SEC: Bo Wallace

We're hitting the home stretch on our ultimate SEC road trip, and with just two weeks left in the regular season, this week’s games might as well be the calm before the storm.

The majority of the league’s elite teams scheduled easy nonconference games in preparation for their season finale the following week. Both Alabama and Auburn went the FCS route the week leading up to the Iron Bowl, and Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all have cupcakes coming to town before they square off against their in-state rivals.

If you're just now jumping on board, we at the SEC blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season.

So far we’ve been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint in locales like Houston and Oklahoma. We've got 12 weeks down and just two more to go with conference title game right around the corner.

So without further pause, let’s take a look at the best options for Week 13:

Nov. 22
Western Carolina at Alabama
Samford at Auburn
Eastern Kentucky at Florida
Charleston Southern at Georgia
Ole Miss at Arkansas
South Alabama at South Carolina
Missouri at Tennessee
Vanderbilt at Mississippi State

Greg Ostendorf's pick: Missouri at Tennessee

Can I save my trip this week and go to two games next week? Just a thought. But in all seriousness, I have yet to attend a game at Neyland Stadium on our road trip, and this game could have major bowl implications. I'm not kidding.

Missouri went through the SEC East gauntlet earlier in the season, and we’ll know after Week 8 if the Tigers are legitimate contenders. If they win two of their first three league games, we're talking about a return trip to Atlanta. Lose two or even three of those games, and this team might need a win against the Volunteers just to make them bowl eligible.

The stakes are even higher for a Tennessee program that hasn’t made the postseason since 2010. If it’s going to happen this year, the Vols have to win this game.

My question is how will the UT freshmen respond this late in the year? You saw Ole Miss fall off late last year, partially due to the youth and inexperience on the team. How can a Vols team that has more newcomers than any other team in the league finish strong down the stretch? Playing at home and having over 100,000 fans pulling for you will help, but this isn’t high school or junior college. This is the SEC.

As for the pregame atmosphere, I might try to talk my way on to one of the boats in the Vol navy depending on the weather and what time the game is. It’s one of the more unique tailgating experiences in all of college football and a perfect way to spend a Saturday.

Edward Aschoff’s pick: Ole Miss at Arkansas

It isn’t a thrilling week in the SEC, but there’s one game that really does intrigue me: Arkansas vs. Ole Miss.

I’ve been saying it all year, but I really do think that the Rebels are a legitimate dark horse to win the SEC West. Bo Wallace's shoulder is healthy, the offense is fast, fast, fast, and the defense is mature and pretty underrated at this point. But this game is no gimmie for the Rebels. Arkansas is an interesting team because we really aren’t sure what the Hogs are capable of this season. I don’t see the Razorbacks making it to a bowl game, but I think this team will frustrate its western counterparts all year. Arkansas wants to prove something in Year 2 of the Bret Bielema era, and this game is important for that.

If the Rebels want to show that they’re ready to take the next step under Hugh Freeze, they have to beat one of the top teams in the West, but they also have to win the games they’re supposed to. This is one of them, but it won't be easy. The Hogs are at home and will be fighting all year for respect. If Arkansas is going to make it to the postseason, the Hogs will likely have to win this game. Heck, if they want any momentum heading into next year, they’ll need to win this one.

Ole Miss wants to stretch the field and tire out opponents with its uptempo, spread offense, while Arkansas wants to punch you in the mouth on both sides of the ball. Something will have to give.

But don’t forget about some great tailgating, either. You get Ole Miss’ finest to mingle with some rowdy Razorbacks, and you’ll have yourself a good time.
HOOVER, Ala. -- It wasn't a surprise to see Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper selected as first-team All-SEC by the media Thursday. He led all wide receivers in points, and his 282 points were the most received by any player at any position.

“Never have I seen a player like Amari,” teammate Landon Collins said when asked about Cooper. “Not even playing in Louisiana when I was a recruit coming up.”

Cooper battled injuries throughout the 2013 season but still finished with 736 yards receiving and four touchdowns. He's healthy now and primed for a big season.

[+] EnlargeLaquon Treadwell, Deshazor Everett
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesLaquon Treadwell caught 72 passes for 608 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman at Ole Miss.
However, there's another wide receiver in the conference, Ole Miss sophomore Laquon Treadwell, who is hoping to follow in the same footsteps and make that jump to elite status. He was actually left off the media's first-team offense despite a freshman season in which he was third in the SEC in receptions (72) and had 608 yards receiving with five touchdowns. If you ask his teammates, they'll tell you Treadwell is just as good, if not better, than Cooper.

“Amari Cooper is fast,” Rebels safety Cody Prewitt said. “But if I were going to go up in a jump ball against both of them, I'd rather do it against Amari because Laquon is a big body. He's a really good receiver. To be as big as he is, it's amazing to watch him run because he still runs like a deer at 230.”

“Oh absolutely Quon,” Rebels defensive end C.J. Johnson said. “He's a freak physically. I think him being able to impose his will over people -- he's so big, he's gotten bigger since last year -- you can just imagine what that's like.”

When Treadwell first arrived in Oxford, Mississippi, he was 195 pounds. Now, a year later, he's closer to 220 pounds. He looks more like former Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief, now a member of the Indianapolis Colts, which is fitting considering he'll be moving outside and filling the role once occupied by Moncrief.

Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace went one step further and compared Treadwell to Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant.

“I don't like to compare anybody -- you get in trouble when you compare people -- but he's that type of player,” Wallace said.

Treadwell, a former ESPN 300 prospect who was ranked No. 1 at his position, was part of the star-studded recruiting class head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff put together in 2013. Freeze remains high on the players in that class, Treadwell in particular, as they enter their second year with Ole Miss.

“I couldn't be more pleased with the leadership of that class,” Freeze said. “[Laquon] really takes serious his role of being a leader on the offensive side of the football. He's a physical specimen. He's a blocking machine. His hands are really good. I'm really excited to see what Laquon is going to do this year.”

Maybe Treadwell isn't on Cooper's level just yet, but even Collins remembers facing No. 1 on Ole Miss from last year's game.

“Laquon is very talented, very gifted,” Collins said. “I see that when he plays against other teams. I saw that when he played against us -- he made some spectacular plays."
HOOVER, Ala. -- The fourth and final day of SEC media days will likely be a circus with Alabama coming through, but there will be no shortage of storylines on all four teams in attendance Thursday. Let's take a look.

