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2017 SEC PREVIEW AND PREDICTIONS

My college previews kick off with the Southeastern Conference! I think there are some very interesting storylines going on within each division this season. In the West I think it’s going to be very difficult to knock off Alabama given all the weapons they return on offense along with what should be another top-10 defense, but after Alabama it gets really interesting. Auburn draws the Tide at home this year and if Jarrett Stidham takes the reigns for War Eagle and starts rolling, Auburn could make a legit run for the SEC West. I don’t think you can say the same about LSU because their QB situation isn’t ideal and they have to travel to Tuscaloosa, but if they beat Auburn on October 14th in Baton Rouge, then LSU could very well be 8-0 and coming off a bye against a potentially 8-0 Alabama team coming off a bye as well. Those 3 teams will make it interesting but the Auburn/LSU game could determine quite a bit.

After the Big 3 in the West it gets interesting. I think Mississippi St. has some of that 2014 feel to them when they started 9-0 and were ranked #1 in the nation before traveling to Tuscaloosa and dropping a game to Alabama 25-20. Nick Fitzgerald could be on the cusp of being a star and it’ll be interesting to see how he plays. Kevin Sumlin is on the hot seat in College Station and I could see the bottom dropping out on on the Aggies as they try to replace so many players on defense and at receiver. Arkansas should be better or even Bret Bielema could start feeling heat and of course the Ole Miss situation is unfortunate as the Rebels looked to have a talented team with a very talented QB in Shea Patterson. The #4-#7 spots could get interesting in the West and I even think Mississippi St. has a chance to climb into that top-3.

The East is even more interesting as I think teams like Kentucky and South Carolina have a real chance to upset the apple cart and move ahead of division stalwarts Florida and Tennessee. Mark Stoops has built up the Kentucky roster to where I think it can compete if it is a veteran led squad with a favorable schedule. The Wildcats have 17 returning starters and get both Tennessee and Florida in Lexington! South Carolina can be a squad that can compete with Florida and Tennessee on the recruiting trail, and I think Will Muschamp is on his way to doing so with the Gamecocks. Carolina returns 10 starters on offense, but QB Jake Bentley is special. SC gets both Kentucky & Florida at home which I think pushes them to 2nd place behind Georgia in the East. I also think it’ll be interesting to see how much heat Jim McElwain’s seat gets in Gainesville if the Gators have a disappointing season and if Butch Jones can survive another year in Knoxville without an SEC title or even a 10-win season. Would 5-years be enough?

Finally, keep an eye on Missouri & Vanderbilt. Missouri under Barry Odom is quietly getting better and while I think they should be better than last year’s 4-8, it’ll be interesting to see what strides they can take in 2017 because 2018 should be their coming out party. Vanderbilt is also interesting to watch. The program is making strides under HC Derek Mason and it’ll be interesting to see if Mason can take the Commodores to the heights that his predecessor James Franklin reached.

The SEC is the best conference in college football for a reason so it’s no surprise the storylines are endless as we head into the 2017 season!

# TEAM SEC WEST
1 Computer Hope Impossible to go against the Tide at this point. QB Jalen Hurts returns behind a dynamic O-Line. Bo Scarbrough & Damien Harris return at tailback and WR Calvin Ridley is poised to become a 1st Team All-American. Lose LT Cam Robinson? Replace him with Jonah Williams! Defensively the Tide lost a truckload of star talent to the NFL, but it’s Alabama where there are 3-4 five star players on the depth chart. Minkah Fitzpatrick could move to safety alongside Ronnie Harrison. Da’Ron Payne & Da’Shawn Hand are going to dominate up front. I think the 2016 version is better, but they’re still good enough to win it all.
2 Computer Hope If the Tigers didn’t travel to Tuscaloosa on November 4th, I probably would have taken the Bayou Bengals to win the West. Derrius Guice is a MAN playing against boys in college. What makes him scarier is that he’s playing in front of a couple of interior O-Linemen in Will Clapp & Maea Teuhema who could be All-Americans. I think QB Danny Etling will make fewer mistakes & keep LSU away from turnovers. The Tigers lost a TON on defense but return Arden Key who is the best pass rusher in American and DC Dave Aranda is outstanding. With the talent LSU has, they’ll post another top-10 defense in 2017.
3 Computer Hope I’m buying QB Jarrett Stidham and he could be the best QB Auburn has had since Cam Newton was screaming War Eagle and we saw how that worked out in 2010! Gus Malzahn is an offensive genius so if Stidham works out Auburn is going to score in spades with weapons like RB Kamryn Pettway, WR Darius SLaton, WR Nate Craig-Myers & WR Kyle Davis. Defensive the Tigers bring back 6 of their top-7 tacklers but losing Montravius Adams & Carl Lawson will be felt. I think DE Marlon Davidson will need to be huge. This Auburn team has crazy upside & gets Alabama at home. They are playoff contenders.
4 Computer Hope In case you didn’t know, his name is Nick Fitzgerald and the QB is a MONSTER! Last year Fitzgerald passed for 2423yds & 21TD while also rushing for 1375yds & 16TD! The Bulldogs have a little but of that 2014 feel to them and if they can beat LSU at home and upset Georgia & Auburn in back-to-back road games, they have a clear path to 9-0 before they welcome in Alabama on November 11th, a week after the Tide host LSU. That’s a lot to ask but back in 2014, Mississippi St. beat 3 top-10 ranked teams in a row (at LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn) en route to 9-0 and the #1 ranking before being upended by Alabama 25-20.
5 Computer Hope Things haven’t gone exactly to plan for Bret Bielema since leaving Wisconsin, but this season should provide him with a chance to play his style of football. The Hogs lose RB Rawleigh Williams, but Devwah Whaley has immense talent and should be able to replicate Williams production because the O-Line he’ll be running behind is tremendous led by All-American C Frank Ragnow. QB Austin Allen is a senior and should be solid. Defensively Arkansas returns 6 starters and 5 of their back-7. They’ll struggle to get pressure on opposing QBs which I think limits their upside but if they ball control they could win close ones.
6 Computer Hope I don’t know if there is a better RB/WR duo in college football than Trayveon Williams & Christian Kirk, but the Aggies are going to try and break in a rFR at QB in Nick Starkel behind a fairly inexperienced O-Line. Even with Kirk returning, the Aggies lost a ton of outside talent. Defensively I don’t even know how A&M replaces Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall, Justin Evans & Shaan Washington! HUGE LOSSES. I think there is a good chance A&M loses their opener at UCLA and if that happens then HC Kevin Sumlin’s seat is going to be blisteringly hot! A&M also has some brutal home games. This could get bad in a hurry!
7 Computer Hope Ole Miss is somewhat of a wild card with Hugh Freeze leaving the program and Matt Luke taking over as interim HC. It’s too bad really because the Rebels have some upside to this team. The offense has a potentially outstanding O-Line with 4 starters returning and Greg Little manning LT. QB Shea Patterson has some tremendous upside and the Rebels have solid skill position players. Defensively, Ole MIss returns 6 starters & 5 of their top-7 tacklers. DE Marquis Haynes returned for his senior year & he’ll be one of the best edge rushers in the nation. NT Benito Jones should also be a force up front. Very tough to predict.

 

# TEAM SEC EAST
1 Computer Hope There might be some questions surrounding the offense with the O-Line being young and QB Jake Fromm potentially pushing QB Jacob Eason for starting time but worst comes to worst how hard is it to hand the ball off to Nick Chubb or Sony Michel? These hairy dogs have enough talent on the outside to keep defenses honest. What stands out about UGA is their defense. Trenton Thompson might be the best DT in college football while Davin Bellamy & Lorenzo Carter might be the best pair of edge rushers. Georgia returns their ILBs and secondary as well. HC Kirby Smart knows a thing or two about top defenses!
2 Computer Hope This could be the most surprising team in college football this season. QB Jake Bentley completed 66% of his passes last year as a true frosh and the Gamecocks have 10 returning starters back on offense including all their skill players. TE Hayden Hurst has a chance to make a HUGE impact. Defensively South Carolina is going to need Dante Sawyer to provide a legitimate threat off the edge but LB Skai Moore returns & will combine with Bryson Allen-Williams to give SC a solid pair of LBs. Both corners return & I think Will Muschamp is going to do some great things in Columbia just like another former Florida head coach.
3 Computer Hope I think the SEC is a little topsy-turvy this season and Kentucky benefits by getting both Tennessee and Florida in Lexington. If they can get those wins I think the Wildcats could have a banner season. HC Mark Stoops has a talented roster and UK returns 8 starters on offense & 9 on defense. If there is going to be a time for Kentucky to make a move, it’s this season. CJ Conrad, Benny Snell & Stephen Johnson should keep the offense humming with 4 returning starters on the O-Line. Denzil Ware, Jordan Jones & Mike Edwards should be solid up front on defense. Kentucky could potentially get to 8-9 wins this season.
4 Computer Hope I think Florida is in a precarious situation. They are probably already behind Florida St. when it comes to recruiting the top tier talent within the state, but Mark Richt going to Miami-FL makes things extremely difficult as well. I love Jim McElwain as a HC, but right now I’d say he’s behind Richt & Jimbo Fisher in recruiting. Florida also already has turmoil coming out of the program with the suspensions including WR Antonio Callaway for the opener against Michigan. Florida isn’t sold on Luke Del Rio being the starting QB either & the defense returns just 5 starters. After 2 SEC East titles, this year feels like transition.
5 Computer Hope Like Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, I’m going to be surprised to see Butch Jones make it out alive in Knoxville this season. The Vols have talent to be sure, but I think losing guys like QB Josh Dobbs, DE Derek Barnett, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin and CB Cameron Sutton are going to be hard to overcome. UT also has road games against Florida, Alabama, & Kentucky. They get LSU, Georgia & South Carolina at home which are going to be exceedingly difficult games to win. I think losing Alvin Kamara is going to be bigger than people think. Josh Malone is a loss too. I like the talent here but a lot of key pieces are gone from 2016.
6 Computer Hope It is going to be very difficult for Derek Mason to recreate what James Franklin did here at Vanderbilt but Mason is trying his best. In his first year, Vandy went 3-9. Last year in his 3rd,  the Commodores were 6-7 and got to a bowl game. This year Vandy returns 9 starters on offense including QB Kyle Shumur who has generated some buzz this offseason. Ralph Webb is a work horse out of the backfield & Vandy returns their top-9 receivers from a season ago. Defensively, Vanderbilt has made huge strides since Mason’s first season & while they do lose Zach Cunningham, they return 7 starters from a unit that was solid.
7 Computer Hope I would have had Missouri in 6th but they play at Vanderbilt so I put the Commodores one spot ahead. HC Gary Pinkel is a legend in Columbia, but I hope Barry Odom sticks around because he’s on the cusp of doing something great at Mizzou. This season the Tigers have a TON coming back on offense, but I want to see QB Drew Lock improve his accuracy. Missouri has a chance to be REALLY SPECIAL in 2018 assuming Lock comes back. RB Damarea Crockett is a MONSTER. Defensively I think Missouri misses Charles Harris & Aarion Penton quite a bit. They return 5 starters but again look towards 2018 for this unit.



SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

EAST SEC CHAMPIONSHIP WEST
Computer Hope I think this could be a lot closer game than people would expect and here is why. Alabama is going to try and run the football which they should, but Georgia is STOUT in the middle with Trenton Thompson & John Atkins on the line and LBs Roquan Smith & Natrez Patrick filling it up. If Alabama goes pass then UGA has some ELITE pass rushers in Davin Bellamy & Lorenzo Carter. This of course is assuming that Alabama’s offense can actually be stopped and Georgia can get anything going against what will surely be a tough Tide defense. Alabama wins. Computer Hope

August 18, 2017 Posted by | Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., Missouri, NCAA, Predictions, Preseason, Previews, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas AM, Vanderbilt | Leave a comment

RANKING POWER-65 COLLEGE FOOTBALL COACHES – THE TOP 10!

THE TOP 10!!! These are the cream of the crop in my opinion and the most elite of the elite. What’s interesting about this group is the history they are all chasing. Of the top-10 coaches, there are 5 who have won national championships. Those 5 are Bob Stoops, Dabo Swinney, Jimbo Fisher, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban. Even though they’ve won national titles, they are chasing history in their own way. For Swinney is the prospect of becoming one of the greatest head coaches of all time. For Fisher it’s to stand side by side with Bobby Bowden in Florida State history. For Stoops it is trying to get back to what he achieve in 2000. For Meyer and Saban, their chase is for the crown of greatest college football head coach of all time. I’m of the opinion that Saban already holds the that crown surpassing Bear Bryant, but if there is a coach who could challenge Saban, it’s Urban Meyer. For the 5 guys on this list that haven’t won a national title, you can be sure they know it’s the last thing they need to accomplish to cement their legacy. The previous rankings can be found in the following links:

#50-#65
#40-#49
#30-#39
#20-#29
#11-#19

#10 – Bobby Petrino – Louisville

While it’s certainly permissible to question his off-field behavior, there is simply no questioning what Bobby Petrino can do on the field. He took Louisville to national championship contender the first go around with the Cardinals. He did the same with Arkansas. Now that he’s back in the ‘Ville, he tied Clemson for the ACC Atlantic division championship and had Louisville not lost to Clemson, then the Cardinals would have been the ones playing for the ACC Championship and the Clemson dream season would never have happened. That was year 3 and he’s already ahead of Florida State! Only Clemson and Florida St. have won more games than the Redbirds the past 3 seasons among ACC teams. Only Clemson & FSU has a better conference record. Recruiting has jumped about 10 spots already from the time Petrino took over until now. His foray into the NFL was a disaster and his questionable conduct at Arkansas was a bit concerning to say the least but Petrino has reinvented himself at Louisville and once again is proving to be one of the very best college football coaches in the nation! With Lamar Jackson returning next year, Louisville should be in the national championship hunt.

#9 – Jim McElwain – Florida

Some might think this is too high for McElwain but in his first two years in Gainesville he’s gone 19-8 with a conference mark of 13-3 winning two SEC East division titles with the Gators finishing the 2016 season ranked 14th! What’s remarkable about Florida in McElwain’s first couple of seasons is that they’ve been winning this much without any QB play. In his first season, McElwain had deal with Will Grier getting injured and then relying upon Treon Harris who should have never been under center. Last season he had to rely on a Purdue transfer who couldn’t find playing time with the Boilermakers! That same Purdue squad who has a record of 8-28 over the last 3 years! McElwain is an offensive guy so my guess is that it’s only a matter of time before Florida starts playing the kind of offense McElwain wants. They’ll always be outstanding defensively because of the athletes the Gators can attract to campus. What McElwain has accomplished with having to build up the program the way he wants it is incredible. Granted, they’ve been dominated in the SEC Championship game and the SEC East hasn’t exactly been fantastic, but I think that is more of a reflection on missed opportunity for teams like Tennessee, Georgia & South Carolina than it is on McElwain taking advantage of a weakened division. McElwain is starting to dominate recruiting too and Gators fans can be rest assured that McElwain won’t leave Gainesville for Ohio.

#8 – David Shaw – Stanford

Frankly this might too low for Shaw. Jim Harbaugh might have laid the foundation for the Cardinal in recent times, but what Shaw has done since taking over the program is nothing short of incredible. In his 6 seasons in Pao Alto, Stanford has won 4 Pac 12 North division titles. They’ve won 3 Pac 12 championships. They are a perfect 3-0 in the Rose Bowl and they’ve been to 4 BCS bowls. Shaw is on a 3-bowl game winning streak and in 5 of this 6 years the Cardinal have never finished below 12th in the final AP Rankings with 3 seasons in the top-10! He’s consistently bringing in top-20 classes which is incredible given the academic restrictions that Stanford is under. Even in his worst season, 2014, Shaw still guided Stanford to an 8-5 season with a bowl victory! Stanford had a little trouble getting started last year but finished the year on a 6-game winning streak to get to 10-3 which was the 5th time in 6 years Shaw had Stanford with double-digit wins. Shaw’s 64 wins in 6-years is Stanford’s greatest run in Cardinal football history! It’s going to be interesting going forward with Stanford and Shaw. The Cardinal lost to both Washington & Washington St. last season and Chris Petersen and Mike Leach aren’t going anywhere. I’m a HUGE fan of Gary Andersen at Oregon St. and the Oregon Ducks bring in a guy in Willie Taggart who at the VERY LEAST will have Oregon as one of the most talented teams in the nation. USC is starting to flex and Mike MacIntyre put the Pac 12 on notice last season. The Pac 12 is changing and it’ll be great to see how Shaw adjusts to the changes.

#7 – Bob Stoops – Oklahoma

Arguably the most underappreciated football coach in America. The last two seasons Bob Stoops has lead the Sooners to a 22-4 mark with a 17-1 conference record. He’s won the Big XII both years. He’s finished #5 in the AP poll both years. Got to the college football playoffs in 2015 and then won the Orange Bowl last year with a convincing 35-19 win over Auburn. All of that winning and Stoops still gets flack for not having Oklahoma where they need to be! What’s hurt Stoops in recent times is his inability to win big time games. It’s unfortunate that Stoops won a national title in Norman in his 2nd year back in 2000 because since then the expectation has been a national championship (as it should be at Oklahoma) but the Sooners have come up empty over the last 16 seasons! That’s a long time to wait when you are an Oklahoma fan. Oklahoma did play for the national title in 2004 and 2008 but the Sooners were hammered in the Orange Bowl in 2004 by USC 55-19, and then in 2008 Tim Tebow got the better of them in Urban Meyer’s 2nd national championship. The other knock on Stoops is that he hasn’t recruited at an extraordinarily high level the past few years (although his 2017 class is a top-10 class) and the Big XII has the perception of being “weak” which hurts Stoops to a degree because he’s the big fish in a relatively small pond. I’m not sure I buy into either excuses, but getting hammered early last year by Ohio State wasn’t a good look and Texas hasn’t given Oklahoma too much competition in the Big XII for quite awhile now. Stoops makes a VERY compelling case to be #3 on this list and #7 does seem a bit low to me, but he ended 2016 on an incredible note and the 2017 recruiting was fantastic. Stoops could very well creep back into top-3 status sooner rather than later.

#6 – Jim Harbaugh – Michigan

The last 3 coaches before Jim Harbaugh had the following first 2-seasons record at Michigan:

Brady Hoke: 19-7
Rich Rodriguez: 8-16
Lloyd Carr: 17-8

Jim Harbaugh in his first two seasons has gone 20-6 with back to back double digit win seasons! The only other Michigan HC in Wolverines football history to begin his career with back to back double digit win seasons was Fielding Yost who posted back to back 11-0 seasons back in 1901-1902! What Harbaugh has done at Michigan is nothing short of spectacular. Rich Rodriguez was a complete mess. Brady Hoke was lost and terrible once he got his own players to Ann Arbor. I’m a big Lloyd Carr fan, but outside of the national championship team Michigan had in 1997 where they went 12-0, Carr never had a team lose less than 2 games. Carr also lost more bowl games than he won and in his last 7 bowl games, Carr’s Wolverines teams were 2-5! Harbaugh has come in to one of the most significant, historically relevant programs in college football history, that hadn’t been relevant in almost 20 years and immediately made them a top-5 team. His last two recruiting classes have both been top-5 classes. Michigan is now competing with Alabama, Ohio St., USC, Florida, Florida St., and Clemson for recruits. Some might think ranking Harbaugh at #6 could be a bit too high too fast, but look at his track record at Stanford. Look what he did at San Francisco? Sure he hasn’t won the Big 10 East yet. He hasn’t beaten Ohio St. yet either, but Harbaugh’s entrance into the Big 10 made the Big 10 East immediately the best division in college football with the best rivalry now being amped up to all time historical levels. He’s a master motivator and is just getting started. If he can post back to back 10-3 seasons without any firm foundation in place, what is Michigan football going to look like when Harbaugh has the program firing on all cylinders?

#5 – Chris Petersen – Washington

I think some people thought Petersen might struggle a bit at Washington after leaving the comfortable confines of Boise. Dan Hawkins couldn’t make it work at Colorado after he left Boise State. Dirk Koetter had a much tougher road at Arizona State after leaving Boise State although Koetter has reinvented himself and is now the HC of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has the Bucs close to playoff contention. The same struggle was thought to follow Petersen to Seattle. Most thought Petersen would turn out well, but that it might take a few years…..yeah it took 3. Petersen’s first two years with the Huskies saw Washington go a combined 15-12 with back-to-back 4-5 conference seasons. In Year 3, Washington would finish the season 12-1 (8-1) with a Pac 12 North division championship, a Pac 12 outright championship and a spot in the college football playoff. The playoff wasn’t spectacular as UW lost to Alabama 24-7, but to be honest, Washington played a pretty tight game against the Crimson Tide despite losing the game. Recruiting is improving under Petersen although it’s always going to be hard to pull kids into dreary Seattle over hot spots like USC, Florida, Florida St., Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Miami-FL, Texas, LSU, UCLA, Tennessee, Arizona State, Arizona and South Carolina. And that isn’t mentioning traditional powerhouse football teams with less than ideal locations such as Penn St., Ohio St., Michigan, and Notre Dame. With that said, Washington should be able to push their recruiting into the top-20 range annually without a problem and that is more than enough talent for Petersen to win and win big with. I think Rick Neuheisel and Don James showed that the Huskies could be relevant on the national stage and Washington is one of those teams that makes college football better when they are winning. The Pac 12 is changing a bit with a lot of incoming young talent as head coaches so Petersen has his work cut out for him, but he’s got Washington ahead of schedule and I don’t think they’ll regress. Washington should be as good or better in 2017 as they were in 2016.

#4 – Jimbo Fisher – Florida State

It’s easy to forget now that Fisher has the Seminoles back at the apex of college football that in Bobby Bowden’s last 5 years as HC, Florida St. posted a combined record of 38-27, finishing outside the final AP-Top 25 in 3 of those 5 seasons and having a losing bowl record of 2-3. Recruiting was way down and some thought that Bobby Bowden was finished and the FSU program along with him. Bowden was finished, but Florida St. wasn’t. Fisher stepped in immediately and led FSU to a 10-4 season, won the ACC Atlantic division title and got a bowl win, giving FSU their first double digit win season in 6 years! Fisher would win the ACC in Year 3. He’d win a national title in Year 4 and play for a another national title in Year 5! Bowden’s last 5 years in Tallahassee saw the ‘Noles go 38-27, but Fisher’s first 5 years in Tallahassee would see FSU post a 58-11 record with a national title and 3 ACC titles! The turnaround was absolutely stunning and put Florida St. back into the ELITE of the ELITE category. Recruiting soared and Fisher has the program humming with no let up in sight. One of the biggest clues that show how good a place FSU is in under Fisher is their last two seasons. Florida St. has had back to back 10-3 seasons finishing #14 in 2015 and #8 in 2016. Those are great if not spectacular seasons, but at this point in Fisher’s tenure, they seem like rebuilding seasons for FSU or disappointing seasons. When you average being a borderline top-10 over a 2-year period and it’s looked at as disappointing, you know you have expectations at an all time high, and Fisher knows he can meet those expectations!

#3 – Dabo Swinney – Clemson

It’s almost impossible to argue Swinney’s success. I’m trying to keep my analysis to the past 5 years and Swinney has enough success those 5 years, but if we stretch Swinney out to his last 6 years, he’s led Clemson to a 70-13 record including a 6-2 bowl record, a national championship, 2 national championship game appearances, 3 ACC championships and 4 ACC Atlantic division titles! It’s a better resume than anyone not named Nick Saban and Swinney can certainly stack up well with Urban Meyer. He has shown he can recruit top-5 classes to Clemson meaning there doesn’t seem to be any weaknesses to Swinney’s arsenal when it comes to head coaching college football. He’s leaped Jimbo Fisher in the ACC Atlantic which is no small feat and he’s keeping Bobby Petrino at bay, which again is no small feat. Swinney was also able to avenge his 2015 championship game loss to Alabama by besting the Tide in 2016 behind QB Deshaun Watson. Swinney has 6 straight 10+ win seasons at Clemson which is a school record. I’d also say that this year Swinney passed Danny Ford as the greatest football coach in Clemson history. The only question now facing Swinney has he moves forward is sustaining that success. The way you become legendary is winning multiple championships the way Nick Saban and Urban Meyer have been able to do. Note that Bob Stoops couldn’t do it. Mack Brown couldn’t do it. Jimbo Fisher hasn’t done it. Jim Tressel couldn’t do it. Steve Spurrier couldn’t do it. Lou Holtz couldn’t do it. It’s not easy. Winning a championship to begin with isn’t easy, but Swinney has about as much momentum going forward as I’ve ever seen and it’ll be interesting going forward to see how much he goes after a historical legacy. He’s a great head football coach. Is he an all-time great?

