They don't build trucks like they used to
"The check engine light came on. That's when I had to fall down." -- Oklahoma State's 300-pound DT James Castleman after his glorious reception
"Oregon won by 40? I gotta go. We gotta go get ready for that one." -- Urban Meyer
"I don't think I have to say anything" -- TCU's Gary Patterson after dismantling Ole Miss 42-3
"I got beat, so what are you going to do, go talk and tell jokes?" -- Charlie Strong on his quick handshake with Bret Bielema
Moderator: Coach, your thoughts about this afternoon's game.
Baylor coach Art Briles: Seriously?
I am alive. It has been a great season. I am proud to be a Baylor Bear. #SicEm— Christopher Callahan (@chrispcallahan2) January 1, 2015
"This game could have went either way, if you want to be, if everybody in this room just want to be real with themselves, this game could have went either way." -- Jameis Winston
"Well, it didn't go his way" -- Oregon OT Jake Fisher
"If he gets his hands on you, you can pretty much cancel Christmas." -- FSU's Mario Edwards on freshman OL Roderick Johnson
"For at least a week or two, we don't have to hear about the SEC." -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson
I learned what "the whip" was in our staff meeting this morning https://t.co/HDWde5Nb0c— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) January 3, 2015
Everyone keeps asking me what I said to Lane Kiffin.....let's just say momma wouldn't be proud =— Darron Lee (@DLeeMG8) January 2, 2015
“Georgia always has a whole bunch of good players. They probably have been the most consistent team in the East. Well, maybe they haven’t. Heck, we’ve beat them four out of five years, but overall they have probably been one of the best teams on the Eastern side" -- Steve Spurrier
It's sad to see such a fun season end, but that just leaves us with more time to talk about what could/should happen in college football in 2015. As rabid consumers of the next big thing, it's really never too early to peer into the future, which is why we are here today.
Fresh off Ohio State's rout of Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game Presented by AT&T, we are here wondering if the SEC will get itself back into the national title game. Which teams can compete for that spot? Which teams will be competing for the SEC title in 2015?
The upcoming season should bring us a handful of contenders, especially from the Western Division, but we are going with three from each division.
Here are the top three SEC contenders from each division in 2015:
Georgia: I took some heat for writing on Monday that the Bulldogs might be a quarterback away from taking the SEC and making a legitimate playoff run. I stand by that, and still believe that the Bulldogs have enough pieces in place to be the top SEC at the end of 2015. Nick Chubb is the league's top returning running back and will be a Heisman Trophy candidate, while the defense is stacked at linebacker and in the secondary. There's work to be done along a defensive line that lacks adequate depth, but a loaded D-line class is on the way. With a host of talent coming back on both sides and a more than manageable schedule, Georgia has no choice but to be the East favorite.
Tennessee: If everything goes according to plan, the Vols should return 18 total starters in 2015. That's huge for a team that was so incredibly young last year and started to jell late in the year. Both lines should be strong and the offense will revolve around quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, but keep an eye on a deep receiving corps that could prove to be among the SEC's best. Tennessee must go to Florida, Alabama and Missouri, but getting Georgia and South Carolina at home will be huge in the SEC race.
Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel has done a tremendous job for the better part of his three years in the SEC, but this could be quite the challenge. Mizzou loses a lot of firepower from its 2014 team, including the nation's best defensive end combination in Shane Ray and Markus Golden. The Tigers have been through this before, but there isn't a dynamic combo lurking like the ones Mizzou has had the last two years. Offensively, quarterback Maty Mauk must get his game under control and unlike the position the Tigers were in to start 2014, Mizzou loses its top receivers to a very inexperienced group. Still, these are the Missouri Tigers. Don't you dare count them out.
Watch out for ... Florida: New coach, myriad offensive questions and a quarterback battle. Yeah, the Gators need a lot of help, and new coach Jim McElwain certainly has his work cut out for him in Year 1. The road schedule is tough, but the defense should be fine once again, and if the offense has any sort of identity, the Gators could surprise.
Auburn: The addition of former Florida head coach Will Muschamp to head up the defense was a monster hire for the Tigers. He'll have the luxury of having all but three starters returning on his side, and top pass-rusher Carl Lawson will be back. Muschamp has quite the challenge in fixing what was a bad defense in 2014, but any sort of improvement will give the Tigers contender status. That's because Auburn's offense should continue to roll behind quarterback Jeremy Johnson, who might be a better pure passer than Nick Marshall. Duke Williams is back at receiver, three starting linemen return, and rising sophomore Roc Thomas could be a beast at running back.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide lose a lot on offense with only two starters returning -- left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly -- and the defense, which loses four valuable starters, certainly needs to get back to its old ways. The loss of Kevin Steele to LSU and Lance Thompson to Auburn means Nick Saban will have to rework his staff, but you have to wonder what sort of changes will come philosophically to a defense that just hasn't played well against tempo, running quarterbacks and the spread. There's still talent in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama isn't going anywhere, but don't be surprised if the Tide goes into a little bit of a rebuilding mode.
