Nick Saban

CFT predicts: the SEC


Home of the last six BCS champions, the SEC will try to make it seven straight this season. The power of the SEC should once again reside in the West with Alabama, Arkansas and LSU all eyeing a trip to Atlanta. The East? It’s a work in progress as traditional powers Florida and Tennessee try to reclaim the glory days. Who knows, maybe Missouri will sneak in and grab a divisional title in its first year.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how I see the SEC shaking out this season:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

East Division

1. Georgia (last season: 10-4, lost Outback Bowl)
After spending a couple of years on the hot seat, Georgia coach Mark Richt, who is as upstanding and genuine as any coach you’ll meet, sold his soul to Satan for a 10-win season and SEC title game appearance. But, karma’s a you-know-what, and the Bulldogs have witnessed an offseason of unusually high player attrition. Sounds like Georgia doesn’t stand much of a chance, huh? Well, you’re forgetting one thing: it’s the SEC East. Plus, picking South Carolina may as well be the kiss of death. Speaking of which …

2. South Carolina (last season: 11-2; won Capital One Bowl) 
Based on the Gamecocks’ inverse theory of expectations*, where preseason high praise and lauding inevitably lead to disaster later, this should be a relatively good sign for Steve Spurrier and Co. Another good one? Running back Marcus Lattimore. He’s back after suffering a season-ending knee injury a year ago. So, by picking South Carolina to finish second in the East, I’m actually secretly projecting the Gamecocks to finish first. I think. I don’t know.

(*see also: Clemson)

3. Tennessee (last season: 5-7) 
Tennessee is the super sexy sleeper pick for the East title. The Vols return a boatload of starters, but I’m not a huge believer in Tyler Bray yet — though in his defense, Bray wasn’t healthy for much of last season. Nevertheless, this is a crucial year for head coach Derek Dooley. Three losing seasons just isn’t going to do it in Knoxville, not when the fan base is used to winning and the program is pouring money into facilities. The Vols do have two outstanding receivers, though: Justin Hunter (when he’s healthy) and Da’Rick Rogers (when his head is on straight).

4. Florida (last season: 7-6; won Gator Bowl) 
The dropoff in the East starts here. I like the move to pick up Brent Pease as the team’s new offensive coordinator from Boise State and the Gators return some key playmakers from a top 25 defense a year ago. The schedule sets up nicely for Florida too with LSU and South Carolina at home, plus Florida avoids Alabama and Arkansas. If Florida can be a little — okay, a lot — more efficient on offense,  it can be competitive in the East.

5. Missouri (last season in Big 12: 8-5; won Independence Bowl) 
This is where it starts to even out in the East division. Frankly, I can see spots 4-6 all being shuffled around easily. I’m going to go with Missouri here because of the health of quarterback James Franklin. Although coach Gary Pinkel has insisted time and time again Franklin will be ready by the start of the season following shoulder surgery, I’m skeptical that he can stay healthy all season. And it’s not like Mizzou has amazing depth behind Franklin, either. The Tigers will do better in their inaugural year in the SEC than Texas A&M, but I still get the feeling there will be a somewhat rude awakening.

6. Vanderbilt (last season: 6-7; lost Music City Bowl) 
I absolutely love what James Franklin is building at Vanderbilt. He’s a relentless recruiter and the university is recognizing what it needs to do to stay competitive by improving facilities. Franklin may eventually compete, and possibly win, an SEC East title … just not this year. But, watch out: Vandy could upset South Carolina in the first game of the season and the Commodores’ toughest SEC West opponent is Auburn.

7. Kentucky (last season: 5-7) 
Hey, at least Mississippi isn’t alone in the SEC cellar. Kentucky’s non-conference slate is manageable, but that’s about it. Ticket sales are lagging too, showing the crowd in Lexington has probably had enough of the Joker Phillips era unless he does something to generate excitement. I don’t think he does, and the Wildcats finish last in the East.

