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Top Five Running Back Signees For 2014

This was a difficult group to rank.

The SEC signed some of the nation’s top talent at running back, which is expected to happen each year. The 2014 class is no different.

The biggest upset of the list: Alabama isn’t represented. That doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide failed to sign a top back. Bo Scarbrough is one of the nation’s best and should make a big impact at Alabama.

His absence here shows the strength of the SEC’s 2014 running back class.

Here are the top five running back signees in the SEC in the 2014 class.

1. Leonard Fournette – LSU

Fournette (6-1, 224) is already talking about winning the Heisman Trophy his freshman season at LSU. He also mentioned the national championship as a goal for year one. Those are high expectations for a guy who’s still in high school, but there’s a reason he believes it. The hype surrounding Fournette has exploded. With Jeremy Hill gone to the NFL, Fournette will have a chance to start at LSU right away. He expects it to happen.

2. Sony Michel – Georgia

Michel has it all. He has size (5-10, 205) to go with his speed, which makes him a dangerous threat every time he touches the ball. Michel will have a chance to help Georgia right away. Todd Gurley will return for his junior year, but Keith Marshall is still recovering from a knee injury. Gurley won’t be able to do it all by himself.

3. Roc Thomas – Auburn

Thomas seems like the perfect replacement for Tre Mason, who left Auburn early for the NFL draft. Thomas (5-11, 202) is a big-play talent who will be able to help the Tigers as a runner and receiver. Auburn made a move for Thomas before in-state rival Alabama did. The move paid off for the Tigers.

4. Jalen Hurd – Tennessee

Did you see Derrick Henry against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl? Tennessee hopes Hurd (6-3, 227) can run like Henry (6-3, 238) from day one. Hurd enrolled early at Tennessee and will battle for the starting position this fall. He should be the home run back Tennessee’s offense has lacked in recent years.

5. Nick Chubb – Georgia

Chubb (5-10, 215) already looks like an SEC running back. He’ll have plenty of competition when he arrives on campus thanks to the Georgia running backs mentioned above. But Chubb has plenty of ability and at the very least can help the Bulldogs fight for tough yards. He has everything needed to be an every-down back in the SEC.

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Saban Posts Reminder Of Two Losses For Bama’s Players

Nick Saban knows a thing or two about motivation.  He’s already won four national titles as a head coach and he came devilishly close to playing for another this season.

The Crimson Tide’s only loss in 2012 was to Texas A&M.  For that reason, Saban placed plenty of A&M logos around Bama’s football facilities last offseason.  Alabama then went into College Station and won this past year.

So following a last-second loss to Auburn (literally) and a beatdown in the Sugar Bowl by Oklahoma, Saban has got his go-to motivational trick for the 2014 offseason.  According to CoachingSearch.com, this poster hangs above every player’s locker:

 

Alabama poster

 

 

Saban said after the Sugar Bowl that his team lost its focus following its emotional 38-17 win over rival LSU in early-November.  Expect “focus” to be a focus for the Alabama football team this spring and summer.  That and those two losses to Auburn and Oklahoma.

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Saban Wonders Why The Hubbub About Kiffin’s Visit To Alabama

saban-kiffinNick Saban doesn’t understand the hoopla surrounding Lane Kiffin’s visit this week to Tuscaloosa.  Alabama’s coach has had other coaches visit his program for gab sessions in the past, so in his view, bringing in the ex-Southern Cal coach for a chat is no big deal.

And he’s right.

There are two places in the Southeastern Conference that might balk at a Kiffin drop-in but Bama isn’t one of them.  His one-year stay at the University of Tennessee should preclude the 38-year-old coach from a Knoxville visit.  When he left town a students flirted with a riot, a mattress was burned — why? — and someone allegedly called his home and threatened to eat his children.  So, no, Butch Jones probably won’t invite Kiffin for a visit.

A few Florida fans would like to see Kiffin take over as offensive coordinator for Will Muschamp’s Gators — again, why? — but after he wrongly accused then-UF coach Urban Meyer of cheating on the recruiting trail, it’s doubtful Lil’ Lane will get an offer from Gainesville.

Alabama?  Hell, he didn’t do anything to Alabama.  Aside from take an undermanned team to Tuscaloosa in 2009 and lose on a blocked field goal.  If not for that last-play-of-the-game block, Bama’s first BCS title under Saban might not have come until later.  Saban saw Kiffin’s work up close and personal for one game and apparently came away impressed.  For that reason, the coach wonders what’s the biggie?

