SEC: Georgia Bulldogs

SEC Week 6 predictions

October, 2, 2014
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Now we're talking. Three SEC West games between top 15 teams, plus a Tennessee-Florida rivalry game with Will Muschamp fighting for his job. Which teams will take a giant step toward the playoff this weekend? Let's get on with the picks.

Why Tennessee wins: The Vols have lost two straight but went toe-to-toe with Georgia in a tough road environment. Now they return home, where they've played well this season and let's be honest: Justin Worley has outplayed Jeff Driskel so far this year. Quarterback play goes a long way in a tightly contested game, which this could be. So give me the home team with the better quarterback. Florida had an off week and the Gators needed it badly, but they still have a lot of work to do. Tennessee 30, Florida 24 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Florida wins: Through the first three games, Florida is trending in the wrong direction. The Gators were lucky to survive against Kentucky and then were throttled by Alabama the next week. But I think they bounce back Saturday. They had a week off, which is a good remedy for any struggling team, and they’re better up front, especially with the return of starting left tackle D.J. Humphries. Florida 31, Tennessee 24 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why Texas A&M wins: Arkansas was probably the worst matchup for A&M in the entire SEC and the Aggies survived -- barely. Defending Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson won’t be a treat for A&M, either, but Mississippi State’s beleaguered secondary is in for a long Saturday. This should be a great game, but my money’s on Kenny Hill & Co. putting up a few more points. Texas A&M 30, Mississippi State 21 -- David Ching

Why Mississippi State wins: Is there anything Prescott can’t do? The kid can embarrass defenses with his arm and his legs, and with the holes in the defense A&M showed us against Arkansas, I think he’s going to have another big day. It’ll be interesting to see how Mississippi State’s secondary holds up against Hill, but I think they can put pressure on him up front. This one is coming down to the very end, and with a bruising back like Robinson helping Prescott, the Bulldogs get another big West win. Mississippi State 31, Texas A&M 28 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Alabama wins: I went back and forth with this one so many times because I think Ole Miss has the offense to hurt Alabama. That up-tempo play won’t be kind to the Crimson Tide, but having two weeks to prepare is a major advantage. This is by far the best team either has faced to this point, and I just don’t think Ole Miss will be able to run the ball. That means the Tide can put pressure on Bo Wallace and force him to make mistakes. Those mistakes late will have Bama walking out of the Grove with a close win in front of the “GameDay” crew. Alabama 27, Ole Miss 23 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Ole Miss wins: This isn't your daddy's Ole Miss. This isn't even your slightly older brother's. This version of the Rebs is different with a talented group of pass-rushers, a ball-hawking secondary and one of the best wide receivers in the country. Throw in the fact that the game's in Oxford and that Ole Miss runs the hurry-up, no-huddle as well as anyone, and you've got the right ingredients for an upset. Ole Miss 34, Alabama 31 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Auburn wins big: It’s not as much that I think Auburn is that good -- the offense still isn’t quite in sync. It’s more that I don’t trust LSU freshman quarterback Brandon Harris. The talent is there, but he’s making his first start in what will be a raucous atmosphere on the Plains. And this isn’t last year’s Auburn defense. The front four will make life difficult for Harris and the LSU offense. Auburn 31, LSU 14 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why LSU keeps it close: Clearly none of us has been too impressed with LSU's defense, but Auburn's defense has yet to contend with a passing game like the one it will see on Saturday. Though just a true freshman, Harris has "an NFL arm," according to none other than Gus Malzahn. Expect lots of drama on the Plains. Auburn will prevail in front of the home crowd, but this one could come down to which team has the ball last. Auburn 34, LSU 30 -- Jeff Barlis

Why South Carolina wins: Kentucky is one of the feel-good stories in the SEC this season and South Carolina currently exists somewhere on the opposite end of the happiness spectrum. The Gamecocks might go into meltdown mode if they lose to the Wildcats. I won’t rule out that possibility -- the Wildcats are vastly improved this season, but South Carolina still feels like the safer pick. South Carolina 30, Kentucky 20 -- David Ching

