SEC: Kenny McKinley
If you haven't had a chance, I urge you to read Elizabeth Merrill's heart-wrenching story on McKinley and Murdock, each of whom committed suicide.
It's a gripping reminder to reach out to friends, family members and loved ones even if there's a hint of depression or other issues and do everything you can to get them help.
The terrible part is that sometimes you don't know and there's nothing you can do.
- This season, the SEC has had eight teams ranked in the AP top-25 poll a total of 59 times after the first 10 weeks — above the league's average for the past five seasons.
- Using the latest published depth charts from the 12 SEC teams, South Carolina has the youngest offensive starting lineup and the most experienced defensive starting lineup in the league.
- Using a numerical formula of 1 point for freshmen, 2 points for sophomores, 3 points for juniors and 4 points for freshman, the Gamecocks average 2.33 on offense and 3.45 on defense.
- The most experienced offense is Kentucky at 3.25, the least experienced defense Florida at 2.36.
- On defense, there are just eight freshman starters in the SEC, three of them at Tennessee. On offense, South Carolina starts four freshmen and Ole Miss three.
- Mississippi State starts six seniors on offense, followed by Alabama, Kentucky and LSU with five each. On defense, Arkansas, Kentucky and South Carolina start five freshmen each.
- Alabama has started slowly in the first quarter this season, but has quickly turned things around and finished strong. The Crimson Tide have outscored its opponents 243-25 in the final three quarters of games this season after holding just a 72-30 edge in the first quarter. The disparity has grown even wider over the past six games, when Alabama owns a 44-27 scoring edge in the first quarter and a 196-10 edge in the final three quarters. Alabama has outscored its opposition in the second half of the past six games by a score of 142-7, but has not allowed a second-half point in the past four. Arkansas, in Week 4, was the last team to score against Alabama after halftime.
- Arkansas has won five consecutive games against opponents from the SEC Eastern Division, the longest winning streak against Eastern Division foes in school history and the third-longest current interdivision win streak in the SEC. Arkansas’ previous record for consecutive games won against the Eastern Division was three (1992-93 and 2006). Arkansas is off to its best start under Bobby Petrino and is 7-1 for just the third time since joining the SEC in 1992.
- With its victory over Ole Miss, Auburn has extended its Jordan-Hare Stadium winning streak to 13 games, its longest at home since winning 13 in a row from 1993-94. It is tied for the sixth-longest home winning streak in school history. The Tigers are 25-4 in night games (5 p.m. or later) at Jordan-Hare dating back to the 2000 season.
- Florida quarterback John Brantley returned from injury to start last week against Georgia, throwing for 245 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 20.4 yards per completion, the highest of his career as a starting quarterback. The mark is the highest in the SEC and eighth-best in the country this season for quarterbacks with a minimum of 10 completions). In his career, the fifth-year senior has completed 332 of 541 passes (61.4 percent) for 3,893 yards and 25 touchdowns, with 14 interceptions and a passer rating of 131.9.
- Georgia senior Brandon Boykin and junior Branden Smith are seeing action on defense, offense and special teams this season. Boykin has four career kickoff returns for touchdowns, and against No. 5 Boise State, he had an 80-yard rushing touchdowns on his first career carry. He had a school-record seven kickoff returns and tallied 198 all-purpose yards against No. 12 South Carolina. Smith and Boykin split time as punt returners while Boykin is one of the top kickoff returners in the nation.
- Kentucky seniors Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy are the SEC’s top two tacklers. Trevathan charted a career-high-tying 17 tackles last weekend and is now the league’s top tackler with 94 to Guy 's 83. The duo are tied for fifth and 16th, respectively, in the nation with 11.75 and 10.38 tackles per game.
- LSU went the entire month of October without a turnover. The Tigers have turned the ball over just three times this season (two fumbles, one interception), with their most recent turnover coming in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State in Week 3. LSU has gone 336 offensive snaps, 59 possessions and 174 minutes and 52 seconds of possession time since its last turnover. LSU has given up just 41 points in the first five SEC games, the fewest since 1985, when the Tigers also allowed 41 points in their first five league games. LSU has won 17 consecutive games when winning the turnover battle. Under Les Miles, LSU is 33-4 when forcing more turnovers than it gives up.
- Six true freshmen and three redshirt freshmen have started for Ole Miss this season. True freshmen have made a combined 18 starts, while redshirt freshmen have made a combined 10. Freshman wide receiver Donte Moncrief is tied for fifth in the nation among true freshmen with four touchdown receptions.
