SEC: Amari Cooper

It’s easy to look at Amari Cooper and be dismissive of his chances to win the Heisman Trophy.

First of all, he’s a receiver, meaning he’s reliant on someone else to get him the football, unlike, say, a quarterback or running back.

Secondly, he’s a receiver, meaning there hasn’t been a player at the position to win the award in more than two decades.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAmari Cooper might not get as many touches as a QB or RB, but what he does with the touches he does get is unmatched.
Lastly, he’s a receiver and nothing more, meaning the only two receivers to ever hoist the trophy, Desmond Howard and Tim Brown, both doubled as return men.

See where we’re going with this? The odds are stacked against Cooper.

So we should just throw in the towel and pin the SEC’s hopes of claiming the Heisman on Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott, right?

Of course not.

Cooper doesn’t have a single first- or second-place vote in the most recent ESPN Experts’ Poll, and that’s surprising. If the Heisman Trophy is meant to recognize “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity,” then Alabama’s junior receiver certainly applies. He’s never been in trouble with the law, plays through pain, and is one of the most dominant players in college football, regardless of position.

Yes, as a receiver he’s reliant on the quarterback to get him the football, but if you watch him play on a consistent basis then you know how many of his yards are picked up after the catch. His 1,146 yards from scrimmage ranks 11th nationally. There are 10 running backs ahead of him, and his yards per play (15.28) dwarfs all of them. Think of it this way: He has 75 total touches, compared to Melvin Gordon’s 162 or Ameer Abdullah’s 193. Even with so few opportunities, no one in college football has more plays of 20-plus yards than Cooper’s 19.

If they’d let him, Cooper would return kicks and punts and add to his overall numbers. While coach Nick Saban said that Cooper would be “the first guy” to volunteer to do so, he doesn’t want to risk injury to his best player. Additionally, Saban wants to spread around opportunities to guys such as Cyrus Jones and Christion Jones, who are capable of making plays on special teams.

While it’s hard to argue that anyone effects the outcome of the game as much as a quarterback, Cooper’s impact goes beyond the typical receiver. He’s been targeted 96 times this season, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of all of Alabama's pass attempts. He’s caught 19 passes on third down, which is more than every other Alabama receiver combined.

In short, Cooper is Alabama's offense. It's hard to imagine where Blake Sims would be without him.

Balance? Who needs balance when you have No. 9 to throw the ball to?

“You know that's kind of like saying you get 26 outs in the game throwing fastballs, so you should throw a changeup and then the guy hits it out of the park. I mean, should you play to your strengths or not?” Saban told reporters after Alabama beat Tennessee, 34-20, on Saturday. “Now, we have other good players ... but as long as No. 9 is getting open and as long as we're throwing him the ball, I don't think we should tell the quarterback, don't throw it to him."

Said Butch Jones, who watched his defense allow Cooper an Alabama-record 224 yards: “They do different things with him, but he runs after the catch, makes every catch. He's an elite player -- very deserving to be spoken about in the Heisman Trophy race. I have a lot of respect for him as a competitor."

But does respect equal a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony? Only time will tell.

But so long as Cooper keeps posting eye-popping numbers, his name should be in the conversation. Even if he's a receiver.

SEC morning links

October, 27, 2014
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1. As Mississippi State's magical season chugs along, running back Josh Robinson has become the newest darling of college football. He has a wide smile and a playful spirit, as evidenced by a perfectly executed videobomb of coach Dan Mullen's postgame interview on Saturday. Robinson is listed generously at 5-foot-9 and carries his 215 pounds like a round mound of ground and pound. But he's got an even better nickname: "The Human Bowling Ball," and it makes sense when you watch this highlight of Robinson breaking no less than six tackles on one play. He ran for a career-high 198 yards, including 142 yards after contact. It was Robinson’s second conference game with 100 or more yards after contact (the other featured 116 yards after contact at LSU). Entering Week 9, the rest of the SEC had two such games combined. Robinson really wanted those last two yards to reach the 200-yard mark for the day. As MSU was executing the kneel-down play, Robinson gestured toward Mullen with two fingers to plead his case. Mullen seemed annoyed after the game, saying, "Well, you should have gotten the two yards earlier in the game. You had 59 minutes to get that done." The lesson here? Don't videobomb Dan Mullen.

2. Playing quarterback takes guts and conviction. It's what Good Bo/Bad Bo is all about. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace had his reputation on the line in the waning seconds of Saturday's Ole Miss-LSU game, and he went for it. It's too bad for the Rebels that Wallace didn't do anything close to what he was told to do. Coach Hugh Freeze said he told Wallace to throw to the flats or out of bounds. Wallace went for it in the end zone, and LSU intercepted the ball to seal its upset. So it's all on Bad Bo, right? Not so fast. Wallace struggled throughout the decisive fourth quarter, completing 6 of 13 passes before the final play. Shouldn't Freeze have known better than to take that risk with Bad Bo at the controls? "I thought we were pretty clear," Freeze said afterward. Wallace's ill-advised pass was his first interception in SEC play. Entering the week, he led the SEC in fourth-quarter Total QBR (90.7) and had zero fourth-quarter turnovers. Saturday was just a very clear, very painful case of Good Bo/Bad Bo.

3. It needs to be said: Amari Cooper is the best wide receiver on Earth who's not in the NFL. Scouts and wonks are lining up to agree. ("He's like a smaller version of A.J. Green!") Cooper had his second SEC game of the season with 200-plus yards receiving and now has 13 career games of at least 100 receiving yards, which is tied with D.J. Hall for most in school history. In other words, it's safe to say Cooper will hold every meaningful Alabama record for a wide receiver when he's through. What is certain is Nick Saban intends to continue feeding the beast. And at the very least it should ensure Cooper gets a shot at some major hardware in December. "He should be up there for the Heisman trophy," said Tennessee coach Butch Jones without the slightest bit of hyperbole. His Vols had the skid marks to prove it.

