NCF Nation: Dominique Easley

Big 12 media days live: Day 2

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
9:40
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The Big 12 media days continue on Tuesday in Dallas, as Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and new Texas coach Charlie Strong each take the stage. Keep this page open throughout the day's proceedings as we bring you the latest from our reporters, who will cover all 10 teams at the event.

When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.
It was another successful first round of the NFL draft for the SEC, even if one star had to wait a lot longer than he expected.

By the time the night was over, Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick, Johnny Manziel was in Cleveland, and the SEC led all conferences with 11 picks in the first round.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesAs expected, Jadeveon Clowney was the top pick among the SEC's NFL draft prospects.
The first 10 picks were littered with SEC talent, as Clowney went first to the Houston Texans, Greg Robinson went second to the St. Louis Rams, Jake Matthews went sixth to the Atlanta Falcons, and Mike Evans went seventh to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The real drama of the night came with Manziel Watch. The former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner was at one point expected to go No. 1 overall. Then, there was no way he was getting out of the first five picks. Then, the Dallas Cowboys were thought to be the favorites to land him in the middle of the first round.

But Manziel tumbled all the way down to No. 22 when the Cleveland Browns traded with the Philadelphia Eagles to get college football's most exciting player. Many thought Cleveland would end up being the destination for Manziel, but dropping that far was a surprise. Something tells me Manziel will be pretty fired up to prove a lot of people wrong about passing on him.

There were a couple of other first-round surprises concerning the SEC, too. For starters, former Tennessee offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James went 19th to the Miami Dolphins after being projected as a second-rounder. Former Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who missed most of the 2013 season after suffering an ACL injury, was drafted by the New England Patriots with the 29th pick. And former Auburn defensive end Dee Ford was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 23 after being projected as a second-rounder.

Here's a complete look at how the SEC fared in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft:

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina -- Houston Texans

2. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn -- St. Louis Rams

6. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M -- Atlanta Falcons

7. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers

12. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU -- New York Giants

17. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama -- Baltimore Ravens

19. Ja'Wuan James, OT, Tennessee -- Miami Dolphins

21. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama -- Green Bay Packers

22. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M -- Cleveland Browns

23. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn -- Kansas City Chiefs

29. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida -- New England Patriots

SEC shoes to fill in 2014

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
4:10
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Earlier, we took a look at some of the underclassmen leaving the SEC and who could replace them at their respective schools. Now it's time to look at 14 pairs of the biggest shoes to fill in the SEC in 2014.

These are either graduates or guys who decided to take their talents to the NFL early. It's never easy to replace top players, but the SEC has a tendency to just reload. Let's see if SEC teams can replace these 14 studs:

ALABAMA

AJ McCarron, QB: He won two national championships and went 36-4 as a starter for Alabama. He was also the first Crimson Tide quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and was an excellent leader. Alabama must now turn to junior Blake Sims and a host of youngsters to fill his spot as Alabama's starter.

ARKANSAS

Zach Hocker, K: A kicker? You bet. Hocker finished his career as the SEC's active career leader in extra points made, extra points attempted, field goals made, field goals attempted points. Hocker ranked in the top-five nationally among active players in field goals made, points, extra points made, extra points attempted and field goals attempted. He was also excellent on kickoffs and has no true heir in 2014.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI Tre Mason's productivity won't be easy to replace for Auburn.
AUBURN

Tre Mason, RB: Replacing the guy who set the single-season school record for rushing yards (1,816) and total offense (2,374) won't be easy at all. Mason carried Auburn's offense for most of the season and led the SEC in rushing and rushing touchdowns (23). The Tigers now turn to Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, who both rushed for more than 600 yards and six touchdowns last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Racean Thomas.

FLORIDA

Dominique Easley, DT: Though his season was cut short by an ACL injury, Easley was so dominant when he was on the field. He was the type of player who didn't have flashy stats but created so many plays for other people. Losing someone as disruptive as Easley really showed as the season continued, as the Gators failed to get consistent pressure on opposing backfields. Leon Orr and Darious Cummings get first crack at trying to replace Easley.

GEORGIA

Aaron Murray, QB: He won a handful of games, went to two SEC championship games and broke a ton of SEC records. Now, Murray is gone, and Hutson Mason has been given the duty of replacing one of the most decorated quarterbacks to ever play in the SEC. Mason got his feet wet early when Murray went down late with an ACL injury, but now this is his team and it's his turn to be a leader.

KENTUCKY

Avery Williamson, LB: In his last two seasons in Lexington, Williamson totaled 237 tackles, including 116 solo stops. A leader of the defense, Williamson was all over the field, and it might take a committee to fill his shoes both in games and in the locker room. Kentucky was able to do more when Williamson was on the field, and now the Wildcats will need to find a new spark at linebacker.

LSU

Zach Mettenberger, QB: We got to really see what Mettenberger was capable of once he got comfortable running Cam Cameron's offense. He was third in the SEC with 3,082 passing yards and threw 22 touchdowns. His big-league arm and awareness will truly be missed, as the Tigers turn to a band of inexperienced quarterbacks, starting with Anthony Jennings.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Gabe Jackson, OG: Quietly, he was one of the country's best guards in 2013. He was the anchor of the Bulldogs' line and was arguably the team's best overall player in 2013. Mississippi State has Justin Malone returning from a season-ending foot injury, while former walk-on Ben Beckwith, who replaced Malone, and Jamaal Clayborn should compete for one of the guard spots.

MISSOURI

E.J. Gaines, CB: If not for Gaines' play, Missouri's secondary would have been in a lot of trouble last season. That means the loss of arguably the SEC's best cover corner will hurt that much more in 2014. What will make things even tougher for the Tigers is that two other seniors from the secondary will also be gone, but replacing Gaines is easily the toughest job of all.

OLE MISS

Donte Moncrief, WR: He might not have had the same sort of season as he did in 2012, but Moncrief was yet again Ole Miss' top offensive weapon in 2013. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's such a tough player to cover with his size and strength. He could hit the big play deep or make the tough catches in traffic. The loss of Moncrief now puts the pressure on sophomore-to-be Laquon Treadwell, who led the Rebels in receptions.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson will get the first crack at replacing Connor Shaw as South Carolina's QB.
SOUTH CAROLINA

Connor Shaw, QB: With all due respect to future top-five pick Jadeveon Clowney, Shaw's play, toughness and leadership will be tougher to replace in Columbia. He was the heart of this team and played through all sorts of pain to help lead the Gamecocks to their third straight 11-win season. Dylan Thompson backed him up for the past two seasons and now has to job of following Shaw's impressive career.

