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SEC Storylines of Week 2: “The Streak”

The college football season gets another week older, and many eyes will be focused on the SEC. Here is a rundown of the key storylines to watch for around the conference as Kentucky will face-off with the Florida Gators in Gainesville.

1. Will the Streak be Broken? 

In 31 straight meetings, the Florida Gators have defeated the Kentucky Wildcats. It’s one of the longest such streaks in the nation, and it has been agonizing to say the least for Big Blue Nation to watch.

In so many ways the Wildcats have completely blown it time and time again to a program that just always seems to have the edge. From mental mistakes, to bad calls, to a lack of talent, or just plain bad luck, it has always been a certainty that in this game Kentucky would be a receiving a loss.

So how much of a chance does Kentucky have this season? Well, my short answer is that their chances are reasonably slim.

I’ve already written about how much I’m all in on the Florida Gators this season, and their season opener against a bad team did not raise any doubts for me. Yes, Charleston Southern ran the ball for 222 rushing yards on the Gators which is giving some people a lot of optimism heading into this matchup.

That optimism is misplaced. Let’s look at that entire game and not just one stat to make us feel better. Charleston Southern only had 225 total yards of offense, 3 (!) yards passing, just nine first downs, and six total points.

I take no positives away from that. To be clear, I think that Kentucky will have success running the ball today. I really do. Benny Snell will go over 100 yards and look great. However, it’s going to take more than some good runs to end this streak.

The Wildcats must find balance with good-to-great play from one of their quarterbacks. If Terry Wilson or Gunnar Hoak can crank out a that kind of performance, then UK will have a good chance at winning.

But after a terrible performance from Wilson and an average one from Hoak against a team from the MAC Conference, I just don’t see the streak ending this season.

2. A Showdown in Columbia

The biggest game in college football this weekend is undoubtedly No. 3 Georgia against No. 24 South Carolina as it is the only ranked matchup in week two.

The Bulldogs are currently 10.5-point favorites heading into the matchup after essentially taking a week off against Austin Peay University. The Gamecocks can also say the same after annihilating Coastal Carolina in a game that saw quarterback Jake Bentley throw four touchdowns.

This game is also very important because a win for South Carolina would incredibly change the entire climate in the SEC East. That’s the kind of upset that changes the course of a season.

Personally, the fact that this game is at South Carolina is the only reason why the spread isn’t larger in favor of Georgia. The Bulldogs are straight-up more talented at almost every single position than South Carolina is, plus Georgia has far more depth.

Don’t forget that Bentley also does not play well against truly talented defenses. His lack of velocity on the ball has always been a red flag in the eyes of NFL Scouts, and he will be going up against a team will NFL-level talent.

Maybe the Gamecocks would cover the spread against a Bulldog team still coached by Mark Richt. However, this is a different animal with Kirby Smart at the helm. I expect Georgia to cover the spread easily here, and I can see this game getting out of hand quickly. Don’t overthink this one.

3. Can Texas A&M Keep Things Close?

In what I believe is the second biggest game of the week, No. 2 Clemson will travel to Aggieland to face unranked Texas A&M. After such a dominant week for the SEC in week one, just imagine what people would be saying if the fifth-best team in the SEC West took down arguably the best team in the country.

But let’s not play the what-if game. Do the Aggies stand a chance? The answer isn’t so easy as like with Georgia-South Carolina the underdog team is playing at home which makes the spread a bit more even.

There is no question that A&M’s defense is nowhere even close to where Clemson’s is at talent-wise. I can’t name a single Aggie defender off the top of my head while the Tiger’s entire defensive line might go in the top 10 of the next NFL Draft.

On the other side of the football, I’ve been a huge fan of running back Trayveon Williams who led Texas A&M with 240 rushing yards and three touchdowns last weekend. He has true gamebreaker potential.

Another storyline to watch will be how much playing time quarterbacks Kelly Bryant and Hunter Lawrence receive for Clemson.

Is there a doomsday scenario where Bryant plays bad on the road and then Lawrence gets rattled in a tough environment as a freshman? Possibly.

However, the Aggies have even bigger questions at quarterback as Kellen Mond is far from being reliable. The spread is currently at 12 points in favor of Clemson, and I think that’s about right. Even if the Tigers’ quarterbacks get rattled, their talent will win out.

But never count out a Jimbo Fisher-led team at home. I think this one will be close deep in the third quarter, and Clemson pulls away at the end.

4. Mississippi State Looks to Make a Statement

Last week I made the guarantee that West Virginia would easily cover the spread and destroy Tennessee and I was right. I think this week’s matchup between No. 18 Mississippi State and unranked Kansas State is extremely similar.

Talent-wise Kansas State and Tennessee are in the same ballpark while the Bulldogs have more talent than the Mountaineers. And believe it or not, the spread for this game is even smaller than the one for the UT-WVU matchup.

Miss. State is just favored by 7.5 points in this matchup which just makes no sense to me. Sure, the Wildcats are playing at home, but when there is a talent disparity like this home field advantage only matters so much.

Nick Fitzgerald returns this week after serving a one game suspension so look for him to make a big statement along with the rest of the Bulldogs. With his talent back on the field I guarantee that Mississippi State covers the spread here and beats Kansas State. This is an easy one.

