Complete SEC preview for the 2018 season.

After winning its fifth title in nine seasons last year, Alabama is primed for another run at the national championship and SEC title in 2018. The Crimson Tide are the pick in 2018 SEC predictions to edge Auburn and win the West Division and knock off Georgia in the conference title game to claim the league championship. The Bulldogs are also primed for another run into the CFB Playoff. Coach Kirby Smart continues to add elite talent on the recruiting trail, and there’s a strong foundation to build off the 2017 season. Auburn is Alabama’s biggest challenger in the West, followed by Mississippi State and Texas A&M. The race to finish second in the East is wide open. Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky or Missouri are next up, with Tennessee and Vanderbilt projected at the bottom of the division.

Florida

Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen embraces the incredible expectations that drove his former boss, Urban Meyer, to retire for a season and cost Will Muschamp and McElwain their jobs at Florida. Mullen’s ability to develop quarterbacks is critical given the long-standing issues under center. He and his staff must prove to be strong recruiters to rebuild Florida’s talent level and depth after four straight classes outside the top 10. The 46-year-old will benefit from a favorable schedule. Doubling last season’s total of four wins is within reach.

Georgia

Georgia doesn’t have the experience coming back that it did last year, but it may have as much talent. It’s just younger and inexperienced talent, and that does matter, and would be a reason not to expect another CFB Playoff run. Then again, the schedule is far from daunting. Georgia has to go to LSU, and September games at South Carolina and Missouri could be troublesome. Auburn visits Athens.

Georgia should be a heavy favorite to repeat as SEC East champion. Everything else probably depends on how quickly the defense reloads.

Kentucky

If Kentucky can find a competent quarterback, there is enough experienced talent at the other positions to envision the Wildcats breaking through the seven-win plateau for the first time in the coach Mark Stoops era. If not, the Wildcats could be in danger of taking a step back by either falling to a lesser bowl than the last two seasons or missing postseason play altogether.

Missouri

There’s just enough turnover to give one pause, but most of the reasons for last year’s second-half surge return. That suggests a pretty high floor in a division that features quite a few teams that bottomed out in 2017.

South Carolina

If a Will Muschamp-coached team is ever going to get the offense going, this would seem the year with QB Jake Bentley and WR Deebo Samuel in the fold. The defense has personnel question marks, but Muschamp and 3rd year defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson have earned the benefit of the doubt on that side of the ball.

With Florida and Tennessee in transition thanks to coaching changes, South Carolina can realistically enter the season with its eye on second place in the SEC East, the same spot it claimed a year ago. It’s probably a bit much to expect the Gamecocks to compete with defending conference champion Georgia, but South Carolina gets the Bulldogs in the second game of the season at home, so there’s always hope.

Tennessee

Tennessee doesn’t have much margin for error, particularly with a challenging schedule that opens with offensive juggernaut West Virginia. The Vols plan to be efficient with a low-risk offense, mindful of turnovers while featuring aggressive blitz packages and coverage schemes. New coach Jeremy Pruitt hopes that recipe is good enough to produce (at least) six wins in Year 1.

Vanderbilt

The overall win total dropped by only one game from 2016 to 2017, but a deeper dive into the numbers reveals that the Commodores took a significant step back in coach Derek Mason’s fourth season. To get his team back into the bowl picture — and to stay off the hot seat — Mason will need to solve the Commodores’ defensive issues. Even if QB Kyle Shurmur and the offense continue to progress — a realistic proposition with an improved offensive line and the addition of Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the backfield — Vanderbilt will struggle to stay out of the SEC East cellar if the defense is allowing 40-plus points in league games.

Alabama

There was a different feel to Alabama’s most recent national title. For one thing, the Tide had to overcome a bewildering rash of injuries and a November loss to Auburn. There also were the emotional swings of the title game, topped off by the iconic second-and-26 walk-off winner.

The end result was the same, though — a fifth national title in the past nine seasons — and the expectations remain, thanks to many of the players who were involved in the crucial moments of that wild night in Atlanta. Alabama will begin the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. And there’s a good chance the Tide will end the season in that spot as well.

Arkansas

It would be unreasonable to believe the Razorbacks could go from 1-7 in conference play to a contender in the SEC West in the course of one offseason. Quarterback play will likely go a long way in determining whether the offense builds up steam in coach Chad Morris’ debut. And the defense — which gave up a staggering 7.1 yards per play in SEC games — needs major help at all three levels. The debut of Morris should provide some splash and dash, but the Razorbacks need a further injection of speed and depth across the board to make a significant move in the brutal SEC West.

Auburn

Gus Malzahn faces some lofty expectations. The Tigers’ sixth-year head coach just signed a seven-year contract extension for $49 million, with $36.75 million guaranteed, after a 10–4 season in which he won the SEC West and defeated both National Championship Game participants (Alabama and Georgia). Now, though, many fans will define an Auburn season as a success or failure based on whether it defeats those two rivals, and the Tigers must do so on the road in 2018. Good luck, Gus.

