NCF Nation: Philip Lutzenkirchen

Big 12 media days live: Day 2

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
The Big 12 media days continue on Tuesday in Dallas, as Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and new Texas coach Charlie Strong each take the stage. Keep this page open throughout the day's proceedings as we bring you the latest from our reporters, who will cover all 10 teams at the event.

SEC power rankings: Week 1

August, 27, 2012
Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

We are just days away from the college football season, so it's time to unveil our first batch of power rankings for the regular season.

A lot goes into our power rankings. It isn't just about how strong teams are right now. We look into our crystal ball as well to get a good read on how each team will finish the season -- before it has even started.

For each school, we look at talent coming back, coaching, roster changes, how teams have looked in practice now compared to the spring and uniform style. Well, maybe not that last part, but you get the point.

Here are our season-opening SEC power rankings for 2012:

1. LSU: The gap between the Tigers and Alabama got a lot smaller after Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal, so this could be viewed as 1A and 1B. Mathieu is a big loss for LSU on defense and special teams, but there is just way too much talent for this team not to make another title run. LSU's offense still has one of the best/deepest running games around and gets an upgrade with quarterback Zach Mettenberger. LSU also might have the best offensive line/defensive line combo in the nation.

2. Alabama: The defending champs lost a lot of star power on defense, but that unit should still be pretty darn good this fall. There could be some growing pains at times, but the Tide should still have one of the league's best defensive units this fall. The offense might be better and more balanced this fall, even without Trent Richardson. There is a good stable of backs, the nation's top offensive line and quarterback AJ McCarron has a little more explosiveness and athleticism to work with at receiver.

3. Arkansas: Bobby Petrino is gone, and that could be tough for the Razorbacks to overcome in the long run, but the team has bought in to what interim coach John L. Smith is saying. We still need to see how this team -- and Smith -- acts when adversity enters the picture. The offense has two of the league's best in quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis, who is back from a serious ankle injury. Wilson lost three NFL receivers, but his receiving corps doesn't lack talent. Questions still surround the defense, which lacked depth last season.

4. Georgia: A load of talent returns on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Aaron Murray could be a Heisman candidate, while linebacker Jarvis Jones might be one the country's best players, regardless of position. Isaiah Crowell is gone, but the Bulldogs seem happy with their stable of running backs and were probably going to run by committee again this season anyway. The defense will take a hit with a couple of key stars suspended to start the year, but this group has elite status. The schedule is set up again for a run to Atlanta.

5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks return a filthy defense headlined by sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The defensive line should be one of the best in the league with Clowney and Devin Taylor on the ends and Kelcy Quarles coming back in the middle. The secondary has issues, especially with Akeem Auguste going down, but safety D.J. Swearinger and hybrid safety/linebacker DeVonte Holloman are studs. Marcus Lattimore is one of the nation's best, and he appears to be 100 percent after his ACL injury. The hope is that quarterback Connor Shaw will help take some pressure off of him.

6. Florida: The Gators return a fierce defense that should be strong across the board. End/tackle Dominique Easley is coming off an ACL injury, but has the ability to be one of the top linemen in this league. But for Will Muschamp, his second-year success will be determined by what the offense can do. Questions are everywhere, starting with a quarterback battle that isn't close to being settled. There are unproven pieces at receiver and the offensive line, which returns most of last year's parts, struggled mightily in 2011.

7. Tennessee: The Vols have a chance to challenge Arkansas for the league's best passing game. Tyler Bray can throw it all around a bit and has two potential stars in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to throw to. However, Da'Rick Rogers is gone, which means the pressure is on Hunter, who is coming off an ACL injury, and Patterson, who is in from the juco ranks. The defense has a lot of experience and talent, but four new coaches are on board, including defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. Seven new coaches are in Knoxville, and it's no secret that Derek Dooley's seat is very hot there.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of confidence in quarterback Tyler Russell, who can finally call this team his. He'll have quite a bit of experienced weapons to throw to, including seniors Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith, who have combined to catch 221 passes for 2,782 yards and 22 touchdowns in their careers. The running game should be strong with LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin, while the offensive line is just hoping to stay healthy this year. The defense should be solid with a talented front seven and a very gifted secondary, starring potential All-American Johnthan Banks. The schedule is also very favorable in September and October.

