SEC: Ricky Seals-Jones

College football players across the country enter spring practice with the mentality that they have something to prove. But there are some cases in which that mindset makes more sense than others.

Here are 10 situations in the SEC in which players need to send a message, loudly and clearly:

Quarterback Chad Kelly, Ole Miss: Kelly is a classic “something to prove” prospect this spring. Talent is not the question with Kelly, who transferred from East Mississippi Community College in January. The problem is volatility. Kelly left Clemson last year under horrible terms, and then was arrested in December in Buffalo, New York, and faced multiple charges including assault and resisting arrest. Ole Miss has a vacancy at quarterback after Bo Wallace’s departure, and Kelly will compete for the job with DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan. Kelly passed for 3,906 yards, 47 touchdowns and eight interceptions last fall. Now we’ll see whether he can keep his act together after Rebels coach Hugh Freeze gave him second and third chances.

Running back Keith Marshall, Georgia: Marshall was the more highly regarded prospect when he and Todd Gurley signed with the Bulldogs in 2012, and they formed a dangerous duo that fall. Marshall ran for 759 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman but has barely played since suffering a knee injury five games into the 2013 season. Gurley’s gone to the NFL, but Georgia has Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at the top of the running back depth chart now. Where does Marshall fit in? He’s been out of the picture for so long, it’s tough to say at this point.

[+] EnlargeJake Coker
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonJake Coker has the opportunity now to regain the starting job at Alabama.
Quarterback Jacob Coker, Alabama: Most thought Coker would take over as Alabama’s starting quarterback last year when he transferred from Florida State. Instead, it was Blake Sims who grabbed the job and never gave it up. Sims is gone now, though, clearing the way for Coker to claim the position in 2015. Can he get the job done?

Wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M: Aggies fans expected superstardom when Kevin Sumlin’s staff signed Seals-Jones in 2013, but he missed almost all of his freshman season with a knee injury. Seals-Jones played in all 13 games last season, finishing with 465 yards and four touchdowns on 49 receptions. Those are fine numbers but nothing close to what A&M fans envisioned when he signed two years ago. He has plenty of time to develop into a star, however. Maybe he’ll take a step toward that level of production this year.

Gerald Dixon and South Carolina’s entire defensive line: No sense singling out Dixon here. South Carolina’s defensive front was horrible in 2014. The line’s ineffective play was the key reason why the Gamecocks tumbled from a spot as one of the SEC’s best defenses to one of the worst. Dixon and his fellow starters are on notice as the Gamecocks open spring practice. If they don’t play better, South Carolina’s coaches will have to give somebody else a chance. Last season wasn’t nearly good enough.

WR Nate Brown, Missouri: Missouri has to replace its top three receivers from last year, Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White, all of whom were seniors. The Tigers will turn to a new collection of wideouts this year, led by Brown. The sophomore made just five catches for 45 yards a season ago, but his size/speed combination makes him the safest bet to make an impact this fall.

LSU’s quarterbacks: Last season was a mess at the quarterback position for LSU. Somebody -- either junior Anthony Jennings or sophomore Brandon Harris -- needs to take this job and run with it. Jennings completed just 48.9 percent of his passes while starting 12 of 13 games, but Harris’ lone start at Auburn was a complete dud. He’s a talented player, but Harris has to prove to Les Miles and his staff that he won’t make catastrophic errors if they put him on the field. He hasn’t convinced them yet.

Running back Alvin Kamara, Tennessee: Kamara was one of the nation’s most highly recruited running backs when he signed with Alabama in 2013, but he disappeared on the Crimson Tide’s depth chart and was twice suspended during his year in Tuscaloosa. Kamara transferred to Hutchinson Community College last season and rushed for 1,211 yards and 18 touchdowns in nine games. Now he has a second chance to prove that he’s an SEC-caliber back, forming what could be a dangerous one-two punch with Jalen Hurd at Tennessee. If Kamara can keep his head on straight, he has an excellent opportunity to make an impact with the Volunteers.

Quarterback Maty Mauk, Missouri: Mauk wasn’t the quarterback in 2014 that many expected after an impressive freshman season. He was inconsistent and prone to poor decision making at times. He passed for 2,648 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, which is not horrible, and helped the Tigers claim their second straight SEC East title. But Mizzou desperately needs its quarterback to improve upon his 53.4 completion percentage and become a more consistent performer as a junior.

Texas A&M’s defense: Texas A&M hopes John Chavis is the key piece that was missing over the past two years, when the Aggies featured one of the SEC’s worst defenses. The former LSU and Tennessee defensive coordinator has gotten results wherever he’s been, but Chavis has his work cut out at A&M. The Aggies were 102nd nationally (450.8 ypg) in total defense and tied for 75th in scoring defense (28.1 ppg). Considering how effectively the Aggies typically score, trotting out a defense that is simply better than awful might help them become more competitive in the tough SEC West.
Even Kevin Sumlin knows this is a make-or-break season for him at Texas A&M. The talent is certainly there to win big, and as he told ESPN’s Travis Haney, “You’d think it would start to pay off this year.”

If it does, watch out, because the issue all along hasn’t been whether the Aggies are good enough, it’s whether they will play well enough.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsKevin Sumlin hopes his defense will improve in 2015 with the addition of DC John Chavis.
 That’s splitting hairs, of course, but when you begin to combine talent (four straight top-15 recruiting classes) with experience (Kyle Allen, Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones and Myles Garrett will be sophomores) and better coaching (hello, new defensive coordinator John Chavis), you have the right recipe for improvement.

Besides, just how much growth is needed for A&M to reach a New Year’s Six bowl anyway? Despite its perception as a “promising” program, it has produced, too, averaging 9.3 wins per season since 2012. Inching forward into the double-digit win territory would likely be enough to make it to one of the top six bowls.

With the most productive offense in the SEC the past three seasons (517.4 yards per game), the only thing left to do is discover what defense is and how to play it. After all, over that same period A&M had the league’s worst defense to overcome (438.9 yards per game).

