NCF Nation: Jordan Matthews

Clowney turns in freakish 40 time

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
11:05
AM ET
South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney said he was going to put on a show at the NFL combine, and he delivered Monday morning with an unofficial time of 4.47 in the 40-yard dash.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMIJadeveon Clowney wanted to make a statement at the NFL combine. He delivered on Monday morning.
That's a blistering time for a any defensive end. Clowney weighed in at 266 pounds, and his 40 time would rank among the fastest by a defensive lineman at the combine in the last 10 years. It was also faster than 56 running backs and receivers at the combine on Sunday.

There have been a ton of questions concerning Clowney, including his work ethic, focus and what motivates him. But he's easily the most explosive defender in this draft, and his 40 time will likely ensure his going in the top five.

Clowney did 21 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press on Sunday, which wasn't a big number. But with his long arms, that's not a huge concern.

Here's a look at how some of the other SEC players have fared so far at the combine:

Auburn DE Dee Ford: Ford made big news with something he said. He took a swipe at Clowney, saying the Gamecocks' defensive end "played like a blind dog in a meat market." Ford, who had 10.5 sacks last season, didn't work out Monday because of unspecified medical reasons. ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold reported that Ford was dealing with a lower back issue.

Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel: Electing not to throw at the combine, Manziel measured in at 5-11 3/4, but has huge hands for a guy his size (9 7/8 inches). Manziel's official 40 time was 4.68.

Auburn OT Greg Robinson: His official 40 time was a 4.92, which is staggering for a 6-5, 332-pound offensive tackle. He also did 32 reps on the bench press. Robinson obviously made the right call in coming out early because he's going to be the first or second tackle taken.

Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews: Measuring 6-3 and weighing 212 pounds, Matthews put to rest any questions about his speed and turned in a 4.46 in the 40.

Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief: Moncrief helped himself with a 4.4 40-yard dash time, as did South Carolina's Bruce Ellington with a 4.45.

Below are some other 40 times of SEC players (official times):

2013 SEC Super Seniors

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
1:30
PM ET
For the fifth consecutive season, we pay homage to the top seniors in the SEC.

We’ve selected the best 12 seniors in the league, period, and not one senior on each team. These guys all rose above and beyond in terms of on-the-field production, leadership and overall impact on their teams.

There were a lot of tough calls, and this senior class ranks up there with any we've seen in this league. What that means is that several deserving players were left off. We looked hard at how players fared against league competition, their consistency and whether or not they were able to make it through the whole season.

Here’s introducing our 2013 SEC Super Seniors. They’re listed in alphabetical order:

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
AP Photo/Dave MartinChris Davis made one of the most memorable plays in college football history.
Chris Davis, CB/RS, Auburn: Davis' kick-six to beat Alabama was the play of the year in college football, maybe the play of the last quarter-century. But that's what he did -- make plays. Davis led the league in punt return average (18.7 yards), tied for the league lead in pass breakups (15) and was second on Auburn's team with 74 tackles. It goes without saying that he was one of the key figures in the Tigers' improbable run to the VIZIO BCS National Championship game.

Dee Ford, DE, Auburn: Much like Davis, Ford was one of the driving forces in the Tigers' rise from winless in the SEC in 2012 to playing for the national championship this season. Ford finished second in the league with 10.5 sacks, including two against Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship, and also tied for second in the league with 14.5 tackles for loss. He was the heartbeat of an Auburn defensive line that was clearly the strength of that defense.

E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri: Even though Gaines might have been overshadowed by some of the other marquee cornerbacks in the SEC to start the season, he demonstrated on the field that he didn't take a back seat to anybody. Gaines led SEC cornerbacks with 75 tackles and tied for second in the league with five interceptions. He was the essence of a shutdown cornerback, as evidenced by his work on Texas A&M star receiver Mike Evans, who had a season-low eight receiving yards, in the Tigers' 28-21 victory over the Aggies.

Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State: If you were to look up road-grader in the football dictionary, you'd almost certainly find a picture of the 6-4, 340-pound Jackson. One of the top interior offensive linemen in college football, Jackson was a rock in the middle of that Mississippi State offensive line. When the Bulldogs needed tough yards and/or key yards, they almost always ran behind big No. 61. Jackson started in all 52 games of his college career at left guard.

Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt: Go back over the last five or six years and count the quality defensive backs to come out of Vanderbilt's program. Ladler would be right up there near the top, and he saved the best for last with a tremendous senior season. He was the only player in the country (in the FBS ranks) with at least five interceptions and five forced fumbles and finished second among SEC defensive backs with 91 tackles.

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: One of the best recruits the Aggies picked up last year was when Matthews decided to return for his senior season. He moved from right to left tackle and had an All-American senior season as Texas A&M led the SEC in scoring offense (44.2 points) and total offense (538.4 yards). Matthews excelled in pass protection, but was equally effective as a run-blocker.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiVanderbilt's Jordan Matthews made an SEC-record 112 receptions in the 2013 season.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt: Matthews leaves quite a legacy at Vanderbilt. Not only was he one of the centerpieces of a Vanderbilt team that won nine games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in history, but he set a slew of SEC records. His 112 catches this season were the most ever by an SEC player, and he's also the league's career leader in catches (262) and receiving yards (3,759).