Why Kentucky wins: I predicted this early in the week, before Dorian Baker and Stanley "Boom" Williams were suspended. But despite my newfound misgivings, I'm not backing off. This is a classic case of two teams going in opposite directions. Za'Darius Smith and Bud Dupree will harass Dylan Thompson into a few interceptions, which A.J. Stamps may or may not pick off, and the Wildcats will score just enough points to win in regulation. Kentucky 30, South Carolina 24 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Georgia wins big: We all like Georgia big, and it's easy to see why. The Bulldogs are deeper and more talented and have arguably college football's best player in Todd Gurley. Vanderbilt has struggled out of the gate and might be without quarterback Patton Robinette for this game. It doesn't look pretty for the Commodores. Georgia 42, Vanderbilt 10 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Standings
Jeff Barlis 44-5
Chris Low 44-5
Edward Aschoff 43-6
David Ching 43-6
Greg Ostendorf 43-6
Sam Khan Jr. 42-7
Alex Scarborough 41-8

SEC morning links

October, 2, 2014
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1. The best game of the weekend might not be Auburn-LSU, but there’s no more intriguing storyline than the debut of LSU freshman quarterback Brandon Harris. OK, it’s not his debut. He’s played in every game this year. But it will be his first start. It’s a change that needed to happen. Harris is the more talented of the two signal callers, and his teammates believe in him. How will we handle the atmosphere at a sold-out Jordan-Hare Stadium? We’ll have to wait and see, but it at least makes things interesting. Speaking of freshmen, what about Leonard Fournette? All this talk on Harris and we’ve forgotten about the No. 1 recruit in the country from last year. Fournette’s numbers have been lackluster early in the season, but maybe he’s saving his best game for the biggest stage.

2. Missouri is technically leading the SEC East standings, but where would the Tigers be if they were in the West? Fifth? Sixth maybe? Seventh? David Climer of the Tennessean has them sixth, one spot ahead of Arkansas, in his latest SEC power rankings. I know, I know, the Tigers beat Ole Miss and Texas A&M last year and played close with Auburn for three quarters in the SEC championship. And I also mean no disrespect to Georgia, who has arguably the best player in the conference, but there’s a reason we’re not focused on Tennessee-Florida, Georgia-Vanderbilt and Kentucky-South Carolina this weekend. It’s all about the West. Still, somebody has to win the East and make it to Atlanta for the conference title game.

3. Let’s take a break from the SEC debate and this weekend’s games for a minute and talk about where some of these players are headed after college -- the NFL. ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay each came out with new player rankings for next year’s draft, and to nobody’s surprise, it was littered with SEC prospects. The two big movers after the first month of the season have been Georgia running back Todd Gurley and Missouri defensive end Shane Ray. McShay has Gurley at No. 8 in his top NFL prospects for 2015. Insider Meanwhile, Ray is all the way up to No. 6 on Kiper’s latest big board. Insider Other names in the top 10 include Alabama’s Amari Cooper, Texas A&M’ Cedric Ogbuehi and Georgia’s Leonard Floyd.

Around the SEC
  • Kiffin vs. Kiffin: Saturday’s Ole Miss-Alabama game is a family affair.
  • Auburn’s injured players "day-to-day" but some still held out of practice.
  • Running back Jojo Kemp ready to answer the call for Kentucky on Saturday.
  • Up his sleeve: Vols quarterback Justin Worley fine for the Florida game.
Tweet of the day

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 5

October, 1, 2014
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Led by LSU's Brandon Harris and Leonard Fournette and a big group from Tennessee, true freshmen again grabbed the spotlight in the SEC last weekend.

Here are five who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from Saturday’s SEC games:

QB Brandon Harris, LSU

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesAfter Brandon Harris' 11-of-14 performance against New Mexico State, the Tigers named him the starter against Auburn.
What he did: Harris came off the bench in the second quarter and led LSU’s offense to seven touchdowns in seven possessions in a 63-7 rout of New Mexico State. He was 11-for-14 for 178 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for 36 yards and two scores.

