NCF Nation: Laquon Treadwell

Unfortunately, the time has come to say goodbye to the 2014 season. All that excitement generated from the first College Football Playoff is slowly evaporating around the country.

It's sad to see such a fun season end, but that just leaves us with more time to talk about what could/should happen in college football in 2015. As rabid consumers of the next big thing, it's really never too early to peer into the future, which is why we are here today.

Fresh off Ohio State's rout of Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game Presented by AT&T, we are here wondering if the SEC will get itself back into the national title game. Which teams can compete for that spot? Which teams will be competing for the SEC title in 2015?

The upcoming season should bring us a handful of contenders, especially from the Western Division, but we are going with three from each division.

Here are the top three SEC contenders from each division in 2015:

EAST

Georgia: I took some heat for writing on Monday that the Bulldogs might be a quarterback away from taking the SEC and making a legitimate playoff run. I stand by that, and still believe that the Bulldogs have enough pieces in place to be the top SEC at the end of 2015. Nick Chubb is the league's top returning running back and will be a Heisman Trophy candidate, while the defense is stacked at linebacker and in the secondary. There's work to be done along a defensive line that lacks adequate depth, but a loaded D-line class is on the way. With a host of talent coming back on both sides and a more than manageable schedule, Georgia has no choice but to be the East favorite.

Tennessee: If everything goes according to plan, the Vols should return 18 total starters in 2015. That's huge for a team that was so incredibly young last year and started to jell late in the year. Both lines should be strong and the offense will revolve around quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, but keep an eye on a deep receiving corps that could prove to be among the SEC's best. Tennessee must go to Florida, Alabama and Missouri, but getting Georgia and South Carolina at home will be huge in the SEC race.

Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel has done a tremendous job for the better part of his three years in the SEC, but this could be quite the challenge. Mizzou loses a lot of firepower from its 2014 team, including the nation's best defensive end combination in Shane Ray and Markus Golden. The Tigers have been through this before, but there isn't a dynamic combo lurking like the ones Mizzou has had the last two years. Offensively, quarterback Maty Mauk must get his game under control and unlike the position the Tigers were in to start 2014, Mizzou loses its top receivers to a very inexperienced group. Still, these are the Missouri Tigers. Don't you dare count them out.

Watch out for ... Florida: New coach, myriad offensive questions and a quarterback battle. Yeah, the Gators need a lot of help, and new coach Jim McElwain certainly has his work cut out for him in Year 1. The road schedule is tough, but the defense should be fine once again, and if the offense has any sort of identity, the Gators could surprise.

WEST

Auburn: The addition of former Florida head coach Will Muschamp to head up the defense was a monster hire for the Tigers. He'll have the luxury of having all but three starters returning on his side, and top pass-rusher Carl Lawson will be back. Muschamp has quite the challenge in fixing what was a bad defense in 2014, but any sort of improvement will give the Tigers contender status. That's because Auburn's offense should continue to roll behind quarterback Jeremy Johnson, who might be a better pure passer than Nick Marshall. Duke Williams is back at receiver, three starting linemen return, and rising sophomore Roc Thomas could be a beast at running back.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide lose a lot on offense with only two starters returning -- left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly -- and the defense, which loses four valuable starters, certainly needs to get back to its old ways. The loss of Kevin Steele to LSU and Lance Thompson to Auburn means Nick Saban will have to rework his staff, but you have to wonder what sort of changes will come philosophically to a defense that just hasn't played well against tempo, running quarterbacks and the spread. There's still talent in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama isn't going anywhere, but don't be surprised if the Tide goes into a little bit of a rebuilding mode.

Ole Miss: The Rebels, like Georgia, might be a quarterback away from making a serious run in 2015. There will be relative inexperience at the position, regardless of who wins the starting job in 2015. But getting star receiver Laquon Treadwell back will provide whichever quarterback an elite target. The defense loses some value, including defensive backs Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, but that incredibly talented defensive line comes back in tact and there are young, budding stars littered around that side of the ball. Ole Miss has to get more consistent play out of its offensive line/running game and must go to Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State.

Watch out for ... Arkansas: The Hogs' next offensive coordinator needs to know one thing: Hand the ball off. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins (2,290 combined yards in 2014) will be the focus of the offense again, but Arkansas has to get better production out of quarterback Brandon Allen (175.8 yards per game). The defense should be solid, but losing DT Darius Philon to the NFL will hurt.

Play that changed the SEC race

December, 16, 2014
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Getting through the SEC West Division this season showed the country a whole new kind of toughness. Congratulations, Alabama. What you did was incredibly impressive, and you deserve every bit of that No. 1 ranking and a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

However, there's another team that had a chance to make a similar run, if not for a catastrophic play in a crucial SEC game. That would be the Ole Miss Rebels and the play was Laquon Treadwell's tragic goal-line injury on what began as a wonderful 19-yard catch-and-run.