- Mississippi State has won nine consecutive non-conference games dating back to head coach Dan Mullen’s first season in 2009. Mullen’s teams have posted a 10-2 non-conference mark, with a pair of losses in 2009 to nationally ranked Georgia Tech and a Houston team that received votes in both polls the week of the game. The Bulldogs’ 10 consecutive out-of-league wins marks the longest such streak since an 11-game run from 1989-91.
- Junior wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (167 receptions for 2,748 yards) needs just 33 yards to match Kenny McKinley (2,781) as South Carolina’s all-time leader in receiving yards. He needs three catches to pass Sterling Sharpe (169) for second all-time in career receptions. He also needs three touchdown catches to tie Sidney Rice on the school’s all-time list for touchdown receptions at 23. Jeffery is also tied for first at South Carolina with 11 100-yard receiving games and is sixth in school history with 16.5 yards per reception.
- Three of Tennessee’s six leading tacklers are freshmen in A.J. Johnson (1st with 57), Curt Maggitt (fourth with 34) and Brian Randolph (sixth with 31), making the Vols the only team in the country with freshmen as three of its top six tacklers. Tennessee is the only team in the country with two true freshmen among its top four tacklers. In fact, there are only a pair of schools – Miami (Fla.) and Army – that even have two in their top six.
- Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward knocked down six Arkansas passes last weekend – tied for most in any one game in the country this season with Duke’s Matt Daniels, who did it against Richmond. Hayward was named this week as one of 15 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back. Hayward is tied for fourth nationally with five interceptions and is the SEC active leader in career picks with 13.
- Mississippi State is 27-16 against non-conference foes since 2000 and has a nine-game win streak against out-of-SEC competition.
- South Carolina and Arkansas are 1-2 in the SEC in non-offensive touchdowns scored this season. Carolina has five (four defense/one punt return) while Arkansas has four (one defense/one kickoff return/two punt return) and tied with LSU and Vanderbilt.
- Florida leads the SEC with 291-game scoring streak. The last time Florida was shut out was Oct. 29, 1988, when it lost 16-0 to Auburn.
- South Carolina is 3-0 in SEC road games this season. The Gamecocks have never gone 4-0.
- Vanderbilt’s scoring drives average 6.77 plays, fewest in the SEC.
- South Carolina is 21-37 against the Western Division and Arkansas is 24-34 against the Eastern Division. Arkansas has won five in a row against the Eastern Division.
- Ole Miss’ Brandon Bolden is the SEC’s second active leading rusher with 2,426 yards, trailing active leader Trent Richardson of Alabama by only 14 yards (2,440).
- Georgia leads SEC with 21 scoring drives of less than two minutes.
- South Carolina is second in the SEC in holding opponents to three-downs-and-out at 42.5 percent (45 of 106).
- Georgia sophomore QB Aaron Murray is already SEC’s leading active player in total offensive yards (5,077), completions (344), TD responsibility (48), TD passe (42) and passing yards (4,871).
- Tennessee is one of four SEC teams not to allow a non-offensive touchdown this season (Alabama, LSU and South Carolina).
- Georgia has scored first in seven of its eight games this season, second in the league to LSU, which has scored first in all eight.
- South Carolina's program is rocked by the death of its all-time leading receiver, Kenny McKinley.
- It's been a while since there has been this much excitement leading up to an Arkansas game in Fayetteville.
- The Ole Miss players insist they're still on the same page and that nobody's pointing fingers.
- Mississippi State's offense is searching for an identity ... and a voice.
- Taylor Wyndham's crushing hit on Tim Tebow reverberates a year later.
- Florida coach Urban Meyer is looking for more out of his passing game and quarterback John Brantley.
- Georgia president Michael Adams is sending a clear message on the arrests involving football players.
- With the injuries mounting on the offensive line, Tennessee will go with three true freshmen part of the time Saturday against UAB.
- Linebacker Josh Bynes remains Auburn's iron man on defense, but coordinator Ted Roof is committed to getting him some rest.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
For a guy who revolutionized offensive football in the SEC, Steve Spurrier sure had a pedestrian offense last season at South Carolina.
And to be honest, calling it pedestrian is probably being kind. The Gamecocks just plain stunk most of the time.
|Doug Benc/Getty Images|
|South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has to get the Gamecocks right on offense this year.|
On top of it all, according to Spurrier, they also had a lousy attitude.
