SEC: Mike Bobo

This offseason has been full of turnover among SEC coordinators, with 14 positions having changed hands already.

Some of these coaches will be entrusted with rebuilding efforts at their new locations, while the more fortunate members of the group inherit situations that are relatively stable. But who is in the best position to experience immediate success in his new SEC job?

There are a few directions you could go and make a reasonable argument:
  • [+] EnlargeKevin Steele
    AP Photo/Hilary ScheinukKevin Steele replaces John Chavis as LSU's defensive coordinator.
    Because of the headway Butch Jones' staff has made on the recruiting trail and the young talent on hand -- names like Josh Dobbs, Marquez North and Jalen Hurd -- Tennessee's offense seems to be on the rise. Some college football writers are even tossing out the Volunteers as darkhorse contenders to make the College Football Playoff this season. Former Michigan assistant Mike DeBord is poised to make some noise as the Volunteers' offensive coordinator over the next couple of years.
  • Brian Schottenheimer has some key offensive skill talent to replace as Mike Bobo's successor at Georgia -- that Todd Gurley guy was pretty good -- plus a quarterback competition to oversee, but the Bulldogs will keep rolling on offense. They still have Nick Chubb and the core of a solid offensive line returning along with adequate talent at the skill positions.
  • With nearly everyone back on offense, Dan Enos steps into a promising situation at Arkansas. Especially since the lifeblood of the Razorbacks' offense -- the running game -- is in great shape thanks to the return of ballcarriers Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins and most of a stout offensive line. This might never be an explosive offense while Bret Bielema is head coach, but it will be difficult for opposing defenses to prevent the Hogs from grinding their way up and down the field.
  • Geoff Collins was another tempting pick here. He inherits a Florida defense that under D.J. Durkin and Will Muschamp stood among the SEC's best. The Gators ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense and scoring defense in 2014, and they return a talented nucleus of players. It doesn't hurt that, despite a recruiting class that didn't measure up to Florida's usual high standards, the Sunshine State is always loaded with premium talent that should keep the Gators among the SEC's top defenses once the new staff digs into its recruiting ground.

Those are all reasonable options, but LSU's Kevin Steele seems like the most obvious choice.

First of all, LSU under John Chavis boasted the SEC's top total defense (ranking ninth nationally, plus the No. 5 scoring defense, which trailed only Ole Miss in the SEC) in 2014. Second, Steele takes over a unit with no glaring holes on the roster. The Tigers return six starters from their bowl game against Notre Dame and most of the key reserves.

That doesn't mean LSU is without question marks. The Tigers lost both starting defensive ends, and they weren't particularly successful at generating sacks even with Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco on the roster. They also must sort out some roles in the secondary and adapt to the schematic adjustments Steele seems likely to make.

There are also questions about Steele himself. The veteran assistant has been a defensive coordinator twice -- he was Alabama's DC in 2007 and served in the same capacity at Clemson from 2009-11. Steele got mixed reviews at Clemson, and his tenure there ended with an embarrassing bowl flop against West Virginia.

Nonetheless, he's a coach who has been hired by multiple current and future Hall of Famers -- Johnny Majors, Tom Osborne, Bobby Bowden, Nick Saban and now Les Miles -- and he's taking over a defense that has been one of the SEC's best for most of Miles' decade on the bayou.

It would be a big surprise if the Tigers failed to remain among the conference's feistiest defenses in its first fall under Steele's leadership. So while many of the SEC's 14 new coordinators inherited good situations, LSU's new defensive coordinator looks like the one who is in the best position to experience immediate success.
ESPN 300 receiver Van Jefferson is no longer committed to Georgia and the news was definitely disappointing for the Dawgs. So who’s in the driver’s seat now for the one of the best receivers in the country?

Grading each of the head-coaching hires 

December, 30, 2014
With Jim Harbaugh’s entertaining introduction at Michigan on Tuesday, this latest turn of the coaching carousel seems to be winding down. The results: Seven Power 5 programs have new head coaches, and four Group of 5 schools hired coordinators from flourishing Power 5 offenses. Beginning with Michigan’s big splash -- one that is dominating the news cycle, even though we’re fewer than 48 hours from the first College Football Playoff semifinal -- here are grades for those 11 hires:

Michigan Wolverines
New coach: Jim Harbaugh (former San Francisco 49ers head coach)
Grade: A+
Harbaugh said Tuesday he isn’t comfortable with the idea of being Michigan’s savior, but he’d better get used to it because that’s the expectation. He didn’t face that sort of pressure when he resurrected Stanford, but he certainly did each year in the NFL, where he averaged 12 wins a season and took his team to a Super Bowl. Harbaugh is an A-plus hire because he’s equipped for the challenge, and as an alum, he’s emotionally invested in the product. As college coaches told me this week, Michigan could not have done any better. It sought Harbaugh from the start of the process, and it got him.

