SEC: Shawn Williams

Georgia now has options at safety

November, 8, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Whenever an injury or suspension has impacted Georgia's lineup throughout his time as defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham's standard line was that it was a chance to create depth.

That being the case, Georgia has had more than enough opportunity to build depth at safety this season -- although the transition from longtime starters Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo to a group of newcomers has frequently been bumpy.

“It's just a process,” Grantham said. “You just stay the course and believe in the system and get the guys the reps they need and build on what they do well and try to improve the things that maybe they didn't do as well.”

Williams and Rambo started the vast majority of Georgia's games at safety between 2010 and 2012, so their departure for the NFL after last season created a huge hole at the back end of the Bulldogs' defense. Sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons -- the team's defensive MVP of spring practice -- and true freshman Tray Matthews were the offseason favorites to fill that vacancy, but a one-game suspension to Harvey-Clemons to open the season and a hamstring injury for Matthews have allowed the duo to play together for just three games.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsSafety Tray Matthews is expected to be back in the lineup for the first time since the Bulldogs' win over LSU in September.
Matthews should play Saturday for the first time since the Bulldogs' Sept. 28 win over LSU, which was the last time that Matthews, Harvey-Clemons and fellow safeties Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger all played in the same game.

Matthews has battled injuries essentially since preseason practice started in August, which put a damper on the excitement he generated during spring practice after enrolling at UGA in January.

“Even though he was here in the spring, he still has got to continue to work hard at perfecting what he does,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “In the meantime, some other guys have been playing a good bit and getting some experience and things like that. But yeah, we'd definitely like to get him going out on the defensive scrimmage downs, and I'm sure he'll do it this week.”

Georgia's long list of injury issues on offense has been the main storyline of the season entering Saturday's game against Appalachian State, but the issues at safety have been nearly as devastating -- particularly when you consider the lack of experience the group brought into the season.

True freshman Mauger is the only member of the foursome who has played in all eight games, while injuries and illnesses to the two junior college defensive backs in the 2013 signing class, Shaquille Fluker and Kennar Johnson, have prevented either from playing in a single game.

“This season has been a devastating year, but I feel like moments like this, it brings out the best in people,” said Moore, a junior who joins senior Connor Norman as the group's elder statesmen. “'You can never be scared of competition,' my dad always told me. Injuries create opportunities, and there were plenty of opportunities out there that different players had to step in and make plays.”

Moore has dealt with injuries himself. He tore the LCL in his knee while trying to block a punt during preseason practice and missed the Bulldogs' opener at Clemson. He didn't practice without a brace until the week of the Oct. 12 Missouri game. But he has made a couple of big plays for the Bulldogs in recent weeks, intercepting a pass two games ago against Vanderbilt and recording a 14-yard sack on Florida's final drive last week that helped Georgia put away a 23-20 win.

For the first time in a month, Moore is part of a safety group that is close to full strength -- Harvey-Clemons is also back after missing the second half of the Vanderbilt game and was frequently subbed out against Florida -- which provides options for Grantham and defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos that largely haven't existed this season.

“All four of those guys have had some snaps, so you feel comfortable rolling those guys in there,” Grantham said. “That allows you to maybe have some different packages where you can play with three safeties and things like that, too. Injuries create depth. It's been a process for those guys, but they've done a good job working hard and now we've got some depth.”

Mauger -- one of the least-heralded members of the 2013 class -- was thrust into position to where he had to play, but Grantham credited him for learning both safety positions and for his cerebral approach to the game. Mauger did not expect to play as much as he has, but the long list of injuries at his position forced him to fill a larger role than he might have otherwise.

“It is quite a surprise at some point,” he said, “but then again I worked so hard for it, so why not?”

Now with Matthews back, Grantham and Lakatos are actually in position to consider their options at safety. Grantham didn't tip his hand as to whether Matthews will start, noting only that “he'll definitely play,” but production matters more than who plays the first down, he said.

All four players will have an opportunity to produce, and slowly the group is becoming less of a liability than the one that was nearly devoid of on-field experience when the season started.

“You've just got to stay the course, believe in what you're doing and know the system works and just keep being consistent in your message to them and the things that you want them to do from a technique/fundamentals standpoint,” Grantham said. “And then it'll start clicking and they'll start playing fast and they'll make some plays.”

Georgia Bulldogs spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
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GEORGIA BULLDOGS

2012 record: 12-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (first, SEC East)
Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners: QB Aaron Murray, RB Todd Gurley, CB Damian Swann, WR Malcolm Mitchell, OLB Jordan Jenkins, OL Kenarious Gates, OG Chris Burnette, ILB Amarlo Herrera

Key losses: OLB Jarvis Jones, LB Alec Ogletree, S Shawn Williams, S Bacarri Rambo, NG John Jenkins, CB Sanders Commings, WR Tavarres King

2012 statistical leaders (* - returner)
Rushing: Gurley * (1,385 yards)
Passing: Murray * (3,893 yards)
Receiving: King (950 yards)
Tackles: Ogletree (111)
Sacks: Jones (14.5)
Interceptions: Swann * (4)

Spring answers

1. Safety starters: With 2011 All-Americans Rambo and Williams completing their college careers, the Bulldogs entered the spring with two big holes at safety. It appears sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons and January enrollee Tray Matthews have all but claimed the starting positions, however. Harvey-Clemons was named the Bulldogs’ defensive MVP of spring practice, and Matthews generated the most buzz of anyone this spring with his ability to deliver crushing hits. Georgia’s inexperience along the back end of the defense is not ideal, but the two youngsters could become a pleasant surprise.

2. Newcomers contribute: Matthews wasn’t the only early enrollee who made his mark during the spring -- and many of those 13 newcomers will play big roles in the fall. Others like defensive lineman Chris Mayes, linebacker Reggie Carter, cornerback Reggie Wilkerson and running back/receiver J.J. Green all but ensured that they will contribute this fall by acquitting themselves nicely while learning how to function as college players. Keep an eye on another early enrollee, receiver Tramel Terry, once the Bulldogs open preseason practice. Terry did not practice this spring while recovering from a torn ACL suffered late last fall, but he could be healthy by August and could become yet another valuable freshman.