9. Missouri: The newbies don't lack confidence, but on paper they lack size up front -- on both sides. The staff and players say it's not a problem, but let's see come mid-October. Quarterback James Franklin appears to be 100 percent after undergoing shoulder surgery and might be the league's best dual-threat QB. He's the key to a spread offense that returns a lot of speed. The defense is experienced and has a strong linebacker group. Ends Brad Madison and Kony Ealy could form a pretty good tandem this fall.

10. Auburn: The Tigers are still a young team and there are two new coordinators in town. Now that Kiehl Frazier has been named the starting quarterback, the offense can start molding around him. He'll have a solid group of running backs to work with, but the line is young and he needs more reliable receiving targets alongside Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen. The defense is loaded up front, headlined by end Corey Lemonier. But the defense as a whole still has a lot of questionable parts for new coordinator Brian VanGorder to work with.

11. Texas A&M: The Aggies have a new coaching staff, have to replace some key starters from last year and will be working with a very green quarterback in redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. The good news for him is that the offensive line is very strong, starting with tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. Helping Manziel will be senior receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu and stud running back Christine Michael, who is coming back from an ACL injury. The defense is moving to a 4-3, but is stacked at linebacker. The secondary is dangerously young and thin.

12. Vanderbilt: This team surprised a lot of people last year, but opponents won't be caught off guard by the Commodores in 2012. There is good offensive firepower coming back, with quarterback Jordan Rodgers, running back Zac Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Plus, there is some good, young offensive talent. But the offensive line has depth issues and will have to use a lot of young guys this fall. The defense is also replacing some key components from last year's team.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats saw their five-year postseason run end after having the SEC's worst statistical offense in 2011. Joker Phillips thinks he has more potential playmakers this fall and is excited about quarterback Maxwell Smith's potential. The offensive line is younger and can't afford an injury to either Matt Smith or Larry Warford. The defense will be strong up front, but is replacing all four linebackers and two starters in the secondary.

14. Ole Miss: New coach Hugh Freeze isn't working with a lot of numbers, as attrition from the past few years is catching up. The offense was one of the league's worst last year, and still has a quarterback battle between Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti going on. The offensive line struggled mightily to grasp Freeze's spread this spring and has to improve quickly. Receivers Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan have a lot of upside, while the defense should be better, especially in the secondary. Still, depth is an issue overall.
HOOVER, Ala. -- The 2012 SEC media days All-SEC team was announced Thursday, and LSU led the conference with the most first-team selections with seven. The media has voted for a preseason All-SEC team and predicted the order in which each team would finish since 1992.

It should be noted that the media has only picked the correct SEC champion four times since 1992. Those correct picks were Florida in 1994 and 1995, LSU in 2007 and Florida in 2008.

Here are some notes from the league on the All-SEC team:
    [+] EnlargeMarcus Lattimore
    Daniel Shirey/US PresswireSEC members are expecting big things this season for South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore.

  • The 222 voters is an all-time high for SEC media days. The previous high was 177 voters in 2010.
  • South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was the leading vote-getter this season with 201 of 222 votes. He is the fourth running back in the past six years to be the highest vote-getter (2007 – Darren McFadden, Arkansas; 2008 – Knowshon Moreno, Georgia and Percy Harvin, Florida; 2009 – Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes, Florida; 2010 – Mark Ingram, Alabama; 2011 – Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina).
  • Lattimore (2012) and Jeffery (2011) have been the leading vote-getters the last two seasons.
  • Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones is a three-time member of the SEC media days first team
  • South Carolina has had a sophomore make the media days first team for the third straight season – Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina, DE (2012); Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, RB (2011); Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, DB (2010).
  • Since 2000, Arkansas’ Darren McFadden is the only unanimous selection to the SEC media days All-SEC team, collecting all 80 votes.
  • LSU had the most first-team selections this season with seven. Since 1992, the most players on a first team were nine by Alabama in 2011 and eight by Alabama (2010) and Florida (2009).
  • LSU leads with the most overall selections this season with 13. The total is the second highest ever, behind Alabama’s 16 last season. Prior to last season, Alabama (2010) and Florida (2009) had the most overall selections with 12.
  • LSU is predicted to win the SEC championship by the media for the first time since 2007. It is the second time since 1992 that LSU has been predicted to win the league title. LSU did win the SEC title in 2007 and went on to win the BCS title.