West Division

1. Alabama (last season: 12-1; won BCS championship)
I picked against the Crimson Tide to win the West prior to last season, which turned out to be a somewhat accurate prediction. But, because I’m a well-documented numbskull, I unwisely disrespected the Tide again in the BCS championship game without considering that it’s nearly impossible to beat Nick Saban head-to-head when he has weeks to prepare. Point being, I’m not going to pick against Alabama again this season. I expect much improvement from quarterback A.J. McCarron after watching him make good (or otherwise non-lethal) decisions in the BCS championship game. Replacing Trent Richardson won’t be a big deal, but going on the road to Arkansas and LSU will be.

2. Arkansas (last season: 11-2; won Cotton Bowl) 
Say what you will about Bobby Petrino the man — and there’s a lot to be said —  but the guy could flat out coach a college football team. But, hey, you go for a ride on a motorcycle with your subordinate who you just so happen to be sleeping with, and a couple lies later, you’re out of a job. It happens. Now, the Hogs move on with former assistant coach John L Smith. The guy has a 10-month contract and a team primed to make a SEC championship run. Tyler Wilson should have been in a hospital with the hits he took last year, so there’s no arguing his toughness. Also returning is the explosive, yet oft-injured running back Knile Davis. Arkansas’ defense is stacked with seniors, and while I like the fact that the Hogs get ‘Bama and LSU at home, Smith is the wild card here.

3. LSU (last season: 13-1; lost BCS championship) 
I’m going to go out on a limb with the preseason No. 1 team (in the coaches’ poll). The defending SEC champion will be this year what Arkansas was last year: a talented team (now without Tyrann Mathieu) stuck in a division with two other phenomenal teams. Because of that, I’m going to put the Tigers at No. 3 in the West. I keep hearing that quarterback Zach Mettenberger is the missing piece for the Tigers if they want to win another BCS championship. That’s interesting considering he’s completely unproven. I know, I know, so were McCarron, Cam Newton and Greg McElroy when they won national championships. That trend stops this year.

4. Auburn (last season 8-5; won Chick-fil-A Bowl) 
2011 was a somewhat sobering year for Auburn, which was just removed from a BCS championship and a Heisman winning quarterback. The Tigers lost five games last season by an average of just under 28 points per game. First order of business? A new defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder. Second order? Develop some household names on offense not named Phillip Lutzenkirchen in Scot Loeffler‘s more pro style offense. Running back Michael Dyer is gone and he gave the Tigers back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but Onterio McCalebb is back.  So is leading receiver Emory Blake. I’m looking for both guys to have huge years.

5. Mississippi State (last season: 7-6; won Music City Bowl) 
Auburn and Mississippi State could be flipped, but Auburn should win the early-season matchup in Starkville and I like the Tigers’ talent more. Outside of that game, though, the Bulldogs’ first seven games could give them a hot start; it’s the final five games that could give Mississippi State trouble. Save the season-ending Egg Bowl against Mississippi, the Bulldogs’ schedule is backloaded with games against Alabama, LSU and Arkansas — and two of those are on the road. Also, I’m still waiting for a program-defining win from Dan Mullen.

6. Texas A&M (last season in Big 12: 7-6; won Meineke Car Care Bowl) 
Kevin Sumlin made a promise that Texas A&M will “fight its ass off” this season. Awesome. So will every other team. The Aggies may be changing conferences, but the things that win football games don’t. A&M does have the chance to start off right by hosting Florida on Sept. 8, but there’s nothing fun about A&M’s schedule starting Sept. 29. There’s too much turnover for Sumlin and Co. to contend for a West title right away.

7. Mississippi (last season: 2-10) 
It’s going to be a tough first year for Hugh Freeze. I’m not convinced all the JUCO players in Mississippi could help the Rebels, either. A soft non-conference schedule might help build some confidence for the Rebels, but 2012 has the looks of a winless conference record.

