Tag Archives: Brandon Harris

First Year Starting SEC Quarterbacks

The Southeastern Conference is known for their strong physical defenses that get hyped up each and every season, whether it’s deserved or not, but the offenses of the heralded conference have their own room to gloat now. Adding coaches like Gus Malzahn, Hugh Freeze, Kevin Sumlin, and Lane Kiffin within the past two to three years has escalated the SEC’s offenses and has brought improved quarterback play to the conference.

It’s no secret that a quarterback is and always has been the face of the team, especially entering the opening season, but what if the previous starter moved on? What’s next? Well, in recent memory a first year quarterback might as well be treated and graded as a senior with the type of success these rookie quarterbacks have had, especially regarding SEC play.

All-stars Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton led their teams to solid seasons in their first season under center both bringing home the Heisman Trophy to put the cherry on top of their fine rookie year. Alabama’s Greg McElroy put together a productive season in 2009 leading his loaded Crimson Tide on a title run defeating Texas in the Rose Bowl to solidify the top status for Alabama. Later, his backup, AJ McCarron, led his 2011 team to a title in his first season as the main man.

Other examples could be addressed, but you get the point. Having your team enter the season with a new face at quarterback most of the time would put them at a disadvantage, but history may state otherwise or at least for just a few. Here are a list of the new faces at quarterback for the SEC teams ranking them in order of who has the best chance to succeed immediately due to ability, opportunity, and other factors:

 

1. Jake Coker, Alabama, Senior 

The hype was just too much for Coker last season as he was already inked in as the starter before even arriving on campus in Tuscaloosa from Florida State. Whether Jimbo Fisher’s comments of being in serious contention with Heisman Trophy winner and first overall draft pick Jameis Winston in spring camp are true, Coker should be the choice for the Tide this season. He is far more talented than his opposition David Cornwell and should pull away soon, but the same was said when battling Blake Sims a year ago at this time.

Trying to put the pieces together to figure out why Coker didn’t start last season over just an average Blake Sims or hasn’t even pulled away now is just head scratching with his athleticism, arm talent, and physical edge to succeed. Then you put your finger on it: it’s all mental. The quarterback position is known as one of the most cerebral positions in all of sports and Coker may not possess that trait because everything else seems to be going for him.

USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, it’s Coker’s job to lose heading into fall camp. He is number one on this list because of what Alabama has done in recent memory with first year quarterbacks (McElory in 2009 won title, McCarron in 2011 won title, and Sims in 2014 went to semifinals) and what the Alabama team is made of with more offensive firepower now with Lane Kiffin as the offensive coordinator. Coker has the tools to be an elite talent, but is still fumbling on how to use them all together as one to really take off and become a threat in a very competitive SEC West division this season.

2. Jeremy Johnson, Auburn, Junior 

If you have caught onto the trend of Gus Malzahn quarterbacks you have noticed all are extremely productive and have their own style and flare to his highly respected scheme. Johnson will showcase his fun his skill set – something that has not gone unnoticed this preseason as he has received an overwhelming amount of praise, though, only starting one game in 2014 and only playing in the first half of that game.

The Johnson hype is fair because, in short, he very well could be the best pocket passer Malzahn has ever coached. Johnson is in one of the best places to succeed for a first year starter as the Tigers are loaded on both sides of the ball and also add in some key pieces to make for an even more talented roster. Duke Williams has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons, but with or without Williams, Johnson and the Tigers have a bright 2015 ahead of them if everything goes to plan.

3. Brandon Harris, LSU, Sophomore

You mean another quarterback situation on Baton Rouge? It’s crazy to see the question pop up almost every single preseason as the Tigers recruit big time players but can never seem to find that right guy at quarterback. Harris is by far more talented than his counterpart, Anthony Jennings, but having just one start in 2014 he may not get his shot week one. Though the headliner in this article states “Brandon Harris” it can also refer to LSU quarterback in general based on how talented the roster is but is inferior under center, so either Harris or Jennings could bring this team to greener pastures, but that could be too tall of an order in 2015.

4. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss, Junior 

Bo Wallace helped set the foundation; now bring on the more talented prospect and go from there.

5. Brice Ramsey, Georgia, Sophomore

May not be the main man in Athens, but his time spent at Georgia already shouldn’t be wasted as there is a golden opportunity for the Bulldogs to get back in Atlanta.

6. Will Grier, Florida, Redshirt Freshman

Will Muschamp may still be coaching in Gainesville if he started Grier a year ago, but Grier could be a headliner in bringing success back to Florida Nation with a very manageable schedule.

Other notables…

-Grayson Lambert, Georgia, Junior

-Connor Mitch, South Carolina, Sophomore

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LSU is Set Up For Success in 2015

The 2014 football season has not been a typical one for the LSU Tigers. With one game left in the regular season, the Bayou Bengals are a non-factor in the SEC West race and are not even ranked in the top-25 nationally. The Tigers have suffered two home losses this season, putting a couple chinks in Tiger Stadium’s armor. LSU was also fortunate to escape with a victory against Wisconsin, Florida, and Ole Miss, three games that easily could have gone the other way and turned a down season in Baton Rouge into a disastrous season. But as difficult as 2014 was for LSU, the future remains bright, as the Tigers are set well for 2015.

 

The young Tiger defense, which struggled the first half of the season, has grown by leaps and bounds the second half of the season and now looks the part of an elite SEC defense. With only a few seniors receiving meaningful playing time on that side of the ball, the LSU defense in 2015 may be able to rise to the level of the Tiger defenses of recent years that put the Bayou Bengals in contention for a national championship.

