SEC: Chris Faulk

BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU's head coach this week, we’ll use each day to review the decade under the eccentric Miles. Today we look back at the five best recruiting classes of the Miles era.

5. 2013
ESPN class ranking: Seventh
We’re making a call based on potential here, since several of the most talented members of this group have yet to make much of an impact (or haven’t played yet at all). Cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson and quarterback Anthony Jennings are the headliners thus far. But players like tight end DeSean Smith; defensive tackles Christian LaCouture, Greg Gilmore, Maquedius Bain and Frank Herron; and linebacker Kendell Beckwith could all become household names among LSU fans before the 2014 season is over.

4. 2007
ESPN class ranking: Sixth
Wide receiver Terrance Toliver was the highest-rated prospect in this 27-man class, and he had a fine college career, but other 2007 signees became the more important college players. The Tigers had three players in this signing class (kicker Josh Jasper, defensive lineman Drake Nevis and offensive lineman Will Blackwell) who became All-Americans according to at least one organization. They also had six players (Blackwell, Jasper, Nevis, defensive lineman Joe Barksdale, safety Chad Jones and running back Stevan Ridley) who made at least one All-SEC team and six (Jones, Ridley, Nevis, Barksdale, cornerback Ron Brooks and receiver Demetrius Byrd) who became NFL draft picks.

3. 2011
ESPN class ranking: 10th
No. 2 overall prospect Anthony Johnson was the biggest fish in this class, but “The Freak” didn’t quite live up to his advance billing in three seasons at LSU before becoming an undrafted free agent in the most recent NFL draft. However, this class was loaded with impact players -- including two of the most productive receivers (Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham) in school history, a pair of All-SEC offensive linemen from 2013 (La'el Collins and Trai Turner) and several others who should make an impact this season (running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, defensive end Jermauria Rasco, safety Ronald Martin and defensive tackle Quentin Thomas, among others). LSU also added quarterback Zach Mettenberger as a junior college transfer and signed running back Jeremy Hill in this class, although Hill didn’t contribute as a member of the team until 2012.

2. 2014
ESPN class ranking: Second
Yes, this is completely unfair. These kids haven’t played a single snap in college yet. Much like the 2013 class, it will be several more years before we know the full impact that this class will have at LSU. But with the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect (running back Leonard Fournette), the No. 1 players at three different positions (Fournette, receiver Malachi Dupre and offensive guard Garrett Brumfield) and other exciting additions like quarterback Brandon Harris, record-setting receiver Trey Quinn, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett, this could conceivably become one of the best recruiting classes in school history before it’s all over. Miles said on national signing day that he believes this class can help LSU contend for several national championships, and it certainly has the talent to do so.

1. 2009
ESPN class ranking: First
No. 1 athlete Russell Shepard was initially the crown jewel in the nation’s top signing class, but he wasn’t the guy who eventually made this such a successful class. Sure there were several star prospects who panned out in this class -- including No. 1 safety Craig Loston, No. 1 receiver Rueben Randle, No. 2 defensive end Sam Montgomery and No. 11 outside linebacker Kevin Minter -- but the Tigers got as much out of the players who weren’t considered to rank among the highest-rated signees at the time. The Tigers signed 10 ESPN 150 honorees in the 25-man class. Among those who didn’t make the list of the top 150 prospects: cornerback Morris Claiborne; defensive linemen Michael Brockers, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan; offensive lineman Chris Faulk and linebacker Lamin Barrow. Claiborne, Brockers and Mingo all became first-round NFL draft picks, and five members of that group made at least one All-SEC team.
Now that all of the early entries for this year's NFL draft are in, we decided to take a closer look at some of the players who decided to leave school early.

We're checking in on how teams were affected and who some of the winners and losers were from all of these early departures:

[+] EnlargeJoeckel
Brett Davis/US PresswireIt was a no-brainer for Luke Joeckel to take his talents to the NFL.
1. Biggest winners: Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel flirted with staying in school for his senior year, but it appears that would have been a major mistake for the nation's top left tackle. He was a guaranteed top-10 pick for most of the season, but with the draft creeping closer, Joeckel has a great chance of being the top pick come April. He definitely made the right decision to leave school early, and so did his teammate Damontre Moore. After a monster 2012 season, Moore could follow Joeckel as the second player taken off the board. He moved to defensive end last fall and is a very attractive pick for teams because of his versatility. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner could also hear their names called very early in April, as they too could both be top-five picks.

