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Twilight Zone: Florida is Modeling its Football Facility after Kentucky’s

UK Athletics

We live in a world where the Florida football program is modeling its new state-of-the-art facility after Kentucky’s.  What a time to be alive.

The Tampa Bay Times recently profiled the rise of multi-million dollar complexes dedicated exclusively to college football programs.  With more than a billion dollars spent nationally since 2013, the headlines tend to gravitate toward the extreme, like Clemson’s slide and Texas A&M’s TV-filled mirrors.

Kentucky’s $45 million Joe Craft Football Training Facility has all of the bells and whistles, but that’s not why it stands above the rest in the country.  The University of Florida toured UK’s facility to see how Kentucky created one of the country’s most efficient football complexes.

“Everything’s there,” C.J. Conrad said.

It’s all there because a program’s most limited resource is time.

NCAA rules limit coaches to only four hours of player interaction daily, and players’ schedules are packed with class and training. If a new building can eliminate a 15-minute trip across campus, that’s 15 extra minutes they can spend watching film, studying or unwinding.

The same principle applies to a facility’s layout.

The Wildcats’ weight room flows to the practice fields, so players can transition easily from lifts to sprints. The practice fields flow to the 52-degree plunge pool for recovery. The hydrotherapy area flows to the locker room, where players can shower and change before heading to tutoring, meetings or the players’ lounge.

Kentucky has mastered the art of efficiency, but I wish they kept that secret. It could have been a valuable bargaining chip to move the annual game against the Gators from September to November.

[Tampa Bay Times]


(Photo: Mark Zerof, USA TODAY Sports)

SEC Team Previews: Ole Miss

(Photo: Mark Zerof, USA TODAY Sports)

Through this week I will be previewing the 5 SEC West teams that Kentucky will NOT be playing in the 2018 season. For some awesome in-depth previews of the other 8 teams that the Wildcats will be playing this year, be sure to read Nick Roush’s SEC Media Day breakdowns of UK’s conference opponents. Next up in my preview are the Ole Miss Rebels.

Offensive Outlook

Just like last year, Ole Miss’s offense will be the strength of the team. They return everyone except for quarterback Shea Patterson, one offensive lineman, and 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Wilkins.

Even with the loss of Patterson to Michigan, this offense will still be electric. This is in large part due to senior Jordan Ta’amu who did an outstanding job at the position last season when Patterson went down with injury.

Ta’amu managed a 11-4 TD-Int ratio, while also totaling a better completion percentage and quarterback rating then Patterson managed. He also is considerably more mobile than Patterson as he scored four times on the ground while adding 165 yards.

I was very impressed with Ta’amu last season, and I don’t think they really lost anything at quarterback due to his breakout season in 2017. Expect a big year from the Hawaiian in 2018.

With the return of almost their entire offensive line and their top three receivers from last year, the Ole Miss air attack will be one of the best in the SEC.

However, with the loss of Wilkins they have a major hole to fill at running back. No one else on the roster has much experience so expect the Rebels to turn to junior college transfer Scott Phillips.

This offense was the 5th best offense in the conference last season and I expect an even better result this year. The air attack will be good enough to give the ground game time to find its footing.

Defensive Outlook

Ole Miss’s defense went in the complete opposite direction in 2017.  The unit finished dead last in the SEC in total defense and 115th in the FBS. Yea….it wasn’t great.

Despite returning seven starters, the Rebels lose their top two tacklers and almost all their linebacker core. Their defensive line depth will be their strength of the defense, but I don’t believe that it will be enough to offset the overall lack of talent this unit has.

Defensive tackle Benito Jones will be asked to lead this unit. He was once a highly touted prospect, and he recorded the most tackles for lost last season out of any returning defensive player.

It doesn’t matter what kind of defensive scheme a team has, you must have good linebackers to lead that side of the football. Going into the 2018 season, I can’t honestly tell you anything about Ole Miss’s linebackers besides the fact that the guys who started in front of them last year were not good.

So, I imagine their backups that will start this year won’t be too great either. To say that I don’t think much of the Rebel defense this season would be an understatement.