 

The LSU secondary has been exceptional this season, with a trio of standout cornerbacks in Tre’Davious White, Jalen Collins, and Rashard Robinson. All three have the ability to matchup one-on-one with nearly any wide receiver in the country, and will continue to make LSU strong against the pass. As good as the secondary looks for 2015, LSU’s linebackers may be even better. As the trio of Kendell Beckwith, Kwon Alexander, and Lamar Louis may be among the best in the country next season after strong play the second half of 2014. Finally, while the LSU defensive line has just 10 sacks in 11 games this season, it’s filled with young players that will continue to get better, as well as a blossoming star in Danielle Hunter.

 

The offensive side of the ball is not as promising for LSU, but there is still a lot to look forward to in 2015. The Tigers will lose running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, but they will return the freshmen duo of Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams, a tandem that should give LSU a potent rushing attack next year. The LSU offensive line will lose three seniors, but with the injuries that unit has suffered this year, plenty of younger guys have gained valuable experience, which should help them jumpstart the Tiger’s rushing attack in 2015.

 

Despite struggles at the quarterback position this year that have held the Tigers back, things may be better in 2015 if Brandon Harris takes the reigns, especially if he becomes the starter late in 2014. Harris has the talent to be one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks, and by the start of his sophomore season he may be ready to lead the Tigers. Of course, Harris will need some help from his wide receivers, and despite profound struggles from that group this season, LSU’s talented contingent of freshmen should show considerable improvement in their sophomore year. If the trio of Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn, and John Diarse can take some of the attention away from emerging star Travin Dural, the Tigers could have a dangerous group of receivers and a potent passing attack in 2015.

 

Obviously, there are a lot of variables and no guarantees for LSU looking ahead to the 2015 season. The Tigers will be banking on a lot of their young players making vast improvements from their freshman to sophomore season, most notably on the offensive side of the ball. But it’s a fair assumption that the Tigers will have one of the best defenses in the SEC in 2015, possibly in the country. Also, despite a lack of experience, there is also no shortage of talent to work with on offense, giving the Tigers a high ceiling on that side of the ball. In 2015, this young Tiger’s team will be a year older, and therefore much more experienced and prepared for life in the SEC West. If the defense can continue to perform at a high level, and things come together on the offensive side of the ball, the Tigers will be set up to do great things in 2015.

LSU Should Make A Change At Quarterback

The LSU Tiger’s loss to Arkansas on Saturday night is just the latest example of the LSU offense lagging far behind the team’s defense. Not only did the Bayou Bengals lose to a team that hadn’t won a conference game in over two years, but they were shut out, putting up a pitiful 123 yards of total offense. After yet another sub-par performance by the Tiger’s offense, it’s clear that a change is needed at quarterback, as Anthony Jennings should be benched in favor of true freshman Brandon Harris for the remainder of the season.

 

To be fair, Jennings was the right choice to be the Tiger’s starting quarterback this season. Harris showed early in the season, and then again in the blowout loss to Auburn, that he was not ready for life in the SEC. Despite Jennings’ shortcomings and poor stats, he did play an important role in LSU rattling off three straight October wins over Florida, Kentucky, and Ole Miss, a string of victories that helped the Tigers to salvage what could have otherwise been a disappointing season. However, when the Tigers failed to beat Alabama, there was little left for LSU to play for this season and little reason to keep Jennings at quarterback. At that point, a switch to Harris should have been made.

 

Would starting Harris over Jennings against Arkansas have made a difference? Maybe yes, maybe no. There’s no way to tell since we haven’t seen Harris in extended action since his disastrous performance against Auburn. But obviously it couldn’t have made things any worse for the Tigers. Even if Jennings had started, a halftime switch to Harris would have been wise, as it could have given the LSU offense the spark that it needed to turn things around against the Razorbacks. Moreover, it could have given the LSU defense hope that they wouldn’t have to be the sole unit to carry the team yet again. After such a futile offensive performance against Arkansas in the first half, one that followed weeks of sluggish offensive performances, Les Miles owed it to his team to try something new to give his team a chance in the second half, and that would have meant putting Harris into the game.

 

Of course, Jennings isn’t solely to blame for the problems of the LSU offense this season. He’s working with an incredibly young group of wide receivers, a group that outside of sophomore Travin Dural has failed to grow up and blossom into viable threats in the passing game. Jennings has also had to deal with an offensive line that has struggled with continuity and consistency this season, and against Arkansas failed to win in the trenches, making it difficult for LSU to be productive in the running game. But even with a myriad of issues around him, Jennings has done little with his performance to earn the right to remain the starting quarterback, especially after back-to-back losses in which blame can be firmly pointed at the LSU offense.

 

At this point in the season a change in quarterback may seem pointless, but not for the Tigers, especially if it means getting Harris meaningful playing time. It’s not hard to recognize that Harris is the more talented quarterback; he has a higher ceiling than Jennings and is more likely to be the future of the program. The Tigers are bowl eligible and have secured a winning record this season, leaving them little else that they can accomplish in 2014, meaning it’s time to take a glance at the future, and that means giving Harris another opportunity to play and seeing how far he’s come since his nightmare performance against Auburn. With a week and a half before LSU’s next game against Texas A&M on Thanksgiving Day, Harris will have ample time to be prepared to face the Aggies. He would then have 15 more practices prior to LSU’s bowl game to get reps with the first team offense. That amount of practice time and two full games could be invaluable for Harris’ development as a quarterback looking ahead to the 2015 season.