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: McCarron fell short this season of securing his third consecutive national championship ring as a starting QB, but he'll still go down as one of the winningest quarterbacks in SEC history. The 2013 Heisman Trophy runner-up, McCarron was Mr. Clutch for the Crimson Tide and did some of his best work on the biggest stages. He was second in the SEC this season with 28 touchdown passes and third in passing efficiency.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Mosley blossomed into the ultimate do-it-all linebacker for the Crimson Tide and became the first player under Nick Saban at Alabama to record 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. But as good a tackler as Mosley was, he was just as good in coverage, blitzing the quarterback and chasing sideline to sideline. And as the "quarterback" of that defense, he was the guy who made the checks, got everybody lined up and helped clean up mistakes.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Sadly, Murray's senior season was cut short when he tore his ACL against Kentucky. He'd been a warrior all season for the Bulldogs despite losing just about all of the playmakers around him to injury. Murray was brilliant in some of Georgia's biggest games, including victories over LSU and South Carolina and even the heartbreaking loss to Auburn. He finished second in the SEC in total offense (296.5 yards per game) and leaves as the SEC's all-time leader in passing yards (13,155) and touchdown passes (121).

Michael Sam, DE, Missouri: Always a solid contributor for the Tigers, Sam emerged as a senior as one of the top big-play defenders in the SEC. He earned first-team All-American honors and led the league in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19). His late sack and forced fumble in the AT&T Cotton Bowl resulted in a touchdown and was the decisive blow in Missouri's 41-31 victory over Oklahoma State.

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: Arguably the most underrated player in college football, Shaw engineered the third consecutive 11-win season for the Gamecocks and battled through an assortment of painful injuries to have his best season yet. He finished with 24 touchdown passes and only one interception and accounted for 31 total touchdowns. His gutsy performance off the bench in the comeback win over Missouri on the road was one of the performances of the year in the SEC.

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.
The loss of James Franklin is really going to sting for Vanderbilt. There's just no way to get around it, but all should not be lost for those that make up a more-energized Commodores fan base.

While it will be very hard for Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams to replace the charisma, fire and work ethic that Franklin displayed every day he was on the job, the program is light-years ahead of where it was before Franklin's arrival in 2010, which should help make this a more attractive job for top-notch coaching candidates.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Zumapress/Icon SMICoach James Franklin, who is now Penn State's new coach, has left a solid foundation at Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt was the perennial cellar-dweller of the SEC before Franklin came along. Now, there's swagger after three consecutive bowl berths (two straight wins) and back-to-back nine-win seasons (all firsts for the Commodores). The facilities have vastly upgraded and they'll only continue to get better because of what Franklin did -- and demanded. A new coach might not have the attitude and salesmanship of Franklin, but he'll have a good base to work with in Nashville, Tenn.

When Vanderbilt hired Franklin more than three years ago, the program had won just four games total in the previous two seasons and had always been traditionally looked down upon. Making a bowl would have been a major accomplishment for Franklin and the program, but he went far beyond that. Because of his triumphs with the Commodores, it will be much easier for this program to attract a decent name from the coaching ranks.

The Commodores could certainly look in-house, at defensive coordinator Bob Shoop or offensive-line coach Herb Hand, but if Williams decides to search elsewhere, he shouldn't have much of a problem luring solid candidates. Expect well-known up-and-coming coordinators to hear their names attached to this opening. Vandy might never be a true SEC championship contender, but it's now a job that you can't laugh at. There's moxie and confidence swirling throughout that locker room and program.

There's also a new breed of talent. Studs such as Jordan Matthews, Wesley Johnson, Andre Hal and Kenny Ladler might be gone, but there's a solid group of youngsters still in town. Keep an eye on running backs Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow. Defensive end Caleb Azubike appears to have a bright future ahead of him, as do cornerbacks Paris Head and Jahmel McIntosh.

Getting Vandy to stay competitive means the Commodores' next head coach has to be able to build immediately. Even with a solid foundation, he has to be able to hit the same recruiting spots in the Southeast, especially the Atlanta area, with the same tenacity Franklin showed. He has to be able to keep the same level of confidence in that locker room and he has to invigorate a fan base that took a bit of an emotional hit with the loss of Franklin in order to keep this program relevant.

What Franklin did in Nashville was tremendous. Even after taking Vandy bowling in his first season, there was still plenty of skepticism. But the next year he did it again, this time winning a bowl, and equaled that accomplishment in 2013.

Really, keeping Franklin this long was a major win for Vandy, and now he leaves this program in much better shape than how he found it. He showed that there's a recipe for winning at Vandy -- but it isn't easy, and he's leaving some monster shoes to fill. The expectations are much higher at Vandy and it's going to take a special person to keep this momentum going.

Institutions with strong academic traditions have proven of late that winning is in fact an option. Vandy beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season for the first time ever in 2013 and hasn't lost a game in November since 2011. This team had a ton of momentum going into the offseason with Franklin as the coach, but now it's someone else's turn to keep that fire burning. With what Franklin has taught these guys, they'll be able to find it, and you had better believe they'll be motivated to show they can win without him.


It was a wild one in Birmingham, Ala., but behind 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt defeated Houston 41-24 in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The Commodores opened the game with a 24-0 lead at halftime before allowing the Cougars to score 24 straight points of their own in the third quarter.

However, a 21-yard touchdown run and late interceptions by safety Jahmel McIntosh and cornerback Andre Hal helped seal Vandy's win after a valiant Houston comeback.

It was over when: Hal intercepted Houston quarterback John O'Korn and returned it 30 yards to the Houston 2-yard line, setting up Vandy's final touchdown.

Game ball goes to: In his final game in a Vanderbilt uniform, senior receiver Jordan Matthews led the Commodores with five catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Surprisingly, this was Matthews' first multi-touchdown game of the season. All of Matthews' stats came in the first half. He caught five of quarterback Patton Robinette's six pass completions. The SEC's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards enjoyed a nice final game at the college level.

Stat of the game: It truly was a tale of two halves in Birmingham. The Commodores outgained Houston 232-22 in the first half and held the Cougars to just one first down. In the second half, Houston dominated the stat chart with 362 offensive yards to Vandy's 133. Houston outgained Vandy 309-44 in the third quarter alone.

