Articles By Mitch Light
You can call it Magnolia State Magic. You can call it the best sports day in the history of the state.
But don’t call it a fluke.
Mississippi State and Ole Miss, historically two of the least-successful programs in the SEC, both enjoyed program-changing wins that will vault them into the top-five in many national polls.
Mississippi State’s victory was less surprising but far more dominant. The Bulldogs, playing without their starting center (Dillon Day) and top wide receiver (Jameon Lewis), rolled up 559 yards of total offense on its way to a 48–31 win over Texas A&M. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has emerged as arguably the top dual-threat quarterback in the country (and yes, that includes Marcus Mariota). The junior has been remarkably consistent, throwing for at least 200 yards in every game and rushing for more than 75 in each of the last four games. He has averaged at least 8.4 yards per passing attempt in every game this season, including 11.2 against LSU and 10.4 against Texas A&M.
The other quarterback in the state also enjoyed a banner day. Bo Wallace threw for 251 yard with three touchdowns and — most important — zero interceptions in Ole Miss’ stunning 23–17 win over Alabama. With the eyes of the college football world focused on Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Wallace threw two touchdown passes in the final six minutes to lead his team to the improbable victory.
“He made some big-time plays,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said of his senior quarterback. “He just played so solid. On that last touchdown, that ball was right where it needed to be for us.”
You can debate which team from the Magnolia State deserves to be ranked higher — Mississippi State has more quality wins (LSU, A&M) while Ole Miss as the best win (Alabama) — but there is no denying that both the Bulldogs and Rebels have earned their spot (for now) near the top of the college football food chain.
With the spotlight of the college football world on the state of Mississippi, the epic struggles of the LSU defense went largely unnoticed this past weekend.
But the folks in Baton Rouge, who are used to seeing the Tigers field a dominating defense, are ready to hit the panic button. LSU was torched by Auburn for 566 yards (298 on the ground, 268 in the air) en route to a 41–7 loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn averaged 7.7 yards per snap and converted 6-of-12 on third down. It was total domination.
LSU, which has ranked in the top five in the SEC in each of the past four years, has given up an average of 568 yards in its two SEC games — losses at home to Mississippi State and at Auburn. The Tigers had allowed 500 yards to an SEC opponent only twice in the previous six seasons.
This team’s overall defensive stats in 2014 are still respectable — LSU ranks fifth in the league at this point — but the numbers are skewed by a extremely soft non-conference schedule. The Tigers allowed an average of 231.0 yards in wins over Sam Houston State, ULM and New Mexico State. Against quality competition, the results have been quite different. They gave up 268 rushing yards in the opener against Wisconsin and 550-plus total yards to both Mississippi State and Auburn.
Les Miles attempted to rationalize his team’s defensive struggles after the Auburn loss, putting some of the blame on the Tigers’ inept offense.
“I’m disappointed (in the defense), but I am realistic too,” he said. “When you put your defense back on the field repeatedly, the offense needs to do its job. And the defense needs to get off the field.”
The numbers, however, don’t back up Miles’ claim. The LSU defense was only the field for 74 plays on Saturday night — not a huge amount against a Gus Malzahn offense. Auburn averaged 7.7 yards on those 74 plays, including an alarming 6.1 per rush. As a team, LSU ranks last in the SEC in rushing defense.
“We have to be more physical at the point of attack,” linebacker Kendall Beckwith said. “That’s all there is — just be more physical and be more aggressive.”
An epic week in the SEC is highlighted by two huge games in the Magnolia State. Ole Miss hosts Alabama and Texas A&M visits Mississippi State in a pair of crucial matchups that will help shape the SEC West race. Elsewhere, LSU makes the trip to Auburn with a true freshman quarterback making his first start, and Florida and Tennessee get together in Knoxville.
Week 6 Previews and Predictions
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
Week 6 SEC Games Power Rankings
1. Alabama (-6.5) at Ole Miss (3:30 ET, CBS)
It’s the biggest football Saturday in Oxford in decades. Ole Miss, undefeated and ranked in the top 10 nationally, hosts the mighty Crimson Tide of Alabama. That’s the main event. The pregame party, however, will be legendary, with ESPN’s College GameDay setting up shop in the Grove for the first time ever. Assuming the tailgaters can find their way to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, they will have an opportunity to witness the first of what should be many epic showdowns in the next two months between SEC West contenders. Alabama has ascended to the top of a few national polls on the strength of an offense that is averaging just a shade under 600 yards per game. Ole Miss currently leads the SEC in total defense, allowing only 3.7 yards per play and 248.0 yards per game — but the Rebels have played a relatively soft schedule. The bigger concern for Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is his offense; the numbers have been decent, but the Rebs have lacked consistency and have turned the ball over nine times in four games.
Listen to the Week 6 preview podcast:
2. Texas A&M (+2.5) at Mississippi State (12 ET, ESPN)
Any other Saturday, this likely would have been the Game of the Week nationally. But the Bulldogs are forced to cede the spotlight to their hated rivals to the (relative) north, the Ole Miss Rebels, who host Alabama. Still, this is a huge game between two undefeated teams with aspirations of winning the SEC West. Texas A&M survived a scare on Saturday, rallying from 14 down in the fourth quarter to beat Arkansas in overtime. The Aggies’ offense is as explosive as ever, but the defense continues to be an issue. A&M has given up more than 400 yards in three of five games, including 484 to Arkansas on Saturday. Mississippi State passed its only test this season — and did so in impressive fashion with a 34–29 win at LSU two weeks ago. The Bulldogs are stout defensively and feature one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation in junior Dak Prescott.
3. LSU (+7.5) at Auburn (7 ET, ESPN)
True freshman Brandon Harris will be making his first start for an LSU team that is trying to avoid its first 0–2 start in the SEC since 2001 (a year in which the Tigers actually went on to win the conference title). Harris has played very well in relief in recent weeks, but starting a game — especially on the road at night in a hostile environment against a top-10 team — is a completely different challenge. Auburn’s defense appears to be improved in 2014; the Tigers are allowing only 313.3 yards per game and held Arkansas to 328 in Week 1 and Kansas State to 285 two weeks ago. The Tigers would love tailback Leonard Fournette, another true freshman, to break out this week. He had 122 yards on 18 carries against New Mexico State but has a total of 56 yards on 15 carries in two games against Power 5 conference teams. This is a tough spot for LSU.
4. Florida (+2.5) at Tennessee (12 ET, SEC Network)
Once the Game of the Year in the SEC and a fixture on CBS, the annual Florida-Tennessee battle has been relegated to a noon start on the SEC Network. Still, this is a huge game for both programs. It’s almost a must win for Florida coach Will Muschamp, whose team is 1–6 in its last seven SEC games with the lone win coming in overtime at home vs. Kentucky. Tennessee is trending in the right direction, and a win over Florida — something that hasn’t happened for the Vols since 2004 — would be huge step forward for this program. Granted, beating Florida isn’t a huge deal anymore, but this is a game Tennessee simply needs to win.
5. South Carolina (-5) at Kentucky (7:30 ET, SEC Network)
It’s been a strange year for the Gamecocks, who have now lost two home games for the first time since 2008. South Carolina had by far its finest defensive performance of the season on Saturday night — giving up less than 350 yards an fewer than 6.7 yards per snap for the first time — yet still lost to Missouri, 21–20. Anything can happen in the wide-open SEC East, though it’s tough to envision a team with two losses at home winning the division. Kentucky is much-improved in the second season under Mark Stoops. The Cats took Florida to overtime in Gainesville before finally snapping their 17-game SEC losing streak against Vanderbilt last week. Kentucky did, however, have season-lows in points (17), total yards (384) and yards per play (4.8) against the Commodores.
6. Vanderbilt (+33.5) at Georgia (4 ET, SEC Network)
Georgia concludes a three-game homestand against a Vanderbilt team that is struggling to move the ball and score points. The Commodores rank last in the league in both rushing offense and passing offense and are averaging only 254.6 yards per game. They have five offensive touchdowns in five games and have made a total of 11 trips inside the red zone. Georgia has scored at least 35 points in all four games; if you’re Mark Richt, you have to figure 21 points will be more than enough to win this game.
Week 6 SEC Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Florida at Tennessee||UT 21-14||UT 27-21||UT 27-24||UT 28-24|
|Texas A&M at Miss St.||MSU 35-31||MSU 38-34||MSU 38-34||MSU 37-33|
|Alabama at Ole Miss||UA 31-20||UA 30-21||UA 27-20||UA 27-20|
|Vanderbilt at Georgia||UGa 35-14||UGa 34-13||UGa 38-13||UGa 34-14|
|LSU at Auburn||AU 28-13||AU 41-28||AU 34-24||AU 30-17|
|S. Carolina at Kentucky||SC 27-14||SC 31-24||SC 31-27||UK 24-20|
The Week 5 SEC slate was highlighted by Missouri’s surprising victory at South Carolina and Texas A&M’s comeback win, in overtime, over Arkansas in Arlington, Texas. Here are some stats from the week that was in the SEC.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 5 in the SEC
Third down conversion percentage rate allowed by the Tennessee defense in 2014, the best in the nation. Opponents have only converted 11 third downs in four games against the Vols. Last year, Tennessee ranked 92nd national in third down defense, allowing a 42.5 percent conversion rate.
Average carries per game by Todd Gurley, the most in his three seasons at Georgia. The Bulldogs entered the season with one of the deepest backfields in the nation, but injuries to some key reserves have forced Mark Richt to lean on Gurley more than he might have planned. Gurley had more than 20 carries seven times in 24 games in his first two seasons.
Consecutive possessions that ended with a punt by Texas A&M in the first quarter of the Aggies’ win against Arkansas on Saturday. It is the first time A&M punted on three straight possessions since the regular-season finale last season, a 28–21 loss at Missouri.
Games in which Arkansas has had at least 400 yards of offense this season — 684 vs. Nicholls State, 499 vs. Texas Tech, 427 vs. Northern Illinois, 484 vs. Texas A&M. Last season, the Hogs only topped the 400-yard mark three times, only one of which came against an SEC opponent (Texas A&M).
Touchdowns by Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims, who has not taken a snap on offense this season. Sims has two scores on kickoff returns and one on an interception return. No other Vanderbilt player has more than one touchdown.
Yards per passing attempt by the Kentucky offense, up from 6.8 last season, 5.5 in 2012 and 4.8 in ’11. The Wildcats rank fourth in the SEC in passing offense with 290.5 yards per game but have only thrown six touchdown passes, tied for second-fewest in the league.
Total yards accumulated by the Missouri offense in the 10 possessions from the middle of the first quarter through the middle of the fourth quarter in Mizzou’s 21–20 win at South Carolina. The Tigers then marched 68 yards and 51 yards, respectively, on their final two possessions, which both ended with touchdowns.
Touchdowns allowed by Ole Miss in four games this season. The Rebels gave up one score to both Boise State and Louisiana-Lafayette and did not allow a touchdown to Vanderbilt or Memphis. Ole Miss ranks No. 3 nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 8.5 points per game.
Losses at home by South Carolina so far this season. It’s the first time since 2008 that the Gamecocks have lost at least two games at Williams-Brice Stadium. That season, Carolina lost at home to Georgia (14–7) and LSU (24–17). The Gamecocks have not lost three home games since 2007.
Plays from scrimmage by the Texas A&M offense that have gone for 10 yards or more. That’s the most in the SEC and it’s 20 more than any other team in the league. Nationally, only Washington State has more (104).
The goal is to win the game, which Arkansas failed to do Saturday afternoon against Texas A&M. But the Razorbacks, even in defeat, proved to the nation that they are once again relevant in college football.
We saw some signs in Week 1, when Arkansas battled Auburn, the defending SEC champs, to a 21–21 tie in the first two quarters before wilting in the second half. Then, two weeks later, the Hogs bludgeoned Texas Tech with 438 rushing yards in a 49–28 win in Lubbock. That win, though extremely impressive, came against a Red Raider team that had defeated Central Arkansas and UTEP by an average of 6.5 points.
On Saturday, the Hogs missed an opportunity to record a program-changing win against a top-10 (for now) opponent. They held a lead for the majority of the game and had a two-touchdown edge heading into the fourth quarter. But some self-inflicted wounds — including a bad snap which led to a missed field goal that likely would have clinched the game — prevented the Hogs from snapping their SEC losing streak, which now stands at 14. But again, we can’t lose sight of just how much progress this program has made in a short period of time.
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A year ago, Arkansas was outgained by an average of 138.3 yards per game en route to an 0–8 record in the SEC. This year, the Hogs have yet to record a league win, but they have found an offensive identity. They rank first in the SEC in rushing offense (316.6 ypg) and are averaging 6.1 yards per offensive in their two league games. It’s becoming evident that Bret Beliema’s preferred method of offensive football — a power-running game — can be successful at an SEC school not named Alabama or LSU.
Close losses and impressive stats, however, won’t make Arkansas a contender in the brutal SEC West. This team needs to find a way to break through and prove it can beat a good team. On Saturday, they came painfully close.
