SEC: Ciron Black

A Decade of Les: All-Miles team

August, 8, 2014
8/08/14
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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 with Miles helming the Tigers' program. Today we take a swing at naming a roster of the best players from the Miles era.

Let's break down the picks by offense, defense and special teams and discuss some of the tougher decisions.

OFFENSE
Among the most difficult positions to settle on were running back and wide receiver.

We went with Jeremy Hill (who set a record for a back with at least 200 carries by averaging 6.9 yards per carry in 2013) and Jacob Hester at running back. Because of his ability to play fullback, Hester -- the leading rusher on the 2007 BCS championship club with 1,103 yards and 12 touchdowns -- gets the nod over a host of talented alternatives like Charles Scott, Joseph Addai and Stevan Ridley.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Landry
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJarvis Landry had 77 catches for 1,193 yards last season before being drafted by the Dolphins in the second round.
Receiver was an even more difficult position to evaluate. Wideouts such as Dwayne Bowe, Early Doucet and Rueben Randle all belong on the list, but we went with Jarvis Landry, whose 2013 (77 catches, 1,193 yards, 10 TDs) was the best single-season effort in the Miles era, and Brandon LaFell, a two-time All-SEC pick who is LSU's career receiving leader (2,517 yards) under Miles. We added Odell Beckham Jr. as an all-purpose player thanks in large part to a standout 2013 season (59 catches, 1,152 yards, eight TDs) when he won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player and ranked second nationally in all-purpose yardage (178.1 yards per game).

There are quarterbacks worth mentioning aside from JaMarcus Russell, namely Matt Flynn and Zach Mettenberger, but Russell completed one of the best seasons by a quarterback in LSU history in 2006 (232-of-342, 3,129 yards, 28 TDs) before becoming the top overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

La'el Collins gets the nod at one offensive tackle spot over candidates like Andrew Whitworth and Joe Barksdale, so he needs to prove he deserves that distinction this season. He has the potential to be the best pro prospect LSU has had at tackle under Miles.

LINEUP
QB: JaMarcus Russell
RB: Jeremy Hill
RB: Jacob Hester
WR: Brandon LaFell
WR: Jarvis Landry
TE: Richard Dickson
OT: Ciron Black
OG: Herman Johnson
C: Rudy Niswanger
OG: Will Blackwell
OT: La'el Collins
AP: Odell Beckham Jr.

DEFENSE
Defensive line and secondary have been loaded positions under Miles and John Chavis, so picking just two players at those positions wasn't easy.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsPatrick Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards during the 2010 season.
At defensive end, we went with two-time All-SEC pick and eventual No. 3 overall draft pick Tyson Jackson and Sam Montgomery, LSU’s sack leader under Miles with 32.5 between 2010 and 2012, over alternatives like Barkevious Mingo and Melvin Oliver.

One tackle position was easy with 2007 Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Lott award winner Glenn Dorsey claiming one of the spots. The other tackle was a tough call, but we went with 2012 first-round pick Michael Brockers over a ton of great options such as Drake Nevis, Al Woods, Bennie Logan, Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams.

It would have been awfully difficult to pick just two cornerbacks if we hadn’t added a nickelback spot for Tyrann Mathieu to occupy. One of the SEC’s leading defensive playmakers of the 2000s, he definitely belongs on the roster, but Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne feel like no-brainers at corner, too.

At safety, it wasn’t much fun leaving All-American Craig Steltz off the list, but Eric Reid and LaRon Landry both made All-America teams, too -- and both of them became first-round draft picks, while Steltz went in the fourth round in 2008.

Linebackers Kevin Minter (130 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss in 2012) and Kelvin Sheppard (116 tackles in 2010) posted the top single-season tackle totals of the Miles era, while Ali Highsmith earned one All-America designation when he totaled 101 tackles and nine tackles for a loss on the 2007 BCS championship club.

LINEUP
DE: Sam Montgomery
DT: Glenn Dorsey
DT: Michael Brockers
DE: Tyson Jackson
LB: Ali Highsmith
LB: Kevin Minter
LB: Kelvin Sheppard
CB: Patrick Peterson
S: Eric Reid
S: LaRon Landry
CB: Morris Claiborne
Nickel: Tyrann Mathieu

SPECIAL TEAMS
LSU has had a bunch of electric kick returners under Miles. Peterson, Claiborne and Beckham would have been among the top options among kickoff returners, but since they're already on the roster, we went with Trindon Holliday, LSU's career kickoff return yardage leader under Miles (1,806 yards between 2006 and 2009). Peterson, Beckham, Holliday and Mathieu were phenomenal punt returners, so let’s add another new name to the list in Skyler Green, who ranks second all-time among LSU punt returners with 1,064 yards between 2002 and 2005.

