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Tag:Justin Hunter
Posted on: December 7, 2011 8:24 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 11:53 pm
 

CBSSports.com 2011 All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The season has wrapped, the bowl games are set and it's time to hand out some awards. As part of CBSSports.com's look at the regular season, here is the best of the SEC.

Awards

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR 

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama. No SEC player was more electrifying to watch on a weekly basis than the Tide workhorse, whose raw strength and unmatched determination could turn an average four-yard gain (usually into the teeth of half the opposing defense) into must-see TV. Of course, the elusive, explosive 70-plus-yard bursts -- like his showstoppers against Ole Miss and Auburn -- weren't too shabby, either. Few have ever combined those gifts like Richardson, and no one in the SEC was any better this season.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. Claiborne wasn't just the best one-on-one man-coverage corner we saw this season, bar-none, SEC or elsewhere--he might have been the best defender we saw this season, SEC or elsewhere. By erasing his side of the field (except for those lone occasions when he was tested and -- as AJ McCarron found out -- usually ready to make a pick), Claiborne set the tone for the best secondary in the country and played arguably the biggest role of any LSU defender in getting the Tigers to the national title game.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Les Miles, LSU. James Franklin 
has earned legitimate consideration for his work at Vanderbilt. But when you look at not only the juggernaut constructed by Miles in Baton Rouge but his ability in steering it through the storms of the preseason bar fight incident, suspensions, and quarterback controversy, there's not really any other choice to make in this slot.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

Brad Wing, P, LSU. A punter, over a running back like Isaiah Crowell? When we're talking about the nation's third-best net punting average for a No. 1-ranked prfect-record team that thrived on field position, you bet. That Wing's best two games came at the best possible times -- at Alabama and vs. Georgia in Atlanta -- makes his selection even easier.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Tyler Wilson, Jr., Arkansas. It was far from a banner year for quarterbacking in the SEC -- only three teams were even able to keep the same starter for all 12 games -- but you wouldn't know it from watching Wilson, whose 3,422 passing yards led the league by nearly 600 yards. No team in the conference was more dependent on their quarterback, but despite taking frequent poundings behind a suspect line Wilson repaid that faith to the tune of a 10-2 record.

Honorable mention: Georgia's Aaron Murray led the league with 33 touchdowns and was the East champions' clearcut best offensive player, but his 12 interceptions were also an SEC high. AJ McCarron struggled for Alabama in the LSU showdown but still finished the year with an SEC-best QB rating and that spot in the BCS title game.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama. It won't win him the Heisman Trophy, but Richardson's brilliant 2011 season -- 1,583 yards, 23 total touchdowns, an eye-popping 6.0 per-carry average despite a league-high 263 carries, and more highlight-reel runs than any running back in the country -- deserves to have cemented his status among the SEC's all-time backfield greats. Not even his predecessor Mark Ingram was ever better.

Michael Dyer, Soph., Auburn. The only back besides Richardson to average more than 100 yards per SEC game, Dyer was often the only thing the sputtering Auburn offense had going for it--and he still finished with 1,242 yards while averaging better than 5 yards a carry.

Honorable mention: Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy quietly enjoyed a breakout season as the league's second-most explosive back behind Richardson, scoring 13 touchdowns and averaging 6.2 yards a carry.

WIDE RECEIVER

Jarius Wright, Sr. Arkansas. Though not the most heralded of the Hogs' star-studded receiving corps entering the season, Wright quickly established himself as Wilson's go-to receiver and arguably the league's top wideout, finishing in the SEC's top two in receptions (63), yards (1,029), touchdowns (11), and average per reception (16.3).

Da'Rick Rogers, Soph., Tennessee. Like Wright, Rogers was supposed to take a back seat to fellow Vol wideout Justin Hunter. But when Hunter went down with an ACL injury in Week 3, Hunter stepped forward to lead the SEC with 1,040 receiving yards and 67 receptions--despite often being the woeful Volunteer offense's only threatening playmaker.

Rueben Randle, Jr., LSU. Rather than take a tight end, we're promoting a third receiver to our first team to make room for the SEC's biggest downfield threat. Randle caught "only" 50 passes (fourth in the conference) but saw eight of them go for touchdowns and averaged 18.1 yards per completion, making him one of only three BCS-conference receivers nationally to clear both 50 total catches and 18 yards a reception.