What started as a magnificent play by Treadwell on third-and-3 from Auburn's 20-yard line with just 1:39 left ended with a horrific leg injury and fumble by Treadwell during an awkward tackle from Auburn linebacker Kris Frost just ahead of the end zone. Right before Treadwell's body helplessly collapsed into the end zone, Frost dragged him down, pinning his leg underneath, causing Treadwell to drop the ball. Auburn's Cassanova McKinzy then fell on the ball in the end zone.

video

The play was originally ruled a touchdown, but after review, Auburn was awarded possession and eventually won 35-31.

With the loss, the Rebels lost their best player to a broken leg and were pushed to the fringe of the SEC and playoff races. They were officially eliminated after losing 30-0 three weeks later at Arkansas.

But if Treadwell isn't lost for the season and doesn't fumble, the Rebels might have beaten Auburn. And you could argue that equipping quarterback Bo Wallace with a healthy Treadwell gives the Rebels a big advantage against the Razorbacks. So if Ole Miss, which was fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings, wins that game, they are still right in the thick of the playoff hunt. Beat Arkansas, and the Rebels control their destiny in both the playoff and the SEC West race.

With a win over Alabama already, Ole Miss held the tiebreaker and only needed to beat Mississippi State at home to win the West and still be firmly alive in the playoff. And after watching the Rebels dismantle Mississippi State without Treadwell, it's hard to see them losing that final game.

But there's more: If Ole Miss and Alabama had won out, there's a chance that Alabama would have joined Ole Miss (eventual SEC champ) in the playoff. After all, they would have likely ended the regular season ranked No. 1 and 2.

Would Alabama have received the TCU treatment? Hard to say when it's A-L-A-B-A-M-A.

Instead, the loss kept everything in front of Alabama and left the Rebels on the outside of what could have been a special run for the program.
Now that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has strutted away with the Heisman Trophy in an utter landslide, it's time to look into the future to see who could be up for that bronze beauty next year.

What's that? We haven't gotten to bowl season? Santa hasn't even come to fill our stockings?

Pssssh! It's never too early for some prognostication that has nothing to do with the current season. And looking ahead to the Heisman is so much fun.

So who could be in the mix for a trip to Times Square next December? I think the SEC has a few candidates to keep an eye on. Too bad Todd Gurley isn't returning, because he would be at the top of this list. In fact, if he didn't deal with that NCAA suspension or lose his season to an ACL injury, Gurley might have won the Heisman over Mariota. But that's a story for another day.

Also, Heisman finalist Amari Cooper isn't on our list because he would be crazy not to bolt to the NFL.

Here's our very early list of possible SEC Heisman candidates in 2015:
  • Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: This hinges on Prescott's NFL prospects. He is awaiting his draft grade, but if Prescott isn't projected to go in the first or second round, expect him to come back for his senior year. Prescott was an early Heisman front-runner in 2014, but his numbers fell in the final month of the season. Still, if he returns, he will be a favorite from the SEC after breaking 10 Mississippi State single-season records in 2014: total offense (3,935), total offense per game (327.9), touchdowns responsible for (37), completion percentage (61.2), passing yards (2,996), passing yards per game (249.7), 200-yard passing games (11), passing touchdowns (24), passing efficiency (151.3) and rushing yards by a quarterback (939).
  • Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: With Gurley sidelined for the second half of the season, Chubb took off. Already impressing everyone when he came in to relieve Gurley, Chubb finished the season with seven straight 100-yard games (all starts), was second in the SEC with 1,281 rushing yards and tied for first with 12 rushing touchdowns. He also averaged a league-high 6.9 yards per carry. Chubb is explosive and powerful with his runs, and his vision is incredible.
  • Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Another special sophomore-to-be to keep an eye on, Fournette needed some time to really get going. But when he did, he was usually the best player on the field. He finished the season with 891 yards and capped the season with 146 yards (7.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown in a dominating performance against Texas A&M. Avert your eyes, Aggies! Fournette is a special talent who will be doing a lot more of this in the next couple of years.
  • Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: Before his season was cut short by a devastating ankle injury against Auburn, Treadwell was one of the SEC's best overall players. With Cooper most likely jetting for the NFL, Treadwell will return as the SEC's best receiver in 2015. Despite missing the final three games of the season, Treadwell, who has incredible athleticism, led the Rebels with 48 catches. He finished with 632 yards and five touchdowns.
  • Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Though he didn't have the season most -- including me -- expected, Henry is a freak of an athlete capable of having a special season. If he is the lead guy in Alabama's backfield next fall, he should compete for the title of best running back in the SEC and improve on the 895 yards and 10 touchdowns he had while splitting carries this fall.
  • Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: The bowling ball had a fantastic season in Starkville, rushing for 1,128 yards (third in the SEC) and 11 touchdowns. Robinson was at the top of the SEC's rushing chart for most of the season and rushed for at least 100 yards four times. His numbers fell off during the final portion of the season, but Robinson is a big-play machine. Small in stature, he is a bull of a runner with a knack for tossing defenders off him or slipping out of their grasp for extra yards.
The NFL could claim these guys:
  • T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: He leads Alabama with 932 rushing yards and has 10 touchdowns, but he could take his game to the next level. He wasn't completely healthy this season, but his vision and ball security improved a lot in 2014.
  • D'haquille Williams, WR, Auburn: He missed two games but still led the Tigers with 45 catches for 730 yards and five touchdowns. Another top-tier athlete, Williams made a ton of clutch plays for Auburn this fall. But with his incredible athleticism and size, he's very much a candidate to leave early.
Keep an eye on:
  • Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M: He had only 559 receiving yards and five touchdowns, but when you are regularly making plays like this, people better be on the lookout for you. Noil is a supreme athlete who will grow with more time in the Aggies' offense.
The news of Hugh Freeze signing an extension to stay as Ole Miss' coach for the foreseeable future is incredibly good news for a program that has regained national relevancy under his watch.

