Vanderbilt Commodores

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 07:  An 'SEC' logo is seen on an end zone pylon before the Missouri Tigers take on the Auburn Tigers during the SEC Championship Game at Georgia Dome on December 7, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Getty Images

SEC rebounds from putrid Week 1 with perfect non-conference Week 2

5 Comments

The obituaries for the mighty SEC flowed fast and free following Week 1, with The Big Football Conference That Suddenly Couldn’t watching as half of its team went down in defeat.  The last time seven of the current SEC teams lost the same opening weekend, the conference had just added Arkansas and South Carolina as members in 1992 and Missouri and Texas A&M weren’t even in the league.

As noted Southern football historian Mark Twain once opined, though, the SEC’s death may have been greatly exaggerated.  Possibly.

In Week 2, the 14-team SEC went a collective 12-2.  The two losses?  Mississippi State of the SEC West dropping South Carolina of the SEC East and Florida, yet again, embarrassing divisional “rival” Kentucky.  In other words, the league went unbeaten in non-conference play.

If you’d like — why do I get the feeling many will take advantage of this generosity? — you can attach a giant asterisk or caveat or whatever big-sounding word you want to the undefeated bounce-back.

Of the 10 non-conference wins, four came against FCS teams — a two-point escape for Georgia in one of those — while another four came against Group of Five programs.  Tennessee handling Virginia Tech and Arkansas stunning TCU in double overtime marked the lone “signature” wins for the conference.

Still, after the pabulum that was Week 1, the SEC needed something like this in Week 2 to right a national perception ship that had been listing mightily.

South Carolina comeback gives Will Muschamp win over Vanderbilt

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 01:  Quarterback  Brandon McIlwain #11 of the South Carolina Gamecocks rushes against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

Will Muschamp is hoping his second stint as a head coach goes better than his first.

He’s off to a good start.

South Carolina put together back-to-back scoring drives in the 4th quarter and took advantage of several second half mistakes by Vanderbilt to sneak out of Nashville with a 13-10 win. The game was every bit of a struggle to watch as the score would indicate and the two teams picked to finish at the bottom of the SEC East certainly won’t cause anybody to change their predictions of that happening after seeing the opener.

Vanderbilt began the game well, jumping out to a 10 point lead behind the strong running game of Ralph Webb (97 yards on the night) and Khari Blasingame (68 yards and a score). But things went downhill from there, with six straight three-and-out possessions at one point and a missed 45 yard field goal attempt late in the 4th quarter. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur was ineffective after flashing potential early, going just 8-of-22 on the night with 73 yards passing.

A 10 point lead looked like it would hold up though with such a tough Commodores defense limiting South Carolina on nearly every play. Gamecocks quarterback Perry Orth started behind center and was able to move the chains with his arm at times but he was spelled by freshman Brandon McIllwain throughout the night in order to bring more of a rushing threat to the offense.

In the end, both did enough down the stretch of the 4th quarter to get kicker Elliott Fry within range for a late field goal. The kick sailed through the uprights from 55 yards out but would have been good from 65 and was just enough to give South Carolina a wild comeback victory in Muschamp’s debut with the team.

The loss will prompt plenty of questions for Commodores head coach Derek Mason as the offense struggled once again to get going, wasting another good defensive effort. The decision to go for a long field goal (which missed) in the 4th quarter also set up Fry’s kick that proved to be the eventual game winner too.

It could still be a long season for South Carolina as they try to find their footing with a tough SEC schedule but Thursday night was no doubt a nice start for the new head coach.

CFT 2016 Preseason Previews: the SEC

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates by hoisting the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy after defeating the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Crimson Tide defeated the Tigers with a score of 45 to 40.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

As the 2016 season draws near, we will peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. We’ve already done it with the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12.  Today, we will be examining the Deep South’s Power Five entrant.

In what was viewed as the third or fourth sign of the Apocalypse, the SEC went (gasp!) two seasons without a title after winning the previous seven national championships.  Alabama righted the football ship in the conference by winning the second College Football Playoff; is another trophy-hoisting at season’s end in the offing?

‘Bama will be right in the thick of the national mix, of course, with Nick Saban looking to go back-to-back for the second time during his Tuscaloosa tenure.  Provided the age-old quarterback question can (finally) be answered, LSU should join their divisional rivals in the discussion.  Beyond that?  Possibly an Ole Miss or a Tennessee (Georgia?) could sneak in by season’s end, but, more than likely, it’ll be up to the two West stalwarts to carry the conference’s postseason banner.

