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Mississippi State stuns No. 12 LSU for blowout win behind QB Nick Fitzgerald

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Ed Orgeron never won in Starkville when he coached up the road at Ole Miss. Despite leading 12th-ranked LSU in his second go-around in town on Saturday night, the win column remained blank for the Tigers’ head coach.

Mississippi State announced they will be a team to take seriously in the SEC race behind No. 1 Alabama with an emphatic and stunning 37-7 victory over their division rivals to set off the rings of cowbells that could be heard two states over.

Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was not surprisingly the triggerman leading the way for the Bulldogs, using his legs to weave through a normally stout front and hitting big plays over the top right afterward. The — dare we say it? — budding Heisman dark horse finished the game with 180 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns while also finding the end zone twice on the ground with his 88 yards rushing. His running mate in the backfield was nearly as good in the win as tailback Aeris Williams ran for 146 yards and fought for every inch if he didn’t burst into the open field.

LSU’s biggest issue was the same ol’, same ol’. Their offense sputtered behind quarterback Danny Etling and managed just 270 yards all told. Tailback Derrius Guice finished with just 76 yards and was largely ignored in the second half. The Tigers defense was also to blame after starting off the season in impressive fashion during non-conference play. The biggest obstacle might have been themselves — two starters were ejected for targeting in the second half and a third along the very thin defensive line left the field with an injury. That’s one way a team gives up 6.5 yards per play and allows their unranked opponent to score five times in the red zone.

Head coach Dan Mullen has pulled off several remarkable victories during his time leading MSU and the latest to keep his opposite number winless in StarkVegas was certainly one of the sweetest. Is it enough to make the Bulldogs a serious threat with heavyweight Alabama in the SEC West? We’ll find out soon enough as their schedule doesn’t get any easier with a trip to Georgia up next. For tonight though, it was all about celebrating a win and clanking that cow bell.

Mississippi State clanga-ing to lead at halftime against No. 12 LSU

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Who is Alabama’s biggest challenger in the SEC West? After one half of play in Starkville, we’re a little closer to figuring out if either No. 12 LSU or Mississippi State are the answer but there remains plenty of time to sort things out in the first big division battle of the 2017 season.

As expected, the Tigers and the Bulldogs were locked into a bruising struggle that featured plenty of tough runs and hard hitting defense typical of this series lately, with the home team clanga-ing (sorry) to a 17-7 lead at halftime on Saturday night.

Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald had to fight and claw his way for every yard but still managed to go 8/13 for 84 yards in the first half, scoring both of MSU touchdowns on a pair of scampers to the end zone while racking up 44 yards on the ground. Running back Aeris Williams was the real surprise though, nearly hitting the century mark with 91 yards rushing and a lofty seven yard average per rush.

While things were going okay for the Bulldogs offense, the same could not be said for the Tigers. Danny Etling struggled to move the ball through the air (four completions, 34 yards) and didn’t free up much room at all for Heisman candidate Derrius Guice (66 yards rushing).

There were just five third downs converted in the entire half so you do get the impression that this will be another extremely close game that could come down to the wire with a few big plays being the deciding factor. Not exactly a surprise given the makeup of these two teams but it certainly could make for a fun final two quarters among the cow bells.

Doak Walker Award watch list highlighted by 2016 semifinalists Barkley and Pettway

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A watch list of the top running backs in the nation has been released by the PwC SMU Athletic Forum on Thursday. The Doak Walker Award watch list is full of great players, including 2016 Doak Walker Award semifinalists Saquon Barkley (Penn State) and Kamryn Pettway (Auburn).

Among those included on this year’s initial Doak Walker Award watch list (more players can be added at any time) are LSU’s Derrius Guice, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, LJ Scott of Michigan State, Mike Weber of Ohio State, and Bo Scarbrough of Alabama, Washington’s Myles Gaskin, and Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin.

D’Onta Foreman of Texas beat out both Barkley and Pettway last season for the award. The Doak Walker Award has been presented to the nation’s top running back annually since 1990. Among the winners over the years have included Ricky Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Reggie Bush, and Montee Ball.

To be included on this watch list, the university athletic department must submit a nomination.

