SEC’s first half was about Mizzou and Manziel

10/16/2013 12:41 PM

10/16/2013 11:58 PM

Alabama is the best team, and Johnny Manziel is the most dynamic player in the Southeastern Conference halfway through the college football season. We figured that much going in.

Otherwise, the SEC has been full of surprises. Missouri is undefeated. Jadeveon Clowney hasn’t been dominant. Teams are winning shootouts, not defensive struggles.

But the SEC remains the nation’s top football conference, a notion reinforced this week with a record eight teams ranked in the Associated Press top 25.

Now that the first half is completed, here’s a review of the season’s first seven weeks while we contemplate an Alabama-Missouri SEC title game.

Offensive MVP

Remember the predictions of offseason antics leading to a sophomore slump for Manziel? It hasn’t happened. Statistically, Manziel is surpassing his Heisman season by completing 73.2 percent for 1,835 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for five scores. Last week at Mississippi, Manziel made mistakes with an end-zone interception and fumble, but he came up big in the end, leading a comeback victory.

Defensive MVP

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam delivered back-to-back three-sack games against Arkansas State and Vanderbilt and leads the SEC in tackles for losses with 10. His stellar play continued in the Tigers’ upset at Georgia last week, when he recovered an Aaron Murray fumble and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.

Freshman MVP

Arkansas’ Alex Collins has emerged as one of the SEC’s top running backs. He’s second in the league with 720 yards and has four touchdowns. Collins became the first SEC freshman back, and the first in college football since Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson in 2004, to rush for more than 100 yards in each of his first three games. A defensive choice? Go with Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who is tied for the SEC lead with three interceptions and eight passes defended.

Top coach

From 5-7 to 6-0. Not a bad jump for Missouri and coach Gary Pinkel. The Tigers were the preseason sixth choice in the SEC East and have already beaten two teams picked ahead of them — on the road — Georgia and Vanderbilt. Mizzou has won with a physical defensive front, talented wide receivers and stellar play from quarterback James Franklin. Unfortunately for Missouri, Franklin is out for three to five weeks because of a sprained shoulder suffered last week against Georgia.

Biggest disappointment

Not a team but a player. Clowney, South Carolina’s acclaimed defensive end, started the year as a legitimate Heisman hopeful. But between some nagging injuries, teams scheming away from him and what appears to be some lack of interest, Clowney isn’t part of the race with two sacks and three tackles for losses. Also falling into this category is Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, who has battled a toe injury and continues to look for his first touchdown reception.

Best game

One of the most hyped games in year lived up to the billing. Alabama and Texas A traded haymakers, with the Aggies landing first and last, but the Crimson Tide rolled in the middle and survived at College Station 49-42. Manziel passed for 464 yards and five touchdowns, and Alabama’s AJ McCarron threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns. Alabama has surrendered 26 points in its five other games, but the Tide also recorded a season high in points, proving they can play their preferred defensive style or an opponent’s faster pace and still emerge with a victory.

Best individual effort

Manziel vs. Alabama. His 562 total yards were the second most in SEC history and most in a conference game. Plus he created one of those magic moments, scrambling about 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage, escaping a sure sack and flinging a pass that Edward Pope hauled in for a 12-yard gain.

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