 

“Lane is a really good offensive coach, and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for him.  Just to come in and brainstorm a little bit to get some professional ideas with our guys is a really positive thing…

I can’t believe there’s been any reaction to it.  Just about every year we have coaches come in and do what we call ‘professional development-type things.’  We exchange ideas.”

 

Saban pointed out that Oklahoma’s staff — the guys his Crimson Tide staff will be up against in the Sugar Bowl — have been in for a visit, too.

One other thing that might make Saban more interested in bringing Kiffin to town than, say, Tennessee or Florida?  The young coach made it very clear during his layover in Knoxville that he had a great deal of respect for Saban and his staff.  When he joined ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew on the morning of the ’09 Alabama/Florida SEC Championship Game, Kiffin picked Alabama to win.  His rationale — Florida had the better players but the Bama team was better coached.  Clearly that comment was a shot at Meyer and a nod to Saban.

So we agree with Alabama’s head man on this one.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.

And remember, Saban didn’t hesitate to bring assistant Lance Thompson back onto his staff after he’d left Alabama to join Kiffin’s crew at Tennessee.  If someone can help Saban improve his Alabama program, well, that’s the only thing that matters to the four-time BCS title-winner.

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How Much Rope Will Muschamp Be Given At Florida?

will-muschamp-staringHe took over for one of the most highly-regarded coaches in college football.  He had to please a fanbase that’s used to winning SEC and national championships.

End the end, Ron Zook couldn’t get the job done in Gainesville.

What?  Did you think we were describing Will Muschamp’s situation?

Of course, we were.  Zook and Muschamp both faced the same challenges.  Both were also longtime assistant coaches with no track record as a top dog.  Florida AD Jeremy Foley took a risk in hiring both me.  He was quick to jettison Zook.  How much rope he gives to Muschamp is now a fair question in the Sunshine State.

From 2002 to 2004, Zook was given just three years to try and mimic Steve Spurrier’s successes.  Before coaching his first game, a website called FireRonZook.com was up and running on the internet (which was a really cheap shot by a nitwit, if you ask me).  Many Gator fans didn’t want Zook in the first place and Foley was quick to correct his mistake.

Zook’s achievements at UF:  8-5, 8-5 and 7-4.  He was 23-14 overall and 16-8 in the SEC never reaching Atlanta (though he did tie for the East Division title in 2003).

Muschamp’s situation is similar, but not an exact copy.  He is in his third season as Gator coach.  His records to date: 7-6, 11-2, 4-3.  Last year’s 11-win campaign — though it didn’t excite UF fans enough to travel to the Sugar Bowl — stands out as a reason for hope.  Unlike Zook, he does have one year of big wins under his belt.  But his overall record is 22-11 which is in the ballpark with Zook’s (a 66.6% winning clip for Muschamp compared to Zook’s 62.1%).  He’s also never reached Atlanta (tying for the East title last season) and it doesn’t appear he’ll do so this year either, barring massive surprises.

So what does Florida’s AD have to say about Muschamp’s reign?  “He’s not going anywhere, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Fair enough.  For now.

But a team that has been decimated by injuries continues to regress.  The Gator offense and defense were kicked around by a very good Missouri team on Saturday.  Gator fans aren’t used to seeing their team get blasted by anyone, much less an SEC newcomer that many Southerners continue to underestimate.

As of now, there’s no reason to believe that Florida will turn itself around down the stretch.  A beat-up team will face Georgia in its next game (another squad reeling due to injuries), then Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida State, now the #2 team in the BCS standings.  There’s a lay-up game with Georgia Southern before the FSU contest.

Let’s say Muschamp goes 3-2 down the stretch.  That’s a 7-5 record.  Very Zook-like.

Oh, and keep in mind that Muschamp now makes just under $3 million per season.

Foley says his coach is standing on terra firma.  He should be.  Last year’s 11-win season and this year’s injuries should buy him another year.  But fans are seldom patient.  Many no longer head to the Swamp on fall Saturdays.  If more fans begin to steer clear of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, it could force Foley’s hand.  And if that happens, Foley — believed by many to be a top-five AD nationally — will have swung and missed on two of his last three Gator football hires.

At Florida, nothing is more important than football.  Which means both Muschamp and Foley had better be hoping for a miraculous turnaround.  Anybody know someone who can heal the injured?