LSU

LSU’s schedule isn’t conducive to finding a path back into the SEC’s upper echelon. The Tigers will face two teams that played in the College Football Playoff (Alabama and Georgia) and two teams that played in New Year’s Six bowls (Auburn and Miami). Add games at home with Mississippi State and at Texas A&M, and it’s difficult to picture the Tigers being able to challenge for SEC West supremacy. The key for coach Ed Orgeron is not to slip so far that he’s facing a must-win-big scenario in 2019 to keep his job.

Mississippi State

When Dan Mullen left Mississippi State after nine seasons to return to Florida, the school elected to go outside of the SEC and hire Joe Moorhead as coach. There’s some risk there (mostly related to recruiting), but the hire was hailed by outside observers, and 2018 could prove why immediately.  Mississippi State lost very little of consequence from its 2017 team, and despite a fairly challenging schedule, there’s reason for optimism in Starkville. Eight wins are expected, and some believe that this could be a 10-win team with the right breaks.

Ole Miss

Coach Matt Luke led the Rebels to a 6-6 mark in a tumultuous 2017 that included the cloud of the NCAA investigation hovering above. His candidacy for the full-time job was not looking strong until the Rebels won three of their last four games, including a 31-28 upset at No. 16 Mississippi State.

Barring a reprieve, Ole Miss is banned from a bowl game for the second straight season. The Rebels have enough firepower on offense to pose some serious problems, but they will need to show significant improvement on defense — most notably against the run — to reach the six-win mark again.

Texas A&M

Weary from four consecutive seasons with eight wins or fewer, A&M pulled off a major coup and lured Coach Jimbo Fisher to College Station. The Aggies have bet $75 million over 10 years that Fisher can duplicate the success he had at Florida State, where he won the 2013 national championship. Fisher inherits 15 returning starters and some top-flight talent. But the Aggies have lacked the physicality and depth to compete for championships in the rugged SEC. If significant strides are made in those areas, A&M could make a run at exceeding the eight-win plateau. Competing immediately for an SEC championship may be asking for too much too soon.

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Posted in CFB

March Madness Round 64 Preview

Alabama vs. Virginia Tech

A pair of high-scoring teams will do battle in the NCAA Tournament’s East Region first round when No. 8 seed Virginia Tech takes on No. 9 Alabama on Thursday in Pittsburgh. The Hokies average 79.7 points and have five double-figure scorers, while the Crimson Tide averages 72.4 with both teams allowing at least 70 points a contest.

Alabama is powered by one of the top freshmen in the country, guard Collin Sexton, who leads the team in scoring (19 points) and assists (3.5) and is able to take games over, as he did with 21 second-half points in a quarterfinal win over Auburn in the SEC tournament. Coach Avery Johnson will need to get more offense from the rest of the lineup as the Hokies will certainly focus on stopping Sexton and forcing other Alabama players to beat them. Guard Justin Robinson paces the high-powered Hokies attack, averaging 13.8 points and 5.6 assists, both team-highs. Four different players — Robinson, Justin Bibbs, Ahmed Hill and Nickeil Alexander-Walker — have hit at least 50 3-pointers this season, which will stretch the Alabama defense.

TV: 9:20 p.m. ET, TNT

ABOUT ALABAMA (19-15): Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson is confident he’ll have forward Donta Hall available for the NCAA Tournament after Hall suffered a concussion in the team’s quarterfinal win over Auburn in the SEC tournament Friday. Hall missed the semifinal loss to Kentucky on Saturday, but Johnson says the 6-10 junior is in concussion protocol and he’s optimistic he’ll have the team’s second-leading scorer (10.9 points per game) and top rebounder (6.8) and shot-blocker (2.1) against the Hokies. Freshman Alex Reese started in Hall’s place against Kentucky, finishing with five points and four rebounds in 19 minutes in his first-ever collegiate starting assignment.

ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (21-11): Coach Buzz Williams is hoping his team got their postseason stinker out of its system at the ACC tournament, when the Hokies led Notre Dame by 21 with just over 15 minutes to play and lost. Virginia Tech likes to dare teams to beat it from the outside because of the small lineup Williams plays, trying to pack the lane and prevent easy drives to the basket, and the Irish were able to take advantage from the perimeter. Williams will certainly be on the lookout for a hot shooting team, whether it be Alabama or any future opponent, and try to extend the defense more, but the Hokies have at least learned that no lead is safe in a one-and-done situation.

TIP-INS

1. Alabama ranked 13th in the Southeastern Conference this season in free-throw percentage, hitting just 67.2 percent of its attempts.

2. Virginia Tech was one of only three teams in the ACC with a negative rebounding margin, allowing opponents to grab 1.5 more boards per game.

