SEC: Corey Lemonier

SEC players received a lot of attention during Monday's workout sessions with linebackers and defensive linemen at the NFL combine.

Speed is the first thing that comes to mind with this group of SEC studs. Missouri linebacker Zaviar Gooden registered the fastest time of the day in the 40-yard dash with his mark of 4.47 seconds. Right behind him was Georgia's Cornelius Washington, who moved to defensive end last fall but is listed as a linebacker at the combine. Washington ran a 4.55 in the 40.

Gooden and Washington also impressed in the weight room. Washington led all linebackers with 36 reps of the 225-pound bench press. Gooden finished with 27 reps. Washington was also second overall in the vertical jump, with a height of 39 inches, while Gooden grabbed 34 inches. Both impressed in the broad jump as well, with Gooden getting a distance of 131 inches and Washington jumping 128 inches.

[+] EnlargeZaviar Gooden
AP Photo/Dave MartinLinebacker Zaviar Gooden likely wowed scouts with his speed during drills at the NFL combine.
Gooden crushed all the speed drills, taking first in the three-cone drill (6.71 seconds), the 20-yard shuttle (4.18) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.28). Gooden showed off a ton of athleticism, and Monday should help him out considerably when it comes to April's NFL draft. The same can be said for Washington, who really showed out in Indy.

LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo turned a lot of heads with his 4.58 time in the 40, which was the second-fastest among defensive linemen. He also had a 37-inch vertical and posted a 128-inch broad jump, which tied for first among defensive linemen with South Carolina's Devin Taylor. Mingo was projected to be a first-round draft pick heading into the combine, and he pretty much made sure it stayed that way Monday.

Texas A&M defensive Damontre Moore didn't exactly have the day many expected him to have. For starters, his 40 was on the slow side for a rush end, as he was clocked running a 4.95. It was the lowest time of the 37 defensive linemen at the combine, but Moore did tweak his hamstring during his run. But what really created a not-so-flattering buzz around Moore was his bench press. He sported a very unimpressive 12 reps of 225, which struck a nerve with NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock.

"I wasn't high on Damontre Moore," Mayock said. "I hear top five, I don't believe it. And by the way, he did (12) reps at (225 pounds). That is totally unacceptable. I don't know how you convert speed to power if at 250 pounds you can only bench press 225 (12) times. So I'm kind of poking holes in all these supposed top-10 guys because I'm not seeing it."

Moore will have to get his 40 time down and his bench reps up at Texas A&M's pro day on March 8 if he wants to stay near the top of this year's draft.

Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier and Florida linebacker Jon Bostic both impressed with their 40 times. Lemonier ran a 4.6 flat, while Bostic was timed at 4.61.

Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd continues to hear his name creep into the top 10 of the draft. He ran a 4.92 in the 40, had a 30-inch vertical and a 106-inch broad jump.

You can read more about how all the SEC defensive linemen and linebackers did during Monday's portion of the combine at NFL. com.

Lunchtime links

February, 26, 2013
OK, I get it. These former college players are faster and stronger than me. They don't have to rub it in. Although, I'd own them on the soccer pitch and in a distance run!

Lunchtime links

February, 21, 2013
It's Thursday, which means we are one day closer to what should be another great episode of "The Walking Dead!"

Lunchtime links

February, 19, 2013
There is one thing the NBA does better than the NFL: the All-Star Game.

Departing starters in the SEC: West

February, 1, 2013
Now that we know officially which underclassmen have entered the NFL draft, let’s take a look at those SEC teams losing the most starters.

If a player opened the 2012 season as a starter and only played two or three games before being lost for the season due to an injury or suspension, he wasn’t counted. An example would be LSU offensive tackle Chris Faulk.

We’ll start in the West and look at the East later today.

Texas A&M is losing the most full-time/regular starters in the West with 13 and Ole Miss the least with seven.