5. The Embarrassing Volunteers

Speaking of Tennessee….wow are they an embarrassment.

In one of the best weeks for the SEC I’ve seen in a long time, they were the only team from the conference to lose last weekend. Not only did they lose but they lost terribly at the hands of West Virginia.

To see such a clear talent disparity against a team with an average defense is very alarming. New Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt received quite the rude welcoming in his first game at the helm, however that will change this week.

In their easiest game of the season, they welcome East Tennessee State to Neyland Stadium. There just isn’t much to talk about here. Surely Tennessee can’t screw this up….right?? I’m having flashbacks to last seasons near disaster against Massachusetts.

Look for Pruitt to get his first win this week at home. I really do like this guy as a head coach and I think this will be the start of a successful career in Knoxville.


SEC Week 2 Schedule and Spreads

The SEC was one win shy of going undefeated in the opening weekend (thanks, Tennessee), but the fun really gets started tomorrow. Week two in the league features two monster matchups: No. 3 Georgia at No. 24 South Carolina and No. 2 Clemson at Texas A&M. And, of course, Kentucky at No. 25 Florida to wrap up the night.

Here’s the schedule and point spreads so you can plan your Saturday:

Noon #18 Mississippi State (-8) Kansas State ESPN
Noon Nevada Vanderbilt (-9) SEC Network
3:30 PM Arkansas State #1 Alabama (-36) ESPN 2
3:30 PM #3 Georgia (-10) #24 South Carolina CBS
4:00 PM* Southern Illinois Ole Miss SEC Network
4:00 PM* East Tennessee State Tennessee SEC Network
7:00 PM #2 Clemson (-12) Texas A&M ESPN
7:00 PM* Southeastern Louisiana #11 LSU ESPN 2
7:00 PM Wyoming Missouri (-19.5) ESPNU
7:30 PM* Alabama State #7 Auburn SEC Network
7:30 PM Kentucky #25 Florida (-13.5) SEC Network
7:30 PM Arkansas (-14) Colorado State CBS Sports Network

*No line available

Who ya got? Let’s hear your picks.


Tennessee gives Rick Barnes a contract extension

Kentucky’s assistants aren’t the only coaches who got contract extensions today. According to 247 SportsRick Barnes just signed a new 6-year $21 million deal that will keep him at Tennessee through the 2023-24 season.

Since taking over in Knoxville three years ago, Barnes has turned the Volunteers into one of the toughest teams not only in the league, but the country. Even though the media picked Tennessee to finish 13th in the conference last year, the Vols tied with Auburn for the regular season crown, earning Barnes SEC Coach of the Year honors.

Under Barnes’ reign, Tennessee is 3-0 vs. Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena and considered a top five team heading into the 2018-19 season. Barnes is now the 10th highest paid coach in college basketball and second in the SEC to only — you guessed it — John Calipari, who makes $8 million annually.

Smart move by the Vols. Dangit.


Nov 21, 2015; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn celebrates after his team scored a touchdown against the Idaho Vandals during the second quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

SEC Storylines of Week 1

Nov 21, 2015; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn celebrates after his team scored a touchdown against the Idaho Vandals during the second quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The college football season is officially here! I am excited to bring back my weekly SEC Storylines Column which will be posted every Saturday morning before all the action starts! With that said, let’s get to the biggest storylines around the conference in Week 1.

1. The Implications of Auburn vs. Washington

The biggest game in all of college football this weekend features the ninth-ranked Auburn Tigers as they faceoff with the sixth-ranked Washington Huskies in Atlanta.

This game will have huge playoff implications.

If the Huskies win, they would have defeated the best team on their schedule. A win over one of the best teams from the supposed best conference in football would do a lot in the selection committee’s eyes. In fact, Washington would be favored to go undefeated throughout the rest of the season.

On the flipside, this is a must win for the Tigers. They still have Georgia, Mississippi State, and Alabama left on their schedule which means they cannot afford to drop a non-conference game before SEC play begins.

The Pac-12 also badly needs a big-time victory on the national stage after the conference embarrassingly went 1-8 in bowl games last season. If the Huskies lose, I just don’t see the Pac-12 getting a team in the playoff this year which means the odds would increase for two SEC teams to do so once again.

Of course, a lot can happen in the next four months. But for the time being this game will help determine how the 2018 college football season will play out. You will not want to miss out on what should be a great matchup. Also, Expect either Jarret Stidham or Jake Browning to start their Heisman candidacy on Saturday.

2. Alabama’s Quarterback Battle

Every college football fan has annoyingly been hearing about the Crimson Tide’s quarterback controversy all summer long. And yeaaaaaaaaaa…that is not going to change on Saturday night when Alabama takes on Louisville.

The real story is not the game as the Crimson Tide should very handily take care of the Cardinals. Anything less than a 25-point win would be a surprise to me. The story will be who will get the most reps at quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts?

Because Head Coach Nick Saban let this competition drag all the way into the season, that’s what everyone will be watching. Quite frankly, I think that Tagovailoa is by far the better overall quarterback. However, he would completely change the way Alabama plays football.