Stat of the game II: Both teams combined to go 3-of-34 on third downs and punted 20 total times.

Unsung hero: Vandy kicker Carey Spear connected on two big field goals and five extra points. He also made a touchdown-saving tackle on a 62-yard kickoff return by Demarcus Ayers. The Cougars failed to score on the drive.

What it means for Vanderbilt: Vandy is now 16-4 in its past 20 games and has now won bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. The Commodores also have back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time ever. Expect coach James Franklin to hear his named mentioned even more when it comes to head-coaching vacancies at both the college and pro level. It wasn't the prettiest victory after a bit of a second-half lull for the Commodores, but this win should still give the Commodores a ton of momentum going into the offseason. It certainly won't hurt in recruiting either.

What it means for Houston: The Cougars shouldn't hang their heads for too long after this loss. There is still a lot of good, young talent on this team, starting with O'Korn, receiver Deontay Greenberry and running back Ryan Jackson. The offense stalled against Vandy's stout defense early, but showed just how explosive it can be when things started to click in the third quarter. A solid second year under Tony Levine should help create higher expectations for a Houston program that should come back stronger in 2014.

To watch the trophy presentation of the BBVA Compass Bowl, click here.

BBVA Compass Bowl preview

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
11:00
AM ET
Vanderbilt is looking to win back-to-back bowl games for the first time, while Houston wants to show that its high-powered offense can send another SEC defense reeling in the postseason.

The Commodores (8-4) and Cougars (8-4) meet in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. Here's a quick preview:

Who to watch: Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews. The SEC's all-time leader in receptions and yards steps back into his home state to take on a pass defense that is allowing 276 passing yards per game (ranked 116th in the nation). Matthews was one of the SEC's best receivers this season, catching a league-high 107 passes for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns. He's averaging almost nine catches and 111.2 yards per game.

Matthews had eight 100-yard receiving games this season and has caught double-digit receptions in three consecutive games. But it will be interesting to see if he sniffs the end zone -- Houston has given up just 12 touchdown passes and has 23 interceptions.

What to watch: Both secondaries. Houston has given up a lot of yards through the air, but one thing that could work in the Cougars' favor is the fact that Vanderbilt starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels is out (knee surgery). That means backup Patton Robinette will have to lead this offense. Robinette has passed for 488 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions this season. If the Cougars can harass him and keep Matthews in check, Vandy will have a long day.

On the other side, Vandy's secondary has been solid all season, allowing just 204 passing yards a game. Leaders Andre Hal and Kenny Ladler had solid seasons, defending 21 passes and snagging seven interceptions. Houston freshman quarterback John O'Korn has thrown for nearly 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns, while receiver Deontay Greenberry has 76 receptions for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Why to watch: The Commodores have been a feel-good story since James Franklin took over as coach three years ago, and this is the last time we'll see Matthews play in a Vandy uniform. He's had a truly special career with the Commodores, and it was only elevated with the arrival of Franklin. Plus, the Commodores have a chip on their shoulders after getting passed by Mississippi State in the bowl pecking order.

With Houston, it's a chance to see a team possibly on the rise behind a pretty fun offense that could give the Commodores fits. Behind a young quarterback and young playmakers such as Greenberry and running back Ryan Jackson, the future could be very bright for the Cougars.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 23, Houston 21. Two fun offenses take the field in Birmingham, but Vandy will be without its starting quarterback. This is a big stage for Robinette, but having Matthews next to him to make plays should take the pressure off him.

2013 ESPN.com All-SEC team

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
9:00
AM ET
We still have the bowls to play, but we've gone ahead and selected our 2013 All-SEC team at ESPN.com.

Some of the selections were no-brainers. Others were agonizingly difficult to make. We placed a heavy emphasis on performance in big games, consistency and how a player impacted his team both on and off the field. Durability and being in the lineup the entire season was also a factor. In other words, if a player missed three or four games, we took that into account. And when it was close everywhere else, we looked at SEC-only statistics as the tiebreaker.

Here's what we came up with:

OFFENSE

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Greg Robinson, Auburn
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas

DEFENSE

DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Dee Ford, Auburn
DL: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
LB: Ramik Wilson, Georgia
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: Lamin Barrow, LSU
DB: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
DB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri
DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Michael Palardy, Tennessee
KR: Solomon Patton, Florida
PR: Chris Davis, Auburn

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
12:03
PM ET
It wasn’t hot much anywhere in the United States this past weekend. Talk about some nasty, cold weather.

But in the realm of SEC football, we saw temperatures both spike and plummet.

Here’s a look back at Week 13 in the SEC:

GLOWING EMBERS

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/Dave MartinAJ McCarron has the Tide in line for another title shot and himself creeping up on the outside in the Heisman race.
SEC power: At varying times this season, we’ve heard talk about the SEC possibly being down or this not being as strong a year in the league, or about other leagues having caught up. It’s true that Florida and Georgia have had disappointing seasons and that some of the defensive numbers have been out of whack across the league. But looking at the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, there are four SEC teams in the top 10 and five in the top 15. Three of the top five teams in the newest BCS standings released Sunday night are also from the SEC, and all three have chances to play their way into the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game if the chips fall just right these last couple of weeks. Two-time defending national champion Alabama is No. 1 and simply needs to win its last two games to get to Pasadena. But Auburn is No. 4, and with a win at home over Alabama this Saturday, could move into great position to play for the national title if the Tigers could follow that up with a win in the SEC championship game and get Ohio State to lose. The same goes for Missouri, which is No. 5. The Tigers would need to beat Texas A&M at home this weekend and then take down Alabama (or Auburn) in the SEC championship game. At that point, if Ohio State were to stumble, Missouri would be in excellent shape to nab one of those top two spots in the final BCS standings. South Carolina is also a top-10 team and still eyeing a BCS bowl berth if the Gamecocks can knock off Clemson this weekend. All in all, not a bad year for a league that was supposed to be down.

