NCF Nation: Zac Stacy

Signing day booms and busts revisited

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
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There are always surprises and disappointments in every signing class.

It’s just the nature of the business, although I’m not sure it’s politically correct to refer to recruiting as a business. At least, not in the SEC.

Anyway, with most of the hay in the barn from national signing day 2013, keep in mind that it’s impossible to evaluate prospects only hours after their letters of intent are faxed in. So much can happen -- both good and bad -- over the next couple of years.

If you don’t believe so, here’s a look back at the “best surprises” and “biggest disappointments” for all 14 SEC teams going back four years ago to the 2009 signing class.

ALABAMA

[+] EnlargeChance Warmack
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's Chance Warmack developed into one of college football's top offensive linemen.
Best surprise: OG Chance Warmack (Atlanta)

Warmack was not an ESPN 150 prospect, and 34 other players were ranked ahead of him that year in the state of Georgia. The home-state Bulldogs didn’t recruit him, but he landed at Alabama and became a three-year starter for the Tide and established himself this past season as the most dominant interior offensive lineman in college football.

Biggest disappointment: WR Kendall Kelly (Gadsen, Ala.)

Ranked as the No. 7 receiver in the country by ESPN, Kelly moved to defensive back, experienced some health issues and wound up taking a medical hardship.

ARKANSAS

Best surprise: WR Cobi Hamilton (Texarkana, Texas)

Unranked among the top 40 receivers nationally, Hamilton didn’t get an offer from Texas until two weeks prior to signing day. He stuck with the Hogs and blossomed in Bobby Petrino’s offense. Hamilton led the SEC this past season with 1,335 receiving yards and caught 18 career touchdown passes.

Biggest disappointment: CB Darius Winston (Helena, Ark.)

Winston was the most coveted in-state prospect since Darren McFadden and ranked by ESPN as the No. 3 cornerback in the country. But he never developed into a full-time starter at Arkansas and struggled with consistency. He was injured for part of this past season, his final one in a Hogs uniform.

AUBURN

Best surprise: WR Emory Blake (Austin, Texas)

Blake was ranked as the No. 73 receiver in the country by ESPN and chose Auburn on signing day over Texas Tech and Colorado. He finished his career as Auburn’s fifth all-time receiver with 128 catches and 16 touchdown receptions.

Biggest disappointment: QB Tyrik Rollison (Sulphur Springs, Texas)

Rollison was a Parade All-American and considered one of the Tigers’ prized signees in the 2009 class. He redshirted his first season, and after being suspended for the Outback Bowl, transferred to Sam Houston State that next spring and then to Tyler (Texas) Junior College.

FLORIDA

Best surprise: OG Jon Halapio (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

The Gators got Halapio as the No. 144-ranked offensive guard in the country, and when he committed in May, he had very few offers. Now heading into his senior season at Florida, Halapio has 33 starts under his belt and is one of the leaders of the Gators' offense.

Biggest disappointment: DT Gary Brown (Quincy, Fla.)

Brown was ranked as the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country by ESPN, but reported to school overweight and redshirted his first season. He was dismissed that next February without ever playing a down at Florida following his arrest for allegedly slapping a woman at a party.

GEORGIA

Best surprise: S Shawn Williams (Damascus, Ga.)

Williams was not ranked among the top 30 prospects in the state of Georgia. He made his mark initially on special teams and then emerged as the Bulldogs’ enforcer in the secondary from his safety position. He was second on the team with 98 tackles this past season.

Biggest disappointment: RB Washaun Ealey (Twin City, Ga.)

Ealey was an ESPN 150 prospect and ranked as the No. 8 running back in the country. He led the Bulldogs in rushing each of his first two seasons, but a pair of suspensions landed him in hot water with coach Mark Richt. Ealey was encouraged to move on following his sophomore season and wound up transferring to Jacksonville State.

KENTUCKY

Best surprise: OG Larry Warford (Richmond, Ky.)

Not ranked among the top 50 guard prospects in the country, Warford established himself as one of the top guards in the SEC the past two seasons and earned All-SEC recognition as a senior.

Biggest disappointment: QB Morgan Newton (Carmel, Ind.)

An ESPN 150 prospect, Newton made the SEC All-Freshman Team his first season. But his career never took off from there, and he was plagued by a shoulder injury in 2011. He served mainly as a backup this past season and finished his career with 15 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

LSU

Best surprise: DT Bennie Logan (Coushatta, La.)

Logan was ranked as the No. 72 defensive end in the country, and LSU initially offered him as a grayshirt. But a firm offer came in the weeks leading up to signing day, and Logan blossomed into one of the SEC’s top defensive tackles each of the past two seasons.

Biggest disappointment: DT Chris Davenport (Mansfield, La.)

Davenport was one of 10 ESPN 150 prospects LSU signed in 2009, and he was ranked as the No. 7 defensive tackle in the country. Some had him ranked as a five-star prospect, but he was never able to crack the defensive line rotation at LSU and eventually moved to offensive line. He transferred to Tulane after this past season without ever starting a game at LSU.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

[+] EnlargeJohnthan Banks
Spruce Derden/US PresswireJohnthan Banks went from unnoticed out of high school to arguably the nation's top defensive back.
Best surprise: CB Johnthan Banks (Maben, Miss)

Banks’ only scholarship offer was to Mississippi State. He was from a tiny town in Mississippi and flew under the radar, but wound up being a four-year starter and won the Jim Thorpe Award this past season as the top defensive back in college football. He finished with 16 career interceptions to tie the Bulldogs' all-time record.

Biggest disappointment: RB Montrell Conner (Monroe, La.)

Conner had offers from USC, Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee and was ranked as the No. 7 running back prospect in the country by ESPN. He redshirted his first season and left the program in August of that next year. He attended junior college in 2010 and then signed with Troy.

MISSOURI

Best surprise: RB Kendial Lawrence (Rockwall, Texas)

Lawrence picked Missouri over SMU, Louisville and Iowa State and was ranked by ESPN as the No. 100 running back in the country. He capped a solid career at Missouri this past season by rushing for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Biggest disappointment: QB Blaine Dalton (Blue Springs, Mo.)

A dual-threat quarterback and one of the top prospects in the state of Missouri, Dalton enrolled in school early. But he was arrested twice in less than four months and dismissed from the team before he ever played in a game.

OLE MISS

Best surprise: LB Mike Marry (Largo, Fla.)

