CFT Predicts: the SEC

29 Comments

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

Pitt, Nebraska (and LSU?) among power conference teams with uphill battle to bowl season

Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We are getting close to the end of September, which is the time I start taking a look at the challenges some teams will face just to get to a bowl game at the end of the year. Scanning the power conferences, there are a number of programs already on the verge of facing a bowl-less season, some more obvious than others.

Florida State starting the season 0-2 certainly looks to be in some trouble considering the Seminoles still have game sot play against Clemson and Louisville and Miami, in addition to a non-conference game against Florida at the end of the season. But I still think FSU manages to scratch together six wins by the end of the season, so I see no reason to push a panic button there just yet. But there are some ACC schools entering some rough territory.

In putting together this list, I avoided the usual suspects like Kansas and Purdue (wait, they may actually go this year) and instead focused on teams that can generally be counted on to be involved in a bowl game somewhere. I found three teams that have dug a rough hole, two who could face a difficult conference slate, and one that is two games above .500 but could stumble down the stretch. Here they are, in no particular order.

Here they are, in no particular order.

PITTSBURGH (1-3)
Wins needed: 5
Remaining schedule:

  • RICE
  • at Syracuse
  • NC STATE
  • at Duke
  • VIRGINIA
  • UNC
  • at Virginia Tech
  • MIAMI

The Panthers defense continues to get lit up by opponents and after going 1-3 to start the year the Panthers are now facing quite an uphill battle just to get to the postseason. Pit still has a scheduled back-loaded with a road game at Virginia Tech and a home game against Miami, but before that the Panthers will host an NC State team that just won in Tallahassee and a Virginia team that may be improving if a road trip to Boise State is any indication. A road trip to Duke is no walk in the park and even Syracuse just gave LSU a mild scare in Baton Rouge.

NORTH CAROLINA (1-3)
Wins needed: 5
Remaining schedule:

  • at Georgia Tech
  • NOTRE DAME
  • VIRGINIA
  • at Virginia Tech
  • MIAMI
  • at Pittsburgh
  • WESTERN CAROLINA
  • at NC State

If the Panthers have an uphill battle, then the Tar Heels may be scaling a mountain with their remaining schedule. UNC has to play on the road against Virginia Tech and equally desperate Pitt, and they also are on the road against Georgia Tech this week before hosting Notre Dame next week. Ending the season in Raleigh is tricky too. Like Pitt, the question is what five games on the remaining schedule can Tar Heel fans place much faith in going their way to go bowling this season?

TEXAS (1-2)
Wins needed: 5
Remaining schedule:

  • at Iowa State
  • KANSAS STATE
  • Oklahoma
  • OKLAHOMA STATE
  • at Baylor
  • at TCU
  • KANSAS
  • at West Virginia
  • TEXAS TECH

The Longhorns were off this week to regroup a bit after a hard-fought loss on the road against USC, but can Tom Herman find five wins in Big 12 play? Texas will obviously have to battle Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in back-to-back weeks, and now a road trip to TCU looks to be a little extra challenging, as does a late season road trip to Morgantown. And don’t forget about Kansas, because, well, you know. Picking up five wins in Big 12 play seems attainable, but there is a very slim margin for error.

NEBRASKA (2-2)
Wins needed: 4
Remaining schedule:

  • at Illinois
  • WISCONSIN
  • OHIO STATE
  • at Purdue
  • NORTHWESTERN
  • at Minnesota
  • at Penn State
  • IOWA

The Cornhuskers only need four games, but this is a team that lost at home against NIU and struggled against Rutgers in back-to-back weeks, and the crossover conference schedule does Nebraska no favors with Ohio State and Penn State appearing on the schedule that already includes division games with Wisconsin and Iowa. And this road game at Purdue looks to be more of a hurdle than most would have anticipated. This season may come down a must-win game at Minnesota.

LSU (3-1)
Wins needed: 3
Remaining schedule:

  • TROY
  • at Florida
  • AUBURN
  • at Ole Miss
  • at Alabama
  • ARKANSAS
  • at Tennessee
  • TEXAS A&M

Are we reaching to suggest that a 3-1 team is facing an uphill battle to the postseason? Maybe… not? Have you seen anything you are overly excited or optimistic about out of LSU so far this season? I think the last two weeks have soured my take on the Tigers, and I entered the season not very high on them, to begin with. Now, in conference play, I sincerely think LSU could be in for a battle just to go to a bowl game. The good news for LSU is they face some teams in hot seat situations like Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas A&M to close out the year and all three of those games should be considered wild cards and toss-ups for all teams involved. The four-game stretch including three road games at Florida, Ole Miss, and Alabama has to see LSU grab one win if the Tigers are going to reach the postseason. And remember, because of the hurricane fiasco with last year’s schedule, LSU is playing the Gators in Gainesville this year instead of at home.

South Alabama makes change at offensive coordinator

Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
2 Comments

Another college football coordinator has been given his pink slip before hitting October. This time it is South Alabama offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent. On Monday morning, South Alabama announced Vincent has been relieved of his duties effective immediately.

“Sunday afternoon Coach Vincent came to me and expressed concern about our current status and what is best for our program moving forward.  After meeting with him, a decision was made to relieve him of his duties,” South Alabama head coach Joey Jones said in a released statement.  “Bryant is a great friend and has always had the best interests of our student-athletes in mind.  I sincerely appreciate all of his hard work.  I wish him the very best.”

Who will serve as the offensive coordinator will be moving forward has not been clarified by the school at this time. Vincent was also South Alabama’s quarterback coach too. Jones may just take on the playcalling himself for the remainder of the season if he does not promote anyone on the staff to the position.

South Alabama’s offense ranks 91st in the nation in scoring offense and is 130th in the nation (out of 130) in third-down conversions with just nine third-down conversions out of 45 attempts. The Jaguars dropped a home game against Idaho on Saturday, 29-23 to fall to 1-3 with the lone win coming against Alabama A&M. The first two losses of the year, however, came against Ole Miss and Oklahoma State, so it’s not as though South Alabama was expected to be too much better than they are at this point after four weeks of play.

James Franklin: I am not Keegan-Michael Key

Getty Images
6 Comments

College GameDay was in Times Square on Saturday and decided to do the most New York thing possible: respond to a Mike Francessa rant.

Francessa ripped Penn State head coach James Franklin, calling him a “horses’s ass,” for trying to prevent a field goal to preserve the Nittany Lions’ 56-0 blanking of Georgia State last week. To respond, ESPN didn’t talk to Franklin, but instead asked comedian (and Penn State graduate) Keegan-Michael Key to speak for him.

This is not the first time Key has leverages his resemblance to Franklin for comedic purposes.

Nevertheless, Franklin addressed the bit to close his post-game press conference following Penn State’s 21-19 escape of Iowa in an answer that toed the line between seriousness and wry sarcasm.

Boston College loses WR Charlie Callinan for ‘an extended period of time’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Boston College will be without wide receiver Charlie Callinan for “an extended period of time,” the program announced just before the Eagles’ date with Clemson on Saturday.

Callinan suffered a foot injury. The nature of the injury was not disclosed.

A senior from Westfield, N.J., Callinan was one of the most experienced players on the roster with 41 career appearances and 31 starts under his belt. He is the third BC player with at least 30 career games to be lost for an extended period of time this season.

Callinan posted the best game of his career in what may go down as the final game of his career, hauling in seven catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-20 loss to Notre Dame a week ago.

Without him in the lineup, BC passed for 141 yards on 34 attempts in a 34-7 loss to the second-ranked Tigers.