Georgia Bulldogs: Will Muschamp
Georgia has won three in a row against the Gators (3-3, 2-3), matching its longest winning streak in the series since its six-game streak from 1978-83.
Can they extend the streak and perhaps put the final nail in Will Muschamp’s coffin as Florida’s coach? Here are four key factors and storylines as we approach kickoff:
Florida coach Ron Zook was fired during the week of the 2004 Florida-Georgia game and nearly led his team to an upset win against No. 7 Georgia. The Bulldogs led 24-7 early before Florida rallied to make it 24-21 early in the fourth quarter. Georgia had to recover a late onside kick and run out the clock to seal a 31-24 win.
On the Georgia side, who knows whether Mark Richt and his staff would still be in place were it not for their 2011 win in Jacksonville. To that point, Richt was 2-8 against the Gators and had nearly lost the fan base after starting that season with losses to Boise State and South Carolina.
Some program insiders thought the Richt regime would not survive another loss to Florida, but it never came to that. The Bulldogs connected on fourth-down touchdown passes to Michael Bennett and Tavarres King, took the lead on a Richard Samuel touchdown run in the fourth quarter and built momentum that carried UGA to its first SEC East title since 2005.
Maybe Georgia covers the double-digit spread on Saturday, but remember that teams with coaches on the hotseat typically refuse to roll over in this series.
Turning to Treon: Freshman quarterback Treon Harris will make his first career start against Georgia -- mostly because Jeff Driskel (97-183, 928 yards, 6 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) has been atrocious and partially because Harris has injected some much-needed life into the Gators’ stagnant offense when he has come off the bench.
Harris (12-18, 263 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception) generated instant buzz when he went 2-for-2 for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the Gators’ opening rout of Eastern Michigan, but has played only intermittently since then. He split time with Driskel in Florida’s last game, a 42-13 loss to Missouri, and led the Gators to two late scores. It seems to be his job now, so Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has surely designed schemes to confuse the rookie.
The Bulldogs frequently blitz opposing quarterbacks, with defensive back Damian Swann (two sacks, five quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles) and linebacker Amarlo Herrera (three sacks, five hurries) making several big plays as extra rushers.
Florida versus the run: Harris versus Georgia’s defense is certainly the key matchup, but a close second is Florida’s rushing defense against Nick Chubb and the Bulldogs’ backfield.
The Gators likely believe this is their saving grace since they rank 12th nationally in total defense (317.3 ypg) and No. 22 against the run (117.7 ypg), but those numbers are somewhat deceptive. Florida has faced two offenses that rank in the nation’s top 50 in rushing offense -- Alabama and LSU -- and both ran effectively against the Gators. Alabama had 52 carries for 223 yards in a blowout win over Florida and LSU ran 50 times for 195 yards and three scores in a 30-27 win.
Even with this week’s news that Todd Gurley will not play for Georgia, the Bulldogs still figure to pound the run with Chubb and Brendan Douglas. Since Gurley was suspended prior to the Missouri game, Chubb is averaging 34 carries per game and 172.5 rushing yards per game.
If Florida devises a way to slow down the UGA freshman, it has a chance to win. So far, nobody has done that.
Turnover battle: If quarterback Hutson Mason (10 touchdowns, 3 interceptions) and Georgia continue to protect the football the way they have thus far, it’s difficult to envision Florida pulling the upset.
No team has committed fewer turnovers (four) than Georgia or surrendered fewer points off turnovers (three). Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have scored 55 points off 17 takeaways and rank sixth nationally with a plus-52 points-off-turnovers margin.
Driskel was a turnover dispenser, so it will be interesting to see whether Harris fares any better in his first college start. The Gators have turned it over 16 times (five fumbles and 11 interceptions) and are tied for 75th nationally with a minus-6 points-off-turnover margin (they’ve scored 48 points after turnovers and given up 54).
That trend looks like a huge advantage for Georgia, but the Bulldogs have to force mistakes from the freshman and continue to capitalize like they have in the past. Georgia has scored a defensive touchdown in three of the last four games. Another play like that might bury the Gators.
Well, resident college football expert Phil Steele has come up with his list of college football's 10 surprise teams for the 2014 season. At the top of his list is Georgia, and Ole Miss and LSU also made the cut.
All three are excellent choices. Georgia has the offense to score close to 100 each week, but its defense has the ability to surrender that as well. Imagine if the defense caught up to a third of what the offense could do.
Ole Miss has playmakers on both sides of the ball, and I have the Rebels pegged as a dark horse to take the West this year. Can quarterback Bo Wallace finally put a consistent season together?
