Posted on: September 8, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 5:44 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Each Thursday we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:
Mike Bobo: do you know what you're doing with an up-tempo shotgun offense? After rumblings from fall camp that Georgia would unveil a no-huddle spread offense gainst Boise State, the Bulldogs didn't quite go the full Dana Holgorsen ... but they definitely flirted with it, breaking away from their traditional pro-style I-formation look for a multitude of quick snaps, multi-receiver sets, and shotgun handoffs. The results were occasionally spectacular (see Brandon Boykin's 80-yard touchdown run) but more frequently sputterrific (see the other 25 rushes for all of 57 yards, or Boise's six sacks).
So why the change? "We wanted to get more plays, which we didn’t do on Saturday,” Bulldog coordinator Bobo said. “But we’re committed to doing it, and more plays equals more opportunities, and more chances to score.”
This is true, technically speaking. A faster tempo does lead to more possessions and plays packed into a game, and more scoring chances. But that's true for both teams, not just the one running the no-huddle; barring onside kick shenanigans or the occasional odd break at the end of a half, possessions in football are always going to be equal. For seasoned practitioners of the no-huddle like Holgorsen or Gus Malzahn, tempo is partially about giving their offense as many opportunities as possible, but it's also about making it more efficient by keeping an opposing defense off-balance and wearing it down over the course of 60 minutes.
Bobo is not one of those seasoned practitioners. As the Athens Banner-Herald points out, in 2010 Georgia ran fewer plays than any other team in the SEC. Suddenly lurching into a part-time, only-half-committed shotgun spread outfit seems from here to be a good way to neither execute that plan well nor the Bulldogs' traditional power-running and play-action bread-and-butter. One Georgia blogger has cleverly referred to Bobo's plan as the Cheesecake Factory offense--one that attempts to do everything, and in the end does none of it well enough to win.
Mark Richt, for what it's worth, is firmly on board with Bobo's approach. But if it doesn't pay far more dividends against South Carolina than it did against Boise (and if there's a bigger red flag than giving up six sacks to the Broncos the week before facing Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, we haven't seen it), Richt may pay for that support with an 0-2 start and the hottest seat in the country.
Auburn's defensive line: what can you do with Mississippi State? The surprising thing about Utah State's 84-play slice-and-dice job on the Tiger defense wasn't the 22-of-31 passing from true freshman Chuckie Keeton, or the resulting 13-of-20 mark for the Aggies on third- and fourth-down conversions; Ted Roof's Tiger teams have always had issues with a tight, controlled passing game like USU's. But they've also usually been stout enough against the run to make up for that Achilles heel -- Auburn led the SEC in rush defense last year -- making the true stunner the Aggies' 227 yards on the ground.
Unfortunately for Roof and the Tigers, things only get tougher this week. State boasts the league's best dual-threat quarterback in Chris Relf, a veteran line featuring three senior starters, Dan Mullen's tried-and-true option schemes, and one of the nation's most underrated tailbacks in Vick Ballard. Even Auburn is obviously a far cry from Memphis, but the 309 rushing yards and 8.1 yard per-carry average racked up by the Bulldogs in Week 1 still make for a hell of a warning shot across the bow of the Tiger front seven.
That front seven should get a boost with the return of suspended senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, and Roof's long track record of run-stuffing success suggests some level of improvement is due. But the Tiger front remains so young -- all four starting defensive linemen are sophomores -- that it will take a major, major leap forward for Auburn to avoid getting steamrolled. Are they up to it?
Alabama: is your offense good enough to stake a claim to No. 1? Maybe we'll be proven wrong about this. But the guess here is that despite the change of venue to Happy Valley, there won't be any more competitive drama in Saturday's Alabama-Penn State clash than there was in last year's 24-3 Tide throttling in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban's loaded roster of future pros dominated the Nittany Lions physically in nearly every aspect of the 2010 meeting, and that's not a problem we see Joe Paterno repairing in the space of one offseason.
Which means the burning question is one of degree: does the Tide offense have the chops to go on the road and put together a performance worthy of putting the team in the top-of-the-polls discussion? Underrated though Kent State's defense may be (10th in FBS total defense in 2010), the Tide still looked surprisingly sloppy on attack, despite the 48-7 final. The quarterbacks threw four interceptions; the offensive line missed a handful of assignments; the Tide receivers and quarterbacks put the ball on the ground four times.
Were those opening-week jitters ... or something more serious that might deprive the Tide of championships once the 2011 season is finished? A dominant performance against a Lion team with plenty of questions of its own in the front seven would go a long way towards affirming it was the former.
Also worth asking: Can Tennessee's Janzen Jackson-less secondary hold up against Cincinnati's lively passing game? (The league's most underrated Week 2 matchup could be decided here.) Can Vanderbilt look like a real team another real team? (Despite their 45-14 win over FCS Elon, the 'Dores were outgained by 14 yards. Jury's well out.) Will Kentucky or Ole Miss show any signs of life on offense? (If the 'Cats and Rebels can't get better against Central Michigan and Southern Illinois, respectively, it's going to be a long season.)
