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.

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

Nation’s top 2017 recruit announces transfer to Miami

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The transfer train has made yet another stop in South Florida, and this one brought a passenger with a helluva high school pedigree with not a lot to show for yet on his college résumé.

In mid-December, it was reported that Jaelan Phillips would be transferring from UCLA.  A little over two months later, Phillips announced on Twitter that he will continue his collegiate playing career at Miami.

Because of NCAA transfer rules, Phillips will likely have to sit out the 2019 season.  He would then have two years of eligibility to use beginning in 2020.

Phillips was the No. 1-rated recruit in the entire country for the Class of 2017 on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  Despite that lofty ranking, although in large part due to injury, his collegiate career thus far hasn’t amounted to much.

As a true freshman, Phillips started four of the seven games in which he played. Despite missing nearly half the season because of an ankle injury, he finished fourth on the Bruins in tackles for loss with seven and second in sacks with 3.5. Battling additional injuries in 2018, including concussions, Phillips played in just four games this past season.

Phillips would be the sixth FBS player to transfer to Miami since Manny Diaz took over at The U, joining USC safety Bubba Bolden (HERE), Auburn running back Asa Martin (HERE), Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell (HERE), Buffalo wide receiver K.J. Osborn (HERE) as well as Phillips’ former UCLA teammate, defensive tackle Chigozie Nnoruka (HERE).

Clemson 4-star LB signee suffers knee injury in basketball game

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When a clip of Trevor Lawrence getting into a scuffle during an intramural basketball game went viral earlier this week, a chorus of takes screamed into the void asking what a college football player was doing playing basketball in the first place.

Dabo Swinney has always defended his players’ intramural endeavors, reasoning that unpaid college students should not be treated as employees. “They’re just having fun and enjoying being college people and doing what college kids do,” he said.

Swinney has defended this even in light of Jordan Williams, a potential starter at defensive tackle, suffering a leg injury during an intramural basketball game that will keep him out of a crucial spring for his development.

And now the basketball injury bug has struck another Clemson player.

Bryson Constantin, a 4-star linebacker signee in Clemson’s 2019 class, suffered a knee injury while playing for Baton Rouge’s University Lab High School basketball team last week — and he believes it could be serious.

“At a basketball game last week, I came down from an alley and I felt a pop in my knee,” Constantin told TigerNet. “I went to the ER that night to make sure it wasn’t like a knee cap or anything like that. They figured out it was most likely my ACL. I went for an MRI two days ago but I had too much blood in my knee to do an MRI, so they drained all the blood out and they were like, the only way you’d have this much blood in your knee is if you did tear your ACL. I go back for an MRI this weekend or Monday, so I’ll know for sure what it is coming up soon.”

While active college players playing intramural basketball is a (somewhat) controversial practice, incoming signees playing for their high school teams is not. Many a college coach has waxed poetically about falling in love with a player’s gridiron potential while watching him compete on the hardwood.

Still, it’s a cruel bit of irony: the only place the nation’s best football team seems to suffer any sort of defeat is on the basketball court.

Texas to host Louisiana-Lafayette in 2021

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Texas will host Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 4, 2021, according to a report Thursday from FBSchedules.

The Ragin’ Cajuns will cancel a scheduled game with Arizona State in order to make the trip to Austin. Other than the shorter trip, the switch will not turn a profit for Louisiana-Lafayette. The school was scheduled to make $1.3 million from Arizona State and will take $1.5 million from Texas, but, in order to access that $1.5 million payday, the Cajuns will have to give back $200,000 to the Sun Devils.

The meeting will be the third all-time between the schools. Texas beat ULL 52-10 to open the 2000 season and 60-3 to begin its 2005 national championship campaign. Both of those games were in Austin as well.

For what it’s worth, Texas hosts Louisiana Tech and LSU in this upcoming season.

After Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas will visit Arkansas and host Rice to round out its non-conference slate. ULL also has games with Ohio (home) and Liberty (road) lined up for 2021.

FBSchedules also reported Thursday that Louisiana-Lafayette will visit Minnesota on Sept. 30, 2023 and play a home-and-home with Tulane in 2024 and ’27.

The Cajuns played a 2-for-1 with the Gophers from 2001-03; Minnesota won all three games. ULL and Tulane have played 27 times previously. Tulane is 23-4 in those games, including each club’s most recent game — a 41-24 Green Wave win in the 2018 Cure Bowl.

Florida State hires Randy Clements as offensive line coach

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You knew this was coming as soon as Kendal Briles was hired.

Florida State on Thursday announced Randy Clements as its offensive line coach, ending weeks of speculation and idle waiting for this to happen. Much like an architect prefers a specific contractor or a director only works with a certain cinematographer, Briles and Clements are a package deal. An OG member of the Art Briles tree, Clements has been with dad and/or son dating back to 1990, when Art was the head coach at Stephenville High School and Clements was his offensive line coach.

After Art broke away to serve as Texas Tech’s running backs coach from 2000-02, Clements reunited with Briles at Houston in 2003, where Kendal was along for the ride as a wide receiver and safety. Clements then followed the Briles men to Baylor.

After the staff blew up in infamy in 2016, Clements and Kendal Briles spent 2017 in isolation from each other, with Kendal at Florida Atlantic and Clements at NAIA Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.

But Briles’ overwhelming success in his one season at FAU led a desperate Major Applewhite to hire him, and he brought Clements along with him. The pair’s success at Houston has now led them to Tallahassee.

“Randy Clements has a remarkable resume filled with quantifiable results coaching offensive linemen,” Willie Taggart said in a statement. “He has proven to be a successful teacher and knows exactly how we want to operate in this offense. I am happy for our student-athletes to learn from him, and I’m enthusiastic about him joining our staff as we continue to build a championship culture at Florida State.”

Taggart made a well-renowned hire off the bat in luring Greg Frey, a member of FSU’s 1993 national championship team, away from Michigan, but the hire did not work out. Working with a patchwork line (to put it kindly), Frey’s offensive line helped FSU rank 110th in yards per play, 129th in yards per carry and 112th in sacks allowed, and he was relieved of duties last week to make room for Briles’ preferred contractor.

“I want to start by thanking Coach Taggart for this opportunity,” Clements said. “My family and I are thrilled to be part of this prestigious program. My background with Kendal will be valuable, but I’m also looking forward to integrating with the rest of the staff and can’t wait to get to know and work with the student-athletes on campus. I am excited to work toward our goal of bringing Florida State its next championship.”