Simply gut wrenching news this week out of Starkville with the passing of DE Nick Bell following a brief battle with cancer. There's nothing to write to make it less painful – nothing about ‘lights shinning bright'. It's just raw and torn. To his parents, Brian and I would like to thank you for sharing your son with us – we enjoyed watching him very much, and he certainly appeared to love playing football. MSU has set up a Memorial Fund for the family – we encourage you to help out if you can. (662) 325-3074. Our prayers and thoughts are with Nick's family and friends – we are sorry for your loss.
Russ Mitchell covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter
Brian Harbach covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter
3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best SEC performance this past weekend (Team or Player)?
We could go with Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and his punishing 184 yards on 29 carries – 29 carries for a true freshman… ‘cept it was Tennessee. Or we could go with Ryan Mallet, who set an Arkansas passing record with 409 yards, three TDs and no INTs… ‘cept it was Vandy. (Yes, quality of opponent does matter, UGA.) Or we could go with Florida's Trey Burton who did a little bit of everything, just like Super- DON'T SAY IT! 110 yards rushing with two TDs, caught five passes and threw two. ‘cept it was UGA's rush defense, which until that trio of patsies was barely top fifty in the country. But is there really any doubt – shocking, a Tiger… Auburn's Michael Dyer proved you can't simply put men in the box to stop Cam Newton at the expense of ignoring Dyer. In Oxford, the true freshman ran for 180 yards and a TD, on 21 carries (8.6 yards per, for those of you not in Nashville). The only way that strategy will work (Bama) is if you take Newton out of the equation. No, I'm not suggesting you injure him, but you must pound on him in the first half so he's a step slower in the second. If you've done your job (which no one has to this point, mind you), he's worn out, and you can put an extra LB back on the TB, with the hope of coming from behind for a fourth quarter win. There; easy peasy.
Who had a better weekend than the top two Freshmen Running Backs in the SEC, Mike Dyer and Marcus Lattimore? They carved up two SEC defenses for a combined 364 yards and two touchdowns. Dyer had 180 yards on 21 carries while Lattimore rushed for 184 yards on 29 carries. By now everyone knows these two were ranked first in second one way or another in every major recruiting site a year ago, and they have been fantastic additions to their team's offense. Lattimore has an edge in touchdowns with 14 compared to Dyer's 4, but Dyer shares reps with Cam, and has a better YPC average at 6.0, to Lattimore's 4.8. The difference in total rushing yards between the two is one yard; Dyer's 723 to Lattimore's 722. Both backs have been extremely impressive; Lattimore perhaps stands out more as he's doing it with a team that has had no success running the ball under Steve Spurrier. Though Dyer is fighting for carries in a very deep Auburn backfield. Both have been dominant at times for their respective teams, and should be exciting to watch the last month of the season.
(ii) Should Tennessee wash its hands of the Derek Dooley Experiment?
Wow. Wow. Ok, we're only eight games into his first season, so everyone just take a breather. Look on the bright side – at least UCLA is off the schedule. Tennessee – remember, this is your "stop gap" coach. Think Shula. Or Zook. Fire him, and there's a good chance you're looking for another stop gap coach. Plus building yourself quite a reputation there.
Still, this has been ugly. Chew one's arm off ugly. UT is on track for its worst season in school history. Y'all haven't won an SEC game yet - the only team that hasn't... And your best shot (Vandy) is a road game, which at this point is looking like a Pick ‘Em - and as a standalone declaration, that speaks volumes. Moreover, if not for a clunker 2 OT win against mighty UAB (3-5), y'all would have lost seven straight. Wow.
But it's not just the losses… It appears your attendance record will fall this year. You were no younger than Alabama two weeks ago, and your crumbling in that game was ugly. Speaking of ugly, you gave away a win to LSU, there have been some truly hideous blowouts, and your play has been basically uninspiring, with one 2H collapse after another. Nothing screams poor coaching like 2H collapses. As if that wasn't enough, now your pretty boy QB is talking out of turn. You're not alone if you think this rodeo is one angry bull away from YouTube Clip of the Year.
Remember Tennessee, you're Tennessee. You have no treasure trove of in-state high school football talent to fall back on (comparatively speaking). Yes, you have a nice stadium and a legacy, but don't kid yourself – you're no Alabama. You're no Georgia. Hell, you're not even Florida, Auburn or LSU. Don't tell me about what happened 30 years ago – or even 15. The modern HS athlete has a short attention something-or-another. A few more years of this train wreck and you could slide off a cliff into the football abyss. (Think "Florida State" – and they even had Florida, state of, for recruiting.)