Georgia (10 a.m. ET): The expectations are high for this team, but if you ask Mark Richt who he has left in the secondary, it might take him a minute to respond. Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews were both dismissed from the team, and Shaquille Wiggins transferred away from the program. That leaves the Bulldogs extremely thin on the back end, but star linebacker Ramik Wilson, who will be on hand Thursday, is back for another season. Wilson led the SEC last season with 133 tackles. On offense, it's all about Todd Gurley. If he's healthy, he's one of the best running backs in college football. However, Aaron Murray is no longer there, which means it's now up to Hutson Mason to take the reigns at quarterback. Between questions about the dismissals and questions about Mason, Richt will be plenty busy Thursday.

Ole Miss (10:30 a.m.): Are the Rebels ready to take that next step? Hugh Freeze surprised everybody, including himself, when he led his team to a bowl game in his first season, and he was able to duplicate that success last year. But with veteran quarterback Bo Wallace returning and 10 starters back on defense, a bowl game might not be good enough this season. They have the talent and experience to compete in a stacked SEC West. The other major talking point for Thursday will be the sensational freshman class from a year ago. The likes of Tony Conner, Evan Engram, Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil are all a year older, which is good news for Ole Miss fans but bad news for opponents. Treadwell, in particular, could be in line for a huge season with Donte Moncrief now in the NFL.

Alabama (12:10 p.m.): This edition of SEC media days will have a different feel for Alabama if for no other reason than the Crimson Tide aren't defending national champs for the first time in a while. How will the team respond to losing back-to-back games to end last season? And, maybe more important, how will it deal with the manner it lost to Auburn, falling to its bitter rival in the most dramatic way possible? Alabama coach Nick Saban will no doubt have an eye toward the future and the redemption it holds. But first he'll have to answer questions about a rebuilt secondary, two new starters on the offensive line, and the biggest question mark of all -- quarterback. It's safe to assume the starting job is Jacob Coker's. Just don't be surprised when Saban scoffs at the assumption.

Kentucky (1:40 p.m.): Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. If you're looking for a main storyline to follow with the Wildcats on Thursday, it's how well Mark Stoops and his staff have done on the recruiting trail and how that's beginning to pay dividends on the football field. The top-to-bottom talent isn't quite there to compete with the upper echelon of the SEC yet, but it's on the right path. And maybe with a few surprise players and a break here or there, Kentucky might play the role of spoiler in 2014. Za'Darius Smith and Alvin Dupree are two of the more underrated defensive players in the league, and Jojo Kemp and Javess Blue are two similarly under-the-radar playmakers on offense. Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard could provide some much needed depth at tailback, and Drew Barker has the skill set to play immediately at quarterback as a true freshman. But how will Stoops put all those pieces together? His program is improving with each recruiting class, but it needs time to mature.
We're nearly finished rolling out the college football award watch lists. By the end of the week, the lists for 14 of the biggest awards will be public knowledge.

Today's watch list is for the Davey O'Brien Award, which goes to the nation's top college quarterback.

The SEC accounted for two of the three finalists for the award last season -- Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Alabama's AJ McCarron, with Florida State's Jameis Winston winning -- but both SEC finalists are earning NFL paychecks these days. Their departures are part of the widespread quarterback turnover that has taken place in the conference this season.

Nonetheless, the SEC still boasts five of the 39 quarterbacks on the O'Brien watch list, and Georgia's Hutson Mason is the only member of the group who is among the conference's many first-year starters.

Here's the list:

Jeff Driskel, Florida
Nick Marshall, Auburn
Hutson Mason, Georgia
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
HOOVER, Ala. -- Welcome to SEC media days!

It didn't seem as if we'd ever get here, but in a couple of hours, the inside of the Wynfrey Hotel will be transformed into a circus. The arrival of SEC media days brings us ever closer to the start of the 2014 season. Remember, this is the first season in which we'll be seeing an actual playoff end the season. That right there might be too much to digest.

But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the season, we're turning our attention to SEC media days. It's where you can have 1,000 media members all together -- along with a lobby jam-packed with ravenous fans (usually Alabama ones) -- crowding around kids and coaches.

It really is a beautiful thing, and here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in Hoover:

1. Life without Marshall: Monday was supposed to be a chance for Auburn to truly introduce quarterback Nick Marshall to the world. Sure, we've all seen what he can do with a football in his hand, but this was where we were supposed to hear Auburn's quarterback talk about all he does with a football. After all, Marshall could be a Heisman Trophy candidate this fall. But after Marshall was cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana Friday, he's out for media days. Tight end C.J. Uzomah will take his place. Marshall should be here to own up to his mistake. He should be here to take responsibility, but he isn't. Now his coach and teammates have to do that.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama may be picked for the fourth time in five years to win the SEC.
2. Bama talk: For the first time since the 2011 SEC media days, Alabama did not arrive as the defending national champs. The Crimson Tide didn't even make it to the SEC title game. But that won't matter. Alabama still will steal the show. Everyone is here to see coach Nick Saban and ask questions about why Alabama couldn't get it done last season. We'll hear questions about the present and future for Alabama. And with so much talent returning, Alabama will likely be picked to win the SEC for the fourth time in five years.

3. Mason's debut: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is headed to the big leagues, but his first official stop as the man in charge of the Commodores is in Hoover. This ain't Stanford, and it definitely isn't the Pac-12. He'll meet a throng of media members inside a gigantic ballroom. He'll be bombarded with questions about replacing James Franklin, and we'll all wonder if he has what it takes to keep Vandy relevant. Will he wow us during his introductory news conference? Or will he take the businesslike approach and just try to get through such a long day?

4. Muschamp's hot seat: After a 4-8 season that saw an anemic offense and a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat under his seat. While he has been very collected about the pressure he should be feeling, he knows that this is the most important season of his tenure. To be fair, Florida dealt with an unfair amount of important injuries, but that means nothing now. Muschamp has yet to take Florida back to the SEC title and is 0-3 against archrival Georgia. Muschamp knows he has to win, and he and his players will be grilled about it all day today.