The question

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SEC morning links

December, 18, 2014
Plenty of recruiting news flying across the wire on Wednesday, which was signing day for midterm junior college prospects. Several SEC teams did well in inking JUCOs, led by Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn, three teams that were considered "winners" in Wednesday's junior college sweepstakes. Another SEC winner in recruiting on Wednesday was Texas A&M after it landed ESPN 300 receiver Christian Kirk, the No. 30 overall player in the ESPN 300. The Aggies have done well in the state of Arizona, where Kirk is from, recently, landing quarterback Kyle Allen (now the Aggies' starter) and defensive end Qualen Cunningham (who played as a true freshman) in the 2014 class. Kirk, who brings a strong skill set to College Station, Texas, will be able to join his good buddy Allen in the Aggies' offense next fall.

The Football Writers Association of America released its All-America team and there is plenty of SEC representation on it, including six members on the first team (Amari Cooper, Reese Dismukes, Shane Ray, Benardrick McKinney, Landon Collins and Senquez Golson. The SEC got seven total players on the two teams. On Tuesday, The Associated Press All-America teams were released and the SEC got 15 players across the three squads.

Kentucky had a void to fill at offensive coordinator when Neal Brown left the Wildcats to become the head coach at Troy and it looks like Mark Stoops has his man. Several reports point to West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson as Stoops' pick to replace Brown at the position. It ensures some continuity for the Wildcats, who ran the well-known Air Raid offense under Brown the last two seasons. Dawson is also an Air Raid disciple, having worked under Dana Holgorsen. At West Virginia, Holgorsen was the playcaller, but Dawson has been in the offense long enough to be well-versed in it so the transition to handling those duties at Kentucky should be smooth. West Virginia averaged 502 offensive yards per game (11th nationally) while Kentucky averaged 384.5 yards per game (75th).

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

Four storylines for Auburn-Georgia

November, 14, 2014
No. 9 Auburn (7-2, 4-2 SEC) and No. 15 Georgia (7-2, 5-2) will renew one of the nation’s oldest college football rivalries on Saturday in Athens in a game that could have major implications in the SEC’s divisional races.

With an assist from ESPN’s Stats & Information group, here are four key storylines to watch on Saturday night.

Gurley’s return: ESPN’s Football Power Index shows Auburn has a 50.3 percent chance to win on Saturday, so this is truly a pick-’em game. The main reason for those even odds is that Georgia running back Todd Gurley will be back in the Bulldogs’ lineup after serving a four-game suspension for accepting money to sign memorabilia.

Freshman Nick Chubb was phenomenal as Gurley’s replacement, ranking 10th in the FBS in rushes per game (25.5), fourth in rushing yards per game (167.8) and tying for fifth with 17 runs of 10-plus yards during his time as the Bulldogs’ starter.

But former Heisman Trophy frontrunner Gurley brings an entirely different level of production to the offense. In case you forgot, here is what the junior star had accomplished before Georgia coach Mark Richt benched him prior to the Missouri game.

Not only is he a home-run threat -- Gurley (8.2 ypc) is on pace to become the third SEC player with at least 100 carries in a season to average at least 8 yards per carry, joining Arkansas' Felix Jones (8.7 in 2007) and Auburn's Brent Fullwood (8.3 in 1986) -- but he also possesses a remarkable ability to make something out of nothing.

That’s where the veteran Gurley truly separates himself from freshman Chubb. On runs where he is hit at or behind the line of scrimmage, Gurley still averages 4.0 yards per carry, where Chubb averages just 1.0. The average against Power Five opponents on such carries is 0.5 ypc.

Efficient Tigers offense: This isn’t just the Todd Gurley Show, however. Auburn’s offense is every bit the machine that Georgia’s is.

According to ESPN’s team efficiency rankings, Auburn has the third-most efficient offense in the FBS, trailing only Oregon and Baylor. Georgia is fifth.

That’s largely because of quarterback Nick Marshall -- a former Georgia cornerback -- Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant and the other Tigers’ abilities on outside runs. On runs outside the tackles, Auburn leads the SEC in rushing yards per game (149.1) and runs of 10-plus yards (49) and is tied for the lead in touchdowns (13).

That’s an especially interesting matchup on Saturday because of Georgia’s problems against outside runs, particularly in its upset loss to Florida. The Bulldogs are allowing 6 yards per carry on runs outside the tackles (third worst in the SEC) and surrendered 392 rushing yards outside the tackles combined in their losses to Florida and South Carolina. In Georgia’s seven wins, they allowed a total of 364 yards on runs outside the tackles.