"Some of those guys who left ... that's fine. They were ready to get on out of here," Spurrier said. "I think our attitude will be better this year. It needs to be. I know our offseason conditioning attitude has been wonderful."
Counting his strength and conditioning coach, Spurrier also has six new coaches on his staff. His offensive staff is entirely new with the exception of his son, Steve Spurrier Jr., and that's not by accident.
"Some of (the coaches) were looking around because it was suggested they do so, and we didn't try too hard to keep them," Spurrier said of the mass exodus on his staff this offseason. "Sometimes, you need to change it up."
The Gamecocks open spring practice on Tuesday afternoon with their new look and what Spurrier hopes will be a renewed commitment to bringing an SEC championship to Columbia.
"When you have a school that doesn't have great tradition like here, you have to somehow try to forget about the past," said Spurrier, who's just 15-17 against SEC foes in his first four seasons at South Carolina and has lost five or more games overall all four years.
"Watching the Arizona Cardinals play this year drives that home. They did a super job of forgetting the past, that they weren't supposed to win, and believing they could and came within one play of winning it all. We sort of see our situation like theirs."
The Cardinals did it primarily with an explosive offense, whereas the Gamecocks are coming off one of the weakest showings for a Spurrier offense since he's been a head coach.
In fact, if not for the South Carolina defense last season, who knows how ugly it could have gotten?
It's a touchy subject for the Head Ball Coach, who's quick to point out that last season was the first time the Gamecocks actually finished higher in the SEC in total defense than they did in total offense since he arrived.
"I think most people think our defense has always been better around here," Spurrier said. "But in actuality, last year was the first year they ranked ahead of the offense. Hopefully, they're going to rank ahead of the offense again and our offense improves a lot. If that happens, then you've probably got a good team."
|Doug Benc/Getty Images|
|Quarterback Stephen Garcia needs to prove he can bring the Gamecocks to the next level.|
One thing Spurrier is committed to doing this season is incorporating more spread offense to better fit Garcia's style. But that also doesn't mean that Spurrier wants to see Garcia take off and run every time he feels pressure.
"Hopefully, Stephen Garcia can learn how to play the game," Spurrier said. "He's going to go through his first spring practice here. He got kicked out of the other two and got kicked out of both summer workouts. He's scheduled to make his first complete spring and first complete summer workouts with the guys.
"So, hopefully, he will be a lot more ready to play next year."
Much of that is on Garcia becoming a more devoted student of the game and becoming a stronger leader as he approaches his sophomore season. Nobody's ever doubted his physical tools.
But when we last saw him, he was busy turning the ball over on four of the Gamecocks' first five possessions in their Outback Bowl loss to Iowa. So he doesn't exactly come into the spring riding a wave of momentum.
"We've got to play better around Stephen, too," Spurrier said. "We have to make the plays that win games in this league, and we have to coach them better."
One of the biggest changes Spurrier made to his staff was bringing in Eric Wolford to coach the offensive line and serve as running game coordinator. Wolford's going to also play a big role in setting up the offense.
Last season, the Gamecocks were the only team in the SEC that didn't average at least 100 yards per game in rushing offense. They also gave up 39 sacks. Arkansas was the only SEC team that allowed more (45).
Clearly, there was an edge and a toughness that the South Carolina offensive line was missing last season.
Replacing Kenny McKinley at receiver will also be a chore. He's the Gamecocks' all-time leader in catches and receiving yards and made a bunch of key plays for them the last two years.
Joe Hills and Jason Barnes both showed promise last season as redshirt freshmen, but their roles will increase dramatically in 2009. The same goes for tight end Weslye Saunders now that Jared Cook is gone. When touted freshman receiver Alshon Jeffrey gets on campus this summer, he'll also get a chance right away to show what he can do.
The Gamecocks sorely lacked a breakaway threat at running back in 2008, but they hope they've filled that void with freshman Jarvis Giles, who enrolled early and will go through spring practice.
"We have a lot of good players here," Spurrier said. "I told our guys the other day, 'If our recruiting is ranked as high as sixth one year and 12th two years later, that means we're supposed to finish in the Top 10 in the country, fellas. That means we've got some ball players here, so let's try to eliminate the excuses and see if we can't mentally believe that we can go win a championship.' "
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
South Carolina was one of the hardest teams to figure out this season in the SEC.
