Dallas Colleges: Gus Malzahn
The coaches who want to go fast frown at the thought of a restrictor plate being placed on their offenses, while a few defensive-minded coaches, namely Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, are concerned that player safety is compromised by increasing the number of plays in a game.
“This is the only game in history of any sport where the college game is longer than the pro game,” Saban said.
Compared to the rest of the country, the SEC wasn’t a league last season that necessarily lived in the fast lane, at least as a whole.
Ole Miss averaged the most offensive plays per game (79.8), but only ranked 21st nationally. Texas Tech was first nationally with an average of 90.3 plays per game.
Not surprisingly, Alabama and Arkansas were at the bottom of the SEC. The Crimson Tide averaged 65.9 plays and the Hogs 64.7 plays.
Auburn, which is renowned for its hurry-up, no-huddle attack under Gus Malzahn, was tied for fifth in the SEC along with Texas A&M with an average of 73.8 plays per game.
In 2012, before to Malzahn’s arrival as head coach, Auburn averaged just 60.5 plays per game, which ranked last among 124 FBS teams.
The Aggies went the other way in Kevin Sumlin’s second season in College Station. They averaged 83.5 plays per game in 2012 and dipped to 73.8 last season, a difference of nearly 10 plays per game.
Here’s a rundown of the entire SEC in the last two seasons in terms of offensive snaps per game:
1. Ole Miss: 79.8
2. Missouri: 75.5
3. Georgia: 74.6
4. Mississippi State: 74.2
5. Auburn: 73.8
6. Texas A&M: 73.8
7. South Carolina: 72.5
8. Vanderbilt: 70.8
9. Florida: 68.9
10. LSU: 67.7
11. Tennessee: 67.7
12. Kentucky: 66.8
13. Alabama: 65.9
14. Arkansas: 64.7
1. Texas A&M: 83.5
2. Ole Miss: 76.2
3. Missouri: 75.7
4. Tennessee: 75.1
5. LSU: 70.8
6. Arkansas: 70.5
7. Vanderbilt: 69.2
8. South Carolina: 69
9. Georgia: 67.8
10. Florida: 67.2
11. Kentucky: 67
12. Mississippi State: 66.8
13. Alabama: 66.3
14. Auburn: 60.5
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1. Auburn (12-1, 7-1 SEC; last week: 1): When you beat the No. 1 team in the country, then thump the No. 5 team 59-42 to win the SEC championship and get a spot in the Vizio BCS National Championship, your résumé really speaks for itself. Auburn is the hottest team in the country. Behind RB Tre Mason, a Heisman Trophy candidate, the Tigers have the nation's best running game (335.7 yards per game) and a wave of momentum to ride out to Pasadena, Calif., to take on No. 1 Florida State.
2. Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 3): While the Crimson Tide won't be playing for a third straight national championship, they are still one of the best teams in the country. The Allstate Sugar Bowl waits for the Tide, but if the playoffs started this season, Alabama would be right back in the title hunt and might be the favorite to win it all.
3. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2; LW: 4): The Gamecocks ended the season by winning five in a row. They were in the BCS hunt until Alabama lost, but their Capital One Bowl matchup with Wisconsin should be a fun one. Here's hoping that the long layoff helps DE Jadeveon Clowney heal for what will likely be his final game in a South Carolina uniform.
4. Missouri (11-2, 7-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Tigers went to Atlanta with the nation's 14th-best rushing defense (second in the SEC) and left giving up an SEC title game-record 545 rushing yards. Missouri's defense looked far from sturdy against Auburn, but Mizzou still had a very successful season. A year ago, the team was sulking after a five-win season. Now, Missouri has 11 wins and is playing in the AT&T Cotton Bowl after possibly being a win away from the BCS title game.
5. LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC; LW: 5): It was an up-and-down season in Baton Rouge, but the Tigers pulled off two big, late-season wins, including a blowout against QB Johnny Manziel and his Texas A&M Aggies. In the Outback Bowl, LSU will be without QB Zach Mettenberger, who threw for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns this year. But the future looks bright for freshman Anthony Jennings, who orchestrated a game-winning 99-yard touchdown drive to beat Arkansas.
6. Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 6): This wasn't the ending Manziel wanted. While he hasn't officially declared early for the NFL draft, it's a foregone conclusion that his days in College Station are numbered. After another successful statistical season, Manziel is headed back to New York for the Heisman ceremony, but two straight poor performances in losses to end the regular season could keep him from winning the award for a second straight year.
7. Vanderbilt (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 7): If any team wants to complain about its bowl game, it's the Commodores. After finishing the season on a four-game winning streak and beating Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same year, Vandy is headed to the BBVA Compass Bowl. It was another great season for coach James Franklin and his team, and you better believe this team will be motivated against Houston.
8. Georgia (8-4, 5-3, SEC; LW: 8): The Bulldogs had wins over South Carolina and LSU, but losing QB Aaron Murray to an ACL injury and dropping games to Mizzou and Vandy in consecutive weeks really put a damper on the season. The defense still has a lot of kinks to work out going forward, but surrendered 400-plus yards only twice in November after allowing 400 or more in four of the first five games of the season. And back-to-back bowl games against Nebraska is head-scratching to say the least.
9. Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC; LW: 9): A season that started on the rocks ended with two must-wins and a bowl berth. Dan Mullen's hot seat suddenly feels cooler, and the Bulldogs even got some love in the postseason by unexpectedly jumping into the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Rice. Mississippi State clawed its way back to the postseason and should have a lot of fire in Memphis.
10. Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5 SEC; LW: 10): The end of the season wasn't great for the Rebels, but this program has come a long way under Hugh Freeze. In his first two seasons, Ole Miss has made back-to-back bowl trips. Last season, the Rebels were a surprise team in Birmingham. This year, Ole Miss is headed to Nashville, where Rebels fans will flock. It'll be fun to watch that spread offense take on Georgia Tech's triple option.
11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LW: 11): Butch Jones wasn't able to pull a Gus Malzahn in his first season, but he brought some enthusiasm back to a program looking to rediscover its pride. There won't be a bowl game for the Vols, but this is the time for Jones and his staff to hit the recruiting road hard. Tennessee already has the nation's No. 2 recruiting class, but now it's all about keeping that class together and building for the future.
12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LW: 12): It's going to be a long offseason in Gainesville after the Gators missed out on a bowl game for the first time in 22 years and had their first losing season since 1979. Things will be uncomfortable and toxic between coach Will Muschamp and the fan base, but he can't let that seep into his program or have it affect his football team. With no bowl prep, Muschamp's first order of business is to keep his recruiting class intact -- especially the offensive weapons -- and get those prospects to Gainesville.
13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LW: 13): The Razorbacks finished the season with nine straight losses, which was a school record and a new record for coach Bret Bielema, who just completed his first-year at Arkansas (his first head-coaching stop was at Wisconsin). Arkansas had a solid running game, with freshman RB Alex Collins (1,026 yards and four touchdowns) carrying the load, but the passing game was the worst in the SEC (148.5 yards per game).
14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LW: 14): Mark Stoops' first season in Kentucky was forgettable in the win-loss column, but the hope in Lexington is that his impressive recruiting class brings some real life back to the program in Year 2. What had to really irk the defensive-minded Stoops was that his defense ranked 13th in the league, allowing 427.2 yards per game and an SEC-worst 31.2 points per game. The Wildcats just didn't have the endurance to keep up in SEC play and have now lost 16 straight against SEC competition.
1. Franklin’s return: It has been over a month since quarterback James Franklin last played a down for Missouri, but his return couldn't have come at a better time. The Tigers visit No. 24 Ole Miss on Saturday, and it's a must-win game if they want to stay atop the SEC East standings. Before the injury, Franklin had thrown for 1,577 yards with 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also rushed for 290 yards and three scores. Missouri fans hope he can return to form in time to keep the Tigers on track for Atlanta.
3. The battle of Tennessee: Who thought the day would come where Vanderbilt would be favored over Tennessee? But with a win, the Commodores have a chance to make it two in a row over their in-state rival for the first time since 1926. James Franklin's squad has won three of its past four and became bowl eligible last weekend with a win over Kentucky. Meanwhile, the Volunteers still have to win their last two games if they want reach the postseason.
4. How Georgia responds: There are devastating losses, and then there's Georgia's loss to Auburn last weekend. The Bulldogs had the game won until Nick Marshall connected with Ricardo Louis on a 73-yard prayer in the final minute. It's the type of loss that stays with you. But fortunately, the Dawgs have Aaron Murray at quarterback, and he's too much of a competitor to dwell on it. He'll be ready when Kentucky comes to town Saturday.
