College Football

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Covid Roulette

By: JJ Lanier news services

There are a few things you can always count on with college football, SEC fans arguing that if the playoffs truly consisted of the best four teams, they would all come from that conference; Kirk Herbstreit’s attempt to objectively talk about Ohio State comes across more like Nuns On the Run Robert DeNiro than Taxi Driver De Niro; a large number of college coaches will be looking for employment by the end of the season.

Regardless of what this upcoming football season will look like, (a lot can change between now and the end of September) I feel pretty confident the first two will stay true to form, it’s the last one that could go either way.

Is it unrealistic to think that most college football coaches could receive their own version of a mulligan this year?

I realize on the surface it may not seem like a logical outcome, especially if you’re not a fan of the coach leading your team, but there was a bit of precedent set with college basketball in March.

During a time when you normally see a substantial amount of coaching changes, due to Covid and all the uncertainty surrounding it, those dismissals were few and far between.

I know it’s been five months since the basketball season came to an abrupt ending, but are things really that different now? Basically, the chaos and uncertainty we had earlier this year is the same thing we are currently dealing with.

If coaches feel as though they’re jobs are safe, it will be interesting to see if that mentality allows certain coaches to open up their playbooks and become a little more aggressive than normal; Ron Rivera is a perfect example.

I don’t remember the exact year- I think it was the season prior to the Panthers Super Bowl appearance- but Rivera’s tenure was all but over in Carolina, due in large part to his conservative play calling. With the pressure off, instead of taking the safe and conservative route, Rivera began opening up his playbook and taking the riskier option, leading to the media appointed nickname “Riverboat Ron.”

I don’t expect college coaches to follow the unwritten rule of Madden, which frowns upon punting and field goals, but will we see more unorthodox choices than usual.

If you’re missing half your starters because they’re back on campus in isolation, is there really anything to lose by throwing caution to the wind and going for it on 4th and 15 from your opponent’s 30 halfway through the first quarter?

Look, this season is going to be so unpredictable for a myriad of reasons, I almost hope all coaches enter the season knowing their job will be safe regardless of the season’s outcome.

With nothing to lose it enhances the opportunity we may get to see something special on the field, something we do not see very often.

It’s going to be difficult to judge a coach this season with all the different scenarios that can play out on the field with quarantined players and those choosing not to play.

Combine that with realization this upcoming season will be such a mental challenge for everyone, it’s going to be hard to hold anyone accountable for wins and losses.

But this is college football, so if I had to guess, this season will end with SEC fans upset Herbstreit is arguing for Ohio State’s inclusion in the playoffs, and numerous coaches will lose their jobs. There are some things not even Covid can stop.

Lost Rivals

By: Kipp Branch news services

The SEC announced it would be moving to a 10-game only conference game schedule for the 2020 football season.

With this news it means it means people will not see Georgia/Georgia Tech, South Carolina/Clemson, Florida/Florida State, nor Kentucky/Louisville play their rivalry games this fall.

The start of the season will be pushed back until September 26th.

If you are a UGA fan this probably means you open the season in Tuscaloosa against Alabama on that date. It is unclear at this time which teams the Bulldogs would add to the schedule.

It’s assumed that they would play the six teams from the SEC East and keep the Crimson Tide, this year’s SEC West rotational opponent, and Auburn, the annual SEC West opponent, on the schedule.

The SEC is developing a formula based on strength of schedule to determine the remaining two games for each SEC team.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the shift to late September will allow schools to reintegrate their entire student bodies on campus amid the new challenges presented by the pandemic.

“This new plan for a football schedule is consistent with the educational goals of our universities to allow for the safe and orderly return to campus of their student populations and to provide a healthy learning environment during these unique circumstances presented by the COVID-19 virus,” Sankey said in a statement. “This new schedule supports the safety measures that are being taken by each of our institutions to ensure the health of our campus communities.”

Clemson and South Carolina have played every year since 1909.

Georgia and Georgia Tech, which have played 114 times, have met in each season since 1925.

Florida and Florida State started playing each other in 1958. I hate losing these three games as a fan in 2020.

Other Big SEC non-conference games that were cut in 2020 are Alabama vs. USC in Arlington, Texas, was canceled when the Pac-12 opted to play only conference games.

Two other ACC-SEC games Georgia vs. Virginia and Auburn vs. North Carolina at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta are gone.

