SEC: SEC team 0808

Vanderbilt midseason report

October, 16, 2008
10/16/08
11:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Here's all you need to know about Vanderbilt's season to this point: The Commodores (5-1, 3-1 SEC) lost a game last week and are still ranked No. 22 nationally. In their best start since World War II, they sprinted out to five straight wins before falling last weekend at Mississippi State. It's a team that hasn't been particularly good offensively, but has done just about everything else well. The Commodores lead the SEC in sacks and are tied for the lead in interceptions. They've been extremely good in the red zone both offensively and defensively and have continually capitalized on other teams' mistakes. Bobby Johnson and his staff have also done a masterful job of adjusting and putting players in positions to make plays.

Offensive MVP: Offense hasn't been the Commodores' forte this season, even though the offensive line has held up admirably after losing all five starters from a year ago. We'll split the award up and go with quarterback Chris Nickson, who hasn't been as effective after reinjuring his shoulder, and the guy who's replacing him, Mackenzi Adams, the hero in the Auburn win.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Patrick Benoist has had a big first half, and senior safety Reshard Langford is the glue on this defense. But without the skills of cornerback D.J. Moore, who's one of the best multipurpose players in the country, this defense wouldn't be nearly as good. Moore has two interceptions and leads the team in passes defended and passes broken up.

What's next: The goal is clearly to get to a bowl game for the first time since 1982. That's also the last time the Commodores didn't have a losing season. Hanging around in the East race will likely entail winning at Georgia this Saturday. Before you laugh, the Commodores won there two years ago and had the Bulldogs beat last year before fumbling late. The offensive limitations will make it difficult, but look for the Commodores to find at least two more wins and go bowling for the first time in a quarter century. The trick then might be holding onto Johnson, who's fast becoming a hot commodity on the coaching circuit.

Tennessee midseason report

October, 16, 2008
10/16/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Tennessee fans had hoped that the overtime loss to UCLA to start the season was just one of those fluky things that happens sometimes when a team goes all the way across the country to play a football game. Turns out it was much more. The Vols (2-4, 0-3 SEC) have hit new lows offensively under Phillip Fulmer and are still looking for their first conference win heading into the Mississippi State game this Saturday. Jonathan Crompton wasn't the answer at quarterback, and the Vols have since gone with Nick Stephens. They haven't been able to run the ball, nor have they been able to get off the field defensively in key situations. It's clearly the deepest hole Fulmer has been in during his coaching career.

Offensive MVP: The only consistent offensive threat all season for the Vols has been sophomore receiver Gerald Jones, who leads the team with 19 catches for 251 yards and three touchdowns. He's also playing some quarterback in Tennessee's direct-snap package and is one of those elusive guys defenses hate seeing with the ball in his hands in the open field.

Defensive MVP: Sophomore free safety Eric Berry has had an All-America-like season to this point. He's a fierce tackler, just ask Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno. And he leads the SEC with four interceptions. Even more impressive, Berry has only played harder as the Vols' struggles have become worse.

What's next: The probing question in Knoxville is whether or not Fulmer's going to make it. Hard as it is to believe, this could be his final season at his alma mater after 30-plus years as a player, assistant coach and head coach if the Vols don't engineer a dramatic turnaround. Beating Alabama at home on Oct. 25 would be huge for Fulmer, but he's probably going to have to finish with a winning record to have a chance to survive. He knows what kind of hole he's in, and the university owes him big money if they do can him -- $6 million. Things have certainly been better on good, ol' Rocky Top.

South Carolina midseason report

October, 16, 2008
10/16/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

One thing's for sure about the first half of South Carolina's season: It hasn't been dull. The Gamecocks (5-2, 2-2 SEC) are on their third starting quarterback with redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia set to make his first start of the season Saturday at home against LSU. They lost at Vanderbilt to open the conference slate, looked helpless offensively along the way and have come back to win their last four games in a row, including back-to-back road wins over Kentucky and Ole Miss. Give South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier credit. His frustration was obvious earlier in the season, but he didn't let this team get away from him. The chief reason has been a defense that stacks up as one of the best ones the Gamecocks have had in a long time.