Ranked as the No. 94 prospect in the state of Florida and unranked in the ESPN 150, Marry has been one of the leaders of the Ole Miss defense the past two seasons from his middle linebacker position. He had 10.5 tackles for loss this past season to finish second on the team. A three-star prospect, Marry picked Ole Miss over Duke, Iowa State and South Florida.

Biggest disappointment: WR Pat Patterson (Macon, Miss.)

Ole Miss beat several big-name teams, including Alabama, to get Patterson, an ESPN 150 prospect and widely considered the top prospect in the state of Mississippi that year. He showed flashes as a true freshman, but couldn’t stay out of trouble off the field and was dismissed prior to his sophomore season after catching just 12 career passes.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Best surprise: S D.J. Swearinger (Greenwood, S.C.)

A three-star prospect, Swearinger was originally committed to Tennessee, but backed off that pledge after Phillip Fulmer was fired and signed with South Carolina. Swearinger ended up being a three-year starter for the Gamecocks and finished second on the team in tackles each of the past two seasons. He was a second-team All-SEC selection this past season.

Biggest disappointment: RB Jarvis Giles (Tampa, Fla.)

An ESPN 150 prospect and ranked as the No. 6 running back in the country, Giles left the team early during his sophomore season after plummeting down the depth chart behind Marcus Lattimore and a few others.

TENNESSEE

Best surprise: WR Zach Rogers (Nashville, Tenn.)

Even though he wasn’t nearly as heralded as most of the signees in the Vols’ 2009 class, Rogers emerged this past season as one of the more underrated receivers in the SEC with 32 catches, including seven touchdowns, and averaged 15.3 yards per catch.

Biggest disappointment: RB Bryce Brown (Wichita, Kan.)

Brown has some serious competition for this dubious distinction. There were multiple disappointments in the Vols’ 2009 class. But as ESPN’s No. 2-ranked running back prospect in the country, Brown gets the nod. He rushed for 460 yards as a freshman, but sat out that next spring practice and never played again for the Vols after Lane Kiffin left for USC.

TEXAS A&M

Best surprise: WR Ryan Swope (Austin, Texas)

Swope was more of a running back coming out of high school and ranked by ESPN as the No. 116 athlete in the country. He carved out a splendid career at Texas A&M in becoming the Aggies’ all-time leading receiver. In his last two seasons, he caught 161 passes, including 19 touchdowns.

Biggest disappointment: DT Chris Henderson (Dallas)

Henderson was ranked by ESPN as the No. 16 defensive tackle in the country, but failed to qualify academically and didn’t make it to campus.

VANDERBILT

Best surprise: RB Zac Stacy (Centerville, Ala.)

Alabama and Auburn both passed on Stacy, who was ranked by ESPN as the No. 98 running back prospect nationally. He finished his Vanderbilt career this past season by rushing for 1,000 yards for the second straight year and set the Commodores’ all-time rushing record in the process.

Biggest disappointment: WR Brady Brown (Argyle, Texas)

Brown was ranked among the top 60 prospects in the state of Texas, and the Commodores were hoping he could add some punch to their passing game. He suffered a leg injury as a freshman and wound up leaving the program following the 2011 season without catching any career passes.
We checked on the SEC's 3,000-yard passers from 2012 on Thursday, so we're taking a look at the running backs who hit the coveted 1,000-yard mark last fall.

Last summer, we looked at 10 running backs we thought could eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark. The SEC had four players reach 1,000 yards on the ground in 2011, and had nine, including Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, in 2012. I thought it was supposed to be the Year of the Quarterback?

Here's how the 10 running backs we looked at last year did in 2012:

1. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Well, maybe if he actually played a down for the Bulldogs this year he might have had a chance to reach 1,000 yards. Instead, Crowell was dismissed before the season and spent 2012 rushing for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns at Alabama State.

2. Knile Davis, Arkansas: Davis said he was 100 percent after missing all of 2011 with an ankle injury, but he never displayed the explosiveness and strength that made him a star in 2010. Davis was still hesitant at times and carried the ball only 112 times for 377 yards and two touchdowns.

3. James Franklin, Missouri: His laundry list of injuries and a banged-up offensive line didn't really help the dual-threat quarterback when it came to running the ball. A year removed from almost getting to 1,000 yards, Franklin rushed for just 122 yards and averaged 1.4 yards per carry in the process.

4. Eddie Lacy, Alabama: Real shocker that an Alabama running back bulldozed his way past 1,000 yards. Lacy overpowered defenders and left plenty looking silly with his patented spin move all year, finishing the season ranking third in the SEC with 1,322 yards and tying for second with 17 touchdowns. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry.

5. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: For the second straight year, Lattimore's pursuit of 1,000 yards was cut short by a devastating knee injury. He rushed for 662 yards and 11 touchdowns on 143 attempts before dislocating his right knee and tearing multiple ligaments against Tennessee on Oct. 27.

6. Christine Michael, Texas A&M: Like Lattimore, Michael was coming off of an ACL injury this fall, but he never seemed to really fit in the Aggies' new spread scheme. Eventually, he really wasn't Texas A&M's first option at running back and he finished the season with 417 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 11 games of action.

7. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State: Perkins spent most of the year near the top of the SEC in all-purpose yards and was one of the toughest runners in the league. He averaged a stout 5 yards per carry and finished the year with 1,024 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

8. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt: For the second straight year, Stacy finished the season with more than 1,000 yards for the Commodores. Even with a few more weapons to use on the offensive side, Stacy rushed for 1,141 yards and 10 touchdowns on 207 carries.

9. Spencer Ware, LSU: Ware wasn't the same workhorse that he was for the Tigers in 2011. He played in 12 games, but only started four and carried the ball just 94 times for 367 yards (that's just 3.9 yards per carry). He finished fourth on the team in rushing and scored just one touchdown in 2012.

10. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: Pretty good assumption last summer. Yeldon made sure he and Lacy were a migraine for defenses, as he pounded and darted his way to 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry and 74.1 yards in SEC games. Lacy packed the punch, while Yeldon showcased the moves last fall.

