SEC: Dabo Swinney

There are not many coaches in America who jab the way Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney do.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney, Steve Spurrier
AP Photo/Richard ShiroDabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier will put their verbal sparring sessions aside as their teams do the talking on the field this week.
Nothing might epitomize that more than this Vine a South Carolina fan created. But while Spurrier has had the last laugh over Swinney and Clemson the past five years, there is one week when he keeps his darts squarely inside his pocket. That would be this week -- in the days leading up to the actual game. Both coaches have too much respect for the rivalry to let their own war of words get in the way.

Talkin' is for talkin' season, as Spurrier would say.

Now, that doesn't mean they fire shots at each other exclusively in the offseason. But if you look at the best barbs they have traded, none of them were spoken during game week. With the rivals meeting again Saturday, we thought it would be worth taking a look at the best trash talk between them.

1. October 2012: Spurrier says: "Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley. "That is the Death Valley, isn't it? Or is there another one around?"

Swinney responds: "I can see where he might have a little confusion. Our guys have never been to USC. California's a long way from here. … Got two Death Valleys and two USCs, but there's only one real one."

2. July 2014: At ACC Kickoff, Swinney is asked about his relationship with Spurrier. Swinney says: "He's from Pluto, and I'm from Mars."

Spurrier responds: "Dabo probably thinks there's only, what, nine planets out there? I think I read where Pluto may not be considered one now."

3. January 2014: After beating Wisconsin 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl, Spurrier said: "Hey, these two Capital One Bowls in a row are pretty nice, but that state championship ain't bad, either."

After beating Ohio State a few days later in the Discover Orange Bowl, Swinney responds: "We're the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl."

Spurrier needed the last word on this one. In an interview with ESPN.com's Chris Low, Spurrier responds back: "I called [former Clemson coach] Danny Ford and said, 'Danny, does Dabo forget that Clemson in 1981 went down to the Orange Bowl, won the national championship and went undefeated?' They didn't call it a BCS bowl back then, but it was the same bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Orange Bowl has always been a major bowl."

4. November 2011: South Carolina play-by-play announcer Todd Ellis is quoted after South Carolina's 34-13 win over Clemson: "As Coach Spurrier says, we might not be LSU or Alabama, but we ain't Clemson, folks."

Told the remarks came from Spurrier, Swinney responds with lengthy commentary in a long rant before closing: "He is exactly right –- they ain't Alabama, they ain't LSU and they certainly are not Clemson. That is why [North] Carolina is in Chapel Hill, USC is in California and the university in this state always has been and always will be Clemson. It's right here in Clemson, South Carolina. You can print that. Tweet that."

Spurrier could not let this one go. In August 2013, he tells reporters: "At this time last year Dabo's favorite USC, Southern Cal, was preseason No. 1 in the country," Spurrier said. "I call them Dabo's favorite USC. But anyway, we are playing Dabo's favorite Carolina, too. He loves North Carolina and Southern Cal for some reason. I don't know."

Just a few weeks ago, Spurrier roiled Clemson fans when he asked for the score in the Tigers' game against Georgia Tech in his postgame interview following a win over Florida. "I guess the upstate team got beat today. Is that correct?" he asked reporters. When told the score and that quarterback Deshaun Watson got hurt again, Spurrier said, "Well, that game, looks like we're in better shape than we were two weeks ago, right?"

After his comments caused an uproar, Spurrier said he would try not to say anything to upset Clemson fans "at least the next two weeks." Time is about to run out.

That's what talkin' season is for, anyway.
Florida State SeminolesTim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLosing to Florida would surely knock the Seminoles out of the College Football Playoff conversation.
The story line gets regurgitated the last weekend in November, every single season. At this point, does it really need to be said just how badly the ACC has to beat its SEC rivals come Saturday?

Well, yes. Because the results carry even more significance now that we are in in the College Football Playoff era. Just look at the way the ACC has been dismissed as a conference. Unbeaten Florida State is ranked behind two one-loss teams in the only rankings that matter -- as much an indictment about the Seminoles’ close wins as it is about the perception of the ACC as a whole.

While it has been convenient for many to dismiss what Florida State has accomplished, it has been just as convenient to dismiss the accomplishments of No. 18 Georgia Tech, No. 22 Louisville and No. 24 Clemson. But it may be less difficult to do so if all four teams come through and all win this weekend.

The last time Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson swept their SEC rivals was in 2000. The last time they posted a winning record against them was in 2008, when Georgia Tech and Clemson came out victorious. That also happens to be the last time both teams won their SEC rivalry game.

This might be their best shot at a sweep in years. With Kentucky-Louisville now added into the mix, the Cards, Florida State and Clemson are favored to win. All three are at home; all three are the only teams ranked in the matchup. Georgia Tech is the only underdog, though the Jackets go into their game off a bye, with a four-game winning streak under their belts.

To take it one step further, the FPI game projections show:

  • Florida State with a predicted 73 percent win percentage over Florida.
  • Louisville with a predicted 77 percent win percentage over Kentucky.
  • Clemson with a predicted 62.5 percent win percentage over South Carolina.
  • Georgia with a predicted 80 percent win percentage over Georgia Tech.

“Winning would help the league a lot but it’s going to be how does the media portray it?” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “When I was here in ’08, my first year, we beat Georgia and Clemson beat South Carolina … but nobody said much about it. It was like, ‘Oh.’ Now the next year when they beat us, it was a big deal so would it help the league? Sure. Anytime we can go head to head with the SEC and win a game it helps the league.”

