Dallas Colleges: C.J. Mosley

AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.

All-SEC: Where they stood as recruits

February, 4, 2014
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On the eve of national signing day, it's always fun to go back and examine where the top players in the SEC from this past season were ranked coming out of high school.

Of the 23 position players who made the 2013 ESPN.com All-SEC team, seven were three-star prospects, according to the ESPN Recruiting Nation rankings. The only five-star prospects were Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Beth Hall/USA TODAY SportsJadeveon Clowney was one of only two five-star recruits on the 2013 ESPN.com All-SEC team.
Even more telling, only eight of the 23 players were ranked among the top 10 players at their respective positions.

Of note, Vanderbilt's record-setting Jordan Matthews was ranked as the No. 153 receiver, Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson was the No. 125 offensive tackle, Arkansas' Travis Swanson was the No. 91 offensive guard, Missouri's Michael Sam was the No. 75 defensive end and LSU's Lamin Barrow was the No. 82 outside linebacker.

Here's a closer look:

OFFENSE
  • QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Three stars, No. 39 QB, Class of 2011. Grade: 78.
  • RB Tre Mason, Auburn: Four stars, No. 21 RB, Class of 2011. Grade: 79.
  • RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: Four stars, No. 55 overall prospect, No. 4 RB, Class of 2012. Grade: 81.
  • WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M: Three stars, No. 52 WR, Class of 2011. Grade: 79.
  • WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: Three stars, No. 153 WR, Class of 2010. Grade: 74.
  • AP Odell Beckham Jr., LSU: Three stars, No. 62 athlete, Class of 2011. Grade: 78.
  • TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia: No. 7 TE, Class of 2009. Grade: 79.
  • OL Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State: No. 125 OT, Class of 2009. Grade: 74.
  • OL Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama: Five stars, No. 3 overall prospect, No. 1 OT, Class of 2011. Grade: 87.
  • OL Jake Matthews, Texas A&M: Four stars, No. 90 overall prospect. No. 7 OT, Class of 2010. Grade: 81.
  • OL Greg Robinson, Auburn: Four stars, No. 10 OG, Class of 2011. Grade: 80.
  • C Travis Swanson, Arkansas: No. 91 OG, Class of 2009. Grade: 76.
DEFENSE
  • DL Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Five stars, No. 1 overall prospect, No. 1 DE, Class of 2011. Grade: 95.
  • DL Dee Ford, Auburn: No. 35 DE, Class of 2009. Grade: 79.
  • DL Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina: Four stars, No. 124 overall prospect, No. 11 DT, Class of 2010. Grade: 81.
  • DL Michael Sam, Missouri: No. 75 DE, Class of 2009. Grade: 76.
  • LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia: Four stars, No. 11 ILB, Class of 2011. Grade: 79.
  • LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Four stars, No. 99 overall prospect, No. 7 OLB, Class of 2010. Grade: 81.
  • LB Lamin Barrow, LSU: No. 82 OLB, Class of 2009. Grade: 76.
  • DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama: Four stars, No. 19 overall prospect, No. 2 S, Class of 2011. Grade: 84.
  • DB E.J. Gaines, Missouri: Three stars, No. 57 CB, Class of 2010. Grade: 76.
  • DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt: Three stars, No. 43 S, Class of 2010. Grade: 78.
  • DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss: Three stars, No. 78 athlete, Class of 2011. Grade: 77.

Eight make Kiper's updated Big Board

January, 16, 2014
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Earlier, we looked at ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.'s Mock Draft 1.0, which was full of SEC talent. Now, it's time to check out where Kiper has SEC players listed in his updated NFL draft Big Board.

As you can imagine, his list of the Top 25 players eligible for this year's draft is littered with SEC names. He has 10 SEC players going in the first round of the NFL draft and has eight SEC players ranked on his updated Big Board.

The top draft prospect on his list is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who he has projected to go third overall in the draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Clowney's production dipped after a tremendous sophomore season, but there's no denying that he's NFL-ready when it comes to his overall talent. There's a reason he was constantly double-teamed all season and why offensive coordinators have to scheme specifically for him every time he's on the field. His playing shape needs to improve, but that will certainly come with the extra attention he'll surely get from a pro training staff.

Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews and Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson come in at No. 3 and No. 4 on Kiper's list, as well.

Here's where Kiper has all eight SEC players on his Big Board:

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

4. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

11. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

13. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

15. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

21. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

23. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

SEC's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
1/14/14
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The SEC’s national championship streak is over, but the memories from the 2013 season will endure.

It was a wild ride, for sure.

No team in the league finished unbeaten. The team that won the SEC championship and played for the national championship (Auburn) didn’t win a single SEC game in 2012. Nine of the league's 14 teams averaged 30 or more points per game, and there were 11 SEC matchups in which both teams scored 30 or more points.

And for the third consecutive season, at least four SEC teams finished in the top 10 of the final polls.

