NCF Nation: Tim Tebow

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When he was introduced as Florida's offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper made one thing clear about his philosophical approach. It's not about yards or drives. It's all about points.

That is why Roper was all smiles after the Gators' offense was responsible for all but seven of the team's 65 points in the season opener. It was the kind of performance that made everyone -- fans, players and coaches -- happy.

In fact, the defining moment last Saturday might have come near the end of the game when fans were chanting "We want 70!"

A reporter asked coach Will Muschamp if he had ever heard that before.

[+] EnlargeKurt Roper
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsCoordinator Kurt Roper's offense totaled 655 yards on Saturday, more than twice what Florida averaged last season.
"You’ve been here," the embattled coach said with a laugh. "What do you think?"

In Muschamp's first three seasons, Florida's defense thrived while the offense languished near the bottom of many FBS categories. A rash of key injuries devastated any chance at a competent offense in 2013, which led to a seven-game losing streak, a 4-8 record, no bowl game for the first time since 1979, and some irate fans.

Last Saturday it all came to a head, as the Gators sought redemption in the Swamp.

"I knew the team was ready to explode and put on a great show for the fans, so I’m glad that we were able to do that," tight end Clay Burton said. "We have a lot more talent.

"We have a lot of belief in Coach Roper’s system. As a team, we’ve collectively bought in to his offense, and I’m just really excited for the rest of the season. It was great. We really needed it. That’s kind of an understatement, but we needed it."

For the first time in a long time, Florida's offense was able to just play. A good first drive bolstered the confidence that turned into a good first quarter, first half and so on.

"We talked about it as an offensive staff that it would be nice to have some success early, because then it does feed on itself," Roper said. "It does help."

Roper's offense was the big story of Florida's offseason. Among its promises were a faster tempo and open receivers. It delivered on both last week.

Here is a closer look at Florida's offensive improvement by the numbers:
  • The Gators averaged 66 offensive plays a game in 2013. They ran 50 plays in the first half against EMU and 86 total.
  • The total of 655 yards on Saturday was more than twice what UF averaged last season (316.7).
  • Florida had seven offensive touchdowns in the opener compared to 25 all of last season.
  • The Gators averaged 17.8 first downs last season and had 17 in the first half on Saturday.

Perhaps more important than the raw statistics was the emphatic change in Muschamp's approach to offense.

Two instances show a significant change. First, Muschamp called a timeout with 2:13 on the clock in the second quarter after linebacker Neiron Ball had a sack. It was clear that the coach wanted to get his offense into a two-minute drill.

Second, he told Roper in the fourth quarter not to "sit on the ball" with regards to developing true freshman backup quarterback Treon Harris.

Afterward, Muschamp denied that his philosophy had changed.

"Well, we hadn’t been in that situation very often to be honest with you," he said. "So no, it’s not really a change. He needed to go play the game."

When it was over the players basked in the afterglow of their first win since beating Arkansas on Oct. 5, 2013.

"Yeah, this is what I envisioned, just being successful, winning football games like this, winning football games big," said senior center Max Garcia, who transferred to Florida from Maryland in 2012.

"I couldn't say that we would have beaten Eastern Michigan last year like that. I don't think we would. Guys were really excited just to play the game today."

Andre Debose, the gifted senior receiver/kick returner who returned for a sixth season after missing last season with a torn ACL, provided the ultimate perspective.

He was asked if he knew the last time Florida had scored as many points. He did. It was 2008, when Tim Tebow's Gators scored 70. He was asked if he recalled the opponent that day. He did. It was the Citadel.

“I’ve been here forever," Debose said with a huge grin. "Come on, man.”

Recruited in 2009 by Urban Meyer to be "the next Percy Harvin," Debose played with Tebow, Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper.

None of that compared with last week's season-opening romp, he said.

"This is the most fun that I’ve seen everybody have in the last six years, man," Debose proclaimed. "Just our offense, we know we’re good. You can see putting up 65 points.

"I haven’t seen that since I’ve been here. So this is just amazing, man. I’m very excited about this season."
The praise has flooded in from all directions for J.T. Barrett since his rapid ascension to the top of the depth chart at Ohio State.

Tight end Jeff Heuerman hailed the leadership skills of the redshirt freshman. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman rattled off Barrett's positive attributes as a passer, starting with his ability to make the right decisions and consistent accuracy that should allow them to pay off for the Buckeyes. Coach Urban Meyer focused on Barrett's potential as a "distributor," likening him to famed Ohio State backup Kenny Guiton in the process.

But there is one more comparison that has popped up during a wild week at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center that might offer another clue about how the Buckeyes might look this season without Braxton Miller running the show, one which the coaching staff mentioned to SI.com's Pete Thamel.
Barrett's smooth release and pretty spiral prompted numerous members of the Buckeyes staff who worked with Meyer at Florida to compare Barrett to former Gators QB Chris Leak. "I'll take that," Meyer said with a smile. "I'm a big Chris Leak fan."

If Barrett is Meyer's latest version of Leak, it stands to reason he might also have a need for somebody to fill the role Tim Tebow played in the two-quarterback system that won Florida a national title in 2006. And, look at that, Ohio State has a 6-foot-5, 250-pound battering ram in Cardale Jones already on the roster.

The conversation about Jones has died down considerably since he left spring practice with the backup job ahead of Barrett, but it's not hard to envision how he could still have an impact for the Buckeyes as they put together a game plan for next week's opener against Navy.

For starters, Meyer has proven adept at managing multiple quarterbacks in his spread system in the past. Even a year ago with Miller in the fold, Meyer expressed his desire to find a way to get Guiton more involved and eventually installed a package of plays in the red zone that featured his backup quarterback.

One problem with using them both more often, aside from Miller's athleticism clearly setting him apart, was Meyer's two options behind center had similar skill sets. But that isn't really the case with Barrett and Jones, with the former four inches smaller and relying on an accurate arm, and the latter boasting a powerful-but-inconsistent arm but capable of pounding away at opponents regularly on the ground.

When asked on Wednesday, Meyer didn't rule out playing both quarterbacks as he tries to replace Miller's production, though he didn't provide any insight into how that rotation might work.

But even with Meyer simply saying "sure, yeah," looking at his past and the talent on hand, it's not a stretch to think some sort of quarterback combo could be back in his playbook -- if it isn't already there.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Steve Addazio is looking for the quarterback who is going to return Boston College to the consistent nine- and 10-win seasons of a decade ago. Of course he will have all the physical tools and on-field IQ, but Addazio wants intangibles. He wants a quarterback who has "it" -- something as hard to define as it is cliché.

Simply put, Addazio says, he is looking for Tim Tebow.

“When I saw Tim Tebow, I watched him play in high school and will never forget it. To me your quarterback has to have the ‘it factor,’ and I’ve never seen a guy with the ‘it factor’ more in my life,” Addazio said. “It was oozing off his uniform. I saw him put his whole team on his back and win. He was going to lead and win championships.”

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
AP Photo/Mary SchwalmBoston College coach Steve Addazio was on the staff at Florida when the Gators landed quarterback Tim Tebow.
“… I talk to our [Boston College] staff all the time about this. We got to be right about this. One of those young guys needs to be a guy that can win a championship for you. If you don’t do that, you struggle.”

The Eagles’ coaching staff has brought in five quarterbacks since Addazio was named coach following the 2012 season. Four quarterbacks have signed out of high school and Tyler Murphy transferred to Boston College from Florida, where Addazio coached from 2005-10.

