SEC: Kirby Smart

SEC viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
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What more could you want to finish the regular season?

There are games with playoff implications, division implications and bowl implications to choose from. There's even a Friday afternoon game to get you through to the weekend.

The SEC's regular season has been crazy so far. Now it's time to see whether it ends with a flourish.

Friday, Nov. 28

2:30 p.m.

Arkansas at No. 17 Missouri, CBS: All right, Missouri, you've been doubted all season. You've been knocked as soft on defense and woefully inconsistent on offense. You were laughed out of the room when you lost to Indiana. But here you are a win away from claiming the Eastern Division crown for a second straight season. The only thing standing in your way is Arkansas, which has won back-to-back SEC games in convincing fashion.

Saturday, Nov. 29

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsCan South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier notch his sixth straight win over Clemson?
Noon

Kentucky at No. 22 Louisville, ESPN2: If Mark Stoops' Kentucky Wildcats are going to reach a bowl game ahead of schedule, it's not going to be easy. It would mean breaking a five-game losing streak on the road at Louisville, which would easily be their most impressive win of the season. The problem is the Cardinals boast one of the best defenses in the country.

South Carolina at No. 21 Clemson, ESPN: There's not a lot on the line for either team other than pride, which is good because there's plenty of it in this rivalry. The back-and-forth between Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney the past few years has been worth the price of admission, and on Saturday we'll find out whether the Head Ball Coach can extend his winning streak over Clemson and Swinney to six games.

No. 16 Georgia Tech at No. 9 Georgia, SEC Network: If Missouri somehow loses to Arkansas and gives Georgia the Eastern Division title, that's not the end of the story. Because if the Bulldogs want to somehow sneak back into the playoff conversation, it will take more than backing into Atlanta. It will take beating Georgia Tech convincingly, and that won't be easy seeing as the Yellow Jackets average 327.9 yards per game rushing and have won four games in a row.

3:30 p.m.

No. 4 Mississippi State at No. 19 Ole Miss, CBS: Talk about two teams going in opposite directions. On the one hand, there's Ole Miss, which fell deeper into the dumps last week by losing at Arkansas 30-0. On the other hand, there's Mississippi State, which redeemed itself after a tough loss at Alabama by beating Vanderbilt 51-0. With the Bulldogs playing for a spot in the playoff and the Rebs playing for pride, it's clear which team has the greater inspiration to win the Egg Bowl.

Florida at No. 3 Florida State, ESPN: Speaking of inspiration, it will be interesting to see how Florida comes out for coach Will Muschamp's final time leading the Gators. Will his end be Ron Zookian? Or will it be one final, unceremonious note? While that's unclear, one thing is certain: Florida State likes to make things interesting. The Seminoles have struggled against teams they were supposed to blow out before. Could we be looking at a repeat?

4 p.m.

Tennessee at Vanderbilt, SEC Network: Not a lot of people thought Tennessee would make a bowl game this year. Not with a schedule that included tough nonconference games against Utah State, Arkansas State and Oklahoma. But lo and behold, the Vols are one game away from bowl eligibility, and the only opponent left is Vanderbilt. Easy, right? It should be, seeing as the Commodores haven't won an SEC game all season.


7:45 p.m.

No. 15 Auburn at No. 1 Alabama, ESPN: The best Auburn can hope for is to play the role of spoiler, to crush Alabama's dreams of an SEC title and a playoff berth with one final regular-season swing. And in a rivalry as intense as the Iron Bowl, that might be enough. But the fact of the matter is Auburn just isn't playing good football these days. Alabama has won huge games against LSU and Mississippi State in recent weeks, while Auburn has fallen woefully flat with losses to Texas A&M and Georgia.
Kirby SmartStacy Revere/Getty ImagesKirby Smart knows his Alabama defense must improve against uptempo offenses.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Lane Kiffin is beginning to understand. He referenced the word “process” -- Nick Saban’s beloved “process” -- twice during a 15-minute news conference on Sunday. And maybe more importantly, he seemed to understand the role of assistants under Saban, which is to be seen and not heard.

Kirby Smart has been familiar with “the process” for quite some time now. He practically grew up in it, cutting his teeth under Saban for the past nine seasons at LSU, the Miami Dolphins and Alabama. In that time he has never ruffled feathers, never said much of anything to make headlines. Every year he has quietly gone about the business of molding one of the best defenses in college football.

This season, however, could be his most challenging.

Alabama lost its leader at middle linebacker in C.J. Mosley; three-quarters of the secondary is gone, including first-round draft pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix; and veterans Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan will be missed on the defensive line. With such little experience and the question of solving uptempo offenses still perplexing the Alabama brain trust, there’s a lot to watch for.

