SEC: Tim Tebow

BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU’s head coach this week, we’ll use each day to review the decade under the eccentric Miles. Today we look back at some of the greatest wins of the Miles era.

10. No. 9 LSU 31, No. 5 Arkansas 26 (2006): Sometimes a victory is notable for what it gives your team, and sometimes it’s noteworthy for what it takes away from the opponent. This one did a bit of both. By holding off Arkansas in 2006, LSU knocked the Razorbacks out of the BCS championship picture and eventually booked a Sugar Bowl matchup with Notre Dame (where it destroyed the Fighting Irish).

9. No. 4 LSU 40, No. 3 Oregon 27 (2011): Oregon played Auburn for the BCS title the previous season, but it was no match for Tyrann Mathieu and LSU in the 2011 opener. This is the game that introduced “The Honey Badger” to the world, as Mathieu scored a touchdown after forcing a fumble and returning it 3 yards to the end zone, and he also posted a team-high 10 tackles and two pass breakups.

8. No. 13 LSU 28, No. 8 Tennessee 24 (2006): Miles’ Tigers suffered a painful 2005 loss to Tennessee in their first home game after Hurricane Katrina, so this was an especially meaningful win -- one that came when JaMarcus Russell hit Early Doucet with the game-winning touchdown pass with 9 seconds remaining.

7. No. 5 LSU 35, No. 15 Arizona State 31 (2005): Miles’ LSU debut had to be moved from Baton Rouge to Tempe in the aftermath of Katrina, but it produced a memorable outcome. The Tigers trailed 17-7 at the start of the fourth quarter, but prevailed after a wild final period when Russell hit Doucet with the game-winning pass on fourth-and-10 from the ASU 39 with 1:13 to play.

6. No. 12 LSU 33, No. 14 Florida 29 (2010): His penchant for making gutsy calls at crucial times will come up again on this list, but Miles’ decision to call a late fake field goal against Florida has to rank among his gutsiest. The Tigers trailed 29-26 with 35 seconds to play when Josh Jasper lined up for what would have been a 53-yard field goal -- only he instead took an overhead bounce pass-lateral from holder Derek Helton for a 5-yard gain and first down. LSU drove and scored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard Jarrett Lee pass to Terrance Toliver with 6 seconds remaining.

5. No. 1 LSU 9, No. 2 Alabama 6, OT (2011): This one would rank higher on the list but for the way the season ended in the rematch between these two teams (when Alabama dominated the Tigers 21-0 with a BCS championship at stake). One of several “Game of the Century” meetings between these two programs, LSU prevailed in this defensive struggle in part because of a blocked field goal and three long missed field goals from Alabama -- including Cade Foster’s miss from 52 yards in overtime.

4. No. 5 LSU 30, No. 18 Auburn 24 (2007): Some might question the sanity of Miles’ final play call against Auburn in 2007, but he insists the call came in plenty early enough and quarterback Matt Flynn simply took too long to start the play. Regardless, LSU turned the tables on Auburn when instead of centering the ball to prepare for a makeable game-winning field goal try, Flynn instead dropped back and hit Demetrius Byrd with a 22-yard touchdown pass that he completed with just 1 second to play.

3. No. 12 LSU 24, No. 5 Alabama 21 (2010): This game is remembered for two things: Miles getting caught eating grass by CBS’ TV cameras, and for the reverse the Tigers perfectly executed moments before his infamous grass-eating display. LSU trailed 14-13 with 9:51 to play when it faced fourth-and-1 at the Alabama 26. The Tigers caught the Tide defense completely off guard, however, when they ran right only to then flip the ball to tight end DeAngelo Peterson, who streaked around left end for a 23-yard gain. LSU would go on to score the go-ahead touchdown and never trailed again, knocking Alabama out of the SEC West race.

2. No. 1 LSU 28, No. 9 Florida 24 (2007): Many LSU observers rank this among the Tigers’ greatest victories in the long history of Tiger Stadium. Tim Tebow and the defending BCS champion Gators led 24-14 at the start of the fourth quarter, but LSU rallied to win, with Jacob Hester plowing into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with 1:09 to play. LSU converted all five of its fourth downs that night, including the fourth-and-4 Byrd touchdown reception that cut Florida’s lead to 24-21, and two conversion runs by Hester on the game-winning drive.

1. No. 2 LSU 38, No. 1 Ohio State 24 (2007): There are more entertaining games on this list and several more interesting wins from the 2007 season alone, but none of them were for a national championship. Miles’ Tigers dominated most of the game against Ohio State and claimed the program’s second BCS title in five seasons.

Five that missed the cut:
No. 1 LSU 42, No. 12 Georgia 10 (2011 SEC championship game)
No. 5 LSU 21, No. 14 Tennessee 14 (2007 SEC championship game)
No. 9 LSU 23, No. 3 South Carolina 21 (2012)
No. 4 LSU 41, No. 11 Notre Dame 14 (2006)
No. 5 LSU 16, No. 4 Alabama 13, OT (2005)

SEC's lunch links

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
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Starting tonight Florida and Alabama tussle for the national championship in softball. After that, we're running out of college sports seasons.
One more time, and with emphasis, the 6-1-1 scheduling format the SEC has settled on going forward stinks.

If the league's not going to play nine conference games (and it should), then the only sensible way to make eight conference games work is to play six divisional foes and two rotating cross-divisional foes -- a 6-0-2 format -- and punt the old 6-1-1 format for good.

A conference really isn't a conference when you go eight years without playing a team that's supposed to be in your conference. And, yet, that's the warped reality of the SEC schedule, at least through 2025. The league office announced Monday a 12-year rotation of cross-divisional opponents for all 14 SEC schools.