Here’s a look back at the 2013 season with our annual Best of the SEC:

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesTre Mason saved his best games for last, including a record 304-yard outburst in the SEC championship game.
Best offensive player: Offense stole the show this season in the SEC, and Auburn junior running back Tre Mason was in a class by himself, particularly when it counted. The Tigers’ Heisman Trophy finalist finished with an SEC-best 1,816 rushing yards, breaking Bo Jackson’s school record, and also scored a league-high 25 touchdowns. In his last three games, against Alabama, Missouri and Florida State, Mason rushed for 663 yards and scored seven touchdowns.

Best defensive player: Of all the great players Alabama has had on defense under Nick Saban, senior linebacker C.J. Mosley is the only one to record 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. He finished with 108 this season, including nine for loss, and also led the Crimson Tide with 10 quarterback hurries. What set Mosley apart was his ability to do a little bit of everything. He was one of the surest tacklers in the league, equally outstanding in coverage and as a blitzer and cleaned up the mistakes of those around him.

Best coach: There's no question that Auburn's Gus Malzahn deserves this honor. He helped take a team that went a humiliating 3-9 in 2012 to 12 wins, an SEC championship and berth in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. The Tigers beat five ranked teams, including their final three opponents leading up to their 34-31 loss to Florida State in Pasadena, Calif. Malzahn also was named the AP Coach of the Year.

Best freshman: There was some stiff competition for this one, but the nod goes to Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. All the talk coming into the season was about the Gators' veteran cornerbacks, Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, but Hargreaves wound up leading the Gators with three interceptions and was fourth in the SEC with 11 pass breakups. He was a first-team All-SEC selection by The Associated Press, becoming the first Florida true freshman to earn first-team All-SEC honors from the AP since Emmitt Smith in 1987.

Best performance in a win: Was anyone better than Mason in a win this year? In the SEC championship game victory over Missouri, Mason rushed for an SEC championship record 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries. He carved up a Mizzou rush defense that entered the game ranked second in the league and made punishing runs in Auburn's 59-42 victory.

Best performance in a loss: Johnny Manziel wasn't perfect in Texas A&M's 49-42 loss to Alabama on Sept. 14. He had a couple of costly interceptions. But he also put the Aggies on his shoulders in the second half and nearly pulled off an improbable comeback. Manziel finished with 562 yards of total offense (464 yards passing and 98 yards rushing) and threw five touchdown passes. He threw three TD passes in the fourth quarter to rally Texas A&M from a 42-21 deficit.

Best comeback: An ailing Connor Shaw came off the bench in the third quarter to bring South Carolina back from the dead in a 27-24 double-overtime victory on the road against Missouri. The Gamecocks trailed 17-0 when Shaw entered the game. He was 20-of-29 passing for 201 yards and three touchdowns and led South Carolina to points on five of the six possessions he was on the field.

[+] EnlargeMarquez North
Charles Mitchell/Icon SMIMarquez North's incredible catch set up the winning field goal in Tennessee's upset of South Carolina.
Best catch: Alabama's Kevin Norwood had two or three sick catches this season, and South Carolina's Bruce Ellington had a one-handed, bobbling gem in the bowl game. Auburn's Ricardo Louis had the most-talked-about catch with his Hail Mary to beat Georgia, but top prize goes to Tennessee freshman Marquez North. His 39-yard catch on a third-and-10 play with less than three minutes remaining set up the game-winning field goal in the Vols' 23-21 victory over South Carolina. North, with the defender draped all over him, somehow managed to pull the ball between his face mask and shoulder pads with his left hand.

Best block: Easily the most talked about block of the year came when Florida wide receiver Quinton Dunbar and Florida center Jon Harrison blocked each other during a play in Florida's embarrassing home loss to Georgia Southern. The block drew laughs from plenty of folks inside and outside of Gainesville and pretty much summed up Florida's disastrous 4-8 season.

Best moment: Auburn's Immaculate Deflection against Georgia was amazing, but Chris Davis' Kick Six -- an improbable 109-yard touchdown return on a missed Alabama field goal to close out the Iron Bowl -- was simply divine. Who would have ever thought that a Nick Saban-coached team would give up such a crazy play with one second (which Saban asked for) remaining? The play, in which Davis was barely touched, catapulted Auburn into the SEC championship game and eliminated Alabama from contention for its third consecutive national championship.

Best finish: How about the way the Mississippi State Bulldogs ended the 2013 season? With all due respect to Missouri's bounce back after that loss to Auburn, the Bulldogs were on the brink of postseason elimination before winning their last two regular-season games in overtime, including a victory over archrival Ole Miss, to become bowl eligible. The Bulldogs then pummeled Rice 44-7 in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Best under-the-radar star: Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out of nowhere to steal the defensive spotlight for most of the season. He was a terror off the edge, had three games in which he recorded three sacks and led the SEC with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Pretty good replacement for Sheldon Richardson.