Tags: Alabama, Auburn, Boise State, Brandon Boykin, Central Michigan, Cheesecake Factory, Chris Relf, Chuckie Keeton, Cincinnati, Dan Mullen, Dana Holgorsen, Devin Taylor, Eltoro Freeman, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Jadeveon Clowney, Jerry Hinnen, Joe Paterno, Kent State, Kentucky, Mark Richt, Melvin Ingram, Memphis, Mike Bobo, Nick Saban, Ole Miss, Penn State, SEC, SEC Interrogation, South Carolina, Southern Illinois, Ted Roof, Tennessee, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Vick Ballard
Posted on: September 6, 2011 5:25 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
Yesterday, my colleague Bryan Fischer posted the last time each of the SEC teams had made a trip to Big Ten country for a road game. The results, while not surprising, were still pretty brutal: six had never faced a Big Ten team as an active member of the SEC, and of the three programs that had made the trip in the last 30 years, two are perennial doormats Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and the last is LSU -- a 36-33 loser to Ohio State in 1988. Not a good look for the mighty SEC powerhouses, but such is their strategy, and it's hard to argue with results: avoiding the Big Ten hasn't stopped the SEC from winning championship after championship, so who's the real sucker here?
Still, some fans wanted to know the other side of the story, namely, whether the Big Ten was also filled with scaredy-cats who are afraid to face the SEC on its own turf. Clearly, this hypothesis is false, as the Big Ten plays multiple bowl games a year against the SEC in the SEC footprint, and has done so for decades. On the other hand, the SEC does not go to any bowl games within the Big Ten footprint, though I've lived in the Midwest for 30 winters now, and I do not blame the SEC for staying down there come December and January. It sucks up here.
However, there is still the question of regular season scheduling and whether the Big Ten does any of that, since we're talking about true road games in the regular season. So here's the breakdown, and while it's more ambitious than the SEC's m.o., that's not saying a whole lot.
at Florida, September 23, 1967, lost 14-0
at Kentucky, September 18, 2004, lost 32-51
Never played at an SEC school.
Never played at an SEC school (did play at Kentucky, Vanderbilt and South Carolina prior to each's SEC affiliation).
at Kentucky, November 2, 1946, lost 14-39 (Michigan State did not join the Big Ten until 1953)
Never played at an SEC school.
at Auburn, October 2, 1982, won 41-7 (Nebraska did not join the Big Ten until this year, obviously)
at Vanderbilt, September 4, 2010, won 23-21
at LSU, September 26, 1987, tied 13-13
at Alabama, September 11, 2010, lost 3-24
at Vanderbilt, October 3, 1942, lost 26-0
at LSU, September 30, 1972, lost 27-7
Obviously Iowa and Minnesota have some 'splainin' to do, but by and large we see a somewhat greater -- or at least more recent -- willingness from the Big Ten to travel down south for a non-conference game. The average year of the SEC's last games at Big Ten schools is 1963 (not including Tennessee), while the Big Ten's is 1980 (again, not including nonparticipants Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota). That's still an average layoff of 31 years, which is way too long -- or at least it would be without the several bowl games between the two conferences -- but the SEC is the clear conference of wimps and shrinking violets when it comes to scheduling.
But again, that all said, it doesn't matter. the SEC doesn't need road games with the Big Ten to win championships; if anything, the elite of the conference have figured out that it's not worth their time to risk early losses in the non-conference schedule. Voters don't really care about strength of schedule next to good old wins and losses -- if they did, LSU wouldn't still be ranked behind Alabama (victors over Kent State) and Oklahoma (who really took it to Tulsa, which, yeah) even after pantsing Oregon as badly as it did. See? Huge win, barely made a difference. Win go up, lose go down. That's all polling boils down to, the SEC knows it, and the SEC gets its wins however it can. They know the system. You can't blame them for that.
Of course, it's nothing to be really proud of either, you wimps, but as long as the SEC keeps winning championships, the means are secondary to the ends.
Posted on: September 5, 2011 7:09 pm
Edited on: September 5, 2011 7:25 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
The SEC has, perhaps rightfully so, taken flak over the years for their non-conference scheduling philosophy. Yes, the league is tough but there are only so many directional schools a team can play. That's what makes this week's match up between Penn State and Alabama so rare. Two power conference teams playing each other and, perhaps most notably, the SEC team traveling to Big Ten country.
This will be the 15th meeting between the two schools but the first time ever the Crimson Tide will travel to Happy Valley when Penn State is a member of the Big Ten conference, previous trips north were when the Nittany Lions were a football independent. Even more interesting due is the fact that this is the first time Alabama has played at a Big Ten team while a member of the SEC. Yes, the first time ever.
That got me to thinking (and researching), when was the last time the rest of the SEC teams played at a Big Ten opponent? Turns out, only Kentucky and Vanderbilt have been willing to play up north during the regular season. The pair are actually the only SEC teams to play at a Big Ten school in the last 23 years until the Tide take the field on Saturday.