It's only eight games, yes, and we hate that we feel this way, but the remaining four games are about as easy as it gets - all of them in state too… IF Dooley fails to win two of your last three SEC games against Mississippi and Kentucky at home, and Vandy in Knoxville West (aka Nashville), AND if you can find the right coach (think ~$4 mln/yr), then yes, pull the trigger. Wow, we suck. Which would make three straight seasons of one year coaches, by the way. Speaking of by the way, if you lose this Saturday "at home" to in-state Memphis (1-7), then we expect the lock on Dooley's office to be changed before the 9 AM Sunday service.
Phil Fulmer's not looking all that bad right about now, is he Vol fan. You paying attention there, Baton Rouge?
It is becoming increasingly difficult to defend Dooley, but he should be given the chance to lead the Vols for 3-4 years before feeling the hot seat pressure that some other SEC coaches have right now. (RM Note: 4 years??? We've got one word for you - Colorado.) Dooley is under extra scrutiny this year because of the Baton Rouge fiasco, and his World War II comments from a couple weeks ago. Someone who was viewed as a classy, well-mannered coach a couple months ago now looks like… Well, a doofus. The LSU game called into question his ability to manage a game, and the war comments made him look tactless or naïve, and either's bad. But that has nothing to do with the results on the field, which is how he should be judged. Even though there is very little chance for Tennessee to make a bowl game this year, Dooley deserves a pass.
Lane Kiffin left a mess in Knoxville, and while Phil Fulmer may be a special name in Neyland Stadium, his last couple teams and recruiting classes were not. The cupboard is bare ladies and gentlemen. The quarterbacks are a JUCO transfer and a true freshmen. The skill players are few and far between, and the offensive line is one of the worst in the league. None of this is Dooley's fault, and it is unfair to blame him for the product on the field when he hasn't even had a chance to recruit for one complete class. Around the middle of season three there should be a very good body of work to decide how good a job he is doing. Similar to Rich Rodriguez in Michigan, if there is not obvious improvement on the field, and in the win column, it is time to move on. One season is not enough to judge Derek Dooley; let's see what he can do with more than 10 months to build a program before we start calling for his head.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week Nine, but isn't?
Well that leaves out anything to do with the fifty bye weeks Alabama is facing, what a genius Spurrier is, and just how relieved Urban looked being interviewed after the game Saturday… (i) No truth to the rumor the starring role in Scarface II: Cutthroat was UGA DC Todd Grantham's for the taking… But he choked the final screen test, (ii) All class that Grantham, (iii) But no, it's silly to suggest he be punished for it (nod to Florida's Chas Henry for agreeing) - looking like a tool for all posterity is punishment enough, (iv) What kind of name is "Chas" anyway? There's a Caddyshack joke in there somewhere, but we're still dizzy from breaking down LSU's offense, (v) The best pass LSU threw against Auburn was by a true freshman RB (Spencer Ware), (vi) Factor that out, and LSU's passing "attack" was 15/29 for just 89 yards, no TDs and one INT vs. Auburn's woeful secondary, (vii) Which the week before surrendered (and we do mean surrendered) 428 yards and five TDs (35/49) to Mallet/Wilson, (viii) That noise you hear is the Alabama secondary creeping up to the line of scrimmage, (ix) No truth to the rumor Dooley's just glad that Bye Week is off the schedule, (x) Arkansas leads the conference in Passing Offense (#2 nation) and has quite a stable of wide outs – but losing Greg Childs' is going to hurt. He's third best in the SEC in both Receptions & Yards and second on the team in points scored – behind the kicker, (xi) We pointed it out before the season, but UGA doesn't have a week off until the last game of the season, (xii) A little more than a month ago, MSU's Nick Bell was a 20 year old, starting at DE in what appeared to be peak physical condition, living his dreams… Let his passing remind us of just how precious life is, and (xiii) The conference now has three teams ranked in the Top 25 in Total Offense (Auburn #6, Arkansas #9 and Bama #23), but drops to just three in Total Defense (LSU #7, Bama #11, and Florida #23). Only the Tide appear on both lists.
It seems not as many people are talking about the already infamous choke that UGA's Defensive Coordinator flashed at Florida kicker Chris Henry before the latter kicked the game winning FG in Jacksonville. This was bad, really bad, and it brings up the question of what we expect from the coaches leading our SEC programs. Obviously, we expect more than what Grantham showed last weekend, and it once again calls Mark Richt's leadership into question (more on in a second). We expect Grantham to be suspended for this weekend's game and to hear about a personal apology phone call to Henry by Friday. College football is not the NFL. Period. Not even the SEC. While the emotions and stakes often seem the same, they are not. Part of the sport is being a family; it is coaches sitting down in family rooms explaining to families how the coach will take care of their son for the next three, four or five years.
