Nick Saban

CFT Predicts: the SEC

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As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the SEC. 

And while we’re at it, check out our other conference previews: Big Ten, Pac-12

SEC East

1.  South Carolina (Last year: 11-2; beat Michigan in Outback Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Gamecocks put together an 11-2 season for the second straight year — the first time in school history the program has accomplished such a feat. Yet, Steve Spurrier‘s team still didn’t make it to the SEC championship game despite handing it to SEC champ Georgia 35-7 in Columbia. Also, this happened. You may have seen it before on SportsCenter. 

So why are they ranked here?
South Carolina and Georgia have taken their respective turns representing the East division in the SEC title for the past three years, and it looks like 2013 will be two-team race between these two once again. The Gamecocks get the edge this time because of their defense, which features preseason Heisman candidate Jadeveon Clowney. But it’s not just the projected No. 1 NFL draft pick that makes this defense so good. Cornerback Victor Hampton and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles also return.

Anything else?
That’s a Clowney question, bro. But for real, the offense loses wide receiver Ace Sanders. However, the Gamecocks have a solid wide receiver group led by Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd. 

2. Georgia (Last year: 12-2; beat Nebraska in Capital One Bowl) 
What happened last season?
If only Chris Conley had been a few yards further, Georgia would have been playing in the BCS championship game. Still, 12-2 and a January bowl win aren’t too shabby. Despite getting blasted by South Carolina midway through the season, UGA still won the East division for the second year in a row.

So why are they ranked here?
The Bulldogs’ offense returns so many key players, including seventh-year senior quarterback Aaron Murray and running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. But conversely, it’s the defense that loses just about everyone. There’s plenty of talent on that side of the ball and Todd Grantham is considered one of the best in the business at defense coordinator, but there’s enough turnover to cost the Bulldogs the top spot in the East.

Anything else?
Georgia is the media’s favorite to win the SEC East this year, but the month of September could get the Bulldogs off to a slow start. Georgia faces four tough opponents to start the season: Clemson, South Carolina, North Texas* and LSU.

(*Kidding, obviously. But seriously #GoMeanGreen.) 

3. Florida (Last year: 11-2; lost to Louisville in Sugar Bowl)
What happened last season?
It wasn’t always pretty, but Florida won 11 regular season games with arguably one of the tougher schedules in college football. However, the Gators’ season ended in a Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville, something only our favorite Cardinals fan Mark Ennis could have foreseen.

So why are they ranked here?
This is where the Gators fit. The East will continue to be dominated by Georgia and South Carolina at least for another season, and there are some injury concerns on offense for Florida with wide receiver Andre Debose out for the year and running back Matt Jones out indefinitely with a viral infection. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is now a junior and should be a bigger part of this offense. On defense, this team needs to replace stars Matt Elam, Jelani Jenkins and Sharrif Floyd.

Anything else?
It doesn’t affect SEC records, but the Gators have two meaty non-conference games: the annual rivalry with Florida State and an early season game against Miami, a team some feel are flying under the radar.

4. Vanderbilt (Last year: 9-4; beat NC State in the Music City Bowl)
What happened last season?
Seven straight wins to end 2012 gave Vanderbilt its first nine-win season since 1915. James Franklin continues to do an outstanding job building the Commodores’ brand and is now quickly becoming one of the most intriguing coaches in the game.

So why are they ranked here?
That nine-win season? Yeah, Vandy returns 17 starters from that team a year ago. Leading receiver Jordan Matthews is back, but Chris Boyd, the team’s second-leading receiver, is currently dealing with a legal issue related to a horrific rape allegation involving four former VU players. Still there should be plenty of firepower on offense and the defensive front seven should be a strength.

Anything else?
Vanderbilt’s next step is to knock off a SEC favorite. This team will have four opportunities to do so against South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Texas A&M. A season-opener against Ole Miss could also build some early momentum for the ‘Dores.

5. Missouri (Last year: 5-7) 
What happened last season?
Missouri’s first year in the SEC was, shall we say, eye-opening. The Tigers suffered their first losing season under Gary Pinkel in eight years thanks, at least in part, to the fact that quarterback James Franklin couldn’t stay healthy. Missouri’s only two conference wins came against Kentucky and Tennessee.

