Dallas Colleges: Auburn Tigers
We knew the SEC would get one team into the inaugural College Football Playoff when Alabama beat Missouri on Saturday. Nailing down the destinations for the conference's other 11 bowl-eligible teams is much more difficult.
Here are our best guesses in the final hours before we will know for sure:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: Ole Miss
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Mississippi State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Missouri
Outback Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Arkansas
Advocare V100 Texas Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: Georgia
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Tennessee
Birmingham Bowl: Florida
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: South Carolina
Muschamp isn’t the only name to have come up. Others have been linked to the two openings, including former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, who won a national championship as LSU’s defensive coordinator in 2007, as well as current Houston defensive coordinator David Gibbs, who spent a year at Auburn in 2005 and is not far from Texas A&M.
The question is – whether it’s Muschamp, Pelini or even Gibbs – which defensive coordinator job is more attractive to potential suitors, Auburn or Texas A&M?
Greg Ostendorf: If the goal is to play for national championships, then this is a no-brainer. Auburn won a national championship in 2010 and played for another one just last season. As long as Gus Malzahn is the head coach, the Tigers will be good enough offensively to make the playoff year in and year out.
They’re also better suited to make a run next year. Despite all the young talent on the Aggies’ roster, I argue that an incoming defensive coordinator will have more to work with at Auburn than he would at Texas A&M.
Assuming nobody leaves early, the Tigers will have seven starters returning on defense, including the top three leading tacklers (Johnathan Ford, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost), the team leader in sacks (DaVonte Lambert) and the team leader in interceptions (Jonathan Jones). Can Texas A&M say the same thing?
The defense will also welcome back Carl Lawson, the team’s top pass rusher who missed the entire season due to injury. Lawson didn’t have the same type of production as the Aggies' Myles Garrett did his freshman year, but when healthy, he still has NFL potential written all over him.
That alone is a solid group, especially with Lawson coming back, but when you throw in Tre' Williams, Nick Ruffin and Stephen Roberts, a trio of promising young freshmen who all played this season and gained valuable experience, the potential for a turnaround is there as long as Auburn finds the right guy to take charge.
Some argue that Malzahn focuses primarily on offense when it comes to recruiting, but Auburn’s current 2015 class has three linebackers ranked in the ESPN 300, and the right hire could be just what the Tigers need to land a star like Jeffery Holland or Daron Payne. Can you imagine the success Muschamp would have in Florida, a state Auburn recruits well already? He would have no trouble convincing top defensive targets to join him on the Plains.
The question I have for the future defensive coordinator at Texas A&M is how long will your head coach be around? Kevin Sumlin’s name has been linked to NFL jobs the past two seasons, and it will likely come up again this offseason. Granted, Malzahn might also have a future in the NFL, but Sumlin seems closer to realizing that dream.
Let’s be honest. Both schools have money, both have top-notch facilities, and both have the resources to be successful. The difference is Auburn has better players and a better opportunity to win next year. For a defensive coordinator who might want to coach again soon, i.e. Muschamp or Pelini, there’s not a better job out there.
Sam Khan: Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator position is an appealing opportunity for prospective defensive coaches.
For starters, there is nowhere to go but up. The Aggies ranked last in the SEC in yards per game allowed in each of the past two seasons, so the room for improvement is plentiful.
The real reason it’s a good opportunity though, is the personnel. The Aggies have ripe young talent to work with. Myles Garrett. Armani Watts. Otaro Alaka. Josh Walker. Zaycoven Henderson. Those are all true freshmen who started games for the Aggies this year.
Garrett is a bonafide star. He shattered Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record (Garrett has 11 sacks this season) and is the type of player the Aggies’ next defensive coordinator can build around the next two seasons (let’s be honest, the chances of Garrett exhausting his college eligibility seem slim given his production so far).
Watts showed promise at safety this season with three interceptions and seven pass breakups. Alaka and Walker performed admirably when inserted into the starting lineup late in the season and look like the linebackers of the future. Henderson is a big body with quickness to plug in the middle. And that’s not to mention a host of other underclassmen who were forced into action each of the past two seasons who will continue to grow in the coming years.