I’m just not sure that Saban is ready for that kind of change especially since his current system has worked so well for him. Conservative, run-based football has been the name of the game for most of his time in Tuscaloosa, and Tagovailoa would be anything but a conservative quarterback.

Hurts is a great kid who has represented the Crimson Tide well. However, I really do think that its Tua’s time to shine. It really will be a shame if Saban doesn’t allow his brightest star to shine just because he is different.

3. Can LSU’s New Offense Pull Off the Upset?

Auburn/Washington isn’t the only top-25 matchup featuring an SEC team this weekend. The 25th ranked LSU Tigers will do everything they can to get a victory against the eighth-ranked Miami Hurricanes on Sunday.

Despite being picked to win, odds makers have Miami as just a 3.5 favorite over the Tigers. This wouldn’t necessarily be a huge upset, but I think that’s an extremely kind spread for LSU. I really think Miami should win this game by double digits even if it will be a low scoring affair.

I’m not that down on LSU, however. They absolutely have the defense to win this game with players like Greedy Williams and Devin White on that side of the ball. However, the offense is in complete rebuilding mode.

Gone is quarterback Danny Etling. Gone is Derrius Guice. And gone is D.J. Chark. Head Coach Ed Orgeron will need more than one offensive player to emerge and have a huge game if they want this victory.

The bad news is that the Hurricanes have a completely revamped and dangerous defense that will make LSU fight for every yard.

If new starting quarterback Joe Burrow can find a groove early and get settled down against the “Turnover Chain” defense of Miami, then LSU might just pull off the upset. However, that might just be easier said than done.

4. Does Tennessee Stand a Chance Against No. 17 West Virginia?

No. No they do not.

In all seriousness, can we talk about the line on this game? The Mountaineers are only favored by 9.5 against a team that went 4-8 overall and 0-8 in the SEC last season. And oh yea, the Volunteers also only return 12 of 22 starters from 2017.

How on earth is West Virginia not a bigger favorite??? I get that their defense isn’t all that great, but their offense is outstanding. And why is Tennessee’s defense being talked about as being “stout?” They gave up an average of 413 yards and 29 points per game in 2017.

Heisman Trophy candidate Will Grier will demolish the Volunteers on Saturday. I guarantee it.

I’m really high on new Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt. I think he will do some good things in Knoxville. However, this is just a brutal first game. I’ll take West Virginia 42-17.

5. Upset Alert from the Mid-Majors?

I’m looking at two games in particular on Saturday in which mid-major programs can realistically sneak up and defeat their SEC opponents. These matchups are Vanderbilt vs. Middle Tennessee State and Kentucky vs. Central Michigan. Let’s go over the Kentucky/Central Michigan matchup first before you all go crazy on me.

For the record, I’m picking the Wildcats to win on Saturday. I just think that this game will be more competitive than everyone thinks.

This has everything to do with the Chippewas being undervalued. Vegas has them as a 17-point underdog which I think is a bit high for a team that returns a 1,000-yard rusher, most of its defense, and will feature an athletic quarterback.

Kentucky has struggled mightily against Southern Miss the past two years early in the season, and they are pretty similar talent-wise to Central Michigan as far as mid-majors go.

I don’t think the Chippewas pull off the upset. However, I expect them to cover the spread as the Wildcat offense will spend most of the game finding its groove under new quarterback Terry Wilson.

When it comes to the Vandy vs. MTSU game, I think that the mid-major here has a much, much better chance at winning. With quarterback Brent Stockstill back, the Blue Raiders should be the second-best team in Conference-USA.

Besides their quarterback, nothing in particular stand out on Vanderbilt’s team. The fact that this is being played in Nashville isn’t even a huge advantage considering that no one really shows up for the Commodores’ games, and MTSU is just a short drive down the road.

This will be a very close game that should come down to the final minutes. For Derek Mason’s sake, he better hope his team can pull off the victory or his team will be in for a very long season in the SEC.


The TV timeout is getting its own clock

Have you ever been sitting in the stands of your favorite SEC football stadium, watching your favorite SEC football team with three or four of your closest friends, and thought to yourself, “Man, it sure would be nice to know how much longer we have in this TV timeout”?

Well you better sit down and listen up because I have some good news for you: The TV timeout is getting its own clock!!!!

The league announced today that a visible television timeout countdown clock will be on the field for all 14 SEC on-campus venues this upcoming season. The clock, which will look like your old alarm clock on top of a pole, will allow fans, game officials and both teams to view the remaining time during each TV commercial stoppage throughout the game.

The on-field display will be operated by an official in a red hat and will only be used during TV timeouts. Once it strikes zero, team will be required to be back on the field and the TV crew will come back from break.

It’s genius, really.


(Photo: Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports)

Predicting Their Season: Tennessee Volunteers Edition

(Photo: Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports)

Tennessee had a rough 2017 in Butch Jones’ final season as the Volunteers’ head motivator. The team was a winless 0-8 in Southeastern Conference play for the first time in school history after starting the year ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press poll. It was hilarious to witness. I had one of those good belly laughs when it was all over.

