NCF Nation: Kevin Sumlin

College football players across the country enter spring practice with the mentality that they have something to prove. But there are some cases in which that mindset makes more sense than others.

Here are 10 situations in the SEC in which players need to send a message, loudly and clearly:

Quarterback Chad Kelly, Ole Miss: Kelly is a classic “something to prove” prospect this spring. Talent is not the question with Kelly, who transferred from East Mississippi Community College in January. The problem is volatility. Kelly left Clemson last year under horrible terms, and then was arrested in December in Buffalo, New York, and faced multiple charges including assault and resisting arrest. Ole Miss has a vacancy at quarterback after Bo Wallace’s departure, and Kelly will compete for the job with DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan. Kelly passed for 3,906 yards, 47 touchdowns and eight interceptions last fall. Now we’ll see whether he can keep his act together after Rebels coach Hugh Freeze gave him second and third chances.

Running back Keith Marshall, Georgia: Marshall was the more highly regarded prospect when he and Todd Gurley signed with the Bulldogs in 2012, and they formed a dangerous duo that fall. Marshall ran for 759 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman but has barely played since suffering a knee injury five games into the 2013 season. Gurley’s gone to the NFL, but Georgia has Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at the top of the running back depth chart now. Where does Marshall fit in? He’s been out of the picture for so long, it’s tough to say at this point.

[+] EnlargeJake Coker
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonJake Coker has the opportunity now to regain the starting job at Alabama.
Quarterback Jacob Coker, Alabama: Most thought Coker would take over as Alabama’s starting quarterback last year when he transferred from Florida State. Instead, it was Blake Sims who grabbed the job and never gave it up. Sims is gone now, though, clearing the way for Coker to claim the position in 2015. Can he get the job done?

Wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M: Aggies fans expected superstardom when Kevin Sumlin’s staff signed Seals-Jones in 2013, but he missed almost all of his freshman season with a knee injury. Seals-Jones played in all 13 games last season, finishing with 465 yards and four touchdowns on 49 receptions. Those are fine numbers but nothing close to what A&M fans envisioned when he signed two years ago. He has plenty of time to develop into a star, however. Maybe he’ll take a step toward that level of production this year.

Gerald Dixon and South Carolina’s entire defensive line: No sense singling out Dixon here. South Carolina’s defensive front was horrible in 2014. The line’s ineffective play was the key reason why the Gamecocks tumbled from a spot as one of the SEC’s best defenses to one of the worst. Dixon and his fellow starters are on notice as the Gamecocks open spring practice. If they don’t play better, South Carolina’s coaches will have to give somebody else a chance. Last season wasn’t nearly good enough.

WR Nate Brown, Missouri: Missouri has to replace its top three receivers from last year, Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White, all of whom were seniors. The Tigers will turn to a new collection of wideouts this year, led by Brown. The sophomore made just five catches for 45 yards a season ago, but his size/speed combination makes him the safest bet to make an impact this fall.

LSU’s quarterbacks: Last season was a mess at the quarterback position for LSU. Somebody -- either junior Anthony Jennings or sophomore Brandon Harris -- needs to take this job and run with it. Jennings completed just 48.9 percent of his passes while starting 12 of 13 games, but Harris’ lone start at Auburn was a complete dud. He’s a talented player, but Harris has to prove to Les Miles and his staff that he won’t make catastrophic errors if they put him on the field. He hasn’t convinced them yet.

Running back Alvin Kamara, Tennessee: Kamara was one of the nation’s most highly recruited running backs when he signed with Alabama in 2013, but he disappeared on the Crimson Tide’s depth chart and was twice suspended during his year in Tuscaloosa. Kamara transferred to Hutchinson Community College last season and rushed for 1,211 yards and 18 touchdowns in nine games. Now he has a second chance to prove that he’s an SEC-caliber back, forming what could be a dangerous one-two punch with Jalen Hurd at Tennessee. If Kamara can keep his head on straight, he has an excellent opportunity to make an impact with the Volunteers.

Quarterback Maty Mauk, Missouri: Mauk wasn’t the quarterback in 2014 that many expected after an impressive freshman season. He was inconsistent and prone to poor decision making at times. He passed for 2,648 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, which is not horrible, and helped the Tigers claim their second straight SEC East title. But Mizzou desperately needs its quarterback to improve upon his 53.4 completion percentage and become a more consistent performer as a junior.

Texas A&M’s defense: Texas A&M hopes John Chavis is the key piece that was missing over the past two years, when the Aggies featured one of the SEC’s worst defenses. The former LSU and Tennessee defensive coordinator has gotten results wherever he’s been, but Chavis has his work cut out at A&M. The Aggies were 102nd nationally (450.8 ypg) in total defense and tied for 75th in scoring defense (28.1 ppg). Considering how effectively the Aggies typically score, trotting out a defense that is simply better than awful might help them become more competitive in the tough SEC West.
videoCOLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Kevin Sumlin didn’t shy away from the notion that the next two or three seasons will likely define his time at Texas A&M.

“Yeah,” he said Wednesday, fiddling with a pen and a highlighter on his desk before looking up. “I think that’s fair.”