Some of the highlights … or lowlights:
  • Alabama and South Carolina won't meet again until 2019 in Columbia, S.C. The two teams last met in 2010, also being in Columbia, when the Gamecocks upset the then No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide 35-21. Moreover, South Carolina won't play again in Tuscaloosa until 2024. The Gamecocks' last visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium came in 2009.
  • Alabama will play Florida in the Swamp again in 2021, a decade after they last met in Gainesville in 2011. Tim Tebow and Nick Saban might both be in the broadcast booth by then.
  • Auburn and Florida won't play again until 2019 when they meet in the Swamp. The Gators' next visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium will come in 2024. Auburn and Florida played every season from 1945-2002. They last met during the 2011 season. Talk about a rivalry slowing fading away.
  • Texas A&M, heading into its third season in the SEC, won't make its first appearance in Neyland Stadium to take on Tennessee until 2023. Heck, by then, Texas might be in the SEC, too.
  • Tennessee won't venture back to Tiger Stadium to face LSU until 2022. Tennessee's last visit to Death Valley came in 2010. That's 12 years in between visits. The Vols have had four head coaches in the last six years.
  • Remember how entertaining that Georgia-LSU game was a year ago with the Bulldogs out-gunning the Tigers for a 44-41 win? Well, they won't play again in Athens until 2025. Uga's grandson could be patrolling the Dawgs' sideline by then.

Get the picture?

Saving the annual Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia rivalries were important, which is why the league presidents voted to keep the 6-1-1 format and permanent cross-divisional opponents. But the conference has simply become too detached when certain teams go so long without playing each other in the regular season.

Every player who stays for four years should get the opportunity to face every team in the league at least once. And as a fan, it would be nice to see every team come to your home stadium at least a couple of times before you're too old to climb up to your seats.

Maybe we'll still get to nine conference games at some point, which would solve a lot of problems.

The coaches in the league, except for Saban, don't want any part of nine games. In their mind, eight is plenty, especially if everybody is going out and also playing one nonconference game against a team from one of the other four power conferences.

It's worth mentioning that none of the coaches liked the idea of playing an SEC championship game back in the early 1990s when that subject was first broached by then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer. More than two decades later, it's fair to say they've warmed up to the idea, particularly since it's aided more than a few teams' paths to a national championship.

Here's a look at the cross-divisional rotation for all 14 teams over the next 12 years.

Ultimate 300: SEC's top classes 

January, 30, 2014
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The SEC has dominated the recruiting world over the past several years. Since 2008, the SEC has had at least three schools finish in the top 10 of the ESPN recruiting class rankings each year. Last year, the conference had an impressive six schools ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes in the country. This year is much of the same, as seven SEC schools are ranked in the top 10.

Here’s a closer look at the five best recruiting SEC schools in the Ultimate ESPN 300.

Ultimate 300: SEC’s top recruits 

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
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The ESPN Ultimate 300 looks back at the best recruits since 2006, and it’s hardly surprising that the SEC made its presence felt in the rankings.

Here’s a look at the top five SEC recruits in the Ultimate ESPN 300:


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SEC all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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It’s time to celebrate the best of the best in the SEC during the BCS era.

So what we’ve done is taken on the monumental task of selecting an All-SEC team from the BCS era, which officially ended last Monday with Florida State’s 34-31 victory over Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

To be eligible, a player had to have played at least one season in the SEC at any time between 1998 and 2013. More weight was given to those players who had longer careers and displayed consistency over the course of their careers.

Before the second-guessing commences, there were some spectacular players -- even a few players who won national awards such as the Heisman Trophy -- that were left off this team.

Nonetheless, it’s one star-studded team.

Here’s a look:

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsTim Tebow accounted for more touchdowns than any player in SEC history.
QB -- Tim Tebow, Florida: A tough call at quarterback, but Tebow had a hand in two national championships, won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and accounted for more touchdowns (145) than anybody in league history.

RB -- Mark Ingram, Alabama: In 2009, Ingram became the first Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy with a 1,658-yard rushing season. He rushed for 42 career touchdowns, breaking Shaun Alexander's school record.

RB -- Darren McFadden, Arkansas: A two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award, McFadden averaged 120.8 rushing yards per game for his career, second only to Herschel Walker and Emmitt Smith in the SEC.

WR -- A.J. Green, Georgia: He combined speed, size and incredible body control to haul in 23 touchdown catches in 31 career games. Green caught more than 50 passes in each season from 2008 to 2010.

WR -- Josh Reed, LSU: The Biletnikoff Award winner as the top receiver in the country in 2001, Reed hauled in 17 touchdown catches in his last two seasons. He set the SEC single-season record in 2001 with 1,740 receiving yards.

TE -- Jason Witten, Tennessee: It’s hard to beat Witten in any era as both a receiving and blocking tight end. He had seven career touchdown catches, including five during his All-SEC junior season in 2002.

AP -- Percy Harvin, Florida: Harvin was Mr. Everything for the Gators on their 2008 national championship team and a two-time All-American. He finished his career with 32 touchdowns (19 rushing and 13 receiving).

OL -- Shawn Andrews, Arkansas: Andrews is the last player to win the Jacobs Award as the SEC’s top blocker in back-to-back seasons (2002 and 2003). The Hogs’ massive offensive tackle was a consensus All-American in both of those seasons.

OL -- Barrett Jones, Alabama: Jones was a part of three national championship teams at Alabama and started at every position on the line but left guard during his career. He won the Rimington Trophy in 2012 as the country’s top center and won the Outland Trophy a year earlier as the Tide’s left tackle.

OL -- Marcus McNeill, Auburn: A two-time All-America selection at offensive tackle, McNeil paved the way for the Tigers' explosive rushing attack and was a huge part of their unbeaten 2004 SEC championship team.

OL -- Chris Samuels, Alabama: The Crimson Tide have been stocked with menacing offensive linemen during their storied history, and Samuels is right there near the top. The big offensive tackle won the Jacobs Award and Outland Trophy in 1999 and helped lead Alabama to an SEC title.

