NCF Nation: Chris Leak

The praise has flooded in from all directions for J.T. Barrett since his rapid ascension to the top of the depth chart at Ohio State.

Tight end Jeff Heuerman hailed the leadership skills of the redshirt freshman. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman rattled off Barrett's positive attributes as a passer, starting with his ability to make the right decisions and consistent accuracy that should allow them to pay off for the Buckeyes. Coach Urban Meyer focused on Barrett's potential as a "distributor," likening him to famed Ohio State backup Kenny Guiton in the process.

But there is one more comparison that has popped up during a wild week at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center that might offer another clue about how the Buckeyes might look this season without Braxton Miller running the show, one which the coaching staff mentioned to SI.com's Pete Thamel.
Barrett's smooth release and pretty spiral prompted numerous members of the Buckeyes staff who worked with Meyer at Florida to compare Barrett to former Gators QB Chris Leak. "I'll take that," Meyer said with a smile. "I'm a big Chris Leak fan."

If Barrett is Meyer's latest version of Leak, it stands to reason he might also have a need for somebody to fill the role Tim Tebow played in the two-quarterback system that won Florida a national title in 2006. And, look at that, Ohio State has a 6-foot-5, 250-pound battering ram in Cardale Jones already on the roster.

The conversation about Jones has died down considerably since he left spring practice with the backup job ahead of Barrett, but it's not hard to envision how he could still have an impact for the Buckeyes as they put together a game plan for next week's opener against Navy.

For starters, Meyer has proven adept at managing multiple quarterbacks in his spread system in the past. Even a year ago with Miller in the fold, Meyer expressed his desire to find a way to get Guiton more involved and eventually installed a package of plays in the red zone that featured his backup quarterback.

One problem with using them both more often, aside from Miller's athleticism clearly setting him apart, was Meyer's two options behind center had similar skill sets. But that isn't really the case with Barrett and Jones, with the former four inches smaller and relying on an accurate arm, and the latter boasting a powerful-but-inconsistent arm but capable of pounding away at opponents regularly on the ground.

When asked on Wednesday, Meyer didn't rule out playing both quarterbacks as he tries to replace Miller's production, though he didn't provide any insight into how that rotation might work.

But even with Meyer simply saying "sure, yeah," looking at his past and the talent on hand, it's not a stretch to think some sort of quarterback combo could be back in his playbook -- if it isn't already there.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- One thing is clear in the wake of Joker Phillips' sudden departure from Florida on Wednesday: The Gators haven't had much luck with wide receivers coaches in recent years.

It's no coincidence that Florida hasn't had a wideout with more than 600 yards since Riley Cooper led the team with 961 yards in 2009. That was UF's last season of stability at a coaching position that has been turbulent ever since.

In 2009, Billy Gonzales ended a five-year run as Florida's wide receivers coach when he reportedly resigned with a sticky note that said, "I'm going to LSU."

Then-Florida head coach Urban Meyer replaced Gonzales with Central Michigan receivers coach Zach Azzanni, who only lasted one season. He was not retained when new head coach Will Muschamp took over for Meyer and assembled his staff in 2011.

Muschamp brought in former Gators standout Aubrey Hill, who coached one season before resigning amid allegations of involvement with improper benefits in his previous coaching job at the University of Miami.

Hill's departure came in August 2012, weeks before the season began.

"Aubrey informed me he was resigning for personal reasons that have nothing to do with the University of Florida," Muschamp said in a statement at the time.

Muschamp promoted graduate assistant Bush Hamdan to replace Hill and then hired Phillips after the 2012 season.

At the time, Phillips was quoted on the school's official website as saying, "I’m looking forward to contributing to the long-term vision that [Muschamp] has for this program."

Surely that vision wasn't one of nearly constant turnover, as Phillips left for "personal reasons" of his own.

With graduate assistant Chris Leak's promotion on Wednesday, Florida is on its sixth wide receivers coach in six seasons.

Perhaps that's why Muschamp made sure to mention Leak's standing, saying, "He is one of the all-time Gator greats and being at Florida is very important to him."

In promoting Leak, Muschamp is hoping the former star quarterback is ready to be a full-time assistant coach at the age of 29 and can bring the continuity that has been missing for so long.

Leak inherits a receiving corps largely comprised of talented youngsters who must be developed. Florida has six wide receivers entering their first or second season this fall.