3. The winner of this contest will advance to the second round Saturday to face either No. 1 seed Villanova or the winner of the Long Island-Radford First Four contest.

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Posted in CBB

Missouri at Alabama

Alabama looks to continue its recent hot streak when it hosts struggling Missouri on Wednesday. The Crimson Tide have won five straight meetings with the Tigers and are 5-0 at home in the all-time series.

Alabama has won five of its last six, including an 80-73 upset of No. 15 Oklahoma on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Crimson Tide are 10-1 at home, including a 4-0 record in conference play with wins over Texas A&M, South Carolina, Auburn and Mississippi State. Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin still is in search of his 200th career win, as the team has dropped three straight. It’s the third road game in four contests for the Tigers, who have dropped their last three away from home – including a 74-62 setback at Mississippi State on Saturday.

TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

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ABOUT MISSOURI (13-8, 3-5 SEC): The Tigers have struggled offensively of late, as the 3-pointers have stopped falling and they’ve had a hard time scoring from inside the arc. Kassius Robertson (15.7 points) and Jordan Barnett (14.3, 6.1 rebounds) are the team’s most reliable scorers and best 3-point shooters. The Tigers have a wealth of talented big men, but freshmen Jeremiah Tilmon (8.1 points, 4.2 rebounds) and Jontay Porter (7.9, 6.6) have been plagued by both foul trouble and inconsistency.

ABOUT ALABAMA (14-7, 5-3): The Crimson Tide have used 10 different starting lineups, but they seem to have settled into a nice groove of late. The player to watch is the sensational Collin Sexton (18.5 points), but fellow freshman John Petty (11.8) is a prolific 3-point shooter. Swingman Dazon Ingram (11 points, 6.4 rebounds) and undersized big man Donta Hall (10.9, seven) are tough on the boards, while Braxton Key (5.9, 5.4) is becoming a bigger factor with each passing game since returning from a knee injury that cost him the first 10 contests of the season.

TIP-INS

1. Seven of the 12 all-time meetings have been decided by fewer than 10 points.

2. Missouri has outrebounded 17 of its 21 opponents, ranks third in the SEC in rebound margin (+6.5) and leads the conference in rebounds allowed (31.3 per game).

3. Alabama G Herbert Jones has taken 18 charges, the most in the SEC.

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Posted in CBB

College football’s 2017-18 national championship is up for grabs on Monday night, as Alabama and Georgia meet in Atlanta in a matchup of SEC foes. As with any big matchup, the stars are expected to shine. Georgia is led by running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. On the Alabama sideline, quarterback Jalen Hurts and running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough headline the offense.

While Chubb and Hurts will be under the spotlight to perform, who are the under-the-radar players that could deliver a clutch performance on Monday night? Here are 3 x-factors to watch in the national title game:

X-Factors for Alabama and Georgia in the National Championship

Jeb Blazevich/Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia

The Bulldogs will be down one tight end on Monday night, as sophomore Charlie Woerner is out due to a leg injury suffered against Oklahoma. Woerner only caught nine passes in 14 games, but the sophomore was a valuable blocker. With Woerner out, more snaps for Blazevich and Nauta are in order. This duo has combined for just 11 receptions so far, but both players will be essential to blocking the standout Alabama defensive front on Monday night. Can this duo keep pass rushers away from quarterback Jake Fromm and open up holes for running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel?

Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia

Fromm was mentioned as an x-factor prior to the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma. As was the case in the regular season, the moment was never too big for the true freshman. Fromm completed 20 of 29 throws for 210 yards and two touchdowns against the Sooners, which included a couple of clutch connections with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. With Alabama likely to load the box and stop Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Fromm may need to throw on early downs to loosen up the front seven. There’s no reason to doubt Fromm after his performance all year, but this is his toughest test of the 2017 season.

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Mobility of Alabama QB Jalen Hurts, QB

Considering how dominant Alabama’s rushing attack and defense has been this season, Hurts didn’t need to throw 30 times a game. The sophomore averaged only 18.9 passes a game, throwing for 2,060 yards and 17 touchdowns. Efficiency is critical for coach Nick Saban’s quarterback, as he connected on 61.4 percent of his throws and tossed only one interception. Hurts will need to make a few plays through the air to win on Monday night, but the biggest x-factor for the Crimson Tide offense could be his mobility. The sophomore is the team’s second-leading rusher with 808 yards and eight scores this year. He rushed for 40 yards on 11 carries against Clemson and had 63 on 10 attempts in last season’s national championship against the Tigers. Can Hurts continue to play mistake-free ball when he throws? And when plays break down inside of the pocket, can Hurts scramble for first downs or make plays downfield? Hurts’ mobility is going to be key for Alabama to win on Monday night.

