CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: SEC Predictions

5 Comments

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

In interview, Deion Sanders says he’ll be a head coach in college football ‘next year’

Deion Sanders
Getty Images
Leave a comment

If seeing Deion Sanders roaming the sidelines as a college football head coach is on your bucket list, the man himself says it’ll happen.  Soon.

Twitter in general and the college football world specifically was set ablaze in early November as a report emerged that Deion Sanders was a candidate for the Florida State head-coaching vacancy.  Subsequent reports stated that Sanders was not a candidate for the job at his alma mater, with the Hall of Famer himself stating that he had “not spoken to anyone from Florida State regarding” the job that ultimately went to Mike Norvell.

At the time, though, Sanders made it perfectly clear that coaching at the collegiate level is in his future.

“But let me assure you, I am 100 percent — 100 percent — desiring to coach at the next level. And I will.”

In that vein, Sanders appeared on the Dan Patrick Show earlier Tuesday.  During the interview, Sanders very emphatically stated that he will be a college football head coach “next year.” He also claimed that he had a second interview for a job this cycle with an unnamed school that wasn’t FSU.

Last January, it was reported that there was mutual interest between Sanders and the man Norvell replaced, Willie Taggart, in the former joining the latter’s first FSU staff as defensive backs coach, although that never came to fruition.

Sanders, whose NFL career ended in 2005, has never coached at the collegiate level.  He started his own ill-fated charter school in 2012 and coached the football team there — “[t]he school was plagued by ethical, legal, and financial issues, and closed on January 30, 2015, due to financial insolvency” — while he served as the offensive coordinator at a private school in Texas while his sons, now at the collegiate level, were players there.

Greg Schiano completes Rutgers coaching staff by hiring Adam Scheier as special teams coordinator

Rutgers football
Getty Images
1 Comment

Nearly two months after returning as the Rutgers football head coach, Greg Schiano has put the finishing touches on his second first staff.

Tuesday, the Scarlet Knights announced that Adam Scheier has been hired as Schiano’s special teams coordinator. Scheier has spent the past two decades working with special teams in various capacities.

“Adam is an accomplished, veteran special teams coach who will be a great asset to our coaching staff,” the Rutgers football head coach said in a statement. “In our time working together, I saw how passionate Adam is about teaching and mentoring young men. We look forward to welcoming Adam, his wife Erica and their children to our Rutgers family.”

Scheier has spent time as a special teams coordinator with three different FBS programs:

  • Texas Tech (2018)
  • Wake Forest (2014-16)
  • Bowling Green (2009-13)

Last season, Scheier served as a special teams consultant at Mississippi State.  In 2017, Scheier worked at Ohio State as a special teams quality control coach.

In Scheier’s lone season at OSU, Schiano was in the second of his three seasons as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator.

“I am fired up to be back home,” the Bronx native stated. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach Schiano and I look forward to working with him again. I appreciate the opportunity he has given me to coach at Rutgers in the great state of New Jersey.”

With this hiring, Schiano has now filled all 10 positions on his 10-man on-field coaching staff.  The others whose hirings have already been announced are:

  • Sean Gleeson — offensive coordinator (HERE)
  • Nunzio Campanile — offensive assistant (HERE)
  • Augie Hoffman, offensive assistant (HERE)
  • Tiquan Underwood — wide receivers (HERE)
  • Andrew Aurich — offensive line (HERE)
  • Robb Smith, defensive coordinator (HERE)
  • Jim Panagos — defensive line (HERE)
  • Bob Fraser — linebackers coach (HERE)
  • Fran Brown — co-defensive coordinator/secondary (HERE)

Exactly two dozen UConn football players have hit the transfer portal this cycle

UConn football
Getty Images
2 Comments

When it comes to the transfer tote board, there’s been another update for the UConn football program.

Last week, it was confirmed that three members of the UConn football team, redshirt junior offensive lineman Cam DeGeorge, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Garrison Burnett and junior defensive back Oneil Robinson, had entered their names in the NCAA transfer database.  That trio pushed the number UConn football players who had entered their names into the portal to 23.

Monday, that number officially reached an even two dozen.  According to 247Sports.com, running back Donevin O’Reilly has now made his way into the portal to kick the number of potential transfers up to 24.

O’Reilly originally walked on to the UConn football team just after the start of the 2017 season — he carried the ball once and returned a pair of kickoffs that year — before breaking out during spring practice the next offseason, not only earning a scholarship from the university but also claiming a majority of the reps with the No. 1 offense during summer camp. Unfortunately for the running back, however, his Cinderella story ended because of a torn ACL in his left knee.

In 2019, O’Reilley ran for 17 yards on five carries.

Among those who have entered the portal before this current quartet is Tyler Coyle. This past season, the starting safety led the Huskies in tackles (86), pass breakups (10) and forced fumbles (two).

In the third season of his second stint as the UConn football head coach, Randy Edsall went 2-10 in 2019. The Huskies have just six wins since Edsall returned in 2017; that’s the worst three-year stretch in the program’s FBS history.

In June of last year, it was confirmed that UConn football would be leaving the AAC following the 2019 season and playing as an independent in the sport.

Alabama the favorite to reel in North Carolina transfer TE Carl Tucker

Alabama Crimson Tide football
Getty Images
1 Comment

In the coming days, it might not just be high school signees who will be bolstering the Alabama Crimson Tide football roster.

Earlier this offseason, Carl Tucker took the first step in transferring from North Carolina by placing his name into the NCAA transfer database.  As a graduate transfer, the tight end would be eligible to play immediately at another FBS school in 2020.

Over the weekend, Tucker took a visit to the Alabama Crimson Tide football facilities.  Following said visit, it was reported that the Tide is “in good shape” to land the transfer.  If nothing else, the player’s dad came away impressed.

“The visit was awesome,” Tucker’s father, Carl Tucker Sr., said according to al.com “Obviously the stature of Alabama football is so huge that we really didn’t know what to expect, but we knew it would be something that we hadn’t seen before. … But it was really good. They really wanted to figure out what questions and concerns we had for Alabama. And they did a really good of explaining why they wanted Carl, what they saw in Carl and where they felt he would be able to help Bama. …

“He could see himself playing at Alabama.”

Alabama was the second school Tucker has visited, with Florida State being the first.  Tucker took a trip to Tallahassee the weekend before last.  Missouri, Tennessee, Wake Forest and Washington have also expressed interest. At this point, it’s unclear if Tucker will take any additional visits.

Tucker was a three-star 2015 signee for the Tar Heels.  He was granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA.

In 38 career games, the North Carolina product caught 36 passes for 549 yards and four touchdowns.  His most productive season came in 2018.  That year, Tucker totaled 265 yards and two touchdowns on 16 catches.

Tucker started 20 games during his time with the Tar Heels.  Four of those came in 2019.