NCF Nation: Brent Pease

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Somehow, Florida coach Will Muschamp has done a good job blocking out the Gator Nation seemingly tumbling down around him.

Only a couple months removed from an embarrassing 4-8 campaign that delivered the Gators' first losing season since 1979 and no bowl appearance for the first time in more than 20 years, Muschamp has stayed steady. He's a prideful man who breathes football and removed himself from last year's tumult almost immediately.

His job is very much on the line in 2014, but as Muschamp walks through Florida's football offices toward his own lavish hideaway, Muschamp's stride is steady, his head up. He greets an assistant with a massive smile before delivering a brawny handshake to a reporter. He's calm, yet still possesses an edge about him -- a certain endearing intensity. His office remains as tidy as any coach would allow, but there's no unnecessary clutter.

That's just the way he wants his coaching life as he enters a critical fourth season and spring in Gainesville. A year ago, he eyed a national championship after an 11-win season and a BCS bowl berth. Now, he's stitching together a squad mangled by injuries and self-doubt.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
AP Photo/Phil SandlinFlorida coach Will Muschamp believes the pieces are in place for the Gators to turn things around in 2014.
"You are what your record is," said Muschamp, whose team lost 15 players to season-ending injuries, including 10 starters, last season and had 25 players miss a combined 126 games due to injury. "The worst you can do is have the Band-Aid approach of, 'Well, we had a bunch of guys get hurt.' That's absolutely the worst thing you can do because that creates release syndrome for how miserable the year was."

The hard-nosed, robustly built Muschamp, who was born in Georgia but grew up in Gainesville, insists that isn't occurring. Players are going through the process of improving, shutting out last season to get faster, stronger and turn their attention to 2014.

He knows that outside his program, negativity is pounding at the gates of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, demanding change. Some wanted him fired and everyone wants this storied program fixed. Muschamp, who has gone 22-16 during his three seasons at Florida, knows he must prevent that toxicity from touching his players.

"They understand what's out there," he said. "The biggest thing is to stay process-oriented in what we do and our approach.

"To me, more than anything, is focus in the now, not in the what if. We can't get into the what-ifs of life. Let's just get into the now, and that's going to help us as we move forward."

That's why workout intensity has surged and offensive players and coaches are learning a new scheme under a new coordinator. That's why the mentality is about getting better, not winning anything. Victories won't come without vast improvement, both physically and mentally.

"I think we're coming around as a team," said starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, who missed most of the 2013 season with a broken leg. "I don't think we're coming around an individual or a new coach. I see a lot of guys who are embarrassed about last year and are ready to get back on track and win some games because we all know that the Florida Gators aren't supposed to be a 4-8 program."

Muschamp can see leaders forming. Adversity, including a historically humiliating home loss to FCS Georgia Southern and a seven-game losing streak to end 2013, pummeled this program last year. Through any sort of adversity this team has faced during his tenure, Muschamp said he's found guys he could really depend on. Last season might muddle the vision, but Muschamp sees the right pieces for a turnaround.

"It's kind of like when there's water in a boat," he said. "When the water starts leaking in the bottom of the boat, those rats float to the top and you start to see those rats. And those rats are not here anymore, so we need to move forward.

"When you start questioning their effort, that's when you start questioning the buy in. I never saw that [last season]. I see a lot of guys who have lot of pride about playing at the University of Florida and understand about competing and moving forward. We have a bunch of guys committed to this program."

That commitment stretches beyond players. Coaches are held accountable, too. For all the injuries Florida suffered, the absolute necessity for the Gators in 2014 is enhancing every aspect of the offense. That's why Brent Pease was replaced by Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator. The former Duke coach is installing more of a spread approach with more shotgun, tempo and zone-read in hopes of rectifying an offense that has ranked in the 100s nationally in each of Muschamp's three seasons.

Roper's scheme won't get away from Florida's rugged rushing approach, but it should help Driskel, who will be 100 percent for spring practice, be more comfortable, see the field better and be an actual throwing threat. It'll also help him use his legs more, an element that has always made Florida's offense more potent.

"Moving forward, we're in a better situation for them," Muschamp said of his offense.

Really, Muschamp feels that way about his entire team. The Monday following Florida's season-ending 37-7 loss to Florida State, Muschamp called a team meeting to discuss Florida's present and future and said he immediately felt his team's resolve and sensed the woe-is-me attitude disintegrating after delivering a "very to-the-point and matter-of-fact" message about the state of the program.

There's still too much to fix in Gainesville for one meeting and one offseason training regimen to handle, but the chemistry is evolving. Players are responding and appear to be quietly rallying inside the Swamp.

"We're going to bounce back from it," defensive end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. said. "Sometimes you need things like that just to realize where you need to be. You can tell that everybody's humble, everybody's ready, everybody's a team guy. I'm really looking forward to it. It should be fun."
Last week, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon wrote a 1,059-word blog post affirming his support for head coach Brady Hoke.

[+] Enlarge Brady Hoke, Al Borges
AP Photo/Tony DingAfter a down 2013, Al Borges (left) and Brady Hoke might not have the luxury of another season for their offense to grow.
Hoke's job status at Michigan, at least for a fourth season, never seemed to be in doubt. If Jabrill Peppers, Michigan's top 2014 recruit, hadn't expressed concern about Hoke's future, Brandon could have saved himself some time at the keyboard.

Brandon urged patience with the program, mentioned coaches like Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban in his post and praised defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, whose job, at least to the outside, always appeared safe. Noticeably absent from the post was offensive coordinator Al Borges, who, along with offensive line coach Darrell Funk, has been the subject of increasing criticism as Michigan's offense sunk to historic lows in early November before reviving itself last Saturday against archrival Ohio State.

Hoke doesn't have a blog (am I the only one who wished he did) and isn't nearly as verbose as his boss, but he also expressed some public support for his staff Monday during an appearance at Detroit's Ford Field.

From The Detroit News:
Hoke was asked if he's happy with the staff and anticipates having this staff in 2014.

"Yeah, I anticipate the staff [returning]," he said.

When pressed and asked if he does not expect any changes, he responded simply.

"Correct," Hoke said.

He was asked again if this is a "we'll-see situation."

"No," he said.

Like every coach, Hoke will conduct evaluations with his staff following the season. Not surprisingly, Brandon will be a part of those. So it's possible changes could come following Michigan's bowl appearance, but don't hold your breath.

There's no doubt Hoke is loyal, and loyalty is a fleeting quality in today's pressurized world of college coaching. Florida on Monday fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis, and other programs either have made or will make significant staff changes.

Michigan's offensive woes and season record aren't nearly as bad as Florida's, but both programs are supposedly big time and face pressure to win championships. Brandon's counterpart at Florida, Jeremy Foley, also had to give his head coach a vote of confidence in recent days. What do the two approaches say about the culture of the programs, the leagues they play in and the standards they set for performance?