Honorable mention: If we'd gone with a tight end, Georgia's Orson Charles (44 receptions, 572 yards, 5 TDs) would have been an easy choice. Alshon Jeffery didn't have anything like the All-American season expected of him at South Carolina, but he was still the only receiver outside Wright, Rogers, and Randle to finish in the league's top seven in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.

OFFENSIVE LINE

OT/OG Barrett Jones, Sr., Alabama. Whether at guard or tackle, Jones was hands-down one of the nation's best offensive linemen and a deserving All-American who's about to become quite the wealthy individual in the NFL. An easy selection.

OG Will Blackwell, Sr., LSU. The league's best prototype guard this season, Blackwell punished opponents in run blocking and played a major role in LSU's weekly second-half bulldozings on the ground.

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama. The SEC's best center, Vlachos put both his considerable strength and veteran guile to use in leading Alabama to the SEC's most productive rushing attack.

OT Alex Hurst, Sr., LSU. As effective as the LSU ground game was, the line also had to give Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson time to uncork those bombs to Randle. And thanks in large part to senior tackle Hurst, they did; the Tigers allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC.

OT Rokevious Watkins, Sr., South Carolina. Even without Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks averaged more yards per-carry and scored more rushing touchdowns than any team in the league outside of Alabama and LSU, and the much-improved Watkins was a huge reason why.

Honorable mention: Both Georgia tackle Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones had strong senior campaigns (following) iffier junior seasons and have strong arguments for first-team inclusion. Kentucky never got anything going on offense, but guard Larry Warford was a bright spot.

ALL-PURPOSE

PR/WR/KR Joe Adams, Sr., Arkansas. Instead of reading this comment or looking up his stats, just watch this video:
 

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Melvin Ingram, Sr, South Carolina. His 13.5 sacks and 8.5 sacks -- both among the SEC's top five totals -- might have been enough anyway. Add in his two defensive touchdowns, critical fake punt touchdown rumble vs. Georgia, and skill at kick-blocking, and he's a total no-brainer.

DT Josh Chapman, Sr., Alabama. When you're the nose tackle that anchors a run defense that not only finishes No. 1 in the nation but allows an unbelievable three rushing touchdowns all season, yes, you've had quite the campaign.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. Don't hold the Vols' poor team numbers (or record) against Jackson; the ever-active veteran finished with 11 tackles-for-loss (second among SEC tackles) despite receiving constant attention from opposing offensive lines.

DE Sam Montgomery, Soph., LSU. Picking the best LSU defensive lineman is like picking which cast member of Arrested Development How I Met Your Mother is your favorite, but we'll go with Montgomery, who combined incredible disruption (9 sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss) with stout down-to-down run defense.

Honorable mention: Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox led all SEC tackles in tackles-for-loss with 12.5 and Auburn's Corey Lemonier led all SEC ends with 9.5 sacks; both deserve a tip of the cap.

LINEBACKERS

Jarvis Jones, Soph., Georgia. Todd Grantham's 3-4 system made a star out of Justin Houston a year ago, but it paid even bigger dividends for Jones, who led the SEC in both tackles-for-loss and sacks and his Georgia defense -- one of the nation's best -- in tackles overall.

Courtney Upshaw, Sr., Alabama. Of the many terrors in the Tide linebacking corps, Upshaw may have been the biggest, collecting 17.5 tackles-for-loss, 8.5 sacks, and as much general havoc caused as any player in the country.

Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. No SEC player filled the whirling-dervish tackling-machine middle linebacker role better than the veteran Wildcat, who led the league in tackles for a second straight year and seemed to be three or four places at once late in the season.

Honorable mention: We're pretty sure that Crimson Tide inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower makes the first team in any other league in the nation; given the Tide's unreal rushing defense numbers and Hightower's role in them, we won't argue if you want to put him first in this league, too.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Jr., Alabama. Much as we've talked up Alabama's run defense, the Tide's pass defense was No. 1, too, and Kirkpatrick was the best player in pass coverage Nick Saban had in 2011--quite the accomplishment considering the competition.

CB Morris Claiborne, Jr., LSU. As much as we admire Claiborne's mustelid teammate in the LSU secondary, Claiborne's outrageous cover-corner skills means that if forced to pick one or the other to build our secondary (or team) around, we don't even have to think very long before taking Claiborne.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. Ho-hum, just another All-American season as the leader of the nation's top pass defense and the second-leading tackler on the nation's top rush defense.

