Dallas Colleges: Tyler Russell

SEC helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
3:30
PM CT
With apologies to Nick Saban, AJ McCarron, T.J. Yeldon, C.J. Mosley and all of the pageantry that accompanied the SEC's annual marquee regular-season matchup, there were just too many noteworthy performances to go handing out helmet stickers to the rolling Tide's usual suspects.

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

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

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

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

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

What to watch in the SEC: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
10:30
AM CT
Another good weekend of SEC football is approaching. Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

1. Tide-Tigers showdown: It doesn't quite have the heft that it had in 2011 ("Game of the Century") or maybe even last season (both teams were ranked in the top five), but Alabama-LSU is still a big deal and it will still be the center of attention Saturday night. It's the only game Saturday between two teams in the Top 25 and No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) will try to remain undefeated in pursuit of a third consecutive BCS title. The last time these teams played in Tuscaloosa was in 2011, and LSU won 9-6 in overtime. So Les Miles' crew won't be fearful of going into Bryant-Denny Stadium. Even if the No. 13 Tigers (7-2, 3-2) were to repeat that feat, they'd need the Crimson Tide to lose once more to have a chance to get into the SEC title game, but regardless, Saturday night should serve us some compelling theater.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/John BazemoreJames Franklin, who was injured Oct. 12 against Georgia, could return as soon as this week at Kentucky.
2. Franklin or Mauk? Missouri coach Gary Pinkel indicated that starting quarterback James Franklin is getting closer to being able to play after injuring his shoulder Oct. 12 versus Georgia, but to this point it's unclear whether he will get the start or play or if Pinkel will stick with freshman Maty Mauk. The Tigers are 2-1 in Mauk's three starts, and he had his best game so far last week in a 31-3 win over Tennessee, throwing for 163 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 114 yards. The No. 8 Tigers (8-1, 4-1) are at Kentucky, a team that struggles against the pass (the Wildcats allow 9.6 yards per pass play in SEC games, worst in the league), so it'll be interesting to see what Pinkel decides to do.

3. Is Texas A&M's defense really improved? The past two weeks have been good ones for the much-maligned Texas A&M defense, as the Aggies have held their past two opponents to a combined 31 points. They've held both opponents under 350 yards, under 130 rushing yards and have forced at least three turnovers in each of the past two weeks. The caveat? Both teams (Vanderbilt and UTEP) had freshman quarterbacks who were making their first start. Vanderbilt's Patton Robinette and UTEP's Blaire Sullivan don't exactly strike fear in the mind of a defensive coordinator, but Saturday when the No. 15 Aggies (7-2, 3-2) host Mississippi State, they could face a talented signal-caller in Dak Prescott, a dual threat who leads the Bulldogs in passing and rushing.

4. Will Prescott play? It has been an emotional week for Prescott, who lost his mother, Peggy, to cancer. Coach Dan Mullen and several Bulldogs joined Prescott for the funeral Wednesday, and Mullen has said that he won't rule out Prescott for Saturday's game but wishes to give his quarterback privacy to make the decision on his own. If he doesn't play, the Bulldogs will turn to Tyler Russell, who started the matchup between these teams last season but has suffered through myriad injuries this season. If Prescott does play, it could be quite the emotional boost for the Bulldogs (4-4, 1-3).

5. What's next for Tre Mason? The Auburn running back is coming into his own as of late. He's third in the SEC in rushing yards with 921 and had a huge day last week at Arkansas, compiling 168 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries. On Saturday, he faces a Tennessee rushing defense that is actually last in the SEC (201.67 yards allowed per game), behind even Texas A&M (200.89), the team that has spent most of the year in the bottom of the league in that category. Could be another big day for the junior running back.

6. Florida attrition: Injuries have been a curse for Florida all season long and this week the Gators lost another starter, offensive tackle Tyler Moore, for the rest of the season with a broken arm as the result of a scooter accident. He's the 10th player and sixth starter to suffer a season-ending injury and those players have made a combined 84 starts in their career. The Gators (4-4, 3-3), who host Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4), are now without their three most experienced offensive tackles: Moore, Chaz Green and D.J. Humphries.

