NCF Nation: Brandon Allen
Illustrious colleague Mark Schlabach already helped us out with the future portion by posting his Post-Spring Way-Too-Early Top 25. In it, he has seven SEC teams ranked:
10. South Carolina
14. Texas A&M
It's interesting to see Florida ranked inside the top 20, especially after last year's 4-8 season, but there's no way the offense will be that bad again or the injury bug will strike so hard again, right?
With Schlabach having fun with another set of rankings, we thought we'd have a little fun of our own and put together some post-spring SEC Power Rankings! Nothing like starting a little debate right after spring practice.
Let's see how perfect these are:
1. Auburn: Quarterback Nick Marshall is throwing the ball better, meaning the offense could be even more potent in 2014. The defense was much better this spring, with players reacting more than learning. You have to beat the best before you can pass them in the rankings.
2. Alabama: This team is motivated by last season's disappointing final two games. The defense lost valuable leadership and talent, but a hungry bunch lurks on that side. Alabama could be waiting on its starting quarterback -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker -- and if the spring game was any indication, the Crimson Tide certainly need him. The good news is that a wealth of offensive talent returns.
3. South Carolina: It was a quiet spring for the Gamecocks, who should yet again own an exciting offense, headed by Dylan Thompson, Mike Davis and a deep offensive line. There are questions on defense, but the Gamecocks could have budding stars in defensive tackle J.T. Surratt and linebacker Skai Moore. There could be more stars lurking, too.
4. Missouri: The loss of receiver Dorial Green-Beckham hurts an inexperienced receiving corps, but there is some young talent there and no questions at quarterback or running back. The defense should be solid up front, but the secondary has plenty of questions.
5. Georgia: The defense as a whole has a lot to work on, but the offense shouldn't miss a beat. Aaron Murray might be gone, but Hutson Mason looked comfortable this spring and has a ton to work with, starting with Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley at running back and good depth at receiver.
6. Ole Miss: Coach Hugh Freeze didn't even think he'd be talking about bowl games until his third year. Well, he's entering his third year and has a team that could seriously contend for the SEC West title. Bo Wallace's shoulder is finally healthy and the defense has a lot of potential, especially along the line.
7. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return 18 starters from last year's team and could be dangerous this fall. If quarterback Dak Prescott can be a more complete quarterback, this offense could explode. Mississippi State owns possibly the SEC's most underrated defense.
8. LSU: We really don't know what we'll get out of this group. There's plenty of athleticism to go around, but once again the Tigers lost a lot of talent to the NFL. There's excitement about the secondary, and freshman Brandon Harris could be a special player at quarterback.
9. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans are all gone. The offense has a bit of rebuilding to do, but there are young stars in the making on that side of the ball. The defense didn't take many hits from graduation, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done there.
10. Florida: The Gators were healthier this spring, and the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper brought excitement and consistency to the offense. Will any of that translate to the season? Not sure at this point. The good news is that the defense shouldn't drop off too much after losing some valuable pieces to the NFL.
11. Tennessee: The excitement level has certainly increased in Knoxville, and it looks like Butch Jones is building a strong foundation. The defense still has a lot of unknowns, and while it appears the offensive talent has increased, play at quarterback is key and that position is still a little unstable.
12. Vanderbilt: After three great years under James Franklin, Derek Mason is now responsible for continuing the momentum in Nashville. Like Franklin, Mason arrived with no head-coaching experience, but he has a great base to work with. It could take a while for the offense to get going, but there's promise in the defensive front seven.
13. Arkansas: Slowly, Bret Bielema is getting guys to adapt more to his system. Brandon Allen separated himself at quarterback but will have to groom someone into being his go-to receiving target. There is still a lot that has to improve on a team that had one of the SEC's worst offensive and defensive combinations last season.
14. Kentucky: Coach Mark Stoops is certainly more excited about Year 2 in Lexington with some players emerging on the offensive side of the ball. The Wildcats still have to find more consistency in the playmaker department, and they have a quarterback battle on their hands. The secondary is a total unknown at this point, and leaders have to emerge at linebacker and defensive tackle.
That’s it. That’s the list.
Only three quarterbacks who started double-digit games last season return to the SEC this fall, and one of them isn’t even guaranteed to be a starter.
But not every coach in the SEC approaches the quarterback position the same way. A quick glance across the league shows a variety of opinions about how to pick a starter.
Mark Stoops is the most urgent-minded coach of the bunch, and given the inconsistency Kentucky had at quarterback last season, it’s easy to understand why. Entering his second season, Stoops said: “I’d love to come out of spring with a clear-cut starter.” That means everyone is in the mix. Maxwell Smith can’t practice while he recovers from shoulder surgery, but Jalen Whitlow, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and even true freshman Drew Barker are in the hunt.
Barker, a four-star prospect according to ESPN, “has a very good opportunity to take control of it,” Stoops said, praising his maturity for such a young quarterback.
“He’s a guy [who] has high expectations [for] himself, and he’s OK with the pressure that comes along with playing that position,” Stoops said. “He’s excited about the opportunity, and I’m excited to see what he can do.”
Bret Bielema isn’t outwardly putting a timetable on anything at Arkansas, but he’s encouraging everyone to compete. Allen started 11 games last season but was up and down, with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Bielema was about as no-nonsense as any coach gets about the situation.
“In theory, the first time we yell out for the [first string, Allen is] going to step out there,” Bielema said before the start of spring practice. “But really, in our program, the competition brings the best out of people.
“So B.A. is going to be the first guy in with the ones, but there will be other guys who get opportunity,” he continued. “Who is able to produce and run the offense effectively and who gives us the best chance to win next year’s opener against Auburn will be at that position.”
Similar to the case at Kentucky, Bielema isn’t counting out his true freshman. Rafe Peavey, another highly-regarded four-star prospect, is going to be allowed to sink or swim. Bielema loves his talent and praised him as a “football junkie.” But he’s not pampering the rookie.
“It’s no different between the right tackle or the quarterback or the safety,” Bielema said. “It’s all about what a freshman can handle, how they adjust to adversity and how they enjoy success.
“The quarterback gets a lot of attention. They’re usually really pretty, really smart, and everybody likes them. But in reality, they’re like everybody else. Those that play well will play and those that don’t will sit.”
While Bielema and Stoops are anxious for a battle, other coaches around the league are more inclined to sit back and wait.
"I want all the quarterbacks to know that it’s going to be given to no one,” Miles said. “[It’s] earned by the one that plays."
Texas A&M and Alabama are taking similar approaches to replacing Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron. In fact, both Kevin Sumlin and Nick Saban are somewhat defiant about holding the cards close to the vest.
Sumlin has gloated before that when people assumed Jameill Showers would beat out Manziel in 2013, "I didn't name a starter [after spring]; y'all did."
So while we watch Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen jockey for position, don’t expect a starter to be named until close to the season.