It isn't easy to win at a place like Ole Miss, which had been buried in mediocrity before Freeze arrived and still has to play six games in the SEC West. But as Freeze shifts his complete focus to recruiting and an eventual bowl game, he'll do so with a 24-14 record in three seasons and the Rebels' first nine-win season since 2003.

[+] EnlargeOle Miss coach Hugh Freeze
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesHugh Freeze has a 24-14 record in three seasons at Ole Miss and has led the Rebels to three straight bowl games.
In a season in which the SEC West devoured itself, the Rebels went 3-2 against opponents ranked at the time (all in the division) and beat the current No. 1 and No. 4 teams in the country. It was the first time since 1969 they had beaten two top-five teams in a single season.

Because of Freeze's success and his incredibly warm personality, along with a fan base that has totally embraced its native son, there's real enthusiasm for a program that hasn't won an SEC title since 1963 and has never been to Atlanta to play in the SEC championship game.

Freeze's team spent a couple of weeks in the College Football Playoff discussion and he has done a phenomenal job recruiting at a school that isn't used to the collection of athletes Freeze has lured to Oxford. Freeze's historic 2013 recruiting class, which featured the No. 1 overall player (defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche), the No. 1 wide receiver (Laquon Treadwell) and the No. 1 offensive tackle (Laremy Tunsil), is maturing beautifully. Along with tight end Evan Engram, arguably the best at his position in the SEC, and safety Tony Conner, this class has a legitimate championship formula with Freeze returning in 2015.

By all accounts, he'll add to a star-studded foundation with what appears to be exceptional 2015 and 2016 classes. With future NFL players littering his lineup now and in the future, Freeze has ensured that Ole Miss won't be a pushover with him in charge. He could have bolted for a bigger job, but he has unfinished business at Ole Miss he wanted to see through.

And after the coaching job he did and the adjustments he made in 2014, it would be unwise to think Freeze can't have Ole Miss competing for championships.

We all knew the offensive genius Freeze was -- and his Rebels are averaging 443.3 yards per game -- but the development on defense was even more impressive. A season after giving up nearly 24 points per game, Ole Miss leads the nation in scoring defense (13.8 points per game) and touchdowns allowed (18). Ole Miss is allowing just 321.2 yards per game in the process.

There were heartbreaking defeats at the hands of LSU and Auburn. There was a 30-point blowout at Arkansas and the loss of Treadwell for the season. Somehow, Freeze rallied his team to flog the playoff hopes of archrival Mississippi State over the weekend, improving Freeze's record against the Bulldogs to 2-1. The relationship he has with his players and the respect his players have for him are two major reasons why Freeze and Ole Miss are in this position today.

Freeze didn't even think he'd be talking about bowl games until his third year at Ole Miss, but he soon will be discussing his third bowl game with the Rebels and might end up talking about his third straight bowl win.

Before Freeze arrived in Oxford via Arkansas State and the high school football circuit, the Rebels had gone an embarrassing 6-18, with 14 straight SEC losses, in the final two seasons of Houston Nutt's tenure in Oxford.

Freeze, who grew up in Independence, barely an hour outside of Oxford, inherited a program spiraling on and off the field but has it in great position for the present and future. His success at Ole Miss is why his name was linked to the coaching vacancy at Florida. It's a testament to not only him, but his staff and his players and what they've accomplished.