Offensive MVP: Talk about a tough call. Garcia came up huge in the Kentucky game, and Chris Smelley has also had his moments, even though he's no longer the starting quarterback. Running back Mike Davis has 491 combined rushing/receiving yards. But the best player and most productive cog in this offense has been tight end Jared Cook, who leads the Gamecocks with 26 catches for 386 yards.

Defensive MVP: Another tough call, but for different reasons. The Gamecocks have had so many players step up on defense. But nobody has been more consistent than junior safety Emanuel Cook, who's fifth in the SEC with 56 tackles and has done a little bit of everything for the Gamecocks. He's a sure thing as a tackler and also a leader on defense.

What's next: What looked like it was going to be a long season back on Sept. 13 when South Carolina had just lost at home to Georgia to fall to 0-2 in the SEC is suddenly looking up. The primetime game against defending national champion LSU this Saturday is one of the biggest home dates the Head Ball Coach has faced since returning to the college ranks. Garcia gets a chance to show that he can lead this team, and the Gamecocks get a chance to show that they know how to finish a season after collapsing in one a year ago. The LSU game is the first of three straight home games for South Carolina with Tennessee and Arkansas to follow. An eight-win season doesn't seem too farfetched.

Mississippi State midseason report

October, 16, 2008
10/16/08
8:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Mississippi State is another one of those teams in the SEC that's had a terrible time finding itself offensively. The Bulldogs (2-4, 1-2 SEC) started off so poorly in losing to Louisiana Tech in the opener and have never been able to fully recover. They've been hampered by injuries/suspensions to key players and have changed quarterbacks to try and get something going offensively. Junior Tyson Lee has taken over for Wesley Carroll and showed the ability to hurt teams with the run and pass in last week's 17-14 win over Vanderbilt, ending a three-game losing streak for the Bulldogs. They're still ranked 103rd nationally in total offense and tied for 113th in scoring offense.

Offensive MVP: Defenses have ganged up on Anthony Dixon this season, but the junior running back has still been the Bulldogs' most consistent offensive threat with 427 rushing yards. He's battled a groin injury and hasn't been 100 percent. His best game came last week against Vanderbilt when he carried the ball 27 times for 107 yards. The Bulldogs hope it's a sign of what's to come.

Defensive MVP: Senior safety Derek Pegues let his team down by being suspended in the first game for violating the class attendance policy, but he's come back ever since and played like an All-SEC performer on a defense that has kept this season from unraveling. He's also a standout on special teams in the return game.

What's next?: Getting back to eight wins is probably a stretch, but the Bulldogs face a huge game this Saturday at Tennessee if they're going to turn this season around. They won a year ago because they did all of the little things right and won the close games. Looking at their remaining schedule, which softens somewhat, they could be in several close ones down the stretch. We'll see how much this team has grown up. One thing you know: Sylvester Croom is never going to put a team on the field that doesn't play with great effort.

Ole Miss midseason report

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
5:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Perhaps the hardest team to get a read on during the first half of the season was Ole Miss. The Rebels (3-3, 1-2 SEC) lost in the final seconds on the road to nationally ranked Wake Forest with quarterback Jevan Snead playing lights out. Two weeks later, they lost at home to Vanderbilt after turning the ball over six times only to come back the next week and take down Florida at the Swamp 31-30. The week after that, the Rebels went belly-up defensively and lost at home again, this time to South Carolina. First-year coach Houston Nutt said before the season that a lack of depth in certain spots would hurt the Rebels, who haven't been able to put together two good games in a row at this point.

Offensive MVP: Snead has been a huge addition and certainly has had his moments, but senior offensive tackle Michael Oher is the most irreplaceable player on the Ole Miss offense. The Rebels are fourth in the SEC in rushing and have allowed just six sacks this season. The 318-pound Oher is a masher at his left tackle position.

Defensive MVP: There's no shortage of talent in Ole Miss' defensive line, with tackle Peria Jerry and end Greg Hardy both being projected first-round NFL draft selections. Sophomore tackle Ted Laurent, though, gets the midseason nod based on his consistency. He leads the Rebels with seven tackles for a loss and has only gotten stronger since his knee issues in the preseason.

What's next?: If only the Rebels could have eliminated some of the killer turnovers, who knows where they would be right now? They were off last week and travel to Alabama this Saturday. The Florida win proves they're capable against anybody, and the last three contests between Alabama and Ole Miss have gone down to the end. The Rebels play three of their final four games this season at home (Auburn, Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi State) and will likely be favored in all three. They've still got their work cut out if they're going to make a bowl game for the first time since 2003.