“Our guys did several things throughout the course of the game to get excited about,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. “But obviously, not enough to close (out the game).”
The SEC West has emerged as the best collection of teams — in a division or league — that we have seen in college football in quite a long time. The SEC East? Not so much. But that doesn’t mean the race to represent the division in the league’s title game won’t be interesting.
As we head into October, you can make a case that six of the seven teams have a legitimate opportunity to win the division. Vanderbilt, at 0–3, is clearly out of the race. After that, it’s wide open.
Georgia is the most talented team in the division, but the Bulldogs, 1–1, have not played like a championship-caliber team in either league game — a three-point loss at South Carolina and a three-point win vs. Tennessee at home. Mark Richt’s team got a big break on Saturday night when South Carolina lost at home to Missouri.
Speaking of Missouri, the Tigers are the only team in the division without a league loss, and they have a key win at South Carolina. Still, Mizzou hasn’t exactly looked great in recent weeks. The Tigers lost at home to Indiana and were inept offensively until the final two drives Saturday night.
South Carolina is in a tough spot. The Gamecocks are already two games behind Missouri in the loss column and would lose a head-to-head tie-breaker with the Tigers.
Florida has issues on both sides of the ball — as we saw against Alabama two weeks ago. Still, the Gators, 1–1, have possibly the most favorable remaining schedule. They only have two more true road games — at Tennessee and at Vanderbilt — and they play LSU, Missouri and South Carolina in Gainesville. There is a difficult neutral site game against Georgia, but if Florida wins its home games and splits its two road games, that would give it at least five wins — which might be enough to tie for the division title.
Tennessee is much-improved, but the Vols aren’t good enough on the offensive line and have perhaps the most difficult schedule — including trips to Ole Miss and South Carolina sandwiched around a home date with Alabama — to be considered a serious threat. Still, I wouldn’t rule them out just yet.
And finally, Kentucky, which is a questionable non-call in Gainesville away from being 2–0 in the league with a win at Florida on its résumé. The Wildcats, at 3–1 overall, are halfway to bowl eligibility and still have home games against ULM (non-conference), South Carolina, Mississippi State and Georgia.
The West will continue to grab the national headlines — and deservedly so — but for pure drama, the East might be more interesting to watch. Stay tuned.
A key clash in the SEC East between Missouri and South Carolina highlights the Week 5 slate in the SEC. There is also an intriguing matchup in the West as Arkansas and Texas A&M meet in Arlington, Texas. Elsewhere, Georgia hopes to get back on track (in SEC play) against Tennessee in Athens, and Kentucky looks to snap a three-game losing streak to Vanderbilt.
Week 5 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
SEC Week 5 Game Power Rankings
1. Missouri (+5) at South Carolina (7 ET, ESPN)
This game was attractive enough to lure ESPN’s College GameDay to town, but the Battle of Columbia lost a bit of its luster after Missouri’s shocking loss at home to Indiana on Saturday. The Tigers’ defense, impressive in the early going of the 2014 season, gave up 241 yards rushing and 252 yards passing en route to the school’s first non-conference loss at home since 2005 (New Mexico). South Carolina survived a scare in Nashville on Saturday night against Vanderbilt. Gamecock coach Steve Spurrier wasn’t too impressed with his team’s 48–34 win: “We’ve all seen good football teams. We ain’t one,” he said after watching his team give up two kickoff returns for a touchdown and allowing Vanderbilt to average 6.9 yards per play. South Carolina is good enough offensively to win the SEC East but will need to show vast improvement over the next two months on the defensive side of the ball to remain in the race.
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2. Arkansas (+8) vs. Texas A&M (Arlington, Texas) (3:30 ET, CBS)
Here’s some evidence why the SEC West is so strong: Virtually every preseason prognostication had Arkansas picked last in the division, and most had Texas A&M picked fifth or sixth. Well, it’s still early, but the Aggies are 4–0 and ranked among the top six nationally in virtually every poll. Arkansas, meanwhile, is 3–1, highlighted by impressive wins at Texas Tech (49–28) and vs. Northern Illinois (52–14). The Hogs, as expected, have been extremely effective running the ball; they lead the SEC with 324.5 yards per game and are averaging 7.1 yards per carry. Texas A&M held South Carolina to 67 rushing yards in Week 1 — due in part to A&M’s early lead that forced the Gamecocks to throw the ball — but gave up 240 to Rice in a Week 3 win. Stopping the run will be of paramount importance for the Aggies.
3. Tennessee (+17) at Georgia (12 ET, ESPN)
The boys in Vegas don’t think this will be much of a game — Georgia is favored by 18 points — but don’t be surprised if Tennessee makes the Bulldogs sweat. The Volunteers have looked pretty good on offense through three games despite ranking near the bottom of the league in most categories. Their troubles on the offensive line are well-documented, but they boast some exciting young playmakers at running back and wide receiver and have a solid senior quarterback in Justin Worley. Georgia, which let one get away at South Carolina two weeks ago, got back on track Saturday afternoon with a dominant win over a really bad Troy team. The Bulldogs will need to prove they can slow down a top-flight passing attack before we can consider them a Playoff-caliber team.
4. Vanderbilt (+17) at Kentucky (12 ET, SEC Network)
It’s safe to say that no team that lost by 40 points to an opponent has been favored by 17 points over that same team two years later. That’s the case with Kentucky, which lost at home to Vanderbilt 40–0 in November 2012 in what turned out to be the final game of the Joker Phillips era. Now, the Wildcats, rejuvenated under second-year coach Mark Stoops, are a prohibitive favorite over a Vanderbilt team struggling under its new coach, Derek Mason. The Commodores showed significant signs of progress in last week’s loss to South Carolina, but this is still a team that is giving up just under 40 points per game on defense and could be without its starting quarterback (Patton Robinette) on offense. Kentucky hasn’t played since its heartbreaking overtime loss at Florida. The Cats looked much improved in that 36–30 setback — but a close loss to Florida, even in Gainesville, might not end up looking so good if the Gators continue to struggle.
5. Memphis (+19) at Ole Miss (7:30, FSN)
This is a very dangerous spot for Ole Miss, which is 4–0 and oh-so-close to a epic battle with Alabama that could be the most highly anticipated home game in decades. But first, the Rebels must deal with vastly improved Memphis. The Tigers are 2–1, with the only loss by seven points at UCLA, and they are playing with a ton of confidence. Ole Miss is also a confident bunch — and for good reason. The Rebels have been extremely impressive en route to a 3–0 start and are loaded with All-SEC-caliber players on both sides of the ball. This might not be as stress-free as Ole Miss fans would like, but the Rebels should be fine as long as Bo Wallace — who has thrown an SEC-high four interceptions in only three games — takes care of the ball.
6. Louisiana Tech (+32.5) at Auburn (4 ET, SEC Network)
Things were going relatively well in Skip Holtz’s second season at Louisiana Tech … until the Bulldogs lost at home to Northwestern State. Tech rolled up 413 total yards — 106 more than NSU — but lost the turnover battle 5-to-2. Auburn is fresh off a hard-fought 20–14 win at Kansas State. The Tigers managed only 359 yards of offense, the fewest of the Gus Malzahn era, but any win in Manhattan is a good win. Still, you can bet that Malzahn would like to see his offense get its swagger back as it prepares for a brutal stretch that begins with a date with LSU in two weeks and features six straight games against top-20 teams.
7. New Mexico State (+42.5) at LSU (7:30 ET, SEC Network)
There is no shame in losing to Mississippi State, even at home. But it had to be troubling to Les Miles and his staff that LSU was dominated so thoroughly through the first three-plus quarters of the 34–29 loss at Tiger Stadium. This team, while very talented, clearly has some issues. New Mexico State, however, is not close to good enough to expose those issues. The Aggies have improved, but they are still one of the worst FBS teams in the nation. This will not be close.
Week 5 SEC Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Vanderbilt at Kentucky||UK 24-14||UK 38-24||UK 34-24||UK 31-21|
|Tennessee at Georgia||UGa 35-14||UGa 38-17||UGa 34-20||UGa 38-20|
|Arkansas vs. Texas A&M||A&M 41-38||A&M 38-34||A&M 41-34||A&M 44-34|
|La. Tech at Auburn||AU 42-10||AU 52-10||AU 52-17||AU 41-10|
|Mizzou at S. Carolina||USC 28-21||USC 34-24||USC 31-24||USC 34-27|
|New Mexico St. at LSU||LSU 35-6||LSU 47-13||LSU 52-7||LSU 41-0|
|Memphis at Ole Miss||UM 28-10||UM 39-13||UM 38-17||UM 37-24|
It was an eventful weekend in the SEC. Records were broken (Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims). Major statements were made (Mississippi State). And offenses floundered (Florida). Here are some stats from the week that was in the SEC.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 4 in the SEC
Kickoffs returned for touchdowns by Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims in the Commodores’ loss to South Carolina. Sims is the first SEC player and the 18th player in FBS history to return two kickoffs for scores in the same game.
Yards per passing attempt averaged by Alabama quarterback Blake Sims in Alabama’s 42–21 win over Florida, a number that has been surpassed only once by a Nick Saban quarterback at Alabama against an SEC opponent. AJ McCarron averaged 13.9 yards per attempt in a 2012 win over Tennessee, against a defense that ranked last in the league by the end of the season.
Points scored by Auburn in Thursday’s win at Kansas State, the fewest by the Tigers in a victory since they beat Florida 17–6 in October 2011.
Times LSU has allowed at least 250 yards rushing in 2014 — 268 to Wisconsin and 302 to Mississippi State. The Tigers had not allowed a team to rush for 250-plus yards in a game since Auburn gashed them for 440 in October 2010.
Teams from Power 5 conferences that have at least 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards passing — Alabama and Mississippi State. Alabama has 1,007 yards rushing and 1,343 yards passing; MSU has 1,083 yards rushing and 1,067 yards passing.
Yards per play allowed by the South Carolina defense in Saturday’s 48–34 win at Vanderbilt. It was the most Vanderbilt has had against an SEC team since a 38–26 loss to Kentucky in 2006.
Rushing touchdowns by Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams, the most in the SEC and tied for third-most in the nation. As a team, the Razorbacks rank second in the country with 17 rushing touchdowns.
Drives by Florida that lasted three plays or fewer in the Gators’ loss at Alabama. Florida had two drives that went for seven plays — one covered 25 yards and ended with an interception and the other covered 31 yards and ended on downs. The Gators had 200 yards of offense and completed only 9-of-28 passes.
Average points scored by Texas A&M in its two road games. The Aggies won at South Carolina 52–28 in the opener and beat SMU in Dallas 58–6 on Saturday.
Losses by Missouri at home to a non-conference opponent since the end of the 2001 season — until Saturday’s setback against Indiana. The Tigers’ only other loss to a non-conference opponent in the last 12-plus years was to New Mexico in 2005.
Dan Mullen has done some great work in Starkville, but there was no denying his résumé was lacking a signature win. That, clearly, is no longer the case. Led by a Louisiana native who might be the best dual-threat quarterback east of Eugene, Ore., Mississippi State exorcised a ton of demons Saturday night in Baton Rouge, holding on for a 34–29 win against LSU in Tiger Stadium.
Dak Prescott, a Haughton, La., native who only got a look from LSU late in the recruiting process, threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns (without an INT) and ran for 105 yards and a score to lead the Bulldogs to their first win over the Tigers since 1999 and their first in Baton Rouge since 1991. Prescott has had 200-plus yards passing and 100-plus yards rushing in three straight games, and the Bulldogs have had at least 500 yards in five straight games, a school record.
State got the job done with some explosive plays — 10 that went for at least 20 yards — against an LSU defense that had not allowed a point since the third quarter of a Week 1 win over Wisconsin. For the game, the Bulldogs averaged 7.8 yards per snap, becoming only the second team since the beginning of the 2008 season to top the 7.0 mark against LSU.
Life in the SEC West will be treacherous this season, but Mississippi State has the talent — and makeup — to be factor in the division race. A team that is capable of winning in Baton Rouge on a Saturday night is a team that can win in any venue in the league.
Even when it was winning national championships and doing so with elite offensive players, Alabama was not thought of as the type of team that won games by decisive margins. Programs like Oregon and Oklahoma ran teams off the field, winning by gaudy scores that impressed pollsters. Alabama, meanwhile, won games with defense, a running game and a quarterback who “managed” the game — or at least that was the perception, even if it wasn’t always accurate.
Well, this Alabama team could be on the verge of following a different script, thanks to the emergence of Blake Sims as an unlikely star. The senior quarterback was brilliant in the Tide’s 42–21 win over Florida on Saturday afternoon, throwing for 445 yards — the second-most in school history — and four touchdowns. Sims averaged 13.5 yards on his 33 passing attempts, a number that has been surpassed only once by a Nick Saban quarterback at Alabama against an SEC opponent. AJ McCarron averaged 13.9 yards per attempt in a 2012 win over Tennessee, against a defense that ranked last in the league by the end of the season.