Best Overall Player

A. J. Brown is a baaddddddd man. After finishing last season on the All-American 2nd Team the receiver is back to set the SEC on fire once again.

At 6’1, 225 pounds, Brown totaled over 1,200 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on 75 receptions. He is a physical beast with great hands who runs crisp and quick routes.

To say that the NFL is patiently waiting for Brown’s arrival to the pros would be a safe bet. Usually it’s not a great sign that a receiver is your best player, but in this case, it says more about Brown’s talent than it does about Ole Miss.

He will unquestionably be the first overall receiver taken in the 2019 Draft unless something disastrous happens between now and April. Brown will be one of the most entertaining players in the SEC this year so be sure to tune in to watch this guy snatch the souls from defensive backs.

Biggest Overall Weakness

Motivation. Ole Miss is still under a self-imposed bowl ban for 2018. Considering that this team will be very dependent on its offense this season, it’s not a great sign that they are guaranteed not to win a title.

A large amount of defense is simply the amount of effort players give on that side of the football. I think that will show a lot this season with an Ole Miss defense that will be playing catch-up with its offense.

Don’t forget, this is an SEC West team. They will be playing three or four of the toughest teams in the nation along with South Carolina from the East and Texas Tech in nonconference play.

In the back of their minds, this team knows that they don’t have a destination this season. They aren’t making an SEC Championship by any stretch of the imagination. Their season will end on Senior Night against archrival Mississippi State.

Some people may not think this matters a whole lot, but I really think it does. I hope the best for Head Coach Matt Luke this year. He didn’t ask for this kind of situation.

Season Outlook

I don’t think this Ole Miss team will be very good in 2018, but I still think this team will surprise some people. With an offense with that kind of firepower, I think that the Rebels will straight-up outscore teams that will annihilate their defense.

Will they beat any teams in the top half of the SEC? No.

But they have a favorable nonconference schedule. They will be picked to win all four of those games. Couple that win with the fact that they draw Vanderbilt out of the East and they play South Carolina at home and I think this team will avoid a losing season.

However, with a bad defense and a lack of motivation I believe that anything more than seven wins would be a huge surprise.


(John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

SEC Team Previews: Arkansas

(John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

Through this week I will be previewing the 5 SEC West teams that Kentucky will NOT be playing in the 2018 season. For some awesome in-depth previews of the other 8 teams that the Wildcats will be playing this year, be sure to read Nick Roush’s SEC Media Day breakdowns of UK’s conference opponents. Next up in my preview are the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Offensive Outlook

The Razorbacks finally enter a new era as Brett Bielema was fired at the end of last season. Gone is the archaic offense that worked in the Big 10 but failed miserably in the SEC.

Imagine what it must’ve felt like being an Arkansas fan last season. Every single game your team runs the ball 40 times only to finish the season 4-8. That’s pretty much the definition of running into a brick wall and smashing your face in repeatedly without stopping.

Thankfully for the Razorback faithful, Chad Morris takes over for Bielema. Morris will be implementing a new spread offense this season which will be quite a breath of fresh air.

But will it be successful? The Razorbacks return everyone offense except for Austin Allen at quarterback and one offensive lineman which means they will have an embarrassment of experience for Morris to work with.

With the move to a spread offense I expect whoever wins the quarterback competition to put up respectable numbers. Arkansas returns their top 4 receivers from last season while running back Devwah Whaley is back as well.

Cole Kelley (6’7, 245 pounds) is the supposed favorite to win the job after respectably filling in for Allen last season. He has tremendous size and arm strength, but accuracy is still a question mark.

Overall, this offense will be much better than it was last season. The new spread offense will help whoever wins the quarterback competition, plus their incredible amount of experience will matter in close games. Brighter days are on the way in Fayetteville.

Defensive Outlook

Like on offense, the Razorbacks return just about everything on defense. They only lose two defensive backs and a defensive lineman, so everything seems to be pointing up on this side of the football as well.

The big news on defense is that Arkansas will be shifting back to a 4-3 after playing a 3-4 last season. It’s obvious this change needed to have been made after the Razorbacks gave up 196 rushing yards per game.