5. Sumlin dealing with distractions: Johnny Manziel might be gone, but Texas A&M is still dealing with distractions away from the football. Before Kevin Sumlin could even get to media days, he had to dismiss two of his best defensive players in linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, who were arrested on charges of aggravated robbery earlier this year. One of his quarterbacks -- Kenny Hill -- also was arrested in March on a public intoxication charge. Once again, Sumlin will have to talk about more than just football this week.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMissouri's Maty Mauk threw for 1,071 yards with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in place of the injured James Franklin.
6. Quarterback composure: A lot of talented quarterbacks left this league after last season, but we'll get our fill this week. Marshall might be absent, but we'll hear from Jeff Driskel, Dak Prescott, Dylan Thompson, Bo Wallace and Maty Mauk. All these guys could have big seasons and will be crucial to their respective teams' success. Can Florida's Driskel rebound after his early, season-ending injury? Is Thompson ready to replace Connor Shaw at South Carolina? Can Wallace of Ole Miss finally find some consistency? And can Prescott (Mississippi State) and Mauk (Missouri) prove their 2013 success wasn't just a flash in the pan?

7. Mauk's composure: Speaking of Missouri's quarterback, he's an incredibly interesting character to watch. He went 3-1 as a starter in place of the injured James Franklin last season, and has the right attitude and moxie that you want in a quarterback. Is he ready to be the guy full time? Is he ready to lead without a stud like Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to or Franklin to help him? A lot of veteran leadership is gone, so all eyes are on Mauk. He's also a very confident person who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Let's hope he's on his game.

8. Players and the playoff: This is the first season of the College Football Playoff, and we've received just about everyone's opinion on the matter. Well, almost. We haven't heard much from the people who might be playing in it. What do players think about it? Are there too many games now? Not enough? Do they care about the bowl experience? Do they even care about the playoff?

9. What do players think about getting paid? With the Power Five a real thing and autonomy becoming more of a reality, what do the players think about it all? What are their thoughts on the prospect of getting some sort of compensation from their schools? Are they getting enough now? How much is enough?

10. What will Spurrier say? Need I say more? We all want to know what Steve Spurrier will say. Will he take shots at Georgia or Saban? Will Dabo Swinney come up? Will another coach be a target? Who knows, and who cares? We just want him to deliver some patented Spurrier gold!
THIBODAUX, La. -- The campers who attend the Manning Passing Academy each summer at Nicholls State University certainly get a kick out of learning from the first family of quarterback play -- Archie Manning and sons Peyton, Eli and Cooper -- and a who’s who of college quarterbacks.

But those counselors from the college ranks might get even more out of the experience than the kids. The opportunity to interact with and learn from such successful NFL quarterbacks -- and fellow college players such as Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Baylor’s Bryce Petty -- lured 42 college quarterbacks from across the country to Thibodaux, a small town in south Louisiana.

“It might be even better to be a counselor,” said Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley, who attended the camp prior to his junior and senior seasons of high school. “I’ve enjoyed it day in and day out. Just being around these guys and talking to them … it’s a very select, elite group. We speak a different language sometimes.”

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia's Hutson Mason said he has been taking notes at the Manning passing camp.
Several of the college players who met with the media after Friday morning’s practice cited the appeal in learning from the Mannings and other NFL personnel on hand as reasons to attend. And not just learning new throwing drills, but also how to carry oneself like a professional.

“I’m an observer, so I just observe the way [Peyton] does things,” Winston said. “He’s so detail-oriented and how he carries himself – I’m really trying to see how he carries himself because I want to be the guy 10, 15 years from now that’s viewed like a Peyton Manning or an Eli or an Archie.”

Entering his first season as Georgia’s starting quarterback, Hutson Mason -- one of seven SEC quarterbacks in attendance -- said he immediately started learning new things from the pro and college players upon arrival at the camp on Thursday.

For one thing, he said Peyton and Eli emphasized that a quarterback’s pregame routine should include more than just warming up with a few deep balls and skeleton-style throws with no defender. They told the college players to focus on quarterback-specific drills where they practice moving inside the pocket and keeping their eyes focused downfield.

“I think that’s what I was looking forward to is not only asking these guys how they do things at their school and maybe taking a little bit from them, but also the Mannings have drills that I’ve never really done. Yesterday I went and wrote them down so I wouldn’t forget them,” Mason said. “We kind of get repetitive with the drills we do, so it’s good to go into like a new library, use new resources, so to speak. You can’t get anything better than these guys.”

A welcome reprieve: The campers and counselors aren’t the only ones who continue to learn lessons about how to handle their high-profile position.

Archie was impressed with the way Peyton shook off the humiliation of his Denver Broncos’ 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl and found a way to move on with life. The week after the big game, the five-time NFL MVP decided to become a late entrant into the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

“You’d better not get over it immediately, but he handled it,” Archie said. “I think Peyton gets wiser every year. He turned around the week [after] that game and went and played in the AT&T golf tournament -- smartest thing he ever did. He played well and the PGA so much appreciated him coming, and it was good for him, too. You can’t sit around and mope when you lose a football game, so Peyton, he handled it.”

Alma mater connections: Among the several dozen college quarterbacks in attendance are seven from the SEC: Mason, Worley, Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Florida’s Jeff Driskel, Missouri’s Maty Mauk and South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson.

It’s no coincidence that two of those players, Worley and Wallace, are the presumptive starters at the alma maters of Peyton (Tennessee) and Archie and Eli (Ole Miss).

Both college players say they’ve developed bonds with the Mannings since arriving at their respective schools.

“Usually when I see Eli, it’s just, ‘How are you doing?’ I’ve never really gotten pointers or anything like that,” Wallace said. “I’ve gotten texts from Archie before games before, but it’s never been pointers or anything like that. It’s usually just friendly talk.”

Worley said in addition to his time working with the family at the camp, Peyton has worked a bit with the Voluntseer quarterbacks in Knoxville.

“We’ve got a very good relationship,” Worley said. “He came back a couple weeks and we threw for a couple days and had a meeting with him.”
We continue our "most important game" series, which looks at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved. Today, we take a look at Ole Miss.

Most important game: Nov. 1 vs Auburn

Key players: Every time you think about this Ole Miss team, you usually always come back to quarterback Bo Wallace. He's had his issues with injury and inconsistency since he arrived in Oxford. But he and Ole Miss' staff are hoping this season is different. For the first time in years, Wallace's shoulder isn't bothering him, which should help with the velocity and accuracy of his passes. Against a very athletic Auburn front, Wallace will have to be at his best when it comes to managing plays out of the backfield.

What will help him is the fact that he has one of the SEC's freakiest athletes at wide receiver in sophomore Laquon Treadwell. With Donte Moncrief gone, Treadwell will have even more on his plate. The good news is that the's more than capable of dealing with all that responsibility and attention. After all, he led Ole Miss with 72 receptions last year. Treadwell won't be on his own, though.

