Entering Week 6 of the college football season, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Georgia running back Todd Gurley have separated themselves as the front-runners for the Heisman. This week, Pac-12 reporter Chantel Jennings and SEC reporter Edward Aschoff engage in a friendly (-ish) debate regarding the two players:

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesOregon QB Marcus Mariota is dangerous with his feet or his arm.
Jennings: Mariota is the best player in college football right now. The only thing that could derail that fact would be if his offensive line can’t keep it together and continues to put up performances like it did against Washington State, in which it allowed seven sacks. But when we come to the Mariota-Gurley Heisman talk, I’m really interested to see what your argument is, Edward. Mariota is a machine. As a quarterback, he has the highest passer efficiency rating in the nation. There are only 10 quarterbacks in the country who haven’t thrown a pick yet, and none of those signal-callers has thrown more than 10 touchdowns. Mariota has thrown 13. Then, look at his feet. He doesn’t even play running back but he still has about a third of Gurley’s rushing yardage and half the number of rushing touchdowns (Mariota: 214 yards, three touchdowns; Gurley: 610 yards, six touchdowns). Please, Ed, let’s hear your side ...

Aschoff: Listen, Mariota is a heck of a player. I think he's hands down the best quarterback in the country and should be the first quarterback taken in next year's NFL draft. With that said, he's no Gurley. He's a machine, yes, but he's more of a Prius compared to the Cadillac Escalade with a V-8 that Gurley is. The scary thing about Georgia's junior running back is that he's slimmed down yet he looks bigger. He's faster and more agile yet he's stronger. Gurley can bowl his opponents over, sprint to the outside and take a run to the house, or he can leave defenders dizzy with his elusiveness. Gurley has 610 rushing yards, but he should have even more. His coaches limited him to just six carries against Troy (73 yards), and the argument could be made that his 28 carries (career-high 208 yards) against Tennessee on Saturday weren't enough. Oh, and did I mention that this tank of a human being is averaging a gaudy 8.8 yards per carry and that out of his 69 carries this season he has just 11 lost yards? Take Gurley off Georgia's team and the Bulldogs aren't 1-1 in SEC play. You really think Mariota is better than that? He's flashier than that? Come on.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Georgia
David Goldman/AP ImagesGeorgia RB Todd Gurley has a rare blend of speed and power.
Jennings: First off, most people in the Pacific Northwest would rather be a Prius than an Escalade. Sure, an Escalade might look fancier and be in more music videos, but at the end of the day, don't you want the vehicle that doesn't require maintenance every other month? The vehicle that doesn't need to stop every 40 miles to fill up the tank? A vehicle that so many other vehicles of the future are going to be based on?

Anyway, back to the nitty-gritty, which is yes, when it comes to the facts, Mariota is better than that. His pass attempt-to-touchdown ratio is the best in the country: every 7.4 times the ball leaves his hands, it's ending up in the end zone. OK, fine. Gurley doesn't pass the ball. Let's talk about running again. Every 11.5 carries, Gurley ends up in the end zone. Guess what? Every 11 carries, Mariota finds his way there. He has the highest completion percentage of any quarterback in the country. And he has already led his team to a victory over a top-10 team this season. Everyone can agree a Prius is more efficient than an Escalade, and in football, it's good to be efficient. That's exactly what Mariota is.

Aschoff: I see what you did there with the Prius and the Escalade. But if I need someone to bust through a brick wall and grind out that extra yard -- or three -- I'm handing it off to that environment-destroying driving machine. While we're talking about rushing, which is Gurley's specialty, he's already had 19 runs of 10 or more yards in just four games. If you're keeping score at home, that's 4.8 of those runs per game. Two of those runs went for 51 yards. What has Mariota done? He has 11 of those runs and hasn't even touched a 50-yard scamper yet. And it should be noted that Gurley is excellent when he takes contact. It seems to make him better. He drags defenders with him like Linus drags his blanket. Heading into last week, he was the only player in the country to average more than 100 yards after contact in multiple games (102 vs. Clemson and South Carolina). In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society, Gurley was incredible against an improved Tennessee team. He ran for a career-high 208 yards (and now he has 16 career 100-yard rushing games), had two touchdowns, registered 30 receiving yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. How good was he? Well, Tennessee had so little confidence in its defense stopping him late in the game that it attempted an onside kick with two minutes left and three timeouts remaining in order to try to keep the ball away from him. All Gurley did after that was run the clock out with 26 rushing yards on six carries.

But hey, that Mariota performance over Washington State was cool and all ...

Jennings: You're right. I'll give you that. Washington State might not be better than a 2-2 Tennessee team that has already given up 4.4 yards per rush this season (cough, cough, No. 81 in the nation in that category). But it's not fair to look at the most recent performance since the slates are so different. Let's look at both players' best wins so far. Gurley's was against Clemson in the season opener, no? He carried the ball 15 times, scored thrice and accounted for 198 rushing yards and minus-5 receiving yards. That's cool. Mariota's best win was Week 2 against Michigan State, a game in which he threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns and added nine rushes for 42 yards. Michigan State is one of the best defenses in the country. Clemson isn't even one of the top three in the ACC. Now, I know I was an English major and all, but 360 yards of total offense plus three touchdowns is still bigger than 193 yards of total offense and three touchdowns, right?

Aschoff: That Michigan State (still the Big Ten, though) win was huge, and Mariota was great. I'll give that to you. And Clemson, well, #Clemsoning took over a couple of weeks ago. But don't sleep on what Gurley did against Tennessee and South Carolina. The numbers aren't exactly helping the Gamecocks, but that was a great game, and Gurley did everything he could have ... when his coach wasn't throwing the ball on first-and-goal from the 4-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Gurley averaged 6.6 yards per carry in that game, on the road. Before Gurley faced Tennessee, the Vols were allowing 3.9 yards per carry. Then Gurley went all Gurley on the Vols.

Both of these players are great, and you have a chance to win any game with either. I want the bulldozer in the backfield who can grind out yards or take it to the house. The good thing is that this debate should rage on because they'll have plenty of opportunities to make us both look good going forward.
What a weekend ahead in the SEC. There are some premier games pitting ranked teams against each other and others featuring teams with plenty to prove in college football’s premier conference. In our SEC roundtable yesterday, we tackled games we’d pay to see.

Today, we pose the question: Which team has the most to prove Saturday? Our SEC writers take a swing at answering it.

