SEC: Oklahoma Sooners
Who really deserves to claim the title of "Running Back U" for the 2000s?
1. Arkansas (104 points)
In perhaps the biggest upset at any position, Arkansas can call itself “Running Back U” for the 2000s. Certainly Darren McFadden played the biggest role in the Razorbacks’ claim, but he got an assist from Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Those former backfield mates are among six Arkansas running backs who have been drafted since 2001, helping the Hogs barely edge Oklahoma for the top spot.
Award winners: McFadden, Walker (2006, 2007), Camp (2007).
Consensus All-Americans: McFadden (2006, 2007).
First-team all-conference: Fred Talley (2002), Cedric Cobbs (2003), Darren McFadden (2005, 2006, 2007).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jones (2008), McFadden (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cobbs (Round 4, 2004), Knile Davis (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Hillis (Round 7, 2008), Kiero Small (Round 7, 2014).
2. Oklahoma (102 points)
When someone like Adrian Peterson has been on your campus, you have to start there when discussing Oklahoma running backs. But one of the main reasons the Sooners racked up such a considerable point total is the Big 12’s unusual practice of honoring fullbacks on its all-conference team. In addition to the Petersons and DeMarco Murrays, there are also several blocking backs included in the Sooners’ 12 all-conference running backs who made our list.
Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Peterson (2004).
First-team all-conference: Quentin Griffin (2002), Peterson (2004, 2005, 2006), J.D. Runnels (2005), Brody Eldridge (2007), DeMarco Murray (2008, 2010), Matt Clapp (2008), Trey Millard (2011, 2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Peterson (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Griffin (Round 4, 2003), Murray (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Runnels (Round 6, 2006), Patrick (Round 7, 2008), Trey Millard (Round 7, 2014).
3. Alabama (100 points)
Arkansas’ Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams had better pick it up this season, or the Alabama train is going to roll to the top spot. The Crimson Tide once again has one of the nation’s most talented backfields with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry set to join the likes of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy as top point producers from Alabama.
Award winners: Ingram, Heisman (2009); Richardson, Walker (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Ingram (2009), Richardson (2011).
First-team all-conference: Kenneth Darby (2005), Ingram (2009), Richardson (2011), Lacy (2012), Yeldon (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Ingram (2011), Richardson (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Le’Ron McClain (Round 4, 2007), Glen Coffee (Round 3, 2009), Lacy (Round 2, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ahmaad Galloway (Round 7, 2003), Darby (Round 7, 2007), Brad Smelley (Round 7, 2012).
4. Auburn (86 points)
Auburn hasn’t been as flashy as its in-state rival -- the Tigers don’t have a single award winner or consensus All-American in the 2000s -- but few schools have been as consistent at developing solid tailbacks. Perhaps the most memorable names are the stars from the undefeated 2004 team -- Ronnie Brown and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams -- but Rudi Johnson, Kenny Irons, Ben Tate and Tre Mason all made big impacts at Auburn, as well.
Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Johnson (2000), Williams (2003, 2004), Brown (2004), Irons (2005, 2006), Michael Dyer (2011), Mason (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Brown (2005), Williams (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Heath Evans (Round 3, 2001), Johnson (Round 4, 2001), Irons (Round 2, 2007), Tate (Round 2, 2010), Mason (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jay Prosch (Round 6, 2014).
4. Wisconsin (86 points)
Montee Ball is Wisconsin’s only major award winner and consensus All-America tailback from the 2000s, but the Badgers have an impressive tradition of turning out 1,000-yard rushers. Among the program’s top producers from this era are 2001 first-round pick Michael Bennett, Brian Calhoun and Anthony Davis, among others. Ball posted huge yardage and touchdown totals in 2011 and 2012 -- which explains why he was a two-time All-American and won the 2012 Doak Walker Award -- but it’s the run of consistency at running back that makes Wisconsin a producer of top rushers.
Award winners: Ball, Walker (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Ball (2011, 2012).