C -- Maurkice Pouncey, Florida: Also a standout guard earlier in his career, Pouncey gravitated to center and won the Rimington Award in 2009 as the nation’s top center. He was a devastating blocker and made 40 starts in 41 career games.

DEFENSE

DL -- Glenn Dorsey, LSU: The most decorated SEC defensive tackle of the BCS era, Dorsey won the Outland Trophy and both the Lombardi and Nagurski awards in 2007. He was the centerpiece of that LSU national championship defense in 2007.

DL -- John Henderson, Tennessee: A two-time All-American, Henderson is one of just five defensive players in the BCS era to win the Outland Trophy (2000) as college football’s most outstanding interior lineman.

[+] Enlarge Jadaveon Clowney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJadaveon Clowney had 24 sacks in three seasons at South Carolina.
DL -- Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Even though his numbers dipped this season, Clowney remains one of the most disruptive defensive ends to play in the SEC during the BCS era. He finished with 47 tackles for loss, including 24 sacks, in 36 career games.

DL -- David Pollack, Georgia: Pollack joined Herschel Walker as Georgia’s only three-time, first-team All-Americans. He racked up a school-record 36 sacks from his defensive end position and was a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year in helping the Bulldogs win the 2002 SEC title, their first in 20 years.

LB -- C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Mosley is the only player in the Nick Saban era at Alabama to have back-to-back 100-tackle seasons and was a part of two national championship teams. He was terrific in coverage and an even better tackler.

LB -- Patrick Willis, Ole Miss: Before he found stardom in the NFL, Willis terrorized the SEC and won the Butkus Award in 2006 as college football’s top linebacker. He was a tackling machine for the Rebels and the quintessential middle linebacker.

LB -- Al Wilson, Tennessee: The heart and soul of Tennessee's 1998 national championship team, Wilson was a playmaking machine at middle linebacker for the Vols. He was a two-time All-SEC selection and consensus All-American his senior season.

CB -- Champ Bailey, Georgia: One of the most versatile players in SEC history, Bailey participated in more than 1,000 plays during the 1998 season and won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s best defensive player.

CB -- Patrick Peterson, LSU: No matter where Peterson lined up, he was the most explosive player on the field. As a cornerback, few were better. He won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards in 2010 and scored touchdowns three different ways during his career: punt return (two), interception return and return of a blocked field goal.

S -- Mark Barron, Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s 2011 national championship defense was dripping with talent, but Barron might have been the best of the bunch. He was a three-time All-SEC selection and two-time All-American.

S -- Eric Berry, Tennessee: Berry was as good in coverage as he was blowing up ball carriers. He won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2009 as the top defensive back in the country and was a finalist the previous year. He finished with 14 career interceptions.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK -- Billy Bennett, Georgia: Bennett is the SEC record holder with 87 made field goals from 2000 to 2003. Bennett was equally accurate, connecting on 79 percent of his kicks.

P -- Dustin Colquitt, Tennessee: A finalist for the Ray Guy Award in both 2002 and 2003, Colquitt averaged 43.1 yards a punt during his career. As a junior in 2003, he had 19 punts of 50 yards or longer and 21 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

RS -- Derek Abney, Kentucky: His eight career returns for touchdowns (six punts and two kickoffs) are an SEC record, and six of those came during one season (2002). Abney set seven NCAA records, 11 SEC records and 14 school records.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's only fitting that a season characterized by injuries and an ineffective offense would conclude with a whimper thanks to those same culprits.

But after losing 37-7 to No. 2 Florida State (12-0, 8-0 in the ACC) in the Swamp on Saturday, Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC) can take solace that its season of misery is mercifully over.

[+] EnlargeBurton
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsDespite carrying the ball just twice, Trey Burton led the Gators with 47 yards rushing versus Florida State. Burton left the game with a shoulder injury in the first quarter.
"Very frustrating, difficult day that ends a very frustrating, difficult season," coach Will Muschamp said. "That’s the best way I can sum it up."

Not even an inspirational pregame speech by Gators great Tim Tebow could do more than delay the inevitable.

"What he said to us was, 'Any man that goes down, he has the ability to get back up. But the difference is how that man gets back up, because a man can get down and come back withered, can come back beaten. But a man that goes down and comes back up and is changed and is different from being down, that's who we are. That's who the Gators are. That's how we need to play and that's who we need to be,' " Florida left tackle Max Garcia recounted.

"So, I'm going to stick with that for the rest of my life. It really penetrated my soul."

With Tebow watching on the sidelines, the Gators were bouncing around and showing more emotion than they had in weeks. In front of a nearly full stadium, its fans at full throat, Florida's defense harassed Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston into one of his worst quarters (4-of-6 for 35 yards) of the season.

Winston threw his first interception in three weeks -- an excuse-me catch by Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who broke up the pass with his back to the ball but was able to find and reel in the deflection. It was the Gators' first interception since the second quarter of the Missouri game on Oct. 19.

The crowd roared its approval, and there was more energy in the Swamp than at any point in the season.

Florida outgained FSU 81 yards to 33 in the first quarter, but 50 of those yards came on one Wildcat keeper up the middle by senior Trey Burton. Two plays later, Burton injured his shoulder on another keeper and did not return to the field.

With Burton went half of the offense the Gators were planning to run.

"We were probably going to have 30-35 plays with Trey [at Wildcat quarterback]," Muschamp said. "Some of the misdirection runs now go out of the game plan, so you've got to make adjustments and you've got to change.

"I hurt for Trey because he’s a senior, his last game in the Swamp, so [it's] very difficult for him. He’s a great young man. It just kinda sums up what’s happened this year. Very frustrating."

With Burton's injury, Florida was missing 16 scholarship contributors in this game. And with cornerback Marcus Roberson dealing with an ankle injury in the first half, UF was missing 10 of its original 22 projected starters on offense and defense.

