SEC: Bret Beliema

SEC Friday mailbag: Week 3

September, 13, 2013
From Matt Freeman (@Onearmbird): How slow will Tennessee look this [Saturday] at Oregon?

I'm afraid the Vols will look a little sluggish in Eugene, and not just because of the jet lag from the cross-country trip. Oregon runs a play every 17 seconds or so. I get lightheaded just watching it. While I applaud the job Butch Jones has done in Knoxville thus far, injecting life into what was a downtrodden program, I just don't see him having the bodies on defense to keep up with Oregon's attack. Keeping the Ducks under 50 could be seen as a victory. In this case, Tennessee's 2-0 start may be misleading. Austin Peay was a pushover, and Western Kentucky all but gave last week's game away with five turnovers in a span of six plays. The Vols defense gave up almost 400 yards that game, and I don't see Marcus Mariota and Co. giving the ball away and failing to capitalize like that.

From Jeremy Garcia (@theFAKEJeremyG): How would you rank Texas A&M's depth at RB, compared to the rest of the conference?

It's among the best in the conference with Ben Malena, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams. Oh yeah, and Tra Carson is no slouch either. All four backs have the skill to start at other programs, and playing alongside Johnny Manziel, they're made even more lethal. I came across an interesting stat on Malena while researching Saturday's game against Alabama: Malena is 10th nationally (minimum 20 carries) with 61.9 percent of his carries going for 5 or more yards. Compare that to All-ACC tailback Duke Johnson, who came in at 47.5 percent.

From Matt Siggelow (@CFBPOexpert): How is it possible that [Alabama] never travels outside of their region or the U.S. to play BCS programs in their stadiums?

Simply put, they don't have to. The sudden rise in popularity of neutral-site games have allowed Alabama to stay away from nonconference games in road environments. Traveling to Texas last year was big, but it was a mostly 50-50 crowd against Michigan. And against Virginia Tech this year, the crowd wasn't too far in Alabama's favor even though Atlanta is much closer to Tuscaloosa than it is Blacksburg. I think it's hard to blame Alabama for the lack of road nonconference games, though. I don't see schools wanting to schedule more than a one-off neutral-site game much these days, whether that's against Alabama or another school. That said, there is a home-and-home scheduled between Alabama and Michigan State in 2016 and 2017 to look forward to.

From Ryan W. Tyler (@ryanwtyler): One-loss [Georgia] that beat undefeated Alabama in SEC champ over either undefeated Oregon or OSU?

Based on Georgia's schedule, it would be hard to keep them out of the championship game. Beating ranked opponents South Carolina, LSU and Florida is more than enough on a one-loss résumé, especially when that one loss came on the road in a close game against a ranked opponent in Clemson. That said, I can see conference fatigue setting in, and the two teams you brought up might be the only ones who could come in ahead of a one-loss SEC team like Georgia. While their schedules aren't spectacular, Ohio State and Oregon will have high profile games to showcase themselves to national voters: the Buckeyes play Michigan, and the Ducks face Stanford.

From Levi Weeks (@Weemsy_1): How do you think Alabama's defense will contain the multi-threat QB Johnny Manziel this Saturday?

Playing gap assignment football will be the key for Alabama's defense. That means the the defensive line must avoid going after the sack and instead maintain its lanes in order to not give Manziel too much room to run when the pocket does break down. C.J. Mosley is a good spy to keep on Manziel at Mike linebacker, but he'll need help up front. Alabama doesn't have a dominant pass-rusher, but in this game it doesn't need one. Pressure is important, but it's even more important that the defense not get out of position and allow the big play. As we all have seen over the past year or so, Manziel is his best when the play breaks down and he can improvise in space.

From Jeremy Davis (@JT_Dav): Which Arkansas team will show up for SEC play? Week 1 or Week 2?