So, without any further ado, let’s see how our little corner of the college football world sees the SEC race shaking out.

SEC EAST

1. Tennessee (9-4 in 2015; beat Northwestern in Outback Bowl)
Year Four for Butch Jones is supposed to be the year all of the recruiting efforts under the head coach begin paying dividends.  His first class finished 24th nationally, but classes since that were ranked seventh, fourth and 14th have led to high hopes, and even higher expectations, for Volunteer Nation.  In fact, anything less than an SEC East championship will be considered an abject failure by most of the fan base.  The Vols have 17 returning starters from a team that managed a 5-3 record in SEC play, it’s best record in the conference since going 5-3 in 2006.  UT ended the 2015 season on a six-game winning streak, punctuating that strong stretch run with a 39-point bowl blowout of a 10-win Northwestern team.  Add in the fact that their four losses last season (Oklahoma, Florida, Arkansas, Alabama) came by a combined 17 points, and, again, nothing less than a title will sate the masses.

2. Florida (10-4 in 2015, lost to Michigan in Citrus Bowl)
The Jim McElwain era in Gainesville started off with much promise last season, with the Gators jumping out to a 10-1 record and reaching as high as No. 8 in the Associated Press rankings.  The bottom then proceeded to completely drop out as the East champions lost their remaining three games by a combined score of 97-24.  That trio of games exposed the Gators as an offensive-deficient club in desperate need of an answer at the quarterback position.  Inconsistent, uneven and outright awful play at the position has been the program’s Waterloo for nearly a decade, with Luke Del Rio set to become the ninth player to start under center since Tim Tebow‘s final season in 2009.  The Gators should be fine on defense; if McElwain, hired because of his offensive prowess, can get that side of the ball up to even average, the Gators could make a run at the Vols and their second straight division crown.

3. Georgia (10-3 in 2015, beat Penn State in Taxslayer Bowl)
This might be a little too low of a slotting for the Bulldogs, if for nothing more than the schedule.  UGA’s biggest road test of the season comes at Ole Miss, and the other cross-divisional game has Auburn coming to play between the hedges.  The only other true road games — they play North Carolina and Florida at neutral sites — come against Kentucky and South Carolina, teams that won a combined eight games last season.  While there’s uncertainty at the quarterback position, there is good news in the backfield in that Nick Chubb is (fingers, other appendages crossed) recovered from a serious knee injury and Sony Michel will be healthy as well, which should allow whoever’s under center to ease into his new role.  First-year head coach and former Alabama coordinator Kirby Smart will have a lot of talent with which to work on the defensive side of the ball, which, when combined with the running game and schedule, should leave UGA as one of three serious contenders for East superiority.

4. Missouri (5-7 in 2015)
Not many teams have ever had to deal with the types of in-season distractions the Tigers did in 2015, from racially-charged protests that led to a brief strike by the football players to head coach Gary Pinkel stepping down because of health concerns.  Add in on-field frustration that saw the Tigers lose six of their last seven games, and it was essentially a lost football season at Mizzou. Barry Odom, entering his first full season as head coach, does have a couple of things going for him, not the least of which is eight starters returning from a defense that is championship-caliber.  The scheduling gods didn’t do Odom many favors, though, as Mizzou will have to travel to LSU, Florida and Tennessee.  Given that and the offensive issues, anything close to bowl-eligibility would have to be considered a pleasant surprise in Columbia.

5. Vanderbilt (4-8 in 2015)
Did you know that Vandy actually tied for fourth in their division last season?  Of course, they did so with a 2-6 mark that was the equal of Kentucky and bested by one game the 1-7 records for basement dwellers Missouri and South Carolina.  That’s actually a positive development as the Commodores were winless in the conference the season before in Derek Mason‘s first year in Nashville.  Mason has preached defense and running the ball as the foundation for his program; the ‘Dores return seven starters from the former unit and figure to show drastic improvement in the third year in the system, while Ralph Webb has rushed for more than 2,000 yards the past two seasons.  Mason & Company are likely a year away from bowling, but getting to that six-win plateau wouldn’t be all that surprising.

