Mark Richt

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 12 Georgia

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2013 record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 in SEC (third in SEC East)
2013 postseason: Gator Bowl vs. Nebraska (24-19 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Head coach: Mark Richt (126-45 overall; same in 13 years at Georgia)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Bobo (eighth season)
2013 offensive rankings: 65th rushing offense (169.9 ypg); 15th passing offense (314.2 ypg); 17th total offense (484.2 ypg); 21st scoring offense (36.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: Jeremy Pruitt (first season)
2013 defensive rankings: 41st rushing defense (148.2 ypg); 60th passing defense (227.4 ypg);  45th total defense (375.5 ypg); T-78th scoring defense (29 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Athens, Ga.
Stadium: Sanford Stadium (92,746; grass)
Last conference title: 2005

THE GOOD
The Bulldogs return nine starters on the defensive side of the ball, with new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who bolted Tallahassee for Athens, being widely considered a significant upgrade over the departed Todd Grantham.  Pruitt’s focus during his first handful of months with the Bulldogs has been twofold: one, creating more turnovers — 27 last year isn’t enough for a coordinator who watched his FSU group force 39 — and, two, stop giving up the game-changing plays like the one that cost them the Auburn game last season.  Given the returning talent and Pruitt’s presence, there are no more excuses for subpar defensive performance game-in and game-out (eighth in the SEC in scoring defense, tied for 78th nationally).

THE BAD
On the flip side, the offense barely returns half of its starters from a season ago, less than half if wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell is an injury no-go to start the season.  For the first time since the 2009 season, someone who doesn’t answer to the name “Aaron Murray” will be under center when the Bulldogs take the field against Clemson, exacerbating the inexperienced starting talent on offense.  If a couple of receivers can get healthy on that side of the ball… if Todd Gurley can stay healthy in the backfield… if Murray’s replacement, a fifth-year senior, can use the early beginning to his starting career to his advantage… if all of those happen, this group could be less of a liability than some think they will be.  It may take time, though, which is bad news with a key SEC matchup very early on the schedule.

THE UNKNOWN
The worst news for Georgia last season was long-time starting quarterback Murray going down with a serious knee injury in late November.  It may have also served as the best news as Hutson Mason got a two-game head-start on his career as the Bulldogs’ starter.  That experience, as limited as it is, will serve Hutson and UGA well; what won’t is the lack of depth at the wide receiver position.  The Bulldogs certainly have the talent, but at least half that experienced talent — Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley — has injury issues heading into the season.  If at least one of those two can get healthy and stay there for the year, it will certainly help cushion Mason’s learning curve.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at South Carolina, Sept. 13
As both Georgia and South Carolina are expected to be the cream of the crop in the SEC East, it would stand to reason that this game, played the third weekend of the season, could prove to be the SEC title game ticket-puncher for the winning side.  That could prove problematic for the Bulldogs as not only will they be playing on the road in Columbia, they will be facing what is arguably the best squad Steve Spurrier has assembled during his decade with the Gamecocks.  While UGA won last year’s game, USC has owned the series of late by winning the previous three by a combined 42 points.  The good news is that, as was the case in 2012, a loss wouldn’t derail UGA’s SEC championship game hopes as there’s plenty of time for the Gamecocks to trip on their own junk heading down the stretch.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Todd Gurley
There are several no-brainers when it comes to this category amongst our Top 25 teams; this is one of the biggest of the no-brainers.  When healthy, Gurley is arguably the most talented player at his position in the country.   He’s rushed for nearly 2,400 yards and 27 touchdowns in his two seasons in Athens.  Injuries cost him three games in early to mid-October last year, or those two-year totals would have been close to 3,000 yards and more than 30 touchdowns on the ground.  He’s also turned into a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game, as evidenced by his 37 catches and six receiving touchdowns in his injury-stunted season.  Again, if he can stay healthy, the talent and production are and will continue to be undeniable.  Simply put, a healthy Gurley is a Heisman candidate from Game 1 on through early December.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Big 12 reportedly prefers expansion to be settled before start of season

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Unlike most goings-on in the conference, it doesn’t appear the Big 12 is going to drag its feet on the biggest issue it’s currently facing.

The Big 12 announced earlier this month that the conference will expand, whether by two teams or four.  Regardless of the final number, CBSSports.com‘s Dennis Dodd, citing three individuals with knowledge of the ongoing process, reported Thursday, the conference “would prefer to wrap up the expansion process before the start of the 2016 football season.” The reasoning for an expedited timeline is simple: the powers-that-be in the league do not want expansion talk and speculation to overshadow actual football.

Such a timeline would also be beneficial for any incoming teams.

If the expansion teams are indeed announced before the season, that conceivably would give the new schools a chance to begin playing in the conference in 2017. For now, the league is in the process of contemplating how it will decide participants for its championship game that has been reinstated for 2017.

“I have not made any comment on time frame and do not plan any such statement,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told Dodd in a statement.

It’s believed that any new members for the Big 12 will come from a group that includes teams from both the AAC (Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, UCF, USF) and Mountain West (Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State) as well as football-independent BYU.  More specifically, BYU, Houston, Memphis, UCF and UConn are considered by some/most observers as the front-runners, with some throwing Cincinnati in as well.

The AAC kicks off its Media Days Monday, and expansion will no doubt dominate the conversation during the two-day event.

FSU, Boise in talks to move 2019 opener to Jacksonville

10 Nov 2001:  The Florida State Seminoles mascot walks down the field during the game against the North Carolina Wolfpack at the Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. The Wolfpack defeated the Seminoles 34-28.Mandatory Credit:  Andy Lyons /Allsport
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One thing is certain, Florida State loves themselves some neutral-site openers.