This was different.
Sims did his work against a Florida defense that is expected to be one of the best in the SEC. Despite their struggles last season, the Gators still ranked second in the league in total defense and first in passing defense in 2013. Sims, however, had little difficulty making big plays, completing passes of 87 yards to Kenyan Drake, 70 yards to Amari Cooper, 37 to T.J. Yeldon and 29 to Derrick Henry.
For the season, he is completing 73.2 percent of his passes and has thrown eight touchdowns and only two interceptions, and his 11.2 yards-per-attempt average leads the SEC.
“People have to respect his passing,” Alabama coach Saban said after the game. “He has made too many plays for people not to respect him as a passer.”
We dive into the heart of the SEC season with three games involving two league teams. Florida’s new-look offense, which showed some signs of life last week against Kentucky, will face a stiff test against Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium; Mississippi State heads to LSU seeking a program-changing win; and South Carolina visits Vanderbilt hoping to continue its momentum after beating Georgia last week.
Week 4 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
SEC Week 4 Game Power Rankings
1. Florida (+14.5) at Alabama
3:30 ET, CBS
First the good: Florida beat Kentucky and in the process identified a playmaker at running back (Matt Jones, 156 yards) and wide receiver (Demarcus Robinson, 216 yards). Now the bad: The Gators only scored 20 points in regulation — and did so despite making seven trips inside the Kentucky 40-yard line — in the first test under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. This week, the task is far more difficult as Florida makes its first visit to Alabama since 2010. The Gators lost that game 31–6 and have not scored more than 17 points in Tuscaloosa in any of their last nine trips dating back to 1963. The Crimson Tide defense showed some signs of vulnerability in the opener against West Virginia — giving up 393 total yards (365 through the air) — before shutting down Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss in lopsided wins. Florida will need a productive (and efficient) game from quarterback Jeff Driskel to have a shot at knocking off the Tide.
2. Mississippi State (+9.5) at LSU
7 ET, ESPN
The strength of the SEC West is at an all-time high. Five of the seven teams are ranked in the top 10 in the latest AP poll, and the other two teams (Mississippi State and Arkansas) are both receiving votes. Mississippi State struggled a bit in a Week 2 win over UAB but rebounded with a dominating 35–3 victory at South Alabama — a solid Sun Belt team — on Saturday. This might be the best team of the Dan Mullen era, but it’s time for this program to make a statement with a big win over an SEC West power. And LSU could be ripe for an upset. The Tigers have talent — that’s never an issue in Baton Rouge — but they are still very young at the skill positions and have sputtered offensively in the first half of their two games against FBS opponents. The Bulldogs will need to be at their best, but they are good enough to win this game. Mississippi State by 1
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3. Auburn (-8.5) at Kansas State
Thursday, 7:30 ET, ESPN
Auburn, ranked No. 5 in several major polls, will be the highest-ranked non-conference opponent to play at Kansas State since No. 2 Penn State made the trip to Manhattan in 1969. The Tigers have cruised to easy wins over Arkansas and San Jose State and look to be even better on offense in Gus Malzahn’s second season as head coach. They are averaging 7.6 yards per play and have seven touchdown-scoring drives of 60 yards or more in only two games. Kansas State has been solid defensively — giving up an average of 306.5 yards — but the competition has been weak (Stephen F. Austin and Iowa State). The Wildcats have seen some up-tempo attacks in recent years, but none that operate with the type of speed and skill they will see from Auburn.
4. South Carolina (+22) at Vanderbilt
7:30 ET, SEC Network
There is obviously a long way to go, but the Gamecocks are back in SEC East race thanks to last week’s win over Georgia. Tailbacks Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis played key roles, but quarterback Dylan Thompson was the offensive star in the 38–35 season-saving victory. Now, the Gamecocks hit the road for the first time to play a Vanderbilt team that is off to a troubling 1–2 start. The Commodores finally showed some life on offense but still only had 310 total yards against a UMass team that gave up 511 to Boston College and 474 to Colorado. Patton Robinette will get the start at quarterback, but true freshman Wade Freebeck is also expected to play.
5. Northern Illinois (+14) at Arkansas
7 ET, ESPNU
Arkansas is fresh off one of the most impressive rushing performances — against a worthy opponent — we have seen in recent years. The Razorbacks bludgeoned Texas Tech with 438 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdown. That is a blueprint that Bret Bielema would love to follow as he rebuilds the Arkansas program. This week’s opponent, Northern Illinois, has been outstanding against the run en route to a 3–0 start. The competition hasn’t been great, but the Huskies do have road wins over Northwestern and UNLV on their resume. They have given up a total of 243 rushing yards and only 2.4 yards per attempt in three games.
6. Indiana at Missouri
4 ET, SEC Network
Missouri is a very quiet 3–0 with impressive wins at Toledo and vs. UCF. The Tigers are getting solid play from quarterback Maty Mauk — in his first full season as the starter — and are better than they get credit for on both lines of scrimmage. Indiana’s hopes of reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2007 took a hit with a 45–42 loss to Bowling Green — a team that lost to Western Kentucky by 28 points in Week 1. The Hoosiers, as usual, can score, but their defense has yet to prove it can slow down a decent offense.
7. Texas A&M (+33.5) at SMU
3:30 ET, ABC
Tom Mason’s first game as the interim head coach will not go well. The Mustangs have scored a total of six points in two games, losses to Baylor (45–0) and North Texas (43–6). They will be playing a team that specializes in scoring points. Texas A&M, off to a 3–0 start, is tied for first nationally with 22 touchdowns and is averaging 54.3 points per game. This is a colossal mismatch.
8. Troy (+41) at Georgia
12 ET, SEC Network
Larry Blakeney has won a bunch of games — 175 to be exact — and done great things at Troy, but the program has fallen on hard times in 2014. The Trojans are 0–3, including a 38-point loss to UAB and a three-point loss at home last week to Abilene Christian. Georgia must rebound from a painful loss at South Carolina, but the Bulldogs shouldn’t have to expend much energy to beat Troy.
Week 4 SEC Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Auburn at K-State||AU 31-30||AU 38-27||AU 38-30||AU 34-21|
|Troy at Georgia||UGa 45-7||UGa 41-13||UGa 55-7||UGa 51-0|
|Texas A&M at SMU||A&M 63-7||A&M 45-10||A&M 62-10||A&M 58-7|
|Florida at Alabama||UA 35-14||UA 27-21||UA 34-20||UA 33-17|
|Indiana at Missouri||MU 42-28||MU 42-17||MU 45-24||MU 40-17|
|Miss. State at LSU||LSU 27-14||LSU 31-28||LSU 27-20||MSU 24-20|
|No. Illinois at Arkansas||UA 49-21||UA 44-28||UA 45-24||UA 27-20|
|Vanderbilt at S. Carolina||SC 38-10||SC 43-7||SC 34-13||SC 30-17|
There was high drama in the SEC on Saturday, with South Carolina outlasting Georgia in a thriller in Columbia and Florida surviving a scare from Kentucky in three overtimes. Here are some stats from the week that was in the SEC.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 3 in the SEC
Drives by Arkansas that lasted at least 11 plays in the Razorbacks’ dominating win at Texas Tech. The Hogs also had five touchdown-scoring drives that went for 68 yards or more.
Yards per play averaged by the Kentucky offense in Saturday night’s overtime loss at Florida. It was the most for the Wildcats in an SEC game since they averaged 6.0 in a November 2011 win over Ole Miss.
Consecutive SEC games in which Florida has failed to score more than two touchdowns in regulation. The Gators scored four touchdowns in Saturday’s 36–30 win over Kentucky, but two of the four came in overtime.
Consecutive quarters in which LSU has not allowed a point. After rallying to beat Wisconsin 28–24 in Week 1, the Tigers have shut out Sam Houston State and ULM by a combined score of 87–0.
Alabama ball-carriers who had a run of at least 13 yards in the Crimson Tide’s 52–12 win over Southern Miss — Kenyan Drake (long of 29 yards), Tyren Jones (22), Derrick Henry (21), Blake Sims (20), T.J. Yeldon (15) and Altee Tenpenny (13).
Incomplete passes thrown by Tennessee in Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma, the most by the Volunteers since an October 2009 loss to Auburn in which they completed 20-of-44 passes. On Saturday night, Justin Worley completed 21-of-44 for 201 yards with one TD and two INTs.
Times in the last six years that South Carolina has scored at least 30 points against Georgia. Prior to 2009, the Gamecocks had not hit the 30-point mark in the previous 33 meetings between the two schools.
Yards rushing by fullback Quayvon Hicks, on three carries, in the fourth quarter of Georgia’s 38–35 loss to South Carolina. Tailback Todd Gurley had 17 yards on five carries in the fourth quarter.
Different Ole Miss players who have had at least 100 receiving yards in a game this season. Vince Sanders had 125 on eight receptions against Louisiana-Lafayette. Evan Engram had 112 yards on seven catches against Vanderbilt. And against Boise State, Cody Core had 110 yards on four catches and Laquon Treadwell had 105 on seven.
Players nationally with at least 250 yards rushing and 500 yards passing — Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. and BYU’s Taysom Hill.
There was high drama in Columbia, where South Carolina recorded yet another win over its SEC East rivals from Athens. Georgia had ample opportunity to post a huge win, but once again the Bulldogs couldn’t get it done in a big spot. Elsewhere, Kentucky was impressive in a loss while Florida was a bit of disappointment in a win. And Missouri, the team that everyone forgets about, is really good again.
Key Takeaways in the SEC from Week 3
It was worth the wait for Thompson
No matter what happens the rest of the season, Dylan Thompson will always remember last Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium. It would have been easy for Thompson, buried behind Connor Shaw the last two seasons, to transfer to another program that afforded him the opportunity to play earlier in his career. But the South Carolina native was willing to wait for his one season in the spotlight as the quarterback for Steve Spurrier’s program. And through three games as the no-doubt-it QB1, Thompson has been terrific, completing over 60 percent of his passes for a combined 903 yard with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. On Saturday night, he threw for 271 yards with three touchdowns to lead South Carolina to a season-saving win over Georgia.
Listen to the Week 3 recap podcast:
Georgia lacks the championship DNA
It’s dangerous — and sometimes not fair — to make such generalizations, but you have to wonder why Georgia lacks the ability to make the right play at the right time in so many big spots. Whether it was ending the 2012 SEC Championship Game on the 5-yard line — so painfully close to an appearance in the BCS title game — or failing to convert from 1st-and-goal from the 4-yard line in Saturday’s loss at South Carolina, this program consistently comes up one play short of greatness. We’ve learned in the past that one early season loss does not doom a season, but the Bulldogs let a golden opportunity slip away — yet again — in Columbia Saturday evening.
Kentucky has found its quarterback
Kentucky didn’t name a starting quarterback until 12 days prior to its season-opener. It’s clear that Patrick Towles was the correct choice. The third-year sophomore — one of the top recruits from the previous regime — has the ideal skill set to run Neal Brown’s “Air Raid” attack. Towles was sharp in the Wildcats’ two wins but made a bigger statement in Kentucky’s loss at Florida Saturday night. He threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns — numbers that are even more impressive when you consider that Kentucky had no running game to complement its passing attack. Towles did throw three interceptions, but two of his picks bounced off the hands of his receiver.
Florida offense still needs some work
Credit the Gators for persevering — and credit Kentucky for its improvement — but it was evident from watching Florida on Saturday night that this team is still a work in progress. The final offensive numbers were impressive — 532 yards and only one turnover — but Florida made seven trips inside Kentucky’s 40-yard line in regulation and came away with only 20 points. The offensive efficiency must improve if this team hopes to live up to the lofty expectations of its fan base.
Missouri is still pretty good
Missouri shocked the college football world by winning the SEC East last season. But due to the loss of some key personnel — most notably at wide receiver and on the defensive line — the Tigers were not a popular pick in the preseason to be much of a factor in the East in 2014. It’s obviously still very early, but Gary Pinkel’s team has been very impressive through three weeks. On Saturday, the Tigers rolled past UCF, the defending Fiesta Bowl champs, with ease, scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half on their way to a 38–10 win. Mizzou hosts Indiana in its final non-conference game next week before beginning a three-game stretch — at South Carolina, vs. Georgia, at Florida — that will tell us if this team is capable of repeating its unlikely SEC East title.
