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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: SEC Predictions

Florida v LSU

As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the SEC. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

SEC EAST

1.  South Carolina (Last year: 11-2; beat Wisconsin in Capital One Bowl)
I’ve said it multiple times and I’ll say it again: this could very well be Steve Spurrier‘s best and deepest Gamecock team since taking over in Columbia a decade ago.  The loss of starting quarterback Connor Shaw will certainly have some impact, but the fact that Dylan Thompson isn’t your typical first-year starter — he’s started three games and thrown passes in 17 others — should help soften the transition.  Losing a pair of defensive line starters and two secondary starters won’t help matters either, but USC has recruited well at those positions the past couple of years and should have the on-paper talent to fill the voids.  A total of 16 starters return, though, including workhorse running back Mike Davis.  The Gamecocks are clearly the class of the East, and it would be more than a little surprising to not see them in Atlanta in early December after qualifying for the SEC championship game.

2. Georgia (Last year: 8-5; lost to Nebraska in Gator Bowl) 
After watching uneven and subpar defensive performances not just last season but the past couple of years, Mark Richt looked to right that ship by going out and reeling in Jeremy Pruitt of the defending BCS champion Florida State Seminoles as defensive coordinator.  Combine that with the returning talent — nine starters on that side of the ball — and the defensive woes of the past should be a thing of the, well, past.  The loss of a four-year starting quarterback will sting, at least initially, but the fact that his replacement, Hutson Mason, started two games at year’s end to go along with Todd Gurley carrying the offensive load while Mason gets his starting sea legs should help in the transition to the post-Murray era.  Having to travel to East favorite South Carolina won’t help the cause, but getting past that early-season hurdle could set the Bulldogs up for a return trip to Atlanta after a one-year absence.

3. Florida (Last year: 4-8)
The Gators could very well be the third-best team in the SEC East — and that may not be enough to save Will Muschamp‘s job.  Beset with injuries and overall poor play — especially on offense — in 2013, UF tripped, bumbled and stumbled its way through the program’s worst season in nearly two decades.  The offense was simply abysmal, especially in the passing game, which served as the impetus for Muschamp to swipe offensive coordinator Kurt Roper from Duke in the offseason.  The early signs point to a rejuvenated offense in general and quarterback Jeff Driskel in particular under Roper.  The defense, as has been the case under Muschamp, will be just fine; if the offense can merely climb to respectable, it should be enough for the Gators to get closer to 2012’s 10-win season than last year’s eight-loss abomination.  The schedule is essentially a wash, with games at Alabama and Florida State offset by tough games against LSU and South Carolina in The Swamp.  UF could be staring an eight-win season square in the face — and that should be enough for Muschamp to get a fourth year on the job.  Anything less than that, and his future employment in Gainesville becomes dicey.

4. Tennessee (Last year: 5-7)
Surprise!!!  Yes, this one could — and quite likely will — come back and bite me square in the arse, but what the hell.  Call it a hunch. Or the fact that they finished with a better record than did the Gators, who I have listed above.  Or a bad case of (insert serious mental disorder here).  Whatever the case, I love what Butch Jones is doing in Knoxville and, while I might be a year early on this, I’m buying in.  How mental am I?  I’m predicting the Vols to finish fourth in the seven-team East, even as I’m fully aware of the fact that UT is the only team in the country that lost every starter on both the offensive and defensive lines.  And then there’s the schedule: the opener at home against an underrated Utah State; a road trip to Oklahoma in Week 3; and SEC away games at Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina.  Yep, I’m nuts.  But I do like the defense and the receiving corps, and think that Justin Worley is ready to take a step up to the next level in a conference riddled with questions at the quarterback position, especially as he’s now solidified his hold on the job.  Again, I may not be right, but I think I’m closer to that than wrong.

