CFT predicts: the SEC

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Home of the last six BCS champions, the SEC will try to make it seven straight this season. The power of the SEC should once again reside in the West with Alabama, Arkansas and LSU all eyeing a trip to Atlanta. The East? It’s a work in progress as traditional powers Florida and Tennessee try to reclaim the glory days. Who knows, maybe Missouri will sneak in and grab a divisional title in its first year.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how I see the SEC shaking out this season:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

East Division

1. Georgia (last season: 10-4, lost Outback Bowl)
After spending a couple of years on the hot seat, Georgia coach Mark Richt, who is as upstanding and genuine as any coach you’ll meet, sold his soul to Satan for a 10-win season and SEC title game appearance. But, karma’s a you-know-what, and the Bulldogs have witnessed an offseason of unusually high player attrition. Sounds like Georgia doesn’t stand much of a chance, huh? Well, you’re forgetting one thing: it’s the SEC East. Plus, picking South Carolina may as well be the kiss of death. Speaking of which …

2. South Carolina (last season: 11-2; won Capital One Bowl) 
Based on the Gamecocks’ inverse theory of expectations*, where preseason high praise and lauding inevitably lead to disaster later, this should be a relatively good sign for Steve Spurrier and Co. Another good one? Running back Marcus Lattimore. He’s back after suffering a season-ending knee injury a year ago. So, by picking South Carolina to finish second in the East, I’m actually secretly projecting the Gamecocks to finish first. I think. I don’t know.

(*see also: Clemson)

3. Tennessee (last season: 5-7) 
Tennessee is the super sexy sleeper pick for the East title. The Vols return a boatload of starters, but I’m not a huge believer in Tyler Bray yet — though in his defense, Bray wasn’t healthy for much of last season. Nevertheless, this is a crucial year for head coach Derek Dooley. Three losing seasons just isn’t going to do it in Knoxville, not when the fan base is used to winning and the program is pouring money into facilities. The Vols do have two outstanding receivers, though: Justin Hunter (when he’s healthy) and Da’Rick Rogers (when his head is on straight).

4. Florida (last season: 7-6; won Gator Bowl) 
The dropoff in the East starts here. I like the move to pick up Brent Pease as the team’s new offensive coordinator from Boise State and the Gators return some key playmakers from a top 25 defense a year ago. The schedule sets up nicely for Florida too with LSU and South Carolina at home, plus Florida avoids Alabama and Arkansas. If Florida can be a little — okay, a lot — more efficient on offense,  it can be competitive in the East.

5. Missouri (last season in Big 12: 8-5; won Independence Bowl) 
This is where it starts to even out in the East division. Frankly, I can see spots 4-6 all being shuffled around easily. I’m going to go with Missouri here because of the health of quarterback James Franklin. Although coach Gary Pinkel has insisted time and time again Franklin will be ready by the start of the season following shoulder surgery, I’m skeptical that he can stay healthy all season. And it’s not like Mizzou has amazing depth behind Franklin, either. The Tigers will do better in their inaugural year in the SEC than Texas A&M, but I still get the feeling there will be a somewhat rude awakening.

6. Vanderbilt (last season: 6-7; lost Music City Bowl) 
I absolutely love what James Franklin is building at Vanderbilt. He’s a relentless recruiter and the university is recognizing what it needs to do to stay competitive by improving facilities. Franklin may eventually compete, and possibly win, an SEC East title … just not this year. But, watch out: Vandy could upset South Carolina in the first game of the season and the Commodores’ toughest SEC West opponent is Auburn.

7. Kentucky (last season: 5-7) 
Hey, at least Mississippi isn’t alone in the SEC cellar. Kentucky’s non-conference slate is manageable, but that’s about it. Ticket sales are lagging too, showing the crowd in Lexington has probably had enough of the Joker Phillips era unless he does something to generate excitement. I don’t think he does, and the Wildcats finish last in the East.

West Division

1. Alabama (last season: 12-1; won BCS championship)
I picked against the Crimson Tide to win the West prior to last season, which turned out to be a somewhat accurate prediction. But, because I’m a well-documented numbskull, I unwisely disrespected the Tide again in the BCS championship game without considering that it’s nearly impossible to beat Nick Saban head-to-head when he has weeks to prepare. Point being, I’m not going to pick against Alabama again this season. I expect much improvement from quarterback A.J. McCarron after watching him make good (or otherwise non-lethal) decisions in the BCS championship game. Replacing Trent Richardson won’t be a big deal, but going on the road to Arkansas and LSU will be.

2. Arkansas (last season: 11-2; won Cotton Bowl) 
Say what you will about Bobby Petrino the man — and there’s a lot to be said —  but the guy could flat out coach a college football team. But, hey, you go for a ride on a motorcycle with your subordinate who you just so happen to be sleeping with, and a couple lies later, you’re out of a job. It happens. Now, the Hogs move on with former assistant coach John L Smith. The guy has a 10-month contract and a team primed to make a SEC championship run. Tyler Wilson should have been in a hospital with the hits he took last year, so there’s no arguing his toughness. Also returning is the explosive, yet oft-injured running back Knile Davis. Arkansas’ defense is stacked with seniors, and while I like the fact that the Hogs get ‘Bama and LSU at home, Smith is the wild card here.