SEC Post-Week 3 Power Rankings
|Rk||Team||Record||Last Week||Next Week|
|1.||3-0||W, So. Miss, 52-12||Florida|
|2.||2-0||Bye||at Kansas St.|
|3.||3-0||W, Rice, 38-10||at SMU|
|4.||3-0||W, UL Lafayette, 56-15||Bye|
|5.||2-1||W, Georgia, 38-35||at Vanderbilt|
|6.||2-1||L, S. Carolina, 38-35||Troy|
|7.||3-0||W, ULM 31-0||Miss. State|
|8.||3-0||W, UCF, 38-10||Indiana|
|9.||2-0||W, Kentucky, 36-30||at Alabama|
|10.||3-0||W, S. Alabama, 35-3||at LSU|
|11.||3-0||W, Texas Tech, 49-28||No. Illinois|
|12.||2-1||L, Oklahoma 34-10||Bye|
|13.||2-1||L, Florida, 36-30||Bye|
|14.||1-2||W, UMass, 34-31||S. Carolina|
There’s a huge a battle in the SEC East as Georgia, a decisive and impressive Week 1 winner over Clemson, heads to South Carolina. The Bulldogs will be looking for their first win in Columbia. Elsewhere, Arkansas makes the trip to Lubbock to play Texas Tech for the first time in over two decades; Tennessee visits Oklahoma in what figures to be a tough matchup for the young Vols; and Kentucky and Florida meet in the Swamp in an intriguing early SEC matchup.
Week 3 Previews and Predictions
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
SEC Week 3 Game Power Rankings
1. Georgia (-6) at South Carolina
3:30 ET, CBS
They’ve only played one game, but the Georgia Bulldogs have been one of the most impressive teams in the nation thus far. Led by arguably the deepest backfield in college football and a talented front seven on defense, Georgia has the look of a team that can compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The impending trip to South Carolina doesn’t look as treacherous as it did in the preseason — thanks to the Gamecocks’ rough start to 2014 — but playing in Williams-Brice Stadium has been a nightmare in recent seasons for Mark Richt’s club. Georgia has lost two straight in Columbia, including a 35–7 debacle two years ago when the Dawgs were 5–0 and ranked No. 5 in the nation. Todd Gurley, then a freshman, was held to 39 yards on 13 carries on that night. Don’t expect that to happen again.
Listen to the Week 3 preview podcast:
2. Arkansas (+2.5) at Texas Tech
3:30 ET, ABC
These two old Southwest Conference rivals meet for the first time since 1991, Arkansas’ final season in the league before bolting for the SEC. Texas Tech is a very shaky 2–0 after alarmingly close wins over Central Arkansas (42–35) and at UTEP (30–26). The Red Raiders have struggled to stop the run, allowing an average of 53 rushing attempts (fourth-worst in the nation) and 224.5 rushing yards per game. That’s not good news with Arkansas looming. The Hogs feature a loaded backfield and a big offensive line that specializes in run-blocking. This could be a touch matchup for the Red Raiders.
3. Tennessee (+20.5) at Oklahoma
8 ET, ABC
After taking care of business against two solid mid-major programs (Utah State and Arkansas State), Tennessee begins a treacherous stretch with a trip to play Oklahoma. The Sooners are one of the most talented teams in the nation — and they have a ton of experience in key spots. Tennessee, too, has a lot of talent, but the vast majority is painfully inexperienced. The obvious problem for the Vols — in this matchup and going forward — is on the offensive line, by far the team’s weakest unit. Quarterback Justin Worley and the talented skill players will have precious little time to operate against the Sooners’ defensive front.
4. Kentucky (+18) at Florida
7:30 ET, SEC Network
The competition has been weak, but the early reports are promising for both Kentucky and Florida, the two worst offensive teams — by total yards and points scored — in the SEC last season. Kentucky has found the right quarterback to operate Neal Brown’s “Air Raid” attack in sophomore Patrick Towles. Florida has had the right quarterback, but Jeff Driskel has not been able to stay healthy. The Gators are the heavy favorite for a reason, but there is belief around the SEC that Kentucky is vastly improved in Mark Stoops’ second season. Don’t expect the Cats to win this game, but it would be a surprise if they got blown out.
5. UCF (+9.5) at Missouri
12 ET, SEC Network
This game would have more meaning had Penn State not connected on a last-second field goal to beat UCF in Week 1. Still, the Knights are a solid team that should be even better in its second game now that they have settled on a quarterback. Pete DiNovo won the job in the preseason but was ineffective against Penn State. Justin Holman came off the bench and threw for 204 yards and a TD on only 14 attempts. UCF, however, will need to get its running game going after struggling mightily in Week 1. Missouri very quietly posted a dominating 49–24 win on the road against a dangerous Toledo team. Maty Mauk, an Ohio native, threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns to lead an offense that piled up over 500 yards. I’m not sold on the Tigers defensively yet, but the offense has the weapons to thrive in 2014.
6. Mississippi State (+14.5) at South Alabama
4 ET, ESPNews
After struggling a bit with UAB last weekend, Mississippi State heads to Mobile to play South Alabama in what figures to be the biggest game in the five-plus years of Jaguar football. Joey Jones has done a tremendous job making this program relevant in such a short time. The Jags went 6–6 overall and 4–3 in the Sun Belt in 2013 and are projected to be one of the better teams in the league in ’14. They opened their season with a solid 10-point win at Kent State last weekend. Mississippi State escaped last week with a 47–34 win over UAB despite giving up 548 total yards, including 435 through the air. South Alabama has the personnel to do some damage on offense. This might not be easy for MSU.
7. Louisiana-Lafayette (+27) at Ole Miss
4 ET, SEC Network
It flew under the national radar, but one of the most surprising scores through the first two weeks of the season was Louisiana-Lafayette’s 48–20 loss at home to Louisiana Tech. The Ragin’ Cajuns must regroup in a hurry with a trip to Oxford on the horizon. Ole Miss wasn’t sharp in the first half of its win against Boise State but has been outstanding since, pulling away from Boise for a 35–13 win and dominating Vanderbilt in a 41–3 victory in Nashville. If quarterback Bo Wallace limits the turnovers, the Ole Miss offense will be one of the SEC’s best in 2014.
8. ULM (+31) at LSU
7 ET, ESPNU
ULM is 2–0 with seven-point wins over Wake Forest (possibly the worst major-conference team in the nation) and Idaho (one of the worst FBS teams in the nation). Now, the Warhawks make the short trip to Baton Rouge to face a very young but very talented LSU team. True freshman tailback Leonard Fournette stole the headlines in the preseason, but sophomore wide receiver Travin Dural has been the best player on the LSU offense through two games. Dural is averaging a staggering 48.5 yards on his six receptions and has already scored four touchdowns.
9. Rice (+31) at Texas A&M
9 ET, ESPN2
Rice has a brutal two-game stretch to open the season. The Owls lost at Notre Dame, 48–17, in Week 1 and now head to Texas A&M. The Aggies have been perhaps the most impressive offensive team in the nation in the early going. With an outstanding offensive line, a group of quality running backs and wide receivers, all that was needed was someone to emerge at quarterback. Clearly, that has happened in the form of sophomore Kenny Hill. This will not be close.
10. Southern Miss (+48) at Alabama
6 ET, ESPN2
It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Southern Miss’ offense scores more than a touchdown in this game. The Golden Eagles were held to 283 yards and zero points by a Mississippi State defense that allowed 548 points and 34 points the ensuing week to UAB. Alabama’s cadre of elite tailbacks will post some gaudy stats in Tuscaloosa this weekend.
11. UMass (+16.5) at Vanderbilt
12 ET, ESPN3
Vanderbilt has scored a total of 10 points in two games yet is favored by 16.5 points over UMass. Seems a bit strange, but the boys in Vegas usually know what they are doing. The Commodores’ search for a quarterback continues — true freshman Wade Freebeck entered the competition this week — but Vanderbilt has found its answer at tailback. Ralph Webb has 165 yards (37 percent of the team’s offense) in two games and has emerged as a team leader as a redshirt freshman.
Week 3 SEC Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|UMass at Vanderbilt||VU, 21-17||VU, 15-11||VU, 31-20||VU, 27-14|
|UCF at Missouri||MU, 35-24||MU, 31-21||MU, 34-24||MU, 34-20|
|Arkansas at Texas Tech||UA, 42-38||UA, 30-27||UA, 38-34||UA, 34-30|
|Georgia at S. Carolina||UGa, 35-21||UGa, 31-30||UGa, 31-24||UGa, 33-22|
|Miss St. at S. Alabama||MSU, 35-14||MSU, 44-24||MSU, 38-20||MSU, 30-17|
|UL Lafayette at Ole Miss||UM, 42-24||UM, 34-14||UM, 45-20||UM, 47-17|
|So. Miss at Alabama||UA, 52-7||UA, 45-7||UA, 55-7||UA, 47-0|
|ULM at LSU||LSU 35-10||LSU, 31-7||LSU, 45-10||LSU, 41-13|
|Kentucky at Florida||UF, 28-10||UF, 30-20||UF, 31-13||UF, 28-17|
|Tennessee at Oklahoma||OU, 35-14||OU, 38-17||OU, 38-13||OU, 33-13|
|Rice at Texas A&M||A&M, 42-28||A&M, 52-17||A&M 55-17||A&M, 51-17|
There was only one game involving two SEC teams in Week 2, but there were still plenty of noteworthy — good and bad — accomplishments. A certain receiver at Alabama is off to a great start; Florida's offense (finally) produced some big plays; Missouri continued its winning ways on the road; and much more.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 2 in the SEC
Receptions for Amari Cooper through two games, more than Alabama’s leading receiver had for the season in all but one of the Crimson Tide’s national title teams from 1961-92. The leading receivers for those teams are as follows: 1961, Tommy Booker (12); 1964, Tommy Tolleson (22); 1965, Tommy Tolleson (32); 1973, Wayne Wheeler (19); 1978, Keith Pugh (20); 1979, Keith Pugh (25); 1992, David Palmer (24).
Pass plays by the Florida offense that went for at least 60 yards in the Gators’ win over Eastern Michigan. Florida had only one pass play of 60-plus yards in 12 games in 2013.
Punts by Ole Miss in its 41–3 win over Vanderbilt. The Rebels scored four touchdowns, kicked three field goals, had one drive end on downs at the Vanderbilt 30-yard line, had one drive end after one play on a lost fumble, had one drive end due to the end of the first half and another end due to the end of the game.
Yards per play averaged by Vanderbilt in its loss to Ole Miss on Saturday. The Commodores averaged fewer yards per play in a single game twice in the last two seasons and won both games — 3.27 vs. Florida in 2013 (won 34–17) and 3.31 vs. NC State in the 2012 Music City Bowl (won 38–24).
Consecutive wins on the road by Missouri, all by at least 14 points, dating back to the beginning of the 2013 season. The Tigers rolled past Toledo, 49–24, last weekend and picked up wins at Ole Miss, Kentucky, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Indiana in ’13.
Completion percentage allowed by the South Carolina defense, the highest in the nation. The Gamecocks have allowed 76 completions, tied with Bowling Green for the most in the nation, and opponents have attempted 106 passes against South Carolina, second-most in the nation.
Consecutive games of at least 500 yards by the Mississippi State offense, the first time this has happened in school history. The Bulldogs had 516 in Saturday’s win vs. UAB, 550 in the opener against Southern Miss and 533 against Rice in the Liberty Bowl last season.
Offensive plays per game averaged by Tennessee through two games, up from an average of 67 per game in 2013, Butch Jones’ first season at Tennessee. The Vols had 79 plays vs. Utah State and 83 vs. Arkansas State; their highest total last year was 77 in the win vs. South Carolina.
Average yards per passing attempt for Jeremy Johnson in his two years at Auburn. (As a reference point, Jameison Winston led the nation with a 10.6 yards-per-attempt average in 2013). Johnson, in spot duty, has thrown for a total of 699 yards on 61 attempts and has eight touchdowns and two interceptions.
Touchdowns scored by Texas A&M in 2014, the most in the nation.
There was only one game involving two SEC teams on the Week 2 slate, and Ole Miss flexed its offensive muscles in a dominating win over Vanderbilt. Elsewhere, Alabama rolled over FAU with both Blake Sims and Jacob Coker seeing significant action; South Carolina survived a scare from East Carolina thanks to a late drive powered by its running game, and Tennessee recorded another quality win over a solid mid-major opponent.
Key Takeaways from the SEC in Week 2
Ole Miss might not have a punter
This is said in jest, of course, but Ole Miss snapped the ball 88 times Saturday afternoon in Nashville, and punter Will Gleeson never trotted on to the field of play. The Rebels ran their up-tempo, spread attack to near perfection, rolling up 547 total yards en route to a 41–3 win over Vanderbilt. Ole Miss converted 10-of-15 on third down, had nine plays that went for 20 yards or more and converted on all six trips to the red zone (four TDs, two field goals). Bo Wallace was very sharp, completing 23-of-30 passes for 320 yards with one touchdowns and, most important, no interceptions. Vanderbilt did not offer much resistance, but the Ole Miss offense has a ton of weapons and will be very difficult to stop in 2014.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
Alabama’s QB competition is ongoing
Jacob Coker was solid in his first extended appearance at quarterback for Alabama, completing 15-of-24 attempts for 202 yards and one touchdown. Blake Sims, however, was better. The senior completed 11-of-13 passes for 214 and two scores. Sims doesn’t give Alabama as much of a threat in the deep passing game, but the Tide’s offense has been extremely efficient under his direction. Coker missed some opportunities down the field and looked a bit tentative at times, but we can’t forget that he has not taken many snaps at the collegiate level. Sims is clearly good enough (thanks in part to an elite supporting cast) to guide Alabama to an SEC title, but you get the feeling that the Tide will need Coker — and his down-the-field ability — to play a key role at some point. Stay tuned.
