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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…

 

Florida State apologizes for MLK Day tweet

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As the old adage goes, the best-laid plans of mice and men’s Twitter accounts often go awry.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday, Florida State’s official recruiting account on Twitter posted an inspirational quote from the slain Civil Rights leader. It would’ve been fine for all involved if the account would’ve stopped there; unfortunately for all involved, they didn’t stop there.

Instead, a photoshopped image of Dr. King wearing a football glove and apparently performing the Tomahawk Chop was included as part of the tweet.

Not surprisingly, the Twitter account caught significant heat and flack for the image on social media. Just as unsurprisingly, the tweet was deleted less than an hour after it was posted and an apology subsequently issued.

Rutgers hires Andy Buh to coordinate defense

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Rutgers has hired Andy Buh as its defensive coordinator, the program has announced.

“We are excited to add Andy to the Rutgers football family,” head coach Chris Ash said in a statement. “He is an outstanding linebackers coach and has extensive experience in the Big Ten. Andy and I share a defensive philosophy and he is very familiar with the scheme we run, which will benefit the continued development of our defense.”

Ash and Buh worked together previously at Wisconsin, where Ash was the defensive coordinator and Buh the linebackers coach. He spent the past three seasons as the defensive coordinator at Maryland and has previous coordinator experience at Stanford, Nevada and Cal.

Buh replaces Jay Niemann, who served as the Scarlet Knights’ defensive coordinator for the first three seasons of the Ash era. Rutgers was 69th in total and yards per play defense and 89th in scoring in 2018, surrendering 31.4 points per game. Buh’s Maryland defense placed 78th, allowing 28.7 points per outing.

Rutgers is 7-29 under Ash and 3-24 in Big Ten play.

North Texas inks home and homes with Baylor, Tulane

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North Texas celebrated MLK Day by announcing a slew of future football opponents.

The Mean Green announced Monday it will play home-and-homes with Baylor and Tulane in the 2028 and ’29 campaigns. North Texas will visit the Bears and Green Wave in 2028, then host both in 2029. UNT will visit Baylor on Sept. 2 and Tulane on Sept. 23 in 2028, while the Mean Green will host Baylor and Tulane in back-to-back weeks to open 2029, with the Bears coming on Sept. 1 and the Green Wave on Sept. 8.

A previously scheduled home game with Army was bumped from 2027 to 2028 in conjunction with Monday’s announcements. North Texas also announced a home game with Texas Southern for Sept. 24, 2022.

Baylor will be the fourth Power 5 program and the second Big 12 opponent to visit Apogee Stadium, which opened in 2011. Indiana visited in Apogee’s opening season, Cal will make a visit in 2022 and Texas Tech will come to Denton in 2027.

“I am thrilled to announce two quality home-and-home series have been added to our schedules,” Mean Green AD Wren Baker said in a statement. “Baylor joins Cal and Texas Tech as Power 5 conference teams coming to Denton over the next few years. Tulane is a quality American Athletic Conference team that will be a fun trip for our fans when we return to New Orleans. I appreciate (COO) Jared Mosley‘s diligent efforts to find compelling games for our fans.”

North Texas and Baylor have met 13 times previously. The Bears have won 12 of those meetings but North Texas took the most recent meeting in Denton, a 52-14 thumping in 2003. That remains UNT’s most recent win over a Big 12 opponent.

The Mean Green and Green Wave have played just once previously, a 21-14 Tulane victory in New Orleans in 2013.

Baylor has a previously scheduled trip to Oregon slated for 2028, a return trip for the Ducks’ flight to Waco in 2027. Tulane also has a home-and-home with Iowa State in 2028-29, with the home dates flipped from the UNT series.

Boise State to replace iconic blue turf (with more, newer blue turf)

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Boise State became a household name through playing on its trendsetting blue turf (and winning a lot), such that the school now owns a trademark for any non-green collegiate field.

The current blue playing surface is set to go away this spring, only to be replaced by a newer, bigger, bluer (probably) version.

“It’s needed,” Boise State AD Curt Apsey told the Idaho Statesman. “We’re not just doing it to do it. It’s near the end of the usual lifespan.”

The current playing surface was installed ahead of the 2010 season; FieldTurf surfaces usually have a lifespan of eight to 10 years.

“The field is shredding,” Broncos head coach Bryan Harsin told the paper last summer. “It’s just old. It needs to be replaced. It’s just time.”

Boise State has played on a blue surface since 1986, when then-AD Gene Blaymaier put in blue AstroTurf at a cost of $750,000. The school did not even join FBS until a decade later.

The new surface will extend beyond the playing field to cover the area that previously held the Broncos’ track. It is expected to cost between $600,000 and $1 million, but the school is approved to spend $600,000 as of now.