The Aggies have more young talent coming in via the 2015 recruiting class, like 5-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, four-star defensive end James Lockhart and ESPN 300 safeties Larry Pryor Jr. and Justin Dunning. The foundation for future success is there.
Money won’t be an issue for the Aggies when it comes to paying their defensive coordinator of choice. The school is in the middle of spending nearly $500 million on football facilities upgrades and shelled out $5 million per season for Kevin Sumlin. They’re not going to go cheap on the defensive coordinator, which is a pivotal hire heading into Sumlin’s fourth season in Aggieland, just for the sake of saving a few bucks. They have to get this hire right, and they’ll spend what’s necessary to do it.
The resources to attract more defensive talent is there. The player’s locker room and lounge is second-to-none. The Aggies have one of the best weight rooms in the country. Sumlin is a master recruiter who excels at closing the deal with elite recruits.
And Sumlin is willing to give his choice a chance. Auburn has had seven defensive coordinators in the past 10 seasons. Sumlin, who has been a head coach since 2008, is going on his fourth. Sumlin has no problem making changes when necessary, but he usually isn’t the type to overreact to one season’s worth of results.
2. Remember when Jacob Coker transferred to Alabama this offseason? It seemed like everybody who followed the Crimson Tide expected the former Florida State backup to walk in and take the starting job. Blake Sims, the ever-patient fifth-year senior, waited his turn behind AJ McCarron, battled Coker and the patience paid off. After throwing three interceptions that opened the door for Auburn to take the lead, Sims remained poised and finished strong with 312 passing yards and four touchdowns in the Crimson Tide's 55-44 Iron Bowl victory over Auburn. Throughout this season, Sims has earned Saban's confidence, and rightfully so. Sims and the Tide are a victory away from the College Football Playoff.
3. To the surprise of just about nobody, Missouri is a 14-point underdog heading into its SEC championship game matchup against Alabama. The Tigers (10-2), winners of six in a row, aren't going to be expected by many to beat Alabama. That seems to be OK by them. "“We love it,” sophomore linebacker Michael Scherer said. “We don’t want people to believe in us." The Tigers are of the mind that the more doubters they have, the bigger the proverbial chip on their shoulder will be heading into the game. This will be Missouri's second consecutive SEC East title game, so the Tigers have an idea of what to expect.
Around the SEC
- Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown explains why he left his job to accept the head coach job at Troy. And here's a look at potential replacements.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel will earn at least $200,000 in bonuses for getting the Tigers to 10 wins and the SEC title game.
- Georgia and Mark Richt fell short of an SEC East title. But what does it mean?
- On the heels of a loss to Clemson and a 6-6 season, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has some decisions to make.
- After a winless debut season in the SEC, Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said changes are coming within the program.
- Tennessee is in a bowl game for the first time since 2010.
AUBURN, Ala. -- It had the makings of another epic win for Auburn. The Tigers trailed by two touchdowns entering the fourth quarter. They cut it to three and had two chances to take the lead, but it wasn't meant to be. Not this time. Texas A&M recovered two fumbles late and hung on to upset No. 3 Auburn 41-38 on Saturday.
How the game was won: Texas A&M came out firing on all cylinders offensively, jumping out to a 35-17 lead. Miscommunication cost Auburn its chance to complete the comeback win, though. First, with the Tigers knocking on the door to score, quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne bobbled a handoff, and Marshall put it on the turf at the Texas A&M 2 with 2:37 remaining. On the next drive, Reese Dismukes snapped it to Marshall, who wasn't looking, and the Aggies recovered again with 54 seconds left to end Auburn's hopes.
Game ball goes to: The Texas A&M defense made two big stops late in the game, but freshman quarterback Kyle Allen was terrific in his first SEC start and second overall career start. He came out of the gate firing with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Malcome Kennedy on his third throw, and he finished 19-of-29 for 277 yards and four touchdowns. He showed serious moxie on the road.
What it means: This was Gus Malzahn's first loss at home since taking over at Auburn prior to last season, and his first loss as an FBS head coach in the month of November.
Playoff implication: If any two-loss team has a chance to get back in the playoff picture, it's Auburn, based solely on strength of schedule. The Tigers still have road games left at Georgia and Alabama that could boost their résumé. But Saturday's loss makes it mighty tough for Malzahn's bunch to return to the national championship game.