South Carolina needs to run the ball to win
The Gamecocks were forced to abandon the running game in the Week 1 loss to Texas A&M, but this team will have to lean on its talented group of tailbacks and outstanding offensive line to remain relevant in the SEC in 2014. Mike Davis, limited to 15 yards on six attempts in the opener, had 101 yard on 18 carries and two scores in Saturday’s 33–23 win over East Carolina. Brandon Wilds, who has been a valuable reserve and spot starter during his two-plus years in Columbia, added 49 yards on 14 carries. South Carolina put the game away in the fourth quarter with a clock-killing drive that featured nine straight rushing attempts during one stretch. “Everybody in the stadium knew where the ball was going, and we still had success with it,” quarterback Dylan Thompson said.
Vanderbilt takes a step back on offense
It didn’t seem possible, but Vanderbilt regressed on offense from Week 1 (a 37–7 loss to Temple) to Week 2 (a 41–3 loss to Ole Miss). On Saturday afternoon, the Commodores gained only 167 yards on 50 offensive plays and failed to score an offensive touchdown for the second straight game. Stephen Rivers, making his first start, threw for 60 yards on 25 attempts (averaging a brutal 2.4 yards per attempt) and completed only two passes to a wide receiver. Tailback Ralph Webb ran well for the second straight game — the redshirt freshman has 165 yards on 32 carries — but nothing else has gone well for the Vanderbilt offense in 2014.
Tennessee is on schedule
It’s a bit early to make reservations to the SEC title game in Atlanta, but Tennessee continues to show signs that it’s on the right path. Butch Jones’ young team improved to 2–0 with a 34–19 win over Arkansas State, the second straight solid mid-major opponent the Vols have soundly defeated. This wasn’t as dominant as the opener against Utah State, but the game was never really in doubt in the second half. This team is far from perfect — the running game has been a bit of a disappointment and the offensive line will continue to be an issue — but there is so much more talent and speed across the roster. Justin Worley might not be a perfect fit for what this staff wants from the quarterback position, but the senior has seized the job and emerged as the leader of the offense.
SEC Post-Week 2 Power Rankings
|Rk||Team||Record||Last Week||Next Week|
|1.||2-0||W, FAU, 41-0||Southern Miss|
|2.||1-0||Bye||at South Carolina|
|3.||2-0||W, SJSU 59-13||Bye|
|4.||2-0||W, Lamar 73-3||Rice|
|5.||2-0||W, Vanderbilt 41-3||UL Lafayette|
|6.||2-0||W, Sam Houston, 56-0||ULM|
|7.||2-0||W, ECU, 33-23||Georgia|
|8.||1-0||W, E. Mich., 65-0||Kentucky|
|9.||2-0||W, Toledo 49-24||UCF|
|10.||2-0||W, UAB, 47-24||at S. Alabama|
|11.||2-0||W, Ark. St., 34-19||at Oklahoma|
|12.||2-0||W, Nicholls St., 73-7||at Texas Tech|
|13.||2-0||W, Ohio, 20-3||at Florida|
|14.||0-2||L, Ole Miss, 41-3||UMass|
There’s only one game involving a pair of SEC teams — Ole Miss makes the trip to downtown Nashville to play Vanderbilt at LP Field — but there are a few interesting non-conference games. South Carolina’s defense will be tested by ECU’s impressive passing attack; Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel returns to Toledo for the first time as a visitor; and Tennessee hosts another (potentially) dangerous mid-major opponent.
1. Ole Miss (-20) at Vanderbilt
3:30 ET, SEC Network @ LP Field
This game lost a bit of its intrigue after Vanderbilt dropped a 30-point decision to Temple at home on Thursday night. The Commodores committed seven turnovers, only had one drive that went for more than 40 yards and did not have a snap in the red zone until the fourth quarter. In addition, Vanderbilt only had one play that went for 20 yards or more against a Temple defense that gave up 70 plays of 20-plus yards last season. The three quarterbacks who played — Patton Robinette, Stephen Rivers and Johnny McCrary — combined to complete less than 50 percent of their passes with no touchdowns and three interceptions. Rivers is the likely Game 2 starter, but don’t expect an official announcement. There is no such mystery at Ole Miss, where senior Bo Wallace will be under center for the Rebels. Wallace was intercepted three times in the first half of the Rebs’ win over Boise State, but he ended up with a solid stat line — 25-of-36 for 387 yards and four touchdowns. Ole Miss’ up-tempo attack, which is loaded with weapons, will be a huge challenge for the Dores’ new-look 3-4 defense.
Listen to the Week 2 preview podcast:
2. East Carolina (+16.5) at South Carolina
7 ET, ESPNU
One week after getting torched by Texas A&M for 511 passing yards, South Carolina hosts one of the nation’s most underrated pass-catch duos in East Carolina’s Shane Carden and Justin Hardy. Last year, Carden struggled in an early season loss to Virginia Tech, throwing for only 158 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions, but he combined to throw for 631 yards with six TDs and one interception in wins over North Carolina and NC State. South Carolina ended up with solid offensive numbers (7.0 yards per play) in the A&M loss, but the Gamecocks were forced to abandon the running game due to the early deficit. Expect that to change this week. South Carolina will look to punish ECU at the line of scrimmage.
3. Missouri (-4.5) at Toledo
12 ET, ESPN
It’s a homecoming for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who went 73–37–3 during a highly successful 10-year run at Toledo from 1991-2000. These two teams met last year in Columbia. Missouri won the game, 38–33, but had trouble slowing down the Rockets’ attack. Toledo outgained Mizzou 387-to-384 but lost the turnover battle, 3-to-1. The Tigers won their ’14 opener, 38–18 over South Dakota State but didn’t exactly dominate wire to wire. The score was 21–10 at the half, and the Jackrabbits gained a respectable 365 yards for the game. Toledo, with former Alabama quarterback Phillip Ely running the show, will cause some problems for the MU defense.
4. Arkansas State (+16) at Tennessee
12 ET, SEC Network
Tennessee was extremely impressive in its surprisingly easy win over Utah State. With the possible exception of the running game, not much didn’t go well for Butch Jones’ team. Week 2 brings another solid mid-major team to Neyland Stadium. Arkansas State has won outright or shared three straight Sun Belt titles, and has done so under three different head coaches. Junior quarterback Fredi Knighten was recruited to Arkansas State by then-head coach Gus Malzahn to run the Red Wolves’ up-tempo offense. Knighten is a true dual threat who threw for 200-plus and rushed for 100-plus in the Red Wolves’ 37–10 win over Montana State.
5. UAB (+27.5) at Mississippi State
2 ET, ESPN3
These two teams played very well in their respective debuts on Saturday. Mississippi State took care of business against an overmatched Southern Miss team, outgaining the Golden Eagles 550-to-283 en route to a stress-free 49–0 win. Meanwhile, UAB rolled past Troy 48–10 in Bill Clark’s first game as an FBS coach. This was a significant win for a program that won only two games last year and had lost three straight to Troy. This one could be tricky for Mississippi State.
6. Ohio (+13) at Kentucky
3:30 ET, ESPNU
No SEC team won with more ease in Week 1 than Kentucky, which jumped out to a 35–0 lead over UT Martin at the half. The level of competition was poor, but it was no doubt a good sign to see Patrick Towles so effective at quarterback (377 yards, no INTs) and the running game churn out yards with so much success. This week’s opponent will provide more resistance. Ohio is fresh off a solid 17–14 win at MAC East rival Kent State. The Bobcats lost the turnover battle 4-to-0 yet won the game thanks to a balanced offense that had 262 passing yards and 175 rushing yards. Quarterback Derrius Vick will be making his second career start.
7. Florida Atlantic (+40) at Alabama
12 ET, SEC Network
One week after giving up 784 total yards, including 498 on the ground, in a 55–7 loss at Nebraska, Florida Atlantic will make the trip to Tuscaloosa. This will not go well for the Owls. Alabama is still trying to figure things out at quarterback — Nick Saban says both Blake Sims and Jacob Coker will play — but FAU’s primary problem will be finding a way to slow down Alabama’s devastating group of running backs.
8. San Jose State (+31) at Auburn
7 ET, ESPN2
Few teams were as impressive on the offensive end as Auburn in Week 1. With a new cast of characters in leading roles, the Tigers ripped through Arkansas with incredible balance — 293 yards passing and 302 yards rushing. Nothing has been announced, but it’s assumed that Nick Marshall will be the starter at Auburn. San Jose State played well in its opener, beating North Dakota 42–10. The guess here is that Auburn has a few more weapons on offense.
9. Eastern Michigan (+37.5) at Florida
4 ET, SEC Network
Florida was scheduled to open the 2014 season against one of the worst FBS teams in the nation. That still will happen, but the opponent is Eastern Michigan, not Idaho. The Eagles won their opener, beating Morgan State 31–28 despite giving up 479 yards of offense. Chris Creighton, EMU’s first-year coach, has won a ton of games at the lower levels of college football. Winning in Ypsilanti is a huge challenge.
10. Nicholls State at Arkansas
4 pm ET, SEC Network
Arkansas' SEC losing streak was extended to 13 games on Saturday, but the Razorbacks did some good things despite losing by 24 points at Auburn. Brandon Allen, who played through injuries last season, looked comfortable at quarterback, completing 18-of-31 attempts for 175 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. And the running game delivered as expected, with Alex Collins, Korliss Marshall and Jonathan Williams combining to average 5.9 yards per carry. Nicholls State gave up 539 yards on the ground in its Week 1 loss at Air Force. Good luck, Colonels.
11. Sam Houston State at LSU
7:30 ET, SEC Network
LSU returns home for its first game in Baton Rouge after surviving a significant scare from Wisconsin in Houston. The Tigers trailed 24–7 midway through the third quarter before scoring the game’s final 21 points on their way to a 28–24 win. Quarterback Anthony Jennings completed less than 50 percent of his passes but averaged 11.4 yards on his 21 attempts and threw two TDs without an interception. Kenny Hilliard, not freshman Leonard Fournette, was the Tigers’ leading rusher, with 110 yards on 18 carries. There should be plenty of carries to go around this week. Sam Houston is a solid FCS program but should not pose too much of a threat to LSU.
12. Lamar at Texas A&M
7:30 ET, SEC Network
Kenny Hill, one of the breakout stars in Week 1, makes his first start in College Station. The Aggie offense looked unstoppable with the sophomore running the show in the win at South Carolina. Lamar won its opener, 42–27, over Grambling. It’s a safe bet that the Cardinals will be 1–1 after Saturday’s trip to A&M.
SEC Week 2 Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Arkansas St at Tenn||UT 27-17||UT 34-17||UT 38-17||UT 31-14|
|Missouri at Toledo||MU 35-24||MU 41-24||MU 38-27||MU 30-20|
|FAU at Alabama||UA 42-10||UA 41-13||UA 45-3||UA 51-0|
|UAB at Miss State||MSU 34-17||MSU 38-10||MSU 38-13||MSU 34-24|
|Ohio at Kentucky||UK 28-14||UK 31-21||UK 34-20||UK 30-17|
|E. Michigan at Florida||UF 35-7||UF 45-7||UF 50-7||UF 51-7|
|Nicholls St at Arkansas||UA 42-10||UA 41-13||UA 48-7||UA 48-10|
|Ole Miss at Vanderbilt||UM 35-14||UM 35-21||UM 34-20||UM 30-17|
|E. Carolina at S. Carolina||USC 38-28||USC 38-28||USC 41-31||USC 37-24|
|San Jose St at Auburn||AU 56-7||AU 51-10||AU 48-17||AU 50-10|
|Lamar at Texas A&M||A&M 28-7||A&M 51-10||A&M 60-10||A&M 58-14|
|Sam Houston St at LSU||LSU 28-7||LSU 37-7||LSU 45-13||LSU 37-10|
The first week of the SEC season saw the emergence of a new star at Texas A&M, the domination of a returning star at Georgia and the continued excellence of an Auburn offense that featured new players in starring roles.
The names change but Auburn’s offense doesn’t
There was a new cast of characters — especially with starting quarterback Nick Marshall sidelined for what ended up being a half-game suspension — but Auburn’s offense was as explosive as ever. With Jeremy Johnson at quarterback, the Tigers scored on drives of 75, 75 and 98 yards to start the 2014 season. Johnson averaged an impressive 15.2 yards on his 16 passing attempts and had two touchdowns and no interceptions. Cameron Artis-Payne, the new No. 1 tailback, averaged 6.8 yards on his 26 carries, and Duke Williams caught nine passes for 154 yards in his first game as a Tiger. The Auburn offense, as a unit, averaged 8.5 yards per play, the most by any team in the league that played an FBS opponent.
