NCF Nation: Jordan Reed

This marks the final year of the BCS, and you better believe the SEC would love to close the BCS era with eight straight titles. It would also ensure that the league has even more momentum going into the playoff, which starts during the 2014 season.

Colleague Travis Haney took a look at which conference has the best playoff path starting next year. He makes a pretty good case for the SEC, which should be able to get its conference champion in every year.

But who can wait for 2014 title talk? Yeah, me either, so why not take a look at SEC teams with the best BCS title paths in 2013? Spring practice begins this month, so we might as well throw out some very, very early thoughts on teams' championship hopes.

Let's take a look at which SEC teams have real BCS title shots in 2013:

ALABAMA

Pros: The Crimson Tide still have Nick Saban. That should be reason enough to make Alabama the odds on favorite to win its third straight national championship and fourth in five years. But there are many other reasons why Alabama tops our list. The offensive line might have to be rebuilt, but Alabama returns the nation's most efficient quarterback in AJ McCarron, who could have easily opted for the NFL after his junior year, a beast at running back in rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon, a host of talent -- and explosiveness -- at wide receiver, and most of the pieces to last year's top-ranked defense. Some big names have to be replaced on both sides, but this team really is reloading in 2013. Also, if the Tide can escape Virginia Tech (in Atlanta) and Texas A&M (in College Station) early, Alabama could go through the year unscathed, with road games coming against Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn.

Cons: Forget the pressure. Saban doesn't allow pressure to eat at his players. What Alabama has to do is replace three studs on that offensive line. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are all gone. Winning the battle in the trenches is essential to competing in the SEC, so Alabama's less experienced linemen have to grow up in a hurry. Also, no team can do it three times in a row, right?

TEXAS A&M

Pros: Johnny Manziel is back and last year proved that the Aggies are tough enough to compete in the big, bad SEC. Kliff Kingsbury might not be calling the plays anymore, but there is a lot of young talent on offense, including wide receiver Mike Evans and running backs Brandon Williams and Trey Williams, that should still give SEC defenses fits. A&M gets Alabama at home in Week 3 and trade Florida for Vanderbilt.

Cons: The Aggies lost a lot from their 2012 team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is gone, along with receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, who combined for 98 catches for 1,398 yards and 15 touchdowns. The front seven has a lot to replace, including All-American defensive end Damontre Moore and linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Kingsbury's sideline work with Manziel will be missed, and the Aggies have to play LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas on the road.

GEORGIA

Pros: Georgia will be down wide receiver Tavarres King on offense, but it shouldn't be too hard to find someone to help make up for the loss of his production with all those talented receivers. "Gurshall" returns and so does quarterback Aaron Murray, who could become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in each of his four years on campus. Bringing back the entire starting five on offense will also keep this offense trending upward.

Cons: The Bulldogs lost 12 players who either started or saw significant time on defense. Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo are just a few of the big names that are gone. There certainly is talent remaining, but replacing all those players would be tough for anyone. Also, look at that schedule. The Dawgs start the year with Clemson, South Carolina and LSU before September even arrives. Losing more than one game during that stretch could all but end Georgia's title hopes.

FLORIDA

Pros: The Gators lost some key players on defense, but coach Will Muschamp is bringing back a host of defensive talent that should do just fine in 2013. Marcus Roberson could be an All-SEC performer at cornerback, and incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the talent to start opposite him immediately. Ronald Powell returns to help out a young but very talented front seven that includes rising sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. Also, the Gators should be very deep at running back and have a more complete offensive line in 2013.

Cons: No one is quite sure what to make of that offense. Sure, the Gators should be able to run the ball, even without workhorse Mike Gillislee, but what about throwing it? Jeff Driskel really struggled last year, and the Gators lost their best receiving option in tight end Jordan Reed. Florida will have to rely on five true freshmen to help at receiver, but Driskel has to increase his confidence and become a better presense in the huddle for this offense to improve at all. Florida also takes on Miami, LSU and South Carolina on the road.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Pros: The Gamecocks might be without Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders, but they should be very balanced on offense in 2013. South Carolina has two very capable quarterbacks to work with in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, a talented group of running backs returning, led by rising sophomore Mike Davis, and more experience at receiver. One-man wrecking crew Jadeveon Clowney is back, and could be a legit Heisman candidate. South Carolina also spends the final month of the season at home.

Cons: Replacing Sanders will be tough because he did so much on offense and special teams. Clowney will have help up front, but South Carolina must replace its two-deep at linebacker. That's going to be quite the chore. Also, stud safety D.J. Swearinger, Spur DeVonte Holloman and cornerback Akeem Auguste all have to be replaced. Right now, this staff will have to rely on a handful of youngsters to help out this spring. The Gamecocks must also go to Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas.

LSU

Pros: The offense has to be more well-rounded in 2013. Cam Cameron is in at offensive coordinator, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger made major strides during the last month of the season. All of his receiving weapons are back, the offensive line should be better and there is a wealth of talent still at running back. The Tigers also get Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas at home.

Cons: The defense was gutted after the 2012 season. The defensive line has to be rebuilt, someone has to step in for Kevin Minter at middle linebacker and the secondary must fill in the holes left by Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. There is a lot of young talent on defense, but guys have to grow up quickly in Baton Rouge this year. Playing Alabama and Georgia on the road will be very tough as well.

What we learned in the SEC bowls

January, 9, 2013
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Now that the bowl season is over, it's time to take a look back at what we learned in the SEC during the postseason:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesNick Saban and Alabama will be among the favorites to win the national title again next season.
1. It really is Alabama's world: For the second straight year and for the third time in four years, Alabama took home college football's crystal hardware. After the first 15 minutes of the Discover BCS National Championship, it didn't even look like No. 1 Notre Dame deserved to be on the same field as the Crimson Tide. Alabama wore down the Irish defense in the first half, and its defense tormented Notre Dame's offense for about 90 percent of Monday night's game. Nick Saban didn't have his most talented team, but he had his squad way more prepared than Brian Kelly did. Saban's way of making sure his players approach every game the same way proved to be excellent again. Notre Dame was completely overmatched, and with the talent coming back in 2013, Alabama should again be the favorite to win it all. Three-peat?

2. The SEC's dominance is still being challenged: Even though Alabama brought home the SEC's seventh straight BCS title, the SEC's perception is still being challenged. Social media has been buzzing with chants of "overrated" directed toward the SEC because Mississippi State, LSU and Florida all fell flat in their bowl games. Mississippi State lost by 14 to Northwestern, LSU lost to Clemson on a last-second field goal and Florida was run ragged by Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Heading into bowl season, Florida and LSU weren't expected to lose, but they got away from their ground games and paid for it dearly. Still, the SEC went 6-3 (.667) in bowl games, including Texas A&M's 41-13 rout of Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and Georgia and South Carolina downing Big Ten teams. Only the WAC (2-0) and C-USA (4-1) had better winning percentages, and neither had nearly as many bowl teams. So is the SEC down? Well, while the SEC took a couple of bad losses in bowl season, seven teams finished the year in the Associated Press Top 25, including five in the top 10. The Big Ten and Big 12 had losing bowl records, the Pac-12 went 4-4 and the ACC was 4-2. So, if the SEC is overrated, what are the other conferences?

