NCF Nation: Brandon Wilds

SEC helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 2, 2014
Nov 2
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Saturday's SEC games were loaded with players who deserved helmet stickers, including Arkansas' Hunter Henry (seven catches for 110 yards) and Ole Miss' Bo Wallace (341 passing yards, 2 TDs, 61 rushing yards, TD) in losing causes.

We should also mention the impacts that Mississippi State defensive back Will Redmond (intercepted a pass at the goal line in the closing seconds to preserve a 17-10 win over Arkansas), Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett (notched 3.5 sacks to bring his season total to 11, a new record for SEC freshmen) and Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary (matched a school record with five touchdown passes) made on their teams' respective wins, but we can only make five sticker picks.

Here are our choices from another memorable Saturday in college football's toughest conference:

QB Nick Marshall, Auburn: We easily could have gone with running back Cameron Artis-Payne (27 carries, 143 yards, TD) or receiver Sammie Coates (five catches, 122 yards, TD), but we'll take Marshall. The senior coolly led the Tigers back from a 10-point deficit in the second half by repeatedly converting on third down (the Tigers were 5-for-7 in the second half) against No. 4 Ole Miss. Marshall led the No. 3 Tigers to a huge SEC win by completing 15 of 22 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and rushing for 50 yards and two scores.

QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee: Making his first start of the season, the sophomore helped Tennessee rally from a two-touchdown deficit in the last five minutes of regulation and then beat South Carolina 45-42 in overtime. Dobbs set a new single-game school record for rushing yards by a quarterback (166 yards, including touchdowns of 7, 36 and 3 yards) and passed for 301 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He hit Jason Croom with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.

WR Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: Normally we wouldn't hand a helmet sticker to a guy on a losing team, but Cooper can't play defense, too. He caught 11 passes for a school-record 233 yards and touchdowns of 12 and 85 yards. He ran for an 11-yard score. He tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds. And he even recovered a late onside kick. South Carolina surrendered 645 yards to Tennessee, which obviously put a damper on the evening for the Gamecocks, but Cooper was simply phenomenal.

Florida's running game: We're not just giving stickers to running backs Kelvin Taylor (25 carries for 197 yards and touchdowns of 2 and 65 yards) and Matt Jones (25 carries for 192 yards and touchdowns of 44 and 1 yards) in Saturday's 38-20 rout of No. 11 Georgia. Florida's offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, helping their tailback tandem roll up most of the Gators' 60 rushing attempts for 418 yards. Only one opponent (Auburn with 430 yards in 1978) has ever run for more yards against a Georgia defense. Everyone involved with Florida's running game deserves recognition after Saturday's upset win.

DE Shane Ray, Missouri: The Tigers' offense was slightly improved in Saturday's 20-10 win against Kentucky, but the day belonged to Ray and the defense. Ray notched a pair of sacks -- including a fourth-down sack of Patrick Towles on Kentucky's final play -- to raise his season total to 12. In the process, he broke Missouri's single-season record of 11.5 sacks previously held by Aldon Smith and Michael Sam.
BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. -- South Carolina running back Mike Davis enjoyed quite the breakout season in 2013, but bigger things could be in store for one of the SEC's best offensive weapons.

Built like a miniature tank, Davis could build on his 1,183-yard, 11-touchdown performance in 2013 with a run at the Heisman or at least a spot on the All-SEC first team. But the junior also has a chance to propel himself into the mix of players vying for the coveted spot of being the first running back taken in next year's NFL draft.

And if Davis has another good year, his head coach would have no problem wishing him a fond farewell.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsWith a strong season, Mike Davis is likely headed to the NFL in 2015.
"Mike Davis, if he has a big year, he's going to go pro," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said after his annual media golf event Thursday. "And we're going to tell him to go pro, because he should. The lifespan of a running back is only a certain amount of years. If a young man after three years can go, we're going to shake his hand and let him go. That's why you keep recruiting more running backs."

Davis was a highly touted prospect coming out of the 2012 recruiting class, and even before he arrived in Columbia, most thought he might have a three-year lifespan with the Gamecocks. And after reshaping his body after his freshman year, Davis tried his best last season to reserve a spot in the NFL draft's green room in 2015.

Overshadowed by conference mates Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon, Davis averaged 5.8 yards per carry, registered seven 100-yard rushing outings and averaged 103.8 rushing yards in conference play last fall.

So yes, if Davis even comes close to duplicating last season's production, he should pack his bags and head straight for a life in the NFL. With the NFL not-so-subtly devaluing running backs more and more, Davis would be crazy not to make the leap and get a jump on pro life early.

"The thing as a running back is your life expectancy isn't long in the NFL," South Carolina running backs coach Everette Sands said Thursday. "Here in the SEC, it's probably the closest thing to the NFL."

Sands doesn't want to restrict his prized running back, but he also understands that more wear and tear to Davis' body could hurt him in the long run when it comes to a future in the NFL. The good news for Sands is that he has a solid stable of backs to work with. Brandon Wilds, who has 707 career rushing yards, is back and Shon Carson, who suffered a shoulder injury during the Gamecocks' spring game, has bulked up and should be 100 percent healthy entering fall camp next week. Also, redshirt freshman David Williams has the talent to be the back of the future for South Carolina.

Help is there for Davis, and Sands doesn't think he'll have any trouble taking it this fall.

