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Quarterbacks take the SEC spotlight

Tyler Russell finished 20-of-29 with 222 yards and three touchdowns vs. Auburn. (Courtesy: hailstate.com) Tyler Russell finished 20-of-29 with 222 yards and three touchdowns vs. Auburn. (Courtesy: hailstate.com)

(RNN) - Here's a weekly look at five of the SEC's top performers from Week 2 and who to watch in Week 3.

Top performers:

1. Tyler Russell, QB, Mississippi State

Mississippi State answered its first big challenge of the season with a dominating performance against Auburn. Russell led the way, finding nine receivers for 222 yards and three touchdowns against a shaky Auburn secondary. He was named the SEC's offensive player of the week.

It was the first time since 1999 the Bulldogs opened SEC play with a win, and only the second time in 12 years they have beaten Auburn. While the loss for Auburn (0-2) could send the Tigers into a free fall, the opposite is true for Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0) climbed into the "others receiving votes" section of the Associated Press Top 25 and are only a few more votes away from cracking the rankings. They get to enjoy being undefeated in SEC play, playing Troy and South Alabama in the next two weeks. After an off week, Kentucky and Tennessee will try to take the Bulldogs' undefeated mark away from them.

If Russell can continue his efficient passing and the Bulldog defense harasses quarterbacks the way it did Auburn's Kiehl Frazier, each of those games is winnable and could propel Mississippi State to a 7-0 start before facing current No. 1 Alabama.

2. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia

Jones was the national defensive player of the week, after he single-handedly crushed any hopes Missouri (1-1, 0-1) had for a win in its SEC opener.

Before Saturday, the only news about Georgia's defense was about suspended players who would not be playing. Jones put that talk to a stop with eight tackles, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble. The interception and forced fumble came with Georgia holding a slim, 7-point lead in the fourth quarter.

Missouri QB James Franklin threw a short pass over the middle and didn't bother to look for Jones. That was a problem, because Jones was standing where the ball went. He caught it and took it to the 1-yard line. Georgia scored, and the next possession Jones sacked Franklin from behind and forced a fumble. Georgia recovered the ball, scored again and won 41-20.

3. Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida

Florida didn't have a lot of offense against Texas A&M, but when it came time to put points on the board, Gillislee got the job done. Florida had two touchdowns and Gillislee scored both of them. He also had 83 yards rushing on 14 carries and is the current leading rusher in the SEC.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel played well for the Gators (2-0, 1-0), but the threat of Gillislee's runs are forcing defenses to account for him on every play. This will be important throughout the season, but especially next week against Tennessee.

If Florida can use Gillislee to power long, slow, methodical drives, it will keep Tennessee's offense on the sideline and avoid getting into a shootout, which Florida's offense has not shown it can do. The Vols' rushing defense hasn't been put to much of a test yet, but Gillislee will certainly do that.

4. Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss

For starters, Ole Miss hasn't played anyone of note yet so any discussion of what the Rebels (2-0) will do this year is premature. That being said, Bo Wallace is showing that the Ole Miss offense may have a spark to it. He had 264 yards and two touchdowns against Central Arkansas and 174 yards and three touchdowns against UTEP.

It's going to be three weeks before the Rebels play an SEC team, and they will play all eight of their conference opponents back-to-back, starting with Alabama on Sept. 29. The Rebels will get a big test this weekend against Texas. If the offense can keep going against the Longhorns, Ole Miss may have something brewing. If not, the Rebels will continue to labor in obscurity.

5. Maxwell Smith, QB, Kentucky

Ditto for Kentucky (1-1). Smith had 280 yards passing and two touchdowns in a loss to Louisville and 254 yards and four TDs in a win over Kent State. This week, Kentucky gets Western Kentucky, which was dismantled by Alabama last week.

But after that comes six straight games the Wildcats are expected to lose, starting with a road game against Florida. It's been a long time since Kentucky could be excited about something on the gridiron and if Smith can't force the likes of Florida and South Carolina - both with questionable secondaries - into a shootout, it will be even longer.

Who to watch for in Week 3:

1. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee

Let's go ahead and say Tyler Bray should be watched every week. Tennessee's defense hasn't faced a tough test yet and if it falters, Bray will have to pick up the slack. He's looked more than capable of doing that with consecutive 300-plus yard games to open the year.

But Tennessee (2-0) gets Florida this week – with ESPN's College GameDay crew in attendance - in a game that will show if the Vols are ready for big-time football again. A win over the Gators would set up a Sept. 29 showdown with Georgia that will have the nation's attention.

If Bray can add to his 643 yards and six touchdowns and capitalize on Tennessee's big-play potential, it could be a relatively easy day. Tennessee's running game hasn't shown a lot of consistency, so Bray will be the key to Tennessee's success, both now and in the future.

2. Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas

If anyone has the opportunity to step up and make a name for himself this week it is Davis. First, performing well against Alabama's defense will get anyone noticed and second, Arkansas' quarterback situation is in doubt.

Tyler Wilson went out of the Razorbacks' loss to Louisiana-Monroe after taking some hits to the head. He is considered day-to-day. Even if the QB can play against Alabama, Davis will still be important, because without balance, there is no chance Arkansas (1-1) can move the ball consistently against the Crimson Tide (2-0).

Davis has just 132 rushing yards for the season and two touchdowns. Considering Arkansas has played Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe, that number is dreadful. If the trend continues, and Wilson can't rebound from last year's season-ending injury, The Razorbacks (1-1) could be in the same situation as Auburn. Auburn's issues have already been exposed against quality opponents. Arkansas still has a lot of unknowns.

3. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama

With the way McCarron has been playing recently, Alabama could easily become a passing team. Opposing defenses will key on the Crimson Tide's running game regardless of how well it performs. The Tide's talent commands that type of respect. But while they wait for Alabama to run, McCarron is throwing to open receivers and racking up touchdowns at a rate Alabama quarterbacks aren't known for.

McCarron has six passing touchdowns so far, which is tied for first in the SEC. Under Nick Saban, Alabama has had a balanced offense but relies on the passing game in the red zone. McCarron has been taking advantage of that play calling, while leading the Tide to two easy wins.

With Arkansas' defense faltering early, the opportunities will be there again this week.

4. Connor Shaw/Dylan Thompson, QB, South Carolina

It isn't known yet which of these players will start, but either way all eyes will be on him.

Shaw is dealing with a shoulder injury he suffered against Vanderbilt, and Thompson is coming off a three-touchdown game over East Carolina. If Shaw can't play against Alabama-Birmingham this week, Thompson could make a claim to becoming the permanent starter.

If Shaw can play and is not limited, his running ability could help him cement his claim to the starting job. With games against Missouri and Kentucky coming up in the next few weeks, the Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0) will be paying close attention to their signal callers.

The last thing South Carolina needs is another quarterback controversy, but one is brewing whether anyone wants to acknowledge it.

5. Kiehl Frazier, QB, Auburn

One interception, one fumble or one unnecessary sack and Frazier will likely get booed. And it will be for good reason.

Auburn has been terrible. Frazier had five turnovers in a 28-10 loss to Mississippi State. But this week, Tigers coach Gene Chizik confirmed his commitment to Frazier as the starter, saying the turnovers are "part of a young quarterback's journey."

Frazier will be the starter against Louisiana-Monroe this week, but Auburn follows that game with home contests against LSU and Arkansas.

Chizik named Frazier the starter in August, but has said that a change is not out of the question if things go south - which they are starting to do. It's worth noting that Frazier's backup, Clint Moseley, made six starts for the Tigers last year.

Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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