Keep an eye on receivers Vince Sanders and Quincy Adeboyejo; Hugh Freeze believes they could have breakout seasons this fall. Add in tight end Evan Engram, and the Rebels should have a formidable passing attack against a more seasoned secondary.

One way to make sure that passing game goes well is for left tackle Laremy Tunsil to protect Wallace. Whether Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson is healthy or not might not matter with the talent the Tigers have up front, so Tunsil will be pretty busy. So will defensive end C.J. Johnson, who brings back the pass-rushing dynamic the Rebels lost when he left last season with a season-ending leg injury. If you want to stop Auburn's offense, you have to get to the quarterback and disrupt the zone-read. That will be Johnson's job.

Containing Auburn's running backs will be very important, too, meaning defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will have to clog things up front, and safety Cody Prewitt will have to play more in the box, while also watching quarterback Nick Marshall's arm. He should get help from fellow safeties Trae Elston and Tony Conner in that department, along with linebacker Serderius Bryant, who can act like a spy against Marshall.

Why it matters: Freeze said this spring that he didn't think he'd be prepared to talk about bowl games until his third year with the Rebels. Well, that went out the window when he took Ole Miss bowling in his first year. He did it again last year, and now has even higher expectations in Year 3. Ole Miss has some depth issues along its offensive line and at receiver, but there is enough overall talent for the Rebels to make a legitimate run at the SEC West title. That's why getting a victory over reigning SEC champ Auburn is so important. If the Rebels are going to take that next step as a program, they need a win like this. Take down one of the big boys and you'll get real respect in this league. A win such as could unload momentum for the Rebels and it will be crucial for their race in the West.
If you’re just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC Blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season. So far we’ve been to spots like Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa, Houston and Norman, Oklahoma.

We’ve knocked out eight weeks of trips in all, which means we’ve got only six more to go. The clock is ticking. You know as soon as Halloween arrives, we’ve hit the home stretch.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the best options for Week 9:

Oct. 25

Alabama at Tennessee
UAB at Arkansas
South Carolina at Auburn
Mississippi State at Kentucky
Ole Miss at LSU
Vanderbilt at Missouri

Alex Scarborough’s pick: South Carolina at Auburn

We’re eight weeks into our hypothetical season, so anything could have happened by now. But there’s a pretty good chance that this game will be a top-25 matchup with significant postseason implications.

Plus, it’s as good an East-West crossover game as you’ll find on the schedule. These two teams have met just five times since 2000, and three such contests were decided by 8 points or less.

It’s got a pretty good storyline to build around, too. Think about it: Steve Spurrier, the 69-year-old author of the Fun ‘N’ Gun, up against Gus Malzahn, the 48-year-old hurry-up no-huddle perfectionist. It’s the visor against the sweater vest. Well, they both wear visors, but still. In fact, there’s another storyline for you!

Outside of the head coaches and their fashion choices, the game on the field could be a good one as well.

The Auburn offense should be even better in 2014, with Nick Marshall progressing under center and D'haquille Williams added on the outside at receiver. The defense, meanwhile, has nowhere to go but up, and should have some momentum after a relatively strong showing in the BCS National Championship Game.

South Carolina, despite losing Connor Shaw and Jadeveon Clowney, should match up well. Dylan Thompson has experience at quarterback, and he’s got plenty of weapons to work with. The receiving corps has some burners in Damiere Byrd and Pharoh Cooper, and the running backs are led by an All-American candidate in Mike Davis. The secondary might be a major question mark on defense, but the linebackers are solid and the defensive line has some depth.

Edward Aschoff’s pick: Ole Miss at LSU

This might not be Alabama-Auburn or even Ole Miss-Mississippi State, but this is a very important and heated rivalry. Just ask Ole Miss fans what they think of LSU when it comes to singing the National Anthem. It's a rivalry that stretches as far back as 1894, with LSU holding a commanding 58-40-4 record.

But all-time records will mean absolutely nothing when these two meet. It's actually been one of the more fun SEC rivalries of late, as four of the last five games in this series have been decided by seven points or less. A year after losing a heartbreaker in Baton Rouge, the Rebels bounced back to shock LSU with a 27-24 win at home last season, so you know the Tigers will be looking for revenge inside of Death Valley.

This game has some exciting storylines, and we haven't even gotten to Week 1 of the regular season. Ole Miss is a dark horse to take the SEC West, while LSU is a relative unknown with so many questions on both sides of the ball. Who's going to be LSU's quarterback? Who's going to step up at wide receiver? What we do know is that Ole Miss should have a potent offense with veteran quarterback Bo Wallace back and some quality athletes at receiver and running back to take some pressure off of star receiver Laquon Treadwell. But can LSU's defense stop it?

The Tigers have some budding stars, especially in the secondary and at linebacker, but defensive line could be an issue. Ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter have experience, but who's going to step up at tackle? Ole Miss is not a team that you don't want to struggle in rushing the passer against, and the Rebels plan to use their running backs even more in the passing game.

If Ole Miss is going to take the next step in its quest to becoming an elite SEC team, it needs to get wins like this one in hostile environments. If LSU wants to prove that it's still a contender in 2014, it needs to beat an up-and-coming, dangerous team like this. Drama, excitement and the possibility of a lot of points await in Tiger Stadium.

The West could be on the line for both teams when they meet, but so will the ultimate SEC tailgating challenge. Baton Rouge and Oxford own arguably the SEC's -- and nation's -- best tailgating spots, which means you're going to be in absolute heaven dining on gumbo under a tent with a chandelier.

Even if your team doesn't win, you'll eat well, and you'll see a pretty exciting game. Sign me up.

Ranking the SEC quarterbacks

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
1:00
PM ET
Earlier, we ranked all 14 quarterback groups in the SEC. Now, we'll look at who we think will be the top 10 quarterbacks in the league this season.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesWith his experience and talents, Nick Marshall is the SEC's top QB heading into the 2014 season.
1. Nick Marshall, Sr., Auburn: With a spring practice under his belt and a year in Gus Malzahn's offense, Marshall gets the nod as the top quarterback in the league. His athletic ability is off the charts, and even though he was erratic throwing the ball at times last season, he's improved in that area and has some big-time playmakers around him. Marshall also seems to thrive with the game on the line, which is perhaps the best quality a quarterback can possess.

2. Dak Prescott, RJr., Mississippi State: Prescott's upside is tremendous. He's a bullish runner with an equally strong arm and showed some real courage last season playing through injuries and his mother's death. The challenge is for him to become a more polished passer. But in Dan Mullen's offense, Prescott is a perfect fit and should have an All-SEC type of year.