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Posted in CFB

National Championship

Alabama vs. Georgia

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME STORYLINES

1. An SEC team will claim the national title for the ninth time in the past 12 seasons as conference mates Georgia and Alabama meet in Monday’s College Football Playoff championship at Atlanta. The third-seeded Bulldogs are looking to win their first national title since the Herschel Walker-led squad won the 1980 crown, while the fourth-seeded Crimson Tide are striving for their fifth during Nick Saban’s 11-season tenure. Alabama easily dispatched top-seeded Clemson 24-6 in the semifinals while Georgia outlasted second-seeded Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime.

2. Georgia coach Kirby Smart is a former Alabama defensive coordinator under Saban but is adamant that doesn’t give him crucial insights to the methods of the Crimson Tide. “There’s not a lot of tendencies that he has that are just going to be ground-breaking to allow us a benefit,” Smart said during a press conference. “The bottom line is our players got to go out and we’ve got to play a really good football game to stay with these guys.” Saban also downplayed the situation, saying “I don’t think the game is about the coaches. I think it’s about the players.”

3. Alabama leads the nation in rushing defense at 91.8 yards per game and will receive a big test from the Georgia senior duo of Nick Chubb (1,320 yards) and Sony Michel (1,129). The Crimson Tide limited Clemson to 64 yards on 33 attempts while the Bulldogs rolled up 317 and five rushing scores against Oklahoma. Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm could be the wild-card factor if he starts the game off strong and makes Alabama respect the passing game.

TV: 8:17 p.m. ET, ESPN.

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ABOUT ALABAMA (12-1): The Crimson Tide have been hit hard with linebacker injuries all season and they lost sophomore Anfernee Jennings (knee) against Clemson and he underwent surgery. Alabama will do some further linebacker reshuffling with senior Shaun Dion Hamilton (knee) and freshman Dylan Moses (foot) done for the season but the unit still resolves around junior strong safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (nine career interceptions, four returned for touchdowns). Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts (808 rushing yards, 2,060 passing yards) is more feared as a runner but has 17 touchdown passes against just once interception as well as a star target in junior Calvin Ridley (59 receptions, 935 yards).

ABOUT GEORGIA (13-1):
 Michel, who averages eight yards per carry, galloped for a 27-yard, game-winning score against Oklahoma for his 16th rushing touchdown of the season, while Chubb has 15 rushing scores and a 6.4 yard average. Fromm has passed for 2,383 yards and 23 touchdowns against only five interceptions while piloting an offense that averages 36.3 points per game. Junior inside linebacker Roquan Smith, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, leads the Bulldogs with 124 tackles and 5.5 sacks (the latter tied for team-leading honors with junior outside linebacker D’Andre Walker), while senior strong safety Dominick Sanders has a team-best four interceptions.

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Week 14 CFP Rankings

The 13th weekend of the 2017 season featured several rivalry matchups, including the showdown in the SEC between Auburn and Alabama. The Tigers victory pushes coach Gus Malzahn’s team into the top four, while the Crimson Tide are going to need a little help in order to reach the CFB Playoff. Clemson assumes the No. 1 spot following Saturday night’s win against South Carolina, with Oklahoma jumps one place after handling West Virginia in Norman.

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Here is the top 10 week 14 CFP rankings :

1. Clemson (11-1)

Week 13 Result: Defeated South Carolina

The Tigers are a win away from their third consecutive trip to the CFB Playoff.

2. Auburn (10-2)

Week 13 Result: Defeated Alabama

For the second time (Georgia and Alabama) in 2017, Auburn defeated the No. 1 team in the nation.

3. Oklahoma (11-1)

Week 13 Result: Defeated West Virginia

Easy win over West Virginia sets up a showdown (or rematch) against TCU in the Big 12 Championship.

4. Wisconsin (12-0)

Week 13 Result: Defeated Minnesota

Badgers’ defense turns in another dominant effort in Saturday’s win over Minnesota.

5. Alabama (11-1)

Week 13 Result: Lost to Auburn

Let the debate begin: Can the Crimson Tide get into the CFB Playoff with one loss and no SEC Championship?

6. Georgia (11-1)

Week 13 Result: Defeated Georgia Tech

Bulldogs successfully avenged last year’s loss to Georgia Tech with a blowout 38-7 victory over the Yellow Jackets on Saturday.

7. Miami (10-1)

Week 13 Result: Lost to Pitt

Loss to Pitt was a significant setback, but Miami’s playoff hopes are still alive with a win over Clemson.

8. Ohio State (10-2)

Week 13 Result: Defeated Michigan

Urban Meyer is now 6-0 as Ohio State’s coach against Michigan.

9. Penn State (10-2)

Week 13 Result: Defeated Maryland

After destroying Maryland 66-3 on Saturday, the Nittany Lions should be in good shape to earn a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.

10. USC (10-2)

Week 13 Result: Bye Week

The Trojans had a scheduled bye in Week 13, which was the program’s first off week in the 2017 season. While one was needed during the regular season, the timing worked out with the Pac-12 Championship up next.