Johnson brings up an excellent point. Will a potential sweep be diminished in value because they are all against SEC East teams? Georgia is the only ranked SEC squad in the group. Florida and South Carolina have been disappointments; Kentucky is not bowl eligible. Georgia is the only school among the four with a winning record in SEC play.

So the East is not even close to its counterparts in the West, creating a no-win situation. If the ACC does well in these games, people may not dish out as much credit as they should. If the ACC winds up with a losing record, get ready for more finger pointing and laughter.

If we are looking a little closer at the matchups, there are two teams that cannot afford to lose: Florida State and Clemson. If Florida pulls the upset, Florida State will be out of the College Football Playoff, the worst result imaginable for a league that only has the Noles in the mix.

The stakes are high for Dabo Swinney and Clemson, too. After beating South Carolina as interim coach in 2008, he has gone 0-5. For the first time since 2009, Clemson will be the only ranked team in the matchup. Clemson has the No. 1 defense in the nation; South Carolina has the No. 87 defense in the nation. While Deshaun Watson’s status remains up in the air, the feeling is that Clemson simply cannot afford to lose this game again, not when it has so many obvious advantages.

“The last five years, we’ve had 15 turnovers and they’ve had three,” Swinney said. “That affects everything. That affects your plays per game, it affects your time of possession, it affects the way things are called, field position, on and on and on and on. That’s definitely something we have to get changed for us to have a chance to win the game. There’s no doubt about it.”

Georgia Tech also has lost five straight to Georgia, and 12 of the last 13. Last season, the Jackets blew an early 20-0 lead and lost 41-34 in double overtime. Todd Gurley scored both overtime touchdowns for the Bulldogs. He won't play Saturday.

While Georgia Tech has a Top 25 ranking and spot in the ACC championship game, a win over Georgia would only add to an already stellar season.

“The atmosphere is different about this week because it’s a must-win game,” Georgia Tech safety Jamal Golden said. “You don’t want to give them bragging rights for the next 365 days. You just have to hear it over and over again that you can’t beat them. It’s one of those games you look forward to playing.”

It’s one of those games that has to fall in the ACC win column this year.

National links: What next for Florida? 

November, 17, 2014
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When an elite football program like Florida -- certainly one of the top destinations in the sport -- has a coaching vacancy, it’s always interesting to see which names surface as possible candidates.

The writing was on the wall that Will Muschamp was on his way out in Gainesvile, and the school made it official on Sunday, the day after the Gators’ late implosion in an overtime loss to South Carolina.

Immediately the rumor mill began to churn out names, like in an Associated Press story that mentioned Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze as possibilities. Insider’s Travis Haney weighed in on why it’s a top-tier job and some candidates that Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley might contact.

Will Foley look for an offensive-minded coach after defensive specialist Muschamp fell flat? Will he be willing to hire a coveted coordinator, as Muschamp was, with no head coaching experience? Might he look to the NFL ranks, or to someone like Mike Shanahan, who once served as an assistant at Florida?
Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.
Steve Spurrier, Dabo SwinneyJoshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney are keeping the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry interesting.

Is there any way to get a television show featuring Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney dropping one-liners on each other one after another?

Because right now, they have got the best two-man show going in all of college football. Want to stir the pot a little? Ask Spurrier what he thinks of Clemson. Ask Swinney what he thinks about Spurrier.

Ready ... set ... talk trash!

Who knew Spurrier and Swinney would become such a perfect match?

In an era when most coaches are too buttoned up and PC to speak in anything other than clichés, Spurrier and Swinney have honed their barb-jabbing skills, taking them to new heights every time they deliver a sound bite.

Spurrier, of course, has had years and years of experience dishing out one-liners. But he never had anybody to dish them right back. Phillip Fulmer? He fumed. Bobby Bowden? He shrugged.

Swinney? Completely unafraid to dish right back, putting an entirely different spin on the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry. Spurrier wants to talk championships, so he does. “Hey, these two Capital One Bowls in a row are pretty nice, but that state championship ain’t bad either,” he said after the Capital One Bowl win in January.

Swinney responded in kind after beating Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl, "We’re the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl."

The "real" Death Valley? Spurrier knows where it is. Baton Rouge, right? "Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley," Spurrier said in 2012. “That is the Death Valley, isn’t it? Or is there another one around?"

Swinney responded in kind, "I can see where he might have a little confusion. Our guys have never been to USC. California's a long way from here. ... Got two Death Valleys and two USCs, but there's only one real one."

Swinney wants to talk philosophically, as in Dabo is from Mars, Steve is from Pluto? Well, wouldn’t you know it -- Spurrier knows a thing or two about planets. Leave it to these two to make college football fans Google “Is Pluto still a planet?”

The repartee works because Swinney and Spurrier know how to make it work. Both are incredibly gifted speakers with the ability to think on their feet rather quickly. Both know how to take a joke. Both coaches have a certain type of gumption, too. After all, Swinney has lost five straight games to Spurrier. But that does not stop him from plugging away. How many other coaches would keep on delivering the blows despite mounting losses to their bitter rival?

One in particular comes to mind. A man who went 5-8-1 against another rival in another era, with zero road wins.

You might find him on Pluto somewhere.

SEC's lunch links

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Five SEC programs will have opened spring practice by the weekend -- including Ole Miss on Wednesday, Tennessee on Friday and LSU on Saturday. Not surprisingly, the news is picking up a bit around the league.