This year, Jeremy Pruitt is in as head coach, from his position as defensive coordinator at Alabama, and the first-time boss has some excitement back in Knoxville. But in this official and unbiased game-by-game prediction of the Vols’ upcoming season, I play the bearer of bad news in telling everyone what’s undoubtedly ahead: Tennessee is going to suck. Like, for real.

Here is a completely serious prediction of what’s to come each week for Big Orange:

 

West Virginia
Bank of America Stadium | Charlotte, NC
Saturday, Sept. 1

West Virginia is currently a 10-point favorite in the neutral-site opener between the Mountaineers and Volunteers. If you’re a gambler, lay the points and load up on Dana Holgorsen’s high-powered and veteran offense against the suck of Tennessee.

Prediction: West Virginia wins by at least 30.

East Tennessee State
Neyland Stadium | Knoxville, TN
Saturday, Sept. 8

Randy Sanders (of 2009-12 Kentucky offensive coordinator fame) will make his head coaching debut with East Tennessee State this fall. His new job got off to a rocky start when he reportedly struck one of his players in the helmet, earning him administrative leave back in April, but he’s back on the clock and ready to lead an ETSU team that hasn’t won more than five games in any of the last five seasons, and was picked eighth in the Southern Conference preseason poll.

Will East Tennessee State be good under his watch? Probably not. Can they win at Neyland Stadium? Absolutely.

Prediction: The Bucs shock the Vols in overtime, 13-10.

UTEP
Neyland Stadium | Knoxville, TN
Saturday, Sept. 15

UTEP won exactly zero of its 12 games in 2017 and Athlon Sports ranked the Miners 130th out of 130 college football teams in its preseason rankings for 2018. But with Tennessee playing at an unprecedented level of suck this year, the Miners will give the Vols all they can handle in a battle of two incompetent football teams that are wasting the SEC Network’s time and energy on a Saturday afternoon.

Prediction: Tennessee dodges second consecutive upset with Hail Mary touchdown to win by two.

Florida
Neyland Stadium | Knoxville, TN
Saturday, Sept. 22

Florida has won 12 of its last 13 against Tennessee, so why would anyone expect anything but another Gators’ win this year? Sure, Tennessee will host the rivalry game in Knoxville, but getting dressed in their own locker room and playing in front of their own miserable fan base won’t help the Vols’ cause.

Prediction: Florida by 50.

at Georgia
Sanford Stadium | Athens, GA
Saturday, Sept. 29

It would be in Tennessee’s best interest to stay home. Make up an excuse, any excuse, to keep from facing the Dawgs in Athens.

Prediction: Georgia by a million.

at Auburn
Jordan-Hare Stadium | Auburn, AL
Saturday, Oct. 13

In an attempt to save the season, Jeremy Pruitt will deliver a mid-week speech to bring his team back to life. The Vols will wipe away their wounds, they’ll forget all about the 1-5 start to the year, and they’ll travel to Auburn with a newfound confidence and the will to win as 51-point underdogs in a rivalry game.

Prediction: Auburn by a million, maybe two million.

Alabama
Neyland Stadium | Knoxville, TN
Saturday, Oct. 20

If new athletic director Phil Fulmer has any respect for his program and the well-being of his student-athletes, he will cancel the game before someone gets killed.

Prediction: Two UT players get murdered on first offensive possession; game is called, in favor of Alabama, due to player deaths and further safety concerns.

at South Carolina
Williams-Brice Stadium | Columbia, SC
Saturday, Oct. 27

South Carolina will be pretty good in the SEC East this year. So, Tennessee will lose again.

Prediction: South Carolina covers whatever spread is put out there.

Charlotte
Neyland Stadium | Knoxville, TN
Saturday, Nov. 3

Charlotte is one of the four or five worst teams in all of college football, but with Tennessee out of bowl contention and still recovering from a bloody curb-stomping at the feet of Alabama, Charlotte pulls off the upset in the biggest win in 49ers’ history on a failed two-point conversion with no time on the clock.

Prediction: Charlotte 7, Tennessee 6.

Kentucky
Neyland Stadium | Knoxville, TN
Saturday, Nov. 10

Tennessee had Kentucky’s number for over three decades, but that’s before Tennessee began to suck. The new Tennessee, the one that actually sucks, no longer intimidates the Wildcats — or anyone else, for that matter.

Prediction: Kentucky will win in Knoxville for the first time since 1984.

Missouri
Neyland Stadium | Knoxville, TN
Saturday, Nov. 17

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Tennessee.

Tennessee who?

Tennessee sucks.

Prediction: Tennessee loses yet again, this time on Senior Night.

at Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt Stadium | Nashville, TN
Saturday, Nov. 24

Tennessee will lose to Vanderbilt for a THIRD YEAR IN A ROW and the fifth time in seven years. That’s embarrassing for a program that was once respected nationally.

Prediction: Vandy continues to own the Vols in football.


Projected 2018 Record: 1-11 (0-8)



(Photo: Charles Morgan Engel, USA TODAY Sports)

SEC Preview: Bold Predictions That Are Sure to be Wrong

(Photo: Charles Morgan Engel, USA TODAY Sports)

For the last few weeks leading up until the start of the College Football season, I have been previewing different teams, players, and more from the SEC. In the last week of my preview I give my boldest predictions for the SEC that are sure to be wrong.

