still awaiting word on Todd Gurley. Nick Chubb has been great in his place, but you just have to wonder how much of a beating the true freshman can take down the stretch. Auburn awaits, and the Dawgs would still have to play -- and beat -- a behemoth in the West in Atlanta.

Who they’re rooting for this week: Kentucky over Missouri

-- Edward Aschoff

LSU
Record: 7-2 (3-2 SEC)
Rank: No. 19
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 vs. Alabama

Reason for optimism: Look who’s back. Most of us thought we’d seen the last of LSU as a playoff contender when Auburn humiliated Les Miles’ club 41-7 on Oct. 4. But after winning three in a row, including one against Ole Miss on Saturday, the Tigers might not be out of it after all. They can truly state their case against Alabama next weekend.

Cause for concern: The Tigers haven’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard against better opponents. They turned it over and scored just 10 points gainst Ole Miss. Until it is more balanced on offense, LSU will lean heavily on its defense and running game and hope that’s enough to win. The results on that front have been mixed.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Ole Miss vs. Auburn, Arkansas at Mississippi State

-- David Ching

SEC morning links

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
8:00
AM ET
1. The initial College Football Playoff rankings came out on Tuesday night, and the "First Four" was all anyone could talk about, especially after the World Series Game 6 devolved into an old-fashioned Kansas City barbecue. With three teams in the top four, #SECbias was probably trending worldwide. Fans of other conferences were going berserk. Nevermind that voices of reason such as playoff chairman Jeff Long (full disclosure: he's also Arkansas' athletic director) said there's a lot of time for things to change. Heck, look no further than this week's schedule. Two of the top teams in the nation will play this week, as No. 3 Auburn visits No. 4 Ole Miss. Fans of other conferences can delight in knowing the SEC West will bludgeon itself throughout November. And as for No. 6 Alabama getting a so-called snub? Well, this sums up the Tide's plight:



2. As the AJC's Chip Towers said, "Gurley Watch" reached Day 19 on Tuesday and still no update on the Georgia running back's status for Saturday's big game against Florida. The Bulldogs are cautiously optimistic, as Todd Gurley continues to practice. Meanwhile, the Gators' defensive players say they are expecting, preparing and actually hoping to face the Heisman candidate on Saturday. Despite Florida's downward spiral in the past two seasons, the Gators say they're confident. The history of this bitter rivalry suggests the game is usually closely contested. At least one thing that's guaranteed is a good time at the ol' Cocktail Party. It's always cool to see the intermingling of red, black, orange and blue inside and outside the stadium. On Saturday, we'll see it on the field as well. Georgia is the home team, but both teams agreed to wear home jerseys in what should make for a neat visual.

3. Determined to snap its three-game losing streak, Texas A&M underwent a sweeping round of soul-searching during its bye week with a willingness to re-evaluate every position on the team. That includes the quarterback position, where sophomore starter Kenny Hill is now battling with freshman Kyle Allen with a decision to come on Thursday. It's a stunning turn of events for Hill, who started the season with a school-record 511 yards passing in the opener and has thrown for 2,649 yards in eight games. Allen actually went to offensive coordinator Jake Spavital's office to ask if the starting job was really up for grabs. Yes, he was told, this is really happening. The same could be said for the Aggies' tailspin, but at least the bye week came at a perfect time. A&M is still reeling from its last game, a 59-0 loss at Alabama. Saturday's home game against Louisiana-Monroe ought to do wonders in boosting some confidence in Aggieland. Especially for the QB, whoever he is.

Around the SEC

" Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott ditched his walking boot and practiced on Tuesday. He's not sure what all the fuss was about, saying: "I'm sure there's some boots Beyonce or somebody's worn before that people have made a big deal about."

" Ole Miss changed its play-calling terminology after a former intern left in the offseason to join the Auburn staff.

" Michigan native and current Tennessee coach Butch Jones swatted aside speculation that he could be a candidate to be the Wolverines' next coach.

" Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary will be the "lead dog" against Old Dominion, but coach Derek Mason also hopes Patton Robinette will play after being medically cleared last week from a concussion suffered on Sept. 20.

Tweet of the day

video

Three of the top four teams in the inaugural CFP rankings released are from the SEC.

SEC bowl projections: Week 9

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
8:15
PM ET
Now that the first batch of playoff rankings is out, we can really dive into postseason projections.

Three SEC teams in the top four of the playoff committee's rankings? I actually didn't see that coming. While I do agree that those are three of the four best teams in the country, I figured the committee would lean toward not having three teams from the same conference -- let alone the SEC -- take three slots up top in the first set of rankings.