What it means: This is a huge week for Harris. He won SEC Freshman of the Week honors and LSU coach Les Miles announced that Harris will make his first college start on Saturday against Auburn. He’s played mostly in mop-up duty so far, but Harris looked great against Mississippi State and NMSU. His starting assignment makes Saturday’s game exponentially more intriguing.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Against NMSU, Fournette set new season highs for rushing attempts (18) and rushing yards (122) and scored touchdowns of 17 and 5 yards. He also made a 33-yard reception. It was Fournette’s first 100-yard game at LSU.

What it means: Fournette has quietly been LSU’s leading rusher in each of the past four games. He hasn’t been putting up huge numbers, but the Tigers have spread around the carries between four backs, too. Nonetheless, with LSU entering the bulk of its SEC schedule, expect to see more of Fournette in key situations.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss

What he did: With Ole Miss leading Memphis just 10-3 in the fourth quarter, Haynes sacked quarterback Paxton Lynch and forced a fumble that Isaac Gross recovered at the Memphis 23. The Rebels scored on the next play to go up 17-3 and put away their surprisingly narrow win.

What it means: Ole Miss probably beats Memphis even without Haynes’ big play, but victory was no certainty at that point. Getting the win helped Ole Miss stay undefeated and set up a huge game this weekend with No. 3 Alabama.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: Hurd build off of his strong outing against Oklahoma with his first 100-yard game in a 35-32 loss to Georgia. The freshman ran 24 times for 119 yards and a touchdown -- all of which set or matched Hurd’s season highs -- and caught three passes for 19 yards.

What it means: The freshman back and his inexperienced offensive line are starting to find their way. It has been tough sledding in that department for Tennessee, but Hurd’s recent big games have been bright spots.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky

What he did: The versatile Williams ran five times for 27 yards, led the Wildcats with 39 receiving yards on three catches and returned two kickoffs for 56 yards, including a long of 36 in a win against Vanderbilt.

What it means: Unfortunately we won’t see Williams on Saturday against South Carolina since he and three teammates were suspended for reportedly firing air pistols in a campus residence hall. Williams has already become a valuable contributor in the Wildcats’ lineup and they need all the help they can get against the Gamecocks.

Other notables:

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia: Ran 11 times for 32 yards and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass in Georgia’s win over Tennessee.

WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Caught three passes for a team-high 54 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown, in the win against NMSU.

S Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Recorded four tackles and made a leaping interception in Tennessee’s loss against Georgia.

TE Ethan Wolf, Tennessee: Returned from injury and had his most productive game yet, finishing with five catches for 69 yards against Georgia.

LB Tre Williams, Auburn: Played most of the Louisiana Tech game because of injuries to Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy, recorded seven tackles and nearly intercepted a pass.

SEC Heisman watch: Week 5

September, 30, 2014
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Well, Todd Gurley isn't exactly slowing down these days.

The Georgia running back just keeps chugging along, leaving defenders shamed along the way. On Saturday, Gurley ran for a career-high 208 yards, had two touchdowns and averaged 7.4 yards per carry against Tennessee. Not bad. No wonder he now has 16 career 100-yard rushing games.

On the season, Gurley has 610 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He's averaging an SEC-high 8.8 yards per carry.

Again, we know how good Gurley is and he should be at the top over everyone's Heisman ballot, at least for the SEC. He should be at the top of it nationally, but some folks are hung up on that Mariota guy.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill, Kevin Sumlin
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesKenny Hill showed his moxie against Arkansas, propelling Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies to 5-0.
But let's take some time to talk about Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill -- the trillest of them all.

We've been impressed with how he has terrorized defenses through the first part of the season, but I think he had his best performance this past Saturday against Arkansas. First, he had to bring his team back from a 14-point deficit in the second half. Then, he had to win in overtime. All he did was throw touchdowns of 86 and 59 yards to tie the game in the fourth. In overtime, he needed just one play, finding Malcome Kennedy, who was somehow behind three Arkansas defenders, for a 25-yard game-winning touchdown.

Kenny Trill's gutty performance showed us that he's more than just a kid tossing the ball around in a pass-friendly system. He had to bring his team back from the edge and then win the game. He did both without really breaking a sweat, throwing for 386 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.

On the season, Hill leads the SEC with 1,745 passing yards and 17 touchdowns. No SEC quarterback is on his level right now.

