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)

Report: Oregon State paying search firm up to $200k to find new head football coach

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We’re all in the wrong business.

Earlier this month, Gary Andersen abruptly stepped down as Oregon State’s head football coach.  While cornerbacks coach Cory Hall was named interim head coach, the football program is on the hunt for a permanent replacement.

To aid in that search, OSU has hired the search firm of DH International, Inc.  And, according to information obtained by The Oregonian, that Chicago-based company could potentially get paid for its efforts.

DHR International, Inc. will conduct the search for a fee that “shall not exceed $200,000,” although Oregon State redacted the value of each fee installment in its response to a public records request.

The newspaper also wrote that “[athletic director Rick] Barnes… previously worked with DHR International when finding a new athletic director when he left Pitt for OSU.” It was DH International that also recommended Barnes for the Pitt job.

Alabama WR Donnie Lee Jr. charged with domestic violence, dismissed

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That didn’t take long.  At all.

According to WBRC-TV in Tuscaloosa, Donnie Lee Jr. was arrested early Thursday morning on one count of third-degree domestic violence.  It’s alleged that a verbal confrontation turned physical and resulted in his girlfriend sustaining unspecified injuries.

From the television station’s report:

Police responded to a domestic call in the 900 block of 12th Street around 1 a.m.

The arrest report states there was a verbal disagreement between Lee and a female he was dating. The disagreement resulted in a physical altercation and caused injuries.

Lee is — or was — a senior walk-on for the Crimson Tide.  He suffered a torn ACL during summer camp earlier this year, making it an easy decision for the football program to dismiss him from the team, which they did shortly after word of the situation surfaced.

“Donnie Lee Jr., a walk-on who has not been participating in team activities since a knee injury in August, has been dismissed from our football team and is no longer part of our program,” a statement from head coach Nick Saban began. “This behavior will not be tolerated from anyone and is not representative of our football program.”

Phil Fulmer can feel Butch Jones’ hot-seat pain

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With each passing week, the heat underneath Butch Jones‘ coaching seat only intensifies. One former Tennessee head coach, for what it’s worth, can feel the pain of a man who many feel will join him in the ex-UT coach’s club sooner rather than later.

Phil Fulmer, who played his college football for the Vols, was the head coach at his alma mater from 1992 to 2008, finishing with a 152-52 record, nine double-digit win seasons, two conference championships, six division titles and one national championship. Despite that success, Fulmer was fired following a 5-7 2008 season.

Butch Jones, in the midst of his fifth season at the school, has a 33-24 overall record and a 14-21 mark in SEC play, including an 0-3 start this season. The Vols have yet to place higher than tied for second in the SEC East under Jones, one of myriad factors that have him facing the firing squad at season’s end, if not before.

Asked this week about the storm of criticism enveloping the beleaguered coach, the former coach commiserated with one of his Rocky Top predecessors.

“I understand exactly where he is,” Fulmer told the Citizen Tribune of Morristown, Tenn. “It’s a tough time for him. …

“Nobody ever promised anybody that every day is going to be good. Everybody has difficulties, it’s just that in athletics, and particularly at a place like Tennessee, it is so exposed.”

When asked about quality replacements should the trigger be pulled on Jones, Fulmer told the paper “I wouldn’t begin to go there.”

“There’s so much football to be played and that’s not my responsibility anyway,” Fulmer said, adding, “My hope is that the players will run out, and make a good year out of it.”

For the record, the Vols are 56-51 and are on their third head coach since Fulmer was fired. That’s the worst 10-year stretch, winning percentage-wise, for the football program since the early 1900s.

Florida loses starting DE to season-ending hip surgery

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The injury-plagued career of Jordan Sherit (pictured, right) has come to an end because of, you guessed it, another injury.

Sherit suffered an injury in last Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M that dropped Florida 1½ games behind Georgia in the SEC’s East division.  Wednesday, Jim McElwain confirmed that the starting defensive end will miss the remainder of the year after undergoing season-ending hip surgery because of the injury sustained in that game.

As this is the lineman’s final season of eligibility, the collegiate portion of his playing career is over as well.

It’s a bad deal, man,” the head coach said of the situation.

Sherit’s 2.5 sacks are currently second on the Gators, while his five tackles for loss are tied for third.  The redshirt senior missed a handful of games in the 2014 and 2016 seasons because of a variety of injuries.  He also missed the last half of his senior season of high school because of a torn ACL