First-team all-conference: Davis (2001), Calhoun (2005), P.J. Hill (2006), John Clay (2009), Ball (2011, 2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bennett (2001).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Calhoun (Round 3, 2006), Ball (Round 2, 2013), James White (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Davis (Round 7, 2005), Bradie Ewing (Round 5, 2012).
6. Oregon (82 points)
Although the Ducks have ranked among the nation’s top programs over the past half-decade, LaMichael James’ 2010 Doak Walker Award is the only major award that an Oregon player has won at any position in the 2000s. James is the Ducks’ top point producer out of the backfield in recent years, but they also won points with backs like Maurice Morris and Onterrio Smith before Chip Kelly’s rushing attack turned Oregon into the offensive juggernaut that we see today.
Award winners: James, Walker (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: James (2010), Kenjon Barner (2012).
First-team all-conference: Smith (2002), Jonathan Stewart (2007), James (2010, 2011), Barner (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Stewart (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Morris (Round 2, 2002), Smith (Round 4, 2003), LaMichael James (Round 2, 2012), De’Anthony Thomas (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Barner (Round 6, 2013).
7. USC (78 points)
Reggie Bush was actually a two-time All-American, but we aren’t factoring the 2004 nod he received because that was as an all-purpose player, not a running back. Nonetheless, Bush’s standout 2005 season was the main points driver as the Trojans cracked the top 10 largely because of the former No. 2 overall NFL pick’s accomplishments. It bears mentioning, however, that USC has already had eight running backs drafted in the 2000s.
Award winners: Bush, Heisman (2005), Camp (2005), Walker (2005).
Consensus All-Americans: Bush (2005).
First-team all-conference: Bush (2004, 2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bush (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Justin Fargas (Round 3, 2003), LenDale White (Round 2, 2006), Joe McKnight (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Malaefou Mackenzie (Round 7, 2003), David Kirtman (Round 5, 2006), Allen Bradford (Round 6, 2011), Stanley Havili (Round 7, 2011).
8. Penn State (72 points)
Larry Johnson’s huge 2002 season accounts for much of Penn State’s point production -- he generated 52 points between winning three national awards, becoming a consensus All-American, winning first-team all-conference honors and getting drafted in the 2003 first round -- but the Nittany Lions have had five running backs drafted and Evan Royster also won all-conference honors in 2009.
Award winners: Johnson, Camp (2002), Maxwell (2002), Walker (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Johnson (2002).
First-team all-conference: Johnson (2002), Royster (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: Johnson (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Omar Easy (Round 4, 2002), Michael Robinson (Round 4, 2006), Tony Hunt (Round 3, 2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Royster (Round 6, 2011).
9. Oklahoma State (70 points)
There’s nothing flashy about Oklahoma State’s point production here. No national awards, and just Kendall Hunter among its All-Americans. But the Cowboys have been outstanding at producing all-conference running backs, with Hunter (twice) and Tatum Bell ranking among their eight backs who made the coaches’ first team.
Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Hunter (2010.
First-team all-conference: Bell (2003), Dantrell Savage (2007), Hunter (2008, 2010), Keith Toston (2009), Bryant Ward (2009, 2010), Joseph Randle (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Bell (Round 2, 2004), Vernand Morency (Round 3, 2005), Hunter (Round 4, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Randle (Round 5, 2013).
10. California (66 points)
Considering how Cal shares a conference with splashy programs like Oregon and USC, perhaps it’s understandable that its success developing tailbacks might fly a bit under the radar. But just look at the Bears’ résumé, starting with Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best and J.J. Arrington. There have been some enormously productive tailbacks who got their start in Berkeley.
Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Arrington (2004).
First-team all-conference: Adimchinobe Echemandu (2003), Arrington (2004), Lynch (2006), Justin Forsett (2007), Best (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Lynch (2007), Best (2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Arrington (Round 2, 2005), Shane Vereen (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Echemandu (Round 7, 2004), Forsett (Round 7, 2008).