2. Biggest loser: LSU was ravaged by the NFL draft, as ten underclassmen declared early. Some were pretty obvious, but others left people confused. It didn't shock anyone that defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan declared. Montgomery and Mingo could be first-round draft picks, while Logan could go within the first three rounds. Safety Eric Reid and linebacker Kevin Minter made sense as well, but seeing punter Brad Wing, cornerback Tharold Simon, offensive lineman Chris Faulk and running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford all leave was pretty surprising. The Tigers will be losing seven quality starters and basically their entire defensive line. LSU has a lot of quality youngsters who will be vying for major playing time, but losing all that experience will hurt the Tigers in 2013.

3. Head-scratchers: Ware, Ford and Simon could all have benefited from another year in Baton Rouge. Neither Ford nor Ware hit the 400-yard rushing mark and combined for just four touchdowns on the season. Maybe the emergence of freshman running back Jeremy Hill helped influence their decisions. South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders shocked everyone when he decided to turn pro at the last minute. Sanders was one of the league's top multipurpose weapons, and while he isn't going to get any taller (he's a generous 5-foot-8), he could use another year to improve his receiving skills. He'll be looked at as a returner first in the NFL and won't likely be drafted very high at all. Also, Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins could have used another year of school as well. He was banged up in 2012, only playing in nine games, and registered just 29 tackles. He's a very smart player, but another year could have helped his draft status even more.

4. The replacements:

  • LSU loses a lot, but that doesn't mean that the Bayou is void of talent. Wing will be replaced by sophomore-to-be Jamie Keehn, who started in Wing's place for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. With Ware and Ford gone, Hill will be helped out by Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard in the run game. Junior-to-be Anthony Johnson should get more reps at defensive tackle with Logan gone, and he'll also be helped by Ego Ferguson. Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins both had solid seasons at corner, so expect more of each with Simon gone.
  • With Eddie Lacy leaving Alabama, rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon will now be the guy at running back for the Crimson Tide. With his 1,000-yard season, he's already proven that he can more than handle himself in this league. He'll also be helped by Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler, who are both returning from knee injuries, and Kenyan Drake, who looked impressive in mop-up duty last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Derrick Henry, who is already on campus and should be a factor in the run game.
  • Sanders' departure at South Carolina means Bruce Ellington is now the top returning receiver for the Gamecocks, and it also puts more on the shoulders of Shaq Roland, who was expected to make an immediate impact during his freshman year. Roland has the skills to be a big-time threat in the passing game.
  • Georgia lost some key juniors on defense, but no one will be missed more than Jones. Jordan Jenkins came on strong in his first year last fall, and will do his best to replace Jones' pass-rushing ability.
  • Florida only lost three underclassmen to the draft, but replacing safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will be tough. There are a host of youngsters who could vie for Elam's spot (keep an eye on freshman Marcus Maye), while Damien Jacobs will help man the middle of Florida's line with Leon Orr.

SEC lunch links

January, 10, 2013
Back from sunny South Florida. Let's do the links thing:

Chick-fil-A Bowl

December, 2, 2012
LSU Tigers (10-2) vs. Clemson Tigers (10-2)

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET, Atlanta (ESPN)

LSU take by GeauxTigerNation's Gary Laney: How does one judge LSU's season?

At 10-2, the Tigers fell short of their preseason No. 1 ranking. They failed to make the SEC championship game, much less defend their conference title.

On the other hand, LSU masterfully overcame a ton of problems.

Tyrann Mathieu, the Tigers' Heisman Trophy finalist at cornerback, was dismissed from the team in August. Chris Faulk, the left tackle who seemed destined to be drafted by the second round, was lost to a knee injury after one game, and running back Alfred Blue was also lost to a knee injury a couple of weeks later. The Tigers finished the season with three offensive line starters who weren't starters at the beginning of the season.