Linebackers Dre Greenlaw and De’Jon Harris both totaled over 100 tackles in 2017 and will be looking to cause more damage in 2018. They are similarly talented players who play incredibly hard and fast.

It will be very interesting to see how well Greenlaw and Harris perform in the new defense as they will be depended upon even more this year.

Overall, I see this defense improving this season. The change in schemes will give teams a different look from last season, plus it will give their best players more chances to make plays.

Best Overall Player

My vote for the most interesting player in the SEC goes to my pick for the Razorbacks’ best overall player: Hjalte Froholdt. And yes, I spelled his name correctly.

The crazy thing is that is his first name is actually pronounced “Yelda.” If you don’t believe me, here is the video evidence:

All jokes aside, Froholdt is a fascinating player. He is actually from Denmark of all places and stands at a massive 6’4, 315 pounds. He possesses NFL-ready speed and toughness at the guard position even with being so huge.

One thing that Bielema did correctly during his time at Arkansas was recruit very talented offensive lineman which is exactly what Froholdt is. He has made just about every preseason watch list for linemen this summer after making the All-SEC Third team in 2017.

Froholdt will be one of the most vital pieces of the Razorback offense in what will likely be his last season in Fayetteville. Oh yeah, he can also dish out some great trash talk on the field as well:

Biggest Weakness

The talent level at Arkansas is still low when compared to the rest of the SEC especially in the West division. Morris has a lot of experience at his disposal, but there is a reason why the Razorbacks only won four games last year.

For crying out loud they only beat Coastal Carolina by one point in 2017. That speaks for itself. Their only other victories were against Florida A&M, New Mexico State, and Mississippi.

Their experience will help counter their lack of talent, but this team still isn’t ready to compete week in and week out with the top teams in this conference. Morris will need multiple seasons to recruit the type of players that can launch the Razorbacks back to near 10-win seasons.

Season Outlook

I am high on the Razorbacks this season. I think they will be in the running for one of the most improved teams in the SEC, and I guarantee they will make a bowl game this winter.

Their nonconference slate should give them four victories considering the best team they play is Colorado State. In SEC play they get Mississippi, Vanderbilt, and LSU all at home and Missouri on the road. I really do think that the Razorbacks will find a way to win two or three of those matchups.

The blend of experience and new schemes from a team that won just one SEC last season will be a bit of a shock to the rest of the conference. Couple that in with the coaching talent of Morris and I think you have a recipe for a surprising season.


(Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)

SEC Team Previews: LSU

(Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)

Through this week I will be previewing the 5 SEC West teams that Kentucky will NOT be playing in the 2018 season. For some awesome in-depth previews of the other 8 teams that the Wildcats will be playing this year, be sure to read Nick Roush’s SEC Media Day breakdowns of UK’s conference opponents. Next up in my preview are the LSU Tigers.

Offensive Outlook

Rebuilding. That’s a term that fanbases across the country absolutely dread to hear. However, every team goes through this phase at one time or another. What separates good programs from the great ones is just how much success they experience during these supposed rough patches.

In 2018, the LSU offense will certainly be rebuilding. The question is just how much success they will experience. They return a total of 5 starters from last season in the form of three offensive lineman, a receiver, and their tight end.

Gone is Danny Etling who enjoyed a decent year at quarterback, but most importantly gone is Derrius Guice at running back. Guice was the most important player on last year’s team and he will surely be missed. Gone as well is wide receiver DJ Chark who was one of the best receivers in the SEC.

With so many huge losses, sometimes you got to get creative. And creative is what head Coach Ed Orgeron became. In comes Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow at quarterback, Texas Teach transfer Jonathan Giles at receiver (1,158 yards in 2016), and NC State transfer Thaddeus Moss at Tight End.

Not only does LSU welcome in three talented transfers on offense, but the Tigers are moving to a more pass-happy system this fall as well. It’s going to be weird to watch a normally run-dominant team air it out, but that’s what we will see this season.

They still have talent at half back with sophomore Clyde Edwards-Helaire taking over, however the LSU offense will be defined by its new-look passing game. If Burrow can improve upon what Etling did last year (which won’t be tough) and if Giles can once again be a big-play receiver, fans won’t be able to tell it’s a rebuilding year.