TENNESSEE

Antonio Richardson, OT: One of the best offensive linemen in the league, Richardson will be very tough for the Vols to replace in 2014, especially with young quarterbacks littering the backfield. Making matters worse is that the rest of the entire starting offensive line will be gone too. But not having that anchor at left tackle hurts the most.

TEXAS A&M

Johnny Manziel, QB: Yeah, like replacing all the on-field theatrics from someone who won the Heisman Trophy and produced 9,989 career yards of offense and 93 touchdowns will be easy. Manziel could hurt a defense with his arm and legs and was only contained a few times during his two seasons as the Aggies' starter. No one will be able to produce the entertainment Manziel provided.

VANDERBILT

Jordan Matthews, WR: One of the SEC's best all-time receivers is leaving the league. More importantly, he's leaving a Vanderbilt team that now has to find a consistent go-to receiver for its new quarterback. Sophomore-to-be Jordan Cunningham could be the next in line.

Final SEC Power Rankings

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
1:00
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We're done with the 2013 college football season, so it's time to see how all 14 SEC teams finished the year in our final set of conference power rankings. It was a collaborative effort on our side, and we think it jibes pretty well:

1. Auburn (12-2, 7-1 SEC; last ranking: 1): The Tigers lost a heartbreaker to Florida State in the Vizio BCS National Championship, but they did exactly what Gus Malzahn predicted: make the biggest turnaround in college football. Auburn had the nation's best running game behind Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason and a championship attitude that grew all season. The future looks very bright on the Plains.

2. South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC; LR: 3): With a 10-point victory over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, South Carolina became only the fourth team in the country to win at least 11 games in each of the past two seasons. The Gamecocks made a fun, end-of-the-year run at Atlanta but fell short with a loss to Tennessee and an equally as fun Missouri run.

3. Missouri (12-2, 7-1 SEC; LR: 4): These Tigers also had a magical 2013. After rebounding from a five-win 2012 season, Mizzou won the SEC East Division, displayed one of the conference's best, most explosive offenses and ended the season with a back-and-forth victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Gary Pinkel went from the hot seat to beloved by erasing an ugly SEC debut with a stellar encore.

4. Alabama (11-2, 7-1 SEC; LR: 2): The Crimson Tide's SEC and BCS title game chances ended on a miraculous "Kick Six" by Auburn's Chris Davis in the Iron Bowl. With no national championship at stake for the first time since 2010, Alabama failed to match Oklahoma's toughness and intensity in its 45-31 Allstate Sugar Bowl loss. Despite another impressive regular season, the Tide's chance to make a case as the nation's best team ended inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

5. LSU (10-3, 5-3; LR: 5): We never really knew what we were going to get from these Tigers (so many Tigers!), but after their loss to Alabama on Nov. 9, they closed the season on a tear with three straight wins. Even without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger (ACL) for their bowl game, the Tigers grinded out a 21-14 Outback Bowl win over Iowa on the back of running back Jeremy Hill and his 216 yards and two touchdowns.

6. Texas A&M (9-4, 4-4 SEC; LR: 6): Of course Johnny Manziel went out in style. A month after ending the regular season on a two-game losing streak, Johnny Football helped orchestrate a comeback win after a 21-point halftime deficit to Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl with 455 total yards and five touchdowns. Texas A&M outscored the Blue Devils 35-10 in the second half to win 52-48. What a Johnny Football way to say goodbye.

7. Vanderbilt (9-4, 4-4 SEC; LR: 7): For the first time in school history, Vandy won nine games in back-to-back seasons and consecutive bowl games. The Commodores went undefeated in November for the second straight year and beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season for the first time ever. Their reward? Saying goodbye to coach James Franklin, who left to become Penn State's head coach.

8. Georgia (8-5, 5-3 SEC; LR: 8): The Bulldogs started the season as the favorite to win the East, but injuries and a young, struggling defense knocked Georgia out of contention late. Even with how poorly the defense played at times, you have to wonder what might have been had injuries to receivers and the loss of Todd Gurley for a month not happened. The Bulldogs ended the season with a 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

9. Mississippi State (7-6, 3-5 SEC; LR: 9): What looked like a disaster of a season ended with three consecutive wins. The first two were overtime victories and the last one was a 44-7 blowout of Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Dan Mullen's popularity level in Starkville took a hit, but he enters his fifth season with much higher expectations with a solid offense and defense returning.

10. Ole Miss (8-5, 3-5 SEC; LR: 10): What started as a promising season hit a bit of snag in October before the Rebels reeled off four consecutive victories to turn things around. Ole Miss lost to Missouri and Mississippi State to close the regular season but bounced back with an impressive, 25-17 victory over Georgia Tech in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Eight wins, despite injuries and depth issues, was impressive for Hugh Freeze in his second season.

11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LR: 11): For the third year in a row, the Vols failed to make it to a bowl game, but you can tell that the attitudes are different in Knoxville. There's a bit more excitement with Butch Jones in town, especially after that upset win over No. 11 South Carolina. The next step is development on both sides of the ball. Tennessee struggled with quarterback play all season and owned the SEC's No. 11 defense, allowing 418.4 yards per game.

12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LR: 12): For the first time since 1979, the Gators had a losing season. For the first time in more than 20 years, Florida failed to make a bowl game. The Gators suffered 15 season-ending injuries, 10 to starters, including quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Florida ranked 113th nationally in total offense, lost to Football Championship Subdivision foe Georgia Southern (at home) and said goodbye to offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis after the season.

13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LR: 13): The first year of the Bret Bielema era was a dud on the field, as the Razorbacks lost a school-record nine straight games to close the season. Arkansas owned the SEC's worst passing offense (114th nationally) but had quite the spark in freshman running back Alex Collins. The next step for the Hogs is getting the right players on both sides to fit Bielema's system.

