SEC: James Franklin

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU has developed a particular identity in a decade under Les Miles, and for much of that time, John Chavis' defense was the leading reason why Miles' philosophy worked.

That's what makes Miles' impending selection of Chavis' successor so important.

As LSU's defensive coordinator from 2009 through 2014, Chavis instilled a defensive mentality -- fast, aggressive, hard-nosed -- that allowed the Tigers to typically play a conservative brand of grind-it-out football on offense. For most of those six seasons, that approach was wildly successful and LSU's defense ranked among the nation's best.

Try these numbers on for size:

According to ESPN Stats & Information, LSU's defense ranked second nationally in scoring defense (17.1 ppg) in Chavis' six-year tenure and fifth in total defense (309.6 ypg). The Tigers were 11th against the run (125.9 ypg) and third against the pass (183.7 ypg) between 2009 and 2014.

We use the past tense here because Chavis responded to a contractual dispute with LSU by accepting the same position under Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, leaving behind a major void on Miles' staff.

It has been barely a week since Chavis' departure, and Miles has already looked into multiple potential options -- a group that at one point or another has included former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley -- but has not yet made an official decision.

Shoop was scheduled to interview with the Tigers' boss this week, but he appears to be out of the mix now after tweeting Wednesday night about his plans to remain at Penn State.

Miles vowed after LSU's season-ending bowl loss to Notre Dame that LSU would still “have a great defense and play like hell” even without Chavis. Of course it will. By now, it's seemingly embedded in LSU defensive players' DNA. With the lone exception of 2008, when Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto shared the defensive coordinator role following Bo Pelini's departure, Miles' time at LSU has been marked by suffocating defense and strong-willed coaches leading the defense.

Chavis' final season at LSU had its ups and downs. The Tigers are ninth nationally in total defense (316.8 ypg), marking the fifth straight season that Chavis led them to a national top-20 finish. But they also surrendered 570 yards to Mississippi State and 560 to Auburn -- two of the biggest opponent yardage totals in the Miles era at LSU.

Nonetheless, he leaves behind a defense that could return as many as seven starters from the bowl game, depending on what happens with potential NFL early entries Danielle Hunter and Jalen Mills. The group made huge strides from the beginning of the season, particularly up front once defensive tackles Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux settled into starting roles, so Chavis' replacement will have plenty of talent at his disposal.

Now it's just a matter of Miles making a decision on who will best fit on his staff. With national signing day only 27 days away, however, it's probably safe to expect a hiring in the near future for recruiting purposes.

Changes aplenty between Hogs' SEC wins

November, 17, 2014
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A lot changed during Arkansas' 17-game conference losing streak -- a slide that finally ended when the Razorbacks beat LSU 17-0 last Saturday night.

A gallon of regular unleaded gasoline cost $3.82 when Arkansas last won an SEC game, beating Kentucky 49-7 on Oct. 13, 2012. "Gone Girl" and the "Fifty Shades of Grey" series dominated the best-seller lists, two years before they became highly anticipated movies.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Allen
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesBrandon Allen and the Razorbacks shut out LSU on Saturday. The win marked Arkansas' first conference victory since Oct. 13, 2012.
Bret Bielema was still winning Big Ten titles at Wisconsin. Now he's trying to become 2-13 in SEC play as Arkansas' head coach, having finally thrown the losing-streak monkey off his back.

Here are some notable ways the SEC changed during the 763 days that Arkansas went between conference victories:

Manziel becomes a phenomenon: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel had played in just three SEC games when Arkansas last won a conference game. By now we know he went on to win that season's Heisman Trophy as a freshman and was a first-round NFL draft pick in 2014, but the legend of Johnny Football was only starting to build at that point.

Two weeks before Arkansas' 2012 win against Kentucky, Manziel had set a Texas A&M record with 453 passing yards and three touchdown passes, plus 104 rushing yards and another score, in a 58-10 win against the Razorbacks.

Coaching changes aplenty: John L. Smith was Arkansas' coach when the streak started, and his departure after the 2012 season was only one in a handful of coaching changes that have occurred around the conference.

Arkansas (from Smith to Bielema), Auburn (from Gene Chizik to Gus Malzahn), Kentucky (from Joker Phillips to Mark Stoops), Tennessee (from Derek Dooley to Butch Jones) and Vanderbilt (from James Franklin to Derek Mason) have all changed head coaches since October 2012. Now Florida is on the verge of making it six schools to change coaches since then, following Sunday's announcement that Will Muschamp will not return in 2015.

Conference keeps rolling: The SEC would extend its string of consecutive BCS titles to seven when Alabama closed the 2012 season with a championship-game rout of Notre Dame. And Auburn nearly made it eight last season, although the Tigers allowed Florida State's Jameis Winston to lead a last-minute touchdown drive that gave the Seminoles the final title of the BCS era.

Nonetheless, the SEC's run as the preeminent conference in college football continued throughout the time that Arkansas failed to win a league game.

The conference went 13-6 in bowl games between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, easily the best winning percentage among major conferences, and placed seven teams in the final Associated Press Top 25 after both seasons.

The SEC also dominated the NFL draft, with 63 players picked in the 2013 draft -- more than double the number from any other conference -- and 49 more getting selected earlier this year. That includes this year's No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney from South Carolina and 10 other first-round picks from SEC schools.

Nick Saban's Alabama remained the league's toughest program throughout Arkansas' slide. Not only did it win the 2012 BCS title, but it posted a 16-3 mark in SEC play during the same period that Arkansas was 0-17.

Auburn's fall and rise: Auburn was en route to arguably the worst season in school history on Oct. 13, 2012, having lost 24-7 to Arkansas a week earlier. The Tigers would go 3-9 overall and 0-8 in SEC play only two seasons after winning the BCS title and Chizik would be dismissed after the season.