“In terms of the defense this year, really excited about the group that we’ve got to work with,” Smart said at the outset of media day Sunday. “They’re full of energy, a lot of young guys out there competing. Obviously we’ve got to show some improvement, especially after the last two games last year.”

Those last two games against Auburn and Oklahoma were the tipping point. There were holes to be found before then, but you had to look long and hard to find them. Auburn, however, put the Tide’s defensive blemishes under a microscope, pushing the pace and outflanking the defense to the tune of 296 yards rushing. And to prove that was no fluke, Oklahoma went uptempo and exploited the secondary for 429 yards through the air, handing Alabama back-to-back losses to end the season for the first time since 2008.

To spin that into a positive, Smart said there “seems to be a little bit of a chip-on-their-shoulder type attitude,” and despite being a young defense, he sees “more depth at a lot of positions we didn’t have last year.”

“That’s key in college football these days -- having depth, playing more players, keeping guys fresh,” he said.

It’s also key to defending uptempo offenses, where shuffling in fresh legs is vital to keep up with the pace of play. Alabama looked a step slow against Auburn in the fourth quarter, and it meant the end to a perfect season and a shot at a third straight national championship.

“It’s definitely challenging because you don’t face that kind of offense daily,” Smart said. “It’s not really who we are offensively, so you spend time, obviously simulating that in different ways, whether it’s the scout team or your offense. But you can never simulate it as good as a hurry-up team that traditionally does this well.”

We won’t know whether Smart and Saban have the answers against uptempo offenses until we see how the season unfolds. But even this early into fall camp, we can glimpse where the strengths of Alabama’s defenses lie. And despite Saban’s best efforts to tamp down the hype machine this spring, it’s up front where 320-pound sophomore A’Shawn Robinson anchors the line.

“You’re sitting there with [Dalvin Tomlinson] back, [D.J. Pettway] back ... then this group of freshmen that just got here," Smart said, referencing a rookie class that includes Da'Shawn Hand, Joshua Frazier, Johnny Dwight and O.J. Smith. "So if those guys grow and continue to get better, that can be the strength of the team.

“We have more guys playing winning football at that position than we had last year.”

Inside linebacker is one spot where Alabama could use more depth. Outside of Trey DePriest, Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster, there aren’t many true inside linebackers with experience on the roster. That means playing more rookies and cross-training outside linebackers to shift inside, Smart said.

But the real concern for Alabama isn’t the front seven. The back end of the defense is still a lingering question mark. Both starting corners must be replaced, and there’s no word yet on who will settle in at safety opposite Landon Collins.

Smart called it a “unique situation” at safety in that he lost two players to the draft, yet he has some experience returning in Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry, his two “older statesmen.” Then there’s Geno Smith, who transitioned from corner to safety last season and is “just starting to feel comfortable there.”

“At corner, we’ve got some of the same guys back from last year,” Smart said. “We’ve also got some big, young, new guys. So it’s hard to tell right now. They’ve got good athletic ability, and we hope to be better at that position.”

Is Smart happy with his depth at corner?

“You talk about depth, you’ve got what you’ve got,” he said, making reference to Bradley Sylve starting against Kentucky and Cyrus Jones’ time in relief of the oft-injured Deion Belue. “I can’t say I’m happy or disappointed."

If Eddie Jackson can come back from injury, he could be a big boost. Despite tearing his ACL this spring, he has been able to participate in fall camp, albeit while wearing a non-contact jersey.

Then there’s Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey, Alabama’s pair of five-star prospects from the 2014 class. Both are on campus and expected to contribute right away.

“As far as Tony, he’s done a great job so far; you know he enrolled mid-year,” Smart said. “He’s worked really hard. He’s very conscientious. He’s always up here watching football. He’s a little bit of a football junkie. That makes him a better player because he really competes.”

If you were looking for Smart to tip his hand and say Brown would start, you were left somewhat disappointed. In fact, there wasn’t much of anything Alabama’s veteran defensive coordinator would commit to, other than the usual enthusiasm about his group moving forward.

Smart's defense may be better this season. It may answer all those questions at linebacker and cornerback and safety, and return Alabama to its status as the best in college football. But it’s not for Smart to say. He just works the process and sees what happens.

SEC's lunch links

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
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The World Cup run by the USMNT is over, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the performance by goalkeeper Tim Howard on Tuesday. His 16 saves were a World Cup record, and there’s now talk that he could be the greatest goalie in history. Personally, I think he would’ve made a great safety, but clearly he made the right choice with soccer.