The honeymoon phase is most certainly over. Sumlin, entering his fourth season, is no longer new at Texas A&M. And Texas A&M isn’t new to the SEC.

Instead of everyone finding their footing, there is angst following an 8-5 season -- and a strange sensation that the Aggies are not all that close to the top of the SEC West. Difficult as the division is, they are entering a window in which they must perform. Now.

“Here’s where we are,” Sumlin said. “What do we need to do better?”

The offense has needed depth, he said. The defense has needed talent.

The coaching staff believes -- or at least hopes -- those needs have been addressed the past three signing days. Youth can no longer be a crutch for A&M -- not after signing ESPN RecruitingNation’s eighth-rated class in 2013, the No. 4 class in 2014 and the No. 12 class in 2015.

That sort of recruiting run means you either deliver soon and compete at a high level -- or risk being fired.

National signing day, and the build up to it, is as close as Texas and Texas A&M get to actual football competition these days, to see who will in fact “run this state.”

Well, right now it’s neither school. The Lone Star State is run by Baylor and TCU, the Big 12 co-champs that narrowly missed the initial College Football Playoff field.

That’s why the 2015 recruiting class and the season are so vital to both the Longhorns and Aggies, with each power striving to re-establish itself -- not just regionally, but nationally.

Texas and Texas A&M lead off our look at programs and coaches that need the 2015 class to pay off, and the sooner the better.

(Note: The RecruitingNation ranking and number of commitments are updated as of Sunday evening.)

1. Texas
Ranking: 9
Commitments: 26

The Longhorns have secured a number of solid, team-building pieces in this class, and a few high-end targets -- DT Daylon Mack and RB Soso Jamabo, among them -- remain distinct possibilities to sign with Texas this week.

Still, Wednesday

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» More 2015 Too-Early Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

The 2014 season may have just ended, but it's never to early to look ahead to next season. With all the obligatory caveats, here's our first look at SEC power rankings for 2015.

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- There were touchdowns, pick-sixes, spin moves, pushes, shoves (even a punch or two) and a whole lot of points and yards. At the end, Texas A&M outlasted West Virginia 45-37 in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Monday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Here’s how it went down:

How the game was won: It was a shootout early, with 55 points scored between the two teams in the first two quarters, but in the final two quarters, Texas A&M won it with its defense. Despite having an interim defensive coordinator -- linebackers coach Mark Hagen was serving in the role after the Aggies fired Mark Snyder the day after Thanksgiving -- Texas A&M held a high-powered West Virginia offense to only 10 points in the second half. Sure, West Virginia played a backup quarterback (Skyler Howard), but the Aggies have had trouble stopping anybody this season.

Game ball goes to: Kyle Allen. The true freshman grew up quite a bit after tossing an early pick-six, throwing a career-high four touchdown passes and rushing for another. Allen finished the day 22-of-35 for 294 yards. If he’s to be the quarterback of the Aggies’ future, he made a solid case why on Monday.

It was over when: Allen hit Malcome Kennedy over the middle with a 21-yard pass on third-and-3 for a first down with just more than two minutes remaining in the game. The Mountaineers couldn't stop the clock at that point and the Aggies were able to run it all the way out.

Stat of the game: If you like offense, this game was for you. The teams combined for 1,001 offensive yards and 82 points. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen aren’t considered offensive-minded head coaches for nothing. Also of note: Texas A&M sophomore receiver Josh Reynolds broke the Aggies’ single-season school record for touchdown catches with his 13th, surpassing Mike Evans and Jeff Fuller in the record book.

Best play: Allen was ranked as the country’s No. 1 pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class, but he showed he’s more than just arm on his lone touchdown run of the day. Allen made an impressive spin move to escape pressure, sprinted and dove to the pylon for a 14-yard touchdown run. The score gave A&M a 28-27 lead late in the first half, and the Aggies would never relinquish the lead.
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MEMPHIS, Tennessee -- The fun began with a phone call and a Twitter battle.

Laughs and jokes were exchanged upon the announcement that Texas A&M and West Virginia would meet in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Head coaches Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen and Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital are among those involved who once shared time on the same coaching staff -- relationships that provide an intriguing backdrop for the reunion.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill, Jake Spavital
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesTexas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital (right) learned under West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen at Houston.
"He taught me everything about this offense and he knows how I signal the game and I know how he signals the game," Spavital said of Holgorsen. "It'll keep the game interesting, and it'll keep us on our toes."

They're part of a group that shared time together five years ago, interestingly, while trying to get to a Liberty Bowl. During the 2009 season at Houston, Sumlin was head coach and Holgorsen was offensive coordinator. Clarence McKinney, Texas A&M's current running backs coach, held the same position with the Cougars at the time. Spavital was a graduate assistant and current Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury was the offensive quality control coach.

Making it more interesting was the fact that, at one time, Holgorsen, Kingsbury and Spavital all lived together in an apartment in Houston's Midtown district, a trendy neighborhood with a thriving business scene and nightlife. What could happen with three young, single coaches in close proximity to such an area?

"I'd better not say anything about that," Sumlin said, with laughter. "I didn't go over there at all. Anybody who knows Houston knows that Midtown has a lot of nice restaurants that stay open late at night, I'll just put it that way."