"Something that he understands, now more than ever, is that, 'Hey, I can't be the only guy. If I'm the only guy, then by the end of the season I'll be beat up,'" Sands said. "I have to make sure that I'm not putting him in there on every third-and-1."

The only other thing Davis has to worry about is overconfidence, but Sands doesn't seem too worried about that either. He sees a more mature Davis who knows his own potential, but also understands that there's more to be done before he can set foot in the NFL.

"There's no doubt in Mike's mind that he can make it in the league," Sands said. "The big thing that Mike has to understand is that it's not done yet. ... I think he understands that as well. There's the other side of it of, 'Yes, I know I'm going to the league, but I just have to make sure I handle my business right now. If he does that, he'll be fine."
Mike Davis came on so strong last season it was as if Marcus Lattimore had never left. South Carolina didn’t have to deal with the pain of losing its legendary running back because Davis stepped right into his place, seamlessly providing the same kind of power and speed at the position fans and coaches had become accustomed to.

Steve Spurrier knew Davis would be special even before last season's season opener. He told anyone who would listen how good his sophomore would be. But even now, some seven months after South Carolina blistered North Carolina on primetime television, the head coach of the Gamecocks is marveling at how some people are still sleeping on his running back.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMISouth Carolina is counting on a big season from Mike Davis.
“In practice yesterday we were watching him run a little bit and somebody says, ‘People don’t realize how fast he is,’ ” Spurrier told ESPN.com. “The first game last year he ran sort of an off-tackle play against North Carolina, and their defensive back took a bad angle and he broke down the sideline and I think, man, he’s going to have a 40- to 55-yard run and he ends up going all the way 75 yards, and they couldn’t catch him. We said, ‘Wow.’ He’s sort of sneaky fast.”

Davis ran for 100-plus yards in seven of his first nine games last season, outpacing SEC favorites Todd Gurley, T.J. Yeldon and Tre Mason. Through the first week of November, Davis ranked ninth in the country in total rushing yards (1,058) while also averaging the 13th-best yards per carry (6.37, minimum 100 attempts). He carried a heavy load with 166 carries, but he didn’t lack burst, rushing for 10 or more yards 26 times -- more than Mason, Yeldon and a fella by the name of Johnny Manziel.

But the wear and tear eventually caught up with him. Davis would rush for only 54 yards against Florida, miss the next game against Costal Carolina and fail to break the 50-yard rushing mark in each of South Carolina’s final two games against Clemson and Wisconsin. Even though he finished a respectable fourth in the SEC in rushing yards and fifth in all-purpose yards, it wasn’t his best. He simply wasn’t himself.

“It slowed me down a lot,” Davis said. “I don’t think people realized how much I was injured. The small injuries added up and hit me toward the end.”

Thankfully for South Carolina, Davis doesn’t appear to have the injury concerns of Lattimore before him. It was a series of minor injuries that took their toll, and now after a few months off, Davis is back to being fully healthy, he said. He’s taking it easy this spring and enjoying the emergence of his fellow running backs, most notably Shon Carson and former four-star David Williams, whom Davis called “electrifying” and someone “you like to watch in practice.”

All eyes are still on Davis, though. The rising junior has gone from unknown to a marked man in the SEC in one season. According to one sports betting site, Davis is at 18-to-1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy, trailing names such as Jameis Winston, Braxton Miller and Marcus Mariota, while also coming in ahead of the likes of Nick Marshall, Trevor Knight and Dak Prescott.

It's kind of like you're playing Madden or something. If you need yards, you just hand it off and let him go. It's cool.

-- South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson on RB Mike Davis
What does Davis think of the attention?

“It’s an honor, especially coming from where I’m from,” he said. “Everybody still calls me Little James or James Davis’ brother. I kind of wanted my own name growing up.”

Those who saw him play last season understand that Davis is his own man. When he’s healthy, he is as good as any running back in the country. Spurrier didn’t hesitate to say he could be the best running back in the SEC.

Dylan Thompson, who has already been named the full-time starter at quarterback by Spurrier, said it’s almost unfair to have someone like Davis to hand the ball off to.

“It’s kind of like you’re playing Madden or something,” Thompson said. “If you need yards, you just hand it off and let him go. It’s cool.”

The good news for both South Carolina and Davis is that he won’t have to carry the entire load this fall. Spurrier said he’ll give the ball to Davis only three or four times during scrimmages this spring, noting how he has the enviable problem of having “too many running backs” to incorporate into the lineup.

Beyond Carson and Williams, whom Thompson said ran a sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash in spring testing, South Carolina also has Brandon Wilds to turn to.

There’s no question, though, that Davis will be the centerpiece.

Now at “110 percent,” he wants to get even better than he was last season.

“If there’s anything I can do to get better and have an edge on my opponent, I’m always down for it,” he said. “So as far as getting faster, getting in the weight room and getting stronger, I’m always for it.”
In a blink of an eye, Mike Davis was gone. Actually, it might have been less than a blink.

However long it took for people to realize that Davis had bullied his way through his line before bouncing off two North Carolina defenders, the 5-foot-9, 219-pound bowling ball of a running back cut right and was off to a race down the sideline for a 75-yard dagger of a touchdown in the third quarter of South Carolina's 27-10 season-opening win.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Gerry Melendez/The State/MCTMike Davis' showed some impressive breakaway speed in his 75-yard touchdown run against North Carolina.
Knocking UNC defenders around up front wasn't much of a surprise, but Davis' ability to throw on his track star legs to beat the Tar Heels' defense did. Head coach Steve Spurrier thought Davis would end up with a 25-yard run. Maybe 35. But when the Head Ball Coach saw the sophomore chugging down the sideline with two defenders nipping at his heels, he couldn't help but be impressed.