What's next: Auburn will see where it winds up in the latest playoff committee rankings on Tuesday and must regroup before heading to Athens for a battle with Georgia. Texas A&M returns home to host SEC East-leading Missouri.
Saturday's Alabama-at-LSU game, as always, is loaded with big-time prospects making recruiting visits. Auburn is expected to have at least two key visitors in for its game against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt is hoping to build some momentum by bringing in some visitors for the Florida game. Here’s a closer look at some of the top recruits making visits to SEC schools this weekend.
Before his team faced Auburn last month, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier spoke of the mutual respect he believes exists between head coaches who call plays on offense. Spurrier and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn are among those who wear both hats for their respective programs.
Later asked about those coaches that don’t call plays on either side of the ball for their teams, the always candid Spurrier jokingly speculated how those top men spend their time.
"I think they sit around and say 'What am I going to tell you guys [media] most of the time,'" Spurrier said with a laugh. “Most of them look in on all three phases of their team -- offense, defense, special teams. Some of them are more involved in one or the other -- special teams, defense or what have you. But you really need to ask them what they do all week. I’m not 100 percent sure what they are doing, exactly."
It’s an interesting discussion, and every head coach has his own philosophy. On Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, two offensive-minded head coaches who differ in that area will meet -- Malzahn and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
Both have built their reputations on high-powered, up-tempo, no-huddle offenses. Malzahn serves as Auburn’s primary offensive play-caller, and Sumlin delegates the duty to his offensive coordinator, something he has done since the start of his head coaching career seven years ago at Houston.
Why do they believe in their respective methods? Malzahn said his passion and habit of calling plays dates to his time as a head coach in the high school ranks. His success juggling the tasks at that level led him to continue to do so when he became a college coach.
"I've always done it all my career," Malzahn said. "When I got into coaching college, I got some good advice: 'Hey, don't change anything that helped you get to where you're at. Do what you feel like your strength is,' and I feel very comfortable doing that."
It’s hard to argue with the results. Last season, Auburn was No. 1 in the nation in rushing yards per game (328.29), No. 8 in yards per play (6.92), 11th in yards per game (501.3) and 12th in scoring offense (39.5). This season the Tigers are eighth in rushing (276.88), fifth in yards per play (6.97), 16th in yards per game (497.5) and 13th in scoring (38.8).
Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have a strong rapport and ongoing discussion during games that yields the results.
"It’s just kind of constant back-and-forth dialogue from there," Lashlee said. "A lot of in-drive stuff for us is feel and based off things we’ve seen so far. If one of us feels really good about something, we say it and usually roll with it.
"Usually Coach [Malzahn] would get in a good rhythm, and I’m just trying to be that sounding board -- keep things on his mind or remind him certain things are there. Sometimes he’ll say 'What do you want?' It works good back-and-forth so far together."
Malzahn says Lashlee’s work during the week allows Malzahn to handle his head coaching duties and not solely focus on offensive game-planning.
"I'm very fortunate to have a guy like Rhett Lashlee who can do a lot of legwork during the week, preparation and everything that goes with that, and it allows me to be a head coach," Malzahn said. "But I do enjoy calling plays on Saturday."
Being a play-caller as a head coach was something Sumlin gave much thought to when he accepted his first head coaching job at Houston prior to the 2008 season. In the end, he felt assuming the duty might stretch him too thin when it came to being able to juggle that task and building the type of program he wanted.
He had success hiring coordinators. The first two he hired -- Dana Holgorsen and Kliff Kingsbury -- moved on to head coaching jobs after having success under Sumlin.
"I just thought there are so many things to do, so many things that go on that it was going to be very difficult for me to establish a program, get a program going at the level [I wanted] -- whether it was at Houston or here [at Texas A&M] -- to really do that during a game," Sumlin said. "When I was a coordinator I couldn't tell you what was going on [with] special teams or defensively, because we were always worried about what was happening [offensively]."
He also feels delegating that responsibility helped him be better in other areas.
"We played in a lot of really, really close games, and I think history will tell you that we've had a great track history in close games of clock management and what happens at the end of close games," Sumlin said. "I think that had a lot to do with me, along with the staff, being able to communicate and see the whole picture rather than being myopic on the situation."