No, thank you Tim Howard. Now on to Wednesday’s lunch links.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
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The USMNT is back in action on Tuesday against Belgium. Winner moves on to the quarterfinals. Loser goes home. Are you ready? Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is ready.

Watch the game here: United States vs Belgium, 4 p.m. ET

In the meantime, get your American football fix in with Tuesday’s SEC lunch links.

Top SEC recruiters 

June, 9, 2014
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It’s next to impossible to limit the list of top recruiters in the SEC to just five, but that was the assignment here. It’s no surprise to see an Alabama assistant at the top of the list with the recent run the Crimson Tide have been on, but those who follow it closely enough also know there’s some tremendous recruiters across the state at Auburn.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Perry isn’t doing anything to temper expectations for the Alabama secondary. The senior safety missed all but the first two games last season, and what he saw from the sidelines clearly didn’t suit him. Back from injury, he’s looking for a marked improvement.

“I think we’re going to be a better secondary this year,” Perry told reporters late last week. “The world should be ready to see more of the old UA-style secondary.”

Last fall's results fell short of the typical Alabama standard. Though the numbers were far from horrific in the national rankings -- seventh in rushing yards per game, 11th in passing yards per game, fourth in touchdowns allowed -- the secondary was nonetheless vulnerable. Perry and fellow safety Vinnie Sunseri suffered season-ending injuries, starting cornerback Deion Belue wasn’t always 100 percent, and the cornerback spot opposite him was never truly settled as John Fulton, Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson, Maurice Smith and Bradley Sylve all unsuccessfully tried to lock down the position.

[+] EnlargeNick Perry
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsDespite their youth and inexperience, Nick Perry believes Alabama's secondary is ready for a return to glory.
Alabama’s defense surrendered its highest Raw QBR score (38.1) since 2007 -- by comparison, that number averaged out to 22.5 from 2009-12. The Tide defense was ranked 60th nationally in the percentage of pass completions gaining 10 yards or more (46.2).

Still, Perry is confident this season will be different, even though that flies in the face of some noticeable obstacles. For one, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix left early for the NFL. Along with Belue and Sunseri, three-fourths of last season’s secondary is gone. For another, Jackson tore his ACL on Saturday and will be out for several months, removing a promising talent from the equation. Barring an Adrian Peterson-like comeback, it’s hard to envision the sophomore playing this season.

Those moves ultimately leave more questions than answers for Alabama's personnel. But it’s not the personnel that has Perry hopeful. It’s the coaching.

“Having Kirby [Smart] and [Nick] Saban in the same room coaching the same position is a dream come true for any defensive back,” he said.

Perry called the two “geniuses at their position.” He said that Smart is already “putting his new spin on things.”

“It’s tremendous,” said fellow safety Landon Collins. “[Smart] just coaches us at a different level, trying to get us to understand it from his point of view because he played the position, and he knows what’s going on. It’s his defense. So basically it’s a tremendous thing for us safeties because he sits down and goes step-by-step on what we need to do and what will make us a better player.”

Saban has long worked with cornerbacks during practice, but this spring, Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator, moved from coaching linebackers to safeties in order to clear the way for Kevin Steele’s return.

“I’ve always liked it when Kirby coaches the secondary,” Saban explained. “I think it's really hard for one guy to coach the secondary right now. I’m really sort of his [graduate assistant]. He's kind of working with the safeties and the whole group and then when we break down, I kind of try to work with the corners a little bit.

“I thought last year, we didn't play with enough consistency back there. We had a lot of different rotating parts, different starters, different corners starting. We've got to come up with some guys that can develop some consistency in performance.”

As with most springs, the most talked-about players are the true freshmen. Five-star cornerback Tony Brown and four-star safety Laurence 'Hootie' Jones have been on campus since January, participating in the offseason conditioning program and spring practice. To Perry’s eye, they haven’t disappointed.

“Those guys have a bright future,” he said. “They’re picking up the defense pretty good, faster than I’ve seen any freshman pick it up. They came in early, and they’re ready to work.”

Perry was kind enough to break down each players’ strengths.

“Tony is a great competitor. He’s fast. He’s everything you want in a corner,” he said. “Hootie is your prototypical safety, you know. He’s big. He has long arms. He has speed.

“Expect those guys to make a couple of plays this year.”

In order to return to the Alabama secondary of old, they’ll need to.

Perry is one of the few familiar faces still around. It’s up to this season’s crop of players to re-establish the standard.