Then there's LSU, which has a load of talent sprinkled about, but we don't know who the quarterback is or who will catch the majority of passes at receiver. Also, is that defensive line going to step up this fall and generate a more intimidating pass rush?
So which other SEC teams could surprise us this fall? I figured I'd take a stab at it:
If the Gators' offense can get it together under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, this will be a dangerous team when it comes to the East and the SEC as a whole. Florida already has the defense -- arguably the most talented in the SEC East -- but just has to find a pulse on offense. Will Muschamp thinks he'll have more than just a pulse with quarterback Jeff Driskel running a more comfortable spread attack.
- Why Florida will surprise: Driskel will be a much more threatening quarterback using his legs more in the zone-read. It will open up the running game and will help take a lot of pressure off of what could be a more athletic Gators defense.
- Why Florida won't: Have you seen that schedule? The Gators go to Alabama and Tennessee before home games against LSU and South Carolina and the annual trip to Jacksonville to play Georgia. Florida gets South Carolina at home, too, but has to travel to Florida State to end the season.
Wait, the team that won 12 games and the East is in this category? Well, the Tigers aren't getting much love heading into the fall because of some key losses from last year's team. But some of those key spots are getting more than qualified replacements. The confident and experienced Maty Mauk takes over for James Franklin at quarterback, while potential stars Markus Golden and Shane Ray take over for Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Also, watch out for running back Russell Hansbrough.
- Why Missouri will surprise: Mauk won't have any jitters taking over after starting for the month (and losing just one game) when Franklin was hurt last year. That defensive line could be really fun to watch with good experience and quality ability to keep up the harassment it displayed last season.
- Why Missouri won't: Mauk is good, but who is he going to throw to? None of Mizzou's returning pass-catchers made more than 26 receptions last year. The loss of Dorial Green-Beckham won't be easy to get over. Two starters are gone at linebacker and the secondary is incredibly inexperienced.
This team returns 18 starters, including a potential dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Dak Prescott. The defense is experienced, but vastly underrated. The attitude is different and the confidence is soaring in Starkville. This is the most talented team Dan Mullen has had during his tenure with the Bulldogs, and seven wins would be a considered a disappointment.
- Why Mississippi State will surprise: Prescott did so much in so little time last season and is the ideal quarterback for this offense. Also, his top-five pass catchers from last year are back. The schedule also isn't too daunting, especially with Auburn and Texas A&M at home.
- Why Mississippi State won't: With the way the schedule sets up, the Bulldogs could have seven wins by mid-November. We've seen this before. In 2012, Mississippi State started 7-0 before dropping three straight and five of its last six. For the most part, the better teams have had their way with the Bulldogs.
This team has to completely rebuild its offensive line and defensive line, but there's no doubt that this team has talent at all around and could be sneaky good. The quarterback position has to be figured out, but with receivers such as Marquez North and Josh Malone on the field, any quarterback should be happy.
- Why Tennessee will surprise: The Vols have playmakers at receiver, running back, linebacker and in the secondary. While there are questions up front on both sides, Tennessee has a pretty good supporting cast around it. Running back Jalen Hurd could be a major player for the Vols.
- Why Tennessee won't: Quarterback is a major issue, and that's before you look at a line with five new starters. The defensive line lost six seniors and four starters. There are no gimmes on the schedule in September, and road trips to Georgia, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and South Carolina won't help.
Unfortunately, I can't be there with my fellow American Outlaws, but my eyes will be glued to my TV for the next month, watching some pretty compelling games all day long. So in honor of the World Cup, I thought it would be a good idea to see how all 14 SEC teams stack up to 14 World Cup teams. Who are their futbol counterparts?
I had some help from two of my fellow soccer nut friends, Konrad and Dan, so here are your 14 SEC World Cup teams:
Brazil: Alabama claims something like 100 national titles and Brazil has five World Cup titles of its own. Every year, Alabama is a heavy favorite, just like Brazil. The Crimson Tide play near-perfect football, and Brazil plays the beautiful game. Though neither team is perfect, Brazil has been picked by most to win this year's World Cup, while Alabama is a national championship contender even with a new quarterback and questions on defense. Spain was a possibility, but from a historical standpoint, it didn't work. We'll leave Spain and Florida State to hang out.
South Korea: Neither is expected to go far this year, but there are a couple of good players spread out on both rosters. Could they be dangerous? Maybe. Can this year be a good starting point for the future? It's possible. Honestly, it's tough to say what either can do this year, but they won't lack heart in the way they play. Wins? That'll be tough.