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Week 13 CFP Rankings

The 12th weekend of the 2017 season was light on must-see matchups, but the action didn’t disappoint on Saturday. Alabama and Oklahoma cruised to easy wins to maintain the top two spots in the rankings, while Miami overcame a slow start to knock off Virginia. Wisconsin secured Week 12’s biggest win, as the Badgers defeated Michigan to move to 11-0. Coach Paul Chryst’s team checks in at No. 5 in this week’s rankings, followed by Auburn, Georgia, Ohio State, Notre Dame and TCU. Northwestern, Boise State and Virginia Tech join the post-Week 12 rankings after picking up wins on Saturday.

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Here is the top 10 week 13 CFP rankings :

1. Alabama (11-0)

Week 12 Result: Defeated Mercer

Will the Crimson Tide get any injured defenders back in time for the Iron Bowl at Auburn?

2. Miami (10-0)

Week 12 Result: Defeated Virginia

Hurricanes overcome slow start against Virginia to improve to 10-0.

3. Clemson (10-1)

Week 12 Result: Defeated The Citadel

As expected, the Tigers didn’t have to sweat much in Saturday’s win over The Citadel. The challenge gets significantly tougher next week against South Carolina.

4. Oklahoma (10-1)

Week 12 Result: Defeated Kansas

Win over Kansas secured spot for Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

Week 12 Result: Defeated Michigan

Timely offense and standout defense lead the way in Saturday’s victory against Michigan.

6. Auburn (9-2)

Week 12 Result: Defeated ULM

The Tigers have scored at least 40 points in seven out of the last eight games. How will this offense perform against Alabama?

7. Georgia (10-1)

Week 12 Result: Defeated Kentucky

Nick Chubb and Sony Michel cap off standout careers in Athens with big performances against Kentucky.

8. Notre Dame (9-2)

Week 12 Result: Defeated Navy

Notre Dame’s defense held Navy to 277 rushing yards in Saturday’s win, which was the fewest allowed to the Midshipmen since giving up 149 in 2012.

9. Ohio State (9-2)

Week 12 Result: Defeated Illinois

J.T. Barrett is the first quarterback in Big Ten history to reach 100 touchdown passes.

10. Penn State (9-2)

Week 12 Result: Defeated Nebraska

A win over Maryland in the season finale should position James Franklin’s team for a New Year’s Six bowl.

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Posted in CFB

Week 12 CFP Rankings

With 11 weeks of action from the 2017 season in the books, it’s time to update the CFP rankings. With 11 weeks completed, only three weekends remain in the 2017 college football season. Alabama gains one spot and takes over No. 1 after escaping Starkville with a close win over Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide have a looming showdown against Auburn in Week 13, which will decide the winner of the SEC West. Clemson jumped two spots to land at No. 2 in this week’s rankings. Miami is checking in at No. 3 following a dominant win over Notre Dame. Oklahoma rounds out the playoff bound teams to No. 4 after a convincing win over TCU.  They are followed by undefeated Wisconsin at No. 5 and Auburn at No. 6 after a huge win against former No. 1 Georgia.

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Here is the top 10 week 12 CFP rankings :

1. Alabama (10-0)

Week 11 Result: Defeated Mississippi State

Jalen Hurts and Calvin Ridley delivered in the clutch for the Crimson Tide to escape Starkville with a victory.

2. Clemson (9-1)

Week 11 Result: Defeated Florida State

The Tigers weren’t particularly impressive in the win over Florida State, but coach Dabo Swinney’s team pulled away late to secure the Atlantic Division title.

3. Miami (9-0)

Week 11 Result: Defeated Notre Dame

It’s official: The U is back. And thanks to Virginia’s loss to Louisville, the Hurricanes are the champs of the Coastal Division title for the first time since joining the ACC.

4. Oklahoma (9-1)

Week 11 Result: Defeated TCU

The Sooners averaged 7.8 yards per play against a tough TCU defense on Saturday night, which will only help quarterback Baker Mayfield increase his lead in the race to win the Heisman Trophy.

5. Wisconsin (10-0)

Week 11 Result: Defeated Iowa

Badgers’ defense dominates in win over Iowa. Victory over Hawkeyes also clinches a trip to Indianapolis for Wisconsin.

6. Auburn (8-2)

Week 11 Result: Defeated Georgia

Auburn won the battle up front on both sides of the ball and got clutch performances from running back Kerryon Johnson and quarterback Jarrett Stidham in Saturday’s huge win over Georgia.

7. Georgia (9-1)

Week 11 Result: Lost to Auburn

Loss to Auburn was a setback, but the Bulldogs are still alive for the CFB Playoff.

8. Notre Dame (8-2)

Week 11 Result: Lost to Miami

Miami’s speed and athleticism and inconsistent quarterback play from Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book were just too much to overcome in Saturday’s loss.