It won't be easy for Freeze to sustain the success he has had with the Rebels, but he has come this far in just three years. Imagine what he could do with time.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
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Saturday feels a little like the calm before the storm in the SEC. There are eight games on the docket, including a couple of intriguing matchups, and yet everybody is already talking about the rivalry games next week. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s a preview of this Saturday’s slate. All times ET.

Noon Eastern Kentucky at Florida, SEC Network: It might be a bit strange to see Will Muschamp on the sideline Saturday considering he won’t be back at Florida next season, but he’s staying on to coach the team’s last two regular-season games. How will the players respond to a coach who’s on his way out? Based on Dante Fowler Jr.'s tweet this week, I'd expect them to come out and play hard for their coach. Also, the Gators become bowl eligible with a win.

South Alabama at South Carolina, ESPN3: Raise your hand if you had South Alabama becoming bowl eligible before South Carolina this season. If your hand is raised, you’re lying. Credit the job Joey Jones has done in his sixth season with the Jaguars, but don’t expect an upset on Saturday. The Gamecocks bounced back from that excruciating overtime loss to Tennessee with a solid, come-from-behind win in the Swamp last weekend.

Charleston Southern at No. 10 Georgia, SEC Network: If there was ever a week to give Nick Chubb a break, this would be it. With Todd Gurley out for the season, Chubb is once again the man in Georgia’s backfield, but fellow freshman Sony Michel is expected to return Saturday, and both he and Brendan Douglas should see plenty of carries. All three backs could be in for a big day against the Buccaneers.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsBo Wallace and Ole Miss will have a tough matchup Saturday against an Arkansas defense fresh off a shutout win over LSU.
3:30 p.m. No. 8 Ole Miss at Arkansas, CBS: After last weekend, Ole Miss still has a chance to win the SEC West. Auburn knocking off Alabama isn’t likely, but crazier things have happened. First, though, the Rebels have to take care of business Saturday against an Arkansas team that is dangerous at home and confident after winning its first conference game in over two years. The Razorbacks allowed a total of 31 points to Alabama, Mississippi State and LSU this season. That doesn’t bode well for Bo Wallace, who will be without top target Laquon Treadwell. With rain in the forecast, points might be hard to come by in this one.

4 p.m. Western Carolina at No. 1 Alabama, SEC Network: The Alabama basketball team had trouble with the Catamounts earlier this week, but I don’t expect much of a struggle for the football team on Saturday. Western Carolina might be a “good little team,” as Nick Saban put it, but the Crimson Tide have dominated all three previous meetings and should do the same this season. If anything, it will give us another look at backup quarterback Jake Coker.

7 p.m. Samford at No. 14 Auburn, ESPNU: There are a lot of connections between these two in-state schools. Samford coach Pat Sullivan won a Heisman Trophy at Auburn back in 1971. Samford assistant coach Kodi Burns played and coached at Auburn. And Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee spent a year at Samford before joining Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State. The game itself won’t be very entertaining, but it should get the Tigers back on track.

7:30 p.m. No. 20 Missouri at Tennessee, ESPN: Missouri has to lose, right? There’s no way the Tigers can get back to Atlanta for the second straight season. Consider this -- Gary Pinkel’s team has won 12 of its past 14 conference games and has won nine straight road games, including seven straight in the SEC. Maybe it’s time we start taking this team seriously. The Tigers are going to have their hands full Saturday against a Tennessee team on the rise. The Volunteers have won back-to-back games with Joshua Dobbs under center, and a win over Missouri would make them bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.

Vanderbilt at No. 4 Mississippi State, SEC Network: Dan Mullen was a happy man Tuesday when the latest College Football Playoff rankings came out, as his Bulldogs were still among the four playoff teams despite losing to Alabama the week before. Now the question is: Can they stay in the top four and hold off teams such as TCU, Ohio State and Baylor? Mississippi State has two chances left to impress the committee, beginning with Saturday’s tilt against the Commodores. It’s important the Bulldogs not only win, but win big.

SEC playoff tracker: Nov. 19

November, 19, 2014
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The SEC had to be happy with the latest College Football Playoff rankings. Alabama jumped all the way to No. 1; Mississippi State remained among the top four despite Saturday’s loss to the Tide; and both Ole Miss and Georgia are hanging around in the top 10. It was clear the committee still thinks highly of the conference as a whole.

Here’s a look at where all four SEC playoff contenders stand heading into Week 13.

Alabama
Record: 9-1 (6-1)
Rank: No. 1
Next big obstacle: Nov. 29 vs. Auburn

Reason for optimism: It's all there for the taking. Thanks to Saturday's win over then-No. 1 Mississippi State, Bama is in the driver's seat to win the West and reach the playoff. With this weekend's game against FCS Western Carolina, the Crimson Tide get a chance to rest up for the following week's Iron Bowl against Auburn.