Will Georgia pass?: Largely because of its success running the ball, Georgia hasn’t shown much interest in putting the ball in the air. The Bulldogs have run on 62 percent of their offensive plays, and probably won’t alter that philosophy much with Gurley back in the lineup.

It might be a good idea for Hutson Mason to let it fly a bit more often, however. Auburn’s passing defense has been spotty at best in the last four games -- particularly last week, when Texas A&M freshman Kyle Allen tossed four touchdown passes in the first half of his SEC starting debut.

The Tigers have been especially atrocious defending receivers after completions, allowing 150.8 yards after the catch this season, the most of any SEC defense.

Mason (140-203, 1,515 yards, 15 TDs, 3 INTs) has been the definition of a game manager at quarterback, but Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo might need Mason to complete a few more passes this week and see if wideouts Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett can make something happen after the catch.

Tigers’ turnover trouble: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn spoke of attempting to shake things up in practice this week in an effort to get the Tigers off to a better start.

The Tigers turned it over on their first offensive play in both of their losses this season (to Mississippi State, where it actually lost turnovers on its first two plays en route to an early 21-0 deficit, and last week against Texas A&M, when the Aggies led 35-17 at halftime) and lost five fumbles in their games against Mississippi State, South Carolina and Texas A&M.

Auburn has allowed an SEC-high 35 points off turnovers in its last four games and has a 2-2 record in that period. During their 5-0 start, the Tigers did not allow any points off turnovers.

Georgia is tied for the SEC lead with a plus-13 turnover margin, which is fourth nationally, and has outscored opponents 62-6 off turnovers. Only Arizona (three points) has allowed fewer points off turnovers than the Bulldogs.
And just like that, the lights have dimmed at Georgia's playoff party.

Hope sank at the bottom of the St. Johns River after Florida shellacked the once 11th-ranked Dawgs 38-20 in the World's Largest Outdoor Surprise Party. I'm not sure any cocktail could really lessen the pain Georgia fans, players and coaches must be feeling after watching that absolute debacle at EverBank Field Saturday.

[+] EnlargeMarshall Morgan, Adam Erickson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsThe Bulldogs are 4-2 in the SEC, and they have no one to blame for the losses but themselves.
With all due respect to a Florida team clinging on to the thinnest of threads heading into Saturday, this was not a game Georgia had any business losing. Not as the more talented team. Not as a potential playoff team. And not with the month of November supposedly a certifiable SEC cakewalk for a Georgia team that has now dropped to second in the SEC Eastern Division behind a Missouri team they boat raced 34-0 on the road.

Florida manhandled the Dawgs up front on both sides. Florida threw the ball six times, but ran for 418 yards and averaged 7.0 yards per carry. And Georgia's offense was bottled up for most of the day.

Not even Todd Gurley could have saved the Dawgs.

Unfortunately for Georgia fans, they've seen this before. Too many times, and it makes you wonder why "Georgiaing" hasn't caught on among the masses like "Clemsoning" has.

Yet again, when everything looked so secure and simple for the Dawgs, they lost a game that should have been theirs inside a season that put everything in front of them and for the taking. With the East so bad this season, Georgia appeared to be the clear favorite after winning five straight following a 38-35 loss to a South Carolina team that has fallen asleep at the wheel ever since.

If you've kept up with Georgia fans in the past few days, they're livid. It's a despondent, frustrated fan base that is once again directing much of its ire toward longtime head coach Mark Richt.

Once again, his coaching has been called into question. Even with eight double-digit-win seasons and two SEC titles during Richt's 14-years in Athens, the Bulldogs have lost too many of these games and never played in the BCS title game, despite being stationed in one of country's most fertile recruiting areas and owning some of the nation's most talented teams year in and year out.

With two teams ranked inside the top five in 2002 and 2003, Georgia lost to inferior Florida teams both years. In 2004, his third-ranked Dawgs lost to No. 19 Tennessee at home. There were the back-to-back losses to Florida and Auburn in 2005 after starting the season 7-0. In 2007, there was the first loss to South Carolina and a rout by Tennessee.

We saw 6-7 in 2010 and a blowout loss to LSU in the SEC title game in 2011, thanks to mistakes ruining any chance of an early lead expanding. In 2012, South Carolina routed the Dawgs in October before Georgia came up about 5 yards short against Alabama in Atlanta. Last season brought five losses, including one to Vanderbilt, for the preseason East favorite.

A lot of players have played in these losses, and Richt has coached all of them, so I understand fans' frustration with him. Big-game losses and inexplicable losses are sprinkled throughout Richt's tenure, and it's incredibly agonizing for fans. It doesn't help that all of this has happened when the East has been incredibly weak.