3. Florida's offensive issues are still a major problem: All season, we wondered what we'd see from Florida's offense. However, for 11 games, even if the offense came up short, the Gators found ways to win. Against Louisville, the Gators went in reverse and never got right again. Jeff Driskel threw a pick-six on the first possession, and the offense imploded from there. Mike Gillislee, who was easily Florida's best offensive weapon, carried the ball just nine times. The Gators panicked, but when they had to pass, they couldn't.

This has to be a major concern for the Gators going forward, because Gillislee is graduating and tight end Jordan Reed declared for the NFL draft. Driskel has to find some major help in the passing game this spring/summer, or Florida's offense will get pummeled again. Driskel's health is now a major concern because backup Jacoby Brissett is transferring, leaving the Gators with no experience behind Driskel.

4. More eyes will be on Ole Miss ... and Vanderbilt: Before the season, no one gave Ole Miss a chance at the postseason -- or even five wins -- but the Rebels went out and had a tremendous first year under Hugh Freeze. If not for a couple of horrendous second halves, the Rebels might have won eight games during the regular season. After a dominating performance in their BBVA Compass Bowl win against Pittsburgh, the Rebels could be looking at a spot in preseason Top 25 polls. Most of this team, including what could be a stellar recruiting class, will be in Oxford next fall, so expectations will be much higher.

The same can be said about James Franklin's Vanderbilt Commodores. After a historic nine-win season that ended with a commanding bowl win over NC State, the Commodores will be expected to keep up this act after being even better in Year 2 of the Franklin era. Vandy will lose some talent up front defensively, and Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy will be gone, but a host of playmakers will return, including receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd.

5. Johnny Football's legend just keeps growing: After Texas A&M lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury to Texas Tech, Johnny Manziel's field maturity was really going to be judged in the AT&T Cotton Bowl against the Sooners. Well, all he did without one of his best mentors was set a bowl record for total yards (516) in the Aggies' rout inside Jerry's World. Manziel zigged and zagged as though Kingsbury was feeding him info through an earpiece. People don't understand how much Kingsbury helped Manziel with his composure during games, but Manziel did just fine without him. It shows how much he's grown during his Heisman year. Things will be different next season with some key players also missing on offense, but to see Manziel play like that without Kingsbury has to be very encouraging for Kevin Sumlin and the rest of the Aggies' coaching staff.
Will MuschampDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsWill Muschamp must evaluate the Gators' offense this offseason following a rough Sugar Bowl loss.
NEW ORLEANS -- It's funny how the perception of a team can change so quickly.

Most of the time leading up to Florida's bout with Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl involved conversations about how good the Gators could be in 2013. The overwhelming thought from pretty much every side of the college football spectrum was that the Gators would handle a talented, yet, overmatched Louisville team and then wait to see how high they would rise in next year's preseason polls.

With a chunk of talent returning on defense and an offense that just had to get better, Florida was looking at being a legitimate national title contender in 2013.

However, all that talk ceased when Louisville's Terell Floyd intercepted Jeff Driskel's opening pass and took it 38 yards for a touchdown to give the Cardinals an immediate 7-0 lead. At the time, the play looked harmless in the grand scheme of things, but it proved to totally break the Gators' offensive concentration.

From there, Florida panicked offensively (star running back Mike Gillislee ran the ball just nine times), and Driskel's composure and pass attempts became harder and harder to watch.

The offense rarely wowed in 2012, but during its first appearence in 2013, with a month of work, it totally collapsed, leaving the Gators with a load of question marks entering spring practice.

That Gators always found a way to bounce back with its mediocre offensive attack, but had no answers against the Cardinals. Now, it really is back to the drawing board for Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

But what does Florida do? Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett is still unsure if he'll return, but if he leaves, players have to have more confidence in Driskel than they had this fall. The rhythm and timing has to improve or this offense isn't going anywhere.

Driskel became a major scapegoat for the offense in the Twitterverse Wednesday night, but as former Florida quarterback Chris Leak told me after the game: It's hard to do much of anything when there isn't much of anything around you. Driskel might have composure issues in the pocket, but he has just one consistent receiving weapon in tight end Jordan Reed, who got injured Wednesday night. He also played behind an offensive line that was wildly inconsistent in pass protection.

Pease has said that the offensive line will be better in 2013, but that might not matter much if the Gators don't find a couple of consistent receiving threats. Reed is still on the fence about coming back, and if he doesn't, Florida will enter spring with only one player who caught 30-or-more passes in 2012 -- wide receiver Quinton Dunbar (36).

Pease and new receivers coach Joker Phillips have to find someone who can catch the ball on a regular basis, with or without Reed in the lineup. The Gators just can't run their offense effectively next year without it because teams won't respect the pass next year. They were too respectful at times this fall.

With freshmen Adam Lane and Kelvin Taylor coming to help Matt Jones and Mack Brown, the Gators will look to be run-oriented again, but as LSU has taught us, you have to have a threat to pass or you'll get eaten up against tougher defenses. And the use of the "Wildcat" will have to be greatly scaled back because it really has lost its effectiveness.

Teams respected the running game in 2012. They will look to clobber it in 2013 if a receiver doesn't step up. Will it be a freshman? Dunbar? Tight end Kent Taylor? Who knows, but everything this offense got away with in 2012 won't fly next season.

Florida has the defensive talent to make another strong run through the SEC, but if the offense doesn't really evolve in the next nine months and if Driskel still isn't comfortable for a majority of the time, scenes like Wednesday night's might be a recurring theme.

Sugar Bowl X factors

January, 2, 2013
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We're officially in BCS mode here on the SEC blog, and with No. 3 Florida taking on No. 21 Louisville in tonight's Allstate Sugar Bowl, we've asked for a little assistance when it comes to checking out tonight's X factors.

Big East/ACC blogger Andrea Adelson dropped by to examine Louisville's X factor, while I'll take a look at the Gators' key player:

Lorenzo Mauldin, So., DE: Florida has had its problems passing this season, and its problems protecting the quarterback. So you have to figure the Cardinals' game plan on defense is going to be to load up the box to stop Mike Gillislee and contain Jeff Driskel. If Florida is forced to pass more than it wants, watch out for Mauldin, who leads the Cardinals with 4.5 sacks on the season. He did miss some time this year with a knee injury, but he is now completely healthy and could very well be an X factor in this game. Florida has given up 36 sacks this season to rank No. 106 in the nation. In a loss to Georgia, Florida gave up five sacks. In a near-loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida gave up five sacks. So the Gators offense can be slowed down. Mauldin is not an every-down player, but a sack specialist. So his role will be even more magnified playing on the end because he will also be relied on to try to seal off the edges should Driskel try to run away from pressure.