Cause for concern: Play-in scenarios can be tricky, especially when you're staring down a regular-season finale against your rival. If Alabama loses to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, all bets are off. Either Mississippi State or Ole Miss would then win the West and Alabama would be left out in the cold.

Who they’ll be rooting for: Boston College over Florida State

-- Alex Scarborough

Mississippi State
Record: 9-1 (5-1)
Rank: No. 4
Next big obstacle: Nov. 29 at Ole Miss

Reason for optimism: The Bulldogs didn’t fall that far in the polls -- dropping from No. 1 to 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings -- after losing their first game of the season Saturday against Alabama. Mississippi State still has two conference games remaining in the regular season, and beating one in particular -- No. 8 Ole Miss on Nov. 29 -- would strengthen its case as a playoff contender.

Cause for concern: Ohio State is among the programs lurking right behind the Bulldogs in the rankings. At this point, it doesn’t appear that the Bulldogs will play in the SEC championship game while other contenders like the Buckeyes or UCLA might. If those teams win out -- same with Big 12 juggernauts TCU and Baylor -- it might be difficult for State to hold on to one of the top four spots.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Indiana over Ohio State, Oklahoma State over Baylor, Boston College over Florida State

-- David Ching


Ole Miss
Record: 8-2 (4-2)
Rank: No. 8
Next big obstacle: Saturday at Arkansas

Reason for optimism: The weekend couldn’t have gone better for Ole Miss. The Rebels got to sit home, rest up and watch as Alabama beat Mississippi State and Georgia beat Auburn, keeping the door open for them to win the SEC West. If they win out and Auburn upsets Alabama in the Iron Bowl, they’re headed to Atlanta for the conference championship game. And with that could come a spot in the playoff.

Cause for concern: We still haven’t seen this Ole Miss team in a meaningful game without its star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. How will the offense look? Can Bo Wallace keep playing at a high level sans his favorite target? The Rebels also have to avoid losing Saturday’s trap game at Arkansas. The Razorbacks are confident, coming off their first SEC win, and will be a dangerous opponent at home.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Oklahoma State over Baylor

-- Greg Ostendorf

Georgia
Record: 8-2 (6-2)
Rank: No. 10
Next big obstacle: Nov. 29 vs. Georgia Tech

Reason for optimism: Blowing out Auburn at home has restored faith in the playoff committee. The Bulldogs are back to playing like they should and if they win out, which would include making it to and winning the SEC championship game in Atlanta, there's a chance they'll make it in. Georgia is almost guaranteed to play a top-4 team in Atlanta, so a win would make it tough to keep the Dawgs out.

Cause for concern: Losses to South Carolina and Florida aren't great. They've combined to lose nine SEC games, and Florida is parting ways with coach Will Muschamp. The Bulldogs need help, though. There are a lot of teams in front of them that would need to lose. TCU, Baylor and Ohio State pose the biggest threats, but don't exactly have the most challenging schedules remaining. Georgia would have to win out and take the SEC.

Who they'll be rooting for this week: Tennessee over Missouri

-- Edward Aschoff
For Ole Miss, there was no easy way of getting over the loss to Auburn. Star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was inches from scoring the go-ahead touchdown when he broke his leg and fumbled the ball. The Rebels would have controlled their destiny in both the SEC West and the College Football Playoff. Instead, it looked like the loss might knock them out of both.

“It was a couple days of gut-wrenching feelings around here,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “One of the tasks of being a coach at this level is you’re going to lose some of those against good teams and you’re disappointed. You felt like you played well enough to win it, so that hurts even more. And then you lose one of your better players to an injury and that hurts.

“So the combination of all that certainly hurt, but if you don’t have the ability to move on past a big win or a difficult loss, you won’t be very good for the duration.”

The Rebels bounced back with a 48-0 win over Presbyterian the next week, but that was no surprise. The surprise has been what’s happened around the conference since the Auburn game, and it’s opened the door for this Ole Miss team to possibly win the West.

It started that same weekend when Texas A&M stunned Auburn on the road. Then, this past Saturday, Auburn lost again to Georgia, essentially knocking it out of the division race, and Alabama took down undefeated Mississippi State.

It was the like the stars aligned just right in Oxford, Mississippi. Now, if Ole Miss wins out and Auburn knocks off Alabama, the Rebels are headed to Atlanta for the SEC championship game.

“We were excited obviously,” quarterback Bo Wallace said. “But we have to take care of us, and if we don’t do that, nothing else that happened this [past] weekend matters.”