HOT

Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews: They don’t get much better than Matthews, as a player or a person. In his past two games, he has 25 catches for 274 yards and is now the SEC’s career leader in receptions (246) and receiving yardage (3,491 yards). Matthews is the first receiver in SEC history to post back-to-back seasons of 90-plus catches and is two catches shy of the SEC single-season record. The remarkable thing about what he has done this season is that opposing defenses have shadowed him and doubled him, but he just continues to produce. And if you really want to know what kind of person Matthews is, go watch his news conference following Vanderbilt’s 14-10 win over Tennessee on Saturday. He didn’t want to talk about himself. Rather, he wanted to talk about all of the people who had helped him get to this point, including coaches, teammates, family members and fans.

NOT

Ole Miss’ red zone offense: The Rebels will be kicking themselves for a while over their inability to take advantage of chances in the red zone in their 24-10 loss to Missouri. On three trips inside the 20, Ole Miss came away with just a single field goal, which pretty well snuffed out any shot the Rebels had of upsetting the Tigers and potentially getting to 10 wins this season.

HOT

LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson: On your list of true freshmen in the SEC who are destined for stardom, be sure you have Robinson near the top of that list. He did a marvelous job in manning up against Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans on Saturday and helped hold Evans to four catches for 51 yards and no touchdowns. Robinson didn’t become eligible until right before the season began, so he got off to a late start. But the more you watch him, the more he looks like the next great cornerback to come out of the LSU program.

NOT

Bowl-eligible teams: Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee have all been eliminated from bowl contention. Mississippi State has to win against Ole Miss this weekend to extend its postseason streak to four straight years. Otherwise, five teams from the SEC will be staying home for the second consecutive year.

HOT

AJ McCarron’s Heisman chances: We can sit here all day and debate about whether McCarron is truly the most outstanding player in college football. Two things that are not debatable, though, are that he’s one of the most accomplished winners in college football history and is now right in the middle of the Heisman Trophy race with two weeks remaining until the vote. Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Bryce Petty all took big hits last week, and who knows how the off-the-field allegations against Jameis Winston will play out? If McCarron plays well the next two weeks and the Crimson Tide make it to Pasadena, he could very well become only the second Heisman winner in Alabama’s history.

NOT

[+] EnlargePatton Robinette
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsPatton Robinette's late touchdown gave Tennessee its first two-game losing streak to Vanderbilt since the 1920s.
Winning seasons at Tennessee: The Vols are now assured of their fourth straight losing season after falling 14-10 at home to Vanderbilt, the first time since the 1920s that Tennessee has lost two in a row to the Commodores. But you have to go all the way back to 1903-06 to find a stretch when Tennessee had suffered through four straight losing seasons. What’s left for the Vols this season is trying to avoid the first eight-loss season in school history when they travel to Kentucky this Saturday. The dubious “firsts” are piling up for a program that had been to five SEC championship games in 12 years before Phillip Fulmer was pushed out following the 2008 season.

FREEZER BURN

Votes of confidence: OK, I know Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley specified last week that it wasn’t the dreaded vote of confidence he was giving third-year coach Will Muschamp. But come on, that’s exactly what it was. And how many times has that worked out for a coach, where his boss comes out publicly and says his embattled coach is going to be back and have a chance to fix things? After seeing what happened to Florida last week in an embarrassing 26-20 loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern in which the Eagles won at the Swamp without completing a pass, you can’t help but wonder if Foley wishes now that he’d just waited a couple of weeks before he said anything. Why come out this late in the season, at least publicly? All that said, the only choice Florida has (and the right choice) is to give Muschamp another year. Foley knows as well as anybody that there were serious issues with the program when Muschamp took over for Urban Meyer following the 2010 season. Remember, it was Meyer himself who conceded that the program was “broken.” You also don’t fire a guy a year removed from winning 11 games and going to a BCS bowl. Muschamp simply hasn’t been able to get it right on offense, and that has to change if he’s going to be around past a fourth season. He will obviously have to make changes on the offensive side of the ball. But here’s the problem with that: With Muschamp facing a win-or-else season next year, how many top offensive minds are going to be lining up to come to Gainesville under those circumstances? It’s not going to be an easy fix and it’s mind-blowing to see the Gators headed toward their first losing season in more than 30 years. But giving Muschamp a fourth season is the right thing to do … with or without a vote of confidence.

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.

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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Nothing was hotter this past weekend than the dramatic ending of that Auburn-Georgia game. Elsewhere in the SEC, though, it wasn’t quite as toasty.

Here’s a look at our Week 12 version of Hot and Not in the SEC:

GLOWING EMBERS

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
AP Photo/Dave MartinGus Malzahn already has engineered a seven-win turnaround from 2012's 3-9 debacle.
Auburn’s magical ride: Sometimes, it’s just meant to be. Call it miraculous. Call it lucky. Call it whatever you want. But Nick Marshall’s batted 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis in the final seconds Saturday, lifting Auburn to an improbable 43-38 win over Georgia, kept this magical ride going for the Tigers. They’ve now won seven straight games and will take on No. 1 Alabama in two weeks in the Iron Bowl with the SEC's Western Division championship on the line. Is this really the same team that didn’t win an SEC game a year ago and was outscored 150-21 in its last three SEC contests? That’s an easy answer … no. Gus Malzahn and his veteran staff have come in and restored everything that had seemingly vanished from a program that won a national championship only three years ago. There was certainly more talent on this team than last season’s 3-9 record would suggest, but the difficult part for Malzahn was restoring the Tigers' edge after they went belly-up last season. It's safe to say he has done that. And before anybody says Auburn has been more lucky than good, show me just about any championship team and I’ll show you a team that has had some luck along the way. This team believes right now, and we’re in store for one epic Iron Bowl on the Plains in two weeks.

