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August 30, 2013

THE WAIT IS OVER: Predictions on games around the country this weekend

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Everyone likes making predictions.

You do. I do. It’s a fun diversion, especially when you don’t have to worry about losing any money on the outcome of the games. (Well, at least I don’t.) Each Friday afternoon, I’ll make my picks on 15 different games around the country, with scores included for each one. And yes, I’ll even pick Auburn’s game every week, too. (I’m already preparing myself for derision the first time I pick against the Tigers. Such is life.)Auburn Spring Football

Now, to the picks. (Please note that all times listed are Eastern. Thanks in advance.)

Strictly SEC

Toledo at No. 10 Florida, 12:21 p.m.

This game might sound like an easy win for the Gators on paper, but don’t underestimate the Rockets. They return three big-time playmakers in running back David Fluellen, receiver Bernard Reedy and quarterback Terrance Owens. Fluellen is undoubtedly the top threat after rushing for 1,498 yards last season. And be aware Florida will also have five starters missing from the game due to injury, with right tackle Chaz Green and right guard Jon Halapio gone as well as running back Matt Jones. Those losses don’t help a unit already lacking much of a punch.

Florida will be fortunate to escape by the skin of its teeth.

Black picks: Gators 24, Rockets 21

Rice at No. 7 Texas A&M, 1 p.m.

Most years, this game would draw little attention. Then Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel went and won himself a Heisman last year. Throw in all of his off-the-field issues since the end of last season — and the fact he’ll be sitting out the first half of this game due to “secondary violations” of the NCAA rules on allowing an athlete’s likeness to be used for commercial purposes — and anyone who calls themselves a college football fan will be following the happenings in College Station closely. Has the second half of a regular season game ever been more anticipated?

It might not be competitive, but it will be compelling.

Black picks: Aggies 52, Owls 10

Mississippi State vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State (at Reliant Stadium in Houston), 3:30 p.m.

The Bulldogs’ top three pass-catchers from last season are gone. That’s not good news knowing that you normally have to score points in bunches to beat the Pokes.

Black picks: Cowboys 41, Bulldogs 20

Louisiana-Lafayette at Arkansas, 4 p.m.

“Real American football” gets off to a good start in Fayetteville, Ark., on Saturday afternoon, but the Ragin’ Cajuns will make them work for it until midway through the fourth quarter.

Black picks: Razorbacks 34, Ragin’ Cajuns 24

Virginia Tech vs. No. 1 Alabama (at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta), 5:30 p.m.

These ain’t your grandfather’s (or your father’s) Hokies. Virginia Tech isn’t ranked and is coming off a lackluster 7-6 showing last season. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, resemble the program people would recall during the halcyon days of Bear Bryant, which is bad news for Frank Beamer’s crew in this contest. Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler — who, you might remember, held the same position at Auburn last year — will once again “match wits” against Nick Saban and Kirby Smart.

This won’t end well.

Black picks: Crimson Tide 41, Hokies 10

Austin Peay at Tennessee, 6 p.m.

The Volunteers help Butch Jones begin his tenure at Tennessee with a ‘W.’ It only gets tougher from here, though, as they’ll have faced Florida and Oregon (on the road in both) before September is over.

Black picks: Volunteers 38, Governors 14

Western Kentucky vs. Kentucky (at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.), 7 p.m.

My head is urging me not to pick against Bobby Petrino. But something tells me that somehow, someway, first-year coach Mark Stoops isn’t going to let the Wildcats lose this game. And for his sake, the result better not be a one-sided loss, lest he wants to hear from a fan base that will wonder why the Wildcats didn’t give Petrino — a former Louisville coach who tortured Kentucky during his time there — a chance to run their program since he was in the market for a job during the offseason.

Black picks: Wildcats 42, Hilltoppers 38

Murray State at Missouri, 7 p.m.

After an injury-plagued 2012 season, Tigers quarterback James Franklin gets back on the right track with this layup game in the season opener. Here’s another mini-prediction: Dorial Beckham-Green goes for 200-plus receiving yards and two touchdowns in this one.

Black picks: Tigers 55, Racers 14

No. 20 TCU vs. No. 12 LSU (at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas), 9 p.m.

Both teams have question marks on offense. For LSU, it’s whether running back Jeremy Hill will start after being reinstated to the team during the offseason — or will he play at all? Tigers head coach Les Miles has played coy all week. TCU still hasn’t announced which quarterback — senior Casey Pachall or sophomore Trevone Boykin — will take the field with the first-team unit. These schools have always been known for their defenses, and it should be no different this year, even with LSU losing eight defenders to the NFL after last season.

It should be a good one, but when in doubt, go with the SEC team. (It usually pays off, after all.)

Black picks: Tigers 31, Horned Frogs 20

Other National Games of Some Renown

Louisiana-Monroe at Oklahoma, 7 p.m.

As many recall, the Warhawks came within a whisker of starting 3-0 last season, dropping Arkansas in the season opener and suffering close losses to Auburn (in overtime) and Baylor (which won 47-42). They’ll push the Sooners for a half or so in this one, but “Big Game Bob” Stoops normally takes care of business in regular season games at home, posting an incredible 81-5  (94.2 percent) record since taking over in 1999.

Black picks: Sooners 52, Warhawks 24

No. 19 Boise State at Washington, 10 p.m.

Isn’t absence supposed to make the heart grow fonder? Heck, these two teams closed last season against each other in the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas, with the Broncos coming out on top 28-26. Obviously, Boise State head coach Chris Petersen’s record (84-8 in eight seasons) is impossible to knock, but his team isn’t unbeatable. In fact, it lost its opening game last season to Michigan State. It says here that the Huskies, who return 20 starters from 2012, make that to two years in a row.

Black picks: Huskies 38, Broncos 28

No. 22 Northwestern at California, 10:30 p.m.

Sonny Dykes is an offensive whiz, as he proved last year when his Louisiana Tech squad led the nation in scoring at 51.5 points per game. In the wide-open, pass-happy Pac-12, he’s the perfect fit to turn the Golden Bears around. It just won’t happen against Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who is 7-0 in season openers. This should be a whale of game, but the bigger question is this: Will you stay up to watch it?

Black picks: Wildcats 30, Golden Bears 27

No. 11 Florida State at Pittsburgh (Monday), 8 p.m.

Mark it down: Hueytown, Ala., native (and new Seminoles signal-caller) Jameis Winston will make a few highlight reel plays on Monday en route to leading Florida State to a season-opening victory on the road.

Black picks: Seminoles 31, Panthers 10

The Game You Really Care About

Washington State at Auburn, 7 p.m.

For those who joined the live chat on Thursday, this pick won’t come as a surprise: I predicted the Tigers will win by two touchdowns in Gus Malzahn’s debut as the head coach on the Plains. Yes, the Cougars pass-heavy attack will test a Tigers secondary weakened due to mitigating factors (Jonathan Jones’ injury, Demetruce McNeal’s dismissal). As the game goes on, however, Auburn’s physicality up front will wear its opponent down, creating holes for Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Nick Marshall to gash the Cougars for big plays.

