SEC: Marquis Haynes

It all starts up front. So if you’re looking ahead to project which teams will have the best defenses in the SEC next season, look no further than the defensive line. Because if they’re on, the linebackers and secondary will be better off for it.

It’s early, granted, and things could change drastically between now and the start of the season, but in the meantime here are our pre-spring rankings at the position:

1. Alabama: The knock on Nick Saban’s defense has long been that its linemen don't get to the quarterback enough, but last season that changed as they had 10 more sacks than the year before. Though they may lack a true star, the line is strong across the board with future NFL tackles A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed in the middle, along with talented edge-rushers in Jonathan Allen, Da’Shawn Hand and Dalvin Tomlinson.

2. Ole Miss: You could really have the Rebs as co-No. 1, but the issue of depth separated these two units. Nonetheless, coach Hugh Freeze has an embarrassment of riches at the position with future first-round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche as the centerpiece. Mix in ends C.J. Johnson and Marquis Haynes, and you’re looking at a defense that could live in opponents’ backfields.

3. Tennessee: In Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, you’re looking at two of the league’s top five pass-rushers last season. So it’s safe to say that the Vols are pretty well set up front. If the 2015 signing class pays off and Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle make an impact, even better for coach Butch Jones.

4. Florida: Losing Dante Fowler Jr. hurts, but getting Jon Bullard to return to school eased that pain, somewhat. Caleb Brantley, Bryan Cox Jr., Joey Ivie and Alex McCalister are all back as well. If CeCe Jefferson can make an impact as a true freshman and Thomas Holley is indeed 100 percent after redshirting last season, they could push the line over the top.

5. Auburn: The Tigers’ D-line struggled last season, but it wasn’t helped any by the season-long absence of Carl Lawson. Now that Lawson is back and Will Muschamp is leading the defense, things are poised to change. With Montravius Adams anchoring the line at tackle, DaVonte Lambert opposite Lawson at end and No. 1 prospect Byron Cowart entering into the fold, the pieces are there to make a significant improvement.

6. Missouri: Markus Golden and Shane Ray are gone, but after so many years producing top D-line prospects, coach Gary Pinkel and his staff get the benefit of the doubt. Plus, they return a nice nucleus in tackles Harold Brantley and Josh Augusta. Charles Harris is poised to come into his own at end and it’s only a matter of time until five-star freshman Terry Beckner Jr. starts making plays.

7. Mississippi State: Three starters are gone (P.J. Jones, Kaleb Eulls, Preston Smith), but experience isn’t a huge concern for Mississippi State because of the way it rotated in so many players at the position last year. New coordinator Manny Diaz will have to develop some talent this offseason, to be sure, but he’ll have the luxury of building around Chris Jones, who is one of the league’s most talented linemen, as well as Ryan Brown and A.J. Jefferson.

8. Georgia: The Bulldogs’ linebackers get most of the love, and rightfully so when you’re talking about Lorenzo Carter, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. But the linemen shouldn’t be neglected considering the mix of experience and depth at the position. Seniors Sterling Bailey and Chris Mayes will provide stability, with five-star freshman Trent Thompson potentially working his way into the rotation early.

9. LSU: Ed Orgeron will have his hands full with this group, but what it lacks in depth it has in potential. Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux are back at tackle, but with Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter gone, that leaves seldom-used Tashawn Bower, Deondre Clark and Sione Teuhema as the lone incumbents at defensive end.

10. Texas A&M: With John Chavis now leading the Aggie defense, it’s time to see what all that talent is really made of. Sack master Myles Garrett should only get better with experience and incoming five-star freshman Daylon Mack could provide a disruptive force in the middle of the line.

11. Arkansas: With guys like Taiwan Johnson and JaMichael Winston, the talent is there to rebuild on the line. But with Trey Flowers and Darius Philon off to the NFL, there are more questions than answers entering spring practice.

12. South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ D-line was a huge letdown last season with the fewest sacks in the SEC, and there’s not a lot returning to campus that says that will change anytime soon. So, coach Steve Spurrier is betting heavily on some new blood in the form of new co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke and a handful of mature recruits. The headliner is defensive tackle Dexter Wideman, who spent last year at a military academy getting his grades in order, and ESPN’s No. 2 and No. 3 juco defensive ends, Marquavius Lewis and Dante Sawyer.

13. Kentucky: The Bud Dupree-Za’Darius Smith era is officially over, and now we get to see what Mark Stoops and his staff accomplished on the recruiting trail these past few years. Coveted tackle Matt Elam is now a sophomore, as is four-star end Denzel Ware. If they live up to their high billing and veterans like Jason Hatcher and Jabari Johnson step up, the Wildcats will be in good shape.

14. Vanderbilt: Outside of nose guard Vince Taylor, the Commodores don’t lose much from last year’s defensive line. But outside of Caleb Azubike and Adam Butler, there’s not a lot of production coming back.
College football is getting younger and younger. Gone are the days of just relying on upperclassmen to guide your football programs. Really, gone are the days of waiting for freshmen to develop.

Getting guys on the field earlier and earlier is more than just the norm, it's a necessity. Just look at all the young skill players tearing it up around the country.

The SEC has a treasure trove of young stars, so today we're going to look at rising sophomores and redshirt freshmen to keep an eye on in 2015.

Now, we aren't going to talk about the obvious guys. No All-SEC members from the coaches or the Associated Press. That's just too easy. We're diving into guys who just slid under the title of star in 2014 and could jump right in to the limelight this fall.