Enter Chavis, whose résumé all but guarantees better numbers. During his six seasons as LSU’s defensive coordinator, the Tigers had the fifth-best defense in the country, allowing an average of 309.6 yards per game.

The defensive talent in College Station and Baton Rouge isn’t the same, granted, but they’re not miles apart necessarily. Just look at Garrett, who is already one of the league’s premiere pass-rushers. If he can get some help from five-star freshman defensive tackle Daylon Mack and No. 11-ranked defensive end James Lockhart, you could see a ripple effect on defense from the trenches back to the secondary.

Any improvement on defense, however slight, would be a welcome sight for Sumlin.

If that happens and the talent at A&M finally starts paying off on both sides of the ball, look for the Aggies to make their presence known.

What could go wrong

Texas A&M’s defense has been bad of late. Horrifically bad, in fact. So bad you might wonder whether there’s a culture of bad defense in College Station.

If that’s the case, Chavis has his work cut out for him. Because even though there is talent there to work with, he might spend his entire first year there trying to break bad habits.

It’s the thing every Texas A&M fan must hate to hear, but it could be true yet again: The Aggies might be a year away.

When you’re the 101st-ranked defense in the nation since 2012, you have a long ways to go and not a long time to get there.

And besides, even if the defense does improve, we don’t know who Sumlin will start at QB. It might be Allen, who went 2-2 as a starter after Kenny Hill was suspended. Or maybe it’s blue-chip freshman Kyler Murray, who could wind up bypassing A&M altogether if a professional baseball team throws enough money at him.

Noil is a spectacular talent and it feels like it’s only a matter of time before Seals-Jones emerges, but with a question mark at QB, an offensive line replacing two senior starters and veteran tight end Cameron Clear off to the NFL, spring practice could be very interesting.

Everything could very well come together in 2015, but there are a lot of dominos that must fall before A&M is considered a New Year’s Six team just yet.

Passing matchup the highlight of LSU-A&M

November, 20, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU has played in some games where opposing offenses leaned heavily on the pass, but the Tigers have yet to face an opponent that likes to fling it around as much as Texas A&M.

Only five teams in the nation have attempted more passes than Texas A&M's 452, a total that is 77 more than the next-closest SEC team. That sets up an intriguing matchup with an LSU secondary that ranks second nationally in pass-efficiency defense (97.57), fifth in passing yards allowed (164) and leads the SEC in both categories.

"As a defensive back, you look forward to that," said LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White, whose team will visit Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night. "You want to match up against passing teams because it gives you more opportunities to get your hands on balls and make plays."

LSU (7-4, 3-4 SEC) has faced eight opposing quarterbacks who attempted at least 25 passes in a game, with Alabama's Blake Sims (20-for-45 for 209 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime win) attempting the most. Nobody else has come particularly close to Texas A&M's average of 41.1 attempts per game.

That means White and his fellow defensive backs could be busy, and their task might be even more demanding with cornerback Rashard Robinson -- one of the stars of LSU's 34-10 win against A&M (7-4, 3-4) last season -- not expected to play.

"He's indefinitely suspended," LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday night when asked about Robinson's status for the A&M game.

Robinson spent most of last season's game matched up against Aggies star Mike Evans, and Robinson more than held his own by limiting the Biletnikoff Award finalist to four catches for 51 yards -- 38 of which came on a late reception with another Tiger in coverage.

With or without Robinson, LSU will have its hands full against the Aggies' dynamic receiving corps. Evans is now playing in the NFL, but A&M still has a group that is reminiscent of Missouri's talented bunch last season. Not only are they productive receivers -- the Aggies have five players with at least 443 receiving yards -- but they possess NFL size.

Three of the Aggies' top five wideouts (Ricky Seals-Jones, Josh Reynolds and Edward Pope) are listed at either 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5. That creates a matchup advantage for A&M over most defensive backs, LSU's included. Robinson is the Tigers' tallest defensive back at 6-3, and the next-tallest contributors are Collins and safety Ronald Martin at 6-2.

Miles said starters White and Collins will obviously see the majority of the cornerback reps, with the next options being freshman Ed Paris and safety Jalen Mills if necessary.

"I think it'll be interesting," Miles said. "I think one that'll be a challenge for our guys to get to the passer and I think there'll be certainly some coverage responsibilities that have to be shored up and technique worked on, but I think that's being done. I kind of like the plan thus far."

Pressuring Aggies starter Kyle Allen into rushed throws would definitely help LSU's cause. In two SEC starts, the true freshman quarterback has tossed seven touchdowns against two interceptions and is averaging 257 passing yards per game.

The Tigers have done a decent job of applying pressure, but have cashed in with just 17 sacks and nine interceptions -- totals that rank 10th and ninth in the conference.

"I think we're in around the passer pretty much," Miles said. "I wish we'd have gotten [sacks], chasing quarterbacks around when we'd liked to have gotten some contact on [them] -- several different games. But I think we have the potential to get into the backfield."

However the Tigers can generate some mistakes -- particularly if they lead to turnovers -- it will come in handy next week. LSU's slumping offense was without starting offensive linemen Vadal Alexander and Elliott Porter for most of the Arkansas game, when it generated just 123 total yards, and Miles said Wednesday that Alexander should be back for A&M, but Porter will not.

Even against A&M's mediocre defense, next week's game might be another slog for LSU's offense, which could certainly use all the field-position advantages it can get. If those breaks don't come, A&M won't have the only passing offense that will be an X factor in the game.

Tigers quarterback Anthony Jennings passed for just 87 yards against Arkansas, which probably would not be enough for LSU to keep up with with a prolific Aggies offense.

"We needed to not be as predictable, run and pass, and we needed to certainly hit," Miles said after Wednesday's practice. "When we go to pass, we need to complete and throw better, and we're not throwing the ball like we can. We threw the ball extremely well tonight and we'll throw the ball better in this game Thursday."