Hoke and Borges were united in their offensive vision at San Diego State, and nothing has changed at Michigan. They want to restore a pro-style offense built around the power run. But for various reasons -- personnel types, youth, lack of development -- it hasn't happened yet. Michigan's offense had negative net rushing totals in its first two November games, couldn't score a touchdown in regulation at Northwestern and racked up just 158 yards at Iowa before exploding for 41 points, 31 first downs and 603 yards against Ohio State.

The Wolverines seem to be at their best with quarterback Devin Gardner moving around and ball-carriers attacking the perimeter, rather than between the tackles. That hasn't been the long-term vision, but the plan could come into focus next season as young linemen and young running backs mature.

Borges is a smart coach, but he's also a journeyman coordinator. He had different jobs each season from 2000-04 and hasn't been at one stop for longer than five years since a seven-year stint at Portland State from 1986-92.

Like many coaches, Hoke believes in staff continuity, which is often a top indicator of success. We've seen plenty of examples in the Big Ten, including the long-tenured staffs at Michigan State and Minnesota picking up the slack when head coaches Mark Dantonio and Jerry Kill stepped away because of health reasons.

Northwestern attributes much of its recent success, at least until this year, to the staff remaining fully intact. Coach Pat Fitzgerald plans to keep it that way despite a highly disappointing 5-7 record. But Fitzgerald isn't at Michigan. He doesn't have the same external and historic demands as Hoke does, or should.

Does the patience/loyalty shown by Brandon and Hoke show that Michigan is different (in a good way), avoids knee-jerk reactions and wisely plans for long-term success? Or does it show Michigan talks like a big-time program but struggles to make the hard choices needed to compete at the highest level?

I'll admit it's a tough one. We'll probably get our answer in 2014.

Muschamp says he can change

December, 2, 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Now that offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis have been sacrificed as a way to wash away the sins of Florida's 2013 offense, the spotlight shifts to head coach Will Muschamp.

For such a strong-willed leader, for such a defensive-minded coach, the obvious question in regards to his offensive philosophy is, "Can Muschamp change?"

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesThe Gators' inability to score points became a weekly post-game complaint from Will Muschamp.
After his team was drubbed one last time last Saturday in a 37-7 loss to Florida State that saw his Gators generate just one score, eight first downs and 193 yards, Muschamp was quick to answer that question.

"Perception is not always reality," he said and then repeated himself for emphasis. "Perception is not always reality. So, I'm willing to do what we need to do to score points and win games."

It's doubtful that portends a complete shift to another style of offense, however. Since Muschamp arrived in December 2010, he has recruited for the pro-style offense. He installed it on the heels of Urban Meyer's spread-option, and it has taken years to usher in the personnel required for such a drastic change. It's extremely unlikely a head coach on a hot seat would scrap the base offense and start over.

What is more likely to change is the heavy emphasis on a downhill running game that was designed to shorten games by hogging time of possession.

That approach worked to perfection with Florida's stout defense and strong special teams in 2012. Even with one of the nation's worst passing games that averaged 146.31 yards and ranked 114th out of 123 FBS schools, the Gators won 11 games and defeated four top-1o teams on their way to a BCS bowl.

This year, injuries on defense and new faces on special teams conspired to spotlight the shortcomings of Muschamp's offensive philosophy. The Gators' margin of error had always been small, but without a reliable defense and kicking game, it shrunk to a level of absurdity.

By the end of the dismal 2013 season, one interception, one sack-fumble, one drive that ended in a missed field goal was enough to torpedo the entire team's fragile psyche. Muschamp started calling out his "inept" offense, saying it had "infected" the rest of the team.

The need to change was obvious to Muschamp, the players, the fans and most importantly to Muschamp's boss, athletic director Jeremy Foley.

"Will is going to figure those things out," Foley said to reporters in giving his embattled coach one more vote of confidence before the FSU game. "I do think in this league playing good defense is important, and that's why I hired Will. I think he's done that. But we do have to fix that side of the ball.

"No disrespect to anybody. That's just reality. You look at the stats and some of the scores that have caused us problems. We'll get that fixed. We're going to have to get that fixed, and I think we can."

An offense that was built to do more than run could have pivoted this season, taken on more of the burden to win games and help salvage a passable season instead of the 4-8 quagmire that resulted.

The final outcome -- 112th in the nation and last in the SEC in total offense, 107th in the nation in passing offense, last in the SEC in scoring -- forced Muschamp's hand.

"We need to take a look at ourselves schematically with what we’re doing," Muschamp said. "There have been some things that have happened that are very difficult to overcome, but schematically, there’s no question we need to take a look at ourselves."

Yes, the injuries were difficult to overcome. Any team that loses its top two quarterbacks, top running back and top three offensive tackles is in for a turbulent season. But this is Florida, where quality depth is more than just expected -- it's practically a birthright at a school surrounded by such fertile recruiting turf.

The offensive line was unable to pass-block in 2012 or before it suffered all those injuries this season. And when those injuries struck, there were no sophomores or redshirt freshmen ready to compete for starting jobs. It's no surprise Davis was fired.

The offense's inability to generate points became a weekly complaint from Muschamp in his recent post-game assessments. So much so that it was no surprise Pease was fired.

In replacing him, Florida will need an offensive mind that can devise multiple ways of attacking a defense, employ varying tempos and do a better job of developing skill-position talent.

It starts with Muschamp, who will hire his third offensive coordinator heading into his fourth season.

"I think obviously the first person you look at is yourself," he said. "That’s what you’ve got to be able to do and see where we are. I think as a coach, you’ve got to do what your players can do. That’s something I’m looking at."

No doubt the players will welcome a change. Even Muschamp's defensive players say they want the same thing.

"Right now, whatever they do hopefully is changed for the best," sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard said once the season was over. "Give us 21 [points] a game. If they can do that, then I would put the blame on us if they score 21 points or over. Hopefully change for the better, because what we're doing right now just ain't working."

SEC Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
We have a new No. 1 in our Power Rankings, and there's a chance that either of the top two teams on this list could back its way into the BCS title game:

1. Auburn (11-1, 7-1 SEC; last week: 3): Call it luck, but don't forget to call the Tigers good. Auburn won the Iron Bowl 34-28 over No. 1 Alabama on a last-second field goal return for a touchdown by Chris Davis. It was another improbable win for the Cardiac Cats, but Auburn also ran for 296 yards on the SEC's best rush defense. Back-to-back thrillers have Auburn No. 3 in the BCS standings and SEC Western Division champions.

