NCF Nation: Darvin Adams

According to a report by former New York Times and Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts, Auburn players' grades were changed in order to secure eligibility, money was offered to potential NFL draft picks so they would return for their senior seasons and NCAA recruiting rules were violated under former coach Gene Chizik.

In Roberts' report, which can be read on her website, Roopstigo.com, three former Auburn players said that as many as nine players' grades were changed before the Tigers won the 2011 BCS national title.

Former Auburn players Mike McNeil, who is going on trial next week on charges for armed robbery, and Mike Blanc told Roberts that money for players reached "several thousand dollars." The report also said that McNeil received $400 from former Auburn defensive coordinator and current Florida head coach Will Muschamp in 2007.

Players have since denied Roberts' report.

When reached by AL.com on Wednesday afternoon, Blanc denied any knowledge of cash payments to Auburn players:
"Yeah. Me, personally, I don't have any direct knowledge of it. You just hear stuff. I'm pretty sure other guys on the team that know more, like guys that were closer to Darvin [Adams] and these other players I know. Darvin probably would have told those guys. I know Mike and Darvin were really cool. Maybe Darvin could have shared some information with Mike. But, me, personally, I don't know nothing factual that any guys got any money."

Blanc later had this to say on Twitter:
"Man this article is outrageous and isn't true. The media will do anything for a juicy story smh #sad."

Former defensive end Antoine Carter, who was quoted in Roberts' report, tweeted this Wednesday:
"Please don't remix my words."

"I Believe in Auburn and Love It #WDE."


Former defensive back Neiko Thorpe also took to Twitter on Wednesday:
"While I spoke to Selena Roberts about Mike I have just read her article & not only am I misquoted but my words are very out of context."

"We didn't talk about NCAA violations or recruiting. I'm proud 2 have played at Auburn & the opportunities it gave me."


We'll have more on the SEC blog as things develop.

SEC position rankings: WRs/TEs

June, 16, 2011
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Today we take a look at the wide receiver/tight end positions in the SEC. This one gets tricky since we’re basing rankings on two different positions.

Let’s take a look at what we came up with:

[+] EnlargeJoe Adams, Jarius Wright, and Greg Childs
AP Photo/April L. BrownJoe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs combined for 2,260 yards last season.
1. Arkansas: The Razorbacks could have the best wide receiver corps in the country. Making things even better for Arkansas is that each member of its tremendous trio is a senior. First, there’s Greg Childs, who would have taken part in the NFL draft this year had he not suffered a knee injury late in the season. Childs is Arkansas’ best receiver when he’s healthy. Joe Adams really came on strong last year, especially after Childs went down. He’s the best when he gets the ball in open space and will command the slot. Then there’s Jarius Wright, who is the fastest of the three and got even stronger this spring as well. The three have 324 combined career receptions for 5,404 yards and 41 touchdowns.

2. LSU: The Tigers might have lost Terrence Toliver, but they’ll still have weapons at receiver. Junior Rueben Randle is expected to be the go-to guy in LSU’s offense and is coming off a season where he caught 33 passes for 544 yards and three touchdowns. Russell Shepard was right behind him last season, catching the same amount of balls, but only totaled 254 yards and one touchdown. He looked sharper this spring and is looking to break out this fall. Tight end Deangelo Peterson should also get more attention this fall. He only caught 16 passes, but that number should increase.

3. South Carolina: For starters, the Gamecocks have the league’s best receiver in Alshon Jeffery. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound freak snatched just about everything that came his way last fall and registered 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s nearly impossible to stop in one-on-one situations. Senior Jason Barnes didn't make a major impact in 2010, but he does have 60 career receptions under his belt. The smaller Ace Sanders should be even better after bursting onto the scene with 25 receptions for 316 yards and two touchdowns. D.L. Moore, who caught 17 passes in 2010, should have a more expanded role as well.

[+] EnlargeTavarres King
Dale Zanine/US PresswireWith A.J. Green in the NFL, Tavarres King should become the Bulldogs' main receiving threat.
4. Georgia: The Bulldogs are still looking for a few playmakers at receiver, but there is definitely talent in Athens. Junior Tavarres King has moved into A.J. Green’s flanker spot and while he’s not Green, he proved this spring that he’s ready to be the Bulldogs' main receiving threat. Tight end Orson Charles is the best at his position and can flex out to receiver if needed. His 26 catches for 422 yards should increase this upcoming season. Marlon Brown also made strides this spring and should be the No. 2 receiver.