Allstate Sugar Bowl preview

January, 2, 2014
1/02/14
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NEW ORLEANS -- Thursday night’s Allstate Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) matchup between No. 3 Alabama and No. 11 Oklahoma features two of the most storied programs in college football history. Here’s a preview of one of the most intriguing games of the bowl season:

Who to watch: Alabama's AJ McCarron, who, with two national titles, is one of the winningest quarterbacks in the history of the game. Even though the Crimson Tide came up just short of advancing to another national championship game, McCarron has put together another fabulous season. He was a first-team Walter Camp All-American, won the Maxwell Award and finished second in the Heisman voting. On top of owning virtually every passing record at Alabama, McCarron also has a career record of 36-3 as the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback. A win over the Sooners in his collegiate swan song would cap the finest quarterbacking career in Alabama history in fine fashion.

What to watch: How Oklahoma performs against the preeminent program from the preeminent conference in college football. Even though the SEC has reeled off seven straight national titles, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has questioned why the SEC is accepted as college football's top conference, even calling it "propaganda." Stoops also has suggested the SEC's defensive reputation has been overhyped, because of substandard quarterbacking in the past. Stoops, however, has never disrespected Alabama, and this week called the Crimson Tide the best team in the country despite their loss to Auburn. Still, the fact remains, the Big 12's reputation will be squarely on the line this game, especially after Baylor's disastrous showing against Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma's reputation will be on the line, too. The Sooners can prove on the national stage they're on their way back to standing alongside the nation’s elite programs. Or they -- and the Big 12 -- will take yet another perception hit heading into the College Football Playoff era, where perception will be paramount.

Why to watch: This will pit two of the most tradition-rich programs in college football history. Alabama and Oklahoma have combined for 17 national championships, including four in the BCS era. Despite their histories, the Crimson Tide and Sooners have met only four times before: the 1963 Orange Bowl, 1970 Bluebonnet Bowl and then a home-and-home in 2002-2003, which the Sooners swept. Nick Saban and Stoops, however, have faced each other only once, in the 2003 national championship game when Saban was at LSU. The Tigers won that game 21-14.

Prediction: Alabama 41, Oklahoma 17. The Sooners have thrived as the underdog, both in the past, and here late this season. But Alabama is another animal, and Oklahoma, which has been inconsistent offensively all season, will struggle to move the ball against linebacker C.J. Mosley & Co.
Alabama reporter Alex Scarborough and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter break down the biggest storylines in Thursday’s Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup between Alabama and Oklahoma:

The last time the Crimson Tide just missed out on a national championship game and ended up in the Sugar, they didn't seem to be very motivated. Will they be motivated this time?

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIt's hard to imagine AJ McCarron and the Crimson Tide coming out flat against OU in the Sugar Bowl.
Alex Scarborough: With AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley guiding their respective units, I don't think motivation will be a problem. The leadership on this team is too strong for Alabama to come out flat emotionally. There are too many seniors who don't want to go out on a sour note with back-to-back losses. Revenge, even though it can't come in the form of a national championship, is at play against the Sooners. That loss on the road at Auburn has eaten away at the Tide for a month now, and I believe this team is eager to get that monkey off its back and change the narrative of its season. As Brian Vogler told the media a short while back, this game is all about respect and proving again that Alabama is one of the best teams in the country.

Jake Trotter: I don’t think motivation will be a problem for Alabama. Then again, it could be. After all, the Crimson Tide have played in the national championship game in three of the last four years. Playing in the Sugar is a step down. One thing we do know is that Oklahoma will be motivated. This is the biggest bowl the Sooners have played in since the 2008 national championship game against Florida. As a double-digit underdog against the preeminent program in college football at the moment, it’s a guarantee Oklahoma will be fired up to play well.

For OU to pull off the upset, what is the one thing that has to happen?

Scarborough: Aside from Alabama surprising me and coming out flat, I think it comes down to the defense. McCarron, T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper will put up plenty of points on offense, but can Mosley and the secondary rebound after what was a testing season defensively? Alabama was excellent in terms of production this season, but our colleague Edward Aschoff was wise to focus on the importance of the Tide facing another zone-read team as both Auburn and Texas A&M had success moving the ball against them. Even Mississippi State had some success spreading the field and pushing the tempo. Alabama has to set the edge and stop the run early against Oklahoma, forcing Blake Bell, Trevor Knight or whoever plays quarterback for the Sooners into obvious passing situations. If Oklahoma finds itself in a lot of second-and-mediums and third-and-shorts, Alabama will be in trouble because while there's plenty of talent at safety with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins, there's a significant drop off at cornerback once you look past Deion Belue.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight and the Sooners need to get off to a good start if Oklahoma is going to pull off the upset.
Trotter: The Sooners have got to get off to a good start. Whether Knight or Bell (or both) is at quarterback, this is not an offense built to come back from behind. After falling behind early to Texas and Baylor, Oklahoma had to scrap the game plan and start throwing the ball. And the end-result was a pair of blowouts. Conversely, if Oklahoma can start fast, then hang in the game past halftime, the pressure will swing on Alabama, which is expected to win this game big. And like at Oklahoma State, the Sooners would be a successful trick play or big turnover away from taking the Tide to the wire.

Who is the player to watch in this game?