And since everyone always asks about Marshall, I’ll say he ends with just over 300 yards of total offense: 217 passing yards (one touchdown, no interceptions) and 84 rushing yards (one touchdown).

Toomer’s Corner should be rocking.

Black picks: Tigers 31, Cougars 17

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson, 8 p.m.

I’ve gone back-and-forth on this matchup. The teams are nearly identical: great on offense and mediocre on defense. Points should be aplenty, but I’ll take the Bulldogs in a nail-biter.

(Though if it comes down to a field goal, Georgia will likely be kicking itself — pardon the pun — since starting kicker Marshall Morgan will likely miss the game due to an offseason arrest for boating under the influence. As Steve Spurrier would point out, Morgan kept up a long tradition of Georgia players doing stupid things to get them suspended for early-season games.)

Black’s pick: Bulldogs 45, Tigers 38

August 27, 2013

7 at 7: A look around the NCAA

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — There have been both long and short versions of “7 at 7″ before.

Consider this one the latter. Starting this week and tentatively scheduled to run for the duration of the football season, Tuesday’s “7 at 7″ will have links from across the country, highlighting the biggest stories and (what I consider to be) the best pieces of writing. There should be a full schedule posted later today of what content to expect each day of the week.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reportedly met with NCAA investigators for six hours on Sunday. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reportedly met with NCAA investigators for six hours on Sunday. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Stay tuned.

1. The curious case of Johnny Manziel’s autograph odyssey could be coming closer to a resolution. According to a source close to the investigation, the NCAA met with the sophomore quarterback for six hours on Sunday.

2. Former Auburn running back Michael Dyer will likely get his fair share of carries at Louisville this season; however, he won’t be the starter in the Cardinals’ opening game. That honor goes to senior Senorise Perry.

3. A pair of teams finally named their starting quarterbacks on Monday:  Justin Worley will enter the year as Tennessee’s signal-caller, while Jake Waters will be the man running Kansas State’s offense this season.

4. Paul Myerberg of USA Today gives you five coaches to know heading into the season — that is, if you haven’t brushed up on them already.

5. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was one of the first people to reach out and aid Alabama in April 2011 following a string of tornadoes that ripped through the state.

6. Oklahoma is dealing with an array of arrests as it prepares for its season opener against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday. Offensive lineman Jake Reed was arrested and charged with one count of first-degree burglary, one count of assault and battery and one count of domestic abuse after breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s home and threatening to kill another man. He has already been suspended from the team and the university while the case continues. Two other Sooners arrested during the offseason — starting cornerback Cortez Johnson and starting defensive tackle Chuka Ndulue — will sit out Saturday’s game as part of their punishment.

7. We end with a feature on former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, now the head man at Cincinnati. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports writes that the 59-year old is happier than he’s ever been. He also noted Tuberville’s personal golf cart — which he first used at Auburn and then took with him to Texas Tech and now Cincinnati — is still going strong.

July 21, 2013

SEC Preseason Power Rankings: Day 1

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

The SEC Media Days are over. For just about all involved, this is a relief. But teams don’t open camp until the beginning of next month. The season itself doesn’t start until the last week of August. Needless to say, we have time (and space, though this term should be loosely given the unlimited expanse of the Internet) to fill before the 2013 campaign gets rolling.SEC_new_logo

So what better time to unveil a preseason power rankings poll among teams in the SEC? Starting today and ending next Saturday, we’ll count down the teams, two at a time, from worst to first. The format will involve a “best-case/worst-case” scenario for each team, taking our cues from former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter’s piece from three years ago.

Where will two-time defending national champion Alabama rank? How about Auburn? Texas A&M? Georgia? South Carolina?

Let’s start answering those questions now, featuring the two teams looking up at the rest of the conference heading into the fall. (And please, as Bitter said in his preseason power rankings article from 2010, remember all scenarios “are meant to be hyperbolic.) …

14. KENTUCKY

New Wildcats coach Mark Stoops didn’t say anything particularly enlightening during SEC Media Days. He dodged the toughest question directed his way, which involved his older brother, Bob, the head coach at Oklahoma. Had the younger Stoops talked to his brother about comments the elder Stoops made earlier this offseason, which took shots at the SEC by saying its perceived dominance was “a lot of propaganda?”Kentucky-logoA

“Not really, to be honest with you,” Mark said on Wednesday. “It didn’t surprise me. We talk a lot. But I wasn’t at Kentucky last year, so (it) didn’t offend me that bad.”

While this season will likely be a struggle on the field, Stoops has hit the ground running in recruiting, picking up six commits from Class of 2014 prospects ranked four-stars or better.

  • Best-case scenario: Kentucky escapes with a win against Bobby Petrino-led Western Kentucky in the opener, then makes it two in a row against Miami of Ohio. The Wildcats lose a tight game to arch-rival Louisville in Week 3, as Teddy Bridgewater throws the go-ahead touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. That loss is followed by three more — to Florida, South Carolina and Alabama — but Kentucky acquits itself well in each game. The Wildcats get their first big road victory of the Stoops era when they leave Starkville, Miss., with a win over Mississippi State, ease past Alabama State and cap the season with a home victory over Tennessee. Five wins for Stoops in his first year can’t be considered anything other than a success. The Wildcats continue to do well on the recruiting trail, and people start to think a bowl is a real possibility in 2014. Best of all, football holds fans’ attention for a few days longer than normal before they start trying to memorize the bios of every player on the basketball team. Meanwhile, the preseason hype of Bridgewater possibly being a Heisman contender never materializes, as the Cardinals fall flat on their face in conference play. Losing a pair of winnable games to Houston and South Florida, any hopes Louisville had of landing an outside shot at the national title with an undefeated season (and a lot of luck) go up in smoke.
  • Worst-case scenario: Petrino rides out of Nashville, Tenn., on his motorcycle — by himself, and without wrecking — with a victory in the season opener, spoiling Stoops’ debut and leading some Wildcats’ fans to question why they didn’t make a more concerted effort to hire the former Louisville and Arkansas coach despite his checkered past. That defeat sends Kentucky’s 2013 season into a tailspin. The Wildcats win just twice (against Miami of Ohio and Alabama State) and get blown out in every game against a highly-ranked foe, with the low point being a 70-3 obliteration at home courtesy of Louisville — the second-most lopsided score in the history of the series, trailing only Kentucky’s 73-0 win in 1922 — and causing disgusted Big Blue fans to head for the exits minutes before halftime. In two games against opponents thought to be of equal measure, the Wildcats can’t hold up at home against either Missouri or Tennessee. The goodwill built up during the Wildcats’ record spring game attendance (over 50,000 fans) and on the recruiting trail quickly dissipate. The rebuilding is going to take even longer than Stoops had anticipated. Worst of all, Kentucky fans never give football a second thought, too busy looking at the latest high school basketball phenoms — and future one-and-done collegiate players — John Calipari has signed as the hoopsters gear up for another run at the Final Four. Meanwhile, Bridgewater is a Heisman finalist after a fantastic season which sees him throw for over 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns (against only eight interceptions). Though the Cardinals finish 12-0, their weak American Athletic Conference schedule does them no favors, and they get passed over for a shot at the national title game. Instead, they head to the Fiesta Bowl, taking on the artist formerly known as “Big Game Bob” Stoops and his Oklahoma Sooners. Louisville wins 31-20, improving to 2-0 against the Stoops family in 2013 to complete the best season in school history.