What it should never become is some crazy-eyed psycho screaming obscenities at a 19 year old student, while giving him a choke sign. Sure if some idiot wants to do it in the stands you can't control it, but you can control what the coaching staff does. You can set a bar, Richt. And that brings us back to the head coach - once again the UGA disciplinarian is silent while one of his own embarrasses the university. Maybe if Grantham had missed a court date (Caleb King) he would have been suspended for two games. Driving with a suspended license (Washaun Ealey) gets you a seat on the bench for Louisiana Lafayette... But a 40 year old willingly acting like a tween is not worthy of any discipline? Maybe Grantham will run some stadiums after practice so the guys in pads know that Richt means business. Remember, UGA is playing freaking Idaho State this weekend. Even Bobby Bowden wouldn't be scared to suspend someone for Idaho State. Once again, Richt fails to send a message to his players about discipline and how to behave. This is the biggest knock we have on the guy as a boss. Georgia fans, if you wonder why your players get arrested so often, it is because of this kind of "leadership". We are not advocating change right now at the top of UGA's football team, but next time you ask yourself why your guys keep getting in trouble, this might be a good story to revisit.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Derek Dooley, Head Coach, Tennessee – We thought about going with LSU's Jordan Jefferson, who has turned the ball over at least once in every game except Mississippi State. Consistency. LSU has 18 turnovers on the year – yes, that's dead last in conference. Meanwhile, Bama leads the SEC in Turnover Margin. LSU's the underdog at home to start with – simply can't be giving up possessions. Or we could go with Bama's talented duo of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, who have been "average" since conference play started. Auburn rushed for 440, fellas; let's see what you've got in the tank. Or perhaps LSU's WR Terrance Toliver... Ok kid, you were the #1 receiver in the nation coming out of Hempstead High. Yes, it's not like you've had Bert Jones tossing you the pigskin, but if you're the go-to-guy, you can start by catching the ball, and more importantly making things happen. That's what go-to-guys do. Or Bama's Julio Jones - who has finally started playing like the all star everyone thinks he is. A big day passing Saturday would be unexpected, and likely result in a Bama blowout. But tell me how the spotlight is brighter anywhere else than on Coach Dooley? Your team is in disarray and there's an angry mob gathering at Fulmer and Volunteer. Lose to Memphis and you're dodging forks. As in you're done. That or pitchforks – your choice.
LSU Special Teams – How do you beat a team that most feel is the best in the SEC and the country… Special teams. Field position with kicks, punts and returns will be crucial in this game, and LSU has the SEC's best in each spot. Patrick Peterson is the most electric return man in the country, Josh Jasper is deadly kicking field goals from any distance, and with Derek Helton or Jasper handling the punts, LSU can pin Alabama deep. Close games are won with these kinds of details, and LSU owned the field position battle in Auburn two weeks ago. If this game is as close as most people expect it to be, LSU has a decided advantage on special teams. It could be the difference between a win and a loss on Saturday.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Auburn – Still getting better with every snap
2 Alabama – Run, Bama, Run
3 LSU – Nick who?
5 Arkansas – Only gave up 14 to Vandy; looks good until you examine Dores' record
5 Mississippi State – Six straight! Now a bye week to bury Bell & prepare for Bama
5 South Carolina (up from 6) – Some kid named Lattimore
7 Florida (up from 9) – A tune up @ Vandy before hosting the OBC
8 Georgia (down from 7) – You think the "Murray's Arrived!" t-shirts were premature?
9 Kentucky – Beat Vandy and Tennessee and limp into bowling, again
10 ole miss (down from 9) – If 2010 ends with only one SEC W, is Nutt toast?