Legendary Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie certainly qualifies as a player with intangibles rarely seen in college football, and Addazio is hoping it’s genetic. Troy Flutie, the nephew of Doug, is a freshman with the Eagles.

“I think he does,” Addazio said when asked if Troy has the intangibles he covets. “Obviously we didn’t take him because of his size (6-foot, 178 pounds), but he’s a gym rat and I think he’s got a lot of that it in him. That’s why we took him.”

Addazio admits it is an inexact science and it’s the type of decision that can lift a program to new heights or get a staff fired. A common gripe among coaches is they don’t get to spend enough time with recruits to get a strong enough read on a player’s character. Putting a program in the hands of such an unknown is frightening and Addazio said determining whether a quarterback can lead a team to a title is the “$60 million question.”

It can be a divisive debate among staff, and Addazio witnessed that in 2005 as Florida was recruiting Tebow. Addazio was the offensive line coach on Urban Meyer’s staff, which also included Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen as the offensive coordinator. But it was defensive coach Greg Mattison that went to bat for Tebow when the staff considered passing on him. Even in high school coaches questioned whether Tebow was a better quarterback or linebacker. Addazio said Tebow was a tough sell to the entire staff.

“Thanks to Greg Mattison we got Tebow,” Addazio said, “because Greg stood on the table and pounded the table, like you guys are nuts we got to take Tebow.

“Nuts right? A lot of people got a lot of jobs because of that.”

SEC all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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It’s time to celebrate the best of the best in the SEC during the BCS era.

So what we’ve done is taken on the monumental task of selecting an All-SEC team from the BCS era, which officially ended last Monday with Florida State’s 34-31 victory over Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

To be eligible, a player had to have played at least one season in the SEC at any time between 1998 and 2013. More weight was given to those players who had longer careers and displayed consistency over the course of their careers.

Before the second-guessing commences, there were some spectacular players -- even a few players who won national awards such as the Heisman Trophy -- that were left off this team.

Nonetheless, it’s one star-studded team.

Here’s a look:

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsTim Tebow accounted for more touchdowns than any player in SEC history.
QB -- Tim Tebow, Florida: A tough call at quarterback, but Tebow had a hand in two national championships, won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and accounted for more touchdowns (145) than anybody in league history.

RB -- Mark Ingram, Alabama: In 2009, Ingram became the first Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy with a 1,658-yard rushing season. He rushed for 42 career touchdowns, breaking Shaun Alexander's school record.

RB -- Darren McFadden, Arkansas: A two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award, McFadden averaged 120.8 rushing yards per game for his career, second only to Herschel Walker and Emmitt Smith in the SEC.

WR -- A.J. Green, Georgia: He combined speed, size and incredible body control to haul in 23 touchdown catches in 31 career games. Green caught more than 50 passes in each season from 2008 to 2010.

WR -- Josh Reed, LSU: The Biletnikoff Award winner as the top receiver in the country in 2001, Reed hauled in 17 touchdown catches in his last two seasons. He set the SEC single-season record in 2001 with 1,740 receiving yards.

TE -- Jason Witten, Tennessee: It’s hard to beat Witten in any era as both a receiving and blocking tight end. He had seven career touchdown catches, including five during his All-SEC junior season in 2002.

AP -- Percy Harvin, Florida: Harvin was Mr. Everything for the Gators on their 2008 national championship team and a two-time All-American. He finished his career with 32 touchdowns (19 rushing and 13 receiving).

OL -- Shawn Andrews, Arkansas: Andrews is the last player to win the Jacobs Award as the SEC’s top blocker in back-to-back seasons (2002 and 2003). The Hogs’ massive offensive tackle was a consensus All-American in both of those seasons.

OL -- Barrett Jones, Alabama: Jones was a part of three national championship teams at Alabama and started at every position on the line but left guard during his career. He won the Rimington Trophy in 2012 as the country’s top center and won the Outland Trophy a year earlier as the Tide’s left tackle.

OL -- Marcus McNeill, Auburn: A two-time All-America selection at offensive tackle, McNeil paved the way for the Tigers' explosive rushing attack and was a huge part of their unbeaten 2004 SEC championship team.

OL -- Chris Samuels, Alabama: The Crimson Tide have been stocked with menacing offensive linemen during their storied history, and Samuels is right there near the top. The big offensive tackle won the Jacobs Award and Outland Trophy in 1999 and helped lead Alabama to an SEC title.

C -- Maurkice Pouncey, Florida: Also a standout guard earlier in his career, Pouncey gravitated to center and won the Rimington Award in 2009 as the nation’s top center. He was a devastating blocker and made 40 starts in 41 career games.

DEFENSE

DL -- Glenn Dorsey, LSU: The most decorated SEC defensive tackle of the BCS era, Dorsey won the Outland Trophy and both the Lombardi and Nagurski awards in 2007. He was the centerpiece of that LSU national championship defense in 2007.

DL -- John Henderson, Tennessee: A two-time All-American, Henderson is one of just five defensive players in the BCS era to win the Outland Trophy (2000) as college football’s most outstanding interior lineman.

[+] Enlarge Jadaveon Clowney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJadaveon Clowney had 24 sacks in three seasons at South Carolina.
DL -- Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Even though his numbers dipped this season, Clowney remains one of the most disruptive defensive ends to play in the SEC during the BCS era. He finished with 47 tackles for loss, including 24 sacks, in 36 career games.

DL -- David Pollack, Georgia: Pollack joined Herschel Walker as Georgia’s only three-time, first-team All-Americans. He racked up a school-record 36 sacks from his defensive end position and was a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year in helping the Bulldogs win the 2002 SEC title, their first in 20 years.

LB -- C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Mosley is the only player in the Nick Saban era at Alabama to have back-to-back 100-tackle seasons and was a part of two national championship teams. He was terrific in coverage and an even better tackler.

LB -- Patrick Willis, Ole Miss: Before he found stardom in the NFL, Willis terrorized the SEC and won the Butkus Award in 2006 as college football’s top linebacker. He was a tackling machine for the Rebels and the quintessential middle linebacker.

LB -- Al Wilson, Tennessee: The heart and soul of Tennessee's 1998 national championship team, Wilson was a playmaking machine at middle linebacker for the Vols. He was a two-time All-SEC selection and consensus All-American his senior season.

CB -- Champ Bailey, Georgia: One of the most versatile players in SEC history, Bailey participated in more than 1,000 plays during the 1998 season and won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s best defensive player.

CB -- Patrick Peterson, LSU: No matter where Peterson lined up, he was the most explosive player on the field. As a cornerback, few were better. He won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards in 2010 and scored touchdowns three different ways during his career: punt return (two), interception return and return of a blocked field goal.

S -- Mark Barron, Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s 2011 national championship defense was dripping with talent, but Barron might have been the best of the bunch. He was a three-time All-SEC selection and two-time All-American.

S -- Eric Berry, Tennessee: Berry was as good in coverage as he was blowing up ball carriers. He won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2009 as the top defensive back in the country and was a finalist the previous year. He finished with 14 career interceptions.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK -- Billy Bennett, Georgia: Bennett is the SEC record holder with 87 made field goals from 2000 to 2003. Bennett was equally accurate, connecting on 79 percent of his kicks.