Florida State and Boise State are scheduled to open the 2019 season at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee.  However, FirstCoastNews.com first reported, the two football programs are actively engaged in ongoing negotiations about moving that game to Jacksonville’s EverBank Field.

“A deal has not been reached but ‘positive discussions continue,” an unnamed official told the website.

FSU has a return game to Boise scheduled for 2020; as of now, the Tallahassee Democrat reports in confirming the initial news, FSU has no intentions of canceling that game.

If the game is moved to Jacksonville, it would give FSU neutral-site openers in four of the next five seasons.  They are already scheduled to open the 2016 season against Ole Miss in Orlando and the 2017 season against Alabama in Atlanta.  Additionally, reports surfaced earlier this week that FSU is closing in on an agreement to open the 2020 season in Atlanta against West Virginia.

FSU would reportedly make in excess of $8 million combined for the 2016 and 2017 openers.  The financial particulars for the 2019 and 2020 openers are unknown at this point.

One potential benefit of this spate of neutral-field games, the Democrat writes, is that it would “give FSU the opportunity to continue renovation efforts of Doak Campbell Stadium while boosting its strength of schedule against non-conference opponents.”

Steve Spurrier named ambassador, consultant for Florida athletics

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Not surprisingly, the Ol’ Ball Coach is coming home again.

Last month, Florida announced that it would be naming the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in honor of Steve Spurrier, something the coach considered “to be the biggest, most special honor I have ever received.”  Friday morning, UF announced that Spurrier’s name would continue on in another official capacity, revealing that Spurrier has been named “Ambassador and Consultant for the Florida Gators Athletic Department.”

There’s no official word on his specific duties, although I’m certain being shirtless and holding a Coors and cutting a rug are among them.

Spurrier played at Florida from 1963-66, becoming the first player in Gators history to win the Heisman Trophy. He returned to Gainesville as the Head Ball Coach in 1990, going 122-27-1 in his 12 seasons with eight SEC East titles, six SEC championships, 10 top-10 finishes and a national championship in 1996.

He abruptly retired as the head coach at South Carolina in early October of 2015, finishing his coaching career with a record of 228-89-2 (.718).  In February of this year, it was announced that Spurrier would serve as a special assistant for South Carolina president Harris Pastides and athletic director Ray Tanner.

Below are the pertinent quotes surrounding his latest appointment:

UF ATHLETIC DIRECTOR JEREMY FOLEY
“It’s a great day for the Gator Nation to be able to welcome Coach Spurrier back home. He has served as a tremendous ambassador to the University and the athletic department for 50-plus years and it’s only fitting that at this point in his career, he is back in Gainesville. Being a Gator has always meant so much to Coach Spurrier, but it means just as much to us have him come home.”

UF HEAD COACH JIM MCELWAIN
“I look forward to visiting with him on a lot of occasions and picking his brain on a number of issues. It’s a credit to Jeremy to get him back home where he belongs. More than anything I look forward to actually talking to him and being around him rather than just saying hello to his statue on my way to work every day.”

STEVE SPURRIER
“My wife, Jerri, and I are extremely thrilled to be returning home to our alma mater, and to Gainesville where we met on campus over 50 years ago. I’m very appreciative to Athletic Director Jeremy Foley, Head Coach Jim McElwain and Phil Pharr of Gator Boosters for their role in making this happen.

“I also want to say thanks to the University of South Carolina for allowing me to be their coach from 2005 to 2015. Also a special thanks to all of the Gamecock players, coaches and fans that allowed our teams to set so many school records. I will now pull for South Carolina to win every game but one, just as I did when I pulled for Florida to win every game but one as the Gamecock coach. I will try my best to promote and assist in any way I can to help the Gators to continue to be one of the very best athletic programs in America. I admire what Coach McElwain and his staff accomplished last year. I’m anxious to watch the Gator football team as they strive to be the best in the SEC and the nation in the years ahead.”

UPDATED 11:58 a.m. ET: Both USC and Spurrier have confirmed that the OBC will give up his position as special assistant at the school.

At least one poll ‘means more… maybe, than anything’ to Bob Stoops

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners is soaked with a water cooler by Nila Kasitati #54 of the Oklahoma Sooners after the Sooners beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys 58-23 at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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I don’t care where your allegiances lie, this is a pretty damn cool story.

Earlier this week, ESPN‘s Chris Low took a poll of Big 12 and SEC head coaches, 23 in all, and asked them the following question: If you had a son who was an elite football prospect and could play for any coach in America other than yourself, who would be your first choice?

The usual suspects were mentioned, among them: Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Miami’s Mark Richt, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. That venerable list received one vote apiece. Then there was Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald with two votes apiece, and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Stanford’s David Shaw with three each.

The top vote-getter? Bob Stoops of Oklahoma with five.

In an interview with Guerin Emig of Tulsa World in part regarding this poll specifically, Stoops relayed just how much it meant to him to be that respected by his counterparts.

It means more to me, maybe, than anything,” he said Thursday.

“That my peers, coaches, feel I treat kids the right way,” he said, “I don’t know, hopefully a good role model and mentor to them and coach, as well. It means a great deal to me.”

“I have such respect for all the coaches out there at all levels,” Stoops said. “So yeah, there’s no doubt that that’s very flattering. I’m honored they feel that way.

It’s one thing for a parent outside your profession to say they’d want you to coach/mentor/instruct/oversee/supervise your child. When it’s members of your own profession? As evidenced by the OU coach’s response, it doesn’t get any better or more humbling than that.