Other games that won’t be played: Texas at LSU, Arkansas at Notre Dame, Tennessee at Oklahoma, Missouri at BYU, Vanderbilt at Kansas State and Mississippi State at NC State.

2020 will go down as one of the worst years in history with the Covid-19 pandemic. I lost a family member to this deadly pandemic.

College football is like comfort food to many of us in the South, currently. I’m hoping the season takes place. As a UGA fan it bothers you that you can’t play a rival that is only 70 miles from your campus, but I applaud the SEC and the University Presidents for doing everything in their power to have a football season.

Questions to be answered now:

Once play begins will we even have fans in attendance?

Will UGA/UF be played in Jacksonville this year?

With the conference only format, will Florida and Georgia lose a home game?

What does a competitive balanced additional two SEC games mean?

Does that mean Florida picks up Texas A&M and Auburn while Alabama picks up Vanderbilt and Missouri?

Long time SEC fans know how everything seems to benefit Alabama in the long run. Yes, I said it prove me wrong from a historical perspective. It is going to be interesting when the additional two game rotation rolls out.

The ultimate goal is to have SEC football this fall, and Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate will resume in 2021 at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.

What Might Have Been

By: JJ Lanier news services

For the past 15 years or so the SEC has been the best college football conference in the country.

As much as it pains me to say it, they’ve had the best coaches, players, and overall teams from top to bottom during that span.

To be honest, they’ve been at the top so long it was easy to forget that in the early 2000’s the ACC actually made a play for that honorable distinction when they added Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami to their lineup.

I actually remember a few columnists, as well as many ACC fans, were upset by the move because it was so obviously football centric many people thought it was going to water down the conference from a basketball viewpoint.

That was as acceptable in ACC country as it would be telling Alabama children they don’t need to be a quarterback, but should play tennis instead. (For the record, there’s nothing wrong with choosing tennis over football, but I don’t live in Alabama, either.)

I realize trying to explain to someone under the age of 20 that the Miami Hurricanes were actually a powerhouse program is as difficult as trying to convince my 15-year-old daughter that the Dave Matthews Band was once cool, but they were (in both cases).

The Hurricanes were so dominant back then it would be like taking this past season’s LSU team and extrapolating their success over the next 3 to 4 years.

Not only did it feel like the apocalypse was upon us anytime Miami lost, it also seemed like, for a while, the first round of the NFL draft was a who’s who of Hurricane players.

Virginia Tech wasn’t on the same level as Miami, but they had just gone through the Michael Vick years, which helped propel them into the national spotlight.

The Hokies had also signed Marcus Vick, Michael’s younger brother, so expectations were extremely high.

Boston College, even though they were kind of an afterthought among the three schools, were considered better than most other ACC programs.

When you combined the addition of those three schools, along with Florida State, which was a premier program, and Clemson, which always seemed to be bubbling right below the surface, the conference was poised to really become an athletic juggernaut.

Of course, like most plans, we all make it looks great on paper, but once you get 10 minutes into it the whole thing just falls apart.

Boston College is well, Boston College. Virginia Tech did fairly well, but has never been able to recreate the success they had in the few years prior.

As for Miami, the crown jewel of this expansion, you could argue they have been the worst of the three.

I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say that overall the three programs have brought more success to the basketball court than the football field, which is saying something.

I have to admit, as a fan of the ACC, it gets a little rough thinking about what may have been had everything turned out the way most people expected.

Instead, the SEC has enjoyed being at the pinnacle of college football for the past 15 years and for right now are in a strong position to keep that spot for the next 15.

Then again, a lot of can change over a 15 year period; just ask the Dave Matthews Band.

Don’t Count Him Out

By: Robert Craft news services

University of Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton, who suffered a devastating leg injury in November of 2018 and missed the entire 2019 season, says he will return to the field in 2020.

Will he attain that goal? I don’t know for sure. No one does, but Milton believes it will happen. Milton thinks there’s a 50/50 chance he will be cleared and declared full go for preseason camp.

Flashback to November 23, 2018, it was third and 7, Milton was tackled by South Florida Bull’s cornerback Mazzi Wilkens that resulted in the injury. Milton was rushed to Tampa General Hospital for immediate surgery.

The surgeons had to remove the vein from the left leg to make a new artery in the right one in order to restore blood flow and save the leg.

Milton was in surgery for the next 4-5 hours, doctors worked to restore blood flow to his leg to avoid amputation.