Germany: A team that has the talent to compete year in and year out, but has had some rough spots in its history. They've had great success and tradition, but also dropped off before getting back to prominence. A coach has always helped resurrect things. Gene Chizik was the man for the job at one time, and now it's Gus Malzahn. These teams aren't perfect, but they're teams to be feared with so much offense, and could be better this year than the last time they played for a title.
France: Like Florida, the French have the talent to be contenders, but they've also been underachievers of late. There is a lot of history with these two, and both should never be void of talent. France and Florida have no excuse for not being in contention. The SEC should always be in reach in some fashion for the Gators, and France shouldn't be viewed as underdogs in early rounds, but both have struggled to get back to elite status in the last few years. Argentina would have worked because, well, Will Muschamp and his cousin Lionel Messi.
Belgium: Here's a team that could make a run and take it all, just like Georgia. But are we ready to say that either can really do it? Both can play offense just fine, but they have questions on defense and just haven't been able to get over the championship hump. Belgium is a nice sleeper pick this year, and the Dawgs could be one too, but there are just so many unknowns with a team that has to figure out so much on defense.
Australia: Not going to make a championship push this year, but won't go down -- or out -- without a fight. Mark Stoops is building, and building well, so he knows how tough it's going to be to make any sort of run during his second season with the Wildcats, but this team is better than last year's. An SEC win is on the table, and Kentucky could frustrate the big boys, like Australia, but there's still a ton of work to do.
Italy: Year in and year out, these two teams have a chance to win it all. They might have holes, which both squads certainly do, but the talent and athleticism out there is something no one wants to deal with. Both teams have, um, interesting figures as the faces of their teams. Italy has Mario Balotelli and LSU has Les Miles. Fear the quirkiness!
Mexico: A strong finish to World Cup qualifying has Mexico as a threat, just like the Bulldogs after how they ended last season. Mexico is fast and furious, just like Mississippi State figures to be, especially with so much experience coming back on both sides. While Mississippi State isn't banged up like Mexico, an injury or two to this squad could be devastating.
Netherlands: Teams that have surprised us recently. How did the Netherlands get into the finals of the last World Cup? How did Mizzou make it to last season's SEC championship game? Well, because they were better than we thought they were. Now, they both have some good players to lean on, but there are a lot of new guys at key positions, and these teams are trying to build on past successes.
Colombia: Like sneaky good Colombia, the Rebels have a lot of fire power on offense, a few stars and some youngsters who could eventually bring a title to Oxford. But also like Colombia, there are a lot of questions for Ole Miss. The offensive line is thin, Bo Wallace has been an injured and inconsistent quarterback, and we don't know if the defense is ready to be a real threatening unit. However, no one wants to play them, and they're both title darkhorses.
Uruguay: It's a team that you've heard of and you know is good, but you have trouble naming a lot of players. You know that they are dangerous, but you just don't know a ton about them. Both of these teams have stars spread out, like Mike Davis for the Gamecocks and Luis Suarez for Uruguay. Both teams have made runs, and could do it again, but winning it all? Just don't see it happening this year.
England: So much history and tradition and a great and enthusiastic fan base. But winning just hasn't been there of late. Tennessee won its last national championship at the end of the 1998 season. England hasn't won the World Cup since 1966 -- it's only title. Tennessee boasts five more titles than England, but both should be contenders each year. The fall of both has been rough for both of these teams.
USA: Both have a lot of young talent and could have potent offenses. They both own very, very loud fan bases, and I'd like to think that the USA's following has grown more like that of the Aggies'. Defense is a major question for both and could wreck any sort of run for either. Both teams have a chance to sneak their way through for a successful run, are building for the future after, lost the faces of their teams in Johnny Manziel and Landon Donovan, but could be a tricky team to beat.
Cameroon: Past success by both teams has them as trendy picks to pull an upset or two. But can either get back to where they once were during their magical runs? Vanderbilt might not have a Samuel Eto'o-type player on its team, but it has the talent to be a frustrating opponent for other SEC East teams. Like Cameroon, being in a tough group doesn't bode well for another special run in 2014.
“I am not an agenda guy,” Bielema said. “I believe in playing by the rules and what it is. I love up-tempo offenses, I love going against them, I love competing against them, I respect coaches that believe in that system because it’s so much different than mine.
“I had one agenda: player safety. And that was the only thing that really became frustrating for me.”
With or without the silly 10-second rule, debate will rage on between coaches when it comes to up-tempo offenses and how it affects – or doesn’t affect – players’ health.