Here's the full list of when every current SEC team last played at a Big Ten team during the regular season:
at Wisconsin, Nov. 3, 1928, lost 15-0. (Alabama did not join the SEC until 1932)
at Iowa, Oct. 3, 1925, lost 28-0. (Arkansas did not join the SEC until 1991)
at Wisconsin, Oct. 10, 1931, tied 7-7. (Auburn did not join the SEC until 1932)
at Northwestern, Sep. 18, 1965, won 24-14.
at Michigan, Oct. 2, 1965, won 15-7.
at Indiana, Sep. 19, 2005, lost 38-14.
at Ohio State, Sep. 24, 1988, lost 36-33.
at Minnesota, Nov. 5, 1932, lost 26-0. (Ole Miss did not join the SEC until 1932)
at Illinois, Oct. 4, 1980, won 28-21.
at Michigan, Sep. 27, 1980, won 17-4 (South Carolina did not join the SEC until 1991)
Never played at a Big Ten school.
at Michigan, Sep. 2, 2006, lost 27-7.
Posted on: September 4, 2011 2:53 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
1. LSU isn't going anywhere, even with Jarrett Lee at the controls. The expectation is that one of these years, one of these games, putting out a quarterback scarcely more competent than your average Sun Belt starter is going to finally catch up with Les Miles and the Tigers. Saturday night's 40-27 thumping of Oregon wasn't that game, though, and this may not be that year.
As my collegue Bryan Fischer wrote, Lee didn't do anything to lose the Tigers the game; the flipside is that he barely did anything to win the game, either, putting together a 10-for-22, 98-yard effort that we promise you'll see referred to in the dictionary next week in the entry for "pedestrian." Aside from one well-thrown fade to Rueben Randle for his only touchdown pass of the evening, Lee's primary instruction for the night was just to stay the hell out of the way.
And, as it always seems to for Miles, that instruction worked to perfection. The Tiger defense and special teams forced four turnovers, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford combined for nearly 200 yards on the ground, the LSU secondary held Darron Thomas to a miserable 4.4 yards per his 54 attempts, and only a last-second Duck touchdown prevented the final from being a three-touchdown rout ... even though Oregon finished with more total yards than the Tigers.
We still don't think it's likely LSU wins an SEC championship with Lee at the helm and completion percentages just over 45 percent in the stat book. But looking at what the Tigers did against one of the nation's best teams Saturday, you can't rule it out, either.
2. Florida will have a say in who wins the East. First, the caveat: FAU is bad. Really, really bad. As in, "may finish dead last in the Sun Belt" bad. But still: the casual ease with which the Gators brushed the Owls aside -- scoring 24 points over the first four possessions, holding FAU to 30 rushing yards on 30 carries, outgaining the Owls by 331 yards -- was the farthest of far cries from last year's opening-week wheeze past Miami (Ohio). Bad team or not, Florida pounded the Owls the way an SEC contender ought to pound them.
Meanwhile, the two teams expected by many to top the East standings had less-than-comfortable Saturday nights. Georgia, of course, began 2011 looking for all the world like the same team that ended 2010. South Carolina spotted East Carolina a 17-0 lead by starting Connor Shaw, then ran off 56 of the game's next 70 points behind Stephen Garcia. Still, there's little doubt that being caught in a four-point game late in the third quarter and outgaining the Pirates by all of six yards wasn't what Steve Spurrier had in mind.
It's still too early to anoint the Gators East favorites, or even on even footing with the Gamecocks. (As for the Bulldogs, well, maybe if they'd just kept things close ...) But it's not too soon to recognize this as a three-team race until such time the SEC standings say otherwise.
3. Auburn should be happy, but it shouldn't be confused. Somewhat lost in analyzing the rampant flaws that led to the defending national champions' 38-28 deficit to Utah State has been the resolve and determination that led to their stunning comeback; for Gene Chizik to hold his senior-laden 2010 team together in the face of staggering deficits is one thing, to do so with his all-but senior-free 2011 team another. Going back to the 2009 Outback Bowl, Chizik has now won nine straight one-possession games, a testament to his team's remarkable fourth-quarter focus and resilience.
But being a resilient team is nice. Being a good team is better, and even the cardiac-inducing Tigers of last year didn't bother to let the likes of Utah State take them to the wire. Thrilled as Auburn fans have a right to be with the comeback, it also shouldn't make them blind to the kind of major issues that result in needing a borderline-miraculous comeback against a 4-8 WAC team in the first place. Much as the aforementioned Miami (Ohio) struggles proved an accurate foreshadowing of 2010's Gator troubles, so it's now safe to say Auburn will not challenge for the West title ... and against their brutal schedule, might need every ounce of that resilience just to make a bowl.
