Tag Archives: Austin Allen

Gator Defense Will Silence Austin Allen and Company

It’s Friday, and that means it’s time for another smackdown. Interestingly enough, I have only written one of these in favor of my Florida Gators. But fear not, because this week it’s time for another one.

The Gators beat the Georgia Bulldogs last weekend in the annual World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. While the offense may have been lackluster as always, the defense was scary good.

This weekend Florida travels to Fayetteville to play the Arkansas Razorbacks. The last time the Gators traveled to Arkansas was during the Meyer era, and they won that game by 31 points.

Overall, the Gators boast a 9-1 record over the Razorbacks. And after this weekend I fully expect that record to improve to 10-1.

It’s not that the Razorbacks can’t beat the Gators. It’s just that they won’t.

The season was actually going pretty well for Arkansas just a few weeks ago. It had only lost two games to two very good teams, and not by completely ridiculous margins. Then the Razorbacks traveled to Auburn and got absolutely blown out by the Tigers. They lost 56-3. Yes, that means it was a 53-point loss. Now that is an example of a completely ridiculous margin.

While Auburn is good, there’s no way the Tigers are that good. That’s the kind of score you expect when a major FBS team is playing some tiny FCS team. That’s not the kind of score you expect in conference play.

Arkansas did have two turnovers to Auburn’s none. But what really hurt most is its 215 totally yards on offense to Auburn’s 632.

No, Florida’s offense will probably not put up 632 yards (I can only dream of the day when it does). Actually, the Florida offense only had 231 yards in the win over Georgia. But after holding Georgia’s offense to 164 yards, that was more than enough for the Gators.

Arkansas may have an offense significantly better than that of Georgia. But it also has a defense that is much worse than Georgia’s. And because of that, this matchup favors the Gators.

My favorite game-predicting statistic, the ESPN FPI Matchup Rater, gives the Gators a 65.2% chance of winning this game. But if we dive deeper into the numbers from this season, you’ll see why the Gators are favored (and rightfully so).

The Razorbacks are averaging 30.9 points per game on offense but giving up an average of 31.4. They are gaining an average of 416.8 yards each game but allowing an average of 428.0. Furthermore, the Razorbacks average 256.4 passing yards per game while giving up an average of 206.3. And as far as rushing yards go, they average 160.4 yards per game but give up 221.8.

The Gators are averaging 29.4 points each game and only giving up an average of 11.7. They gain an average of 398.6 yards per game but only allow an average of 239.9. The Gators average 228.4 yards per game in the air but allow an average of only 134.3. They gain an average of 170.1 yards on the ground while allowing an average of only 105.6.

I’ll let all that sit for a minute. Read it again if you must.

But if you look at these numbers you’ll see an interesting pattern, a pattern that results in more W’s for the Gators and more L’s for the Razorbacks. The Gators put up more points and gain more yards than they allow. The Razorbacks put up fewer points and allow more yards than they gain, with the only exception being passing yards.

That one exception could be very significant in many games. But when you’re playing the Gators, you really can’t rely on success in the passing game. The Gators have a borderline erotic defense. Maybe even just erotic.

They have an incredibly strong defensive line, especially when the linemen are all healthy. They boast one of the best linebackers in the country in Jarrad Davis. The Gators also have Marcus Maye, who you really don’t want to throw the ball anywhere near, at safety. Not to mention they have the best cornerback duo in all of college football this season, Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor.

It comes down to this: Austin Allen is good. But he, along with the Arkansas O-line, should prove to be no match for this Gator defense. As long as this defense performs the way it has been for most of the season, the Razorbacks will end up on their knees begging for mercy, much like Bret Bielema in this lovely clip from a Hog Walk.

And just because I can’t talk about Arkansas without mentioning its first game of the season, let’s not forget that Arkansas almost lost to Louisiana Tech. No, the Gators didn’t blow out UMass, but they didn’t only win by a single point. So there’s that.

Go Gators! It’s only natural for gators to annihilate hogs anyways.

 

Email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Bryan McDonald, Flickr

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Beating Bret Bielema

Auburn and Arkansas have only been playing football against each other since 1992 when Arkansas joined the Southeastern Conference. There was the Liberty Bowl of 1984, when the Tigers, behind game MVP Bo Jackson, trounced the Razorbacks, 21-15. But that was the only meeting between the two prior to the SEC’s expansion, which also included South Carolina.