The fact is teams are trying to play faster. Even Florida coach Will Muschamp is jumping into the up-tempo ring, as new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will have Florida going more no-huddle and pushing the tempo in 2014.
“It is, I think, growing, and it’s a fun brand of football for people to watch,” said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who has really only known up-tempo offenses during his coaching tenure.
Cue more frustration from traditionalists.
Alabama coach Nick Saban talked this week about the number of “exposures” (how many plays, hits and contact practices players are involved in during a given season) players get and how going faster can affect them.
Saban said you can limit the studies to just concussions and “how many exposures a guy gets relative to how many concussive hits that he takes.” As he dove deeper into the subject, Saban injected some sarcasm into his feelings on how up-tempo offenses are making games longer for players because of the number of actual plays they run now.
“We act like the game doesn’t matter and most of the time our guys hit harder and play harder and it’s more physical in the games than it is in practice,” he said. “We have a longer game now when you play 85-90 plays a game. We used to average 65 plays a game. That’s three more games over the course of a season, so I guess it’s not logical at all to think that if guys are playing three more games -- 15 games instead of 12 -- there’d be any chance for more injuries.”
“Saban and Bielema said that studies are either out there or are being done about the dangers of hurry-up offenses, but to Freeze, he hasn’t seen them and doesn’t believe up-tempo offense provides any more health risks.
Our officials in our league do the best job in the country. They play fast, and the teams in our league, including ourselves moving forward, are gonna play fast, but let's just make sure the game's administered the right way and doesn't get out of control. Let the officials control the tempo of the game. Don't let the offenses control the tempo of the game.” -- Florida coach Will Muschamp
“I don’t think that it’s a fact,” Freeze said. “Certainly, you can keep up with injuries on teams that run tempo, as oppose to those that don’t. I’d love to see how that measures up. I don’t believe that it’s going to be a big difference. We train for this, just as they train for their type.
“As far as tempo offenses causing more injuries, I just haven’t seen it. Again, I’m not trying to be stubborn, hardheaded or totally biased to my way. I’d love to see it. I just don’t see that there’s a big difference.”
Muschamp sees this argument differently. He’s already discussed the player-safety agenda and said the real issue is the placement of officials on the field. His concern is that faster offenses mean slower officials and less time for either side to get set. What he’d like to see is better administration of the game.
If a substitution needs to be made, hold the ball and let both sides get set. If not, then Muschamp says go as fast as you want. What he doesn’t want is a ref jogging over to him while the ball is being snapped.
“Is that really what we want? I think what we all want is a good administration of the game,” he said. “Our officials in our league do the best job in the country. They play fast, and the teams in our league, including ourselves moving forward, are gonna play fast, but let’s just make sure the game’s administered the right way and doesn’t get out of control. Let the officials control the tempo of the game. Don’t let the offenses control the tempo of the game.
“If we want to play fast -- I’m not trying to slow anybody down, including ourselves -- I’m just saying let’s make sure we administer it the right way where guys are lined up, guys got their cleats in the dirt, and are ready to play. Once we’re able to do that, you can still play fast.”
Luckily for Muschamp, SEC officials are making speed a priority this fall. SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said Thursday that officials are hurrying up to catch up and keep up with faster SEC offenses.
Shaw said he certainly doesn’t want officials walking to spot the ball, but he also doesn’t want them sprinting. Something right in the middle should be good enough to help both sides of the ball.
“We expect a crisp job,” Shaw said.
- Get ready for a great kickoff to the SEC Network. The Aug. 28 game between South Carolina and Texas A&M is shaping up to be a “big production.”
- Two fast-paced offenses will go head to head in 2016 when Auburn hosts Arkansas State.
- Auburn’s defense got a bit of good news when coach Gus Malzahn announced that linebacker Anthony Swain has been reinstated to the team. The junior missed all of the spring with an issue unrelated to injury.
- Pressure? For whatever the reasons, Florida coach Will Muschamp has all the confidence he needs heading into the season.
- Georgia safety Tray Matthews has had a rocky go of it of late. But coach Mark Richt believes he’s “on a turning point of maturing ... and becoming a very dependable guy.” And if you’re wondering whether Keith Marshall might redshirt, Richt answered that as well.
- LSU may not love its annual game with Florida, but the Gators’ athletic director doesn’t feel the same way.
- Jacob Coker has yet to start a college football game under center, but his former coach at Florida State believes Alabama is getting a future NFL draft pick at quarterback.
- Michigan didn't work out for J.J. McGrath. Now the transfer could end up filling a need for Mississippi State at kicker.
- One phone call makes all the difference. LSU was Breeland Speaks' dream school, but he landed at Ole Miss because "a phone call was missed."
