Tag Archives: Leonard Fournette

Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey are Looking Out for Themselves

Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey have each opted-out of participating in their team’s bowl games. To be honest, I can’t say that I blame either one for their decision. Fournette is considered to be the best running back prospect in the 2017 draft and McCaffrey is rated as the third-best running back prospect. What does either player have to gain from playing in an extra game? Nothing.

The argument against supporting their decisions is that football is a team sport and they are letting their teammates down. That seems to be a noble argument, but it’s one that isn’t in the best interest of either player. Neither Fournette nor McCaffrey have anything to gain from playing additional college games but have plenty to lose. Not only do I not fault them for looking out for themselves, I commend them for deciding to do what is in their rational best interest.

Both players have dealt with injuries during their careers. With each additional game they play, they risk additional injuries. And nobody knows if those potential injuries would be severe enough to end their playing careers or just bad enough to cause their draft stock to slide. Either way, they risk losing a substantial amount of money.

I have previously written about Fournette and how I thought he should manage his college eligibility. It wasn’t a popular opinion, but I stand by it. Fournette had absolutely nothing to gain by playing multiple years of football at LSU. The argument was made that he would never consider sitting out a full year because playing at LSU is what he really wanted to do. I’m sure he did want to play at LSU, but to assume that he wanted the wear and tear of college football on his body isn’t an assumption that I was willing to make.

For players like Fournette and McCaffrey, there was nothing to gain by continuing to play college football. NFL scouts knew what they brought to the table and that hasn’t changed. And for all of those people that say that NFL scouts care deeply about on-field performance? I say that is over-blown. All too often we see marginal players shoot up the draft board after wowing NFL general managers at the combine. That’s right. How fast a prospect runs the 40-yard dash in their underwear carries weight with a player’s draft position.

This would have held particularly true with players the caliber of Fournette and McCaffrey. Pretend you’re an NFL general manager for just a moment and ask yourself which version of the player is most attractive. Is it a version of Fournette and McCaffrey that have as much wear and tear on their bodies as possible or is it a version of each player that has stood minimal physical abuse? And remember, the version with minimal wear and tear will run the 40 in their underwear and will pump out as many bench press reps as possible at the combine.

Todd Gurley is an example of what an injury can do to a players reputation and draft stock. Gurley was once believed to be the first or second best player in the 2015 draft.  But his injuries scared teams away. His weaknesses included durability due to his ACL tear. The ACL tear was an injury that occurred during his junior year after having nagging injuries during his sophomore year.

I’d say that an NFL general manager would take the proven but preserved version of Fournette and McCaffrey. Especially considering that we’re talking about running backs. These players are investments and running backs are not players that a general manager invests in with a long-term mindset. The average career length for an NFL running back is just under three years. Perhaps a player like Fournette or McCaffrey can give their NFL team an additional year or two if they enter the draft with more tread on their tires.

While others may label Fournette and McCaffrey as selfish, I won’t be one of those critics. I’ll instead applaud each player for doing what is in his best interest because sometimes it should be all about you.

 

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Picking Up the Pieces of the 2016 SEC Football Season

The championship games are now in the book as well as a few straggling regular season games. Army-Navy remains. That being said, let’s do some housekeeping and tidy up a few odds and ends concerning the SEC.

First, we’ll saunter back to SEC Media Days and review how the scribes’ picks turned out.

As you see in this article, Alabama was picked to win the SEC West and Tennessee was the choice to represent the SEC East in Atlanta. Alabama, obviously, held up their end of the deal but the Vols did not. The Florida Gators managed to take the division by default. The Crimson Tide steamrolled the West in dominant fashion. They won their division by three games over who? The Auburn Tigers.

Auburn was picked not second, or third, of fourth, or fifth. They were picked sixth in the West behind LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Arkansas.

Bravo for the Tigers! And they were rewarded with a trip to the Big Easy and the Sugar Bowl. They will take on Big 12 champion, Oklahoma. It could be one of the better games of the entire bowl season. More on that, and other bowls, in later columns.

What about the cellar dwellers? South Carolina was the choice to bring up the rear in the East, but the Gamecocks, modestly exceeded expectations and came in fourth. Missouri had the distinction of finishing last in the “Easy.”One of the Mississippi teams was tagged by the media to sink to the bottom in the grueling West. But it was the Bulldogs of Mississippi State that was chosen for that “honor.” Ole Miss, much to the surprise of most every football fan in the country, plummeted to the number seven spot while predicted to come in third.

Here is a complete look at how the standings shook down in 2016.

Here is how the media sized up the All-SEC selections.

And here are the coaches’ choices (the only one we have when this article was composed) for All-SEC.

Glaring discrepancies on the first team offense? Chad Kelly at quarterback, Leonard Fournette at running back, Nick Chubb at running back, Calvin Ridley at wide receiver, and O.J. Howard at tight end.

Jalen Hurts, Kamryn Pettway, Derrius Guice, ArDarius Stewart, and Evan Engram took those slots.

Defense? As you peruse the lists you will note that things went pretty much as expected. Good job media!

The coaches individual award winners on offense, defense, and coach went to Jalen Hurts, Jonathan Allen, and Nick Saban. As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!”But, in all fairness, who’d a thunk Jalen Hurts would walk off with the offensive player of the year? No one could have seen that coming.

In this interim, between the regular season and bowl season, and beyond, there are some questions we look forward to seeing answered.

What will the NCAA decide in the way of punishment for Ole Miss?

Will Nick Saban retire? (Wishful thinking)

What underclassmen might surprise us by succumbing to the lure of dollars and the NFL?

How hot is Butch Jones’ fanny?

Kevin Sumlin’s?

Will Lane Kiffin take a head coaching position? (More wishful thinking)

How about Rhett Lashlee?

Will Jim McElwain ever find a quarterback?

Will Gus Malzahn?

Will Kirby Smart be a bust?

Will Barry Odom?

Who might be the next Jalen Hurts or Kamryn Pettway?

Is anyone capable of bridging the gap between Alabama and everybody else?

And… is the SEC still the top of the heap in the world of college football.

The bowl games are upon us and, with their conclusion, the season of 2016 will be but a memory.

What does 2017 hold for us as college football fans?

In the words of a wise man… we shall see.

 

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

 

The SEC West is Wide Open

After Alabama’s convincing, 33-14 victory over Texas A&M last weekend, the SEC West race looks all-but-over.  At times the Crimson Tide look like a tank on its way to a National Title, obliterating anyone and anything that gets in its way.

