NCF Nation: LSU

Can anyone recall a season in recent memory that promises to be as wide open as this one? Every team in the SEC has holes. Every team has question marks. But almost every team has talent and legitimate hopes of a banner season.

How will it all shake out? This is our first shot at it, so take it easy on us. Like most of you, we will know a lot more about every team in the conference by the time the weekend is through.

But if there is one thing I'm confident in, it's that an SEC team will compete in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Sorry if I'm not buying that two will make it. Maybe next season, when all these inexperienced quarterbacks are a year more mature, but not now.
  • CFB Playoff (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
  • Cotton Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina
  • Orange Bowl, Dec. 31: LSU
  • Birmingham Bowl, Jan. 3: Vanderbilt
  • TaxSlayer Bowl, Jan. 2: Florida
  • Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia
  • Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Auburn
  • Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Missouri
  • Belk Bowl, Dec. 30: Mississippi State
  • AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Dec. 29: Texas A&M
  • AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 29: Ole Miss
HOOVER, Ala. -- What will Day 3 in Hoover hold? Let’s take a look and see, in order of appearance.

Missouri (10:30 a.m. ET): It will be interesting to see whether there will be a focus on the future or the past for the Tigers. Looking at the latter, there’s plenty to talk about. The departure of Dorial Green-Beckham and his subsequent transfer to Oklahoma will be a major point of discussion. So will the lasting impact of Michael Sam. But if we’re looking at how the Tigers will fare in 2014 -- you know, the intended purpose of this media days ordeal -- then there’s plenty to dive into. How is Maty Mauk handling being "the guy" at quarterback now that James Franklin is gone? What does the running back situation look like without Henry Josey? What happens to a defense that lost key parts at nearly every position?

LSU (2 p.m.): The offseason has been a blast for coach Les Miles. Or that’s how it seemed with him kissing a pig and dominating at putt-putt golf. If you want to go all the way back to February, you can find an even bigger reason he should arrive in Hoover excited. The recruiting class he signed then, which came in at No. 2 overall according to ESPN, should be a major focus of Wednesday’s back-and-forth with the media. Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 overall prospect in the country this year, has a chance to start at running back. So does fellow blue-chipper Malachi Dupre, who joins a receiver corps that’s missing both of its starters from a season ago. Up and down the roster, there are a ton of unknowns, but look for Miles to answer each question with the quirky charm we've come to expect from the Mad Hatter.

Arkansas (3:30 p.m.): Last year’s media days was fun. One big reason: the way Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn traded barbs about the supposed hazards of running a no-huddle offense. Bielema made an argument about player safety; Malzahn said he thought it was a joke -- but it wasn’t. A minor feud was born that day, and both coaches have tried to downplay it ever since. But rest assured that Bielema will be asked about it once again when he steps to the podium in the afternoon. If he engages, watch out. Otherwise, look for plenty of questions about the state of the offense: how running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams have progressed; how the line will hold up without center Travis Swanson; and whether presumptive starting quarterback Brandon Allen is truly ready to take the next step.
If the SEC has plenty of one thing, it's athletes.

Every year we see running backs and wide receivers that can make one move and go the distance. They're explosive in every sense of the word. They're quick, fast and utterly elusive.

In 2013, Henry Josey and Tre Mason were home run hitters at running back. Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews routinely burned defenses deep at receiver. Heck, who can forget Johnny Manziel's big-play antics at quarterback?

But all of those playmakers have moved on. Now it's time for a new group of explosive athletes to emerge on offense in the SEC.

