NCF Nation: Henry Josey

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Missouri players sat and watched the Allstate Sugar Bowl with the bewildered feeling the rest of the nation was experiencing. Oklahoma was imposing its will on SEC power Alabama in the heart of SEC country, going from underdog to the talk of the nation on Thursday night.

“It was crazy, it came down to what team wanted it most,” Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham said of the Sooners' 45-31 win. “You looked at Oklahoma and they wanted to win the game, they wanted to be Sugar Bowl champs, they went out and took what was theirs.”

Thus, Missouri players woke up on Friday morning with the knowledge that the weight of an entire conference was on their shoulders. Missouri needed to grab immediate revenge with a victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl if it wanted to defend its conference’s reputation.

The SEC took a punch from the Big 12 in the Sugar Bowl, but the Tigers punched back Friday night with a 41-31 win over Big 12 foe Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium.

[+] EnlargeHenry Josey, Blake Webb
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMissouri might be new to the SEC, but the Tigers understood the importance of beating Oklahoma State and keeping the conference's rep.
“I did feel a tad bit of pressure, because I know we represent the SEC,” senior receiver L'Damian Washington said. “I think [OSU cornerback] Justin Gilbert made a statement earlier this week that the Big 12 was better than the SEC and I think we had to go out and prove the SEC is a force to be reckoned with.”

The Tigers used a combination of a relentless pass-rushing defensive line, strong running game and timely plays to earn their school record-tying 12th victory of the season, equaling the win total of the 2007 team.

Led by Cotton Bowl offensive MVP Henry Josey, Missouri rushed for 256 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry against a Cowboys’ defense that allowed 132.9 rushing yards and 3.46 per carry during the regular season. OSU quarterback Clint Chelf will have nightmares featuring Tigers pass-rushing duo Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Missouri got to Chelf for three sacks, but the Cowboys quarterback was constantly flushed out of the pocket and forced to make plays on the move thanks to the Tigers defensive line, which cemented the win when Sam forced a Chelf fumble that was returned 73 yards for a touchdown by Shane Ray to halt OSU’s hopes of a game-winning touchdown in the final minutes.

“First-team All-American makes an All-American play,” Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said.

SEC teams rejoiced as the conference escaped back-to-back losses to Big 12 opponents.

“We believe we’re the best conference,” said Andrew Wilson, who finished with a game-high 15 tackles. “And if you want to be the best conference you have to prove it, that’s why everyone is rooting for each other in these bowl games for everyone to go out and do what they can do.”

Make no mistake, the Tigers wanted the win for themselves, but they also wanted it for their conference.

“That’s something real big, representing the SEC,” Josey said. “The SEC is such a powerful conference, that’s the conference everybody looks to, that’s where the attention is. Coming into this game, that was in the back of our mind, that is always in the back of our mind that we had to hold up the rep for the SEC.”

Now, with its job done, Missouri passes the mantle to Auburn, which has the opportunity to win the eighth consecutive BCS title for the SEC when it takes on Florida State in the BCS National Championship on Monday night.

“Right now it’s up to Auburn to bring it home,” Ealy said. “We want to keep it in the SEC, that’s the most important thing as far as this conference goes.”
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Missouri sent a message for the SEC with a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl on Friday Night at AT&T Stadium. Here’s how it happened.

It was over when: Missouri defensive lineman Shane Ray returned a fumble 73 yards for a touchdown. Oklahoma State was driving to try to take the lead or tie the game in the final minutes when Missouri’s Michael Sam stripped OSU quarterback Clint Chelf of the ball, which Ray picked up for the scoop and score.

How the game was won: After Oklahoma State drove down to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, Missouri responded on its next drive to score the game-winning points. James Franklin led the Tigers down the field to jump right back on top after running back Henry Josey's 16-yard touchdown run made the score 34-31 with 3:08 remaining. Josey’s touchdown capped off a 7-play, 69-yard drive and gave the Tigers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Turning point: Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham made a key 27-yard catch on the Tigers' final drive on 3rd-and-9 from the OSU 43-yard line. Green-Beckham used his size and ball skills to outfight OSU’s Tyler Patmon for the key third down conversion. Josey rumbled 16 yards for the game-deciding touchdown on the next play.

Stat of the game: 256. Mizzou ran for 256 yards on the Cowboys, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Josey was shifty and solid while backup quarterback Maty Mauk was explosive with three carries for 73 yards in spot duty. OSU simply didn’t have an answer for Missouri’s running game, particularly when it needed one in the fourth quarter.

Player of the game: Josey. He didn’t have outstanding numbers, but his quickness and cutback ability gave OSU’s defense fits. He finished with 12 carries for 92 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

What it means for Oklahoma State: The Cowboys end the season with back-to-back disappointing losses after falling to the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl and losing to Oklahoma in their regular-season finale. OSU heads into the offseason with very little momentum and looking to replace several starters while opening the 2014 season with Florida State.

What it means for Missouri: The Tigers rebounded well from their SEC championship loss to Auburn. Missouri finishes 12-2 with the Cotton Bowl victory and will head into 2014 with plenty of confidence and momentum.

AT&T Cotton Bowl preview

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Oklahoma State will want to strike another blow for the Big 12, Missouri will want to defend the SEC’s reputation. It should be a good one.

OSU and Missouri battle in the AT&T Cotton Bowl (7:30 pm ET, FOX) on Friday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Here’s a preview of one of the most evenly matched games of this bowl season.

Who to Watch: Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Look out Clint Chelf, Sam is coming for you and he’s been a terror for opposing offenses throughout the year. He led the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. The senior brings a combination of acceleration and athleticism to the table that is very difficult for offenses to stop. If OSU has any hope to win, it can’t let Sam spend his holiday season in the backfield in hot pursuit of Chelf, the Cowboys quarterback, and OSU's running backs.

What to Watch: The interior lines. Missouri has a strong group in the trenches, and OSU’s success has mirrored its ability to control the line of scrimmage. Whoever wins the battle of the big fellas will probably win the game. Both teams have very talented skill players, like OSU receiver Josh Stewart and Missouri running back Henry Josey, who can make plays if given the chance. How do you take those explosive players out of the equation? Win the battle up front.