Hutson Mason doesn’t need to be a star for Georgia to win big
There were high expectations for Georgia’s rushing attack in 2014, but not even the most optimistic Bulldog fan could have expected 328 yards (on an 8.0-yard average) against Clemson in Week 1. The Georgia backs were obviously fantastic, but the offensive line deserves a ton of credit for its work against a very talented Clemson defensive line. The devastating running game took pressure off of quarterback Huston Mason, who threw for 131 yards on 26 attempts and — here’s the important stat — no interceptions. Going forward, that’s the type of performance Georgia will need from its senior quarterback to remain in the hunt for a spot in the CFB Playoff. Sure, there will be times when Mason will need to make a big throw in a key spot, but more often than not his job will be “manage” the offense and eliminate the negative plays.
Listen to the Cover 2 Week 1 recap podcast:
Texas A&M was the most impressive team in the nation
This isn’t to say that Texas A&M should be ranked No. 1 in the nation, but it would be hard to argue that any team in college football had a better first week of the season. Considering the quality of the opponent and the location of the game, it’s mighty impressive that A&M scored 52 points and rolled up 680 yards in the win against the South Carolina defense. Ten other teams had more than 600 yards, but those teams’ opponents were UNLV, FAU, Bowling Green, Fresno State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, South Dakota, New Hampshire, UT Martin, Central Arkansas and Presbyterian. Fourteen other teams scored at least 50 points, but none of those teams played an opponent from a “Big 5” conference. You get the point.
Vanderbilt’s offense disappoints
With a new starting quarterback and 92 percent of its production from the wide receiver position gone from last year, Vanderbilt’s offense figured to be a work in progress. The early returns were not good. The Commodores managed only 278 yards in a disheartening 37–7 loss at home to Temple on Thursday night. Vanderbilt committed seven turnovers, only had one drive that went for more than 40 yards and did not have a snap in the red zone until the fourth quarter. In addition, the Commodores only had one play that went for 20 yards or more against a Temple defense that gave up 70 plays of 20-plus yards last season. The three quarterbacks who played — Patton Robinette, Stephen Rivers and Johnny McCrary — combined to complete less than 50 percent of their passes with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
South Carolina better gets its running game going
Steve Spurrier admitted that South Carolina was forced to abandon the running game because of his team’s early deficit. Still, the numbers were not promising. Brandon Wilds, Mike Davis and Shon Carson — the three tailbacks who played — combined to average only 3.9 yards on 16 rushing attempts. That won’t cut it for a team that is built to win with defense and its running game. And there’s extra cause for concern since those number came against a Texas A&M defense that allowed an average of 5.5 yards per carry against SEC opponents last season.
SEC Post-Week 1 Power Rankings
|Rk||Team||Record||Last Week||Next Week|
|1.||1-0||W, WVU, 33-23||FAU|
|2.||1-0||W, Clemson, 45-21||Bye|
|3.||1-0||W, Arkansas, 45-21||San Jose St.|
|4.||1-0||W, S. Carolina, 52-28||Lamar|
|5.||1-0||W, Boise St., 35-13||at Vanderbilt|
|6.||1-0||W, Wisconsin, 28-24||Sam Houston St.|
|7.||0-1||L, Texas A&M, 52-28||East Carolina|
|8.||0-1||Game cancelled||E. Michigan|
|9.||1-0||W, S. Dakota St., 38-18||at Toledo|
|10.||1-0||W, So. Miss, 49-0||UAB|
|11.||1-0||W, Utah State, 38-7||Arkansas St.|
|12.||0-1||L, Auburn 45-21||Nicholls St.|
|13.||1-0||W, UT Martin, 59-14||Ohio|
|14.||0-1||L, Temple, 37-7||Ole Miss|
Georgia hosts Clemson in a huge non-conference game for two programs with aspirations of playing in the inaugural CFB Playoff. Several other SEC teams have key games against non-SEC foes at neutral sites — Wisconsin meets LSU in Houston, Ole Miss battles Boise State in Atlanta and Alabama takes on West Virginia, also in Atlanta. There are two games matching up two SEC teams, and they’re both big. South Carolina hosts Texas A&M in the first-ever game on the SEC Network, and Arkansas makes the trip to Auburn on Saturday afternoon.
Week 1 Preview and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
SEC Week 1 Game Power Rankings
1. Clemson (+7.5) at Georgia
5:30 ET, ESPN
This crucial Week 1 showdown features an intriguing matchup of two veteran quarterbacks thrust into starting roles for the first time in their careers. At Clemson, Cole Stoudt steps in for Tajh Boyd, one of the most beloved (and productive) players in school history. Meanwhile, Hutson Mason takes over at Georgia for Aaron Murray, who set several SEC career records. On paper, Mason appears to have more talent at his disposal, but there is a quiet confidence at Clemson that the Tigers’ offense — with Chad Morris still calling the plays — won’t take a step back despite the loss of Boyd, All-America wideout Sammy Watkins and 1,000-yard rusher Roderick McDowell. Don’t expect Georgia to abandon its passing game, but the Bulldogs will lean heavily on an absurdly deep crop of running backs that is led by Heisman contender Todd Gurley. Two key matchups to watch: Clemson’s outstanding defensive front — anchored by end Vic Beasley — against Georgia’s good but not great offensive line, and Georgia’s secondary vs. a Clemson passing attack that has specialized in the big play in the Morris era.
2. Texas A&M (+10.5) at South Carolina
Thursday, 6 ET, SEC Network
All eyes will be on the SEC Network Thursday evening when the Johnny Manziel-less Aggies visit South Carolina for the first time in school history. Sophomore Kenny Hill will be at the controls of an A&M offense that will still score plenty of points — when hasn’t a Kevin Sumlin offense been productive? The big issue for the Aggies is on defense, where they were gashed on a routine basis throughout a disappointing 2013 season. Texas A&M allowed a league-worst 5.4 yards per carry and 221.3 yards per game against SEC opponents. That’s not good news when South Carolina is the Week 1 opponent. The Gamecocks feature one of the SEC’s top offensive lines and a running back (Mike Davis) who could be in the Heisman Trophy discussion. Davis is reportedly dealing with some minor injuries, but it will be a surprise if he doesn’t play on Thursday night.
3. Ole Miss (-10.5) vs. Boise State (Atlanta)
Thursday, 8 ET, ESPN
Boise State established itself as a legitimate player on the national scene with a string of early season wins over big-name opponents from major conferences — vs. Oregon in 2008 and ’09, Virginia Tech in ’10 and Georgia in ’11. The Broncos, however, have not fared as well in recent years, losing at Michigan State in ’12 and at Washington in ’13 (by 32 points). Expect this trend to continue. Boise State is coming off an 8–5 season — its worst since 1998 — and will not have Chris Petersen roaming the sidelines for the first time since ’05. This program isn’t likely to slip into irrelevance, but its days of flirting with the top 10 could be over. Ole Miss, on the other hand, is trending in the other direction. Hugh Freeze has accumulated top-flight talent on both sides of the ball and has his team positioned to be a factor in the brutal SEC West. The Rebels should be able to flex their muscles on both lines of scrimmage and win this game with relative ease.
Listen to Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast: Week 1 Preview
4. LSU (-5) vs. Wisconsin (Houston)
9:00 PM ET, ESPN
There’s a theme developing in Week 1: Untested quarterbacks in big games. Wisconsin, the favorite in the new Big Ten West, named former junior college transfer (and one-time South Carolina Gamecock) Tanner McEvoy as its starter over incumbent Joel Stave. McEvoy, a dual threat who is more advanced as a runner, started at safety in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1. LSU has yet to name a starter, but sophomore Anthony Jennings — the hero of the comeback win over Arkansas late last season — is expected to get the nod over true freshman Brandon Harris. The job for both quarterbacks in this game: Hand the ball off to the running backs and get out of the way. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon averaged an astounding 7.8 yards per carry en route to a Big Ten-best 123.8 yards per game last season. LSU might not list Leonard Fournette as its starter, but it will be a significant surprise if the true freshman does not end up being the Tigers’ primary ball-carrier. Some believe Fournette is the best running back prospect to enter the college ranks since Adrian Peterson arrived at Oklahoma in 2004.
5. Arkansas (+20.5) at Auburn
4 PM ET, SEC Network
The defending SEC champs open the season at home against a team that failed to win a league game in 2013. Don’t, however, assume that this will be easy for Auburn. Arkansas features some elite talent at running back and should be able to move the ball on the ground. A year ago, the Hogs ranked fourth in the league in rushing against SEC opponents, and Auburn, despite its success as a team, had trouble stopping the run. Arkansas, though, will need to do far more than run the ball to win this game. The Hogs will have to find some way to slow down what should be an explosive Auburn offense — even without quarterback Nick Marshall in the starting lineup. This game could be high scoring. Auburn will score more.
6. Utah State (+6.5) at Tennessee
Sunday, 7 ET, SEC Network
Chuckie Keeton is no stranger to SEC country, having made his first career start at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium as a true freshman in the 2011 opener. Keeton and the Aggies held a 10-point lead late into the fourth quarter but were unable to hang on, dropping a 42–38 decision to the defending national champs. Keeton returns to the Southeast as a seasoned senior who has won a bunch of games for a very solid Utah State program. The Aggies, however, only return seven starters from a team that won the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference last season. Utah State will eventually be a very good team in 2014, but it might take some time. Tennessee’s troubles are well-documented — no starters back on either line of scrimmage, suspect quarterback play, etc. — but the Vols should have enough to survive a stiff Week 1 challenge.
7. Alabama (-26) vs. West Virginia (Atlanta)
3:30 ET, ABC
The most interesting news regarding this game — other than the fact that West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett claims his first kiss was with Nick Saban’s daughter — is that Jacob Coker might not start at quarterback for Alabama. Coker, the presumed QB1 since he announced his transfer from Florida State, will play, but senior Blake Sims could take the first snap of the 2014 season. It shouldn’t matter in this game — Bama is a huge favorite for a reason — but the Crimson Tide will need to get the quarterback position settled at some point before the schedule heats up in late September. West Virginia should be improved, but the Mountaineers simply don’t have the personnel to hang with Alabama — especially away from Morgantown.
8. Temple (+13.5) at Vanderbilt
Thursday, 9:15 ET, SEC Network
The Derek Mason era begins in Nashville against a Temple team that was probably better than its 2–10 record from a year ago. The Owls went 2–4 in the latter half of the season, with wins over Army and Memphis sandwiched around four losses by an average of 4.8 points. Vanderbilt’s decision to go with Patton Robinette as its starting quarterback was a bit of a surprise. Robinette went 2–1 as a starter last year and also took significant snaps in wins over Georgia and Tennessee, but he’s not considered an ideal fit for offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell’s system. Mason and Dorrell insist their quarterback will not be on a short leash, so Robinette will have ample opportunities to prove his critics wrong.
9. Southern Miss (+30.5) at Mississippi State
7:30 ET, SEC Network
The last time these two in-state schools met, Brett Favre was in charge of the Southern Miss offense. The Golden Eagles lost that day in 1990, 13–10 in Starkville, but went on to win six of their final eight games to finish with an 8–4 mark. The 2014 Eagles have more modest goals. After snapping a 23-game losing streak with a win in the ’13 finale, Southern Miss would love to flirt with a .500 mark in the second season of the Todd Monken era. Mississippi State, on the other hand, would be disappointed with anything less than eight wins. The Bulldogs must navigate through the difficult SEC West, but this could be the most complete team at MSU since Dan Mullen took over. It will be a bad sign if State does not win this game with ease.
10. Idaho (+36.5) at Florida
(7 ET, ESPNU)
The most important season of Will Muschamp’s career as a head coach begins with a visit from a really bad Idaho team. The Vandals, 1–11 last season, have not won a road game since beating San Jose State in November 2011. Idaho played seven road games last season and gave up at least 40 points six times, including 59 at Ole Miss and 80 at Florida State. Advice to Florida fans: Don’t make any conclusions on the new Gator offense based on this game. Idaho is not good.
11. UT Martin (+19.5) at Kentucky
(12:00 ET, SEC Network)
Kentucky begins Year 2 of the Mark Stoops era against a UT Martin team that won seven games in 2013. The Skyhawks, however, went 0–2 against FBS opponents, losing to Memphis 21–6 and Boise State 63–14. Patrick Towles won a hotly contested battle to start at quarterback for Kentucky. The Cats don’t quite have SEC-caliber talent on the offensive line, but they have some able bodies at wide receiver and a nice collection of running backs. We might actually see the “Air Raid” attack that offensive coordinator Neal Brown promised to bring back to the Bluegrass.
12. South Dakota State (+29.5) at Missouri
3:30 ET, ESPNU
This is the only sure thing in an otherwise tricky non-conference schedule for Missouri. After this Week 1 visit from the Jackrabbits, the Tigers travel to Toledo and then host UCF and Indiana. They should be 4–0 heading into SEC play, but none of those three games will be easy. Saturday afternoon’s game, however, shouldn’t be too taxing. South Dakota State is a solid FCS team but isn’t good enough, on either side of the ball, to make Mizzou sweat.