Around the SEC
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Vote: SEC play of the week

October, 26, 2014
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There was also no shortage of spectacular plays in the SEC on Saturday, ranging from a fat-guy touchdown pass to an onside kick return to game-clinching interception. We’ve narrowed the weekend’s best to five. Now it’s your turn. Let us know what play you think was the best in the SEC this week by voting:

Fat-guy touchdown pass
We’ve seen scoop-and-scores from the big guys. We’ve seen touchdown receptions from them. But have you ever seen a 6-foot-6, 350-pound offensive linemen throw a touchdown pass? That happened in the Arkansas-UAB game Saturday. The Razorbacks’ Sebastian Tretola took the snap on a fake field goal attempt and threw a 6-yard touchdown pass off his back foot. Offensive linemen everywhere were proud.

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SportsNation

Who had the play of the week in the SEC?

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    42%
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    13%
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    21%
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    10%
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    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,332)

Onside kick return to the house
There were a handful of Josh Robinson runs that deserve honorable mention on here, but the run of the day came from Mississippi State tight end Christian Holmes, who returned an onside kick 61 yards for a touchdown. Kentucky had just scored to make it a one-possession game. The Wildcats' only option was to try for an onside kick. Not only did Holmes recover it, he snared it and outran the Wildcats’ coverage team to seal the 45-31 victory.

Cooper starts off with a bang
Could Lane Kiffin have scripted his return to Knoxville any better? On the first play, he drew up a fake toss and a quick pass the other way to Amari Cooper. The All-SEC wide receiver did the rest. Cooper took the pass in stride and once he turned the corner, there was no catching him. He blew past the Tennessee defense and took it 80 yards for a touchdown.

video Louis turns on the jets
We all knew Cooper was fast, but how about Auburn wide receiver Ricardo Louis? Known for his game-winning touchdown grab against Georgia last year, Louis provided a spark for the Tigers on Saturday when he took a jet sweep around the left end and went untouched for 75 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina. The play was set up a key block from Cameron Artis-Payne, but Louis did the rest. The junior showed he’s pretty quick, too.

video Martin seals the victory in Death Valley
It was a strange sequence of events in the final minutes between LSU and Ole Miss. Jalen Mills intercepted Bo Wallace to end the game, except pass interference was called. The Rebels were going to line up for a game-tying field goal until a delay-of-game penalty. Finally, with Ole Miss taking one last shot before another potential field goal attempt, Ronald Martin flew over from his safety spot and intercepted Wallace. This time there were no flags. Game over.

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SEC helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 26, 2014
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Let's hand out some helmet stickers for Week 9 in the SEC.

Amari Cooper, Alabama: There is no better receiver in the SEC, and perhaps college football, than Mr. Cooper. On Saturday vs. Tennessee, Cooper turned in his sixth game of 100 or more yards and his second of 200 or more by catching nine passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. The Crimson Tide’s first offensive play from scrimmage went to Cooper, and he turned it into this 80-yard touchdown.

LSU defense: Give it up for the Tigers. They held Ole Miss to 313 offensive yards, harassed Rebels’ quarterback Bo Wallace (who was 14-of-33 passing) and got a pair of critical stops late: one on fourth-and-1 with 1:44 remaining in the game and another on an interception of Wallace by Ronald Martin near the goal line with two seconds to go. Too many to name with great games. A few include Kendell Beckwith (10 tackles, one for loss, one pass breakup), Jamal Adams (three pass breakups), Danielle Hunter (nine tackles, two for loss, a half-sack) and Jermauria Rasco (nine tackles, one for loss, half-sack).

Nick Marshall, Auburn: Four touchdowns and 245 all-purpose yards for the senior quarterback in Auburn’s 42-35 win over South Carolina. Marshall was 12-of-14 passing for 139 yards and a touchdown (no interceptions), ran for 89 yards and three scores, caught a 17-yard pass and a partridge in a pear tree.

Josh Robinson, Mississippi State: They don’t call Robinson the “Bowling ball” for nothing. He showed why with one particularly memorable 22-yard run in which he broke about seven Kentucky tackles. He finished with 23 carries for 198 yards and two touchdowns plus 11 receiving yards.

Patrick Towles, Kentucky: The Wildcats didn't win, but Towles turned in quite the effort against No. 1 Mississippi State. The sophomore quarterback threw for 390 yards and two touchdowns and led the team in rushing with 76 yards and two more scores in the 45-31 defeat. For a guy who redshirted last season and had to win a preseason competition for the starting quarterback job, Towles has come a long way.

Jonathan Williams, Arkansas: The junior running back had a career-high 153 rushing yards on 18 carries (a nice 8.5 yards per carry average) and a touchdown run in the Razorbacks' 45-17 win over UAB. Williams also hauled in a 17-yard TD pass from Brandon Allen.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 9

October, 26, 2014
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Imagine that. Last week, there wasn't a single competitive game on the SEC slate. This Saturday, every game was must-see TV, even though Alabama-Tennessee lacked the fourth-quarter drama of the other games.

With three primetime games going bonkers, to the delight of three terrific crowds, you could have made a serious case for an SEC RedZone channel. Picture-in-picture just wasn't enough.

Hugh Freeze is kicking himself: No. 3 Ole Miss fell to No. 24 LSU 10-7 when the Tigers intercepted a Bo Wallace pass with two seconds left. Freeze has to live with a couple bad decisions that cost the Rebels a shot at overtime. First, a mind-numbing delay of game pushed their freshman kicker back from a 42- to a 47-yard field-goal attempt. Then Freeze chose to have Wallace sneak in a pass with nine seconds left in figuring they'd either get something underneath and out of bounds to set up an easier field goal or Wallace would take a shot at the end zone, where only his receiver could catch the ball. Technically, there was enough time to go for the win and, if it fell incomplete, kick the game-tying field goal. Neither scenario happened, and now Ole Miss has to live with a haunting first loss of the season. With more SEC West bloodletting to come, the possibility of getting two teams into the playoff took a serious hit.