Auburn would replace Chizik with his former offensive coordinator, Malzahn, who rose to fame as a high school coach in Arkansas and who spent the 2006 season as the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator. Malzahn led one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college football history last season, pushing Auburn to an SEC title and a spot against Florida State in the BCS championship game.

Hogs finally break through: Arkansas certainly dealt with its share of uncertainty in Bielema's first season on campus, closing 2013 with a school-record nine-game losing streak that included some unsightly blowouts. However, the Razorbacks closed the 2013 season with a pair of close losses and regularly hung with their toughest conference opponents this fall.

The outcomes were all the same, of course, as loss after loss piled up even when the Hogs would fall by only one point against Alabama or by a touchdown against then-No. 1 Mississippi State. But Arkansas' results finally changed last Saturday when their defense dominated LSU and the offense did just enough to claim ownership of the "Golden Boot" trophy that goes to the winner of the annual LSU-Arkansas game.

Many college football analysts had insisted throughout the season that an improved Arkansas was on the verge of breaking through under Bielema, and Saturday's LSU win was the confirmation the Razorbacks' coach needed. Now he has the chance to launch his first SEC winning streak as the Hogs' coach when No. 10 Ole Miss visits Fayetteville on Saturday.

Planning for success: Kentucky

October, 14, 2014
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The state of Mississippi’s rise as a football power might overshadow it among popular SEC storylines, but Mark Stoops is authoring his own feel-good tale at Kentucky.

Entering Saturday’s visit to LSU (5-2, 1-2), Stoops’ Wildcats (5-1, 2-1) are looking like this season’s Vanderbilt -- a longtime SEC East doormat that comes out of nowhere to post a surprising win total.

[+] EnlargeMark Stoops
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsMark Stoops has quietly built a 5-1 record in his second season at Kentucky, but the schedule is about to get a lot harder.
Kentucky was a total train wreck a couple of seasons ago and went 2-10 and failed to win a single conference game last year in Stoops’ first season as head coach. But he and his staff have signed two impressive recruiting classes and quickly built the Wildcats into a threat to beat the traditional powers in the SEC East.

If their 36-30 loss at Florida -- when a missed delay-of-game infraction enabled the Gators to score the game-tying touchdown and eventually win in overtime -- wasn’t enough proof, the Wildcats’ 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat South Carolina 45-38 should do the trick. They could easily be undefeated right now, which has to surprise even the most loyal Kentucky fan.

The true test of Kentucky’s legitimacy has yet to arrive, however. The Wildcats have a back-loaded schedule, so matching Vandy’s back-to-back nine-win seasons under James Franklin will be no easy feat.

Beyond Saturday’s trip to Tiger Stadium, Kentucky next must face Mississippi State, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisville. The good news is that the toughest two opponents -- No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 10 Georgia -- must travel to Lexington, where the Wildcats have already defeated South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Perhaps the Wildcats will win one or both of those home games, but anything beyond achieving bowl eligibility will be icing on the cake considering where the program sat when Stoops took over from Joker Phillips.

The Wildcats last played in the postseason in 2010, Phillips’ first season as head coach. That was the end of a five-year run where Kentucky played in a bowl game each season, with the previous four coming under Rich Brooks. Things went south quickly from there, though, with the Wildcats going 5-7 in Phillips’ second season and 2-10 (0-8 SEC) in 2012, with athletic director Mitch Barnhart announcing during the season that Phillips would not return as head coach.

A season-and-a-half after inheriting that mess, Stoops has Kentucky in position to contend in the the East.

As with Franklin’s Vanderbilt in 2012 and 2013, it helps that the Wildcats play in a division where the traditional powers are down. Tennessee and Florida aren’t the dominant SEC forces that they once were, and South Carolina has obviously taken a step backward after winning 11 games in each of the last three seasons.

It’s certainly fair to point that out, but even so, we’re unaccustomed to seeing Kentucky take Florida to the wire or topple Steve Spurrier and South Carolina. The Wildcats haven’t started a season 5-1 since 2007, after all, and have won as many as eight games in a season just three times in the last 30 years.

Beating South Carolina was nice, but we’re about to see whether Kentucky is more than an improved team that faced a soft early schedule. They’ve already gotten their nonconference cupcakes (Tennessee-Martin and Louisiana-Monroe) and their one SEC gimme (Vandy) out of the way. Up next are some of the SEC’s big boys and, of course, the regular-season finale at rival Louisville, which has won the last three Governor’s Cup showdowns.

Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze seem like shoo-in favorites to win the SEC’s Coach of the Year awards, but Stoops would also have a legitimate case if the Wildcats keep this up in the second half.

Georgia-Missouri primer

October, 9, 2014
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Somebody has to win the SEC East, and more than likely it will be the winner of Saturday’s Georgia-Missouri game.

No. 23 Missouri (4-1, 1-0 SEC) proved itself as a worthy contender for the division title it eventually won last season when it pulled away from short-handed Georgia in Athens. Unlike that Georgia team, this season’s No. 13 Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1) have a healthy Todd Gurley available for the rematch. But can Gurley’s teammates provide enough support to leave Columbia, Missouri, with a win? Let's discuss.

[+] EnlargeMauk
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsCan redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk, making his first career start, keep the ball rolling for Mizzou?
Missouri’s key to victory: I’d say the Missouri secondary needs to get its act together, but seeing as this is Georgia we’re talking about, I don’t think it will be that big of an issue. Instead, for the Tigers to pull off the win at home, quarterback Maty Mauk needs to be on his "A" game. The redshirt sophomore is plenty talented, but he’s awfully streaky. And when he goes into a throwing slump, the entire offense stalls. If Mauk can throw the ball consistently against a weak Georgia group of defensive backs, Missouri should put up enough points to pull away in the second half.