It's tough to ignore LSU's single-season and career kicker scoring leader Colt David, but Josh Jasper is the most accurate field goal kicker in school history (83.9 percent) and trails only David on the kicker scoring list with 120 career points.

Brad Wing posted two of the top five seasons by a punter in school history in 2011 (an All-America season where he averaged 44.37 yards per punt) and 2012 (44.8), so he gets the nod over Derek Helton, Patrick Fisher and Chris Jackson.

LINEUP
PK: Josh Jasper
P: Brad Wing
KOR: Trindon Holliday
PR: Skyler Green

LSU spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
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2009 overall record: 9-4

2009 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters

Offense: 6; Defense: 4; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Jordan Jefferson, RB Stevan Ridley, WR Terrance Toliver, WR Russell Shepard, OT Joseph Barksdale, DT Drake Nevis, LB Kelvin Sheppard, CB Patrick Peterson

Key losses

RB Charles Scott, WR Brandon LaFell, TE Richard Dickson, DT Al Woods, LB Perry Riley, LB Harry Coleman, S Chad Jones

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Charles Scott (542 yards)

Passing: Jordan Jefferson* (2,166 yards)

Receiving: Brandon LaFell (792 yards)

Tackles: Kelvin Sheppard* (110)

Sacks: Rahim Alem (4.5)

Interceptions: Chad Jones (3)

Spring answers

1. Shepard on the move: It looks like the Tigers are finally serious about getting the ball into Russell Shepard’s hands. He’s washed his hands of wanting to be an every-down quarterback and moved to receiver full time this spring. He’ll still line up in some different spots, and the Tigers would like to get him touches throwing it to him, handing it to him and snapping it to him in the Wildcat formation. The bottom line is that Shepard is too talented and too good of a playmaker to be playing a part-time quarterback role.

2. Establishing the run: LSU coach Les Miles said the Tigers worked overtime on running the football this spring, and he’s confident that they will be a better running team in 2010. That part of the offense let them down in most of the games a year ago. Steven Ridley has all the tools to be a big-time back in this league. Speedy Richard Murphy hopes to be all the way back from his knee injury, and Miles is also eager to see what redshirt freshman Michael Ford can do.

3. Speed in the secondary: By moving Jai Eugene to safety, the Tigers essentially have four cornerbacks in the secondary. And most importantly, they all have outstanding top-end speed. Junior cornerback Patrick Peterson is one of the best shut-down corners in college football, and the LSU defensive staff thinks that sophomore cornerback Morris Clairborne will be equally difficult to throw against on the other side. Brandon Taylor is the other returning starter at safety. Taylor also started his career as a cornerback.

Fall questions

1. Next step for Jefferson: Even though his numbers last season as a first-time starter were solid, Jordan Jefferson was hesitant at times in the pocket, and the Tigers’ passing game tended to go belly-up in key situations. Jefferson didn’t have his best spring, either, which caused some concern in the LSU camp. He’s still the guy to beat, but Miles has been talking up Jarrett Lee, who threw 16 interceptions two years ago as a redshirt freshman. Fall camp should be interesting on the Bayou at the quarterback position.

2. Making more plays: The Tigers lacked a lot of explosive plays down the field last season, and having to go the distance all the time against SEC defenses is like beating your head into the wall. Shepard certainly fits that playmaker mold and will get more chances next season. Receivers Terrance Toliver and Rueben Randle combined for five touchdown catches last season. The Tigers would like to see that number climb to 10-plus in 2010. Neither Toliver nor Randle had a pass reception over 45 yards a year ago.

3. Playing better up front: There’s no other way to say it other than just to say it: The Tigers played poorly on the offensive line a year ago, as evidenced by the fact that their top guy, senior tackle Ciron Black, didn’t even get drafted. They’ve moved some guys around. Joseph Barksdale switched from right tackle to left tackle, while right guard Will Blackwell and right tackle Alex Hurst both won awards for their performance this spring. Of course, the real test will come this fall.