CB/S Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU. The Honey Badger is a tad overrated as a corner--which is why he wound up playing safety late in the year when Eric Reid suffered an injury. But it's pretty much impossible to overrate his nose for the ball or knack for the big play, which stands alone as the best in the nation.

Honorable mention: Casey Hayward and his five interceptions (and outstanding ball skills) for Vandy could and maybe should have him in the All-American discussion ... but since this is the SEC secondary we're talking about, he's here. The same goes for Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo and LSU's Reid, and though not quite in that class, Mississippi State corner Johnthan Banks had a season worth mentioning as well.

SPECIALISTS

P Brad Wing, rFr., LSU. We're assuming the Ray Guy Award voters left him off because they expected to simply hand the thing over each of the next two seasons.

PK Caleb Sturgis, Jr. Florida. His 21-of-25 season was a rare positive for the Gators in difficult season.
Posted on: December 2, 2011 4:05 pm
Edited on: December 9, 2011 7:20 pm
 

Dooley refutes reports on Vol WR Rogers

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

UPDATE, 7:30 p.m. ET: Despite mutliple reports across various outlets corroborating the initial news that Da'Rick Rogers was facing some degree of roster exile, Derek Dooley refuted them Friday afteroon.

"Da'Rick Rogers has not been suspended and is still a part of our football team," Dooley said through a statement.

This may be true. But frankly, the degree and strength of the reports from Friday afternoon -- see below -- suggest that if Rogers isn't suspended, isn't off the roster, it doesn't mean he's necessarily in the clear. Dooley may not like using the word "suspension" and definitely won't appreciate the leak in the wake of Vanderbilt-gate, but we're not convinced Rogers isn't in some kind of hot water.

So take the below with a grain of salt. But take Dooley's denials with the same.

-----------------------  

The news for Derek Dooley and Tennessee seems to just keep getting worse.

GVX247.com's Wes Rucker has reported that leading wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers is not a current part of the Vols' active roster, throwing his status for the 2012 season in doubt. Rogers has the opportunity to earn his way back onto the team, according to the report, but for now has been effectively suspended.

We say "effectively" since Rucker's sources -- and others' -- are avoiding calling it a suspension, comparing the situation to that of now-former Vol safety Janzen Jackson. Jackson left the team in the 2010-2011 offseason to work on "personal issues" before eventually returning to school in July ... and being dismissed in August. 

Per the Knoxville News-Sentinel, the reasons for Dooley's decision are not public knowledge at this time.

Vol fans will no doubt be hoping for a much happier ending where Rogers is concerned than they got with Jackson. Though his numbers may have benefitted from the absence of fellow receiving stud Justin Hunter for all but three games, they were most certainly not helped by the five games missed by starting quarterback Tyler Bray--and Rogers still led the SEC in receptions (67) and yards (1,040) while ranking second second in receiving scores with 9. Subjectively, the former five-star recruit gave the Vols a physical, clutch presence in the aerial game that at times was the only positive thing the often-toothless Tennessee attack had going for it in 2011.

In short: his departure would be yet another major blow to a reeling program that simply can't absorb many more like it and get back to where its fans (and administrators) expect it to be. Rogers isn't a goner just yet, fortunately, but until he returns we won't blame anyone in Knoxville for fearing the worst ... especially after the year the Vols just endured.
Posted on: December 1, 2011 1:45 pm
 

Report: Tennessee WR coach Baggett on way out

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Despite the opinions of the angrier wings of the Tennessee fanbase, Derek Dooley isn't going anywhere until 2012 at the earliest. But when you're Tennessee, you simply don't go 1-7 in the SEC, miss out on a bowl at 5-7 overall, and lose to Kentucky without having some kind of staff shakeup. And that shakeup has reportedly started.

According to "a source familiar with the personnel but not authorized to speak publicly" who spoke to the Knoxville News-SentinelVols wide receiver coach Charlie Baggett will not return to the Vol staff next season. Baggett was hired by Dooley in 2010 and spent two years in Knoxville, earning a $400,000 annual salary.

Neither Baggett nor Dooley nor the Vol program has confirmed Baggett's depature. The early favorite to replace Baggett is current Kentucky receivers coach and former Volunteer quarterbacking legend Tee Martin. 