Though the Aggies have struggled lately offensively, Sumlin’s head coaching career has been filled with significant offensive success, lending credibility to the approach. His current offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital, has the freedom to call the game as he sees fit, just like the others who preceded him in that position under Sumlin. Though the head coach does have his input, he saves it for breaks in the action.
"It's in-between drives that we discuss what we need to do, and a lot of it is personnel issues about what we're capable of doing from protection to running the ball, to how the quarterback is handling the situation right now and what's going to be easiest, and what's the situation on the clock," Spavial said. "Coach Sumlin is going to step in and voice his opinion if needed, but he really doesn't mess with me that often during the course of a drive."
2. After Saturday’s loss to Florida, Georgia dropped to No. 20 in the latest playoff rankings. The good news, though, is that star running back Todd Gurley will be reinstated next weekend when the Bulldogs host Auburn. On Tuesday, UGA athletic director Greg McGarity made his first public comments since Gurley’s suspension and provided a detailed look into how the university handled the case. McGarity also said that Gurley never considered quitting the team to focus on his pro prospects. The All-SEC back will miss Saturday's game at Kentucky which means a heavy dose of freshman Nick Chubb. However, Mark Richt indicated that fellow freshman Sony Michel might be ready to return to the backfield against the Wildcats.
3. Tennessee might have found its quarterback of the future (I’ll get to that), but senior Justin Worley has played his final game as a Volunteer. The Week 1 starter got hurt a couple weeks ago at Ole Miss, and head coach Butch Jones announced Tuesday that Worley will miss the rest of the season with a torn labrum. He remained upbeat despite the news, tweeting his gratitude to the fans. A thumb injury cost Worley the last four games of last year, too. Now to the future and Joshua Dobbs. The sophomore lit up South Carolina this past Saturday, and some are already tabbing him as an emerging superstar in college football. That might be jumping the gun, but UT fans should certainly be excited about the kid.
Around the SEC
- Linebacker Cassanova McKinzy is enjoying life as “the man” of Auburn’s defense.
- Kurt Roper is eager to see Florida’s freshman quarterback take the next step as a passer.
- Steve Spurrier says “the plan” is to return as South Carolina's head coach in 2015.
- Texas A&M is in a tailspin. It’s up to head coach Kevin Sumlin to get them out of it.
2. The other big SEC game from this past weekend came down in Jacksonville, Florida, where Florida stunned No. 11 Georgia. It might have saved Will Muschamp’s job, at least for the time being, but what’s it say about this Georgia team? The Bulldogs had everything in front of them and still came out and laid an egg. On Sunday, Travis Haney asked the question, is Mark Richt underachieving? It’s a fair question. He’s won a lot of games (132), but in 14 seasons with Georgia, he hasn't won a national championship and has won two conference titles. The SEC East is still in play even after Saturday’s loss and with it, a chance to win the league. But don’t expect the Dawgs to get back in the playoff race.
3. It’s never too early to start looking ahead, and though Saturday’s Alabama-LSU game isn’t the colossal matchup it’s been in years past, it still looks like it will be a dandy. LSU is playing better each week, and with Auburn’s victory at Ole Miss, the Crimson Tidecontrol their own destiny again in the SEC West. Three of the past four regular-season games between these two have been decided by less than a touchdown. It’s always fun, too, when Nick Saban goes back to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But how about what Les Miles has done since Saban left? Not bad. He can be quirky, but his players sure do love him. They showed that when Miles’ mother passed away the day before LSU’s victory over Ole Miss.
Tweet of the day
Injuries part of the game we love to play, god has a plan for everyone & with that plan come obstacles. Keep your faith & jump the hurdle!— Laquon Treadwell (@SuccessfulQuon) November 2, 2014
Carson's long journey to 5 yards
Five-yard touchdown runs aren't usually the type you find on a highlight reel, but Texas A&M running back Tra Carson found a way to make his special by changing direction. Carson went right and when it was clear nothing was there, he went left, evaded a few tackles and dove in for one of the more impressive 5-yard runs we've seen.