Edward Aschoff: It has to be Florida. If the Gators are going to have any chance in the SEC East race, they have to win this weekend in Knoxville. Also, I think it’s pretty clear this is a must-win for coach Will Muschamp. Is this a team that can legitimately compete in the SEC? We didn’t see it two weeks ago against Alabama, and we honestly don’t know what to expect from the Gators this season. Can Jeff Driskel properly direct this offense? Can the secondary stop blowing assignments? Do the Gators have any mettle? We’ll find out Saturday.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
AP Photo/John BazemoreWith ESPN's "College GameDay" in Oxford, Mississippi, this weekend, Ole Miss certainly has the stage to prove itself against Alabama.
Alex Scarborough: Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M are all undefeated. They have something to prove, certainly, but they’re not staring down the barrel of a shotgun. That would be LSU. The Tigers have everything to prove. We’ll find out against Auburn whether LSU can get back on track or whether this is a rebuilding year. It certainly looked like the latter against Mississippi State. Anthony Jennings played so poorly against New Mexico State that he was replaced by Brandon Harris. Is he the answer? When will the Leonard Fournette we all expected show up? For that matter, when will that swarming, physical LSU defense return? Will the real LSU please stand up?

Jeff Barlis: It'd be easy to pick Ole Miss, but my gut says Mississippi State has more to prove. The Rebels have been a trendy pick as a team on the rise for a while now. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, didn't get voted into the Top 25 until they ended a 23-year losing streak to LSU in Baton Rouge. That was also MSU's first win against a ranked team in its past 16 tries. Expectations haven't been this high in Starkville in a long time. But in order to truly contend for the SEC West, the Bulldogs will have to knock off Texas A&M.

David Ching: There are two ways of looking at this one. On one hand, I want to go with Ole Miss because it’s in unfamiliar territory. The Rebels are rarely good enough for “GameDay” to consider visiting. They’re 2-7 against ranked opponents under Hugh Freeze. I think they’re a good team, but they must prove they’re legitimate. Beating Alabama would be a great start. On the other hand, LSU embarrassed itself against Mississippi State. The Tigers need to prove they’re worthy of a No. 15 ranking, not to mention consideration among the contenders in the West. They desperately need to beat Auburn.

Sam Khan: It’s definitely Ole Miss, for many of the reasons David stated. This is the Rebels’ moment: “College GameDay” in the Grove, Alabama coming to Vaught-Hemingway, a chance to finally prove they are ready to take the next step. The past season, when these teams met and many thought the Rebels would give Alabama trouble, they were shut out. If they’re truly going to contend in the SEC West, this is a game in which the Rebels have to thrive. Plus, this isn’t just about them; it’s also about the balance of power this year in the state of Mississippi. Over in Starkville, a rising rival, Mississippi State, is also undefeated and ranked, has a road win at LSU under its belt and will try to knock off No. 6 Texas A&M. If the Bulldogs can, the Rebels -- who seemed to have the momentum at this time a year ago -- have to keep up.

Greg Ostendorf: It feels like Texas A&M lost this past weekend. Despite a thrilling come-from-behind victory against an improved Arkansas team, everybody is all of a sudden counting the Aggies out. They dropped to No. 3 in this week’s power rankings. They’re underdogs against Mississippi State. Did we all forget how good they looked in the season opener? The past year’s Auburn team didn’t exactly blow out every opponent, and yet they won the conference. I think it’s important for Texas A&M to get back on track this week and play like the team we saw earlier in the season, the team everybody had as a shoo-in for the playoff.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 30, 2014
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There was a ton of big recruiting news from around the Southeastern Conference this weekend. Several top prospects made their verbal commitments, Georgia flipped an FSU commit, and Missouri -- despite its big win against South Carolina on Saturday -- lost a commitment. Here is a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the conference.

SEC West: Matchups to watch

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAmari Cooper will match up against an stingy Ole Miss pass defense.

The SEC West has been dominant in the first month of the season. Consider these stats:
  • The SEC West is 25-0 against teams not in the SEC West and is winning those games by an average margin of 34.1 points.
  • Six of the top 15 teams in The Associated Press poll hail from the SEC West, which is more than the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC have in the top 15 combined.
  • All seven teams from the SEC West rank in the top 20 of the Football Power Index, including the top three teams in the rankings: Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn.
  • The SEC West has five undefeated teams, which is two more than any other conference in the FBS (Pac-12 and Big 12 each has three).

Given the quality of the division, it’s no surprise that six of the 10 toughest remaining schedules belong to teams in the SEC West.

This week will be the first real conference test for many of the SEC West’s top teams. Perhaps the top three games of the weekend – Alabama at Ole Miss, Texas A&M at Mississippi State and LSU at Auburn – involve two SEC West teams. Below is one matchup to watch in each of these games.

Alabama at Ole Miss
Matchup to Watch: Amari Cooper vs Ole Miss pass defense
Amari Cooper is averaging an FBS-high 163.8 receiving yards per game and has the longest active streak of 100-yard receiving games in the nation (six). Ole Miss, on the other hand, is allowing 133.5 passing yards per game and has not allowed a receiver to crack the 100-yard mark this season.

Cooper has accounted for 49 percent of Alabama’s receiving yards and has 41 more targets than any other Alabama receiver. He has more yards after the catch (320) and receptions of 20 yards or longer (10) than Ole Miss has allowed in four games this year.

The Rebels must limit Cooper downfield, after the catch and on third down. Blake Sims is 9-of-10 with seven first downs when targeting Cooper on third down, which is a big reason Sims leads the nation in third-down QBR.

Ole Miss leads the SEC in most major passing categories on defense and has eight more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed, the highest margin in the country. To continue this success, the Rebels must contain Cooper, who statistically has been the best wide receiver in the nation this season.

Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Matchup to Watch: Texas A&M receivers vs Mississippi State secondary
Texas A&M is averaging more than 400 passing yards per game and has an FBS-high 27 completions of 20 yards or longer this season. It will face a Mississippi State defense that has allowed the most passing yards per game in the SEC and has had trouble stopping big passing plays.

Saturday, the Bulldogs will need to limit Texas A&M’s receivers after the catch. The Aggies have 340 more yards after the catch than any other SEC team and are averaging eight yards after the catch per reception (fourth in SEC).

Determining which receiver to try to shut down may be a challenge. The Aggies have seven receivers with at least 100 receiving yards this season (tied for second-most in the FBS) and have an FBS-high nine players with a receiving touchdown.

LSU at Auburn
Matchup to Watch: Auburn’s run game vs LSU run defense
Since Gus Malzahn took over as head coach, Auburn has run on 69 percent of its plays and ranks third in the FBS in rushing yards per game, behind two triple-option offenses. Auburn is 13-0 in the last two seasons when it runs for at least 250 yards and 3-2 when it does not.