However, there are currently three SEC West teams with only one loss, and Nick Saban and his team of annihilators have four games left.  Two of those games are against those one-loss teams, and if they do lose one, then what?

LSU and Auburn, the two mentionable teams on Alabama’s schedule, definitely have an outside chance at stealing a conference crown away from the Tide.  Alabama is absolutely the favorite, but don’t put too much money on it.

My prediction of the final SEC West standings has each team in the same order as they are in right now:

Alabama- 12-0, 8-0 SEC

Texas A&M- 10-2, 6-2 SEC

Auburn- 9-3, 6-2 SEC

LSU- 8-3, 6-2 SEC

Arkansas 8-4, 4-4 SEC

Ole Miss- 6-6, 3-5 SEC

Mississippi State- 3-9, 1-7 SEC

 

Here is why LSU and Auburn each have a massive chance to shake things up:

 

LSU

The Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa in two weeks for their annual matchup with Alabama.  A win would put LSU in the driver’s seat to win the west, but the Tigers would still have a match-up with Texas A&M on the final day of the regular season. Beating Alabama and winning out would give LSU the tie-breaker over Alabama, but they would need the Crimson Tide to beat Auburn.  Gus Malzahn and his Auburn Tigers beat LSU at the beginning of the season, giving Auburn a tie-breaker over LSU if they both end the season with one SEC loss.

LSU and Alabama are very similar teams, defensively.  Alabama is the second best team in the conference in total yards given up, while LSU is third.  Alabama has given up the fewest rushing yards per game with LSU right behind them in second place, and the two are only separated by five yards in the passing yards per game category.

Offensively, Leonard Fournette is going to be the best running back the Alabama defense has faced all season.  Fournette averages 8.1 yards per carry, and 3.1 defensive backs destroyed per game.  When he needs a rest, Derrius Guice provides nearly identical relief, averaging 8.0 yards per carry.

Alabama should absolutely win this game, but don’t be shocked if LSU comes out on top.

 

Auburn

Auburn has shown shades of brilliance this season, especially after trouncing Arkansas 56-3 over the weekend.  The Tigers hung with Clemson week one, ultimately losing 19-13.  They have to get past Ole Miss and Georgia, both tough road tests, before meeting Alabama in the final week of the season.  As mentioned, a win in Tuscaloosa would give Auburn the tie-breaker between the two schools, but the Tigers will need help.

Texas A&M currently holds a tie-breaker over Auburn, meaning the Tigers would need New Mexico State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas San-Antonio, or LSU to beat the Aggies during the last five weeks of the season.

Auburn has given up the fourth-fewest points per game in the SEC this season, displaying consistency in stopping the run and the pass.  They rank third in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game and fifth in rushing.

Offensively, the Tigers are very impressive. Auburn leads the conference in rushing yards, averaging 303 yards per game.  The Tigers are led by Kamryn Pettway (5.9 yards per carry, 6 touchdowns) and Kerryon Johnson (5.1 yards per carry, six touchdowns).  While the combo may not be as dynamic as Fournette and Guice for LSU, the combination of speed and strength Pettway and Johnson possess has proven to wear down defenses.

To complement the rushing game, Auburn turns to sophomore quarterback Sean White to help mix things up in the passing game. White, while not the focal point of the Auburn offense, is a great decision maker and has done a nice job leading the offense.  He averages 180.5 yards and a touchdown per game, and he’s only thrown two interceptions this season.

When it’s all said and done, though, you can generally throw statistics out of the window during the biggest college football rivalry game of the year.  Alabama has dominated the Iron Bowl in the last eight years, but in 2013, the last time the Tigers beat the Tide, Auburn was a 10-point underdog.

 

A&M’s Chances Are Slim

Texas A&M needs to win the remainder of its games, including the season finale against LSU, and it needs Alabama to lose two conference games. It seems highly unlikely that Alabama, the best team in the country, will lose to both LSU and Auburn.  I also don’t anticipate A&M beating LSU, even if they are playing in College Station.

However, if A&M does win out, but Auburn ends up being the only team to beat Alabama, things get very complicated.  Alabama will have beaten A&M, A&M will have beaten Auburn, and Auburn will have beaten Alabama. Here is an in-depth look at tie-breakers.

 

So there you have it. The SEC West race is all-but-settled.  Alabama controls its own destiny, but LSU and Auburn will each have an opportunity to change that.

Buckle up.

 

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @skilliter.

 

Photo: Flickr, Connor Tarter

Grab Your Beer: We Have a Perfect Saturday Slate of SEC Football

I’m going to take you back to an article I wrote before the season got underway. I came up with the nightmarish scenario of only being able to watch one SEC football game per week. Then I picked the games I’d watch each week if that were the case.

Weeks 1-5, I was pretty much dead-on. Week 6 is where SEC football makes me feel a little silly.

That’s because it’s now Week 6 and there are three huge conference match-ups that I will watch. Ironically, the one that I initially picked over the others seems to be the one of least consequence here. And by that, I mean I picked the LSU Tigers visiting the Florida Gators as my one game to watch.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll definitely be watching the Tigers pay the Gators a visit. But if I had to choose just one game to watch, it might not be that game anymore.

Fortunately, my nightmare hasn’t come true and I do not have to pick only one game to watch. The schedule works out perfectly for the SEC football fan in me this week, as I get to watch three amazing games. So here’s a preview of what this perfect Saturday as SEC football fan will look like.

At noon on ESPN, the Tigers play the Gators. This game may not be the best of the weekend but it’s still intriguing in many ways.

LSU fired head coach Les Miles and left Ed Orgeron in charge for the time being. At the same time, star RB Leonard Fournette’s status is “day-by-day” with an ankle injury. Additionally, Danny Etling has taken over at quarterback instead of Brandon Harris. Yes, they beat the Missouri Tigers in convincing fashion, but that was at home against a team that was winless in SEC play. With or without Leonard Fournette, it’ll be interesting to see how this Tiger team handles a road game against a ranked opponent now that Miles is gone.

Florida has question marks, but for completely different reasons. The Gators seem to have caught the injury bug, with their whole starting defensive line suffering some kind of injury. Not to mention that their biggest hope for having a good quarterback, Luke Del Rio, injured his knee taking a low hit a couple weeks ago. It also seems like the coaching staff hasn’t really figured out an effective rotation for the running backs, as made evident by Jordan Scarlett’s absence on many snaps last game. On top of that, there are questions about Florida’s rushing defense after how they handled Ralph Webb. This group of defensive backs is always great, but can the whole defense rise to the occasion of defending someone like Derrius Guice or possibly even Fournette?