Why to Watch: The matchup between OSU cornerback Justin Gilbert and Mizzou receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is one reason. The battle between former Big 12 foes is another. These two teams know each other better than the normal bowl matchup, and the Cowboys will be looking to strike another blow for the Big 12 after Oklahoma’s Sugar Bowl win, while the Tigers will be looking to redeem the SEC. The Sooners’ win over Alabama could very well ramp up the intensity in this one.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 35, Missouri 34. The Cowboys prevail in one of the best games of the bowl season. Neither team dominates in the trenches, so this one is decided by turnovers and key plays on special teams. A late turnover by the Tigers helps OSU score a late touchdown to snatch the victory out of the hands of their former conference rival.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 15

December, 8, 2013
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Has an SEC season ever been this much fun? Auburn and Missouri capped a tremendous season with a thrill ride of a championship game. Here are five things we learned from Saturday's tilt.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsAuburn's Tre Mason not only carried the Tigers to a win in the SEC championship game, but he ran his way into the Heisman discussion as well.
1. Auburn's offense is impossible to contain: Missouri entered Saturday's game with a very good defense, ranking second in the conference and 14th in the nation against the run (119.1 yards allowed per game). When the burn marks cooled off and the game was over, Auburn had 545 yards rushing (the most in league history by an SEC team against an SEC opponent) as part of its SEC title game record 677 total yards. Gus Malzahn's offense was at its mind-boggling best, using every wrinkle in the playbook to steamroll yet another helpless opponent. When Mizzou geared up to stop the run in the first half, AU quarterback Nick Marshall went 6-of-6 passing for 94 of his 132 yards to loosen up the defense. When Tre Mason needed a blow -- which wasn't often -- Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne stepped in to score one TD each. When Missouri went with an extra linebacker in a 3-4 alignment to attempt to keep Auburn from gaining the edge, the Gus Bus simply ran up the middle and flattened Missouri. All of it happened at a breakneck pace, as Auburn's offense set a tempo that no defense appears capable of keeping up with.

2. The SEC has a chance to extend its streak of national championships: The SEC just won't be denied. After celebrating with the league trophy, the oversized logo and the confetti cannons, Auburn players and coaches settled in to watch the ACC and Big Ten championship games. No. 1 Florida State took care of business, but No. 2 Ohio State fell to Michigan State. Toomer's Corner exploded with toilet paper for the second time on Saturday night, as fans spilled into the intersection to celebrate a shot at the national title. Auburn took care of business on the field but needed help, and the Spartans delivered. What else would you expect in the Tigers' miracle season? The SEC's seven-year winning streak refuses to die, as AU is now projected to play unbeaten FSU in Pasadena, Calif., for all the marbles.

3. Mason deserves serious Heisman consideration: If the junior from Palm Beach, Fla., somehow wasn't on the national scene before Saturday, he certainly is now. Mason broke five SEC championship game records with 46 carries for 304 yards and four touchdowns. It was three yards shy of tying the Auburn single-game record of 307 set by Curtis Kuykendall in 1944. He ran away with the MVP award (pun intended) and could now find himself in New York City next week as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Mason finished strong in 2013 and added to his eye-popping 2013 season stats -- 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns. It's only fitting that the Heisman could come down to Mason and FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, the two biggest stars on the nation's two best teams.

4. Mizzou has a great offense of its own: James Franklin's valiant attempt to keep up with the Auburn juggernaut deserves recognition. The senior kept his Tigers in the game, throwing for 303 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 62 yards and another score. His favorite target, sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham, put an exclamation mark on his breakthrough season with six catches for 144 yards and two TDs. Mizzou had balance and did plenty of big-play damage. Leading rusher Henry Josey broke off a 65-yarder as part of his 123-yard effort (13.7 yards per carry). But it wasn't enough to keep up, as Auburn's offense applied too much pressure, and Missouri eventually wilted in the fourth quarter.

5. If this is the new SEC, it sure is entertaining: An era of unbridled offense has taken over college football, and on Saturday the old formula of winning with defense, special teams and a conservative offense was nowhere to be seen inside the Georgia Dome. The first half was enough to know this wasn't your father's SEC. The combined 55 first-half points were not only the most in SEC championship game history, they were more points than the four-quarter totals scored in 15 other SEC title games. When it was over and the scoreboard operator got some much-needed rest, the combined point total of 101 had obliterated the previous record -- 75 points in 1996 (Florida 45, Alabama 30). Auburn and Missouri combined for a dizzying number of big plays, as the SEC's showcase looked more like a video game than ever before.

Video: Henry Josey remade

December, 7, 2013
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Missouri running back Henry Josey discusses coming back from a devastating knee injury that almost ended his career.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 15

December, 5, 2013
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Almost nobody thought these two teams -- neither of which even reached bowl eligibility a season ago after going a combined 2-14 in SEC play -- would be here when the season started, but here we are. No. 3 Auburn (11-1) and No. 5 Missouri (11-1) will meet in Atlanta on Saturday with an SEC championship, a BCS bowl berth and maybe a spot in the national championship game at stake.

Let's take a look at five things to watch in Saturday's showdown at the Georgia Dome:

Possible hangovers: One could hardly blame Auburn if it entered this game a bit flat. Gus Malzahn's Tigers are coming off consecutive miracle wins against their biggest rivals: Georgia and Alabama. Chris Davis' missed field goal return for a touchdown against the top-ranked Crimson Tide resonated outside the sports world, considering that it was a subject on conversation on “The View” and the “Today” show and not just on sports highlight shows. Likewise, an emotional win against Texas A&M prompted the home fans to empty onto the field after Missouri clinched the SEC East title last Saturday. If one of these teams starts slowly Saturday, it could easily find itself facing a big deficit early in the game.