“We’ve preached to them all along, ‘You play until the end and see what happens,’” Freeze said. “There’s just so much football left to be played regardless of what happens out there. The results [Saturday] certainly kept us alive with some very important, lofty things that we can accomplish, [but] I want us to stay focused on the journey we’re on.

“Us being competitive and relevant in the SEC West in Year 3 is something that should motivate us regardless of what happens with other teams. Our message will continue to be, 'Let’s focus on us, take care of us,’ and see where it shakes out at the end.”

Next up for Ole Miss is a road trip to Arkansas this Saturday. The Razorbacks are riding high after a 17-0 shutout of LSU over the weekend. It was the program’s first conference win in over two years and Bret Bielema’s first since taking over in Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks are clearly better than their record indicates and the Rebels know that going in.

“I’ve said all year long that I felt like all seven teams in the SEC West were quality Top-25 teams,” Freeze said. “Because of the schedule we play, that won’t be reflected in all of the polls, but I assure you [Arkansas] is one of the better teams in the country.”

It will also be the first meaningful game Ole Miss has played since Treadwell went down. Against Presbyterian, fellow wide receiver Vince Sanders stepped up with four catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns, but how will this offense look against another SEC team? Can Wallace continue his prolific pace without his top target?

“It’s going to be huge being without Laquon,” Wallace said. “But we’re confident in our guys stepping up. Any time you’re playing on the road in the SEC West, I think you have more of a focus about the week.”

The injury to Treadwell was certainly a low point for this Ole Miss program, but sometimes you have to hit bottom before you reach the top.

And with two weeks left in the season, the Rebels still have a chance to make it to the top.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 11

November, 7, 2014
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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.
The SEC has a table for one, and perhaps two, reserved at the College Football Playoff cafe. Even if things get really wacky (see: LSU beating Alabama on Saturday night), some team from the league that has produced seven of the past eight national champions will claim a spot in the final four.

Does the Pac-12 have the same luxury? My colleague Chris Low thinks it does, arguing on Thursday's kickoff show that the Pac-12 champ will make the playoff no matter what. I think the Pac-12 champ should make the playoff, but I'm not as certain as Chris that it will.

The question here is whether Pac-12 depth truly resonates with the playoff selection committee. I recently spent five days in Pac-12 country, and coaches repeatedly pointed to the depth the league has this season.

"If you played all the teams in the Pac-12 and all the teams in the SEC, it would be harder to go through the Pac-12 undefeated," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez told me.

SEC playoff tracker: Nov. 5

November, 5, 2014
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And then there were three. Well, technically there’s still six because crazier things have happened. But after Saturday's games, the SEC has three bona fide contenders for the College Football Playoff. Find out where they stand, along with the three teams still clinging to hope, in this week’s playoff tracker.

Mississippi State
Record: 8-0 (5-0)
Rank: No. 1
Next big obstacle: Nov. 15 at Alabama

Reason for optimism: The Bulldogs keep cruising along. They will play their final nonconference gimme of the season this weekend against UT-Martin, providing an opportunity to get the starters off the field early ahead of next week’s showdown with Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Cause for concern: Last week’s narrow win against Arkansas provided evidence that Mississippi State can look awfully average if quarterback Dak Prescott isn’t 100 percent. He threw for a career-high 331 yards against the Razorbacks, but also tossed two interceptions and limped around the field for much of the game. The Bulldogs need him to stay healthy or that No. 1 ranking will be in jeopardy.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: LSU over Alabama

-- David Ching

Auburn
Record: 7-1 (4-1)
Rank: No. 3
Next big obstacle: Nov. 15 at Georgia

Reason for optimism: It hasn't always been easy, but Auburn has navigated through the nation’s hardest schedule with just one loss. Trips to Georgia and Alabama remain, but win out and the Tigers are in the playoff. That’s all you can ask for at this point in the season. It doesn’t hurt that Georgia took a gigantic step backward on Saturday.

Cause for concern: Nick Marshall and this Auburn offense are clicking right now. The same can’t be said for the defense, though. The Tigers were lit up again Saturday at Ole Miss, and if not for two late turnovers, it might have cost them the game. They also committed a season-high 13 penalties for 145 yards against the Rebels.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: If Alabama loses at LSU this week, Auburn could lose the season finale in Tuscaloosa and still win the SEC West (assuming it wins its other remaining games). And it keeps the door open for a five-way tie. Who doesn't want that?

-- Greg Ostendorf

Alabama
Record: 7-1 (4-1)
Rank: No. 5
Biggest remaining obstacle: Nov. 8 at LSU

Reason for optimism: After Ole Miss' loss to Auburn last weekend, the Crimson Tide control their own destiny. If they win out, they'll finish on top in the West and play in the SEC championship game. A trip to LSU won't be easy, but the remaining two games against ranked teams -- Mississippi State, Auburn -- both come at home.

