NCF Nation: Bacarri Rambo

ATHENS, Ga. -- Damian Swann’s hair isn’t thinning and he doesn’t wake up each morning with chronic back pain, but he does feel like the resident old guy in Georgia’s secondary.

The rising junior cornerback spent his first two seasons surrounded by veterans, but entered this spring as the only defensive back in the Bulldogs’ arsenal with any valuable field experience.

It’s a different feeling for Swann, who is going from student to big brother/teacher, but as spring practice winds down, he’s more comfortable with being the guy who is looked up to in this defense.

[+] EnlargeDamian Swann
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsDamian Swann broke up five passes and led the team with four interceptions last season.
“It was a challenge [to take on more responsibility this spring], but now it’s going to be even more challenging because I’m kind of the lone defensive back, period, that has established himself in this system,” Swann told ESPN.com Thursday. “A lot of people might look at it as me having to make more plays than I did last year, which is fine because that’s what I want to do.”

He also wants to make sure all the holes left by the departures of corners Sanders Commings and Branden Smith, along with safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams are properly filled. These weren’t run-of-the-mill players, either. These were strong, veteran starters that any SEC team would have loved to have.

Now, the Bulldogs have to replace them with a slew of youngsters, mostly freshmen, and Swann feels somewhat responsible for guiding them this year. He isn’t looking to be a father figure, just the best big brother he can be.

Still, taking on a leadership role and having to teach has felt odd at times considering Swann wasn’t even sure how much playing time he was going to get last season.

After playing sparingly as a freshman in 2011, Swann began 2012 as a starter only due to a rash of suspensions in the secondary. With Commings sitting for two games to start the year, Swann said he wasn’t surprised by his heavy playing time, but when Commings returned, he still found himself in the starting lineup. Then, when the Tennessee game arrived in Week 5, he was named the strong corner starter and would stay there all season.

He expected to move back to the nickel at some point, which was fine, but taking over one of the top corner spots left him a bit speechless. He went from 60-70 plays a game to 80-90, which was a lot for a youngster like Swann.

“That was a big push for me, just being a sophomore playing all those snaps in the SEC,” Swann said with a laugh.

Swann started 14 games last year and led the team with four interceptions and also broke up five passes. He even recorded two sacks, recovered two fumbles and forced two fumbles.

Quietly, Swann played a big part of Georgia’s defense last season, but he’s looking for an even bigger role in 2013.

“I want to be the guy that lives up to the expectations, that wants to be in the spotlight, that wants to cover your best receiver,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge for me, but I’m willing to accept that.”

Swann is actually in an interesting spot. He starts off as the team’s top player in the secondary, but he might not get all the attention he wants this fall. Offenses usually tend to pick on the younger guys, so Swann might not have passes thrown his way as much as he’d like.

That means his teaching skills will have to be that much better as he tries to coach up the pups around him. The good news is after all the time he got last season, Swann thinks he’ll have more time to help than worry about his own game once fall arrives.

“Last season might have been the best thing that could have happened to me and to Georgia because imagine if I wasn’t to play and we graduated all those guys,” he said. “Now, it’s going to a whole entire brand-new secondary with hardly any experience. Me playing as much as I did puts us in a better situation.”
This marks the final year of the BCS, and you better believe the SEC would love to close the BCS era with eight straight titles. It would also ensure that the league has even more momentum going into the playoff, which starts during the 2014 season.

Colleague Travis Haney took a look at which conference has the best playoff path starting next year. He makes a pretty good case for the SEC, which should be able to get its conference champion in every year.

But who can wait for 2014 title talk? Yeah, me either, so why not take a look at SEC teams with the best BCS title paths in 2013? Spring practice begins this month, so we might as well throw out some very, very early thoughts on teams' championship hopes.

Let's take a look at which SEC teams have real BCS title shots in 2013:

ALABAMA

Pros: The Crimson Tide still have Nick Saban. That should be reason enough to make Alabama the odds on favorite to win its third straight national championship and fourth in five years. But there are many other reasons why Alabama tops our list. The offensive line might have to be rebuilt, but Alabama returns the nation's most efficient quarterback in AJ McCarron, who could have easily opted for the NFL after his junior year, a beast at running back in rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon, a host of talent -- and explosiveness -- at wide receiver, and most of the pieces to last year's top-ranked defense. Some big names have to be replaced on both sides, but this team really is reloading in 2013. Also, if the Tide can escape Virginia Tech (in Atlanta) and Texas A&M (in College Station) early, Alabama could go through the year unscathed, with road games coming against Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn.

Cons: Forget the pressure. Saban doesn't allow pressure to eat at his players. What Alabama has to do is replace three studs on that offensive line. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are all gone. Winning the battle in the trenches is essential to competing in the SEC, so Alabama's less experienced linemen have to grow up in a hurry. Also, no team can do it three times in a row, right?

TEXAS A&M

Pros: Johnny Manziel is back and last year proved that the Aggies are tough enough to compete in the big, bad SEC. Kliff Kingsbury might not be calling the plays anymore, but there is a lot of young talent on offense, including wide receiver Mike Evans and running backs Brandon Williams and Trey Williams, that should still give SEC defenses fits. A&M gets Alabama at home in Week 3 and trade Florida for Vanderbilt.

Cons: The Aggies lost a lot from their 2012 team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is gone, along with receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, who combined for 98 catches for 1,398 yards and 15 touchdowns. The front seven has a lot to replace, including All-American defensive end Damontre Moore and linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Kingsbury's sideline work with Manziel will be missed, and the Aggies have to play LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas on the road.

GEORGIA

Pros: Georgia will be down wide receiver Tavarres King on offense, but it shouldn't be too hard to find someone to help make up for the loss of his production with all those talented receivers. "Gurshall" returns and so does quarterback Aaron Murray, who could become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in each of his four years on campus. Bringing back the entire starting five on offense will also keep this offense trending upward.

Cons: The Bulldogs lost 12 players who either started or saw significant time on defense. Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo are just a few of the big names that are gone. There certainly is talent remaining, but replacing all those players would be tough for anyone. Also, look at that schedule. The Dawgs start the year with Clemson, South Carolina and LSU before September even arrives. Losing more than one game during that stretch could all but end Georgia's title hopes.

FLORIDA

Pros: The Gators lost some key players on defense, but coach Will Muschamp is bringing back a host of defensive talent that should do just fine in 2013. Marcus Roberson could be an All-SEC performer at cornerback, and incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the talent to start opposite him immediately. Ronald Powell returns to help out a young but very talented front seven that includes rising sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. Also, the Gators should be very deep at running back and have a more complete offensive line in 2013.

