Dallas Colleges: Connor Shaw

No right answer when selecting a QB

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
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Brandon Allen. Nick Marshall. Bo Wallace.

That’s it. That’s the list.

Only three quarterbacks who started double-digit games last season return to the SEC this fall, and one of them isn’t even guaranteed to be a starter.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLes Miles and Nick Saban are in no hurry to name their starting QBs for the fall.
Everywhere you turn in this league, there’s a quarterback competition underway, from Alabama to Georgia, Arkansas to Kentucky, LSU to Texas A&M. Maty Mauk is surely the presumptive starter at Missouri, but even he's not a sure thing. Gary Pinkel says he wants competition, never mind that there were times when Mauk looked better than former starter James Franklin.

But not every coach in the SEC approaches the quarterback position the same way. A quick glance across the league shows a variety of opinions about how to pick a starter.

Mark Stoops is the most urgent-minded coach of the bunch, and given the inconsistency Kentucky had at quarterback last season, it’s easy to understand why. Entering his second season, Stoops said: “I’d love to come out of spring with a clear-cut starter.” That means everyone is in the mix. Maxwell Smith can’t practice while he recovers from shoulder surgery, but Jalen Whitlow, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and even true freshman Drew Barker are in the hunt.

Barker, a four-star prospect according to ESPN, “has a very good opportunity to take control of it,” Stoops said, praising his maturity for such a young quarterback.

“He’s a guy [who] has high expectations [for] himself, and he’s OK with the pressure that comes along with playing that position,” Stoops said. “He’s excited about the opportunity, and I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Bret Bielema isn’t outwardly putting a timetable on anything at Arkansas, but he’s encouraging everyone to compete. Allen started 11 games last season but was up and down, with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Bielema was about as no-nonsense as any coach gets about the situation.

“In theory, the first time we yell out for the [first string, Allen is] going to step out there,” Bielema said before the start of spring practice. “But really, in our program, the competition brings the best out of people.

“So B.A. is going to be the first guy in with the ones, but there will be other guys who get opportunity,” he continued. “Who is able to produce and run the offense effectively and who gives us the best chance to win next year’s opener against Auburn will be at that position.”

Similar to the case at Kentucky, Bielema isn’t counting out his true freshman. Rafe Peavey, another highly-regarded four-star prospect, is going to be allowed to sink or swim. Bielema loves his talent and praised him as a “football junkie.” But he’s not pampering the rookie.

“It’s no different between the right tackle or the quarterback or the safety,” Bielema said. “It’s all about what a freshman can handle, how they adjust to adversity and how they enjoy success.

“The quarterback gets a lot of attention. They’re usually really pretty, really smart, and everybody likes them. But in reality, they’re like everybody else. Those that play well will play and those that don’t will sit.”

While Bielema and Stoops are anxious for a battle, other coaches around the league are more inclined to sit back and wait.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWho will replace Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M's QB? Kevin Sumlin isn't saying anything right now.
LSU coach Les Miles said he has a good sense of the competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. “But it always plays out,” he said, harkening back to when Matt Flynn and JaMarcus Russell duked it out eight years ago. It looked like Flynn had the job in hand after winning a bowl game and watching Russell come into camp out of shape in 2006. But Flynn's body faltered down the stretch and Russell kept going, eventually winning the job.

"I want all the quarterbacks to know that it’s going to be given to no one,” Miles said. “[It’s] earned by the one that plays."

Texas A&M and Alabama are taking similar approaches to replacing Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron. In fact, both Kevin Sumlin and Nick Saban are somewhat defiant about holding the cards close to the vest.

Sumlin has gloated before that when people assumed Jameill Showers would beat out Manziel in 2013, "I didn't name a starter [after spring]; y'all did."

So while we watch Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen jockey for position, don’t expect a starter to be named until close to the season.

Saban, for his part, doesn’t want to hear anything about it. His quarterback competition is essentially on hold until the fall, when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives. Before the start of spring practice, Saban laid out his plan, saying, “Let me be very clear about this: We’re not going to be in a hurry to decide who the quarterback is.”

“You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback,” he added, “and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 'We're going to wait and see.’ ”

The only place in the SEC that doesn’t have to be patient in the matter is South Carolina. Coach Steve Spurrier named Dylan Thompson the starter well before spring practice ever began.

Replacing Connor Shaw won’t be easy, but Spurrier said that Thompson was the guy for the job, no question. A fifth-year senior with plenty of in-game experience, Spurrier didn’t have a doubt in his mind.

“I didn’t know there was any question about it,” he said. “Someone said, ‘You’re just naming him the starting quarterback?’ Well, I just said, ‘Of course I am. Why wouldn’t we?’ ”

Spurrier did it his way. Saban and Sumlin are doing it theirs. Stoops is anxious, and Bielema and Pinkel are only interested in the competition.

Recruiting a quarterback is the furthest thing from an exact science. Finding out who’s ready to start is even more inexact.

This might be the season of new quarterbacks in the SEC, but everywhere there’s a different sense of which way the wind blows.

5 burning questions: Replacing QBs

February, 24, 2014
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Over the span of their careers they threw for 48,824 passing yards. There were a total 403 touchdown passes among them, and they won 184 games in which they appeared, including 11 bowls and two national championships. They were, arguably, the most talented and productive class of quarterbacks ever to play in the SEC at one time. And now they’re all gone.

[+] EnlargeDylan Thompson
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson saw a lot of playing time last season when Connor Shaw went out.
The SEC had to say goodbye to James Franklin, Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw in January. The void they leave behind is enormous, and while some programs already have an idea of who will take their place next season, not all are so lucky.

We’re counting down the five most pressing questions facing the SEC this spring, in no particular order of importance. First, how do you replace all the veteran quarterbacks the league enjoyed in 2013?

When spring camps open over the next few weeks -- the first being Texas A&M on Friday -- that question will begin to be answered. With each snap and each team meeting, leaders will emerge. Some staffs will look for a winner heading into the summer so they can avoid a quarterback controversy come fall, while others will have to sweat it out through the offseason.

Texas A&M: Surprises will undoubtedly occur, as we saw only a few years ago when a scrappy freshman from Kerrville, Texas, beat out the presumptive favorite to land the starting job at Texas A&M. The Aggies stumbled upon Manziel, and Jameill Showers was quickly forgotten. Kenny Hill and Matt Joeckel are this year’s frontrunners, but they’ll have competition in another freshman nipping at their heels in Kyle Allen. The Arizona native is more of a pure passer than a running quarterback, but he has the tools to sling the ball around in Kevin Sumlin’s offense.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier didn’t mince words when he saidDylan Thompson is “without question going to be our quarterback.” He even asked, “Why open it up when he’s the only one who’s played?” Thompson, a rising senior, doesn’t have the athleticism to break containment quite like Shaw, but Thompson can still move the chains with his feet when necessary. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound South Carolina native doesn’t lack for arm strength and might even have more pure throwing ability than Shaw. But where Thompson must match Shaw is intangibles. There wasn’t a more dynamic leader in the SEC than Shaw last year, and the Gamecocks will miss that kind of will power under center in 2014. While the starting job is Thompson’s to lose, don’t sleep on redshirt freshman Connor Mitch. The former four-star recruit could push Thompson this spring.