10. Virginia Tech (66 points)
Frank Beamer’s Hokies are another bunch who trotted out productive tailback after productive tailback. Virginia Tech hasn’t won a national award and has only Kevin Jones among its All-America backs, but its list of all-conference backs -- including first-round picks Jones and David Wilson, along with Lee Suggs, Brandon Orr and Ryan Williams -- features some players whose running abilities fit perfectly with Beamer’s winning formula in Blacksburg.
Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jones (2003).
First-team all-conference: Suggs (2000), Jones (2003), Orr (2006), Williams (2009), Wilson (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jones (2004), Wilson (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Suggs (Round 4, 2003), Williams (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jarrett Ferguson (Round 7, 2002), Cedric Humes (Round 7, 2006).
REST OF “RUNNING BACK U” RANKINGS
62 -- Boston College; 60 -- Michigan, Ohio State; 58 -- Stanford; 56 -- LSU, Miami; 52 -- Georgia Tech, Oregon State; 50 -- West Virginia; 48 -- BYU; 44 -- Arizona, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, TCU; 42 -- Texas; 40 -- Clemson, Iowa, Nebraska; 36 -- Kansas State, Rutgers; 32 -- Georgia, Minnesota; 28 -- Florida State, Louisville, Tennessee, UCLA; 26 -- Illinois, Maryland, Syracuse; 24 -- Virginia; 20 -- Colorado, North Carolina; 18 -- Baylor, Mississippi State, Wake Forest; 16 -- Florida, Northwestern, Washington, Washington State; 14 -- Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas Tech; 12 -- Iowa State, Kentucky; 10 -- Kansas, N.C. State, Texas A&M; 8 -- Missouri, Utah; 6 -- Arizona State, Duke, Indiana, Notre Dame; 2 -- Vanderbilt
NEW ORLEANS -- Oklahoma exploded in the first half, then held on for a 45-31 victory over Alabama at the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Thursday in one of the biggest upsets in BCS history.
Here’s how it happened:
It was over when: Trailing by a touchdown with less than a minute to play, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron dropped back to pass. But before he could unload the pass, Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker came swooping around his blindside to knock the ball loose. Sooners defensive end Geneo Grissom scooped up the fumble and rumbled 8 yards into the end zone to clinch the stunning victory.
Game ball goes to: Oklahoma freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, who was absolutely sensational in just his fifth career start. Against one of the top-ranked defenses in college football, Knight completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. All of those numbers were easily career highs. Knight threw one interception, but even that pass was on the money, as it bounced off the hands of receiver Jalen Saunders. Knight was special, outplaying a quarterback on the other side who finished second in the Heisman voting.
Stat of the game: Oklahoma’s 31 first-half points were the most the Sooners had scored in a first half all season, and the most Alabama had allowed in a first half this year, as well. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Alabama had given up 31 points over an entire game just seven times under coach Nick Saban before this Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma came into the night averaging 31 points a game.
Unsung hero: Grissom had a monster night to spearhead the Sooners defensively. He finished with two sacks, a third-down pass breakup and two fumble recoveries. The first fumble recovery came at the Oklahoma 8-yard line, thwarting a promising Alabama scoring drive in the second quarter. The second ended the game. It was easily the best game of Grissom’s career. He spent much of last season as a reserve tight end.
What Alabama learned: The Crimson Tide just aren’t quite as dominant as they’ve been in the recent past. Oklahoma might have played out of its mind, but this was also a team that lost to Texas by 16 points and to Baylor by 29. Even with McCarron gone, Alabama will be a national title contender again next season. But the Crimson Tide must shore up some weaknesses, specifically a secondary that got completely torched by a freshman quarterback.
What Oklahoma learned: The Sooners can play with anyone in the country. Alabama has been the preeminent program in college football the past five years, which includes three national titles. But this was no fluke. The Sooners outplayed the Crimson Tide in just about every facet of the game. It has been 13 years now since Oklahoma won a national championship. But with Knight back at quarterback and a couple rising stars on defense, the Sooners could be geared up for a special season in 2014.