14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LR: 14): It was a tough first season for Mark Stoops in Lexington, but he really was behind from the start. This team struggled with positive consistency, and it didn't help that the staff had to rotate quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow all season. Kentucky was 13th in the SEC in both total offense and total defense.

Muschamp, Gators must make changes

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
11:30
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Want to know the current state of Florida's football program? Take a look at the tape of Florida's home loss to Vanderbilt.

You don't have to look at what's happening on the field. It certainly paints a bleak, unpleasant picture of what this team isn't capable of, but the real eye-opener is in the stands. There were too many empty seats to count and too many boo birds out to ignore.

Even coach Will Muschamp, who keeps his head so buried in football that he usually only notices fans after the final whistle, couldn't help but hear all the chirping after a 34-17 loss to the Commodores.

Right now, it isn't great to be a Florida Gator, and it's clear that if changes aren't made this program could become a laughingstock in the same conference it once sat atop.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesWill Muschamp says he'll evaluate his coaching staff in the offseason.
What sort of change needs to be made? Ask your typical Gators fan and the hammer drops: The head coach, who is finishing out his third season in Gainesville, needs to go. But after a season in which injuries ravaged this squad, is that really the right move? Is that really an option?

From the sound of things, it doesn't look like athletic director Jeremy Foley is ready to pull the plug on Muschamp, who is 22-13 in three years. For one, losing six starters to season-ending injuries, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, defensive tackle Dominique Easley and running back Matt Jones, is something Muschamp couldn't control. The handful of injuries this team has suffered isn't on him. He'll get a pass for that, so talk of Muschamp leaving now is premature.

The change has to come from Muschamp and in his vision for the future. This is the same coach who guided Florida to 11 wins and a BCS bowl game last year, but it's also the same coach who has two four-game losing streaks in three years, the longest such streaks since 1988.

With the Gators losing at home to Vanderbilt for the first time since 1945 (ending their 24-game winning streak against the Commodores) and in jeopardy of missing out on a bowl game for the first time in 22 years (the second-longest streak in the nation), it's clear Muschamp has to reevaluate everything.

He has to find a quarterback, an offensive identity, a tougher offensive line, some playmakers and some discipline. That comes with recruiting, development and coaching. Right now, all three areas have to improve.

Muschamp said on Saturday and again on Monday that he plans to evaluate his coaching staff in the offseason. Expect changes, but would Muschamp be willing to change his offensive philosophy? The offense hasn't made the appropriate strides since coordinator Brent Pease was hired in 2011. It's stale, and it regressed this year. Yes, injuries have been a major factor, and the offensive line has been atrocious, but adjustments haven't been made at critical moments.

This team lacks elite offensive talent and a clear identity. Would Muschamp be willing to go in a more offensive-friendly direction in order to inject some excitement into this team and fan base? Would he be willing to compromise his defense for more points?

Fans certainly hope so.

Muschamp also has to keep this recruiting class together. This might be the most important area going forward because it's simply mind-boggling that the University of Florida is so devoid of offensive talent, despite being in a state that grows those players like it grows oranges. Yes, Urban Meyer left the offensive cupboard bare when he departed, but Muschamp has had some big misses on that side of the ball. Losing out on receivers Stefon Diggs and Nelson Agholor in the 2012 class proved to be debilitating. There just isn't a top-flight receiver on Florida's roster, but the Gators have a commitment from the nation's No. 2 receiver, Ermon Lane. Keeping him is a must.

Florida's class ranks 10th nationally. The Gators have 15 pledges, but the trifecta of Lane, running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback Will Grier (all ESPN 300 members) must make it to Gainesville. They've all said the right things and insist they're all strongly committed to Florida, but this is recruiting. Muschamp has to make sure those three sign because they could hold his future in their hands.

The injuries will vanish in 2014, but the tension with the fan base won't. You'll be able to cut it with a machete, but it can't leak into the locker room. It's an uncomfortable relationship right now between Muschamp and Gator Nation, and you can bet there will be plenty more empty seats next year until the wins return.

It's hard to keep a powerful program like this down for long, but Florida is in bad shape. Muschamp will likely get one more year to right the ship, but you have to think it's Atlanta or bust for him next year.

He deserves more time, but his clock is certainly ticking.

Happy Halloween in the SEC

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
11:00
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It's that special time of year when it's OK to let your inner ghoul come out. It's when that thing that goes bump in the night is standing right behind you, smiling that sinister smile only nightmares can conjure.

Horror movies cover our TV screens, while candy wrappers litter our streets.

It's Nick Saban's birthday! ... Oh, and it's also Halloween.

Regardless of which one you celebrate, cut off the lights, wrap yourself in a blanket and try not to get scared as we look at the most bone-chilling people in the SEC:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe scariest sight in the SEC is Nick Saban leading the Alabama Crimson Tide onto the field.
Jason Voorhees: Alabama just won't go away. Even after losing at least one game in November the past two years, the Crimson Tide have won consecutive BCS national championships. Since 2010, Saban is 33-2 and is riding a 12-game winning streak. A trip to College Station to face Texas A&M didn't get in his way, and at this rate, nothing might keep him from steamrolling into his third straight BCS title game.

Michael Myers: One of the most feared horror movie villains, Myers terrorized the citizens of Haddonfield, Ill., with his frighteningly slow stalk and superhuman strength. Meet Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who torments quarterbacks with more speed and the reputation of being one of the country's scariest players. He has registered a nation-leading 16 tackles for loss and is tied for first with 10 sacks. He has totaled three sacks in a game three times this year.

Freddy Krueger: This season, sleeping on Auburn has proved costly. The Tigers started the season unranked and under new management with Gus Malzahn, but are 7-1 and ranked No. 11 in the BCS standings. The biggest Krueger-esque attack occurred in College Station, when the Tigers upset then-No. 7 Texas A&M 45-41. Two weeks before, Auburn upset No. 24 Ole Miss at home. Could Auburn do the same against Alabama later this month?

The Great Pumpkin: Like Linus waiting in that pumpkin patch on Halloween for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, we've waited for Jadeveon Clowney to return to his old form. Each week, we've been disappointed as Clowney, who entered the season with 21 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in his career, has just two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Teams have schemed him differently and he has dealt with injuries, but he's just not the same player who had garnered so much attention. At least he has the awesome Predator look going!