#2 – Urban Meyer – Ohio State

Speaking of all-time greats……it’s one thing for Dabo Swinney to pass up Danny Ford as Clemson’s best coach of all time. It’s quite another for Urban Meyer to be on pace to make people forget about the legendary Woody Hayes. Meyer has been in Columbus for 5 seasons guiding the Buckeyes after he left a Florida Gators program he won two national championships with. In those 5 seasons, Ohio St. is 61-6 including 3 perfect Big 10 seasons, one perfect season, a national championship, 5 Big 10 division titles and one outright Big 10 championship. In Woody Hayes’s first 5 seasons the Buckeyes were 33-11-2 with one national championship and 2 Big 10 titles. It’s comparable but I’d say Meyer has Woody. It’s hard to knock Meyer’s success. It’s incredible and he’s VERY DESERVING of being #2 on this list. Ohio St. is a machine at this point and there isn’t a team in America that out-recruits Ohio St. other than Alabama, and even then I’d say the Buckeyes Tide have equal talent. The one knock I have on Meyer is that I think he ran from Saban when Saban took over Alabama. I think this is incredible strategy by Meyer, but it also shows to me why you can never put Meyer ahead of Nick Saban unless Meyer just hammers him head-to-head 3-4 times in national championship games. Meyer took over Florida in 2005. Saban’s last year at LSU was 2004 and remember that Saban won a national title in Baton Rouge in 2003. So Meyer came into Florida without Saban at Alabama and the Mad Hatter at LSU. Fullmer goes 5-6 at Tennessee in 2005 and Mark Richt is in Georgia, but he’s not much of a problem for Meyer. Kentucky & Vanderbilt aren’t issues and South Carolina had just hired Steve Spurrier and it’ll take the Ol Ball Coach a little bit of time to get the Gamecocks rolling. Meyer recruits arguably the greatest college football player in history (Tim Tebow) and wins national championships in 2006 and 2008. Saban comes back to Alabama in 2007. Meyer couldn’t have known this. It takes Saban a season to get Alabama rolling but in Year 2, Saban has the Tide at 12-0 and playing for an SEC championship. Tebow is a junior at this time and in the SEC Championship game, Florida beats Alabama 31-20 although Alabama held a 20-17 lead going into the 4th quarter. In 2009, Timmy Tebow is a senior and Florida is expected to win a national championship giving Tebow 3 in 4 years. Florida goes 12-0, but so does Alabama. They meet in the SEC Championship game and instead of Tebow willing Florida to another win, Alabama DESTROYS Florida 32-13 on their way to Saban’s first national title with the Tide. Without Tebow in 2010, Florida slides to 8-5 and takes another beating at the hands of Alabama 31-6 in regular season play. Urban leaves Florida citing health reasons or family reasons or some combination of the two. It’s suspect timing because Alabama would win 2 of the next 3 national championship games with Auburn winning the other. Of course, a year later Urban Meyer takes over the Ohio State team which is conveniently in a conference without Nick Saban.

It’s an interesting story and probably 100% conjecture although it does make some sense. The irony of course is that Meyer comes to the Big 10 East where in 2012, the conference is in turmoil so to speak. Michigan is somewhat of a joke now that they’ve gone through the Rich Rodriguez era and Brady Hoke is screwing up. Penn State is a complete mess due to the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky scandal that is erupting. Bo Pellini can’t get Nebraska figured out and Ohio St. finds itself in the Big 10 Leaders division with Indiana, Illinois & Purdue! Sure Wisconsin is around, but as good as the Badgers are, Meyer has to know that Wisconsin could NEVER keep up with the influx of talent to Columbus with how Meyer recruits. The problem is that it doesn’t stay that way. Two years later the Big 10 welcomes in Maryland & Rutgers and the divisions change. Michigan & Michigan St. come over to the Big 10 East while Wisconsin changes to the Big 10 West. Penn St. rights the ship quick with Bill O’Brien before turning it over to James Franklin. Mark Dantonio is now in the same division as Meyer and lo and behold, Michigan brings in Jim Harbaugh! The Big 10 Leaders division goes from being a laughing stock division that Ohio St. could have dominated for decades to the Big 10 East which is now arguably the most difficult division to play in with 4 of the best head coaches in all of college football.

This bites Meyer a bit. Ohio St. was ineligible for postseason play in 2012, but in 2013 Ohio St. loses the Big 10 championship to Mark Dantonio and Michigan State. In 2014 Ohio St. does manage to win the national championship in the first ever football playoff scenario beating Alabama 42-35 in the semifinals before beating Oregon, but in 2015 they miss the Big 10 title game because of a tie-breaker loss to Michigan St. and last year they miss the Big 10 title game again due to a tie-breaker loss to Penn State! They get to the playoffs last season, but are humiliated by Clemson 31-0 in the semifinal game. Luckily Ohio St. didn’t draw Alabama because shades of 2008-2009 come to mind if that scenario played out again. Saban would have remembered and the outcome for Ohio St., like it was for Florida, wouldn’t have been pretty. I write all of this not to cast doubt on Meyer’s legitimacy. He’s an all-time great legendary coach. Everyone agrees, but I think an overlooked aspect of Meyer’s career is that he’s been fairly strategic in trying to put himself into the best place possible. You can’t knock him on that. Opportunity doesn’t come often and he’s taken advantage of that opportunity by helping it with putting himself in the right situations. That and winning Tebow from Mike Shula during Tebow’s recruitment has done wonders for Meyer’s status.

#1 – Nick Saban – Alabama

G.O.A.T! He’ll eventually tie or pass Bear Bryant’s record of 6 national championships. Saban already has 5 and to be honest he’s probably the greatest coach in Alabama and LSU history. Hell he might be the greatest coach in Michigan State history as well! Saban has been at Alabama now for 10 seasons. In those 10 seasons he’s gone 119-19! The man has averaged 12 wins per season for a decade! He’s won 4 national championships, 6 SEC Championships, 8 SEC West championships and has finished ranked in the AP top-10 for the last 9 consecutive seasons! This doesn’t even account for the national championship he won at LSU, the SEC championship he won at LSU or the 3 SEC West titles he won at LSU. Saban has also won 8 bowl games in this 10 years in Tuscaloosa. Nobody can out-recruit the Tide & Saban. He deals with a lot of coordinator turnover because everyone wants his coordinators to take over their teams! Jim McElwain was his OC. Now he’s the HC at Florida! Kirby Smart was his DC. Now he’s the HC at Georgia! Lane Kiffin was a former HC for USC, Tennessee and the Oakland Raiders and spent the last few seasons as Saban’s OC! Mark Dantonio was on Saban’s staff for 5 years at Michigan St. and he’s now the HC at Michigan State! Jimbo Fisher was on Saban’s staff at LSU. He’s the HC now at Florida State! The one constant is Nick Saban himself. We could go on and on about his accolades but they’ll all point to the same conclusion. Nick Saban is the best football coach in college football right now. He’s also the greatest college football coach to ever live.

May 27, 2017 Posted by | ACC, Alabama, Big 10, Big XII, Clemson, Coaching, Florida, Florida St., Louisville, Michigan, Ohio St, Oklahoma, Pac 12, Rankings, SEC, Stanford, Washington | Leave a comment

RANKING POWER-65 COLLEGE FOOTBALL COACHES – #19 to #11

Now we are inside the top-20! What’s interesting about these guys to me is that all of them could make moves that would land them inside the top-10 if they had a championship caliber season, which for most of them is the last hurdle they need to overcome to get into that very elite category. As I wrote previously picking from #19 to #11 is probably based more on preference, but if you keep reading, there are some very interesting story lines with these guys that could affect their rankings going forward. Every coach/team mentioned here definitely has a story line that will be scrutinized in 2017. If you need to catch up, here are the links the previous articles in this series:

#50-#65
#49-#40
#39-#30
#29-#20

#19 – Bill Snyder – Kansas State

Coach Snyder is a tough one to rank because on the one hand you can argue he’s one of the all time great coaches in college football history. He’s unique in that he got the Kansas State job and kept it for as long as he wanted. He even came back after leaving at the conclusion of the 2005 season. In today’s football world, a coach at a school like Kansas St. would have bolted for another opportunity if they had had the success that Snyder has had at KSU. From 1995-2000, Snyder posted a 63-12 record with a 39-8 mark in Big XII play which included 3 Big XII North titles. Any other coach would have bolted for Georgia or Clemson or Auburn or Miami-FL. What keeps Snyder a bit lower is that he hasn’t won a ton at Kansas St. nationally. He’s never won a national championship. He’s only won the Big XII twice in 25 years of coaching. He’s 8-10 in bowl games. That mostly speaks to the ceiling of Kansas St. football. Snyder came back to Manhattan because Ron Prince lowered the standards. Snyder raised them again, but he can’t quite get KSU to national prominence. His hope was that Prince could do it. His hope when he retires is that the Wildcats get it right the 2nd time.

#18 – Mike Gundy – Oklahoma State

Gundy might be underrated by a long shot. Remember that Gundy has to go up against Oklahoma within his own state and Texas in his own region. Those are two college football Goliaths that are almost impossible to beat on the recruiting trail yet Gundy over the last 7 seasons has failed to win at least 10 games only twice. Gundy is coming off back to back 10-3 seasons and has posted 10-3 seasons in 3 of the past 4 years. Gundy almost won a national championship in 2011. If the Cowboys don’t completely blow it late in the year against Iowa St., then they would have played LSU in the national championship game that year instead of Alabama. The Tide beat LSU 21-0 in a revenge game after LSU beat the Tide earlier 9-6 in Tuscaloosa, but you’d have to think Oklahoma St. would have had a good shot at upending the Bayou Bengals. Oklahoma St. finished #3 in the rankings, but you have to wonder where the program could have been catapulted to had they brought home a national championship. What sticks out about Gundy to me as well is that he almost accomplished what Jimmy Johnson thought was impossible with Oklahoma State, namely winning a title. Gundy is about as Oklahoma St. as you can possibly get. He’ll be there forever if he wants and I can’t see him leaving which makes him quite a bit like Bill Snyder. Because of 2011, I’m not sure there is a ceiling to OK State football, so it’ll be interesting to see if Gundy can get over the hump and win a title.

#17 – Gus Malzahn – Auburn

It’s easy to forget that Malzahn led War Eagle to a national championship game his first season as head coach of the Tigers. That was a tall order beating a Jameis Winston led Florida St. squad so you can’t exactly blame him for losing. Malzahn has caught quite a bit of heat the past couple of seasons because he hasn’t replicated the success of that 12-2 squad from 2013. Malzahn is an offensive savant, but people forget just how good Auburn’s defense was in 2013. They didn’t create a lot of turnovers but they got after the ball quite a bit with quite a few sacks and tackles for loss. The O-line was dominant giving Tre Mason & Nick Marshall plenty of room to run. The defense & O-Line took a step back in 2014 and in 2015 Malzahn really didn’t have a QB as Jeremy Johnson wasn’t the answer. He entered 2016 with the same problems and Auburn struggled early, but when Auburn finally settled on Sean White, they reeled off 6 straight wins and won 6 of 7 after starting 1-2. The season didn’t end well with losses to Alabama & Oklahoma, but losing to Alabama in Tuscaloosa is hardly cause for concern and by season’s end Oklahoma was a top-5 team. Malzahn recruits extremely well and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Auburn really take off. Malzahn has his system in place and there is loads of talent here. Sean White is the unquestioned starter now and I”m willing to bet that Auburn gets back to double digit wins. In the SEC West, that is an incredible coaching job.

#16 – Pat Fitzgerald – Northwestern

What Fitzgerald has done at Northwestern is nothing short of amazing. Over this last 9 seasons, he’s lead the Wildcats to 7 bowl games. In the 114 seasons before Fitzgerald got to Evanston, Northwestern played in a total of 6 bowl games! It’s almost impossible for Northwestern to recruit on any major level unless some kids simply want to wind up in Evanston or have ties to Northwestern. While the Wildcats might not necessarily have it as bad as Vanderbilt because the Commodores play in the SEC, that might change given how good the coaching in the Big 10 is getting. I guess it could be worse and Northwestern could be in the Big 10 East, but Nebraska, Wisconsin & Iowa are pretty darn good. Lovie Smith is recruiting better to Illinois and Purdue & Minnesota just hired solid young coaches. It’ll be interesting to see how Fitzgerald adjusts to an influx of talent in the coaching ranks. He’s never gotten Northwestern to the Rose Bowl the way Gary Barnett was able to but he’s won 10 games in 2 of the past 5 years. Regardless of what happens around him, I have a feeling that Fitzgerald is going to keep winnings games. One thing I do want to mention about Fitzgerald and Northwestern is that if I had to pick any place for my son to go to college and play football, Northwestern would be in the discussion along with Michigan and Stanford. There really isn’t a better compliment to pay a head coach.

#15 – James Franklin – Penn State

From semi-mess to Rose Bowl in 3-years!? Franklin has more than earned ranking this high even if hadn’t took the Nittany Lions to a Big 10 championship in year 3. Franklin didn’t necessarily inherit the mess that descended upon Happy Valley in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but Bill O’Brien was never going to be a long term solution and bolted for the NFL the first chance he got. Franklin didn’t shy away from the task of making Penn St. nationally relevant again and in just 3 years he had the Lions playing the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2008 and ranked inside the top-10 in the final AP poll for the first time since 2009! Franklin recruited at a high level immediately when taking the job, but he’s been able to sustain that success despite having a couple of 7-6 seasons to start his tenure. That success would only seem to increase the more Franklin wins because as a football purist, there isn’t many places more special to play than at Penn State! The only wild thing about Frankin’s success will be his ability to keep it going. He’s ranked #15 on this list which is fantastic, but he’s just 4th among coaches in the Big 10 East. That division is without a doubt the most feared and difficult division in all off football with Penn St. emerging as a national threat. Michigan St. isn’t always going to have off years and it’ll be intriguing to see what Franklin can do once Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State are firing on all cylinders. I think Franklin can handle the difficulty.

#14 – Kyle Whittingham – Utah

Did you know that Whittingham is 10-1 in bowl games since taking for Urban Meyer as HC of Utah!? That’s downright amazing and if I’m not mistaken that is the best record of any FBS coach in bowl games that have coached at least 6 of them. All Whittingham does is win football games, but what is most impressive about him is the transition Utah made into the Pac 12. In their last 3 years in the Mountain West, Whittingham guided the Utes to a 33-6 record including their perfect 13-0 year in 2008 which saw Utah finished ranked #2 in the nation! The transition to the Pac 12 was never going to be easy and Utah took some lumps early going 9-18 in conference play in their first 3 seasons. Their next 3 seasons have seen a complete turnaround as Utah has posted a 28-11 record from 2014-2016 with a conference mark of 16-11, winning a share of the Pac 12 South in 2015. A by product of playing in a better conference and winning is that recruiting has massively improved for the Utes since 2014 and the program has a lot more talent on hand to compete with other Pac 12 schools. Last season Utah almost broke through expoentially. The Utes finished 9-4 with a bowl win over Indiana, but their 4 losses came by a total of 19 points! The year before (2015) Utah finished 10-3 with 2 of their losses coming by a combined 15 points. Utah & Whitingham win their fair share of close games as well, but winning a lot more of those games than you lose is a clear indicated of a great coach, which is exactly what Whittingham is.

#13 – Mark Richt – Miami-FL

Richt is another tricky coach because of perception versus reality. There is a lot of sentiment that Richt was somewhat of a disappointment at Georgia despite coaching in Athens for 15 years and averaging 10 wins a season while also averaging a 6-2 conference record during those 15 seasons! Did I mention Georgia plays in the SEC? That’s outstanding but at Georgia that’s only close. During those 15 seasons, Richt won just 2 outright SEC titles and hadn’t one one since 2005 when Georgia parted ways with him after the 2015 season. Richt is a tremendous coach and a tremendous recruiter. There can be no doubt about that, but what’s interesting about Richt’s time in college football is that he got to Georgia in 2001. Urban Meyer got to Florida in 2005. Richt won 2 SEC titles from 2001-2005 and 3 SEC East divisions. It’s also worth noting that Nick Saban was at LSU from 2000-2004 and then at Alabama from 2007 to present. Richt is fantastic. Everyone would agree, but Meyer & Saban and absolute Hall of Fame locks. Saban is arguably the greatest college football coach of all time and Meyer is easily in the top-5 if not #2 behind Saban. Richt’s only real crime is being born at the wrong time, between Saban (9-years later) and Meyer (4-years prior). Richt will do an outstanding job at Miami-FL. Recruiting will be fantastic. He already went 9-4 in his first season and came pretty close to winning the ACC Coastal. He’s not in the Atlantic with FSU & Clemson so the real story here is can Richt take Miami-FL a step further than he took Georgia? Do that and he leaps into the top-10 of these rankings. Stay 10-3 every year and Richt is a top-15 coach for sure, but not quite elite of the elite.

#12 – Gary Patterson – Texas Christian

It took Patterson a couple of years to figure out the Big XII, but once he did, the Horned Frogs started dominating in much the same fashion that destroyed the competition in the Mountain West. From 2014-2015, TCU posted a 23-3 record with a couple of top-10 finishes and a share of the Big XII title in 2014. The 2014 season stung a bit as TCU dropped a 3 points game in Waco to Baylor which nailed their coffin for a shot at the college football playoffs. Florida St. was going to be in as they were 13-0 and defending champions. Alabama was 12-1 and SEC Champs. They weren’t being left out regardless. Ohio St. is Ohio State. At 12-1 they weren’t going to be left out. They had won 11 straight games and was coming off a 59-0 beating of Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship. The one team TCU could have argued against is Oregon, but Baylor might have had a better argument as Baylor beat TCU, but the Bears also lost to West Virginia. The thought was that if TCU can’t win the Big XII outright, should they be in the playoffs? I don’t know who they bump out and I don’t know how TCU would have fared, but that was a tremendous team and Patterson showed that he could take TCU from the Big XII and make them legitimate national title contenders. Last year was a bump in the road for Patterson and the Frogs and you could sense some let down after the Trevone Boykin/Aaron Green/Josh Doctson era ended on offense. TCU has a lot coming back in 2017 and my guess is Patterson jumps back into the top-10 of these rankings.

#11 – Mark Dantonio – Michigan State

I think we can all agree that Dantonio is a helluva football coach and is deserving of this ranking and maybe #11 is too low, but I do think there is a trend here that needs to be looked at because it involved Dantonio going forward. Dantonio really started to up his value as a HC starting in 2010 when he led the Spartans to an 11-2 record with a share of the Big 10 title. From 2010 to 2015, Michigan St. went 65-16 (39-9) with 3 Big 10 titles and 3 Big 10 division titles. Sparty won the Rose Bowl in 2013 and finished ranked in the top-14 in five of the 6 seasons and in the top-6 from 2013 to 2015! The 2010 to 2014 era is significant because of what was going on at Michigan during this time. From 2010-2014, the Wolverines were 38-26 (21-19). Michigan wasn’t Michigan in those 5 seasons and historically speaking, Michigan St. took on the role of Michigan while Michigan took on the role of Michigan State. What happened in 2015? Jim Harbaugh showed up in Ann Arbor! You could argue that the 2015 season showed that Dantonio could handle both Ohio State and Michigan, but that is tough because Michigan St. won a road game over Michigan when the Wolverines game it away. They also beat Ohio St. in Columbus in a game they shouldn’t have and then beat Iowa in the Big 10 championship in a game Iowa should have won. The playoffs exposed Michigan St. a bit when Alabama beat them 38-0, but maybe the Tide would have beat Ohio St. and Michigan by 40 points too! The proof might have come in 2016 when Michigan St. fell off considerably and finished 3-9 with a 1-8 mark in Big 10 play which included losses to Indiana, Northwestern, Maryland and Illinois. Winning those games would have pushed MSU to 7-5 potentially which would have gotten them bowl eligible at least with a shot at 8-5.  Maybe Connor Cook was that important!? Recruiting was down in 2017 for the Spartans while Michigan dominated. The trick with Dantonio is staying relevant while Michigan starts to dominate under Harbaugh. I think geography plays a role here. Auburn and Alabama can coexist as superpowers because they are in Alabama and the southeast. Florida and Florida St. can exist because they reside in Florida. The state of Michigan can’t resemble that type if relationship between it’s two football powers. Is Dantonio an outstanding head coach who can weather a bad year and get right back to the top of the Big 10 East or is he merely a solid head coach who took advantage of Michigan being down?

May 20, 2017 Posted by | ACC, Auburn, Big 10, Big XII, Coaching, Kansas St., Miami-FL, Michigan St., Northwestern, Oklahoma St., Pac 12, Penn St., Rankings, SEC, TCU, Utah | 1 Comment

RANKING POWER-65 COLLEGE FOOTBALL COACHES – #29 to #20

We are now over half way done with the rankings with 36 college coaches in the books. You can probably say this with some certainty about any particular range of coaches ranked thus far, but I especially thought at this point that putting a coach here or there was especially difficult because it probably comes down to preference. I thought this was interesting in terms of recruiting because at this point in the rankings from #16 or #17 to #29 or #30, it probably comes down to a recruit’s willingness to buy into the system and his potential relationship with the coaching staff. At this point we aren’t talking about a recruit choosing between Alabama & Rutgers. It’s more choosing between Iowa and Mississippi State. There probably isn’t a wrong answer. To get you caught up, here are the links from the coaches ranked lower than #29:

#65-#50
#49-#40
#39-#30

Now let’s kick off with #29!

#29 – Kirby Smart – Georgia

Some might think this is a little too high for Smart given that he just came off his first year as a HC in Athens where the Georgia Bulldogs finished a pedestrian 8-5 with a 4-4 SEC record in an SEC East that was far from stellar, but I’d take the opposite approach and say Smart accomplished a tremendous amount in Year 1. Georgia did drop 3 home games it shouldn’t have (Tennessee, Vanderbilt & Georgia Tech), but those 3 losses turn to wins and UGA is 11-2 and not 8-5. That’s a rough argument because it cuts both ways, but I don’t think Georgia is going to have problems winning home games moving forward. The team played extremely well on the road even with Smart instituting his new defensive schemes with an offense that never really had a settled QB position. Throw in Nick Chubb coming back from injury and 8-5 doesn’t look too bad for a first year guy heading up one of college football’s elite blue bloods.

#28 – Clay Helton – USC

Helton may not have been the obvious pick to take the reigns in Troy, but he’s the right pick. It’s difficult to get a feel for Helton, but how can you argue with the results thus far? USC by year’s end was arguably one of the three best teams in football along with Alabama & Clemson. The Trojans ended the year on a 9-game winning streak that saw them finish the season with a 52-49 win over Penn St. in the Rose Bowl. Washington was fortunate that USC lost out on the Pac 12 South because I thought USC would have beat them in the Pac 12 championship game. All Helton has done over the last 2 seasons is go 15-7 with a conference record of 12-3! USC is also back to full scholarship strength for the most part and Helton is making no bones about cashing in. He’s recruiting at an exceptionally high level. High level recruiting. High level coaching. We are about ready to see some incredible wars between USC & Washington. The Pac 12 is bananas and Helton will climb this list by leaps and bounds after 2017.

#27 – Paul Johnson – Georgia Tech

I feel like this is too low for Johnson because he’s an incredible coach but he has a couple of things working against him. He’s a system guy because he runs that triple option on offense and that is going to have a tendency to play poorly when a new crop of players come in. This is essentially what happened in 2015 when GT finished 3-9. QB Justin Thomas returned, but their two leading RBs were freshman. That changed in 2016 when Marcus Marshall & Clinton Lynch returned, but RB Dedrick Mills turned out to be outstanding which gave Johnson quite a bit to work with. That improved the team and GT went 9-4 with a 6-1 record in their last 7 games including road wins over Virginia Tech & Georgia. Johnson doesn’t recruit the kinds of players that a lot of other schools are able to. He’s still won two ACC Coastal division championships in the last 5 years and the Yellow Jackets are a team nobody wants to face.

#26 – Kirk Ferentz – Iowa

Ferentz is probably underrated here, but you can’t help but be a little disappointed in Iowa every time they look like they are going to turn a corner. In 2015, Iowa had a tremendous year finishing with a perfect regular season but lost the Big 10 championship game to Michigan St. and the Rose Bowl to Stanford to put a black mark on an otherwise outstanding season. They followed that up last year with an 8-5 campaign that should have been 10-3. But we’ve seen this before from Ferentz. Iowa was 31-7 from 2002-2004 but followed those 3-years with a 3-year record of 19-18 from 2005-2007! The Hawkeyes finished 11-2 in 2009 but followed that up with an 8-5 season. Iowa has spurts of greatness but they are never sustained. Given the talent disparity between an Iowa and say a Michigan/Ohio State, what Ferentz has done in Iowa City is spectacular, but for some reason it always seems a bit disappointing. Iowa should win 10 games a year.

#25 – Paul Chryst – Wisconsin

The jury is still out on Chryst at this point, but the early returns are nothing short of incredible. Chyrst took over for Gary Andersen once Andersen bolted for Oregon State and the Badgers haven’t missed a beat. In his two seasons in Madison, Chryst is 21-6 with a Big 10 record of 13-4 with a Big 10 West division title in 2016. Chryst hasn’t had the most stable offensive game plan the last couple of seasons. In 2015 he had to deal with the loss of RB Corey Clement. Last he had to break in a new starting QB when Joel Stave graduated. What has been constant for Chryst is having a TREMENDOUS defense led by great coordinators. Dave Aranda was DC for Chryst in 2015 before bolting for LSU in 2016. In 2016, Chyrst hired Justin Wilcox to be DC, but Wilcox is now the HC for Cal. This year, former Badger Jim Leonard, takes over after having studied under both Aranda & Wilcox. If Chryst turns in another 11-win season, he’ll shoot up these rankings.

#24 – Dana Holgorsen – West Virginia

I’m a big fan of Holgorsen and he has the Mountaineers trending in the right direction. In 2014 WVU went 7-6. They improved to 8-5 a year later before having somewhat of a coming out party last season when they finished 10-3 (7-2) which was the best record West Virginia has had in the Big XII under Holgorsen. The interesting thing to see with Holgorsen is if he can continue the trend. Recruiting has dropped just a bit the last couple of years and it won’t be easy with the Mountaineers losing their starting QB along with a couple of their best defenders. It’s always going to be hard to compete with Oklahoma & Texas in conference play, but Holgorsen should have WVU set up enough that if one of the powers slip up, West Virginia should be right there to take advantage. That’s the key at this point. When does WVU get home games against Oklahoma & Texas in the same year and can they be primed to beat both of them?