Position superlatives: LSU

March, 24, 2010
3/24/10
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Today, we take a look at what should be the strongest and weakest positions for LSU entering the 2010 season:

Strongest position: Secondary

Key returnees: Patrick Peterson, Jai Eugene, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Taylor, Ron Brooks

Key departures: Chad Jones, Chris Hawkins

The skinny: Jones was a playmaker for the Tigers at safety, but defensive coordinator John Chavis thinks they will be even faster in the secondary next season. Essentially, they will be playing four cornerbacks back there when you consider that Eugene is moving from cornerback to safety. Peterson is the best cornerback in the country and a future star in the NFL. He’s good enough to take away one whole side of the field. The Tigers’ defensive coaches think Claiborne will be their next great cornerback. He’s had a terrific spring and will step in at the other cornerback position opposite Peterson. Taylor’s a returning starter at the other safety position, and Ron Brooks gives them quality depth as the third cornerback. If redshirt freshman Craig Loston keeps coming, this has a chance to be one of the best defensive backfields in the league.

Weakest position: Offensive line

Key returnees: Joseph Barksdale, Alex Hurst, Josh Dworaczyk, Will Blackwell

Key departures: Ciron Black

The skinny: It was a brutal season for the LSU offensive line a year ago. The Tigers were 11th in the league in rushing offense and gave up 37 sacks, which tied South Carolina for the league high and ranked 105th nationally. The Tigers have shuffled some people around up front with the hope of finding the right combination. Coach Les Miles likes the way the offensive line has responded this spring, but the real test will come in the fall. Barksdale will be moving from right tackle to left tackle for the departed Black, who had a disappointing senior season. Hurst, a sophomore, has moved from guard to right tackle. There are signs that the Tigers will be better in the offensive line in 2010, but they have to prove it on the field first.

Lunchtime links: Are former Vols welcome?

March, 16, 2010
3/16/10
12:36
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Making the rounds in the SEC:

The fans speak on the SEC's top 30 players

March, 2, 2010
3/02/10
2:30
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OK, here's one more top 30 list from this past season, this one coming from Scott in Upstate New York.

He has Vanderbilt cornerback Myron Lewis on his list, and as I've said, Lewis was really difficult for me to leave off. Scott also has LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black. I considered Black, but just didn't think he had a great senior season. Scott also included Florida receiver Riley Cooper, who had a big season and played his way into probably being drafted.

Another name that was thrown out there recently was Arkansas receiver Greg Childs, and Childs was another one I considered. I like all those Arkansas receivers. Here's betting a few of them show up in my pre-2010 season countdown this summer.

Thanks again for all your input.

Scott's top 30

No. 1: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

No. 2: Tim Tebow, QB, Florida

No. 3: Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama

No. 4: Eric Berry, S, Tennessee

No. 5: Dexter McCluster RB/WR, Ole Miss

No. 6: Joe Haden, CB, Florida

No. 7: Anthony Dixon, RB, Mississippi State

No. 8: Ryan Mallet, QB, Arkansas

No. 9: Eric Norwood, LB, South Carolina

No. 10: Javier Arenas, CB/RS, Alabama

No. 11: Antonio Coleman, DE, Auburn

No. 12: Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida

No. 13: Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida

No. 14: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

No. 15: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

No. 16: Mike Johnson, OG, Alabama

No. 17: Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee

No. 18: Ben Tate, RB, Auburn

No. 19: Randall Cobb, QB/WR, Kentucky

No. 20: Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida

No. 21: Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee

No. 22: Rennie Curran, LB, Georgia

No. 23: Shay Hodge, WR, Ole Miss

No. 24: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida

No. 25: Pernell McPhee, DE, Mississippi State

No. 26: Ciron Black, OT, LSU

No. 27: Mark Barron, S, Alabama

No. 28: Riley Cooper, WR, Florida

No. 29: Myron Lewis, CB, Vanderbilt

No. 30: Terrence Cody, NG, Alabama

LSU looking for 'right' combination up front

February, 22, 2010
2/22/10
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As LSU prepares to open spring practice on Friday, Les Miles is already on record as saying he wants to make this as competitive and as physical a spring as the Tigers have had on his watch.

Nowhere will that be more apparent than the offensive line.

For all the talk about the Tigers needing to improve on offense next season and get guys like Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle more involved (which is certainly important), nothing is more critical than regaining that edge in the offensive line.

