SEC mailbag: Brantley still coming

I’m all ears as we delve into our weekly installment of the SEC mailbag:

Tony in Fairfax, Va., writes: After all we heard in the preseason about Florida throwing the ball all over the place this season, don’t you think John Brantley has been a disappointment so far? You were pretty high on him. Didn’t you expect him to be further along?

Chris Low: Yes, I did, but I admit I probably got caught up in the hype. There’s no question that Brantley can throw the ball and has an accurate arm. What I didn’t give enough credence to was how long it would take him to get used to being there in the pocket and making quick decisions with SEC pass-rushers breathing down his throat. Even though he’s a junior, he’s really more like a freshman because he’d never played any meaningful snaps before this season. I’ll agree that Brantley has looked a little hesitant in the pocket at times, but I also agree with Urban Meyer that the people around Brantley need to make more plays and play more consistently. Really, the entire Florida passing game has been disappointing, and that includes the guys catching the passes.

Eric in Okinawa, Japan (U.S. Military), writes: Has Ohio State ever beaten a current SEC team in a bowl game? I think the answer is no, but I'm not sure I have an accurate source.

Chris Low: First off, Eric, thank you for your service. You are correct. Ohio State is 0-9 against the SEC in bowl games. The two most recent losses came in BCS National Championship Games. LSU beat Ohio State 38-24 in New Orleans to win the 2007 title, while Florida beat Ohio State 41-14 in Glendale, Ariz., to win the 2006 title. To be fair, current Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is only responsible for three of those nine losses. In addition to the two BCS National Championship Game losses, he was in his first season as the Buckeyes’ head coach in 2001 when they lost 31-28 to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Seven different SEC teams (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and LSU) have defeated Ohio State in bowl games. The SEC’s superiority over Ohio State in bowl games dates back to the 1978 Sugar Bowl when Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide routed Woody Hayes’ Buckeyes 35-6. The SEC’s average margin of victory over Ohio State in those nine bowl games is 14.4 points.

Paul in Charleston, S.C., writes: How much more do you think coach Spurrier will use Marcus Lattimore than he did against Auburn? If the Gamecocks could have controlled the clock more with the run, Garcia may not have tried to do it on his own.

Chris Low: Lattimore carried the ball 14 times against Auburn, but only three times in the second half. The Gamecocks led that game 20-14 at the half, too, so I’d say you’re on to something. One thing to consider, though, is that they didn’t have the ball very much on offense in the second half of that game. Their first three possessions after halftime consisted of three plays or less. I do believe Lattimore will play a key role for the Gamecocks if they’re going to beat Alabama. Specifically, he has to be able to make some positive yardage on first down. The Crimson Tide have gone 39 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Lattimore doesn’t necessarily need to rush for 100 yards if the Gamecocks are going to win this game, but he has to be able to run it some to keep Alabama’s defense honest and to keep South Carolina out of third-and-long.

Nate in Melbourne, Fla., writes: What is a realistic expectation for an Arkansas team that finishes the season with one loss, speaking in terms of a BCS bowl bid now that playing in the SEC championship game is probably a foregone conclusion since Alabama seems to be unstoppable and will most likely play a two- or three-loss Florida team for the SEC championship?

Chris Low: An 11-1 Arkansas team would be a lock to play in a BCS bowl. In your scenario, the Hogs would have won eight straight games and be ranked in the Top 10 and possibly even the Top 5 in the polls. They have a marquee player in quarterback Ryan Mallett, play an exciting brand of football and took Alabama to the wire. The more dominant Alabama is the rest of the way, the better Arkansas looks. Depending on what everybody else does, a 10-2 Arkansas team might even have a chance at an at-large BCS berth.

Playap in Huntsville, Ala., writes: Chris, recently you have discussed the possibility of Ingram/Richardson being the best one-two running back combo ever in the SEC. After seeing how Peyton Hillis is tearing up the NFL after getting his shot with the Browns, can we put this to rest and say that the Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis trio is the greatest backfield in SEC history?

Chris Low: When you start talking about threesomes, it’s hard to argue with those three. And what makes them so great is that they’re all different kinds of runners. Remember that Michael Smith was also on those 2006 and 2007 Arkansas teams. And while everybody remembers Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown at Auburn, the Tigers also had Brandon Jacobs in that same backfield before he decided to transfer. Tennessee had Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry, Travis Stephens and Onterrio Smith all on the same team at one point in the late 1990s. And at Georgia in the late 1980s, Rodney Hampton, Tim Worley, Lars Tate and Keith Henderson were all teammates. Lastly, don’t forget about the trio of Joe Cribbs, James Brooks and William Andrews at Auburn in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Zack in Little Rock, Ark., writes: Do you know what time the Arkansas-Auburn game is next week? Thanks.

Chris Low: The official time will be decided Sunday or Monday, as CBS has elected to use its six-day option for choosing games that weekend. I think what it comes down to is this: If both Arkansas and Auburn win Saturday, then CBS will televise their game at 3:30 p.m. ET on Oct. 16. The other possibilities are 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU and 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Fran in Baton Rouge, La., writes: I noticed in your Offensive Player of the Year category that you didn't mention LSU running back Stevan Ridley. I think LSU's quarterback problems are overshadowing the stellar year he’s having. He’s leading the SEC in rushing yards per game and he is doing it with no passing game whatsoever.

Chris Low: Good call. Ridley is having an excellent season despite teams loading up to stop the run. He’s easily one of the SEC’s most underrated players as we near the midway point and running with a real sense of purpose.

Jordan in Tuscaloosa, Ala., writes: Chris, should Alabama fans be concerned about the lack of sacks? Alabama ranks 102nd nationally with only five sacks. Also, do you know how many quarterback hurries Alabama has? It seems like as long as they rack up a good amount of quarterback hurries, the low number of sacks does not matter as much.

Chris Low: Sounds like you’ve been in one of the meeting rooms with the Alabama defensive staff. There’s no question that a sack kills a drive quicker than anything with the exception of a turnover. And at this point, I’m not sure Alabama has that explosive finisher off the edge. But the Crimson Tide have still been able to get good pressure, and what matters most to the coaches is the way they’re affecting the quarterback and whether or not they’re forcing him into bad plays. The Tide are second in the SEC to Florida with 13 forced turnovers, and even though they only sacked John Brantley once last week, they hit him a bunch. As for quarterback hurries, Alabama has 18 through its first five games. The Tide had 79 in 14 games a year ago, so they’re well behind that pace a third of the way through this season.