Here are the obvious guys who either made All-SEC teams, were honorable mentions or already are well known:
There are a ton of youngsters to choose from, so this certainly wasn't easy, but here are 10 rising sophomores and redshirt freshman from the SEC to keep an eye on in 2015:

EAST

[+] EnlargeJosh Malone
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsJosh Malone didn't live up to the hype as a freshman, but expectations for him remain high.
Will Grier, QB, Florida: He redshirted last year but will be in an all-out battle with Harris for the starting job. Some feel he might be more suited to run new coach Jim McElwain's more pro-style offense.

Jacob Park, QB, Georgia: Another quarterback who redshirted in 2014, Park will challenge for the starting spot in Athens, and he might be the most physically gifted of the three guys competing for that job this spring.

Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia: He really came on at the end of last season, proving to be one of the Bulldogs' best pass-rushers. He finished the year with 4.5 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries.

Isaiah McKenzie, WR/RS, Georgia: Running back Sony Michel should be fun to watch too, but McKenzie has a chance to really take a big step forward in the receiving, rushing and return game. He registered 684 all-purpose yards in 2014.

Dominick Sanders, S, Georgia: Sanders started all 13 games for the Bulldogs last season and finished the year on a very high note with a two-interception performance in Georgia's bowl win over Louisville.

Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky: He started seven games last season and finished the year with 10 tackles. He has to become a more disruptive player up front, but he really has a chance to help this defense in 2015.

Chris Lammons, CB, South Carolina: The Gamecocks' defense will be a little bit older and hopefully a little bit wiser in 2015, and Lammons could be a big part of the improvements in the secondary.

Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee: The Vols return a pretty deep receiving corps, but Malone could have a bright future in Knoxville and should improve on his 23 catches for 231 yards and a touchdown from 2014.

Ethan Wolf, TE, Tennessee: Another talented, young weapon in the Vols' offense, Wolf made an instant impact as a freshman and should continue to be a key part of the Vols' aerial attack in 2015.

Nigel Bowden, LB, Vanderbilt: Not much went right for the Commodores in 2014, but Bowden could be a budding star. He led Vandy with 78 tackles and added two tackles for loss and a sack.

WEST

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsFreshman defensive end Marquis Haynes led Ole Miss in sacks.
Da'Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama: He registered only seven tackles with two sacks in 2014, but Hand, a former five-star prospect, is a monster talent for the Tide who should see plenty of time this fall.

Marlon Humphrey/Tony Brown, CBs, Alabama: Brown played in 13 games, making two starts, while Humphrey redshirted. Alabama had issues at corner all year and these two youngsters, who might be the most talented corners on the team, will have every opportunity to take both starting spots.

Cam Sims, WR, Alabama: With Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones all departing, Alabama will be rebuilding at receiver. Sims, a former top high school prospect, could jump right into a key role at receiver for the Tide.

Jojo Robinson, WR, Arkansas: Coaches knew that he was really talented when he arrived last year, but he wasn't ready. There are high hopes for the former four-star prospect, who has a chance to make a strong impact in Arkansas' passing game.

Roc Thomas, RB, Auburn: In a crowded backfield, Thomas played in 12 games and registered 214 rushing yards with two touchdowns. With both Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant gone, Thomas will take over as Auburn's lead back so of course he'll be productive.

Travonte Valentine, DT, LSU: Eligibility issues cut into Valentine's chances of playing in 2014, but he has the potential to be a major player up front for the Tigers. He was probably physically ready to play last year.

Clifton Garrett, LB, LSU: Garrett didn’t really play much last season but was one of LSU's top prospects in its 2014 recruiting class. Garrett just wasn’t ready last season, but that will all change this year.

Gerri Green, LB, Mississippi State: While he sat out the 2014 season, the good news is that he's built like Benardrick McKinney, who just left Starkville for the NFL. He's a big, fast, strong, long, athletic linebacker, who the coaches are very excited about.

C.J. Hampton, S, Ole Miss: With Cody Prewitt gone, Hampton should step right in at that safety spot. There was even talk before the 2014 season that he could have replaced Prewitt and moved him to linebacker. He already has had good field experience, playing in 13 games.

Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss: The Rebels are loaded with defensive line talent, but Haynes was Ole Miss' best pass-rusher in 2014. He started four of the 13 games he played in and led the team with 7.5 sacks while tying for the team lead with nine tackles for loss.

Ole Miss season review

December, 18, 2014
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With a bowl win, No. 9 Ole Miss (9-3, 5-3 SEC) will finish the season with 10 wins for the first time since 2003. Thanks to the nation's best scoring defense (13.8 points allowed per game and 18 touchdowns allowed), the Rebels spent the latter part of the season on the cusp of both the SEC Western Division race and the playoff race.

The Rebels were the lone blemish on No. 1 Alabama's schedule, and Ole Miss ended No. 7 Mississippi State's SEC and playoff hopes with a 31-17 win at home to close the regular season. There were plenty of high points to the Rebels' season, including rising as high as third in the AP Poll and fourth in the College Football Playoff, but the Rebels also suffered a crushing 30-0 loss at Arkansas and lost top receiver Laquon Treadwell to a season-ending leg injury in the closing minutes of the loss to Auburn.

Even though Ole Miss missed out on ifs first ever trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, the Rebels retained coach Hugh Freeze for the foreseeable future and have a quality foundation to work with and build on for the coming years.

Best win: While the win over archrival Mississippi State ended the Bulldogs’ championship hopes, that 23-17 home win over Alabama was the one that really put the Rebels on the college football map. Those are the games that Ole Miss has historically suffered in, but the Rebels went toe-to-toe with the Tide, a team they'd lost 10 straight to, and came away with an upset that sent shockwaves throughout the college football world and stood as an historic moment for the state of Mississippi. Behind 251 passing yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Bo Wallace and a perfectly timed, late-game interception by cornerback Senquez Golson, the Rebels took down then-No. 3 Alabama and watched their fans storm the field and take the goal posts through the Grove and to the Square.