4. Jacksonville State didn't show up to this year's party. The three SEC-on-FCS matchups Saturday were every bit as lopsided as the SEC might have hoped, with Arkansas blasting Missouri State, Tennessee handling Montana by an impressive 26-point margin, and even Vanderbilt getting into the act with a 45-14 thumping of Elon in James Franklin's debut. Exactly how much these victories mean is a matter of conjecture -- FCS schools, after all -- but at the very least the conference avoided the kind of egg on its face Ole Miss's infamous loss to JSU's Gamecocks produced in last year's opening week. (That egg is perhaps being saved for Jacksonville State's visit to Kentucky.)
5. Speaking of the Rebels, they still don't have a quarterback--or an offense. There's no shame in losing to a solid-enough team like BYU by a point, even at home. But totaling barely more than 200 yards and averaging all of 3.6 yards per-play, 2.2 yards per-rush, and 5.1 yards per-pass ... there's some shame in that. And the quarterback issues that have plagued the Rebels for years showed no signs of abating; Houston Nutt turned to JUCO pocket-passer Zack Stoudt for the bulk of the second half, and Stoudt rewarded him by fumbling the game away on the goalline. The road back to relevance for Nutt and the Rebels still looks plenty long.
Tags: AJ McCarron, Alabama, Auburn, BYU, Connor Shaw, Darron Thomas, Elon, FAU, Florida, Gene Chizik, Georgia, Houston Nutt, Jacksonville State, James Franklin, Kentucky, Les Miles, LSU, Miami (Ohio), Michael Ford, Missouri State, Montana, Ole Miss, Oregon, Rueben Randle, SEC, Spencer Ware, Stephen Garcia, Steve Spurrier, Tennessee, Utah State, Vanderbilt, What I Learned, Zack Stoudt
Posted on: September 1, 2011 4:40 pm
Edited on: September 1, 2011 5:56 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Each Thursday we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:
Steve Spurrier: are you really going to voluntarily saddle his team with a full-blown quarterback controversy? The Ol' Ball Coach has always done things his way, and it's safe to say very few other coaches' ways would include telling a fourth-year senior starter he's going to share snaps in a potentially challenging season opener, threatening to bench him if his competition outplays in said opener, and publicly declaring said competiton has outplayed him in preseason scrimmages.
Stephen Garcia has seen and heard it all from his head coach before, of course, and given his off-field history, it makes a certain amount of sense for Spurrier to keep Connor Shaw's confidence and focus at its highest possible point at all times. If the Gamecock schedule gave the team a few weeks' worth of breathers, it would make sense to keep Shaw engaged and Garcia on his toes.
But Spurrier doesn't have that luxury; East Carolina isn't Western Carolina, and the Gamecocks' critical trip to Georgia arrives right on its heels in Week 2. If Shaw (pictured) plays well enough Saturday to force another week's worth of Spurrier waffling, Carolina is going to enter the single most important game of its entire season with a colossal question mark still hanging over the team's collective head. And though we're not Steve Spurrier, we retain serious doubts as to whether that's the best way for it to prepare.
Jarrett Lee: can you avoid making the killer turnover? We won't hide from it: when we wrote in this space not long ago that Les Miles had failed his LSU team by not finding a better replacement for Jordan Jefferson than Zach Mettenberger in his first year out of JUCO or fifth-year senior Lee, yes, that was a knock against Lee. To this point, Lee's career -- a 53.5 career completion percentage, those nation-leading 16 picks in 2008 -- is the sort which, frankly, has to be knocked.
But if Lee has matured into the kind of under-control, safety-first game manager that always seems to be under center at LSU's rivals at Alabama, there's nothing stopping the Tigers from being, well, Alabama; the overpowering line, breakout running back (we see you, Spencer Ware), and lockdown defense are all in place.
Now we just have to find out about Lee, and fortunately, we won't have to wait long. Oregon forced 37 turnovers a year ago, the second-highest total in the nation; even without Cliff Harris, if Lee is loose with the ball, the Ducks are going to take it the other way.
Georgia: how comfortable are you in Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense? Much of the pregame chatter regarding Georgia's chances against Boise State have revolved around whether Isaiah Crowell can live up to his considerable hype, and there's no question Crowell's potential impact would give the Dawsg a huge boost.
But just as key -- if not moreso -- will be how the Bulldog defense handles a Bronco offense that's going to come out guns blazing. Chris Petersen and his staff have always been at their best with extra time to prepare, and if the Bulldogs haven't shored up what was an improved-but-hardly-airtight defense from 2010, Kellen Moore and Doug Martin are going to punish those leaks with a quickness. Some of the Dawgs' personnel issues with the 3-4 have been resolved (starting with the ascension of nose tackle Kwame Geathers and the shift of hard-hitting safety Alec Ogletree to inside linebacker), but that doesn't mean all the kinks are ironed out just yet.
And if there's one or two too many kinks remaining, the Broncos could be up big before the Dawgs even know what hit them, much as Virginia Tech discovered a year ago. The Hokies were able to mount a full comeback behind Tyrod Taylor, but with an angry Dawg crowd "behind" a psychologially-fragile 6-7 team, Mark Richt may not be so lucky. Grantham's unit had best be prepared.
