NCF Nation: Chris Smelley

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Taking the temperature around the SEC:

  • Florida's Matt Patchan, who filled a void at defensive tackle last season, will move back to offense in 2009 and compete for one of the Gators' starting tackle jobs.
  • The NCAA has denied the eligibility waiver for former South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley, who had hoped to be eligible to play baseball right away at Alabama.

The SEC's 10 best games in 2008

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
9:13
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The ballots have come in from near and far. I even received one from Heidelberg. With your help, I've managed to rank the top 10 games and the top 20 plays from the SEC this season. So sit back and enjoy a look back at a year that just may produce the fourth national champion from this conference in the past six years. We'll do the games first and then the plays a little bit later in the day. Thanks again for all you input. Here goes:

 
 Dale Zanine/US Presswire
 Quarterback Tim Tebow led Florida past then-No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game.

1. Florida 31, Alabama 20, Atlanta, Dec. 6: In one of the most anticipated SEC games of the last quarter century, Florida played a near-perfect fourth quarter to rally past previously unbeaten and then No. 1-ranked Alabama in the SEC championship game. The showdown between two teams that had won a combined 20 straight games was essentially a play-in for a berth in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. Florida earned that right and will take on Oklahoma on Jan. 8 in Miami. The game was extremely well-played. The only turnover was a meaningless one and came in the final seconds. Alabama's offensive line and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow each had points where they took over the game, but two long drives by the Gators in the fourth quarter after falling behind 20-17 were the difference. Tebow finished with three touchdown passes, and all three came on third down. The Crimson Tide only had the ball for six offensive plays in the fourth quarter, as Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham had a key third-down sack of Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson. The Gators showed their mettle by winning without their most dynamic playmaker, Percy Harvin, who missed the game with a sprained ankle.

2. Alabama 27, LSU 21 (OT), Baton Rouge, Nov. 8: The return of Nick Saban to Baton Rouge was pretty uneventful off the field, but the game itself was filled with drama. It was a disappointing season for the defending national champion Tigers, but they were ready to play in this one. The two teams slugged it out for four quarters, and Alabama had a chance to win it with three seconds left in regulation. But LSU's Ricky Jean-Francois blocked Leigh Tiffin's 29-yard field goal attempt. With Tiger Stadium rocking, LSU redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee put a damper on things by throwing his fourth interception of the game on the Tigers' first possession in overtime. Fittingly, Alabama safety Rashad Johnson was there in the back of the end zone to collar the pick. It was his third of the game, and he took one of those back for a 54-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Alabama went right to freshman receiver Julio Jones on its first play in overtime, and Jones went up high and made a sweet adjustment in the air for a 24-yard catch at the 1. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson plunged in for the touchdown to keep the Tide unbeaten and clinch a trip to the SEC championship game.

3. Ole Miss 31, Florida 30, Gainesville, Sept. 27: The upset of the year in the SEC doesn't look like quite the shocker now that it did back in September. The Rebels, who were a three-touchdown underdog when they went into the Swamp, ended the season on a five-game winning streak and head to the Cotton Bowl playing some of the best football in the league. But nobody saw their upset of the Gators coming. They'd just lost to Vanderbilt at home a week earlier. Quarterback Jevan Snead, though, grew up in a hurry with two touchdown passes, including an 86-yarder to Shay Hodge, with 5:26 to play, and the Rebels came up big on special teams and defense in the final minutes to snap a 14-game SEC road losing streak. Kentrell Lockett blocked the Gators' extra point attempt when it appeared they had tied the game with 3:28 left, and then Peria Jerry and a host of his Ole Miss defensive mates smothered Florida quarterback Tim Tebow on fourth-and-short at the Rebels' 32-yard line with 41 seconds remaining to seal the upset. Tebow and the Gators were fueled by the gut-wrenching setback and haven't lost since. In fact, nobody has come within double figures of them.

4. Arkansas 31, LSU 30, Little Rock, Nov. 28: After being decimated by Alabama, Texas and Florida earlier in the season, the Razorbacks hung on under first-year coach Bobby Petrino and improved greatly during the second half of the season. They caught an LSU team that was teetering on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and senior quarterback Casey Dick came off the bench in his final college game to deliver a memorable performance. A starter for the first 11 games of the season, Dick relieved his younger brother, Nathan Dick, who'd been injured. Casey Dick entered the game in the second half and rallied the Razorbacks from a 30-14 deficit. His 24-yard touchdown pass to London Crawford on a fourth-down play with 22 seconds remaining won it for the Hogs, who still had to sweat out a Colt David 63-yard field goal attempt with 2.4 seconds to play that was no good.

