CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: SEC Predictions

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As the 2015 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the home of the defending national champion, the Big Ten. 

And while we’re at it, check out some of our other Power Five conference predictions HERE (ACC), HERE (Big 12) and HERE (Big Ten) as the CFT team continues to take its month-long glimpse of the upcoming season.

SEC EAST

1. Georgia (10-3; beat Louisville in Belk Bowl)
There is one certainty when it comes to the East: UGA will not finish lower than third, a low-water benchmark for each of Mark Richt‘s 14 seasons in Athens that has included five division titles — none since 2012, though.  They return the most talent of any team in the division, although the fact that they opted for Grayson Lambert as the starting quarterback has me second-guessing my prediction.  It’s been a decade since UGA’s last SEC championship, and if they’re going to get back to that level they’ll have to do so with a schedule that includes both Alabama and Auburn as well as a road trip to Tennessee.  Still, anything less than an East title and a spot in the SEC championship game would be decidedly disappointing — and would lead to yet another offseason of “is it time to go in another direction?” speculation.

2. Tennessee (7-6; beat Iowa in Taxslayer Bowl)
Am I a year early with this lofty projection?  Possibly, especially given the team right below them.  Still, there’s no denying that Butch Jones has stuffed his talent cupboard after the barren years under his predecessor, Derek Dooley.  The Vols closed out last year on a positive note, going 4-1 down the stretch — the lone loss coming by eight to Mizzou — capping it off with an impressive 45-28 win over the Hawkeyes in the bowl game.  That final flourish coincided with Josh Dobbs‘ ascension as the starting quarterback.  With the scintillating playmaker poised to build off his first season at this level, the Vols could very well challenge both UGA and Mizzou for East supremacy.

3. Missouri (11-3; beat Minnesota in Citrus Bowl)
“Here we go again, denigrating the two-time defending East champion Tigers.” — the two Mizzou fans who frequent this site, probably.  And, actually, that’s an understandable reaction, given how the Tigers have been the class of the division the past two seasons.  They’re also one of the few teams in the conference that returns its starting quarterback.  Still, there are concerns along the defensive line — they return just five starters on that side of the ball, period — and their schedule doesn’t do them very many favors as they play at Georgia and Arkansas as well as play host to Mississippi State.  It wouldn’t shock me, though, if Mizzou made it three straight titles.  In fact, the only thing that would shock the system is if they finish outside the top three in the division.

4. Florida (7-5; beat East Carolina in Birmingham Bowl)
The good news for Florida?  They return seven defensive starters.  The bad?  They return only four on the other side of the ball, although, given that the Gators finished 93rd in total offense, that number of returnees might actually be viewed as a potential positive.  With Will Muschamp gone, there seems to be a breath of fresh air in The Swamp under new head coach Jim McElwain.  It may take the former Alabama coordinator a year to get his SEC feet back under him, but the Gators should show immediate improvements both offensively and in the won/loss column.  Playing at Missouri, at LSU and at Georgia in back-to-back-to-back games should, though, temper any talk of an East title right out of the gate for McElwain.

5. South Carolina (7-6; beat Miami in Independence Bowl)
The Gamecocks could very well match or exceed their win total from a year ago and still find themselves in the bottom half of the division as, as evidenced by their postseason performance in 2014 (5-0), the East appears to be on a slight uptick.  There are two main concerns for the Ol’ Ball Coach: one, the play of first-year starting quarterback Connor Mitch and, two, a front seven that was gashed for 212.1 yards rushing per game, a number that was 13th in the 14-team SEC and 105th nationally.  To help rectify the latter problem, Steve Spurrier brought in Jon Hoke as co-defensive coordinator.  On the former front, solid play from Mitch, combined with an improved running game with multiple contributors, could leave me low-balling the ‘Cocks projection-wise.

6. Kentucky (5-7)
Despite all of the noise over Mark Stoops‘ recruiting prowess, it still seems as if, at least in the here and now, the best UK can hope to aspire this season is a middle-of-the-road team in the East at best.  Stoops has taken a program that won seven games total in the two years prior to his arrival to one that’s, well, won seven games in his two seasons.  There’s no doubt, though, that Stoops has raised the talent level in Lexington.  The question is, with a schedule that includes road games against South Carolina, Mississippi State and Georgia as well as a home date with West power Auburn and annual nemesis Florida (28 straight losses to Gators), can Stoops get the program back to its first bowl game since 2010?  If he does, toss some Coach of the Year votes his way.