Here's a rundown of each team's most dangerous weapons:
  • Alabama: A talented return man, Christion Jones knows how to operate in space and break free from the defense. Amari Cooper, meanwhile, has the feet of a ballerina and can dance away from coverage just as well -- or run right by it. After experiencing a down sophomore year due to injury, he should return to his freshman form where he had 19 receptions for 20 yards or more. And don’t lose sight of Kenyan Drake while you’re at it. Even on limited carries last season he had 29 rushes of 10 or more yards.
  • Auburn: Speed is in ample supply at Auburn, from quarterback to receiver to running back. Nick Marshall’s agility and big-play ability under center speaks for itself. Meanwhile, Sammie Coates has some of the best straight-line speed you’ll find in the country. And, finally, running back Corey Grant is one of the league’s all-time burners, having reportedly clocked a sub-4.2 second 40-yard dash. He had 29 rushes of 10 or more yards last season and averaged a whopping 9.8 yards per carry.
  • Arkansas: Bret Bielema needs some help at receiver. Sure, Keon Hatcher (12.8 yards per catch) showed some promise late and the return of Demetrius Wilson from injury is reason for hope. But ultimately the real big-play ability on offense comes from the running backs. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined for 56 rushes for 10 or more yards last season -- a number that would have tied for third nationally behind Jordan Lynch (64) and Taysom Hill (60).
  • Florida: Andre Debose, when healthy, is an athlete with world-class speed. After all, he was a state track champion in high school, running the 100-meter dash in 10.68 seconds. It’s part of why he already holds the school record of four kickoff returns for touchdowns -- a record tied for tops in SEC history with Willie Gault, Felix Jones and Brandon Boykin. How's that for good company? With two major injuries hopefully now in his past, Debose is a threat to score at both receiver and in the return game.
  • Georgia: Malcolm Mitchell will be a welcome return at receiver after missing all but one game last season with a torn ACL. When he was healthy, he was able to run in the neighborhood of a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. He and Chris Conley, who led the team in receiving yards last year, can stress any secondary. That’s not to mention Justin Scott-Wesley, who was a state champion in both the 100- and 200-meter dash in high school.
  • Kentucky: You should know Javess Blue's name, but chances are that many of you probably don’t. Unfortunately his work at receiver flew mostly under the radar at Kentucky in 2013. His five catches of 20-plus yards may not sound overwhelming, but you have to remember he did that without much help from his quarterbacks. Still, Blue is a burner to the tune of a 4.29 second 40-yard dash.
  • LSU: Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. will be missed. But coach Les Miles wasn’t left lacking for playmakers on offense when they went on to the NFL. Terrence Magee was quietly one of the most explosive backs in the league last season with 10 rushes for 20 or more yards. Even so, No. 1 overall recruit Leonard Fournette might overshadow him. Fournette is not just big and strong, he’s also fast. (Think of a young Adrian Peterson). And while we’re talking true freshmen, Malachi Dupre has the chance to make an immediate impact at receiver. The former five-star prospect runs in the 4.5-second 40-yard dash range, and has impressive size and a vertical to match.
  • Mississippi State: It’s a make or break year for Mississippi State’s offense. In the past coach Dan Mullen has struggled to find playmakers. Now he has three guys who can really spread out a defense. Jameon Lewis, who has the tools of a poor man’s Percy Harvin, is a great underneath receiver, and Brandon Holloway, who can play either running back or receiver, is lightning quick and deadly in space. With De’Runnya Wilson standing at 6-foot-5 with the leaping ability of a true basketball player (he's a forward for the Bulldogs, in case you didn't know), Mullen’s offense should be able to attack every level of the secondary.
  • Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel lost a lot of firepower on both sides of the ball this offseason. But even with Dorial Green-Beckham and LaDamian Washington no longer in Columbia, there are still plenty of dangerous weapons on offense. Russell Hansbrough is a talented back who had 20 rushes for 10 or more yards in 2013. Then factor in Bud Sasser (13.88 yards per play) and Marcus Murphy (17 career touchdowns four different ways: rushing, kickoff return, punt return and receiving), and the Tiger offense should be able to stretch the field just fine.
  • Ole Miss: By now you ought to know about Laquon Treadwell, who finished second only to Jordan Matthews in the SEC in total receptions last season (72). He became the first player in school history to be named SEC Freshman of the Year by the league coaches. Though he may lack elite top-end speed, he more than makes up for it with his elusiveness and ability to make yards after the catch. And don’t sleep on running back Jaylen Walton. In addition to being the team's primary kick returner, he also rushed for 523 yards last season. His 29 receptions were fourth on the team and he led all Rebs with eight total touchdowns.
  • South Carolina: Dylan Thompson may not have a lot of height at receiver, but he’s got plenty of speed. Shaq Roland is an All-SEC type of talent, if he can play with some consistency. His 18.2 yards per play last year ranked 15th nationally (minimum 25 touches). Opposite him at receiver is Damiere Byrd, who could be the fastest player in the league. His 17.3 yards per play ranked 20th nationally and an impressive 72.7 percent of his receptions went for either a first down or a touchdown.
  • Tennessee: Outside of a spectacular one-handed grab against South Carolina, Marquez North and his 13 yards per catch were somewhat lost in the shuffle last season. At 6-foot-4 and in the neighborhood of 220 pounds, he shouldn’t have the speed he does. With his size and athleticism (he won the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics 110-meter hurdles at the age of 12), he’s a threat to burn any defensive back in the SEC.
  • Texas A&M: All credit goes to Kevin Sumlin for pulling in some top-tier athletes on the recruiting trail the past two years. Trey Williams, who still has to adjust to the ins and outs of the running back position, has the speed and agility to be a breakout star this season. Meanwhile, there’s Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil to consider. They’ll wow you in different ways -- Noil is all moves and agility and speed, while Seals-Jones is pure height and jumping ability -- but both are threats to score from anywhere on the field.
  • Vanderbilt: The first sentence of Brian Kimbrow’s high school scouting report by ESPN says it all: “Kimbrow may be small but he's an electrifying running back prospect with excellent speed and quickness.” When you think of his running style, think of Warrick Dunn. Kimbrow came on strong as a freshman in 2012 with 413 yards on only 66 carries, but he saw his production taper off last year behind Jerron Seymour and Wesley Tate on the depth chart. Now he has a fresh start under new coach Derek Mason, who showed a major commitment to the running game while at Stanford.

SEC race update: Week 13

November, 21, 2013
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The SEC championship race will play out over the next two weeks.

It's no surprise that top-ranked Alabama remains in the driver's seat in the SEC West at 7-0 in conference play, but No. 6 Auburn has come out of nowhere and is nipping at the Tide's heels after a dramatic victory over Georgia.

In the SEC East, No. 8 Missouri continues to sit atop the scrum with one conference loss.

With that, let's have a look at how the division races are shaping up with only a handful of regular-season games remaining.

Western Division

  • The Iron Bowl, for the first time in its history, will serve as a play-in game for the SEC Championship game. With Alabama undefeated (10-0, 7-0 SEC) and Auburn with one loss (9-1, 6-1), the team that wins on Nov. 30 at Jordan-Hare Stadium will move on to Atlanta and a chance to play the winner of the East. The loser will finish second in the division.
  • The second rung of the West is far less clear, though. Texas A&M leads the pack with two losses, but Ole Miss and LSU aren't far behind with three losses each. Because of that, Saturday's game between LSU and Texas A&M is huge. But even if the Aggies win out and finish with two losses, they can do no better than third because Auburn and Alabama each hold a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Eastern Division

  • Missouri (9-1, 5-1) is in the same position it was two weeks ago -- Mizzou was off last week. If the Tigers win their next two games, against Ole Miss and Texas A&M, they're in the SEC Championship game. One loss, though, and they're out of a trip to Atlanta as South Carolina (8-2, 6-2) is finished with its conference schedule and already holds a head-to-head tiebreaker with Missouri after beating the Tigers on Oct. 26.
  • Georgia, by way of its heartbreaking loss at Auburn last weekend, is officially out of the race. The best the Bulldogs can hope for now is a third-place finish. But if Georgia loses to Kentucky on Saturday and Vanderbilt beats Tennessee, we could be looking at the Commodores in third place, tied at four conference losses each but holding the tiebreaker by way of their head-to-head victory.