Saban, for his part, doesn’t want to hear anything about it. His quarterback competition is essentially on hold until the fall, when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives. Before the start of spring practice, Saban laid out his plan, saying, “Let me be very clear about this: We’re not going to be in a hurry to decide who the quarterback is.”
“You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback,” he added, “and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 'We're going to wait and see.’ ”
The only place in the SEC that doesn’t have to be patient in the matter is South Carolina. Coach Steve Spurrier named Dylan Thompson the starter well before spring practice ever began.
Replacing Connor Shaw won’t be easy, but Spurrier said that Thompson was the guy for the job, no question. A fifth-year senior with plenty of in-game experience, Spurrier didn’t have a doubt in his mind.
“I didn’t know there was any question about it,” he said. “Someone said, ‘You’re just naming him the starting quarterback?’ Well, I just said, ‘Of course I am. Why wouldn’t we?’ ”
Spurrier did it his way. Saban and Sumlin are doing it theirs. Stoops is anxious, and Bielema and Pinkel are only interested in the competition.
Recruiting a quarterback is the furthest thing from an exact science. Finding out who’s ready to start is even more inexact.
This might be the season of new quarterbacks in the SEC, but everywhere there’s a different sense of which way the wind blows.
“It’s always a little crazy, it just depends what kind of crazy,” Bielema said of the road to spring practice. “But it’s good. I’m excited. I know our kids are.
“A year ago at this time, we were getting to know these kids, trying to know their names. ... Now a year into it we have 88 kids who are going to partake in practice, and 84 of them you’ve seen before.”
Bielema and the Razorbacks are putting last season’s 3-9 finish behind them. In December, the team watched the SEC championship game and the second-year coach asked his players why they couldn't be there in 2014. Auburn and Missouri combined for two SEC wins in 2012 and now they were playing in Atlanta. Only a month earlier, Arkansas threatened a fourth-quarter comeback against Auburn, falling short despite getting almost 200 combined rushing yards from Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins.
“I really wanted to challenge them that it’s not one but two teams that decided to make a stand,” Bielema said. “And to do that, you need to change your actions. I knew they were going to work hard, they were going to listen, they were going to try and do the things we asked them to do. But maybe off the field they needed to dedicate themselves."
The results, Bielema said, have been positive. He has seen a number of players change physically since then, pointing out Williams in particular. The rising junior has put on 15 pounds and “is actually faster and more limber” than he was before, according to his coach.
Collins, who ran for 1,026 yards as a freshman last season, and Williams will once again make up Arkansas’ tandem at tailback. Fellow tailback Kody Walker will play much more at fullback this spring, switching back and forth between the two positions much like Kiero Small did last season.
With Hunter Henry back at tight end, there’s a good nucleus to build around on offense. Henry had his highs and lows last season, said Bielema, who is hoping for more consistency from his standout freshman. What he’s seen from Henry this offseason has been promising.
“He’s bigger. He’s faster. He’s stronger,” Bielema said. “I think he understands what it means to play in the SEC in an eight-game schedule, and hopefully beyond that.”
For Arkansas to go “beyond that” -- as in, the conference championship or a bowl game -- other players need to step up.
The defense got a boost from the return of defensive end Trey Flowers, who was second-team All-SEC last season. New defensive line coach Rory Segrest will “allow him to play faster and a little more aggressive,” Bielema said. And with new defensive coordinator Robb Smith in place, expect a slightly different look from the defense as a whole.
““If you’re inside the huddle, you’ll hear a lot of things change," Bielema said. "We’re going to try and simplify it for our players and get them lined up quickly and put them in a position to play aggressively.”
We'll let him work through the process, feed him as much as he can be fed and see where he can go with it. He's a guy that if he can play we will. If not we'll give him a redshirt year.” Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema on early enrollee quarterback Rafe Peavey.
Despite its 12th-place SEC finish in points per game allowed last season, the biggest question facing the Razorbacks isn’t defense. Instead, it’s who will start under center.
Brandon Allen started 11 games as a sophomore, ending the season 13th on the SEC leaderboard for passing yards per game (141.1). His double-digit interceptions (10) were the most troubling, though.
Bielema said he wants competition at quarterback this spring, all the while acknowledging that Allen has “gotten stronger” and is the favorite to win the job.
“In theory, the first time we yell out for the ones, he’s going to step out there,” Bielema said. “But ... there will be other guys who get opportunity. Who is able to produce and run the offense effectively and who gives us the best chance to win next year’s opener against Auburn will be at that position.
“If it’s B.A., that’s great. If it’s not, hopefully that next person is ready.”
Watch out for Rafe Peavey. The four-star prospect enrolled in January and has the tools to push Allen. Bielema likes Peavey's talent and “football junkie” attitude, but Peavey is still just a freshman.
“We’ll let him work through the process, feed him as much as he can be fed and see where he can go with it,” Bielema said. “He’s a guy that if he can play, we will. If not, we’ll give him a redshirt year.”
Peavey was just one of a handful of freshmen to enroll early, the four unknowns of the 88 players Bielema referred to earlier on the phone. When Bielema spoke to the Razorback Club that night, much of the talk surrounded recruiting, and with good reason. Approaching the second season of his tenure at Arkansas, Bielema is slowly putting his imprint on the program with the way he brings in players and the changes in attitude on the roster as a whole.
When Arkansas opens camp on Sunday, his message will be much as it was Wednesday night. The record is wiped clean, he’ll say. It’s time to launch forward.
“Don’t worry about what happened yesterday and focus on getting great today. At the end of this stretch we’ll all be better," he said. "We’ll take where we’re at, take all the things that were positive and all the things that were negative, evaluate it and move into the next phase.”
1. Florida: Not exactly what the Gators want to be ranked first in, but Florida runs away with this one. The 4-3 Gators lost starting right tackle Chaz Green (shoulder) and wide receiver Andre Debose (knee) for the season during fall camp and have seen six more season-ending injuries since, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. They dressed only 13 healthy defenders in the loss to Missouri. Quarterback Tyler Murphy is still dealing with a lingering shoulder injury.
2. Georgia: The 4-3 Bulldogs lost top receiver Malcolm Mitchell for the year to a freak ACL injury in the season opener and then lost running back Keith Marshall and Justin-Scott Wesley to ACL injuries against Tennessee. Starting running back Todd Gurley (ankle) has been out since the LSU game (Sept. 28) and receiver Michael Bennett hasn't played since the Tennessee game (Oct. 5) due to a knee injury. Receiver Chris Conley (ankle) and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) and Tray Matthews are questionable for next week's Florida game.
3. Arkansas: The Razorbacks, who have lost five straight, felt the injury bug before the season when top receiver Demetrius Wilson was lost for the year with a preseason ACL injury while linebacker Otha Peters has played in only five games after breaking his arm during fall camp. Coach Bret Bielema estimated that 10-12 players went down with injuries during fall camp. Quarterback Brandon Allen suffered a shoulder injury early this season and starting defensive tackle Robert Thomas is out for the season with a broken leg.