Georgia’s key to victory: Mauk’s coming-out party came against Georgia last season, when he replaced injured starter James Franklin in the second half and helped the Tigers pull away for a huge victory. Like that Georgia team, these Bulldogs are hurting in the secondary. Their depth in the back end is horrible and the talent level isn’t great. This Mizzou offense isn’t as scary on the outside, but it’s still capable of picking apart Georgia’s pass defense. Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins & Co. need to pressure Mauk into some mistakes and create a turnover or two in order to help the defensive backs.

Missouri’s X-factor: We all know by now -- or, more appropriately, we should all know by now -- that Missouri has the best pass rusher in the SEC in Shane Ray. Together with Markus Golden, the Tigers can really get after the quarterback. But for Missouri to stop Georgia, it will be the interior linemen that do the work. Big Lucas Vincent, all 300 pounds of him, will be a key in stopping Gurley and the dangerous Georgia running game. He won’t have to make too many tackles himself, but if he can eat up blockers and clog running lanes, it will go a long way in limiting what the Bulldogs do best.

Georgia’s X-factor: Missouri’s run defense is nothing special, which indicates Gurley could have a big afternoon. The Tigers rank 106th nationally and second-to-last in the SEC by allowing 2.51 yards per carry after contact to opposing rushers, while Gurley’s average of 3.88 yards per carry after contact ranks 16th nationally. That said, Bulldogs quarterback Hutson Mason probably has to do something in the passing game to take some of the heat off Gurley. Mason has been streaky, to say the least, and the Bulldogs’ chances of victory will decrease significantly if he can’t help them become more than a one-dimensional offense on Saturday.

Playoff impact: These two teams probably represent the SEC East’s only realistic shots at grabbing a playoff spot. Saturday’s loser will essentially be eliminated from consideration, seeing as how Mizzou already has an embarrassing loss (to Indiana) on its resume and Georgia’s loss to South Carolina looks worse by the week. Both teams probably have another loss or two in them – they have too many glaring weaknesses to avoid at least one more letdown – but Saturday’s winner will become the favorite to represent the division in Atlanta. An SEC East club has to win that game to have any chance of getting into the playoff.

SEC's lunch links

July, 29, 2014
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Looks like Tennessee products Peyton Manning and Britton Colquitt heard that the Volunteers open preseason practice this week. Check out the “Rocky Top” dance party before Denver's practice on Monday.

Here are today's links:

• Georgia is handing a scholarship to tight end Joseph Ledbetter after he played two seasons of basketball at NCAA Division II Pfeiffer University. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Ledbetter's brother Jonathan is committed to Alabama for next year's recruiting class.

• Mississippi State's Dee Arrington and Ferlando Bohanna are both out for the season, and the Bulldogs have three freshmen who are still working to gain eligibility for 2014.

• With as many as four capable tailbacks available, South Carolina might not need Mike Davis to carry as heavy a load in the backfield this fall.

• James Franklin redshirted all but three players from Vanderbilt's well-regarded 2013 signing class, so new Commodores coach Derek Mason will have some talented redshirt freshmen at his disposal this fall.

• The Lexington Herald-Leader's Mark Story remembers “Wah Wah” Jones, who died Sunday at age 88. Jones was a standout player for legendary coaches Bear Bryant and Adolph Rupp at Kentucky and won a gold medal as a member of the U.S. men's basketball team in 1948.

• The Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea asks a question many Auburn fans are wondering: When will the Tigers roll out highly-recruited running back Roc Thomas to join the established veterans in the backfield?

Weight has been a regular subject for both defensive lineman Isaac Gross and quarterback (among other possible positions) Jeremy Liggins at Ole Miss.

• The Orlando Sentinel's Chris Hays writes that a rash of decommitments should not concern Florida yet, although plenty of prospects are in wait-and-see mode after the Gators went 4-8 last season.

• Adding top junior-college receiver D'haquille Williams has left Auburn's wideouts even more optimistic about what they can accomplish this fall.

• A pair of LSU freshman defensive linemen were issued citations for misdemeanor offenses last week.

• Alabama's top three running backs (T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake) bring a variety of impressive skills to the Crimson Tide backfield.

• Quarterback Maty Mauk is ready to run the show this season at Missouri after briefly filling in for James Franklin last fall.
Auburn is the favorite to win every game this season except the Iron Bowl, but the Tigers have only the fourth-best odds of winning the SEC title for a second straight season. This according to the preseason projections that ESPN’s Stats and Information team released on Tuesday.

Using its preseason Football Power Index as a guide, the Stats and Information group’s projections covered a wide range of categories including likelihood of going undefeated, odds of winning conference and division titles, likelihood of winning individual games and projected win totals.

The data showed Florida State as a heavy favorite to repeat as the national champion, with the Seminoles having a 40 percent chance of going undefeated and at least an 87 percent chance of winning each of its games. The next-closest team, Oregon, has a 13 percent chance of going undefeated.

At the other end of the spectrum, Kansas (projection of 3.3 wins), Purdue (3.6), Wake Forest (3.6) and California (3.8) are the teams from the Big Five conferences that are projected to win the fewest games.

The projections covered every FBS program, but we’re here to discuss the SEC, where -- surprise, surprise -- Alabama is the favorite to hoist the conference championship trophy in Atlanta. Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has a 23 percent chance to win the conference title according to ESPN’s projections, leading South Carolina (17 percent), Georgia (17) and Auburn (16), which was certainly a much bigger underdog at this point a season ago.