Scarborough: This is going to be a very interesting game for Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest. He's had a fairly solid junior season, but he hasn't done what many expected when the season began and there was speculation over whether he'd turn pro early. Well, he's already said he intends to return to school, and with Mosley moving on, he'll be the man leading and executing Kirby Smart’s and Nick Saban's defense in 2014. How he does against Oklahoma is an important step in that progression. He needs to show he can both lead his teammates, as well as show the sideline-to-sideline type of tackling that Mosley brought to the table. As more teams go to the zone-read offense, that part of the game becomes more and more important. And if I can add a second player to watch quickly, keep an eye on freshman tailback Derrick Henry. He's a talented big man at 6-foot-3, and the buzz is that he may be poised to pass Kenyan Drake for second on the depth chart.

Trotter: Receiver/returner Jalen Saunders is Oklahoma's X-factor. In the Sooners' upset victory over Oklahoma State, Saunders unleashed a 61-yard punt return touchdown, a 37-yard reverse rush that set up another score and a game-winning, 7-yard touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone in the final seconds. For the Sooners to have a chance, Saunders must deliver another monster performance.

DGB vs. Gilbert tops Big 12 bowl matchups

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
9:00
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Get your popcorn ready. Or, if you're trying to get that New Year's resolution off to an early start, get your veggie plate ready. Either way, Big 12 bowl season brings some fun matchups to watch in the next week or so.

Here's a matchup to keep an eye on during every bowl matchup involving a Big 12 team.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller vs. Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
Mueller was one of the most productive defenders in the Big 12 this season while bringing energy and effort to the Wildcats' defense. He finished with 61 tackles, including 18.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Lewan has been a dominating force at left tackle for Michigan for the past four seasons. He is slated to start his 48th game in this bowl and is projected to be an NFL first-round draft pick. If Mueller is able to win some individual battles with Lewan it will make life a lot harder on Michigan's true freshman quarterback, Shane Morris.

Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Texas WR Mike Davis vs. Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
It should be fun to watch these two battle in San Antonio. Ekpre-Olomu is an elite talent, a cover cornerback who will play on Sundays someday. Davis shows flashes of big-play ability and has the talent to test Ekpre-Olomu throughout the game. This matchup gives Davis the opportunity to prove himself against top competition. If he wins some of those battles it would help the Longhorns' offense be balanced and take some pressure off UT quarterback Case McCoy.

National University Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro vs. Arizona State secondary
Amaro creates problems for every defense he faces, and ASU will be no different. The Red Raiders' top receiving threat finished with 98 catches for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns. But the Sun Devils are well-equipped to throw several different defensive backs at Amaro, with Alden Darby, Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor earning first- or second-team All-Pac 12 honors this season. It will be interesting to see if Amaro can continue to excel against a strong Sun Devils secondary.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Baylor S Ahmad Dixon vs. UCF QB Blake Bortles
Bortles could test Dixon and the Bears better than any quarterback they've faced this season. Dixon's forte' is his ability to help out in the run game, so the matchup against UCF provides an opportunity to prove his prowess in the passing game. Bortles, a junior, is the reigning American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year and a projected first-round NFL draft pick if he elects to leave school early.

Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ESPN)

Oklahoma OL vs. Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
The Sooners' offensive line has been outstanding this season, paving the way for OU to average 235.83 rushing yards per game. Mosley has the talent to single-handedly become a nightmare for OU's offense. He could dominate the game with his ability to make plays all over the field and stop the Oklahoma running game. And if that happens, OU's chances of winning could fall off the cliff, because if the Sooners can't run the ball against the Crimson Tide, they won't win.

AT&T Cotton Bowl (Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert vs. Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham
This is the highlight matchup of the Big 12's bowl season. Gilbert is a future NFL cornerback, and DGB is a future NFL receiver. And both had strong seasons. Green-Beckham brings a size/skill/speed ratio unlike anything Gilbert has seen in the Big 12, while Gilbert brings athleticism, speed and experience that will test the Tigers sophomore receiver. Neither player will back down, and both will win their share of one-on-one battles. It's a late holiday gift for everyone who watches.

18 from SEC named AP All-Americans

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
3:00
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Now that the all-conference teams have rolled out, the Associated Press has unveiled its All-America teams, and they are very SEC-heavy.

Eighteen players from the SEC made the three teams, with six making the first team. The pick that might surprise people was Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt making the first team over Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But Prewitt had a very good season with the Rebels. He tied for first in the SEC with five interceptions in conference play, while totaling six on the season. He also defended 13 passes. Clinton-Dix, who projects as a high draft pick at the safety spot, defended six passes with two interceptions on the season.

Here are all the SEC AP All-Americans:

First team

OFFENSE

OT: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OT: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DE: Michael Sam, Missouri
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
S: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

Second team

OFFENSE

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
OG: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State

DEFENSE

DT: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M

Third team

OFFENSE

QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
OT: Greg Robinson, Auburn
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

DEFENSE

CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

SEC lands 5 on ESPN All-America team

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
1:10
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The SEC was merely human when it came to the ESPN All-America team. The league that has dominated college football for the past decade or so came up well short of the ACC's nine total selections. In all, five players from the SEC were chosen.

Alabama and Texas A&M finished tied for the most selections among SEC schools with two apiece.

Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley and junior safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix represented the Tide. Mosley became the first player in the Nick Saban era at Alabama to register 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons, and Clinton-Dix, despite missing a few games while being cleared by the NCAA, racked up two interceptions and six passes defensed.

Offensive tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans were chosen from Texas A&M. Evans, at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, was nearly unstoppable. He led the SEC with 12 touchdown receptions and averaged a whopping 20.3 yards per catch. Matthews, who paved the way for the Aggies run game and protected Johnny Manziel's blind side, developed into an Outland Trophy finalist and the No. 3 NFL prospect on Scouts Inc.'s draft board.

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam also made the cut. He may have begun the season under the radar, but he didn't end that way. He finished the regular season with the most sacks in the SEC (10.5) and the most tackles for loss (18).

For the entire 2013 All-America team, click here.

2013 ESPN.com All-SEC team

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
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We still have the bowls to play, but we've gone ahead and selected our 2013 All-SEC team at ESPN.com.

Some of the selections were no-brainers. Others were agonizingly difficult to make. We placed a heavy emphasis on performance in big games, consistency and how a player impacted his team both on and off the field. Durability and being in the lineup the entire season was also a factor. In other words, if a player missed three or four games, we took that into account. And when it was close everywhere else, we looked at SEC-only statistics as the tiebreaker.

Here's what we came up with:

OFFENSE

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Greg Robinson, Auburn
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas

DEFENSE

DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Dee Ford, Auburn
DL: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
LB: Ramik Wilson, Georgia
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: Lamin Barrow, LSU
DB: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
DB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri
DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Michael Palardy, Tennessee
KR: Solomon Patton, Florida
PR: Chris Davis, Auburn

SEC helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
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With apologies to Nick Saban, AJ McCarron, T.J. Yeldon, C.J. Mosley and all of the pageantry that accompanied the SEC's annual marquee regular-season matchup, there were just too many noteworthy performances to go handing out helmet stickers to the rolling Tide's usual suspects.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: With two touchdown passes in an easy 45-6 rout of Appalachian State on Saturday, Murray broke the 17-year-old SEC record of Florida's Danny Wuerffel (1993-96) for the most career TD passes. Murray entered the game already holding the SEC career marks for total offense and passing yards. The senior completed 19 of 26 passes for 281 yards in three quarters of work.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Ho-hum. Another week, another compelling argument in the sophomore's case for a second straight Heisman Trophy. Against Mississippi State on Saturday, Johnny Football threw for 446 yards with five touchdown passes (never mind those three interceptions). Honorable mention goes to senior Travis Labhart, once a walk-on, now a scholarship guy who has emerged as a key contributor at receiver. Manziel completed six passes to Labhart for a career-high 102 yards and two touchdowns.

Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: The former Georgia Bulldog and former juco quarterback accounted for 214 of Auburn's 444 rushing yards, running for two touchdowns and passing for another in the No. 9 Tigers' 55-23 dismantling of the home-standing Volunteers. Marshall posted a 99.6 Total QBR despite completing only 3 of 7 passes, but Gus Malzahn didn't need to throw with the success the Tigers were having on the ground. Marshall's 214 yards were the third-most by an SEC quarterback in a game over the last 10 seasons, behind only Heisman winners Manziel (229 yards vs. Oklahoma in 2012) and Cam Newton (217 vs. LSU in 2010).

Missouri's offense: The No. 8 Tigers encountered little resistance in their first league game in the Bluegrass State. Freshman quarterback Maty Mauk threw five touchdown passes to tie Chase Daniel's school record in Mizzou's 48-17 romp past Kentucky. Dorial Green-Beckham broke through in a big way. The 6-foot-6 sophomore, who was the nation's No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2012, had seven catches for 100 yards and four touchdowns. Not to be outdone, running back Henry Josey ran 11 times for 113 yards and two TDs, including an 86-yarder. The Tigers remain a half-game ahead of idle South Carolina in the East division.

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: Even in a 51-41 road loss to Texas A&M, a special heartfelt helmet sticker goes out to Prescott, who lost his mother last Sunday to her battle with cancer. Tyler Russell got the start after Prescott missed the week of practice before Saturday's game, but the two rotated, with Prescott getting the majority of the snaps. The Aggies had difficulty slowing him in the running game, as Prescott ran 16 times for 154 yards (9.6 yards per carry). He was 14-of-26 passing for 149 yards and two touchdowns. It was certainly a determined and inspiring performance under the most difficult of circumstances.

SEC midseason report

October, 15, 2013
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The SEC set a record on Sunday with eight teams cracking the Associated Press Top 25 poll, further underscoring the balance in this league.

But will that balance work against the SEC in the national championship race?

The midway point of the season is upon us, and only two teams in the league are still unbeaten. Two-time defending national champion Alabama would have been a runaway choice to be one of those teams back in the preseason, but not a lot of people would have targeted Missouri to be the other one.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/John BazemoreMissouri will try to stay hot without the services of injured QB James Franklin.
The Tigers are coming off back-to-back SEC road wins and now return home for three straight games. Their 41-26 win at Georgia on Saturday was a costly one. Senior quarterback James Franklin separated his throwing shoulder and is out indefinitely.