5. Tennessee: Neither Justin Hunter nor Da'Rick Rogers had a ton of catches last fall, but that will change with a strong passing game in 2011. Hunter caught 16 passes, but registered 415 yards and seven touchdowns in the process. He’s a solid deep threat and playmaker. Rogers also only caught 16 passes, and while he didn’t have the yardage Hunter had, he made tremendous strides this spring. Tight end Mychal Rivera caught 11 passes in 2010 and with Luke Stocker gone he takes over as the Vols’ weapon at tight end.

6. Alabama: There aren’t a lot of questions surrounding the Crimson Tide, but receiver isn’t Alabama’s best area. Seniors Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks should get the brunt of the catches. They combined for 70 catches for 1,013 yards and six touchdowns last season. There is a long list of other inexperienced players who should grab some catches as well and former Ohio State receiver Duron Carter, who just transferred in, could be a factor this fall.

7. Florida: The Gators have talent at wide receiver, and Florida should have a more pass-friendly offense, but the group is very unproven. Frankie Hammond Jr. could be Florida’s best weapon at receiver with his speed and athleticism. Omarius Hines has the size and speed to be a major mismatch for defenders in the slot and on the outside. Freshman Quinton Dunbar was Florida’s top deep threat this spring and should get ample playing time. At tight end, Jordan Reed was called Florida’s best athlete and could end up being the Gators’ top playmaker. Trey Burton should catch a few more passes as well.

[+] EnlargeChad Bumphis
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireMississippi State's Chad Bumphis caught 44 passes for 634 yards and five touchdowns last season.
8. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have a ton of depth at receiver, starting with Chad Bumphis. The junior has yet to really break out, but this could be the year he finally puts it together. Alongside him, Mississippi State has Chris Smith, Brandon Heavens and Arceto Clark, who all had solid springs. Those four combined for 115 catches last fall. The Bulldogs also have a host of young receivers who appear ready to compete.

9. Auburn: There is still some talent left on the Plains at receiver. Sure, Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery are gone, but the Tigers will look to Emory Blake and Trovon Reed to make up for their departures. Blake is the leading returning receiver, while Reed will be used all over the field by Auburn’s coaches. He can be a threat in the slot and on the outside. Philip Lutzenkirchen will be more of a staple in the offense as the Tigers’ trusted H-back.

10. Ole Miss: Athletically, the Rebels are fine. However, this group is very inexperienced and was inconsistent this spring. The incoming freshmen will have every opportunity to take a starting spot and Tobias Singleton could be the best option of Ole Miss’ youngsters. Of the returners, Melvin Harris did the most in 2010, catching 30 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Vincent Sanders will also get a chance to heavily contribute after making strong strides this spring.

11. Vanderbilt: Four of Vanderbilt’s five receiving leaders return, but the group wasn’t tremendously productive last fall. The Commodores didn’t have a receiver go over 320 yards last season and tight end Brandon Barden caught a team-high 34 passes for 425 yards. Vanderbilt's top two wideouts -- John Cole and Jonathan Krause -- are back, but the Commodores might have to turn to their youngsters for help.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost a lot when do-everything Randall Cobb left early for the NFL and things didn’t get any better by losing No. 2 wideout Chris Matthews. Now, it’s back to the drawing board in Lexington. La'Rod King should be the top target for quarterback Morgan Newton, but he disappointed at times this spring. Matt Roark and E.J. Fields will compete for time, but both need vast improvement. The top athlete could be Brian Adams, but he spent spring playing for Kentucky’s baseball team.

The 2010 'Recruiting Nobody Dream Team'

February, 1, 2011
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It’s time for our annual “Recruiting Nobody Dream Team” in the SEC.

These are guys who weren’t prep All-Americans, and in most cases, weren't very highly recruited all, but wound up being outstanding players this season. Several of them earned All-SEC and even All-America honors.

It’s a reminder to all the recruiting junkies out there not to dismiss those two- and three-star prospects your school signs on Wednesday.

Once you get on the practice field, stars don’t mean anything.

Here’s a look at our 2010 team, consisting of 15 players:

Auburn receiver Darvin Adams: The Tigers’ leading receiver the past two seasons, pulling in a combined 16 touchdown catches. Coming out of high school, Adams was ranked as the No. 90 wide receiver prospect in the country by ESPN. His only official visit was to Auburn.

[+] EnlargeAuburn's Nick Fairley
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIRENick Fairley was ranked as the No. 32 offensive tackle coming out of high school. Last season he won the Lombardi Award and was one of the most dominant defensive players in college football.
Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard: He had 19 rushing touchdowns and led the Bulldogs in rushing with 968 yards. He was unranked at his position coming out of high school by ESPN. He had an offer from Houston pulled late and signed with Jackson State. He ended up going to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before transferring to Mississippi State.

Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette: The Hogs’ sack leader with seven this season and a second-team All-SEC selection. Bequette was unranked at his position by ESPN coming out of high school. Kansas State was his only other scholarship offer.

Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden: He just missed 1,000 yards rushing this season and also led the Rebels with 32 catches. Bolden was unranked at his position by ESPN coming out of high school, and even though he was from Baton Rouge, La., LSU’s only interest in him was as a defensive player.

South Carolina offensive guard Garrett Chisolm: A former walk-on who emerged this season as the Gamecocks’ best offensive lineman and a second-team All-SEC selection by the coaches. Chisolm attended South Carolina in 2008, but didn’t play football.

Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb: A star quarterback in high school who lived about 15 minutes from Neyland Stadium. Tennessee didn’t seriously recruit him until the very end. Cobb set an SEC record this season with 2,396 all-purpose yards and was second in the SEC with 84 receptions. He earned several first-team All-America honors.

LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu: One of the best freshmen in the SEC this season, Mathieu was ranked as the No. 36 cornerback prospect nationally in the 2010 class. LSU picked up on him at one of its camps. The other schools recruiting him at the time were Tulane, SMU, Miami (Ohio), Southern Miss, Louisiana-Monroe and Florida International.

Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley: The Lombardi Award winner this season and most dominant defensive tackle in college football. Fairley was ranked as an offensive tackle coming out of high school in 2007, No. 32 nationally. He didn’t qualify academically and went to junior college for two years before returning to Auburn.

Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward: Tied for second this season in the SEC with six interceptions, Hayward will be one of the top returning cornerbacks in the league next season. He was unranked at his position by ESPN coming out of high school. His other offers were Southern Miss, Troy and Middle Tennessee.

Alabama safety Robert Lester: In his first season as a starter, Lester tied for second nationally with eight interceptions. He was ranked as the No. 39 safety in the 2008 class, and a lot of people thought he might have been more of a throw-in to help get his high school teammate, Julio Jones.

Arkansas offensive tackle DeMarcus Love: A first-team All-SEC selection, Love was the anchor of the Hogs’ offensive line at left tackle. Coming out of high school in Dallas, he was ranked as the No. 78 offensive guard prospect in the 2006 class and chose Arkansas over Kansas.

Tennessee linebacker Nick Reveiz: A former walk-on who earned a scholarship at Tennessee, Reveiz was a team captain each of the past two years and tied for fifth in the SEC this season with 108 tackles.

South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor: A first-team All-SEC selection, Taylor led the Gamecocks with 13 tackles for loss. He was ranked as the No. 72 defensive end prospect coming out of high school and chose South Carolina over Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Duke and Kentucky.

Kentucky linebacker Danny Trevathan: The SEC’s tackles leader this season with 144. Trevathan was also a first-team All-SEC selection. But coming out of high school, he was unranked at his position by ESPN. His other official visits were Purdue and Central Florida.

Mississippi State linebacker Chris White: A first-team All-SEC selection, White led the Bulldogs this season with 15.5 tackles for loss. He was unranked at his position coming out of high school and attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. South Florida and South Alabama were his only other offers.

Auburn loses more offensive firepower

January, 18, 2011
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With the announcement Monday that Auburn junior receiver Darvin Adams had also decided to turn pro, the question only intensified on the Plains: Who's going to make the plays on offense next season?

Cam Newton was clearly that guy this season, accounting for 51 touchdowns and passing and running his way to the Heisman Trophy. But after one season, he's gone. So, too, are his top two receivers in Terrell Zachery and Adams.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will certainly have his work cut out next season, but it's not like the Tigers are without talent at the offensive skill positions. Running backs Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb return as one of the best one-two punches in the league. And don't forget about receiver Trovon Reed, who was going to be a big part of the offense this season as a freshman, but was slowed by a knee injury and redshirted.

Emory Blake, who will be a junior, showed what he could do this season with eight touchdown catches, including a 30-yarder in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game. Perhaps next season is when we see the highly touted DeAngelo Benton finally make his mark.

Barrett Trotter, who will be a junior, is probably the guy to beat at quarterback. But as we've seen in the past, Malzahn is not adverse to opening up that position to genuine competition in the spring.

Over and above the skill players the Tigers are losing on offense, the real concern is up front. Auburn loses four senior starters on the offensive line. Those guys played every meaningful snap this season and were a big reason Auburn was so consistent offensively.

Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, who's returning after talking to Texas about its offensive line job, will have to rebuild that offensive line in the spring.

Video: Auburn's Darvin Adams

January, 11, 2011
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Mark Schlabach talks with Auburn receiver Darvin Adams about the title game win.