SEC's lunch links

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
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Half of the SEC teams have started officially-sanctioned football-related activities with Missouri and Vanderbilt opening spring practice on Tuesday. There's a lot going on.

Offseason spotlight: Alabama

February, 28, 2014
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He didn't begin last season as a starter, and injuries ultimately made him flip between positions in the Alabama secondary. But this player will be a fixture for the Crimson Tide in 2014 from Day 1 and will be a key reason whether the defense as a whole will be successful again:

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins
AP Photo/Skip MartinLandon Collins will need to be a leader this season for Alabama.
Spotlight: Safety Landon Collins, 6-foot, 215 pounds, junior

2013 summary: It took Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's suspension for Collins to start his first career game at Alabama, and it wasn't even at his natural position. Still, he helped hold up the back end of the defense at free safety until Clinton-Dix's return two games later. And when Vinnie Sunseri was lost for the season against Arkansas, Collins moved comfortably back into his natural spot at strong safety, where he was able to play closer to the line of scrimmage and play with more assertiveness. Despite the moving back and forth, he was a standout on defense with the second-most tackles on the team (70). He also had the most pass breakups (6) and tied for the most interceptions (2).

The skinny: The back end of Alabama's defense had its fair share of troubles in 2013, highlighted by the slew of points and big plays it allowed against Auburn and Oklahoma to end the season. But even before those two deflating losses, Mississippi State's offense had success through the air, as did LSU and Texas A&M. And while the safety position wasn't the most to blame for the Tide's woes on defense -- cornerback was, as Deion Belue battled injuries and the starting spot opposite him was a revolving door -- it will be a focal point in the coming season as both Sunseri and Clinton-Dix have moved on to the NFL. Combined with what could be another shaky set of inexperienced corners in 2014, and the onus falls to a player like Collins to hold up the secondary as a whole. He's never had to be a leader, but this season he'll have to be. Being a talented playmaker won't be enough to make Alabama's defense better. A former five-star recruit, Collins must become an anchor in the mode of Mark Barron, calling out all the plays and making all the necessary checks to get his teammates in the right position to succeed. Luckily for Collins, he'll be attached at the hip with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who will make the transition from coaching inside linebackers to coaching the secondary. And if Smart's tutelage isn't enough, he'll have the head coach, Nick Saban, constantly looking over the secondary as the de facto cornerbacks coach.

Past spotlights:
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The shakeup on Nick Saban's staff at Alabama will continue as Greg Brown is expected to step down as defensive backs coach to clear the way for Kevin Steele to transition from his role as director of player personnel to an on-field position coaching linebackers, sources told ESPN.

Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will shift from coaching linebackers to the secondary to make way for Steele's move. Steele, according to ESPN, was offered the Louisville defensive coordinator job but turned it down to remain with Saban in Tuscaloosa.

The latest staff shakeup comes on the heels of Saban hiring Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator and Bo Davis as defensive line coach. Doug Nussmeier left after two seasons to lead Michigan's offense and Chris Rumph left after three seasons to coach Texas' defensive line.

Brown spent one season with the Tide after two years as Colorado's defensive coordinator. Like Saban, he had a wealth of NFL experience with 15 years coaching in the league.

Steele joined Alabama's support staff in 2013, directing the Tide's recruiting efforts. But Steele made his career as an on-the-field coach, spending time as a defensive coordinator at Clemson and Alabama and three seasons as head coach at Baylor from 1999-2002.

By moving to coach the secondary, where Smart has worked before, Smart will have a chance to work more hands on with a unit that had its struggles in 2013.

Prior to the Sugar Bowl, Smart lamented Alabama's inconsistency at cornerback.

"We are not used to that," he said. "We've kind of always had one key guy with all the first -round, second-round corners we've had, we've always had a staple guy there, then kind of an understudy that was the other one who was an up-and-coming corner. Hasn't been that way this year. It's been frustrating."

Smart will have plenty of young talent to develop, though, as Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith both showed promise in 2013, playing significant snaps as freshman. Alabama also welcomed in five-star cornerback Tony Brown as an early enrollee this month.

ESPN's Chris Low contributed to this report.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's time to face facts, Alabama.