One of those losses came at LSU last season, when Auburn was limited to 213 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per rush. LSU forced Auburn to pass on 40 percent of its plays, Auburn’s second-highest percentage in a game last season.

Without DT Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, however, LSU has not been the same rushing defense as the one the slowed Auburn in 2013. The LSU Tigers are allowing the third-most rushing yards per game in the SEC and have allowed two opponents to rush for at least 250 yards. They did not allow any team to reach that mark in 2013.

LSU has allowed the sixth-most rushing yards in the nation to opposing quarterbacks, which is not a good sign considering Nick Marshall ranks third among active quarterbacks with 1,341 rushing yards since the start of last season. Nonetheless, if LSU can follow the blueprint that it set in 2013 - and Kansas State followed in 2014 - by limiting Auburn’s run game and forcing Marshall to pass, it might hand Auburn its first loss of the season for a second straight year.

Week 6 playoff implications

September, 30, 2014
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Claim your spot on the couch now. Reserve your table at your favorite sports bar. Buy another TV. Do whatever you gotta do to make sure you don't miss a snap Saturday because this is going to be a good one.

College football has been a well-kept secret so far, as it has been hiding the true identities of teams. Not this week. It's time to play or go home. There are six games between ranked teams. Of the 17 undefeated teams remaining, eight play against each other this week. It's the most relevant weekend the sport has had in regard to the new College Football Playoff.

Here are the games you can't miss, ranked from least to most likely to affect the playoff:

No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame -- Stanford already has one loss, and this is the second straight road trip for the Cardinal. If Stanford loses again, its playoff hopes will be in serious jeopardy but not over, given that it could still win the conference. This game should reveal more about Notre Dame's place in the playoff, as it will be the first ranked opponent for the Irish.

No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 25 TCU -- ESPN's Football Power Index gives Oklahoma a 64 percent chance to win and predicts this to be Oklahoma's hardest remaining game -- slightly more difficult than Nov. 8 against Baylor. If the Sooners can't handle TCU, they'll be on the outside looking in.

No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn -- LSU gave Auburn its only regular-season loss the past year, but LSU has already lost to Mississippi State, which put the Tigers behind in the SEC West race. Considering the rest of LSU's schedule -- and the hole it's already in -- this is a must-win. For Auburn, this is a chance to erase some doubts and make a push from the bubble into the top four.

No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi State -- Two terrific quarterbacks will be on display in the Aggies' Kenny Hill and the Bulldogs' Dak Prescott, who both rank in the top 10 in total QBR. A&M's stock dropped a bit this past week after it needed overtime to beat Arkansas, but it could be a top-four team if it can survive the state of Mississippi the next two weeks.

No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss -- This is the most interesting matchup of the day. Alabama ranks third in offensive efficiency, and Ole Miss ranks second in defensive efficiency. Neither team has played a ranked opponent, so there is still some margin for error, but the Tide have a chance to separate from the crowded West.

No. 19 Nebraska at No. 10 Michigan State -- Surprise. The game with the biggest playoff implications is not in the SEC West. This Big Ten matchup could knock Sparty out of the playoff entirely. It's one thing to lose to Oregon; it's another to try to make the four-team playoff with two losses and your best win coming over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Conversely, a win in East Lansing could vault the Huskers into the playoff conversation. They're the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten, and the toughest game left on their schedule is against No. 17 Wisconsin. If Nebraska pulls off the upset, it's time to take it seriously as a playoff team.

Planning for success: Tennessee

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ESPN’s Paul Finebaum nailed it in 140 characters or less when he tweeted compliments to Tennessee for its moral victories against Oklahoma and Georgia, but added that his alma mater’s football team now must justify the hype building in Knoxville.

.

That starts with a win Saturday against Florida (2-1, 1-1 SEC) -- a program that has defeated the Volunteers (2-2, 0-1) nine straight years and in 17 out of the past 21 meetings.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones wouldn’t categorize those two road losses -- 34-10 at No. 4 Oklahoma and 35-32 this past weekend against No. 13 Georgia -- as moral victories. Not publicly anyway. That is what a loser would do, and he clearly doesn’t think that way.

"Every individual in this organization believed that we were going to win," Jones said after the Georgia game. "I am proud of them, but we have to continue to learn from this and then move on. We are going to be a good football team and we are going to win a lot of football games."

As of now, Jones’ record at Tennessee might show that he is a loser (the Vols are 7-9 overall and 2-7 in SEC play since he arrived last season), but nobody who has watched Jones’ young team play would expect that trend to continue for long. Despite playing 22 true freshmen, the most of any FBS program in 2014, Tennessee hung with Oklahoma for most of that game and very easily could have defeated Georgia on Saturday. Considering how well Jones’ staff has recruited lately, the Vols look like a sure bet to rank among the favorites in the SEC East in the near future.

Heck, they might even contend this season, but it has to start with a win against the Gators on Saturday. Will Muschamp’s Florida team spent an entire offseason stewing over a humiliating 4-8 record last fall, and things don’t seem much more pleasant right now after Alabama dominated the Gators prior to last Saturday’s open date.

[+] EnlargeJustin Worley
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsA victory against rival Florida would be an important step for QB Justin Worley and the young Volunteers.
The Gators are ripe for the picking, and Saturday’s game at Neyland Stadium provides a tremendous opportunity for Jones’ program to end its losing streak in what once ranked among the SEC’s top rivalry games. It is relegated to a noon time slot this season while SEC West showdowns dominate the headlines, which indicates one thing: neither program is winning consistently enough.

Jones used last season’s 23-21 upset of South Carolina as evidence that things were moving in the right direction in his first season in Knoxville. That is his only win in nine tries against ranked Tennessee opponents, however. Eventually, showing progress -- but still losing -- against rivals or ranked opponents gets old. That is why Jones’ club needs to end its slide against Florida now, just as Finebaum noted.

Justin Worley has performed well at quarterback and delivered a memorable performance during a comeback effort against Georgia after leaving the game with an elbow injury. Jalen Hurd is a future superstar at tailback. The Vols’ receiving corps is loaded with size and talent.

The offensive and defensive lines face steep experience gaps against most opponents, but their on-the-job training will eventually pay off. And the Vols actually rank second nationally in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 23.3 percent of the time.

There is a lot to like about what is happening at Tennessee, especially if the Vols reach the postseason for the first time since 2010. However, playing in a bowl game becomes a much greater challenge if the Vols fall to 2-3 on Saturday. They still must play Alabama and Ole Miss from the SEC West, along with remaining division games against South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. The only non-division gimme left on the schedule is an Oct. 11 date with Chattanooga.

