NCAA Football

Alabama Football: How Should AJ McCarron Handle Questions About the Tide?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—AJ McCarron hasn’t exactly endeared himself to many Alabama fans since leaving Tuscaloosa with three BCS National Championship rings (two of which he won as a starter).

His latest comments came on 99.1 FM in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday, in which he said Alabama lacked “true leaders” on offense and that Saban has “put handcuffs” on the offense in the past.

After Alabama coach Nick Saban responded to those comments, saying they were untrue and that he doesn’t know how McCarron would know about Alabama’s leadership, McCarron went back on the air Wednesday, claiming he was taken out of context and clarifying his remarks.

That has led to a number of negative comments from fans, media and even former teammates.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger fall from grace for a three-time national champion that didn’t involve a major scandal.

So how should McCarron have responded, and what could he do going forward to help his image? That depends on his motivation, according to Dr. Kenon A. Brown, a professor in Alabama’s nationally recognized public relations program.

“I really don’t understand how he could be critical of a team that has supported him, of a fanbase that supported him, and a fanbase that he delivered, as part of a team, two national championships to,” Brown said in an interview with Bleacher Report. “And it seems like since he has left The University of Alabama, he’s taken every chance that he has to, in my opinion, candidly take shots at the program.”

Brown, who specializes in image and reputation management in sports, said that judging by McCarron’s comments, it’s hard to tell just what his motivation is at this point.

“Does he think that this is going to put him in a more positive light?” said Brown, who has published academic papers on Lebron James’ Decision and Michael Vick’s dogfighting scandal and how they subsequently repaired their images.

“Does he think that he maybe will not have a productive NFL career? So he thinks being candid and being controversial is going to propel him to stardom so he can take an anchor job on the SEC Network or something like that? Is he focused on the celebrity nature more than being the quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals? Is he bored because he’s rehabbing his shoulder? I don’t know.”

This isn’t the first time McCarron has made disparaging comments about his alma mater.

It started soon after the Crimson Tide’s Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, when McCarron was out of Alabama’s protective bubble. He attributed Alabama’s lack of success at the end of the 2013 season to entitlement among young players.

As the NFL Draft process began, reports surfaced that teams weren’t impressed with his interview process. He said he thought he would be drafted in the bottom half of the first round but was eventually taken in the fifth round by the Bengals.

To McCarron’s credit, he largely stayed quiet during the offseason and into the regular season. Tuesday night, he put himself out there once again, and the criticism came back up.

“Maybe he’s showing his true colors now,” Brown said. “If you follow collegiate and professional sports you know that there’s a level of control of the comments that you can make as a collegiate athlete. They have rules, they have regulations, they monitor social media. And then that’s really lifted when you become a professional.”

McCarron shouldn’t necessarily be criticized for having an opinion, though, Brown said. Plenty of players—including McCarron’s predecessor, Greg McElroy, now an analyst with the SEC Network—have offered criticism of the team.

The difference was in the delivery.

“I would rather him own up to his opinion and at least try to justify his comments rather than backtracking,” Brown said. “Because then that’s when you look bad. I think when you start backtracking on the comments that you’ve made…now it starts looking like you were just in it to increase ratings, you were just in it to increase your public presence.”

Which brings us back to the motivational aspect.

If McCarron is doing this just to get attention, negative or otherwise, then he is very much succeeding.

But if he still wants to be a representative of the University of Alabama, there could be some fences that need a little bit of mending. That’s why Brown said if he was advising McCarron, he would begin that process as soon as possible.

“The first thing he needs to do is at least contact somebody on the Alabama coaching staff, whether it’s Saban or whoever, and at least attempt to clarify his comments,” Brown said. “The SEC really thrives on tradition. We like bringing our legends back. We like keeping our stars in good graces. Peyton Manning is around [Tennessee] two or three times a year. We like bringing back the people that help us re-live our glory days…It’s less likely for [McCarron] to be in those good graces when he comes back.”

There is also value in simply remaining silent.