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Times And Dates Are Set For Inaugural Big 12/SEC Hoops Challenge

basketballsWith the death of the old Big East, the SEC/Big East basketball challenge was quietly laid to rest as well.  This season, ESPN has helped doctor up a new Big 12/SEC Challenge.  Today, the network released the broadcast schedule for the 10-game event:

 

Texas Tech at Alabama — Thursday, November 14th, ESPN2, 9:00pm ET

Auburn at Iowa State — Monday, December 2nd, ESPNU, 7:00pm ET

Vanderbilt at Texas — Monday, December 2nd, ESPN2, 9:00pm ET

West Virginia at Missouri — Thursday, December 5th, ESPN2, 7:00pm ET

TCU at Mississippi State — Thursday, December 5th, ESPNU, 7:00pm ET

Ole Miss at Kansas State — Thursday, December 5th, ESPN2, 9:00pm ET

South Carolina at Oklahoma State — Friday, December 6th, ESPNU, 9:30pm ET

Kentucky vs Baylor at Arlington, TX — Friday, December 6th, ESPN, 10:00pm ET

Kansas at Florida — Tuesday, December 10th, ESPN, 7:00pm ET

Oklahoma vs Texas A&M at Houston — Saturday, December 21st, ESPNU, 7:00pm ET

 

Four SEC schools — Arkansas, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee — will not take part in this year’s event.

The SEC and Big 12 are playing nice these days.  There’s now a mechanism in place to match Texas A&M with Texas and Missouri with Kansas.  It’s highly disappointing then that those two longtime rivals have not been paired up in Year One of this challenge.  You can be sure that decision had more to do with Texas and Kansas than A&M and Mizzou, two schools who’ve expressed a desire to play their old foes.  Hopefully the folks in Austin and Lawrence will grow up at some point.

 

SIDENOTE – For years we’ve had a little fun with the Big 12 here at MrSEC.com.  We’ve referred to the league as the Big XII because that’s what the league’s logo says.  As we’ve noted before, ESPN’s logo doesn’t read “WKRP.”  Judging by the emails from Texas fans and other Big 12′ers, the decision to use their Roman numeral designation hasn’t sat too well with the folks West of the Mississippi.

Well, since the SEC is now partnering with the Big 12 on so many fronts — the Sugar Bowl, this hoops challenge, numerous other bowls — we’re going to be writing about the Big 12 much more often.  And the Big XII joke will cease being a friendly jab.  More Big 12 fans will come here, not get the barb, and write to correct us.

So from this point on, we’ll refer to the Big 12 as the Big 12.

But they should still dump their Big XII logo.

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Florida’s Bowl Costs Show Why Major Conferences Are Changing The System

empty_pocketsWhen the SEC and Big XII announced that they would be partnering up to create their own new “Champions Bowl,” it marked a new day in the history of college football’s bowl system.  A good day for conferences and schools.  A bad day for bowl games.

Eventually, the Sugar Bowl beat out the Cotton Bowl to become the “Champions Bowl” (which will first be played in 2014).  The top teams from the SEC and Big XII not already in the College Football Playoff will meet in New Orleans.  For the first time, the vast majority of revenue from a bowl game will go to the leagues, not the game.

More conferences are now mulling whether or not to create their own games or — as the SEC and Big XII have done in New Orleans — partially take over an existing one.  So why make such a massive shift in the college football bowl structure?  Just look to this past year’s Sugar Bowl.

In January an 11-1 Florida team was invited to New Orleans to play Louisville.  The Gators appeared no more excited about facing the Cardinals than their fans did about watching that game.  Louisville won the contest.  Few UF fans showed up in the Superdome to witness it.

Florida sold fewer than 7,000 of the 17,500 tickets that were allotted to the school.  “Allotted” is an interesting word when it comes to bowl talk.  While it sounds like a gift of some sort, the reality is that Florida was on the hook to buy each of those 17,500 tickets.  Meaning the school had to eat about 10,000 tickets.  And that played a large role in Florida losing $840,000 for its trip to last season’s Sugar Bowl.

Some reward.

As it negotiates new contracts with all of its existing bowl partners — and potential new bowl partners — the SEC is pushing for lower ticket guarantees.  That change has already been built into the new playoff.  The major bowls in the College Football Playoff will require only 12,500 tickets to be sold rather than the 17,500 required by the Sugar Bowl.

Once the new SEC/Big XII co-owned Sugar Bowl launches after next season, the leagues will have a working model to represent their vision a new conference-bowl relationship.  That will give the biggest conferences even more leverage over the bowls and — if the game’s a money-maker — even more incentive to rejigger the entire college football bowl system.