The Walking Dead: If anyone looks like a stumbling herd of undead walkers, it's Florida and Georgia. These programs have been ravaged by injuries. Florida has dealt with eight season-ending injuries, including to starters Jeff Driskel and Dominique Easley. Nicks and dings have piled up for Florida, too, as just 13 healthy defensive players dressed for the Mizzou game two weeks ago. Georgia watched as running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley went down with season-ending ACL injuries. Nagging injuries have sprinkled around, and heading into Saturday's game with Florida, receiver Chris Conley (ankle) is doubtful and safety Tray Matthews (hamstring) is questionable.

House of horrors: Opponents might wander into South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium for a fun football game, but few leave with a win. The Gamecocks have an SEC-leading 14-game winning streak at home.

Trick: Under Kevin Sumlin, all of Texas A&M's losses (four) have come at home. This year, the Aggies fell to Alabama and Auburn at Kyle Field by a combined 11 points. Not exactly the most intimidating home-field advantage.

The Joker: Arkham Asylum's most heinous inmate and Batman's arch nemesis, the Joker has the ability to manipulate his foes and wreak utter chaos. Kind of like how Johnny Manziel plays. We thought he wouldn't be focused enough this season, so he has churned out 3,091 yards of offense and 28 touchdowns. Defenders think he's going one way, only for him to go the other. Manziel might have dressed up as Scooby Doo last year, but he's as evil as the Joker on the field.

Thriller: The best game of the year has to be Georgia's 44-41 win over LSU. We saw three lead changes, four ties, 943 yards of offense and 85 points. Aaron Murray's touchdown pass to Scott-Wesley with 1:47 remaining proved to be the difference after LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw four straight incomplete passes on LSU's final drive.

Scary: Texas A&M's defense has been the SEC's most terrifying defense to watch. The Aggies rank 111th nationally in total defense, allowing 473.8 yards per game. They're 13th in the SEC in scoring defense (32.6), last in rushing (210.1), 12th in passing (263.6) and are giving up 6.4 yards per play. A&M has allowed fewer than 400 yards just twice this year.

Best costume: Will Muschamp.
ATHENS, Ga. -- The moment Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett's 24-yard overtime field goal attempt dinged off the right upright at Faurot Field on Saturday night, three fan bases exploded.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsMark Richt and his Bulldogs look to stay in the SEC East race with a win over rival Florida.
Clearly, one was South Carolina, which had just pulled off the 27-24, come-from-behind win, but at the exact same moment, Florida and Georgia fans, players and coaches celebrated at once, as they climbed right back into the SEC Eastern Division race.

"I felt like we had just won a game," said Georgia wide receiver Rhett McGowan, sporting the same boyish smile he likely had late Saturday night.

While both programs, which face each other in their annual Outdoor Party in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, are unranked with identical 4-3 (3-2 SEC) records, they scored major victories without playing a down. Mizzou's loss resurrected the Dawgs and Gators, even though they're both a game back of the Tigers, who own head-to-head tiebreakers over both.

Still, if both teams win out and see a couple more Mizzou losses, the winner of Saturday's game could sneak into Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

"It gave us a little hope," Florida defensive back Cody Riggs said. "I went crazy. I was jumping around the house. I actually called [safety] Jaylen [Watkins], I was like ‘We’re back in it! We’re back!’ We’ve still got a chance."

The chances are slim, but they are there. It doesn't help either that both will literally limp into EverBank Field, as injuries have ravaged the two this season.

Florida is dealing with eight season-ending injuries (four starters), including quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley, while Georgia has watched nearly every capable skill player go down. Running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin-Scott Wesley are all out for the year with ACL injuries, while receiver Chris Conley (ankle) is doubtful for Saturday.

"I don't think there's any other team besides the [New England] Patriots that's more beat up than us and Florida," Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said.

Even coach Mark Richt had to chuckle at the sight of his depth chart Tuesday. Standing in front of a throng of media members, Richt released a sarcastic snicker when he looked at the available receivers on this week's depth chart.

"Kenny Towns will be available to play," Richt said.

"Also, [Michael] Erdman -- Erdman is ready.”

Not exactly Mitchell or Conley.

The good news is that receiver Michael Bennett (knee) and running back Todd Gurley (ankle) should be available on Saturday, but safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons are still in limbo.

Then there's Florida.

Linebacker Ronald Powell (ankle) is questionable, while linebacker Darrin Kitchens (shoulder) and tight end Colin Thompson (foot) are doubtful. Florida will get defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (head) back, and quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) should be fine.

Outside of injuries, on-field play has hampered those two as well. Florida's offense has stalled in each of its three losses, while Georgia's young, inexperienced defense has had plenty of growing pains.

Because of that, both will face each other on a two-game losing streak for the first time since 1926 and unranked for the second time since 1979.

For the Gators, the past two games have been an offensive nightmare. After averaging 393.4 yards per game and 5.6 yards per play during the first five games, Florida has averaged 195.5 yards per game and 3.1 yards per play while converting just 28.1 percent of its third downs since.

Georgia's defense ranks 58th nationally (390.1 yards per game) and is giving up 5.5 yards per play. It has registered just seven turnovers this season, tied for last in the SEC. To put that into perspective, former Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones forced three fumbles and recovered two in his two games against Florida.

This game has lost some of its luster nationally, and neither will be playing for a national championship this season, but that doesn't mean it isn't important. A war of attrition will replace the party in Jacksonville, but that won't stop each side from seething at the sight of the other's color combination.

"If you can’t get excited about playing Florida in that venue, you shouldn’t be a Bulldog. Period," Richt said. "We all understand that. I think everybody is going to get their blood pumping for that.

"Both of us are just fighting like mad to stay in the race. With another loss, I don’t know if mathematically or not it knocks us out, but it’d be pretty tough.”

Added Murphy: "It’s kind of like a one-game playoff. If you lose, your season is kind of done or down in the dumps. Both teams are going to come out hungry and ready to go."

Lynch called the Florida-Georgia rivalry the midseason "gauntlet of college football." This has major East implications and it's a bitter rivalry. They both celebrated Saturday's victory, but when they see each other, true disdain will emerge, which should be motivation enough.