Cons: No one is quite sure what to make of that offense. Sure, the Gators should be able to run the ball, even without workhorse Mike Gillislee, but what about throwing it? Jeff Driskel really struggled last year, and the Gators lost their best receiving option in tight end Jordan Reed. Florida will have to rely on five true freshmen to help at receiver, but Driskel has to increase his confidence and become a better presense in the huddle for this offense to improve at all. Florida also takes on Miami, LSU and South Carolina on the road.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Pros: The Gamecocks might be without Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders, but they should be very balanced on offense in 2013. South Carolina has two very capable quarterbacks to work with in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, a talented group of running backs returning, led by rising sophomore Mike Davis, and more experience at receiver. One-man wrecking crew Jadeveon Clowney is back, and could be a legit Heisman candidate. South Carolina also spends the final month of the season at home.

Cons: Replacing Sanders will be tough because he did so much on offense and special teams. Clowney will have help up front, but South Carolina must replace its two-deep at linebacker. That's going to be quite the chore. Also, stud safety D.J. Swearinger, Spur DeVonte Holloman and cornerback Akeem Auguste all have to be replaced. Right now, this staff will have to rely on a handful of youngsters to help out this spring. The Gamecocks must also go to Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas.

LSU

Pros: The offense has to be more well-rounded in 2013. Cam Cameron is in at offensive coordinator, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger made major strides during the last month of the season. All of his receiving weapons are back, the offensive line should be better and there is a wealth of talent still at running back. The Tigers also get Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas at home.

Cons: The defense was gutted after the 2012 season. The defensive line has to be rebuilt, someone has to step in for Kevin Minter at middle linebacker and the secondary must fill in the holes left by Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. There is a lot of young talent on defense, but guys have to grow up quickly in Baton Rouge this year. Playing Alabama and Georgia on the road will be very tough as well.

SEC spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
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We're taking a look at key storylines for all seven teams in the SEC Eastern Division.

Chris will take a look at the main issues in the Western Division on Tuesday.

FLORIDA GATORS

Spring start: March 13

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
1. Rebuilding at linebacker: The Gators have to start figuring out the linebacker situation. Do they go with redshirt junior Michael Taylor in the middle, who’s a run-stuffer but has to come off the field in passing downs? Or do they try sophomore Antonio Morrison, who played outside at 218 pounds as a freshman and has hopefully bulked up a bit? The most likely scenario is Morrison, which means UF has to find a weakside linebacker. That could be freshmen early enrollee Daniel McMillian or Alex Anzalone. The strongside starter should be, at least entering the spring, redshirt junior Neiron Ball.

2. Robinson's growth: One of the most scrutinized players this spring will be receiver Demarcus Robinson. He was the only one of UF’s five receiver signees to enroll early and he’ll be given every chance to win a starting spot. UF’s receivers have been below average for the past three seasons and the Gators desperately need someone to become a consistent playmaker. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Robinson, who caught 53 passes for more than 1,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns as a senior at Fort Valley (Ga.) Peach County, is going to be under a lot of pressure to produce.

3. Driskel's confidence: Quarterback Jeff Driskel returns for his second season as a starter, and it’ll be interesting to see how much he improves on his decision-making, release and accuracy. He’s sure to benefit from not splitting reps 50-50 any longer. But just as important as Driskel’s development is what happens behind him with redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg. Neither has thrown a pass in a college game. Why is that important? Because Driskel has not been able to stay healthy in his first two seasons in Gainesville. He missed starts as a freshman and sophomore because of ankle injuries. UF was lucky in 2012 to have Jacoby Brissett, who had played significantly as John Brantley’s backup in 2011. With Brissett transferring to NC State, the Gators no longer have that luxury.

-- Mike DiRocco, GatorNation

GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
1. Rebuilding the defense: Georgia begins its transition to a completely new collection of defensive talent this spring. No longer are Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and John Jenkins on the roster. In fact, the Bulldogs must replace a total of 12 defensive players who were either full-time starters or key contributors, and at some positions, the possible replacements have little to no college experience. That makes this a pivotal time for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to begin identifying which players will fill those roles, as the Bulldogs will have little margin for error when they open the season against Clemson’s explosive offense Aug. 31. Some names to watch this spring: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Sheldon Dawson and Jonathan Taylor.

2. Developing the youngsters: The good news for Grantham and the other defensive coaches is that they brought in a number of January enrollees who should be able to help immediately. Junior college transfer Chris Mayes and John Atkins hope to fill the void left by Jenkins and Kwame Geathers at noseguard. Ryne Rankin and Reggie Carter will immediately enter the mix at linebacker. And cornerback Reggie Wilkerson and safeties Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger can help address Georgia’s depth shortage in a secondary that lost four key players. Georgia’s 13 early enrollees -- more than twice as many January enrollees as Georgia coach Mark Richt has ever brought in before -- will help fill needs on both sides of the ball, but the defense is where the newcomers were most necessary.

3. Offensive line reps: For the most part, Georgia used the same starting lineup along its offensive line throughout the 2012 season and each of those starters should return this fall. But two of those starters -- right guard Chris Burnette and right tackle John Theus -- underwent surgeries during the offseason and will miss all or part of spring practice. There was a good chance that offensive line coach Will Friend was going to deploy more players in his line rotation this fall anyway, but the valuable practice reps that will be available with Burnette and Theus sidelined might make a deeper rotation even more likely. Someone still has to take advantage of the opportunity, however.

-- David Ching, DawgNation

KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Getting used to new coaches: New coaches are roaming Kentucky’s football facility this spring. Mark Stoops brings a more defense-minded philosophy to Lexington, but his coaches will have to get things going on offense if the Wildcats are going to improve in 2013. There are always awkward moments when transitioning to a new staff, but now’s the time to create valuable trust on both sides.

2. Finding offensive playmakers: Stoops might have a strong defensive background, but the Wildcats have to find answers on offense. Injuries were an issue last year, but for two straight years the Wildcats had real problems finding consistent playmakers on offense. Quarterback Maxwell Smith returns, but he needs more than just wide receiver La’Rod King to help him. Getting running back Josh Clemons back would be big, but expect the coaches to turn to a young group of receivers and running backs.

3. Tougher team: One thing Stoops wants from his players is a tougher identity. Stoops wants to build a stronger team from the ground up. He’s taking a page from Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin when it comes to preparing his new team. This spring, we’ll see just how much of an emphasis the coaches put on the weight room and conditioning before hitting the football side of things.

MISSOURI TIGERS

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. Josey's rehab: The Tigers will be keeping tabs on running back Henry Josey, who missed all of 2012 after suffering a devastating knee injury midway through the 2011 season. He was the Big 12’s best running back before his injury and Mizzou needs him back. The staff has had to be patient, but this could be a crucial time in his rehab, as he looks to get his football legs back.