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Not everything went right for Alabama, especially on defense, but the top-ranked Crimson Tide hit their stride late and pulled away from No. 10 LSU in the fourth quarter to win 38-17.

It was over when: When Alabama's offensive line got in its groove, there wasn't a thing LSU could do about it. T.J. Yeldon got the room he needed to operate, and the rest was smooth sailing. Alabama leaned heavily on the running game in the second half to pull away from LSU, punctuated by 10-play, 71-yard drive that ate up 4:41 and put the Tide ahead by two scores.

Game ball goes to: He was a bit of the forgotten man this week, but Yeldon found a way to make his mark against LSU once again. The talented true sophomore showed great patience and vision with the football, finding the hole in the defense again and again. His 133 yards and two touchdowns proved to be the difference for Alabama's offense.

Stat of the game: AJ McCarron struggled some in the early going, but he found his stride after a while. He might not have turned in the Heisman Trophy performance some hoped for, but he was efficient and productive, something he has done his entire career. In fact, he became the team's all-time leader in passing yards on Saturday night, surpassing John Parker Wilson for first place.

Unsung hero of the game: Tana Patrick has spent the majority of his career on the bench for Alabama, a reserve who saw the field primarily when the game was out of hand. But when Bama went to the goal line package against LSU, there he was. His forced fumble early against LSU kept J.C. Copeland from scoring and kept the game from getting out of hand quickly.

What it means for Alabama: The road to the SEC Championship remains unfettered for the top-ranked Crimson Tide. Hurdling the obstacle that is LSU was huge, as it is every year. The Tigers gave Alabama all it could handle, especially on defense, where Zach Mettenberger abused Bama's corners. Now all that remains is another set of Tigers -- this time from Auburn. The Iron Bowl likely will serve as a play-in game for the SEC Championship.

What it means for LSU: Les Miles was playing with house money already, but that didn't negate the sense of loss on the LSU sideline. The Tigers, already with two losses before this weekend, now must fight to get back into a BCS bowl. A Nov. 23 matchup with Texas A&M in Baton Rouge could be the difference between a meaningful postseason game or not.

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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We've reached the midway point of the season. And, well, some teams are hot while others are certainly not. Let's take a look.

GLOWING EMBERS

Missouri: Who knew? Prognosticators, both professional and amateur, are surely coming out of the woodwork by now, telling anyone who will listen how they had Missouri atop the SEC East before the start of the season. But tell those people to politely remove their tinfoil hats and drift slowly back to earth. No one had Missouri competing for a chance at the SEC championship. James Franklin hadn't even won the starting quarterback job entering fall camp. And the defense, without its best player in Sheldon Richardson, looked like a significant question mark. Sure, Gary Pinkel's bunch had to get better after all the injuries a year ago, but this? Pinkel's bunch is playing great football and we're only now starting to take notice after the way the Tigers throttled Georgia on the road 41-26. Missouri is in the top three in the SEC in scoring, passing and rushing offense, and most importantly the Tigers are leading the league in turnover margin.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMissouri is riding high after beating Georgia to remain unbeaten and climb to No. 14 in the AP poll.
HOT

SEC in the polls: The SEC set a record on Sunday for the most schools (eight) in The Associated Press college football poll. Though just Alabama remains in the top five, having so many teams scattered throughout the poll says something about the depth of the league. LSU and Texas A&M are both title contenders despite having one loss, and South Carolina isn't far behind at all. Florida, despite losing its starting quarterback, has maintained course, and Georgia, while seriously decimated by injuries, should remain in the top 25 this season. The surprises, though, are what make the league so special. No one had Missouri in the top 15 and very few thought Gus Malzahn could turn around Auburn so quickly, getting it back into the top 25 for the first time since November 2011.

NOT

Ole Miss: One team that would have made nine SEC schools in the AP Top 25, Ole Miss, dropped from the rankings two weeks ago when it lost to Auburn on the road. That defeat was bad enough. Losing at home to Texas A&M on a last-minute touchdown from Johnny Manziel on Saturday night made it even worse. Sure, Ole Miss wasn't favored to win the game, but that didn't dull the sting of seeing another win slip away. Hugh Freeze told anyone who'd listen this offseason to expect some bumps in the road, that his team couldn't live up to the sky-high expectations being forced upon it. But Freeze couldn't help going 3-0 and beating Vanderbilt and Texas on the road. Now his team has come down from its early-season high and the holes we all expected -- offensive line, depth on defense, etc. -- are once again glaring. And with No. 6 LSU up next, things aren't getting any easier for the Rebels.

HOT

The Mad Hatter: Was Florida's defense that good? Was LSU's offense that bad? Did any of that matter? Nitpick all you want at LSU's 17-6 win at home over Florida, but the fact remains Les Miles' bunch won the game, improved to 6-1 on the season and remains right in the thick of the championship race. Yes, we all expected Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to do more through the air, but like a pitcher on the mound without his best stuff, LSU found a way to survive the day with a W. Jeremy Hill proved once again why he's one of the best running backs in the country, and we may have seen LSU's embattled young defense take an important step forward.

NOT

Clowney the villain: I'm reminded of the Jay-Z song "Can I Live," and no, it's not because of the rumor that the rap mogul tried to sign Jadeveon Clowney before the start of the season. Instead, you have to look at South Carolina's embattled defensive end as a point of over-speculation. Let's just let the man live. No, he's not having the Heisman Trophy campaign many hoped for, but so what? How many defensive players win the trophy, anyway? Forget the missed snaps and missed practices and all of the talk that surrounds Clowney and just appreciate his talent. Remember, he'll be gone to the NFL soon. Maybe after weeks and weeks of harping on the negative with very little to show for it, we can just let him play the game and watch him like we would any other player.