LSU midseason report

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
2:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Coming off the most thorough beating of the Les Miles era, LSU finds itself in a do-or-die stretch these next few weeks. The defending national champion Tigers (4-1, 2-1 SEC) were exposed last week in several different areas in a 51-21 loss at Florida. It could have been that LSU simply wasn't on top of its game that night and the Gators were. That's the most popular theory in Baton Rouge. But there's also the chance that LSU is still a bit limited at quarterback and that this defense isn't good enough to carry the team. Whichever it is, the Tigers still have one of the best offensive/defensive-line combos in the SEC, so don't expect them to go anywhere quietly.

Offensive MVP: He didn't have his best game last week against Florida, but junior running back Charles Scott has been a rock (a 233-pound rock) for the Tigers this season. He's third in the SEC in rushing with an average of 114 yards per game and is averaging 6.9 yards per carry. Prior to the Florida game, Scott had rushed for 100 yards or more in each of his first four outings. When he's going good, the LSU offense is tough to tame.

Defensive MVP: The standard the LSU defense set a year ago was a lofty one. The Tigers haven't been that dominant this season, although senior defensive end Tyson Jackson has stepped up big both as a leader and with his production. He has 2.5 sacks and is playing both inside and outside for the Tigers this season.

What's next?: The defensive secondary looks lost right now, and that has to be the most disconcerting thing for Miles. Inexperience and blown assignments back there are holding the Tigers back defensively, and they have to get that corrected in a hurry. The trip to South Carolina this Saturday is a scary one. The Gamecocks are playing with a lot of confidence. LSU can't afford a second SEC loss with tough home games coming up against Georgia on Oct. 25 and Alabama on Nov. 8.

Kentucky midseason report

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

What a transformation for Kentucky's football program. All those years of scoring points in bunches and flinging it up and down the field have been replaced by an honest-to-goodness defense that is the face of this team. The Wildcats (4-2, 0-2 SEC) are third nationally in scoring defense and have allowed just three touchdown drives of 35 yards or longer in six games this season. This front four is the best Rich Brooks has had in Lexington, and cornerback Trevard Lindley is one of the most underrated players in the country. The problem is offense, and the Wildcats simply weren't able to finish drives and move the ball consistently enough in their last two games to win, and yet, were in position to win both.

Offensive MVP: First-year starter Mike Hartline has improved at quarterback, but hasn't been able to get the Wildcats into the end zone consistently. Their most consistent offensive weapon to this point, senior receiver Dicky Lyons Jr., won't be around the rest of the way. He tore ligaments in his leg in the South Carolina game, ending his Kentucky career. Lyons was tied for the SEC lead with 33 catches.

Defensive MVP: Lot of choices here, which tells you something about the way Brooks has upgraded the talent on defense. Senior defensive tackle Myron Pryor has had a huge impact in the middle. He leads the Wildcats in tackles for loss (6.5), is tied for the team lead in sacks (3.5) and combines with Corey Peters to give Kentucky an imposing tackle tandem.

What's next?: The Wildcats have got to find some more offense. They hope getting junior receiver DeMoreo Ford back from injury will help. The two crucial games for the Wildcats, if they're going to make it to a bowl game for the third straight season, are this Saturday at home against Arkansas and the Nov. 1 road date at Mississippi State. The Wildcats will have to lean hard on their defense down the stretch, but it's a defense that's talented enough and confident enough to get this team back into the postseason.

Georgia midseason report

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
8:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The Bulldogs are one awful (and humbling) half away from being right where everybody thought they would be when the season began. Still, that one half is hard to ignore. Georgia was manhandled so badly in the first half of that 41-30 home loss to Alabama that there's still very much a "prove it to me" factor with this team. The nucleus is in place for Georgia to put it all together and win the East. The Bulldogs (5-1, 2-1 SEC) still haven't played their best football and have had some horrible luck in the injury department. They will be playing with their fourth different left offensive tackle this Saturday against Vanderbilt now that Vince Vance is lost for the season.

Offensive MVP: Take your pick between quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno. They've both had All-SEC seasons to this point, and Moreno has turned in some spectacular plays. Take away Stafford, though, and the Bulldogs would be a completely different team. He leads the SEC in total offense (258.5 yards per game) and gets the nod.