Who to watch: Alabama's AJ McCarron, who, with two national titles, is one of the winningest quarterbacks in the history of the game. Even though the Crimson Tide came up just short of advancing to another national championship game, McCarron has put together another fabulous season. He was a first-team Walter Camp All-American, won the Maxwell Award and finished second in the Heisman voting. On top of owning virtually every passing record at Alabama, McCarron also has a career record of 36-3 as the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback. A win over the Sooners in his collegiate swan song would cap the finest quarterbacking career in Alabama history in fine fashion.
What to watch: How Oklahoma performs against the preeminent program from the preeminent conference in college football. Even though the SEC has reeled off seven straight national titles, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has questioned why the SEC is accepted as college football's top conference, even calling it "propaganda." Stoops also has suggested the SEC's defensive reputation has been overhyped, because of substandard quarterbacking in the past. Stoops, however, has never disrespected Alabama, and this week called the Crimson Tide the best team in the country despite their loss to Auburn. Still, the fact remains, the Big 12's reputation will be squarely on the line this game, especially after Baylor's disastrous showing against Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma's reputation will be on the line, too. The Sooners can prove on the national stage they're on their way back to standing alongside the nation’s elite programs. Or they -- and the Big 12 -- will take yet another perception hit heading into the College Football Playoff era, where perception will be paramount.
Why to watch: This will pit two of the most tradition-rich programs in college football history. Alabama and Oklahoma have combined for 17 national championships, including four in the BCS era. Despite their histories, the Crimson Tide and Sooners have met only four times before: the 1963 Orange Bowl, 1970 Bluebonnet Bowl and then a home-and-home in 2002-2003, which the Sooners swept. Nick Saban and Stoops, however, have faced each other only once, in the 2003 national championship game when Saban was at LSU. The Tigers won that game 21-14.
Prediction: Alabama 41, Oklahoma 17. The Sooners have thrived as the underdog, both in the past, and here late this season. But Alabama is another animal, and Oklahoma, which has been inconsistent offensively all season, will struggle to move the ball against linebacker C.J. Mosley & Co.
The last time the Crimson Tide just missed out on a national championship game and ended up in the Sugar, they didn't seem to be very motivated. Will they be motivated this time?
Jake Trotter: I don’t think motivation will be a problem for Alabama. Then again, it could be. After all, the Crimson Tide have played in the national championship game in three of the last four years. Playing in the Sugar is a step down. One thing we do know is that Oklahoma will be motivated. This is the biggest bowl the Sooners have played in since the 2008 national championship game against Florida. As a double-digit underdog against the preeminent program in college football at the moment, it’s a guarantee Oklahoma will be fired up to play well.
For OU to pull off the upset, what is the one thing that has to happen?
Scarborough: Aside from Alabama surprising me and coming out flat, I think it comes down to the defense. McCarron, T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper will put up plenty of points on offense, but can Mosley and the secondary rebound after what was a testing season defensively? Alabama was excellent in terms of production this season, but our colleague Edward Aschoff was wise to focus on the importance of the Tide facing another zone-read team as both Auburn and Texas A&M had success moving the ball against them. Even Mississippi State had some success spreading the field and pushing the tempo. Alabama has to set the edge and stop the run early against Oklahoma, forcing Blake Bell, Trevor Knight or whoever plays quarterback for the Sooners into obvious passing situations. If Oklahoma finds itself in a lot of second-and-mediums and third-and-shorts, Alabama will be in trouble because while there's plenty of talent at safety with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins, there's a significant drop off at cornerback once you look past Deion Belue.
Who is the player to watch in this game?
Scarborough: This is going to be a very interesting game for Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest. He's had a fairly solid junior season, but he hasn't done what many expected when the season began and there was speculation over whether he'd turn pro early. Well, he's already said he intends to return to school, and with Mosley moving on, he'll be the man leading and executing Kirby Smart’s and Nick Saban's defense in 2014. How he does against Oklahoma is an important step in that progression. He needs to show he can both lead his teammates, as well as show the sideline-to-sideline type of tackling that Mosley brought to the table. As more teams go to the zone-read offense, that part of the game becomes more and more important. And if I can add a second player to watch quickly, keep an eye on freshman tailback Derrick Henry. He's a talented big man at 6-foot-3, and the buzz is that he may be poised to pass Kenyan Drake for second on the depth chart.