3. Returning weapons: With almost everyone returning on offense -- only King and receiver Marlon Brown are gone among the key contributors -- the Bulldogs should be able to score with as much efficiency as last season’s group that set a school record with 529 points. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo already knows what players including Murray, Gurley, tailback Keith Marshall and Mitchell can do. This spring, players like offensive MVP Chris Conley, G-Day standout Jonathon Rumph and Green also flashed the potential to make the offense even more potent.

Fall questions

1. Starting quickly: A defense that must replace 12 key performers was a pleasant surprise this spring. But can Todd Grantham’s rebuilt defense reload quickly enough to hold its own against the likes of Clemson, South Carolina and LSU? Georgia faces all of those teams before the end of September. Grantham’s defense underperformed a season ago despite a wealth of NFL-ready talent. The talent is still there, but the defensive coaches have their work cut out with so many inexperienced players needing to be ready for the season-defining early schedule.

2. Offensive line rotation: With Burnette out for the entire spring and offensive tackle John Theus out for the first half of the practices, offensive line coach Will Friend had plenty of reason to shuffle his lineup -- and that’s exactly what he did. Friend’s group returns everyone from last season, including four players who started all 14 games, but he did not seem prepared to guarantee any starting jobs at the end of the spring. It’s possible that the shuffling could continue in August, and he might allow a greater number of linemen to play once the season begins.

3. Sack specialists: Jones led the nation with 24.5 tackles for a loss, 14.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles last season while serving as the Bulldogs' top pass-rusher. Sophomore Jordan Jenkins appears to be first in line to replace him -- and he has already informed his predecessor that he intends to eventually break his school sack record -- but Jones set an awfully high bar for Jenkins to attempt to clear. In order to make Grantham's 3-4 defense function correctly, the Bulldogs need Jenkins and some of the defensive linemen who will be stepping into larger roles to keep applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Damian Swann’s hair isn’t thinning and he doesn’t wake up each morning with chronic back pain, but he does feel like the resident old guy in Georgia’s secondary.

The rising junior cornerback spent his first two seasons surrounded by veterans, but entered this spring as the only defensive back in the Bulldogs’ arsenal with any valuable field experience.

It’s a different feeling for Swann, who is going from student to big brother/teacher, but as spring practice winds down, he’s more comfortable with being the guy who is looked up to in this defense.

[+] EnlargeDamian Swann
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsDamian Swann broke up five passes and led the team with four interceptions last season.
“It was a challenge [to take on more responsibility this spring], but now it’s going to be even more challenging because I’m kind of the lone defensive back, period, that has established himself in this system,” Swann told ESPN.com Thursday. “A lot of people might look at it as me having to make more plays than I did last year, which is fine because that’s what I want to do.”

He also wants to make sure all the holes left by the departures of corners Sanders Commings and Branden Smith, along with safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams are properly filled. These weren’t run-of-the-mill players, either. These were strong, veteran starters that any SEC team would have loved to have.

Now, the Bulldogs have to replace them with a slew of youngsters, mostly freshmen, and Swann feels somewhat responsible for guiding them this year. He isn’t looking to be a father figure, just the best big brother he can be.

Still, taking on a leadership role and having to teach has felt odd at times considering Swann wasn’t even sure how much playing time he was going to get last season.

After playing sparingly as a freshman in 2011, Swann began 2012 as a starter only due to a rash of suspensions in the secondary. With Commings sitting for two games to start the year, Swann said he wasn’t surprised by his heavy playing time, but when Commings returned, he still found himself in the starting lineup. Then, when the Tennessee game arrived in Week 5, he was named the strong corner starter and would stay there all season.

He expected to move back to the nickel at some point, which was fine, but taking over one of the top corner spots left him a bit speechless. He went from 60-70 plays a game to 80-90, which was a lot for a youngster like Swann.

“That was a big push for me, just being a sophomore playing all those snaps in the SEC,” Swann said with a laugh.

Swann started 14 games last year and led the team with four interceptions and also broke up five passes. He even recorded two sacks, recovered two fumbles and forced two fumbles.

Quietly, Swann played a big part of Georgia’s defense last season, but he’s looking for an even bigger role in 2013.

“I want to be the guy that lives up to the expectations, that wants to be in the spotlight, that wants to cover your best receiver,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge for me, but I’m willing to accept that.”

Swann is actually in an interesting spot. He starts off as the team’s top player in the secondary, but he might not get all the attention he wants this fall. Offenses usually tend to pick on the younger guys, so Swann might not have passes thrown his way as much as he’d like.

That means his teaching skills will have to be that much better as he tries to coach up the pups around him. The good news is after all the time he got last season, Swann thinks he’ll have more time to help than worry about his own game once fall arrives.

“Last season might have been the best thing that could have happened to me and to Georgia because imagine if I wasn’t to play and we graduated all those guys,” he said. “Now, it’s going to a whole entire brand-new secondary with hardly any experience. Me playing as much as I did puts us in a better situation.”
Tuesday brought us the final day of the NFL combine and even more speed, as defensive backs showcased their stuff in Indianapolis.

Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner arrived at the combine as the top-rated defensive back in this year's NFL draft, but had an up-and-down day. He had an impressive official 40-yard dash time of 4.37 seconds, which was the second-fastest 40 time of the day, but he struggled during drills -- dropping a handful of balls. Milliner also had a 36-inch vertical jump and a 122-inch broad jump. He's probably still the top-rated corner in this year's draft with his 40 time and it doesn't sound like his field drills will knock him out of that top spot.

[+] EnlargeDarius Slay
AP Photo/Dave MartinMississippi State CB Darius Slay showed off his leaping ability during NFL combine workouts.
Mississippi State cornerback Darius Slay made some good noise as well after he won the 40 battle, sporting a time of 4.36. That sort of time will certainly help his draft stock, especially after his name was buried a bit heading into the combine. He also had 14 reps of the 225-pound bench press, registered a 35.5-inch vertical and claimed 124 inches in the broad jump.

While Slay helped himself in Indy, teammate Johnthan Banks didn't. He might have won the Thorpe Award, as the nation's best defensive back, but Banks didn't have a good day at the combine. He ran an unflattering 4.61 in the 40 and struggled during field work. He had just 10 bench reps, but sported a 34-inch vertical and a 125-inch broad jump. Banks will have a chance to make up for Tuesday at Mississippi State's pro day.