 

A quarterback change may not mean much for the 2014 LSU football season, but after the Tiger’s loss to Arkansas it’s completely warranted. More importantly, a switch from Jennings to Harris is the right move for the Tiger’s future, and with little left for LSU to accomplish this season, making that change for the final two games of 2014 may end up being beneficial for the Tigers in 2015.

LSU Finally Shows Signs of Life

It was a rough first half of the season for the LSU football team, who had struggles nearly all over the field during the first six games of the season. Despite going 4-2, the Tigers were out-muscled, out-classed, and embarrassed in their first two SEC games of the season against Mississippi State and Auburn. Granted, those are two of the best teams in the country, but the Tigers were a long way away from competing at the same level as those two teams. However, in a must win game in The Swamp on Saturday night, the Tigers finally showed signs of life and found a way to beat Florida, giving hope that they can turn their season around.
The biggest catalyst for LSU against Florida was the production of its rushing attack, which had been held in check during the Tiger’s first two conference games of the season. Specifically, true freshman Leonard Fournette finally had a breakout performance, rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns, while gaining more than five yards per carry. Fournette ran the ball with both power and finesse, giving LSU the consistent production in the running game that allowed them to move the ball against a quality SEC defense, which is something they’ll need to do the rest of the season if they expect to keep winning games.
Defensively, the LSU front-7 played much better than they did in the Tiger’s first two SEC games. LSU struggled with running quarterbacks early in the season, but they were much better at containing Florida’s Jeff Driskel than they were at stopping Dak Prescott or Nick Marshall in previous games. Linebackers Kendell Beckwith and Kwon Alexander continued to make plays for the Tigers, while a young defensive line held up better at the line of scrimmage, which is perhaps a sign that this young Tiger’s team is growing up in front of eyes. If the defensive line can continue to hold its own in the trenches, the Tigers may be able to force teams to beat them through the air, which would play right into LSU’s hands, as they still have arguably the most talented secondary in the SEC.
Of course, not everything that happened in LSU’s win over Florida was positive. The Tiger’s passing game continued to be woefully inept. Les Miles decided to go back to sophomore Anthony Jennings at quarterback after true freshman Brandon Harris looked so unprepared for life in the SEC the previous week against Auburn. However, Jennings was unable to move the ball with his arm for much of the game, completing just 10 of his 21 passes for a mere 110 yards. In crunch time, Jennings was able to connect with Travin Dural on two big plays that helped put LSU ahead late in the 4th quarter, much like the two did in LSU’s rather fortunate season-opening win against Wisconsin, but over the course of the game there was no consistency and little production from that LSU passing attack. That’s something that will have to change moving forward, or else teams will simply stack the box to stop LSU’s running game.
LSU also had issues on special teams, which has been an area of strength for the Tigers under Miles, but not so much this season. The Tigers allowed a punt return for a touchdown to put them behind early in the game, which is not a recipe for success for this year’s Tiger’s team. LSU gave up another long punt return late in the game that set up Florida inside the 10-yard line. If not for a dropped pass in the end zone, the Tigers would have likely lost the game as a result of that long punt return. LSU doesn’t have a dominant defense and they don’t have the explosiveness on offense to play from behind on a regular basis, and so they simply can’t afford to give away points and allow big plays on special teams, which is an area Miles and the coaching staff have to address moving forward.
Of course, what matters most for LSU is that they found a way to win its first SEC game of the season, doing so with obvious signs of improvement from young players at key positions. There’s a lot of work left to do, but the Tigers finally looked competitive in SEC play for the first time this season. With three straight home games ahead of them, there is at least a sliver of hope that the Tigers can get back into contention in the SEC West after finally showing signs of life in an important road win over Florida.

Battle for a Bowl?

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 1.57.53 PM
Recapping an interesting SEC sequence so far, the Tigers and Gators have seen the shorter end of the stick too many times this season, even though both combining for a decent 7-3 record (Florida-Idaho game cancelled). LSU has already faced a killer schedule facing three Top 25 teams. In those three games the Tigers have given up 103 total points while forcing just 60 points. SEC fans are not used to seeing this outlandish LSU defense each week, especially in big games. Florida, on the other hand, still has a decent record with some motivation coming off of a road victory in Knoxville over a Vols team that could not capitalize off of Florida’s three turnovers-Tennessee also with three-and a struggling Jeff Driskel.
Quarterback concerns for both teams have been a big issue throughout the first half of the season, which is no surprise. Driskel is still playing as a freshman and Brandon Harris, well, is a freshman. Driskel is on the preseason most improved list every season, but has yet to deliver in big games being a rational excuse of why Florida does not win.
Breaking down LSU’s quarterback situation is so status quo now it’s almost expected. Quarterback controversies and issues have almost been a norm at LSU, so why not continue the trend in 2014 with a future all-star freshman, Harris, and an experienced sophomore with less talent, Anthony Jennings. Harris has obviously been more productive, even though being thrown into the Jungle at Jordan-Hare Stadium in his first road game and his first ever start. He struggled-along with every other LSU unit-passing for 58 yards with a 21% completion percentage. Head coach Les Miles has yet to name the starter for the Florida game Saturday.
Unlike LSU, Florida has only one quarterback that has valuable experience and only one that can and will play. Driskel has had many up and down (more like bad to mediocre) games over his three and half year career. Backup true freshman Treon Harris is being held back due to a sexual assault allegation occurring as recent as Sunday night/morning after the victory over Tennessee. Harris was seeing increased playing time and could have even been considered for starting in Saturday’s game after Driskel’s three interception performance at Neyland.
LSU has already faced three Top 25 opponents, as already stated above, going 1-2 versus those teams making this road trip to Gainesville a must win. The Tigers have already had a rough 2014 schedule, but the speed bumps and dead ends continue with games versus Ole Miss, a rising Kentucky team, Alabama, then drawing road trips top Aggie Land and Arkansas to end the season. The 6-6 record looks to be more than just a realistic expectation; now it’s looking like more of a goal.
Florida (3-1) somehow found a way to win in Tennessee with multiple issues that is an independent article itself. The offensive production has been just OK, but the defense is obviously the strength of this team ranking 26th in the nation in scoring defense, while averaging three sacks per game. It’s no secret the offense needs to pick up the pace for this team to be relevant again in the SEC East. This is also a must win for Florida, while also being a must win for head coach Will Muschamp being on the hot seat. Fighting for bowl eligibility in back to back years was not a goal written in ink on his contract back in 2010. A home win could put Florida on top of the SEC East standings if Georgia defeats Missouri.
This should be another crazy week of SEC football and I can’t wait!

