SEC: 2010 midseason team reports

Midseason review: Alabama

October, 12, 2010

Record: 5-1 (2-1 SEC)

You heard it from Nick Saban himself. The Alabama coach fumed earlier this week at his press gathering, “This team hasn’t proved [expletive].” He quickly apologized for his profane choice of words, but his message was right on. It’s up to this team to make its own way. The 19-game winning streak is over, and so is any perceived air of invincibility with the Crimson Tide. South Carolina took it to them last week in a 35-21 whipping, and now we find out how this team responds to a loss. The last time it happened -- the 2009 Sugar Bowl loss to Utah -- Alabama came back and reeled off 19 straight wins. And while the loss to South Carolina puts a serious dent in Alabama’s national championship hopes, it doesn’t necessarily kill them. A one-loss SEC champion would still carry a lot of weight when those final BCS standings come out. But more pressing for Alabama is to work out the kinks on defense, get back to doing what the Tide do best on offense (give the ball to Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson) and play the rest of this season like every game is their last. The rest, as Saban is fond of saying, is clutter.

Offensive MVP: QB Greg McElroy. The easy choice here would be Ingram, and it’s true Alabama might not have beaten Arkansas without him. Of course, he’s also been held in check each of the past two games. McElroy gets the nod based on his entire body of work, his value as a leader and the way he’s managed the offense. He’s thrown nine touchdown passes and only three interceptions and is completing 72.3 percent of his passes.

Defensive MVP: S Mark Barron. With so much inexperience in the Alabama secondary, Barron has had to wear a bunch of different hats back there. All the while, he’s still managed to lead the team in total tackles with 40, and two of those were sacks. Barron’s 31 solo stops are second in the SEC among defensive backs. Florida’s Ahmad Black has 33.

Midseason review: Arkansas

October, 12, 2010

Record: 4-1 (1-1 SEC)

Who could blame the Hogs if they were doing a little scoreboard watching toward the end of their game a week ago? Their 24-17 win over Texas A&M was a little too close for anybody’s taste in the Arkansas camp. But seeing Alabama go down at South Carolina opened up some doors for the Hogs that looked to be bolted shut as recently as a week ago. In short, Arkansas is back in the West race and gets a chance to open up a few more doors this Saturday if it can knock Auburn from the unbeaten ranks in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Hogs have the offensive firepower to light up any scoreboard, but it was the defense that bailed the offense out against the Aggies. That’s something that probably wouldn’t have happened a year ago. Arkansas’ defense was equally solid in the 24-20 loss to Alabama earlier this season, and it’s a unit that’s ranked third in the SEC in total defense right now. The Hogs have done what everybody said they had to do to win a championship, and that’s improve defensively. Their most pressing order of business now may be finding a more consistent running game to help them protect leads and so they’re not having to throw on every down.

Offensive MVP: QB Ryan Mallett. He fell off the Heisman Trophy radar after throwing the three interceptions against Alabama, but few players have the talent, skill and arm strength that Mallett possesses. He leads the SEC with 13 touchdown passes in five games and has already thrown for 1,748 yards. He gets a chance to make amends for those three interceptions Saturday on the Plains. And if he does, watch him show right back up in the Heisman polls.

Defensive MVP: LB Anthony Leon. Lots of choices here, as several players have made key contributions for the Hogs on defense. But the nod goes to Anthony Leon, whose move from safety to outside linebacker has helped to broaden Arkansas’ defense and get more speed on the field. Leon leads the Hogs with eight tackles for loss and is second overall with 35 total tackles.

Midseason review: Auburn

October, 12, 2010

Record: 6-0 (3-0 SEC)

Here we are at the halfway point of the season, and sure enough, there’s one team from the state of Alabama unbeaten. It’s not defending national champion Alabama, though. It’s an Auburn team that has been tough as nails in the second half this season, rallying from double-digit deficits to beat both South Carolina and Clemson at home. And then last week on the road, the Tigers drove the length of the field for Wes Byrum’s game-winning field goal to beat Kentucky on the final play of the game. These next two weeks will tell us even more about Gene Chizik’s club. Auburn gets Arkansas at home this Saturday and then LSU at home the following week. One thing that’s noticeably different from a year ago is that the Tigers are playing more people and have more depth on defense. That’s where the highly rated signing class from this past February is paying off. Chizik has also pressed the right buttons with this team. Auburn is playing with great chemistry and great confidence right now.