Winston and the Seminoles still led 3-0 after the first quarter, as FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo converted the same 49-yard field goal that his Florida counterpart, Austin Hardin, missed.

A 12-play, 96-yard drive that culminated in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Kelvin Benjamin might have put the game out of reach, but more importantly, it quelled the enthusiasm of the Florida defense and the crowd.

FSU had weathered the early storm of defensive pressure and taken a 17-0 lead into halftime. It tied the lowest first-half scoring output of the season for the Noles, which happened previously against Nevada in Week 2.

A game that looked on paper like a colossal mismatch inevitably turned out that way. The Florida defense couldn't get off the field, thanks to FSU going 9-of-15 on third-down conversions. Meanwhile, Florida went 1-for-11 on third down and averaged 3.9 yards per play on the day.

"You got to maintain the ball against an offense like that," Muschamp said. "You got to take time off the clock. ... We weren’t able to do that. Give them credit. They made plays on third down, and we didn’t. I think we were 1-of-10 or -11 on third down. You got to convert those, and we’ve struggled to make explosives, make third-down conversions. You name it, we haven’t done it.”

In a season of making all the wrong history, the only drama Florida could muster against Florida State was whether the Noles would shut out the Gators for the first time in the 58-game series.

The answer was no, but it was close. And now the Gators boast the nation's second-longest streak of scoring in consecutive games (322, second to Michigan's 374 games in a row).

With one score in the fourth quarter, Florida finished the season with 11 passing touchdowns. It's the fewest since 1989, the season before Steve Spurrier was hired as coach. On the other sideline, sitting out the Noles' final series to let his backup play, Winston had already broken Florida State's single-season record for passing TDs, with three more on Saturday giving him a total of 35.

"It’s been a tough year, difficult to deal with, but it is what it is," a somber Muschamp said when it was over. "Those guys have persevered through some tough times and certainly this season being the iceberg of it all."

Now that it's in the history books, however, Florida's 2013 season might be remembered less as an iceberg and more as the ship that sunk when it struck one.


ATHENS, Ga. -- In some ways, Arthur Lynch believes that Aaron Murray fits the quarterback stereotype perfectly. In others, Georgia's senior tight end says that Murray could not be further from what one might expect from a record-setting, four-year starter at one of the nation's most prominent football programs.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray's career at Georgia is one of the best in SEC history.
“He wants to be the leader, kind of the guy that needs to be looked upon for everything. Sometimes I think he applies too much pressure on himself with that,” said Lynch, Murray's longtime friend and roommate. “But in terms of like walking around campus and brushing people off, I kind of wish he had more of that. Sometimes it gets so annoying in public, no matter where it is. It could be the dining hall, it could be in Atlanta, it could be at Shane's Rib Shack, he's going to stop and give pictures where some guys might brush people off.

“So no, he's never given that vibe, which is a testament to him because he could easily be that guy and people would probably like him more for it because it's, 'Ah, that's what he's supposed to act like.' But the fact that he doesn't fit that mold is probably what people get weirded out about. They're probably like, 'There's got to be something behind the curtain.'”

Nope. Murray's generally affable demeanor is no facade -- which might be part of his perception problem nationally and even within his own conference.

He's not a flashy player, throwing up “Get Money” hand signals after a touchdown like Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. He hasn't won BCS titles like Alabama's AJ McCarron. Yet when the SEC's coaches released their preseason all-conference list, some college football observers were surprised to see Murray as the first-team quarterback.

Maybe that was a career achievement award from the league's coaches, as Murray's team-first attitude and legendary work ethic have helped him become the most prolific passer in the league's history.

“Everything he's done, he's earned it. It wasn't just off God-given talent or this crazy arm or anything like that. It's that he's worked for it, he's earned it,” said receiver Rhett McGowan, Murray's fellow fifth-year senior.

Murray has already broken ex-Bulldog David Greene's SEC record for career passing yards (Murray now has 12,029) and surpassed former Florida great Tim Tebow's career mark for total offense (Murray's at 12,327 yards) with a completion to Lynch in the Bulldogs' last game against Vanderbilt.

Entering Saturday's game against Florida, Murray is two touchdown passes behind ex-Gator Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114 touchdown passes, and he's still on pace to threaten ex-Gator Chris Leak's league record of 895 completions (Murray has 835) and former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen's mark of 1,514 pass attempts (Murray has 1,355).

Not that he has much time to focus on the record book these days. Coming off two straight losses, Murray's Georgia team (4-3, 3-2 SEC) needs a win on Saturday to have any hope in the SEC East race -- and he has been working overtime with an injury-depleted receiving corps in hopes of giving his offense a chance against a stout Florida defense.

“I guess when I'm old and want to brag, I can,” Murray said of the records. “But right now it's all about the team. It's all about getting this win. I guess I can talk about this later in life when I'm done playing and all, when I look back.”

Murray was on a short list of Heisman contenders just a few weeks ago, when Georgia was coming off wins against top-10 teams South Carolina and LSU and still had hopes of claiming a BCS championship berth. That was Murray's stated goal all along in returning for his senior season, and it appeared to be a reasonable possibility before many of his most valuable skill players fell victim to long-term or season-ending injuries.

The Bulldogs' once-explosive offense struggled without Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in the backfield and Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett at receiver, and the losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt in those players' absence sunk the Bulldogs' BCS hopes. But Murray said he doesn't regret his decision to put off his NFL dreams for one more season.

“I'm still playing football. I'm still out there with my buddies having fun, competing,” Murray said. “Obviously I came back to try to give ourselves a chance to win a championship, but it didn't happen. So what? Let's move on. Let's continue working hard and having fun, and that's what I'm doing.”