TEXAS A&M (13)

Offense: 5
Defense: 7
Specialists: 1

Key losses: Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, center Patrick Lewis, receiver Ryan Swope, defensive end Damontre Moore, linebacker Sean Porter, linebacker Jonathan Stewart

Of note: The Aggies are losing five members of their starting front-seven on defense.

LSU (12)

Offense: 3
Defense: 7
Specialists: 2

Key losses: Defensive end Sam Montgomery, defensive end Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, safety Eric Reid

Of note: The Tigers lost 10 underclassmen to the NFL draft, and six of those were starters on defense.


Offense: 5
Defense: 5
Specialists: 1

Key losses: Offensive guard Chance Warmack, offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, center Barrett Jones, running back Eddie Lacy, cornerback Dee Milliner, safety Robert Lester

Of note: The Crimson Tide are losing three starters on the offensive line and their top rusher, Lacy. But they return their top passer, AJ McCarron, who just missed throwing for 3,000 yards (2,933) as well as 1,000-yard rusher T.J. Yeldon (1,108) and 1,000-yard receiver Amari Cooper (1,000).


Offense: 6
Defense: 4
Specialists: 1

Key losses: Quarterback Tyler Wilson, running back Dennis Johnson, running back Knile Davis, receiver Cobi Hamilton, safety Ross Rasner, punter Dylan Breeding

Of note: The Hogs lose their top passer, their top two rushers and their top three receivers. They also lose three of their top four tacklers.


Offense: 4
Defense: 6
Specialists: 0

Key losses: Receiver Chad Bumphis, tight end Marcus Green, defensive tackle Josh Boyd, linebacker Cameron Lawrence, cornerback Johnthan Banks, cornerback Darius Slay

Of note: Offensive guard Tobias Smith, who was listed as a senior this past season, has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after losing the 2009 season and most of the 2011 season to injuries. He’s considering coming back and playing in 2013.


Offense: 5
Defense: 3
Specialists: 0

Key losses: Running back Onterio McCalebb, receiver Emory Blake, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, defensive end Corey Lemonier, linebacker Daren Bates

Of note: The Tigers are losing just four players who started in more than half of their games last season -- offensive guard John Sullen, Blake, Lemonier and Bates.


Offense: 3
Defense: 2
Specialists: 2

Key losses: Running back Randall Mackey, offensive guard A.J. Hawkins, cornerback Wesley Pendleton

Of note: The Rebels return eight of their top nine tacklers on defense, and on offense, they return their top passer, top two rushers and top three receivers.
Now that we've looked at five underclassmen's big shoes that have to be filled in the SEC East, it's time to check out five underclassmen leaving big holes for their respective teams in the SEC West:

  • Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas: Bailey's decision to turn pro early was a bit of a surprise, and he leaves a pretty big hole along the offensive line. He turned into a solid player for the Razorbacks, even though Arkansas' line struggled throughout the year. But the loss of Bailey means the Hogs will be down both starting guards next year. At this point, no one is quite sure who will step up to be the next big guard for Arkansas, but rising junior Luke Charpentier will have the first shot. He was in the three-man rotation at guard last year and has a lot of upside. With what this staff likes to do with the offensive line, anyone could emerge, so keep an eye on the offensive line signees in the 2013 class.
  • [+] EnlargeAlabama's Geno Smith
    Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsDefensive back Geno Smith was a key contributor late last season for Alabama.
    Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn: Losing Lemonier was a big hit to Auburn's defense, but it wasn't a surprise at all. Now, the Tigers will have to turn to seniors Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae. Ford had a strong 2012 season after returning from injury, while Eguae spent the season rotating in and out. Both have good experience, but Lemonier was a very special player up front. If the Tigers can keep current commit Carl Lawson, he will definitely get his shot at Lemonier's old spot and would certainly be in the rotation for playing time this fall.
  • Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: He was arguably the nation's best cover corner by season's end, and losing him will hurt Alabama's secondary, which gave up big plays at times in 2012. There are still some talented bodies in the secondary, but losing Milliner's shutdown ability will hurt. He only grabbed two interceptions on the season, but he defended 22 passes, which tied for first nationally. Geno Smith will get a crack at Milliner's spot, after playing in 13 games last season with two starts. He made strides as a cover man as the season went on and added some much-needed bulk, but the pressure will be on him to make a real jump in Year 2.
  • Kevin Minter, LB, LSU: Minter was all over the field for the Tigers in 2012. He had a true breakout year with his team-high 130 tackles (55 solo) and 15 tackles for loss. He also tacked on four sacks and defended six passes. Losing all those defensive linemen will hurt, but replacing Minter at Mike linebacker will be very tough because of how versatile he was. Ronnie Feist and Trey Granier, both true freshmen, were behind Minter on the depth chart last fall. Feist played in five games, registering three tackles. Both will have the chance to take Minter's spot, but neither has much experience at all.
  • Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: Losing left tackle Luke Joeckel was tough for the Aggies, but having Jake Matthews coming back helped soften the blow. Losing Moore is a major loss for A&M's defense. Not only is A&M's best defensive player (team-high 85 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks) but the Aggies are also losing Spencer Nealy up front. Tyrell Taylor backed up Moore, playing in 11 games and registering a sack. Julien Obioha also started 12 games up front, but grabbed just one sack on the year. There are young bodies to throw out up front, but any team would have a real problem replacing Moore's production.