5. Missouri (Last year: 12-2; beat Oklahoma State in Cotton Bowl) 
The Tigers return just seven of 22 starters — three on offense, four on defense — from last year’s surprise SEC East championship squad.  Mizzou must find a way to replace its leading passer, rusher and three top receivers from a year ago, although the former is a little disingenuous as Maty Mauk showed he was the Tigers’ future at the quarterback position subbing for an injured James Franklin.  Losing Dorial Green-Beckham to a dismissal, though, was a huge blow for Mauk as he assumes the full-time offensive reins for the first time.  The good news is that, while Mauk is adjusting to his new role, Mizzou will feature a pair of running backs — Russell Hansborough and Marcus Murphy — who combined for nearly 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.  The schedule makers didn’t do Mizzou many favors, with road trips to South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M and Tennessee in the offing.  The Tigers surprised many most all observers by claiming a division title in just their second season in the conference; it’d be equally surprising if they came even remotely close to matching 2013’s success,

6. Kentucky (Last year: 2-10)
Despite just two wins last season, UK appears to be a football program on the upswing, especially if recruiting rankings mean anything.  The past two recruiting cycles, UK has pulled in the No. 17 (2014) and No. 23 (2013) recruiting classes, and are currently rated No. 20 for 2015.  Prior to Mark Stoops’ arrival, UK had just two recruiting classes — 2006 (No. 36) and 2009 (No. 41) — finish inside the Top 50 nationally since 2002.  How long before that success planted on the recruiting trail bears fruit on the field?  That remains unclear, although it could be 2015 before Stoops truly sees the fruit of his and his staff’s labor.  Until then, it could be another rough football season at the basketball school, even as doubling up on last year’s win total would seem to be a modest and attainable goal.

7. Vanderbilt (Last year: 9-4; beat Houston in BBVA Compass Bowl)
I’m fully aware that the Commodores finished fourth in the East last year and won nine games, including the program’s first-ever back-to-back bowl game.  I’m also fully aware that James Franklin was a huge part of that success, and Franklin and his coaching staff are currently in Happy Valley preparing for the upcoming season.  Do I think Stanford’s Derek Mason was a subpar replacement?  Most definitely not; he was one of the more underrated hires of the offseason.  Do I think he can do what David Shaw did after Jim Harbaugh left The Farm after laying the foundation?  No, because there’s simply not that type of foundation in place in Nashville.  Inexperience on the skill player side of the equation, especially at quarterback and wide receiver, could be Vandy’s undoing.

SEC WEST

1. Alabama (Last year: 11-2; lost to Oklahoma in Sugar Bowl)
Replacing a three-year starter at quarterback?  Pffft, no problem for a Tide squad that boasts two Top-Five SEC running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry… and the SEC’s best wide receiver-tight end combination in Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard… and at least three returning starters along the offensive line… and a defense that, despite the return of  just four starters, is littered with four- and five-star recruits throughout the depth chart and will, again, be one of the most stout in the conference… and, hands-down, the best coach in college football in Nick Saban.  So, yes, the Tide will, as has ofttimes been the case over the past five-plus years, be the favorite not only in the division but in the conference, despite the presence of East/SEC title winner Auburn.  The Tide is locked and loaded to bounce back from two straight losses to end the 2013 season by a squad that was viewed by some, including its head coach, to be an entitled bunch.  A pissed-off Saban with a legitimate agenda and loads of talent at his disposal entering a season is a dangerous proposition not just for the SEC but for college football as a whole.

2. Auburn (Last year: 12-2; lost to Florida State in BCS title game)
There’s no way around it, no way to tap-dance whilst whistling past the biggest question when it comes to AU football in 2014: did the Tigers use a couple of years (decades?) worth of luck in their magical, unexpected, inexplicable ride to the BCS title game?  Even the biggest homer out on The Plains would have to admit that the Tigers were “fortunate” to end the season where they did.  Of their 12 wins, six were decided by eight points or less.  In four games — Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama — they were trailing with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.  The Georgia (“Prayer at Jordan-Hare“) and Alabama (“Kick-Six“) wins immediately earned nicknames for the sheer improbability of the endings.  There’s little doubt that Gus Malzahn has, very quickly, turned AU around from the three-win embarrassment that was the final season of Gene Chizik in 2012.  How much was sheer luck, the kind of once-a-decade (or two) happenstance that simply can’t repeat itself?  Regardless of the answer — I’m guessing the talent is sufficient so as to make the question moot — Malzahn’s Tigers will be one of the more fascinating squads to watch throughout the 2014 season.

