SEC: Brian VanGorder

UGA, Kentucky both look to bounce back

November, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Given the way they finished in their most recent outings, it would be understandable if both Georgia and Kentucky have difficulty getting up for Saturday's game in Athens. Because at this point, neither team has much to play for aside from pride.

[+] EnlargeRicardo Louis
Shanna LockwoodRicardo Louis' catch deprived Georgia of any chance at winning the SEC East. Can the Dawgs rebound and play well against Kentucky?
“We need to be able to bounce back,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team's dramatic fourth-quarter rally went for naught when No. 6 Auburn completed a 73-yard Hail Mary in the final minute to win 43-38. “Kentucky had a tough loss, too, so both teams have to shake it off and get back ready to compete. That's the nature of the business and the nature of the game of football or competitive sports, period. You lose and you've got a game the next week or the next day, depending on the sport, and you've got to shake it off and get back to work.”

Kentucky (2-8, 0-6 SEC) did indeed suffer a difficult defeat, falling 22-6 at Vanderbilt to drop its 14th consecutive conference game. The Wildcats outgained the Commodores 246-172 through three quarters, but Vandy dominated the fourth, enjoying a 141-16 yardage advantage and scoring 13 unanswered points to earn the victory.

But that was just a run-of-the-mill loss compared to the gut-wrenching circumstances by which Georgia lost. The Bulldogs were on the verge of getting blown out early, only to slowly creep back into the game. Then Aaron Murray and the Georgia offense caught fire late, scoring three straight touchdowns and rolling up 216 yards of offense in the fourth quarter alone, only to have Ricardo Louis grab a deflected pass and score the game-winning touchdown on a fourth-down, desperation heave by Nick Marshall.

The loss eliminated Georgia (6-4 overall, 4-3 SEC) from contention in the SEC East and forced the Bulldogs to focus on lesser goals instead of representing the division for a third straight season in the SEC championship game.

“The season isn't over with. We will approach it just like any other game,” said Rantavious Wooten, one of seven seniors who started against Auburn, along with fellow receiver Rhett McGowan, Murray, offensive linemen Chris Burnette, Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee, and tight end Arthur Lynch. “It's going to be my last game in Sanford Stadium, so we will have to talk to the young guys and tell them to keep the faith and keep fighting.”

There is also the matter of reaching the best bowl possible. Although Georgia's options aren't particularly promising -- the majority of Sunday's bowl projections favor the Bulldogs to play in either the Gator or Music City bowls -- that possibility was off the table for Kentucky weeks ago.

The Wildcats, however, have given Georgia fits in recent years, so the Bulldogs likely can't afford a flat effort. Georgia is 5-2 against Kentucky dating back to a 24-20 loss in Lexington in 2006 -- one of four times in that seven-game stretch where the outcome has been decided by seven points or less.

Considering how Georgia has struggled to finish off opponents -- Saturday was only the most recent heart-stopper for a Bulldogs team that is setting an historically bad pace on defense -- that has to be a cause for concern.

In fact, Georgia's defensive shortcomings were the subject of multiple questions Richt faced on his Sunday teleconference, as Todd Grantham's defense is on pace to set new program marks for most points allowed and most yards allowed.

The 2009 team surrendered 337 points, which is a program high for a season of 12-plus games. This year's team, which is surrendering 30.2 points per game, has already allowed 302 points with three games to play (Kentucky, Georgia Tech and a bowl game). Likewise, the 2013 Bulldogs are on pace to surrender 5,029.7 yards -- potentially just the second time in school history that Georgia allowed 5,000-plus yards after last season's bunch surrendered 5,009 in 14 games.

“Here's what I say: I say we're a team here at Georgia and we're going to keep coaching and keep trying to make improvements and corrections on everything we do, in all phases of the game,” Richt said when asked to rate his level of satisfaction with the defensive coaching staff's performance.

Such a response is common under these circumstances for Richt, who is rarely willing to discuss his concerns publicly. Grantham's defense is preparing to face teams that rank 104th (Kentucky, 349.2 yards per game) and 53rd (Georgia Tech, 432.2) nationally in total offense, so the Bulldogs should have an opportunity to improve their underwhelming defensive stats before the season ends.