SEC lunch links

January, 1, 2013
Happy New Year! Here are some links to supplement all the games on today:
With the season winding down, we figured we'd start looking to the future. Like, beyond bowl games future.

We are looking into our crystal ball to check out some of the SEC best who could declare for April's NFL draft early. We've talked to people around the league, those in the know at ESPN when it comes to the NFL draft, and came up with the top 10 underclassmen we feel are the best bets to come out and go the highest in next spring's draft.

Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. updated his Big Board Insider this week and featured 12 SEC players in his top 25. Ten were juniors.

We're going in alphabetical order, so here are 10 SEC underclassmen we feel have the highest draft stock:

[+] EnlargeJustin Hunter
Jim Brown/US PresswireTennessee receiver Justin Hunter has the potential to be a first-round pick in the NFL.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee: Pro scouts have drooled over Hunter's natural ability and his breakaway speed. He was a little hesitant on his knee early after undergoing ACL surgery last year, but he's made nice strides as the season has progressed, catching 65 passes for 979 yards and eight touchdowns. He has four 100-plus-yard receiving games, and some think he could be a mid-first-round draft pick in April.

Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: It's hard to find a better left tackle out there. Joeckel entered the season as a surefire first-round pick and has only helped his draft stock with an excellent junior season. He hasn't been rattled by the speed of opposing SEC ends, and has provided very good protection in the pass game. It sounds like he could be the first tackle off the board if he declares early.

Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: He was the SEC's top defender last season, and has been one of the nation's best pass-rushers the last two years. He really can do it all. He drops into coverage, stops the run and constantly harasses quarterbacks. He also never seems to lose energy. He's been banged up this season, but Kiper still has him No. 1 on his Big Board.

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: The Aggies are really getting greedy with their tackles. Matthews has been excellent all season, and could play either right or left tackle in the NFL. He's very powerful and moves well up front. He could be a late first-round pick if he decides to come out.

Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: He has had some struggles lately in coverage, which could hurt his stock, but he's so athletic and so physical that teams will be all over him if he opts to leave early for the NFL. He can play the run, has tremendous speed and has very good field intelligence. He's defended an SEC-high 16 passes this season.

Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU: He might not be burning up the stat books this season, but he might be the nation's fastest pass-rusher. He has been extremely agressive all season against the pass and run. He has great length, and doesn't really have to take on many blocks because of his speed. He entered the season as an early first-round draft pick, and that still seems to be the case.

Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: It's hard to find anyone with the same on-field personality and energy. He might be bigger than Mingo, but he's chased down his fair share of running backs during his career. He has six sacks this season and 11 tackles for loss. He could have left early last year, but decided to stay and still has early first-round potential.

Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: Talk about really breaking out onto the national stage. He was excellent as an outside linebacker last season, but has been an absolute monster at defensive end in his first (and probably only) year in the SEC. He really adjusted to the new 4-3 scheme, and might have played himself into a top-10 pick. He has a team-high 74 tackles, leads the nation with 20 tackles for loss and is tied for first with 12.5 sacks.

Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia: Some think he might be better suited for the NFL than Jones because of his speed, athleticism and instincts. He had a rusty start to his season after serving a four-game suspension, but he's been outstanding in recent weeks. He can make plays all over the field, and should be a first-rounder if he decides to leave school early.

Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: He is arguably Missouri's best player, regardless of position. He's constantly taking on double-teams, but figures out a way to blow them up. He leads Mizzou with 70 tackles, has 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He's quick and can disrupt both the run and pass. However, his recent suspension could make his draft stock fall some.

Keep an eye on ...

Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee: Has all the physical tools to be special in the NFL, but off-field issues could push him out of the first round.

Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: Has been extremely disruptive all year up front for the Gators, and could hear his name called in the second round.

D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: Has had a solid season, but he still needs to develop his game more, and there are more NFL-ready tackles ahead of him.

Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn: Was very productive last season, but has fallen a bit this season. Still has all the tools to be a top 40 pick in April.

Did you know?

November, 9, 2012
It's that time when we check out news and notes from the SEC and ESPN Stats & Information:
  • The Texas A&M at Alabama matchup is one of the two most efficient offenses in the SEC. The Aggies lead the SEC in highest average points per drive (3.09 / 336 points in 110 offensive drives) with the Tide second at 3.07 (332 in 108) points per drive. The Tide leads the SEC in overall scoring-efficiency percentage (50.9 percent / 55 scoring drives out of 108 total drives) and the Aggies are second at 49.6 percent (60 of 121). In touchdown scoring efficiency, the Aggies lead the SEC at 40.5 percent (49 TD drives out of 121 overall drives) while the Tide are second at 38.9 percent (42 of 108).
  • The Vanderbilt at Ole Miss game is the fourth most competitive series in the SEC since 2000, with an average winning margin of 11.17 points per game. Seven of the 12 games in the series since 2000 have been decided by nine-points-or-less.
  • At its current pace, SEC offenses are passing for more yards per game (227.7) since the 2001 season (245.1). Since 1992, the 227.7 average would be fourth highest in SEC behind 2001 (245.1), 1997 (234.7) and 1998 (232.4). Passing is accounting for 57.5 percent of SEC offenses this season while running (168.5 yards per game) is 42.5 percent.
  • There have been 215 scoring drives in the SEC this season that have been less than two minutes compared to 59 scoring drives of more than five minutes.
  • Of the 22 offensive drives that have been for 15-plays-or-more, eight have ended in touchdowns, nine in field goals, two in missed field goals, one in a turnover and two on downs.
  • Arkansas’ Cobi Hamilton has 14 plays of more than 20 yards this season against FBS teams with winning records. That total is third in the nation (Austin Hill, Arizona, 1st with 17; Terrance Williams, Baylor, second with 16).
  • The SEC had the top three in sacks against teams that are ranked in the AP Top 25-- Damontre Moore, Texas A&M, 1st with 6.5 sacks; Corey Lemonier, Auburn, 2nd with 5.0 sacks; Jarvis Jones, Georgia, 3rd with 4.0 sacks.