5. Texas A&M Will Finish the Season 8-5

Between 2014 and 2016 the Aggies ended their season with a decent 8-5 record. Last season they fell just short of that goal with a 7-6 finish. For the past couple of years, it has been an ongoing joke in college football that no matter what kind of team Texas A&M fielded they would find a way to go 8-5.

This got so annoying for the program that they fired Kevin Sumlin purely out of frustration. Irony is going to have its way with the program this year when the Aggies finish 8-5 under new head coach Jimbo Fisher.

This may seem like a way of the universe getting back at a program who fired a pretty good head coach, but I think this would be an accomplishment considering their tough schedule this year which includes Clemson, Alabama, Mississippi State, and Auburn.

Personally, I’m projecting seven wins in the regular season with wins against Northwestern State, Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas, Kentucky (sorry), South Carolina, Ole Miss, and UAB.

None of those teams are particularly tough opponents and I think that the Aggies will beat the Gamecocks on the road.

With Jimbo Fisher as head coach now, I think that Texas A&M will get a bowl win no matter who they play. The future is bright in Aggieland with Fisher at the helm, but for now I think they will finish with the same old frustrating result.

4. Derek Mason Will Be on His Way Out of Nashville

NASHVILLE, TN – SEPTEMBER 16: Head coach Derek Mason cheers with teammates and the crowd after a 14-7 Vanderbilt victory over Kansas State at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

For full transparency, I really like Derek Mason as a coach and more importantly as a person. However, winning is the only thing that matters anymore, and he hasn’t done that a whole lot at Vanderbilt.

Four seasons with the Commodores have yielded four consecutive losing seasons. While a bowl appearance in 2016 was a nice way to keep the critics at bay, last year’s disappointing 5-7 record brought back the critics in full force.

In 2018 I’m predicting another losing season for Vanderbilt, and a last place finish in the SEC East. In their nonconference slate they draw an underrated Middle Tennessee team and a dangerously good Notre Dame squad.

They should win both of their other nonconference games, but in SEC play the only game I could see this team winning is against Tennessee at home

Other than that, that’s pretty much what Vanderbilt’s year will be like in 2018. I see anywhere from 2-4 victories and I think that will be enough for Mason to lose his job. Hopefully I’m wrong, because I think Mason deserves to be a college football head coach somewhere. Vanderbilt might not be that place, however.

3. Mississippi State Will Finish Second in the SEC West

I am 100% buying into all the preseason Mississippi State hype. Yes, I know they have a new head coach and that this team is a Nick Fitzgerald injury away from disaster.

However, I think on pure talent alone this is the second-best team in SEC West. Their defense is filled with guys who will be playing on Sundays, and their ground attack will be one of the best in the nation.

They draw Auburn at home which is huge. I think that will be the deciding game on who gets second in the West. Other than that, I think the Bulldogs lose to Alabama and possibly LSU on the road.

I see one or two losses in SEC play, and with Auburn having to play on the road against Georgia I think that Mississippi State will win just enough games to finish second in the West.

Hop on this hype train with me. I think it’s for real.

2. The Iron Bowl Will Help Decide the Heisman Trophy Race

Just because I don’t have Auburn finishing second in the West this year doesn’t mean that I think this team will have a bad season. On the contrary, I think they will still find a way to double digit wins.

That will be in most part to the play of Jarrett Stidham who I think will post huge numbers through the air in 2018. On the flip side, I think Alabama will be undefeated heading into the Iron Bowl thanks to a great season from Tua Tagovailoa.

With so much on the line in the Iron Bowl, I think that if one of these guys plays great and leads their team to a victory, they will have the season’s signature “Heisman Moment.”

If neither plays all that well, the award may go to someone else. At the very least, I think this game will be one that the voters look at closely. Stidham will have a favorable matchup against an inexperienced Crimson Tide secondary, but Tagovailoa will have the better overall team helping him out.

An Auburn loss may be their second or third defeat total while an Alabama loss could put a dent in Tagovailoa’s confidence before the SEC championship game. Either way, the losing quarterback will have their Heisman hopes hurt massively.

1. Florida Will At Least Double Their Win Total from Last Season

This may be my boldest take simply because I’m so sure of this one. Hear me out on this before you set fire to my sports IQ level.

Yes, I know that the Gators went 4-7 last year in what was one of the worst seasons in school history. But they return 19 of 22 starters from last year, made one of the best hires of the offseason with the addition of Dan Mullen, and they have what may be the easiest schedule in the SEC.

Their first four games go like this: Charleston Southern, Kentucky, Colorado State, and at Tennessee. That should be four victories which would match their win total from last year before the month of October.

Elsewhere on their schedule they get Vanderbilt on the road and Missouri, South Carolina, and Idaho all at home. I don’t see any reason why they drop any of those games as well. They do have to play on the road at Mississippi State in what should be a loss.

We are already at eight victories, however. The rest of their schedule fills out with LSU, Georgia, and Florida State. Those are three tough opponents but only one of those contests is a true road game. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see the Gators pull out a victory in one of those matchups.

