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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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DWI for Illinois football staff member leads to two-year probation

Wisconsin v Illinois

One member of the Illinois football staff will have to be on his best behavior for the next years. Ryan Cubit, director of student athlete development and son of Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, was sentenced to two years of court supervision on Friday after pleading guilty to drunk driving charge from October. Essentially, this is a two-year probation.

For the next three months, Cubit will be forced to wear an alcohol-monitoring device. Cubit mus also serve 100 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine. Cubit pleaded guilty to the October driving under the influence charge in January.

Cubit had previously been cited for driving under the influence back in 2003, which a judge took into consideration before letting Cubit off with a probation punishment. Cubit had no other incidents on record between 2003 and 2014, which led the judge to let Cubit off with a lesser sentence and a stern warning that the next time Cubit is in court it will not go as smoothly.

Nobody was hurt when police initially cited Cubit for DWI in October. Cubit was stopped at a roadside safety check and police reported a BAC of 0.12.

Cubit remains a member of the Illinois football staff and there is no indication that will change as a result of this latest news.

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Report says UNC took advantage of grad school to extend eligibility of players

FSU v UNC X

Academic issues at the University of North Carolina continue to be dug up. This time it revolves around allegedly cutting corners to enroll players as graduate players in order to get them on the football field.

In the latest report compiled by The News & Observer, UNC kept several players eligible to play by placing them in graduate school by retroactively admitting some players and getting around other regulations for others between 2002 and 2010. The exact number of players supposedly kept eligible by this method is unconfirmed, although the report details the story of one football player and another basketball player at UNC. The information was shared to the North Carolina newspaper by a former graduate school admissions director, Cheryl Thomas, who also handed the documentation to support the claims over to the NCAA for review.

In one reported case, former UNC cornerback Michael Waddell (pictured) allegedly was placed in graduate school despite a low GPA, a lack of entrance exam score and being months past the deadline to be enrolled. Senior associate athletic director John Blanchard made a request to have Waddell admitted in the fall of 2003 before he was set to be ruled ineligible for a game against Syracuse. The request was made one day before UNC was scheduled to play Syracuse. Wadell had played in the 2003 season opener against Florida State the previous week. Blanchard’s request was reportedly submitted by UNC provost Robert Shelton, who passed on the request to graduate school dean Linda Dykstra.

Waddell went on to play his fourth year of eligibility at UNC before entering the NFL Draft. The News & Observer reports Waddell skipped classes and exams and failed out of UNC’s graduate school. But he was heading to the NFL anyway.

Thomas reportedly came forward with this information following the release of an investigative report on UNC’s affairs by Kenneth Wainstein last fall. Thomas claims to have submitted documentation to Wainstein, the NCAA and the commission that provides accreditation to UNC but three months have now passed and there has been no follow-up despite acknowledgment the documents have been received.

This latest story regarding UNC’s culture suggests UNC took advantage of graduate classes in order to extend a player’s eligibility, which supports to the idea UNC was putting athletics ahead of academics. For a university that is perceived to have gotten off lightly for past transgressions from the NCAA, this story will not sit well.

The NCAA continues to be investigating the issue of fake classes at UNC. How this relatively newer information will come into play is unknown at this point, although the NCAA did confirm to Thomas her information and documentation had been received.

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Oregon schedules three-game series with Hawaii

Marcus Mariota AP

While it’ll be too late for the reigning Heisman winner to enjoy, the flagship school in Marcus Mariota‘s home state and his former team will square off in a future series.

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens confirmed to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that UO and Hawaii have reached an agreement on three future games.  The first two games will be played in Eugene in 2020 and 2023, while the finale will be played in Honolulu in 2024.

“With so many players on our roster coming from Hawaii, it makes a lot of sense for us,” Mullens told the Star-Advertiser.

The paper noted that, including Mariota, the Ducks had six players born in Hawaii on its 2014 roster.

Since Hawaii moved to the FBS/Div. 1-A level in 1974, they have faced Oregon three times, with the Ducks winning all three matchups.  Including the Rainbow Warriors’ days as an FCS/Div. 1-AA program, the Ducks lead the all-time series 4-3.

The last meeting between the schools came in 1994.

(Tip O’ the Cap: FBSchedules.com)

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QB Caleb Rowe, RB Wes Brown to sit for Terps this spring

Caleb Rowe, Wes Brown AP

Two important pieces of Maryland’s offensive puzzle will be sidelined as the Terrapins begin preparations for the 2015 season in earnest.