Trotter: Receiver/returner Jalen Saunders is Oklahoma's X-factor. In the Sooners' upset victory over Oklahoma State, Saunders unleashed a 61-yard punt return touchdown, a 37-yard reverse rush that set up another score and a game-winning, 7-yard touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone in the final seconds. For the Sooners to have a chance, Saunders must deliver another monster performance.
For the record, what he said was, "You can look at the top two, three, four, five, six teams, and you can look at the bottom six, seven, eight, whatever they are. How well are they all doing? What'd we [the Big 12] have, eight of 10 teams in bowl games this year?"
With those comments in mind, how would you rank the SEC and Big 12 teams heading into the 2013 season if you were doing a combined poll from those two leagues?
You get a chance to do just that in our SportsNation poll by clicking here.
This ought to be interesting.
The only Big 12 teams I would for sure have in my top 10 would be Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State. TCU would be a maybe.
The good thing is that we'll get to see this whole debate play out on the field in a couple of 2013 season openers. LSU and TCU will square off in Cowboys Stadium to kick off the season, while Mississippi State and Oklahoma State will meet in Houston's Reliant Stadium.
For perspective, my ESPN colleague, David Ubben, had Oklahoma State No. 1 in his Big 12 post-spring power rankings and TCU No. 2.
In our SEC post-spring power rankings, we had LSU No. 6 and Mississippi State No. 10.
Jan. 4, 8 p.m. ET, Arlington, Texas (Fox)
Texas A&M take by GigEmNation's Sam Khan Jr.: The Aggies are one of the surprise stories nationally in college football this season, exceeding preseason expectations by going 10-2 in their first Southeastern Conference campaign.
New coach Kevin Sumlin has injected energy into the program and helped reverse the narrative of 2011, when the preseason-top-10 Aggies couldn't hold on to a second-half lead. Now, Texas A&M closes games out as good as any team.
A lot of that credit can go to its Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. Nicknamed "Johnny Football," Manziel took the college football world by storm with his playmaking ability, producing an eye-popping statistical season by breaking Cam Newton's single-season SEC total yardage record. Manziel compiled 4,600 offensive yards this season, throwing for 3,419 and rushing for 1,181. He was responsible for 43 touchdowns.
But the Aggies have been far from a one-man show.
Questions about the defense -- and the defensive line in particular -- were answered emphatically. Junior Damontre Moore spent most of the season at or near the top spot in the country in tackles for loss (20) and sacks (12.5), where he's tied for fifth and third, respectively.
Perhaps the team's best unit has been its offensive line, which has two future NFL draft picks at the tackle spots (juniors Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews), and a senior center (Patrick Lewis) who has been a catalyst to the team's success.
The Aggies have displayed a high-powered, quick-strike offense under Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, and an aggressive defense under coordinator Mark Snyder.
Oklahoma take from SoonerNation's Jake Trotter: From Lee Roy Selmon to Brian Bosworth, Oklahoma has a long, strong defensive tradition. But like almost everyone else in the Big 12, these Sooners win with their high-flying pass offense. Senior quarterback Landry Jones finished off the regular season on fire, throwing for more than 500 yards twice in November while leading the Sooners to a pair of come-from-behind, fourth-quarter wins. Jones, who has a chance to go 4-0 as a bowl-game starter, benefits from one of the most explosive wide receiving corps in the country.
Four different receivers boast more than 500 yards receiving, including Kenny Stills, who leads the Sooners with 75 receptions and 11 touchdowns. All three of OU’s running backs are dangerous in the passing game, too, especially fullback Trey Millard, who had a 73-yard reception against Texas earlier this season.
Opposing offenses have gashed Bob Stoops’ defense on the ground, but the Sooners are not easy to thrown on. Free safety Tony Jefferson is a ferocious tackler, and cornerback Aaron Colvin is a ball hawk.
