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

Report: Georgia, Oregon could open 2022 season in Atlanta

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Nothing definitive has been put on the books just yet, but one report suggests a future meeting between Georgia and Oregon could be heading to Atlanta in 2022.

According to a report from Dawgs247, contracts are being worked up to bring the Bulldogs and Ducks together for the first time since 1977. And if the game is being played in Atlanta, it would stand to reason the matchup between the SEC and Pac-12 programs would be part of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game festivities, whether the only game or one of the multiple games lined up for the early season fun. There are currently no games scheduled for 2022 as part of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

The Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta has tended to pair teams from the SEC and ACC, but a few notable exceptions have been made over the years if it means being able to bring a noteworthy program to Atlanta from outside the southeastern region of the college football map. Washington will be the first program to represent the Pac-12 in the game this season when they open the season against Auburn.

West Virginia has been the lone representative from the Big 12 to play in the game, losing to Alabama in 2014. Boise State is the only other program to play in the game from outside the power conferences, having done so twice. Boise State beat Georgia in the 2011 game and lost to Ole Miss in 2014.

Georgia has played in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game twice before, drawing even with one loss against Boise State in 2011 and picking up a win against North Carolina in 2016. Oregon has never played in the game.

Georgia is already scheduled for one future Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in 2020 against Virginia of the ACC.

Future Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games:

  • 2018: Auburn vs. Washington
  • 2019: Alabama vs. Duke
  • 2020: Florida State vs. West Virginia
  • 2020: Georgia vs. Virginia
  • 2020: Auburn vs. North Carolina
  • 2021: Alabama vs. Miami
  • 2021: Louisville vs. Ole Miss

Troy player receives football scholarship from his mom

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The moment when a player receives a surprise scholarship among the company of his teammates is never one that gets old watching, and you have to give it to coaches and programs finding new ways to always keep these moments as special as they can. Recently, Troy long snapper Cameron Kaye was surprised with a scholarship at the end of a practice, and his mother was the one to hand over the official paperwork.

As Troy head coach Neal Brown says in the video, Kaye started every game Troy played a season ago and has earned a 3.0 GPA as an exercise science major.

Kaye announced he had received his full scholarship offer on Friday, two days prior to Troy’s video team releasing the video included in this post.

Videos of players learning they are being put on scholarship will never, ever get old.

Penn State DE Torrence Brown latest Nittany Lion to retire

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The hits just keep on coming for Penn State. Just days after a pair of Penn State players announced their retirement from football, defensive end Torrence Brown has announced his retirement from the game just before the start of the college football season.

“Due to multiple injuries and surgeries, my career at Penn State has come to an end,” Brown said in a statement shared on his Twitter account recently. “It has been tough coming to terms with this news but I know that everything happens for a reason and God will continue to guide me.”

Brown missed the majority of the 2017 season due to a knee injury suffered early in the year. He had hoped to return to the field this fall, but that clearly did not come to be for Brown as he battled back from injury.

Last week, Ryan Buchholz and Jordan Miner announced their retirements from the game. Prior to that, 2018 signee Nana Asiedu announced his retirement due to a heart condition. Quarterback Jake Zembiec also has retired due to a shoulder injury.

“We’re kind of having a strange year, to be honest with you,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said recently in response to some of the previously announced retirements, according to PennLive. “It’s challenging for them, it’s challenging for their parents, it’s challenging for us as a staff, in terms of managing a roster and depth, and those types of things. Most importantly, it’s difficult (because) this is their dream. This is their ultimate dream.”

Brown said he intends to follow through with the winter semester to earn his degree.

UCLA loses LB Josh Woods to season-ending knee injury

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UCLA’s defense was dealt a bad card just before the start of the 2018 college football season. Bruins head coach Chip Kelly announced to reporters that linebacker Josh Woods will miss the entire season due to a knee injury from Thursday’s practice.

“It’s a big blow,” Kelly said, according to a Los Angeles Daily News report. “Just a great young man, everything you want in a football player. So it’s hard for us to try to replace because we don’t have that much depth at that position. But right now our thoughts are with Josh.”

Woods was expected to be a starter for the UCLA defense this season. Last season, he appeared in seven games and recorded 30 tackles, including 23 solo tackles. His 2017 season was cut short due to a shoulder injury.

It remains to be determined if Woods will get the chance to play for UCLA again. The senior has already earned his degree but does have the option of using a redshirt for the 2018 season and continuing to play again in 2019.