Here are four others to keep an eye on in the SEC:

  • Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: He was off this past weekend but still leads the SEC with 43 receptions and 655 receiving yards. He's tied for first with five touchdowns.
  • Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: He was also off but has been the SEC's best dual-threat quarterback this season. Prescott has 964 passing yards and 11 touchdowns. He has rushed for 378 yards and three more scores.
  • Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas: Even though the Hogs lost to A&M on Saturday, Collins had another solid outing, rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown. However, that failed fourth-and-1 attempt in overtime will haunt him. On the season, Collins leads the SEC with 621 rushing yards and is tied for the league lead with six rushing touchdowns.
  • Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: Off as well, Robinson is fourth in the SEC with 485 rushing yards and has four rushing touchdowns. He's averaging 7.8 yards per carry.
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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.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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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.

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.”

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.

SEC morning links

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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1. Fresh off its win over Memphis on Saturday, Ole Miss was already taking shots at Alabama. Safety Cody Prewitt said he doesn’t believe the Crimson Tide are as good as they have been in recent years. It might be a little early to say that; after all, just last year, Prewitt’s Rebels were shut out in Tuscaloosa, 25-0. A lot has changed since that game, though. The Ole Miss defense, which has allowed just two touchdowns through the first four games, is much improved, and quarterback Bo Wallace is a year older. At Alabama, the offense looks more balanced under new coordinator Lane Kiffin, and they’re even using their own version of the no-huddle offense. It’s one of many intriguing matchups in the SEC this weekend.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertWill LSU turn to Brandon Harris in hostile territory at Auburn?
2. Speaking of intriguing matchups, how about LSU traveling to Auburn on Saturday? Les Miles' team has won six of the last seven against Auburn, but his Tigers opened up as 7.5-point underdogs on the road. A big reason for that is the uncertainty at quarterback. Miles has yet to name a starter, but after Saturday’s victory over New Mexico State, it was pretty clear who played better. The question will be whether Miles wants to give freshman Brandon Harris his first start on the road, in a hostile environment. The Auburn defense isn’t worried as much about the opposing quarterback; it’s worried about getting healthy after three starters were banged up in a 45-17 victory over Louisiana Tech on Saturday.

3. What happened to South Carolina on Saturday? It looked like the Gamecocks were well on their way to beating Missouri and grabbing hold of the SEC East. Then, all of a sudden, it all slipped away. A day later, Steve Spurrier saw his team’s streak of 69 consecutive weeks in the AP Top 25 come to an end. The good news is that despite the loss to Missouri and despite dropping out of the polls, South Carolina is still not out of the SEC race. The bad news is that they have to travel to Lexington this weekend to face much-improved Kentucky team, and the local beat writers are already saying that Spurrier’s team looks beatable again this week. We’ll know a lot more about both teams following Saturday’s game.

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SEC bowl projections: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
8:00
PM ET
Alabama was off this week, so it remains in the top spot as a College Football Playoff representative, but we have some movement in the next couple of teams in this week’s SEC bowl projections.

We’re moving Auburn up a spot in place of Texas A&M, which won but showed it might still have some work to do after needing a furious rally and a few breaks to escape with an overtime win over Arkansas.

Also, despite the Razorbacks’ loss, we’ll stick with them finding a way to get three more wins and bowl eligibility this season. They proved they’re a quality team that’s making progress, although they have a brutal schedule to navigate the rest of the way.

Here is our full SEC list entering the sixth week of the season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Alabama
Orange Bowl: Auburn
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Texas A&M
Capital One Bowl: Georgia
TaxSlayer Bowl: Missouri
Outback Bowl: Mississippi State
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Ole Miss
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: LSU
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Tennessee
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Florida

Best of the visits: SEC

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
12:32
PM ET
There were some great games around the SEC over the weekend. Several prospects attended games while others watched on television and used social media as a platform to share their experiences. Here's a look at some of the top social media posts from the weekend:

ESPN 300 tight end and Texas A&M commit Jordan Davis tweeted out a photo of himself with three other ESPN 300 Aggies commits: James Lockhart, Larry Pryor and Justin Dunning. The four players were in attendance for Texas A&M’s thrilling 35-28 overtime win against Arkansas Saturday afternoon.