When it came to showcasing some real strength, Georgia safety Shawn Williams topped all SEC defensive backs with his 25 bench reps. That number ranked third among defensive backs at the combine. He was also one of the fastest safeties out there with his 4.46 in the 40. He also had a 36-inch vertical. Williams really helped himself out with all that strength and speed he showed.

LSU safety Eric Reid also impressed when it came to speed and strength. He tied for the best vertical jump of the day with a height of 40.5 inches and he also tied for the top broad jump (134 inches). Reid also ran a 4.53 40 and did 17 reps on bench.

Florida safety Matt Elam had a big drop in field drills, but he turned some heads with his 4.54 40 time and he was able to get 17 reps on the bench. The 5-foot-10 Elam also registered a 35.5-inch vertical.

The other big story of the day revolved around the performance of former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. A lot of questions surrounded the Honey Badger, who was dismissed from LSU's team before the 2012 season, but he looked like he was in pretty good shape during Tuesday's workouts. While he tied for last with just four reps on bench, Mathieu was very impressive during field drills, showed good speed with his 4.50 in the 40, and registered a 34-inch vertical and a 117-inch broad jump.

Mathieu might have a lot of past off-field issues, but there's no doubt that he's a ballplayer, and Tuesday certainly helped him as far as the draft is concerned.

You can read about all the defensive back performances during the final day of the combine here.

Signing day booms and busts revisited

February, 6, 2013
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There are always surprises and disappointments in every signing class.

It’s just the nature of the business, although I’m not sure it’s politically correct to refer to recruiting as a business. At least, not in the SEC.

Anyway, with most of the hay in the barn from national signing day 2013, keep in mind that it’s impossible to evaluate prospects only hours after their letters of intent are faxed in. So much can happen -- both good and bad -- over the next couple of years.

If you don’t believe so, here’s a look back at the “best surprises” and “biggest disappointments” for all 14 SEC teams going back four years ago to the 2009 signing class.

ALABAMA

[+] EnlargeChance Warmack
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's Chance Warmack developed into one of college football's top offensive linemen.
Best surprise: OG Chance Warmack (Atlanta)

Warmack was not an ESPN 150 prospect, and 34 other players were ranked ahead of him that year in the state of Georgia. The home-state Bulldogs didn’t recruit him, but he landed at Alabama and became a three-year starter for the Tide and established himself this past season as the most dominant interior offensive lineman in college football.

Biggest disappointment: WR Kendall Kelly (Gadsen, Ala.)

Ranked as the No. 7 receiver in the country by ESPN, Kelly moved to defensive back, experienced some health issues and wound up taking a medical hardship.

ARKANSAS

Best surprise: WR Cobi Hamilton (Texarkana, Texas)

Unranked among the top 40 receivers nationally, Hamilton didn’t get an offer from Texas until two weeks prior to signing day. He stuck with the Hogs and blossomed in Bobby Petrino’s offense. Hamilton led the SEC this past season with 1,335 receiving yards and caught 18 career touchdown passes.

Biggest disappointment: CB Darius Winston (Helena, Ark.)

Winston was the most coveted in-state prospect since Darren McFadden and ranked by ESPN as the No. 3 cornerback in the country. But he never developed into a full-time starter at Arkansas and struggled with consistency. He was injured for part of this past season, his final one in a Hogs uniform.

AUBURN

Best surprise: WR Emory Blake (Austin, Texas)

Blake was ranked as the No. 73 receiver in the country by ESPN and chose Auburn on signing day over Texas Tech and Colorado. He finished his career as Auburn’s fifth all-time receiver with 128 catches and 16 touchdown receptions.

Biggest disappointment: QB Tyrik Rollison (Sulphur Springs, Texas)

Rollison was a Parade All-American and considered one of the Tigers’ prized signees in the 2009 class. He redshirted his first season, and after being suspended for the Outback Bowl, transferred to Sam Houston State that next spring and then to Tyler (Texas) Junior College.

FLORIDA

Best surprise: OG Jon Halapio (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

The Gators got Halapio as the No. 144-ranked offensive guard in the country, and when he committed in May, he had very few offers. Now heading into his senior season at Florida, Halapio has 33 starts under his belt and is one of the leaders of the Gators' offense.

Biggest disappointment: DT Gary Brown (Quincy, Fla.)

Brown was ranked as the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country by ESPN, but reported to school overweight and redshirted his first season. He was dismissed that next February without ever playing a down at Florida following his arrest for allegedly slapping a woman at a party.

GEORGIA

Best surprise: S Shawn Williams (Damascus, Ga.)

Williams was not ranked among the top 30 prospects in the state of Georgia. He made his mark initially on special teams and then emerged as the Bulldogs’ enforcer in the secondary from his safety position. He was second on the team with 98 tackles this past season.

Biggest disappointment: RB Washaun Ealey (Twin City, Ga.)

Ealey was an ESPN 150 prospect and ranked as the No. 8 running back in the country. He led the Bulldogs in rushing each of his first two seasons, but a pair of suspensions landed him in hot water with coach Mark Richt. Ealey was encouraged to move on following his sophomore season and wound up transferring to Jacksonville State.

KENTUCKY

Best surprise: OG Larry Warford (Richmond, Ky.)

Not ranked among the top 50 guard prospects in the country, Warford established himself as one of the top guards in the SEC the past two seasons and earned All-SEC recognition as a senior.

Biggest disappointment: QB Morgan Newton (Carmel, Ind.)

An ESPN 150 prospect, Newton made the SEC All-Freshman Team his first season. But his career never took off from there, and he was plagued by a shoulder injury in 2011. He served mainly as a backup this past season and finished his career with 15 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

LSU

Best surprise: DT Bennie Logan (Coushatta, La.)

Logan was ranked as the No. 72 defensive end in the country, and LSU initially offered him as a grayshirt. But a firm offer came in the weeks leading up to signing day, and Logan blossomed into one of the SEC’s top defensive tackles each of the past two seasons.

Biggest disappointment: DT Chris Davenport (Mansfield, La.)