After that game, Tennessee takes on Texas A&M on CBS at 3:30. Regardless of where your loyalty lies, why wouldn’t you want to watch a battle of unbeatens?

The Vols to have destiny or the football gods or even just some good juju on their side so far this season. Josh Dobbs has come through in a clutch way, and his passing game has helped lead the Vols to some pretty great comeback wins. Unfortunately, the Vols have suffered some injuries on defense and still have some ground to make up there. And there’s also the question of whether or not this team can play a whole game of good football instead of just playing a great second half. But, with fate seemingly on their side, you just can’t count out this Vols team.

Texas A&M, once again, has gotten off to a 5-0 start this season. This is the third season in a row that they’ve gotten off to such a start. But will this be the first of those years that they also win Game 6? It very well could be. Trevor Knight has proven to be solid at quarterback, and a great supporting cast surrounds him. The Aggies are ranked in the top 50 FBS teams in passing yards, rushing yards, points for, and points against. No question marks about that.

At 7:00, flip back to ESPN to watch as Alabama pays Arkansas a visit. Alabama is always good, but Arkansas has been surprisingly good this season too. That makes this game the upset alert of the week.

Alabama, like Tennessee, has had some slow starts. Okay, their starts are like a jog to Tennessee’s walk. But they definitely can’t afford to be jogging this game. As I’ve said before, the Crimson Tide may not have a super strong quarterback this year, but that doesn’t matter. True freshman Jalen Hurts does enough to make the rest of the team shine. They actually don’t even have a go-to running back like Derrick Henry this season, and that weakness worries me. But even if Alabama wins this one, they go to Tennessee next and host Texas A&M after that.

I never know what to make of Arkansas. All I know is that at any given moment, they could pull off a borderline erotic upset win. I have my doubts after their loss to Texas A&M, but you just never know. They have a great quarterback in Austin Allen, but how will he handle an elite defense? And even more worrisome than that is the question of how the Razorback defense will handle Alabama’s potent offense. I’ll always give them the upset factor, but if they manage to pull this one off it might be just plain erotic for coach Bret Bielema.

Now I have just one request: Grab a beer (or six) and enjoy what will probably be an exciting day of SEC football.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Featured photo courtesy of Gainesville Apartments.

It’s Time to Make the SEC Great Again

Any follower of my writing here at Campus Pressbox knows that I am a fervent supporter of the so-called “Make the MAC Great Again” movement. If fact, I am its only supporter.

Like a proud mother, I lovingly birthed the “Make the MAC Great Again” movement just a matter of months ago, feeding it, burping it, cradling it in my arms. And while my love for all things #MACtion will never subside, I must momentarily abandon my precious child. It seems there is an orphan in need, and that orphan is the SEC.

That’s right. It’s time to Make the SEC Great Again.

While the Mid-American Conference was but a shy, forgotten child simply searching for its wings, the poor Southeastern Conference faces far greater psychological damage. Raised by two abusive, over-ambitious parents getting regularly ejected from their kid’s tee-ball games, the SEC was raised its whole life to pursue expectations it couldn’t possibly attain. Everybody pushed the SEC to be the star of its high school basketball team. But really, all the SEC wants is a callback for the school musical.

The SEC bottled up those insecurities for years, even decades. But once the 2016 season began, the SEC could no longer bear it. Last weekend, the SEC appeared unusually shattered and broken, meaning it’s time to pick up the pieces in a step-by-step diagnosis of a meltdown that was the SEC’s Week 1.

It all began Thursday night in Knoxville, Tennessee, where Joshua Dobbs proved his worth as an early-season Heisman contender. Sure, Appalachian State may have joined the FBS only two seasons ago, but that didn’t stop the Sun Belt heavyweights from taking the ninth-ranked team in the nation to overtime. Tennessee’s offensive line volunteered for a shellacking at the hands of a gritty Mountaineers unit.  Even though they escaped with a narrow victory, the implication of an SEC offense only managing 1.4 yards per carry against a Sun Belt squad can’t be ignored.

Then, before SEC Nation could even recover, this happened.

Mississippi State blew a 17-0 lead, and they blew it against another Sun Belt team. Safe to say the #FunBelt wasn’t so fun for Dan Mullen on Saturday, as he should probably be out of a job this morning. South Alabama possessed the ball for 36 minutes and threw for 285 yards, nearly doubling Mississippi State’s meager 143 yards of production. They also incurred eight penalties and missed both of their field goal attempts, but the Bulldogs still could not prevail.

Shortly thereafter, the fifth-ranked team in the country forgot how to play offense. Even with Wisconsin gifting LSU three turnovers, the Tigers’ attack never kicked into gear. One offensive touchdown wasn’t enough to outduel the Badgers in an ugly, defensive showdown. LSU and Leonard Fournette couldn’t overcome their first-half struggles, resulting in a 16-14 loss at Lambeau Field.

Tennesee suffered a gashing on the offensive line. Mississippi State got out-passed by a mid-major. LSU got out-slugged by a Big 10 school. Aren’t all those elements supposedly hallmarks of the SEC?

The bleeding certainly didn’t stop there. Missouri predictably faltered against West Virginia. Arkansas needed a late, go-ahead touchdown to survive Louisiana Tech. Kentucky blanked the entire second half in a loss to Southern Mississippi. Florida entered the fourth quarter locked in a 10-7 battle against UMass- another FBS newbie. Auburn botched every single chance it had at beating Clemson. And as the icing on the SEC’s intervention cake, Ole Miss spoiled a 22-point lead against Florida State in primetime, Monday night.

While Georgia, Texas A&M, and Alabama all registered impressive victories, these were clear exceptions to a dismal rule. Excluding the intra-conference matchup between South Carolina and Vanderbilt (not that anybody cares about Vanderbilt anyway), the SEC went 6-6 in a Week 1 full of both high expectations and terrible competition.

The SEC was favored in nine of those contests. It fared an abysmal 4-8 against the spread. It appears the conference hit rock bottom.

For whatever reason, we keep expecting the SEC to be supreme on the college football landscape. It’s time to measure those expectations. A good conference, yes, but the SEC is just that: a good conference. Its quarterbacks are no better, its schedules are no tougher, and it should be no more guaranteed a playoff spot than any other conference.