P -- Dustin Colquitt, Tennessee: A finalist for the Ray Guy Award in both 2002 and 2003, Colquitt averaged 43.1 yards a punt during his career. As a junior in 2003, he had 19 punts of 50 yards or longer and 21 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

RS -- Derek Abney, Kentucky: His eight career returns for touchdowns (six punts and two kickoffs) are an SEC record, and six of those came during one season (2002). Abney set seven NCAA records, 11 SEC records and 14 school records.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's only fitting that a season characterized by injuries and an ineffective offense would conclude with a whimper thanks to those same culprits.

But after losing 37-7 to No. 2 Florida State (12-0, 8-0 in the ACC) in the Swamp on Saturday, Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC) can take solace that its season of misery is mercifully over.

[+] EnlargeBurton
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsDespite carrying the ball just twice, Trey Burton led the Gators with 47 yards rushing versus Florida State. Burton left the game with a shoulder injury in the first quarter.
"Very frustrating, difficult day that ends a very frustrating, difficult season," coach Will Muschamp said. "That’s the best way I can sum it up."

Not even an inspirational pregame speech by Gators great Tim Tebow could do more than delay the inevitable.

"What he said to us was, 'Any man that goes down, he has the ability to get back up. But the difference is how that man gets back up, because a man can get down and come back withered, can come back beaten. But a man that goes down and comes back up and is changed and is different from being down, that's who we are. That's who the Gators are. That's how we need to play and that's who we need to be,' " Florida left tackle Max Garcia recounted.

"So, I'm going to stick with that for the rest of my life. It really penetrated my soul."

With Tebow watching on the sidelines, the Gators were bouncing around and showing more emotion than they had in weeks. In front of a nearly full stadium, its fans at full throat, Florida's defense harassed Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston into one of his worst quarters (4-of-6 for 35 yards) of the season.

Winston threw his first interception in three weeks -- an excuse-me catch by Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who broke up the pass with his back to the ball but was able to find and reel in the deflection. It was the Gators' first interception since the second quarter of the Missouri game on Oct. 19.

The crowd roared its approval, and there was more energy in the Swamp than at any point in the season.

Florida outgained FSU 81 yards to 33 in the first quarter, but 50 of those yards came on one Wildcat keeper up the middle by senior Trey Burton. Two plays later, Burton injured his shoulder on another keeper and did not return to the field.

With Burton went half of the offense the Gators were planning to run.

"We were probably going to have 30-35 plays with Trey [at Wildcat quarterback]," Muschamp said. "Some of the misdirection runs now go out of the game plan, so you've got to make adjustments and you've got to change.

"I hurt for Trey because he’s a senior, his last game in the Swamp, so [it's] very difficult for him. He’s a great young man. It just kinda sums up what’s happened this year. Very frustrating."

With Burton's injury, Florida was missing 16 scholarship contributors in this game. And with cornerback Marcus Roberson dealing with an ankle injury in the first half, UF was missing 10 of its original 22 projected starters on offense and defense.

Winston and the Seminoles still led 3-0 after the first quarter, as FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo converted the same 49-yard field goal that his Florida counterpart, Austin Hardin, missed.

A 12-play, 96-yard drive that culminated in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Kelvin Benjamin might have put the game out of reach, but more importantly, it quelled the enthusiasm of the Florida defense and the crowd.

FSU had weathered the early storm of defensive pressure and taken a 17-0 lead into halftime. It tied the lowest first-half scoring output of the season for the Noles, which happened previously against Nevada in Week 2.

A game that looked on paper like a colossal mismatch inevitably turned out that way. The Florida defense couldn't get off the field, thanks to FSU going 9-of-15 on third-down conversions. Meanwhile, Florida went 1-for-11 on third down and averaged 3.9 yards per play on the day.

"You got to maintain the ball against an offense like that," Muschamp said. "You got to take time off the clock. ... We weren’t able to do that. Give them credit. They made plays on third down, and we didn’t. I think we were 1-of-10 or -11 on third down. You got to convert those, and we’ve struggled to make explosives, make third-down conversions. You name it, we haven’t done it.”

In a season of making all the wrong history, the only drama Florida could muster against Florida State was whether the Noles would shut out the Gators for the first time in the 58-game series.

The answer was no, but it was close. And now the Gators boast the nation's second-longest streak of scoring in consecutive games (322, second to Michigan's 374 games in a row).

With one score in the fourth quarter, Florida finished the season with 11 passing touchdowns. It's the fewest since 1989, the season before Steve Spurrier was hired as coach. On the other sideline, sitting out the Noles' final series to let his backup play, Winston had already broken Florida State's single-season record for passing TDs, with three more on Saturday giving him a total of 35.

"It’s been a tough year, difficult to deal with, but it is what it is," a somber Muschamp said when it was over. "Those guys have persevered through some tough times and certainly this season being the iceberg of it all."

Now that it's in the history books, however, Florida's 2013 season might be remembered less as an iceberg and more as the ship that sunk when it struck one.


ATHENS, Ga. -- In some ways, Arthur Lynch believes that Aaron Murray fits the quarterback stereotype perfectly. In others, Georgia's senior tight end says that Murray could not be further from what one might expect from a record-setting, four-year starter at one of the nation's most prominent football programs.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray's career at Georgia is one of the best in SEC history.
“He wants to be the leader, kind of the guy that needs to be looked upon for everything. Sometimes I think he applies too much pressure on himself with that,” said Lynch, Murray's longtime friend and roommate. “But in terms of like walking around campus and brushing people off, I kind of wish he had more of that. Sometimes it gets so annoying in public, no matter where it is. It could be the dining hall, it could be in Atlanta, it could be at Shane's Rib Shack, he's going to stop and give pictures where some guys might brush people off.

“So no, he's never given that vibe, which is a testament to him because he could easily be that guy and people would probably like him more for it because it's, 'Ah, that's what he's supposed to act like.' But the fact that he doesn't fit that mold is probably what people get weirded out about. They're probably like, 'There's got to be something behind the curtain.'”

Nope. Murray's generally affable demeanor is no facade -- which might be part of his perception problem nationally and even within his own conference.

He's not a flashy player, throwing up “Get Money” hand signals after a touchdown like Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. He hasn't won BCS titles like Alabama's AJ McCarron. Yet when the SEC's coaches released their preseason all-conference list, some college football observers were surprised to see Murray as the first-team quarterback.

Maybe that was a career achievement award from the league's coaches, as Murray's team-first attitude and legendary work ethic have helped him become the most prolific passer in the league's history.

“Everything he's done, he's earned it. It wasn't just off God-given talent or this crazy arm or anything like that. It's that he's worked for it, he's earned it,” said receiver Rhett McGowan, Murray's fellow fifth-year senior.

Murray has already broken ex-Bulldog David Greene's SEC record for career passing yards (Murray now has 12,029) and surpassed former Florida great Tim Tebow's career mark for total offense (Murray's at 12,327 yards) with a completion to Lynch in the Bulldogs' last game against Vanderbilt.

Entering Saturday's game against Florida, Murray is two touchdown passes behind ex-Gator Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114 touchdown passes, and he's still on pace to threaten ex-Gator Chris Leak's league record of 895 completions (Murray has 835) and former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen's mark of 1,514 pass attempts (Murray has 1,355).

Not that he has much time to focus on the record book these days. Coming off two straight losses, Murray's Georgia team (4-3, 3-2 SEC) needs a win on Saturday to have any hope in the SEC East race -- and he has been working overtime with an injury-depleted receiving corps in hopes of giving his offense a chance against a stout Florida defense.