[+] EnlargeTrey Quinn
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsNo. 24 LSU upset No. 3 Ole Miss by limiting the Rebels to just seven points and controlling the time of possession.
Here's to old-school football: As expected, the Rebels' Landshark defense shut down the airways and owned the takeaway advantage (four to LSU's one). What wasn't expected, however, was the Tigers' success running against a unit giving up an average of 97.1 yards a game. LSU piled up an astounding 264 yards on the ground and gradually wore down Ole Miss. The Tigers defense also played its best game of the season and thrived in an electric Death Valley atmosphere. The Rebels led for most of the game, until a 13-play, 95-yard, fourth-quarter drive by LSU that featured only one pass attempt -- the game-winning touchdown. It was Les Miles' 24th fourth-quarter win at LSU. The man is a warlock.

Mississippi State looks vulnerable: It would be so easy to devote this space to some well-deserved gushing over MSU's unstoppable dynamic duo -- running back Josh Robinson (198 yards, two touchdowns) and quarterback Dak Prescott (216 yards passing with one touchdown and 88 yards rushing with two scores). It's only fair to give Mark Stoops and his Wildcats all the credit in the world for Kentucky's improvement. But the story of this game with lasting implications concerned the Bulldogs' leaky defense. Mississippi State came into Saturday's game ranked 121st in passing yards allowed and gave up 401 yards to UK. Having your defense exposed in your first game as the No. 1 team in the land is not the best look for the playoff committee.

A desperate Spurrier is a dangerous Spurrier is an entertaining Spurrier: Steve Spurrier definitely put the fun back in the Fun n' Gun offense Saturday night on the Plains in a 42-35 loss to Auburn. The Gamecocks came in with a 2-3 record in the SEC, and Spurrier called plays like he had nothing to lose. And you know what? It worked. South Carolina's defense is still a disaster in cleats, but Riverboat Steve dialed up an epic shootout. Reverses, double reverses, quarterback throwbacks, wildcat bombs, onside kicks, fourth-down insanity ... it was all on glorious display. This was vintage Spurrier. The Gamecocks went for it on fourth down six times and converted five. For their part, the Tigers looked comfortable all night. They know a thing or two about winning with offense, so this one felt a lot like 2013. Auburn isn't in control in the West Division but has to like its chances to still get to Atlanta or slip into the playoff as a worthy one-loss team.

Lane Kiffin makes for great theater: Neyland Stadium was packed with Big Orange fans thirsting for some revenge against their former coach in his return. But on Alabama's first play, Kiffin dialed up a bootleg perfectly executed by Blake Sims and Amari Cooper, who ran 80 yards for a touchdown. Kiffin ran with Cooper down the Bama sideline for a bit before flashing a sly grin under his visor. On the Tide's next drive, Cooper continued to dominate and caught three more passes for 75 yards. After Cooper's second score, he shoulder-bumped Kiffin, who was smiling broadly this time. Vols fans probably doubled over with nausea. The Crimson Tide never lost the lead in the 34-20 win over Tennessee. What we really learned in this one was just how good Cooper is. His 185 yards in the first quarter were the most for any SEC receiver in a quarter in the past 10 seasons. When it was over, Cooper had 224 yards to break Julio Jones' single-game school record of 221 yards receiving (also against the Vols, in 2010).
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Lane Kiffin's return to Neyland Stadium was a successful one, as Alabama rolled up 469 yards of offense in a 34-20 win over Tennessee. Things got a little interesting after the first quarter, but Alabama held strong in front of a crowd of 102,455. Here's how it happened:

How the game was won: Alabama put on a clinic in the first quarter, leading 20-0 and outgaining Tennessee 253 to 80 yards. Alabama added another touchdown in the second, but Tennessee made a nice comeback during the second and third quarters, after Joshua Dobbs replaced Nathan Peterman at quarterback. Alabama converted 11 of 15 third downs, and Derrick Henry's 28-yard touchdown run late in the third put the game away.

Gameball goes to: Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper was outstanding, as 185 of his 224 yards and both of his touchdowns came in the first quarter, alone. Cooper made plays down the sideline and over the middle. He was easily the best player on the field all night, and continues to look like the country's best receiver.

What it means: Alabama didn't look as sharp after the first quarter, but the win means it's still very much in the SEC -- and playoff -- race. With Ole Miss losing to LSU, Alabama is right back in the thick of the SEC race, especially with Mississippi State playing in Tuscaloosa in November. Tennessee might have lost its eighth straight to Alabama, but Dobbs might have played himself into the starting role for as long as Justin Worley is out after looking more confident that we've seen in the past and throwing for 192 yards with two touchdowns. He also rushed for 75 yards.

Playoff implication: Alabama is in great position, really. After two straight dominating wins, Alabama still has an ever-improving LSU team to play (on the road) and No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 5 Auburn at home to close the season. Alabama is hitting its stride and strength of schedule won't be a problem for the Tide at all.

Best play: It has to be Cooper's touchdown on Alabama's first play from scrimmage. What started as a routine pass underneath to the right flat turned into a back-breaker for Tennessee's defense, as Cooper sprinted toward the sideline, made a move on a defender and was gone. Who was jacked about it? Oh, that would be Kiffin, who sprinted alongside him some.

video What's next: It cools down this week for Alabama, as the Tide have a bye next weekend. However, the following week brings a trip to Baton Rouge to play LSU. Tennessee travels to South Carolina next week.

SEC Heisman Watch: Week 8

October, 21, 2014
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There's no denying that with his team's No. 1 ranking, undefeated record, wins against Top 25 teams and his own performance, Mississippi State's Dak Prescott is still the top contender for the Heisman Trophy from the SEC and, so it seems, he is the national favorite at the moment, depending on where you look (Oregon's Marcus Mariota is getting some love as well, lately).

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsAmari Cooper caught eight passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns against Texas A&M.
But when it comes to SEC candidates, Prescott, the league's best quarterback on what is currently the league's best team, is the front-runner. Perhaps we should be paying some attention, however, to the league's best receiver: Alabama's Amari Cooper.

We've had this conversation before. Earlier this season, particularly after his 10-catch, 201-yard, three-touchdown performance against Florida, Cooper's name began to emerge as one deserving of Heisman Trophy candidacy.

Well, in case you forgot about Cooper after two less productive weeks (one in which he was hampered by an injury), he reminded us all on Saturday why he is the standard in the league at his position.