2. Rebuilding the front seven: Mizzou must replace a lot in its front seven. Star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson’s absence leaves a gaping hole up front, while linebackers Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden must be replaced. Lucas Vincent will be first in line to take Richardson’s spot, while Darvin Ruise, Donovan Bonner and Michael Scherer are three players to watch at linebacker.

3. Toughening up: Injuries ravaged Mizzou’s offense last year, but it’s clear that Mizzou wasn’t in the playing shape that it would have liked to be in during its first year in the SEC. Injuries are part of the game, but gaining that toughness factor this spring will go a long way for the Tigers in 2013. The SEC is more than just a grind, and the Tigers found out the hard way that conditioning in this league is a little different than in the Big 12.

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. New backfield options: Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles are gone, so the Gamecocks will have to turn to their younger backs. Brandon Wilds missed the 2012 season with an ankle injury but should return this spring. Rising sophomore Mike Davis has all the tools to be a big-time player for the Gamecocks and could be the top option in the Gamecocks’ backfield. Shifty Shon Carson also returns from a knee injury, so South Carolina will have a solid group to work with this spring.

2. QB controversy: Quarterback Connor Shaw might be tabbed as the starter, but with him out for the spring, Dylan Thompson will take the first-team reps. Thompson proved to be very valuable last year, and both will play this fall. Thompson has become one of the most vocal players on the team and is a strong leader. A good spring could bring some real controversy to the position.

3. Holes at linebacker: South Carolina will be without its two-deep at linebacker and “Spur” DeVonte Holloman is gone. That means there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to finding viable replacements. Sharrod Golightly will get the early crack at the Spur, and keep an eye on Kaiwan Lews, who was a true freshman last year and has a lot of potential to work with.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

Spring start: March 9

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. New coaches on the block: With Butch Jones in town, the Vols have to get used to their third head coach in five springs. Jones and his staff have helped bring some much-needed energy to the program since arriving, but now it’s time to develop vital on-field chemistry between the coaches and players.

2. Receiving help: The Vols’ offense took at major hit at receiver. Juniors Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson made the leap to the NFL, while deep threat Zach Rogers and tight end Mychal Rivera graduated. Tennessee will now turn to a host of inexperienced receiving targets, including rising sophomore Alton Howard and early enrollee Paul Harris.

3. Quarterback battle: With Tyler Bray leaving for the NFL, Tennessee will work with rising junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. Worley has the edge when it comes to game experience, but with a new staff, this battle will be wide-open. They will also need to make strides before freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson get on campus this summer.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Replacing Rodgers: Quarterback Jordan Rodgers is gone. The good news is Austyn Carta-Samuels has good experience after starting two years at Wyoming before transferring to Vandy. Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette is someone the coaches also are excited about, especially with his dual-threat ability, and should really push Carta-Samuels the whole spring.

2. Running back battles: The Commodores lost star running back Zac Stacy, so veteran Wesley Tate, who has bounced around positions, and rising sophomore Brian Kimbrow, who has the do-everything look to him at running back, will share reps. Warren Norman and Jerron Seymour also return, making for quite the talented backfield.

3. Keeping the edge: Now that another very successful season under James Franklin is over, the Dores have to continue to keep the edge that got them to where they are. It might sound like a broken record, but Vanderbilt still has to prove that it isn’t the Vandy of old. People are certainly taking the Dores more seriously, but keeping that edge is important for more growth.
ATLANTA -- With Alabama down three points and the SEC title and a shot at the national title hanging in the balance, Nick Saban put the game in the hands of two freshmen.

Two players barely a year out of high school football would decide the fate of Alabama’s 2012 season.

Boy did it pay off.

“Two big plays by freshmen there,” senior center Barrett Jones said.

Big doesn’t even begin to describe them. You need more hyperbole for this one, like mammoth or gargantuan.

The first play came on third-and-5 at the 50-yard line. Georgia held a 28-25 lead, and it appeared that the Tide were squandering their great field position. With about four minutes remaining, quarterback AJ McCarron stuck the ball in T.J. Yeldon’s gut, and the frosh cut to the right side and barreled his way past the first-down marker.

It was a play everyone inside the Georgia Dome or plastered to a TV set knew was coming.

Yet Georgia’s defense, which had been giving up rushing yards like men give up beads at Mardi Gras, couldn’t stop the force that was Yeldon.

“He went out there and just ran people over,” offensive lineman D.J. Fluker said of the 6-foot-2, 216-pounder. “You can’t find that too often.”

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper, Damian Swann
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's Amari Cooper hauls in the winning TD pass in front of Georgia's Damian Swann.
That play kept the Tide alive. The next play broke Georgia’s spirit.

It was a simple post play to the left side, where it’s better if Amari Cooper releases on the inside. He cut outside and stopped momentarily as he looked for McCarron. Once he saw the play was coming, he left a helpless Damian Swann in his dust before hauling McCarron’s perfectly thrown pass and waltzing into the end zone to give Alabama the winning score in a 32-28 victory.

“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and I wanted to come out here and be a big-time player,” said Cooper, who finished with a game-high seven catches for 127 yards and the key score. “I envisioned it before it happened, and it came true.”

He probably envisioned it because it looked easy on film, as he and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier felt confident taking shots at the Dawgs.

“That’s what we want as receivers,” Cooper said. “We want to take those shots, and that’s what we did.”

It helps that Cooper, who goes by the nickname Hollywood because of his on-field skill, is an extraordinary athlete. Before his touchdown, his play of the night came when he went up top and snatched a 44-yard prayer from McCarron away from one of the most physical players in the game in safety Bacarri Rambo in the second quarter. After that, he spent the rest of the night sprinting past or cutting by Georgia defenders and bailing Alabama’s offense out in crucial situations.

“He’s able to do the things that you would think a normal freshman wouldn’t do,” Tide linebacker Nico Johnson said. “He’s making big plays in big games, like he did today.

“He takes it and runs with it and lives to that name. He’s something special.”

To Jones, Cooper just has a different gear than a lot of players. One moment he is side-by-side with a defender; the next, he’s gone -- with the ball.

“He’s one of the fastest people I’ve ever seen,” Jones said.

Cooper stretched the field and gave Alabama more running room, which helped free Yeldon, who entered the game with just three 100-yard performances but carried the ball a game-high 25 times for a backbreaking 153 yards and a touchdown. While giving Eddie Lacy the occasional breather, Yeldon helped Alabama register an SEC championship record 350 rushing yards Saturday.