Nobody needs to remind Miles, an old offensive lineman, that LSU ranked 11th in the SEC in rushing offense last season and tied for last in the league in sacks allowed with 37.

That’s a combination that will torment you in this league every time.

One thing you’re sure to see a lot of this spring is some shuffling in the offensive line.

Ciron Black is gone at left tackle, but the reality is that Black didn’t have a great senior season. Senior Joseph Barksdale could move from right tackle to left tackle, while junior Josh Dworaczyk may shift from left guard to right tackle.

Miles really likes the potential of Alex Hurst, who played some last season as a redshirt freshman. Hurst may be the answer at right guard, where he played behind the departed Lyle Hitt a year ago.

Junior T-Bob Hebert returns at center, although sophomore backup P.J. Lonergan is also back. Lonergan may get a shot at guard. This is also a big spring for guys like junior Will Blackwell and redshirt freshmen Chris Faulk and Josh Williford as the Tigers try to find the “right” combination up front.

Final Senior Bowl rosters released

January, 25, 2010
1/25/10
5:37
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The final rosters for the Under Armour Senior Bowl have been posted. The game is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET on Saturday from Mobile, Ala.

Vanderbilt is the only SEC school not represented in the game.

Here's the list of participating SEC players on the South team:

ALABAMA

CB Javier Arenas

NG Terrence Cody

OG Mike Johnson

TE Colin Peek

K Leigh Tiffin

RB Roy Upchurch

ARKANSAS

OG Mitch Petrus

AUBURN

DE Antonio Coleman

RB Ben Tate

FLORIDA

WR Riley Cooper

QB Tim Tebow

GEORGIA

DT Geno Atkins

DT Jeff Owens

KENTUCKY

CB Trevard Lindley

LSU

OT Ciron Black

LB Harry Coleman



MISSISSIPPI STATE

LB Jamar Chaney

RB Anthony Dixon

OLE MISS

WR Shay Hodge

OL John Jerry

RB Dexter McCluster

SOUTH CAROLINA

LB Eric Norwood

TENNESSEE

DS Morgan Cox

OT Chris Scott

DT Dan Williams

Senior Bowl to include 25 from the SEC

January, 18, 2010
1/18/10
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The SEC will have 25 players on the South roster in the Under Armour Senior Bowl this year. That's more than any other conference in the country.

Of the 25 SEC representatives in this year’s game, 10 landed on All-American lists this season and 21 were named to All-SEC squads. It’s a group that includes the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year (Tim Tebow), Scholar-Athlete of the Year (Tebow), Special Teams Player of the Year (Javier Arenas) and Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner (Ciron Black).

This year's game will also feature four of the SEC’s five 1,000-yard rushers (Anthony Dixon, Ben Tate, Montario Hardesty and Dexter McCluster), its only 1,000-yard receiver (Shay Hodge), the league leader in scoring (Leigh Tiffin), the league leader in passing efficiency and points responsible for (Tebow) and the league leader in sacks (Antonio Coleman).

The game will be played Jan. 30 at 4 p.m. ET in Mobile's Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Here's a team-by-team list of the SEC players in the game:

ALABAMA

CB Javier Arenas

NG Terrence Cody

OG Mike Johnson

TE Colin Peek

K Leigh Tiffin

ARKANSAS

OG Mitch Petrus

AUBURN

DE Antonio Coleman

RB Ben Tate

FLORIDA

WR Riley Cooper

QB Tim Tebow

GEORGIA

DT Geno Atkins

DT Jeff Owens

KENTUCKY

CB Trevard Lindley

LSU

OT Ciron Black

LB Harry Coleman

WR Brandon LaFell

RB Charles Scott

MISSISSIPPI STATE

LB Jamar Chaney

RB Anthony Dixon

OLE MISS

WR Shay Hodge

OL John Jerry

RB Dexter McCluster

SOUTH CAROLINA

LB Eric Norwood

TENNESSEE

RB Montario Hardesty

DT Dan Williams

SEC coaches pass out individual awards

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
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Florida's Tim Tebow was named the SEC's top offensive player, and Alabama's Rolando McClain was named the best defensive player in a vote of the league's coaches.

It was another big day for Alabama on the awards front, as the Tide's Javier Arenas was named the top special teams player in the league and Nick Saban earned Coach of the Year honors.

Tebow was also named the SEC's top scholar-athlete by the coaches, while Vanderbilt's Warren Norman was named the Freshman of the Year. LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black received the Jacobs Trophy, which goes to the SEC's top blocker.

