NCF Nation: Myles Garrett

The NFL scouting combine wrapped up Monday with the defensive backs going through the on-field workouts. As always, the SEC was well represented at the event. Former Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley put on a show while a trio of LSU defenders -- Kwon Alexander, Jalen Collins and Danielle Hunter -- proved just how athletic that defense was last season.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIn his freshman season at LSU, Leonard Fournette rushed for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Who's next? The SEC has plenty of athletes made for the combine, and we decided to look at which returning players will turn heads when it's their turn to go through the gauntlet.

LB Caleb Azubike, Vanderbilt: Don't be so shocked a Vandy player made the list. Azubike is a freak athletically. He's 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, and there's not an ounce of fat on his body. As a junior, he started off strong but injuries derailed his season down the stretch. The senior-to-be will look to finish his career on a high note and earn his invite to the combine.

CB Tony Brown, Alabama: Brown is one of four Crimson Tide football players who double up with track and field. He played sparingly as a freshman last fall, but the expectations are high for the former five-star defensive back. On the track, he's the team's fastest runner in the 60-meter hurdles, and he recently ran the 60-meter dash in 6.82 seconds.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia: Who else remembers that picture of Chubb showing off his vertical before a track and field event at his high school last May? If not, here you go. The guy looks like he could jump over a car. After a sensational freshman season, he'll be one of the more talked about athletes when it's his turn at the combine. Odds are he won't disappoint.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU: Chubb isn't the only freshman running back we can't wait to see at the combine. Fournette, the former No. 1 player in the country, has all the skills to put on a show when he goes and works out. He's big, fast, and there always seems to be a chip on his shoulder. It won't be any different at the combine.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Chiseled would be the best word to describe Garrett's physique. The freshman is a weight room freak and should put up big numbers on bench press. The scary part is he'll be just as impressive in the 40-yard dash and the shuttle. There's a reason he broke the SEC freshman sack record, previously held by No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney.

CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: 4.3 is the new 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, and Hargreaves has a chance to run in that 4.3 range. A performance like that could solidify his stock as a top-10 pick in next year's draft, assuming he decides to leave early. And don't be surprised if the former high school track star clears 40 inches in the vertical jump.

RB Derrick Henry, Alabama: Everybody wants to see what Henry is going to do when he goes to the combine. Players that big (6-3, 241) aren't supposed to run that fast. Henry likely won't be among the fastest at his position, but he did run a 4.45 at the 2012 Nike SPARQ competition. Granted, it was on a faster surface, but still -- that's moving for a guy his size.

DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss: To nobody's surprise, another former No. 1 player in the ESPN 300 makes this list. Nkemdiche has always been gifted athletically, and though he might not be as fast as his brother, his overall performance will certainly grab the media's attention at the combine. Simply put, he's the complete package.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: It's all in the name. Wouldn't it be great if the fastest 40 time came from a guy named Speedy? It could happen. Noil won the Nike SPARQ Rating National Championship in 2013 with a 40 time of 4.46 seconds and a vertical jump of 44.1 inches. He also ran the shuttle in a blistering quick 3.87 seconds.

OT Braden Smith, Auburn: Former Miami offensive tackle Ereck Flowers was deemed the strongest man at the combine this year after he put up 37 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Per Auburn's strength coach, Smith can already put up at least 30 reps and he's still a freshman. Imagine what he'll be able to do in two-to-three years when it's his turn.

Honorable mention
RB Alex Collins, Arkansas
LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
WR Ricardo Louis, Auburn
WR Demarcus Robinson, Florida
WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss

Ultimate ESPN 300: Top surprises in the SEC 

February, 17, 2015
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When the Ultimate ESPN 300 was released on Monday, there were some noticeable surprises. Some players shot to near the top of the list early on in their careers, while other players weren’t ranked high coming out of college but now appear on this prestigious list. Here’s a closer look at some of the top surprises in the SEC.

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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It’s that time again. Time to count down who the best players in the SEC were this past season.

21. Markus Golden, DE, Missouri
Shane Ray got most of the attention on Missouri’s defense, and rightfully so considering he led the league in sacks. But don’t sleep on Golden, who it could be argued had a more complete season than his running mate. Not only did the senior rack up 8.5 sacks, he had 20 tackles for loss and led the team in quarterback hurries (12), forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (3).

22. A’Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama
At first glance, Robinson wasn’t the player he was as a freshman in 2013 when he led the team with 5.5 sacks. But as an interior lineman in coach Nick Saban’s 3-4 system, stats don’t tell the full story -- at least not individual ones. Rather, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound sophomore was a vital cog in a defense that ranked 12th nationally, taking on countless double-teams in the running game while also lending a hand rushing the passer.

23. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
Auburn didn’t make it back to the national championship, but it wasn’t the fault of its quarterback. Rather, Marshall’s numbers were actually much better than his first season under center as he went from 1,976 yards passing to 2,531 and his quarterback rating jumped eight points. With a record of 20-7 as a starter, 6,425 total yards and 57 total touchdowns, Marshall’s career stands out in SEC history.

24. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Speaking of ridiculously talented freshmen, how about Texas A&M’s stud defensive end? On an abysmal defense, Garrett, a former five-star prospect in his own right, shined. The 6-5, 250-pound rookie wound up finishing second in the SEC in sacks with 11.5. He also had 14 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hurries and one blocked kick.

25. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
OK, so the Heisman Trophy talk was a little premature, but don’t let that obscure the solid freshman season the nation’s former No. 1-ranked recruit had. After all, in a backfield that was plenty deep with Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, it was Fournette who led the team in rushing with 1,034 yards. In his final two games, he showed why there was such eagerness to see him in purple in gold as he ran for 289 yards and three touchdowns against Texas A&M and Notre Dame.