“I guess when I'm old and want to brag, I can,” Murray said of the records. “But right now it's all about the team. It's all about getting this win. I guess I can talk about this later in life when I'm done playing and all, when I look back.”

Murray was on a short list of Heisman contenders just a few weeks ago, when Georgia was coming off wins against top-10 teams South Carolina and LSU and still had hopes of claiming a BCS championship berth. That was Murray's stated goal all along in returning for his senior season, and it appeared to be a reasonable possibility before many of his most valuable skill players fell victim to long-term or season-ending injuries.

The Bulldogs' once-explosive offense struggled without Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in the backfield and Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett at receiver, and the losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt in those players' absence sunk the Bulldogs' BCS hopes. But Murray said he doesn't regret his decision to put off his NFL dreams for one more season.

“I'm still playing football. I'm still out there with my buddies having fun, competing,” Murray said. “Obviously I came back to try to give ourselves a chance to win a championship, but it didn't happen. So what? Let's move on. Let's continue working hard and having fun, and that's what I'm doing.”

That typifies the attitude Murray has displayed since he arrived at Georgia in 2009, with his relentless behind-the-scenes work propelling him through one of the most statistically impressive careers in SEC history, even if it might not result in the recognition that goes to quarterbacks on championship teams or those with a flashier highlight reel.

A BCS crown will not complete Murray's legacy at Georgia, but he will leave a significant void nonetheless. To gain some insight, consider an observation that Bulldogs coach Mark Richt made last Friday at the end of the Bulldogs' open week, when most coaches and players had already started making the most of a rare off weekend.

“It was maybe close to noontime, maybe just after noontime, and he and Faton [Bauta, one of Georgia's backup quarterbacks] are out there doing footwork and drill work and throwing the ball,” Richt recalled. “I went over the rail and I said, 'Get out of here. Just relax.' They were like, 'There's no days off, Coach. There's no days off.' [I said], 'All right, if that's what you want.'

“But that's how he is. He's wired that way. Every single day he wants to try to find a way to get better, and he's not feeling sorry for himself or anything like that. I think he's still very happy that he's here with us and wants to finish strong.”

Carlos Hyde had the wrong idea about Urban Meyer's offense when Meyer came to Ohio State.

Like many others, Hyde couldn't get past the S-word -- spread. He envisioned five-wide formations, a hastened pace and a system tailored to track stars, not bruising ball-carriers north of 220 pounds like himself.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsOSU might run the spread offense, but Carlos Hyde learned quickly that the Buckeyes are a power running team. Now the rest of the Big Ten knows too.
"I didn’t really know if they ran power in the spread," Hyde told ESPN.com. "I thought it would be all like outside plays."

Hyde soon found out that he would have a home in Meyer's offense, as long as he earned the right to carry the ball. The scheme didn't simply tolerate his talents; it celebrated them.

Ohio State's offense isn't Oregon's or Baylor's or Arizona's or Auburn's. Aesthetically, the Buckeyes might be a spread team. But at their core, they're all about power.

"People see me back there and they see our offensive line back there, and they’re like, 'These are some big dudes, they've got a big running back,'" Hyde said. "This is not really a spread. It's more like a power team."

Need evidence? Study the second halves of Ohio State's past two wins against Northwestern and Iowa. After some sloppiness in the first 30 minutes of both contests, Ohio State methodically chipped away at the Wildcats and Hawkeyes. The Buckeyes racked up 142 rush yards and three touchdowns in the second half against Northwestern and 194 rush yards and two touchdowns in the second half against Iowa.

An offense with a knack for big plays -- Ohio State has 34 plays of 20 yards or longer this season -- had just one chunk play in each second half. Instead, the Buckeyes mounted long, sustained drives, swinging away with the Big Ten's best offensive line and a 235-pound hammer in Hyde. After running a meager 25 first-half plays against Iowa, Ohio State opened the second half with touchdown drives of 13, 11, 10 and 11 plays. Hyde's 1-yard scoring run early in the third quarter marked the first rushing touchdown Iowa had allowed all season. He tacked on a 19-yard scoring dash in the fourth quarter.

"Offensive linemen in general, after they look up at the scoreboard and see that you've won the game, the first question out of their mouths is how many yards did we rush for?" Buckeyes offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. "Then it's, how many sacks did we give up? And then, where do we eat?"

The Buckeyes are feasting on opposing defenses to the tune of 279.6 rush yards per game, ahead of last year's pace (242.3 ypg), which ranked 10th nationally. Their run focus has helped older players recruited by the previous coaching staff transition to the current regime.

From Woody Hayes to John Cooper to Jim Tressel, Ohio State's identity has been closely tied to the power run game. It remains that way under Meyer, despite his ties to the spread.

"That's Ohio State," Hyde said. "When Beanie Wells, Eddie George, Archie Griffin and all the great running backs who came through here, that's what Ohio State has been: traditional, a power I offense. That's basically what this spread offense still is, it’s power.

"That’s pretty cool that the tradition is still going."

The only prerequisites for a spread offense, according to Warinner, are at least three detached wide receivers and the shotgun formation. Other than that, the canvas is blank. Some teams will spread out five receivers and throw 80 passes per game; others will run the ball 60 times.

"A lot like the West Coast offense, there’s many different versions," Meyer said. "I have our version of the spread offense, which is a very physical, power run offense. And it's always really been that way. At Utah, we had the bigger backs. At Florida, the biggest back we had was Tim [Tebow], and Tim became our power guy to offset and complement the speed that we had in the backfield. Here, our speed guy is really our quarterback [Braxton Miller] and some other skilled athletes, and we've got the big, power backs."

When Meyer coached Utah to an undefeated season in 2004, he leaned on two bigger backs in Marty Johnson and Quinton Ganther. The 6-3, 235-pound Tebow rushed for 2,478 yards and 49 touchdowns in his final three seasons as Florida's starting quarterback.

Despite his track record in the power run, Meyer never has produced a 1,000-yard rusher, a fact often used against him on the recruiting trail.

"You hear it, but you just have to be armed and ready to go," he said. "And then they see the yards per carry, they see the opportunities you get."

Hyde feels fully prepared for the NFL, not only as a runner but as a pass blocker. Warinner notes that Ohio State's top three run plays are often called on Sundays, and that Meyer's system has produced plenty of pro linemen.

Four of Meyer's linemen at Florida were selected the 2010 or 2011 NFL drafts, including first-rounders in the Pouncey brothers (Maurkice and Mike). Ohio State has had a surprisingly low number of linemen drafted the past five years but produced a seventh-rounder this past April in tackle Reid Fragel, a converted tight end. Warinner expects all four returning starters from last year's line to be drafted.

"We feel that our offense is as close to a pro spread as can be," Warinner said. "So when you watch people play on Sundays, how they run the ball and how they protect, those things have a lot of carryover to what we do. Most players at this level want to play at that level. Their learning curve is very small leaving Oho State with what we do.

"We sell that pretty hard in recruiting, and it's factual. Plus, it wins games."

Ohio State has won 19 straight, the nation's longest win streak. If the power surge continues, the Buckeyes could be playing for a crystal football Jan. 7 in Pasadena.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
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Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray is on the verge of breaking several SEC career records, but also needs to help keep Georgia in the SEC East race.
1. Missouri offense vs. Florida defense: Missouri earned its biggest victory in its year-plus in the SEC last weekend when it beat Georgia. The Tigers' challenging October schedule continues this week when No. 22 Florida brings its fearsome defense to Columbia, and the Tigers must face those Gators without starting quarterback James Franklin, who separated his shoulder against Georgia. Freshman Maty Mauk did a fine job against Georgia's subpar defense, but he will face few stiffer challenges than what he'll face Saturday against a Florida defense that is allowing just 235.3 yards per game. Mizzou is third in the SEC in total offense with an average of 515.7 yards per game, so the many talented skill players at Mauk's disposal will have to give the new starter a hand on Saturday.

