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

Missouri set to rent empty dorm rooms to fans for football weekends

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Homecoming could be taken to another level at Missouri this fall with a chance for Tigers fans to actually spend a weekend in their old dorm rooms.

As part of an effort to make up several budget shortfalls and adjust to dwindling freshman enrollment, Mizzou revealed plans this week to rent out unused dorm rooms in residence halls for football games and other campus events. The St. Louis Post Dispatch adds that the concept has been in the works for some time and a mind-boggling seven residence halls have been taken offline in the wake of a huge drop in the number of students following a number of serious issues at the Columbia campus.

Guests who want to bypass a local hotel for games and sign up for the opportunity will be able to grab a furnished, two-bedroom suite with four single beds for $120/night. Internet access, bed sheets and towels are included and you can even head on down to the campus cafeteria to boot in order to buy food. For those planning on tailgating before a big game, the Post Dispatch notes that the school is still discussing whether alcohol will be allowed in the rooms.

While the ability to stay in an actual dorm room is pretty unique when it comes to the SEC football experience at the school, the reason for even taking this step should raise eyebrows even further given the situation at Mizzou. Student protests rocked the campus two years ago and Columbia really hasn’t been the same since with declining enrollment dropping off sharply ever since to further add to the crisis at the university.

Though financial necessities may be forcing the Tigers to go this route with unused dorms, it will be interesting to see if other schools in less dire situations at least take a look at emulating the concept on a smaller scale for game days in the future. Several universities around the country already have on-campus hotels so taking the next step to Airbnb some dorms seems like it will be in the cards for a football Saturday soon enough.

Buffalo reportedly receives state approval for new $18 million football field house

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If it seems like every college football program has an indoor facility nowadays, that’s because it’s a statement that is pretty close to being true. Now it’s time to cross one of the few remaining FBS holdouts off the list of those without one as Buffalo has finally gotten a thumbs up to build one just across the street from the school’s football stadium.

Buffalo Business First reports that the state has given the green light to a nearly $18 million field house project and that the university could issue construction bids for the building as soon as next week.

The project will check off a lot of boxes for the athletic department and the football team in particular. It reportedly will result in a 90,000-square-foot facility that includes both a full turf field and a small track. The exact timeline still appears to be up in the air a bit but it seems as though the school will receive bids soon and then commence construction sometime in early 2018.

That’s welcome news for head coach Lance Leipold as the Bulls were the lone MAC school without an indoor facility as of 2017. Given the winters (and fall’s and spring’s…) in upstate New York, the addition of a place to practice and train away from the elements should be a boon for the program going forward.

Kansas planning $300 million stadium renovation and new indoor football facility

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No matter how good or bad your football team is nowadays, chances are high that your school is planning to upgrade football facilities in order to keep up with the burgeoning college athletics arms race.

Case in point lies in Lawrence, where Kansas is set to embark on a whopping $300 million renovation of Memorial Stadium that will also include an indoor practice facility. AD Sheahon Zenger disclosed the plans on Wednesday night while speaking at a booster function, according to the Kansas City Star.

“It will be something that will be just that next step in transcending our program to the next level,” Jayhawks head coach David Beaty reportedly said. “We really do have to keep up with the facility war that goes on out there.”

Memorial Stadium is one of the older stadiums in the Big 12, dating back to the 1921 opening of the site. While there have been a handful of updates in the past few years, there hasn’t really been much of a major renovation since 1998-99. Plans for the updated design and any additional features should be unveiled in September based on the timeline that Zenger disclosed.

No word on if Kansas is planning on adding any waterfalls to project just yet however.

Arkansas State stadium expansion includes pair of waterfalls

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The college athletics’ arms race of the past few decades has produced a number of unique designs when it comes to various stadiums and other football-centric facilities. Just about everybody is trying to hang their hat on something new and different to set themselves apart from the crowd and that ethos is seemingly creeping into just about every design element in any new building across the country.

Arkansas State appears to be the latest program to go in this direction and, based on new renderings of a north end zone project for Centennial Bank Stadium that were released on Thursday, the school is perfectly content to ignore TLC’s advice and start chasing actual waterfalls.

“This project will allow us to attract the top students in the country and provide first-class services to develop our students on and off the playing surfaces,” athletic director Terry Mohajir said in a statement on the school’s website for the project. “Additionally, we’ve created a unique feature to pay homage to the great state of Arkansas, the Natural State.”

This is far from the only water feature to be incorporated into a stadium in recent years (Jacksonville’s EverBank Field — home to the annual Florida-Georgia game — has a pool after all) but is a little bit outside the box for a smaller FBS school’s stadium. The two waterfalls are set to be placed on either side of the north end zone grandstand and include a new outdoor premium seating area as well. Also included in the project are a new weight room, a training/rehabilitation area, new football locker room, position meeting rooms, a players’ lounge, academic rooms and team-theater meeting area.

No cost breakdown or timeline were given but safe to say the former will involve millions of dollars and the latter will result in several years passing before the water is flowing in Jonesboro.