3. LSU (Last year: 10-3; beat Iowa in Outback Bowl)
Eight times in Les Miles‘ 10 season on the bayou, the Tigers have won at least 10 games.  Included in that total is a streak of five straight.  Don’t expect that skein to be broken in 2015.   Gone is starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, leaving LSU with arguably the biggest question mark in the conference at the most important position.  Gone also are the top two receivers and leading rusher.  Back, though, are four offensive line starters and seven defensive starters.  Entering the fray as well is Leonard Fournette, one of the most hyped freshman running backs since Adrian Peterson burst onto the scene as a true freshman in Norman a decade ago.  Fournette has the type of ability that will allow whomever emerges from LSU’s quarterback competition to ease into the job.  Well, that and a defense that will be as physical and stifling as it always is.  The schedule makers also smiled on LSU, with its toughest road trip likely proving to be a Oct. 4 date with Auburn at Jordan-Hare, although a regular season-ending trip to Texas A&M’s Kyle Field won’t exactly be a cakewalk.

4. Ole Miss (Last year: 8-5; beat Georgia Tech in Music City Bowl) 
I was almost — almost — tempted to put the Rebels ahead of the Bayou Bengals, but simply couldn’t pull the trigger.  Ole Miss is the “trendy” sleeper pick heading into 2014, and for good reason.  There’s really not a lot to not like about the potential of the 2014 version of Hugh Freeze‘s 2014 Rebels.  They will, once again, possess one of the best offenses in the SEC to go along with a defense that, quietly, is one of the best in a defense-heavy conference.  The biggest hurdle the Rebels have is something completely out of their control: the division in which they reside.  Since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012, the Rebels are just 2-6 against those four programs — a three-point home win against LSU last season and a win in 2012 against an Auburn team that would ultimately win three games and fire its head coach.  And that’s without even mentioning that Ole Miss has lost four of the last five Egg Bowls against in-state rival — and divisional foe — Mississippi State.  How Ole Miss can crack the Top Three the way the West is currently constituted is unclear.  What appears to be clear is that they have the head coach who could do just that, whether it be in 2014 or in the coming years.

5. Texas A&M (Last year: 9-4; beat Duke in Chick-fil-A Bowl)
Where do we start?  You lose Johnny ManzielMike Evans, one of the best receivers in the country… the best left tackle in the game in Jake Matthews… myriad defensive contributors due to suspension/dismissals/other forms of attrition from a unit that was really bad in 2013… all of that, and it could be quite the season in College Station coming off the success that was A&M’s first two seasons in the SEC.  One known amidst the question marks is that Kevin Sumlin always fields a Top-10 offense as a head coach; even as just five starters on that side of the ball return, that shouldn’t change as Sumlin’s system remains a big consistent for the Aggies.  That defense, though, needs to step it up a level or eight so that the offense doesn’t have to outscore its expected unevenness on that side of the ball.  Games at South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn — the Gamecocks contest is the season opener — doesn’t bode well for the young but talented Aggies.

6. Mississippi State (Last year: 7-6; beat Rice in Liberty Bowl) 
MSU’s placement of second-to-last is not an indictment of Dan Mullens‘ football program, but merely an indicator of just how deep the West is.  If the Bulldogs were in the East, they could very well be the third-best team in the division.  Given their current football lot, they’ll continue to struggle to get past their in-division rivals.  Since going 5-7 in Mullens’ first season in 2009, MSU’s win total has ranged from seven (twice, including 2013) to nine (2010).  With 16 returning starters back, including nine on defense as well as one of the most experienced returning quarterback starters in the conference (Dak Prescott), MSU could and should very well get in that very same win range for a fifth consecutive season.  Whether that’s good enough for the fans and the administration remains to be seen.

7. Arkansas (Last year: 3-9)
In Bret Bielema‘s first season in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks won just three games; two of those wins came against FCS programs, the other against a Southern Miss team that was in the midst of what would become a 23-game losing streak.  UA ended the season on a nine-game losing streak, finishing up Year 1 of the Great Bielema Southern Experiment at 0-8 in SEC play.  Six of those nine losses came by at least 10 points, with two of them coming by a combined 97 points.  It was a rough first season for Bielema and his charges; it doesn’t expect to get much better in 2014.  The good news for Bielema and his coaching staff is that his boss, athletic director Jeff Long, is committed to them for the long haul; whether the long haul is three years or four years or even five years remains to be seen.  One thing is certain: Bielema has a helluva tough job ahead of him, cleaning up the mess left by the controversy-stained departure of Bobby Petrino and the lost 2012 season under John L. Smith.  Oh, and all the while sweeping the broom in the toughest division in any conference in the conference.  Yeah, good luck with that.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Alabama over South Carolina

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Texas Tech lineman the personification of perseverance

Tony Morales

If there were a picture next to the word “perseverance” in the dictionary, it’d be that of Tony Morales.