Who was overlooked:
  • Mike Gillislee, Florida: He proclaimed before the season that he'd rush for 1,500 yards and more than 20 touchdowns. He didn't get there, but he did become the first Gator to rush for 1,000 yards (1,152) since 2004. He basically was Florida's offense and added 10 touchdowns on the ground.
  • Todd Gurley, Georgia: We looked at the wrong Bulldog last summer. Gurley made more of an impact for Georgia as a freshman than Crowell did in 2011, finishing second in the SEC in rushing (first among running backs) with 1,385 yards and added 17 touchdowns to his 6.2 yards per carry.
  • Kendial Lawrence, Missouri: He was almost forgotten because of the year Henry Josey had for most of the 2011 season, but Lawrence was Mizzou's most consistent offensive weapon last fall, rushing for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
  • Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: The Heisman winner was arguably the nation's most elusive player in the country when he took off running. He shredded defenses all season and led the SEC with 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 7 yards per carry.
  • Tre Mason, Auburn: There wasn't a lot to smile about on the Plains this past fall, but Mason was the best weapon the Tigers had, as he rushed for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging an impressive 5.9 yards per carry.

What we learned in the SEC bowls

January, 9, 2013
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Now that the bowl season is over, it's time to take a look back at what we learned in the SEC during the postseason:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesNick Saban and Alabama will be among the favorites to win the national title again next season.
1. It really is Alabama's world: For the second straight year and for the third time in four years, Alabama took home college football's crystal hardware. After the first 15 minutes of the Discover BCS National Championship, it didn't even look like No. 1 Notre Dame deserved to be on the same field as the Crimson Tide. Alabama wore down the Irish defense in the first half, and its defense tormented Notre Dame's offense for about 90 percent of Monday night's game. Nick Saban didn't have his most talented team, but he had his squad way more prepared than Brian Kelly did. Saban's way of making sure his players approach every game the same way proved to be excellent again. Notre Dame was completely overmatched, and with the talent coming back in 2013, Alabama should again be the favorite to win it all. Three-peat?

2. The SEC's dominance is still being challenged: Even though Alabama brought home the SEC's seventh straight BCS title, the SEC's perception is still being challenged. Social media has been buzzing with chants of "overrated" directed toward the SEC because Mississippi State, LSU and Florida all fell flat in their bowl games. Mississippi State lost by 14 to Northwestern, LSU lost to Clemson on a last-second field goal and Florida was run ragged by Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Heading into bowl season, Florida and LSU weren't expected to lose, but they got away from their ground games and paid for it dearly. Still, the SEC went 6-3 (.667) in bowl games, including Texas A&M's 41-13 rout of Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and Georgia and South Carolina downing Big Ten teams. Only the WAC (2-0) and C-USA (4-1) had better winning percentages, and neither had nearly as many bowl teams. So is the SEC down? Well, while the SEC took a couple of bad losses in bowl season, seven teams finished the year in the Associated Press Top 25, including five in the top 10. The Big Ten and Big 12 had losing bowl records, the Pac-12 went 4-4 and the ACC was 4-2. So, if the SEC is overrated, what are the other conferences?

3. Florida's offensive issues are still a major problem: All season, we wondered what we'd see from Florida's offense. However, for 11 games, even if the offense came up short, the Gators found ways to win. Against Louisville, the Gators went in reverse and never got right again. Jeff Driskel threw a pick-six on the first possession, and the offense imploded from there. Mike Gillislee, who was easily Florida's best offensive weapon, carried the ball just nine times. The Gators panicked, but when they had to pass, they couldn't.

This has to be a major concern for the Gators going forward, because Gillislee is graduating and tight end Jordan Reed declared for the NFL draft. Driskel has to find some major help in the passing game this spring/summer, or Florida's offense will get pummeled again. Driskel's health is now a major concern because backup Jacoby Brissett is transferring, leaving the Gators with no experience behind Driskel.

4. More eyes will be on Ole Miss ... and Vanderbilt: Before the season, no one gave Ole Miss a chance at the postseason -- or even five wins -- but the Rebels went out and had a tremendous first year under Hugh Freeze. If not for a couple of horrendous second halves, the Rebels might have won eight games during the regular season. After a dominating performance in their BBVA Compass Bowl win against Pittsburgh, the Rebels could be looking at a spot in preseason Top 25 polls. Most of this team, including what could be a stellar recruiting class, will be in Oxford next fall, so expectations will be much higher.

The same can be said about James Franklin's Vanderbilt Commodores. After a historic nine-win season that ended with a commanding bowl win over NC State, the Commodores will be expected to keep up this act after being even better in Year 2 of the Franklin era. Vandy will lose some talent up front defensively, and Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy will be gone, but a host of playmakers will return, including receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd.

5. Johnny Football's legend just keeps growing: After Texas A&M lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury to Texas Tech, Johnny Manziel's field maturity was really going to be judged in the AT&T Cotton Bowl against the Sooners. Well, all he did without one of his best mentors was set a bowl record for total yards (516) in the Aggies' rout inside Jerry's World. Manziel zigged and zagged as though Kingsbury was feeding him info through an earpiece. People don't understand how much Kingsbury helped Manziel with his composure during games, but Manziel did just fine without him. It shows how much he's grown during his Heisman year. Things will be different next season with some key players also missing on offense, but to see Manziel play like that without Kingsbury has to be very encouraging for Kevin Sumlin and the rest of the Aggies' coaching staff.

Franklin building Vandy's program to last

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
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James Franklin AP Photo/Mark HumphreyJames Franklin led the Commodores to their first nine-win season in nearly a century.
Merely reciting a long list of firsts doesn’t do justice to what Vanderbilt’s football program has accomplished under second-year coach James Franklin.

Sure, it helps when you process that Vanderbilt -- thanks to its 38-24 beatdown of North Carolina State on Monday in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl -- is basking in its first nine-win season since 1915.

To put into perspective how long ago that’s been, the Titanic sank to her watery grave only three years earlier in the North Atlantic.

The Commodores (9-4) also ended the season with a seven-game winning streak, the longest in the SEC and their longest since closing the 1948 season with eight straight wins.

We could sit here all day and talk history.

But Franklin’s crowning achievement is that he’s made Vanderbilt relevant in the big, bad SEC, and don’t think for a minute that his work is done.

If he thought it was, he would have undoubtedly jumped on one of the numerous overtures that came his way to go elsewhere this year. Refreshingly, in an age when college coaches change jobs about as often as most of us change socks, Franklin was more interested in finding a way to enhance the job that he already has.

