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CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: SEC

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It wasn’t that long ago the SEC was labeled as being “down” in part due to the lack of good quarterback play across the league. How things have changed, as this year’s stellar crop of signal-callers makes the conference one of the toughest to play in yet again and more than capable of producing multiple College Football Playoff contenders throughout the season. Missouri’s Drew Lock has been labeled as an early first-rounder, as is Auburn’s Heisman contender in Jarrett Stidham. Alabama has not one but two good options behind center and transfers like LSU’s Joe Burrow (from Ohio State) have bolstered the ranks even further. Add in a host of new coaches to the league and there’s perhaps never been more intrigue from top to bottom of each division. 

In the SEC West, things begin and end as they always do in the era of Nick Saban with Alabama. The Crimson Tide looks primed to defend their title but this time around will be led by their offense. No matter who winds up being the long-term option at quarterback between Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts, the team will sport perhaps their best collection of young skill position talent in the last several years and another stout offensive line. The front seven remains loaded and while there are concerns about replacing so many starters in the secondary, few are going to doubt Saban from figuring something out. Their biggest challenge might come in their own state as Gus Malzahn sports another explosive offensive full of weapons and teams that up with a defense that very well could be the best in the conference. 

Don’t sleep on Mississippi State crashing the top two in the West, either, as new coach Joe Moorhead is a perfect fit for dual-threat QB Nick Fitzgerald and the Bulldogs have the players in the trenches on both sides of the ball to go toe-to-toe with anybody. Speaking of new coaches, nobody has more eyeballs on them than Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, who will no doubt have a few growing pains in College Station but has enough talent to keep the Aggies afloat despite the tough schedule. Ed Orgeron faces an increasing amount of pressure to win big at LSU but, even with the addition of Burrow to run the offense, that might be a tough task in 2018. Both Ole Miss and Arkansas (with new coach Chad Morris) face rebuilding situations, but both sport a pair of fun offenses that should at least make their shootouts fun to watch even if the wins don’t follow.

Over on the eastern side of the conference, defending champion Georgia is primed to repeat in the division and make yet another run at the national title. The losses of guys like Nick Chubb and Roquan Smith hurt but nobody has recruited as well as Kirby Smart has since taking over in Athens and the Bulldogs will once again trot out more talent than anybody in the East. Their biggest challenger will likely come in the form of Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks as QB Jake Bentley and WR Deebo Samuel is one of the top combos in the league — and they get UGA in Columbia this season. Dan Mullen is back in The Swamp and in charge at Florida but the Gators, while set to be much improved, still have a way to go before they catch their rivals.

The aforementioned Lock has a lot to work with at Mizzou, but the Tigers will still have their work cut out for them, especially with Derek Dooley taking over as offensive coordinator despite previously never calling plays. Play-calling won’t be as big of an issue at Kentucky, which can build around terrific RB Benny Snell but enters rebuilding mode for veteran coach Mark Stoops. There’s a lot more talent for Jeremy Pruitt to work with in Knoxville during his first season with Tennessee, but it might still be a bit of a stretch to call the Vols pesky as the entire program turns over after a difficult stretch. Finally, Vanderbilt not surprisingly faces an uphill battle but does have a solid signal-caller to build around in Kyle Shurmur. 

Add it all up and it will just mean more yet again. Fresh off a season in which they put two teams in the national title game, it would surprise nobody if there’s a repeat of history for the SEC as it proves once again to be the best conference around.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

SEC East

1. Georgia
2. South Carolina
3. Florida
4. Missouri
5. Tennessee
6. Kentucky
7. Vanderbilt

SEC West

1. Alabama
2. Auburn
3. Mississippi State
4. Texas A&M
5. LSU
6. Ole Miss
7. Arkansas

IN SHORT…

 

Washington dismisses DL Mosiah Nasili-Kite for violation of team rules

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A violation of team rules has led to Washington sophomore defensive lineman Mosiah Nasil-Kite being shown the exit door from the Huskies program. Washington announced the dismissal with nothing more than a brief statement and confirmation nobody from the program, including head coach Chris Petersen, will address the issue any further.

The specific violation of team rules was not detailed or reported.

Nasil-Kite was a three-star recruit in Washington’s Class of 2018. He did not play in any games for the Huskies last season while taking a redshirt season in his first year on campus.

UCF voted AAC preseason favorite for second straight year

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Defending American Athletic Conference champion UCF is entering the 2019 season being viewed as the team to beat in the conference, again. The preseason media poll released by the AAC on Tuesday during the AAC media day event in Newport, Rhode Island saw the Knights once again be chosen as the preseason favorite to win the conference. UCF and Memphis were each selected as the preseason division favorites in the East Division and West Division, respectively.