6. Kentucky (5-7 in 2015)
Prior to Mark Stoops’ arrival, UK had just two recruiting classes — 2006 (No. 36) and 2009 (No. 41) — that finished inside the Top 50 nationally since 2002.  Since then, the Wildcats have racked up classes that ranked no worse than 38th.  That relative recruiting success has, thus far, failed miserably to translate into on-field success, though.  A 2-10 first season with the Wildcats gave way to a 5-7 2014 season, a mark that led to rampant enthusiasm over the future of the football program.  That push forward stalled with yet another 5-7 season in 2015.  Perhaps most distressing to followers of the team is the 4-20 mark in SEC play, a sign that the team is not even remotely ready to compete even in the weaker East Division — this season included.

7. South Carolina (3-9 in 2015)
The first post-OBC season could prove to be a difficult one for first-year head coach Will Muschamp.  Just eight starters return from a squad that produced the program’s worst season since the 0-11 campaign in 1999.  Adding to Muschamp’s potential misery is a quarterback position — the same position which played a role in his demise at Florida — that is littered with question marks thanks to the combination of injuries and inexperience.  How wobbly is the position?  Jake Bentley, who should be embarking on his senior season of high school, is listed as one of three co-starters ahead of the opener.  Just what type of season the Gamecock faithful can expect in Year 1 under Muschamp will be known in fast fashion as USC opens the year with a pair of conference road games, at Vanderbilt in the Thursday opener and at Mississippi State a week later.  Given the remainder of the schedule, four wins might be the best for which fans can hope.

SEC WEST

1. Alabama (14-1 in 2015, beat Clemson in CFP championship game)
After a 7-6 first season in Tuscaloosa that included an embarrassing home loss to Louisiana-Monroe, Nick Saban and the Tide have won at least 10 games in each of the last eight seasons, with four of those seasons ending with UA hoisting a national championship trophy.  11 starters return from last year’s national title team, although one of them is not the quarterback.  That could potentially serve as good news as three of Saban’s four championship teams with the Tide were quarterbacked by first-time full-time starters.  That trend, though, conflicts with another: ‘Bama, the Associated Press‘ top-ranked team heading into the season, has never started the preseason No. 1 and then gone on to win a national championship under Saban.  Regardless, the Tide will, once again, have a significant say as to what happens both in the conference and on the national stage.

2. LSU (9-3 in 2015, beat Texas Tech in Texas Bowl)
There are a couple of big pluses for LSU heading into 2016.  One, they are the most experienced team in the SEC, returning 18 starters from last year’s nine-win squad that was a weather cancellation away from becoming Les Miles‘ eight 10-win team in 11 seasons in Baton Rouge.  Two, the schedule is relatively favorable as they get Alabama and Ole Mis in Death Valley, and none of their four true road games — they play Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in the opener — feature teams currently in the Top 25. The answer to the seemingly annual question, though, will likely determine how deep of a postseason push the Tigers make: what kind of play will they get from the quarterback position?  There is some guarded optimism that Brandon Harris may have turned the corner this offseason.  As long as there’s not a truck around that corner, and Leonard Fournette is Leonard Fournette and a loaded defense performs up to expectations, LSU will be in the conference and playoff discussion deep into the season.

3. Ole Miss (10-3 in 2015, beat Oklahoma State in Sugar Bowl)
Ole Miss finished the 2016 season on a high, beating LSU by 21, knocking off rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl and trouncing Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl.  The Rebels have the most talented quarterback in the SEC, Chad Kelly, and get Alabama — who they’ve beaten each of the last two seasons — Georgia and MSU at home.  Just where Ole Miss stands in the broader national picture — and how they may stack up against the two top dogs in their division — will be clear immediately as they will square off against Florida State in the opener.

4. Texas A&M (8-5 in 2015, lost to Louisville in  Music City Bowl)
A&M came into the SEC four years ago with a lion of an offense and sacrificial lamb of a defense.  Oh, how the times have changed.  Under the Chief, John Chavis, the Aggies’ defense has turned into the linchpin of the 2016 season, the unit that will have to hold down and defend the fort while first-year coordinator Noel Mazzone overhauls the offense.  Chavis’ side of the ball returns seven starters, including the best set of defensive ends in the country in potential 2017 No. 1 overall draft pick Myles Garrett and senior Daeshon Hall.  If Mazzone can just get average play out of Trevor Knight/Jake Hubenak at quarterback, the Aggies should meet or exceed last year’s eight wins.