3. LSU (last season: 13-1; lost BCS championship) 
I’m going to go out on a limb with the preseason No. 1 team (in the coaches’ poll). The defending SEC champion will be this year what Arkansas was last year: a talented team (now without Tyrann Mathieu) stuck in a division with two other phenomenal teams. Because of that, I’m going to put the Tigers at No. 3 in the West. I keep hearing that quarterback Zach Mettenberger is the missing piece for the Tigers if they want to win another BCS championship. That’s interesting considering he’s completely unproven. I know, I know, so were McCarron, Cam Newton and Greg McElroy when they won national championships. That trend stops this year.

4. Auburn (last season 8-5; won Chick-fil-A Bowl) 
2011 was a somewhat sobering year for Auburn, which was just removed from a BCS championship and a Heisman winning quarterback. The Tigers lost five games last season by an average of just under 28 points per game. First order of business? A new defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder. Second order? Develop some household names on offense not named Phillip Lutzenkirchen in Scot Loeffler‘s more pro style offense. Running back Michael Dyer is gone and he gave the Tigers back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but Onterio McCalebb is back.  So is leading receiver Emory Blake. I’m looking for both guys to have huge years.

5. Mississippi State (last season: 7-6; won Music City Bowl) 
Auburn and Mississippi State could be flipped, but Auburn should win the early-season matchup in Starkville and I like the Tigers’ talent more. Outside of that game, though, the Bulldogs’ first seven games could give them a hot start; it’s the final five games that could give Mississippi State trouble. Save the season-ending Egg Bowl against Mississippi, the Bulldogs’ schedule is backloaded with games against Alabama, LSU and Arkansas — and two of those are on the road. Also, I’m still waiting for a program-defining win from Dan Mullen.

6. Texas A&M (last season in Big 12: 7-6; won Meineke Car Care Bowl) 
Kevin Sumlin made a promise that Texas A&M will “fight its ass off” this season. Awesome. So will every other team. The Aggies may be changing conferences, but the things that win football games don’t. A&M does have the chance to start off right by hosting Florida on Sept. 8, but there’s nothing fun about A&M’s schedule starting Sept. 29. There’s too much turnover for Sumlin and Co. to contend for a West title right away.

7. Mississippi (last season: 2-10) 
It’s going to be a tough first year for Hugh Freeze. I’m not convinced all the JUCO players in Mississippi could help the Rebels, either. A soft non-conference schedule might help build some confidence for the Rebels, but 2012 has the looks of a winless conference record.

CFT’s SEC champion: Alabama

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Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ’em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

ACC
Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Family of the first Black football player in University of Texas history suing the NCAA

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A racial pioneer in the Texas football program is back in the news.

As we have noted previously, dozens of Texas student-athletes, including football players, are demanding change at the university.  One of those demands is naming a part of Royal-Memorial Stadium in honor of Julius Whittier, the first-ever Black player in University of Texas football history.

Coincidentally or not, the family of Whittier this week filed a lawsuit against NCAA.  In the suit, which is seeking damages in excess of a million dollars, the Whittier family is accusing the NCAA of negligence and wrongful death in connection to the pioneer’s passing in September of 2018.  Whittier had been battling Alzheimer’s for several years prior to his death.

According to the Houston Chronicle, “[p]ostmortem examination of his brain at Boston University… revealed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease associated with head trauma.” The suit, filed by Whittier’s sister on behalf of her brother’s estate and three surviving children, alleges the Whittier’s death at the age of 68 was the direct result of football-related head trauma.

“Julius Whittier was a pioneer who became a lawyer and a member of the district attorney’s staff in Dallas County, and his life was about justice,” the family’s attorney told the Chronicle. “His family wants to carry on in his name and hope that we can make changes.

“We don’t want to end football. We just want to make it as safe as possible and make sure that everybody is informed about what can happen. That has not been the case historically, and we want to change that.”

The sister, Mildred Whittier, had previously filed a lawsuit against the NCAA on behalf of college players who suffered brain injuries from 1960 to 2014.

In 1970, Whittier became the first black player to letter in football at Texas.  He first joined the Longhorns in 1969.  At the time, though, the NCAA did not allow freshmen to play.  Whittier lettered every year from 1970-72, first as an offensive guard and then as a tight end his senior season.

Memphis to wear ‘BLM’ decals on their helmets this season

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Memphis will take its off-field social activism onto the football field this fall.

Across the country, student-athletes, football players especially, have seen their collective voices grow louder in protesting for racial equality and against social injustices. And flags.  Several members of the Memphis football program took to the streets of their city last month to do just that.