Offensive MVP: QB Cam Newton. What do you get when you have a 250-pound quarterback with freakish athletic ability and an NFL-caliber arm? You get Newton, who’s taken this league by storm and is making a strong case for MVP honors in all of college football. He’s accounted for 21 touchdowns passing and running and is leading the SEC in rushing with an average of 112 yards per game. He’s rushed for 170 yards or more in three different games this season.

Defensive MVP: DT Nick Fairley. Much like Newton, Fairley swooped in under the radar this season. He was at least on the team a year ago, but only started in two games. This season, he’s been one of the two most dominant defensive players in the league along with LSU tackle Drake Nevis. Fairley leads the SEC with 12.5 tackles for loss and has given the Tigers a dominant presence in the middle of that defensive line they really didn’t have last season.

Midseason review: Florida

October, 12, 2010

Record: 4-2 (2-2 SEC)

As ugly as those first couple of games were for Florida offensively, you kept waiting for the Gators to find themselves on that side of the ball the first half of the season. It never happened, and at this point, you wonder if they will at any point this season. Sure, there were flashes in the win over Kentucky, but this is easily the weakest, least explosive offense Florida has put on the field under Urban Meyer. As a result, the Gators are staring at their first two-game losing streak since the 2007 season, having lost 33-29 to LSU last week and 31-6 to Alabama the week before. Quarterback John Brantley hasn’t been the polished, confident passer most in Gainesville predicted he would be in his first season as a starter, but he’s also far from the only thing wrong with this offense. The Gators have made very few explosive plays down the field, and their running game is average at best. In other words, Brantley hasn’t gotten a lot of help around him. Defensively, it’s a group that has hung in there and played at a high level. Don’t feel sorry for the Gators. There’s plenty of young talent on this team, and they get South Carolina in the Swamp on Nov. 13. Despite all of Florida’s struggles on offense, that’s still a game that could very easily decide the Eastern Division championship.

Offensive MVP: RB Jeff Demps. The Gators missed Demps against LSU. He’s been slowed by a foot injury since the Kentucky game, played at less than 100 percent against Alabama and couldn’t go against LSU. Nonetheless, he’s still been the centerpiece of this offense and ranks fourth in the SEC in all-purpose yardage, averaging 147 yards per game. The key now is getting him healthy for the stretch drive.

Defensive MVP: S Ahmad Black. There’s nothing wrong with Florida’s secondary. The Gators have played well back there all season, and Black has been the catalyst. He leads the team with 50 total tackles, 15 more than anybody else on the team, and he’s also tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

Midseason review: Georgia

October, 12, 2010

Record: 2-4 (1-3 SEC)

The season started ominously enough for the Bulldogs with their best player, junior receiver A.J. Green, being suspended for four games for selling one of his jerseys. It only got worse from there. After winning the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia lost four straight games for the first time in two decades. Spliced in there were a couple more player arrests and the kind of fan unrest that Mark Richt hasn’t experienced since arriving in Athens in 2001. The Bulldogs ended their skid Saturday with an impressive 41-14 battering of Tennessee, and getting Green back has made a huge difference on offense. The offensive line has not been up to par, at least not to the level that was expected out of this veteran group. Georgia went with a new lineup against Tennessee, including true freshman Kenarious Gates at guard. The primary problem on defense has been that the Bulldogs are allowing too many big plays. That and a defensive front that lacks size. Still, this is a team that’s talented enough to turn it around during the second half of the season. And believe it or not, the Bulldogs could still factor into the Eastern Division race.

Offensive MVP: QB Aaron Murray. He was supposed to be the big question mark concerning this offense. Instead, Murray has been one of the steadiest guys out there. The redshirt freshman is third in the SEC in total offense, averaging 248 yards per game. He’s thrown 10 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. He has also rushed for four touchdowns. There’s not a more promising young quarterback in this league.