Worst loss: A couple weeks after losing Treadwell in an absolute heartbreaker at home to Auburn, the Rebels went to Fayetteville and got pounded 30-0 by an Arkansas team that entered the game winning one of its last 18 SEC games. Now, this Hogs team proved to be better this season, but the Rebels were equipped with more talent on both sides of the ball and were still dominated for four quarters. Early turnovers put Ole Miss down 17-0 after just one quarter, and the Rebels finished the game with six turnovers, including two interceptions by Wallace in the end zone. The loss officially knocked Ole Miss out of the SEC and playoff races.

Player of year: After three years of mostly up-and-down play, Golson proved to be one of the nation’s best cover corners – if not the best. Golson led the SEC and ranked second nationally with nine interceptions and returned one of those for a touchdown. He also tied for first in the SEC with 17 passes defended. Golson transformed into a player who was able to frustrate plenty of quarterbacks this season by taking his entire side of the field away and probably dropped a few more interceptions. Golson also sealed Ole Miss’ historic win over Alabama with a last-second interception in the end zone.

Breakout player: Ole Miss’ defensive line was filled with talent this year, but freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes proved to be the Rebels’ best pass-rusher. The frosh finished the regular season playing in every game, making three starts, and leading the team with 7.5 sacks, eight quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. He ranked second in the SEC in forced fumbles and tied for seventh in sacks. Haynes, who showed that he could excel as both a speed and power rusher off the edge for the Rebels, also had 29 total tackles on the season. He’s certainly a youngster with a very bright future.

Play(s) of year: Yeah, I’m cheating here, and I just don’t care. Golson’s interception was fantastic, agile and perfectly timed. It was a toe-tapping, back-of-the-end zone interception of Alabama’s Blake Sims with 37 seconds left. It happened so fast that it was actually called an incomplete pass at first, before it was ruled a catch after a review. Then there was running back Jaylen Walton’s jaw-dropping, reverse-field, ankle-breaking, 91-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of the Rebels’ win over Mississippi State that pretty much ended the Bulldogs’ chances of a comeback by making it 24-10.

2015 outlook: With Freeze coming back, along with a solid cast of characters on both sides of the ball, 2015 could set up to be a special year for the Rebels. The defense will lose Golson and two-time All-American safety Cody Prewitt, but the defensive line is in good hands with Robert Nkemdiche returning, and the linebacker unit has some exciting, young talent coming back. The offense, however, has to find a consistent running game and a replacement for Wallace, who started all three years he was at Ole Miss. Replacing Wallace is the biggest obstacle for the Rebels, as their backups got some in-game reps this year, but lack any sort of consistency. Having Treadwell returning from his injury will be huge for whichever quarterback takes over.
The SEC is known for its defensive line talent, with dozens of NFL linemen having played for one of the conference’s 14 schools. But this was an uncommonly productive season for the league’s freshman pass-rushers, even by the SEC’s lofty standards.

Two true freshmen – Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett – earned second-team All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches and media, and several others enjoyed productive debut seasons in arguably the nation’s toughest conference.

Garrett set an SEC record for freshmen with 11 sacks this season, but Barnett might have been not just the conference’s best freshman defensive lineman -- he might have been the SEC’s best defensive lineman, period.

[+] EnlargeDerek Barnett
AP Photo/Wade PayneTennessee freshman Derek Barnett ranks third in the nation in tackles for loss.
Missouri’s Shane Ray won the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year awards from both the coaches and media, and he is the conference’s only player whose numbers stand up against Barnett's. Ray led the SEC with 14 sacks and 21 tackles for loss in 13 games, although six of his sacks and 9.5 of his tackles for loss came against Missouri’s weak nonconference opposition. Barnett made all 10 of his sacks against SEC opponents, as well as 18 of his 20.5 tackles for loss.

Barnett is the only freshman to rank among the national top 30 in tackles for loss (he’s third) and Ole Miss freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes is the only freshman in the national top 50 in forced fumbles (he’s tied for 29th with three). Garrett (tied for sixth with 11), Barnett (tied for 16th with 10) and Haynes (tied for 43rd with 7.5) are three of the only four freshmen to rank in the national top 50 in sacks.

Haynes did not post the ridiculous numbers that Garrett and Barnett did, but he was the best pass-rusher on a powerful Ole Miss defense. He led the Rebels in sacks, quarterback hurries (eight), and forced fumbles and is tied for the team lead with a host of teammates with one fumble recovery.

Those three were the headliners, but they are not the only freshman pass rushers who appear destined for SEC stardom. Here are three more freshmen who could strike fear into quarterbacks’ hearts next season:

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Arguably the biggest recruit in Georgia’s 2014 class, Carter didn’t start for the first time until Game 9 against Kentucky. But he made the most of that opportunity wotj nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss against the Wildcats. The Freshman All-SEC honoree started the last four games and figures to become a major impact player in 2015.

OLB Rashaan Evans, Alabama: Earning playing time as a freshman on Alabama’s talented front seven is difficult, but Evans contributed as a role player. He made 15 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack thanks to impressive speed and a high motor. Once he gets an opportunity to play more, he’s going to be a regular visitor into opponents’ backfields.

DE Da'Shawn Hand, Alabama: The SEC’s coaches saw enough from Hand in limited action to name him to their Freshman All-SEC team. One of the nation’s most coveted recruits in 2014, Hand recorded just seven tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss as a reserve on Alabama’s deep defensive line. Rest assured, his time is coming.

 

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 14

December, 3, 2014
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The SEC’s true freshmen sent out the regular season with a bang, creating some of the most memorable plays of the entire season in the final weekend.

