NCF Nation: Tauren Poole

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.

Spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 24, 2012
Now that you've seen what to watch in the SEC Western Division, let's check out the East:


Spring practice start date: March 14
Spring game: April 7

What to watch:

Finding offensive playmakers: Year 2 of the Will Muschamp era begins with the team trying to find someone who can make a few plays for this fall. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease has a host of unproven offensive talent to work with. Wide receiver Andre Debose was Florida's best deep threat last year, and the coaches raved about receiver Quinton Dunbar's potential, but neither was consistent enough in 2011. Maybe Florida can finally turn to bigger backs Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown in the playmaking department.

Toughening up the offensive line: The Gators' line struggled throughout the 2011 season. It wasn't always at 100 percent, but Florida's line also just wasn't tough enough -- mentally or physically. The Gators couldn't get the tough yards on the ground and didn't exactly protect quarterback John Brantley enough. The line should get a boost with early enrollees D.J. Humphries, who was the top offensive line prospect in the 2012 class, and Jessamen Dunker, but Florida will have to get improvement from players who return to a line that lost just one starter from last season.

Quarterback battle: Brantley is gone, leaving rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy. Brissett replaced Driskel as Florida's No. 2 quarterback last year, while Murphy has yet to take a college snap. Brissett and Driskel had plenty of down moments last fall but should get a chance to reinvent themselves this spring with new leadership and more practice reps. This spring will be extremely important for all three quarterbacks as they try to improve a position that struggled mightily the past two years.


Spring practice start date: March 20
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:

Isaiah Crowell's toughness: Crowell has the talent to be a star in this league. He has the size and athletic ability to cause a lot of headaches for opposing defenses. However, his inability to stay healthy -- and in games -- became more of a headache for Georgia's coaches and fans in 2011. Crowell needs to get tougher and be more reliable. He said as much after last season, but it's time to make good on his word. Crowell could get a push from early enrollee Keith Marshall this spring, and we know coach Mark Richt isn't afraid to play multiple backs.

Position changes: Richt made headlines recently when he said he'd be open to considering moving star freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell to cornerback now that the Bulldogs are thin there. Maybe he'll play both ways. Also, rising sophomore Ray Drew could switch from outside linebacker to defensive end. He played both in high school. Georgia's offensive linemen also could play multiple positions up front.

The target on the Bulldogs' backs: There will be a lot more attention paid to the Bulldogs this spring, as they will probably enter the 2012 season as the favorites in the SEC East. Georgia returns just about everyone from a team that reeled off 10 straight wins on its way to the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs aren't just considered the East front-runners -- they also are being viewed as national championship contenders. But the Bulldogs can't let the hype get to them. We've seen this team underachieve when the expectations were high before.


Spring practice start date: March 21
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:

Offensive line auditions: The Wildcats must replace three offensive linemen this year. That process will begin this spring, and the good news is that veterans Larry Warford and Matt Smith return. Left guard Kevin Mitchell, who will be a junior this fall, started one game last year, while soon-to-be sophomore right tackle Darrian Miller started two games last fall, so there is some experience coming into the open spots. Trevino Woods, who didn't start a game last year, should be the favorite to play left tackle this spring, but he also can play guard. There's also a lot of depth to work with.

Defensive makeover: Danny Trevathan is gone, so Kentucky must find someone else to run the defense this season. There's no question that Trevathan was the heart of this defense, so replacing him won't be easy, but the Wildcats must find someone who can step up and be a player others can look up to. The Wildcats also lost six starters from their linebacking corps and secondary, meaning Kentucky will have to fill holes with youngsters. Mikie Benton and Ridge Wilson are the only returning starters not on the defensive line.

Maxwell Smith: With fellow quarterback Morgan Newton sidelined this spring as he recovers from shoulder surgery, all eyes will be on Smith. He struggled at times last year, but Kentucky's offense was better when he was under center. Now, he'll have to make even bigger strides this spring if he wants to create a sizable lead in the race before Newton returns. Smith needs to work on his consistency, clean up his mistakes and develop better chemistry with his receivers.


Spring practice start date: March 6
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:

Offensive adjustments: Missouri might return some key pieces at skill positions, but the Tigers must replace three offensive linemen and will have to tweak some things to make their spread offense efficient enough to face SEC defenses. It helps that quarterback James Franklin is a runner and Missouri has speed and depth at receiver and running back, but the team must make subtle changes to combat the improved speed Missouri will see on defense, especially off the edge.

Rebuilding up front: The Tigers will be without three starters on the offensive and defensive lines. That isn't exactly what any SEC team would like, considering games are won in the trenches in this league. Fortunately for Missouri, both sides saw multiple guys get playing time last season. Keep an eye on defensive end Brad Madison. He was viewed as a defensive player of the year candidate in the Big 12 last year but was limited by a shoulder injury.

Wide receivers: Franklin had a heck of a 2011 season, but as he gets ready for 2012, he's still looking for a big-play threat in his receiving corps. T.J. Moe returns as the Tigers' leading receiver, while Marcus Lucas was fourth in receiving last year. Both have the potential to be elite in this league, but can one leave spring with the title of playmaker? Lucas showed flashes last year, but flashes only go so far. Missouri needs to find a definitive receiving threat.


Spring practice start date: March 12
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:

Marcus Lattimore's health: His knee injury took place at the halfway point of the season, so he won't be 100 percent for a while. Still, the word is that he's ahead of schedule when it comes to rehabbing his knee. ACL injuries can be tough to manage, but with Lattimore's determination, he'll do everything possible to come back sooner than expected. He likely won't take contact this spring, but it'll be interesting to see whether the Gamecocks get much use out of him before summer.

Finding receiving options: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, there's more pressure on South Carolina's receiving corps. Outside of Jeffery, the Gamecocks didn't have consistently reliable options in 2011. That has to change this year, and it starts with a productive spring. Ace Sanders should get more reps, and the coaches are excited about the big-play ability that speedster Damiere Byrd possesses. Also, keep an eye out for Shamier Jeffery, Alshon's little brother.