Chris Low talks with the receiver about Monday's game against Oregon.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It’s impossible to put a value on what Cam Newton has meant to Auburn’s football team this season.

Without him, his teammates freely admit that they wouldn’t be here right now soaking up the desert sun and preparing for what they hope will be their first national championship in 57 years.

[+] EnlargeOnterio McCalebb
AP Photo/Austin McAfeeRB Onterio McCalebb should provide Auburn explosiveness out of the backfield in 2012.
He’s accounted for 49 touchdowns. He’s passed for 2,589 yards. He’s rushed for 1,409 yards. He leads the country in passing efficiency.

As Oregon cornerback Talmadge Jackson says, Newton creates some things a lot of quarterbacks can’t.

And what Auburn has created is the ideal supporting cast to go around its Heisman Trophy winner.

Newton might be the marquee offensive playmaker on this team, but he’s far from the only playmaker.

“It’s really been the perfect year for us as far as personnel,” Auburn senior offensive tackle Lee Ziemba said. “Everybody has contributed.”

The Tigers have had 11 different players score offensive touchdowns, and eight of the 11 have scored at least four touchdowns.

What’s more, 10 different players have gains from scrimmage of 30 yards or longer this season.

And three different players, including Newton, have each rushed for more than 750 yards.

“We have a lot of different people who can beat you,” Newton said. “It’s not just me.”

The beauty of it for Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is that it’s been a different player in every game stepping forward to complement Newton with key plays.

In fact, there might not have been a more important offensive play all season for the Tigers than Onterio McCalebb’s 70-yard touchdown run on a sweep to break a 17-17 deadlock against LSU.

Auburn had run up and down the field that day and piled up gaudy offensive numbers, but couldn’t shake loose from LSU. McCalebb’s dash to the end zone with 5:05 to play was the decisive blow.

McCalebb, the Tigers’ speed option at running back, scored 10 touchdowns this season. Seven of them were 12 yards or longer, and four were 49 yards or longer.

“In the second half, when teams are tired, that speed is even more of a factor,” Newton said.

Against Alabama, Emory Blake’s 36-yard touchdown catch in the waning minutes of the first half finally got Auburn on the board. And then in the opening minute of the second half, Terrell Zachery pulled in a 70-yard bomb for a touchdown to set in motion the greatest comeback in Iron Bowl history.

A week later against South Carolina in the SEC championship game, it was Darvin Adams snaring Newton’s Hail Mary for a 51-yard touchdown right before halftime on a pass that was deflected in the end zone. The Gamecocks were never the same the rest of the way.

Earlier in the first quarter, Adams got behind the South Carolina secondary for a 54-yard touchdown.

The Tigers head into Monday night’s Tostitos BCS National Championship Game with 25 offensive touchdowns of 25 yards or longer. That's tied for second nationally with Hawaii. Oregon leads the way with 27.

“Big plays are contagious,” Ziemba said. “Coach Malzahn tells us that. This offense is at its best when it goes 5 yards, 5 yards, 5 yards and then 30 yards. That’s what this offense is built on, and a lot of different people are a part of that.”

Newton has gone to every one of them, too, at different points in the season.

Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen had three of his five touchdown catches in the final three games of the season.

“We’re fortunate enough to have talented enough players that when they’re called on, they can make plays,” Malzahn said. “They’re very good at what they do and fit well around Cam.”

Senior receiver Kodi Burns, who actually threw a touchdown pass this season to Newton, added, “Pretty much anybody who touches it on offense can take it the distance. That’s really what this offense is about, taking what the defense gives you, but at the same time, having explosive plays.”

Oregon’s defenders say they won’t be lulled to sleep by focusing only on Newton and forgetting about everybody else.

Still, it’s obvious where most of their attention will be concentrated Monday night.

“If you look at their offense, they do have a lot of playmakers, and they’re very balanced,” Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews said. “But Cam is what makes their offense go.”

No more living on the edge for Tigers

December, 4, 2010
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ATLANTA -- Obviously, Auburn was tired of the drama.

Then again, maybe the Tigers finally decided that living on the edge wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Better yet, maybe there was something else in play Saturday, a deeper meaning to Auburn’s 56-17 destruction of South Carolina in an SEC championship game that was never really in doubt.

That is, unless you count the Gamecocks’ drive right before halftime to seemingly swing momentum to their side.

[+] EnlargeAuburn's Darvin Adams
AP Photo/ Thomas GraningDarvin Adams hauls in a 51-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half, a Hail Mary that put Auburn up 28-14.
That momentum was gone in a matter of seconds, thanks to Cam Newton’s 51-yard touchdown heave that Darvin Adams caught on a deflection on the final play of the half.