(Read full post)

Jan. 1, 11 a.m. (ESPN)

Iowa take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Back on Oct. 4, a New Year's Day bowl appearance seemed impossible for Iowa.

The Hawkeyes were 3-3, hopeless in close games and still transitioning at the quarterback position. Head coach Kirk Ferentz was on the hot seat, and his coordinators were under fire.

But Iowa started to figure it out at Indiana on Oct. 11, and the Hawkeyes won five of their final six games, including a potentially program-changing upset of Penn State. They've been rewarded with an Outback Bowl appearance against a very beatable South Carolina team.

Hawkeyes junior running back Shonn Greene has been unstoppable so far, and he aims for his 13th consecutive 100-yard rushing game against the nation's No. 11 defense. South Carolina did a decent job against Georgia's Knowshon Moreno on Sept. 13 but struggled down the stretch. Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi will be challenged by a talented Gamecocks secondary, so the burden once again will be on Greene.

Iowa ranks a spot below South Carolina in total defense, and the Hawkeyes held eight teams to 17 points or fewer. South Carolina doesn't run the ball well at all, and Iowa will need to put pressure on quarterback Chris Smelley. The Gamecocks rank 114th nationally in sacks allowed.


South Carolina take by SEC blogger Chris Low: He last coached Florida back in 2001, but Steve Spurrier is still a hot item in the Sunshine State.

His draw was evidently enough to get South Carolina (7-5) to the Outback Bowl to face Iowa on Jan. 1 even though the Gamecocks played some of their worst football in the final few weeks of the regular season.

In their last two games, the Gamecocks were outscored 87-20 by Florida and Clemson and looked like a team that was going nowhere fast offensively. The root of the problem is that Spurrier isn't sold on any of the quarterbacks on campus.

He played musical quarterbacks with Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia most of the season, but Garcia will get first crack at Iowa in Tampa.

The Hawkeyes (8-4) came on to win five of their last six games to close the season. Their only loss in that stretch was a three-point decision to Illinois.

South Carolina's defense has been rock-solid most of the season under first-year coordinator Ellis Johnson, but will have its hands full with Iowa's Shonn Greene, who's rushed for 1,729 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Gamecocks are ranked 11th nationally in total defense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Just when you thought Steve Spurrier was starting to have some fun again coaching this South Carolina football team, the Gamecocks go and lay an egg to end the regular season.

They were beaten up and down the field Saturday by Clemson in a 31-14 loss, two weeks removed from their embarrassing 56-6 beating at Florida.

The frustration was etched all over the Head Ball Coach's face Saturday and has been for most of this season. His quarterback, Chris Smelley, threw four interceptions Saturday -- three in the first half.

The Gamecocks' quarterback play has tormented Spurrier all season, and it remains to be seen whether he will ever have complete confidence in redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia, who didn't play at all against Clemson.

Spurrier, 63, has insisted several times this season that he's not ready to punt on his challenge of winning an SEC championship at South Carolina.

But those who know him best also know that he's not wired to lose almost as many games as he wins each year.

And since coming to South Carolina in 2005, Spurrier has lost at least five games all four seasons.

He knew this job would be hard. But not this hard.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

We take our daily stroll to see what others are saying and writing about SEC football:

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

We make our rounds through the conference to see what else is shaking:

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- This one had all makings of a scoreless first quarter.

But then Florida did what Florida has been doing for the last month and a half.

The Gators turned on the jets.

Capitalizing on a couple of horrible throws by South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley, Florida scored three touchdowns in the final 4:37 of the quarter to take a 21-0 lead into the second quarter Saturday at the Swamp.

The Gamecocks' defense has stood its ground. It's not as if the Gators are running up and down the field against the South Carolina defense.

South Carolina simply hasn't been able to handle Florida's defensive pressure, and Smelley has been forced into two interceptions. The first was returned for a touchdown by Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes. The second one set up a Florida touchdown on a 26-yard run by Percy Harvin.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier alternated quarterbacks on every snap in the first quarter, but the Gamecocks never found any rhythm. They finished with just 27 yards of total offense in the first quarter.