DESTIN, Fla. -- If the college football recruiting landscape does change, the SEC made sure this week that it will be ready.
A couple of weeks after watching the ACC propose an early signing period to begin on Aug. 1, the SEC on Wednesday offered its own recommendation to have a signing day on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said he hopes there won't be an early signing period, but if there is, he wants his league to be prepared.
The league wasn’t happy about the ACC’s proposal for an earlier signing period because of how it would change the recruiting calendar, something the SEC absolutely doesn't want. The league also decided that in its model, it would ban official visits for recruits who want to sign early, therefore lessening the pressure and clutter of having overstocked official visits during the season and on game weekends.
An early signing period would also save money as coaches wouldn't have to invest in recruiting trips to re-recruit already committed prospects.
“I’ve been a proponent of that for years,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “It’s long overdue.
“It clears the picture up.”
To Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, it clearly makes sense for the league.
“It’s one that keeps our calendar pretty consistent. It allows the guys that have been committed to their school to sign with that school,” Mullen said. “It also protects the student-athlete as best as possible.”
When Mullen says “protects,” he means that players who don’t want to bother with the recruiting process won’t have to hear from opposing coaches still trying to get their signature before national signing day on the first Wednesday of February. The recruit also would guarantee his spot in the class by signing early.
Mullen also said that the SEC's proposal would protect the schools that don’t want to lose those recruits with months remaining before they sign their national letters of intent.
In the current recruiting culture, you just can’t take every recruit at his word. This way, you take him at his signature before Christmas rolls around.
The SEC’s model would make the Monday after Thanksgiving a one-day signing day and a dead day for communication between coaches and recruits. The Sunday before would become a quiet day, and Tuesday would begin the next recruiting period.
“The goal would be to not make this the new national signing day. This is just for the handful of prospects whose minds are made up.
One of the other leagues proposed Aug. 1. We think that would be crazy.” -- Georgia coach Mark Richt, on an ACC proposal for an early signing day
“Obviously, if you’ve got guys that have signed and are with you no matter what, you don’t have to continue to worry, ‘Is this guy going to change his mind; is he going to flip at the last second?” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Everyone would like some sanity in that regard.”
What Richt does find insane is the ACC’s proposal to have an early signing period before the regular season even starts, which would essentially destroy the current recruiting calendar and rush spring and summer evaluations.
“One of the other leagues proposed Aug. 1. We think that would be crazy,” he said. “We think there would be no summer for anybody, no sanity for anybody.”
The SEC and ACC have plans, but whether this happens is unknown. To Florida coach Will Muschamp, getting enough people to agree on a date could be a mountain of an obstacle because of varying agendas for different schools.
“A lot of coaches, including myself, don't want an inordinate amount of visits during the season because it takes away from your football team and your preparation, your preparation for the next week, so I really think we're going to have a hard time agreeing on something that's good for everybody just because of the regions of the country,” Muschamp said. “A lot of the northern schools don't want kids visiting in January because it's freezing cold and they lie to them and tell them it's really warm year-round. I think that's something you've got to deal with, so I don't know if we're ever going to come to a common ground in my opinion, based on the information I have.”
Judging by what many conference members have said, it appears the sport is creeping closer and closer to an early signing day, with the interest mounting from coaches. What’s a little more change in college football, anyway?
- SEC coaches seem to be split over continuing to schedule FCS opponents in the College Football Playoff era.
- Tennessee coach Butch Jones said he does not expect quarterback Riley Ferguson to return to the program.
- Arkansas coach Bret Bielema spoke to reporters in Destin Tuesday and said his rivalry with Auburn's Gus Malzahn has been blown out or proportion.
- Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said UGA has made some progress attempting to schedule games against Notre Dame within the next decade.
- Bielema said Tuesday he isn't certain whether freshman cornerback Chris Murphy will remain a Razorback after completing high school early and enrolling at Arkansas prior to spring practice.
- Nick Saban, who gave Florida's Will Muschamp his first job coaching with a Division I team, said he is confident Muschamp's Gators will bounce back from a disappointing 4-8 season last year.
- Muschamp told reporters that he doesn't feel like he's under fire at Florida and rattled off a list of reasons why he's confident about his team for 2014.
- Michigan transfer J.J. McGrath hopes to eventually become a scholarship kicker at Mississippi State.
- Missouri and Arkansas will play their new cross-divisional rivalry game on Black Friday this season.
- SEC commissioner Mike Slive insisted that the NCAA's rules governing athlete-agent interactions create more problems than they solve.