Friday, head coach Randy Edsall confirmed that both quarterback Caleb Rowe (pictured, right) and running back Wes Brown (pictured, left) will be non-participants in spring practice.  Both players are still in the process of rehabbing injuries.

The absence of Rowe is not at all surprising as he tore the ACL in his left knee during a practice this past October, the same knee he suffered the same injury in the same month back in 2012.  Rowe, who will enter summer camp as the favorite to win the starting job, is seeking another season of eligibility that would allow him to play again in 2016.

Brown, who overcame off-field missteps that cost him the entire 2013 season, underwent surgery for a torn labrum sustained in the Terps’ bowl game.  Last season, Brown was second in rushing touchdowns (six) and third in rushing yards (356).  He’s also a threat coming out of the backfield, catching 21 passes in his bounce-back season.

Rowe and Brown are just a portion of a lengthy list of Terrapin players who will be sidelined this spring.  From the Washington Post:

Also out is long snapper Christian Carpenter (back), defensive lineman Ruben Franco (labrum), safety Elvis Dennah (labrum), defensive back Alvin Hill (knee), as well as wide receiver Taivon Jacobs (knee) and defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson (knee). Hill, Jacobs and Jefferson could potentially participate in non-contact drills this spring, Edsall said.

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Ex-UK QB Maxwell Smith may have early lead for SDSU starting job

Alabama v Kentucky Getty Images

It hasn’t taken Maxwell Smith very long to make a name for himself at his new workplace.

In January of this year, it was confirmed that the quarterback would be transferring from Kentucky to San Diego State to finish out his playing career.  The grad transfer left the Wildcats in search of a place where he could contend for a starting job, and it appears he he may have just picked the right spot.

While the Aztecs have used just three of their allotted 15 spring practice sessions, the San Diego Union-Tribune writes that Smith has seemingly distanced himself from the other five competitors for the the starting spot.  From the Union-Tribune:

With six guys competing, it’s like they come and go through a revolving door in drills, but there’s little question for me who’s looked the sharpest: Kentucky graduate transfer Maxwell Smith.

At 6-feet-4, Smith is the most imposing of the bunch and he’s shown the best arm strength and accuracy. Most impressive has been his targeting on outside curl routes by receivers, with Smith zipping the ball into spots where only his wideouts can catch it. He looks very poised and capable. I don’t yet have a strong read on his mobility, and that might be a concern given the issues with the offensive line (more on that later).

Also competing for the job is Oregon transfer Jake Rodrigues, although the paper stated that he hasn’t had the best start to the spring.  That should be at least mildly concerning as Rodrigues has been in the offense for nearly a year, having left the Ducks for the Aztecs in May of last year.

The paper writes that “[o]ur standings after Week 1: Smith, [sophomore Christian] Chapman, [sophomore Nick] Bawden, Rodrigues, [JUCO transfer Adam] Wood and second-year walk-on Drew Anderson.”

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Departure, another injury further thins Stanford’s defensive line

Oregon State v Stanford

Stanford’s defensive line was already stretched thin because of various issues this spring.  After today, that unit is positively waif-like.

Defensive end Solomon Thomas did not participate in the spring practice session Saturday because of what was later described as a jammed toe sustained this past week.  While Thomas was seen wearing a boot on his injured foot, he’s expected back at some point before the end of spring.

Additionally, defensive tackle Alex Yazdi (pictured, No. 79) has decided to “move on” from the football program, head coach David Shaw confirmed following practice. Whether the fifth-year senior, who played in five games last season, will transfer to another program for his final season of eligibility or has simply decided to give up playing the sport has not been determined.

The combination of attrition and injury — starting lineman Aziz Shittu is out for the spring as he continues to recover from a serious knee injury sustained last October — has left the line on the defensive side very depleted. How depleted?

That trio’s performance was enough to impress even their head coach.

“It is very, very difficult,” Shaw said in quotes distributed by the school. “I had the guys give an applause to the entire defensive line. For three guys to make it through a full practice with scrimmaging and all that stuff and 9-on-7 … They didn’t bat an eyelash, they didn’t back off, they hustled throughout the whole practice, and that’s what it takes.

“As tough as it is, nobody is going to feel bad for us. We’ve got to fight through it.”

Fortunately for the Cardinal, there are still six months before they travel to open the 2015 season against Northwestern.