With ample opportunities to take the division by storm, the Dawgs have found ways to lose. Since Urban Meyer left Florida and Tennessee's continued to struggle with reaching relevancy, Georgia has zero SEC titles, and with the East hemorrhaging this season, the Dawgs are in trouble of missing out on a trip to Atlanta.

It's easy to call Richt out, but it's been a collective collaboration by the Dawgs. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who appeared to have most of the holes on this defense sown up before Saturday, stood in front of the media and took the blame for the Gator gashing, but neither he nor Richt were out there getting thrown around by Florida linemen. They weren't the ones missing tackle after tackle or getting pushed over with ease.

Richt isn't the one limited in what he can do throwing the ball. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has been ridiculed for years by Georgia fans, both justly and unjustly, but neither he nor Richt got blown off the line by Florida's pass rush. They are the ones developing these guys, and have to be held accountable, but there also comes a point where the players have to accept blame and outrage.

Remember, linebacker Ramik Wilson said players "underestimated" Florida. That's on everybody.

The underachievement is real. Georgia is a top-10 job surrounded by platinum talent, but for whatever reason, this program has been held back from breaking through to achieve consistent championship success.

No matter who you point the finger at, it's baffling.

Four key storylines in Georgia-Arkansas

October, 17, 2014
If the SEC West is going to finally lose to a non-Western Division team this season -- it’s 26-0 so far -- Saturday’s game between No. 10 Georgia (5-1, 3-1 SEC) and Arkansas (3-3, 0-3) might be when the streak finally ends.

Even if Georgia star tailback Todd Gurley remains suspended, the Bulldogs are coming off an impressive 34-0 win at Missouri where freshman Nick Chubb established himself as a workhorse back. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks haven’t won a conference game since beating Kentucky 49-7 on Oct. 13, 2012, with their conference losing streak growing to 15 games with last week’s 14-13 loss to Alabama.

Regardless of who wins, a streak will end on Saturday. Here are some key elements to watch in the game, with an assist from ESPN’s Stats & Information group.

Run and run some more: Saturday’s game pits teams that have shared similar offensive philosophies this season. The question is who will do it better at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium when the SEC’s top two rushing offenses meet.

Everyone knows that ground-and-pound is Bret Bielema’s mantra, and the Razorbacks have embodied that philosophy by running the ball 64.6 percent of the time (268 runs in 415 plays). It might come as a surprise, though, that Georgia’s offense is just as run-heavy, keeping it on the ground on 64.3 percent of its plays (264 of 410).

The Bulldogs typically emphasize balance between the run and pass, but offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has leaned heavily on onetime Heisman Trophy frontrunner Gurley and a stable of talented running backs. With Gurley suspended indefinitely and Keith Marshall and Sony Michel out with injuries against Missouri, Chubb carried the load almost singlehandedly, totaling 38 carries and 143 yards and a touchdown.

Arkansas boasts one of the nation's best 1-2 backfield punches with Alex Collins (92-634, 6 TDs) and Jonathan Williams (86-569, 9 TDs), and that duo, coupled with an imposing offensive line, have helped the Razorbacks become the SEC’s top rushing offense at 278.7 ypg.

Georgia (275.7 ypg) is right behind Arkansas in the league rushing standings, with both teams having scored 21 rushing touchdowns and Georgia barely edging Arkansas in yards per carry (6.3 to 6.2).

Gurley vs. Chubb: If Gurley remains sidelined on Saturday -- and as of Thursday evening, Gurley’s status remained unclear -- Chubb (69-367, 3 TDs) and sophomore Brendan Douglas (and possibly J.J. Green, who practiced at running back this week after shifting to defense earlier this season) might have to carry the offense again. The duo combined for 208 yards and two touchdowns against Missouri, including a highlight-reel touchdown run by Douglas where he tried to jump over a Tigers defender and instead was hit in the legs and somersaulted into the end zone.

More impressive than Douglas’ acrobatics was Chubb’s tough running against the Tigers. He accumulated those 143 rushing yards despite being hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 22 of his 38 attempts. Gurley made it past the line of scrimmage before first making contact with a defender on 73 percent of his carries this season, compared to 52 percent for Chubb.

Bulldogs fans had been comparing the hard-running Chubb to Gurley since well before Georgia suspended the junior superstar while investigating whether he accepted money to sign autographs. Chubb’s production against Missouri was impressive, but he has enormous shoes to fill while trying to replace Gurley’s production (94-773, 8 TDs).

He’ll attempt to do that against an Arkansas defense that was stout last week against Alabama. On nine of the Crimson Tide’s 13 drives last Saturday, it failed to achieve either a first down or a touchdown -- its most such drives in any game since Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007 and the most by an SEC team in the last three seasons.