Cooper does it all
It's always fun when a trick play works out well. South Carolina receiver Pharoh Cooper, who put in strong work in the Gamecocks' loss to Tennessee (233 receiving yards, 23 rushing yards, 30 passing yards and four total touchdowns) showed off his passing accuracy on this 30-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds.
Hurd with a spin move
Tennessee put together quite an effort to come from behind and beat South Carolina on the road. Part of the comeback was powered by this 21-yard screen pass from Joshua Dobbs to Jalen Hurd, who made some nifty moves to avoid tackles and get into the end zone.
Big arm, big catch for Marshall, Coates
Auburn picked up a huge win over Ole Miss on Saturday night, and there were several dazzling plays, but perhaps none quite as spectacular as this one. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall scrambled away from pressure before heaving a 57-yard bomb (which in actuality traveled about 65 yards in the air) to Sammie Coates for a touchdown to square the game at 14-14 late in the first half.
A free play for six
Speedy Noil is no stranger to nice catches, as seen in this space earlier this season. This particular one was both difficult and clutch in timing. On fourth-and-1, the Aggies went for it, drew Louisiana-Monroe offside and quarterback Kyle Allen took advantage of the free play by heaving it deep to Noil, who was well defended but still used one hand to haul in the deflection for a 39-yard touchdown catch.
The "Bowling Ball" can catch, too
Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson has made a name for himself with his tackle-breaking ability and big-time production this season. On Saturday against Arkansas, Robinson showed off his receiving ability with an impressive one-handed catch from quarterback Dak Prescott for 47 yards.
The SEC has an impressive 89 committed prospects in the updated ESPN 300 rankings. While the SEC West has been dominant on the field, 13 of the 14 SEC schools are ranked in the top 40 of the RecruitingNation class rankings. Here’s a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Yes, the emergence of Mississippi State and Ole Miss, two schools that can count their trips to Atlanta for the SEC championship game on exactly one finger, is currently the face of the sport. After becoming just the fifth team in AP poll history to defeat three straight top-10 opponents, Mississippi State is the nation's No. 1 team, its highest ranking ever. After wins against Alabama and Texas A&M, the Rebels rank third.
That isn't to say other teams don't have a chance to detour that trip. Alabama still hosts Mississippi State, and Ole Miss still has to host Auburn and travel to LSU and Arkansas, two teams that are better than you think.
Then there's the East, well, there's Georgia. Before you throw that side of the conference into an active volcano, realize that Georgia is quietly gaining steam after a 34-0 win at Missouri without Todd Gurley, arguably the nation's best player. He's currently suspended for possible violations of NCAA rules, but this team can win the East without him. Just imagine what could happen if he returns.
Let's check out our SEC midseason awards:
Offensive MVP: Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
There hasn't been a better, more consistent quarterback in the SEC. Prescott has 2,089 total yards of offense with 23 touchdowns and has taken down three straight top-10 opponents. He's passed for 200 yards and rushed for 100 yards in four of his past five games. -- Edward Aschoff
Defensive MVP: Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State
He's made a major impact in every game this season for the Bulldogs. He has 19 tackles, including a team-high 6.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks. Smith also has two interceptions, three passes defended, nine quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and blocked two kicks. -- Edward Aschoff
Biggest surprise: Kentucky
Mark Stoops' recruiting success made it clear that the future was becoming brighter in Lexington, but it would be hard to say we expected the Wildcats to be 5-1 right now. They've performed well beyond preseason expectations and are poised to become bowl-bound for the first time since the 2010 season. -- Sam Khan
Biggest disappointment: South Carolina
After winning 11 games in three straight seasons and opening 2014 with a No. 9 national ranking, it all came crashing down quickly for the Gamecocks. Kenny Hill and Texas A&M routed South Carolina in the opener, and the Gamecocks have since lost their last two to Missouri and Kentucky. -- David Ching
Newcomer of the year: D'haquille Williams, WR, Auburn
In his first game, Williams hauled in nine catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. He hasn't looked back since. The junior college transfer has quickly become the favorite target for Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, leading the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns. At this rate, he might only be on the Plains for one season. -- Greg Ostendorf
Best coach: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
It was a slow and steady rise. Mullen had to change everything from the culture to the coaching. It took five years, but he's absolutely changed the perception of Mississippi State football. Ranked No. 1 with a solid defense and a Heisman Trophy contender at QB, Mullen has built a program no one thought possible. -- Alex Scarborough
Game of the year: Bama-Ole Miss
The goal posts left the building. Hotty Toddy did it. Not only did Ole Miss finally beat Alabama, it did so on the biggest stage. Bo Wallace played his best late, Senquez Golson sealed the win with an interception and Oxford partied like it never had before. Katy Perry wasn't surprised -- she was impressed. -- Alex Scarborough
Biggest games of the second half
Mississippi State-Ole Miss
For starters, there's a new SEC team headed to the playoff, and no, it's not Mississippi State or Ole Miss, though both are knocking on the door. It's Auburn, the league's defending champion, which played its best game of the season against LSU on Saturday.