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Richt: ‘QB as wide-open as it’s ever been since I’ve been at Georgia’

Belk Bowl - Georgia v Louisville Getty Images

Not only will Georgia enter spring practice for the first time in nearly a decade with an offensive coordinator other than Mike Bobo, the Bulldogs will also be searching for a new starting quarterback for the second time in as many years.

After Aaron Murray more than ably handled the job from 2010-13, the signal-calling baton was passed to Hutson Mason for the 2014 season.  With Mason’s eligibility expired, the new starter is expected to come from a group of three players: redshirt sophomore Brice Ramsey, redshirt freshman Jacob Park and redshirt junior Faton Bauta.

Ramsey served as Mason’s primary backup in 2014, completing 24 of 39 passes for 333 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Bauta completed four of his five pass attempts in 2014, while Park, a four-star member of UGA’s 2014 recruiting class, took a redshirt as a true freshman.

Based on experience alone, Ramsey will enter the spring as the favorite to win the job. The Bulldogs’ head coach, though, made it perfectly clear that, in the first year under the highly-paid coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the job is available to anyone for the taking.

“It’s just a lot of work to be done between now and that first game and a lot of competition to happen,” Mark Richt said according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. “You know, the quarterback position is as wide-open as it’s ever been since I’ve been at Georgia probably. It’s going to be an interesting battle I would say.”

It’s unknown if Richt will name a starter exiting a spring, or wait until the competition shakes itself out a little more during summer camp before pulling the trigger.

Regardless of who lands the job, they’ll be able to ease into the position as UGA will open the 2015 season at home against Louisiana-Monroe before traveling to Vanderbilt for the SEC opener the following weekend.  The next three games are at home, with a game against FCS-level Southern sandwiched between matchups with SEC East rival South Carolina and West heavyweight Alabama.

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Carl Lawson expected ‘to partake in a good bit’ of Auburn’s spring

Carl Lawson, Bo Wallace

When it comes to the health of Carl Lawson, all of the signs are pointing toward the positive.

Lawson sustained a torn ACL during spring practice last year and, after some initial optimism, did not play at all in 2014.  With the start of Auburn’s spring practice right around the corner, it appears that the defensive end will be nearly a full-go for the 15 sessions.

Nearly is the key word, though, as the Tigers are expected to take the cautious approach with the talented lineman.

“(The coaches) haven’t made those decisions. Our doctors will make those decisions,” new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer when asked how much Lawson will participate. “He’s moving around extremely well. We expect him to partake in a good bit of spring. How much will be determined by our doctors.”

Having a healthy Lawson to start the 2015 season would certainly be a boon for Muschamp’s defense. In 2013 as a true freshman, Lawson was third on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss and second in sacks with four.  That performance led Lawson to being a consensus Freshman All-American.

The injury news along the Tigers’ defensive line wasn’t all positive, though, as Muschamp also acknowledged that end DaVonte Lambert will miss the whole of spring practice. Lambert was leading the Tigers defense in sacks when he sustained a season-ending knee injury that kept him out of both the Iron Bowl and the Outback Bowl.

The good news is that Muschamp stated that Lambert is expected to be completely healthy for the start of summer camp.

AU, incidentally, will kick off spring practice March 10.

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Hip injury to sideline UNC QB Marquise Williams for spring practice

Marquise Williams AP

The bad news for North Carolina is that one of the top quarterbacks in its conference will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.  The good news?  The start of a new season is more than six months away.

In a preview article posted on UNC’s official website, the Tar Heels revealed that Marquise Williams will not participate in any of the 15 spring practice sessions because of a hip injury.  When and how Williams sustained the injury was not disclosed.

You can breathe easy, Tar Heel Nation, as the school stated that Williams “will return full speed in August.”

As a redshirt junior last season, Williams was third among ACC quarterbacks in passing efficiency in throwing 21 touchdown passes against nine interceptions.  His 788 rushing yards were 12th among all quarterbacks nationally, while his 13 rushing touchdowns were tied for fourth at the position.  The 35 total touchdowns were tied for 11th in the country.

With Williams sidelined, Mitch Trubisky will get a sizable portion of the first-team reps.  Despite all of Williams’ accomplishments, Trubisky could use the opportunity gain an advantage in what’s being described as a quarterback competition.

“There’s a lot of continuity with ’Quise coming back,” quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf said. “Marquise is our starting quarterback, and it’s been that way since the middle of the season when he kind of took the reins and went with it. But that’s not going to eliminate the competition.”