Cause for concern: They don't call it Death Valley for nothing -- and the Tigers' record there after dark speaks for itself. If Alabama is going to prove it belongs in the playoff conversation, it has to survive this weekend's game at LSU.

Who they’ll be rooting for: If Kansas State beats TCU and Utah beats Oregon, Alabama's chief competition in the debate over the best one-loss team in college football will be much more manageable.

-- Alex Scarborough

Ole Miss
Record: 7-2 (4-2)
Rank: No. 11
Next big obstacle: Nov. 22 at Arkansas

Reason for optimism: After two losses, the Rebels’ hopes seem all but dashed. They didn’t drop too far in the rankings, so that’s a plus. But if Ole Miss is going to have any chance at the final four, the Rebels have to win out and win the SEC. Auburn needs to lose two more, while Alabama and LSU need to lose one, all of which is possible with Alabama playing Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State this month.

Cause for concern: Having two losses is damning at this point. The Rebels need help from teams that are on a roll, especially Auburn. Then there are injuries. Star receiver Laquon Treadwell (leg/ankle) and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche (ankle) are out for the season, while left tackle Laremy Tunsil is dealing with a biceps pull.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Alabama over LSU

-- Edward Aschoff

LSU
Record: 7-2 (3-2)
Rank: No. 16
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 vs. Alabama

Reason for optimism: During their three-game winning streak -- particularly in the last two games against Kentucky and Ole Miss -- the Tigers got back to playing traditional LSU football. They leaned heavily on the run and on a tough defense, earning two wins. After last weekend’s open date, they should be in good physical shape for Saturday’s showdown with Alabama.

Cause for concern: This is Alabama, which owns a three-game winning streak over the Tigers. LSU has to win to remain in the hunt for the SEC West title and for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Tigers look much better lately, but they’ll need to play their best game of the season to beat the Crimson Tide.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Texas A&M over Auburn

-- David Ching

Georgia
Record: 6-2 (4-2)
Rank: No. 20
Next big obstacle: Nov. 15 vs Auburn

Reason for optimism: This was supposed to be an easy jog to Atlanta for the Dawgs, but after getting routed by Florida, Georgia is now very much on the outside looking in. Georgia has to win out and win the SEC to have a chance. It also needs Missouri to lose one more, which could happen with Tennessee, Texas A&M and Arkansas left on the schedule.

Cause for concern: Well, two losses appears to be the kiss of death, and Georgia lost to a relatively unimpressive Florida team. A trip to Kentucky and a home game with No. 3 Auburn loom. Also, Missouri ends the season playing three teams that have gone a combined 3-12 in SEC play.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Vanderbilt over Florida

-- Edward Aschoff
It's Election Day. Get out and vote. Les Miles want you to do it.

As the College Football Playoff selection committee continues to digest the results of Week 10, it's time to turn the page.

Up first for the committee comes the question of whom to plug into the spot formerly occupied by Ole Miss. It says here that Oregon should advance to No. 4.

Of course, that's assuming the committee doesn't drop an early bombshell -- in starting with a clean slate each week, as promised -- and rework the top four to include two new members. It could happen.

Remember, we've entered the age of chaos.

This week, six playoff contenders go on the road to face big tests. I'm going to tell you who among them is most likely to lose, who's most likely to win -- and why it matters less than you think.


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With Ole Miss losing for a second time, the College Football Playoff selection committee will soon offer some insight as to the volatility of its weekly rankings. Even Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott seems unsure about what to expect.

Will the committee simply move No. 5 Oregon into Ole Miss' slot at No. 4? The Ducks certainly didn't do anything to hurt their cause by blasting nemesis Stanford 45-16 on Saturday. Idle Alabama probably won't jump from No. 6 into the top four yet, but beating LSU on Saturday might do the trick. And what about No. 7 TCU, which comes off a 31-30 win against No. 20 West Virginia? Can the Horned Frogs make a big leap after their win in Morgantown?

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OXFORD, Miss. -- All it takes is one play. One play changed the outcome of Saturday’s showdown between No. 3 Auburn and No. 4 Ole Miss. One play likely cost Rebels' wide receiver Laquon Treadwell his season. And one play might have determined who gets into the first College Football Playoff and who gets left out.

It was third-and-3, and Ole Miss had the ball on Auburn’s 20-yard line, down 35-31, with less than two minutes left. Quarterback Bo Wallace threw it short to Treadwell, and Treadwell took off. He broke multiple tackles and fought off defenders on his way to the end zone. It looked like he was going to get in when Kris Frost got a hand on him from behind.

In the blink of an eye, Frost pulled him back, preventing him from getting in, and the ball trickled out inches before it crossed the goal line.