When asked early in spring practice if this group is the most talented he's had in his three years at Florida, Muschamp said, "I don't think there's any question."

Now, after Phillips' departure, the unit and its inexperienced coach are surrounded by questions.

If the Gators are to rediscover their winning ways through the air, Leak and his receivers will have to factor in prominently. If they do that, perhaps Florida will have something as rare as a 1,000-yard receiver -- a wide receivers coach roaming the sidelines for a second season.


ATHENS, Ga. -- In some ways, Arthur Lynch believes that Aaron Murray fits the quarterback stereotype perfectly. In others, Georgia's senior tight end says that Murray could not be further from what one might expect from a record-setting, four-year starter at one of the nation's most prominent football programs.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray's career at Georgia is one of the best in SEC history.
“He wants to be the leader, kind of the guy that needs to be looked upon for everything. Sometimes I think he applies too much pressure on himself with that,” said Lynch, Murray's longtime friend and roommate. “But in terms of like walking around campus and brushing people off, I kind of wish he had more of that. Sometimes it gets so annoying in public, no matter where it is. It could be the dining hall, it could be in Atlanta, it could be at Shane's Rib Shack, he's going to stop and give pictures where some guys might brush people off.

“So no, he's never given that vibe, which is a testament to him because he could easily be that guy and people would probably like him more for it because it's, 'Ah, that's what he's supposed to act like.' But the fact that he doesn't fit that mold is probably what people get weirded out about. They're probably like, 'There's got to be something behind the curtain.'”

Nope. Murray's generally affable demeanor is no facade -- which might be part of his perception problem nationally and even within his own conference.

He's not a flashy player, throwing up “Get Money” hand signals after a touchdown like Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. He hasn't won BCS titles like Alabama's AJ McCarron. Yet when the SEC's coaches released their preseason all-conference list, some college football observers were surprised to see Murray as the first-team quarterback.

Maybe that was a career achievement award from the league's coaches, as Murray's team-first attitude and legendary work ethic have helped him become the most prolific passer in the league's history.

“Everything he's done, he's earned it. It wasn't just off God-given talent or this crazy arm or anything like that. It's that he's worked for it, he's earned it,” said receiver Rhett McGowan, Murray's fellow fifth-year senior.

Murray has already broken ex-Bulldog David Greene's SEC record for career passing yards (Murray now has 12,029) and surpassed former Florida great Tim Tebow's career mark for total offense (Murray's at 12,327 yards) with a completion to Lynch in the Bulldogs' last game against Vanderbilt.

Entering Saturday's game against Florida, Murray is two touchdown passes behind ex-Gator Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114 touchdown passes, and he's still on pace to threaten ex-Gator Chris Leak's league record of 895 completions (Murray has 835) and former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen's mark of 1,514 pass attempts (Murray has 1,355).

Not that he has much time to focus on the record book these days. Coming off two straight losses, Murray's Georgia team (4-3, 3-2 SEC) needs a win on Saturday to have any hope in the SEC East race -- and he has been working overtime with an injury-depleted receiving corps in hopes of giving his offense a chance against a stout Florida defense.

“I guess when I'm old and want to brag, I can,” Murray said of the records. “But right now it's all about the team. It's all about getting this win. I guess I can talk about this later in life when I'm done playing and all, when I look back.”

Murray was on a short list of Heisman contenders just a few weeks ago, when Georgia was coming off wins against top-10 teams South Carolina and LSU and still had hopes of claiming a BCS championship berth. That was Murray's stated goal all along in returning for his senior season, and it appeared to be a reasonable possibility before many of his most valuable skill players fell victim to long-term or season-ending injuries.

The Bulldogs' once-explosive offense struggled without Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in the backfield and Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett at receiver, and the losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt in those players' absence sunk the Bulldogs' BCS hopes. But Murray said he doesn't regret his decision to put off his NFL dreams for one more season.

“I'm still playing football. I'm still out there with my buddies having fun, competing,” Murray said. “Obviously I came back to try to give ourselves a chance to win a championship, but it didn't happen. So what? Let's move on. Let's continue working hard and having fun, and that's what I'm doing.”

That typifies the attitude Murray has displayed since he arrived at Georgia in 2009, with his relentless behind-the-scenes work propelling him through one of the most statistically impressive careers in SEC history, even if it might not result in the recognition that goes to quarterbacks on championship teams or those with a flashier highlight reel.