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.
The SEC is known for its defensive line talent, with dozens of NFL linemen having played for one of the conference’s 14 schools. But this was an uncommonly productive season for the league’s freshman pass-rushers, even by the SEC’s lofty standards.

Two true freshmen – Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett – earned second-team All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches and media, and several others enjoyed productive debut seasons in arguably the nation’s toughest conference.

Garrett set an SEC record for freshmen with 11 sacks this season, but Barnett might have been not just the conference’s best freshman defensive lineman -- he might have been the SEC’s best defensive lineman, period.

[+] EnlargeDerek Barnett
AP Photo/Wade PayneTennessee freshman Derek Barnett ranks third in the nation in tackles for loss.
Missouri’s Shane Ray won the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year awards from both the coaches and media, and he is the conference’s only player whose numbers stand up against Barnett's. Ray led the SEC with 14 sacks and 21 tackles for loss in 13 games, although six of his sacks and 9.5 of his tackles for loss came against Missouri’s weak nonconference opposition. Barnett made all 10 of his sacks against SEC opponents, as well as 18 of his 20.5 tackles for loss.

Barnett is the only freshman to rank among the national top 30 in tackles for loss (he’s third) and Ole Miss freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes is the only freshman in the national top 50 in forced fumbles (he’s tied for 29th with three). Garrett (tied for sixth with 11), Barnett (tied for 16th with 10) and Haynes (tied for 43rd with 7.5) are three of the only four freshmen to rank in the national top 50 in sacks.

Haynes did not post the ridiculous numbers that Garrett and Barnett did, but he was the best pass-rusher on a powerful Ole Miss defense. He led the Rebels in sacks, quarterback hurries (eight), and forced fumbles and is tied for the team lead with a host of teammates with one fumble recovery.

Those three were the headliners, but they are not the only freshman pass rushers who appear destined for SEC stardom. Here are three more freshmen who could strike fear into quarterbacks’ hearts next season:

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Arguably the biggest recruit in Georgia’s 2014 class, Carter didn’t start for the first time until Game 9 against Kentucky. But he made the most of that opportunity wotj nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss against the Wildcats. The Freshman All-SEC honoree started the last four games and figures to become a major impact player in 2015.

OLB Rashaan Evans, Alabama: Earning playing time as a freshman on Alabama’s talented front seven is difficult, but Evans contributed as a role player. He made 15 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack thanks to impressive speed and a high motor. Once he gets an opportunity to play more, he’s going to be a regular visitor into opponents’ backfields.

DE Da'Shawn Hand, Alabama: The SEC’s coaches saw enough from Hand in limited action to name him to their Freshman All-SEC team. One of the nation’s most coveted recruits in 2014, Hand recorded just seven tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss as a reserve on Alabama’s deep defensive line. Rest assured, his time is coming.

 
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.

All-SEC team debates

December, 12, 2014
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Obviously when you take the opinions of six people -- in this case, our group of SEC writers -- we aren’t going to agree about everything. Such was the case this week when we assembled our picks for the SEC blog’s all-conference team.

Some picks were easy. For instance, Alabama’s Amari Cooper might have been the easiest choice for All-SEC wide receiver in history. Others, not so much.

Here are some of the places where we were split on a decision or where we made a somewhat surprising omission, plus a couple of guys who we feel confident will make our team in the future -- possibly as soon as next season:

Sims vs. Prescott at QB

[+] EnlargeBlake Sims
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesBlake Sims consistently stepped up in crucial moments for the Crimson Tide over the second half of the season.
Alex Scarborough: There’s little doubt in my mind that Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott is the more talented quarterback. He’s got the stronger arm and generally has more polish than Alabama’s Blake Sims. But that’s not the point. This isn’t the NFL. This is college football, where players like Eric Crouch and Tim Tebow can have stellar careers without possessing All-Pro tools.

With that in mind, my selection for All-SEC QB was simple. It was Sims over Prescott -- by a mile.

That’s no knock on Prescott. Personally, I love watching him play. But when his Heisman Trophy campaign waned after Mississippi State reached No. 1 in the polls, he went sideways. Throwing out games against FCS Tennessee-Martin and woefully pathetic Vanderbilt, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns in the second half of the season.

Sims, meanwhile, was stellar in the biggest moments of the second half, whether it was the overtime affair in Death Valley, his 15-play drive against Mississippi State that Nick Saban ranked as one of the best in school history, or the end the regular season where he bounced back from three interceptions against Auburn to lead five consecutive touchdown drives.

If you need production, consider this: Sims ranks first or second in the SEC in completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per attempt and touchdown percentage. His Adjusted QBR (88.4) ranks second in the country, trailing only Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. With 3,250 yards passing, he surpassed AJ McCarron for the school record in a single season.

David Ching: Let’s use a fancy-pants baseball statistic here: Wins Above Replacement Player. That stat assigns a number value to a player, reflecting the wins he individually added to his team’s total compared to what an average player would add in the same circumstances.

For instance, Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw led MLB this season with an 8.0 WARP, meaning that simply having Kershaw on the team gave the Los Angeles Dodgers eight wins more than they would have had with a replacement-level player (like a minor leaguer).

I’ll get to the point. If there was such a thing as WARP in college football, Prescott would be a mile ahead of Sims. There isn’t even much of a debate in my mind.

Sims had a good season, and was even great at times, but he also plays for a team that is stocked with future NFL talent. By far the biggest reason that Mississippi State was in the playoff conversation until the end of the season was that Prescott is the Bulldogs’ quarterback.