Jordan Reed, Jr., TE: Throwing the ball hasn't been the Gators' strength all year, but Reed is easily Florida's best pass-catcher and he was one of the top tight ends in the SEC during the regular season. Reed caught 44 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns, and if the Gators are going to balance things out offensively tonight, Reed has to make some plays. Louisville's defense doesn't give up a ton of yards and ranks 19th nationally in pass defense, giving up just 193.8 yards per game. The Gators had the SEC's worst passing game, so you know the Cardinals are going to load the box to stop running back Mike Gillislee. That means Florida will need to mix in more passes, and for Driskel to find some sort of comfort on the field, he'll have to get the ball into Reed's hands because he's such a mismatch for Louisville's linebackers. It's a group that could get overwhelmed with a guy like Reed because of his size and speed, and if Reed can make some plays underneath, it will open up the deep ball for Driskel, which is something the Gators haven't had much of this whole season.

2012 ESPN.com All-SEC team

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
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All that remains of the 2012 college football season are the bowls, which means it’s time to select our All-SEC team.

In this league, that’s never an easy task. There are more deserving players than there are spots. In selecting the team, we placed a heavy emphasis on performance in big games and how a player impacted his team both on and off the field. When it was close, we looked at SEC-only statistics as the tiebreaker.

Without further ado, we introduce you to the 2012 ESPN.com All-SEC Team:

OFFENSE
  • QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, Fr.
  • RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia, Fr.
  • RB: Eddie Lacy, Alabama, Jr.
  • WR: Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas, Sr.
  • WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt, Jr.
  • TE: Jordan Reed, Florida, Jr.
  • AP: Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee, Jr.
  • OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M, Jr.
  • OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M, Jr.
  • OL: Chance Warmack, Alabama, Sr.
  • OL: Larry Warford, Kentucky, Sr.
  • C: Barrett Jones, Alabama, Sr.
DEFENSE
  • DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina, So.
  • DL: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M, Jr.
  • DL: Sharrif Floyd, Florida, Jr.
  • DL: Sam Montgomery, LSU, Jr.
  • LB: Jarvis Jones, Georgia, Jr.
  • LB: Kevin Minter, LSU, Jr.
  • LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama, Jr.
  • CB: Dee Milliner, Alabama, Jr.
  • CB: Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State, Sr.
  • S: Eric Reid, LSU, Jr.
  • S: Matt Elam, Florida, Jr.
SPECIAL TEAMS
  • K: Caleb Sturgis, Florida, Sr.
  • P: Kyle Christy, Florida, So.
  • RS: Marcus Murphy, Missouri, So.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
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Louisville Cardinals (10-2) vs. Florida Gators (11-1)

Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET, New Orleans (ESPN)

Louisville take from Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: The Cardinals were the overwhelming preseason choice to win the Big East because they returned just about everybody off a team that won a share of the league title last season. The star among the bunch lived up to his top billing, as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater knocked just about everybody’s socks off with his performance in 2012. He is the biggest reason why Louisville is headed to the BCS and not a second-tier bowl game.

But this team had major adversity to overcome. Louisville survived one close call after another en route to a school-record 9-0 start. Then came loss No. 1 on the season, a stunning 45-26 blowout on the road to Syracuse in which the Orange outplayed the Cardinals in every single phase of the game. Then came loss No. 2, an inexplicable triple-overtime home defeat to UConn -- a team with one of the worst offenses in the nation. In that game, Bridgewater broke his wrist and sprained his ankle, yet nearly led a comeback win.

Louisville went into its regular-season finale at Rutgers without many people giving the Cards much of a shot to win. Rutgers jumped out to a 14-3 lead. But Bridgewater refused to be denied. Playing through his injuries, he led Louisville to a 20-17 comeback win to clinch the BCS spot. Bridgewater ended up throwing for 3,452 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season and was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the entire nation. He may have been an unknown outside the Big East before the season began; that is no longer the case.

Bridgewater allowed his team to survive the loss of leading rusher Senorise Perry, who tore his ACL against Syracuse and is out for the season. He allowed his team to win games it struggled in for a large chunk of time. And he allowed his team to survive some pretty shaky play on defense. It’s safe to say that many expected Louisville to be better than it was defensively this season, particularly up front. But for a majority of the season, the Cardinals had a hard time consistently stopping the run or consistently getting a pass rush going.

And yet, Louisville found a way to win 10 games and get back to a BCS game. In Teddy, Louisville trusts.




Florida take from GatorNation's Michael DiRocco: The Gators were one of the nation’s biggest surprises this season.

They followed up a 7-6 mark in coach Will Muschamp’s debut season with an 11-1 record in 2012, highlighted by victories over Texas A&M, South Carolina, LSU and Florida State. And if USC had upset Notre Dame, Florida could possibly be playing for the national title.

Florida’s turnaround was led by a smothering defense, which isn’t surprising considering Muschamp’s background. The Gators rank in the top six nationally in total defense, rush defense and scoring defense and have allowed opponents to throw just five touchdown passes. Safeties Matt Elam and Josh Evans, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and linebacker Jon Bostic have had career years.

But the biggest change is how good the Gators have been at forcing turnovers this season. UF forced just 14 in 2011, which was the lowest single-season total in school history since the school began compiling fumble stats in 1950. This year, UF has forced 29, which includes 19 interceptions (four by Elam), and the Gators have a plus-17 turnover margin.

UF’s offense hasn’t been pretty, but coordinator Brent Pease did a good job of compensating for a lack of playmakers at receiver and injuries along the offensive line. Running back Mike Gillislee finally got his chance to be the feature back, and he responded with 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns to become the first UF player to surpass 1,000 yards since Ciatrick Fason in 2004.

After finally settling on Jeff Driskel as the starter, Pease put together game plans that took advantage of Driskel’s mobility and didn’t ask the sophomore to do too much. Manage the game and stay away from mistakes were the goals, and Driskel did that this season with one exception (Georgia). He ended up throwing for 1,471 yards and 11 TDs -- many of those yards to tight end Jordan Reed (44 catches for 552 yards) -- with only three interceptions while running for 409 yards and four touchdowns.

The Gators could play conservatively on offense because of their outstanding defense, but also because of punter Kyle Christy and kicker Caleb Sturgis. Christy, a Ray Guy Award finalist, was a field-position weapon with a 46.1-yard average (fifth nationally) and 25 punts of 50 or more yards. Sturgis, a Lou Groza Award finalist, made 23 of 27 field goal attempts and is the school’s all-time leader in field goals (69) and field goals of 50 or more yards (eight).

What to watch in the SEC: Week 11

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
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There are a lot of interesting matchups and storylines in the SEC this weekend, so let's take a look at what to watch on Saturday:

1. SEC championship matchup: By late Saturday night, we could know exactly who will be playing for the SEC title in Atlanta. Alabama kicks things off with its game against red-hot Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa, while Georgia heads to the Plains on Saturday night to take on struggling Auburn. Neither of these games are gimmies, but Alabama and Georgia are favored and have the more complete teams. If the Bulldogs win, it'll be their second straight SEC East title, while Alabama would be winning the West for the first time since 2009. A loss by Georgia and Florida takes the East. A loss for Alabama, and it could come down to next week's game with Auburn to see who takes the West.