A BCS crown will not complete Murray's legacy at Georgia, but he will leave a significant void nonetheless. To gain some insight, consider an observation that Bulldogs coach Mark Richt made last Friday at the end of the Bulldogs' open week, when most coaches and players had already started making the most of a rare off weekend.

“It was maybe close to noontime, maybe just after noontime, and he and Faton [Bauta, one of Georgia's backup quarterbacks] are out there doing footwork and drill work and throwing the ball,” Richt recalled. “I went over the rail and I said, 'Get out of here. Just relax.' They were like, 'There's no days off, Coach. There's no days off.' [I said], 'All right, if that's what you want.'

“But that's how he is. He's wired that way. Every single day he wants to try to find a way to get better, and he's not feeling sorry for himself or anything like that. I think he's still very happy that he's here with us and wants to finish strong.”

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer made it clear Monday: he's not going to change Braxton Miller.

"You let him be him," Meyer said.

It could result in more moments like the one late in the third quarter Saturday against Purdue, when Miller writhed in pain on the turf after being slammed on his neck. While no one hopes it results in another trip to the hospital, the quarterback's style of play as a runner keeps the ambulance team on alert.

Miller has taken fans' breath away with his dynamic running skills in Meyer's spread offense this season. He also has had Buckeye Nation holding its breath a few times.

It's hard to have one without the other, especially as Ohio State tries to develop more reliable offensive weapons around its best player. Meyer noted Monday that if other offensive players step up, Miller will have to do less, thereby reducing his injury risk. Interestingly enough, Ohio State got several out-of-nowhere contributions -- notably from wide receiver Chris Fields -- after Miller left Ohio Stadium in an ambulance.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Sam RicheWhile Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is concerned with Braxton Miller taking heavy hits, he said he won't change the QB's aggressive running style.
Fortunately, Miller is OK. Meyer said the sophomore quarterback has a "very, very sore neck," and had a whiplash-like feeling at the time. But after all the tests came back negative, Miller will return to the practice field Tuesday. He's expected to start Saturday night against Penn State.

"We are trying to balance it," Meyer said. "We don't go crazy with him running the ball. At some point, though, you have to try to move the ball a little bit. We're very cognizant of that."

Meyer is still "very concerned" about Miller taking big shots, as the quarterback has in games against Michigan State, Nebraska and Purdue to name a few. Asked if the trend is symptomatic for quarterbacks in his offense, Meyer noted that former Florida star Tim Tebow took some shots, while Chris Leak, Alex Smith and Josh Harris did a better job of staying out of harm's way.

"He doesn't go down very easily, and he's a competitive guy," Meyer said of Miller. "The good thing is, he usually bounces right back up. This one was a tough one. … He just is a dynamic athlete. He's more difficult to bring down."

The Ohio State coaches can tell Miller to keep his well-being in mind -- to run out of bounds after getting a first down, maybe even to slide once in a while. They can limit him to 12-15 carries rather than 18-20. But it's not in Miller's nature to go down easily. Miller's natural ability to break tackles and find running room when none seems to be available also leads to fewer safe plays.

Asked if Miller's injury issues will have any impact on his play calling against Penn State, offensive coordinator Tom Herman said, "None. We've got to win the game. ... That won't factor into any of our decisions."

This is Ohio State's reality in 2012 as it tries to build scoring threats around Miller. For long stretches, he has been the Buckeyes' offense.

If that's the case going forward, there will be more breathtaking runs -- and more breath-holding hits. Bring your oxygen.

Florida is an enigma, like 2006

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
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Halfway through the 2012 season, the comparisons are already coming: Is this Florida team destined to repeat what it accomplished in 2006?

It sounds crazy, it really does, but the similarities are there. The offense isn’t exactly pretty, but the defense is stellar. Both running games have bulls in the backfield (2006 had a young Tim Tebow and power back DeShawn Wynn). Urban Meyer used more of a pounding spread, while Will Muschamp (also in his second year, like Meyer) has his team grinding along and outplaying everyone in the second half.

[+] EnlargeChris Leak
Bob Leverone/Sporting News via Getty ImagesChris Leak was a legitimate threat throwing the ball for the 2006 Florida team, something that lacks in this season's version.
The 2006 team didn't really feel like a true national championship contender halfway through the season because it never blew anyone away with the offense dragging along.