7. Vanderbilt (3-9)
There’s no question Vandy will finish in the East cellar.  The only question is, will Derek Mason make it to Year 3 as the Commodores’ head coach?  A good man and a solid football coach, Mason has somewhat fallen victim to the expectations created by James Franklin‘s time with the Commodores.  Vandy does return 16 starters, a total that’s tied for second in the conference behind Tennessee’s 18.  I hope Mason gets another season (or two) despite yet another basement finish; hopefully the university’s administration feels the same way as Mason has the kind of program-building potential that should be supported, not prematurely ditched.

SEC WEST

1. Auburn (8-5 in 2014; lost to Wisconsin in Outback Bowl)
I’m particularly bullish on the Tigers, and the reason for that is, essentially, the addition of one man to the football building.  With Gus Malzahn in the house, AU could roll out of bed and put a Top-20 offense on the field.  Defense, though, is another matter entirely — or was.  Potentially.  The pass defense was abysmal in 2014, giving up the third-most yards per game in the conference.  Enter Will Muschamp, who, despite his abject failure as a head coach at Florida, remains one of the top defensive minds in the country.  It would be stunning if the Tigers didn’t finish in the top half(ish) of the conference in nearly every major defensive statistical category.  And, if that happens, AU is poised for a return to the national stage.

2. Alabama (12-2; lost to Ohio State in CFP semifinal)
If they can stay healthy, the Tide, one of four playoff teams a year ago, will, once again, have a rock-solid running game and a top-notch defense.  That leaves the same question mark as this time a year ago: the quarterback position.  Regardless of which quarterback earns the job for the first time in his career, they will have one obstacle Blake Sims didn’t a year ago: replacing the production lost with stud Amari Cooper‘s departure, a wide receiver who served as the ultimate security blanket for a first-year starter.  If Jake Coker/David Cornwell/Alec Morris can give offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin just average, game-manager play at the position, the Tide is set-up to once again be contenders in the division, conference and nationally.

3. LSU (8-5; lost to Notre Dame in Music City Bowl)
Seemingly every year, the Tigers’ preseason projections and in-season hopes hinge on improved play at the quarterback position.  For 2015, it’s lather, rinse, repeat under center.  Despite the loss of coordinator John Chavis, the Tigers will once again field one of the most talented defenses in the country.  The skill-position players on offense are as good as any at the FBS level, which brings us right back to the quarterback.  The job this camp has been won by Brandon Harris; if the sophomore can just, well, not be 2014 Anthony Jennings, the Bayou Bengals will challenge Auburn and Alabama for West supremacy.  If he can’t, and another season implodes?  The same questions asked of Mark Richt will be asked of Les Miles at season’s end.

4. Arkansas (7-6; beat Texas in Texas Bowl)
The Razorbacks are the Volunteers of the West: the go-to pick for a team on the rise and looking to surprise.  At least when it comes to the Hogs, that appears to be a promising bet, albeit one with a significant and daunting scheduling asterisk.  Last season, the Razorbacks lost four of their 2014 SEC games by a total of 22 points, with two of those coming on the road and one in overtime.  That and 15 returning starters has led to rampant optimism in and around Fayetteville.  Playing the role of Debbie Downer is the schedule, which features road games against Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and an improved Tennessee as a well as a home date with reigning East champ Missouri.

5. Ole Miss (9-4; lost to TCU in Peach Bowl)
The Rebels were one of the toasts of college football through the first two months of the 2014 season, going 7-0 in an opening half that included an upset of Alabama.  They then lost four of their next five against Power Five teams, punctuated by a 39-point beatdown in the bowl game.  Despite that stumble to the finish, there’s a reason for a modicum of optimism as Hugh Freeze will be able to pencil 16 returning starters into his lineup, including nine on the offensive side.  It’ll be that side of the ball that determines the Rebels’ 2015 fate as they will once again field a top-tier SEC defense.  Playing at Alabama, at Auburn and at Mississippi State, a second-tier spot in the West seems to be, once again, the best the Oxford bunch can aspire to this season.