9. Ohio State (8-2)

Week 11 Result: Defeated Michigan State

Buckeyes rebound from last week’s disappointing loss at Iowa to demolish Michigan State 48-3.

10. Penn State (8-2)

Week 11 Result: Defeated Rutgers

The Nittany Lions started slow but eventually pulled away for a 35-6 win over Rutgers. Running back Saquon Barkley has been held under 100 rushing yards in three consecutive games.

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NCAA Football 2017-18 Season

SEC West Preview

The SEC West division’s Crimson Tide are once again the preseason favorite to win it all , with LSU and Auburn returning enough talent to rank as top 10-15 teams. Outside of the top contenders, Mississippi State and Arkansas headline some of the dark horse teams to watch in 2017.  Get ready for college fantasy football at FanPicks.com

LSU Tigers

New LSU coach Ed Orgeron retained defensive coordinator Dave Aranda (now the highest-paid college assistant coach at $1.8 million per year) and hired Matt Canada as offensive coordinator to break LSU out of its predictable offensive patterns. Talent always abounds at LSU, although there’s still work to do to catch up with Alabama in the trenches.

A tough schedule awaits — the Tigers have only three SEC home games — so a 10–2 record would probably be the ceiling, which is not a bad goal in the Tigers’ first full year under Coach O.

Auburn Tigers

Auburn was in the College Football Playoff mix well into November last season before injuries took their toll. The core of that offense is back, along with seven of 11 starters on defense. The addition of QB Jarrett Stidham and presence of a new voice in offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey should propel the Tigers into that same conversation in 2017. If they’re not, athletics director Jay Jacobs will have some tough decisions to make after the season. This Tigers team is too loaded to be an afterthought on the national level.

Alabama Crimson Tide

This figures to be a classic Nick Saban team. The offense will be rooted in its ability to run the ball with a deep group of backs and a dangerous quarterback in Jalen Hurts. How Alabama rebuilds the front seven will say a lot about the effectiveness of a defense hit especially hard by graduation.

The opening weekend should be tremendous — a matchup with Florida State in Atlanta’s new dome. The result won’t knock the loser from playoff talk, but it’ll add a degree of difficulty before conference play even starts.

Arkansas Razorback

A defense that struggled in 2016 has gotten younger, but there is renewed enthusiasm that the scheme change under defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads’ watch will lead to better results. The offense has potential, but some untested receivers will need to step up to complement receiver Jared Cornelius, and quarterback Austin Allen must continue to progress.

Another winning record and bowl game is highly likely, but the Hogs will have to show significant improvement all the way around to contend in the SEC West.

Mississippi St. Bulldogs

Mississippi State can still hang its hat on rising to No. 1 in the polls during the 2014 season, but the program slipped to 5–7 in the regular season in 2016 and made a bowl game only because of its high APR score. But that was a rebuilding year, and everyone knew it going in. With the quarterback position now settled and some emerging stars on defense, Mississippi State could be back in line to begin another ascent up the SEC West standings — if not to the top, at least into the middle of the pack with a seven- or eight-win season.

But there are question marks, especially along the offensive line, so it would not be surprising to see Mississippi State need its good grades to get it into another bowl game.

Texas A&M Aggies

The Aggies are trying to end a trend of three consecutive 8–5 seasons that have featured late-season collapses. Also, they haven’t finished higher than fourth in the SEC West since 2012. Inexperience at quarterback, issues in run defense and dependency on unproven players render the season outlook quite suspect. The schedule won’t do them many favors, either, with road trips to UCLA, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss, where they typically struggle.

Coach Kevin Sumlin’s job could be in jeopardy if the Aggies cannot break out of their 8–5 rut. Ironically one of Sumlin’s best coaching efforts may be required this season for A&M to post eight victories.

Ole Miss Rebels

If the opportunity to play in a bowl game is the only motivation, the 2017 season is already lost. Ole Miss players insist it is not. They found out in late February they have no chance at bowl game, not because of what may or may not happen on the field, but because of the school’s own ban, part of its self-sanctioning amid an NCAA investigation that approaches its fifth birthday.

Spring practice also showed that Ole Miss is still pretty good on offense. And that question marks remain on defense. The Rebels want to make amends for a disappointing season that saw them ranked as high as No. 11 before falling to 5–7.

Posted in CFB

2017 NCAA National Championship

Clemson Tigers vs Alabama Crimson Tide Recap

In a back and forth battle of college football’s best teams, Deshaun Watson and his No. 2 Clemson Tigers threw the final knockout punch. Watson found Hunter Renfrow for the game-winning, 2-yard touchdown with one second to play on Monday night as Clemson beat the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide 35-31 to win the 2017 NCAA National Championship in Tampa, Florida.