LSU Tiger's Midseason Report Card

Believe it or not, a few days into the month of October the football season is already half over for the LSU Tigers. At the midway point in the season, LSU is 4-2, but as disappointing as that record may be for Tiger’s fans, the team’s play on the field has been even worse. The Bayou Bengals have had no trouble dismantling lesser teams, but in their three games against power-five conference opponents, the Tigers have been lucky to beat Wisconsin and suffered a pair of painful defeats to Mississippi State and Auburn in their first two SEC games of the season. With that in mind, here is LSU’s midterm report card with grades for how the Tigers have performed at each position through the first half of 2014.
Quarterback, D – This position is a complete disaster for the Tigers, as neither Anthony Jennings nor Brandon Harris has been able to hold onto the job. Jennings has been a fine game manager in the team’s wins, but he simply can’t make plays against SEC-caliber defenses. Harris has shown flashes in garbage time and against weaker teams, but he looked overwhelmed against Auburn and does not appear to be ready for life in the SEC West. Harris should be the quarterback moving forward, as he’s younger and has a higher upside, but he may have a lot more growing paints ahead of him.
Running Back, B – This has been the lone bright spot for the LSU offense, and for the most part, the only way the Tigers have been able to move the ball consistently. Senior Kenny Hilliard and true freshman Leonard Fournette have taken the reigns and become the top two options for the Tigers, while Darrell Williams and Terrence Magee give LSU more than enough in the backfield. However, with LSU falling behind early in its two conference games this season, the Tiger running backs haven’t been able to become major factors in SEC play.
Wide Receiver, C- – Youth and inexperience are obviously excuses for this unit, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be graded harshly for their poor performance. Travin Dural has made some amazing plays, as has Malachi Dupre, who appears to have good chemistry with Harris, but as a group there isn’t a lot of depth and there hasn’t been a lot of consistency. John Diarse and Trey Quinn have shown flashes, but done nothing substantial, while the tight end position has been a complete non-factor for the Tigers. As a whole, the LSU receivers are not making life any easier for the team’s two young quarterbacks.
Offensive Line, B- – This may be the most disappointing unit on the team. With three seniors and one junior in the starting lineup, this should be one of the best offensive lines in the SEC, but that has not been the case. They’ve pushed around smaller teams without a problem, but against SEC teams they have not won the battle at the line of scrimmage, which has kept the running backs from breaking free for big plays and caused the quarterbacks to flee the pocket with regularity.
Defensive Line, D – This unit is a far cry from the defensive fronts the Tigers have had in recent years. Jemauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter are having nice seasons, but they are average at best compared to the other pass rushers in the SEC and haven’t become difference makers in conference play. The rest of the LSU defensive line is young and perhaps a little undersized, which is why they’ve been pushed around and unable to stop the run against both Mississippi State and Auburn. If this unit doesn’t start to hold its own in the trenches, those trends will continue for the rest of the season.
Linebackers, B- – There’s not a lot that this unit has been able to do with the defensive line struggling to win in the trenches. Kendell Beckwith has started to emerge as a playmaker in the middle of the defense, while Kwon Alexander and D.J. Welter have both had productive seasons as well. However, in games that have mattered, this unit has looked quite average, and despite solid play, they’ll have to play better the second half of the season if the Tigers are going be competitive in the SEC West.
Secondary, B+ – The secondary has definitely been the strength of the defense and one of the few bright spots on the team this season. Tre’Davious White, Jalen Collins, and Rashard Robinson have all played well at cornerback, showing the ability to shutdown opposing wide receivers. The play at safety has been good as well, especially senior Ronald Martin. They gave up big chunks of yards against Mississippi State and Auburn, but that wasn’t always the fault of the secondary, which can only do so much without better play up front.
Coaching, C – This is one of the toughest seasons Les Miles has had in a long time, as he doesn’t appear to have any answers. The Tigers had some easy games in September, but in those games they failed to adequately develop their younger players and prepare them for SEC play. It was always going to be an uphill battle for LSU to win in the SEC West this year with such a young roster, but the Tigers haven’t even been competitive in their two SEC games, and the blame for that falls squarely on Miles.