“It comes to a point where you just need to keep your mouth shut," Brown said. "You do not have to have the last words at all times. You stated your case. You made your opinions, Saban gave his opinion about your comments. Why couldn’t it just end there?”

McCarron, though, is never going to lose the graces of the entire Alabama fanbase. He was a part of all three national championships under Saban and is one of the most recognizable players in one of the greatest runs in college football history.

Images like “The Drive” against LSU in 2012 or him picking apart the Notre Dame defense in Miami won’t be quick to leave fans’ minds.

That’s why the AJ McCarron debate comes down to what exactly his motivations are, and what he’s trying to accomplish in his post-Alabama life.

“If I’m trying to get him in the spotlight—which, let’s be honest, this is what publicists do—if we’re talking about celebrity status, if you’re trying to become a celebrity, that’s one thing. And maybe this is the right move for him to be this brash, outgoing personality,” Brown said. “But if you’re trying to be a football player, and you’re still trying to be some sort of representative of the University of Alabama, tone it down a little bit. Just a little bit. I’m not saying don’t have an opinion, just tone it down a little bit.”

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

7 Most Important Recruiting Visits of Week 7

Recruits are on the move again this weekend, attending meaningful college football matchups on campuses across the country. We're now less than four months shy of national signing day, placing added pressure on hosts to ensure players and their families enjoy a positive experience.

Games remain the top priority for every coaching staff, but as days dwindle in the regular season and February approaches, the result is a steadily rising sense of urgency in recruiting departments. Several have a chance to make strides with coveted targets in the coming days. 

Each week on Bleacher Report, we roll out a list of the most important campus visits to monitor. Here's our latest breakdown, including a pair of premier committed prospects who are headed to enemy territory.

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Todd Gurley Suspended: Best-/Worst-Case Scenarios for Heisman Contender

Georgia running back Todd Gurley has been suspended indefinitely "during an ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of NCAA rules," the school announced.

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman reported that the NCAA is investigating whether Gurley accepted extra benefits for his likeness.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder discusses the current situation for Gurley and the Bulldogs. How will this affect the team? 

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Pac-12 South Compares to SEC West Division

It has more ranked teams than unranked ones. It features a previously ranked team that just fell out of the poll. And its bottom feeder, while winless at this point, is much improved from a year ago and seems poised to knock someone off sooner rather than later.

Are we talking about the SEC West? Yes. But we're also referring to the Pac-12 South.

There are an uncanny number of similarities between the nation's best division and one that's making a strong case for being the SEC West's understudy. One has five of seven teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25; the other has four of six; while the fifth-best club began the season in the rankings and just fell out after a loss on Saturday.

The quality of the teams from top to bottom has made it so that unbeaten teams are underdogs this week despite playing at home, according to Odds Shark, and both divisions are considered so deep that the likelihood of a team coming out of there unblemished seems small.

Since there have been no head-to-head meetings between the divisions, it's hard to really compare them to each other in terms of performance. The chart below lists how each has fared in a handful of quantifiable categories:

Those numbers clearly show the SEC West is the better division, but that's not really in question. The Pac-12's figures are good, too, but despite that and the divisions' other commonalities, there's one place where the SEC West and Pac-12 South differ immensely: the court of public opinion, as Bryan Fischer of NFL.com pointed out earlier this week:

Fischer is referring to the leagues as a whole, but with the majority of each conference's ranked teams in these two divisions (each has two ranked on the other side, and combined make up 52 percent of the AP Top 25), the attention is being placed mostly on the SEC West and Pac-12 South. This was enhanced by last week's results involving Pac-12 schools, with North power Stanford and Oregon both losing.

Oregon's loss came to Arizona, which vaulted the Wildcats into the top 10 after being unranked a week ago. Utah jumped into the rankings as well after beating UCLA, also on the road, while Arizona State moved up (and knocked out USC) by winning in Los Angeles on a Hail Mary.

That kind of cannibalism is similar to what went on in the SEC West and is what will continue throughout the season. Last Saturday saw Ole Miss top Alabama for the first time in a decade, while Mississippi State downed fellow unbeaten Texas A&M and Auburn blew out sliding LSU.