Cooper was dominant in Alabama's 59-0 win against Texas A&M: eight catches, 140 yards, two touchdowns. The Aggies had no answers for Cooper, whom quarterback Blake Sims looked toward early and often in the game. He's big, fast, physical and extremely productive. He has been outstanding this season, with five games of at least 130 receiving yards and 908 receiving yards total, which ranks fourth in the country.

So while Prescott (whose team was off last weekend) remains the league's premier option currently and we continue to await word on what will happen with suspended Georgia running back Todd Gurley, perhaps we should keep a closer eye on Cooper moving forward.

Here are three other players to keep an eye on:

  • Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss: Wallace wasn't pristine this week (13-of-28, 199 yards), but he was still turnover-free and threw two touchdowns to guide the Rebels to a win over Tennessee. He is averaging 290.7 offensive yards per game in SEC play, while throwing nine touchdowns and zero interceptions in Ole Miss' four conference wins. He is third in the league in passer rating (163.0) and second in passing yards (1,899) and touchdown passes (17).

  • Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were off this week but Robinson has no doubt been an excellent weapon to pair with Prescott this season. He's second in the SEC with 689 rushing yards and yards per carry (7.0) and tied for second with eight rushing touchdowns.

  • Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: We don't know when Gurley will come back as he has missed the last two games, suspended by Georgia while it investigates allegation whether he profited from signing autographs. Even though he sat the last two games, he still leads the SEC in rushing yards (773), yards per carry (8.2) and is tied for second in rushing touchdowns (eight). The longer he's out, the more his chances are hindered, but for now, we'll keep him in the watch.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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The only good thing about a day full of blowouts in the SEC is that there are plenty of helmet stickers to hand out.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: How do you top a 143-yard, one-touchdown performance in your first collegiate start? By rushing for 202 yards and two touchdowns in your second start. That's exactly what Chubb did in place of the suspended Todd Gurley on Saturday, leading Georgia past Arkansas, 45-32. He became only the third freshman in school history to rush for more than 200 yards in a game (Herschel Walker, Rodney Hampton). As long as Chubb keeps getting 30-plus carries a game, he's going to keep showing up on this list.

Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss: Don't get me wrong. Senquez Golson is deserving of a helmet sticker with two interceptions on Saturday. But it was Haynes and the defensive line that set the tone for the Rebels. They held Tennessee to zero rushing yards in large part thanks to nine sacks on the night. Haynes led the way with five tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during the 34-3 win. The freshman might not get the recognition of his counterpart Robert Nkemdiche, but he's one of the SEC's better young stars whom nobody's talking about.

Terrence Magee, RB, LSU: It was supposed to be Leonard Fournette with the huge game, but Magee said “move over freshman, I'm taking this one.” Magee rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries in LSU's 41-3 win over Kentucky. That's 14.1 yards per carry for those counting at home. He also happened to be the team's leading receiver with three catches for 44 yards. Fournette might be the LSU running back to watch in the second half, but don't forget about Magee. He's not going anywhere.

Marcus Murphy, RB, Missouri: Murphy wasted no time putting his stamp on Saturday's game in Gainesville, returning the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. But he wasn't done yet. No, he had more in store for the Gators. Murphy made it 14-0 with a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and he would later return a punt 82 yards for another score. The senior finished with 224 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns on the night. He was one of the big reasons why Missouri won 42-13 despite only gaining 119 yards on offense.

Blake Sims, QB, Alabama: T.J. Yeldon, you deserve a helmet sticker. Amari Cooper, you deserve a helmet sticker. Alabama's defense, you deserve a helmet sticker. It was that kind of game for the Crimson Tide. But the nod here goes to Sims, who went 16-of-27 for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the Tide's 59-0 win over Texas A&M. He also made arguably the best move of the day on his 43-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. This team, Sims included, was criticized after last week's win over Arkansas. It responded in a big way.

Alabama lets loose on Texas A&M

October, 18, 2014
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Let your horses run. Let them jump and dance and dominate.

Nick Saban wanted that. He wanted his guys loose. Forget being anxious, he said, and just play football. Have fun. Be fast. Recalling the story of Secretariat he hoped to "just let 'em run."

Alabama hit its stride on Saturday afternoon, blowing past Texas A&M for a 59-0 win that had the previously sluggish Crimson Tide looking like playoff contenders once again.

T.J. Yeldon dodged and darted his way to 114 yards and two touchdowns.

Derrick Henry churned his long legs for 70 yards and a touchdown of his own.

Even Blake Sims let loose in the second quarter, running by a slew of defenders for a spectacular 43-yard touchdown.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon, Austin Shepherd
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonT.J. Yeldon and Austin Shepard celebrate one of Yeldon's two touchdowns against Texas A&M.
Alabama fired on all cylinders while Texas A&M flamed out. It proved to be the Tide’s largest margin of victory in more than 30 years.

The emotion Saban said his team had been lacking was instead ramped up to an 11. The normally business-like Crimson Tide played the game like kids again.

If you’ve never seen a group of 280-pound men jump up and down to a beat, it really is something. A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen and the rest of Alabama’s defensive linemen couldn’t sit still. During each kickoff, they huddled on the edge of the field and danced to the music played over the loudspeaker.

Amped up, they took the field and held Texas A&M to 31 yards rushing on 24 carries. They sacked Kenny Hill six times and forced an interception. The Aggies were shut out for the first time since 2003.

It wasn’t just emotion, though. Alabama won by being faster, stronger and more aggressive. It was smarter, with no turnovers and zero penalties.

"There was a lot of anxiety on our team," Saban said, "a lot of guys worrying about expectations, about being defined by external factors.

"Everybody has to forget about all that other stuff," he added. "It does affect you. It affects a lot of teams. That’s why you see these top teams struggling."

On a day when Alabama could do no wrong, Texas A&M was left with nothing but second-guessing.

The Aggies ran defender after defender at Amari Cooper but never could wrangle the junior receiver as he racked up 140 yards and two touchdowns. Keeping up with all their missed tackles was a dizzying task. Mark Snyder’s defense gave up 45 points and 449 yards of offense -- in the first half.