When he took over at Houston in 2008, Sumlin made Holgorsen -- who he describes as "brilliant" -- one of his first hires to install an innovative up-tempo offensive attack.

Holgorsen called Kingsbury, who was still pursuing a pro playing career, that summer. Sumlin agreed to add Kingsbury to the staff while also allowing him time to try out for the NFL.

"He spent more time out there throwing the football and practicing with guys than he did coaching," Sumlin joked. "Over time, thank God he got cut."

In 2009, Spavital's older brother, Houston defensive backs coach Zac Spavital, encouraged Jake to join the Cougars staff. Zac saw promise in Sumlin and Holgorsen and thought Jake could benefit from working with them. After interviewing with Holgorsen, Jake was hired on the spot.

"I loved him," Spavital said of Holgorsen. "He was great to me. He coaches his ass off. He's hard on the kids, he was hard on me. But he would separate work on and off the field. He was hard on me about things and he wanted me to grow as a coach, but then afterwards he was one of my buddies and he treated me that way."

Kingsbury was already living with Holgorsen in that two-bedroom apartment. Spavital would go from couch to couch, from his brother's to Holgorsen's.

"I wanted to be around Dana the whole time, so I'd sleep on his couch a lot," Spavital said. "I'd sleep at the offices, depending on whether Dana had his kids in or anything. I'd just move around because it's a two-bedroom apartment."

The bachelor pad was pretty bare in terms of furnishings.

"We were very minimalist in that household," Kingsbury said. "There wasn't anything to get in your way. ... You know, in Houston there's a lot to do. We would be there to sleep and that was about it."

Added Spavital: "There was no silverware and plates and stuff like that. It was two rooms, two bathrooms and a couch and a TV. We never were there."

McKinney, who joined the staff in 2008, recalls some of the late-night meetings the offensive staff had.

"We spent a lot of time together in meetings after practice," McKinney said. "We'd go from the office to somewhere down the street to grab something to eat, grab some drinks and the meetings would still be going until 2 in the morning."

Certainly it wasn't only football, though, right? When Holgorsen, Spavital and Kingsbury hit the town, there have to be some entertaining stories.

"You can't put that in the paper," Kingsbury said coyly. "It was fun."

Each of them have distinct traits. There's Holgorsen, the casual dresser ("I don't even think Dana owned a suit until he got to Oklahoma State," Spavital said. "He would always say, 'How many games has that suit won?'") and Red Bull devotee ("It's amazing that he's still functioning," Kingsbury said. "I guess his kidneys are pretty strong. He gets after those.").

There's well-dressed Kingsbury, who might still be holding on to NFL dreams. ("If Kliff could play right now, he'd play," Spavital said. "That's why Kliff works out all the time, because I know he believes that he can still do it.")

And there's Spavital, the youngest who deferred to his elders. ("He listens a lot," Kingsbury said. "He's not just going to talk a lot, he likes to listen and soak things up.")

It wasn't just tomfoolery; they had significant success. The 2009 Houston team ranked No. 1 nationally in offense (563.4 yards per game; 42.2 points per game), upset Oklahoma State in Stillwater and triumphed over Texas Tech. The 10-4 Cougars came within an incomplete pass of a Conference USA championship and a Liberty Bowl berth.

As each moved on, they kept in touch daily. They've traded game film, though that practice stopped between Holgorsen and Kingsbury once they became opposing Big 12 head coaches. They still talk, but the relationship dynamic is different now.

It didn't change for Spavital and Holgorsen until this year's Liberty Bowl announcement. They still communicate daily, but they obviously weren't trading tape or exchanging ideas in preparation for Monday's game (2 p.m. ET, ESPN).

"He gave us all his offensive stuff and we didn't give him any of our offensive stuff; I pulled the wool over his eyes in the last couple of weeks," Holgorsen joked. "When it gets competitive and you've got to play a game, you're going to have a good time talking about anything than actual football."

Viewer's guide: AutoZone Liberty Bowl

December, 28, 2014
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As we get closer to New Year’s Day the bowl games become more compelling, and that’s certainly the case with Monday’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl between Texas A&M and West Virginia. It’s a matchup of two head coaches familiar with each other and two similar offenses, and it gives us a dose of Big 12 vs. SEC, which always is good for debate. Let’s break it down:

What’s at stake: In the 119-season history of Texas A&M football, the Aggies have never won four consecutive bowl games. They have the opportunity to do so here, seeking a fourth straight bowl win dating back to 2011. West Virginia is appearing in its third bowl game in four seasons under Dana Holgorsen and seeks its second bowl win in that span.

Players to watch: West Virginia receiver Kevin White is worth the price of admission. The senior is one of college football’s best receivers, ranking sixth in the nation in receptions (102) and seventh in receiving yards (1,318), with nine touchdowns. He shows a knack for making big-time, highlight-worthy plays. For Texas A&M, true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett has lived up to the hype that preceded his arrival in Aggies land. He finished the regular season tied for second in the SEC in sacks (11), which broke Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record, Garrett had 12.5 tackles for loss, and he has been a headache for opposing offensive tackles and quarterbacks.