This was the team he wants to build in Fayetteville: big, talented, determined. Each movement had a purpose. Each drill was defined. The organization of it all is something. When Alabama takes the field, it oozes professionalism. There's no wasted movement, no amount of time unspent. Nick Saban runs a business and the return, more often than not, has yielded championships.
All Bielema could do was watch. There wasn't a call he could have made to change the outcome of the game. He stayed committed to the run with 31 carries to his top two tailbacks -- Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams -- but neither broke the 100-yard mark and only four times did they rush the ball for 10 or more yards. When Brandon Allen did get a chance to throw the ball he had very little success, completing 7 of 25 passes for 91 yards and no touchdowns. His longest completion -- a 25-yard pass to Hunter Henry -- was followed up by an interception on the very next play. In fact, it was the very same play thrown to the very same receiver, only flipped and run out of shotgun instead of under center.
"Obviously, this is getting a little old," Bielema said, the first words of his postgame news conference ringing true on the heels of a 52-7 beat down against South Carolina a week earlier. "Nothing we did out there can give us any indication that the things we need to do are that far away. It's a long way to go. We are at a point where we have to look at ourselves offensively, defensively and special teams, all the things we are asking our kids to do."
The frustration in Bielema's voice was obvious. He came to Arkansas from Wisconsin hoping to compete sooner. But it was the same tune we heard less than a week earlier. Heading into the game, he sounded dejected. He sat at his Monday news conference, the steam of another warm cup of coffee rising near his face as he talked about how difficult the previous game's film was to get through. "I want to win now," he told reporters. "I want to win as soon as possible." But he didn't want to be a "Debbie Downer." He said that expecting history to repeat itself was an "easy, simple way of thinking."
"If you want to get out of this doldrum, if you want to move forward as a person, you take pride in what just happened."
Pride, though, seemed absent following the loss on the road to Alabama. There wasn't much for Bielema to rally around. His offense didn't have a positive play until 4:22 in the first quarter. His defense barely had a chance. Chris Smith and Trey Flowers, who entered the game with 10 combined sacks, had none against the Alabama offensive line. Neither had a quarterback hurry. Alabama had two running backs gain more than 100 yards and neither was named T.J. Yeldon.
“Against Alabama, Arkansas showed its youth as much as its lack of talent. The Razorbacks, who haven't finished with a top-15 recruiting class once since 2006, had more first-year starters and underclassmen on the field Saturday than most teams in the SEC. Two of its offensive linemen were true freshmen. Its brightest young star on defense, defensive lineman Darius Philon, was a redshirt freshman Alabama tried to grayshirt coming out of high school.
You've got to look toward the future. It's tough right now but we've got to keep working toward the future.” Running back Jonathan Williams on Arkansas' five-game losing streak.
"You've got to look toward the future," Williams said. "It's tough right now but we've got to keep working toward the future."
What that future is might be in doubt. For now, Arkansas is two games under .500 and winless in the SEC. Reaching a bowl game is unlikely. An infusion of young talent is desperately needed. Bielema's best player, center Travis Swanson, will be gone after the season, as will his best player on defense, Smith. Collins, who ranks in the top 20 nationally in rushing as a freshman, is someone to build around, but he can't do it alone.
"It's to that point where you have to understand where we are going with the guys that survive this," Bielema said. "The guys that move forward with us will be rewarded. I don't know if it is going to come the next game or if it will be in the next month from now, or a year from now, but it's going to take a leap of faith."
On Saturday, Bielema saw in person just how far that leap from rebuilding a program to playing competitive football will be.
From his spot at midfield before the game, he was only a few yards away from touching the finished product: Alabama, a program running on all cylinders. He took another sip of coffee and recorded another mental note, building on the blueprint in his head. When he finally turned around to see his own team, the distance to completion must have felt like miles away.
Not Sunseri. Not this season.
The destiny of a championship hopeful is precarious at best. Ask Texas A&M. Johnny Manziel fell awkwardly on his arm, hurt his elbow and was forced to the sidelines late against Auburn. His backup came on and the offense went three and out. Auburn took the ball and marched the length of the field for the go-ahead touchdown. A valiant return by Manziel proved too little, too late. With two losses, the Aggies have to hope for chaos to reenter the SEC West race.
"It could be serious," UA coach Nick Saban said of Sunseri's injury, listlessly noting that an MRI would deliver the final verdict on Sunday.
"We need some guys to get some experience because we're going to need some depth. Obviously as you lose players, other guys have to step up and play. We had to do a lot of shuffling in the secondary tonight."
If there was a list of the top three defenders Alabama couldn't afford to lose, Sunseri's name would have been on it. Mark Barron and Robert Lester are gone to the NFL. Dee Milliner is gone, too. Alabama has tried John Fulton, Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson and Bradley Sylve out to fill his shoes, and none has panned out. Nick Perry, a veteran safety, had season-ending surgery on his shoulder last month. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, regarded as one of the best safeties in the country, was suspended for the past two weeks.
Sunseri, an impact player from the day he signed with Alabama in 2011, had brought stability to the carousel known as Alabama's secondary. His leadership and big-play ability have been huge. When the Tide needed something to happen against Texas A&M early in the season, he intercepted a pass, shook Manziel out of his shoes and scampered the length of the field for a touchdown.
Without Sunseri, who knows what Alabama's fate will be? Jarrick Williams, Landon Collins and Geno Smith are all talented replacements, but there's a reason none of the three was starting in his spot coming into the weekend. Sunseri was supposed to be the one they'd follow. He was supposed to be the anchor.
"There's not a guy on our team that does a better job of setting an example when it comes to trying to be everything he can be," Saban said of Sunseri. "He's just a phenomenal guy to have on your team all the way around.
"He's going to be a part of our team whether he can play or not."
Sunseri put on his best happy face in the second half, smacking teammates on the behind after delivering the bad news during the game. He sat by Collins, smiled and told him it would be OK. When Jones came off the field after a late interception, Sunseri was the first one to greet him, delivering a bear hug to the true sophomore who was playing wide receiver only a year ago.
"Great leader, great leader," Collins said. "I looked up to him. He's helped me out at free safety with the calls and getting me to settle down. He's going to be missed."
Said veteran linebacker C.J. Mosley: "Whether he's playing or not, he's going to be on the sideline helping the young players out."
Against Arkansas, the defense looked fine. Sunseri's absence wasn't felt in the box score. Alabama forced three turnovers while limiting Brandon Allen to 7 completions on 25 attempts. The Razorbacks' two talented tailbacks -- Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams -- rushed for just 125 yards on 31 carries. The two came into the weekend ranked in the top 10 in the SEC in rushing.