Further, Alabama had just 15 yards before contact on its 37 designed runs against Arkansas, its fewest in a game and lowest average in the last four years.

In other words, Georgia’s offensive linemen had better pack their lunch pails for this trip because producing against Trey Flowers, Darius Philon and Arkansas’ front seven might be tougher than it was against Missouri’s.

Big-play Razorbacks? Considering its run-based philosophy, it might come as a surprise how frequently Arkansas manages to post a quick score. The Razorbacks lead the FBS with 13 touchdown drives that required three plays or fewer. The next-closest FBS programs are Michigan State and Baylor with 11 apiece.

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsArkansas is known for its ground-and-pound offense, but Alex Collins and company are capable of scoring touchdowns quickly.
Georgia’s six such drives are slightly above the national average (five).

Neither team has been especially explosive overall. Georgia has 87 plays that covered 10 yards or more and 26 that covered at least 20. Arkansas has 95 plays of 10-plus and 27 plays of 20-plus. The national averages for FBS teams are 88 and 29, respectively.

Quarterback play: The X-factors on Saturday might be which team gets the steadiest performance from its quarterback.

Arkansas’ Brandon Allen (79-137, 997 yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs) has played better than he did last season, but still hasn’t been a game changer. For instance, he floated an across-the-field pass off his back foot that Alabama’s Landon Collins intercepted with 1:59 to play in last week’s narrow loss.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s Hutson Mason (91-129, 843 yards, 8 TDs, 3 INTs) has been the epitome of a game manager for the Bulldogs. Mason’s average pass has traveled 6.1 yards past the line of scrimmage, the shortest average distance for any Power Five quarterback with at least four starts. The return of previously injured receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley might help Mason stretch the field, however.

If the running game keeps working for these teams on Saturday, don’t expect to see Allen and Mason throw it around too often. But it might come down to which of them can make key completions -- or avoid costly interceptions like Allen’s last week -- with the game on the line.

UGA still hasn't recovered from UT win

September, 26, 2014
Aaron Murray fans might remember last season's Tennessee game as one of the great individual performances of the ex-Georgia quarterback's career

Operating short-handed because of roster losses, Murray set up a fourth-quarter touchdown with a career-long 57-yard run, forced overtime with a touchdown pass to Rantavious Wooten with five seconds left in regulation and helped the Bulldogs survive the Volunteers' upset bid 34-31 in overtime.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall
AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Jason GetzGeorgia running back Keith Marshall has not yet regained the form he showed prior to getting injured in last season's Tennessee game.
Mark Richt likely remembers the win in a far less sunny fashion. It was the point when a team that had designs on contending for conference and national titles started to crumble.

Sure, the victory was exciting and Murray played great. Yes, it kept Richt's Bulldogs in the Top 10 for one more Saturday after an exciting first few weeks of the season. But because of the series of injuries the Bulldogs suffered that day -- namely the season-ending knee injuries to running back Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley -- a high-scoring offense that had already lost receiver Malcolm Mitchell for the season and superstar tailback Todd Gurley for a month started to sputter.

Following the Tennessee win, the Bulldogs' record dating back to the start of the 2011 season was 26-7, and it seemed like they still stood a good chance of claiming their third straight SEC East title. Since that day in Knoxville, the Bulldogs are 6-5 and one could easily argue Mike Bobo's offense still hasn't completely recovered.

Entering this week's rematch with Tennessee, Scott-Wesley still hasn't appeared in a game yet in 2014, although Richt hinted he might make his debut next week against Vanderbilt. Same with Mitchell, who has missed 14 games since tearing his ACL in the first quarter of the Bulldogs' 2013 opener against Clemson.

But perhaps the most unfortunate injury from the Tennessee game was the one to Marshall.

He had existed in Gurley's shadow since the 2012 season started, but last season's Tennessee game looked like his chance to finally thrive as the Bulldogs' top back. He had enjoyed the best game of his career -- 164 rushing yards, including touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards -- the season before against the Vols and had performed well against LSU a week earlier (96 yards on 20 carries) after Gurley went down with an ankle injury.

But when the former five-star recruit crumpled to the ground after taking a shot to the knee from Cam Sutton while reaching to catch a first-quarter pass, he suffered an injury that to this point has prevented him from regaining the form that made him a perfect complement to Gurley during their freshman season.

Marshall has played sparingly this season, rushing 12 times for 24 yards before suffering another knee injury last week against Troy that will sideline him again for the time being. Freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb have emerged as stars-in-waiting behind Gurley, while Marshall has become an overlooked figure in Georgia's backfield.