Missouri: The race to replace Franklin comes down to one quarterback and one quarterback alone: Maty Mauk. The rising redshirt sophomore showed last season that he can control the offense, starting four games in which he averaged 227.5 yards, 2.5 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions per game. More importantly, he won three of the four games with the only loss coming in double overtime against South Carolina. He’ll learn from that experience and take over a team that will be moving on from the loss of big-time playmakers Henry Josey, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas. Having the ultra-talented Dorial Green-Beckham back will help, but an arrest on drug charges in January has clouded his future.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cornwell
Courtesy of Cornwell familyEarly enrollee and former four-star recruit David Cornwell will get his shot at Alabama's starting QB job this spring.
LSU: The Tigers faithful got a sneak peek at their next quarterback, Anthony Jennings, after Mettenberger tore his ACL and was forced to miss LSU’s bowl game. The rising sophomore didn’t drop anyone’s jaw against Iowa, but he did just enough, throwing for 82 yards on 7 of 19 passing, while letting his supporting cast do the heavy lifting. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, Jennings has the look of a starting quarterback in the SEC. The former four-star recruit played sparingly in 2013, though, attempting just 10 passes prior to the Outback Bowl. He’ll have to contend with Brandon Harris, ESPN’s No. 37 overall prospect and No. 2 dual-threat passer in the 2014 class, along with rising senior Rob Bolden and rising sophomore Hayden Rettig.

Georgia: Despite what wasn’t a great performance to end last season -- 21-of-39 for 320 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Nebraska -- Hutson Mason is still the overwhelming favorite to replace Murray. Why? Because Mark Richt and the coaching staff have essentially been grooming Mason to take over for years now, redshirting him in 2012 so he would have a year left to play in 2014. Mason was once a three-star quarterback who put up huge numbers running the spread at Lassiter High School in nearby Marietta, and with Todd Gurley behind him, he won’t be asked to do too much his first year starting. While he might be a year away, don’t write off Faton Bauta just yet. The 6-3, 216-pound redshirt sophomore has impressed the staff with his work ethic and could find his way into some playing time.

Alabama: Oddly enough, the quarterback many presume will take over for McCarron won’t actually arrive until the summer. Jacob Coker, the heralded transfer from Florida State, will be a little late finishing his degree in Tallahassee, which leaves a big opportunity for the rest of Alabama’s quarterbacks to make a first impression. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will instead have his focus on Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman this spring. Sims, who best fits the mold of a run-first quarterback, has a lot of work ahead of him to prove he can play from the pocket. Morris, meanwhile, didn’t get much time as a redshirt freshman last season and needs to improve his decision-making from the last time we saw him at A-Day. Bateman and McLeod are relative unknowns after redshirting last season, but Bateman, a four-star recruit, does come with a lofty pedigree. The wild card is David Cornwell, the four-star recruit who enrolled in January and will benefit from the fresh start all of the quarterbacks will get under Kiffin.

SEC shoes to fill in 2014

January, 21, 2014
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Earlier, we took a look at some of the underclassmen leaving the SEC and who could replace them at their respective schools. Now it's time to look at 14 pairs of the biggest shoes to fill in the SEC in 2014.

These are either graduates or guys who decided to take their talents to the NFL early. It's never easy to replace top players, but the SEC has a tendency to just reload. Let's see if SEC teams can replace these 14 studs:

ALABAMA

AJ McCarron, QB: He won two national championships and went 36-4 as a starter for Alabama. He was also the first Crimson Tide quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and was an excellent leader. Alabama must now turn to junior Blake Sims and a host of youngsters to fill his spot as Alabama's starter.

ARKANSAS

Zach Hocker, K: A kicker? You bet. Hocker finished his career as the SEC's active career leader in extra points made, extra points attempted, field goals made, field goals attempted points. Hocker ranked in the top-five nationally among active players in field goals made, points, extra points made, extra points attempted and field goals attempted. He was also excellent on kickoffs and has no true heir in 2014.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI Tre Mason's productivity won't be easy to replace for Auburn.
AUBURN

Tre Mason, RB: Replacing the guy who set the single-season school record for rushing yards (1,816) and total offense (2,374) won't be easy at all. Mason carried Auburn's offense for most of the season and led the SEC in rushing and rushing touchdowns (23). The Tigers now turn to Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, who both rushed for more than 600 yards and six touchdowns last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Racean Thomas.

FLORIDA

Dominique Easley, DT: Though his season was cut short by an ACL injury, Easley was so dominant when he was on the field. He was the type of player who didn't have flashy stats but created so many plays for other people. Losing someone as disruptive as Easley really showed as the season continued, as the Gators failed to get consistent pressure on opposing backfields. Leon Orr and Darious Cummings get first crack at trying to replace Easley.

GEORGIA

Aaron Murray, QB: He won a handful of games, went to two SEC championship games and broke a ton of SEC records. Now, Murray is gone, and Hutson Mason has been given the duty of replacing one of the most decorated quarterbacks to ever play in the SEC. Mason got his feet wet early when Murray went down late with an ACL injury, but now this is his team and it's his turn to be a leader.

KENTUCKY

Avery Williamson, LB: In his last two seasons in Lexington, Williamson totaled 237 tackles, including 116 solo stops. A leader of the defense, Williamson was all over the field, and it might take a committee to fill his shoes both in games and in the locker room. Kentucky was able to do more when Williamson was on the field, and now the Wildcats will need to find a new spark at linebacker.

LSU

Zach Mettenberger, QB: We got to really see what Mettenberger was capable of once he got comfortable running Cam Cameron's offense. He was third in the SEC with 3,082 passing yards and threw 22 touchdowns. His big-league arm and awareness will truly be missed, as the Tigers turn to a band of inexperienced quarterbacks, starting with Anthony Jennings.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Gabe Jackson, OG: Quietly, he was one of the country's best guards in 2013. He was the anchor of the Bulldogs' line and was arguably the team's best overall player in 2013. Mississippi State has Justin Malone returning from a season-ending foot injury, while former walk-on Ben Beckwith, who replaced Malone, and Jamaal Clayborn should compete for one of the guard spots.

MISSOURI

E.J. Gaines, CB: If not for Gaines' play, Missouri's secondary would have been in a lot of trouble last season. That means the loss of arguably the SEC's best cover corner will hurt that much more in 2014. What will make things even tougher for the Tigers is that two other seniors from the secondary will also be gone, but replacing Gaines is easily the toughest job of all.

OLE MISS

Donte Moncrief, WR: He might not have had the same sort of season as he did in 2012, but Moncrief was yet again Ole Miss' top offensive weapon in 2013. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's such a tough player to cover with his size and strength. He could hit the big play deep or make the tough catches in traffic. The loss of Moncrief now puts the pressure on sophomore-to-be Laquon Treadwell, who led the Rebels in receptions.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson will get the first crack at replacing Connor Shaw as South Carolina's QB.
SOUTH CAROLINA

Connor Shaw, QB: With all due respect to future top-five pick Jadeveon Clowney, Shaw's play, toughness and leadership will be tougher to replace in Columbia. He was the heart of this team and played through all sorts of pain to help lead the Gamecocks to their third straight 11-win season. Dylan Thompson backed him up for the past two seasons and now has to job of following Shaw's impressive career.