SEC Week 1 Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Texas A&M at South Carolina
S. Carolina 38-17
|S. Carolina 38-24||S. Carolina 34-24||South Carolina 34-26|
Ole Miss vs. Boise State (Atlanta)
Ole Miss 35-21
|Ole Miss 34-13||Ole Miss 34-17||Ole Miss 34-10|
Temple at Vanderbilt
|Vanderbilt 27-13||Vanderbilt 31-17||Vanderbilt 28-13|
UT Martin at Kentucky
|Kentucky 41-10||Kentucky 38-13||Kentucky 37-10|
Alabama vs. West Virginia (Atlanta)
|Alabama 31-13||Alabama 38-10||Alabama 30-13|
South Dakota State at Missouri
|Missouri 45-14||Missouri 45-17||Missouri 41-10|
Arkansas at Auburn
|Auburn 38-21||Auburn 38-24||Auburn 37-24|
Clemson at Georgia
|Georgia 24-21||Georgia 27-24||Georgia 34-27|
Idaho at Florida
|Florida 44-3||Florida 45-10||Florida 51-0|
So. Miss at Mississippi State
MIss. State 48-10
|Miss. State 38-10||Miss. State 40-13||Miss. State 37-10|
LSU vs. Wisconsin (Houston)
|LSU 31-14||LSU 30-20||LSU 34-31|
Utah State at Tennessee
Utah State 28-24
|Tennessee 34-27||Tennessee 27-24||Tennessee 20-9|
Conference tournament time is back, serving as a reminder that essentially any team has a chance to play for a national championship in college basketball.
Of course, that’s not realistic, but for most of the teams in the country starting last week, the only thing that separates them from the NCAA Tournament is three, four or five wins in a row.
Last season, Ole Miss won the SEC Tournament to clinch an NCAA bid. Colorado came from obscurity two years ago to win the Pac-12 Tournament and knock regular season champion Washington to the NIT.
In our look at potential dark horses for conference tournament titles, not all of them need to win out to get into the NCAA field, but they’re certainly not the favorites to cut down nets by Saturday or Sunday.
Others, though, are conference tournament or bust and just might have the ability to catch a hot streak all the way to Selection Sunday.
ACC: NC State
The Wolfpack have been average at best for most of the season, but sophomore forward T.J. Warren has been one of the top scorers in the nation of late. He scored a total of 83 points in the final two regular-season games to power him to ACC Player of the Year honors.
The Tigers lacked consistency throughout much of the regular season, but they will have the luxury of playing the tournament on their home floor, the FedExForum. Josh Pastner’s team won its final seven AAC home games.
Atlantic 10: Dayton
The hottest team in the league started 1-5 but finished 10-6. Archie Miller, the brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller, doesn’t need to win the A-10 Tourney to get in the field, but it could happen anyway.
Big 12: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys had a losing record in league play, but this is probably the second-most talented roster in the Big 12. Marcus Smart is capable of leading his team to four wins in four days.
Big East: St. John’s
In an honest moment, most coaches in the league will tell you that St. John’s might have the most talented team in the league. The Red Storm rallied late to finish 10–8. This is a dangerous team.
Big Ten: Nebraska
Tim Miles has done a tremendous job making Nebraska basketball (or Nebrasketball) relevant in the Big Ten. The Huskers won nine of their final 10 games to earn the No. 4 seed in Indianapolis.
Mountain West: Nevada
The Wolf Pack are a streaky group with an elite point guard who can take over in Deonte Burton. The Pack finished with a losing record overall but won three of their last four, including wins over Boise State on the road and UNLV.
It was a strange season for the Ducks, who lost five in a row in January and then ended the regular season with seven straight wins. This team has a ton of weapons.
It’s always dangerous to pick Tennessee in the SEC Tournament — the Vols have not advanced to Saturday since 2010 — but this team is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time.
Picking No. 1 seeds is no fun. It’s not fun on your NCAA bracket and certainly not fun in the conference tournaments.
Not to mention it’s statistically impossible for all No. 1 seeds to advance all the way to a tournament championship.
All of the teams at No. 1 in the league tournaments have their NCAA bids wrapped up and some, including Florida and probably Arizona, already have No. 1 seeds in the NCAAs in play. In other words, a few No. 1 seeds don’t have much more they need to accomplish in the conference tournaments.
How much will that come into play this season? We’ll find out this week.
The Cavs will enter the ACC Tournament with something to prove. They won the regular-season title but probably have not been given proper credit due to their relatively soft league schedule. Tony Bennett will have his team ready to play.
Russ Smith and the defending national champs head to Memphis on a mission. A No. 1 seed is probably out of reach, but a title this weekend could vault the Cardinals to a No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Atlantic 10: VCU
Top-seeded Saint Louis is in a cold snap and few of the league’s bubble teams look like they can pull of tournament championship. VCU’s offense doesn’t always click, but the havoc defense is a difficult matchup in a tournament setting.
Big 12: Iowa State
The Cyclones are built for postseason success. They have star power (three players average at least 16 points per game), experience (two senior starters) and are very well coached.
Big East: Creighton
The Bluejays have some deficiencies on the defensive end of the floor, but they score with tremendous efficiency. This team, led by senior Doug McDermott, will be eager to shine on the big stage of Madison Square Garden.
Big Ten: Michigan
The Big Ten is loaded with elite coaches, but Michigan just might have the best game day coach in the business in John Beilein. He will find a way to lead the Wolverines to their first Big Ten Tournament championship since 1998.
Mountain West: New Mexico
The Lobos routed top-seeded San Diego State the first time around in Albuquerque and controlled the rematch until the Aztecs switched defensive game plans in the second half. New Mexico won’t be caught off guard if these teams meet a third time around.
The Wildcats have only lost three times this season — all on the road. On a neutral court, Arizona is by far the best team in the league. Look for Sean Miller’s team to coast to the title.
Florida doesn’t have a ton to play for — the Gators have already secured a No. 1 seed — but Billy Donovan has done a great job keeping his team motivated this season.
Stringing together wins in the Big Ten hasn’t been easy this season, even for the most historically consistent of teams.
Wisconsin and Ohio State have faltered since undefeated starts. A different Indiana team shows up nearly any night.
And then there’s Northwestern, winners of four of five and in fourth place in the league standings. The Wildcats are one of four teams without a losing record in conference play.
Drew Crawford has led the way in the last week in a pair of road wins over Wisconsin and Minnesota, earning Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.
Crawford missed all but 10 games last season due to shoulder surgery but has returned to lead the Wildcats to a surprising season in the first year under coach Chris Collins. Crawford scored 30 points in a 65-56 win at Wisconsin on Wednesday and 17 points in a 55-54 win over Minnesota on Saturday.
Athlon Sports National Award Winners: Feb. 3
National Player of the Week: Drew Crawford, Northwestern
It was a huge week for the Northwestern program, which won at Wisconsin on Wednesday night by 11 and Minnesota on Saturday by one. Crawford, a fifth-year senior who flirted with transferring in the offseason, averaged 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the two wins. The Wildcats, under first-year coach Chris Collins, have won three straight Big Ten road games for the first time since the 1959-60 season.
Freshman of the Week: Jordan Mickey, LSU
The Tigers had their best week of the season with home wins over Kentucky and Arkansas. One of the centerpieces was the forward Mickey. The freshman had 22 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks in an 88-74 win over Arkansas on Tuesday. Earlier in the week, Mickey added 14 points, six rebounds and five blocks in the 87-82 win over Kentucky on Tuesday.
Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Maurice Ndour, Ohio
Ohio moved into a tie for the MAC East division and a three-way tie for the best record in the league overall thanks to a pair of double-doubles from Ndour. The junior college transfer from Senegal had 28 points and 12 rebounds in the 95-90 win over MAC leader Toledo on Saturday. Earlier in the week, Ndour had 21 points and 11 rebounds in a 71-67 win over Central Michigan.
Other Top Performers
C.J. Fair, Syracuse
Fair scored 28 points and played all 45 minutes as Syracuse held off Duke 91–89 in overtime in one of the most exciting regular-season games in recent years. Fair, a senior forward, controlled the paint for the bigger, more physical Orange, who are now ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 21–0 record.
Justin Cobbs, California
Cobbs delivered one of the most memorable shots of the season, drilling a step-back jumper with 0.9 seconds remaining to lift Cal to a 60–58 win over top-ranked Arizona. Cobbs, who scored the Golden Bears’ final 12 points, scored 19 points and handed out seven assists. The Bears had lost their previous three games.
DeAngelo Harrison, St. John’s
Harrison scored 27 points and added six rebounds and two blocked shots to lead St. John’s to a convincing 74–59 win over Marquette. The Red Storm lost their first five Big East games but have since won three of four to improve to 3–6 in the league. Harrison, a junior guard from Texas, ranks third in the conference in scoring at 18.1 points per game.
Jabari Brown, Missouri
His team came up short on Saturday afternoon — losing 84–79 at home to Kentucky — but Brown was the best player on a court loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans. Brown, a former 5-star recruit who began his career at Oregon, led Missouri with 33 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the floor and 10-of-12 from the foul line. Earlier in the week, Brown scored 24 points (on only 11 shots) in the Tigers’ 75–71 win at Arkansas.
Juwan Staten, West Virginia
Surging West Virginia won for the third time in the last four games thanks to a career day from its junior point guard. Staten, a one-time Dayton Flyer, scored 35 points and had four rebounds and five assists (and only two turnovers) in 38 minutes of action in the Mountaineers’ 81–71 win over Kansas State. West Virginia, who upset Baylor in Waco earlier in the week, is now 5–4 in the rugged Big 12.
Marcus Kennedy, SMU
SMU bounced back from a midweek loss at South Florida to beat Memphis 87–72 on Saturday in one of the biggest games the school in decades. Kennedy, a 6-9, 245-pound Philadelphia native, led the way with 21 points (on a perfect 10-of-10 from the field) and 15 rebounds for Larry Brown’s team. Kennedy has recorded a double-double in four of the last five games.
Josh Scott, Colorado
Scott scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead struggling Colorado — which had lost four of five games — to a 79–75 overtime win at home against Utah. The Buffaloes were expected to be one of the top teams in the Pac-12 but have struggled since point guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down a season-ending injury.
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
Tennessee bounced back from a disheartening 67–41 loss at Florida with two convincing wins over SEC foes last week. Stokes, a junior forward, scored 13 points and had 14 rebounds in a midweek 86–70 win over Ole Miss and then had a dominating 22-point, 15-rebound effort in Saturday night’s 17-point victory at Alabama.
Tyler Haws, BYU
BYU has been a disappointment this season, but the Cougars are getting great production from Haws. A junior guard from Alpine, Utah, Haws averaged 35.5 points while shooting 59.5 percent from the field to lead BYU to wins over Pacific and Saint Mary’s last week. He is averaging 24.6 points.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
With Indiana desperate for a quality win, Ferrell delivered in the clutch, scoring 27 points to lead the Hoosiers’ offense and helping slow down Michigan’s Nik Stauskas on the defensive end of the floor. Ferrell hit 8-of-10 from the floor, including 7-of-8 from 3-point range, in Indiana’s most important win of the season.
The line about shot blockers is that they can cover up a ton of their team's mistakes.
Beyond the defensive end, freshman Joel Embiid did his share of covering for his Kansas teammates on Saturday against Oklahoma State.
Perry Ellis scored only six points. Wayne Selden was 2 of 9 from the floor. And Andrew Wiggins made only one field goal against the Cowboys. Yet Kansas defeated one of the top challengers in the Big 12 80-78 thanks to an overwhelming performance from Embiid.
A contender for the top spot in the NBA Draft, Embiid finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks. He also had 16 points, nine rebounds and tow blocks in Monday’s win at Iowa State to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week and National Freshman of the Week honors.
In two games against then-top 10 competition, Embiid was 12 of 14 from the floor — and Kansas coach Bill Self thinks he could be getting more opportunities.
“If we would just remember to throw it to him, he is pretty good,” Self said. “That would probably help our team. If you think about it, Perry, Wayne and Wiggins, who would have thought we would win the game with those guys having off-days the way they did.”
National Player of the Week and National Freshman of the Week: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Embiid is playing like the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The freshman center was sensational in Kansas’ 80–78 win over Oklahoma State on Saturday, scoring 13 points (on 5-of-6 shooting) with 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Earlier in the week, the Cameroon native scored 16 points and had nine boards and five blocks in a key Big 12 road win at Iowa State.
Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Julius Brown, Toledo
Toledo’s steady rise in the MAC turned a key corner during the weekend as the Rockets defeated Akron, the league’s representative in the NCAA Tournament in three of the last five seasons, on the road for the first time since 2001. Brown scored 25 points in the 75-61 win over the Zips. Brown added 20 points and a game-winning buzzer beater in Wednesday’s 67-65 win over Buffalo. Toledo is 3-1 in the MAC with wins over two of the league’s better teams.