Ole Miss: The Rebels, like Georgia, might be a quarterback away from making a serious run in 2015. There will be relative inexperience at the position, regardless of who wins the starting job in 2015. But getting star receiver Laquon Treadwell back will provide whichever quarterback an elite target. The defense loses some value, including defensive backs Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, but that incredibly talented defensive line comes back in tact and there are young, budding stars littered around that side of the ball. Ole Miss has to get more consistent play out of its offensive line/running game and must go to Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State.
Watch out for ... Arkansas: The Hogs' next offensive coordinator needs to know one thing: Hand the ball off. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins (2,290 combined yards in 2014) will be the focus of the offense again, but Arkansas has to get better production out of quarterback Brandon Allen (175.8 yards per game). The defense should be solid, but losing DT Darius Philon to the NFL will hurt.
But there is one measure that never shows up on a spreadsheet and trumps all those that do: perception.
The SEC might be the No. 2 conference in America on paper, but after a bowl season in which nearly all of its supposed powers lost, the impression on the hearts and minds of football fans is much more grim.
Today is a new day for the conference that berthed seven straight national championship contenders.
Today is the day the conference must swallow its considerable pride and admit it's no longer king of the hill.
That title belongs to the Pac-12, according to ESPN's latest rankings. But the Big 12, which boasts powerhouse TCU, has every reason to gloat over the SEC as well, as does the Big Ten, which is home to the national champion Ohio State Buckeyes.
And how ironic it is that Urban Meyer helped create this overly decorated SEC we know today with two championships at Florida, only to be the one to lay the conference bare by beating Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal before moving on to win the first national championship of the playoff era.
Now, instead of everyone chasing Nick Saban at Alabama, it's the SEC playing catch-up with Meyer and a resurgent Ohio State poised to make another run at the national championship next season.
If it's not the Buckeyes hoisting the trophy in 2016, it could be favorites TCU, Baylor or USC. If you're following along with Mark Schlabach's Way-too-early Top 25, you have to then pass Oregon, Michigan State and UCLA before landing on a team from the SEC. And even then, it's the perennially underwhelming Georgia Bulldogs at No. 8, which are without a returning starter at quarterback and haven't won a national championship since 1980.
That's looking ahead to next season, of course, but it speaks to the status of the conference as a whole after what we saw during its zombie walk through the bowl season. It speaks to perception, whose momentum drives through the offseason and carries well into the fall.
The SEC is a dying conference by no means, but after so long at the top, ranking second should come as a major disappointment. A slap in the face. A wake-up call.
Because in the coming months, it won't just be the Pac-12 that taunts the conference with feelings of superiority. Outside of perhaps the ACC, the rest of the Power 5 should feel as if its turned the tables on the SEC.
Now, mind you, Alabama isn't going anywhere. Neither is Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss or Mississippi State. Outside of Georgia in the East, we've learned that you shouldn't sleep on Missouri, Tennessee or even Florida with its new coaching staff.
But depth is only one part of the equation. Potential is meaningless without results either.
Until the SEC breaks its two-year streak without a national championship, perception will continue to go against the conference that has long relished its status as No. 1.
Newcomers to the SEC made a huge impact throughout the conference this past season. From running back Jalen Hurd at Tennessee, to offensive tackle Cam Robinson at Alabama and to wide receivers D'haquille Williams and Speedy Noil at Auburn and Texas A&M, respectively, these prospects who enrolled last January left their mark on the 2014 football season. Whether it be junior college transfers or true freshmen, these newcomers are counted on every year to help fill voids. Here's a closer look at some of the top candidates who are likely to make an impact early on in their collegiate careers.
- Highest ceiling: There are questions galore for Alabama, but when you bring in three consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes and are running out the clock on a fourth, you don't worry about potential.
- Safest bet: Georgia's schedule is manageable and running back Nick Chubb is sensational. Jeremy Pruitt brought the defense along last season, and further progress there could mean an East crown.
- Wild card: Does anyone in the SEC have more young talent on offense than Texas A&M? If John Chavis can coax a heartbeat out of the defense, watch out for the Aggies.
- Sleeper: It's a scary place to be one quarterback away, but that's where LSU is today. With Leonard Fournette at running back and a solid defense, the only missing ingredient is a passing game.
- Spoiler: Kentucky is only getting better. With Patrick Towles, a Ben Roethlisberger clone, back at QB and a roster steadily improving thanks to the staff's work on the recruiting trail, the Wildcats are a team no one wants to see on the schedule.