The only teams in those divisions not involved in the chaos last week were their respective cellar dwellers, Arkansas and Colorado. They're a combined 0-5 in league play, but both look much better than they did in 2013 and may very well pick off a ranked opponent very soon.

(Arkansas has a great chance to do so this Saturday, hosting a vulnerable Alabama team.)

It will be more of the same this week, with the Pac-12 South also involved in a huge intra-divisional clash between UCLA and Oregon. Those were the preseason favorites in the conference, but with each heading into the game after a loss it's become an unofficial elimination game for playoff consideration.

"Is all the parity a good thing?," writes George Schroeder of USA Today. "At this point, there doesn't appear to be an elite team in the bunch."

The SEC West faces the same possibility by the time the regular season is done, yet the narrative is more about how such parity means it deserves to land half of the College Football Playoff semifinal berths.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Todd Gurley Suspended for Violation of NCAA Rules: Latest Details and Reaction

The University of Georgia has suspended star running back Todd Gurley indefinitely.

The school didn't go into specifics regarding the suspension but said in a press release that an "ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of NCAA rules" is underway.   

"I'm obviously very disappointed," said Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt. "The important thing for our team is to turn all our attention toward preparation for Missouri."   

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports provides details on Gurley's infractions:

Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph confirms the alleged reasoning behind the suspension:

Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples provides more details on a specific incident:

SI.com has learned that a person confirmed to Georgia’s compliance office this week that he paid Gurley $400 to sign 80 items on campus in Athens, Ga., one day this past spring. The person claimed to have a photo and video of Gurley signing the items, but neither the photo nor the video showed money changing hands. NCAA rules require schools to immediately declare a player ineligible if they discover a violation has been committed. Schools may then apply for the player’s reinstatement. Reached by text message on Thursday afternoon, Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity declined comment.

No. 13 Georgia hits the road Saturday to take on the No. 23 Missouri Tigers in a game that could very well decide the outcome of the SEC East. They are the two highest-ranked teams in the division, so the winner of Saturday's contest will have a major advantage in the divisional race. 

Heading into the week, Gurley ranked sixth in the country in rushing yards (773) and tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns (8). ESPN.com currently lists him atop its Heisman Watch for Week 7.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: What Bruins Must Do to Beat Oregon

The UCLA football team has a tough task ahead this coming weekend, as it hosts the explosive No. 12 Oregon Ducks and star quarterback Marcus Mariota. 

This could ultimately be a must-win game for both teams. UCLA is coming off a tough two-point loss at home to the Utah Utes. Oregon also was defeated at home by the upstart Arizona Wildcats. To this point in the season, neither team has played its best football. 

This piece will look at specific principles the Bruins can use in order to beat the Ducks. 

 

Protect Brett Hundley

This should go without saying. UCLA has given up 23 sacks on the season, which ranks the team near the very bottom of all Division I in the category. 

There comes a point when one has to wonder whether or not Hundley will get seriously hurt due to the lack of protection. Last week against Utah, the quarterback was sacked 10 times. This statistic doesn't include hurries or even hits. 

There are ways in which UCLA could opt to lessen the pressure from the opposition. For one, a heavy diet of screens, misdirections in the run game, quick passes (such as slants or bubble screens) and rollouts would help. Oftentimes in the Utah game, Hundley was essentially nailed-down inside of the pocket.

Rarely did offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone move the launch point. Conventional wisdom also suggests less of an emphasis on five- or seven-step drops—opting instead for three-step drops. 

In terms of helping out on blocking assignments off the edge, a running back could possibly be used to "chip" the defensive end. An extra blocker next to the tackle could also work. Running the football with regularity also helps in this capacity. 

Versus Oregon, UCLA will be facing a very good lineman in defensive end DeForest Buckner. The Hawaii native is an extremely active and athletic player and could pose problems in passing downs.

The other talented defensive lineman for the Ducks—Arik Armstead—is questionable after suffering an ankle injury versus Arizona. According to Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard, Armstead has participated in practice this week. His health is a question mark, but a potential return would be a big boost for Oregon. 