[+] EnlargeRobert Nkemdiche
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsOle Miss freshman Robert Nkemdiche might be moving to defensive tackle for the long haul.
7. Nkemdiche inside: Ole Miss true freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who was the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country in the 2013 class, will move over to defensive tackle this week when the Rebels (5-3, 2-3) host Arkansas (3-6, 0-5). According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, defensive line coach Chris Kiffin suggested the move could be permanent, saying, "Maybe that's Rob's future, so that's where we're at right now." The 6-foot-5 Nkemdiche is 280 pounds.

8. Another strong finish for Vanderbilt? The Commodores (4-4, 1-4) haven't quite had the step up that some might have thought they would after going 9-4 last season, but coach James Franklin noted this week that right now, Vandy has the same record at this point in the season that it did last year. The Commodores proceeded to win five straight games, including their bowl game, to close out the year. Can they finish strong again? They'll have to start with a road win at Florida Saturday if they're going to repeat that feat.

9. How will Tennessee respond? The Volunteers have made significant strides this season, beating a ranked team (South Carolina) and coming close against another (Georgia), but the past two weeks have been rough with blowout losses at Alabama and Missouri. With the Volunteers returning home, can they find some more magic when they host No. 9 Auburn?

10. Tuneup for Georgia: The Bulldogs get an FCS foe this week in Appalachian State. It should be a short day for the starters and comes at a good time, because the Bulldogs will turn around and travel to Auburn the following week. Expect the Bulldogs to take care of business here against the Mountaineers, who are 2-7.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
10:46
AM CT
Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

1. Thursday night football: It gets started tonight with Mississippi State hosting Kentucky. Both teams are searching for their first SEC win of the season. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has seen his team take some lumps and has shuffled its quarterbacks. Maxwell Smith will get the start because Jalen Whitlow was injured against Alabama. Mississippi State had to turn to Dak Prescott after Tyler Russell was knocked out of the season opener against Oklahoma State with a concussion, and though Russell has since returned, Prescott is still getting playing time.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTexas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is hoping Johnny Manziel will be able to play against Vanderbilt.
2. Manziel: To play or not to play? If it seems that we've been down this road before, it's because we have. People want to know whether Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel will play Saturday. He suffered an apparent shoulder injury in a 45-41 loss to Auburn but returned to finish the final 9:06 of the game, playing with pain in that throwing shoulder. Coach Kevin Sumlin isn't tipping his hand, simply calling Manziel "hopeful" for Saturday's game against Vanderbilt.

3. Can Mauk and Mizzou keep it going? Missouri freshman quarterback Maty Mauk made his first start last week in place of the injured James Franklin and was solid, completing 18-of-36 passes for 295 yards plus a touchdown and interception in a win over Florida. The Tigers (7-0, 3-0) hold at least a two-game lead in the loss column over the rest of the SEC East and host No. 21 South Carolina on Saturday. It's another test for the Tigers, who passed their last two -- at Georgia and versus Florida -- with flying colors.

4. Dylan Thompson gets the call for the Gamecocks: South Carolina starting quarterback Connor Shaw sprained his left knee, and coach Steve Spurrier said Thompson will get the start Saturday against Missouri. Spurrier said Shaw could potentially be the backup and could take some snaps if the Gamecocks needed it, but Thompson will be the guy at game time. He has appeared in all but one game this season, completing 29-of-51 passes for 421 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

5. Shifting safeties for Bama: Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury and will be replaced by sophomore Landon Collins. He already has two starts under his belt this season (when Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was out), but now Collins will be lining up next to Clinton-Dix, who's returning from a suspension. Collins is eager for his chance, though losing the leadership that Sunseri provided isn't ideal.

6. Another Vols upset?: It'll be tough since Tennessee heads to Bryant-Denny Stadium to take on No. 1 Alabama, but the Vols have raised eyebrows in recent weeks. They were within a blink of upsetting Georgia on Oct. 5, taking the Bulldogs to overtime before losing 34-31, and last week they came away with a 23-21 upset of South Carolina. The past two games have been in the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium, and the Vols must now go on the road against a juggernaut. Tennessee already has taken some lumps from Oregon and Florida on the road this season, but there's definitely a renewed optimism and energy permeating the program under Butch Jones right now.