Familiar faces: These head coaches know each other well. Kevin Sumlin’s first offensive coordinator hire as a head coach in Houston was Holgorsen in 2008. The two won 18 games together in two seasons before Holgorsen left for the same position at Oklahoma State. He took then-graduate assistant Jake Spavital with him from Houston to Stillwater and eventually to West Virginia before Sumlin tabbed Spavital to replace Kliff Kingsbury’s spot on the Texas A&M staff when Kingsbury left his offensive coordinator post for the head-coaching job at Texas Tech.

Similar attacks: Both teams operate in a one-back spread attack rooted in Air Raid principles. Each team scores a lot (West Virginia averages 33.2 points, Texas A&M 34.4) and throws quite a bit, too; the Mountaineers average 314.6 passing yards per game, while the Aggies average 306.4.

Trickett out: West Virginia starting quarterback Clint Trickett will miss the game, announcing last week that he is hanging up his cleats because of concussions he's suffered. Sophomore Skyler Howard will start at quarterback for the Mountaineers. In three games, including a start versus Iowa State, Howard has thrown for 483 yards and five touchdowns.

Record breaker: Texas A&M sophomore receiver Josh Reynolds has emerged as one of quarterback Kyle Allen’s favorite receivers, and even when Kenny Hill was starting, Reynolds was making things happen. The unheralded junior college recruit tied the single-season school record (held by Mike Evans and Jeff Fuller) with 12 receiving touchdowns. One more would put Reynolds at the top of the list, lofty status for someone who received little buzz when he enrolled at Texas A&M in January.

Coaching attrition: Texas A&M will be without three coaches that it ended the regular season with: defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, offensive line coach B.J. Anderson and receivers coach David Beaty. Snyder was fired the day after the Aggies’ season-ending loss to LSU; linebackers coach Mark Hagen will serve as the interim defensive coordinator for the Liberty Bowl. Beaty accepted the head-coaching position at Kansas, and earlier this month Sumlin announced that Anderson won’t return next season or coach in the bowl game. The Aggies will operate with two full-time offensive assistants (Jake Spavital and Clarence McKinney), while graduate assistant Chris Smith assists with the offensive line duties for the game. West Virginia will say goodbye to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson after the Liberty Bowl, as he will become Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, but Dawson will be with the Mountaineers’ staff working Monday’s game.
If Jim Harbaugh takes the Michigan job, it could shake up the recruiting race in the Big Ten. Plus, Paul Chryst’s hiring at Wisconsin makes a lot of sense.


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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Myles Garrett always welcomes a challenge. Kevin Sumlin found this out firsthand when Texas A&M recruited Garrett, the highest-ranked prospect the Aggies signed in more than a decade.

After Garrett verbally committed to the Aggies, Sumlin gave his prized defensive end prospect some good-natured ribbing about his basketball skills. At Arlington (Texas) Martin High, Garrett was a three-sport star: football, basketball and track and field.

[+] EnlargeGarrett
Soobum Im/USA TODAY SportsMyles Garrett has found another gear on the football field, but he'd rather focus on other subjects off of it.
"I joked with him and told him 'You can't hoop,'" Sumlin recalled. "'You don't know what you're doing, you're a D-lineman.'"

The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Garrett let his play do the talking when Sumlin went to Martin to watch him on the hardwood for the first time prior to Garrett signing a national letter of intent with the Aggies in February.

"He's out there running around like a deer and he's huge," Sumlin remembered. "He comes down, catches a ball off the rim, this guy's just draped all over him -- [Sumlin then mimics a two-handed slam dunk, accompanied with an exploding sound] -- and then he turned and ran down the court and pointed at me in the stands.

"I said, 'I really like this guy,'" Sumlin said laughing. "'I'm a fan.'"

So is everybody else in Aggieland, after Garrett turned in an exceptional true freshman season. He shattered Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman sack record (eight) with 11 of his own. He earned All-SEC second-team honors, an All-SEC freshman team nod, was named the Aggies' defensive MVP and is a member of ESPN.com's Freshman All-America team.

The future is indeed bright for the 18-year-old, who will turn 19 when the Aggies meet West Virginia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29. Even his opponents think so.

"I think he's going to be a great player," said LSU offensive tackle La'el Collins, a likely first-round NFL draft pick who faced Garrett on Thanksgiving Day. "If he puts the work in, I think he'll be able to double his stats next year... . In about a year or so, he's going to be a monster."

Garrett, who is prohibited from speaking with media as a freshman per Sumlin's first-year player policy, wasn't always gung-ho on football. As a youth he was more enamored with the hardwood. After giving Pee Wee football a brief try, he didn't like it, opted for basketball and didn't return to the gridiron until his freshman year at Martin. When moved from offense to defense after his first two days of practice, he was concerned.

"I was ready for offense; I could take a hit," Garrett told ESPN.com prior to his arrival in College Station. "But they put me on defense days later. I was like 'Oh gosh. I'm going to get cracked from the side or something, I'm going to hit somebody and my neck's going to be turned sideways for the rest of my life.' I didn't know what to think."

This was news to Bob Wager, his head coach at Martin High, and his parents, Audrey and Lawrence Garrett. His fear never showed. Soon, he fell in love with defense.

