For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.
The rich get richer. It is a cliché to end all clichés, but it applies to the SEC in recruiting these days (otherwise, someone needs to investigate who butters the recruiting service bread – but that is a story for another day).
Athlon Sports is in the predictions business. We are currently America’s oldest preseason College Football publication (1967) and have been the most accurate NCAA football predictor over the last five years. With this in mind, and the finale of the 2010 football season quickly approaching, Athlon felt the urge to look ahead to the 2011 season.
Here are “The Way Too Early Predictions for 2011” in the SEC.
One could argue that the Alabama Crimson Tide posted the most impressive bowl performance of any team in the nation. Even with potential losses that few teams could survive, Nick Saban should have his squad back at the top of the SEC in 2011.
Some oddsmakers already have the Tide as the favorite to win the 2011 National Championship. With names like Ingram, Hightower, Barron, Dareus and two different Joneses yet to decide on their NFL future, it’s tough to call them the top team in the nation just yet — especially since most of those names will likely move on to Sunday.
That being said, Alabama does not rebuild, they reload. And they will have plenty of talented options stepping into those voids. Stellar recruiting classes afford Saban the ability to plug in prep All-Americans like A.J. McCarron, Tyler Love, Trent Richardson, Tana Patrick and Jarrick Williams at key positions of loss. If McCarron lives up to his recruiting hype, Bama will once again be in Atlanta battling for an SEC title.
Who they will play is an entirely different issue. In 2010, the SEC East was arguably the worst it has been since its creation in 1992. Subsequently, South Carolina broke its drought this fall, but the Gamecocks will face improved teams at almost every stop along the path of its East title defense. Reworking the front seven will be the biggest issue for the Cocks, but Steve Spurrier has lots of shiny toys to play with on offense. South Carolina returns the best offensive skill players in the league.
Tennessee and Florida have a lot of young talent and both should be improved at the most important position (quarterback). Tyler Bray, with his powerful right arm, proved that he is the future for the Vols — and a bright one at that (especially in the home orange!). The Vols offensive line was incredibly young and it showed this season, but those growing pains could turn them into road graders next season. The Gators will need to replace plenty in the secondary and along the offensive line but have their own prep All-Americans waiting in the wings. The Gators could have the most talented two-deep in the league.
The coaching changes, however, are a different issue. Will Muschamp needs to prove he can be a great CEO and not just a quality defensive coordinator. Charlie Weis has less to prove as an offensive mind, and doesn’t have to worry about those same CEO duties any longer. He should be better than his Notre Dame stint indicated.
That leaves the Georgia Bulldogs, and emerging star quarterback Aaron Murray, coming off their first losing season in Athens in 14 years. The Drew Brees-esque player clearly has the “it” factor and could be the league’s best quarterback in 2011 (assuming Ryan Mallett and Cam Newton go pro). He has a wide array of weapons to choose from, even if A.J. Green goes pro. Mark Richt will need to replace some talent along the line, but there are plenty of options for coordinator Mike Bobo — who will need to succeed in 2011 to keep his job.
On defense, the Bulldogs should be improved in the second year of Todd Grantham’s new 3-4 scheme. Keeping Justin Houston in a college uniform could be the difference for a defense that returns much of the starting line-up. Depth along the defensive line will be an issue, but the newer, younger players should fit the system better.
Heading back out West, it's rebuilding mode for most. LSU, Auburn and Arkansas will each lose arguably their best, and most important, players on the roster. Newton, Nick Fairley and Lee Ziemba are far and away the most imperative cogs to the Auburn Tiger attack. Those names are only the beginning, though, as Auburn could be looking at nearly 15 new starters.
Undoubtedly, the NCAA will be lurking around the Loveliest Village on the Plains this offseason. Should they find anything, the fall for Auburn could be even more catastrophic than anyone could imagine. Even if the NCAA doesn’t look the Tigers’ way, Gene Chizik has a massive uphill climb back to the top of the SEC West ahead of him in 2011.
The LSU Tigers lose their top three defensive players as Drake Nevis, Kelvin Sheppard and Patrick Peterson are set to depart. The struggling LSU offense does finally have a chance to be good, however, as all but Joe Barksdale and Terrance Tolliver return. For Les Miles' and Gary Crowton’s sake, this unit better be improved.
And for the Hogs, DeMarcus Love, D.J. Williams and Ryan Mallett top a long list of departing talent.
Mississippi State will also deal with line of scrimmage issues — losing studs Derrek Sherrod and Pernell McPhee — but they have been consistently strong at the point of attack under Dan Mullen. Do they simply have enough talent to win more than one or two big games? Because they will have to win at least six or seven conference games if they expect to climb the SEC West hierarchy and compete with Bama for a conference title.