7. Who's at QB for Vanderbilt? Starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels left last week's game in the second quarter with a left-leg injury and coach James Franklin's depth chart reads: Carta-Samuels or Patton Robinette. Robinette was 9-of-15 passing for 107 yards, a rushing touchdown and an interception in place of Carta-Samuels. Franklin hasn't publicly named a starter, as is the case with the Commodores' opponent -- Texas A&M -- so there's some uncertainty about who will take the first snap for each team when they meet at Kyle Field.

8. Nonconference tilts for three: LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss are all heavy favorites as each dips back into nonconference play this weekend. LSU is hosting Furman, Auburn takes on Florida Atlantic, and Ole Miss meets Idaho. LSU is looking to bounce back from last week's narrow loss at Ole Miss, Auburn hopes to continue the positive momentum from this season that hit a peak with a win at Texas A&M last week, and the Rebels (who upset LSU) are looking for their second straight win in the middle of a six-game homestand.

9. Recovery time for Arkansas, Florida, Georgia: Each of these teams has had its fair share of struggles and injuries, and they're getting a chance to shore those up as all three have a bye. Arkansas is searching for answers after getting beaten the past two weeks by a combined score of 104-7. Florida needs to kick-start a sputtering offense that has left the previously ranked team with two straight losses. Georgia, coming off two losses itself, is hoping to get Todd Gurley and Michael Bennett back next week.

10. Keeping the top spot: Alabama started No. 1, and the Crimson Tide occupy the top spot in the debut of this season's BCS standings. Nick Saban & Co. have been downright dominant, with their only close call coming in College Station in a 49-42 win over Texas A&M. Since then, the Tide have allowed just 16 points in five games. They host Tennessee -- a team that's building some momentum itself -- on Saturday and then have a week off before their showdown with LSU on Nov. 9. For now, the Tide continue to carry the torch for the SEC.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
6:15
PM CT
The SEC East is like the Wild West, while Alabama is still in control of the West. Also, eight teams from the SEC are ranked in the AP poll. What a fun conference:

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.

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- An iPhone App said that it was 84 degrees on Mississippi State's campus Tuesday afternoon, which could only be true if Starkville was located at the bottom of a lake. It's only a few minutes into the start of practice and you can see the players struggling with the humid, sapping conditions. Coaches shout at the medical staff to "Water the O-line!" as if the assembly of 300-pound men were a patch of wilting dandelions.

One of the team doctors takes issue with the readout. Robert Collins, a white-haired holdover from the Jackie Sherrill era, says it's at least 5-6 degrees warmer on the practice field most days, and that's not counting the radiant heat, a measurement he argues is a much more accurate gauge of how hot it actually feels. Inside the players helmets, it's a good 20 degrees warmer, he says.

[+] EnlargeBenardrick McKinney
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreThe Mississippi State defensive coaches hope to see more "juice" out of Benardick McKinney and the rest of the Bulldogs defenders.
It feels hot watching the Bulldogs run through individual and team drills. There's no shade for onlookers and even less relief for the players trying to catch their breath. Rick Ray, the school's basketball coach, wears a oversized bucket hat to keep from burning. He's here to watch 6-foot-5 freshman wideout De'Runnya Wilson, who came to school this summer with intentions of playing both sports, though it looks like football will keep him from doing so.

"They're killing the sled," said Ray, craning his neck to the far side of the field where the defensive linemen are working. "You can hear it all the way over here."

A few minutes later, players break from their position groups and begin to practice live action. What happened next should have looked familiar to Ray. It wasn't basketball, but the tempo sure looked like it. All that was missing was the high pitch of sneakers screeching on hardwood floor.

Mississippi State has long been a team that likes to run the football and control the clock, but today both sides of the ball are working at a full sprint. The NASCAR offense, as coaches call it, is in full effect. There's almost no break between plays. The first series is over before there's even time to measure it by hand. Ready for the second series, the average time between the blow of the whistle and the snap clocks in at roughly 19 seconds.

Players aren't the only ones running. Coaches are, too. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins waves his hands like a man possessed and screams at his cornerback to, "Crank your a-- up!" before he's dropped to the scout team.

Time, you see, is of the essence.