13. TENNESSEE

Yes, joining Kentucky in the bottom of the rankings is Tennessee, its fellow SEC East cellar dweller last season. The Volunteers went 1-7 in league play last year, with the solitary ‘W’ coming against the Wildcats in the season finale; by that time, Derek Dooley had already been fired as Tennessee’s coach, while Kentucky’s Joker Phillips was coaching his last game, having been told weeks earlier he wouldn’t return.

Tennessee should be able to count on its offensive line (four starters returning) and a strong running game (its top two rushers in 2012 in Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane are back) this season. But there are gaping holes everywhere else. Quarterback Tyler Bray and the team’s top four receivers from last season — most notably Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter — have departed. That’s not even mentioning the Volunteers’ defense, which will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. The unit had one of the most dismal seasons in the school’s storied history in 2012, allowing 471.33 yards and 35.67 points per game, respectively, with both marks being SEC-worsts.The-University-of-Tennessee-Knoxville-01742867

Much like Stoops, first-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones has done an incredible job on the recruiting trail, with the Volunteers’ 2014 class checking in at No. 1 in the latest team rankings for all three major recruiting sites in Rivals, Scout and 247.

The problem for Tennessee, of course, is none of those players will be able to help this fall.

  • Best-case scenario: Tennessee runs out to a 2-0 start behind victories over Austin Peay and Western Kentucky before hitting the meat of its schedule. The next six games has Tennessee facing five teams ranked in the top 25 — Oregon, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. The Volunteers go 1-4 during that brutal stretch, stealing a game against Georgia at home. Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray, attempting to lead a game-winning drive, has a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage, which ends up in the hands of Georgia native and Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson to seal the upset. After tossing South Alabama aside, Tennessee has four wins in the bag, needing just two more to get to bowl eligibility in Jones’ debut season. Though Tennessee loses to Vanderbilt again, the Volunteers pick up three victories, beating Missouri, Auburn and Kentucky. Who cares if they have to go to Shreveport, La. for the Independence Bowl? It’s still a bowl. There, Tennessee faces another team with a first-year coach in North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren. The Volunteers dispatch the Wolfpack just like they did in the 2012 season opener in the Georgia Dome, winning 31-17 behind three touchdowns (two rushing and one receiving) from Neal. The good vibes carry over into the offseason, as the Volunteers sign one of the top classes in the country. With eight wins in his first season and a highly-touted freshman class set to arrive next fall, talk turns to a possible SEC East title for Tennessee in 2014. Some fans lead a viral campaign to have Cincinnati’s 45-23 loss to Tennessee in 2011 — when Jones was the Bearcats’ coach — expunged from the record books, even hiring the Arkansas fans who courted Jon Gruden with a stirring rendition of “Hey Grude” to come up with a Beatles-inspired song to express their feelings. (For the record, they settle on reworking the lyrics to “Yesterday,” stating how long ago both the Lane Kiffin and Dooley eras feel now that Jones has put his stamp on the program.)
  • Worst-case scenario: The Volunteers start off 1-0 after easily beating Austin Peay in the opener … but that’s as good as it gets. Western Kentucky comes into Neyland Stadium the following week and knocks off the Volunteers, helping Petrino go 2-0 on his “SEC Revenge Tour 2013: The Schools Who Had Openings During the Offseason and Didn’t Hire Me” after dropkicking Kentucky in the season opener. Things only get worse from there, as Tennessee loses all five games it plays against ranked opponents in its next six games — comprised of Oregon, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama — with the only reprieve in that span coming against South Alabama. The season ends with three more defeats (Missouri, Vanderbilt and Auburn), salvaging the season finale against Kentucky for the second straight year to finish 3-9. By then, the excitement surrounding Jones is long gone. The highly-regarded 2014 recruiting class comes apart at the seams, with commits jumping ship as the Volunteers’ season capsizes. There is no talk of a possible SEC title run, and fans start to express their frustration with missing a bowl for the third straight season — the first time that has occurred at Tennessee since a four-year drought from 1975-78 — by wondering aloud why they hired a coach who couldn’t even beat Dooley when he was at Cincinnati. Some fans take it a step further, hiring the Arkansas fans who serenaded Jon Gruden with an impassioned plea to take the Razorbacks’ job last year to take the opposite tack on a Volunteers-centric song with Jones, dripping with vicious cynicism in every line. (For the record, they settle on reworking the lyrics to “Get Back,” which articulates their belief that Jones should “Go back to Cincinnati!” Somewhere, my predecessor, Aaron Brenner, is smiling.)

July 14, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Tennessee

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On Day 5, we continue with the Tennessee Volunteers. The Tigers will travel to Knoxville, Tenn., to face the Volunteers in Game No. 10 this fall.

Who:  Tennessee

When: Saturday, Nov. 9

Where: Neyland Stadium (102,455) | Knoxville, Tenn.

All-time series: Auburn leads 27-21-3

When last they met:The-University-of-Tennessee-Knoxville-01742867 When Auburn traveled to Neyland Stadium in 2009, Gene Chizik was still in his honeymoon period as the Tigers coach. Auburn was 4-0 heading into the game, and Tennessee provided an opportunity for the Tigers to pick up the first signature win of Chizik’s tenure. And the Tigers went out and did exactly that, grabbing a lead in the first quarter and never trailing in the 26-22 victory, marking Auburn’s fifth straight win over Tennessee, its longest streak in a series that dates back to 1900. The Tigers jumped out to a 13-0 lead following running back Ben Tate’s 11-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The teams then went on a series of scoring runs until Auburn kicker Wes Byrum nailed a 22-yard field goal with 39 seconds remaining to extend the Tigers’ advantage to 26-16 and put the game out of reach. Tennessee added one more six-pointer, as quarterback Jonathan Crompton connected on a 32-yard touchdown pass to wideout Denarius Moore as time expired to cut the final margin to 26-22. The Volunteers declined to kick an extra point. Auburn used this win to improve to 5-0 on the season — its best start since 2006 — but the zero in the loss column was erased the following week,  losing at Arkansas in the first of what would be three straight defeats. Auburn went on to finish with an 8-5 record in Chizik’s debut season. Meanwhile, this 26-22 defeat dropped Tennessee to 2-3 overall and 0-2 in conference play. The Volunteers would circle the wagons the following week, decimating Georgia in a dominant 45-19 home victory. Tennessee continued to be a streaky squad for the remainder of 2009, but it still managed to put together a winning season (7-5) in Kiffin’s first year.