It's been a few days since the debacle on The Plains and nothing is going to take the sting away from watching Chris Davis outrun the field goal team for the game-winning touchdown as time expired. The shock is still wearing off. Auburn is moving on to the SEC Championship Game and you're probably still questioning whether Nick Saban should have tried that long field goal from Adam Griffith, or better yet, whether he should have kicked it on fourth-and-one a few drives earlier. Maybe you're still reeling over Amari Cooper's dropped touchdown or the false start that negated what would have been a made field goal from Cade Foster.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
AP Photo/Butch DillNick Marshall had a big day for Auburn against the Alabama defense.
Agonize over the what-ifs all you want. That's what these times are for. It will be a while until we know what bowl game Alabama will go to, and even then we'll come back to Saturday's Iron Bowl as the turning point in the season. But recognize that the most disturbing thing about Alabama's 34-28 loss to Auburn wasn't the coaching decisions, missed field goals or dropped passes. Those can be remedied. Those lessons can be learned.

Instead, what's most troubling was how Saban and Kirby Smart's defense once again failed to stop a spread, uptempo offense. Tre Mason ran inside and outside the tackles at will and Nick Marshall was able to evade the pass rush too easily. After that and what we saw earlier this season from Texas A&M, isn't it time to come to grips with the fact that Alabama needs to do something to slow down these types of attacks?

Gus Malzahn might indeed be the best offensive play-caller in the country. And, yes, Johnny Manziel is a freak of nature and arguably worthy of a second straight Heisman Trophy. Sometimes these things can't be helped. But the body of evidence is growing to suggest that Alabama has a real problem on its hands.

It's not like Saban and Smart didn't know what they were getting into. We heard all during the offseason how they were working to slow down Johnny Football and adjust to the tempo of no-huddle schemes. Alabama is nothing if not familiar with the work of Malzahn. There was more than enough tape from his time at Auburn and Arkansas State to know the zone-read was going to be a focal point of the game. Nothing they saw from either Auburn or Texas A&M was unfamiliar, except maybe the remarkable production their offenses gained on what's supposedly the best defense in college football.

"Their running game has had a lot of success against everybody all year long," Saban said after the loss at Auburn. "They have a very difficult offense to defend. Like I said, it takes a lot of discipline."

But discipline is what Saban's defenses have been known for all along. They don't go for the sack or the big play. Players are told to maintain their gaps and let the scheme work its magic. More often than not it does. Not against Auburn, though, which rushed for 296 yards, the most Alabama has given up since 2011. Auburn averaged 4.2 yards before contact on designed rushes, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Alabama entered Saturday averaging an SEC-best 1.5 yards before contact per rush.

[+] EnlargeKirby Smart
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Kirby Smart have watched the Tide struggle with uptempo offenses.
"There were times when we did not defend the plays properly," Saban explained. "… We did not close and do the things we were supposed to do and they hit us for a couple of big runs.

"You certainly have to stop the run a little better than we did today to have a chance to beat a team like this."

Mason's 164 yards rushing was the third most of any player against Alabama in the last decade. Marshall's 99 yards on the ground was the most allowed by a quarterback in the Saban era. The zone-read Mason and Marshall ran accounted for 270 yards on 38 attempts. That 7.1 yards per carry average was nearly double what Alabama entered the game allowing on zone-read plays (3.4).

Said veteran linebacker C.J. Mosley: "On some plays we messed up on our technique and [Marshall] made us pay, and some plays he made on his own."

In short, Alabama didn't have an answer for Auburn, just as it didn't against Texas A&M earlier this season.

Lost in the Alabama's sprint toward an undefeated season was how the defense gave up a school-record 628 yards of offense that day in September. Manziel threw for 464 yards, many of which came on plays where he scrambled to buy time for his receivers. He ran for 98 more yards of his own. Mike Evans abused Alabama's cornerbacks to the tune of 279 yards receiving, the most in Texas A&M's history and the most the Tide had allowed since 2001. When the Aggies got on a roll, they couldn't be stopped.

Making sense of what Texas A&M and Auburn did to Alabama's defense won't be easy, but it's a job that must be done. If not, repeat performances will come next year and the year after that.

If Alabama wants to retain the mantle of the best defense in college football, it has work to do. Saban and Smart have shown they're some of the top minds in the game, but now maybe more than ever they have to prove it.

Best SEC recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

It's no secret that Southeastern Conference has been the top conference in the country as far as recruiting over the last several years. The league currently has six teams ranked in the top 11 of the team recruiting rankings. Here's a look at the top 10 recruiters around the ultra-competitive conference.

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SEC Friday mailbag: Week 4

September, 20, 2013
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From Jospeh Bowker (@Joe_Bowker10): What are the chances that a one-loss SEC champion gets into the national championship game this year?

It all depends on the rest of college football. There will be plenty of possible candidates -- Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, the loser of the Alabama-LSU game -- but it will be extremely difficult to surpass the likes of Clemson, Ohio State, Oregon or Stanford if any of those teams are still undefeated at the end of the season. The most likely candidate right now is Georgia, which suffered a loss in the opener. If the Bulldogs can run the table and defeat the winner of the West in the SEC title game, it would be hard to keep them out of the national championship. Still, they would need a few things to fall their way, similar to Alabama a year ago.