Connor Shaw's development: Things couldn't have ended any better for South Carolina's quarterback last season. After an up-and-down start, he rebounded in the final three games with 896 combined yards passing and rushing and 11 touchdowns. Now, it's time for him to sharpen his passing skills and develop more confidence in his passing ability. Accomplishing that will help his receivers as well.


Spring practice start date: March 26
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:

New coaching feel: The Vols enter spring practice with some new faces on the coaching staff. Six new assistant coaches will make their spring debuts this year. The most important might be defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and running backs coach Jay Graham. Sunseri is working to make Tennessee more multiple in its approach, adding more 3-4 looks, while Graham will have to fix a struggling running game. Tennessee players will need to adjust to new coaching styles and buy in quickly this spring.

Running backs: No group at Tennessee struggled quite like Tennessee's running backs last fall. The Vols were ranked 116th nationally in rushing offense and recorded just 11 rushing touchdowns (nine from running backs). Tauren Poole is gone, which means Graham will first turn to Marlin Lane and Rajion Neal, who combined for just 414 yards and four touchdowns last year. Devrin Young and Tom Smith will have to step up, while Tennessee will get some use out of early enrollee Alden Hill.

Justin Hunter's health: Losing Hunter was the first of a few blows Tennessee's offense took last year. He's arguably Tennessee's best receiver and one of the best deep threats in this league. He suffered his ACL injury at the beginning of the season, and he's reportedly ahead of schedule but won't take any contact this spring. The goal is to have him running and cutting well at the end of the spring.


Spring practice start date: March 16
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:

Jordan Rodgers' confidence: He enters spring as the quarterback for the Commodores, but he has to improve the mental part of his game. He let it get the best of him at times last year, especially in last season's bowl game. He can lose his rhythm quickly at times. He needs to work on improving his confidence and take more command of Vandy's huddle this spring. He has the skill to be a top quarterback in this league, but his head has to follow.

Warren Norman's health: A knee injury forced the running back to redshirt last year, but the good news is that he spent the fall strengthening his leg by participating in each practice. The hope is that he'll be ready to go this spring, but you'd imagine that since this is his second knee injury, the coaches won't push him too much. Getting him to sprint and cut with ease will be important to his rehab this spring.

Keeping the edge: James Franklin's first year as a head coach was a success, but it's important that the attitude and personality that made Vanderbilt so confident last year roll over to the spring. The loss in the bowl game might have stunted that personality growth a bit, but it's important that the Commodores get it back. It will go a long way toward keeping the progress going.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Tennessee might be out-manned against Alabama, but it's not backing down to the Crimson Tide early.

Tennessee has gone for two fourth downs on Alabama's side of the field Saturday and has converted one. That conversion led to a field goal a few plays later to give the Vols the early 3-0 lead here in the first quarter. It might sound a little risky, but if the Vols are going to pull this upset, they're going to have to be aggressive and take some risks along the way.

The Vols are also working on Alabama's defense by running the ball up the gut with Tauren Poole. Yes, the league's worst running game is actually moving the ball decently early. Poole already has 35 yards rushing.

Matt Simms ready to lead Vols again

October, 13, 2011
Matt Simms has seen this movie before.

Simms is the tragic, underdog hero looking to vanquish the evil doers, but must first fail in order to learn the value of what it truly means to win.

However, when Tennessee’s senior quarterback went through this last year by facing Tennessee’s toughest part of the season , he came out with a 2-6 record. Five of those losses came to ranked opponents.

It wasn’t the right ending. Not for the lovable underdog. Well, inject some cruel irony and Simms is right back where he was -- dealing with the monsters of the SEC in true underdog fashion.

[+] EnlargeMatt Simms
AP Photo/Wade PayneMatt Simms steps in as the starter right as Tennessee prepares to face LSU, Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas.
His quest begins again after starter Tyler Bray, who replaced Simms last year, broke his thumb against Georgia. Simms came right in and passed for 39 yards on 4-of-6 passing and scored Tennessee’s only touchdown when he plunged into the end zone for a 1-yard score.

But that was only the beginning, as Bray could be out at least four weeks and Simms is left to lead the Vols against No. 1 LSU Saturday, then against Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas during the next four weeks.

It seems harsh, but this time Simms says he’s more prepared and confident. Even after Bray replaced Simms last year, he continued to train as if he were the starter. His confidence never wavered and he approached each day as if he were No. 1 on the depth chart.

Now, the underdog, equipped with a reeling Tennessee team that sits at 3-2 and winless in the SEC, is ready for his next round of monsters, even with the plethora of doubters.

“Everyone is going to count us out,“ Simms said, “but we need to focus on what we need to do to win the game and win our first SEC game of the season.

“I’m looking forward to it. Obviously, a lot of people would say they would say they wouldn’t want to have their first start of the season against a team like LSU, but I look forward to the challenge.

Not only is Simms replacing one of the league’s top passers, but he will be without deep threat Justin Hunter, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Florida, and running back Tauren Poole is nursing a sore hamstring that has limited him in practice.

Things could be falling apart in Knoxville, but Simms said his first order of business after the Georgia game was to rally players,. His teammates have tremendous respect for him, but they understand their play has to increase mightily if they want a chance in the second half.

No one will comfort Tennessee, but that doesn’t mean the Vols can quit.

“As the days go on, you realize there’s no sense in sticking your head down and feeling sorry for yourself,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. “You have to dust off your pants and you've got to get up and you've got to start being solution-oriented.

“Everyone is going to rally around Matt and we’re going to go out there and play the best we can. That’s all you can do.”

Cleaning up some first-half numbers would help, too. This team is last in the SEC in rushing, 10th in pass defense, 11th in pass defense efficiency, has one interception and seven sacks, and is -1 in turnover margin.

You can attribute some of that to youth, which will no doubt show more during these next few weeks, and losing two big offensive playmakers won‘t help with poise. Dooley already admitted that losing Bray was a “blow to the spirit” of this team.

That’s where Simms comes in and he said he can handle damage control. Tennessee loses the moxie and big arm of Bray, but gets a senior leader and a heck of a confident guy.

Tennessee is in for a rough few weeks, but Simms believes this movie can end with Tennessee getting to the SEC title game.