CFT’s SEC champion: Alabama


Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ’em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA
Mountain West
Sun Belt

S. Miss rolls over LaTech, sets up C-USA title tilt with WKU

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Head coach Todd Monken of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles yells to his team during the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Western Kentucky earned one of the spots in the Conference USA championship game on Black Friday.  A day later, they learned who will be their competition on the other sidelines next weekend.

Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech came into their game Saturday tied atop the West division standings at 6-1, effectively turning the contest into a play-in game.  Thanks to a huge day from quarterback Nick Mullens, the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 24-10 halftime and really poured it on in the fourth quarter in rolling to a 58-24 win over the Bulldogs.

Mullens passed for 386 yards and three touchdowns in the win.  It was Ito Smith, though, who put the final nails in the Bulldogs’ coffin as the USM back ran for three fourth-quarter touchdowns to turn the game into a rout.

With the win, Southern Miss will move on to face Western Kentucky in the conference championship game next Saturday afternoon in Bowling Green.  The Hilltoppers finished a perfect 8-0 in conference play to the Golden Eagles’ 7-1, giving WKU the home-field advantage.

Southern Miss will be playing in its first Conference USA title game and third overall.  WKU is in just its second season in Conference USA, and will be playing for its first conference title.

The division title also continues the quietly astounding turnaround head coach Todd Monken has fashioned in Hattiesburg.  In Monken’s first year, coming off a winless 2012 season, the Eagles went 1-11 and followed it up with a 3-9 2014 campaign.  With two games remaining in 2015, Monken has his team sitting at 9-3, easily the team’s best record since going 12-2 in Larry Fedora‘s last season in 2011.

Report: Toledo HC Matt Campbell likely taking same job at Iowa State

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Six days ago, Iowa State announced that it had dismissed head coach Paul Rhoads.  Less than a week later, it appears the Cyclones have found a replacement.

According to a report from, Toledo head coach Matt Campbell has emerged as the front-runner for the ISU job and is expected to agree to a deal in the next 48 hours.  To put an exclamation point on the report, interviews with all other candidates have been canceled.

The 35-year-old Campbell has gone 35-15 during his four seasons with the Rockets.  UT had a chance to wrap up a spot in the MAC championship game, but a loss Friday handed the West division to Northern Illinois.

Campbell will be taking over a Cyclones team that has gone 8-27 overall and 4-23 in Big 12 play the last three seasons.  ISU has won eight or more games in a season just once since 1978, going 9-3 under Dan McCarney in 2000.  That was just the second season in program history in which the Cyclones won nine or more games, with the other coming back in 1906.

No. 8 Ohio State pounds No. 10 Michigan, awaits PSU-MSU result

Ezekiel Elliott
Associated Press

Whatever Ohio State team that was that took the field last in last week’s debacle against Michigan State, you had to know a different group would make the trip up north to Ann Arbor. Looking like the version of itself many expected the entire season, No. 8 Ohio State thumped No. 10 Michigan 42-13 at the Big House.

Similar to games past in this run of dominance the Buckeyes have enjoyed over the Wolverines — make it four in a row, 11 of the past 12 and 13 of 15 since Jim Tressel‘s arrival in 2001 — Ohio State dominated both lines of scrimmage. Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett combined to rush….

It was enough to leave one believing this Buckeyes team, the team we saw Saturday afternoon, in the second half against Virginia Tech and a handful of times elsewhere, truly is the best team in the country – or at least one of the top four. It was also enough to leave one wondering why last week’s performance was allowed to happen.

The downpour started on the Buckeyes’ second possession when, two plays after a roughing the punter penalty at its own 9 extended the drive, Elliott rumbled 66 yards and Barrett walked in from seven yards out two snaps later. After a Michigan field goal, Ohio State again rumbled 75 yards, with Elliott and Barrett rushing on all but one of the eight snaps, capped by a five-yard Elliott rush.

Jake Rudock hit Jehu Chesson for a five-yard touchdown to pull the Wolverines within 14-10 at the half, but Michigan’s second-ranked rush defense found no answers for Ohio State’s ground game in the locker room.