2. South Carolina: OL Jarriel King, DE Cliff Matthews, DT Ladi Ajiboye, TE Weslye Saunders, CB Chris Culliver, WR Tori Gurley*
3. Florida: OL Mike Pouncey, OL Marcus Gilbert, OL Carl Johnson, DT Lawrence Marsh, DT Jaye Howard*, DT Terron Sanders, S Ahmad Black, S Will Hill*, CB Janoris Jenkins*, P Chas Henry
4. Tennessee: WR Denarius Moore, WR Gerald Jones, TE Luke Stocker, OL Jarrod Shaw, FB Kevin Cooper, DE Chris Walker, DE Ben Martin, LB LaMarcus Thompson, LB Nick Reveiz, LB Savion Frazier
5. Kentucky: QB Mike Hartline, RB Derrick Locke, WR Randall Cobb*, WR Chris Matthews, DE DeQuin Evans, DT Ricky Lumpkin, DT Shane McCord, LB Danny Trevathan*, LB Jacob Dufrene, CB Paul Warford
6. Vanderbilt: OL Joey Bailey, LB John Stokes, DL Theron Kadri, DE Teriall Brannon
SEC West 2011 Predictions:
1. Alabama: QB Greg McElroy, RB Mark Ingram*, WR Julio Jones*, OL Barrett Jones*, OL James Carpenter, TE Preston Dial, DE Marcell Dareus*, LB Dont’a Hightower*, S Mark Barron*
2. LSU: OL Joseph Barksdale, WR Terrence Toliver, DT Drake Nevis, LB Kelvin Sheppard, DE Pep Levingston, CB Patrick Peterson*, CB Jai Eugene, K Josh Jasper
3. Mississippi State: OL Derrek Sherrod, OL J.C. Brignone, DE Pernell McPhee, LB K.J. Wright, LB Chris Wright, RS Leon Berry
4. Arkansas: QB Ryan Mallett*, TE D.J. Williams, OL DeMarcus Love, OL Wade Grayson, OL Ray Dominguez, DE Damario Ambrose, LB Jerry Franklin*, LB Jermaine Love, LB Freddy Burton, CB Ramon Broadway, DB Rudell Crim
5. Auburn: QB Cam Newton*, OL Lee Ziemba, OL Byron Isom, OL Mike Berry, OL Ryan Pugh, WR Terrell Zachery, RB Mario Fanin, DE Antoine Carter, DT Nick Fairley, DT Mike Blanc, DE Mike Goggans, LB Craig Stevens, LB Josh Bynes, DB Demond Washington, CB Aairon Savage, S Zac Etheridge, K Wes Byrum
6. Ole Miss: DE Kentrell Lockett, DT Jerrell Powe, DT Lawon Scott, DT Ted Laurent, LB Jonathan Cornell, S Johnny Brown, WR Markeith Summers, QB Jeremiah Masoli
* - Underclassmen who could declare for the NFL Draft.
Athlon will be awarding postseason honors to each BCS conference in the country. Today we look at the SEC’s best for 2010.
For the sake of this exercise, the Heisman and Bednarik will function as MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. The Outland will be given to the offensive lineman of the year while the Lombardi will be given to the defensive lineman of the year. Two fictitious awards, the Adrian Peterson Freshman of the Year honor and the Desmond Howard return specialist of the year award, will be given as well.
Heisman Trophy (MVP/POY): Cameron Newton, Auburn
The list of superlatives is endless. Newton was the dominant player on and off the field this fall. He is the clear-cut Heisman front-runner and led his team to an SEC title. He joined the 20-20 TD club (with Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick), became the SECs single-season rushing leader by a quarterback, and oh by the way, posted the most efficient season by a passer in NCAA history. His 188.16 QB rating tops Colt Brennan’s 186 as the NCAA all-time single-season mark.
Chuck Bednarik Award (Def. POY): Nick Fairley, Auburn
Much like Newton, the defensive lineman was a junior college transfer who had his polarizing moments. Fairley was the most dominant defensive player in the league, racking up a league-leading 21 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. He also knocked three quarterbacks out of the game, hurried the passer 21 times, forced a fumble, picked off a pass and recovered two fumbles.
Davey O’Brien Award (QB): Cameron Newton, Auburn
See Heisman Trophy above.
Doak Walker Award (RB): Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
Lattimore is the most complete, most talented running back in the nation. So he certainly was the best the SEC had to offer. His 1,198 yards were second in the SEC to Newton, and he literally carried his team to the SEC title game — 37, 23, 29, 40 carries against Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida, respectively. He also finished with 26 catches for 365 and 19 total TDs.
Fred Biletnikoff Award (WR): Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
Jeffery and Alabama’s Julio Jones were the only two wide receivers to get to 1,000 yards this fall. Randall Cobb was Jeffery’s biggest competition because of how versatile and important he was to his team.
John Mackey Award (TE): D.J. Williams, Arkansas
Williams was the league’s only tight end in the top 20 in yards and top 15 in receptions per game. The unanimous first team selection finished sixth in catches (4.08 rpg) and 12th in yards (49.1 ypg).