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Antonio Crawford’s divorce from the ‘Canes is official

Miami v Boston College Getty Images

After nearly a week’s worth of speculation, Antonio Crawford‘s status at Miami has officially been clarified.

Saturday afternoon, Miami officials confirmed that Crawford is no longer a part of the Hurricanes football team.  The divorce comes exactly a week after the cornerback took to social media to vent his frustrations regarding his perception of how he was being treated by the football program.

While Crawford deleted the rant, it apparently didn’t sit well with the coaching staff.

To where the Tampa native will transfer for his senior season is unknown.

Crawford, a three-star member of the Hurricanes’ 2012 recruiting class, started two of the 38 games in which he played the last three seasons.  Both of those starts came in 2013.

The defensive back likely would’ve entered summer camp as Miami’s top nickel corner.

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Badgers Settle on new RBs coach

Iowa Hawkeyes v Wisconsin Badgers

A couple of weeks after losing an assistant to an SEC school, it appears Wisconsin has found a replacement.

Citing a source close to the UW program, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported overnight that John Settle is set to be named as the Badgers’ new running backs coach.  Settle would assume the position vacated by Thomas, who left for the same joband a hefty raise — at Georgia earlier this month.

Settle is expected to arrive in Madison on Monday and begin work the next day.

When the move comes to fruition, it would serve as a campus reunion as Settle held the same job with the Badgers from 2006-10.  It would also serve as a working reunion as new UW head coach Paul Chryst had Settle on his 2014 Pittsburgh staff as running backs coach.

In between his UW and Pitt stints, Settle spent three years as an assistant in the NFL.

(Photo credit: Wisconsin athletics)

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TCU WR tweets he’ll finish career at Rutgers

SE Louisiana v TCU Getty Images

A wide receiver who began his collegiate career in the Big 12 will end it in the Big Ten, the player announced on social media Friday.

In a tweet posted to his Twitter account, TCU wide receiver Cam White announced that he would be transferring to Rutgers and finishing out his collegiate playing career with the Scarlet Knights.  Because he will be a graduate transfer, White will be eligible to play immediately for RU in 2015.

This upcoming season will be his final year of eligibility.

“I get to work towards my Masters at a great program academic wise man that’s a blessing,” White added in another tweet, although he does need to bone up on his Rutgers nomenclature.

Because of concussion issues, White did not play at all in 2014 for the Horned Frogs. In 2013, White was seventh on the team in both receptions (18) and receiving yards (182). The previous year was his best statistically, with his two receiving touchdowns fourth on the team and his 284 receiving yards good for fifth.

White was a three-star member of TCU’s 2011 recruiting class.

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UPDATE: John Chavis files suit against LSU, still in good standing with A&M

Louisiana Monroe v LSU AP

I can’t say with 100-percent certainty, but this might be the first time a college coach has filed a lawsuit against both his former and current employer over a contractual issue.

The parties involved are John Chavis, Texas A&M and LSU.  That’s one of the few things that are clear in this case.

In November of last year, it was reported that Chavis and LSU had reached an agreement on a one-year contract extension that would keep the defensive coordinator with the Tigers through the 2015 season.  A month and a half later, the first reports surfaced that Texas A&M had reached out to gauge Chavis’ interest in its coordinator vacancy; a week later, Chavis-to-TAMU was a done deal according to media reports.  Feb. 13, Chavis’ hiring by A&M was made official.

What happened between Chavis’ LSU contract extension and Chavis’ official A&M hiring is at the heart of a lawsuit filed Friday by the coordinator regarding a $400,000 buyout LSU is pursuing, KBTX-TV is reporting.  In  the lawsuit, Chavis claims he doesn’t owe the six-figure buyout… but if he does, A&M is responsible for paying it.

As for the particulars of the lawsuit, here’s what the television station has gleaned:

Chavis claims under his contract, he was given a right to terminate his employment agreement with LSU without cause with 30 days notice. If there were between zero and 11 months left on the deal, Chavis claimed he would owe nothing to LSU, but if between 11 and 23 months were left, he would owe $400,000 to the university.

On January 2, 2015, Chavis claims LSU Director of Athletics Joe Alleva demanded that Chavis pay the university $400,000. On January 5, Chavis says he turned in this 30-day notice to terminate the contract without cause, making his last day February 4.