As a side note, there was a freshman walk-on wide receiver on that 1984 Hawg team by the name of Gus Malzahn.

Auburn leads the series with 13 wins to Arky’s 11. There has been one tie, 24-24. That occurred in the 1992 game in Auburn. Coincidentally, Bo Jackson’s number 34 jersey was retired that day.

We now find ourselves, in the year 2016, with Arkansas native Gus Malzahn serving as the head ball coach (a nod to Steve Spurrier) at Auburn and a brash Bret Bielema at the helm in Fayetteville.

Bielema is also the focal point of a mini web television program, Being Bret Bielema.

Good for Bert (as we often refer to him here in the friendly confines of Campus Pressbox).

Our own Seth Merenbloom is particularly fond of the Bert moniker.

Seth is also sadly off base with his prediction on this game. He, mistakenly, has picked the Razorbacks to come out victorious in Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday night.

https://soundcloud.com/fourlightsfm/the-sec-411-61-alabama-just-keeps-rollin

Sorry Seth, it ain’t happening.

And with that, I welcome you to my own take, on the game, in my first installation of Beating Bret Bielema.

Auburn will defeat Arkansas, and here is how they will do it. This will be a complete team victory in the three vital areas of a football game: offense, defense, and special teams.

Let us proceed.

OFFENSE

Arkansas has given up points by the dozen in conference play and Saturday will be no exception. Auburn will be able to establish great balance between the running and passing games, and should join its fellow SEC brethren who have piled up both points and yardage on the visitors.

Click here for a glimpse at the Tigers’ now highly potent O.

We move on to our next phase of the game…

DEFENSE

I wrote an article before this football season that spoke to how Auburn would be much improved in 2016 and that it would begin with defense.

That has been the case, thus far, this year.

Check out what Wesley Sinor of AL.com has to say about the defense’s challenge to thwart Hawg quarterback Austin Allen.

And now…

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams have also been a key to Auburn’s success as it rides an impressive three game winning streak, and placekicker Daniel Carlson has been a big reason for that success.

This column from the USA Today speaks to the junior All-American’s remarkable level of play.

Auburn is coming off a bye week. It is well-rested. It is playing with great confidence and swagger. And it is playing very loose and having a lot of fun.

Expect that attitude to continue in this upcoming game.

Arkansas has played seven straight games without a bye week. It’s last two opponents have been two strong teams from the SEC West, Alabama and Ole Miss.

It was fortunate to come from behind to beat Ole Miss but it took a whuppin’, both on the scoreboard and on the field, against the Crimson Tide, the best team in the nation.

The odds makers like this Auburn team as well.

The Tigers opened in Vegas as an eight-point favorite. That line has now risen to 10. It could climb even higher before enough people begin to put down some money on the Razorbacks.

10 points won’t do. If I were a gambling man, I would take Auburn, minus 10, in a heartbeat.

I would take Auburn minus 16 in a heartbeat.

Take that, Seth! And welcome to this episode of Beating Bret Bielema.

Auburn 34, Arkansas 17.

 

E-mail Bird at  or follow him on Twitter@Autull

Grab Your Beer: We Have a Perfect Saturday Slate of SEC Football

I’m going to take you back to an article I wrote before the season got underway. I came up with the nightmarish scenario of only being able to watch one SEC football game per week. Then I picked the games I’d watch each week if that were the case.

Weeks 1-5, I was pretty much dead-on. Week 6 is where SEC football makes me feel a little silly.

That’s because it’s now Week 6 and there are three huge conference match-ups that I will watch. Ironically, the one that I initially picked over the others seems to be the one of least consequence here. And by that, I mean I picked the LSU Tigers visiting the Florida Gators as my one game to watch.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll definitely be watching the Tigers pay the Gators a visit. But if I had to choose just one game to watch, it might not be that game anymore.

Fortunately, my nightmare hasn’t come true and I do not have to pick only one game to watch. The schedule works out perfectly for the SEC football fan in me this week, as I get to watch three amazing games. So here’s a preview of what this perfect Saturday as SEC football fan will look like.