Here is what the complete first team looks like:


QB: Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (127)
RB: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (201)
RB: Knile Davis, Arkansas (118)
WR: Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee (106)
WR: Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas (67)
TE: Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn (158)
OL: D.J. Fluker, Alabama (171)
OL: Alex Hurst, LSU (125)
OL: Chance Warmack, Alabama (124)
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M (87)
C: Barrett Jones, Alabama (183)


DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (140)
DL: Barkevious Mingo, LSU (126)
DL: Sam Montgomery, LSU (124)
DL: Corey Lemonier, Auburn (102)
ILB: Nico Johnson (84)
OLB: Jarvis Jones, Georgia (178)
OLB: Sean Porter, Texas A&M (81)
DB: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (184)
DB: Eric Reid, LSU (142)
DB: Robert Lester, Alabama (131)
DB: Bacarri Rambo, Georgia (126)


K: Caleb Sturgis, Florida (127)
P: Brad Wing, LSU (153)
RS: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (159)
AP: Dennis Johnson, Arkansas (86)

For a look at all three teams check out the SEC's official website.

Here's the predicted order of finish for the SEC champion and the votes:

1. LSU - 129
2. Alabama - 65
3. Georgia - 14
4. South Carolina - 6
5. Arkansas - 4
6. Auburn - 2
7. Florida - 1
8. Ole Miss - 1

Predicted order by division:


1. Georgia (132)
2. South Carolina (72)
3. Florida (12)
4. Missouri (2)
5. Tennessee (4)
6. Vanderbilt
7. Kentucky


1. LSU (139)
2. Alabama (72)
3. Arkansas (6)
4. Auburn (4)
5. Texas A&M
6. Mississippi State
7. Ole Miss (1)
HOOVER, Ala. -- Philip Lutzenkirchen doesn’t come close to resembling a diva.

He’s too rugged and barrel-chested for that sort of persona.

But Auburn’s senior tight end can’t help but be a little excited about having the chance to expand his personal limelight as he steps into more of a pass-catching role for the Tigers this fall.

[+] EnlargeAuburn's Philip Lutzenkirchen
John Reed/US PRESSWIREPhilip Lutzenkirchen caught 24 passes for 238 yards and 7 touchdowns last season.
“To get back to the opportunity where I’m going to be thrown at seven to 10 times a game, like coach [Scot] Loeffler said, is very exciting,” Lutzenkirchen said Wednesday.

Lutzenkirchen, who caught 24 passes for 238 yards and 7 touchdowns last season, can thank the NCAA and new fullback Jay Prosch for his new-found happiness. Prosch transferred from Illinois this spring and was cleared by the NCAA to play immediately.

Prosch will take over some of the blocking responsibilities that Lutzenkirchen had as more of an H-back in Gus Malzahn’s offense. That means Lutzenkirchen can move out to be more of a traditional tight end and help the Tigers’ passing game, which is full of unproven talent. He expects to not just help out underneath but stretch the field at times, too.

“It’s been a real blessing in disguise to have Jay transfer to Auburn and take on that true fullback role that I’ve been playing the past two seasons in coach Malzahn’s offense,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of the blocking responsibility off me.

“It’ll take a lot of hits off of me.”

He also anticipates being very helpful to Auburn’s young quarterbacks and offensive line. He expects the Tigers to meet a lot of early-season blitzes from opponents because of its youth and he’ll turn into a nice option underneath for either Kiehl Frazier or Clint Moseley.

“For whoever does start at quarterback, I’m going to be a pretty valuable weapon and short third downs,” he said.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC West post-spring notes

May, 8, 2012
The good folks over at the SEC office delivered a plethora of post-spring notes for us to dive into as summer creeps closer and closer.

I've split it up by division, so you all aren't overwhelmed. We'll start with the SEC West:

  • The attendance for A-Day was 78,526 (1st in the SEC and 2nd nationally this year to Ohio State) which was the fifth-largest in school history. Each spring game under coach Nick Saban has had an attendance of 78,200 (2008) or higher.
  • As an SEC head coach (beginning in 2001 at LSU and 2007 at Alabama), Saban has totaled 73 NFL draft picks with 20 first-round selections and 10 among the top 10 overall.
  • During the last academic year, Alabama’s football program led the SEC (in what is believed to be a conference record) with a total of 38 student-athletes on the Academic All-SEC Honor Roll. A total of 22 players were on the bowl roster who had already earned their degrees, which was tied for first nationally in terms of graduates on bowl rosters.
  • Of Alabama’s 13 starters lost, all were either drafted or signed free -agent contracts with the NFL. Included among those 13 were the four first-rounders along with LB Courtney Upshaw (2nd round), NG Josh Chapman (5th round), DB DeQuan Menzie (5th round) and TE Brad Smelley (7th round). OG Alfred McCullough, WR Marquis Maze, WR Darius Hanks, C William Vlachos and LB Jerrell Harris each signed as free agents following the draft.
  • Arkansas is the only team in the SEC to return a quarterback (Tyler Wilson) with a 3,000-yard passing season in his career and a running back (Knile Davis) with a 1,000-yard rushing season.
  • Arkansas has been ranked in 32 straight Associated Press polls, tied for the seventh-longest active streak in the nation, and in the top 10 for nine straight polls, which also ranks seventh among active streaks in the country.
  • Arkansas finished the 2011 season undefeated at home for the first time since 1999. With seven home victories in 2011, the Razorbacks have 19 wins at home in the past three years, which is tied for the fourth-highest total in the NCAA. Arkansas enters the 2012 season with an 11-game home winning streak, the fifth-longest active streak in the country.
  • Kicker Zach Hocker enters his junior season as Arkansas' record holder for career field goal percentage with his success rate of 80.4 percent. He also ranks in the top 10 in school history in six other categories and finished the 2011 season second in the SEC in points per game, field goals made per game and touchback percentage.
  • Auburn returns 48 lettermen (20 offense, 26 defense, 2 specialists). Of the 68 scholarship players who participated in spring drills, 61 percent (38) were underclassmen.
  • The Tigers start the 2012 season in the same location as they finished the 2011 campaign, playing in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. On Sept. 1, Auburn opens with Clemson in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game. The Tigers completed the 2011 season with a 43-24 victory over Virginia in the Chick-fil-a Bowl on Dec. 31. Auburn’s 2012 schedule features eight games against bowl participants from a year ago, including five that played in traditional New Year’s games.
  • Junior punter Steven Clark, one of three finalists for last year’s Ray Guy Award, is one of two returning first team All-SEC honorees for Auburn, along with junior defensive end Corey Lemonier. Returnees Philip Lutzenkirchen (senior tight end) and Onterio McCalebb (senior all-purpose back) were second team all-SEC selections in 2011.
  • The Tigers have four running backs coming back who had seven or more rushing touchdowns (Spencer Ware 8, Kenny Hilliard 8, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue 7).
  • LSU has five returning offensive linemen with starts to their credit, led by C P.J. Lonergan with 26 and OG Josh Dworczyk with 26. Other linemen with career starts to their credit include LT Chris Faulk (13), RT Alex Hurst (23) and RG Josh Williford (9). A sixth offensive lineman – La’el Collins – came out of spring practice as possibly the starter at left guard.
  • Defensively, LSU returns its top two tacklers (Tyrann Mathieu 76, Eric Reid 76) and its top two leaders in both tackles for loss (Barkevious Mingo 15.0, Sam Montgomery 13.5) and sacks (Montgomery 9.0, Mingo 8.0).
  • LSU returns 11 players on defense that started at least one game a year ago, including five defensive linemen.
  • Mississippi State is one of only two SEC teams to bring back all 10 on-field coaches from last season. The entire staff continuity is a first in more than a decade (1999-2000) for the Bulldogs.
  • Dan Mullen enters the 2012 campaign with 21 wins in his first three seasons, the second most in school history (Alllyn McKeen, 26, 1939-41). Mississippi State had only won 21 games over any three-year stretch eight times prior to Mullen’s arrival.
  • Wide receiver Chad Bumphis enters the season with 101 career receptions, good for eighth in school history and 61 shy of David Smith’s (1968-70) record of 162. The Tupelo native needs five touchdowns to reach the school record of 17 held by Eric Moulds (1993-95) and Justin Jenkins (2000-03).
  • Five returning offensive linemen have each started five or more games in their career, including junior starting center Evan Swindall. Senior A.J. Hawkins and sophomore Aaron Morris settled in at the guards during the spring, while a pair of potential first-time starters, junior Emmanuel McCray and mid-year JUCO transfer Pierce Burton, have taken the lead at the tackles.
  • Special teams remains a strength of the Rebels, led by 2010 NCAA punting champion and two-time All-SEC senior Tyler Campbell. In addition, senior K Bryson Rose has made 25 of 29 career field goals and 65-of-67 PATs.
  • In the return game, junior running back Jeff Scott has established himself as a weapon during his career, ranking 20th in the country in kickoff returns in 2010 and helping Ole Miss finish third as a team nationally in punt returns in 2011.
  • Senior Dustin Harris enters the 2012 football season as the reigning punt return average statistical champion. The cornerback from Livingston, Texas, led the NCAA with a 18.9 average on 18 returns in 2011, with a 72-yard touchdown return against Kansas. Against the Jayhawks, Harris set a school record with 162 punt return yards.
  • Senior Ryan Swope, from Austin, Texas, has career numbers of 180 catches for 2,204 yards and is chasing Jeff Fuller’s school records of 233 catches for 3,092 yards. Fuller’s records would appear to be within range after Swope’s record-setting junior season that saw him set school standards with 89 catches for 1,207 yards.
  • The Aggies led the nation with 51 sacks in 2011 (six more than the second-best team), and A&M’s top two pass-rushing threats return in 2012. In fact, Texas A&M is the only team in the nation with two returnees that posted 8.5 or more sacks in 2011. Senior Sean Porter led the Big 12 with .73 sacks per game (No. 19 nationally), while junior Damontre Moore chipped in .71 per game (No. 21 nationally).
  • Despite attempting the ninth most pass attempts in the NCAA FBS, the Aggies did a remarkable job of protecting their quarterback in 2011. In 13 games, A&M allowed just nine sacks for a NCAA-low 44 lost yards. Four of five starters return from the 2011 offensive front, including juniors-to-be OTs Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, who have been mentioned as first-round draft picks in several early 2013 mock drafts.
  • The offensive line was penalized for holding just twice in 2011 and enters 2012 with a streak of 11 straight games without a holding call against a lineman.