Yet, by the end of the regular season, LSU seemed to have it figured out. Zach Mettenberger was much improved in the passing game, and Jeremy Hill emerged as one of the nation's best freshmen running backs. And the defense, though it gave up passing yards late in the season, remained solid, led by end Sam Montgomery and linebacker Kevin Minter.

So how LSU's season is perceived might come down to how the Tigers play in the bowl. If the offense continues its resurgence and the Tigers win, they will go into the offseason with a rosy outlook. If the Tigers lose and the defense continues to give up passing yards, followed by the seemingly inevitable loss of underclassmen like Montgomery and free safety Eric Reid to the NFL draft, it could be an offseason of worry on the bayou.

Clemson take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Clemson, much like Florida State this year, was oh-so-close to something bigger than the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but the Tigers’ losses to the Seminoles and rival South Carolina ruined the program’s chances at a second straight appearance in the ACC championship and a BCS bowl.

That’s not to say this wasn’t a successful season for coach Dabo Swinney. The Tigers maintained their position as a top 15 team all year, and have thrived behind a high-scoring offense led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, who was named the ACC’s Player of the Year. In his second season as a starter, Boyd helped lead Clemson to back-to-back 10-win seasons, the first Clemson quarterback to do that since Rodney Williams in1987-88. Clemson had the No. 6 scoring offense in the country this year (42.33) points per game, but was smothered in a 27-17 loss to South Carolina. The defense under first-year coordinator Brent Venables was better, but it wasn’t championship-caliber, finishing No. 47 in the county, allowing 24.92 points per game.

Clemson’s only ACC loss this year was in Tallahassee to a Florida State team that was ranked No. 4 in the country at the time. Clemson reeled off seven straight wins after that loss and had momentum heading into its regular-season finale against the Gamecocks, but for the fourth straight season, Clemson was outplayed and outcoached by its in-state rival.

Clemson will forever be remembered for its abysmal performance in last year’s Discover Orange Bowl, but this matchup against LSU will be a chance for the Tigers to take a monumental step towards redeeming their postseason image.
What was supposed to be a major strength for LSU has turned into more of a ragtag unit.

LSU's offensive line had the makings to challenge Alabama's as being the nation's best, but injuries have forced Les Miles and his staff to mix and match up front. It hasn't always been pretty, but with three underclassmen starting in the win over South Carolina this past weekend, you could see some obvious growth from LSU's linemen.

Star left tackle Chris Faulk had already been lost for the season, while fellow starting tackle Alex Hurst, who moved from right tackle to left, has been away from the team dealing with personal issues. That left the Tigers with youngsters La'el Collins, Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander to pick up the slack.

And boy did they.

The Tigers beat up South Carolina's talented defensive front and gashed the Gamecocks for 258 rushing yards.

On Wednesday, Miles said that there wasn't a change in game plan when it came to the offensive line; it was just player improvement.

"We've tried to do some things that help us in protection," Miles said. "It really has not changed game plan.

"The shuffling certainly has been an issue, but we really think we're really getting quality play from some of our young players. I don't think it's affected game plan significantly and certainly not play call."

Miles said that he's unsure if Hurst will return to the team this year.

"I do not know the chances of him returning here to this point," he said.

That only opens the door for more playing time for LSU's younger linemen, which, if Saturday was any indication, might not be such a bad thing.

"To this point, we're running the stuff that we would plan to run," Miles said. "We may be a little different with the names and the numbers on the jerseys that are in there playing … but the productivity is something that we'll continue to expect to be at the level of LSU."

Anthony Johnson update

In a Sports Illustrated story discussing possible NCAA violations by former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, current defensive tackle Anthony Johnson was named as a player whose picture was used on fliers promoting a party, which could be considered an NCAA violation if he was aware his likeness was being used to promote something.

Miles said he has spoken to Johnson about the matter and Johnson assured him that he paid to get into a club, but that his likeness used to promote was done so without his permission. Johnson also told Miles that he asked for his picture to be taken off the fliers.