Other Primetime Players
Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
Edwin fueled Seton Hall’s second-half rally with 19 of his 24 points in the final 17 minutes to help the Pirates beat Georgetown 67–57 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. A senior guard, Edwin connected on all five of his 3-point attempts in the second half as the Pirates turned a 10-point deficit into a 10-point win. Edwin also recorded five steals and is now the school’s all-time leader with 263. Seton Hall, now 2–3 in the Big East, had not defeated Georgetown on the road since January 2003.
Gavin Ware, Mississippi State
Ware recorded a double-double with 22 points (tying an SEC career high) and 10 rebounds to lead Mississippi State to an 81–72 overtime win over Texas A&M at home. The sophomore forward hit 8-of-11 from the field and 6-of-8 from the foul line en route to his third 20-point game of the season. Guard Craig Sword chipped in a team-high 23 points for Mississippi State, which is 2–2 in the SEC.
Kameron Woods, Butler
Four days after being held scoreless on 0-of-9 shooting in a 28-point loss at Creighton, Woods scored 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in Butler’s 69–57 overtime win over Marquette. The Bulldogs had been 0–5 in the Big East, with three of the five losses coming in overtime. Woods, a 6'9" sophomore, has had at least 10 rebounds in four straight games.
Drew Crawford, Northwestern
Northwestern won its first Big Ten road game in more than a calendar year thanks to a big game from Crawford, who scored 17 points and added 11 rebounds in the Wildcats’ surprising 54–47 win at Indiana. Northwestern, under first-year coach Chris Collins, is 9–10 overall and 2–4 in the Big Ten, but the Cats have won two of their last three games.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Stauskas scored 23 points to lead Michigan to a rare win over Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. The sophomore sharpshooter hit three 3-pointers, none more important than a step back jumper from the left side that gave the Wolverines a four-point lead with under a minute to play. Stauskas added four free throws down the stretch to secure Michigan’s first win in Madison since 1999. The Wolverines, who are playing without standout big man Mitch McGary (out for the season with a back injury), have won seven straight games.
Bryce Cotton, Providence
Cotton scored a game-high 23 points to lead short-handed Providence to an 81–68 win over Creighton, which entered the game with a 5–0 record in Big East play. Cotton, a senior guard, has scored 20 points or more in three straight games — wins over Georgetown, St. John’s (on the road) and Creighton. He is averaging 20.4 points per game.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Harrell recorded a double-double for the third time in four games, scoring 18 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the Cardinals’ 76–64 win at UConn on Saturday night. Harrell, who is shooting .634 from the field, connected on 8-of-10 from the field and also blocked three shots for the surging Cards, who have won three straight games.
Johnny O’Bryant, LSU
O’Bryant, a former McDonald’s All-American, rebounded from a subpar game in LSU’s loss at Ole Miss to score 22 points and grab 12 rebounds in the Tigers’ 81–58 win over Vanderbilt in Baton Rouge. O’Bryant and the LSU frontline dominated Vanderbilt on the glass, outrebounding the Commodores 48-to-24.
Chasson Randle, Stanford
Randle tied a career high with 33 points to lead Stanford to a 79–67 win over Washington late Saturday in Palo Alto. A junior guard from Illinois, Randle hit 11-of-15 from the field and 10-of-13 from the foul line en route to his third game with 30-plus points this season. He leads the team in scoring at 19.5 points per game.
Roberto Nelson, Oregon State
Nelson, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, led the way with 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting as the Beavers knocked off rival Oregon 80–72 Sunday night in Corvallis. Nelson, a 6-4 guard, is averaging 21.5 points and shooting .390 from 3-point range and .877 from the foul line.
Three undefeated teams remain to start this week, and at least one will stay that way by Sunday morning.
Top-ranked Arizona is off this weekend after defeating Arizona State on Thursday. After Wisconsin and Iowa State lost their unbeaten status last week on the road, Syracuse and Wichita State at least have the comforts of home for the weekend.
The Orange face Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome while the Shockers bring Indiana State to Wichita.
Whether the weekend ends with three undefeated teams or not, we’re sure to see more changes in the power rankings if this week is any indication. Baylor suffered an embarrassing loss. Colorado suffered a key injury. And Kentucky endured a loss on the road in Fayetteville. All played a major role in shuffling this week’s rankings.
College Basketball Power Rankings: Jan. 17
*All games Satuday unless noted.
1. Arizona (18-0, 5-0 Pac-12)
This weekend: Off
Pac-12 opponents are shooting 36.4 percent against the Wildcats.
2. Syracuse (17-0, 4-0 ACC)
This weekend: Pittsburgh
C.J. Fair, Trevor Cooney, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis make up nearly 75 percent of Syracuse’s scoring.
3. Michigan State (16-1, 5-0 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Illinois
Adreian Payne is the latest to fall to the Michigan State injury bug, and Gary Harris has hit a cold snap from 3-point range (3 of 17 in the last three games).
4. Villanova (15-1, 4-0 Big East)
This weekend: DePaul
DePaul is not as horrendous as you think this season. Will ‘Nova get caught looking ahead to Creighton on Monday?
5. Wisconsin (16-1, 3-1 Big Ten)
This weekend: Michigan
Indiana’s bench outscored Wisconsin’s 17-6 in the Badgers’ first loss of the season Wednesday.
6. Florida (14-2, 3-0 SEC)
This weekend: at Auburn
Michael Frazier (21 points vs. Georgia) and Dorian Finney-Smith (22 points, 15 rebounds vs. Arkansas) are filling the void left by injured Casey Prather.
7. San Diego State (15-1, 4-0 Mountain West)
This weekend: UNLV
The Aztecs lead the nation in allowing the fewest points per possession at 84 points per 100 possessions.
8. Kansas (12-4, 3-0 Big 12)
This weekend: Oklahoma State
The Jayhawks are in the ninth game of a streak of 11 consecutive games against KenPom.com top 100 teams.
9. Iowa State (14-2, 2-2 Big 12)
This weekend: Texas
DeAndre Kane answered any questions about his health with 21 points and eight rebounds against Kansas.
10. Iowa (14-3, 3-1 Big Ten)
This weekend: Minnesota (Sunday)
Athlon Sports National Player of the Week Roy Devyn Marble is averaging 19.8 points per game against Big Ten opponents.
11. Wichita State (18-0, 5-0 Missouri Valley)
This weekend: Indiana State
The Sycamores could be Wichita State’s toughest opponent in MVC play.
12. Oklahoma State (15-2, 3-1 Big 12)
This weekend: at Kansas
Marcus Smart scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds in his last trip to Lawrence last season.
13. Creighton (15-2, 5-0 Big East)
This weekend: at Providence
Doug McDermott took the top spot in Ken Pomeroy’s first kPOY watch list.
14. Kentucky (12-4, 2-1 SEC)
This weekend: Tennessee
Kentucky’s last game featured 81 total free throws in an overtime loss to Arkansas.
15. Louisville (15-3, 5-1 American)
This weekend: at Connecticut
Luke Hancock is averaging 16.8 points per game since conference play began.
16. Ohio State (15-3, 2-3 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Nebraska
Two mentally draining Big Ten losses and a 10-point defeat at Minnesota may signal Ohio State's 15-0 start was a mirage.
17. Memphis (12-3, 3-1 American)
This weekend: Le Moyne-Owen
Suddenly, Memphis has dropped back-to-back American Athletic Conference home games to Cincinnati and UConn ... with a road win over Louisville sprinkled in.
18. Cal (13-4, 4-0 Pac-12)
This weekend: Washington
Never doubt Mike Montgomery: Cal started conference play with three consecutive road wins.
19. Saint Louis (16-2, 3-0 Atlantic 10)
This weekend: Fordham
After a key road win over Dayton, Saint Louis got a scare against St. Bonaventure at home.
20. Baylor (13-3, 1-2 Big 12)
This weekend: Oklahoma
The Bears allowed Texas Tech to shoot 60.5 percent from 2-point range in an embarrassing loss.
21. UMass (15-1, 3-1 Atlantic 10)
This weekend: at Elon
The Minutemen began a three-game road swing with a one-point win over a 7-10 George Mason team.
22. Cincinnati (16-2, 5-0 American)
This weekend: USF
Opponents are shooting only 40.1 percent from 2-point range against the Bearcats.
23. Duke (13-4, 2-2 ACC)
This weekend: NC State
The Blue Devils can’t guard anyone and now face ACC leading scorer T.J. Warren.
24. UCLA (14-3, 3-1 Pac-12)
This weekend: at Utah
The Bruins took advantage of Colorado team missing Spencer Dinwiddie for easy win Thursday.
25. Michigan (12-4, 4-0 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Wisconsin
The Wolverines are 8-0 without Mitch McGary this season, but the schedule is about to get much tougher.
Vanderbilt is headed to a bowl game for the third straight season and will be making its first trip to an out-of-state postseason game since the 1982 Commodores played in the Hall of Fame Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham. James Franklin’s team struggled early in the season — the Dores were 3–3 overall (0–3 in the SEC) after six games — but won five of its last six games, highlighted by victories over Georgia at home and Florida and Tennessee on the road.
Vanderbilt, however, will not have the services of starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels. The fifth-year senior had surgery to repair a torn ACL a few days after the season-ending win over Wake Forest. Carta-Samuels injured his knee in a mid-October win over Georgia but managed to start the final three games, wins over Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest. Patton Robinette, a redshirt freshman who started two games and played significant snaps in three others, will get the nod for the Dores.
Houston is back in a bowl game after missing out on the postseason in two of the last three years. Tony Levine’s first season as a head coach did not go too well — the Cougars went 5–7 in 2012 — but he bounced back with an 8–4 overall record and a 5–3 mark in the new American Athletic Conference. The Cougars lost to BYU by one point in non-conference action and lost to the three teams that finished ahead of them in the AAC (UCF, Louisville and Cincinnati) by an 6.3 points. This is a solid team that doesn’t have any bad losses but doesn’t really have any good wins, either.
Vanderbilt vs. Houston
Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 4 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Vanderbilt -2.5
Vanderbilt’s Key to Victory: Run the ball
Vanderbilt features one of the elite wide receivers in the nation in senior Jordan Matthews, but the Commodores’ first order of business will be to establish the running game. Vanderbilt’s rushing numbers down the stretch weren’t impressive — the Dores averaged under 3.0 yards per carry in four of the final five games — but there’s no doubt it will be a big part of offensive coordinator John Donovan’s game plan, especially with Robinette at quarterback. The redshirt freshman, a better runner than passer at this stage of his career, rushed for a combined 85 yards on 19 carries in the final two games of the season. The Commodores will also have starting running back Jerron Seymour back in the lineup. The sophomore only carried the ball five times against Tennessee and did not play against Wake Forest while nursing a leg injury. Vanderbilt will look to attack a Houston defense that ranked ninth in the AAC in stopping the run, allowing 143.8 rushing yards per game.
Houston’s Key to Victory: Keep forcing turnovers
Houston has done one thing better than any team in college football in 2013 — force turnovers. The Cougars lead the nation in both takeaways (40) and turnover margin (plus-2.08), which is a huge reason why this team improved from five wins in 2012 to eight wins in ’13. Houston has forced at least one turnover in every game and has had three or more takeaways in nine of 12 games. This team can win a game without winning the turnover margin — the Cougars went 1–1 with a margin of zero — but Levine would much prefer to keep this seemingly unsustainable pace going for at least one more game.
Key Player: John O’Korn, QB, Houston
O’Korn, a true freshman from Florida, was thrust into the starting role early in the season when veteran David Piland was forced to retire from the sport due to ongoing issues with concussions. O’Korn responded with a terrific season, completing just under 60 percent of his passes for 2,889 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Now, however, he must play his first game without offensive coordinator Doug Meachem calling the plays. Meachem resigned following the end of the regular season to take a similar position at TCU, leaving Travis Bush, formerly the running backs coach, as the play-caller. Bush called plays for the final 11 games of the ’12 season after offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt was fired following a Week 1 loss to Texas State. O’Korn will also be facing an outstanding secondary that features four senior starters, including two All-SEC performers (safety Kenny Ladler and cornerback Andre Hal). The Commodores rank second in the SEC with 16 interceptions and had a total of 11 in their last four games. You can bet that defensive coordinator Bob Shoop will do all he can to confuse the true freshman quarterback.
On paper, you would figure any 8–4 team from the SEC would be quite a bit better than an 8–4 team from the American Athletic Conference. But the boys in Vegas have only made Vanderbilt a 2.5-point favorite. The Commodores, despite winning their last four games, weren’t playing great down the stretch. They played well enough to win but struggled in home games against Kentucky and Wake Forest and had to rally to beat Tennessee late in the fourth quarter. Houston has put up some impressive offensive numbers against some inferior defenses, but has struggled against the better defensive teams on its schedule — scoring 14 vs. UCF, 13 vs. Louisville and 17 vs. Cincinnati. With the possible exception of Louisville, Vanderbilt figures to be the best defensive team Houston will face this season.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 27, Houston 23