5. How LSU responds: It's not the same hangover that Georgia is experiencing, but LSU suffered its own hard-fought loss to No. 1 Alabama the last time out. It was a make-or-break game for the Tigers, and they came up short. Now, after an off week, they have to get up once again to play No. 12 Texas A&M. LSU has had a tendency to fall apart when the BCS is no longer an option, but Les Miles is hoping to buck that trend this season, beginning Saturday.
6. A Rebel upset: Ole Miss might be the best team in the SEC that nobody is talking about. The Rebels have won four in a row and are up to seven wins on the season. Their only losses came to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M -- three teams ranked in the top 12. They will have to keep quarterback Bo Wallace upright against a tenacious defensive line for Missouri, but they have a chance to knock off another top-10 team at home this weekend.
7. First-year coaches: Outside of Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, the first-year coaches in the SEC have not fared well. Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Kentucky'’s Mark Stoops have yet to win a conference game, while it's still a mystery how Butch Jones and his Tennessee team upset South Carolina. The trio has a combined record of 1-17 in the SEC. On Saturday, they hope to find better results.
8. Coaches on the hot seat: The seats are getting warmer each week for both Will Muschamp and Dan Mullen. Muschamp’s Florida team has had its fair share of injuries, but they're in a downward spiral. The Gators will get a short reprieve Saturday against Georgia Southern. It won't be as easy for Mullen and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs travel to Arkansas in what could be a must-win game for their coach. Both teams need to win out to make a bowl game.
9. More FCS opponents: There are plenty of intriguing matchups on the docket for Saturday, but there are also a couple of snoozers. Florida plays Georgia Southern, as mentioned above. Alabama welcomes Chattanooga, and South Carolina will host Coastal Carolina. The days of playing FCS opponents might be numbered, but the fans will have to endure them for at least one more week.
10. Are we there yet? It's still a week away from the Iron Bowl, but everybody is already talking about the matchup between Alabama and Auburn. The state of Alabama might not make it though Thanksgiving at this rate. Auburn is off this weekend, giving Malzahn and the Tigers two weeks to prepare. In Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide might as well have two weeks to prepare with a game against Chattanooga on Saturday.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Horror movies cover our TV screens, while candy wrappers litter our streets.
It's Nick Saban's birthday! ... Oh, and it's also Halloween.
Regardless of which one you celebrate, cut off the lights, wrap yourself in a blanket and try not to get scared as we look at the most bone-chilling people in the SEC:
Michael Myers: One of the most feared horror movie villains, Myers terrorized the citizens of Haddonfield, Ill., with his frighteningly slow stalk and superhuman strength. Meet Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who torments quarterbacks with more speed and the reputation of being one of the country's scariest players. He has registered a nation-leading 16 tackles for loss and is tied for first with 10 sacks. He has totaled three sacks in a game three times this year.
Freddy Krueger: This season, sleeping on Auburn has proved costly. The Tigers started the season unranked and under new management with Gus Malzahn, but are 7-1 and ranked No. 11 in the BCS standings. The biggest Krueger-esque attack occurred in College Station, when the Tigers upset then-No. 7 Texas A&M 45-41. Two weeks before, Auburn upset No. 24 Ole Miss at home. Could Auburn do the same against Alabama later this month?
The Great Pumpkin: Like Linus waiting in that pumpkin patch on Halloween for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, we've waited for Jadeveon Clowney to return to his old form. Each week, we've been disappointed as Clowney, who entered the season with 21 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in his career, has just two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Teams have schemed him differently and he has dealt with injuries, but he's just not the same player who had garnered so much attention. At least he has the awesome Predator look going!
The Walking Dead: If anyone looks like a stumbling herd of undead walkers, it's Florida and Georgia. These programs have been ravaged by injuries. Florida has dealt with eight season-ending injuries, including to starters Jeff Driskel and Dominique Easley. Nicks and dings have piled up for Florida, too, as just 13 healthy defensive players dressed for the Mizzou game two weeks ago. Georgia watched as running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley went down with season-ending ACL injuries. Nagging injuries have sprinkled around, and heading into Saturday's game with Florida, receiver Chris Conley (ankle) is doubtful and safety Tray Matthews (hamstring) is questionable.