Arkansas at South Carolina: These teams have played every year since they came into the league in 1992, with Arkansas leading the series, 13-7. In games played in Columbia, the series is tied, 5-5.
  • Arkansas has won eight straight games against opponents from the SEC Eastern Division, the longest current interdivisional streak in the SEC and the longest win streak against Eastern Division foes in school history.
  • Arkansas has 17 players who have made their first collegiate start this season, the most in the SEC and tied for seventh-highest in the nation.
  • Connor Shaw is 14-3 as a starting Gamecock QB, which, at 82.4 percent, is the highest winning percentage for a Carolina starting QB since 1971.
Missouri at Tennessee: This is the first meeting between the two teams.
  • Tennessee has won eight consecutive November games against SEC opponents at Neyland Stadium since a 17-12 win over Kentucky on Nov. 25, 2006. The Vols have won eight consecutive home games in the month of November, dating to a 28-10 win over Kentucky on Nov. 29, 2008.
  • Mizzou is 3-0 this year in games which it gains a fourth-quarter turnover, while the Tigers are 0-3 this season when committing a fourth-quarter turnover.
  • T.J. Moe is sixth in Mizzou history with 178 career catches and 8th in career receiving yards with 1,972.
  • Tennessee has scored 42 touchdowns in 2012, 11 more than the 2011 full-season total of 31.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Florida: Florida is 4-0 all-time against the Ragin’ Cajuns. The last meeting was in 1996, when the Gators took a 55-21 decision. In that game, Florida scored four defensive touchdowns.
  • The Gators are 64-22-2 all-time in Homecoming games.
  • Florida has been held under 15 points in each of its past two games, and overall in two seasons under Will Muschamp the Gators have been held under 15 points eight times. Consider that in Urban Meyer's six seasons at Floirda, the Gators were held under 15 points eight times.
  • This season, Florida is plus-11 turnover margin, improving on last season’s minus-12 turnover margin.
  • Through nine games, Florida has outscored its opposition, 138-38, in the second half. The defense is averaging 64.4 yards allowed in the third quarter and 75.8 yards allowed in the fourth.
Texas A&M at Alabama: Alabama leads the series history, 3-1. It’s the first visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the Aggies. The teams played in the 1942 and 1968 Cotton Bowls, in 1985 at Legion Field in Birmingham and 1988 in College Station.
  • Alabama’s Jeremy Shelley is the only kicker in the nation not to miss an extra-point (40-40) or field goal (9-9) this season.
  • The Aggies are 1-10 in games against No. 1 ranked teams, with the lone victory being a 30-26 win over Oklahoma in 2002.
  • A&M has scored first in every game in 2012, and in 14 straight games dating back to 2011.
  • Johnny Manziel has already broken A&M’s record for quarterback rushing yards in a season (922).
  • Manziel is the only player in FBS to average at least 10 yards per rush and 10 yards per pass attempt in those situations, and his 11 touchdowns responsible for in those situations are three more than any other FBS player. He has gained 634 rushing yards on scrambles. That is 182 more yards scrambling than Denard Robinson, Braxton Miller and Collin Klein have combined. Manziel has scrambled for 28 first downs this season, including 18 first downs on third down.
  • Manziel is completing 71.8 percent of his passes on first down this season, one of only six players to complete at least 70 percent of his passes on first down this season (min. 140 attempts).
  • Alabama is 21-6 against the AP Top 25 during the last four seasons and 12-4 against AP Top 10 teams.
  • Alabama QB AJ McCarron has gone 204 pass attempts this season and 289 dating back to last season without an interception. Since 2000, he is the only player in FBS with at least 25 career touchdown passes (38) and as few as five interceptions.
  • The Tide defense averages 5.44 three-and-outs per game and its 45.4 percent rate is second highest in the nation.
  • The Aggies and Tide have shared three head coaches in their histories -- Bear Bryant (A&M 1954-57; Alabama 1958-82), Gene Stallings (A&M 1965-71; Alabama 1990-96) and Dennis Franchione (A&M 2003-07; Alabama 2001-02).
Georgia at Auburn: Georgia leads the South’s Oldest Rivalry, 54-53-8. The teams have played every year since 1944. Georgia has won seven of the last 10 matchups in the series.
  • The Bulldogs defense ranks third nationally forcing 50 three-and-outs, an average of 5.5 per game.
  • Auburn is 97-139-6 all-time against ranked opponents.
  • Auburn is 3-for-11 passing for 14 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in the red zone this season. That's a passer-efficiency mark of 1.6.
  • Georgia has 31 plays of 30 yards or more this season, tied for third most in FBS. They had 23 in all of last season. The only game that the Bulldogs did not have at least one such play was in their only loss of the season at South Carolina.
  • Auburn’s Onterio McCalebb is just the second player in SEC history to tally more than 2,000 yards rushing (2,469), 1,000 kick return yards (1,246) and 500 receiving yards (528).
  • Georgia’s Todd Gurley is fifth in school history for most rushing yards by a freshman (857).
  • Auburn has blocked three field goals this season, two by Angelo Blackson and one by Corey Lemonier.
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss: Ole Miss leads the series 47-37-2. In games played in Oxford, the Rebels lead, 22-5. Ole Miss has won 13 of the past 19 meetings dating back to 1992.
  • Ole Miss has already surpassed last year’s total number of wins, points, touchdowns and yards.
  • Vanderbilt has won its past three games. The last time Vandy have won four in a row was in 2008.
  • Ole Miss has scored in 28 of its 30 red zone trips (93.3 percent), which is tied for fourth-best in the SEC and second in the SEC. Ole Miss is the only SEC team without a turnover in the red zone this year.
Mississippi State at LSU: LSU leads the series 69-33-3.
  • In games played in Baton Rouge, the Tigers lead, 46-18-1. LSU has won 10 straight in the series and 19 of the last 20 meetings.
  • LSU faces a Top 25 team for the fifth straight game -- a first in school history.
  • The Mississippi State offense has scored 277 points through its first nine games, its most through the first nine contests since the 2000 squad scored 307 points.
  • Bulldogs QB Tyler Russell is one of seven QBs nationally with 15-plus passing TDs and three or fewer interceptions this season.
  • LSU’s Les Miles is 18-1 in games following a loss. Last time LSU lost back-to-back games under Miles was in 2008 (Ole Miss, Arkansas). LSU hasn’t lost back-to-back games in Tiger Stadium since 2001 (Florida, Ole Miss).
  • The Bulldogs have lost 21 straight games against AP Top-10 teams. Their last win against an AP Top-10 team came against third-ranked Florida in 2000.