It's a battle of SEC royalty at Tiger Stadium

October, 9, 2009
10/09/09
12:07
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


Before Florida and LSU get it on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium in one of the most anticipated matchups of the season, maybe they can sit down and compare whose crystal football that sits atop the last three BCS national championship trophies sparkles the brightest.

 
 James Lang/US PRESSWIRE
 Florida has won two of the last three BCS championship games. LSU won in 2007.
In the realm of college football, these two teams are as close to royalty as it gets.

They’ve carried the torch for the SEC nationally this decade and are a big reason this conference is recognized as the best conference in the land.

They’ve shared the last three BCS national championships, Florida in 2008 and 2006 and LSU in 2007.

The winner of this game the last three years has gone on to win the national championship, and these two teams are the only schools in the country with multiple BCS national titles. The Tigers also won in 2003 under Nick Saban.

Here’s another way to look at it: Four of the last six national championship celebrations have gone down in either Baton Rouge, La., or Gainesville, Fla.

“This is what you play for,” LSU running back Charles Scott said. “You have a little extra motivation for this game. It’s LSU and Florida, the top dogs in the SEC.

“There’s no hatred … just a lot of pride.”

About the only chink you can find in Florida’s armor since Urban Meyer arrived in 2005 is that the Gators have been ordinary against Western Division opponents in the regular season.

Florida is 6-6 against the West since 2005, losing both times at Tiger Stadium.

Keep in mind that Florida’s regular Western Division opponent just happens to be LSU.

“I’m not sure how the SEC figured out that we had to play LSU every year,” said Meyer, weighing in on the Gators’ struggles against the West. “We happen to get them when they’re loaded up real good with players. It’s a players’ game. Just watch what happens in the next five years, a bunch of those cats will be playing in the NFL and so will the Gators.

“This is two top-5 teams playing. I imagine we haven’t done really well against very talented teams.”

Meyer’s selling himself short there.

While this will be the Gators’ first game against a nationally ranked team this season (and only their second against a team with a winning record), Meyer is 17-5 against nationally ranked opponents at Florida, 10-2 against top-10 teams and 6-1 against top-5 teams.

And when he has more than a week to prepare for an opponent, he’s 28-3 during his career.

Of course, he’s done so this time not knowing if he’s going to have his record-setting quarterback, Tim Tebow.

As big as this game is, it’s not necessarily a death sentence for either team in terms of staying in the national championship race.

In fact, both teams would still control their own destiny in their divisional races even if they lose. Winning out would get them to Atlanta. And as both Florida and LSU have shown us in recent years, winning the SEC championship as a one-loss team (or even a two-loss team as LSU did in 2007) is still good enough to be right there in the mix when the final BCS standings are released in December.

Just don’t tell that to any of the participants in Saturday’s festivities.

“It’s going to be a nose-bleeding, smashmouth, backyard football game,” LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black said. “Everybody’s helmet is going to be scratched up. Everybody’s going to be sore. This is what we’ve all worked so hard for.

“If you can’t play for 60 minutes in a game like this, you shouldn’t be on the field.”

What to watch in the SEC: Week 6

October, 8, 2009
10/08/09
8:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


This Saturday in the SEC needs no buildup. There are marquee matchups everywhere.

The intrigue surrounding Tim Tebow’s playing status has sort of dominated the headlines, but the real story is what happens on the field.

It’s the first chance for a couple of teams to separate themselves. We’ll see if they’re up to the task.

Here’s a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 6:

1. Bedlam on the Bayou: If you love college football and love the atmosphere surrounding college football on game day, find a way to be in Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday night. The party outside Tiger Stadium has a chance to be as good as the game itself. They do it up right on the Bayou for every game, but the environment for the Florida-LSU showdown will be electric. I can already taste the gumbo. I can already feel the anticipation of the last two national champions squaring off in one of college football’s most hallowed (and deafening) cathedrals. I can already hear the LSU band striking up those legendary first four notes: DAH-DANT-DA-DUM. For a little taste, go to LSUsports.com and click on “Touchdown for LSU” (pregame).