Alabama's offense, meanwhile, continued humming along. Quarterback AJ McCarron toyed with the defense, picking apart Arkansas for 180 yards and three touchdowns. Kenyan Drake ran for 104 yards and two scores, while T.J. Yeldon rushed for another 88 yards and a touchdown. Alabama's third-string tailback, Derrick Henry, had 115 yards on six carries. All told, the Tide accounted for 532 total yards of offense.
But the tone after the game was stoic. The win against Arkansas came at a cost. A number of players were banged up after facing one of the more physical teams they'll see all year. Ice baths and hot tubs will be in high demand over the next 24 hours.
Sunseri, though, will face the trainer's table.
Only a week ago, Sunseri was throwing wads of paper at wide receiver Kevin Norwood, jumping up and down like a giddy child. He would be a key part of Alabama's quest for a third consecutive national championship. Another win on the road ensured it.
On Saturday, he was hobbling from teammate to teammate to tell them the bad news. He finally ventured to the far end of the bench and watched the rest of the game in silence. Alabama was moving on without him.
How far the Tide will go remains to be seen. What happens next is destiny.
1. Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC; last week: 1): Alabama did everything it was supposed to do in its tuneup against a very overmatched Georgia State team. Nick Saban wanted to get a chunk of his youngsters into the game and 70 players saw action. After its most complete game of the season, Alabama travels to Kentucky for another chance to work on execution.
2. Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC; LW: 2): The Bulldogs won a wild one against Tennessee Saturday, but they lost three key players on offense. Running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley are both out for the year with season-ending knee injuries, and receiver Michael Bennett will miss Saturday's game with a knee injury. Aaron Murray has been superb, but now it's time for this defense to step up and make crucial improvements if Georgia is going to make it back to Atlanta.
3. Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Aggies were off over the weekend, which gave this team a chance to rest and work on everything concerning its defense. Texas A&M still owns the SEC's worst defense (476.8 yards allowed per game), but when you have Johnny Manziel making play after play, it takes some pressure off everyone else. Still, this defense will have to be on point against Ole Miss' high-powered offense in Oxford.
4. LSU (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 4): Well, the Tigers offense just looks terrific right now. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. should all be in contention for the title of "best at their position" in the SEC. The Tigers have churned out more than 400 yards in every game and more than 500 in two. The defense still has its issues, especially stopping the run, but this offense is deadly.
5. Florida (4-1, 3-0 SEC; LW: 6): Believe it or not, the Gators are looking more and more like the most balanced team in the SEC East. Florida owns the SEC's best defense (217 yards allowed per game) and the offense has amassed 400 yards of offense three times this season. In Florida's blowout win over Arkansas on Saturday, new quarterback Tyler Murphy threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns. With this defense and an improving offense, are the Gators turning into a legit contender in the SEC?
6. South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 5): No, the Gamecocks didn't lose to Kentucky over the weekend, but this team just doesn't look focused right now, especially on defense. In their past three games, the Gamecocks have blown a 28-point lead to Vanderbilt, an 18-point lead to UCF and a 21-point lead to Kentucky. The good news is that South Carolina has gone 3-0 during that span, but that sort of sloppy play will catch up to you in this league.
7. Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC; LW: 8): Don't look now, but here come the midwestern Tigers! Mizzou is turning into quite the unit, especially on offense, after blowing out Vanderbilt in Nashville. With its trail mix of offensive talent, the Tigers dropped 51 on the Commodores and found themselves back in the Top 25. Mizzou is second to only Texas A&M in offense in the SEC and has registered more than 500 yards three times, including against Vandy.
8. Auburn (4-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 9): These Tigers tried to give away a 27-9 lead in the third quarter against Ole Miss, but held on for a huge 30-22 win. One thing that really helped out Auburn was the play of its defensive line, as the Rebels only had 124 rushing yards Saturday. On offense, Auburn knows it's going to have to rely heavily on its running game, which churned out 282 yards and three touchdowns Saturday.
9. Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2 SEC; LW: 7): This team has now lost two in a row after such a hot start. The offense was shut out against Alabama and then couldn't run on Auburn's defense. Quarterback Bo Wallace made some bad decisions in Saturday's loss and this team just became way too one-dimensional on the Plains. Who's next? Oh, that would be Johnny Football.
10. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC; LW: 10): The Commodores need a lot of help on defense. It's clear that there are holes all over and if Vandy is going to continue its upward progression, the defense has to improve. Vandy's defense has given up more than 500 yards twice and more than 360 yards four times.
11. Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 11): When Florida forced Arkansas to throw the ball, the Razorbacks just couldn't get anything going. Brandon Allen completed only 17 of his 41 pass attempts, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and registered a QBR of 9.8. For the second time this season, the Hogs had no spark on offense when the running game got stuffed.
12. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 13): What a fight by Tennessee in that heartbreaking loss to Georgia. The Bulldogs did sustain some serious injuries, but Justin Worley delivered some big-time throws and wide receiver Pig Howard is turning into a real playmaker, except for that goal-line fumble. This defense still has a long way to go, but Saturday showed that this team truly has heart.
13. Mississippi State (2-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 12): This defense was impressive in the Bulldogs' two victories over lesser competition, but in three losses, Mississippi State has given up more than 400 yards each time. LSU racked up 59 points and more than 500 yards of offense Saturday. The Bulldogs kept things close for most of the night against the Tigers, but were totally overmatched in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 28-0.
14. Kentucky (1-4, 0-2 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats put up quite the fight against South Carolina and almost pulled off a huge upset at home. You could see some improvement and development on the offensive side against the Gamecocks, and it's important that it carry over going forward. This team just doesn't have the horses right now to really compete in the SEC.
2. First true test for Mizzou: Missouri is quietly undefeated (4-0) but has faced only one power-conference opponent so far (Indiana). Missouri hits the road for its first SEC game of the season at Vanderbilt, a team that has already suffered two SEC defeats (against Ole Miss and South Carolina). It's hard to know what to expect from the Tigers, but we know that both teams can pile up the yards and points, so it should be entertaining.
4. Missing Clinton-Dix: Alabama coach Nick Saban indicated that standout safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. While the timetable, and the violation itself, is unknown, don't expect it to have a major impact, at least in the short term. Alabama has a layup of a game this week against FCS foe Georgia State, and though the Crimson Tide resume SEC play after that, they'll get a struggling Kentucky team. So if anything, the timing of an absence for a star defensive player is good because the Tide can use the coming weeks to develop younger players such as Landon Collins and Geno Smith.
5. Low-scoring affair in the Swamp? Florida's methodical offense hosts an Arkansas team that isn't afraid to run the football, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will be three yards and a cloud of dust Saturday evening. Arkansas showed that it can be an explosive offense and that it can throw the football when starter Brandon Allen returned from a shoulder injury last week and helped the Razorbacks keep up with No. 9 Texas A&M. Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said this week that he still wants his team to have "explosive plays." Florida looks to remain unbeaten in SEC play; Arkansas is looking for its first SEC win under Bret Bielema.