"It's not a one-way street, they legitimately hate us too," Lynch said. "It's nothing like I've ever seen before.

"I'll raise my kids to hate Florida just as anyone else. Even if they go play football at Brown, they'll still root for Georgia over Florida. That's just how it is."

No. 3 Florida State is set to meet No. 7 Miami in yet another Top 10 matchup for the ACC. Miami is the final ranked team on the Seminoles' regular-season schedule, leaving us to wonder whether the Hurricanes actually are the Seminoles' toughest remaining opponent on the road to an unbeaten season.

Heather Dinich and Andrea Adelson debate that very question.

Heather says: Miami on Saturday

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaCoach Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles defeated Miami 33-20 last season.
It’s not going to get any more difficult than this.

No. 7 Miami is the biggest obstacle still standing in the way between the Seminoles and an undefeated season.

A road trip to Gainesville you say? Psh. Even the Canes beat the Gators -- and that was when Florida was good.

Everything Miami has -- or, more accurately, hasn’t -- done this season is a moot point. The key is that the Canes have done enough to set up a top 10 showdown between two undefeated rivals in front of an ESPN College GameDay crowd. Florida State is going to get Miami’s best shot -- and the Seminoles know it. Not that Florida won’t be aiming for that same bullseye, but Miami is simply a better team than Florida and has proven it in head-to-head competition.

The Gators have lost back-to-back games against ranked opponents. They’re 4-3 and dropped out of the rankings in Week 8 after losing to Missouri, 36-17. They’ve also lost to Florida State in two of the past three seasons. This is a Florida team that’s projected to go to the BBVA Compass Bowl right now -- a freefall from last season's Sugar Bowl appearance. Eight players have suffered season-ending injuries since summer camp, including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, and the team’s top defender, Dominique Easley. The Gators rank 12th or worse in the SEC in scoring, passing, rushing and total offense.

By comparison: Virginia Tech ranks No. 110 in the country in total offense -- right behind Florida.

SportsNation

Which is the toughest opponent left on the Florida State regular-season schedule?

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Unlike the Gators, Miami can move the ball. The Canes are No. 19 in the country in scoring offense. They’ve got one of the most productive running backs in the country in Duke Johnson. And the defense is averaging 3.14 sacks per game -- a huge improvement from last year, when Miami averaged just 1.08 per game.

If Florida State can get past the Canes on Saturday, the most difficult stretch of the season will be behind the Noles. The ACC -- the entire country for that matter -- has been waiting for this rivalry to be relevant again.

Now it’s Florida’s turn to wait.

Andrea says: at Florida, Nov. 30

Florida does not appear to be a tough opponent today, not with all the injuries that have taken a preseason Top 10 team and turned it into an also ran.

But this will undoubtedly be the toughest test on the remaining Florida State schedule. First, this game will ultimately define the Florida season, especially if the Gators lose to Georgia this weekend. Should Florida State come into the regular-season finale against Florida unbeaten, then you can be assured the Gators would love nothing more than to wreck any shot Florida State has at winning a national championship. Laughable?

Rewind to 1997, when double-digit underdog Florida beat No. 1 Florida State 32-29, denying the Noles a shot at the title. It is true that 1997 Florida team is better than this 2013 Florida team but, nonetheless, upsets in rivalry games do happen. And they have happened in this series.

Secondly, and most importantly, Florida presents much tougher matchups for the Seminoles. The Gators rely on a power ground game, and the Florida State defense has been built to best defend a different type of offense. Linebacker Terrance Smith confirmed that point, saying after the NC State win, "I feel our defense is kind of made for the spread.” Against power run teams like Boston College and even Bethune-Cookman at times, the Florida State defense had its share of struggles. The Noles gave up 392 total rush yards in those two games.

There is no doubt Florida will have the best defense Florida State has faced this year, despite the injuries. That includes the all-important secondary, where Florida features future Freshman All-American Vernon Hargreaves III. He is tied for the SEC lead in passes defended and tied for second in the league with three interceptions.

Opposite him, Loucheiz Purifoy is one of the best cornerbacks in the country. Through the first seven games this year, opposing quarterbacks have completed just 47.5 percent of their passes on this Florida secondary -- good for No. 5 in the nation. Quarterbacks are averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt, which is No. 4 in the nation. Coach Will Muschamp is a defensive guru. Perhaps he can devise a plan to slow down Jameis Winston. That is what Florida did last year to Johnny Manziel (173 yards passing, one total touchdown).

Third, all the pressure in the world is going to be on Florida State to beat an overmatched rival. Everybody expects Florida to roll over. Florida State has done well handling pressure all season, but what it will face in this game is nothing compared to Death Valley. The finish line will be in site, against a bitter in-state rival that has won seven of the last nine games in the series. Simply put, no matter the record, Florida is not NC State. Nor is it Wake Forest or Syracuse.

Florida will be a tough out. The toughest out on the remaining slate.

Muschamp looks to make adjustments

October, 24, 2013
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It's been quite the curious case for the Florida Gators this season. Ten months removed from playing in their first BCS bowl game since 2009, the Gators are out of the BCS national title hunt and are moving farther and farther away from playing in Atlanta for the SEC championship.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsWill Muschamp won't make excuses for Florida's struggles, but he admits he and his staff must coach better.
Florida is out of the polls with a 4-3 record (3-2 SEC) and is staring at a second-half slate that feature Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State.

With the Gators on a much-needed bye following back-to-back losses to LSU and Missouri on the road, they are back to the drawing board as they prepares for next week's showdown with Georgia in Jacksonville.

“I’m a competitor. I’m going to fight my ass off,” coach Will Muschamp told reporters after Florida's 36-17 loss to Missouri this past weekend. “That’s what you do. When you get your back against the wall, you fight your ass off and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Last season, Florida came out swinging when it was backed up, ripping off 11 wins. In 2013, the Gators have been weighed down by the first-aid kit. It's been a miserable season for injuries in Gainesville, as eight players have suffered season-ending injuries since fall camp, including starters Jeff Driskel, Dominique Easley and Matt Jones. The defense also dressed 13 healthy players against Mizzou.

While the injury bug has chomped away, the offense has sputtered mightily in the past two weeks. Florida has scored just 16 offensive points and registered 391 yards in losses to LSU and Missouri.