This is a guy who’s probably going to pass for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 once bowl season is over, plus he’s already thrown 24 touchdowns, caught one scoring pass and run for 13 more. I’m eminently confident that if the two players switched teams, Alabama would still be where it is in the national hierarchy. Could State say the same? I don’t think so.

Where’s Cedric Ogbuehi? Texas A&M’s 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive tackle has a strong chance to be a first-round pick. In fact, he’s currently No. 11 on Mel Kiper’s Big Board Insider and considering his athleticism, it seems to be a safe bet he’ll perform well at the NFL scouting combine and improve his draft stock. However, 2014 wasn’t quite the home run that many were expecting from Ogbuehi when he made the move from right tackle in 2013 to left tackle this season.

Ogbuehi was inconsistent at times and didn’t always appear comfortable at left tackle. It’s a position he didn’t play in college before this season, so some transition was to be expected, especially with footwork when switching from the right side to the left as an offensive lineman. He had his moments when he looked the part, but others, like this one vs. Robert Nkemdiche or this one vs. Kwon Alexander where he didn’t.

He moved back to right tackle for a few games as the Aggies tried to manage without starting right tackle Germain Ifedi, who missed time because of an injury and Ogbuehi looked more comfortable there, though even at that position, Missouri’s Markus Golden gave Ogbuehi all he could handle when the Tigers came to town. Overall, it just didn’t feel like a first-team All-SEC season for the future pro. (Sam Khan Jr.)

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLeonard Fournette didn't have the Heisman-worthy season some were projecting, but expect him to be in the conversation in 2015.
Wait until next year, offense: Prior to the season, Leonard Fournette was generating Heisman Trophy buzz before he had even played a single down in college. Our bet is that the LSU freshman is a much bigger factor in that conversation next year. This season, he had some quiet games, as most freshmen do, but he also carried the Tigers’ offense in narrow wins against Florida and Texas A&M. It hasn’t been a Heisman-caliber season by any means, but Fournette can still post a 1,000-yard season if he rushes for 109 yards against Notre Dame in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. That would still be a heck of a debut season, and more than enough reason to expect big things from Fournette next fall. (David Ching)

Wait until next year, defense: Myles Garrett is a star. There’s no doubt about that. In most leagues, he probably makes first-team all-conference with the season he put together. But this is the SEC, with a lot of great defensive linemen, so Garrett -- while excellent this season -- must wait. The Texas A&M true freshman defensive end had 11 sacks this year, which ties him for second in the conference with Tennessee’s Curt Maggitt, but Garret compiled eight of those against the following opponents: Lamar, Rice and Louisiana-Monroe. The sacks still count, but they aren’t as impressive as they would have been if more had come during SEC play. Garrett did pick up a sack against South Carolina, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, all teams with quality offensive lines, so that is noteworthy. And had he not got injured against Auburn after being yanked to the ground by Shon Coleman, Garrett might have had a stronger finish (he missed the Missouri game because of the injury, though he did return to play against LSU). Garrett earned deserved honors by making it onto both the Associated Press and coaches All-SEC second teams and if he continues to improve at his current rate, you can bet he’ll be a first-teamer across the board at this time next season. (Sam Khan Jr.)
Will Muschamp is a wanted man. The former Florida coach was once a premier defensive coordinator in college football, and now he’s being sought out for the same position by both Auburn and Texas A&M.

Muschamp isn’t the only name to have come up. Others have been linked to the two openings, including former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, who won a national championship as LSU’s defensive coordinator in 2007, as well as current Houston defensive coordinator David Gibbs, who spent a year at Auburn in 2005 and is not far from Texas A&M.

The question is – whether it’s Muschamp, Pelini or even Gibbs – which defensive coordinator job is more attractive to potential suitors, Auburn or Texas A&M?

Greg Ostendorf: If the goal is to play for national championships, then this is a no-brainer. Auburn won a national championship in 2010 and played for another one just last season. As long as Gus Malzahn is the head coach, the Tigers will be good enough offensively to make the playoff year in and year out.

They’re also better suited to make a run next year. Despite all the young talent on the Aggies’ roster, I argue that an incoming defensive coordinator will have more to work with at Auburn than he would at Texas A&M.

 Assuming nobody leaves early, the Tigers will have seven starters returning on defense, including the top three leading tacklers (Johnathan Ford, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost), the team leader in sacks (DaVonte Lambert) and the team leader in interceptions (Jonathan Jones). Can Texas A&M say the same thing?

The defense will also welcome back Carl Lawson, the team’s top pass rusher who missed the entire season due to injury. Lawson didn’t have the same type of production as the Aggies' Myles Garrett did his freshman year, but when healthy, he still has NFL potential written all over him.

That alone is a solid group, especially with Lawson coming back, but when you throw in Tre' Williams, Nick Ruffin and Stephen Roberts, a trio of promising young freshmen who all played this season and gained valuable experience, the potential for a turnaround is there as long as Auburn finds the right guy to take charge.

Some argue that Malzahn focuses primarily on offense when it comes to recruiting, but Auburn’s current 2015 class has three linebackers ranked in the ESPN 300, and the right hire could be just what the Tigers need to land a star like Jeffery Holland or Daron Payne. Can you imagine the success Muschamp would have in Florida, a state Auburn recruits well already? He would have no trouble convincing top defensive targets to join him on the Plains.

The question I have for the future defensive coordinator at Texas A&M is how long will your head coach be around? Kevin Sumlin’s name has been linked to NFL jobs the past two seasons, and it will likely come up again this offseason. Granted, Malzahn might also have a future in the NFL, but Sumlin seems closer to realizing that dream.