 

SEC morning links

November, 14, 2014
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In a piece posted Thursday on Grantland, writer Matt Hinton asked the question that all SEC fans are asking entering Saturday’s games: "Is Mississippi State really the best team, or just another victim for the Alabama Death Star?"

This is put-up-or-shut-up time for the unbeaten Bulldogs, who earned their No. 1 ranking by beating three straight top-10 teams this season. Winning at Alabama, where it has won twice since 1957, is a different animal entirely for a program with a history filled with long periods of mediocrity -- and worse.

This is where the Bulldogs can truly prove they belong among the sport’s heavyweights, much like Cam Newton and the 2010 Auburn team did when it won in Tuscaloosa en route to the BCS championship. In fact, there are several similarities between 2014 Mississippi State and 2010 Auburn, as identified by AL.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky on Thursday.

Nick Saban’s Alabama teams have made a habit of winning games like this, especially at home, which might be why the MSU program turned to a superhero to provide the theme for its pregame hype video. In the video, Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman character says, "I’m not afraid, I’m angry."

The Bulldogs probably need to summon all the anger inside of them to make it through this weekend unbeaten. Never mind beating LSU in Tiger Stadium or outlasting Auburn in Starkville, this is the biggest test of their season, and most college football prognosticators expect them to fail.

They will either prove them right or they’ll prove that they’re legit, just like Newton and Auburn did in 2010.

Around the SEC

The last time Missouri and BYU met -- as they will next November according to a scheduling arrangement announced Thursday -- was when BYU quarterback Steve Young led the Cougars past Mizzou in the 1983 Holiday Bowl.

The Tennessean’s Matt Slovin asks if Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs can lead the Vols (4-5) to a bowl game. They might need a win against Kentucky on Saturday to keep their hopes alive.

Texas A&M receivers Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones returned to form in last week’s upset win at Auburn.

His Florida State team edged Auburn 34-31 in last season’s BCS championship game despite Auburn gaining 449 yards of total offense. Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt gets another shot at the Tigers on Saturday.

Former LSU football and baseball player and MLB all-star Alvin Dark died Thursday at age 92.

The State’s "Big Game Graphic" reminds us that Florida was averaging 255 yards per game and 17.5 points per game before Treon Harris became the Gators’ starting quarterback, and 437 yards and 36 points in the two games since he entered the starting lineup.

Tweet of the day

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Before Saturday night, a Kevin Sumlin-coached team never went into the halftime locker room without points on the board.

Ole Miss observed the old “there is a first time for everything” adage while holding Texas A&M scoreless in the first two quarters of a 35-20 win over the Aggies at Kyle Field. It was the first time a team coached by Sumlin, who is in his seventh season as a head coach, had zero points at halftime.

It served as a microcosm of what the last two weeks have been like for a usually high-powered offense.

“There were a number of times today where we just got whipped,” Sumlin said flatly after Saturday’s game. “It's kind of hard to fix that.”

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill, Jake Spavital
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesTexas A&M QB Kenny Hill and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital have seen their share of frustration in recent weeks.
The Aggies have sputtered in losses to Ole Miss and Mississippi State. They even had their share of issues in the first three quarters of their Sept. 27 overtime win over Arkansas before getting in sync in the fourth quarter and overtime. Through three quarters against Ole Miss, the Aggies had seven points. The previous week, it was 17 through three. Against Arkansas, it was 14 points heading into the fourth.

There have been a myriad of reasons for the struggles, from wide receiver drops to inaccurate throws to an ineffective running game. Offensive line play doesn't seem to be what it was the last two seasons, either. Turnovers have been a large part of the problem as well, as the Aggies have committed six in their two losses. On Saturday, two of those turnovers were returned for touchdowns by Ole Miss -- one interception and one fumble return.

“That's my fault,” quarterback Kenny Hill said Saturday. “I had three turnovers [vs. Ole Miss] and two of them went for touchdowns. We can't win like that. That's on me.”

Hill is correct, but he isn’t the sole culprit. The interception that Cody Prewitt returned for a touchdown saw Hill feeling pressure courtesy of Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who had beaten left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to get in Hill’s face just as he released the football. Hill felt harassment against Mississippi State and Arkansas as well.

Dropped passes were a serious issue against Mississippi State the previous week. The Aggies had nine, according to ESPN Stats and Information, the most by a Power 5 team in four seasons, but Sumlin and his staff were harsher in his grading of that game, giving the Aggies 11. Drops didn’t creep up as a major issue vs. Ole Miss but were a concern against Arkansas, too.

“It's a number that we aren't proud of,” said senior receiver Malcome Kennedy, who missed the last two weeks with a shoulder injury. “[Receivers coach David Beaty] always says 'One dropped ball is too many,’ and it makes perfect sense, that is too many.”

The absence of Kennedy hasn’t helped matters. He suffered a separated shoulder late against Arkansas, sat out briefly and returned to finish the game with a game-winning touchdown reception in overtime but has been unable to go the last two weeks after testing the shoulder in warmups.

That has disrupted the flow of the offense because Kennedy was leading the team in receptions at the time of his injury. He is a vocal leader and Hill, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital have indicated that Kennedy means an immense amount to the offense.

The Aggies tried to get their running game going early against Ole Miss, but the Rebels were having none of it. A&M finished with 54 yards on 35 carries, a measly 1.5-yards per carry average.

So what do the Aggies do?

"You're always analyzing where you are,” Sumlin said. “When things are going good you're analyzing and you're analyzing when things are going bad and not the way you want them to, [too]. So that's kind of where we are right now.

“As a team, you're always looking to get better and fix problems. Sometimes when you're winning those things are glossed over, but as a coach, you have to be honest with your schemes and honest with yourself. Really, that was the message to players and coaches. Right now is a time where you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and look for and be honest with the deficiencies that have been presented and then be able to fix those during the week or adjust during the week.”

The Aggies’ season-opening win at South Carolina -- which looked much better that day than it does now, knowing what we know about the Gamecocks -- caused many to believe that the Aggies wouldn’t miss a beat after the departure of three of the best offensive players in the program’s history: Quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews.