From Daniel Badger (@badger_daniel): Both Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn are 3-0. Which coach ends up having a better first year at season’s end?

Both coaches have looked impressive in their respective debuts, specifically Bielema whom many doubted coming in. But based on schedules, Malzahn will likely have a better year. Arkansas has to travel to Rutgers on Saturday, and from there the Hogs play five of their next six games against ranked opponents. The only team not in the top 25 is Auburn, which travels to Fayetteville on Nov. 2. It’s a brutal stretch for the Razorbacks, who have to finish the year in Death Valley against LSU. It wouldn’t shock me if Bielema won the head-to-head battle against Malzahn, but the Tigers finish with the better record.




From John Keahey (@jkeahey): Was it that much improvement by Alabama’s offensive line or was Texas A&M’s defensive line just that bad?

It’s too early to say, but I would lean more towards Texas A&M’s defensive line being that bad. They struggled against the likes of Rice and Sam Houston State in the first two games, and it only got worse against Alabama. Give the Tide credit. It was a hostile environment, and they overcame adverity to outscore the Aggies, but the offensive line will still need to improve before the Ole Miss game next weekend and more importantly before LSU comes to town in November. It’s not a lack of talent for Alabama. It’s more of a chemistry issue, and the more the line plays together, the better the unit will become. As for Texas A&M, we’ll know more about the defensive front when it plays at Arkansas next weekend.




From Jared Moore (@TheJaredMoore): Do you think Ole Miss can get more than eight regular season wins?

The Rebels are certainly off to a great start, but three of their next four games are against top-10 teams, and sandwiched in between is a road test at Auburn. They’d be happy to come out of that stretch with two wins. However, the second half of the schedule is much easier. They play six straight home games, including two against Idaho and Troy, and they finish the year at Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. There’s a real possibility they win their final five games, which would put them right at eight even if they lose their next four. They’re not quite there with Alabama or LSU, but they can definitely get to eight or possibly nine wins.




From Tennessee Sports (@SportsNewsTN): What other coaches are the Texas Longhorns pursuing, perhaps in the SEC, Pac-12 or their own conference?

The two coaches most likely to get a call are Baylor’s Art Briles and TCU’s Gary Patterson. They have Texas ties and have been very successful at their respective programs. However, Briles is 57 years old, and Patterson might not be a big enough name for the Longhorns. If they strike out on Nick Saban as expected, Texas could request an interview with UA defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Saban’s right-hand man. He doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but his name always seems to come up for big jobs. Keep an eye on Will Muschamp, too. He was orginally named the successor to Mack Brown, but that fell apart when he left for Florida. Would he leave Florida to go back to Texas?

SEC predictions: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
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After two weeks, we're all tied up. As we've learned by watching the SEC Eastern Division race in recent seasons, no lead is safe.

After Chris correctly picked Georgia to beat South Carolina and I decided to stay on the Jadeveon Clowney train, we enter the weekend with identical 22-3 (.880) records. We both missed on Florida losing to Miami (Fla.).

It's a new week, and Saturday will serve as a chance for one of us to take the outright lead. Chris has been so giddy since watching the Dawgs take care of business against South Carolina. Sources told me that he was even spotted hanging with Drake and shooting hoops with LeBron. It makes me wonder how serious he is about the season. He's impressed with the past, but has he learned anything new since Saturday?

His Twitter has been pretty active the past couple of weeks …

I won't let Chris' win get to me. Champions don't do that. Champions just make adjustments and worry about what they can control. I like to call it my own process.

Meeko (the famous SEC blog cat) and I will be in the war room for the rest of the season meticulously dissecting every game from here on out.

Chris can have his famous friends and twit pics. I'll stick to winning.