"One of them had a little bit of an angle on him," Spurrier said. "That was impressive."

With a year to immerse himself into South Carolina's offense, Spurrier's teaching and get some once-in-a-lifetime guidance from Marcus Lattimore, Davis has the DNA to be a special back. He went from being the backup's backup, to rushing for 115 yards on 12 carries in his first career start last Thursday.

"One thing that Mike has is really great vision and he has really great quickness," running backs coach Everette Sands said. "He can see (the hole) and he can get to it, which is very important for a running back."

For Davis' encore, he's headed to Athens, Ga., where the sixth-ranked Gamecocks (1-0) will take on No. 11 Georgia (0-1). As usual, this game has major SEC title implications, but this one will feel extra special for Davis. The Stone Mountain, Ga., native wasn't made available to the media this week, but his coaches expect a lot of emotions from Davis, who will be a little more than hour away from home Saturday.

Davis, who was recruited by Georgia but committed to Florida before signing with the Gamecocks, will have to monitor his emotions, Sands said. Controlling those emotions when things go well or go badly will be huge for the young back Saturday. Keeping his composure is key as he looks to direct South Carolina's running game, which has become the Gamecocks' M.O. under Spurrier, especially against the Dawgs.

During South Carolina's current three-game winning streak against Georgia, the Gamecocks have averaged 224 rushing yards. In those games, Lattimore rushed for 182, 176 yards and 109 yards, respectively, with four total touchdowns.

Lattimore might be gone, but Georgia coach Mark Richt said Davis is equipped with the talent to inflict the same sort of damage.

"Rarely will you see one guy take him down," Richt said. "It usually takes a group. He was always a pretty physical, punishing runner back in his high school days.

"There's no question in our mind that we thought he was a great player (in high school) and wanted him at Georgia."

But Davis is playing against Georgia a week after the Bulldogs' defense had a not-so-flattering showing in their 38-35 opening loss to Clemson.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Georgia's defense registered 10 missed tackles (the Bulldogs totaled 106 all last season), while Clemson gained 112 rushing yards after contact and finished with 197 yards on the ground.

"It's concerning when you see people scoring a touchdown off of a play that should have been a 10-yard gain," Richt said. "That's a problem."

It'll be a major problem for if the Bulldogs hesitate against Davis, who Spurrier said is faster and stronger than he was last year. Davis can bulldoze ahead or cut to the outside and hurt you on the perimeter, where the Bulldogs are the youngest.

And Davis won't be alone with pounding partner Brandon Wilds (12 rushes, 64 yards last week) by his side. Davis is the focus, but Wilds will provide more punch while Davis' legs rest.

It'll help Georgia to get safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons (suspension) and Corey Moore (sprained knee) back, but they'll need help. It'll have to be a collective effort to contain this running game, especially Davis.

But as Richt knows, sometimes it's just hard to stop a train.

"Great backs are going to break tackles," he said, "I don't care good of a tackler you are."
The other day I was asked a question about the SEC that caught me off guard a little.

And no, it wasn't about Bob Stoops or scheduling.

I was asked if the league would be a quarterback or running back league in 2013. Obviously, when you think about the SEC, you think of pound-it-out, grind-it-out football. Games are won and lost in the trenches and running backs are usually a team's most coveted asset. The more the merrier, too.

But the SEC returns some pretty good experience at both positions.

At running back, the SEC will be without four of the league's top 10 rushers -- Eddie Lacy, Mike Gillislee, Zac Stacy and Kendial Lawrence -- from the 2012 season. The SEC will be without three of the top 10 passers -- Tyler Bray, Tyler Wilson and Jordan Rodgers.

Now, my math skills tell me that seven top players at a position is better than six, but the SEC is deep at running back this season. Of the seven top quarterbacks returning, six reached 2,500 passing yards, while only two made it to 3,000 yards -- Aaron Murray and Johnny Manziel. Nine true starters return (Kentucky's Maxwell Smith missed most of last season and ended the spring behind Jalen Whitlow). So five teams are breaking in new starters.

The SEC saw eight running backs hit the 1,000-yard mark last season. There's a chance the league could not only reach that number again but it could eclipse it.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Romeo GuzmanT.J. Yeldon takes over for running back Eddie Lacy as "the guy" for Alabama.
Alabama lost Lacy -- and his 1,322 yards/17 touchdowns -- but rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon appears more than ready to take over as the lead back. He rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and it sounds like he looked even better as the guy. He'll also have help from fellow sophomore Kenyan Drake, who played in 12 games last year, and Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart, who are both returning from season-ending knee injuries. Remember, Fowler had nearly 400 rushing yards in 2011. True freshman Derrick Henry, who was tearing it up this spring before his leg injury, should help once he's healthy this fall.

Oh, and Alabama will welcome three more backs this summer, including ESPN 150 member Alvn Kamara.

Texas A&M and Florida will also have the luxury of a packed backfield. The Aggies return leading rusher (for a running back) Ben Malena (808 yards), but will also have rising sophomore Trey Williams, and transfers Brandon Williams and Tra Carson. Brandon Williams might be the most talented of the bunch, and none of these guys should get too tired with all those legs to work with.