TENNESSEE

Antonio Richardson, OT: One of the best offensive linemen in the league, Richardson will be very tough for the Vols to replace in 2014, especially with young quarterbacks littering the backfield. Making matters worse is that the rest of the entire starting offensive line will be gone too. But not having that anchor at left tackle hurts the most.

TEXAS A&M

Johnny Manziel, QB: Yeah, like replacing all the on-field theatrics from someone who won the Heisman Trophy and produced 9,989 career yards of offense and 93 touchdowns will be easy. Manziel could hurt a defense with his arm and legs and was only contained a few times during his two seasons as the Aggies' starter. No one will be able to produce the entertainment Manziel provided.

VANDERBILT

Jordan Matthews, WR: One of the SEC's best all-time receivers is leaving the league. More importantly, he's leaving a Vanderbilt team that now has to find a consistent go-to receiver for its new quarterback. Sophomore-to-be Jordan Cunningham could be the next in line.

SEC's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 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.

Best and worst of the SEC bowls

January, 10, 2014
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Let's take a look at the best and worst from the SEC during this year's bowl season:

Best game: This had to be Texas A&M's 52-48 comeback win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Right when we thought Johnny Manziel was going out on a low note, he put his team on his shoulders to erase a 21-point deficit. He struggled to get on the same page with his receivers early but finished in style with 455 total yards and five touchdowns. The Aggies outscored Duke 35-10 in the second half.

Worst BCS bowl team without a national title at stake: Alabama has been money under Nick Saban in BCS National Championship games. But the Crimson Tide have laid a pair of eggs now in the Sugar Bowl, the latest coming in an ugly 45-31 loss to Oklahoma last week that saw Alabama turn it over five times and give up 429 yards of total offense. It was reminiscent of Alabama’s 31-17 loss to Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel put on quite a show in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in what turned out to be his final game.
Worst tackle: Though Auburn's defense played very well for the better part of the Tigers' heartbreaking 34-31 loss to Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game, the dagger came on a fumbled defensive effort. Chris Davis and Ryan Smith cost Auburn a big play on the Seminoles' game-winning scoring drive when they both attempted to tackle Rashad Greene after a first-down catch just to the right of the middle of the field. They hit each other more than Greene, who then sprinted down the right sideline for a 49-yard gain to help set up the final score.

Best catch: Not only was Bruce Ellington’s bobbling, one-handed catch in South Carolina’s 34-24 win over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl a gem, but it also changed the complexion of the game. The 22-yard gain came on fourth-and-7 and set up a 22-yard touchdown catch by Ellington late in the third quarter that put the Gamecocks ahead for good.

Best quote: “I was in a zone I haven’t been in before -- ever. I just wanted this game.” -- Manziel

Best grind-out performance: LSU running back Jeremy Hill, who helped keep LSU out of the upset column against Iowa with his 28 carries for 216 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead 37-yarder with two minutes remaining.

Best multi-purpose performance: About the only thing Connor Shaw didn’t do in his farewell performance for the Gamecocks was intercept a pass. He passed for three touchdowns, ran for a touchdown and also caught a touchdown pass.

Worst defensive breakdown: Big pass plays haunted Georgia’s defense this season, and the 99-yard touchdown pass the Bulldogs gave up in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl was perhaps the worst of the bunch. Nebraska was facing third-and-14 from its own 1 in the fourth quarter when Quincy Enunwa took advantage of a bust in the Georgia secondary and streaked 99 yards to give the Huskers a 24-12 lead. Nebraska finished with just 307 yards of total offense, and 99 came on that one play.

Worst timing: Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch has always been rock solid for the Bulldogs, but his crucial drop on a fourth-and-3 at Nebraska's 16-yard line with less than 30 seconds remaining ended any chance of a Georgia comeback. Lynch would have given the Dawgs a first down inside the 10.

Best individual performance: Manziel delivered a performance for the ages (and a performance that turned out to be his final one at the collegiate level) in rallying the Aggies from a 21-point deficit to beat Duke 52-48 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Manziel was 30-of-38 passing for 382 yards and four touchdowns, and he also rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown.

Best team performance: How about those Mississippi State Bulldogs? Left for dead in late November, the Bulldogs won two straight in overtime to make a bowl game. After getting bumped up to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Mississippi State crushed a Rice team that entered the game winners of nine of their last 10 with a 44-7 showing. Quarterback Dak Prescott had arguably his best game, throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 78 yards and two more scores. The defense also allowed a season-low 145 yards.

How they fared vs. SEC competition

December, 23, 2013
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One of the most revealing things to do every year is going back and looking at how players fared against SEC competition.

The numbers always look a little different when you take out some of the teams that were sacrificial lambs. With that in mind, here’s a quick checklist of the league leaders and their numbers against SEC foes (not counting the SEC championship game):

RUSHING

1. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: 988 yards, 6.2 yards per carry
2. Tre Mason, Auburn: 985 yards, 5.1 yards per carry
3. Jeremy Hill, LSU: 875 yards, 6.1 yards per carry
4. Mike Davis, South Carolina: 830 yards, 5.9 yards per carry
5. Nick Marshall, Auburn: 769 yards, 6.6 yards per carry

TOUCHDOWNS

1. Tre Mason, Auburn: 13
2. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: 11
3. Henry Josey, Missouri: 10
4. Mike Evans, Texas A&M: 9
4. Jeremy Hill, LSU: 9
4. Nick Marshall, Auburn: 9
4. Jerron Seymour, Vanderbilt: 9

TOTAL OFFENSE

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: 394.6 yards per game
2. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: 300.8 yards per game
3. Aaron Murray, Georgia: 275.4 yards per game
4. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: 269.3 yards per game
5. Nick Marshall, Auburn: 257.5 yards per game

PASSING YARDS

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: 336.9 yards per game
2. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: 283.4 yards per game
3. Aaron Murray, Georgia: 257.9 yards per game
4. AJ McCarron, Alabama: 246.4 yards per game
5. Zach Mettenberger, LSU: 244.6 yards per game

PASSING TDs/INTs

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: 22/11
2. Aaron Murray, Georgia: 21/6
3. Connor Shaw, South Carolina: 18/1
4. AJ McCarron, Alabama: 18/3
5. Maty Mauk, Missouri: 10/2

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisMichael Sam had 7.5 sacks in SEC play, and Missouri players ranked 1-2 and tied for third in that statistic.
RECEIVING YARDS

1. Mike Evans, Texas A&M: 122.5 yards per game
2. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: 113.4 yards per game
3. Jarvis Landry, LSU: 104.9 yards per game
4. Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss: 79.5 yards per game
5. Odell Beckham, LSU: 72.9 yards per game

TOUCHDOWN CATCHES

1. Mike Evans, Texas A&M: 9
2. L'Damian Washington, Missouri: 7
3. Bruce Ellington, South Carolina: 6
3. Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri: 6
3. Kevin Norwood, Alabama: 6

SACKS

1. Michael Sam, Missouri: 7.5
2. Markus Golden, Missouri: 6.5
3. Kony Ealy, Missouri: 6
3. Dee Ford, Auburn: 6
3. Garrison Smith, Georgia: 6

TACKLES FOR LOSS

1. Markus Golden, Missouri: 11
1. Michael Sam, Missouri: 11
3. Dee Ford, Auburn: 10
4. Trey Flowers, Arkansas: 9.5
5. Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina: 9

SEC 2013 wrap

December, 16, 2013
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That cliche about history and its thirst for repeating itself really fits the SEC. Eight years after the SEC captured the first of seven straight BCS national titles, and 16 years after taking the first BCS title, it's closing out the BCS era with one final appearance in the big game.

