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

Oklahoma State losing QB Brendan Costello to the transfer portal

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Another quarterback with the Costello surname has hit the portal, although this one is from Oklahoma State football.

According to Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports, Brendan Costello has taken the first step in leaving the Cowboys by entering the NCAA transfer database.  Thus far, the Oklahoma State football program has not commented on the development.  Nor has the player on his personal Twitter account for that matter.

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

Barring the unexpected, Costello will have to sit out the 2020 season.  That would then leave him with three years of eligibility to use starting in 2021.

Costello was a three-star member of the Oklahoma State football Class of 2019.  The California product was rated as the No. 17 dual-threat quarterback in the country according to the 247Sports.com composite.

The 5-11, 194-pound quarterback didn’t see the field as a true freshman.  Obviously, Costello took a redshirt for the 2019 campaign.

Spencer Sanders is the incumbent under center for OSU.  As a redshirt freshman a year ago, Sanders threw for 2,065 yards and 16 touchdowns.  He also ran for another 628 and a pair of scores.  The Big 12 coaches named him as the conference’s Offensive Freshman of the Year.

This past cycle, Oklahoma State also added Shane Illingworth to its 2020 football recruiting class.  The four-star signee was rated as the No. 6 pro-style quarterback in the country.

Navy’s Tony Brown enters the transfer portal

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The on-again, off-again relationship Navy has had with the transfer portal is back on again.  Unfortunately for the service academy.

In late March, it was reported that Chelen Garnes had decided to enter the transfer portal. However, the defensive back subsequently pulled his name out of the database in a sign that he would be sticking with the Navy football team.  Earlier this month, though, Garnes opted to reenter the portal, the Capital Gazette reported.  Starting cornerback Michael McMorris, meanwhile, entered the database back in January.  Four months later, the Baltimore Sun reported last week that the defensive back has done a 180 and opted to remain with the Navy football team.

This week, however, 247Sports.com is reporting that Tony Brown has opted to enter his name into the NCAA transfer database.  As a junior, Brown would likely not be leaving the academy as a graduate.  That would mean the striker would have to sit out the 2020 season.  Barring a waiver from the NCAA of course.

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

Brown was a two-star member of the Navy football Class of 2018.  The Sicklerville, New Jersey, product was the No. 55 player regardless of position in his home state. Brown attended the Naval Academy Prep School during the 2017-18 academic year.

As a true freshman in 2018, Brown appeared in two games.  He started three of the 13 games in which he played in 2019.  The 6-3, 201-pound hybrid linebacker/defensive back returned a fumble eight yards for a score in one of those appearances.

Ex-Georgia WR Josh Moran transfers to New Mexico State

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One former Georgia Bulldog has found himself a new college football home.  Unofficially, of course.

Earlier this offseason, Josh Moran opted to enter the NCAA transfer database.  Tuesday, the wide receiver announced that he will be continuing his collegiate playing career at New Mexico State.  Moran divulged the news on his personal Twitter account.

“Thank you Jesus for these past four years at Georgia which have been nothing short of amazing,” Moran wrote. “Yes, the SEC Championship, Rose Bowl win, and National Championship runs were unbelievable, but looking back nothing compares to the lifelong brothers I now have leaving this place.  To my coaches, trainers, and teammates I love you guys and y’all will forever hold a special spot in my heart.

“I want to thank Coach [Doug] Martin and the entire coaching staff at NMSU for believing in me and making the recruiting process as easy as possible during this pandemic. I can’t wait to get to Las Cruces and compete with the guys! God bless and Go Aggies!”

As a graduate transfer, Moran will be eligible to play immediately in 2020.  This will be his final season of eligibility.

Moran was a three-star member of the Georgia football Class of 2016.  The Alpharetta, Ge., native held offers from, among others, Air Force, Army, Cal, Louisville, Navy and West Virginia.  Instead of accepting a scholarship, however, Moran opted to become a walk-on at Georgia.

During his time with the Bulldogs, though, Moran didn’t see any game action.  He spent his entire four years in Athens as a scout team player for the Bulldogs.

NMSU is coming off a 2-10 2019 campaign in its second season as a football independent.  The Aggies had previously been members of the Sun Belt Conference.  That relationship ended following the 2017 season.

South Alabama announces home-and-home with Ole Miss

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Thanks to Ole Miss, we have some football scheduling news you don’t normally see.  An SEC school agreeing to a straight home-and-home with a Group of Five program.

South Alabama Monday confirmed that it has reached an agreement on a home-and-home series with Ole Miss in football.  The Jaguars will travel to Oxford Sept. 2, 2028.  The Rebels will make the five-hour trek to Mobile Sept. 1 of the following season.

The 2029 game will mark the first time an SEC school travels to the Sun Belt Conference program since Mississippi State in 2014.  That was actually the first and only time since USA became an FBS member.

South Alabama and Ole Miss have met once in football. That came back in 2017, with the Rebels claiming a 47-27 win in Oxford.

“We are very excited to sign this home-and-home contract with Ole Miss,” USA head coach Steve Campbell said in a statement. “They have a proud program and tradition, it will be great to have them play in Hancock Whitney Stadium; hopefully they will be the first of many Power Five schools to make that trip to play here in Mobile. Mississippi has been very good for us as far as recruiting, we have brought in a lot of talented student-athletes from the state, I know it will be exciting for those future recruits to play Ole Miss.”

USA’s new stadium, incidentally, is set to open this coming season.  That site will also serve as the new home of the Senior Bowl.

In its history, USA has played six games against SEC schools.  They are 1-5 in those games.  The lone win?  Against Mississippi State in 2016.

Outside of Ole Miss, USA has five future games against members of the SEC.  Those are:

  • Florida (2020)
  • Tennessee (2021)
  • LSU (2024)
  • Auburn (2025)
  • Kentucky (2026).