At noon on ESPN, the Tigers play the Gators. This game may not be the best of the weekend but it’s still intriguing in many ways.

LSU fired head coach Les Miles and left Ed Orgeron in charge for the time being. At the same time, star RB Leonard Fournette’s status is “day-by-day” with an ankle injury. Additionally, Danny Etling has taken over at quarterback instead of Brandon Harris. Yes, they beat the Missouri Tigers in convincing fashion, but that was at home against a team that was winless in SEC play. With or without Leonard Fournette, it’ll be interesting to see how this Tiger team handles a road game against a ranked opponent now that Miles is gone.

Florida has question marks, but for completely different reasons. The Gators seem to have caught the injury bug, with their whole starting defensive line suffering some kind of injury. Not to mention that their biggest hope for having a good quarterback, Luke Del Rio, injured his knee taking a low hit a couple weeks ago. It also seems like the coaching staff hasn’t really figured out an effective rotation for the running backs, as made evident by Jordan Scarlett’s absence on many snaps last game. On top of that, there are questions about Florida’s rushing defense after how they handled Ralph Webb. This group of defensive backs is always great, but can the whole defense rise to the occasion of defending someone like Derrius Guice or possibly even Fournette?

After that game, Tennessee takes on Texas A&M on CBS at 3:30. Regardless of where your loyalty lies, why wouldn’t you want to watch a battle of unbeatens?

The Vols to have destiny or the football gods or even just some good juju on their side so far this season. Josh Dobbs has come through in a clutch way, and his passing game has helped lead the Vols to some pretty great comeback wins. Unfortunately, the Vols have suffered some injuries on defense and still have some ground to make up there. And there’s also the question of whether or not this team can play a whole game of good football instead of just playing a great second half. But, with fate seemingly on their side, you just can’t count out this Vols team.

Texas A&M, once again, has gotten off to a 5-0 start this season. This is the third season in a row that they’ve gotten off to such a start. But will this be the first of those years that they also win Game 6? It very well could be. Trevor Knight has proven to be solid at quarterback, and a great supporting cast surrounds him. The Aggies are ranked in the top 50 FBS teams in passing yards, rushing yards, points for, and points against. No question marks about that.

At 7:00, flip back to ESPN to watch as Alabama pays Arkansas a visit. Alabama is always good, but Arkansas has been surprisingly good this season too. That makes this game the upset alert of the week.

Alabama, like Tennessee, has had some slow starts. Okay, their starts are like a jog to Tennessee’s walk. But they definitely can’t afford to be jogging this game. As I’ve said before, the Crimson Tide may not have a super strong quarterback this year, but that doesn’t matter. True freshman Jalen Hurts does enough to make the rest of the team shine. They actually don’t even have a go-to running back like Derrick Henry this season, and that weakness worries me. But even if Alabama wins this one, they go to Tennessee next and host Texas A&M after that.

I never know what to make of Arkansas. All I know is that at any given moment, they could pull off a borderline erotic upset win. I have my doubts after their loss to Texas A&M, but you just never know. They have a great quarterback in Austin Allen, but how will he handle an elite defense? And even more worrisome than that is the question of how the Razorback defense will handle Alabama’s potent offense. I’ll always give them the upset factor, but if they manage to pull this one off it might be just plain erotic for coach Bret Bielema.

Now I have just one request: Grab a beer (or six) and enjoy what will probably be an exciting day of SEC football.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Featured photo courtesy of Gainesville Apartments.

SEC Quarterbacks Are Downright Unimpressive

Anybody who knows me at all knows that I have a special place in my heart for SEC football. I really do. But I can’t sit by and be silent about this. The SEC quarterbacks, once again, look overwhelmingly bad. At the risk of sounding cliché, watching the SEC quarterback play so far this year is like watching paint dry.

I can’t think of a single SEC quarterback who actually excites me right now. Meanwhile, I can think of four or five ACC quarterbacks that do. This is madness. How does the conference with the most ranked teams have the worst quarterbacks? I just don’t get it.