Outland (O-Lineman): Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State
Four-time SEC lineman of the week, Sherrod helped lead the Bulldogs to 215.8 rushing yards per game — second only to Auburn’s ridiculous 287 ypg and good enough for 16th nationally. Also, the MSU scoring, total and passing attack all improved in the rankings from a year ago.
Trevathan led the league in tackles.
Dick Butkus Award (LB): Danny Trevathan, Kentucky
Justin Houston is really a defensive end and Kelvin Sheppard did slightly less with much more around him. Trevathan led the SEC tackles (10.8 pg), forced fumbles (4) and led all linebackers with 16 tackles for loss (third in SEC overall). He added three sacks and three passes defended for good measure.
Jim Thorpe Award (DB): Patrick Peterson, LSU
The most physically gifted coverman in the nation finished the year with four interceptions, six passes broken up, a blocked kick and 30 total tackles. Like many great cover corners, Peterson rarely gets tested as the opposing team stays away from his side of the field as much as possible.
Lombardi Award (D-Lineman): Nick Fairley, Auburn
See Chuck Bednarik Award above.
Adrian Peterson Award (freshman): Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
See Doak Walker Award above.
Lou Groza Award (K): Josh Jasper, LSU
Jasper’s 2.17 field goals made per game led the nation and his 26 makes this fall were eight better than his next closest SEC competitor (18 for Blair Walsh). He was 26-of-31 for the year.
Ray Guy Award (P): Chas Henry, Florida
If you lead the nation in punting — like Henry did with a 46.4-yard average — then you're going to claim Punter of the Year honors for your given conference.
Desmond Howard Award (KR/PR): Patrick Peterson, LSU
Peterson was second in the league in kick returns at 29.4 per (29 for 851 yards) and second in punt returns at 16.1 per (26 for 418). He also scored twice on punt returns. He was the most dynamic return man in the league this fall.
Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (HC): Gene Chizik, Auburn
I feel like Dan Mullen, Steve Spurrier and Joker Phillips all deserve mention here — mostly due to the fact that Chizik had the most dominant player in the nation. But an undefeated SEC championship, and subsequent trip to the BCS title game, speaks for itself.
Broyles Award (Asst Coach): Gus Malzahn, Auburn
The tale of two Dales. Malzahn’s offensive wizardry took him from high school coach in Springdale, Ark., to OC of the national championship game in Glendale, Ariz., in a matter of five years. Yes, Cam Newton fell into his lap this year, but his teams have been incredibly productive at his every stop. Arkansas, Tulsa and, now, Auburn know just how good he can be at putting together an offense.
SEC Championship Game, No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 18 South Carolina
This is an unfair comparison to South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia, and that’s because Garcia has developed this season into one of the SEC’s better quarterbacks. But, you know, when you’re going up against the likely Heisman Trophy winner, it’s difficult to keep pace.
The conference’s leader in rushing (113.3 yards a game) is also its leader in passing efficiency (185.6). Cameron Newton’s thrown only six interceptions all year. He can beat you in a variety of ways, but teams would still prefer to dare Newton to throw. Then again, Alabama did — and he worked the Tide in the second half.
Garcia fumbled twice in the fourth quarter of the first Auburn game and didn’t play the final six minutes as a result. Had to be a sickening feeling for the junior, who hasn’t looked back since then. In fact, he’s played his past three games turnover-free. South Carolina could use another similar effort from Garcia, the nation’s 14th-ranked passer, in this one. The run game wasn’t there in the first game. The potential is there that the rematch could play out in a similar fashion, thrusting the burden on Garcia’s shoulders. Can he handle it?
It’s difficult to give Auburn the edge over Marcus Lattimore, but Lattimore is outnumbered here. In addition to Newton, who often fashions himself as a running back, the Tigers have between-the-tackles beast Michael Dyer and hit-the-edge speedster Onterio McCalebb. Both Dyer and McCalebb did damage in the first South Carolina game. Dyer had a very quiet 100-yard day, but it was a performance that helped the Tigers hang on to the ball for most of the second half. Speaking of that, McCalebb and Mario Fannin each fumbled in the first meeting. That won’t do, obviously — especially for Fannin, who has proven fumble-prone all season.
Lattimore is special, but he has to have somewhere to run. With 33 yards on 14 carries the first time, it wasn’t there earlier in the year. Has he learned any new tricks for Round Two?
This area works just like running backs. South Carolina has the best one, by far. But Auburn has better depth.
Alshon Jeffery is one of the top three receivers in the country. With 1,351 yards on 75 catches, he’s a Biletnikoff finalist. But the Tigers three top very good threats in Darvin Adams, Emory Blake and Terrell Zachery. They’re all slightly different, but speed is the common denominator. Throw in tight end Phil Lutzenkirchen, who has five touchdowns this season, including a late one against South Carolina, and the Tigers have weapons all over the field.