What these last two weeks have illustrated is that it is difficult to replace players of that caliber, especially with the type of youth the Aggies are operating with. For all the hype he received early on, it’s easy to forget that Hill just made his seventh career start. The same applies for others such as receivers Speedy Noil or Ricky Seals-Jones, two key members of the talented but young group of receivers.

It might take time to fix some of the issues that have crept up, but that’s something the Aggies don’t have much of currently, because a trip to Tuscaloosa for a showdown with Alabama looms on Saturday. If the Aggies want any chance of repeating the success they had in their last trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium, their offensive woes will have to be cured quickly.

Drops plague Aggies' passing game

October, 7, 2014
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Even though Texas A&M graduated three starters from its receiving corps (for the second consecutive season) -- including a first-round NFL draft pick (Mike Evans) -- few would have considered the position an area of concern coming into the season given how much young talent the Aggies have stockpiled there thanks to their recent recruiting hauls.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsIf the Aggies are to improve, QB Kenny Hill says accuracy is a big key for the passing game.
And while it remains one of the deepest position groups on the team in terms of talent, consistency has been another story, especially in the Aggies' past two games. Drops have crept up as an issue for the unit in its win over Arkansas in Week 5 and its drubbing at the hands of Mississippi State on Saturday.

The 48-31 loss to the Bulldogs was particularly rough in the dropped pass department: The Aggies had nine drops officially, according to ESPN Stats & Information, which is the most in a game for a Power 5 conference team in the past four seasons.

A casual perusal of the incompletions showed that while the Aggies were credited with nine drops, one could have easily credited them with double digits in the category.

"I guess it's one of those days," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said after the game.

Officially, the Aggies have recorded 13 drops in the past two weeks. That number more than doubles the total the Aggies had in the first four games of the season (10).

For the season, the Aggies' drop rate is 8.4 percent (23 drops on 274 targets), which ranks 110th nationally and it is the worst drop rate among Power 5 teams in the country. The past two weeks alone the Aggies have dropped passes at a 12.6 percent clip (13 drops on 103 targets), which -- if extrapolated for the entire season -- would only be better than three other FBS teams (Ball State, South Alabama and Eastern Michigan).

The Aggies aren't the only SEC team ranked below 100 in the statistic this season. Florida (7.1 percent, 101st), Missouri (7.4 percent, 105th) and Auburn (8.1 percent, 108th) are also in the bottom 30 in the category. Interestingly, those teams' combined record is 17-3.

Saturday's loss to Mississippi State saw a variety of drops from passes placed accurately that appeared to be catchable, routine balls to an array of throws that were less catchable and seemingly misplaced or otherwise a higher degree of difficulty. The timing of the drops were also a source of frustration for the offense. At least three of them came on third downs, contributing to the Aggies 5-of-17 showing on the down. The previous week vs. Arkansas, two of the four drops were on third downs.

The issue seemed contagious as numerous different receivers, including Sabian Holmes, Boone Niederhofer and Ricky Seals-Jones struggled at one time or another. Even the usually sure handed sophomore, Edward Pope, wasn't immune to it Saturday.

The blame isn't solely on the receivers; it can be shared between the receiving corps and sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill. Asked after the loss what he could have done better, Hill acknowledged he could have thrown some better balls, too.

"Accuracy," Hill said. "Decision-making. I probably could have stepped up and been a better leader."

Speaking of leadership, the Aggies missed one of theirs on Saturday, senior receiver Malcome Kennedy. The team's leading receiver this season and stated vocal leader, Kennedy sat out nursing a separated shoulder he suffered vs. Arkansas.

"It doesn't take a coach to see that Malcome Kennedy is a pretty important player for us, not just from a playing standpoint but from a leadership standpoint on the field," Sumlin said. "We certainly missed him [Saturday]."

Answers were hard to come by in the aftermath but confidence was not. Hill vowed that the issues, whatever they are, will be "easy to fix" and will be evident soon.

"Just keep throwing to them, just completing a lot of passes in practice," Hill said of what the Aggies can do to address it. "Just keep throwing and catching balls. Most of these receivers have been playing since they were little kids. They know how to catch the ball. It's just one of those things. We had an off day."
DALLAS — One of the most asked questions by Texas A&M fans after the Aggies' 38-10 win over Rice on Sept. 13 surrounded the health of true freshman receiver Speedy Noil. When a five-star recruit who comes in with the kind of hype and expectation that Noil did gets injured, the concern is understandable.

Noil, who was carted off the sideline during the Rice game, missed the Aggies’ most recent victory -- a 58-6 rout of SMU -- because of an undisclosed injury and his status for Texas A&M’s upcoming game against Arkansas isn’t yet publicly known. But if Saturday’s game was any evidence, he can take all the time he needs.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Tabuyo
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsSophomore receiver Jeremy Tabuyo, No. 19, had a breakout game for Texas A&M last Saturday.
The Aggies have plenty of receiver depth.

Without their starting “X” receiver, the Aggies were just fine in the passing game as seven different receivers (and one running back) caught passes in the win and a few lesser-known names stepped into the spotlight. Case in point: Jeremy Tabuyo.

The true sophomore from Hawaii made the most of his opportunity, catching two passes and turning them into catch-and-run touchdowns, evading SMU tacklers to the tune of a 30-yard score and a 50-yard score. They were the first two touchdowns of his career.

“It was pretty big for me, just to get my confidence level up,” Tabuyo said Saturday. “Today was a good day for me.”

Boone Niederhofer, a walk-on receiver who won a spot in the two-deep during preseason training camp, also had a solid day against the Mustangs, catching six passes for 73 yards. Only senior Malcome Kennedy (six catches, 73 yards) had as many catches as Niederhofer last Saturday.

That’s life in the Aggie receiving corps these days. Starting quarterback Kenny Hill is not discriminatory when distributing the football and it showed from his first start of the season, when he connected with 12 different players -- eight receivers, one tight end and three running backs. A dozen receivers and tight ends have recorded at least one catch this season.