"What I'm told is our guys did the right things and did not participate in a planning stage or a promotional piece," Miles said.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 14, 2012
Let’s hand out the helmet stickers for Week 7 in the SEC:

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel: Proving yet again that he can make big plays with his arm and legs, Driskel did it Saturday with his legs in rushing for a career-high 177 yards and three touchdowns in Florida’s 37-17 win over Vanderbilt. His 70-yard touchdown run sealed the Gators’ sixth consecutive victory with 2 minutes, 20 seconds to play after the Commodores had pulled within a touchdown. Driskel also had touchdown runs of 37 and 13 yards.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze: Had Ole Miss held on last week to beat Texas A&M, Freeze would be getting some serious consideration for midseason Coach of the Year honors in the SEC. Still, it says volumes about the direction in which this program is headed that Ole Miss could come back from that bitter loss last week and spank Auburn 41-20 on Saturday to end the Rebels’ 16-game SEC losing streak. Freeze has this young team believing right now, and the Rebels have their sights set on a bowl trip in his first season.

LSU offensive line: The Tigers underwent another shakeup in their offensive line Saturday, as tackle Alex Hurst missed the game. Keep in mind that they’ve been playing without their best tackle, Chris Faulk, since the first week. None of that mattered against a South Carolina defensive line that was hailed as one of the best in the country. The Tigers won the battle up front all night in their 23-21 victory over the Gamecocks and paved the way for 258 rushing yards. Coming into the game, South Carolina was ranked second in the SEC against the run and was giving up just 83.8 yards per game.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel: They might as well start calling the SEC total offense record the “Johnny Football” record. He broke his own record Saturday in Texas A&M’s wild 59-57 win over Louisiana Tech with 576 yards in total offense. Manziel accounted for six touchdowns. He passed for 395 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns. His final touchdown was a 72-yard romp to put the Aggies ahead 59-44 with 2:04 to play.

Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson: In only two and a half quarters, Wilson put up the kind of numbers a lot of quarterbacks would take over a three-game stretch. He was 23-of-31 for 372 yards and tied a school record with five touchdown passes in the weather-shortened 49-7 rout of Kentucky. He hit 10 different receivers and was 11-of-12 in the first quarter for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Wilson now has 14 touchdown passes in six games.

Welcome to the Bayou

October, 13, 2012
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Greetings from Tiger Stadium. We have a big one between LSU and South Carolina.

Two top-10 teams and two very, very talented defenses will be going at it under the lights Saturday in one of college football's best environments.

The Tigers are limping in after that 14-6 loss to Florida, but interesting things happen under the lights in this place, and something tells me The Hat will have a few new things in store for the Gamecocks. It will be interesting to see how South Carolina deals with not just the crowd noise but with its own emotions after last week's blowout victory over Georgia.

This is South Carolina's first real road trip and the Tigers have their backs against the wall.

It'll be interesting to watch both of these offenses tonight. The Gamecocks have been very balanced and have one of the SEC's most efficient quarterbacks in Connor Shaw. That fractured shoulder hasn't been much of an issue at all. The Gamecocks will face their toughest test up front, and that is a concern for offensive-line coach Shawn Elliott. His line has been shaky at times this year, and the tackle spots are key. Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell will have their hands full with Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo going at them.

For LSU, the Tigers were already without top offensive lineman Chris Faulk and will now be without starting left tackle Alex Hurst, who continues to deal with personal issues. Josh Dworaczyk will start at left tackle, where he has really struggled. Trai Turner will also start for the injured Josh Williford at right guard, while Vadal Alexander will start at right tackle; both are freshmen. LSU will have three underclassmen starting on the offensive line ... with Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor and Kelcy Quarles to battle.

Talk about a lot of pressure up front ...
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If you didn't already know, line play is pretty important in the SEC.

Well, you're going to find out just how important it is today when Florida and LSU square off.

For the Gators, we've certainly seen an improved and more physical offensive line, but keep an eye on the left tackle spot. Xavier Nixon might be penciled in as the starter, but freshman D.J. Humphries could get a lot of time there today with the way Nixon has been playing. He's a talented youngster, but he'll have his hands full with Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.