2. Tennessee's defensive changes: After so many bad defensive performances by the Vols, Derek Dooley said this week that he'll be much more involved with the defense going forward. That starts this weekend against a very banged-up Missouri team that has literally limped along on offense all season. But will Dooley's extra help make this defense that much better? He promised "major changes" but understands that he can't have a complete overhaul of things in just one week, and this unit might need exactly that. Still, taking on a struggling offense such as Missouri's could give this unit the confidence it needs to make some real positive strides this weekend.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/Stephen MortonThe Gators hope to see some progress from QB Jeff Driskel and the offense this week.
3. Florida's wide receiver struggles: The SEC season is over for the Gators, and with two cupcakes in a row, it's time for this offense to find more playmakers. Florida got by with only its running game for so long, but a complete implosion on offense against Georgia cost the Gators a shot at clinching the SEC East last week. So Saturday's matchup with Louisiana-Lafayette gives the Gators the chance to find someone who can consistently catch the football other than tight end Jordan Reed. Jeff Driskel needs a lot more help in the passing game if this offense is going to make any sort of progress before the regular-season finale against Florida State. The good news for Florida is that the Ragin' Cajuns are 118th nationally in pass defense.

4. Alabama's D vs. Johnny Football: We saw some holes open up in Alabama's defense last week against LSU. The players insist that things will get cleaned up this week, but the Aggies have an high-octane offense that could exploit Alabama's weaknesses, especially with a quarterback like Johnny Manziel. He has been the SEC's most exciting player and could pose quite a problem for this defense with his ability to run and throw. He's second in the SEC in passing and first in rushing. It comes down to being very sound and balanced on defense to contain him. Alabama's secondary gave up some big plays last week, and Texas A&M has a better passer and receivers for the Tide to handle.

5. Tide and Tigers fatigue: Last week's epic showdown between Alabama and LSU was great for TV, but it had to be very hard on all those bodies on the field. Both teams are a little nicked up this week, but expect to be relatively healthy for the weekend. Still, you have to think that these squads won't have the same amount of energy they had last week -- mentally or physically. That's a lot to ask after such a physical game. The Tide will need a lot of stamina to contain the Aggies, and LSU is dealing with a Mississippi State team that is looking to find its dignity after back-to-back blowouts. We'll find out a lot more about the character of both of these teams Saturday.

6. Bowl hopes: A handful of SEC teams are still looking to get to six wins, and could take crucial steps forward this weekend. Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are both a win away, and the Rebels are essentially in must-win mode with LSU and Mississippi State looming. Vandy has had the Rebels' number recently and has all the momentum going into Saturday's game. Missouri and Tennessee are both sitting at four wins and the Tigers really can't afford to lose, because they end the season at Texas A&M. The Vols still have Vandy and Kentucky on the schedule. Arkansas is also fighting for its bowl life, but has to take on South Carolina in Columbia. However, the Razorbacks have had a lot of success against the Gamecocks recently.

7. Playing without Lattimore: It's life after Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina. The true heart of the Gamecocks' team was lost for the season two weeks ago after suffering a devastating knee injury. Now, it's time for this team to proceed with the rest of its schedule without him. While he won't be on the field for the Gamecocks, he'll certainly be a part of this team and he'll provide major motivation. But how this team responds without Lattimore against Arkansas will say a lot about where it is mentally. South Carolina has running back options in Kenny Miles and Mike Davis, so the Gamecocks should still be able to run the ball. But can they stay focused?

8. Someone is going bowling in Oxford: Regardless of the outcome between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, someone will leave Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with a postseason berth. If the Rebels win, they will be bowl-eligible for the first time since 2009, after combining to win only six games in the prior two seasons. A Vanderbilt win, and the Commodores will be bowl-eligible for the second straight season, and will have a chance to play in a bowl in consecutive years for the first time in school history. Talk about major turnarounds for both programs. Ole Miss has lost three of its past four to Vandy, including two at home, so it's not as though the Commodores will be intimidated by entering the Rebels' home.

9. Rediscovering that swag: After back-to-back blowout losses to Alabama and Texas A&M, the Bulldogs have lost all of the swagger they had for the first seven weeks. You can point to that soft early schedule and say that it masked a lot of the issues this team has on both sides of the ball. But Saturday is a chance for some redemption for the Bulldogs. They'll take on a tired LSU team that just missed out on taking the SEC West. Their spirits could be low, and if the Bulldogs are going to pounce and generate some momentum for the rest of November, Saturday is the time to do it. It has the secondary to really frustrate quarterback Zach Mettenberger, but does it have the offense to put up points?

10. James Franklin's confidence: Missouri's quarterback has been beaten up all season. Two shoulder injuries and a sprained knee have made him a shell of his former Big 12 self. Franklin has shown his toughness all season, but he was visibly shaken after throwing four interceptions in an ugly 14-7 loss to Florida last weekend. You can tell some of his confidence is gone, and if the Tigers are going to have a chance at making a bowl in their first season in the SEC, they need Franklin to rediscover his confidence. He's hurting, but he still has the ability to make plays, and Tennessee's defense gives him the opportunity to find some of those big plays he's used to making.

SEC power rankings: Week 11

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
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The season is almost coming to a close, but one thing remains in the SEC: It's Alabama's world and its opponents are just trying to survive ...

1. Alabama (9-0; last week: 1): The Crimson Tide looked human against LSU over the weekend. After struggling for the better part of four quarters, Alabama needed a last-minute touchdown drive to beat LSU. Thanks to some sharp passes from AJ McCarron and a perfectly timed screen to T.J. Yeldon, Alabama is still the No. 1 team in the country and still controls its path to Miami. But did LSU give the rest of the nation a blueprint for beating the Tide?

2. Georgia (8-1; LW: 3): The Bulldogs played their most complete game of the season in their blowout win over Ole Miss. Georgia looked like the team we thought we'd see for most of the year. Better late than never, right? A win over Auburn and the Dawgs are headed back to Atlanta for the second straight season. Many have to be wondering if the Georgia offense we saw Saturday could really test the Tide.

3. Florida (8-1; LW: 4): It's clear that the Gators still need a lot of help in their passing game after a dreadful offensive performance against Missouri. Jordan Reed continues to be the only consistent receiving weapon, which is adding a ton of pressure to Florida's running game. Loading the box against the Gators has been extremely effective lately because Florida just isn't a threat to pass. Florida has two weeks to clean things up against cupcakes before a very tough game at Florida State.

4. LSU (7-2; LW: 2): The Tigers had their best offensive game of the season against Alabama, but came up short in Death Valley. They have no reason to hang their heads, but their national championship hopes are all but gone. What LSU can really take from Saturday's game is the growth made by Zach Mettenberger. He threw for a career-high 298 yards and didn't turn the ball over. He looked composed and didn't shy away from the pressure. The Sugar Bowl is still very much in the mix for the Tigers.

5. South Carolina (7-2; LW: 5): The Gamecocks were off this past weekend, but you have to think the bye is exactly what South Carolina needed. Losing Marcus Lattimore for the season had to be emotionally draining for this team, so to have some time off was a good thing for the Gamecocks. South Carolina now gets an Arkansas team that is fighting for its bowl life. A BCS berth is still there for the Gamecocks, but we'll see just how resilient this team is going forward.