But somehow, the wins kept piling up, as toughness, not flash, got it done ... just like this year's team.

But can these Gators make a run to the national championship, or even the SEC championship? Can a team that has averaged 69 passing yards in its past two games really make it through the rest of its SEC schedule and beyond?

So far a mediocre passing game has been enough with that tremendous defense and rugged running game. But for this team to get on the 2006 team’s level, some things have to change, especially with No. 7 South Carolina venturing into the Swamp on Saturday.

For starters, the Gators have to be a threat to throw. In 2006, Chris Leak, who eventually became Florida’s all-time leading passer, was very much a passing threat. He didn’t throw for a lot of yards, averaging just 210 yards a game, but defenses had to account for a balanced Gators offensive attack.

This year’s team doesn’t really have that in Jeff Driskel. He’s a tremendous athlete and can throw a good ball, but he’s averaging just 139 yards a game and has four touchdown passes.

Now, Driskel doesn’t have the receiving threats Leak had. Frankie Hammond Jr., Quinton Dunbar, Jordan Reed and Andre Debose just don’t generate the same excitement as Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell, Dallas Baker and Cornelius Ingram.

Sure, the Gators haven’t exactly needed to throw the ball with their running game and defense, but when Driskel has to pass against good defenses, will he be able to? It’s still a mystery, and that has to be concerning.

When you compare the defenses, the pass rushes are very different. The 2006 team had Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey, who combined for 18.5 sacks. That team had 34 sacks. This one has just 12. Quick passing teams hurt Florida’s pass rush to start the year, but it has to be more consistent in SEC play.

This year’s team does win the kicking battle with All-American hopeful Caleb Sturgis, and you could argue that the running game is stronger with Mike Gillislee.

Even with Tebow and Harvin helping out Wynn, those Gators averaged 160 rushing yards a game. Having more of a passing game cut into the rushing numbers, but Wynn wasn’t Gillislee, who leads all SEC running backs with 615 rushing yards and is one of only two backs to average 100 or more yards a game (102.5). Wynn finished the 2006 season with just 699 yards.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Kim Klement/US PresswireMike Gillislee is averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season.
Add Driskel, Omarius Hines, Solomon Patton and Trey Burton, and these Gators are second in the SEC in rushing, averaging 233.3 yards per game and 236 in conference play.

When it comes to points, both teams are pretty even. The 2006 team averaged 29 points and gave up 9.5 through the first six games (all wins as well), while this year’s team is scoring 27.8 and allowing 12.3. This year’s team is also averaging around 20 yards fewer (378.3) and giving up 40 more yards (297.2).

So the similarities are obvious, but this team doesn’t have the experience the 2006 team had, and you have to wonder if that will eventually catch up to it.

I have to admit I was very surprised to see Florida at No. 2 in the first BCS standings. Don’t get me wrong, the Gators have been impressive with those back-to-back SEC road wins, the second-half pushes, the win over LSU, and that defense and running game.

But No. 2?

In the right light, is this Florida team really a 2 or is it more like a 4, or even a 5? We’ll find out with South Carolina and Georgia next.

Florida might be a tough team to truly figure out, but the 6-0 start is a pleasant surprise. A team that was expected to be nothing more than a distant third in the East could be playing in Atlanta in early December.

That’s something the 2006 team would be very proud of.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer raves about Braxton Miller's competitive spirit these days, but not long ago the Ohio State coach felt differently about his quarterback.

"It was very alarming in the [winter]," Meyer told ESPN.com.

New coaches must wait until the spring to work with players on the practice field, but they keep close tabs during winter conditioning. It's no coincidence the coaches' offices at programs like Nebraska overlook the team's weight room.

When Meyer observed Miller this winter, he became concerned. It wasn't as if Miller slacked off or didn't get his work in with the strength coaches. But he didn't measure up to the starting quarterbacks Meyer had in the past.

"Chris Leak doesn't get enough credit at Florida," Meyer said, referring to the quarterback who helped him win his first national title, against Ohio State. "He was a very hard worker in the weight room, a very competitive guy in the weight room. [Tim] Tebow was off the charts. Alex Smith was extremely competitive in the offseason program. I didn't see that from Braxton."

"He worked hard," Meyer continued. "He was fine. I didn't see him compete at the level he's competing at right now. The lights come on, you get the ball in his hands and he becomes an excellent competitor."