That’s why his new contract, which will pay him more than $3 million per year, has language in it that requires Vanderbilt to continue to upgrade its stadium, its football complex and other facilities and player amenities that are crucial if the Commodores are going to recruit at a level that will make them a consistent winner in the SEC.

Franklin has already made some serious waves on the recruiting trail. He’s bringing in four-star prospects, which was once a fantasy at Vanderbilt.

The other thing he’s done is embrace Vanderbilt’s stringent academic standards. He’s selling them rather than trying to work around them.

Franklin has also been masterful at assembling his staff, a group of coaches who’ve done as good a job the past two years as any staff in the league.

The Commodores still have a ways to go in terms of stockpiling the caliber and number of offensive and defensive linemen that it takes to be a contender in the SEC.

Nonetheless, turn on the tape and watch the way their guys play up front -- their technique, their smarts and their toughness.

That’s a credit to the coaches on Vanderbilt’s staff and their ability to develop players and get them in the right spots.

The Commodores will miss the seniors on this team. Guys like Zac Stacy, Jordan Rodgers, Trey Wilson, Ryan Seymour, Rob Lohr and Archibald Barnes were a huge part of Vanderbilt’s climb the past two years.

But so were Chris Marve, Casey Hayward and Tim Fugger the year before, and Vanderbilt still managed to take it to another level this season.

That’s because Franklin is building this thing to last, and he plans on sticking around long enough to see a few more firsts.

Music City Bowl keys

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
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Here are three keys for NC State against Vanderbilt in today’s Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (noon ET, ESPN):

1. Ignore the intangibles. This could be an emotional game for interim coach Dana Bible, who is working his first game as a head coach also knowing it will be his last at NC State. New coach Dave Doeren has already taken over and hired a new offensive coordinator and most of his staff, but Bible, a longtime friend of former Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien, was tasked with coaching the bowl game. NC State also has to face a Vandy team which will essentially be playing in its own backyard. NC State and its coaches have to stay focused despite the awkward intangibles involved.

2. Win on third downs. Vanderbilt’s defense has been stingy this year, particularly on third downs. The Commodores are No. 12 in the country in third-down conversion defense, holding opponents to 30.9 percent. NC State, meanwhile has struggled on third downs this season, ranking No. 74 with a 38.9 percent conversion rate. The Pack has to be able to sustain drives against a unit that finished the regular season ranked among the top 20 in the nation in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon is going to have to be sharp.

3. Stop the run. In each of NC State’s past three losses, the Wolfpack allowed more than 200 rushing yards. The Pack’s rushing defense has been average at best this year, and Vandy will present another challenge. All-SEC running back and school career rushing leader Zac Stacy finished fifth in the league with 1,034 rushing yards.

Vanderbilt keys for Music City Bowl

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
9:30
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Here’s a look at three keys for Vanderbilt in Monday’s matchup with North Carolina State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl:

1. Winning the turnover battle: One of the remarkable things about Vanderbilt’s six-game winning streak heading into the bowl game is that the Commodores were minus-4 in turnover margin during those six wins. And in four of those games, the Commodores lost the turnover battle. That’s what you call playing with fire. They can’t afford to turn the ball over against North Carolina State, especially with the Wolfpack ranked No. 20 nationally in passing offense (304 yards per game) and capable of scoring points in bunches. Moreover, N.C. State has had its own problems in the turnover department. The team has committed 21 of its 28 turnovers this season in its five losses.

2. Pressuring Glennon: N.C. State’s Mike Glennon is 12th nationally in passing and ranked by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 3 senior quarterback in the 2013 draft. Glennon has passed for 3,648 yards with 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Getting to him early and forcing some errant throws will be important for the Commodores, who are ranked 10th nationally in passing defense. They’ve only given up 6 touchdown passes in 12 games, but Glennon is probably the best passer they’ve faced this season.

3. Running to glory: Vanderbilt senior running back Zac Stacy has put together back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. When he’s going good, so are the Commodores. They’re averaging 170.4 yards per game on the ground, and stopping the run hasn’t been the Wolfpack’s strong suit. They’ve allowed more than 200 yards rushing in seven games this season. Establishing the run will help keep Glennon and the N.C. State passing game off the field, and Vanderbilt also doesn’t want to be in a lot of third-down situations. The Wolfpack are first nationally in third-down conversion defense, allowing opponents to convert just 27.2 percent of the time. The Commodores, meanwhile, are 100th nationally in converting third downs (34.5 percent).

Pregame: Music City Bowl

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
9:00
AM ET
NC State (7-5, 4-4 ACC) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4, 5-3 SEC)

WHO TO WATCH: NC State quarterback Mike Glennon. He is a legitimate pro prospect who finished first in the ACC in passing yards per game (304) and second in total offense (292 yards per game). He was clutch in the fourth quarter of a dramatic upset of then-No. 3 Florida State during the regular season. He threw for 30 touchdowns this season and 14 interceptions. Vandy’s defense, though, has allowed just six passing touchdowns and an average of 175.8 passing yards to rank in the top 10 nationally in each category.

WHAT TO WATCH: NC State’s rushing defense against Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy. In conference play, All-SEC running back and school career rushing leader Stacy finished fifth in the league with 1,034 rushing yards. The Commodores ranked 53rd nationally with an average of 170.4 rushing yards per game. NC State’s rushing defense has been average this year, allowing 157.9 yards per game.

WHY TO WATCH: Vandy is on a hot streak under second-year coach James Franklin. The Commodores are riding a six-game winning streak, the program’s longest in three decades, and this is the first time in school history that Vanderbilt will make back-to-back postseason appearances. A win in the Music City Bowl would equal the team’s single-season record of nine victories, set in 1904 and matched in 1915. For NC State, it’s the last game with the Wolfpack for offensive coordinator/interim coach Dana Bible, who replaced good friend Tom O’Brien. O’Brien was fired at the end of the season and replaced by Dave Doeren of Northern Illinois.

PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 24, NC State 17: The Commodores’ defense will be the difference. Vanderbilt ranks No. 17 in the country in total defense, No. 15 in points allowed and No. 10 in passing defense. Vandy will fluster Glennon into making some mistakes, and a turnover or two will be the difference.

Rushing for 1,000 yards in the SEC

December, 18, 2012
12/18/12
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This season, there were eight 1,000-yard rushers in the SEC, which ties for the most in league history.