Oklahoma State and its high-octane offense await Mississippi State on Saturday. The Cowboys, who finished seventh nationally in passing a year ago, averaged one play every 20.3 seconds. Fifty-eight of their 69 offensive touchdowns came on drives that lasted 3 minutes or less. Under the direction of coach Mike Gundy, they scored 19 touchdowns in under 60 seconds, good enough for third in the country.

"Once their tempo gets started, it's like a train rolling downhill," Collins said earlier in the day, "it's kind of hard to stop it."

For more than seven months, Mississippi State has been preparing for Oklahoma State and its no-huddle offense. Collins has stressed to his players that the best way to stop it is to never let it get going in the first place. Negative plays and pass breakups, he says, put the offense at a disadvantage. Throwing off the tempo is the only real option, because once the Cowboys have a defense on its heels, it's lights out.

(Read full post)

Ranking the SEC quarterbacks

July, 1, 2013
7/01/13
3:23
PM CT
Earlier, we ranked all 14 quarterback groups in the SEC. Now, we'll rank the top 10 SEC quarterbacks heading into the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Dave EinselHeisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel enters the 2013 as the top-rated quarterback in the SEC.
1. Johnny Manziel, RSo., Texas A&M: Even though he's stirred it up on Twitter this offseason and caused more than a few headaches for Kevin Sumlin, Manziel is still the most dynamic playmaker in college football. His numbers a year ago en route to winning the Heisman Trophy were eye-popping, and it was his first season of college football. They don't call him Johnny Football for nothing.

2. AJ McCarron, RSr., Alabama: There are some who would lobby for McCarron to be in the top spot. When you throw 30 touchdown passes, only three interceptions and win your second straight national championship, there's a strong case to be made. McCarron is an excellent leader. He's tough, and he delivers in the clutch. The Tide will lean heavily on him in 2013.

3. Aaron Murray, RSr., Georgia: The knock against Murray is that he hasn't played his best in some of the Bulldogs' biggest games, although he certainly wasn't shabby against Alabama in the SEC championship game last season. His productivity speaks for itself, and with 95 career touchdown passes, he's on track to break Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114.

4. Connor Shaw, Sr., South Carolina: After the top three quarterbacks in the SEC, it gets tough. Shaw gets the nod at No. 4 based on his 17-3 record as the Gamecocks' starter. He's played through pain, delivered in key moments and can hurt teams both running and passing. He's also the ultimate team player and is simply one of those guys who gets it done without a lot of flash and dash.

5. Bo Wallace, RJr., Ole Miss: Wallace missed the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery, and his 17 interceptions a year ago were a concern. But he should be even better his second time through the SEC, and there was a lot to like about his first season as the Rebels' starter. He accounted for 30 total touchdowns and was fifth in the league in total offense (3,384 yards).

6. Jeff Driskel, Jr., Florida: Of the guys on this list, Driskel has the most potential to move up. He did everything the Gators asked of him a year ago without much help from his receivers. The 6-4, 236-pound junior will be counted on even more in 2013 to make plays and has the size, arm strength and wheels to be a top-four quarterback in this league.

7. Tyler Russell, RSr., Mississippi State: Despite the shaky close to last season, there's no denying how much Russell improved a year ago. Now it's time to put it all together, and Russell has the pocket presence, release and arm talent to have his best season yet as a senior. He threw 24 touchdown passes last season and could make a push for 30 in 2013.

8. Zach Mettenberger, RSr., LSU: Les Miles said consistently this spring that he felt much better about his passing game. Part of that was the addition of Cam Cameron to the staff, but Mettenberger threw the ball with a lot of confidence and showed the ability to really stretch the field. He'll get a chance to do more of that this season after coming on last November.

9. James Franklin, Sr., Missouri: Franklin was much higher in these rankings this time a year ago after coming off a stellar 2011 season in the Big 12. If he stays healthy, he may well work his way back into the top 5. He showed more toughness than he was given credit for a year ago and gets a chance as a senior to show once and for all what kind of quarterback he really is.

10. Dylan Thompson, RJr., South Carolina: Even though he's not a full-time starter, look at what Thompson -- more of a drop-back passer than Shaw -- has done. He carved apart Clemson last season on the road. He stepped in and threw the winning touchdown pass in the bowl win against Michigan and just seems to get better every time he steps onto the field.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. is rolling out his early top five rankings at each position this week.