If you still think I’m crazy, go back to that returning starter number. Basically, Florida’s entire team returns this year and all of them were highly touted recruits who have suffered through some bad coaching. Plus running back Jordan Scarlett also returns from suspension. He will have a big breakout season this year.

Mullen will get the most out of this group and Feleipe Franks at quarterback. In the SEC East which is still very weak, the Gators are my pick to finish second behind Georgia.


SEC Preview: Top Heisman Trophy Candidates

For the next few weeks leading up until the start of the College Football season, I will be previewing different teams, players, and more from the SEC. This week I preview the players who will be the top Heisman Trophy candidates from the conference this season.

5. Benny Snell-Kentucky

This was a tough one. I had to pick between Benny Snell, Damien Harris, and D’Andre Swift for which SEC running back would make my top five.

I went with Snell because I think he has the easier path. Harris and Swift both have teammates within my top five who just happen to be quarterbacks. As a running back, it’s already hard enough to beat out quarterbacks for the Heisman. Just imagine how hard it would be if a great quarterback was on your own team.

It works in Snell’s advantage that Kentucky will field a quarterback that will most likely not post numbers like Alabama’s or Georgia’s quarterbacks will. Snell will often be the biggest reason that the Wildcats win football games this fall, and I think people will notice that.

The reason why I have Snell at No. 5 is simple. I don’t see Kentucky having a good enough season that will put Snell in Heisman contention. Realistically, the Wildcats would probably have to win at least nine regular season games for Snell to be in contention for the award and I don’t see that happening.

Also, I don’t see any running back from the SEC winning the Heisman this year with Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin and Bryce Love from Stanford still out there. They will cancel out any chance Snell, Harris or Swift will have at the award simply because they will put up better stats on great teams.

4. Jake Fromm-Georgia

Fromm is my Darkhorse candidate for this award because I don’t think anyone is talking about him when it comes to being in contention for the Heisman.

It seems like more people are putting hype behind D’Andre Swift which doesn’t make much sense to me. Also, there is a considerable amount of hype behind freshman quarterback Justin Fields who joined the Bulldogs in the spring. Some suggest that he will be the starting quarterback by mid-season.

I think that is simply ludicrous. In my opinion, Fromm looked like an NFL quarterback against Alabama in the title game last season as a freshman. He is easily the starter on this team and will be so the entire season.

Call it a hot take, but I think he will have a better season than Swift will have. The bulldogs have an incredibly easy schedule and with a whole season under his belt I think Fromm will have a big year.

Last season he threw for 2,615 yards while posting a 24-7 TD-INT ratio. I think he will easily clear over 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns this year on a team that I think will win at least 11 regular season games. That’s a Heisman contender.

3. Nick Fitzgerald-Mississippi State

There isn’t much to say about Fitzgerald that hasn’t already been said. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference and he might be the best overall leader in the entire country.

After suffering a horrific injury at the end of the season last year, Fitzgerald will attempt to bounce back in a big way in 2018. Mississippi State is already starting out the season ranked at No. 18 in the nation so there are in great position for a big year.

Outside of playing Auburn and Alabama, I think the Bulldogs should win their other 10 games. If Fitzgerald can improve on his 55% completion percentage and throw less interceptions, he will be squarely in the Heisman race.

Once you add in his rushing numbers, Fitzgerald tallied 2,766 yards and 29 total touchdowns last season. If he climbs over 3,000 total yards, improves that completion percentage, and defeats either Alabama or Auburn then I guarantee he will be in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

But that’s a lot of “ifs” for a player coming off a major injury.

2. Tua Tagovailoa-Alabama

At this point, I think that Tua is a virtual lock to start the season as Alabama’s starting quarterback. He is simply light years ahead of Hurts as a passer. If he does for some reason struggle early, the Crimson Tide’s easy schedule will work out any growing pains Tua may have at the start of the season.

Some people may consider Tua at No. 2 a bit of a reach on this list, but I believe that much in his arm talent, play making ability, and leadership qualities. I see so much Russell Wilson in Tua that it really is uncanny.

Alabama almost always has a player in New York for the ceremony, and I think this season Tua has the best chance at being the best player on the best team in the country.

The Crimson Tide should go undefeated once again unless they trip up against Auburn in the last game of the season. Combine that with Tua possibly having the best statistical season any quarterback has had in Saban’s time in Tuscaloosa and you have yourself a Heisman Trophy contender.

1. Jarret Stidham-Auburn

Sep 9, 2017; Clemson, SC, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham (8) warms up prior to the game against the Clemson Tigers at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Stidham is my pick for the SEC player with the best chance to win the Heisman because I think he has the clearest path to win the award.

Auburn’s entire receiving core returns, and while they do lose 4 starters off the offensive line the Tigers still return 4 players who have started six or more games on the line. With halfback Kerryon Johnson departing, this offense is perfectly tailored for Stidham to have a huge season in the passing game.

Another huge plus is that Stidham will be playing on national television throughout the entire season. Voters will be consistently seeing Stidham airing it out in huge games as he plays Washington in his first game, Mississippi State at the halfway point, and Georgia and Alabama at the end of the season.