“Our receiver position is good but we play all of them,” coach Kevin Sumlin said Saturday. “They like playing. Just like running back. Our guys understand that to play the way we play, in an uptempo style and try to get as many plays as we can, those guys are running like crazy. So we have to be eight deep to play games. I think right now we're pretty close to that.”

Kennedy leads the team with 30 catches this season, but after him no other Aggie has more than 16 receptions. Six Texas A&M receivers (Kennedy, Noil, Niederhofer, Joshua Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones and Edward Pope) all have double-digit catches this year.

So the Aggies’ quest to going eight deep at the receiver position is closer to coming to fruition. They continue to recruit the position at a high level (the decommitment of 2015 ESPN 300 prospect Damarkus Lodge notwithstanding) and if they continue to haul in talent at the pace they have in recent recruiting classes, the Aggie quarterbacks will continue to enjoy the numerous options afforded them.

Does anybody have more wide receivers in the country to throw to than Hill? When the question was posed to him Saturday, Hill took a deep breath, allowed a sly smile to emerge and answered definitively.

“No,” Hill said. “Nobody in the country has more receivers than we do.”
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Ricky Seals-Jones' introduction to Aggieland was an emphatic one.

In his collegiate debut as a true freshman receiver and a landmark recruit in Texas A&M’s 2013 class, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver quickly showed why he was so highly regarded, catching a 71-yard touchdown pass in the Aggies’ season-opening win against Rice last August.

It was also the last pass Seals-Jones would catch in 2013. A knee injury he suffered on the play knocked him out of the rest of the game and -- after trying to give it a go two weeks later -- the rest of the season, once he elected to have surgery.

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesNow healthy, receiver Ricky Seals-Jones is making an impact for Texas A&M.
It has been a waiting game for Seals-Jones and the Aggies for him to truly make his mark.

"The toughest part about it was knowing that the season was over with, really, and it had just started,” Seals-Jones said. "I was kind of part of the game. So I had to get surgery and bounce back."

So far, Seals-Jones is proving he was worth the wait.

Now a redshirt freshman (Seals-Jones applied for and was approved for a medical hardship waiver to regain the lost year of eligibility), the Sealy (Texas) High product is carving himself out a significant role in Texas A&M’s passing attack.

Seals-Jones has hauled in a touchdown in each of the Aggies' three games, and has 13 receptions for 154 yards so far this season. Receivers coach David Beaty said Seals-Jones has taken the biggest step forward in his route-running.

Blocking is also a big part of Seals-Jones’ game. Beaty said Seals-Jones has the most knockdown blocks and most "scoring blocks" among the Aggies receivers.

"Does he affect the game every play?" Beaty said. "Ricky affects it every play. That’s what you want out of a guy like that."

It’s also the first time in a long time that Seals-Jones is fully healthy. His senior season at Sealy was marred by injuries, including a dislocated kneecap that knocked him out for half the season, and he spent the last year recovering from knee surgery to get ready for Texas A&M’s 2014 campaign.

Now injury-free, Seals-Jones has developed a solid chemistry with Aggies’ quarterback Kenny Hill and become a critical part of the passing game by playing multiple roles: inside receiver, outside receiver and a hybrid tight end/H-back type role after tight end Cameron Clear left the season-opening win against South Carolina with an injury.

Clear is likely to suit up against SMU, so Seals-Jones' tight end duties won’t be as prominent, but he is showing he can handle whatever the coaches throw at him, making him a valuable weapon.

"He handles it great because he’s smart," Beaty said. "He doesn’t need a lot of time to learn things. You tell him things one time and he gets it."

SEC morning links

September, 11, 2014
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Remember the "pop pass" from Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates in last year's Iron Bowl that tied the game with 32 seconds left? Auburn fans (and Alabama fans) sure do. Anybody who watched that game and also saw last week's NFL opener, a 36-16 win for Seattle over Green Bay, saw a strikingly familiar play when Russell Wilson hit Ricardo Lockette for a 33-yard touchdown. Turns out Pete Carroll copied that play from Gus Malzahn (something Carroll noted afterward). Asked about it on Wednesday, Malzahn called it "pretty neat" to see at the NFL level. I'm a fan of seeing the game evolve and seeing the college game influence the pro game and as more coaches who are successful in college make their way into the NFL, I think it's fascinating to see certain concepts pop up at the highest level, like this particular one did. And kudos to Carroll, who noted, "We'll go anywhere to find a play."

As you might have seen in Wednesday's morning links, Kentucky running back Jojo Kemp stirred the pot a little before the Wildcats clash with Florida. When asked about some of the familiar Gators (Kemp is a Florida native and has high school teammates on the Gators' roster) he punctuated his commentary with "It's going to be fun walking out with a victory and rubbing it in their faces." When asked about it on Wednesday, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said he was "furious" and "outraged" by Kemp's comment. Florida players responded swiftly and it wasn't long before Kemp's image and words were posted in the Gators' locker room. My take: It's all in good fun. We're talking about football, not life and death, and there's nothing wrong with a little trash talk going both ways. It makes the middle of the week fun and interesting and gives us something to talk about after the fact. The game will be won or lost on the field on Saturday, not with words on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

Georgia-South Carolina is the game that will garner the most attention this week and rightfully so. It will likely prove to be a factor in the SEC East race down the road and it pits two of the league's -- and the country's -- best running backs, Georgia's Todd Gurley and South Carolina's Mike Davis. The two are actually friendly -- Gurley came to Columbia a few times to hang out with Davis and other friends -- but this trip will be all business for Gurley and the Dawgs. Davis admitted that comparisons to other elite backs is something he thinks about constantly and no doubt the Gamecocks will be looking for a good day from him in hopes of pulling out a victory. Gurley in the meantime, looks to add to his case for the Heisman Trophy after getting a bang-up start on the campaign in Georgia's season-opening win over Clemson.

