The demise of the SEC West has been greatly exaggerated

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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.

Michigan State RB Connor Heyward reverses course, pulls name from transfer portal

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Mel Tucker appears to have picked up his second personnel win as the Michigan State football head coach.

In September of last year, running back Connor Heyward took the first step in leaving the Michigan State football team by entering his name into the NCAA transfer database.  A little over four months later, after Mark Dantonio‘s abrupt retirement, Tucker took over in East Lansing.

On Twitter a week after Tucker came back to the Spartans, Heyward announced in a tweet that he has reversed course and will pull his name from the portal.  And, in his social-media missive, the running back credited Tucker for the personal reversal.

“After talking with [athletic director Bill] Beekman and Coach Tucker, I have decided to take my name out of the transfer portal and return to Michigan State University,” Heyward wrote. “It has been a long process, but I know this is home in my heart.

“I’m looking forward to what the future holds.  I can’t wait to get back to work with my brothers.

“Go Green!”

A three-star member of Michigan State’s 2017 recruiting class, Heyward was rated as the No. 72 player regardless of position in the state of Georgia.  In 2018, Heyward led MSU in rushing yards (529), rushing touchdowns (five), carries (118), all-purpose yards (1,065) and kick returns (13 for 287 yards; 22.1 avg.).  That year, he was named as a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the nation’s most versatile player.

This past season, Heyward ran for 79 yards on 24 carries.

All told, Heyward has ran for 618 yards and five touchdowns on 145 carries.  He’s also caught 43 passes for another 314 yards and two touchdowns.

Because he played in just four games in 2019, Heyward will be permitted to take a redshirt for last year.  That would make him a redshirt junior for the 2020 campaign and leave him with two years of eligibility to use.

USC officially replaces FCS school with San Jose State for 2021 game

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USC football has officially returned itself to elite scheduling company.

In July of last year, USC football angered a sizable portion of its fan base as well as former players by announcing that it had scheduled a 2021 game against UC-Davis.  The Trojans had been one of three FBS programs that had never scheduled a game against an FCS team.

Wednesday, however, new athletic director Mike Bohn confirmed that the Trojans are on the verge of canceling that football game and replacing it with another.  Thursday night, USC football made it official as both they and San Jose State confirmed a Sept. 4, 2021, game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

San Jose State had originally been scheduled to face Georgia on that date.  Last week, however, UGA canceled the game in order to play Clemson in that season’s opener.  For that cancellation, San Jose State will receive $1.8 million from UGA.

“Facing USC in Los Angeles is a great opportunity for our student-athletes and fans,” SJSU athletic director Marie Tuite said in a statement. “Southern California is an important footprint for us in recruiting and we’re very excited to add this game to our 2021 football schedule.”

Tuite was also very complimentary of her UGA counterpart for his transparency throughout the process.

“I’d like to thank Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity for being transparent with us during the process,” said the AD. “I’ve experienced the atmosphere in Athens on gameday and it’s a special place. Maybe one day in the future the Spartans will make the trip.”

As for USC football, they officially rejoin Notre Dame and UCLA as the only FBS schools that have never played a game against an FCS team.  They are, however, in denial about never having scheduled an FCS school.

Be that as it may, USC will pay UC-Davis $750,000 for the game-that-was-never-scheduled-but-actually-was.

USC and San Jose State have met four times previously, with the Trojans winning all four of those matchups.  The two schools are also scheduled to play in 2024.

Clemson, Georgia paying seven-figures to make 2021 opener happen

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Clemson and Georgia are both spending money to make money.

In the wake of the two schools announcing a highly anticipated 2021 season opener in Charlotte, news has now surfaced at just how badly the two programs wanted to play each other.

The total tab: roughly $2.9 million.

That’s the combined amount the Tigers and Bulldogs will be paying to get out of their previously scheduled Group of Five games set for the same date.

Per the Greenville News, Clemson is ponying $1.1 million to cancel their contract with Wyoming. The Athletic reports Georgia is cutting a $1.8 million check to San Jose State.

“This is another great opportunity to schedule a national non-conference game with a top-level opponent,” UGA head coach Kirby Smart said in a release announcing the game. “Playing a regular-season game in Charlotte will give our fans the opportunity for a completely new experience in a great city and top-level stadium. I know our coaches and players will be excited for the challenge to kick off the season in this kind of environment.”

Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. will host the regional rivals on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.

Georgia and Clemson have met 64 times over the years, most recently in 2014. The 2021 date is a one-off but the programs are still scheduled to meet five more times between 2021 and 2033. This includes the 2024 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and a pair of home-and-home series scheduled for 2029/2033 (in Death Valley) and 2030/2032 (between the hedges).

The Tigers will also take on fellow SEC program South Carolina in those years and will host UConn and FCS South Carolina State to round out their 2021 non-conference slate. The Bulldogs have their annual game against Georgia Tech plus UAB and Charleston Southern in 2021 as well.

Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer says he could have coached Vols again but it ‘didn’t appeal’ to him

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Could Tennessee have had Phillip Fulmer back on the sidelines at Neyland Stadium coaching again?

There was speculation that he could have done just that from the moment he took over as athletic director at the school. Actually having it happen in Knoxville though? It apparently was not on the table due more to the necessity of Jimmy and Joe’s as opposed to X’s and O’s.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Tennessean about his on-going tenure as AD, Fulmer was asked if he ever considered putting the whistle back on for the team he led to the national title over two decades ago. Though it crossed the minds of many at the school, it didn’t for the man himself thanks largely to the rigors of the profession changing from 2008 to now.

“No. I mean, that energy level that it takes to do that. Could have coached and wanted to coach, that’s two different things, right?” Fulmer told the paper. “I certainly could have come coached the team or whatever, but the recruiting and the staffing and all those things, I’ve done my time, and I had a great run. That didn’t appeal to me, nor did I ever lose confidence that Jeremy (Pruitt) was going to do it.”

While that latter line is notable for the team’s current head coach after a historically bad start to the 2019 season, don’t gloss over his earlier comments. In fact, it says plenty about the situation on Rocky Top in recent years that Fulmer directly confirms that he “could have” come down from the AD box to the sidelines.

The only thing that stopped him? Not optics, but just the time a head coach has to devote to things like recruiting. While there’s no doubt that is pretty much a 24/7 operation nowadays at SEC schools like Tennessee, it’s interesting that was one of the few things preventing a move many in orange and white clamored (or at least expected) to see at some point.

Instead, Fulmer will have to make do with his 152–52 overall record at the school and a national title in the 1998 season. That forever cemented his status in Knoxville as one of the program’s greats and it appears he’s content to let things end there despite not having the ending he wanted back in the day.