It would be much easier to focus on such necessary improvements had safeties Tray Matthews or Josh Harvey-Clemons managed to knock down Auburn's last-gasp touchdown pass to preserve Georgia's comeback win. The Bulldogs would still be alive in the East race and would have a third win against a top-10 opponent this season instead of grasping at less-appealing methods to motivate themselves for their home finale against Kentucky.

That's Richt and company's unique challenge this week after a defeat that could naturally cause lingering dejection -- and the coach said he plans to focus on the positive as best he can.

“We've got to do a good job of, again, pointing out all the positive things that happened and building on those types of things, because there were a lot of tremendous things that happened in the game,” Richt said. “And then make sure we learn from whatever mistakes we had, correct them, have a plan for that, and then we have to get the new game plan in.”

Gene Chizik fired at Auburn

November, 25, 2012
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Two years ago, Auburn coach Gene Chizik was celebrating an undefeated season and a national championship. On Saturday, he coached his last game as the Tigers' head coach.

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
Butch Dill/Getty ImagesGene Chizik was dismissed two years after leading the Tigers to their first national title since 1957.
The dismissal of Chizik doesn't come as a surprise at all. Two years removed from a national championship, the Tigers ended the 2012 season 3-9 and went 0-8 in SEC play. It was Auburn's worst season since the Tigers went 3-8 overall and 1-7 in SEC play in 1998. It was also the first time Auburn went winless in SEC play since going 0-6 in 1980. The Tigers had never gone 0-8 against SEC opponents in a season.

The Tigers also finished the regular season near the bottom of the SEC in most major offensive and defensive categories and were outscored 340-224 this season, including 272-81 in SEC play.

It definitely didn't help that the Tigers suffered some absolutely embarrassing losses this season. A 63-21 loss to Texas A&M this season was the worst loss by Auburn since its 68-7 loss to Georgia Tech in 1917. Auburn was also shut out in its last two SEC games and was outscored 150-21 in its final three SEC contests. The Tigers have been outscored by archrival Alabama 91-14 in the past two years.

Although Auburn was relatively young this season, the product on the field wasn't getting better as the year went on, and two new coordinators didn't have much of a positive influence on the Tigers in games. With new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, the Tigers finished the season ranked 118th nationally in total offense (305 yards per game), and under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, they ranked 84th in total defense (420.5).

Chizik finished his four-year Auburn career with a 33-19 record (with 14 of those wins coming during the 2010 season) and was 15-17 against SEC opponents. Since winning the national championship in 2010, the Tigers have gone just 11-14 and totally fell apart this fall. There just weren't enough positive signs for the future with Chizik in charge.

Check the SEC blog and ESPN.com for more on Chizik's firing.

DawgNation links: Facing former coaches

November, 6, 2012
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David Ching writes: The Bulldogs will line up Saturday against former UGA coaches Brian VanGorder and Willie Martinez, now with Auburn, and coaches and players alike know that, despite continued friendships, they must focus on beating one another.

Ching Insider: Scouting report -- Auburn

Radi Nabulsi writes Insider: ESPN Watch List player Bryson Allen-Williams slid over to middle linebacker this past weekend, and immediately turned some heads.

SEC: Looking back and forward

October, 1, 2012
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It seems like only yesterday people were talking about an LSU-USC national championship, and weren't totally sold on Alabama making another run to a national title.

Oh, how things change in a matter of a month.

Now that September has come and gone, it's time to take a look back at some of the SEC's best and worst moments from the first month of the college football season. We'll also take a look at three storylines to keep an eye on in October:

September's best:

1. Alabama's dominant run to No. 1 in the polls: In September, it appeared the Crimson Tide were just reloading after their national championship season. Alabama destroyed Michigan in its season opener at Cowboys Stadium and has mangled its past four opponents by a combined score of 160-21, including a 52-0 romp over Arkansas in Fayetteville. Questions surrounded Alabama's defense, but it's been utterly dominant, leading the nation in scoring defense and ranking in the top four in total, rushing and passing defense. There's no question that this is the best, most complete team in the country.

2. Florida's emergence in the East: We didn't know what we were going to get from the Gators in Year 2 of Will Muschamp's coaching career. The defense hasn't really surprised us with how it's played, but the offense has made tremendous strides since last season, thanks to Jeff Driskel and Mike Gillislee. Driskel has been splendid for the Gators, running that offense like a vet with his ability to own the second half of games. Gillislee has given this offense the downhill running threat it's missed since Tim Tebow was around. The Gators have dominated in the second half of games and haven't allowed any fourth-quarter points.