The SEC Is a Battlefield

It’s already Week 6 of college football and we have some HUGE match ups coming our way in SEC play this week. In the West Alabama is traveling to Ole Miss, Texas A&M is heading to Mississippi State, and LSU is heading over to Auburn. Every single team I just mentioned is ranked in the Top 15 teams in the country. Take a minute to let that sink in. On top of those games in the West, we have the huge rivalry game in the East as Florida travels to Tennessee this week…and it may be the best shot Tennessee has had at beating the Gators in the last ten years. I’ll give you a preview and my predicted winner for each game…just remember, I’m usually wrong this year when it comes to predictions.

Alabama's Amari Cooper pulls in a catch over Frank Crawford. (Getty Images)
Alabama’s Amari Cooper pulls in a catch over Frank Crawford. (Getty Images)

#3 Alabama Crimson Tide @ #11 Ole Miss Rebels, Saturday 3:30 PM
Alabama had a sloppy first half versus the Gators two weekends ago, but managed to come back and absolutely dismantle them during the second half of that game. The Gators were supposed to be their “first real test” of the season, but I might say that’ll actually be the Rebels this weekend. Ole Miss is coming off a hot 4-0 start in which they’ve outscored their opponents 156-34. It’ll be a battle of two of the SEC’s best quarterbacks so far this season in Oxford. Blake Sims has proven to be a huge asset to Alabama so far this year, throwing 8 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace has also been an asset to the Rebels but can easily be a liability when it comes to throwing interceptions. That unreliability combined with the fact that the Ole Miss defense hasn’t seen anything quite like Alabama star Amari Cooper this season leads me to pick the Crimson Tide to be victorious on this battlefield.
#6 Texas A&M Aggies @ #12 Mississippi State Bulldogs, Saturday 12 PM
At the beginning of the season, I had already written an apology letter to Texas A&M for underestimating how good they’d be this year. After that scare last week at home against Arkansas I was almost ready to eat my words…again. Johnny Football’s replacement at QB, Kenny Hill managed to work his magic as the Aggies outlasted the Razorbacks in OT. On the other hand, Mississippi State is coming off a huge road win at LSU a couple weekends ago. Bulldog QB Dak Prescott had a solid game and is also arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC (11 TD, 2 INT). This leaves us with another battle of two outstanding quarterbacks this weekend in the West. After last weekend’s stumbling I’m a little afraid to pick the Aggies, but I stand behind Kenny Trill and his ability to explode. I also stand by the improvement the Aggies defense has made since last year. For that reason I think Texas A&M will also be victorious on the road.
#15 LSU Tigers @ #5 Auburn Tigers, Saturday 7 PM
LSU is coming off a disappointing home loss against Mississippi State last weekend and is ready to change things up…big time. They have given the job of starting QB to freshman Brandon Harris, pulling Anthony Jennings from the starting lineup. Harris has come off the bench to give LSU a boost against both Mississippi State and New Mexico State and Miles has now chosen to start him instead. On the other side of things, Auburn has mostly coasted through the season with their biggest test so far coming from non-conference opponent Kansas State. Though the Auburn Tigers looked shaky at times in that game, they managed to defeat Kansas State and also put a pretty good beating on Louisiana Tech last week. Because of the change at quarterback for LSU, this matchup looks to be a really interesting one. Though I think Harris will be a huge asset in this game, I don’t know if the LSU defense can stop Auburn’s rushing attack led by Cameron Artis-Payne and for that reason, I pick Auburn to win at home this week.
Florida Gators @ Tennessee Volunteers, Saturday 12 PM
Neither one of these teams is incredibly impressive at the moment. But what makes this game such a battle is the rivalry underneath it all. And trust me, I grew up in Vol Country but chose to attend the University of Florida so I know all about this bitter rivalry. Florida is struggling behind starting QB Jeff Driskel and there has been a movement in the Gator Nation asking Coach Will Muschamp to bench him before this game. Driskel did have a relatively impressive showing against Eastern Michigan but he looked all out of sorts a couple weeks ago at Alabama and even struggled to lead Florida to victory over the Kentucky Wildcats. On top of the quarterback problems, Florida’s secondary has looked confused at times, giving up some costly plays. Tennessee comes into this game after a close game but eventual loss at Georgia last week. The fan base and the team have both looked energized this season and ready for battle. Tennessee QB Justin Worley has looked good when the offensive line holds up long enough to give him a chance to make plays and the Tennessee defense has also been solid so far this year, with the exception being at Oklahoma. With the home field advantage and Florida’s quarterback woes, I pick the Vols to pull out the win this weekend over the Gators after 9 straight losses in this rivalry.
Even if all my predictions are wrong this weekend, it’ll still be a fantastic weekend of SEC football. Between the three huge match ups in the West and the rivalry game in the East there will be no shortage of excitement this weekend in The South. Each of these games will play a pivotal role in deciding how the season goes for the teams involved so the SEC really will be a battlefield this weekend. And as far as that Tennessee game is concerned, I will be there and I will be very active on Twitter so make sure to follow @KBoticaSports if you don’t already!