And anybody who thinks the first quarter doesn't belong to Florida right now might want to consider this statistic: The Gators in their last six games have outscored opponents 101-0 in the first quarter.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's a battle of the last two BCS national champions on Saturday night in the Swamp. And if you're into trends, the Gators should be in good shape. The home team is 7-0-1 when the last two national champions meet. The last time it happened was 18 years ago when Notre Dame (the 1988 champ) beat Miami (the 1989 champ) 29-20 in South Bend. LSU's 28-24 win over Florida last season was one of the more exciting, hard-hitting games in the league. But, then, what LSU game a year ago wasn't heart-pounding? The winner of this game can make a pretty convincing statement in its divisional race that it's the team to beat. And especially if Florida wins, there's a decent chance the two teams could meet in a rematch in the SEC championship game. Here's a look at what to watch for in Week 7 in the SEC:

1. The Mad Hatter: Yes, LSU coach Les Miles is a bit unorthodox in how he goes about answering the simplest of questions in such a way that leaves you more confused than you were before you asked the question. And, yes, the way he wears his hat squarely on top of his head is a bit comical. But Miles could wear a lampshade on his head if he keeps winning the way he has. He's 8-3 against top 10 teams at LSU and has won six in a row. He's 4-2 on the road against top-10 competition. In his last 16 games against SEC opponents, the only two games he lost were in triple-overtime. It's high time the Mad Hatter gets his due. The guy can coach.

2. Auburn's offense: What's it going to look like now that Tony Franklin is gone? Steve Ensminger will call the plays, and Tommy Tuberville insists that the Tigers aren't going away from the no-huddle, spread offense that Franklin implemented. That may be, but surely Auburn is going to make more of an effort to run the ball Saturday against an Arkansas defense that hasn't stopped anybody on the ground this season.

3. Tuberville crossing over: Tommy Tuberville has a distinguished background as a top defensive coordinator and linebackers coach when he was at Miami and then Texas A&M for a year before getting the Ole Miss top job. But calling offensive plays? It will be interesting to see how involved he really is the rest of the way in coordinating Auburn's offense and making the play calls on game day. Tuberville says it will be a team effort and that he will be a big part of that team.

4. Spikes vs. Scott: Florida's Brandon Spikes is one of the best middle linebackers in the country. He's fast, physical and always around the ball. He dares you to run at him. But that's what LSU likes to do with bruising 233-pound tailback Charles Scott, who's rushed for 100 or more yards in each of his four games this season. There's not a whole lot fancy about Scott other than his penchant for running over people. That first collision between Spikes and Scott ought to be one to remember.

5. The beast within: Brandon Spikes has already warned everybody that talking trash to Tim Tebow before a big game is akin to making the beast that much angrier. Look for Tebow to be a beast in this game and not hold back. It's obvious he hasn't looked to run quite as much this season. That all changes Saturday night in the Swamp. Not only will he look to run, but he'll look to run over somebody early to set the tone. The Tim Tebow that won the 2007 Heisman Trophy isn't a pocket passer. He's a modern-day, 240-pound single-wing tailback.

6. Solving Spurrier: Rich Brooks has yet to beat South Carolina since taking the Kentucky job in 2003. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier has never lost to Kentucky. He's 15-0 all-time against the Wildcats, who have lost eight straight to the Gamecocks. In short, something has to give if the Wildcats are going to break through and have a big season. They get the Gamecocks at home in a game that should provide the most definitive answer yet as to whether Kentucky is a contender or a pretender.

7. Adams on call: It sounds like Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson's right throwing shoulder is healthy enough for him to start Saturday against Mississippi State. Of course, Nickson has failed to finish the last two games after taking hits on that shoulder. The comforting thing for the Commodores is that they don't miss a beat when backup quarterback Mackenzi Adams is in the game. In fact, they really didn't start moving the ball consistently against Auburn until he entered the game in the second quarter.

8. Southerland's impact: Rumor has it that Georgia fullback Brannan Southerland, who missed the first five games after recovering from foot surgery, will arrive at Sanford Stadium on Saturday in a limousine provided by sophomore tailback Knowshon Moreno. Nobody has missed Southerland's crushing lead blocks more than Moreno, who was a nonfactor in the Alabama loss two weeks ago. Southerland's leadership and all-around toughness will also be key for the Bulldogs as they enter the teeth of their schedule beginning this weekend against Tennessee.

9. Getting to Smelley: The problem South Carolina had earlier this season was protecting the quarterback. But Chris Smelley has had more time to throw these last few games. He faces a Kentucky front four that ranks up there with the best in the league. The Wildcats sacked Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson three times last week, and the Crimson Tide offensive line was whistled twice for holding on pass plays. Rich Brooks says it's easily the best pass rush he's had at Kentucky, and the numbers back him up. The Wildcats are second nationally in pass efficiency defense.