Obviously Gus Malzahn's 2013 club proved that things can change a great deal between July and December -- and the Stats and Information group’s projections will be updated throughout the season -- but here’s where each SEC team sits for now, a little less than a month away from the start of preseason practice.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide is projected to win 9.9 games and has a 4 percent chance of going undefeated. In addition to its 22.6 percent chance of winning the SEC, Alabama has a 38 percent chance of winning the SEC West. Alabama is the favorite in every game and has at least a 64.5 percent chance of winning all but the LSU (57.5) and Auburn (57.8) games.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks play the SEC’s toughest schedule (No. 4 in the nation) and are projected to win 4.9 games. They have a 0 percent chance to win the conference title and a 0.01 percent chance of winning the West. In individual games, however, Arkansas is favored to win only against UAB (96.8 percent chance of a win), Nicholls State (96.7) and Northern Illinois (71.7).

Auburn: The only other team in the nation’s top 10 in strength of schedule (the Tigers are 10th), Auburn is projected to win 9.2 games. They have a 1 percent chance of going undefeated, a 16.3 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 26.7 percent chance of winning the West. The Tigers have at least a 60 percent chance to win every game except Alabama (42.2) and Georgia (54.4).

Florida: Projected to win 7.6 games, Florida has a 6.2 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 16.3 percent chance of winning the SEC East. The Gators are favored in seven games and underdogs against LSU (49.9), South Carolina (45.6), Georgia (35.7), Alabama (20.7) and Florida State (8.9).

Georgia: Oddly enough, while South Carolina has a slightly better chance of winning the SEC according to ESPN’s projections, Georgia has a small edge over the Gamecocks with a projection of 9.1 wins. The Bulldogs have a 17.1 percent chance of winning the conference and a 37.5 percent chance of winning the East. They have at least at 63.4 percent chance of beating every opponent except South Carolina (41.1) and Auburn (45.6).

Kentucky: ESPN’s projections have Kentucky making a step forward in Year 2 under Mark Stoops, winning 5.5 games this fall. The Wildcats have a 0.03 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 0.09 percent chance of winning the East. They are favored to beat Tennessee-Martin, Ohio, Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Monroe, but there next-best chance of winning is 37.9 percent against Tennessee.

LSU: Les Miles’ Tigers are projected to win 8.0 games, with a 4.6 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 9.5 percent chance of winning the West. However, the Tigers are favored in nine games -- all but Auburn (26.8), Texas A&M (38.0) and Alabama (42.5).

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are projected to win 8.5 games, with a 4.7 percent chance of winning the conference and 9.7 percent chance of winning the West. Mississippi State is favored in eight games -- all but Ole Miss (47.0), Auburn (40.0), LSU (39.7) and Alabama (25.5).

Missouri: Projected to win 7.0 games, Missouri has a 2.3 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 7.1 percent chance of representing the East in Atlanta for a second straight season. The Tigers are favored in eight games and underdogs against Georgia (36.6), Florida (32.3), Texas A&M (22.2) and South Carolina (21.9).

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze’s club is projected to win 7.7 games and has a 2.9 percent chance of winning the conference and a 6.5 percent chance of winning the West. The Rebels are favored in eight games and are underdogs against Alabama (35.5), Auburn (35.0), LSU (34.7) and Texas A&M (31.2).

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are projected to win 8.9 games, have a 17.9 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 37.2 percent chance of winning the East. South Carolina is favored in all games except Clemson (47.5) and Auburn (30.4).

Tennessee: Projected to win 5.4 games, Butch Jones’ Volunteers have a 0.02 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 0.1 percent chance of winning the East. The Vols are favored to win five games: Utah State, Arkansas State, Chattanooga, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

Texas A&M: The Aggies are projected to win 8.3 games and have a 4.8 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 9.5 percent chance of winning the West. Texas A&M is favored in eight games and is an underdog against Mississippi State (47.6), South Carolina (41.4), Alabama (30.5) and Auburn (30.1).

Vanderbilt: The James Franklin-less Commodores are projected to drop to 4.9 wins under first-year coach Derek Mason. They have a 0 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 0.02 percent chance of winning the East. Vandy is favored against UMass, Charleston Southern, Temple and Old Dominion.

SEC lunchtime links

June, 16, 2014
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Before you start waving the Stars and Stripes for the U.S.-Ghana match later this afternoon at the World Cup, let's first check out what's happening a bit closer to home in the SEC:


DESTIN, Fla. -- New Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason knows what it takes to build a program.

The former Stanford defensive coordinator was there for the Cardinal’s makeover and now has the task of making sure Vanderbilt, which enjoyed three excellent years under former coach James Franklin, stays relevant in the ravenous SEC.

[+] EnlargeDerek Mason
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyDerek Mason wants Vanderbilt to have a national footprint in recruiting while still taking full advantage of the talent in its region.
What Mason doesn’t have to worry about is building from the ground up. Thanks to superb recruiting efforts by Franklin and his coaching staff, Mason’s first year in Nashville will feature not only quality but experience.

But Mason didn’t take this job to be a one-hit wonder. Franklin’s players won’t be on campus forever, so Mason has to build his own foundation in Nashville.

Mason might not have the boisterous salesmanship that made Franklin so effective on the recruiting trail, but he has plenty of experience recruiting at both a national and southern level. Mason said Stanford went head-to-head with Commodores coaches a few times in recruiting, but what he wants to do is stretch Vandy’s recruiting footprint beyond the comfort of its southern borders.