Also worth asking: What can Ole Miss accomplish in the air, either offensively or defensively? (Some measure of competence from Barry Brunetti and the rebuilt Rebel secondary would go a long way towards SEC competitiveness.) Does Kentucky have any offensive playmakers? (No Randall Cobb, no Derrick Locke, no Mike Hartline, no Chris Matthews. What's left?) Quarterbacks: how do they look? (In addition to Ole Miss and LSU, there's some level of uncertainty at Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Vanderbilt ... the number of teams in the league that know what they're getting from under center are vastly outnumbered by the ones that don't.)
Tags: Alabama, Alabama, Alec Ogletree, Auburn, Barry Brunetti, Boise State, Chris Matthews, Chris Petersen, Cliff Harris, Connor Shaw, Derrick Locke, Doug Martin, East Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Isaiah Crowell, Jerry Hinnen, Jordan Jefferson, Kellen Moore, Kentucky, Kwame Geathers, LSU, Mark Richt, Mike Hartline, Ole Miss, Oregon, Randall Cobb, SEC, South Carolina, Spencer Ware, Stephen Garcia, Steve Spurrier, Todd Grantham, Tyrod Taylor, Vanderbilt, Western Carolina, Zach Mettenberger
Posted on: August 23, 2011 5:36 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
With lots of movement on the SEC quarterback front the last few days, now seems a good time to update the entire league's worth of races, team-by-team. Here's the latest, in alphabetical order:
ALABAMA: The Tide's season opener against Kent State is just 11 days away, but Nick Saban hasn't given any more indication towards his staff's decision between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims than he did when spring practice opened. In fact, his last comment on the situation was to say that one of them might play a position other than qurterback. McCarron remains the slightest of favorites due to his extra year of experience, but the closer the opener grows, the more likely it becomes that Saban makes good on his April threat to platoon the two. And given that not even the most catastrophic of quarterback outings could submarine the Tide against the overmatched Golden Flashes, it might make some sense to use the opener as one final audition for both.
ARKANSAS: Believe it or not, the Hogs still don't have an official starting quarterback, as Bobby Petrino has refused to name Tyler Wilson the starter over sophomore Brandon Mitchell. That's despite the fact that anyone not directly related to Mitchell believes the job is 100 percent Wilson's and the junior has been lighting the practice fields up all camp. This one appears to be a formality designed to keep the carrot in front of Mitchell for as long as possible, but stranger things have happened, we guess.
AUBURN: As you probably know, junior Barrett Trotter has been named Cam Newton's successor, with redshirt sophomore Clint Moseley the backup and true freshman Kiehl Frazier third-string. But Gus Malzahn hasn't ruled out using Frazier in some capacity, and gave the four-star recruit every snap in last weekend's scrimmage. A late-season appearance might be in the cards, particularly if Trotter struggles.
FLORIDA: No controversy here: John Brantley has been the unquestioned starter since fall camp broke, with both coaches and players seeming to go out of their way to praise the much-maligned senior and downgrade the chances of five-star freshman Jeff Driskel. "John’s our starter, and he’s our quarterback, and I don’t have any anticipation of (Driskel playing)," Will Muschamp said when discussing the Gators' opener against Florida Atlantic. Driskel has, nonetheless, won the backup's role.
GEORGIA: The Bulldogs don't have any drama, with Aaron Murray the unquestioned starter and sophomore Hutson Mason the established backup ahead of true freshman Christian LeMay. Mason has had an up-and-down fall camp, though, with some reportedly sharp practices offset by outings like one four-interception practice he called "my worst day ever — in football, period."
KENTUCKY: Morgan Newton has long since been anointed the Wildcat starter, but Kentucky may need him to stay healthy even more than the Bulldogs' need the same for Murray. Newton and the Wildcat coaches have both had ample praise for backup Maxwell Smith's ability to pick up the offense after just one spring camp and one fall practice ... but the reason Smith's had just one of each is because he's a true freshman, and not a particularly highly-regarded one (according to recruiting experts) at that.
LSU: Now here's some drama. Much to many Tiger fans' chagrin, as of this moment not even the threat of a second-degree battery arrest is enough to move the gauge-needle on Jordan Jefferson's starting job away from "likely." Now here's the even more depressing news for those bayou residents hoping strong-armed JUCO (and former Georgia backup) Zach Mettenberger would assume the top spot: Mettenberger still hasn't even supplanted Jarrett Lee as the Tigers' backup. According to Lee himself, Jefferson is still running with the "ones" in practice, Lee the twos, and Mettenberger is left with whatever reps Lee doesn't take. If Jefferson does miss the opener against Oregon, it will now be quite the shock if Mettenberger gets the call over Lee, who does say he's had the best camp of his long career.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: We know that Chris Relf will be the Bulldog' starter. The question is: will backup Tyler Russell borrow any of Relf's snaps, as he did early in 2010 as the designated pocket quarterback? The consensus seems to be that he won't, with third-stringer Dylan Favre (yes, the nephew of that other Favre) reportedly closer to Russell than Russell is to Relf. Dan Mullen hasn't entirely ruled out a return to a quarterback rotation, but we'll be surprised if we see Russell in the event of anything other than a Relf injury.