Watson threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for another score. Clemson (14-1) took its first lead of the game at 28-24 on Wayne Gallman’s 1-yard run with 4:38 to play in the game. But no sooner had Watson and Gallman rallied Clemson back from a two-touchdown first-half deficit than Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts answered. Hurts weaved through Clemson defenders to score on a 30-yard keeper that gave the Crimson Tide (14-1) a 31-28 lead with 2:07 to play. Then, it was Watson’s turn again. Watson told ESPN after the game that he told his teammates before the final drive not to panic, and “let’s go finish it.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says there should have been a foul called on the Tigers’ game-winning touchdown against Alabama, and it should have been called on the Crimson Tide. A year after Watson and his Tigers came up short in a 45-40 championship loss to Alabama, they did finish it. Watson made clutch throws to Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett during the Tigers’ final drive, and then with six seconds left, he threw to the right side of the end zone and found Renfrow. Clemson entered the fourth quarter trailing 24-14 but scored three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes for the victory. The Tigers’ only other national title came in 1981.

Alabama, which was denied its fifth national title in eight years, controlled the game early with Bo Scarbrough scoring touchdowns on runs of 25 and 37 yards. But he left the game with an apparent leg injury late in the third quarter, and the Crimson Tide could have used his powerful running in the fourth. Watson scored on a keeper midway through the second quarter to cut Alabama’s 14-0 lead in half. A Clemson fumble on the Tigers’ opening possession of the second half, however, led to a Crimson Tide field goal to make it 17-7.

Midway through the third quarter, Watson found Renfrow over the middle for a 24-yard scoring pass to pull the Tigers to within 17-14. O.J. Howard, one of the Alabama heroes in last year’s championship game, burned the Tigers again late in the third quarter on a 68-yard TD catch that put Alabama back up by 10 at 24-14. Clemson answered with a scoring pass from Watson to Williams early in the fourth quarter that cut the Tide’s lead to 24-21. Then Gallman’s run gave Clemson its first lead of the game and set the stage for a wild final few minutes.

Final: Clemson 35, Alabama 31

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2017 CFP National Championship

Clemson Tigers vs Alabama Crimson Tide Preview

Top-seeded Alabama looks to claim its fifth national title in 10 seasons under Nick Saban when it battles second-seeded Clemson in Monday’s CFP National Championship (Enter contest) at Tampa, Florida. It is a rematch of last season’s title game in which the Crimson Tide prevailed 45-40 despite a huge game by Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (405 yards passing, 73 rushing). Alabama is attempting to record its 27th consecutive victory while Clemson is pursuing its second national title and first since 1981.

Watson passed for 259 yards and one touchdown while adding two rushing scores in Clemson’s 31-0 rout of Ohio State in the semifinals, and he has a major advantage in experience over counterpart Jalen Hurts. Watson, who finished second in this season’s Heisman Trophy balloting and third in 2015, has passed for 4,173 yards and 38 touchdowns this campaign but also is prone to miscues, as evidenced by his 17 interceptions. Hurts has accounted for 34 scores (22 passing, 12 rushing) and is aiming to join Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway (1985) as the only true freshman quarterbacks to lead a team to a national title, but he passed for only 57 yards in the Crimson Tide’s 24-7 semifinal victory over Washington.

Alabama made the odd move of separating itself from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin after the win over Washington, as the new Florida Atlantic coach became a distraction while attempting to juggle two jobs. Saban was highly disappointed with the offensive showing against the Huskies and promoted offensive analyst Steve Sarkisian to offensive coordinator, insisting it will be a smooth transition.

ABOUT CLEMSON (13-1)

Watson threw three or more touchdown passes on seven occasions and topped 300 yards six times while fueling a powerful offense that averaged 39.5 points and scored over 40 seven times. Juniors Mike Williams (90 receptions, 1,267 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Artavis Scott (73 catches) form a potent one-two receiving combo. Junior running back Wayne Gallman rushed for 1,087 yards and 16 scores. The Tigers’ defense allows averages of 17.1 points and 306.9 yards per game but features weak-side linebacker Ben Boulware (team-best 121 tackles), defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (team-high 10.5 sacks) and strong safety Jadar Johnson (team-leading five interceptions). They are all seniors.

ABOUT ALABAMA (14-0)

Bo Scarbrough is the squad’s third-leading rusher (719 yards) behind fellow sophomore Damien Harris (1,013) and Hurts (891), but he’ll play a major role after rushing for two touchdowns and a Crimson Tide bowl-record 180 yards against Washington. Clemson’s defense certainly will be paying close attention to senior tight end O.J. Howard (41 catches, 489 yards, two touchdowns) after he made five catches for a career-best 208 yards and two TDs while winning Offensive MVP honors in last year’s national title game. Senior defensive end Jonathan Allen (9.5 sacks, two fumble-return scores) won the Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player and, along with sophomore strong safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (team-best six interceptions), is among the standouts for a unit that scored 11 defensive touchdowns (six interceptions, five fumbles) and leads the nation in both scoring defense (11.4 points per game) and total defense (244 yards).

