July 27, 2007

SEC notes: LSU a favorite with unproven QB

HOOVER, Ala. - Unlike other national championship contenders like Southern California, Michigan, West Virginia and Louisville, LSU does not return its starting quarterback.

But even though JaMarcus Russell departed for the NFL, the Tigers remain confident with senior Matt Flynn moving in under center.

Flynn only threw 20 passes last season (two went for touchdowns), but he filled in for an injured Russell in the 2005 Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl and threw two touchdown passes in a 40-3 victory over Miami.

He already has a very important advocate in star receiver Early Doucet.

"He's going to be fine. Matt is a poised veteran," Doucet said.

"He knows how to handle tough situations. Like you saw in the Miami game, he can come in and get the job done. He's a great passer and a great leader. We're sad to see JaMarcus go, but that's how it goes sometimes. Matt Flynn is a great quarterback and he'll get the job done."

It's important to have teammates' confidence, but coach Les Miles acknowledged there will be some adjustments.

"Any time you have a quarterback that's really in his first season as a starter there will be a period of adjustment," Miles said.

"I think it will be minimal with Matt Flynn. Matt Flynn has competed for the opportunity to play against a quality quarterback in JaMarcus Russell, and now it's his turn.

"We're all looking forward to seeing him play."

Seeking redemption

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer expressed his admiration for junior tailback Arian Foster, and not because of any long touchdown runs.

Instead, Fulmer praised Foster's reaction to a pivotal fumble which led to Tennessee's 20-10 loss to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

Penn State's Tony Davis returned Foster's fumble 88 yards for a touchdown.

"We were driving to win the game," Fulmer recalled. "The ball comes out and all of a sudden there's a 14-point swing.

"Ordinarily, I'm the last one out of the dressing room. The team is usually waiting on me. As I left the stadium, he's still there answering questions from some of the media about the turnover."

Fulmer said Foster printed out a report about the game, had it enlarged and put it in his locker.

"He touched it every day before his workouts," Fulmer said. "He touched it every day in spring practice. In the spring I saw a different guy. I saw a back that had had some injuries play like a Southeastern Conference back is supposed to play."

Start to finish

The key for Ole Miss, coach Ed Orgeron said, is starting strong and finishing stronger.

The Rebels play five games in September and Orgeron, who was celebrating his birthday on Friday, said getting a good start is crucial. But he said finishing is even more vital because the Rebels were dominated in the fourth quarter last season.

"We want to finish," Orgeron said. "We want to finish everything we do. We want to develop depth, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.

"Last year we were outscored the second half and in overtime three-to-one. We want to develop rotations so we can finish those games we were very, very close to winning last year."

The Rebels lost to Alabama and LSU in overtime last season. They also lost to Georgia by five points and Auburn by six.

"I think we are actually on the rise," running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis said. "The team unity is better than it was three years ago. The thing now is just finishing games. That has been our theme in offseason workouts. Hopefully, that will put us over the edge."

One apology, that's all

Miles hopes his defensive backs can backpedal as well as he did Friday. Miles was asked about his using an obscenity in reference to Alabama when speaking to a mass of LSU fans after national signing day last February.

"I can tell you that at the end of a recruiting season where there was a lot of hearsay and innuendo, there were some heated exchanges," he said. "I can tell you that I did have emotion and I certainly regret any choice of words that (an interviewer) described that I made.

"I am not in any way derogatory towards Alabama. I look forward to competing with them and their coach."

However, Miles didn't back off recent statements he made in which he mocked the strength of Southern California's schedule.

"I don't think I called out USC in any way," Miles said. "I think (the statement) was a feeling of how strong the SEC is and how difficult it is to come through an SEC schedule and then play a (conference) championship game, and then go on and have an opportunity to play in a nationally significant game.

"I just think it's a little easier to come from a conference that there is no championship game. Whoever the champion is from the Pac-10, I think they'll be a great football team."

Shift out of neutral?

Asked if he would be a proponent of switching the annual Georgia-Florida showdown from a neutral site game in Jacksonville to a home-and-home series, Georgia coach Mark Richt said he was.

"I think the rivalry would be outstanding whether you kept playing in Jacksonville or moved it around," he said. "I think it would be exciting for our fans to go to Gainesville. I think it would be exciting for the Florida fans to come to Athens."

Richt even suggested he would be in favor of a home-and-home series with a neutral site game worked into a rotation.

But he also offered an alternative for the neutral site.

"If you're going to do any kind of a rotation like that, I think we'd be more apt to rotate to each school," he said. "I would be in favor of rotating to the neutral site of Atlanta in the Dome. I think that would be a pretty good neutral site, too."

Depending on Miller

Senior Brandon Miller is moving from strongside linebacker to middle linebacker in Georgia's defense, and Richt said that transition will determine the unit's success.

"He's the key to our whole defense in my opinion," Richt said. "If Brandon Miller can play big and lead the way he ought to he's really going to be a key for us.

"He's a dominant player. But when you change a guy from a Sam (strong side) linebacker to the Mike (middle), there was a thought process going on where he couldn't be quite as aggressive as he was in the Sam position."

Obviously Richt feels the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Miller - who had 41 tackles in 2005 and 23 tackles in 2006 - can be just as effective in the middle. Maybe they just have to convince Miller.

"We have 29 practices to get him ready," Richt said. "He can make a huge difference for us."

PRESEASON POLL
The results of the SEC's preseason media poll. First place votes in parenthesis.
EAST DIVISION
1. Florida (41)
2. Tennessee (16)
3. Georgia (12)
4. South Carolina (11)
5. Kentucky
6. Vanderbilt
WEST DIVISION
1. LSU (63)
2. Auburn (5)
3. Arkansas (5)
4. Alabama (7)
5. Ole Miss
6. Mississippi State

LSU, Florida predicted to win divisions

Defending national champion Florida, with 41 of a possible 80 first place votes, was predicted to win the Eastern Division by the SEC media.

LSU, with 60 first place votes, was picked to win the Western Division.

Though picked fourth in the West, Alabama received the second-most first place votes with seven.

If the media is accurate, Florida and LSU - who play in Baton Rouge on Oct. 6 - will meet again in the SEC championship game in Dec. 1.

LSU was predicted to win the conference championship.

LSU, Arkansas head SEC preseason team

The Nov. 23 matchup between LSU and Arkansas could be a classic if the media's preseason All-SEC football team has merit.

Running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, receiver Marcus Monk and center Jonathan Luigs were all selected to the 11-member first team offense.

Meanwhile, LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, linebacker Ali Highsmith and defensive back Chevis Jackson were named to the first team defense.

Kentucky, with quarterback Andre' Woodson and tight end Jacob Tamme, was the only other team to have two players named to the first team offense. Tennessee, with linebacker Jerod Mayo and defensive back Jonathan Hefney, joined LSU as the only team with multiple defensive selections.

The rest of the first team offense included offensive linemen Will Arnold of LSU, Michael Oher of Ole Miss, Andre Smith of Alabama and Phil Trautwein of Florida and wide receiver Earl Bennett of Vanderbilt.

The remainder of the defense consisted of Auburn defensive end Quentin Groves, Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey, South Carolina linebacker Jasper Brinkley, Vanderbilt linebacker Jonathan Goff, Alabama defensive back Simeon Castille and Mississippi State defensive back Derek Pegues.

McFadden was the only unanimous choice.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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