But that's what happens when you deal with the human element, and that's what is going to make the next few weeks in college football delightful.

So how does that affect our bowl projections for this week? Well, for starters, we can go on ahead and put two SEC teams in the two semifinal games. I think folks below the Mason-Dixon Line were kind of expecting that anyway.

I'm not ready to put three SEC teams in, though. It's just not going to happen. These rankings are fun to look at and make projections with, but let's face it, no conference -- not even the big, bad SEC -- is going to get three teams into the playoff.

So for now, the SEC is left with two teams in the final four. The good news for the conference is that those two teams won't play each other in our fictional first round, making for a possible fictional all-SEC national championship.

Oh, the country would just LOVE that!

I have 10 SEC teams making bowl games this year:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual): Auburn
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Cotton Bowl: Alabama
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: LSU
TaxSlayer Bowl: Kentucky
Outback Bowl: Missouri
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Texas A&M
Belk Bowl: South Carolina

SEC West: 3 of top 4 in rankings

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
5:25
PM ET
video

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The College Football Playoff selection committee has spoken -- and it likes the SEC.

At least for now.

Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi are the top four teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings.

The first of seven Top 25 rankings compiled by a 12-member selection committee was released Tuesday night. The selection committee will ultimately pick the four teams to play in the national semifinals and set the matchups for the other four big New Year's Day bowls that are part of the playoff rotation.

"It was extremely difficult, more difficult than any of us had expected having gone through our mock selections before," Arkansas athletic director and committee chairman Jeff Long said. "There are 18 one-loss teams in FBS at this point in time, and the difference between many of them is very slim."

Oregon was fifth and Alabama was sixth, giving the Southeastern Conference's West Division four of the top six teams. There are still four games remaining matching those SEC West rivals, starting with Saturday's matchup of Auburn and Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi.

"We don't analyze it by conference," Long said. "We look at those teams and evaluate the teams they played and the success they had, or the failures they had."

The final rankings will be released Dec. 7, the day after the most of the conference championships are decided.

"Everyone on the selection committee recognized that our rankings will change over the next six weeks," Long said. "I think that's important for us to emphasize. We expect our rankings to change over the next six weeks. One week's rankings won't influence the next week's rankings."

TCU


(Read full post)


Freeman/FournetteGetty ImagesRoyce Freeman, left, and Leonard Fournette have combined for 20 TDs this season as freshmen.


Oregon freshman Royce Freeman (748 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 13 rushing touchdowns) and LSU freshman Leonard Fournette (657 yards, 5.0 yards per carry, 7 rushing touchdowns) first made their names known on the recruiting scene, and they’ve been able to back up their hype at the college level with just half a season under their belts. Pac-12 writer Chantel Jennings and SEC writer Edward Aschoff got together to debate which player is the leader for best freshman running back in the nation.

Jennings: Edward, I hear there's this pretty good freshman running back in the South. And guess what, there's another good one out here on the West Coast, and I'd bet dollars to donuts that by the end of the season, Royce Freeman is going to be the most well-known (and rightfully so) freshman running back in the nation.

Aschoff: Freeman has been impressive this season. His play has people all over the country buzzing about him. He's a player, for real, but I will say this: By season's end, the country will be more excited about LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette. Bet whatever you want on that one. It took a little while for the 6-foot-1, 230-pound chiseled man-child to get going, but he's been very impressive of late. Did you see how many Florida Gators defenders he threw around like rag dolls a couple of weeks ago? Did you see how he tortured Ole Miss defenders with punishing run after punishing run? Florida and Ole Miss currently rank 22nd and 23rd, respectively, in the nation in run defense, but were nuzzled up with the best of them before facing Fournette. The Gators allowed just 103 rushing yards a game and one rushing touchdown heading into the LSU game, but Fournette ran for a season-high 140 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Against Ole Miss, which allowed 97.1 rushing yards per game, he ran for 113 yards and caught two passes for 41 yards. He breaks tackles with ease. He can hit the home run play. He's starting to live up to the preseason hype, and he doesn't need a face mask to make plays. Fournette is heating up, but can Freeman keep his momentum?