The Tigers' in-state rival, Alabama, dropped from the No. 1 spot after its loss to Ole Miss, but Texas A&M took an even bigger fall after the Aggies were dominated at Mississippi State.
The lone team to fall out of our projections this week is Tennessee, which likely cost itself a bowl game with Saturday's 10-9 loss to Florida. The Volunteers are going to have a hard time winning four more games with the schedule they have remaining. Meanwhile, SEC East counterpart Kentucky made a big jump and needs just two wins to become bowl eligible.
Here is our full SEC list entering the seventh week of the season:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Auburn
Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State
Cotton Bowl: Ole Miss
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Alabama
Citrus Bowl: Georgia
TaxSlayer Bowl: Missouri
Outback Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Kentucky
Belk Bowl: Florida
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: LSU
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Arkansas
Birmingham Bowl: South Carolina
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi State, ESPN: The biggest football day in the history of the Magnolia State kicks off early with a dandy matchup between unbeaten teams that should go a long way in defining the SEC West race. This one features a delicious quarterback clash with two of the best the SEC has to offer. The Bulldogs' Dak Prescott is a dual-threat surgeon who has scored through the air and on the ground in each of MSU's past three games. The Aggies' Kenny Hill operates mostly via air assault. His 17 touchdown passes are tied for second in the FBS. Both teams have too many offensive weapons to list here.
Florida at Tennessee, SEC Network: What used to be one of the SEC's glamour games has been reduced to a desperate struggle between two programs that appear to be headed in different directions. Florida could turn around that perception and stop some of the bleeding with a comfortable victory, while Tennessee is hungry for respect and needs something more nourishing than moral victories. It all comes down to quarterback play, as usual, and these two starters also appear to be headed in opposite directions. Florida's Jeff Driskel has been under siege after struggling against Kentucky and Alabama. Justin Worley, on the other hand, has been impressive despite the Vols' 2-2 record.
No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss, CBS: The unbeaten Rebels take on the unbeaten empire. If you'll pardon the "Star Wars" reference, this game has everyone's attention, including ESPN's "College GameDay," which will be at The Grove for the first time. Ole Miss has a huge opportunity to make a statement of its own against the West division's biggest bully. Let's call this the battle of the Kiffins, because the best matchup here is older brother Lane Kiffin's Alabama offense against the Ole Miss defense, for which Chris Kiffin is the defensive line coach. The Tide have racked up 2,377 yards, breaking the school record through the first four games of a season. The Rebs have the No. 1 defense in the SEC, allowing 248 yards a game. They've yielded just two red zone TDs in 10 opponents' chances, second best in the FBS this season. Something's got to give.
Vanderbilt at No. 13 Georgia, SEC Network: The Commodores have been improving steadily since the Derek Mason era got off to a nightmarish start. Vandy's 3-4 defense has grown especially toothy, but do the Commodores have enough to slow the Heisman Trophy campaign of Georgia tailback Todd Gurley? Probably not. Gurley is coming off a career-high 208-yard effort last week in Georgia's win over Tennessee. History certainly isn't on Vanderbilt's side here. The Bulldogs have beaten the Commodores in 17 of their past 19 meetings.