Injuries, period, have been a common theme during the first half of the SEC season. Florida’s Dominique Easley, who was playing better than any defensive lineman in the league, suffered a season-ending ACL tear a week after the Gators lost their starting quarterback, Jeff Driskel, for the season.

Georgia has been depleted on offense, leaving senior quarterback Aaron Murray without his top playmakers. The Bulldogs hope to get star running back Todd Gurley back from a high ankle sprain in the next week or two, but have already lost receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and running back Keith Marshall for the season. Receiver Michael Bennett is also out for a few more weeks with a knee injury.

Meanwhile, everybody is still chasing Alabama, which survived a 49-42 scare at Texas A&M the third week of the season and a few other shaky outings to play its best football the past two weeks.

The Crimson Tide have steadily improved defensively since giving up 628 yards of total offense (the most ever by an Alabama defense) to Johnny Manziel and the Aggies back in September. The Tide are ranked second nationally in scoring defense (11.3 points per game) and are starting to look like Alabama defenses of old.

If anybody’s going to unseat Alabama, it’s probably LSU. The Tigers have a brutal schedule, but it’s easily the most explosive offense they’ve fielded under Les Miles. First-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been the acquisition of the year in the league, and senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger has been the most improved player in the league.

During the SEC’s seven-year national championship streak, only twice have the teams hoisting the crystal football at season’s end been unbeaten.

This season has a similar feel to it, especially given the way the teams in the league have beaten up on each other to this point. In other words, the odds are against anybody going unbeaten, although Alabama has the most favorable schedule.

There’s no getting around the metamorphosis that has taken place in this league in the first half of the season. In fact, the norm has suddenly become the 38-35 shootout, filled with explosive plays on offense and some of the finest quarterback play this league has seen in a long time.

Defense has long been the SEC’s trademark, but only two teams at the midway point are ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense -- Florida (No. 3) and Alabama (No. 8).

And then there’s Texas A&M. The Aggies can score with anybody and lead the league in total offense (586.5 yards per game) and scoring offense (47.8 points per game). Unfortunately for them, they can’t stop anybody and rank last in the league in total defense (474.3 yards per game) and next to last in scoring defense (32 points per game).

We’ll see what the second half of the season holds, but times would seem to be changing in the SEC.

Here’s a look at some midseason accolades:

[+] Enlarge Johnny Manziel
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel is having another outstanding season.
Offensive MVP: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Having to defend Johnny Football really isn’t fair. He’s impossible to get on the ground. He’s throwing the ball better than ever, and his instincts are off the charts. Manziel leads the league in total offense with an average of 377 yards per game and has accounted for 19 touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. He’s the Crimson Tide’s quarterback on defense, and as valuable as Mosley is when it comes to making game-turning and game-saving plays, he’s just as valuable with his ability to make everybody else around him better. Mosley leads the Tide with 48 total tackles, including 3.5 for loss.

Biggest surprise: Missouri. The Tigers are off to a 6-0 start after limping to a 5-7 finish a year ago in their first season in the SEC. They were picked sixth in the East this season at the SEC media days. One of the keys to their success has been a string of good fortune on the injury front, but that changed Saturday when Franklin separated his shoulder in the 41-26 win at Georgia. Even so, this is a team playing with a lot of confidence and right in the thick of the East race.

Biggest disappointment: SEC defenses. Maybe it’s a back-handed compliment to how good the offenses have been this season, but what has happened to the defense in this league? Seven of the 14 teams are allowing more than 26 points per game, and some of the scores during the first half of the season have been better suited for the game room at the arcade.

Newcomer of the year: Arkansas running back Alex Collins. This was a tough one. Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and Alabama defensive end A’Shawn Robinson have both made tremendous impacts, but Collins has been Mr. Steady for the Hogs. He’s third in the SEC in rushing with an average of 102.9 yards per game (720 yards) and is also averaging 5.9 yards per carry.

Best coach: Missouri’s Gary Pinkel. In his 13th season at Missouri, Pinkel has gone from the hot seat to being the SEC’s Coach of the Year at the midway point. Without Franklin, he’s really going to have his work cut out, but Pinkel has done an excellent job in rallying the Tigers in their second year in the SEC. They’ve scored 38 or more points in all six of their games and lead the league in turnover margin.

Best game: Georgia 44, LSU 41, Sept. 28. To be honest, there were several thrilling games to choose from during the first half of the season. The Alabama-Texas A&M and Ole Miss-Texas A&M contests both deserve honorable mention, but the Dawgs and Tigers played one for the ages at Sanford Stadium a few weeks ago. Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger were both terrific in a back-and-forth game that nobody wanted to end.

Reranking the SEC's top 10 players

October, 14, 2013
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It’s never easy to come up with the 25 best players in the SEC heading into the season.

There’s a lot of projection involved, and there are always players who come out of the woodwork and others who simply don't live up to their billing.

But as we reach the midway point of the season, at least now we have some real performances to evaluate. So we’re taking a second shot at reranking our top 10 based on what the players have done to this point.