The quarterback, who won back-to-back American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year awards previously, has been through at least four surgeries and extensive rehabilitation as he pushes to play again.

Each step in the process continues to reaffirm that Milton will eventually return to the football field.

Josh Heupel, UCF Head Coach, said “Absolutely, there’s no doubt in my mind that Milton will be back on the football field at a really high level.”

In April 2020, prior to the NFL draft, video of Milton throwing to Gabriel Davis hit the internet. It had UCF and college football junkies excited.

In an interview with UCF Rivals’ reporter Brandon Helwig, Milton states, “Playing in 2020 is still my goal. The reason I set that goal is I wasn’t to approach rehab every day with the idea I’ll be ready to go to fall camp ready for North Carolina in our first game. If I’m not approaching it that way, I feel like I’d be missing a day in therapy not working as hard as I can. That’s why I set that goal. I hope to reach that. If I don’t, it is what it is. I’ll keep knocking it down block by block. Hopefully when I go to Minnesota at the end of June, I’ll get good news.”

Milton was one of the best quarterbacks in college football in 2017 and 2018. He was 265-for-395, passing for 4,037 yards, 37 touchdowns and just 9 interceptions.

He also rushed for 613 yards and 8 touchdowns as UCF went 13-0 in 2017 and beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

His stats declined during the 10 games he played as a junior in 2018 in coach Josh Heupel’s first year at UCF, but he still threw for 2663 yards and 25 touchdowns with just 6 picks.

He added another 9 touchdowns on the ground and rushed for 297 yards.

In 2019, Dillon Gabriel emerged as the starting quarterback at UCF. Gabriel led the Knights to a 10-3 record while throwing for 3653 yards, 29 touchdowns and 7 interceptions as a true freshman.

Milton draws hope and optimism from people like Joe Theismann, Jaylon Smith and Teddy Bridgewater, people who have been through devastating injuries and gotten back on the field. “People have done it before and I definitely think I’ll be able to too.”

Milton suffered a catastrophic injury in 2018 while owning a personal 22-game win streak. Milton looks like he’s coming back to play. Do not doubt the heart of a Champion!

I, for one, can’t wait to see number 10 run onto the field. When Milton is able to return to the field, it will be one hell of a comeback story.

Secondary To None

By: Robert Craft news services

The way Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Joe Burrow dissected defenses last season may lead some to think the secondary play in the SEC is on a downturn. I’m here to tell you otherwise.

The secondary in the SEC for 2020 is loaded with future NFL talent. While I’m not sure this class can match the number of players drafted in rounds one and two of the 2020 NFL draft, I do think the talent as a collective is overall stronger than the 2019 class.

Here is my top five defensive back on SEC rosters this season:

  1. Marco Wilson, Junior CB, Redshirt Sophomore Florida: Wilson started in all 13 games for the Gators last season.

After suffering an ACL tear early in the 2018, Wilson recorded 36 total defensive stops (23 solo), 3 interceptions, and 2 pass break-ups.

Wilson is one of only four true freshmen to start at cornerback on opening day for Florida. He was named to the All-SEC Freshman team by the coaches in 2017.

The 6-foot-0, 190 pounder can play both boundary and slot. Wilson has good size and speed and is sticky in man coverage. This season, look for Wilson to lock up top wide receivers on the opposing end.

  1. Richard Lecounte, Safety, Senior Georgia: Lecounte is the top safety in the SEC period.

He has started 27 of 28 games over the past two seasons. The 5-foot-11, 190 pounder was third on the team with tackles with 61 (35 solo), led the SEC in fumbles recovered with three and second in interceptions with four.

Lecounte is the Alpha-Dog of the Georgia secondary. Playing alongside Tyson Campbell, Eric Stokes and DJ Daniels makes Georgia the top secondary in the SEC.

Lecounte is a Preseason All-SEC first team defense selection.

  1. Israel Mukuamu, CB, Junior South Carolina: Mukuamu had arguably the best game by any defensive back in the SEC during the 2019 season, when he helped propel the Gamecocks to an upset win over Georgia.

Mukuamu picked off Georgia QB Jake Fromm three times en route to a 20-17 win. He returned the first interception 53 yards for a touchdown. The final interception came at the most important of times, overtime.

The 6-foot-4, 205 pounder earned second team All-SEC in 2019. Mukuama has been First Team All-SEC Academic Honor Roll for 2018 & 2019.

Mukuamu is a big corner who fights and competes and wins against big named receivers Saturday after Saturday.