 

Four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal looks as if he also enjoyed his time in Arlington, Texas, for the Aggies game. The talented prospect tweeted a photo of himself with former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel's family members. McNeal is also scheduled to visit UCLA, Miami and Oklahoma State later this year.

 

Georgia picked up a huge commitment from ESPN Junior 300 defensive end Chauncey Manac Saturday. Manac also visited Georgia for its big win over Tennessee. He is the third 2016 commit for the Bulldogs, and all three are ranked in the ESPN Junior 300.

 

The seventh-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300, Deontay Anderson, took an unofficial to Auburn Saturday for its 45-17 win over Louisiana Tech. This photo was captured on one of his social media accounts by ESPN national recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton.

 

The No. 1-ranked running back in the country, Damien Harris, visited Kentucky this weekend for the Wildcats' 17-7 win over SEC East foe Vanderbilt. A fan captured this photo of Harris hanging out with Kentucky commit Eli Brown. Harris also tweeted about his experience in Lexington.

 

LSU 2017 commitment Dylan Moses posed for a photo at midfield at Tiger Stadium on Saturday while on an unofficial visit to watch LSU pound New Mexico State 63-7. Moses' father, Edward Moses, tweeted the photo.

 

SEC helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
9:00
AM ET
It was a very fun day in the SEC, and here are the stars of the weekend:

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: It was a record-setting day for the nation's best running back. Gurley rushed for a career-high 208 yards on 28 carries in the Bulldogs' 35-32 win over Tennessee. He also had two touchdowns, 30 receiving yards and 47 kickoff return yards. Gurley, who averaged 7.4 yards per carry, now has 16 100-yard rushing games with the Bulldogs. How impressive was Gurley? Tennessee decided to onside kick it with 2:14 left and three timeouts in the fourth quarter because it didn't think it could stop him. The Volunteers didn't, as Gurley rushed for 26 yards on the ensuing drive to ice it for the Dawgs.

Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M: In a wild one inside Jerry World, but Kenny Trill showed out in his first pressure situation of his career. He had touchdown passes of 86 and 59 yards in the fourth quarter, helping the Aggies to a 35-28 overtime win over Arkansas. Hill made some incredibly clutch passes in the second half, but his biggest throw of the day came on the first play of overtime, when he hit Malcome Kennedy for a 25-yard touchdown that was the eventual game-winner for the Aggies. He threw for 386 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception.

Quan Bray, WR, Auburn: He caught just three passes but totaled 91 yards and had two touchdowns of 37 and 44 yards in the Tigers' 45-17 win over Louisiana Tech. He also returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown and finished the game with 189 all-purpose yards.

Edward Pope, WR, Texas A&M: He was Hill's partner in crime Saturday. Pope caught four passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns went for 86 yards. That score brought the Aggies back within a score of an Arkansas team that took a 28-14 lead late in the third quarter.

Russell Hansbrough/Marcus Murphy, RBs, Missouri: What a finish for the Tigers. The offense went from doing absolutely nothing to scoring 14 straight in the fourth quarter of Mizzou's 21-20 win at South Carolina. Hansbrough and Murphy were a major part of that comeback. The finished the night with 141 rushing yards and Hansbrough scored all three touchdowns for Mizzou, including that tough game-winner from 1 yard out with 1:38 left. Murphy's 22-yard punt return to Mizzou's 49-yard line set up the Tigers' final scoring drive.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 5

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
11:32
PM ET
With Saturday’s action complete, we’re more than one-quarter of the way through the regular season.

Can you believe that?

Let’s take a look at what we learned from the latest batch of games.