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New Playoff, New Era Give SEC A New “Mess” Of Bowl Possibilities

messy-bowlsThis week, the presidents of the FBS unveiled a good portion of the plan for the new College Football Playoff that will launch after the 2014 regular season.  Those changes — coupled with the end of all existing bowl contracts — provide the SEC with an opportunity to branch out and expand it’s bowl lineup into new areas.

Just don’t expect said branching to be easy on the ol’ noodle.

The SEC has made no secret about its desire to send a team to at least one bowl in Texas.  With the Cotton Bowl’s inclusion in the playoff rotation, the SEC has lost the one Texas bowl with which had been partnered.  In addition, the Chick-fil-A Bowl — which will once again become the Peach Bowl — is a part of the new playoff rotation as well.  For SEC fans, that means this year will be the final year that a league squad will be contracted to spend New Year’s Eve in Atlanta.

There will be other changes to the SEC lineup as well.  Gone is the old two-teams-per-season BCS rule that capped the number of squads from once conference.  With six bowls now part of college football’s New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day party, any number of highly-ranked SEC teams could be invited to take part in the two-bowl playoff or in the overall six-bowl plan in a given year.  The number of invitees will be determined by the yet-to-be-determined football selection committee and their yet-to-be-determined criteria.

In past seasons, the SEC has had 10 bowl tie-ins (including the BCS’ Sugar Bowl) with the opportunity to land an 11th squad in the BCS Championship Game.  When that happened, the last bowl or two in the SEC pecking order — depending on the number of bowl-eligible teams from within the league — would lose their “guaranteed” SEC partner.  Moving forward without a cap, an even greater number of lower-end bowl partners could lose out on SEC teams that are picked for the “big bowls.”

Under the new plan, the SEC champion will now be partnered with the Big XII champion in the new and improved Sugar Bowl.  That is when the SEC and/or Big XII champion are not in the playoffs and when the Sugar Bowl is not hosting a playing game.  So long as the Sugar isn’t a semifinal site, it will always host teams from the SEC and the Big XII, though it might not — and probably won’t be — the two leagues’ champions.

If the SEC champion is not part of the playoff and the Sugar Bowl is in the semifinal rotation — an unlikely scenario — then the SEC champion will be sent to either the Peach, Orange, Fiesta or Cotton bowls.  (The Sugar Bowl is partnered with the Rose Bowl throughout the 12-year rotation.)  With geography a component of the new system, expect an SEC champion not in the playoffs to be sent to Atlanta, Miami or Arlington when the Sugar Bowl is a semifinal site.

Speaking of the Orange Bowl, the SEC has already locked in a slot in that bowl, too.  As is the case with the SEC and Sugar Bowl, the ACC champion is contracted to play in Miami each year… so long as that champ is not in the playoffs and the Orange is not serving as a semifinal site.  In those years that the Orange is not part of the playoff, the bowl will be slotted either an SEC team, a Big Ten team, or Notre Dame.

Follow all that?  Of course not.  It’s ridiculous.

But for the SEC, just know that the new bowl lineup probably won’t look like the old bowl lineup:

 

Sugar Bowl (New Orleans):  SEC vs BCS at-large

Capital One Bowl (Orlando):  SEC vs Big Ten

Cotton Bowl (Arlington):  SEC vs Big XII

Outback Bowl (Tampa):  SEC vs Big Ten

Chick-fil-A Bowl (Atlanta):  SEC vs ACC

Gator Bowl (Jacksonville):  SEC vs Big Ten

Music City Bowl (Nashville):  SEC vs ACC

Liberty Bowl (Memphis):  SEC vs C-USA

BBVA Compass Bowl (Birmingham):  SEC vs Big East

AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Shreveport):  SEC vs ACC

 

Before you start trying to figure out if the SEC will say goodbye to any of the above locations — aside from the already out-the-window Arlington and Atlanta, of course — keep in mind that it’s been reported that the SEC, Big XII, ACC and Big Ten have already discussed a scheduling rotation that would land schools from those leagues in the Music City (Nashville), Belk (Charlotte), and Alamo (San Antonio) bowls over a period of time (probably 12 years to match the new playoff contract).  The goal: Lock in and guarantee as many bowl bids as possible for each league, leaving the smaller conferences to duke it out for lesser bowl invites and chump change.

In all honesty, at MrSEC.com we’re for a system that sends SEC teams to new sites to face new, fresh, different opponents.  There are only so many times you can watch the SEC battle the Big Ten or ACC before those games all just run together in a “Didn’t they play last year, too?” mish-mash.