  1. Patrick Surtain, CB, Junior Alabama: With Alabama consistently featuring a loaded secondary, it may be hard for a freshman to see the field.

However, Surtain was the exception. He played well in 2018 recording 28 tackles with an interception, seven passes deflected and one forced fumble.

As a sophomore, Surtain had 42 tackles with 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 8 passes broken up.

Surtain is a physical cornerback, the 6-foot-2, 203-pound corner routinely bullies receivers. With Josh Jobe, Daniel Wright and Jordan Battle playing with Surtain, Alabama will compete with Georgia on the top secondary in the SEC.

  1. Derek Stingley Jr, CB, Sophomore LSU: Stingley, a true freshman in 2019, was the top ranked cornerback in the country coming out of high school.

Now he is the top ranked cornerback in the SEC. During LSU’s national championship run, Stingley started every game.

The 6-foot-1, 195 pound corner earned a list of awards in 2019: Consensus All-American, First Team All-American (AFCA, AP, Athletic, CBS, ESPN, SI, Sporting News, USA Today), SEC Newcomer of the year (unanimous), first Team All-SEC, SEC All-Freshman Team & SEC Freshman of the Week.

He is, arguably, the most impactful freshmen in the SEC since Herschel Walker. He led the SEC in interceptions with 6 and passes deflected with 21.

He is the Grandson of the late Darryl Stingley, who’s NFL career was cut short after suffering a tragic injury in 1978.

In my opinion, Stingley is the best defensive player in the SEC.

Just outside the Top 5: Kary Vincent, LSU; Josh Jobe, Alabama; Eric Stokes, Georgia: Tyson Cambell, Georgia; DJ Daniels, Georgia; Kewin Joseph, Kentucky; Miles James, Texas A&M; Brandin Echols, Kentucky; Alontae Taylor, Tennessee; Elijah Blades, Texas A&M; Marcus Murphy, Mississippi; Jaycee Horn, South Carolina; JaCoby Stevens, LSU; Daniel Wright, Alabama

Breakout Player: Kaiir Elam Florida

The Generals

By: Robert Craft news services

Linebackers are the enforcers of the defenses.

It’s a position that is all about physicality and requires endless hours of film study.

However, in the SEC, linebackers must be relentless and have great instincts, speed, and a tenacity to intimidate opposing players.

These players know how to hunt down ball carriers, blitz the quarterback, or play zone coverage. They are the most active defenders on the field. I believe this is a very deep group of talented young men that will make a tremendous impact on the field this fall.

Here are my top five linebackers in the SEC for the 2020 season.

  1. Erroll Thompson, LB, Mississippi State: When Mike Leach was named head coach at Mississippi State, defensive captain Erroll Thompson decided to return for his senior season.

Thompson, a two-year starter at Mike linebacker led the Bulldogs with 84 tackles in 2019 and 217 career tackles.

The 6-foot 1, 250 pounder is a smart, instinctive, hard hitting senior; who is one of the best linebackers in the SEC.

The Bulldogs will have a new defensive coordinator in Zach Arnett, but the return of Thompson should help stabilize the unit, at least in the linebacker corps.

  1. Monty Rice, LB, Georgia: Monty Rice led the vaunted 2019 Georgia Bulldogs defense in tackles with 89.

He will return for a fourth year between the hedges, and the leadership and toughness of Kirby Smart’s defense will be as great as it has ever been.

The 6-foot-1, 235 pounder was a 2nd team All-SEC player in 2019. Rice was co-winner of the Vince Dooley Defensive MVP, given at the team’s postseason award gala.

Rice can fly from sideline to sideline and has been a very productive middle linebacker for the Dawgs.

In 2020, Rice and the rest of their Senior class will attempt to finish the job and lead the Dawgs back to the College Football Playoffs.

  1. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama: Dylan Moses’ knee injury that robbed him of his 2019 season was cruel, but instead of declaring for the NFL draft, the former All-American decided to return for one more ride at Alabama.

The 6-foot-3, 235 pounder is a freak athlete, who can play inside and outside linebacker.

Moses was a Butkus Award finalist as a sophomore, when he recorded 86 tackles.

Moses is scary fast running a sub 4.5 after knee surgery. If not for the health concerns, Moses would be the top linebacker in the nation. Alabama’s defense took a setback in 2019 without Moses, but 2020 Bama will be right there with Georgia as the top unit in the SEC.