2. Record watch in Nashville: In Saturday's Georgia-Vanderbilt game, a handful of SEC career records could fall. With 112 career touchdown passes, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is just two behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record. And with 12,203 career yards of total offense, Murray needs 29 yards to match Tim Tebow's SEC mark. On the other sideline, Vandy's Jordan Matthews needs 97 receiving yards to match Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 yards. Matthews had 119 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season.

3. Gators running game: With the news this week that running back Matt Jones became the seventh Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury, the Gators' running game is now largely in the hands of Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. Brown has been solid enough thus far, rushing for a team-high 340 yards. But Taylor is the guy many Gators fans are excited about. The son of UF great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor has rushed 16 times for 98 yards (6.1 per carry), including 10 carries for 52 yards in last week's slugfest against LSU. Missouri's run defense ranks third in the SEC at 126.2 YPG, but Georgia freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas ran for 157 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry against the Tigers' last week. The Gators probably need Brown and Taylor to be similarly productive in order to hang with the Tigers' prolific offense.

4. Marshall back for Auburn: After sitting out last week's blowout win against Western Carolina with a knee injury, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall returns to the lineup this week against Texas A&M. Marshall rushed for 140 yards -- the most by an SEC quarterback this season -- in his last game, the Tigers' 30-22 win on Oct. 5 against then-No. 24 Ole Miss. He led the resurgent Tigers to a 4-1 record before taking a seat last week while true freshman Jeremy Johnson played for the first time -- and won SEC Freshman of the Week honors -- against the overmatched Catamounts.

5. Can Georgia recover? With half a dozen starters sidelined last week against Missouri, Georgia lost its first home game since September 2011. Now the Bulldogs limp to Vanderbilt, where they have struggled in two of their last three visits before earning narrow wins. UGA hopes to reach next week's open date with its SEC East hopes still intact. All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley likely still won't play this week, so the Bulldogs' offense must hope Murray, freshman tailbacks Green and Douglas and their crew of replacement wideouts can generate enough offense to outscore the slumping Commodores.

6. Vols back from open date: The last time we saw Tennessee, it came within an eyelash of upsetting then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime. First-year coach Butch Jones' team took last weekend off and now has another enormous test on its hands: a visit from No. 11 South Carolina, which finally seems to be hitting its stride after some early struggles. Volunteers fans are optimistic about the new coaching staff, but their team hasn't beaten a ranked opponent in its last 19 tries. Their next four opponents are all ranked in this week's AP Top 25.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze and Bo Wallace will try to snap Ole Miss' losing streak against LSU this weekend.
7. Can Hogs “snap out of it?” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said this week that he doesn't want his players to be a bunch of “Debbie Downers” after Saturday's 52-7 loss to South Carolina. That was the Razorbacks' fourth straight loss, the most lopsided loss of Bielema's coaching career and matching his worst defeat as a head coach. Unfortunately for Arkansas, it visits No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, where it will be a four-touchdown underdog. It could be a long second half of the season for the Razorbacks.

8. Maintaining historic run: The SEC set a record when Auburn jumped into this week's AP Top 25, giving the conference eight ranked teams. But that historic total might be short-lived. At No. 24, Auburn will likely drop out if it loses on Saturday at No. 7 Texas A&M. No. 15 Georgia and No. 22 Florida also can't afford a loss if they want to remain in the poll next week.

9. Repeat performance for Aggies? Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense gained 671 total yards, the most ever allowed by an Auburn defense, in last season's 63-21 win against the Tigers. Those 63 points also represented the third-most points ever scored against the Tigers. If that wasn't the last straw for then-coach Gene Chizik and his staff, it was awfully close. New coach Gus Malzahn has instilled new optimism on the Plains. The Tigers are a ranked team for the first time since November 2011, but the Aggies are still a two-touchdown favorite.

10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.
Braxton MillerAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBraxton Miller may not reach his full potential in '13, but he still could be the best player in the nation.
You saw last season what Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller could do in an offense more suited to his skill set.

Remember this? And this? And this?

But it's what Miller didn't do that builds his case to be the nation's best quarterback in the 2013 season.

Take his scrambling skills, for example.

"Awful," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "Just awful."

We'll come back later to how a quarterback who rushed for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns last season can be such an awful scrambler.

For now, let's move onto Miller's grasp of the Buckeyes' offense.

"We went 12-0 last year, he finished fifth in the Heisman [voting] and he couldn't draw you where all 11 guys were going to be," Herman said.

Scrambling and system knowledge are just two of the areas Miller will set out to improve in his junior season in Columbus. He led Ohio State to just the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history, won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Silver Football (league MVP) honors, recorded a team-record 3,310 yards of total offense and had 26 runs of 20 yards or longer.

But he hasn't come close to reaching his potential as a college player. And that, more than any other reason, is why you should believe in Braxton. Herman does.

"He hasn’t fought me any step of the way," Herman said. "The kid, he wants to be the best in the country, so I need to give him as many tools as I can to allow that to happen."

Miller's evolution as a quarterback starts, somewhat surprisingly, with his feet. He has worked throughout the offseason to be more consistent with his footwork on passes, both in the pocket and on the run.

Herman also wants Miller to remember his feet while going through his reads.

"It's more pocket presence, pocket awareness, getting from read to read, resetting your feet," Herman said. "He's had really good footwork, he's always shown glimpses of it, but [he needs] to be much more consistent with it."

Miller completed just 58.3 percent of his passes in 2012, a number Herman wants to see between 67-70 percent this season. Herman admits he needs to do a better job calling high-percentage passes for Miller, who will have a deeper group of pass-catchers at his disposal, not to mention the Big Ten's best offensive line.

The coaches condensed the passing playbook this spring so Miller could get more comfortable with Ohio State's core routes.

"He did a very good job of figuring out where all the pieces of this puzzle are going to be," Herman said. "The thing with Braxton is you could probably quiz him right now in a sterile environment, and he'd tell you all the right answers. Last year, he couldn't even do that. Now it’s getting out there with all the chaos and conflict, for him to be able to snap the answers right back to you."

Miller also is getting more comfortable as a leader. Although the introverted Buckeye differs from Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer's last Heisman-winning quarterback -- "We're maximizing as much vocalism as he’s got," Herman said -- he has taken greater initiative this summer, calling teammates to gather for workouts and making every rep count.

"You have to see it from when he was a freshman to now," slotback Jordan Hall said. "It's just crazy how he grew over the years."

Part of that growth is learning when to scramble. Herman estimates that of Miller's 1,271 rushing yards in 2012, only about 200 came on scrambles. If Herman called a pass, Miller believed he had to throw one, even when the window wasn't there.

Herman would like to call fewer designed runs for Miller, and more passes that Miller could turn into big gains on the ground if the opportunities are there.

"You're the best athlete on the field, you've got the ball in your hands, you've got open space, go take off and run," Herman said. "We've done a better job as a staff of making him aware of why we want him to do that. It doesn't make him less of a quarterback because he scrambles."