2. Missouri (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 2): These Tigers will meet those Tigers in the SEC championship game on Saturday. After beating Texas A&M 28-21 at home, Mizzou completed its own improbable season in its second year in the league. Missouri now has five wins over opponents that were ranked when it played them. Like Auburn, Mizzou is very much in the national championship picture. The Tigers need help, but a win over Auburn would push a team that was left for dead last season a step closer to Pasadena, Calif.

3. Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 1): The three-peat is likely over after Alabama was bested by its archrival. Why Nick Saban would attempt a 57-yard field goal with a second left without any speedy athletes on the field is mind-blowing. Saban rarely makes mistakes, but this one will sting for a very long time. Alabama is still very much in the hunt for a BCS bowl game, but a return to the title game is a long shot.

4. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC; LW: 4): Another year, another win over Clemson. That makes five in a row for Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks after his guys walked over the Tigers 31-17. South Carolina forced six turnovers, and quarterback Connor Shaw impressed yet again with 246 yards of offense and two touchdowns. The BCS is out of reach for the Gamecocks, but they have a shot at three straight 11-win seasons.

5. LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC; LW: 5): This is easily the most confusing team to follow in 2013. The Tigers started hot, hit some bumps and then finished strong with an exciting 31-27 win over Arkansas. LSU was without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger (knee) late, but it didn't matter, as freshman Anthony Jennings drove the Tigers 99 yards, with a 49-yard go-ahead touchdown pass with 1:15 left. This could be another double-digit-win season for the Tigers.

6. Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 6): Johnny Manziel went from carving up defenses to being smothered in his last two outings. In Saturday's loss to Mizzou, Manziel was held to a season-low 216 total yards and a touchdown. The defense was gutted -- again -- allowing 225 rushing yards, including a 57-yard Henry Josey touchdown run with 3:34 remaining. It's been a long November in College Station, but at least Kevin Sumlin is locked up for the long haul.

7. Vanderbilt (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 8): Coach James Franklin might be near the top of USC's coaching list, but for now, he's doing a heck of a job as Vandy's coach. There's no wonder he's on the Trojans' radar. Vandy has won four straight, will make its third straight bowl game and is in line to win nine in back-to-back seasons. The Commodores didn't make it look easy against Wake Forest, but a Carey Spear field goal with 39 seconds left kept the Dores' winning streak alive.

8. Georgia (8-4, 5-3 SEC; LW: 9): Another team that didn't want things to be easy over the weekend, Georgia needed double overtime to beat rival Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs' defense was pushed around for 495 yards, but the offense was there to bring the Dawgs back from deficits of 20-0 and 27-17. When you have a guy like Todd Gurley (158 total yards and four touchdowns), it doesn't matter who you have at quarterback.

9. Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC; LW: 10): After being on the outside of the bowl picture just a couple of weeks ago, the Bulldogs rallied to win their last two, including an overtime victory against bitter rival Ole Miss on Thanksgiving. It wasn't the prettiest of games, but injured quarterback Dak Prescott came into the fourth quarter and threw for 115 yards, while running for 29, including the eventual winning 3-yard score. Dan Mullen has Mississippi State in the postseason for the fourth straight season.

10. Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5 SEC; LW: 7): Oh, what could have been for this team. Not only have the Rebels lost two straight, but they allowed their archrivals to make it to the postseason. For a season that started 3-0, some poor play in the red zone -- especially near the goal line -- against Missouri and turnovers against Mississippi State cost Ole Miss in its final two games.

11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LW: 11): A long first year for Butch Jones ended with a nice 27-14 win over Kentucky. The Vols aren't going bowling, but now is the time when Jones has to ramp up the development phase and keep an already stellar recruiting class together. Remember, this team was a fake Vandy jump pass from a bowl berth.

12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LW: 12): The Gators' nightmare of a season ended with a 37-7 rout by rival Florida State inside the Swamp. Florida then fired embattled offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis. Florida lost seven straight to end the season without scoring more than 20 points. And it isn't going bowling for the first time in 22 years and has its first losing season since 1979.

13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LW: 13): With that heartbreaking loss to LSU, the Razorbacks have dropped a school-record nine straight and went 0-8 in conference play for the first time. This team fought hard in its final act, but it's clear that development and recruiting need to amp up during the offseason if Bret Bielema is going to have a chance at really competing in this league.

14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats have now gone 0-8 in SEC play in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1941-42 and have lost 16 straight SEC games. Mark Stoops is building a pretty impressive recruiting class right now, but we all know it takes more than recruiting. The Wildcats need more than talent, as they took steps back on both sides of the ball late in the season.

This is where we find out how good of a coach Will Muschamp is and how much pride and heart Florida's players have.

The firing of offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis means that the Gators will move in a different direction with their offense in order to attempt to rebound from a disappointing 4-8 (3-5 SEC) season.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsFlorida coach Will Muschamp won't be fired after going 4-8 this season. But he needs to have a great season in 2014 to stick around.
“I think we need to take a look at ourselves schematically,’’ Muschamp said after Saturday's 37-7 home loss to in-state rival Florida State. “There have been some things that have happened that are very difficult to overcome. But schematically there’s no question we need to take a look at ourselves."

It's not like this should come as a surprise. Florida lost its last seven games of the season without scoring more than 20 points in any of those contests and finished the regular season with the SEC's worst offense, averaging just 316.7 yards per game and a league-low 4.8 yards per play. Florida also ranks 112th nationally in total offense.

The Gators suffered their first losing season since 1979 and will miss a bowl game for the first time since 1990.

Injuries on both sides of the football ravaged this team, especially on offense, but with Muschamp stating loud and clear that many things on offense have to change, this is where we will find out just how good he is, because there are no more excuses going forward.

While many in Gator Nation will say that Muschamp should have been a casualty as well today, athletic director Jeremy Foley made the right decision to stick with Muschamp. This season was a disaster, but Florida came off an 11-win season and a BCS appearance. Last season, Muschamp was the SEC Coach of the Year, and you'd be hard-pressed to find another staff that coached better in the second half of games. Also, most of 2013 was taken out of the hands of this staff at times because of devastating injuries.

Florida's injury count went into double digits, and lost four key offensive starters in Jeff Driskel, Matt Jones, Chaz Green and Andre Debose. Eventually, No. 2 quarterback Tyler Murphy, who never quite showed the potential and upside that Driskel possessed, was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, meaning Florida was down to third-stringer Skyler Mornhinweg, who was on the practice squad last year.

The offense certainly went through the wringer, but if Muschamp is going to right the ship in Gainesville, he had to make changes. He had to make changes to an offense that regressed each week and was even near the bottom of the SEC barrel last season (334 yards per game). He had to make changes to an offensive line that gave up 27 sacks on the season, injuries aside. He had to make changes to a staff that didn't develop players well enough.