Fast starts for Dawgs and Tigers

November, 12, 2011
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia overcame early jitters and Auburn overcame an early deficit.

Things have been pretty fun so far "Between the Hedges" as we are tied at seven after Georgia and Auburn's opening drives.

Word of South Carolina's win against Florida must have crept into Georgia's huddle because the Bulldogs came out sloppy, with a false start and delay of game penalty, along with some happy feet and some over throws by Aaron Murray.

He and his line adjusted as he found some rhythm with a 44-yard strike to Malcolm Mitchell, who is back after suffering a hamstring injury. After an 8-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King, this crowd exploded.

However, Auburn just marched down the field. And it did so throwing the ball. Most expected Michael Dyer to be Auburn's top option today, but the Tigers came out throwing. Clint Moseley threw the ball five times before a trick play that ended with C.J. Uzomah throwing to Philip Lutzenkirchen tied the game.

We knew Auburn would come in pumped and ready and the Tigers haven't disappointed. Let's see how the Dawgs respond now that they know what they're up against and what is no at stake.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 30, 2011
Time to pass out a few helmet stickers as the countdown has now officially begun to next week’s SEC Super Bowl:

Georgia coach Mark Richt: A lot of teams would have unraveled after an 0-2 start to the season, especially when there were so many high expectations. But Richt’s leadership and quiet confidence have steered the Bulldogs back to the forefront of the Eastern Division race. All the negativity surrounding the program after that 0-2 start never made its way onto the team or inside the Bulldogs’ locker room, and that’s a credit to Richt and his entire staff.

Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said before the season that Jones would make a big impact on the Bulldogs’ defense, and the USC transfer has certainly delivered. The sophomore outside linebacker had four sacks in Georgia’s 24-20 win over Florida and also forced a fumble at the Gators’ 18-yard line in the third quarter that led to a game-tying touchdown. Jones’ final sack came on fourth down late in the game and all but finished the Gators.

Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas: His 94-yard fumble return for a touchdown turned the entire game around and spearheaded the Hogs’ come-from-behind 31-28 victory over Vanderbilt on the road. The Commodores had the ball at the Hogs’ 3-yard line and were about to take a two-touchdown lead early in the fourth quarter, but Franklin scooped up Zac Stacy’s fumble and raced 94 yards for a touchdown. The Hogs converted the two-point conversion and tied the game. Franklin also led Arkansas with 10 tackles, including 2.5 for loss.

Clint Moseley, QB, Auburn: It was rude welcome to the SEC as a starting quarterback last week for Moseley against LSU, but he came back with a vengeance in the Tigers’ 41-23 win over Ole Miss. Moseley threw the first four touchdown passes of his career, including a pair of scoring strikes to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen. Moseley, who finished 12-of-15 for 160 yards and no interceptions, also connected with Emory Blake and Quindarius Carr on touchdown passes.