#23 – David Cutcliffe – Duke

Last year’s 4-8 (1-7) team was disappointing but the 4-years prior to 2016 saw Duke finish 33-20, win the ACC Coastal once and get to 4-straight bowl games culminating in 2015 with their first bowl win since 1960! Before Cutcliffe came along the Blue Devils had never made it to a bowl game in back-to-back years. Cutcliffe did in back-to-back-to-back-to-back! He’s also been able to sell the football program as Duke has climbed out of the 50s and 60s recruiting rankings into the 30s and 40s. Duke is never going to out-talent anybody and the football team will always play second fiddle to the basketball team, but you can’t dismiss Cutcliffe’s coaching chops at all. Putting this guy at a place like Oregon or Florida would be scary given the resources he’d have to run the program. The ACC is getting tougher, but keep in mind Duke was a bit young last year. Cutcliffe is going to have more experience in 2017 and he’ll get the most out of it.

#22 – Mike Leach – Washington State

The Cougars were a completely mess under Bill Doba and Paul Wulff before the PIRATE took over. All Leach has done is get Wazzou back to a bowl game in his 2nd year and then come within a win over Washington of winning the Pac 12 North in year 5 last season. We shouldn’t be surprised. Leach spent 10 years in Lubbock at Texas Tech where he never posted a losing season and won 8-9 games per season. It took him 3 years to get Washington St. headed in the right direction, but over the last two seasons the team is 17-9 with a conference record of 13-5! Imagine if Leach wasn’t giving away games each season to FCS opponents!? Leach is still having trouble selling Pullman to potential recruits, but he never recruited exceptionally at Texas Tech either and it didn’t seem to matter. You can make a legitimate argument Leach should be much higher. Are there really 21 other coaches you’d rather have than the PIRATE himself?

#21 – Dan Mullen – Mississippi State

I’m only looking at the last 5 years of data for each coach, but it’s impossible ignore what Mullen has done over his team at Mississippi State. His only losing regular season was his first and he’s guided the Bulldogs to 7 straight bowl games. It was amazing how good Dak Prescott ended up for the Cowboys this past season, but what might have been even more impressive is Mullen getting the MSU to a bowl game in the year after Prescott left! Those were enormous shoes to fill and Mullen was still able to get MSU to 6 wins. While he’s never really had Hail State close to competing for a national championship, there have been glimpses. The Bulldogs started the 2012 season off 7-0 and reached #13 before faltering. In 2014, Mississippi St. started the season 9-0 and was ranked #1 before losing at Alabama 25-20. He’s never outrecruited anyone in the SEC West, but MS State keeps winning. There is a reason his name ALWAYS comes up when there is a big time coaching vacancy.

#2o – Brian Kelly – Notre Dame

One thing that stands out about Kelly against his recent predecessors in South Bend was his ability to avoid the bad season. Charlie Weis went 3-9 in 2007. Ty Willingham went 5-7 in 2003. Bob Davie 5-6 in 2001, his last season. But then it happened. Kelly turned in a 4-8 performance last year with HORRIFIC losses to Texas, Duke, NC State, Navy and Virginia Tech. All games the Irish should have won which would have made that 4-8 season a 9-3 season with the potential to get a solid bowl win to finish 10-3. Kelly has to be feeling tremendous heat as HC of the Irish. He’s recruited well, but the on-field results haven’t been good. Notre Dame really hasn’t beaten anyone of note and the championship game they played in against Alabama was a complete and total embarrassment! If Kelly can defend Notre Dame Stadium this fall, the Irish have a real shot at 11-1. Kelly needs it or else ND could be looking elsewhere for a head coach.

May 19, 2017 Posted by | ACC, Big 10, Big XII, Coaching, Duke, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Mississippi St., Notre Dame, Pac 12, Rankings, SEC, USC, Washington St., West Virginia, Wisconsin | 2 Comments

RANKING POWER-65 COLLEGE COACHES – #39 to #30

Here are the links for the first two installments:

#50 – #65
#49-#40

if you need to catch up. Today we hit the thirties and I think the rankings start to become quite a bit more interesting as we start to hit some pretty big names in the coaching world. Let’s get to it.

#39 – P.J. Fleck – Minnesota

Yeah I’m rowing the boat! It’s difficult to argue Fleck’s track record as a first time head coach at Western Michigan. In his first year he led the Broncos to an 1-11 season. By his 4th year, WMU finished with a perfect 13-0 season before losing to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl 24-16. Western finished 29-11 (20-4) in Fleck’s last 3 years as HC. Fleck brings an excitement to Minnesota that Gophers fans haven’t experienced since Murray Warmath led Minnesota to back-to-back Rose Bowls in 1960-1961! You probably don’t even remember those teams unless you were born in the 1940s or early 1950s! It’s hard to argue with his success, but Fleck faces a completely different animal in the Big 10. Iowa, Nebraska & Wisconsin aren’t Ball St., Kent St. and Bowling Green. It’ll be interesting to see if Fleck can raise the ceiling for Gopher football.

#38 – Tom Herman – Texas

The hottest coaching prospect last season who happened to have deep roots in Texas wound up as the new HC for the Longhorns after the university had had enough of Charlie Strong’s leadership. As with Fleck, it’s almost impossible to deny Herman’s track record. He was Urban Meyer’s OC at Ohio State before jumping to the head coaching job at Houston where in his first season, Herman led the Cougars to a 13-1 record and a final ranking inside the top-10! I think Herman is a better fit within the Texas culture than Strong was and he’ll do well. He’s a good solid coach that connects with players and it won’t be long before he’s tearing it up on the recruiting trail once he gets the foundation of the program built. As with Fleck, the road will be a bit tougher. Playing in the American isn’t the Big XII and instead of Tulane, East Carolina and Memphis, Herman will go up against Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., TCU, Baylor and Kansas State.

#37 – Willie Taggart – Oregon

Taggart was an interesting hire for Oregon, but once it was known that Chip Kelly wasn’t coming back to college football, the Ducks had to move on and all Taggart has done as his time as a college football coach is build winners. Taggart played prep ball in Florida and then played his college ball at Western Kentucky where he was an assistant for 8 years before taking the RB coaching job at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh. From there he came back to his alma mater to be HC. He inherited a WKU team that went 0-12 the year before Taggart arrived, but in Taggart’s 2nd year, he had WKU at 7-5. In his 3rd and final year he had WKU bowling. Taggart left WKU to return to his home state of Florida and coach USF where he took over a Bulls team that went 3-9 before he arrived. By year 4 the Bulls were 11-2. Now he is going to attempt to bring Oregon back to the heights reached by Chip Kelly. Unlike Herman & Fleck above, Taggart has hit the recruiting trail hard and it is paying off early. It’ll be interesting to see how Taggart does at an elite program with massive resources. His track record speaks for itself.

#36 – Bret Bielema – Arkansas

The decision to leave Wisconsin for Arkansas was an interesting one for Bielema a few years ago and after the Hogs 2016 campaign, the shine is off of Arkansas’s head coach. Bielema took over a program that was in pretty bad shape after a year of John Smith as HC coming off the Bobby Petrino scandal. Bielema’s first year wasn’t pretty as Arkansas went 3-9 without a win in conference play, but by year 3 (2015), Arkansas 8-5 (5-3) and poised to potentially step into the role of challenger to Alabama in the SEC West. It wasn’t meant to be as Arkansas regressed last season to 7-6 (3-5) with a bowl loss. The 7-6 isn’t completely awful, but the losses were terrible. Arkansas was blown out in all of their losses except a close loss to Missouri which itself was inexcusable. I’m not completely sold on Bielema’s style of offense working in the SEC West, and truth be told, the worst thing for Bielema is having to live up the incredible expectations Bobby Petrino set when he was in Fayetteville. LSU has been dealing with a similar situation after Nick Saban took the Tigers to top-5 status.

#35 – Gary Andersen – Oregon State

Andersen is one of my favorite head coaches in college football and Oregon St. is one of my favorite teams. The two coming together was great for me as I think college football is better when Oregon State is relevant. That’s probably just me, but so what! It’s interesting that I ended up with Bielema and Andersen together as both left Wisconsin for other jobs. Andersen is a helluva head coach. He turned Utah State into an 11-win team with a WAC championship in 4 season. He took Wisconsin to a Big 10 West title in his 2nd year. When Mike Riley left Oregon St. for Nebraska, their was quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding the Beavers program. Andersen came in and struggled his first year going 2-10 (0-9) but in his 2nd season last year, the Beavers improved to 4-8 (3-6) with conference wins over California, Arizona and hated rival Oregon! The scoring defense and scoring offense were also improved by 7 points each. The Pac 12 North is getting scary good with Chris Petersen doing work at Washington, Mike Leach winning at Washington St. and Willie Taggart taking over at Oregon, but something tells me Andersen is going to make life hard for those guys.

#34 – Justin Fuente – Virginia Tech

Absolutely love what Fuente did with the Hokies last season. Fuente had a lot of success at Memphis before taking the Virginia Tech job, but he’s been nothing but spades since landing in Blacksburg. Keeping Bud Foster on staff as DC was a genius move and speaks volumes as to the kind of man Foster is. Fuente also brought a run heavy attack to Virginia Tech which I think works in their favor. The Hokies have always been known under Bud Foster for having a very intimidating, turnover causing, very fast defense that hits exceptionally hard. Keeping those guys fresh and healthy by dominating time of possession is outstanding strategy that Fuente used last year to win the ACC Coastal in his first season where VT finished the year 10-4 and ranked #16 in the AP. Fuente is making deep strides in recruiting already and once the talent is assembled, Virginia Tech is going to be extremely difficult to handle.

#33 – Hugh Freeze – Mississippi

Like Bielema, the shine has dulled a bit on Freeze’s tenure in Oxford. After improving by a win each year for 3 straight years after a 7-6 campaign in 2012, Freeze and the Rebels took a tremendous step back last season finishing 5-7 (2-6). The overall records can also be a bit misleading as Freeze’s 5-year record in SEC play is not even .500 at 19-21. The bigger problem is the controversy surrounding the Ole Miss program and the NCAA violations. Ole Miss has taken a hit in recruiting already and if recruiting dries up for the Rebels then that spells disaster in arguably the most competitive division in all of college football. There is no question that Freeze can make Ole Miss great. He proved that in 2015, but how he deals with a potential fall out from these mistakes will be telling. The best news for Freeze at this point is that he’s still head coach and that QB Shea Patterson decided to stick around. With no bowl eligibility this season, Ole Miss should be playing like a teach with a chip on their shoulder.

#32 – Mike MacInytre – Colorado

You knew it was only a matter of time before Coach Mac had Colorado on the cusp of greatness. When MacIntyre got his first job as a HC at San Jose State, he finished 1-12 (0-8) in his first season as the Spartans leader. In year 3, San Jose St. went 10-2 (5-1) and beat Bowling Green in the Military Bowl! MacIntyre used that success to grab the Colorado job and what he did in Year 4 in Boulder almost defies reality. The Colorado rebuild wasn’t going to be easy. Not by a long shot. MacIntyre’s first 3 years as HC witnessed Colorado post a combined record of 10-27 with a conference record of 2-25!!!! Those were 3 straight last place finishes in the Pac 12 South! Last season, MacIntyre broke though HUGE as Colorado went 10-4 (8-1), won the Pac 12 South and drew Oklahoma St. in the Alamo Bowl. The Buffs posted wins over Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Arizona, Utah, and Washington State! It was a BANNER year that was dampened a bit by losing 41-10 to Washington in the Pac 12 championship and 38-8 to Oklahoma St. in the Alamo Bowl. Was the breakthrough real, or did Coach Mac take advantage of an unusually weak Pac 12? Oregon was way down. UCLA was down. Arizona St. & Arizona were down. They beat Stanford 10-5 in an ugly contest and drew Utah & Washington St. in Boulder. I’m betting on MacIntyre. I think Colorado is good, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Buffaloes regressed just a bit in 2017.

#31 – Larry Fedora – North Carolina

This feels low considering it was just two years ago that Fedora led the Tar Heels to an 11-3 (8-0) record that saw the UNC win the ACC Coastal relatively easy. A deeper look though and you come away disappointed just a bit. That 2015 season was smoke and mirrors as UNC finished the regular season 11-1 but didn’t play a ranked opponent all season. They lost to Clemson in the ACC Championship game and then lost to Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Last season, the Coastal was again ripe for the taking but UNC gags at home to NC State in the season finale 28-21 and loses to Duke in Durham two weeks before 28-27! That seems ridiculous when you consider just how much offensive firepower the Heels had last season. Fedora has had some good seasons in Chapel Hill but no great ones and that task is going to get tougher and tougher now that Virginia Tech is in seemingly good hands with Justin Fuente and Miami-FL now has one of the best coaches in all of college football in Mark Richt. I really like Fedora and believe he can climb the rankings, but at this point it seems as if UNC has missed a couple of opportunities.

#30 – Mike Riley – Nebraska

The problem with Nebraska is that haven’t found anyone that can take the program to the heights that Tom Osborne did. Frank Solich wasn’t horrible actually and had a few top-10 squads in Lincoln, but not enough big time wins against bit time teams. The hiring of Bill Callahan was a disaster and Bo Pelini couldn’t quite get Nebraska past the 9-4/10-4 mark. Now Mike Riley gets his chance. Riley did wonderful things at Oregon St., and I was a bit surprised that he took the Cornhuskers job, but Oregon St. isn’t Nebraska and Riley now has every resource available to him. In his first season Nebraska wasn’t great at 6-7 (3-5) but last year Riley improved to 9-4 (6-3) with a perfect 7-0 record at home. Nebraska was even ranked #7 in the nation at one point after starting 7-0! It wouldn’t last as Nebraska would go on to lose games to Iowa, Ohio St., Wisconsin & Tennessee, but the season was a win. Riley is making big strides in recruiting and I think he’s putting an emphasis on the Black Shirts which is getting back to Nebraska football.

May 17, 2017 Posted by | ACC, Arkansas, Big 10, Big XII, Coaching, Colorado, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Oregon St., Pac 12, Rankings, SEC, Texas, Virginia Tech | 3 Comments

RANKING POWER-65 COLLEGE FOOTBALL COACHES – #49 to #40

If you missed the rankings for the coaches ranked #65 to #50, you can find it here or just keep scrolling and it’s the post directly after this one. We left off with Arizona HC Rich Rodriguez at #50 so let’s take a look at the coaches landing in the forties.

#49 – Kliff Kingsbury – Texas Tech

I’m not as down on Kingsbury as some people are. He’s heading into 2017 on the hot seat to be certain, but I don’t think it’s been all bad. Texas Tech isn’t the easiest place to win and so far in his 4 years in Lubbock, Kingsbury is 24-26 overall and 13-23 in conference play. Those aren’t tremendous numbers, but if you look at the league historically, the Red Raiders are following Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma St., TCU, Kansas St. and West Virginia. That makes them 7th in the league and a good coach at Baylor puts Tech 8th. Kingsbury has yet to record a winning record in conference play, but he recruits fairly well and I think he’s good for the university and the program. If trends hold, he should be in for a 7-9 win season in 2017.

#48 – Dave Doeren – North Carolina State

Doeren didn’t walk into a great situation given how NC State AD Debbie Yow dismissed his predecessor Tom O’Brien. Yow essentially cited lack of enthusiasm for the football program as justification for canning O’Brien, but in O’Brien’s last 3 seasons, NC State went 24-14 (13-11). In Doeren’s last 3 seasons as HC, the Wolfpack have went 22-17 (9-15). Yow wanted a football coach who could bring in Top-25 classes. Doeren hasn’t done that either. With that said, Doeren has been consistently 7-6/8-5 in his last 3 years, but he’s also went 3-5 in conference play those same three seasons. I think a coach can win at NC State & Doeren is doing just that, but he needs a breakthrough season with 9-10 wins.

#47 – Todd Graham – Arizona State

A lot of what I wrote about Rich Rodriguez can be written about Todd Graham as well. Graham is better than this but the Sun Devils have been regressing for a couple of year now. In 2013-2014, the Sun Devils posted a 20-7 record. The last two years that total has dropped to 11-14. Graham has been better than Rodriguez in conference play, but only marginally so. ASU went 8-1 in the Pac 12 South in 2013 and won the division. Just 3 years later they finished 2-7 and this is with USC still somewhat regrouping. Graham has recruited top-25 level classes to Tempe and Sun Devil Stadium can be a bear to play in for opposing teams. ASU was pretty young last year and I think 2017 will see a much improve Sun Devils squad.

#46 – Kevin Sumlin – Texas A&M

Sumlin’s star could have been any brighter after the 2012 season when he took the Aggies to an 11-2 record and a final ranking in the top-5. A&M would beat a #1 ranked Alabama team that year and then go on to humiliate a solid Oklahoma team in the Cotton Bowl. QB Johnnie Manziel wasn’t quite as spectacular in 2013 and the Aggies dropped to 9-4. Life after Manziel hasn’t been promising either as Sumlin has turned in 3 consecutive 8-5 seasons with a slew of QB transfers that can’t help morale down in College Station. Making matters worse is that Texas A&M is 15-17 in SEC play over the last 4 years & Alabama isn’t going away. Life in the SEC West isn’t easy and Sumlin probably enters 2017 on a seat that is heating up.

#45 – Derek Mason – Vanderbilt

Mason has to deal with some of the difficulties of being a HC at a school like Vanderbilt in much the same way that Northwestern, Duke, Stanford and even possibly Virginia has to deal with. Stanford is somewhat of an exception, but Vanderbilt is the only one of those schools playing the SEC which makes their ceiling quite a bit lower. You can’t help but be impressed with Mason so far in taking over for James Franklin. Mason cut his teeth under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw at Stanford so he knows the drill. His first year in Nashville saw Vandy post a 3-9 (0-8) record. Last year, Mason’s 3rd, Vandy improved to 6-7 (3-5) with a bowl appearance. The rebuild wasn’t as fast as James Franklin coming in, but the Commodores are in good hands.

#44 – Mark Stoops – Kentucky

Like Mason, you can’t help but be impressed by the work Stoops is doing in Lexington. Stoops took over a disaster of a program left behind by Joker Phillips and turned them into a bowl team 4 years later. In Stoops’s first year (2013), UK was terrible going 2-10 (0-8) but last year the Wildcats jumped to 7-6 (4-4) and got a rivalry win over Louisville! Stoops has shown the ability to recruit top-25 level classes to Kentucky which is borderline amazing considering they are surrounded by football blue bloods which is another feather in Stoops’ cap. UK was smart to stick with their HC despite back-to-back 5-7 (2-6) seasons. It paid off in spades last year with UK having their best season since 2009. The talent is there for UK to be even better in 2017.

#43 – Dave Clawson – Wake Forest

Wake Forest hasn’t been relevant since the days of Riley Skinner and Aaron Curry. When Clawson took over in 2014, the Demon Deacons hasn’t had a winning season since 2008 nor had they had a bowl win since 2008. Winning in Winston-Salem isn’t exactly easy which is why it was so amazing what Jim Grobe was able to accomplish with Wake. He couldn’t sustain that and eventually Wake ended up being a sub-.500 team which led to Clawson’s hire. Clawson had to do some rebuilding his first two seasons which saw WF finish with back-to-back 3-9 (1-7) seasons, but the Deacons broke through last year finishing 7-6 (3-5) including a bowl win over a very good Temple squad. That’s solid progress for this program.

#42 – Butch Jones – Tennessee

This is probably too low for Jones. I’m of the opinion that the Vols should have never fired Fulmer, but I’m also not sure Fulmer was going to get Tennessee another national title which should always be the goal in Knoxville. Tennessee made a couple of bad hires in Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley and Jones was hired to clean up the mess. In his first season UT went 5-7. In his 2nd the Vols went 7-6 followed up by back to back 9-4 seasons. That’s progress, but to a degree Jones’s tenure at Tennessee has been marked by disappointment. In and SEC East where Missouri won a couple of division titles, Tennessee has come up empty despite SC not being very good and Florida being in a holding pattern until McElwain showed up. Is that a missed opportunity? It sure seems like it. Throw in the fact that UT is 14-18 in SEC play during Jones’s stay and he doesn’t look so good.

#41 – Jim Mora – UCLA

Like Jones, I think Mora is somewhat disappointing which is why he’s ranked in the 40s instead of the 20s. Last season was depressing with expectations that weren’t close to being met. The Bruins entered the 2016 season as the odds on favorite to win the Pac 12 South. With Washington thought to still be a year away, with USC still in rebuilding mode and with Oregon headed towards disaster, the conference and potential playoff spot was ripe for the taking. Instead, UCLA turned in a 4-8 season that saw star QB Josh Rosen miss half the season and potential 1st round NFL Pick DT Eddie Vanderdoes turn in an underwhelming season. The talent is here & Rosen is great so there is time for Mora to improve his stock in 2017.

#40 – Pat Narduzzi – Pittsburgh

Narduzzi was a tough one to figure out. On the one hand it seems as if he’s a little underrated. Since coming to Pittsburgh, he’s led the Panthers to a 16-10 overall record with an 11-5 mark in conference play. Last year’s Pitt squad was the best they’ve fielded since Dave Wannstedt took Pitt to a 10-3 final record back in 2009. On the other hand, the team under Narduzzi has also been puzzling. The 16-10 record is nice, but if you have watched Pitt the last two years, it could have been so much more. Last year the Panthers lost 4 games by a total of 18 points! The year before they lost 4 games by a total of 27 points. If Narduzzi can figure out how to win close games, we might be looking at a dominant Panthers team. However, Pittsburgh is also 0-2 in bowl games under Narduzzi’s watch & the defense got worse from 2015 to 2016 despite Narduzzi’s reputation as a defensive wizard. Narduzzi loses a truck load of talent so we’ll see how he responds in 2017.

May 15, 2017 Posted by | ACC, Arizona St., Big XII, Coaching, Kentucky, NC State, Pac 12, Pittsburgh, Rankings, SEC, Tennessee, Texas AM, Texas Tech, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest | 4 Comments

RANKING POWER-65 COLLEGE FOOTBALL COACHES – #50 to #65

Let’s get back into action with some college football talk. This marks the beginning of my ranking the 65 Power college football coaches in the nation. I looked all the head coaches from the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC, ACC and Notre Dame. I took the last 5 years and looked at their records, conference records, history, recruiting efforts, bowl records and the overall trends of their team over these past 5 seasons. I’ll go in reverse order starting at the bottom and working my way up by 10 spots. This beginning post will start with the bottom 15. Here we go!

#65 – Chris Ash – Rutgers

Ash didn’t exactly walk into the best situation given the Kyle Flood controversy but in his first year in New Brunswick, the former Ohio St. DC finished 2-10 with a conference record of 0-9. His 2016 recruiting class also ranked #78 according to Rivals meaning talent isn’t pouring into New Jersey either. Most of Rutgers games weren’t even that competitive. In their games against Ohio St., Michigan, Michigan St. and Penn St., the Scarlet Knights were outscored 224-0! The Big 10 East isn’t the easiest division to play in, but good grief Rutgers can’t get HAMMERED like that. Ash probably has a little more rope but another 2-10 (0-9) season might spell disaster.

#64 – David Beaty – Kansas

Beatty has gone 2-22 in his first two seasons in Lawrence with a Big 12 record of 1-17. There has been improvement. Beatty went 0-12 his first season at the helm and improved by 2 games last season to 2-10. He also improved his conference record from 0-9 to 1-8. The powers that be at KU thought enough of that improvement to give Beaty a contract extension through 2021! Beaty did lead Kansas to their first win over Texas since 1938 and they came pretty close to beating Iowa St. and TCU! Recruiting it up a bit and Beaty has a chance to improve this ranking quite a bit. Sure Kansas only won 2 games, but in 2015, their average margin of defeat was 30.8 PPG. In 2016 it was 17.0!

#63 – Barry Odom – Missouri

Almost impossible to replace a HC like Gary Pinkel who had tremendous success at Missouri, but if there is anyone that knows Pinkel it’s Odom. Another positive about Odom is that there can’t possibly be a more dyed in the wool Mizzou Tiger than Odom himself. There will never be a lack of passion for Missouri football coming from the head coach! Odom’s first year as HC wasn’t a great one as the Tigers went 4-8 (2-6). That was the worst record the Tigers have had since 2000 when Missouri went 3-8 the year before Gary Pinkel was hired. Pinkel’s worst record in 15 years was 4-7. Odom has his work cut out for him and he needs to recruit better, but Pinkel did more with less so maybe he can too.

#62 – Bronco Mendenhall – Virginia

Mendenhall is a tough one to evaluate. His first year in Charlottesville was a disaster as the Cavaliers went 2-10 with a 1-7 conference record. I don’t think much was expected of Virginia in Mendenhall’s first season, but Virginia should have been at least comparable to their 2015 version which went 4-8. Instead, they regressed. Sometimes seasons can go sideways and that seems to be the case with Virginia. They shouldn’t have lost to FCS Richmond to open the season. They let road games at UConn and Wake Forest get away from them as well. Those 3 games turning to wins would have at least allowed UVA to get to 5-7. There is a lot of room to move up this season for Mendenhall.