- Some SEC schools have expressed an interest in selling beer inside their football stadiums. Georgia isn't one of them.
DESTIN, Fla. -- In a week that could be light when it comes to real news, a few coaches made their feelings known on the future of SEC schedules, and for once it had nothing to do with the number of conference games.
Now that the eight-game conference schedule format will live on for the foreseeable future, coaches were asked about the possibility of ending play with Football Championship Subdivision schools. This year, all 14 SEC teams play at least one FCS opponent.
If Florida coach Will Muschamp had it his way, the Gators would no longer play FCS teams.
The irony is that Florida lost to FCS opponent Georgia Southern (at home no less) 26-20 last season, but Muschamp understands that with strength of schedule now playing a factor in the selection process for the College Football Playoff, getting rid of FCS opponents will help his team’s chances in the future. It’s also something that greatly improves the product on the field for the people in the stands. You know, the people who don’t show up to watch the cupcakes.
“I think our fan base as much as anything wants to see better opponents,” Muschamp said. “So that’s kind of where we are with it.”
Make all the jokes you want about Georgia Southern’s win. Snicker about Michigan getting upset by Appalachian State a few years ago. Giggle about Virginia Tech getting shocked by James Madison.
Those games were great for the Cinderellas of the world, but they are nothing more than blips on the radar when it comes to the annual poundings those schools take from power five programs. They lessen the excitement for games and keep people out of seats.
“The first people that need to be taken into consideration here, who get no consideration, are the fans and the people who support the programs -- the quality of games for them -- so they want to come to the stadium and come to the games and support the programs and make it exciting for the players,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Tuesday. “No, we do not want to play those types of teams. Sometimes we don’t have a choice.”
Earlier this month, Saban talked about the idea of the teams in the power five conferences (SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12) playing only one another. His idea was spot on, and it's one that could help the SEC lose its FCS partners.
But eliminating FCS play isn’t going to be easy. There are still some coaches who want to continue to play FCS opponents. It also isn’t easy to schedule 12 teams every year.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze wants his Rebels to play FCS opponents because he understands firsthand how beneficial it is for those schools on and off the field.
“I think me coming up through the route of smaller-school ball to this point, I know the value that it adds to those programs also,” Freeze said. “I kind of always try to look at that aspect of it also. I just find it hard to believe that one game like that, out of the schedule that we play in this league and agreeing to play another BCS conference opponent, that that one game over the totality of the season would really hinder you if you perform well in those other games.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt, who works with FCS representatives as one of the board of trustees members with the American Football Coaches Association, agrees with Freeze when it comes to helping FCS schools out financially.
“I think college football is too important at all levels to hurt them by setting criteria that would not allow you to play them,” Richt said. “I’m for doing it.”
I understand that. These schools get paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to suit up and usually get pummeled. But with the power five looking to make its own rules without pushback from schools outside of the five major conferences, why should they care about FCS opponents? Why should FCS schools' well-being be a concern for SEC or Big Ten schools?
Honestly, it sounds like schools continue to play these smaller institutions because they have to fill space when scheduling ideas fall through. As Saban said, it’s not like organizing a golf game. You can’t just call up a school, ask it to play and expect the game to happen.
“I understand what Will's saying: In a perfect world, you play all D1 schools,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “But also you have to have 12 opponents.
“I understand Will's point of view, and when I hear from the fans, I understand their point of view. Some years, you've got to have 12 games."
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said that discussions of FCS opponents didn't come up in Tuesday's meetings and that the decision to play them would be institutional.
“I’m in favor of our strength of schedule being as good as it can be," Slive said.
“We have not told our schools that they can’t play FCS schools and we don’t have any plans to tell them that.”
With the creation of the power five and the bigger role strength of schedule will play going forward, the SEC could be moving away from FCS opponents. It would be a good move, but it will likely start small and branch out. The good news is that coaches are speaking out about it.
- Last week, Nick Saban made SI’s ‘Most Disliked People in Sports’ list. On Tuesday, the Alabama coach responded to his inclusion, though he said he hadn’t seen the list.
- The Athlon Sports preseason Top 25 rolls on, and Auburn is ranked No. 5 behind one of the top offenses in college football, though the defense is still a work in progress.
- During a local stop on his speaking tour, Will Muschamp fielded questions from uneasy Florida fans concerned about the Gators after last season's 4-8 campaign.
- Mark Richt is not worried about Georgia’s defense. He believes a simple defense can be great.
- There are two barriers that second-year coach Mark Stoops must clear to make Kentucky football matter in the SEC.