As co-Big 12 champs, the Sooners had a season worthy of a BCS bowl. But Northern Illinois' sudden ascendance knocked them out of the BCS and the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners did not have a win over a team currently ranked in the AP Top 25. But their two losses came at the hands of top-ranked Notre Dame and Kansas State, which was No. 1 before the Irish. OU was in both games until falling apart in the fourth quarter. The Sooners, however, have owned the fourth quarter down the stretch, coming back in the final seconds to knock off West Virginia and Oklahoma State, then holding off TCU in the last minute.
As enjoyable as basking in the potential glory of an exciting season can be, for many of those players the level of hype they are receiving isn't entirely warranted.
For KC Joyner's list of nine players who fit this description, including South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and Oklahoma's Landry Jones, click here .
Any probing questions?
I’m here for you in this week’s mailbag:
Kris in Huntsville, Ala., writes: How much will not having C.J. Mosley hurt Alabama against Florida with the Gators so good at getting the ball to Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps out of the backfield?
Chris Low: It’s a major blow for the Alabama defense. Mosley was the Crimson Tide’s best coverage linebacker and had the speed and cover skills to stick with fast guys. When he got hurt last week in the Arkansas game, Alabama used a couple of different players to fill Mosley’s various roles, including Dont’a Hightower. The Crimson Tide would prefer to have Hightower rushing on third down, so junior Nico Johnson will fill in for Mosley this week. True freshman Trey DePriest and redshirt freshman Adrian Hubbard were also pressed into action last week against the Hogs. Containing Rainey and Demps out of the backfield will be a key for Alabama, and you can bet that Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has a few things up his sleeve to try and create some mismatches for both players. If the Gators are going to win this game, they’re going to need to hit a couple of big plays. The Crimson Tide are simply too good defensively to take the ball and drive it on them for 10, 11 and 12 plays for touchdowns. Of course, as soon as you say that, you look at the stats and realize that Alabama has only given up four plays this season of 20 yards or longer, and all four were passes. The Crimson Tide are one of eight FBS teams that hasn’t allowed a rushing play of 20 yards or longer this season. And in 104 attempts, Alabama has allowed only three rushes of 10 yards or longer, which leads the country. In other words, the Crimson Tide don’t give up many big plays, either. So we’ll see what, if anything, gives Saturday night in the Swamp.
Michael in Yigo, Guam writes: Why can’t Mississippi State be consistent with anything?
Chris Low: First of all, Michael, what’s the time difference in Guam? Hope all is well in your part of the world. As for the Bulldogs, their main problem right now is that they’re playing in the Western Division, which is without question the toughest division in all of college football. Alabama and LSU are both top 3 teams. Arkansas still has a chance to be a top 10 team, and Auburn is the defending national champion. I know it’s frustrating Mississippi State hasn’t been able to break through in the West, but I thought last season’s 9-4 finish was an excellent showing for the program. There were big expectations for this season, which makes the two early SEC losses to Auburn and LSU even more disappointing. The Bulldogs are hurting right now in their offensive line, and that’s been a problem. It’s hurt their consistency. Still, let’s see how Saturday’s game at Georgia plays out, and really, the whole season plays out before we kick this one to the curb. Given the current landscape in the West, there’s no shame in winning eight or nine games again.
Chad in Ridgeland, Miss., writes: Chris, lots of discussion about a 14th member. Why do you think there is no discussion about expanding into Florida, UCF or USF, or even in Texas with TCU. I like West Virginia and Louisville. But I'm still wondering why Florida is so protected. Even Georgia Tech should be an option. I guess it depends on who wants it the most and who is the best option. What do you think?
Chris Low: I think cold, hard cash is the driving force behind all this expansion. That’s what I think, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The SEC jumped at the opportunity to add Texas A&M because of all those households and all those potential television viewers in the state of Texas, a nice bargaining chip when the television contracts are renegotiated. Plus, you’re taking your brand to an entirely different part of the country and bringing in a whole different group of fans. With Florida, the SEC already has a strong foothold in the state of Florida. I don’t see that South Florida or Central Florida would help you any. Obviously, Florida State would, but I still think it’s doubtful any of the ACC schools are going to leave. Now, if a Florida State or Virginia Tech reached out to the SEC, you can bet that the SEC would be very interested. To me, Virginia Tech makes the most sense. Once again, you’re broadening your horizons as a conference with a new state, new group of fans and you’re also getting a perennial top 20 football school that’s not too far away from a major television market -– Washington, D.C. I wouldn’t rule out TCU, and I still think West Virginia is in play. I also think Missouri will stay put in the Big 12.