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SEC morning links

September, 9, 2014
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How good was Calvin Johnson last night? If you missed the game, Megatron put on a show with seven catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. That got me thinking. Is there a future Calvin Johnson in the SEC? Even though he’s on pace to shatter the record book at Alabama, Amari Cooper isn’t nearly as big or as physical as Johnson. He reminds me more of a Keenan Allen or a Reggie Wayne in his prime. When I think of Johnson, I think of players such as Marquez North at Tennessee or Ricky Seals-Jones at Texas A&M. Former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, now at Oklahoma, is another one that fits the bill. It will be interesting to see how all of these guys translate to the NFL one day. Both Cooper and Green-Beckham are among Todd McShay’s top 32 prospects for 2015 (Insider).

Despite all of the emerging wide receivers, the SEC is still a running back-driven league this season. After Week 1, Georgia’s Todd Gurley established himself as the early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. As he prepares for Saturday’s showdown at South Carolina, here are 10 things to know about the Dawgs’ star. The Gamecocks have a pretty good back of their own in Mike Davis, and he certainly has Georgia’s attention after rushing for 149 yards and a touchdown in last year’s matchup. T.J. Yeldon is another obvious name, but how about Cameron Artis-Payne at Auburn? The senior has rushed for 289 yards through two games, the most by an Auburn back in his first two games since Rudi Johnson in 2000.

It was not a huge surprise to see Maty Mauk named the SEC offensive player of the week. He threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns against Toledo this past weekend, and there’s a lot more where that came from, especially with the deep ball. Seven of Mauk’s 34 completions this season have been of 25 yards or more. Meanwhile, Toledo will have to find a new quarterback. Former Alabama transfer Phillip Ely tore his ACL in Saturday’s game and will miss the rest of the season. Gary Pinkel’s thoughts? “I don’t wish that on any team -- even Kansas.” A quick jab from Pinkel. It’s too bad the two schools don’t play each other anymore. That was one of the more underrated rivalries in college football.

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Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was never comfortable talking about all the players he lost. Throughout the offseason, he was peppered with questions about replacing Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews. Each time, he'd bite his lip, say what he needed to say and move on.

Now we know why. In spite of losing so many stars, Sumlin's offense hasn't missed a beat. On Thursday night, Texas A&M's retooled offense outdueled Steve Spurrier and South Carolina, rolling up the Gamecocks 52-28 on the road.

1. Welcome to the show, Kenny Hill

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The sophomore didn’t appear the least bit worried about living up to the legend of Manziel on Texas A&M’s opening drive. He calmly marched the Aggies down the field, spreading the ball around to his receivers. The best of his throws was this 22-yard, third-down strike over the middle to redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones that nearly went for a touchdown. Hill stayed calm in a stressful pocket and stepped into the throw beautifully. Tra Carson would ultimately go between the tackles for the 1-yard touchdown, giving Texas A&M the first points of the game. But Hill was the star of the drive, announcing himself to the college football world as a quarterback worthy of succeeding Johnny Football.

2. This Seals-Jones fella can play, can’t he?

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South Carolina’s defensive backs were helpless to stop him. He was too big, too fast, way too athletic. Sound familiar? It should. In many ways, he’s Mike Evans 2.0. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound redshirt freshman can’t be covered. On this 3-yard touchdown grab, he showed off his burst, getting into his break quickly. After getting a step on the defensive back, all he had to do was hold onto the football, which came on another perfect strike from Hill. On a side note, look at the pocket. The pressure from South Carolina’s defensive line was almost nonexistent.

3. Hill can run the read-option, too

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With the game still in reach, South Carolina had the chance to stone Texas A&M on third-and-goal, but Hill was having none of it. Instead of picking apart the Gamecocks secondary with his arm, he used his feet and instincts to get the defense to commit before pitching the ball off to Carson, who had an easy path to the end zone. If Hill can keep executing the Aggies offense like this, the SEC West is going to be really, really interesting.

4. Spurrier had to roll the dice

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By this point, South Carolina's defense had shown nothing. The defensive line wasn't getting any pressure. The secondary wasn’t making any plays, either. So why not try the onside kick? Down 17 points, it was worth a shot, and Landon Ard executed it almost perfectly. But Texas A&M secured the kick and promptly went 42 yards in 2:27 for another touchdown. South Carolina nearly got back in the game toward the end of the third quarter, but Dylan Thompson put too much air on a deep throw and watched helplessly as Armani Watts came away with the game-sealing interception. What could have been a 10-point game heading into the fourth quarter instead turned into a runaway rout.

Breakout players from the SEC

August, 28, 2014
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Every year there are a handful of players who break out and become stars in the SEC. Johnny Manziel and Nick Marshall are two of the more obvious ones recently, but it doesn’t always have to be a quarterback. Just look at what Michael Sam did last season at Missouri. Who will this be this year’s breakout star? We predict five who could take that next step.

D’haquille Williams, Auburn: If you think Sammie Coates is good, Williams is on another level. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound wide receiver has yet to play a down in the SEC, but he could be one of the league’s top wide receivers by the end of the year. Some are even saying that this could be his one and only season at Auburn. Williams arrived from junior college in January and has blown away the coaching staff both in the spring and more recently in fall camp. His position coach, Dameyune Craig, went as far as to say he could have an impact similar to the one Jameis Winston had on Florida State last year. With Coates and Williams on the outside, it’s easy to see why Auburn expects to be more balanced on offense. – Greg Ostendorf

Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M: He's big (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) and fast and gifted. Seals-Jones looked poised for a strong freshman season until a knee injury sidelined him for the final nine games of 2013. Now with three of the Aggies' top four pass-catchers from last season gone, there are receptions for the taking and expect Seals-Jones to get his hands on several. The former ESPN 300 recruit will work primarily as an inside receiver but also have a role as a hybrid tight end/H-back type in order to find the best matchups possible. Good luck to all the safeties and linebackers looking to cover this thoroughbred over the middle. – Sam Khan