11 Tennessee – Y'all know it's a four quarter game, right? (Take five)
12 Vanderbilt – Basketball season! And not a fumble too soon…
1 Auburn – Oline not getting near the credit it deserves; nasty bunch
2 Alabama – Leaked that Bama was preparing for AU in the bye week; are they ready for LSU?
3 LSU – Chavis' chance for redemption after a very poor showing in Auburn
4 Arkansas – Even without Childs, the Hogs passing game should fly in Columbia
5 Mississippi State – This great season for the Bulldogs won't overshadow the sadness of losing Nick Bell, but you know he was proud of his teammates, as they are of him
6 Florida (up from 7) – Offense was ugly early but it worked late
7 South Carolina (down from 6) – Seem to be sleepwalking since losing to Kentucky
8 Georgia – Unlikely Georgia chokes this weekend against Idaho State
9 Kentucky – Strong finish can erase the middle part of the Wildcat's season
10 Vanderbilt – Looks like the new play caller isn't making the offense better yet
11 Ole Miss – The defense is shocking; can't believe how poor it is playing
12 Tennessee – Hopefully Derek Dooley and crew are working hard recruiting right now
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Alabama vs. LSU; Saturday, November 6th | 3:30 PM EST | CBS. LSU's defense is still ranked highly, but it gave up more than 400 yards rushing to Auburn. Yes, Cam & Co. are special, but the other boys from Alabama have some wheels on them too. A combined 150 on the ground by Ingram and Richardson and LSU's likely to be playing catch-up; we can think of better places to be with a one dimensional offense (we're not sure, but we think LSU leads the nation in one yard pass completions). Particularly when as our colleagues at CFN pointed out, the Tigers are ranked only 80th in the nation in Red Zone offense – 21% of the time the Bayou Bengals fail to score (and Bama's D is excellent in the Red Zone, allowing points only 65% of the time). LSU's Red Zone scoring woes are partly the result of too many turnovers – they're dead last in the SEC. By the way, Bama's best in that category. Noticing a pattern here? Playing in Red Stick is never easy, but the difference in this game is the kickoff: 2:30 PM local time. Were it 7 PM, we'd take the home crowd and the Tigers by a point. But LSU is the Dracula of college football; not too good under the sun… Pick Alabama 24, LSU 20
2) Arkansas vs. South Carolina; Saturday, November 6th| 7:00 PM EST | ESPN. Well, looks like this weekend is for all the marbles between Brian and Me, and you're wrong again with this one, Harbach. Yes, Carolina's Pass Defense is 105th in the nation, and the Pass Efficiency Defense isn't much better – 99th. That's about as shocking as Bama being last in sacks, btw. However, Greg Childs' injury is going to impact Arkansas' passing attack. It has too – he leads them in all categories. You don't lose a player of his caliber and just roll on. Not this Arkansas team, anyway. And not the first week after. Moreover, we question Mallett's leadership ability under these circumstances, particularly on the road. He's still too immature at times. Finally, Arkansas has to have the ball for Mallett to throw it – and Marcus Lattimore is going to pile up his ~200 yards on ~30 carries. Particularly against this Hog Rushing Defense, which is 9th in the SEC, 78th in the nation. And as the Razorback's rushing offense is pedestrian, SC's defense can simply concentrate on stopping (or just slowing down) Mallett… Pick Lattimore 34, Arkansas 28
3) Florida vs. Vanderbilt; Saturday, November 6th| 12:21 PM EST |ESPN 3. 12:21 kickoff?… Pick Florida 45, Vanderbilt 10
1) Alabama vs. LSU; Saturday, November 6th | 3:30 PM EST | CBS. In his sixth season at LSU, the legend of Les Miles has grown to mythic proportions, especially when it comes to his risky calls and trickeration. But one thing is undeniable - give the man time to prepare for a game and he wins. Miles is 13-3 in games that his team has a week or more to prepare; that includes season openers, bye weeks and bowl games. His only two losses at LSU following a bye were the Hurricane delayed OT loss to Tennessee and to Florida in their national championship season of 2008. Miles knows how to get a team ready and he will have LSU prepared for their former coach. Bit of emotion down in the Bayou still. The Alabama offense has been hit or miss this year, struggling against Arkansas, Ole Miss and South Carolina… All decent defenses to be sure, but no LSU. The Tiger's pride was hurt after the Auburn game, and getting the National Champs at home is a good remedy for recovery. And LSU knows this is likely its Championship Game - Auburn won't lose twice. Even with the offensive domination from Auburn two weeks ago, LSU was in the game, with the ball, with 5 minutes left. @ Auburn. This game's in Death Valley. They don't call things Death Valley by accident. Special teams has saved the Fighting Tigers all year, it saves them again this week… Pick LSU 24, Alabama 23
2) Arkansas vs. South Carolina; Saturday, November 6th| 7:00 PM EST | ESPN. Huge game for Arkansas; in some part a meaningless game for South Carolina, at least to hear their fans and media. Carolina has collapsed late in nearly every season under Spurrier, so this game should have some meaning. But the Gamecocks are already talking about the match up with Florida. Carolina's pass defense is terrible and got worse (some may disagree) with the loss of Chris Culliver. Even without Greg Childs, Arkansas can throw the ball at will and will do so this weekend. If South Carolina comes out flat and plays Arkansas with the same effort they have the last four years, that negative momentum will carry into Gainesville and they will have no shot to beat the Gators. Will the Gamecocks lose their fourth game in five to Arkansas… Yes... Pick Arkansas 43, South Carolina 38
3) Florida vs. Vanderbilt; Saturday, November 6th| 12:21 PM EST |ESPN 3. This is how bad the other six SEC games are this weekend. Florida vs. Vandy gets the third spot on our list. No need breaking down this one… Pick Florida 41, Vanderbilt 9
Don't forget to read CFN's Barrett Sallee Three & Out: SEC Preview every Wednesday.
Russ Mitchell covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter
Brian Harbach covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter
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