Tori Gurley showed he could be a legit target for the Gamecocks with 14 catches in the Vanderbilt game, but he has just eight in the five games since — including none the past two weeks. Ace Sanders is a speedy threat, but Steve Spurrier hasn’t used him too, too much against SEC opponents.
Spurrier just raved and raved after the first Auburn game about Jeff Grimes and Auburn’s offensive line. Newton’s individual ability shines, but the Tigers were incredibly physical against the Gamecocks back in September. They were big, particularly, in helping Dyer to his 100-yard evening. Left tackle Lee Ziemba is as good as it gets in the league.
South Carolina’s line has shown signs of improvement, even if it hasn’t been incredibly consistent. It followed the Auburn loss up with its finest showing, against Alabama. It very nearly helped pave the way for the first 100-yard rusher against the Tide in 40 games (Lattimore had 93 yards). Against a great Clemson defensive front last week, the Gamecocks kept Garcia from being sacked. That was a big, big point of emphasis coming into the season. This week will be a test to see if South Carolina has really improved.
Consider this the defensive equivalent of the running back and receiver breakdowns. Auburn has the best D-lineman, in tackle Nick Fairley, but South Carolina has the better overall line.
In truth, both D-lines are very, very good. But the Gamecocks are deeper and can therefore rotate players and stay fresher. That’s a big secret in their success against the run and SEC-leading 39 sacks.
Melvin Ingram has been a pleasant surprise as a junior who can play both end and tackle. Devin Taylor, at end, might be the most underrated player in the conference. Those players have 15½ combined sacks. Senior end Cliff Matthews, a captain, was hindered by a shoulder brace early in the season, including the first Auburn game. Rid of it, he’s playing much better.
Fairley has 9½, sacks himself, but no teammate has any more than 4½.
Advantage: South Carolina
Auburn’s Josh Bynes is the best linebacker in this game. It’s not even close. The 6-2, 235-pound senior is the big and physical prototype of a Tigers linebacker, leading the team with 68 tackles. He’s a big part of Auburn’s physicality in run defense.
As it turns out, the first Auburn game was the only one that junior leader Shaq Wilson would play this season, because of a hamstring injury. Wilson recovered two Auburn fumbles, but he was also several steps slow in pursuing Newton. The Gamecocks, in truth, would’ve been better off without a player who grabbed a medical redshirt shortly after that game.
The rotation of Rodney Paulk, Josh Dickerson, Tony Straughter and Quin Smith has worked well enough to support the defensive line in the run game. Are they physical enough for Newton, however?
One of the few spots on the field for which the appropriate question is, Who is worse? South Carolina is 99th in the country in passing defense (245.5 yards a game), but Auburn, at 106th, is even worse (255.2).
One thing both secondaries do not get credit for is their ability to help out in the run game. In fact, South Carolina’s top three tacklers are defensive backs — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Gamecocks often use their corners and safeties up near the line of scrimmage. All three safeties are among the top six tacklers. The three-man rotation of DeVonte Holloman, D.J. Swearinger and Akeem Auguste has worked to give the Gamecocks something different than what they had in the first game.
Holloman is playing well moving between the field and boundary safety positions. Don’t forget spur Antonio Allen with this group, also. He’s played exceptionally well the past month, including his pick six of Kyle Parker last week.
Similar story for the Tigers. Zac Etheridge, Neiko Thorpe and Demond Washington are among the top six tacklers.
Both defensive backfields have given up a ton of big plays. At least South Carolina’s secondary can say it’s played better in the past month. Still, this is a flimsy edge to project.
Advantage: South Carolina
Neither team has an extreme advantage in this area. Both have excellent kickers. South Carolina’s Spencer Lanning has made 15 of 20 field goals this season, including nine of his past 10 kicks. Auburn’s Wes Byrum has made a ton of clutch kicks in his career, and he’s 15 of 19 this season.
The difference is that Lanning has also developed into a very good punter. He had one of his best punting games last week at Clemson, averaging 43 yards a punt and knocking one out of bounds at the half-yard line. Lanning is averaging 43.8 yards a punt this season, compared to Ryan Shoemaker’s rather pedestrian 39.1 yards a punt.
Neither team has been particularly good in the return game. Auburn’s Demond Washington and South Carolina’s Bryce Sherman have proven to be middling men on kick returns, while the Gamecocks’ Ace Sanders and the Tigers’ Quin Carr have done little on punt returns.
Advantage: South Carolina
Quick math there says Auburn has a 5-3 advantage. And that makes sense when you consider the Tigers are 12–0 and the Gamecocks are 9–3. But, of course, these edges aren’t all there is to a game. Every fit of four quarters has its ebbs and flows, and South Carolina certainly has a chance to win. If the Gamecocks could grab a 20–7 lead and hang around for four quarters at Jordan-Hare, they’ve got what it takes to do it again on a neutral field.