3. Georgia's sensational freshman duo: The Bulldogs had to find some success in their running game after Isaiah Crowell's dismissal, and with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall tearing it up, Crowell is a distant memory. The fabulous freshmen have combined for 964 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gurley currently leads the SEC with 536 yards and nine touchdowns. He's also averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Marshall, who has displayed some of the best open-field speed in the SEC, is averaging 8.2 yards per carry and cranked out touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards against Tennessee over the weekend. It's hard to stop a train, let alone two.

September's worst

1. Arkansas' total meltdown: Heading into the season, I had a feeling that this team would struggle with adversity without Bobby Petrino around. This team hasn't just struggled, it has totally collapsed. John L. Smith has lost this team, as the Razorbacks are 1-4 and have been outscored 203-116. Against Alabama and Texas A&M, the Hogs were outscored by 100 points. This all started with Petrino's now-infamous motorcycle ride back in April, but trouble on the field was magnified by Arkansas' overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Since then, there hasn't been a lot of fight out of this team and quarterback Tyler Wilson went as far as to say his team "quit" against Alabama. The same should have been said about the 58-10 loss to Texas A&M.

2. Defensive woes: It was a rough month for some of the SEC's defenses that were supposed to be better in 2012. Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee are all giving up more than 400 yards a game, after all hired new defensive coordinators. The Hogs own the SEC's worst defense, allowing 510.2 yards per game and 40.6 points per game under Paul Haynes. Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has been through the SEC before, but the Tigers are allowing 419.3 yards per game. As Tennessee continues to transition to Sal Sunseri's 3-4 defense, it's clear the Vols aren't ready for it, as they are allowing 425.8 yards and nearly 30 points a game.

3. Missouri's SEC start: After Mizzou's first two SEC games, the Tigers are a decisive 0-2 and have been outscored by Georgia and South Carolina by a combined 72-30 margin. Mizzou put up a good fight through the first three quarters against Georgia, but had no steam in the fourth. This team barely looked alive against South Carolina, as the Gamecocks just pushed the Tigers around all day. The Tigers said they could handle the size and speed of the SEC, but haven't through two games.

October storylines:

1. Will the real LSU stand up? Entering the season, LSU was one of the country's best teams on paper. Now, we're all wondering what this team will do going forward after it ended the month with less than flattering outings against Auburn and Towson. LSU's offense struggled to get much of anything going against an overmatched Auburn defense, and the Tigers' defense then allowed 188 rushing yards and 22 points to Towson. It isn't panic time in Baton Rouge, but what's this team's true identity? A lot has to be cleaned up in a month that features trips to Florida and Texas A&M and a home game against South Carolina.

2. Can Manziel continue his red-hot run? Georgia's frosh duo at running back has stolen the freshman headlines, but Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been spectacular this year. Through four games, the redshirt freshman has passed for 1,094 yards and 10 touchdowns (no interceptions) and has rushed for a team-high 366 yards and six more scores. He's been the league's best dual-threat quarterback, and while his feet have made him and A&M's offense that much more dangerous, he's turning into a better passer with each game. Against Arkansas, his 557 yards of total offense (453 passing yards and 104 rushing yards) set an SEC record.

3. East race could settle itself: This month, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all play each other. That means that come Nov. 1, we might know who really has the upper hand in the East race. Florida has a chance to really make a statement by playing LSU on Saturday, while either Georgia or South Carolina will drop a game back this weekend, as they play each other in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina then goes to LSU. Florida ends the month playing South Carolina and Georgia back-to-back, but both games are in the state of Florida.

Lunchtime links

September, 13, 2012
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The weekend is almost here. More football!

Lunchtime links

September, 5, 2012
9/05/12
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NFL football starts tonight! It's nothing but football from here on out.

SEC power rankings: Week 2

September, 4, 2012
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The first weekend of the college football season brought some changes to our power rankings. As we enter Week 2, some teams are trending down, while others are on the up. And some look pretty much like we thought they'd look in their first games.

It's still early, but this weekend could help to better shape the conference race, especially in the SEC East where Florida travels to Texas A&M and Georgia heads to Missouri. Also, keep an eye on Mississippi State's home game with Auburn.