The league needed a fresh face at a historic place and a little bit of luck to take its talents out west, but it only made sense that the conference that already owns nine BCS titles gets one last shot at another.

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
AP Photo/Dave MartinChris Davis' TD return against Alabama will live forever in SEC lore.
The team with the opportunity to bring commissioner Mike Slive another one of those shiny crystal footballs is Auburn. A three-win SEC bottom-feeder a year ago, the Tigers made the biggest turnaround in college football with an SEC title, 12 wins and some fantastic finishes that play on a loop in the minds of college football fans everywhere.

Auburn didn't have a smothering defense, but it pounded just about every team it faced with the nation's most dangerous rushing attack (335.7 yards per game). Led by Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason (1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns), the Tigers' rushing attack, which features elements of the spread, triple option and power running, crossed the 200-yard mark in 12 games.

Along the way, the Tigers had thrilling endings in wins against Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. The final two showcased a destined Hail Mary from quarterback Nick Marshall against Georgia and an unthinkable last-second, 109-yard touchdown return by Chris Davis on a missed 57-yard field goal attempt by Alabama.

With Auburn in the big game, that means that for the first time since Auburn was last in this game in 2010, Alabama will be watching from home. The Crimson Tide, which will be haunted by Davis' return for the foreseeable future, is headed to the Allstate Sugar Bowl and isn't competing for its third straight national championship.

The Tide seemed to have everything going for them until Davis took a chance. It bested Johnny Football in a shootout and topped LSU in dominating fashion late. But even Nick Saban and the Tide aren't perfect. A last-second decision to attempt a 57-yard field goal changed everything.

But in a year that was so un-SEC for the conference, it was fitting that Alabama missed the big one. Defenses were hard to come by, with only four teams giving up less than 350 yards a game. Only Alabama allowed less than 20 points per game (11.3).

Quarterbacks changed the dynamic of the conference with more shootouts than smashmouth games. Johnny Manziel passed (3,732 yards and 33 touchdowns) his way to New York for the Heisman ceremony, while we said somber goodbyes to Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, Connor Shaw (still the toughest man in the game) and Zach Mettenberger.

Traditional SEC Eastern Division powers Florida and Georgia stumbled thanks to injuries. The Gators were hit the hardest and fell the most, suffering their first losing season since 1979, missing out on a bowl game for the first time in 22 years and losing to Vanderbilt and FCS Georgia Southern at home.

Then there was Missouri, which took the SEC East by storm in another bounce-back year. Headed by a high-flying offense, these Tigers won 11 and made it to Atlanta in their second year in the league, only to meet the buzz saw that is Auburn's running game.

Many things were different all around the league this year, but one thing remained the same: A chance at a national championship is still there. Once again, this league needed luck, but somehow the SEC found a way.

Offensive MVP: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn: Mason was one of the league's most consistent players. He led the SEC with 1,621 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. He set an Auburn record with 23 total touchdowns and 2,137 all-purpose yards. In SEC games, Mason averaged 5.7 yards per carry and crossed the century mark on the ground eight times.

[+] EnlargeVernon Hargreaves III, Michael Bennett
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida CB Vernon Hargreaves III put together an sterling freshman season with three interceptions and 14 passes defensed.
Defensive MVP: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is a close second here, but he just wasn't as consistent as Mosley, who led Alabama with 102 tackles, including 56 solo stops. Mosley was the closest thing to a quarterback on defense that you could find in the country. He can play both the run and pass. He led Alabama with nine tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries.

Newcomer of the year: With Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall spending a year at Georgia, he wasn't eligible. But our top newcomer came in and made an immediate impact in Florida's secondary. Vernon Hargreaves III started the final 10 games of the season, tying for first in the SEC with 14 passes defended (most by a freshman in Florida history). He also had three interceptions and 38 tackles.

Best game: There were so many to choose from this year. You had instant classics with Vanderbilt-Ole Miss, Georgia-LSU, Auburn-Texas A&M, Alabama-Texas A&M, Missouri-South Carolina and Auburn-Georgia. But Alabama-Auburn had the craziest ending of all. In a game that should have gone to overtime, Davis ended things with a remarkable return to give Auburn a 34-28 win over the top-ranked Crimson Tide. Fans stormed the field, and the Tigers eventually found a spot in the BCS title game.

Biggest disappointment: Yes, injuries ravaged the Gators, but a 4-8 record shouldn't happen at a program like Florida. The most embarrassing part about the year was that home loss to Georgia Southern before getting blown out by Florida State. The Gators scored more than 20 points just four times, and offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis were both fired at the end of the season.

Biggest surprise: Auburn went from winning just three games a year ago to playing in the national championship in Malzahn's first season. The Tigers ranked last in the SEC in total offense last year (305) and head into bowl season ranking second (505.3) in the SEC.

SEC lunchtime links

December, 4, 2013
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Like Georgia QB Aaron Murray before him, it's tough to see a senior like LSU's Zach Mettenberger get hurt before he has a chance to play his final bowl game and ride off into the sunset. Here's to good health in the NFL.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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We have a new No. 1 in our Power Rankings, and there's a chance that either of the top two teams on this list could back its way into the BCS title game:

1. Auburn (11-1, 7-1 SEC; last week: 3): Call it luck, but don't forget to call the Tigers good. Auburn won the Iron Bowl 34-28 over No. 1 Alabama on a last-second field goal return for a touchdown by Chris Davis. It was another improbable win for the Cardiac Cats, but Auburn also ran for 296 yards on the SEC's best rush defense. Back-to-back thrillers have Auburn No. 3 in the BCS standings and SEC Western Division champions.

2. Missouri (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 2): These Tigers will meet those Tigers in the SEC championship game on Saturday. After beating Texas A&M 28-21 at home, Mizzou completed its own improbable season in its second year in the league. Missouri now has five wins over opponents that were ranked when it played them. Like Auburn, Mizzou is very much in the national championship picture. The Tigers need help, but a win over Auburn would push a team that was left for dead last season a step closer to Pasadena, Calif.

3. Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 1): The three-peat is likely over after Alabama was bested by its archrival. Why Nick Saban would attempt a 57-yard field goal with a second left without any speedy athletes on the field is mind-blowing. Saban rarely makes mistakes, but this one will sting for a very long time. Alabama is still very much in the hunt for a BCS bowl game, but a return to the title game is a long shot.

4. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC; LW: 4): Another year, another win over Clemson. That makes five in a row for Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks after his guys walked over the Tigers 31-17. South Carolina forced six turnovers, and quarterback Connor Shaw impressed yet again with 246 yards of offense and two touchdowns. The BCS is out of reach for the Gamecocks, but they have a shot at three straight 11-win seasons.

5. LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC; LW: 5): This is easily the most confusing team to follow in 2013. The Tigers started hot, hit some bumps and then finished strong with an exciting 31-27 win over Arkansas. LSU was without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger (knee) late, but it didn't matter, as freshman Anthony Jennings drove the Tigers 99 yards, with a 49-yard go-ahead touchdown pass with 1:15 left. This could be another double-digit-win season for the Tigers.

6. Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 6): Johnny Manziel went from carving up defenses to being smothered in his last two outings. In Saturday's loss to Mizzou, Manziel was held to a season-low 216 total yards and a touchdown. The defense was gutted -- again -- allowing 225 rushing yards, including a 57-yard Henry Josey touchdown run with 3:34 remaining. It's been a long November in College Station, but at least Kevin Sumlin is locked up for the long haul.

7. Vanderbilt (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 8): Coach James Franklin might be near the top of USC's coaching list, but for now, he's doing a heck of a job as Vandy's coach. There's no wonder he's on the Trojans' radar. Vandy has won four straight, will make its third straight bowl game and is in line to win nine in back-to-back seasons. The Commodores didn't make it look easy against Wake Forest, but a Carey Spear field goal with 39 seconds left kept the Dores' winning streak alive.

8. Georgia (8-4, 5-3 SEC; LW: 9): Another team that didn't want things to be easy over the weekend, Georgia needed double overtime to beat rival Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs' defense was pushed around for 495 yards, but the offense was there to bring the Dawgs back from deficits of 20-0 and 27-17. When you have a guy like Todd Gurley (158 total yards and four touchdowns), it doesn't matter who you have at quarterback.

9. Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC; LW: 10): After being on the outside of the bowl picture just a couple of weeks ago, the Bulldogs rallied to win their last two, including an overtime victory against bitter rival Ole Miss on Thanksgiving. It wasn't the prettiest of games, but injured quarterback Dak Prescott came into the fourth quarter and threw for 115 yards, while running for 29, including the eventual winning 3-yard score. Dan Mullen has Mississippi State in the postseason for the fourth straight season.

10. Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5 SEC; LW: 7): Oh, what could have been for this team. Not only have the Rebels lost two straight, but they allowed their archrivals to make it to the postseason. For a season that started 3-0, some poor play in the red zone -- especially near the goal line -- against Missouri and turnovers against Mississippi State cost Ole Miss in its final two games.

11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LW: 11): A long first year for Butch Jones ended with a nice 27-14 win over Kentucky. The Vols aren't going bowling, but now is the time when Jones has to ramp up the development phase and keep an already stellar recruiting class together. Remember, this team was a fake Vandy jump pass from a bowl berth.

12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LW: 12): The Gators' nightmare of a season ended with a 37-7 rout by rival Florida State inside the Swamp. Florida then fired embattled offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis. Florida lost seven straight to end the season without scoring more than 20 points. And it isn't going bowling for the first time in 22 years and has its first losing season since 1979.

13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LW: 13): With that heartbreaking loss to LSU, the Razorbacks have dropped a school-record nine straight and went 0-8 in conference play for the first time. This team fought hard in its final act, but it's clear that development and recruiting need to amp up during the offseason if Bret Bielema is going to have a chance at really competing in this league.

14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats have now gone 0-8 in SEC play in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1941-42 and have lost 16 straight SEC games. Mark Stoops is building a pretty impressive recruiting class right now, but we all know it takes more than recruiting. The Wildcats need more than talent, as they took steps back on both sides of the ball late in the season.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
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The SEC might be a quarterback league this season, but it was the running backs who stepped up across the conference on Saturday. But who all deserves a helmet sticker for Week 10? It's time to find out, as we look at the top performances from the day that was.

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn: Arkansas is supposed to have the smash-mouth offense, but Auburn's Mason gave Bret Bielema a dose of his own medicine in Saturday's 35-17 win. Mason rushed for 168 yards and a career-high four touchdowns on 32 carries. He had the hot hand early against the Razorbacks, and head coach Gus Malzahn rode him to the end. The junior running back scored twice in the first half, once on the opening drive of the second half, and he put the game away with a sensational 12-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He now has 13 touchdowns this season and has at least one rushing touchdown in six straight games. He's been a major reason why the Tigers have the SEC's top rushing offense.

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Boy was Georgia glad to have Gurley back. The sophomore running back had missed the last three games with a sprained ankle, but it didn't take long for him to return to form. He rushed for 30 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive, and he caught a 73-yard touchdown pass on the Bulldogs' second series. He finished with 17 carries for 100 yards, three catches for 87 yards and the two scores. When things got a little chippy against the Gators, Gurley was in there mixing it up, defending his teammates. With a win, Georgia stayed alive in the SEC East, and the Bulldogs will need Gurley to be healthy from this point forward, especially when they travel to No. 11 Auburn in two weeks.

Gary Pinkel, HC, Missouri: Any number of Missouri players could be on this list. Maty Mauk accounted for 277 total yards and three touchdowns. The defense held Tennessee to three points and forced a turnover for the 39th straight game, the longest current streak in the FBS. But credit Pinkel for getting his team ready to play after a heartbreaking loss to South Carolina the week before. The Tigers could've come out and flat or laid an egg, but they didn't. Instead, they dominated the Volunteers, 31-3. It was Missouri's largest margin of victory in SEC play since joining the conference, and don't forget, they still control their own destiny in the East.

Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: How would Connor Shaw replicate last week's heroic performance? By throwing four touchdown passes in a 34-16 win over Mississippi State. But despite another impressive performance from the South Carolina quarterback, it was Davis who played the best game. The SEC's leading rusher went for 128 yards on 15 carries, averaging 8.5 yards per carry. He now has 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season and becomes the first Gamecock to rush for more than 1,000 yards since Marcus Lattimore did it as a freshman in 2010. Shaw was inconsistent at times Saturday, but Davis was as steady as they come.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: It was only UTEP, but Manziel accounted for 340 yards and six touchdowns as Texas A&M cruised to a 57-7 victory. The Aggies' quarterback finished 16 of 24 for 273 yards and four touchdowns through the air, and he also added 67 yards and two scores on the ground. He's on pace to have a better season than he did a year ago, but the reigning Heisman Trophy winner will have trouble passing Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston for the award. Manziel still has road games at LSU and Missouri to help make his case, but first, the Aggies will host Mississippi State next week.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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Even with two league powers off this weekend, there was some interesting football in the SEC on Saturday. Here are some takeaways from the action in Week 10:

Florida-Georgia is still compelling: Even with a pair of unranked teams beaten up by injuries, Florida and Georgia provided great theater. Georgia took a commanding 20-0 lead and made it 23-3 at the half, but Florida charged back into the game and even possessed the ball in the fourth quarter down only three points. In the end, Georgia hung on for the 23-20 victory. Florida, for all of its struggles, showed tremendous fight in its second-half rally, but now the Gators are pretty much out of the mix for anything meaningful in the SEC East. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, kept alive their faint division title hopes, which are heavily dependent on Missouri taking a late dive. What added to all the fun on Saturday was the chippy attitudes on both sides, including pushing and shoving after the whistle on several occasions and multiple personal fouls.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
Kyle Rivas/Getty ImagesQB Maty Mauk had 277 total yards and three TDs as Missouri bounced back against Tennessee.
No hangover for Mizzou: If anybody thought last week's tough, dramatic loss to South Carolina in double overtime would have lingering effects for Missouri, guess again. The Tigers took care of business against Tennessee, rolling to a 31-3 win. Freshman quarterback Maty Mauk accounted for 277 total yards and three touchdowns, as the Tigers were up by three touchdowns at the half. They handled the Volunteers on defense, too, holding Tennessee to just 2-of-13 on third downs, 334 total yards and just 94 rushing yards. There's still a tough finishing kick left on the Tigers' schedule, but they looked the part on Saturday.