- At Alabama: Move over Nick Saban, writes Kevin Scarbinsky, it's time to make room for Urban Meyer on college football Mount Rushmore
- At Auburn: Gus Malzahn, echoing the sentiment of many fans of college football, says an eight-team playoff "wouldn't hurt my feelings"
- At Texas A&M: Reports indicate that offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi has a torn ACL, which could seriously harm his NFL draft stock
- At Georgia: The Bulldogs are said to be in talks for another high-profile nonconference game, possibly in the Georgia Dome or the Falcons' new stadium
- At Tennessee: A pair of Vols have been granted medical redshirts
Recruiting rankings are never an exact science, but it does give a glimpse into the future talent a team will have, and potentially how well they will perform on the field in future seasons.
Because they are just projections, though, there are always deviations from the rankings and how a team is put together. Some coaches out-perform their recruiting rankings, some under-perform and some live up to the hype.
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So would Smart leave Alabama? My gut says no, but there are always a number of factors at play. The timing is interesting. After so much time with Saban, is he ready to step out from under his shadow? After eight years in Tuscaloosa -- an eternity for an assistant -- is he ready for a change of scenery? Alabama's defense struggled the final three games of the season. Might he think it's time to try his hand elsewhere? The sentiment that he's been waiting on the right head coaching position to open up could still be at play, but remember how this past summer he said he wouldn't mind being a lifelong assistant like Mickey Andrews, whose time as Bobby Bowden's defensive coordinator at Florida State spanned three decades.
Around the SEC
- At Georgia: New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer doesn't seem prone to hyperbole. So forget wholesale changes at Georgia. He said he has no plans to "reinvent the wheel."
- At Florida: Speaking of not messing up a good thing, new secondary coach Kirk Callahan doesn't plan to either. The former Gator student assistant wants to allow Vernon Hargreaves III & Co. to "play fast."
- At Mississippi State: The Bulldogs' kicking game was rocky last season, and things might have just gotten worse with Evan Sobiesk leaving the program. In the most kicker thing to ever happen, he plans to focus on dental school.
When I look at Georgia, I see a team that appears to be a quarterback away from making a deep run through the SEC and hopping into the second-ever College Football Playoff. And really, the Bulldogs could be the best-equipped team in the SEC for such a season.
Much has been made of coach Mark Richt, who is now 136-48 at Georgia, and his lack of titles. It's been a decade full of missed opportunities since Georgia's last SEC title, but 2015 could provide the remedy for Georgia's blues.
Georgia isn't the perfect team, and won't be the nation's preseason No. 1, but the parts are there for a very big season. And if the Bulldogs fall short of at least a trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, there will be a lot of justifiably upset Dawgs fans.
It's time for Georgia to get out of its own way and go win the SEC title before "Georgiaing" replaces "Clemsoning."
Yes, the quarterback situation -- which will be headed by current redshirt freshman Brice Ramsey, redshirt sophomore Faton Bauta and true freshman Jacob Park -- is a little hazy at the moment due to relative inexperience, but there are enough weapons returning on this offense for me to be comfortable throwing the ball. And don't expect any wholesale scheme changes under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
As long as the Dawgs are constantly feeding Chubb the ball, that offense will be fine. Much like Todd Gurley, Chubb plays like he's from a different planet. He rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns in just eight starts. When Gurley started 12 games as a freshman, he ran for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns. Chubb also averaged 7.1 yards per carry compared to Gurley's 6.2. I'm not trying to say that Chubb is better than Gurley, which he very well could be, but I think the running game is in good hands with the youngster.
Also, don't forget about the speedy, elusive Sony Michel, who could have a bigger role in the offense this fall as well.
The offensive line returns four starters, all upperclassmen. Veterans Malcolm Mitchell and speedy Justin Scott-Wesley lead a talented, young receiving corps that should make up for the losses of Chris Conley and Michael Bennett.
And that's all before we get to what should be an even better defense in 2015. Pruitt did a masterful job getting players adjusted to his defensive philosophy and how he wanted guys to approach games and practice, and he will have an even older group to work with in 2015. The key was getting rush specialists Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd back. They could have flirted with the NFL, but decided to stay in Athens, which was the right move. The two combined for 11 sacks last year, but freshman Lorenzo Carter, who took some starts away from Floyd in 2014, could be a really special player after registering 4.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hurries.
The defensive line will need some retooling with a couple of seniors gone, but the rotation last year was good enough to get guys such as Sterling Bailey and Josh Dawson quality snaps.
Then, there's the secondary that outside of veteran Damian Swann was almost completely comprised of underclassmen, who matured and improved steadily as the season went on. Georgia finished the year second in the SEC in pass defense (170.4 yards per game) and didn't allow any team to pass for more than 142 yards in the final month of the regular season.