Usually, the SEC East is a mess and the SEC West is great. This year, everybody except for Alabama (and maybe Texas A&M) is a mess. Yet somehow there are still eight teams ranked in the AP top 25 at the moment. I’ll let you in on a little something, though—they definitely aren’t ranked because of their quarterbacks.

So here is where I go through every SEC team, by division and in alphabetical order, to prove a point. I’ll keep the assessment for each team brief.

The Florida Gators have been starting Luke Del Rio at quarterback. On the season so far he has 762 passing yards, 6 touchdowns, and two interceptions. But unfortunately for the Gators, he’s sidelined due to a knee injury and they’ll have to rely on Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby for now. Just when they were getting some momentum…

The Georgia Bulldogs seemed pretty well-off as far as quarterbacks go when the season started. Both Greyson Lambert (who was solid last year) and Jacob Eason (who’s a true freshman) have taken snaps for the Dawgs, with Eason taking the majority of the snaps. Eason has racked up 643 yards passing, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. Not bad…and also not fantastic.

The Kentucky Wildcats have played both Drew Barker and Stephen Johnson at quarterback, but Barker went down against New Mexico State and Kentucky has had more success with Johnson now anyways. He has 355 yards passing, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. In the second week at Florida, Drew Barker actually threw three interceptions to the Florida defense and only completed two passes to his own players. Oops!

The Missouri Tigers have mostly stuck with quarterback Drew Lock so far this season. A bright spot in the East, he has 1106 passing yards, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions. But, the Tigers are still struggling, only managing to win one of their first three games this season.

The South Carolina Gamecocks haven’t had all that much luck at quarterback between Brandon McIlwain and Perry Orth. McIlwain has been slightly better than his competition, with 356 yards passing, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He also added 80 yards rushing and two more touchdowns on the ground. But with Muschamp at the helm, I don’t know if they’ll ever have great quarterback play.

The Tennessee Volunteers have had pretty much the same Josh Dobbs they’ve been behind for a couple years now. So far his passing game leaves a lot to be desired with 486 passing yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. On the bright side, he has added 161 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground. He’s also been a great leader despite being behind a shaky offensive line.

The Vanderbilt Commodores have struggled offensively (as always) behind Kyle Shurmur so far this year. He’s had 335 yards passing for two touchdowns and one interception. If Shurmur could get it together, maybe they could actually win a couple conference games this season.

But wait…there’s more! We still have another division full of mediocre quarterbacks to go.

The Alabama Crimson Tide have had Jalen Hurts take the majority of their snaps at quarterback this year. He has 563 passing yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. He’s also added 197 rushing yards and two more touchdowns on the ground. Plus, they’re Alabama. Their quarterback play won’t make or break their season.

The Arkansas Razorbacks have stuck with Austin Allen as their quarterback so far this season. Allen has 655 yards passing, seven touchdowns, and two interceptions. He’s been good so far; he just hasn’t been outstanding.

The Auburn Tigers had some fun at quarterback against Clemson to open the season, but Sean White is now taking the snaps. He has 510 passing yards, three touchdowns, and one interception so far. Meh.

The LSU Tigers started off the season behind Brandon Harris at quarterback but have since given the nod to Danny Etling. Etling has 315 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He also does have one rushing touchdown. He may not be great, but I think he’s better than Harris.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs have played both Nick Fitzgerald and Damian Williams at quarterback so far this year. Fitzgerald has edged out Williams with 298 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception to Williams’ 237 passing yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, Fitzgerald has 219 yards on the ground and Williams has 88 yards as well as a touchdown. While they seem fairly evenly matched, neither is too exciting at this point.

The Ole Miss Rebels have Chad “Swag” Kelly, who was supposed to be the best quarterback in the nation. Kelly does have 953 passing yards and ten touchdowns, but he also has four interceptions. The Rebels will live and die by Kelly this season so those mistakes are costly.

The Texas A&M Aggies have Trevor Knight at quarterback. Knight has 830 passing yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. He also has 151 rushing yards and three more touchdowns on the ground. He’s no Lamar Jackson, but he’s better than most SEC quarterbacks.

Now that you’ve made it through that, maybe you can understand why I’m just unimpressed with the SEC quarterbacks at this point. You know things are rough when Missouri arguably has the best quarterback at the moment. Missouri…a team that has lost two of their first three games. I guess you could argue that Trevor Knight is just as good since he’s more of a dual-threat quarterback. But either way, those two are the best the SEC has to offer right now and that’s not good.