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SEC Championship Preview

Alabama Crimson Tide vs Florida Gators

Top-ranked Alabama has such a cushion in the College Football Playoff rankings that it will qualify for the four-team national championship competition even if it should lose to No. 16 Florida in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game at Atlanta (Enter Contest). Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban grows irate at such a suggestion and is fully focused on guiding the squad to its third consecutive conference crown.

Alabama, which has won 24 consecutive games, is the only undefeated team from a major conference and is considered a shoo-in to be part of the playoff. But it would still be huge upset if the Gators were to win the game. Coach Jim McElwain was a former Alabama offensive coordinator and a win against them would definitely taste good for him. This is the ninth time Alabama and Florida square off in the SEC title game. Both teams won four of the previous matchups.

ABOUT ALABAMA (12-0, 8-0 SEC)

Senior defensive end Jonathan Allen (seven sacks, two fumble return touchdowns) is the only defensive player among the five Walter Camp Player of the Year finalists and he is leader of a defense that ranks first nationally in scoring defense (11.4 points per game), total defense (246.8 yards per game) and rushing defense (68.7). Sophomore Marlon Humphrey (leg) is ailing but Saban feels he will recover in time to play, and the cornerback is a standout in a secondary that is receiving superb play from sophomore strong safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (team-high four interceptions). Senior outside linebacker’s Ryan Anderson (team-best 16 1/2) and Tim Williams (15) have combined for 31 1/2 tackles for losses. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts paces the offense by accounting for 32 total touchdowns (20 passing, 12 rushing) while passing for 2,425 yards and rushing for 840.

ABOUT FLORIDA (8-3, 6-2 SEC)

The Gators rank fifth in scoring defense (14.6) and sixth in total defense (291.9) but will be without six starters, including standouts such as senior linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle), junior linebacker Alex Anzalone (arm), junior defensive end Jordan Sherit (knee) and senior safety Marcus Maye (arm). Sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio (shoulder) will be available only in an emergency so senior Austin Appleby (964 yards, six touchdowns, two interceptions) will again be under center for an offense averaging just 16.3 points in his last three starts. Sophomore running back Jordan Scarlett has rushed for 778 yards and six touchdowns, while junior cornerback Teez Tabor has a team-best four interceptions. Wideout Antonio Callaway leads the squad with 43 receptions and 603 yards, but the second of his two receiving scores came on September 10th.

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Alabama Crimson Tide vs LSU Tigers Preview

Top-ranked Alabama is soaring toward the College Football Playoff and seeks its 21st consecutive victory when it visits No. 13 LSU on Saturday (Enter Contest). The Crimson Tide are also atop the first CFP poll of the season but will have to overcome the loss of senior star safety Eddie Jackson (broken leg) down the stretch. The team has scored a stunning 12 non-offensive touchdowns (nine on defense, three on punt returns) during its dominating campaign but is certainly wary of the Tigers, who are 3-0 since interim coach Ed Orgeron replaced Les Miles. It’s something that Nick Saban’s made clear his squad won’t be overlooking this weekend.

ABOUT ALABAMA (8-0, 5-0 SEC)

Jackson has scored three of the Crimson Tide’s 12 non-offensive touchdowns. Losing his 23.0 average on punt returns will cost the squad some of the field-position advantages it has enjoyed. The defense’s other major star are still around though. Senior defensive end Jonathan Allen has six sacks to raise his career total to 24, one behind second-place Kindal Moorehead (1998-2002) on Alabama’s all-time list. The Crimson Tide have forced 16 turnovers this season with nine resulting in defensive touchdowns.

Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has accounted for 20 touchdowns (11 passing, nine rushing) this season. Sophomore running back Damien Harris has a team-leading 697 rushing yards and sophomore wideout Calvin Ridley has 43 receptions for 504 yards and five scores. Alabama has won the past five meetings, holding a 50-25-2 series edge.

ABOUT LSU (5-2, 3-1)

LSU junior running back Leonard Fournette is back on his game after dealing with an ankle injury earlier this season. He’s set a school record with 284 rushing yards in a victory over Ole Miss on week 8. Fournette has rushed for 670 yards and five touchdowns despite a three-game absence. He hasn’t forgotten that his 2015 Heisman hopes were squashed against the Crimson Tide when he had just 31 yards on 19 carries. The Tigers are 15-4 when Fournette rushes for 100 yards and 5-0 when he tops 200.

Sophomore Derrius Grice is also running well with 621 yards and seven scores while junior quarterback Danny Etling has thrown for 1,129 yards and seven touchdowns against three interceptions. The Tigers are allowing 15 points per game, which ranks fifth nationally. Thanks in large part to sophomore outside linebacker Arden Key (team-high eight sacks) and senior middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith (team-leading 69 tackles) who are enjoying solid campaigns.

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