Here's a quick taste:

• Georgia players are buzzing about how an entirely new set of defensive coaches will give the Bulldogs a fresh start this spring.

• With Auburn's spring practice approaching on March 18, AL.com's Joel Erickson takes a look at the Tigers' quarterback depth chart.

• Quarterback was a subject of discussion at Alabama on Wednesday, too, as Nick Saban said that his staff will be in no hurry to name a starter.

• Florida on Wednesday released the contracts for the three new coaches on Will Muschamp's staff – including a three-year deal for new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.

• LSU's quarterback competition is front and center, as the Tigers prepare for their first spring practice on Saturday.

• DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan are among the candidates to become Ole Miss' backup quarterback behind Bo Wallace.

• Kentucky announced its ticket distribution plan for the April 26 Blue-White spring game.

• Missouri revealed on Wednesday that five players with eligibility remaining have “decided to graduate and not play football going forward” according to a team spokesman.

• Multiple reports on Wednesday night declared that Texas A&M has dismissed safety Kameron Miles.

• Vanderbilt assistant Vavae Tata will not coach with the Commodores in 2014 after pleading guilty on Wednesday to a February DUI charge. His long-term status with the program remains unclear.

• South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Clemson's Dabo Swinney are united on at least one point -- their relief that college football's rules committee withdrew a controversial 10-second rule designed to slow down college offenses.

• The Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown looks at five questions facing the Tennessee football team as it prepared to open spring practice.

• Bret Bielema covered a variety of subjects in speaking with the media at Arkansas' pro day.

SEC lunchtime links

February, 17, 2014
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We'll get a small dose of football starting this weekend in the form of the NFL draft combine – a huge group of SEC players will be in attendance – but otherwise we're waiting for spring practices to begin over the next couple of weeks.

Here's some of what is going on around the league while we wait.

Top 2014 SEC games to watch

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It's never too early to start looking ahead to next season. With that in mind, here's an early stab at the top 10 games to watch next season involving SEC teams, which includes both conference and nonconference games:

Aug. 28, Texas A&M at South Carolina: Life after Johnny Manziel begins for the Aggies in the first-ever meeting between these two teams and the first SEC game of the 2014 season, a Thursday night contest that will be televised on the SEC Network.

Aug. 30, LSU vs. Wisconsin, in Houston: It's not until 2016 that these two teams get it on in historic Lambeau Field, but they'll open next season in Reliant Stadium in what should be a classic Big Ten vs. SEC showdown.

Sept. 13, Georgia at South Carolina: The winner takes a big step forward in the East race, and the Dawgs have lost each of their last two trips to Williams-Brice Stadium. Plus, Todd Gurley vs. Mike Davis always makes for entertaining theater.

Sept. 20, Florida at Alabama: The Gators make a rare appearance in Tuscaloosa, only their fourth trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium since the 1992 expansion and division split. It's the SEC opener for the Crimson Tide, who are unbeaten in league openers under Nick Saban.

Oct. 4, Alabama at Ole Miss: The Rebels had to play at Alabama each of the last two seasons but finally get the Tide in Oxford next season. This could be the year that Ole Miss puts it all together and makes a run in the West, but doing that will mean snapping a 10-game skid against the Tide.

Nov. 8, Alabama at LSU: It got away from the Tigers a little bit this season against Alabama in the second half, but when's the last time this game hasn't meant something? Over the last five or six years, it's hard to find a better and/or more meaningful rivalry in college football than Alabama vs. LSU.

Nov. 15, Auburn at Georgia: Living up to the thriller these two teams played this season on the Plains will be difficult, but we could get a glimpse of the 2014 SEC championship game next November in Sanford Stadium.

Nov. 29, Mississippi State at Ole Miss: Talk about a rivalry that's been revitalized. The Bulldogs won in overtime this season, their fourth victory over the Rebels in the last five years. But the "school up north" will be looking for a little payback next season, particularly quarterback Bo Wallace.

Nov. 29, Auburn at Alabama: Just when you think you've seen it all in the Iron Bowl, Chris Davis delivers a play for the ages with his kick-six. We might never see another ending quite like that one, but it's not too farfetched to think that next season's game could again decide the West race.

Nov. 29, South Carolina at Clemson: When the Head Ball Coach knows he can get under somebody's skin, he just twists the needle that much harder. South Carolina has won five in a row now over Clemson, and it probably feels like 20 in a row to Dabo Swinney and the Tigers.
Anybody thinking Steve Spurrier is on the verge of retiring might want to think again.

Not a chance, at least not with South Carolina winning at an unprecedented pace. The Gamecocks are coming off their third straight 11-win season. The only other BCS teams to win at least 11 games each of the last three seasons are Alabama, Oregon and Stanford.

“Doing what we’ve been able to do invigorates you. It gives you energy,” said Spurrier, who turns 69 in April. “Somebody ought to do an article on age versus physical and mental fitness. I’ve been doing the same workout now for a number of years. I still call the plays, still run the offense, and they tell me my memory is still pretty good.

“Age is just a number.”

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP Photo/John RaouxSteve Spurrier's team could finish in the top five in the polls for the first time in school history.
Speaking of numbers, South Carolina beat six teams this season that won bowl games, including a pair of BCS bowl winners -- Clemson and UCF. That’s more than anybody else in college football.

Spurrier has taken it upon himself to declare the Gamecocks the national champion of the bowl season.