OK, time for the rankings:

1. Alabama (1-0): The Crimson Tide made quite the statement by absolutely dominating No. 8 Michigan inside Cowboys Stadium. The defense, which lost a host of top talent from last year's national championship team, took Denard Robinson out of the game from the start. The offense should be fun to watch this fall with freshman T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy carrying the ball and AJ McCarron throwing to those young, explosive receivers.

2. LSU (1-0): It's not like the Tigers looked bad against overmatched North Texas, but Alabama's performance was just that good. Zach Mettenberger did well in his LSU debut, passing for 192 yards and a touchdown, while running backs Kenny Hilliard (141 yards) and Alfred Blue (123) pounded away at North Texas' defense. The Tigers racked up 508 total yards and limited North Texas to just nine first downs and 219 total yards.

3. Arkansas (1-0): We know Arkansas can score and churn out yards. The Hogs made both of those things look very easy against Jacksonville State, especially quarterback Tyler Wilson, who threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns Saturday. But the defense still has some questions surrounding it, as the Hogs gave up 24 points. The defense settled down the second half and gave up 322 total yards, which was one yard less than the average given up by top 15 teams this weekend.

4. Georgia (1-0): The Bulldogs' defense is obviously hurting without Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree and it showed in the win over Buffalo. There was a lot of give in the pass defense and the Bulldogs struggled stopping quarterback runs. Improving in both of those areas will be crucial heading into the Missouri game. The offense looked pretty good, especially with freshman running back Todd Gurley carrying the ball. He registered 100 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.

5. South Carolina (1-0): The offense was shaky when it came to throwing the ball, and it certainly wasn't any better after quarterback Connor Shaw went down with that shoulder injury. His health is critical, as there isn't much experience at all behind him. Running back Marcus Lattimore looked solid in his return and was back to his workhorse ways. The defense played well overall, but the secondary still has concerns.

6. Tennessee (1-0): Everything went right for the Vols against NC State. It became blatenly obvious that they have more depth across the board now than they've had during Derek Dooley's tenure. Getting the tough yards running the ball was still an issue at times, but Marlin Lane showed that he might have what it takes to be that explosive running back Tennessee needs. Tyler Bray had no issue throwing the ball with Justin Hunter back and newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson going off.

7. Florida (1-0): There was more bend in Florida's defense than the coaches would like, but it looked like players were more disinterested than anything else. Expect a little more enthusiasm from that group this week. The offense, however, has major work to do. Mike Gillislee can run, but the passing game was nonexistent. Jeff Driskel was named the starting quarterback and the Gators should open things up more this weekend at Texas A&M, but it'll be a tough road game.

8. Mississippi State (1-0): The Bulldogs were pretty balanced on offense against Jackson State, getting 193 passing yards and 202 rushing yards in their 56-9 win. The Bulldogs have a major test this Saturday with Auburn coming to town. Dan Mullen has yet to win a game in the West against someone not named Ole Miss. This game could go a long way to shaping the Bulldogs' season, kind of like last year's game at Auburn.

9. Missouri (1-0): The Tigers might not have all the size that other SEC teams possess, but this team showed it has some quality speed -- and some quality playmakers. The defense displayed some grit as well, forcing four turnovers in the blowout win over Southeastern Louisiana. But the real test is this weekend with Georgia coming to town. We'll see that high-flying spread offense battle one of the SEC's top defenses. Should be fun.

10. Texas A&M (0-0): The Aggies had their opener with Louisiana Tech postponed because of Hurricane Isaac. That gave Texas A&M a couple more days to game plan for Florida, but all the kinks and mistakes that you'd like to get out of the way early will now come in the Aggies' SEC opener against Florida. The Gators might not have much offense, but expect that defense to put a lot of pressure on first-year starting quarterback Johnny Manziel.

11. Auburn (0-1): These Tigers have clearly improved on defense under Brian VanGorder, but their "tackling" in Week 1 was ugly. Just ask Clemson running back Andre Ellington, who rushed for 231 yards in the win over Auburn Saturday. Kiehl Frazier looked more comfortable throwing the ball, and Auburn has a solid rushing tandem in Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb, but offensive efficiency has to improve. Auburn settled for too many field goals Saturday.

12. Vanderbilt (0-1): Thursday's loss to South Carolina was tough for this team to swallow. The swagger and talent is there in Nashville, but the little things that have plagued this program continue. Still, you can tell that with the offensive weapons and a hungry defense, this team has what it takes to beat one of the top teams in the SEC East. A trip to Northwestern this weekend is a must-win for the Commodores as far as confidence and making a bowl are concerned.