But by making these moves, Muschamp now has to win big in 2014. Year 3 was unacceptable in Gainesville, so Year 4 likely means that it truly is Atlanta or bust for Muschamp. Foley stood by Muschamp this time, but another fall or stagnation in 2014 will force Foley to have to look in another direction.

It's time for Florida to get over the fact that Urban Meyer left this team with a nearly empty cupboard of talent. It's time to get a more functional offense on the field that can move the ball through the air and on the ground and can actually score points. And it's time to develop the guys on both sides of the ball.

The good thing about Florida's injuries is that they will heal. Driskel, Jones, Green and Debose will be back, but they have to be better, as well. Florida needs legitimate competition at every position, and that's where coaching and recruiting comes in.

There's no question that Florida had some offensive misses in its last couple of recruiting classes. That can't happen in the 2014 class, which also has to keep its ESPN 300 prospects, running back Dalvin Cook, quarterback Will Grier and receiver Ermon Lane, who could all make immediate impacts next season. Finding replacement coaches is the crucial first step; keeping this 2014 class together is the second.

The honeymoon with Muschamp faded this year, but there's still time to turn things around, even if it's going to be a toxic time in Gainesville until Florida wins again. At the first sign of failure, this fan base is going to spit fire at its fervent coach, and players could lose trust.

Muschamp has to guard himself and his team against that. He has to instill some pride back into this program and has to make sure that his players don't lose faith, even if the fans have.

It's not going to be easy for a team that will likely take another hit to its defense with the upcoming NFL draft and now has a trip to Alabama on next season's schedule. It won't be easy for a team that went all "woe is me" late in the year. It won't be easy with Florida State, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee still on the schedule, but improvements have to be made.

This team has to compete, and we're about to find out if Muschamp really is the right man for the job.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 6

October, 3, 2013
1. Avoiding the letdown: Georgia and LSU played a thrilling, memorable contest last weekend. But the Bulldogs and Tigers have SEC opponents on the docket Saturday, and it's imperative for each to not have a hangover from the previous week. Georgia travels to Tennessee, which struggled to beat South Alabama. LSU heads to Starkville, Miss., to meet Mississippi State.

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.

[+] EnlargeMississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell
Marvin Gentry/US PRESSWIRETyler Russell is likely to return as the starter for Mississippi State on Saturday.
3. Tyler Russell returns: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen indicated that he plans to start quarterback Tyler Russell, who has been sidelined since suffering a concussion in the Bulldogs' season-opening loss to Oklahoma State on Aug. 31. Mullen did leave the door open, saying, "that’s still the plan, and we’ll see how it goes Saturday." But for now, it looks like Russell will start. Russell had a breakout season in 2012, throwing for 2,897 yards and 24 touchdowns.

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.
Alabama might have fallen to No. 2 in ESPN colleague Mark Schlabach's Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25, but I'd like to think that most of the college football world still considers the Crimson Tide to be the favorites to win the national championship again.

Alabama lost nine draft picks, including three first-rounders, but Nick Saban has a host of talent returning on both sides of the ball, and the Tide's schedule isn't too daunting after the first two games.

But there are teams that will test the Tide's road to a national championship trifecta in 2013. Colleague Travis Haney picked five teams from around the country that could challenge Alabama's title hopes this fall. Ohio State topped his list, while Texas A&M made it from the SEC.

No surprise there with the Aggies. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel returns with a bundle of riches to accompany him in the Aggies' backfield.

Johnny Football might not have Luke Joeckel protecting him, but Jake Matthews provides quite the safety net with his move to left tackle, and there is still talent and experience up front. Mike Evans leads a young but talented group of pass-catchers.

The defense is a concern, with five members of last season's front seven gone, but the Aggies will still be equipped to win most shootouts.

A&M benefits from getting Alabama at home early in the season, but has to play Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU and Missouri on the road. Even beating Alabama early doesn't guarantee the Aggies will make it to Atlanta over the Tide.

Here are four other SEC teams that could wreck Alabama's title train this fall:


The Gators will yet again be elite on defense. First-round draft picks Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam might be gone, but Dominique Easley moves back to his more natural position at defensive tackle and could one of the best at his position this fall. Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy could be the top cornerback duo in the SEC, while inside linebacker Antonio Morrison has the makings of being a budding star.

The offense is still a concern, especially with the lack of proven receiving talent, but quarterback Jeff Driskel has found a lot more confidence in his second year under offensive coordinator Brent Pease, and he'll have a much tougher offensive line and another loaded backfield to work with.


Sure, the defense is younger and less experienced, but people in Athens are excited about the younger guys taking over. They were very receptive to coaching and showed continued improvement this spring. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins has playmaker written all over him, while freshman Tray Matthews could be the next big thing at safety. Having Damian Swann back at cornerback is huge.

Offensively, Georgia will be able to score on just about everyone. Aaron Murray is looking to be the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four seasons, and should leave with a handful of SEC/Georgia records. He has five offensive linemen returning, the best one-two running back punch (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) and plenty of receivers to throw to, including Malcolm Mitchell, who has moved back to offense full-time.


Yes, the Tigers lost a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but Les Miles seemed pretty happy with where his defense was -- especially his defensive line -- at the end of spring. Jermauria Rasco could be a big-time player at defensive end for LSU, while linebacker Lamin Barrow has the talent to be an All-SEC performer. The return of cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills should continue the Tigers' trend of having an elite secondary.

The offense should be better, too. Zach Mettenberger is way more comfortable in the offense and has developed better chemistry with his receiving targets, which all return from last season. He'll have a solid offensive line in front of him and a loaded backfield. Although, it will be important to see what happens to the suspended Jeremy Hill, who could be the Tigers' top offensive weapon.

South Carolina

Jadeveon Clowney hasn't left, and the Gamecocks should once again be stacked along their defensive line. South Carolina does have to replace its two-deep at linebacker and has a couple of holes in its secondary, but we all know that a good defensive line can mask weaknesses behind it.

And the offense should be pretty balanced this fall. South Carolina possesses two solid quarterbacks and a talented running back stable led by rising sophomore Mike Davis. Bruce Ellington is back at receiver, and it sounds like the very talented Shaq Roland is finally starting to come around and should be a valuable receiving target this fall. This team has the personnel to make it back to Atlanta.
On paper, Jeff Driskel lives the charmed college jock life.

He was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, he’s the starting quarterback at a major SEC university and he has the cheerleader girlfriend.

Life seems pretty sweet, but that hasn’t exactly been the case.

Despite Florida going an unexpected 11-2 with its first BCS bowl experience since 2009, Driskel received more backlash than high fives during his first season as the Gators’ starter, with schizophrenic play that made him arguably the league’s most perplexing player.

“When you’re a quarterback at a big university, you’re going to get too much credit when you play well and you’re going to get a lot of scrutiny when you don’t play well,” Driskel told in a phone interview earlier this week. “It comes with it, and you can’t let that bother you.”