Perhaps Marshall will return to the lineup and can still make an impact this season. Maybe Scott-Wesley will come back and build off the breakthrough performances he strung together last season prior to the Tennessee game. Same with Mitchell, whom many believed was on the verge of a huge 2013 season before suffering a freak injury while celebrating a Gurley touchdown against Clemson.

They won't be in the lineup against a much-improved Vols team this Saturday, though, and that's certainly not a good thing for Georgia. The Bulldogs still have Gurley, and their coaching staff has had more than enough practice turning lemons into lemonade since their visit to Neyland Stadium a year ago, so they're hardly the limping club that hit the skids after last season's overtime victory.

The Bulldogs have still fielded a serviceable -- and at times, truly impressive -- offense since then, despite all the injury absences. Eventually, Bobo might have all his weapons at his disposal once again. And SEC East defenses should take cover if that happens.

SEC morning links

September, 26, 2014
1. Texas turnaround: Kevin Sherrington from the Dallas Morning News took a look at which college football program is actually the top dog in the state of Texas. The Lone Star State belonged to the Texas Longhorns for many years, but programs like Texas A&M and Baylor have completely altered things in recent years -- a sea of change that has only become more dramatic because of the problems that have occurred in Austin. Here’s another odd coincidence that hints at the changes within the state: Texas A&M announced on Thursday a home-and-home series with Notre Dame in 2024 and 2025. On the same day, Notre Dame confirmed that half of its four-game series against Texas (the games in 2019 and 2020 are off, while the 2015 and 2016 games will still be played) is cancelled.

2. East showdown: Between the retrospectives on South Carolina’s overtime win at eventual SEC East champ Missouri last season and rundowns of the ESPN College GameDay hoopla that will parade into Gamecocks country this weekend -- Kenny Chesney is the guest picker, y’all! -- let’s also remember that South Carolina and Missouri will play a pretty big game on Saturday. South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward says his defense is developing a better pass rush, and it will need to with Maty Mauk and Missouri’s passing game coming to town. The Tigers have tinkered with their starting offensive line, but their sophomore quarterback can sling it around. And the Tigers are pretty good on kick returns, too, which has been a problem for South Carolina of late.

3. Volunteers-Bulldogs: How’s this for a statement on the changing philosophies in college football. Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek says it’s unusual these days to scheme for Georgia’s relatively traditional pro-style offense. Of course, former UGA assistant Jancek has seen more of Mike Bobo’s offense than most, but the Bulldogs have also shaken things up a bit schematically since Jancek left the staff after the 2009 season. Saturday’s game pits two teams who have relied heavily on freshman contributors so far. It should be an interesting matchup between a Tennessee program that’s on the rise and one from Georgia that seems to rank among the favorites to win its third SEC East title in four seasons.

Around the SEC:

" As it turns out, LSU coach Les Miles has an appreciation for baseball’s advanced statistical analysis. Who wants to hear him break down sabermetrics?

" After an underwhelming performance against Kansas State last week, Auburn hopes to get its running game back on track against Louisiana Tech.

" Although he still weighs 360 pounds, Kentucky defensive tackle Matt Elam says he’s dropped 30 pounds since he arrived on campus.

" Alabama’s defense has worked lately on toughening up.

" Associated Press writers Steve Megargee and David Brandt give us a list of matchups and items to watch in this weekend’s SEC games.

Tweets of the day

SEC morning links

September, 16, 2014
It's a fact frequently brought up in Missouri circles but not necessarily around the league, and it's one I find fascinating. The Tigers continued their nation-long active streak of forcing turnovers to 47 consecutive games on Saturday and it started with an interception by Missouri defensive tackle Josh Augusta. That triggered a run that would see the Tigers collect four turnovers in a 38-10 rout of Central Florida. It was one of the highlights of a great day by the Tigers' defensive line, including a strong performance from Shane Ray, who was eventually named SEC Defensive Player of the Week. The Tigers continue to simply play well and win. They have one more non-conference game (Indiana) before getting their chance to defend their SEC East division crown.

If Florida wants to be successful defensively, pressuring quarterbacks is paramount. On Saturday against Kentucky, Dante Fowler Jr. did a good job of it but didn't have a ton of help. That has to change when the Gators play Alabama this week. The individual matchup involving Fowler should be interesting -- he is facing Alabama true freshman Cam Robinson, the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2014 recruiting class. For what its worth, the Gators said they needed some adversity, like Saturday's game provided, before going to Tuscaloosa.

Days after its loss at South Carolina, Georgia is still the subject of much conversation. A lot of it centers around the offensive playcalling and coordinator Mike Bobo. My colleague Edward Aschoff said not giving the ball to running back Todd Gurley near the goal line late in the game was the wrong call. That topic was even the first question posed to Mark Richt by a caller on his weekly radio show and he admitted that “I think we were all thinking the same thing on the ride home.” The Bulldogs play Troy this week, so don't expect that chatter to calm anytime soon.