Johnny Manziel looks like his old self: For the late-nighters, Texas A&M rolled UTEP 57-7, and while the game itself wasn't necessarily compelling, those who tuned in saw a familiar performance by Manziel. Last week, he stayed in the pocket to protect an injured throwing shoulder, but on Saturday night, he cut it loose, zigging and zagging through the UTEP defense like the player who won the Heisman Trophy last season and led the SEC in rushing. He finished with 67 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground, one of which was a 49-yard sprint that looked like 2012 Manziel. For the game, he accounted for six total touchdowns. He's still in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race, though he might need some others to falter in order to become the consensus front-runner again.

South Carolina can put a team away: There was a time when the Gamecocks seemed to let teams back into games after getting big leads. However, after their 34-16 win over Mississippi State on Saturday, which came three weeks after a 52-7 blowout of Arkansas, South Carolina is showing it can handle business and close teams out in the end. SEC leading rusher Mike Davis moved past the 1,000-yard mark with a 128-yard effort, and quarterback Connor Shaw threw for four touchdowns despite not having to throw for much yardage (147). The Gamecocks' defense also came to play and held Mississippi State to 10 points when it mattered.

Tre Mason got it done, again: A couple of weeks ago, in Auburn's upset win at Texas A&M, Mason had his best game of the season, rushing for 178 yards. On Saturday, the junior was again big-time to help the Tigers hold off Arkansas 35-17. Mason finished with 168 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries. In the four games he has reached at least 100 rushing yards this season, three have been in SEC play and two have come against ranked opponents (he rushed for 132 against LSU). He's a workhorse who's coming through in the clutch for the Tigers.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail PartyKevin Liles/USA TODAY SportsTailgaters fill the parking lots in Jacksonville with a sea of red and black, orange and blue.

Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

1. All eyes on Jacksonville: Don't look now, but the battle formerly known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has some intrigue. Georgia has been decimated by injuries, but Mark Richt continues to send Aaron Murray out to play each Saturday, giving UGA a chance to win. Murray has hung in despite the fact players are dropping like flies around him. If he gets a third consecutive win over rival Florida, it might make it all worthwhile. Florida has dealt with its own set of injuries, but more problematic is the Gators' offensive ineptitude. Quarterback Tyler Murphy will have to find a way to score some points on Saturday. But for two teams with so many problems, whichever gets out of Jacksonville with a win is still in the SEC East race. Missouri's loss last weekend breathed new life into both squads.

2. Can South Carolina keep it up? It would be classic South Carolina to come out on Saturday against unranked Mississippi State and play down to the competition. It's happened so much lately that we've come to expect it. After winning a thriller on the road last weekend against Missouri, the Gamecocks are on upset alert. Without Connor Shaw's fourth-quarter return, South Carolina loses to Missouri by two touchdowns. If he can't start against Mississippi State, will Steve Spurrier's offense sputter again? You have to like Shaw's leadership, and after all he's done you have to believe he'll play on Saturday and play well.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMissouri redshirt freshman Maty Mauk is likely to make his third career start against Tennessee true freshman Josh Dobbs, who will make his first start.
3. Missouri rebound: That was a hard pill to swallow. Missouri was undefeated and ranked in the top five of the BCS Standings at this time last week. Then South Carolina hit the Tigers with a brutal rope-a-dope, pulling Shaw off the bench, down 17 points, for the fourth-quarter comeback. It took two overtimes and a missed field goal for Missouri's perfect season to come to an end. But Gary Pinkel's squad is by no means out of the SEC East race. A win against Tennessee would keep the Tigers in the driver's seat. But watch out for the Vols, who beat South Carolina earlier in the month.

4. Josh Dobbs: Speaking of Tennessee, keep an eye on the true freshman quarterback. Butch Jones burned his redshirt this past weekend, bringing him off the bench in the second half against Alabama. The athletic Dobbs provided a spark to a Vols offense that couldn't move the football to save its life. His ability to get outside the pocket and buy time helped the receivers, and his speed and elusiveness allowed him to pick up yards with his feet. It's too early to say he's won the starting job, but watch closely because a good game against Missouri could propel him to such status. We could very well be looking at Tennessee's future under center.

5. The SEC East race: The field in the SEC East will narrow this weekend. The loser of the Georgia-Florida game is likely out of it, and neither Missouri nor South Carolina have sure-thing wins on their plates. It may appear that no one wants to win the division and be forced to play Alabama in the conference championship, but someone's got to do it.

6. Manziel health watch: The Johnny Manziel watch never ends. But no, I'm not talking about monitoring his off-the-field behavior this time. No, there's still some concern over whether the defending Heisman Trophy winner is healthy. He injured his throwing arm late against Auburn and played well this past weekend against Vanderbilt. But with Texas A&M facing an overmatched UTEP team Saturday, should he play?

7. Bielema versus Malzahn: Boy, did we see a rivalry form at SEC media days when a pair of first-year coaches in the SEC, Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Auburn's Gus Malzahn, traded barbs about the safety of the no-huddle offense. Malzahn said he thought it was a joke. Bielema said he wasn't a comedian. It was awesome. Their rivalry was born that day, and this week it sprouted leaves as Bielema accused Auburn of altering the game film it sent to Arkansas in preparation for this week's game between the two programs. The issue even prompted a response from Auburn to the SEC. Man, the Malzahn-Bielema postgame handshake is going to be fun.

8. Jeremy Johnson: Every time Nick Marshall goes down at quarterback for Auburn, Johnson steps right in and doesn't miss a beat. Both times the freshman has played significant reps, he's won SEC Freshman of the Week honors, first against Western Carolina and then last weekend against Florida Atlantic. With Marshall officially "day to day," according to Malzahn, expect the focus to shift to Johnson again.

9. The trainer's table: Playing an SEC schedule will catch up with you. We're starting to see injuries pile up around the league recently as the fatigue of playing physical games week in and week out builds. Tennessee is turning to a true freshman quarterback in place of Justin Worley (injured thumb). Missouri senior quarterback James Franklin is questionable, leaving backup Maty Mauk in a weird state of limbo. South Carolina, meanwhile, is hoping Shaw can continue to play the part of Superman and keep coming back from injury. Oh, and let's not forget Jeff Driskel's prolonged absence at Florida. If another SEC quarterback goes down, we'll have to start calling it an epidemic.