Even if Newton doesn’t beat the Gamecocks with his legs, as he did the first time, there’s always the distinct possibility he could throw to beat a South Carolina secondary that’s had the propensity to give up a deep ball or two in every game. Keep an eye, too, on Lattimore. He couldn’t get going in the first game. In the Gamecocks’ four SEC wins with him (he missed one, due to injury), he rushed for 168 yards a game. In the three losses, including Auburn? Just 47.3 yards a game.
Turnovers, as they so often do, could determine this game of fairly even teams. South Carolina led the turnover battle 2-0 entering the fourth quarter in the first meeting. But it gave the ball away on all four fourth-quarter possessions.
Auburn beat South Carolina 35–27 in September via a fourth-quarter rally. The more things change …
Isn’t it absolutely wonderful in life when things live up to their hype? So rare, but so delightful. And it was a week of met expectations, when you think about it.
Thanksgiving lunch and dinner and leftovers? Check. Check. Check. Iron Bowl? Check.
When Alabama jetted out to a 24–0 lead, did anyone turn the channel? No. First of all, nothing else was on. Secondly, Auburn has taught us lessons all year about starting (extremely) slowly and coming on fiercely. Why would the biggest game of the Tigers’ season play out any differently?
The Tide left a whole bunch of points on the field, no doubt. But those turnovers didn’t cause themselves. As South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier pointed out Sunday, the Tigers might give up a bunch of yards and points, but they always seem to make a play when necessary.
It’s no fluke if you navigate an SEC schedule with a 12–0 record. Especially in a division that features two other 10-win teams — and a nine-win team that won the national title a year ago.
Cam Newton and the Tigers have one more hurdle to clear — one that it’s already cleared once. The Gamecocks were pesky back on Sept. 25, for sure. They led Auburn 20–7 in the second quarter at Jordan-Hare before Newton went into unstoppable mode for, really, the first time all season.
It’ll be interesting to see if that furious rally in Tuscaloosa took anything out of Auburn. That could mean anything at all, mentally or physically.
Auburn has had an amazingly interesting season. But winning so many tight games does take a toll. It has to. Right? Have the Tigers got enough left for one more and then a month to breathe before Oregon or TCU?
Auburn 28, Alabama 27
Tennessee 24, Kentucky 14
Arkansas 31, LSU 23
Florida State 31, Florida 7
Mississippi State 31, Ole Miss 23
South Carolina 29, Clemson 7
Wake Forest 34, Vanderbilt 13
Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 34
BCS championship game: Auburn vs. Oregon
Sugar Bowl: Arkansas vs. Ohio State
Capital One Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State
Cotton Bowl: Louisiana State vs. Oklahoma State
Outback Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Penn State
Chick-fil-A Bowl: South Carolina vs. Florida State
Gator Bowl: Florida vs. Iowa
Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. Central Florida
Music City Bowl: Tennessee vs. North Carolina
Compass Bowl: Kentucky vs. Pitt
• When Arkansas lost Greg Childs for the season, some basically wrote off the Razorbacks’ offense. Or, at least many presumed it would lose a step or two. Sophomore Cobi Hamilton, though, has negated the effect of the loss. Hamilton had 85- and 80-yard touchdowns against LSU on Saturday, providing a Childs-like deep threat for Ryan Mallett. Don’t underestimate, too, what running back Knile Davis has done. Saturday’s 152-yard day gave him four consecutive 100-yard game and fifth in six games. Consider it took Davis, a sophomore, the first four weeks to get to 100 yards. The Hogs are left rooting this week for Auburn. If the Tigers are in the national title game, there’s a good chance that puts Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
• No truly impressive wins, but just the fact that Derek Dooley held Tennessee together enough to reach a bowl game is impressive in and of itself. After a 14-point loss at South Carolina, the Volunteers had lost four in a row and six of seven. Dooley made the bold (and correct) move of going with freshman quarterback Tyler Bray, and immediately Bray breathed life into one of the league’s worst offenses. Bray, who had 354 yards and two scores in increasing UT’s win streak against Kentucky to 26, gives Tennessee fans reasons to be hopeful about the future. That didn’t seem possible a month ago.
• Happy trails to Vandy coach Robbie Caldwell, who decided the head job with the Commodores just wasn’t suited for him. Caldwell seems like a genuinely good dude who, like all those before him, wasn’t up for the impossible task of trying to win at Vandy. Caldwell should land a good O-line job somewhere, if he still wants to coach.
• Seven-win teams never turn down bowl bids, but Florida should consider it. The Gators have gotten progressively worse since beating Georgia in overtime a month ago. A month that Florida has owned in recent years featured two utter embarrassments, to South Carolina and Florida State. Urban Meyer has a pretty pedestrian 16–8 record in games he’s coached at UF without Tim Tebow at quarterback. Makes you wonder about 2011, doesn’t it? Meyer should strongly reconsider sticking with the status quo and Steve Addazio. Meyer conceded after the game that the Gators “are down a little bit.”