The Gators lost Gillislee, but sophomore-to-be Matt Jones had an excellent spring. He knew the playbook backward and forward and showed a more physical style. He already has the goal of getting 1,500 yards. But he'll have help from redshirt junior Mack Brown, who had a very solid spring, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor (early enrollee) and Adam Lane. The coaches feel very good about all four contributing a lot this fall.

Georgia is a little thin at running back, but with Gurley and Keith Marshall returning, the Dawgs could have the best running back duo in the SEC -- maybe the country.

Here's a quick look at how other SEC teams currently fare at running back heading into the summer:

Arkansas

The Razorbacks lack experience at the position, but sophomore Jonathan Williams made good strides this spring and looks poised to be the top back. He'll also have incoming freshman Alex Collins to help him this fall.

Auburn

Tre Mason and his 1,000 yards return. He should have even more space to work with in Gus Malzahn's spread, which could spell trouble for defenses. Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne had a solid spring, and Corey Grant returns.

Kentucky

Leading rushers Raymond Sanders (669 yards) and Jonathan George (504 yards) return with two talented youngsters to help out. Dyshawn Mobley had an excellent spring and Josh Clemons is back from a devastating knee injury he suffered in 2011.

LSU

Legal issues have Jeremy Hill's fall status unknown for the fall. If he returns, he gives the Tigers on of the top backs in the league. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue return, but LSU will be thin at the position without Hill.

Mississippi State

LaDarius Perkins returns after his 1,000-yard season. He's a complete back and can hurt teams running and catching. Josh Robinson returns after a productive year as the backup. Nick Griffin has a ton of skill, but still hasn't reached his potential.

Missouri

Lawrence is gone, but Henry Josey is back and says he's 100 percent after his devastating knee injury in 2011. He was one of the Big 12's best and most explosive running backs before his injury. The Tigers have plenty of bodies at running back and should get good use out of Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough.

Ole Miss

Leading rusher Jeff Scott (846) is back and he'll be working with some solid sophomores in I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. True freshman Mark Dodson had a productive spring as well. Along with the six returning lettermen, Ole Miss will have three more signees on campus this fall.

South Carolina

Mike Davis isn't trying to be Marcus Lattimore, but he did a good job of taking his spot this spring. The rising sophomore can pound it or break out for that home run play. Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson are back from injuries and ESPN 150 member David Williams will be in town this fall.

Tennessee

Marlin Lane's off-field problems didn't help things this spring, but Butch Jones was very happy with the play of Alden Hill and Rajion Neal this spring. Lane has every chance to come back and if he does the Vols will have a pretty solid three-headed rushing monster.

Vanderbilt

Stacy is gone, but Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow had good springs in Nashville. Jerron Seymour gives Vandy another body to use, as well. Tate and Kimbrow both have big-play ability, but they'll have to stay healthy because there isn't a lot of experience behind them.

Video: South Carolina RB Brandon Wilds

April, 4, 2013
4/04/13
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Chris Low talks with South Carolina running back Brandon Wilds.

SEC spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
10:18
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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.

Top surprises in the Eastern Division

December, 21, 2011
12/21/11
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Now that you've seen our SEC West surprises from the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the surprises in the SEC East:

FLORIDA

The offense didn't take a step forward: Even though quarterback John Brantley appeared better suited for Charlie Weis' pro-style offense, the Gators didn't look much better after last year's ugly offensive output. Things looked better during the first four weeks, but the more SEC defenses the Gators saw, the worse they got. A complete turnaround wasn't expected, but improvement was and Florida just didn't have it.

Weis leaving for Kansas: Staying with the offensive theme, Florida received quite the surprise when Weis left Florida to take over as Kansas' head coach. People around the program were pretty surprised when they received the news, but it seemed especially odd considering how outspoken he was about staying at Florida for the long haul.

GEORGIA

Jarvis Jones: Anyone unfamiliar with Jones' situation would have never guessed that Jones didn't play a down of football last year. After sitting out 2010 because of transfer rules, the USC transfer linebacker was an absolute beast in his first season of SEC football. Jones was named an All-American after leading the SEC in tackles for loss (19.5) and sacks (13.5).

Georgia's resolve: The Bulldogs had recently been marred by seasons of under performing, but after a 0-2 start Georgia pulled off 10 straight wins and made it back to the SEC title game for the first time since 2005. Not a lot of people outside of that locker room thought Georgia would dig itself out of its early hole, but the Bulldogs did and found a way to have a very successful season.

KENTUCKY

Morgan Newton: Remember when it appeared as though Newton was primed for a solid career after a successful freshman season? It seems so long ago, now, especially after such a poor 2011 season. Newton never looked very sharp all year, and after a late-season ankle injury he lost his starting job to freshman Maxwell Smith. Newton finished the season with 793 passing yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Kentucky beat Tennessee: For all of the Wildcats' offensive struggles, they found a way to finally beat Tennessee after 26 straight years of losing to the Vols. The win not only stopped a lot of suffering for the Wildcats, but it eliminated Tennessee from bowl contention.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Surviving without Marcus Lattimore: The moment the news hit that Lattimore, South Carolina's most consistent offensive weapon, was lost for the season with a knee injury, most felt the Gamecocks' season was doomed. But the Gamecocks stayed on course. South Carolina lost just one game after and finished the regular season with 10 wins for only the second time in school history.

Brandon Wilds: When Lattimore went down against Mississippi State, Wilds was thrust into the starting spot. For someone who started the season as the fifth-string running back and a redshirt candidate, Wilds did a heck of a job. He averaged 82.2 yards in South Carolina's final five games and eclipsed 100 yards three times during that span.