Davenport was one of 10 ESPN 150 prospects LSU signed in 2009, and he was ranked as the No. 7 defensive tackle in the country. Some had him ranked as a five-star prospect, but he was never able to crack the defensive line rotation at LSU and eventually moved to offensive line. He transferred to Tulane after this past season without ever starting a game at LSU.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

[+] EnlargeJohnthan Banks
Spruce Derden/US PresswireJohnthan Banks went from unnoticed out of high school to arguably the nation's top defensive back.
Best surprise: CB Johnthan Banks (Maben, Miss)

Banks’ only scholarship offer was to Mississippi State. He was from a tiny town in Mississippi and flew under the radar, but wound up being a four-year starter and won the Jim Thorpe Award this past season as the top defensive back in college football. He finished with 16 career interceptions to tie the Bulldogs' all-time record.

Biggest disappointment: RB Montrell Conner (Monroe, La.)

Conner had offers from USC, Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee and was ranked as the No. 7 running back prospect in the country by ESPN. He redshirted his first season and left the program in August of that next year. He attended junior college in 2010 and then signed with Troy.

MISSOURI

Best surprise: RB Kendial Lawrence (Rockwall, Texas)

Lawrence picked Missouri over SMU, Louisville and Iowa State and was ranked by ESPN as the No. 100 running back in the country. He capped a solid career at Missouri this past season by rushing for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Biggest disappointment: QB Blaine Dalton (Blue Springs, Mo.)

A dual-threat quarterback and one of the top prospects in the state of Missouri, Dalton enrolled in school early. But he was arrested twice in less than four months and dismissed from the team before he ever played in a game.

OLE MISS

Best surprise: LB Mike Marry (Largo, Fla.)

Ranked as the No. 94 prospect in the state of Florida and unranked in the ESPN 150, Marry has been one of the leaders of the Ole Miss defense the past two seasons from his middle linebacker position. He had 10.5 tackles for loss this past season to finish second on the team. A three-star prospect, Marry picked Ole Miss over Duke, Iowa State and South Florida.

Biggest disappointment: WR Pat Patterson (Macon, Miss.)

Ole Miss beat several big-name teams, including Alabama, to get Patterson, an ESPN 150 prospect and widely considered the top prospect in the state of Mississippi that year. He showed flashes as a true freshman, but couldn’t stay out of trouble off the field and was dismissed prior to his sophomore season after catching just 12 career passes.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Best surprise: S D.J. Swearinger (Greenwood, S.C.)

A three-star prospect, Swearinger was originally committed to Tennessee, but backed off that pledge after Phillip Fulmer was fired and signed with South Carolina. Swearinger ended up being a three-year starter for the Gamecocks and finished second on the team in tackles each of the past two seasons. He was a second-team All-SEC selection this past season.

Biggest disappointment: RB Jarvis Giles (Tampa, Fla.)

An ESPN 150 prospect and ranked as the No. 6 running back in the country, Giles left the team early during his sophomore season after plummeting down the depth chart behind Marcus Lattimore and a few others.

TENNESSEE

Best surprise: WR Zach Rogers (Nashville, Tenn.)

Even though he wasn’t nearly as heralded as most of the signees in the Vols’ 2009 class, Rogers emerged this past season as one of the more underrated receivers in the SEC with 32 catches, including seven touchdowns, and averaged 15.3 yards per catch.

Biggest disappointment: RB Bryce Brown (Wichita, Kan.)

Brown has some serious competition for this dubious distinction. There were multiple disappointments in the Vols’ 2009 class. But as ESPN’s No. 2-ranked running back prospect in the country, Brown gets the nod. He rushed for 460 yards as a freshman, but sat out that next spring practice and never played again for the Vols after Lane Kiffin left for USC.

TEXAS A&M

Best surprise: WR Ryan Swope (Austin, Texas)

Swope was more of a running back coming out of high school and ranked by ESPN as the No. 116 athlete in the country. He carved out a splendid career at Texas A&M in becoming the Aggies’ all-time leading receiver. In his last two seasons, he caught 161 passes, including 19 touchdowns.

Biggest disappointment: DT Chris Henderson (Dallas)

Henderson was ranked by ESPN as the No. 16 defensive tackle in the country, but failed to qualify academically and didn’t make it to campus.

VANDERBILT

Best surprise: RB Zac Stacy (Centerville, Ala.)

Alabama and Auburn both passed on Stacy, who was ranked by ESPN as the No. 98 running back prospect nationally. He finished his Vanderbilt career this past season by rushing for 1,000 yards for the second straight year and set the Commodores’ all-time rushing record in the process.

Biggest disappointment: WR Brady Brown (Argyle, Texas)

Brown was ranked among the top 60 prospects in the state of Texas, and the Commodores were hoping he could add some punch to their passing game. He suffered a leg injury as a freshman and wound up leaving the program following the 2011 season without catching any career passes.

2012 SEC Super Seniors

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
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For the fourth straight season on the SEC blog, we pay homage to the top seniors in the league.

We’ve selected the best 12 seniors in the league, period, and not one senior on each team. These guys all rose above and beyond in terms of on-the-field production, leadership and their overall impact on their teams.

There were a lot of tough calls and a lot of terrific seniors in the league again this season, meaning several deserving players were left off. We looked hard at how players fared against league competition, their consistency and whether or not they were able to make it through the whole season.

Here’s introducing our 2012 SEC Super Seniors. They’re listed in alphabetical order:

Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks: The 2012 Thorpe Award winner as the top defensive back in college football, Banks has four interceptions on the season and 16 for his career, which matches the school record. He's been a playmaker on that Mississippi State defense since he was a freshman.

Florida RB Mike Gillislee: Without Gillislee, who knows where the Gators would be right now? He was the heart and soul of their offense and became the first Florida player since Ciatrick Fason in 2004 to rush for 1,000 yards. He has 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns heading into the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Arkansas WR Cobi Hamilton: It wasn't a season to remember at Arkansas, but Hamilton helped keep things from completely unraveling on offense with a record-setting performance. He set school marks with 90 catches for 1,335 yards -- both tops among SEC players -- and caught five touchdown passes.

Alabama C Barrett Jones: One of the most decorated student-athletes in SEC history, Jones made the transition to center this season and earned All-America honors for the second straight year after playing left tackle in 2011. He's smart, tough and the kind of leader and player that makes everybody else around him better.

Vanderbilt RB Zac Stacy: One of the toughest runners in the league, Stacy rushed for 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He's one of only eight players in the SEC to do that over the past 10 years. He has 1,034 rushing yards entering the bowl game and is averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

Florida PK Caleb Sturgis: Florida coach Will Muschamp didn't shy away from calling Sturgis the best kicker in college football, and Sturgis' numbers certainly warrant that praise. He has great range, but is equally clutch on the pressure kicks. He's made 23-of-27 field goals this season and has six field goals of 50 yards or longer in the past two seasons.