In other words, now is the time, Vols, if you want to show that the "Brick by Brick" stuff that Jones preaches is actually leading toward something meaningful.

This is a beatable Florida team. Tennessee fans could make a reasonable argument that their team is playing better football this season, and this is the Vols’ chance to prove it. Another moral victory won’t be enough this Saturday.

SEC morning links

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1. Alabama's players wouldn't bite. When asked about Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt's comments -- "We don't really think Bama is as good as they have been" -- none of the four Crimson Tide players interviewed Monday said anything noteworthy in response. After all, what did you expect? This is Alabama we're talking about. Landon Collins had fans forward him a link to the bulletin board material, but he wasn't about to lob any shots in return. "We're definitely going to give them our best game and see who comes out with the W," Alabama's star safety explained. If he had gone any further, Nick Saban would have had his head. And, frankly, there was no reason to fan the flames. Neither team is what it has been. Blake Sims has played well, but he's no AJ McCarron. C.J. Mosley ain't walking through that door. This isn't your daddy's Ole Miss, either. Prewitt and that secondary are tenacious. The front seven can get after it. As Saban said, "This is the best team we've played all year." If anything, Prewitt's slight jab was just what we needed to set the week off right.

2. I'll admit it: we were a little myopic on the SEC Blog Monday. In a roundtable discussion, our writers were asked to pick their game of the week. The options: Alabama-Ole Miss, Texas A&M-Mississippi State and LSU-Auburn. The reason? Well, it's obvious, seeing as all three games have College Football Playoff implications. But to make sure we cover all our bases, it felt like we ought to make note of the other games on the SEC slate. No, Vanderbilt-Georgia doesn't hold much intrigue. We can skip that. But you could argue that Florida-Tennessee and South Carolina-Kentucky mean something. For the Gators, this feels like a must win. Jeff Driskel needs to crawl out of the hole he's dug for himself, and his coach, Will Muschamp, needs a W to keep his job. The Vols, meanwhile, have to say enough is enough with moral victories and finally close out a big game. And in the case of South Carolina-Kentucky, you're looking at two teams heading in opposite directions. The Gamecocks fell all over themselves yet again Saturday, blowing a late lead against Missouri. Kentucky, on the other hand, broke its winless streak in the SEC by beating Vandy. The Wildcats may be young, but they're dangerous. With a deep group of tailbacks, Bud Dupree and Za'Darious Smith rushing off the edge, and A.J. Stamps making plays in the secondary, South Carolina and the rest of the East better watch out.

3. Not to end our morning jaunt on a sour note, but I was struck by news Monday of the Indianapolis Colts releasing Da'Rick Rogers. I shouldn't be surprised, I know. This is par for the course with Rogers, after all. But once again I was reminded of what a waste of potential the former Tennessee receiver was. To this day I remember seeing him play at Calhoun High in Georgia. He's the best high school player I've ever witnessed in person. Sadly, on the list of all-time SEC talents that never amounted to much, Rogers is right up there with names like Ryan Perrilloux, Mitch Mustain and B.J. Scott. Rogers was everything you wanted in a receiver: tall, physical, explosive. Even in the NFL he flashed All-Pro talent. But something never clicked for him. Maybe there's still time, but not likely. If anything, his story is a cautionary tale for any four- or five-star prospect who thinks talent alone can get the job done.

Florida must start finding some answers

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After barely escaping Kentucky's upset bid in Game 2, Florida coach Will Muschamp said his team's problems were correctable.

That tune changed after the Gators were blown out by Alabama the following week. During the bye week UF went back to the drawing board and back to basics with some training camp-like practices to address fundamentals.

Make no mistake, time is running out for Florida to show the progress that is expected after its 4-8 season in 2013.

Here's what's wrong and how to fix it.

Subpar quarterback play
[+] EnlargeTreon Harris
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SportswireThe Gators could look to freshman backup QB Treon Harris to spark the offense.
The problem: Patience is running thin with fourth-year junior Jeff Driskel. He has consistently failed in the passing game, whether it's reading defenses or giving his receivers a chance on deep throws.
The solution: No one should think true freshman backup Treon Harris, a teenager who has thrown all of two passes in his short career, is ready to replace Driskel as the starter. But a two-quarterback system is Florida's best chance at minimizing the damage that comes with Driskel's shortcomings. It should also be noted that Harris' two passes were completed for long touchdowns. He offers more accuracy and better vision. It's up to Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to develop Harris now, because he'll be needed this season.

Push from the offensive line
The problem: After giving up 66 sacks the past two years, Florida's offensive line has shown improvement in pass protection (just two sacks allowed this season). But the Gators need more from their retooled offensive line, which is benefiting from a new scheme that has the ball coming out quicker in the passing game. Florida ran for big yardage against Eastern Michigan and Kentucky but was held to 107 yards by Alabama. In order for the Gators to win games without putting too much in the shaky hands of the quarterback, the running game must step up.
The solution: The pieces are there. Senior guard Trenton Brown, a juco transfer, has improved significantly in his second season at UF and is a road-grader at 6-foot-8, 344 pounds. Redshirt freshman right tackle Roderick Johnson has been one of the Gators' biggest surprises, playing very well in two starts when left tackle D.J. Humphries was hurt. Even with Humphries expected back for the Tennessee game, Johnson should stay in the starting lineup. Moving senior tackle Chaz Green to guard would improve Florida's starting lineup and its bench.

Lack of a pass rush
The problem: The Gators have struggled to pressure quarterbacks ever since tackle Dominique Easley was hurt early last season. But with a year to improve and one truly dangerous edge-rusher in Dante Fowler Jr. to play off of, Florida should be able to muster more than two sacks a game. What's worse, the inability to consistently generate a pass rush has exposed Florida's young secondary to big plays.
The solution: The Gators have gotten almost nothing from their defensive tackles, which means Muschamp is likely to move junior end Jonathan Bullard inside more often. Bullard at least has the quickness to make a play or two. At the other end position, Florida must utilize third-year sophomore Alex McCalister, who had the team's only sack against Alabama. Senior OLB Neiron Ball has also shown some ability to get around offensive tackles. Overall, it doesn't look like there are enough pass-rushers emerging this season, so Muschamp will have to get creative with his blitz packages. It's more risky, but nothing is worse than giving a quarterback time to pick apart your secondary.