Driskel says he didn’t let the negativity rattle him, but the internal pressure he put on himself -- thanks to the constant battle with classmate Jacoby Brissett -- did. Driskel said he spent the better part of 2012 looking over his shoulder, waiting for Brissett to take that critical step past him.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFlorida QB Jeff Driskel is putting in more time in the film room during the offseason in hopes of having a more consistent 2013.
Driskel insists his confidence never wavered, but he worried about losing his spot when he made mistakes. Even after Driskel was officially named the starter after splitting reps with Brissett during the season opener, he still worried about his job security, shaking his focus.

“You make a bad play, like throwing an interception in practice, you’re definitely thinking about that,” Driskel said.

Now, Brissett has taken his game to NC State, and as the Gators dive into spring practice, Driskel is no longer feeling the heat of competition. He finally feels like he’s the guy and can take the next steps in his development as a starter.

“It’s definitely my team, and I have to take over and be that leader,” he said.

“Now, I can play free and faster and not have to worry about making mistakes and worry more about making good plays.”

In order to make those plays, Driskel has realized that he has to take off-field work more seriously.

Driskel said he never thought playing quarterback required the heavy amount of studying needed to understand the game. In high school, he was a one-man show because of his athleticism, but that didn’t work in 2012. He admitted to being underprepared because he thought games would come naturally. Things were much faster than expected, and his play suffered because he didn’t take the time needed during the week to meticulously dissect film of opponents, his teammates or himself.

Driskel’s lack of preparation led to a mediocre statistical season (137.2 passing yards per game and 12 touchdowns with five interceptions) and forced players to lose trust in him.

After Florida’s embarrassing Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville, Driskel decided to change his preparation habits. He’s now burying himself in his playbook and locking himself away in the film room when he’s not out throwing with receivers and breaking down every little detail of every play with them, including how they should be running their routes.

“Jeff's really attacked the offseason from a mental standpoint as far as film is concerned and studying what he can do to be a better quarterback,” coach Will Muschamp said. “That's part of the maturation process in becoming a better player; understanding what you've got to do to be successful.”

Offensive coordinator Brent Pease is helping him find ways to get rid of the ball faster and go through his progressions. Check-downs and sacks were major issues for Driskel last year because he didn’t read defenses well and didn’t know where and how they were going to attack him, he said. His indecision helped Florida give up 39 sacks and caused many ill-advised passes.

But people around the program expect 2013 to be better for Driskel. He’s finally working with the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back years, his offensive line should be tougher and stronger and things should slow down considerably.

The next step is developing a young, inexperienced receiving corps. Only five healthy receivers are on campus now, and five true freshmen will be taking reps this fall. Youth can be scary, but an advantage Driskel will have is that they’ll have no choice but to trust and follow him. They’ll be too green not to listen to him or the coaches, a luxury he didn’t have last year.

Driskel has now become the most important offensive entity at Florida, and he says he’s comfortable with that. His confidence is growing, and he’ll finally be responsible for all the first-team reps.

He’s still a work in progress, but it sounds like the wide-eyed, mistake-prone starter from a year ago is seeing things more clearly.

“Now that I’ve been through a season and I know what it takes to prepare to be able to perform, it’s going to be a big difference,” he said. “I’ll be ready this year.”

“I gotta be a vocal leader, and I have to show up and make plays.
1. Chicken v. Egg, cont.: Three of the five most-penalized FBS teams last season play in the Pacific-12 (No. 116 Washington, No. 119 California, No. 120 UCLA). Pac-12 coaches don’t believe their players lack discipline, which would lay the blame at the feet of exacting officials. The coaches may have a point. Arizona State finished eighth in the FBS. Stanford, the second least-penalized Pac-12 team, finished 62nd. Don’t expect much change at Cal. New coach Sonny Dykes’s Louisiana Tech team finished 118th last season.

2. As Florida begins its spring practice, the focus, as Edward Aschoff and Travis Haney Insider wrote Wednesday, is on creating more explosive plays on offense. Coordinator Brent Pease arrived from Boise State and couldn’t get the Gators to replicate the Broncos’ success. To me, that’s not a knock on Pease. It’s one more reminder of how good Kellen Moore really was. His four-year record at Boise State: 50 wins, three losses.

3. In addition to good size and a good arm, USC sophomore quarterback Max Wittek continues to show remarkable bad luck. First, he makes his maiden start against his team’s biggest archrival (Notre Dame) playing for a BCS Championship berth. Second, the worst winds in the history of the Sun Bowl render him ineffective. Now he has sprained the MCL in his right knee -- get this -- while holding a kick. Wittek may recover before spring ball ends. Here’s hoping his curse ends sooner.
This week, we're looking at three SEC schools -- Florida, Georgia and South Carolina -- that are trying to get over the hump and bring an SEC championship home in 2013.

We have already hit Florida and Georgia, and we'll tackle South Carolina Friday. In the meantime, we thought we'd take a look at all three schools and see if they really are contenders or merely pretenders to make it to the SEC championship in Atlanta.

We're using our "Take Two" format to express our feelings toward all three of the top teams in the SEC East heading into the spring.

I'm a gentleman, and I respect my elders, so I'll let Chris go first:

Take 1: Chris Low

[+] EnlargeMuschamp
Richard Dole/Icon SMICan Will Muschamp and the Gators keep their momentum after an 11-win season?

Pretender: Will Muschamp and that Florida staff deserve serious props for getting to 11 wins last season despite having very little margin for error. As good as the Gators should be on defense again this season, it’s difficult to see them improving enough on offense to get to Atlanta. They won a ton of close games a year ago. Those odds turn against them in 2013, especially playing four of five games away from home in October and November.


Contender: While most people are fixated on what Georgia lost on defense, there are more than enough talented players on that side of the ball just waiting for their shot. And when you score the way the Bulldogs should on offense next season with so much firepower returning, you can give up some points and still win. Getting LSU and South Carolina at home is key.


Contender: The Gamecocks have been right there each of the past three seasons, including a trip to Atlanta in 2010. They should again have one of the top defensive lines in the SEC, and it’s always nice to have two quarterbacks who have proven they can get it done in clutch situations. Their league schedule also appears to be more manageable in 2013.

Take 2: Edward Aschoff


Contender: The Gators have some major offensive issues to repair, but this is the first time Florida has had the same offensive coordinator for two straight years since the Urban Meyer days. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease says he’s more comfortable tweaking things in order to help a more confident Jeff Driskel. The defense is younger, but constant rotation last year has these younger pups ready to step in this fall.