Read more here.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson thought he had just ended the game.

With 5:24 left in the fourth quarter, and the Gamecocks clinging to a 38-35 lead over sixth-ranked Georgia, Thompson gift wrapped an interception for Georgia cornerback Damian Swann. The veteran defensive back scooted toward the end zone and an illegal block on the Gamecocks gave Georgia the ball at South Carolina's 4-yard line after Swann was eventually tackled.

No one could possibly judge Thompson's immediate assumption about the outcome of the game. With Georgia holding the nation's best player -- running back Todd Gurley -- in its backfield, you just knew that the Dawgs would pull ahead.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Jeff Blake/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley never got a chance to give Georgia the lead when the Bulldogs had a first down inside South Carolina's 5-yard line late in the game.
But when offensive coordinator Mike Bobo could have just handed the ball to his freight train running back 12 feet away from the goal line, he decided to give quarterback Hutson Mason the opportunity to shine. What ensued was a bizarre set of events that included a perplexing intentional grounding play -- on first down, no less -- and a missed chip-shot field-goal attempt by the very reliable Marshall Morgan.

Minutes later, the Gamecocks were celebrating and rushing through their own set of hedges in the end zone to mob their fantastic student section.

"We were meant to win this game, and Georgia was not," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who improved to 16-6 all-time against Georgia.

That might be true, and though there were a lot of questionable calls and no-calls that helped the Gamecocks along the way (has anyone found the phantom hold that took away the early 54-yard Gurley touchdown?), not giving Gurley, who had 128 rushing yards to that point, the ball inside the 5 was a mistake of epic proportions. Everyone in the stadium expected No. 3 to get the ball, and he should have. Even if South Carolina had all 11 defenders stacked in the box, the first -- and only -- call you have to start the drive is to hand it to the best and toughest running back in the entire country.

Instead, Georgia gambled with the pass and Mason's penalty moved the Dawgs back 10 yards. Georgia eventually had to settle for a field-goal attempt that was missed.

"If I had to do it again we would’ve hammered it," Georgia coach Mark Richt said after the game.

Bobo wasn't made available to the media after the game.

At least Richt knows it wasn't the right call, but there is nothing that can be done about it now. You learn and move on, but this one will sting. There will be a lot of finger-pointing by fans, as the Bulldogs dive into the teeth of conference season. And this play could come back to haunt the Bulldogs if they don't make it to Atlanta for the SEC title game in December.

Forget all the craziness that certainly didn't help Georgia on Saturday, that first-down call will leave a sick feeling in Athens for months if the Bulldogs continue to look up in the SEC East standings.

We don't know if Gurley, who had already made a handful of dazzling/gritty plays before that drive even began, would have punched the ball in on first down, but he was without a doubt the best option in that situation.

At first glance: SEC Week 4

September, 15, 2014
What do we know about the SEC right now? Not as much as we thought we did on Friday, before Kentucky put a triple-overtime scare into Florida, South Carolina toppled Georgia and other conference teams gave us reason to doubt previous assumptions about the SEC hierarchy.

The uncertainty is part of what makes following the league fun, though. With a couple more SEC teams jumping into conference play this week, we should soon gain a better understanding of where things actually stand within the conference. But for now -- with a couple of key SEC games and a huge nonconference matchup on Thursday ahead -- let’s celebrate how many SEC fan bases truly believe their teams have a legitimate chance to make it to Atlanta in December.

A quick look at the week ahead:

Game of the week: Florida at Alabama
Little did we know before the season that Florida’s first major challenge of the fall would come from Kentucky and not from Nick Saban’s juggernaut in Tuscaloosa. Will Muschamp’s team (2-0, 1-0 SEC) needed an all-star performance from receiver Demarcus Robinson (15 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns) and an assist from the back judge who was minding the play clock on a key fourth-down play to beat the Wildcats (2-1, 0-1) in overtime. The Gators need to make a lot of progress in a little time if they’re to have a chance against No. 3 Alabama (3-0), despite the Crimson Tide’s over reliance on dump-off passes to Amari Cooper and occasionally shoddy pass defense. Florida has the ability to make this a competitive game, but it must look a lot more like the team that destroyed Eastern Michigan, 65-0, two weeks ago than the one that easily could have lost to Kentucky.