6. Bounce back for Ole Miss? The Rebels’ offense was shut down in its showdown with No. 1 Alabama. The unit managed just 205 yards in a 25-0 loss. Now Ole Miss must go back on the road, traveling to Jordan-Hare Stadium to face an Auburn team that's coming off an open date. Gus Malzahn's crew suffered its first loss of the season against LSU on Sept. 21 If Ole Miss plans to stay in the Top 25, it has to bounce back with a strong performance on the road against the Tigers.
7. Similar backgrounds, philosophies: Speaking of Auburn-Ole Miss, the coaching matchup is a compelling one. Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn were both successful high school football coaches before finding themselves in the college ranks as rising stars. They both are believers in the uptempo style of offense that is becoming a staple in college football, so it should be interesting to see how the offenses fare on Saturday. Both teams are averaging 28.5 points per game this season.
8. Shaw to start: South Carolina starting quarterback Connor Shaw was knocked out of the Gamecocks' 28-25 victory over Central Florida with a shoulder injury and was expected to be out at least two to three weeks, but head coach Steve Spurrier said Wednesday that Shaw will be able to start this Saturday when the Gamecocks host Kentucky. Shaw has practiced this week and, according to Spurrier, looks good throwing. This weekend is also a chance to finish stronger against a struggling Kentucky squad after allowing UCF to linger last week, which led Spurrier to say that he thought his team might have deserved to lose.
9. Who takes charge at QB for UK? Kentucky coach Mark Stoops would like to settle on a starting quarterback between Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow but doesn't believe that either has shown enough to make the coaching staff comfortable enough to tab one of them as the guy. Stoops said they'll continue to evaluate the quarterbacks. In the meantime, he seems to be getting more frustrated as time passes, blasting his team for a poor practice Wednesday, calling it "a wasted day."
10. Tennessee's "smokey grays": The Volunteers, who usually have a classic look in orange and white, will change things up and wear what they call "smokey gray" uniforms against Georgia on Saturday. The team unveiled the uniforms in August. They'll wear gray pants and jerseys with orange numbers and lettering. Back when the jerseys were introduced, head coach Butch Jones noted that Tennessee's 1914 team went undefeated wearing gray. He can only hope it brings similar good fortune Saturday.
1. Alabama (4-0, 2-0 SEC; last week: 1): The Crimson Tide defense was tired of hearing how good it wasn't. It didn't like hearing that Ole Miss was going to score on it. So it shut the Rebels out and held them to just 205 yards of offense and 11 first downs. The Alabama offense rolled up 434 yards of offense as well, quieting a lot of doubters in the process.
2. Georgia (3-1, 2-0 SEC; LW: 4): Well, it's pretty clear that the SEC Eastern Division is now Georgia's to lose. After a thrilling 44-41 win over LSU, the Bulldogs showed that no matter how bad their defense plays, the offense will be there to rescue it. The only real defensive test remaining for this unit is Florida. But can Florida's offense keep up with the Dawgs if they score?
3. Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 3): Like Georgia, the Aggies are equipped with an offense that can bail out its struggling defense. The Razorbacks gave A&M quite the scare in Fayetteville over the weekend, but Johnny Manziel and Co. didn't have much trouble piling on points against a struggling Arkansas defense. Still, that rushing defense has to improve with SEC play heating up.
4. LSU (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Tigers' defense showed its youthful age against Georgia on Saturday, especially in the secondary. Georgia churned out nearly 500 yards and averaged 7 yards per play. It didn't help that the front seven didn't generate enough pressure on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw four touchdowns. But we learned that LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger is the real deal. He delivered some NFL throws and might have outplayed Murray between the hedges.
5. South Carolina (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 5): I don't know what it is with this South Carolina team. It overcame the loss of starting quarterback Connor Shaw by scoring 28 straight points on UCF Saturday, but then turned around and let the Knights end the game on a 15-0 run. The good news for the Gamecocks is they might have one of the most underrated players in the SEC in running back Mike Davis, who leads the SEC in rushing yards per game (127).
6. Florida (3-1, 2-0 SEC; LW: 7): This is officially Tyler Murphy's team, and he's been solid since replacing Jeff Driskel at quarterback. No one really expects much from the passing game going forward, so the running game has to carry this team (again). It did just that with its 246 yards in the win over Kentucky. That defense might be missing Dominique Easley, but it was fantastic against the Wildcats.
7. Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 6): Quarterback Bo Wallace took some heat for saying the Rebels' offense would score some points on Alabama. Well, he ended up scoring for the Crimson Tide with his safety in the fourth quarter. The high-flying offense we saw in the first three games didn't make it to Tuscaloosa, and now the Rebels are gearing up for a crucial conference game at Auburn this weekend.
8. Missouri (4-0, 0-0 SEC; LW: 8): We still don't know a ton about this team, but the Tigers scored at will against their nonconference foes, averaging 45.5 points and 549 yards through the first four games. But SEC play starts now with a trip to Vanderbilt this weekend. We'll find out very soon if there was any substance to the Tigers' fast start to the season.
9. Auburn (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 9): The Tigers had the week off after their loss to LSU. That gave this team time to rest and try to get the passing game in better shape for the Rebels. What Gus Malzahn and his running backs had to be excited about was seeing Ole Miss' defense give up 254 rushing yards and rushing touchdowns of 68 and 50 yards to the Tide.
10. Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-2 SEC; LW: 10): The offense is only getting better, and wide receiver Jordan Matthews is getting closer and closer to breaking SEC records for career receiving yards and career receptions. With eight catches for 115 yards and touchdown in Vandy's 52-24 win over UAB, Matthews has had 100-plus yards or a touchdown in four of Vandy's five games.
11. Arkansas (3-2, 0-1 SEC; LW: 11): After a rough loss at Rutgers, the Hogs made things interesting in their 45-33 loss to the Aggies. This running game bounced back against A&M with 201 yards, while Brandon Allen's return at quarterback led to 282 passing yards. Still, this team has to clean things up on defense. The Aggies averaged 7 yards per play.
12. Mississippi State (2-2, 0-1 SEC; LW 12): The Bulldogs were off after their 62-7 win over Troy. It was an impressive win for a team looking for more of an offensive spark at the beginning of the season. The way quarterback Dak Prescott is playing, this offense has to feel confident going into this weekend's matchup with LSU. But do the Bulldogs have the horses to keep up with an LSU team that has to be frustrated after its loss to Georgia?
13. Tennessee (3-2, 0-1 SEC; LW: 13): Somehow, the Volunteers tried to give it all away late against South Alabama on Saturday. Tennessee was outscored 17-7 in the second half of its 31-24 win and even blocked its own field goal. A win is a win, especially for a program with a new head coach, but the Vols now have to regroup and face a Georgia team capable of scoring 50 in Knoxville this weekend.
14. Kentucky (1-3, 0-1 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats' only real positive from Saturday's 24-7 loss to Florida was that their touchdown came on a fake field goal. Other than that, the Gators dominated Mark Stoops' team. When your kicker is your leading rusher in a game (25 yards), you know you have major problems in the playmaking department.