The Texas Tech offensive lineman missed the 2011 season due to an injury sustained in summer camp. The same thing around the same time happened again in 2012. And again in 2013. And, unbelievably, again in 2014.

Even more unbelievable? Morales will be back at it for the Red Raiders next year as well. Wednesday, Tech offensive line coach Lee Hays confirmed that Morales will be a part of the team in 2015.

“He’ll be here in the spring,” Hays said. “Looking forward to him practicing.”

Kid’s got heart,” the position coach added in a monumental understatement.

Morales’ myriad health issues consisted of a torn labrum in his right shoulder (2011); a strained knee ligament (2012); a torn labrum in his left shoulder (2013); and another knee issue this season.

Morales, a four-star member of Tech’s 2011 class rated as the No. 5 center in the country, has yet to play in a game; as he’s a senior, and even as he could apply for a sixth season of eligibility and easily be granted it, here’s to hoping that he gets to see the field in 2015. More than just about anyone else who has ever played this game, he’s damn-well earned it.

(Photo credit: Texas Tech athletics)

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Vols’ receiving corps may have taken another hit

Jason Croom

When it comes to injury luck, Tennessee wide receivers have had little of it in 2014.  Josh Smith is out for the year with a severe ankle injury sustained in early September, while Marquez North (missed the Mizzou game last week) and Von Pearson (missed games earlier in the year) have battled health issues as well.

Tuesday, that unit may have taken yet another hit as Jason Croom went down with what appeared to be a knee injury.  The severity and specific nature, however, remains a matter of debate.

Head coach Butch Jones described it as a cramp in his hamstring and hip.  The Chattanooga Times Free-Press wrote “it looked much worse [than a hamstring] when he went down” after “grabbing his left knee,” while 247Sports.com‘s Wes Rucker noted that Croom grabbed his knee when he dropped to the turf in pain and that Jones’ injury reports are “a bit … shall we say … questionable from time to time” — with a video clip of the GEICO “Pinocchio is a bad motivational speaker” to drive home that latter point.

Regardless, Croom didn’t practice Wednesday and his availability for the in-state rivalry game against Vanderbilt Saturday is unknown.

Among receivers with 10 or more catches, Croom leads the team in yards per catch at 14.5, while he’s fourth in receiving yards (305) and tied for sixth in receptions (21).  His four receiving touchdowns are tied for first on the team, and he’s caught at least one scoring pass in each of the last three games.

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‘Canes to be without DB Bush, WR Waters for regular-season finale

Arkansas State v Miami

As Miami looks to right a listing ship and snap a two-game losing streak, the Hurricanes will have to navigate one very key injury and another more-than-minor one to do so.

On its weekly injury report Thursday, UM confirmed that neither safety Deon Bush (pictured) nor wide receiver Herb Waters will play in the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh Saturday.  Bush will be missing his second consecutive game with a hamstring issue, while Waters is dealing with a neck injury.

Bush started all 10 games to start this season before missing the loss to Virginia Nov. 22.  He’s fourth on the team in tackles with 48, while his two interceptions are tied for the team lead.

Waters is fourth on the team in receiving yards (277) and fifth in receptions (20).  The junior has started four of the 11 games in which he’s played this season.

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FBI probing threats made against trees, shrubs at Ole Miss’ Grove

Auburn v Mississippi Getty Images

I’ll go ahead and answer your question right upfront: I have no earthly idea if anti-arborist Harvey Updyke was or wasn’t involved.

With that out of the way, and a couple of days before the annual Egg Bowl kicks off, Ole Miss has confirmed that the FBI is investigating threats made against the landscape at The Grove at the school.  A handwritten letter threatening damage to the trees and shrubs in The Grove was turned over to the Jackson (Miss.) office of the FBI.

The note was delivered to the campus on Tuesday and given to the FBI a day later:

“What’s going to happen to ya’ll on the field Saturday Aint nothing compared to what’s going to happen on your beautiful campus. You won’t be one of the most pretty campus’s Next year. A lot of shrubs and trees are going to die; especially in the grove. Can’t stop us” (signed) “Hail State Go to Hell TSUN.”

“Hail State,” of course, refers to Mississippi State while “TSUN” is not Michigan but rather Ole Miss, which MSU has taken to referring to “That School Up North” in the vein of Woody Hayes.  The release went on to note that “[l]aw enforcement authorities are taking the threat seriously and are encouraging fans to report suspicious behavior.”