"However you cut it, that performance was unacceptable and embarrassing," said coach Kevin Sumlin. "Alabama had a lot to do with that, but we have to get back to work and examine where we are right now and how we can get better."

Given the stark contrast in the quality of play, it’s hard to make any sweeping statements about the prospects of Alabama. It’s surely back in the playoff conversation, but this is still the same team that lost at Ole Miss and nearly fell to unranked Arkansas a week later.

But for now the critics should be silenced.

Saban wanted more emotion. He wanted his horses to run.

On Saturday, he got the right attitude and the right results.

Alabama-Texas A&M primer

October, 17, 2014
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Since Texas A&M joined the SEC, the Aggies and Alabama have had memorable battles. There was Johnny Manziel’s coming-out party in 2012 when the Aggies upset the Crimson Tide, Alabama traveled to College Station last year to get redemption, outlasting Texas A&M in a shootout. The third annual meeting between these SEC West foes takes place Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. This time, both teams could use some positive momentum in the form of a win. Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC) beat Arkansas 14-13 last week but has plenty of concerns stemming from the win and the Tide lost to Ole Miss the week prior. Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2), meanwhile, took beatings at the hands of Mississippi State and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks. What should we expect Saturday? Alex Scarborough and Sam Khan Jr. break it down:

Alabama's key to victory: If Alabama's offensive line can't move the ball effectively then all bets are off. We've seen the past two weeks what Lane Kiffin's offense looks like when the running game can't get going, especially this past weekend when the Tide mustered just 66 yards rushing against Arkansas. But Texas A&M's defensive front is among the most porous in the SEC. If Alabama can reestablish the run then everything else falls into place: It takes the pressure off Blake Sims in the passing game and helps the defense by keeping Kenny Hill and Co. off the field.

Texas A&M’s key to victory: The Aggies need to get off to a quick start. They seem to be at their best when they get into an offensive rhythm early. Remember 2012? The Aggies jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter against Alabama. That’s probably asking too much this time around, but considering how much the offense has struggled the last two weeks, it behooves the Aggies to get points on the board early, otherwise it could facilitate a “here we go again” feeling and result in the Aggies trying to play catch-up, which they haven’t done a good job of in recent weeks.

Alabama’s X-factor: I'm still not sold on Alabama's secondary, especially in a game where the opponent can throw the ball effectively to four or five receivers on any down. The Tide just doesn't have enough quality depth at cornerback this year. That's why the play of Alabama's defensive line will be huge against Texas A&M. The Aggie o-line hasn't been great in recent weeks, so A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen and Co. have a chance to get after the quarterback. If they do that, it will be a boost to the secondary and potentially create a few turnovers that gets the defense off the field.

Texas A&M’s X-factor: There are several items to choose from here from offensive line play, which was not good last week, to secondary play or the defensive play as a whole. The bottom line is for the Aggies to have a chance, they need to be able to force some turnovers and make timely stops in crucial situations, like third downs or in the red zone. I don’t think anybody expects them to shut down Alabama’s running game or contain Amari Cooper, but if they can be good in those three areas defensively, they’ll have a fighting chance.

What a win will mean for Alabama: Well for starters it keeps the Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes alive. Considering some of the discussion that followed the “ugly” win at Arkansas, you might be fooled into thinking Alabama is out of it. On the contrary. There are still plenty of big games left, including showdowns with Mississippi State and of course, the Iron Bowl against Auburn. A win might get some folks to step back from the ledge after one loss and one not-so-pretty win a week ago.

What a win will mean for Texas A&M: It would generate some much-needed positive momentum. The Aggies don’t want to take a three-game losing streak into their off week so a win on Saturday would help restore some confidence, especially for the Aggies young players. It also could serve as a springboard for a solid finish to the season, which includes two off weeks, one nonconference opponent and three SEC foes (two at home).
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The winner of the Iron Bowl has gone on to win or play for the national championship in each of the last five seasons, and this season was supposed to make it six. The November showdown in Tuscaloosa was thought to be a virtual play-in game for the College Football Playoff, a winner-take-all matchup similar to last year.

Through the first six games, there has been a slight hiccup by way of the Magnolia State, but it's hard to envision a scenario in which Alabama and Auburn aren't still a part of the conversation when it comes time to choose the top four teams in college football.

So we ask the question: Which team is in better shape today to reach the playoff?

Ostendorf: The team that showed up Saturday did not look like the Auburn team we've grown accustomed to seeing over the past year and a half, did it? Silly turnovers and struggles in the red zone took away from what actually wasn't a half-bad performance. You can't spot the other team 21 points and expect to come back and win.

Maybe Mississippi State is just that good, or maybe Auburn simply had an off day. Either way, I expect Gus Malzahn and his team to use the upcoming bye week to regroup and right the ship. Remember the last time the Tigers lost an SEC game? It was last September at LSU, and they proceeded to win nine straight games en route to the BCS title game.

Now, this isn't last year's team. Greg Robinson, Tre Mason and Dee Ford are all gone. But I argue that the addition of D'haquille Williams, the team's leading wide receiver through the first six games, makes the passing game that much better, and the difference between last year's defense and this year's defense is night and day. Last year's group relied too much on getting pressure up front. This year, Auburn is getting quality play from the defensive line, the linebackers and the secondary, and it has already forced 13 turnovers.

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsThe winner of the past five Auburn-Alabama games has played for the national title. Will this year's winner make the College Football Playoff?
Also, it's not like Alabama's offense is off to a record-setting pace. The offseason hire of Lane Kiffin looked promising at the time, but after 227 yards and 14 points against Arkansas on Saturday, maybe it's time to admit that we were wrong about him. Maybe he's not the answer to all of the Tide's woes on offense.

Scarborough: While I'm not ready to say Kiffin isn't the right guy to lead Alabama's offense, he has struggled in pivotal moments late in each of the last two games. The offensive output against Arkansas -- fewer than 70 yards rushing, two touchdowns -- was about as bad as it gets. But I think with Ryan Kelly eventually sliding back in at center, some of those issues will be settled. It's hard to imagine that running game with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry will be kept down for long.

