Dallas Colleges: Nick Marshall
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.
1. Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC; last week: 1): All title contenders slack. For some reason, it's in their DNA. A week after thumping LSU by 21, Alabama received quite the gut check with a lethargic 20-7 win over Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide mustered just 383 total yards and turned it over four times, but a win is a win at this point. A nice tuneup against Chattanooga is all that remains before what should be an epic bout in the Iron Bowl.
2. Auburn (10-1, 6-1 SEC; LW: 2): Whatever cliche you want to give Saturday's thrilling 43-38 win over Georgia, go for it because it deserved it. The Tigers tried to hand Georgia a comeback win, but Nick Marshall's prayer of a throw had other plans. Say what you will about Auburn's sloppy fourth quarter, this team heads into the bye week with a ton of momentum and in the BCS picture. It must be nice to rest before playing Alabama.
3. Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Tigers were off over the weekend, which means quarterback James Franklin had another week to rest his shoulder before heading to the Grove on Saturday. So much is still in front of this team, and the pressure is on. With South Carolina beating Florida, Mizzou has to win out to claim the SEC Eastern Division.
4. Texas A&M (8-2, 4-2 SEC; LW: 4): The Aggies were also on a bye, which will probably do A&M some good with a trip to LSU on Saturday. Last year, LSU's defense suffocated Johnny Manziel for most of the day in the Tigers' 24-19 win. But neither Manziel nor Kevin Sumlin has lost a road game during their two seasons of work with the Aggies. Tiger Stadium won't intimidate either one.
5. South Carolina (8-2, 6-2 SEC; LW: 5): The Gamecocks certainly made things interesting in their ugly 19-14 win over Florida, but now they are a Mizzou loss away from winning the SEC East for just the second time. It has been an interesting season for South Carolina, but the Gamecocks seem to be hitting their stride and have a chance for a top-10 matchup with Clemson at the end of the season that could be for a BCS bowl game.
6. Ole Miss (7-3, 3-3 SEC; LW: 7): After losing three straight SEC games, the Rebels have now reeled off four wins in a row and are fresh off a 51-21 win over Troy. Quarterback Bo Wallace has been extremely impressive during the Rebels' run, averaging 305 yards with eight touchdowns to two interceptions. Things will be absolutely rocking in Oxford with No. 8 Mizzou heading in for what should be an electrifying night game.
7. LSU (7-3, 3-3; LW: 8): After a deflating loss to Alabama, the Tigers got a chance to rest this weekend. You have to wonder how this team is doing mentally. This year has been the season of mistakes and what-ifs for LSU, and the Tigers can't afford another sloppy performance with Johnny Football coming to town.
8. Vanderbilt (6-4, 3-4 SEC; LW: 9): Just like last year, the Commodores are making another impressive run in November. Last year, Vandy went 4-0 and could be on its way to doing that again. The Commodores weren't dominant in their 22-6 win over Kentucky, but they became bowl eligible for a school-record third straight year and created history with wins over Florida and Georgia this season.
9.Georgia (6-4, 4-3 SEC; LW: 6): It has been a really ugly season for the Bulldogs. Everything in 2013 for the Dawgs can be summed up in the split second it took for Josh Harvey-Clemons to deflect Marshall's last-ditch-effort pass up and into the hands of Ricardo Louis for a touchdown that ripped the Bulldogs' hearts from their chests. Injuries and rookie mistakes have cost the Bulldogs a chance at a third consecutive SEC East title.
10. Florida (4-6, 3-5 SEC; LW: 10): What did you really expect from Florida on Saturday? The Gators, who have dealt with a rash of season-ending injuries, were down to their third-string quarterback in a hostile South Carolina environment. This team didn't quit and had a pretty good game plan until things fell apart in the fourth quarter. For the second time in three years, Florida will finish the year with at least six losses.