So what exactly is coming next for Mike Slive’s league?

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Bobby Petrino on Western Kentucky: “We Can Be Boise State”

bobby-petrino-smilesDennis Dodd of CBSSports.com catches up with Bobby Petrino in Bowling Green, Kentucky where the former Arkansas coach is now in charge of the Western Kentucky program.  It’s a long piece that you can see here.  As you undoubtedly know by now, Petrino was forced out at Arkansas after having an affair with a 25-year old staffer and crashing his motorcycle with her onboard.  As Dodd frames it, Petrino went from “an SEC program with a top-five national ranking to a fifth-place program in the Sun Belt.”

Here were a few of the quotes that caught our eye.

 

What if he had immediately confessed the affair to Arkansas A.D. Jeff Long?

“There were a lot of things going on that didn’t allow me to do that. I was in the hospital, medicated.”

 

On son Nick, a student coach at Arkansas last year.  

“I thought it was the hardest thing for him more than anything else. I took something away from him.”

 

On communicating with his replacement at Arkansas – John L. Smith

“I tried to stay away. I’d send him a text.”

 

On the kind of program he can create at Western Kentucky

“We can be Boise State. Why not?. We beat them all the time when I was at Idaho.” (That was 1989-91 when Petrino was an assistant)

“My vision for the program is to go to a bowl game every year. I figure I’ve got 14 more years left to go.”

 

Western Kentucky AD Todd Stewart on Petrino

“We’ve got a guy in the prime of his career. He’s 51 years old and has been to the Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl in the last six years. Sometimes a school will get somebody like that, but they are 20 years removed.”

 

Stewart had a binder prepared with 75 candidates when former coach Willie Taggart left for South Florida.  But Petrino was his first choice.  ”He called back in five minutes.”

Petrino’s Hilltoppers are scheduled to open against Kentucky and then face Tennessee the following week this fall.

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Slive Chats About Realignment, TV, Playoffs And More

mike-slive-smiling-bigFirst, a hat tip to the ever-excellent Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News who drove across Jefferson County to take in a Mike Slive speaking engagement in Trussville, Alabama yesterday.  After the event, Solomon was able to collect some quotes from the SEC commissioner on a wide range of topics.

Slive’s comments — and our thoughts on those quotations — are below…

 

Slive On conference realignment:

“One thing I can’t do is speak for anybody else.  I can only speak for us.  As I look ahead and prepare agendas for some of our meetings in the future, that is not an agenda item, at least for us, at the moment.”

Our take:  “At the moment” is the standout phrase, obviously.  You’d better believe there is back-channel communication going on between multiple schools and multiple conferences these days.  The SEC is involved in some of that, too.  Slive is way too shrewd to sit back and watch without preparing for future shake-ups.

Asked if any schools had contacted the SEC about joining, Slive said, “You know, I’m not going to tell you… all due respect.”

 

Slive on the SEC’s television plans:

“We think we’re getting closer and closer to doing what we want to do in the long-term future of our television package.  Hopefully, within the relatively near future, we’ll be able to tell you something publicly.”

Our take:  It’s kind of hard to finalize television deals when no one knows what schools will be in which conferences moving forward.  The SEC itself could expand which would likely change the league’s geographic footprint, its sphere of media influence, and the amount of money its content is worth (depending on the brands added and the locations involved).  There’s also the matter of what other leagues will look like and how much their media rights will be worth… which could/should impact SEC negotiations.  If the SEC announces new TV deals anytime soon, it will likely be announcing what are in fact place-holder deals.

 

Slive on the number of conference games his league will play:

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Signing Day 2013: The Battle For Kentucky

state map kentuckyLooking at Wednesday’s signees — including junior college and prep school athletes — here’s a snapshot of the talent produced by the state of Kentucky in 2013 (as graded by Rivals.com):

 

5-stars = 0

4-stars = 3

3- stars = 6

Total 3+ stars = 9

 

Here’s where the state’s 10 highest-ranked players are headed:

 

Kentucky = 3

Louisville = 2

Kansas = 1

Notre Dame = 1

Purdue = 1

Toledo = 1

Vanderbilt = 1

 

Loyalty:  Five of the state’s thoroughbreds are staying at home to play football.  Mark Stoops even landed more of the top in-state players than Sugar Bowl-winning Charlie Strong.  That’s a nice start, but with so few high-caliber prospects in the Bluegrass State, Stoops will need to start luring even more of the top 10 to Lexington in years to come.

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