HOT

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray: He has been around for so long that we’ve probably all taken him for granted, but Murray is one class act and one terrific football player. He did everything he could to bring Georgia back from the dead in the fourth quarter against Auburn. The fifth-year senior has been a rock all season for the Bulldogs despite crippling injuries around him and has exuded class every step of the way.

NOT

Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell: The Bulldogs’ senior quarterback hasn’t been able to catch much of a break this season. He suffered a concussion in the opener and had to miss several games, eventually losing the starting job to Dak Prescott. This past weekend, Russell got another shot against Alabama after Prescott was unable to play because of a shoulder injury, but Russell wasn’t able to finish the game after hurting his shoulder while trying to make a tackle following his fourth-quarter interception.

HOT

Florida’s grit: Nobody is happy in Gator Nation right now, and that starts with coach Will Muschamp. But there’s something to be said for the way Florida fought its guts out Saturday in a tough 19-14 loss to South Carolina. The Gators were down to their third-string quarterback and had an excellent chance to win the game on the road against a top-15 team.

NOT

Preseason rankings: Florida, Georgia and LSU all started the season ranked in the top 12 of the Associated Press poll. As we head into Week 13, those three teams have a combined 13 losses, and LSU still has to face Texas A&M at home this weekend.

HOT

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyJordan Matthews had a season-high 12 receptions as Vanderbilt reached bowl eligibility with a victory over Kentucky.
Vanderbilt: We all know Vanderbilt coach James Franklin doesn’t like to talk about bowl games, but we will. Thanks to the Commodores’ 22-6 victory over Kentucky last weekend, fueled by 12 catches for 141 yards from senior receiver Jordan Matthews, they’re now headed to a bowl game for the third straight season. For perspective, Vanderbilt had been to only four bowl games in its history before Franklin arrived. The Commodores also have a chance to get to nine wins for the second straight season if they can win out over Tennessee, Wake Forest and their bowl opponent.

NOT

Alabama’s focus: Good thing the Crimson Tide’s defense came to play Saturday in Starkville. And good thing the Tide were playing Mississippi State. Against a more talented team, Alabama would have been toast. Four turnovers going forward will mean an end to their national championship run. OK, maybe not this weekend against Chattanooga, but certainly against Auburn in two weeks and any other games after that. Something says this week in practice won’t be a lot of fun for the Tide.

FREEZER BURN

Fans’ patience: It's that time of year again when they’re lining up at the town square. That's a reference to Bobby Bowden’s classic line regarding fans' impatience when a football team or a unit on a football team starts to struggle. Bowden would always say, "They want a hanging at the town square." With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, it's safe to say there are more than a few restless fan bases around the SEC. It remains to be seen who's really in trouble. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley insists that Muschamp will be back for a fourth season, but it's difficult to see Muschamp's offensive staff returning intact. Mississippi State fans aren't thrilled with Dan Mullen right now, and that's despite the Bulldogs still having a chance to go to a fourth straight bowl. The Georgia fans are furious over the way the defense has played this season, although given the Bulldogs' youth, it was obvious they were going to struggle on that side of the ball. If LSU loses to Texas A&M this weekend there could be grumbling on the Bayou about Les Miles. Even first-year coaches aren’t spared. Arkansas has lost seven straight under Bret Bielema, and the fans in the Ozarks are wondering how they could go from 21 wins in 2010 and 2011 to 15 losses in the past two seasons. In this league, there is no equity and even less patience.


COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Just like it has been all season, the attention going into Saturday was on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Was he going to play, or would he sit? How was his shoulder? As he often has this year, Johnny provided a lot of drama.

But the real story from the Aggies' 56-24 win over Vanderbilt at Kyle Field was the performance of the A&M defense. A unit that came into the game ranked 118th in total defense, and was in the bottom 20 nationally in most major defensive statistical categories, put together what was easily one of its best performances of the season.

[+] EnlargeDarian Claiborne
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M turned Darian Claiborne and its pass rush loose, which resulted in seven sacks against Vanderbilt.
Sure, Vanderbilt was playing with a backup quarterback (freshman Patton Robinette made his first start in place of injured Austyn Carta-Samuels), but honestly, that mattered little. This is an A&M defense that struggles to stop virtually everybody. The Aggies allowed 306 rushing yards to Rice. They allowed 240 to FCS opponent Sam Houston State.

After taking a gut punch from Auburn last week to the tune of 45 points and 615 yards (379 rushing), any positive sign is acceptable at this point.

"We need an example to show us how we should play, and now we have an example," sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha said. "We can always go back to the Vandy tape. This type of production we expect from the defense, and this is the standard that we expect from our defense. So, it was good to have a game like this."

There was an energy there that didn't seem to exist consistently in recent weeks for the Aggies' D. Howard Matthews (14 tackles, one interception return for a touchdown) played probably his best game of the season. The pass rush was relentless, led by Gavin Stansbury's two sacks, and the 12 tackles for loss. The unit matched its season total for sacks with seven against the Commodores and held an opponent to under 100 yards rushing for just the second time this season. It finally looked like the unit defensive coordinator Mark Snyder envisioned he'd have coming into the season.

"I dialed it up," Snyder said of what generated the consistent pass rush. "We pressured a lot more than we have pressured because we finally could. We felt like we finally got to the point where all the pieces were in place. We had practiced together, and I felt comfortable calling some pressures because everybody knew where they were supposed to be."