Now, I understand that just looking at these stats isn’t really fair in a lot of ways. Offensive lines not giving time to throw or space to run can be absolutely devastating for quarterbacks. Receivers dropping passes can be just as bad. And facing good secondary units can also be incredibly tough for a quarterback. But even with those things in mind, there isn’t a single quarterback in the SEC that has really impressed me or excited me the way quarterbacks in other conferences have. I didn’t expect there to be a Heisman trophy-winning quarterback from the SEC, but I also didn’t expect the performances to be this lackluster.

Fortunately for SEC fans and our quarterbacks, football isn’t just about that one player taking the snaps. In the SEC it tends to be more about running backs and defenses. That’s probably why there’s still a whopping eight SEC football teams ranked in the AP Top 25, like I mentioned before. And as much as quarterback play can be fun to watch, I prefer watching some hard-hitting SEC defense anyways. So maybe I should save my complaining for the day the defenses are weak.

Here’s the big question for this year will SEC teams be able to compete in the postseason when these SEC quarterbacks are playing like this? If you ask me, it depends on the team. If you have a great defense, a solid offensive line, and a good back or two, then you can compete with anyone. That’s why Alabama is virtually unstoppable. But otherwise, you’ll just become another overrated SEC team. And nobody wants that.

And then there’s the other big question. Why is this such a problem for the SEC and will it continue next year? In all honesty, I still haven’t figured out why the SEC doesn’t have the same quarterback depth that the other major conferences do. But this isn’t something new by any means. And while it may get a little better next season as some of the guys mentioned above take more snaps and gain experience, I don’t expect the SEC to have phenomenal quarterback play anytime soon. I’ll leave that to the ACC for now.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Image courtesy of Ken Lund.

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I Guess TCU Beats Arkansas, But the Big 12 Still Sucks

Here at Campus Pressbox, my disdain for Bret Bielema is well-documented, as is my complete lack of faith in the Big 12. When faced with two, unsavory options, what is a man to do?

In this weekend’s matchup between Arkansas and #15 TCU, I’m airing on the side of talent. I’m taking the Horned Frogs.

Although, again, I’m not loving my options. Both teams embarrassed themselves last week in spite of earning victories. Arkansas eeked out a one-point victory against Louisiana Tech. TCU allowed 41 points and 461 yards against an FCS squad. Certainly not inspiring performances.

Nevertheless, TCU is still my pick to win the Big 12. That’s contingent upon their defense being able to stop a nosebleed, but hey, fingers crossed. Aside from an 87-yard rush that briefly gave South Dakota State the lead, TCU only allowed 1.8 yards per carry last week. The Horned Frogs’ rushing defense wasn’t the problem, their secondary was. Thankfully, Austin Allen doesn’t look poised for a 300-yard passing day anytime soon. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Austin Allen proves me wrong, but the SEC has failed to do that so far this season.

When TCU has to face Big 12 opponents clinging to the air raid, the Frogs may have a reason for concern. This week, the fans in Fort Worth shouldn’t be concerned. Expect TCU to handcuff the Razorbacks’ developing offensive line and shut down their rushing attack.

Now that’s out of the way, it’s time for the main event: Bielema-bashing.

Let me get this straight. Bret Bielema almost became a victim of the BielemaMeter last week, but this week he’ll rally the troops and defeat a ranked opponent? With an unproven QB incapable of making big plays? With an offensive line that revealed a myriad of flaws against a C-USA team? After a dismal week for the SEC? Count me among the skeptics. Arkansas might be tracking upwards, but the issues they showed against Louisiana Tech aren’t being resolved overnight.

Why Bielema ever accepted the Arkansas job is beyond me. Bielema was 68-24 while coaching in Madison. He could operate his smashmouth offense against the likes of Rutgers and Purdue and still make a Rose Bowl every now and then. Instead, Bielema opted to take over a stalled program in an impossible conference, only now beginning to dig Arkansas out of a years-long slump. The money isn’t any better, and now he’s the fourth or fifth best coach in the SEC rather than the third best coach in the Big 10. Is that relevant to this Saturday’s matchup? Absolutely not. It is, however, an important chapter in the brilliantly confusing, unending book that is Bret Bielema.