Jennings: Oh Ed, that's cute. Did you see how Freeman ran against Washington's front seven (5.8 yards per carry, 4 TDs)? Or what he did against UCLA's defense (6.7 yards per carry, 2 TDs)? Or were those games too late for you and the rest of the East Coast? If so, you most certainly managed to stay up for the Oregon-Michigan State game in Week 2 when he averaged 6.8 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns, no? Those numbers make Fournette's stats against Florida and Ole Miss (yes, 5.2 and 4.9 yards per carry, respectively) look … meh. But please, let's talk some stats, Ed. Specifically, let's look at what these guys have done versus Power 5 opponents (because if you're really about to include Fournette's season-high 7.1 yards per carry against Sam Houston State in these stats then you're not nearly the competitor I thought you were)… Freeman has 651 rushing yards against Power 5 opponents; Fournette has 391. Freeman averaged 5.4 yards per rush against Power 5 opponents; Fournette averages 4.3. Freeman has 10 rushing touchdowns against Power 5 opponents; Fournette has three. Freeman has 18 rushes of 10 or more yards against Power 5 opponents; Fournette has 10. Is there really a need to go on? Didn't think so.

Oh, also (and did you really think as a Michigan graduate I'd miss this), let's not forget that Freeman knows how to carry himself on the field and isn't about to strike the Heisman pose against an FCS school...

Aschoff: I mean when your Power 5 teams include just one team -- Michigan State -- that ranks in the top 30 in rush defense, I guess that's respectable. Cal and UCLA both rank outside the top 50 nationally in scoring defense, while Fournette has already faced four rush defenses inside the top 25. You know what else is impressive about the rise of Fournette? He's sharing a backfield with two other running backs who both have more than 400 rushing yards and have totaled nine touchdowns. They've also carried the ball a combined 153 times. Fournette has had to battle his way through two other running backs who could start in the SEC to get his team-high 131 carries, 657 yards and seven touchdowns. He's been able to average 73 yards a game with two other studs taking carries here and there. Again, Freeman has been great, but Fournette is surging. He's pounding folks. He's dragging kids through the turf. We're heading into the last month of the season, and he's gaining speed -- and strength.

Fournette is a physical specimen, who is about to have his way with some approaching defenses. Fournette doesn't need all that space to work with, like the Ducks afford Freeman. No, he works well in tight spaces, parting a sea of linemen with ease. He embraces contact. When he starts pumping those legs, watch out, or just grab on and hold tight. He's barely behind Freeman when it comes to stats, but the Tigers have brought him along slower than Freeman. He's getting used to the speed and chaos in the SEC, so expect a special last month for Fournette.

Jennings: Hey, stats are all relative, right? Maybe Freeman's numbers are monstrously better than Fournette's with a slightly worse schedule, but don't bring that top 30 in rushing defense stuff in here. You know who else is on that list … Boston College, Virginia, Toledo, Michigan. Freeman would run for miles on those teams. So yes, we can only go so far with stats. And the statistics conundrum is one that won't be solved until the end of the season. So we can leave it at that.

But you can't act like Fournette is the only one sharing a backfield. Freeman came in behind Byron Marshall, who had a 1,000-yard season last year, and Thomas Tyner. On top of that, he shares carries with quarterback Marcus Mariota, who averages eight carries per game. So, Freeman has definitely had to come from the back of the pack to make his presence known. The 18-year-old battled through some serious competition to be the starter. I think we can agree on the fact that both of these guys are special players, and in the years to come not only are we going to be debating which is the best in his respective class, but which is the best back in the entire nation. And the rest of the debate right now? Well, let's agree to disagree.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Look no further than the front seven for an explanation of why LSU is suddenly back to playing its trademark tough defense. And give some credit to the Tigers' offensive line, too.

LSU coach Les Miles said after Saturday's 10-7 win against previously unbeaten Ole Miss that the Tigers' extra practice time with the starting offensive line going against the starting defensive line has toughened both groups -- and they're playing smarter and more effectively as a result.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLSU attacked a weakened Mississippi offensive line and sacked Bo Wallace twice.
"The offensive line and the defensive line go against each other and they talk about gap integrity and they talk about not being pushed and making sure that you did the things, technically, that you're capable of," Miles said. "I think that offensively we improved and defensively we improved. I think that that [the reason is] probably the big men on both sides of the ball."

The defensive line, particularly the interior line, was a clear weakness early in the season when the Tigers faced strong competition. Mississippi State and Auburn's offenses gashed LSU up the middle and posted astronomical yardage totals (570 yards for Mississippi State, 566 for Auburn) that LSU fans are not accustomed to seeing against John Chavis' defense.

But as the season progressed, sophomore Christian LaCouture and true freshman Davon Godchaux have settled into starting roles at tackle, Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco have become more reliable playmakers at end and the defense has improved around them.

