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.

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

No. 17 South Florida breaks AP Poll-era record of consecutive games with 30-plus points

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South Florida has been viewed by most as a bit of a disappointment this season. Such is the burden of perfection, because a so-called disappointing start still sees Charlie Strong‘s Bulls sitting at No. 16 in the AP poll with a 6-0 start and its streak of scoring 30-plus points still intact.

Correction: South Florida’s AP Poll-era record streak of scoring 30-plus points is still intact.

The Bulls beat Tulane 34-28 on Saturday, pushing the streak to 24 games. And according to ESPN’s Stats and Information department, that is now the FBS record for the AP poll era, which dates back to 1936.

For the year, South Florida is tied for ninth in FBS with a 41.6 scoring average. The Bulls are one of seven FBS teams to average more than 300 rushing yards per game, and one of just three non-triple option teams to accomplish the feat, joining Arizona and No. 13 Notre Dame.

The streak could actually be at 25 games right now if not for Hurricane Irma. The storm forced South Florida to push back at trip to Connecticut from Sept. 9 to Nov. 4 and in the process eliminated a scheduled Oct. 14 game against UMass. UConn and UMass both allow more than 30 points per game.

As it stands, South Florida has a great shot to push the record to at least 27 games. The Bulls’ next opponent, Houston, allows 24 points a game and just surrendered 42 points in one half in a home loss to No. 25 Memphis. USF visits UConn on Nov. 4, and then concludes its home schedule against Tulsa, who ranks No. 117 nationally with a 37.6 scoring defense average.

Then comes the big test: the regular season finale at No. 20 Central Florida. The Knights rank 16th nationally with 17.5 points per game allowed and have not allowed more than 23 points in a game this season (a game in which they scored 51).

Georgia Southern confirms firing of head coach Tyson Summers

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As was reported by a handful of outlets moments ago, Georgia Southern has now confirmed that Tyson Summers is out as head coach.

Summers went 5-13 as head coach, including an 0-6 mark this season after falling to previously winless Massachusetts 55-20 on Saturday.

“I thank Tyson and his family for their contributions to Georgia Southern,” AD Tom Kleinlein said in a statement. “Being the leader of a college football program is more than just coaching games; it’s managing academics and leading 120 young men. Tyson did a great job in areas that the public doesn’t see, but at the end of the day, the results on the field weren’t where we needed them to be as we continue our growth as an FBS program. I wish he and his family all the best moving forward in their future endeavors.”

Kleinlein also confirmed that assistant head coach Chad Lunsford will be bumped to interim head coach.

“Chad is as ‘True Blue’ as they come and I’m excited to have him lead our team for the remainder of the 2017 season,” Kleinlein said. “The players respect him and I have full confidence in his abilities as we head into the final six games of the season.”

Lunsford will begin his tenure as interim head coach at Troy on Saturday.

Reports: Tyson Summers out at Georgia Southern

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One of the least surprising coaching moves of the 2017 cycle has now been made. As first reported by FootballScoop and since confirmed by Brett McMurphy and SB Nation’s Steven GodfreyTyson Summers is out at Georgia Southern. (Full disclosure: I also work for FootballScoop.)

The one-and-a-half-season Summers era was nothing short of disaster in Statesboro. Hired away after serving one season as Colorado State’s defensive coordinator, Summers turned away from the Eagles’ traditional triple option and immediately paid the price. Georgia Southern’s rushing average fell nearly 150 yards per game and its scoring average shrunk by nearly 10 points as the Eagles sputtered to a 5-7 record.

Summers replaced co-offensive coordinators David Dean and Rance Gillespie after the season, and was promptly sued by both for alleged breach of contract.

Summers returned to the triple option in 2017, hiring Bryan Cook away from Georgia Tech, and has still seen the Eagles’ rushing average fall by close to 50 more yards. A team that averaged 36.5 points and 363 rushing yards two years ago now amasses close to half of that — 18 points a game on 200 rushing yards.

The final straw came Saturday, when the Eagles were blasted 55-20 by previously winless Massachusetts, securing the title as the worst team in FBS in 2017, dropping to 0-6 on the year and 5-13 overall under Summers.

Assistant head coach Chad Lundsford will reportedly serve as interim head coach as Georgia Southern begins the second half of its season at Troy on Saturday.

 

Carla Williams becomes first African-American female Power 5 AD

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Virginia has hired Carla Williams as its new athletics director, the program announced Sunday. The hire makes Williams the fifth female AD at the Power 5 level and the first African-American female AD ever at a Power 5 school.

A press conference to introduce Williams will be held on Monday.

“I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to lead one of the nation’s elite athletics programs,” Williams said in a statement. “Academic achievement, athletic excellence, operating with integrity, a commitment to maximum effort at all times and a strong sense of teamwork and unity are the core principles that will guide our athletics department under my leadership.”

Williams spent 13 years in the athletics administration at Georgia, and was promoted to deputy AD in 2015.

“I am so happy for Carla,” Georgia AD Greg McGarity said in a statement. “She has worked so hard for this opportunity and will be a dynamic leader for the University of Virginia athletics program. Carla has been a tremendous asset to our staff in all areas of the UGA program and her skill set is remarkable. She has experience in virtually every part of our athletic program — from a student-athlete all the way to Deputy Director.  I know I’ll miss working alongside my good friend. We are very proud of Carla and wish her the very best in her role as Director of Athletics at the University of Virginia.”

Williams helped Georgia teams claim 16 NCAA championships and 37 SEC titles during her tenure. At Virginia, she’ll inherit a school with a broad athletics portfolio. The Cavaliers compete in 25 varsity sports and are traditionally strong in men’s and women’s lacrosse. The Hoos claimed their first College World Series championship in 2015, reached the Elite Eight of the 2016 men’s basketball tournament, and stand at 5-2 in Bronco Mendenhall‘s second season as head football coach.

“I think Carla is spectacular,” UVa president-elect Jim Ryan said in a statement. “She is exceedingly well-prepared for this role, but more than that, she is fiercely committed to excellence in both athletics and academics and has a track record of success in both arenas. I cannot wait to work with Carla, a kindred spirit who sees leadership as a chance to serve those around her and to create the conditions for their success.”

Williams succeeds Craig Littlepage, the first African-American AD ever in the ACC, who announced his retirement after 16 years atop the department in September.