2. Getting the tough yards: If Tim Tebow does come back from his concussion and play for Florida, will he be as willing to take off and lower his head on third-and-short and down near the goal line? Let’s face it: His ability to get the tough yards and do the Gators’ dirty work has been what’s separated him and what’s made the Gators’ offense so difficult to defend. And if he doesn’t play, who’s going to assume those duties for Florida? Backup quarterback John Brantley isn’t much of a runner, and the Gators don’t really have an every-down running back. Emmanuel Moody, a 210-pound junior, would probably be the closest thing.

3. Dunlap and Cunningham: It’s hard to find a better defensive end combo in the country. Carlos Dunlap is pushing 290 pounds and has the strength to overpower an opposing offensive tackle while also having the speed to blow past him. Some analysts think Dunlap might be the top overall pick in the NFL draft if he decides to leave school early. On the other side is Jermaine Cunningham, who according to LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black, is the fastest defensive end in the country. LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson was sacked six times last week in the 20-13 win over Georgia, so you can bet that Dunlap and Cunningham will be pinning their ears back and coming on Saturday night.

4. Great Scott: The Tigers appeared to find something in their running game toward the end of the Georgia contest last week, and they did so by handing the ball to senior Charles Scott and letting him do his thing. Scott finished with season highs of 19 carries and 95 yards rushing. His 33-yard touchdown romp where he ran over a Georgia linebacker was the game-winner with 46 seconds to play. Entering that game, he’d only carried it 43 times combined in four previous games and hadn’t gone over 63 yards or carried it more than 13 times in a game. This is the same guy who rushed for 1,174 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. The Tigers’ problem is that Scott is also their best blocker in the backfield, and he's having to play some fullback. But getting him more involved in the running game will be key if the Tigers are going to establish anything on the ground against the Gators.

5. Prove-it-to-me time for Rebels: Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt and his players said all the right things in the offseason, that they were handling the expectations and all the hype accordingly. As it turns out, they probably didn’t handle it all that well. They’ve yet to come close to playing their “A” game this season and lost to the only team they’ve faced with a winning record. It’s been a disappointing first five weeks to the season, no doubt. But that can all change with a win over No. 3-ranked Alabama at home Saturday. Not only do the Rebels prove that they’re legit by winning, but they put themselves in prime position for the stretch run in the Western Division race. This is their shot to completely change the complexion of their season.

6. Julio’s just fine: Want to get Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy fired up? Ask him why Julio Jones hasn’t been more involved in the offense this season. Jones has nine catches for 133 yards and one touchdown. Part of the reason his numbers are down is that he’s missed virtually two games with a bruised kneecap. But McElroy isn’t buying that Jones hasn’t been involved. If anything, Jones is the main reason that so many different guys have emerged in the passing game for the Tide. McElroy has thrown touchdown passes to six different players. “Just because Julio’s not catching passes doesn’t mean he’s not involved. He’s very involved. He demands the eyes. Four eyes are on him every time we snap the ball. That’s two from a safety and two from a corner. He makes a difference whether he catches a ball or not,” McElroy said.

7. Redemption for the quarterbacks: For a league that’s hard on quarterbacks, some guys have put up some mighty impressive numbers heading into Week 6. In fact, four of the top 12 rated passers in the country are from the SEC. Tebow is No. 3 in passing efficiency, Alabama’s McElroy No. 6, Auburn’s Chris Todd No. 8 and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett No. 12. Tebow’s not a surprise, and most people felt Mallett would come out slinging it in Bobby Petrino’s offense. But what about the two guys from the state of Alabama? Between them, Todd and McElroy have thrown 21 touchdown passes and two interceptions. Ole Miss' Jevan Snead is all the way down at No. 66 nationally in passing efficiency, but he's too talented not to make a move. Maybe it's this week. Ole Miss fans sure hope so.

8. Auburn at the front of the line: As we approach the midway point of the season, it’s hard to pick anybody other than Auburn when you start talking about the best offensive line in the league. Props go to Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. His guys have really played well up front. The numbers speak for themselves. The Tigers are second in the league and fifth nationally in rushing offense. They lead the league and are tied for second nationally with only two sacks allowed. They haven’t allowed any sacks the past two games, and they’ve also done it with different people. Guard Byron Isom has missed the last two games, meaning the Tigers have started a different combination in each of their last three games. Lee Ziemba might be the best left tackle in the league right now.