That typifies the attitude Murray has displayed since he arrived at Georgia in 2009, with his relentless behind-the-scenes work propelling him through one of the most statistically impressive careers in SEC history, even if it might not result in the recognition that goes to quarterbacks on championship teams or those with a flashier highlight reel.

A BCS crown will not complete Murray's legacy at Georgia, but he will leave a significant void nonetheless. To gain some insight, consider an observation that Bulldogs coach Mark Richt made last Friday at the end of the Bulldogs' open week, when most coaches and players had already started making the most of a rare off weekend.

“It was maybe close to noontime, maybe just after noontime, and he and Faton [Bauta, one of Georgia's backup quarterbacks] are out there doing footwork and drill work and throwing the ball,” Richt recalled. “I went over the rail and I said, 'Get out of here. Just relax.' They were like, 'There's no days off, Coach. There's no days off.' [I said], 'All right, if that's what you want.'

“But that's how he is. He's wired that way. Every single day he wants to try to find a way to get better, and he's not feeling sorry for himself or anything like that. I think he's still very happy that he's here with us and wants to finish strong.”

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray is on the verge of breaking several SEC career records, but also needs to help keep Georgia in the SEC East race.
1. Missouri offense vs. Florida defense: Missouri earned its biggest victory in its year-plus in the SEC last weekend when it beat Georgia. The Tigers' challenging October schedule continues this week when No. 22 Florida brings its fearsome defense to Columbia, and the Tigers must face those Gators without starting quarterback James Franklin, who separated his shoulder against Georgia. Freshman Maty Mauk did a fine job against Georgia's subpar defense, but he will face few stiffer challenges than what he'll face Saturday against a Florida defense that is allowing just 235.3 yards per game. Mizzou is third in the SEC in total offense with an average of 515.7 yards per game, so the many talented skill players at Mauk's disposal will have to give the new starter a hand on Saturday.

2. Record watch in Nashville: In Saturday's Georgia-Vanderbilt game, a handful of SEC career records could fall. With 112 career touchdown passes, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is just two behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record. And with 12,203 career yards of total offense, Murray needs 29 yards to match Tim Tebow's SEC mark. On the other sideline, Vandy's Jordan Matthews needs 97 receiving yards to match Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 yards. Matthews had 119 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season.

3. Gators running game: With the news this week that running back Matt Jones became the seventh Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury, the Gators' running game is now largely in the hands of Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. Brown has been solid enough thus far, rushing for a team-high 340 yards. But Taylor is the guy many Gators fans are excited about. The son of UF great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor has rushed 16 times for 98 yards (6.1 per carry), including 10 carries for 52 yards in last week's slugfest against LSU. Missouri's run defense ranks third in the SEC at 126.2 YPG, but Georgia freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas ran for 157 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry against the Tigers' last week. The Gators probably need Brown and Taylor to be similarly productive in order to hang with the Tigers' prolific offense.

4. Marshall back for Auburn: After sitting out last week's blowout win against Western Carolina with a knee injury, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall returns to the lineup this week against Texas A&M. Marshall rushed for 140 yards -- the most by an SEC quarterback this season -- in his last game, the Tigers' 30-22 win on Oct. 5 against then-No. 24 Ole Miss. He led the resurgent Tigers to a 4-1 record before taking a seat last week while true freshman Jeremy Johnson played for the first time -- and won SEC Freshman of the Week honors -- against the overmatched Catamounts.

5. Can Georgia recover? With half a dozen starters sidelined last week against Missouri, Georgia lost its first home game since September 2011. Now the Bulldogs limp to Vanderbilt, where they have struggled in two of their last three visits before earning narrow wins. UGA hopes to reach next week's open date with its SEC East hopes still intact. All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley likely still won't play this week, so the Bulldogs' offense must hope Murray, freshman tailbacks Green and Douglas and their crew of replacement wideouts can generate enough offense to outscore the slumping Commodores.

6. Vols back from open date: The last time we saw Tennessee, it came within an eyelash of upsetting then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime. First-year coach Butch Jones' team took last weekend off and now has another enormous test on its hands: a visit from No. 11 South Carolina, which finally seems to be hitting its stride after some early struggles. Volunteers fans are optimistic about the new coaching staff, but their team hasn't beaten a ranked opponent in its last 19 tries. Their next four opponents are all ranked in this week's AP Top 25.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze and Bo Wallace will try to snap Ole Miss' losing streak against LSU this weekend.
7. Can Hogs “snap out of it?” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said this week that he doesn't want his players to be a bunch of “Debbie Downers” after Saturday's 52-7 loss to South Carolina. That was the Razorbacks' fourth straight loss, the most lopsided loss of Bielema's coaching career and matching his worst defeat as a head coach. Unfortunately for Arkansas, it visits No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, where it will be a four-touchdown underdog. It could be a long second half of the season for the Razorbacks.

8. Maintaining historic run: The SEC set a record when Auburn jumped into this week's AP Top 25, giving the conference eight ranked teams. But that historic total might be short-lived. At No. 24, Auburn will likely drop out if it loses on Saturday at No. 7 Texas A&M. No. 15 Georgia and No. 22 Florida also can't afford a loss if they want to remain in the poll next week.

9. Repeat performance for Aggies? Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense gained 671 total yards, the most ever allowed by an Auburn defense, in last season's 63-21 win against the Tigers. Those 63 points also represented the third-most points ever scored against the Tigers. If that wasn't the last straw for then-coach Gene Chizik and his staff, it was awfully close. New coach Gus Malzahn has instilled new optimism on the Plains. The Tigers are a ranked team for the first time since November 2011, but the Aggies are still a two-touchdown favorite.

10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.

SEC Week 7: Did you know?

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
10:00
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We've reached Week 7 in the SEC. Here are some random tidbits you might not have known.