Per the News-Sentinel, Baggett has elected to voluntarily retire. Though no doubt that report will receiver some skepticism, between the efforts of players like of Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter (who missed nearly the entire 2011 season with an ACL tear), wide receiving play has largely been one of the strengths of Dooley's tenure. It seems unlikely that with his results in both the recruiting and production departments, Baggett would be forced out.

Then again: 5-7 demands change of some kind, and we won't be shocked at all if Baggett's departure is just the first of a handful on the Vol staff.
Posted on: September 19, 2011 1:08 pm
 

Coaches gave Gator DBs Vol 'trash talk' posters

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

It's one thing to pin up a few stray comments on the locker room bulletin board, as, well, bulletin-board material. It seems like another to take those same comments and have them printed as part of a one-time-only professional-grade poster to be all-but shoved in the face of some of the players who you want to know about said comments.

But that's the approach that worked -- mostly -- for Florida's coaches in advance of their win over Tennessee last Saturday, as the Orlando Sentinel reports. Taking a handful of quotes from Volunteer receivers Da'Rick Rogers and (maybe) Justin Hunter, Gator coaches printed up the following poster (again, via the Sentinel) and placed it in the lockers of the Florida defensive backs:



"Coming in this week, these two guys were talking a lot of trash about what they were going to do to us, about how we were too small, too slow," Gator safety Matt Elam said. "They were basically saying how they were in a groove and how they were going to dominate us."

Unless either Rogers or Hunter said something more than what appears on the poster (the full-size version of which is here), that strikes us as a bit of an exaggeration (though Rogers should probably stop short of calling his team 'unstoppable' in the future). But making mountains out of an opponent's mouthy molehills has been a prime motivational tactic for college football coaches since the beginning of the sport, and you can't much argue with the results. Despite the whopping seven flags thrown against the Gator secondary, Florida did hold Tyler Bray to just 6 yards per passing attempt and picked him off twice; Rogers caught five balls for 62 yards and a touchdown, but also suffered multiple key drops and was generally unable to make up for Hunter's absence following his season-ending knee injury.

So maybe Florida's coaches are going above-and-beyond the call of bulletin-board duty here. Given the task they faced against Bray and Co. and how well their young defensive backs responded, though, no way to argue it wasn't the right call. We'd advise any and all stars from Kentucky to keep their comments humble this week.

Posted on: September 18, 2011 7:51 pm
Edited on: September 18, 2011 7:52 pm
 

Vols lose Justin Hunter for the season

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Tennessee's loss to rival Florida on Saturday is painful enough for the Vols on its own, but it hurt even more with some bad news on Sunday afternoon.

After suffering a knee injury during Saturday's game, Tennessee confirmed on Sunday that wide receiver Justin Hunter will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Hunter is expected to recover in time to return to the team for spring practice next year.

Which isn't much solace to the Tennessee offense now. Hunter had 16 catches for 302 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Vols two victories so far this season. He had 1 reception for 12 yards before tearing his ACL on Saturday.

If there's any silver lining to this cloud for Tennessee, it's that Tyler Bray still has a nice target in Da'Rick Rogers, who has 20 catches for 262 yards and 4 touchdowns on the season.
Posted on: September 17, 2011 7:42 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 16 Florida 33, Tennessee 23

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

FLORIDA WON: It wasn't quite as overpowering a victory as it looked to be late in the third quarter (when they were up 30-7), but the Gators nonetheless established their SEC East bona fides with a comfortable 10-point victory over the visiting Vols. Running back-slash-special teams extraordinaire Chris Rainey might have earned a few Heisman Watch-type nods with another scintillating all-around performance: 108 yards rushing, 104 receiving (including the touchdown above), and a second-quarter blocked punt -- the fifth of his career -- for good measure. 

WHY FLORIDA WON: For years and years, the Florida-Tennessee rivalry has been decided by which team could run the ball. And today, it was no contest: the Gators ran for 134 yards while stuffing the Vol run game to the tune of minus-9 yards (yes, 9 yards fewer than no yards at all) on 21 attempts. Even with sacks removed, the Florida defensive line of Jaye Howard, Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley and the newly-reinstated Sharrif Floyd held Volunteer tailbacks to a miserable 27 yards on 14 carries, an average of less than 2 yards an attempt.

Tyler Bray and his talented Vol receivers got their licks in from time to time against the inexperienced Gator secondary (and forced Florida into seven different pass interference penalties in the process), but keeping pace with Rainey and the Florida attack was always going to be too tall a task for such a one-dimensional offense. And it didn't help -- to say the least -- for star sophomore wideout Justin Hunter to leave the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. Whatever hopes Tennessee had of winning a shootout on the strength of Bray's arm likely left the game with him.

