Nick Saban

CFT predicts: the SEC

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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

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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.

ACC
Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Urban Meyer speaks out against early signing period in recruiting

FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2015, file photo, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer leads his team onto the Michigan Stadium field before an NCAA college football game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. Ohio State University has extended its current sponsorship contract with Nike by 15 years in a deal worth $252 million. The university and the Beaverton, Oregon-based athletic apparel company announced the deal on Thursday. The current partnership had been scheduled to end in July 2018. It will now continue to 2033. (AP Photo/Tony Ding, File)
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Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is no fan of the idea of signing recruits earlier than the traditional signing day in early February. Having pulled in the top classes in the Big Ten each season since his arrival in Columbus, what reason would he have to change the recruiting guidelines? With the topic of a possible early signing period continuing to be discussed at multiple levels, Meyer is standing firm on his stance.

I’m not a fan of that,” Meyer said this week, according to Cleveland.com. “You’re moving it just forward and forward, what if a kid wants to change his mind? (If) he wants to change his mind because of coaching changes or other circumstances, the player should be allowed to change his mind.”

Meyer knows all about recruits changing their minds. In the weeks leading up to National Signing Day, Meyer and Ohio State managed to flip a pair of four-star players previously committed to Maryland on the same day; quarterback Dwayne Haskins and linebacker Keandre Jones. Had either of those two been locked to a commitment with Maryland by way of an early signing period, Ohio State never would have benefitted from the late switches. That also addresses another concern over the early signing period. What happens when a kid commits early only to see the head coach fired or accept another job elsewhere? Should that player be bound to his agreement or be allowed to reopen his recruitment later in the recruiting cycle? That in itself opens a door for concerns, as time could be running out on a recruit as scholarships fill up and programs may be lacking the interest they once had for a variety of reasons (of course, if a four or five-star athlete goes back on the market it is doubtful that kid would not find a decent landing spot even late in the recruiting cycle).

Meyer also addressed another concern with an early signing period that delves into the shadier aspects of recruiting, including contacting high school juniors.”Also, if you’re going to let people contact a junior in a high school in spring, just visualize a great player, what that will look like,” he said. “So don’t go to class the month of May because you’re going to be meeting with coaches all day long.

“Also, if you’re going to let people contact a junior in a high school in spring, just visualize a great player, what that will look like,” Meyer said. “So don’t go to class the month of May because you’re going to be meeting with coaches all day long.”

That could potentially be a tad extreme, but Meyer knows this stuff happens already.

“And they say, well, coaches are doing it anyways. Well fire the coaches, fine the coaches, and then put the schools on probation for the schools that are doing that,” Meyer continued. “So that’s just not the Ohio State — I don’t want to speak for Gene Smith — but I speak for our coaching staff. We feel very strongly about strong regulation and keeping the recruiting calendar as is.”

It would be interesting to know if Meyer felt the same way about this early signing period topic if he were still the head coach at Bowling Green or Utah, but given his current situation — a mighty fine position indeed — as a head coach with a national championship and in charge of one of the true recruiting giants in the game right now, it is only natural Meyer would prefer the status quo. Have no doubt, however, that if an early signing period is adopted and implemented, Meyer and the Buckeyes will be one of the more aggressive programs in the game. Ohio State is already doing a fine job lining up top recruits (Ohio State already has seven four or five-star commitments for the Class of 2017), and a chance to get some of those commitments signed earlier would most certainly be welcomed in Columbus.

Vandy swiping San Diego State assistant Osia Lewis

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Head coach Rocky Long of the San Diego State Aztecs stands near the bench area in the second half of  the Mountain West Championship game against the Air Force Falcons at Qualcomm Stadium on December 5, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
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For the first time this offseason, Rocky Long will be forced to fill a hole on his San Diego State coaching staff.

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Vanderbilt had hired Osia Lewis away from SDSU. Thursday, school officials confirmed to the San Diego Union-Tribune that Lewis will indeed be leaving the Aztecs for a job with the Commodores.

Lewis had spent the past five seasons coaching the defensive line with the Aztecs; it’s expected he’ll have similar duties with the Commodores. What’s not expected is for Lewis to have the specific title of line coach as Derek Mason had previously announced the hiring of Oklahoma’s C.J. Ah You for that job.

Not only had Lewis spent the past five seasons with Long at SDSU, but he was also on Long’s staff at New Mexico for five years (2003-07) as well. During Lewis’ time at SDSU, at least one defensive lineman per season earned All-Mountain West honors, the Union-Tribune noted.

Bret Bielema looks to Kansas for Arkansas’ new RBs coach

Samford v Arkansas
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A week after losing his running backs coach to the NFL for the second straight year, Bret Bielema has looked to the Big 12 for yet another replacement.

Arkansas confirmed in a press release Friday night that Reggie Mitchell will replace Jemal Singleton as the Razorbacks’ running backs coach.  Singleton left last weekend for the same job with the Indianapolis Colts.

Mitchell spent the past six season in the same job at Kansas.  The past two seasons, he held the title of recruiting coordinator.

From 1997-2009, Mitchell was an assistant with Big Ten programs, with stops that included Minnesota (1997-98), Michigan State (1999-2004) and Illinois (2005-09).

“I got to know Reggie during my time in the Big Ten and he was known as a dominant recruiter,” said Bielema, “Over his career he’s recruited and developed elite running backs and athletes that had great college careers and advanced to the NFL. I’m excited about the opportunity to have Coach Mitchell join our staff.”

Stanford confirms hiring of Oklahoma D-line coach Diron Reynolds

Stanford coach David Shaw prepares to lead his team onto the field for an NCAA college football game against Oregon State, in Corvallis, Ore., Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
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Stanford has officially poached Bob Stoops‘ Oklahoma coaching staff.

Following up on reports from earlier in the week, the Cardinal confirmed in a press release Friday that Diron Reynolds has been added as David Shaw‘s defensive line coach.  The move is a return home of sorts for Reynolds as he served as an assistant defensive line coach for the Cardinal in 2014 before spending one season with the Sooners in 2015.

Reynolds replaces Randy Hart, who announced his retirement three days ago after spending six years at the school.

“We are very excited to have Diron return to Stanford,” said Shaw in a statement. “Not only did he work well with Coach Hart a year ago, he is well-versed in our scheme and brings a unique blend of college and NFL experience.”

In addition to his time at Stanford and Oklahoma, Reynolds served as an assistant line coach with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings from 2007-13. Prior to that, he worked with the Indianapolis Colts from 2002-06.

Reynolds’ first job at the collegiate level came at his alma mater, Wake Forest, in 1999-2000. He was the defensive tackles coach at Indiana before moving on to a decade-long stint in the NFL.