House of horrors: Opponents might wander into South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium for a fun football game, but few leave with a win. The Gamecocks have an SEC-leading 14-game winning streak at home.
Trick: Under Kevin Sumlin, all of Texas A&M's losses (four) have come at home. This year, the Aggies fell to Alabama and Auburn at Kyle Field by a combined 11 points. Not exactly the most intimidating home-field advantage.
The Joker: Arkham Asylum's most heinous inmate and Batman's arch nemesis, the Joker has the ability to manipulate his foes and wreak utter chaos. Kind of like how Johnny Manziel plays. We thought he wouldn't be focused enough this season, so he has churned out 3,091 yards of offense and 28 touchdowns. Defenders think he's going one way, only for him to go the other. Manziel might have dressed up as Scooby Doo last year, but he's as evil as the Joker on the field.
Thriller: The best game of the year has to be Georgia's 44-41 win over LSU. We saw three lead changes, four ties, 943 yards of offense and 85 points. Aaron Murray's touchdown pass to Scott-Wesley with 1:47 remaining proved to be the difference after LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw four straight incomplete passes on LSU's final drive.
Scary: Texas A&M's defense has been the SEC's most terrifying defense to watch. The Aggies rank 111th nationally in total defense, allowing 473.8 yards per game. They're 13th in the SEC in scoring defense (32.6), last in rushing (210.1), 12th in passing (263.6) and are giving up 6.4 yards per play. A&M has allowed fewer than 400 yards just twice this year.
Best costume: Will Muschamp.
In some quarters, though, it’s starting to feel a little chilly.
Here’s our weekly look at who’s hot and who’s not in the SEC:
Bo Wallace on third down: Ole Miss’ junior quarterback was money on third down in the Rebels' 27-24 win over LSU. The Rebels were 11-of-18 on third down, and Wallace was responsible for nine of those conversions. He kept the winning drive alive with a 6-yard scramble on third-and-6 and came back a few plays later and connected with Ja-Mes Logan for 13 yards on third-and-9. Wallace was 7-for-8 for 140 yards on third down.
Quarterbacks’ health: At least nine of the 14 teams in the SEC this season have had injuries at the quarterback position, some more serious than others. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel (shoulder), South Carolina’s Connor Shaw (knee) and Vanderbilt’s Austyn Carta-Samuels (left leg) were all injured last weekend. Manziel was able to return to the game but had to play through obvious pain. Shaw won’t need surgery but is iffy for South Carolina’s game at Missouri this Saturday, and Carta-Samuels could be lost for the season.
Marquez North's catch: In each of his last two games, the Tennessee freshman receiver has made fabulous catches. He had a toe-tapping 19-yard touchdown catch against Georgia on Oct. 5 and followed that up with the play of the game (and maybe the catch of the year) in Tennessee’s 23-21 win over South Carolina. On third-and-10, North pulled in a 39-yard heave from Justin Worley with his left hand as he was falling backward to keep the Vols’ game-winning drive alive.
Bret Bielema’s SEC welcome: Arkansas was hammered 52-0 at No. 1 Alabama last weekend, extending the Hogs’ losing streak to five straight games. In their last three games, they’ve been outscored 134-17. It’s the first time in Bielema’s head coaching career that he’s lost five in a row. Not that Bielema needed to be reminded, but he ain’t in the Big Ten anymore.
Missouri defensive end Michael Sam: Anybody pick Sam back in the preseason to be the SEC’s leader in sacks at this point? The Tigers’ fifth-year senior defensive end is playing lights out. He had three more sacks Saturday in the win over Florida and leads the league with nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He also had a fumble return for a touchdown two weeks ago in the win at Georgia.
South Carolina in the fourth quarter: The fourth quarter hasn’t been kind to the Gamecocks this season, and their late woes caught up to them in their 23-21 loss at Tennessee. They managed just 12 total yards in the fourth quarter against the Vols and seemed to forget that Mike Davis, the SEC’s leading rusher, was on the field.