This week, on his personal Twitter account, first-year Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield announced that his players will wear “BLM” decals on their helmets throughout the 2020 college football season.  “BLM,” of course, stands for the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

“The use of the BLM logo on a helmet decal was an idea from our student-athletes,” Silverfield told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal in a text message. “It doesn’t mean we support any anti-American, violent organization or hate group or any specific political party. In fact, I love this country and I love our players. Rather the decal is a show of support to our team.”

And what of a backlash against wearing the decals?  It was subsequently reported by The Athletic that “[a] prominent University of Memphis booster has informed the school that he will match, and then double, whatever donations the school might lose as a result of the Black Lives Matter helmet decal.”

The name of the booster was not revealed.

Memphis is coming off a school-record 12-win football campaign.  They claimed the program’s first-ever win in the AAC championship game after two straight losses.

Head coach Mike Norvell left the school for the same job at Florida State in mid-December.  Memphis stayed in-house for its next head coach, with Silverfield, the offensive line coach, promoted three days later.

College Football in Coronavirus Quarantine: On this day in CFT history, including experts holding out hope that the famed oaks on Toomer’s Corner could survive being Updyked

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The sports world, including college football, has essentially screeched to a halt as countries around the world battle the coronavirus pandemic. As such, there’s a dearth of college football news as spring practices have all but been canceled at every level of the sport. And there’s even some concern that the health issue could have an impact on the 2020 college football campaign.

In that vein, we thought it might be fun to go back through the CollegeFootballTalk archives that stretch back to 2009 and take a peek at what transpired in the sport on this date.

So, without further ado — ok, one further ado — here’s what happened in college football on July 4, by way of our team of CFT writers both past and present.

(P.S.: If any of our readers have ideas on posts they’d like to read during this college football hiatus, leave your suggestions in the comments section.  Mailbag, maybe?)

2019

THE HEADLINE: Five-star 2020 LSU commit probably would’ve committed to Ohio State if Urban Meyer hadn’t left
THE SYNOPSIS: Elias Ricks is the recruit in question.  The cornerback ended up signing with LSU earlier this year.  Ricks, expected to contribute to the defending national champs immediately, underwent offseason surgery for a torn labrum.

2018

THE HEADLINE: Fox, BTN reportedly among those making run at Paul Finebaum
THE SYNOPSIS: Yeah, that didn’t work out as the SEC mouthpiece remains at ESPN.

2017

THE HEADLINE: Penn State suing Tennessee DC Bob Shoop for breach of contract
THE SYNOPSIS: Nittany Lions were seeking $900,000 the university said Shoop owed after he left as the defensive coordinator at Penn State for the same job at Tennessee in January of 2016.  In February of 2018, the two sides settled their dispute.  Terms of the settlement weren’t divulged.

2015

THE HEADLINE: Alabama self-reports multiple secondary violations
THE SYNOPSIS: “Alabama” and “NCAA violations” always bring out the commenters.  This was no exception.

2013

THE HEADLINE: Tragic: new Ole Miss OL killed in car accident
THE SYNOPSISPark Stevens’ truck collided with the back of a semi-truck attempting to cross a four-lane highway.  The lineman was a 20-year-old junior college transfer.

2011

THE HEADLINE: Experts not ready to say Toomer’s oaks are ‘definitely not going to make it’
THE SYNOPSIS: Thanks to Alabama “fan” Harvey Updyke, the iconic trees at Auburn definitely didn’t make it.

2011

THE HEADLINE: Purdue player missing; last seen swimming in Indiana lake
THE SYNOPSIS: Sadly, 22-year-old running back Sean Matti‘s body was found a day later.

Pandemic-related restrictions force Western Michigan to schedule a new season-opening opponent

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The coronavirus pandemic has already impacted the 2020 season for Western Michigan football.

Western Michigan was scheduled to open the upcoming football season against Colgate on Sept. 4.  However, the Patriot League, Colgate’s conference, mandated late last month that all of its member schools not be permitted to travel by air or stay overnight in another locale.  As the distance between Hamilton, NY, to Kalamazoo, Mich., is nine-plus hours, that opener was certainly in jeopardy.

This week, Western Michigan confirmed that it will now open the 2020 college football season against Stony Brook.  The game will still be played Sept. 4 at Waldo Stadium, the football home of the Broncos.

“We are looking forward to opening the 2020 season with Stony Brook,” WMU head coach Tim Lester said in a statement. “We know coronavirus has changed, and will keep changing, how we operate this season. We will continue to operate with an abundance of caution for the safety and well-being of our student-athletes, staff members, fans and WMU community.”

It should be noted that Syracuse is also supposed to open its home schedule Sept. 19 against Colgate.  It’s unclear if that game will be played, although distance certainly isn’t as much of an issue as it was for Western Michigan.

WMU is coming off a second consecutive 7-6 season under Lester, who will be entering his fourth season with the Broncos.  That 2019 campaign also included narrowly missing out on a berth in the MAC championship game.