[+] EnlargeAlabama Defense
AP Photo/Garry JonesThe Alabama defense had a streak of 14 quarters without yielding a touchdown snapped at Kentucky.
HOT

Alabama's defense: It took two defenders literally running into each other for Alabama to finally surrender an offensive touchdown. Against Kentucky, cornerbacks John Fulton and Jarrick Williams collided in coverage and both fell to the turf. UK wideout Javess Blue gladly caught the wide-open pass and trotted untouched into the end zone. And thus ended Alabama's streak of 14 quarters without allowing a single offensive touchdown. Alabama's defense, which garnered its fair share of criticism after being lit up by Texas A&M -- what defense hasn't? -- has played lights out since.

NOT

Kentucky's offense: The Air Raid 2.0 didn't get an inch off the ground Saturday in Lexington. Kentucky's young offense was dominated by Alabama, held to under 200 yards. It took a fluke play for the Wildcats to even score (see above). Converting on 2 of 12 third downs is bad no matter how you slice it. And to make matters worse, UK starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow looks like he'll miss some time after injuring his ankle. The good news is nothing was broken, but for a player who relies heavily on his mobility, coming back early isn't an option. Give Mark Stoops credit for what he has done on defense, but he has some work to do on the other side of the ball. You're not going to score many points in this league when you're starting a walk-on at wide receiver as UK did on Saturday night.

FREEZER BURN

Homecoming disaster: Steve Spurrier's words after the game said it all. "I do feel badly for Arkansas," the South Carolina coach explained. "That's not fun getting your butt beat at home, homecoming and all." Why Arkansas scheduled the Gamecocks for its homecoming game is anyone's guess. But whoever did it should be second-guessing himself or herself today. In front of alumni and fans, the Hogs jumped out to a 7-0 lead, only to see South Carolina score 52 unanswered points and win going away. The Gamecocks threw for 260 yards to Arkansas' 30 and held the football 43:25 to Arkansas' 16:35. Watching, it felt like there was barely enough time to throw a parade, let alone name a homecoming queen.
It's easy to look at LSU's success offensively this season and believe that Cam Cameron has the Midas touch. The night-and-day difference has been that startling. The eye-popping numbers -- 488.7 yards per game, 45.5 points per game -- are leaps and bounds better than they've been in years past.

But truth be told, Cameron walked into the perfect situation when he was signed on as LSU's offensive coordinator in February. He didn't have to overhaul anything. He didn't arrive in Baton Rouge twirling a magic wand in one hand and a spellbook of plays in another. The parts were already in place. He just had to get them running efficiently.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Zach Mettenberger is only one of several worries for defenses facing LSU.
Les Miles would have told you so if you'd only asked. LSU's often eccentric head coach would have you believe he envisioned this kind of turnaround when he hired Cameron.

"I felt like it was just exactly the right pieces or factors to come together," Miles told reporters on Monday. "You have a veteran quarterback that can really throw it. You have a veteran receiving corps that can really run routes and receive the ball. Yeah, I really did [see it coming]. I don't underestimate our offense, nor do I underestimate Cam."

Whether you believe Miles' premonition is one thing. But understanding the root of LSU's offensive turnaround is cut and dried. What it comes down to is simple: balance. Cameron didn't bring an innovative scheme or better personnel with him, he simply unpacked his bags and used what was already there more effectively than his predecessors. His deft touch was golden, but not glaringly so.

LSU's scheme, as best summed up by its leading receiver, is downright elementary. It's old school in that it operates mostly under center and uses two or more running backs 72 percent of the time.

"You know, you can't run without passing and you can't pass without running," Odell Beckham Jr. said after LSU thumped Mississippi State 59-26 this past weekend. "We have great running backs in the backfield, and that's a threat. They have to respect that. If they load the box up we're going to throw the ball and then if they back off a little bit we're going to break big runs."

If Beckham's explanation seemed coy, it wasn't meant to be. Stopping LSU's offense isn't as simple as stopping the run or the pass. You can't blitz your way out of it or scheme against any one player in particular. As a defensive coordinator, you're basically left to hope for the best.

You can't double-team Beckham. If you do, Jarvis Landry will get you. The two receivers are first and second in receptions per game in the SEC. Beckham leads the country in all-purpose yards while Landry is tied for fourth in touchdown receptions. You can try playing off coverage and they'll burn you just the same. Mississippi State tried, playing 6 and 7 yards off of Beckham all night, and he still managed 179 yards and two touchdowns.

You can try playing two safeties back and shading them toward Beckham and Landry for help over the top, but that won't work either. If you leave only seven in the box, you're likely to regret it. With LSU's stable of running backs, they'll make you pay. Jeremy Hill, a 235-pound bowling ball of power and quickness, is second nationally with nine rushing touchdowns. When he leaves the game, Alfred Blue comes on, averaging 5 yards or more on 51.4 percent of his carries.

If you do everything right and somehow double-cover Beckham and Landry and stop the run, then you're still left with the matter of Zach Mettenberger. There might be no bigger turnaround in college football than LSU's senior quarterback. Mettenberger, thanks to the tutelage of Cameron, is first in the SEC and fifth nationally in raw QBR (86.7).

Mettenberger is fitting balls into windows that make scouts blush. The "oohs" from three pro scouts sitting next to me were audible even over the clanging of thousands of cowbells in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday night. You can do everything right and he'll still get you. The Bulldogs' defense played well and he still managed to complete a ridiculous 25 of 29 passes for 340 yards, defying blanket coverage and pass-rushers nipping at his heels.

"When you play LSU you have to prepare for the run," Mettenberger said matter-of-factly. "[Mississippi State] came out hyped and they did a really good job executing their run defense. But again that left holes in the secondary and we were able to execute and really soften them up for the run game."

Even LSU defensive tackle Ego Ferguson had to laugh.