Auburn with a new sense of urgency

October, 4, 2012
Gene Chizik is hoping that his Tigers used their bye week to their full advantage.

With all the issues Auburn had through the first four weeks of the season, Chizik made sure players and coaches saw all the glaring mistakes that put his team in bad situations. He wanted them to see those mistakes and learn from them before the bye was over with.

[+] EnlargeChizik
AP Photo/Dave MartinFollowing his team's 1-3 start, Gene Chizik said there's an "urgency to win" around Auburn.
Changes and tweaks were made, and Chizik hopes they work on Saturday, especially against an Arkansas team that really has nothing to lose with its 1-4 record.

Chizik said his team knows where it stands with its own 1-3 record. Auburn is on the verge of being on the outside when it comes to the postseason. Chizik said neither he nor his team are running from the realization of how big Saturday's game against the Razorbacks is.

"There's an urgency around Auburn, without question, when you're 1-3," Chizik said. "And there's an urgency to win."

With a loss, Auburn will likely miss out on a bowl game for the first time since 2008 and it doesn't help that the Tigers own the SEC's worst offense (297.8 yards per game) and the third-worst defense (419.3).

But the defense looked much better against LSU last week, holding the Tigers to just 12 points and forced LSU into a handful of mistakes.

Chizik said his team was more than energized in that game, and the hope is that it carries over to this weekend.

"Our kids are hungry and they want to win," he said. "That's the expectation this Saturday as well."

He's even seen an increase in leadership. Guys like Corey Lemonier, Jeff Whitaker, Onterio McCalebb and T'Sharven Bell have all stepped up to guide this team. Having these vets step up will go a long way if they can really take hold of their teammates.

Even with all the issues Auburn has had, the Tigers have to feel confident facing the SEC's worst defense. Arkansas is allowing more than 500 yards and 40 points a game. Even Auburn's offense should be able to do something with that.