Again, this is not a ranking of where players sit on NFL draft boards. Rather, it’s a ranking reflecting how they have played during the first part of this season and their impact on their teams.

We took injuries into consideration. For instance, Florida’s Dominique Easley was playing better than any defensive lineman in the league, but only played in the first three games. The same goes for Georgia running back Todd Gurley, who’s missed most of the last three games. Both are great players, but they didn't play in enough games to be included in our midseason list.

Here’s what we came up with:

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesAs good as Johnny Manziel was last season when he won the Heisman Trophy, he's arguably been even better this year.
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (preseason: No. 2): He's the reigning Heisman Trophy winner for a reason, and he's making a strong bid to win it for the second straight year. Manziel was sensational this past week in leading the Aggies to a last-second win on the road at Ole Miss, and even in Texas A&M's lone loss of the season to Alabama, Manziel put on a show with 562 yards of total offense and five touchdown passes. He's the Michael Jordan of college football. The only real way to defend him is hoping he's off his game, which rarely ever happens.

2. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (preseason: No. 5): With all the injuries the Dawgs have incurred on offense, Murray is carrying that team and playing the best football of his career against a killer schedule. He did have a costly interception late against Missouri last week, but he threw eight touchdown passes and only one interception in the two wins over LSU and South Carolina. He's accounted for 20 touchdowns, which leads the SEC, and is right behind Manziel in passing with 304 yards per game.

3. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU (preseason: unranked): One of the most improved players in college football, Mettenberger has blossomed under first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and is a big reason the Tigers are lighting up scoreboards like never before under Les Miles. Mettenberger leads the SEC in passing efficiency, is completing 66.7 percent of his passes, and has thrown 15 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. In LSU's only loss (to Georgia), Mettenberger threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns.

4. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina (preseason: unranked): The Gamecocks had a good feeling coming out of the summer that Davis was primed for a big season. But he's been even better than anybody expected and has set the pace among a star-studded group of running backs in this league. Davis leads the league in rushing with 742 yards (an average of 123.7 yards per game) and has rushed for more than 100 yards in five of his six games. He also has nine touchdowns and has shown the ability to hit the big play with three runs of 50 yards or longer.

5. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (preseason: No. 6): The move from right tackle to left tackle for Matthews has been a snap, and he's playing as well as any tackle in America right now. The Aggies' offensive line, period, is playing lights out, and having a player with Matthews' expertise, talent and experience anchored on that left side is invaluable. The Aggies have given up only seven sacks in six games and are averaging nearly 600 yards of total offense per game.

6. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama (preseason: No. 8): Mosley's sheer numbers on defense aren't going to blow you away. But turn on the tape and watch everything he does for that Alabama defense, from making the calls to getting everybody lined up to always being in the right place at the right time. Mosley leads the Tide with 48 total tackles and is one of the surest tacklers in the league. He's also excellent in coverage and is one of those guys who's always making key stops or pass breakups when Alabama needs it most.

7. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU (preseason: unranked): After a rocky offseason that nearly cost Hill the rest of his career at LSU, he's bounced back with a vengeance. Hill is second in the league in rushing with 715 yards (an average of 119.2 yards per game) and really didn't get started until the third game. He was suspended for the opener and carried it only six times in the second game. But he's rushed for more than 100 yards in four of his last five games and was a straight-up man running the ball last week against that vaunted Florida defense.

8. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (preseason: No. 17): He's the one-on-one matchup no defensive coordinator wants to think about. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Evans was held in check last week against Ole Miss, but that was the exception. He leads the SEC with an average of 122.8 receiving yards per game and has caught five touchdown passes. Nobody goes up and gets the ball like Evans, who pulled in seven passes for a remarkable 279 yards against Alabama. He's averaging 23 yards per catch.

9. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt (preseason: No. 14): The Commodores' record-breaking senior leads the SEC with 47 catches and is second to Evans in receiving yards per game (118.2). With Chris Boyd dismissed from the team and not playing this season, opposing defenses have shadowed Matthews at every turn, but he's continued to produce. He has five touchdown catches and is averaging 15.1 yards per catch. His consistency is what sets him apart. In his last 15 SEC contests, he's averaging more than 120 receiving yards per game.

10. James Franklin, QB, Missouri (preseason: unranked): It's a shame that Franklin separated his throwing shoulder last week in the win over Georgia and will now be sidelined for the foreseeable future. In the year of the quarterback in the SEC, Franklin was playing as well as anybody. He'd accounted for 17 touchdowns and was one of three quarterbacks in the SEC (along with Manziel and Murray) averaging more than 300 yards per game in total offense. Franklin's command of the Tigers' offense had been outstanding.

Manziel, McCarron take different paths

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
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Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarronUSA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesTexas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Alabama's AJ McCarron have dealt with life in the fishbowl differently.

The moment Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley set foot in the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., back in July, a wave of crimson followers rushed his way.

Well, kind of. The wave barreled at him before veering off toward a taller, more slender victim in quarterback AJ McCarron. Another day with the star quarterback, another circus to witness.

"I really wasn't mad at him for that," Mosley said at July's SEC media days. "He took all the attention away."

