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

Georgia DB Tray Bishop arrested on felony charge for alleged recording of sexual act

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Georgia freshman defensive back DetravionTray” Bishop was arrested on Wednesday on charges of felony eavesdropping/surveillance. The charges stem from an incident from this past fall, according to a report from Chip Towers of DawgNation.com. Bishop, who promptly turned himself over to the authorities after a warrant for his arrest was issued, has already been released from a county jail on a $5,700 bond.

The arrest follows an investigation by University of Georgia police responded to a complaint filed by a woman in April. The woman claimed Bishop recorded a sexual act between the two without her consent back in November.

“The complainant wished to report that there was a student going around showing people a sex tape of her … without her consent,” the police report said, according to the DawgNation report. “… A subsequent investigation into this incident led us into determining that the crime of unlawful eavesdropping occurred on [Nov. 5]. The investigation showed that Detravion Bishop had recorded [victim’s name] inside his dorm room without her permission and without her knowledge.”

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has responded to the situation, expressing concern over the circumstances Bishop is caught up in.

“We are investigating the matter and it’s important that we gather all information relevant to the situation before we determine what policies may come into play,” Smart said in his statement. “Then we can take appropriate action if necessary.”

Bishop was a three-star recruit in Georgia’s Class of 2017, according to his Rivals profile. Bishop red-shirted last season.

Broker offers free Nebraska tickets if Huskers win Big Ten

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Nebraska fans now have an extra incentive for hoping their beloved Cornhuskers win the Big Ten this season, if they buy their tickets from the right ticket broker.

Ticket Express is offering a promotion to Nebraska fans that will refund all ticket purchases made before June 1 if Nebraska wins the Big Ten this upcoming season. The refund promo is good for single-game tickets as well as season packages.

Nebraska has played for the Big Ten championship once since joining the Big Ten in 2011, and it did not go well. Nebraska was blown out by Wisconsin in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis, 70-31. Nebraska’s last conference championship was won in 1999 under current Ohio head coach Frank Solich, when the Huskers were still at the top of the Big 12. Solich, by the way, will be welcomed back to Nebraska for an event next January for a service award from the Football Writers Association of America.

Nebraska is coming off a 4-8 season and faces a difficult schedule in the first season with new head coach Scott Frost. Nebraska’s schedule is arguably the toughest in the Big Ten this season with road games at Ohio State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan, and Iowa and a home crossover game with Michigan State. Just getting to the Big Ten championship game out of the West Division would be a pleasant surprise this fall, let alone topping the East Division champion in Indy.

Ticket Express liekly has an insurance policy to recoup the losses should things go Nebraska’s way, but this feels like a solid promotion with little risk for the broker.

Another Ohio State player reportedly to transfer to FCS program

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No, we’re not repeating a story. For the second time today, it has been reported a player is transferring from Ohio State to a school at the FCS level. This time it is defensive back Wayne Davis, who will reportedly transfer to FCS powerhouse James Madison of the CAA.

JMU beat reporter Greg Madia of the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Virginia reported the transfer news on Friday afternoon. The report cites a quote from Davis’s high school coach confirming the transfer is in progress. Paperwork still needs to make the transfer official, but that may just be a formality that is settled within days.

Because Davis would be moving to a FCS program, he will be eligible to play right away this fall and not have to sit out a season. His addition to the roster would certainly give the James Madison secondary a boost. Davis was a four-star recruit out of Norfolk, Virginia in the Class of 2016. He will have three years of eligibility at James Madison beginning this fall.

Earlier, linebacker Jared Drake announced his decision to transfer from Ohio State to Western Illinois.

Bill Mallory, Indiana’s all-time winningest coach, dies at age 82

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Former Indiana head coach Bill Mallory, 82, has passed away. Mallory passed away after not improving from brain surgery this week. Mallory was Indiana’s all-time winningest college football coach and also coached at Miami Ohio, Colorado, and Northern Illinois.

Mallory had to undergo brain surgery this week after falling on Tuesday. After no improvement following surgery, Mallory was placed in hospice care on Thursday. His son, current Indiana State head coach Curt Mallory, announced the medical updates via Twitter.

Mallory began his coaching career at Bowling Green in 1960. After five seasons with the program, Mallory took on an assistant coaching job at Yale in 1965 and then Ohio State in 1966 under Woody Hayes. Mallory soon became the head coach at Miami Ohio in 1969 and went on to coach at Colorado and Northern Illinois before wrapping up his coaching career with the Hoosiers from 1984 through 1996. After going 0-11 in his first year in Bloomington, Mallory improved the program and took Indiana to six bowl games in eight years. Indiana finished ranked in the top 25 in 1988 for the first time since Lee Corso did so in 1979. Mallory’s 68 wins at Indiana remain the most in school history, as do his two bowl victories.

Following a loss to Michigan State in 1987, with the winner taking a trip to the Rose Bowl, Mallory entered the Michigan State locker room for one of his signature moments.