#61 – Lovie Smith – Illinois

Before last season, the last time Lovie Smith coached in the college ranks was 1995 when he was DB coach for Ohio State. He was the head coach for the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 11 years leading the Bears to a Super Bowl in 2006, so it was quite an odd move that Smith would leave the NFL for collegiate football and all the headaches involved with recruiting 16 and 17 year old boys. Smith got a rude awakening his first season. The Illini finished 3-9 (2-7) with one of their wins coming against Murray State. The games weren’t even that competitive and Smith didn’t exactly tear it up on the recruiting trail. With Jeff Brohm and PJ Fleck joining the Big 10 West, it’s not getting any easier.

#60 – Dino Babers – Syracuse

Babers was an assistant coach for almost 30 years before he finally got his shot at Eastern Illinois and made the most of it. He went 19-7 with EIU winning back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference championships. He parlayed that job into the head coaching gig at Bowling Green and did well there too. Babers posted an 18-9 record with the Falcons, winning the MAC East in both years and the MAC championship in 2015. He traded that job for a Power-5 conference job with Syracuse. Unfortunately for Babers, he didn’t do as well at Syracuse as he did with EIU and BG. A 4-8 (2-6) record wasn’t fantastic and Babers didn’t kill it on the recruiting trail either. He still has plenty of time left.

#59 – Justin Wilcox – California

Wilcox has never been a head coach but for the last 11 years he’s been the defensive coordinator for Boise St., Tennessee, Washington, USC & Wisconsin. In those seasons here is how his defenses ranked in scoring defense:

2006: #20 (Boise St.)
2007: #26 (Boise St.)
2008: #3 (Boise St.)
2009: #13 (Boise St.)
2010: #56 (Tennessee)
2011: #36 (Tennessee)
2012: #39 (Washington)
2013: #29 (Washington)
2014: #46 (USC)
2015: #50 (USC)
2016: #4 (Wisconsin)

Clearly Wilcox has a track record of success which is good for Cal because the Bears haven’t had anything resembling a decent defense these past 5 seasons. Losing QB Davis Webb will be tough, but Wilcox will do a good job if he can keep Cal from giving up 40PPG.

#58 – Tom Allen – Indiana

Allen did a stellar job as a defensive coach at Ole Miss and South Florida before coming onto Kevin Wilson’s staff last season as the defensive coordinator. Allen didn’t disappoint, improving the Hoosiers’ scoring defense by 10PPG! That’s good news for Indiana as their problem has always been on the defensive side of the football. Allen has never been a head coach and his ascension to the throne was somewhat odd in light of the dismissal of former HC Kevin Wilson, but I think Indiana is in a much better place with Allen leading the charge than with Wilson, even if Wilson guided the Hoosiers to back-to-back bowl appearances. It doesn’t get any worse than the Big 10 East, but Allen has started recruiting well which is a good beginning.

#57 – D.J. Durkin – Maryland

Durkin’s first year in Maryland doesn’t look horrible when you consider the Terps were 6-6 during the regular season and getting bowl eligible before losing the bowl game to finish 6-7. A deeper look is a little more rough as Maryland started the season 4-0 against garbage competition and then finished 2-6 in their final 8 with wins over Rutgers & Michigan State, two team who combined for a 1-17 conference record. That’s hardly awe inspiring. Maryland also lost to Ohio St., Michigan and Nebraska by a combined score of 149-13. That’s not Rutgers territory, but it’s not great either. Durkin is recruiting well in College Park and he’s in a fertile recruiting ground which makes it easier. Still a lot of room to make up on Ohio St., Michigan & Penn State.

#56 – Ed Orgeron – LSU

I get the pull of Orgeron being a Louisiana native and who in their right mind isn’t in love with the guy, but I wonder if LSU made the right call in bringing their native son back home to head up the Bayou Bengals? For Orgeron, this is a shot at redemption. There is no question that Orgeron can recruit with the best of them and he’s in a prime spot to bring in a top-5 class annually. There is also no question that Orgeron is a helluva defensive coach as well and the Tigers will most certainly have his fingerprints all over their defensive identity. The question will be whether or not Orgeron can pull it all together. He’ll need a strong staff around him, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Orgeron will get it done.

#55 – Matt Campbell – Iowa State

It wasn’t a banner year in Matt Campbell’s first year in Ames has head coach of the Cyclones, but the 3-9 record hid some exciting trends. The Cyclones let a close to Northern Iowa get away from them but they also played Oklahoma, Kansas St., Oklahoma St., and Baylor very close. ISU picked up conference wins over Kansas & Texas Tech, even beating the Red Raiders 66-10 which was Iowa St., most lopsided win since the Cyclones beat Colorado St. 69-0 back in 1980! Campbell is young and energetic. He had tremendous success at Toledo and he has recruiting trending the right direction. There is no reason to believe that Iowa St. can’t be a bowl eligible team on a yearly basis under his watch.

#54 – Matt Rhule – Baylor

Hard to argue with Rhule’s bonafides. His first year at Temple was 2-10. His 3rd year the Owls were 10-4 and AAC East champions. His 4th year they were 10-3 and AAC Champions! The only thing that was tough to argue about Rhule was his taking the Baylor job to begin with. Rhule is a Penn St. graduate and all of his experience is just not east, but east of Ohio! Now he’s smack in the middle of Texas against some HEAVY HITTERS in Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. That’s not easy, and I’m not even mentioning the inroads that places like Notre Dame, Alabama and LSU have made the Lone Star State. Rhule will definitely have the Bears playing outstanding defense early.

#53 – Will Muschamp – South Carolina

I’m probably being a little hard on Muschamp here seeing how in his first season he took the Gamecocks to bowl eligibility when nobody except the most dedicated Gamecocks fans though SC would do anything but finish in the basement of the SEC East. My only caveat is that South Carolina and Muschamp worked the schedule which allowed SC to finish 6-6 and get to a bowl. Their non-conference wins included those against East Carolina, UMass and Western Carolina. Missouri was in the tank last year and Vanderbilt wasn’t great so there is 5 wins there. An upset win, which they got over Tennessee, was all SC needed. Muschamp will recruit well enough. Let’s see how his 2nd stint through the SEC East goes.

#52 – Jeff Brohm – Purdue

Brohm wasted little time building off of what Willie Taggart and Bobby Petrino did before him at Western Kentucky. Brohm finished his time in Bowling Green with a 30-10 record with a 19-5 mark in Conference USA play. In his last two seasons at WKU, Brohm led the Hilltoppers to a 22-5 mark including 2 bowl wins and a CUSA record of 15-1 which led to back-to-back conference championships. Brohm had Western Kentucky’s offense flying and the Hilltoppers actually led all of FBS in scoring offense in 2016. Brohm inherits a mess at Purdue, but he’ll get the offense rolling and if the defense follows suit, the Boilermakers could definitely start making noise in the Big 10 West.

#51 – Steve Addazio – Boston College

Addazio’s a tough one to figure out. I think what you have to wonder is what kind of ceiling does a program like Boston College really have? Addazio has went 7-6 in 3 of his 4 years on Chestnut Hill and is 1-2 in bowl games. That’s isn’t terrible when you consider that BC plays in the same division as Clemson, Florida St., and Louisville. In reality, BC is probably looking at a ceiling like 8-4/9-3 and Addazio is pretty close to having the Eagles at this mark with some aspect of sustainability. I think he could recruit better to be sure. Boston College should be able to get better players than what they have. Matt Ryan & Doug Flutie showed how good BC can be when they get elite level talent on the roster.

#50 – Rich Rodriguez – Arizona

Rodriguez is better than this but his teams certainly aren’t playing like it. Rodriguez had somewhat of a breakthrough in 2014 when the Wildcats went 10-4 and won the Pac 12 North, but it was colored a bit by a 51-13 loss to Oregon in the Pac 12 Championship game followed up by a 38-30 loss to Boise St. in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2015 the Wildcats dropped to 7-6 and last year Arizona completely collapsed finishing 3-9 with a 1-8 mark in conference play! Arizona’s conference record over the past two seasons is 4-14 and Rodriguez’s recruiting classes have been trending downward. USC seems to be stabilizing under Clay Helton. Colorado is emerging. That doesn’t play well for RichRod in the Pac 12 South.

May 14, 2017 Posted by | ACC, Arizona, Baylor, Big 10, Big XII, Boston College, California, Coaching, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa St., Kansas, LSU, Maryland, Missouri, Pac 12, Purdue, Rankings, Rutgers, SEC, South Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia | 5 Comments

2016 SEC PREVIEW AND PREDICTIONS

It’s that time of year again! Football is in the air! Kicking off my previews this season is the SEC. You might as well start with the best and there is no question that the SEC is the best conference in college football. Here are my predictions along with a brief preview of how the SEC divisions will shake out in 2016.

SEC WEST #1 – ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

Offense: There has been an awful lot of talk about Alabama’s potential drop off in offense given the loss of RB Derrick Henry & QB Jake Coker, but Alabama has lost offensive starters before and the team seems to pick up right where they left off. Losing Henry isn’t a huge deal. When TJ Yeldon left Henry picked it up. When Trent Richardson left, Yeldon picked it up. When Mark Ingram left, Richardson picked it up. This year it’ll be up to Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, DeSherrius Flowers & BJ Emmons to pick up the pace. Which of them becomes the lead back is anyone’s guess, but somebody for Alabama is going to run the football & run it effectively. I also think it’s somewhat irrelevant whether or not Blake Barnett or Cooper Bateman become the starting QB. The QB will have weapons galore in the form of potential 1st Team All-Americans Calvin Ridley at WR & OJ Howard at TE. Throw in ArDarius Stewart & Robert Foster and the offense looks almost unstoppable. Alabama returns 3 OL including LT Cam Robinson would is a potential #1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. True frosh Jonah Williams & JUCO Charles Baldwin could also play significant time along the O-Line. It sounds crazy to think an offense wouldn’t take a step back after losing a Heisman Trophy winner in their RB & their starting QB after both of those guys were key cogs on a team that won a national championship, but Alabama might be able to say just that.

Defense: Nasty. Downright NASTY! Alabama has 4 guys on my preseason 1st team All-SEC. They have 7 on my first & second team. I listed 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th team All-SEC players in my preview & Alabama has 9 players represented! Alabama got a couple of big boosts defensively when DE Jonathan Allen & S Eddie Jackson decided to return to school. Both are potential 1st Team All-Americans. Like the offense, the Alabama defense suffered some losses, but it’s possible they actually got better! A’Shawn Robinson & Jarran Reed were 2nd round picks in the draft but replacement Dalvin Tomlinson & Da’Shawn Hand have the ability to be just as good. Throw in an improving Jonathan Allen & the D-Line is INCREDIBLE. Tim Williams & Ryan Anderson return at OLB where they combined for 16.5 sacks & 24TFL in 2015. Reggie Ragland departs but Rueben Foster is being touted as a potential 1st Team All-American. CB Cyrus Jones is another draft pick but Alabama has Minkah Fitzpatrick & Marlon Humprhey at corner who were both just freshman a year ago! Throw in Ronnie Harrison & Tony Brown in the secondary & there isn’t anyone that can touch them. It’s conceivable that Alabama could have the best collection of players of any team in the nation at all 3 levels of the defense. The best defense since Nick Saban has been in Tuscaloosa was Alabama’s 2011 version when the Tide allowed 8.2 points per game. You can make an argument that the 2011 Alabama defense was the best defense in college football history. The 2015 version has a chance to top it.

Schedule: Alabama doesn’t have the easiest road back to a national championship. They open the season in Arlington with a game against USC. They have conference road games against Arkansas, Ole Miss & LSU. They drew Tennessee & Kentucky out of the East which isn’t fantastic. They play in Knoxville against a Vols team that could very well be a top-5 team themselves. Even Western Kentucky isn’t awful. The worst part of the schedule is a 5-week span where the Tide go: @Arkansas, @Tennessee, Texas A&M, bye, @LSU. Even with a more difficult schedule, I can’t see anyone beating Alabama unless a team lucks up & stops their offense & is able to score 7-9 points. Remember that in 2011, the Tide did lose in the regular season to LSU 9-6. That is the only plausible scenario in which Alabama loses.

Bottom Line: Even with the losses of a Heisman Trophy winner and your starting QB. Even with a schedule that looks pretty daunting. Even with the mindset of complacency after a national championship win. Even with all those things, I can’t see Alabama losing a game. The defense is going to be historically good at the very least and that in and of itself will separate Alabama from the rest of the teams in the country. The offense will find a way to figure itself out as the Tide get their 5th title under Saban, their 2nd turn as back-to-back champions under Saban, and Saban gets his 6th national championship cementing his status as the greatest collegiate head football coach that has ever walked a sideline.

SEC WEST #2 – LSU TIGERS

Offense: LSU returns 8 starters from an offense that scored 33PPG a season ago. There is no question this offense is going to revolve around 1st Team All-American and Heisman Trophy favorite RB Leonard Fournette. Fournette was outstanding last year rushing for almost 2,000 yards & 22TD. If not for a bad 3-game span against Arkansas, Ole Miss & Alabama, Fournette probably would have walked away with the Heisman with a great opportunity to win back-to-back awards for the first time since Archie Griffin at Ohio State! I’d also expect Derrius Grice to get some carries as well. As a true freshman last year, Grice averaged 8.6ypc with 3TD on only 51 carries! The only issue preventing LSU from being able to score 50PPG is the play of QB Brandon Harris. Harris is under tremendous pressure to produce & there is no reason why he shouldn’t given the plethora of weapons. WRs Malachi Dupre & Travin Dural are big play receivers with great size & experience. TE Collin Jeter is a HUGE target at 6’7/244lbs and could be a mismatch on every passing play LSU runs. During conference play last season Harris completed 54.9% of his passes with a TD:INT ratio of 8:5. That simply isn’t good enough & teams know it. As great as LSU’s running attack might be, the Alabama defense can stop it if it is the only thing they have to worry about. LSU returns 3 starters on the O-Line & the skill position players are outstanding. Harris has to come through now as LSU’s starting QB.

Defense: Let’s forget about the players for a second & concentrate on first year DC Dave Aranda. Aranda’s career as a DC really took off when he joined Gary Andersen’s staff at Utah State in 2012. In 2011, Utah State ranked 68th in scoring defense allowing 27.8PPG. In Aranda’s first year as DC in 2012, Utah St. improved to #7 in the nation allowing just 15.4PPG en route to the Aggies finishing 11-2 which included a WAC championship & a bowl win. When Andersen left Utah St. for Wisconsin, Aranda followed him. The Badgers ranked 16th in scoring defense at 19.1PPG allowed the year before Aranda took over so it isn’t like Wisconsin didn’t defend well, but in his first season the Badgers jumped to #6 in the country at 16.3PPG. In 2014 they dropped to #17 at 20.8PPG allowed but last year Aranda guided the Badgers to the #1 scoring defense in all of football at 13.7PPG allowed. During his 3 years as DC, Wisconsin would amass a 30-10 record. Gary Andersen departed for Oregon St. after the 2014 season but Aranda stayed on for one more season in Madison before coming to LSU. He’s going to switch things up a bit in LSU by turning them into a base 3-4, but Aranda is known for mixing up his fronts. What’s amazing is what this guy has done with the talent on hand and that becomes a VERY SCARY proposition now that he has the very best athletes in the world playing for his defense.  The talent & experience here is INSANE. LSU lost Deion Jones to the NFL but getting Kendall Beckwith back was a huge gain. With guys like Beckwith, Lewis Neal, Davon Godchaux, Arden Key, Tashawn Bower, Tre’Davious White, Kevin Tolliver, Ricky Jefferson & Jamal Adams at his disposal, there is no telling how good the LSU defense will be under Aranda. There could be 6-7 All Americans in that group. Alabama has the best defense in the nation, but LSU could be a lot closer to being the best defense than being the 3rd best defense.

Schedule: Casual fans won’t get the irony but it is interesting that LSU opens up at Lambeau Field against Wisconsin, the team Aranda left to go to Baton Rouge. That isn’t as easy game, but it is an entirely winnable game. The schedule is actually what puts quite a bit of pressure on Les Miles and the Tigers. LSU gets both Alabama & Ole Miss at home. Granted, they play both squads back-to-back but their bye week is sandwiched between with an extra week of rest before Alabama comes to town. Ending the year at Texas A&M isn’t easy and drawing a road game against Florida was a tough one, but getting Bama & the Rebels in Baton Rouge is the real key here. If the Tigers can stay perfect at home, there is no reason why they don’t finish the season 12-0.

Bottom Line: If things go as I see them, LSU is going to push hard to be a 2nd team in the 4-team playoff from the same conference. This smacks of what we saw in 2011 when LSU went 13-0 only to lose to an 11-1 Alabama team in the BCS Championship game in a rematch of the 9-6 LSU win earlier in the year that Alabama would avenge with a 21-0 win & a national title. Any rational argument would have LSU #1 and Alabama at #2 given the losses Alabama has, but Nick Saban has Alabama on a completely different leven than any other college football program at the moment, not to mention, with Les Miles it’s always wait & see. Hiring Aranda might have saved his job because Miles will stick it out here if he finishes 12-1.

SEC WEST #3 – TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Offense: I think people are sleeping on Texas A&M as some publications out there are predicting A&M to finish anywhere in the SEC West from 5th to 6th! That’s insane & it starts with the offense. Anywhere HC Kevin Sumlin has went, his teams have scored big time points, and it’s not always a by product of Johnny Manziel. A&M averaged 35+PPG in 2014 when Kenny Hill & Kyle Allen were playing QB. In 2010 the Houston Cougars under Sumlin averaged 37.7PPG with freshman David Piland playing for the injured Case Keenum. Last year the QB position was a disaster with Kyle Allen & Kyler Murray not playing all that well. Both transferred which looked bad, but this game an opportunity for former Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight to enter the picture. Knight isn’t a world beater but he played in some TOUGH games at Oklahoma & the stage won’t be too big for him. He’s also an experienced leader. There won’t be any questions regarding the QB position which will filter into the INCREDIBLE array of talent around him. WRs Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones & Speedy Noil have to be hands down the best WR corps in the nation. Any QB in the country would be envious to have those guys. How can Knight not flirt with 4,000 pass yards & 30TD? Keith Ford, another former Oklahoma player, takes over as RB. Ford is a big time talent that will finally get to start. The O-Line is a little raw, but the added stability to the QB position completely changes the complexion of the team for the better.

Defense: If you believe in QB pressure is a good predictor of team success, then Texas A&M should rank right up there with some of the best teams in the country. DE Myles Garrett returns for his junior year & is looking to become the #1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Teams can’t completely worry about him though because Daeshon Hall is a load at 6’6/260lbs & can get after the QB from the other side. Daylon Mack & Kingley Keke are big time space eaters up the middle who can command double teams giving the Aggies a stout front-4. The secondary should also be a strength behind safeties Justin Evans & Armani Watts along with CB Donovan Wilson. UCLA transfer CB Priest Willis should step in immediately and help at 6’2/200lbs! The linebackers are probably the weakest of the 3 levels of the A&M defense but they are young & talented. Josh Walker is projected as the MIKE LB and he’ll be responsible for bringing that unit up to speed. John Chavis is in his 2nd year as A&M’s DC coordinator & his reputation speaks for itself. A&M ranked 77th in the nation in 2014 in scoring defense allowing 28.1PPG the year before Chavis took over. Last year in his first season, A&M improved to #28 allowing 22PPG. Given the talent assembled here, one thing is for certain is that Texas A&M should be able to bring quite a bit of pressure & they have quite a few guys such as Walker & Watts who can fill up the running lanes. If the LBs can do a good job aggressively stopping the run, this defense will be TOUGH.

Schedule: There is never really an “easy” road in the SEC West, but the Aggies have a schedule they can work with. Their non-conference slate is fairly easy outside of a season opener against UCLA, but that game is in College Station  which is a big break for A&M. The Aggies really benefit by getting Ole Miss & LSU at home. Those two games could really determine whether or not the Aggies finish 2nd or 4th in the division. Sure they play Alabama on the road, but A&M’s other road conference games are against Auburn, South Carolina & Mississippi State. Those are all winnable games. They do draw Tennessee out of the East which isn’t great, but at least it’s a home game. You could make an argument that it would have been easier for the Aggies to play UT in Knoxville & get the Auburn game in College Station if you want to talk about maximizing opportunities for wins. The upshot here is a 10-2/11-1 season if Texas A&M can capitalize on it. If they can’t then Sumlin might be looking for a new job.

SEC WEST #4 – MISSISSIPPI REBELS

Offense: A good & simple way to gauge what teams are best is to see how good the QB is. Who is going to win the AFC East? The Patriots are the safe bet because of Tom Brady. Who is going to win the AFC South? The Colts were a safe bet because of Peyton Manning. Who is going to be really good in the SEC? Ole Miss is a safe bet because Chad Kelly is the best QB in the conference. Kelly had a banner year last season throwing for 4,000+ yards with 31TD & completing 65% of his passes. This year Kelly come emerge as an All-American & Heisman Trophy candidate while playing his way into the 1st Round of the NFL Draft. It would seem like Ole Miss lost quite a bit of skill players with Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core & Jaylen Walton all departing, but TE Evan Engram returns along with WRs Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore’ea Stringellow & Markell Pack. It might not be quite as good as the quartet Texas A&M throws at you, but Ole Miss’s receiving corps looks pretty dominant to me. Kelly should have no issues replicating his 2015 numbers. The big question for Ole Miss is their O-Line. Akeem Judd will be fine replacing Walton, but the O-Line is going to have to block well & pass protect to give Kelly time to operate. Given the pass rushing capabilities of Auburn, Alabama, A&M & LSU, it is imperative the O-Line gels quickly! True frosh Greg Little will replace Laremy Tunsil while Sean Rawlings, Javon Patterson & Robert Conyers provide some continuity. The O-Line is the key to Ole Miss offensive success.

Defense: The Rebels are taking on a few heavy losses with the departures of Robert Nkemdiche, Trae Elston, Mike Hilton, CJ Johnson & Denzel Nkemdiche, but Ole Miss has the chance to have a VERY good defense on the field in 2016. DE Marquis Haynes broke out last season as a reshirt sophomore with 16.5TFL and 10 sacks. I’d expect big numbers again from Haynes although he’ll be a tricky draft prospect next year because his size at 6’3/220lbs is extremely light as a 43DE and he’ll make the transition to 34OLB. At 6’4/280lbs, Fadol Brown makes up for size at the other DE spot. DJ Jones & Breeland Speaks are the DTs at 6’2/310 & 6’4/315lbs. Losing Robert Nkemdiche is a blow but I really like the makeup of this D-line. All 4 guys can get to the QB & Haynes is a potential All-American. The LB corps took some losses but leading tackler DeMarquis Gates and Oregon St. transfer Mageo Rommel will be good enough not to notice losses. Terry Caldwell will also play an important role. Ole Miss runs a lot of 4-2-5 fronts so the LB should have quite a bit of rotation ability. Losing Trae Elston & Mike Hilton from the secondary is tough, but Tony Bridges & Tony Conner are all conference type players with big time size. KenDarius Webster also has a lot of upside as a starting corner. The secondary shouldn’t be a problem. Ole Miss has the makings  of a great defense, but it a tick behind Alabama, LSU & even Texas A&M. With that said, I don’t think the Rebels will have any issues improving upon their 2015 numbers.

Schedule: The schedule burns Ole Miss. While they do get Alabama at home, you have to feel at some point the Tide are going to get sick & tired of losing to Ole Miss every year & figure out a way to beat them. Can Mississippi really beat Alabama for 3 straight years during the Nick Saban era? It sounds ridiculous. The other problem facing Ole Miss is that they draw both LSU & Texas A&M on the road. The schedule might not be as daunting with a veteran QB like Chad Kelly at the helm, but those 3 games looks brutal and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least for Ole Miss to be a top-10 team & yet lose all 3 games. They drew Georgia from the East but that game is in Oxford & the Rebels open the season in Orlando against Florida State. For Ole Miss to have had a national championship run in them, they might have substituted home games against Auburn & Mississippi St. with the road games against LSU and Texas A&M.

Bottom Line: Head coach Hugh Freeze has improved his record at Ole Miss by one game in each of his first 4 years in Oxford. To continue to do so would mean a season in which the Rebels finished 11-2, but I’m not sure that is going to be possible with the schedule at hand. The fact I have Ole Miss as the 4th best team in their own division just adds to the insanity that is also known as the SEC West. When you look at Ole Miss’s roster, you see a team that should be competing for a conference championship & with that a potential national title. In the SEC West it’s good enough for 4th. The one caveat I’ll put on Ole Miss is that they do have the best QB in the conference. The QB counts for a ton of potential victories, then Ole Miss could win the SEC. We’ll find out early as the Rebels host Alabama on September 17th. If they win that game, they CANNOT blow it like they’ve done the last 2 seasons with bad subsequent losses that cost them SEC West titles.

SEC WEST #5 – AUBURN TIGERS

Offense: Running an offense the way Gus Malzahn does is so dependent upon good QB play that it tends to come apart at th seams when the QB isn’t fantastic. The Auburn offense was terrible last season because neither Sean White nor Jeremy Johnson could run the read option/hurry up offense style that Malzhan wants to run. This worked with Cam Newton in 2011 when Malzhan was OC. It also worked in 2013 with Nick Marshall where the Tigers got to the national championship and fell just short of beating Florida St. for the national championship. Jeremy Johnson is 6’5/245lbs but he doesn’t have that other worldly athleticism that Cam Newton has. Sean White’s biggest asset is his arm, but at 6’0/195lbs, you can’t exactly turn him loose. Auburn will turn to John Franklin III this season to play QB. He’s slight of build as well at 6’1/175lbs, but Malzahn hopes that both he & RB Jovon Robinson can find the chemistry that Nick Marshall/Tre Mason and Cam Newton/Mike Dyer had. I think it’s going to work. Robinson is ready to bust out & he’s too talented of a back to not run well. Kerryon Johnson should also play a big role running the football. The Tigers lost quite a bit at WR, but Tony Stevens, Marcus Davis & Jason Smith are all upperclassman with size & experience. TEs Jalen Harris & Landon Rice could both become big time producers as safety valves for Franklin. The interior O-Line should be lights out with Alex Kozan, Braden Smith & Austin Golson. The tackles will have to step up, but Auburn’s offense should be vastly improved.