Much of that came from a few noteworthy personnel moves. True freshman cornerback Noel Ellis got plenty of time in place of Toney Hurd Jr. at nickel cornerback. Junior linebacker Donnie Baggs, who hasn't started since Sept. 14 against Alabama, got the starting nod at strongside linebacker. True freshman defensive end Daeshon Hall didn't start but saw heavy playing time rotating with starting ends Stansbury and Obioha. Starting defensive tackle Alonzo Williams missed the game with a foot injury, and junior Ivan Robinson replaced him.

The Commodores' best weapon -- receiver Jordan Matthews -- had a solid day (eight catches, 92 yards), but his longest reception was 21 yards. The biggest play came from Jonathan Krause on a 44-yard reception in the first half. Matthews, to his credit, became the SEC's career receiving yards leader with 3,172.

If the Aggies can build on this performance, the outlook for the rest of the season is bright.

Although the defense showed well, most eyes were on Manziel in the early going. For a guy with an injured throwing shoulder, it sure didn't seem to affect him. He completed his first 10 passes and led the Aggies to four consecutive touchdown drives to start the game.

Coach Kevin Sumlin was tight-lipped about Manziel's status all week leading up to the game, calling the Heisman Trophy winner "hopeful." He never budged from that statement but said Saturday that he wasn't playing coy and that Manziel was truly a game-time decision as he tried to recover from the shoulder injury he suffered last week.

Manziel began throwing Wednesday and participated in 11-on-11 drills Friday and even woke up Saturday with soreness. But he said there was no keeping him off the field.

"In my mind, I was always going to play," Manziel said. "It would take a lot to keep me off the field and away from these guys. They count on me, and they expect me to be there."

He completed 25 of 35 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. He ran much less than he usually does because it wasn't in the game plan, mostly to protect him from further injury.

Although Manziel was able to make every throw necessary to put the Aggies' offense in the right position, he got plenty of support from the running game as the Aggies combined for 189 yards, led by Trey Williams' 65 and Brandon Williams' 61.

It was far from a clean win. The Aggies committed five turnovers and allowed the game to get closer than it had to in the first half. But it's something they can build off of as they approach the homestretch.

"It's been a little frustrating as of late with some games a little closer than we wanted," Manziel said. "We felt we've played pretty good all around, but we just need to continue to get better. That's the thing. We're not where we were last year in every aspect of our game, but we have a coaching staff that won't quit until we're where we need to be."

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray is on the verge of breaking several SEC career records, but also needs to help keep Georgia in the SEC East race.
1. Missouri offense vs. Florida defense: Missouri earned its biggest victory in its year-plus in the SEC last weekend when it beat Georgia. The Tigers' challenging October schedule continues this week when No. 22 Florida brings its fearsome defense to Columbia, and the Tigers must face those Gators without starting quarterback James Franklin, who separated his shoulder against Georgia. Freshman Maty Mauk did a fine job against Georgia's subpar defense, but he will face few stiffer challenges than what he'll face Saturday against a Florida defense that is allowing just 235.3 yards per game. Mizzou is third in the SEC in total offense with an average of 515.7 yards per game, so the many talented skill players at Mauk's disposal will have to give the new starter a hand on Saturday.

2. Record watch in Nashville: In Saturday's Georgia-Vanderbilt game, a handful of SEC career records could fall. With 112 career touchdown passes, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is just two behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record. And with 12,203 career yards of total offense, Murray needs 29 yards to match Tim Tebow's SEC mark. On the other sideline, Vandy's Jordan Matthews needs 97 receiving yards to match Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 yards. Matthews had 119 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season.

3. Gators running game: With the news this week that running back Matt Jones became the seventh Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury, the Gators' running game is now largely in the hands of Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. Brown has been solid enough thus far, rushing for a team-high 340 yards. But Taylor is the guy many Gators fans are excited about. The son of UF great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor has rushed 16 times for 98 yards (6.1 per carry), including 10 carries for 52 yards in last week's slugfest against LSU. Missouri's run defense ranks third in the SEC at 126.2 YPG, but Georgia freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas ran for 157 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry against the Tigers' last week. The Gators probably need Brown and Taylor to be similarly productive in order to hang with the Tigers' prolific offense.

4. Marshall back for Auburn: After sitting out last week's blowout win against Western Carolina with a knee injury, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall returns to the lineup this week against Texas A&M. Marshall rushed for 140 yards -- the most by an SEC quarterback this season -- in his last game, the Tigers' 30-22 win on Oct. 5 against then-No. 24 Ole Miss. He led the resurgent Tigers to a 4-1 record before taking a seat last week while true freshman Jeremy Johnson played for the first time -- and won SEC Freshman of the Week honors -- against the overmatched Catamounts.

5. Can Georgia recover? With half a dozen starters sidelined last week against Missouri, Georgia lost its first home game since September 2011. Now the Bulldogs limp to Vanderbilt, where they have struggled in two of their last three visits before earning narrow wins. UGA hopes to reach next week's open date with its SEC East hopes still intact. All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley likely still won't play this week, so the Bulldogs' offense must hope Murray, freshman tailbacks Green and Douglas and their crew of replacement wideouts can generate enough offense to outscore the slumping Commodores.

