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

Tennessee to wear helmet decals in remembrance of Pat Summitt

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 7:  A Tennessee Volunteer holds up his helmet in the team huddle before the NCAA football game against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders at Neyland Stadium on September 7, 2002 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee won 26-3. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Tennessee will wear helmet decals to honor the memory of legendary Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt throughout this season, the Vols have announced.

The decal, according to the release, will be a capital “P” inside a circle, which is based on Summitt’s signature.

Summitt passed away June 28 at the age of 64 due to a lengthy bout with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. She served as the Lady Vols’ head coach for 38 seasons, compiling an NCAA basketball record 1,098 wins, eight national championships and 16 SEC titles before her retirement in 2012. She was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.

“As a coach, I stand in awe of Pat and what she accomplished on and off the court,” Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said at the time of Summitt’s passing. “She is someone I admired when I decided I wanted to get into coaching. You study all the great coaches, the traits that made them successful, and you try to incorporate those into your own program and teams.  She demanded excellence and her teams played to her personality.

“It was about more than basketball for her, it was about life. She wanted every player that left the program to be prepared for the next stage of their life. Every player received a degree, and that was as important to her as any win on the court. She wouldn’t settle for anything but the best effort on the court and in the classroom.”

Tennessee opens its season Thursday against Appalachian State in Knoxville.

Florida State strength coach Vic Viloria arrested on DUI charge

RALEIGH, NC - SEPTEMBER 27: Florida State Seminoles players take the field for their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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In what has become Discipline Saturday across college football, Florida State has seen one of its coaches entangled with law enforcement. Head football strength coach Vic Viloria was arrested Friday night for driving under the influence as well as property damage. He was released just after noon local time from a Leon County jail, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

According to the report, police found Viloria asleep at the wheel with his truck in drive and his foot on the break pedal. He had already launched the vehicle up an embankment, missing a utility pole and colliding with an electronic cross-walk sign.

From the paper:

He told police he was coming from work where he drank multiple “big” alcoholic beverages in his office on FSU’s campus. He also acknowledged that he should not have been driving.

A passerby had earlier alerted police to Viloria sitting at the stoplight at Lakeshore Drive and Monroe Street where he sat through several green lights without moving, court records say.

He told police he ended up on the off-ramp as he tried to turn around to head to his Golden Eagle home. Officers noted his watery eyes, slurred speech and a moderate smell of alcohol on his breath.

And the Tallahassee police force’s incident report:

The Seminoles have released the following statement:

“We are aware of the reported incident and are in the process of gathering more information. The issue falls under the human resources policies for university employees, which restricts further comment at this time.”

Viloria is one of Jimbo Fisher‘s top lieutenants, having served as his head strength coach for all seven of Fisher’s year as the Seminoles’ as head coach. His official Florida State bio lists Viloria as “a major part of Florida State’s resurgence.”

“The foundation for the unprecedented success is forged by Viloria,” it reads. “The Seminoles have made noticeable physical gains across the board and significantly cut back on injuries as Viloria and his staff remain on the cutting edge of technology. Under Viloria, FSU became the first college football program to utilize advanced GPS technology to measure energy exertion and regulate rest and physical action.”

Viloria is the second college football coach to be arrested for DUI this month. Nebraska wide receivers coach Keith Williams received his third arrest for such charge, and was suspended without pay for the remainder of the month, while also being required to miss the Huskers’ first four games of the season.

Jimbo Fisher pegs Deondre Francois as QB starter vs. Ole Miss

TALLAHASSEE, FL - APRIL 11:  Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminole watches action during Florida State's Garnet and Gold spring game at Doak Campbell Stadium on April 11, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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As if we didn’t already know, Deondre Francois will start at quarterback for Florida State next Monday night against Ole Miss, Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher revealed Saturday.

This particular two and two weren’t hard to put together, considering Francois was in a two-horse race with Sean Maguire and Maguire recently missed time with a foot injury. (Maguire has returned to the practice field two weeks ahead of his four week prognosis, however.)

Maguire saw action in eight games last season and was good, not great. The then-junior connected on 59 percent of his passes for 1,520 yards (an even eight per attempt) with 11 touchdowns against six interceptions, good for an efficiency rating that would have placed him 40th nationally with enough qualifying attempts.

Francois, however, is more in the mold of other Fisher quarterbacks. A consensus four-star recruit out of IMG Academy, Francois was 247Sports‘s No. 64 player nationally in the class of 2015 and the No. 3 pro-style quarterback, ranking behind only UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Alabama’s Blake Barnett.

Earning the start is an incredibly good omen for Francois. Every starting quarterback to matriculate under Fisher at Florida State — read: not Everett Golson — has gone on to become a first-round pick: Christian Ponder to the Vikings, E.J. Manuel to the Bills and Heisman winner Jameis Winston No. 1 overall to the Buccaneers.

Starting Francois is also an incredibly good omen for the Seminoles. Every uber-recent team to win a national championship has been piloted there by a first-year starter at quarterback (with one notable exception), dating back to Alabama’s Greg McElroy in 2009, to Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron in 2011 (then again in 2012), Winston for Florida State in 2013, Ohio State’s Cardale Jones in 2014 and, finally, Alabama’s Jake Coker in 2015.

Is there anything to that trend beyond mere coincidence? I have no idea. But, should the redshirt freshman hold on to his gig for the remainder of the season, both Francois and Florida State will be on the right side of (recent) history.

The fourth-ranked ‘Noles face No. 11 Ole Miss next Monday night in Orlando (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Oregon DE Torrodney Prevot suspended for alleged assault

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 23:  linebacker Torrodney Prevot #86 of the Oregon Ducks watches from the sidelines during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Ducks 42-16.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Oregon has suspended defensive end Torrodney Prevot for a “violation of University and Department of Athletics code of conduct,” head coach Mark Helfrich has announced.

“At the conclusion of the University process, his status as a student-athlete will be evaluated further,” Helfrich said in a statement.

A former Ducks female student-athlete has filed a criminal complaint against Prevot, the Oregon student paper The Daily Emerald reports, claiming he has assaulted her twice in the past year. The paper reports the Eugene Police Department is investigating the matter, in addition to Oregon’s Title IX office, as is required by federal law.

The defense is expected to be a weak point again for the Ducks, with questions abounding about whether the Oregon personnel fits with new coordinator Brady Hoke‘s scheme. “We’re a long way from being any kind of defense,” Hoke said Friday, via the Oregonian. “We’ve got a long way to go to be a defense that’s going to be effective in this league.”

Prevot was not listed on the depth chart Oregon released Friday.

A Houston native, Prevot appeared in all 13 games last fall, starting five, with 48 tackles and 7.5 TFLs.