Miller's offseason to-do list is long, but his ceiling as a college quarterback also is very high. He won't reach that ceiling during the 2013 season, according to Herman, but he still could hoist the Heisman in December and the crystal football in January.

"It will be really hard, because of some of the rudimentary and remedial things we still had to work on, for him to reach his full potential this season," Herman said. "But I think he can be the best in the country, which is scary to say that not at his best, he can still be the best in the country.

"That's a legitimate goal."
 

Hope springs in the SEC

May, 22, 2013
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Monday, we took a look at the 100-days checklist for the SEC. Today, we're taking a look back at what the SEC was able to do during the BCS era. In short, the conference has had a ton of success and is hoping to close out the BCS the way it began it -- with yet another national championship.

Here's a look at the best and worst for the SEC during the BCS era:

Best

1. Rings/crystals for days: The SEC and the BCS have had a great relationship. The SEC kicked the BCS era off with a bang in 1998 when Tennessee took home the first BCS national championship with its 23-16 win over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl. Five years later, LSU won the conference's second BCS title with a 21-14 win over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. But things really got out of hand starting in 2006, when Florida's 41-14 win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl sparked a string of seven straight BCS national titles for the SEC. Florida won again in 2008, Alabama has won three (2009, 2011, 2012), two-loss LSU won in 2007 and Auburn won in 2010. The SEC has won nine of the 15 BCS national championships, and its only loss came to itself when Alabama beat LSU 21-0 in the Allstate BCS National Championship in 2011.

2. Two's company: If five straight championships wasn't enough, the SEC got really greedy in 2011, when Alabama and LSU met in New Orleans, shutting the rest of the country out of a chance at the belt. This game sparked a ton of controversy after LSU had already defeated Alabama 9-6 in Tuscaloosa earlier in the season. But the Crimson Tide went unbeaten afterward and jumped up to the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings after Oklahoma State was upset by Iowa State. After LSU beat Georgia in the SEC championship game, the all-SEC title game was set, in which Alabama would have its revenge.

[+] EnlargeLSU vs. Alabama
AP Photo/Tom HauckAlabama's win over LSU was the only time two teams from the same conference faced off for the national title during the BCS era.
3. Alabama's dominance: Nick Saban brought LSU a national title in 2003, but he's done real wonders at Alabama. With Alabama's 42-14 win over Notre Dame in last season's Discover BCS National Championship Game, the Crimson Tide became the first team in modern history to win three national championships in four seasons. Alabama has won two straight national championships, has dynasty status and should be one of the favorites to win it all in 2013.

4. Heisman collection: The SEC's dominance during the BCS era hasn't just been about bling. The league also has a nice collection of bronze statues, as four of the past seven Heisman Trophy winners have come from the SEC. Last season, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the award, while Florida quarterback Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win it in 2007 when he became the first player to rush and throw for 20-plus touchdowns in a single season. Alabama running back Mark Ingram took home the trophy in 2009, while Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who became the first SEC player to run for at least 1,000 yards and pass for at least 2,000 in the same season, won in 2010.

5. Dominating the NFL draft: The SEC couldn't have won all those BCS titles without a little talent here and there. In last month's NFL draft, the league had 63 players drafted. That's a record for any league. The next closest was the ACC with 31 picks. The SEC had 32 players drafted within the first three rounds, including 12 in the first round.

Worst

1. Auburn getting snubbed: It wasn't often that the SEC got the short end of the BCS stick, but it certainly did in 2004 when Auburn was left out of the national championship after going undefeated during the regular season and winning an SEC title. Auburn went on to beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, while Oklahoma, which passed Auburn in the BCS standings late, was blown out by USC in the national championship.

2. Not showing up: The SEC had two Sugar Bowl appearances it would love to get back. Fresh off its only blemish of the season in its loss to Florida during the 2008 SEC championship game, Alabama truly looked uninspired a month later in its 31-17 loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. Last season, Florida, which was No. 3 in the BCS standings at the time, laid a real egg with its 33-23 loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Both Alabama and Florida were favorites and the more talented teams.

3. The Albert Means scandal: Back in 2002, the NCAA placed Alabama on five-year probation, gave the Tide a two-year bowl ban and reduced football scholarships by 21 over three years for major recruiting violations. The NCAA said a booster agreed to give Means' high school coach more than $100,000 to get Means, a highly-rated defensive lineman, to sign with Alabama. He signed with the Tide but later transferred to Memphis. Alabama narrowly missed getting the death penalty, but, as chairman of the infractions committee Thomas Yeager said, it was "absolutely staring down the barrel of the gun."

4. Tennessee's fall: The Vols might have captured the first BCS title, but Tennessee's program has been a shell of its former self since. Tennessee has endured losing seasons in four of the past five, has missed out on bowl trips in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the late 1970s and will enter the fall with its fourth different head coach in the past six seasons. Since winning it all in 1998, the Vols have been to the SEC championship game three times -- all losses.

5. Bobby Petrino's disgraceful exit: Last spring, Arkansas felt like a legitimate national championship contender. With the talent Bobby Petrino had assembled, the Razorbacks appeared equipped with the team ready to take the SEC West and more. However, Petrino's motorcycle accident in early April changed everything. He was caught lying about an affair he was having with a woman he hired and was later fired. Arkansas hired former special teams coach John L. Smith, who brought more giggles than wins, as Arkansas fell from contender to pretender with a 4-8 season. Petrino completely embarrassed himself and the program, but confidence seems to have been restored with the hiring of former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema.
Say what you want about the flagging reputations of former USC quarterbacks, but at least they keep things interesting.

One of the big questions for the 2013 NFL draft this week is the fate of Matt Barkley. Will he still get picked in the first round or will his stock continue to tumble?

Barkley seemed to -- finally? -- reveal some frustrations this week in a series of interviews in which he questioned coach Lane Kiffin's play-calling in 2012.

See here. And here.

But he wasn't the only former Trojan making news.

Mark Sanchez spoke up about the New York Jets acquiring Tim Tebow last year, and the media circus that the organization seemed to embrace. That, of course, created a new, if more modulated, media circus.

That wasn't the oddest bit of "news."

Former USC quarterback Mitch Mustain, who backed up Sanchez and Barkley after transferring from Arkansas, is the subject of a new documentary. It's narrated by former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson, which adds to a slightly strange texture in itself.

What's it about? Well, it's called "The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain," which strikes me as a bit melodramatic. Mustain, who had an undeniably live arm, had one problem: His ability to select football programs.

When Mustain decided to leave Arkansas, where he was mismatched with head coach Houston Nutt, he could have become the starter for about 100 or so teams. But he chose USC, which simply had better quarterbacks on hand. End of story, at least on the USC end.

The Arkansas stuff, however, is fairly rich.

Meanwhile, Matt Leinart is a free agent, Carson Palmer signed with Arizona -- perhaps to be closer to the Pac-12 blog -- Matt Cassel is with the Minnesota Vikings, Aaron Corp is on the Buffalo Bills roster and John David Booty is out of the league.

Not many schools can list so many NFL QBs, but that operates as a negative when the success rate is so low.

The cumulative affect of all this mediocrity and odd drama -- fair or unfair -- is freight for Barkley.

His draft stock is not just about a disappointing season and over-heated questions about his arm strength, which is certainly NFL-adequate. It's guilt by association: USC QBs and their recent history in the NFL is pretty lousy.

USC's QB past shouldn't mean that much. Barkley should be evaluated, positively or negatively, on what he has done, who he is and his potential. But that dubious lineage will make more than a few NFL GMs skittish.