There’s a chance that record, which was set in 2007, could be broken in the bowl games. Mississippi State’s LaDarius Perkins has 940 yards and needs 60 more against Northwestern in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl to reach the 1,000-yard plateau.

The Alabama duo of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon made history by becoming the first two players in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Lacy has 1,182 yards and Yeldon 1,000 yards. They’re the first two running backs in the SEC to accomplish that feat since Arkansas’ Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in 2007.

Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy went over 1,000 yards for the second year in a row. He’s one of only nine players in the SEC over the last decade to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, joining the likes of Carnell Williams, Knowshon Moreno, McFadden and Jones.

Before Stacy showed up, Vanderbilt hadn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Jermaine Johnson rushed for 1,072 yards in 1995.

Mike Gillislee, with 1,104 yards, became Florida’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Faison had 1,267 yards in 2004.

And when it came to talented freshman runners, this was absolutely a season to remember in the SEC. Georgia’s Todd Gurley leads the league with 1,260 rushing yards. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel is not too far behind him with 1,181 yards and actually leads the league in rushing yards per game (98.4). He’s the first quarterback to do so since Cam Newton in 2004. Yeldon makes it three SEC freshmen with at least 1,000 yards.

To put that number in perspective, prior to this season, only nine freshmen in the history of the SEC had rushed for 1,000 yards, a list highlighted by Herschel Walker with 1,616 yards in 1980. Tennessee’s Jamal Lewis is second on that list with 1,364 yards in 1997, and Florida’s Emmitt Smith is third with 1,341 yards in 1987.

So, some pretty exclusive company.

Over the last five seasons, Alabama and Auburn lead the SEC with five 1,000-yard rushers apiece. The only year during that stretch that the Crimson Tide didn’t have a player to rush for 1,000 yards was 2010. The Tigers didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher in 2008, but have produced one each of the last four seasons. Michael Dyer and Newton both topped the 1,000-yard mark during the 2010 national championship season.

Below is a look at all of the league’s 1,000-yard rushers over the last five seasons. The only school in the league that hasn’t produced one during that stretch (not counting first-year league member Missouri) is Kentucky:

2012
  • Todd Gurley, Georgia – 1,260
  • Eddie Lacy, Alabama – 1,182
  • Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – 1,181
  • Mike Gillislee, Florida – 1,104
  • Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt – 1,034
  • Kendial Lawrence, Missouri – 1,025
  • Tre Mason, Auburn – 1,002
  • T.J. Yeldon, Alabama – 1,000
2011
  • Trent Richardson, Alabama – 1,679
  • Michael Dyer, Auburn – 1,242
  • Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt – 1,193
  • Vick Ballard, Mississippi State – 1,189
2010
  • Cam Newton, Auburn – 1,473
  • Knile Davis, Arkansas – 1,322
  • Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina – 1,197
  • Stevan Ridley, LSU – 1,147
  • Michael Dyer, Auburn – 1,093
  • Tauren Poole, Tennessee – 1,034
2009
  • Mark Ingram, Alabama – 1,658
  • Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State – 1,391
  • Ben Tate, Auburn – 1,362
  • Montario Hardesty, Tennessee – 1,345
  • Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss – 1,169
2008
  • Knowshon Moreno, Georgia – 1,400
  • Glen Coffee, Alabama – 1,383
  • Charles Scott, LSU – 1,174
NC State Wolfpack (7-5) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (8-4)

Dec. 31, Noon ET, Nashville, Tenn. (ESPN)

NC State take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: It was a wild, unpredictable season for NC State that ended in the firing of former coach Tom O’Brien just one day after the regular season had ended. Offensive coordinator Dana Bible will coach the Wolfpack in its bowl game, but former Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren was hired on Saturday to replace O’Brien.

NC State began the season with a disappointing loss to Tennessee in which weaknesses in the highly touted secondary were immediately exposed. The Pack went on to win its next three games, but lost the ACC season opener against Miami. In typical inexplicable NC State fashion, the Pack responded the following week by knocking off then-No. 3 Florida State in what was one of the biggest upsets in program history. It was a shocking fourth quarter that resonated throughout all of college football and all but ended the Seminoles’ hopes of playing for a national title. Despite the 17-16 win over FSU, though, NC State couldn’t translate that upset into anything meaningful in the Atlantic Division standings (a major reason O’Brien was fired).

Instead, NC State suffered its first loss in five seasons to rival North Carolina and was embarrassed at home in a baffling loss to a struggling Virginia team. NC State rallied to win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible, but it wasn’t enough to save O’Brien’s job. Doeren, who led Northern Illinois to its second straight MAC championship on Friday night, will not coach his former team in the Discover Orange Bowl.




Vanderbilt take from SEC blogger Chris Low: Counting up all the firsts this season for Vanderbilt would take a while.

James Franklin, in his second season as coach, has come in and taken this program to heights that few people thought possible. Their Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl matchup with NC State will be the Commodores' second straight bowl appearance. It’s the first time in school history that the Commodores have gone to bowl games in back-to-back years. Their eight wins in the regular season are their most since 1982, and their five SEC wins are their most since 1935. They enter the postseason on a six-game winning streak, and probably the best news for the Commodores is that they’ve locked up Franklin to a new contract. The university announced on Sunday that Franklin had agreed to a new deal, which will include enhancements to the football complex and Vanderbilt Stadium.

Franklin’s phone has rung a bunch ever since the season ended with other schools inquiring about his interest, but the Commodores have convinced him that they’re serious about building a winning football program. Franklin has assembled an excellent staff, which is reflected in the Commodores’ discipline and their mental toughness. They’re ranked 17th nationally in total defense, the second straight season that defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has field a top-20 defense nationally. Only four times this season did a team score more than 21 points against Vanderbilt.

Offensively, senior Zac Stacy went over the 1,000-yard mark rushing for the second straight season, and the receiving combo of Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd combined for more than 2,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.

Hot and Not in the SEC

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
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The regular season in the SEC has come and gone, but our hot/not meter is still working overtime:

GLOWING EMBERS

SEC championship game stakes: It’s a lot like it was back in 2008 and 2009 when Alabama and Florida met in the league championship game for the right to play in the BCS National Championship Game. The only difference is that Alabama is No. 2 and Georgia No. 3 this year in the BCS standings. In 2008, Alabama was No. 1 and Florida No. 4 heading into the SEC championship game. And in 2009, Florida was No. 1 and Alabama No. 2. This will be the first time that Alabama and Georgia have met in the SEC championship game. In fact, they’ve only met a total of six times since the league expanded in 1992 and split into two divisions.