Five or ten years ago, in the heyday of the BCS, it might be fair to claim that the SEC cornered the market on skill and talent. Today, when coaches like Urban Meyer inhabit the Big 10, when teams like TCU near triple digits on the scoreboard, and when players like Ed Oliver choose to enroll at Group of 5 programs, that’s no longer a fair claim.

SEC schools should be judged based on the merit of their play, not based on some media-driven pseudo-merit of the conference that they play in.

Those truths might be hard. But only through those hard truths can we begin the conference’s healing process. Only through those hard truths can we remind a bruised and battered SEC that it’s okay to be human. So this college football season, when you find yourself suffering through yet another three-hour dose of Verne Lundquist, take a moment to reflect on a movement for college football fans, coaches, and players across all conferences. We’re all in this together.

Being a great conference doesn’t require yelling and screaming about being great, it requires proving it on the field. It’s time to let the SEC know, because only then can we truly Make the SEC Great Again.

I only hope the MAC can lead by example.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Smackdown Fridays: Welcome to Lambeau, Bucky Badger Would Like a Word with LSU

LSU.

What. Are. You. Doing.

Do you honestly think you can waltz into one of the most iconic stadiums in the history of football like it means nothing? Championships were won there. This isn’t your little stadium down south. This is an open to the fall elements arena where the best of the best play.

The trophy that’s handed out to the NFL Champions is named after their coach. That’s kind of a big deal.

And you think you can just show up?

You know what your coach is famous for? Eating grass and clapping like a doofus. Seriously. Look at that man clap. What is wrong with him? He’s afraid that he’s going to hurt himself clapping!

To get another opinion, let’s go to our special guest correspondent: The Rock.

21663 - Raw autoplay_gif gif raised_eyebrow sunglasses the_rock wwf

Thanks Rocky. Even The Rock thinks that your coach is a bit off.

Let’s not forget that he was basically fired during last season until people found out that he was going to be fired. In theory, Les Miles shouldn’t even be coaching this game since the boosters were ready to pony up the money to get him out.

I mean, does LSU even know how to play football yet? The SEC basically never schedules a real opponent in the first week of the season with this year being the obvious exception. They love them some cupcakes.

Also, there’s this thing called the forward pass. For whatever reason, LSU seems to be against what is clearly the future of football. You want to win? You need a quarterback that can sling it around the field. Starter Brandon Harris only threw more than 25 passes three times in 2015 and less than 20 six times. Six times! There are backup quarterbacks that come in for mop-up duty that post better stats than Brandon Harris.

Oh, I’m sorry, what was that?

You don’t need Brandon Harris because you’ve got Leonard Fournette?

You mean the guy who just got out of the walking boot?

Come on now. That’s your fallback? Do you know who you’re facing? This is Wisconsin. Wisconsin has two main exports: cheese and big white guys. Most of the big white guys don’t go anywhere and end up playing on the Badger lines. You know who was 4th in run defense last year? Wisconsin.

I’m not saying anything but Alabama was first in run defense and held Fournette to 31 yards. Remember that? That was the end of his Heisman run.

Go back and look at his stats. As soon as the competition really started getting turned up, Fournette started fading. Alabama holds him to 31 and then Arkansas keeps him below 100 yards and Arkansas sure didn’t rank in the top couple of run defense.

You know what? I’ve got one word for Leonard Fournette. Go ahead, I’ll wait while you watch this.

Yeah. I went there. Realest guys in the room.

Oh and that vaunted SEC defense? Ever look at those numbers?

You only held two teams to less than three touchdowns. Now come on LSU. The SEC is supposed to be the clear-cut leader in defense and you let a team like Eastern Michigan put up 22. Don’t pretend it was garbage time scoring either. My Eagles were only down either heading into the fourth quarter and we’re bad. I went there so I feel that it’s ok for me to say.

This isn’t the LSU of old. That LSU got crumped up and tossed aside when Nick Saban showed up. They haven’t been the same since.

So you go on ahead and come up to Lambeau Field, LSU. Bucky Badger will introduce you to football in the cold and the Jump Around. You’re going to be surrounded by kids who have dreamed all their lives about doing the Lambeau Leap and you aren’t going to be able to stop them from doing it.

E-mail Tim at tim

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Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

Predicted: New Year’s Six and the College Football Playoff National Championship

This is the third and final part of my 2016 College Football Preview. The picks in this article directly reflect my first and second article, so check those out before reading this one.

Orange Bowl (ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/ND) 12/31/16

Miami (9-4) vs. LSU (10-2)

The Matchup: Miami will get the automatic ACC bid, as the Hurricanes are the best ACC team not in the CFP. LSU squeezes its way into the New Year’s Six over the likes of Notre Dame, the second team in line who just misses the New Year’s Six due to their indecisiveness at the QB position early in the season, which cost a few games. Other teams who are in the hunt for the Tigers’ Orange Bowl spot are Michigan State, Ole Miss and Arkansas, but none of them finish over 9-3.

The Game: This is Leonard Fournette’s final game in an LSU jersey. He will eat up the Miami defense, which will have to deal with a bit of Les Miles madness. LSU will come out passing early and often, as the Miami defense gets weaker the further away from the line of scrimmage you go. Once the Tigers expose Miami’s pass defense, LSU will catch the Hurricanes on their heels by simply letting Fournette run over the competition. Fournette’s early season injury may keep him out of the Heisman Race, but he will sure look like a Heisman winner after this game is all said and done. LSU will simply put up too many points for the Hurricanes to keep up with.

Final Score: LSU Tigers 38 – Miami Hurricanes 20

Cotton Bowl (At-Large vs. At-Large) 1/2/17

Michigan (11-1) vs. UH (12-1)

The Matchup: Michigan is not happy to be here. The Wolverines believe that it belongs in the CFP. However, it ends up playing in Dallas facing off against a Houston Cougars squad whose excitement to be in this spotlight inversely mirrors the Wolverines.

The Game: The team’s respective enthusiasm for this particular game reflects into the matchup’s first half to a large degree. Michigan comes out uninterested and sluggish, which a Greg Ward, AAC player of the Year, powered Cougar offense heavily exploits. The First Half ends with the Cougars up 14-10. The Wolverines swing back in the second half, and take a three-point lead over UH with just over a minute left in the game. Greg Ward leads a final charge down the field into the red zone with time winding down. However, after two incomplete passes, Jabrill Peppers fools Ward, after Peppers fakes a blitz before dropping back into coverage. The strong Wolverine defensive line forces Ward to rush a decision, and he overlooks Peppers before throwing a pass which Peppers intercepts.