With that said, Blake Sims needs to play better. His confidence and decision-making in recent games have been lacking. The fact that Amari Cooper caught just two passes against Arkansas is inexcusable. He's arguably the best player on either side of the Iron Bowl rivalry.

The thing that should concern Alabama fans the most, though, is the execution from this team. If you didn't know it was Nick Saban on the sideline, you would wonder about the coaching. Mental errors, penalties and fumbles have been pervasive. The crisp play of Alabama teams in the past simply hasn't been there this season.

But for those very reasons, I see Alabama as having a higher ceiling than Auburn. The Tide's issues are fixable with practice and good coaching. The Tigers' problems, on the other hand, strike me as more personnel based, whether that's not enough quality players on the offensive line or playmakers on defense.

Ostendorf: Higher ceiling? Maybe. But this Alabama team will go only as far as Sims takes it, and if I'm picking a quarterback, it's not Sims. It's Nick Marshall. He might not be the best passer in the SEC, but he's the perfect fit for what Malzahn wants to do offensively. When Marshall gets going, Auburn is hard to stop. Say what you will about his passing, but he has thrown for at least 200 yards and two touchdowns in three of the last four games. He's much better than he was a year ago, which is a scary thought for the Tide considering he accounted for almost 200 yards and three touchdowns in last year's game.

Speaking of which, I can imagine that winning last year's game will give Auburn more confidence heading into this year's game. This team now knows what it takes to beat Alabama, and it won't be afraid to play on the road in Tuscaloosa. If the Iron Bowl does become a play-in game for the playoff, I like the Tigers' chances.

Scarborough: That's great and all. I'm sure we'll see the replay of Chris Davis' 100-plus-yard kick return hundreds of times before the Iron Bowl, as if we had somehow forgotten how that game ended. But while I don't doubt that Auburn's confidence should be high, I'm not sure how much it will matter by that point in the season. The Tigers' schedule is brutal with games against South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Georgia -- in consecutive weeks. After what they have already gone through (Kansas State, Mississippi State), I'm not sure there will be enough gas in the tank come late November.

The Tide's schedule, on the other hand, isn't nearly as daunting. There's this weekend's game against Texas A&M, but after that it's a pair of unranked teams in Tennessee and LSU. Mississippi State will be an enormous challenge, but that game is at home. As is the Iron Bowl. Alabama's home-field advantage could prove to be the difference in both games.

SEC Heisman watch: Week 7

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
2:15
PM ET
With the controversy surrounding Georgia running back Todd Gurley, we have a new Heisman front-runner in the SEC ... and maybe the entire country.

Gurley's indefinite suspension for possible violation of NCAA rules means Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott takes over as our top Heisman contender. While Gurley still leads the SEC in rushing yards (773), rushing touchdowns (eight), yards per carry (8.2) and has four 100-yard rushing games in five outings, it's unknown if he will return to the playing field this year. Still, it's not a bad trade off with Prescott.

He's been the SEC's best quarterback this season with 2,089 total yards of offense and 23 total touchdowns. The fact that he's just defeated three straight top-10 opponents hasn't exactly hurt his Heisman chances, either. In those three wins, Prescott has averaged 361.7 yards of offense (passing and rushing) and has 11 total touchdowns. He's also thrown for 200 yards and rushed for 100 yards in four of his last five games.

Here are three other players to keep an eye on:
  • Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: Like this team in general, he isn't slowing down right now. During the Bulldogs' three-game winning streak over top-10 opponents, Robinson is averaging 133.7 rushing yards and has five touchdowns. He's second in the SEC with 689 rushing yards and yards per carry (7.0). He's tied for first with eight rushing touchdowns.
  • Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss: You just can't ignore what Dr. Bo has done this season, especially in SEC play. In three SEC games, all wins, Wallace averaged 310.3 yards of offense with seven touchdowns and zero turnovers. He's a major reason the Rebels are the No. 3 team in the nation. On the season, Wallace is second in the SEC with 1,700 passing yards and 15 touchdowns.
  • Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Despite leading the SEC with 54 receptions and 768 receiving yards, Cooper fell on our list because he was held to a season-low two catches for 22 yards during the Crimson Tide's win over Arkansas. He was hampered by an injury, but it doesn't appear serious.
video
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When a coach starts talking about the psyche of his team, you know something's wrong. They're football coaches after all, not therapists.

When intangibles are the message, it's usually because there's nothing tangible left to hold on to.

It's nice to talk about effort, but what does that ultimately mean? What does attitude have to do with your third-down conversion percentage? This isn't the movies; chemistry has as much to do with fitting the A-gap as it does the price of eggs.

Take Nick Saban's comments on Monday for instance. Saban called Alabama's win against Arkansas "great for our team." He said players "really pulled together" and "helped each other" and showed a "will-not-be-denied attitude."

The Crimson Tide did all that while making only two trips into the red zone and converting on just 4 of 15 third-down attempts. They willed themselves to 66 yards rushing, four fumbles and a 1-point victory over an unranked team that hasn't won a conference game in two years.

"Survival" was the word many used to describe the win. "Fortunate" might have been a more appropriate one.

"It really ... pisses me off when I talk to people that have this expectation like they are disappointed that we only won the game 14-13 and in the way we played," Saban told reporters. "Really, that's frustrating. You want to talk about what's frustrating, that's frustrating, to me, for our players, who play with a lot of heart in the game."

[+] EnlargeDerrick Henry
Beth Hall/USA TODAY SportsDerrick Henry and the Crimson Tide still have six more games to prove there's more to winning than just a lot of heart and a positive attitude.
Sound defensive? That's because it was.

Nothing around the program looks or sounds championship-caliber these past few weeks. Watching the replay of the last two games, Alabama's execution has been dreadful.

The offensive line, long the strength of the program, has been a mess, failing to push the line of scrimmage and often going backward because of penalties or miscommunication. In turn, the running game has suffered. Blake Sims had the fifth best QBR in the country through October, but over the past two games he ranks 75th. Amari Cooper can't even get his hands on the football anymore. Last week, Sims was 2-of-6 targeting Cooper for 22 yards.