LSU also has its own issues at left tackle. Replacing the injured Chris Faulk hasn't been easy. Veteran Josh Dworaczyk didn't exactly get the job done when he was there, so look for Alex Hurt to get more time there. And the Gators are going to try and bring a ton of pressure his way.

If these left tackles struggle, it'll be a long day for both teams' quarterbacks.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 5

September, 30, 2012
If you like points and lots of them, then you had a blast Saturday in the SEC. Here’s a look at what we learned in Week 5:

1. Getting defensive: For a league that prides itself on defense, some eye-opening offensive numbers were generated Saturday. Even Alabama’s vaunted defense gave up 16 first downs to Ole Miss, which finished 8-of-17 on third down. That was just scratching the surface, though. Georgia outlasted Tennessee 51-44 with the Bulldogs rolling up 560 yards and the Vols 478 yards. This was a Georgia defense that added starters Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo to the mix and was still shredded to the tune of 197 rushing yards. As for Tennessee’s defense, the Vols are well on their way to historical lows this season. They’ve played two SEC games and given up a total of 88 points and 1,115 yards. At least they’ve been consistent. They gave up 555 to Florida and 560 to Georgia and have been gashed for 618 rushing yards in those two games. The Vols have nothing on Arkansas, though. The Hogs, in losing 58-10 to Texas A&M, have given up 110 points and 1,154 yards in two SEC contests. The Aggies piled up 716 yards on Saturday against an Arkansas defense that is utterly defenseless. In four games against FBS foes, the Hogs have allowed a total of 179 points. It’s only five weeks into the season, but maybe some of the defenses in this league aren’t quite as advertised. Then again, maybe the offenses are simply catching up.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesAlthough his Tigers are 5-0, Les Miles' team has yet to play up to its potential.
2. LSU still a quandary: The Tigers are giving new meaning to winning ugly after slopping their way to a 38-22 win over “mighty” Towson on Saturday. You survey LSU’s team, and there’s no question the talent’s there, especially on defense. But the Tigers aren’t playing like the No. 3 team in the country. In fact, they’re not playing like the No. 3 team in the SEC. They’re playing just well enough to win, and that’s a dangerous way of life in this league. One thing to keep in mind is this is not the same team LSU thought it was going to have in August. Losing left tackle Chris Faulk was a killer on offense. Now, it looks like running back Alfred Blue might be out for the season. Linebacker Tahj Jones was also sidelined because of academics. Throw in the dismissal of Tyrann Mathieu, and that’s four key players the Tigers are missing. Clearly, quarterback Zach Mettenberger has to play better, and his receivers need to make more happen. The prelims are over, though. LSU heads to the Swamp this coming Saturday to take on Florida, followed by a home date with South Carolina and then another road trip to Texas A&M. Then comes a bye week followed by Alabama’s visit on Nov. 3. In short, we’ll know plenty about these Tigers three or four weeks from now.

3. Aggies making their move: Don’t sleep on Kevin Sumlin and his Texas A&M football team. Moreover, don’t sleep on Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. For one, you gotta love the “Johnny Football” moniker. It certainly fits. To this point, there hasn’t been a more entertaining player in the SEC to watch play. Manziel set the school record for total offense in the 58-10 rout of Arkansas with 557 yards. In his past three games, he’s passed for 921 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s also rushed for 306 yards in those three games with five more touchdowns. The Texas A&M players were adamant during the preseason that they were planning on coming into the SEC and winning right away. They didn’t want to hear about any kind of transition period. Go back to the Florida game three weeks ago. The Aggies were right there but couldn’t quite finish the game. Sumlin has this bunch playing at a high level and believing. He also has a quarterback who’s playing lights-out. If you’re looking for a sleeper in the West, don’t sleep on the Aggies.

4. Tennessee still has some fight: When you get past all the points and yards Tennessee gave up Saturday in its 51-44 loss to Georgia, there was one glaring difference about this game for the Vols. They stood and fought and didn’t wilt even after falling behind by 17 points in the first half. Even more encouraging for Big Orange fans is that the Vols showed some grit, some mental toughness and some courage in the second half. That’s been the knock on Derek Dooley’s teams at Tennessee. They’ve run away and hidden more times than not in the second half -- but not this time against a very talented Georgia football team on the road. Granted, there are serious defensive concerns, and junior quarterback Tyler Bray has to play better in the clutch. But it’s the kind of performance the Vols can build on going forward. They get a bye this coming week, and then comes a trip to Mississippi State on Oct. 13 that will go a long way toward determining where this program is headed and whether or not Dooley is going to be around long term.