10. Stephens' SEC debut: Not only does Tennessee have to go on the road Saturday against a Georgia team eager to get revenge for last season's shellacking in Knoxville, but the Vols do so with a quarterback (Nick Stephens) who's never taken a snap in an SEC game. Stephens was serviceable last week in the narrow win over Northern Illinois, but you know the Vols have to be kicking themselves now for not giving him a chance against Auburn or Florida earlier this season and for not giving him a chance to at least compete with Jonathan Crompton for the starting job back in the spring and preseason.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Tommy Tuberville said it was the bottom line that got first-year offensive coordinator Tony Franklin fired Wednesday. And in this case, the bottom line was that Auburn was stinking up the joint offensively this season. The Tigers are keeping Franklin's spread offense, or at least some version of it. They're just not keeping him.

Man, am I glad you can't get fired for picking games. I'm not sure that I've been as bad as Auburn's offense this season, but I've failed to pick with any consistency. I've picked up and down depending on the degree of difficulty that particular week. I think coach Nick Saban can probably relate.

I would like to brag on my pick of Vanderbilt over Auburn last week. How many people honestly got that one right? Of course, I missed the Ole Miss-South Carolina game. I'm still kicking myself over that one. How in the name of Jeff Grantz could I pick against the Gamecocks, the team that introduced me to college football as a kid growing up in South Carolina?

Somewhere, that old faded picture of Grantz that I cut out of a game program 30-plus years ago probably shrivels up a little more each time I pick against the Gamecocks. For the record, I was 4-1 last week and am now 38-10 for the season. Here are my picks for Week 7:

Florida 28, LSU 21: For all the grumbling you're hearing out of Florida about the offense, you'd think the Gators were having trouble making a first down. Granted, Tim Tebow isn't putting up outer space-like numbers again this season, but they are first in the SEC in scoring offense and third in total offense. They're also right there in the middle of the Eastern Division race and will take big step toward getting to Atlanta when they play their most complete game of the season in taking down the Tigers at the Swamp.

Auburn 21, Arkansas 10: There's a little bit of everything going on in this game. Tommy Tuberville fired his offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin, earlier this week. It's the first meeting between Bobby Petrino and Tuberville since the attempted coup against Tuberville back in 2003 when Auburn officials took a secret plane trip to meet with Petrino about taking over for his old boss. Petrino was Tuberville's offensive coordinator in 2002. The Razorbacks have given up 139 points in their last three games, although they kept the Florida game close for three quarters a week ago. The Tigers have been an offensive train wreck this season. They won't get completely well against Arkansas' defense, but they will get well enough.

Georgia 34, Tennessee 14: The Vols have been a pretty good pick over the last few years when they're a big underdog on the road. This is not just any year. They were fortunate to beat Northern Illinois at home last week, and Georgia is still seething from last year's whipping in Knoxville that prevented the Bulldogs from playing in the BCS national championship game. Georgia's had a week off to heal its wounds from the Alabama beatdown. Fullback Brannan Southerland is back in the lineup, and the Bulldogs do their part to make that hole for Phillip Fulmer a little bit deeper.

Miss. State 21, Vanderbilt 17: The Commodores can go to 6-0 for the first time since 1928 with a win in Starkville. That was before the SEC was even formed. Neither one of these teams has rolled up much yardage this season. Mississippi State is ranked 103rd nationally in total offense and Vanderbilt 114th nationally. The Commodores have been able to stay unbeaten by doing all the little things right and not beating themselves. This time, they run into a team that's starving for a win and physical enough and committed enough to the running game to pound away. It's the same thing Auburn did a week ago for a quarter before inexplicably going back to the spread.

South Carolina 24, Kentucky 21: The Gamecocks appear to be hitting their stride at just the right time, thanks in large part to Chris Smelley taking the starting quarterback job and running with it. He passed for a career-high 327 yards last week in the road win at Ole Miss, but will go against an even tougher defense on Saturday in Lexington. South Carolina has won eight in a row over Kentucky, a streak that's difficult to explain. The Gamecocks haven't been that much better than the Wildcats for much of this decade. Even so, they'll get their second big road win in as many weeks this Saturday and take a mammoth step toward an eight-win season ... and maybe even better.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

We take our midday stroll around the league to see what folks are writing:

* Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix would rather live in the present. He's not interested in going back down memory lane with the Gamecocks.

* Florida's Percy Harvin plans to get more involved this weekend ... and hold onto the ball.

* Arkansas' defense braces for an inspired, motivated Tim Tebow following the Gators' loss last weekend.

* Chris Smelley's experience wins him another shot as South Carolina's starting quarterback.