But all it takes is for Barkley to end up back in the first round. We shall see.

Memorable SEC upsets

March, 28, 2013
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In honor of Florida Gulf Coast's stunning run in the NCAA basketball tournament, I started thinking back to some of the biggest SEC football upsets of my lifetime.

The mid- to late-1970s is about as far back as I go, but I’ve gone back and picked out some of the more memorable ones over the past 30 or 35 years.

These are all SEC vs. SEC matchups, and I’ll rank the top 5 as well as five more that just missed the cut. I’ll come back later Thursday with a few more, including some upsets in non-conference and bowl games.

Here goes:

1. Mississippi State 6, Alabama 3 (1980): The No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide had won 28 straight (and an SEC-record 27 straight conference games) and were heavily favored against the unranked Bulldogs. But Mississippi State played suffocating defense that day in Jackson, Miss., and snuffed out a late Alabama drive. The Crimson Tide had moved to the Bulldogs’ 4, but were out of timeouts. Alabama quarterback Don Jacobs took the snap and started down the line of scrimmage to the right side. Mississippi State’s Tyrone Keys shot through and tackled Jacobs, forcing a fumble that Billy Jackson recovered to seal one of the greatest wins in Mississippi State history. Alabama’s wishbone attack, which had been averaging more than 300 yards per game, mustered just 116 rushing yards against the Mississippi State defense. The Crimson Tide lost four fumbles in the game. And in a classy gesture afterward, Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant visited the Mississippi State locker room to congratulate the Bulldogs on the win.

2. LSU 17, Alabama 13 (1993): The No. 5 Crimson Tide had gone 31 straight games without a loss and were coming off an unbeaten national championship season. Inexplicably, they lost at home to an unranked LSU team that had lost five of its first seven games that season and finished 5-6. The Tigers were a 24-point underdog that day and in the midst of their fifth straight losing season. Alabama starting quarterback Jay Barker was out with an injured shoulder, and the Tide -- using three different quarterbacks -- threw four second-half interceptions. Coach Gene Stallings finally went to David Palmer at quarterback late in the third quarter, and “The Deuce” directed the Tide on a pair of scoring drives. But LSU held on for the win, and Stallings said afterward that he waited too long to go to Palmer, who was normally a receiver.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Phil SandlinTim Tebow bows his head in dejection after his No. 4 Gators lost 31-30 at home against Mississippi on Sept. 27, 2008.
3. Ole Miss 31, Florida 30 (2008): The Rebels would go on to have a very good season, but ventured into the Swamp that day as a 22-point underdog with losses to Wake Forest and Vanderbilt during the first month of the season. Nobody gave them a chance. The Gators were ranked No. 4 and riding high with Tim Tebow running the show. But the Rebels stuffed him on fourth-and-short late to pull off an improbable road win. The game is best remembered for Tebow’s emotional speech afterward, when he promised that nobody would work harder than him and his teammates the rest of the season. The Gators would go on to win their next 22 games in a row, including the 2008 national championship.

4. Auburn 23, Georgia 23 (1994): Even though it wasn’t a loss, it sure felt like one for No. 3 Auburn, which had its 20-game winning streak under Terry Bowden stopped. The Bulldogs were unranked and had lost at home to Vanderbilt a few weeks earlier. But they rallied from 14 points down on the road thanks to a couple of Eric Zeier touchdown passes and survived a missed 44-yard field goal attempt by Auburn’s Matt Hawkins with 13 seconds to play. That was Ray Goff’s next-to-last season at Georgia, which finished 6-4-1 and didn’t play in a bowl game. It didn’t get any better the next week for Auburn. The Tigers, who were on NCAA probation, lost to Alabama.

5. Alabama 9, Tennessee 6 (1990): The Vols were ranked No. 3, coming off a 45-3 demolition of Florida and very much in the national title picture. Alabama had started the season with three straight losses, the first season with Stallings as coach, and was unranked entering the game. But Alabama’s defense stole the show that day before a stunned crowd at Neyland Stadium and shut down Tennessee’s high-powered offense. With the game tied at 6-6, the Vols were able to get into a position for a 50-yard field goal attempt with 1:35 to play, but Alabama’s Stacy Harrison blocked it. The ball scooted more than 20 yards the other way to the Tennessee 37, and Phillip Doyle won it for the Crimson Tide with a 47-yard field goal on the last play of the game to make it five in a row against the Vols.

The five that just missed the cut:

Ole Miss 22, Alabama 12 (1988): Yep, it's the infamous brick through the window game. An irate fan tossed a brick through the office window of Alabama coach Bill Curry after the Rebels stunned the No. 12-ranked Tide in Tuscaloosa. It was Ole Miss’ first win ever against Alabama in the state of Alabama, and spoiled the dedication of the new Paul “Bear” Bryant Museum. Alabama didn’t complete a pass that day.

Alabama 17, Auburn 15 (1984): The Alabama fans refer to it as the “Wrong Way Bo” Iron Bowl. Auburn coach Pat Dye elected to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 late in the fourth quarter, but Bo Jackson went the wrong way on the play. Alabama’s Rory Turner forced Brent Fullwood out of bounds on the sweep, and the Tide held on to beat the No. 11-ranked Tigers and knock them out of the Sugar Bowl. It was a sweet end for Alabama to its first losing season since 1957.

LSU 31, Tennessee 20 (2001): The No. 2-ranked Vols were coming off a huge win at Florida and poised to go to the Rose Bowl to face Miami for the national championship, but backup quarterback Matt Mauck rallied the Tigers in the second half after filling in for the injured Rohan Davey and gave Nick Saban his first of two SEC titles in Baton Rouge.

Georgia 24, Florida 3 (1985): The Bulldogs romped past the No. 1-ranked Gators with freshman running back backs Keith Henderson and Tim Worley both rushing for 100 yards. It was the only game Florida lost all season. The Gators were ineligible to play in the Sugar Bowl because of NCAA sanctions, but finished No. 5 in the final Associated Press poll.

Arkansas 25, Tennessee 24 (1992): The Vols were ranked No. 4 and had already beaten Florida, Georgia and LSU. The Hogs opened that season, their first in the SEC, by losing to The Citadel, resulting in the firing of Jack Crowe as coach. Joe Kines took over as interim coach and guided a 1-4 Arkansas team to a stunning comeback win against the heavily favored Vols in Knoxville. Todd Wright won it for the Hogs with a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left.

Putting Manziel's numbers in perspective

November, 13, 2012
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Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel had his Heisman Trophy moment last Saturday with his performance against Alabama in the Aggies’ 29-24 win.

Kansas State’s Collin Klein remains the Heisman Trophy front-runner, but don’t rule out “Johnny Football.” He made the kind of late-season splash on a huge stage that’s so important in the Heisman voting.

Robert Griffin III probably won the Heisman a year ago with his performance against Oklahoma on the next-to-last weekend of the regular season.

If you look at Manziel’s statistics to this point, he’s right there on par with the last two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks to come out of the SEC -- Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010 and Florida’s Tim Tebow in 2007.

Manziel also compares very favorably to Klein and has faced three teams ranked in the top five nationally in total defense -- No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 LSU and No. 5 Florida.