Defensive Outlook

There are three certainties in life: Death. Taxes. And LSU always having a great defense.

That doesn’t change in 2018 as the Tigers once again will be fielding a top 5 defense in the SEC. While it is true that LSU only returns 5 starters on this side of the ball they return three of their top four tacklers from last season.

Even more important for Orgeron’s team is that they return linebacker Devin White and defensive back Greedy Williams (what a name). They are the two most talented players on this team, and both will be selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Three starters total return at defensive back which will be the most loaded aspect of LSU this season. Normally the Tigers field a tough defense against the pass and this season will not be any different.

They don’t return as much experience in the front seven, but with a plethora of highly touted recruits starting along with White this will not be a rebuilding year on defense for LSU.

Best Overall Player

This is an incredibly tough decision to make between White and Williams, but I’m going with the one and only Greedy Williams.

Not only is he likely winning the competition for best overall name in the SEC, but he is my pick for the best cornerback in the country. As a redshirt freshman last year Williams broke up 11 total passes while also grabbing six interceptions.

Combine those coverage skills along with the fact that Williams stands at 6’2 and you have an ideal cornerback in the national football league.

I would not be surprised at all if a team with a bad pass defense selects him within the first 10 picks in the draft. In fact, if LSU has a surprise year in the SEC Williams could be the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

However, I don’t want to completely leave out White. He is the top inside linebacker in the country after totaling an absurd 133 tackles last season. He will be a first-round pick and in the running for SECDOPY as well.

Biggest Weakness

LSU’s biggest weakness this season is the fact that they return an incredibly low amount of meaningful experience from last season. Sure, adding some big names in the form of transfers is a smart way to try and make up for this, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is mostly a brand-new football team on offense.

Orgeron is very smart to try and move to a pass-happy system. Every other offense in the SEC West will be improving from last season and the Tigers don’t need to get left in the dust.

With a very, very tough schedule that includes Miami, Alabama, at Auburn, and Georgia, having to rebuild team chemistry on offense is going to be incredibly hard to do.

Orgeron certainly has his work cut out for him this year. If Burrow can be the real deal at quarterback, I think the Tigers can win some games they probably shouldn’t have.

Season Outlook

This may be a hot take, but I’m a bit low on LSU this season. College football expert Phil Steele has the Tigers rated 129th on his experience chart heading into the season. In case you forgot, there is only 130 teams on this level of college football.

Ouch.

However, I still think LSU will make a bowl game this season. White and Williams are that talented on defense, and there is enough talent elsewhere on that side of the ball. That defense will win them games on its own this season.

While they won’t beat any teams in that murder’s row mentioned earlier, I still think they find a way to win six of their other eight games. They will win all three of their other nonconference games, beat up on Mississippi and Arkansas, and win a surprising game against Texas A&M to finish their regular season.

This really feels like a 6-6 team because of their lack of experience and incredibly tough schedule. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m proven wrong. You can never really count out the toughness of that LSU defense.


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

SEC Team Previews: 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

Through this week I will be previewing the 5 SEC West teams that Kentucky will NOT be playing in the 2018 season. For some awesome in-depth previews of the other 8 teams that the Wildcats will be playing this year, be sure to read Nick Roush’s SEC Media Day breakdowns of UK’s conference opponents. Next up in my preview are the Auburn Tigers.

Offensive Outlook

Down the stretch of the 2017 season, the Auburn Tiger offense was borderline unstoppable. Except for a woeful performance in the SEC Championship Game, the Tigers amassed over 400 yards of total offense in 5 straight games.

Running Back Kerryon Johnson caught fire and was the best running back in the SEC. The offensive line improved greatly, and Jarrett Stidham became an elite college quarterback by the end of the year.

However, Auburn enters the 2018 season with more questions than Head Coach Gus Malzahn would probably like on offense. Gone is Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway at running back along with 4 starting offense linemen.

For a team that is known for its run game, those departures are big causes for concern. But fear not, because not only does Stidham return, but his top 5 receivers are back as well.