1. Texas two step: Tip your cap to Arkansas. If anything, the Hogs showed they’re worthy of being ranked in the Top 25. But if you’re Texas A&M, what are you thinking? You just got roughed up by a team that hasn’t won a conference game since October 2012. An undeniably one-dimensional offense racked up four touchdowns and 485 yards against you, 286 of which came on the ground. It wasn’t a secret what they were doing, and still, you couldn’t stop it. Your defense, the one you said again and again was better than the past year, showed it still has a long ways to go in the 35-28 overtime win. There were more missed tackles than an early-morning Pee Wee football game. Texas A&M’s offense is still plenty potent with Kenny Hill under center and a better-than-advertised running game, but without a defense to match, we very well could be looking at a team that’s less steak than sizzle.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesHutson Mason might need to be more aggressive to help take the strain off star RB Todd Gurley.
2. Need more from Mason: Georgia's Todd Gurley is a beast worthy of every bit of the Heisman Trophy hype he receives. But he can’t do it alone -- not for an entire season, at least. No matter how strong he might be, nobody can withstand that type of punishment on a consistent basis. At some point, Hutson Mason must step up and provide his star running back some help. Sure, Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Jonathon Rumph have all missed time with injuries, but Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jay Rome are a pretty good group of targets. Still, against Tennessee, Mason barely fit the role of game manager. Georgia won 35-32, but he completed just 16 of 25 passes for 147 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. For Georgia to make a playoff push, Mason needs to take greater control of the offense and push the ball downfield. Playing as passive as he has just won’t cut it.

3. Missouri isn’t dead: It was a fashionable move, writing off Missouri after the past week’s embarrassing loss to Indiana at home. But by going into Columbia, South Carolina, and beating the Gamecocks 21-20 in a hotly contested game, the Tigers proved they’re nothing if not alive and well in the race to win the SEC East. The loss to Indiana means nothing when it comes to that. The fact that Missouri has an offense that can score in a hurry (see its final two drives) and a defense that absolutely harasses the quarterback (see Shane Ray’s two sacks), means there’s nothing to say the Tigers can’t be the class of the division. That secondary is going to get better, and quarterback Maty Mauk should find his stride eventually. If those two things improve, Missouri will be as tough an out as anyone in the conference.

4. No standouts in the East: Five teams in the West are undefeated with hopes of competing for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff: Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. The East, well, the East has a bunch of guys with obvious Achilles heels: Georgia has a great running back and little else, Missouri has an inconsistent passing game and a secondary that gives out yards like candy on Halloween, South Carolina can’t decide from week to week if it wants to nap or play football, and Florida must be kicking itself for letting quarterback Jacoby Brissett go to NC State. There’s no separation in the East because there are no great teams in the division.

5. But there’s real parity overall: Take Vanderbilt out of the equation. The Commodores couldn’t navigate the Big Ten with that offense. But if you put Derek Mason’s rebuild aside, you’re looking at an SEC with no gimmes. No one wants to play Tennessee after the hurting the Vols put on Georgia, and not with Justin Worley and that group of skill players on offense. No one wants to play Kentucky, either, not with A.J. Stamps, Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith flying around on defense. And then there’s Arkansas. Who wants to see those big uglies coming at you? Armed with an enormous offensive line, a pair of bruising fullbacks and three workhorse running backs, the Razorbacks can wear down even the best defenses.
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ATHENS, Ga., -- With No. 12 Georgia (3-1, 1-1 SEC) defeating Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) 35-32 inside Sanford Stadium on Saturday, the Bulldogs matched their longest winning streak in the series (1909-1924).

How the game was won: This one was back-and-forth from the start, but it cooled a little as both defenses perked in the third quarter. Tennessee stayed in this one with some big throws from quarterback Justin Worley and some key takeaways, but Georgia running back Todd Gurley was too much for Tennessee. A late fumble recovery in the end zone by Josh Dawson proved to be the game winner for the Dawgs.

Game ball goes to: Gurley, who Georgia fans will tell you isn't getting the ball enough. And there were some questionable moments in Saturday's game when it didn't seem as though he was getting the ball enough. Still, he carried it 28 times for 208 yards and two touchdowns. All you need to know is that the Vols elected to onside kick it with two minutes left and three timeouts because they didn't think they could stop Gurley ... which they didn't.

What it means: This keeps the Bulldogs very much alive in the SEC Eastern Division race. Georgia is still behind South Carolina after losing to the Gamecocks a couple of weeks ago, but we all know no one is to be trusted in the East this season. ... Tennessee certainly isn't out of the East race, either, and is a much better team this season. Worley has really improved, and freshman running back Jalen Hurd could be a special player.