11. Tennessee (4-6, 1-5 SEC; LW: 11): With Vandy and Kentucky remaining, the Vols are in must-win mode against the Commodores on Saturday. Last year, the Dores ran the Vols out of Nashville with a 41-18 blowout and enter this game on an absolute roll. It has been a tough first year for Butch Jones, but the Vols are coming off of a bye week and have their backs against the wall.
12. Mississippi State (4-6, 1-5 SEC; LW: 12): Even though the Bulldogs lost at home to Alabama over the weekend, their fans cheered them on after the game. A 13-point loss is rarely applauded, but Mississippi State stayed tough against No. 1 Alabama. Still, the Bulldogs now have to win out in order to become bowl eligible for the fourth straight year, and that won't be easy with Ole Miss still on the schedule.
13. Arkansas (3-7, 0-6 SEC; LW: 13): The Hogs were off over the weekend, and you have to hope that the extra time was used to get that passing game going. It's clear that Bret Bielema has been behind the eight ball when it comes to having the types of players he needs for his system. As a result, Arkansas is last in the SEC in passing (149 yards per game) and is riding a seven-game losing streak.
14. Kentucky (2-7, 0-6 SEC; LW: 14): You have to give the Wildcats credit: Despite their record, they haven't quit. That 22-6 loss to Vanderbilt marked the 14th straight SEC loss for Kentucky and the third straight loss to the Commodores. The offense's inconsistency just keeps holding this team back, as the Cats scored on an early 75-yard drive but failed to score again, registering just 262 total yards.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: With two touchdown passes in an easy 45-6 rout of Appalachian State on Saturday, Murray broke the 17-year-old SEC record of Florida's Danny Wuerffel (1993-96) for the most career TD passes. Murray entered the game already holding the SEC career marks for total offense and passing yards. The senior completed 19 of 26 passes for 281 yards in three quarters of work.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Ho-hum. Another week, another compelling argument in the sophomore's case for a second straight Heisman Trophy. Against Mississippi State on Saturday, Johnny Football threw for 446 yards with five touchdown passes (never mind those three interceptions). Honorable mention goes to senior Travis Labhart, once a walk-on, now a scholarship guy who has emerged as a key contributor at receiver. Manziel completed six passes to Labhart for a career-high 102 yards and two touchdowns.
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: The former Georgia Bulldog and former juco quarterback accounted for 214 of Auburn's 444 rushing yards, running for two touchdowns and passing for another in the No. 9 Tigers' 55-23 dismantling of the home-standing Volunteers. Marshall posted a 99.6 Total QBR despite completing only 3 of 7 passes, but Gus Malzahn didn't need to throw with the success the Tigers were having on the ground. Marshall's 214 yards were the third-most by an SEC quarterback in a game over the last 10 seasons, behind only Heisman winners Manziel (229 yards vs. Oklahoma in 2012) and Cam Newton (217 vs. LSU in 2010).
Missouri's offense: The No. 8 Tigers encountered little resistance in their first league game in the Bluegrass State. Freshman quarterback Maty Mauk threw five touchdown passes to tie Chase Daniel's school record in Mizzou's 48-17 romp past Kentucky. Dorial Green-Beckham broke through in a big way. The 6-foot-6 sophomore, who was the nation's No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2012, had seven catches for 100 yards and four touchdowns. Not to be outdone, running back Henry Josey ran 11 times for 113 yards and two TDs, including an 86-yarder. The Tigers remain a half-game ahead of idle South Carolina in the East division.
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: Even in a 51-41 road loss to Texas A&M, a special heartfelt helmet sticker goes out to Prescott, who lost his mother last Sunday to her battle with cancer. Tyler Russell got the start after Prescott missed the week of practice before Saturday's game, but the two rotated, with Prescott getting the majority of the snaps. The Aggies had difficulty slowing him in the running game, as Prescott ran 16 times for 154 yards (9.6 yards per carry). He was 14-of-26 passing for 149 yards and two touchdowns. It was certainly a determined and inspiring performance under the most difficult of circumstances.