3. Bo Wallace, RSr., Ole Miss: The dean of SEC quarterbacks, Wallace seems to finally be healthy after battling shoulder issues each of the past two seasons. If he stays healthy, he could easily shoot up to the top of these rankings. He needs to cut down on his 27 interceptions over the past two seasons, but he's also accounted for 54 touchdowns during that span.

4. Maty Mauk, RSo., Missouri: Even though the Tigers are losing a ton of firepower at receiver, look for Mauk to be one of the more improved players in the league. He got a taste of it in critical situations last season while filling in for the injured James Franklin, and he delivered. He has the athleticism, arm strength and toughness to be an elite quarterback.

5. Jacob Coker, RJr., Alabama: Every year, it seems, a quarterback comes out of the shadows in the SEC to have a huge year. Cam Newton did it in 2010, Johnny Manziel in 2012 and Marshall last season. Coker could be that guy in 2014 after transferring in from Florida State. His former coach, Jimbo Fisher, says Coker will be the most talented quarterback Nick Saban has had at Alabama.

6. Jeff Driskel, RJr., Florida: The Gators and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper are building what they do offensively around Driskel's strengths. He's a super athlete (and trimmed down some by nearly 15 pounds) and is throwing the ball with renewed confidence. Coming off a broken leg, Driskel has the physical skill set to flourish in Roper's system as he enters his fourth season of college ball.

7. Dylan Thompson, RSr., South Carolina: There wasn't a better reliever in the SEC over the past couple of years than Thompson, who came off the bench in several pressure situations and led the Gamecocks to big wins. With Connor Shaw gone, Thompson now gets a chance to prove that he can get it done as an every-game starter. His forte is throwing the ball from the pocket.

8. Hutson Mason, RSr., Georgia: Mason has waited his turn while sitting behind the record-setter Aaron Murray and even redshirted in 2012 to get this opportunity. He's an accurate passer and knows the offense inside and out. He played late last season after Murray was injured, which should help the transition. Mason's another one who could easily shoot up this list.

9. Justin Worley, Sr., Tennessee: The best news for Worley is that he'll have more guys around him who can make plays. The Vols played their best football last season before Worley injured his thumb. They nearly knocked off Georgia and upset South Carolina with Worley at the helm. He's improved his arm strength and has worked hard this offseason. His senior season should be his best yet.

10. Brandon Allen, RJr., Arkansas: Not much of anything went right with the Hogs' passing game last season, and much of that centered around Allen never really being healthy. To his credit, he continued to fight through injuries and is looking forward to showing what he can do now that he's back to 100 percent. If he stays healthy, Allen could be one of the league's top bounce-back players.
Now the real fun begins.

Mid-October is a time when teams start to separate themselves. Heading into Week 7 last season, Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida were all in the top 20 of the AP poll. Then Georgia and Florida lost, starting a downward trend that neither could reverse. Meanwhile, Auburn improved to 5-1 and didn’t lose another game until the BCS National Championship.

What will happen on Oct. 11 of this year? Where should fans go to see the season-defining games?

If you’re just now jumping on board, we at the SEC blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting our top destinations for each week of the season. So far, we’ve been to Athens, Auburn, Starkville, Tuscaloosa, Houston, Nashville and Norman, Okla. We’ve got six weeks down and eight to go.

Let’s take a look at the best options for Week 7:

Oct. 11
Alabama at Arkansas
Auburn at Mississippi State
LSU at Florida
Georgia at Missouri
Louisiana-Monroe at Kentucky
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Chattanooga at Tennessee
Charleston Southern at Vanderbilt

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Ole Miss at Texas A&M

This week’s pick comes with purely selfish reasons. I missed out on experiencing the old Kyle Field, so I figure I need to visit the new one. Hopefully the press box will still sway along with the Aggie War Hymn. Whatever happens during the actual game is a bonus, pure and simple.

And what a bonus it should be. This game should be an offensive connoisseur’s dream. The officials can shut off the play clock. No defense required here.

Even with Johnny Manziel gone, I expect Texas A&M’s offense to be quite potent. People forget that Kevin Sumlin was a highly regarded offensive mind before Johnny Football. Nick Saban tried to hire him at LSU. Plus, Sumlin has plenty to work with this season, starting with the young wide receiver tandem of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil. With Josh Reynolds and Kyrion Parker also in the mix, the Aggies have quite the formidable group of pass catchers. Throw in a running back group that goes three deep with Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams, and whoever starts under center should be in a good position to move the chains.

Ole Miss, on the other hand, has the same potential on offense, with a seasoned quarterback to lean on. Bo Wallace is the most experienced passer in the SEC today, and with Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram to throw to, he is primed for a big senior season. An offensive line minus three starters from a season ago is cause for concern, but by Week 7, there should be some chemistry there.

Therefore, even though I like Ole Miss’ defense with the Nkemdiche brothers, Cody Prewitt and Serderius Bryant, I’m looking for an offensive shootout come Oct. 11. If I’m going to the Lone Star State, I expect no less.

Greg Ostendorf’s pick: LSU at Florida

Alex, you can have your shootout. I’d rather see a knock-down, drag-out fight in which the final score is 9-6. Call me old school. I love defense, and this year’s LSU-Florida game features two of the better defenses in the conference and a handful of potential first-round draft picks, including Dante Fowler Jr., Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Mills.

The two permanent cross-division rivals have not scored more than 23 points combined in their last two meetings, and this one should be no different.

The Gators will be battle-tested after back-to-back road games at Alabama and at Tennessee, but if they can get out of that with a split and start the season 4-1, you'd better believe that Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will be rocking. And why have it any other way in our first trip to the Swamp?

Can you imagine if Brandon Harris wins the job at LSU? That means the Tigers could have a true freshman quarterback and a true freshman running back, Leonard Fournette, starting in their backfield. Those two alone could be worth the price of admission, especially to see how they react to the raucous atmosphere. I guess that’s why you sign up to play in the SEC.

And if she’s not in Fayetteville, Ark., we might even see April Justin at the game. She’s the mother of Alabama star Landon Collins and Florida freshman Gerald Willis III, but deep down, she’s a die-hard LSU fan. Remember how happy she was when Willis picked the Gators on national TV? Exactly.

But let’s get back to the game. I expect both offenses to struggle. I expect there to be plenty of turnovers, and I expect it to come down to a last-minute field goal or a fake field goal, depending on how Les Miles is feeling that day. What more could you ask for?
We're less than three months from the kickoff to the 2014 college football season, which means it's time to start examining every SEC team a little closer.

