CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 12 Georgia

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2013 record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 in SEC (third in SEC East)
2013 postseason: Gator Bowl vs. Nebraska (24-19 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Head coach: Mark Richt (126-45 overall; same in 13 years at Georgia)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Bobo (eighth season)
2013 offensive rankings: 65th rushing offense (169.9 ypg); 15th passing offense (314.2 ypg); 17th total offense (484.2 ypg); 21st scoring offense (36.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: Jeremy Pruitt (first season)
2013 defensive rankings: 41st rushing defense (148.2 ypg); 60th passing defense (227.4 ypg);  45th total defense (375.5 ypg); T-78th scoring defense (29 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Athens, Ga.
Stadium: Sanford Stadium (92,746; grass)
Last conference title: 2005

THE GOOD
The Bulldogs return nine starters on the defensive side of the ball, with new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who bolted Tallahassee for Athens, being widely considered a significant upgrade over the departed Todd Grantham.  Pruitt’s focus during his first handful of months with the Bulldogs has been twofold: one, creating more turnovers — 27 last year isn’t enough for a coordinator who watched his FSU group force 39 — and, two, stop giving up the game-changing plays like the one that cost them the Auburn game last season.  Given the returning talent and Pruitt’s presence, there are no more excuses for subpar defensive performance game-in and game-out (eighth in the SEC in scoring defense, tied for 78th nationally).

THE BAD
On the flip side, the offense barely returns half of its starters from a season ago, less than half if wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell is an injury no-go to start the season.  For the first time since the 2009 season, someone who doesn’t answer to the name “Aaron Murray” will be under center when the Bulldogs take the field against Clemson, exacerbating the inexperienced starting talent on offense.  If a couple of receivers can get healthy on that side of the ball… if Todd Gurley can stay healthy in the backfield… if Murray’s replacement, a fifth-year senior, can use the early beginning to his starting career to his advantage… if all of those happen, this group could be less of a liability than some think they will be.  It may take time, though, which is bad news with a key SEC matchup very early on the schedule.

THE UNKNOWN
The worst news for Georgia last season was long-time starting quarterback Murray going down with a serious knee injury in late November.  It may have also served as the best news as Hutson Mason got a two-game head-start on his career as the Bulldogs’ starter.  That experience, as limited as it is, will serve Hutson and UGA well; what won’t is the lack of depth at the wide receiver position.  The Bulldogs certainly have the talent, but at least half that experienced talent — Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley — has injury issues heading into the season.  If at least one of those two can get healthy and stay there for the year, it will certainly help cushion Mason’s learning curve.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at South Carolina, Sept. 13
As both Georgia and South Carolina are expected to be the cream of the crop in the SEC East, it would stand to reason that this game, played the third weekend of the season, could prove to be the SEC title game ticket-puncher for the winning side.  That could prove problematic for the Bulldogs as not only will they be playing on the road in Columbia, they will be facing what is arguably the best squad Steve Spurrier has assembled during his decade with the Gamecocks.  While UGA won last year’s game, USC has owned the series of late by winning the previous three by a combined 42 points.  The good news is that, as was the case in 2012, a loss wouldn’t derail UGA’s SEC championship game hopes as there’s plenty of time for the Gamecocks to trip on their own junk heading down the stretch.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Todd Gurley
There are several no-brainers when it comes to this category amongst our Top 25 teams; this is one of the biggest of the no-brainers.  When healthy, Gurley is arguably the most talented player at his position in the country.   He’s rushed for nearly 2,400 yards and 27 touchdowns in his two seasons in Athens.  Injuries cost him three games in early to mid-October last year, or those two-year totals would have been close to 3,000 yards and more than 30 touchdowns on the ground.  He’s also turned into a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game, as evidenced by his 37 catches and six receiving touchdowns in his injury-stunted season.  Again, if he can stay healthy, the talent and production are and will continue to be undeniable.  Simply put, a healthy Gurley is a Heisman candidate from Game 1 on through early December.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Nine from ’19: TE Thaddeus Moss joins LSU exodus for NFL Draft

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Thaddeus Moss is officially a one-and-done at LSU after declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft.

The star LSU tight end became the ninth underclassman for the national champions to leave campus for the pros this week. He made the announcement on social media in a letter thanking the fan base:

Moss played a pivotal role in the team’s record-setting offense in 2019. He caught 47 passes for 570 yards and had three of his four touchdowns come in the College Football Playoffs. That included a pair of scores in the title game, one of which doubled as the one that allowed QB Joe Burrow to set the FBS record for TD passes in a season.