6. Vols back from open date: The last time we saw Tennessee, it came within an eyelash of upsetting then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime. First-year coach Butch Jones' team took last weekend off and now has another enormous test on its hands: a visit from No. 11 South Carolina, which finally seems to be hitting its stride after some early struggles. Volunteers fans are optimistic about the new coaching staff, but their team hasn't beaten a ranked opponent in its last 19 tries. Their next four opponents are all ranked in this week's AP Top 25.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze and Bo Wallace will try to snap Ole Miss' losing streak against LSU this weekend.
7. Can Hogs “snap out of it?” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said this week that he doesn't want his players to be a bunch of “Debbie Downers” after Saturday's 52-7 loss to South Carolina. That was the Razorbacks' fourth straight loss, the most lopsided loss of Bielema's coaching career and matching his worst defeat as a head coach. Unfortunately for Arkansas, it visits No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, where it will be a four-touchdown underdog. It could be a long second half of the season for the Razorbacks.

8. Maintaining historic run: The SEC set a record when Auburn jumped into this week's AP Top 25, giving the conference eight ranked teams. But that historic total might be short-lived. At No. 24, Auburn will likely drop out if it loses on Saturday at No. 7 Texas A&M. No. 15 Georgia and No. 22 Florida also can't afford a loss if they want to remain in the poll next week.

9. Repeat performance for Aggies? Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense gained 671 total yards, the most ever allowed by an Auburn defense, in last season's 63-21 win against the Tigers. Those 63 points also represented the third-most points ever scored against the Tigers. If that wasn't the last straw for then-coach Gene Chizik and his staff, it was awfully close. New coach Gus Malzahn has instilled new optimism on the Plains. The Tigers are a ranked team for the first time since November 2011, but the Aggies are still a two-touchdown favorite.

10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.

Reranking the SEC's top 10 players

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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It’s never easy to come up with the 25 best players in the SEC heading into the season.

There’s a lot of projection involved, and there are always players who come out of the woodwork and others who simply don't live up to their billing.

But as we reach the midway point of the season, at least now we have some real performances to evaluate. So we’re taking a second shot at reranking our top 10 based on what the players have done to this point.

Again, this is not a ranking of where players sit on NFL draft boards. Rather, it’s a ranking reflecting how they have played during the first part of this season and their impact on their teams.

We took injuries into consideration. For instance, Florida’s Dominique Easley was playing better than any defensive lineman in the league, but only played in the first three games. The same goes for Georgia running back Todd Gurley, who’s missed most of the last three games. Both are great players, but they didn't play in enough games to be included in our midseason list.

Here’s what we came up with:

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesAs good as Johnny Manziel was last season when he won the Heisman Trophy, he's arguably been even better this year.
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (preseason: No. 2): He's the reigning Heisman Trophy winner for a reason, and he's making a strong bid to win it for the second straight year. Manziel was sensational this past week in leading the Aggies to a last-second win on the road at Ole Miss, and even in Texas A&M's lone loss of the season to Alabama, Manziel put on a show with 562 yards of total offense and five touchdown passes. He's the Michael Jordan of college football. The only real way to defend him is hoping he's off his game, which rarely ever happens.

2. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (preseason: No. 5): With all the injuries the Dawgs have incurred on offense, Murray is carrying that team and playing the best football of his career against a killer schedule. He did have a costly interception late against Missouri last week, but he threw eight touchdown passes and only one interception in the two wins over LSU and South Carolina. He's accounted for 20 touchdowns, which leads the SEC, and is right behind Manziel in passing with 304 yards per game.

3. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU (preseason: unranked): One of the most improved players in college football, Mettenberger has blossomed under first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and is a big reason the Tigers are lighting up scoreboards like never before under Les Miles. Mettenberger leads the SEC in passing efficiency, is completing 66.7 percent of his passes, and has thrown 15 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. In LSU's only loss (to Georgia), Mettenberger threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns.

4. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina (preseason: unranked): The Gamecocks had a good feeling coming out of the summer that Davis was primed for a big season. But he's been even better than anybody expected and has set the pace among a star-studded group of running backs in this league. Davis leads the league in rushing with 742 yards (an average of 123.7 yards per game) and has rushed for more than 100 yards in five of his six games. He also has nine touchdowns and has shown the ability to hit the big play with three runs of 50 yards or longer.

5. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (preseason: No. 6): The move from right tackle to left tackle for Matthews has been a snap, and he's playing as well as any tackle in America right now. The Aggies' offensive line, period, is playing lights out, and having a player with Matthews' expertise, talent and experience anchored on that left side is invaluable. The Aggies have given up only seven sacks in six games and are averaging nearly 600 yards of total offense per game.

6. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama (preseason: No. 8): Mosley's sheer numbers on defense aren't going to blow you away. But turn on the tape and watch everything he does for that Alabama defense, from making the calls to getting everybody lined up to always being in the right place at the right time. Mosley leads the Tide with 48 total tackles and is one of the surest tacklers in the league. He's also excellent in coverage and is one of those guys who's always making key stops or pass breakups when Alabama needs it most.

7. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU (preseason: unranked): After a rocky offseason that nearly cost Hill the rest of his career at LSU, he's bounced back with a vengeance. Hill is second in the league in rushing with 715 yards (an average of 119.2 yards per game) and really didn't get started until the third game. He was suspended for the opener and carried it only six times in the second game. But he's rushed for more than 100 yards in four of his last five games and was a straight-up man running the ball last week against that vaunted Florida defense.

8. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (preseason: No. 17): He's the one-on-one matchup no defensive coordinator wants to think about. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Evans was held in check last week against Ole Miss, but that was the exception. He leads the SEC with an average of 122.8 receiving yards per game and has caught five touchdown passes. Nobody goes up and gets the ball like Evans, who pulled in seven passes for a remarkable 279 yards against Alabama. He's averaging 23 yards per catch.

9. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt (preseason: No. 14): The Commodores' record-breaking senior leads the SEC with 47 catches and is second to Evans in receiving yards per game (118.2). With Chris Boyd dismissed from the team and not playing this season, opposing defenses have shadowed Matthews at every turn, but he's continued to produce. He has five touchdown catches and is averaging 15.1 yards per catch. His consistency is what sets him apart. In his last 15 SEC contests, he's averaging more than 120 receiving yards per game.