TENNESSEE

A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt: It's not every day that a team has a standout true freshman at linebacker. Well, Tennessee had two of them. Both were named to the SEC All-Freshman team after combing for 136 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. The season was pretty rough, but these two were major bright spots.

Tennessee's collapse in the finale: All the Vols had to do was beat Kentucky and a season full of injuries and agony would have been saved by a bowl berth. But Tennessee fell flat against a Kentucky team that was eliminated from a bowl berth the week before. Tennessee turned the ball over three times and couldn't muster more than seven points, snapping a 26-year win streak over the Wildcats.

VANDERBILT

Vandy's attitude: James Franklin promised things would be different and they were for the Commodores. The defense was aggressive, the offense was exciting and the Commodores didn't back down from anyone. There were postgame outbursts from Franklin and teams learned early on that this wasn't the same Nashville pushover.

Zac Stacy/Vandy's defense: Stacy started as a relative unknown, but finished the season third in the SEC in rushing with 1,136 yards and was second with 13 touchdowns. He had five 100-plus-yard games, averaging 162.8 yards in each. As for the defense, it had to replace three starting linebackers, but finished the year sixth in the SEC in total defense.

Arkansas settling for field goals

November, 5, 2011
11/05/11
10:05
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas beat all over the end zone door in the third quarter, but just couldn't get in.

After scoring 24 points in the first half, the Razorbacks got just 6 on two field goals in the third quarter, while South Carolina managed a touchdown on a Connor Shaw draw.

It's still a two-score game, with Arkansas leading 30-21, but South Carolina's offense has played better in the third quarter. The Gamecocks were putting together a pretty nice second drive of the half before a Brandon Wilds fumble gave the Razorbacks the ball on South Carolina's side of the field.

South Carolina's running attack has improved as the game as gone on, so if the Gamecocks get on a roll on the ground, they could be sniffing the end zone soon.

What Arkansas has to get cleaned up are all the drops. At last count there have been at least five critical drops by Arkansas players in this game. If not for all the drops, this game might be over in Arkansas' favor.

Holloman out
South Carolina announced that safety DeVonte Holloman is out for the rest of the game after suffering a concussion in the third quarter.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Slow starts had plagued Arkansas for the past few weeks, but the Hogs managed to make the first quarter pretty exciting to watch.

Zach Hocker's 44-yard field goal in the first quarter made sure Arkansas scored first since the Troy game and then Dennis Johnson really got this stadium going with his 98-yard touchdown on a kickoff return. It looked like he was shot out of a cannon when he touched the ball.

Johnson shot up the right side of the field and after a couple of key blocks, he was gone. No one even came close to touching him.

But the Gamecocks weren't without a little excitement of their own. Quietly, the Gamecocks went 72 yards on nine plays and got on the board after Brandon Wilds scored a 4-yard touchdown off a beautiful toss to the left.

Both of these teams were criticized for the things they did well to start this game. Arkansas was prone to slow starts, so the Razorbacks went 41 yards and kicked a field goal on their opening drive. And the Gamecocks, who have been inept as ever at scoring points, marched right down the field for a touchdown in the first. Some Arkansas penalties did help.

So far, it's been pretty fun in the game a lot of people had forgotten about.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 9

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
10:25
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We had some interesting games in the SEC this weekend, so here is what we learned after Week 9:

1. The East might be Georgia's to lose: Sure, South Carolina owns the tiebreaker between these two teams, but without running back Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks don't have much of an offense at all. South Carolina managed just 14 points against a banged up Tennessee team, and it's going to need a lot more than that to walk out of Fayetteville next week with a win. Georgia slipped by Florida to knock the Gators out of the East race, and now the Bulldogs' toughest conference game is at home against Auburn. That is a losable game for the Bulldogs, but chances are that if they win out, the Bulldogs will be headed back to Atlanta for the SEC championship game. South Carolina will have to lean heavily on its defense from here on out, and we just aren't sure that the Gamecocks have enough on offense to keep up with Arkansas. Florida still looms, and while the Gators have nearly hit rock bottom, a healthy John Brantley might make a play or two against that South Carolina defense in a few weeks.
[+] EnlargeJohn Brantley
Kim Klement/US PresswireJohn Brantley struggled on the field after struggling with injuries off of it.
2. Florida's troubles stretch well beyond the quarterback position:
During Florida's three-game slide, most of the attention was on the fact freshmen Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel were taking the snaps at quarterback. Both struggled considerably when they were in, so most of the blame for Florida's mishaps rested on the quarterbacks. But after watching Florida's offense collapse in the second half against Georgia, with Brantley back, it became obvious that Florida has a lot more issues than just the health of its quarterback. Brantley was hobbled, but he still made a few plays with his arm in the first half, including a clutch fourth-down touchdown pass to Jordan Reed, but in the second half everyone around him fell apart. Outside of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, the Gators have no playmakers. And even those two weren't very effective on offense Saturday. Georgia pounded Florida's young offensive line and rarely did much in the secondary because there aren't any receiving threats on Florida's team. The Gators' offensive woes have returned this season, and it cost the Gators a chance in the East.