13. Ole Miss (1-0): The Rebels ended a seven-game losing streak dating back to last season in Hugh Freeze's debut. For the first time in a long time, Ole Miss' offense showed up, as the Rebels registered 565 yards of offense against Central Arkansas. Quarterback Bo Wallace also had a tremendous debut for the Rebels, with his 264 passing yards and 82 rushing yards. UTEP provides a bigger test, as the Rebels look for their first two-game winning streak since September 2010.

14. Kentucky (0-1): Not a lot went right for the Wildcats in their loss to Louisville. The offense moved the ball through the air at times, but couldn't make plays when it had to and rushed for just 93 yards. The defense was gutted up front, as two of Louisville's backs rushed for more than 100 yards. As far as making it back to the postseason, this was a game that Joker Phillips' team had to have. Line work on both sides has to get better if Kentucky is going to improve on last year's 5-7 season.

SEC power rankings: Week 1

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

We are just days away from the college football season, so it's time to unveil our first batch of power rankings for the regular season.

A lot goes into our power rankings. It isn't just about how strong teams are right now. We look into our crystal ball as well to get a good read on how each team will finish the season -- before it has even started.

For each school, we look at talent coming back, coaching, roster changes, how teams have looked in practice now compared to the spring and uniform style. Well, maybe not that last part, but you get the point.

Here are our season-opening SEC power rankings for 2012:

1. LSU: The gap between the Tigers and Alabama got a lot smaller after Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal, so this could be viewed as 1A and 1B. Mathieu is a big loss for LSU on defense and special teams, but there is just way too much talent for this team not to make another title run. LSU's offense still has one of the best/deepest running games around and gets an upgrade with quarterback Zach Mettenberger. LSU also might have the best offensive line/defensive line combo in the nation.

2. Alabama: The defending champs lost a lot of star power on defense, but that unit should still be pretty darn good this fall. There could be some growing pains at times, but the Tide should still have one of the league's best defensive units this fall. The offense might be better and more balanced this fall, even without Trent Richardson. There is a good stable of backs, the nation's top offensive line and quarterback AJ McCarron has a little more explosiveness and athleticism to work with at receiver.

3. Arkansas: Bobby Petrino is gone, and that could be tough for the Razorbacks to overcome in the long run, but the team has bought in to what interim coach John L. Smith is saying. We still need to see how this team -- and Smith -- acts when adversity enters the picture. The offense has two of the league's best in quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis, who is back from a serious ankle injury. Wilson lost three NFL receivers, but his receiving corps doesn't lack talent. Questions still surround the defense, which lacked depth last season.

4. Georgia: A load of talent returns on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Aaron Murray could be a Heisman candidate, while linebacker Jarvis Jones might be one the country's best players, regardless of position. Isaiah Crowell is gone, but the Bulldogs seem happy with their stable of running backs and were probably going to run by committee again this season anyway. The defense will take a hit with a couple of key stars suspended to start the year, but this group has elite status. The schedule is set up again for a run to Atlanta.

5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks return a filthy defense headlined by sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The defensive line should be one of the best in the league with Clowney and Devin Taylor on the ends and Kelcy Quarles coming back in the middle. The secondary has issues, especially with Akeem Auguste going down, but safety D.J. Swearinger and hybrid safety/linebacker DeVonte Holloman are studs. Marcus Lattimore is one of the nation's best, and he appears to be 100 percent after his ACL injury. The hope is that quarterback Connor Shaw will help take some pressure off of him.

6. Florida: The Gators return a fierce defense that should be strong across the board. End/tackle Dominique Easley is coming off an ACL injury, but has the ability to be one of the top linemen in this league. But for Will Muschamp, his second-year success will be determined by what the offense can do. Questions are everywhere, starting with a quarterback battle that isn't close to being settled. There are unproven pieces at receiver and the offensive line, which returns most of last year's parts, struggled mightily in 2011.