"I told Coach Cam, 'What did you do that for?'" said Ferguson on LSU hanging 59 points and 563 yards of offense. "It was a great game, man. I've never seen an offense like that before. Zach Mettenberger is playing great. I call him old Drew Bledsoe."

And like those old Patriots teams, the theory on offense is balance. LSU doesn't run to set up the pass and it doesn't pass to set up the run. Cameron isn't using a gimmicky scheme. Instead, defenses make a choice: Would you like Hill and Blue to beat you, or Mettenberger, Beckham and Landry?

Pick your poison.

Florida will have to when it travels to Baton Rouge on Saturday. The 17th-ranked Gators have allowed the lowest Total QBR (13.0) of any defense and the second fewest rushing yards per game (65.0).

"They’re going to get movement in the run game, they do a nice job in protection, but again, balance is the word you’re looking for," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "You have to try and make this a one-dimensional game as best you can and understand they’re very effective at throwing the football, and that’s where they’ve hurt some people."
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- They craned their necks like prairie dogs drawn helplessly toward something off in the distance. Some of LSU's defensive players stretched from the bench on the sideline to see the Jumbotron in the south end zone, while others simply stood straight up, turned around and watched their offense race down the field against Mississippi State.

Purple-and-gold-clad coaches in headsets milled around them, shaking their heads at the action. But was it at the success of Zach Mettenberger and their offense or at their own ineptitude on defense? The way the game went back and forth for so long, it was hard to tell.

LSU's defense, long the backbone of the program, showed little resolve Saturday night against unranked Mississippi State, surrendering big play after big play in the passing game while simultaneously getting gashed up the middle with runs between the tackles. The final score, a hard-fought 59-26 win over the Bulldogs, was fine in the short term, with LSU improving to 5-1 overall while remaining squarely in the title picture. But it didn't bode well for the 10th-ranked Tigers' outlook moving forward when it must turn its attention to even more potent offenses like Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M in the second half of the season.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsDak Prescott rushed for 103 yards and threw for 106 as Mississippi State ravaged the LSU defense.
Everyone has accepted the fact that the defense had to rebuild after losing eight starters to the NFL last spring, but this? Missing tackles and being overwhelmed physically has never been a part of LSU's identity. There wasn't an inch of sideline that Les Miles didn't pace during the first half, when he nervously contemplated the dangerous tightrope his team continues to walk on defense.

Giving up points in bunches to Georgia a week ago was one thing. This was another. This kind of effort, six games into the season, was a trend. All LSU's head coach had to fall back on was the idea that a strong second half was something to build on.

"We weren't perfect in any way," Miles explained after the game, "but we're a young team that's coming, and we'll certainly build on this."

Miles lauded his offense after the game, cheering on a group that has performed a turnaround few could have imagined. Cam Cameron stepped in as offensive coordinator this offseason and worked wonders, harnessing Mettenberger's pro potential to the tune of 15 touchdowns and a per-game average of 290 yards passing. Saturday night marked the sixth consecutive game LSU scored 30 or more points and racked up 400 or more yards, both school records.

But longtime defensive coordinator John Chavis has had no such renaissance. Saddled with a slew of inexperienced players at every level, he has had trouble stopping anyone this year. LSU came into the weekend averaging roughly 40 yards and a dozen more points per game than it did a season ago.

Mississippi State, which has struggled to score points consistently and still hasn't found a clear-cut starter at quarterback, scored at will for the better part of three quarters, racking up 468 total yards, including 13 plays of 15 or more yards. When Dak Prescott wasn't burning LSU with the read-option, Tyler Russell was picking apart the secondary from the pocket.

It wasn't until a fourth-quarter turnover that the bleeding stopped and LSU looked like a prohibitive favorite again. Jeremy Hill made sure Tre'Davious White's interception counted when he took the ensuing handoff 5 yards for the touchdown, putting LSU ahead by two scores.

LSU would pad its lead and run away with the win in Starkville, but it didn't come without its consequences. Suddenly Florida, which scored 30 points in a win over Arkansas the same night, didn't look like such a winnable game.

"It's coming along," a hopeful Ego Ferguson said. "Rome wasn't built in a day. We're just going to go out there and practice hard every day, prepare hard like we do every week and gradually get better."

LSU's mammoth defensive tackle said he understands that the roles might be different this season. The offense, long the struggling little sister at LSU, is suddenly the one taking the lead, with the defense trailing behind.

"I believe our offense is probably the best in the country," Ferguson said. "We have the best wide receiver duo in Odell [Beckham] and Jarvis [Landry] and we have four running backs who can play great. Right now we're going to keep fighting for them and they'll keep fighting for us."

One of those running backs, Kenny Hilliard, ran for 45 yards and three touchdowns against Mississippi State. He said that with the defensive woes, it has become something of a game of attrition.

"We have to put up numbers," he said. "The defense is going to get the job done to a certain extent, and we're going to have to go out there and put more points on the board than the opposition."

For Miles and the Tigers to stay at the head of the class with Alabama in the SEC West, a high-powered offense won't be enough. Rediscovering its defensive identity is a must, and maybe that process began in the second half against Mississippi State.

"We were a little younger last game," Miles said. "We weren't as young this game. We'll have to see if we can't improve on that and be a little faster and a little older next week."

What we learned in the SEC: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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It was another wild weekend in the SEC. Here are five things we learned around the conference in Week 5.