South Carolina S D.J. Swearinger: One of the top safeties in the league, Swearinger is second on South Carolina's team with 70 total tackles. He's a big hitter and one of the main cogs in a South Carolina defense that collected an SEC-high 40 sacks and also forced 22 turnovers.

Texas A&M WR Ryan Swope: With Johnny Manziel playing his way to the Heisman Trophy, Swope was Mr. Dependable for the Aggies and led them with seven touchdown catches. He had 11 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown in the 29-24 win over Alabama.

Tennessee OG Dallas Thomas: The Vols' offensive line developed into one of the best in the league, and Thomas showcased his versatility by sliding inside to left guard after starting at left tackle in 2010 and 2011. He was a second-team All-SEC selection and is rated as one of the top guard prospects in the upcoming NFL draft.

Kentucky OG Larry Warford: A three-time All-SEC selection, Warford became the first Kentucky lineman to earn All-America honors in more than 20 years when he was named third team by the Associated Press this season. He didn't allow any sacks this season from his right guard spot and graded out at 90.3 percent.

Alabama OG Chance Warmack: Already one of the most dominant interior offensive linemen in the country, Warmack also emerged as one of the Crimson Tide's strongest leaders this season. He's a mauler inside at his left guard position and a big reason Alabama had two 1,000-yard rushers this season.

Georgia S Shawn Williams: In a season that saw Georgia's defense ravaged by injuries and suspensions, Williams has been a steadying force for the Bulldogs. He's second on the team with 87 total tackles and lit a much-needed fire under the defense with his comments prior to the win over Florida that propelled Georgia to the SEC championship game.

SEC Senior Bowl invitees

December, 27, 2012
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Here’s a look at the most recent list of SEC players confirmed for the 2013 Senior Bowl on Jan. 26 in Mobile, Ala.:

DawgNation links: Williams' voice carried

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
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David Ching writes: Shawn Williams made a difference this season when he spoke out about what he perceived as soft play by his Georgia teammates.

Ching: The Bulldogs hit the practice field Wednesday with refreshed, healthier bodies.

Radi Nabulsi writes Insider: With powerful hitting ability and sound coverage skills, linebacker commit Johnny O’Neal can make an impact next year between the hedges.

Kipp Adams writes Insider: The state finals feature dozens of top recruiting prospects from around Georgia, capped by Saturday night’s game featuring ESPN 150 running back Alvin Kamara and Watch List defensive end Lorenzo Carter.

Welcome to Atlanta

December, 1, 2012
12/01/12
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ATLANTA -- Greetings from the Georgia Dome.

Well, we are back in the hub of the South with the national championship on the line. Stop me if you've heard that one before.

Yes, with No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) taking on No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1) inside the Dome, the SEC championship game has yet again become a semifinal for the national championship.

Today's winner is headed to South Beach for the Discover BCS National Championship to face No. 1 Notre Dame. Only a couple of weeks ago, we were all sitting around wondering if the SEC would get shut out of the national title game and the six-year title streak would end.

Well, after today, the SEC will be returning to the big game.

The team that makes it to Miami will be pretty beat up on the ride back home because someone is going to get popped out there today, as two of the most physical teams in the country will be cracking skulls down on the field.

Alabama brings in the nation's No. 1 defense, while Georgia's defense has returned to elite status after a tremendous November. Those "soft" comments by Shawn Williams before the Florida game really lit a fire under Georgia's defense. In their past three SEC games, the Bulldogs have allowed an average of just 59 rushing yards and just 1.9 yards per carry.

Alabama's defense has shown some flaws in its pass defense against LSU and Texas A&M. That game against A&M really showed the country that Alabama's defense isn't quite what it was last year, as the Aggies gashed that unit through the air and on the ground in the Tide's lone loss of the season.

But none of that matters now. This is a new day and a new game. The national championship is on the line. Alabama might not have been here last year, unlike Georgia, but this team is more than ready for the big-game atmosphere, while Georgia is certainly not the wide-eyed team we saw in the Dome last year.

This one is gonna be good.

Did you know?