2017 Doak Walker Award Watch List

Josh Adams, Notre Dame
Ryquell Armstead, Temple
Kalen Ballage, Arizona State
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Alex Barnes, Kansas State
Jamauri Bogan, Western Michigan
D’Angelo Brewer, Tulsa
Nick Chubb, Georgia
Jordan Chunn, Troy
Justin Crawford, West Virginia
Damarea Crockett, Missouri
Rico Dowdle, South Carolina
D’Andre Ferby, WKU
Kendrick Foster, Illinois
Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan
Myles Gaskin, Washington
James Gilbert, Ball State
Derrius Guice, LSU
Damien Harris, Alabama
Kyle Hicks, TCU
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Jon Hilliman, Boston College
Justin Jackson, Northwestern
Chris James, Wisconsin
Ty Johnson, Maryland
Ronald Jones II, USC
Ray Lawry, Old Dominion
Phillip Lindsay, Colorado
Tonny Lindsey Jr., Utah State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Sony Michel, Georgia
Dedrick Mills, Georgia Tech
David Montgomery, Iowa State
Jamal Morrow, Washington State
Ryan Nall, Oregon State
Jacques Patrick, Florida State
Kamryn Pettway, Auburn
Demario Richard, Arizona State
Diocemy Saint Juste, Hawaii
Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
Jordan Scarlett, Florida
LJ Scott, Michigan State
Bradrick Shaw, Wisconsin
Armand Shyne, Utah
Justin Silmon, Kansas State
Ito Smith, Southern Miss
Rodney Smith, Minnesota
Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky
Terry Swanson, Toledo
Shaq Vann, Eastern Michigan
Akrum Wadley, Iowa
Mark Walton, Miami
Warren Wand, Arkansas State
Tre Watson, California
Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt
Mike Weber, Ohio State
Braeden West, SMU
Devwah Whaley, Arkansas
Aeris Williams, Mississippi State
Shaun Wilson, Duke
Marquis Young, Massachusetts

Pair of 2015 finalists part of Ray Guy Award watch list

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Like its foot counterpart the Groza Award, the Ray Guy Award has a decidedly familiar feel to its preseason watch list.

Among the 28 players that make up this year’s list for the punting award, named in honor of the former Southern Miss great who was the first punter ever elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, are two finalists for last year’s award — San Jose State’s Michael Carrizosa and Colorado State’s Hayden Hunt.  The winner of the 2015 Ray Guy Award was Tom Hackett of Utah.

All 10 FBS conferences and one independent (BYU) are represented, led by the SEC’s five.  The Mountain West is next with four, followed by the AAC, Big 12 and Conference USA with three apiece.

The vast majority of the watch listers are juniors or seniors, with the lone exceptions being a pair of sophomores — Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert and Kansas State’s Nick Walsh.

Player attendees for SEC Media Days revealed

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Yet another sign that a new season is quickly coming up on the horizon?  Media days attendees get full-blown attention.

The first Power Five conference up on the Media Days circuit in 2016 is the SEC, so that conference also becomes the first to reveal which players each of its 14 teams will send to the July 11-14 event in Hoover, Ala.  A total of 42 players, along with their head coaches, will be made available to the media throughout the four-day football kickoff.

In what may tell you something about the state of the quarterback position in the conference, just three signal-callers — Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs, Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly, Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight — will attend.  Conversely, five tight ends will be a part of the festivities.

Being invited by your team is considered an honor and thus leans heavily toward seniors, and such is the case this year as 29 players listed as being part of that class will take part.  There are 12 juniors in the group, meaning there’s only one non-upperclassman — South Carolina sophomore wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

Alabama
Jonathan Allen, Sr., DL
O.J. Howard, Sr., TE
Eddie Jackson, Sr., DB

Arkansas
Brooks Ellis, Sr., LB
Jeremy Sprinkle, Sr., TE
Deatrich Wise Jr., Sr., DL

Auburn
Montravius Adams, Sr., DL
Marcus Davis, Sr., WR
Carl Lawson, Jr., DL

Florida
Jarrad Davis, Sr., LB
Marcus Maye, Sr., DB
David Sharpe, Jr., OL

Georgia
Jeb Blazevich, Jr., TE
Brandon Kublanow, Sr., C/OG
Dominick Sanders, Jr., SS

Kentucky
Jojo Kemp, Sr., RB
Courtney Love, Jr., LB
Jon Toth, Sr., C

LSU
Leonard Fournette, Jr., RB
Ethan Pocic, Sr., C
Tre’Davious White, Sr., DB

Ole Miss
Evan Engram, Sr., TE
D.J. Jones, Sr., DT
Chad Kelly, Sr., QB

Mississippi State
Richie Brown, Sr., LB
A.J. Jefferson, Sr., DL
Fred Ross, Sr., WR

Missouri
Sean Culkin, Sr., TE
Charles Harris, Jr., DE
Michael Scherer, Sr., LB

South Carolina
Marquavius Lewis, Sr., DL
Deebo Samuel, So., WR
Mason Zandi, Sr., OL

Tennessee
Joshua Dobbs, Sr., QB
Jalen Reeves‐Maybin, Sr., LB
Cameron Sutton, Sr., DB

Texas A&M
Myles Garrett, Jr., DL
Trevor Knight, Sr., QB
Ricky Seals‐Jones, Jr., WR

Vanderbilt
Oren Burks, Jr., LB
Zach Cunningham, Jr., LB
Ralph Webb, Jr., RB