It’s the play everybody will remember from this game.

But this was Auburn’s game from the outset, the Tigers at their finest and the version of the Tigers they say everybody can expect to see when the stakes get even higher five weeks from now.

That’s right, and don’t think the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game wasn’t on anybody’s mind in and around that Auburn locker room as the Tigers celebrated their first SEC title since 2004.

It’s fair to say there were a few mentions of Oregon.

“If we play like this in the next game, I don’t feel like anybody can stop us,” said Auburn junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who was pretty unstoppable himself Saturday.

For that matter, Auburn’s entire defense was, and for a change, the Tigers didn’t wait until the second half to clamp down.

South Carolina did manage two touchdowns in the first half, but had the ball twice more inside the Auburn 35 and came away empty-handed each time.

“People say our defense is suspect. I’ve been hearing that all year,” Fairley huffed. “All that does is give us motivation to go shut people down.”

With the Tigers reeling off 28 unanswered points during one of their patented runs, all the Gamecocks could muster in the second half was a field goal.

“Coach (Gene) Chizik told us there was no need to be playing from behind this time,” said Adams, who set an SEC championship game record with 217 receiving yards. “This is a game we wanted to hit them from the jump.”

Sure enough, the Tigers (13-0) scored touchdowns on their first three possessions.

Even though the Gamecocks fought back, it was obvious they weren’t going to be able to match the Tigers touchdown for touchdown, especially with the defense playing one its most complete games of the season.

“We came out this game from the ground running,” Fairley said. “That’s the way you’re supposed to play, all four quarters. We wanted to let the world know that our defense is not a joke. That’s what we proved tonight, that our defense is no joke.”

[+] EnlargeAuburn's Cam Newton
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAuburn players carried quarterback Cam Newton on their shoulders following the Tigers' win over South Carolina in the SEC title game.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said it was refreshing just to finally be able to enjoy a fourth quarter.

“You don’t know how much that Alabama game aged all of us,” Malzahn said.

That comeback from 24 points down in Tuscaloosa was the fourth time this season the Tigers had rallied from at least a two-touchdown deficit to win the game.

“We weren’t going to put ourselves in that position again,” Auburn senior linebacker Josh Bynes said. “I’ve been saying that if we play like we do in the third and fourth quarter in the first and second, we can be the most dominant defense and the most unbeatable team in the nation.

“It showed today.”

Consider it a message sent, too.

From afar, Auburn has had its eye on Oregon for some time, and you can bet Oregon has caught a few of the Tigers’ highlights here and there.

The offensive approaches of the two teams are similar. Only when they hit the half-century mark do they even begin to think about shifting back into third gear. Their defenses have been maligned at times, and they like to play at a pace better suited for speed skating.

“They’ve been finishing their opponents off all year, just like us,” Bynes said. “It’s the two best teams in the nation going at it, and we’ll see who’s the best.”

And while nobody was taking for granted what an SEC championship would mean to everybody on the Plains, Bynes used a golf analogy to describe where it goes from here for the Tigers.

That’s despite Bynes admitting, behind one of his familiar smiles, that he doesn’t even play golf.

“This was like a nine-hole golf tournament,” Bynes said. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s nine holes you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and now we’re on the back nine. How are we going to finish the game? How are we going to finish this season?

“That’s what we’ve got to do when we go to Glendale. We finished that front nine. Now, let’s go finish this back nine and be national champions.”

video

Video: Auburn's Darvin Adams

December, 4, 2010
12/04/10
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Chris Low talks with Auburn receiver Darvin Adams about his big day in the SEC title game.

At the half: Auburn 28, S. Carolina 14

December, 4, 2010
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ATLANTA -- Auburn, scoring touchdowns on its first three possessions, leads South Carolina 28-14 at the half Saturday in the SEC championship game.

Here’s a quick halftime analysis:

Turning point: South Carolina had just pulled within 21-14 in the final seconds of the half and appeared to have all the momentum going into the locker room, but Auburn quarterback Cam Newton heaved a Hail Mary toward the end zone that Darvin Adams caught on the deflection for a 51-yard touchdown on the final offensive play of the half. South Carolina’s DeVonte Holloman actually knocked the ball up, allowing Adams to catch the ball behind him in the end zone.

Player of the half: Adams was sensational for the Tigers. He piled up 217 receiving yards in the first half -- breaking the SEC championship game record for receiving yards in a game. He caught touchdown passes of 54 and 51 yards.

Stat of the half: The 42 points scored in the first half broke the SEC championship game record for most points scored in the first half.

What South Carolina needs to do: For starters, the Gamecocks need to cover somebody. Their tackling got a little better as the first half progressed, but their coverage and overall play in the secondary has been horrendous.