OLE MISS: We touched on this earlier today in the wake of Randall Mackey's arrest and "likely" suspension for the Rebels' season opener, but it appears Barry Brunetti -- always the narrow favorite to win the starting job coming out of spring practice -- is now the most likely candidate to begin Ole Miss's 2011 season under center. But will he stay there? The Rebel coaching staff seems genuine in their repeated statements that none of their three candidates has separated himself from the other two, and former Houston Nutt doghouse resident Zack Stoudt offers a stronger-armed passing element that both Brunetti and Mackey lack. Unless Brunetti shines out of the gate, expect Stoudt to get a serious look at some point. And if Mackey avoids the doghouse himself, the same could go for him, too.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Steve Spurrier promised a legitimate quarterback battle back at SEC Media Days, but whatever slim chance Connor Shaw actually had of unseating Stephen Garcia, it likely evaporated last week when Shaw injured his thumb and missed three practices. Never say never with Spurrier, but it will likely take some truly egregious play on Garcia's part (or another off-field incident) for Shaw to see any meaningful playing time.
TENNESSEE: Tyler Bray hasn't always pleased his coaches or put his best foot forward this fall, but he appears to have done plenty enough to hold off Matt Simms, who sounds as if he's resigned himself to being the backup. All the same, having Montana as an opening-week tune-up should be an excellent opportunity for Bray to make sure the Vols' two-headed QB wounds of 2010 don't reopen.
VANDERBILT: The biggest news for Vandy's quarterbacks this week won't actually have any impact until 2012, when newly official Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels becomes eligible. Until then, Vandy will make do with either senior Larry Smith or junior Jordan Rogers, who together directed an offensive performance at Saturday's scrimmage one disappointed Vanderbilt blog described as "Vanderbilt-like." It may take more than one season (or the arrival of Carta-Samuels, who spearheaded the Cowboys' bowl run in 2009) for James Franklin to get the 'Dores' long-simmering quarterback woes ironed out.
Tags: A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Austyn Carta-Samuels, Barrett Trotter, Barry Brunetti, Bobby Petrino, Brandon Mitchell, Chris Relf, Christian LeMay, Connor Shaw, Dan Mullen, Dylan Favre, FAU, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Houston Nutt, Hutson Mason, Jarrett Lee, Jeff Driskel, Jerry Hinnen, John Brantley, Jordan Jefferson, Kent State, Kiehl Frazier, LSU, LSU, Matt Simms, Maxwell Smith, Mississippi State, Morgan Newton, Nick Saban, Ole Miss, Ole Miss, Oregon, Phillip Sims, Randall Mackey, South Carolina, Stephen Garcia, Steve Spurrier, Tennessee, Tyler Bray, Tyler Russell, Tyler Wilson, Vanderbilt, Will Muschamp, Zach Mettenberger, Zack Stoudt
Posted on: August 8, 2011 9:48 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 1:27 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
As part of CBSSports.com's season preview, we offer one blogger's choices for preseason All-SEC. Our team includes 11 players on either side of the ball, because any more is cheating.
Aaron Murray, rSoph., Georgia. A 24-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio would be damn good for any quarterback. For a redshirt freshman in his first year on the job playing without the benefit of a strong running game, it was downright outstanding. (And, in fact, made him the most efficient underclassman quarterback in the country.) Murray should emerge as the conference's clearcut best passer as a sophomore.
Also watch for: Mississippi State's Chris Relf, the conference's best rushing quarterback and option operator; Arkansas's Tyler Wilson, like all Bobby Petrino pupils a 300-yard day waiting to happen; and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, Murray's biggest competition for first-team honors if he can eliminate the backbreaking turnovers that have plagued his career.
Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama. Boasting arguably the nation's best combination of power and speed at the position, Richardson should find himself carrying the lion's share of the load for a Tide offense that's never shied away from pounding out wins on the ground--and will shy away even less in 2011 with an unsettled passing game and ruthless defense.
Marcus Lattimore, Soph., South Carolina. The league's near-unquestioned leader in yards-after-contact, Lattimore's ruggedness and stamina sometimes overshadowed his other stunning gifts: his Mark Ingram-esque balance, surprising acceleration, and maybe the best pair of hands for a back in the SEC. Maybe the nation's best all-around back.
Also watch for: pretty much everyone, given even the SEC's least-heralded backs (like, say, Tennessee's overlooked Tauren Poole) have the potential for a 1,200- to 1,300-yard season. But we'll spotlight Arkansas workhorse Knile Davis, a good bet to finish as the league's top rusher despite the Heisman candidates above.
Alshon Jeffery, Jr., South Carolina. The league's leading receiver in 2010 by nearly 400 yards, there are sea urchins that could tell you Jeffery belongs here. A consensus preseason All-American and first-round lock, don't be surprised if he walks away with this year's Biletnikoff Award.