So why are they ranked here?
It’s not a stretch to think Mizzou can have, say, a two-game swing in the win column this season. The Tigers don’t have to play Alabama or LSU out of the West and there are about four winnable conference games on the schedule. Franklin has to stay healthy, which could again be an issue if the offensive line doesn’t come through. Running back Henry Josey returns after missing last season with a significant knee injury and one-time five-star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is a sophomore who needs to have a big year. A lot of previously unknown names are going to have to emerge as playmakers.

Anything else?
Pinkel has been the head coach of Mizzou for 13 years if you can believe it. And, if nothing else, the Tigers have been fairly consistent with winning records. But a new conference and a disappointing 2012 campaign has made the seat beneath Pinkel’s keister a little warm. If there’s not at least a little bit of a turnaround, or some reason to be excited about the future, Mizzou could be looking for another direction by year’s end.

6. Tennessee (Last year: 5-7)
What happened last season?
The Vols suffered their third straight losing season and Derek Dooley was punished by being demoted to the wide receivers coach for the Dallas Cowboys.

So why are they ranked here?
Butch Jones is a good coach and he should be the guy to finally get things turned around for Tennessee. He’s a natural with young people and players love him. That said, Neyland Stadium wasn’t built in a day — neither were UT’s shiny new facilities — and the Vols took a solid gut punch in the passing game with the departures of wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Defense has been bad too. There’s a lot to fix and not a lot to work with right away.

Anything else?
The stretch between Sept. 21 (at Florida) and Oct. 26 (at Alabama) is ruthless and unkind. But winning one game against either the Gators, Georgia or South Carolina would go a long way for Jones no matter the final record.

7. Kentucky (Last year: 2-10)
What happened last season?
The Wildcats beat Samford and Kent State, the latter of which almost had a chance to make a BCS bowl appearance. Strange, indeed. Either way, Joker Phillips got canned.

So why are they ranked here?
If Tennessee is building things “brick by brick”, then Kentucky’s going to need some heavier materials. UK made an interesting hire with former Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who is recruiting extremely well early. Signing Day 2014 is still a ways off and it’s yet to be seen if those efforts will pay dividends down the road. For now, the Wildcats have too much to improve upon to make a real dent.

Anything else?
The schedule the Wildcats go through doesn’t help. Road games against South Carolina and Georgia aren’t even the worst games — that distinction would belong to hosting Alabama on Oct. 12.

SEC West

1. Alabama (Last year: 13-1; beat Notre Dame in BCS championship)
What happened last season?
Oh, not much. The Tide won the SEC and then mercilessly beat Notre Dame in the BCS championship, giving Nick Saban his third national title in four years with Alabama. Of course, it wasn’t all perfect. Texas A&M came into Tuscaloosa in November and stunned the top-ranked team in the country 29-24. Saban has since been playing that game on loop around the football facilities because money isn’t the root of all evil — satisfaction is.

So why are they ranked here?
Unless the wheels inexplicably fall off or Saban takes his coaching talents to the pros, Alabama is in rolling along (see what we did–ah forget it) and there’s nothing anybody can do to stop it. We could talk about returning starters like A.J. McCarron or C.J. Moseley, or how the Tide’s schedule doesn’t feature any of the SEC East teams expected to finish at or near the top of that respective division. Those are all fine and well, but as long as Saban is wearing crimson, this program is going to be a perennial favorite.

Anything else?
Because college football black magic is very, very real, it should be pointed out again that Alabama has never have won a BCS title when ranked atop the preseason coaches poll. Guess where they’re ranked this year.

2. LSU (last year: 10-3; lost to Clemson in Chick-fil-A Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Tigers shocked the college football world by beating up on a much more talented North Texas team* to open the year and came thisclose to beating Alabama at home (tailback screen FTW!) on their way to a 10-win season. LSU lost by one point to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl as Tajh Boyd pulled off the toughest individual postseason performance of the year.

(*Kidding, obviously. But seriously #GoMeanGreen.) 

So why are they ranked here?
LSU is an interesting team who’s getting overshadowed by two other SEC West teams. Understandably, Alabama is the overwhelming favorite not only to win the West division, but to win the SEC and get back to another national championship. But the Tigers shouldn’t be counted out so quickly. Defense will always be a staple and Zach Mettenberger has all the tools to be an elite quarterback, he just has to put it all together. Ironically, perhaps his best game last season came in that agonizing loss to Alabama.