"It was a great decision because I love hitting people," Garrett said.

Though Wager moved Garrett up to varsity as a sophomore, he wasn't an instant hit. Wager called a meeting with Myles, Audrey and Lawrence and candidly told Myles that if he wanted greatness, that he needed to find that next gear.

"He had the physical abilities to be able to do that but we had to get his motor running to match his physical abilities," Wager said.

Said Audrey: "It's not that he wasn't giving it his all, but it just didn't look like the effort was there. He kind of walks with that lazy gait. That's just his demeanor. That meeting showed Myles that he had to show the effort ... I don't think he was taking plays off, it was just funny because it looked too easy. He realized 'I even have to kick it up another gear.' I don't think he realized there was another gear."

From the time Myles walked out of Wager's office, the change was nearly instantaneous. His work ethic reached a new level, he became a star in the weight room (Audrey said he asked for weights as a gift for his bedroom during his sophomore season) and the physical transformation began.

"It's like he went into his room and came out Mr. Olympia," Audrey said.

Soon, he was mistaken for a grown adult male by strangers. Audrey recalls the time her oldest son, Sean Williams -- a professional basketball player in Turkey who was a first-round NBA draft pick and spent four seasons in the NBA -- brought Myles to practice when Williams was with the Dallas Mavericks.

"Somebody from the Mavs called his agent and said, 'Tell Sean he can't be bringing this dude to the gym because he may hurt one of our guys,'" Audrey said. "They thought he was a grown man. Myles was 16 at the time."

As Garrett's emergence continued, colleges began to notice. Name the school, it was probably on Garrett's offer list: Alabama, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State. Texas A&M had an ace in the hole in the form of Garrett's older sister, Brea, who is a track and field star for the Aggies and won the NCAA indoor weight throw competition in March. Sumlin joked that during Myles' recruitment, he bugged Brea and bugged his parents but didn't pressure Myles.

The connection Myles established with defensive line coach Terry Price, the presence of his sister and the high bar set by his first visit to campus in January 2013 ultimately led him to choose the Aggies.

Away from the football field, Garrett's mind shifts elsewhere. A geology major (he fell in love with paleontology at age 3), he found a healthy balance between the gridiron and the classroom and had a 3.0 grade point average this semester.

"When he's not on the field he has no interest in talking football," Audrey said. "He'll avoid it like the plague. He doesn't want to watch it. He'll strategize game-wise when he's preparing for it, but when he walks away from it on the off days he has, he definitely has interests outside of football."

Don't confuse that with a disinterest in greatness. He wears the No. 15 because he wants to average 15 sacks per season. He admires great athletes from a previous era, such as Muhammad Ali or Deacon Jones. Garrett is his own harshest critic.

"His best is never good enough for him," Audrey said. "There's not one game which he came off the field -- not one this year -- where he was happy with his performance. He critiqued himself every time. Not once was he happy."

Others in the SEC took notice. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who has seen many great college defensive linemen come through his program, had high praise for Garrett after watching him on film.

"He reminds me a little bit of Aldon Smith, a top-10 pick who played for us and now plays for the 49ers," Pinkel said. "That's a really huge compliment ... Imagine what he's going to look like in another year or two. He's a great young player and he certainly has everybody's attention every play which you have to have."

Garrett wants to leave a lasting impact on Aggieland, one that won't soon be forgotten. So far, he's off to a good start.
LSU and Texas A&M have become bigger rivals on the field and in recruiting now that both are in the SEC. Plus, few programs are trending like Ohio State is on the field and on the recruiting trail.


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John ChavisDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsJohn Chavis' defense has stymied the Aggies for the past two seasons.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Since joining the SEC, Texas A&M enjoyed victory against every team in the SEC West -- except one.

LSU.

The Tigers were the thorn in the Aggies' side the last two seasons and Les Miles' bunch is the one team that one could say truly has Texas A&M's number so far. The Aggies' next opportunity to flip the script comes Thanksgiving night when they host LSU at Kyle Field.

The reasons LSU ruled the Aggies are numerous, but it starts with the Tigers' defense. LSU had answers for whatever the Aggies threw at them, including Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. In 2012, LSU held Texas A&M to its second-fewest offensive yards in a game (410) that season. Only Florida, who squared off against the Aggies' in Manziel's college debut, were better. But the Tigers had three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and sacked Manziel three times in a 24-19 victory.

In 2013, a physically beat-up Manziel led the Aggies into Death Valley and the offense sputtered, posting a season-low 299 yards and only 10 points in a 24-point loss.

"We talked about that a little bit," Texas A&M center Ben Compton said. "It's been bugging us the past couple years that they've gotten the best of us the last two years. They played hard and kicked our butt the last two years. We hope to be able to change some of that."

Texas A&M featured one of the nation's top offenses the last two seasons and the Aggies led the SEC in scoring offense and yards per game both seasons. So what did LSU do to quiet the A&M attack? Look no further than the talent on the roster and its utilization by "The Chief," LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis.

"I think it's just our talent and the 'Mustang' package that Chief has come with over at LSU," Tigers' defensive back Jalen Mills said. "It's been run ever since, and that helps a lot."