WHEN FLORIDA WON: Tennessee went into the locker room with ample momentum, going 89 yards in 6 plays to cut a 16-0 lead to 16-7 just ahead of halftime. And with the first possession of the second half, the Vols had to like their chances of cutting into that lead even further.

But that possession lasted all of one play--Bray threw his worst pass of the day, an ill-advised gunsling that was picked off by Josh Evans. Florida scored on a one-yard Trey Burton touchdown run seven plays later, and Tennessee would be forced to play in desperation mode for the remainder of the game.

WHAT FLORIDA WON: Even if the challenge presented by Tennessee wasn't nearly as stiff as the one to be presented later by the likes of Alabama, LSU, or South Carolina, that the Gators handled it as comfortably as they did (their 15 penalties aside) suggests the malaise of Urban Meyer's final season is firmly behind the program. Will Muschamp's team may or may not win the East, but they have the kind of defensive front and explosive playmakers that will give them as potent a chance to do as anyone.

WHAT TENNESSEE LOST: Whatever you might say about the less tangible losses in a defeat like this -- the air of belief that sprung up after last week's win over Cincinnati, the longshot hopes of an East title -- they pale in comparison to the potential long-term loss of a talent like Hunter. With him, the Vols looked capable of being so powerful in the passing game they could play with anyone; the evidence of today's game suggests that without him, they simply won't be able to hang with the SEC's reigning heavyweights.

Posted on: September 16, 2011 3:28 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 3

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.

We're in the third week of the regular season which means that we're finishing up with the appetizers of the college football menu and getting to the main courses. This week we've got plenty of entrees guaranteed to keep your cardiologist's savings account healthy, as plenty of BCS schools clash and conferences like the SEC continue to delve into conference play. So prepare yourself for an endless bounty taste and bold flavors, and for the love of Bear Bryant, make sure you wear pants with an elastic waistband.

BREAKFAST

Maryland vs. #18 West Virginia - ESPNU 12pm ET

The Terps will be donning their all black uniform combination for their first outing since taking down Miami on Labor Day evening. West Virginia's potent offense has been scoring on nearly 70% of their drives, so it will be on sophomore Danny O'Brien to keep up with the high-powered Mountaineers. Unfortunately, he lost two of his top weapons when Ronnie Tyler and Quinton McCree were suspended indefinitely on Thursday. - Chip Patterson

Clemson vs. #21 Auburn - ABC 12pm ET

There won't be much in the way of offensive surprises for either defense this game: Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris learned his offensive schemes from Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn when both were high school coaches, and both vaulted to their current jobs after operating that same scheme at Tulsa. If that would seem to favor Malzahn's Tigers (who have three years of familiarity with the offense over Clemson's one), remember that this is also the exceptionally green Auburn lineup's first game away from the Plains. Can the Tiger cubs handle Death Valley? - Jerry Hinnen

Iowa vs. Pitt - ESPN2 - 12pm ET

This should be quite the interesting game. Both teams are coming off subpar Week 2 performances, with Iowa dropping a 44-41 thriller to Iowa State in 3OT, and Pitt holding off a late Maine rally to win 35-29. Iowa would appear to hold the advantage here, being that the game is at Kinnick Stadium, but since neither team is playing at a high level, no result would be a shocker. Plus, if anything, Michigan and Notre Dame just demonstrated how fun games can be when both teams are trying to lose. - Adam Jacobi

LUNCH

#11 Nebraska vs. Washington - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

Incredibly, this will be the third meeting between Nebraska and Washington in the last year; the two teams met on September 18 last year, then held a rematch in the Holiday Bowl. The rubber match here should tell us plenty about where both teams stand as we near conference play -- does Washington have what it takes to hang with a ranked foe this year? Will the Cornhuskers finally live up to their preseason hype and No. 11 ranking? Let's find out. - AJ

#16 Florida vs. Tennessee - CBS 3:30pm ET

Don't expect Week 2's trend of high-scoring shootouts in the SEC's highest-profile games to change in Gainesville. The Vols are banged-up and inexperienced in the front seven, and seem like little match for a Gator ground game featuring Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps; the Gators start two true freshmen in their secondary and could be lit up by quarterback Tyler Bray and explosive receiving duo Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. First team to 40 wins. - JH