Steve in Bixby, Okla., writes: Why isn't the SEC interested in Oklahoma to join its conference? OU would be a great addition to help solidify the power of the SEC. Texas A&M is going to be the Iowa State of the SEC, not bringing much in the way of tough competition.
Chris Low: Steve, I think it’s the other way around. The question is: Why isn’t Oklahoma interested in joining the SEC? The SEC would love to have the Sooners and made a play for them last year when it looked like the Big 12 might not survive. Also, you’re being a little harsh on the Aggies, aren’t you? Something says they’ll offer a little more to the SEC than the Cyclones have to the Big 12, at least in football.
Kevin in Columbia, S.C., writes: I understand the Gamecocks haven’t blown out opponents by 50 points like people expected with offensive weapons like Jeffery and Lattimore. However, they are still 4-0 and 2-0 in the SEC and getting no respect from the media. We beat Georgia on the road. Florida hasn't seen a difficult opponent yet, and all of sudden, you guys are right back on the bandwagon. You guys said how good Vanderbilt was coming into Columbia. But when we beat them 21-3, that wasn't enough. I know it's still Vandy, but you were the guys hyping them up ... not us. I just find it frustrating how the media glorifies Florida, Texas, Georgia, etc., even when they don't deserve it.
Chris Low: Actually, I have a ton of respect for what Steve Spurrier and that staff have done in Columbia, raising the talent level and raising expectations to the point where simply getting by against lesser talented teams isn’t enough. South Carolina hasn’t played its best football yet, and I can assure you that the Head Ball Coach isn’t real thrilled by the way his team is playing right now. He sees the bigger picture and knows the Gamecocks will have to be better in all phases if they’re going to get back to the SEC championship game and have a chance to win it. The frustrating thing with this team is that it hasn’t played up to its talent level yet, but there is something to be said for finding ways to win games. And the Gamecocks have done that this season. Maybe this week is when they turn it on. As for the respect factor, they’re going to get plenty of chances to move up in the SEC power rankings. But to this point, they simply haven’t played like they’re one of the top four teams in the league.
Boyd in Montgomery, Ala., writes: Since Jordan Jefferson has been reinstated, do you think it might be wise and better for the team in the long run if Miles asked Jordan to take a redshirt year to allow Jordan an opportunity to fully deal with his off-the-field problems and cut down on team distractions?
Chris Low: The thing about redshirting a player is that you don’t have to make that decision until the end of the season. I’d say the first thing that will happen is that LSU coach Les Miles and the strength and conditioning staff will assess what kind of football shape Jefferson is in. Keep in mind that he hasn’t been practicing with the team during his suspension. Four weeks is a long time to be away, especially when you’re a quarterback and so much of what makes a successful passing game go is timing. Jefferson is also more of a running threat than Jarrett Lee, so it could be that the Tigers use Jefferson situationally these next few weeks. To me, if LSU has made it this far dealing with everything it had to deal with to start the season, then the Tigers aren’t going to be fazed by Jefferson’s return to the team. Both Lee and Jefferson are seniors, and they both know what's at stake this season. I’d be surprised if either one of them let anything get in the way of team goals at this point. I also think the Tigers will need them both somewhere along the way if they’re going to win a national title.
Forrest in Joplin, Mo., writes: If Auburn's Barrett Trotter's performance against South Carolina is terrible, what are the chances we'll get to see Kiehl Frazier take over at quarterback? If he's the future of Auburn football, would it hurt to have him at least share the role?