“We’re looking for any kind of championship we can find around here. We don’t have many,” quipped Spurrier, who remains as motivated as ever to win an SEC title at South Carolina. “It’s amazing how we found ways to win this year. It just seemed like we kept having good things happen to us ever since we left Knoxville [a 23-21 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 19].”

Spurrier has never been shy when it comes to needling his rivals. With five straight wins over Clemson, he made it a point to remind everybody following the 34-24 Capital One Bowl victory over Wisconsin how nice it was to win the “state championship” again.

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney countered a few days later following the Tigers’ 40-35 win over Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl that Clemson was the first team from the state of South Carolina to win a BCS bowl.

Even Spurrier had to give Swinney props for his comeback. Sort of, anyway.

“Well, he’s right,” Spurrier said. “We’ve never even been to a BCS bowl. We can’t get invited. We’re in the SEC.”

And as Spurrier noted, Clemson beat just one team this season that won its bowl game (Syracuse), and the Head Ball Coach also wonders if Swinney might be distorting history a tad.

“I called Danny Ford and said, ‘Danny, does Dabo forget that Clemson in 1981 went down to the Orange Bowl, won the national championship and went undefeated?’ ” Spurrier joked. “They didn’t call it a BCS bowl back then, but it was the same bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Orange Bowl has always been a major bowl.”

Yep, after all these years, Spurrier still loves the give and take and still loves spicing up a rivalry. It’s equally clear that he’s soaking up the twilight of his coaching career.

“Bowls are so important now,” Spurrier said. “Back in the '70s and '80s, they used to be a reward for having a good season. Now, you’re only as good as your last game. That bowl game is all they talk about for eight months until you play again.

“Look at my buddy Bobby Stoops. He’s won a whole bunch of Big 12 championships, but to beat Alabama in that bowl game the other night might have been bigger than some of them. I told him he can get rid of that $5 million-a-year contract now and move up to $6 million.

“One thing we both know is that you better enjoy it while you can.”

The Gamecocks have a chance to finish in the top five of the final polls, which has never happened in school history. They should be a lock to finish in the top 10 for a third straight season after taking a No. 8 ranking in the Associated Press poll into the bowl game.

South Carolina was the only team in the country that beat three different teams in the top 15 of the final BCS standings this season -- Clemson, Missouri and UCF.

“There’s going to be about 11 of us who are somewhere around 11-2 or 12-2, so we’ll see how it all shakes out,” Spurrier said. “But I’m going ahead and declaring us the national champion of the bowl season.”

It's early, but has SEC lost a few steps?

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By the time the sun sets Saturday on the East Coast, another one of the preseason heavyweights in the SEC will be sporting a loss.

And in unison, the rest of the college football world will let out a collective cheer.

One of the ways to look at the Alabama-Texas A&M showdown is that the winner will be in primo position to make a run at the national championship.

But there’s another subplot to the game in College Station: The loser will be the fourth SEC team ranked in the top 10 of the preseason polls to lose -- only three weeks into the season.

After watching Florida fall last week at Miami and Georgia stumble to open the season at Clemson, the anybody-but-the-SEC crowd is starting to rev its engines and ponder the possibilities.

Maybe the big, bad SEC is showing a few cracks in its foundation, and just maybe this is the year that a BCS National Championship -- the last one, as fate would have it -- is played without an SEC team as a participant.

There are still so many ways this season could go, but the feeling coming in was that the surest way for the SEC’s seven-year national championship streak to end was for the league to beat up on itself.

Stay tuned on that front, but it certainly looks like everybody in the SEC has a few warts.

Even Alabama was average at best offensively in its season-opening 35-10 win over Virginia Tech. We’ll find out a lot more about the Crimson Tide this weekend, but part of their issues offensively in the opener can be attributed to how physical Virginia Tech’s front seven was on defense.

The Hokies flat got after Alabama, and unlike past years when the Tide were playing with an NFL-esque offensive line, they didn’t respond particularly well.

Meanwhile, the rest of the college football world is starting to smell blood, SEC blood.

Is that premature?

[+] EnlargeAlabama/Texas A&M
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsSaturday's showdown between Alabama and Texas A&M should provide some answers about the path to the national championship.
Sure it is, but it’s going to be fascinating to see how it all plays out, because more than ever, it’s the SEC versus the rest of college football.

Comparing scores this early in the season is meaningless, but Clemson did beat Georgia, which beat South Carolina.

After Miami took down Florida last week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney chortled, “How about that ACC? Spunky little old league.”

The best part was Swinney flashing the “U” sign as he walked out of the interview room following Clemson’s 52-13 pasting of South Carolina State.

The gamesmanship makes it a lot more fun, and Clemson is hardly the only team that’s a legitimate threat to the SEC this season.

At first glance, Oregon appears to be faster and more explosive than ever, and nobody’s sleeping on Stanford. Louisville could easily go unbeaten when you look at the Cardinals’ schedule, and it’s not far-fetched to think that an unbeaten team could come out of the Big Ten this season either.

Ultimately, it’s probably going to come down to how much damage is doled out within the SEC’s own parameters.

What’s more, is there another Texas A&M lurking similar to a year ago?

The Aggies went from unranked to taking down Alabama in Tuscaloosa last November and were playing as well as anybody in the country by season’s end.

LSU was sort of the forgotten team in the league to begin this season after losing so many star defensive players, but the Tigers’ passing game has taken flight under first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and it’s hard to see an appreciable drop-off on defense to this point.