UCLA vs. #23 Texas - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

Much like the city of Los Angeles itself, Rick Neuheisel forever finds himself standing on shaky ground at UCLA. The Bruins haven't quite become Los Angeles' team like the program boasted it would when Rick came to town, but a second straight win over the Texas Longhorns could go a long way toward making it a reality. Meanwhile the Longhorns will unleash the quarterbacking duo of Case McCoy and David Ash this weekend, so tune in to see what the Texas offense might look like when it isn't tossing out interceptions like Tootsie Rolls on Halloween. - Tom Fornelli

Notre Dame vs. #15 Michigan State - NBC 3:30pm ET

The first two weeks of the season have been a nightmare for Notre Dame. Ten turnovers and two losses are not the way the Irish had planned on starting the return to glory, and things may get even worse before they get better. Michigan State has yet to be truly tested so far in 2011 but if Sparty can go into South Bend and get a win then Brian Kelly will have some pretty big fires to put out. - TF

DINNER

Kentucky vs. Louisville - ESPNU 7pm ET

While this game might fall short of marquee status, it still pits two hated rivals against each other early in the year. Louisville needs to bounce back from a home loss to FIU, and Kentucky needed a 4th quarter comeback to defeat Central Michigan. I expect a lot of passion, and possible hilarity to ensue as both the Cardinals and Wildcats will be starting true freshman on the offensive line. Though, as Morgan Newton has proven this year, you don't need defensive linemen for a sack. - CP

Illinois vs. #22 Arizona State - Big Ten Network 7pm ET

Fresh off an overtime win, Arizona State heads on the road for the first time of the year to take on undefeated Illinois. This game features an underrated quarterback match up between 6-foot-8 signal-caller Brock Osweiler and dual-threat Nathan Scheelhaase. Of course you'll also want to tune in for one of the best linebackers in college football in Vontaze Burfict trying to stop the Illini. - Bryan Fischer

Miami vs. #17 Ohio State - ESPN 7:30pm ET

One team prefers to trade memorabilia for tattoos and cash, the other has enjoyed cover charges and open bars at adult entertainment nightclubs.  What better idea than to get them all together in South Beach on a Saturday night?  Al Golden and Luke Fickell navigate two programs under NCAA investigation into a primetime heavyweight bout with both teams needing a strong performance to live up to expectations. Get your "LAST" button greased up so you can bounce between this game and OU-FSU. - CP

#5 Florida State vs. #1 Oklahoma - ABC 8pm ET

In a weekend full of wonderful games, this one is the marquee matchup. Two top five teams clash in Tallahassee as Florida State tries to show the world that it is indeed back and a national title contender, while Oklahoma looks to prove to the world that it is the best team in the country. This one should be an exciting battle, and one of the key areas to watch will be how Florida State's offensive line handles the Sooners' defensive line. - TF

LATE NIGHT SNACK

Arizona vs. #6 Stanford - ESPN 10:45pm ET

Do you like quarterbacks? Do you like offense? If so, the Stanford-Arizona game will offer plenty of both as Andrew Luck roles into the desert to take on Nick Foles.  While the Cardinal are not quite as explosive as the Wildcats' opponent last week (Oklahoma State), they bring in a trio of tight ends to watch out for and running back Stepfan Taylor to pound away in the running game. - BF
Posted on: September 15, 2011 2:24 pm
 

SEC Interrogation, Week 3

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Each Thursday we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:




Mississippi State: can you finally avoid losing an SEC West game with turnovers and/or special teams breakdowns? More than a few wags skeptical of Dan Mullen's burgeoning reputation in Starkville have noted that he has yet to beat any division opponent other than downtrodden in-state rival Ole Miss, dropping to 0-9 after last week's loss in Auburn. But that agonizing defeat wasn't the first time Mullen has come tantalizingly close to making the breakthrough, and never has he been closer than LSU's last visit to Starkville.

In that 2009 meeting, the Bulldogs outgained the Bayou Bengals 374-263, held LSU to one (1!) yard per their 31 carries, and enjoyed a first-and-goal at the Tiger 2, down six, with under three minutes to play. But that possession ended with quarterback Tyson Lee tackled at the 1 on a botched option play (sound familiar?) and the Bulldogs fell 30-26. While much of the postgame chatter focused on that late goal-line failure, the larger story was State's four critical turnovers (one of them an interception returned for a touchdown) and a punt that bounced inside the 10 and was somehow still returned by LSU's Chad Jones for a backbreaking touchdown.