LSU's Mustang package is basically a dime formation with three defensive linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs. The Tigers use the defense against teams that spread it out like Texas A&M and given LSU's defensive talent and speed, Chavis' bunch has experienced much success with it.

This season, LSU leads the SEC in pass-efficiency defense (97.57) and passing yards allowed (164). They're second nationally in the former category, sixth in the latter. That bodes well against a Texas A&M team that is 10th in passing yards per game (first in the SEC) and is 13th nationally in pass attempts (452).

"They've been very effective," Sumlin said of the LSU defense. "They've been athletic, had some different people on the field, they've done a nice job. [Chavis] has done a nice job this year too.

"John Chavis' record stands for itself defensively and he's as good as there is in the country."

The challenge will be different this year for LSU. The Tigers were charged with corralling Manziel, but since he's gone, the Aggies now have a true freshman behind center: Kyle Allen. The four-star recruit will make his fourth career start on Thursday and the Tigers know to expect a more patient pocket passer than the player they faced the last two years.

"He's not Johnny Manziel with all the scrambling," Mills said. "He's a dual-threat guy, but he's not doing as much running around as Johnny did. You really see him sitting in there and trying to fling it, so with that, you have to play a little more coverage and just play all the routes down the field."

The Tigers aren't underestimating Allen, though.

"You say a true freshman, when we talked about Johnny Manziel, he was considered a freshman and he came in and won the Heisman," Mills said. "So you can't go in a game thinking a guy, 'Oh he's a freshman' and you have to try to wait on his mistakes. You have to go in and play your football."

In order to win, the Aggies will have to solve Chavis, the Mustang package and perform better offensively than they did the last two seasons. They're aware of it.

"Great defense," Texas A&M senior receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "I've watched them play a few times and I know they have one of the top passing defenses and they have a great secondary. All those guys are pretty athletic, pretty physical... . We know we're going to have a task. They have a good front and we're going to have to run fast routes, do what we do as an offense, tempo-style."

What we learned in the SEC: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
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Another eventful Saturday in the SEC. Here’s what we learned:

Bama is still alive but needs work: It wasn’t pretty, but Alabama’s playoff hopes are still intact after the Crimson Tide survived a thriller in Death Valley 20-13 in overtime. Despite a critical T.J. Yeldon fumble in the final minutes of regulation, the Tide were able to hold LSU to a field goal then benefited from a special-teams miscue as Trent Domingue booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. Blake Sims came up big by directing a game-tying drive then threw a picturesque pass to DeAndrew White for the game-winning touchdown in overtime. With No. 3 Auburn losing on Saturday, Alabama looks poised to move into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, and with No. 1 Mississippi State coming to town next week and the Iron Bowl in three weeks, the Crimson Tide control their own destiny. One thing is clear though: They can’t make the mistakes they did Saturday if they’re going to win out. Sims has to be better in the earlier portions of the game (he missed some open receivers), they can’t drop the football (Amari Cooper had one in crunch time) and surviving a late turnover like the one they had Saturday is hard to replicate against elite teams. They were fortunate to win Saturday; now they must turn the page and improve before the Bulldogs come to Tuscaloosa.

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTexas A&M's Kyle Allen helped diminish Auburn's playoff hopes with a four-touchdown effort.
Auburn’s playoff hopes are likely done: There are a lot of quality one-loss teams remaining in the field; a second loss is a killer for Auburn -- especially coming at home to an unranked team that hadn’t played well since September. For a little bit, it looked like the Tigers would pull off some of the late-game magic that has become a signature trait of theirs in the Gus Malzahn era, but two late fourth-quarter fumbles squashed their hopes and left them with a 41-38 loss. “It hurts,” Malzahn said. “It hurts our team. We have goals and dreams, and we did not get it done tonight.” The turnovers on offense late were one factor, but there were others: the first-half defense was poor and the secondary was torched in the first two quarters. On special teams, an Auburn field goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown to end the first half. The Tigers were sloppy quite a bit on Saturday and they paid for it in the end. Now the Tigers must turn around and head to Georgia next week and close out at Alabama in three weeks, so the road remains tough down the stretch.

No hangover for Georgia: If you thought the Bulldogs were going to let the upset loss to Florida affect them moving forward, think again. Mark Richt’s crew responded emphatically, jumping out to a quick three-touchdown lead in Lexington and rolling to a 63-31 win over Kentucky. Georgia had success in all three phases, rolling up 559 offensive yards, holding Kentucky to 139 passing yards on 16 of 31 attempts and scored two special-teams touchdowns -- a kickoff return (90 yards) and punt return (59 yards) for scores by Isaiah McKenzie. Nick Chubb had another great performance at running back (13 carries, 170 yards) and Hutson Mason threw for four scores. The Bulldogs still need help from Missouri in the form of a loss, but they’re still very much alive in the SEC East.

Treon Harris can throw it around: Last week, the Florida quarterback attempted only six passes versus Georgia but on Saturday, the Gators trusted their true freshman more and Harris delivered, completing 13 of 21 passes for 215 yards. There were no touchdown passes, but more importantly, no interceptions and Harris was accurate and showed off his deep ball with this 59-yard beauty to Quinton Dunbar. Harris did solid work on the ground, too, rushing for 49 yards and two touchdowns in Florida’s 34-10 win over Vanderbilt. The Gators need to continue to win and need help from others, but they still have a pulse in the SEC East race.