Let’s be honest. Both schools have money, both have top-notch facilities, and both have the resources to be successful. The difference is Auburn has better players and a better opportunity to win next year. For a defensive coordinator who might want to coach again soon, i.e. Muschamp or Pelini, there’s not a better job out there.

Sam Khan: Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator position is an appealing opportunity for prospective defensive coaches.

For starters, there is nowhere to go but up. The Aggies ranked last in the SEC in yards per game allowed in each of the past two seasons, so the room for improvement is plentiful.

 The real reason it’s a good opportunity though, is the personnel. The Aggies have ripe young talent to work with. Myles Garrett. Armani Watts. Otaro Alaka. Josh Walker. Zaycoven Henderson. Those are all true freshmen who started games for the Aggies this year.

Garrett is a bonafide star. He shattered Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record (Garrett has 11 sacks this season) and is the type of player the Aggies’ next defensive coordinator can build around the next two seasons (let’s be honest, the chances of Garrett exhausting his college eligibility seem slim given his production so far).

Watts showed promise at safety this season with three interceptions and seven pass breakups. Alaka and Walker performed admirably when inserted into the starting lineup late in the season and look like the linebackers of the future. Henderson is a big body with quickness to plug in the middle. And that’s not to mention a host of other underclassmen who were forced into action each of the past two seasons who will continue to grow in the coming years.

The Aggies have more young talent coming in via the 2015 recruiting class, like 5-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, four-star defensive end James Lockhart and ESPN 300 safeties Larry Pryor Jr. and Justin Dunning. The foundation for future success is there.

Money won’t be an issue for the Aggies when it comes to paying their defensive coordinator of choice. The school is in the middle of spending nearly $500 million on football facilities upgrades and shelled out $5 million per season for Kevin Sumlin. They’re not going to go cheap on the defensive coordinator, which is a pivotal hire heading into Sumlin’s fourth season in Aggieland, just for the sake of saving a few bucks. They have to get this hire right, and they’ll spend what’s necessary to do it.

The resources to attract more defensive talent is there. The player’s locker room and lounge is second-to-none. The Aggies have one of the best weight rooms in the country. Sumlin is a master recruiter who excels at closing the deal with elite recruits.

And Sumlin is willing to give his choice a chance. Auburn has had seven defensive coordinators in the past 10 seasons. Sumlin, who has been a head coach since 2008, is going on his fourth. Sumlin has no problem making changes when necessary, but he usually isn’t the type to overreact to one season’s worth of results.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 2, 2014
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Saturday's SEC games were loaded with players who deserved helmet stickers, including Arkansas' Hunter Henry (seven catches for 110 yards) and Ole Miss' Bo Wallace (341 passing yards, 2 TDs, 61 rushing yards, TD) in losing causes.

We should also mention the impacts that Mississippi State defensive back Will Redmond (intercepted a pass at the goal line in the closing seconds to preserve a 17-10 win over Arkansas), Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett (notched 3.5 sacks to bring his season total to 11, a new record for SEC freshmen) and Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary (matched a school record with five touchdown passes) made on their teams' respective wins, but we can only make five sticker picks.

Here are our choices from another memorable Saturday in college football's toughest conference:

QB Nick Marshall, Auburn: We easily could have gone with running back Cameron Artis-Payne (27 carries, 143 yards, TD) or receiver Sammie Coates (five catches, 122 yards, TD), but we'll take Marshall. The senior coolly led the Tigers back from a 10-point deficit in the second half by repeatedly converting on third down (the Tigers were 5-for-7 in the second half) against No. 4 Ole Miss. Marshall led the No. 3 Tigers to a huge SEC win by completing 15 of 22 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and rushing for 50 yards and two scores.

QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee: Making his first start of the season, the sophomore helped Tennessee rally from a two-touchdown deficit in the last five minutes of regulation and then beat South Carolina 45-42 in overtime. Dobbs set a new single-game school record for rushing yards by a quarterback (166 yards, including touchdowns of 7, 36 and 3 yards) and passed for 301 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He hit Jason Croom with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.

WR Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: Normally we wouldn't hand a helmet sticker to a guy on a losing team, but Cooper can't play defense, too. He caught 11 passes for a school-record 233 yards and touchdowns of 12 and 85 yards. He ran for an 11-yard score. He tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds. And he even recovered a late onside kick. South Carolina surrendered 645 yards to Tennessee, which obviously put a damper on the evening for the Gamecocks, but Cooper was simply phenomenal.

Florida's running game: We're not just giving stickers to running backs Kelvin Taylor (25 carries for 197 yards and touchdowns of 2 and 65 yards) and Matt Jones (25 carries for 192 yards and touchdowns of 44 and 1 yards) in Saturday's 38-20 rout of No. 11 Georgia. Florida's offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, helping their tailback tandem roll up most of the Gators' 60 rushing attempts for 418 yards. Only one opponent (Auburn with 430 yards in 1978) has ever run for more yards against a Georgia defense. Everyone involved with Florida's running game deserves recognition after Saturday's upset win.

DE Shane Ray, Missouri: The Tigers' offense was slightly improved in Saturday's 20-10 win against Kentucky, but the day belonged to Ray and the defense. Ray notched a pair of sacks -- including a fourth-down sack of Patrick Towles on Kentucky's final play -- to raise his season total to 12. In the process, he broke Missouri's single-season record of 11.5 sacks previously held by Aldon Smith and Michael Sam.

Defensive struggles continue for Aggies

October, 21, 2014
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Texas A&M’s 59-0 loss to Alabama on Saturday raised a lot of questions about the Aggies. The team was inferior to the Crimson Tide in all three phases of the game -- offense, defense and special teams -- and the loss brings into question the direction the Aggies are headed.