Final Score: Michigan Wolverines 41 – Houston Cougars 38

Rose Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) 1/2/17

Iowa (9-4) vs. Stanford (11-2)

The Matchup: Iowa, who lost the Big Ten championship to Ohio State, gets the automatic Rose Bowl bid. Stanford, meanwhile, wins the Pac-12 and because no Pac-12 team gets into the CFP, are the other automatic bid, which makes the 2017 Rose Bowl an identical matchup to the 2016 game.

The Game:  This game will have a similar outcome as the matchup the previous year. Stanford will let Christian McCaffrey run free, and he will single-handedly slaughter Iowa. Iowa, in all honesty, does not belong in the Rose Bowl, and once again, the game’s result shows that. This one is not even close.

Final Score: Stanford Cardinal 31 – Iowa Hawkeyes 6

Sugar Bowl (Big 12 vs. SEC) 1/2/17

TCU (10-2) vs. Tennessee (10-3)

The Matchup: I’m going to be honest. Even though I picked them to be here, I would be surprised if Tennessee can win the SEC East and get the automatic bowl berth. The Volunteers’ inconsistency over the last several years makes I hard to believe that it can string together a solid season and take the East over Georgia and Florida. But, that’s what my mind believed when I wrote last week’s prediction article, so here we are. If the Volunteers manage to make it to the Sugar Bowl, it will face off against TCU, winners of the lackluster Big 12.

The Game: Despite the fact that I don’t think it will make it to this game, I think the SEC will prove too much for TCU. Tennessee, behind powerhouse running back Jalen Hurd and a Joshua Dobbs who develops into a great passer throughout the season, are able to out muster the Horned Frogs offensively. Tennessee’ defense, which nine starters, will shut down the Horned Frogs’ offense. This will be a defensive battle between these two teams, but the Volunteers prevail.

Final Score: Tennessee Volunteers 24 – TCU Horned Frogs 17

Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal)  12/31/16

#1 Ohio State (13-0) vs. #4 FSU (11-1)

The Matchup: Ohio State, still riding off “The Game of the Century” Part 2, in which the Buckeyes beat #2 ranked Michigan, gets the #1 overall seed for the third annual College Football Playoff. FSU, meanwhile, campaigns hard for its spot, which the Seminoles fight Michigan, Stanford, TCU and Houston for. However, dominating wins late in the season after a close defeat to Clemson allow FSU to squeeze into its second College Football Playoff appearance.

The Game: Lead by recently crowned Heisman Trophy winner, J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes get off to a quick start, scoring quickly on a pass over the middle against the weakest part of the Seminole defense. However, the Buckeyes’ inexperienced defense will struggle to do anything to stop the Dalvin Cook Seminole offense, and FSU goes up by 10 heading into halftime. Coming out of the half, Dontre Wilson brings the kickoff all the way back for a touchdown, making the Buckeyes deficit only three. Both defenses then hunker down, with the likes of Raekwon McMillan and DeMarcus Walker dominating for the Buckeyes and Seminoles respectively. Late in the 4th, J.T. Barrett leads Ohio State down the field, but Urban Meyer has to settle for a field goal. However, with two minutes to work with, Dalvin Cook is able to take his time and rush the Seminoles into Field Goal position with only a few ticks left. Ricky Aguayo gets a perfect hold ad knocks home a 52-yard field goal as time expires to allow the Seminoles to win.

Final Score: Florida State Seminoles 23 – Ohio State Buckeyes 20

Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal) 12/31/16

#2 Clemson (13-0) vs. #3 Alabama (12-1)

The Matchup: Winners of the ACC and SEC respectively, Clemson and Alabama both come off monster season to qualify as the middle seeds for the College Football Playoff. Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson, Clemson finished undefeated, while Alabama’s only loss came to Ole Miss early in the season.

The Game: This game will ultimately come down to Clemson’s offense vs. Alabama’s defense. The Alabama offense will struggle with Cooper Bateman at the helm, but Clemson’s defense will not be nearly as dominant as years past, allowing the Crimson Tide to find holes to score both on the ground and in the air. However, the issue for Alabama is that Clemson’s offense simply has too many pieces, as if the passing game to wide outs Mike Williams and Artavis Scott struggles, Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman, both of whom were 1000 yard rushers in 2015, can simply push Alabama back behind the Tigers’ O-Line. Though Alabama remains in the game in the first half, Clemson comes out firing in the second and breaks the game wide open. Alabama, though talented, won’t have an answer for Clemson, and the Tigers win the game by a fairly wide margin. The Crimson Tide’s shot at returning to the College Football National Championship is cut one game short.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 45 – Alabama Crimson Tide 24

 College Football Playoff National Championship 1/9/16 (Tampa, FL)

#2 Clemson Tigers (14-0) vs. #4 Florida State Seminoles (12-1)

The Game: This game is going to be a rematch of possibly the best offensive matchup of the 2016 season. Earlier, Clemson beat out FSU in Tallahassee, and that is why the Tigers remained undefeated the entire year. The National Championship, featuring two teams less located less than 600 miles from the game’s location, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, will be an offensive bout the likes of which we haven’t seen in man years. While both teams have competent defenses, Clemson and FSU will look to win the National Championship with offensive firepower. This game will actually not be as much of a nail-biter as their first matchup, as Deshaun Watson, in his second straight title game, will come out firing on all cylinders. FSU will stay in the game, but the Clemson offense will prove to be too much, and keep a constant lead over the Seminoles the entire game. The Clemson Tigers will have its first National Title since 1981.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 48 – Florida State 35

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

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The Right Thing for Leonard Fournette is to Play Football at LSU in 2016

Leonard Fournette needs to play football for LSU this fall. He understands this, as does his Head Coach Les Miles. I know it and you should too. Blue chip athletes, like Fournette, for example, lose their blue chip status when they expose their passive side. Sitting out a season to protect draft status is sailing into uncharted waters, an act that I might classify as cowardice, and there is no precedent.

To hear the suggestion, the noise that Kirk Herbstreit wished to quickly silence last October, is nothing new. They wanted Jadeveon Clowney to do it. They said Ezekiel Elliott should do it. Supporters of Todd Gurley probably wish he would have done it. It’s a fun conversation, nothing more. If you’re healthy and you’re eligible to play, you take every opportunity to demonstrate to your future employer why you’re special.