Like Alabama, I expect Auburn’s passing numbers to take a sizable leap this season. While it took some time for Stidham to figure out SEC defenses, he still managed to complete 66% of his passes while notching over 3,000 yards passing.

It is Stidham’s year in 2018. I fully expect a season that might put him in New York as a Heisman finalist. But that’s if an offensive line with much less experience can stop the pass rush from lethal SEC defenses.

Also, junior Kam Martin will be given the reigns at halfback. Last season he averaged six yards a carry as Johnson’s backup so the Tigers should have a consistent ground attack again.

Defensive Outlook

Despite the loss of four starters on the defensive side of things, the Tigers still managed to return three out of their four leading tacklers from last season.

The biggest area of strength for the Auburn defense in 2018 will be the defensive line where the Tigers return 9 of their top 10 guys. Wowza. Headlined by studs like Derrick Brown and Dontavius Russell this unit will without a doubt be one of the best and deepest defensive lines in the entire country.

Linebacker is also a position of strength for the Tigers. They lose only one starter here and their top tacklers from last season return.

Everything so far seems ideal, but Auburn took some very heavy losses in the secondary like Alabama did. The Tigers lose three starters here so expect teams with talented quarterbacks to take advantage of this potential weakness.

Overall, Auburn is pretty much set on this side of the football. Their front seven will be one of the best in the conference. While their defensive backs are younger, they are still very talented. Last season the Tigers held opponents to 19 ppg. I don’t foresee much of a drop-off, if any, from that total this year.

Best Overall Player

The answer to this question is Jarrett Stidham and it’s not even close. In next year’s NFL Draft, Stidham will easily be selected within the first 15 picks. Even if the offensive line struggles, he will have a season better than last year.

With all his receivers returning, Stidham should set the SEC on fire this season. To me, I think he is the best NFL prospect at the quarterback position in college football right now.

His accuracy is the best in the country even against SEC defenses, and his arm strength is not too far behind either. He has prototypical size at 6’3, 214 pounds, plus his character and leadership are unquestioned.

I know there will be other quarterbacks that will have great size and arm talent that will enter the 2019 Draft, but none of them will have the full resume that Stidham will possess.

If a team that needs a quarterback has the first overall selection, they should select Stidham in what would be one of the easiest choices in recent draft memory. I’m that high on this guy.

Biggest Weakness

Their schedule. Look, I know this isn’t an actual team weakness, but I must be honest here. On both sides of the football Auburn is almost a complete team. Yes, there are worries on the offensive line and secondary, but they have plenty of talent ready to go in those positions.

In many ways, this team is a weird mirror image of Alabama (see my last article for that).

Therefore, I think their real biggest weakness is their schedule which will be one of the toughest in the country. It honestly makes the Crimson Tide’s schedule look like a walk in the park (which it is).

In their first game of the season they play Washington on a neutral field for crying out loud. Many people east of the Mississippi don’t realize this now, but the Huskies are easily winning the Pac-12 this year. They have a great chance of making the playoff.

Combine that tough matchup with the fact that the Tigers play Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi State ALL ON THE ROAD this season and you get a schedule that’s too tough for any team. Not to mention the fact that they would have to face Georgia twice to make the playoff, and we saw how well that went for Auburn last year.

Malzahn’s team easily has the talent not only to make the playoff, but to win it all. But with a schedule like that it will be very hard to do so.

Season Outlook

Despite a tough schedule, I see Auburn winning nine or ten regular season games. With a loaded front seven and Stidham at quarterback I think the Tigers will find a way to win two games out of that brutal 4-game lineup against Washington, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi State.

The key for the Tigers will be winning the Iron Bowl. If they can best the Crimson Tide on the road then there is a chance they can make the SEC Championship with two losses especially if one of those defeats is against Washington.

Overall, Auburn is still loaded for this year and they will finish no lower than second in the SEC West. I think they are the third best team in the conference behind Georgia and Alabama.

However, they will need a lot of luck to make the playoff considering that Alabama’s and Georgia’s schedules are a joke compared to what the Tigers have to deal with.

Enjoy this season near the top of the SEC West while you can Auburn fans. Because with the arrival of Jimbo Fisher in College Station and the coming departure of Stidham, the Tigers may not be near the top much longer.