One of the many areas of concern is a theme that hasn’t drastically changed since last season: the struggles on defense.

Texas A&M’s 2013 defense was poor by any measure. This season began with some promise, but many of the reasons for optimism have gone by the wayside with recent performances. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, in discussing his team’s loss Saturday, noted the Aggies had to evaluate where they are in all three phases of the game and that changes could be in store.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonThe Texas A&M defense has been behind the curve far too often in the past four games.
Defensively, the question is whether the changes need to be in personnel, coaching staff or both. The reasons for the struggles have been varied, but let’s take a look at each season and where the defense is under coordinator Mark Snyder, who is in his third season at the defensive helm.

The 2012 season was by far the Aggies’ best under Snyder. Though depth wasn’t ideal, the combination of experience and leadership in key areas in Texas A&M’s first-team defense is something the group hasn’t had since. Players like linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, safety Steven Terrell and defensive tackle Spencer Nealy (not to mention the pure pass-rushing production of defensive end Damontre Moore) are what the Aggies have been missing the last two seasons.

That season, the Aggies ranked in the top half or, in some cases, the top third nationally in several categories. They were 26th in scoring defense (21.8 points per game), 37th in yards per play (5.22), 31st in yards per rush (3.72), 43rd in yards per pass attempt (6.72) and 16th in third-down conversions (32.4 percent).

In other areas they weren’t as strong but still respectable, like yards per game (390.2, 57th nationally), rushing yards per game (139.5, 35th), red-zone efficiency (58.1 percent, 51st) and goal-to-go efficiency (71.4 percent, 46th).

The 2013 season, on the other hand, was easily the worst so far. With those aforementioned veterans moving on as graduated seniors (or in Moore’s case, early entry into the NFL draft), the Aggies plugged in a ton of youth and were a porous unit for virtually the entire season.

Last year’s defense ranked worse than 100th nationally in yards per game (475.8), yards per play (6.36), rushing yards per game (222.31), yards per carry (5.38) and red-zone efficiency (71.4 percent).

Their rankings in several other areas weren’t much better. Those included scoring defense (32.2 points per game, 95th), passing yards per game (253.46, 95th), yards per pass attempt (7.56, 91st), sacks (21, 84th) and third-down conversions (41 percent, 78th).

That brings us to 2014, where the Aggies have shown statistical improvement in every one of the above-mentioned statistical categories. A solid start in the first four weeks of the season against South Carolina and three non-Power 5 teams in nonconference play gave the illusion of marked improvement.

In addition, increased depth, particularly along the defensive line thanks to the 2014 recruiting class, has helped. A pass-rushing presence that was sorely missed last season has been found in a player like true freshman Myles Garrett, a four-star recruit who is closing in on Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman sack record.

Depth is still thin at linebacker, however, where the Aggies dismissed a starter this offseason (Darian Claiborne) and lost another to injury in the season opener (A.J. Hilliard). In the secondary, there’s a mix of veterans and youth, seemingly plenty of depth but much inconsistency in terms of performance.

While the start to this season was good, the past four games, which have all been against SEC opponents (Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama) have established an alarming trend. The Aggies’ defense is trending statistically worse in that four-game stretch.

In just the last four games, the Aggies have allowed 42.5 points per game, which ranks 119th nationally. Yardage numbers have been poor, too: yards per game (495.8, 110th), yards per play (6.96, 117th), rushing yards per game (255.75, 117th), yards per carry (5.78, 117th) and yards per pass attempt (8.89, 115th).

In key conversion areas, Texas A&M has also struggled. The Aggies' third-down conversion defense in the last four games (41.2 percent, 75th nationally) is about where it was a season ago. Similar traits apply for red-zone efficiency (68.2 percent, 103rd) and goal-to-go efficiency (76.5 percent, 72nd).

And while the numbers tell enough of a story, so do a layman’s eyes. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the Aggies are struggling defensively. Just look at Saturday’s game against Alabama and watch Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims evade about six Texas A&M defenders en route to a 43-yard touchdown run. Or Amari Cooper catch eight passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Or T.J. Yeldon run for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. The Aggies allowed 602 total yards -- poor any way you slice it.

Senior linebacker Justin Bass put it plainly after Saturday’s game.

“You can’t play defense if you can’t tackle,” Bass said. “It’s as simple as that. ... If you don’t tackle, you aren’t going to win games.”
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The past two Saturdays have been an excruciating reality check for Texas A&M.

Merely weeks ago, the Aggies were riding high with a top-10 national ranking, spotless record and national buzz about being a College Football Playoff contender. For Aggies that feared the prospect of life post-Johnny Manziel, it was a dream land, the program flexing its muscle and showing it was more than just one player and long-term success in the SEC was here to stay.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Williams
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Williams and the Aggies are experiencing the challenges -- and the losses -- that go along with a youthful team that has had to replace star players.
Then Mississippi State and Ole Miss lined up across from the Aggies and turned it into a 120-minute nightmare.

Seven games into 2014 -- the most recent two being convincing losses to the Magnolia State squads -- many are left wondering what to think of this Texas A&M team. Clearly, the Aggies aren't what many perceived them to be after their season debut, nor does it seem likely they are as bad as they've looked the previous two Saturdays, when they've taken beatings from two teams currently ranked in the top three nationally.

What we're seeing is a team in transition, which is what many expected before Texas A&M went to Columbia, South Carolina and blew the doors off the Gamecocks, 52-28, on Aug. 28.