Oregon's defense as a whole is mobile. The linebackers in particular are adept at bursting through run gaps and making plays in the backfield. As a result, the play-calling needs to be altered as a means to combat the expected pressure Oregon will likely bring. 

 

Win the Battle Up Front

While UCLA's offensive line has had problems, the Oregon front has faced similar difficulties. In the last two contests, Oregon's offensive line has given up 12 sacks. On the season, the Ducks rank No. 110 overall in sacks allowed. 

Injuries have ravaged the overall depth of the Oregon offensive line group. Projected starter (and best lineman) Tyler Johnstone is out for the entire season.

Starting tackle Jake Fisher has been nursing a lower-leg injury for the past few weeks. Reserve linemen Andre Yruretagoyena and Haniteli Lousi have also been out for multiple weeks. According to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, Fisher will be a game-time decision for this weekend's contest. 

As a result, Oregon starts a true freshman (Tyrell Crosby) and a walk-on (Matt Pierson) at both tackle spots.  

UCLA needs to take advantage of these matchups and get after Mariota with pressure. Pierson in particular has struggled versus the speed-rush. Deon Hollins could be a huge factor in this ballgame with his ability to utilize his quickness and speed off the edge. Dually, Crosby will likely be going up against a 5th-year senior in Owamagbe Odighizuwa. 

The Bruins need to win the battle up front with their defensive line against Oregon's group. 

 

Keep Containment

Utah killed UCLA last week with the zone-read element. Utes quarterback Kendal Thompson was effective running the football in large part because of UCLA's failure in keeping containment on the edge. 

Against Oregon, this is a must. The defensive end must stay home and not crash down too hard on the tailback. Should this scenario continue on Saturday, Mariota will have a field-day rushing for yardage. 

If anything, last week may have provided UCLA with good practice for what it'll see on Saturday. Regardless, the defense will have to stay disciplined. It also has to tackle well in space against the vast array of skill position talent Oregon possesses. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: What Bruins Must Do to Beat Oregon

The UCLA football team has a tough task ahead this coming weekend, as it hosts the explosive No. 12 Oregon Ducks and star quarterback Marcus Mariota . This could ultimately be a must-win game for both teams...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Buying or Selling Every Top 10 Team as Playoff Championship Contender

If college football were a stock market, this past weekend would have resulted in record trading.

With seven unbeaten teams and 11 ranked schools losing last week, the likelihood of having four clear contenders for the national title is dwindling. The College Football Playoff selection committee is going to have its hands full trying to sift through what is shaping up to be a long list of worthy candidates for the semifinal bowl games.

A smart investor knows not to make impulse transactions, but as things stand now, it's time to take a look at the teams currently occupying the top 10 spots in the Associated Press poll to see whether they really stack up as championship contenders or pretenders.

Follow along to see whether it's smart to buy low or sell high.

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Florida State Football: What an Improved O-Line Would Mean for the 'Noles

What would an improved offensive line mean for the Florida State football team? It would mean a better Jameis Winston.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has been very good in 2014 but hasn’t been consistently spectacular like he was during a memorable redshirt freshman campaign that saw him capture a handful of national awards and guide the Seminoles to the national championship.

After leading the nation in 2013 with a passer rating of 184.85, Winston’s current rating of 153.19 ranks 26th in the country. A top-30 passer rating is certainly nothing to scoff at, but Winston simply hasn’t been as sharp in his second year guiding the FSU offense.

However, this is no sophomore slump.

Instead, Winston’s dip in efficiency has everything to do with a wide receiver corps in transition.

After throwing the football to Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene all season en route to a title, Winston has had to continue to evolve with an aerial attack featuring a host of youngsters alongside the veteran playmaker Greene.

As Jared Shanker and ESPN Stats & Info reveals, Winston has proven his ability to play under pressure. But without a veteran pass-catching corps to trust like he did last year, Winston’s success rate when the play breaks down has dwindled dramatically:

While young wide receivers like Jesus Wilson, Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane have emerged in recent weeks, it will still take some time for them to earn the same level of trust that Winston had in last year’s pass-catchers.