Yes, the schedule is not the easiest for the Tigers this year, but you don’t have to win every single game to win the Heisman Trophy. If Stidham can put up huge numbers this season Auburn can easily drop two out of those four games and I think he easily ends up in New York.

The Tigers start the season ranked as the ninth best team in the country. If they can play their way into the playoff thanks in most part to a huge season from Stidham, then the former Baylor quarterback should win the Heisman trophy.


John Sommers II | Reuters

PROGAMMING ALERT: Kentucky’s LSU Upset to Air on SEC Network

John Sommers II | Reuters

Starving for football?  You can get your fix by re-watching Kentucky’s 2007 upset of No. 1 LSU.

Ahead of the 2018 season, the SEC Network is re-airing classic SEC football games.  Kentucky will get the spotlight tomorrow at 3:00.  If you can’t get to a television, set your DVR, or go through the following YouTube highlight reel from one of the most memorable UK football moments in the last 25 years.

Another Kentucky-LSU classic football game will air tonight at 9:00 on the SEC Network, but you’ll want to turn it off after Guy Morriss gets a Gatorade bath and before the final play.


Petrino says UofL will beat Alabama; Petrino has a death wish

Jim Brown | USA Today

You have to appreciate Bobby Petrino’s confidence. You also have to be concerned about his team’s safety.

While looking ahead to the Cardinals’ opening game at Alabama earlier today, Petrino told the audience at the Louisville kickoff luncheon, “I believe we’re gonna go beat ’em. And we will go beat ’em.”

So you know how insane Petrino’s comment is, Alabama opened as a 26-point favorite when the line was released earlier this year. There has been some movement each direction, but it’s still 26 points at most sports books today. (Only Kentucky can overcome that kind of line… at Louisville.)

Once Nick Saban gets wind of Petrino’s comments (and I’m sure he has already), this will go straight to the Alabama bulletin board.

Good luck with that, Louisville.


The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E70: Jon Rothstein on SEC Basketball

In the latest episode of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast, Aaron talks all things SEC and college hoops with Jon Rothstein. The CBS college basketball insider picked Tennessee as the top team in the SEC heading into the season and he does not back down from his selection as the two talk SEC hoops.
Before Rothstein joins the program, Aaron discusses Duke’s first game in the Bahamas. Highlights:
The Emergence of Zion Williamson: While R.J. Barrett led the way, Zion Williamson emerged as the star of the Blue Devils on Wednesday. Aaron explains how Williamson exceeded expectations and showed a more well-rounded game than anyone could have expected.
Duke’s ConcernsWhat can go wrong for Duke? Will depth plague this team? Do they have a second point guard behind Tre Jones? Aaron also explains why Marques Bolden continues to struggle.
Next, Aaron welcomes CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein to the show. The pair discuss:
How Rothstein became a College Basketball InsiderRothstein explains his winding road to where he is today, as one of the pre-eminent insiders in the sport. Why it takes a decade to make an overnight success story, and how one game created his college basketball fandom — and nearly ruined his parents’ marriage.
His thoughts on the SECRothstein explains in great detail why he has Tennessee atop the conference. He also explains why he still believes Kentucky is capable of winning a national championship. Also, is this the best the SEC has ever been?
 
Top College Basketball StorylinesRothstein wraps by discussing an unsettled Big East, why Nevada is so fascinating and what to expect from UConn in the first year of the Dan Hurley era. Also, why he refuses to give out New York City restaurant recommendations to Aaron!

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.

Also, we recently started an “Aaron Torres Sports Podcast” Instagram page, for videos and pictures related to show and to preview upcoming guests. Go ahead and click here to follow the show.


Knoxville columnist says 0-8 Vols “not that bad” for 0-8

Knoxville columnist says 0-8 Vols “not that bad” for 0-8

Tennessee had a winless record in conference play in 2017 for the first time in school history. It was hilarious. I’m still laughing. It was a real knee slapper. But a columnist with the Knoxville News Sentinel thinks “it wasn’t that bad.”

Our friend Mike Rutherford from The Card Chronicle found the print version of the article and shared a photo of it online. “It could have been worse,” the glass-half-full John Adams wrote.

Twitter | @CardChronicle

If you’d like to read Adams’ entire comedy piece, you can do so here.

If you think Tennessee will go 0-8 again, you’re not alone. They’re going to suck.


SEC Preview: Top 5 Most Important Conference Games in 2018

For the next few weeks leading up until the start of the College Football season, I will be previewing different teams, players, and more from the SEC. This week I preview the most important conference games of the 2018 season. These contests may not turn out to be the best games, but they will have the most significant impact on SEC play.

5. September 8th: Kentucky at Florida

While some may call this a “homer” pick, I honestly think that this game is the second most important SEC East matchup this season which is why it makes my list.

I firmly believe that Florida will have a big bounce-back season and finish in the top half of the East after their disastrous 4-win debacle that was last year. New Head Coach Dan Mullen will also have a lot to prove in his first SEC Game as the head honcho in the swamp.

The Gators will be playing a dangerous Kentucky team who some call the dark horse squad in the division. With Benny Snell on offense and Josh Allen on defense, this is simply the most talented team during Mark Stoops’ tenure in Lexington.