Gaping holes in the secondary
The problem: After the last three seasons of defense under Muschamp, this year's drop-off has been stunning. Busted assignments, lack of communication, missed tackles and poor coverage have led to a plethora of big plays by UF opponents. Florida saw all four of its starters in the defensive backfield depart after last season and lost both of its starting safeties to the NFL the season before that. There's no doubt a lot of the errors this season can be chalked up to youth. But aside from stalwart corner Vernon Hargreaves III, the Gators' few veterans are also making big mistakes.
The solution: Play the young guys. If the experienced players keep making mistakes, there's nothing to lose. Muschamp said as much last week: "What you’re doing is not working so you might as well try somebody else. That’s where I am right now." The Gators have some very talented true freshmen. Five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor and four-star DB Duke Dawson had the benefit of enrolling in January and participating in spring practice. Along with four-star DB Quincy Wilson, Florida has options. More playing time will only help speed their development.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Like many Georgia fans spoiled by the numbers and excitement former quarterback Aaron Murray generated during his illustrious Bulldogs career, quarterback Hutson Mason isn’t thrilled with the lack of a downfield passing presence within Georgia’s offense right now.

Four games into the 2014 season, Georgia’s passing game has been a shell of its former high-flying self, as Mason has yet to throw for 200 yards in a game and his longest pass has gone just 36 yards.

The good news is that the Bulldogs have just one loss and are a top-15 team, but Mason understands that this trend of a limited passing game can’t continue if the Dawgs want to make a run at the SEC title.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsShots downfield have been minimal this season for QB Hutson Mason and Georgia.
“We just gotta get better in the passing game all around,” Mason said. “From me to everybody else, we gotta get better.

“I’ll never apologize for winning a ball game. We did what we needed to do, but I will say we need to get better, I need to get better in the passing game.”

But when he was asked what it’s going to take for the passing game to improve, Mason admitted that’s the “million-dollar question.”

“Man, I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “We’ll go back to work; I’ll go back to work. I’ll learn from my mistakes and all I can do is just keep trusting my protection.”

More importantly, Mason added, he needs to develop more chemistry and trust in his receivers. That right there is a major part of the passing game’s struggles. With Malcolm Mitchell nursing a knee injury and Justin Scott-Wesley dealing with an early-season suspension, Georgia’s receiving corps lost some valuable depth during the first month of the season.

Veterans Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, who have combined for 25 catches and 298 yards with two touchdowns, could be gassed from so many practice reps, and youngsters, like Isaiah McKenzie and Reggie Davis are still learning.

Now, freshman running back Sony Michel, who has been exceptional in the passing game thus far, is out for a while with a shoulder injury.

While defenses have taken away the deep ball at times this season, Mason said there have been plenty of miscues, especially in the Tennessee game, by the offense. The biggest has come in the form of miscommunication between Mason and his receivers, he said. There were a few times last Saturday where receivers ran the wrong routes or didn’t hit their marks on routes. Some guys didn’t even turn around at the right time for certain passes.

Because of that, there’s been some trust lost between Mason and his receivers, especially when it comes to deeper throws. And while Mason admitted he’s been off on a few passes this season, the playbook has been limited because timing with this group of receivers hasn’t been as crisp as it needs to be.

“The more confident we get in each other, the more confidence I get in my guys, the more confidence we give [offensive coordinator] Coach [Mike] Bobo to call plays down the field, the better we’ll get,” Mason said. “That’s where it starts is execution, and right now we’re not executing so it’s hard for everybody to have full confidence in each other when you’re not executing it.”

Head coach Mark Richt said last Saturday that he hopes Mitchell and Scott-Wesley will return to practice this week. He also hopes to get senior Jonathon Rumph (hamstring) back soon, too. So help is coming, which should help open things up and should get some rhythm back in this passing game.

However, with the health of Mitchell and Rumph not a guarantee going forward, Mason and his receivers have to jell better. Mason said the passing game starts with him, and he hasn’t shied away from some of his shortcomings this season, but he also understands that the guys who need to catch the ball have to help out more, too.

“When you’re in there, you gotta execute,” he said. “There’s really no excuse. It’s my job to trust it, and if I don’t trust it then it’s not gonna work. That trust starts with you gotta execute it and you gotta make the plays. The more plays you make, the more trust Coach Bobo will have in throwing the ball down the field … and the more I’ll have trust in my guys.”
Quan Bray Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsQuan Bray scored half of the Tigers' six touchdowns against Louisiana Tech.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Before the season, Gus Malzahn talked to his team about the seniors and how this is their year, their last opportunity before their time at Auburn comes to an end. He asked all of his seniors to simply play the best they have ever played before.

Quan Bray took that message to heart.

"My coaches look at me as a leader," he said. "I'm a vet. I've been here a long time. Coach Malzahn said at the beginning of the year that our seniors are going to need to step up and play big. We took the challenge, and we're trying to do just that."

The senior wide receiver had a career game Saturday, finishing with three catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-17 win over Louisiana Tech. He added a third score on a 76-yard punt return, his second return touchdown of the season, and he currently leads the nation with 36.8-yard average on his five punt returns through the first four games.

Has Bray ever had a game like that, at any level?

"Probably high school," he said. "Everybody probably had games like that in high school because you were probably the best player on your team and this and that, but from what I've been through and the things that we've been doing, the hard work is really paying off.

"It had to be my senior year, but it doesn't take nothing but a year for us to be successful."

A year is all that he has left, but Bray is making the most of it. He had as many touchdowns Saturday as he had his first three seasons at Auburn, and he's well on his way to setting a new career high for receiving yards in a season.

Nobody was happier to see him break though than this fellow seniors, who have been with him every step of the way.

"Any time a guy has a day like he did, you've just got to be excited for him," center Reese Dismukes said. "We're close with all the guys on the team, and the seniors -- we've been here for a while -- and you're happy for one of your guys you came in with."

"It's a great feeling," added running back Corey Grant. "He's been working his butt off and been though a lot. To see him come out and to see all that hard work pay off, it kind of motivates me and it just excites me."

This is a senior-laden team at Auburn. From quarterback Nick Marshall to Saturday's captains Dismukes and Gabe Wright, there are 14 seniors listed on the two-deep depth chart which didn't include safety Jermaine Whitehead.

If the Tigers want to repeat as SEC champions, it's up to them.

"It's like we got a bond," Bray said. "From when we first connected, it was like we're going to grind together, we're going to leave here together, we're going to graduate together and we're going to try to win most all of our games. We're going to try to win a national championship.

"That was our goal -- to win a national championship. We fell a little short [last year], but we still got this year to finish it off."