Having the security blanket of Benjamin’s 6’5” frame and Shaw's fearlessness going across the middle of the field to accompany Greene's premier route running can’t be overlooked when discussing Winston’s successful debut season.

So until that trust level reaches a similar level with every wide receiver not named Greene, the pressure is on FSU’s offensive line to step up and protect Winston even better with the hopes of keeping him out of those under-pressure situations.

It will also be important for the line to keep improving so that the Seminoles’ ground game can generate some consistency.

But that may prove to be easier said than done.

FSU lost starting center Austin Barron to injury in last week’s win over Wake Forest and is now expected to start redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefeld Saturday at Syracuse. Hoefeld will benefit from a should-be tune-up game against the Orange before potential undefeated teams FSU and Notre Dame clash Oct. 18.

It probably won’t matter against Syracuse, but Florida State’s offensive line needs to be better so that Winston can be better—especially with a likely Top Five matchup looming in the near future.

 

Brandon Mellor is a Florida State writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of Seminoles.com and cfbstats.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: How Trojans Can Contain Rich Rod's Arizona Offense

USC football has no time to catch its breath—not if it's to slow down the No. 10-ranked Arizona Wildcats. 

The Trojans defense is up against one of college football's most celebrated offensive minds Saturday night—Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez—just one week after it surrendered 20 points to Arizona State in less than four minutes. 

Arizona State's final offensive eruption left the USC defense stinging this week, in part because it had executed coordinator Justin Wilcox's strategy well for the previous 56 minutes. 

"Our defensive plan coming in, we wanted to set the tone and stop the run," cornerback Adoree' Jackson said Wednesday after practice at Howard Jones Field. The Trojans did that, limiting Arizona State to just 31 yards rushing as a team.  

In selling out against the Sun Devils' multifaceted run game, in particular running back D.J. Foster, Jackson described more of a containment philosophy against the pass. 

"Which we did a good job of doing," he said. "Until the last three minutes of the game." 

USC's performance before that final stretch was not lost on Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, who saw his high-octane offense held to around 300 total yards up to that point. 

Of course, most offenses in the Pac-12 operate in such a way that a few minutes is all they need to change a game's dynamic. 

 

Quick Change 

Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici threw for 233 of his 510 yards in the Sun Devils' final three possessions.

Combined with the 462 rushing yards Wilcox's defense gave up in a Week 3 loss at Boston College, Arizona State's final burst has attracted criticism. 

Head coach Steve Sarkisian was adamant Wednesday in his defense of Wilcox's play-calling. 

"Justin's done a very good job," Sarkisian said. "It's unfortunate that the [Arizona State] game ended the way it did...I thought we played really good defense on Saturday for three-and-a-half quarters. 

"We give up a 4th-and-10 [conversion] on a 98-yard drive that extends the drive and they score a touchdown," he added. "We gave up...a [73]-yard touchdown pass, and we gave up a Hail Mary. So I don't think that's necessarily indicative of the defense we have." 

In addition to its performance for much of the way against Arizona State, Sarkisian also referred to USC limiting Pac-12 single-season passing record holder and Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion to 123 yards in Week 5. 

USC has shown flashes of being a great defense but must sustain it for an entire 60 minutes to beat Arizona. 

The Wildcats promise to test Wilcox's bunch with its many weapons, some of which can be unleashed out of the same sets. 

"They're a run-option pass team," Jackson said. "Basically you have to figure out if they're running the ball, optioning or passing the ball, because they do all three in one play." 

 

Anu Challenge for USC 

Quarterback Anu Solomon is the catalyst who sets the wheels in motion for Arizona's multidimensional attack. And like Arizona State's Bercovici, he's someone who can erupt for big yards in short periods of time.  

At 348.2 yards per game, Solomon is the nation's seventh-most prolific passer. In the last two games, Solomon put together a 235-yard fourth quarter against Cal and a 143-yard third quarter at Oregon, per ArizonaWildcats.com.

Solomon's gaudy passing statistics are in part the result of what Sarkisian describes as "a plethora of receivers." 