“It’s like he’s been here three times himself,” Lacy said. “As a freshman, you can’t ask him to play any better than he did tonight.”

You can’t ask more from either. They did so much for Alabama in the biggest game of either's career. Yeldon had nine runs that resulted in first downs, while Cooper had three first-down plays. Together, they touched the ball 32 times for 280 yards and two touchdowns.

Johnson tells both Cooper and Yeldon before every game to play with purpose. On Saturday, they did that and then some. This is only the beginning for these fabulous freshmen.

“I’m glad they’re freshmen because they are going to be here for a while,” offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio said.

That has to be a scary thought for the rest of the league.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 25, 2012
11/25/12
9:00
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Now that we're through the final weekend of the regular season, it's time to check out the best from the weekend that was:

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: I seem to remember someone feeling very confident about Clowney's chances of really tearing things up on Saturday. Clowney certainly didn't disappoint. Even though he was dealing with a sprained foot/bruised knee, Clowney led the Gamecocks with seven total tackles, but really made his mark in Clemson's backfield, recording 4.5 sacks in the 27-17 win over Clemson. He recorded two of those sacks on Clemson's final two possessions. Clowney set the South Carolina single-season record for sacks with 13 on the season.

Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida: If the Gators were going to beat Florida State on Saturday, they had to establish their running game. That meant that Gillislee had to the the running back who grabbed so much attention at the beginning of the season. Well, that Gillislee showed up, carrying the ball 24 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the 37-26 win over Florida State. His 9-yard run gave the Gators a 13-0 lead in the second quarter, but his 37-yard scamper gave Florida a 23-20 lead in the fourth quarter. It was Florida's first lead since the Seminoles went on a 20-0 run in the second and third quarter. It also gave the Gators a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: The legend continues to grow with Johnny Football. Even though he injured his left knee in the first quarter and had to wear a brace for the rest of the night, Manziel passed for 372 yards and three touchdowns in the Aggies' 59-29 drubbing of Missouri. He also ran for 67 yards and two more scores on 12 carries. He might have been tougher to stop with the brace on. With his 439 yards of offense on Saturday, Manziel has 4,600 total yards for the season, which is a new SEC record for total offense.

Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss: The Rebels put on an offensive clinic in Oxford in their 41-24 win over archrival Mississippi State to win the Egg Bowl for the first time since 2008. Moncrief was a big reason why that happened. He caught seven passes for a career-high 173 yards and had three touchdowns. His 173 receiving yards are the fourth-most in a single game in Ole Miss history, and he's now tied for the most touchdown receptions in a single season for the Rebels with 10. Moncrief scored all three of the Rebels' touchdowns in the second and third quarter, including a 77-yard catch-and-run in the second that made it 17-14 Ole Miss.

Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia: Rambo left Sanford Stadium the right way Saturday. He registered eight tackles on the day, but on Georgia Tech's first drive of the game, he forced two fumbles, recovering one of them. His recovery came from the Yellow Jackets' running back Robert Godhigh at Georgia's 1-yard line. Rambo then returned the fumble 49 yards to help set up the Bulldogs' second touchdown. He also grabbed an interception on a deep pass toward the end zone by Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee that helped set up the Bulldogs' fourth touchdown of the first half. That interception tied the Georgia school record for interceptions in a career (16).

Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt: Stacy made work of Wake Forest's defense Saturday. He carried the ball 21 times for 180 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Commodores' 55-21 win. His second touchdown came on a 90-yard run with the game in the fourth quarter and he left the game with 1,034 rushing yards for the season. That makes him the first Vanderbilt player to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Judging by the combined 3 minutes, 54 seconds it took Georgia to score its first two touchdowns Saturday, the Bulldogs were more than ready to get the day over with.

The Bulldogs might have been taking on rival Georgia Tech, but this team was beyond ready to send its weaker counterpart back to Atlanta early, as it gets ready for its own trip to the state capital next week.

"They were just a speed bump on our road," said senior safety Bacarri Rambo, who forced two fumbles and grabbed two turnovers Saturday. "We’re trying to get to Miami."

Players insisted they thought only of Georgia Tech this week -- their 42-10 drubbing of the Yellow Jackets proved that -- but everyone knows how important next week is. Now, the Bulldogs can devote all their attention to Atlanta, as they play in what is essentially a semifinal for the Discover BCS National Championship Game.

"We’ll enjoy this win for a couple of hours, but we have to get our minds back on our goal, and that’s to get to Miami, and Alabama is in our way," Rambo said. "We just have to get better and work on them.

"We haven’t reached our highest peak, but we’re playing some pretty good ball, and we’re going to get better."

Georgia’s next opponent likely will be No. 2 Alabama. With the way the Bulldogs have played in the second half of the season, they have a real chance at making it to South Beach.

You can dog Georgia’s recent opponents, but that was the hand the Bulldogs were dealt, and they did everything they were supposed to do. In the three games prior to Saturday, Georgia had averaged 501 yards of offense and scored at least 37 points in all those games against overmatched opponents.

But to the Bulldogs, wins are wins in the SEC.

"We play against good people, man," said defensive tackle John Jenkins, who had a career-high 11 tackles Saturday. "You can never take anything for granted, no matter who you’re playing, because anybody can be beat."

So Georgia Tech entered the afternoon with the nation’s No. 62 defense? Georgia did exactly what was expected and did it quickly, scoring touchdowns on four of its five first-half possessions.

The Dawgs had 28 points by halftime and 13 plays of 10 or more yards through the first two quarters (three went for 20-plus, including a 57-yard pass from Aaron Murray to Malcolm Mitchell).

Starting fast has been this team’s modus operandi for the past four weeks, as the Bulldogs have outscored opponents 87-20 during that span.

The Bulldogs haven’t exactly played top-tier opponents this month, but they will walk into the Georgia Dome extremely happy about how they’ve played of late.

"We’re very confident,” linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “We play this game the same way they do. We put on our pads and shoes and everything just like they do."

The Bulldogs have the right to feel very sure of themselves. The offense is clicking, and the defense is grooving. The offensive explosion is back, and the defense finally resembles the defense that took the field last season in Athens. The overall numbers might be a little different, but the tough, aggressive play that made last season’s defense so deadly has returned.

People laughed at Georgia’s 35-7 loss to South Carolina in October, but it’s a mere blip on the radar now. Atlanta is in sight, and a win there means the Bulldogs will be playing for a national championship.

“Everything we came for, everything Georgia wants to do is next week,” linebacker Christian Robinson said.

The South Carolina loss certainly threw some off Georgia’s bandwagon, but that thing will be full during its short trip to Atlanta. However, the Bulldogs are hoping the Dome is just a pit stop this season.