"We just came together as a group and we said we're going to put all that stuff behind us and we're just going to keep moving forward," said LSU safety Ronald Martin, who made the game-saving interception at the goal line on Ole Miss' final play Saturday. "We knew we're a great defense and we're just going to have to keep our confidence up. That's what I think we did. We put all of our bad things to the side and we just stepped up and improved."

There was nothing great about the way the Tigers performed against the offensive juggernauts from Mississippi State and Auburn, but there were signs of increasing competence when the level of difficulty dropped and LSU faced Florida and Kentucky. They forced a couple of key turnovers and squeaked past the Gators for their first SEC win and then dominated an improving Wildcats team the next Saturday to get back to .500 in SEC play.

Playing that effectively against then-No. 3 Ole Miss seemed unlikely prior to kickoff, but Chavis' defense was once again outstanding. If they had actually held onto all of the Bo Wallace passes that hit LSU defenders in the hands, they would have finished with four or five interceptions instead of one.

Nonetheless, their aggressive mentality, a raucous Tiger Stadium crowd and a weakened Ole Miss offensive line that was without two starters for portions of the game combined to help the defense lead LSU to its biggest win of the season.

"I would say this for our entire team, not just Bo: I thought that our demeanor was a bit different in that environment, and I thought we let things get to us that have not bothered us earlier in the season and seemed to rattle us a little bit," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "He missed some open guys. He also made some really good throws. But it just seemed that our demeanor was a little bit different as a team."

Credit Chavis, as well. The Tigers' veteran defensive coordinator identified the Rebels' issues along the line and sent consistent pressure after Wallace as a result. Ole Miss' offense struggled throughout the second half as LSU defenders continuously swatted down Wallace throws and chased him from the pocket.

"I can't tell you the number of balls that we knocked down. That's nerve-wracking to a quarterback and I think it doesn't allow them the ability to just have easy plays," Miles said. "And when you do that, that means that every play is under duress and being worked. I think that defense, the success that they had, is based on those things."

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
10:00
AM ET
video
As always there was a ton of recruiting news from around the Southeastern Conference. There were a few big commitments, key visits and new offers over the weekend. Here’s a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the SEC.

SEC morning links

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
8:00
AM ET
Today is the day, folks. Curious fans who want to know what the College Football Playoff selection committee is thinking will get a window into those thoughts when the committee's inaugural top 25 poll releases at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight on ESPN. Our Ivan Maisel likens the group to a jury, now that it's down to 12 members. Not everybody is enamored with the idea of the committee releasing its own rankings, though. Dan Wetzel makes the case against the idea, suggesting it should look more like the NCAA basketball tournament selection committee, which simply releases its results after the season is complete. George Schroeder calls the poll a "pointless exercise." For the speculative types, here is a prediction at what the first set of rankings might look like. For those who miss the old days of the BCS, here's a look at what the computers say about the teams to this point. No matter what the result, it will generate a lot of conversation nationally.

Not a surprise, but as the noise increases around Florida coach Will Muschamp and his job security (or lack thereof), the Gators players are voicing their support for the coach. "I mean, people can really say what they want," Florida senior linebacker Mike Taylor said. "We're the ones who sit in these meeting chairs and listen to him. The people that are saying that are not out there coaching with them, not being coached by him, they're not playing on Saturday." The Gators should have plenty of motivation this week for their rivalry game with Georgia. They're under pressure, too. I remember Vernon Hargreaves III talking at SEC media days about things classmates said to players last year when the Gators were 4-8. Is it likely the Gators turn it around? Probably not, given how good Georgia is. But like their coach, they'll probably operate with a bunker mentality moving forward.

Here's an interesting dynamic before this weekend's showdown between Auburn and Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze expressed some concern over the fact that a former quarterback of his at Arkansas State and intern for him at Ole Miss, Ryan Aplin, is an offensive graduate assistant with Auburn now. In the coaching world, turnover is frequent and a situation like this can be expected to pop up from time to time, but the fact that Aplin spent so much time with Freeze, who gave Aplin his first job in football, suggests he has a deep knowledge of Freeze and the inner-workings of his attack. Everything is on film, so I doubt that it is a make-or-break type of thing, but coaches search for every advantage they can get. Bo Wallace acknowledged that the Rebels have changed terminology since Aplin left, but it's still worth noting.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

video

After their loss to LSU, Ivan Maisel and Cary Chow look at Ole Miss' playoff hopes.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Bulldogs on top of new CFP Rankings
Three of the top four teams in the inaugural CFP rankings released are from the SEC.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 11/1