3. Vanderbilt really isn't going to be pushed around anymore: The look on James Franklin's face when Carey Spear shanked the 27-yard field goal that would have tied Arkansas late in the fourth said it all. He expected to take this game into overtime, and I'm sure he expected to win. But when that kick never came close to even hitting the goal post, Franklin had a look of disgust on his face. It wasn't a look that said Vanderbilt was so close. It didn't say that the Commodores will get it the next time. Franklin looked angry because he expected another chance at a stunning victory. Whether that would have happened in overtime will never be known, but for most of the day he had the better team on the field. Yes, Arkansas' talent level is greater than Vandy's, but it didn't play like it until late, giving the Hogs their fourth game this season with a halftime deficit. This Vanderbilt team is much different and better than the Vanderbilt teams we're accustomed to. Some of the sloppy mistakes that have haunted this program in the past returned Saturday, but overall this program is headed in the right direction. Vanderbilt is no longer a pushover with Franklin in charge.

4. Steve Spurrier needs to open up his passing game: Running back Brandon Wilds did a tremendous job filling in for Lattimore against Tennessee. He rushed for 137 yards and carried the ball 28 times for the Gamecocks. He's a tough runner and doesn't seem to run out of effort. But South Carolina just can't seem to throw the ball anymore. Quarterback Connor Shaw passed for just 87 yards and Alshon Jeffery caught three passes for 17 yards. That just isn't going to cut it going forward. South Carolina has the duty of keeping up with the SEC's best offense in Arkansas next weekend, and still has games with Florida and Clemson left. Shaw isn't mistake-prone like Stephen Garcia was, and he's more than capable of slinging the ball around, but for some reason that part of the playbook has been lost. Wilds was good against Tennessee, but who knows how long he can keep that up against better defenses. South Carolina is going to need to throw the ball much more and get more creative if it is going to beat Arkansas next week.

5. The winner in the East doesn't stand much of a chance in Atlanta: The big boys were off this weekend, but after watching Georgia and South Carolina sneak by, it became more and more obvious that the SEC title game will be won by the West. Even if Arkansas somehow slips into the championship game, it's a pretty fair assumption that the Hogs would take the crown inside the Georgia Dome in early December. The two left in the East race just have too many issues to be able to stand tall against an Alabama or an LSU. Neither will play the Crimson Tide or the Tigers before then, so we won't get a preview of the potential Atlanta matchup, but that's probably a good thing. Two bad losses like that could do a number on a team's psyche. The mistakes that these two make on offense will be capitalized on again and again by the West champ. At this point, it's safe to say that the SEC crown will remain in the West for a third straight year.

Life without Marcus Lattimore was never going to be easy for South Carolina, but Brandon Wilds filled in nicely in South Carolina's 14-3 win over Tennessee.

He started the year fifth on the running back depth chart and was almost headed for redshirt city. But once Lattimore went down, Wilds went to No. 1 at the position and had quite the starting debut. Wilds rushed for 137 yards and even carried the ball 28 times. It was as if Lattimore never left.

Well, maybe not, but South Carolina had to be happy with what it got from Wilds. He isn't nearly as strong as Lattimore, but he sure is tough and he toughed out some extra yards here and there against Tennessee all night.

It was a good thing, to,o because the Gamecocks weren't real big on throwing the ball. Connor Shaw finished with just 87 yards passing and a touchdown. He rushed for South Carolina's only other score.

Tennessee showed once again that it just doesn't have the manpower to really compete in this league. Injuries to key players have ravaged this team, but depth across the board is a major issue. There just isn't enough energy and stamina to go around for the Vols.

Tennessee started true freshman Justin Worley, who threw the ball 20 times in the first half, but showed that he's still just a youngster. He wasn't awful by any means, but still has a ways to go before he's ready for the SEC. He forced throws, including one at South Carolina's goal line that was intercepted. He was replaced by Matt Simms after that pick.

But it wasn't all on Worley. South Carolina's defense played a major role as well. The Gamecocks held Tennessee to 186 yards, including 35 on the ground, and forced two turnovers. Tennessee was also 2-of-14 on third downs. This defense just continues to carry South Carolina. It will have to from here on out with the way this offense is (not) moving the ball right now.
There hasn't been much offense so far in Knoxville, Tenn., as South Carolina entered the half with a 7-3 lead over Tennessee.

The Volunteers are down to third-string quarterback Justin Worley, who made his first career start Saturday, while the Gamecocks are dealing with life after monster running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley didn't waste time getting Worley's arm going — the true freshman has attempted 20 passes already, completing nine. He had 99 yards at the half and hadn't turned the ball over.

Worley has looked very much like a freshman at times, but has made some nice throws, too. It hasn't been easy with South Carolina's talented defense coming at him, but Worley has been better than expected.

As for South Carolina, the Gamecocks had just 141 total yards of offense in the first half. Quarterback Connor Shaw passed for 73 of those yards and the only touchdown of the game, a 23-yard strike to Rory Anderson.

Brandon Wilds, who is starting in place of Lattimore, has rushed for 42 yards and has 31 yards receiving. One thing that definitely stands out is that star Gamecocks receiver Alshon Jeffery has just one catch for 8 yards and he limped off of the field heading into the half. If South Carolina wants to put some more points on the board, Jeffery has to get the ball in his hands.

Here are 10 things I’ll be watching in college football this weekend:

1. Will Oklahoma bounce back against Kansas State?

The No. 9 Sooners were stunned by unranked Texas Tech 41-38 last week, ending their 39-game home winning streak. OU hasn’t lost consecutive conference games since a four-game slide in 1998. The Wildcats are off to a 7-0 start but haven’t beaten OU since the 2003 Big 12 championship game. Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein ran for 10 touchdowns in the past three games, but the Cats are averaging only 153.9 passing yards per game. The Red Raiders were able to expose OU’s secondary while totaling 572 yards of offense last week.