The 111th edition of the Egg Bowl will be played in Oxford Saturday.  An MSU win and Alabama loss sends the Bulldogs to the SEC championship game against either Missouri or Georgia and, potentially, earns them a spot in the College Football Playoff.  The Rebels, meanwhile, could secure a New Year’s Day bowl bid with an upset.

The stakes are certainly high, as high football-wise as they’ve ever been in the rivalry, so authorities and school officials are doing their best to keep emotions down as much as possible.

“This longtime football rivalry has separated families and friends for generations, but while it’s spirited, our attention has been focused mostly on the football field,” Ole Miss police chief Calvin Sellers said. “We encourage everyone to remember that this is a game, after all, not a time for hate. We are hopeful that passions have not escalated to the point that someone is prepared to do damage to a landmark for which all Mississippians take great pride.”

“It has been a remarkable year for football in this state and we have much to be thankful for,” a joint statement from the university’s athletic directors, Ole Miss’ Ross Bjork and MSU’s Scott Stricklin, read. “Both programs and their student-athletes have been on the national stage throughout the year and have represented Mississippi in invaluable ways. We ask that you join us in enjoying the traditions of the Egg Bowl and events surrounding the game in a positive and respectful way.”

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Mom of OSU Buckeye Kosta Karageorge says son is missing

Kosta Karageorge

Thanksgiving is normally a day reserved for giving thanks and celebration, but for the family of one member of the Ohio State football program it’s full of dread and worry.

In a message posted to Facebook, Susan Karageorge said a missing person’s report has been filed for her son, reserve OSU defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge.  According to the mom, Karageorge has been missing since around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The mom added that family and friends have been searching all over campus for Karageorge to no avail, while also relaying where he may have last been seen.

There was also this message posted to what appears to be Kosta Karageorge’s Twitter account early Thursday morning:

OSU has yet to publicly address what if anything is going on with the player.

Karageorge is a former OSU wrestler who joined the Buckeyes as a walk-on earlier this year.  He’s played in one game this season, that coming in the win over Penn State.

Our thoughts go out to the family as they continue to search for their loved one.

(Photo credit: Ohio State athletics)

UPDATED 11:24 a.m. ET: The Columbus Police Department has confirmed that they are actively searching for Karageorge.  It’s also being reported that the player was not at practice Thursday morning.

UPDATED 12:19 p.m. ET: From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Karageorge’s sister, Sophia, told cleveland.com that her brother was upset about something Tuesday night. His roommates, who are also Ohio State wrestlers, said he went for a walk from their apartment on East 7th Avenue in Columbus around 2 a.m.

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Pair of Alabama receivers ‘very questionable’ for Iron Bowl

Western Carolina v Alabama Getty Images

Alabama could very well head into Saturday’s Iron Bowl at less than full strength in its passing game*.

In what was essentially a glorified scrimmage last Saturday, tight end Brian Vogler and receiver ArDarius Stewart sustained what head coach Nick Saban described as stretched knee ligaments in the romp over FCS-level Western Carolina. Neither player has practiced this week, leading Saban to continue to call the duo “very questionable” for Saturday evening’s game against Auburn.

Because neither has practiced, it would seem highly doubtful either will be available.

Stewart has started the past two games and has 12 receptions for 149 yards on the season. Nine of those receptions have come in the last five games.

While Vogler has started nine games this season, he has just three receptions for 13 yards as his forte is blocking. One of those catches, though, was a touchdown in the Week 3 win over Southern Miss.

(*With Amari Cooper on the field, they’re still at, what, 99 percent?)

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Buckeyes sending conflicting message with hype video?

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As you get set for your Thanksgiving feast, here’s a little something to chew on in the meanwhile.

During the 2013 edition of The Game between Ohio State and Michigan, a pair of Buckeyes — offensive lineman Marcus Hall and running back Dontre Wilsonwere ejected for throwing punches in the midst of a kick-return fracas. Mindful of that situation, Urban Meyer had a message his players were to carry into this year’s version of The Game.

“He said he wants the game to be very intense, but if anybody throws a punch they’re dismissed,” linebacker Curtis Grant said Monday. “He pretty much put it out there [Sunday]. There’s no telling what will happen if we get in a fight this year.”