HOT

[+] EnlargeZac Stacy
Brian A. Westerholt/Getty ImagesZac Stacy has rushed for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy: His 180-yard rushing performance in the 55-21 win over Wake Forest pushed him over the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season. Stacy has 1,034 rushing yards and is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He’s one of only nine players in the SEC over the past decade to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, joining the likes of Carnell Williams, Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Knowshon Moreno.

NOT

Bobby Petrino’s SEC chances: There are some rumblings at Auburn that Petrino could be a candidate to replace Gene Chizik, who was fired Sunday. But that’s more talk than it is anything. Petrino’s not going to find many, if any, open doors to return to the SEC as a head coach, and at this point, isn’t a serious candidate at any of the four schools looking for a head coach. The school presidents and chancellors simply aren't going to let it happen.

HOT

Jarvis Landry’s catch: The LSU receivers took their share of grief during the first part of the season for not getting open and not making enough big plays. But Landry’s twisting, one-handed stab in the back of the end zone in the 20-13 win over Arkansas might have been the catch of the year in college football. Good luck in finding a better one.

NOT

ACC power: Yes, this is an SEC blog, but how much has the SEC owned the ACC this season? The SEC was 4-0 against the ACC last weekend with Florida beating Florida State on the road and South Carolina taking down Clemson on the road in games where the Gators and Gamecocks were both underdogs. Go back to the start of the season, too. Tennessee, which suffered through its third straight losing season, beat North Carolina State by two touchdowns in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, and one of the worst Auburn teams in history played Clemson to the wire the next night in Atlanta.

HOT

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier: The Head Ball Coach joined Bear Bryant this past weekend in becoming the only two coaches in SEC history to top the wins list at two league schools. Spurrier won his 65th game at South Carolina, and it couldn’t have been sweeter for the Gamecocks. They defeated bitter rival Clemson 27-17 to end the Tigers’ 13-game home winning streak and give South Carolina four straight wins in the series for the first time since 1951-54. The Gamecocks have now won at least 10 games in each of the past two seasons. Prior to the 2011 season, they’d won 10 games in a season only one other time in school history (1984). Spurrier is also the all-time winningest coach at Florida with 122 wins. Bryant won 232 games at Alabama and 60 at Kentucky.

NOT

Florida’s respect: It’s hard to argue with Will Muschamp’s assessment following Florida’s win over Florida State. The Gators, based on what they’ve accomplished this season, are as deserving as anyone to be playing for the national championship. Their résumé is better than anybody else’s in college football with wins over No. 7 LSU, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 10 South Carolina and No. 13 Florida State. Their only loss was a close one (17-9) to No. 3 Georgia. The Gators have made a living of winning ugly in some games, but their body of work speaks for itself.

FREEZER BURN

The school down south: Give Dan Mullen his due. He’s as responsible as anyone for spicing up the Mississippi State-Ole Miss rivalry with the way he’s gone after Ole Miss and referred to the Rebels as the “school up north.” For three years in a row, Mullen and the Bulldogs beat up on the Rebels and then rubbed the Egg Bowl trophy in their faces, at least figuratively speaking. Now, it’s Ole Miss’ turn to do some crowing after blasting the “school down south” 41-24 last Saturday in a game the Rebels dominated in the second half. It was a huge win for Hugh Freeze in his first season as Ole Miss coach and says volumes about the direction in which the Rebels are headed. They could easily be 9-3 right now instead of 6-6 if they had finished the Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and LSU games the way they finished the Bulldogs. Mississippi State’s disappointing finish to the season will put a damper on the Bulldogs’ 8-4 record. They wound up losing four of their last five games, and all four losses were by at least 17 points. Their only win over an FBS team that finished the regular season with a winning record came over Middle Tennessee.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 25, 2012
11/25/12
9:00
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Now that we're through the final weekend of the regular season, it's time to check out the best from the weekend that was:

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: I seem to remember someone feeling very confident about Clowney's chances of really tearing things up on Saturday. Clowney certainly didn't disappoint. Even though he was dealing with a sprained foot/bruised knee, Clowney led the Gamecocks with seven total tackles, but really made his mark in Clemson's backfield, recording 4.5 sacks in the 27-17 win over Clemson. He recorded two of those sacks on Clemson's final two possessions. Clowney set the South Carolina single-season record for sacks with 13 on the season.

Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida: If the Gators were going to beat Florida State on Saturday, they had to establish their running game. That meant that Gillislee had to the the running back who grabbed so much attention at the beginning of the season. Well, that Gillislee showed up, carrying the ball 24 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the 37-26 win over Florida State. His 9-yard run gave the Gators a 13-0 lead in the second quarter, but his 37-yard scamper gave Florida a 23-20 lead in the fourth quarter. It was Florida's first lead since the Seminoles went on a 20-0 run in the second and third quarter. It also gave the Gators a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: The legend continues to grow with Johnny Football. Even though he injured his left knee in the first quarter and had to wear a brace for the rest of the night, Manziel passed for 372 yards and three touchdowns in the Aggies' 59-29 drubbing of Missouri. He also ran for 67 yards and two more scores on 12 carries. He might have been tougher to stop with the brace on. With his 439 yards of offense on Saturday, Manziel has 4,600 total yards for the season, which is a new SEC record for total offense.

Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss: The Rebels put on an offensive clinic in Oxford in their 41-24 win over archrival Mississippi State to win the Egg Bowl for the first time since 2008. Moncrief was a big reason why that happened. He caught seven passes for a career-high 173 yards and had three touchdowns. His 173 receiving yards are the fourth-most in a single game in Ole Miss history, and he's now tied for the most touchdown receptions in a single season for the Rebels with 10. Moncrief scored all three of the Rebels' touchdowns in the second and third quarter, including a 77-yard catch-and-run in the second that made it 17-14 Ole Miss.

Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia: Rambo left Sanford Stadium the right way Saturday. He registered eight tackles on the day, but on Georgia Tech's first drive of the game, he forced two fumbles, recovering one of them. His recovery came from the Yellow Jackets' running back Robert Godhigh at Georgia's 1-yard line. Rambo then returned the fumble 49 yards to help set up the Bulldogs' second touchdown. He also grabbed an interception on a deep pass toward the end zone by Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee that helped set up the Bulldogs' fourth touchdown of the first half. That interception tied the Georgia school record for interceptions in a career (16).

Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt: Stacy made work of Wake Forest's defense Saturday. He carried the ball 21 times for 180 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Commodores' 55-21 win. His second touchdown came on a 90-yard run with the game in the fourth quarter and he left the game with 1,034 rushing yards for the season. That makes him the first Vanderbilt player to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

Vandy rolls to sixth straight win

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
7:05
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Vanderbilt 55 Wake Forest 21: Remember back to Oct. 13, when Florida had just dropped Vanderbilt to 2-4 and bowl eligibility seemed like a fantasy?

Neither do the Commodores. Don't look now, but since they were left for dead in mid-October, the 'Dores have reeled off six straight wins and have just finished the regular season at 8-4 -- their best regular season record since 1982.

The latest victim on Vanderbilt's roll through November was an overmatched Wake Forest squad hoping to reach bowl eligibility in its own right. The Commodores cruised to a 28-7 halftime lead behind a 14-of-17, 211-yard first half performance from quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who threw two touchdowns on the day. When Rodgers wasn't winging it around, senior tailback Zac Stacy put in a workmanlike 89 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. That would have been a solid outing on its own, but Stacy put an exclamation point on his career with a 90-yard fourth quarter touchdown scamper to give him 180 yards and two scores on the day.

The Demon Deacons entered the game determined to move the ball on the ground, but they found no such luck. Wake Forest rushed 44 times for a mere 128 yards

The final nail went into Wake Forest's coffin just one minute into the third quarter, when Vanderbilt blocked a punt on the first series of the half and recovered it for a Commodore touchdown. The win was a cap to what has been a stunning run through the final six weeks of the regular season. The 'Dores have blown through November in every kind of fashion -- whether it was a close stand to hold off Auburn in October, a furious comeback to stun Ole Miss two weeks ago or any number of blowouts against the likes of Massachusetts, Kentucky or Tennessee.

SEC: Who will transform tomorrow?

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
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Last season, Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers was buried in inconsistency most of the time. This time around, he's been steady, but not too exciting.

That will change Saturday when Tennessee limps into Nashville with the SEC's last-place defense.

Rodgers, who is averaging 217.4 passing yards per game and has thrown nine touchdowns to three interceptions this season, will look more like his older brother, Aaron, against the Vols' struggling defense.

Rodgers hasn't been asked to do a lot this season, but the Commodores (6-4, 4-3) have a chance to get closer to eight regular-season wins and bounce the Vols from a shot at postseason play, and he can really hurt Tennessee's defense with his arm and his legs. Remember, he's quite the athlete, so he'll be able to extend some plays when the Vols bring pressure.

Tennessee (4-6, 0-6) is last in the SEC in total defense (480.2 yards per game) and scoring defense (37), and is 13th in rushing defense (190.5) and passing defense (289.7). Rodgers will take full advantage of that with his excellent receiving targets in Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, who have combined to catch 110 passes for 1,689 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

With running back Zac Stacy banged up, more will be put on Rodgers' plate this weekend, and he won't shy away from the added responsibility. He's grown so much this season that he won't be fazed at all. Tennessee's defense also will allow him the time and space to get very comfortable inside Vanderbilt Stadium.

If he wants to, Rodgers can rely on his arm all day, but there are plays to be made with his feet, and he'll do it Saturday. He has only rushed for 62 net yards this season, but if he needs to scamper off to make plays this weekend, he will. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel and Missouri's James Franklin rushed for 81 and 43 yards, respectively, against Tennessee's defense this year.

Rodgers will come out of his shell Saturday in a game that means so much to both sides. The Vols are a loss away from not making it to a bowl game in back-to-back seasons, while the Commodores are looking for eight regular-season wins (they play Wake Forest Nov. 24). They'd also love nothing more than to spoil the Vols' postseason chances.

With a lot of help from Rodgers, the Commodores will do just that, and maybe coach James Franklin will carry him off the field instead of Mr. Commodore.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
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With the regular season winding to a close, here’s a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 12:

1. FCS Celebration Week: The reality is that this isn’t the most compelling week of matchups in the SEC. In fact, seven of the 14 schools are squaring off against FCS opponents. Five years ago, the SEC made it mandatory for all schools to play on Thanksgiving weekend, and because so many of those season-ending games are fierce rivalries, a lot of the schools have attempted to schedule lesser opponents for the week prior. The only three SEC league games this weekend are Ole Miss at LSU, Arkansas at Mississippi State and Tennessee at Vanderbilt.

The next-to-last weekend should be a little more intriguing next season. Five league games are on the docket, highlighted by Texas A&M’s visit to LSU. The other thing to keep in mind is that it’s not always a given that an SEC team is going to roll over an FCS foe. Jacksonville State played Arkansas close in the season opener earlier this year and beat Ole Miss 49-48 in two overtimes to open the 2010 season. Maine defeated Mississippi State 9-7 in 2004, and although Georgia Southern didn’t win last season at Alabama, the Eagles churned out 302 rushing yards against the Crimson Tide’s vaunted defense.

2. Bowling for wins: Unless a few teams get busy here at the end of the season, the SEC’s not going to be able to fill all of its bowl tie-ins. Missouri and Ole Miss both are sitting at five wins and can become bowl eligible this weekend. Missouri gets Syracuse at home, and Ole Miss has to play at LSU. The Tigers probably need to get it done this weekend because they travel to Texas A&M the final weekend of the regular season. The Rebels close the regular season at home against Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

Arkansas and Tennessee will have to win both of their remaining two games to make it to a bowl. The Hogs have the more difficult path: They play at Mississippi State Saturday, then face LSU at home the following Friday. The Vols travel to Vanderbilt, then get Kentucky at home. The SEC has agreements to send 10 of its schools to bowls, which includes the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Even if the SEC is shut out of the Discover BCS National Championship Game this season, it still will get a second school in a BCS bowl as an at-large team.

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesAuburn's game against Alabama A&M might be Gene Chizik's final one at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
3. Coach watch: Already, Arkansas and Kentucky are looking for new coaches. John L. Smith will not be back at Arkansas after serving this season in an interim role, and Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart announced two weeks ago that Joker Phillips would not be back. Two more announcements could be coming as early as next week. Derek Dooley is on his way out at Tennessee, even though athletic director Dave Hart has not made any public statements, and Gene Chizik isn’t expected to make it at Auburn. That means Saturday’s game against Alabama A&M likely will be Chizik’s final game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Between them, Dooley and Chizik have lost 22 of their last 23 SEC games. If all four coaches are indeed gone, it would be the first time in SEC history that four coaches were either fired or pushed out in the same season.