The Gamecocks played the best defense they've played under Steve Spurrier, and props certainly go to first-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and his staff.
But it's also one of the more frustrating seasons offensively that the Head Ball Coach has ever experienced. Simply, the Gamecocks (7-5, 4-4 SEC) just weren't very good on offense. They were last in the SEC in rushing offense, and Spurrier fired offensive line coach John Hunt.
Like so many of the teams in the league this season, South Carolina closed with a whimper. The Gamecocks were hammered 56-6 at Florida and followed up that humiliating performance two weeks later with a 31-14 loss to arch-rival Clemson.
Spurrier, who's now lost at least five games in all four of his seasons at South Carolina, was clearly frustrated with the inconsistency at quarterback. He's making another change for the bowl game. Garcia will step back in as the starter against Iowa in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1.
Offensive MVP: A hamstring injury limited senior receiver Kenny McKinley early in the season, preventing him from putting up the kind of numbers he did as a junior. But he still led the Gamecocks with 48 catches for 556 yards and four touchdowns. McKinley leaves South Carolina as the school's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards.
Defensive MVP: There were a bunch of guys to choose from on defense, as the Gamecocks finished 11th nationally in total defense. But junior outside linebacker Eric Norwood did a little bit of everything. He tied for the SEC-lead with nine sacks and led all SEC linebackers with 13.5 tackles for loss.
Turning point: The second half of the LSU game changed the complexion of the Gamecocks' season. They had the lead at halftime. The Williams-Brice Stadium crowd was going crazy, and it looked like South Carolina was on its way to a sixth straight victory. But it all fizzled in the second half in a 24-17 loss that saw the Gamecocks held to minus-7 yards in the fourth quarter.
What's next: The Gamecocks need to take care of Iowa in the Outback Bowl, or this season will leave a sour taste in the mouth of everybody connected to the program. Several juniors, including tight end Jared Cook, safety Emanuel Cook and Norwood, are considering their NFL draft options. It will also be a crucial offseason for Garcia.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Some leftover residue from Florida's 56-6 annihilation of South Carolina last Saturday:
The Gators have averaged 52 points against the three Top 25 teams they've played this season. Nobody has come within 28 points of them during their six-game winning streak, and the South Carolina game was the fifth straight in which they've scored at least 42 points.
South Carolina All-SEC receiver Kenny McKinley said he hasn't seen anything like the Florida team he saw last Saturday at the Swamp.
"They better win the national championship," McKinley said. "I can't see a team out there that can hang with those guys."
Spurrier said this Florida team was "much better" than the 2006 team that won the national championship.
"They're an awfully good team," Spurrier said. "They've got a collection of players that are maybe the best in the country right now. Too bad we don't have the playoff. If we had the playoff, you could throw Southern Cal in there versus Florida. That would be one I'd like to watch."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
|AP Photo/Mark Humphrey|
|Tim Tebow accounted for five TDs in the Gators' win over Vanderbilt.|
Alabama's hot. Florida may be hotter. How's that for a segue into this week's edition of Hot and Not? We could sit here for days and argue the merits of both teams, and I'm sure it would be a lively debate. But we get to find out who's the best team on the field come Dec. 6 when they meet in the SEC Championship Game. That showdown, a play-in game for the right to play in the BCS National Championship Game if both teams can win the rest of their regular-season games, should take all the debate out of it. Until then, we can still go back and forth.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow: In his last three games, Tebow has accounted for 14 touchdowns (seven passing and seven rushing). His passer rating of 214.5 leads the nation over that time frame, and he hasn't thrown a fourth-quarter incompletion in nearly two months. In Florida's 42-14 fleecing of Vanderbilt last weekend, Tebow had three touchdown passes and two touchdown runs all in the first half. He might not win his second Heisman Trophy, but he has the Gators positioned for the prize he wants most of all -- a national championship.
Alabama receiver Julio Jones: The SEC has several big-time receivers. Florida's Percy Harvin, Georgia's A.J. Green, South Carolina's Kenny McKinley and LSU's Brandon LaFell are all right up there. But there's not a tougher receiver to cover man-on-man in the league than Jones, who has the size, strength, speed and body control to beat any cornerback. It's remarkable to think that he's only a freshman. Or as Larry Munson would say, "My God, a freshman."
Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody: It was obvious Cody wasn't close to 100 percent against LSU. A knee sprain for any player is a difficult injury to come back from in a couple of weeks. But for a 365-pound defensive lineman? Cody looked a bit heavier and a lot slower. Maybe that's because he was freakishly dominant before the knee injury. You wonder how much he'll play this week against Mississippi State. The good news for him is that Alabama has an open date the next week.
Tennessee coaching rumors: The only person who hasn't been connected with the Vols' coaching search is Elvis, and there are some sketchy reports that he was seen playing golf at Tennessee National with Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, Vince Lombardi and Gen. Neyland. They all then hopped a jet and met at Graceland to put the staff together. Sounds like Elvis is going to call plays.
Vanderbilt's passing game: The Commodores have lost four straight, and a big part of their problem is a passing game that doesn't scare anybody. They've averaged just 129.2 yards passing during that skid and thrown seven interceptions. Mackenzi Adams suffered a hip pointer last week against Florida, so Chris Nickson could step back into the starting role against Kentucky.
South Carolina receiver Kenny McKinley: Like a fine wine, McKinley just keeps getting better and better. The senior from Mableton, Ga., had seven catches for 130 yards against Arkansas and broke Sterling Sharpe's school record for career receiving yards. McKinley now has 188 catches for 2,602 yards, both school records.
Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez: It can't be a fun time for Martinez, who's a good coach coaching a bad defense right now. But when things go bad in college football, the coach gets the blame. The Bulldogs have given up 38 or more points in three straight games for only the second time in school history and the first time since ... 1900.
Alabama running back Glen Coffee: If there's a harder running 198-pound back in the country than Coffee, I want to see him. The guy hits it up in there like every carry is his last. Coffee rushed for 126 yards on 26 carries against LSU to become the 13th running back in Alabama history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He now has 1,010 yards on 162 carries, an average of 6.2 yards per carry.
Tennessee's offense: The Vols, in losing 13-7 to Wyoming in a shameful performance, managed to hit another new low. They've now gone three straight games without scoring in double digits, the first time that's happened since 1964. In seven of their 10 games this season, they've scored 14 or fewer points. Where have you gone Peyton Manning, Carl Pickens and Chuck Webb?
Ice, Ice Baby
LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee: He's only a redshirt freshman, so it's unfair to expect Lee to carry too much of the load for the defending national champions. But he also can't keep throwing the ball to the other team. He has 14 interceptions this season and threw four more last weekend in the 27-21 overtime loss to Alabama. Even more damaging, he threw his sixth interception of the season that was returned for a touchdown. LSU coach Les Miles says he's going to play true freshman Jordan Jefferson some this Saturday against Troy. Here's a novel concept: Why not give Jefferson a chance against some of the teams that count?
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Now that we know for sure that Alabama and Florida will play in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 6, let's reward the primetime performers from this past weekend with some helmet stickers:
Rashad Johnson, safety, Alabama: How about Johnson's running skills? On his 54-yard interception return for a touchdown, he showed speed, vision and acceleration. It was his second interception return for a touchdown in as many weeks. Johnson tied a school record with three interceptions against LSU. All three were pivotal plays in the game, too. His first one set up the Tide's first touchdown. He scored the Tide's second touchdown, and his third one ended LSU's possession in overtime.
Tim Tebow, quarterback, Florida: For the second straight week, the Gators' junior quarterback accounted for five touchdowns. Tebow almost made it look too easy against Vanderbilt with three touchdown passes and two touchdown runs. In each of his last three games, he's had two touchdown runs and two touchdown passes. Sounds like Heisman Trophy stuff to me.
Kenny McKinley, receiver, South Carolina: He's fought back from a frustrating hamstring injury earlier this season to solidify his position as one of the Gamecocks' greatest receivers ever. McKinley had seven catches for 130 yards and a touchdown in South Carolina's 34-21 win over Arkansas. In doing so, he passed Sterling Sharpe as South Carolina's career receiving leader.
Demarcus Dobbs, defensive end, Georgia: These aren't the best of times for the Georgia defense, but Dobbs came through during crunch time for the Bulldogs. He intercepted Kentucky quarterback Randall Cobb's screen pass with 46 seconds to play after the Wildcats had driven to the Bulldogs' 13-yard line.
Julio Jones, receiver, Alabama: You can watch football a long time and not see a freshman as good and physically ready to play as Jones. He's oozing talent, but works feverishly on his game. There's not a tougher cover one-on-one in the SEC. Jones finished with seven catches for a season-high 128 yards in the win over LSU and set up the game-winning touchdown in overtime with a nifty 24-yard grab where he showed freakish body control to pull in the ball and then drag the defender to the 1.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Kenny McKinley is one of those guys you could put at any position, into any system and with any coach, and he'd be a star.