“For our own team to think that we should be counted out is ridiculous,“ he said. “We should be ready to go week in and week out no matter who the opponent is.

“We do have a tough road ahead, but this is why we play in this conference and you never know what’s going to happen. It’s unfortunate that Tyler and Justin did go down with injuries, but no one feels sorry for us and we can’t feel sorry for ourselves."

SEC power rankings: Week 7

October, 10, 2011
After another week of college football and we have some movement in the middle our power rankings. The top, however, isn’t budging at the moment:

1. LSU (6-0, 3-0): It seemed like the Tigers were just going through the motions at times over the weekend. Florida entered Death Valley with a true freshman quarterback and left with its pride shattered. LSU made it look so easy on both sides of the ball and Florida’s offensive and defensive lines were absolutely abused in the process. The Tigers have been on another level compared to their competition so far and LSU is playing out of its mind. The Tigers have also used their two-quarterback system with Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson perfectly through two games. How the coaches are ranking the Tigers behind Oklahoma is baffling.

2. Alabama (6-0, 3-0): LSU might be the top team in the power rankings – and the country – but Alabama is a very, very close second. The Tide’s defense has been better statistically and while we still think LSU has the most athletic defense around, Alabama’s is equally as suffocating and has dismantled its opponents with ease thus far. Nov. 5 can’t come soon enough! One thing that Tide fans should be even happier about was quarterback AJ McCarron’s four-touchdown, turnover-free performance against Vanderbilt’s talented secondary. He just gets better every week and is starting to develop more of a downfield passing element.

3. Arkansas (5-1, 1-1): The Razorbacks aren’t on the same level with LSU or Alabama, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good team. The defense took some heat for its struggles against Texas A&M, but we saw a much-needed transformation Saturday against Auburn. Arkansas completely took Auburn’s passing game out of the equation and forced three interceptions in the process. Tyler Wilson and his band of receivers continue to impress us, and while the running game still needs some work, getting big plays out of Joe Adams out of the backfield has really helped. Making sure the defense doesn’t regress will be key for the Hogs going forward.

4. South Carolina (5-1, 3-1): Connor Shaw was exactly what South Carolina’s offense needed. After back-to-back embarrassing showings by Stephen Garcia, Shaw came in and really sparked this Gamecocks offense with his arm in a blowout win over Kentucky. He threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns as South Carolina put up 54 on the Wildcats. It was the strongest showing of the season for this offense and with the defense continuing to play up to its potential the Gamecocks are back to being seriously considered in the East race.

5. Auburn (4-2, 2-1): The early-season defense Auburn was afraid of seeing again reared its ugly head against Arkansas over the weekend. The Tigers were hurt by the Hogs’ passing game and surrendered a 92-yard run by Joe Adams. Quarterbacks Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier struggled mightily and couldn’t get Auburn back in the game. It’s time for coach Gene Chizik to go back and make some adjustments defensively and in the passing game. He made great defensive modifications after Auburn’s first loss, so we’ll see what he’s got in store this weekend against Florida.

6. Georgia (4-2, 3-1): The Bulldogs struggled on offense again, and eventually that has to become pretty worrisome, but the defense shut down Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray. Georgia’s defense held him without a touchdown, snapping a 10-game streak of Bray passing for at least two touchdowns in a game, and swallowed up Tennessee’s running game (minus-20 yards). Georgia's defense has steadily improved each week and the Bulldogs are right in the thick of the East race. With the not-so-treacherous road ahead, winning out and making it back to Atlanta is a definite possibility for this team. South Carolina still needs to lose, but Georgia is feeling pretty good about itself after this four-game winning streak.

7. Florida (4-2, 2-2): Florida was down to its third-string quarterback against LSU, but was beaten at every position on the field. Even with a youngster (Jacoby Brissett) making his first start, we expected some sort of creativity in the game plan and the Gators had none. The fact is that this team tremendously misses John Brantley under center and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has to come up with a better strategy while the senior is out. Defensively, the front seven was punished against Alabama and LSU, giving up a combined 464 rushing yards in back-to-back weeks.

8. Tennessee (3-2, 0-2): You gotta feel for the Vols here. Quarterback Tyler Bray was one of the top offensive weapons in the league before he went down with a broken thumb that will keep him out at least four weeks. Top deep threat Justin Hunter was already out and running back Tauren Poole now has a hamstring injury. This team showed fight in both of its SEC losses, but the road ahead is very tough with LSU, Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas all meeting the Vols during a five-week stretch. It might get worse before it gets better in Knoxville.

9. Vanderbilt (3-2, 1-2):
The Commodores are struggling to get anything going on offense. It might be time to hand the keys to this offense over to quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who replaced starter Larry Smith against Alabama after the senior went down with a leg injury. Neither was great when they were in against the Tide, but Vandy’s offense is broken and it needs to get fixed in a hurry. Vandy’s bowl chances might rest on what the offense does in the second half. Defensively, we still like this secondary, but it was shredded by Alabama’s AJ McCarron over the weekend.

10. Mississippi State (3-3, 0-3):
The Bulldogs might have won over the weekend, but they didn’t look very good doing it. Mississippi actually trailed UAB 3-0 at the half because the offense failed to show up. It wasn’t until Tyler Russell replaced Chris Relf at quarterback in the third quarter that the Bulldogs finally showed offensive life. Russell threw three touchdowns in the second half to keep the Bulldogs from getting upset. Overall, the offensive execution on this team needs major work.

11. Ole Miss (2-3, 0-2): We can only imagine the preparation the Rebels went through during their bye week to get ready for a visiting Alabama team that is just running through opponents right now. Ole Miss is sticking with Randall Mackey at quarterback after his solid performance at Fresno State, and the hope is that the offense finally gets a consistent lift with him out there. We saw a better, more explosive offense with Mackey in the game, but expecting a duplicate performance this week would be like expecting the cast of Jersey Shore to be invited back to Italy after what we’ve seen in Season 4.