The lights of spring practice are only so bright, even here at Ohio State, but Miller's work on the field has put Meyer's concerns to rest. The sophomore still has a long way to go in absorbing a new offense and improving the technical aspects of his game, but his drive to win isn't in doubt for a coach who knows what he wants in a starting quarterback.

"In the winter, it's just all working out, a little bit of competitive drills going on," Miller told ESPN.com. "But when the pads come on, the lights come on, it's just more natural for me to have fun and compete."

He showed glimpses of it as a freshman last fall, never more so than in the closing moments of Ohio State's 33-29 win against then-No. 15 Wisconsin. The Buckeyes had squandered a 12-point lead with 4:39 to play and trailed 29-26 when Miller rallied the team in the closing seconds. On first down from Wisconsin's 40-yard line, Miller rolled out, spotted teammate Devin Smith slipping behind Wisconsin's secondary, and fired the game-winning touchdown pass with 20 ticks left.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Andrew Weber/US PresswireNew Ohio State coach Urban Meyer says quarterback Braxton Miller needs to improve as a leader.
Miller also led a late scoring drive in regulation at Purdue, and didn't seem fazed by his first trip to Ann Arbor, passing for 235 yards and two touchdowns with an interception against a top-20 Michigan defense.

Although he had limited production in a limited role in a limited offense last season, Miller didn't shy away from big moments.

"All my life, when I get the chance to get the ball in my hands, it's exciting," he said.

When spring ball began, Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman had different concerns than Meyer about Miller. Herman knew he had inherited an athlete -- Miller rushed for 715 yards and seven touchdowns last season -- but he had never seen Miller pass the ball live.

Despite starting 10 games in 2011, Miller only attempted 157 passes, including a laughable four in a win at Illinois.

"I crossed my fingers and held my breath and went out there for the first practice," Herman said. "It was a big sigh of relief, seeing him throw the football. How he throws the football from the shoulders up is actually very mechanically sound. His footwork is probably the biggest thing we're continuing to work on.

"They're not easy fixes, but they're a lot less complex than trying to break a kid's arm mechanics down and build him back up."

Meyer likens Miller to Josh Harris, who played quarterback for Meyer at Bowling Green in 2001-02. But Miller has his "own little niche," Meyer said.

Like Meyer, Herman has seen Miller compete hard in practices, particularly during winner/loser days.

"He wants it to be perfect every time, and especially when he's the one contributing to those mistakes, then it really frustrates him," Herman said. "That's a good thing. If he wasn't frustrated, we'd have problems."

For the most part, Miller remains even-keeled. Buckeyes offensive tackle Jack Mewhort doesn't expect Miller to become "more rah-rah" in the weight room. Mewhort also doesn't expect Miller to be rattled in big moments.

"He wants the ball in his hands because he knows he can do great things with it," tight end Jake Stoneburner said. "You weren't really able to see that in the winter, because it's all lifting and running, but once you get on the field, some guys change, and he's one of those guys."

Stoneburner has seen significant changes in Miller this spring, acknowledging that a quarterback who was "a little bit intimidated" last season is taking charge more in the huddle. The soft-spoken Miller is trying to be more vocal, whether it's flipping protections with his linemen, or changing the routes for his pass-catchers.

"I grew up a lot," he said.

But he's not where he needs to be.

"He's an average leader right now," Meyer said. "We need to make him a great leader. You have to raise the level of play of those around you. This summer, he has to do it. He hasn't done it to this point. He's been at Ohio State for a little over a year, and his leadership qualities are not where they need to be.

"I think he will get there, because he's sharp, he's smart and he's a competitor."

Especially when the lights come on.
AJ McCarron, Jordan JeffersonUS Presswire/AP PhotoAlabama's AJ McCarron and LSU's Jordan Jefferson will face off Monday night in New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS -- Auburn had Cam Newton.

Alabama had Greg McElroy.

Florida had Tim Tebow, twice (though Chris Leak was the starter in 2006).

And LSU had Matt Flynn.

All solid national championship quarterbacks.

This time, the quarterbacks enter Monday’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game with some concern attached to their names.

For Alabama, it’s the talented but young AJ McCarron. For LSU, it’s embattled senior Jordan Jefferson. Together, they create more questions than answers.

McCarron probably hasn’t received the criticism Jefferson has. As a first-year starter, the sophomore is allowed a mulligan here and there. His year has consisted of 2,400 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and just five interceptions. But it also featured seven games in which he threw for fewer than 200 yards, including the final four games of the regular season, among them Alabama's Nov. 5 showdown with LSU.