Pretender: The offense should be fantastic, but the defense is going to look brand new with 12 players gone who either started or saw significant time. While this team could be scary to face late in the season, the Dawgs must play at Clemson and host both South Carolina and LSU before October even arrives. I fear the defense will take too long to really grow.


Contender: The Gamecocks lose the two-deep at linebacker and have to find someone to replace rangy safety D.J. Swearinger, but that defensive line should be dangerous again, especially with Jadeveon Clowney back. The offense should be pretty balanced with two solid quarterback options and some talented backs to work with, starting with sophomore Mike Davis. Plus, South Carolina spends all of November at home.
Will MuschampDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsWill Muschamp must evaluate the Gators' offense this offseason following a rough Sugar Bowl loss.
NEW ORLEANS -- It's funny how the perception of a team can change so quickly.

Most of the time leading up to Florida's bout with Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl involved conversations about how good the Gators could be in 2013. The overwhelming thought from pretty much every side of the college football spectrum was that the Gators would handle a talented, yet, overmatched Louisville team and then wait to see how high they would rise in next year's preseason polls.

With a chunk of talent returning on defense and an offense that just had to get better, Florida was looking at being a legitimate national title contender in 2013.

However, all that talk ceased when Louisville's Terell Floyd intercepted Jeff Driskel's opening pass and took it 38 yards for a touchdown to give the Cardinals an immediate 7-0 lead. At the time, the play looked harmless in the grand scheme of things, but it proved to totally break the Gators' offensive concentration.

From there, Florida panicked offensively (star running back Mike Gillislee ran the ball just nine times), and Driskel's composure and pass attempts became harder and harder to watch.

The offense rarely wowed in 2012, but during its first appearence in 2013, with a month of work, it totally collapsed, leaving the Gators with a load of question marks entering spring practice.

That Gators always found a way to bounce back with its mediocre offensive attack, but had no answers against the Cardinals. Now, it really is back to the drawing board for Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

But what does Florida do? Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett is still unsure if he'll return, but if he leaves, players have to have more confidence in Driskel than they had this fall. The rhythm and timing has to improve or this offense isn't going anywhere.

Driskel became a major scapegoat for the offense in the Twitterverse Wednesday night, but as former Florida quarterback Chris Leak told me after the game: It's hard to do much of anything when there isn't much of anything around you. Driskel might have composure issues in the pocket, but he has just one consistent receiving weapon in tight end Jordan Reed, who got injured Wednesday night. He also played behind an offensive line that was wildly inconsistent in pass protection.

Pease has said that the offensive line will be better in 2013, but that might not matter much if the Gators don't find a couple of consistent receiving threats. Reed is still on the fence about coming back, and if he doesn't, Florida will enter spring with only one player who caught 30-or-more passes in 2012 -- wide receiver Quinton Dunbar (36).

Pease and new receivers coach Joker Phillips have to find someone who can catch the ball on a regular basis, with or without Reed in the lineup. The Gators just can't run their offense effectively next year without it because teams won't respect the pass next year. They were too respectful at times this fall.

With freshmen Adam Lane and Kelvin Taylor coming to help Matt Jones and Mack Brown, the Gators will look to be run-oriented again, but as LSU has taught us, you have to have a threat to pass or you'll get eaten up against tougher defenses. And the use of the "Wildcat" will have to be greatly scaled back because it really has lost its effectiveness.

Teams respected the running game in 2012. They will look to clobber it in 2013 if a receiver doesn't step up. Will it be a freshman? Dunbar? Tight end Kent Taylor? Who knows, but everything this offense got away with in 2012 won't fly next season.

Florida has the defensive talent to make another strong run through the SEC, but if the offense doesn't really evolve in the next nine months and if Driskel still isn't comfortable for a majority of the time, scenes like Wednesday night's might be a recurring theme.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 13

November, 21, 2012
It's a big final week in the SEC, so here's what to watch out for:

1. SEC championship matchup: We already know that Georgia is locked into its spot in the SEC championship game, but its opponent hasn't been determined yet. Obviously, the overwhelming favorite is Alabama, which takes on hapless Auburn, but LSU and Texas A&M are still in the mix. Alabama goes to Atlanta with a win or if LSU, which plays Arkansas, and A&M, which plays Missouri, lose. LSU has to win and hope that at least Alabama loses because it owns the tiebreaker with the Aggies. The Aggies needed Alabama and LSU to lose.

2. BCS bound? The BCS is SEC heavy at the top and six teams could all still make a BCS bowl game. Wins by Alabama and Georgia pretty much guarantee that the winner in Atlanta is headed to Miami for the Discover BCS National Championship Game. But the most interesting BCS scenario revolves around Florida. The Gators are fourth in the BCS standings, and with a win over Florida State on Saturday, they probably are headed to a BCS bowl game at 11-1. If Notre Dame loses and Florida wins, the Gators could back right into the national championship. LSU and A&M are still alive as well for a BCS bowl, but both need to win and need Florida to lose. South Carolina is 12th in the BCS, so the Gamecocks have to beat Clemson and need Florida, LSU and A&M to lose in order to get that second BCS slot for the SEC.

3. Making the bowl cut: Two SEC teams are still looking for bowl berths. The SEC won't fill all of its bowl slots, but it's also in real danger of sending only eight teams unless Ole Miss and Missouri win this weekend. The Rebels host archrival Mississippi State at home in an Egg Bowl that has real significance this year. The Tigers have an even tougher task, as they head to College Station to take on red-hot Texas A&M. Ole Miss wasn't even supposed to be in this situation, but now that it is, a loss would be a big disappointment for players. Missouri was expected to compete in the SEC, so not making a bowl would be a major disappointment for a program that had so much confidence coming into its new league.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Dave EinselTexas A&M QB Johnny Manziel has one more chance to impress Heisman voters Saturday against Mizzou.
4. One last Heisman push: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is at the top of the Heisman list, and he'll have one last chance to impress voters around the country against Missouri's defense. The Tigers have been decent on defense and get their best player, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, back from suspension. But only two defenses have been able to stop Johnny Football this season, and they currently rank fourth and fifth nationally in total defense. Missouri comes in at 40th nationally in total defense, giving up 367.4 yards per game. Manziel is averaging 378.3 yards of total offense in games this season.

5. A very strong SEC finish: People keep crowing that the SEC is overrated, but the BCS standings beg to differ. Six teams are ranked in the top 12 of the standings and there's a chance that the conference could end the weekend with three one-loss teams and three two-loss teams. A win by Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs wouldn't just have nine wins but could be back in the Top 25 of the BCS standings as well, giving the conference seven in the Top 25. A Vanderbilt win also could propel the Commodores into the Top 25 with their eight wins. Wins by Florida and South Carolina over top-11 BCS teams will be icing on the cake for the conference.