Fast-forward a day or so later, and OSU released a hype video for this year’s game — Meyer tweeted it out to his 140,000-plus followers — that featured, you guessed it, fisticuffs and dust-ups from past UM-OSU football battles.

 

“What do you expect?” defensive lineman Michael Bennett said Monday of the volatility of The Game in general and last year’s game specifically. “We just watched this highlight video of Ohio State-Team Up North fights for the last week on repeat with ‘It’s Time for War‘ playing the whole time. Kids wanna fight, that’s just how it is. It didn’t surprise me.”

When it comes to Meyer’s ultimatum, is this is one of those “do as I say, not as I hype video” type deals? You be the judge.

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LSU’s Mike the Tiger ate Texas A&M (logo) for breakfast

Mike the Tiger

Many of us will be feasting on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pie and perhaps a green bean casserole or cranberry sauce if you prefer. But tigers need to eat too, right?

LSU is playing Texas A&M Thursday night to add to your football enjoyment. In honor of the occasion, LSU made sure to prepare an appropriate Thanksgiving Eve feast for Mike The Tiger. Today, Mike was fed raw meat in the form of Texas A&M’s logo, with a question on social media asking how many tigers it takes to devour the Aggies.

The answer? Just one.

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 9.35.15 PM

It should be noted, this is a fairly common treat for Mike the Tiger. He has also devoured the logos of Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss this season.

Image via Mike the Tiger’s Instagram.

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Clemson QB Watson might have shot to snap losing streak to Gamecocks

Deshaun Watson

When Clemson lost starting quarterback Deshaun Watson to a sprained LCL in mid-November, there was a chance he could be expected to return this season. With just days to go leading up to The Palmetto Bowl against South Carolina, it appears there is a chance Watson will play for Clemson. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney had some good things to say about Watson’s healthy and mobility in practice this week.

“I thought he was better today than he was yesterday,” Swinney said, according to TigerNet. “It’s just like I have been saying it gets better each day. I know he was more confident today than he was yesterday.”

Cole Stoudt has been leading the offense and will be Clemson’s starter this week unless Watson is deemed ready to step back into the starting job. Watson replaced Stoudt earlier in the season against Florida State and held onto the job until getting injured. Swinney will play it safe and wait until he sees more before throwing Watson back under center.

“Tomorrow is another important day for us from a preparation standpoint. I think he has a good chance,” Swinney added. “How much or when? We haven’t decided that yet. But I think he definitely has a chance to play.”

Clemson has lost five straight games to their in-state rivals from the SEC. The last time Clemson defeated South Carolina at home was in 2008.

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Status of UCLA starting WR unknown following practice injury

Thomas Duarte, Adoree' Jackson

UCLA needs one more win to clinch the Pac-12 South Division, but the Bruins may have to do so without the services of one of their top wide receivers. Thomas Duarte had to leave practice on Tuesday after injuring his left leg, putting his status for Saturday’s contest with Stanford in some question.

“He is so important to us,” UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said according to The Los Angeles Times. “He has excellent ball skills, and that’s big for us. He is an inside guy that causes matchup problems.”

Duarte is UCLA’s second-leading receiver this season with 458 yards and three touchdowns. Tyler Scott has been listed behind Duarte on the UCLA depth chart and could be in line for a spot start if needed. Freshman Mossi Johnson could be another possible option if it comes to needing to replace Duarte.

If UCLA defeats Stanford, the Bruins will win the Pac-12 South and face Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game. A UCLA loss to Stanford will hand the division championship to the winner of the Arizona-Arizona State game.

Stanford will be playing UCLA without its top wide receiver. Ty Montgomery has been ruled out due to a right shoulder injury.

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Is it better for Ohio State to play Wisconsin or Minnesota (again)?

Ohio State v Minnesota Getty Images

Regardless of what unfolds Saturday in Columbus, Ohio we know the Ohio State Buckeyes will be heading to the Big Ten Championship Game as the Big Ten East Division champions. The Buckeyes will learn whom they will face on Saturday as Wisconsin and Minnesota play for Paul Bunyan’s Axe and the Big Ten West Division championship. With Ohio State looking to make a push up the College Football Playoff rankings in the next two weeks, does it matter more if Ohio State plays Wisconsin or Minnesota?

Here is the situation for Ohio State. The Buckeyes are currently ranked sixth in the College Football Playoff rankings. TCU is ranked just ahead of Ohio State and Mississippi State owns the fourth spot in the rankings. Baylor is in the conversation as well, sitting at seventh place just behind Ohio State.