Strengths & Weaknesses for Top SEC Teams

Cody Prewitt
1. Alabama
Strength:
Passing Offense
Who would have thought this would have been a strength this preseason? Blake Sims has arguably been the most impressive quarterback in the SEC this season with 1,091 passing yards, ten total touchdowns, and finally winning the job, as not just the starting quarterback for Alabama, but as the favorite of the fans-I think. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has proven here already that he is still a heck of an offensive play caller with the quick development of Sims and heavily implementing Amari Cooper into the offense, which is clearly the strongest point on this Tide team.
Weakness: Turnover Margin
Over the years, the Tide defense has pride itself with stellar defensive numbers and a great turnover margin. This season has been very unfamiliar to the defensive personnel. Alabama ranks near the bottom in turnover margin (-3) in the country along with forcing only two interceptions and being ranked as low as 102nd (tied) in forced turnovers. Fortunately, for Alabama this has not caught up with them yet, but entering an SEC slate, turnovers on both sides of the ball are key to victory.
2. Auburn
Strength:
Third Downs
The offense as a whole hasn’t been tremendous for Auburn’s standards in 2014, but knowing Auburn they show up when it matters. Auburn is 35-for-60 (58%) on third down conversions this season which ranks second in the nation just behind Alabama. I always state that the recipe for a victory is executing in the redzone and converting on third downs. Auburn has both while being a perfect 18-for-18 in the redzone this season.
Weakness: Passing Game
The big question for the Auburn offense this offseason heading into the fall was how much has Nick Marshall improved as a passer? Well, we still don’t know. Marshall still continues to battle with consistency issues, even with one of the better wide receiving corps in the SEC. Auburn is so dominate in the run game it’s tough for Marshall to get a lot of reps, therefore not being able to get in any kind of rhythm.
3. Texas A&M
Strength: Passing Game
Kenny Hill has been the nation’s biggest surprise filling in nicely for Johnny Manziel and is on pace to break some records. Hill has developed into one of the nation’s top passers with a 66% completion percentage tossing 17 touchdowns in just five games. Kevin Sumlin doesn’t get enough credit for his development of quarterbacks and the offense as a whole. This passing offense is special and is very dangerous.
Weakness: Rushing Defense
The Aggie rush defense has been a concern for many seasons now ranking dead last in the SEC in 2013. Granted, they did come up with some key stops when it mattered in the Arkansas game this past weekend, but the unit needs to improve. Giving up 240 rushing yards to Rice doesn’t read “improvement” when reading over box scores on Sunday morning. Even with many passing teams in the conference, the SEC is known for potent rushing attacks and the Aggie defense will need to see improvement here to be serious contenders.
4. Ole Miss
Strength: Defensive Unit
The Ole Miss defense has been the most impressive defensive unit in the conference so far this season even though not yet playing any monumental programs until this upcoming weekend. Ole Miss has forced 11 turnovers, which ranks t-14th in the country. Senquez Golson leads the SEC with three interceptions and five other players have one in the secondary. The pass rush has been good this season with five players with at least two tackles for loss. This is by far the biggest strength for this undefeated team and will be tested this weekend.
Weakness: Rushing Offense
Shockingly, since Hugh Freeze has arrived in Oxford the rush offense has not been anywhere close to spectacular. This season the offense averages just 160 rushing yards per game with no feature back. If this team could run the football I would feel a little more confident this weekend.
5. Mississippi State
Strength: Dak Prescott
I am never one to buy into the preseason hype of teams and Mississippi State’s was on display in 2014 as they are many other years and haven’t produced. What’s different between those past seasons and this one is Dak Prescott. Prescott has been special this season with 1,382 total yards and 14 total touchdowns. Prescott put on his Heisman showcase last week at LSU with a Heisman type day. This offense, and team, will live and die by Prescott all year and why not?
Weakness: Pass Defense
Poised for big things in the SEC West this season led by Prescott, the defense needs to step up especially in the passing game. The Mississippi State pass defense has been frankly just flat out awful. The Bulldogs rank last in the SEC by a lot in passing defensive categories allowing 319 yards per game. With heavy passing teams coming up on the schedule, it could get interesting for these Bulldogs.
6. LSU
Strength: Rushing Offense
LSU continues the trend of producing a high quality rush offense backed by some tremendous running backs. Kenny Hilliard has been great so far and freshman superstar Leonard Fournette is slowly coming into his own with five games under his belt. The running game is one of 27 programs to reach the century mark already and look nowhere near to slowing down especially breaking in a true freshman quarterback.
Weakness: Quarterback Consistency
This topic may not be of concern in a few weeks right now, but with Anthony Jennings starting the first five game of the season the quarterback position has been straight up out of whack. Jennings could never throw the ball consistently, while attempting to throw into windows Peyton Manning himself would never try to throw into to. With now Brandon Harris starting this weekend versus Auburn, the position should be more consistent in play with a very balanced attack this weekend.
7. Georgia
Strength: Run Game
It’s no secret that Georgia can run the ball with some of the best backs in college football. Keith Marshall, Sony Michel, and Nick Chubb could all be starting at any other program in the country with the exception of a few. This Georgia rushing offense averages just over 300 yards per game with 15 rushing touchdowns and averages seven yards per touch that ranks third in the country. Todd Gurley has solidified himself as one of the top running backs in all of college football and is continuing to show it each and every week.
Hutson Mason
Weakness: Passing Game (Hutson Mason)
From one offensive category to the other. Since Georgia’s rushing offense has been so potent this season so far, the passing game hasn’t had to be impressively effective. But when called upon the passing offense has not yet delivered. Mason doesn’t have elite arm strength or tremendous talent like his mentor did, but he does lack playmakers around him on the perimeter. When an opposing defense semi-contains the run where does Georgia turn?