6. Playing for four quarters: Ole Miss has had to swallow three tough losses in a row because of second-half letdowns. The Rebels were down four to Georgia at halftime a few weeks ago, but were outscored 23-0 in the second half. They were then outscored 45-24 in their losses to Vanderbilt and LSU. If Ole Miss is going to stop its three-game losing streak to Mississippi State, it has to play an entire game Saturday. There can't be a second-half lull like the past three weeks. The Bulldogs don't have the depth issues that Ole Miss has, so they can go deeper into games with more options on the field. The Rebels will have a ton of emotion going into this game, but Hugh Freeze needs his team to finally get back to playing four-quarter football or its shot at a bowl will be lost.

7. Crazy 8s: If Vanderbilt can get past Wake Forest on the road, they'll reach eight wins for the first time since 1982. Talk about a total turnaround by Vanderbilt under the watch of James Franklin. He has made this program really relevant in the SEC and the Commodores are no longer a pushover. They are riding a five-game winning streak and are already bowl eligible. The Commodores are headed to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. Vandy's offense is hot right now, and Wake Forest is giving up 433 yards a game and 30 points a contest.

8. Coaching finales: The SEC will officially say goodbye to two head coaches Saturday. Kentucky's Joker Phillips will coach his final game for the Wildcats when they take on Tennessee in Knoxville. Arkansas' John L. Smith also will coach his final game with the Hogs against LSU on Friday. Smith held interim status all year after the dismissal of Bobby Petrino and while he has publicly said he's confident about his coaching future, it won't be as Arkansas head coach after Saturday. Kentucky made the announcement about Phillips weeks ago, but he decided to coach through the last two weeks of the season. Tennessee also cut ties with Derek Dooley; offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will coach the Vols Saturday. Things are at a boiling point in Auburn, so this could be Gene Chizik's final game as the Tigers' coach when they take on No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

9. Jeff Driskel's health & Florida's offense: Florida's 10 wins haven't all been pretty, and Saturday doesn't figure to be very pretty for the Gators' offense with the nation's No. 1 defense lining up opposite them. With Driskel hobbled by a bad ankle, no one knows how durable or how effective he'll be this Saturday. He will play, but for how long has yet to be determined. Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease are surely working this week to put him and the offense in the best positions to make plays, considering Driskel won't be 100 percent. Expect a lot more Mike Gillislee and some more Wildcat with Trey Burton. Maybe Jacoby Brissett will take some snaps. The bottom line is that the Gators can't trot out the same offense that has taken the field in recent weeks, or they won't stand a chance Saturday.

10. Stopping Clemson's offense: The Gamecocks are quietly ranked 13th nationally in total defense (310 yards per game) and scoring defense (17.5). What might be the most impressive stat is how this once-young and relatively inexperienced secondary is allowing under 200 yards passing a game. But South Carolina's defense will face its toughest test of the season Saturday when it travels to Clemson. The Tigers are averaging 535 yards a game and scoring 44 points a contest. Clemson can do it through the air with Tajh Boyd and his talented duo of DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins (121 combined catches for 1,842 and 18 TDs), and on the ground with Andre Ellington (959 rushing yards). In order for the Gamecocks to get their fourth straight win over Clemson, the defense has to play its best game of the season.

Jeff Driskel doubtful for Saturday

November, 12, 2012
Florida could be without starting quarterback Jeff Driskel this weekend against Jacksonville State.

Coach Will Muschamp said during his weekly Monday news conference that the sophomore is doubtful after he sprained his ankle in the Gators' 29-24 win over Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday.

That means fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett will get the start if Driskel can't go. He came in for Driskel against the Ragin' Cajuns, completing 6 of 8 passes for 64 yards and one touchdown. Brissett is no stranger to the field, as he played in eight games last year, but he's watched Driskel for most of the 2012 season.

While resting Driskel this weekend will help him heal before next week's clash with No. 10 Florida State in Tallahassee, it does hurt him in the growth department. With the offense taking some mighty steps back in the past few weeks, this team needs Driskel on the field as much as possible. The more chemistry he can develop with his struggling receivers, the better.

This injury came at a weird time. Yes, Driskel can rest, but it's tough to make any sort of strides in the passing game without him practicing and playing. Obviously, Driskel's health comes first, but you have to think that if Driskel can play, he'll go in order to help get some rhythm back in the passing game.

Mental reps will really come in handy this week for Driskel if he has to sit. Expect Driskel and offensive coordinator Brent Pease to spend even more time going over that playbook this week.
It's time to answer some of your questions before we hit the road for another big weekend in the SEC:

Jacob in Lexington, Kent., writes: I love Sonny Dykes for the Kentucky head coach. He's young, and can coach well. Plus, he used to assist at UK, and knows offense. If we can't get him, I like Neal Brown or Brent Pease. What are your thoughts? Who'd be the best fit?

Edward Aschoff: Dykes is one of those up-and-coming names that is sure to hear his name a lot when it comes to openings this winter. Kentucky is certainly one that he's being linked to and it sounds like Kentucky is interested. And why not? Louisiana Tech is 8-1 and has the No. 2 scoring offense. His team also ranks third nationally in total offense, averaging 570.9 yards per game. Kentucky wants an offensive mind to come in and bring some excitement back to the football program. Dykes has that ability. Duke's David Cutcliffe could also hear his name thrown in. He'll be taking Duke to a bowl game for the first time since 1994 and has had success in the SEC during his time as an assistant at Tennessee and as Ole Miss' head coach. Keep and eye on Pease, he seems interested and spoke openly about the job earlier this week. Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart will probably get a mention, but you have to wonder if he's holding out for something else or if he's ready to coach in the SEC. I think Kentucky has to go after someone who will help bring offensive playmakers back to Lexington because the Wildcats are really hurting in that department.

JJ in Tumalo, Ore., writes: How do you guys rate the SEC overall this season? Obviously the bottom half is not better than the bottom half of other conferences. Do Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee, MIZZOU, Kentucky and Vandy play "All World SEC D?" As a Duck fan I am most interested in seeing how the Bama D' handles A&M with but a week instead of 40 days to prepare against a dangerous spread offense. Look at Oregon's future schedule. We Duck no one. How about a home-and-home with Bama? I know it won't happen. Why challenge yourself on the road when 100K will pay to watch you blow out Georgia State? All the best and thanks for the great SEC coverage.

Edward Aschoff: Lots of stuff in that one, but I'll see if I can help you out a little. To answer your first question, I think the SEC is still on top. Not sure you can shrug that off when you have five teams ranked within the top eight of the BCS standings. All of those teams could still make a BCS bowl game as well, including Alabama, which just has to win out to make it to the national championship. As for "All-World" defenses, Alabama, LSU, Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Missouri all rank within the top 25 nationally in total defense. So, two of those teams you mentioned have been very good on defense this year. Missouri might not have an impressive record, but that defense has been pretty impressive this season. Vandy is third nationally in pass defense, as well. They might not be All-World, but they're pretty good. I'd also love to see Alabama play Oregon, or any SEC team play Oregon outside of a BCS bowl game. Home-and-home? Bring it on. I'm sick of seeing weak nonconference games on SEC schedules. Good football makes everyone happy. Also, expect Alabama's defense to be ready this weekend.