Florida Football Players Involved in WILD BB Gun Confrontation with Local Gambler

Dan Mullen might have bit off a little more than he can chew.  Six months after he was hired to take over the Florida football program, seven of his players were involved in a confrontation that featured BB guns, a baseball bat, a frying pan and a local gambler.

Police were called to the Keys Residential Complex on May 28 to investigate a disturbance.  What they found were about a dozen people in a heated confrontation.

The incident was sparked by senior tight end C’yontai Lewis’ relationship with Devante Zachery, a local gambler who goes by the name of “Tay Bang.”  The two were good friends when the Gators won, but not so much when they lost seven games in 2017.

Tay Bang was waiting to confront Lewis about the losses in front Lewis’ apartment complex.  Lewis arrived with six other players — freshman quarterback Emory Jones, wide receivers Rick Wells, Kadarius Toney and Tyrie Cleveland, defensive tackle Kyree Campbell and tight end Kemore Gamble.

When the situation got heated, several players left the scene to get a wide assortment of weapons.  The police report says some were holding rocks, BB guns and even a frying pan, while one of Tay Bang’s associates carried a baseball bat.  The BB guns were painted all-black to resemble an AR-15.  Before the confrontation could escalate any further, police arrived and people scattered.  Nobody was arrested and five players face disciplinary action by the school, which could affect their status with the team.

“We were made aware of the incident when it occurred and immediately began following campus protocol,” Mullen said in a statement. “This has been an opportunity for us to educate our players about the dangers and negative perceptions that can occur when conflict arises, and how important honesty and good decision making is.”

For wide receivers Wells and Cleveland, it’s their second BB gun incident since they arrived at Florida.  Kadrius Toney is the Gators’ leading returning wide receiver and Emory Jones was the nation’s top-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class.

The report surfaced just days after Mullen suspended highly-touted freshman defensive back Justin Watkins following his second arrest in ten weeks.  He now faces four charges, including a pair of felonies, for allegedly hitting his girlfriend.

To read the full details of the incident, check out the Orlando Sentinel and GatorSports.com.


SEC Team Previews: Alabama

(John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

Through this week, I will be previewing the 5 SEC West teams that Kentucky will NOT be playing in the 2018 season. For some awesome in-depth previews of the other 8 SEC teams that the Wildcats will be playing this year, be sure to read Nick Roush’s SEC Media Day breakdowns of UK’s conference opponents. To start things off, I preview Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide squad.

Offensive Outlook

Ever since Saban took the Alabama job in 2007, we have seen the same basic but effective offense from the Crimson Tide. They win games by running the football down the other team’s throat while their quarterback respectably manages the game through the air.

This season I expect the offense to be a bit different in Saban’s 12th year at the school. The college football world knows all about the quarterback battle between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts would successfully manage games and get a lot of victories for Saban. However, everyone knows that Tagovailoa is the better passing quarterback which means he should be the starter.

With him starting, expect to see a big improvement in passing numbers. Last year Hurts threw for just over 2,000 yards to go along with 17 TD’s. Expect Tagovailoa to get near 3,000 yards passing and over 25 TD’s. Even with the departure of Calvin Ridley, the receiving core is still filled with dependable pass catchers that will make an impact.

Alabama returns almost all of its offensive line which will give Tagovailoa plenty of protection. With Damien and Najee Harris returning at halfback the Crimson Tide will once again have a dominant running game.

Overall, this will be Saban’s most balanced offense he has had in Tuscaloosa if he makes what I believe is the correct decision and starts Tagovailoa. The Hawaiian has a strong chance to end the regular season as a Heisman contender along with star Damien Harris.

Defensive Outlook

The Crimson Tide returns just three starters back on defense with the departures of several talented players to the NFL. Gone is Minkah Fitzpatrick, Rashaan Evans, Ronnie Harrison, Da’Ron Payne, and Da’Shawn Hand just to name a few.