“That mindset’s gonna change. Vanderbilt’s a national brand, much like Stanford,” Mason told reporters last week during SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida. “Much like the Notre Dames and the Dukes, you have to go national to fill out your roster. There are great players across the country; we just so happen to be in the SEC and sit in a hotbed of talent.”

Don’t get Mason wrong, he isn’t going to ignore what the South has to offer. The goal is to collect as much close-proximity talent as possible, but he also knows that with a program like Vanderbilt, he can’t get complacent. He has to expand.

“Let’s go where the talent is, and let’s fit our profile,” Mason said.

With the nationwide success Stanford had in recruiting when Mason was around, he shouldn’t have a problem walking into high schools around the country. But Mason plans to clean up at home, too.

Take one look at Stanford’s current roster and you’ll find more than 20 players from states that house SEC schools. Mason had a hand in landing a few of those players and isn’t afraid to push himself around with the SEC’s big boys.

“I came into the South and recruited some of the best players the South had to offer against the Alabamas and everybody else,” he said. “We’re going to go everywhere to recruit, but I cut my teeth in the South.”

Another way Mason plans to expand Vandy’s brand is to play out of its comfort zone. Mason already has the advantage of seeing some of the best competition in the sport right in his own conference, but he also wants his players to see some of the other quality teams from around the country, especially when it comes to top academic schools.

Mason said he plans to take full advantage of the SEC’s new rule about adding a mandatory nonconference Power Five opponent to the schedule starting in 2016.

“It’s healthy,” Mason said. “I’ve been in that environment. I’ve had to play in those big games, those top games. Football is football. Nowadays, strength of schedule isn’t really what it looks like. If you want to be a championship team playing in the playoff structure, you really have to look and know what your schedule looks like and you can’t be afraid to play teams.”

So does that mean trying to schedule a home-and-home with Stanford?

“Yes, absolutely,” Mason said. “Absolutely -- Stanford, Notre Dame, whoever else is out there. In order to be considered a good team, you have to play good teams, and we’re not going to shy away from that in our nonconference schedule.”
The SEC football coaches, proud purveyors of oversigning and other honorable recruiting practices, have banded together in the name of integrity. Take a bow, (good ol') boys. You deserve it.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/PennLive.com/Joe HermittSEC coaches aren't thrilled with Penn State coach James Franklin's decision to have summer camps in their territory.
Apparently the SEC coaches aren't too pleased with a plan hatched by one of their former colleagues, James Franklin. The new Penn State coach, formerly at Vanderbilt, and his assistants will guest coach next month at summer camps in the heart of SEC country, at Georgia State and Stetson. It means the Penn State staff can evaluate prospects from in and around Atlanta and DeLand, Fla., two SEC recruiting hotbeds.

Although NCAA rules limit programs from running high school camps more than 50 miles from their campus, coaches are allowed to work at camps outside of the radius as long as they don't run the events.

"The Big Ten and NCAA rules allow you to do these things," Franklin recently told reporters during a Coaches Caravan stop in King of Prussia, Pa. "We wanted to not only have camps on our campus, which we're going to have a bunch of them, but also be able to maybe take the Penn State brand and be able to take it to part of the country that maybe young men and families wouldn't be able to make it to our place, take it to them.

"And I'm fired up about it."

But Franklin's former SEC brethren aren't fired up. Unlike the morally reprehensible Big Ten, the SEC prohibits coaches from working at camps beyond 50 miles from campus. Again, it's all about integrity in that league.

So SEC coaches have complained to their commissioner, Mike Slive, to step in and try to stop Franklin and his attempt to enter their sacred ground.
"It's that kind of thing that gets us to think about our rules," Slive said. "They [SEC coaches] like our rule; they don't like the so-called satellite camps. They see it as a loophole and asked us to see what we can do about that."

Slive said the SEC would have to approach the NCAA about closing the loophole.

You go and do that, Commissioner Slive. March yourself to Indianapolis. By golly, someone needs to stand up for doing things the right way. And if the NCAA asks about oversigning, just show them your championship rings. So sparkly!

The truth is other programs are capitalizing on the same loophole. As colleagues Brett McMurphy and Edward Aschoff report, coaches from Oklahoma State and New Mexico plan to work several camps in Texas this summer. While Florida and Georgia are among the highest-producing states for FBS prospects, Texas tops the list.

So Franklin isn't the only one. But his plan to extend the recruiting reach for a Penn State program that has largely ignored the fertile South in recent years is brilliant. Everyone asks me how the Big Ten can close the gap with the SEC. The answer is to spend more time in its territory.

"This thing that James Franklin did with Georgia State, that’s a stroke of genius," Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at LSU and Vanderbilt, told me. "If Penn State continues to do that, and other Big Ten schools continue to have an agreement with these smaller Southern schools and you can officially visit a prospect in May and June, it will be the most significant move in favor of Big Ten football in my lifetime."

Just wait until more Big Ten coaches begin stumping for earlier official visits, which would help their cause tremendously. Michigan's Brady Hoke is on board. So are many others in the league.

It'll be fun to see how the SEC reacts to that campaign.

Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork offered this gem at SEC spring meetings when asked about Franklin's summer Southern migration. By the way, arguably no SEC program has a more storied oversigning tradition than Ole Miss.

"That's our backyard, so anytime those things happen, your eyes and ears perk up to say, What do we need to address [the issue] if that's a hindrance?" Bjork said. "If it's a competitive disadvantage, then we need to look at it."

Competitive disadvantage! Sound the alarms! The Big Ten is gonna get us!

To quote the other Björk:
You're all right
There's nothing wrong
Self-sufficience please!
And get to work
And if you complain once more
You'll meet an army of me

The SEC should stop complaining about, of all things, a potential challenge to its recruiting hegemony. Better yet, it should change its policy and come on up to Big Ten country. Nick Saban loves Ohio. Les Miles is a Michigan guy. Kevin Sumlin went to Purdue.