Let's get to the picks:

SOUTHERN MISS at ARKANSAS

Edward Aschoff: The Razorbacks have run the ball better than anyone else in the SEC, and they have the league's leading rusher in freshman Alex Collins. Southern Miss ranks 82nd nationally in rushing defense, so expect another big game on the ground from the Hogs. … Arkansas 41, Southern Miss 14

Chris Low: Arkansas leads the SEC in rushing with an average of 312.5 yards per game. Southern Miss gave up 285 yards on the ground last week in a 56-13 loss to Nebraska. It all adds up to a 15th straight loss for the Golden Eagles. … Arkansas 37, Southern Miss 17

LOUISVILLE at KENTUCKY

Aschoff: After notching his first win at Kentucky, Mark Stoops now has to play BCS title contender Louisville -- and Teddy Bridgewater. Being at home should make things interesting early, but the Cardinals just have too much talent across the board. … Louisville 35, Kentucky 14

Low: Kentucky was unable to slow down Western Kentucky in the opener. Now, the Wildcats have to deal with Bridgewater and the Cardinals. Bridgewater might not wave off the punt team this week, but he will lead Louisville to its third straight win in the series. … Louisville 41, Kentucky 24

TENNESSEE at OREGON

Aschoff: The Vols are riding high as they head out West. But having to make a cross-country trip for what will feel like an early game against one of the nation's best teams will bring the Vols back down to earth before SEC play begins. … Oregon 45, Tennessee 17

Low: Butch Jones has them excited in Big Orange Country, and there’s a lot to like about what he’s done with that program. But reality sets in this week. The only drama in Eugene, Ore., will be whether or not the Vols can hold Oregon under 50. … Oregon 47, Tennessee 17

KENT STATE at LSU

Aschoff: The Tigers enter as a team still taking a backseat to Alabama and Texas A&M. That will probably be the case coming out of the weekend, too, but at least LSU won't be as beat up as the other guys. … LSU 45, Kent State 10

Low: LSU’s offense looks as potent as it has in some time, particularly in the passing game. The Tigers will cruise for a second straight week at home over outmanned Kent State, and then it’s on to Auburn and Georgia in back-to-back weeks. … LSU 48, Kent State 10

MISSISSIPPI STATE at AUBURN

Aschoff: We know how important conference openers are, and this game has been huge for both teams in recent seasons. A loss for either could serve as an emotional setback. Auburn's home field and it's entertaining running game will push the Tigers through in the fourth quarter. … Auburn 27, Mississippi State 20

Low: It’s hard to envision the loser of this game going on to have a successful season, which makes it a critical SEC opener for both teams. The Bulldogs have been solid on defense, but they don’t have enough juice on offense right now to go into Jordan-Hare Stadium and win. … Auburn 31, Mississippi State 20

VANDERBILT at SOUTH CAROLINA

Aschoff: With South Carolina's defense having struggled mightily last week and Vandy having some explosive elements to its offense, this one should be entertaining. There can't be excuses for Clowney, and I think he'll make sure of that Saturday. … South Carolina 30, Vanderbilt 21

Low: The Gamecocks can’t afford any more hiccups if they want to stay in the SEC championship hunt. They’ve had their struggles in recent seasons with Vanderbilt, too. The Commodores are painfully close to being unbeaten, but their drought against nationally ranked teams will extend to 14 straight games. … South Carolina 28, Vanderbilt 21

OLE MISS at TEXAS

Aschoff: Last season, Texas ran the Rebels out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. This season, Ole Miss heads to Austin, Texas, with a ton of confidence, while Texas players are licking their, uh, horns after an embarrassing loss to BYU. The Longhorns couldn't stop the run last week, and they won't do a very good job this week, either. … Ole Miss 35, Texas 31

Low: Texas would seem to be in disarray with Mack Brown having fired his defensive coordinator this week. Plus, Ole Miss has plenty of motivation after getting blown out at home last season by the Longhorns. But Texas is still Texas, and the Longhorns will find a way to salvage a little pride at home. … Texas 34, Ole Miss 30

ALABAMA at TEXAS A&M

Aschoff: It's the game of games. The contest to end all contests. Nick Saban versus Kevin Sumlin. Johnny Manziel versus AJ McCarron. The Aggies pulled the unthinkable last season, but Alabama has been steaming over that game for almost a year now. Johnny Football has shown improvement as a passer and he'll still be the slipperiest player on the field Saturday, but picking against Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart facing a team that bested them last season just sounds silly. … Alabama 31, Texas A&M 23

Low: Johnny Football ain’t talking this week. The Aggies prefer that he do all of his talking on the field (with his play). These two teams played a classic last November in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and it should again be a ball of fun. But the Tide will prevail thanks to keeping the ball away from Manziel and that Texas A&M offense and wearing down an Aggies defense that has been shaky. … Alabama 38, Texas A&M 28

Countdown to SEC kickoff: 6 days

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
9:00
AM ET
Rumor has it that they play a little defense in the SEC.

Six of the seven teams winning national championships during the SEC's title streak have finished in the top 6 nationally in either total defense or scoring defense. The only one that didn't was Auburn in 2010.