Kevin Sumlin can still pull a rabbit out of his visor: Texas A&M was a 23-point underdog going into Jordan-Hare Stadium, lost its past three SEC games, had a true freshman quarterback, a beat up offensive line and a defense with a lot of youngsters starting. All the Aggies did was jump out to a 35-17 halftime lead and hang on for dear life to upset the No. 3 team in the nation in its own house. Sumlin’s Aggies pulled off a similar stunt almost two years to the day when they went into Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and took down the No. 1 Crimson Tide 29-24 behind freshman quarterback and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Is Kyle Allen (four touchdown passes) the next star quarterback in Aggieland? It’s too early to say but he had a memorable performance on Saturday at Auburn and he gives the seemingly left-for-dead Aggies some reason for optimism in the final weeks of the regular season. Sure, Auburn made a lot of mistakes, but Texas A&M played better than it had in more than a month, showing flashes of the team that started 5-0 this season.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 11

November, 7, 2014
11/07/14
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Is Alabama ripe for an upset in Death Valley? Can Texas A&M and Georgia regroup? Will Florida keep it going after last week's surprising win over Georgia? We'll learn the answers to those questions this weekend around the SEC.

Here's an advance look at Saturday's slate. All times Eastern.

Noon

[+] EnlargeJarrad Davis, Neiron Ball
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsThe Gators will look to build off their win over rival Georgia.
Presbyterian at No. 11 Ole Miss, SEC Network: The Rebels are smarting after losing two in a row and plummeting from their No. 3 ranking of just a couple of weeks ago. They'll have to regroup without star receiver Laquon Treadwell, who suffered a season-ending leg injury late in last week's loss to Auburn. This is a good time to do that, with key games against Arkansas and Mississippi State still to play. Presbyterian is a fine FCS program, but the Blue Hose lost by a combined 97-3 margin to FBS programs Northern Illinois and N.C. State earlier this season.

No. 20 Georgia at Kentucky, ESPN: Georgia had a clear path to the SEC East title before its face-plant last week against Florida. Not only did the Bulldogs lose to a program that was flatlining, but they were beaten handily. Kentucky has lost three straight and seems to be in the middle of a late-season fade after getting off to a 5-1 start, but Georgia frequently struggles in Lexington. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if this game remains close in the second half.

3:30 p.m.

Texas A&M at No. 3 Auburn, CBS: In the last month, some of the shine has come off of Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's diamond. The Aggies started October ranked sixth in the Associated Press Top 25 before a three-game losing streak dropped them all the way out of the poll. Thanks to their recent offensive struggles and underwhelming defense, they're a three-touchdown underdog as they travel to Auburn. Sumlin could prove a lot about his leadership skills by pulling the upset -- or even keeping this one competitive. They have the offensive firepower to give Auburn's defense problems, but freshman quarterback Kyle Allen still has a long way to go.

4 p.m.

Tennessee-Martin at No. 1 Mississippi State, SEC Network: This is another well-timed FCS game. The Bulldogs limped past Arkansas 17-10 last weekend when Will Redmond picked off a pass at the goal line in the closing seconds. This will be a good opportunity to rest up in advance of a closing stretch that features road games at Alabama (where Mississippi State almost never wins) and Ole Miss (home-field advantage is typically a big deal in the Egg Bowl). The Bulldogs need to be as close to 100 percent as possible to retain that No. 1 ranking.

7:30 p.m.

Florida at Vanderbilt, SEC Network: Florida and Vandy both cruised to wins last week. The Gators' win came against then-No. 11 Georgia and the Commodores' victory was over Old Dominion, which is in its first true season as an FBS program. Florida ran straight over Mark Richt's Bulldogs, providing a rare happy moment for embattled coach Will Muschamp. Surely the Gators will try to turn this trip into the second installment of the Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor Show. Vandy has played better since redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary took over at quarterback -- he tossed five touchdowns last week against ODU -- but the Commodores are still underdogs to notch their first SEC victory.

8 p.m.

No. 5 Alabama at No. 16 LSU, CBS: The conference's marquee game comes Saturday night at Tiger Stadium, where meetings between Nick Saban's Crimson Tide and Les Miles' Tigers have all become instant classics. Alabama has won two of those three meetings in Baton Rouge -- and three straight in the series -- so it enters as the favorite. However, LSU's young roster has finally seemed to settle into place as the Tigers ride a three-game winning streak. If they can move the ball effectively on the ground against Alabama's SEC-best run defense, this could be another memorable installment in the series.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 10

November, 2, 2014
11/02/14
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It was another fun weekend in the SEC. Here's what we learned on Saturday:

Will Muschamp and the Gators have life: The Gators' 38-20 win over No. 11 Georgia (6-2, 4-2 SEC) means that Florida (4-3, 3-3) is still in the SEC Eastern Division race and Muschamp's seat in Gainesville has cooled a little. Florida's plan was to run, run, run, and the Gators did it better than they ever have under Muschamp, cranking out 418 rushing yards and 31 straight points. New starting quarterback Treon Harris threw it just six times, so the jury is still out on what he can do when forced to throw, but the Gators dominated Georgia in the trenches on both sides of the ball and were just tougher in every phase. There's no way Florida can stay in the East hunt with that sort of passing game, but it didn't matter with how well the Gators ran it. Beat Vanderbilt and South Carolina, and the Gators will be bowl eligible and right in the thick of the East race with some slip-ups from Missouri and Georgia. And how about Muschamp? Wanted to run, did it. Called a crazy fake field goal, watched it go for a game-changing touchdown. Before the game, people were prepping for his firing. Now he's earned more time at Florida. How long? Who knows? But the evaluation of Muschamp is far from over.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Nick Marshall proved clutch in Auburn's win over Ole Miss on Saturday.
There's something about Auburn: So that 35-31 win over No. 4 Ole Miss (7-2, 4-2) really could have gone either way, but third-ranked Auburn (7-1, 4-1) is starting to look eerily similar to the team that won the SEC and played in the BCS title game last year. The offense is churning out yards and points like crazy, and quarterback Nick Marshall is making clutch play after clutch play. And in the past two weeks, the Tigers have had a couple of things go their way. Last week, it was having two players wearing jersey No. 1 going unnoticed on the last play against South Carolina, which should have drawn a penalty. On Saturday, it was the incredibly unfortunate goal-line fumble by Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell, who subsequently suffered what appeared to be a very serious leg injury. The defense certainly has its issues, but Auburn won in large part because of 248 rushing yards and some huge plays on third-and-long. It was an excruciating loss for Ole Miss, but the Tigers just have that feel to them again. It's a good team that's had a little luck to work with.

The ugly East is Missouri's to lose, again: It's no secret that the Eastern side of the SEC isn't great, but someone has to represent it in the SEC championship game. Oh, if only the West could send two teams to Atlanta. With Florida's stunning upset of Georgia, Missouri (7-2, 4-1) is now in sole possession of first place in the division. Even with how average the offense has looked for the better part of the season, the Tigers are winning and control their own destiny. The defense has been great of late -- carrying this team -- and held Kentucky's Air Raid offense to just 260 total yards in a 20-10 win. With the East struggling so much, Mizzou doesn't have to be great. A win is a win, and the Tigers have won three straight since getting crushed 34-0 at home against Georgia. After next week's bye, the Tigers go on the road for games at Texas A&M and Tennessee before closing the season at home against Arkansas. Those are all winnable games for the reigning East champs. Georgia, on the other hand, now has to regroup from getting pummeled by a reeling Florida team with a trip to Kentucky next week before hosting Auburn.

Growing pains continue at A&M: Where do you begin with the Aggies? Starting quarterback Kenny Hill has been suspended for two games for violating team rules and athletic department polices, but backup Kyle Allen struggled in his starting debut Saturday. He threw for just 106 yards with a touchdown and turned it over twice in a rough 21-16 win over Louisiana-Monroe. Outside of Speedy Noil, the receivers are playing poorly. The offensive line continues to struggle. The defense is a liability and is lucky the Warhawks had absolutely no threat of the deep ball in its passing game. With the Aggies playing so many youngsters, these issues are expected, but it's late in the season, and this team is getting worse. It isn't close to being the same caliber of team it was to start the year and now has to change the offense some with Allen starting. There's just no excuse for a team like A&M to let UL Monroe hang around with it at home, especially coming out of a bye week. Kevin Sumlin and his coordinators have a lot of work to do with Auburn, LSU and Missouri still left on the schedule.

Ole Miss' playoff hopes are all but lost: A second loss for the Rebels probably eliminates them from the College Football Playoff. Two losses is going to be hard to sell with the playoff committee. Ole Miss had already greatly surpassed expectations and came up just short against Auburn. But the season is far from over. The SEC championship game is very much in the picture, but the Rebels need help. They need to win out and see Alabama and Mississippi State lose two conference games so they'd own the head-to-head with both. They also need Auburn to lose two more and for LSU to lose at least one more so they'd both have three SEC losses. Go to Atlanta and win, and who knows what the selection committee will think of the Rebels.
Texas A&M and Adidas, its football apparel partner, have come up with some fresh, unique and eye-catching looks for the Aggies in the Kevin Sumlin era.

From the "Icy whites" to zubaz-inspired accessories to chrome helmets, Texas A&M has made bold choices, but the Aggies' latest uniform trick might be their best.

As a tribute to Texas A&M's 1939 national championship team, the Aggies will don throwback uniforms for Saturday's game against Louisiana-Monroe, complete with "leather" helmets and cleats (No, the helmets are not really leather, but they do sport a leather look).

 

The details are impressive, all the way to the rusted-look on the facemask:

 

 

The helmets were produced in concert with Hydro Graphics Inc. and Riddell, and the leather look is courtesy of a hydro film leather-like texture featuring wing and cross graphics. The design was created using high-resolution photos of the actual helmet the 1939 team wore. They even have "AMC" on the back, which stands for "Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas," which was what Texas A&M was known as in 1939.

 

Here's a look at the cleats:

 

The uniform tops and pants were also inspired by the original '39 Aggies uniform:

 

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