The defense has been solid, but special teams has been uncharacteristically bad. Adam Griffith, who was 7-8 on field goal attempts heading into October, missed two key field goals in a 6-point loss at Ole Miss. JK Scott has been a revelation punting the football, but Alabama ranks 91st nationally in opponents' yards per kickoff return. All five of the Tide's fumbles the last two games have come on punt or kick returns.

Just look at these notes from ESPN's Stats & Information:

  • Alabama has scored 17 points or fewer in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 2007.
  • Alabama had -5 yards before contact against Arkansas, the only time in the last four seasons in which it was held to negative yards before contact.
  • Nine of Alabama's 13 drives against Arkansas failed to produce a first down, which is the most during Saban's time in Tuscaloosa.

What does heart have to do with any of that?

"We've had these same people in these positions before and they have not made these kinds of choices and decisions," Saban said of the team's troubles defending returns. "Same coaching, same time on special teams, same everything. So what creates that? I'm not sure."

Again, another defensive stance: We're not the problem, something else must be.

"Some guys on our team that might play with too much anxiety," Saban said. "They need to relax and compete. And that's what I enjoyed about the way we played in the Arkansas game, especially in the second half. Guys just played with a lot of heart and they competed. Did they make mistakes? They made mistakes. But they played hard."

Effort is great. A good attitude is commendable. But at the end of the day, it's only a fraction of what makes a football team great.

Saban can rant all he wants about how people should be happy with Saturday's 1-point win at Arkansas, but it's an unrealistic sentiment. Performance matters as much as the final outcome. This isn't the NFL where you are what your record dictates. This is college football where words like "dominance" and phrases like "style points" carry actual weight.

Right now, Alabama is neither.

In a way, Saban is doing his job by deflecting the negativity. But take a step back. Pay attention when he says how proud he was of the way players rallied around Sims after his botched QB sneak. Listen when he follows that up with how pleased he was with his team's show of emotion after Landon Collins' interception. In the past, Alabama would have easily converted on fourth-and-inches and never needed a late game-sealing interception to win by 1 point against an unranked opponent.

The more we hear Saban talk about his team's psyche and praise its intangibles, the more we're getting away from what really matters: Sims must get back on track, the offensive line has to improve, something's got to change on special teams.

There are very real issues facing Alabama on its quest for the postseason. The least of which is what's happening between the players' ears.

Midseason All-SEC team

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
11:00
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The many members of the Greatest Show on Turf who were honored at halftime. OK, so maybe we weren't perfect with our preseason All-SEC team, but how can you blame us? There are always surprises, and at the midway point, this season has been no different. Just look at which teams are leading the conference. Who saw that coming?

So we at the SEC blog came together and updated our all-conference team. There were some carry-overs from the initial list, but there are also some new names, some names that might have gone under the radar before the season.

Without further ado, here's your midseason All-SEC team:

OFFENSE

QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
No quarterback has been better in the SEC. Prescott has 2,089 total yards with 23 touchdowns and has taken down three straight top-10 opponents.
Preseason pick: Nick Marshall, Auburn

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisDak Prescott has passed for 1,478 yards with 14 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions for the top-ranked Bulldogs. He's rushed for 576 yards and 8 scores and also has 35 receiving yards with a TD.
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
Suspension aside, Gurley has been the nation's best player. He still leads the SEC in yards (773), yards per carry (8.2) and rushing touchdowns (eight).
Preseason pick: Gurley

RB: Josh Robinson, Mississippi State
Once known as the “Bowling Ball,” he's a certified wrecking ball with his bruising style. He's second in the SEC with 689 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Preseason pick: Mike Davis, South Carolina

WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
There's been no more dominant wideout in the SEC than Alabama's junior from South Florida. More than half of Tide QB Blake Sims' completions have ended up in Cooper's hands.
Preseason pick: Cooper

WR: D'haquille Williams, Auburn
We all knew he was going to be good, but this good? The junior college transfer leads Auburn in receptions (31), yards (493) and touchdowns (five).
Preseason pick: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss

TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Engram didn't receive as much preseason publicity as some SEC tight ends, but has been the league's best so far with 18 receptions for 264 yards.
Preseason pick: O.J. Howard, Alabama

OT: Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
The senior has been solid, though not perfect, in his transition from right tackle to left tackle. He has done an overall fine job protecting Kenny Hill's blind side.
Preseason pick: Ogbuehi

OG: A.J. Cann, South Carolina
South Carolina's season hasn't gone as planned but Cann, a fifth-year senior, has been a consistent force from his left guard spot.
Preseason pick: Cann

C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
There's been a lot of shuffling up front, but Dismukes has been the constant. The senior has started 43 of Auburn's last 44 games, including all six this season.
Preseason pick: Dismukes

OG: Ben Beckwith, Mississippi State
One of the driving forces in State's running game, the former walk-on has started 18 straight games and filled in for suspended center Dillon Day against Texas A&M.
Preseason pick: Vadal Alexander, LSU

OT: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
Bo Wallace has been Good Bo, not Bad Bo, because of his O-line. Tunsil has kept watch of Wallace's blind side and helped the Rebs to the second-best passing game in the SEC.
Preseason pick: La'el Collins, LSU

DEFENSE

DL: Preston Smith, Mississippi State
At one point, Smith was named the SEC's defensive lineman of the week for three straight weeks. He does it all for the Bulldogs' stout defensive front.
Preseason pick: Chris Jones, Mississippi State

[+] EnlargeSenquez Golson
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesSenquez Golson leads the SEC and is tied for second in the nation with five interceptions.
DL: Shane Ray, Missouri
Ranked second nationally in tackles for loss and third in sacks, Ray has been consistent. He has at least one TFL in every game and only one sackless game.
Preseason pick: Dante Fowler Jr., Florida

DL: Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
The true freshman is living up to the hype that defined his recruitment. His 7.5 sacks are a school freshman record and only a half-sack behind the SEC freshman record.
Preseason pick: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama

DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
The statistics don't tell the story of the sophomore, who has been a disruptive force for the Rebels. Example: the pressure he put on Kenny Hill on Saturday to force a pick-six.
Preseason pick: Nkemdiche

LB: Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Try to find a better linebacker who can blitz, clog the run, cover and play sideline-to-sideline as well as McKinney. He has a team-high 41 tackles with three sacks.
Preseason pick: McKinney

LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
With four sacks, the Bulldogs' chief pass-rusher hasn't had a truly dominant game yet, but he typically draws the most attention among UGA's pack of sack artists.
Preseason pick: Floyd

LB Xzavier Dickson, Alabama
It has taken him four years, but Dickson is finally having that breakthrough season. The senior leads Alabama with seven tackles for loss and five sacks.
Preseason pick: Ramik Wilson, Georgia

CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Tied for second in the SEC with six pass breakups, Hargreaves is rarely tested due to his terrific instincts, great range and solid tackling ability.
Preseason pick: Hargreaves

CB: Senquez Golson, Ole Miss
One of the SEC's best cover corners with an SEC-leading five interceptions (second nationally). He's tied for first in the SEC with eight passes defended.
Preseason pick: Tre'Davious White, LSU

S: Landon Collins, Alabama
It's hard to imagine where Bama's defense would be without Collins, who sealed Saturday's win with an interception. The talented junior leads the Tide in tackles and passes defended.
Preseason pick: Collins

S: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
He may not lead his team in interceptions, but Prewitt is possibly the Rebs best defensive player. The veteran safety has 3.5 tackles for loss, two picks and 32 total tackles.
Preseason pick: Prewitt

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Elliott Fry, South Carolina
Fry leads the SEC with 10 field goals made and a conversion rate over 90 percent. The sophomore has a long of 45 yards and is perfect on 25 PATs.
Preseason pick: Marshall Morgan, Georgia

P: JK Scott, Alabama
Looking for Alabama's first-half MVP? Look no further than Scott, a lanky true freshman with a big leg. Forget leading the SEC, Scott ranks sixth in the country in yards per punt (46.7).
Preseason pick: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M

KR/PR: Quan Bray, Auburn
The senior might not have lived up to his potential as a wide receiver, but he's making an impact in the return game. Bray leads the SEC, averaging 25 yards per punt return.
Preseason pick: Christion Jones, Alabama
The SEC began to separate the contenders from the pretenders on Saturday, and the only thing we can safely say is that the state of Mississippi is still king.

[+] EnlargeCody Prewitt
AP Photo/Bob LeveyCody Prewitt scored one of Ole Miss' two defensive touchdowns in the Rebels' 35-20 dismantling of Texas A&M.
The Egg Bowl is the new Iron Bowl: Who would’ve thought that Mississippi State and Ole Miss would both be ranked in the top three midway through the season? One week after the Magnolia State took over the college football world, it was back for an encore. The Bulldogs began the day with a 38-23 win over No. 2 Auburn in a game where you couldn’t hear yourself think over the sound of cowbells. The defense forced four turnovers, and quarterback Dak Prescott accounted for more than 350 total yards and three touchdowns. Not to be outdone, Ole Miss dominated No. 14 Texas A&M in the nightcap, scoring two defensive touchdowns in a 35-20 win. There’s still plenty of football to be played, but the Egg Bowl, not the Iron Bowl, is the place to be the last weekend in November.

Defending champ down, not out: Auburn didn’t look much like a playoff contender in the first quarter Saturday. The Tigers turned the ball over on their first two plays from scrimmage, and before you could blink, it was 21-0 in favor of Mississippi State. But they rallied back and made it a one-possession game in the second half. It was reminiscent of last year’s loss to LSU, which ultimately turned around their season, as Auburn went on to win its next nine games. After Saturday’s game, coach Gus Malzahn said he believes that his Tigers are still one of the better teams in college football. The only problem is that they are likely going to have to be perfect the rest of the way if they want to make the playoff, and with trips left to Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama, that’s no walk in the park.

No Gurley, no problem for Georgia: Let’s be clear. Georgia is still the team to beat in the SEC East. Yes, Todd Gurley is a star. Yes, he’d probably be the Heisman Trophy favorite had he played this week. But even without him, the Bulldogs are still the best team in a mediocre division. They proved that Saturday with an impressive 34-0 win at Missouri. Freshman Nick Chubb filled in admirably for Gurley, rushing for 143 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries, and Jeremy Pruitt’s defense played as well as it has played all season. Georgia forced five turnovers, including four Maty Mauk interceptions, and held Missouri to 147 total yards. We still don’t know how much time Gurley is going to miss, but regardless, the Bulldogs are the clear favorite to reach Atlanta and play for the SEC championship.

Keep an eye on the freshman RBs: Chubb’s day was impressive, especially given his workload, but he wasn’t the only true freshman running back to put on a show. LSU's Leonard Fournette, the nation’s top recruit in the 2014 class, rushed for a career-high 140 yards and two touchdowns in a thrilling 30-27 win at Florida. He looked like a grown man when he ran over a defender on his way to the end zone in the first quarter. Auburn freshman Roc Thomas saw more action Saturday than he had all season and responded with 42 yards on six carries against a very good Mississippi State defense. And then there was Stanley Williams. Coming off a one-game suspension, the Kentucky back ripped off a 58-yard touchdown run and finished with more than 100 yards in the Wildcats' 48-14 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. Defenses beware.

The honeymoon is over at Alabama: It feels like ages since Alabama hung 42 points on Florida and Lane Kiffin was being tabbed the best coaching hire this past offseason. In the two games since, the Crimson Tide’s offense has sputtered, and they were lucky to escape Arkansas with a 14-13 win on Saturday. Quarterback Blake Sims played OK as he went 11-of-21 for 161 yards and two touchdowns, but the running game never got going and Amari Cooper was held to just two catches for 22 yards. There was one point in the fourth quarter when Sims tried to convert a fourth-and-1 by jumping straight up, and Nick Saban looked like his head was going to explode. It didn’t appear as if the Alabama coach loved the play call or the execution. Kiffin’s offense better pick it up when Texas A&M comes to town next weekend.

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