Anything else?
Les Miles‘ team has some big games this year, including road games against Georgia and Alabama, and a season-opener against TCU. This is a program that’s thrived in those environments over the last few years (sans a BCS title loss to Alabama in 2012). They’ll need to again if they want to knock off the preseason favorite.

3. Texas A&M (last year: 11-2; beat Oklahoma in Cotton Bowl)
What happened last season?
Kevin Sumlin started Johnny Manziel at quarterback and all of us — defenses, media members, all of us — looked like idiots. Also, Manziel won the Heisman as a redshirt freshman. Just as a reminder.

So why are they ranked here?
Manziel is back… maybe. In fact, this is probably one of the few predictions that actually deserves an asterisk next to it. With the NCAA reportedly investigating whether Manziel improperly received money for signing thousands of pieces of memorabilia, it’s possible he could face suspension. If he does, and depending when and for how long, the Aggies’ win total could dip tremendously. There are a lot of questions defensively even with Manziel in the lineup, and while I personally don’t believe the offseason “controversies” will affect Manziel’s play on the field, he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback.

Anything else?
Wide receiver Mike Evans burst on to the scene last year with over 1,100 yards as a freshman. All the talk is about Manziel, but Evans provides an athletic, big target to throw to in this offense. He could have an even bigger year as a sophomore.

4. Ole Miss (Last year: 7-6; beat Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Hugh Freeze made one of the bigger first-season splashes by leading the Rebels to a seven-win season and then pulling in one of the most impressive recruiting classes for 2013.

So why are they ranked here?
The Rebels are considered to be on the upswing, but the first half of their ’13 schedule is bordering on unfair. Ole Miss travels to Vanderbilt, to Texas in non-conference play, to Alabama, and to Auburn before finally catching a break and hosting Texas A&M and LSU. It seems impossible to get through that stretch unscathed, but if quarterback Bo Wallace cuts down on his mistakes (17 interceptions a year ago) and the defense can clamp down even a little (the Rebels gave up an average of 36 points in five losses to the aforementioned six opponents last season thanks in part to 66 points from the Longhorns), then this team should find itself with some quality wins headed into an easier second half of the schedule.

Anything else?
If you think Ole Miss has broken any recruiting rules, Freeze asks that you email compliance@olemiss.edu. Thanks and hotty toddy!

5. Auburn (Last year: 3-9)
What happened last season?
The Tigers failed to win a conference game and Gene Chizik, two years removed from winning a BCS championship, was fired.

So why are they ranked here?
Gus Malzahn, who was the offensive coordinator for Auburn when it won that national title over Oregon in 2011, returns to The Plains as head coach hoping to turn things around. There are plenty of guys returning on both sides of the ball… it’s just that neither side played particularly well. It’s not like there’s a lack of talent at Auburn, so if Malzahn and his coaching staff, which features veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, can get the production out of their players in a way Chizik couldn’t, then there’s no reason this team can’t go bowling this year.

Anything else?
Nick Marshall, a former Georgia defensive back, will be the starting quarterback for the Tigers. Meanwhile, Kiehl Frazier, Auburn’s former starting quarterback, has moved to defensive back.

6. Mississippi State (Last year: 8-5; lost to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Things were looking good for Dan Mullen‘s team, which was 7-0 headed into a late October game against Alabama. That’s when it fell apart and the schedule got significantly harder. The Bulldogs lost 38-7 in Tuscaloosa and went on to drop five of their last six games, including a bowl loss to Northwestern.

So why are they ranked here?
Because the SEC West is arguably the deepest division in college football. It’s quite possible that six teams could be bowl eligible here. Quarterback Tyler Russell is back, but there will be plenty of new faces at wide receiver. Six starters return on defense, but in all, this is a relatively young team that will be tested when it faces South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama in consecutive weeks.

Anything else?
If Bulldogs center Dillon Day plays as well as he bowls, then MSU should have a spectacular season.

7. Arkansas (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Bobby Petrino drove his motorcycle off a road. John L. Smith then drove the BCS-ready Razorbacks into the ground. Hog fans didn’t take either particularly well.

So why are they ranked here?
Arkansas brings in a new coach in Bret Bielema, but loses quarterback Tyler Wilson, its top two leading rushers and receivers from a year ago. Defense was a major liability last season and will have to improve significantly if the offense doesn’t get going. And that schedule? Brutal. The Hogs may not win a game past September.