  1. K.J. Britt, LB Auburn: K.J. Britt was First Team All-SEC in 2019. He finished with 69 tackles (10 for loss) and sacked the quarterback 2.5 times.

2019 was Britt’s first year as the full-time starter. In Auburn’s biggest games, Britt came up solid with 6 tackles against Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama. In the Outback Bowl against Minnesota, he led the team with eight tackles. I can’t wait to watch what Britt can do in only his second season.

  1. Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri: A consensus First Team All-SEC pick as a sophomore,

Bulton registered an astonishing 107 tackles (74 solo tackles) for the Tigers in 2019.

Bolton raked in plenty of awards in 2019: Third team All- American, SEC’s top Graded Linebacker (Pro Football Focus), and SEC All-Academic team.

The 6-foot, 232 pounder averaged 8.92 tackles in 2019. He is far and away the best mike linebacker in the SEC.

New Coach Eliah Drinkwitz will have the luxury of having the SEC’s best returning linebacker. Bolton is a dominant athlete, who is willing to mix it up in the trenches.

He possesses elite sideline to sideline speed and functions as a positive against both the run and pass.

Just outside the Top 5: Shane Lee, Alabama; Buddy Johnson, Texas A&M; James Houston, Florida; Henry To’o To’o, Tennessee; Lakca Henry, Ole Miss; Sherrod Greene, South Carolina; Jamin Davis, Kentucky.

Breakout player: Jabril Cox, LSU; Cox is a two-time FCS All American at North Dakota State and recent graduate transfer.


Ground Gainers

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

I’m excited about sports returning in 2020.

We all are ready, especially considering how many were cancelled thus far. Let’s take a look at the best running backs in college football heading into the season.

  1. Javian Hawkins, Louisville: He was a redshirt freshman and established himself as one of the best ball carriers in the ACC.

He carried the ball 266 times for 1,525 yards, 9 touchdowns and averaged 5.7 yards per carry. His 40-yard dash time is reportedly in the high 4.3s, which would make him one of the fastest players in the nation.

Hawkins is the focal point of Scott Satterfield’s spread offense so he will have a chance for an even better 2020 season.

  1. Kenny Gainwell, Memphis: As a redshirt freshman in 2019 Gainwell had 2,069 yards of total offense and 16 touchdowns, averaging 7.3 yards per touch.

He is the new generation at the position that can catch passes and run the ball.

He ran for 1,459 yards on 235 carries with 13 rushing TDs. He caught 51 passes for 610 yards and 3 scores. He had 37 plays of 15 or more yards, so he makes explosive plays.

  1. Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas: The Last Chance U star is the only bright spot for the Razorbacks.

Last season he rushed for 1,133 yards, 8 scores on 184 attempts (6.2 YPC). It was his second consecutive year as the team’s leading rusher. He managed five 100-yard games and averaged 94.4 rushing yards per game.

First-year head coach Sam Pittman should help strengthen the offensive line. If that happens Boyd should have the best numbers of his career.

  1. Najee Harris, Alabama: He was the Crimson Tide’s best playmaker last season.

The former 5-star recruit ran for 1,224 yards, 13 TDs on 209 carries (5.9 YPC). He also had 27 receptions for 304 yards and 7 scores. Harris’ 13 rushing touchdowns in 13 games tied for second in the conference.

He ranked third in carries (209), fourth in rushing yards (1,224), and sixth in yards per game (94.15). He is only 1,214 yards behind former Heisman winner Derrick Henry as Alabama’s all-time leading rusher with 2,377 yards for his career.

1.Travis Etienne, Clemson: He doesn’t have anything left to prove at the college

level, so I was surprised he did not declare for the 2020 draft.

Etienne rushed for over 1,600 yards the past two seasons. He’s the Tigers all-time leading rusher and two time All-ACC.

He ran for 1,614 yards and 19 scores last year. In 2018 he led FBS with 24 touchdowns and he rushed for 1,659 yards. He should be a Heisman contender this season.

Honorable mention Kylin Hill, Mississippi State: He’s currently making headlines for threatening to sit out the 2020 season unless the state flag is changed.

Hill is the most talented player the Bulldogs have. He rushed 242 times for 1,350 yards (5.8 YPC) and 10 touchdowns in 2019. He’s currently tied for sixth all-time in 100-yard performances at Mississippi State.