Defensive MVP: OLB Justin Houston. Even though Georgia is last in the SEC in pass efficiency defense, Houston has been a force when it comes to rushing the quarterback. He leads the league with six sacks and also has 10.5 tackles for loss. He’s been a factor even when he hasn’t been able to get the quarterback on the ground, as evidenced by his team-leading 18 quarterback hurries.

Midseason review: Kentucky

October, 12, 2010

Record: 3-3 (0-3 SEC)

Mired in a three-game losing streak, Kentucky needs to find a way to stop the bleeding and stop it fast. The 37-34 home loss to Auburn Saturday was a real downer because the Wildcats had battled back in the second half and put themselves in a position to win. Now, they have two games upcoming at home that are absolutely vital. If the Wildcats can’t win at least one of these next two against South Carolina or Georgia, they can probably forget about extending their bowl streak to five straight years. Defense has been the problem here lately, specifically against the run. The Wildcats are last in the SEC in rushing defense and giving up an average of 190.3 yards per game. In six games, they’ve allowed 15 rushing touchdowns -- four more than anybody else in the league. So to make a run in the second half of the season, they have to get that part of their defense shored up and get running back Derrick Locke healthy. He’s not expected to play Saturday against South Carolina after suffering a stinger.

Offensive MVP: WR Randall Cobb. There’s little doubt that Cobb is the most versatile player in this league. That was pretty well established before the season began. But as we hit the midway point, good luck in finding a player anywhere in college football who does more than Cobb and does it as well as Cobb. He’s produced touchdowns four different ways this season (rushing, passing, receiving and punt return) and has accounted for a touchdown in 20 of the past 22 games in which he’s played.

Defensive MVP: LB Danny Trevathan. He’s the SEC’s tackles leader with 59 total stops and the guy the Wildcats look to for the big play on defense. Trevathan leads the team with eight tackles for loss, and he’s also forced a fumble. The reality is that Kentucky needs more guys playing up to his level the rest of the way if the Wildcats are going to dig out of this hole and start stopping people.

Midseason review: LSU

October, 12, 2010

Record: 6-0 (4-0 SEC)

What a bizarre ride it’s been for LSU the first half of this season. But with Les Miles running the show, it’s always going to be entertaining. No matter what you think of Miles, he’s fearless (and, yes, unconventional) when it comes to some of the calls he makes during the course of a game. But it keeps working for him. The fans were roasting him following the 16-14 win over Tennessee for another clock-mismanagement problem at the end of game. But all the Tigers did after that scare was come back on the road the next week and play one of their best games of the season in a 33-29 win over Florida. In his second season as LSU’s defensive coordinator, John Chavis has the defense playing lights out. The Tigers are fifth nationally in total defense and are near the top of the league in both forced turnovers and sacks. The passing game, though, still needs to come around if this team is going to find itself in Atlanta playing for the SEC championship come December.

Offensive MVP: RB Stevan Ridley. Quarterback Jarrett Lee deserves some props for what he’s done the past two weeks, but Ridley has far and away been the most consistent component of an LSU offense that has sputtered for much of this season. He’s second in the SEC in rushing, averaging 106.7 yards per game, and that’s with very little help from the passing game. With 640 rushing yards through six games, Ridley is on track to rush for more than 1,200 yards, which would rank among the top 5 single-season efforts in LSU history

Defensive MVP: DT Drake Nevis. Great defenses start with dominant interior linemen, and that’s what Nevis has been for the Tigers. Florida couldn’t block him last week. Of course, a lot of teams haven’t been able to. He leads all SEC defensive tackles with 33 total tackles, and his 10.5 tackles for loss are tied for second in the SEC. Nevis and Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley have been the two most dominant defenders in the league to this point.