Rest assured, any player that brings this conversation to the forefront is anything but a nobody. With the obvious knock on a player’s competitive desire out there, Mike Mayock told Rich Eisen,

”… I think there would be another core group of individuals and teams that say, ‘Wait a minute, not only can we draft a kid that might be a once-in-a-lifetime type talent, but there’s less tread (wear) on the tires. He didn’t take the beating of 12, 13, 14 games in the SEC. I think it would be a mixed opinion. I think the more vocal opinion would be negative. But I think there would be a lot of teams throughout the league that would say ‘Hey, that’s OK with me.’ They’re just not going to say that publicly.”

With Fournette seen in a walking boot, a precautionary measure after an injury at practice, this discussion has been given new life. After, was it an injury scare that prompted this line of thinking in the first place? I checked; it wasn’t.

The media decided just how special Leonard Fournette was, in the days after LSU’s 34-24 victory at Syracuse. He torched the Orange defense for 244 yards and two touchdowns, in a game that was very competitive most of the way. It was not because anyone feared him getting hurt necessarily, it was just that everyone believed the then-20-year-old was physically gifted enough to play in the NFL.

I don’t know. Maybe no one feared Willis McGahee or Marcus Lattimore absorbing devastating injuries either. McGahee recovered from his injuries suffered in his final College Football game and salvaged an NFL career. Lattimore’s fate, following a knee injury suffered in 2012, was much more devastating. Fortunately, both had the safety net of insurance, just in case they met the fate they were destined to encounter. Those policies were worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.7-$2.5 million.

Fournette’s family has multiple $10 million policies on the junior running back. It protects his draft stock, as well as some financial protection against injury. Frankly, the game has come a long way from the inevitable doomsday that the Alvin Mack character faced at the end of The Program. Now, I’m not saying that getting paid makes the opportunity they miss out on worth it, but the story doesn’t end with complete and utter ruin under any circumstance.

Now, you’re going to hear the likes of Nick Wright say these guys have nothing to gain by playing another down, but if you allow me to play the role of scout or NFL front office person, I’m insulted that I’m intentionally being denied a larger sample size. I don’t really even agree with the crux of the message, that it isn’t worth taking the risk, but I’m most hung up on the “nothing to gain” sentiment.

Call me foolish, but I still believe that young men are still learning to play the game and mastering how to be football players at the collegiate level. In contrast, the NFL expects everyone to know how to play, so they can move on to working on how it’s applied in their professional system. Cam Cameron and Les Miles are probably fairly decent at teaching the game at an advanced level, and Fournette will certainly benefit from that.

There’s a featured quote from an early episode of The Wire that’s always bothered me, and it’s Marla Daniels, “You cannot lose if you do not play”. She asked her cop husband not to rock the boat by pursuing a crime syndicate full of murderers. In that case, they decided to play and the right thing had happened.

It was a case of doing the right thing versus doing the easy thing. For Miles and Fournette, it was never a question, and we’ll see “the right thing” on display at Lambeau Field on the afternoon of September 3rd.

E-mail Jeff at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByJeffRich.

Featured photo credit: Wikipedia

Predicted: 2016 Power 5 Conference Champions

This week’s piece is the second of three pieces i will be writing previewing the college football season. Last week was a focus on predicting the champions of the group of 5 conferences, and if you want to read that first, you can find it here. Next week will be the finale of the preview series, with a look at the NY6 Bowl Games and the College Football Playoff.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Clemson Tigers (12-0) vs. Miami Hurricanes (9-3)

Both sides of the ACC are going to be races between the top 2-3 teams. In the Atlantic decision, those teams are Clemson, FSU, and a sleeper Louisville, while in the Coastal those teams are Miami, UNC and VT. I expect the Clemson Tigers to ride Deshaun Watson to another undefeated regular season, with its biggest challenge obviously being down at FSU. None the less, I expect Clemson to be matured by its title game run last season, and I see the Tigers edging out FSU in a tightly contested match.

In the Coastal Division, while VT could pose a threat, I think this division title is really between Miami and UNC. And that being said, UNC’s out of conference schedule is much more difficult, with a game vs. Georgia at the Georgia Dome to kick off the season. Miami, on the other hand, starts off its season with three super tough opponents…Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic and Appalachian State. Given that start to the season, I think Miami advances to the ACC Championship by a game over the Heels. It is important to note that FSU, with only a single loss to Clemson, would still be a huge contender for the CFP.

Conference Champion: Clemson Tigers

Big 12

Conference Contenders: Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor

While 2017 may be the return of a championship game for the Big 12, the lack of one this year will make the conference title race an interesting one to say the least. While OSU and Baylor will factor in, this race should and will come down to Oklahoma and TCU. And looking at its respective schedules, it’s hard to not see a difference between the two. TCU starts off with South Dakota State, Arkansas, Iowa State (who, for the record, always has an upset up its sleeve) and SMU. I would be surprised if going into its week 5 matchup with Oklahoma, TCU was not undefeated. Now, Oklahoma’s road to that matchup is extremely different. Going into the TCU matchup, Oklahoma has to battle through Houston and Ohio State, and to a much, much lesser degree the ULM Warhawks. Personally, I think the Sooners drop both the UH and Buckeye games. But, even if Oklahoma makes it out of those games without a loss, it will be exhausted from the extreme competition it has faced already. Even with two weeks to prepare for the TCU matchup, I believe the Sooners will be at a disadvantage, and lose to the Horned Frogs. After that matchup, I think the Big 12 conference matchups will give both TCU and Oklahoma some trouble, and I see both dropping a total of 2 in conference matchups.

 

Conference Champion: TCU (10-2)

Big Ten

Prediction: Ohio State (12-0) vs. Iowa (9-3)

Oh boy, here we go again. We finally have a Big Ten that is properly returned to form. And with that return to form, I have a bold prediction. On November 26th, ten years and 8 days after the historic matchup, we will see “The Game of the Century” Part 2 in Columbus, Ohio. Going into, what I believe, is the biggest rivalry in college, and maybe all of, sports, other than Ohio State’s challenge in Oklahoma, and both of their needs to beat Michigan State, we could easily see both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines be undefeated going into the matchup. Now, for me personally, this idea sends shivers down my spine, as, having grown up in the great state of Ohio, I both hate Michigan and also attended the 1 vs 2 game back in 2006. Now because of J.T. Barrett, Heisman finalist (and for my sanity as an Ohioan), I see the Horseshoe being stormed with Buckeye fans after a thrilling victory over the team up north. …oh, sorry, Big Ten West, I (and everyone else in the country) almost forgot about you. Iowa should be able to take the Big Ten west crown, and I see them doing so at a pace of 9-3.