4. Brissett steps in: After battling for the starting job all spring and preseason, Jacoby Brissett steps back in as Florida’s starting quarterback. Jeff Driskel is out of Saturday's game against Jacksonville State with an ankle sprain, and it’s not a certainty that he will be back next week for the Florida State game. Brissett came off the bench last week after Driskel was injured and helped Florida rally past Louisiana-Lafayette 27-20. Brissett, a sophomore, started the season opener against Bowling Green, but was replaced the next week by Driskel. Not as mobile as Driskel, Brissett is more of a pocket passer, although he’s attempted just 13 passes this season. He started in the LSU and Auburn games last season.

5. Defending the option: No defense looks forward to facing a triple-option offense, especially when it’s this late and you haven’t gone against that style of offense all season. But that’s the task that awaits both Georgia and South Carolina. Georgia faces Georgia Southern, which leads all FCS teams in rushing this season, averaging 401.2 yards per game, and has 42 rushing touchdowns. Wofford is second nationally among FCS teams, averaging 357.1 rushing yards per game, with 35 rushing touchdowns. Georgia coach Mark Richt said his team has practiced in full pads all week to get ready for the cut blocks they’ll see from Georgia Southern. It’s not just a one-game deal for the Bulldogs, either. They get Georgia Tech the final week of the regular season, and the Yellow Jackets also run the option.

6. Murray moving on up: With his three touchdown passes last week against Auburn, Georgia’s Aaron Murray moved into fifth place on the SEC’s career chart with 83 touchdown passes. Florida’s Danny Wuerffel holds the SEC record with 114. Murray also can become the first quarterback in SEC history to pass for 3,000 yards in three straight seasons, a feat such greats as Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Tim Couch, David Greene and Wuerffel didn’t accomplish. Murray has 2,656 yards after throwing for 3,149 last season and 3,049 in 2010 as a redshirt freshman. Counting the SEC championship game and bowl game, Murray still has four more games to reach 3,000 yards.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Derick E. HingleZach Mettenberger has played some of his best football the past two weeks, passing for 571 yards and three TDs with no picks.
7. Mettenberger comes to life: In his past two games, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger has thrown the football the way everyone expected when the season began. He’s passed for 571 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the 37-17 win over Mississippi State and the 21-17 loss to Alabama. He’s completed 66.1 percent of his passes in those two games, and even more telling, has been much more accurate on longer passes. He’s completed half of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer the past two weeks, including seven last week against Mississippi State. In his first four SEC games, Mettenberger completed just 16.7 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer.

8. Johnny Football: The nickname has become the rage around college football and so has Johnny Manziel when he's on the move. The Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback is continuing to put up monster numbers and is well on his way to securing a trip to New York City as one of the finalists for the Heisman Trophy. He’s leading the SEC in rushing with 1,014 yards, and 728 of those yards are on scrambles. That’s 51 more yards scrambling than Marcus Mariota, Denard Robinson, Braxton Miller and Collin Klein have combined. Manziel has scrambled for 31 first downs this season, including 20 on third down. Talk about a machine when it comes to moving the chains.

9. Wrapping up: Granted, it’s been hard to watch Florida on offense for much of this season. But the Gators have been rock-solid on defense. Not only are they third nationally in scoring defense and fifth in total defense, but they’re about as well-schooled as it gets when it comes to tackling. In 10 games this season, they’ve missed just 43 tackles. That’s 15 fewer than any other SEC team.

10. Stacy probable: Vanderbilt senior tailback Zac Stacy suffered a leg/knee injury last week early in the Ole Miss game and was unable to return. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has been mum about Stacy’s status Saturday against Tennessee, but Stacy practiced Wednesday, and the feeling now in the Vanderbilt camp is that he will be healthy enough to play. Stacy leads the Commodores with 769 rushing yards and has been a main cog in their offense. He’s also been tough as nails throughout his career and repeatedly has played through injuries. Getting him back in the lineup would be huge for the Commodores, although they also have a lot of confidence in backups Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow.
Vanderbilt is now one win away from becoming bowl eligible for back-to-back season for the first time in school history, as the Commodores completely dismantled Kentucky 40-0 in front of a very sparse crowd in Lexington, Ky.

Vandy (5-4, 3-3 SEC), which has now won three straight games, wasted no time punching the Wildcats in the mouth with an offensive explosion in the first half. Kentucky (1-9, 0-7) talked all week about being a more physical team on Saturday, but had absolutely no answer for a Commodores offense that scored 27 first-half points and racked up 269 yards of offense before heading into halftime.

Vanderbilt's 27-0 lead at the half is its largest over an SEC opponent since 1969 when the Commodores led Kentucky 35-0.

The Commodores were extremely balanced, churning out 227 rushing yards, with three running backs registering 11 carries or more, and quarterback Jordan Rodgers threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Receivers Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews combined to catch 11 passes for 156 yards and two scores. Zac Stacy, Brian Kimbrow and Wesley Tate each scored a rushing touchdown against a battered Kentucky defense.

For Vandy coach James Franklin, he's showing more and more just how far this Vanderbilt program has come under his watch. This team has risen out of the SEC's cellar to deliver some quality football during Franklin's two-year tenure. The offense had been looking to rediscover the spark it had for most of the season and appears to have found it during its three-game winning streak.

One more win will take this program to new heights.

While everyone is all smiles in Nashville, things are just getting worse and worse for Joker Phillips and Kentucky. The Wildcats have been ravaged by injuries and have had to play a handful of youngsters, but those youngsters just aren't getting it done on the field. They might be getting valuable experience, but a loss like this just shows how behind Kentucky is in this league.

All those empty seats inside Commonwealth Stadium say it all.

Phillips' coaching seat has been hot all year, and now there's little he can do to cool things in Lexington. This team made five straight bowls before last season, and now the Wildcats will be missing out on the postseason for the second straight year. It certainly hasn't helped that the Commodores are just getting better and better, and the Wildcats are looking up at them.

You have to expect changes at Kentucky, but how significant those changes will be is still unknown.

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