- LSU athletic director Joe Alleva is excited about the expansion of Tiger Stadium which will put capacity numbers over 100,000. His message to Alabama fans: Nice seats, eh buddy?
- ESPN 300 defensive end Shameik Blackshear committed to South Carolina a year ago. To celebrate, he’s keeping his commitment 100 percent.
- Tennessee’s 14 early enrollees have already helped pave the way for the rest of the 2014 class which is expected to arrive on campus next week.
- Former Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel was a "huge reason" why he landed the Texas Tech head coaching job.
- Keeping pace: Auburn’s defense focused on playing fast enough to match the no-huddle trend in college football.
- Florida coach Will Muschamp talks about the passing of his hero -- his father Larry.
- In the Athlon Sports preseason Top 25, Georgia is ranked No. 8 behind the strength of Todd Gurley and its offense, and despite losing No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina comes in at No. 9.
- Who’s complaining now? Alabama will play Florida and Georgia from the SEC East the next two years while LSU gets Kentucky and South Carolina.
- Future SEC schedules released for Ole Miss, Mississippi State. Rebels don’t have to go to Georgia until 2023 while Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs won’t return to Florida until 2025.
- New UT basketball coach Donnie Tyndall says Butch Jones has been "fantastic" in helping him get acclimated to his new school.
- Family tradition: Texas A&M center Mike Matthews was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list. His brother, Kevin, was a candidate for the award in 2009 while his other brother, Jake, was a finalist for the Outland Trophy just last year.
- Former coach James Franklin was Vanderbilt’s top earner during this past fiscal year.
- Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel said it 'Would be nice' to get drafted about the Dallas Cowboys, but he hopes he doesn't last that long during tonight's NFL draft.
- Former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger share similarities on their way to the NFL.
- Former Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews' greatness started at home.L
- With recruiting over, LSU running backs coach Frank Wilson is eager to coach standout running back Leonard Fournette.
- Despite a less-than-exciting junior season, former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has been a game-changer at every level.
- Former Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix made a late pitch to the Philadelphia Eagles on the eve of the NFL draft.
- Athlete Jacob Parker accepts preferred walk-on offer from Alabama.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel says 'There's some pouting going on still' when it comes to the Mizzou-Kansas rivalry.
- Former Missouri offensive lineman Max Copeland has transformed himself into a fullback, in hopes of finding a 'patch of grass' in the NFL.
- Sophomore defensive lineman Jason Carr is transferring from Tennessee.
- Ryan Black of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer projects Auburn's receiver depth chart coming out of spring practice.
- Florida coach Will Muschamp expresses his excitement for redshirt freshman running back Adam Lane.
- Former Florida safety Dorian Munroe is launching a new comedy-drama called 'Crew.' The idea is to blend 'Entourage' with 'Friday Night Lights' and 'Girls.' Here's the show's Facebook page.
- Former Kentucky linebacker Avery Williamson is excited and nervous about tonight's NFL draft.
- Mississippi State wrestles with a get-tough schedule plan.
- Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers is looking to take the next step in his plan with Bret Bielema.
- Alabama coach Nick Saban says Big Ten is "a really good conference" in rare trip back to Ohio, the state where his coaching career began.
- Despite being a proponent of the 10-second rule, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said this week that he loves playing pace-of-play teams like Auburn.
- Will Muschamp OK with SEC schedule but disappointed not to see Florida-Auburn rivalry continued on a regular basis.
- Q&A with Greg McGarity: The Georgia athletic director talks about the 6-1-1 scheduling format, the Georgia Tech rivalry and potential nonconference games down the road.
- Spring practice is over and coach Mark Stoops is still not ready to name Kentucky’s starting quarterback.
- Draft expert says former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger will be a middle-round pick in this month’s NFL draft.
- The new rule requiring SEC teams to schedule a power foe in nonconference could prove difficult for Mississippi State, who has had trouble scheduling teams in recent years.
- Tennessee signed a top-5 recruiting class in February and coach Butch Jones is pleased with new rule that allows him to spend time with them this summer.
- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin says quarterback competition between Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill will continue into two-a-days this fall.
Answers rarely come in abundance in the spring. Football answers anyway.
In the SEC, spring practice has come and gone again this year. And as usual, there are things we think we know and really don’t. There are things we’re sweating and probably shouldn’t be. And then there are those things that sort of have a way of burying themselves until the real lights come on in the fall.
“I don’t know of many championships that have been won in the spring,” said Steve Spurrier, who won six SEC titles at Florida and is still pushing to win one at South Carolina. “You find out some things about your team, but there’s a lot you don’t know.”