Here's what he's looked at so far:
Now, we're taking a look at Kiper's top quarterback Insider and cornerback draft prospects. We'll start with the quarterbacks and look at the corners later today.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesAlabama's AJ McCarron falls in the top five of Mel Kiper Jr.'s top 2014 NFL draft QB prospects.
Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel ranks third on Kiper's list, while Alabama's AJ McCarron comes in at No. 5. Ole Miss' Bo Wallace made Kiper's "Next up" list, while Georgia's Aaron Murray made his "More I like" list.

Manziel is getting all sorts of draft attention after his record-breaking, Heisman-winning season. He's the most talked about quarterback in the country and while he doesn't have an elite arm, he's extremely athletic and slippery. He's looking to develop more into a passer, but his ability to improv will continue to help him when his arm can't.

McCarron is someone who could have left for the NFL this year, but decided to stay in school. He makes great decisions with the ball (he threw 30 touchdowns to three interceptions last season) and certainly knows how to win. He has two national championship rings and is going for his third straight. He hasn't been asked to do a lot at Alabama, but he's put up some pretty good numbers and is easily the most talented quarterback Saban has had at Alabama.

Wallace has a tremendous amount of athleticism, but he had a lot of decision-making issues last year. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards, but threw 22 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Fixing his turnover issue is the biggest thing Wallace has to work on this fall. He has good arm strength and can get out of trouble situations with his feet.

Then you have Murray, who isn't getting a lot of draft love. He flirted with heading to the NFL, but also decided to stay in school. Murray's height (listed at 6-1) has hurt his draft status, but he has a solid arm, moves around well with his feet and has really improved his decision making. He had the stigma of not coming up in big games, but showed improvements in 2012 with his second-half effort in the Dawgs' win against Florida and with the way he played against Alabama in the SEC championship game. He'll probably end the 2013 season with a handful of SEC/Georgia records and should become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four straight seasons.

Other draft-eligible quarterbacks I'm keeping an eye on this fall:

  • Jeff Driskel, Florida: He wasn't great last year, but there's no denying Driskel has talent. He's more comfortable with the playbook, and he has a lot more confidence. He must have more command and develop better chemistry with his receivers this fall.
  • James Franklin, Missouri: He spent most of last season battling injuries, but finally isn't dealing with excruciating shoulder pain. His confidence was up this spring and that will go a long way this fall.
  • Zach Mettenberger, LSU: He really came along in November and has all of his receiving targets back. People at LSU feel like he's much more comfortable with Cam Cameron's guidance.
  • Tyler Russell, Mississippi State: He's had an up-and-down career with the Bulldogs, but when he was on last year he was extremely efficient. He lost all of his receivers from last year and can't press like he did late last season.
  • Connor Shaw, South Carolina: It's hard to find a tougher quarterback out there. Shaw has dealt with a lot of injuries, but when he's been on the field, he's had a lot of success. Here's a chance for him to really improve his draft stock.