• Now that the regular season is done, it’s worth noting just how bad the East was, as a whole. Congrats to South Carolina and everything, because the Gamecocks did what they had to do. But, really, it is unbelievable how down the division was, relative to the West. The East won just three games head to head against West teams. And two — by Vanderbilt and Tennessee — were against an Ole Miss team that finished in the West cellar. Without South Carolina’s signature victory against Alabama, No. 1 at the time, the East would’ve looked even worse. Extending the previous thought about Florida, wonder what this division will look like in 2011. South Carolina, you’d think, will again be in good shape, with Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore back. But what about the rest of the East? SEC Least again?
Stud of the Week
Knile Davis, Arkansas RB. The sophomore is the biggest reason why the Hogs are suddenly in the BCS picture — even more than QB Ryan Mallett.
Dud of the Week
Kentucky. The Wildcats might have to wait another quarter-century for another chance this golden to finally beat Tennessee.
It’s not a large leap to presume there’s some frustration at Mississippi State these days, even in the midst of a very solid 7–4 season. Because the Bulldogs are busy thinking about what might have been.
A three-point home loss to Auburn early in the year. An overtime loss Saturday to Arkansas. Both games in the Valley of the Cowbell.
The exasperating game of what ifs is often so fruitless, but, in fairness, the Bulldogs have been so very close this season to a nine-win year with the Egg Bowl remaining. This, of course, all circles back to wafting waves of pseudo-jealousy about Cam Newton’s last-minute spurn job of Mississippi State (for whatever reasons).
One reporter pointed out Saturday that former MSU quarterback and (partial) whistleblower John Bond was turned into a celeb at the game, prominently finding his way on the school’s HD videoboard during pregame. Bond has been turned into a hero for his efforts to shine a light on Newton’s alleged misdeeds.
Here’s the question, while we’re dealing in hypotheticals: What if he had gone to Mississippi State? What if Newton or his dad had accepted a payment of some kind? Would that have come to light in the midst of an exceptionally good season at Mississippi State? Maybe those lamenting the fact that Newton isn’t in Bulldogs maroon should be happy, really. Might be a lot worse than a 7–4 record, right?
Alabama 63, Georgia State 7
South Carolina 69, Troy 24
Florida 48, Appalachian State 10
LSU 43, Ole Miss 36
Arkansas 38, Mississippi State 31 (2ot)
Tennessee 24, Vanderbilt 10
• Cannot say it enough: Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore have dramatically changed South Carolina’s offense. Consider that the Gamecocks scored 20.6 points a game in 2009 — and they’re putting up 33.6 a game this season. Of course, scoring 69 against Troy on Saturday didn’t hurt. Jeffery and Lattimore got to sit back and enjoy the second half after the Gamecocks led 56–7 through two. That’s new for South Carolina, notorious for playing down to competition. Jeffery, after a five-catch, 123-yard half, now has a school-record 1,210 yards this season. Lattimore, after 102 yards on seven carries, is the school’s first 1,000-yard back since 2000.
• Jordan Reed. Jordan Reed. Jordan Reed. If we keep saying it, perhaps the message will become clearer to Urban Meyer and his band of stubborn Florida coaching cronies. It came against Appalachian State, sure, but Reed showed he can be effective in different ways (four total TDs). He provides the closest thing available to Tim Tebow. And, if Meyer and Steve Addazio are bent on running the same offense, find the next best thing. Let him play. What’s it going to hurt?
• New rule: SEC teams need to stop scheduling FCS teams. We’ll make one caveat: You can schedule one every two seasons, if — and only if — the FCS team is an in-state team, so as to build your state’s college system. Otherwise, what’s the point? Florida plays a Southern Conference team every year. Why? And it’s played Charleston Southern once or twice. Why? Just bring the level of your schedule up, just a touch. Not just the Gators. Georgia just played Idaho State.
Tennessee scheduled Tennessee-Martin. C’mon. We understand there’s design in scheduling a softy between the conference finale and Florida State, but you can do better. You say, well, there are no real FCS possibilities in the state of Florida. For the sake of argument, let’s take former Division I-AA teams Florida Atlantic and Florida International. If you’re going to sink to that level in search of an opponent, go that direction.
• Here’s to you, Carl Moore. The Gators receiver was tossed out of his own Senior Day for fighting with an FCS player. He played, oh, about a quarter of the game before his ejection. If any of Moore’s family traveled from California for the game, we hope Moore has or will appropriately apologize. That’s embarrassing, both for Moore and the Gators. No reason for that at all. Regrettable for a lifetime, really. Moore might be suspended for part of this week’s Florida State game, as well.
Stud of the Week
South Carolina. A week after one of the biggest wins in school history, at Florida, the Gamecocks followed up with the fifth-most points in the program’s history. Lot of momentum heading into the Clemson and SEC title games.