I may be skirting the question a little here, but I think the Razorbacks team that show up for SEC play will be the once that plays Southern Miss this weekend. Back-to-back wins were a nice way to kick off a new era in Arkansas football -- however uninspiring last week's win against Samford might have been -- but we'll see what kind of team Bret Beilema has assembled this weekend against a program that mimics a lot of the size and speed of the SEC. Southern Miss averages right around 300 yards through the air per game, which could be a problem for an Arkansas defense that's had trouble in pass coverage. Having a good game defensively and continuing to establish the running game with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams would be a good way to work toward the start of SEC play in a few weeks.

From Brandon Truett (@do_it_truett89): Do you think the latest allegations are true about Alabama? Also who wins #BAMAvsTAMU?

It's not my place to comment on another story, but I will give my game prediction since this is the last question of the post. Alabama wins by two scores -- I'm thinking 34-21 -- if the offensive line plays better than it did Week 1 against Virginia Tech and limits the pressure in the backfield. Getting the running game going early will be huge for Nick Saban and the coaching staff. Moving the sticks with T.J. Yeldon and Co. will help control the tempo of the game and allow AJ McCarron to do what he does best -- work off play-action. With an entire offseason to prepare, I think Alabama's defense builds off last year's game, in which it held the Aggies to nine points over the final three quarters, and keeps Manziel in check, for the most part.

SEC spring preview: Western Division

February, 26, 2013
Here are a few storylines to watch this spring in the Western Division. Edward took a look at the Eastern Division on Monday.


Start date: March 16

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Battling complacency: Alabama is gearing up for yet another title defense. Will complacency finally rear its ugly head? Not if Nick Saban has anything to do with it. The head coach will no doubt remind players of the targets on their backs and what little they've accomplished as presently constituted.
  2. Opening up the passing game: The return of AJ McCarron, coupled with a talented, deep crop of receivers, could mean a more wide-open passing game in Tuscaloosa. If true freshman tight end O.J. Howard develops as some expect, the offense could become even more dynamic.
  3. Offensive line makeover: Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are gone. And with them the best offensive line in college football has vanished. Veterans Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen return, but few experienced players are waiting in the wings for Alabama.
    -- Alex Scarborough, TideNation

Start date: March 10

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Bielema’s stamp: They won’t remember 2012 very fondly in Arkansas. It started with Bobby Petrino’s embarrassing ouster last spring and ended with a forgettable 4-8 season. The Hogs are starting all over with Bret Bielema, who led Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowl appearances. This spring will be Bielema’s first real chance to put his stamp on the program and introduce the Hogs to his brand of power football.
  2. Offensive overhaul: Bielema was known at Wisconsin for running the football behind big, physical offensive lines. His offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney, has more of a passing pedigree. It will be interesting to see how it all comes together offensively for the Hogs, who are losing their top passer, top two rushers and top three receivers from last season. Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell will vie for the starting quarterback job.
  3. Defense takes the lead: The Hogs won under Petrino thanks to their high-scoring offense, and at times, in spite of their defense. But in 2013, the defense may have to carry a lot more of the load. First-year coordinator Chris Ash inherits a veteran front, some young talent at linebacker and a secondary that also should be much improved. It’s a unit that will need to mesh quickly, and that starts this spring.

Start date: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Malzahn’s back: Gus Malzahn returns to the Plains as head coach, which means this spring will be critical in re-installing his hurry-up, no-huddle offense. The first task will be finding a quarterback. Kiehl Frazier struggled last season, but was handpicked by Malzahn when Malzahn was at Auburn the first time. The Tigers need to rediscover their passing game after finishing with eight touchdown passes and 15 interceptions a year ago.
  2. Power running game: Tre Mason was a pleasant surprise last season for the Tigers and rushed for 1,002 yards. With heralded junior college newcomer Cameron Artis-Payne on campus and set to go through spring practice, Auburn would like to establish him as that power back with size and speed to serve as a complement to Mason.
  3. Getting defensive: Veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson looks to revive an Auburn defense that has fallen on hard times each of the past two seasons and will put in his 4-2-5 scheme this spring. The key will be finding players who fit. The Tigers will have 18 defensive linemen on the roster in the fall and aren't lacking for talent. Kris Frost could be a fit for that hybrid linebacker/safety spot in Johnson’s defense.