A day earlier, the media horde congregated for another gunslinger. Instead of three national championship rings, this one carried a Heisman Trophy. And instead of donning a script A, he wore a Drake pin.

While McCarron brought the fans, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel brought reporters and controversy. The two most popular quarterbacks in the SEC arrived in Hoover on two very different paths, and that's how they'll enter Saturday's monster showdown in College Station, Texas.

It isn't easy being either one. McCarron carries one of college football's sexiest titles: Alabama's starting quarterback. Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy after breaking the SEC record for total yards (5,116), registering 47 touchdowns and leading the Aggies to the AT&T Cotton Bowl during their first year in the SEC.

The accolades have piled up for both players, and their on-field play has been extraordinary. But when it comes to the intangibles, they're polar opposites.

Johnny Football represents the new-school flash. He's more dangerous on the field than McCarron because of his incredible athleticism. He can dart past players with his feet or beat them over the top with his deceptive arm strength. His improvisation and risky play make it impossible to look away from the show he puts on.

McCarron is a traditional pocket passer with the arm and accuracy that pro scouts drool over.

When it comes to entertaining, no player is better than Manziel. But it has come at a price. An offseason filled with lavish travel and controversy has Manziel under a microscope. He has faced scrutiny for his Twitter blowups, untimely exit from the Manning Passing Academy and the recent autograph controversy that grabbed the attention of the NCAA.

"I don't really know what people expect out of me," Manziel said in July. "Maybe I shouldn't have posted as much [on Twitter] or been this extravagant, but at the end of the day, I was just trying to have fun. In my position, a lot of doors opened for me, a chance to meet a lot of people and a lot of people were excited to meet me.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel made headlines with some of his on-field antics in the season opener against Rice.
"At the end of the day, I was just living my life. … I don't think I overdid it. I made mistakes, obviously, and I've acknowledged those and learned from them. I had fun and lived my life to the fullest. That's what I'm all about."

For McCarron, he'd rather stay in than get caught up in the nightlife.

"Me personally, I've never been the type of guy to bring unneeded spotlight on myself or my teammates," he said. "I definitely never want to bring any type of bad spotlight on anybody, especially my name. I never want to try to bash that in any sort of way."

"That's not me. I don't really care about the fame or anything like that. I just want to go play football."

Added Alabama guard Anthony Steen: "For AJ, he knows when to shut up, when not to shut up, and what's right and what's wrong. He knows not to go out and party or go out and look for something to do, something wrong. He knows what not to do."

Manziel doesn't hide his brash persona. He says he'd love to take back his now infamous anti-College Station tweet, but he can't. Sometimes he can't hide from his life, but he relishes each moment it brings.

"My life's different," Manziel said. "It's difficult at some points. People see it when they're around me more and more, but I'm very blessed, very fortunate to be in the position I am. I understand that people would line up out the door to be where I'm at today, and I don't take that for granted."

Despite all the offseason drama, Manziel has looked like a more polished passer through two games, including a 400-yard performance last weekend, and has kept his scrambling to a minimum. Still, his first-half suspension and opening-game taunts have overshadowed an impressive start on the field.

McCarron had a rocky start to the season. He passed for a 110 yards (a career low as a starter) against Virginia Tech and completed less than 50 percent of his passes for only the second time as a starter.

Again, two different paths.

What makes Saturday's matchup that much more intriguing is that the quarterbacks are friends. They roomed together at the Manning Academy and kept in contact during the offseason. And both could make strong Heisman Trophy pushes with a victory Saturday.

McCarron acknowledges Manziel's on-field greatness, but you have to wonder if it gets to McCarron at all. He has rings and Manziel has a statue. McCarron is 26-2 as Alabama's starter and craves victories more than anything.

"Sometimes I feel like [if] any other quarterback in the country wins two national championships, he's the best thing since sliced bread and I'm still labeled a game manager, which is fine with me," McCarron said. "They can call me a bench-rider as long as we keep winning. I really don't care. I'm happy with the person that I am, the way I carry myself and with the teammate I've been."

Saturday will showcase two completely different quarterbacks fighting for same thing. When their pads go on and their laces are tied, it won't matter how either got to Kyle Field. It will only matter how they leave it.

Most indispensable player: Texas A&M

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
12:30
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There are always a couple of players on each football team that you just can't replace. Most of the time they are quarterbacks, but every so often someone else emerges as that indispensable player teams just can't live without.

Today, we're looking at those players. It's easy to talk quarterbacks being the most important people on a team, so we decided to look at the most indispensable players on each SEC school who aren't lining up under center.

Here's our complete list for the 2013 season:

TEXAS A&M

Jake Matthews, OT, Sr.

When looking at non-quarterbacks, the guy who protects the quarterback's blind side is of utmost importance. Last season, Luke Joeckel had a stellar season in that role while Matthews was anchoring the right side of the line. This year, Matthews, son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, slides to left tackle. There's no reason to believe Matthews will miss a beat and he has the look of a high first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Kevin Sumlin calls Matthews a classic "low maintenance, great player." -- Sam Khan, GigEmNation

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