12. Kentucky (2-4, 0-3): Can things get any worse for the Wildcats’ offense? Kentucky is last in the SEC in scoring (13 points per game), total offense (229 yards per game), passing (119 ypg), passing efficiency (78.5), turnovers (17) and red zone scoring (75 percent). Quarterback Morgan Newton might be a junior, but he looks worse than he did during his freshman season and it doesn’t help that he doesn’t have consistently reliable targets to throw to. The defense is improved, but it can’t carry this team. Major offensive changes need to take place during the bye week.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
Can you hear that?

It’s the sound of jerseys being carefully hung and neatly placed in lockers. It’s the sound of last-minute helmet shines and play card lamination.

More importantly, it’s the sound of the return to college football. Maybe, just maybe, these silly shenanigans that have taken our minds off the actually game will cease for a while.

[+] EnlargeJarrett Lee
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireLSU will turn to Jarrett Lee as the starting quarterback in the season opener against Oregon.
That sound is now transforming into the horns blaring and snares chopping. Soon, these sounds will be overwhelmed by that sticky, sweet smell of game day barbecue with a hint of fine fried snacks.

Let’s get to what you should watch for in the SEC this week before I drool on my keyboard:

1. LSU’s passing game: Jordan Jefferson's suspension for his involvement in a bar fight and Russell Shepard being ruled ineligible for discussing an NCAA inquiry with a teammate have the Tigers in a bit of an offensive bind to start the season. Veteran Jarrett Lee takes over for Jefferson, and while coach Les Miles believes Lee has what it takes to lead the Tigers against No. 3 Oregon, Lee has had a very rocky five years at LSU. Expect junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger, who has all the skill to be a special player, to get snaps as well. As far as receivers go, Rueben Randle will be the primary target and DeAngelo Peterson is a playmaking tight end. Miles said this week that freshman Odell Beckham could start, so expect the Tigers to use plenty of options.

2. McCarron vs. Sims: This is one of the most exciting quarterback battles to keep an eye on this season. AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims are young and neither has separated himself from the other. However, teammates have said they wouldn’t mind either one starting and trust both to lead the offense. But this isn’t just any offense; it’s the offense of a team that is a true national championship contender. Taking the reigns of this machine is a big deal, and the winner should be prepared for a load of pressure dumped into his lap. This is the first step toward someone pushing past the other, but this battle could bleed deeper into the season.

3. Fresh new faces: There are two new head coaches making their SEC debuts this weekend. Will Muschamp takes over at Florida, after leaving Texas as its defensive coordinator, and James Franklin is in charge at Vanderbilt after being Maryland’s offensive coordinator. Fortunately for both, their teams are favored this weekend, with Florida taking on Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt squaring off against Elon. Muschamp has the tough task of replacing two-time national champion Urban Meyer, while Franklin has brought some much-needed excitement and confidence to a slumping program. Both programs are in need of some early excitement and both should provide plenty of that this weekend.

4. Marquee QB battle: When Georgia and Boise State square off inside the Georgia Dome; they’ll do so with two highly touted quarterbacks. Boise’s veteran Kellen Moore, who has a thirst for big games, will look to keep his team in the national championship picture. Moore enters 2011 as the nation’s active career leader in passing efficiency (166.74) and wins (38). He ranks second on the active career list in completion percentage (68.17), passing yards (10,867), passing touchdowns (99) and completions (831). Last season, Murray passed for a Georgia freshman record 3,049 yards (second in SEC history by a freshman) and 24 touchdowns. His 3,216 total offensive yards ranks him first in Georgia freshman history and second in SEC history. He also tied for first in school history for touchdown responsibility in a season with 28. Watching these two compete will be a lot of fun.

5. Wild runners: The SEC brings back a stable of running back talent as five of the top 10 rushers from the 2010 season return. It would have been six, but Arkansas’ Knile Davis suffered a season-ending ankle injury before the season. The SEC is loaded at running back, with South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Alabama’s Trent Richardson making early Heisman Trophy lists. The scary thing is that Lattimore is only a sophomore and Richardson was a backup for two years. Auburn brings back the best rushing combo in Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb, who both have the potential to reach 1,000 yards. Ole Miss’ Brandon Bolden is very underrated and should finally eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, while Mississippi State’s Vick Ballard is one of the toughest runners around and is looking to pass his touchdown mark of 19 a season ago. Tennessee’s Tauren Poole is another unheralded rusher, but he surpassed 1,000 yards in 2010. Expect others, like LSU’s Spencer Ware and Kentucky’s Raymond Sanders, to step up as well.

6. QBs getting their first shot to be the man: The first week of football will feature a handful of new quarterbacks looking to prove they can lead their respective teams. McCarron and Sims will be battling it out against Kent State, while Barrett Trotter is taking over for Heisman winner Cam Newton at Auburn. Barry Brunetti makes his SEC debut at Ole Miss. Heck, Lee will have to prove he can be a solid short-term option for LSU, as well. There will be some growing pains and struggles around the league with these players, but they’ll all be eager to get out there and show what they can do.

7. Houston Nutt as the underdog: If history is an indicator, Houston Nutt does well when his team is counted out. Look at the 2006 Arkansas Razorbacks, who made it to the SEC championship game and in 2008, Nutt’s Ole Miss Rebels won their last six games, including the Cotton Bowl. Well, Nutt and his Rebels are being overlooked yet again and Ole Miss starts the season against a tough BYU team. Ole Miss isn’t favored and it’s fielding a slew of youngsters, including a new quarterback in Brunetti. A win would generate some valuable momentum for this team.

8. John Brantley’s confidence: The spread offense is gone in Gainesville and quarterback John Brantley couldn’t be happier. He never fit in the spread, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, but Muschamp and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis have rescued Brantley with a pro-style offense. Brantley set all sorts of records in high school -- some even held by former Florida star Tim Tebow -- but he was never able to play with much confidence in 2010. Now, Brantley has a chance to reinvent himself. Word out of Gainesville is that Brantley has more command in the pocket and has won his teammates over again. Saturday won’t be a major test for Brantley, but it is a chance for him to play with confidence and maybe even some moxie, which should benefit him the rest of the season.