6. Texas A&M (8-5; beat West Virginia in Liberty Bowl)
Most discussions of A&M’s prospects for the 2015 season begin and end with the defense — specifically, the run defense.  The Aggies finished the 2014 season 109th nationally in rushing yards allowed, ending the regular season by giving up 363, 335 and 384 yards on the ground to Auburn, Missouri and LSU, respectively. Akin to what Auburn did on The Plains, A&M brought in one of the top coordinators in the game, swiping John Chavis away from LSU.  The Chief’s presence alone should assure a marked improvement defensively, especially when it comes to stopping the run.  After taking over for a benched Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen showed enough promise as a true freshman to be confident that the offense is in good hands.  The opener against a very good Arizona State will prove to be a solid litmus test for how far all three phases of the team have to go before entering conference play three weeks later.

7. Mississippi State (10-3; lost to Georgia Tech in Orange Bowl)
Beginning in mid-October and on into early November, the Bulldogs were sitting atop the college football world as the No. 1 team in the country. Nine months later, they’re being forecast by numerous entities, myself included, to finish at the bottom of the West.  More than anything, that’s a testament to the top-to-bottom strength of the division.  It’s also, though, an acknowledgement that MSU lost a plethora of talent: only three teams at the FBS level — Kansas and UT-San Antonio (six) and South Alabama (five) — return fewer starters than their seven.  One of the seven, at least, is starting quarterback and Heisman contender Dak Prescott, so that gives the Bulldogs a fighting chance.  Still, it will be a tough row to hoe for Dan Mullen‘s squad to again reach double digits.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Auburn over Georgia

Alabama continues climb up 2021 recruiting rankings with another four-star commit; Crimson Tide now knocking on the door of the Top 10

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After a slow start, Alabama continues to make inroads on the football recruiting trail.  Significant inroads.

Monday, four-star defensive back Devonta Smith, a one-time Ohio State commit, committed to Alabama football.  Two days later, four-star defensive end Dallas Turner did the same.  The Florida high schooler, who had Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Oklahoma as part of his Final Five, gave his verbal in a video.

Turner had taken a visit to Tuscaloosa back in February.  That trip seemed to clinch the deal for the Crimson ide.

I knew after the visit,” Turner said. “I just liked the amount of history at the school and how productive the school is and the high standards that they have for their players. …

“I trust [the Alabama football] program the most. I feel like they want me to be the best version of me.”

Turner is rated as the No. 2 weakside defensive end on the 247Sports.com composite.  The Fort Lauderdale high schooler is the No. 10 recruit regardless of position in the Sunshine State.  He’s also the No. 44 prospect overall on that same composite.

The two commitments continue a significant uptick in recruiting success for the Crimson Tide.

Roughly six weeks ago, Alabama held the No. 54 class in the country for the 2021 cycle.  Right behind Rice.  And just ahead of UTSA.  Now? The Tide sits at No. 12 nationally — after they were No. 19 following the Smith commitment.  In the SEC, they now have the No. 4 class in the conference behind Tennessee (No. 4), Florida (No. 8) and LSU (No. 9).

Here’s to guessing, though, that the Tide is not finished on the recruiting trail.  Far from it, in fact.

There is history behind such confidence, of course.  Just once since Nick Saban took over has Alabama finished outside the Top Five in recruiting.  That was the 2007 class, signed in February of that year.  One month after Saban was hired.

Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley will take a 10% cut in pay

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Go ahead and add the Oklahoma football coach as taking one for the team.  Or school, as the case may be.

Wednesday, Oklahoma announced that, with the start of the 2020-21 fiscal year, the athletic department is initiating cost-cutting measures that will help slash “approximately $13.7 million in controllable operating expenses.” Included in that is a 10% salary reduction for any university employee earning a salary of $1 million or more per year.  Oklahoma head football coach Lincoln Riley, of course, is part of that group.

Last year, Riley was paid nearly $6.4 million, a figure that was second in the Big 12 and ninth nationally.  With a 10% reduction, Riley would forego in the neighborhood of $640,000.

From the school’s release:

All of us understand that a number of circumstances will unfold in the weeks ahead,” he said. “Our staff continues to monitor our expense and income projections closely and we’ll take other actions, as necessary.”