Alabama still king: For the first 30 minutes, it looked like it was going to be another epic clash between the Tide and the Tigers. However, the nation's No. 1 team imposed its will in the second half and rolled to a 38-17 victory. AJ McCarron threw three touchdown passes; T.J. Yeldon rushed for 133 yards and two scores, and the defense held LSU to 43 yards on the ground, sacking quarterback Zach Mettenberger four times. It was the first challenging game the Tide have played in more than a month, and it proved why they are still the No. 1 team. On a weekend when Oregon suffered its first loss, Alabama not only remained unbeaten but showed why it's the favorite to win a third consecutive national championship.
Year of the Tiger: Who would've guessed Auburn and Missouri would be No. 2 and No. 3 in the SEC, chasing down Alabama? Both Tigers teams have had terrific seasons, and they continued Saturday with impressive road wins. Ninth-ranked Auburn went to Tennessee and blew out a Volunteers team that had been dangerous at home. Quarterback Nick Marshall rushed for 214 yards and two scores as the SEC's top-rushing offense put up 444 yards on the ground. Missouri also took care of business against a struggling Kentucky team. Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, a former five-star recruit, caught seven passes for 100 yards and four touchdowns. Both teams should remain in the top 10 when the BCS standings come out Sunday.
Trouble in Gainesville: Florida's season went from bad to worse Saturday. The Gators, who have been decimated by injuries, were on a three-game losing streak but hopeful they could turn it around at home against Vanderbilt. It didn't happen. Despite giving up nearly twice as many yards, the Commodores knocked off Florida 34-17 for their first win in Gainesville since 1945. The Gators turned the ball over four times. What does this mean for head coach Will Muschamp? He should get a pass because of all the injuries, but this is the type of loss that could lead to unemployment. Florida now has to win at South Carolina or at home against Florida State just to reach a bowl game.
Gaining momentum: It seems like a long time since Ole Miss lost those three consecutive games to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M. The Rebels have quietly righted the ship, and they have a legitimate chance to win out. On Saturday, they looked impressive in a 34-24 win over Arkansas. Quarterback Bo Wallace finished 26-of-33 and threw for a career-high 407 yards. The win made Ole Miss bowl eligible for the second straight year under coach Hugh Freeze, but this team wants more. They want to finish with nine wins and play in a New Year's Day bowl game. That means the Rebels will have to upset Missouri at home in two weeks and finish the season with a win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Neither is out of the question.
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.
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.
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: Nick Marshall did Johnny Manziel one better. On the road at a raucous Kyle Field, Auburn's first-year starting quarterback led a dramatic comeback, one-upping the defending Heisman Trophy winner in his own house. Marshall ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more for the Tigers' biggest win of the season. Manziel produced, throwing for 454 yards and four touchdowns, but his two interceptions doomed the Aggies.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: It's not often a losing team finds its way into the helmet stickers post, but it's impossible to ignore the effort of Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans. Like his embattled quarterback, he gave Saturday's game everything he had. His team might have lost in dramatic fashion to Auburn, but it was no fault of his. Again, we saw Evans make his case to be considered the top wideout in the SEC, if not the country. There wasn't a coverage Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson could turn to. Evans totally dominated Auburn's secondary regardless of double- or triple-coverage, hauling in 11 receptions for 287 yards and four touchdowns.
Marquez North, WR, Tennessee: If you're going to get the football, make it count. Marquez North did. Tennessee's 6-foot-4 wideout had just three catches against South Carolina, but he made the most of every opportunity, accounting for 102 yards receiving. His 39-yard reception from Justin Worley late in the fourth quarter set up the game-winning field goal as the Volunteers finally got the signature win they'd been looking for under first-year coach Butch Jones.
Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri: Rust? What rust? With James Franklin sidelined, Maty Mauk stepped in under center for Missouri and didn't miss a beat. Coach Gary Pinkel said it was the toughest spot he'd ever put a quarterback in, but his 6-foot-1 freshman showed poise and precision leading the offense against a Florida defense that ranked among the best in the nation. Mauk completed exactly 50 percent of his passes (18-for-36) for 295 yards and a touchdown as Missouri beat the Gators to remain in the driver's seat to win the SEC East.
Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss: He'd taken his fair share of tongue lashings from the Ole Miss fan base in the last few weeks. And after the way he played against Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M in consecutive weeks, throwing three interceptions, he'd be the first to say it was deserved. But Wallace came back against LSU's defense with a vengeance. The veteran quarterback completed 30 of 39 passes for 346 yards and no turnovers as Ole Miss upset No. 6-ranked LSU at home.
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.
1. Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC; last week: 1): Twitter was ablaze with tweets concerning Alabama's slow start at Kentucky. That worry quickly left after the Crimson Tide scored 31 consecutive points in the first half and cruised to a 48-7 win. Alabama isn't perfect, but it still has a hold on the SEC and is still the country's top team.
2. Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Aggies certainly don't have much of a defense, but it doesn't really matter with Johnny Manziel running the show. For the second consecutive year, Manziel led a come-from-behind, game-winning drive against Ole Miss in Oxford. Not even a freak knee injury could slow him down. As long as he's making defenses look silly, the Aggies are a title contender.
3. LSU (6-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 4): So there's that LSU defense we know and love. After some questionable early play, the Tigers defense held Florida to six points and just 240 yards of offense. With relentless pressure from the LSU defense, Florida's offense wilted inside of Tiger Stadium. LSU's offense wasn't great, but running back Jeremy Hill rushed for 121 yards against the nation's No. 1 rush defense.
4. Missouri (6-0, 2-0 SEC; LW: 7): Yeah, we all saw this one coming. These Tigers are undefeated and have the SEC's second-hottest offense behind Texas A&M. Mizzou strutted into Athens over the weekend and walked out with a win and their chests puffed out after a 41-26 win. The question now is if the Tigers can keep their momentum with quarterback James Franklin sidelined with a shoulder injury. It's Maty Mauk time in Columbia.
5. Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Bulldogs defense struggled in the first half against Mizzou, but offensive mistakes really cost Georgia against the Tigers. Georgia was banged up on both sides of the ball and just didn't have the offensive star power around Aaron Murray to make a run late. It has been a rough week for the state of Georgia in the world of sports, and an unhealthy Bulldogs team is really hurting heading into its trip to Vanderbilt.
6. South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 6): Like LSU, we finally saw a balanced, solid defensive performance in a big game from the Gamecocks. Arkansas' running game churned out more than 200 yards, but the Gamecocks shut down the Hogs passing game, allowing just 30 yards on 4-of-13 passing. Connor Shaw continues to prove that he's made out of titanium and Mike Davis has rushed for 100-plus yards in five of six games.
7. Florida (4-2, 3-1 SEC; LW: 5): The Gators just couldn't get anything going on offense in Baton Rouge. Quarterback Tyler Murphy looked bewildered against LSU's blitz, and the offensive line crumbled under pressure. The offense averaged just 3.5 yards per play. The defense gave up some big plays, but held Zach Mettenberger to just 152 yards and a QBR of 46.7. No one would have blamed Florida's defense if it didn't allow the offense on the plane home Saturday.
8. Auburn (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 8): No, the Tigers weren't playing hefty competition over the weekend, but this team is getting pretty fun to watch. Even without starting quarterback Nick Marshall, the Tigers registered 712 yards behind Jeremy Johnson in their 62-3 win over Western Carolina. Also, 511 of those yards came on the ground. Watch out for these Tigers.
9. Ole Miss (3-3, 1-3 SEC; LW: 9): How do you not run the ball on your final possession with Johnny Football standing on the other sideline? You can't give Manziel time to work with, and after the Rebels threw three straight incomplete passes on their last drive, Manziel was given 2:33 seconds to drive and win the game. He did, and the Rebels, who had their defense gashed, lost their third straight game.
10. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC; LW: 10): The Commodores were off this weekend, so this team got an extra week to work out some of those defensive kinks. They'll need everything to be ironed out with a frustrated Georgia team heading to town. Keep an eye on receiver Jordan Matthews. He has had a stellar start to the year and leads the SEC with 47 receptions and is third with 709 yards.
11. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 12): The Vols were off, but they moved up because of what happened while they were hanging out on the couch this weekend. Plus, almost beating Georgia two weeks ago was pretty impressive. This team still has a long way to go before it's truly competitive in the SEC, but the performance against Georgia might give the Vols some nice momentum for the rest of the season.
12. Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 13): The Bulldogs got quite the scare at home against Bowling Green. With a two-headed quarterback attack of Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott, Mississippi State slipped by the Falcons 21-20. It certainly wasn't pretty, but it was a must-win for the Bulldogs as they look to make it to the postseason. The Bulldogs are off this week, which is probably a good thing, as this team looks to regroup after an up-and-down first half of the season.
13. Arkansas (3-4, 0-3 SEC; LW: 11): Picking the Razorbacks to pull the upset over South Carolina was a major mental lapse on my part. The passing game was nonexistent against the Gamecocks and the defense was trampled on. This team can run the ball, but it just doesn't have an adequate passing game right now to make a real push in Bret Bielema's first season.
14. Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats had some fight early against Alabama, but then the talent difference put the Wildcats back in their place. Coach Mark Stoops said his team doesn't plan to cave and will be competitive from here on out. It has been a rough first year for Stoops, but attitude is everything when it comes to building.
We've got a race (Part 1): With its win against depleted Georgia on Saturday, Missouri jumped into the driver's seat in the SEC East. But this might be an ugly horse race as we move down the stretch. The Tigers are 2-0 in league play for now, but they lost quarterback James Franklin to a shoulder injury and still must face Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M. Previous division favorite Georgia has major injury issues of its own with a game against Florida and a trip to Auburn still on tap. Florida dropped its first conference game on Saturday (at LSU) and still must visit Missouri and South Carolina and face Georgia in Jacksonville. With its dominant win over Arkansas on Saturday, South Carolina suddenly looks like a contender again, but it still needs Georgia to lose another SEC game and must win at Missouri and at home against Florida. In other words, we've got gridlock ahead. It's entirely possible -- maybe even likely -- that whichever team represents the East in the SEC championship game will come in with two conference losses.
We've got a race (Part 2): Have we forgiven Alabama for its defensive shortcomings against Texas A&M yet? Because it's high time we did. A week or two back, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Florida has the best defense in the SEC. Alabama has thrown its hat back into the ring lately, however. Kentucky's third-quarter touchdown on Saturday ended a 14-quarter streak (dating back to the A&M game) in which Alabama opponents (Colorado State, Ole Miss, Georgia State and Kentucky) had failed to reach the end zone. Over that stretch, Alabama had outscored its opponents 125-9. Florida hasn't done anything to lose the crown -- the Gators held LSU's talented offense to just 327 yards and 17 points on Saturday, after all -- but Alabama is making up ground quickly.
No Marshall, no problem: Nick Marshall missed Auburn's 62-3 win over Western Carolina on Saturday, but that's not the main reason freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson played -- and started -- for the first time this year. He played as an insurance policy, in case Marshall's injured knee prevents him from playing next week against Texas A&M. Marshall led the Tigers to a 4-1 record to open the season, and coach Gus Malzahn said he will reclaim the starting role once his knee is healthy enough for him to play again. But just in case Marshall's not ready come Week 8, Johnson's performance -- 17-for-21 for 201 yards and four touchdowns -- in Saturday's win was nice practice for the freshman ahead of a trip to College Station.
Road warriors: Once Texas A&M survived Ole Miss' upset bid, the Aggies joined three other SEC teams that won on the road Saturday. Missouri ended Georgia's 15-game home winning streak -- which was the league's longest active streak -- South Carolina won big at Arkansas, Alabama blasted Kentucky and the Aggies rallied to win 41-38 in Oxford. Florida was the league's only road loser on Saturday. Alabama, Missouri and Texas A&M are all 2-0 away from home in league play this season.