Midseason review: Mississippi State

October, 12, 2010

Record: 4-2 (1-2 SEC)

The Bulldogs get the midseason award as the most improved team in the league, even though they weren’t that far away from being a bowl team a year ago. Being able to finish out those close games and get over that hump was the focus coming into this season, which made the 17-14 home loss to Auburn so disappointing the second week of the season. But two weeks later, Mississippi State rebounded and got it done in the fourth quarter against Georgia to pull out a crucial 24-12 win, snapping a two-game losing streak. If the Bulldogs go on to have a successful season and play in a bowl game, they will undoubtedly look back on that game as the turning point. First-year coordinator Manny Diaz has done an excellent job with the defense. The Bulldogs are fourth in the SEC in scoring defense. And on offense, they’ve been able to keep the football, leading the league in time of possession. But, then, that’s what happens when you can run the football. And even though Anthony Dixon is no longer around, the Bulldogs are still churning out more than 200 yards per game on the ground.

Offensive MVP: OT Derek Sherrod. Quarterback Chris Relf has improved, and running back Vick Ballard leads the SEC with 12 touchdowns. But the rock of the Mississippi State offense has been Sherrod, who’s helped pave the way for a rushing attack that’s third in the league with an average of 211.8 yards per game. Sherrod is also a big reason the Bulldogs have given up only eight sacks in six games.

Defensive MVP: LB Chris White. Diaz promised that the Bulldogs were going to attack on defense, and White has flourished in that system. He leads the team in total tackles (46), tackles for loss (7.5) and sacks (2.5). In his second season at Mississippi State after coming over from junior college, White has been a natural at middle linebacker. He played on the outside a year ago.

Midseason review: Ole Miss

October, 12, 2010
Mississippi Rebels

Record: 3-2 (1-1 SEC)

After a disastrous start to the season, Ole Miss has been digging out of the rubble ever since. And to the Rebels’ credit, they haven’t quit digging and have shown signs of improvement. Let’s face it. A lot of teams would have folded the tents right there after losing at home to an FCS opponent in the season opener. Two weeks after the Jacksonville State debacle, the Rebels lost again at home, this time to Vanderbilt by two touchdowns. The defense has struggled the whole way, which is surprising considering the personnel the Rebels had returning in their front seven. However, they lost senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett for the season to a knee injury, and the secondary’s inexperience has been especially glaring. What the Rebels have done is score points. They’ve scored 97 in their last two games, wins over Kentucky and Fresno State, and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli seems to be settling into the offense and finding a rhythm now. This next stretch will be a killer. Ole Miss was off last week, but travels to Alabama and then Arkansas these next two weeks before coming back home to face Auburn.

Offensive MVP: RB Brandon Bolden. It’s not surprising that Bolden is having such a big season. He was one of the stars of the Rebels’ offseason program and worked extremely hard. He’s third in the SEC in rushing with an average of 103.6 yards per game. Of the top five rushers in the league, Bolden’s 6.8 yards-per-carry average leads the way. He’s also tied for Ole Miss’ team lead in receptions with 11, two of those touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: LB Jonathan Cornell. Even though there haven’t been a lot of highlights for the Rebels’ defense the first half of the season, Cornell has been Mr. Steady. He leads the team with 40 total tackles, including eight for loss. He’s also forced a fumble and broken up two passes.

Midseason review: South Carolina

October, 12, 2010
South Carolina Gamecocks

Record: 4-1 (2-1 SEC)

The window of opportunity was there for the Gamecocks this season in the Eastern Division, and they haven’t wasted any time jumping right through. You want to talk about momentum. This team is swimming in momentum after knocking off then No. 1-ranked Alabama 35-21 last week and ending the Crimson Tide’s 19-game winning streak. The Gamecocks are positioned right where they wanted to be going into the second half of the season -- atop the Eastern Division standings all by themselves. They still have to prove they can go on the road and win big games, but there’s no debating the nucleus of young talent on this team. To this point, it’s been the most balanced offense Steve Spurrier has put on the field at South Carolina since taking the job in 2005. And on defense, Ellis Johnson’s guys answered the call against Alabama in a big way after not tackling very well two weeks earlier in the 35-27 loss to Auburn. The Head Ball Coach has said since the beginning of the season that this was a different team. It also has a chance to be a special team. But doing that will require finishing the season, which has been a struggle for the Gamecocks. Since 2000, they’re just 18-34 in regular-season games played after Oct. 15.