2. Should Clemson be on upset alert?

Heading into Saturday night’s game at Georgia Tech, the Tigers are aiming for their first 9-0 start since 1981, when they finished 12-0 and won a national championship. Georgia Tech has dropped two games in a row, scoring only 28 points and averaging only 253 yards of offense in losses to Virginia and Miami. But Tech’s triple-option offense might pose problems for Clemson’s defense, which surrendered 83 points in victories over Maryland and North Carolina. The Tigers scored 115 points and had 1,026 yards of offense in their last two games.

3. What does USC have to do to upset Stanford?

[+] EnlargeRobert Woods
Chris Williams/Icon SMIThe Trojans could use another big game from Robert Woods, who had 12 catches for 224 yards in last year's game against Stanford.
The No. 6 Cardinal will be going for their 16th consecutive victory in Saturday night’s trip to USC. The Trojans will have to slow down Stanford’s running game, which ran for a school-record 446 yards in last week’s 65-21 rout of Washington. The Trojans will need another big game from receiver Robert Woods, who had 12 catches for 224 yards with three touchdowns in last season’s 37-35 loss to Stanford. USC quarterback Matt Barkley has thrown nine touchdowns with only one interception during a three-game winning streak.

4. Who starts at quarterback for Florida?

Gators coach Will Muschamp said senior John Brantley is ready to go for Saturday’s game against No. 22 Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. But Brantley hasn’t played since injuring his ankle early in the Gators’ 38-10 loss to Alabama on Oct. 1 and hasn’t practiced much over the past three weeks. Brantley might get a chance to play against the Bulldogs, but don’t be surprised if freshmen Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett take most of the snaps. Georgia has to do a better job of taking care of the football -- it has had 12 turnovers in its three consecutive losses to UF.

5. Who’s going to run the ball for South Carolina?

The No. 13 Gamecocks begin life without star tailback Marcus Lattimore, who will miss the rest of the season after tearing knee ligaments in a 14-12 victory over Mississippi State on Oct. 15. Freshman Brandon Wilds will get the start in Saturday’s game at Tennessee, after running for 75 yards on 13 carries so far this season. Quarterback Connor Shaw will have to carry a bigger load on offense, and former USC basketball player Bruce Ellington might get some snaps out of “Wildcats" plays. Volunteers freshman quarterback Justin Worley makes his first start after senior Matt Simms was benched last week.

6. Should Oklahoma State be worried about Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III?

The No. 3 Cowboys’ defense has held up so far this season but will be tested by Griffin, who has thrown 22 touchdowns and two interceptions this season. Baylor’s defense has been exposed by strong passing attacks, giving up 681 yards of offense in a 55-28 loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 15. The Bears allowed 725 yards in a 55-28 loss to OSU last season. Griffin played very well against the Aggies, throwing for a school-record 430 yards with three touchdowns. Baylor has lost five straight and 14 of 15 games to the Pokes.

7. Can Michigan State get up for another big game?

The No. 11 Spartans just completed a trifecta of emotional victories, defeating Ohio State (17-7), Michigan (28-14) and Wisconsin (37-31). The Spartans defeated the then-No. 6 Badgers on quarterback Kirk Cousins’ 44-yard touchdown pass to Keith Nichol on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game. Now Michigan State has to regroup to play at No. 14 Nebraska on Saturday. MSU’s defense, which allowed 220 rushing yards to the Badgers, will have to slow down Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez and I-back Rex Burkhead. The winner gets the inside track to winning the Big Ten’s Legends division.

8. Will Wisconsin rebound to beat Ohio State?

The Badgers saw their BCS national championship hopes all but end with last week’s loss at Michigan State. But Wisconsin can still win the Big Ten’s Leaders division and play in the inaugural Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis on Dec. 3. The Buckeyes had an extra week to prepare, after upsetting Illinois 17-7 on Oct. 15. Ohio State completed only one pass for 17 yards against the Illini, but tailback Dan “Boom” Herron ran for 91 yards with two touchdowns in his first action of the season.

9. Can Texas A&M’s defense shut down another opponent?

Missouri’s trip to Texas A&M on Saturday night will be a matchup of potential future SEC teams. The No. 16 Aggies have struggled defending the pass all season, but they were much better in last week’s 33-17 victory over Iowa State, allowing only 305 yards of offense. Missouri has won four of its last five games against Texas A&M. Tigers quarterback James Franklin struggled in last week’s 45-24 loss to Oklahoma State, completing only 14 of 27 passes for 184 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

10. Can Penn State do it again?

The Nittany Lions have won six games in a row heading into Saturday’s game against Illinois, and they’ve done it with a menacing defense and mediocre offense. Penn State tailback Silas Redd has been very good lately, with four straight 100-yard games. But the Nittany Lions remain unsettled at quarterback, although Matt McGloin played well in last week’s 34-24 victory at Northwestern. The Illini have lost two straight games after a 6-0 start.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 9

October, 27, 2011
10/27/11
10:15
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The giants are off this week, but the SEC -- and the country -- goes on.