His decision-making has been questionable at times and there are more than a handful of times in which McCarron tried to do too much, and while that’s natural for a youngster, it can’t happen Monday.

“Growing as a quarterback all year long, I felt like I've done a pretty good job so far,” McCarron said. “Coming in your first year you're not going to know a whole lot going into it. As of now, I feel like I've been here forever.

“This season's taken a long time.”

It feels like it’s been a tremendously long career for Jefferson. His four years at LSU have seemed like eight and he’s always been such a wild card for the Tigers. He's thrown 34 career touchdowns in 41 starts. To put that in perspective, Georgia's Aaron Murray threw 35 touchdowns this season.

It's been a rocky career for Jefferson, and he's had his share of rocky moments in 2011. His 33-yard performance against Georgia in this year’s SEC championship seemed to set quarterback play back, and he’s completed double-digit passes in a game just once this season, when he threw for 208 yards on 18-of-29 passing.

He’ll enter Monday’s game with fewer than 700 passing yards in nine games. Granted, Jefferson didn’t reclaim his starting spot until mid-November, but he averages just nine pass attempts a game.

And unlike McCarron, fans have let Jefferson know when they’re unhappy. The boo birds that greeted him during the Kentucky game after he returned from his four-game suspension for his role in a bar fight resurfaced at times when Jefferson wasn’t playing well. Most notably, they surrounded Jefferson during an eventual scoring drive against Arkansas and a few times against Georgia.

“Once they see that error occur, I guess it makes them mad a little bit, I guess,” Jefferson said of the boos.

But like his team has all season, Jefferson blocks out the negativity on the field. He can’t control it, so he doesn’t bother with it. It’s just like his reaction to his poor play. Jefferson prides himself on quarterback amnesia.

“Playing quarterback, you’re not always expected to have a perfect performance,” he said. “That’s why you have to put the bad performances behind you and try to find ways to improve for the next performance.”

McCarron stresses over his mistakes more, but only because he’s a perfectionist. Curing his field issues is mandatory for McCarron to get through a practice session, and that attitude should take him far in this league.

“Every game you're not going to be perfect going into the game, especially after the game,” he said. “You just try to eliminate as many mistakes as you possibly can.”

They won’t be perfect. That’s why there are other players to lean on at times. McCarron and Jefferson aren’t true stars and don’t have the flashiest stats, but with help from those around them, their teams are playing for a national title and one will be hoisting that coveted crystal ball Monday night.

It could always be worse, LSU offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa said. LSU’s quarterback play could be like it was the three years after its 2007 championship, when quarterbacks threw 48 touchdowns to 37 interceptions and LSU took a back seat to teams.

“Up-and-down, in my opinion,” he said, “has been better than it’s been.”

Predictions: SEC Week 6

October, 6, 2011
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I understand that there are a lot of rumors going around about me and the validity of my picks each week.

Last week, fellow SEC blogger Chris Low brought to light an issue with the NCAA and myself concerning my consistency of picking the winners week in and week out.

At this time, I can't comment one way or the other about my interaction with the NCAA, but at the appropriate time I will make an official statement. This has been hard on me, Chris and my cat Meeko, who has had to endure weeks of having a frustrated owner, who only wants the truth to come out.

It says a lot about my colleague that he would want to break this news to the public. I can only classify him as one thing: a sore loser.

As of Thursday, I am in the lead with a record of 39-6 (.866), while Chris is trailing with a record of 36-9 (.800). Chris told me this week that he needed a gimme pick, pleading that I choose an obvious loss to help him out. For shame, Chris. Begging (without money) will get you nowhere in this world. You're better than that.

Now, on to the picks.