6. Texas A&M (7-2; LW: 6): We wanted to see what the Aggies could do against a decent defense, and they didn't disappoint with their thrashing of Mississippi State over the weekend. A&M went on the road and sent the Bulldogs to the showers early. Johnny Manziel continues to be the conference's most exciting player and he has this offense overflowing with confidence heading into the Alabama game. After what we saw in the LSU game, the Aggies have the talent on offense to give Alabama's defense real fits.

7. Mississippi State (7-2; LW: 7): It's clear that these Bulldogs aren't who we thought they were. After a soft first-half schedule, Mississippi State has been blown out in back-to-back weeks by top SEC West opponents. The defense has been gashed and just isn't getting any pressure up front from that defensive line. Offensively, there hasn't been any consistency in the past two weeks and there are a lot of glaring issues this team has to work out in a tough month of November.

8. Vanderbilt (5-4; LW: 9): The Commodores have won three straight and are a win away from being bowl eligible. Vandy has never played in back-to-back bowl games, and a win over Ole Miss would secure another postseason berth for this team. Vandy clobbered lowly Kentucky over the weekend and we're starting to see the similar offensive attack we saw from this team last year. The Commodores aren't just going for six wins, and the talent is there for this team to get a few more wins in November.

9. Ole Miss (5-4; LW: 8): After taking an early 10-point lead against Georgia, the Rebels were run out of Athens. The high-octane offense was silenced and the defense was picked apart. The good news for Ole Miss is that the loss didn't end its bowl hopes. There are still chances to get that last win, but this team can't turn the ball over as it did against the Bulldogs. Those mistakes made it impossible for Ole Miss to come back. The Rebels will look to end a two-game losing streak to Vanderbilt Saturday.

10. Arkansas (4-5; LW: 11): After a close win over Tulsa, the Razorbacks are still in the bowl hunt. With a tough slate remaining, those bowl hopes are slim, but they aren't gone. This team has been schizophrenic throughout the year, which has made watching it so frustrating in Fayetteville. The Hogs now have to take on a rested South Carolina team that still has a ton to play for this year.

11. Tennessee (4-5; LW: 12): The Vols ended an ugly four-game losing streak with a too-close-for-comfort win over Troy Saturday. That win probably didn't do much to douse the flames around Derek Dooley's seat, but it did give Tennessee a crucial win as it tries to get back to a bowl game. There's still a chance that this team could get to eight wins, but it has to sweep November and win its bowl. It also has to find a lot of answers for that dreadful defense.

12. Missouri (4-5; LW: 10): The Tigers' defense has no reason to sulk about its performance over the weekend against Florida. That group of Tigers played its tail off, limiting the Gators to only 276 total yards and 14 points. But the anemic offense couldn't get anything going against Florida's defense. It definitely didn't help that quarterback James Franklin threw four interceptions, including one deep inside Florida territory with a chance to send the game into overtime. This offense has drastically regressed and just isn't getting any better.

13. Auburn (2-7; LW: 13): Behind an extremely efficient running game and new starting quarterback Jonathan Wallace, the Tigers grabbed their second win of the season over the weekend against New Mexico State. It wasn't the toughest opponent, but a win is a win and the Tigers desperately needed it. So did coach Gene Chizik, who is really feeling the heat on the Plains. A loss, and he might not be Auburn's coach this morning. This team still has a long way to go, but this win had to have added a little juice to a team in need of some sort of spark.

14. Kentucky (1-9; LW: 14): All of the Wildcats' struggles finally came to a head this past weekend when coach Joker Phillips was fired after Kentucky's 40-0 loss at home to Vanderbilt. The Wildcats were buried at the bottom of the SEC in all major offensive and defensive categories and nothing was getting better on the field. Injuries crippled this team, but there wasn't enough improvement in games and athletic director Mitch Barnhart had to go in another direction. Kentucky now gets a head start on searching for a new coach.

SEC power rankings: Week 10

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
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Our No. 1 continues to widen its lead, but the weekend brought some movement after that:

1. Alabama (8-0; last week: 1): A highly ranked Mississippi State team walked into Tuscaloosa, and it meant nothing to Alabama. The Crimson Tide dominated both sides of the ball and built such a nice lead in the first half that it seemed like Alabama was in cruise control in the second half. This team doesn't just continue to pull away from the rest of the SEC, it keeps pulling away from the rest of the country.

2. LSU (7-1; LW: 3): The Tigers were off and got a little more time to prepare for Game 3 with Alabama. LSU should have used the extra time to really work with its passing game. Zach Mettenberger will have his hands very full with Alabama's defense, so its important that he look much more comfortable in LSU's pocket. That defense has been great all year, and it might have the best chance of slowing Alabama's balanced attack.

3. Georgia (7-1; LW:4): I guess all that hot seat talk surrounding Mark Richt will temporarily die down after a huge win over Florida. The Bulldogs are now in control of the SEC East with two conference games remaining. The offense took a couple of steps back against the Gators, but the defense was tremendous. Players say that's the defense you should expect to see for the rest of the year, and if that's the case, the Dawgs will have no problem taking home the East title for the second straight season.

4. Florida (7-1; LW: 2): It's clear that Florida is in desperate need of offensive playmakers. Right now Jeff Driskel, Mike Gillislee and Jordan Reed need a lot of help, but if no one else has stepped up now, can it happen in November? The defense shouldn't hang its head after its performance against Georgia. This unit is still one of the best in the country, but it needs more support from the offense going forward.

5. South Carolina (7-2; LW: 6): The Gamecocks won a shootout with Tennessee over the weekend, but it came at a costly price, as running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a devastating knee injury. The diagnosis is that he hyperextended his knee and injured several ligaments. The hope is that he can make a return to the football field. Your heart really hurts for such a great player and person.

6. Texas A&M (6-2; LW: 7): The Aggies rebounded quite nicely against Auburn, running up 63 points and nearly 700 yards of offense. Johnny Manziel got back to looking like Johnny Football by churning out a ton of yards and scoring five total touchdowns. This team has been a pleasant surprise in the SEC, and it could take a bigger step forward with a good performance against a tough Mississippi State team this weekend. A&M has struggled against good defenses in the second halves of games, so this is a chance to get some redemption in that area.

7. Mississippi State (7-1; LW: 5): A lot of people are questioning just how good this team is after it was blown out of Tuscaloosa over the weekend. That softer early schedule is getting scrutinized even more now. But the Bulldogs still possess solid talent on both offense and defense, they just had to go through the buzz saw that is Alabama. Another tough challenge awaits with the Aggies visiting Starkville this weekend.

8. Ole Miss (5-3; LW: 8): After a very solid performance in their three-point win over Arkansas on the road, the Rebels are a win away from being bowl-eligible for the first time since 2009. They are also a win away from matching their win total over the past two years. It's clear that Ole Miss got it right with coach Hugh Freeze, who has completely transformed the culture at Ole Miss. We know this team can move the ball, but the defense is starting to look better each week and forced some big turnovers against the Hogs on Saturday.