Auburn will need that senior leadership the rest of the way as six of its final eight games are against teams currently ranked in the top 15, beginning with Saturday's game against No. 15 LSU, a team that most of the seniors, Bray included, have never beaten.

Arkansas striding toward SEC relevance

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The stage was set for Arkansas to make a significant statement to the rest of the SEC West.

Once possessing a two-touchdown, second-half lead and on the verge of making it three touchdowns, the Razorbacks gave No. 6 Texas A&M all it could handle on Saturday at AT&T Stadium. They had the Aggies on the ropes; all they needed was one decisive knockout blow.

They couldn’t land it. As a result, the Razorbacks (3-2, 0-2 SEC) remain on the hunt for their first league win since 2012.

“When you got your foot on somebody’s throat, keep on it,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said after his team’s 35-28 overtime loss to Texas A&M. “I think we need to have that killer mentality, to put that thing away.”

[+] EnlargeJonathan Williams
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJonathan Williams and the Hogs face six ranked foes in their final seven games, but their recent play has put all opponents on notice.
Despite the loss, Arkansas continues to take big steps forward. Bielema’s first year in Fayetteville was lined with struggles as the Razorbacks finished 3-9. This season they’ve already matched that win total and their two losses have come to teams ranked in the top six nationally (Auburn and Texas A&M).

In their season opener against Auburn, they went toe-to-toe with the Tigers for a half before Auburn broke the game open in the third quarter. On Saturday, the Razorbacks looked even better -- and probably should have won, considering how they controlled the game in the first three quarters.

“For whatever reason, we weren't able to have the success we wanted to in the end here,” Bielema said. “But there are a lot of positive steps. But I didn't fly to Dallas to make a positive step. I came here to win, and I think our players did, and to get that close and to not have it, it's a critical week for us.”

That’s the kind of mentality that has to be fostered if the Razorbacks are going to start closing these types of games out. The SEC West is unapologetically difficult. Arkansas’ schedule is brutal down the stretch after their open date this week. Alabama is waiting on the other side of it. So are dates with Georgia, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss and Missouri.

What’s clear is the Hogs have a system and a style they believe in and they continue to improve while staying true to both. Bielema has a well-documented history of success with his teams playing this physical, old-school style, and the seeds are being planted for future success in Fayetteville now. There is quality on both the offensive and defensive lines and that’s where everything starts. Their running back tandem of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams is a challenge for any team to deal with.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin argued leading up to Saturday's game that Arkansas should have been considered to be a top-25 team. The Razorbacks validated that opinion for much of the day, and it's clear Arkansas is moving closer to being a real factor in the SEC.

The disconnect came late for the Razorbacks, who couldn’t close things out Saturday. By leaving the door creaked open slightly, the Aggies burst right through it, scoring a come-from-behind win, something they’re quite used to. The Aggies have learned how to finish tight games in their still-young SEC tenure. The Razorbacks, in their second season under Bielema, are still learning how to close games out against good teams in crunch time, perhaps signaling the difference between where the two programs are currently.

The Razorbacks were on the losing end of an SEC game for the 14th consecutive time because of critical mistakes that prevented them from building an even bigger lead than the 14-point advantage they once held Saturday.

In the first quarter, Arkansas fumbled a center-snap exchange in Texas A&M territory that killed a drive. In the second, a 34-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Allen to Hunter Henry was wiped off the board thanks to a holding penalty by left tackle Dan Skipper. In the fourth, a 56-yard run by Williams all the way to the Texas A&M 2-yard line was also revoked because of a tripping call on Skipper. If not for the penalty, Arkansas would have had a prime opportunity for a 21-point lead.

“It comes down to playing clean and not doing anything to hurt ourselves,” Allen said. “That’s what it came down to [Saturday]. Anytime you get those big plays called back on something you’re doing to yourself, it’s tough to win.”

Bielema and everyone in that locker room knew that minus those mistakes, things could have been different. Even so, the Razorbacks had their chance to finish late, missing a field goal, breaking down on defense and not getting a first down in overtime. They couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities. The Aggies made them pay for it as a result.

What's clear though, is that the necessary steps are being taken in Fayetteville, but growth doesn't come without growing pains. Saturday was evidence of both for Arkansas.

“There's a lot of really good things coming,” Bielema said. “This could be a very exciting time ahead of us.”
Alabama is the No. 1 team in the country, at least according to the latest coaches' poll.

[+] EnlargeSaban
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsNick Saban and the Crimson Tide will play at the No. 11-ranked Ole Miss Rebels in Week 6.
Through four games, Nick Saban's Crimson Tide have done nothing to not deserve their spot atop the college football world.

Forget Jake Coker and forget being a game manager, Blake Sims has developed into one of the SEC's best quarterbacks. The hiring of Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator hasn't signaled the end times, it's brought about a renaissance replete with screen passes, misdirection and even the use of the hurry-up, no-huddle.

After fumbling about against West Virginia in the season opener, Alabama's defense has returned to form. If it weren't for four turnovers, Florida wouldn't have scored a single point in Tuscaloosa two weeks ago. Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart made the Gators look inept as Jeff Driskel struggled to complete 9 of his 28 pass attempts.

Alabama has developed into a complete football team these past few weeks. Even the punting and place kicking have been better than expected.

But now comes the real fun.

Now comes Ole Miss.

Whatever we think we know about Alabama will be challenged Saturday when the Crimson Tide have their first true road test against the No. 11-ranked team in the country. Oxford, Mississippi, may be a picturesque college town that prides itself on never losing the party, but what awaits Alabama inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium won't be so friendly. Bo Wallace, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche want to knock off the No. 1 team in the land, not serve it sweet tea and barbecue.

How will Sims hold up under that type of pressure? He's played well so far, tossing eight touchdowns to two interceptions. Among quarterbacks with at least two starts, he ranks third nationally with an adjusted QBR of 89.4. But he hasn't played in a raucous road environment yet, and he hasn't faced a defense that's as good top to bottom as Ole Miss'. The Nkemdiche brothers can get after you. So can C.J. Johnson and D.T. Shackelford. And if you try throwing into that secondary, don't expect the ball back. Senquez Golson leads the SEC with three interceptions this season and Cody Prewitt led the league with six picks last season.

Speaking of defense, what do we really know about Alabama's? The Crimson Tide barely survived West Virginia Week 1, and in subsequent games they haven't really been put to the test. Florida was supposed to be a measuring stick, but we saw how that played out.