It certainly isn't a coincidence. It's frustrating Muschamp and the fan base. You can hear grumbles in Gainesville, as the Gators continue to slide and teams around them grow stronger.

It has to be painful for the Gators to look up at Florida State, Miami and Central Florida in the BCS standings. Those teams are No. 2, No. 7 and No. 23 in the standings, while the Gators are well on the outside.

In January, Florida was an Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Louisville away from being considered a legitimate national title contender in 2013. Now, 6-6 is a real possibility.

"It's just one of those years," Muschamp said Wednesday. "It's unfortunate, but it's just part of the game and you gotta coach through it and you gotta play through it. We don't make any excuses around here. We need to play better than we did the last two weeks, that's for sure."

It's hard to say what this program is at the moment, but we know where it's been. It enjoyed wonderful success under Steve Spurrier in the 1990s and won two national championships under Urban Meyer from 2005-10.

On one hand, injuries have decimated this team, but on the other, the offense was never really imposing before injuries set in. Turnovers dictated the Miami loss, line protection has faltered, explosive runs have vanished and the passing game has disappeared (again).

Last season's 11 wins came with adjustments, luck and more physical play on both sides of the ball. After seven games, it looks like that edge is gone. Injuries have taken a toll, but at some point adjustments have to be made.

"We just have coach our guys up better, put them in better situations to play faster," Muschamp said. "When you struggle, you need to go back to technique and fundamentals, and you need to simplify to get our players to play faster and play with more confidence."

It's not like this was the easiest job for Muschamp to fall into. He was left with what was described as a "broken program" when Meyer resigned following the 2010 season, and it didn't have much in the cupboard to work with offensively.

Since taking over, discipline issues have improved, but this team has operated with a very small margin for error on the field. That centers on recruiting and coaching. Muschamp just hasn't lured elite offensive talent to Florida and the play-calling has been too predictable and stale at times.

When asked on Wednesday about any offensive changes he could foresee, Muschamp maintained that coaching changes weren't on his mind.

"This is the same coaching staff that came a game away from playing for the national championship last year," he said.

On-field personnel changes could, and probably should, come. Muschamp started the process by taking coaches off the recruiting trail on Sunday and Monday to spend more time tinkering with the offense. The Gators rank 12th or worse in the SEC in scoring, passing, rushing and total offense. It's hard to improve when your starting quarterback is gone, your line is battered and spotty, and you don't have a bruiser at running back.

But that's where coaches step in and make proper adjustments.

Muschamp is 22-11 as Florida's head coach, but just 13-8 in SEC play. Muschamp has to win out in conference play during the regular season to match Ron Zook's SEC record during his three-year stint.

It's far too early to talk about Muschamp's job security, but the course for this program is unknown, and that has to be a little concerning around Gainesville.

Muschamp sounds more frustrated than concerned at this point. He insists that recruiting is fine and players probably see Florida's struggles as a way to play early. He isn't into making excuses, but he wants answers.

"Anyone with a shred of intelligence can see the situation [they are in]," Muschamp said. "It's been frustrating, but we need to coach better."

Injury impact: SEC

October, 24, 2013
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The injury bug has been sucking the life out of teams in the SEC this season. The SEC East has been hit especially hard this season, and here are the three teams in the league that have been affected the most:

1. Florida: Not exactly what the Gators want to be ranked first in, but Florida runs away with this one. The 4-3 Gators lost starting right tackle Chaz Green (shoulder) and wide receiver Andre Debose (knee) for the season during fall camp and have seen six more season-ending injuries since, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. They dressed only 13 healthy defenders in the loss to Missouri. Quarterback Tyler Murphy is still dealing with a lingering shoulder injury.

2. Georgia: The 4-3 Bulldogs lost top receiver Malcolm Mitchell for the year to a freak ACL injury in the season opener and then lost running back Keith Marshall and Justin-Scott Wesley to ACL injuries against Tennessee. Starting running back Todd Gurley (ankle) has been out since the LSU game (Sept. 28) and receiver Michael Bennett hasn't played since the Tennessee game (Oct. 5) due to a knee injury. Receiver Chris Conley (ankle) and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) and Tray Matthews are questionable for next week's Florida game.

3. Arkansas: The Razorbacks, who have lost five straight, felt the injury bug before the season when top receiver Demetrius Wilson was lost for the year with a preseason ACL injury while linebacker Otha Peters has played in only five games after breaking his arm during fall camp. Coach Bret Bielema estimated that 10-12 players went down with injuries during fall camp. Quarterback Brandon Allen suffered a shoulder injury early this season and starting defensive tackle Robert Thomas is out for the season with a broken leg.
If Florida is going to make a run to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, its offense has to take some of the stress off of the defense.

[+] EnlargeMatt Jones
Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader via Getty ImagesRunning back Matt Jones is the latest Gators offensive player to be lost for the season.
Plain and simple.

This team survived the 2012 season with a very slim margin for error by having a fantastic defense, great in-game adjustments and good old-fashioned luck.

Florida coach Will Muschamp knew his team couldn't survive another season like that, but as the No. 22-ranked Gators (4-2, 3-1 SEC) prepare for a trip west to face the red-hot 14th-ranked Missouri Tigers (6-0, 2-0 SEC), he's seeing many of the same things that plagued the Gators last season.

Florida still has an elite defense (ranked third nationally, allowing just 235.3 yards per game), but it hasn't had much good fortune, and this team has two losses before Halloween. Yes, injuries -- especially on offense -- have hurt, but when the defense needed help in those eventual losses, the offense failed.

The Gators have more of a passing game this season, but offensive consistency is still an issue. In the 21-16 loss to Miami, Florida had a season-high 291 passing yards, but turned the ball over five times, including three times in the red zone. In last week's loss to LSU, Florida managed just 240 yards of offense with a season-low 3.5 yards per play, and the run game averaged 2.8 yards per carry for the third time this season.

However, Muschamp has been quick to criticize his defense. It isn't perfect and it has shown weaknesses. LSU rushed for 175 yards (121 coming from Jeremy Hill) and both the Tigers and Canes hit Florida's secondary with big plays. The Gators clearly miss defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who is out for the season with an ACL injury, and the secondary does have a knack for having eye control issues.