Here is a recap of how some of the league’s first-year players fared in their final games of the regular season:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett added to his impressive season totals against Vanderbilt by recording five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack in the Volunteers’ 24-17 win.

What it means: Barnett is tied for 13th nationally with 10 sacks and is tied for third with 20.5 TFLs. Not a bad rookie season -- one in which he deserves to become the rare true freshman to earn All-SEC honors as a defensive lineman.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: Chubb had yet another 100-yard game, this time rushing 25 times for 129 yards and a touchdown. He also caught three passes for 36 yards. On the negative side, he lost a fumble at the goal line, which came back to bite Georgia when rival Georgia Tech rallied to win in overtime.

What it means: Considering how he didn’t become Georgia’s feature back until midseason, Chubb’s 1,281 rushing yards (good for second in the SEC) and 12 touchdowns are all the more impressive. He and fellow freshman Sony Michel both lost costly fumbles inside the Tech 5-yard line, but both backs have been impressive overall.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Fournette earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors for his efforts against Texas A&M. The star freshman ran 19 times for 146 yards and scored a highlight-reel touchdown when he ran over A&M safety Howard Matthews. Fournette also returned three kickoffs for 34 yards.

What it means: The touchdown run -- highly reminiscent of a memorable run Georgia legend Herschel Walker made against Tennessee as a freshman -- was one of the plays of the year in the SEC. Fournette has had an up-and-down first season, but he has still posted four 100-yard games and has a respectable 891 rushing yards and eight touchdowns entering bowl season.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

What he did: Not to be outdone by his fellow New Orleans native Fournette, Noil also made highlight reels with his leaping 27-yard touchdown catch over LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White. Noil finished with four catches for 46 yards, returned four kickoffs for 50 yards and returned one punt for 1 yard.

What it means: Noil also lost a fumble on a kickoff return, which LSU recovered and turned into a field goal (and a 17-7 lead) just before halftime. The freshman proved once again he is one of the Aggies’ most explosive players, but that was a costly turnover in A&M's 23-17 loss.

video RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky

What he did: Williams concluded an impressive freshman season with 126 rushing yards and touchdowns of 11 and 14 yards on 18 carries against Louisville. He also caught three passes for 13 yards in the Wildcats’ 44-40 loss.

What it means: One of Kentucky’s highlights came midway through the fourth quarter when Williams bulled his way through three Louisville defenders to score the go-ahead touchdown. The defense couldn’t preserve the lead, meaning the Wildcats fell short of bowl eligibility, but Williams still finished the season with 488 rushing yards, 162 receiving yards and an average of 116.1 all-purpose yards per game.

video Other notables:

DB Jamal Adams, LSU: Recorded a team-high eight tackles, one tackle for loss and broke up a pass in LSU’s win over Texas A&M.

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Made eight tackles and one tackle for loss against Georgia Tech.

WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Caught one pass for 41 yards against Texas A&M.

QB Treon Harris, Florida: Completed 13 of 32 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and also ran nine times for 41 yards against Florida State.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Recorded four tackles against LSU.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss: Made five tackles and a sack against Mississippi State.

DB Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Intercepted a pass and made one tackle against Vanderbilt.

PK Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Made a 36-yard field goal and all three of his PATs in a win against Vanderbilt.

RB Sony Michel, Georgia: Ran nine times for 49 yards but also lost a key fumble at the goal line in the loss to Georgia Tech.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted twice against Auburn and averaged 55.5 yards per attempt, including a long of 70.

DB Devin Voorhies, LSU: Forced Noil’s fumbled kickoff return that led to an LSU field goal before halftime against Texas A&M.

DB Quincy Wilson, Florida: Recorded one tackle for a two-yard loss and also intercepted a Jameis Winston pass in the Gators’ loss to Florida State.

PK Gary Wunderlich, Ole Miss: Made a 39-yard field goal, all four of his PATs and punted once for 46 yards in a win against Mississippi State.

LSU hopes to dodge turnover tidal wave

October, 23, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Football coaches and players discuss the importance of winning the turnover battle, the words can almost ring hollow. But when LSU players say they must protect the football Saturday against Ole Miss, it's more than just an empty football cliché.

The No. 3 Rebels (7-0, 4-0 SEC) have an uncanny ability to swing games by creating turnovers at key moments.

"Their defense are ball hawks," LSU receiver Travin Dural said. "If you're giving your offense the ball on the opponent's side of the field a lot, they're going to score, and that's what they've been doing. We're going to try our best to flip the field as much as we can."

No. 24 LSU (6-2, 2-2) has turned the ball over only nine times this season, and it might need to maintain that trend on Saturday if it is to have any chance of upsetting the Rebels. Not only does Ole Miss lead the nation with 90 points off turnovers, but it has been remarkably consistent.

The Rebels have either scored a defensive touchdown or created a turnover to take control of the contest in each game this season:
  • They were up 14-6 in the fourth quarter of the opener against Boise State when Tony Conner intercepted a pass at the Broncos' 40-yard line. Two plays later, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace hit Quincy Adeboyejo with a 31-yard touchdown pass to go up 21-6.
  • Cornerback Cliff Coleman returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown in Ole Miss' win against Vanderbilt.
  • Cornerback Senquez Golson -- who leads the SEC and is second nationally with seven interceptions -- had a 59-yard pick-six against Louisiana-Lafayette.
  • Ole Miss led Memphis 10-3 a few minutes into the fourth quarter when Ole Miss freshman Marquis Haynes forced a Paxton Haynes fumble that Issac Gross recovered at the Memphis 23. Rebels running back Jaylen Walton ran for a 23-yard touchdown on the next play to put Ole Miss up 17-3.
  • The score was tied at 17-all against Alabama when Crimson Tide return man Christion Jones fumbled a kickoff and Ole Miss' Kailo Moore recovered at the Alabama 31 with 5:29 to play. Five plays later, Wallace hit Walton with the game-winning 10-yard touchdown pass.
  • All-American safety Cody Prewitt returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown and Keith Lewis returned a Kenny Hill fumble 21 yards for a score in the Rebels' win against Texas A&M.
  • Last week against Tennessee, the Rebels were up 17-3 in the third quarter when Volunteers return man Evan Berry fumbled and Haynes recovered at the UT 28. Wallace hit Evan Engram with a 28-yard touchdown pass on the next play to go up 24-3.