Again, though, LSU has to play at Georgia in three weeks and at Alabama in November.

One of the constants in the SEC’s national championship run has been suffocating defense. It’s not a coincidence that six of the seven national champions during the streak have finished in the top 10 nationally in total defense.

The early returns suggest that some of the offenses are perhaps catching up with the defenses in this league. But, then, maybe some of the defenses this season simply aren’t what we’ve grown accustomed to in the SEC.

South Carolina was torched for 536 yards last week in its loss to Georgia, which has given up 68 points in its first two games, albeit to a pair of top 10 teams.

Texas A&M has been playing with a patchwork unit defensively thanks to suspensions, but the Aggies have given up 59 points in their first two games -- to Rice and Sam Houston State.

Florida is a load on defense, but the Gators haven’t shown nearly enough offensively to think that they could be a national championship contender.

LSU’s toughest tests are yet to come defensively, which leads us back to the Crimson Tide.

They’ve won national championships each of the past two seasons despite losing games at home in November.

One of the things that make Saturday’s game so pivotal for both Alabama and Texas A&M is that neither team has a tough draw in the East this season. They both avoid Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

So the path to the national championship gala will clear up considerably for the winner Saturday.

Even so, it’s a race after a few laps around the track that has everybody outside the SEC’s footprint believing, anticipating and hoping that the league everybody has been chasing for the better part of the past decade may finally be losing a few steps.

Sloppy play costs Georgia in opener

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
3:20
AM ET


CLEMSON, S.C. -- Although it’s easy to point to a botched field goal try as the difference in No. 5 Georgia’s 38-35 loss to No. 8 Clemson on Saturday, the Bulldogs know there was more to it than that.

“I thought we did some good things and we did some things to get you beat,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team has no time to lick its wounds with a game against No. 6 South Carolina on tap next Saturday. “We’ll find out how good we are next week.”

There were penalties from the Bulldogs on Saturday. One of the nation’s most-penalized teams over the last several years, Georgia had nine for 84 lost yards against Clemson -- including two costly infractions in the fourth quarter that short-circuited the Bulldogs’ comeback attempt.

There were two turnovers by quarterback Aaron Murray -- a fumble and an interception -- in the second quarter that took the wind out of the Georgia offense’s sails after accounting for 218 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone.

And there was a simple lack of execution at some crucial junctures that altered a game the Bulldogs certainly could have won.

“We did a lot of good things tonight, but there were a lot of things that we didn’t do so well -- some first-game mistakes and they ended up costing us there in the game,” said Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, whose team accumulated 545 yards of total offense, but surrendered four sacks and two turnovers. “But I just told the guys we ran out of time there at the end and it hurts, but we’ve got to look at the tape, we’ve got to correct and we’ve got to get better.”

The sequence that led to the botched field goal was particularly costly. Georgia earned first-and-goal at the Clemson 5 after a 35-yard completion to Chris Conley late in the third quarter. The Bulldogs then ran three straight running plays -- a 2-yard run by Keith Marshall, a 1-yard run by Todd Gurley and a third-down dive for no gain by Quayvon Hicks -- before settling for a 20-yard field goal try by Patrick Beless that would have tied the score at 31-all.

One problem: On his first field goal snap of the season, new snapper Nathan Theus shot the ball high to holder Adam Erickson, who was unable to corral the snap and was forced to fall on it for a 6-yard loss.

That was an enormous letdown after Georgia had battled its way back into the game and failed to gain the equalizer.

“Momentum is a big thing and that was huge momentum for us, a big boost for our guys,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “That turned out to be one of the deciding plays of the game, obviously.”

As were the plays that immediately preceded it, since they could have given Georgia its first lead since Hicks’ 1-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.

“We had to get points in the red zone coming in and we wanted touchdowns and we weren’t able to do it right there,” Bobo said. “We ran the ball down there and I wanted to keep running it and I’ve got to look at the tape. We just didn’t execute what we had called and unfortunately we didn’t get the three points. That happens. We still had a chance to win after that, so we had our opportunities and just penalties killed us there on the next couple of drives.”

Even after the field goal mistake, Georgia’s defense forced a Clemson three-and-out, with a punt giving Georgia possession at its 43 early in the fourth quarter. The Bulldgos were quickly flagged for a devastating 15-yard penalty for chop blocking, however, and ended up punting.

Clemson scored on the next drive to go up 38-28 midway through the quarter, making a holding penalty that nullified a 14-yard Gurley run on the Dawgs’ ensuing drive even more costly, as another Georgia punt there nearly put the game out of reach.

The Bulldogs drove for a quick touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but when they failed to recover an onside kick and had already used all of their timeouts, Clemson was able to run out the clock and walk away victorious.

“We killed ourselves with penalties tonight,” Murray said. “It’s tough to convert third-and-long. Penalties are a big reason why we lost tonight.”

With the loss, Georgia finds itself in a fairly familiar position, which might have been why there seemed to be little panic within the Bulldog contingent during postgame interviews.

The Bulldogs dropped their first two games of 2011, including their SEC opener against South Carolina, and finished the regular season with a 10-game winning streak. They took a 35-7 pounding last season at South Carolina and once again won out.

Both times they earned a spot in the SEC championship game by claiming the Eastern Division title. And next Saturday will still play a major role in whether they can return to Atlanta for a third straight season, regardless of what happened against Clemson.