Conference Champion: The Ohio State Buckeyes

Southeastern Conference

Prediction: Alabama (11-1) vs. Tennessee (10-2)

The SEC division titles seem to be two sets of three team races. Tennessee, Georgia and Florida will fight for the East, whilst ‘Bama, LSU and Ole Miss will fight for the West. I would be shocked, given the strength of the conference as a whole, to see any team come out of the SEC undefeated. That being said, however, Alabama is an easy pick for a division champ, as the Crimson Tide are of course, the reigning national campions. And nothing has shown me anything to doubt ‘Bama coming into 2016. LSU, behind Fournette, a Heisman candidate, will give Alabama a run for its money, but I think ‘Bama will prove to be the superior team.

Now in the East Division, things are more of a crapshoot. While Tennessee may be the most likely division champ, the Volunteer’s inconsistent play over the last several years is what the Bulldogs and Gators are counting on. If Tennessee falters, even slightly, one of those two will look to poach the division. However, I think Florida’s current QB situation makes it a less likely champion than UGA or Tennessee. Expect Tennessee to, despite some struggles, grind out the East.

Conference Champion: Alabama Crimson Tide

Pac-12

Prediction: Stanford (10-2) vs. UCLA (9-3)

The Pac-12 is a mess. It currently lacks a single team to help bring the conference back into prominence. Oregon will be good this year but not great, as the Ducks will get between 7-9 wins in the North. Oregon needs to watch out for its out of conference games against Virginia and Nebraska, as both teams could send the Ducks into a tail spin (pun intended) early in the season. I think Washington State, though the current favorite for conference champion, will struggle with its early conference matchups, as they play a large number of difficult conference opponents to start the Cougars conference play. I think the consistently decent Stanford Cardinal will be able to once again claim the North.

The South is in no better shape, as UCLA, USC, Utah, ASU, and Arizona are all decent teams, but not one of them stands out from the field. I think UCLA, being the program at the highest level of the current South Contenders, will be able to take the South in fairly mild fashion. The Bruins biggest challenge is facing BYU and Stanford in back to back weeks, but UCLA needs to make sure that they can recover in the possibility that it loses both games. If UCLA does start to falter, the South could still be very much up for grabs.

Conference Champion: Stanford Cardinal

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

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Is Leonard Fournette’s Injury Bad Enough to Make Seth Love Josh Dobbs?

In this week’s chat, I’m joined by a new cast of characters to discuss the Southeastern Conference. We’ll tackle Leonard Fournette’s “injury,” LSU finishing spot, Tennessee’s problems and discuss the SEC Championship Game that is a mere four months away.


Damien (Damien Bowman; Executive Editor): Kristen, LSU has suffered many injuries this camp, and most of those have come in the past week or so, is this injury ‘bug’ something LSU needs to worry about or is this just media hype?

Kristen (Kristen Botica; Deputy Editor – Football): Seems like on the defensive side of the ball it could be something for them to worry about. But as far as Fournette goes I’d say the media is probably blowing that out of proportion, considering he’s basically a college football superstar at this point.

Seth (Seth Merenbloom; Managing Editor): I agree with Kristen. The Fournette injury is being blown a bit out of proportion given who he is. Unless this injury is more than just a minor sprain, I would be surprised if he misses any actual game time.

Bird (Bird LeCroy; Auburn/SEC contributor): If he is, indeed, out for a bit, it appears that his backup is more than capable. Derrius Guice is “an electrifying ball-carrier who has the potential to take every carry the distance,” according to lsusports.net. He averaged over eight yards-per-carry last season. A 5-star. But he ain’t Fournette.

Kristen: Yeah, I was looking into Guice too. I mean, I think it would probably take them out of being a real contender not to have Fournette. But I don’t think their season would be lost.

Seth: If LSU does have to rely on Guice, the quarterback play will be crucial. Guice is probably great considering how well Miles recruits, but he’s not Fournette and won’t be able to mask the potential issues at QB.

Bird: I have them picked to make the playoff. It could kill that.

Seth: Bird, you’re just picking someone other than Alabama. LOL.

Bird: Yes, Seth, the lights have to come on for Brandon Harris.


Damien: Ok, so rotating this a bit away from Fournette, and towards LSU as a team, where does everyone see LSU finishing this year?

Bird: I just had to go with someone other than Bama. The law of averages has got to play out. Don’t they?

Seth: I think LSU finishes no higher than third. They should battle Arkansas for the best of the middle of the SEC West pack.

Kristen: Harris seemed to get more comfortable at QB throughout the season last year. With Fournette, he’s probably fine because they can really put a lot of the responsibility to generate yards on Fournette. Without him, it’d be tougher for Harris. That being said, I’d say they’ll be third in the West this season.

Bird: LSU first until further notice.

Damien: Bird, have you been drinking? The people want to know.

Bird: Not yet. There will be cocktails in about and hour or so.

Seth: I like LSU. I like Miles. I like Fournette. But I wouldn’t pick them as high as our Auburn friend is.

Damien: Seth, this is to you, sticking with the SEC West – assuming you you’re picking Alabama to win the West, which other team has the best chance to knock off the Crimson Tide?

Seth: I’d say Ole Miss has the best chance, but…don’t count Arkansas out.

Kristen: Amen to both of those.

Bird: Neither. The Bengals or Bama.

Kristen: You never know, Tennessee could give them an SEC loss too…and then that opens up the West a bit.

Damien: Kristen – you think Tennessee can beat Alabama?

Seth: Ole Miss has that offense and teams will have to score with them. Arkansas and Bielema have slowly put together a solid, hard-nosed team that will dominate in the trenches and can make just about any game down and dirty. And I’ll take Bielema when it’s down and dirty.

Bird: I got Tennessee over the Tide in Knoxville.

Seth: If it’s close, Dobbs will find a way of crumbling…

Kristen: I do too, Bird. But that might make me just as crazy as you apparently are. Seth, my dad says Jones and the play calling is the issue, not Dobbs, by the way.

Damien: Obviously, I agree that it isn’t Dobbs. Jones is the problem.

Seth: I agree that there is a certain amount of truth to that. But the player has to perform when given the opportunities.

Bird: Damien could be onto something.

Damien: Seth, why do you hate Josh Dobbs?

Kristen: Preach, Damien. Dobbs performed a lot but in the UF game, Jones played to keep the lead, not to win.

Bird: I think this will be Dobbs’ coming out party.