So yeah, I’m not crazy about either team. I’m not a Bret Bielema fan. I’m not an Arkansas fan. I’m not a fan of terrible offense. I guess that means I’m picking TCU.

But the Big 12 still sucks.

Photo: Dallas Morning News

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

The Dark-Horse Candidates for the 2016 College Football Playoffs

Conference media days are heating up as we venture into the heat of August. That also means that we are not only closer to summer college football camp but we are also closer to the games actually kicking off. I do not know about you, but I am ready to do this 2016 season!

As I day dream about what 2016 will bring, I find myself thinking about the College Football Playoff and who may be some of the surprise, dark-horse teams that could be in contention for one of the four coveted spots.

Here are the teams from each of the Power 5 conferences that I believe could be dark-horse contenders for the playoff.

SEC

Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks are my dark-horse pick from the SEC. Bielema has been in Fayetteville long enough that his system should be considered established. That means that he has “his” players in place to go along with his system.

His roster is littered with established players on both sides of the ball. This includes a knowledgeable and capable quarterback in Austin Allen, a beast of an offensive lineman in Dan Skipper, a stud of a running back in Kody Walker and a top tier wide receiver in Keon Hatcher.

The defensive side of the ball may not be quite on par with Bielema’s offensive depth chart but there are known commodities on the defensive line with Taiwan Johnson and Bijhon Jackson.

And let us not forget that they have an advantageous schedule. At least it is as advantageous as an SEC West team could hope for. They have a great resume building opportunity with a non-conference road game against TCU and then get Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and Florida all in Fayetteville.

The ingredients are there for a surprise playoff run.

Pac-12

The Pac-12 could be the year of the pirate. That is right, Washington State with head coach Mike Leach is my pick for the Pac-12’s dark-horse playoff team.

Wazzu is my pick for no other reason than quarterback Luke Falk. Falk can sling the ball around in a wide open offense as he guides a Cougar offense that should outwork scoreboards across the conference. They are not one of the best teams in the conference, but with Falk and Leach, they will put enough pressure on opposing teams that they should be a threat to the conference.

The Cougars play Oregon, UCLA, Arizona, California, and Washington all in Pullman. Their toughest road game will be at Arizona State and they do not have to deal with USC.

If Leach’s Cougars play even a little defense, this team will be a handful week in and week out.

Big 12

Most of my fellow writers at Campus Pressbox are probably expecting me to select Texas as my dark-horse playoff contender from the Big 12, but, not so fast, my pick here is Oklahoma State

Mike Gundy will not only have a talented roster that is led by quarterback Mason Rudolph, but he will also have a schedule that is beyond favorable. All three of the Cowboys’ non-conference games will be played in Stillwater. If this were not enough, the Cowboys also welcome Texas, West Virginia, and Texas Tech all to Stillwater. All three of those opponents could be considered dark-horse candidates and Oklahoma State gets them all in Stillwater.

ACC

It would be easy to choose Louisville simply because they play a beast of a non-conference opponent when the go on the road to play Marshall. My omission of Louisville as my ACC dark-horse playoff candidate should not be taken as a show of disrespect to the Thundering Herd.

My ACC dark-horse is Miami. Everyone seemed to pick Georgia each year to with the SEC East with Mark Richt, so it is only fitting to go with Miami here. Surely Richt will not bring his system of bitter disappointment to the ACC, will he?

Richt will have talent in Miami, because, well, it is Miami and talent was never the problem for the Hurricanes. As a first year Miami head coach, Richt should have the players and fans energized and the team will play enough of its high profile games at home as they host Florida State, North Carolina, and Duke.

It will not be easy for Miami, but it will not be easy for any team who is considered a dark-horse candidate for the playoffs.

Big Ten

As someone who gets labeled as “another SEC homer,” it pains me to say this, but the Big Ten is going to be Murderer’s Row this year. Each time that I wanted to make a particular team my choice as the Big Ten dark-horse, I looked at their schedule. Brutal.

So with that said, I am considering any team not named Michigan or Ohio State to be in consideration as my Big Ten dark-horse. And Michigan State is my pick.