LSU vs. Auburn Preview

The month of September is behind us, and as we enter October, the college football season is starting to heat up. The SEC will begin October with a monster schedule that includes three different matchups between a pair of top-25 teams, including a battle between the two Tigers of the West Division: LSU and Auburn. LSU is already in a hole after losing its SEC opener two weeks ago to Mississippi State, in a game that exposed several flaws, creating a variety of questions the Bayou Bengals must answer if they’re going to be competitive in the SEC West this season.
As for Auburn, the defending SEC champions are off to a 4-0 start and have their eyes set on a return to the SEC Title Game and a trip to the College Football Playoff. However, the Tigers were lucky to survive a tough road game against Kansas State a couple of weeks ago, as they are already playing with fire, much like they did last year. With Auburn about to play its first of six straight games against ranked teams and LSU already having a conference loss, this is a critical game for both teams, so let’s take a closer look to see if either of these Tigers has the edge in this SEC showdown.
LSU OFFENSE VS. AUBURN DEFENSE
The Bayou Bengals have had no trouble scoring against lesser opponents this season, but points haven’t come so easy against teams that have been able to match up with them physically and athletically, which will be the case this week against Auburn. In their season opener, the Tigers didn’t get their offense rolling until a pair of in-game injuries weakened the Wisconsin defensive line and opened things up. In their SEC opener against Mississippi State, the Tigers were stifled until the Bulldogs started to relax late in the game when the deficit LSU faced was substantial. Auburn is another team that will be able to matchup with LSU athletically, which means their young offense will have to execute better than did against Mississippi State, or risk another disappointing offensive performance.
Les Miles has chosen to bench sophomore Anthony Jennings this week in favor of giving true freshman Brandon Harris his first career start, although it’s possible that both quarterbacks will play. With inexperienced wide receivers and a true freshman at quarterback, LSU is dependent on its rushing attack. The Bayou Bengals have an experienced offensive line and no fewer than four capable running backs, which bodes well for them. However, Auburn has been great at stopping the run this season. The Tigers did allow five yards per carry against Arkansas the opening week of the season, but Arkansas has one of the best rushing attacks in the country, so there’s no guarantee LSU will be able to replicate that kind of success against Auburn. If LSU doesn’t have success running the ball, they could be in trouble if they have to rely on Harris too much. Moreover, outside of Travin Dural, LSU has been unable to establish any of its wide receivers as consistent playmaking threats. If the young LSU receivers can’t create matchup problems in one-on-one situations against a veteran Auburn secondary, it may not matter which quarterback plays, as Auburn would be able to commit more players to stopping the run and take away LSU’s best chance of consistently moving the ball against the Auburn defense.
AUBURN OFFENSE VS. LSU DEFENSE
For the past year, Gus Malzahn’s offense has been one of the most feared in college football. Auburn’s running game has been a dynamic force behind quarterback Nick Marshall. However, two weeks ago, Kansas State held Auburn to just 128 yards rushing on less than three yards per carry, giving LSU and the rest of the SEC West hope that it is possible to slow down the Auburn offense.
The LSU defense may actually be built to stop the Auburn offense, as LSU was the lone team to beat Auburn during the 2013 regular season. The Bayou Bengals don’t have a massive defensive front, nor do they have proven pass rushers, but what they do have is a fast and athletic front-7 that can keep up with the Auburn running game and avoid giving up the big play. Of course, Marshall is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to the Auburn rushing attack, as running backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are both having productive seasons. Also, while Marshall isn’t always an accurate passer, Auburn does have a pair of downfield threats at wide receiver in Sammie Coates and D’haquille Williams, with Melvin Ray and Ricardo Louis also creating big plays in the passing game. Even with Marshall’s inconsistency throwing the ball, big plays in the passing game are a possibility with this talented set of receivers. However, LSU will be able to counter with a great secondary, which will allow them to matchup one-on-one with Auburn’s receivers and devote as many players as possible to stopping the run.
CONCLUSIONS
The advantage in this game will go to whichever team can run the ball more effectively. Both teams are solid enough defensively to slow down the other team’s running game, although LSU has been a little more exposed over the first month of the season. Neither team has a quarterback they trust to throw the ball downfield in order to bring them back from a large deficit, so the team that runs the ball well will be able to control the ball, control the clock, and have the best chance of wining what could be a low-scoring slugfest between the two Tigers of the SEC West.