Defending the run: If Missouri is able to slow down Auburn's powerful running game (No. 5 nationally at 318.2 YPG), it will be in a small group of defenses that has been successful in that endeavor this season. Alabama -- which entered last week's game ranked fourth nationally against the run -- couldn't do it, as Auburn ran 52 times for 296 yards. In fact, Auburn has run for at least 200 yards in all but one game this season. Tre Mason (237 carries, 1,317 yards, 18 TDs) is the league's top rusher at 109.8 yards per game and quarterback Nick Marshall (140-922, 10 TDs) is eighth at 83.8 YPG. Meanwhile, Missouri -- which is 14th nationally against the run (119.1 YPG) has yet to allow 200 yards in any game. Let's not forget about the other side of this token, however. Missouri's offense performs with more balance than Auburn's, but its running game has been extremely productive, as well. Missouri ranks second in the league in rushing offense (236.2 YPG) with Henry Josey (153-951, 13 TDs) leading the way and ranking ninth in the league with 79.2 yards per game.

Auburn secondary against Missouri's big wideouts: Auburn has done a good job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks, but its secondary has been erratic at best. The Tigers surrendered 277 passing yards and three touchdowns to Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron last week -- including a 99-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper -- and gave up 415 yards to Georgia's Aaron Murray in the previous game. Overall, Auburn ranks second-to-last in the SEC against the pass (256.7 YPG), which is a scary sign with Missouri's big, talented receiving corps on deck. The Tigers have the No. 5 passing offense in the league (252.6 YPG), featuring L'Damian Washington (44 catches, 824 yards, 10 TDs) and Dorial Green-Beckham (49-686, 10 TDs), who rank seventh and 12th, respectively, in the SEC in receiving yards per game. Senior Marcus Lucas (50-596, 2 TDs) ranks 10th with 4.17 catches per game.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
Zumapress/Icon SMIMichael Sam and Missouri's defensive front will be tested by Auburn's powerful run game.
Containing quarterbacks: Marshall's emergence has been one of the leading factors in Auburn's revival after last season's dismal results. Not only is he poised to become a 1,000-yard rusher, but he has made some enormous plays in the passing game -- and not just the miracle pass for the game-winning, 73-yard touchdown to Ricardo Louis against Georgia. He hit Sammie Coates with a crucial game-tying touchdown pass in the final minute against Alabama, went for 339 yards -- including the game-winning touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds remaining -- against Mississippi State and made some huge throws in the road win against Texas A&M. He has fumbled 11 times this season (and only lost four), however, so Missouri's turnover-happy defense (SEC-high 27 takeaways) will most certainly look to generate some momentum off Marshall turnovers. On the other hand, Mizzou's James Franklin creates major matchup issues of his own. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound quarterback earned the nickname “Frank the Tank” with his physical running style, although it would be understandable if he hesitated to put his shoulder down Saturday after missing four games with a shoulder injury suffered against Georgia. Franklin was a combined 30-for-47 for 375 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against Ole Miss and Texas A&M since returning from the injury and also rushed 26 times for 122 yards in those two games, so he appears to be back to the form that makes him so difficult to corral.

Defensive playmakers: Few defensive players, if any, have made a bigger impact around the SEC this season than Mizzou defensive end Michael Sam. He leads the league with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss, while fellow defensive lineman Markus Golden is fourth with 13 TFLs and Kony Ealy (9.5) and Shane Ray (9.0) aren't far outside the top 10. If Auburn's typical form holds, Mizzou won't have much of a chance to add to its SEC-leading sack total, but its defensive front will be the determining factor in whether it can handle Auburn's running game. Aside from defensive end Dee Ford (eight sacks, 12 TFLs), Auburn doesn't have many defensive players whose individual stats jump off the page. But a deep defensive line and playmakers like Robenson Therezie, Ryan Smith and Davis have combined to deliver some clutch plays when the Tigers needed a boost the most.

Mizzou's success should be no surprise

December, 4, 2013
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COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri's ascent in the SEC has come as a bit of a shock to many observers around the college football world.

Coming off a rough 5-7 debut season in the league, while dealing with a rash of injuries, the No. 5 Tigers have been one of the surprise stories of the year, not just because they've gone 11-1, but because it only took them two seasons to claim a division title in what is widely considered the nation's premier football conference.

[+] EnlargeGary Pinkel
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesDivision titles and winning aren't new to Gary Pinkel and Missouri.
When Missouri and Texas A&M first entered the league in 2012, there were many proclamations about how difficult the conference is and how long it might take for either to make a serious impact.

But when you take a look at the Tigers' recent past prior to joining the conference, this season -- or rather, their ability to compete for a divisional championship -- shouldn't come as a surprise at all.

That's what the Tigers have been doing on a regular basis in the Big 12 under coach Gary Pinkel.

"We did in '07, '08," Pinkel said after his team beat Texas A&M on Saturday to secure the SEC East Division title. "[In] 2010 Nebraska had to lose in the end [for us to go to the Big 12 championship game]. This is another shot here. We've had shots at it four of the last seven years. We didn't play as well and lost the two that we played in. This is awesome. This is great."

Pinkel was referring to Missouri's success in the Big 12 North Division. The Tigers won the division in 2007 and 2008 and they were co-champions with Nebraska in 2010, but Nebraska went to the Big 12 title game, not Missouri. Still, this season's SEC East title is the Tigers' fourth division championship or co-championship in seven seasons. The standard for success exists at Missouri, as evidenced by the Tigers' 48-19 record in the five seasons prior to joining the SEC.

Those three Big 12 seasons in particular, the Tigers reached lofty heights. In 2007, when they went 12-2 and won the Big 12 North, the Tigers reached No. 1 in the Associated Press poll and BCS standings at one point. The Tigers achieved top-10 rankings in 2008 and 2010 also and were ranked in the Top 25 at some point in every season dating back to 2006 prior to their entry into the SEC.

The 2012 season was the year that the ranking streak ended. But the Tigers were no strangers to winning.


I think we came in as seniors, we established our goals. We said a national championship, let's aim high and get an SEC championship. The guys in the locker room believed in that once the leaders did, and that kind of trickled down.