Ohio State has already played Minnesota this season, winning a competitive game on the road in the snow just a couple of weeks ago. Ohio State did not have Wisconsin on the regular season schedule. If the committee compares results against similar opponents, then TCU seems to hold an edge on Ohio State with a wider margin of victory against Minnesota from a game in September. As it turns out, the Minnesota game is helping keep TCU ahead of Baylor, despite the Horned Frogs losing a head-to-head result against Baylor and having an identical record.

For Ohio State, winning the final two games of the season will be an absolute must in order to have a shot at one of the four playoff spots, especially if Alabama, Florida State and Oregon win their remaining games and conference championship games. Ohio State will have to hope the selection committee sticks to the idea of conference championships carrying a little extra weight when it comes time to selecting the four playoff teams. That overall body of work would likely look more impressive with a Big Ten championship game victory over a surging Wisconsin, with a potential Heisman Trophy running back in Melvin Gordon leading the Badgers offense.

There is no guarantee Ohio State can leapfrog TCU and Mississippi State. If ending the season on a high note holds any significance, then Ohio State may have the best argument to make with a win against Wisconsin. Would playing Minnesota a second time have the same importance?

Well, actually…

If Minnesota beats Wisconsin, it is possible the Gophers could climb as many as five spots in the next playoff ranking. This happens easier if Auburn loses to Alabama, Georgia Tech loses to Georgia and Missouri loses to Arkansas. The loser of the Arizona-Arizona State game should also fall behind a victorious Minnesota. Then we would be talking about a top 13 Minnesota, and this is assuming UCLA is not upset by Stanford or Michigan State upset by Penn State.

But Ohio State has already proven it can beat Minnesota, doing so on the road. Doing it again on a neutral field does not add much to the overall body of work for Ohio State. Adding another team to the list of opponents would likely be more beneficial to the Buckeyes. Wisconsin beating Minnesota would diminish the attractiveness of one of Ohio State’s wins, but it would do the same for TCU as well. The more Minnesota wins, the better things could play out for TCU, and not Ohio State.

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Georgia Southern has bowl waiver denied

Georgia Southern has already clinched a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship in its first season at the FBS level, but it does not look as though the Eagles will be going to a bowl game. The university reportedly filed for a waiver to be eligible to participate in a postseason bowl game, but that waiver has been denied. Georgia Southern can still file an appeal and hope for the best.

Any appeal decision at this point is likely to uphold the original ruling on the waiver. If bowl spots start to become harder to fill, then the chances Georgia Southern could receive a positive response could increase.

Programs moving up from the FCS to the FBS ranks are ineligible for postseason play in their first year in FBS. Exceptions may be made to allow these schools play in a bowl game, but this has rarely been a legitimate concern. Georgia Southern’s case is just about as strong as it could have been with a share of the Sun Belt title and a chance to win the conference’s outright title.

Georgia Southern can win the outright Sun Belt title with a win against ULM or a Louisiana-Lafayette loss to Troy this weekend. The Sun Belt’s champion typically plays in the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

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Todd Gurley begins rehab after ACL surgery

Todd Gurley

Georgia running back Todd Gurley underwent surgery on Tuesday to address a torn ACL, and he started his rehab on Wednesday.

It used to be a torn ACL would keep a player out of action for a year, but sometimes players can come back earlier than they used to thanks to improved medical treatment and rehab practices. Regardless, Gurley should not be expected to play again this season and he will likely be limited at best in the spring. The other question is whether or not Gurley will be working to return for one more season at Georgia or if he will risk taking a shot at the NFL while coming off a torn ACL.

Returning for one more year at Georgia would appear to be the most logical situation for Gurley. Before the injury Gurley would have likely been the first running back off the big board in the 2015 NFL Draft, but considering the diminished running back stock in the NFL Draft and the injury, heading to the NFL would be an unwise move for Gurley right now.

Gurley recently had his anticipated return to the field cut short. After sitting out four games due to a suspension, Gurley returned to action in a home game against Auburn. It was a fine return, but a torn ACL in the final minutes of the game put a damper on the entire game despite the win.