9. Garcia’s maturation: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has resisted at every turn to drop the slightest bit of praise on sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia. Maybe Spurrier didn’t want to jinx it. Maybe he wanted to keep Garcia on his toes. Maybe he’s just hard on his quarterbacks. Whatever the case, the Head Ball Coach is starting to come around and says now that Garcia has made tremendous progress. Even though South Carolina didn’t win, you could sort of see Garcia grow up in that Georgia game, and he’s been steady ever since. The best thing he’s done is manage the game, meaning he’s given the Gamecocks a chance in every game and making the plays when they’re there. He’s only thrown two interceptions this season and heads into Saturday’s game against Kentucky having gone 116 pass attempts without an interception. Simply, he's playing winning football.

10. Revival on Rocky Top: You heard it here first. If Tennessee doesn’t beat Georgia at home Saturday, the Vols won’t have a winning season. That’s how important this game is for Lane Kiffin’s club, which has shown a knack this season for hanging around in games, but hasn’t been able to generate enough offense to beat anybody that counts. Despite the struggles, Kiffin hasn't taken any shortcuts and has stuck to his guns. He dismissed receiver Brandon Warren from the team this week after Warren spent one too many nights in Kiffin’s doghouse. He’s also stuck with senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton and says he has no desire to start shuffling quarterbacks. Whether that comes back to get him remains to be seen. Either way, the Vols have continued to play hard. It’s getting to the point, though, that they probably need to see some results if they're going to hang in there for the rest of this season. That’s what makes this Georgia game so critical heading into the bye week. A 0-3 start in SEC play could become 0-4 real quick with Alabama looming in two weeks. The last time the Vols started 0-4 in SEC play was 1988 when they finished 5-6 overall.

LSU's trip was long, but not as long as last season

September, 4, 2009
9/04/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


The monotonous part of the trip is over for LSU; the marathon plane ride.

The Tigers are already in Seattle for their Saturday night contest against Washington at Husky Stadium. They flew in Thursday night for what will be the longest road trip in school history.

And in case you missed it, LSU coach Les Miles said they’ve gone as far as to consult with sleep experts to make sure the players get their proper rest a couple of time zones away.

“They tell us they’re going to give us a handbook that tells us when we’re supposed to sleep and when we’re not supposed to sleep,” said senior offensive tackle Ciron Black, sounding like the last thing on his mind would be jet lag out in the Great Pacific Northwest.

Nope, what he can’t get out of his mind is the way it all unraveled for the Tigers last season.

“Last year, that was not us. That’s not the way we play,” Black said. “We’ve still got that chip on our shoulder, and it’s been there all spring and all summer. That’s been good for us.”

It’s a reminder for every coach and every player on this team of just how quickly it can change in the SEC.

The Tigers were basking in a national championship to kick off the 2008 calendar year. They limped to the finish of the 2008 season later that calendar year and were being hailed as one of the most underachieving teams in the country.

A lot has changed since then.

Miles replaced his co-defensive coordinators with John Chavis, the longtime defensive coordinator at Tennessee. Sophomore Jordan Jefferson steps in as the full-time starter at quarterback after taking over for Jarrett Lee at the end of last season, and the Tigers are incorporating a couple of new wrinkles into their offense.

The one everybody on the Bayou can’t wait to see is freshman Russell Shepard, who may run it, catch it and throw it Saturday night against Washington.

Black is as eager as the next person to see Shepard shake loose in the open field, but he’s also ready just to line up and hit somebody.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Black, the SEC’s best left tackle. “I’ve been saying it since Jan. 1. We want to show everybody the way we play football. Of course, we’ve got a lot of run and gun in there, but I’m ready to run power right up the middle and show them how we play football.

“They say we don’t have the same offensive line without Herman [Johnson] and Brett [Helms], but we’ve got a couple of guys who can come off the ball and hit you in your mouth.”

SEC position rankings: Offensive line

August, 24, 2009
8/24/09
7:17
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Picking the best offensive line last season in the SEC was easy. Alabama was dominant up front. It's not nearly as clear-cut this season:


1. Georgia: The Bulldogs have more experience in their offensive line than any other SEC team. They also have a lot of flexibility after injuries forced them to move so many people around last season. Getting left tackle Trinton Sturdivant back is huge, and right tackle Clint Boling is also an All-SEC-caliber player.


2. Florida: Tim Tebow makes any offensive line look good, and even though the Gators have to replace both tackles, it's hard to beat their muscle in the middle with the Pouncey twins. Marcus Gilbert and Carl Johnson also return after starting some last season.


3. LSU: The Tigers return three starters from a very good offensive line a year ago, including the best left tackle in the league. Senior Ciron Black is the kind of staple over there on the left side that you can build an entire unit around.