Ole Miss, on the other hand, should give Alabama everything it can handle. Wallace may be up and down as a passer, but when he's hot, he can really sling it. He's elusive in the pocket and knows Hugh Freeze's offense like the back of his hand. Plus, he's protected by an offensive line that stars one of the best tackles in the SEC in Laremy Tunsil.

Alabama's secondary won't be able to sleepwalk by the Rebs. Treadwell is one of the most productive receivers in the country and Evan Engram is a constant mismatch at tight end. And that's not to mention Cody Core and Vince Sanders, who are difficult to account for in their own right. If you're Saban, you're worried because your top cornerback is generously listed at 5-foot-10, your second-best cornerback, Eddie Jackson, has health concerns, and your third-best cornerback, Tony Brown, is a true freshman.

And all that goes without saying how Alabama has continued to struggle against the hurry-up, no-huddle. Go back and look at Texas A&M, Auburn, Oklahoma and West Virginia; it hasn't been pretty.

Meanwhile, Freeze just so happens to be one of the leading experts on uptempo offense. And unlike last season's game, he's probably going to make sure his signals aren't so obvious.

If Alabama wants to remain the No. 1 team in the country, it will have to prove it against Ole Miss.

From the play of Sims to the offensive line to the secondary to the defense as a whole, there won't be one phase of the game where the Crimson Tide won't be tested on Saturday.

At first glance: SEC Week 6

September, 29, 2014
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Finally we've reached the heart of the SEC schedule where nonconference blowouts are a thing of the past. No more directional schools, this week it's nothing but mano-a-mano conference battles.

We're going to start separating the pretenders from the contenders, as division races heat up. It's time to find out a whole lot more about the powerful SEC West, where a whopping six top 15 teams square off. Buckle up!

Game of the week: Alabama at Ole Miss
The No. 3 Tide still have the best chance to win the SEC West -- a 31-percent chance to be exact, according to ESPN's FPI (Football Power Index) -- but their biggest threat of being upset will be waiting at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday. The No. 11 Rebels admitted they were looking ahead to the big game after slogging past Memphis 24-3, but they still turned in another impressive performance by what has become one of the nation's most dominant defenses. Ole Miss kept Memphis out of the end zone and has allowed just two touchdowns on 38 drives this season. The Rebels' run defense was particularly nasty, limiting Memphis to 23 yards on 31 attempts. Alabama is coming off a bye and a dominant, complete performance of its own in a 42-21 thrashing of Florida. It all sets up to be quite a clash in Oxford, Mississippi, the first of what will likely be a handful of glamorous SEC West showdowns.

Player under pressure: Dak Prescott
Last time we saw them, the Bulldogs made quite the statement in beating then-No. 8 LSU for the first time in nearly 15 years and winning in Baton Rouge for the first time in nearly 24 years. Prescott showed all of his dual-threat brilliance in carving up the Tigers' defense, and MSU shot up in the polls after a very big win. In order for the Dogs to keep momentum on their side they now have to beat another top 10 foe. Prescott will be the central figure, and the pressure he'll face is sure to be literal as well as figurative. Texas A&M leads the SEC with 17 sacks in four games. True freshman end Myles Garrett has been a force with 5.5, while linebacker Shaan Washington returned from a broken collarbone last week and recorded two sacks in his first game of the year. One more thing: Prescott will be without his starting center, as Dillon Day will serve a one-game suspension for stomping on two LSU players.

Coach under the microscope: Florida's Will Muschamp
Muschamp probably has this category to himself until his Gators start winning and pulling off upsets. Florida's loss to Alabama was not unexpected, but the way it went down -- more ineptitude on offense and a school record for yards allowed on defense -- pushed fans to the brink. Even some of Muschamp's die-hard supporters had to be talked off their nearest ledge. If the noise was that loud after UF's loss to a juggernaut program like Alabama, what would happen if the Gators lose to Tennessee for the first time in nearly 10 years? The Volunteers are an improving bunch. They came oh-so-close to beating Georgia on the road last week, and they're still hungry for respect. Florida, coming off a bye, will have to get its act together in order to pull off a win at Neyland Stadium.

Storyline to watch: Will Brandon Harris start?
LSU's visit to No. 5 Auburn has an entirely different feel after the Bayou Bengals' season-long quarterback controversy took a turn for the decisive. True freshman Brandon Harris was electrifying in relief of Anthony Jennings. Harris was 11-of-14 passing for 178 yards and directed the LSU offense to seven touchdowns on seven possessions. After the game, coach Les Miles declined to name Harris the starter, saying LSU's way is to thoroughly evaluate before making a decision. With all due respect, that's a bunch of hooey. Harris obviously gives LSU its best chance to pull what would be an enormous upset both in terms of the national stage and the division race. It won't be easy against Auburn's improving defense. The Tigers have allowed only three plays of 25 yards or more this season, tied for the second fewest in the FBS.

Intriguing matchup: South Carolina at Kentucky
While the West division deserves all the attention it's going to get on Saturday, the East is quietly trying to sort itself out. Upstart Kentucky finally removed a very large monkey off its back by beating Vanderbilt and snapping a 17-game conference losing streak. In order to earn respect, the Wildcats' next task is to score an upset. Kentucky and its fans will be fired up for this home game, and the Gamecocks are ripe for the picking after blowing a 20-7 lead in the fourth quarter against division-leading Missouri. Kentucky's improving offense will stretch USC's struggling defense. But the most intriguing matchup in this one is on the other side of the ball, where the Cats' defense is coming off its best performance against an SEC foe since 1996. UK held Vanderbilt to 139 yards last week. If the Wildcats can contain the Gamecocks' offense, it might not even take a shootout to earn that elusive signature win.

Week 6 roundtable: Game of the week

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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This will be “Separation Saturday” in the SEC West. Three games -- Alabama-Ole Miss, Mississippi State-Texas A&M and Auburn-LSU -- will pit top-15 teams from the West against one another, so we should soon know more about who will emerge as legitimate contenders in college football’s toughest division.

Considering all that will be at stake on Saturday, here are our SEC writers’ picks for the games most worth watching on Saturday.

Edward Aschoff: I mean, it’s “GameDay” in the Grove -- the nation’s best tailgating spot. I’m ready for chandeliers at tailgates, sport coats, sun dresses and the finest Southern hospitality this side of the mighty Mississippi. This is a chance for Ole Miss to prove it really deserves to be in the conversation with the premier teams, not just in the SEC but in the entire country. On the flip side, this is going to be the toughest test for Alabama thus far, and the Rebels’ up-tempo offense certainly presents an issue for an Alabama defense that has struggled against that style in recent years.

