Last year’s bowl results seemed to crack the invincible shield of the SEC West. College football’s toughest division was 2-5 in bowl games, including Alabama’s loss to eventual national champion Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl semifinal of the College Football Playoff. LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Auburn all took losses as well, with Arkansas and Texas A&M scoring the only two wins for the vaunted division in postseason play. Suddenly the SEC critics came out in full force in an attempt to shred the SEC aura like a piece of tissue paper. How did the SEC West respond?
Alabama was the headliner in Week 1 with a decisive victory over Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide dominated the running game against the Badgers, who played their first game with Paul Chryst as the head coach. The coaching match-up was a complete mismatch, as was the match-up in the trenches. Alabama rolled up 238 rushing yards while holding the usually strong running Badgers to just 40 yards. Alabama seemed to solve its question at quarterback just fine by having Jacob Coker complete 15 of 21 pass attempts for 213 yards and a touchdown. Nick Saban always seems to have his quarterback situation under control, even when it is a significant unknown. We’ll see if that holds up, but this was a great way for the Crimson Tide to start the year after the way the last one ended.
Auburn showed off a new defense that looked good early on but had to hang on against Louisville in the other spotlight game for the SEC West. Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson showed plenty of room for improvement at quarterback, but they still hung on to secure a season-opening win against a team that could play one of the toughest defense sin the ACC in 2015. In Houston, Texas A&M showed off some good defensive improvement with a 38-17 victory over Arizona State (my preseason Pac-12 South favorite). That is three neutral site victories for the SEC West against power conference opponents from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC. Not too shabby for the overrated SEC West in Week 1. And I didn’t even mention Arkansas and their 48-13 victory over UTEP.
Blowout victories over FCS schools should rarely, if ever, receive praise in college football. Especially when that FBS team piling on the points is a top 20 team returning about as much experience and skill as it ever has. Ole Miss blasted Tennessee-Martin by a final score of 76-3 and they held back no punches. New starting quarterback Chad Kelly had 211 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns in his debut for the Rebels. Defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche even scored a touchdown reception in the second quarter, and this wasn’t some dink and dunk down by the goal line. It was a 31-yard play to put the Rebels up 34-0 minutes into the second quarter. No bonus points are awarded for a win over an FCS squad, but Ole Miss showed some glimpses of what to scout and look for from them this season. LSU’s season opener against McNeese State was canceled due to weather shortly after kickoff. Hey, the Tigers looked good for four minutes!
Mississippi State was in a tussle on the road at Southern Miss, but managed to outscore the Eagles 20-6 after halftime to pull away for the win despite replacing a ton of players. Dak Prescott passed for 237 yards and two touchdowns and led the Bulldogs on the ground with 72 rushing yards and another touchdown.
The SEC West will remain one of the top divisions in college football, no matter how much you might want to think otherwise. It will be what they do in the postseason that matters most though.
Conference media days popping up around the country is typically a reminder that the football season is just about upon us and fall camp will be here before you know it. Despite where we are on the calendar though, it seems like a few players still want to dabble with transferring out of town.
As first reported by 247Sports, Texas A&M defensive tackle Mohamed Diallo has entered the NCAA Transfer Portal and is exploring an exit from College Station prior to what should be his junior season.
Diallo appeared in just one game for the Aggies in 2018, preserving his redshirt season. Originally from Canada, he got his first taste of college football at the Juco level by spending two seasons at Arizona Western and emerged as a three-star prospect.
“The transfer portal, I think the biggest thing we are getting to whether you transfer, whether you’re in a portal, or transfer, however it goes, the thing about it is I think you have to get consistency on how you rule things and when guys are eligible or not eligible and all that,” head coach Jimbo Fisher remarked on Tuesday at SEC Media Days when asked about transfers, not specifically referring to his defensive tackle. “Guys transfer all of the time. There’s no disrespect or anything in transfers because guys’ situations change and all of that happens, but you have to have a set of rules for this, and I think that’s what we’re getting to, and it will enhance it that much more.”