Arizona has five receivers with 10 or more catches this season, led by Cayleb Jones' 32 for 525 yards. Jones is reminiscent of Arizona State's Jaelen Strong, who hit USC for 202 yards a week ago. 

As it has all season, the USC secondary must contain the pass without redshirt senior cornerback Josh Shaw. Shaw was suspended indefinitely prior to Week 1 for lying about an incident in which he injured his ankles. 

"It's obvious when you have a senior and leader, you'd love to have him out there," Sarkisian said of Shaw. "Especially in our conference where so many people are throwing the ball." 

Shaw's absence has made for a decidedly young secondary. To wit, two of the unit's cornerstones—Jackson and Chris Hawkins—are freshmen.

In addition to its collective youth, the USC defense is also thin. That can wear down a unit faced with stopping an offense that operates as quickly as Arizona's. 

Much as Arizona State did last week, Arizona can put up points in a hurry. The Wildcats are so devoted to speed, Rodriguez appeared in video parodying the 1994 movie of that name. 

But for as good as the numbers say the Arizona offense is this season, there are dents in the Wildcats' armor previous opponents have exploited.

 

Aggression with Balance 

Despite his impressive statistics and growing national profile, Solomon is still a freshman prone to lapses.

"He's still growing up," Rodriguez said of Solomon on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference Tuesday.  

USC can look to Cal's effort for three quarters in Week 4 for inspiration on containing Rodriguez's offense and rattling Solomon.

The Golden Bears stacked the box to contain the run and mixed blitzes off the edges, which caused Solomon to force throws. 

Arizona also struggled to finish drives in Week 2 at UT-San Antonio. The Roadrunners brought consistent pressure, which resulted in a number of overthrows and missed targets from Solomon.

USC can slow Arizona with a similarly aggressive approach. The challenge then is not over-pursuing, which the Wildcats' zone read is designed to exploit. 

Boston College specifically attacked USC in that way. Hawkins said Eagles blockers intentionally left Trojans All-American defensive lineman Leonard Williams unchecked, allowing his pursuit of quarterback Tyler Murphy to dictate where the ball went. 

Rodriguez's system can make defenses pay in much the same fashion.

"It's a matter of making sure we're properly aligned," Sarkisian said. "It's not just about Leonard, it's about all 11 players on every defensive snap [ensuring] that our responsibilities are in tact."

Ultimately for USC Saturday, containing the Wildcats is as simple as meeting these responsibilities, Sarkisian said. As last week proved, however, the Trojans must do so for the entire night.  

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless noted.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: How Trojans Can Contain Rich Rod's Arizona Offense

USC football has no time to catch its breath—not if it's to slow down the No. 10-ranked Arizona Wildcats...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Jeff Driskel's Last Stand, Angry Spurrier

Jeff Driskel's Last Stand

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel was benched late in the third quarter of the Gators' 10-9 win over Tennessee last week and watched from the sideline as true freshman Treon Harris led a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback to topple the Vols.

Two days later, Harris was suspended indefinitely from the program while under investigation for a sexual assault that allegedly occurred Sunday morning at an on-campus residence hall.

The quarterback job is Driskel's yet again, but he's going to have to be much better than he was against the Vols when he completed just 11 of 23 passes for 59 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.

"Jeff's a very strong, mentally tough guy," head coach Will Muschamp said on Wednesday's teleconference. "We had a talk Sunday and Monday. He was going to play in this game regardless of the situation if he started or not, and we expect him to play well."

What if he doesn't, though?

Muschamp already ripped the tablecloth off the table and made the move to Harris—and it worked. Would he make a similar move to Skyler Mornhinweg or true freshman Will Grier if Driskel struggles against LSU? It certainly seems that way, according to David Jones of Florida Today and Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.

Muschamp knows how important this game is.

LSU is a far cry from where it was in 2011 when it last won the SEC title. Its defense is soft in the middle, can't contain running backs and running quarterbacks on the edge, and its offense is unlikely to make major dents against Florida's defense and force a shootout.

If Driskel is ineffective again, Muschamp will make a move. The season, and his job, might depend on it.