9. Vanderbilt (4-4; LW: 10): The Commodores took care of business with a blowout win over hapless Massachusetts and are now two wins away from being bowl-eligible for the second straight year. Running back Zac Stacy went down with an injury in the first quarter Saturday, but coach James Franklin said the injury wasn't too serious. The offense was extremely balanced and very explosive over the weekend. The hope is that kind of play translates to the month of November.

10. Missouri (4-4; LW: 12): After a very rough start to their SEC career, the Tigers finally got their first conference victory with a 33-10 win over Kentucky. Outside of a solid day from running back Kendial Lawrence, the offense continued to really struggle, but the defense helped a lot with three forced fumbles. A bowl is still in reach for Mizzou, but it has a tough November, starting with a trip to Gainesville to face the Gators.

11. Arkansas (3-5; LW: 9): Any bowl hopes the Razorbacks had are likely gone now after that tough loss to Ole Miss. With the November the Hogs have lined up, Saturday was a must-win. It's been a very trying season for this program, and right when it seemed like the Hogs were gaining momentum, they fell right back down with a crushing loss to the Rebels. We'll really see how much pride this team has in the coming weeks.

12. Tennessee (3-5; LW: 11): Another shootout results in another loss for the Vols. This defense has just been picked apart and gutted all year, and it was the same case against a South Carolina team that was eaten up by Florida's defense the week before. The Vols made a nice comeback late, but a fumble by Tyler Bray deep in South Carolina territory ruined the chance of a comeback win. Things are at a boiling point in Knoxville when it comes to Derek Dooley's job, and you can expect to hear a ton of chatter surrounding him and his job.

13. Auburn (1-7; LW: 13): Well, the good news from the Tigers' 40-point loss to Texas A&M is that Auburn might have finally found its quarterback in true freshman Jonathan Wallace. He completed six of his nine pass attempts for 122 yards and two touchdowns. But that really was the only real good news from the weekend. The fans really made a strong statement on the Plains by leaving the stadium pretty bare. Like Dooley, Gene Chizik is feeling a lot of heat surrounding his job, and that pregame message to fans and students from president Jay Gogue only amplified that.

14. Kentucky (1-8; LW: 14): The defense made things tough on Missouri on Saturday, but the offense just continued to sputter along with only 179 total yards. The young working parts are getting a ton of experience this season, but they are finding out just how tough it is to play in this league. Joker Phillips is feeling the heat when it comes to his job, but he has had to deal with a laundry list of injuries and a ton of young players in his third year as the Wildcats' head coach.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 9

October, 28, 2012
10/28/12
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Alabama is still really, really good, and we have a new king of the East:

1. The East is Georgia's to lose: After being counted out heading into their big matchup with Florida, the Bulldogs are now atop the East again. That brutal loss to South Carolina appears to be nothing more than a distant memory in Athens. All those "for sale" signs fans gathered for Mark Richt's house will have to be used for more constructive means after Georgia topped Florida 17-9. The win didn't clinch the East for the Bulldogs, but they are firmly in the driver's seat with Ole Miss and Auburn as their only remaining SEC opponents. The Rebels are much better than they've been in two years, but Georgia likely will be a heavy favorite in that game, while Auburn continues to stumble along this season. House money is on Georgia to take the East, and if the defense feeds off its performance Saturday, the Bulldogs should cruise into Atlanta.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAJ McCarron was efficient Saturday in throwing for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
2. The gap between Alabama and the rest of the country is widening: It might take an NFL team to stop the Crimson Tide. Alabama feasted on No. 11 Mississippi State on Saturday night with its 38-7 win over the Bulldogs. Such is life for opponents who walk into that Crimson buzz saw. Alabama is allowing just 3.5 yards per play and is outscoring opponents by 32 points a game. Oregon has looked great and is still scoring in its game against Colorado, while Kansas State and Notre Dame look more impressive every week. But Alabama is on a different level. It's the most disciplined team out there, and it's getting better. The Tide might not be as flashy or score as many points as Oregon or Kansas State, but they doesn't need to. They're too busy running on cruise control in the second half of games to care about scoring margins.

3. Florida needs more playmakers: The Gators have lived and died by running and smothering. But Saturday proved that if Florida is really going to rub elbows with the elites in college football, it has to find more offensive playmakers. Running back Mike Gillislee has been good, but he needs help from the passing game because teams are starting to crowd the box to key on him. Right now, tight end Jordan Reed is the only real reliable receiving target. Ironically, his fourth-quarter fumble sealed the Gators' fate against Georgia, but at least he was there to make some sort of play happen. Wide receivers Quinton Dunbar and Frankie Hammond Jr. have been wildly inconsistent, while utility man Trey Burton just hasn't been very effective since the Tennessee game. Jeff Driskel will take a lot of heat for his critical errors and turnovers on Saturday, but he wasn't getting much help. Someone has to emerge to take the pressure off Driskel and Gillislee.

4. Hugh Freeze was the right choice: Some weren't sure whether Ole Miss got it right with Freeze. He wasn't a sexy name in the coaching world, and many thought the Rebels could do better. Well, after Ole Miss' 30-27 win over Arkansas, the Rebels are one win from being bowl-eligible for the first time in two years and matching their win total from the past two years combined. Freeze has totally changed the culture at Ole Miss and has made the Rebels relevant again. The offense has been fun to watch, and this team has real fight in it. Players admitted to giving up during games last year, but this year's team has really bought in to playing for four quarters. This team wasn't supposed to be remotely close to the bowl picture. Now, it's a win from the postseason, and Freeze is a major reason. He deserves to be considered for SEC Coach of the Year.

5. Another loss could seal Dooley's fate: If the magic number for wins for Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is eight, the Vols will have to win out to get there. That means getting through November unscathed. It's manageable, with Troy, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky left, but it isn't close to a guarantee. The Vols have to really be hurting after that three-point loss to South Carolina. The defense was abused again, and two Tyler Bray turnovers were costly. This team hasn't won a game in October under Dooley and now has to have a perfect November to reach a bowl game. This team swept November in Dooley's first year and has to do it again if it is to have a chance at eight victories.


The main storyline that will come out of this year's edition of the Georgia-Florida rivalry is ugliness. Saturday's four-hour marathon was a grinding affair of turnovers and penalties -- an absurd amount of both of them. But it's safe to say nobody wearing red and black will care much, as the Bulldogs slogged their way to a 17-9 win -- their first back-to-back wins against Florida since 1988-89 -- and pole position in the SEC East championship race.

Here's how it played out in Jacksonville, Fla.:

It was over when: Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones stripped Florida tight end Jordan Reed on the Bulldogs' 5-yard line with two minutes to play. Georgia recovered in its own end zone and subsequently ran the clock out. The turnover denied the Gators an opportunity at a first-and-goal and a potential game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion.

Game ball goes to: Much was made of how badly the Bulldogs needed Jones to step up after he missed the narrow win against Kentucky. Suffice to say Jones got the memo. He almost single-handedly mauled the Florida offense, as he finished with 13 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. It was only fitting that Jones made the play that preserved the win.