In the trade, he's what they call "a football player."
He's not a 4.3 guy in the 40-yard dash. He might be 185 pounds when he's soaking wet, and he played quarterback in high school.
At South Carolina, he's closing in on being the most productive receiver to ever play for the Gamecocks.
McKinley has 173 career catches and broke Sterling Sharpe's record last week. He also holds the school record for most consecutive games with a catch (37) and is just 152 yards away from Sharpe's school record of 2,497 career receiving yards.
"Georgia wanted me to play cornerback," recalled McKinley, who was a dual-threat high school quarterback in Mableton, Ga. "I wanted to stay on the offensive side of the ball. I had committed to South Carolina right before Coach (Steve) Spurrier got here. He looked at my tape and said, 'You can be one heck of a receiver.' Coming from Coach Spurrier, who put all those guys in the league (NFL), I knew I had a chance."
The rest, as they say, is history.
It's been a weird senior season for McKinley, who injured his hamstring in the Vanderbilt loss and missed the next three games. But he's back now, and the Gamecocks (5-2, 2-2 SEC) are playing their best football of the season.
McKinley also has a new quarterback. Redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia, according to McKinley, is the sixth different quarterback he's caught passes from during his South Carolina career.
Welcome to playing receiver for the Head Ball Coach.
But, hey, McKinley's not complaining. He says hooking up with Spurrier has been the best thing to happen to him, particularly when it comes to running routes and finding ways to get open.
"Coach Spurrier turned me into a good player," McKinley said. "I love playing for Coach Spurrier. He brings the best out of you. He's a perfectionist and wants the best out of you. He's just that type of coach. He's passionate about what he does and wants to be a winner. Just being around him has made me a better person and a better player."
The other thing McKinley likes about this team is how some of the younger receivers are developing, which should make it harder for teams to shadow him. Redshirt freshmen Jason Barnes and Joe Hills have each made their presence felt in recent weeks.
McKinley's advice to LSU is not to spend too much time worrying about him.
"We've got a lot of weapons here at South Carolina," said McKinley, who led the SEC last season with 77 catches for 968 yards and also caught nine touchdown passes. "Teams can't double and triple-team me anymore. We've got Jared Cook and playmakers across the board. I can't wait for this game. It's a big-time game against a big-time team. I know our defense will hold their own, and it's time for our offense to hold their own."
McKinley also doesn't downplay what a win at home over LSU would mean for the Gamecocks, who are on a four-game winning streak after a shaky start to the season.
"It would be a great lift for our program," he said. "This is what we need to get over that hump. We're here, but this is what we need to take us over that next level."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Defense continues to take center stage in the SEC, while offense remains hit and miss around the league. Auburn is searching frantically for any offensive continuity. Tennessee is searching frantically for any SEC win, and South Carolina looks like it might be making a move after a key road win at Ole Miss. Here's our "Internal Affairs" look at the conference:
Whittling down the spread: Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville insists that the Tigers are committed to the spread offense and aren't scrapping it in midseason. That said, the Tigers continue to whittle down the playbook in an effort to find something that works for them consistently. They had success in the first quarter against Vanderbilt in their two-tight end run formation, something Arkansas can expect to see more of this Saturday. The Tigers are still going to be in the shotgun a bunch, but look for more power running sets along the way.
Lightening the load: LSU has used a quicker, smaller defensive line at times this season to better be able to get to the quarterback. When the Tigers, who haven't racked up big sack numbers, go to that set, they slide Tyson Jackson inside from end to tackle and bring Rahim Alem into the game at end. With Tim Tebow's penchant for getting out of the pocket and scrambling for yardage, the Tigers may turn to that quicker lineup more than normal Saturday to try and keep him at bay. The Gators also don't have one of those bruising running games where they just keep pounding on you.
McKinley's influence: With star receiver Kenny McKinley back to full health after injuring his hamstring against Vanderbilt on Sept. 4, look for the Gamecocks to take a few more shots down the field this Saturday against Kentucky and look for them to use McKinley as that hybrid player they've been missing. Steve Spurrier even threw out there this week that the Gamecocks might run a few reverses or even fake a few, especially now that McKinley has played some and is back closer to 100 percent. They've yet to run a reverse this season, which is unusual for Spurrier's offenses.