“I don’t see anybody in there ready to jump off a bridge or anything,” Richt said. “I think they all know that happens in football if you play a really good football team and you get beat. And if you do, then you move on and you continue to play well and you get better and you make corrections. We’re still learning a lot about this team.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Scour the locker rooms at Georgia and Clemson and it might be difficult to find a player who knows much about their historic rivalry.

“You know me, I don’t know much about Georgia’s history from before I got here,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray chuckled in one such response about the longtime rivalry between schools separated by only about 70 miles.

Murray is far from alone in that regard. The 22-year-old Floridian was 13 the last time Georgia and Clemson met, in 2003, and was not even alive when the annual 1980s meetings between the Bulldogs and Tigers often carried national-title implications.

Fans of a certain age might harken back to those days on Saturday, however, when the rivalry resumes -- ending the longest gap between games since the series started in 1897 -- and No. 5 Georgia visits No. 8 Clemson in Death Valley.

[+] EnlargeClemson, Danny Ford
AP Photo/Kathy WillensCoach Danny Ford and Clemson beat Georgia 13-3 in 1981 and went on to win the national championship.
“Georgia was really good every year, so it meant that doggone it, somebody was going to get a lot of publicity and a lot of press, whoever won that football game,” said former Tigers coach Danny Ford, who will be enshrined in Clemson’s Ring of Honor on Saturday. “You could still be a good football team if you lost that game, but it just put a cramp in everything and it was so early in the year -- the first or second game or third game every year -- and you kind of knew what kind of football team [you had].

“It was kind of like a Wednesday where the kids in school call it Hump Day, you know? You’re in the middle of the week, get your classes over with and you’re about halfway to the weekend. That was the same kind of a hump game, where if you get off and win that football game, you’ve got a great chance to have a good year.”

Back then, your season could be more than good if you slipped away with a win. Thanks to a 67-yard punt return touchdown by Scott Woerner and a 98-yard Woerner interception return that set up another score, Georgia edged Clemson 20-16 in 1980 despite failing to register a single first down in the opening half.

“At the end, they’re back down there and Jeff Hipp makes an interception on about the 1-yard line right at the end of the game,” recalled former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, who posted a 15-6-1 record against Clemson in his 25 seasons as the Bulldogs’ coach. “But statistic-wise, they just knocked us all over the place.”

The 10th-ranked Bulldogs went on to win the national title that season after barely surviving the Tigers’ upset bid. And Clemson returned the favor the following year, generating nine turnovers to beat Herschel Walker and No. 4 Georgia 13-3 en route to a national title of its own.

Clemson’s 1981 win marked the only time that Georgia lost in the regular season during Walker’s three seasons on campus.

“They’re the only team that he played more than once in his college career and didn’t score a touchdown against,” said UGA grad Kyle King, whose new book detailing the Georgia-Clemson series history, “Fighting Like Cats and Dogs,” was published, oddly enough, by the Clemson University Digital Press. “So they really were the ones who -- to the extent anyone had Herschel’s number -- they’re the ones who had his number.”

[+] EnlargeVince Dooley
Dale Zanine/US Presswire for ESPN.comIn 25 years as coach at Georgia , Vince Dooley posted a 15-6-1 record against Clemson.
Just how close were the two teams in their respective pursuits of the national title? Georgia scored exactly 316 points during the 1980 regular season before beating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim its first national title since 1942. The following year, Clemson matched that scoring total to the number, notching the very same 316 points in the regular season before beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to claim the school’s first national championship.

The series continued to produce memorable outcomes on an annual basis throughout the 1980s. Take 1982, for example, when No. 7 Georgia hosted No. 11 Clemson in the first night game in decades at Sanford Stadium. Much like Saturday’s game at Clemson, the 1982 game aired before a prime-time national TV audience on ABC -- that year on Labor Day evening.

Bulldogs defenders picked off four passes by Clemson quarterback and Athens native Homer Jordan en route to a 13-7 win and another undefeated regular season. Once again, the Georgia-Clemson winner played in the game that would determine the national champion, although the Bulldogs lost this time, 27-23 to Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.

Nonetheless, those first three games set the standard for one of the nastiest rivalries of the 1980s -- one where defense, big special-teams plays and general hard-nosed aggression became trademarks.

“I remember it was always a tough game for Georgia. It was a tough game, period,” said Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon, who appeared in the series’ last two games, in 2002 and 2003, and whose father Willie preceded him as a Georgia player and coach. “It was always one of the biggest games out there in the country and it’s a lot like this year, to be honest with you. You never knew who was going to come out on top. Both teams always had high expectations going into each year, let alone that game. It was always a hard-fought war out there on the field.”

There was the 1984 game where Georgia beat No. 2 Clemson 26-23 on a 60-yard Kevin Butler field goal -- a play that produced what King called Bulldogs announcer Larry Munson’s most memorable call from a home game, when he estimated that Butler would “try to kick one 100,000 miles” and then proclaimed that “the stadium is worse than bonkers” once the kick cleared the uprights.

Clemson enjoyed its own kicking-game heroics in 1986 and 1987, when David Treadwell booted game-winning field goals at the end of the Tigers’ respective 31-28 and 21-20 victories.

“We were so evenly matched, and so many came down to a field goal or a touchdown, and we were so evenly matched that all of them kind of run together in my thoughts,” Ford recalled. “They’d win one and we’d win one.”