A championship-caliber drive

October, 30, 2010
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OXFORD, Miss. -- Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is always setting something up on down the road with misdirection, fakes, movement.

The Tigers' 12-play, 98-yard touchdown drive was a mixture of a little bit of everything and capped by Cam Newton's 24-yard touchdown pass to Darvin Adams.

The thing that's so difficult about defending Auburn's offense is that you're never completely sure who has the ball, and Newton sells his fakes extremely well.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 3

September, 19, 2010
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With three weeks in the books, let the hype begin for two huge showdowns in the SEC next week.

Alabama travels to Arkansas and South Carolina travels to Auburn. The four teams are a combined 12-0.

Before we start looking too far ahead, though, let’s take a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 3:

Mark Ingram
AP Photo/Sara D. DavisMark Ingram was back to his old self in Saturday's win over Duke.
1. Alabama’s dominance: It’s hard to argue at this point that Alabama isn’t the class of the SEC by a wide margin, although we’re going to find out for sure over these next three weeks. The Crimson Tide have been dominant, their latest conquest a 62-13 demolition of Duke on Saturday. David Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils’ coach, said afterward that it’s the best Alabama team he’s ever coached against, and Cutcliffe saw his share of powerful Alabama teams as a longtime assistant at Tennessee. Similar to the past two years, there just doesn’t appear to be any weaknesses with this Alabama team despite all the great players the Crimson Tide lost on defense from a year ago. Offensively, they’re more explosive than they’ve ever been, especially with Mark Ingram back as good as new from his knee surgery. If they need to win a shootout, they can. Yet, they’ve given up only one meaningless touchdown in their first three games on defense. What’s that old saying about reloading?

2. Florida’s offensive problems: After three games, it’s safe to say that Florida’s offensive problems are real. It’s not just a mirage we’ve all witnessed these first three weeks, and the reality is that maybe this is simply who the Gators are offensively right now. They start poorly. They’re not real creative, at least not to this point. They don’t throw the ball down the field very well. John Brantley’s longest pass remains that 25-yard heave against Miami (Ohio) that was tipped around and caught for a touchdown by Chris Rainey at the end of the game. They’ve struggled to make the tough yards, and Brantley is still learning on the job. He’s yet to throw for more than 175 yards in a game. They’re leaning on Jeff Demps, and he’s no doubt a special player. But at this rate, he’ll have a difficult time getting out of bed by the sixth week of the season. Simply, this is an offense that has to get a lot better if the Gators are going to even think about winning their third SEC championship in the past five years.

3. Door wide open for Gamecocks: That smacking sound you’re hearing coming out of Columbia, S.C., is the Head Ball Coach licking his lips. It goes without saying that this is unequivocally his best chance to get to Atlanta and play for the SEC championship since he took the South Carolina job in 2005. For one, this is his most complete football team at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks already have a key Eastern Division win over Georgia. Secondly, when you survey the rest of the East, South Carolina makes as much sense as anybody to win the division. The offenses in the East have all had their issues the first three weeks. In fact, Kentucky might have the best offense of the bunch. But the Gamecocks have a go-to running back in freshman Marcus Lattimore, some big, physical receiving threats in the passing game and a defense that’s always going to be a load under Ellis Johnson. The one thing working against the Gamecocks is their schedule. They have to play at Auburn and at Florida, with Alabama and Arkansas both coming to Columbia. Still, you get the feeling that if the Gamecocks are ever going to do it, this is their year.

4. Great receivers galore: When we did our preseason countdown of the Top 25 players in the SEC, eight of those players were either receivers or tight ends. The first three weeks of this season has only confirmed that the guys catching footballs in this league are a cut above, and the best one has yet to play. Georgia’s A.J. Green still has one more game to sit as part of his NCAA-mandated suspension, and the Bulldogs miss his quick-strike ability immensely. But look at all the other receivers and tight ends off to great starts in this league. Auburn’s Darvin Adams had been sort of quiet, but erupted Saturday against Clemson in the second half. Arkansas has three players among the league leaders -- receivers Greg Childs and Joe Adams and tight end D.J. Williams. South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery and Alabama’s Julio Jones have both been sensational to this point, and there’s not a better all-around player in college football than Kentucky’s Randall Cobb.