Chris Low: Honestly, Trotter has been the least of Auburn’s worries to this point. He doesn’t play defense, hasn’t missed any tackles and hasn’t been beaten on any long passes. Trotter is fourth in the SEC in pass efficiency and has thrown eight touchdowns passes and only three interceptions. He’s also averaging just under 200 passing yards per game. He’s played solid football for the Tigers, although I think they’re still searching for what their identity is offensively. All that said, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is committed to getting Frazier into the game more and expanding his role on offense. I think you’re going to start seeing more of him and not just in the Wildcat formation.
- Rick Cleveland of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger takes a closer look at whether junior college transfer Randall Mackey can come in next season and be a factor at quarterback right away.
- LSU coach Les Miles says freshman quarterback Zach Lee, who was taken in the first round of the baseball draft, could also be a first-round draft pick in football.
- Oklahoma could have been SEC-bound, writes Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Redshirt freshman Nickoe Whitley could help bolster Mississippi State's secondary this fall at safety.
- Tennessee freshman running back Rajion Neal says he's "physically ready" to contribute this season.
- Edward Aschoff of The Gainesville Sun hands out his superlatives from Urban Meyer's football camp.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Football coaches don't necessarily share secrets. It's too competitive out there.
But they do trade ideas.
Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler had an interesting piece Thursday about a trip Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops took earlier this week to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to visit with Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Talk about a meeting of the minds of two defensive heavyweights.
Stoops and Saban know a few things about putting together a defense. They've competed against each other, too. Remember the 2004 Sugar Bowl? LSU held top-ranked Oklahoma to 154 yards of total offense on its way to a 21-14 victory over the Sooners and a BCS national championship.
I also agree with Sittler's assertion that Stoops and Saban might have spent a few minutes talking about how to defend Florida during their visit. Just a hunch, but something tells me Tim Tebow's name did come up somewhere during the conversation.
Alabama and Oklahoma were the last two teams to face the Gators a year ago on their way to the national title. The Tide "held" the Gators to 31 points, while the Sooners limited them to 24 points.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Cleary, nobody on Florida's defense has any respect for the level of defense played in the Big 12, even though Oklahoma held the Gators to a season-low 24 points in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game.
Prior to the game, Florida middle linebacker Brandon Spikes said Big 12 defenses were a joke.
And even during the Gators' national championship celebration on Sunday, they weren't holding back.
As reported by Mike DiRocco of the Florida Times-Union, Florida safety Ahmad Black was still upset that some people were thinking the Sooners could score 60-plus on the Gators.
"Sixty points?" Black said. "Like Spikes said, Big 12 defenses are a joke. We'd have to play ... like 12 overtimes for them to score 60 points."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
MIAMI -- Remember all those things Florida coach Urban Meyer said his team couldn't do and still win this game?
Well, the Gators are doing them.
But thanks to a defense that's shown some serious grit backed up against its own goal line, Florida finds itself tied 7-7 with Oklahoma at halftime of the FedEx BCS National Championship Game.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow had thrown only two interceptions all season. He's thrown two in the first half Thursday night.
The Gators have also lost the battle of field position in the first half, as the Sooners have played a large portion of the game on Florida's side of the field.
But Charlie Strong's defense is making plays when it has to.
Just before halftime, Florida safety Major Wright picked off Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with a bobbling interception that was tipped three different times before Wright finally collared it at the 3. The Sooners had a first-and-goal at the 6, so the Gators' defense saved themselves at least three points right there.
Earlier in the quarter, Florida sophomore defensive tackle Torrey Davis made an even bigger play. The Sooners went for it on fourth-and-goal from the Gators' 1. They tried to quick-snap it, but Davis shot through and leveled tailback Chris Brown for a 2-yard loss.
Talk about good timing.
Davis had only made five tackles all season coming into the game, and two of those were against The Citadel in a 70-19 rout.
The best news for the Gators offensively is that Percy Harvin looks great. He popped a 46-yard run off his own goal line and nearly broke it all the way.
On the down side, redshirt freshman running back Chris Rainey suffered a nasty looking knee injury in the second quarter when his right knee was caught under him near the sideline after being dragged down by an Oklahoma defender.
The Gators have to find a way to be more consistent offensively in the second half -- and find a running game.