How could Division III power Wisconsin-Whitewater turn down a chance to bring back favorite son Bret Bielema to America's dairyland?

But maybe it's better that the SEC coaches dig in on this issue. Remember, they're all about fairness and honor in recruiting.

And 37-man recruiting classes.


DESTIN, Fla.-- James Franklin is heading back to SEC country this summer, and that isn’t sitting well with the conference’s coaches.

Penn State’s new coach and his staff are making their way back to familiar territory -- and fertile recruiting grounds -- by working at football camps at Georgia State University in Atlanta and Stetson University in Deland, Florida.

Now, there’s a reason SEC coaches aren’t happy: They can’t do the same thing because SEC rules say conference coaches can’t guest coach more than 50 miles from their campuses. However, schools outside the SEC have every right to guest coach at what are essentially “satellite camps.”

What SEC coaches want is for commissioner Mike Slive, one of the most power men in college athletics, to help put an end to this.

“I want you to know that it’s not the right thing,” LSU coach Les Miles said.

But maybe the SEC should consider conforming. This is something the NCAA allows, and it’s a great way for bigger schools to enlarge their recruiting footprint. It almost makes too much sense, and changing the rules could be a good thing for the SEC. You're telling me the SEC wouldn't take another opportunity to expand its brand?

Give Will Muschamp or Nick Saban the opportunity to work with a slew of prospects in Atlanta. Send Mark Richt and Kevin Sumlin to Southern California to help coach recruits.

That’s not appealing?

Here’s a snippet from ESPN College Football Insider Brett McMurphy’s story on how this works:

Seven years ago, the NCAA passed Rule 13.12.1.2, limiting where football programs can run high school camps -- basically any out-of-state location that sits more than 50 miles from campus. However, a loophole allows coaching staffs to work at -- but not hold -- other camps outside the 50-mile radius.
[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/PennLive.com/Joe HermittJames Franklin coaching at camps in Georgia and Florida is a hot topic among SEC coaches.
I know the SEC doesn’t want to open the flood gates for the rest of the country to sink its teeth into the SEC’s recruiting ground, but why not push away from your own, seemingly outdated rule and take advantage yourself? Why not push for repeal and see if you can reap your own benefits?

“We all would if we could,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “We’re all going to do what you’d let us. Our point is where does it end? I don’t want to speak for everyone in the room, but from what I heard in there, most of our coaches would be in favor of at least being on an even playing field. We’d prefer to tighten up that loophole to not allow you to do camps off your campus.”

And that loophole is upsetting SEC coaches, who want to either have a nationwide rule that bans guest coaching by Power Five staffs or for the league to change its own rule and join the fun.

“It would be beneficial for everybody, if everybody could do that, or nobody should do it,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “There shouldn’t be any loopholes or anything else like that. The intent of the rule was to keep an institution’s camp on the institution’s campus, and now that’s not the case.”

I understand where the SEC is coming from. The coaches, who have the geographical advantage of calling such a recruiting hotbed home, want to keep outsiders away from their product. They want to limit the contact between the other Power Five players as much as possible.

This is their land -- or as Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork puts it, their “home turf” -- and they don’t want people trespassing with camps that will introduce them to a plethora of athletes.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s nothing stopping other Power Five institutions from taking this further. The Big Ten has discussed whether this should continue within the conference -- Iowa's coaches are heading to Chicago to work at Lake Forest College this summer -- but where’s the incentive to stop? Just working at these camps broadcasts your product to a large group of prospects (that you really want to impress) in a relatively foreign area.

Slive has made an effort to keep the SEC ahead of the curve, and this is another chance for the SEC to evolve for the good. With autonomy such a big issue with the Power Five, it’s going to be hard for Slive to convince other commissioners to side with the SEC on this one. This is something the SEC can get out in front on and capitalize on before more schools take advantage at the SEC’s expense.

“Whatever it is, it has to be a national rule that allows us all to operate the same,” Miles said.

Schedule analysis: Missouri

May, 28, 2014
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[+] EnlargePinkel
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsGary Pinkel and Missouri start the SEC season with a tough test at South Caolina.
Nonconference opponents (with 2013 record)
Aug. 30: South Dakota State (9-5)
Sept. 6: at Toledo (7-5)
Sept. 13: Central Florida (12-1)
Sept. 20: Indiana (5-7)

SEC home games
Oct. 11: Georgia (8-5)
Oct. 25: Vanderbilt (9-4)
Nov. 1: Kentucky (2-10)
Nov. 28: Arkansas (3-9)

SEC road games
Sept. 27: at South Carolina (11-2)
Oct. 18: at Florida (4-8)
Nov. 15: at Texas A&M (9-4)
Nov. 22: at Tennessee (5-7)

Gut-check time: Once Missouri enters SEC play, it jumps in with both feet. The Tigers start with a Sept. 27 trip to South Carolina, which has won 11 games in three straight seasons and will rank among the leading contenders to win the SEC East this fall. The Gamecocks have won 18 in a row at home since Auburn won at Williams-Brice Stadium in October 2011, so history will not be on the Tigers’ side -- particularly since they’re 0-2 against the Gamecocks since joining the SEC and suffered their only regular-season loss at home to the Gamecocks last year.

Trap game: It’s funny to call a Missouri trip to Florida a “trap game” considering the wildly different spots the two programs occupied in the national hierarchy over the last 25 years or so. But Missouri is unquestionably in the stronger position right now, having rolled over the Gators and to its first SEC East championship last year. Nonetheless, a trip to Florida remains as a daunting challenge for Missouri, particularly considering how much offensive firepower the Tigers lost from last season. Will Muschamp’s Gators will almost certainly rebound this season -- there’s too much talent on the roster to expect otherwise -- and the Tigers will have to be on their game to beat them for a second straight season.