Defensive MVP: If you don't like to watch Rennie Curran play, then you don't like football. He's a 5-11, 220-pound dynamo at linebacker that has been a big part of a Georgia defense ranked fourth nationally against the run. Curran leads the Bulldogs with 47 total tackles and is tied for third in the SEC with seven tackles for loss.

What's next?: Put it this way. If the Bulldogs navigate the rest of their schedule and get to Atlanta, they deserve it and then some. There won't be anything easy the rest of the way. In fact, after Vanderbilt comes to town this weekend, they won't play another SEC game in Sanford Stadium. Getting the ball in Moreno's hands as much as possible down the stretch will be key, as well as protecting Stafford. It's been a constant shuffle up front for the Bulldogs. The defense has been solid if you don't count that first half against Alabama. The best news is that middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe will be back this weekend after injuring his knee against Alabama.

Florida midseason report

October, 14, 2008
10/14/08
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The No. 5-ranked Gators head into the final half of the season right where they expected to be -- in the middle of the SEC championship race and positioned to make a run at the national title. Now, their path to this point has been somewhat unorthodox. They didn't appear to be clicking on all cylinders offensively in wins over Miami and Tennessee and then came home and were stunned by Ole Miss, 31-30. They weren't especially sharp the next week for the first three quarters against Arkansas before pulling away and then put together their most complete game of the season last week in routing LSU, 51-21, at the Swamp. The Gators (5-1, 3-1 SEC) are bursting at the seams with speed on offense and playing some of their best defense since the 2006 national championship season.

Offensive MVP: He hasn't put up Heisman Trophy numbers and clearly isn't going to take home that coveted award for the second straight year, but junior quarterback Tim Tebow is still the guy who makes this offense go. He has more guys around him making plays and is using all of his weapons wisely. And when there's tough yardage to be made, there's still nobody better than Tebow.

Defensive MVP: Cornerback Joe Haden said it best after the LSU win: "This defense plays the way Brandon Spikes plays." Well, Spikes is playing like a man, and the Gators have improved immensely on defense. He's relentless in getting to the ball and always seems to be in the right spot, as evidenced by his 52-yard interception return for a touchdown against LSU.

What's next? The Gators are off this week and need to get running back Chris Rainey's bum shoulder healed up. The rest time is also good for Percy Harvin, who just can't seem to stay 100 percent healthy. Florida's schedule looks to be a bit more manageable the rest of the way than Eastern Division counterpart Georgia. The Gators get Kentucky at home on Oct. 25 before meeting up with the Bulldogs in Jacksonville on Nov. 1. Georgia has 5-1 Vanderbilt this week and then plays at LSU the week before its showdown with Florida. If the Gators stay healthy, they're the favorite to survive in the East and get to Atlanta.

Auburn midseason report

October, 14, 2008
10/14/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Tommy Tuberville flips through coordinators like most people flip through their rolodex. This last flip may have cost him. In what seemed like a bit of a gamble when he did it, Tuberville went away from his tailback-oriented, power offense that had been so successful for him at Auburn and brought in spread guru Tony Franklin to implement his no-huddle attack last December. The Tigers (4-3, 2-3 SEC) started poorly on offense this season and have only gotten worse. Franklin lasted six games before he was fired. Three days after his ouster, Auburn went out and played its worst game of the year in a 25-22 home loss to Arkansas. This was an Auburn team picked by many to win the Western Division. Now, it's not a lock the Tigers will even finish with a winning record.

Offensive MVP: Are you kidding? Pick an offensive MVP on this team? The closest thing would be junior running back Ben Tate, who has 533 rushing yards through seven games ... but is averaging just 4.4 yards per carry. He's looked really good at times when Auburn seemed intent on running the ball. But then the Tigers would invariably get back to the spread and look totally inept.

Defensive MVP: The Tigers' defense deserves better, as does first-year coordinator Paul Rhoads. Despite being handicapped by an offense that can't move the ball, Auburn remains third in the SEC in scoring defense and total defense. Junior defensive end Antonio Coleman has been a beast. He leads the SEC with four sacks and is tied for the lead with nine tackles for loss while also racking up a team-high 11 quarterback hurries.