No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn, ESPN: The annual clash of SEC West Tigers features a decided contrast at the all-important quarterback position. Auburn has the veteran Nick Marshall, while LSU is giving true freshman Brandon Harris his first career start. Harris has won LSU's QB derby (for now), and if scoring is the best factor in determining such things (as it should be), then LSU coach Les Miles didn't have a very difficult decision. Anthony Jennings, the previous starter, led LSU to scores on 13 of his 51 possessions, while Harris has put points on the board in 13 of 19 drives. LSU was the last SEC team to beat Auburn, but success on the Plains could be another story altogether.
South Carolina at Kentucky, SEC Network: The Wildcats took care of business last week, breaking their 17-game SEC losing streak with a win over Vanderbilt. Next on the to-do list for Kentucky is to win consecutive SEC games for the first time since 2009. The Gamecocks have lost just one of their past 14 games to the Cats, but this Kentucky team is starting to change perceptions in Mark Stoops' second season. They could be getting South Carolina at just the right time. The Gamecocks are out of the top 25 for the first time since the 2010 preseason and they have the worst defense in the SEC, giving up 440 yards a game. An upset might not shock UK fans, but it would turn the SEC East upside down.
There are once again some big games around the Southeastern Conference this weekend. The Alabama at Ole Miss game looks to be loaded with big-time visitors. Auburn will also host some key targets as it faces SEC West rival LSU. Mississippi State will hope to build on its momentum with a big game against Texas A&M this weekend. Here's a closer look at some of the top visitors in the SEC this weekend.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
With that said, who is running the ball best? Let’s look and see.
The Crimson Tide might not have the same eye-popping statistics, but between T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, there’s plenty of production. As a team, Alabama has the 18th-most productive running game in the country in terms of yards per game (258.5).
But it’s not just quantity with these two programs. Alabama and Arkansas have been the two most efficient running games in the SEC, with the Tide averaging 5.68 yards per carry and the Razorbacks averaging 6.91. Alabama and Arkansas are the only two teams in the conference to have more than half of its rushes result in 5 or more yards gained. At the same time, both teams rank in the top five in the conference in lowest percentage of rush attempts gaining zero or negative yards.
Arkansas has 42 runs of 10 or more yards this season, ranking fifth nationally in that category.
Mississippi fans should be worried about their running game this weekend. There’s not much to feel good about when you look at the statistics.
The Rebs have the highest percentage of rushes resulting in zero or negative yards (28.0), the fourth-fewest total rushing yards (643) and are tied for the fewest number of rushes for 10 or more yards (13) in the SEC.
Jaylen Walton, Ole Miss’ lead tailback, has been all or nothing this season. Of his 30 total carries, eight times he’s been stopped before crossing the line of scrimmage and nine times he’s gained 0-5 yards. He’s had a few big runs (20, 23 and 71 yards), but does the good outweigh the bad?
Lest we pick on the Rebs too much, Ole Miss isn’t the only underachieving running offense in the SEC. Tennessee, thanks to its youthful offensive line, has the fewest rushing yards (507) in the conference. It’s no wonder that Tennessee and Vanderbilt are the only teams in the SEC with less than 600 rushing yards and under 3.7 yards per carry.
The least physical running teams, in terms of the fewest yards after contact, are Florida (240), Vanderbilt (245) and South Carolina (296).
The teams with the biggest fumbling problems: LSU and Vanderbilt, which boot the ball on 3 percent of their carries.
And the best
You thought we would go this entire post without mentioning Todd Gurley ’s name? Wrong. Let’s take a quick look at the top individual performers in the SEC.
- Most productive: Collins leads the way with 621 yards rushing, followed by Gurley (610), Jonathan Williams (486), Josh Robinson (485) and Cameron Artis-Payne (468)
- Most explosive: Gurley has the most runs of 20 or more yards (8), followed by Collins (7), Robinson (6), Artis-Payne (4), Russell Hansbrough (4) and Leonard Fournette (4)
- Most physical: Gurley has the most yards after contact (299), followed by Collins (284), Robinson (248), Williams 224) and Hansbrough (219)
- Most elusive: Collins has the most yards before contact (337), followed by Gurley (311), Artis-Payne (268), Williams (262) and Ralph Webb (252)
- Most likely to score: Tra Carson has the highest touchdown-per-rush percentage (12.5), followed by Jonathan Williams (12.1), Trey Williams (10.5), Jaylen Walton (10.3) and Darrel Williams (9.1)