The one-time North Carolina State transfer is no stranger to the pros either way. He’s the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss and will be part of an intriguing class of players at tight end this spring.

While it’s possible there will be an additional name or two that surfaces, Friday’s deadline for underclassmen to declare means Moss’ departure could be the last for LSU for the time being. Still, that’s a lot of talent to lose as Ed Orgeron embarks on an offseason full of changes right after reaching the top of the sport.

Travis Etienne skipping draft, will stay at Clemson for 2020

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It’s not often you get a shocking announcement for a player returning for his senior year but this might qualify.

In an announcement posted on Twitter Friday afternoon, Clemson’s star tailback Travis Etienne surprised pretty much everybody by saying he would skip the 2020 NFL Draft and remain on campus for his senior season.

Etienne was a Heisman Trophy candidate for much of 2019 and has been a key cog in the Tigers’ incredible record the past few years. He’s rushed for over 1,600 yards each of the past two seasons and continued to become a threat as a pass catcher out of the backfield as well.

While many expected the junior to turn pro and join a deep class of running backs, apparently the taste left in his mouth by Monday’s national title game was just the extra push he needed to stay on campus to aim for another championship.

Though Dabo Swinney has to deal with a handful of departures from the two-deep this offseason, the return of Etienne should only further cement Clemson as the preseason No. 1 team for 2020. The tailback and quarterback Trevor Lawrence both figure to be high draft picks the following spring but for now they will be aiming for another ring with a team that just won 29 games in a row.

Report: Ex-Houston QB D’Eriq King to visit Maryland after Miami trip

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Last year, everybody wanted to know where Jalen Hurts would transfer to. This year? D’Eriq King might take that mantle.

The Houston quarterback entered the NCAA Transfer Portal shortly before the national title game on Monday and is already moving on to lining up visits. One of the first stops on King’s transfer tour? We already know that a trip to Miami to check out the Hurricanes on the docket but that’s not all on a busy weekend. According to the Baltimore Sun, Maryland is on deck for the signal-caller this Saturday.

The Terps turning to a graduate transfer is nothing new. Head coach Mike Locksley brought in Josh Jackson to mixed success in 2019 after the latter left Virginia Tech. King, however, would represent a much more dynamic option behind center for the team.

King set numerous records with the Cougars and scored 50 touchdowns (36 passing and 14 rushing) in 2018 alone. The prolific numbers also came despite the fact that he missed two games due to a knee injury. While UH had long maintained that King’s surprising redshirt decision this past season was part of a plan that would see him return to the team for 2020, things have played out pretty much as expected in him looking elsewhere.

Whether he lands in College Park remains to be seen but it’s no surprise Locksley is dipping into the market. Tyrrell Pigrome is a senior but isn’t quite up to Big Ten passing standards and depth behind him is limited. That’s always an issue at Maryland given the injury history at the position too.

Landing somebody like King would be quite a coup for the Terps but it’s pretty clear they’ll be just one of several programs in hot pursuit of the Texas native’s services.

K’Lavon Chaisson makes it eight LSU underclassmen headed to the NFL

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Last one left in Baton Rouge, please turn out the lights.

In an announcement posted to social media on Friday morning, LSU linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson became the eighth underclassman off the Tigers’ national championship team to announce he was skipping his final year and declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft.

The move ensures that the Tigers will have to replace their entire starting linebacking corps from this past season following Patrick Queen’s earlier departure. That’s in addition to a host of other big names and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda as well.

Chaisson arrived in Baton Rouge as a top recruit from Texas but injuries over the years prevented him from becoming the kind of player many thought he would blossom into. Nevertheless, he had a memorable 2019 and was a terror down the stretch run with several big games — including being named Peach Bowl MVP in the semifinal against Oklahoma.

The 6-foot-4, 250 pounder was originally a defensive end but has been effective as a rusher after developing quite nicely as an outside linebacker. Though he really only had one lengthy season as a starter after an ACL tear as a sophomore, Chaisson is still considered a potential Day 1 or 2 pick in a few months time at the draft.

While head coach Ed Orgeron has to still be soaking up the glory of being the champions, the LSU head coach will have little time to waste over the coming weeks dealing with all these departures from both the coaching staff and the two-deep. Defections after winning a title are nothing new but Chaisson’s announcement only added to the difficulty the program will have in trying to make it back-to-back in 2020.