5. Freshman sensations: When’s the last time two true freshman running backs have come into the SEC and made the kind of immediate impact that Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have for the Bulldogs? They’ve already combined for 964 rushing yards in five games. Marshall, who had touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards against Tennessee, is averaging 8.2 yards per carry, while Gurley is averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Gurley already has 10 touchdowns, including a 100-yard kickoff return. It’s not out of the realm to think that both these guys could rush for 1,000 yards this season. Again, we’re talking about freshmen. The Bulldogs might want to pay a franchise tax to North Carolina this year, because they went into that state and pulled out a pair of franchise running backs who look like they’re going to torment the rest of the SEC for a long time.
LSU coach Les Miles confirmed on Wednesday that five players have been ruled out for the 2012 season.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Tuesday that linebackers Tahj Jones and D.J. Welter, tight end Tyler Edwards and offensive lineman Evan Washington have all been ruled academically ineligible, according to a source close to the program.

Miles wouldn’t comment on if the players were ruled academically ineligible.

“I don’t know that it’s fair for me to confirm that, to be honest with you,” Miles said during Wednesday’s SEC coaches call. “There’s a privacy responsibility that I have. Those guys will not play this year. I don’t know that I can tell you the specifics as to why and why not.”

Miles also said that sophomore defensive end Jordan Allen will miss the rest of the season due to injury.

This just gives LSU more depth issues to deal with. The Tigers lost freshman signees Avery Johnson (wide receiver) and Jeremy Liggins (quarterback), and junior college transfer offensive lineman Fehoko Fanaika because they couldn’t qualify academically.

LSU also dismissed All-American and Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu before the season started. Junior offensive tackle Chris Faulk and freshman wide receiver Travin Dural are also out for the year because of injuries.

Jones, a junior, was expected to compete for the Sam linebacker position, but had yet to see any game action this year. He played in all 14 games last season, making one start, and registered 33 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one interception and one fumble recovery. He has played in 27 career games.

Edwards, a senior, has played in 39 career games with one start as more of a blocker and has one catch for 10 yards.

SEC mailbag: Replacing LSU's Chris Faulk

September, 7, 2012
I’m coming at you live from College Station, Texas, where the Aggies make their SEC debut on Saturday against No. 24 Florida.

While I eagerly await that historic matchup, let’s empty out the SEC mailbag:

TD Carey in Ruston, La., writes: LSU and Chris Faulk: Let us not forget that LSU could have had Mo Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Mike Brockers. The loss of these four, especially now that Faulk is out, will make a difference, as there is no way to replace Faulk.

Chris Low: I wouldn’t go as far as to say that there’s “no way.” Faulk was a key part of that LSU offensive line and an excellent player, but the Tigers have some depth and experience up front. Getting Josh Dworaczyk back for a sixth season was huge. He’s versatile and will step in Saturday at left tackle for the Tigers. He’s not the only option there, either. It’s a blow to lose Faulk, no question. But I’m not ready to say it was a knockout blow. This LSU team has been too resilient in the past and is still oozing with talent.

Brian in Richmond, Va., writes: Hey Chris, War Eagle people seem to be really down on Auburn this year. They “almost/should have” beaten a very good ranked Clemson team that has a great chance of winning the ACC. It pains me to admit this, but Auburn has had some personnel issues since winning the 2010 national championship. How much better would Auburn be this year with Mike Dyer, Antonio Goodwin, Shaun Kitchens, Dakota Mosley and Jovon Robinson? I would include Zeke Pike, but he wasn't going to start this year and he's a train wreck anyway. Would they have really made that big of a difference? Obviously, Mike Dyer is a known quantity.