Defense: It sounds like a broken record, but Auburn has a defensive line that should be one of the best in the entire nation. A big reason why Auburn would be MUCH MUCH better than people are expecting is the play of DE Carl Lawson. Lawson was plagued by injuries last year but he did record 11 QBH in just 7 games. A year to improve & a full slate of games could see that number inch towards 25 which is incredible. Montravious Adams is one of the best DTs in the conference while DT Donatvius Russell & DE Byron Cowart are both only sophomores. Russell showed tremendous ability last year as an interior pass rusher which puts even more pressure on the offense. True freshmen Derrick Brown & Marlon Davidson could also see playing time. At LB War Eagle lost both Kris Forst & Cassanova McKinzy. Both where high productive but Auburn does get Tre Williams back who will move to the middle & QB the defense. Illinois transfer TJ Neal will be a big bonus at LB as he was a 3rd Team All-Big 10 caliber LB last year. Darrell Williams & Jeff Holland will also contend for playing time. Both are very young & very talented. I think Auburn has the chance to have an oustanding secondary. True frosh Carlton Davis was incredible his first year at Auburn & can only get better. He has great size at 6’1/190. Joining him is Ohio St. transfer Jamel Dean who looks spectacular after a knee injury ended his career in Columbus. Jonathan Ford & Tray Matthews are returning starters & safety & Ford is all-conference. It’s potentially a great secondary.

Schedule: Auburn plays in the SEC West with potentially 4 teams having the ability to be in the top-10 so it’s not like the schedule is easy. Their home slate of games though is interesting. They draw Clemson, Texas A&M, LSU & Arkansas at home. They also draw Vanderbilt from the East and get a winnable road game against Mississippi State. The tough road games for Auburn come against Ole Miss, Alabama & Georgia, but if Georgia can’t get it’s QB situation figured out fast enough, Auburn could steal a game in Athens. If they can stay perfect at home, War Eagle could be looking at a 10-2 mark which would be in stark relief over the past 2 seasons in which the Tigers combined to go 15-11. There are a lot of “what if” propositions here which means Auburn can run the table on all of them. With that said, there are some winnable games & Auburn should easily get back to a bowl. The first 4 weeks should tell us a lot as Auburn hosts Clemson, Arkansas State, Texas A&M, and LSU. Going 3-1/4-0 in those games puts Auburn back in the title hunt.

Bottom Line: I think patience is the key here for Auburn. This is a building block year in what should be a fantastic 2017 campaign. The 2017 season could be a banner year as Alabama will lose so much on defense. Chad Kelly won’t be around in Oxford. Texas A&M will be looking at a new starting QB with Trevor Knight moving on and if LSU loses 2-3 gams, I could see Les Miles being dismissed. That opens up a lot of doors for Auburn which is already a massively talented team, but who might be a year away. Another thing to think about is that Auburn hosts Alabama in 2017. Auburn in the sort of program that expects championships in football, but they shouldn’t be disappointed this season. If Malzahn can get his QB situation going with Franklin then War Eagle should set up for a national championship run in 2017.

SEC WEST #6 – ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

Offense: Arkansas under Bret Bielema is going to play smash mouth football, but that is going to be an interesting propsition in Fayetteville in 2016. Arkansas is going to run the ball. It’s what they do, but their passing game might be better of the two components to the offense this season. You can’t overstate the effect of losing QB Brandon Allen & RB Alex Collins. Allen took a lot of heat during his tenure as a Razorback, but the guy was great last year completing 66% of his passes for 3,440 yards & 30TD on a team that is clearly run first. Alex Collins was also phenomenal rushing for 1,577 yards & 20TD. Little brother Austin Allen takes over for big brother Brandon & I think he’ll be a quick study. He’s been around the Arkansas program his entire life & while he still has to prove it on the field, I think he’ll transition well. Helping him is a great receiving corps headed by WRs Keon Hatcher, Drew Morgan & Dominque Reed and also TE Jeremy Sprinkle. The loss of Hunter Henry is big at TE, but Sprinkle is going to be something special this year & at 6’6/255lbs, he’s got incredible size & skill. Taking over for Collins will be RBs Kody Walker & Rawleigh Williams. They’ll try to emulate the Alex Collins/Jonathan Williams duo Arkansas rode in 2014, but I’m not sure they’ll replicate that success. Another problem for is Arkansas lost 3 starting O-Linemen. Dan Skipper & Frank Ragnow are all-conference type players but the new starters will have to gel. There is a TON of upside to this offense, but A LOT of new guys.

Defense: When you think Arkansas football under Bret Bielema you think immediately think running the football, but this season you might think defense because the Razorbacks bring back 15 of their top-17 tacklers from a season ago! Like the 5 teams listed above them, Arkansas brings back an elite edge rusher in DE Deatrich Wise. A potential All-American, the 6’5/280lbs Wise is a beast of a human being who broke out last year as a junior with 8 sacks & 10.5TFL. He could easily play his way onto All-American lists & a 1st Rd. NFL Draft pick as an ideal fit in a 3-4 scheme at DE. Helping Wise attack the edges will be Jeremiah Ledbetter (6’3/275) & Tevin Beanum (6’4/271). Bijhon Jackson (6’2/324) & Taiwan Johnson (6’2/273) man the interior. This is a solid D-Line that is very big & very physical. Brooks Ellis & Dre Greenlaw were Arkansas’ top-2 tacklers last year & both return as LBs for 2016. The two combined for 197 tackles last year & with the D-Line as good as it is, I’d expect those two to hunt down ball carriers with abandon. Arkansas’ entire secondary returns. CBs Jared Collins & DJ Dean return alongside safeties Josh Liddell & Henre’ Tolliver. Nickle Kevin Richardson also returns. The experience in the secondary is crucial as Arkansas was a terrible pass defense team last season. They ranked 117th out of 128 BCS teams! DC Robb Smith has a solid track record & specializes in defensive backs. I’d expect quite an adjustment for Arkansas last year in the secondary which would give them a complete defense.

Schedule: I think the big reason why I have Arkansas here at #6 is that they get both Texas A&M and Auburn on the road. They get Alabama & LSU at home which is a tough get because the Razorbacks are going to have a very difficult time beating those two teams anyway and I don’t see them beating Ole Miss either to be honest with a first year QB going up against that Ole Miss offense led by veteran Chad Kelly although the Rebels do tend to give a game away here & there. That said, the Razorbacks really do look like they have 4 losses on the schedule at a minimum and that doesn’t include the road game against TCU. They didn’t get a great draw out of the East with Florida & a road game at Missouri which I think is going to be A LOT tougher than people realize. Arkansas could very well be a top-25 program, but getting to 9-10 wins seems almost like an impossibility especially with the loss of their starting QB.

Bottom Line: We know that Arkansas has the type of program that can not only compete for SEC Championships but also be in the national championship discussion. Bobby Petrino proved that in 2011 when Arkansas finished 11-2 with both losses coming on the road to LSU & Alabama. Those two teams would go on to play for a national championship. If LSU & Alabama were the top-2 teams, then Arkansas could make a great case to be the #3 team in the nation that year. Things have been trending downward for the Razorbacks, but HC Bret Bielema seems to have Arkansas trending in the right direction although he isn’t progressing as fast as Petrino did before Petrino went off the rails. The trick now is to get Arkansas back into that elite category. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like the year to do it. Like Auburn, Arkansas has a relatively young team that could really come into its own in 2017. Patience will be key this year, but I think Arkansas will be primed for 2017. It’s never fun to have a “transition” year, but I think that is what is in store for the Hogs.

SEC WEST #7 – MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

Offense: Mississippi St. obviously has big time issues at QB having to replace arguably the best QB in Mississippi St. history in Dak Prescott. A 3-year starter, Prescott led the Bulldogs to a combined 19-7 record over the past two seasons which is the 3rd best record in the SEC during that span behind only Alabama (26-3) & Georgia (20-6). That’s amazing when you think about it as Hail State has been better than Tennessee, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M & Ole Miss during that span. Replacing Prescott is rSO Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has IDEAL size at 6’5/230lbs with a strong arm so you can expect the Bulldogs not to utilize the QB as much in the running game as Prescott was used. Fitzgerald will likely have to grow into the role on a weekly basis, but he’ll have some help along the way. Senior WR Fred Ross has great size at 6’2/210lbs & is a reliable receiver. Ross had over 1,000 receiving yards last season. The passing attack would have been better had Fred Brown not gotten kicked off the team & DeRunnya Wilson not declared early for the NFL draft, but Donald Gray & Malik Dear hope to pick it up. Gray showed some excellent explosion while Dear should get better. Brandon Holloway returns as the tailback. He’s pretty slight so expect Ashton Shumpet & Dontavian Lee to get some significant time. Another solid for MS State going forward is their O-Line. Justin Senior will move to LT & is a solid starter. JUCO transfer Martinas Rankin will play RT giving Fitzgerald solid protection leaving Fitzgerald needing to come into his own.

Defense: DC Manny Diaz left Starkville for Coral Gables so new DC Peter Sirmon is going to attempt to move the Bulldogs into more of a 3-4 style defense, but I wouldn’t expect too much of that early on. Mississippi St.’s defense is pretty good already & they are a lot more experienced this year than last. While it doesn’t appear that Hail State has the big time front-7s of the other SEC West teams, they do have quite a bit of talent. At edge rusher is AJ Jefferson & Will Coleman. These are big guys at 6’3/277lbs & 6’5/250lbs respectively. They both need to do A LOT more to improve their pass rushing abilities, but the size is there. On the inside DTs Nick James (6’5/330) & Torrey Dale (6’6/275) are massive. The presence of James gives MS State the ability to go 3-4 if you have James at NT along with Dale & Jefferson at DEs. This actually plays more into MS State’s strength as a defense. In this situation Coleman & JT Gray are the edge rushers although Gray is more of a S/LB hybrid which turns MS State into a 3-3-5 squad playing nickle. Richie Brown & Gerri Green are two very good & very productive interior LBs so givein them opportunity to hunt is paramount. There is a lot of ways the Bulldogs can play it and I think giving multiple looks is the way to go. The front-7 has a lot of potential. The secondary should be good as well with safeties Brandon Bryant & Kivon Coleman being a fantastic pair. CBs Tolando Cleveland & Cedric Jiles are experienced seniors. This defense has a tremendous amount of potential.

Schedule: Mississippi St.’s schedule actually sets up well. They get Texas A&M, Arkansas & Auburn at home while having to travel to Alabama & LSU. The games against the Crimson Tide & Bayou Bengals were probably losses anyway so getting them on the road is actually a good thing. If you believe the SEC West is a toss up from #3 to #7 then the schedule doesn’t work much better than what Mississippi St. has. They draw Kentucky & South Carolina out of the East and while the UK game is in Lexington, it’s not like Mississippi St. can’t match up well with the Wildcats. The non-conference slate has 3 cupcakes mixed in with a road game at BYU. That should be interesting. The Bulldogs season will come down to their home schedule. If they win their 6 home games & steal road games against UMass & Kentucky, then MSU will be 8-3 when they travel to Oxford for the Egg Bowl where they haven’t won since 2010. Even with a loss, MSU could finish 8-4 this year after losing Prescott which is amazing considering Prescott himself went 8-4 his senior season.

Bottom Line: I really like the MSU program and I really like Dan Mullen as a head coach. It’s almost impossible not to root for Mississippi State, but I think the loss of Dak Prescott is almost too much to overcome. The one saving grace for MSU is their schedule which sets up about as well as it possibly can for a team who plays in the SEC West. I think if Prescott returned for another year, then the Bulldogs could be in contention because I think he’d find a way to win with so many questions surrounding other teams. Instead, MS State will have to settle for being a 7-5 team most likely that would be a 10-win squad in any other conference. Keep an eye on the D-Line & O-Line. The O-Line could be a lot better than people think & MS State brought in a recruiting class that was heavy on the D-Line. If Mississippi State can dominate the trenches then they could make a significant run. I’m going to bet on them struggling because of the QB transition.

SEC EAST #1 – TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

Offense: The Volunteers bring back arguably the most complete offense in the SEC. Given the transient nature of college football, Tennessee brings back a plethora of talent & experience from a team that averaged 35+PPG! Leading the way is QB Josh Dobbs who could emerge as a Heisman candidate if he can increase his completion percentage & find the endzone a few more times through the air. The 6’3/210lbs senior spent his first two seasons splitting times with Justin Worley, but Dobbs  made the offense his own last year & excelled leading the Vols to a 9-4 record including a 45-6 blowout win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. Helping Dobbs is an ELITE RB combination consisting of Jalen Hurd & Alvin Kamara. Hurd is a monster at 6’4/240lbs & Kamara provides plenty of pop as well at 5’10/220lbs. Dobbs can make plays with his feet as well and the trio combined to rush for 2,657 yards with Hurd leading the way with 1,288. None of them have that nasty home run hitting ability but all 3 can grind you down & shorten games up. Jauan Jennings, Preston Williams, Josh Smith & Josh Malone give UT a talented quartet at WR that has lots of size. Teams will not be able to load the box or these guys will have a field day. The O-line returns 4 starters as well with their only loss being Kyler Kerbyson & has a chance to be truly great as their is only one senior projected to start on the line. Expect a big year out of TE Ethan Wolf. He’s a big time “X” factor. If you are looking for a weakness here, you won’t find it.

Defense: A scary thought about Tennessee is that for as good as the offense is, the defense might be even better. The Vols have ELITE players at every level of the defense starting up front with DE Derek Barnett. Barnett racked up 10 sacks & 12.5TFL last season as a sophomore. He’s got a good chance to become a 1st Team All-American & go in the top-15 or so picks in next year’s NFL Draft. On the other side is Corey Vereen who wasn’t bad last year with 9.5TFL & 3.5 sacks at 6’2/250lbs. UT has some experience in the trenches, but I think Shy Tuttle (6’2/315lbs) & Kahlil McKenzie (6’3/345lbs) will get tons of time this year. Both were BIG TIME recruits. Danny O’Brien & Kendall Vickers will add to this depth & give UT a strong rotation on the inside. LB Cameron Reeves-Maybin is OUTSTANDING and like Barnett has a shot to be a 1st team All-American. The 6’1/230lbs senior is a do-it-all WIL is certain to bring former UCLA LB Myles Jack to mind as there is literally nothing he can’t do on a football field. MIKE Darrin Kirkland is going to be even better as a sophomore. The secondary is led by CB Cameron Sutton who also has All-American potential. At 6’0/190lbs, Sutton has lockdown corner potential. Justin Martin is on the opposite of Sutton & bring solid size at 6’1/190lbs. Malik Foreman & Emmanuel Moseley should factor in as well. Todd Kelly & Rashaan Gaulden are the safeties. Tennessee only allowed 20PPG last year & they’ll be better this season. UT has the makings of a potential top-10 defensive unit.

Schedule: Tennessee didn’t do themselves any favors with the scheduling. Three of their non-conference opponents are Virginia Tech, Appalachian St. & Ohio. I don’t think Tennessee loses any of those games, but you never know. Virginia Tech is no slouch even if they aren’t quite where they used to be. Ohio is a MAC school so they shouldn’t represent trouble but the Bobcats could contend this year & they have an experienced team. Appalachian St. isn’t afraid of big games. Go ask Michigan. App St. should win the Sun Belt & QB Taylor Lamb is going to keep them in games. The point is those games aren’t complete walks and after those 3 openers, the Vols get Florida, @Georgia, @Texas A&M and then back home to face Alabama. Drawing the Aggies & Tide out of the West wasn’t the best of draws & having to go to Athens won’t be easy either. I think Tennessee wins their first 3 games but the next 4 will be tricky before winning their last 5. What we can definitely say is that if UT wins the SEC, they’ll certainly have earned it.

Bottom Line: Tennessee is one of the most storied programs in college football history that has been trapped in mediocrity for quite some time. From 2002-2015 the Vols have accumulated a record of 101-76! That is on average a record of 7-5 over a 14-year period! That’s not Tennessee football in the SEC. That’s more like Mississippi St. or Missouri. Fourteen years is a long time to be walking around in the desert! Fortunately this Tennessee team is good enough to get UT back to where they were in 1998 or 2001. Butch Jones has UT ready to bust out. This team should compete for a national championship and the Volunteers simply need to take that next step. Keep in mind that UT was 9-4 last year with all 4 losses being close. Their toughest game will come against Alabama, but the game is in Knoxville so an undefeated season is a possibility. UT is back & Big Orange Nation isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This could be potentially be an EPIC year in Knoxville.

SEC EAST #2 – GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Offense: In 2014 when Nick Chubb was completely healthy, he ran for 1,547 yards & 14TD. As a result, Georgia averaged 41.3PPG on offense and ranked 8th in the nation in scoring offense. Last year Chubb missed half the year due to injury & Georgia averaged 26.3PPG and ranked 85th in scoring offense. Clearly getting Nick Chubb healthy is of greatest concern for the Georgia faithful. His recovery from a knee injury last year has went swimmingly well so far this year & the thought is that he might miss the season opener but not much else. I’m leaving out a big piece of the puzzle. In 2014, Georgia started the year with Todd Gurley as their RB, but the Bulldogs have Sony Michel who has been great this first two years & even rushed for over 1,000 yards last year in Chubb’s absence. So why the big decrease in offense? Well, Greyson Lambert wasn’t even close to being as good as Hutson Mason and the trio f Chubb/Gurley/Michel was a lot better than the trio of Chubb/Michel/Marshall both in yards per carry & getting in the endzone. This of course evolves into the question of who will be the QB for Georgia? Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey or incoming freshman Jacob Eason? It’s an important question because Georgia is loaded everywhere else. Greg Pyke, Brandon Kublanow & Isaiah Wynn lead a solid OL. Terry Godwin & Jeb Blazevich should be receiving weapons. The running game speaks for itself. LSU & Georgia are somewhat in the same boat as they look like powerhouse offenses as long as they get solid QB play. That’s the question.

Defense: You can’t begin a discussion of Georgia’s defense without talk of their secondary. Georgia led the nation in pass defense last season & return every starter from their secondary which is a scary thought given how new HC Kirby Smart wants to employ those DBs. An even scarier thought is how much time Smart spent with Nick Saban who specializes in defensive backs. Safeties Dominick Sanders & Quincy Mauger are the stars here. Sanders has All-American potential while Mauger has 1st Team All-SEC potential. Both are legitimate ball hawkers who can turn the ball over on a whim. CBs Aaron Davis & Malkom Parrish came into their own last year as true sophomore. Davis at 6’1/190lbs has fantastic size while Parrish at 5’10/195lbs can play press man & doesn’t shy away from big hits. Smart is going to play a lot more press with these athlete CBs which opens up Georgia defense to a lot of options for pressuring the QB. That is ideal because Georgia does have to replace Jordan Jenkins s& Leonard Floyd as their edge rushers. Lorenzo Carter (6’6/240lbs) & Davin Bellamy (6’5/240lbs) give UGA some big freakish edge rushers. Carter could emerge as an All-American. Trent Thompson, John Atkins & Jeremiah Ledbetter anchor a D-Line that is very young but exceptionally talented. LB Tim Kimbrough is a solid high production player & he’ll be joined by Natrez Patrick, a freak of nature at LB who is 6’3/255lbs! The defense is fairly young, but the secondary is outstanding. Expect UGA to have a dominating defense.

Schedule: Georgia’s schedule alone makes them ripe for thinking they’ll be a truly ELITE team in the SEC. They avoid Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M from the West. They also get Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia Tech in Athens. They do have to go on the road to play Ole Miss and that could be a risky proposition as well as the Biggest Cocktail Party in Jacksonville to take on a Florida team that beat the Bulldogs 27-3 last season. Those two hurdles might be in for Georgia. They do play South Carolina, Kentucky & Missouri on the road, but SC & Mizzou have new head coaches this year while UK will have a new starting QB. On top of that, those 3 teams can’t match the Dawgs in talent. Georgia does have a tricky season opener when it takes on North Carolina in Atlanta, but that is practically a home game for UGA and UNC will be breaking in a new QB. The season might come down to October 1st when Georgia hosts Tennessee. A win there & Smart just might get a shot at this former boss in the SEC Championship game.We’ll know early though. Georgia has a tough stretch from September 17th through October 8th when they go @Missouri, @Ole Miss, Tennessee and finish @South Carolina.

Bottom Line: Mark Richt couldn’t quite get Georgia over the hump and into the national championship picture. Kirby Smart was brought in to finish the job. To be honest, I can see the frustration from UGA fans. When I started looking at the SEC, my initial thought with Georgia is that they’ll need some adjustment time because of a coaching change along with the emergence of Tennessee. I also didn’t want to discount what a phenomenal job Jim McElwain has done in Gainesville as Florida won the SEC East last season. I figured Georgia would settle in behind the Vols & Gators. THINK AGAIN! This team is absolutely loaded and when you look at their schedule, the only game I think they probably won’t be favored in is when they travel to Oxford. If they play to the odds they go 11-1 & win the SEC East. If they protect home field advantage they are AT WORST 10-2 and SEC East champions. Georgia feels a lot like LSU & Alabama in that they need to figure out their QB situation, but beyond that, the team is devastating. The season comes down to October 1st when they play Tennessee. It’s too much to ask Kirby Smart to finish the job Mark Richt started in just one season, but don’t be shocked when it happens.

SEC EAST #3 – FLORIDA GATORS

Offense: Like every team in the SEC save Tennessee & Ole Miss, Florida has question marks on offense, but Florida has extensive question marks instead of one or two. The Gators offense was humming last year when Will Grier was under center for the first 6 games. Florida averaged 32+PPG & was 6-0. Then Grier got suspended for a year due to PED use & Treon Harris took over. From that point Florida averaged 16.5PPG & finished 4-4. Heading into this year, Grier transferred to West Virginia & Harris is now a WR. Making matters worse, Florida lost their star RB Kelvin Taylor to the NFL who accounted for almost 1300 total yards & 13TD. If that wasn’t enough, Florida’s star freshman WR Antonio Callaway was dismissed from the team & still hasn’t come back. Callaway led the team in receiving last season & had a very good chance at being a 1st Team All-SEC WR this year. That’s still a possibility but Callaway needs to at least rejoin the team! Florida will look to Oregon St. transfer Luke Del Rio to QB this team. Del Rio was originally an Alabama recruit & hasn’t thrown a pass in college football although Jim McElwain has been extremely impressed by him thus far. Jordan Scarlett & Jordan Cronkrite were true frosh RBs last year who got some run time. They should be better. I think TE DeAndre Goolsby could be a star & the Florida O-Line returns tackles Martez Ivey & David Sharpe along with C Cameron Dillard. Tons of questions, but if Del Rio is for real & Callaway can make it back, the offense could gel rather quickly.

Defense: Florida’s defense was its strong suit last year as the Gators finished 11th in scoring defense & 8th in total defense. If not for the defense, Florida doesn’t finish 10-4 & win the SEC East, but the losses are HEAVY. Gone are DT Jonathan Bullard, DE Alex McCalister, LB Antonio Morrison, CB Vernon Hargreaves & S Keanu Neal. CB Brian Poole is also gone meaning the Gators lost 5 of their top-9 tacklers, 3 of their 5 top tacklers for loss, and their two top sack guys. That’s significant loss, but this is Florida so the talent is in abundance. CB Jalen Tabor was thought to be a better CB than Hargreaves last season so he enters the season as the best CB in the nation. You can’t complain about a 1st Team All-American taking away half the field! S Marcus Maye also returns & has All-American potential. Both of those guys will fill up a stat sheet. LB Alex Anzalone is healthy & if he can stay that way (a big if) then I don’t think Florida feels the effects of losing Morrison. WIL LB Jarrad Davis could be in for a MONSTER year and could play himself into the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Bullard is a big loss but CeCe Jefferson is a talented guy who will kick inside. He along with Taven Bryan & Caleb Brantley should give the Gators a formidable interior D-Line. Bryan Cox & Jordan Sherit should start at the DEs. Both bring size, speed & talent to the position. As you can see, this is the very definition of reloading. Florida’s defense should once again be one of the very best in the country & it’ll keep the Gators in games with a chance to win.

Schedule: This isn’t a forgiving schedule. Florida gets a road game against Tennessee and a neutral site game with rival Georgia. They draw LSU & Arkansas from the West which isn’t exactly hitting the lottery & the venues didn’t work either as Florida has to travel to Arkansas while hosting LSU. Both could be losses in those environments. Florida does well to avoid big time confrontations in their non-conference slate. I’m not a big fan as Florida has built in games within their own state they could play every year that would guarantee big time games. The Gators get it right with playing Florida State every season. They get it wrong by not playing Miami-FL. Ideally the Gators would play the Seminoles & Hurricanes every year & then at the very worst play Central Florida & South Florida as their other two non-conference games unless Florida takes on bigger opponents such as Notre Dame, Oklahoma, USC, Michigan, Ohio State, or Clemson. They draw Florida State in Tallahassee which is another bad break. If things go wrong, Florida could be looking at 7-5, but to be fair, the only game I see them definitely losing is the road game against Tennessee and even then they’ll most likely be competitive.