Texas A&M’s defense: Watching the Aggies play offense is about as entertaining as it gets. But boy, you have to feel for the Aggies’ fans when that defense trots out onto the field. They’re not just bad on defense, they’re woefully bad. And holding anybody under 30 points right now is a pipe dream. Most of the problem is up front and at the linebacker positions. The Aggies are 112th nationally (out of 123 teams) in rushing defense. They're giving up 226.6 yards per game on the ground and, even worse, 5.87 yards per carry. Only five teams in the country are giving up more yards per rush -- Eastern Michigan, UTEP, New Mexico, New Mexico State and Nevada. That's not the company you want to be keeping when it comes to stopping (or not stopping) people on the ground in the SEC. The Aggies are also 104th nationally in scoring defense and are giving up 33.9 points per game. They've allowed more than 30 points in five of their seven games, and one of those came against an Arkansas team that has scored a combined 17 points in its last three contests against Alabama, South Carolina and Florida.
1. Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC; last week: 1): Say what you will about the lack of competition Alabama has faced since the Ole Miss game, but the Crimson Tide are doing exactly what they need to develop and build momentum. For the second straight year, the Tide blanked an overmatched Arkansas team 52-0 and appear to be the SEC's biggest hope for bringing the conference its eighth straight national championship.
2. Missouri (7-0, 3-0 SEC; LW: 4): So this is what Missouri's offense is supposed to look like when guys are healthy. Well, even with James Franklin out and Maty Mauk running things, the offense is pretty deadly. The Tigers are the surprise of the conference and crushed Florida 36-17 over the weekend with 500 yards of offense and a smothering defense that allowed just 151 yards. A win over South Carolina this weekend would essentially clinch the SEC Eastern Division for the Tigers.
3. Auburn (6-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 8): It's clear that Gus Malzahn was the right choice for this team. The Tigers marched into Kyle Field on Saturday and shocked the nation with a thrilling 45-41 win over Texas A&M. The offense churned out more than 600 yards, including 379 rushing yards. The Tigers might be a bad first half against LSU away from being undefeated. Auburn is now averaging a league-high 300.1 rushing yards per game, which is 65.7 more than Missouri's No. 2 rushing offense.
4. Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2 SEC; LW: 2): Not even the great Johnny Manziel could rescue the Aggies against Auburn. Despite playing with a bad shoulder and throwing for 454 yards and four touchdowns, Manziel wasn't enough. Why wasn't he enough? Well, look at the Aggies' pitiful defensive performance. They surrendered 615 yards of offense, allowed Auburn to convert 7 of 14 third downs and gave up 7.2 yards per play. I've never seen a team so great offensively yet so bad defensively.
5. LSU (6-2, 3-2 SEC; LW: 3): Just when we thought LSU was really figuring things out, the defense gets gashed in Oxford, Zach Mettenberger reverts back to his bad habits throwing the ball and the Tigers get outplayed in a rivalry game. LSU fell to Ole Miss 27-24 on Saturday and looked as though it didn't want it as much as the Rebels. Mettenberger was flustered all night, throwing three interceptions and registering a QBR of 33.2
6. South Carolina (5-2, 3-2 SEC; LW: 6): The Gamecocks looked like a team ready to make a charge through the SEC, but that sight was short-lived after Saturday's 23-21 loss to Tennessee on a last-second field goal. It was a bad loss that might knock the Gamecocks out of contention for the East title, and quarterback Connor Shaw left the game with a knee sprain. South Carolina's only hope for the East crown is to win at Missouri this weekend.
7. Georgia (4-3, 3-2 SEC; LW: 5): As the injuries continue to pile up in Athens, so do the losses. Georgia surrendered a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, allowing Vanderbilt to score 17 straight in the Commodores' 31-27 upset. Now, top receiver Chris Conley and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons could be out against Florida in two weeks with injuries. This was Georgia's worst offensive showing of the year, registering just 221 yards of total offense and turning it over three times.
8. Ole Miss (4-3, 2-3 SEC; LW: 9): Right when it looked like the honeymoon with Hugh Freeze was starting to lose its luster, the Rebels shocked LSU with a 27-24 win after losing three straight in conference play. The mistakes that had plagued this team during its three-game losing streak vanished as Ole Miss outplayed the Tigers at home.
9. Florida (4-3, 3-2 SEC; LW: 7): A week ago, coach Will Muschamp said his defense shouldn't worry about the offense. On Saturday, the defense gave up 500 yards and 36 points but got absolutely no help from an inept offense that has generated just 391 yards, 16 points and one touchdown in the past two games combined. The defense was gashed, but fatigue had to set in with a sputtering offense barely staying on the field. It'll be a long two weeks in Gainesville before next week's game against Georgia.