De'Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State: If you’re looking for a physical freak, look no further than No. 81 for the Bulldogs. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he’s far bigger than any defensive backs he’ll come up against in the SEC. And chances are he can out jump them, too. Otherwise he wouldn’t be helping out Mississippi State on the hardwood when football isn’t in session. The former three-star prospect is raw, granted, but he’s brimming with potential. Once the sophomore gets a good grasp on the playbook and understands the nuances of the position, watch out. With the fleet-footed, shifty Jameon Lewis drawing defenses to the middle of the field, Wilson has the potential to be a serious vertical threat. – Alex Scarborough

O.J. Howard, Alabama: Don’t let last year’s numbers fool you. Fourteen receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns isn’t overwhelming. But his inconsistency -- in five games he had zero receptions -- can be traced back to his inexperience and the play-calling. Now that he’s a year wiser and more mature, he could develop into an every-down tight end who can physically handle the trenches of the SEC. And with Lane Kiffin now directing the offense, his role is poised to expand. At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds with the mobility of a much smaller receiver, he’s a matchup nightmare. – Alex Scarborough

Shane Ray, Missouri: The last time we saw Ray, he was scooping up a fumble and racing 73 yards the other way for the game-winning touchdown against Oklahoma State in the bowl game. Most defensive ends might have been caught from behind, but not Ray. There was no doubt when he picked it up. Despite playing a reserve role last year, Ray finished with 39 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries. Now it’s his turn. Nobody’s in front of him, and the junior pass-rusher has a chance to put up similar numbers to Sam, the reigning SEC defensive player of the year. – Greg Ostendorf

SEC 1,000-yard receivers for 2014

August, 13, 2014
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Now that we've checked out the quarterbacks I think could reach 3,000 passing yards and the guys who could hit 1,000 yards rushing, it's time to see what this season's crop of receivers is all about.

Who can reach the 1,000-yard club?

Last season, four receivers made it to the 1,000-yard club -- Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews (1,477 yards), Texas A&M's Mike Evans (1,394 yards) and LSU's Jarvis Landry (1,193 yards) and Odell Beckham Jr. (1,152 yards). All four of those guys are gone. Actually, the SEC lost eight of its top 10 receivers from a year ago.

[+] EnlargeLaquon Treadwell
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsLaquon Treadwell scored five receiving touchdowns in his freshman season at Ole Miss.
There are still some talented pass-catchers lurking in the league, so I'm going to go with three 1,000-yard receivers. Here are the guys I think have the best chance of getting to that number (in order):

1. Amari Cooper, Alabama: One of the nation's best receivers, Cooper wasn't at his best and wasn't 100 percent healthy last season, but he still managed 736 receiving yards. He's playing at a faster level now and is tougher, which means he'll have no trouble crossing the 1,000-yard mark this fall.

2. Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss: He learned a ton from Donte Moncrief and still caught more passes than him in 2013. Treadwell is a physical specimen and is already the most athletic person when he steps out on the field. As the No. 1 guy in Oxford, he'll easily surpass the 608 yards he had last season.

3. Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State: He was so close to 1,000 yards and probably would have made it into triple digits if he didn't have to work with multiple quarterbacks all season. Lewis is still developing his game, but he's the perfect playmaker for Mississippi State's spread offense.

4. Sammie Coates, Auburn: Talk about coming out of nowhere. Coates was a real unknown before last season and somehow wound up with 902 yards. He's a deep threat and someone who isn't afraid to make plays over the middle. Getting pushed more by other players might cut into his numbers, though.

5. Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia: If Mitchell is healthy, he's one of the most athletic and talented receivers that this league has to offer. A knee injury cost him just about all of his 2013 season, and he's already have complications with his knee this fall. But if he's out there and ready to go, he'll be fun to watch.

6. Marquez North, Tennessee: In a struggling passing game, North finished the 2013 season with 496 yards. He's so much better than that, and he's playing like it this fall. He's added some needed weight and is understanding his role more and running his routes better.

7. Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M: Another player who basically saw the 2013 season from the sideline, don't sleep on Seals-Jones. He was one of the nation's best recruits a couple of years ago and when he's at full speed, Seals-Jones can really fly. He'll make tons of plays inside and out.

8. D'haquille Williams, Auburn: The junior college transfer could be really special. He has all the talent to make a ton of plays in such a wide open offense. Williams will push Coates all season for the role as the Tigers' No. 1 target.

9. Shaq Roland, South Carolina: Dealing with the hype that came with him out of high school hasn't been easy, but the thought out of Columbia is that this could be a big season for Roland. He can stretch the field and is great in space.
Players like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Cameron are frustrating defenses and changing offenses in the NFL.

Having that big, powerful tight end who can knock defenders around and stretch the field is turning into more of a necessity for NFL offenses, and college coaches are taking notice.

“I definitely think it's a trend going on right now,” Vanderbilt tight end Steven Scheu said. “Tight ends are starting to become just a larger receiver, quite honestly, especially when you have guys who are tight ends in the NFL trying to get their contracts signed as a wide receiver because they're taking most of their snaps out wide."

In the SEC, most coaches are on board with having that lovely mismatch of size and athleticism lining up inside. Finding multifaceted players who create advantageous mismatches is the name of the game.

[+] EnlargeJake McGee
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIThe Gators were eager to add former Cavaliers TE Jake McGee, who beings a new dimension to their offense.
The use of the tight end as more of a blocker has become more a part of how NFL offenses operate over the past few years, especially with the emergence of these hybrid players.

In 2011, 14 tight ends ranked inside the top 50 in the NFL in receiving. Those tight ends were targeted 1,526 times and caught 1,006 passes for 12,422 yards and 91 touchdowns. Last year, the NFL saw nine tight ends rank in the top 50 in receiving, catching 723 passes for 8,686 yards and 85 touchdowns. Those tight ends were targeted 1,088 times.

For the SEC, eight tight ends ranked among the top 50 in the league in receiving in 2011. Those eight tight ends caught 233 passes for 2,771 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Those numbers have dropped in the last couple of years, as only three tight ends ranked inside the top 50 of the SEC in receiving yards last season, after five ranked in the top 50 in 2012.