Start date: March 14

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Cam's influence: When you think of LSU, you think of defense, special teams, defense, a quirky coach and defense. Never offense. Cam Cameron, most recently of the Baltimore Ravens, has been brought in as the new offensive coordinator to try to jump-start an offense that sometimes sputters, especially in big games. We won't really have any answers until this fall, but will we see signs of offensive progress in the spring?
  2. Rebuilding the front: LSU lost all four starters from its vaunted defensive line, plus middle linebacker Kevin Minter. Can defensive coordinator John Chavis find playmakers up front ... or a new leader at middle linebacker?
  3. Anchoring the line: Some were surprised to see left tackle Chris Faulk leave for the NFL after missing all but one game with a knee injury. It happened, and LSU has a question mark in what was otherwise a solid returning offensive line and offense in general. Who will fill the void? It could be left guard La'el Collins. If so, who plays left guard? The offensive line will be an interesting puzzle for Cameron.
    -- Gary Laney, GeauxTigerNation

Start date: March 21

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Catching on: Quarterback Tyler Russell made tremendous strides last season and set school records with 2,897 passing yards and 24 touchdowns, but all of his top receiving targets are gone. This is a big spring for sophomore Joe Morrow, who was impressive last spring, but didn’t do much during the season. Junior Robert Johnson and junior college newcomer Jeremey Chappelle will also figure prominently in the rotation.
  2. More pressure: Mississippi State didn’t get much pressure on the quarterback last season and also finished 11th in the SEC against the run. Tackle Josh Boyd is gone, which means the door is wide open for sophomores Quay Evans and Nick James to make moves after playing as true freshmen a year ago. The Bulldogs also need more production from senior end Denico Autry.
  3. Secondary makeover: The Bulldogs are losing three starters in their secondary, including Jim Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks at cornerback. There will be some serious competition for spots this spring. Somebody to watch is junior college newcomer Justin Cox, who may be an immediate starter at cornerback. He’s one of the fastest players on the team.

Start date: March 17

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Brunetti's chance: Starting quarterback Bo Wallace will miss the spring while recovering from clavicle surgery. That means Barry Brunetti will get most of the first-team reps. He needs to become a better quarterback and give the coaches confidence that he can be the guy if something should happen to Wallace. Right now, he’s more of a runner playing quarterback. He’s a good enough athlete that he could play elsewhere on offense in the fall.
  2. Lining up: The Rebels’ defensive line has big-time potential, especially with the arrival of coveted defensive end signee Robert Nkemdiche this summer. But this spring, sophomore end Channing Ward and sophomore tackle Issac Gross will be under the spotlight. Gross is trying to beef up, and the Rebels would like to see him around 285 pounds after he played at 265 last season. Also, junior college newcomer Lavon Hooks will get a chance to show what he can do at tackle.
  3. Shackelford's return: D.T. Shackelford hasn’t played in two seasons after undergoing multiple surgeries on his right knee, but he’s raring to go this spring and should be 100 percent healthy. Not only does Shackelford give the Rebels another experienced linebacker, but he’s one of the strongest leaders on the team. Just having him back on the practice field should do wonders for the Ole Miss defense.

Start date: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Who's Manziel throwing to?: Three of the four starters at receiver from the Aggies' 2012 team were seniors, so they're gone now, including Ryan Swope. Mike Evans, who had a sensational redshirt freshman season, is back, but who is going to surround him as targets for Johnny Football?
  2. Thunder and lightning: Two running backs -- Brandon Williams (transfer from Oklahoma) and Tra Carson (transfer from Oregon) will join starter Ben Malena and young Trey Williams in the backfield after sitting out last season per transfer rules. Carson brings heft (230-240 pounds), while Williams, who is nicknamed "Slim," could be a game-breaker.
  3. New coaches: Running backs coach Clarence McKinney has been promoted to offensive coordinator and will call the plays, succeeding Kliff Kingsbury in that role. The Aggies also welcome a new quarterbacks coach (Jake Spavital from West Virginia), linebackers coach (Mark Hagen from Indiana) and special-teams coordinator (Jeff Banks from UTEP).
    -- Sam Khan Jr., GigEmNation