Today, we start unveiling our annual position rankings.

It's a task that seemingly gets harder every year, especially when so much is unknown and so much can change between now and the actual season.

We’ve talked to people we trust around the league in coming up with these rankings, but there are always going to be epic whiffs. For instance, Nick Marshall wasn't on a lot of people's radar at this point a year ago, and neither was Marshall's chief protector on the left side of the Auburn line -- Greg Robinson.

Anyway, we’ve based our 2014 rankings on having a true game-changer (or game-changers) at the position as well as having experience and depth. Past performance is weighted heavily, but we also take into account what help is on the way and project the impact newcomers will have.

After unveiling the position rankings each day, we’ll come back later in the day and rank the top players in the league at the various positions.

We'll start with the quarterback position.

1. Auburn: Marshall emerged from the junior college ranks last season to win the job and lead Auburn to the national championship game. He’s one of the most explosive athletes in the country at the quarterback position and an improved passer. Behind him, the Tigers also like sophomore Jeremy Johnson, who has a big arm and played some last season when Marshall was banged up. Junior Jonathan Wallace also returns after starting the final four games in 2012 as a true freshman.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDak Prescott showed signs of being a star at quarterback late last season for Mississippi State.
2. Mississippi State: Junior Dak Prescott could be poised for a breakout season after showing his vast potential in flashes a year ago and finishing with a bang. If he becomes a more polished passer, look out. Sophomore Damian Williams is another dual-threat guy who played in six games last season, while true freshman Nick Fitzgerald brings some depth to the position after enrolling early and going through the spring.

3. Ole Miss: Bo Wallace enters his senior season ranked second in school history in total offense (7,085 yards) and passing yards (6,340). It’s always nice to have that kind of experience, and Wallace should also be healthier after playing through shoulder pain each of the last two seasons. It’s a three-man race for the backup job. DeVante Kincade is an exceptional athlete, Ryan Buchanan is more of a pocket passer. Both are redshirt freshmen. Don’t forget about 6-foot-3, 296-pound sophomore Jeremy Liggins, who originally signed with LSU before going to junior college. Liggins could be a beast in short-yardage situations.

4. Missouri: It’s Maty Mauk’s show now at Missouri after he filled in more than capably a year ago as a redshirt freshman for the injured James Franklin. Mauk has all the tools to have a big year. Junior Corbin Berkstresser also has starting experience after subbing for the injured Franklin two years ago, while redshirt freshman Eddie Printz split the second-team reps with Berkstresser this spring.

5. Alabama: Jacob Coker hasn’t played a down for Alabama. For that matter, he hasn’t participated in the first official practice with the Crimson Tide. But already he’s the heir apparent to AJ McCarron, and the Tide are counting on him coming in and being their quarterback in 2014. He played behind Jameis Winston at Florida State last season and is extremely gifted. If Coker takes a little longer to develop, Alabama will likely turn to senior Blake Sims, who still needs to prove that he can beat teams throwing the ball.

6. Florida: As last season illustrated, an injury at quarterback can be devastating. The Gators need Jeff Driskel to stay healthy and develop into the kind of do-it-all quarterback he was billed as coming out of high school. Now a fourth-year junior, Driskel would seem to be poised to take that step after breaking his leg in the third game a year ago. Tyler Murphy has transferred, which means redshirt sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and true freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris would be next in line if something happened to Driskel.

7. South Carolina: Fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson has experience on his side, not to mention a penchant for delivering in clutch situations. Now, with Connor Shaw gone, Thompson has to prove he can get it done on a weekly basis. The Gamecocks will be a little different with Thompson at quarterback. He’s a pocket passer and not nearly the runner Shaw was. Redshirt freshman Connor Mitch is the most talented of the Gamecocks’ backups, although third-year sophomore Brendan Nosovitch also returns.

8. Georgia: It’s hard to imagine a Georgia team without Aaron Murray under center. After four record-setting seasons in Athens, Murray has moved on, and fifth-year senior Hutson Mason gets his shot to lead the Bulldogs. He played at the end of last season after Murray injured his knee and has the confidence of his coaches and teammates. Redshirt freshman Brice Ramsey might be the Dawgs’ quarterback of the future, but third-year sophomore Faton Bauta had the more consistent spring of the two.

9. Tennessee: The Vols have three quarterbacks returning who have started games for them, but there’s still some uncertainty surrounding the position after redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson decided to leave the program following the spring. Senior Justin Worley was solid before an injury ended his season a year ago, and Josh Dobbs was then forced into action as a true freshman. With better playmakers around him, Worley could end up being one of the surprises of the league.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsTrue freshman Brandon Harris might be LSU's starting quarterback by the time the Tigers get into the heart of SEC play.
10. LSU: True freshman Brandon Harris was good enough this spring that several on the Bayou think he will be the Tigers’ starter at some point this season. Sophomore Anthony Jennings filled in at the end of last season when Zach Mettenberger was injured and might be the odds-on favorite to open the 2014 season as the starter. Either way, the Tigers will be lean on experience at the quarterback position.

11. Vanderbilt: Preseason camp should be interesting for the Commodores, especially with Stephen Rivers transferring in from LSU and being eligible to play right away. It was already a close race between third-year sophomore Patton Robinette and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary. Robinette started in three games late last season, including the win at Florida and the BBVA Compass Bowl victory over Houston.

12. Texas A&M: Life after Johnny Manziel won’t be easy, but Kevin Sumlin has proven that his offenses can score points with different styles of quarterbacks. Sophomore Kenny Hill is probably the guy to beat despite his off-the-field issues this spring. True freshman Kyle Allen also has a big future ahead of him, but it might be asking a bit much for him to take the reins right out of the gate on the road against South Carolina. With Matt Joeckel transferring, the Aggies will be short on experience.

13. Arkansas: In his defense, Brandon Allen was injured for much of last season and did his best to gut it out. Now a junior, Allen needs to stay healthy and could use some help from his receivers. He’s backed up by his younger brother, redshirt freshman Austin Allen, and true freshman Rafe Peavey. The Hogs need to be a better passing team, period, this season, and that’s not just on the quarterbacks.