Dud of the Week
The schedule. Real dearth of activity in the league, beyond the good one in Starkville.
Troy (5-4) at No. 17 South Carolina (7-3), 12:21 p.m., ET
TV: SEC Network
The dangers are inherent in this game. It’s a movie we’ve seen before: Win big game, flop the next week. But South Carolina will be mindful of the horror flick that was the second half at Kentucky. And it’ll learn from said lesson.
Look for a whole mess of points. Troy throws an average of 42 passes a game, but the Trojans are 103rd in the country in total defense. They just allowed 52 points to Florida International last week. Will the Gamecocks be looking ahead to Clemson and the SEC title game? Naturally. But they’ll have enough to make this relatively easy.
Player to Watch: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina RB. Following up that 212-yard show at Florida, the freshman could rush for 100 yards in his sleep this week.
Appalachian State (9-1) at Florida (6-4), 12:30 p.m., ET
Florida continues its tradition of following the SEC regular-season finale with a SoCon team. (It was The Citadel a year ago, the Big South’s Charleston Southern the year before that. Too bad the College of Charleston doesn’t have a team.)
Appalachian State, as history tells us, presents more of a challenge than those other teams. These aren’t the Mountaineers of the earlier part of the decade, but they were ranked No. 1 in FCS for a time and they’re currently No. 2 in that poll. This is no slouch program, or “clown show” as Urban Meyer put it earlier in the week.
This would be a great opportunity for the Gators to iron out their offensive deficiencies. Specifically, Meyer needs to play Jordan Reed for an extended time at QB and see if he can piece together a gameplan for Florida State next week. Otherwise, UF might be looking at the unthinkable in Meyer’s sixth season: A seven-win season. This week is no gimme, either.
Player to Watch: Chris Rainey, Florida AP. App State has speed, but not Rainey speed.
Ole Miss (4-6, 1-5) at LSU (9-1, 5-1), 2:30 p.m., CT
Houston Nutt’s impassioned plea for patience this week was just sort of sad. Just really whiny and desperate, really. We all know this isn’t Nutt’s best team at Ole Miss. That’s fine. Just play on. We don’t need a lengthy sob story about injuries and blah, blah, blah.
Nutt said part of the speech’s message was to get the team fired up for the remaining games, against LSU and Mississippi State. In reality, especially after Tennessee put up 52 on the Rebs last week, it sounded as if Nutt was just preparing for the reality of two lopsided losses.
This will be one. LSU is a team motivated by the notion that, if things shake out a certain way, the Tigers could be right in the middle of the national title picture. Maybe they won’t, but they’ve got to keep winning to have that remote shot.
Player to Watch: Jordan Jefferson, LSU QB. He needs to continue the play he showed in the Alabama game in preparing for Arkansas next week.
No. 13 Arkansas (8-2, 4-2) at No. 22 Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3), 6 p.m., CT
A subtly big game in terms of shaping the postseason picture. Both are in line for New Year’s Day bowls, but which ones? Jerry Jones would love to have alma mater Arkansas in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl, even though the Hogs already played one game this season at Cowboys Stadium.
Mississippi State wants to shake off whatever that was last week at Alabama and prove it’s deserving of, perhaps, the Outback or Cotton bowls. It needs a win Saturday to get to the latter. With just a win next week against Ole Miss, it essentially guarantees it will be in either Atlanta or Tampa.
Arkansas, with Knile Davis and the added feature of the run game, is just too tough right now. Too much offense for even the vaunted cowbell.
Player to Watch: Ryan Mallett, Arkansas QB. Closes strong and could still nab second-team All-SEC QB.
Still a meaningful November game for Tennessee, but not in the way the Volunteers are used to. Usually they’re gunning for a New Year’s Day bowl slot. This year, they just want a postseason spot, period. And they’re going to have to scramble to get there.
But the blowout of Ole Miss — which delivered Derek Dooley his first SEC victory, at long last — inspired some bowl hope. Freshman Tyler Bray has 10 TDs in the past three weeks, with half of those coming against SEC opponents. He seems to be picking up confidence as he goes.
Talented freshman Justin Hunter had three catches last week, and two were for touchdowns.
Vanderbilt will provide nothing more than a speed bump, setting up a rather big game next week between Kentucky and Tennessee. The Wildcats haven’t beaten UT since the Civil War, or something like that. And the Vols will need that one to become bowl-eligible.
Player to Watch: Justin Hunter, Tennessee WR. Still learning the Vols’ playbook, but his natural talent is shining against these weaker late-season opponents.
The scene and location sure felt familiar, the Ball Coach being doused with Gatorade and carried off Florida Field. But in black, with a chicken on his polo? We knew it would be fitting for Steve Spurrier to go back to the Swamp and deliver South Carolina’s first SEC East title. But 36–14?