"With the talent we got, I know we have the potential,” Rambo said. “It’s just going out there and showing it to everybody, and letting everybody know that we got what it takes to be the national champs."
ATHENS, Ga. -- It took Georgia only four plays and a little over a minute to get on the board Saturday. From there, things seemed to get easier as the Bulldogs blew out archrival Georgia Tech 42-10 inside Sanford Stadium on Saturday.

With the loss, Georgia Tech has now dropped four straight to the Bulldogs and 11 of the past 12 meetings in this series.

It was over when: Georgia's offense scored two early touchdowns in the first quarter, but the game really got out of hand when Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray found wide receiver Rhett McGowan for an 11-yard touchdown pass with just under three minutes left in the first half to make it 28-3 Bulldogs.

Game ball goes to: Senior safety Bacarri Rambo had quite the farewell outing in Athens. He was making plays all over the field for the Bulldogs and forced two fumbles on Georgia Tech's first drive of the game. He also sucked all of Georgia Tech's momentum out on his second strip when he took the ball away from running back Robert Godhigh at Georgia's 1-yard line and returned it 49 yards to help set up the Bulldogs' second touchdown. He also grabbed an interception on a deep pass toward the end zone by Yellow Jackets quarterback Vad Lee that helped set up the Bulldogs' fourth touchdown of the first half.

Game ball 2 goes to: Murray had another solid day chucking the football. He was taken out late in the game when the score was out of hand, but he completed 14 of 17 passes for 215 yards and had two touchdown passes. After just two passes in the first quarter, Murray eclipsed the 3,000-yard passing mark for the season, making him the first SEC player to pass for 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

Stat of the game: Georgia Tech's defense has really struggled this season, but it wasn't just the 42 points and the 379 yards given up on Saturday that made it painfully obvious. It was the fact that Georgia did all that relatively quickly, possessing the ball for just 20:03 minutes compared to Georgia Tech's 39:57 time of possession.

Stat of the game 2: While Georgia put up the points, the Yellow Jackets did pretty well in the yards category. Behind 306 rushing yards, Georgia Tech outgained the Bulldogs 426-379.

Stat of the game 3: Heading into the game, Georgia Tech had recorded an interception in 10 consecutive games, which was the longest streak in the FBS this season. The Yellow Jackets' streak ended Saturday.

What it means for Georgia: With the win, the Bulldogs are undefeated at home for the first time since 2003; next week in the SEC championship game, they will play for a spot in the Discover BCS National Championship Game. Next week is basically a semifinal for the big game. This will mark the Bulldogs' second straight trip to the SEC title game.

What it means for Georgia Tech: Despite Saturday's rout, the Yellow Jackets are still headed to the ACC championship game next week to play Florida State. The Yellow Jackets clinched the Coastal Division last week with a win over Duke. Miami self-imposed a postseason ban for the second straight year, making the Hurricanes ineligible for the ACC title game. North Carolina is also ineligible. The Yellow Jackets are also bowl-eligible for the 16th consecutive season, which is the fourth-longest streak in the country.

Dawgs clinch East, add to Tigers' misery

November, 11, 2012
11/11/12
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AUBURN, Ala. -- The Deep South’s oldest rivalry didn’t resemble much of a rivalry Saturday night.

In fact, all you really need to know about this game is that one of the loudest cheers of the night came when the Alabama final score flashed across the scoreboard at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

That’s not counting the constant roar from the red-and-black swarm of Georgia fans, who were about the only ones left in the stadium by the time the fourth quarter began.

Georgia’s 38-0 dissection of Auburn was like a dream in a lot of ways, a bad dream if you’re of the Auburn persuasion. It could have just as easily been 58-0. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was done by the end of the third quarter, and the Bulldogs took their foot off the gas pedal after scoring touchdowns on each of their first four possessions.

It was the first shutout in this series since 1976, and Auburn is now one loss away from finishing with its first winless season in the SEC since 1980, which begs an obvious question:

Is this really the same program that won a national championship two years ago?

The same goes for No. 5 Georgia, which clinched its second consecutive trip to the SEC championship game and remained on the periphery of the national championship race.

Is this really the same team that rolled over and played dead at South Carolina back on Oct. 6 and struggled to get past Kentucky two weeks later?

“We weren’t going to let one game ruin our whole season,” Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said of the 35-7 loss to the Gamecocks. “We knew we had the talent to be a championship team. We just had to put it all together, play with more discipline and handle our business.

“It wasn’t about anybody else. It was about us.”

The Bulldogs (9-1, 7-1 SEC) are old pros at this. They faced a similar predicament a year ago after losing their first two games, but regrouped to win 10 consecutive games and play their way into the SEC championship game.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall
John Reed/US PresswireKeith Marshall ran for 105 yards on just eight carries -- 13.1 yards a pop -- in Georgia's rout.
And then this season started with a glut of suspensions on defense, some underwhelming performances on defense and a familiar criticism of Georgia coach Mark Richt -- that his teams don’t consistently play to their talent level.

“People are going to say what they want to say. Coach Richt is a great leader and a great man,” Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo said. “He sets the tone, and just like last year, we knew we weren’t out of anything.”

Simply getting to Atlanta was a coup last season for the Bulldogs, but there was very little celebrating inside their locker room Saturday after clinching their second straight East title.

“It was a little different feeling,” Richt said. “Atlanta’s not the end of the road, we hope.”

On the flip side, this does look like the end of the road for Auburn coach Gene Chizik, whose Tigers have now lost nine consecutive SEC games dating back to last season.

In those nine losses, seven have been by 17 points or more, and Georgia has won the past two meetings between the schools by a combined 83-7 margin.

It’s not just that the Tigers (2-8, 0-7 SEC) are losing. They haven’t even been competitive in a lot of their games, which makes the crash from where this program was two years ago all the more stunning.

Chizik, who would be owed a $7.5 million buyout if he’s not retained, has steadfastly refused to discuss what the future might hold for him. He didn’t deviate from that approach Saturday in the grim aftermath of another embarrassing defeat.

“I don’t entertain those thoughts,” Chizik said. “Again, like I said earlier, I have really one quest. We have two games left, and our seniors have done a lot for this university. They have done a lot for this place, and I hurt for them. Certainly, they never envisioned going out with this type of season, nor did anybody else coaching-wise, either.

“But it’s their last go-around, so I have one focus for them, and that is this week in them playing their last game at home and trying to get a win.”

Chizik repeated several times Saturday that the Tigers didn’t play well in any phase of the game, but he wasn’t buying the notion that he’s lost the team.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

Whether he has or hasn’t, the Auburn program has seemingly lost its way. This league is always going to be cyclical. There are going to be peaks and valleys.