And a fast start against a reeling team is what Chizik said his team needs if it's going to pull out a must-win on the Plains. Arkansas' offensive talent can't be forgotten, and Chizik doesn't want to have to play catchup with the Hogs.

"Certainly for us, forget about the opponent, we need to have a great start," he said. "We need to have something good happen. We need to be able to get a little bit of momentum for our football team."

SEC lunch links

September, 21, 2012
Hitting the links on a Friday:

Welcome to Starkville

September, 8, 2012
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Greetings from Davis Wade Stadium!

There might be a lot of attention on the matchups with the two SEC newbies, but make no mistake about it: Mississippi State-Auburn is huge.

It really set the tone for both schools last year, and that should be the same story this year as well. Auburn is coming off of a tough loss to Clemson last week, while Mississippi State is riding high off of a 56-9 route of Jackson State. But this game is completely different than the ones we saw last week. This one has league pride and momentum on the line.

Dan Mullen and Gene Chizik have both talked about the importance of this game, as it pertains to heading into the rest of the season. Getting behind in the SEC race is never a good thing.

For Auburn, there are a lot of questions on both sides of the ball. Poor tackling killed the Tigers against Clemson, while a lack of offensive efficiency in Clemson territory really put a dent in Auburn's scoring efforts. That has to change today. History is certainly on Auburn's side, as the Tigers have won four straight against the Bulldogs and 10 of the past 11 in this series. Auburn is also 18-1 in its past 19 SEC openers.

Like all SEC games, play up front will be key. Both teams bring in offensive lines with questions at both tackle spots. Auburn has either freshmen or redshirt freshmen at both right and left tackle in the two-deep, while Mississippi State is working with a junior college transfer (Charles Siddoway) and three sophomores in the two-deep at both tackle spots.

If Auburn defensive ends Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford bring enough heat on the outside, it could be a long day for Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell. But the Bulldogs have a pretty talented defensive line as well. Josh Boyd should be able to generate some pressure through the middle, while Denico Autry has a chance to have a solid day at one of the end spots.

This is a big one in Starkville, as Mullen looks to grab his first SEC West win against a team not named Ole Miss. Should be fun.

SEC power rankings: Week 1

August, 27, 2012
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.

Lunchtime links

August, 21, 2012
Making the SEC rounds on a Wednesday.

The SEC's best 25 players: No. 13

August, 15, 2012
There's no shortage of marquee pass-rushers in the SEC, and several of those guys will pop up as we finish our countdown of the league's top players for the 2012 season:

No. 13: Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn, Jr.

2011 summary: In his first season as a full-time starter, Lemonier tied for fourth in the SEC with 9.5 sacks and tied for eighth with 13.5 tackles for loss. He was a first-team All-SEC selection by the coaches and a second-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press.

Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the 2011 postseason countdown.

Making the case for Lemonier: Even though he was only a sophomore last season, Lemonier emerged as one of the best big-play defenders in the SEC. He recorded at least one sack in four straight games, and in addition to his big sack numbers, he also forced five fumbles, which tied him for second in the league. The 6-4, 246-pound Lemonier should be even better in his second full season as a starter. He has a deeper understanding of how opposing offensive linemen will try to block him and should also be better against the run. The other thing that sticks out about Lemonier is that he played some of his best football a year ago in some of the Tigers' biggest games. Whoever has to block him in 2012 will be in for a long day.

The Rundown
  • No. 25: Matt Elam, S, Florida, Jr.
  • No. 24: Da'Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee, Jr.
  • No. 23: Sean Porter, LB, Texas A&M, Sr.
  • No. 22: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama, Jr.
  • No. 21: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia, Jr.
  • No. 20: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M, Jr.
  • No. 19: Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee, Jr.
  • No. 18: Jesse Williams, NG, Alabama, Sr.
  • No. 17: Bennie Logan, DT, LSU, Jr.
  • No. 16: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee, Jr.
  • No. 15: Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas, Sr.
  • No. 14: Chris Faulk, OT, LSU, Jr.