10. Tennessee (4-3, 1-2 SEC; LW: 11): Something tells me those guys in the Knoxville are really digging what new coach Butch Jones has to say. After some shaky play and some over-coaching early, the Vols put together back-to-back solid games against SEC East heavyweights and really shook things up with their 23-21 shocker over South Carolina. Keep an eye on freshman wide receiver Marquez North. The kid has some talent.
11. Vanderbilt (4-3, 1-3 SEC; LW: 10): If Vanderbilt was truly going to take the next step under coach James Franklin, the Commodores had to beat one of the big guys in the SEC East. Well, that finally happened after the Dores upset Georgia 31-27 in Nashville on Saturday. With backup quarterback Patton Robinette in, Vanderbilt erased a 27-14 deficit in the fourth quarter to end the game on a 17-0 run.
12. Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 12): After a close call against a scrappy Bowling Green team, the Bulldogs were off over the weekend. They'll face a hurting Kentucky team Thursday, which is an important game in the realm of bowl talk for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs haven't been very flashy this season, but the defense hasn't been half bad, ranking fourth in the SEC in total defense (364.5 yards allowed per game) and allowing just 23 points per game.
13. Arkansas (3-5, 0-4 SEC; LW: 13): It has been a nightmare of a start to the Bret Bielema era in Fayetteville. It seems like ages ago that the Hogs were sitting at 3-0. Now, after Alabama destroyed this team in every area of the game over the weekend, Arkansas has lost five straight. The past three losses (all in conference play) have been by a combined 117 points.
14. Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats were off this past weekend after getting thumped 48-7 by Alabama the previous week. Coach Mark Stoops said after the game that neither he nor his players would give up after a rough first half. Kentucky enters Thursday's matchup with Mississippi State ranked 13th in the SEC in total offense and defense.
Nobody's safe: Five SEC teams in the Top 25 lost Saturday, and only one (Florida) was an underdog coming in. Georgia and South Carolina still were considered among the favorites to win the East, but both teams tripped up on the road to unranked opponents. Vanderbilt scored a touchdown in the final minutes to knock off the Bulldogs, and Tennessee kicked a field goal as time expired to spoil Steve Spurrier's latest trip to Knoxville. No. 7 Texas A&M was a heavy favorite at home against Auburn, but the Aggies' defense let them down again. Auburn rushed for 379 yards and scored late to pull off a 45-41 upset. In the nightcap, a short-handed Ole Miss team jumped out to a 17-0 lead and held off No. 6 LSU at home.
Auburn is for real: You can make excuses, particularly this one: If Johnny Manziel hadn't hurt his shoulder late in the game, Texas A&M would've won. But the fact of the matter is Auburn went to Kyle Field, put up 45 points, gained 615 yards and beat a top-10 team. Quarterback Nick Marshall looked very impressive after missing last week's game. He threw for 236 yards, rushed for 100 yards and scored four touchdowns. Even the defense, much maligned throughout the game, made the stop when it mattered -- with Manziel in the game. It comes back to first-year head coach Gus Malzahn. He has changed the culture around the Auburn program, and the Tigers are now 6-1 and the biggest threat to Alabama in the West.
Signature win for Butch: Tennessee came oh so close to pulling the upset against Georgia two weeks ago. It would've been the win to take the Volunteers to the next level, and show recruits that what coach Butch Jones is doing is real. But they came up short. Instead of dwelling on the loss, Tennessee bounced back after a week off and beat a Top 25 team at home. It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win. And how about that catch from Marquez North late in the game to put the Vols in range for the game-winning field goal? That was a grown-man catch. Tennessee isn't likely to go into Tuscaloosa and upset the No. 1 team in the nation, but it's obvious that Jones is turning around the program. The Vols took another step with Saturday's win over South Carolina.
Freshman impact: North's catch was spectacular, but he wasn't the only true freshman who had a big game on Saturday. Georgia's Shaq Wiggins returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown. Florida running back Kelvin Taylor scored the Gators' only offensive touchdown on a 20-yard run in the third quarter. And for Alabama, tight end O.J. Howard caught his first touchdown pass from 17 yards out, and running back Derrick Henry showed why he was such a heralded recruit with an 80-yard touchdown run late in the game. It just goes to show how important recruiting has become in the SEC, and it doesn't matter if it's the worst team in the conference or the best team -- freshmen will still play a role.