"We just need to play well defensively," Muschamp said. "Our defense doesn't need to worry about [what] our offense does.

"Our defense needs to worry about what our defense needs to do."

Still, only Miami has scored 20 or more points on the Gators this season. Even LSU's high-flying offense managed just 17 points, while becoming the only team to gain more than 275 yards on the Gators (who had 327). Florida leads the SEC with 13 straight conference games in which it did not allow more than 20 points.

New quarterback Tyler Murphy was efficient in two-plus games, but buckled against LSU's pressure. The Tigers had no problem going right at Murphy and stacking the box to stop the run. It was just one game, but teams won't have a reason to fear Florida's offense if pressure weakens it.

Florida is 13th in the SEC in scoring (21.8 points per game) and has hit 30 points just twice this season. On the road, it has yet to score more than 24 points.

Maybe Murphy needs more freedom throwing downfield in order to open up the running game. He had been efficient before the LSU game, but registered a QBR of 20 in Baton Rouge. Eleven of his 15 completions went for less than 10 yards. Florida's longest play came on a 20-yard pass to Demarcus Robinson, and the running game recorded a season-low 111 yards and had a long play of 14 yards.

Give LSU's defense credit -- its constant pressure overwhelmed the Gators. But the lack of big runs didn’t help.

"We have to create some more explosive runs," Muschamp said. "That’s been the biggest issue to me in the run game this season."

On the other hand, the defense ranks first in the SEC in passing, rushing and total defense, while the offense ranks 11th or worse in scoring, passing, rushing and total offense. The issue now is that the opposing offenses are only going to get better with Mizzou (515.7 yards per game), Georgia (517.3) and South Carolina (486.5) as three of the next four opponents. Then Florida State, which ranks fourth nationally in total offense (549), travels to Gainesville for the season finale.

The defense has to be champing at the bit to face these high-powered offenses, but can it survive if the offense isn't getting into the end zone?

Now the Gators will have to do it without running back Matt Jones, who is out for the season with a torn meniscus. That creates even more pressure on this offense . . . or is it on the defense?

Not having elite offensive talent certainly doesn't help Florida, but good teams find ways to adjust. Play-calling changes. Personnel groupings change. Florida's offense wasn't pretty last season, but it found ways to grind games out during an 11-win season. The defense can do only so much, which means the second half of the 2013 season is up to the offense.


Welcome to Missouri's world, SEC East. It isn't so pretty, is it?

A year ago, the Tigers were wrapped in bandages and chugging Robitussin every week of their debut season in the SEC. Now, it seems like the top teams in the SEC East are doing the same thing as we head into the sixth week of the 2013 season.

Florida, Georgia and South Carolina are dealing with injuries, and it looks like Missouri is actually the healthiest team and is starting to make some noise in the conference after its 51-28 thrashing of Vanderbilt in Nashville over the weekend.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesGeorgia sophomore running back Keith Marshall is out for the season with a torn ACL.
It literally looks like the last man standing will win the SEC East this year, as injuries continue to pile up.

Just look at the Georgia Bulldogs. Heavy favorites to win the division after their 44-41 win against LSU two Saturdays ago, the Bulldogs are now in the realm of the unknown after losing three key offensive players to knee injuries in a thrilling overtime win over Tennessee. Running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley are out for the rest of the season with ACL injuries, while receiver Michael Bennett will have to undergo surgery to find out the extent of his knee injury and will miss Saturday's game against Missouri.

Receiver Malcolm Mitchell was already lost for the season with an ACL injury, and running back Todd Gurley is sidelined with an ankle injury. Punter Collin Barber left Saturday's game early with a concussion, and Georgia was without receiver Jonathon Rumph (hamstring) and safeties Tray Matthews (hamstring) and Connor Norman (concussion) for the entire game.

So, Mark Richt, have you ever seen that many injuries in a game before?

“Not like that," he said following Saturday's game. "It's just such a shame."

It really is for the Bulldogs, and now Georgia's lead in the East doesn't look so insurmountable.

Florida came away from the weekend with quite the performance in its 30-10 win over Arkansas. What was so impressive, other than another dominating defensive performance? Well, the passing game stepped up when the Hogs buried Florida's running game.

Yes, you read that correctly. Florida's passing game stepped up and quarterback Tyler Murphy, who just so happens to be in for the injured Jeff Driskel (broken leg), threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns.

Arkansas certainly doesn't have the most intimidating defense, but Florida has to be feeling pretty good about last Saturday. Can the Gators sustain that? This team is down Driskel and its best overall player in defensive tackle Dominique Easley (ACL). Another big injury could cost the Gators a shot at Atlanta. Murphy has to stay upright if this team is even going to have a chance.

South Carolina watched quarterback Connor Shaw go down with a shoulder sprain against Central Florida only to bounce back and play well against Kentucky Saturday. Do injuries even affect this kid anymore? Still, his aggressive style makes him very susceptible to injuries.

It's become clear that injuries are affecting Jadeveon Clowney, who has played well below average this season. He's dealt with illness, a toe injury and now ribs. His coaches didn't even know he wasn't playing against Kentucky until right before the game.

"[If Clowney] wants to play, we will welcome him to come play for the team if he wants," Spurrier said after the game. "But if he doesn't want to play, he doesn't have to play. Simple as that."

The problem is that having him on the field -- even if he isn't playing close to 100 percent -- creates an issue for offenses. They've directed plays away from him and now they don't have to. Against the Wildcats, South Carolina's defense surrendered a 21-point lead. This defense has struggled, and it absolutely cannot afford anymore injuries at this point.

Then there's healthy, confident Mizzou. This was the team that couldn't get out of the infirmary last year. Now it's second in the SEC in total offense (543.8 yards per game), scoring (46.6) and sacks (15).

Mizzou has a chance to take a mighty step forward this weekend with a trip to Athens. The Dawgs beat up on the Tigers last year, but it's Georgia that enters Saturday's game battered and bruised. Mizzou should already be considered a threat in the East, but if the Tigers can keep bandages off their stripes, it'll be an exciting four-team race to Atlanta in the East.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
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Well, the top team in our Power Rankings certainly made sure everyone knew exactly why it was No. 1:

1. Alabama (4-0, 2-0 SEC; last week: 1): The Crimson Tide defense was tired of hearing how good it wasn't. It didn't like hearing that Ole Miss was going to score on it. So it shut the Rebels out and held them to just 205 yards of offense and 11 first downs. The Alabama offense rolled up 434 yards of offense as well, quieting a lot of doubters in the process.