Anything else?
Freshman running back Alex Collins had some drama trying to Fayetteville, but in Bielema’s run-heavy offense, he could make a huge impact right away.

—————————————-

John Taylor‘s prediction:

East
1. Georgia
2. South Carolina
3. Florida
4. Tennessee
5. Vanderbilt
6. Kentucky
7. Missouri

West
1. Alabama
2. LSU
3. Texas A&M
4. Ole Miss
5. Mississippi State
6. Arkansas
7. Auburn
Ben’s SEC champ: Alabama
John’s SEC champ: Alabama

T. Boone Pickens prefers Houston and SMU for Big 12 expansion, rips Boren, still not besties with Gundy

BP Capital Management LP Chief Executive Officer T. Boone Pickens Interview
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If you though the rivalry between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State was strictly on the football field, think again. Bedlam reaches beyond the gridiron and now has T. Boone Pickens slinging mud at Oklahoma president David Boren.

According to Kirk Bohls of The Austin American-Statesman, the Oklahoma State donor shared some comments about the Big 12 expansion saga that continues to drag its feet. Pickens reportedly prefers the Big 12 to add within the current Big 12 foot print by inviting Houston and SMU from the American Athletic Conference. That’s probably good news for fans of Houston and SMU, if they believe Boone’s influence carries any weight in this process (it doesn’t, but we don’t have to pour cold water on this subject for now). But the interesting part of the report included a jab at Oklahoma’s president, who recently appeared to suggest he was fine with a 10-team Big 12 only to respond by saying no decisions have been made where Oklahoma stands on expansion.

“I’ve known David forever. He likes to talk. He gets a little bit confused sometimes,” Pickens said. He also suggested “maybe it’s time for David to retire.”

Pickens also updated his relationship status with Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy.

“I don’t have any conversations with Gundy,” Pickens said. In late December 2014 there appeared to be some friction between the head coach and top donor when Pickens proclaimed he didn’t care who coached the team while suggesting he will always support the program and university, his alma mater. Gundy looked to make sure the two were on common ground. Things appeared to have smoothed over by the following spring, but the two are not exactly hanging out together in their spare time.

“I don’t know, but Mike doesn’t handle people relationships very well. And he gets mad about things,” Pickens explained. “I’ve heard he’s written some notes about me that weren’t very complimentary.”

Excuse me while I file away a Freedom of Information Act request for access to these notes…

Nebraska regent chose to pursue removing protesting players off team rather than come to their support

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 27: Fullback Macon Plewa #42 of the Iowa Hawkeyes tries to get past linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey #15 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during their game at Memorial Stadium November 27, 2015 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Prior to last weekend’s game between Nebraska and Northwestern in Evanston, three Nebraska football players opted to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem during the pregame routine. Now, one regent at Nebraska wants those three players kicked off the team.

Hal Daub told The Lincoln Journal Star student-athletes are not to do anything that might create disparagement or negative implications. Apparently, in the eyes of the Korean War veteran and former mayor of Omaha, the act of taking a knee during the national anthem to protest social injustices in our nation, crossed the line.

“It’s a free country,” Daub told the Lincoln newspaper Tuesday. “They don’t have to play football for the university either.”

The three players who took a knee during the national anthem on Saturday were Michael Rose-Ivey, Mohamed Barry, and DaiShon Neal. Rose-Ivey has been eloquent in his explanation for why he has chosen to follow the lead of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others who have chosen to demonstrate for their beliefs during the national anthem. Rose-Ivey said fans in the stands hurled racially charged insults and comments suggesting they should be lynched or shot.” You would like to think Nebraska’s leaders would come to the  defense of their players, but that does not appear to be the case here.

“They know better, and they had better be kicked off the team,” Daub said. “They won’t take the risk to exhibit their free speech in a way that places their circumstance in jeopardy, so let them get out of uniform and do their protesting on somebody else’s nickel.”

Why is it OK to take a knee on the sideline when a player is injured on the field, but not during the national anthem. During the game, taking a knee is a show of respect for those hurt on the field. During the national anthem, taking a knee can be a show of respect for those who have been hurt by an unjust society that continues to try and work out our differences. It is a shame Rose-Ivey and other protesting players are on the receiving ends of hurtful comments when they simply want to express their voices of concern and wishes for a better world.