On Huard's list, he had four players from the SEC. Alabama's AJ McCarron checks in at No. 4, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel is fifth, Georgia's Aaron Murray ranks seventh and LSU's Zach Mettenberger is 10th. Huard bases his rankings on two factors:
1. Productivity at the collegiate level.
2. Pro skills.
Well, if Huard can look at the 10 best quarterbacks, why not cause a stir and rank the SEC's top 10 quarterbacks through the first four weeks? I'm looking at production and importance to his team.
Here's my top 10:
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Well, Johnny Football looks focused as ever and leads the SEC with 1,228 passing yards and 12 touchdowns. He passed for a school-record 464 yards with five touchdowns in the loss to Alabama and has 255 rushing yards with five more scores on the season.
2. Aaron Murray, Georgia: He might have that loss to Clemson standing out on his 2013 resume, but Murray has been on fire with his right arm this season. He's averaging 346.7 yards per game and has seven touchdowns to two interceptions. Against South Carolina, he threw for 309 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
3. Zach Mettenberger, LSU: After a very up-and-down 2012, Mettenberger has found quite the rhythm. He's second in the SEC with 10 touchdowns and threw his first interception last week against Auburn. After barely averaging 200 yards per game last year, Mettenberger is throwing for 256.5 yards per game and has a QBR of 88.3 in 2013.
4. AJ McCarron, Alabama: While McCarron could still be a Heisman candidate because of the Tide's current national championship quest, his numbers don't exactly jump out at you. But in the biggest game of the year -- the 49-42 win at Texas A&M -- McCarron threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns. On the season, McCarron has 702 passing yards with six touchdowns to two interceptions.
5. James Franklin, Missouri: After a year filled with nagging injuries, Franklin is healthy and is directing Mizzou's offense like he did back in the Big 12. The competition hasn't been great, but Franklin has, as he's averaging 291 passing yards and 60.7 rushing yards per game. Franklin has thrown six touchdown passes and has nearly 200 yards rushing yards with another score.
7. Connor Shaw, South Carolina: You could flip-flop Shaw and Wallace here, but Wallace gets the slight edge because of his importance to the team. Shaw's backup, Dylan Thompson, fills in nicely when Shaw is out. Still, Shaw has had a heck of a season, throwing for 661 yards and six touchdowns and rushing for 202 yards.
8. Austyn Carta-Samuels, Vanderbilt: Quietly, Carta-Samuels is fourth in the SEC in passing (889 yards). He has rushed for 63 yards and three touchdowns. But what kept him from being higher on the list are his turnovers. Vandy's new quarterback has thrown four interceptions, including two in the heartbreaking loss to Ole Miss.
9. Nick Marshall, Auburn: The former athlete/defensive back is starting to grow with every new snap he takes. He orchestrated a beautiful last-minute, game-winning drive two weeks ago against Mississippi State and has 809 passing yards. However, he has to cut down on his carelessness with the football. He has as many interceptions as touchdowns (four).
10. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: He might have started the year as Tyler Russell's backup, but Prescott has been impressive since Russell was sidelined with a concussion in Week 1. It might be hard to take him out with the numbers he has put up so far. Prescott has thrown for 709 yards with three touchdowns and one interception and has a team-high 215 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
|Former NCAA investigator and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to weigh in on the Johnny Manziel drama and give some insight as to what goes on during an NCAA investigation. |
It felt like the league had finally caught its breath from Cam Newton's unexpected romp through the conference when Manziel came along, first winning the Aggies' starting quarterback job and then the Heisman Trophy. His ascension was as swift as it was unpredictable. He didn't look the part of a superstar, but he could sure play it. At 6-foot in stilettos, Manziel was a ballroom dancer on the football field, only no one else could figure out the steps.