• The matchup between Florida's stellar defense and LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger should be highly intriguing. The Gators lead the nation in Total QBR allowed, with opposing quarterbacks rating just a 13.0 against Florida and completing just 21.1 percent of their passes of 15 yards or longer. Meanwhile, Mettenberger has completed 60 percent of his throws of 15-plus for eight touchdowns, no interceptions and an average of 15.8 yards per attempt.

• Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has led an offensive revival since taking over for Jeff Driskel as the Gators' signal-caller. He hasn't played enough snaps to qualify for ESPN's Total QBR rankings, but only Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty have higher QBRs than Murphy's 93.7 among QBs who have participated in at least 80 action plays.

• South Carolina expects star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to start this week after missing last week's game with a much-debated injury. ESPN Stats and Information reports that Clowney has played 63 percent of South Carolina's defensive snaps this season. Opponents are averaging 5.9 yards per play with Clowney on the field versus 4.8 ypp when he's off.

• Georgia enters Saturday's game against Missouri riding a 15-game winning streak. That's the longest active home winning streak in the conference and the third-longest such streak in school history. The Bulldogs last lost at home against South Carolina on Sept. 10, 2011.

• Expect Alabama to look to establish the run against Kentucky on Saturday. The Crimson Tide are averaging an SEC-high 6.6 yards per designed run in SEC games. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are allowing 5.2 yards per designed run -- second-most in the league. Kentucky has allowed an SEC-high 629 yards before contact on such runs.

• Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray claimed the SEC's career passing yards lead last week against Tennessee. He's closing in on two more career marks. With 11,908 yards of career total offense, Murray is 324 yards behind Tim Tebow's SEC record (12,232). And with 109 career touchdown passes, he's five behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114.

• Ole Miss' no-huddle offense has been a mess of late after a strong start. The Rebels averaged just 1.6 yards per play last week against Auburn when employing the no-huddle after averaging 7.6 yards per play through the first four games when operating out of the no-huddle. Quarterback Bo Wallace was 2-for-10 on passes out of the no-huddle against Auburn after going 19-for-23 in the first four games.

• Arkansas freshman Alex Collins leads the SEC with 651 rushing yards, but his workload has decreased in his first two conference games. Collins was averaging 21.5 carries against nonconference opponents, but that average dipped to 13.5 in SEC play. His average yards per game dipped from 120.3 to 85.0 and his yards after contact per game have dropped steeply, from 73.0 to 27.5.

• Aside from its shaky performance in a win against Texas A&M, Alabama's defense has been impressive. Following a shutout against Ole Miss and a 45-3 win last week against Georgia State, the Crimson Tide are now tied with Florida for the SEC lead in scoring defense at 12.2 ppg. Alabama is second in rushing defense (85.8 ypg), second in total defense (299.8) and fifth in pass defense (214.0). The Tide have an SEC-low 25 missed tackles according to ESPN Stats and Information.

• Missouri is first in the SEC in rushing (258.8 ypg) and fourth in passing (285.0). The Tigers rank among only five FBS teams averaging at least 255 yards on the ground and 285 through the air alongside Baylor, Oregon, Washington and UCLA.

• Auburn will hold its 100th observance and 87th homecoming game on Saturday against Western Carolina. The Tigers are 74-8-4 in their previous homecomings. They own a 2-0 all-time record against the Catamounts, winning by a combined 111-6 margin.

• It's also homecoming at Mississippi State and a reunion between three Bulldogs coaches with a program where they once worked: Bowling Green. Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and assistants Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy coached at Bowling Green in 2001-02. Mullen also met his wife Megan while coaching there.

SEC Week 6: Did you know?