Chris Low: Fans are always going to be down when you lose the opener, but this is about what I expected from this Auburn team. It’s not so much that I’m down on the Tigers. I just think it’s going to be tough sledding for them this season with a first-time starter at quarterback who’s learning on the job and a defense that still clearly has some issues. I expect Auburn to improve on defense as the season goes on, but inexperience at quarterback and a leaky defense are a bad combination. And as far as some of the players you mentioned that are no longer there, maybe part of the problem is that there have been too many misses on the recruiting end with kids who simply had no desire to behave. Weeding out those kids might be the best thing that could have happened to this team.

Brian in Gadsden, Ala.: Chris, I was just reading your prediction regarding Mississippi State and Auburn. I think you have some revisionist history. Mississippi State was not one foot short of winning at Auburn last year. They were one foot short of being behind by two points with no timeouts and a chance to tie the game with a successful two-point conversion. Last time I checked, a two-point conversion was not a 99 percent certainty like an extra point. I have no problem with a pick against Auburn, but please don’t change the facts from last year.

Chris Low: Actually, we were both wrong. What I should have written was that Mississippi State came within a foot of tying the game and sending it into overtime with an extra point or having a chance to win it with a successful two-point conversion. The final score was 41-34, so all the Bulldogs would have needed to tie the game was an extra point. A successful two-point conversion would have won it in regulation. Anyway, my apologies, and I promise there’s no War Eagle conspiracy at work here.

Tommyboy in Atlanta writes: 1. Can you please quantify SEC speed? 2. What is the international unit of measurement of SEC speed? 3. Do SEC scoreboards have to be specially calibrated or purpose built for SEC speed? 4. Do all SEC teams have SEC speed? 5. If a team were in another conference and joined the SEC, does that team automatically get SEC speed, or is there a waiting period? If there is a waiting period, does time travel faster due to SEC speed? 6. Could ESPN please mention SEC speed more? 8. Please complete the following: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi are to ______ as SEC speed is to ______. The questions skip from No. 6 to No. 8 because my computer cannot keep up with my typing because my fingers have ... SEC speed.

Chris Low: Very simply, SEC speed = six consecutive national championships. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi are to great men and men of vision as SEC speed is to bringing in the bling and collecting crystal footballs. I like your style, though. Good stuff. We may have to let you sit in one day for me on the SEC blog. On second thought, maybe not. You might take my job.

Bryan in Roswell, Ga., writes: With South Carolina struggling against Vanderbilt, the East seems wide open this year. The Georgia-Missouri game is huge, and a Missouri win would seemingly set the stage for the Tigers to win the East on their first try. What would that scenario do for Mizzou going forward in their new home?

Chris Low: I still say that Vanderbilt is better than a lot of people are giving the Commodores credit for. It’s true that South Carolina didn’t throw the ball well, but the Gamecocks didn’t play that poorly. My guess is that the rest of the East would love to see Georgia go down this weekend in its first SEC game. If that happens, this East race might look a little bit like the one in 2010. Everybody’s going to beat up on everybody else. Arkansas went to the SEC championship game in its fourth year in the league, so it's not outrageous to think that Missouri could make some noise this first year if the Tigers can get out of the blocks with a victory over the Bulldogs.

Dale in Winchester, Tenn., writes: Chris, not trying to look ahead. But so far after seeing the N.C. State game, do you think this year’s Tennessee team, if it stays healthy and some of its players like Tyler Bray and Herman Lathers continue to step up and lead, could be the one to get the Big Orange back to the powerhouse we used to be? Go Vols!

Chris Low: The most impressive thing about the Vols in the opener was the way they finished the game and didn’t flinch when Bray lost the fumble at the goal line right before halftime. I would still like to see them be better in short yardage situations on offense, and the defensive secondary still has some growing up to do. But there’s no doubt that this is Derek Dooley’s best team, and I expect to see the Vols in the East race come November. I’ll stop there … for now.

Kevin in Lexington, S.C., writes: I know it’s several weeks away, but how do you think South Carolina's secondary will hold up against Missouri’s spread attack after looking overwhelmed at times against Vandy?