The Gators don’t lose games like that, and they certainly don’t lose them at home. The Gamecocks don’t win games like that, and they certainly don’t win them in November.
The Twilight Zone of the division has arrived, it seems, with South Carolina earning a berth to Atlanta. No, in reality, Marcus Lattimore has arrived. The three teams the Gamecocks needed to climb over in the East — the only three to win the division since the split in 1992 — were Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. Well, Lattimore rushed for 182 yards against Georgia, 184 against Tennessee and 212 against Florida. That’s 578 yards against the division’s traditional powers. And three wins against them. UT’s Derek Dooley called Lattimore “Secretariat.” Urban Meyer didn’t even want to mention him afterward.
“It’s got to be frustrating for people to watch him run up and down the field,” Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia said.
South Carolina led 20–7 in the first half at Auburn on Sept. 25 before Garcia fumbled twice in the fourth quarter to help the Tigers rally for a 35–27 victory. Let’s see if the Gamecocks have anything for the encore in three weeks.
Lattimore had just 33 yards on 14 carries in the first meeting. Keep that in mind.
Tennessee 52, Ole Miss 14
Kentucky 38, Vanderbilt 20
Auburn 49, Georgia 31
Arkansas 58, UTEP 21
LSU 51, UL Monroe 0
South Carolina 36, Florida 14
Alabama 30, Mississippi State 10
• Like in that game, Auburn was up to its old trick Saturday against Georgia of starting slow and then coming on oh-so-strong in the final quarter or two. Cam Newton was Cam Newton. The guy is unbelievable on third-and-short. Every bit the master of conversions that Tim Tebow ever was. And he is a better thrower than Tebow. The touchdowns to Philip Lutzenkirchen were darts. Newton missed just two throws in the first half. The first was a deflected interception that went through the hands of young receiver Emory Blake. The second was a deep ball that Mario Fannin alligator-armed.
Newton’s running ability is so special that it often masks how good of a passer he is most of the time. Of course, his ability to run does open that up quite a bit. Seriously, the only thing that can stop this guy is the NCAA’s rulebook.
• Randall Cobb reminded us all he is very good, running for 170 yards against Vanderbilt on just 10 carries, aided by a 73-yard touchdown run. He added 56 receiving yards as well. Kentucky fans are wondering if that’s the last they’ll see of Cobb at Commonwealth Stadium. He’s hinted recently about the idea of leaving early. And, well, he’s ready.
• Alabama finally looked like Alabama again, physically dominating Saturday against Mississippi State. Even without Trent Richardson, the Tide balanced its runs and carries through seven different players for 175 yards. Mark Ingram also had a 78-yard touchdown on a screen pass, showing some speed that, frankly, has been lacking this season. (You almost forget he’s there, don’t you? Abnormal for a Heisman winner.)
The Tide defense was swarming and swallowed up what speed Mississippi State has recruited and developed. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Alabama favored in two weeks when it hosts Auburn. The Tigers have the week off before the Iron Bowl. Bama, playing Georgia State on Thursday, might as well.
• Is this when we ask why Tyler Bray didn’t start playing until a couple of weeks ago? Maybe he wasn’t ready, but he sure looks that way now for Tennessee.
• That Ughban Meyer offense showed up again, and at an incredibly inopportune time. The Gators were just fooling themselves if they thought they got well against Vanderbilt. (Besides, special teams and defensive plays led to points and short fields in that game.) You’ve got to feel for John Brantley at this point, because his coaches are sitting idly while he’s eaten alive by opposing teams — and the home fans. This isn’t Brantley’s fault. He’s not built for the scheme that Florida insists on running. The world, beyond Meyer and Steve Addazio, knows that. Brantley has to know that.
You know what teams do when they have a good quarterback — or running back or receiver — who doesn’t quite fit into a system? They adjust the system. Florida’s offense, which had 67 yards through three quarters Saturday, is so bad that it probably uses that hurry-up stuff just to get off the field faster. It’s embarrassing that Meyer can’t find something that works, considering the amount of talented players in his offensive meetings.
• Things got chippy in the final quarter between Auburn and Georgia. It’s unfortunate. And it’s Nick Fairley’s fault. The Auburn D-tackle, an outstanding player, needs to tone it down. This personal assault on quarterbacks — especially after plays are over — needs to stop.
Georgia’s players retaliated late in the game, which is certainly stooping to the opponent’s level. But after watching Fairley unfairly put his helmet in Aaron Murray’s back, who wouldn’t be chapped?
• LSU and The Hat won 51–0. That’s boring. The Tigers are back in SEC action the next two weeks, against Ole Miss and Arkansas. We’re hopeful that will provide more Miles theater. And punchlines.
Stud of the Week
Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina RB. The league’s top statistical running back carried the Gamecocks to Atlanta.
Dud of the Week
Urban Meyer, Florida coach. That was your gameplan? Really?