Did you know: Texas A&M-Alabama

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
10:56
AM CT


It's that time when we check out news and notes from this week's key SEC game:
  • The Texas A&M at Alabama matchup is one of the two most efficient offenses in the SEC. The Aggies lead the SEC in highest average points per drive (3.09 / 336 points in 110 offensive drives) with the Tide second at 3.07 (332 in 108) points per drive. The Tide leads the SEC in overall scoring-efficiency percentage (50.9 percent / 55 scoring drives out of 108 total drives) and the Aggies are second at 49.6 percent (60 of 121). In touchdown scoring efficiency, the Aggies lead the SEC at 40.5 percent (49 TD drives out of 121 overall drives) while the Tide are second at 38.9 percent (42 of 108).
  • Alabama leads the series history, 3-1. It’s the first visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the Aggies. The teams played in the 1942 and 1968 Cotton Bowls, in 1985 at Legion Field in Birmingham and 1988 in College Station.
  • Alabama’s Jeremy Shelley is the only kicker in the nation not to miss an extra-point (40-40) or field goal (9-9) this season.
  • The Aggies are 1-10 in games against No. 1 ranked teams, with the lone victory being a 30-26 win over Oklahoma in 2002.
  • A&M has scored first in every game in 2012, and in 14 straight games dating back to 2011.
  • Johnny Manziel has already broken A&M’s record for quarterback rushing yards in a season (922).
  • Manziel is the only player in FBS to average at least 10 yards per rush and 10 yards per pass attempt in those situations, and his 11 touchdowns responsible for in those situations are three more than any other FBS player. He has gained 634 rushing yards on scrambles. That is 182 more yards scrambling than Denard Robinson, Braxton Miller and Collin Klein have combined. Manziel has scrambled for 28 first downs this season, including 18 first downs on third down.
  • Manziel is completing 71.8 percent of his passes on first down this season, one of only six players to complete at least 70 percent of his passes on first down this season (min. 140 attempts).
  • Alabama is 21-6 against the AP Top 25 during the last four seasons and 12-4 against AP Top 10 teams.
  • Alabama QB AJ McCarron has gone 204 pass attempts this season and 289 dating back to last season without an interception. Since 2000, he is the only player in FBS with at least 25 career touchdown passes (38) and as few as five interceptions.
  • The Tide defense averages 5.44 three-and-outs per game and its 45.4 percent rate is second highest in the nation.
  • The Aggies and Tide have shared three head coaches in their histories -- Bear Bryant (A&M 1954-57; Alabama 1958-82), Gene Stallings (A&M 1965-71; Alabama 1990-96) and Dennis Franchione (A&M 2003-07; Alabama 2001-02).

Manziel and Aggies run over Bulldogs

November, 3, 2012
11/03/12
3:54
PM CT

Heading into Saturday, Texas A&M had mopped the floor with most of the defenses it faced. But it just couldn't get by quality defenses in the second half.

The 16th-ranked Aggies had a lot to prove against No. 15 Mississippi State and its defense, and they didn't disappoint. Behind flashy freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Aggies rolled up 693 yards in their 38-13 win against the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State's defense was looking to rebound after getting pounded by No. 1 Alabama the week before, but regressed mightily in front of its home crowd. Johnny Football gashed the Bulldogs for 129 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and also threw for 311 yards. The only positive for the Bulldogs' defense was that it didn't allow a passing touchdown from Manziel.

And when Manziel wasn't gutting the Bulldogs' defense, running back Ben Malena and Christine Michael did a pretty good job of helping their quarterback out, as they combined for 162 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries.

Receivers Mike Evans and Ryan Swope also combined for 18 catches for 218 yards.

Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC) took a big step forward, as it continues to grow in its first year in the SEC, while the Bulldogs (7-2, 3-2) took a major step back. It's becoming painfully obvious that Mississippi State's soft early schedule masked a lot of issues this team has on both offense and defense.

Quarterback Tyler Russell looked efficient during the first part of the season, but in the past two games, he's thrown for 381 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions on 34-of-60 passing. The offense has been overmatched and the defense has been gutted by the two best teams the Bulldogs have played this season. A lot of credit has to go to Texas A&M, which held the Bulldogs to 310 yards and just 98 rushing yards, but Mississippi State hasn't had any sort of offensive rhythm in the past two games.

The really troubling issue is how poorly the defense has played. It's given up 30-plus points in three of its past four games (two losses), and more than 1,000 combined yards in the past two weeks.

For a team that looked like it could win nine or even 10 this season, those numbers just got a lot harder with a tough schedule still remaining in the month of November.

Offseason to-do list: Texas A&M

January, 19, 2012
1/19/12
11:16
AM CT
Hard as it is to believe, the start of spring practice for some teams isn’t too far away.

In other words, the offseason is upon us, and we all know how important these next five or six months are to the development of any team.

Today, we’ll unveil our offseason to-do lists for the newest SEC member.

TEXAS A&M
  • First-year head coach Kevin Sumlin will obviously want to put his stamp on the program, and just as pressing will be implementing his offense and making sure everybody understands it and is on the same page.
  • The Aggies need to find a replacement at quarterback for Ryan Tannehill, which likely means getting Jameill Showers ready. If it’s not Showers, then maybe Johnny Manziel makes his move.
  • Something says Sumlin and the new staff will see to it that the Aggies’ second-half issues from last season are also addressed.

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