9. Kentucky’s run defense: Kentucky coach Joker Phillips made it perfectly clear that stopping the run is of the utmost importance when the Wildcats face Western Kentucky. When these two got together last season, the Wildcats’ rush defense received what Phillips described as a “slap in the face” from Western Kentucky’s Bobby Rainey, who ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns. For the rest of the season, Kentucky’s rush defense struggled immensely, surrendering 177.1 yards per game and allowing a league-high 30 rushing touchdowns. For the Wildcats to develop some defensive confidence they’ll have to shut down the Hilltoppers’ running game.

10. Black bear sightings!: Those of you who live in Oxford, Miss., or are traveling there for the weekend should be on the look out for black bears in the vicinity. Whether they’re harmful or not is yet to be seen. Ole Miss is breaking in a new mascot in the “Rebel Black Bear” seven years after the university got rid of “Colonel Reb.” The new mascot has received mixed reactions and expect Colonel Reb supporters to be out in full force for the bear’s first home game. A loss to BYU could send this cuddly creature back into hibernation.

SEC's position of power: Running backs

August, 12, 2011
A year ago, it was receivers.

And for that matter, when is the SEC not loaded with great defensive players across the board?

But this season, the SEC's position of power is at running back.

It's a group that's so deep and talented that the league's leading returning rusher from a year ago, Arkansas' Knile Davis, wasn't selected first-team preseason All-SEC by either the media or coaches. And all Davis did last season was rush for 1,322 yards, average 6.5 yards per carry and score 14 touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeKnile Davis
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesArkansas' Knile Davis might be the most complete running back in the SEC.
There are some defenders in the SEC who will tell you that the 6-foot, 226-pound Davis is the league's most complete running back. Yet, South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and Alabama's Trent Richardson have been getting most of the preseason love nationally.

Once again, that underscores just how special this league is when it comes to the guys toting the football.

Davis, Lattimore and Richardson are all legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates.

Lattimore, who's bulked up to 230 pounds, was the National Freshman of the Year last season. He rushed for 1,197 yards and scored 19 touchdowns, falling one short of the SEC record for touchdowns by a freshman.

Richardson gets his shot as Alabama's go-to back after sharing duties with Mark Ingram the past two seasons. Freakishly strong, the 5-foot-11, 224-pound junior is just as fast and will be the centerpiece of the Crimson Tide's offense this season.

"You line up against a great one every Saturday in this league," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.

He has one of his own in sophomore Mike Dyer, who ran for 1,093 yards last season and broke Bo Jackson's freshman rushing record at Auburn. The 5-foot-9, 210-pound Dyer is a human bowling ball with his low-to-the-ground style and teams with junior Onterio McCalebb to give the Tigers the top running back tandem in the league. McCalebb is one of the premier breakaway threats in college football. He scored 10 touchdowns last season and has five scoring runs in his first two seasons that were 48 yards or longer.

The running back in the SEC that everybody might not know about right now, but will know plenty about come October and November is LSU sophomore Spencer Ware. A quarterback in high school, Ware is a superb athlete who has electrifying moves in the open field and the ability to turn missed tackles into touchdowns.

If you saw any of his 10-carry, 102-yard performance in the Cotton Bowl last season, that was just a taste.

The most underrated running back in the league is Ole Miss' Brandon Bolden. In fact, Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower said at the SEC media days that the 5-foot-11, 221-pound Bolden was one of the best players he's faced. Bolden, a senior, rushed for 976 yards last season, led the Rebels with 32 catches and scored 17 touchdowns.

Two other SEC running backs who probably don't get the respect they deserve are Tennessee's Tauren Poole and Mississippi State's Vick Ballard. Poole topped the 1,000-yard mark last season and had six 100-yard rushing games to tie for the SEC lead. Ballard came in from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and rushed for 968 yards and scored 20 touchdowns during his first season in the SEC.

At Georgia, they're hoping true freshman Isaiah Crowell can come in and do for the Bulldogs what Lattimore did for the Gamecocks last season. It's been an impressive start to preseason camp for Crowell, who was ESPN's No. 1 running back prospect in the country last year.

If you like speed, Florida's Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey are sure to leave a few vapor trails this season. Demps has run a wind-aided 9.96 in the 100 meters, and Rainey might be even faster in the 40-yard dash. He's been timed at 4.24 seconds.

Granted, neither has prototypical size for an SEC running back. But as Florida offensive tackle Xavier Nixon said, "You've got to catch them before you can hit them."

When it comes to marquee running backs in 2011, everybody else in the country will be trying to catch the SEC.

The SEC's most underrated players

July, 20, 2011
HOOVER, Ala. -- The stars will be out in force this week at the SEC media days.

Alabama’s Trent Richardson will be here. So will the South Carolina tandem of Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery, not to mention Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Arkansas running back Knile Davis.

The spotlight will be bright for all of those players and probably won’t dim much during the season.

But what about those players who haven’t received the pub they deserve? You know, the guys who are outstanding football players in their own right, but seem to fly under the radar for some reason.

We’ve already sized up the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team. The media’s preseason All-SEC team will be unveiled on Friday.

So while we’re picking teams, here’s our stab at the 10 most underrated players in the SEC:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bolden
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireOle Miss running back Brandon Bolden found the end zone 17 times last season.
1. Ole Miss RB Brandon Bolden: He’s one of the most complete running backs you’ll find anywhere in college football. The 5-foot-11, 221-pound senior rushed for 976 yards last season and averaged 6 yards per carry. He also led the Rebels with 32 catches and scored 17 touchdowns. But try finding Bolden’s name on the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team for the 2011 season. He didn’t even make third team.

2. Arkansas LB/S Jerico Nelson: Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson will tell you that Nelson is the guy who sets the tempo for the rest of the Hogs’ defense. He’s small for a linebacker (5-foot-10, 211) and also has some safety responsibilities, but he’s incredibly productive. He was second on Arkansas’ team with 87 tackles last season, including 11 for loss. Nelson is also another player you won’t find anywhere on the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team.

3. Tennessee RB Tauren Poole: There’s no denying that the running back position in the SEC is insanely talented, but Poole rushed for 1,034 yards last season and rarely gets mentioned among the top backs in the league. One of the most respected players on Tennessee’s team, Poole recorded six 100-yard rushing games a year ago, which tied for the SEC lead. Where’s the love?