Colquitt's back: Tennessee will welcome back punter Britton Colquitt against Georgia after a five-game suspension stemming from his drunken driving arrest back in the spring. It's no secret the Vols have struggled in the punt game, and Colquitt has the leg to be a weapon and help Tennessee with field position. He'll probably also kick off. The Vols have already had two punts blocked this season, one of those returned for a touchdown by UCLA, and also gave up a punt return for a touchdown to Florida.
Going to the zone: To help eliminate the big play, Mississippi State will likely use All-SEC free safety Derek Pegues as more of a center fielder this week against Vanderbilt. Pegues told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that the Bulldogs were putting in more zone coverages and were going to get away from some of the man coverage with no safety help that has burned them at times this season. Mississippi State has had trouble getting to the quarterback, which has made man coverage even more difficult. The Bulldogs are 10th in the SEC with eight sacks through five games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
For all the talk about South Carolina's quarterbacks, one of the best sights for the Gamecocks' offense was seeing star receiver Kenny McKinley running around in practice on Wednesday.
The All-SEC receiver has not played since injuring his right hamstring against Vanderbilt on Sept. 4. But South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said McKinley will dress this week against the Rebels and is expected to play if he's moving well enough and doing all of the things he needs to do to be effective in the game.
"How much he'll play, we'll just have to wait and see on Saturday," Spurrier said. "But he's going with us and definitely suiting up."
The Gamecocks have struggled to generate any kind of downfield passing attack while McKinley has been out. He's eight catches and 299 yards away from passing Sterling Sharpe as South Carolina's all-time leading receiver.
"Chris Smelley is more experienced and probably takes care of the ball a little bit better than Stephen Garcia," Spurrier said. "Stephen has just played a little bit and is sort of helter skelter out there as far as knowing what to do. But Stephen does give us the ability to run the ball, run out of the pocket and make something happen. We plan on playing both of them and going from there."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
What do you know? South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is talking like he might play two quarterbacks this Saturday against No. 2-ranked Georgia.
The Head Ball Coach said at his weekly press conference that he would name a starter later this week, but that there was a good chance both Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher would play against the Bulldogs. Spurrier said redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia was still not ready and didn't factor into his plans at this point.
Beecher started in the season-opening 34-0 win over North Carolina State, but threw four interceptions and hurt his shoulder. Smelley played the whole way in South Carolina's 24-17 loss to Vanderbilt last Thursday.
"I don't know how else to do it than to get both of them ready," Spurrier said of his two quarterbacks. "Whoever starts the game will have an excellent opportunity to maybe go the distance, and we'll have the other guy ready. Right now, Chris and Tommy are performing sort of evenly. Statistically, Chris is better, but we felt like Tommy potentially can do some things to give us a chance to win the game."
Spurrier said the thing both Smelley and Beecher need to do a better job of is getting rid of the football.
"You're not going to have perfect protection all day," Spurrier said.
With star receiver Kenny McKinley likely out with a pulled hamstring, the Gamecocks will look to several freshmen. Spurrier said redshirt freshmen Joe Hills and Jason Barnes will both get a chance as well as true freshman C.C. Whitlock.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
A look around the conference as we keep the people in Louisiana in our thoughts and prayers. It appears another hurricane could be headed their way:
* LSU wants to play its game this weekend at Tiger Stadium as scheduled, but Hurricane Ike may force the Tigers to move elsewhere. Some of the alternative sites include Texas Stadium, the Georgia Dome and Independence Stadium in Shreveport.
* Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom is more concerned about stopping the run than he is the pass in Auburn's new spread offense.
* David Brandt of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger delves into how the payout game is changing for SEC teams. The smaller schools are wanting more guaranteed money to come to SEC stadiums -- in some cases pushing $1 million -- prompting the schools with smaller budgets in the league to play at venues away from home they never would have in the past.
* Tim Tebow comes to Florida coach Urban Meyer's defense after Miami coach Randy Shannon indirectly questions Meyer's character. Shannon wasn't pleased with Meyer's decision to kick a field goal with 25 seconds remaining and leading by three touchdowns.
* South Carolina star receiver Kenny McKinley isn't expected to play this weekend against Georgia after pulling his hamstring last week against Vanderbilt.
* Arkansas might have struggled to beat Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe in its first two games, but Texas isn't taking the Razorbacks lightly. In fact, Texas coach Mack Brown is just 1-2 against the Hogs.