14. Kentucky: Sophomore Patrick Towles was once the forgotten man at Kentucky. But after redshirting last season, he enters preseason practice as the Wildcats’ likely starter. Towles shortened his release and was one of the team’s most improved players this spring. No matter who wins the job, he won’t have much in the way of experience. Redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and true freshman Drew Barker are the other two in mix after Jalen Whitlow transferred.
Despite a difficult schedule in 2014, Ole Miss could pose a real threat in the SEC West this fall. The freshman phenoms are back for Year 2, and quarterback Bo Wallace, who threw for 3,346 yards a year ago, is the league’s top returning passer.

We caught up with co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dan Werner to see how the Rebels progressed during the spring and where they’re at offensively.

Dan Werner
Courtesy of Ole MissOle Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner believes the Rebels have much better depth heading into the 2014 season.
How’d you believe the offense came along during spring practice?

Werner: The thing that I’m really pleased about is our depth at basically all positions other than the offensive line. We’re a little thin there. But we have two backup quarterbacks that are going to battle it out that we feel good about. We’ve got three or four running backs that we feel good about. Probably four or five to six wide receivers along with some young guys coming in, true freshmen we feel like can help. I feel like we’re at a much better spot now than we were last year and definitely than the year before.

How about wide receiver? How do you replace a guy like Donte Moncrief?

Werner: Laquon Treadwell, who played the slot for us last year as a true freshman, has moved outside to take Donte [Moncrief's] place and really looked good in the spring. I feel like he could be a dominant guy out there. Vince Sanders was banged up most of the spring, but he had a great year last year so we know he’s going to be a player. We just have to get him back healthy, which he is now. Quincy Adeboyejo had a really good spring. [He’s] another kid who was a true freshman last year -- saw some playing time, not a whole lot, but really came on by the end of the year and had a really good spring. Then we’ve got a bunch of backups that played well, along with the young guys coming in.

In a league with a lot of new faces at quarterback, how nice is it to have Bo back?

Werner: It’s big. Last year at this time, he was still coming off his surgery, so we weren’t even sure how he was going to be able to throw. The year before that, he hadn’t even won the job yet. So even though he’s been a two-year starter going on his third year, this is the first year that he’s really come in knowing he’s the guy. Instead of learning or trying to work on his throwing, we’re taking it to that next-level stuff.

Schedule analysis: Ole Miss

May, 23, 2014
May 23
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Nonconference opponents (with 2013 record)

Aug. 28: Boise State (8-5) at Georgia Dome in Atlanta
Sept. 13: Louisiana-Lafayette (9-4)
Sept. 27: Memphis (3-9)
Nov. 8: Presbyterian (3-8)

SEC home games

Oct. 4: Alabama
Oct. 18: Tennessee
Nov. 1: Auburn
Nov. 29: Mississippi State

SEC road games

Sept. 6: at Vanderbilt (LP Field in Nashville)
Oct. 11: at Texas A&M
Oct. 25: at LSU
Nov. 22: at Arkansas

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisBo Wallace and Ole Miss will look for redemption against Alabama on Oct. 4.
Gut-check time: The last time Ole Miss beat Alabama was in 2003 when Eli Manning was at quarterback. After playing back-to-back seasons at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Rebels get Alabama at home on Oct. 4, and this might be their best shot in years to take down the mighty Crimson Tide. Nick Saban and Co. will still be in the process of breaking in a new quarterback, and if Ole Miss can get through its first four games unscathed, then it sets up for a potential Top 25 showdown. Bo Wallace played maybe his worst game against Alabama last season, and he’d love nothing more than to avenge that and pull the upset.

Trap game: Last fall’s Egg Bowl is still fresh on everybody’s mind, and you can bet that Ole Miss can’t wait to get back on the field against its in-state rival, but first it has to take care of business the week before. The Rebels travel to Fayetteville on Nov. 22 to face an Arkansas team that could be playing for its sixth win and bowl eligibility. The good news is Ole Miss will have an extra week to prepare for the Razorbacks.

Snoozer: The Rebels get a much-needed break on Nov. 8 when they host Presbyterian, an FCS school that finished 3-8 in 2013, 1-4 in the Big South Conference. The last time the Blue Hose played an SEC team was in 2012 at Vanderbilt, and they lost 58-0. The Grove will still be rocking, but not nearly as much as the week before when Auburn comes to town.

Telltale stretch: The month of October is brutal for Ole Miss. After opening with Alabama at home, the Rebels travel to Texas A&M on Oct. 11, then host what should be a much-improved Tennessee team on Oct. 18. They finish the month with a trip to LSU and Death Valley, a place where they have won only once since 2001. To come out 2-2 would be a huge accomplishment. And waiting for them on the other side is a date with Auburn, the defending SEC champion.

Final analysis: Ole Miss would love nothing more than to jump out to a hot start, just like it did last season. However, it won’t be easy with an intriguing neutral-site game against Boise State in Atlanta to open the season and a trip to Vanderbilt the very next week. The latter game will be played in LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans. But if the Rebels can win those two games, there’s a good chance they’re 4-0 heading into the showdown with Alabama on Oct. 4. Win or lose, they need to compete against the Tide because confidence will be key as they embark on a stretch of five SEC games in five weeks. The key, though, will be how this team finishes the season. Despite losing three of of their final four regular-season games in 2012, the Rebels still showed improvement down the stretch and beat in-state rival Mississippi State to finish the season. That wasn’t the case in 2013. It’s important this fall for Ole Miss to continue to get better each week and finish strong against Arkansas and Mississippi State.
It's May, so we might as well look to the future while we take one last look at the past in order to figure out the present.

Illustrious colleague Mark Schlabach already helped us out with the future portion by posting his Post-Spring Way-Too-Early Top 25. In it, he has seven SEC teams ranked:

2. Alabama

4. Auburn

8. Georgia

10. South Carolina

13. LSU

14. Texas A&M

19. Florida

It's interesting to see Florida ranked inside the top 20, especially after last year's 4-8 season, but there's no way the offense will be that bad again or the injury bug will strike so hard again, right?

With Schlabach having fun with another set of rankings, we thought we'd have a little fun of our own and put together some post-spring SEC Power Rankings! Nothing like starting a little debate right after spring practice.

Let's see how perfect these are:

1. Auburn: Quarterback Nick Marshall is throwing the ball better, meaning the offense could be even more potent in 2014. The defense was much better this spring, with players reacting more than learning. You have to beat the best before you can pass them in the rankings.

2. Alabama: This team is motivated by last season's disappointing final two games. The defense lost valuable leadership and talent, but a hungry bunch lurks on that side. Alabama could be waiting on its starting quarterback -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker -- and if the spring game was any indication, the Crimson Tide certainly need him. The good news is that a wealth of offensive talent returns.