10. Who isn't playing: Give Alabama and LSU credit because they know how to make a schedule. The rivalry game between the two schools isn't until Nov. 9, so they're taking the week off. But unfortunately for the rest of the SEC, those teams' bye weeks leave the league to play without two of its best. Where's the fun in that? We're even deprived of seeing Hugh Freeze and his up-tempo offense at Ole Miss. The SEC East is busy this weekend, but the West is noticeably boring.

SEC predictions: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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After an embarrassingly poor outing two weeks ago (we both were reprimanded and forced to watch two whole quarters of Big Ten football), Edward Aschoff and I bounced back last week with perfect records.

It wasn’t an overly difficult week, but we did both correctly pick South Carolina to win at Missouri.

Thank goodness for Connor Shaw.

And before Mizzou fans start screaming “no respect,” I want to point out that I nailed the Tigers’ win over Florida two weeks ago. A certain colleague of mine did not.

As is usually the case, the month of November will decide this thing. I’m not consumed with wins and losses. Nor am I concerned with what’s coming up two or three weeks from now.

Rather, I’m just grinding away and trying to get better each week and focus on the process.

Sound familiar?

So after posting 7-0 marks last week, Edward and I are still deadlocked. We’re 67-11 (.859) on the season and relatively healthy as we hit the home stretch, although Edward is always complaining about some nagging injury he has sustained in his softball league.

That or staying out too late with his homeboy, Oscar, in the ATL. Come to think of it, Edward has been a little off on his picks ever since he quit wearing those GQ glasses in his videos.

Anyway, let’s get to our picks in Week 10:

ALABAMA STATE at KENTUCKY

Chris Low: After five straight losses, Kentucky needs a win in the worst way. The Wildcats would need to win their last five games to qualify for a bowl game. That’s not going to happen, but they will get back into the win column Saturday with an easy win. … Kentucky 40, Alabama State 14

Edward Aschoff: The wins haven't come lately for the Wildcats, but we've seen small improvements here and there during their five-game losing streak. Kentucky is hobbled at quarterback, but should put it all together against the Hornets. … Kentucky 41, Alabama State 10


UTEP at TEXAS A&M

Low: Former Texas A&M quarterback Jameill Showers injured his shoulder and won’t get a shot at his old team. The reality is that the Miners didn’t have much of a shot anyway. Even with a bum shoulder of his own, Johnny Football is still lighting up defenses and will do so again this weekend. … Texas A&M 52, UTEP 14

Aschoff: We thought we'd get a homecoming for UTEP quarterback Jameill Showers, but a shoulder injury has him sidelined. With Showers out, don't expect much drama at all in this one. … Texas A&M 56, UTEP 17

MISSISSIPPI STATE at SOUTH CAROLINA

Low: The Gamecocks have new life in the East race after winning in double overtime at Missouri last week. They won’t need any extra periods this week against a Mississippi State team that has its work cut out if the Bulldogs are going to make a fourth straight bowl appearance. … South Carolina 37, Mississippi State 21

Aschoff: This is the perfect time for a letdown from the Gamecocks. We've seen it before from this team after a big win, and it doesn't help that quarterback Connor Shaw is still ill. The Bulldogs will be battling for a bowl game this season, but South Carolina pulls this one out behind running back Mike Davis. … South Carolina 31, Mississippi State 20


AUBURN at ARKANSAS

Low: This game was spiced up during the offseason when Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn sparred publicly over whether players were at a higher risk for injury when hurry-up offenses tried to speed up the game and run more plays. The Hogs are coming off a bye and need to stop the bleeding after losing five in a row, but won’t be able to slow down the Tigers. … Auburn 37, Arkansas 24

Aschoff: The relationship between Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn is chippy at best. This summer, Bielema made sure people knew about his disdain for the hurry-up offense. Saturday, Malzahn will show everyone why Bielema dislikes it so much. … Auburn 48, Arkansas 24

TENNESSEE at MISSOURI

Low: Somewhere along the way, Andrew Baggett is going to get another chance to win it for Missouri with a late field goal. This won’t be the game, though, as the Tigers will take out their frustration from a week ago on a Tennessee team that will be starting a true freshman quarterback. … Missouri 38, Tennessee 20

Aschoff: The Tigers are coming off a heartbreaking loss in which they surrendered a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead to South Carolina, while the Vols have a new starting quarterback in Joshua Dobbs. Mizzou still has the SEC Eastern Division to think about, and its talent will overwhelm the Vols. … Missouri 34, Tennessee 17

FLORIDA vs. GEORGIA

Low: It’s the battle of the walking wounded. Both of these teams have been decimated by injuries this season. Georgia gets back star running back Todd Gurley this week, though, and that will help. But Florida’s defense, which had its pride bruised two weeks ago at Missouri, will rise to the occasion and give Will Muschamp his first win over his alma mater as the Gators’ coach. … Florida 24, Georgia 23

Aschoff: Both of these teams are banged up and will be without key players on both sides of the ball. The injuries piled up even more for Florida when left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) was ruled out on Wednesday. Florida hasn't lost three straight to the Dawgs since the late 1980s, but Georgia's offense will get a major boost from the return of running back Todd Gurley, who will help grind out the Dawgs' third-straight win in this series. … Georgia 24, Florida 20

SEC Power Rankings: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
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The SEC has just one unbeaten team remaining, making our top selection a very easy one for this week's Power Rankings:

1. Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC; last week: 1): People laugh at the comical schedule Alabama has had since that thrilling 49-42 win over Texas A&M, but the Crimson Tide can only play the teams assigned to them. And the Tide have been pretty good at it, outscoring the last six opponents 246-26. Alabama is doing exactly what it was asked and is still the No. 1 team in the country for a reason.

2. Auburn (7-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Tigers might have feasted on Florida Atlantic over the weekend, but this team is clearly getting better every week. Auburn, which is No. 11 in the BCS standings, ranks second in the SEC in total offense (511 yards per game), first in rushing (315.4) and fifth in scoring (37). The Tigers had a scare when quarterback Nick Marshall went down with a shoulder injury on Saturday, but it appears he'll be fine for this weekend's game against Arkansas.

3. Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC; LW: 4): Well, look at that. Texas A&M found some defense against Vanderbilt over the weekend. After giving up a league-high 494 yards and 33 points per game, the Aggies held Vandy to just 329 yards and 24 points. The Commodores averaged just 4.3 yards per play (a season-low against the Aggies) and rushed for 95 yards. Oh, and Johnny Manziel threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns.

4. South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 SEC; LW: 6): And just like that, the SEC Eastern Division is again all shook up, thanks to the Gamecocks' 27-24 overtime win at Missouri. South Carolina overcame a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter with help from quarterback Connor Shaw, who was battling an illness and a sprained knee. I dare you to find a tougher player in the country. The Gamecocks now turn their attention to a Mississippi State team thirsty for an upset.

5. Missouri (7-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Tigers will be thinking about Saturday's letdown for a while. For three quarters, Mizzou was in control, but Shaw ruined the Tigers' shot at an unbeaten season. Still, the Tigers have plenty to play for. Win out, and they are headed to Atlanta for the SEC championship game. Win that, and the Tigers are headed to a BCS bowl game. It's all about regaining focus and getting ready for a scrappy Tennessee team.

6. LSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC; LW: 5): These Tigers tried to make things interesting during the first half against Furman. But that sloppy, 20-16 halftime lead was a mere afterthought after LSU reeled off 28 consecutive points in the second half. The focus of this team wasn't there to start the game, but when the Tigers regrouped, they looked awfully scary. Jeremy Hill had his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season and is second in the SEC with 922 rushing yards and has a league-high 12 touchdowns.

7. Georgia (4-3, 3-2 SEC; LW: 7): The Bulldogs were off this week and tried to get healthier heading into this weekend's showdown with Florida. The Dawgs might have a handful of battered players, but it sounds like Todd Gurley should be back this weekend, which would certainly give the offense a boost. Georgia can still win the SEC East, but needs help from Missouri's opponents.

8. Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3 SEC; LW: 8): A week after that thrilling win over LSU, the Rebels didn't miss a beat against a very overmatched Idaho team. You might have seen a Vandals defender show up Ole Miss by doing the Rebels' patented "Land Shark" celebration, but it did little to motivate Idaho, as Ole Miss thrashed the Vandals 59-14. The Rebels rolled up 572 yards of offense and head into their bye week with all sorts of momentum.

9. Florida (4-3, 3-2 SEC; LW: 9): The Gators had the week off, which created an Oreo dilemma for offensive lineman Jon Halapio. The other dilemmas for this team include a last-place offense (336.9 yards per game) and a laundry list of injuries. Still, the Gators have a game to play in Jacksonville, Fla., against Georgia. They've dropped two in a row to the Dawgs and their slim SEC East chances would basically disappear with a loss Saturday. There's still a lot on the line for Florida.

10. Tennessee (4-4, 1-3 SEC; LW: 10): A week after that upset win over South Carolina, the Vols fell flat against top-ranked Alabama. Now, the Vols again have quarterback issues, as Justin Worley is nursing a bruised throwing hand. Freshman Joshua Dobbs had his redshirt burned against the Tide and could take the snaps as long as Worley is out. The Vols lost their momentum on Saturday; maybe Dobbs can help bring some back.

11. Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4 SEC; LW: 11): The Commodores are a great example of how much can change in only a few days. After that upset win over Georgia, Vandy was run out of College Station, Texas. That 56-24 loss to the Aggies came with Patton Robinette replacing Austyn Carta-Samuels at quarterback. The offense lacked explosion in the second half and the running game averaged just 2.2 yards per carry against a defense that was allowing 6 yards per carry heading into Saturday.

12. Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2 SEC; LW: 12): Consistency is still an issue for the Bulldogs. After taking a 21-7 lead against Kentucky in the second quarter Thursday, Mississippi State's offense fell silent as the Wildcats scored 15 of the next 22 points. The Bulldogs pulled off the 28-22 win, but in the last three games they've been outscored 50-10 in the second half. While two of those games resulted in wins, that sort of play won't cut it with the gauntlet that November brings.

13. Arkansas (3-5, 0-4 SEC; LW: 13): The Razorbacks were on a much-needed bye this past week. After losing five in a row, the longest losing streak of coach Bret Bielema's career, the Hogs needed some time to rest and regroup before taking on a red-hot Auburn team. Arkansas' main area of concern right now is the passing game, where the Hogs are last in the SEC, averaging just 146.6 yards per game.

14. Kentucky (1-6, 0-4 SEC; LW: 14): Give the Wildcats credit: They didn't quit after going down by 14 early to Mississippi State. But this team just doesn't have the horses to keep up right now. The development hasn't been there on offense and the defense is giving up 438.7 yards per game. The defensive performances have to be the most troubling for Mark Stoops. Outside of the 42-7 win over Miami (Ohio), this defense has given up 400-plus yards in every game.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
3:30
PM CT
Just when we thought we knew something about the SEC, we get a game like the one between South Carolina and Missouri on Saturday night. Here's all that we learned (for now) from the weekend that was:

Missouri wasn't ready: There's a fine line between good and great, and you don't know what exactly that is until you've crossed it. For a moment, we thought Missouri had taken the next step as one of the few remaining undefeated teams in college football. Beating Georgia and Florida was huge for Gary Pinkel's Tigers, but no matter how hard Missouri battled South Carolina on Saturday night, it still lost. At home. After leading 17-0 heading into the fourth quarter. That's hard to stomach when you're ranked in the top five nationally. Granted, not all is lost for Missouri. The SEC East is still a wide-open race. But with one loss and games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M ahead, the Tigers' road to a division title is much shakier than it was coming into the weekend.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw, Cody Gibson, Jordan Diaz
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonConnor Shaw (14) was able to celebrate as he came in off the bench to lead South Carolina's upset of No. 5 Missouri.
Connor Shaw has 'it': What is it that Shaw has? How do you define what separates South Carolina's veteran quarterback from others at the position? Well, after weeks and weeks of trying, I'm done. Whatever "it" is, he has it. He's the definition of a competitor. What he did coming off the bench in the fourth quarter to lead South Carolina's comeback against Missouri was the stuff of legend. The guy was sick and throwing up Friday night. All he did was come on in relief, while down three scores, and lead his team to a victory in hostile territory. Forget his stats. Forget his measurables. Forget how he projects in the NFL. Shaw might be hard to define, but you can recognize a great SEC quarterback when you see one.

Johnny's OK: Man, for a second there, Johnny Manziel had us worried. He landed awkwardly on his arm against Auburn and winced in pain on the sidelines. He continued to play that game, sure, but it remained to be seen how he'd do a week later. Well, it appears that Johnny is still Johnny. Texas A&M beat Vanderbilt 56-24 as its defending Heisman Trophy winner torched the Commodores to the tune of 305 yards and four passing touchdowns. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said, "People thought I was being coy" when he told anyone who'd ask that Manziel's status was questionable. Manziel, meanwhile, never had a doubt, telling reporters, "In my mind I was always going to play."

Jordan Matthews: If it took you this long to realize just how good of a receiver Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews is, your dedication to the SEC might be a little shaky. Either way, Matthews solidified his reputation as one of the best to ever play in the conference on Saturday as he became the SEC's all-time leader in career yards receiving with 3,172, passing former Georgia great Terrence Edwards. The Commodores are not having the season coach James Franklin or anyone else would have hoped, but you can't ignore the stellar play of Matthews. He and Texas A&M's Mike Evans are the top two wideouts in the league and right there in the conversation nationally.

Alabama. LSU. Again: Set your countdown clocks. It's happening again. Alabama and LSU are on a collision course to compete in a game that will help determine the SEC West race on Nov. 9. Both teams will have bye weeks to prepare, which means we'll have two weeks to dissect every position battle and scouting report. Oh joy! Top-ranked Alabama absolutely manhandled Tennessee at home on Saturday, beating the Vols 45-10. The only thing in question at Bryant-Denny Stadium was how long the fans would stay to watch. And LSU, despite being upset last weekend by Ole Miss, returned home and took care of business, demolishing Furman 48-16. The troubling news for LSU fans, though, is that Zach Mettenberger seems to have developed a turnover problem. Two interceptions against Furman brought his total to six in the last four games. He threw one pick in his first four contests.

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