5. Commodore pride: It had been a rough ride for the Vanderbilt football program. Ten straight SEC losses has a way of wearing on anybody, especially when you’d scored just five offensive touchdowns during that stretch. But first-year coach Robbie Caldwell, his staff and his players kept the faith and never quit plugging along. That pride was obvious Saturday in the 28-14 win at Ole Miss. The Commodores were playing without a couple of key players in their secondary (safety Jay Fullam and cornerback Jamie Graham) and lost defensive tackle and co-captain T.J. Greenstone early in the game to an ankle injury. Still, they forced three turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown by Eddie Foster, recovered from a dismal first quarter offensively to rush for 227 yards and proved emphatically that there’s still a lot of fight left in a team that some people left for dead following last week’s 27-3 home loss to LSU.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 19, 2010
9/19/10
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Time to hand out our version of the game balls in SEC country.

A couple of great games highlighted the day -- Auburn’s overtime win against Clemson and Arkansas’ win in the final seconds at Georgia -- and there was also the return of a great player.

That’s where we’ll start with our Week 3 helmet stickers:

Alabama running back Mark Ingram: For a guy who had knee surgery in late August, Ingram couldn’t have looked any better. He was fabulous for the Crimson Tide in their 62-13 mauling of Duke. Ingram popped loose for 48 yards on the first offensive play of the game. He ran for 50 yards on his third carry of the game and had 119 rushing yards on five carries by halftime. He finished with 151 yards on nine carries, serving notice that he is indeed back after missing the first two games. Who knows? He might be right back in the Heisman Trophy race, too.

Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell: His own team awarded him the game ball after Vanderbilt snapped its 10-game SEC losing streak with a 28-14 victory at Ole Miss. Caldwell had vowed that the Commodores would hang in there after losing 27-3 last week at home to LSU, and that’s exactly what they did. Even after Ole Miss came back to tie the game at 14-14, Vanderbilt never blinked and made every play it needed to to send the Rebels packing. Warren Norman had an 80-yard touchdown run. The offensive line paved the way for 227 rushing yards, and the defense forced three turnovers.

Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett: Forget about the big numbers for a minute. Yes, he threw three more touchdown passes and has nine in his first three games. But when the Hogs needed him Saturday, Mallett was there front and center. He engineered a three-play touchdown drive with just 47 seconds to play, which was capped by Mallett’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Greg Childs. There was never any panic in Mallett’s eyes. He just wanted the ball one more time, and he delivered in the biggest win the Hogs have had under Bobby Petrino to date.

Auburn receiver Darvin Adams: The SEC is full of outstanding receivers, and Adams is certainly one of them. Despite catching 10 touchdown passes last season, he still probably didn’t get the credit he deserved. He’ll get plenty of props after his five-catch, 118-yard performance in the 27-24 overtime win against Clemson. Adams was a big part of the Tigers’ comeback in the second half. He had four catches for 95 yards after halftime, including an 8-yard touchdown catch and another 34-yard catch that set up a touchdown.

LSU place-kicker Josh Jasper: On a night when the LSU offense couldn’t find the end zone as much as it wanted to, Jasper came on to break his own school record with five field goals in a 29-7 win over Mississippi State. He connected from 51, 44, 37, 32 and 21 yards and is now 7-of-8 on field goal attempts this season.

Momentum swing for Auburn

September, 18, 2010
9/18/10
9:34
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AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn has made this a game in the second half, thanks to quarterback Cam Newton. He accounted for 47 yards in a 61-yard scoring drive, including a 34-yard pass to Darvin Adams. Auburn now trails, 17-10, with about eight minutes left in the third quarter.

That's the Newton we saw in the first two games of the season -- the one who can run. The crowd here is deafening again. Jordan Hare Stadium -- and Auburn's offense -- woke up.

SEC position rankings: Receivers

July, 22, 2010
7/22/10
9:05
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It’s a great year for receivers/tight ends in the SEC.

Six wide receivers and two tight ends made my list of the top 25 players in the league heading into the 2010 season.

Here’s how the receiving corps, including the tight ends, rank in the SEC:

[+] EnlargeGreg Childs
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireGreg Childs caught 48 passes for 897 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
1. Arkansas: The Hogs have five players returning who combined for 22 touchdown catches last season. Junior receiver Greg Childs led the SEC in league games in receiving yards, yards-per-catch and touchdown receptions. D.J. Williams is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country, and junior receiver Joe Adams has few peers after the catch. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino says sophomore Cobi Hamilton might be the best of the bunch. In short, Ryan Mallett will have his pick of who to throw to this season.

2. Georgia: Junior receiver A.J. Green is one of the most feared offensive threats in the SEC and is considered by many to be the top receiver in the country. If you get the ball in the vicinity, he’s going to catch it. The Bulldogs will have more than just Green, too. Tight end Orson Charles is a mismatch nightmare for defenses, and receivers Tavarres King and Kris Durham will also make their share of plays. The Bulldogs go three-deep at tight end with Aron White and Bruce Figgins backing up Charles.