Here’s a breakdown of Manziel’s numbers through 10 games compared to what Newton and Tebow had done through 10 games during their Heisman Trophy seasons:

MANZIEL
  • Total offense: 3,794 yards
  • Touchdowns accounted for: 33
  • Rushing: 1,014 yards, 15 touchdowns, 6.5 yards per carry
  • Passing: 227-of-336 (67.6 percent), 2,780 yards, 18 touchdowns, six interceptions
NEWTON
  • Total offense: 3,171 yards
  • Touchdowns accounted for: 36
  • Rushing: 1,281 yards, 16 touchdowns, 7.3 yards per carry
  • Passing: 123-of-183 (67.2 percent), 1,890 yards, 19 touchdowns, five interceptions
TEBOW
  • Total offense: 3,250 yards
  • Touchdowns accounted for: 42
  • Rushing: 718 yards, 19 touchdowns, 4.2 yards per carry
  • Passing: 173-of- 255 (67.8 percent), 2,532 yards, 23 touchdowns, five interceptions
Johnny ManzielMike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesWith a win against No. 1 Alabama, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel moved closer to Heisman candidacy.
In a year in which the Heisman race has really lacked pizzazz, one player is bucking the lackluster trend.

Small in stature but big in plays, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel proved yet again over the weekend he deserves a seat at the Heisman table in New York next month.

The redshirt freshman has been too exciting, too productive and too darn good not to get some real Heisman love. If the season ended today, it would be an absolute crime if Johnny Football wasn’t a Heisman finalist.

If what he’d done heading into the Alabama game didn’t win you over, Saturday inside Bryant-Denny Stadium had to.

He was thrown right at one of the nation’s best defenses from the start, accounting for 16 of Texas A&M’s 27 plays in the first quarter and collecting 150 of the Aggies’ 172 first-quarter yards (passing/throwing). All three drives ended with Aggies touchdowns.

He made defenders look sillier and sillier with each scramble, such as his nifty 29-yard scamper on the first drive to put the ball at the Alabama 14-yard line, and his clumsy-turned-slippery 32-yard pass on the second drive that set up the Aggies’ second touchdown.

He pulled off another jaw-dropping 32-yard run on the third drive just for fun.

He even fumbled a ball in midair, only to catch it, roll out and find a wide-open Ryan Swope for a 10-yard touchdown in the first.

After struggling in the second and third quarters, he led the Aggies on two fourth-quarter scoring drives. On A&M’s final scoring drive he threaded a pass to Swope for 42 yards down the right sideline before tossing a perfectly thrown flag pass to Malcome Kennedy for the go-ahead 24-yard touchdown.

Manziel finished with 345 total yards and two scores. It was reminiscent of another dual-threat quarterback who walked out of Bryant-Denny Stadium with a shocking win. His name was Cam Newton, and he left with two more touchdowns, but 90 fewer yards.

Given the Herculean task of besting Alabama’s defense, Manziel came through and never wavered. Defensive stops didn’t stun him. He stunned the Tide.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Manziel completed all six of his passes outside the pocket and scrambled for 94 yards when forced out of the pocket. Before Saturday, Alabama’s opponents were completing 35.7 percent of their passes outside the pocket and had scrambled for 12 total yards in nine games.

He also completed 4-of-5 passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield. In previous games, Alabama allowed nine completions on 41 pass attempts thrown 20 yards or longer downfield and hadn’t allowed a quarterback to complete four such passes since the start of the 2009 season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

He ran the nation’s No. 1 team out of its own stadium and momentarily knocked the SEC off it path toward a seventh straight national championship appearance.

That right there should get voters outside of the South giddy about Johnny Football, but there’s so much more to him than just Saturday’s stellar outing.

Manziel doesn’t look like he can do much, but even with his generously listed 6-foot-1 height and his awkward and graceless scurrying, Manziel constantly finds ways to make plays. You can’t bring too much pressure because he’ll just sidestep his way outside and sprint for a big play. Don’t bring enough, and he’ll burn you over the top.

He’s third in the SEC in passing (2,780), first in rushing (1,014) and has combined for 33 total touchdowns. He’s averaging 379.4 yards of total offense per game and is the second freshman in Football Bowl Subdivision history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in a single season.

People harp on his two home losses to Florida and LSU, but plenty of Heisman winners have lacked perfection. Tim Tebow and Robert Griffin III both lost three games before hoisting the bronze trophy. And if Manziel & Co. keep winning, he might play in a BCS bowl game -- something Tebow and Griffin didn’t do during their Heisman years.

When compared to Tebow, Griffin and Newton, Manziel is right in line. He won’t pass for Griffin’s 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns, but he’ll surpass Newton’s passing yardage and needs 507 yards to beat Tebow’s. He also has rushed for more yards than Tebow and Griffin and needs 460 yards to surpass Newton’s SEC quarterback record of 1,473 he set in 2010.

So when it’s time to cast those Heisman ballots and pick those worthy candidates to suit up in the Big Apple, Manziel can’t be left out. He has done too much already, and still has time to do even more.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer made it clear Monday: he's not going to change Braxton Miller.

"You let him be him," Meyer said.

It could result in more moments like the one late in the third quarter Saturday against Purdue, when Miller writhed in pain on the turf after being slammed on his neck. While no one hopes it results in another trip to the hospital, the quarterback's style of play as a runner keeps the ambulance team on alert.

Miller has taken fans' breath away with his dynamic running skills in Meyer's spread offense this season. He also has had Buckeye Nation holding its breath a few times.

It's hard to have one without the other, especially as Ohio State tries to develop more reliable offensive weapons around its best player. Meyer noted Monday that if other offensive players step up, Miller will have to do less, thereby reducing his injury risk. Interestingly enough, Ohio State got several out-of-nowhere contributions -- notably from wide receiver Chris Fields -- after Miller left Ohio Stadium in an ambulance.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Sam RicheWhile Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is concerned with Braxton Miller taking heavy hits, he said he won't change the QB's aggressive running style.
Fortunately, Miller is OK. Meyer said the sophomore quarterback has a "very, very sore neck," and had a whiplash-like feeling at the time. But after all the tests came back negative, Miller will return to the practice field Tuesday. He's expected to start Saturday night against Penn State.

"We are trying to balance it," Meyer said. "We don't go crazy with him running the ball. At some point, though, you have to try to move the ball a little bit. We're very cognizant of that."

Meyer is still "very concerned" about Miller taking big shots, as the quarterback has in games against Michigan State, Nebraska and Purdue to name a few. Asked if the trend is symptomatic for quarterbacks in his offense, Meyer noted that former Florida star Tim Tebow took some shots, while Chris Leak, Alex Smith and Josh Harris did a better job of staying out of harm's way.

"He doesn't go down very easily, and he's a competitive guy," Meyer said of Miller. "The good thing is, he usually bounces right back up. This one was a tough one. … He just is a dynamic athlete. He's more difficult to bring down."

The Ohio State coaches can tell Miller to keep his well-being in mind -- to run out of bounds after getting a first down, maybe even to slide once in a while. They can limit him to 12-15 carries rather than 18-20. But it's not in Miller's nature to go down easily. Miller's natural ability to break tackles and find running room when none seems to be available also leads to fewer safe plays.

Asked if Miller's injury issues will have any impact on his play calling against Penn State, offensive coordinator Tom Herman said, "None. We've got to win the game. ... That won't factor into any of our decisions."

This is Ohio State's reality in 2012 as it tries to build scoring threats around Miller. For long stretches, he has been the Buckeyes' offense.

If that's the case going forward, there will be more breathtaking runs -- and more breath-holding hits. Bring your oxygen.

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