UCF received 19 first-place votes in the preseason media poll, earning the Knights a conference-high 169 total points in the tabulation. Cincinnati, coming off an 11-win season, received 11 first-place votes in the East Division. The gap was a bit closer in the West Division at the top. Memphis was picked as the division favorite for a third straight preseason with 15 first-place votes in the division, but Dana Holgorsen and his Houston Cougars received 14 first-place votes. The Tigers and Cougars are separated by just three points in the preseason poll. SMU also received a first-place vote in the West Division, although the Mustangs finished fourth overall in the preseason media poll.

UCF was the leader in conference championship picks with 12 votes going to the Knights. Cincinnati had the second-most votes for the AAC title, suggesting the balance of power resides in the East Division this season. The Bearcats received eight votes for the AAC title, with Memphis receiving six and Houston picking up the remaining four votes in the mix. It is worth noting that just two preseason AAC polls in the six-years of the conference’s existence have correctly predicted the eventual conference champion. Cincinnati was part of a three-team tie for first place in the conference after being labeled the preseason favorite in 2014 (UCF and Memphis tied for the title in the last season before the introduction of the AAC championship game). UCF successfully lived up to the preseason poll’s expectations last season.

EAST DIVISION

  1. UCF (19 first-place votes) – 169 points
  2. Cincinnati (11) – 157
  3. USF – 107
  4. Temple 101
  5. East Carolina – 66
  6. UConn – 30

WEST DIVISION

  1. Memphis (15 first-place votes) – 165
  2. Houston (14) – 162
  3. Tulane – 108
  4. SMU (1) – 87
  5. Navy – 70
  6. Tulsa – 38

AAC CHAMPIONSHIP

  • UCF – 12 points
  • Cincinnati – 8
  • Memphis – 6
  • Houston – 4

Conference USA also released its preseason poll today, with Marshall and North Texas being named preseason favorites.

Clemson TE Garrett Williams to pass on final year of eligibility

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Clemson tight end Garrett Williams will not suit up for the defending national champions this fall. Instead, Williams will look to assist the program in other ways and begin his quest to become an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

Williams expressed his desire to pursue a military career back in February when he suggested he was probably not coming back to play for the Tigers. That decision now is official, according to a report from Tiger Net. Although he is not going to play for Clemson as the program searches for back-to-back national titles, he is expected to assist head coach Dabo Swinney as an assistant coach of some kind.

Williams is still rehabbing a torn ACL that he suffered in the spring of 2017. The injury likely forced Williams to begin thinking about some alternative plans to football, which led him to the military path. Although Williams returned to the football field for the 2018 season, in which he appeared in 13 games, the redshirt senior has made it known for quite some time the Tigers will likely have to prepare for the 2019 season without him on the depth chart.

Big 12 cooridinator of officials clears up when ‘horns down’ is and is not a penalty

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Opponents of the Texas Longhorns have been flashing more and more “Horns Down” hand signals in recent seasons, and the Big 12 attempted to put an end to it. They did not, and now the conference’s coordinator of officials is letting it be known the gesture is OK, as long as it doesn’t go too far.

Big 12 Coordinator of Football Officials Greg Burks explained the context for what would draw a flag on a “Horns Down” gesture to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN at Big 12 Media Days in Arlington, Texas. In short, as long as a player doesn’t flash it at an opposing player, it will probably not get flagged. Per Rittenberg’s report;

“Like any play, there is a degree — who it’s directed at,” Burks said Tuesday at Big 12 media days at AT&T Stadium. “If they do it in their bench area, we’re not going to look at it. It would be like any other celebration foul, so it has to be like any other foul we have. Does it rise to the level we need to deal with that? It’s a hot topic.

“I know people want us to be definitive on that, but it’s like any touchdown celebration. Is it directed at an opponent or just celebration with your teammates?”

One example used to emphasize the interpretation of the Big 12’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was last year’s game between West Virginia and Texas. In that game, WVU quarterback Will Grier flashed a “horns down” while celebrating a two-point conversion, and he was penalized for the celebration after flashing the symbol to the Texas fans. Because the gesture was aimed at the Texas fans, the penalty would still be called today.

Basically, the Big 12 officials will have to interpret how the gesture is being used. Is it being used in celebration purely between teammates or into a television camera? If so, then the flag should stay in the pocket. If the gesture is aimed at an opposing player or fans, then the flag will be thrown if it is witnessed by an official.

It’s one thing to say players should not flash a “horns down” anyway and show good sportsmanship, but on the other hand, if the players want to have fun and lash out at the opposing fans, a “horns down” is a far cry from the most offensive thing a player could do.