When he seemed so confident about Texas rebounding against the Rebels, I told him to have some faith in Ole Miss. But Chris put too much faith in a wounded Bevo.
Last week, I distinctly remember when I submitted my picks that Chris said, "Just send them in when you get a chance. There's no way we have anything different." Naturally, I assumed he was thinking like me and had Rutgers winning at home over Arkansas. Alas, Chris was blinded by all those rushing yards the Hogs churned out during the first three weeks of the season.
Chris was too busy hollerin' Pig Sooie when I tried to tell him about Brandon Allen's health and Rutgers' run defense. I heard rumblings from Baton Rouge, La., that Chris was trying to get media members to call the hogs with him in the press box when Arkansas went up 24-7 in the third quarter.
What's the old saying about counting your chickens?
It's just good to be The Kid.
After going 9-0 last week (yes, that makes two straight perfect weeks), I own a 40-3 (.930) record, while Chris is 38-5 (.884) after going 8-1.
Here's to our picks and me taking a three-game lead:
ARKANSAS STATE at MISSOURI
Chris Low: Missouri is putting up a ton of points and rolling right along. The Tigers return home after winning at Indiana a week ago and won’t have any problem with Arkansas State to go to 4-0 on the season. Missouri 48, Arkansas State 21
Edward Aschoff: The Tigers have looked great on offense thus far, and I don't anticipate that stopping this week with Arkansas State in town. Missouri 45, Arkansas State 17
SOUTH ALABAMA at TENNESSEE
Low: Justin Worley is back as Tennessee’s starting quarterback, and the important thing for the Vols is everybody playing better around him on offense. After two straight losses, they’ll take out a little frustration this week at home against South Alabama. Tennessee 34, South Alabama 17
Aschoff: There's no question that Tennessee has a lot to work on on both sides of the ball, but this game will give Worley a chance to get some of the rhythm back that he lost in the Swamp. Tennessee 38, South Alabama 13
UAB at VANDERBILT
Low: It was anything but a rousing performance last week by Vanderbilt at UMass. The Commodores played well enough to win, but that’s about it. Look for James Franklin’s bunch to turn up the volume this week at home. Vanderbilt 37, UAB 14
Aschoff: The Commodores didn't exactly excite anyone with their win over UMass last week, but something tells me we'll see a much more explosive offensive performance this week. Vanderbilt 38, UAB 17
SOUTH CAROLINA at UCF
Low: Talk about a game that has danger written all over it. The Gamecocks had better clean up their mistakes and take their A-game to UCF, or they’re going to be in trouble. They’ve had an extra week to prepare, and Connor Shaw and the offense are clicking right now. South Carolina 31, UCF 21
Aschoff: This isn't an easy road trip for the Gamecocks. UCF is undefeated and averaging more than 30 points a game. The bye week gave South Carolina time to rest, but this one will be closer than Steve Spurrier will like. South Carolina 31, UCF 24
FLORIDA at KENTUCKY
Low: One of these days, Kentucky is going to beat Florida again, but it won’t be this Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. The Gators will make it 27 in a row over the Wildcats. Florida 24, Kentucky 7
Aschoff: The Gators lost two of their top players for the season in less than seven days and have to go on the road with a first-time starter at quarterback. Still, the defense has too many weapons not to get the Gators to 2-0 in SEC play. Florida 27, Kentucky 7
TEXAS A&M at ARKANSAS
Low: It sounds like Arkansas will be without starting quarterback Allen for the second straight week, and when you’re playing Johnny Manziel & Co., you better be ready to score points in bunches. The Hogs won’t be able to keep up Saturday. Texas A&M 41, Arkansas 21
Aschoff: The Aggies offense is running on all cylinders, while the Razorbacks will likely be without their starting quarterback again. Not a good sign for the Hogs. Texas A&M 45, Arkansas 20
OLE MISS at ALABAMA
Low: Ole Miss is healthy and bubbling with confidence. The Rebels also have the playmakers on offense to give Alabama problems. The Crimson Tide have sort of turned it off and on this season, which drives Nick Saban crazy, but they know what’s at stake Saturday. Alabama 35, Ole Miss 21
Aschoff: This was actually a closer game than the score indicated last season. The Rebels have the offense to top the Tide, but you have to think that Alabama's defense is tired of hearing about its shortcomings. This one will come down to the fourth quarter, and Alabama will have just a little more in the tank. Alabama 31, Ole Miss 23
LSU at GEORGIA
Low: It’s the Zach Mettenberger Bowl. Well, not really, but Mettenberger’s return to Sanford Stadium has certainly dominated the headlines this week. The difference in this top-10 matchup, though, will be Aaron Murray and a Georgia offense that will produce enough big plays to keep the Bulldogs unbeaten in the SEC. Georgia 38, LSU 31
Aschoff: It sounds cliché, but whichever team wins the battle up front is going to win this game. Both teams want to establish the run, and both teams have monster running games. The Todd Gurley-Jeremy Hill matchup might be one for the ages, too. Georgia survived a similar game against South Carolina, but something tells me LSU's defense is going to make a play or two late to seal this one. LSU 35, Georgia 31
2. A chance to bounce back for Alabama's secondary: The Crimson Tide were victorious last week, but their defensive backs were torched against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans. Manziel threw for 464 yards against the Tide and Evans routinely beat man-to-man coverage. Head coach Nick Saban hinted this week that not everybody's jobs might be safe in the secondary, so it'll be worth watching if there are any changes back there when Alabama hosts Colorado State on Saturday.
3. Continued success from Mettenberger: Through three games, LSU looks like a capable passing team behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. He completed 65.2 percent of his passes (45 of 69) for 797 yards and nine touchdowns with zero interceptions. He has thrown eight touchdown passes in his past two games. These are all positive developments for the Tigers, who want to be able to make teams pay in the air when they stack the box to control the running game. Can Mettenberger continue the solid play when LSU hosts Auburn?
4. Reversing course for Georgia run D: The Bulldogs have allowed a whopping 211.5 yards per game on the ground in their first two games, putting them 102nd in the nation in the category. They're also allowing 6.2 yards per carry. It's worth noting that Georgia opened up with a schedule as tough as anybody's, playing a pair of top-15 teams out of the gate. But figures like that won't get it done when Georgia gets into the meat of its SEC schedule. This weekend's matchup against Conference USA foe North Texas is a chance for the Bulldogs to shore up things on the defensive end before a huge showdown with renowned running team LSU the following week.
5. Can A&M's D show signs of life?: The Aggies were dominated by Alabama's offensive line last week in a 49-42 loss and overall, the Aggies haven't been proficient at stopping other teams, particularly on the ground. They've allowed more than 200 rushing yards in each of their three games, and against Alabama failed to generate a pass rush. This week they host SMU and it will be the second straight week that the Aggies have most of their starting defensive players available and not subjected to a suspension of some sort. Now that most of the key players are back, namely linebacker Steven Jenkins, will the Aggies show some improvement on the defensive side of the ball?