That proved true throughout Ford’s 11-year tenure at Clemson. A rivalry that Georgia once dominated -- the Bulldogs are 41-17-4 all-time against the Tigers and went 11-1-1 against Frank Howard, the winningest coach in Clemson history -- was extremely even in the 1980s.

Ford went 4-4-1 against Georgia while at Clemson. The scoring differential during that period? Georgia 153, Clemson 152.

“It was more about respectability for us because Georgia had the upper hand for so long back when Coach Howard [was here],” Ford said. “I tell the story all the time that Coach Howard would have to play Georgia and Georgia Tech, who was in the SEC back then, Alabama and Auburn and lose four games to have enough money to make his budget and then win the ACC conference. But back then he had to do that and he couldn’t hardly ever get them to come play at our place. It was just a thing of respectability I think, more so for us in the '80s."

Respectability is no longer a problem for either of the programs who will renew their longtime rivalry on Saturday in Death Valley. Georgia’s Mark Richt led his team within an eyelash of playing for the BCS title last year, and the Bulldogs enter Saturday’s game with their highest preseason ranking since opening the 2008 campaign in the No. 1 spot. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has led the Tigers to a 21-6 record over the last two seasons and, blessed with a Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Tajh Boyd, should boast one of the nation’s most explosive offenses.

The programs no longer resemble the Ford- and Dooley-era squads that relied on defense and the kicking game to win low-scoring games, but considering the standing the Georgia-Clemson game once held in the national championship race, it seems fitting that Saturday’s reunion occupies a marquee spot in college football’s opening weekend.

“I grew up with this game being played pretty much every year, and it was at a time that Georgia beat Florida every year, and Georgia beat Georgia Tech every year, so Clemson and Auburn were really the two games that you went into the year thinking, ‘Boy, I hope we can get out of that one with a W,’ ” King said. “I didn’t want to lose that, and that was really what ultimately inspired me to go back and write this book.

“We’re going into a season where it looks like you have two top-10 teams, two frontrunners in their conferences, two top-drawer quarterbacks going up against one another,” he added. “I think it’s important to remind fans that this isn’t a new thing. We butted heads with these guys in big games before, and hopefully we’ll get the chance to keep doing it in the future.”

ATLANTA – When Tajh Boyd looked up at the scoreboard inside the Georgia Dome and saw only 1 minute, 39 seconds remaining in the final football game of 2012 all he could do was smile.

He didn’t look at LSU's 24-22 lead or the chance for yet another ACC team to fall at the hands of the mighty SEC. All the junior quarterback saw was a chance at something special -- and three timeouts on Clemson’s side.

“Last drive, ball is in your court. It’s your game to lose,” Boyd later said.

With 80 yards to go and the first bowl win for the Tigers since 2009 on the line, Boyd calmly turned to his coaches and said, “Let’s go get it.”

And against one of the toughest defenses in the nation, Boyd went and got it. It started off a little rocky, but for the quarterback who had been thrown around like a rag doll all night, he wasn’t leaving Atlanta without dramatics.

After two incompletions and a Sam Montgomery sack made it fourth-and-16 from his own 14, Boyd made the throw of his life when he hit DeAndre "Nuk" Hopkins over the middle for a 26-yard gain.

Boyd hit Hopkins, who finished the night with a game-high in catches (13) and receiving yards (191) and caught two touchdown passes, two more times for 20 yards before Adam Humphries set up kicker Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning, 37-yard kick to give Clemson the 25-24 win.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsTajh Boyd completed 36 of 50 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns in Clemson's win.
“I wanted to go into the stands and celebrate already because I knew [Catanzaro] was going to kick it through those uprights,” he said.

The image of Catanzaro celebrating well before the kick went through will live on forever, but the night Boyd and Hopkins had together will go down as one of the all-time greats.

Both entered the game with gaudy numbers. Boyd had more than 3,500 yards on the season and 34 touchdowns, while Hopkins led the ACC with 1,214 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. But both left with hero status, as they willed their team to a win.

Boyd was smacked around on just about every play, while Hopkins had to work 98 percent of the night without his dynamic partner Sammy Watkins, who left the game on the second play from scrimmage with an ankle injury.

Talk about a straight shot of adversity with no chaser.

But Boyd and Hopkins didn’t flinch. With every bone-crushing hit or awkward tumble Boyd took, he stood up stronger and more confident. He might have mimicked a pinball at times, but he played like a champion.

“Hits hurt a little bit,” Boyd said. “I’ll be sore in the morning, but it’s well deserved. For this type of offense and for this type of team, you lay everything out there on the line, regardless of the game.”

Before the game, coach Dabo Swinney told Boyd he was going to have to play and fight for everything on the field and it was going to take him squeezing throws through windows the size of Gatorade bottles. It wasn’t always going to be pretty.

Boyd took hit after hit, but kept going. He ran the ball a game-high 29 times and threw 50 passes, finishing the night with 368 yards of total offense on a school record 79 plays by a quarterback.

Of Clemson’s last 34 plays, 28 involved Boyd.

“It’s not about how hard you get hit,” Swinney said of Boyd, “it’s about can you keep competing, can you keep getting up and keep competing. That’s what it’s about.

“He kept competing, kept playing, going to the next play.

“He was awesome. So proud of him.”

But he wasn’t alone. Hopkins, who was basically on double duty, overwhelmed LSU’s secondary, catching just about everything in sight and finding space in the most clogged areas. He created his own room at times and hauled in two magnificent touchdown catches to keep the Tigers going.