Player under pressure: Dak Prescott
Mississippi State’s quarterback has been great against three overmatched teams so far (Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama). When they visit No. 8 LSU this weekend, Prescott and the Bulldogs will gain their first real opportunity to prove they’ll be more than a middle-of-the-pack program in the SEC West this season. LSU hasn’t allowed a single point in nine quarters and has outscored opponents 108-0 since falling behind Wisconsin, 24-7, early in the second half of the opener. The Tigers traditionally win comfortably in this series, so the pressure is on Prescott to keep the Bulldogs afloat against by far the best team they will have faced to date.

Coaches under the microscope: Georgia coordinators Mike Bobo and Jeremy Pruitt
A longtime Mark Richt assistant, Bobo has fielded some of the most productive offenses in school history in recent seasons, but he has taken plenty of heat for not handing the ball to Todd Gurley on Saturday with Georgia knocking at the South Carolina goal line with the chance to take a late lead. That decision blew up in Bobo’s face when the drive sputtered and normally solid kicker Marshall Morgan missed a chip-shot field goal. Meanwhile, newcomer Pruitt’s defense was atrocious, surrendering 447 yards of total offense following a solid debut two weeks ago against Clemson. This Saturday’s matchup against Troy shouldn’t provide a major challenge for the Bulldogs, but it will be their next opportunity to get bad tastes out of their mouths.

Storyline to watch: Auburn’s travel schedule
Playing a Thursday night game halfway across the country can’t help but be disruptive for Gus Malzahn’s No. 5 Auburn Tigers (2-0, 1-0). It might be a competitive challenge, too, as the 1,000-mile trip to Manhattan, Kansas, will culminate with Malzahn’s team facing No. 20 Kansas State (2-0). The sunny side of the unusual trip is that Auburn was off last weekend, so it will not play on short rest. Plus the Tigers will have nine days until they host Louisiana Tech on Sept. 27, so they have extra recovery time built into the back end of this trip and a relatively easy nonconference game between K-State and a huge SEC matchup with LSU on Oct. 4. Nonetheless, this odd piece of scheduling will probably create a couple of headaches for Malzahn and his staff.

Intriguing matchup: Arkansas running game against Northern Illinois defense
Fresh off a 438-yard outing in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech, Arkansas’ impressive rushing attack seems to rank among the nation’s best. Jonathan Williams (22 carries, 145 yards, four TDs against Texas Tech) and Alex Collins (27-212, 2 TDs) might be the best tandem in the SEC and the Razorbacks’ offensive line is doing fine work. Let’s see how they fare on Saturday against a Northern Illinois defense that ranks 13th nationally against the run, surrendering 81 yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry. The Huskies posted those numbers in wins against Presbyterian, Northwestern and UNLV, so they certainly haven’t seen the likes of Arkansas’ running game yet. It seems highly likely NIU’s opponent averages might rise a bit after Saturday’s game.

SEC morning links

September, 3, 2014
1. The biggest concern for Alabama's football team might not be at quarterback. After the Crimson Tide gave up 365 passing yards and 29 completions to West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett, many gave the Tide's secondary some nasty looks. Cornerback Bradley Sylve drew most of the ire, as he was consistently beaten all night. Not the biggest defensive back, Sylve had a tough time with West Virginia's bigger, more physical receivers, especially Kevin White, who finished with 11 catches for 143 yards. Well, coach Nick Saban made a change Monday, having Eddie Jackson, who was recovering from a knee injury, run with the first-team defense alongside Cyrus Jones. Sylve ran with the second-team defense with freshman Tony Brown, who could see some time in the next few weeks.

2. Mississippi State's football team was met with tragedy this weekend after wide receiver Jameon Lewis' brother, Tyriunce, was shot and killed Sunday morning in their hometown of Tylertown, Mississippi. Lewis, who is Mississippi State's top returning receiver, returned to campus on Monday, but his availability for Saturday's game against UAB is still uncertain. Coach Dan Mullen made it clear that he wasn't worried about Lewis taking the field Saturday. His concern is with Lewis' emotions. Our thoughts are with Lewis and his family.

3. Last weekend, we saw Saban face West Virginia. Why was that significant? Well, Saban is from West Virginia, so there was a little bit of a storyline there. But for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, Saturday's game with Toledo actually means a lot to him. Why, you ask? Well, he coached at Toledo from 1991-2000, becoming the school's all-time leader in wins after going 73-37-3 with the Rockets. Man, three ties? That's so old school. Toledo might hold a special place in Pinkel's heart, but he won't let that get to him this weekend. “Great people, great community. It was a big part of my life, big part of my career,” Pinkel said. “I’ll always be a Toledo Rocket. Not this weekend, but I’ll always be a Toledo Rocket.”

Top SEC recruiters 

June, 9, 2014
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.

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SEC's lunch links

June, 3, 2014
Suddenly my groom's cake designed like an indoor practice facility is looking a bit shabby.