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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…

 

Shoulder injury leaves status of Texas QB Sam Ehlinger up in the air

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In a victory over Iowa State on Saturday night to put Texas in a good spot to clinch a berth in the Big 12 championship game, starting quarterback Sam Ehlinger was forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury. With one game left to play in the regular season against Kansas, it is unknown if Ehlinger will be ready to play this weekend.

Texas head coach Tom Herman said Ehlinger has aggravated his AC joint in his right shoulder, his throwing shoulder that was hurt earlier this season. Herman told reporters Ehlinger would not throw on Monday but the head coach of the Longhorns noted he was hopeful to see Ehlinger be able to do so again on Tuesday as practices resume in preparation for Kansas this week.

The good news appears to be no serious damage was discovered in an MRI Ehlinger underwent. Texas may be fortunate to have a game against Kansas on the schedule this week, as the Longhorns should still be a solid favorite to come out of this game with a win. A win would guarantee a spot for Texas in the Big 12 championship game, which would result in a rematch with either Oklahoma or West Virginia (the winner of this week’s Oklahoma-West Virginia game heads to the Big 12 championship game; Texas is in regardless of who wins that game as long as the Longhorns beat Kansas).

If Ehlinger is unable to play, Texas will continue to roll with Shane Buechele at quarterback. Ehlinger’s status will be monitored throughout the week before any official decision is made.

Virginia Tech will pay Marshall regardless if they play or not

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On Sunday, Virginia Tech announced a tentative plan to play one final home game this season against Marshall in an attempt to keep Virginia Tech’s bowl streak alive. But if the game is not played, Marshall is still going to get paid.

According to a Richmond Times-Dispatch report, Virginia Tech has agreed to compensate Marshall whether they play a game or not. If the game is played, Virginia Tech will pay Marshall $300,000 for the late regular season matchup. If the game is not played, Virginia Tech will pay Marshall $100,000 for their troubles. That’s a win-win for Marshall.

As previously announced by Virginia Tech, the tentative game against Marshall will take place in the event Virginia Tech beats Virginia this week to give the Hokies a fifth win this season. The final game against Marshall would then be played on Dec. 1 to give the Hokies a chance to reach six wins and qualify for a bowl game for a 26th straight season. Because the game would not be needed in the event Virginia Tech loses to Virginia, the game against Marshall would be scrapped entirely.

In addition to the late plans to play a potential 12th game this season if needed, the Richmond Times-Dispatch also reports a future home-and-home series between the two schools has been agreed upon, although the details of a potential future home-and-home series have yet to be detailed.

Virginia Tech’s non-conference schedule is booked through 2030 though so it would be a while before that home-and-home deal sees the football field unless any adjustments to Virginia Tech’s schedule are made to accommodate an earlier meeting between the Hokies and Thundering Herd.

Alabama remains unanimous No. 1 in Super 16 Poll; UCF cracks top 10

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After a somewhat quiet week of college football for the top teams in the Super 16 poll, there was minimal change to the top 10 this week. The Super 16 Poll from the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation once again sees Alabama claiming the top spot with all 51 first-place votes from the collective voters this week.

Alabama is followed by the same teams in the same order they were last week with Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan, Georgia, and Oklahoma not moving this week. At No. 7, Washington State moved up one spot. West Virginia fell from the seventh spot down to No. 11 after a road loss at Oklahoma State last weekend. The Mountaineers dropping allowed No. 8 LSU and No. 9 UCF to move up two spots. No. 10 Ohio State dropped one spot after having to survive an overtime shootout at Maryland over the weekend.

No. 16 Washington returned to the Super 16 this week to round out the poll. The Huskies trail Texas, Florida, and Penn State, who all moved up this week. No. 15 Utah State fell one spot after escaping an upset bid at Colorado State on a Hail Mary that didn’t count because the receiver stepped out of bounds on the final play of the game.

Here is this week’s full Super 16 Poll, with first-place votes noted.

  1. Alabama (51)
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Michigan
  5. Georgia
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Washington State
  8. LSU
  9. UCF
  10. Ohio State
  11. West Virginia
  12. Texas
  13. Florida
  14. Penn State
  15. Utah State
  16. Washington

As a regular disclaimer, three contributors to College Football Talk are Super 16 voters; Zach Barnett, Bryan Fischer, and myself (Kevin McGuire).

Charlotte relieves Brad Lambert, will look for second coach in program history

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The only man to fill the role of head coach of the Charlotte 49ers football program will not return to coach the 49ers after the 2018 season. Brad Lambert will not be retained by the university, a statement from Charlotte Athletic Director Mike Hill said on Sunday. A national search for a new head coach is now underway for the young Charlotte program.

“We’ve decided to make a change in our football program,” Hill said in a released statement. “It is a decision I made after an opportunity to assess my first football season here. It’s about the trajectory of the program and putting us in the best position for the future. We elected to make this decision now so that we could begin the search immediately.”

A former assistant with Georgia and Wake Forest, Lambert was hired to be the head coach of the new Charlotte program in 2011, two years before the football program officially stepped foot on a football field for a game. Lambert coached Charlotte to back-to-back years with 5-6 records in the FCS for the first two years of the program’s existence. Charlotte moved up to the FBS in 2015 as a member of Conference USA but the program has yet to record a winning season. Charlotte has gone 21-48 under Lambert since 2013, and the 49ers will once again finish below .500 this week regardless of the outcome of a final regular season game against Florida Atlantic.

Lambert will coach Charlotte’s final game of the season this weekend against FAU.