Mike Leach is now the head coach in Starkville and he’s known for the Air Raid. Hill won’t get as many opportunities to carry the ball in 2020.

Beast Of The East

By: Kipp Branch news services

College football in the SEC is back operational again with players being back on campus and working out getting ready for the 2020 football season. Here is my predicted finish for the SEC East this fall.

1.Georgia: The Georgia Bulldogs have out-recruited everyone in the SEC East by a mile lately.

The roster is stacked with the only legit question is what will UGA do at the QB position.

The QB room is stocked from a talent perspective. Will JT Daniels be granted a waiver to play immediately like Justin Fields was at Ohio State? We all know UGA has that road trip to Alabama on 9/19. Many think that will be a loss.

The QB job looks like it is Jamie Newman’s to lose right now. If Newman lives up to the hype this team will be in the national title hunt.

Games of concern for 2020: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and South Carolina. Final regular season record: 11-1 with a loss at Alabama or Auburn.

2.Florida: The Gators are on the way back and are the trendy pick in the SEC East this fall.

Why is that the case? They don’t have a more talented roster than UGA and Dan Mullen is 0-3 against Kirby Smart as a head coach.

I see question marks at running back, wide receiver, and defensive line for Florida.

Florida should be recruiting at a higher level than they currently are.

Can Brenton Cox live up to his five-star hype and be the pass rusher the Gators need?

Dan Mullen is regarded as a great game day coach. I don’t think the Gators are there yet. Close but not there.

Games of concern this fall: Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia, and FSU. Final regular season record 10-2 with losses to LSU, and Georgia. Ole Miss is a trap game.

3.Tennessee: I was on vacation in North Georgia this week and I saw Tennessee shirts everywhere on tourists. I haven’t seen that in years, which means the Tennessee fan base is getting excited again about Tennessee football.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited because Jeremy Pruitt is turning this thing around in Knoxville.

Tennessee has been a dumpster fire for a decade now. QB is a concern along with roster depth across the board. We will know all we need to know about the Vols when they travel to Oklahoma in week 2.

Games of concern this fall: Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia. Final regular season record 8-4 with losses to Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia.

4.Kentucky: The Cats have as many as 18 starters returning and will be a thorn in the side of just about everyone they play, but this is not March and Kentucky finds ways to lose football games they can win. Games of concern this fall: Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Tennessee, and Georgia. Final regular season record 8-4 with losses to Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia.

5.South Carolina: Will Muschamp is on the hot seat in Columbia.

The schedule is brutal once again. Can Carolina get six wins and a bowl game?

Games of concern this fall: Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Georgia, LSU, Clemson. Carolina will have to beat Kentucky in Lexington to go 6-6. I see Carolina losing all of the games above and finishing 5-7 with a decent football team.

6.Missouri: The Tigers are in full rebuild mode.

Games of concern this fall: Every SEC contest. I see the Tigers going 4-8 with its lone SEC win being over Vanderbilt.

7.Vanderbilt: The only win I can see on Vandy’s schedule this fall is opening day against Mercer.

Final record 1-11 and the firing of Derek Mason. Good football coach at an impossible place to win.

Labor Day weekend can’t get here quick enough.

Rush Hour

By: Robert Craft news services

The defensive end is usually the most intimidating defender on the field. It takes great hand movement, flexibility, and a nonstop motor to be a successful pass rusher in the SEC.

Every defensive end wants to wreak havoc and there’s nothing like beating an offensive tackle and making a quarterback eat grass. These individuals display what it takes to be an effective edge rusher and they look to continue their relentless pursuit in the 2020 season.

Here are my top five defensive ends-edge rushers in the SEC.

  1. Brenton Cox Jr., Buck, Florida: Cox, a former five star and rising redshirt sophomore didn’t see the field for the Gators in 2019 after transferring from Georgia.

The 6-foot-4, 247 pounder will fill the spot of SEC sack leader Jonathan Greenard.

In Todd Grantham’s defense Cox will have to be flexible playing linebacker, strong side end, and buck.

Cox is an explosive player who will line up all over the field and will get after the quarterback from all angles. Cox is going to be one the most disruptive players in the SEC, and it doesn’t mean much that he hasn’t played a snap yet.

  1. DeMarvin Leal, DE, Texas A&M: Leal emerged as the starting edge rusher for the Aggies in his very first season.

As a former five-star prospect, Leal played in all 13 games in 2019 and started seven.