 

Angry Steve Spurrier Is Angry

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier in front of a hot microphone is always a good idea, and the "Head Ball Coach" came through for the college football world on Wednesday, taking shots left and right—mostly at himself.

The Gamecocks have sputtered to a 3-3 record to start the season, which includes back-to-back losses to Missouri and Kentucky. What's the problem? Everything.

"Well that's a good question, what isn't working?" Spurrier said on the coaches teleconference. "We're pretty much near the bottom in every stat."

He's not lying. The Gamecocks rank 12th or worse in all four major defensive categories.

"We've got some coaching to do, and we're trying to. We don't have a pass rush, as everybody knows. That makes it difficult when the other team is throwing. Run defense is actually a bigger issue than pass defense. So anyway, we have some issues, but we're going to try to keep coaching these guys."

During Spurrier's radio show on Wednesday night, he went "full Spurrier," knocking himself and the team essentially all night, via Josh Kendall of The State:

Never change, Head Ball Coach.

Never change.

 

Big Game Dan

For the second straight week, all eyes will be on the state of Mississippi. 

No. 2 Auburn will travel to Starkville to take on co-No. 3 Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon, one week after the Bulldogs throttled then-No. 6 Texas A&M 48-31 at Davis Wade Stadium.

"Someone who looked it up told me that a matchup of these highly ranked teams could make it the biggest game ever in the history of Mississippi," head coach Dan Mullen said. "That's pretty exciting for us. Our guys understand that we have a long way to go, a lot of work and a great challenge ahead of us."

Hard work for Mullen, who isn't concerned about getting his guys up two weeks in a row for "the biggest game of their lives."

"We're only 2-0 in the SEC, and I think we wanted to win a lot more in the SEC than those two games," he said. "I think our guys really understand that focus. A lot of the attention that comes is kind of cool and kind of neat, but it really has nothing to do with our goal of winning the SEC West. That has always been our focus."

Is it coach speak? Yeah, probably.

Can Mullen—or any coach—really get 100 or so 18-to-22-year-olds to focus on the process and only on the process? Of course not. 

He is, however, taking the approach of a big-game coach, which is a good sign for the Bulldogs.

 

A Shining Star

Ole Miss is riding high following its 23-17 win over then-No. 3 Alabama last weekend in Oxford, but there's no time for the Rebels to pat themselves on the back. 

A road trip to College Station for a 9 p.m. ET tilt with Texas A&M awaits, and it's one that features one of the brightest up-and-coming stars in the SEC.

Aggies defensive end Myles Garrett has been the brightest star on A&M's otherwise anonymous defense, notching 6.5 sacks through the first six games of the season.

"He is a phenomenal talent," Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze said. "He's really quick-twitched, he has good pass rush moves that he's worked on in his craft. He's a guy who you better know where he is."

Halfway through the season, Garrett finds himself just 1.5 sacks away from tying the SEC single-season freshman sack record, which was set in 2011 by some guy named Jadeveon Clowney.

"I wasn't even aware of that until somebody pointed that out the other day," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He's extremely explosive, he's very, very gifted naturally, and he's working on his technique as all young guys are gonna do. He's starting to see different blocking schemes, which is the greatest compliment. We sat him down a couple weeks ago when he was frustrated and said, ' that's the best compliment you can have when running backs and tight ends are sliding out and chipping you on the way out and protection is sliding to you, that's good."

Garrett will be coming after Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace on Saturday night in College Station, and if "Bad Bo" is out, it will be a long night for the No. 3 Rebels.

 

Quick Outs

  • Mississippi State walks a fine line with its cowboys, which are allowed to be used inside Davis Wade Stadium only if fans "ring responsibly." Athletics director Scott Stricklin reminded fans—25 percent of which he surmised didn't ring responsibly last week—to play by the rules or risk having the privilege revoked.
  • Kentucky is suddenly a football school following its 45-38 win over South Carolina. According to KentuckySportsRadio.com, fans received black t-shirts last week that say "why not?" There's not really a good answer to that question yet for Mark Stoops' crew, which sits at 2-1 within the conference. 
  • Auburn's defense has allowed conference opponents to convert just two of 24 third downs this year. That'll work.
  • What's the most challenging part about this week's opponent for Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema? "A-L-A-B-A-M-A," he said. He's not wrong.