Who's Left Standing? Predictions For the Weekend's Biggest Games

This weekend in college football sure should be something. I think I might be looking forward to it more than Christmas. Save the gifts, just give me another Saturday with this many ranked matchups. This very well may be the biggest weekend in recent memory in college football, at least in the regular season. There may have been other weekends with multiple ranked matchups, but this weekend has two programs (Ole Miss and Mississippi State) with chances at making a case they are elite. Throw in the potential playoff implications and chances are you’ll be glued to your seat for twelve or so hours Saturday. On a normal college football weekend, Baylor at Texas and Arizona State at USC would be marquee, entertaining matchups to look forward to all week. This week those two barely crack the Top 10. So which teams will begin to separate themselves from the pack and make early resume building statements? Let’s take a look at the week’s top games.
Arizona at Oregon
We have drastically different memories of these two teams. Arizona won its last game on a Hail Mary as time expired, while Oregon struggled to overcome Washington State on the road. Though Oregon’s defense isn’t great, I think their last game was a bit of a fluke compared to what we saw up to this point from them. Arizona has been one of the nation’s top offenses to this point and will put up points on the Ducks. Fortunately for Oregon, Arizona’s defense is worse than theirs. Anu Solomon will keep the Wildcats in the game for a while, but he’s still a freshman and this is his first time in a road environment like this. If Oregon were playing a team besides Arizona, I could see them over-looking this game a bit with UCLA next week, the way Arizona embarrassed them last year will have the team focused. The Marcus Mariota Heisman train keeps steaming ahead as the Ducks win 47-30.
LSU at Auburn
LSU suffered a somewhat shocking loss a couple weeks ago, losing at home to Mississippi State. Luckily they effectively had a bye week last week to recover before this Saturday at Auburn. These are similar teams who run the ball well, are hit and miss through the air, and have some question marks on defense. As Mississippi State showed, LSU’s defense is vulnerable compared to recent years and Auburn will find some success on the ground. I think the difference here is that Auburn’s aerial attack is less effective than the Bulldogs’ so LSU will be able to focus more on stopping the run. Arkansas was able to run the ball on Auburn in the opener and LSU will have similar success. Brandon Harris will do just enough in the passing game and lead the Bayou Bengals to a potential season-saving win, 38-34.
Oklahoma at TCU
The Oklahoma buzz saw has been rolling to start the year, but this will be their toughest game to date. Both teams have stifling defenses, and TCU’s will keep them in this game. The Horned Frogs have played minimal competition so far, but if you only give up 219 yards per game on defense you’re doing something right. Each team is similar at quarterback as well. Trevor Knight has played above average, but not nearly the potential Heisman candidate some had hoped. But he has been the pass/run threat the Sooners imagined coming into the year. On the flip side, TCU signal caller Trevone Boykin is a pretty similar player and if the two swapped teams, Boykin would be getting a lot more love nationally. This wouldn’t be the huge upset some think, but in the end the Sooners have playmakers at the skill positions that TCU doesn’t, and will help Oklahoma survive 24-20.
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
After the Bulldogs’ huge win at LSU, can they follow it up with an equally impressive win and get into the Top 10? It will take a sizeable effort, and Dak Prescott will have to match A&M QB Kenny Hill play for play. Both teams have sound running games as well, so the scoreboard operator should get a good night’s sleep. Mississippi State will have to be successful on offense to keep their defense off the field. It’s a defense that is ranked #124 in passing yards allowed per game. At least Texas A&M’s offense isn’t predicated on throwing the ball. Oh wait, Kenny Hill is only the nation’s third leading passer in yards. The Bulldogs are flying high right now, but they’ll be falling hard Saturday after Kenny Hill carves up Mississippi State’s secondary and gets back in the Heisman conversation. Aggies win on the road 37-31.
Stanford at Notre Dame
Stanford and Notre Dame will give us the type of game we don’t see much of anymore. In today’s college football, even SEC teams are running some hurry up and spread offenses and on rare occasions do we get a classic defensive battle. It will be a nice change of pace compared to the scores likely put up in the day’s other big matchups. The teams are relatively equal at quarterback between Stanford’s Kevin Hogan and Notre Dame’s Everett Golson. Each defense has been in lock-down mode so far as well, but Notre Dame hasn’t been tested the way Stanford has. The Fighting Irish’s biggest win was against Michigan, which isn’t exactly looking like a great win anymore. Notre Dame will still keep Stanford’s offense in check most of the game, but they won’t be able to overcome the Cardinal defense. Stanford is giving up 74 passing yards a game (is that even possible?), and Notre Dame doesn’t have a dynamic running game to fall back on. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes will take home this game, and that’s going to be Stanford, 16-13.
Alabama at Ole Miss
How long have Ole Miss fans waited for this day? Undefeated, ranked 11, and a Top 5 Alabama team rolling into town. Both teams have great defenses statistically, but Bama’s has been challenged more than the Rebels’ has. They each rank Top 5 in total yards allowed, but Alabama is giving up only 62 rushing yards per game. This means the game is likely going to come down to the quarterbacks. This will be Blake Sims’ first true road start, but for some reason I still trust him more than Bo Wallace. Maybe it’s because Wallace has already thrown six interceptions this year against defenses nowhere near the quality of Alabama’s. The Tide will also be able to grind out more yards on the ground putting less pressure on Sims than what Wallace will shoulder. Even with turning the ball over way too much, Alabama dominated Florida. Ole Miss is much better than Florida, but they’re in for a rude awakening here. The Rebels could find themselves in the Top 5 after this week if things break right, but that won’t happen. The Tide gets an easier-than-the-score-indicates win 31-20.
Nebraska @ Michigan State
This might be the Big 10’s biggest game of the rest of the season so they better make it count. The Spartans won’t have another challenging game until the conference championship besides a visit from Ohio State on November 8th. They have waited almost a month to get a chance at proving themselves after the Week 2 loss at Oregon. While it isn’t nearly the signature win they would like, a dominating performance would help restore Michigan State’s image of being playoff worthy. That’s something they should be able to do here. Nebraska looks good on paper because they’re 5-0 and ranked 19th, but they haven’t really played anybody. They can run the ball almost at will, but the defense hasn’t really been tested and against the toughest team they played (Miami), Brad Kaaya threw for over 300 yards and Duke Johnson averaged over five yards per carry. That’s not a good sign heading into a game against a Michigan State offense that is adept at both passing and throwing behind Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford. Nebraska will also have to travel for this game. Trae Waynes and Kurtis Drummond will neutralize Nebraska’s passing attack (if you can call it that). Drummond didn’t play well against Oregon, but Marcus Mariota and that offense can make a lot of defenses look bad. And Tommy Armstrong ain’t Marcus Mariota. This will allow the Spartans to stack the box and limit Heisman candidate Ameer Abdullah. The Huskers won’t be able to do enough on offense and the Spartans get back in the playoff hunt, winning 38-20.