The coach: Butch Jones (First year as Tennessee’s head coach; 50-27 record overall, going 23-14 in three seasons at Cincinnati from 2010-12 and 27-13 in three seasons at Central Michigan from 2007-09)

2012 record: 5-7, 1-7 SEC; finished in sixth place in SEC East

Total offense: 475.92 ypg (18th in Division, 2nd in SEC)

Scoring offense: 36.17 ppg (22nd, 4th)

Total defense: 471.33 ypg (107th, 14th)

Scoring defense: 35.67 ppg (104th, 14th)

2012 Year-in-Review: The numbers above should be able to tell it all. The Volunteers had an explosive passing attack, averaging over 315 yards per game behind quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter. They also had the fourth-best scoring offense in the league, just a tick above 36 points per contest. But Tennessee’s rushing attack proved inconsistent when it was called upon to help run time off the clock and hold leads. Even the most time-consuming offense imaginable might not have been enough when you trot out a defense like the Volunteers had last season, though. Tennessee wasn’t just bad; it was historically, embarrassingly bad. The unit ranked in the bottom quarter of the conference in every major statistical category. In some areas, the Volunteers were the league-worst, such as total defense and scoring defense. (Again, see numbers above.) The defense gave up nearly 190 yards per game on the ground, which ranked ahead of only Auburn in the SEC. The low point of the 2012 season — in a year filled with innumerable moments Tennessee fans would rather forget — came in a too-close-for-comfort win against Troy on Nov. 3. The Volunteers escaped with a victory (and escaped is putting it lightly), but not without the Trojans taking a blow-torch to Tennessee’s record book in the 55-48 scoring fest. The Sun Belt Conference school, which came into the game with a .500 record, racked up a mind-numbing 721 yards (496 passing, 225 rushing) of total offense in defeat, setting a new standard for a Tennessee opponent. That victory moved the Volunteers to 4-5 overall, but the momentum was short-lived, as they lost back-to-back games to Missouri (51-48 at home in overtime) and Vanderbilt (a 41-18 shellacking on the road). After the 23-point loss to the Commodores — which marked the most points they’ve scored against the Vols since a 51-7 obliteration in 1923 and their largest margin of over Tennessee since a 26-0 win in 1954 — Derek Dooley was finally relieved of his duties as coach. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was promoted to interim coach for Tennessee’s regular season finale against Kentucky. The Volunteers beat the Wildcats 37-17 to make sure they wouldn’t go winless in the SEC for the first time in school history. (And here, let us pause as all Tennessee fans give thanks that Kentucky fields a football team.)

Biggest area of concern: No surprise here: The Volunteers have to find a way to replace the production of the departed Bray, Patterson and Hunter. At quarterback, Justin Worley will likely step in after appearing in nine games in his Volunteers career. Though he didn’t start a game last season, he was in the starting lineup three times during the 2011 season, experience the two other contenders for the job — redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and true freshman Riley Ferguson — can’t say. The receiving corps, on the other hand, was decimated last season. The Volunteers lost their top four players in terms of receiving yardage in Hunter, Patterson, tight end Mychal Rivera and wide receiver Zach Rogers. Alton Howard, listed as “Pig Howard” on Tennessee’s official roster, is the leading returner at wide receiver in receptions (13), and expect that total to vastly improve this year. The Volunteers also have a backfield that can buttress their passing game, as both senior Rajion Neal and junior Marlin Lane are blessed with good hands. The duo combined for 377 yards (on 48 catches) and four touchdowns in 2012.

Key returning player/unit: Aside from quarterback and wide receiver, Tennessee brings back a wealth of experience elsewhere on offense. Four starters on the line return, led by left tackle Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, a 6-foot-6, 332-pound behemoth. He is joined by center James Stone, right guard Zach Fulton and right tackle Ju’Wuan James. No matter who starts at quarterback or eventually develops at receiver, the line should be able to provide ample time for Neal and Lane to find running lanes for big chunks of yardage.

Extra point: Dooley left with the lowest winning percentage (.417, 15-21 overall) of any Volunteers coach with at least three seasons on the job. You have to go back over 100 years to find the next-lowest in George Levene, who held the position from 1907-09. But even he won nearly 60 percent of his games, going 15-10-3 (.589) in his three years leading the Tennessee football program.

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January 26, 2013

Blue-chip RB Derrick Green selects Michigan; also considered Auburn and Tennessee

AUBURN, Ala. – 5-star prospect Derrick Green, the consensus top-rated running back recruit in the nation, announced his commitment to Michigan Saturday, picking the Wolverines over Auburn and Tennessee.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Green’s hometown newspaper, broadcast his hat ceremony and announcement via UStream.

Positioned in front of Green from his left to right was an orange Tennessee cap, a gray Auburn cap and a blue Michigan cap.

Fielding more than 30 official offers, the 6-foot, 220-pound Green has recorded a 4.4 40-yard-dash. He rushed for 1,350 yards and 21 touchdowns his senior year for a Hermitage (Va.) squad which scored nearly five times more points than its opponents.

Green is the No. 8 overall recruit in the nation according to Rivals.com, but he would have been more a luxury than a necessity for Auburn. The Tigers still have two more years each of 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason and recent signee Cameron Artis-Payne, the top juco back in the country available this offseason.

November 28, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Bowl Season Edition

AUBURN, Ala. – I need a break from the words “Gene Chizik”, “sources”, “buyout”, “decommit”, “Bobby Petrino”, “sources” again, “Kirby Smart”, “Jetgate”, “SportsbyBrooks”, “Charles Barkley”, “show cause penalty” and “sources” a third time just because, yeah, seriously, it’s getting repetitive.

We interrupt this lead-in to inform you because I successfully used all those words in one sentence, and tagged this blog post as such, this is now the eighth-highest clicked article in Internet history. (The first seven all just list the word ‘Tebow’ over and over again.)

Anyway, you’ll find none of those words in my final SEC Power Rankings of the year. Enjoy the reprieve. I know I will. It won’t last long.

By the way, unless a new coach is named Friday (don’t do it, Auburn), I will be at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, joined by L-E preps writer David Mitchell (@leprepsports) and supplementing the already-fine coverage of Mark Edwards (who covers Alabama at @DailyEdwards) and Seth Emerson (Georgia, @SethEmerson). So follow along for that.

It should be a fantastic game. At least, I was told so by reports from an unnamed source with information close to the situation.

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All rankings BCS**

1) No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: beat Auburn 49-0

The back eight seems impenetrable. There’s really any number of ‘player of the year’ candidates on this team, which I will go ahead and name for each of the SEC squads. C.J. Mosley, Dee Milliner, Robert Lester, it’s just an uber-dominant defense. Good luck out there, Aaron Murray.

