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

Hawaii hires Jacob Yoro as safeties coach

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 17:  Head coach Nick Rolovich of the Hawaii Warriors walks the sidelines during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Kevin Lempa‘s new destination hasn’t yet been announced — he interviewed for a Michigan analyst job earlier this month — but Hawaii’s defensive coordinator has already been replace.

Legi Suiaunoa was promoted to defensive coordinator a week and a half ago, and on Monday the Warriors announced Honolulu native Jacob Yoro as safeties coach.

“Jake is a guy that I was interested in even before I got the job here at Hawai’i,” head coach Nick Rolovich (pictured) said in a statement. “I always thought he’d be a good fit with our philosophy. He’s well respected on the West Coast, not only for his knowledge but also for the noise he’s made on the recruiting side of the game. I have great appreciation for grinders like Jake.  We hope he adds to the trust of coaches and players in local recruiting. Local or not, though, Jake is a good ball coach.”

Yoro played at powerhouse Saint Louis High School before playing at Montana from 1998-01, then returned to the islands to coach in the Hawaii high school ranks. He left in 2009 to serve as linebackers coach at Montana Western, spent five seasons at Pacific University in Oregon and then coached the past two seasons as defensive backs coach at Cal Poly.

The Hawaii job represents Yoro’s first foray into FBS football.

“I’m excited and thankful for the opportunity to join the UH football family.  Coach Rolo and the rest of the staff have done a tremendous job of creating a culture that fosters greatness both on and off the field,” Yoro said.

He’ll have his work cut out for him immediately. Hawaii finished Rolovich’s first season ranked 118th nationally in pass efficiency defense, allowing 62.6 percent completions for 8.1 yards per attempt with 29 touchdowns against 11 interceptions in 14 games.

Alabama settles offensive staff by making two hires official

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 10:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks on from the sidelines during the game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The waters in Tuscaloosa are finally calm after Hurricane Lane’s departure.

As reported over the weekend, Alabama has officially named Brian Daboll its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and announced former director of football operations Joe Pannunzio as its tight ends coach and special teams coordinator.

Daboll kickstarted his career as a graduate assistant under Nick Saban at Michigan State and arrives after serving the past two seasons as the New England Patriots’ tight ends coach. Pannunzio turned four years as Saban’s DFO into two years as the Philadelphia Eagles’ director of personnel operations.

“I am honored to have the chance to return to the college game and work for Coach Saban at Alabama,” Daboll said. “He basically gave me my start in coaching as a graduate assistant at Michigan State in the late 1990s and has always been a very important influence on my coaching career. It is a tremendous opportunity to work at an institution such as Alabama with its rich tradition and history of sustained success, and I’m very excited to get started.”

“I am excited to have the chance to return to The University of Alabama and once again work for Coach Saban,” Pannunzio said. “I have always loved working with the special teams and tight ends and the chance to do it for the best coach and the best program in college football is a very special opportunity. My family and I love Tuscaloosa, and I can’t wait to get back out on the field coaching.”

Daboll fills the hole left by Steve Sarkisian, who filled the hole left by Lane Kiffin. Pannunzio fills the vacancy created when wide receivers coach Billy Napier left to become the offensive coordinator at Arizona State. Alabama also lost offensive line coach Mario Cristobal to a co-offensive coordinator role at Oregon.

With the dual hirings, co-offensive coordinator Mike Locksley will coach wide receivers, Burton Burns will focus solely on running backs and Brent Key will oversee the entire offensive line.

Sam Darnold becoming runaway favorite to win 2017 Heisman Trophy

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 23: New starting quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the USC Trojans looks to pass in the first quarter against the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium on September 23, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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The 2017 college football season is a long way off, but that hasn’t stopped people from betting on who will win the 2017 Heisman Trophy.

Bovada released an updated odds sheet on Monday, and USC quarterback Sam Darnold has stepped away as the clear favorite to win the honor.

2016 winner Lamar Jackson and 2016 finalist Baker Mayfield are tied for second at 13/2 odds, followed by Alabama running back Bo Scarborough and Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Darnold finished the ’16 campaign ranked ninth nationally in passing efficiency, hitting 67.2 percent of his throws for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns against nine interceptions in 13 appearances (10 starts). He closed the year with a scintillating Rose Bowl performance, hitting 33-of-53 throws for 453 yards with five touchdowns against one interception in a 52-49 overtime win over Penn State.

One historical bullet point Darnold will have in his favor is that the clearest path to winning a Heisman comes from playing at a school with former Heisman winners. USC’s six previous winners trails only Notre Dame and Ohio State — the Trojans are tied if you count Reggie Bush‘s 2005 win — including Carson Palmer in 2002 and Matt Leinart in ’04.

North Carolina, Appalachian State announce 3-game series

CHAPEL HILL, NC - SEPTEMBER 19: General view of the game between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Illinois Fighting Illini at Kenan Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Appalachian State hosted Miami last year and recently announced a 4-game series with East Carolina, but Monday’s announcement tops both of them combined…. probably.

The Mountaineers announced Monday a 3-game series with North Carolina, which calls for the Tar Heels’ first-ever visit to Boone among the set.

North Carolina will host Appalachian State on Sept. 21, 2019 and Sept. 9, 2023, with the Heels heading to the mountains for the sandwich game on Sept. 3, 2022. The 2022 visit marks the third ACC team to visit Appalachian State in a 7-year span, and just the second of the Big Four in-state schools to visit Boone; the Mountaineers host Wake Forest on Sept. 23 of this coming season to mark the first of such games.

“This series is the next addition in bringing Power 5 programs to Kidd Brewer Stadium,” App State AD Doug Gillin said in a statement. “With a record crowd for Miami last year, Wake Forest this season, and North Carolina in 2022 we are continuously looking for opportunities to bring great opponents to The Rock.  Our goal is to continue to bring Power 5 opponents, when available, and quality Group of 5 opponents to Boone, which benefits our students, student-athletes, university and community.  I truly enjoyed working with the UNC administration in constructing a series that is a win-win. Playing regional and in-state opponents makes a lot of sense for us.  We will see an increase in tickets sales both home and away, reduced travel costs and less missed class time for our students. Over the next eight seasons we will be playing the series with UNC, in addition to a four-game series with ECU, and home-and-home series with Wake Forest, Charlotte, and Marshall.”

Appalachian State has played the Big Four 29 times previously, all in their respective homes: 22 trips to Winston-Salem, six to Raleigh and one to Chapel Hill, a 56-6 Heels win in 1940.