“Based on Chavis’ notice of termination on January 5, 2015, the ‘termination date’ according to the Amendment was effective thirty days after the written notice served to LSU or (sic) February 4, 2015, which falls within the 11th month remaining and Chavis’ Employment Agreement,” reads the suit. According to Chavis, he does not owe LSU $400,000 as a result.

On the A&M side, Chavis’ suit states that his current employer is “currently obligated to satisfy or cause to be satisfied the liquidated damages, if any, associated with Chavis’ previous Employment Agreement with LSU.” The problem with that? A&M is “unwilling to tender the liquidated damages demanded by LSU because it does [not] believe that liquidated damages are called for under the Employment Agreement as mentioned above,” the suit claims.

I don’t know how this will play out on either side, but I’m going to make a double batch of popcorn, just in case.

UPDATE [9:00 p.m. ET]: John Chavis remains in good standing with his current employer.

Texas A&M University denied any claim that a suit has been filed against it by Chavis, nor does the institution agree that their new defensive coordinator owes the LSU Tigers anything.

Texas A&M released a short statement Friday night, via The Advocate:

UPDATE [10:55 p.m. ET]: Texas A&M University released a short statement early Friday evening. LSU responded in kind later that night.

LSU expects John Chavis‘ lawsuit to be dropped over matters of proper jurisdiction, while the university counter-sued its former defensive coordinator in order to claim the $400,000 buyout stipulated in his previous contract:

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Texas Tech’s DC David Gibbs plans to use Justis Nelson at CB

Jhajuan Seales, Justis Nelson

Defensive back Justis Nelson experienced a breakthrough season as a sophomore. Nelson was named an honorable mention to the All-Big 12 team and a First-Team Academic All-Big 12 performer. However, he didn’t find a permanent home in the Red Raiders secondary.

Nelson played both safety and cornerback last season. But where will new defensive coordinator David Gibbs use this fall?

“We’re going to start him at corner and teach him the corner techniques, because at least the first two days — maybe more than that — we’re just going to be in base defense with three linebackers and teach him to play corner,” Gibbs told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s Don Williams.

Nelson, who came to Lubbock as a three-star athlete, began his career at safety before switching to cornerback. Due to depth issues, he returned to safety. While the Red Raiders staff expects him to be a starting cornerback, Nelson will likely play some safety during the upcoming season.

“There are going to be times when he’s going to have to play safety, which I’ve done it (with starting cornerbacks),” Gibbs said. “I’ve had my starting corner in base be a safety in nickel and be the nickel in nickel.

“If he has the ability to go play safety and he’s better than my third safety, then I’ll move him to safety and bring those other corners in the game and let them play.”

Nelson’s length at 6’2″ and 179 pounds makes him an ideal cornerback, and he’s already shown the ability to close on the ball to make a play. The Mesquite, Texas, native led the team with 16 pass breakups, which was the school’s highest total since 2002.

However, his new coach hopes Nelson can turn those broken up passes into interceptions during his junior campaign.

“Justis could have had eight freakin’ interceptions last year,” Gibbs said. “He (then-defensive coordinator Mike Smith) put him in the right position. He could have. He didn’t. He’s got to catch those balls. If he catches those balls, it’s a whole different game.”

Whether or not Nelson makes those catches or not, he is still one of the team’s best defenders. The flexibility he provides in the secondary gives Gibbs plenty of options as he instills a new scheme to improve upon last year’s 95th-ranked pass defense.

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Kansas State schedules two home-and-home series against SEC programs

Kansas State v Iowa State

The Kansas State Wildcats apparently learned a lesson after the Big 12 Conference was shut out of the first College Football Playoff. The program is now beefing up its future non-conference schedules.

Bill Snyder‘s squad decided to invade the SEC — that is, if Coach Snyder is still coaching the team in 2017 (and I wouldn’t bet against it).

Kansas State scheduled a pair of home-of-home series with SEC programs, according to ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy:

The Wildcats’ non-conference schedule prior to 2017 includes the South Dakota Coyotes, UTSA Roadrunners, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Missouri State Bears and Florida Atlantic Owls. Not one opponent from a power conference counted among the lot.

Not only is it important for the Wildcats to improve the team’s non-conference schedule, but games against SEC teams will improve the team’s recruiting presence in the Southeast.

Snyder’s staff showed more of an emphasis on recruiting traditional SEC states this year with six commitments from Alabama, Florida and Georgia in the 2015 class. The trend should continue with the team’s agreements to play four games against SEC opponents from 2017-20.

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