7. Tennessee: The Vols have a chance to challenge Arkansas for the league's best passing game. Tyler Bray can throw it all around a bit and has two potential stars in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to throw to. However, Da'Rick Rogers is gone, which means the pressure is on Hunter, who is coming off an ACL injury, and Patterson, who is in from the juco ranks. The defense has a lot of experience and talent, but four new coaches are on board, including defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. Seven new coaches are in Knoxville, and it's no secret that Derek Dooley's seat is very hot there.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of confidence in quarterback Tyler Russell, who can finally call this team his. He'll have quite a bit of experienced weapons to throw to, including seniors Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith, who have combined to catch 221 passes for 2,782 yards and 22 touchdowns in their careers. The running game should be strong with LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin, while the offensive line is just hoping to stay healthy this year. The defense should be solid with a talented front seven and a very gifted secondary, starring potential All-American Johnthan Banks. The schedule is also very favorable in September and October.

9. Missouri: The newbies don't lack confidence, but on paper they lack size up front -- on both sides. The staff and players say it's not a problem, but let's see come mid-October. Quarterback James Franklin appears to be 100 percent after undergoing shoulder surgery and might be the league's best dual-threat QB. He's the key to a spread offense that returns a lot of speed. The defense is experienced and has a strong linebacker group. Ends Brad Madison and Kony Ealy could form a pretty good tandem this fall.

10. Auburn: The Tigers are still a young team and there are two new coordinators in town. Now that Kiehl Frazier has been named the starting quarterback, the offense can start molding around him. He'll have a solid group of running backs to work with, but the line is young and he needs more reliable receiving targets alongside Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen. The defense is loaded up front, headlined by end Corey Lemonier. But the defense as a whole still has a lot of questionable parts for new coordinator Brian VanGorder to work with.

11. Texas A&M: The Aggies have a new coaching staff, have to replace some key starters from last year and will be working with a very green quarterback in redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. The good news for him is that the offensive line is very strong, starting with tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. Helping Manziel will be senior receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu and stud running back Christine Michael, who is coming back from an ACL injury. The defense is moving to a 4-3, but is stacked at linebacker. The secondary is dangerously young and thin.

12. Vanderbilt: This team surprised a lot of people last year, but opponents won't be caught off guard by the Commodores in 2012. There is good offensive firepower coming back, with quarterback Jordan Rodgers, running back Zac Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Plus, there is some good, young offensive talent. But the offensive line has depth issues and will have to use a lot of young guys this fall. The defense is also replacing some key components from last year's team.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats saw their five-year postseason run end after having the SEC's worst statistical offense in 2011. Joker Phillips thinks he has more potential playmakers this fall and is excited about quarterback Maxwell Smith's potential. The offensive line is younger and can't afford an injury to either Matt Smith or Larry Warford. The defense will be strong up front, but is replacing all four linebackers and two starters in the secondary.

14. Ole Miss: New coach Hugh Freeze isn't working with a lot of numbers, as attrition from the past few years is catching up. The offense was one of the league's worst last year, and still has a quarterback battle between Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti going on. The offensive line struggled mightily to grasp Freeze's spread this spring and has to improve quickly. Receivers Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan have a lot of upside, while the defense should be better, especially in the secondary. Still, depth is an issue overall.

SEC links

August, 22, 2012
8/22/12
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Making the rounds on a Wednesday:

Lunchtime links

August, 17, 2012
8/17/12
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Finishing up the week with some links.

Lunchtime links

August, 7, 2012
8/07/12
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Links are here!

Opening preseason camp: Auburn

July, 31, 2012
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Schedule: The Tigers’ first practice is on Wednesday at 4:55 p.m. ET, and their first day in full pads is next Monday. They open the season on Sept. 1 against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta. Kickoff is 7 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised by ESPN.

Returning starters: Seven on offense, nine on defense and the place-kicker and punter on special teams.

Star power: Senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen is one of the most polished tight ends in college football and just has a knack for getting open.

New faces: Junior fullback Jay Prosch, a transfer from Illinois, should make a big impact in the running game with his ability to open up running lanes. True freshman Jovon Robinson, the biggest tailback the Tigers have at 220 pounds, may be the banger they need. True freshman Patrick Miller, who went through the spring, could see some time at right offensive tackle, while redshirt freshman receiver Sammie Coates has a huge upside. He just needs to be more consistent.

Don’t forget about: Junior defensive end Dee Ford was done after the first three games a year ago. He underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc last September, but came back with a vengeance this spring and was one of the Tigers’ best defenders. Ford and Corey Lemonier generated some serious pressure off the edge, and Ford won Defensive MVP honors in Auburn’s A-Day spring game.