From a personnel perspective, the Spartans may have the most questions of the teams I have chosen in this article. However, they do have LJ Scott at running back, are still coached by Mark Dantonio and have as favorable a schedule as you are likely to find in the Big Ten.

They do play both Michigan and Ohio State, but both games are in East Lansing. And if that were not enough good fortune, the Spartans also host Northwestern and Wisconsin.

It will not be easy this year in the Big Ten, but if there is a team that could turn the conference upside down, it is Sparty with Dantonio.

Oh, and do not forget, they will also face a fierce test in the second game of the season as they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

SEC Links: Finding Gunslingers in the Wild, Wild West

Former Auburn football head coach, and College Football Hall of Fame honoree, Pat Dye once stated, “It all starts at quarterback.” It does. The quarterback is the the leader of the offense and, often, the face of the football team. He usually receives an over-abundance of praise if the team is doing well, and he gets more than his share of the blame if his team is performing poorly.

A quarterback needs to take command of the huddle, gain the confidence of his teammates, and inspire his fellow warriors to have confidence in themselves. He needs to know not just what his assignments are, but also the particulars of those who surround him.

If the quarterback works as hard, or harder, than anyone else on the team by staying after practice to throw with his receivers or just do a little extra work on the details of his job, then that could make the difference as to how the team finishes the season in terms of wins and losses. It could determine whether that teams wins a championship or finishes lower in it’s conference standings.

In short, the quarterback is the man.

Spring practice has, for all intents and purposes, wrapped up across SEC country, and the burning question in the minds of fans is who will serve as the signal-caller for their beloved squad.

Let’s take a look at how some of the crucial races for field generals are shaping up in the SEC.

We will first turn our eyes to the best division in all of college football, the SEC West. Let’s begin with SEC and national Champion, Alabama.

It appears that Nick Saban and his offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, have their hands full in deciding who will be at the helm of the Crimson Tide offense. They have strong candidates but there is not an abundance of experience at the position. Kiffin worked magic with Blake Sims in 2014 and also with Jake Coker in 2015. I don’t have any idea who will emerge from what looks like a four-man pack, but I do think Kiffin will find the right guy. His track record points to that scenario.

Bama, more often than not, winds up with someone who can manage the offense. They don’t tend to find an all-world type of guy like Johnny Manziel or Cam Newton. History tells us that Bama will be just fine at the position.

Across the state, Auburn is also, desperately, in search of the player to lead the Tigers’ offense. Jeremy Johnson did not become the quarterback that he was highly-hyped to be. Sean White was serviceable but certainly not dynamic. John Franklin III, a JUCO transfer, has the skill set to become the dual-threat type of player that has succeeded in Gus Malzahn’s system at Auburn, but he needs a great deal of development to step into the role. He has a great arm and blazing speed but needs to really work on his accuracy. As much as I want Franklin to succeed, I don’t see him taking the SEC by storm and leading Auburn back to, or near, the pinnacle of the West… in 2016… 2017, maybe?

Les Miles and LSU fans are hoping Brandon Harris will finally emerge as the answer down on The Bayou. Harris has the tools to do this and his friend, former Mississippi State star, Dak Prescott, thinks the third year will be the charm for Brandon. I tend to agree with Dak on this matter. Harris will have a big year and LSU will be very much in the thick of it in November.

Speaking of Dak. What’s going on in Starkville? Mississippi State is in the unenviable position of replacing, arguably, the most outstanding player in Bulldog history. That will not be an easy task. When you throw in the factor of State’s residence in the West, then one finds little reason to believe that it will be a contender in the West. In my initial SEC column I picked the Bulldogs to finish last, and basically, having to sort through four inexperienced hopefuls at quarterback will make that a reality.

Let’s make the obvious transition to the hated in-state rival of the Bulldogs, Ole Miss. Up in Oxford things are much less complicated when it comes to quarterback. They have one. His name is Chad Kelly. Kelly had a great year in 2015 and, barring injury, he could find himself the the top quarterback in the SEC and beyond. The sky is the limit for him and Ole Miss. They will be in hot pursuit of the University of Alabama for the West crown.

