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

Texas Tech WR Caden Leggett arrested for racing on a highway

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Yes, Texas Tech football fan.  You read that headline correctly.

According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Caden Leggett was arrested over the weekend in Lubbock County.  The charge?  Racing on a highway.  It’s believed that another Texas Tech football player was involved in the race, although that player has not yet been identified by the police.

Leggett was driving a Ford Mustang and admitted to police that a teammate was one of the individuals with which he was racing.  From the Avalanche-Journal‘s report:

A Lubbock police patrol officer saw three vehicles speeding northbound about 2:40 a.m. in the 10000 block of Indiana Avenue and began chasing the vehicles.

“I had to travel at a high rate of speed in order to attempt to catch up to the vehicles,” the officer wrote in his report.

The officer caught up to the three vehicles — a dark colored Dodge Challenger, a white Ford Mustang and another white vehicle — at a red light in the intersection of 82nd Street and Indiana Avenue. However, the vehicles sped away again when the light turned green, the report states.

The officer activated his lights and sirens to get the three vehicles to stop.

The officer pulled along side the Challenger and motioned and yelled at the driver to pull over. The officer believed the driver of the Challenger saw him and pulled behind the Mustang to stop the driver.

The driver of the Mustang pulled over in the 3300 block of 76th Street. However, the driver of the Challenger and third vehicle continued driving, the report states.

The Texas Tech football program is aware of the off-field situation involving members of the Red Raiders team.

Leggett joined the Tech football team in 2018 as a walk-on.  In 2019, the wide receiver was placed on scholarship.

In two seasons, Leggett appeared in 15 games.  Of those appearances, 11 came in 2019.  The Georgetown, Texas, product has caught two passes for 16 yards.

Family of the first Black football player in University of Texas history suing the NCAA

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A racial pioneer in the Texas football program is back in the news.

As we have noted previously, dozens of Texas student-athletes, including football players, are demanding change at the university.  One of those demands is naming a part of Royal-Memorial Stadium in honor of Julius Whittier, the first-ever Black player in University of Texas football history.

Coincidentally or not, the family of Whittier this week filed a lawsuit against NCAA.  In the suit, which is seeking damages in excess of a million dollars, the Whittier family is accusing the NCAA of negligence and wrongful death in connection to the pioneer’s passing in September of 2018.  Whittier had been battling Alzheimer’s for several years prior to his death.

According to the Houston Chronicle, “[p]ostmortem examination of his brain at Boston University… revealed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease associated with head trauma.” The suit, filed by Whittier’s sister on behalf of her brother’s estate and three surviving children, alleges the Whittier’s death at the age of 68 was the direct result of football-related head trauma.

“Julius Whittier was a pioneer who became a lawyer and a member of the district attorney’s staff in Dallas County, and his life was about justice,” the family’s attorney told the Chronicle. “His family wants to carry on in his name and hope that we can make changes.

“We don’t want to end football. We just want to make it as safe as possible and make sure that everybody is informed about what can happen. That has not been the case historically, and we want to change that.”

The sister, Mildred Whittier, had previously filed a lawsuit against the NCAA on behalf of college players who suffered brain injuries from 1960 to 2014.

In 1970, Whittier became the first black player to letter in football at Texas.  He first joined the Longhorns in 1969.  At the time, though, the NCAA did not allow freshmen to play.  Whittier lettered every year from 1970-72, first as an offensive guard and then as a tight end his senior season.

Memphis to wear ‘BLM’ decals on their helmets this season

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Memphis will take its off-field social activism onto the football field this fall.

Across the country, student-athletes, football players especially, have seen their collective voices grow louder in protesting for racial equality and against social injustices. And flags.  Several members of the Memphis football program took to the streets of their city last month to do just that.

This week, on his personal Twitter account, first-year Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield announced that his players will wear “BLM” decals on their helmets throughout the 2020 college football season.  “BLM,” of course, stands for the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

“The use of the BLM logo on a helmet decal was an idea from our student-athletes,” Silverfield told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal in a text message. “It doesn’t mean we support any anti-American, violent organization or hate group or any specific political party. In fact, I love this country and I love our players. Rather the decal is a show of support to our team.”

And what of a backlash against wearing the decals?  It was subsequently reported by The Athletic that “[a] prominent University of Memphis booster has informed the school that he will match, and then double, whatever donations the school might lose as a result of the Black Lives Matter helmet decal.”

The name of the booster was not revealed.

Memphis is coming off a school-record 12-win football campaign.  They claimed the program’s first-ever win in the AAC championship game after two straight losses.

Head coach Mike Norvell left the school for the same job at Florida State in mid-December.  Memphis stayed in-house for its next head coach, with Silverfield, the offensive line coach, promoted three days later.

College Football in Coronavirus Quarantine: On this day in CFT history, including experts holding out hope that the famed oaks on Toomer’s Corner could survive being Updyked

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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 4, 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: Five-star 2020 LSU commit probably would’ve committed to Ohio State if Urban Meyer hadn’t left
THE SYNOPSIS: Elias Ricks is the recruit in question.  The cornerback ended up signing with LSU earlier this year.  Ricks, expected to contribute to the defending national champs immediately, underwent offseason surgery for a torn labrum.

2018

THE HEADLINE: Fox, BTN reportedly among those making run at Paul Finebaum
THE SYNOPSIS: Yeah, that didn’t work out as the SEC mouthpiece remains at ESPN.

2017

THE HEADLINE: Penn State suing Tennessee DC Bob Shoop for breach of contract
THE SYNOPSIS: Nittany Lions were seeking $900,000 the university said Shoop owed after he left as the defensive coordinator at Penn State for the same job at Tennessee in January of 2016.  In February of 2018, the two sides settled their dispute.  Terms of the settlement weren’t divulged.

2015

THE HEADLINE: Alabama self-reports multiple secondary violations
THE SYNOPSIS: “Alabama” and “NCAA violations” always bring out the commenters.  This was no exception.

2013

THE HEADLINE: Tragic: new Ole Miss OL killed in car accident
THE SYNOPSISPark Stevens’ truck collided with the back of a semi-truck attempting to cross a four-lane highway.  The lineman was a 20-year-old junior college transfer.

2011

THE HEADLINE: Experts not ready to say Toomer’s oaks are ‘definitely not going to make it’
THE SYNOPSIS: Thanks to Alabama “fan” Harvey Updyke, the iconic trees at Auburn definitely didn’t make it.

2011

THE HEADLINE: Purdue player missing; last seen swimming in Indiana lake
THE SYNOPSIS: Sadly, 22-year-old running back Sean Matti‘s body was found a day later.