In other words, this is a well-established habit for the Rebels, and the Tigers understand that protecting the ball will be particularly important on Saturday.

"We pride ourself on not turning the ball over in the backfield," running back Terrence Magee said. "We work ball security every day before we get into the core of practice, and it's just something that we work on a routine basis. We realize that if we don't turn the ball over and we win the turnover margin, our chances of winning are much greater."

LSU has won or tied in turnover margin in every game this season except last week's 41-3 win against Kentucky. The Tigers have actually been extremely effective themselves at turning takeaways into points, outscoring opponents 72-7 following turnovers -- a differential that ranks third among FBS teams. Only Oregon's plus 79 (79-0) and Ole Miss' plus-71 (90-19) points-off-turnovers margins are better.

LSU has also capitalized off opponent miscues, as the Tigers' game-winning scores against both Wisconsin and Florida came after fourth-quarter interceptions by Jalen Mills and Rickey Jefferson.

That creates a competition of sorts between an LSU secondary that prides itself as being one of the best in the nation and a group of Rebels defensive backs who are tied for the FBS lead with 15 interceptions.

"You could say that," Jefferson said, "but we're looking to be on top. That's what we're trying to do as DBs."

LSU's defensive backs could accomplish that goal by capitalizing on mistakes by Wallace, and he hasn't made many this season. Ole Miss' senior quarterback has tossed six interceptions overall and none in SEC play.

Just as important will be avoiding the back-breaking offensive mistakes that set up short drives for Ole Miss. Understandably, that has been a point of emphasis for the Tigers this week.

"Just end every drive with a kick," Dural said. "Try not to make those mental mistakes to where we give them the ball with a short field."

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 8

October, 22, 2014
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Although Georgia’s Nick Chubb is the headliner for a second straight week after another ridiculous performance, this week’s SEC freshman tracker is heavy on defense -- including a couple of defensive linemen who have already emerged as breakout performers.

Here are five SEC true freshmen who stood out last Saturday (and five more worth mentioning):

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did:
Chubb continued to give Todd Gurley the Wally Pipp treatment by carrying 30 times for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 45-32 win at Arkansas. He also caught a pass for an 8-yard gain. In the last two games, Chubb has run 68 times for 345 yards, and the Bulldogs have blasted Missouri and Arkansas on the road.

What it means: If and when Gurley returns to the lineup, he will obviously resume carrying the Bulldogs’ running game. But with the one-time Heisman Trophy frontrunner suspended and Sony Michel and Keith Marshall out with injuries, Georgia desperately needed Chubb to produce, and he has exceeded every reasonable expectation.

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did:
Barnett logged his first game with double-digit tackles, recording 10 in a loss to Ole Miss, and also notched four tackles for loss and two sacks. The game wasn’t particularly competitive -- Ole Miss won 34-3 -- but Barnett clearly ranked among the Volunteers’ top defensive performers.

What it means: He hasn’t been getting the same kind of attention as Texas A&M freshman Myles Garrett, but Barnett might catch up soon. All of a sudden he’s second in the SEC with 9.5 tackles for loss, along with 38 tackles and three sacks.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss

What he did:
In the Rebels’ win against Tennessee, Haynes finished with five tackles, 2.5 sacks and his first career fumble recovery. That continued a dominant recent run in which he has totaled 4.5 sacks in the last two games.

What it means: Haynes leads arguably the SEC’s top defense with 7.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He also leads the SEC with three forced fumbles. The Rebels already have a star-studded defense, and Haynes is quickly adding another name to the list of players to watch.

S Jamal Adams, LSU

What he did:
The Tigers’ highest-rated defensive signee in a well-regarded 2014 recruiting class, Adams had his best game yet in a win against Kentucky. He finished with a career-high eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack, plus he delivered the key block that sprung Tre'Davious White for a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown.

What it means: Simply put, the energetic Adams is showing why those around the LSU program believe he is the next Eric Reid at safety. He is the Tigers’ leading tackler on special teams and is already a leader on their nickel and dime defensive groupings.

S Dominick Sanders, Georgia

What he did:
Sanders started at safety for the seventh straight game and scored for the first time in his college career when he picked up a Brandon Allen fumble and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown. Sanders’ touchdown just before halftime gave Georgia a 38-6 halftime lead.

What it means: Sanders, who also made four tackles against Arkansas, has been one of the more reliable performers in Georgia’s depth-deprived secondary. The Bulldogs still have plenty to clean up on pass defense, but the overall defense continues to make progress under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Other notables:

WR Kendrick Edwards, Arkansas: Caught a 4-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter as the Razorbacks attempted a late rally against Georgia.

QB Treon Harris, Florida: Rotated at quarterback with Jeff Driskel and finished 8-for-12 for 98 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and also rushed eight times for 26 yards.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee: Ran 13 times for 40 yards and caught two passes for 19 yards in a loss to Ole Miss.