Dave in Savannah, Ga., writes: Is it now time for the tired old stat that UGA is X of XX against Florida to be retired? UGA has won four of the last nine, three of the last six and is on a two-game win streak against Florida. Are losses against a Florida team dating back to when current players were in diapers or not even born truly relevant? Seems intellectually lazy for sports writers to keep qouting those old numbers just for dramatic impact. What's your take?

Edward Aschoff: Honestly, I think you're right about retiring this old stat. Florida absolutely dominated Georgia during the 1990s and for most of the past decade, but, like you said, most of the players on either side could care less. Especially with Georgia winning two straight. Right now, the Bulldogs have all the momentum and can crow as loud as they want. This team can forget the past. Florida fans don't have to, but they shouldn't use it to tease Dawgs fans.

JE in Dallas writes: What do you think A&M has to do to beat Alabama? Short of zero turnovers, and not getting bulldozed at the line of scrimmage by Bama's O-line, what do you think are the keys to a possible upset?

Edward Aschoff: Making sure Manziel is upright and finding his guys. Alabama's defensive line isn't elite, but it can cause problems for offenses. It can be pretty disruptive. But we know that Texas A&M's offense revolves around Johnny Football. He has great weapons at receiver and talented running backs to work with, but the offense lives and dies by his effectiveness. Look at the second half of the Florida game and the LSU game. LSU showed some holes in Alabama's defense. Will they be there Saturday? I don't think so. I think the Tide's defense will be much more sound, but the Aggies have the ability to make some big plays. But it call comes down to Manziel. Oh, and yes, the defensive line has to be able to get past that O-line ...

Les Miles in Baton Rouge, La., writes: It's funny when my bag of tricks work they love me, but if I wasn't as aggressive as I was they would've questioned me as a coach. Whats it gonna take to please those in Tigerland?

Edward Aschoff: See, I thought that national championship in 2007 made fans more appreciative. Or the fact that you guys went on a historic run until the national championship last year. So far, you've never won less than eight games during your eight seasons at LSU. Still, it's an interesting bunch down there. They just get a little frustrated by all those heart-stopping calls, or the head-scratchers. You really can't blame them. In a league in which winning means so much, you tug at their hearts with a lot of the decisions you make. Those fourth-down decisions last week? Really? You don't get how that can frustrate fans? Winning cures all, but know that this fan base is itching for a championship with all that talent it has.

Matt in Athens, Ga., writes: Ed- Why do you and Chris have Georgia in the Outback bowl? Would losing to Alabama in the SEC championship really make Georgia go that far down? Why not Capital One?

Edward Aschoff: If Georgia makes it to the SEC championship game and loses to Alabama, I think the Capital One Bowl would jump all over Florida, especially if it finishes the season 11-1 and doesn't make it to the Sugar Bowl. If LSU wins out, it will be hard for the Sugar Bowl to turn the Tigers down. Two losses might still get the Gators in as well. They'd probably have a better chance with just one, but it's still possible. The Gators were last there following the 2007 season and Florida would be a big draw in Orlando. I'm not saying Georgia wouldn't be, but I think the Capital One Bowl would be very interested in bringing the Gators back to Orlando.

Tim in Atlanta, writes: Is it your sense among SEC-land that folks prefer to see a Alabama-Oregon matchup compared to Bama-KSU? If so, do you think the desire for that matchup will move the polls to ensure it, or do you think the pollsters are largely locked into their votes now?

Edward Aschoff: I think people in the SEC would love to see Alabama-Oregon because they couldn't be any different. Oregon has all the offense and no defense. Alabama has all the defense and a balanced offense. It's Nike speed vs. SEC power. We saw it in 2010 and 2011, but this is Alabama. It's the No. 1 team in the nation and it's going for its second consecutive national championship, while there are plenty of people out there saying Oregon deserves the No. 1 spot right now. People in SEC country are tired of hearing that. They want this settled on the field more than the players do. I just think it'd be a great game.

Bobby Petrino interested in Kentucky

November, 8, 2012

It sounds like former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is interested in coaching in the SEC again and according to his father, he's interested in making his home at Kentucky.

"I just know this, that he's interested in Kentucky," Bobby Petrino Sr. told the Louisville Courier-Journal on Wednesday. "He wants to stay in the SEC. That was his life's goal was to go to the SEC."

Kentucky announced on Sunday that coach Joker Phillips would not be back next season and that the coaching search would begin immediately. While Petrino might want to throw his name into the mix, he might be a long shot for the job.

Yahoo! Sports already reported that Kentucky wouldn't be interested in pursuing Petrino, who was fired from Arkansas after he lied to athletic director Jeff Long about an affair he was having with a woman he hired.

Yes, Petrino knows the state of Kentucky well. He went 41-9 at Louisville from 2003-06, and even won the Orange Bowl. His Cardinals teams showcased some of the most exciting passing games in college football at the time. Then, he had a ton of success at Arkansas, getting back-to-back double-digit-win seasons and taking the Razorbacks to their first BCS bowl game.

He even thought his 2012 team was his best one and labeled it a legitimate national title contender. He would put a bunch of people in the seats at Commonwealth Stadium and bring some much-needed excitement back to Kentucky's football program.

But is he worth all the baggage for athletic director Mitch Barnhart? Is he really worth the public relations nightmare for Kentucky and the mounds and mounds of criticism that will be hurled Barnhart's way? And will he even stick around Lexington long enough to make the Wildcats any sort of contender in the SEC East? He really doesn't have a very good track record with staying at places very long (just ask the Atlanta Falcons).

There are plenty of good potential candidates for Barnhart to seek. There are qualified SEC assistants and up-and-coming coaches around the country that would surely be interested in this job.

Expect to hear Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes' name more and more. Louisiana Tech is currently 8-1 and owns the nation's No. 2 scoring offense (52.4 points per game) and the nation's third-best offense (570.9). Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who is a former Kentucky assistant, has shown interest in the job as well.

Duke's David Cutcliffe could also be a candidate. He has the Blue Devils bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 and has plenty of SEC experience as both a longtime assistant at Tennessee and as Ole Miss' head coach. He went 44-29 during his six years with the Rebels.

Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart, whose Hilltoppers beat Kentucky earlier this year, and current Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's name has also been lumped in with potential candidates.

So there are plenty of options for Barnhart not named Bobby Petrino, and I think it will stay that way.