Georgia and LSU are title contenders: Everything about the game lived up to the hype. Well, except maybe the defenses, but we'll get to that later. LSU and Georgia nonetheless played a game for the ages Saturday afternoon, with quarterbacks Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray trading blows seemingly every time their teams got the football. Georgia ultimately prevailed, of course, but it's impossible to walk away not feeling like both teams are well positioned to make a run at an SEC championship. It's only LSU's first loss, and we've seen how that's no deterrent to making a run at the postseason. The Tigers will get their shot at No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 9. And Georgia, by winning, avoided a dreaded second loss on its resume. The Bulldogs seasoning-opening loss to Clemson actually might end up adding some style points in the end. With Florida's offense struggling and South Carolina playing inconsistent football, Mark Richt has to feel good about his program's position in the East.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesMike Davis helped South Carolina salvage a win at UCF with 150 rushing yards in the second half.
Get used to high scoring games: Calm down all you doomsday sayers: The SEC isn't imploding before your very eyes. Yes, it is very unusual to see this many shootouts in a league that's long prided itself on dominating defense. Georgia and LSU used to win in knockdown drag-outs, but Saturday was so much different as the schools combined for 943 yards and 85 points. But what happened in Athens, Ga., wasn't the final nail in the coffin of SEC defenses. Let the season progress. Mettenberger and Murray are two of the best passers in the country, and the LSU and Georgia defenses are very young. They're talented. They'll learn. And they're not going to be happy with what happened, neither one of them. Alabama pitched a shutout against a high powered Ole Miss offense, and Florida gave up just one touchdown to Kentucky. When it comes to defense, maybe not all is lost. Not yet.

Alabama showed why its No. 1: The week was all about questioning Alabama -- everything from the secondary to the offensive line to whether the Tide was actually worthy of being ranked No. 1. Nick Saban asked for positivity from his fan base and warned against playing to expectations. Alabama's head coach wasn't worried about answering any one question in particular, just the simple matter of whether his team could beat No. 21 Ole Miss. As it turns out, his team won and answered most of the questions in the process. The Tide's defense was dominant once again, pitching a shutout against Ole Miss' high powered offense, and the offense, which couldn't move the ball consistently or effectively on the ground before, suddenly rediscovered both. Alabama ran for a season-high 254 yards against the Rebels and moved the chains, converting on 8 of 17 third-downs. In short, Alabama looked like itself again, thumping a ranked team at home.

Mike Davis belongs in the conversation: He doesn't usually come up much when discussing the league's top tailbacks. T.J. Yeldon and Todd Gurley usually dominate that conversation. But Mike Davis' name belongs in that group. The South Carolina sophomore has earned his stripes through four games this season, rushing for 508 yards and six touchdowns. The Gamecocks needed every one of his 167 yards Saturday afternoon against UCF, 150 of which came in the second half of the 3-point win on the road in Orlando.

Tennessee is a ways off: This was supposed to be the much needed breather before returning to its gauntlet of a schedule. The Vols, fresh off beatings at the hands of Oregon and Florida in consecutive weeks, couldn't get out of their own way against lowly South Alabama at home on Saturday, winning by the skin of their teeth, 31-24. Maybe they were looking ahead to Georgia and South Carolina, which come to town the following two weeks. Whatever the reason, Butch Jones shouldn't be happy. Tennessee wasted a 24-point lead before holding on with a late interception on fourth-and-goal. Justin Worley and the Vols offense turned the ball over three times and were just 4 of 11 on third downs.

SEC bowl projections: Week 3

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
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Three weeks in, and it's time to check out where we think the SEC teams will land when the regular season is over and postseason play begins.

VIZIO BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 6: Alabama

Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2: LSU

Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia

AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3: Texas A&M

Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina

Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31: Florida

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Ole Miss

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Auburn

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31: Vanderbilt

BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 4: Arkansas

AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Dec. 31: Missouri
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Zach Mettenberger was too quick on his first pass attempt Saturday night.

LSU's senior quarterback spun quickly to his right and rushed to plant his foot as he attempted to fire a pass to Odell Beckham Jr. on the outside. The ball skipped carelessly at the receiver's feet. Mettenberger shook his head, kicking himself for the mistake. With the UAB defender playing off-coverage, it would have been an easy pickup of 5 or more yards and, more importantly, a first down. Instead, it was now third down and 5 yards to go with the punter waiting impatiently on the sidelines. A familiar groan swept through Tiger Stadium -- not again.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Sarah Glenn/Getty ImagesZach Mettenberger and the LSU offense are off to a flying start under Cam Cameron.
It was a snapshot of the old Zach Mettenberger, another über-talented quarterback leaving too many opportunities wasted on the football field. He had all the tools -- good height, good size, a good arm -- but inconsistency plagued his career from Georgia to Butler Community College to LSU. Les Miles and the coaching staff had seen it before, flip-flopping between similarly troubled quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee from 2010-11. They thought Mettenberger would be the one to break the chain last season, but he was too inaccurate and too careless with the football. His 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions wound up placing him 12th out of 13 passers in the SEC in ESPN's Adjusted Quarterback Rating, which accounts for key factors like down, distance, field position, as well as the time and score of the game.

But that was 2012, Mettenberger's first full season starting and Greg Strudawa's second year as LSU's play-caller and quarterbacks coach. That combination failed as the Tigers offense floundered, punctuated by a disappointing 25-24 loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

This is 2013. After failing to complete his first pass against UAB, Mettenberger went back to work the very next play, stepping into a throw that whistled 13 yards over the middle to Tarvin Dural for a first down. The crowd cheered and Tiger Stadium settled in for what would be the best passing night of Mettenberger's career. If last season is what it took for Mettenberger to get to this, then everyone could accept that. He's now 18th nationally in QBR and No. 1 in the SEC.

"If you watch Zach throw the football, he's throwing it with so much confidence," Miles said after the 56-17 win. "He knows where it's supposed to go."

Mettenberger showed all the tell-tale signs of confidence against UAB: He made quick decisions, stepped into passes and didn't mind throwing the ball into coverage. He wound up passing for 282 yards and set a school record with five touchdowns, the first three of which went into double coverage. On his first touchdown, he threw the ball before Beckham broke on his route and fit it narrowly between two defensive backs for the score. He did the same exact thing with Beckham for his second touchdown, and on the third scoring pass he inched the ball just over a leaping safety's hands and into the outstretched arms of Jarvis Landry. They were risky throws, but they were thrown perfectly.

