- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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The heat might be dying down outside. But in the SEC, it’s still roasting. At least, in some spots.
Who’s ready for a little Hot and Not?:
Florida running back Chris Rainey: About the only thing the guy hasn’t done this season is sweep out the stadium after games. He lit up Tennessee for 233 all-purpose yards, including an 83-yard touchdown catch, and blocked his second punt of the season to lead to a Florida field goal. Rainey became the first Florida player since Percy Harvin in 2007 to rush for more than 100 yards and have more than 100 receiving yards in the same game. Only one other player (Georgia Tech’s Orwin Smith) has done it this season. Rainey brought a lot of negative attention on himself last year with the whole text message incident involving his former girlfriend. A much different kind of attention has come his way this year. Through three games, he’s been one of the best all-around players in college football with two rushing touchdowns, two receiving touchdowns, one punt return for a touchdown and two blocked punts. He’s second in the SEC in all-purpose yards, averaging 187.7 yards per game, and is an absolute blur when he gets into the open field.
Vanderbilt’s defense: The Commodores have scored as many touchdowns on defense as they’ve given up through three games. They have three interception returns for touchdowns, including two by Trey Wilson, and have only given up three touchdowns on defense. Vanderbilt leads the country with 10 interceptions and is tied for second nationally with 12 forced turnovers.
Auburn’s defense: The only three teams ranked lower than Auburn right now in total defense are Memphis, Kansas and North Texas. That’s not the kind of company you want to be keeping on defense when you’re playing in the SEC. Auburn is ranked 117th nationally and has allowed a staggering 1,603 yards in three games. The stats are ugly. But the way this team is tackling right now is even uglier.
Expansion talk: The college football landscape is about to change forever. With Syracuse and Pittsburgh joining the ACC and Oklahoma and Texas talking about a move to the Pac-12, we’re moving ever so closer to four super-conferences. With Texas A&M coming over to the SEC, it looks like it will be either West Virginia or Missouri as the 14th member.
Tennessee’s running game: The Vols pounded out minus-9 yards rushing in their 33-23 loss to Florida. They had 14 runs by the tailbacks that netted a grand total of 27 yards and now find themselves ranked 105th nationally in rushing offense. Tennessee’s running backs need to be more productive, for sure. But that young offensive line we’ve been hearing so much about, the one that’s supposedly oozing with talent, needs to start playing that way.
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore: Without him, South Carolina’s probably 1-2 right now. Lattimore leads the country in rushing, averaging 178 yards per game. He already has 534 yards in three games and is an absolute beast running the football. For those wondering, the single-season SEC rushing record is 1,891 yards, which was set 30 years ago by the great Herschel Walker.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen: Despite the two losses, Mullen is still a very good coach, but a coach who didn’t have his best day last Thursday in the 19-6 loss to LSU. Mississippi State fans aren’t real thrilled with the fact that he benched his starting quarterback with more than 10 minutes to play and didn’t use any timeouts on the final drive. There’s also the matter of Mullen’s 2-10 record against Western Division foes.
LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan: LSU’s defense racked up 16 tackles for loss in the 19-6 win over Mississippi State, and Logan had 3.5 of them. The Tigers run talented defensive linemen in and out of the game at a dizzying pace, and Logan was one of the many that the Bulldogs couldn’t block last Thursday.
Kentucky’s offensive line: The Wildcats managed just 35 rushing yards in their 24-17 loss to Louisville, and quarterback Morgan Newton was sacked six times. This is not the offensive line everyone was expecting at Kentucky this season. Injuries have played a role, but the Wildcats have managed just three rushing touchdowns in their first three games and have already given up 12 sacks. They allowed just 19 sacks in all 13 games a year ago.
Ole Miss: To be fair, the Rebels’ defense has not played that poorly, and it’s certainly been an upgrade from last season. But when you lose 30-7 to Vanderbilt – the Commodores’ most lopsided victory over an SEC team in 40 years – it’s a team thing. It’s not just one phase, one group of players or one coach. It’s everybody, and the simple fact is that Ole Miss is reeling right now. The offense, in particular the offensive line, has been a huge disappointment. The Rebels haven’t been able to run the ball, and quarterback Zack Stoudt had Vanderbilt defenders in his face for much of the game last Saturday. It all added up to five interceptions and just 85 yards rushing. The defense doesn’t get a pass, either, not when you give up 281 rushing yards to a Vanderbilt team that hadn’t rushed for that many yards against an SEC defense in 17 years. Already, the season is teetering. The Rebels desperately need to win at least one of these next two against Georgia or Fresno State. If they don’t, that open week that follows will seem more like a year than a week in Oxford.
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