“That’s how Nuk is,” safety Xavier Brewer said. “He’s a true competitor. You can put it all on his shoulders and he’s going to make those plays when you need him and he did that tonight.”

He was a man possessed, as he pushed Boyd to elevate his game.

Swinney called Monday’s game a “landmark win” and a “tombstone win.” Boyd said it felt like winning the ACC title, which the Tigers were a win away from defending. So much rode on this game, while all areas of Clemson’s team stood tall against one of the SEC’s best, the play of the Tigers’ dynamic duo truly was special to watch.

"There’s never any doubt that Tajh and Nuk are going to bring everything they’ve got," Brewer said. "It was awesome to see them compete and play with so much heart. It inspired the whole team."

Boyd will have time to rest and the pain from the night’s beating will disappear, but this win is something he’ll cherish forever. For a team that endured so much good and bad this season, Monday night’s win was the consummate ending for the Tigers’ season.

“It was a special moment,” Boyd said. “One of the most special moments I’ve ever been a part of.”

“You live for these moments to grind and to sweat it out and have tears with your teammates out there. In the fashion that we won the game, it was unbelievable.”

Chick-fil-A Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:32
PM ET
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 we learned in the SEC: Week 13

November, 25, 2012
11/25/12
10:00
AM ET
With the 2012 regular season now in our rearview mirror, let’s take a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 13:

1. Play-in game is set: Alabama and Georgia both did their part on Saturday with blowout wins over rivals. Alabama thumped Auburn 49-0, while Georgia routed Georgia Tech 42-7. What that means is that a lot more than just the SEC championship will be at stake on Saturday in the SEC championship game. The winner will earn a spot in the Discover BCS National Championship Game to face Notre Dame, which beat USC on Saturday night and will remain No. 1 in the BCS standings. So in other words, the SEC championship game becomes a play-in game for the right to play for the national championship. It’s similar to both of the 2008 and 2009 SEC championship games, when Alabama and Florida squared off in back-to-back years in Atlanta. This is the first time that Alabama has faced somebody other than Florida in the SEC championship game.

2. Conquering quarterbacks: Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel made one final compelling argument for the Heisman Trophy with five more touchdowns in the Aggies’ 59-29 battering of Missouri. He’s accounted for 43 touchdowns this season and set an SEC record with 4,600 yards of total offense. He has six games this season with at least two touchdowns rushing and two touchdowns passing. Nobody else has more than three. He’s only a redshirt freshman, but Manziel has put up Heisman numbers all season. At this point, it would seem like it’s his trophy to lose. And while we’re on the subject of SEC quarterbacks, Georgia’s Aaron Murray deserves some props, too. He became the first quarterback in SEC history to pass for 3,000 yards in three straight seasons. Murray threw two more touchdown passes Saturday and now has 89 for his career, tying him with Peyton Manning for second on the SEC career chart. Florida’s Danny Wuerffel holds the record with 114 career touchdown passes.

[+] EnlargeSaban/Chizik
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesGene Chizik is likely done after Auburn was drubbed 49-0 by Alabama on Saturday.
3. Chizik era is over: Two years removed from winning a national championship at Auburn, Gene Chizik is on his way out as coach. An announcement could come as early as Sunday or Monday. Auburn was drubbed 49-0 by Alabama on Saturday, the second most lopsided Iron Bowl in history. The Tigers looked like they wanted to be anywhere but Bryant-Denny Stadium, another telling indictment against Chizik and how far this program has fallen in just two years. The Tigers have lost 10 straight SEC games dating back to last season and finished winless in the SEC for the first time since 1980. One of the names sure to be mentioned as a possible replacement for Chizik is former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who’s in his first season as the Arkansas State head coach. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart could also be a potential target for Auburn.

4. Tight race for coach of the year honors: How do you pick just one SEC Coach of the Year? There are at least four coaches who deserve serious consideration. Take a look at what Kevin Sumlin has done in his first season at Texas A&M and the Aggies’ first season in the SEC. As soon as you think Sumlin is the guy, you realize that Florida's Will Muschamp has also done an amazing job. The Gators are 11-1 in his second season in Gainesville and have the best overall resume in college football with four wins over top-10 teams. Who had Ole Miss being bowl eligible in Hugh Freeze’s first season as coach? The Rebels whipped bitter rival Mississippi State on Saturday to qualify for a bowl. This is the same Ole Miss team that entered the season on a 14-game SEC losing streak and behind the eight-ball in scholarship numbers. Finally, anybody notice that Vanderbilt has eight wins and is headed back to a bowl game for the second year in a row? James Franklin is enough of a commodity that Vanderbilt is prepared to pay some serious cash to keep him. Good luck in picking this year’s SEC Coach of the Year.

5. Spurrier owns Clemson: During the course of his Hall of Fame career, Steve Spurrier has owned more than a few teams and more than a few coaches. He might as well start paying taxes on Dabo Swinney and Clemson. Not only did South Carolina beat Clemson 27-17 on Saturday for the fourth straight time -- the first time that’s happened in the series since 1951-54 -- but the Gamecocks won it with their backup quarterback, Dylan Thompson, going the whole way and passing for 310 yards and three touchdowns. Starter Connor Shaw missed the game with a sprained foot. Consider, too, that South Carolina snapped Clemson’s 13-game home winning streak and won for the second year in a row with its best player, running back Marcus Lattimore, out of the lineup. Lattimore also missed last season’s game with a knee injury. Think we’ll hear any “Real Carolina” rants from Swinney this week?

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