Preseason expectations of the Aggies weren't high from most pundits and outsiders. After saying goodbye to three NFL first-round draft picks, Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews, it was natural to assume some growing pains in coach Kevin Sumlin's third year. A first-time starter at quarterback and a still mostly-young defense which had an awful 2013 were the primary reasons for a skeptical eye.

When Kenny Hill and the Aggies went to Williams-Brice Stadium and snapped South Carolina's 18-game home-winning streak in emphatic fashion, it suddenly recalibrated expectations and gave the Aggies a look of a team with its foot on the gas pedal, expectations be damned.

As weeks have passed, it became evident the Aggies' big win wasn't as telling as initially thought. These Gamecocks don't resemble the group that won 11 games each of the past three seasons and are now fifth in the SEC East. The national rankings boost and buzz that followed Texas A&M in the aftermath turned out to be based on unfulfilled expectations of what South Carolina really was.

It seems the Aggies' overtime win against Arkansas, in which they had to scratch and claw out of a two-touchdown deficit late, is more revealing into what this current group is: a young team that is both talented and flawed, showing flashes of both brilliance and frustrating inconsistency at different times.

The overreaction to the South Carolina win, talks of Heisman Trophy contention and "Kenny Trill" made it easy to forget the sophomore is still a first-year starter. The Aggies' 35-20 loss to Ole Miss was Hill's seventh career start. In addition, he's accompanied by a talented but young group of receivers. Of the nine listed on the Texas A&M depth chart, seven are freshmen or sophomores.

In an offense like Texas A&M's, which is predicated on timing, precision and chemistry, the ills that come with playing a young quarterback or young receivers can be disruptive, unless you're fortunate enough to have a transcendent player running the show, like the Aggies did Manziel the past two seasons, who kept defenses off balance with his scrambling ability. After Hill and his receivers played stellar ball in the Aggies' first four games, the last three have seen Hill throw three interceptions, the receivers drop 15 passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the overall effectiveness of the passing game has dwindled.

Replacing a Heisman Trophy winner and a top-10 pick at receiver isn't supposed to be smooth.

Defensively, the Aggies have made progress from the SEC-worst unit that existed a season ago, but there is still a long way to go. Linebacker depth is lacking. Secondary play has been inconsistent. The defensive line is talented and has held its own but, like the Aggies' receivers, has a lot of youth, with seven of the 10 players on the depth chart being freshmen or sophomores. In a league like the SEC, built on strong line play, that can make life challenging.

Against Ole Miss, the Aggies struggled to stop the Rebels in the first quarter but forced five consecutive punts after that. Against Mississippi State, they seemed to have few answers for Dak Prescott & Co. Against Arkansas, early struggles against the run were followed by clutch stops in the fourth quarter and overtime, including one that sealed victory on fourth-and-1.

The Aggies have recruited at a high level in the Sumlin era, turning in back-to-back top-10 classes and are on track for a third straight in this cycle, but not every player is a Myles Garrett or a Speedy Noil, who can make the type of instant impact that those two have. The up-and-down nature of the Aggies' recent play is one byproduct of the amount of youth lining up weekly for them in college football's deepest, toughest conference.

In reality, the Aggies are likely at least a year away from being true SEC West title contenders. Sumlin, whose name was rumored as a candidate for the USC job or NFL jobs last offseason, didn't pass on those other opportunities for what awaited Texas A&M in the immediate future of 2014. He doubled-down in Aggieland because of what he believes the future holds in 2015 and 2016 as talent continues to stockpile and facilities continue to improve (well, that and a hefty $5 million-per-season contract, which runs through 2019).

Much like its home, Kyle Field, the Aggies are a team in transition and the finished product is still at least a year away.
If we’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that SEC teams with one loss are still very capable of reaching the national championship game. There is an even greater chance of that happening this season with the debut of the College Football Playoff. That’s good news for teams like Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and Missouri.

With that said, all four of those one-loss teams still have deficiencies they need to overcome to get back in the playoff conversation.

Alabama: A compliment to Cooper

Amari Cooper has been exceptional this season. Through the first five games, he leads the SEC in receptions (52) and yards (746), and is tied for second in the league with five touchdowns. But despite Cooper’s best efforts against Ole Miss, nine catches for 91 yards, the Alabama passing game still struggled in last Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss.

That is because the Crimson Tide need somebody else to step up.

There is no lack of talent in Tuscaloosa. Tight end O.J. Howard is as gifted athletically as you will find at the position, but he is hardly used. Howard finally made a big play last weekend, but he was also responsible for a critical holding penalty on the last drive.

The bigger surprise has been wide receiver Christion Jones. The senior was expected to play a bigger role this season, but he is averaging two catches per game, and his season-high in yards is 52 against Southern Miss. To make matters worse, it was his fumble on a kickoff return that led to Ole Miss scoring the game-winning touchdown.

The loss of Kenyan Drake didn’t help either. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin had been using him out wide in certain sets, and no other back on the team provides that type of versatility.

Georgia: Help in the secondary

At this point, do we even know who’s playing in Georgia’s secondary? The scarier question might be who comes in if one of the starters goes down with injury.

It hasn’t been easy for first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The Bulldogs dismissed two starting defensive backs this offseason, and a third transferred to Louisville. In the past week and a half, the team lost three more defensive backs for various reasons.

Rico Johnson was given a medical disqualification because of a spinal cord injury, Sheldon Dawson is no longer with the team, and Shaquille Jones was dismissed from the team after he was charged with shoplifting. The mass exodus in the secondary leaves Georgia with 10 scholarship defensive backs and very little experience among them.

It didn’t hurt them last week in a win against Vanderbilt, but both Dylan Thompson and Justin Worley have thrown for more than 250 yards and three touchdowns against the Bulldogs already this season. On Saturday, they travel to Missouri to face Maty Mauk, one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks.