2. Georgia (3-1, 2-0 SEC; LW: 4): Well, it's pretty clear that the SEC Eastern Division is now Georgia's to lose. After a thrilling 44-41 win over LSU, the Bulldogs showed that no matter how bad their defense plays, the offense will be there to rescue it. The only real defensive test remaining for this unit is Florida. But can Florida's offense keep up with the Dawgs if they score?

3. Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 3): Like Georgia, the Aggies are equipped with an offense that can bail out its struggling defense. The Razorbacks gave A&M quite the scare in Fayetteville over the weekend, but Johnny Manziel and Co. didn't have much trouble piling on points against a struggling Arkansas defense. Still, that rushing defense has to improve with SEC play heating up.

4. LSU (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Tigers' defense showed its youthful age against Georgia on Saturday, especially in the secondary. Georgia churned out nearly 500 yards and averaged 7 yards per play. It didn't help that the front seven didn't generate enough pressure on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw four touchdowns. But we learned that LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger is the real deal. He delivered some NFL throws and might have outplayed Murray between the hedges.

5. South Carolina (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 5): I don't know what it is with this South Carolina team. It overcame the loss of starting quarterback Connor Shaw by scoring 28 straight points on UCF Saturday, but then turned around and let the Knights end the game on a 15-0 run. The good news for the Gamecocks is they might have one of the most underrated players in the SEC in running back Mike Davis, who leads the SEC in rushing yards per game (127).

6. Florida (3-1, 2-0 SEC; LW: 7): This is officially Tyler Murphy's team, and he's been solid since replacing Jeff Driskel at quarterback. No one really expects much from the passing game going forward, so the running game has to carry this team (again). It did just that with its 246 yards in the win over Kentucky. That defense might be missing Dominique Easley, but it was fantastic against the Wildcats.

7. Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 6): Quarterback Bo Wallace took some heat for saying the Rebels' offense would score some points on Alabama. Well, he ended up scoring for the Crimson Tide with his safety in the fourth quarter. The high-flying offense we saw in the first three games didn't make it to Tuscaloosa, and now the Rebels are gearing up for a crucial conference game at Auburn this weekend.

8. Missouri (4-0, 0-0 SEC; LW: 8): We still don't know a ton about this team, but the Tigers scored at will against their nonconference foes, averaging 45.5 points and 549 yards through the first four games. But SEC play starts now with a trip to Vanderbilt this weekend. We'll find out very soon if there was any substance to the Tigers' fast start to the season.

9. Auburn (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 9): The Tigers had the week off after their loss to LSU. That gave this team time to rest and try to get the passing game in better shape for the Rebels. What Gus Malzahn and his running backs had to be excited about was seeing Ole Miss' defense give up 254 rushing yards and rushing touchdowns of 68 and 50 yards to the Tide.

10. Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-2 SEC; LW: 10): The offense is only getting better, and wide receiver Jordan Matthews is getting closer and closer to breaking SEC records for career receiving yards and career receptions. With eight catches for 115 yards and touchdown in Vandy's 52-24 win over UAB, Matthews has had 100-plus yards or a touchdown in four of Vandy's five games.

11. Arkansas (3-2, 0-1 SEC; LW: 11): After a rough loss at Rutgers, the Hogs made things interesting in their 45-33 loss to the Aggies. This running game bounced back against A&M with 201 yards, while Brandon Allen's return at quarterback led to 282 passing yards. Still, this team has to clean things up on defense. The Aggies averaged 7 yards per play.

12. Mississippi State (2-2, 0-1 SEC; LW 12): The Bulldogs were off after their 62-7 win over Troy. It was an impressive win for a team looking for more of an offensive spark at the beginning of the season. The way quarterback Dak Prescott is playing, this offense has to feel confident going into this weekend's matchup with LSU. But do the Bulldogs have the horses to keep up with an LSU team that has to be frustrated after its loss to Georgia?

13. Tennessee (3-2, 0-1 SEC; LW: 13): Somehow, the Volunteers tried to give it all away late against South Alabama on Saturday. Tennessee was outscored 17-7 in the second half of its 31-24 win and even blocked its own field goal. A win is a win, especially for a program with a new head coach, but the Vols now have to regroup and face a Georgia team capable of scoring 50 in Knoxville this weekend.

14. Kentucky (1-3, 0-1 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats' only real positive from Saturday's 24-7 loss to Florida was that their touchdown came on a fake field goal. Other than that, the Gators dominated Mark Stoops' team. When your kicker is your leading rusher in a game (25 yards), you know you have major problems in the playmaking department.

3-point stance: Protests bound to spread

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
5:00
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1. The fact that the players at Northwestern, Georgia and Georgia Tech who participated in the silent protest called All Players United did so without any ramifications is a measure of the dissatisfaction with the status quo of the NCAA. In the era of social media, APU is likely to spread. The NCAA statement that supported open and civil debate all but gave the players a green light to continue to speak out. Some coaches won’t allow it -- coaches tend to be dictatorial -- but I don’t think the protest will peter out.

2. It’s been quite a week at Florida. Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel broke his leg in the victory Saturday over Tennessee. Preseason All-SEC defensive lineman Dominique Easley tore his ACL and meniscus at practice Tuesday. Three days apart, the Gators lose their offensive leader and their best pass rusher. Florida has games against four teams in the top 12, and only one of them is in Gainesville. And the Gators have lost their two best players. That’s a serious blow.

3. Paul Dietzel became the LSU head coach at age 30 in 1955 and led the Tigers to the 1958 national championship. Here’s what kind of iconoclastic thinker he was, and how different college football was a half-century ago, Dietzel left LSU after the 1961 season -- for Army. Dietzel wanted to restore the Cadets to their former greatness. He couldn’t. He left for South Carolina and led the Gamecocks to their only conference championship, the 1969 ACC title. Dietzel stopped coaching at age 50. For a guy who barely won more than he lost (109-95-5), he made a big imprint. Dietzel died Tuesday at age 89.

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