4. Ole Miss: The third spot was a tough choice between LSU and Ole Miss, but breaking in a new left tackle kept the Rebels from finishing among the top three. The Rebels will be huge, averaging more than 320 pounds across the front, but Bradley Sowell is unproven at left tackle.


5. Auburn: For as bad as the Tigers were on offense last season, their numbers were fairly respectable. They're also much more talented than they played up front last season. It's just that nobody ever fully bought into that offense. Left tackle Lee Ziemba is one of the top six or seven offensive linemen in the league.


6. Vanderbilt: The Commodores return all five starters, and veteran line coach Robbie Caldwell will have more experience to work with in 2009. Running the football was a problem last season. But the Commodores are going to a hurry-up, no-huddle attack that fits their athleticism up front.


7. Alabama: It's never easy when you lose two first-team All-Americans, including the Outland Trophy winner. Senior guard Mike Johnson is as good and as smart as it gets, but it's going to take some time to build the right kind cohesiveness.


8. Tennessee: Pass protection figures to be the Vols' biggest problem. They're also extremely thin and can't afford any injuries. But run blocking will be their forte, as they have two extremely physical guards in Vlad Richard and Jacques McClendon.


9. Kentucky: Quarterback Mike Hartline was the offensive line's best friend last season because he got rid of the ball and didn't take sacks. But the Wildcats still have to prove they can effectively run block. They're the second most-experienced line in the SEC.


10. Arkansas: Plugging Mitch Petrus back in at guard should be a big boost for the Hogs, who gave up a staggering 45 sacks last season. Petrus was suspended for academic reasons. The skill players are in place for the Hogs to be one of the best offenses in the league this season. We'll see if the line can live up to its end of the bargain.


11. South Carolina: The good thing is that the Gamecocks can't get much worse. They were last in the SEC in rushing offense, the only team that didn't average 100 yards per game, and gave up 39 sacks. First-year line coach Eric Wolford has come in and shaken things up. If the Gamecocks are going to make a move in the East, their play up front has to improve dramatically.


12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have been hit with a few injuries this offseason, only magnifying their lack of depth in the offensive line. Left tackle Derek Sherrod is legit, but this is a unit that has a lot to prove after a dismal 2008 season. First-year line coach John Hevesy has his work cut out.

ESPN.com's preseason All-SEC team

August, 14, 2009
8/14/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Remember all the controversy caused by the coaches' preseason All-SEC team?

The initial ballot Steve Spurrier turned in didn't include Tim Tebow as the first-team quarterback. As it turns out, Spurrier didn't even fill out the ballot, later apologized for not having Tebow on the first team and changed his vote.

I don't know if my preseason All-SEC team will create that kind of stir, but here goes:

OFFENSE

QB Tim Tebow, Florida
RB Charles Scott, LSU
RB Michael Smith, Arkansas
WR Julio Jones, Alabama
WR A.J. Green, Georgia
TE D.J. Williams, Arkansas
OL Ciron Black, LSU
OL Mike Johnson, Alabama
OL John Jerry, Ole Miss
OL Clint Boling, Georgia
C Maurkice Pouncey, Florida

DEFENSE

DL Greg Hardy, Ole Miss
DL Terrence Cody, Alabama
DL Antonio Coleman, Auburn
DL Carlos Dunlap, Florida
LB Rolando McClain, Alabama
LB Brandon Spikes, Florida
LB Eric Norwood, South Carolina
CB Trevard Lindley, Kentucky
CB Joe Haden, Florida
S Eric Berry, Tennessee
S Chad Jones, LSU

SPECIALISTS

PK Joshua Shene, Ole Miss
P Chas Henry, Florida
RS Brandon James, Florida

Ten from SEC on Outland Trophy watch list

August, 11, 2009
8/11/09
4:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The SEC will have its share of muscle this season.

Ten of the 40 players on the watch list for the Outland Trophy, which goes annually to college football's top interior lineman, are from the SEC.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia each has two players on the list. Nose guard Terrence Cody and offensive guard Mike Johnson made it for the Crimson Tide, center Maurkice Pouncey and offensive guard Mike Pouncey for the Gators and defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens for the Bulldogs.

Others making the list were Ole Miss offensive tackle John Jerry, Arkansas defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard, LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black and Tennessee center Josh McNeil.

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