Snoozer: Like last season, Missouri opens the season with four straight nonconference games. Unlike last year, one of those games -- the Sept. 13 visit from Central Florida -- comes against an opponent that played in a BCS bowl last season. The Knights will be without their two offensive stars from last season (quarterback Blake Bortles and tailback Storm Johnson), so even they will be in reloading mode when they visit Columbia. That’s the only game in the first month that should provide any intrigue whatsoever for Missouri fans, as FCS opponent South Dakota State and Toledo and Indiana should fail to mount much of a challenge.

Telltale stretch: Expand the “gut-check time” section even further. After the Tigers open SEC play with an enormous challenge at South Carolina, they take a week off following the South Carolina game, then the Tigers will host Georgia. The Bulldogs also will rank among the leading preseason favorites within the SEC East. Then comes the trip to Florida. That means in three consecutive games, the Tigers will face teams that won the division in seven of the previous eight years before Mizzou’s Eastern Division title last year. Making the challenge of this stretch even more difficult, Vanderbilt comes to town after the Florida game. The Commodores lost coach James Franklin to Penn State, but they have won nine games in consecutive seasons.

Final analysis: Missouri isn’t going to sneak up on anyone like it did last season, not that it will have much of an opportunity. The first month of the season should provide a 3-1, or maybe even 4-0, record, but the SEC slate gets tough quickly. The Tigers lost a ton of key offensive skill players, plus defensive stars Michael Sam, Kony Ealy and E.J. Gaines, so September will be a key time for Mizzou to begin generating some positive momentum with new talent. The Tigers will need to be clicking to knock off South Carolina on the road, much less Georgia, Florida and Vandy in the weeks afterward. And even after that, they still have to make trips to Texas A&M and Tennessee -- to stadiums that rank among the nation’s most hostile toward visitors -- in back-to-back weeks in November. Gary Pinkel did a phenomenal job in assembling a 2013 team that surprised longtime SEC fans by making it to Atlanta, but it will require all of his coaching acumen to navigate this schedule successfully and make it back there again in 2014 considering how many pieces the Tigers must replace.
Just about everybody keeps track of a team or coach's record against ranked opponents.

It's a statistic that can be skewed because if you play a ranked team in the first few weeks of the season that bombs the rest of the way, does that really count as a quality win? For example, Florida was a top-10 team in both polls heading into the 2013 season and finished 4-8.

The most accurate gauge if you're tracking wins against ranked opponents is to add up those wins against teams that finish the season ranked in the final polls. We at the SEC blog have done that over the last three seasons, and some of the results are telling.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP Photo/John RaouxNo SEC coach has more wins over the past three seasons against teams that finished the season ranked than the Ol' Ball Coach.
South Carolina has the best record (12-3) against teams that finished the 2011-13 seasons ranked in either the Associated Press or USA Today coaches' polls. The Gamecocks were 5-0 last season and beat three teams -- Clemson, Missouri and UCF -- that finished in the top 10 in one of the final polls. Over the past three seasons, the Gamecocks are also an impressive 5-2 against top-10 teams in the final polls.

Only three SEC teams over the past three seasons have finished above .500 against teams that finished the season ranked nationally. In addition to South Carolina, Alabama is 8-4 during that stretch and LSU 9-5.

On the flip side, there are three SEC teams over the past three seasons that have failed to beat a team ranked nationally in the final polls -- Kentucky (0-13), Mississippi State (0-15) and Vanderbilt (0-12).

Even though the Commodores won nine games overall each of the past two seasons for the first time in history under former coach James Franklin, who's now at Penn State, they didn't beat a team either of those seasons that finished ranked in the final polls. Vanderbilt's last win over a team that finished the season ranked in the Top 25 came during the 2008 season, a 23-17 win over an Ole Miss team that finished 14th that year in the AP poll.

Alabama and Vanderbilt have played the fewest games against ranked opponents in the final polls over the past three seasons, each with 12 games. Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee have played the most, each with 17 games.

Nobody in the league has played more games against top-10 foes in the final polls over the past three seasons than Tennessee. The Vols are 1-12 with the lone win coming last season against South Carolina, which finished fourth nationally. LSU has six wins over top-10 teams in the final polls over the past three seasons, which is tops in the SEC during that span.

Marquee nonconference games can also be deceiving, especially with teams scheduling some of these games so far out. Alabama, for instance, has played a traditional power during the regular season every year Nick Saban has been there, but only one of those teams finished the season in the top-20 nationally. Virginia Tech finished 10th in both polls in 2009. Four others that the Tide have faced since Saban's arrival -- Clemson in 2008, Penn State in 2010, Penn State in 2011 and Michigan in 2012 -- were ranked in the top 20 at the time of the game but dropped out by season's end.

Below are the records for all 14 SEC teams over the past three seasons against teams that finished the season nationally ranked in one of the final polls. In parentheses are the records against top-10 foes.