-- Missouri WR L'Damian Washington

"It's always in our program, as a goal just like it was in the Big 12," Pinkel said Monday of the goal of winning the division. "First of all, to win a national championship, it starts out with winning your division. If you can't win your division, then you can't get to your championship game."

Pinkel is especially thankful for his group of 18 seniors, who played their last game at Faurot Field on Saturday, for setting the standard coming into this season. After the rough 2012 campaign, Pinkel said they came in and discussed raising the expectation level for 2013. That has had a profound impact on the team.

"I think we came in as seniors, we established our goals," senior receiver L'Damian Washington said. "We said a national championship, let's aim high and get an SEC championship. The guys in the locker room believed in that once the leaders did, and that kind of trickled down."

Pinkel said so far, the Tigers have hit on every big-picture goal they set before the season.

"It's amazing," he said. "Kind of created a vision for the team.....With kids like that, they do so much, you can't even begin to explain to them the appreciation for the kind of impact they make on the University of Missouri football."

It's easy for observers to qualify Missouri's ascent by citing the struggles of other teams in the SEC East this season (Georgia and Florida in particular), but the truth of the matter is that this is a senior-laden, talented team with playmakers on both sides of the football, strong leadership on and off the field and, with the exception of one bad fourth quarter against South Carolina, the Tigers have answered the call at every turn. That's why they are here. Considering where they have been, it shouldn't be a major surprise.

"We've been doubted," junior running back Henry Josey said. "We've been an underdog, and we've done what nobody thought we could do. We've just showed up and earned everything we wanted this year, and that's something that's very important."

Memorable moment for Mizzou's Josey

December, 3, 2013
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COLUMBIA, Mo. -- When Henry Josey burst through the line of scrimmage and sped toward the south end zone at Faurot Field like a heat-seeking missile headed for its target, he didn't stop to think about everything he had been through.

He didn't take the moment to reflect on all the heartache from the three major knee surgeries, the pain he suffered when the injury occurred two years ago or the doubts he had on the road to recovery of whether he'd ever come back. As the capacity crowd exploded in jubilation, sensing history for the soon-to-be SEC East Division champion Missouri Tigers, Josey could only think one thing after scoring his 57-yard, go-ahead touchdown run, which eventually proved to be the game-winner against Texas A&M and the points that secured Missouri's spot in Atlanta this weekend.

"Oh man, I thought, 'Defense, just stop them so we can get out of here [with a win]," Josey said of his thought process at the moment. "Everybody was just jumping up and down and I was excited about it, but I tried to stay focused because I knew I'd have to go back in and bleed the clock out some more."

Henry Josey
MCT via Getty ImagesMissouri running back Henry Josey has had a long road back from a major knee injury.
Always the focused, determined, hard-working back, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Josey was simply thinking about finishing the job. But if there was ever a fitting ending to Missouri's historic 11-1 regular season, one in which the Tigers shocked the nation by claiming the SEC East championship and earning a spot in Saturday's SEC championship game against another unlikely foe, Auburn, it was Josey scoring the game-winning points.

By now, many people who follow college football know the story. On Nov. 12, 2011 when the Tigers hosted Texas, Josey suffered a gruesome knee injury. The severity of it was cause for concern; some wondered if the Angleton, Texas, product would play again. The eventual surgeries would repair his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), meniscus and patellar tendon. It ended a stellar sophomore season for Josey, one in which he rushed for 1,168 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games.

The road to recovery was long. He sat out the entire 2012 season, made even tougher by the fact that many of his teammates were bit by the injury bug and Missouri struggled to a 5-7 campaign in its first SEC season. Josey admitted he had doubts along the way as to whether he would play again.

"There was a lot of doubt," Josey said. "Asking, 'Why am I here?' There are so many things that go through your head. 'Am I going to be the same guy that I was?'"

Finis Vanover, his head coach at Angleton High School, knew that if Josey decided to commit himself to return, he would do so triumphantly. Having coached Josey for four years at Angleton, Vanover knows as well as anybody the type of character and determination the running back possesses. It's partially why Vanover moved a 14-year-old Josey up to Angleton's varsity squad as a freshman. Vanover knew he had something special.

"There was no doubt in my mind, that if he chose to do so, he would find a way to come back," Vanover said. "No question at all. He is a warrior in the truest sense of the word. ... His character is impeccable. I can't say enough good things about him."

Throughout his rehabilitation, Josey said he relied on his faith to carry him through. Tangibly, he said it's his 2-year-old son, Henry Jr., he turns to every day for comfort. Fatherhood has changed him, he admits, and on Saturday after his 96-yard rushing performance and etched-in-Missouri-history touchdown run, it was Henry Jr. whom Josey was spending his quality time with post game in the Tigers' locker room.

"He understands every single thing that I'm going through," Josey said of his son. "He was excited, he was clapping and he probably gave me the biggest hug he's ever given me after the game."

His teammates have seen Josey go through it all. Senior quarterback James Franklin said Josey, a junior, "feels like a senior" and that he was happy to see Josey have the opportunity for such a moment. Many teammates echoed that sentiment, as did coach Gary Pinkel.

"It was fitting," Pinkel said. "It's fitting of Henry Josey, the kind of year he has had, who he is and what he's about. He's sacred to our Mizzou fans."

Josey's return has certainly been a productive one. This season has offered no major setbacks for him physically, he has played in every game and he is closing in on the 1,000-yard mark again (he has 951 yards and 13 touchdowns). He'll help lead the No. 5 Tigers into the Georgia Dome when they meet No. 3 Auburn for the SEC title Saturday.

Vanover, who is now a head coach at Tomball Memorial High School just north of Houston, was at home with about 20 family members and friends watching Missouri's 28-21 win over Texas A&M on Saturday with great interest. He's had several of his former players go on to college and have success (current Texas defensive back Quandre Diggs is another Angleton product Vanover coached), so he takes joy in watching them on perform on Saturdays.