Next: SEC Championship Game vs. No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1), 3 p.m. CT | CBS

Player of the Year: C.J. Mosley, jr., LB

Bowl prediction: BCS National Championship

2) No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1); LW, 2

Last week: beat Georgia Tech 42-10

Oh, but Murray will have plenty of help. Todd Gurley’s the SEC’s best back, Keith Marshall’s the best backup back in the league, Jarvis Jones is maybe the best linebacker in the country. This should be a phenomenal game at the Georgia Dome.

Next: SEC Championship Game vs. No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1), 3 p.m. CT | CBS

Player of the Year: Aaron Murray, jr., QB

Bowl prediction: Capital One Bowl

3) No. 9 Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC); LW, 3

Last week: beat Missouri 59-29

Manziel, not Boyziel. Despite not speaking once to the media during the year, he’ll handle himself brilliantly in New York City a week from Saturday.

Player of the Year: Johnny Manziel, fr., QB

Bowl prediction: Cotton Bowl

4) No. 4 Florida (11-1, 7-1); LW, 5

Last week: beat No. 10 Florida State 37-26

The Gators have not allowed a single rushing gain longer than 24 yards all year. Filthy. And now they just hung 37 on the Seminoles in Tallahassee? You earned your Sugar Bowl trip.

Player of the Year: Marcus Roberson, so., DB

Bowl prediction: Sugar Bowl

5) No. 7 LSU (10-2, 6-2); LW, 4

Last week: beat Arkansas 20-13

So it sounds like Les Miles will not leave the Bayou for a ridiculous, bluff-type offer at Arkansas. Hopefully LSU gave Miles that raise because he earned it, not because a desperate league rival wants to play poker. Said LSU athletic director Joe Alleva Wednesday: “It’s been my plan all along to give coach a longer contract, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Player of the Year: Kevin Minter, jr., LB

Bowl prediction: Outback Bowl

6) No. 10 South Carolina (10-2, 6-2); LW, 6

Last week: beat No. 11 Clemson 27-17

The Gators and Gamecocks are basically twins this year. Except, well, Florida won the matchup. Which is why South Carolina is the sixth best team in its own conference, and can’t even book a New Year’s Day date in a historically top-heavy league.

Player of the Year: Jadeveon Clowney, so., DE

Bowl prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

 

*****big gap here*****

 

7) Vanderbilt (8-4, 5-3); LW, 7

Last week: beat Wake Forest 55-21

If I were to tell you two teams in the SEC have six-game overall winning streaks (currently the longest in the conference), and gave you five guesses, I bet many of you would miss one. Georgia is one. The other is not Texas A&M, it’s not LSU, it’s not South Carolina. The Vanderbilt Commodores have not lost since losing gamely to Florida on Oct. 13.  They’ll trounce someone in a lesser bowl.

Player of the Year: Jordan Matthews, jr., WR

Bowl prediction: Gator Bowl

8) Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5); LW, 9

Last week: beat Mississippi State 41-24

Great bounceback effort after a three-game losing streak, sealing that long-awaited bowl eligibility. How about Bo Wallace, teetering on losing his job earlier this year, and responding by throwing five touchdowns in his biggest game of the year?

Player of the Year: Donte Moncrief, so., WR

Bowl prediction: Liberty Bowl

9) Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4); LW, 8

Last week: lost to Ole Miss 41-24

Chad Bumphis, 12 TDs. For a defensive conference, this certainly was a year for top receivers. Very little momentum though for the Bulldogs, losers of four in their past five.

Player of the Year: Darius Slay, sr., DB

Bowl prediction: Music City Bowl

10) Arkansas (4-8, 2-6); LW, 10

Last week: lost to No. 7 LSU 20-13

Eight months, the school has had, to make a decision on a long-term hire. Offering Les Miles the world shows you where the Razorbacks are at. This is by far the weakest of the three remaining SEC openings.

Player of the Year: Cobi Hamilton, sr., WR

11) Missouri (5-7, 2-6); LW, 11

Last week: lost to No. 9 Texas A&M 59-29

Talk about slinking away quietly. Not a lot of positives to build on going into year two of SEC football. Maybe the Big Ten should have gotten a longer look.

Player of the Year: Kendial Lawrence, sr., RB

12) Tennessee (5-7, 1-7); LW, 12

Last week: beat Kentucky 37-17

Next season hinges heavily on Tyler Bray’s decision whether or not to return.

Player of the Year: Cordarrelle Patterson, jr., WR

13) Auburn (3-9, 0-8); LW, 13

Last week: lost to No. 2 Alabama 49-0

“The Auburn people don’t deserve that.” said a certain former head coach. Was he talking about the three-hour slaughter just finished on the field, or the three-month disaster preceding it?

Player of the Year: Tre Mason, so., RB

14) Kentucky (2-10, 0-8); LW, 14

Last week: lost to Tennessee 37-17

Best of luck, Mark Stoops. If you last three years, it’ll be a modern marvel.

Player of the Year: Avery Williamson, jr., LB

November 21, 2012

SEC Rankings/Bowl Predictions: Week 12

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday unless noted … all times CT … all rankings BCS**

1) No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: beat Western Carolina 49-0

Many schools’ game notes will break out their listings by unit, which would be ordered just as you’d expect: offense, then defense, then special teams … or QBs, then RBs, then WRs, etc. etc. down to DBs, Ks, Ps and returners. Not Alabama’s. Defensive notes come first. It’s fitting, really. The Crimson Tide defense has become the college version of Tom Brady: even when it’s not a season for the ages, you look at the quiet statistics, and they still jump out at you. (For example, Alabama “only” ranks seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense.) Dee Milliner, Robert Lester, C.J. Mosley, the whole gang’s just good. Auburn’s offense gained 140 total yards and zero points last year at Jordan-Hare against the Tide. Why does this game smell about the same?

Next: vs. Auburn (3-8, 0-7), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

Bowl prediction: BCS National Championship

2) No. 3 Georgia (10-1, 7-1); LW, 2

Last week: beat Georgia Southern 45-14

Aaron Murray, deflecting NFL talk before he makes a decision whether to return for his senior year. “I’m having too much fun right now.” That’s what it’s all about. He’s probably leaving Athens soon, but what a ride it’s been for him.

Next: vs. Georgia Tech (6-5), 11 a.m. | ESPN

Bowl prediction: Capital One Bowl

3) No. 9 Texas A&M (9-2, 5-2 SEC); LW, 4

Last week: beat Sam Houston State 47-28

Yeah, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples said it best on the tricked-out Texas A&M page: “If the award is going to be for the most outstanding football player – for the guy who makes the biggest difference – there’s no question who that is. If you’re not thinking of voting for Johnny Manziel, you’re nuts.” In other words: hey, stuffy old farts who have a Heisman vote. Don’t care if it’s a freshman, a senior, a senior citizen, or Sam Gordon. You pick the best player. It’s not even close this year. Wasn’t even close before K-State went down, but hey, good guy and good player Collin Klein, appreciate you making this easier.