But it might be a while before we see another crash this pronounced, even in the topsy-turvy world of the SEC.


The main storyline that will come out of this year's edition of the Georgia-Florida rivalry is ugliness. Saturday's four-hour marathon was a grinding affair of turnovers and penalties -- an absurd amount of both of them. But it's safe to say nobody wearing red and black will care much, as the Bulldogs slogged their way to a 17-9 win -- their first back-to-back wins against Florida since 1988-89 -- and pole position in the SEC East championship race.

Here's how it played out in Jacksonville, Fla.:

It was over when: Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones stripped Florida tight end Jordan Reed on the Bulldogs' 5-yard line with two minutes to play. Georgia recovered in its own end zone and subsequently ran the clock out. The turnover denied the Gators an opportunity at a first-and-goal and a potential game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion.

Game ball goes to: Much was made of how badly the Bulldogs needed Jones to step up after he missed the narrow win against Kentucky. Suffice to say Jones got the memo. He almost single-handedly mauled the Florida offense, as he finished with 13 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. It was only fitting that Jones made the play that preserved the win.

Key play: The Georgia passing game delivered one of its only big moments when it absolutely had to, at the midpoint of the fourth quarter. Aaron Murray beat a Florida blitz on third-and-5 to find wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell on a 7-yard curl route. Mitchell shook off Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy and beat three other tacklers on the way to a 45-yard touchdown and a 17-9 lead. Mitchell's big moment came just two plays after he was hit with a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Key play part II: Trailing 7-6, Florida faced a second-and-goal from the Georgia 5-yard line with 17 seconds until halftime. The Gators had the opportunity to take a lead with either a touchdown or a field goal, but Driskel rolled to his right and fired across his body into end zone traffic. Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo nabbed it for an interception to preserve the Bulldogs' slim advantage. It was perhaps the most costly of Driskel's mistakes in an uncharacteristic game for the young quarterback.

Key stat: The game saw a staggering total of nine turnovers -- six by the Gators, three by the Bulldogs. Georgia converted just 1 of 11 third downs. Perhaps the most amazing stat: The referees threw a total of 24 flags during the 60 minutes of game play. Georgia drew 14 flags for 132 yards; Florida earned 10 for 95 yards.

Key stat part II: Florida entered the game averaging 212 rushing yards per game. Georgia's defense limited the Gators to just 81 yards on 41 carries, while Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley racked up 124 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.

What it means: The Bulldogs now become the favorite to claim a second consecutive SEC East title and advance to the SEC championship game in Atlanta. All is not lost for Florida, however. The Bulldogs must still face Ole Miss next week, and their annual rivalry game against Auburn comes on the road in two weeks. If the Gators can hold serve against Missouri, there is still some hope of a division title.

A lot on the line Between the Hedges

September, 29, 2012
9/29/12
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ATHENS, Ga. -- A lot is at stake inside Sanford Stadium.

Georgia wants to get back to Atlanta, while Tennessee is trying to prove it can still hang in the East.

The fifth-ranked Bulldogs enter today's matchup sporting a nine-game conference winning streak in the regular season (not counting last season's national championship), while Tennessee has lost two straight SEC games going back to last season. The Vols were overwhelmed in the second half against Florida earlier this season, and that can't happen again today.

If the Vols want a shot at pulling the upset, they have to play for four quarters. Georgia is built to do it, but we don't know if the Vols are. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray went as far to say that the Vols "disappeared" and "crawled in a shell" in the second half against Florida.

That type of behavior won't cut it "Between the Hedges."

Tennessee also has to develop a tougher running game. Without it, this offense could be in trouble. Bray can't afford to throw the ball 40 times against this defense, especially with Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree coming back.

Rambo and Ogletree return for Dawgs

September, 29, 2012
9/29/12
3:09
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree are officially back for Georgia.

Both went through the "Dawg Walk" carrying their pads as they enter Sanford Stadium, and have been warming up in full pads.

We still don't know when both will get on the field against Tennessee, but both are listed as starters at their respective positions.

Welcome to Athens

September, 29, 2012
9/29/12
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ATHENS, Ga. -- We're "Between the Hedges" today and the weather is great.

There are a few clouds, but it isn't very hot and we could be in for some perfect football conditions with two teams looking to make statements in the SEC East race.

Tennessee needs a win to stay in the race, while Georgia is looking to stay at the top with an unbeaten record. And this could be one of those games that lights up the scoreboard. Georgia and Tennessee are first and second in the SEC in total offense and are both in the top five in the conference in scoring.

We won't see anything like what's going on in the West Virginia-Baylor game, but these two offenses have the capability of giving these defenses fits.

Everyone is anxiously waiting to see what will happen with Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree, who were both suspended for the first four games of the season. Coach Mark Richt said earlier this week that both are expected to play, but when or for how long still remains a mystery. The good news for Georgia fans is that both are dressed for today.

Maybe they'll find their way onto the field in the first quarter or could sit until the third. Maybe we'll see them in the second. Who knows?

Getting them back in some form or fashion should only make this Georgia defense better, and that's not good news for the Vols, who are trying to prove they can hang in games with tough SEC opponents. They'll have to play better in the second half to do that.

Should be a fun one here in Athens.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 5

September, 27, 2012
9/27/12
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Here's a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 5:

1. Shouldering the pain: A handful of SEC quarterbacks enter the weekend with shoulder issues. We already know about Connor Shaw and James Franklin and their highly publicized shoulder pain, so we'll keep an eye on them. But there are a couple more QBs dealing with shoulder injuries in Ole Miss' Bo Wallace and Kentucky's Maxwell Smith. Wallace injured his shoulder last week against Tulane and missed practice Tuesday, but returned Wednesday. Smith was injured against Western Kentucky and missed last week's game against Florida. He's expected to play.

2. Lattimore's strength: We still haven't seen the Marcus Lattimore of old, but slowly he's starting to get stronger and stronger. He shed his knee brace last week and probably ran the hardest he has all season in the Gamecocks' win over Missouri. He carried the ball 21 times for 85 yards, scored two touchdowns and caught seven passes for another 60 yards. The hesitation we saw in some of his earlier runs seems to be disappearing and the more confident he is, the better he is. That has to be a scary thought for defenses, and Kentucky could be just another victim for Lattimore as he continues his comeback.