5. Arkansas (8-5 in 2015, beat Kansas State in Liberty Ford)
There wasn’t a hotter SEC team from the middle half of last season on than the Razorbacks as they won six of their last seven games, with the only loss in that span coming by one point against Mississippi State.  The Hogs have three very winnable road games in conference play this season against the likes of Auburn, Missouri and Mississippi State.  A defense that returns nine starters along with what should be an above-average running game — provided a revamped line can gel quickly — should afford Austin Allen the opportunity to ease into his role as first-time starter at quarterback.

6. Auburn (7-6 in 2015, beat Memphis in Birmingham Bowl)
In Gus Malzahn‘s first season, the Tigers played for a national championship.  Since then, the record has dropped from 8-5 in 2014 to 7-6 last season.  Even more worrisome is the 2-6 mark in SEC play in 2015.  In fact, since beating Ole Miss in early November of 2014, Auburn has gone a miserable 2-9 in SEC games.  Quarterback will again be a question mark, and the schedule features several potholes along the way, from the season opener on The Plains against national title contender Clemson to SEC road games against Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama.  From my vantage point, this is, at best, a five-win team — a number that will either put Malzahn on an even hotter seat entering the offseason or the unemployment line.

7. Mississippi State (9-4 in 2015, beat North Carolina State in Belk Bowl)
There might not be a team in the country that misses a player more than MSU will miss Dak Prescott.  The last two seasons, the quarterback accounted for 70 percent of the offensive touchdowns scored by the Bulldogs, and nearly 33 percent of MSU’s rushing yards for good measure.  Tasked with replacing at least part of that production will be Nick Fitzgerald, Prescott’s backup last season who reportedly looked good this past spring and on into summer camp.  Making the task of replacing Prescott even more difficult?  Road games against the three best teams in the division, LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss.  It’s not impossible, but there is at least a slight chance that the Bulldogs could extend their bowl streak to seven years under Dan Mullen.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Alabama over Tennessee

Muhammad Ali’s grandson commits to play football for Cal

19 Apr 1991:  Muhammad Ali looks on during a bout between Evander Holyfield and George Foreman at Caesar''s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mandatory Credit: Barry Jarvinan  /Allsport
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Earlier this year, the nation shared in Biaggio Ali Walsh‘s grief over the passing of his iconic grandfather.  On Sunday, Ali Walsh shared with the nation his decision on his future in football.

On his personal Twitter account this weekend, Ali Walsh revealed that he has decided to verbally commit to play his college football at Cal.  In the tweet, Ali Walsh included a photo of himself with, among others, Golden Bears head coach Sonny Dykes.

Ali Walsh’s grandfather is the legendary Muhammad Ali, who died this past June.

A three-star 2017 prospect, Ali Walsh is rated by 247Sports.com as the No. 11 all-purpose running back in the country and the No. 8 player at any position in the state of Nevada.  A product of national power Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School, Ali Walsh was named the Gatorade Nevada Player of the Year last fall, rushing for 2,451 yards and 36 touchdowns while averaging 12.1 yards per carry.

In addition to Cal, Ali Walsh held offers from, among others, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Louisville, UNLV and Vanderbilt.

Vandy loses starting lineman to season-ending injury for second straight year

Tennessee v Vanderbilt
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Andrew Jelks simply can’t catch a break on the injury front.

Thursday, Vanderbilt announced that Jelks would miss the entire 2016 season because of a severe knee injury.  The offensive tackle sustained the injury earlier this week in practice.

On Aug. 20 of last year, it was reported that Jelks had suffered a significant knee injury, subsequently determined to be a torn ACL, and missed the entire 2015 season.  As a fifth-year senior, Jelks could petition the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility that he could use in 2017.  It’s unclear if that’s the tack Jelks will take.

After redshirting as a true freshman, Jelks started 22 games at left tackle In 2013 and 2014. He started nine games in earning Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He followed that up the following year by starting all 12 games.

In addition to Jelks, Vandy also announced that quarterback Shawn Stankavage will be sidelined for all of 2016 as well because of an injury.

Like Jelks, Stankavage will be missing his second straight season because of an injury.  Unlike Jelks, Stankavage would’ve opened the season No. 3 on the depth chart.