Next: vs. Missouri (5-6, 2-5), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

Bowl prediction: Cotton Bowl

4) No. 7 LSU (9-2, 5-2); LW, 3

Last week: beat Ole Miss 41-35

Really couldn’t have asked for a tougher slate for LSU this year. Had to play South Carolina AND Florida outside of the SEC West, and their two losses are to top-four squads by a combined 12 points. Tough submerging LSU below the Aggies, who the Tigers just beat at Kyle Field within the past month. But A&M’s been more impressive, and has the better offense more likely to compete with the top-flight foes.

Next: at Arkansas (4-7, 2-5), 1:30 p.m. Friday | CBS

Bowl prediction: Sugar Bowl

5) No. 4 Florida (10-1, 7-1); LW, 5

Last week: beat Jacksonville State 23-0

Quit ripping on Florida’s offense. The Gators have the NCAA’s second-longest FBS streak of games without getting shut out. You have to go back 307 games to Oct. 29, 1988: Auburn 16, Florida 0. (Gene Chizik was a graduate assistant at Clemson, and the eldest current Tiger, T’Sharvan Bell, was 10 months away from being born.)

Next: at No. 10 Florida State (10-1), 2:30 p.m. | ABC

Bowl prediction: Outback Bowl

6) No. 12 South Carolina (9-2, 6-2); LW, 6

Last week: beat Wofford 24-7

Goes without saying the Clemson offense against the South Carolina defense should be a fantastic matchup. But look for Connor Shaw (career record: 18-3) to quietly make enough plays for a big road win. Here’s a stat that may shock you, in the passer rating category: Shaw 156.93, Manziel 155.14.

Next: at No. 11 Clemson (10-1), 6 p.m. | ESPN

Bowl prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

7) Vanderbilt (7-4, 5-3); LW, 8

Last week: beat Tennessee 41-18

Five magical words soon to be oft-uttered into the holiday season: “Wait, Vanderbilt has eight wins?” Fill in obligatory coach-killer joke here, after the Kentucky and Tennessee drillings. Watch your back, Jim Grobe.

Next: at Wake Forest (5-6), 2:30 p.m. | ESPNU

Bowl prediction: Music City Bowl

8) Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3); LW, 7

Last week: beat Arkansas 45-14

Stinks that the Egg Bowl’s been relegated to ESPNU. The Bulldogs, ranked in both human polls but not in the BCS top 25, are almost certainly heading to Jacksonville no matter what the outcome. They should be uber-motivated for a couple reasons: State’s got something to prove, since its four conference wins are against SEC teams with a combined 2-26 league record; and that state battle for bragging rights is something nasty.

Next: at Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

Bowl prediction: Gator Bowl

9) Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5); LW, 9

Last week: lost at No. 7 LSU 41-35

You seem a likeable guy, Hugh Freeze. What’s with the player embargo this week? Prepare to get ripped if you blow this home game – and with it, a bowl shot.

Next: vs. Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

Bowl prediction: Liberty Bowl with a victory, about a 50-50 proposition

10) Arkansas (4-7, 2-5); LW, 10

Last week: lost at Mississippi State 45-14

Only two more days until the sad conclusion of the ‘Smile’ era. A pity reporters can’t attend both Les Miles and John L. Smith press conferences. Can we dub this the Delightfully Weird Bowl?

Next: vs. No. 7 LSU (9-2, 5-2), 1:30 p.m. Friday | CBS

11) Missouri (5-6, 2-5); LW, 12

Last week: lost to Syracuse 31-27

Ooof, that’s gotta hurt. No reason not to take care of business against the Orange. That’ll deprive Mizzou of about 15 bowl practices, which really could have been useful.

Next: at No. 9 Texas A&M (9-2, 5-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

Bowl prediction: BBVA Compass Bowl with a victory, which is unlikely (could move up to Liberty Bowl if Ole Miss loses)

12) Tennessee (4-7, 0-7); LW, 11

Last week: lost at Vanderbilt 41-18

My hairstylist’s daughter said a friend told her she heard that Sam Gordon might be a candidate for the Tennessee job. Wanna tweet my report, Football Rumor Mill?

Next: vs. Kentucky (2-9, 0-7), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

13) Auburn (3-8, 0-7); LW, 13

Last week: beat Alabama A&M 51-7

Yer darn right I slipped multiple Sam Gordon references into these rankings. Oh, yes, right, something Auburn-y. Welp, Jonathan Wallace’s winning percentage currently exceeds that of Tyler Wilson. This is a fact. … Look, give Chizik this: he’s not lying when he says Auburn has to play its best football of the year to have a chance. In all reality, that can probably be tweaked to “perfect” football. The Tide will not take pity on the Tigers.

Next: at No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

14) Kentucky (2-9, 0-7); LW, 14

Last week: beat Samford 34-3

Apparently, this rivalry is referred to as the Battle for the Barrel. However, there is no longer an actual barrel up for grabs, after a 1998 alcohol-related car crash killing Kentucky players. But this great American rivalry does, indeed, have a name. See. And you thought you wouldn’t learn anything new from this column.

Next: at Tennessee (4-7, 0-7), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

November 5, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Week Ten edition

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday … all times CT … all rankings BCS**

1) No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: won at No. 5 LSU 21-17

The human emotion is a funny thing. Tim Tebow’s about as tough a dude as there is out there, and A.J. McCarron showed his own cold-blooded cojones on that game-winning drive against a feasting defense. So what’s the big deal with crying in sports? Roger Federer does it. Tiger Woods has. Kevin Garnett resorted to a primal yell to mask the tears. I guess what I’m trying to say is, fans of Alabama and against Alabama should embrace McCarron, not critique him, for reminding us these are people on the field. Warriors, yes, but people too. Good for McCarron. And a bit of crow to gobble for Crimson Tide fans who once ripped Tebow for letting the waterworks flow.

Next: vs. No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

2) No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1); LW, 3

Last week: beat No. Ole Miss 37-10

Happy birthday to Aaron Murray Saturday, turning 22. What a task in front of Auburn’s own No. 22, T’Sharvan Bell, and the defense to slow down the scorching-hot Bulldogs, who must win the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry to punch their ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game.

Next: at Auburn (2-7, 0-6), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

3) No. 7 LSU (7-2, 3-2); LW, 2

Last week: lost to No. 1 Alabama 21-17

The offense is what it is, and what it is not is a quick-strike of the 2-minute variety. Zach Mettenberger caught fire on a couple drives Saturday – impressive against this defense – but LSU simply does not have championship playmakers with the ball.

Next: vs. No. 21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN

4) No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC); LW, 6

Last week: won at No. 15 Mississippi State 38-13

The Aggies top Florida, since the Gators’ 3-point win at Kyle Field was two months ago. Johnny Manziel’s second career start. Soooo … if this coming showdown against the defending champions was in College Station, wouldn’t Texas A&M be favored? Or at least be regarded as having one heck of a chance to come out on top? Bama’s gonna be drained after last week’s festivities. And don’t forget Texas A&M’s road resume: 48-3 at SMU, 30-27 at Ole Miss, 59-57 at No. 23 Louisiana Tech, 63-21 at Auburn, 38-13 at No. 15 Mississippi State. Five wins, no losses. Do not hand this game automatically to Alabama. By any stretch.