[+] EnlargeRajion Neal, Josh Evans
AP Photo/Wade PayneVols RB Rajion Neal needs to be a factor to keep the Bulldogs' defense from pinning its ears back and rushing Tyler Bray.
3. Tennessee's running game: If the Vols are going to win at Georgia Saturday, they have to be able to run the ball. A one-dimensional offense won't beat Georgia and its defense. The Bulldogs will be trying to make quarterback Tyler Bray's day as miserable as possible by bringing pressure as much as it can. Bray hasn't done very well against the blitz, so Tennessee has to keep Georgia's defense honest through the running game. That means running back Rajion Neal has to run like he did against Akron. He has to get the tough yards, and he has to turn short runs into longer ones in order to extend drives. Bray can't do it all on his own.

4. Missouri's offensive confidence: It's pretty obvious that Mizzou's offense has stalled. It lacks creativity and it's having trouble getting much push up front. Injuries to the offensive line have contributed to that, but this line has to get tougher in order to help create more time for quarterback James Franklin and his skill players. T.J. Moe went as far as to say Mizzou's performance against South Carolina last week was "embarrassing." If this team is going to survive its first year in the SEC, the offense has to step up. UCF's defense has been solid, so this will be a good test for the Tigers before getting back to league play.

5. Mettenberger's rebound: Everyone is piling onto LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger after his subpar play against Auburn last week. He was off for most of the game and seemed to lose his confidence after his fumble at the 1-yard line early in the game. But that was his first SEC start on the road, and Auburn's defense played its best game in a while. Towson won't provide the same challenges, and this game should help boost Mettenberger's confidence. One thing that will help is if he starts to develop more of a downfield passing game. This team has to find some explosion at wide receiver and this could be the weekend Mettenberger starts developing more chemistry with his wideouts.

6. Tennessee's second-half push: Bray made it pretty clear this week that he wasn't very happy with the way the Vols played in the second half against Florida. He said earlier this week that the team "disappeared" in the second half and that the players met to discuss how they "crawled in a shell" in the last two quarters against Florida. That certainly can't happen in Athens this weekend. Georgia is built to play for four quarters and left Missouri behind in the fourth quarter earlier this season. Tennessee has to have a strong second half to keep up with the Bulldogs this weekend.

7. Aggies running wild: Arkansas coach John L. Smith said Wednesday that the two things that aren't working for the Razorbacks' defense are stopping the run and stopping the pass. Well, that's certainly not good with Texas A&M up next. The Aggies have played back-to-back cupcakes, but with a completely new coaching staff and offensive system, they have averaged 526.5 yards and 59 points in their past two outings. Arkansas is giving up a league-worst 458 yards and 36.3 points per game. Players have really picked up Kliff Kingsbury's up-tempo offense and Smith said keeping up with that offense is a major concern for the Hogs.

8. Where will they line up? Georgia coach Mark Richt is holding back from showing his cards when it comes to Malcolm Mitchell, Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree. Mitchell has played all over the field for the Bulldogs this season, but he has received more reps on offense this week. He's listed as the starting boundary corner, but we could see more of him at receiver against the Vols. Rambo and Ogletree were suspended for the first four games, but are expected back this week. Richt isn't saying what their roles will be. Like the past four weeks, we'll have to wait until game time.

9. Manziel's maturation: Talk about a lack of jitters. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been extremely fun to watch during his first season as a starter. After not taking a snap last year, Manziel has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league. He has passed for 641 yards with seven touchdowns and has carried the ball 32 times for 262 yards and five more scores. And what might be more impressive is that he hasn't thrown any interceptions. He'll face better talent this week than he has the past two, but Arkansas' defense is hurting, and Manziel has the ability to gut it.

10. Finding Bayou playmakers: Some of the criticism that has been thrown Mettenberger's way should be directed toward LSU's receivers. We haven't seen a go-to option for Mettenberger like we saw with Rueben Randle last year. Odell Beckham Jr. was thought to be that guy, but he has caught only 11 passes for 158 yards and no touchdowns. He caught two passes against Auburn. Jarvis Landry leads LSU with 17 receptions and 160 yards, but has only one score. Kadron Boone leads the team with three receiving touchdowns. If this offense is going to progress, someone has to step up as more of a consistent receiving threat.

The SEC East now has the 'Big Three'

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
3:34
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video
With all due respect to the SEC West, the East has it going on this year.

I said before the season that the West had the muscle, but the East would be more fun to watch.

Well, after four weeks, it looks like the East doesn’t just have a more exciting race on its hands but the Big Three now reside on that side of the conference.

Now, before my Twitter feed gets spammed and I have to go into hiding in some bunker located in or around the city of Atlanta, hear me out.

Alabama and LSU are still the cream of the crop. They are the two best teams in the SEC, and might be the two best teams in the nation. Don’t let LSU’s ugly win over Auburn fool you. The Tigers are still extremely talented and that defense is just as fierce.

But after that, the East has the West beat. Arkansas, which was a part of the West's talented trio, has fallen to the bottom of the division and could be struggling to make a bowl. Mississippi State has looked good, but those lackluster wins against overmatched teams make me nervous.

Your new Big Three, ladies and gentlemen: Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. And each has to be taken seriously when it comes to winning the SEC.

I'm not saying they're better than Alabama or LSU, but they have a legitimate chance of ending the West’s reign of terror.

I’ll start with the Bulldogs:

GEORGIA (No. 5, 4-0)
  • The Bulldogs have the SEC’s best offense. Georgia leads the league with 530 yards of offense a game and is as balanced as they come. Aaron Murray is passing for 273 yards a game and has tossed 10 touchdowns to two interceptions. Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett all have double-digit catches on the season and have combined for eight touchdowns.
  • Freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have turned into quite the rushing duo, combing for 670 yards and nine touchdowns. Gurley currently leads the SEC with 406 rushing yards and is averaging 9.2 yards per carry.
  • Where Georgia could have issues is with its run defense. The Dawgs are eighth in the SEC in rush defense (135.5 yards per game) and Alabama and LSU love to run the ball and wear down opponents. Georgia should know. But that should improve with the return of Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree. They will fill some of the holes we’ve seen on defense and help take some of that bend away.
SOUTH CAROLINA (No. 6, 4-0)
  • We’ve seen a lot more balance out of the Gamecocks’ offense in the past couple of weeks and it looks like Marcus Lattimore is getting stronger. He has the ability to wear down those defensive lines and open up the passing game for Connor Shaw. We’ll find out how much Lattimore is needed when South Carolina travels to LSU on Oct. 13.
  • Shaw might have a fracture in his shoulder, but he’s shown that he’s extremely tough and South Carolina will need that. He also showed against Missouri that he’s got what it takes to really sling the ball, as he completed his last 20 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Balance will be key, and this offense is full of it.
  • The secondary still has questions, but it’s getting better every week. South Carolina gives up a good chunk of yards through the air, but the Gamecocks have five interceptions and have allowed just three passing touchdowns. The play up front has really helped the secondary, as the Gamecocks are second in the SEC with 15 sacks. Jadeveon Clowney leads South Carolina with 4.5 sacks and is starting to find his groove.
FLORIDA (No. 11, 4-0)
  • The Gators finally have an offense. They still struggle some in the first half, but the Gators have outscored opponents 78-13 in the second half and haven’t allowed any points in the fourth quarter. Alabama can’t even say that! That’s a credit to Florida’s conditioning and solid halftime adjustments.
  • Florida also has a true downhill runner in Mike Gillislee, who is second in the SEC with 402 rushing yards, and have a budding star in quarterback Jeff Driskel. He can hurt teams with his legs and arm and has shown tremendous poise in harsh road conditions. This team has to find another consistent receiving threat outside of Jordan Reed.
  • Florida has shown some bend in its rush defense, and was pounded on the ground by Alabama and LSU last year. The Gators have to be tougher up front if they want a chance at claiming the SEC. Play in the box is crucial, and the Gators didn’t do very well at all in this area last year when they were clobbered by the Tide and Tigers. Florida’s date with LSU in the Swamp on Oct. 6 will tell us what that front can really do.

