SEC Football: 10 Bold Predictions for the Offseason
Ah, the offseason. Where every team is slated to win the national championship, every coach will win Coach of the Year and every quarterback is a stone-cold, lead-pipe lock to win the Heisman Trophy.
Etch it in stone.
As we have learned over the last few seasons, the twists and turns of the college football offseason are almost as fun as the ones that occur during the season itself.
What will pop up this offseason in the SEC? Our 10 bold predictions for the SEC offseason based on unanswered questions, personnel changes and history are in this slideshow.
Braxton Miller Will Be LSU's Starting QB
Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett are coming back to contend for the starting quarterback spot for defending national champion Ohio State, which leaves former starter Braxton Miller as the odd man out.
Miller and head coach Urban Meyer have repeatedly said that Miller plans on sticking around, but plans change—especially when there are attractive options elsewhere, one of which is LSU.
Anthony Jennings struggled with consistency in 2014, and despite that, true freshman Brandon Harris was unable to find the field for a prolonged period of time save for one start on the road at Auburn. As Bleacher Report's LSU Lead Writer Carter Bryant notes, Miller would be a huge upgrade.
"Braxton Miller would immediately be the best quarterback on LSU's roster, and possibly the SEC, if he chose to transfer to Baton Rouge," Bryant wrote earlier this month.
What's more, LSU is in a more desperate situation than other SEC schools that could welcome Miller, including Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Ole Miss. Head coach Les Miles isn't exactly on the hot seat, but he's not exactly on stable ground, either. Save for Zach Mettenberger's senior season in 2013, the quarterback position has been a constant headache in Baton Rouge ever since Matt Flynn won a national title in 2007.
That can't continue, and the 8-5 reality check LSU suffered through this year has made that apparent to Miles. Expect LSU to put the full-court press on Miller, who, as a graduate, can play immediately once his shoulder gets back to 100 percent.
Everett Golson Won't Play in the SEC
Braxton Miller will undoubtedly steal the graduate transfer headlines, but Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson could hit the market once he graduates in May, if he chooses.
So far this offseason, six SEC schools have kicked the tires on Golson, according to ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy.
He won't go to any of those six—or the eight other SEC schools, either.
The SEC's new graduate-transfer rule enacted last summer once again allows one-year graduate transfers, but it has a stipulation that prevents players from becoming immediately eligible using the graduate-transfer exemption if they've been disciplined at their current school. Golson was tossed from Notre Dame in 2013 for, as Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated notes, cheating in class.
Here's SEC bylaw 220.127.116.11 (d), straight from the conference office:
"(d) The student-athlete has not been subject to official university or athletics department disciplinary action at any time during enrollment at any previous collegiate institution (excluding limited discipline applied by a sports team)."
There is an appeal process in place, but would Golson want to go through with that when there are plenty of other attractive transfer options outside of the SEC, including Florida State, Oregon and others?
I doubt it.
Florida Will Finish with a Top 25 Recruiting Class
One look at the Florida recruiting class in 2015 will make fans cringe. The program currently is ranked 83rd in the 247Sports team recruiting rankings, behind in-state "powers" FIU and Florida Atlantic and just ahead of American Athletic Conference "juggernaut" UConn.
That's going to change in a hurry.
Just by adding those four players, the Gators would jump into 26th, according to 247Sports' class calculator, with a score of 207.15. Getting those four players might be a stretch considering they are the four centerpieces of the budding Florida vs. Auburn recruiting rivalry, but that doesn't mean the Gators can't make a charge.
They only have eight current commitments, countless big-time offers out of upward mobility.
They'll land Ivey, Jefferson and Cowart, several other high-profile prospects and squeak into the Top 25 of the final team rankings.
'Deflate Gate' Will Become a College Football Issue, Too
In case you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard that the NFL has a little controversy on its hands. In the hours after the New England Patriots topped the Indianapolis Colts to earn a trip to the Super Bowl, reports surfaced that the NFL was investigating the Patriots for improperly deflating footballs in the AFC Championship Game.
Get ready for that to trickle down into the college game, because it's coming, as Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports notes.
A while back I spoke to a guy who deflated balls for a top 25 college program every single game. Unless someone flips, it's unprovable.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) January 20, 2015
An unwritten expectation of an equipment manager's job in college is to know how much air his QB wants in a football. It's part of the game.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) January 20, 2015
This wouldn't be new to college.
USC was fined in 2012 for deflating footballs in a loss to Oregon, according to USA Today. Get ready for it to pop back up in college. Now the practice of deflating footballs is in the mind of the public as the season comes to a close, which means more folks will be digging for stories surrounding it at all levels of football.
The 10-Second Rule Will Pop Up Again
Remember last offseason, when that pesky 10-second rule that would give the offense a "delay of game" penalty if it snapped the ball within 10 seconds of the play clock starting, occupied the three or so weeks between national signing day and the start of spring practice?
It's gonna pop up again, just maybe not as publicly as it did last year.