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
10:00
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It's time to check out notes and stats from the SEC and ESPN Stats & Information:
  • The Southeastern Conference has had at least five teams ranked in at least one AP Top 25 poll every year since expansion (1992). This season, as in last season, the SEC had at least five teams ranked in every AP poll. Since 1992, the SEC has had at least five teams ranked in the AP Top 25 a total of 252 times, an average of 11.95 times per year. Since 1992 (counting 2012), the SEC has had at least five teams ranked for at least 10 weeks in 17 of the last 21 years. The most SEC teams to be ranked in a poll in a given week was the pre-season poll of 2011, when eight SEC teams were ranked.
  • Nine of SEC’s 14 teams have played back-to-back games this season against AP Top 25. LSU played five straight against AP Top 25 (No. 10 Florida, No. 3 South Carolina, No. 20 Texas A&M, No. 1 Alabama, No. 22 Mississippi State) while Tennessee played four straight (No. 5 Georgia, No. 19 Mississippi State, No. 1 Alabama, No. 17 South Carolina). Alabama, Mississippi State and South Carolina each had three straight games against AP Top 25 and Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M had two games consecutively against AP Top 25 teams. A&M has played back-to-back Top 25 games twice this season.
  • Fifteen FBS teams have played three straight games this season against Top 25 competition, including five from the SEC. LSU and Texas Tech are the only teams to have played five straight games against Top 25 teams while Tennessee and Kansas State played four straight against Top 25 teams.
  • After last weekend, seven SEC teams played five games against Top 25 teams at the time teh game was played -- Florida, Missouri, Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Auburn.
Alabama vs Georgia
  • AJ McCarron has 10 touchdown passes off play-action this season. That is twice as many as he had all of last season. He has not thrown an interception off play-action since the loss to LSU last November. That was the only game in McCarron’s career that he had more interceptions than touchdowns off play-action.
  • McCarron has attempted 57.6 percent of his first-down passes off play-action this season. Eight of his 10 play-action touchdowns have come on first down.
  • McCarron is completing 64.7 percent of his passes thrown 20 yards or longer this season, an increase of more than 25 percentage points from last season. Play-action has been the key. McCarron is completing 73.3 percent of such passes off play-action this season, including seven of his 10 touchdowns.
  • Alabama is averaging 6.0 yards per carry on designed running plays this season, the highest average in the SEC. On these runs, the Tide are averaging an SEC-best 4.2 yards before contact. They have made it at least 5 yards past the line of scrimmage without being touched on 35.7 percent of their designed runs.
  • Alabama runs downhill with 67.9 percent of their designed running plays coming between the tackles in SEC games. The Tide average 6.4 yards per carry on such running plays with about one in every five attempts going for at least 10 yards.
  • Alabama leads FBS in scoring defense for the second straight season. The Tide do not allow big plays. They have conceded 89 plays that gained 10 yards or more, nine fewer than any other FBS team. Opponents are averaging 1.9 drives per game that reach the red zone against Alabama, the lowest average in FBS. When opponents do reach the red zone, they score on 61 percent of their possessions, the lowest percentage in the nation.
  • Alabama has given up 0.82 yards per rush in the red zone this season, the lowest average in FBS this season.
  • Alabama has scored 157 points off turnovers this season, the most in the SEC and the fourth most in FBS. The Tide have given up 23 points off turnovers, tied with South Carolina for the fewest in the SEC and the fourth fewest in FBS.
  • Alabama has allowed 31 passing first downs on third down this season, seven more than it allowed all of last year. The Tide have given up 17 in their last three games against FBS opponents, including a season-high eight against LSU. That is the most the Tide have allowed in any three-game stretch against FBS opponents in the last five seasons.
  • In its last four FBS games, Alabama has allowed opponents to complete 59.3 percent of their third-down passes thrown at or past the first-down marker, with 16 first downs. The Tide gave up just six such completions in their first seven games of the season, including three games with none.
  • Aaron Murray is competing 55.6 percent of his passes thrown at or past the first-down marker on third down this season, with eight touchdowns and one interception.
  • Since Shawn Williams’ "soft" comments, the Bulldogs have allowed 43 points in five games, including 19 in three SEC games. In those three conference games, they held each opponent under 80 yards rushing and had at least four sacks.
  • Georgia has 75 plays that have gained 20 yards or more, seventh most in FBS this season. The Bulldogs and Texas A&M are the only two teams with at least 50 such completions and 25 such rushes. Georgia has had at least one play gain 30 yards in every game this season except for its lone loss at South Carolina.
  • Alabama has given up 32 plays that gained 20 yards or more this season, the fewest in the SEC and the sixth fewest in FBS.
  • Georgia averages 7.9 yards per play on first down this season, the second-highest average in the nation. The Bulldogs averaged over 5.0 yards per play on first down in every game except for their lone loss at South Carolina.
  • Alabama is also efficient on first down. The Tide and the Bulldogs are two of the 10 FBS teams that average over 7 yards per play on first down this season. They are also two of the four teams that average more than 11 yards per pass attempt on first down.
  • Murray has increased his completion percentage on passes thrown 20 yards or longer by 18.5 points this season compared to last. Murray has not thrown an interception on a pass of this length since the 2011 SEC championship.
  • Alabama is allowing opponents to complete 26.4 percent of their passes thrown 20 yards or longer this season, with two touchdowns and eight interceptions. Yet, in their lone loss, Texas A&M completed 4-of-5 such passes against the Tide for 126 yards and a touchdown.
  • Murray is completing 66.3 percent of his passes when opponents send five or more pass-rushers on a play this season, up 10.1 points from last season. Murray has just two interceptions against the blitz this season, after having nine in 2011. But, his two interceptions came in his only two games against ranked opponents this season (Florida and South Carolina).
  • Alabama has sent five or more pass rushers on 32.7 percent of its opponents’ dropbacks this season. The Tide have recorded 16 on their 30 sacks when blitzing this season.
  • There is some good historical news for Georgia in this game. Of the 28 previous teams to play for the BCS championship, eight entered the final weekend of the regular season outside the BCS top-two -- and four of them moved up after winning the SEC championship. Even more good news for the Dawgs. All four of those teams went on to win the national championship (Florida 2008, LSU 2007, Florida 2006, LSU 2003).
  • In all of Alabama’s previous seven appearances, Florida was the opponent. As for Georgia, the Tide will be the third different opponent it has faced in the SEC championship (Arkansas and LSU were the others). Familiarity will not be something either team can rely on either. These schools haven’t met since 2008 and have met only four times since 1996.
  • For the fifth straight year, the SEC Championship Game will feature either the AP No. 1 or No. 2 team (or both). Last year featured No. 1 LSU, while 2010 had No. 2 Auburn. In 2009 it was No. 1 Florida vs No. 2 Alabama and in 2008, it was No. 1 Alabama vs No. 2 Florida.
  • Though consistently recognized as the top conference in the country, the SEC championship has been anything but competitive through the years. Since 1998 alone, only one game has been decided by fewer than 10 points and the average margin of victory in those 14 games is 19.0. The last two games have been decided by 39 and 32 points.
  • This is the first time both SEC Championship Game participants enter off a win in which each scored at least 40 points. And it’s just the second time both participants enter off a win of at least 28 points. 2008 was the other instance (Florida won final game 45-15, Alabama won final game 36-0).

Flying under the radar in the SEC

November, 13, 2012
11/13/12
3:52
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Hard to believe there are only two weeks left in the regular season.

So before we get to the end of the year and everybody starts talking about All-SEC selections and Player of the Year candidates, let’s take a moment to recognize some of the most underrated players in the SEC this season.

Here’s our look at 10 guys who’ve had outstanding seasons and have maybe flown under the radar to some degree:

Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt: Throughout his career, Johnson has been Mr. Versatile for the Commodores on their offensive line. He settled in at left tackle this season, but moved over to right tackle last week against Ole Miss and also played a few snaps at center.

Patrick Lewis, C, Texas A&M: The Aggies have the best offensive tackle tandem in the country in Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, but everybody on that offense will tell you that it all starts with Lewis in the middle of that offensive line. He makes all the calls and is as smart as he is tough.