3. South Carolina: If you have smaller cornerbacks, you want no part of the Gamecocks’ twosome of Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley. Jeffery’s 6-foot-4 and Gurley is 6-5, and they both can go get the football. Jeffery finished his freshman season with six touchdown catches and has NFL written all over him. Sophomore receiver D.L. Moore, another 6-4 guy, was one of the stars of the spring, and the Gamecocks have a couple of options at tight end, although Weslye Saunders may be in hot water with the NCAA. Even so, former fullback Patrick DiMarco ended the spring No. 1 on the depth chart at tight end.

4. Alabama: The best thing about Alabama’s passing attack last season was the way Greg McElroy was able to spread the ball around. And when the Crimson Tide needed a play, it was always somebody different stepping up. Julio Jones is healthy now and should return to his freshman form. He’s one of the league’s most physical receivers and a tough matchup for anybody one-on-one. His running mates at receiver, Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks, are also big-play threats in their own right. They combined for five touchdown catches a year ago, and each averaged more than 16 yards per catch.

5. LSU: Even with Brandon LaFell's departure, the Tigers are still brimming with talent at the receiver position. Terrance Toliver returns for his senior season after catching 53 passes for 735 yards a year ago. The 6-5, 206-pound Toliver will have plenty of help, too. Russell Shepard has moved to receiver full time after spending most of his freshman season at quarterback. Shepard is a dynamic athlete who just needs to learn the ins and outs of the position. Also look for receiver Rueben Randle to make a big jump from his freshman season. Randle has the size and speed to be a great one.

6. Auburn: Darvin Adams didn’t get the credit he deserved last season after catching 10 touchdown passes and coming out of nowhere to be the Tigers’ go-to guy in the passing game. He’s not going to surprise anybody this season, not after the way he flourished a year ago in Gus Malzahn’s system. Terrell Zachery also returns after catching five touchdowns and averaging 18.3 yards per catch. Emory Blake and DeAngelo Benton are two more wideouts the Tigers expect big things out of along with tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen. The newcomer to watch is freshman slot Trovan Reed.

7. Florida: When you consider all of the great receivers the Gators have had over the years, it’s a little strange to see them in the middle of the pack. The potential is there for a breakout year, but there’s a lot of questions that still need to be answered. Can Deonte Thompson be more consistent? Is Andre Debose as good as everybody around the program thinks he is, and how do the Gators ever replace Aaron Hernandez’s production at tight end?

8. Tennessee: It’s always nice to have a tight end who can make things happen after the catch, and senior Luke Stocker returns as one of the steadiest playmakers on the Vols’ roster. Senior receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore have also made their share of plays the past few seasons. Moore is the faster of the two, but Jones is crafty in the open field and can turn short tosses into big gains. The Vols also can’t wait to get a look at freshman Da’Rick Rogers in an orange jersey. He’s one of the highest-rated freshman receivers coming into the league.

9. Kentucky: Randall Cobb alone probably merits a higher ranking. He’s that good and one of those guys who’s always ending up in the end zone. Cobb scored 15 touchdown last season. Chris Matthews (6-5, 222 pounds) has great size and can also run. The second season in the program is when junior college transfers typically catch on, and Matthews showed this spring that he might be ready to take some of the pressure off Cobb. The Wildcats still need some of the other younger receivers to make a move this season and build more depth.

10. Ole Miss: The starters are seniors Markeith Summers and Lionel Breaux, and both were regulars in the rotation a year ago. But Summers is the leading returning receiver on the team, and he caught 17 passes, which tells you what a big part of the passing game the Rebels are losing in Shay Hodge. Summers has big-play ability and averaged 23.2 yards per catch last season. The player who could really jump-start the Rebels’ passing game is sophomore Jesse Grandy. He was electric as a return specialist a year ago, but only caught four passes.

11. Mississippi State: Chad Bumphis was one of the most promising freshman receivers in the SEC last season, and junior college newcomer Leon Berry also made an immediate impact in his first season in Starkville. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen will be the first to tell you that the Bulldogs are still a little thin at receiver, especially running the spread. Junior Marcus Green is solid at tight end.

12. Vanderbilt: As much as Larry Smith struggled at quarterback last season, it wasn’t like he had a bevy of big-play targets to throw to. John Cole was the Commodores’ most consistent receiver, but he couldn’t do it alone. This season, they’re hopeful that redshirt freshman Brady Brown can keep coming and that a pair of 6-4 true freshmen, Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, can make immediate impacts. There’s not a player on the team who caught more than one touchdown pass a year ago. Tight ends Brandon Barden and Austin Monahan will also play key roles.

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