For so long LSU's offense has been risk averse, opting to run the football even in passing situations. The Tigers were 92nd nationally in passing a season ago and have not ranked higher than 71st since 2008.

But this year appears to be different. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has Mettenberger and the offense going a new direction: vertical. And it wasn't just against an overmatched UAB squad. LSU did the same thing to 20th-ranked TCU in the season opener two weeks ago. Mettenberger was 16 of 32 passing for 251 yards and a touchdown against the Horned Frogs, which in itself wasn't overly impressive. But a closer inspection saw the Tigers push the ball downfield with 19 plays of 10 or more yards, compared to the 11.46 it averaged a season ago.

Through two games, an even odder trend has formed, though: LSU is passing to set up the run, not the other way around.

"Here in the past couple of years we've been very good at the run," Mettenberger said. "Teams are coming in trying to load the box on us, and this year when we take our shots we're hitting them. That's something we've all been working on."

Mettenberger said he couldn't remember a specific time where he realized this year would be different, but it could have been the first time he met his new offensive coordinator.

"Meeting [Cameron] got me really excited about the potential because I knew what talent we had," he said. "When he first told me about the X's and O's and everything, I got really excited because potentially this can be one of the best offenses LSU has had in recent years."

Beckham, who had a career night against UAB with five catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns, has been thrilled with the trio he, Landry and Mettenberger have formed, calling it a "dream come true." Together they've combined for 23 receptions, 434 yards and six touchdowns through the air, already only one touchdown off last year's total.

And Beckham said the first two games are only the start.

"Zach is going to be a great quarterback," he said. "As the year develops, he's going to develop.

"I'm looking forward to being a part of it. It's a great start for him."

What to watch in the SEC: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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Ready or not, it's here. The start of the college football season is upon us with all of its promise and potential.

Throughout the SEC, there's a sense of new beginnings, of hope, of the fresh start so many programs have been longing for. Gus Malzahn will lead Auburn for the first time as its head coach, Bret Bielema and Butch Jones will coach their first games in the SEC at Arkansas and Tennessee, respectively, and Mark Stoops will take the first steps in rebuilding a Kentucky program that's struggled historically.

Everyone is on an even keel today, but that all changes when the lines are painted and the football is teed up for the start of the season. So as you get ready for all that Week 1 has to offer, keep an eye on these few things:

1. Return of the champs: Alabama has all the ingredients to make another run at a national title. AJ McCarron and T.J. Yeldon are Heisman Trophy contenders, and the defense is once again littered with potential All-Americans. With a league-best 16 players chosen to the Coaches' Preseason All-SEC Team, there's no doubting the talent assembled in Tuscaloosa, Ala. But can Nick Saban fend off complacency again and help his team meet its full potential? That remains to be seen, though a season opener against Virginia Tech is a good place to start. The Hokies are a three-touchdown underdog that Alabama could easily overlook with a bye week and Texas A&M to follow. Will overconfidence get the best of the Tide? If UA comes out with anything less than 100 percent effort, that could signal trouble for the road ahead.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray will aim to lead Georgia past Clemson in the Bulldogs' opener.
2. An early title test for Georgia: Mark Richt's Bulldogs won't get a chance to test the waters before jumping in headlong this season, as Clemson awaits in Game 1. Never mind letting Aaron Murray and his talented tandem of tailbacks get their bearings, and never mind allowing the revamped defense to find its stride; Georgia will encounter its first obstacle on the road to the national championship right away. Tajh Boyd and the Tigers offense are prolific -- and dangerous -- averaging 512 yards per game a season ago, which was good enough for ninth in the country. And while there's no doubting Georgia's ability on offense, there are some serious questions on the other side of the ball. After all, 10 of the 22 players listed on Georgia's two-deep depth chart have never played a down of FBS football.

3. Can LSU's offense turn the corner?: There have been glimpses of potential, but LSU's offense has never reached its full potential under Les Miles. The defense has been great, sure, but when it's come to scoring points, the Tigers left something to be desired. Not having the right quarterback had something to do with that, though, but this season, that excuse and all others won't be enough as Zach Mettenberger enters his senior season under center and new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron takes control. LSU will still line up and play power football, which it has always done well. The passing game, though, could use some spark, and Miles hopes Cameron is the guy to light that fire, starting with the season opener against TCU. Just because the Horned Frogs come from the defensively challenged Big 12 doesn't mean coach Gary Patterson's squad can't play ball. TCU has long been SEC-like on defense with playmakers like defensive lineman Devonte Fields and cornerback Jason Verrett. They'll get after Mettenberger and give LSU fans an early look at what the Tigers' offense is truly capable of.

4. Florida seeking playmakers: The Gators' woes on offense have been well documented. After all, Florida hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiver or rusher since 2004. Since Tim Tebow left, there hasn't been a lot of chomp to the Gators' bite. For all of Jeff Driskel's faults as a young quarterback, it was hard to figure out exactly who he was supposed to get the football to last season. There was no Percy Harvin to be found. While there doesn't appear to be an All-American brewing at wide receiver now, this season should be better. Losing Matt Jones for the season opener hurts, but it should give other players a chance to step up and make plays. With a date with in-state rival Miami looming, coming out with a bang against Toledo could serve as the springboard to bigger and better things in 2013.

5. Which Johnny Football will it be?: It's only Rice, but Johnny Manziel needs to come out and set the tone right away for what kind of season he hopes to have. The Aggies’ success depends on it. After an offseason filled with turmoil, it's time for all of College Station to turn the page. We've heard time and time again that it will get better when Manziel can put aside the distractions and focus solely on football. Now, he has to prove it. If he really is tired of the college life and ready to move on to the NFL, he'll have to show he's capable of handling the spotlight and performing on the football field. Veterans like Luke Luke Joeckel, Ryan Swope and Damontre Moore are gone. For better or worse, it's Manziel's team, and the pressure is on him now more than ever.
A year ago, things were much different for Johnny Manziel and college football as a whole. The country hadn't yet figured out who he was. And neither had he. Johnny Football hadn't yet been born.