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
10:00
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Not a ton of marquee games matching up ranked teams this week in the SEC, but some interesting matchups nonetheless, like Auburn-Ole Miss, Missouri-Vanderbilt and Arkansas-Florida, among others. Here are some statistical notes from around the league, with an assist from ESPN Stats & Information:
  • Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray is likely to become the SEC's career passing yardage leader on Saturday when the Bulldogs travel to Tennessee. He trails the current leader, former Georgia quarterback David Greene, by just 99 yards on the all-time SEC passing yardage list (Greene's record total is 11,528). Murray (11,249 passing yards) has never thrown for fewer than 109 yards in a game throughout his 45-game career.
  • Murray still needs 573 total offensive yards to catch former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow (12,232 yards) who holds the SEC's career total offense record. Murray has 11,659 total offensive yards to his name.
  • LSU has done well to avoid allowing one loss turn into two. The Tigers, who lost to Georgia in a thriller last week, haven't lost consecutive SEC games since 2009. They haven't lost two games consecutively, regardless of opponent, since 2008. Under head coach Les Miles, LSU is 20-1 following a loss (including season openers after a loss to end the previous season).
  • This is the first time in LSU history that the team has scored at least 30 points in each of the first five games of the season.
  • South Carolina's 169 rushes are the most the Gamecocks have recorded through four games since Steve Spurrier was hired as their head coach prior to the 2005 season. They've rushed for at least 220 yards in each of those first four games and are averaging 5.32 yards per carry, which is tied for 24th in the country.
  • Spurrier has been extremely successful against the Gamecocks' opponent this week, Kentucky. He owns a 19-1 career record against Kentucky.
  • Florida's rushing defense is No. 1 nationally in yards allowed per game (53.5) and it is the only defense to hold every opponent to fewer than 75 rushing yards this season. The average AQ conference team hits opponents at or behind the line of scrimmage 42 percent of the time; Florida has done it 57 percent of the time this year. The Gators also allow the second-fewest yards before contact per game, with 15. Only Michigan State (12.8 yards allowed before contact per game) has a better average.
  • While Florida's run defense has been dominant, Arkansas' rushing attack has been superb. The Razorbacks are second in the SEC in rushing yards per game (237) and freshman Alex Collins leads the conference with 597 rushing yards this year. So it will be interesting to watch who wins the battle when Arkansas runs the football against the Gators.
  • Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is one of two quarterbacks in the FBS with at least 115 pass attempts and zero interceptions (Wallace has attempted 118 passes this year). Idaho's Chad Chalich is the only other player holding that distinction right now.
  • Auburn, which hosts Ole Miss, hasn't loss to the Rebels at home since 2003. The Rebels' quarterback that year? Eli Manning.
  • Alabama holds a 28-3 nonconference record under Nick Saban and is 21-0 in nonconference games since the start of the 2009 season. The Crimson Tide are also 13-1 all-time against current Sun Belt teams. The Tide host Sun Belt member Georgia State on Saturday.
  • Since taking over for injured quarterback Jeff Driskel, Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has a 96.1 QBR, which would be second in the FBS if he had enough snaps to qualify for the national rankings. But in nine fewer drives than Driskel, Murphy has guided the Gators to more touchdowns (seven to Driskel's five), fewer turnovers (three to Driskel's seven) and fewer three-and-out series (four to Driskel's eight). A healthy Matt Jones at running back certainly doesn't hurt Murphy in that regard, either.
  • Tennessee has lost 18 straight games to teams ranked in the Associated Press poll. The last win by the Volunteers over an AP top 10 team was in 2006 against Georgia in Athens. The Vols will get a crack at Georgia, currently ranked No. 6, at Neyland Stadium.
  • Mississippi State has lost 11 consecutive games against ranked opponents. The Bulldogs’ last win over such a team was in 2010 over then-No. 22 Florida. As for top 10 teams, which their opponent on Saturday (LSU) is, the Bulldogs haven't beaten one of those since Sept. 30, 2000 (then-No. 3 Florida).
  • A Kentucky loss to South Carolina would drop the Wildcats to a 1-4 start in back-to-back seasons. The last time that happened was 2004-05.
  • Missouri is the only school in the country currently with four players who have rushed for 215 yards or more this season. The quartet consists of: running backs Russell Hansbrough (335 yards), Henry Josey (238), Marcus Murphy (224) and quarterback James Franklin (215).
  • Vanderbilt senior kicker Carey Spear hit a 50-yard field goal against UAB last week to become the Commodores' first kicker to hit four field goals of 50 yards or better in his career. His career best was 54 yards against South Carolina on Sept. 14 and that's also the second-longest field goal by an SEC player this season (Georgia's Marshall Morgan hit a 55-yarder against LSU last week).
The SEC coaches have spoken, and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is only good enough to garner second-team status on the 2013 preseason All-SEC team.

Georgia’s Aaron Murray was voted first team by the coaches and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel second team. Alabama’s AJ McCarron was the third-team quarterback.

It’s a good thing the SEC stopped releasing the coaches’ preseason team in conjunction with the SEC media days.

Could you imagine the circus that would have ensued -- all the coaches being polled on who didn’t vote for Manziel?

It would have been the Tim Tebow-Steve Spurrier soap opera all over again in 2009 when the Head Ball Coach was the only one of the SEC coaches who didn’t vote Tebow first team, and it became THE story at the SEC media days that year.

Spurrier acknowledged that he wasn’t the one who filled out his ballot (a common practice among coaches) and then signed off on it without paying it much attention.

In this case, it’s obvious that several coaches didn’t vote for Johnny Football, who set an SEC record last season with 5,116 yards of total offense on his way to becoming the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy.

Manziel already has enough controversy swirling around him with the ongoing NCAA investigation into whether or not he took money for signing autographs. Those close to him insist that he was already salivating at the thought of carving apart a few defenses and taking out his frustration over all the scrutiny he’s received during the offseason.

Granted, Manziel brought much of that scrutiny on himself. But, now, he has even more motivation.

The coaches in this league either think Murray is better or they think Manziel might stumble under the glare of that scrutiny.

Of course, Texas A&M isn’t really saying anything about Manziel’s status this season other than its chancellor questioning some of the media’s reporting in the matter.

If Manziel plays -- and most close to the situation seem to think that he will – you can bet that it will make for great theater.

But, then, when is Johnny Football not great theater?

Regardless of who anybody thinks should genuinely be the SEC’s first-team quarterback, the truth is that the league has three of the best in the country.

Murray has a chance to become only the third player in FBS history to pass for 3,000 yards in four straight seasons and is 20 touchdown passes away from surpassing former Florida Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel as the SEC’s career leader in touchdown passes (114).

All McCarron has done is lead Alabama to back-to-back national championships. He threw 30 touchdown passes and only three interceptions last season and has played brilliantly in each of the last two BCS National Championship Games. He would become the first FBS quarterback in history to win three national championships if the Tide take home another crystal trophy this season.

Anyway, let the great debate begin.

Alabama placed a league-high five players on the first team. The Crimson Tide had a total of 16 players on all three teams. Georgia and LSU each had eight players receive recognition, while Florida and Tennessee each had seven.

Interestingly enough, South Carolina only had five players selected and Texas A&M four, and both of those teams will start the season ranked in the top 10 nationally. Kentucky is the only school in the league that had fewer than four players named to the All-SEC team.

Coaches were not permitted to vote for their own player.

Countdown to SEC kickoff: 35 days

July, 25, 2013
7/25/13
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All records are made to be broken, but there's one that could fall in the SEC this season that not a lot of people would have predicted when it was set back in the mid 1990s.