It’s too late to add depth at this point, but this UGA secondary is going to have to grow up in a hurry if it wants to reach the playoff.

Missouri: More options for Mauk

Speaking of Mauk, he played his worst game of the season the last time out against South Carolina. At one point in the fourth quarter, he was 9 of 29 for just 52 yards passing. He did lead the Tigers to a stunning come-from-behind victory, but it wasn’t pretty.

The biggest reason for Mauk’s struggles? He was missing two of his top wide receivers -- Jimmie Hunt and Darius White. The two had combined for more than 400 yards receiving and eight touchdowns in the first four games, but the offense wasn’t the same without them. As talented as Mauk is, he still needs playmakers to throw to, and Bud Sasser can’t do it all by himself.

Both Hunt and White are likely to return this Saturday against Georgia in what has become a critical game in the SEC East. That will certainly help, but can you imagine if Missouri still had Dorial Green-Beckham on its roster? It would take an above average position group and make it exceptional.

Instead, the Tigers are going to have to make do with what they have and hope everybody remains healthy the rest of this season.

Texas A&M: Somebody who can tackle

OK, that might seem a bit harsh, but the Aggies' defense looked downright awful last week against Mississippi State. It’s not everybody. Freshman Myles Garrett is a star in this league, and the defensive line has actually played pretty decent this season. The same can’t be said for the linebackers and the secondary, though.

It’s typically not a good sign when three of your top four tacklers are defensive backs. That means running backs are getting to the second level and wide receivers are catching their fair share of passes. It also means your linebackers aren’t making plays.

Justin Bass is second on the team in tackles, but he was a walk-on prior to this season. Jordan Mastrogiovanni is a solid captain for the defense, but he’s missed time because of injury and the jury is still out as to whether he can be a good SEC linebacker.

Texas A&M is missing players like Darian Claiborne, who was dismissed from the team in June. He was third on the team last season with 89 tackles. The loss of TCU transfer A.J. Hilliard, who dislocated his ankle in the season opener at South Carolina, was another big blow to this defense. The staff had high expectations for him.

With three of the next four games against top-10 opponents, the Aggies need to play better on defense to have any chance of making the playoff.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 6

October, 4, 2014
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Sorry, SEC East. This post just isn’t for you.

Sure, we learned about Georgia (Todd Gurley can do anything), Florida (Treon Harris should start) and Kentucky (these Cats are on to something). We even found out, once and for all, that South Carolina is a playoff fraud.

But in the end, it was in the West that we learned the most.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Holloway
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesBrandon Holloway and Mississippi State showed they are SEC West contenders by thumping Texas A&M on Saturday.
1. You’ve got to Hail State: Welcome to the Mississippi State bandwagon, everyone. I’ve kept your seats warm for you this whole time. I understood how you were skeptical those first three games against nonconference cupcakes Southern Miss, UAB and South Alabama. I even got how you weren’t completely sold after the Bulldogs went on the road and beat LSU this past week. But if you aren’t ready to go all-in after the way State trounced Texas A&M, 48-31, on Saturday, there’s no helping you. Geoff Collins’ defense might be the best in the SEC. Did you see the way the front seven affected Kenny Hill and the Aggies’ passing game? Dak Prescott, meanwhile, is now a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. I know you saw how he imposed his will against A&M and scored with his arm and his legs. With Prescott leading the charge and that defense behind him, there’s nothing stopping the Bulldogs from taking a shot at the division crown. It’s a radical idea, I know, but it’s time to start accepting this brave new world we live in.

2. A Rebel yell: Ole Miss didn’t play well for the better part of three quarters. Bo Wallace was doing his usual Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing, and the running game was practically nonexistent. The missed face mask call that resulted in a fumble return for a touchdown right before halftime seemed like the type of play that would decide the game. Ole Miss would fold under its own disappointment, and Alabama would come out in the second half and pull away. But then Ole Miss grew up. It wasn’t three quarters of maturation from the Rebs on Saturday night; it was three decades' worth. What Hugh Freeze has done is completely change the way Ole Miss thinks of itself. We saw that against Alabama. Wallace didn’t beat himself up after a few early mistakes; he got right back in the saddle. The defense, which fought valiantly with little help, never gave up in the 23-17 win. And when Ole Miss absolutely needed a big play, it got it -- twice. Wallace threw a game-winning touchdown pass, and Senquez Golson followed that up with a game-clinching interception. In doing so, Ole Miss proved it belonged. It proved, despite what we might think about football in the Magnolia State, these guys really can play.

3. Alabama isn’t dead: Take the emotions of the game out of it. Let’s think about this like the College Football Playoff selection committee might. Alabama lost to a team ranked in the top 15. It lost on the road. And it lost in the final few minutes. It lost a game in which its quarterback had a subpar performance; its most explosive weapon on offense, Kenyan Drake, was knocked out of the game in brutal fashion; and two starters, linebacker Denzel Devall and center Ryan Kelly, were sidelined with injuries. If there’s such a thing as a quality loss, this was it. It’s not quite Michigan State losing at Oregon, given that Sparty put itself out there scheduling that game, but it’s close. That’s little consolation to Alabama right now, but in a few months, it might mean something. The SEC West is a bear. Who really thinks a team is going to survive the division undefeated? If Alabama can get better play from its offensive line and secondary, what’s to say the Tide can’t get right back in it? A loss at Ole Miss isn’t going to be enough to keep them out.