None of these teams are perfect, but they’re all pretty good. Georgia is probably equipped with the most talent in the East, but South Carolina and Florida aren’t far behind.

Watching these three beat each other up this fall is gonna be fun, but watching one of them try to take down one of the big dogs on the other side of the tracks will be especially entertaining.

Don’t sleep on the East this year.

SEC power rankings: Week 4

September, 17, 2012
9/17/12
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After another Saturday of action, it's pretty clear that Alabama is on another level in this sport. The Crimson Tide had their way with an overmatched Arkansas team, but they did so without displaying their best effort.

I don't care if the Hogs were hurting; Alabama looked pretty darn good out there.

The question now is who can top the Tide?

1. Alabama (3-0; LW: 1): The Crimson Tide left little doubt that their the best team in the country after blowing Arkansas out of its own stadium 52-0. The Razorbacks might have been down, but it's not like they didn't have talent to test Alabama. Saturday was barely a contest and now everyone is wondering if anyone can beat this team right now.

2. LSU (3-0; LW: 2): The Tigers are quietly playing some very good ball. They've outscored their opponents 145-31 and have been running the ball down teams' throats, averaging an SEC-high 269.3 yards per game. Alabama is getting all the love, but LSU isn't far behind the Tide.

3. Georgia (3-0; LW: 3): The Bulldogs' offense has really been clicking thus far, and we're starting to see that running game get better and tougher. Georgia's defense still has a little more bend than the coaches would like in areas, but it's done a pretty decent job without being at full strength through the first three games. This unit will only get better once Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree return.

4. South Carolina (3-0; LW: 4): The Gamecocks have spent the past two weeks working in their backup quarterback, but haven't missed a beat. Dylan Thompson has passed for 507 yards and five touchdowns in the past two games, and South Carolina has scored 48 and 49 points, respectively. However, Connor Shaw is now dealing with a fracture in his right shoulder, so we might see even more of Thompson from here on out.

5. Florida (3-0; LW: 6): Talk about a second-half team. The Gators have spent the past two weeks stumbling around in the first half, only to run over opponents in the second half. And what's even more impressive is that Florida has done this on the road in two very hostile environments. Against Tennessee on Saturday, Florida registered 555 yards of offense, including 336 on the ground. This team is much tougher than it has been the past two years.

6. Mississippi State (3-0; LW: 7): A letdown against Troy certainly wasn't out of the realm of possibility for the Bulldogs, and they almost got caught sleeping. But Mississippi State survived and has one more tuneup before heading into the meat of conference play. Quarterback Tyler Russell joins West Virginia's Geno Smith as the only quarterbacks in the country with efficiency ratings of 160-plus, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.

7. Tennessee (2-1; LW: 5): When the Vols had a chance to make a big statement in the league, they fell flat in the second half at home against the Gators. This team had Florida on the ropes and let the Gators get away, getting outgained 152-5 in the fourth quarter. Tennessee has a lot of talent, but the magnitude of Saturday's game clearly got to this team.

8. Missouri (2-1; LW: 9): The Tigers have been banged up all year, and had to play over the weekend without starting quarterback James Franklin, who reinjured his shoulder against Georgia. Still, this team showed good toughness against Arizona State in a game that could have turned into a real shootout. The Tigers have to get healthy with a very physical South Carolina coming up as Mizzou turns its attention to conference play.

9. Texas A&M (1-1; LW: 10): The Aggies had a little bit of a hangover from the Florida game to start things off against SMU, but regrouped to bounce the Mustangs 48-3. Johnny Manziel is turning into quite the quarterback to watch, as he accumulated 418 total yards of offense and six touchdowns Saturday. The Aggies have a tuneup game against South Carolina State and then head into SEC play.

10. Auburn (1-2; LW: 12): The Tigers avoided a miserable start by sneaking past Louisiana-Monroe in overtime. Instead of being yet another one of the Warhawks' victims, Auburn's defense stood tall in overtime to set up Cody Parkey's game-winning field goal. This team still has a lot of issues on both sides of the ball, but an 0-3 start would have been a disaster, especially with LSU next.

11. Ole Miss (2-1; LW: 11): The offense looks much better and is more exciting, but the Rebels' defense was embarrassed at home Saturday, as Texas scored 66 points and gained 676 yards in the process. The defense has a lot of work to do before SEC play begins, but if the offense continues to play like it has through three games, Ole Miss will stop its SEC losing streak.

12. Arkansas (1-2; LW: 8): All the Razorbacks have done thus far is beat Jacksonville State (and give up 21 points in the process) and drop back-to-back games to Louisiana-Monroe and Alabama. The last two losses, especially the 52-0 drubbing from Alabama, might have hurt more than Bobby Petrino's untimely exit. Tyler Wilson, who is battling a head injury, called his team out for quitting against Alabama, and he had every reason to.

13. Vanderbilt (1-2; LW: 14): We finally saw the explosion we expected from Vanderbilt's offense Saturday. It might have been against Presbyterian, but it was a much-needed confidence booster for a team that was hovering around the bottom of the SEC in offensive production. But as the Commodores get ready for the heart of conference play, they'll do so with a quarterback controversy on their hands.

14. Kentucky (1-2; LW: 13): Right when the Wildcats look like they're making some sort of progress, they throw it away with a bad overtime loss to Western Kentucky at home -- on a trick play no less. Kentucky's bowl chances got slimmer and slimmer with that loss and things around coach Joker Phillips have to be heating up. Even getting back to five wins will be very tough for the Wildcats this fall.

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