4. LSU S Brandon Taylor: When the Tigers lost Taylor to that ankle injury in the Alabama game last season, they were never quite the same defensively. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said Taylor adds a presence to the LSU secondary that’s irreplaceable. The 6-foot, 195-pound senior was also selected to wear No. 18 this season, which is one of the Tigers’ top honors as a player.

5. Vanderbilt S Sean Richardson: The 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior has started in 18 consecutive games, including all 12 at free safety a year ago. He’s been overshadowed at times by others in the Vanderbilt secondary, but Richardson is the real deal. He set single-season career highs a year ago in total tackles (98) and tackles for loss (7) and finished fourth in the SEC in solo tackles (5.2 per game).

6. South Carolina C T.J. Johnson: He’s the guy who makes it go up front for the Gamecocks. The 6-foot-3, 314-pound junior has started every game in his first two seasons at South Carolina, all 13 at right guard as a redshirt freshman and all 14 at center last season. He’s tough. He’s smart, and he’s one of the strongest leaders on South Carolina’s team.

7. Georgia CB Brandon Boykin: More pub is starting to flow his way leading into this season. Boykin was a second-team preseason All-SEC selection by the coaches. Of course, he’ll readily tell you that he doesn’t think there’s a better cornerback in the league than him, and he’ll get a chance to prove that this fall. When you throw in his return skills, Boykin rates right up there with any of the SEC’s two-way players.

8. Auburn WR Emory Blake: Here’s a quick trivia question: Who led the Tigers in touchdown catches last season en route to their BCS national championship? Some might be surprised that it was Blake, who had eight touchdown catches. He’s also Auburn’s leading returning receiver and averaged 16.8 yards per catch. So when you start listing the top receivers in this league, don’t forget about Blake.

9. Kentucky OG Stuart Hines: The Kentucky guard getting all the love right now is Larry Warford and deservedly so. He’s an excellent player, but don’t sleep on the Wildcats’ “other” guard. The 6-foot-4, 296-pound Hines is one of the better pulling guards in the league and has made 24 starts during his career. It’s no secret that Kentucky will lean heavily on its offensive line in 2011, and Hines -- rock-solid in every way -- is a big reason why.

10. Mississippi State S Charles Mitchell: He’s been an integral part of the Bulldogs’ secondary since he was a true freshman and has played in all 37 games of his college career. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior is a big-time hitter and collected 93 total tackles a year ago. He’s the Bulldogs’ enforcer in what should be a very productive secondary in 2011.
Finally, the respect that a lot of Arkansas fans have been waiting for.

The running debate in the SEC has been a hot one this offseason, but fellow SEC blogger Chris Low and I have maintained that Alabama's Trent Richardson and South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore have the top two spots secured. However, at least one of our ESPN colleagues disagrees with us.

Tuesday, ESPN's KC Joyner wrote that Arkansas' Knile Davis deserves the crown as the league's top rusher. Joyner broke down the SEC's top six rushers from last season -- Vick Ballard, Brandon Bolden, Davis, Michael Dyer, Marcus Lattimore and Tauren Poole -- into five categories that "gauge ground production in a variety of ways." He then assigned points to each one in each category. First place received six points, second got five and you can do the math from there. Davis ranked first in two categories and was in the top three in four, receiving 24 points, which was three points higher than second-place finisher Michael Dyer.

Here are Joyner's five categories:
Category No. 1: Percentage of rush attempts with big gains (10-plus yards)

1st -- Davis (21.1 percent)
2nd -- Bolden (19.0 percent)
3rd -- Dyer (18.1 percent)
4th -- Lattimore (15.7 percent)
5th -- Ballard (12.8 percent)
6th -- Poole (12.7 percent)

(Note: These percentages are determined using the long rushing plays chart on the website.)
My take: It really is no surprise that Davis took the top spot here. Davis ranked second to only Cam Newton with 43 carries of 10 yards or more in 2010. Davis has a scary combination of strength and speed that truly frustrates opposing defenses.
Category No. 2: Percentage of rush attempts with explosive gains (20-plus yards)

1st -- Poole (6.9 percent)
2nd -- Bolden (6.7 percent)
3rd -- Dyer (6.0 percent)
4th -- Davis (5.9 percent)
5th -- Lattimore (3.6 percent)
6th -- Ballard (2.7 percent)
My take: Davis slid down the list in this category, but still had a high number of explosive runs last season. He was third with runs of 20 or more yards (12) and ranked first in carries of 60 or more (3) and 70 or more (2).
Category No. 3: Yards per attempt (YPA) against top competition (defined as teams that ranked in the top 30 in rush yards per attempt allowed)

1st -- Davis (6.03 YPA)
2nd -- Poole (5.32 YPA)
3rd -- Dyer (4.85 YPA)
4th -- Ballard (4.34 YPA)
5th -- Lattimore (3.99 YPA)
6th -- Bolden (3.89 YPA)
My take: Davis was second in the league with 108 carries against "top competition" last season. He also ranked first for running backs, averaging 114.71 yards per game against ranked opponents (seven) and averaged 5.82 yards per carry in the process.
Category No. 4: Yards per attempt against weaker competition (defined as foes that did not rank in the top 30 in rush yards per attempt allowed)

1st -- Dyer (7.21 YPA)
2nd -- Davis (6.99 YPA)
3rd -- Bolden (6.42 YPA)
4th -- Lattimore (5.71 YPA)
5th -- Ballard (5.52 YPA)
6th -- Poole (4.96 YPA)
My take: Davis was pretty consistent with his performance against top defenses and lower-ranked defenses. It's always nice to see players have the right mindset entering each game, no matter the opponent.
Category No. 5: Good blocking YPA against four SEC opponents with top-30 rankings in rush YPA (Alabama, Auburn, LSU and South Carolina -- chosen because they were the most common SEC opponents from these running backs' schedules)

1st -- Poole (9.45 YPA)
2nd -- Bolden (8.35 YPA)
3rd -- Davis (8.14 YPA)
4th -- Dyer (6.38 YPA)
5th -- Lattimore (5.52 YPA)
6th -- Ballard (5.11 YPA)
My take: According to Joyner's research, Davis was the beneficiary of good blocking on at least 54 percent of his rushing attempts in these games. Davis had his lowest output in these games against Alabama (42 yards) and had his highest against LSU (152). He averaged 98.75 yards per game in these contests.
Total points:

1st -- Davis (24)
2nd -- Dyer (21)
3rd -- Bolden (20)
4th -- Poole (19)
5th -- Lattimore (12)
6th -- Ballard (9)
My take: There is no question that Davis is one of the most explosive players in the SEC. The thing that makes his season even more impressive is that all of his 100-plus-yard games came in the final seven games of the season, including going over the 150-yard mark four times. During the last seven games of the season, Davis averaged 146.86 yards per contest. Arkansas might get more attention with its passing game, but Davis will be very important this fall, especially with new quarterback Tyler Wilson taking over.