He recorded 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

The 6-foot-4, 290 pounder showed some versatility lining up at both end and tackle. I expect Leal’s production to jump next season as he now has one year of experience under his belt.

  1. Aaron Sterling, DE, South Carolina: The senior defensive end, who is coming off his best season as a Gamecock, is Aaron Sterling.

He led the team with 10 tackles for loss and tied the team lead of 6 sacks. Sterling is shorter than most edge rushers, standing 6-foot-1, but at 250 pounds he gets the job done.

Sterling has a motor that does not stop, and with the loss of Kinlaw and Wonnum, the senior is more than capable to lead the Gamecock defense in 2020.

  1. Markaviest “Big Kat” Bryant, Buck, Auburn: Auburn lost three starters on its defensive line but got a big boost when “Big Kat” announced he would return for his senior season.

Bryant is strong off the edge for 6-foot-5, 247 pounds. He has waited his turn after splitting time in Auburn’s deep defensive line rotation and will be a key to the Tigers’ front seven’s success in 2020.

In Kevin Steele’s defense, look for Bryant to lead the Tigers in sacks.

  1. LaBryan Ray, DE, Alabama: Ray had his 2019 season cut short due to a devastating.

season ending foot injury.

Ray was a preseason All-SEC selection in 2019 and was figured to be a key piece of the Crimson Tide’s front seven.

As a sophomore, Ray had 39 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

The redshirt junior will be an important piece of the Alabama defense. Ray is a dominant force against the run and surprisingly explosive off the edge for a 6-foot-5, 292 pounder.

Ray is your prototypical strong side defensive end, but he needs to improve on his rip and swim moves, and he NEEDS to stay healthy. If he polishes his pass rushing skills, this could lead to a double-digit sack season.

Just outside the top five: Jamar Watson, Kentucky; Sam Williams, Ole Miss; Zachary Carter, Florida; Kobe Jones, Mississippi State; Malik Herring, Georgia;

Breakout Player: Azeez Ojulari, Georgia

The Golden Arms

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

Clemson has been the dominant program in the ACC for the last six years.

The rest of the conference is a distant second place to the Tigers. There are still some very talented players in the conference. Let’s take a look at the 5 best quarterbacks going into the 2020 season.

  1. Kenny Pickett, Pitt: He’s started the last two years for the Panthers. He’s listed on the preseason watchlist for the Davey O’Brien Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm.

In his 12 starts last season, Pickett completed 62% of his passes for 3,098 yards, 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.

He led the conference in completions per game (24) and he had five 300-yard passing games.

He’s one of only four QB’s in the ACC entering his third season as the starter. I expect to see major improvement in his touchdown to interception ratio.

  1. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest: This might shock the Georgia fans that have fully bought in to the Jamie Newman hype.

You remember him from season 2 of QB 1Beyond the Lights, which got popular when it was picked up by Netflix.

He set a Wake Forest program freshman record with 16 TD’s during the 2018 season. He was injured in early November and that allowed Newman to emerge as the starter.

Hartman has put on 20 pounds of muscle in his time at Wake. He will lead the Demon Deacons as the starter again this Fall.

  1. D’Eriq King, Miami: The transfer from Houston is a major addition for the Hurricanes.

He’s a true dual threat so if the offensive line continues to struggle, he can still make plays.

He tore his meniscus and underwent successful surgery in November 2018. At the time of his injury, King was leading college football with 50 total touchdowns (36 pass, 14 rush).

He decided to redshirt last season after Houston started 1-3. In his four starts he threw for 663 yards, 6 TD’s, 2 picks while rushing for 312 yards and 6 scores.

  1. Sam Howell, North Carolina: As a true freshman Howell passed for 3,641 yards and 38 touchdowns.

He led multiple game winning drives. His touchdown-pass total was third-most in league single-season history.

He ranked behind future first round picks Deshaun Watson and Jameis Winston. Players typically make the biggest improvement going in to their second year so he should be better in 2020.

Mack Brown is also entering his second season as head coach, in his second term in Chapel Hill. I believe the Tar Heels are one of the best teams in the ACC.

  1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson: This was an obvious choice. He should be the top pick in

the 2021 draft. Lawrence has only lost one game in his two seasons as a starter. At this point he just needs to add a Heisman to his list of accomplishments. He’s passed for 5,778 yards, 58 TD’s and 12 interceptions.

The Tigers are better than every team they will play during the regular season so that will allow Lawrence to have impressive stats.

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