Big shoes to fill: Despite Michael Dyer’s issues off the field, he was Auburn’s only offense for much of last season and finished second in the SEC with 1,242 rushing yards. Now that he’s gone, sophomore Tre Mason will probably get first shot at being the feature back, although senior Onterio McCalebb remains one of the league’s best outside running threats. Sophomore Corey Grant, who originally signed with Alabama, will also get a look as will redshirt freshman Mike Blakely, a transfer from Florida.

Key battle: The Tigers still haven’t settled on a starting quarterback. Sophomore Kiehl Frazier is probably the favorite, but he still has to prove himself as a passer. Junior Clint Moseley started in six games after taking over for Barrett Trotter last season, so he has experience on his side. However it shakes out, this will be the fourth different starting quarterback in as many years to open the season for Auburn coach Gene Chizik.

Rising star: Sophomore Jermaine Whitehead will make his home at safety this season, but he’s versatile enough to also play the nickel position. The Tigers need some stability in their defensive backfield, and Whitehead showed enough as a true freshman last season that he can be a real difference-maker back there.

Bottom line: The two coordinators (Scot Loeffler on offense and Brian VanGorder on defense) are new, but there are a lot of familiar faces returning on the roster. The Tigers welcome back 18 starters, and that’s after they returned just seven from their 2010 national championship team. Auburn was young on both lines of scrimmage last season. The Tigers’ strength this season should be up front on defense, which should help cut down on the number of big plays they gave up a year ago. It’s equally important that they improve up front on offense, and the development of redshirt freshman left tackle Greg Robinson will be critical. There won’t be any warm-ups for the Tigers. The month of September opens with the Clemson matchup in Atlanta and ends with LSU paying a visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium. In other words, we’ll have a pretty good feel for this Auburn team by the time the calendar flips to October.

One good reason: Auburn

July, 16, 2012
7/16/12
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We're back with our "One good reason" series, and we're talking about the Auburn Tigers.

Good reasons:
Let's see what Auburn could do in 2012:

Auburn will play the role of spoiler this fall: That young talent is more mature and experienced.

Gene Chizik seemed pretty excited about the team he had coming back this spring. Yes, star running back Michael Dyer is gone and two new coordinators are in town, but Chizik was very happy with the maturity he saw from his younger players. This is a team that Chizik still considers pretty young all around, but the maturation this group showed this spring wowed the coaches. And a lot of that young talent got some good field experience last year. Defensive end Corey Lemonier is a budding star and was one of the top pass-rushers in the league last fall. Running back Onterio McCalebb is the old reliable one in the backfield, but he'll be assisted by three youngsters in Tre Mason, Mike Blakely and Corey Grant who should make the Tigers' running game pretty solid this fall.

Auburn's defensive line is stacked with talent and the secondary returns three experienced starters. Chizik has stocked up well in the past could of years, meaning Auburn has the talent to compete with the favorites in this league. Winning the West will be quite the uphill battle for Auburn, but if the talent proves its worth, the Tigers could ruin a true contender's season. A major run might be tough, but with the talent Chizik has on his squad, you can't count Auburn out for a chance to pull a big upset this fall.

Why it won't: Lots of questions remain on offense and defense.

Growth and maturation are great, but it has to translate to the field, and until the games are played, we don't know if that will happen. On offense, the Tigers are without their centerpiece from last year in Dyer, who followed former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State. Without him last year, what was Auburn's offense? McCalebb is one of the league's best home-run threats, but his work isn't done up the middle. That's where those younger backs will come in handy, but can one put the bulk of the carries on his back? Wide receiver Emory Blake is very talented and is certainly a downfield threat, but he needs help. While there's depth at receiver, it's pretty unproven, starting with Trovon Reed, who was expected to have a much better year than he did in 2011. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have years but hardly any valuable experience.

And the quarterback situation is still up in the air. Kiehl Frazier had a good spring and left with the edge, but we still haven't seen him throw comfortably in real games. Clint Moseley was also very inconsistent as a starter last year and missed part of the spring with a sore shoulder. And who knows where Zeke Pike's head will be this fall.

The defense seems to be a little more stable and new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has experience in the SEC, but this unit allowed more than 400 yards of offense each game and ranked 11th or worse in the SEC in scoring, rushing, passing and total defense. The defense has to be considerably better for this team to make a real upset possible.
As if the Alabama-Auburn rivalry didn't need anymore drama. Things really got interesting on the recruiting side of such a great rivalry when top high school linebacker prospect Reuben Foster (Auburn, Ala.), who is the nation's No. 2 prospect, flipped his verbal commitment from Alabama to Auburn during a news conference held in his high school cafeteria Thursday.