Chris Low: I’ll have a better answer for you after watching Missouri go up against Georgia’s defense Saturday night. Losing senior cornerback Akeem Auguste was a killer for the Gamecocks. They were already thin back there. To me, the real burden is on South Carolina’s front seven now and generating even more pressure. Jadeveon Clowney is a freakish talent, but he can’t take plays off.

Herrin in Boiling Springs, S.C., writes: 1. Are you contractually obligated to write "SEC speed" in each article? 2. LSU and Alabama have not had a close SEC game in some time. Does the rest of the SEC still have SEC speed? 3. Have you ever seen a team crow more about its conference -- while accomplishing less on its own -- than South Carolina? 4. Does Clemson have SEC speed? I mean, we have beaten SEC teams nine out of the last 11 years.

Chris Low: All fair points. Now let me ask you a question: How many straight years has South Carolina beaten Clemson? I noticed you didn’t bring up that topic.

LSU tackle Faulk to miss rest of season

September, 7, 2012
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU left tackle Chris Faulk is out for the remainder of the 2012 season, a school official confirmed Friday. LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette confirmed the news to GeaxTigerNation on Friday afternoon following reports that the junior's injury, suffered in practice this week, would cause him to miss the rest of the season.

Faulk's injury was first revealed by LSU coach Les Miles after the Tigers' practice Wednesday evening, though Miles did not comment on the severity. In Faulk's place, LSU will go with senior Josh Dworaczyk, who will move from guard to tackle.

LSU must press on without Chris Faulk

September, 7, 2012
LSU will see its resiliency and depth tested yet again.

First, it was Tyrann Mathieu, the team's most dynamic playmaker on defense and special teams and a Heisman Trophy finalist from last season. Mathieu was dismissed from the team in August for repeated violations of the school's drug-testing policy for athletes.

The latest blow came on offense. Junior left tackle Chris Faulk injured his knee in practice this week, and multiple reports are now surfacing that it's ligament damage and that he could miss the entire season. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Thursday that Faulk was "likely done for the 2012 season with a major knee injury that will require surgery and long-term rehabilitation."

The 6-foot-6, 323-pound Faulk was one of the Tigers' most athletic offensive linemen and a key in being able to block the never-ending stream of explosive edge pass-rushers you see in the SEC.

In fact, had you picked three or four players at the start of training camp that the Tigers could least afford to lose, Faulk would have been in that group along with Mathieu. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. had Faulk rated as the No. 3 junior offensive tackle in the country.

The Tigers have a couple of different ways they can go without Faulk. It's not like they haven't recruited well in the offensive line the past few years. The plan this Saturday against Washington is to start sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk at left tackle. LSU coach Les Miles said before the season that Dworaczyk would be the Tigers' utility man up front. Plugging in Dworaczyk means nobody else has to move, although just about all of Dworaczyk's game experience has been at guard.

Moving senior Alex Hurst from right tackle to left tackle is also something the Tigers will consider. Like Faulk, Hurst is an NFL draft prospect. Plus, moving Hurst would get promising true freshman Vadal Alexander on the field at right tackle.

Sophomore La'El Collins moved inside to guard last season after coming to LSU as a highly rated tackle prospect. He started at left guard in the opener, but is somebody else that could move to tackle if the Tigers have more injuries.

The good thing is that they have options, and they've shown in the past under Miles that they don't easily get off track even when they do lose key players.

When we did our preseason countdown on the SEC blog of the 25 best players in the league, Faulk checked in at No. 14 and Mathieu would have been in the top five had he not been kicked off the team.

Very few teams could get away with losing two players of that caliber (at those positions) this early in the season and still be a serious contender for the national championship.

LSU is one of those teams, although the Tigers' path to Miami just got a lot harder.

Lunchtime links

September, 6, 2012
Did the Cowboys really win that game last night? I guess the Giants will once again limp into the playoffs with no hope in sight ...

Also, don't forget to send in your questions to the mailbag. We didn't get many questions last week, so get in there and ask away. You should have a lot, considering there were no chats this week.

Lunchtime links

August, 31, 2012
The offenses weren't pretty last night in the SEC opener, but the rust is off and a game has been played. Now, bring on the weekend!