What is known, at least in the realm of SEC football, is that this is the first time since 2006 that the league has exited a spring without one of its schools being the defending national champion.
Florida went on to win it all during the 2006 season, igniting a streak of seven straight national championships for the SEC -- a streak that was broken in January when Florida State rallied to beat Auburn in the final seconds at the Rose Bowl.
Nick Marshall wasn’t even on campus for spring practice last year; he was finishing up junior college. But he was easily one of the most improved players in college football last season with his exceptional athletic ability and knack for making the big play.
Now, with a spring practice under his belt and an entire season in Gus Malzahn’s offense, Marshall figures to be much more in 2014 than simply a dynamic athlete and adequate passer.
He might be the best quarterback in this league.
“I think the big thing is just being more comfortable,” Malzahn said. “You can see him in the pocket. He’s just more under control. His balance is good. His eyes and his progression are good, so you can tell he’s really improved.”
So whereas there are zero questions surrounding who will play quarterback at Auburn, the Tigers’ Iron Bowl rival, Alabama, went the entire first half of its spring game without scoring a touchdown.
Granted, sometimes the real mission in a spring game is not to show too much or get anybody hurt. But there was no hiding the Alabama quarterbacks’ struggles in that game, nor the fact that the guy who’s probably the favorite to win the job -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker -- was a spectator at the game. Coker will be on campus next month.
The quarterback position, period, was loaded in the SEC last season, and several coaches agree that some of the defensive numbers that skyrocketed a year ago may come back down to normalcy next season.
At least six schools -- Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt -- head into the summer with their quarterback situations not completely settled.
And at five of those schools, there’s a decent chance a true freshman or redshirt freshman could end up winning the job or at least sharing the duties in the fall.
At Kentucky, true freshman Drew Barker is making a bid for the job. True freshman Brandon Harris had a big spring at LSU, while redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson is right in the mix at Tennessee, as is redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary at Vanderbilt.
At Texas A&M, true freshman Kyle Allen is competing with sophomore Kenny Hill for the starting job, although Hill ended the spring indefinitely suspended per athletic department policy after being arrested and charged with public intoxication.
So talk about the great unknown.
Then again, wasn’t it just two springs ago that some guy named Johnny Manziel was coming off an arrest of his own and was nothing more than one of the four candidates to replace Ryan Tannehill as the Aggies’ starter?
Things can obviously change pretty dramatically come fall.
Muschamp, with the pressure squarely on, feels much better about his offense coming out of the spring. He hired Kurt Roper away from Duke to run the offense, and quarterback Jeff Driskel is healthy again and back to his comfort zone under Roper.
Driskel’s supporting cast, including the offensive line, needs to be better, but there’s no question Roper will play to Driskel’s strengths next season.
“We’re going to bounce back,” Driskel said. “Sometimes, you need things like [the 2013 season] just to realize where you need to be. You can tell that everybody’s humble, everybody’s ready, everybody’s a team guy, everybody’s a team player.
“I’m really looking forward to it. It should be fun.”
Sort of like how everybody had Missouri winning the East and Auburn winning the West leaving the spring a year ago -- a pair of teams that won two league games between them the season before.
“The more you’re around this league, the more you realize how small that margin is between being a team that’s pretty good and a team that wins a championship,” said Dylan Thompson, South Carolina’s fifth-year senior quarterback.
“You have to approach every game with the same amount of focus, which is easier said than done. It’s a constant battle, but you have to stay focused the whole ride.”
- Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron says NFL teams are telling him he could be a first-round pick.
- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will serve as the honorary pace car driver for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
- Florida is ranked worse than 100th nationally in passing offense the past two years, but coach Will Muschamp believes this year’s wide receivers can help change that.
- Hutson Mason has established himself as the starting quarterback for Georgia, but who will back him up?
- The SEC athletic directors voted to keep the eight-game conference schedule, but an argument can be made for both the ACC and the SEC to go to 10-game schedules.
- Quarterback Patrick Towles arrived at Kentucky with high expectations, but when the Mr. Football winner had to make mechanical changes, he didn’t flinch.
- Former LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson displays his golden pipes by signing a draft tune (video).
- With the new policy requiring SEC schools to schedule a 'Big 5' opponent, Mississippi State has a small window to add a marquee game for 2016.
- Tennessee coach Butch Jones believes the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry is one of the top rivalries in the country and "the best rivalry in the SEC."
Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.
This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.
“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”
Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.
“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."
Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.
With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.
Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.
Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.
Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.
Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.
Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.
LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.
Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.
Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.
Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.
Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.
Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.
Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.
Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.
The top five freshmen in the SEC
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State