Diallo held offers from Oregon, Arizona, Ole Miss and a host of others as recruit. It’s possible he could be looking to go North and head a bit closer to home but he might also stay put and try to duke it out at A&M as part of a fairly deep rotation at defensive tackle in College Station.
It’s not uncommon for a coach to go from one side of a fierce rivalry to another and the latest example of that comes from the Sunshine State this week.
According to 247Sports’ Josh Newberg, ex-Florida State offensive line coach Greg Frey has decided to head up the road to Gainesville and join Dan Mullen’s staff in what is likely an off-the-field role:
Frey was part of Willie Taggart’s initial staff in Tallahassee, a hire widely lauded after his work in the trenches during previous stops at Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia, and USF. Things didn’t click with the Seminoles however, as he was unable to work any magic with the team’s woeful line and was released in February.
FSU since moved on to OC Kendal Briles’ pal Randy Clements as Frey’s replacement.
The Gators do have a bit of a rebuilding situation going on up front with just one offensive line starter returning but between Frey and on-field coach John Hevesy, they should at least have the coaching in place to overcome things. It will also make for a very interesting visit from the Seminoles in the Swamp with a former assistant on hand in rival colors this November.
Alabama-Clemson IV was historic in many ways back in January. Not only did the sport’s ruling elite meet in the College Football Playoff for the fourth straight season (and for a third time in the title game), it was also the first time two 14-0 teams had ever met in the modern era of the sport.
We all know what happened at Levi’s Stadium too, a 44-16 shellacking by Dabo Swinney’s group that was the worst loss Nick Saban had suffered with the Crimson Tide and extra painful given the big stage. Predictably, that outcome was a big topic at both SEC and ACC media days on Wednesday as both programs took to the podium in Hoover and Charlotte respectively.
The day got off to a very eyebrow-raising start when Alabama blamed the lopsided loss on lack of preparation and focus (for a title game, it should be pointed out). Most folks probably just shook their head at such excuses out of Tuscaloosa but it was what it was.
Now enter Clemson for the follow up a little later on in the day. Offensive lineman John Simpson was asked about the above comments and, well, he seemed to go a different direction than most expected in his retort:
The Tigers topped the Irish 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl-hosted semifinal in what was a meeting of two teams who went undefeated in the regular season. While just about everybody considered Alabama on a different level from Notre Dame start-to-finish in 2018, obviously one offensive lineman at Clemson (and Irish AD Jack Swarbrick) did not.
No matter where your opinion might lie on this subject, you at least have to respect Simpson for giving Paul Finebaum‘s SEC-centric radio/TV show a month’s worth of talking points and angry phone calls from just one quote. And here we were lamenting that the senior guard was being brought to the ACC’s annual kickoff event instead of star quarterback Trevor Lawrence when nothing could have been further from the truth after a comment like that.
Something says that if Alabama-Clemson V winds up being a thing in this year’s edition of the Playoff, that line will be brought up a time or two by Saban as his team enters 2019 looking for a bit of revenge.
The Birmingham, Alabama area may be more well known for hosting SEC Media Days this week but the city was also the epicenter of another kickoff event in the SWAC’s annual media day on Tuesday.
And in contrast to their FBS friends down the road in Hoover, the SWAC actually had a bit of pertinent news to discuss in announcing that the league’s annual conference title game in football is moving away from a neutral site going forward.
“The permanent home of the SWAC championship will be on the campus of the higher seed,” commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland said, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.
McClelland reportedly said several cities bid on hosting the game in the future but the lessons of 2018 had to be a big factor in the league sticking with the home-hosted model adopted by just about everybody outside of the FBS Power Five conferences. Last year the SWAC was forced to move their game on-campus from Legion Field after UAB won their CUSA division and had a chance to host their respective league title game.
Legion Field and the Blazers didn’t wind up actually hosting the CUSA title game but the simple threat of it happening pushed the SWAC out after the league had made a big deal about returning to Birmingham for the game after five years away.
The SWAC and its member schools will still have to worry about last minute location changes for their Dec. 7 title tilt but at least now it will be of their own making and not somebody else’s.