 

 

Barrett Sallee is the Lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Texas A&M Football: Should Aggies DC Mark Snyder Be on the Hot Seat?

The Texas A&M football team is 5-1 despite having one of the top offenses in the nation. Its defense is again struggling to stop anyone. After three years in College Station, Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is coaching for his job.

The Texas A&M offense is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation, averaging 583.2 yards per game. The defense is ranked No. 75 and is allowing 406.8 yards per game. In its last two games against SEC opponents, the Aggie defense has allowed 521.5 yards and 38 points on average.

The bottom line in the Southeastern Conference is that you need to play championship-level defense to win championships. You do not have to be dominant on the defensive side, but you have to be able to consistently create turnovers and get the opposing offense off the field.

The Aggies have not been able to do this during the last two seasons. The 2013 defense was very poor, allowing 475.8 yards per game and ranking No. 109 overall in the nation. 

The Aggies played numerous freshmen in 2013 and were supposed to benefit from their experience in 2014. Some of the same issues that were present in 2013 are still there in 2014. 

 

Blown Coverages

The Aggies secondary still struggles with blowing coverages in 2014. In 2013, Aggie fans would watch strong safety Howard Matthews blow his assignment on the wheel route on a weekly basis. He has been better in 2014, but the secondary is still allowing long touchdowns. 

The emergence of freshman safety Armani Watts has allowed Matthews to play closer to the line of scrimmage, where he has excelled. Watts has made some mistakes coming up to play the run, but overall he has been a solid addition to the secondary. 

Senior cornerback Deshazor Everett and junior cornerback De'Vante Harris have taken turns getting beaten for long touchdowns. Harris returned from injury to start against Arkansas and has struggled in coverage.

When you play football at a high level, your defensive backs are going to get beaten at times. However, there is no excuse for seeing opposing wide receivers running free in the secondary on a weekly basis.

It may be a matter of simplifying the coverages or playing different players, but it needs to be rectified. There is no excuse for having a poor secondary every season. Ultimately the responsibility for that lies at the feet of the defensive coordinator.

 

The Biggest Issue

The Aggies' biggest problem on defense is their linebacker play. The defensive line has improved since 2013, but the linebackers remain a weak point.

The Aggies do not have the requisite depth or size at the linebacker position to put an effective unit on the field. When 6'1", 230-pound senior Donnie Baggs is a starter, there are issues at the position. Baggs regularly gets run over by opposing running backs and is not effective against the run.

The Aggies sophomore middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni has recorded seven total tackles in the past two games. The Aggies played consecutive games against running teams in Arkansas and Mississippi State, and Mastrogiovanni was ineffective against both teams.

You cannot win in the SEC if you cannot stop the run, and the Aggies cannot stop the run with such poor linebacker play. Snyder is ultimately responsible for recruiting the talent to run his defense. If he does not have the linebackers on the roster to run his scheme, then it is his fault.

Snyder has been at A&M for three years, which has given him plenty of time to recognize the lack of talent at the position and address that need through the recruitment of junior-college players.

His failure to do so up to this point has caused a glaring weakness on his defense. If your front seven is weak in the SEC, you will not win football games. And right now the Aggies' front seven is weak because the play at linebacker is so poor.

 

What Needs to Change

There are no easy answers on defense. If it were as easy as simplifying the defense so the players could execute it easier, then that would have already have been done. 

There are ways to cover up deficiencies at one or two positions on a defense, but that is hard to do when it is an entire unit. The bottom line is that Snyder needs to figure it out quickly. The Aggies cannot afford to have another poor defensive season like they did in 2013. 

If the defense does not take a step forward in 2014, then Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin needs to find a coordinator who can make it take that step forward. You cannot expect to win championships with offense and special teams alone. 

The defense has to play at a high level consistently, and up to this point that has not been the case under Snyder. 

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