The coaches just wrapped up the American Football Coaches Association convention in Louisville, and so far there hasn't been much leaked in terms of potential rule changes. That doesn't mean that it wasn't discussed, though.
New-school coaches had a full year to prepare their defense to old-school coaches who preach player safety against the rise of hurry-up offenses.
Whether it's at spring meetings in Destin, Florida, in late May; in Hoover, Alabama, for SEC media days in July; or some other time in the offseason, the subject of more structure within the way games are officiated for "fastball" offenses will come up again
Much like last offseason, nothing will change.
Auburn Will Be Picked by the Media to Win the SEC West
There hasn't been a repeat winner in the SEC since Tennessee in 1997 and 1998, and expect that to be in the minds of many voters when ballots are cast for the predicted order of finish at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, in July.
Which team is the next in line to get the nod? Defending conference champion Alabama's cross-state rival Auburn will slide right in.
Auburn will get a boost from the presence of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, the return of star wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams, the consistency of head coach Gus Malzahn to produce 1,000-yard seasons from running backs and a quarterback in Jeremy Johnson who has "superstar" written all over him.
Meanwhile, Alabama has to replace its best defensive player (safety Landon Collins), three best offensive players (quarterback Blake Sims, wide receiver Amari Cooper and running back T.J. Yeldon) and solve a cornerback issue that's been lingering for two seasons.
I put Alabama as the No. 1 team in the conference in the way-too-early power rankings, and unless there are some unforeseen player or coaching changes, it'll probably stay there. But as the offseason goes on, more and more people will try to talk themselves out of picking Alabama, with Auburn being the next in line to win the West.
Arkansas Will Be Polarizing This Offseason
Arkansas closed strong in 2014, shutting out Ole Miss and LSU in November and holding Texas to a lob wedge worth of total yards (59) in a win in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.
That vaulted the Hogs way up in the minds of the media.
Head coach Bret Bielema's crew is toward the back end of the Top 25, according to FoxSports.com and ESPN.com, and as high as fourth according to Sporting News. Not fourth in the SEC, fourth in the nation.
Get ready for the new normal, Fayetteville, because here it is.
Arkansas will be this offseason's version of South Carolina. Despite massive roster losses, including key defensive linemen Trey Flowers and Darius Philon, the Razorbacks will be the team that's on the fringe of something special, and perhaps a dark horse to make the College Football Playoff.
That will send folks on the other side into attack mode and turn Arkansas into a polarizing force in college football—similar to when it was ranked 10th in the preseason Associated Press poll despite the loss of head coach Bobby Petrino that spring.
If Bielema can replace those key defensive losses, including linebacker Martrell Spaight, then maybe those goals are realistic and he can avoid the type of season that doomed South Carolina last year. That's a tall order, though.
Missouri Will Not Get the Respect It Deserves
Unless you have a really strong sense of one of the other teams stepping up to the big boy table in the SEC East (like I do with Tennessee), Missouri should be the default pick to win the division.
After all, nobody expected the Tigers to do it in 2013 or repeat in 2014, despite massive roster turnover.
If you think the East is wide open and don't have a read on which way to lean, head coach Gary Pinkel's crew has earned the right to be the default pick.
It won't get it, though.
The Tennessee train will pick up steam this offseason (I'll gladly drive it), it will be assumed that Georgia will be able to replace several key offensive pieces including its quarterback and top two receivers, Florida will be vastly improved offensively and South Carolina's defense will get better with time.
Missouri will be picked no higher than fourth in the division at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, in July, which is par for the course in Columbia.
The Jake Coker Show
Remember when Jake Coker was the next big thing and would take the SEC by storm?
Better late than never, right?
Coker will enter his senior season at Alabama in a battle with Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Blake Barnett for the top spot on the quarterback depth chart at Alabama.
Not only will Coker win it, but he will be the unquestioned No. 1 heading out of spring practice and solidify the job shortly after the start of fall camp.
The big arm is undeniable, but Coker was in a no-win situation, picking up the offense on the fly once arriving on campus last summer. He's had a full offseason to get acclimated to life in Tuscaloosa, the players he has around him and what's expected of him from head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
His presence won't calm fears of prognosticators when it's time to make preseason picks, but he will be given plenty of first-team snaps in fall camp, which should help the 2015 Crimson Tide adjust to life after Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon and Blake Sims.
Greg Sankey Will Replace Mike Slive as SEC Commissioner
The SEC announced in October that commissioner Mike Slive will retire in July after 13 successful years at the helm of the conference. During that time, Slive has spearheaded the push for the College Football Playoff, increased measures for player welfare and created the SEC Network.
Who will replace him?
A friendly face.
Greg Sankey is currently the executive associate commissioner for the SEC, has served as one of the top administrators in the SEC for compliance and reform, according to AL.com, and was in attendance at the NCAA's Autonomy Business Session over the weekend, which resulted in full cost of attendance scholarships being approved for the Power Five conferences.
Sometime between now and the end of July—perhaps at SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida, shortly after Memorial Day—Sankey will be given the keys to the SEC kingdom.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.