Key play: The Georgia passing game delivered one of its only big moments when it absolutely had to, at the midpoint of the fourth quarter. Aaron Murray beat a Florida blitz on third-and-5 to find wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell on a 7-yard curl route. Mitchell shook off Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy and beat three other tacklers on the way to a 45-yard touchdown and a 17-9 lead. Mitchell's big moment came just two plays after he was hit with a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Key play part II: Trailing 7-6, Florida faced a second-and-goal from the Georgia 5-yard line with 17 seconds until halftime. The Gators had the opportunity to take a lead with either a touchdown or a field goal, but Driskel rolled to his right and fired across his body into end zone traffic. Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo nabbed it for an interception to preserve the Bulldogs' slim advantage. It was perhaps the most costly of Driskel's mistakes in an uncharacteristic game for the young quarterback.

Key stat: The game saw a staggering total of nine turnovers -- six by the Gators, three by the Bulldogs. Georgia converted just 1 of 11 third downs. Perhaps the most amazing stat: The referees threw a total of 24 flags during the 60 minutes of game play. Georgia drew 14 flags for 132 yards; Florida earned 10 for 95 yards.

Key stat part II: Florida entered the game averaging 212 rushing yards per game. Georgia's defense limited the Gators to just 81 yards on 41 carries, while Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley racked up 124 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.

What it means: The Bulldogs now become the favorite to claim a second consecutive SEC East title and advance to the SEC championship game in Atlanta. All is not lost for Florida, however. The Bulldogs must still face Ole Miss next week, and their annual rivalry game against Auburn comes on the road in two weeks. If the Gators can hold serve against Missouri, there is still some hope of a division title.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- No. 4 Florida had to overcome injuries, double-digit penalties, and giving up its first fourth-quarter points of the season to extend its winning streak over Vanderbilt.

How the game was won: After Vanderbilt closed Florida's lead to 24-17 late in the fourth quarter, the Gators took over on their own 30-yard line after a Commodores squib kick. UF needed just one play to seal its 22nd consecutive victory over Vanderbilt. QB Jeff Driskel kept the ball on the option to the right and went 70 yards for a touchdown.

Turning point: Florida turned the game permanently in its favor with two special-teams plays in the third quarter. DE Earl Okine blocked Richard Kent's 44-yard field-goal attempt, which gave the Gators the ball on their own 38-yard line with 6:17 remaining. Four plays later, the Gators lined up to punt on their own 43, but instead ran a fake. Up back Trey Burton took a direct snap and handed the ball off to WR Solomon Patton, who was streaking across the formation. Patton went 54 yards down the left sideline before getting pushed out of bounds at the Vandy 3. That set up Driskel's touchdown run with 4:31 remaining to put the Gators ahead 18-7. Vandy also gave up a 61-yard kickoff return to Andre Debose that set up Caleb Sturgis' 26-yard field goal with 5:22 remaining.

Stat of the game: Florida won the game despite going 2-for-11 on third down. The Gators didn't convert a third down in the second half (0-for-4).

Player of the game: Driskel rushed for 177 yards, which is a UF record for rushing yards by a quarterback. He ran the ball only 11 times, but two of those carries went for touchdowns. One was a 37-yarder and the other was a 70-yarder that clinched the victory. Driskel also went 11-for-20 for 77 yards.

Second guessing: Vanderbilt hit a big play to quickly get down to Florida's 22-yard line with a little less than five minutes remaining and the Gators leading 24-14. But instead of going hurry-up, the Commodores huddled and ran four consecutive plays and wasted about 90 seconds of clock time. Vandy also had all three timeouts remaining but coach James Franklin chose to keep them for defense. Turns out the Commodores didn't need them because Driskel went 70 yards for a touchdown on the Gators' ensuing possession to seal the victory.

What Florida learned: All the talk about the Gators being a deeper team in 2012 was proven true on Saturday, as they were able to overcome a slew of injuries. Florida was without three starters (G James Wilson, DT Dominique Easley and LB Jelani Jenkins) and lost two more on the offensive line (LT Xavier Nixon, C Jonotthan Harrison) and starting TE Jordan Reed in the first half. Reed eventually returned in the second half, but the Gators had several other players leave the game for periods of time before returning. UF would not have been able to overcome those losses last season.

What Vanderbilt learned: Franklin may have found something effective with a hurry-up offense late in the second half, but the Commodores still only managed to throw a scare into one of the SEC's traditional powers. Vanderbilt is still searching for that breakthrough victory.

What it means: Florida (6-0, 5-0 SEC) already has as many regular-season victories this season as it did in 2011. The Gators will play host to South Carolina in a key Eastern Division game next Saturday and then plays against Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. UF could make that game in Jacksonville the division championship game if it beats South Carolina.

The SEC East now has the 'Big Three'

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
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With all due respect to the SEC West, the East has it going on this year.

I said before the season that the West had the muscle, but the East would be more fun to watch.

Well, after four weeks, it looks like the East doesn’t just have a more exciting race on its hands but the Big Three now reside on that side of the conference.

Now, before my Twitter feed gets spammed and I have to go into hiding in some bunker located in or around the city of Atlanta, hear me out.

Alabama and LSU are still the cream of the crop. They are the two best teams in the SEC, and might be the two best teams in the nation. Don’t let LSU’s ugly win over Auburn fool you. The Tigers are still extremely talented and that defense is just as fierce.

But after that, the East has the West beat. Arkansas, which was a part of the West's talented trio, has fallen to the bottom of the division and could be struggling to make a bowl. Mississippi State has looked good, but those lackluster wins against overmatched teams make me nervous.

Your new Big Three, ladies and gentlemen: Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. And each has to be taken seriously when it comes to winning the SEC.

I'm not saying they're better than Alabama or LSU, but they have a legitimate chance of ending the West’s reign of terror.

I’ll start with the Bulldogs:

GEORGIA (No. 5, 4-0)
  • The Bulldogs have the SEC’s best offense. Georgia leads the league with 530 yards of offense a game and is as balanced as they come. Aaron Murray is passing for 273 yards a game and has tossed 10 touchdowns to two interceptions. Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett all have double-digit catches on the season and have combined for eight touchdowns.
  • Freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have turned into quite the rushing duo, combing for 670 yards and nine touchdowns. Gurley currently leads the SEC with 406 rushing yards and is averaging 9.2 yards per carry.
  • Where Georgia could have issues is with its run defense. The Dawgs are eighth in the SEC in rush defense (135.5 yards per game) and Alabama and LSU love to run the ball and wear down opponents. Georgia should know. But that should improve with the return of Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree. They will fill some of the holes we’ve seen on defense and help take some of that bend away.
SOUTH CAROLINA (No. 6, 4-0)
  • We’ve seen a lot more balance out of the Gamecocks’ offense in the past couple of weeks and it looks like Marcus Lattimore is getting stronger. He has the ability to wear down those defensive lines and open up the passing game for Connor Shaw. We’ll find out how much Lattimore is needed when South Carolina travels to LSU on Oct. 13.
  • Shaw might have a fracture in his shoulder, but he’s shown that he’s extremely tough and South Carolina will need that. He also showed against Missouri that he’s got what it takes to really sling the ball, as he completed his last 20 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Balance will be key, and this offense is full of it.
  • The secondary still has questions, but it’s getting better every week. South Carolina gives up a good chunk of yards through the air, but the Gamecocks have five interceptions and have allowed just three passing touchdowns. The play up front has really helped the secondary, as the Gamecocks are second in the SEC with 15 sacks. Jadeveon Clowney leads South Carolina with 4.5 sacks and is starting to find his groove.
FLORIDA (No. 11, 4-0)
  • The Gators finally have an offense. They still struggle some in the first half, but the Gators have outscored opponents 78-13 in the second half and haven’t allowed any points in the fourth quarter. Alabama can’t even say that! That’s a credit to Florida’s conditioning and solid halftime adjustments.
  • Florida also has a true downhill runner in Mike Gillislee, who is second in the SEC with 402 rushing yards, and have a budding star in quarterback Jeff Driskel. He can hurt teams with his legs and arm and has shown tremendous poise in harsh road conditions. This team has to find another consistent receiving threat outside of Jordan Reed.
  • Florida has shown some bend in its rush defense, and was pounded on the ground by Alabama and LSU last year. The Gators have to be tougher up front if they want a chance at claiming the SEC. Play in the box is crucial, and the Gators didn’t do very well at all in this area last year when they were clobbered by the Tide and Tigers. Florida’s date with LSU in the Swamp on Oct. 6 will tell us what that front can really do.

None of these teams are perfect, but they’re all pretty good. Georgia is probably equipped with the most talent in the East, but South Carolina and Florida aren’t far behind.

Watching these three beat each other up this fall is gonna be fun, but watching one of them try to take down one of the big dogs on the other side of the tracks will be especially entertaining.

Don’t sleep on the East this year.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The adventure as a guest coach at Florida's spring game continues ...

12:00 p.m.: A host of former players get together for a flag football game dubbed the "Battle of the Decades," with players from the 1980s, '90s and 2000s participating. Thankfully, none of the old guys is hurt from all that running.

12:10: The quarterbacks come out and SI.com's Andy Staples and I try to meticulously dissect every single part of Jeff Driskel's and Jacoby Brissett's games to figure out which one is better. Like everyone around Florida's program, we're unable to.

12:20: I walk over to punt-return drills, nearly getting clocked by a ball the wind carried over toward me. Marcus Roberson, Trey Burton, Loucheiz Purifoy and De'Ante "Pop" Saunders are taking reps.

12:29: One-on-ones between receivers and defensive backs begin. It's light, but it's something to look at and we still can't figure out which quarterback is better, but tight end Jordan Reed impresses with a one-handed catch and true freshman receiver Latroy Pittman out-muscles his opponents for a few tough catches.

12:35: The offensive line goes through drills which incorporate a lot of spinning, slapping, pulling and pushing. It's humorous, until you realize how much bigger they are than you. Then you just think it's dangerous. Offensive line coach Tim Davis screams "Spin, spin, spin," until he's blue in the face and his voice is hoarser than before.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
AP Photo/Phil SandlinRunning back Mack Brown (33) stumbles in for a touchdown during Florida's spring game Saturday.
12:49: After watching the offensive line go at the defensive line, headlined by a rough battle between Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Nixon, the team jogs to the middle of the field for one last huddle before hitting the locker room.

12:51: We're in the locker room and the fun begins. After the team splits up by position, the coaches start going over last-minute game plans and emphasizing technique. "Stay under control!" running backs coach Brian White yells. "Let's get this crowd jacked up! Have people leave this (game) knowing we're going to flat-out dominate up front!" Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn preaches mental toughness in loud, quick bursts. He doesn't want to see any walking around or hands on hips. He wants energy and aggression on the field. "Ball Out U!" he screams. "Put out great (expletive) tape! When we turn on the tape I want to make sure I can't wait to watch you."

12:57: The excitement is growing inside the locker room. An animal is waiting to be unleashed. Players are hyped, as White walks around with a smile on his face saying, "Lotta nervous faces in here today," over and over. He's followed by verbose defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, who constantly taunts the receivers and pretty much every offensive player. "Let's get to those quarterbacks today and get in their faces!"

12:59: Floyd sits and stares at the floor, like he's ready to destroy it. The person giving bear hugs and high-fives at the Gator Walk is ready to rip someone apart like a bear. He sits in silence as a coach tosses him smelling salt. He sniffs and doesn't flinch. He's ready.

1:04: Defensive end/Buck Ronald Powell shoots up out of his chair and starts dancing around, yelling inaudible words of encouragement to his teammates. He's pushing guys and slapping their pads. "Play yo game, baby! It's just practice! Everything you do, you've done before!"

1:05: Floyd stands and walks to the center of the locker room. His teammates huddle around him. Players go silent when he speaks. "Do your job, not the man next to you!" His voice is deep, loud and haunting. He keeps shouting "aggressive" over and over, which fuels his teammates even more and incites a frenzy before head coach Will Muschamp arrives.

1:07: Following the Lord's Prayer, Muschamp delivers a short pregame speech. "Fast and physical. Offense, run the ball down their throats!" The place explodes as players exit the locker room, tapping the orange "GRIND" sign above the locker room door on the way out.

1:10: Kickoff.

We didn't get to actually coach or call plays, but here are some observations from the sideline:

  • Davis was very hands-on with linemen when they made mistakes. He made them verbally repeat their mistakes and asked them what they had to do to correct them. He was extremely thorough with players and took time to teach between plays.
  • Offensive coordinator Brent Pease was really concerned with clock management. He was constantly telling the quarterbacks not on the field to make sure that the one in the game knew about the clock and knew when it was running out, even though there was no delay-of-game penalty. That communication failed early in the scrimmage.
  • Even though Pittman had a pretty impressive day, receivers coach Aubrey Hill and receiver Andre Debose were coaching him on his routes, helping him get out of his breaks faster on the sideline.
  • Driskel and Brissett looked like old fishing buddies out there. They were joking with each other after plays and helping each other when they made mistakes. Competition didn't stop them from cooperating.
  • Tyler Murphy appears out of the quarterback race, but he showed some excellent coaching skills. He was spouting terminology and trying to help as much as he could. He was by Pease's side almost the whole time and was able to find a lot of the little things the other QBs missed. He might know the offense the best, but isn't as skilled as the others.
Quick quotes:

  • Running back Mack Brown after getting popped during his touchdown run: "He picked me good. He Goldberged me."
  • Receiver Solomon Patton after Chris Johnson's 15-yard run in the fourth quarter: "Man, we got some backs."
  • Debose to walk-on Michael McNeely after his 52-yard catch: "I bet you thought that ball was in the air forever, huh?"
2:53: Blue defeats Orange 21-20 and I debut with a victory. As Muschamp jogs to meet Florida's band director, he stops to congratulate me on my win and I announce my retirement from the coaching profession.

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