Playoff implication: Even though the Bulldogs are still behind South Carolina in the East, they are currently ahead of South Carolina in the polls. All they have to do is keep on winning, and they could find themselves in the final four. Having some teams in front of them lose, too, wouldn't be bad.

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Best play: With the game tight midway through the fourth quarter, Gurley did what he does best. He zipped through both lines and needed just one move to beat a lonely Tennessee defender before he was off to the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown.

What's next?: The Bulldogs host a struggling Vanderbilt team next week before saying goodbye to the state of Georgia for the following four games. It doesn't really matter what the Commodores look like right now, they beat Georgia last season, and you better believe the Dawgs will be looking to exact some revenge on the Dores. ... Tennessee heads home to play rival Florida, which is coming off of a blowout loss against Alabama and a bye week. The Gators have beaten Tennessee nine straight times.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 5

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
8:00
AM ET
A look ahead at Saturday's games in the Southeastern Conference. All times Eastern:

Noon

Vanderbilt at Kentucky, SEC Network: The nation’s longest active conference losing streak will be on the line, and that 17-game skid could very well come to an end if Kentucky beats Vanderbilt. The Wildcats are coming off an impressive, yet heartbreaking triple-overtime loss to Florida on the road and are heavy favorites at home this weekend. The Commodores, however, have won the last three meetings.

Tennessee at No. 12 Georgia, ESPN: Who can forget the overtime thriller these teams played in Knoxville last year? It was memorable not only for the outcome but also for all of the injuries Georgia suffered in a 34-31 victory. The Bulldogs are much healthier this season and are hungry to prove they’re still the team to beat in the East despite a 38-35 loss to South Carolina on Sept. 13. This will be the first SEC game for a young Tennessee team that is looking to make some noise in Butch Jones’ second season. A victory in Athens would do just that.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Phil Ellsworth / ESPN ImagesCalling Texas A&M-Arkansas a big game seemed a stretch a few weeks ago, but Kenny Hill and the Aggies could have their hands full against the Razorbacks.
3:30 p.m.

Arkansas vs. No. 6 Texas A&M, CBS: After the opening weekend, it didn’t look as if this would be much of a game. Texas A&M looked unstoppable at South Carolina, and the Razorbacks fell apart in the second half against Auburn. Four weeks later, it’s now the marquee matchup. Bret Bielema’s squad has played much better since that opening game, dominating its last three opponents. With Kenny Hill at quarterback for the Aggies and the Hogs' three-headed monster at running back, expect a shootout in Cowboys Stadium.

4 p.m.

Louisiana Tech at No. 5 Auburn, SEC Network: Not to overlook Louisiana Tech, but this might be the calm before the storm in Auburn’s schedule. Seven of the Tigers' final eight opponents are currently ranked in the Top 25, beginning next Saturday with a home game against No. 17 LSU. But first things first: The Tigers need to take care of business against Louisiana Tech. A victory for Auburn would mark the 300th win at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which opened in 1939.

7 p.m.

Missouri at No. 13 South Carolina, ESPN: Not unlike Georgia-Tennessee, this matchup stirs memories to last year’s game and the fourth-quarter comeback by Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks. It was Missouri’s only regular-season loss. The Tigers' first loss this year came much sooner with a home loss to Indiana last weekend, but all could be forgotten with a victory at South Carolina on Saturday night. The winner has a leg up in the SEC East. Oh yeah, did we mention "College Gameday" will be there?

7:30 p.m.

New Mexico State at No. 17 LSU, SEC Network: How does LSU pick up the pieces after last Saturday’s home loss to Mississippi State? The bigger question might be which quarterback will play better, Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris? The best remedy for LSU after a loss might be to get away from the SEC. The Tigers have won a FBS record 48 consecutive regular-season nonconference games, including a 38-0 record under current coach Les Miles.

Memphis at No. 10 Ole Miss, ESPN3: Don’t look now, but Ole Miss has crept into the top 10, and fans are already eager for next Saturday's home showdown against Alabama. You'd better go ahead and get your spot in the Grove now. That’s not the mindset of Hugh Freeze and his team, though. They know they will have their hands full as Memphis (2-1) comes to town, and they’re doing their best not to look ahead to the Crimson Tide.

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