WR Josh Malone, Tennessee: Caught five passes for 75 yards in a loss to Ole Miss.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught four passes for 32 yards and returned six kickoffs for 106 yards in a loss to Alabama.
The Magnolia State is home to the No. 1- and No. 3-ranked teams in the country.

If you haven't found time to let that fact soak in, you should do so. It's been a crazy football season, but nothing better illustrates how upside down things have gotten than the transcendence of Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

Don't let the novelty of the rankings fool you, though. Neither program is a fluke. Their rise hasn't been due to smoke and mirrors. These are two solidly built football teams.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisBehind QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State's offense is something to behold in the SEC and nationally.
Which brings us to today's Take Two debate: Would you rather have Ole Miss' defense or Mississippi State's offense?

Alex Scarborough: Five years ago, this would have been a simple answer. I would have taken Ole Miss' Landshark defense and been on my merry way.

But this isn't years past. This is a new SEC that thrives on offense.

For that reason, give me Mississippi State's offense. Give me Dak Prescott's mobility and arm strength. Give me Ben Beckwith at guard, Josh Robinson at tailback and De'Runnya Wilson at receiver. I don't care who you have, that's a hard bunch to stop. And I didn't even mention Jameon Lewis, Brandon Holloway and Malcolm Johnson.

The Bulldogs might not have the brand-name cache of others in the SEC, but those guys can put up points in a hurry. They lead the league in yards per game (529.7) and rank second in points per game (41.9). They're balanced, too, with 5.5 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt. More than 23 percent of their plays go for 10 yards or more.

And they have the one thing no defense can account for: a star quarterback.

As long as they have Prescott under center, they have a chance. He wears No. 15 for a reason, and like Tim Tebow, he can will his team to victory. I won't even bother with Prescott's eye-popping statistics (you can find a Heisman Trophy tracker if you must know) because it's his leadership that's the most invaluable part of his game. Good luck stopping that.

Sam Khan: I hear you, Alex. I hear you loud and clear. And honestly, it's hard for me to pick against Prescott and Mississippi State because I, too, believe in the power of a star quarterback, and nobody has been better than Prescott this season.

But Ole Miss' defense has a nickname (the Landsharks) for a reason. It's that good.

[+] EnlargeOle Miss
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesThe Rebels' defense has held all seven opponents this season to 20 points or fewer.
The numbers speak for themselves. No. 1 in the nation in points allowed per game (10.6) and goal-to-go efficiency (25 percent). No. 3 nationally in yards per play (4.15) and red zone efficiency (33.3 percent). No. 5 in turnover margin (plus-10). No. 12 in third-down conversion rate (29.6 percent). I could go on, but you get the picture.

There's a reason for the old adage "defense wins championships." It's cliché and simplistic, but it's true. A team can't beat you if it can't score, and nobody's better at keeping opponents out of the end zone than the Rebels. And that scoring average should be lower, considering seven of those points are the result of an Alabama fumble return.

I'll take Robert Nkemdiche, C.J. Johnson, Marquis Haynes and that defensive front. I'll take the heart of a player like linebacker D.T. Shackelford. I'll take a secondary with players such as Tony Conner, Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt. Speed, tackling, a good mix of youth and experience. Give me the Landsharks. Fins up.

Scarborough: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But here's the question I'd pose to you: When the Egg Bowl does roll around on Nov. 29, do you think Ole Miss will be able to stop Mississippi State offensively? Would the Rebs keep the Bulldogs under, say, 28 points? Because I'm not sure they will.

Wilson, at 6-foot-5, is a matchup nightmare. Pair that size with the speedy Lewis underneath and you're talking about a headache for any secondary. And it's not like you can focus on just the passing game, either. Robinson's ability to pound between the tackles would negate Ole Miss' pass-rush and demand a safety play closer to the line of scrimmage. He and Prescott running the read-option is dangerous because neither is easy to bring down.

While I think it would be a close contest and a ton of fun to watch, I think Prescott & Co. would put up points on the Rebs. Prescott's dual-threat ability and State's balance offensively is the difference, to me.

Khan: I do think the Rebels have what it takes to keep the Bulldogs' offense in check come Egg Bowl time. This defense is versatile enough to stop just about anything. They shut down a traditional offense, like Alabama's, save for one drive when the Crimson Tide mostly ran behind Cam Robinson. But that was the only touchdown the Rebels' defense yielded that day.

Against a talented spread team, like Texas A&M, the Rebels had answers there, too. The Aggies tried to run it and couldn't (1.5 yards per carry). They tried to throw it and couldn't do that either. And they put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks to wreak havoc and force errant throws, which leads to turnovers. I think the Auburn game in a couple of weeks will be another good barometer for the Ole Miss defense.

Wilson is pretty talented. So is this guy -- you might have heard of him -- named Amari Cooper. When the Crimson Tide came to Oxford, he had a nice day (nine catches, 91 yards) but no touchdowns. T.J. Yeldon had 123 yards rushing, but again no touchdowns, and the Rebels kept Derrick Henry in check.

The Rebels haven't allowed more than 20 points in a game this season (that came on the road, to Texas A&M and, mind you, the final six came as time expired when the game was out of hand). I'd like their chances at keeping Mississippi State under that 28-point benchmark. When the time comes, it'll be entertaining to watch those two units go head-to-head, that's for sure.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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The only good thing about a day full of blowouts in the SEC is that there are plenty of helmet stickers to hand out.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: How do you top a 143-yard, one-touchdown performance in your first collegiate start? By rushing for 202 yards and two touchdowns in your second start. That's exactly what Chubb did in place of the suspended Todd Gurley on Saturday, leading Georgia past Arkansas, 45-32. He became only the third freshman in school history to rush for more than 200 yards in a game (Herschel Walker, Rodney Hampton). As long as Chubb keeps getting 30-plus carries a game, he's going to keep showing up on this list.

Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss: Don't get me wrong. Senquez Golson is deserving of a helmet sticker with two interceptions on Saturday. But it was Haynes and the defensive line that set the tone for the Rebels. They held Tennessee to zero rushing yards in large part thanks to nine sacks on the night. Haynes led the way with five tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during the 34-3 win. The freshman might not get the recognition of his counterpart Robert Nkemdiche, but he's one of the SEC's better young stars whom nobody's talking about.

Terrence Magee, RB, LSU: It was supposed to be Leonard Fournette with the huge game, but Magee said “move over freshman, I'm taking this one.” Magee rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries in LSU's 41-3 win over Kentucky. That's 14.1 yards per carry for those counting at home. He also happened to be the team's leading receiver with three catches for 44 yards. Fournette might be the LSU running back to watch in the second half, but don't forget about Magee. He's not going anywhere.

Marcus Murphy, RB, Missouri: Murphy wasted no time putting his stamp on Saturday's game in Gainesville, returning the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. But he wasn't done yet. No, he had more in store for the Gators. Murphy made it 14-0 with a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and he would later return a punt 82 yards for another score. The senior finished with 224 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns on the night. He was one of the big reasons why Missouri won 42-13 despite only gaining 119 yards on offense.

Blake Sims, QB, Alabama: T.J. Yeldon, you deserve a helmet sticker. Amari Cooper, you deserve a helmet sticker. Alabama's defense, you deserve a helmet sticker. It was that kind of game for the Crimson Tide. But the nod here goes to Sims, who went 16-of-27 for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the Tide's 59-0 win over Texas A&M. He also made arguably the best move of the day on his 43-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. This team, Sims included, was criticized after last week's win over Arkansas. It responded in a big way.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 7

October, 15, 2014
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We’re all about the running backs in this week’s SEC Freshman Tracker -- namely Georgia’s Nick Chubb and LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who carried their respective offenses and led their teams to huge conference victories.

Here are five SEC true freshmen who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from last Saturday:

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did:
With Heisman Trophy frontrunner Todd Gurley suspended indefinitely and Keith Marshall and Sony Michel injured, Georgia turned to Chubb to carry the load in the backfield, and he exceeded all reasonable expectations. Chubb carried the ball a whopping 38 times for 143 yards and a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 34-0 win over Missouri and also caught four passes for 31 yards.

What it means: Gurley’s status remains unclear and it doesn’t look like Marshall or Michel will be available Saturday against Arkansas, so Chubb and Brendan Douglas need to be ready for another heavy workload. As good as they were against Mizzou, the Bulldogs will be much better off when their backfield depth gets back closer to normal.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did:
Fournette had previously split carries pretty evenly with LSU’s three other tailbacks, but he got by far the most touches while making his first college start against Florida. Fournette ran 27 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns against the Gators, the most rushing yards in a game by an LSU true freshman since 2003. He also had 85 yards on kickoff returns.

What it means: We’ll see whether this was a one-game thing or whether Fournette will now be LSU’s feature back. This was easily his best game as a Tiger after a relatively quiet first half of the season – even if he has led LSU in rushing in six straight games and ranks third in the SEC in all-purpose yards at 136.9 ypg.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky

What he did:
Sure, the competition wasn’t outstanding, but Williams was one of the stars of the Wildcats’ 48-14 win against Louisiana-Monroe. He ran seven times for 104 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, and also returned a kickoff for a 75-yard gain.

What it means: The exciting freshman showed once again how many ways he can affect a game. He has made big plays for the Wildcats already on the ground, in the passing game and as a return man, making him one of Kentucky’s players to watch when it visits LSU for a key conference game on Saturday night.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama

What he did:
Scott punted a career-high eight times against Arkansas and landed seven inside the Razorbacks’ 20-yard line -- all of which were downed inside the Arkansas 15. Scott netted 44.2 yards per punt to raise his season net punting average to 43.1, which ranks fourth nationally. Scott was named Ray Guy Award Player of the Week on Monday for his play against the Razorbacks.

What it means: Specialists usually don’t get enough attention on lists like this, but Scott has been outstanding all season for Alabama. He leads the SEC with an average of 46.7 ypp, with eight of his 19 punts going for 50-plus yards and 12 landing inside the 20. Alabama has had its problems on special teams, but Scott and the SEC’s leading punt coverage team -- the Crimson Tide leads the league with a 43.1 net punting average -- have been outstanding.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

What he did:
There wasn’t much for the Aggies to brag about in their home loss to Ole Miss, but Noil continues to impress with his playmaking ability. He caught 11 passes for 105 yards against the Rebels and also returned three kickoffs for 68 yards and two punts for 19 yards.

What it means: Like Kentucky’s Williams, Noil is quickly emerging as one of the SEC’s top all-purpose performers. He ranks seventh in the league with 121.2 all-purpose ypg and has picked up his receiving production in recent weeks. The Aggies have plenty of strong options in the passing game, but Noil is becoming one of the best.

Other notables:

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Recorded three tackles and a sack for a 12-yard loss in a loss to Ole Miss.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss: Recorded two sacks for 26 yards in negative yardage in a win against Texas A&M.

RB Dallas Rivers, Vanderbilt: Ran 11 times for 47 yards and a touchdown and returned two kickoffs for 30 yards in a win against Charleston Southern.

RB Derrell Scott, Tennessee: Played for the first time this season and led Tennessee with 42 rushing yards on nine carries in a win over Chattanooga.