What's next? Tuberville is searching frantically for answers. He's going with Kodi Burns as his quarterback for now and might even give true freshman Barrett Trotter a chance. It looks like Chris Todd, who was Franklin's guy, is out of the picture. Tuberville has promised the offense will look significantly different the rest of the way. It also needs to be significantly better if the Tigers are going to keep this season from going completely south and Tuberville wants to avoid answering questions about his own job security. Hard as it is to believe, he could be in trouble if the Tigers don't turn this thing around.

Arkansas midseason report

October, 14, 2008
10/14/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Bobby Petrino was under no illusion. He knew what he was facing this season, his first at Arkansas. There were going to be some serious growing pains, and there have been. The Hogs have played 16 true freshmen, including nine who have started at some point, and were crushed, 139-31, in a three-game stretch against Alabama, Texas and Florida. But last week's 25-22 win at Auburn made all the earlier pain that much sweeter. It's a sure sign that the Hogs (3-3, 1-2 SEC) haven't lost their fight, are still buying into what Petrino is selling and are getting better.

Offensive MVP: What a story junior tailback Michael Smith has been. He picked up the scraps behind Darren McFadden and Felix Jones the last two years, but is leading the SEC in rushing at the midway point this season. The 5-foot-7, 173-pound Smith is averaging 119.8 yards per game. All told, he's accounted for 816 yards of total offense (599 rushing and 217 receiving) in five games.

Defensive MVP: It's no secret that defense hasn't been Arkansas' forte this season. Even in the Hogs' first two wins against Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe, they were exploited. But junior defensive end Adrian Davis came up huge in their biggest win, so he's our pick. Davis is third on the team in total tackles, first in tackles for loss and had three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble last week in the win at Auburn.

What's next? There were some rumblings during that blitzkrieg where Arkansas was getting torched by Alabama, Texas and Florida that the Razorbacks wouldn't win an SEC game this season. They took care of that last weekend. They get Kentucky this Saturday on the road and then Ole Miss and Tulsa at home the following two weeks. When you're playing as many freshmen as Petrino is, you're going to battle inconsistency. It's probably a stretch to think that the Hogs could get to 6-6. But if they do, Petrino deserves some coach of the year mention.

Alabama midseason report

October, 14, 2008
10/14/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's like rewinding to the 1970s. Alabama is undefeated, beating up on everybody physically and thinking national championship. Don't blink your eyes, because it's true. In just his second season of what appeared to be a pretty major rebuilding job, Alabama coach Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0 SEC) in prime position to play in their first SEC championship game since 1999. They own a pair of wins over top 10 teams, including a 41-30 win at Georgia that was 31-0 at the half, and are doing it with a bunch of freshmen playing key roles and very little depth in spots.

Offensive MVP: Nobody (outside of the guys in that locker room) expected the Crimson Tide to be here, so let's go unconventional here. Not only is junior Andre Smith perhaps the best left offensive tackle in college football, but he's been the cornerstone of an offensive line that has punished people this season. He's been as dominant as an offensive lineman can be.

Defensive MVP: Now this is a tough one. Junior college transfer Terrence Cody, a 360-pound behemoth, has made a huge difference at nose tackle, but sophomore middle linebacker Rolando McClain gets the nod. He makes everybody else around him better with his performance, leadership and knowledge of the entire defense. He might be the SEC's overall MVP at this point.

What's next? As Saban himself would say, can the Tide finish the deal? It's right there in front of them. They get Ole Miss at home this Saturday, Tennessee on the road the following week and then the biggie -- LSU in Baton Rouge on Nov. 8. The key is staying healthy and not getting into situations where they're having to play from behind. This team doesn't seem to be built for that. Then again, how would we know? They've outscored their opponents in the first quarter this season by an astounding 88-0 margin.

Sizing up the SEC at the midway point

October, 14, 2008
10/14/08
8:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

We'll kick off our SEC midseason report Tuesday morning and continue it alphabetically by team through Thursday afternoon. We'll do four teams each day.

On Tuesday: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and Florida. On Wednesday: Georgia, Kentucky, LSU and Mississippi. On Thursday: Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

Also, look for an overview of the entire conference on Wednesday, where I'll give you my surprise team, most disappointing team, coach of the year and even tell you what teams are going to bowls.

So stay tuned.

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