"I have a lot of respect for the Alabama people -- the coaches and all of the other people and the fans," Foster said. "But at the end of the day, I feel like Auburn University is the place for me and my family. It has the best situation for me and my family.

"I am 100 percent confident with my final decision."

[+] EnlargeReuben Foster
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comReuben Foster surely made many Auburn fans giddy with his announcement on Thursday.
Foster transfered to Auburn High from Troup County High in LaGrange, Ga., this spring. He's now basically in Auburn University's backyard, so he's had plenty of opportunities to check out the Tide's biggest rival.

By the way, didn't he say he was "100 percent committed" to Alabama last week? Oh, recruiting. Another high school player goes back on his non-binding word. Shocker.

Forget that Foster was all about being loyal to Alabama a week ago and that it's still a long way before he actually has to sign with a school; this is a big get for the Tigers. Not only did Auburn's staff snatch its arch-rival's top commit but he gained one of the best players in the country. In a state that it must share with one of the kings of college football, Auburn pulled a quick one on the Tide.

Auburn isn't exactly hurting at linebacker, but now the Tigers have the nation's top two inside linebackers in Foster and Under Armour All-American Trey Johnson (Lawrenceville, Ga./Central Gwinnett). For as much as Auburn's defense struggled last year and for as young as it still is overall, getting highly-touted and highly-talented players like this will only help the future. Chances are both players -- if they do sign with the Tigers -- will be expected to contribute early at Auburn, especially Foster.

Foster is extremely talented, but Alabama is stacked at linebacker, especially with four linebackers signing with the 2012 class. He might be considered more talented than those players, so chances are he would have had his chance to play once he got to Tuscaloosa, but he's more important to the Tigers.

He not only helps Auburn's future depth, but he's a brand name in this year's recruiting class. Auburn, which has a solid class already, should be able to build some good momentum with this kind of pickup. Other top players will take notice to this. Their interest in Auburn might even increase now. Regardless, this was a huge get for Auburn and it wouldn't surprise me if Gene Chizik and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took a victory lap around campus once they heard the news.

And, hey, it's a shot to Alabama's recruiting class. Say what you will about whether or not Alabama needed Foster, but at the end of he day, Nick Saban and his staff want him in this class. And fans want him in this class. Losing him to Auburn stings more than just seeing him decommit. That's your arch-arch-arch-rival. You never want to see that.

We'll see how long Auburn's collective victory lap lasts. After all, this is recruiting and you better believe that Saban, a recruiting master, won't give up on recruiting Foster. Not when his No. 1 rival swoops in and takes his prize, and not when "100 percent committed" means nothing until pen is put to paper.

Georgia's Todd Grantham gets a raise

June, 8, 2012
6/08/12
12:40
PM ET
It's obviously Georgia Day in terms of contract news.

We learned that head football coach Mark Richt's new deal was finalized after six months of discussions. We also found out that athletic director Greg McGarity will receive a raise, and the latest bit of news is that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is getting a raise and going to $825,000 annually over the next three years (through 2014).

Grantham, entering his third season on the Bulldogs' staff, becomes the fourth highest-paid defensive coordinator in the SEC. LSU's John Chavis has agreed to a new three-year deal that will pay him an average of $1.1 million per year. He'll make $900,000 in 2012, $1.1 million in 2013 and $1.3 million in 2014. Alabama's Kirby Smart received a raise following the 2011 season that took him to $950,000 annually, while first-year Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is making $850,000 per year.

Grantham was at $750,000 last year and earned every penny of it. The Bulldogs finished fifth nationally in total defense and third nationally in third-down conversion defense. They led the SEC and tied for seventh nationally with 32 forced turnovers.

But more than just statistics, Grantham brought a mental toughness to the Bulldogs' defense that had been missing, and it rubbed off on the entire team.

Noteworthy in Grantham's new deal is that he can leave without penalty to take a head coaching job in college football or the NFL. He also wouldn't owe Georgia anything if he were to leave for an NFL coordinator's job. Grantham was previously the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator from 2005-07 and was the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line coach prior to coming to Georgia.

He's definitely a keeper in Athens.

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