When the Tigers had third-and-1 and handed the ball to Josey, Vanover knew as soon as his former back hit the line of scrimmage that he was taking it to the house.

"The minute he hit the line of scrimmage I said 'He's gone, they're not going to catch him,'" Vanover said. "He hit that other gear and it was over with. It was a great, great moment. It really was."

SEC Power Rankings: Week 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we learned in the SEC: Week 14

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
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The SEC saved the best for last. In the final week of the regular season, Alabama and Auburn played the game of the year in college football. The stakes were high. The rivalry is fierce. And the game was decided by a 109-yard field goal return for a touchdown on the final play of the game. How do you write a better script than that?

The matchup is now set for next weekend’s SEC title game, but let’s look back at five things we learned from Saturday’s action.

The ride continues: Auburn trailed Alabama for most of Saturday’s game, but the Tigers found a way to win in the fourth quarter, as they always do. It’s been that way all season, and it was no different against the nation’s No. 1 team in the Iron Bowl. What coach Gus Malzahn has been able to do in his first season on the Plains has been nothing short of remarkable. He took over a team that was 3-9 and winless in the SEC in 2012, and he has them playing for a conference championship. It’s reminiscent of the 2010 season, when Cam Newton led the Tigers to an undefeated season and a BCS national championship, but this isn't over yet. Saturday was a monumental victory for Malzahn and this Auburn team, but now they must start preparing for Missouri.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonJames Franklin and Missouri have clinched the SEC East and will play Auburn in the SEC Championship Game.
Missouri’s legitimate: Speaking of Missouri, the Tigers just keep on winning. Everybody kept waiting for the conference newcomer to slip up and hand the SEC East over to South Carolina, but it never happened. On Saturday, James Franklin and Henry Josey led Mizzou past Texas A&M, which helped it clinch the East and book a trip to Atlanta to play Auburn in the SEC championship game. Franklin, in his second game back, finished 18-of-28 for 233 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 80 yards. Josey was bottled up most of the night, but his 57-yard touchdown scamper late proved to be the game winner. Missouri’s defense deserves the most credit, though. It held Johnny Manziel to 195 yards passing and just 21 yards rushing.

No three-peat: Alabama’s quest for a third consecutive BCS title fell short on Saturday, and the Crimson Tide had only themselves to blame. They had been able to overcome turnovers, penalties and other mistakes all season long, but the miscues finally caught up to them against Auburn. It started with a missed field goal. AJ McCarron and his receivers didn’t look to be in sync early in the game. Then there was a blocked punt. With all of those errors, Alabama still jumped out to a 21-7 lead. But in the second half, the Tide missed three more field goals, and the last one proved to be the difference-maker as Auburn returned it 109 yards for the game-winning score. UA kicker Cade Foster drilled one of the attempts only to see the points taken away by a false start penalty. The stakes were high, and Alabama failed to play its best football. It cost the Crimson Tide.

QBs to the rescue: LSU and Mississippi State both won in dramatic fashion this weekend, and both have reserve quarterbacks to thank for it. In Mississippi State’s case, it was regular starter Dak Prescott who took over in the fourth quarter and led the Bulldogs past archrival Ole Miss in overtime. Prescott missed the two previous games with an injury and wasn’t expected to play Thursday. But Dan Mullen rolled the dice, and it worked. Mississippi State became bowl eligible with the win. LSU turned to freshman signal-caller Anthony Jennings out of necessity when Zach Mettenberger got hurt in the fourth quarter. Jennings led a 99-yard drive in the final minutes, throwing a 49-yard touchdown to push the Tigers past Arkansas.

No SEC in the BCS: It was a wild weekend in the SEC, but Saturday’s Iron Bowl could leave the conference out of the BCS title game for the first time since 2005. Alabama was the favorite to reach Pasadena and win a third straight national championship, but the Tide’s aspirations fell short against Auburn. Now it will likely be Florida State and Ohio State at the top with both Auburn and Missouri on the outside looking in. The SEC’s only hope is that either the Seminoles or the Buckeyes lose next weekend in their conference championship games or that the winner of the SEC title game will have a strong enough résumé to overcome one loss and jump an undefeated Ohio State team. If not, the league's seven-year reign might be over.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- About 10 minutes after the clock hit triple zeroes, as thousands of Missouri fans covered Faurot Field after rushing it in celebration of the Tigers' historic victory on a cool, crisp, clear November night they'll never forget, five words played over the stadium loudspeakers that led those fans to swoon.

"Georgia. Georgia ... the whole day through."

[+] EnlargeHenry Josey
Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsHenry Josey's 57-yard touchdown scamper sealed the Tigers' win over Texas A&M.
It was Ray Charles' rendition of "Georgia On My Mind." As the song continued to play, it sounded oh-so-sweet to the Tigers and their fans because they are indeed headed to Georgia next week, the result of a 28-21 win on Saturday night over Texas A&M which clinched the outright SEC East Division title and secured their spot in Atlanta for the SEC championship game against Auburn.

"Wow," coach Gary Pinkel said after plopping down in front of the microphone to meet with the media.

Wow, indeed.

The scenario that led to this sequence of events seemed impossible two years ago, because the Tigers and Aggies had yet to even enter the SEC and though they were on their way, many thought it would be a long time before either would have marked success or would play for the kind of stakes the Tigers did on Saturday night.

After a rough 2012 season that was marred by injuries, the Tigers heard the whispers. They weren't SEC-worthy. They didn't belong. They were in over their heads.

Saturday night -- and this entire season -- has been Missouri's way of silencing the critics. Even after putting the finishing touches on an 11-1 regular season, one that had the Tigers ranked fifth in the country heading into the weekend, there might be some who qualify Missouri's magical season by claiming it was a "down year" for the SEC East with Florida and Georgia not meeting preseason expectations.

Don't listen to them. This Missouri team is legitimate and worthy of being in the position it is in. It has done nothing but prove it week in and week out. With much more good fortune on the injury front this year than last, the Tigers have simply answered the bell at every turn with a lone exception, when they allowed a late lead to slip away in an overtime loss to South Carolina.