6. Renewing a rivalry that's been one-sided of late: Florida and Tennessee meet at The Swamp on Saturday and the Gators are going to try to extend an eight-game winning streak against the Volunteers. The last time the Vols defeated Florida was in 2004, a 30-28 win in Neyland Stadium. This is the first installment of the rivalry for Butch Jones as Tennessee's head coach though. The Vols are coming off a 59-14 pounding at Oregon; fortunately for them Florida's offense is nowhere near as high-powered. The No. 19 Gators have their own wounds to lick, having lost to Miami 21-16 last time out and with key players like Jeff Driskel and Matt Jones trying to get to full strength healthwise. It's the SEC opener for both so it's an important game, no matter how you slice it.
7. Bulldogs, Commodores look to get back on winning track: Mississippi State and Vanderbilt both suffered SEC losses last week: The Bulldogs dropped a 24-20 decision to Auburn while the Commodores fell 35-25 to South Carolina. Mississippi State hosts Sun Belt squad Troy while Vandy travels to Massachusetts. Both teams are 1-2 and though wins won't help their efforts in SEC play, where both are winless so far, simply going out and getting a win -- which both should here -- will be a needed positive
8. Allen or Derby at QB for Arkansas?: Starting quarterback Brandon Allen injured his shoulder in a 24-3 win over Southern Miss last week and backup A.J. Derby relieved him during the Razorbacks' victory. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema hasn't publicly said for certain that Derby will start and hasn't ruled out Allen, but will monitor the progress of his shoulder before making the decision. Don't be surprised if Derby gets the start. He went 4-for-6 for 36 yards in relief duty. He was at Iowa his first two years before transferring to Coffeyville Community College and eventually Arkansas.
9. Mizzou looking for 3-0: The Tigers are looking for their third straight win, heading on the road to Indiana after a pair of home victories over Murray State and Toledo. While nobody will consider their nonconference schedule daunting, wins are wins. Quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey are healthy, the team is productive (averaging 539 offensive yards per game and 48 points) and the confidence that comes with success can be contagious. Another win this week over Indiana and next week over Arkansas State would give the Tigers a lot of momentum heading into SEC play.
10. Time to heal up, improve, for Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina: With these three teams having an open date this week, it's a chance to heal up any lingering injuries and work on fundamentals to help the team get better. Ole Miss probably would rather keep things going after a strong 3-0 start, including a win at Texas on Saturday, but the Rebels instead get extra time to prepare for No. 1 Alabama. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney could use the rest to reset from what has been a rough start, and this week can be a valuable teaching time for someone like head coach Mark Stoops at Kentucky, whose team is 1-2 after the first three weeks.
1. Alabama (2-0, 1-0 SEC; last week: 1): Every offense has looked good against Texas A&M, but seeing the Tide win that shootout in College Station, Texas, was very impressive. AJ McCarron is back in the Heisman race, and Alabama remains the team to beat in the SEC and nationally. However, questions still remain on a defense that gave up the most yards in school history (628) Saturday.
2. LSU (3-0, 0-0 SEC; last week: 2): Ladies and gentlemen, this might be the SEC's most complete team. The Tigers can throw (Zach Mettenberger is averaging 265.7 yards per game), run (218.7 yards per game) and rank 10th nationally in total defense (267.7). Sure, the last two opponents have been of the cupcake variety, but this offense didn't look this efficient against cupcakes last season.
3. Texas A&M (2-1, 0-1 SEC; last week: 3): Yes, this defense isn't SEC quality and might not be FBS quality right now, but when you have Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, you're going to be able to score on anyone. Manziel threw for a school-record 464 yards with five touchdowns, while Evans caught seven passes for a school-record 279 yards and a score. This defense needs major work, but this offense won't be stopped by many.
4. Georgia (1-1, 1-0 SEC; last week: 4): The Bulldogs were off, so the defense didn't give up any points. Georgia gets a tuneup in the form of North Texas Saturday before taking on LSU in two weeks. Expect a lot of Bulldogs points and some much-needed improvement from the Dawgs' defense.
5. South Carolina (2-1, 1-1 SEC; last week: 5): The Gamecocks continue to put up points and pile on yards. Through three games, South Carolina has registered 406, 454 and 579 yards, respectively. The Gamecocks let Vanderbilt hang around in their 35-25 win over the Commodores, but the defense turned it up a notch after getting embarrassed by Georgia. South Carolina allowed just 268 yards, and Vandy made just two of 12 third-down conversions.
6. Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0 SEC; last week: 7): A season ago, Bevo ran the Rebels out of the Grove. Saturday night, the Rebels chased Bevo & Co. out of Texas. Last season, the second half was almost a death sentence for the Rebels, but this season, they are outscoring opponents 56-37 and blanked Texas 27-0 in the second half of their 44-23 route of the Longhorns Saturday. As long as the read-option is still legal, the Rebels will be a very dangerous team.
7. Florida (1-1, 0-0 SEC; last week: 6): The Gators were off, which means the staff was probably drilling ball security and execution into its players' brains. Florida is last in the SEC in red zone efficiency (50 percent), and, as a result, the Gators are last in the SEC in scoring offense (40 points in two games). However, the Gators own the SEC's best defense, which also ranks third nationally.
8. Auburn (3-0, 1-0 SEC; last week: 9): Quarterback Nick Marshall really grew up in Auburn's 24-20 win over Mississippi State. He isn't quite Cam Newton, but he looked like a seasoned vet on that last-minute, game-winning drive. The defense still has its issues up front, though. Teams are rushing for almost 160 yards per game against the Tigers and are averaging nearly 5 yards per rush. That defensive line is in for quite the fight this weekend at LSU.
9. Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-2 SEC; last week: 8): Yes, the Commodores have two losses, but they're losses to top-25 teams. And the Commodores were very much in both games. Still, if Vandy is going to make progress and take the next step, these close losses have to turn into wins, especially against teams like South Carolina. There are some holes on defense that have to get plugged.
10. Missouri (2-0, 0-0 SEC; last week: 10): The offense is healthy and the Tigers even got a nice bye week before they travel to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers. The offense has been impressive through two games, averaging 539 yards and 48 points per game, but the competition has been subpar. Indiana's defense, which is allowing 410 yards and nearly 30 points a game, should keep Mizzou's offensive momentum going.
11. Arkansas (3-0, 0-0 SEC; last week: 11): It wasn't a very pretty win over Southern Miss, but I'm sure Bret Bielema will take it. The offense had issues here and there when quarterback Brandon Allen left early with a bruised shoulder. He's expected to be back for Saturday's game at Rutgers. The good news is that the running game didn't suffer, as both Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins rushed for more than 100 yards for the third straight game.