Ranking the SEC running backs

June, 15, 2011
What a thankless task it is to rank the top 10 running backs in the SEC.

Can I cheat and do it alphabetically?

The talent at this position is extraordinary, and you’re going to see a lot of these guys in the NFL over the next few years.

We are including freshmen and newcomers in these rankings, because the idea is to pick who we think will be the 10 best players for this coming season.

So here goes:

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTrent Richardson averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season.
1. Trent Richardson, Alabama, Jr.: Now we get to see Richardson as Alabama’s go-to back, and it should be something to see. He’s a freak physically and runs through defenders and around them in equally stunning fashion.

2. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, So.: I’m sure we’ll hear it from South Carolina fans for not having Lattimore in the No. 1 spot. The truth is that it could go either way. Lattimore has bulked up to 230 pounds, which should help his durability.

3. Knile Davis, Arkansas, Jr.: To have a guy coming off a 1,322-yard season No. 3 on this list tells you how good the running backs are in this league. What separates Davis is that he can get the tough yards and also has the speed to break the long ones.

4. Mike Dyer, Auburn, So.: The Offensive MVP of the BCS National Championship Game a year ago, Dyer will be even better as a sophomore. He’s hard to tackle, runs low to the ground and will be the centerpiece of Auburn’s offense in 2011.

5. Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss, Sr.: In just about any other league, Bolden would be right there at the top. He averaged 6 yards per carry last season and scored 17 touchdowns. He’s also one of the best pass-catching backs in the SEC.

6. Spencer Ware, LSU, So.: The LSU coaches can’t wait to turn Ware loose this coming season. The 5-foot-11, 225-pound sophomore showed off his electrifying moves in the Cotton Bowl last season and will show off even more of them in 2011.

7. Vick Ballard, Mississippi State, Sr.: Nobody knew much about Ballard this time a year ago. They do now after he rushed for 968 yards and 19 touchdowns in his debut season in Starkville after coming over from junior college.

8. Onterio McCalebb, Auburn, Jr.: One of the premier home-run threats in college football, McCalebb is a quick-strike touchdown waiting to happen. Just ask LSU from a year ago. McCalebb has also bulked up and is more durable than he was when he arrived on the Plains.

9. Chris Rainey, Florida, Sr.: When he returned from his suspension last season, Rainey was the Gators’ top playmaker. Charlie Weis will see to it that Rainey gets touches as both a runner and receiver, and when he gets a step, look out.

10. Tauren Poole, Tennessee, Sr.: He’s not a burner, and he’s not exceptionally big, but Poole runs with his heart on his sleeve. He rushed for 1,034 yards last season and tied for the SEC lead with six 100-yard games.

The SEC's 1,000-yard rushers in 2011

April, 7, 2011
I know I give my ACC colleague, Heather Dinich, a hard time every once in a while, but I’m straight out stealing one of her ideas today.

It’s a good one, too.

Who can we expect in the SEC to rush for 1,000 yards next season?

I’ll go on record and say it won’t be a quarterback that leads the league in rushing the way Cam Newton did last season.

But here are my top candidates, in order, to rush for 1,000 yards in 2011:

1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: Especially now, with senior quarterback Stephen Garcia in serious danger of not coming back, the Gamecocks are going to lean on Lattimore more than ever. If he stays healthy, 1,500 yards isn’t out of the question.

2. Trent Richardson, Alabama: It’s his show now that Mark Ingram is gone, and Richardson is raring to prove to everybody what he can do with 200-plus carries. He only had 112 last season and still rushed for 700 yards.

3. Knile Davis, Arkansas: He’s bigger, stronger and faster and is finally healthy for a spring. Davis’ 1,322 rushing yards led all SEC running backs last season, but with the Hogs’ backfield depth and Dennis Johnson returning, the carries could be spread out a little more next season.

4. Mike Dyer, Auburn: Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has made it clear that the Tigers are going to lean on their running backs. Onterio McCalebb is the breakaway threat, but Dyer has a chance to do for the Tigers what Ben Tate did during the 2009 season.

5. Spencer Ware, LSU: You saw a glimpse of Ware in the Cotton Bowl last season. He has great moves, speed to go with those moves and delivers a blow. Running the football is a given with Les Miles, and Ware will step in for Stevan Ridley next season.

6. Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss: One of the more underrated players in the league last season, Bolden just missed 1,000 yards with 976 in 12 games. He averaged 6 yards per carry and will again be the focal point of the Rebels’ offense in 2011.

7. Tauren Poole, Tennessee: One of the surprise 1,000-yard rushers in the SEC a year ago, Poole runs with his heart on his sleeve every time he touches the ball. Looks like he’s going to have some help next season, too, with sophomore Rajion Neal having a big spring.

8. Vick Ballard, Mississippi State: We sure can’t forget about Ballard, who was a touchdown machine a year ago. The other thing is that we’ve learned under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State that he’s always going to have a bruising running game. Look for sophomore LaDarius Perkins to take some of the load off of Ballard.

9. Chris Relf, Mississippi State: The only quarterback on our list, Relf had 713 rushing yards last season. At 240 pounds, he’s always going to be a threat to run and isn’t shy about putting his head down and grinding for extra yards. He’s also improved as a passer, which means he might not pull it down and run as much next season.

10. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Can Crowell do for Georgia what Lattimore did for South Carolina last season as a true freshman? It sounds like Georgia coach Mark Richt is going to give him that chance, although Washaun Ealey and Caleb King aren’t just going to go quietly into the night.

3-point stance: Dooley cranks the volume

November, 17, 2010
1. One of my favorite weekly e-mails is the transcript of Tennessee coach Derek Dooley’s news conference. After tailback Tauren Poole ran 35 yards for the Vols’ final score in their 52-14 rout of Ole Miss, his celebration nearly drew a penalty. Dooley took it from there: “Well, the official yelled at me and told me to yell at him the way I yell at them. That’s what he said. And if you don’t, then I’m going to call a penalty. So I yelled at him the way I yelled at them, and he apologized to them.”

2. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, a.k.a. CoachFridge, tweeted a link Tuesday to a video. With AC/DC’s Back in Black blaring on the soundtrack, Terp wide receiver Torrey Smith and linebacker Adrian Moten ask fans to blackout Byrd Stadium Saturday night for the ACC Atlantic showdown against No. 25 Florida State. It’s a clever video and I hope it works. But Friedgen and classic heavy metal? They go together like crab cakes and Slim Jims.

3. Ryan Broyles of Oklahoma and Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State have accumulated a lot of evidence that would indicate they are the two best receivers in college football. One or the other leads the nation in every major receiving category. Based on statistics alone, they may both be shoo-ins as All-Americans. And based on what I saw Saturday, there’s no humanly way possible that either one of them is as good as A.J. Green of Georgia.

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 9

October, 25, 2010
Auburn’s hot, so hot that the Tigers took over the No. 1 spot in the BCS standings this week.

It’s that time again when we take a look at who/what is Hot and who/what is Not in the SEC:


[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Dave MartinAuburn QB Cam Newton has rushed for more than 600 total yards in his past three SEC games.
Newton’s Heisman chances: Every week, Auburn’s Cam Newton does something that makes you think back to past greats in this league. His 49-yard touchdown run against LSU had Heisman Trophy written all over it. For the umpteenth time, 6-6, 250-pound guys aren’t supposed to have those kind of moves, that kind of acceleration and that kind of speed. He’s rushed for more than 600 yards in his past three SEC games. Not even the great Bo Jackson had a three-game stretch against SEC foes that prolific, and he was a tailback. More and more, though, it looks like Newton and Jackson will have one thing in common – the Heisman Trophy.


Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston: He burst onto the scene last season as one of the best pass-rushers in the SEC. After 2.5 sacks last Saturday against Kentucky, Houston now leads the SEC with 8.5 sacks.


Kentucky vs. the East: The Wildcats are just 6-17 against Eastern Division teams going back to the 2006 season, which was the start of their four-year bowl streak.


Tennessee running back Tauren Poole: The Vols’ junior tailback did last Saturday night what nobody else had done for 41 straight games, and that’s rush for 100 yards against Alabama’s defense. Poole finished with 117 yards on 14 carries, including a 59-yard touchdown run.


LSU’s tackling: It’s been demonstrated repeatedly this season that Cam Newton isn’t easy to tackle. But there were times last Saturday when LSU defenders looked like they didn’t want to tackle him. The Tigers picked a bad time to have their worst tackling performance of the season.


Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline: He didn’t lead the Wildcats to a win this time, but find a quarterback any hotter throwing the ball right now than Hartline. In his past two games, he’s passed for 702 yards and eight touchdowns, while completing 68.6 percent of his passes and throwing just one interception.


Florida-Georgia loser: An already disappointing season will become an insufferable season for the team that loses this game. It’s the first time in 31 years that at least one of the teams in this game hasn’t been nationally ranked.


This last month: We wanted high drama in this league for a change, and we’re going to get it. The West might come down to that Alabama-Auburn showdown on Nov. 26, which could also have national championship implications. The East is still wide open, with South Carolina having the inside track but Florida and Georgia still very much in the picture.


Tennessee’s substitutions: The Vols have issues when it comes to talent, experience and depth. They also have issues when it comes to getting the right personnel on the field. It’s a recurring problem and something you thought they’d get fixed after the unlucky 13 fiasco at LSU.


LSU’s passing game: You think back to all the talented skill people LSU has signed over the years and the fact that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee were both highly rated quarterbacks coming out of high school, and it’s hard to believe the Tigers are this bad in the passing game. They’re 113th nationally (out of 120 teams) in passing offense this week. They’ve thrown five touchdown passes all season and nine interceptions. One of those touchdown passes came last week in the 24-17 loss to Auburn, but there’s a catch. Running back Spencer Ware threw it after gathering in a lateral and finding Rueben Randle down the field. The longest pass Jefferson or Lee completed all day was for 12 yards.

Poole ends Alabama's streak

October, 23, 2010
Alabama, after trailing 7-0 early, cruised to an easy 41-10 rout of Tennessee on Saturday night in Neyland Stadium.

But in doing so, the Crimson Tide saw a streak come to an end.

Alabama had gone 41 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher, far and away the longest streak in the country, but Tennessee's Tauren Poole ended that streak by rushing for 117 yards, including a 59-yard run that wound up being the Vols' only touchdown.

Prior to Saturday, the last time an opposing player had rushed for 100 yards against Alabama was Ole Miss' BenJarvus Green-Ellis on Oct. 13, 2007 when he rushed for 131 yards.


Poole setting tone for Vols

September, 11, 2010
Tennessee running back Tauren Poole, who's as motivated as any player in the SEC to show what he can do this season, is putting on a show for the Vols.

Poole and his young offensive line are doing a number on No. 7 Oregon. The Vols piled up 198 total yards in the first quarter, and Poole had 111 of those. His 1-yard touchdown run to open the second quarter padded Tennessee's lead to 13-3.

Remember, Poole was the one who never got a chance last season under former coach Lane Kiffin, who played freshman Bryce Brown as Montario Hardesty's backup.

The other big storyline in this game is Tennessee's offensive line, which had only three combined career starts coming into the season. But right now, Oregon's smaller defensive front is getting abused.