Greg Childs, Sr., Arkansas. We're five selections in now and have yet to break ranks with preseason consensus, but we're not going to in this slot, either; at an NFL-ready 6'3", 215, Childs was step-for-statistical-step with Jeffery last season before an injury cut things short. Expect him to make up for lost time in 2011.
Also watch for: Childs' Razorback teammates Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, either of which could top 1,000 yards themselves; Tennessee sophomore home-run threat Justin Hunter; and junior Emory Blake, who could see a massive statistical bump as the No. 1 receiver in Auburn's more aerial-friendly offense.
C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama. The senior leader of what shapes up as the conference's best offensive line, Vlachos will have a shot at the Rimington Trophy.
OT Barrett Jones, Jr., Alabama. After two years at guard, the All-SEC performer and All-American candidate moves to tackle for 2011.
OT Bobby Massie, Jr., Ole Miss. Senior teammate Bradley Sowell could fit in this slot, but we like the immensely talented 6'6", 315-pound mauler to take another big step forward, especially in the run game.
OG Alvin Bailey, rSoph., Arkansas. Speaking of steps forward, Bailey started all 13 games in 2010, earned freshman All-American honors, and should be the focal point of an improved Hog ground game.
OG Larry Warford, Sr., Kentucky. The future pro was named second-team All-SEC a year ago and preseason All-SEC this year by both the media and coaches--not an easy thing to do at Kentucky.
Also watch for: Sowell, for one. But every SEC team has at least one player or two with all-conference potential. Perhaps the most likely candidates not listed above are at Georgia, where center Ben Jones and tackle Cordy Glenn could put an end to the Bulldogs' years of line underachievement in their senior seasons.
Orson Charles, Jr. Georgia. No other returning tight end in the league was close to his 26 receptions for 422 yards last year--and with A.J. Green and Kris Durham gone, Charles's role in the Bulldog offense should only expand from here.
Also watch for: Auburn's Phillip Lutzenkirchen, also due to see a numbers spike thanks to other receivers' departures. And if Florida jack-of-all-trades Jordan Reed sticks to TE, expect an impact from him as well.
DE Jake Bequette, Sr. Arkansas. In collecting seven sacks a year ago, Bequette emerged as the most explosive performer in the Hogs' highly-underrated front seven.
DE Devin Taylor, Jr., South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished a quiet third in the SEC last season in rush defense, due in large part to Taylor's 13 tackles-for-loss (tops among returning linemen) and 7.5 sacks.
DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. It won't be easy for the talkative Jackson this season--he's the Vols' only returning starter in the front seven, and he's already missing two weeks of practice with a knee injury--but no returning SEC tackle was as disruptive in 2010.
DT Sharrif Floyd, Soph., Florida. Part of Urban Meyer's famous five-star haul in February 2010, Floyd collected 6.5 tackles-for-loss despite only starting two games and has reportedly been unblockable in recent Gator practices.
Also watch for: the nose tackles in either Alabama's or Georgia's 3-4 schemes--Josh Chapman in Tuscaloosa, and Kwame Geathers or Johnathan Jenkins in Athens. Ole Miss end Kentrell Lockett is in his sixth year and could lead the league in sacks if healthy. And the early reports are that megarecruits Jadeveon Clowney (at Carolina) and Anthony Johnson (at LSU) are as good as advertised.
OLB Courtney Upshaw, Sr. Alabama. Seven sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago, and those numbers should only improve as Nick Saban makes him the cornerstone of a more-dedicated Tide pass rush.
ILB Dont'a Hightower, Jr. Alabama. Hightower's rusty 2010 return from an ACL injury doesn't merit inclusion here, but his experience -- combined with the expected return of the athleticism he flashed a freshman All-American in 2008 -- certainly does.
MLB Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. We're fudging the formation a bit with two inside 'backers and just one OLB, but it's worth it to make room for the SEC's leading tackler from a year ago.
Also watch for: the excellent tandem of Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin at Arkansas, or Chris Marve at Vanderbilt, or LSU's underrated Ryan Baker.
CB Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU. Teammate Morris Claiborne has received most of the preseason love, but Mathieu came on like gangbusters at the end of his freshman season -- culminating in an MVP performance at the Cotton Bowl -- and should be ready for an all-conference season.
CB Casey Hayward, Sr., Vanderbilt. The Commodores' disappointing 2010 wasn't Hayward's fault; his 17 passes defended led the SEC, and his six interceptions placed him second.
S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. His All-American status overrates him ever-so-slightly -- it's possible to get deep on Barron occasionally, if not frequently -- but no defensive back in the league (and maybe the country) has a better nose for the ball or knack for the game-changing play.
S Robert Lester, Jr., Alabama. Two Tide safeties might feel like overkill, but there's not really any arguing with numbers like these: an SEC-high eight interceptions, 12 passes defended, 52 tackles, and the Tide's league-best opposing passer rating of just 103.56.