12. Tennessee (2-1, 0-0 SEC; last week: 12): We knew that cross-country trip to Eugene, Ore., would be tough, and Oregon made sure it was a very uncomfortable stay for the Vols. Before the Ducks built a 30-point first-half lead, fans were already chanting "We want Bama!" I can only imagine what Tennessee players were thinking. Things only got worse, as the Ducks registered 687 yards in their 59-14 drubbing of the Vols. Tennessee limps into its matchup with Florida looking for answers on defense.
13. Mississippi State (1-2, 0-1 SEC; last week: 13): For the second straight week, Dak Prescott played pretty well in place of the injured Tyler Russell, but when the defense had to make a stop late against Auburn, it came up short. After two solid outings, Mississippi State's defense struggled to stop Auburn's passing game, and now people in Starkville, Miss., are getting a little antsy. The Bulldogs have lost seven of their past nine games dating back to last season.
14. Kentucky (1-2, 0-0 SEC; last week: 14): The Wildcats put up a fight in the first half of their 27-13 loss to Louisville, but they just couldn't find any sort of consistency on offense. Quarterback Maxwell Smith left in the third quarter with a right shoulder injury, while turnovers and dropped passes stalled the offense whenever it made any attempt to threaten Louisville's lead. The defense gave up 242 rushing yards, but it was gassed by the fourth quarter thanks to an offense that went 0-for-13 on third down.
Senior quarterback Tyler Russell was knocked from the game in the third quarter after taking a knee to the helmet. He’ll be further evaluated, but his status going forward is uncertain.
It was a rough day all the way around for Russell and the Bulldogs’ offense. After throwing a school-record 24 touchdown passes last season, Russell was off target on a few key first-half passes, including one that was intercepted with Mississippi State driving, and the Bulldogs never found any rhythm offensively after squandering some opportunities to build on an early 3-0 lead.
It was the fewest points a Dan Mullen-coached Mississippi State team has scored since a 31-3 loss to Alabama during his first season in 2009.
The Bulldogs went the entire third quarter without getting a first down, and even before Russell was injured, backup quarterback Dak Prescott was stuffed two different times on third-and-short while operating out of the Wildcat formation.
There were some flashes early for Mississippi State with senior running back LaDarius Perkins getting off to a quick start, but it was all downhill after that. Perkins had 54 rushing yards in the first quarter, but was held to minus-4 yards on the ground the rest of the way.
What’s more, the Bulldogs were terrible on third down (2-of-16) and hung their defense out to dry by leaving them out on the field in the second half. It wasn’t a poor effort by the Mississippi State defense against an Oklahoma State offense that averaged 45.7 points and 547 yards per game last season, but the Bulldogs' D received little help.
The most disappointing thing for Mississippi State, though, was that Oklahoma State was simply more physical than the Bulldogs, who will obviously need to find something to hang their hat on offensively if they’re going to make their fourth straight bowl appearance under Mullen.
Arkansas 34, Louisiana-Lafayette 14
The Bret Bielema era at Arkansas kicked off in grand style and had a familiar look to it.
Much like Bielema’s offenses at Wisconsin, Arkansas muscled its way to 292 rushing yards with the tandem of Jonathan Williams (151 yards) and Alex Collins (130 yards) both topping 100 yards. Collins became the first Arkansas freshman to rush for 100 yards in his debut since Felix Jones in 2005.
The last time the Hogs had two running backs go over 100 yards in the same game was 2007 with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
Needless to say, Williams and Collins are obviously in good company.
Over and above the running game, one of the most promising things to come out of the opener for the Hogs was how balanced they were on offense. That’s a big reason Bielema hired Jim Chaney as his offensive coordinator.
Sophomore quarterback Brandon Allen was extremely sharp and finished 15-of-22 for 230 yards, no interceptions and three touchdown passes. He was on point all preseason with his accuracy and didn’t drop off any during game action.
Bielema said Allen has the "demeanor of a championship quarterback."
Defensively, Arkansas had some shaky moments early, and the linebackers will continue to be a work in progress, but the Hogs should be able to hold their own with just about anybody in the defensive line.
Allen, a third-year sophomore, takes over for a guy, Tyler Wilson, who passed for more than 7,000 yards and had 45 touchdown passes over the past two seasons. Nobody is expecting Allen to step in and put up those kind of numbers right away, but the Hogs are also counting on Allen being a lot more than just a caretaker on offense.
He'll have to be with the loss of veteran running backs Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson, as well as the SEC's leading receiver a year ago, Cobi Hamilton, and top tight end Chris Gragg.
"We have to give him a plan so that he knows how to have success," Bielema said. "We don’t want him making decisions that he doesn’t need to make."
Bielema has joked that the Hogs will play "normal American football" on his watch, which means they're going to run the football, play a physical brand of football and strive for balance on offense.
And, no, Bielema won't be pushing offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to run 90 plays a game.
"We'll put Brandon in a position to do what he does best," Bielema said. "One of the things I’ve learned about him is that he has the ability to correct a play when it happens. That’s the thing about a quarterback. You’re going to have plays that break down, but what are you going to do?
"Are you going to stand around and freeze and wet the bed, or are you going to go ahead and make a play and try to make something happen. I think he’s got the ability to do that."
Four players, including backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell, have decided to transfer, new coach Bret Bielema announced Monday. Defensive end Austin Flynn, safety Defonta Lowe and running back Keante Minor completed the quartet of Razorbacks transfers.
Here's what Bielema said in a statement released through the school:
"After concluding post-spring meetings with every member of our team, Austin Flynn, Defonta Lowe, Keante Minor and Brandon Mitchell have been granted their release from the University of Arkansas football program. Through meetings with these student-athletes, a determination was made that it would be mutually beneficial for them to pursue their goals elsewhere. Brandon is on track to earn his degree this summer and utilize the NCAA graduate transfer exception to play immediately this fall. We fully support them and wish them all the best moving forward.”
Neither Flynn nor Lowe went through spring practice, and Minor spent most of the 2012 season on special teams. But the loss of Mitchell is significant. That leaves the Hogs with even less experience at a position that saw its star (Tyler Wilson) graduate. Mitchell, who lost out to redshirt sophomore Brandon Allen for the starting spot this spring, played wide receiver last year, but was Wilson's backup in 2011. He saw limited action, but threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns.
Mitchell never really seemed comfortable in offensive coordinator Jim Chaney's offense and had an issue with turnovers during the latter part of spring practice. Allen earned the starting spot with his play this spring and it forced Bielema to consider moving Mitchell back to receiver.
Clearly, it wasn't something Mitchell was interested in.
Having Mitchell on the field would have been nice for the Hogs. His 6-foot-4, 239-pound frame and athleticism would have made him a decent option in the passing game. He also could have had a chance in some possible Wildcat formations.
Now, keeping Allen healthy becomes a major priority. He doesn't have to worry about looking over his shoulder any longer, but he has to make sure he continues to develop this fall because this is now officially his team.