Nevertheless, despite the Alabama defense being a bit more inexperienced than usual, this unit will easily be one of the best in the nation at stopping the run. Over the past decade Saban has always lost plenty of guys to the NFL. Time and time again he rolls out another incredibly talented defense that shuts down opposing running backs thanks to years and years of great recruiting classes. That will not change this season.

Their strongest overall facet on defense is their linebacker core. Not only do two starters return, but seven total players come back who have some type of starting experience.

All these linebackers were also highly touted out of high school including Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses who were both ranked as the No. 1 overall linebacker in their classes.

In complete seriousness, the Alabama Crimson Tide defense will put the fear of God into opposing running backs this season. And it’s going to be oh so fun to watch.

Best Overall Player

I know the hype behind Tagovailoa and Damien Harris going into the season is huge, but Raekwon Davis is far and away the best player on this year’s team and it’s not that close.

Humans that are 6’7, 316 pounds shouldn’t be able to be that quick or that athletic but yet Raekwon Davis exists. This monster is going to put the absolute hurt on quarterbacks this year before being selected in the first 10 picks of next spring’s NFL Draft.

This is just one of those things that people don’t need to spend their time overthinking on. As a true sophomore last year, Davis was Alabama’s third leading tackler and he led the team in sacks (8.5). In case you somehow forgot already, that was on a defense with 3 or 4 guys supposedly better than him.

Now with another year of added experience, good luck trying to block this guy. He should be the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Biggest Question Mark

While the Crimson Tide will be just fine stopping the run with an insanely talented group of linebackers and Raekwon Davis, I am honestly worried about Alabama’s secondary.

They lost five out of their top six defensive backs. While they have plenty of talent to fill those positions thank to amazing recruiting, experience truly does matter especially when are you are out there on an island by yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, however. The interior defense will be so good at getting to the quarterback that the Crimson Tide will still average great defensive numbers against the pass.

What I’m primarily worried about is how the secondary will perform in big time games towards the end of the season against very talented quarterbacks that can pick them apart.

These games will be against the likes of Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, and whoever they play in the playoff. In these contests, the inexperience in the secondary will show. It will be up to whoever starts at quarterback for Alabama to outplay the opposing team’s leader behind center to win these contests. I believe Tagovailoa has the potential to do just that.

Season Outlook

Alabama has far and away the easiest schedule in the SEC West. It’s so easy that I am calling for 11 out of their 12 games to be guaranteed wins. Yupp. I’m completely serious.

Their non-conference slate is a complete joke. Their toughest game is against a rebuilding Louisville team on a neutral field. After that their non-conference schedule shakes out like this: Arkansas State, Louisiana, and The Citadel.

Woof.

In conference they managed to draw Missouri and Tennessee out of the East, and they also get Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and Auburn all at home.

The only game I’m not marking as a guaranteed win is their regular season finale against Auburn, because I am worried about what Jarrett Stidham might do against the Crimson Tide secondary.

Even if they lose that game they will still make the SEC Championship in my opinion. And even if they lose the conference title game their fate will be in the hands of the selection committee and they will only have 1 or 2 losses. We all saw how kind that committee was to Alabama last season.

Overall, there should be absolutely no reason why the Crimson Tide does not make the playoff once again. Unless they are depleted by injuries by the end of the season, Saban will have his guys in position to win yet another title.


A Ridiculously Incomplete SEC Media Days Recap: Tennessee

© Dale Zanine | USATSI

Tennessee created the most chaotic coaching search in the history of college football to find Butch Jones’ replacement.  When the dust settled, Phil Fulmer hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.  Of the many former Nick Saban disciples who are  now SEC head coaches, nobody faces a more difficult task than Pruitt.

The Best Thing Jeremy Pruitt Said — Pruitt was asked if he got any advice from Saban after he was hired by the Vols.

You think Coach Saban is going to give me advice? There’s a lot of us in the league. We’ve known us for a while, some of us assistant coaches, and now I get an opportunity now. It is probably you better write down everything you can. You better take it all in while you have the opportunity because as soon as you go put on the other uniform, I can guarantee you, everybody, even though everybody’s friends, we want to beat the other guy. You know? So we don’t want to give the other person the edge.”

