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Georgia’s running duo, Roquan Smith, and kicking game may give Bulldogs the edge on Alabama

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban has established quite a reputation when going up against his former assistants, but Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is looking to break the trend in the biggest game imaginable. Saban’s perfect record against his former assistants will be put to a mighty test against the Bulldogs, coming off a red-hot offensive performance in the Rose Bowl to come away with a double-overtime victory to clinch a spot in Monday night’s College Football Playoff national championship game. Unlike other former Saban assistants, Smart may have the best opportunity to put a dent in Saban’s record against his assistants.

Saban improved his career record against former assistants to an amazing 11-0 when Alabama crushed Florida State in the season opener in Atlanta, setting the tone for a lost season in Tallahassee that ended with Jimbo Fisher finding his way to Texas A&M. That particular season opener was supposed to be one of the toughest challenges Saban had against one of his former assistants, with Florida State entering the 2017 season as a popular pick to make a national title run. As we found out, that was far from the case. But this will be the first time Saban has had to go up against one of his more recent assistants, and Smart is arguably the best equipped to give Saban some concerns.

It begins with Georgia’s running game. As the Rose Bowl showed, these Bulldogs are a force to reckon with on the ground with the running duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Oklahoma was incapable of slowing either down, with Chubb rushing for 145 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries and Michel going off for 181 yards on 11 carries with three touchdowns, including the game-winner in double overtime off a direct snap. Georgia’s ability to dabble in a power running game with Chubb and more of a speed attack with Michel was a challenge for Oklahoma to keep up. The major difference in the championship game is Oklahoma has the 54th-ranked rushing defense and Alabama comes in ranked first in the nation against the run, allowing just 91.77 yards per game and eight rushing touchdowns all season long through 13 games. Do not expect Georgia to rack up the offensive yardage on the ground the way they did against the Sooners, but Georgia’s advantage will be the ability to adjust their running styles to keep Alabama on their toes.

You also have to wonder if Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm will ever cave under the pressure when the lights are the brightest. So far, the answer has been a resounding “nope.” Fromm comes into the national championship game with a higher passer rating, more passing yards, and more passing yards than his Alabama counterpart, Jalen Hurts. Hurts has been in this game before, of course, but Fromm is quickly amassing a number of big games himself, including in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the SEC Championship Game was definitively won by the Bulldogs against Auburn. Fromm will come into the game without an interception in his last three games; a rivalry game against Georgia Tech, the SEC Championship Game against Auburn, and the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma. At this point, Fromm has arrived and will be as confident as you can get for a freshman.

The offense will be up against a juggernaut with Alabama’s defense, and Georgia’s defense may need some plays out of Roquan Smith. It took a while for Smith to have a significant impact in the Rose Bowl, but the game reached a point where Smith put himself in position to make clutch tackles. Look for Smith to play a big role on the defense once again. Georgia will need that out of him, but the Bulldogs also need to tighten up their own defensive concerns after a long day against Oklahoma.

And if there is one distinct advantage Georgia has in this game, it is placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship. Blankenship nailed a 55-yard field goal against the Sooners at the end of the first half that helped Georgia gain an ounce of momentum before the break. Alabama’s kicking woes have long been a concern for the Crimson Tide. Not having that kind of anxiety on the Georgia sideline if a field goal is needed should be comforting for Smart.

Kentucky confirms addition of Troy transfer QB Sawyer Smith

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It’s now officially official.

In late April, Sawyer Smith took his first step in moving on from Troy by announcing on social media that he had placed his name into the NCAA transfer database.  Two weeks later, the quarterback used social media to reveal that his next stop at the collegiate level would be at Kentucky.

Monday, Smith’s expected new home confirmed the player’s addition to the roster.

”We’re excited to have Sawyer join our program,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said in a statement. “It’s great to add a quarterback with his experience and success. He helped lead Troy to an outstanding season last year and we’re glad to have him here.”

As Smith comes to the Wildcats as a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible to compete for a starting job immediately.  Additionally, he’ll have another season of eligibility he could use in 2020.

Smith played in 13 games this past season, including starts in the last seven.  In those appearances, the Florida native completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 1,669 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with six interceptions. He also rushed for 191 yards and another touchdown.

Terry Wilson started all 13 games for the Wildcats in a 2018 season that saw UK reach double digits in wins for the first time since Jimmy Carter was sitting in the Oval Office. Wilson, though, was 10th in the SEC and 63rd nationally with a 133.9 pass efficiency rating.

For what it’s worth, Smith’s 139 rating was fifth in the Sun Belt Conference and 47th in the country.