Also watch for: Tennessee's Janzen Jackson, now that he's reportedly reported to camp in great shape after his layoff; Claiborne, obviously; Razorback safety Tramain Thomas; Georgia corner Brandon Boykin; and oh, fine, Stephon Gilmore. We don't think netting two pass breakups and three picks for a Gamecock pass defense ranked 97th in the country adds up to being an All-SEC player, but we're in the minority.
P Drew Butler, Sr., Georgia; PK Blair Walsh, Sr., Georgia. We wish the Bulldog specialists the best of luck in their 11th year in Athens. (No, we refuse to believe the pair of them have only had four years of eligibility each.)
Tags: A.J. Green, Aaron Murray, Alabama, Alshon Jeffery, Alvin Bailey, Anthony Johnson, Arkansas, Auburn, Barrett Jones, Ben Jones, Blair Walsh, Bobby Massie, Bobby Petrino, Bradley Sowell, Brandon Boykin, Casey Hayward, Chris Marve, Chris Relf, Cordy Glenn, Cotton Bowl, Courtney Upshaw, Danny Trevathan, Devin Taylor, Dont'a Hightower, Drew Butler, Emory Blake, Florida, Georgia, Greg Childs, Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Bequette, Janzen Jackson, Jarius Wright, Jerico Nelson, Jerry Franklin, Jerry Hinnen, Joe Adams, Johnathan Jenkins, Jordan Reed, Josh Chapman, Justin Hunter, Kentrell Lockett, Kentucky, Knile Davis, Kris Durham, Kwame Geathers, Larry Warford, LSU, Malik Jackson, Marcus Lattimore, Mark Barron, Mark Ingram, Mississippi State, Morris Claiborne, Ole Miss, Orson Charles, Phillip Lutzenkirchen, preseason All-SEC, Robert Lester, Ryan Baker, SEC, SEC preview, Sharrif Floyd, South Carolina, Stephen Garcia, Stephon Gilmore, Tauren Poole, Tennessee, Tramain Thomas, Trent Richardson, Tyler Wilson, Tyrann Mathieu, Vanderbilt, Williams Vlachos
Posted on: July 22, 2011 12:42 pm
Edited on: July 22, 2011 1:02 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
Vanderbilt's James Franklin is walking into a difficult situation for his first head coaching opportunity. The Commodores have only won 13 SEC games in the last 10 years and are entering 2011 after back-to-back 2-10 seasons. More than any team in the conference, Vanderbilt has the most room for improvement. It's a difficult challenge for anyone, particularly a 39-year-old first-time head coach.
Then you meet James Franklin.
Franklin was impressive on the microphone Friday, taking a honest but enthusiastic look at his football program. Some of the first questions he faced concerned his recruiting philosophy, and how he markets a school with academic standards like Vanderbilt.
"The way I look at it is we have an opportunity to do something really special at Vanderbilt, Franklin said. "We have an opportunity to differentiate ourselves. I really believe there's very few schools that are going to be able to compete with us when it comes to recruiting because we have an opportunity to offer things that very few schools can.
"You can come to Vanderbilt and get a world class education, so for the next 40 years of your life you have a degree that matters. When you walk into a job interview, and they get to know you, and they ask you where you went to school, you'll demand respect from everybody in that room right away. We also play in the greatest football conference in America, the SEC. If you're the best and brightest from all over this country, where else would you go? The third factor is we're in Nashville. I'm a big believer that your education is more than what you just learn in the classroom. It's a combination of all these cultural experiences, and we can provide that at Nashville.
"There's going to be some schools that maybe have one aspect. There's going to be very few schools that have all three aspects that I think people are looking for: the academic experience, the athletic experience, social experience. The last factor is these guys want to play early. We can offer that. We have some good players, we just don't have enough of them. From a depth perspective, we can allow young men to get on the field as well. That plan, that vision, that mentality has really been helping us."
Here are some more highlights from Franklin's press conference:
On Vanderbilt's quarterback situation: "This spring we had one healthy scholarship quarterback. So it's going to be a little bit interesting. I didn't think it was fair at any position, especially the quarterback position, to name any starters. Every one of our players is going to come in and earn their job in camp and what they've done all summer and off-season. That's including Chris Marve, everybody. We want to create the most competitive environment we possibly can."
On how to build the fan base: "I think the most important thing we can do is put a product on the field that our fan base can be excited about. That's the most important thing. We're going to do some things facility-wise to create a better home-field advantage as well, give a better game-day experience. The other thing, my staff, myself, the players, administration, we have to reach out to the entire Vanderbilt community, that's worldwide. I think that's one of our challenges as well, is because of our education, what we offer young men, our graduates go all over the world, we have to reach out and bring the community back together. Everybody has to understand we can't do this alone. It's not the players, it's not just the coaches. It's our alumni base, it's the community, everybody. We need this fan base to unite like it never has before."
Keep it here at the Eye On College Football for more updates from media days from all conferences in the upcoming weeks.