Alex Scarborough: Give me Oxford. Give me The Grove. Give me one team seeking to regain its spot atop college football and another team poised to break through into national prominence. Give me an SEC West showdown with actual playoff implications. Give me a quarterback with something to prove. In fact, give me two of ‘em. Give me two of the most talented receivers in the country, two tenacious defenses and two coaches who sit on opposite ends of the spectrum, philosophically. Give me one game: Alabama-Ole Miss.

Jeff Barlis: I have a feeling my choice will go against the grain: LSU at Auburn. I still think Auburn is the top team in the SEC, until proven otherwise. The Bayou Bengals, on the other hand, are just starting to get their talented true freshmen, RB Leonard Fournette, QB Brandon Harris and WR Malachi Dupre, integrated into the game plan. Expect this one to be a shootout that will force LSU coach Les Miles to turn to Harris, who has been the team's best signal-caller. This game could be one that decides the West Division. And remember, LSU was the only SEC team to beat Auburn last year.

David Ching: I’ll agree with Mr. Barlis here. If I had to answer this question at the end of the first quarter Saturday, I definitely wouldn’t have picked Auburn-LSU. LSU’s offense was sputtering against New Mexico State, and Anthony Jennings had been a turnover machine. Harris' joining the starting lineup is intriguing, though. A touted true freshman making his first start on the road against the defending conference champ? That’s fascinating stuff. How will LSU’s defense fare against Auburn’s running game? Dak Prescott and Mississippi State embarrassed the Tigers’ defense two Saturdays ago, and Auburn’s offense is no less dangerous.

Sam Khan: The other games are nice, but Texas A&M-Mississippi State looks to be the most hotly contested one of the bunch. The cowbells will be ringin' fiercely at Davis-Wade Stadium. The anticipation for this game in Starkville will be at a fever pitch, considering the Bulldogs are undefeated, ranked 12th in the country and coming off a landmark win at LSU. The past season, these teams combined for 92 points and 1,092 offensive yards in a game A&M won 51-41. Two of the SEC's best quarterbacks (Kenny Hill and Prescott) will be on display, and there are SEC West and even Heisman Trophy implications in this game.

Greg Ostendorf: The atmosphere I’d pay most to see? The Grove for Alabama-Ole Miss. But the game I’d pay most to see? That’s two hours away in Starkville. I’m still not sure what to make of the Aggies after Saturday, but I’m not turning down a chance to see Hill. Besides maybe Todd Gurley, Hill is the most exciting player in the conference. That said, it’s hard not to root for Prescott after all he has overcome. It’s the best quarterback matchup of the day, and I expect it to come down to the wire. Sign me up.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles allowed Brandon Harris to speak to reporters for the first time all season after Saturday's 63-7 rout of New Mexico State.

LSU's coach did it in his own oddball way. In his postgame press conference, Miles instructed a local TV anchor who requested to interview the freshman quarterback to say "pretty please" and then told the reporters in the room not to ask Harris any difficult questions. It was fitting, as he has handled the Tigers' quarterback battle in uniquely Miles fashion.

No matter what Miles says to the contrary, that battle is over. By letting Harris face the media, Miles all but admitted -- even if he refused to confirm -- Harris will start ahead of sophomore Anthony Jennings when No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) visits No. 5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday.

"We have always done things in a measured fashion," Miles said. "We will go back, look at the film, communicate with our team and not do so through the paper. ... That's not necessarily the splash you want, but that is how we do things."

Fine. Miles is doing the respectable thing by taking Jennings' psyche into account while making the inevitable quarterback switch.

Jennings is a 19-year-old kid who seemed to say and do the right things throughout his competition with Harris, and he might not have played his last important snap as a Tiger. Jennings is also 5-1 as LSU's starting quarterback -- including wins against Iowa and Wisconsin -- so he deserves far better than the boos that rained down each time Miles sent the struggling starter back into Saturday's game before ultimately benching him in favor of Harris.

The fans who booed and chanted "We want Harris!" at Tiger Stadium were ultimately proven correct, at least in their expectations for the freshman quarterback. Harris was nothing short of phenomenal and lead LSU to seven touchdowns in seven drives and 429 yards of total offense in roughly two quarters of work.

Miles can publicly handle the situation however he sees fit, but aside from on-field experience (and nobody would describe either of them as a veteran) there is no measure that indicates Jennings is a superior option to start over Harris -- not the scoreboard, not the stat sheet and certainly not the eye test.

Mississippi State shut down the Jennings-led LSU offense for the first 56 minutes two weeks ago before Harris came on and nearly led the Tigers to what would have been a miraculous comeback win. Miles showed loyalty to his starting quarterback -- and more than a little stubbornness -- when he started Jennings for the sixth consecutive game against New Mexico State and left him in despite' three turnovers and two three-and-outs in LSU's first seven possessions.

Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have given Jennings every opportunity to claim this job, and he simply hasn't been able to get it done. Harris has, and sometimes in spectacular fashion, with the Tigers scoring points at a far greater rate with him under center.

That's perhaps the most important point to consider. The Tigers will probably need to post prodigious point totals to beat teams such as Auburn, Texas A&M, Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas. Their offense bogged down at times against the likes of Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State with Jennings under center, and it looked completely dysfunctional for most of the Mississippi State game.

A super-productive outing against a horrible New Mexico State defense and a couple of late, garbage-time touchdowns -- even the ones against Mississippi State that nearly built an LSU comeback win -- might not be enough to anoint Harris as the starting quarterback for the rest of the season, but Jennings' continued ineffectiveness is more than enough proof his backup deserves a chance.

Miles and Cameron don't have to make a public proclamation for this to be obvious. Auburn's coaches will surely prepare for both quarterbacks, but Gus Malzahn's staff isn't dumb enough to expect Jennings to start. Besides, what would be so difficult about adapting, even if they prepare all week for Harris and get Jennings instead?

There is no good reason for LSU to avoid pulling the trigger on this decision now. It will not be ideal to give Harris his first career start at Jordan-Hare Stadium, yet Jennings hasn't started a game in an opponent's home stadium, either. His dismal performances of late before heavily partisan crowds at Tiger Stadium shouldn't provide Miles and Cameron with any confidence he would play any better in front of 87,451 screaming East Alabamians on Saturday.

They've done right by Jennings in slow-playing this change, though with the SEC West meat grinder approaching, LSU's coaches must start worrying about winning games. Their chances to win are simply better with the more dynamic player at quarterback, even if he will almost certainly make mistakes along the way. Switching to Harris couldn't be a more obvious choice at this point.

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