A conference win over Florida will give UK a chance to realize their full potential. However, yet another loss to the Gators will be incredibly demoralizing heading forward. Let us not forget how much last season’s loss sucked.

To put this bluntly, the Wildcats may not get another chance like this to break their agonizing streak against Florida. If this is their most talented team this decade, there is no excuses to why they shouldn’t beat a squad that won just 4 games last year.

4. November 10th: Mississippi State at Alabama

Save this date because it’s going to be the most important weekend in the SEC (more on that later). First up is a huge contest between the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide.

In my opinion, Alabama is going to come into this game with an undefeated 9-0 record while Miss. St. will have an 8-1 or 9-0 record. Each team will most likely be ranked in the top ten by that point so that alone gets this game on the list.

But don’t forget that this is a revenge game for the Bulldogs. Last season Miss. St. led the Crimson Tide in the 4th quarter. Alabama narrowly won on a Jalen Hurts touchdown pass with just 25 seconds left in the game.

The Bulldogs return just about everybody from last season, so to say they will have some extra juice on this night would be an understatement. If they somehow win in Tuscaloosa this season it would turn the college football world on its head as Miss St. would have a great chance to make the playoff.

The only reason why this game isn’t higher on the list is because it’s going to be hard to beat Alabama on their own turf. Plus, despite all the preseason hype there is still a chance that the Bulldogs could flame out early in the season with a new head coach.

3. October 27th: Florida vs. Georgia (In Jacksonville)

This is going to be the very first “huge” conference game played this season in the SEC. Georgia plays no one before this game so they will be 7-0 and ranked in the top 5.

Meanwhile, I think Florida will come into this game 6-1 and ranked high in the rankings as well. Their only other tough matchup besides Miss St. will be LSU. The Tigers are in complete rebuilding mode plus they must play at Gainesville.

Considering that both Florida and Georgia will be coming off their bye weeks heading into a huge rivalry game between two ranked opponents, this is easily the biggest SEC East game of the year.

Georgia has one very tough SEC game left on their schedule that they could easily lose, so this game is incredibly important in the East race. Besides this contest, Florida may very well only lose one other SEC game. Believe it or not, but if the Gators pull off this huge upset they are probably in the Conference Championship game.

I believe the Bulldogs should destroy the Gators in this matchup, but that doesn’t make this game any less important than what it will be.

2. November 24th: Auburn at Alabama

The Iron Bowl is always one of the most hyped games in college football every season and this year is no different. Alabama will probably be 11-0 heading into this game, however Auburn plays a tremendously tough schedule and they very well could come into this game with multiple losses (more on that in a second) which is way this game isn’t at No. 1 on this list.

But, there is always the chance this contest could decide which team represents the West in the SEC Championship. Couple that in with the fact that it’s the biggest rivalry game in college football and you easily have the second biggest SEC matchup of the year.

This year, the Crimson Tide will be seeking revenge after last season’s loss which almost put them out of the playoff. With Jarrett Stidham back at quarterback, Auburn matches up well with an inexperienced Alabama secondary.

Also, it just seems like the Iron Bowl is better when it’s played in Tuscaloosa. The fans are a bit more passionate, plus it’s always fun to watch Alabama fans react to a loss.

In 2018, expect the Iron Bowl to be yet another classic game.

1. November 10th: Auburn at Georgia

I told you this Saturday in November was going to be huge.

If I was forced to pick the most important game in the entire college football season in 2018, I would have a very hard time not picking this huge matchup.

First, let’s start off with the basics. This is a huge grudge match after these teams split contests last year in the regular season and in the SEC Championship game. Both squads will be incredibly motivated to win this game.

Georgia should be undefeated heading into this game unless they fall to Florida (they won’t), and Auburn should be undefeated unless they lose to Washington in the first game of the season (they probably won’t).

This contest just has so many implications. Let’s say Georgia wins. If so, then the Tigers may have two losses BEFORE they even play Alabama. They would almost be a lock to not make the playoff.

Now, let’s say that after winning this game Georgia goes to the SEC Championship undefeated and falls to Alabama. Would Georgia still get in the playoff? Honestly, they would have a good case considering that they have a huge victory over Auburn in the regular season.

And what if Auburn wins? Georgia would then be forced to beat Alabama in the title game to make the playoff. And if the Bulldogs do that…..does Alabama make the playoff with just one loss in the SEC Championship game?

There are of course a ton of other weird scenarios that I can get into but trust me when I say that so much in this upcoming college football season hinges on this matchup between Auburn and Georgia.

Mark this down in your calendars, because you are not going to want to miss this.


Ole Miss reveals new mascot, Tony the Landshark

@LandsharkTony

Meet Tony the Landshark, Ole Miss new mascot.

Tony was revealed on Saturday at Ole Miss’ fan day, Meet the Rebels. Tony replaces controversial mascot Colonel Reb and also Black Bear.

Tony was inspired by Ole Miss’ Tony Fein who is credited with creating the “Fins Up” celebration.

His favorite movie is Jaws. His favorite song is “Fins” by Jimmy Buffet. His favorite food is anything below him on the food chain.

Kentucky Football will not have to face Tony the Landshark this season, but Kentucky Basketball probably will.

What are your thoughts on Tony?