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

Despite loss, Ohio State still has good shot to reach College Football Playoff

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 22:  Grant Haley #15 of the Penn State Nittany Lions returns a field goal block 60 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes on October 22, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The impact a single loss can have on a team’s national championship aspirations has been reduced with the introduction o the College Football Playoff. That could be a glimmer of light for Ohio State after losing in unbelievable fashion on the road at Penn State Saturday night.

For Ohio State, the overall picture remains just as in focus as it was before, if the goal is merely to reach the College Football Playoff. Win, and they should be in. Winning out would put Ohio State at 11-1 in the regular season, capped b a win over what could be a highly-ranked Michigan in the regular season finale. That would also give Ohio State a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Wolverines to reach the Big Ten Championship Game. Penn State now owns a critical head-to-head tiebreaker with Ohio State, but in the event of a three-way tie between the Buckeyes, Nittany Lions and Wolverines, Penn State’s overall record could end up being an advantage or Ohio State (if Michigan happens to lose twice and Penn State wins out, Penn State would play for the Big Ten title).

So you see, Ohio State still has a seemingly clear path to the Big Ten championship game and the College Football Playoff, for now. Bur Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer admitted there is work to do, dropping the suggestion his team is not great right now. But a team with as much talent and potential and god coaching as Ohio State has should be able to recapture the momentum. If they do, then look out.

The first batch of College Football Playoff rankings will be telling to figure out jus where Ohio State fits into the conversation, but odds are they will most certainly be on the radar with time to spare and make up any lost ground that came with the road loss last night.

Todd Graham drops ‘chicken****’ on Mike Leach in postgame handshake

RAMOT HASHEVIM, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 26: Israeli egg farmer Dan Aronheim sprays pesticide to kill the flies that breed in the mounds of feces under the cages of his 3,500 Highline breed egg-laying chickens in his small family farm October 26, 2005 in Ramot Hashevim, in central Israel. The livelihood of thousands of small farmers is being threatened by the migration of the H5N1 Avian Flu virus from the Far East to Western Europe. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
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At least postgame, #Pac12AfterDark lived up to its NSFW billing.

Last season, Washington State’s Mike Leach accused his counterpart at Arizona State, Todd Graham, of stealing signs.  Ahead of the Cougars’ Week 8 trip to Tempe to face the Sun Devils, Leach again broached the sign-stealing allegations; that broaching earned Leach a reprimand and a $10,000 fine from the Pac-12.

While Graham had personally stayed relatively mum on the subject, the coach’s athletic director stated they fully supported the conference’s actions as “[o]ur professional integrity was questioned for two straight years by Mike Leach’s irresponsible comments and we will not allow that to happen.” Graham may have been relatively mum during the week, but, in the aftermath of Wazzu’s 37-32 win Saturday night, the coach apparently could no longer bite his tongue.

Leach, of course, was asked about the situation in his postgame presser.

Pirate’s gonna pirate, regardless.

Defense a mere rumor as Oklahoma outlasts Texas Tech in record-setting shootout

LUBBOCK, TX - OCTOBER 22: Patrick Mahomes II #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders passes the ball during the first half of the game against the Oklahoma Sooners on October 22, 2016 at AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
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Certainly there are deceased defensive purists who are rolling over in their graves at the moment.  In fact, there are likely amongst-the-living defensive purists who are currently digging six feet down, jumping in and rolling over just to prove a point.

To what are we referring?  Oklahoma 66, Texas Tech 59 in a game that spanned just four quarters.  Didn’t even go into a single overtime let alone multiple ones to at least buttress the video game-like numbers.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so screen snaps of the offensive carnage are just visually staggering in their breadth and scope:



Where to start?

Well, the teams collectively broke the NCAA record for combined offensive yards in a single game, with their 1,708 yards — exactly 854 for each, incidentally — easily surpassing the 1,640 of San Jose State and Nevada in 2001.  The combined 1,279 yards passing also broke the record of 1,261 yards set during the 2014 Washington State-Cal game.

That Pac-12 game also produced the individual passing record, with Wazzu’s Connor Halliday throwing for 734 yards; Tech’s Patrick Mahomes matched that record in this wild affair.  Mahomes’ 88 pass attempts were just one off the record of 89 set by Halliday in 2013.

Add in 85 yards rushing, and Mahomes became the first player in FBS history to account for more than 800 yards of offense in a single game. The previous record was Halliday’s 751 two years ago.

On the OU side, quarterback Baker Mayfield, who transferred from Lubbock to Norman, set a Sooners record with his seven touchdown passes.  The 1,383 combined yards for Mayfield and Mahomes is an FBS record as well.

Additionally, running back Joe Mixon, with 262 yards rushing and 114 receiving, became just the third FBS player in at least 15 years to go for 250-plus in the former category and 100-plus in the latter.  Dede Westbrook also caught nine passes for 202 yards, making Oklahoma the fifth team in FBS history and first since Oklahoma State in 2008 to have a 300-yard-passer, 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver in the same game.

The Sooners also became the first FBS team with a 500-yard-passer, 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver in a single game.

I’m quite certain that there are myriad school and conference and national records that I missed, but, yeah, you get what was a very offensive point.  And, for that, there’s just no defense.

Leonard Fournette sets school record as LSU runs all over Ole Miss

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 22:  Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers runs past Zedrick Woods #36 of the Mississippi Rebels for a 76-yard touchdown during the first half of a game at Tiger Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for LSU and Leonard Fournette but the two reunited in a big way on Saturday night to run right over Ole Miss in a 38-21 win that put the rest of the SEC back on notice about the team from Baton Rouge.

Fournette needed just eight carries to set a new LSU school record for rushing yards in a game and finished the night with a whopping 284 yards on just 16 carries. The one-time Heisman Trophy front-runner scored three times as well and each one was a highlight in itself: from 59 yards out, another from 76 yards and a final one from 78 yards to embarrass the Ole Miss defense.

Backup Derrius Guice saw his string of 100 yard games come to an end after filling in nicely for Fournette but he did rush for 57 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Danny Etling didn’t have to do much as a result of that attack, throwing for 204 yards, a score and an interception.

Ole Miss was a controversial selection in the top 25 this week at 3-3 entering the game and failed to live up to the hype by dropping their second in a row. Chad Kelly was rattled on just about every throw, finishing with only 209 yards and a touchdown while throwing two picks and getting sacked twice. He didn’t get much help from the Rebels defense either, which was flattened by Fournette and gave up 515 total yards.

The win was LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron’s third in a row and gives the team plenty of momentum heading into their bye week. A home night game against No. 1 Alabama awaits after that and it’s not a stretch to say that the school would make him the permanent head coach if the win streak stretches to four.

There’s a long time between now and then however, but at least on Saturday night LSU looked a lot like the team that was ranked in the top 10 of the preseason polls and had a Heisman Trophy candidate in the backfield.