As heartbreaking as that loss was, the Tigers didn't allow it to snowball into something worse. Missouri had done enough good work in the first half of the season that it still controlled its own destiny in the division race. And down the stretch the Tigers did what they had to do -- win every game -- to secure their spot in the Georgia Dome.

For Missouri fans who are accustomed to having their hearts ripped out -- think "Five downs" against Colorado in 1990 or the kicked-ball touchdown against Nebraska in 1997 and all the "north end zone" heartbreak -- it's forgivable if their optimism was of the cautious type. But Saturday night, even when trailing, the Tigers didn't panic and they didn't collapse. They responded the way a championship team does.

Down 14-7 at halftime, the Tigers came out and made a statement drive to start the second half, coasting 75 yards down the field in seven plays and 2:45 to tie the game. Then, after a defensive stop, they covered 57 yards in eight plays to take a 21-14 lead. With the steady play of senior quarterback James Franklin (233 passing yards, 80 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and big-time plays from guys like L'Damian Washington and Marcus Murphy, the Tigers were in good hands.

[+] EnlargeL'Damian Washington
MCT via Getty ImagesWideout L'Damian Washington led Missouri with 97 receiving yards on six catches.
Defensively, Missouri kept a bruised and battered Johnny Manziel in check and though the Aggies were able to tie the score in the fourth, the game never felt like it was out of the Tigers' control. Some Missouri defensive players said afterward they could tell Manziel wasn't 100 percent and they kept applying pressure. The Heisman Trophy winner finished 24-of-35 passing for 195 yards and one touchdown and had just 21 rushing yards on 11 carries.

"We were relentless in the effort," Pinkel said. "Our defensive line wanted him so bad. They wanted a piece of him every chance they got. He's a great, great player, one of the best players [I've seen]."

With 3:34 left, junior Henry Josey burst through the line of scrimmage and broke free for a 57-yard touchdown and the game-winning points. It was a fitting way to cap the victory, as Josey has been through catastrophic damage to his left knee after gruesomely injuring it in November 2011 and missing all of 2012.

"It's really special," Franklin said. "I kind of see Henry as senior. We've been together since the beginning."

As the clock wound down and Missouri ran its final few plays to secure its win, fans around the stadium could be heard chanting "S-E-C! S-E-C!" While their first campaign wasn't exactly what Pinkel and Co. had hoped, the second stanza has been one for the ages in Columbia.

Trying to digest the magnitude of the moment in the aftermath, Pinkel recalled words from his mentor and a coach he long admired, the late Don James, as Pinkel pondered the next challenge ahead against Auburn.

"This is awesome," Pinkel said. "This is great. The most important thing -- I know what Coach James would say right now -- he'd say 'Get the guys back fast. Get their heads back fast.'

"Honestly, I'm so happy and so excited for my players and team."

SEC helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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Here are five individuals (or groups) from around the SEC who earned helmet stickers for their performances on Saturday.

Missouri's running game: The backfield committee of Henry Josey, Marcus Murphy, James Franklin and Russell Hansbrough led the way, as the Tigers racked up 260 yards rushing to handle Ole Miss on the road. Josey was Mizzou's statistical standout with 95 yards, a 6.3-yard average and two touchdowns. Murphy added 67 yards and a touchdown, and Franklin chipped in 42 yards in his return to the starting lineup. The senior quarterback, who averaged 5.3 yards a carry, showed just what a challenge he presents to defenses when they must account for his snap decisions to run, throw or do both. The Tigers have a reliable offense built on the foundation of their diverse running game. It should come in handy at home next week as they aim for Atlanta.

John Chavis: With an assist from some nasty weather, LSU's defensive coordinator architected what might have been a Heisman bid-killer in Death Valley on Saturday. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel was gunning for back-to-back trophies but ran smack into a determined Tigers' D. Manziel was only 16-of-41 passing (a career-low 39 percent) for 224 yards with two interceptions and two sacks. He also had only 54 rushing yards on 12 carries. All told, Johnny Football recorded a career-low 14.9 Total QBR on Saturday. Just as it was in a win at College Station last season, Chavis' key was having his front focus on containment in order to limit Manziel's improvisational magic. Mission accomplished.

Jordan Matthews: Any time Vanderbilt beats instate rival Tennessee in back-to-back seasons (Hint: It hadn't happened since 1925-26), a helmet sticker must be awarded. In a game that was more about two defenses fighting for every yard, the senior wide receiver caught 13 passes for 133 yards and broke the SEC record for career receptions. Matthews now has 246 career receptions and owns the mark previously held by Vandy's Earl Bennett, who caught 236 passes from 2005-07. Matthews also has the SEC record for career yards receiving (3,491).

AJ McCarron: We'll give a nod to Georgia QB Aaron Murray, who similarly feasted on an inferior opponent (four touchdown passes before leaving with an injury). But McCarron had much more on the line in leading the undefeated top-ranked Tide past Chattanooga. Like Murray at Sanford Stadium, McCarron also bore the emotional burden of playing in his final home game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. He was a brutally efficient 13-of-16 passing for 171 yards and two touchdowns (95.9 Total QBR), and he even found time to deliver brother Corey his first career reception. But the most important statistic in McCarron's sterling legacy at Bama is his 36-2 record as a starter, which broke a tie with Jay Barker for the school record.