Next: at No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

5) No. 6 Florida (8-1, 7-1); LW, 4

Last week: beat Missouri 14-7

They’ll be rooting for Auburn. Big-time.

Next: vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (5-3), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

6) No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2); LW, 5

Last week: Idle

It’s our job as journalists to roar in response when Steve Spurrier remarks that Alabama could compete with an NFL team. I’m sure that wasn’t at all a mediocre attempt to inflate the heads of Crimson Tide players, thus bettering LSU’s chances and therefore those of South Carolina to make the national championship game. Nope. No chance at all.

Next: vs. Arkansas (4-5, 2-3), 11 a.m. | CBS

7) No. 21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2); LW, 7

Last week: lost to No. 16 Texas A&M 38-13

Other than Alabama first and Kentucky worst, there’s no ranking I feel more sure about than right smack-dab in the middle. Mississippi State is clearly not on the level of the top six, and clearly is better than the bottom seven. Thing is, while the Bulldogs will likely see their losing streak stretched to three at Tiger Stadium, the last two games – vs. Arkansas and at Ole Miss – could be fuzzy. State’s job isn’t over yet. Let’s not dismiss the fact there’s a real chance Mississippi State hasn’t beaten more than one bowl-bound team yet this year.

Next: at No. 7 LSU (7-2, 3-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN

8) Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3); LW, 9

Last week: won at Kentucky 40-0

First goose egg against an SEC team in 44 years. Of course, that was against Kentucky. Of course it was. Commodores are well on their way to back-to-back postseason games for the first time in school history – they’ve gone bowling just five times, ever.

Next: at Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

9) Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3); LW, 8

Last week: lost at No. 6 Georgia 37-10

Fascinating matchup in Oxford this weekend. Truth is, since Vandy’s final two games are far easier than those for Mississippi, the Rebels straight-up have got to take care of business at home. If they do, they’ll be preparing to play in their first bowl in three seasons. Ole Miss, incredibly, is 8-1 in the postseason since 1990.

Next: vs. Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

10) Arkansas (4-5, 2-3); LW, 11

Last week: beat Tulsa 19-15

Nice little win over a solid Tulsa team. Defense has totally undergone a makeover. It’s almost like they’re trying to save their coach’s job or something.

Next: at No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2), 11 a.m. | CBS

11) Tennessee (4-5, 0-5); LW, 10

Last week: beat Troy 55-48

Speaking of defense; that sounded like a clown show out there in Knoxville. Vols keep sliding, even in victory. At least they finally pulled out one of those down-to-the-wire finishes.

Next: vs. Missouri (4-5, 1-5), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

12) Missouri (4-5, 1-5); LW, 12

Last week: lost at No. 7 Florida 14-7

Had their chances since Florida looked hungover. Crummy game by James Franklin, whose accuracy needs a lot of work, cost the Tigers that chance.

Next: at Tennessee (4-5, 0-5), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

13) Auburn (2-7, 0-6); LW, 14

Last week: beat New Mexico State 42-7

Sure helps to have a terrible opposing quarterback to create good feelings on defense. It absolutely looked like Daren Bates was stiffarming a lot of frustration out of his body when he trucked that NMSU running back. The Tigers understand Georgia’s a different challenge.

Next: vs. No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

14) Kentucky (1-9, 0-7); LW, 13

Last week: lost to Vanderbilt 40-0

Love the rumor mill spiraling out of control. I actually heard Chip Kelly mentioned as a candidate to go to Kentucky. Folks, it’s not a good football job. They’ll take some old alum or raw upstart, and need multiple years to become competitive.

Next: Idle

October 31, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Week Nine

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday … all times CT … all rankings BCS**

1) No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: beat No. 11 Mississippi State 38-7

Nick Saban isn’t really a robot … hey, the guy has two Debbie cookies for breakfast. The All-Access show ESPN has programmed this week might be interesting. If for nothing else, watch for Samantha Steele. She might be a better Erin Andrews than Erin Andrews ever was.

Next: at No. 5 LSU (7-1, 3-1), 7 p.m. | CBS

2) No. 5 LSU (7-1, 3-1); LW, 3

Last week: Idle

Is Death Valley where dreams go to die? That’s fair to say. And night games under Les Miles? Tigers are now 58-5 in that setting. We’re gonna find out if the Crimson Tide are for real, absolutely.

Next: vs. No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0), 7 p.m. | CBS

3) No. 6 Georgia (7-1, 5-1); LW, 7

Last week: beat No. 2 Florida 17-9 in Jacksonville

My bad, letting Georgia sink that low in these rankings. It wasn’t pretty Saturday – what has been this year, for Mark Richt’s team? – and yet the Bulldogs are deservedly sixth in the country. Jarvis Jones, the Nagurski Defensive Player of the Week, is a man among boys out there.

Next: vs. Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

4) No. 7 Florida (7-1, 6-1); LW, 2

Last week: lost to No. 10 Georgia 17-9 in Jacksonville

Last year’s plague came back to haunt Florida. Offense is just not at a championship-caliber level. And so, Florida beat South Carolina, who hammered Georgia, who beat the Gators. Oy.

Next: vs. Missouri (4-4, 1-4), 11 a.m. | ESPN2

5) No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2); LW, 4

Last week: beat Tennessee 38-35

It’s been stunning to view the outpouring of support for Marcus Lattimore. Absolutely numbing. On the football side, this does affect this team’s season greatly – Kenny Miles just isn’t the same.

Next: Idle

6) No. 16 Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC); LW, 6

Last week: won at Auburn 63-21

Vroom vroom. The Aggies’ offense waits for no one. Its next road tests, Mississippi State and Alabama, should each be a dandy.

Next: at No. 15 Mississippi State (7-1, 3-1), 11 a.m. | ESPN

7) No. 15 Mississippi State (7-1, 3-1); LW, 5

Last week: lost at No. 1 Alabama 38-7

Herein lies the issue – the Bulldogs used an awful lot of emotional juice to get up for Alabama. There enough left in the tank for a home game they’ve got to have?

Next: vs. No. 16 Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2), 11 a.m. | ESPN

8) Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2); LW, 9

Last week: won at Arkansas 30-27

Not really sure why I had Vandy over Ole Miss last week – I saw both teams beat Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Rebels are better. A road win at Arkansas, which was starting to gain some momentum, proves it.

Next: at No. 6 Georgia (7-1, 5-1), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

9) Vanderbilt (4-4, 2-3); LW, 8

Last week: beat Massachusetts 49-7

Zac Stacy’s a little banged up … but he could be less than 100 percent and still run on this Kentucky defense.

Next: at Kentucky (1-8, 0-6), 11 a.m. | ESPNU

10) Tennessee (3-5, 0-5); LW, 10

Last week: lost at No. 13 South Carolina 38-35

They continue to be thaaaaaaat close to a big win. But it’s a results-based sport. (What sport isn’t, really?) This will be remembered as a very poor season in Knoxville, even if it’s a handful of plays here and there from being markedly different.