Those kinds of breakdowns have been a recurring theme for the Bulldogs, as last week's performance proved again. Chris Relf maybe could have scored on the game's final play, but the Bulldogs wouldn't have even been in that situation if Relf hadn't bounced a first-quarter pass off a defender's helmet (a pass eventually picked and housed), or if the Bulldogs hadn't allowed Auburn kick returner Tre Mason to repeatedly set his team up in excellent field position. Even in last year's 29-7 loss to LSU, the Bulldogs played the Tigers to a dead heat in the box score ... except for the 5-to-1 negative turnover margin that broke the game open.

With LSU's offense again unimpressive statistically in their week 1 win against Oregon (273 yards total, 3.9 yards per-play), Jarrett Lee unlikely to make major headway against a veteran Bulldog secondary, and State getting a boost from what should be a rabid Thursday night home crowd, the Bulldogs seem a good bet to once again play an SEC West opponent to a statistical stalemate ... or better. But if they once again lose the turnover and special teams battle that Les Miles's team specializes in winning, it's not going to matter any more than it did the first nine times.


Tyler Bray: can you do to the Gators anything like what you did to Cincinnati?
Let's be up front about this: Florida is going to score points against Tennessee Saturday. The injury-ridden, inexperienced Vol front seven gave up an incredible 6.4 yards per-carry against Cincinnati, and the combination of a revitalized-looking Gator offensive line and the Jeff Demps-Chris Rainey tag-team is far more fearsome than anything the Bearcats had to offer. And the Vols likely won't be able to answer with a strong ground game of their own; despite having faced Cincy and FCS Montana their first two weeks, Tennessee ranks dead-last in the SEC in yards-per-carry. Facing the Gators' loaded defensive front -- now including the newly-reinstated Sharrif Floyd -- is hardly going to be the cure for those issues.

Which means whatever hope the Vols have of keeping pace rests firmly on the shoulders of Bray. But to look at his remarkable performance last week -- 34-of-41, 405 yards, 4 TDs, no INTs -- he might be capable of fulfilling that hope all the same. It won't hurt that the matchup of dynamic sophomore duo of Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers against a Gator secondary starting two true freshman is one that overwhelmingly favors the Vols.

Attempting to win a shootout on the road with a one-dimensional offense isn't the typical recipe for victory in the SEC. But if Bray comes out as on fire as he has been the first two weeks of this season, we're not going to put it past him.



Auburn's defense: are you actually improving? Ask any Auburn fan (or coach, or maybe even player) about the team's defense before the season, and they'd have told you that with just two starters back and underclassmen all over the two-deep, it was going to be a work-in-progress. But no one expected it to be quite as much "in progress" as it's been through two weeks; the Tiger D ranks last in the SEC in yards allowed per-game by nearly 100 yards over next-to-last-place Georgia.

Some of that is the quick pace of the Auburn offense, but much more of it is the Tiger defense's near-total inability to get off the field. Utah State converted a mind-boggling 13-of-20 third- and fourth-downs, and Mississippi State wasn't far behind after going 12-of-21. The result? Auburn's D has been on the field for 181 plays already this season, the highest total in the nation. Until the Tigers start getting some stops on third down -- despite the presence of pass-rushers Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae, Auburn has just two sacks on nearly 70 opponents' dropbacks -- the defense isn't going to get legitimately better, and eventually an opponent is going to make the Tigers pay for that weakness.

Clemson may or may not be that opponent; the South Carolina-bred Tigers have flashed issues of their own in sluggish wins over Troy and Wofford. But Chad Morris's Gus Malzahn-like offense should provide a good measuring stick regardless.

Also worth asking: Is Ole Miss, Vanderbilt or Kentucky the SEC's worst team? (With the Rebels and Commodores battling in Nashville and the Wildcats taking on a reeling Louisville team, someone is going to be a definitive No. 12 by the weekend's end.) What does Arkansas look like against an opponent that almost-sorta has a pulse? (Troy isn't great, but they're better than Missouri State or New Mexico. The Hogs should break a sweat, at least. Anything more could spell trouble down the road.) What on earth is Georgia going to do at inside linebacker? (Coastal Carolina won't be anything more than cannon fodder, but the Dawgs have to figure out what they have at their injury-gutted ILB positions.)

 
 
 
 
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