CB Jalen Tabor, Florida: Posted seven tackles, including a sack for a seven-yard loss, and broke up a pass in a loss to LSU.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 5

October, 1, 2014
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Led by LSU's Brandon Harris and Leonard Fournette and a big group from Tennessee, true freshmen again grabbed the spotlight in the SEC last weekend.

Here are five who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from Saturday’s SEC games:

QB Brandon Harris, LSU

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesAfter Brandon Harris' 11-of-14 performance against New Mexico State, the Tigers named him the starter against Auburn.
What he did: Harris came off the bench in the second quarter and led LSU’s offense to seven touchdowns in seven possessions in a 63-7 rout of New Mexico State. He was 11-for-14 for 178 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for 36 yards and two scores.

What it means: This is a huge week for Harris. He won SEC Freshman of the Week honors and LSU coach Les Miles announced that Harris will make his first college start on Saturday against Auburn. He’s played mostly in mop-up duty so far, but Harris looked great against Mississippi State and NMSU. His starting assignment makes Saturday’s game exponentially more intriguing.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Against NMSU, Fournette set new season highs for rushing attempts (18) and rushing yards (122) and scored touchdowns of 17 and 5 yards. He also made a 33-yard reception. It was Fournette’s first 100-yard game at LSU.

What it means: Fournette has quietly been LSU’s leading rusher in each of the past four games. He hasn’t been putting up huge numbers, but the Tigers have spread around the carries between four backs, too. Nonetheless, with LSU entering the bulk of its SEC schedule, expect to see more of Fournette in key situations.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss

What he did: With Ole Miss leading Memphis just 10-3 in the fourth quarter, Haynes sacked quarterback Paxton Lynch and forced a fumble that Isaac Gross recovered at the Memphis 23. The Rebels scored on the next play to go up 17-3 and put away their surprisingly narrow win.

What it means: Ole Miss probably beats Memphis even without Haynes’ big play, but victory was no certainty at that point. Getting the win helped Ole Miss stay undefeated and set up a huge game this weekend with No. 3 Alabama.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: Hurd build off of his strong outing against Oklahoma with his first 100-yard game in a 35-32 loss to Georgia. The freshman ran 24 times for 119 yards and a touchdown -- all of which set or matched Hurd’s season highs -- and caught three passes for 19 yards.

What it means: The freshman back and his inexperienced offensive line are starting to find their way. It has been tough sledding in that department for Tennessee, but Hurd’s recent big games have been bright spots.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky

What he did: The versatile Williams ran five times for 27 yards, led the Wildcats with 39 receiving yards on three catches and returned two kickoffs for 56 yards, including a long of 36 in a win against Vanderbilt.

What it means: Unfortunately we won’t see Williams on Saturday against South Carolina since he and three teammates were suspended for reportedly firing air pistols in a campus residence hall. Williams has already become a valuable contributor in the Wildcats’ lineup and they need all the help they can get against the Gamecocks.

Other notables:

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia: Ran 11 times for 32 yards and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass in Georgia’s win over Tennessee.

WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Caught three passes for a team-high 54 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown, in the win against NMSU.

S Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Recorded four tackles and made a leaping interception in Tennessee’s loss against Georgia.

TE Ethan Wolf, Tennessee: Returned from injury and had his most productive game yet, finishing with five catches for 69 yards against Georgia.

LB Tre Williams, Auburn: Played most of the Louisiana Tech game because of injuries to Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy, recorded seven tackles and nearly intercepted a pass.

Ole Miss spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Ole Miss Rebels:

1. Expectations are a good thing: Coach Hugh Freeze thought it would take three years before he even talked seriously about bowls. Now, he’s won two and fans expect him to be bowl eligible before November arrives. Expectations haven’t been this high in Oxford in a while, but with the talent returning, confidence is high and the Rebels are ready to make a run.

2. Wallace is healthy: For all the criticism Bo Wallace has endured, the senior quarterback has played just a couple of games at full strength with his throwing shoulder. After another surgery, Wallace says he feels just at 100 percent. He was limited at times this spring, but his arm is stronger and there’s more zip on this throws.

3. The defensive line has muscle: Last season, the Rebels didn’t have the adequate pass rush that gave their defense juice a year prior. Now, with the return of defensive end C.J. Johnson that elite rusher is back. Robert Nkemdiche is moving inside, where he could be better suited, and ends Fadol Brown, Bryan Bennett and Marquis Haynes could be special players.

Three questions for the fall:

1. How will the offensive line look? Ole Miss has to replace three starters and doesn't have a ton of depth. Outside of left tackle Laremy Tunsil, nothing is really settled up front, and not having Aaron Morris or Christian Morris at full strength this spring didn’t help. Also, the versatile Austin Golson is thinking of transferring. Expect Ole Miss to move a lot of guys around before anything is set.

2. Who will back up Wallace? While Ole Miss has its starting quarterback, the backup is a real unknown. And with Wallace’s injury history, that isn’t a good sign. With Barry Brunetti gone, redshirt freshmen DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan competed with junior college transfer Jeremy Liggins and early enrollee Kendrick Doss, but no one separated himself this spring.

3. Not so special teams? Ole Miss has to replace kicker Andrew Ritter and punter Tyler Campbell with players with very little, if any, experience. Only kicker Andrew Fletcher has any experience (two extra points). He mainly competed with redshirt freshman Andy Pappanastos this spring, but freshman Gary Wunderlich will be involved this fall. Will Gleeson led at punter this spring but has no experience.

One way-too-early prediction:

Some people think the jury is still out on this Ole Miss team, but enough talent returns to make the Rebels a real contender in the West. Even with an early test again Boise State (in Atlanta), Ole Miss will be 4-0 entering a brutal October slate. Still, the Rebels will find a way to win at least nine games for the first time since 2009.

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