Ellis Johnson, South Carolina assistant head coach for the defense: OK, he’s got a long title, but his defense is carrying the Gamecocks right now. South Carolina beat Tennessee 14-3 on Saturday, the fifth consecutive game that the Gamecocks have held an opponent to 16 points or less. South Carolina held Tennessee to 186 total yards and intercepted two passes, one of those coming after the Vols had intercepted a pass and returned it to the Gamecocks’ 2-yard line. In three of their past five games, the Gamecocks have held opponents without a touchdown.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Auburn is trying to teach all of us, but we haven't been listening.

Yes, the Tigers are young. Yes, Cam Newton is gone. And, yes, this team entered the weekend equipped with the worst statistical defense in the SEC.

But it also entered as a 3-1 team and unbeaten in the SEC.

Guess what? That same group of Tigers, fielding the same young players and the same stumbling defense left Williams-Brice Stadium with a win against No. 10 South Carolina and is still undefeated.

Maybe, we'll listen now.

[+] EnlargeMichael Dyer
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesAuburn's Michael Dyer was one of two SEC running backs to average over 100 rushing yards in league games. The other? Heisman finalist Trent Richardson.
It’s hard to believe, but that 16-13 win that literally came down to the final second – again – proves as much. It also proves that despite this team’s flaws, the Tigers have some of the best resiliency of any team in this league.

“This was a game that they willed to win,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “They willed that one.

“It wasn’t always pretty, as we’ve experienced in three other wins, but we beat a good football team tonight and that’s the third time we’ve beat them in three tries. I don’t know that there’s a whole lot of people out there that can say that right now.”

Sure, South Carolina made mistakes (four turnovers and seven penalties). The nine completions and two interceptions for Stephen Garcia will no doubt be brought up. Or the fact only two South Carolina receivers – Alshon Jeffery and Bruce Ellington – caught passes.

And they should be because Auburn was a major reason for them. Auburn’s defense pressured Garcia (getting three sacks). Auburn’s defense eliminated the Gamecocks’ other receiving threats. And Auburn’s defense shut down Marcus Lattimore.

The backbone of the South Carolina’s offense was broken and gained 66 yards. Chizik said the goal was to eliminate Lattimore from South Carolina’s offensive equation and his defense, which entered the game allowing an SEC-high 226.5 rushing yards a game, did that.

“We went into the game and said we gotta stop him,” Chizik said. “That happened tonight. We went into the game and said we really gotta do a good job with getting turnovers. That happened tonight.”

And how about that offense? It wasn’t much to look at for more than three quarters, but with 5:27 remaining, it was super cool as junior quarterback Barrett Trotter and the Tigers marched right down the field and scored.

It was a little unorthodox, but Auburn scored on the “Five delay” play that beat Alabama a year ago. You know, the one where Philip Lutzenkirchen springs free from the right side and is wide open in front of the end zone? Yeah, that one worked – again.

He fumbled and a review had to determine if he retained possession, so it eventually worked.

That entire drive summed up Auburn. It’s back was against the wall and even with a band of youngsters, it converted three third downs, including the touchdown, to stun the Gamecocks.

“That’s something we pride ourselves in, is fighting until the very last play, until it says 0:00 in the fourth quarter,” said Trotter, who was 12-of-23 passing for 112 yards and two touchdowns. “We’re going to keep fighting until the end.

“All these guys that are old on this team have seen too many crazy things happen to give up in the first, second, third or even fourth quarter.”

You can add one more crazy thing in running back Michael Dyer going down with what looked like a rather painful ankle injury, but returning on the very next drive to play the rest of the game like nothing happened.

He even pulled a Lattimore, in Lattimore’s house, rushing 41 times for 141 yards and a touchdown.

That determination to refuse to stay out is what fuels this Auburn team. Dyer could have rested a series, but he didn’t. That is the attitude of a team that arrived in Columbia with people laughing at its defense and it left giving up just 289 to the Gamecocks.

This team is getting better; that's obvious now. But will the respect start to come? The Tigers don't know and don't care. They just feed off it.

“I don’t say it gets personal, but when you work 365 days a year and somebody tells you what you can’t do, you want to prove them wrong,” defensive end Nosa Eguae said. “That’s what we ended up doing tonight.

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina's offensive problems finally caught up with the Gamecocks as Auburn's late touchdown drive gave the Tigers the 16-13 upset win Saturday.