Here's a look at what to watch in Week 9:

[+] EnlargeJohn Brantley
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswireGators quarterback John Brantley could see his first game action since being knocked from the game against Alabama.
1. John Brantley's effectiveness: Florida coach Will Muschamp seems pretty confident that quarterback John Brantley will play this weekend against Georgia. But some are wondering how effective he'll be after having two weeks off to nurse a leg injury. Florida's offense is completely different with Brantley under center and if the Gators are going to end their losing streak, Brantley will likely have to be under center against this tough Georgia defense. If he can play like he did before he was injured against Alabama, the Gators' offense will match up much better against the Bulldogs' defense.

2. Faster start for the Razorbacks: Arkansas has had a few sluggish starts this season, and last week's slow start against Ole Miss almost cost the Razorbacks. Coach Bobby Petrino made it clear that his team won't come out looking lazy against a talented Vanderbilt team. Arkansas is still very much in the BCS race and the Hogs' matchup with LSU at the end of the year could determine if they play in a BCS bowl and could actually knock the Tigers out. But Arkansas has to keep up its winning ways before then. A slow start against Vanderbilt in Nashville this weekend could be dangerous for the Razorbacks.

3. Guaranteed conference win: When everything is said and done in the Kentucky-Mississippi State game, one team will have its first conference win of the season. Both have trudged along on offense for most of the season, but that could change this weekend as well. Kentucky had an offensive revival against Jacksonville State last week, but the key is keeping that momentum going, and it won't be easy against the Bulldogs' defense, especially that secondary. As for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs had a bye week to get their offense together and the Wildcats don't possess the most daunting defense.

4. Momentum for the Rebels: Ole Miss might have lost a heartbreaker to Arkansas, but what the Rebels got out of that game might go a long way in a tumultuous season. We saw more fight out of this Ole Miss team and for the first two quarters, the Rebels looked like the better team. Now, holding up was an issue, but coach Houston Nutt believes his team gained more confidence after taking a top-10 team down to the last minute of the game. Ole Miss' next challenge is getting a win at Auburn. The Tigers are coming off a blowout loss to LSU, but they are at home and Auburn is a different team in front of that home crowd.

5. Arkansas' passing game vs. Vandy's secondary: This has the makings of being a pretty fun matchup to watch. Arkansas enters the weekend with the SEC's top passing game (322 yards per game), while Vanderbilt is giving up just 191 passing yards a game and has a league-high 15 interceptions. This will be the Commodores' toughest task when it comes to stopping the pass and coach James Franklin said it's already been tough to duplicate what the Razorback wide receivers can do because of their speed and athleticism. As for the Hogs, they are looking to rebound through the air after quarterback Tyler Wilson was held without a touchdown against Ole Miss.

6. Ending the Cocktail pain: History has just not been kind to Georgia against Florida. Fans in Jacksonville might be split up the middle, but it has felt much more like home to the Gators. The Bulldogs have lost three in a row to Florida and 18 of the last 21. Even when this game was played in Athens, Ga., back in 1995, Georgia couldn't get the job done. Now, Georgia enters this game with the East championship squarely in its sights, while Florida is reeling during a three-game losing streak. If John Brantley can return for the Gators at quarterback, Florida's offense should be much improved. But Georgia's defense has been one of the hottest in the league of late. The Bulldogs are third in the league in total defense and this unit could give Florida headaches and keep the Gators on their downward spiral.

7. Worley's first start: Tennessee's freshman quarterback was expected to redshirt this season, but with Tyler Bray going down with a thumb injury and Matt Simms struggling to get much going, coach Derek Dooley felt it was time to get Worley out there. He was the Gatorade National Player of the Year his senior year of high school after throwing for 5,315 yards and a state-record 64 touchdowns. Even though he played his high school ball in South Carolina, Steve Spurrier didn't recruit him to play for the Gamecocks. Will that be something that motivates Worley as he makes his first career start against South Carolina? Who knows, but he probably won't feel much love from the Gamecocks' fast, aggressive defense.

8. Moseley's second start: Auburn quarterback Clint Moseley had a solid second half against Florida two weeks ago, but he struggled to get much going against LSU last week. That was to be expected, considering what LSU has done to opponents this year, especially when those opponents are throwing out a new starting quarterback. But this is a chance for Moseley to redeem himself and grow more as a player. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said this week that he'd like to take a look at how he rotates Moseley and Kiehl Frazier, which should help Moseley get into more of a rhythm out on the field against Ole Miss Saturday.

9. Life without Marcus Lattimore:
Saturday will mark the first time this season that we see South Carolina operate without the help of bruising running back Marcus Lattimore, who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Former fifth-string freshman Brandon Wilds gets the nod at running back, where depth is very sparse. Receiver Bruce Ellington should get some Wildcat work as well. The Gamecocks will have to rely on the arm of Connor Shaw, which means South Carolina wide receivers not named Alshon Jeffery have to step up. Plus, we need to see the passing game open up some for Shaw. The Gamecocks are going to have to throw the ball more and more effectively in order to get this offense going from here on out.

10. Mississippi State's offensive rebound: The Bulldogs have fallen well below expectations this season and a lack of offensive firepower has been a major reason why. After scoring 93 points and averaging 588 yards in the first two games of the season, Mississippi State's explosive offense has disappeared. Since Week 2, the Bulldogs have cleared the 20-point mark and the 300-yard mark just twice, going 2-3 in the process. With a week off, the Bulldogs surely got some things tightened up on offense. Facing a Kentucky defense that is giving up almost 400 yards a game could be the recipe for offensive success the Bulldogs need.

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