It’s even more of a shame some regent in Nebraska chose to push for their banishment from the program instead of come to their defense. This was a golden opportunity to help promote progress, and Daub fumbled it away.

The good news is Mike Riley and university president Hank Bounds have made it clear they do support the players who choose to voice their concerns, so none of these three players should have any fear about being removed from the prorgam.

Bobby Petrino confirms commitment to Louisville amid LSU speculation

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Head coach Bobby Petrino of the Louisville Cardinals looks on during the game against the Auburn Tigers at Georgia Dome on September 5, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher and Houston head coach Tom Herman were quick to go on record saying they have not been in contact with the folks at LSU looking to fill a coaching vacancy following the dismissal of Les Miles this week. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer confirmed his commitment to being the head coach at Ohio State. Stanford head coach David Shaw was quick to dismiss the mere idea of being considered for the LSU job. There is no doubt LSU will attract some high-profile candidates as the coaching search rolls on, but add one more notable coach to the growing list of coaches keeping a distance.

Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino, who once coached LSU rival Arkansas and gained a taste of coaching in the SEC (and SEC West), says he is not going anywhere and looks forward to continue building at Louisville.

“I’m not interested in going anywhere,” Petrino said during a weekly press conference on Tuesday. “I’m very fortunate to be the head coach here at the University of Louisville, very happy about that, very glad I have the support of our athletic director Tom Jurich. We were able to sit down last year and do a new contract. We’re going to expand the stadium. We’re coming off one of the greatest crowds and Card Marches I’ve been around. We feel like we’ve got everything going in the right direction.”

Then came the signature line that you would expect any coach to say about the current job position they own when approached about any other possible job vacancy.

“This is the job I want. This is where I’m going to be.”

Now, we have all been following this stuff long enough to understand that just about every coach is going to say these things. They have to for a number of reasons, including keeping the fans (and donors) calm and keeping recruiting efforts on solid footing. Sometimes coaches will lie when in this situation, and sometimes the honest feeling will actually change once details about a possible new contract enter the equation. It is the ultimate variable that can shift the balance of the entire outlook at any given moment.

So any time Petrino and any other coach has to go on record and say this, take it with a grain of salt. Petrino does indeed appear to be happy and settled in back at Louisville, where he arguably has experienced the height of his coaching success under two different stints, and few coaches can say the grass is not always greener once you leave Louisville. Plus, Petrino appears to have everything he might need to build a championship program at Louisville now and in the future that LSU might be able to offer (although recruiting at LSU would appear to be an advantage).

Petrino has a true ACC and playoff contender this season with Louisville. This week he takes the Cardinals on the road for a pivotal ACC Atlantic Division contest with defending ACC champion Clemson. A win for Louisville will pretty much wrap up the division with two months still to play barring a complete meltdown. Louisville already owns a win over Florida State and has quickly moved to being the betting favorite this weekend on the road at Clemson.

I’m dropping this gem from LSU Freek here just because…

UNC linebacker Allen Artis says he is not a rapist before heading to court Thursday

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 9:  A view of two North Carolina Tar Heels helmets during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on October 9, 2004 at Kenan Stadium Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina defeated North Carolina State 30-24. (Photo By Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Suspended North Carolina linebacker Allen Artis is scheduled to begin a legal battle in court on Thursday to defend himself against misdemeanor charges of sexual battery and assault on a female student. Before heading to court, Artis made time for a sit-down session with the media, with his mother and aunt by his side. Artis says the sexual interaction was a consensual act and says he did not rape Delaney Robinson, the UNC student who filed the claim she was raped by Artis on Valentine’s Day this year.

Everything was completely consensual that happened that night,” Artis said in an interview with members of the media on Tuesday. ”That’s the truth.”

As previously reported earlier this month, Robinson reported the alleged rape to university police and UNC’s Title IX office. Robinson has accused the university of taking too long to proceed with its response to her allegations, which is why she made the decision to go public  with her story.

Once Robinson went public with her story, UNC indefinitely suspended Artis the following morning. At this point, the legal process will now run its course before UNC makes any further decision on Artis’ status with the program, and the university if needed.

Artis played in each of UNC’s first two games this season and, of course, has not seen the field since.