But coaches see those numbers increasing in the coming years, as the tight end becomes more valued. There's a reason Florida coach Will Muschamp jumped at the chance to sign former Virginia tight end Jake McGee, who can play inside and outside and caught 71 passes for 769 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two years at Virginia.

To Muschamp, that kind of player changes blocking schemes for defenses, creating more holes and space for the offense, and can take bigger linebackers and safeties out of plays.

“That changes run gaps, that creates an extra gap,” Muschamp said. “It also creates an extra gap away from the quarterback. From a protection standpoint and a run-game standpoint, it does some good things to be able to utilize a tight end in the game.

“To be able to match up on a linebacker -- to have a guy who athletically is superior to a safety -- and to be able to find those matchups is huge.”

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin didn't use much of a flex tight end at Houston, but emphasized them more as an offensive coordinator at A&M and Oklahoma. He could do it again this year with the 277-pound Cameron Clear and deep threat Ricky Seals-Jones playing inside.

Mississippi State owns one of the leagues most consistent players in Malcolm Johnson (768 career yards), and rival Ole Miss has the perfect safety net in flex Evan Engram.

Arkansas' best receiving threat might be sophomore Hunter Henry, who averaged 14.6 yards per catch last year.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has had a ton of success with tight ends and hopes to make up for his losses at receiver by using his tight ends and bigger receivers inside.

South Carolina has thrived by using Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams to stretch the field the last couple of years. Anderson has averaged 17.8 yards per catch on 39 receptions, while Adams has averaged 16.3 on 17 catches.

Alabama's Nick Saban is even getting in onthe fun with freak sophomore athlete O.J. Howard lining up at tight end.

“Having a guy like that, really there's a lot of multiples in terms of how you can use him and create problems for the defense to have to adjust to him,” Saban said.

More and more, coaches are seeking tight ends with receiver skills, but who like to block. Some players are noticing that that quality makes them even more dangerous.

“It definitely intrigues not only me but people around me, my colleagues I guess, my fellow tight ends,” Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah. “It's a lot more fun to be integrated in an offense and be moved around a lot. I think it definitely throws defenses off, not knowing where exactly you're going to line up a linebacker or a safety on them or what the offense is going to do. I'm definitely noticing that a little bit more.”
If you’re just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC Blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season.

So far we’ve been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint footprint in locals such as Houston and Norman, Oklahoma.

We’ve knocked out 10 weeks of trips in all, which means we’ve got only four more to go. The conference title game in Atlanta is right around the corner.

So without further pause, let’s take a look at the best options for Week 10:

Nov. 8
Alabama at LSU
Texas A&M at Auburn
Florida at Vanderbilt
Georgia at Kentucky
Presbyterian at Ole Miss
UT Martin at Mississippi State

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Alabama at LSU

This game sells itself. The fact that it’s in Death Valley this year only makes it more appealing.

When you think of the SEC, you think of physical, smash-mouth football. And Alabama-LSU is routinely an exhibition of those principles. It’s the one game where offenses truly take a back seat to the defense. It’s the one game where big uglies such as Booger McFarland, Terrence Cody and Glenn Dorsey can steal the show. Sure, the quarterbacks have been good at times, but this is a game for defensive backs such as Mark Barron, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid.

Alabama-LSU has become arguably the most competitive rivalry in all of college football, with only one game decided by double digits since 2007. It’s determined perfect seasons, SEC West championships, and even a national title. It’s showcased countless future NFL draft picks and two of the most successful coaches in the game.

Les Miles versus Nick Saban. That alone is worth the price of admission.

This year’s game has the chance to be another instant classic. The combined talent these two programs have on the defensive line is jaw-dropping. At the same time, the number of gifted running backs on the field will be something to see. And with two first-year starting quarterbacks projected under center, it should be fun to see a heavy dose of the running game for a show of strength versus strength.

Sam Khan's pick: Texas A&M at Auburn

Let's be honest -- the only right answer here is Alabama vs. LSU. Given how often the two are in SEC title (and national title) contention, the amount of talent the two teams have on their rosters, and the personality of the two head coaches, that's the game everyone has their eyes on.

But in the interest of making this diverse and offering a quality alternative option, I offer up the Aggies and the Tigers.

Remember, last season's battle between these two teams was quite intriguing. Auburn ran the ball up and down the field and Texas A&M was proficient itself offensively, led by the always-entertaining Johnny Manziel.

Manziel got injured early in the fourth quarter, adding quite a bit of drama to the proceedings, but was able to re-enter in time to lead a potential game-winning drive. Auburn defense came up with a huge stop though -- capped by a Dee Ford sack -- to secure a 45-41 road win, one that proved crucial in the Tigers' ascent from worst-to-first in the SEC West, which eventually netted them the SEC title and a BCS title game appearance.

Ford and Manziel are among the key players that have moved on to greener pastures in the NFL, but there should still be plenty on the line when these two meet on Nov. 8.

Many feel Auburn is poised for another run at the division and conference titles, so should the Tigers live up to those expectations, every game at this late stage in the regular season will carry significant meaning with the coveted spots to the College Football Playoff up for grabs.

The Aggies, who have said goodbye to their three best offensive players via the NFL draft, won't carry the lofty expectations the Tigers will, but they should still be good enough offensively to make this a competitive and compelling game. If you like offense, this is the game for you, with two of the country's brightest offensive head coaching minds -- Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin. Talents such as Auburn's Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates, Texas A&M's Ricky Seals-Jones and a handful of quality running backs between the two teams could equate another high-scoring affair.

And for any players who were on the Auburn roster back in 2012, there could be yet another score to settle. The Aggies came in and embarrassed Auburn 63-21 in their last trip to The Plains on Oct. 27, 2012, in the midst of a forgettable 3-9 season. So if defending home turf and everything else mentioned above isn't motivation enough for Auburn, that's an added bit of incentive for any young Tigers who were part of or witnessed that showing.

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