Ohio State moved 82 yards in eight plays, capped by a highlight 25-yard Jalin Marshall touchdown grab, to push the lead back to two scores.

The Buckeyes put the game out of reach for good with two more lengthy drives — consuming 84 and 75 yards — punctuated by Barrett (13 yards) and Elliott (10 yards) scoring dashes.

Barrett put the cherry on top with a 17-yard touchdown run, ending his day with 19 carries for 139 yards and three touchdowns to go with 113 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-13 passing. Elliott totaled 214 yards and two scores on 30 carries.

As a team, Ohio State out-rushed the Wolverines 371-57, pounding out an even seven yards a carry while limiting Michigan to 2.28.

The win moved Ohio State to 11-1 on the season (7-1 Big Ten) and keeps the club’s faint hopes of a second straight Big Ten championship alive, pending Saturday afternoon’s Michigan State-Penn State result, while keeping the Buckeyes in the mix to benefit in the event Clemson, Alabama, or Oklahoma lose between now and Selection Sunday. At the very worst, Ohio State, which remains unbeaten in true road games under Urban Meyer and 6-2 overall inside Michigan Stadium since the turn of the century, figures to be in line for an at-large berth in the Peach or Fiesta bowl.

Michigan (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) now has a month-plus with which to reconcile a season that looked and played much better than a Brady Hoke season, but offers a very similar result. Jim Harbaugh‘s Wolverines had a plan and executed it, but in the end they’re left with another season without a win over Michigan State or Ohio State, another season without a Big Ten championship, and another season ending outside a major bowl game.

No. 1 Clemson survives late push from South Carolina, heads to ACC title game unbeaten

Wayne Gallman, Rico McWilliams
Associated Press

Clemson gave South Carolina chances to pull one of those only-in-a-rivalry-game stunners, but the No. 1 Tigers were too much for the three-win Gamecocks, pulling out a 37-32 win in Columbia.

Clemson lost fumbles near midfield on two of its first three possessions, but South Carolina achieved only a three-and-out and a missed field goal on the two following touches.

The Tigers then broke the game open by scoring touchdowns on their next four non-clock killing possessions, scoring on a pair of Deshaun Watson runs (from five and 30 yards out), a 55-yard Watson strike to Deon Cain and a four-yard C.J. Fuller plunge, turning a scoreless tie into a 28-10 blowout late in the third quarter.

But South Carolina climbed back in the game, first on a 57-yard heave from Perry Orth to Pharoh Cooper and then, after a Clemson fumble, a one-yard Shon Carson run. Lorenzo Nunez‘s two-point conversion made the score 28-25 with 12:19 remaining.

Watson answered by driving Clemson 75 yards in 10 plays, ending the push with his third scoring run of the day — this time from three yards out.

South Carolina (3-9) could not muster a second rally, going three-and-out on the ensuing possession and then turning the ball over on downs at its own 25 with 1:28 remaining to end any hope of a comeback. Greg Huegel added a 36-yard field goal for Clemson with 1:22 remaining, and South Carolina posted a cosmetic touchdown pass from Orth to Deebo Samuel with one tick left on the clock.

Watson closed the day with Heisman-like numbers, hitting 20-of-27 passes for 279 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions while rushing 21 rushes for 114 yards and three touchdowns. Wayne Gallman added 19 carries for 102 yards, and the Tigers out-gained the ‘Cocks 515-402 while holding a 26-17 first downs advantage.

The win moves Clemson to 12-0 on the season — its first 12-0 record since claiming the 1981 national championship — heading into an ACC Championship showdown with once-beaten and 14th-ranked North Carolina next Saturday in Charlotte.

The win also ends Clemson’s three-game losing streak at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Tigers beat the cross-state Gamecocks in back-to-back years for the first time since 2007-08 and extended their all-time lead to 67-42-4 in a series dating back to 1896.