The Best Thing Jeremy Pruitt Said (Out of Context) — “We’re hungry. They’re hungry. Everybody’s hungry.”

Coach Speak 101 — Pruitt mentioned the “Power of the T” at least three times in his address.  I remember, because that’s how many times I threw up in my mouth.

One Stud — Trey Smith might just be the best offensive lineman in the Southeastern Conference.  The nation’s top-ranked high school offensive lineman in 2017, he started left tackle as a true freshman and did not disappoint.  Smith was injured in the spring but shouldn’t miss a step this fall.

Tennessee’s Scariest Player — Former JUCO transfer Jonathan Kongbo has the name of a terrifying pass rusher, even though he only had 2.5 sacks last year.  Kongbo should be better suited as an outside linebacker in Pruitt’s 3-4 defense.

Call the Whambulance — Jarrett Guarantano had quite an impressive freshman year.  Six games into the season, the dual-threat quarterback took over an offense that was in the midst of a 14-quarter touchdown drought.  In his first start he almost led the dismal Vols to a game-winning touchdown drive against South Carolina.

Down six with 1:13 to play, Guarantano marched Tennessee down to the South Carolina two-yard line.  They had a few attempts into the end zone with just seconds remaining before his final pass sailed out of bounds.  Devastated, Guarantano fell to his knees on the sideline.  South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley was there to pick up his opponent, earning a sportsmanship award from the SEC in the process.

Good News for UK — Tennessee is trash.  The program is in shambles and I don’t think Pruitt can save face in just one year.  All hatred aside, transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense isn’t easy, and the Tennessee defense lost their greatest playmaker, Rashaun Gaulden.  On offense, Alvin Kamara isn’t walking through that door.  Butch Jones scared off Jalen Hurd, Kamara was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and John Kelly has graduated.

Bad News for UK — The Vols do return their starting dual-threat quarterback and his top three targets.  Most importantly, this game will be played at Neyland Stadium, a place that has not been kind to Kentucky over the last three decades.

Fear Factor — 3.4

It’s been 34 years since Kentucky won a football game on Rocky Top.  History is the only thing scary about Tennessee (and that insufferable, puke in a pumpkin orange).

Ridiculous, Incomplete SEC Media Days Recaps: Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia, Miss. State


© Dale Zanine | USATSI

Aaron Murray doesn’t think Jeremy Pruitt is head coach material

© Dale Zanine | USATSI

Is Tennessee’s new head coach Jeremy Pruitt capable of cleaning up Butch Jones’ mess in Knoxville? If you ask Aaron Murray, who played quarterback at Georgia while Pruitt was defensive coordinator, no.

“I don’t know if his personality is fit to be a head coach,” Murray said on 102.5 The Game yesterday. “As a head coach, there’s so many things that go into it. It’s not just going out there and coaching. You have to deal with front office. You’ve got to go talk with the president of the university. You have to deal with boosters. You have to deal with the offense, the defense. It’s not just going in there … and scheming up.”

Murray went on to say he didn’t like the way Pruitt treated former Georgia head coach Mark Richt.

“When he was at Georgia, the way he acted, the way he treated Coach Richt, I thought was poor. He needs to prove to me that he can handle the whole ship. For right now, I don’t think he can.”

Ouch. Pruitt defended himself this morning at SEC Media Days.

“I don’t really know Aaron, but I had a lot of respect for him as a player” Pruitt said, via Wes Rucker. “But I will say I was a kindergarten coach 15 years ago, and now I’m the head coach at Tennessee. That don’t happen if you don’t treat people well.”

Paul Finebaum came to Pruitt’s defense this morning on the SEC Network.

“I know Aaron, he’s a nice guy, but I don’t give two rips about what he thinks about Jeremy Pruitt,” Finebaum said, via Saturday Down South. “(Pruitt) rubbed everyone the wrong way because the culture at Georgia was laissez-faire. ‘We lost a game, what kind of wine do you guys want?’ So, Aaron Murray, go do whatever you’re doing right now, I don’t care. Your voice is not relevant when it comes to Jeremy Pruitt.”

Finebaum not holding back! I can’t wait to hear what the Georgia callers think of that later this afternoon.