That brings us to today's number: 114.
Florida Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel threw 114 career touchdown passes while slinging it around in Steve Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun offense. Wuerffel was the Gators’ starting quarterback for most of his four seasons at Florida from 1993-96. When he set the SEC record for touchdown passes, there were a lot of people who felt like it may well stand the test of time. After all, how many more quarterbacks were going to be able to put up those kind of numbers against SEC defenses and stay around long enough (and be durable enough) to make a legitimate run at Wuerffel’s record? Peyton Manning didn’t do it, and neither did his younger brother, Eli Manning. But then along came Aaron Murray. A fifth-year senior, Murray enters his senior season at Georgia with 95 career touchdown passes. He needs 20 touchdown passes this season to surpass Wuerffel and has thrown at least 24 touchdown passes in each of his previous three seasons, including 36 last year and 35 the year before. Murray is already No. 2 on the SEC’s all-time list, and only five other players in SEC history have thrown 80 or more touchdown passes during their career. It’s a star-studded group: Wuerffel (114), Peyton Manning (89), Chris Leak (88), Tim Tebow (88) and Eli Manning (81). All but Eli Manning have also won an SEC championship, and that’s the fraternity that Murray would like to join more than anything else before he wraps up his record-setting career.

SEC lunch links

July, 3, 2013
7/03/13
12:56
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Let's see what's shaking in the SEC:

Hope springs in the SEC

May, 22, 2013
5/22/13
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Monday, we took a look at the 100-days checklist for the SEC. Today, we're taking a look back at what the SEC was able to do during the BCS era. In short, the conference has had a ton of success and is hoping to close out the BCS the way it began it -- with yet another national championship.

Here's a look at the best and worst for the SEC during the BCS era:

Best

1. Rings/crystals for days: The SEC and the BCS have had a great relationship. The SEC kicked the BCS era off with a bang in 1998 when Tennessee took home the first BCS national championship with its 23-16 win over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl. Five years later, LSU won the conference's second BCS title with a 21-14 win over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. But things really got out of hand starting in 2006, when Florida's 41-14 win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl sparked a string of seven straight BCS national titles for the SEC. Florida won again in 2008, Alabama has won three (2009, 2011, 2012), two-loss LSU won in 2007 and Auburn won in 2010. The SEC has won nine of the 15 BCS national championships, and its only loss came to itself when Alabama beat LSU 21-0 in the Allstate BCS National Championship in 2011.

2. Two's company: If five straight championships wasn't enough, the SEC got really greedy in 2011, when Alabama and LSU met in New Orleans, shutting the rest of the country out of a chance at the belt. This game sparked a ton of controversy after LSU had already defeated Alabama 9-6 in Tuscaloosa earlier in the season. But the Crimson Tide went unbeaten afterward and jumped up to the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings after Oklahoma State was upset by Iowa State. After LSU beat Georgia in the SEC championship game, the all-SEC title game was set, in which Alabama would have its revenge.

[+] EnlargeLSU vs. Alabama
AP Photo/Tom HauckAlabama's win over LSU was the only time two teams from the same conference faced off for the national title during the BCS era.
3. Alabama's dominance: Nick Saban brought LSU a national title in 2003, but he's done real wonders at Alabama. With Alabama's 42-14 win over Notre Dame in last season's Discover BCS National Championship Game, the Crimson Tide became the first team in modern history to win three national championships in four seasons. Alabama has won two straight national championships, has dynasty status and should be one of the favorites to win it all in 2013.

4. Heisman collection: The SEC's dominance during the BCS era hasn't just been about bling. The league also has a nice collection of bronze statues, as four of the past seven Heisman Trophy winners have come from the SEC. Last season, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the award, while Florida quarterback Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win it in 2007 when he became the first player to rush and throw for 20-plus touchdowns in a single season. Alabama running back Mark Ingram took home the trophy in 2009, while Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who became the first SEC player to run for at least 1,000 yards and pass for at least 2,000 in the same season, won in 2010.

5. Dominating the NFL draft: The SEC couldn't have won all those BCS titles without a little talent here and there. In last month's NFL draft, the league had 63 players drafted. That's a record for any league. The next closest was the ACC with 31 picks. The SEC had 32 players drafted within the first three rounds, including 12 in the first round.

Worst

1. Auburn getting snubbed: It wasn't often that the SEC got the short end of the BCS stick, but it certainly did in 2004 when Auburn was left out of the national championship after going undefeated during the regular season and winning an SEC title. Auburn went on to beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, while Oklahoma, which passed Auburn in the BCS standings late, was blown out by USC in the national championship.

2. Not showing up: The SEC had two Sugar Bowl appearances it would love to get back. Fresh off its only blemish of the season in its loss to Florida during the 2008 SEC championship game, Alabama truly looked uninspired a month later in its 31-17 loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. Last season, Florida, which was No. 3 in the BCS standings at the time, laid a real egg with its 33-23 loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Both Alabama and Florida were favorites and the more talented teams.

3. The Albert Means scandal: Back in 2002, the NCAA placed Alabama on five-year probation, gave the Tide a two-year bowl ban and reduced football scholarships by 21 over three years for major recruiting violations. The NCAA said a booster agreed to give Means' high school coach more than $100,000 to get Means, a highly-rated defensive lineman, to sign with Alabama. He signed with the Tide but later transferred to Memphis. Alabama narrowly missed getting the death penalty, but, as chairman of the infractions committee Thomas Yeager said, it was "absolutely staring down the barrel of the gun."

4. Tennessee's fall: The Vols might have captured the first BCS title, but Tennessee's program has been a shell of its former self since. Tennessee has endured losing seasons in four of the past five, has missed out on bowl trips in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the late 1970s and will enter the fall with its fourth different head coach in the past six seasons. Since winning it all in 1998, the Vols have been to the SEC championship game three times -- all losses.

5. Bobby Petrino's disgraceful exit: Last spring, Arkansas felt like a legitimate national championship contender. With the talent Bobby Petrino had assembled, the Razorbacks appeared equipped with the team ready to take the SEC West and more. However, Petrino's motorcycle accident in early April changed everything. He was caught lying about an affair he was having with a woman he hired and was later fired. Arkansas hired former special teams coach John L. Smith, who brought more giggles than wins, as Arkansas fell from contender to pretender with a 4-8 season. Petrino completely embarrassed himself and the program, but confidence seems to have been restored with the hiring of former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema.

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