1. South Carolina: 12-3, .800 (5-2)
2. Alabama: 8-4, .667 (4-4)
3. LSU: 9-5, .643 (6-5)
4. Texas A&M: 5-10, .333 (1-6)
5. Georgia: 5-11, .312 (2-9)
6. Florida: 5-12, .294 (3-7)
7. Auburn: 4-13, .235 (3-8)
8. Missouri: 3-12, .200 (0-8)
9. Arkansas: 2-11, .154 (1-8)
10. Ole Miss: 2-15, .118 (0-9)
10. Tennessee: 2-15, .118 (1-12)
12. Vanderbilt: 0-12, .000 (0-8)
13. Kentucky: 0-13, .000 (0-8)
14. Mississippi State: 0-15, .000 (0-9)

SEC lunchtime links

April, 30, 2014
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More talk of scheduling, some NFL draft talk and more in today's lunch links:

Missouri spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
4/30/14
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Missouri Tigers:

1. No questions at QB: Maty Mauk made quick work of his competition and left no doubt that he was both the Tigers' starting quarterback and their most vocal leader. The redshirt sophomore brings more flair to Mizzou's offense than predecessor James Franklin, as Mauk will take more risks with his arm and legs.

2. There's depth at WR: Even without dismissed star Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri has talent at receiver. Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt say they're ready to take over now that the Tigers have lost their top three wideouts. The seniors, who have 73 career receptions combined, must become more than role players. Levi Copelin and Darius White will battle for the other starting spot.

3. Strong up front: The defensive line was healthy, strong and effective in 2013, and Missouri is expecting little drop-off this fall. Pass-rushing defensive ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam are gone, but Markus Golden and Shane Ray put up good numbers as reserves. Starting tackles Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent return and bring stability.

Three questions for the fall:

1. CB play: Who replaces E.J. Gaines and Randy Ponder at cornerback? An inexperienced secondary is an overall concern, but the presence of sophomore CB Aarion Penton, who had a standout freshman season, gives the Tigers a lot of confidence. Sophomore John Gibson beat out several contenders for the other starting cornerback spot in spring practice.

2. Reshuffling on OL: Will Mizzou have another stalwart offensive line? The Tigers lost two starters from one of the SEC's best units, forcing some reshuffling. Evan Boehm is the anchor in his second year at center. LT Mitch Morse, RT Connor McGovern, LG Anthony Gatti and RG Mitch Hall bring lots of size and experience.

3. Banged-up LBs: Will the linebackers hold up? Longtime starters Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner are gone, returning junior Kentrell Brothers had surgery on a torn labrum in March, and sophomore Donavin Newsom had the same surgery just before the spring game. There's a lot of pressure on sophomore Michael Scherer and senior Darvin Ruise.

One way-too-early prediction:

Missouri had a breakthrough season in 2013, going 12-2 and finishing with the No. 5 ranking in the country. This fall, the Tigers will prove they were no fluke and repeat as SEC East champs thanks to a handful of impact players, some great coaching and a very manageable schedule.
Ask Maty Mauk if the Missouri Tigers are his team now, and he doesn't hesitate to answer yes.

But there are words and there are deeds, and Mauk knows the difference.

A week ago he was just getting comfortable with the mantle of leadership that goes with the quarterback position, just settling in and stretching his legs. Then adversity rocked the program.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk, Sam Wren
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsMaty Mauk is looking forward to being the leader of Missouri's offense and working with an inexperienced receiver corps.
Sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, an all-world talent at receiver, was dismissed last Friday. In a flash, the offense -- Mauk's offense -- was dramatically altered.

Mauk sprang into action, gathering his offensive linemen and receivers.

"Yeah, it's hard," he said a few days later. "It's something we're not really focused on anymore. It's behind us and we can't do anything about it."

When Mauk rallied his troops they had one week of practice left before the annual Black & Gold game on Faurot Field (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET). They needed to start getting used to life without Green-Beckham.

"It's different," Mauk said of the new look. "[Green-Beckham] brings something to the table that not a lot of teams can have. But we have plenty of guys that can step in."

Without DGB, Missouri has to replace its top three receivers from a year ago. Green-Beckham, along with seniors L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas, combined for 167 of the team's 267 catches. They had 2,468 of Missouri's 3,540 receiving yards and 25 of the Tigers' 31 touchdowns through the air.

In other words, they left a huge void.

Or is it a great opportunity? That's how a leader would spin the situation.

Mauk listed his receivers earlier this week and spoke of their skills with such enthusiasm that one would hardly notice the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Green-Beckham-sized hole.

"You've got Darius [White] and Bud [Sasser] on the outside who are 6-3, 6-4 guys that run routes that are nice, crisp routes," Mauk said of his seniors. "I know them so well that I feel like we can run anything and be able to do whatever we want down the field together. And then you look inside at Jimmie [Hunt]. Jimmie's been here for a while. He's played. He's a tremendous guy in there.

"Levi [Copelin], he's stepping in. He brings something to the table that we might not have had. ... J'Mon Moore, who was a freshman last year, he's going to be something. I'm expecting huge things. That's a guy I'm on every day. He's really got to step up, especially with Dorial gone."

Urging his teammates on is something that comes naturally to Mauk. He started four games last year when starter James Franklin went down with a sprained shoulder. A 3-1 record, 1,071 yards passing and 11 touchdowns (to just two interceptions) gave Mauk instant credibility.

Franklin came back for the last four games of the season, and Mauk stepped aside.

"I understood what my role was," he said.

But Mauk saw an opening. There was an obvious contrast between Franklin and him. The senior was quiet, while the redshirt freshman was loud and demanding.

"Even when James came back I was like, 'These are still my guys, too,'" Mauk said. "Now it's just so natural to me that I can just come out here and say stuff. They understand me and they'll accept that and they'll get better."

Being an integral part of a 12-win season gave Mauk a voice, and he's using it to keep Missouri on track through words and deeds. He and his teammates know their breakthrough success in 2013 won't mean anything if they don't follow it up with another successful season.

"Everybody is picking us to be down at the bottom of the SEC East again," Mauk said. "That's just motivation for us. We just want to come out here and keep proving people wrong."

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