Auburn used a 12-play, 57-yard drive that was capped off by an 8-yard touchdown pass from Barrett Trotter to Philip Lutzenkirchen to put the Tigers up by three with 1:38 remaining.

The Gamecocks had one last shot to win the game, but Stephen Garcia's pass last-ditch effort was too little too late as the clock expired on a completion to Bruce Ellington over the middle to the Auburn 30.

We'll have more after postgame interviews.
AUBURN, Ala. -- The SEC released a statement following Auburn's 41-34 win against Mississippi State to discuss a controversial first down call on an Auburn 4th-and-1 late in the third quarter Saturday.

With 1:31 remaining in the third and Auburn sitting at Mississippi State's 31, running back Michael Dyer lunged through the middle of the field forward for the first down, but was quickly met by Mississippi State defenders. At first, it looked as if Dyer made the needed yardage, but on TV it looked as if he came up just short.

When the referees measured where the ball was, they determined that Dyer made the first down.

Here's what Steve Shaw, SEC Coordinator of Football Officials said about the ruling:
"When the officiating crew put the first down stake in its final position, the nose of the football was touching the stake making it a first down."

Five plays later, Auburn quarterback Barrett Trotter hit tight end/H-back Philip Lutzenkirchen for a 10-yard touchdown to put the Tigers ahead 41-27 early in the fourth quarter.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen didn't have much to say about the ruling and said that he trusted the officials on their call.

Defense owns third but Auburn strikes

September, 10, 2011
AUBURN, Ala. --The defense has returned to the Plains ... for a quarter.

After the first half was dominated by 55 combined points between Auburn and Mississippi State, both defenses surrendered just a field goal each in the third quarter, making it 34-27 Auburn.

Auburn's offense drove at the end of the quarter and was saved by a tough first down on a fourth-and-1 run by Michael Dyer. Through three quarters, Dyer had 142 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. But his nifty 52-yarder put the Bulldogs' backs even closer to the end zone. A couple of plays later and Barrett Trotter hit Philip Lutzenkirchen on a 10-yard touchdown pass to make it 41-27.

Mississippi State's running game had success in the third, but now the passing game needs to get more involved if the Bulldogs want to come back in this one.

SEC media days: Best of Day 2

July, 21, 2011
Best story: At the conclusion of the Mark Richt Camp during Aaron Murray's senior year of high school, he was tossing the football around with a girl when offensive lineman Ben Jones, then a freshman at Georgia, informed Murray's father that Murray's girlfriend was "gorgeous." Murray's father then delivered a classic, stone-faced line.

"My dad turns to Ben and says, 'Son, that's my daughter right there,'" Murray said.

Best self-endorsement: Tennessee might not have to search too far to find its next athletic director. When asked who he thought might make the best choice for the hire, Vols coach Derek Dooley didn't hesitate with an answer: "The best athletic director I ever worked for was at Louisiana Tech." Of course, he meant himself.

Best analogy: Kentucky linebacker Danny Trevathan nominated Florida's Jeffery Demps as the toughest running back to bring down because of his blistering speed. He's faced Demps since high school and likened his size and speed to a rascally rodent.

"It's hard to chase a rat," he said.

Best hair: Tennessee offensive tackle Dallas Thomas has been growing his hair for six years and had it up and in huge, thick braids going down his back. It takes roughly an hour and a half to braid it up, but don't worry: He doesn't have issues putting his helmet on.

"I don't have any problems," he said. "I just braid it back or put a skullcap on and it just slides right on."

Best chance to make "Dancing With the Stars": Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen's Riverdance-type dance routine he showed off during last year's Alabama game is gaining more popularity. There is even a video on YouTube named "Teach Me How to Lutzie" that has more than 50,000 views.

"It's pretty much everywhere," Lutzenkirchen said. "I go somewhere and someone says something about it. It's funny that it's what I'll be remembered for, that touchdown more than any others, but it's all fun and games."

Best piece of advice: When asked what he thought Kentucky had to do to make a push to compete in the SEC East, quarterback Morgan Newton advised his teammates to stay off one of the most popular social media outlets: "Don't tweet as much. That Twitter will get you."

Best record: Dooley and his Volunteers might have been 6-7 in the win-loss column last season, but he has another way of looking at the season after games against LSU and North Carolina ended in clock controversy.

"I told everybody I was 8-7 in postgame handshakes last year," Dooley said. "It was a remarkable feat."