The schedule sets up nicely, too. Georgia has two road games within the first month -- Vanderbilt and Tennessee. The Bulldogs get Alabama, South Carolina and Missouri at home before trips to Auburn and Georgia Tech. Tennessee certainly won't be a walk in the park, but Florida and South Carolina are considerable unknowns and both Alabama and Missouri lose a lot from this season.
The bottom line is that this team is loaded and the road to Atlanta -- and potentially beyond -- sets up nicely for the Dawgs. It was set up well this season and Georgia didn't take advantage. That can't happen in 2015. With the state of the East and the strength of the Dawgs, it's unacceptable for the team not to make it to Atlanta. There's little room for excuses for the Dawgs.
Dawgs fans are rightfully restless and tired of the continuous shortcomings. Richt engineered the last title run, and he has a team capable of accomplishing that feat again.
The confetti on the 2014 season has barely settled, but it's never too early to look ahead to next season. We asked 37 of our experts which teams they think will be in the 2015 College Football Playoff field. While no team was unanimous, Ohio State led the list, showing up on 36 ballots.
During Schottenheimer's interview with Georgia coach Mark Richt, one of the Bulldogs' biggest rivalry games was mentioned. That was when Schottenheimer made his mistake.
"He did refer to it as the Florida-Georgia game," Richt said Friday. Richt said he quickly made sure Schottenheimer knew that in Athens it's called the Georgia-Florida game.
Schottenheimer managed to smile as he recalled his blunder.
"That almost did me in, truth be known, so I've been watching it real close from that point on," Schottenheimer said.
Schottenheimer, the former St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator whose hiring was announced on Wednesday, said he expects "an easy fit" in Georgia's pro-style offense.
He said he'll learn the terminology used by former coordinator Mike Bobo, who was named the Colorado State head coach on Dec. 22.
"We're not going to reinvent the wheel," said Schottenheimer, who also will coach Georgia's quarterbacks.
"That's going to allow these guys to play fast. There certainly will be some things that will have my fingerprint on it."
Richt said the college trend toward spread offenses limited his search.
"There wasn't a massive amount of candidates at the college level, quite frankly, who do the things that we do," Richt said.
The Tennessee freshman finished with 899 rushing yards, 221 receiving yards and seven touchdowns his first year on campus. His rushing totals might not be on par with Chubb or Fournette, but he did a little bit of everything for the Volunteers and was a big reason why they played in a bowl game.
“He’s an all-purpose back,” Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. “He’s an extremely well-rounded player. He runs with great physicality. He’s very good in pass protection. He’s good catching the ball out of the backfield.
Bajakian believes Hurd will be one of the SEC’s top running backs in 2015. Unlike many freshmen, Hurd got stronger as the season progressed and played some of his best games down the stretch. He rushed for more than 100 yards in three of the team’s last five games.
Against South Carolina on Nov. 1, Hurd rushed for a career-high 125 yards and his nifty 21-yard touchdown reception on fourth-and-6 late in the game might have saved Tennessee’s season. If he doesn’t spin out of a tackle, the Vols don’t win that game.
That same intensity was there Jan. 2 in the TaxSlayer Bowl, when Hurd had rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns by the end of the first quarter. He was finishing his runs and picking up yards after contact, making it clear he wanted the ball in his hands. The former ESPN 300 prospect finished with 122 rushing yards in Tennessee’s 45-28 victory over Iowa.
"Jalen is one of those individuals who has continued to get better and better and better," Vols’ head coach Butch Jones told reporters after the game. "I just think [his performance] was up to his standard, what we expect from him."
The future is clearly bright for the Vols, and Hurd has a lot to do with that. He won’t be on any Heisman Trophy ballots heading into next season like his counterparts, but don’t let that fool you. He belongs in that upper echelon alongside Chubb and Fournette.
It's scary to think that all three of those players still have at least two seasons of college football left to play. But they’re not alone. The running back Class of 2014 was good to the SEC.
Kentucky freshman Stanley “Boom” Williams rushed for 100 yards or more on three occasions and capped his season with a career-high 126 rushing yards and two touchdowns against rival Louisville.
At Auburn, Roc Thomas was stuck behind the SEC’s leading rusher, Cameron Artis-Payne, this season. He played a bigger role in the second half of the season, but never got going. That could change next year with Artis-Payne moving on.
And then there’s Chubb’s teammate, Sony Michel. He missed five games to injury, but when he did play, he was terrific.
Who said the SEC was a quarterback league? The running backs are taking over.
Randy Shannon and Florida
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Top five SEC football players in 2015
TBD San JosÚ St Auburn TBD Ole Miss Florida TBD Alabama Georgia TBD Eastern Kentucky Kentucky TBD Eastern Michigan LSU TBD Vanderbilt Middle Tennessee TBD South Carolina Missouri TBD Arkansas Tennessee TBD Mississippi State Texas A&M