Bottom Line: It’s easy to sort of disregard the Gators after the way they ended the season in 2015. They lost their regular season finale to Florida St. 27-2. They then lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship game 29-15 in a game they were clearly overmatched in. Florida saved the worst for last as they were blown out 41-7 by Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. Florida finished 10-4 but were they mostly a paper tiger? There are three reasons why I wouldn’t sleep on Florida. The first is Jim McElwain. The guy gets it and he’s going to be a tremendous HC. He’ll win a national championship at Florida during his tenure. He’s that good. Urban Meyer went 9-3 in his first season at Florida. McElwain went 10-4 & won the SEC East. The second reason is Luke Del Rio. Del Rio most likely gives the Gators their best QB since Tim Tebow’s last season in 2009. Florida has had to suffer through Jeff Driskel, John Brantley, Jacoby Brissett, Tyler Murphy, Treon Harris & Will Grier. Grier showed some promise but ended up being a disaster. I think Del Rio finally gives Florida a QB it can depend on. The third & final reason is the defense. It could be outstanding at every level and has championship quality to it. Florida may have problems on offense, but defensively they are going to hold opponents in check. It’ll give them opportunities to win games & it will also force other teams into turnovers. The Gators are probably playing catchup to Tennessee & Georgia by a hair at this point because of all the question marks surrounding the offense and the schedule isn’t that friendly within conference play, but last year wasn’t a fluke as far as McElwain was concerned. If the offense doesn’t gel this could still be an 8-9 win team. If the offense comes together, the fireworks between Tennessee, Georgia & Florida will be off the charts.

SEC EAST #4 – MISSOURI TIGERS

Offense: Offense was a MAJOR problem for Mizzou last year as the Tigers averaged a paltry 13.6PPG which ranked 127th of 128 teams! Only Kent State had a worse offense than Missouri! The problems started when QB Maty Mauk was suspended forcing true frosh Drew Lock into a starting role. I like Lock and think Mizzou has found a QB who can start for the next three seasons, but he didn’t have much help. RB Ish Witter wasn’t ready for the starting gig when Russ Hansbrough didn’t play well. The Mizzou receivers were also fairly young after seeing guys like Dorial Green-Beckham, Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, Darius White & L’Damian Washington leave over the course of 2013 & 2014. Missouri did have 4 senior starters on the O-Line, but nothing for them to block. This year the job is Lock’s without question & he’s definitely a big time talent with prototypical size at 6’4/220lbs. Oklahoma transfer Alex Ross takes over with Witter moving to backup which helps Mizzou out tremendously as Ross is 6’1/230lbs & gives the Tigers a more bruising downhill runner. The receivers should be better too as J’Mon Moore & Nate Brown get a year better. Alabama transfer Chris Black should also help a receiving corps that is very big. TE Sean Culkin (6’6/245lbs) can also play. The O-Line this year is very inexperienced as Nate Crawford is the only returning starter. There is nowhere for the offense to go but up after such a dismal 2015, but I’d temper expectations. If the Tigers average 24-25PPG it’ll be considered massive progress.

Defense: You can’t begin talking about Missouri’s defense without starting with their D-Line! Missouri has a great argument for having the best D-Line in college football especially if you only look at teams playing a 4-3 base defense. DEs Charles Harris & Walter Brady were outstanding last season combining for 31TFL, 14 sacks & 17 QB hurries! Both are 6’3/255lbs & Harris has a shot at being a 1st Round NFL pick. Brady was just a true frosh last season so he could still get quite a bit better which is a scary proposition. DTs Terry Beckner & Josh Augusta are big time talents & BIG TIME specimens. Augusta is 6’4/345lbs & fits the bill as a true 3-4NT giving Missouri some flexibility in their fronts. Beckner was a true frosh last year & played exceedingly well. Harold Brantley & AJ Logan provide fantastic depth. The LB unit will miss Kentrell Brothers for certain but MIKE Mike Scherer and SAM Donavin Newsom return and both are high production players who have All-SEC ability. WIL Joey Burkett will have to replace Brothers & his insane production, but spread to Scherer & Newsom could make Burkett have an easier transition to starter. CB Aarion Penton & S Anthony Sherrills are the returning starters in the secondary. Both are high impact/high production players who have all-conference ability. Missouri’s defense ranked 5th in the nation last year with 16.2PPG. It was the reason Misssouri could win 5 games with their offense. They have a chance at being even better & be potentially Mizzou’s greatest defense ever.

Schedule: Missouri’s schedule isn’t bad & most importantly they get both Kentucky & Vanderbilt at home. Those should be wins for the Tigers. The bad news is that they do draw South Carolina in Columbia, but the Gamecocks are going through their own massive transition this season and with the defense Missouri can bring to the table, I think the Tigers can escape the Palmetto State with a win & ensure they are the 4th best team out of the SEC East. Missouri drew LSU & Arkansas out of the West which isn’t fantastic but it could have been worse. The season finale is a home game against the Hogs so a 5-6 Missouri team might have extra incentive to beat Arkansas. They get both Florida & Tennessee on the road which were losses anyway & I have a hard time believing they’ll be Georgia either. Eastern Michigan & Delaware St. should be cupcakes. Mizzou opens in Morgantown to take on West Virginia. Tough game and a likely loss, but the schedule still sets up for 6-7 wins.

Bottom Line: Barry Odom takes over the HC duties from Gary Pinkel after Pinkel spent 15 years as HC for Missouri. Pinkel leaves some big shoes to fill, but Odom might be a perfect candidate given his ties to the university. Odom played at Mizzou and spent 10 of the past 13 years on Pinkel’s staff in varying capacities. Last year Odom returned to Mizzou as DC after a 3-year stint as DC at Memphis. Luckily for him, Pinkel did not leave the cabinets bare & Missouri should be a lot better than the 5-7 record the Tigers endured last season. On the other hand, Odom faces an unenviable task of competing in the SEC East just when the big players in the East seem to be getting their acts together. Butch Jones has Tennessee primed to regain their national prominence as a perennial national championship contender. Jim McElwain in my opinion is the 2nd best HC in the conference behind Nick Saban & is in a ridiculously good position at Florida. Kirby Smart was brought in to bring a championship to Georgia. These are going to be difficult times in the SEC given how powerful those teams are so it’ll be interesting to see how Odom navigates the proposition. I think getting to a bowl game this year with 7-8 wins is a good goal to have in Columbia this season.

SEC EAST #5 – KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Offense: Kentucky is in position to have the best offense they’ve had in a long time. The offense returns 9 starters from a unit that average 24.7PPG. That isn’t fantastic but if the Wildcats can improve by 7-8 points then they are averaging 32-33PPG which would certainly be significant. RB Boom Williams is the star of the offense & he’s likely the best RB you haven’t heard of. He’s not huge at 5’9/195lbs, but he ran for 855yds/6TD while averaging 7.1ypc! If anything, UK didn’t feed him the ball enough! UK’s top-5 receivers also return in WR Dorian Baker, WR Garrett Johnson, WR Jeff Badet, WR Blake Bone & TE CJ Conrad. All the receivers were inexperienced sophomores last year while Conrad was a true frosh. Baker (6’3), Bone (6’5) & Conrad (6’6) give QB Drew Barker some outstanding targets to hit while Johnson & Badet should be able to settle into the #2 & slot receiver spots effortlessly. Barker is a first time starter as a true soph. He got some mop up duty behind Patrick Towles last year but he’s a big upgrade over Towles and at 6’3/220lbs fits the bill as the face of a program. The O-Line is led by potential All-American center Jon Toth and has 3 other returning starters. Cole Mosier is the only non-starter & he’s an upperclassman giving UK 4 juniors & 1 senior on the line. It has taken Mark Stoops a couple of years to get to the offense ready, but Kentucky is ready to fly this season with a big & talented group of players. Barker needs to step into his role & play well. If he does, this is a balanced offense that will give opponents fits.

Defense: Unfortunately for Mark Stoops, a renaissance on offense doesn’t coincide with the defense. Kentuck loses their top-3 tacklers from a year ago & 7 of their top-8 including NFL Draft pick LB Josh Forrest. With only 5 returning starters the Wildcats look like they might have to take a step back but that could be a bit premature. Kentucky runs a 3-4 base which means their NT is of prime importance & the Wildcats just happen to have 6’7/360lbs Matt Elam clogging up the middle. Elam needs to play to his ability but if the light switch goes on for him, then Elam immediately becomes a tremendous NFL prospect & gives UK’s LBs a lot of room to be on the hunt. The Cats rely on this inside pressure because while they do run a 3-4 it’s somewhat of a 4-2-5 in that OLB Denzil Ware is their only reliable pass rusher. Jordan Jones & Courtney Love are new starters at LB, but they will mostly play on the inside & try to make up for the losses of Josh Forrest, Khalid Henderson & Ryan Flannigan. Ware has some big upside & will be fascinating to watch this season. What might be most interesting for Kentucky is their secondary. CB Chris Westry has been OUTSTANDING and at 6’4/195lbs, bring mind blowing size to the edge. Opposite Westry is Derrick Baity who is 6’3/180lbs himself giving UK a pair of corners with unprecedented size. Both were just freshman last year so the sky might be the limit for both. UK lost a lot last year but they have some very exciting players at every level of the defense. We’ll see how they pan out.

Schedule: The good news is that Kentucky got both South Carolina and Vanderbilt at home. That was paramount given the state of the SEC this season. It was a tough break getting Missouri on the road, but you can’t have everything. Kentucky has a brutal road schedule with away games against Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee & Louisville. Four of those 5 games were probably losses in Lexington so getting them on the road is no big deal, but it puts UK under the gun as those 5 games could easily be losses meaning there is little room for error. A home game against Georgia pretty much ensures UK has to win their other home games to simply get to 6-6. Even then that won’t be easy as UK gets home games against Mississippi St. and their opener against Southern Miss. Kentucky’s opener will be a harbinger. Get by Southern Miss and the season starts off right. Lose to Southern Miss and the pressure is extreme the rest of the way.

Bottom Line: Former UK head coach Rich Brooks had a simple formula that said Kentucky had to win the games they were supposed to win along with an upset or two in order to get bowl eligible. This isn’t rocket science as most teams like Kentucky follow the same example and hopefully after a few years of 6-7, 7-6 & 8-5 seasons, they can break through to a 9-4, 8-5, or 10-3 seasons. It’s how programs are built, but the problem is, and always has been, that there are a finite number of coaches that are legitimate program builders. When they show signs of this at 2nd-tier schools, they are snatched up pretty fast. Look at Brian Kelly at Cincinnati or Butch Jones at Cincinnati or Urban Meyer at Utah. Mark Stoops at Kentucky is trying to abide by this rule but his seat is getting hot & the SEC East is getting tougher & tougher to navigate. The problem for Kentucky is that where are the games they “should” win? There are no weaknesses in the SEC West. They can’t draw a downtrodden Mississippi State team every year & have them come to Lexington. So let’s assume 2 losses to the West. They aren’t beating Tennessee, Georgia or Florida. That’s 5 losses. Say what you will about Bobby Petrino’s personal life, but the guy is a MONSTER of a head coach & UK plays Louisville every year. That’s 6 losses. That means UK has to win their other 3 non-conference games & also beat Missouri, South Carolina & Vanderbilt every season. It’s a tall order. At the end of the day, I think this UK roster is pretty darn talented and if I were Kentucky I’d leave Stoops to his own devices. Kentucky might not get bowl eligible this season, but that doesn’t mean the team isn’t improving. At the very least this season I think Kentucky will be one of the most interesting to follow regardless of outcome.

SEC EAST #6 – VANDERBILT COMMODORES

Offense: Vanderbilt is very similar to Kentucky when it comes to offense this season. Like Kentucky, Vandy has a very good RB you might not have heard of in Ralph Webb. At 5’10/200lbs, Webb isn’t much of a home run threat but he can grind defenses down. Last year he ran for 1,152 yards and averaged 4.2ypc while scoring 5TD. Webb is also a legit 3-down back as he’s a receiving threat out of the backfield which increases his value. The Commodores also return receivers who got quite a bit of action last year. Trent Sherfield & Caleb Scott where the two top receivers last year & CJ Duncan was only a fresh in 2015. Vandy doesn’t have the size that Kentucky has at receiver, but the talent is pretty good & TE Nathan Marcus should provide a big target at 6’5/242lbs. The O-Line returns 3 starters including C Barrett Gouger & both tackles in Andrew Jelks & Will Holden. Vandy should have a big physical O-line protecting QB Kyle Shurmur. Shurmur was a true frosh last season & opened up behind Johnny McCrary, but McCrary didn’t play that well paving the way for Shurmur to pick up some action. Shurmur wasn’t great completing just 42.7% of his passes with 5TD to 3INT, but he’s a prototypical QB at 6’3/223lbs with a big arm. He fits more into what HC Derek Mason wants to do with a more pro-style attack so Vandy can’t help but improve under center with Shurmur being the guy. Vandy’s offense was putrid last year but should see improvement as Mason finally has his guy under center.

Defense: The Commodores will be led on defense by S Oren Burks & LB Zach Cunningham. Cunningham at 6’4/230lbs is an All-SEC performer who could wind up being an All-American at ILB. He’s ultra productive raking up 4.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss & 103 tackles while also breaking up 3 passes. Burks is one of the new breed of hybrid S/LB at 6’3/215lbs. Burks led the team in interceptions last year with 3 and also kicked in 59 tackles. He’s one of the few Vandy players who ball hawks consistently. As with Kentucky, Vandy plays somewhat of a 3-4 defense but only has one real rusher (Josh Smith) so they devolve into a sort of hybrid 4-2-5 with Burks alternating between S & LB. Vandy would do just as well to be a 4-3 as they don’t have a true 3-4NT and Jonathan Wynn at 6’4/255 is more like Smith at 6’4/240 & both could act as 43DEs. The DTs are Adam Butler & Nifae Lealao. Both can be effective inside players & hopefully they get better this season. Joining Cunningham at ILB is Nigel Bowden who was hurt last year. Getting Bowden healthy is a big plus for the Commodores as he’s a high impact/high production player. In the secondary, corners Tre Herndon & Torren McGaster return as starters. Both are 6’0+ with McGaster leading the team with 13 passes broken up last year. Emmanuel Smith is a big physical FS at 6’2/222lbs who could develop into something special. Vandy’s defense improved by 12.3PPG in Mason’s 2nd year. It’s a stout group & there is a lot of potential for it to be even better in 2016.

Schedule: It’s tough. Vanderbilt has tough non-conference road games against Western Kentucky & Georgia Tech. WKU has a chance to win CUSA while Georgia Tech is a bear to defend with the triple option attack that Paul Johnson uses Vanderbilt has a stout defense so it’s possible they can beat the Yellow Jackets, but it won’t be easy as Vandy doesn’t see that type of offense every week. They draw both Kentucky & Missouri on the road which probably limits their ability to climb too high in the East. Auburn & Ole Miss are their West opponents but Auburn is on the road & Ole Miss is likely a loss no matter where they play. Derek Mason did quite an improvement job from year 1 to year 2. He won an extra game and two extra conference games. The defense improved by 12+PPG as well. For the Commodores to take the next step they’ll have to win a few tough road games.

Bottom Line: This is a good football team. I think what hinders Vanderbilt are the reasons that will hinder Missouri, Kentucky & South Carolina and that is the fact that the top of the SEC East is becoming dominant once again. It’s easy to compare Derek Mason with James Franklin because of what Franklin did before he bolted to Penn State, but let’s not forget that Florida & Tennessee were in the toilet by their own standards when Franklin was going 9-4 in 2012 & 2013. Does James Franklin lead Vanderbilt to 9-4 records right now with UT, UGA & Florida being this good? It seems doubtful which is why Vanderbilt is once again enslaved by the formula of winning the games they should win & hoping for an upset or three to get bowl eligible. Another layer of crazy for Vanderbilt is that it is an academic school so why can’t they achieve what Stanford has or what Northwestern has been able to achieve for the most part? The easy answer is that Northwestern & Stanford don’t play in the SEC. It’s a different kind of animal. Vanderbilt should have an exciting year and they’ll be fun to watch, but 6-8 wins should be what people are hoping for which would be a dramatic improvement for Derek Mason & his staff. I don’t think there is heat on Mason and like Mark Stoops at Kentucky, he’s making big strides.

SEC EAST #7 – SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

Offense: What always seemed interesting to me about the Steve Spurrier years in South Carolina is the battles he had with his QBs. When South Carolina put up a huge run from 2010-2013 (SC went 42-11 in that span) they lucked up on Connor Shaw being a lot better than people probably imagined. Last season the Gamecocks struggled mightily with Perry Orth & Lorenzo Nunez. Neither played well. That fed into the running game as well as Brandon Wilds & David Williams weren’t very good. Pharoah Cooper was an outstanding WR who put up a 66/973/8/14.7 line, but the next highest receiver had 28 catches and he was a TE. South Carolina had a poor offense, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. True frosh Brandon Mcilwain is the likely starter & was a heavily touted recruit. Sure he’ll have a learning curve in the SEC, but that experience should pay off. David Williams comes back at RB & Williams has some talent and is also big at 6’1/220lbs. True frosh WR Bryan Edwards is a big target at 6’3/200lbs and sophomore Deebo Samuel was a starter last year. The O-line has some talent as well. C Alan Knott & LT Mason Zandi are returning starters. G Cory Helms was a starter at Wake Forest before transferring over. T DJ Park & G Zack Bailey have some talent. Last season was South Carolina’s worst offensive output since 2009 when they averaged 20.6PPG. The good news is that SC increased their PPG by 10.3PPG in 2010! If that happens in 2016 then the Gamecocks will average 32.2PPG! They’ll take it!

Defense: The defense took a significant blow this May when potential All-American LB Skai Moore went down with a neck injury. Moore was going to be a senior & had nasty intentions coming back to Columbia for his senior season. He wanted to finish what he started with SC which was music to fans’ ears, but the injury now puts a tremendous dent into SC’s defensive hopes. TJ Holloman returns as the MIKE but Larenz Bryant is going to have to replace Moore at WIL and that is almost an impossible task. SC needs to get better at rushing the passer as well. DEs Marquavius Lewis & Darius English led the Gamecocks in sacks a year ago & both return. Daniel Fennell is a rFR that SC hopes can contribute to getting to the passer as well. Kelsey Griffin & Taylor Stallworth return as the DTs. Both are 6’2/302lbs so the size is OK but their production isn’t all that great. There is a lot of synergy that goes between the ILBs, DEs and DTs and a lot of that is sometimes dependent on the DTs. South Carolina isn’t dominant in the trenches. The secondary is most likely SC’s strongest level. They have 3 returning senior starters in CB Rico McWilliams, S Jordan Diggs and S Chaz Elder. SC also did a great job nabbing JUCO CB Jamarcus King who at 6’1/170lbs has great size on the outside. Like the offense the defense has a lot to work on but Wil Muschamp is a defensive minded coach & I think SC can turn it around. Losing Moore had to make Muschamp sick to his stomach, but overall it can improve from 2015.

Schedule:  South Carolina could be better than the 3-9 team they were last year but the schedule doesn’t do them any favors. If McIwain is the starter, he’ll have some bumps to start the season, but SC’s first 3 games include 3 road SEC games against Vanderbilt, Mississippi State & Kentucky. For SC to have a successful season, those 3 games are almost must wins, but because all 3 are on the road, the Gamecocks are going to be underdogs and SC is 3-11 over the last 5 years as road dogs. They do have a home game mixed in there against East Carolina which could give them a victory. Those their first 3 games they come home to play Texas A&M and Georgia before going on bye. After the bye they get UMass and then Tennessee in Columbia but the Vols are coming off a bye that week. To end the season SC has road games against Florida & Clemson in 2 of the last 3 weeks. Ouch! That’s a brutal schedule to navigate but SC definitely had 3 non-conference wins & I think the games against Vandy, Kentucky & Mississippi State could be winners as well. They get Missouri at home so there is another that could break their way.

Bottom Line: Last year was a rough on for the Gamecocks as essentially it was a rebuilding year in Columbia. What made matters worse was Carolina starting the year 2-4 and then having their HC skip town. I would have liked to have seen Spurrier stick around until the end of the season if only for the players, but it sort of destroyed the rest of the season. SC would finish 1-5 in their last 6 for an abysmal year. It was South Carolina’s worst season since 1999 when Lou Holtz took over for Brad Scott & SC went 0-11. The good news is that SC went 8-4 in Holtz’s 2nd year! Can we expect that sort of turnaround in Columbia under Muschamp? It’s hard to say but I do think Carolina could be a little better than we think. Last year, SC lost 5 games by a total of 20 points. If those 5 go the other way then SC is 8-4 and not 3-9. They also would have had wins over Clemson, Florida & Tennessee. Last year ended miserably, but the rebuild starts right now & SC can expect not to have to endure an 0-11 season the way the 1999 fanbase did.

July 1, 2016 Posted by | Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., Missouri, Predictions, Previews, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas AM, Vanderbilt | Leave a comment

2016 PRESEASON ALL-SEC TEAMS

POS TEAM FIRST TEAM OFFENSE
QB Computer Hope Chad Kelly: Kelly was the SEC leading passer last year as he threw for 4,042 yards & 31TD to only 13 picks. He completed 65.1% of his passes en route to leading the Rebels to a 10-3 record & handing Alabama their only loss of the season. Kelly wasn’t as dominant in SEC play as he was during the non-conference slate but Ole Miss finished 6-2 & beat Bama so how bad could he have been? At 6’3/225lbs, Kelly should light it up this season. If his decision making improves and he can cut down on his interceptions (especially in conference play), he’ll start jumping up draft boards for the 2017 NFL Draft. LSU & Alabama will dominate SEC West talk, but Ole Miss could contend because of Kelly.
RB Computer Hope Leonard Fournette: Forget the SEC, Fournette might be the best RB on the planet! Entering into the 2016 season I think Fournette is the Heisman front runner and if the Mad Hatter can stick to a gameplan, it’s hard seeing anyone stopping this rushing attack. Fournette had a monster freshman season but didn’t disappoint in his sophomore campaign rushing for 1,953 yards & 22TD! Fournette had a 3-game span last year against Alabama, Ole Miss & Arkansas where he didn’t run well & LSU lost all 3 games. Clearly the Tigers will go as far as Fournette can take them. With Derrius Grice, Fournette won’t have to shoulder as much load but enjoy him while you can because he’ll be in the NFL next year.
RB Computer Hope Nick Chubb: I don’t care about his knee injury & I don’t care that he might miss the first game or two of the season. When Nick Chubb is on the field, he completely changes the complexion of a game by taking it over whenever he wants. As a freshman when Todd Gurley went down, Chubb ran for 1,547 yards & 14TD averaging a ridiculous 7.1ypc! Last year before the injury Chubb ran for 747 yards & 7TD in 5 games. He averaged 8.1ypc! At 5’10/230lbs, he’s built like a tank and can be an asset in the passing game. Chubb has exceptional first step quickness and a ridiculous initial burst. He’s hard to take down & rarely goes down on first contact. Like Fournette, he’ll be playing on Sundays next year.
WR Computer Hope Calvin Ridley: It’s easy to forget that in 2014, Alabama’s leading receiver was Amani Cooper who caught 124 balls for 1727 yards & 16TD en route to being a 1st Team All-American and a 1st Round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders. All Calvin Ridley had to do was come in as a true frosh & replace him! Ridley didn’t disappoint! The 6’1/185lbs WR tore the SEC up going for 89 reception for 1,045 yards & 7TD leading his team in receiving on their way to a national championship. He was named a freshman All-American and is the leading returning receiver in the SEC. Ridley should continue the Alabama legacy of top flight receivers in the NFL behind both Amani Cooper and Julio Jones. An outstanding talent.
WR Computer Hope Christian Kirk: Like Ridley, Christian Kirk was a true freshman facing incredible expectations. Kirk wasn’t replacing a legend like Cooper, but he was facing incredible competition to get on the field in the forms of Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones & Speedy Noil. Kirk didn’t waste much time. At 5’11/190lbs, Kirk has 4.4 speed & is practically a perfect fit as a slot which made him a perfect fit between Reynolds & Seals-Jones. Kirk capitalized on this with 80 catches for 1,009 yards & 7TD. Kirk was also an OUTSTANDING punt returner for the Aggies. Getting a more experienced QB this season in Trevor Knight could do wonders for Kirk as he continues to get better. I’d expect a huge year!
WR Computer Hope Quincy Adeboyejo: Adeboyejo walks into a perfect situation in Oxford as the Rebels #1 receiver heading into 2016. Last season being the 4th option, Adeboyejo had 38 catches for 604 yards & 7 TD. He averaged 15.9ypc showing he’s got speed, big play ability, and he can also find the endzone. At 6’3/190lbs, he’s got the size/athleticism to challenge for any ball that comes his way and you know Chad Kelly is going to light it up this season. With Evan Engram returning and Damore’ea Stringfellow on the other side of the ball, Adeboyejo should see single coverage most of the time & if that happens I’d expect a HUGE season from him. He could top Laquon Treadwell’s numbers from last year rather easily.
TE Computer Hope OJ Howard: Howard gave us a little taste of what he could do in the national championship game as he TORCHED Clemson for 208 yards & 2TD on only 5 receptions. A freak of nature at 6’6/250lbs, Howard surprised quite a few people when he didn’t come out for the 2016 NFL Draft where he most certainly would have been the #1 TE on most draft boards. He’ll stay the #1 TE on draft boards for 2017, but I’d expect his role in Alabama to expand greatly this year & he provides a ridiculous mismatch on every play regardless of the defense. He needs to work hard this year to consolidate his game by improving his route running & blocking, and he’ll get chances to do this as he should play a bigger role.
OC Computer Hope Ethan Pocic: Pocic was the best center in the SEC last year not named Ryan Kelly. Started his career at LSU as a guard & has since moved to the center to QB the offensive line. A lot can be said for Leonard Fournette’s running ability or Brandon Harris being able to use his legs a bit, but LSU’s O-Line did a tremendous job protecting the QB & opening up running lanes for LSU rushers. Pocic was a big part of that. What’s interesting about Pocic is that LSU lists him at 6’7 which is ENORMOUS for a center. Teams inflate numbers all the time so I wouldn’t be surprised if Pocic was 6’5 which would probably be better for him. Solid in both run & pass blocking, Pocic is the best of a lot of very good SEC centers.
OL Computer Hope Cam Robinson: Robinson is a monster at 6’6/330lbs with the feet & agility to stay at LT. He wasn’t as good as Laremy Tunsil this past season, but there isn’t much question that Robinson would have been the 2nd highest graded tackle in the 2015 NFL Draft & he’ll be the highest rated LT in the 2016 NFL Draft. It’s hard to believe he’s a true junior. Robinson is a bit long on potential at this point as his 2015 didn’t go exceedingly well. He has consistency issues & the off the field issues this past offseason can’t be much of a help. I think he’ll turn in a big year for the Tide as he’ll want to work on his game. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that really wants to spend more time in college than he has to.
OL Computer Hope Dan Skipper: I can’t remember seeing a tackle as big as Skipper who comes in at 6’10/330lbs! Massive road grader who was an all SEC performer his sophomore year at LT before moving to RT last year where he was again an all-SEC performer. Skipper should be one of the top tackles in 2016 regardless of conference & if Robinson doesn’t show well, then Skipper should be the best in the SEC. It’ll be interesting to see where Skipper goes from here because we’ve never really seen a guy this long play before. You would think that length would be an advantage at LT, but given the speed/size combination of edge rushers in the NFL, I wonder if Skipper’s eventual home will be on the right side of the O-Line.
OL Computer Hope Greg Pyke: Pyke is a big interior O-Lineman who runs about 6’6/320lbs. The Georgia Bulldog had a great sophomore campaign in 2014 where he was a 2nd Team All-SEC selection and did a great job run blocking for both Todd Gurley & Nick Chubb. His 2015 was somewhat of a disappointment and at one point the Georgia coaching staff actually benched Pyke for uninspired play. Pyke has quite a bit to play for this season which will be his last in Athens, and he’s owned up to his less than stellar efforts last season which is a great sign of maturity on his part. He’s penciled in to take over at RT for the Bulldogs this season which is a solid move given his size. Pyke is a potential All-American this year.
OL Computer Hope Alex Kozan: Kozan had a nasty year in 2013 where he was a freshman All-American and had a huge part in the Auburn ground game that saw Nick Marshall rush for 1,068 yards & Tre Mason rush for 1,816 yards! That Auburn team finished 12-2 & was 3 points away from beating Florida State for a national championship. Kozan was put on all sorts of watch lists & was a potential 1st team All-SEC player heading into 2014 before he hurt his back & missed the entire season. He played in every game last year but coming into this season, Kozan will be 2-years removed from his injuries and I expect we’ll see a big year out of the 6’4/300lbs guard. I think a lot of people will be sleeping on him. I think that’s a mistake.