MISSISSIPPI STATE at UAB

Edward Aschoff: The Bulldogs are looking to get their execution right on offense, while continuing to shuffle bodies along the offensive line. If this were an SEC team, I'd say the Bulldogs were in trouble, but they should be fine this weekend. Yes, UAB took Mississippi State down to the wire last year, but these Blazers are still looking for their first win. ... Mississippi State 27, UAB 10

Chris Low: The Bulldogs won’t get a chance to end their three-game SEC losing streak this weekend because they step out of conference to play UAB on the road. This is one of those no-win types of games for the Bulldogs, who nearly lost at home two weeks ago to Louisiana Tech. We’ll see how much they learned from that scare. … Mississippi State
31, UAB 14


KENTUCKY at No. 18 SOUTH CAROLINA

Edward Aschoff: There is a new quarterback under center for the Gamecocks and it's time to revitalize this South Carolina offense. Coach Steve Spurrier can't be so quick to yank Connor Shaw Saturday and with a week to prepare as the starter, the offense should look better, right? As for Kentucky, the offense has struggled to get anything going and has to face a defense that is finally playing up to its potential. ... South Carolina 24, Kentucky 6

Chris Low: Both teams are making changes to try to jump-start lethargic offenses. Connor Shaw is replacing Stephen Garcia as South Carolina’s starting quarterback, while Kentucky is thinking about pulling true freshman quarterback Bookie Cobbins’ redshirt and playing him at receiver. The good news for the Gamecocks is that they appear to be hitting their stride defensively, which means the Wildcats are staring down the barrel of a fourth straight loss. … South Carolina 30, Kentucky 7

VANDERBILT at No. 2 ALABAMA

Edward Aschoff: Vanderbilt is clearly overmatched on paper, but Vanderbilt's secondary concerns Alabama coach Nick Saban. No need to worry, Tide faithful -- Alabama's running game will wear down Vandy and any chance of a Commodores upset. Alabama's defense should also keep Vandy's struggling offense grounded for most of the day. ... Alabama 31, Vanderbilt 3

Chris Low: Alabama’s really good at not giving up touchdowns, and Vanderbilt’s really bad at scoring touchdowns, at least on offense. Nothing gets under Nick Saban’s skin more than seeing his team let down against an inferior opponent. But then, this bunch hasn’t shown any signs of letting down against anybody. … Alabama 34, Vanderbilt 3

GEORGIA at TENNESSEE

Edward Aschoff: This game is pretty big as far as the East is concerned, and the winner will momentarily assume the role of favorite in the division. Tennessee has a dangerous high-flying offense, while the Bulldogs' defense has really improved over the last three games. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is looking for his first big SEC win and with a ferocious home crowd, the Vols squeak by. ... Tennessee 28, Georgia 23

Chris Low: After all the gloom and doom to start the season, Georgia is right back in the middle of the Eastern Division race. For that matter, who isn’t? This is a big game for Derek Dooley and the Vols, who are in search of that first signature win. But if the Bulldogs can win, especially with their schedule the rest of the way, they’re probably the favorite to win the East. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray is red-hot for the Vols, but Georgia’s defense is even hotter. … Georgia 31, Tennessee 24

No. 15 AUBURN at No. 10 ARKANSAS

Edward Aschoff: Arkansas is fresh off a valiant second-half comeback against Texas A&M, but is still pretty banged up. Auburn, on the other hand, somehow found a way to drive the ball late and upset South Carolina on the road. Auburn's defense improved mightily against the Gamecocks, but South Carolina was barely playing with a manageable quarterback. Arkansas' Tyler Wilson is still gaining yards on the Aggies and that trend could continue this weekend. ... Arkansas 38, Auburn 27

Chris Low: If only this game is half as wild as the one last season, then we’re all in for a treat. Auburn exploded in the fourth quarter to win 65-43. Both teams have injury issues coming in, and both teams have also had their issues when it comes to stopping people. Arkansas seemed to find something in the second half last week in its comeback win over Texas A&M and will ride that momentum at home to a key Western Division win. … Arkansas 34, Auburn 30

No. 17 FLORIDA at No. 1 LSU

Edward Aschoff:
Florida is heading to Death Valley with a freshman quarterback and a hurt ego to face the No. 1 team in the country. Fortunately for the Gators, this isn't a night game. Jeff Driskel will likely get the start for the Gators; expect LSU's defense to try to punish the young gun early and often. Florida went into Baton Rouge with a true freshman quarterback in 2003 and won, but that was with a guy (Chris Leak) who started two games prior. Things will be much different this time around. ... LSU 27, Florida 13

Chris Low: It really ought to be against the rules to have to face Alabama’s defense one week and LSU’s the next. But that’s the predicament Florida finds itself in this week, and does so with a true freshman (Jeff Driskel) making his first start at quarterback. The Gators are good enough defensively to keep it close for a while, but they’re not good enough to go into Tiger Stadium and win. … LSU 24, Florida 14

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

ATHENS, Ga. -- Joe Cox is accustomed to waiting in the shadows.