[+] EnlargeLaquon Treadwell, Kris Frost
Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsAuburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy recovered Laquon Treadwell's fourth-quarter fumble on a play that could have long-lasting ramifications for many parties.
“Basically, I was just trying to prevent him from getting in the end zone, and I felt the ball a little loose and tried to strip it,” Frost said. “It came out, and the call went our way.”

The call on the field was a touchdown, but after a second look, the officials determined the ball had indeed come out before.

Fellow Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy, who was there to pounce on it in the end zone, said he knew it was out right away.

“I was thinking, 'I’ve got to get the ball. Nobody can take it from me,'” McKinzy said. “It gets dirty at the bottom of that pile, but we needed the ball.”

McKinzy did recover it, and Auburn escaped with a 35-31 victory on the road against one of the best teams in college football.

The win shouldn’t surprise Auburn fans, though. The Tigers have been doing this since Gus Malzahn arrived on the Plains, prior to the past season. Remember the Prayer at Jordan-Hare? The kick-six to beat Alabama? Saturday was no different.

“It’s all about the players,” Malzahn said. “They truly believe if it’s close, they’re going to find a way to win. They’ve done it the last two years in some of the most bizarre ways. But there’s a lot of champions in that locker room. It’s a special group.”

The players, especially the ones who were part of the past year’s run to the BCS title game, have grown accustomed to these types of games. Even last week against South Carolina, the Auburn defense needed to make a crucial stop late in the game to hang on.

“We’ve kind of gotten used to the discomfort of playing in a game like this and having it go blow-for-blow,” Frost said. “We just know if we keep it close, we know how to win, and we know that we’ll come out with a win. We just have to continue to do what we do and play Auburn football.”

The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for this Auburn team. The Tigers still have road trips to Georgia and Alabama on the schedule, and their two visits to the Magnolia State have proven winning on the road in the SEC is no easy task.

But Malzahn told his team to enjoy the win Saturday night. They deserved it.

The outcome wasn’t as favorable for Ole Miss. The Rebels were on the verge of knocking off both Alabama and Auburn in the same season, but not only did they lose the game, they also lost Treadwell for what looks to be an extended amount of time. After the game, head coach Hugh Freeze said Treadwell “definitely has a fracture” , after his leg got rolled up on the fumble at the goal line.

“When you see your young men put so much into preparing for opportunities like we had tonight, you see the hurt that they go through,” Freeze said. “Whoever lost that game tonight was going to feel that way.”

It all turned in one play. That play was the difference Saturday night, and that play will have a lasting effect on the rest of the season.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 10

November, 2, 2014
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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.
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Considering the SEC West and College Football Playoff positioning, the stakes were sky-high on Saturday as No. 3 Auburn edged No. 4 Ole Miss 35-31.

It looked like Ole Miss might score the go-ahead touchdown in the waning minutes, but Laquon Treadwell fumbled into the end zone and Auburn’s Cassanova McKinzy recovered for a touchback. The Rebels forced Auburn to punt in the final minute, but Auburn’s defense held, enabling the Tigers to escape from Oxford with a huge conference win.

Let’s recap Saturday’s memorable game:

How the game was won: Auburn continuously shot itself in the foot with penalties, but Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall led three straight second-half touchdown drives (covering 73, 96 and 75 yards) to reclaim the lead. The Rebels lost fumbles inside the Auburn 6 on two of its last three drives and couldn’t do anything with its last-minute possession.

Game ball goes to: Marshall: Auburn’s senior quarterback (15-for-22 passing, 254 yards, two TDs, one INT; 10 carries, 50 yards rushing, two TDs) was unfazed when the Tigers fell behind by 10 points in the third quarter and guided the offense with a steady hand when the game turned into a shootout. Marshall made some huge third-down plays to keep his team alive against Ole Miss’ vaunted defense.

What it means: The phrase "elimination game” was thrown around all week, since both teams entered with one SEC loss. There could still be a logjam at the top of the SEC West standings at the end of the season, but the road to Atlanta and the SEC championship game just got a lot more treacherous for Ole Miss (7-2, 4-2 SEC).

Playoff implication: For now, Auburn (7-1, 4-1) will maintain its spot in the top four, although the Tigers still have the most difficult path to Atlanta of any of the top contenders in the division. Continuing their theme from last season, the Tigers have certainly proven themselves as a team that can make clutch plays in the closing minutes.

Best play: Marshall’s 57-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates in the second quarter.



What's next: Auburn still has a tremendously difficult schedule ahead with a home date against Texas A&M next Saturday and road games against Georgia and Alabama remaining. Ole Miss’ final gimme comes next week against Presbyterian, but it still must visit Arkansas and host top-ranked Mississippi State.

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