The breathtaking plays, the otherworldly athleticism, the Sharpie-saturated scandal -- none of it had begun to devour College Station midway through fall camp in 2012. We were still wondering how Texas A&M would adjust to the SEC, not the other way around.

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:

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Curtis Wilson/USA TODAY SportsAfter averaging 5.3 yards a carry in spot duty last season, and with a huge line in front of him, Gamecocks running back Mike Davis is poised for a big year.
Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: Steve Spurrier put it best when he went on the ESPN airwaves and told the "First Take" desk, "You don't know much about Mike Davis, but watch him play this year." The 5-foot-9, 215-pound sophomore filled in admirably for Marcus Lattimore when he went down, rushing for 5.3 yards per carry. With a mammoth offensive line -- the smallest of the projected starters coming in at 314 pounds -- South Carolina has to feel good about Davis' potential.

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.

Top SEC rivalries

August, 12, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The SEC is full of colorful and tradition-rich rivalries. And nasty ones, too.

Not all the time, though. Rivalries are like the tide (not Alabama). They ebb and flow. Sometimes they’re fierce and sometimes they’re just another game. We took that into consideration when ranking the top five rivalries in the SEC. We went with the ones that are the hottest right now.

Alabama-LSU

It’s hard to top a game that has national championship implications every year. Plus two of the best coaches in the country. And loads of NFL talent. The teams have met annually since 1964, but the game became even more important in 1992, when both were slotted into the Western Division. The winner of the regular-season meeting has gone on to win the division title eight times in the last 12 seasons, including four of the last five. LSU has won seven of the last 11 meetings, but Bama won the biggest meeting between the two: the 2012 BCS National Championship Game.

Florida-Georgia

This had become a pretty boring rivalry, with the Gators going 18-3 from 1990 to 2010 in the annual meeting in Jacksonville, Fla. But the Bulldogs have won back-to-back games for the first time since 1987-89 and there have been a series of events that have brought an edge back to the rivalry: the Gator Stomp (2007), Urban Meyer’s timeouts (2008), Brandon Spikes’ eye gouge (2009), and Todd Grantham’s choke sign (2010). Plus, the past two meetings have been pretty entertaining. Aaron Murray threw a pair of fourth-down TD passes to rally the Bulldogs from a 17-3 deficit in 2011 and Georgia forced six turnovers last season.

The Iron Bowl

Even though Alabama has won four of the last five meetings and Auburn has posted one winning conference record in the past five seasons, this game still resonates around the conference because of its tradition. Oh, yeah, there also was that Alabama fan who poisoned the trees at Toomer’s Corner. On the field, the Crimson Tide have won four of the last five. The only Auburn victory in that span came in 2010, and it was one that’s going to sting Bama fans for a long time. Cam Newton rallied the Tigers from a 24-0 deficit and led them to a 27-24 victory in Tuscaloosa. Auburn went on to win the national title.

Georgia-South Carolina

What rivalry wouldn’t be juiced by the addition of Steve Spurrier? Georgia has dominated the series (46-17-2) and had won five in a row from 2002 to '06, but South Carolina has won four of the last six games -- including two in Athens. Spurrier arrived in Columbia in 2005 and has gone 4-4 against the Bulldogs despite having some inferior teams. Spurrier hated the Bulldogs from his playing days at Florida, and he carried that over into his coaching career with the Gators and now with the Gamecocks. That’s why his career record against Georgia is 15-5.

The Egg Bowl

A national championship berth or a Western Division title isn’t on the line when these teams meet on Thanksgiving weekend (Thanksgiving night this season), but to the people in Mississippi, this game is just as important. And to the coaches trying to woo the talent throughout the state, it’s a must-win. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen injected a bit of life into the rivalry when he was hired in 2009, stealing a bit from former boss Meyer by referring to Ole Miss as “the other school in the state.” Mullen had been undefeated against Ole Miss until the Rebels’ surprising 41-24 rout last season in coach Hugh Freeze’s first year.

A rising rivalry

Even though Alabama and Texas A&M have met only five times, this is a series that could get pretty interesting pretty quickly now that the teams will be meeting every year. Last season’s meeting, the first since 1988, was an instant classic and pretty much won Johnny Manziel the Heisman Trophy. He led the Aggies to a 29-24 victory in Tuscaloosa, the only game the Crimson Tide would lose en route to the national title. Bama fans are eagerly awaiting the rematch in College Station on Sept. 14.

A falling rivalry

Florida-Tennessee used to be one of the biggest matchups of the season in the 1990s, with the winner having a leg up in the Eastern Division race. Now it carries no more cachet than a Vanderbilt-Kentucky matchup. The Gators have won eight in a row and the Vols haven’t been closer than 10 points in the past six meetings.
LSU has announced its 2013 signing class.

The Tigers finished the day with 27 signees, including seven ESPN 150 and 15 ESPN 300 members. The Tigers grabbed a surprise commit Wednesday afternoon in ESPN 150 defensive end Tashawn Bower (Somerville, N.J./Immaculata), who had been committed to Auburn since June of 2012. There was also talk early Wednesday morning that Bower intended to sign with Florida, but he later said his "heart led me" to LSU.

Other headliners of LSU's class are four-star prospects Kendell Beckwith of Jackson, La., who is the No. 4 athlete in the country, and four-star Jeryl Brazil, who is rated the No. 8 cornerback nationally.

LSU currently ranks seventh in ESPN's class rankings.

Here's a complete list of LSU's 2013 class.

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