Next: vs. Troy (4-4), 11 a.m. | FSN

11) Arkansas (3-5, 2-3); LW, 11

Last week: lost to Ole Miss 30-27

It’s been greatly discussed, Auburn’s fall from grace. But that was over two seasons. Even if the Tigers don’t win another game – and they absolutely should, with two non-con patsies coming up – that’s a dropoff of seven victories from a year ago. Unless the Razorbacks (11-2 in 2011) can somehow knock off South Carolina, Mississippi State or LSU, their setback will be an eight-game differential … and that’s presuming a victory over better-than-you-know Tulsa, which can absolutely move the football on this Razorbacks defense.

Next: vs. Tulsa (7-1), 11:21 a.m. | SEC Network

12) Missouri (4-4, 1-4); LW, 12

Last week: beat Kentucky 33-10

Gary Pinkel says SEC > Big 12. Big 12 fans freak out. SEC fans smirk.

Next: at Florida (7-1, 6-1), 11 a.m. | ESPN2

13) Kentucky (1-8, 0-6); LW, 13

Last week: lost at Missouri 33-10

What did the Wildcats ever do to tick off the football gods? Injury after injury after season-ending injury.

Next: vs. Vanderbilt (4-4, 2-3), 11 a.m. | ESPNU

14) Auburn (1-7, 0-6); LW, 14

Last week: lost to Texas A&M 63-21

Here’s the keys, Jonathan Wallace. Not much you can do to make this worse, but use this week to gain some confidence, and then the Auburn family will see what you can do against the big boys of Georgia and Alabama after that.

Next: vs. New Mexico State (1-7), 11:30 a.m. | CSS

October 26, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Week Eight

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday … all times CT … all rankings/receiving votes from AP poll**

1) No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: won at Tennessee 44-13

Fun crazy Alabama stats of the week: Crimson Tide are 75-18-3 lifetime against Mississippi State. Alabama has trailed for 15 seconds this season. AJ McCarron and other Alabama quarterbacks haven’t thrown an interception in 10 games.

Next: vs. No. 13 Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0), 7:30 p.m. | ESPN

2) No. 3 Florida (7-0, 6-0); LW, 2

Last week: beat No. 9 South Carolina 44-11

It’s not even Halloween, and the Gators can already punch their ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game with a victory in Jacksonville.

Next: vs. No. 12 Georgia (6-1, 4-1) in Jacksonville, 2:30 p.m. | CBS

3) No. 6 LSU (7-1, 3-1); LW, 3

Last week: won at No. 20 Texas A&M 24-19

Now it’s Jeremy Hill running wild in the LSU backfield. Is there some type of factory that just churns out running backs as necessary in Baton Rouge?

Next: Idle

4) No. 17 South Carolina (6-2, 4-2); LW, 4

Last week: lost at No. 3 Florida 44-11

Schedule quiets down now for big-game Gamecocks, who get three in a row at home against two below-.500 SEC opponents and FCS-member Wofford before heading to Death Valley for the Clemson showdown.

Next: vs. Tennessee (3-4, 0-4), 11 a.m. | ESPN

5) No. 13 Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0); LW, 6

Last week: beat Middle Tennessee 45-3

Has any top-15 SEC undefeated ever received less respect going into a big game? This probably speaks more to Alabama’s prowess. Or maybe to the fact half the college football world doesn’t know what city the Bulldogs call home. As mentioned above, Alabama’s been a bunch of front-runners, but State’s not to shabby either: the Bulldogs have only trailed for 16 minutes, 11 seconds, fourth-best in the country.

Next: at No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0), 7:30 p.m. | ESPN

6) No. 22 Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2 SEC); LW, 7

Last week: lost to No. 6 LSU 24-19

Eleven turnovers the past two SEC games. Take care of that oblong, Johnny Football and company.

Next: at Auburn (1-6, 0-5), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

7) No. 12 Georgia (6-1, 4-1); LW, 5

Last week: won at Kentucky 29-24

Good thing that “soft” defense has a better half. Georgia’s offense is fourth in the country in yards per snap (7.2) and is the league’s best coming away with seven instead of three in the red zone.

Next: vs. No. 3 Florida (7-0, 6-0) in Jacksonville, 2:30 p.m. | CBS

8) Vanderbilt (3-4, 2-3); LW, 9

Last week: beat Auburn 17-13

Coach James Franklin on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference: “I don’t know what you’re talking about with these bowl things.” Pleading ignorance. Taking the 1-0 mentality. Vandy needed that Auburn win, because UMass and Kentucky are gimmes while either Tennessee (at home) or Wake Forest (on the road) should fill out the six wins necessary.

Next: vs. Massachusetts (0-7), 6 p.m. | FSN

9) Ole Miss (4-3, 1-2); LW, 10

Last week: Idle

It’s already been a season to tuck in the back pocket of Hugh Freeze, no matter what happens the rest of the way. This is, however, just the Rebels’ third road game, and for a change they’re not the clear dog (as they were at Tulane) or the clear hydrant (at Alabama).

Next: at Arkansas (3-4, 2-2), 11:21 a.m. | SEC Network

10) Tennessee (3-4, 0-4); LW, 8

Last week: lost to No. 1 Alabama 44-13

Good work by former Auburn beat writer Evan Woodbery http://www.govolsxtra.com/news/2012/oct/23/buying-out-derek-dooley-and-staff-could-cost-as/, breaking down exactly how much it’d take to dismiss Derek Dooley and his staff.

Next: at No. 17 South Carolina (6-2, 4-2), 11 a.m. | ESPN

11) Arkansas (3-4, 2-2); LW, 11

Last week: Idle

Paging Tommy Tuberville, to War Memorial? Mr. Tuberville?

Next: vs. Ole Miss (4-3, 1-2), 11:21 a.m. | SEC Network

12) Missouri (3-4, 0-4); LW, 12

Last week: Idle

Quarterback James Franklin was jogging around practice this week. Not likely to suit up. Not likely to be needed.

Next: vs. Kentucky (1-7, 0-5), 11 a.m. | ESPNU

13) Kentucky (1-7, 0-5); LW, 14

Last week: lost to No. 13 Georgia 29-24

See, now this is the key for Joker Phillips to keep his job: go play SEC newbies like Mizzou, which is 0-2 lifetime against Kentucky. (Never mind both games were in the 1960s.)

Next: at Missouri (3-4, 0-4), 11 a.m. | ESPNU

14) Auburn (1-6, 0-5); LW, 13

Last week: lost at Vanderbilt 17-13

Texas A&M offense has scored a touchdown on its last four opening drives. Auburn’s defense, um, has not started well http://www.wareagleextra.com/2012/10/20/6616/. The first five minutes will be quite telling.

Next: vs. No. 22 Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2), 6 p.m. | ESPNU