Terrence Magee: Sure, the junior tailback has played second fiddle to Jeremy Hill all season. But Magee broke out on Saturday with a career-high 149 yards rushing in LSU's win against visiting Texas A&M. The conditions -- cold, wet, blustery and generally miserable -- called for a strong running game. Magee answered the bell early with a 65-yard sprint that put the Aggies defense on its heels and set up the Tigers' first touchdown. Magee led the way for LSU to amass 324 yards on 55 rushes, a ground assault for which A&M had no answer.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
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With apologies to Nick Saban, AJ McCarron, T.J. Yeldon, C.J. Mosley and all of the pageantry that accompanied the SEC's annual marquee regular-season matchup, there were just too many noteworthy performances to go handing out helmet stickers to the rolling Tide's usual suspects.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: With two touchdown passes in an easy 45-6 rout of Appalachian State on Saturday, Murray broke the 17-year-old SEC record of Florida's Danny Wuerffel (1993-96) for the most career TD passes. Murray entered the game already holding the SEC career marks for total offense and passing yards. The senior completed 19 of 26 passes for 281 yards in three quarters of work.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Ho-hum. Another week, another compelling argument in the sophomore's case for a second straight Heisman Trophy. Against Mississippi State on Saturday, Johnny Football threw for 446 yards with five touchdown passes (never mind those three interceptions). Honorable mention goes to senior Travis Labhart, once a walk-on, now a scholarship guy who has emerged as a key contributor at receiver. Manziel completed six passes to Labhart for a career-high 102 yards and two touchdowns.

Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: The former Georgia Bulldog and former juco quarterback accounted for 214 of Auburn's 444 rushing yards, running for two touchdowns and passing for another in the No. 9 Tigers' 55-23 dismantling of the home-standing Volunteers. Marshall posted a 99.6 Total QBR despite completing only 3 of 7 passes, but Gus Malzahn didn't need to throw with the success the Tigers were having on the ground. Marshall's 214 yards were the third-most by an SEC quarterback in a game over the last 10 seasons, behind only Heisman winners Manziel (229 yards vs. Oklahoma in 2012) and Cam Newton (217 vs. LSU in 2010).

Missouri's offense: The No. 8 Tigers encountered little resistance in their first league game in the Bluegrass State. Freshman quarterback Maty Mauk threw five touchdown passes to tie Chase Daniel's school record in Mizzou's 48-17 romp past Kentucky. Dorial Green-Beckham broke through in a big way. The 6-foot-6 sophomore, who was the nation's No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2012, had seven catches for 100 yards and four touchdowns. Not to be outdone, running back Henry Josey ran 11 times for 113 yards and two TDs, including an 86-yarder. The Tigers remain a half-game ahead of idle South Carolina in the East division.

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: Even in a 51-41 road loss to Texas A&M, a special heartfelt helmet sticker goes out to Prescott, who lost his mother last Sunday to her battle with cancer. Tyler Russell got the start after Prescott missed the week of practice before Saturday's game, but the two rotated, with Prescott getting the majority of the snaps. The Aggies had difficulty slowing him in the running game, as Prescott ran 16 times for 154 yards (9.6 yards per carry). He was 14-of-26 passing for 149 yards and two touchdowns. It was certainly a determined and inspiring performance under the most difficult of circumstances.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Back in August, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel asked his seniors what they wanted people to say about this football team come January.

Would it be the same team that limped through its first season in the SEC? Or would it make statement to the league -- and the nation -- that it could compete in the toughest conference?

Last year might have been a dud for the Tigers, but through seven games, they are one of the hottest teams in college football after taking Georgia and Florida down in consecutive weeks. After their 36-17 victory against the Gators on Saturday inside Memorial Stadium, it's safe to say people are thinking quite highly of this Mizzou team.

"I thought we were going to be a good football team," Pinkel said. "I don't know why nobody else thought we were going to have a good football team. I don't know, but I love my guys."

It was easy to write off Mizzou before the season after that less-than-impressive 2012 campaign. Injuries were catastrophic, but the perception was that this team was never tough enough to survive in the SEC.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports In his first career start, Missouri freshman Maty Mauk threw for 295 yards in a win against East foe Florida.
Now, the Tigers (7-0, 3-0 SEC) are sizzling. Their 36 points against Florida were the most the Gators have given up in league play since surrendering 41 to LSU in October 2011. That also snapped Florida's 13-game streak of allowing 20 points or less in SEC play. Mizzou's 500 yards of offense were the most against Florida since the Gators gave up 512 to Kentucky in October 2007.

Backup quarterback Maty Mauk filled in for James Franklin (shoulder) swimmingly with 295 yards and a touchdown. Henry Josey ran for 136 yards and a score, while the defense gave up just 2.5 yards per play and had six sacks.

In three SEC games, Mizzou has averaged 466 yards and outscored teams 128-71. With Saturday losses by Georgia and South Carolina, Mizzou has a two-game lead over the SEC East powers heading into next week's visit from the Gamecocks.

As injuries pile up, Mizzou is getting all three division heavyweights at the most opportunistic of times, but it's time to give the Tigers credit. This is a good team that could be one win away from essentially clinching the SEC Eastern Division in its second year in the league.

"We have a lot of guys who are good football players," Pinkel said. "You can be as competitive as you want, but if you're not a good football player it's not going to matter.

"We have guys making plays. These aren't just average guys out there."

Added Mauk: "We want to be that team that Coach Pinkel talks about."

It's on its way, but the Tigers aren't quite popping bottles of Gatorade. They're happy, but their goals are much bigger than just beating Florida.

Wide receiver L'Damian Washington said he and the seniors went to the coaches before the season and said they wanted more than just a bowl game. During SEC media days, Washington said the goal for 2013 was 11 wins or more. He was laughed at, even by a local radio station, he said, but he knew this team was capable of a special rebound.

[+] EnlargeHenry Josey
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMissouri running back Henry Josey scores on a 6-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
"We said, 'Let's not be complacent. Let's not talk bowl games,' " Washington said. "A bowl game is cool, but let's talk BCS, let's talk national championships.

"We believed in ourselves, and that's all that matters."

While the Tigers are believing, you have to wonder what's going through the Gators' minds. In back-to-back games, the offensive has been totally inept, gaining just 391 yards combined with 16 offensive points and one touchdown. Florida's 151 yards Saturday were its lowest since registering 114 against Alabama in the 1999 SEC championship game.

Mizzou kicker Andrew Baggett even outscored Florida, 18-17, with five field goals and three extra points.

"We are just not really a good football team," Florida coach Will Muschamp said, "certainly not today. That's all on my shoulders.

"I am pretty disappointed that we have not had more positive strides offensively at this point of the season."