Alabama finished first nationally in total defense and scoring defense each of the last two seasons on its way to winning back-to-back national championships, which leads us to our number of the day as we get ever so closer to the start of the 2013 season: 3.
Only three times in the last 28 games has Alabama's defense allowed more than 17 points, which stretches back to the 49-7 win over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl at the end of the 2010 season. In 16 of those 28 games, the Crimson Tide allowed fewer than 10 points, and they've gone 34 straight games without allowing anybody to score 30 or more points against them. The last time that happened was midway through the 2010 season in a 35-21 loss to South Carolina in Columbia. It's true that this has a chance to be one of the most explosive offenses the Crimson Tide have put on the field under Nick Saban as they shoot for their third consecutive national championship, but defense has and always will be the cornerstone of this program. That's not going to change this season. Even with the loss of four players on defense to the NFL draft, Alabama still had nine defensive players named Thursday to the coaches' preseason All-SEC first, second or third teams. As defensive coordinator Kirby Smart noted a few weeks ago, there's a standard on defense at Alabama that never wavers. Really, all you need to know about that standard is that Smart said last year's defense was "not exactly up to par" to the other defenses the Tide have fielded in the Saban era. That's despite finishing first nationally in total defense, first in scoring defense, first in rushing defense and second in passing defense. What's still fresh on Smart's mind -- and Saban's mind -- are the 21 points the Alabama defense yielded to Georgia in a narrow escape in the SEC championship game (one of the Dawgs' touchdowns came on a blocked field goal) and the 29 points allowed to Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel in the November home loss to Texas A&M. "We put in a lot of work to improve on defense," Smart said. The 2011 defense remains the measuring stick under Saban. Nobody scored more than 14 points against the Tide's defense all season. Will this defense be that good? Stay tuned. But if it is, the 2013 season is likely to have a familiar ending to it.

SEC recruiting mailbag

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
11:00
AM ET
It’s time to dip into the SEC recruiting mailbag and answer your questions. Because of the amount of questions we’ve received, we won’t be able to get to all of them today -- but we encourage you to ask again next week by tweeting your questions to @DerekTysonESPN.

@cpage2911: who are the top SEC assistant coaches recruiting wise?

Derek Tyson: As evident by having 10 SEC schools ranked in the top 25 of the Recruiting Nation class rankings, the SEC is full of recruiting savvy coaches. The list is long and full of quality coaches, and I could make a case for a number of SEC coaches, but here's a glance at three coaches who stand out to me this year.

Auburn co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig is responsible for Auburn landing commits from five ESPN 300 members including Tre' Williams, Nicholas Ruffin, Justin Thornton, Kamryn Pettway and Stanton Truitt. Florida defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson is the primary recruiter for four committed ESPN 300 prospects -- Dalvin Cook, Khairi Clark, J.C. Jackson and Duke Dawson. He is also the primary recruiter for ESPN 300 prospects Ermon Lane and Quincy Wilson, who the Gators have a shot of landing on Monday.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart continues to be an outstanding recruiter and has helped the Tide stand firm in the top five of the class rankings. Smart is the primary recruiter for ESPN 300 committed players Kalvaraz Bessent, Stephen Roberts, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Zach Whitley.

@SleeperAthletes: Out of all the #SEC states, which state is most heavily recruited?

DT: As far as sheer numbers, Florida is always one of the most heavily recruited areas in the country. In fact, 17 percent (52) of the prospects ranked in the ESPN 300 are from the state of Florida. Texas is the next state in SEC territory with 34 players on the ESPN 300 followed by Georgia with 29 players.

Louisiana might not have the total number of prospects as Florida, Texas and Georgia, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in quality. Three of the top 10 players in the country including the No. 1 overall prospect, Leonard Fournette, and eight of the top 50 players in the country are from Louisiana.

SECfan: Will an SEC team take home the recruiting championship again?

DT: Five of the top 10 recruiting classes are from the SEC including three -- Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia in the top five. When it's all said and done, though, I believe it will be a battle between Alabama and LSU. Alabama is at No. 2 while LSU is at No. 10, and with several key targets still available LSU could certainly jump to the top.

Louisiana natives and top 10 players including Fournette, Cameron Robinson and Speedy Noil are high on the Tigers. Linebacker Clifton Garrett, wide receivers Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre, safety Laurence Jones and defensive tackle Gerald Willis III are just some of the top prospects considering LSU and the Tigers could end up with a monster class. Alabama, however, is still very much in contention for both Fournette and Robinson which could quickly cement the Tide as the top overall class. Bottom line is, yes, I believe the SEC will land the No. 1 recruiting class for the third straight year.

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