3. South Carolina: It was a quiet spring for the Gamecocks, who should yet again own an exciting offense, headed by Dylan Thompson, Mike Davis and a deep offensive line. There are questions on defense, but the Gamecocks could have budding stars in defensive tackle J.T. Surratt and linebacker Skai Moore. There could be more stars lurking, too.

4. Missouri: The loss of receiver Dorial Green-Beckham hurts an inexperienced receiving corps, but there is some young talent there and no questions at quarterback or running back. The defense should be solid up front, but the secondary has plenty of questions.

5. Georgia: The defense as a whole has a lot to work on, but the offense shouldn't miss a beat. Aaron Murray might be gone, but Hutson Mason looked comfortable this spring and has a ton to work with, starting with Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley at running back and good depth at receiver.

6. Ole Miss: Coach Hugh Freeze didn't even think he'd be talking about bowl games until his third year. Well, he's entering his third year and has a team that could seriously contend for the SEC West title. Bo Wallace's shoulder is finally healthy and the defense has a lot of potential, especially along the line.

7. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return 18 starters from last year's team and could be dangerous this fall. If quarterback Dak Prescott can be a more complete quarterback, this offense could explode. Mississippi State owns possibly the SEC's most underrated defense.

8. LSU: We really don't know what we'll get out of this group. There's plenty of athleticism to go around, but once again the Tigers lost a lot of talent to the NFL. There's excitement about the secondary, and freshman Brandon Harris could be a special player at quarterback.

9. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans are all gone. The offense has a bit of rebuilding to do, but there are young stars in the making on that side of the ball. The defense didn't take many hits from graduation, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done there.

10. Florida: The Gators were healthier this spring, and the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper brought excitement and consistency to the offense. Will any of that translate to the season? Not sure at this point. The good news is that the defense shouldn't drop off too much after losing some valuable pieces to the NFL.

11. Tennessee: The excitement level has certainly increased in Knoxville, and it looks like Butch Jones is building a strong foundation. The defense still has a lot of unknowns, and while it appears the offensive talent has increased, play at quarterback is key and that position is still a little unstable.

12. Vanderbilt: After three great years under James Franklin, Derek Mason is now responsible for continuing the momentum in Nashville. Like Franklin, Mason arrived with no head-coaching experience, but he has a great base to work with. It could take a while for the offense to get going, but there's promise in the defensive front seven.

13. Arkansas: Slowly, Bret Bielema is getting guys to adapt more to his system. Brandon Allen separated himself at quarterback but will have to groom someone into being his go-to receiving target. There is still a lot that has to improve on a team that had one of the SEC's worst offensive and defensive combinations last season.

14. Kentucky: Coach Mark Stoops is certainly more excited about Year 2 in Lexington with some players emerging on the offensive side of the ball. The Wildcats still have to find more consistency in the playmaker department, and they have a quarterback battle on their hands. The secondary is a total unknown at this point, and leaders have to emerge at linebacker and defensive tackle.
Week 1 was packed with kickoff classics, network-launching games and more in the SEC.

Week 2 things slow way, way down as the high-profile nonconference matchups like Wisconsin, West Virginia and Clemson are replaced with the Florida Atlantics and Eastern Michigans of the world.

But the first weekend in September won’t be without a few bright spots -- even if we had to look high and low to find them.

In case you didn’t catch the first installment of this series, which will run every Monday until its completion, its purpose is to provide a rundown of the league’s action and give you our pick for the top one-two matchups every week.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at Week 2:

Saturday, Sept. 6
Florida Atlantic at Alabama
Nichols State at Arkansas
San Jose State at Auburn
Eastern Michigan at Florida
Ohio at Kentucky
Sam Houston at LSU
UAB at Mississippi State
Missouri at Toledo
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
East Carolina at South Carolina
Arkansas State at Tennessee
Lamar at Texas A&M

Alex Scarborough’s pick: East Carolina at South Carolina and Arkansas State at Tennessee

Who says we don’t care about the mid-majors in the SEC? Sometimes we pay attention to the little guy, especially when the little guy finished 10-3 a season ago.

OK, maybe I’m just lazy and my mind doesn’t want to leave the Palmetto State, where it was a week ago for South Carolina-Texas A&M. Maybe I just want to hear more Steve Spurrier-isms. But in all seriousness, why not stick around to potentially see an upset?

East Carolina isn’t a prime time team, but you might remember its 5-point loss to Virginia Tech or, better yet, its blowout wins over North Carolina, Tulsa and North Carolina State last season -- won by a combined score of 155-83. If you were hungry for football in late December, you might have caught its 37-20 win over Ohio in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl. In other words, the Pirates are not to be trifled with.

And because I want to make this a real upset special kind of weekend, I’ll be sure to watch Arkansas State-Tennessee.

The Vols could be in for real trouble with this one. Butch Jones isn’t doing himself any favors bringing in a program that’s won 28 games over the past three seasons. And considering the fact that Tennessee doesn’t return a single starter on the offensive or defensive line, doesn’t have an established quarterback and will be coming off a tough season-opener against a Utah State team that won nine games a season ago, it’s a safe bet that Arkansas State will be getting everyone’s full attention.

Greg Ostendorf’s pick: Ole Miss at Vanderbilt

The potential upsets are intriguing, but if we’re taking the ultimate SEC road trip, then why not choose the lone SEC matchup between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt? The game will be at LP Field in Nashville, the home of the Tennessee Titans, and if the past two years were any indication, it could very well come down to the final play.

In 2012, the Commodores rallied back from a 17-point second-half deficit and scored a touchdown in the final minute to win, 27-26. And who can forget last fall's thriller to open the season? The lead changed hands three times in the fourth quarter, but it was Jeff Scott’s 74-yard touchdown run with 1:07 left that put the Rebels ahead for good.

What’s next in this budding SEC rivalry?

Looking back, neither Alex or Edward picked a sneaky good Boise State-Ole Miss matchup as your destination in Week 1, so this will also be our first look at the Rebels and quarterback Bo Wallace. He’s one of the top returning signal-callers in the conference, and if he can stay healthy, he could be in for a big year. And how will the super sophomores look? They were all the buzz in last season's game, and I don’t expect it to be any different this fall.

On the other side, it will be the first SEC game for new Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason. The Commodores get Temple in Week 1, but this game will be much more telling as what can be expected in Mason’s first year in Nashville.

Don’t expect College GameDay to make the trip, but this should still be an intriguing matchup between two teams who have grown familiar with each other over the years.

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