On Saturday, Malzahn will face the reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel when his Auburn team visits Texas A&M.
“I would say probably those two are probably two of the best that ever played the game in college football,” Malzahn said. “We only got to see Cam Newton for one year, but this guy, he’s in the same element. They’re different, but they’re still some of the best to every play.”
Newton, who originally began his college career at Florida, played just one year at Auburn and led the Tigers to the 2010 national championship. He threw for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns, rushed for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdown, and he even caught a touchdown.
Last year, Manziel did his best Newton impression with 26 touchdowns through the air and 21 on the ground. He already has 19 combined scores this season.
“Johnny is a great football player, and he’s playing at a level that people don’t even really see, as well as Clemson’s Tahj Boyd,” Newton said. “There are a lot of players across the nation that are playing great football at the quarterback position.”
Still, Newton thinks Auburn will the game Saturday.
(Read full story)
The East looks more like a medical ward these days. However, no one will feel sorry for these teams as they attempt to limp into Atlanta for the SEC championship game in December.
Here's to a photo finish in the SEC East!
As for the West, three teams are still vying for that spot in Atlanta. Alabama remains the nation's top team, but LSU and Texas A&M are creeping up. The Crimson Tide control their own destiny, and their showdown with LSU on Nov. 9 will serve as one last major hurdle before they travel to Auburn for the regular-season finale.
LSU plays host to A&M in a game that could decide the West if the Tigers upset Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
We'll also be on bowl watch. It might be safe to say that the eight SEC teams currently sitting inside the AP poll will make bowls, but there are still teams teetering on the edge.
Vanderbilt has made back-to-back bowl games, but with an 0-3 SEC start the Commodores are in danger of missing out on the postseason for the first time under James Franklin.
Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Tennessee all have three wins right now, but challenging second halves could spoil postseason trips for all four.
Bold prediction: South Carolina will win the SEC East. That means the Gamecocks will need Georgia to lose at least one more conference game, while they win out. It can, and will, happen. Missouri and Florida pose threats, but South Carolina gets Florida at home and Mizzou is down its starting quarterback.
Looking forward to: The East race is going to be great, but what about the Heisman race? Quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray and even Zach Mettenberger could find themselves deep in the running as the season goes on. McCarron is the only one with less than 1,800 passing yards (1,407), but he's also on the No. 1 team in the country.
Top five games:
1. LSU at Alabama, Nov. 9: This continues to be college football's best rivalry. Two sledgehammers will meet in a game that could decide who represents the West in the SEC championship and could basically serve as a quarterfinal for the national championship. Les Miles versus Nick Saban? Yes, please!
2. Texas A&M at LSU, Nov. 23: If the Tigers do beat Alabama earlier in the month and the Aggies continue their winning ways, then consider this the new semifinal for the SEC championship game. Two great offenses could light up the scoreboard inside Tiger Stadium.
3. Florida vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville, Fla.), Nov. 2: Even with all the craziness in the SEC East, this game could still decide the East champion. No matter how either team is playing, this game is always exciting, and something crazy always seems to happen.
4. Florida at South Carolina, Nov. 16: Another game that could decide the East. South Carolina is probably still steaming after its turnover-filled slopfest inside the Swamp last year. Now the Gamecocks get a wounded Florida team at home.
5. Alabama at Auburn, Nov. 30: This game could be very interesting on the Plains. Auburn is a team on the rise, while Alabama hasn't been perfect. The Tide's defense is getting better, but expect an amazing atmosphere and a few tricks up Gus Malzahn's sleeves.
1. Alabama (4-0, 2-0 SEC; last week: 1): The Crimson Tide defense was tired of hearing how good it wasn't. It didn't like hearing that Ole Miss was going to score on it. So it shut the Rebels out and held them to just 205 yards of offense and 11 first downs. The Alabama offense rolled up 434 yards of offense as well, quieting a lot of doubters in the process.
2. Georgia (3-1, 2-0 SEC; LW: 4): Well, it's pretty clear that the SEC Eastern Division is now Georgia's to lose. After a thrilling 44-41 win over LSU, the Bulldogs showed that no matter how bad their defense plays, the offense will be there to rescue it. The only real defensive test remaining for this unit is Florida. But can Florida's offense keep up with the Dawgs if they score?
3. Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 3): Like Georgia, the Aggies are equipped with an offense that can bail out its struggling defense. The Razorbacks gave A&M quite the scare in Fayetteville over the weekend, but Johnny Manziel and Co. didn't have much trouble piling on points against a struggling Arkansas defense. Still, that rushing defense has to improve with SEC play heating up.
4. LSU (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Tigers' defense showed its youthful age against Georgia on Saturday, especially in the secondary. Georgia churned out nearly 500 yards and averaged 7 yards per play. It didn't help that the front seven didn't generate enough pressure on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw four touchdowns. But we learned that LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger is the real deal. He delivered some NFL throws and might have outplayed Murray between the hedges.
5. South Carolina (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 5): I don't know what it is with this South Carolina team. It overcame the loss of starting quarterback Connor Shaw by scoring 28 straight points on UCF Saturday, but then turned around and let the Knights end the game on a 15-0 run. The good news for the Gamecocks is they might have one of the most underrated players in the SEC in running back Mike Davis, who leads the SEC in rushing yards per game (127).
6. Florida (3-1, 2-0 SEC; LW: 7): This is officially Tyler Murphy's team, and he's been solid since replacing Jeff Driskel at quarterback. No one really expects much from the passing game going forward, so the running game has to carry this team (again). It did just that with its 246 yards in the win over Kentucky. That defense might be missing Dominique Easley, but it was fantastic against the Wildcats.
7. Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 6): Quarterback Bo Wallace took some heat for saying the Rebels' offense would score some points on Alabama. Well, he ended up scoring for the Crimson Tide with his safety in the fourth quarter. The high-flying offense we saw in the first three games didn't make it to Tuscaloosa, and now the Rebels are gearing up for a crucial conference game at Auburn this weekend.
8. Missouri (4-0, 0-0 SEC; LW: 8): We still don't know a ton about this team, but the Tigers scored at will against their nonconference foes, averaging 45.5 points and 549 yards through the first four games. But SEC play starts now with a trip to Vanderbilt this weekend. We'll find out very soon if there was any substance to the Tigers' fast start to the season.
9. Auburn (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 9): The Tigers had the week off after their loss to LSU. That gave this team time to rest and try to get the passing game in better shape for the Rebels. What Gus Malzahn and his running backs had to be excited about was seeing Ole Miss' defense give up 254 rushing yards and rushing touchdowns of 68 and 50 yards to the Tide.
10. Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-2 SEC; LW: 10): The offense is only getting better, and wide receiver Jordan Matthews is getting closer and closer to breaking SEC records for career receiving yards and career receptions. With eight catches for 115 yards and touchdown in Vandy's 52-24 win over UAB, Matthews has had 100-plus yards or a touchdown in four of Vandy's five games.
11. Arkansas (3-2, 0-1 SEC; LW: 11): After a rough loss at Rutgers, the Hogs made things interesting in their 45-33 loss to the Aggies. This running game bounced back against A&M with 201 yards, while Brandon Allen's return at quarterback led to 282 passing yards. Still, this team has to clean things up on defense. The Aggies averaged 7 yards per play.
12. Mississippi State (2-2, 0-1 SEC; LW 12): The Bulldogs were off after their 62-7 win over Troy. It was an impressive win for a team looking for more of an offensive spark at the beginning of the season. The way quarterback Dak Prescott is playing, this offense has to feel confident going into this weekend's matchup with LSU. But do the Bulldogs have the horses to keep up with an LSU team that has to be frustrated after its loss to Georgia?
13. Tennessee (3-2, 0-1 SEC; LW: 13): Somehow, the Volunteers tried to give it all away late against South Alabama on Saturday. Tennessee was outscored 17-7 in the second half of its 31-24 win and even blocked its own field goal. A win is a win, especially for a program with a new head coach, but the Vols now have to regroup and face a Georgia team capable of scoring 50 in Knoxville this weekend.
14. Kentucky (1-3, 0-1 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats' only real positive from Saturday's 24-7 loss to Florida was that their touchdown came on a fake field goal. Other than that, the Gators dominated Mark Stoops' team. When your kicker is your leading rusher in a game (25 yards), you know you have major problems in the playmaking department.
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