Castiglione added that he was pleased that the department was able to balance its budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

“It’s a testament to our staff and our practices that we were able to balance our budget for fiscal year 2020,” Castiglione said. “We have always benefited from excellent teamwork in our department, but our staff has come together as never before. I am very proud of our people.

Below is a partial list of FBS programs that have initiated various cost-cutting measures for athletic department personnel, including coaches:

Additionally, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who reportedly made north of $5 million a year ago, is taking a 20% pay cut.  Scott’s Big 12 counterpart, Bob Bowlsby, announced pay cuts for himself and the conference’s staff.

College Football in Coronavirus Quarantine: On this day in CFT history, including the family of Joe Paterno condemning ‘leaking of selective emails’ that pointed to a coverup at Penn State

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The sports world, including college football, has essentially screeched to a halt as countries around the world battle the coronavirus pandemic. As such, there’s a dearth of college football news as spring practices have all but been canceled at every level of the sport. And there’s even some concern that the health issue could have an impact on the 2020 college football campaign.

In that vein, we thought it might be fun to go back through the CollegeFootballTalk archives that stretch back to 2009 and take a peek at what transpired in the sport on this date.

So, without further ado — ok, one further ado — here’s what happened in college football on July 2, by way of our team of CFT writers both past and present.

(P.S.: If any of our readers have ideas on posts they’d like to read during this college football hiatus, leave your suggestions in the comments section.  Mailbag, maybe?)

2019

THE HEADLINE: Report: James Madison interested in moving up to FBS to take UConn’s spot in AAC
THE SYNOPSIS: Thus far, no school has taken UConn’s place in the conference.  The league seems content moving forward with 11 football-playing members.

2018

THE HEADLINE: Dismissed Notre Dame RB CJ Holmes finds second chance at Penn State
THE SYNOPSIS: Nearly a year to the day later, Holmes moved on from Penn State to Kent State.

2015

THE HEADLINE: Braxton Miller to reveal plans for future next week
THE SYNOPSIS: Hmmm, wonder what the Ohio State quarterback will do?  Stay tuned…

2014

THE HEADLINE: Randy “Captain Obvious” Edsall: We’re not going to be Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State
THE SYNOPSIS: That was when Edsall was the boss at Maryland.  Edsall lasted one-and-a-half more seasons at the school.  The Terrapins went 22-34 under the current UConn head coach, including a 2-4 start to the 2015 season that triggered his midseason dismissalMike Locksley was named interim coach.  Three years later, Lockley was back as the full-time head coach.

2012

THE HEADLINE: Paterno family condemns ‘leaking of selective emails’
THE SYNOPSIS: This development, which came a week after Jerry Sandusky became a convicted pedophile, continued to erode Joe Paterno‘s legacy.

2010

THE HEADLINE: UGA-ly: Bad situation gets really uncomfortable for AD Damon Evans
THE SYNOPSIS: What made it so uncomfortable? During a traffic stop, a state trooper detected a  pair of red panties situated between Evans’ legs.  In the vehicle with the married Evans was a female who was not his wife. Three days later, Evans resigned. Eight years later, Evans was named as the athletic director at Maryland.

Florida State RB Anthony Grant to restart career at a Kansas JUCO

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It didn’t take long for one erstwhile Florida State football player to find a new home.  On a lower rung of the sport, but still.

It was reported last week that Anthony Grant is no longer a member of the Florida State football team.  In fact, Grant is no longer listed on FSU’s official roster.  It’s unclear at this point whether the parting of ways was mutual or one-sided.

Then again, that doesn’t much matter as the running back has reportedly opted to start over at Garden City Community College.  The news of the JUCO move was first reported late last week.

It’s expected that Grant will spend the 2020 season at the Kansas junior college, then move back to an FBS school.  That would leave him with two years of eligibility at this level of football starting in 2021.

Grant was a three-star member of the Florida State football Class of 2018.  The Georgia native was rated as the No. 17 running back in the country on the 247Sports.com composite.  He held Power Five offers from nearly two dozen schools, including Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

In 2019, Grant didn’t see the field at all for the Seminoles.  As a true freshman, Grant played a dozen games.  In that action, he ran five times… for zero yards.  He did, though, lead FSU by averaging 22.5 yards on 11 kick returns.  Additionally, he totaled nine tackles on special teams.