Bret Bielema has an Allen returning to lead the Razorbacks in 2016. The problem is, it’s not Brandon Allen. Over the course of his career, Brandon Allen became the player and leader that everyone hoped he would be and had a very good senior campaign in Fayetteville. It’s his brother, Austin, who will now be given the reigns to help Bielema continue to build the type of program he envisions for Hawg fans. The younger Allen may be the chosen one but it will take a year of getting a true feel in the starter role before Arkansas can make a move upward.

College Station, TX will be our last stop on this tour of quarterbacks in the SEC West. Kevin Sumlin’s fanny is definitely getting warm out there in Aggieland and he needs a great signal-caller to relieve that pressure. Trevor Knight, a transfer from Oklahoma, is the man Sumlin has chosen to lead the Aggies. He had his ups and downs throughout his career in Norman and he needs his upside to assist in cooling his head coach’s backside. I don’t think it will happen. There is too much turmoil in College Station.

So, will there be an known comodity to emerge from the West and lead his team to the SEC  promised land? Could another Newton or Manziel come out of nowhere and shock the football world? Or will the SEC East produce a quarterback?

That will wrap it up for this week. Next week we take a gander at the SEC East and the interesting battles that are in progress for starting quarterbacks in that division.

Quarterback the First Question of Concern for Arkansas

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Finding someone to follow in the footsteps of quarterbacks of Tyler Wilson and Ryan Mallet has been an area of concern for Arkansas since Tyler Wilson suffered a concussion against Louisiana-Monroe during the 2012 season. Brandon Allen has not had an easy time of it over the past few years with his first start coming against Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Arkansas would fall in Allen’s first start to Alabama 52 to 0 and since then, Allen has been faced with the task of having to learn Jim Chaney’s system. No matter who winds up starting at the beginning of the season, the quarterback position will be a question mark in the minds of most Arkansas fans possibly well into the season.
What most people tend to forget is that Allen was a highly touted recruit coming out of Fayetteville High School in 2011. The backups behind Brandon Allen are also very highly touted quarterbacks; one being Brandon’s little brother, Austin. If anything should happen to Brandon Allen whether it be injury or just poor play, Austin Allen is the quarterback that would likely step into the starting role. Austin is a quarterback that has good instincts, a strong arm, and fortunately has spent a year in the system now.
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There is another quarterback in the mix that seems to possibly be the fans’ favorite. Rafe Peavey, out of Bolivar, Missouri has drawn the attention of many fans because of how he plays the game. Peavey is thought to be the quarterback of the future at Arkansas. He has the mobility and the arm strength to cause some problems for defenses in the SEC. During his senior season of high school, Peavey passed for almost 2,300 yards and 16 touchdowns. He rushed for an additional 1,557 yards and he gives a bit of a dual threat dimension that Bielema and Chaney are desperately in need of. The problems for Peavey will be quickly adjusting to the SEC speed he has not seen before and whether or not he can get the playbook down within the first few months of arriving on campus.
A quarterback controversy does not exist as we enter the season. Barring injury, Brandon Allen is the Arkansas starter when the season starts. Now, as to whether or not there will be a controversy by the Texas A&M game is something that remains a question mark. Brandon Allen has the edge in experience, and knowledge of the playbook. Allen currently has command of the huddle and the respect of his teammates and coaches. If the Auburn game goes badly for Arkansas, you can expect to hear some grumbling from the fan base as to what to do about the quarterback situation. Arkansas should be able to run the ball on Auburn, but the question is whether or not the passing game will open up and can Allen make the throws that are expected of an SEC caliber quarterback on a consistent basis.
A quarterback will have to step in some way, shape, or form for Arkansas to have success in 2014. I have noticed the term “bus driver” used in describing what the Arkansas quarterbacks need to be this season. If people look at what Bielema’s quarterbacks have done in the past that term of “bus driver” may not be far off the mark. However, some on-target out route throws have to be made and some passes to the tight end must be in the mix. It is in fans’ nature to be critical; but Brandon Allen right now is the leader of the quarterback race at Arkansas. That is not a point open to discussion at the present time. Things could change but keep in mind that if a change at quarterback is necessary after the season starts, I would expect Arkansas might have another painful season to endure.