Lincoln Riley says Jalen Hurts must win the starting QB job at Oklahoma

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Coaches say things to motivate their players even if nobody really believes it. Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, entering his third season in charge of the Sooners this fall, is already proving to be a veteran when it comes to setting the bar high and motivating his quarterbacks in the offseason.

Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts will undoubtedly be the starting quarterback for Oklahoma when the 2019 season kicks off for the defending Big 12 champion on Sept. 1 against Houston. However, Riley is not prepared to publicly anoint his newest quarterback as the heir to the throne of the offense that has produced the last two Heisman Trophy winners at the quarterback position. Instead, Riley is telling media members at Big 12 media days Hurts will have to go out and earn the opportunity.

Don’t be shocked by seeing that quote, because that is what the best coaches will do no matter who is on their team. Except in certain situations where a proven starting quarterback is coming back to the program for a second or third (or fourth?) season, coaches will always hope to inspire healthy competition at every position, including quarterback. By not gifting Hurts the starting job in the middle of July, Riley is setting the tone that will keep Hurts pushing to improve his game and keep other quarterbacks like Class of 2019 five-star recruit Spencer Rattler and four-star Class of 2018 quarterback Tanner Mordecai working to get their shot.

But Hurts is far from any ordinary transfer quarterback. Hurts was the starter for Alabama for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, in which Alabama went to the national championship game both seasons, losing one and winning the other. Yes, Tua Tagovailoa replaced Hurts at quarterback for that national title win against Georgia, but Hurts was a major reason why Alabama was in the national title game two years in a row with him as the starter. Hurts brings multiple seasons of starting experience form one of the top programs in the sport with him. And after Oklahoma lost Kyler Murray to the NFL Draft a year after losing Baker Mayfield, Hurts is stepping right into a position that carried high expectations and demands results.

Hurts may have had a couple of bumps in the road in Tuscaloosa, but he didn’t come to Oklahoma to be a back-up. Riley knows that, but he has the responsibility to make sure everyone on his team is working hard to improve. That message should be heard loud and clear, even if media pundits don’t have to believe it.

LSU CB Kelvin Joseph is back in the transfer portal

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The NCAA transfer portal has seen a number of names come and go this offseason. Now, it appears, LSU cornerback Kelvin Joseph is stepping a foot in the transfer portal for a second time.

Joseph reportedly entered the transfer portal back in May, only to have that story disputed by his father. A day later, Joseph announced on Twitter that his father was, in fact, wrong with his claim. After some time passed, it seemed as though Joseph may end up staying in Baton Rouge to play for the Tigers this fall. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said “everything is good” regarding the status of Joseph as the story unfolded.

However, as multiple reports have surfaced at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama today, Joseph is now back in the transfer portal.

By entering the transfer portal, Joseph is free to have contact with any other college football program that may be interested in recruiting him. He would have to sit out the upcoming 2019 season if he transfers to another FBS program due to standard NCAA transfer rules, barring any appeal being granted for immediate eligibility.

Joseph was a four-star member of LSU’s Class of 2018. He played in 11 games for the Tigers last season and was suspended from the Fiesta Bowl for unspecified violations of team rules.

NCAA to hear Missouri’s appeal over postseason ban

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As it stands right now, the Missouri Tigers will not be going to a bowl game at the end of the 2019 season even if they go 12-0. That is because the NCAA slapped the Tigers with a postseason ban for the upcoming college football season as part of a litany of sanctions levied against the program in January for violations of NCAA rules linked to ethical conduct, academic misconduct and academic extra benefits. However, Missouri is hoping their appeal will relieve the sanctions with enough time to make some postseason plans.

A report from Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports says Missouri is expected to appear in front of the NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee this week to state their case. However, no decision on the appeals is expected to be made for at least another month. A decision to lift a postseason ban could even come as late as September after the start of the 2019 season.

Missouri formally filed its appeal of the sanctions in March. Missouri Athletics Director Jim Sterk said in June he was hoping the appeal would be heard before the football season.

“We really think we have a strong case for overturning the majority of the decisions that they made,” Sterk said in a radio interview. “The people that are a lot smarter than me that worked on this case really presented an appeal that’s strong and compelling. And we’ll be doing an in-person hearing, we’re expecting somewhere in the middle of July and then hear something hopefully by before football starts or shortly thereafter.”

The NCAA lifting a postseason ban during the current season is not unprecedented. In 2014, the NCAA lifted sanctions against Penn State after the start of the season, thus allowing the Nittany Lions to have the opportunity to play in a postseason bowl game at the end of the year. At 6-6, Penn State went on to play in the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College. The 2014 season was supposed to be the third year in Penn State’s four-year postseason ban as part of the sanctions in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Penn State served just two years of a postseason ban before the NCAA dropped the sanctions against the program amid legal battles.