Craig Loston, S, LSU: A fourth-year junior, Loston has avoided the injuries that plagued him earlier in his career and been an integral part of an LSU defense ranked third nationally in total defense. He’s fourth on the team in tackles with 41 and has two interceptions, including a 100-yard return for a touchdown last week in the 37-17 win over Mississippi State.

Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss: While the recruiting spotlight has been on his younger brother, Robert Nkemdiche, Denzel Nkemdiche has emerged as one of the most productive freshman defenders in the country. He’s second on the team with 66 total tackles, including a team-leading 11.5 tackles for loss, and has also forced four fumbles.

Ross Rasner, S, Arkansas: It hasn’t been a season to remember for the Hogs, and they’ve taken their lumps on defense. But Rasner has played his heart out. He leads the Hogs with 74 total tackles, including 6.5 for loss, and also has a team-leading three interceptions to go along with two forced fumbles.

Mychal Rivera, TE, Tennessee: One of the more polished pass-catching tight ends in the league. Rivera is third on Tennessee’s team with 30 catches for 485 yards and four touchdowns. He’s averaging 16.2 yards per catch and has proven to be a tough matchup for defenses.

Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida: Everybody talks about Alabama’s Dee Milliner and Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks when the subject of the league’s best cornerback comes up, but don’t forget about Roberson. He’s tied for second in the league with 11 passes defended.

Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina: Even though he doesn’t have big numbers in terms of catches (25), Sanders is still tied for the team lead with five touchdown receptions. He also returned a punt for a touchdown against Georgia and is third in the SEC in punt returns with a 13.9-yard average.

Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M: While he’s not the Aggies’ leading receiver, Swope is the guy who makes the tough catches and makes the clutch catches. He does lead the team with six touchdown receptions and put on a show last week in the win over Alabama with 11 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.

Shawn Williams, S, Georgia: He might not have the name recognition of a Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree or Bacarri Rambo, but Williams is the enforcer on that Georgia defense and leads the team with 66 total tackles. His words obviously mean something, too, when you consider how this defense has played ever since he spoke up just prior to the Florida game.


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Well after Aaron Murray’s final kneel-down and Florida fans had cleared their side of EverBank Field, Mark Richt tried to absorb every moment he could before such a special night had to end.

He spent nearly 15 minutes on the field, clapping and cheering as he hiked from midfield to both end zones to acknowledge the handful of Georgia fans who stuck around to celebrate into the night.

He was ready to put them on his back and carry them to The Landing, but he would have had to make room for his defense first. The unit deserved a real victory lap.

After hearing the word “soft” basically become synonymous with Georgia’s defense, the Bulldog defenders put Georgia directly into the SEC Eastern Division driver’s seat with a dominating performance against a Florida team that had prided itself on pounding opponents with its running game.

All that soft talk quickly vanished after the Bulldogs repeatedly left the Gators’ offense in reverse and forced six turnovers in Georgia’s 17-9 victory. The defense felt disrespected this week and was out to prove that it was ready to do all the pushing Saturday.

“As a man, you’re going to take the personally,” linebacker Jarvis Jones said of Georgia’s defense being labeled as soft. “I took it personally, they took it personally. We came out here to show everybody that we have a great defense and we can execute and be one of those teams leading the nation in defense.”

This all started with senior safety Shawn Williams calling the defense’s play soft after that lackluster win over Kentucky. He was right, and every talking head on just about every sports platform backed him up and expanded on Georgia’s softness.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Kevin Liles/US Presswire After suffocating Florida, Mark Richt's Georgia squad can smell another trip the SEC title game.
It was hard not to after the defense’s recent performances. It was gutted for 478 yards and 37 points against Tennessee, and South Carolina punched it in the mouth; it didn’t respond and Kentucky, which hadn’t done much of anything right on offense all season, ran for 206 yards on the Dawgs.

“Shawn said what everybody else was already saying,” Richt said. “It bothered them enough to get after it.”

All that soft chatter obviously struck the right nerve, because Georgia’s defense came out inspired from the jump, as every hit looked to be delivered harder, faster and more fiercely as the game continued.

With the offense stalling just about every time it got the ball, the defense had its back with crucial stops and by creating favorable field position. For the first time in a while, the defense carried the offense.

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel was either running for his life or being drilled into the ground, mostly by Jones, who had a stellar performance with 13 tackles (12 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks.

The only thing soft about Georgia’s defense was how Jones was constantly helping up the Florida players he left battered and bruised Saturday.

This team was challenged all week and basically counted out. Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell knew people were jumping off Georgia’s bandwagon, and it motivated players.

“We knew that. We’re not clueless on what’s going on with the media,” said Mitchell, whose 45-yard touchdown reception gave Georgia its final points. “We knew most people were rooting against us, so we wanted to come out and show we could fight. We got the term ‘soft’ all week -- ESPN calling us soft -- so we just wanted to come out and show that we ain’t soft. We’re men just like they’re men. They weren’t born any different than us.”

They liked being looked down upon.

“I love it when people doubt us or are talking trash because it fuels me inside to play even better and shut them up and prove that we were a great defense, we know what we’re doing and we’re not soft,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said.

The Gators couldn’t run (81 net yards) and really couldn’t move comfortably all day, averaging 3.9 yards per play. And when Florida found some sort of rhythm on its potential game-tying drive in the fourth, Jones was there to steal its thunder with a sneaky forced fumble on Jordan Reed before he attempted to hurdle into the end zone.

“I think they call it 'violators,'" Jones said with a smile. “He was a violator, so I went after it.”

Now, everyone is back to going after the Bulldogs. Wins over Ole Miss and Auburn will send Georgia back to Atlanta for the second consecutive year. We were ready to hand the East to the Gators, and now it’s the Bulldogs’ to lose.

They can thank their defense for that.

“That defense you saw tonight is the defense we’ll be for the rest of the season,” Jenkins said.

A ton is on the line in Jacksonville

October, 27, 2012
10/27/12
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This has always been a special rivalry, but it will be even more exciting with the SEC Eastern Division at stake.

You already know the storyline: Florida wins and it is headed to Atlanta. Georgia wins and the Bulldogs control the East.

Many thought Georgia would be in position to take the East, but few thought the Gators would be in this position. Something about second-year coaches at Florida.

I'm curious to see how Georgia's defense comes out today. Senior safety Shawn Williams called the defense's play soft this week, then named which players should be playing more at linebacker. I know the coaches hope it motivates players, but some guys were really upset with Williams airing out his issues publicly.