2ND TEAM OFFENSE

QB-Josh Dobbs/Tennessee: Completion % needs to come up but everything is in place for Dobbs to have an incredible senior season and win the SEC.
RB-Jovon Robinson/Auburn: 2015 didn’t go as well as the JUCO transfer thought, but the 6’0/235lbs Robinson could be huge in Malzahn’s offense.
RB-Jalen Hurd/Tennessee: Huge at 6’3/235lbs! Grinds defenses down and is a 1st Team All-Conference player in any conference except the SEC!
WR-Malachi Dupre/LSU: Big at 6’3/190lbs. LSU’s leading receiver last season. Can get to the paint & make big plays. Imagine if he had a legit QB?
WR-Josh Reynolds/Texas A&M: Outstanding size at 6’4/200lbs! Has averaged 17.0ypc during this 2 previous seasons in College Station & can score.
WR-Fred Ross/Mississippi St.: Not flashy but the 6’2/205lbs Bulldog is reliable. Caught 88 balls for 1,000+yds last season. Very consistent play at WR.
TE-Evan Engram/Ole Miss: A bit undersized at 6’3/230lbs but strong & can create mismatches. More of a Jordan Reed/Aaron Hernandez type of TE.
OC-Jon Toth/Kentucky: Ideal size at center at 6’5/300lbs. Toth is without question the general of the Kentucky O-Line & is arguably the best center here.
OL-Braden Smith/Auburn: Big interior guard at 6’6/290lbs, Smith was an all-SEC performer last year & will be a big part of Jovon Robinson’s success.
OL-Justin Senior/Mississippi St.: 6’5/300lbs senior who has started for 2 straight years. With Dak Prescott gone, he’ll try to keep his QB upright.
OL-Jashon Robertson/Tennessee: Has started 23/26 games since he’s been on campus. Incredibly important part of Tennessee’s interior offensive line.
OL-Alphonse Taylor/Alabama: Has had some trouble getting his weight down to Nick Saban’s liking, but he’s a big part of Alabama’s rushing attack.

3RD TEAM OFFENSE

QB-Trevor Knight/Texas A&M: He might not be outstanding, but how does Knight not put up huge numbers with all the receiving options he’ll have?
RB-Bo Scarbrough/Alabama: Scarbrough looks to be next in line in Alabama’s RB factor. The 6’0/230lbs runner should start to breakthrough in 2016.
RB-Keith Ford/Texas A&M: Like Knight, a Oklahoma transfer, Ford should have plenty of room to run with defenses keying on the A&M passing attack.
WR-Drew Morgan/Arkansas: Solid receiver at 6’0/190lbs. Led Arkansas in receiving last year & also caught 10TD passes. I think he can replicate that.
WR-Antonio Callaway/Florida: On talent alone Callaway probably should be a 1st team player but off-field issues might keep him off the field entirely!
WR-Keon Hatcher/Arkansas: Hatcher’s first senior year didn’t go as planned due to injury so he’ll try again. If healthy, he could put up big numbers.
TE-Jeremy Sprinkle/Arkansas: Don’t be shocked if Arkansas doesn’t miss Hunter Henry as much as you think. The 6’6/250lbs Sprinkle is dangerous.
OC-Brandon Kublanow/Georgia: If Jacob Eason is the starter in Athens, Kublanow could very well end up being the most valuable OL in the SEC.
OL-Avery Gennesy/Texas A&M: Gennesy takes over for Germain Ifedi at LT & is A&M’s best bet to keep their streak of 1st Round OL NFL Draft picks.
OL-David Sharpe/Florida: Massive at 6’6/350lbs, Sharpe will protect Luke Del Rio’s blindside in what could be a very good Florida OL that plays nasty.
OL-Maea Teuhema/LSU: How special is this guy? At 6’5/330lbs, he’s a true sophomore that is already starting at LT for a national title contending team.
OL-Martez Ivey/Florida: True sophomore that was #1OL recruit in 2015. The 6’6/310lbs will be at LG biding his time until he takes over for Sharpe.

4TH TEAM OFFENSE

QB-Brandon Harris/LSU: Much scrutinized to this point, Harris is only a junior and has a chance to start rewriting his legacy over the next 2 years at LSU.
RB-Derrius Grice/LSU: A 5’11/220lbs monster, Grice could easily wind up with over 1,000 yards rushing in relief of Fournette. A starter anywhere else but LSU.
RB-Sony Michel/Georgia: Ran for 1,100+ yards in relief of Chubb last season. Has all the tools to rush for another 1,000 yards even with Chubb healthy.
WR-Travin Dural/LSU: 2-year starter at 6’2/190lbs. RIDICULOUS PLAYMAKER. In his 3 years has averaged 19.9ypc! Needs to get the ball a lot more!
WR-Damore’ea Stringfellow/Ole Miss: I think Adeboyejo & Engram are going to be the first 2 options, but Stringfellow will get his fair share of balls.
WR-Ricky Seals-Jones/Texas A&M: TE size at 6’5/240lbs, I can’t figure out how this guy doesn’t get 100 balls for 1700 yards & 19TD. Very exciting to watch.
TE-DeAndre Goolsby/Florida: Has a chance to be really special in this offense. Showed great ability with 16+ypc last year at 6’4/240lbs. Needs ball more.
OC-Frank Ragnow/Arkansas: Ragnow being a 4th team All-SEC player proves how talented and deep the center position is in the SEC this year.
OL-Austin Golson/Auburn: Another center, Golson is a 6’5/310lbs transfer from Ole Miss. Auburn’s interior offensive line should be one of the very best.
OL-Will Clapp/LSU: Clapp is the 8th LSU starter listed on my 4 SEC teams. The 6’5/300lbs sophomore will play guard & open up holes for Fournette.
OL-Zack Bailey/South Carolina: The 6’6/330lbs guard is a true sophomore & probably SC’s most talented lineman. Will protect against pocket collapse.
OL-Ross Pierschbacher/Alabama: Regardless of whether he lines up at guard or center, the 6’4/300lbs redshirt sophomore deserves to be among the elite.

POS TEAM FIRST TEAM DEFENSE
DL Computer Hope Jonathan Allen: When you look at SEC games only, you can make an argument that Allen was more effective than Myles Garrett and did so at the 34DE position instead of the 43DE position which is more geared towards a pass rush. Allen is somewhat of a tweener at 6’3/272lbs. He doesn’t have the ideal height as a 34DE but he’s such a darn good football player it might not matter where you line him up in any defensive scheme. A 3rd team All-American last year, it was somewhat of a surprise to see Allen return to Tuscaloosa, but Nick Saban can’t happier about it. Allen should be a 1st Team All-American & if Alabama wins another national championship, Allen will be a big reason why.
DL Computer Hope Myles Garrett: Garrett has been an all-world talent since he stepped foot on the A&M campus & he’s done nothing in his first two seasons that would make us believe he doesn’t live up to the hype. At 6’5/255lbs, Garrett practically defines “perfection” for a 4-3DE. In his first two seasons he’s totaled 24 sacks & 33.5 tackles for loss. A first team All-American last year, you have to wonder if the Titans would have been as eager to trade down if a talent like Garrett had been available? There isn’t a question of whether he’s All-SEC or All-American? The question now will be the degree in which he dominates & if he can navigate his junior year without injury. Something Jaylon Smith & Myles Jack didn’t do.
DL Computer Hope Marquis Haynes: While all the talk centered around Robert Nkemdiche last year, Marquis Haynes put together a fantastic sophomore season that was All-SEC worthy. Haynes was a freshman All-American & followed that up with a year where he recorded 16.5TFL and 10 sacks! Haynes isn’t huge at 6’3/220lbs & is probably miscast as a 43DE in Ole Miss’s defense, but I don’t think it matters at the collegiate level. Outside of Nkemdiche, the Rebels return their entire D-Line. Fadol Brown, DJ Jones & Breeland Speaks is going to take up quite a bit of attention so Haynes shouldn’t have any trouble getting one on one matchups. I expect a monster year and I think Haynes will play his way into the first round.
DL Computer Hope Derek Barnett: At 6’3/267lbs, Barnett is giving Myles Garrett a run for his money in being the most productive SEC DE over their first two seasons. Garrett has 24 sacks & 33.5TFL, but Barnett has recorded 20 sacks & 33TFL! The numbers aren’t that different. Barnett was a freshman All-American in 2014 & followed that up with a 2nd Team All-SEC selection last year. Barnett is a little different from Garrett in that he’s already a stellar run defender. It’ll be interesting to see how Barnett improves his pass rushing ability even more. He’s going to be an All-American and a potential top-5 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The real question is whether or not Barnett will surpass Garrett as the top rated DE!?
LB Computer Hope Rueben Foster: Regardless of how talented a player you are, typically a LB has to wait a couple of years to start at Alabama because the depth is absurd. Foster waited his two years as a reserve & then jumped on the scene last year & didn’t disappoint, recording 73 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 9 passes broken up & a sack for good measure. At 6’1/240lbs, Foster is a legit thumper in the middle with the ability to cover the intermediate middle of the field. He’ll take over as the lead dog in the middle now that Reggie Ragland is in the NFL & I wouldn’t be surprised to see Foster play his way to 100+ tackles and All-American status. Given what Alabama has up front, Foster has plenty of room to hunt.
LB Computer Hope Zach Cunningham: Cunningham is an ultraproductive force as a middle LB with outstanding size at 6’4/240lbs! Cunningham would have been an intriguing NFL prospect & was eligible for the draft as a redshirt sophomore, but chose to come back to Nashville for his 4th season in the Vandy program. Cunningham led the Commodores in tackles, sacks & tackles for loss. He’s the best defender Vandy has but that doesn’t mean Vanderbilt isn’t short on defenders. Cunningham is going to be solid & will put up the numbers to earn this spot, but I don’t think it was an unusual move for to return. Vanderbilt has a ton returning on both offense & defense so Cunningham may think something special could happen.
LB Computer Hope Jalen Reeves-Maybin: For all the talk the Tennessee offense will get this year behind Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd & Alvin Kamara, don’t forget about the defense. The Vols defense is what sets them apart & Reeves-Maybe is a HUGE part of that. The 6’1/240lbs senior can argue rather easily he’s the best LB in college football and certainly the best weakside LB. Reeves-Maybin has led UT in tackles the last two seasons going over the 100 mark both times. Last year he tacked on 14TFL & 6 sacks to go along with 4 passes broken up. Reeves-Maybin shows outstanding sideline to sideline speed. There isn’t much he can’t do on a football field. He’s a more limited version of Myles Jacks but without the injuries.
LB Computer Hope Tim Williams: The 6’4/230lbs 3-4OLB had a breakout season in 2015 going for 10.5 sacks and 12.5 TFL. Williams along with Jonathan Allen & Ryan Anderson provides Alabama with something defensively they haven’t completely relied upon since Nick Saban took the gig which is a legitimate pass rush! Since Saban took the job in Tuscaloosa, he’s never had a pass rusher with double-digit sacks until last season when both Allen & Williams did so. Williams has incredible explosion off the line & is an easy 1st round talent as a pass rusher. If he can work on his run support, he’ll vault himself into the top-half of the first round. If he gets the snaps expect 16-19 sacks and a nod as a first team All-American.
DB Computer Hope Jalen Tabor: Teammate Vernon Hargreaves was a top-10 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft & Tabor outplayed him in 2015. Tabor wasn’t draft eligible because he was a true sophomore, but Tabor probably would have been the 2nd corner off the board after Jalen Ramsey had he been able to come out. Tabor has incredible size at 6’1/190lbs for a CB and he also runs quick enough to play legit press man coverage off the line. Tabor had a ridiculous 14 passes broken up last year to go with 4 interceptions, 2 of which he returned for TDs. In my opinion Tabor is the best corner in college football this year. He doesn’t shy away from contact either & has a physical element to his game. Can easily play on an island.
DB Computer Hope Tre’Davious White: White brings 35 career starts to the table making him the most experienced CB in the SEC. White doesn’t have the same size as Tabor, but isn’t awful at 5’11/190lbs either! White had a great junior season in Baton Rouge going for 44 tackles & 7 passes broken up. He’ll get knocked by NFL guys that he’s too short & stringy to go up against NFL WR size, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that. White could have actually come out last season & been a high draft pick. I love the fact he came back to LSU & his return makes this defense THAT much better. Between White, Tabor, Desmond King & Adoree Jackson, there is some serious competition for All American honors at corner.
DB Computer Hope Eddie Jackson: Jackson had a solid year last season ball-hawking in Alabama’s secondary. His 6 interceptions ranked 7th in the nation and he’ll be an integral part of an Alabama secondary that is extremely young at corner. The 6’0/191lbs safety ended the year as a 1st Team All-SEC safety & a 2nd Team All-American. Jackson is actually a converted corner giving him the advantage of having good cover skills as a safety which is why you see the big numbers in picks & passes defended. Jackson doesn’t shy away from contact either and can at times drop down in the box. Alabama does an EXCEPTIONAL job of blurring the lines between strong safety & free safety and Jackson fits this strategy to perfection.
DB Computer Hope Jamal Adams: Adams is one of my favorite players in the SEC. What is it about LSU defensive backs that looks so incredible on Saturdays? When these guys put on the uniform it looks like they were born to play football. Adams has been ridiculously consistent in his first two years in Baton Rouge. He’s had 66 & 67 tackles over his first two seasons. His had 5 tackles for loss in both seasons. He’s had 5 & 6 passes broken up in each season. Adams showed tremendous ball skills & ball-hawking ability last year with 4 interceptions. I think Adams is the best safety in America & he’s primed for a MONSTER season! I could see 100+ tackles, 1st Team All-American status and being a high 1st round pick in the NFL draft.

2ND TEAM DEFENSE

DL-Deatrich Wise/Arkansas: Wise broke out last year with 8-sacks/10.5TFL. The 6’5/271lbs rSR has incredible size & could play himself into Round 1 as a 3-4DE.
DL-Davon Godchaux/LSU: The 6’4/300lbs DT had a great season in last year as a true soph. Has fantastic athleticism for a man this big. Had 6 sacks & 8TFL last year.
DL-Da’Shawn Hand/Alabama: Hard to find playing time with Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson & Jonathan Allen ahead of you. Hand finally gets to play this season.
DL-Dalvin Tomlinson/Alabama: Like Hand, Tomlinson had to wait his turn, and like Hand, Tomlinson will run with. Both guys could be 1st round picks in 2017.
LB-Kendell Beckwith/LSU: The 6’2/245lbs senior MLB should be the unquestioned leader of what could be an incredible LSU defense. Crazy to think he’s a 2nd teamer.
LB-Jarrad Davis/Florida: Davis had an incredible year as a 1st year starter at the WIL for the Gators. Davis had 98 tackles, 11 tackls for loss & 7 QB hurries.
LB-Arden Key/LSU: DO NOT SLEEP on this guy. Key might be the most exciting defensive player in the nation. At 6’6/231lbs, it’ll be interesting to see his progress.
LB-Richie Brown/MS State: The 6’2/245lbs MLB is highly productive & entering his senior year. MS State is always going to compete & Brown is a big reason why in ’16.
DB-Tony Bridges/Ole Miss: At 6’2/190, Bridges has outstanding size for a CB. The JUCO transfer had a great 1st season in Oxford with 9 passes defended & 3 picks.
DB-Minkah Fitzpatrick/Alabama: Fitzpatrick came in last year as a true freshman & made a case as to why he was the best CB in Tuscaloosa! A true freshman did this!
DB-Marcus Maye/Florida: Keanu Neal’s counterpart at safety last year at Florida, Maye could easily find himself being taken in the 1st round of next year’s NFL Draft.
DB-Dominick Sanders/Georgia: The 6’0/187lbs Sanders has been a starter since he stepped on the field in Athens. Good coverage & ball skills as a free safety.

3RD TEAM DEFENSE

DL-Charles Harris/Missouri: Good size at 6’3/255lbs. Harris broke out last year as a rSO with 7 sacks & an incredible 18.5 tackles for loss. Likely a 34OLB in the NFL.
DL-Walter Brady/Missouri: Another 6’3/255lbs Mizzou DE, Brady had a great year last year as a rFR with 7 sacks & 12.5 tackles for loss. He’ll get even better in ’16.
DL-Terry Beckner/Missouri: The 6’4/300lbs true frosh made a case for being the best DL in the 2015 class. Beckner clogged up the middle & showed some pass rush.
DL-Bryan Cox/Florida: A redshirt senior, Cox is going to put up big numbers this year along the Florida D-Line. Cox finally got a shot last season & did very well.
LB-Ryan Anderson/Alabama: With a ridiculous amount of talent everywhere on Alabama’s defense, don’t be surprised if Anderson emerges as the sacks & TFL leader.
LB-Alex Anzalone/Florida: Injuries have really taken a toll on Anzalone’s career at UF but you can’t deny the talent of the 6’3/240lbs LB. Let’s hope he stays healthy.
LB-Darrin Kirkland/Tennessee: The 6’1/224lbs Indianapolis native wasted no time becoming UT’s starting MIKE as a true frosh! Kirkland is an outstanding talent.
LB-Michael Scherer/Missouri: Big time production with Scherer that sometimes gets over looked because Kentrell Brothers played alongside of him. He’ll be the man.
DB-Cameron Sutton/Tennessee: Sutton is outstanding and if he winds up as a 1st Team All-SEC player I wouldn’t be surprised in the least. Offenses try to avoid him.
DB-Marlon Humphrey/Alabama: Humphrey, like Fitzpatrick was also a frosh last year although a rFR. Big time size at 6’1/192lbs combined with big time talent.
DB-Armani Watts/Texas A&M: Undersized strong safety at 5’11/190lbs, but Watts shows up every week. He led the Aggies in tackles last year totaling 126! 2nd in the SEC.
DB-Oren Burks/Vanderbilt: Burks is big at 6’3/220lbs & I wouldn’t be surprised to see him shoot up draft boards as a hybrid WIL/S type of player the NFL covets.

4TH TEAM DEFENSE

DL-Carl Lawson/Auburn: Injuries have plagued Lawson but the talent is INCREDIBLE. Wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Lawson ended the year as SEC defensive POY!
DL-Lewis Neal/LSU: Neal has odd size at 6’1/255lbs. The switch to a 3-4 hurts him in my opinion. He’s an edge rusher with the size of a 3-4 ILB. It’ll be interesting to see.
DL-Josh Augusta/Missouri: MASSIVE at 6’4/350lbs! Augusta does more than clog up running lanes. He also had 8.5 tackles for loss & 27 tackles. Can be a legit 34NT.
DL-Caleb Brantley/Florida: Brantley is a big guy at 6’2/320lbs with some first step quickness & wiggle. His ability to provide interior pressure will be big for Florida.
LB-Brooks Ellis/Arkansas: Ellis led Arkansas in tackles last year with 102 but also showed ability as a pass rusher. The 6’2/248lbs senior should have a great year.
LB-Donavin Newsom/Missouri: A 6’2/230lbs thumper as the SAM, Newsom is going to have massive opportunity to excel. Missouri’s front seven looks ridiculous.
LB-Tim Kimbrough/Georgia: Kimbrough is a solid interior LB in UGA’s 3-4 scheme. There is nothing overtly fancy about his game, but he knows his job & gets it done.
LB-Lorenzo Carter/Georgia: Unbelievable size at 6’6/240lbs, Carter has the responsibility of replacing Leonard Floyd & Jordan Jenkins. I think he has a monster year.
DB-Carlton Davis/Auburn: The true freshman established himself as Auburn’s best CB last year with 3 picks & 8 PBUs. Good size at 6’1/182lbs, he’ll continue to improve.
DB-Donovan Wilson/Texas A&M: Isn’t defined by a set position at A&M other than “playmaker”. The idea is to get this kid on the field & wait for big plays to happen.
DB-Quincy Mauger/Georgia: Solid safety for the Bulldogs, Mauger wasn’t quite the player for Georgia last year as he was in 2014, but I think he’ll have a big senior season.
DB-Kivon Coman/MS State: Great size at 6’3/200lbs, Coman has pretty good cover skills while also being able to come into the box and play against the run. I like him.