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Broyles Award nominees include Kiffin, Venables, 38 others

Lane Kiffin

With the next round fo the coaching carousel about to get underway at full speed, some programs may want to pay attention to the list of names nominated for the Broyles Award. The Broyles Award is presented annually to the top assistant coach in college football, and the list of 40 nominees for this year’s award includes some names with previous head coaching experience and others about to be in line for a head coaching gig somewhere around the country.

Current head coaches who previously won the Broyles Award include Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, UConn’s Bob Diaco and Duke’s David Cutcliffe. Last year’s Broyles Award winner was Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who many feel could be ready for a head coaching offer in the next round of the coaching carousel.  This year Narduzzi is not a finalist for the award, but Spartans co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner is.

“This will be one of the most challenging years ever for our selection committee to choose the top 5 finalists and winner, so many assistant coaches did outstanding work this year,” David Bazzel, Broyles Award executive director.

This year’s Broyles Award winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 9 by The Rotary Club of Little Rock and sponsor Delta Dental. The award is named after former Arkansas head coach Frank Broyles, who had a solid track record of pumping out quality assistant coaches. Some of the assistants who coaches under Broyles include Barry Switzer, Jimmy Johnson, Hayden Fry, Joe Gibbs, and Jackie Sherrill.

Broyles Award Nominees

Alabama – Lane Kiffin, Offensive Coordinator
Appalachian State – Dwayne Ledford, Co-Offensive Coordinator
Arizona – Jeff Casteel, Defensive Coordinator
Arkansas – Robb Smith, Defensive Coordinator
Arkansas State University – Walt Bell, Offensive Coordinator
Boise State University – Mike Sanford, Offensive Coordinator
Boston College – Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator
Brigham Young University – Nick Howell, Defensive coordinator
Clemson – Brent Venables, Defensive Coordinator
Colorado State – Dave Baldwin, Offensive Coordinator
Duke University – John Latina, Run Game Coordinator/OL
East Carolina University – Lincoln Riley, Offensive Coordinator
FIU – Josh Conklin, Defensive Coordinator
Georgia Southern University – Doug Ruse, Offensive Coordinator
Louisiana – Marquase Lovings, Running Backs
Louisiana Tech – Manny Diaz, Defensive Coordinator
Louisville – Todd Grantham, Defensive Coordinator
Memphis – James Shibest, Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
Miami – Mark D’Onofrio, Defensive Coordinator
Michigan – Greg Mattison, Defensive Coordinator
Michigan State University – Dave Warner, Co-Offensive Coordinator
Minnesota – Tracy Claeys, Defensive Coordinator
Mississippi State – Geoff Collins, Defensive Coordinator
Missouri – Dave Steckel, Defensive Coordinator
NC State – Desmond Kitchings, Running Backs/Recruiting Coordinator
Ohio State University – Tom Herman, Offensive Coordinator
Ole Miss – Dave Wommack, Defensive Coordinator
Oregon – Scott Frost, Offensive Coordinator
Penn State University – Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator
Stanford – Lance Anderson, Defensive Coordinator
TCU – Doug Meacham, Co-Offensive Coordinator
Temple – Phil Snow, Defensive Coordinator
UCF – Brent Key, Offensive Line Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
UCLA – Noel Mazzone, Offensive Coordinator
Utah – Kalani Sitake, Defensive Coordinator
Utah State University – Todd Orlando, Defensive Coordinator
UTSA – Neal Neathery, Defensive Coordinator
West Virginia University – Tony Gibson, Defensive Coordinator
Western Michigan University – Kirk Ciarrocca, Offensive Coordinator
Wisconsin – Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator

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Freeze, on Bo Wallace: ‘have to chain him down to keep him from’ Egg Bowl

Mississippi v Arkansas Getty Images

While it’s not yet officially official, it appears Ole Miss’ triggerman will indeed be under center for the Egg Bowl Saturday.

Bo Wallace missed a substantial chunk of the Arkansas loss last week after injuring his ankle.  During practice leading up to the rivalry game against Mississippi State, Wallace has been somewhat limited.

On the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday, however, Wallace’s head coach seemed decidedly optimistic that the quarterback will be on the field when the Rebels take on the Bulldogs.

You would have to chain him down to keep him from going,” Hugh Freeze said. “He’s looking better every day. We anticipate him being ready to go.”

If Wallace were to suffer a setback, the Rebels would turn to either Devante Kincaid and Ryan Buchanan. The backup duo, both redshirt freshmen, has attempted 39 passes this season, with Kincaid completing 15 of his 17 attempts.

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