Seth: I don’t hate Dobbs. I just don’t think he’s as good as his fans pump him up to be.

Damien: One player can’t control both the offense and defense, and the players around him have to play up to their ability and those players let him down last year with a shaky line and receivers that were either hurt or pooped themselves when it counted.

Seth: Of course, it’s a team sport, but he’s the QB.

Kristen: So is it always the QB’s fault if he has one or two mistakes when his team loses?

Damien: The Ravens won a Super Bowl with a quarterback that couldn’t do anything, but the defense was awesome. We ignore the great defense and credit the quarterback?

Seth: QBs get the praise when the team wins, so they get it when the team disappoints. Dilfer did what he was asked to do. Dobbs hasn’t done that.

Bird: You know the old adage. QB gets too much blame when a team loses and too much credit when they win.

Damien: Agree, I think some like to put the blame on Dobbs and ignore the other shortcomings of the team. There’s plenty of blame to go around in those key losses last year.

Seth: This is a make or break year for Jones at Tennessee.

Kristen: Butch Jones calling timeouts on fourth down giving Florida the chance to change their mind and go for it killed them in the UF game. Twice. I blame Butch. Bringing out my pitchfork.

Damien: I thought this was on Dobbs, Seth?

Seth: On the field it is. But like we established, Jones asks Dobbs to do much of what Dobbs tries to do.

Damien: What?

Seth: Play calling.

Kristen: His play calling puts too much responsibility on Dobbs down the stretch.

Seth: What Kristen said.

Bird: Ditto

Damien: Now it sounds like you’re [Seth] agreeing with us that it’s more Jones than Dobbs. Did you love him before you hated him?

Seth: I never knew him before I hated him.

Bird: Dobbs does have to execute under pressure.

Damien: Seth – it sounds like you are not on the Tennessee train this year, and Kristen’s dad is not happy, so if not the Big Orange than which team represents the East in Atlanta?

Seth: Ah, not so fast! I am picking Tennessee to win the East. I don’t love them, but it is the East and everyone else is entirely unproven or is just bad.

Bird: It WILL be Tennessee.

Kristen: Georgia is just a huge question mark. And so is Florida’s offense. No better options. They wouldn’t win the West though.

Bird: True and true. Vols can lose two and still win it.

Seth: If it isn’t Tennessee, it’s because someone came out of nowhere in the East to knock them off.

Kristen: Like Florida did last year lol nobody called that.

Bird: In conference, Dawgs will lose three and Gators four.

Kristen: Did you start drinking?

Bird: Hahahaha! No.

Damien: Ok, I disagree with all of you. I believe Tennessee loses to both Florida and Georgia.

Bird: You’re the one who’s drunk!

Kristen: Yeah, because you think they have zero chance to win the east, which is a little much. I think they lose to one of those two but not both.

Damien: I think they have zero chance because they lose to both of those teams and I think that because I don’t think Butch Jones is a good coach when it matters. I don’t think Dobbs is the problem. I think it’s all 100% Butch Jones. Hell, the Vols could lose to Virginia Tech.

Bird: Nooooooooooo.

Kristen: I am a little worried they’ll overlook the Hokies, but that doesn’t matter to conference standings.

Damien: Doesn’t matter to the conference standings, but it matters to the players.

Seth: I think Tennessee learned something against Oklahoma last year. They’ll come out on fire against the Hokies. Whether or not they can carry that fire for a full season is another question.

Bird: There’s so much hype, already, on that game.

Damien: There is?

Bird: Yes! Battle of Bristol. Largest crowd in CFB history.

Kristen: I’ll be there.

Damien: I don’t even think that’s the biggest game of the weekend. Take the crowd and people will watch for a bit, but nah…not the biggest of the weekend.

Bird: It’s not. Arkansas-TCU [is].

Damien: So, there might be some hype around the schools, but I haven’t seen much of it hyped anywhere else.

Seth: I haven’t seen it hyped either.

Damien: So, you’re all in agreement that Tennessee wins the East?

Bird: Yes!

Seth: Yes.

Kristen: Yes.

Damien: Which school represents the West?

Seth: Alabama.

Bird: You already know where I stand. LSU!

Kristen: I’m with Seth.

Seth: Bird, our SEC 411 guest will love you tomorrow.

Damien: Will Tennessee be the first team from the East to win the SEC since Tennessee last won the SEC in 1998?

Bird: Bama could lose 3. Look at that road schedule.

Seth: Nope. Roll Tide.

Bird: Didn’t say they will. No to Vols Damien. West.

Kristen: If they lose to Bama in the regular season but still make it to ATL, I think they win the championship against them. But if they beat Bama at Neyland, Bama gets revenge.

Bird: Yes, Kristen.

Kristen: Too hard to beat the same team twice.

Seth: But if a team can do it, it’s Bama with Saban.

Bird: Although it has happened more than one would think.

Kristen: With how close the Bama game was last year, I wouldn’t trust them to beat UT twice.

Seth: Bama will be fine at QB, will have a monstrous offensive line and Calvin Ridley becomes a superstar this year.

Bird: D is smothering.

Kristen: Bo Scarbrough.

Seth: Exactly all around. Bama has the best talent and best coaching.

Bird: Has been injury prone. Will be interesting.

Seth: Can Bama be beat? Yes. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Bird: Seriously, third-toughest schedule in the country, Bama. Brutal road games.

Damien: Ok, Kristen then Bird then Seth. Last thoughts on Alabama, Josh Dobbs, LSU and Tennessee.

Kristen: Alabama: not a lock, but I’d never bet against them. Too much talent everywhere because of all their top recruiting classes. Josh Dobbs clearly isn’t great under pressure but Butch Jones isn’t calling plays to help that. It’s on Butch more than Dobbs to figure that out. LSU can be decent without Fournette but could only possibly be a contender in the West with him. Tennessee will win the East. Too much returning talent.

Bird: Bama loses two and finishes second in a tie with… with… Auburn! I was happy to see Phil Steele give AU love. Dobbs has an all-star year. And UT goes… undefeated. But loses to LSU in Hotlanta.

Seth: Alabama will keep doing what we’re all accustomed to them doing with Saban. Dobbs will have some magical moments, but will put the team in some tough spots with his play. LSU will be solid, but not well-rounded enough to challenge Alabama. And Tennessee should win the East if Jones gets out of his own way and makes Hurd the focus instead of Dobbs.

Follow Damien on Twitter @damienbowman, Kristen @OGKristenB, Seth @SethMerenbloom and Bird @Autull.

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