* Kentucky's Mike Hartline gets his first taste of life on the road in the SEC at one of the toughest places to play.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- South Carolina is 6-for-6 this season. The Gamecocks have played six quarters and have now thrown six interceptions.

Chris Smelley added to the total with two picks in the first half Thursday, as the Gamecocks managed to stagger into halftime with a 10-3 lead over Vanderbilt.

Smelley, taking over for Tommy Beecher as the Gamecocks' starter, never really found a rhythm. And a couple of his passes that weren't intercepted were dangerous throws.

Vanderbilt missed a great chance to tie the game after Darlron Spead intercepted a Smelley pass over the middle and returned it 41 yards to the South Carolina 30. The Commodores moved inside the 5, but had to kick a short field goal.

The South Carolina defense has smothered Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson, who has 18 yards rushing at the half. Nickson totaled a career-high 166 last week.

Even though the Commodores are hanging around, they likely will need to score on defense or special teams to win this game. They just haven't been able to dent the South Carolina defense.

The Gamecocks will be short-handed in the second half. Star receiver Kenny McKinley watched the second quarter in street clothes from the sideline after suffering what South Carolina officials said was a right leg injury. It looked like it might be a hamstring, because he was icing it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Hey, it was just the opening weekend. My timing wasn't down. The speed of the game was something I still have to get accustomed to, and you always make the most improvement from your first game to your second game. So I'm not sweating my 8-4 start to the season in picking games. For the record, the games I missed last week were Alabama-Clemson, Louisiana Tech-Mississippi State, Kentucky-Louisville and Tennessee-UCLA. Go ahead and give it to me Bama fans. I woefully underestimated your team. And Tennessee fans, what in the name of Hades was that out on the West Coast? That was a middle-of-the-road Pac-10 team ravaged by injuries and playing with its third-string quarterback that beat you. That said, here are my picks for Week 2, and I don't see any trap games on the schedule:

THURSDAY

South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 13: The Commodores are a different team when Chris Nickson's healthy, so this isn't a good time to be getting them. Chris Smelley will get his chance at quarterback for the Gamecocks, who will survive thanks to their improved defense. Any chance Stephen Garcia gets into the game for South Carolina?

SATURDAY

Auburn 35, Southern Miss 10: This much we know about the Tigers: They better pump some life into that passing game if they're going to make a run at the SEC title. Everything else seems to be in place. Chris Todd takes his shot this weekend at proving he's the quarterback that can get the Tigers where they want to go.

Alabama 27, Tulane 7: Nick Saban's 24-hour rule has come and long gone for Alabama after its impressive thumping of Clemson in the opener. I know Saban hates to hear this, but there's got to be a natural letdown after such a resounding win. Still, the Crimson Tide will win this one going away ... and Julio will catch another touchdown.

Arkansas 27, Louisiana-Monroe 14: The Hogs played 13 freshmen in their season-opening scare against Western Illinois. When you're playing that many first-year players, there's going to be some growing pains. This might be Arkansas' last chance to win in a while when you look at what's coming up -- Texas, Alabama, Florida and Auburn. Ouch!

Kentucky 31, Norfolk State 3: The Wildcats are better than anyone (but they) could have imagined on defense, and they have the kind of limitations on offense that we haven't seen in the Bluegrass in a while. Unless something crazy happens, though, this looks like a 4-0 football team heading to Alabama on Oct. 4.

Miss. State 28, Southeast Louisiana 6: There are bad losses, and then there are bad losses that sting for a while. How quickly can the Bulldogs get over their 22-14 stinker last week against Louisiana Tech? Even more importantly, can they keep from self-destructing offensively?

Georgia 41, Central Michigan 17: Central Michigan has a Tim Tebow-like quarterback in Dan LeFevour, who became the second quarterback in FBS history (Division I-A) last season to pass for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in the same season. He's pretty good, but the Bulldogs' defense is really good.

Wake Forest 31, Ole Miss 20: Too bad Ole Miss isn't full strength on defense. Tackle Peria Jerry might be able to give the Rebels a few snaps after missing last week, but end Greg Hardy remains sidelined. Wake Forest's Riley Skinner is one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the country and a completion machine. He'll be the difference in a game that's close most of the way.

Florida 45, Miami 14: The Hurricanes have won six straight in this bitter Sunshine State rivalry, but that's deceiving. The two teams have faced each other only six times since the Gators' last win in the series, 1985 at the now demolished Orange Bowl. If you like speed, this is your game. The Gators have more of it, though, and that's bad news for The U. This one won't be close.

Last week: 8-4. Season: 8-4.

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