4. Aggies allergic to defense: In the words of Kevin Sumlin: “What?!” He ought to go up to every defensive player in the locker room and ask that question in a much more hostile tone than he’s become accustomed to. Because the Aggies have no defense, that’s what. Mark Snyder was supposed to coax some improvement out of a defense that was the worst in the SEC the past season, but that hasn’t happened. Players are too often out of position. Tackles too often go missed. Quality execution is too often a foreign concept. The excuse of inexperience has grown tiresome. Go look at the past few recruiting classes -- there’s talent there. It’s time Texas A&M takes a long, hard look in the mirror and decides what it wants to be. Because as out-of-sorts as Hill and the offense looked against Mississippi State on Saturday, they weren’t the problem. You have Myles Garrett. You have Deshazor Everett. It’s time you have some semblance of a defense.

5. And then there’s Auburn: No one is talking about Auburn, and that’s probably the way Gus Malzahn wants it. But week after week, the Tigers keep winning. Forget that Nick Marshall hasn’t become Joe Montana. Forget that the win at Kansas State wasn’t pretty. Forget it because it doesn’t matter. Style points mean nothing. If Saturday showed us anything, it’s that surviving is all that matters. Alabama wishes it could have done that. So do Oregon and Oklahoma. Auburn, for all its supposed flaws, is undefeated and in line to move into the top 3 in the polls. If you don’t think Auburn is good enough to win the West again, I don’t know what to tell you. LSU might not be the team we’ve become accustomed to in recent years, but it’s still LSU. All Auburn did was beat the Bayou Bengals like they stole something. The 41-7 win might not grab the headlines like Ole Miss' and Mississippi State's wins, but it counts the same.
Leonard FournetteAP Photo/Jonathan BachmanLSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette was criticized for striking the pose.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- All of his life, Leonard Fournette has been ahead of the athletic curve, so naturally he was disappointed when his first college game didn't go according to plan.

In LSU's season-opening win against Wisconsin, Fournette ran eight times for 18 yards and returned five kickoffs for 117 yards, while senior Kenny Hilliard instead carried the Tigers' running game. It was an OK debut for a typical freshman running back, but not for the player who was ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class, whom many college football analysts had compared to the greatest college running backs of the last 20 years.

"I was kind of hard on myself because I was so used to having 200-plus rushing yards in a game and I didn't have that, so I was kind of disappointed," Fournette said. "But I talked to Coach, talked to my father and my mother and they were like, ‘This is college now. It's not going to happen [in college] like it used to happen.' "

Maybe that early disappointment also made Fournette want to fast forward his collegiate development. A week later came Fournette's most memorable college moment to date -- one that brought more criticism than praise.

After a 4-yard touchdown run against Sam Houston State, Fournette's first college score, he struck the Heisman Trophy pose in the end zone. LSU coach Les Miles immediately gave Fournette an earful over the freshman's me-first moment and he later apologized to his teammates for what could easily be called a premature celebration.

All of a sudden, he was the subject of national ridicule -- a rude awakening for a player who had been roundly praised since middle school.

"I prayed on it, my parents talked to me, Coach Miles talked to me and just told me, ‘Don't worry about it,' so I got over it," Fournette said of the Heisman backlash.

Ever since then, Fournette has quietly shown steady improvement. Other SEC freshmen like Tennessee's Jalen Hurd and Texas A&M's Myles Garrett have made bigger national splashes, but last Saturday's win against New Mexico State marked the fourth straight game that Fournette led No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) in rushing.

Each week since the Wisconsin game, Fournette has averaged at least 5 yards per carry, which he believes is a result of improved patience.

"We'll be in the meeting room and watching practice and I'll be seeing [senior running back Terrence Magee] making cuts like I used to make in high school," Fournette said. "I'll just be like, ‘Man I wonder why I can't do that?' I'm always rushing, so I feel like I've just got to be patient, slow down. I've been taking all that to heed and I've been slowing it down and the cuts will be there for me."

Running room and cutback space were certainly available last weekend against New Mexico State, when Fournette broke the 100-yard barrier for the first time at LSU. He finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, all career highs, and credited his offensive line and seniors Magee and Hilliard afterward -- exemplifying another lesson in humility that he learned from the Heisman hoopla.

"Thanks to Kenny, thanks to Terrence, like they're really my mentors. Anything I have a problem with, I come to them," Fournette said. "I never really had a big brother on the football team. I always was the big brother, so I have them and they help me a lot."

The veterans, in turn, credit the rookie for his personal growth. Making the transition from high school legend to SEC freshman can be difficult, but Magee said Fournette adjusted his expectations to fit what LSU has asked of him thus far.

"Every game you're not going to go out and rush for 200 yards, 100 yards, so I think he's a lot more comfortable than what he [was] now and starting to relax and just play his game," Magee said.

That said, Fournette has not fully tapped into his massive potential yet. As Fournette mentioned, he hasn't hit holes decisively at times and, for a player listed at 230 pounds, he has been surprisingly ineffective at breaking tackles.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Fournette ranks 11th in the SEC and 59th nationally with 3.48 yards per carry before making contact with a defender. And yet he's fourth among regulars in his own backfield in yards after contact. Freshman Darrel Williams (3.64 ypc after contact) and Magee (3.18) both rank in the SEC's top 10, but Fournette's average of 2.27 ypc also ranks behind Hilliard (2.53) among LSU regulars.

His game remains a work in progress, but it is easy to envision a game-breaking finished product on the occasions when Fournette accelerates past defenders or leaves one in the dust with a well-placed stiff-arm, as he did on his first touchdown run against NMSU.

Those brief flashes are signs that Fournette is coming along fine, even if he didn't achieve instant superstardom like some expected.

"That's hard, especially with those expectations," center Elliott Porter said. "I don't think nobody in the last 10 years faced quite that much hype."

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