* The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a great frame-by-frame sequence of Knowshon Moreno's now-famous leap over a Central Michigan defender last week.
* Where's the love for Kentucky? The pollsters aren't taking the Wildcats seriously, and Rich Brooks doesn't understand why.
* Tennessee wants to move quarterback Jonathan Crompton out of the pocket more as the Vols go forward this season. They didn't roll him out much in the season-opening loss to UCLA.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- South Carolina is 6-for-6 this season. The Gamecocks have played six quarters and have now thrown six interceptions.
Chris Smelley added to the total with two picks in the first half Thursday, as the Gamecocks managed to stagger into halftime with a 10-3 lead over Vanderbilt.
Smelley, taking over for Tommy Beecher as the Gamecocks' starter, never really found a rhythm. And a couple of his passes that weren't intercepted were dangerous throws.
Vanderbilt missed a great chance to tie the game after Darlron Spead intercepted a Smelley pass over the middle and returned it 41 yards to the South Carolina 30. The Commodores moved inside the 5, but had to kick a short field goal.
The South Carolina defense has smothered Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson, who has 18 yards rushing at the half. Nickson totaled a career-high 166 last week.
Even though the Commodores are hanging around, they likely will need to score on defense or special teams to win this game. They just haven't been able to dent the South Carolina defense.
The Gamecocks will be short-handed in the second half. Star receiver Kenny McKinley watched the second quarter in street clothes from the sideline after suffering what South Carolina officials said was a right leg injury. It looked like it might be a hamstring, because he was icing it.
|Chris Livingston/Icon SMI||Ronald Martinez/Getty Images|
|Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno top a list of talented SEC offensive players.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
I'll be taking the rest of this week off to gear up for the unofficial start of the SEC season next week. The SEC Media Days are scheduled for July 23-25 in Birmingham, and I'll be there with wall-to-wall coverage all three days.
But to get us through the rest of this week, I've put together a package on the "Best of the SEC," which I'm sure won't create any debate, second-guessing or lively conversation.
We'll start today by ranking the 10 best offensive players in the SEC. Check back on Tuesday for the 10 best defensive players. We'll rank the 10 most underrated players on Wednesday, the 10 most likely breakout players on Thursday and the 10 best impact newcomers on Friday.
Let me hear who we've left off, who's ranked too high or too low and who's ranked about where they should be.
In a conference as talented as the SEC, it's almost impossible to pick just 10 players for each of these lists. But here goes:
1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida: The first sophomore in history to win the Heisman Trophy and the only player in NCAA history to rush for and pass for 20 touchdowns in the same season. And, no, he doesn't wear a cape.
2. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia: Joined exclusive company last season with 1,334 rushing yards. The only SEC freshmen to rush for more were Herschel Walker, Emmitt Smith and Jamal Lewis.
3. Percy Harvin: WR, Florida: Keep an eye on him, because he might line up anywhere. The SEC's most versatile weapon, Harvin has averaged nearly 10 yards per carry and 15 yards per reception.
4. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama: A starter from the day he stepped foot on campus, Smith is the prototypical left tackle and the most devastating blocker in a league ripe with great blockers.
5. Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss: Took a long look at turning pro following his junior season. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Oher has gained upper-body strength and will be even better in 2008.
6. Jonathan Luigs, C, Arkansas: One of the most complete offensive linemen in the country, Luigs won the Remington Trophy last season as the most outstanding center in college football.
7. Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia: He doesn't wow you over with eye-popping statistics, but the big Texan can make all of the throws and has the kind of physical tools you can't teach.
8. Kenny McKinley, WR, South Carolina: If Harvin's the SEC's best receiver, McKinley's not too far behind. He led the league in receptions (77) and receiving yards per game (80.7) last season.
9. Arian Foster, RB, Tennessee: His total of 1,650 all-purpose yards last season was the second best mark in school history. Has the size, vision and pass-catching skills to hurt teams a variety of different ways.
10. Cornelius Ingram, TE, Florida: Came to Florida as a quarterback. Ingram caught seven touchdown passes a year ago. If this physical specimen takes his blocking to another level, look out.
In closing: I could have easily picked a few more offensive linemen for this list. The SEC is stacked with NFL-caliber offensive linemen for 2008. And if Harvin is 100 percent healthy after coming back from heel surgery, he gets my nod as the best playmaker in the league.