Offensive MVP: WR Alshon Jeffery. He’s become the ultimate offensive weapon for the Gamecocks, who are making it a point to get the ball to the 6-4, 230-pound Jeffery every chance they get. He’s delivering too, with 34 catches and 625 receiving yards, both SEC highs. Teams simply haven’t had an answer for Jeffery with his blend of size, speed and ability to go up and get the football in a crowd.

Defensive MVP: CB Stephon Gilmore. As a freshman, Gilmore showed flashes of brilliance. Now as a sophomore, he’s one of the better defensive backs in the league, not to mention one of the more versatile. He leads the Gamecocks with five tackles for loss, is second in total tackles and also has an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown. He’s one of those guys you can bring on a blitz one play and then have him lock down on the opposing team’s best receiver the next three plays.

Midseason review: Tennessee

October, 12, 2010

Record: 2-4 (0-3 SEC)

The forecast was that Derek Dooley would be in for a rough ride this first season, and so far, that’s exactly what it’s been for the Vols. Their youth, inexperience and lack of depth across the board has been glaring. They’ve been in some games, but simply haven’t been able to finish them. The exception was this most recent 41-14 beatdown by Georgia. Tennessee was never in that game and didn’t seem real interested in competing once the Bulldogs jumped out to a 10-0 lead. That could be an ominous sign for the rest of the season. The Vols, who’ve allowed more sacks (23) than anybody else in the FBS ranks, have a bye week to regroup before taking on Alabama on Oct. 23. They’ve shown some signs of breaking through, playing Florida tough for most of the game and having that LSU game won had they not committed the substitution blunder at the end of the game. Of course, the other way to look at it is that they could very easily be 1-5 right now had UAB not missed five field goals.

Offensive MVP: RB Tauren Poole. He’s had to fight through some injuries, but is seventh in the SEC in rushing, averaging 79.7 yards per game. Poole has 478 yards and five touchdowns through the Vols’ first six games, and while he’s not an explosive breakaway threat, he’s one of those guys who will fight for yards on every play and will keep fighting the entire game.

Defensive MVP: LB Nick Reveiz. In a lot of ways, Reveiz has been the heartbeat of this entire team. He’s one of the leaders in the locker room and also leads the Vols with 54 tackles, including four for loss. He’s tied for fourth in the SEC with his average of nine tackles per game and is Tennessee’s defensive quarterback on the field as far as making all the checks and getting everybody lined up correctly.

Midseason review: Vanderbilt

October, 12, 2010

Record: 2-3 (1-1 SEC)

Robbie Caldwell was already well known for his ability to develop an offensive line and his penchant for telling a good joke. But in taking over the Vanderbilt program, he’s also helped to add some pop to an offense that was dreadful a year ago. The Commodores are actually scoring points and moving the ball and are getting key contributions from an array of younger players. They’re painfully close to being 3-2 right now had they not missed an extra point against Northwestern (a controversial call near the end of the game also went against them). They’re healthier at running back than they were to start the season and are averaging 171.6 yards per game on the ground. The secondary has emerged as one of the better ones in the league, and the Commodores are second in the SEC against the pass. They’ve only given up five touchdown passes. But if they’re going to make a run at the .500 mark, they have to be much better against the run the second half of the season.

Offensive MVP: RB Warren Norman. The SEC Freshman of the Year last season, Norman leads the Commodores in rushing with 327 yards and four touchdowns. He’s also their leader in all-purpose yardage and ranks fifth in the SEC in that category, averaging 142.8 yards per game. Norman underwent arthroscopic knee surgery during preseason practice, but was back in time for the first game.

Defensive MVP: CB Casey Hayward. One of the most underrated players in the SEC, Hayward has picked up where he left off last season. He has four interceptions in five games and is a good enough cover guy that more and more teams are avoiding his side of the field all together. The 6-foot, 185-pound junior is a big reason why the Commodores rank second in the SEC in passing defense.