These programs are now going in opposite directions. Mizzou has a stranglehold on the SEC East and controls its destiny to Atlanta. Florida (4-3, 3-2) is two games back and has a regressing offense.

Mizzou players are excited, but cautious. The road to Atlanta is clear, but obstacles still remain, and a slip-up next week to a reeling South Carolina squad could kill momentum. As good as this team is, it's all about hunger and humility from here on out.

"You have to act like you've been there at one point in your life," defensive end Kony Ealy said. "You can't get your head full of air and be up in the clouds or you will get knocked down to the ground really fast. You have to stay humble."

What to watch in the SEC: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
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Week 4 of the SEC season is here, and though the latest "Game of the Century" is behind us, there is still much to watch in the league this week. There are a couple of conference games on tap, including a rivalry game, and a chance for many SEC teams to either reset or find their footing against nonconference opponents. Let's take a look at 10 things to watch on Saturday around the conference.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Marshall and Auburn want to start 2-0 in the SEC, but have a tough test playing at No. 6 LSU at night.
1. Can Auburn go 2-for-2?: Auburn won its first SEC game in nearly two years, beating Mississippi State 24-20 last week. Can Auburn, under new head coach Gus Malzahn, start 2-0 in the league? That's a tall task, considering its opponent and location: LSU in Death Valley. It's hard enough to play in Baton Rouge, La., but a night game at LSU is asking a lot, where the team is 39-2 under Les Miles in that scenario. But Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall has showed some promise and the team gained confidence from last week's win. Never say never.

2. A chance to bounce back for Alabama's secondary: The Crimson Tide were victorious last week, but their defensive backs were torched against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans. Manziel threw for 464 yards against the Tide and Evans routinely beat man-to-man coverage. Head coach Nick Saban hinted this week that not everybody's jobs might be safe in the secondary, so it'll be worth watching if there are any changes back there when Alabama hosts Colorado State on Saturday.

3. Continued success from Mettenberger: Through three games, LSU looks like a capable passing team behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. He completed 65.2 percent of his passes (45 of 69) for 797 yards and nine touchdowns with zero interceptions. He has thrown eight touchdown passes in his past two games. These are all positive developments for the Tigers, who want to be able to make teams pay in the air when they stack the box to control the running game. Can Mettenberger continue the solid play when LSU hosts Auburn?

4. Reversing course for Georgia run D: The Bulldogs have allowed a whopping 211.5 yards per game on the ground in their first two games, putting them 102nd in the nation in the category. They're also allowing 6.2 yards per carry. It's worth noting that Georgia opened up with a schedule as tough as anybody's, playing a pair of top-15 teams out of the gate. But figures like that won't get it done when Georgia gets into the meat of its SEC schedule. This weekend's matchup against Conference USA foe North Texas is a chance for the Bulldogs to shore up things on the defensive end before a huge showdown with renowned running team LSU the following week.

5. Can A&M's D show signs of life?: The Aggies were dominated by Alabama's offensive line last week in a 49-42 loss and overall, the Aggies haven't been proficient at stopping other teams, particularly on the ground. They've allowed more than 200 rushing yards in each of their three games, and against Alabama failed to generate a pass rush. This week they host SMU and it will be the second straight week that the Aggies have most of their starting defensive players available and not subjected to a suspension of some sort. Now that most of the key players are back, namely linebacker Steven Jenkins, will the Aggies show some improvement on the defensive side of the ball?

6. Renewing a rivalry that's been one-sided of late: Florida and Tennessee meet at The Swamp on Saturday and the Gators are going to try to extend an eight-game winning streak against the Volunteers. The last time the Vols defeated Florida was in 2004, a 30-28 win in Neyland Stadium. This is the first installment of the rivalry for Butch Jones as Tennessee's head coach though. The Vols are coming off a 59-14 pounding at Oregon; fortunately for them Florida's offense is nowhere near as high-powered. The No. 19 Gators have their own wounds to lick, having lost to Miami 21-16 last time out and with key players like Jeff Driskel and Matt Jones trying to get to full strength healthwise. It's the SEC opener for both so it's an important game, no matter how you slice it.

7. Bulldogs, Commodores look to get back on winning track: Mississippi State and Vanderbilt both suffered SEC losses last week: The Bulldogs dropped a 24-20 decision to Auburn while the Commodores fell 35-25 to South Carolina. Mississippi State hosts Sun Belt squad Troy while Vandy travels to Massachusetts. Both teams are 1-2 and though wins won't help their efforts in SEC play, where both are winless so far, simply going out and getting a win -- which both should here -- will be a needed positive

8. Allen or Derby at QB for Arkansas?: Starting quarterback Brandon Allen injured his shoulder in a 24-3 win over Southern Miss last week and backup A.J. Derby relieved him during the Razorbacks' victory. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema hasn't publicly said for certain that Derby will start and hasn't ruled out Allen, but will monitor the progress of his shoulder before making the decision. Don't be surprised if Derby gets the start. He went 4-for-6 for 36 yards in relief duty. He was at Iowa his first two years before transferring to Coffeyville Community College and eventually Arkansas.

9. Mizzou looking for 3-0: The Tigers are looking for their third straight win, heading on the road to Indiana after a pair of home victories over Murray State and Toledo. While nobody will consider their nonconference schedule daunting, wins are wins. Quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey are healthy, the team is productive (averaging 539 offensive yards per game and 48 points) and the confidence that comes with success can be contagious. Another win this week over Indiana and next week over Arkansas State would give the Tigers a lot of momentum heading into SEC play.

10. Time to heal up, improve, for Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina: With these three teams having an open date this week, it's a chance to heal up any lingering injuries and work on fundamentals to help the team get better. Ole Miss probably would rather keep things going after a strong 3-0 start, including a win at Texas on Saturday, but the Rebels instead get extra time to prepare for No. 1 Alabama. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney could use the rest to reset from what has been a rough start, and this week can be a valuable teaching time for someone like head coach Mark Stoops at Kentucky, whose team is 1-2 after the first three weeks.

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