June 18, 2016 Posted by | Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., Missouri, Preseason, Previews, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas AM, Vanderbilt | Leave a comment

2015 SEC PREVIEW and PREDICTIONS

RANK SEC EAST COMMENTS
#1 OFFENSE: Tennessee is BACK! Offensively the Vols improved by 5.1PPG in Butch Jones’ 2nd year as HC. If they keep that trajectory then UT scores 34PPG which will be more than enough to win the SEC East. The scary part is that they might score closer to 40PPG. The Vols have 10 starters back on offense which is ABSURD! Of their projected starting 11, 7 were frosh/soph last year meaning they all come with significantly more experience in 2015. Josh Dobbs is the QB who played well last year & RB Jalen Hurd rushed for 900yds as a frosh. UT has their top-9 receivers back & there is talent up & down the offense. The one issue last year was poor O-Line play, but the line is so much more experienced this season. It’ll be wait & see with the O-Line but I expect improvement. Hurd is going to be big this year. DEFENSE: Like the offense, the defense improved by 5PPG in Jones’ 2nd year & if the same holds true this year UT will allow 19PPG! However, I think UT could improve this as well. The Vols bring back 8 starters 5 of their front & back 7. LB AJ Johnson is a big loss but UT brings back 5 of their top-6 tacklers. LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin led with 101 tackles last year & DE Derek Barnett was a monster last year as a true frosh with 10 sacks & 20.5 tackles for loss! LB Curt Maggitt chipped in 11 sacks himself & is a potential All-American! S LaDarrell McNeil & CB Cameron Sutton can be All-SEC. UT has 5 legit all-SEC defenders. SCHEDULE: I have UT winning the East because they get Georgia in Knoxville & the upside of this team is outstanding. OOC games against Oklahoma & Bowling Green will be interesting. The Vols draw Arkansas & Alabama out of the West & also have road games against Florida & Missouri. It’s not an easy task, but if the Vols win their homes games, they’ll be OK. BEST CASE: 12-0!!! WORST CASE: 5-7
#2 OFFENSE: With all due respect to Ezekiel Elliott, Nick Chubb is the best RB in college football & is almost reason enough to have Georgia win the East, but UGA simply doesn’t rise to the occasion. The SEC East should have been the Dawgs’ playground, yet Missouri has won the division the last 2 seasons! Chubb headlines an offense that also returns 4 starters on the O-Line. It’s potentially the best O-Line in the nation & G Greg Pyke is an All-American candidate. The one issue Georgia has is that they’ll be starting a new QB & they lose their top-2 receivers. QB Hutson Mason did a fantastic job last year for UGA & of course there is talent galore at the receiver spot. Georgia is going to run the ball & then run it some more but they’ll need to show the ability to pass as well to make the running game more effective. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Georgia average 40PPG again. DEFENSE: DC Jeremy Pruitt is in his 2nd year & I’d expect Georgia to keep improving. Georgia improved their PPG allowed  by 8.3PPG in Pruitt’s 1st season so the upside is there. What I like about this 3-4 defense is DE Jordan Jenkins & OLBs Lorenzo Carter & Leonard Floyd. All 3 can get to the QB & having a 3-4DE with pass rushing ability is a huge asset. They also bring back 3 of 4 DBs with safeties Quincy Mauger & Aaron Davis as potential All-SEC players. The corners also have good size. UGA did lose their ILBs who accounted for 225 tackles a season ago, but I think this defense can be just as good this year! SCHEDULE: UGA got no breaks drawing Auburn & Alabama out of the West! They also have to go on the road to Tennessee and Georgia Tech. The rest of the schedule isn’t bad, but Georgia has to watch out for the early game against South Carolina. That seems to trip them up all the time & they are 1-4 in their last 5. BEST CASE: 12-0. WORST CASE: 5-7
#3 OFFENSE: Missouri’s offense took a step back last year by almost 12PPG which was to be expected as Chase Daniel left & new starting QB Maty Mauk took over. The results didn’t differ that much as the Tigers were able to win a 2nd consecutive SEC East title en route to an 11-3 season! This year Mauk & RB Russell Hansbrough enter their 2nd year as full time starters with an O-Line that returns 4 of 5. Hanbrough rushed for 1084yds/10TD/5.3ypc & I think those numbers will improve. The one area Missouri has to be concerned with is Mauk & the passing game. Missouri loses their top-4 receivers including Bud Sasser (77rec/1003yds) & Jimmie Hunt (17.5ypc!). Those 2 were obviously safety guys for Mauk who has all new receivers this year. TE Sean Culkin should play a huge role, but for Missouri to be successful, Mauk has do better than 53.4% & a 25:13 TD:INT ratio. DEFENSE: Losing Markus Golden, Shane Ray, Lucas Vincent & Matt Hoch along the D-line would seem BRUTAL and it is, but Mizzou has done an outstanding job of restocking the D-Line. Marcell Frazier is a monster JUCO talent coming in to the DE at 6’5/270lbs! Charles Harris at 6’3/255lbs is the other DE. Top recruit Terry Beckner comes in at DT  & the Tigers also have Harold Brantley & Josh Augusta. The D-Line will take a hit because of the losses, but it’s an interesting group with massive upside. Missouri also returns LBs Kentrell Bothers & Mike Scherer who were #1 & #2 in tackles last year with All-SEC potential. The secondary returns 3 of 4 starters including both corners. SCHEDULE: OOC is a joke outside of BYU late in the year in Kansas City. Mississippi St. & Arkansas out of the West isn’t horrific. They do play at Georgia but get Tennessee, South Carolina & Florida at home. This is a VERY manageable schedule. BEST CASE: 10-2. WORST CASE: 4-8
#4 OFFENSE: The Gamecocks have averaged 30+PPG since 2010, but that is going to be a hard precedent to follow with an offense that is completely rebuilding. The offense essentially loses everyone outside of potential All-American WR Pharoh Cooper & 3 offensive linemen. SC loses QB Dylan Thompson & RB Mike Davis along with 4 of their top-5 receivers! The Ol’ Ball Coach is still on the sidelines so it’s not like the offense won’t have some firepower, and this is South Carolina so there is obviously talent. Connor Mitch takes over at QB & I think he’s going to have a good year. Brandon Wilds & David Williams are the RBs & both have some upside although it’ll be different than seeing Mike Davis/Marcus Lattimore in recent seasons. The offense has a chance if the O-Line can gel, LT Brandon Shell keeps Mitch upright & Cooper & TE Jerell Adams act as safety valves for the new QB. DEFENSE: Carolina’s offense was downright TERRIBLE last season allowing 30.4PPG! That is so unlike SC football that it’s hard to believe the Gamecocks were that bad. Luckily, they return 8 starters so the unit should be a lot better. Carolina returns 6 of their top-7 tacklers including 6 of the front-7. The problem is production. MLB Skai Moore is the only defender who could be an All-SEC type players. The front-4 is huge averaging 6’3/325lbs at DT & 6’3/270lbs at DE! Marquavius Lewis should have an immediate impact. The secondary returns 2 of 4 starters. There is a lot of potential here & I have a hard time believing SC won’t be better. SCHEDULE: The OOC is tough with games against UNC, Clemson & UCF! They have road games against Tennessee, Georgia & Missouri which limit the upside of how high SC could go. They draw LSU & Texas A&M from the West. It’s a brutal schedule that will be hard to overcome. BEST CASE: 9-3. WORST CASE: 2-10! 
#5 OFFENSE: The Gators are in rebuilding mode offensively but new HC Jim McElwain is an interesting fit. He spent the last 3 years at Colorado St., guiding the Rams to continuous improvement. CSU was 4-8 in McElwain’s first year. They were 10-3 last season! What’s interesting about him is that before Colorado St., McElwain was Alabama’s OC from 2008-2011! He understands SEC football and he’s accustomed to winning football games. Florida brings back just 4 starters on offense, but the talent is undeniable. It’ll be interesting to see what McElwain will do with QBs Will Grier & Treon Harris. Remember what Garrett Grayson was able to accomplish at Colorado St. during McElwain’s time there. WR Demarcus Robinson has great upside & while the O-Line welcomes in 4 new starters, the big uglies up front average 6’4/320lbs. Keep & eye on RBs Kelvin Taylor & Adam Lane as well. Florida might struggle a bit offensively but it’ll be fun to watch. DEFENSE: The Gator defense has a lot more experience & has 2 potential All-Americans in CB Vernon Hargreaves & LB Antonio Morrison. DT Jonathan Bullard & CB Brian Poole should also be All-Conference contenders. This is the unit Gator Nation won’t have to worry about as Florida allowed just 21.1PPG & could be better. The secondary is arguably the best unit in the nation & the D-Line anchored by Bullard should be solid. Losing Dante Fowler is tough but Florida should be alright. This is a defense that shouldn’t have many problems allowing fewer than 20PPG making them a scary team. SCHEDULE: OOC is cake except season finale hosting Florida State. They get Ole Miss & LSU from the West which hurts & also have road games against SC & Missouri. They do get Tennessee at home which is a huge break. Still a tough schedule for such a young team. BEST CASE: 8-4. WORST CASE: 4-8
#6 OFFENSE: In Mark Stoops’ 2nd year in Lexington, the Wildcats improved their offense by 9PPG! This year Kentucky brings back 7 starters on offense including their QB, leading rusher, leading receiver & 4 offensive linemen. When you think of SEC football you typically don’t think about Kentucky, but Stoops is doing an AMAZING job thus far & if UK improves as much this year as they did between Years 1 & 2, they would celebrate an 8-4 season! The talent isn’t overwhelming here but it fits. QB Patrick Towles is huge at 6’5/241lbs. While not amazing last year, if he improves his accuracy & decision making, UK is immensely better. RB Stan Williams averaged 6.6ypc in limited time. He’ll be the feature back this season. The O-Line averages 6’5/305bls with C Jon Toth being a potential All-SEC player. TE CJ Conrad & WR Dorian Baker are big targets while Ryan Timmons  is old reliable who can be outstanding! UK averages 30+PPG this year! DEFENSE: Kudos to Stoops for switching the defense to a 3-4 which better matches the personnel. Melvin Lews is a legit NT at 6’4/350lbs. What UK really needs to have in 2015 is a pass rush after losing Bud Dupree & Za’Darius Smith. Dupress is irreplaceable but Jason Hatcher, Denzil Ware, Alvonte Bell & Jabari Johnson are going to try & get a pass rush going. UK also brings back three quarters of their secondary with both CBs intact. LB Josh Forrest led the team in tackles last year with 110 & will anchor the LB corps & is an All-SEC candidate. I like the upside of this defense & think it works a lot better as a 3-4. It’ll improve. SCHEDULE: OOC is a joke outside of Louisville. They draw Auburn & MS State from the West. OUCH! They get UGA & SC on the road but UT, Mizzou & Florida at home. Kentucky is going to surprise some people this year. I wouldn’t overlook them. BEST CASE: 8-4. WORST CASE: 4-8
#7 Let’s not worry so much about Vanderbilt’s breakdown as far as offense, defense & schedule are concerned. Vandy is in an interesting situation because they had a couple of 9-4 seasons under former HC James Franklin before Franklin picked up for Penn State in the hopes of restoring that once proud & storied program. If you are coaching Vanderbilt & Penn St. comes knocking, you pack up & move to Pennsylvania. No question. On the other hand, Vanderbilt was left with this feeling that they could actually compete in the SEC. The question is whether that is a legit proposition or not? From 2012-2013 the Commodores were 18-8 with a couple of bowl wins. In their previous HISTORY, Vanderbilt had only one other season in which they won 9 games. However, notice these other records during those 2 seasons: Florida 15-10; Tennessee 10-14; Georgia 20-7; South Carolina 22-4; Missouri 17-9. For the most part Vanderbilt was better than all of those teams save South Carolina although even the Gamecocks couldn’t win an SEC East title despite those 22 wins. What’s interesting here is that Vandy sort of seized on an opportunity presented by Florida & Tennessee who were having downward spikes in their program’s history. Coaching uncertainty seemed the norm as Will Muschamp wasn’t the answer in Gainesville & Derek Dooley wasn’t the answer in Knoxville. The problem Vanderbilt faces now is that the coaching situations have seemed to have stabilized. Georgia is always Georgia, but Butch Jones has seemingly been a great hire for Tennessee & by all account Jim McElwain looks like a winner in Florida. Kentucky has upped the ante considerably with Mark Stoops while Mark Richt & Steve Spurrier & great coaches. I don’t think there is anything to exploit here which spells trouble for Vanderbilt. BEST CASE: 7-5; WORST CASE: 2-10

 

SEC EAST OVERALL OUTLOOK: This is a very interesting time to be in the SEC East. The division has played little brother to the West for quite some time now, but that might be on the verge of changing with a lot of new coaches coming into the division & making once proud programs relevant again. Butch Jones looks to be “the guy” and I’m very high on Jim McElwain at Florida. Gary Pinkel can coach with ANYONE and of course we still have Georgia with Mark Richt & Steve Spurrier with South Carolina. What also makes this division interesting is what Mark Stoops is doing in Kentucky. It’s a difficult cycle to be in for Wildcat fans because of Stoops keeps succeeding at the rate he has in Lexington, it won’t be long before a bigger football school comes calling. On the other hand, he’s HC in the SEC which is something so persuasive that Bret Bielema left a Wisconsin program that had been to 3 straight Rose Bowls to take over an Arkansas program on the rocks after the Bobby Petrino fiasco! I don’t think the East has caught up to the West just yet, but it’s coming. The race this year should come down to Tennessee & Georgia, but every program in this conference will be competitive. I’m bearish on what Derek Mason can do at Vanderbilt because his timing in Nashville isn’t quite as good as James Franklin’s was relative to the rest of the division, but Mason is a good football coach & Vanderbilt will come to play. I love the East this season. I think it’s a great division & the fireworks should be never ending in 2015!

 

RANK SEC WEST COMMENTS
#1 OFFENSE: The offense returns just 4 starters but this is Gus Malzahn & the Tigers are in the 3rd year of his schemes. War Eagle has scored 39.5PPG & 35.5PPG in his 1st 2 years respectively. Auburn is going to score points. There is a lot of lost players though. QB Nick Marshall, RB Cameron Artis-Payne, WR Sammie Coates, TE CJ Usomah & 2 O-Linemen, but this offense could be just as explosive. QB Jeremy Johnson is huge at 6’5/240lbs & has shown uncanny accuracy in limited time. RB Jovon Robinson is a monster as is RB Roc Thomas. WR D’haquille Williams is the best WR in college football & RT Avery Young is an All-American candidate. The O-Line returns 3 starters but G Braden Smith was a frosh All-SEC guy so they have essentially 4. The talent is incredible & the roster is stacked. There is some thought that the rushing numbers will down without Artis-Payne & Marshall. The O-Line is going to be really good & I think the receivers are better than people think. DEFENSE: I think defense is what’s going to separate Auburn from the rest of the West this year as they return 8 starters & 6 of their top-8 tacklers! LB Cassanova McKinzy is arguably the best ILB in the country this year. DT Montravius Adams & DE Carl Lawson give the Tigers 2 All-SEC players up front & Lawson is returning from injury so War Eagle didn’t even have him last season. LB Kris Frost, DE DaVonte Lambert & S Johnathan Ford also return! Auburn also has both corners returning. Eight of the 11 starters are upperclassmen & this defense just fits well to me. Expect big numbers. SCHEDULE: OOC against Louisville. They draw Kentucky & Georgia out of the East but get UGA at home. Alabama comes to Jordan-Hare this year which decides the West. They do travel to Arkansas & LSU, but the LSU game is early & I love how this team sets up. BEST CASE: 12-0; WORST CASE: 5-7
#2 OFFENSE: Alabama is going through a tremendous rebuild on offense this year as they return just 3 starters & lose their starting QB, their best RB & their top-3 receivers including all-world WR Amari Cooper who caught 124 balls last year for 1727yds/16TD! The only players returning for Alabama is RB Derrick Henry, C Ryan Kelly & LT Cam Robinson! Kelly & TE OJ Howard are All-American candidates & all-4 players mentioned could be 1st-Team All-SEC! Obviously there is a massive amount of talent on board at every position but how well QB Jake Coker plays will probably determine how effective the Tide can be this year. Henry is going to be the focus of the offense & he & Howard will take some pressure off of Coker who should be OK as a senior, but I don’t think Alabama’s offense is going to put up close to 40PPG the way they have the last 3 years. OC Lane Kiffin has his work cut out for him. DEFENSE: Alabama has a few losses here, most notably S Landon Collins, but the D also returns 7 starters & have 3 potential All-Americans in NT A’Shawn Robinson, LB Reggie Ragland & S Eddie Jackson! Fiver other Tide defenders could be All-SEC which means Alabama has the potential to put 8 of their defensive players on the 1st Team All-SEC Defense! That’s insane! DC Kirby Smart has plenty to work with & I’d expect the Tide to get back to allowing fewer than 15PPG! Keep an eye on Ryan Anderson & Jonathan Allen. SCHEDULE: FILTHY! Alabama didn’t get any favors getting both Tennessee & Georgia from the East with a trip to Athens. They also draw A&M, Mississippi St. & Auburn on the road. Throw in Wisconsin as an OOC opponent & you are looking at arguably the most difficult schedule in the BCS! Alabama is 46-3 at home the last 7-years. They’ll win at home. What is hard this year is the road slate. BEST CASE: 12-0; WORST CASE: 3-9
#3 OFFENSE: Get ready! In HC Bret Bielema’s 2nd year, he’s improved Arkansas’ offense by 11.2PPG & went from 3-9 to 7-6. Arkansas was 4-2 in their last 6 including wins over LSU & Ole Miss! This year the Razorbacks bring back 9 starters including QB Brandon Allen, RBs Jonathan Williams & Alex Collins who both rushed for at least 1100yds, TE Hunter Henry & 4 O-Line starters! The offense averaged 31.9PPG last season. They might average 50 this season! Henry might be the best TE in the game & Collins & Williams should form an almost unstoppable duo in the backfield. Brandon Allen already has good decision making on his resume. If he improves his accuracy (56% in ’14), he’ll be a potential All-SEC player. The O-Line has 3 guys (Dan Skipper, Sebastian Tretola & Denver Kirkland) who could be All-Conference. If there is a weakness to this offense, I don’t see it. DEFENSE: Arkansas lost a ton on defense which included 4 NFL Draft picks! LB Martrell Spaight is the biggest lost as he was the heart & soul of the defense. DE Trey Flowers was also a huge loss as their best pass rusher & CB Tevin Mitchell was their best corner guy. There is some OK talent left though. DE JaMichael Winston could have a big year getting after the passer & the secondary returns 3 of 4 starters. LB Brooks Ellis was 2nd in the team in tackles last season & DT Taiwan Johnson is an interior defender who can get to the QB. The defense won’t match last year’s 19.2PPG allowed, but it could be OK. With the way Arkansas runs the football, they are going to control the clock quite a bit so the defense won’t have a ton of pressure. It’ll work. SCHEDULE: OOC is a joke but they draw UT & Mizzou from the East. Arkansas has road games against Bama, LSU, Ole Miss & Tennessee. Schedule is BRUTAL but something special is happening here. BEST CASE: 12-0; WORST CASE: 7-5
#4 OFFENSE: The Rebels have averaged 30PPG in HC Hugh Freeze’s first 3 seasons, but this might be the best edition yet. Gone is QB Bo Wallace but almost everyone else returns. The O-Line returns all 5 starters led by All-American Laremy Tunsil. In fact, Tunsil probably won’t be the only 1st Team All-American on the offense as TE Evan Engram & WR Laquon Treadwell could also join him! WR Cody Core also returns & WR Damore’ea Stringfellow rounds out the receiving corps which could be the best in the nation. RBs Jaylen Walton & Jordan Wilkins return as well. The QB looks like it’ll be Chad Kelly who originally was at Clemson, but transferred & won a NJCAA national title last season! He has the keys to an offense that could be extremely special. The O-Line has to get a bit better in pass protection, but this should be an extremely powerful offense. DEFENSE: The offense isn’t the only unit with an All-American as DT Robert Nkemdiche is outstanding from the interior! DE Marquis Haynes, LB Denzel Nkemdiche & CB Tony Conner are also outstanding defenders with All-SEC potential. Freeze is an offensive guy, but the dramatic improvements have come on defense where the Rebels allowed 27.6PPG his first year but 16.0PPG last year (his 3rd)! The talent is overwhelming here. DT DJ Jones & DE Breeland Speaks are new starters & I’m really excited to see what they can do. CB Tee Shepard also enters the starting lineup. Ole Miss does lose 5 of their top-8 tacklers including CB Senquez Golson & S Cody Prewitt. Those are huge losses but I still love this defense. SCHEDULE: Hard to put Ole Miss #4 but they play on the road against Auburn, Alabama & Mississippi St. They also draw a road game against Florida. OOC is a joke & Freeze has improved every year so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ole Miss with 10-11 wins. BEST CASE: 10-2; WORST CASE: 5-7
#5 Like we did with Vanderbilt, let’s not worry about breaking LSU down from a unit perspective. I don’t think there is a more polarizing coaching figure in college football than LSU’s Les Miles. Some people believe he is a mad genius and one of the best coaches in the game. And who could argue with that? He’s 103-29 in 10-years with the Tigers. He’s won a national championship & played for another one. LSU can argue they are the most talented football team on a yearly basis with the way the program recruits. On the other hand, you have those who believe that Miles is over his head. That he’s sort of a bumbling coach that just happens to be at a place that will always have tremendous talent, but in some odd way has under performed given the talent level. I mean, hasn’t that guy in Tuscaloosa won 3 titles and a 4th at LSU!? Why isn’t LSU seeing that kind of dominance? I think LSU could be in trouble regarding talent relative to coaching acumen. LSU played for a title in 2011 but in 2012 they lost a couple of SEC games. In 2013 they lost 3. Last year they lost 4 SEC games & finished 8-5, the worst record they had since 2008! The coaching talent at Ole Miss, Mississippi St., Arkansas & Auburn has been massively upgraded in recent years. Texas A&M has joined the conference & Kevin Sumlin can coach. Oh, and there is that guy at Alabama still hanging around. If you wanted to argue that Miles might be the worst coach in the SEC West, I wouldn’t necessarily quibble with you. I mean, how far does a national championship take you? Is Barry Switzer a great NFL HC because he won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys? Once again LSU is star studded & despite the big losses on defense, they should still be one of the best teams in the country, but I think rough times are in store for the Tigers and you have to wonder how long Miles will be around. BEST CASE: 12-0; WORST CASE: 5-7
#6 OFFENSE: The Aggies were down last year in offense (only 35PPG!!!), but this year the unit brings back 8 starters along with QB Kyle Allen who now has a season under his belt. The fireworks are going to be incredible offensively. WRs Ricky Seals-Jones (6’5), Josh Reynolds (6’4), & Speedy Noil (5’11) are OUTSTANDING giving Allen ridiculous options to throw too. All 4 players could be all-SEC by the time the season is over! In fact, I think Seals-Jones & Reynolds could put up All-American numbers! RB Tra Carson also returns for his senior season & Brandon Williams is around to back up. The one area where A&M could struggle is the O-Line. They lose 3 starters including LT Cedric Ogbuehi & LG Jarvis Harrison who were both NFL Draft picks. Still, there is a lot of talent there with 3 guys who could be All-Conference. I think Allen takes a jump & A&M goes back to 40+PPG! DEFENSE: The D-line is RIDICULOUS! It didn’t take long for DE Myles Garrett to make a statement. The 6’5/255lbs true frosh had 11.5 sacks & 14TFL! DT Alonzo Williams can get good pressure on the QB & DE Daeshon Hall is no slouch himself! I think this is a great D-line. Everyone returns & Garrett is an All-American in the making. The D-Line averages about 6’5/280lbs! The LB corps is a little thin but new starters Otaro Alaka & Josh Walker are now sophs who got some good run time in last season. They’ll be better. Shaan Washington was 4th in tackles a year ago. The secondary returns 3 of 4. It’s probably their weakest unit but there is plenty of talent there. I’d keep an eye on S Justin Evans & CB Nick Harvey. SCHEDULE: Arizona St. OOC won’t be easy but A&M draws both Bama & Auburn at home! They draw SC & Vandy out of the East & only travel to Ole Miss & LSU! They get Arkansas in Arlington. Not easy but A&M could be a surprise playoff team. BEST CASE: 12-0; WORST CASE: 4-8
#7 OFFENSE: The good news is QB Dak Prescott returns & could be a Heisman candidate. The bad news is that Mississippi St. returns just 3 other starters on offense & are incredibly inexperienced. WR De’Runnya Wilson returns & at 6’5 is a matchup nightmare. He caught 9TD a season ago & is one of the best WRs in the SEC. The O-Line returns a couple of starters as well. The losses are huge. Up front the Bulldogs lose 3 starters, but the good news is that none of those starters were NFL Draft picks & they have quite a bit of talent coming in. Fred Ross & Donald Gray should be good options at receiver & it looks like Ashton Shumpert will take over as RB & could do a really good job replacing Josh Robinson. There is a lot of loss here but there is a lot of talent too & if Prescott plays like a Heisman/All-American, then that covers up a lot! They might not score 37PPG like last year but they’ll be in good shape. DEFENSE: Even worse than the offense, the defense returns just 3 starters, but they do return 5 of their top-7 tacklers! CB Will Redmond & DT Chris Jones could be all-SEC guys while DE Ryan Brown should be a force on the outside pass rush. LB Beniquez Brown ranked 2nd on the team in tackles a year ago & of course HC Dan Mullen has upped the talent level with another recruiting cycle. The losses are huge though. DE Preston Smith, DT Kaleb Euls and DT PJ Jones are gone from the D-Line. LB Benardrick McKinney is probably an even bigger loss than Smith! LB Matt Wells & both safeties were also lost. Last year’s defense was amazing so there is some drop off but I still like the upside of this unit: SCHEDULE: OOC is a joke & have road games against Auburn & Arkansas. They draw Mizzou & UK out of the East. They do get Ole Miss, Bama & LSU in Starkville. This could be the worst team in the West & still a top-25 program. BEST CASE: 10-2; WORST CASE: 4-8

 

SEC WEST OVERALL OUTLOOK: The best division in college football without question. Every team in the division is a possible playoff threat which is ridiculous when you think about it. Mississippi St. was the #1 team in the nation for a large portion of the year in 2014 & they come into 2015 looking like the worst team in the West given the losses they have to endure this year and I still think it’s possible for them to grab 10 wins if everything breaks right for them. Win a bowl game & arguably the worst team in the division is looking at a final record of 11-2 & a top-10 finish! I’m not sure any of these teams couldn’t win the division except for Mississippi St. who I think can’t overcome such crippling losses in personnel although I wouldn’t want to play them either. The most interesting thing for me coming into the season will be watching the rise of Arkansas and the fall of LSU. I’m not sure it’s inevitable that Miles’ days in Baton Rouge are numbered, but it sure does seem that way. I also think watching Bielema having so much success at Arkansas is interesting. We hear a lot about how Urban Meyer brought the SEC to Big 10 football with his leaving Florida & going to Ohio State. What we don’t hear about is how Bielema is bringing Big 10 football to the SEC & having success with it. Has that success been as fast as Meyer has had at Ohio State? No, but Arkansas is a legit playoff threat & I wouldn’t be surprised to see them post an 11-2 record. I haven’t mentioned either Auburn or Alabama yet, the two teams I think are the best in the entire conference. If things go to plan, I think Auburn & Alabama finish 11-0 before the Iron Bowl. What will be interesting is to see if the loser can somehow still make it into the playoffs. You can’t go wrong watching SEC football this season.

August 23, 2015 Posted by | Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi St., Missouri, Predictions, Previews, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas AM, Vanderbilt | Leave a comment