Can anyone catch on to his act this year? No one knows.
Can anyone duplicate his success? Maybe.
With that in mind, here's a look at some sleeper candidates to pull off a Manziel-like rise from a no-name commodity to a player on the tip of everyone's tongue:
Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia: Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree got all the attention, but Jenkins was a quiet force on the Georgia defense as a freshman last season. At 6-3 and 246 pounds and with the speed of a safety, Jenkins aims to improve on his five sacks and set his sights on the school's single-season sack record of 14.5 that Jones set a year ago. If he reaches that goal and Georgia is in the SEC championship game again, Bulldogs fans will know who to thank.
Brandon Williams, RB, Texas A&M: Watch the Aggies long enough this season and your attention will inevitably be turned in two directions: to Manziel and his speedy tailback. Williams, a transfer from Oklahoma, hasn't won the starting job just yet, but give him time. With his burst, he'll be a threat to score every time he touches the football.
Tre'Davious White, DB, LSU: He's just a true freshman, but White is the type of cornerback LSU has become known for. Big, athletic and physical, he has the upside of former Tigers great Morris Claiborne. And like Claiborne, White came out of Shreveport, La., and knows a thing or two about playing with an edge.
Denzel Devall, LB, Alabama: Alabama has been something like Linebacker U in recent years, with Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw starring at the position. And though C.J. Mosley certainly fits the bill of an All-American talent, he's not as physically imposing as his predecessors. Devall is. At a solid 6-2 and 250 pounds, Devall has the size and the talent to be a force at linebacker for the Tide this season.
Nick Marshall or Jeremy Johnson, QBs, Auburn: It's down to either Marshall or Johnson, and whomever Auburn ends up with will have the talent to make plays in Gus Malzahn's offense. Johnson has an NFL arm, according to the new coach. Marshall brings more of a running flair to his game, a former Georgia cornerback who went the junior college route to end up on The Plains. Both are raw, but with some polishing they could be playmakers in the SEC.
Matt Jones, RB, Florida: If Will Muschamp's revitalization of power football really is complete in Gainesville, then Jones will be looked on as the final piece to the puzzle. A bowling ball of a runner, Jones brings a north-south style of play to a Gators backfield that has too long gone sideline to sideline. Up to 226 pounds after backing up Mike Gillislee last year, Jones has the size to shoulder the load and a coaching staff willing to let him do it.
Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennesee: He may be a year off, but Dobbs is the type of quarterback who could revitalize the Tennessee fan base with his ability to make big plays with his arm and his feet. Though a true freshman, he has a leg up on his competition in that he's not a typical pro-style passer recruited by coaches from bygone eras. First-year coach Butch Jones is looking for a fresh start at Tennessee, and he could be tempted to dive in head-first with Dobbs, who has the size and athleticism that's perfect for his up-tempo scheme.
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Play Podcast Part 2 of the articles on OSU's involvment in academic fraud was released. Some claim the expose is unfounded. Ian and Richard warn that there are two sides to all stories.
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Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett give you the latest on the Johnny Manziel story and Charles Barkley weighs in. You won't believe who the outspoken NBA Hall of Famer is disappointed in and what he thinks about the autograph allegations.
Play Podcast Kirk Herbstreit joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett for his weekly visit to preview the 2013 college football season.
Play Podcast Former TCU and current Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the expectations for the Bengals this season, give a prediction for the TCU-LSU game and talk about what it's like having the Hard Knocks cameras follow him.
Play Podcast Randy Galloway, Matt Mosley, and Mark Friedman react to Dez Bryant's comments regarding the NCAA's ongoing investigation of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Play Podcast Richard Durrett, Ian Fitzsimmons and Glenn "Stretch" Smith react to Dez Bryant sounding off yesterday after practice about Johnny Manziel and the shadiness of the NCAA.
Play Podcast Former NCAA investigator and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to weigh in on the Johnny Manziel drama and give some insight as to what goes on during an NCAA investigation.