Was he right about this unit being soft? Yeah, but he probably should have said his piece in the locker room.

These teams really don't like each other. When the Gators ran out onto the field, some of the Georgia players started jawing with some Florida players. There was some pushing and shoving, and it looked like one of Florida's assistants was yelling at a Georgia assistant.

The stadium is split and kickoff is here. Should be good one!

SEC lunch links

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
12:16
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Spanning the SEC football globe:

What to watch in the SEC: Week 9

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
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We've got a few big games in the SEC this weekend and here's what you should be watching out for in Week 9:

1. Taking the East: It'll be quite the party in Jacksonville on Saturday, as this game will essentially decide the SEC East. If Florida wins, the Gators are headed back to Atlanta for the first time since 2009. A Georgia win gives the Bulldogs the edge in the East race from here on out. The Gators haven't dealt with success like this lately, so it'll be interesting to see how this team comes out against a Bulldogs team that has its back against the wall, just like last season. One thing playing in Georgia's favor is this team has been here before and fought its way out of a corner ... all the way to the SEC championship game.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Denny Medley/US PresswireThe Bulldogs need to get pressure on Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who has only been sacked 13 times this season.
2. Pressuring McCarron: A lot of the talk surrounding the Alabama-Mississippi State matchup has dealt with AJ McCarron facing Mississippi State's very talented secondary. But if the Bulldogs are going to stop Alabama's balanced offense, they have to put pressure on McCarron and force him to make mistakes. The Bulldogs haven't been great at hurrying the quarterback this season and have registered just 11 sacks on the year, while Alabama's line has given up just 15 sacks. Obviously, this team has to defend the run, but getting to McCarron is going to be very important for Mississippi State's defense.

3. Arkansas' revival: Remember when the Razorbacks were basically dead in the water? Well, Arkansas has won two straight and things are starting to click for the Hogs. Their last two wins have come against Auburn and Kentucky, but wins are wins in this league, and Arkansas' confidence is flowing right now. Saturday's game with Ole Miss is crucial as far as Arkansas' bowl hopes go. The Hogs need three more wins and one of them has to come Saturday with the gauntlet that is November coming up. Players said the bye week helped clean up some of the little things, and that defense will have to be at its best against Ole Miss' high-powered offense.

4. Slowing down the run: Going back to the Hogs' defense, if Arkansas is going to control Ole Miss' offense, it has to stop the Rebels on the ground. Ole Miss is fourth in the SEC in rushing, averaging 211.4 yards per game. Arkansas has stopped the run well in its past two games, but neither of those running games were on par with Ole Miss' rush game. Tennessee and Georgia also have to control the opposing run games. Florida is third in the league in rushing and its offense has gone the way of its rushing attack for most of the year. If the Bulldogs can force Florida into more passing situations, it could benefit Georgia. The same goes for Tennessee, as the Gamecocks will look to run Marcus Lattimore as much as possible. Connor Shaw struggled throwing the ball last week, so the Vols will try to make him beat them Saturday.

5. Georgia's defensive toughness: Senior safety Shawn Williams created a stir when he called the play of his defense "soft" and then proceeded to name which linebackers should be playing more. Some feelings were hurt, but Mark Richt hopes it motivates his players. Williams' words very well could, but the pressure is now on him to play one of his best games. But this defense has to toughen up as a whole. It hasn't played well in the past three games, and that has to change against Florida's tough running game. Giving up big plays have really hurt this defense lately, and Georgia can't afford that Saturday.

6. Big-game time for Russell: Georgia's Aaron Murray isn't the only one with a lot to prove when it comes to big games this weekend. While he's looking for his third career win over a Top 25 team, Mississippi State's Tyler Russell is looking for a signature win in his career. Beating Alabama would certainly be that win. Russell has been tremendously efficient this season, tossing 15 touchdowns to just one interception. He'll have to be at his absolute best against Alabama's defense. This is the biggest game of his career, so keep an eye on how he deals with that pressure.

7. Johnny Football's rebound: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel found second-half struggles in the loss to LSU, but he'll have the chance to really rebound this weekend against Auburn's floundering defense. The Tigers are giving up more than 400 yards a game, and Manziel has the ability to gash this defense through the air and on the ground. Manziel was getting some Heisman love before the LSU game, but his hopes haven't been destroyed. He can still make a run, and good outings against tough defenses in November will help.

8. Making the bowl push: This is an important weekend for a few teams still trying to make postseason runs. Vanderbilt needs three more wins and should get one easily Saturday against UMass. Ole Miss and Arkansas are in a bowl fight as well. The Razorbacks have to win this one if they are going get the three more wins required to become bowl eligible, while getting to five wins on the season now would only help the Rebels, especially with a tough November approaching. Tennessee has a favorable November ahead, but this is a game that could either help or really hurt this team's confidence going forward. Missouri is essentially in a must-win situation for a bowl. November will be a very tough stretch for the Tigers, so beating Kentucky is crucial for the postseason.

9. Getting the offense back on track: Missouri's offense hasn't been very explosive at all this season. Injuries have certainly hurt it, but SEC defenses haven't had much trouble shutting down the Tigers when they have the ball. Coach Gary Pinkel said before the bye week that things had to be simplified on offense, and he thinks that will happen going forward. It starts with backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser being more comfortable in place of James Franklin. South Carolina is also looking to revive its offense after a very poor showing against Florida. The Gators' defense certainly was a big part of South Carolina's struggles, but the passing game was just ugly in general. All eyes will be on Shaw, but having a healthier Lattimore running the ball should help him.

10. Tennessee's fight: The Vols have had some really bad luck when it comes to keeping up in games. They put up a few big plays against Alabama last week, but averaged just 4 yards immediately following plays of 20 or more yards. After big defensive stops, Alabama came roaring back with scoring drives. The Vols also had back-to-back comeback attempts thwarted by opponents in the fourth quarter in the weeks prior. It might not appear likely, but Tennessee could still make it to the postseason and could still win eight games. But the Vols have to keep going mentally. With the losses and all the talk about Derek Dooley's job, it could be easy for this team to quit, but there's too much of the season left. Saturday's game is a chance for redemption. It's early, so Tennessee could catch South Carolina off guard. But if things are too far gone in Knoxville, this team could roll over at the first sign of adversity.

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