The fifth-year senior quarterback played for two years behind former Florida quarterback Chris Leak at Independence High School in Charlotte, N.C., before getting his chance.

He's waited for four years at Georgia, playing the past two years behind the guy who might be the No. 1 pick in April's NFL draft, Matthew Stafford.

 
  Paul Abell/US PRESSWIRE
  Joe Cox finally has a chance to be Georgia's starting quarterback.

So forgive Cox if he's soaking in everything this spring and leaving nothing to chance. This is his only shot to lead this football team the way he wants to.

Sure, he's always been a leader behind the scenes, a guy who knows the playbook inside and out, a guy who does things the right way and a guy who's been there in any capacity whenever the team has needed him.

As a redshirt freshman three years ago, he came off the bench to bail the Bulldogs out against Colorado and threw a game-winning touchdown pass with 46 seconds remaining.

But it's his team now, and with Knowshon Moreno, Mohamad Massaquoi and Stafford all gone, the challenge to keep the Georgia offensive machine going will be a daunting one.

It's a challenge Cox insists he's up to, and more importantly, one his coaches and teammates insist he's up to.

Cox, a fiery redhead, sat down with me on Thursday, and here's my Q&A with him:

With Stafford's career taking off the last two years, did you ever think you were in the wrong place at the wrong time? You probably could have been the starter at a lot of other schools.

JC: I never tried to look at it that way, because I knew it wouldn't do me any good. I knew when I signed here that this was the place for me and where I wanted to be no matter if I was playing or not. I knew they were going to be bringing in top players at every position every year. It was definitely difficult not playing, but I still tried to look at the positives. I learned a lot and felt like I helped the younger guys, being in the huddle with them and helping them get on the field quicker.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said that in another year, quarterback Christian Ponder "might be where Tebow is."

As in, Florida's Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.

Tebow vs. Ponder: By the Numbers
Below is a look at Florida QB Tim Tebow (2007) and Florida State QB Christian Ponder's (2008) passing and rushing stats in their first season as a starter:
TEBOW PONDER
234COMP154
350ATT273
66.9PCT56.4
3,286YDS1,747
32TD12
210RUSH106
895YDS390
4.3AVG3.7
23TD7

"He can run the ball and throw it, and he's very intelligent and is making some good strides," Bowden said of Ponder. "It looks like he's about a year behind, though, in production."

A light year, maybe.

That's not a knock on Ponder, it's just a fact -- Tebow was in a league of his own last season and single-handedly revolutionized the quarterback position. There simply is no comparison for a quarterback who set the NCAA record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season by a quarterback. Tebow was the only player in FBS history to rush AND pass for at least one touchdown in 14 straight games. And he was doing it against SEC opponents.

If there is a quarterback out there who is mentally and physically tougher than Tebow, he would have won the Heisman last year.

Comparing what Tebow did in his first season as starter and what Ponder is doing in his is unfair.

As a sophomore in 2007, in his first season taking over the offense from Chris Leak, Tebow ran for 23 touchdowns and threw for 32 more, with just six interceptions. As a redshirt sophomore, in his first season taking over for Drew Weatherford, Ponder has scored four rushing touchdowns and thrown 12, along with 11 interceptions.

There is no question he has shown some promise this season, but like many first-year quarterbacks, Ponder has been inconsistent. He was down against Boston College (three interceptions, completed less than 50 percent of his passes), and up against Maryland (no interceptions, only five incompletions).

Where Tebow and Ponder are similar is their ability to run. Ponder has 106 carries for 390 yards and four touchdowns. This season, Tebow has 121 carries for 427 yards and 11 touchdowns. He hasn't had the numbers he did a season ago because the Gators haven't needed him to. There are more playmakers to take some pressure off Tebow. Florida State, on the other hand, is too dependent upon its running game.

The two Atlantic Division opponents who took away the Noles' running game -- Boston College and Wake Forest -- won.

Ponder, who has already graduated, has a very bright future at Florida State and will only get better with experience. He has already proven capable of running the Noles' offense effectively, and will be more productive as he recognizes coverages quicker.

Even though it will be hard not to compare the two quarterbacks on the field in Tallahassee on Saturday, the best measure of Ponder's growth will come next year. Not against Tebow, but against his own performances from this season.

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