10. James Franklin, QB, Missouri (preseason: unranked): It's a shame that Franklin separated his throwing shoulder last week in the win over Georgia and will now be sidelined for the foreseeable future. In the year of the quarterback in the SEC, Franklin was playing as well as anybody. He'd accounted for 17 touchdowns and was one of three quarterbacks in the SEC (along with Manziel and Murray) averaging more than 300 yards per game in total offense. Franklin's command of the Tigers' offense had been outstanding.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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The SEC East is like the Wild West, while Alabama is still in control of the West. Also, eight teams from the SEC are ranked in the AP poll. What a fun conference:

1. Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC; last week: 1): Twitter was ablaze with tweets concerning Alabama's slow start at Kentucky. That worry quickly left after the Crimson Tide scored 31 consecutive points in the first half and cruised to a 48-7 win. Alabama isn't perfect, but it still has a hold on the SEC and is still the country's top team.

2. Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Aggies certainly don't have much of a defense, but it doesn't really matter with Johnny Manziel running the show. For the second consecutive year, Manziel led a come-from-behind, game-winning drive against Ole Miss in Oxford. Not even a freak knee injury could slow him down. As long as he's making defenses look silly, the Aggies are a title contender.

3. LSU (6-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 4): So there's that LSU defense we know and love. After some questionable early play, the Tigers defense held Florida to six points and just 240 yards of offense. With relentless pressure from the LSU defense, Florida's offense wilted inside of Tiger Stadium. LSU's offense wasn't great, but running back Jeremy Hill rushed for 121 yards against the nation's No. 1 rush defense.

4. Missouri (6-0, 2-0 SEC; LW: 7): Yeah, we all saw this one coming. These Tigers are undefeated and have the SEC's second-hottest offense behind Texas A&M. Mizzou strutted into Athens over the weekend and walked out with a win and their chests puffed out after a 41-26 win. The question now is if the Tigers can keep their momentum with quarterback James Franklin sidelined with a shoulder injury. It's Maty Mauk time in Columbia.

5. Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Bulldogs defense struggled in the first half against Mizzou, but offensive mistakes really cost Georgia against the Tigers. Georgia was banged up on both sides of the ball and just didn't have the offensive star power around Aaron Murray to make a run late. It has been a rough week for the state of Georgia in the world of sports, and an unhealthy Bulldogs team is really hurting heading into its trip to Vanderbilt.

6. South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 6): Like LSU, we finally saw a balanced, solid defensive performance in a big game from the Gamecocks. Arkansas' running game churned out more than 200 yards, but the Gamecocks shut down the Hogs passing game, allowing just 30 yards on 4-of-13 passing. Connor Shaw continues to prove that he's made out of titanium and Mike Davis has rushed for 100-plus yards in five of six games.

7. Florida (4-2, 3-1 SEC; LW: 5): The Gators just couldn't get anything going on offense in Baton Rouge. Quarterback Tyler Murphy looked bewildered against LSU's blitz, and the offensive line crumbled under pressure. The offense averaged just 3.5 yards per play. The defense gave up some big plays, but held Zach Mettenberger to just 152 yards and a QBR of 46.7. No one would have blamed Florida's defense if it didn't allow the offense on the plane home Saturday.

8. Auburn (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 8): No, the Tigers weren't playing hefty competition over the weekend, but this team is getting pretty fun to watch. Even without starting quarterback Nick Marshall, the Tigers registered 712 yards behind Jeremy Johnson in their 62-3 win over Western Carolina. Also, 511 of those yards came on the ground. Watch out for these Tigers.

9. Ole Miss (3-3, 1-3 SEC; LW: 9): How do you not run the ball on your final possession with Johnny Football standing on the other sideline? You can't give Manziel time to work with, and after the Rebels threw three straight incomplete passes on their last drive, Manziel was given 2:33 seconds to drive and win the game. He did, and the Rebels, who had their defense gashed, lost their third straight game.

10. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC; LW: 10): The Commodores were off this weekend, so this team got an extra week to work out some of those defensive kinks. They'll need everything to be ironed out with a frustrated Georgia team heading to town. Keep an eye on receiver Jordan Matthews. He has had a stellar start to the year and leads the SEC with 47 receptions and is third with 709 yards.

11. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 12): The Vols were off, but they moved up because of what happened while they were hanging out on the couch this weekend. Plus, almost beating Georgia two weeks ago was pretty impressive. This team still has a long way to go before it's truly competitive in the SEC, but the performance against Georgia might give the Vols some nice momentum for the rest of the season.

12. Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 13): The Bulldogs got quite the scare at home against Bowling Green. With a two-headed quarterback attack of Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott, Mississippi State slipped by the Falcons 21-20. It certainly wasn't pretty, but it was a must-win for the Bulldogs as they look to make it to the postseason. The Bulldogs are off this week, which is probably a good thing, as this team looks to regroup after an up-and-down first half of the season.

13. Arkansas (3-4, 0-3 SEC; LW: 11): Picking the Razorbacks to pull the upset over South Carolina was a major mental lapse on my part. The passing game was nonexistent against the Gamecocks and the defense was trampled on. This team can run the ball, but it just doesn't have an adequate passing game right now to make a real push in Bret Bielema's first season.

14. Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats had some fight early against Alabama, but then the talent difference put the Wildcats back in their place. Coach Mark Stoops said his team doesn't plan to cave and will be competitive from here on out. It has been a rough first year for Stoops, but attitude is everything when it comes to building.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
9:00
AM ET
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.

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