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SEC Extra Points: Should SEC Look into Expansion If Realignment Happens Again?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMay 12, 2016

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey
SEC commissioner Greg SankeyKelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports

The wheels of conference realignment keep spinning, and the next conference up on the offseason wheel of fun is the Big 12.

The 10-team conference wrapped up its annual spring meetings this week in Arizona, and officials will meet again later this month with expansion being the hot topic. 

It's a mess.

As Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com noted earlier this month, there's infighting at Oklahoma on whether expansion is needed at all, smaller programs in the conference like Iowa State, Kansas and West Virginia are in favor of it and targets could include Cincinnati, BYU, Memphis, Houston, Colorado State, UCF, South Florida and just about any other higher-profile Group of Five school in the country. 

Infighting at Oklahoma should at least force the ears of SEC commissioner Greg Sankey to perk up a bit, because the only way the SEC would and should consider adding teams is if the Big 12 crumbles.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey
SEC commissioner Greg SankeyAndy Lyons/Getty Images

Dysfunction within the Big 12 a half-decade ago led Colorado to bolt to the Pac-12, Nebraska to the Big Ten and Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC. That, coupled with the SEC's need to add top-35 television markets in the lead-up to the launch of the SEC Network, made the two additions to the conference naturals.

Things are different now. 

The SEC Network was the most successful cable launch in television history, according to John Talty of AL.com, is on virtually every national and regional carrier and played a big part in the record $31.2 million each team received from the conference last year—a $10.3 million per team increase from 2014.

The only reason for the SEC to even consider expanding at this point is if the age of 16-team superconferences comes quickly thanks to Big 12 instability and all of the Big 12's teams start looking for new homes. 

If that happens, then the Sooners would be a natural fit for the SEC, as would another team in Texas as long as there are no objections from Texas A&M and the other SEC schools that are located in states without another conference foe. 

Country music legend Garth Brooks told SiriusXM's College Sports Nation on Wednesday that he'd like Oklahoma State to go with their intrastate rivals, which would keep that rivalry intact:

ESPNU Radio on SiriusXM @ESPNUonSiriusXM

Just when you were getting sick of Big 12 expansion talk, we brought @GarthBrooks on to weigh in: [AUDIO]: https://t.co/Ua6aMxpVDO

Other than the Big 12 crumbling, though, the SEC is fine with 14 teams and that massive check that gets distributed to its member institutions every year.

As Oxford Turns

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze
Ole Miss head coach Hugh FreezeStacy Revere/Getty Images

What should have been one of Ole Miss' finest nights became a disaster late last month when Laremy Tunsil became the talk of the first round of the NFL draft for all of the wrong reasons. First, it was the video posted on his own Twitter account of Tunsil smoking out of a bong with a gas mask on, followed by screen shots of conversations with an Ole Miss athletics department employee regarding payments on Instagram and then a draft press conference in which he admits to taking money from coaches after previously denying it.

The latest twist comes in the civil case filed by Tunsil's stepfather, Lindsey Miller, that stems from the incident that resulted in domestic violence charges against both parties last month.

Daniel Paulling of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported on Wednesday that Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze has been deposed in the case, and that Freeze is fighting to have the questions written and be specific to the altercation, not the ongoing NCAA case or, as TMZ reported, to his comments from the NCAA.

"At this time, the NCAA is considering allegations against the university and its football program, including allegations related to [Tunsil]," the court filing states, according to TMZ.

Is it necessary to put this into the court document? Why would the court care if the NCAA is conducting an investigation into Tunsil?

The court cares if Miller is owed something from Tunsil as a result of an altercation, not whether he got extra benefits that aren't allowed under NCAA rule. Putting this into the stipulations regarding Freeze's potential deposition only makes Ole Miss look like it's hiding something, whether that's reality or not.

Freeze being deposed in the case makes sense, because the suit alleges defamation of character as a result of Freeze's comments shortly after the altercation. But it also feels a bit like phishing and Miller trying to make a splash, just as he did during draft week when this suit was filed.

Ole Miss took the bait this time. 

Then on Thursday, ESPN's Mark Schalbach and Nicole Noren reported that Ole Miss confirmed that the texts published on Tunsil's Instagram page on draft night are real, and that the school is investigating whether or not they were altered prior to publication. 

What does that mean? We don't know if those conversations were included in the NCAA's initial Notice of Allegations, but the admission that they took place at all are only adding more fuel to the growing fire.

In Need of a Leader?

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanDavid J. Phillip/Associated Press

The idea of having one person to oversee college football as an FBS commissioner has become a hot topic over the last few weeks, with head coaches such as Alabama's Nick Saban, Stanford's David Shaw, TCU's Gary Patterson, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and others all supporting the idea, according to ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

But as Rittenberg noted on Twitter, that idea has virtually no traction elsewhere: 

Adam Rittenberg @ESPNRittenberg

@ClowESPN @JimmyHyams Saban, Shaw, Jimbo, Butch, Dantonio ... List goes on. But no admins support the idea

Why?

Athletic directors and administrators want control of their schedules, know what's best for their departments and, unlike professional sports, the needs and goals of FBS programs vary widely. After all, it's not like Alabama and South Alabama are comparable to the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns.

It's a nice idea to have somebody that looks out for the best interest of the sport, but it needs to be the right person—somebody, as my Bleacher Report colleague Justin Ferguson pointed out, who won't be slanted toward specific teams or conferences. Since that hypothetical person would be an outsider to the world of college athletics, that has led some coaches to state that they're fine with the status quo.

"I'm pretty well-pleased with the SEC and commissioner Sankey," Auburn's Gus Malzahn said on Tuesday at the College Football Hall of Fame. "I'm happy with the way it is."

Unless there's a clear-cut candidate, I have a hard time buying that this idea will become reality anytime soon. 

The Forgotten Defensive MVP

Auburn S Johnathan "Rudy" Ford
Auburn S Johnathan "Rudy" FordJoe Robbins/Getty Images

Auburn's defense hasn't finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense since 2007, but this year's crew that features star defensive end Carl Lawson, tackle Montravius Adams and freshman All-SEC corner Carlton Davis could reverse that trend under first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

If it does, one of its veterans will play a big part.

It seems like Johnathan "Rudy" Ford has been around the Plains forever, and the veteran safety returns for his senior season after leading the Tigers in tackles in each of the last two years. 

"He's a lot more confident [this year]," Malzahn said. "There's nothing like experience. He did lead us in tackles the last two years while he was still learning the defensive side of the football [from running back] when we moved him up from the nickel position. He seemed really natural with that. He has a lot of ability."

Ford might be the third or fourth player mentioned when discussing Auburn's defense, but his presence at the back end, willingness to stick his nose in against the run and work in coverage makes him one of the most valuable players on the roster. 

In addition to his work on defense, Ford averaged 28.73 yards per kickoff return, and should be a force in that department again in 2016.

"He's a good kick returner too," Malzahn said, "and is one of our leaders."

If Auburn's defense is going to be a power again, Ford is going to have another stellar season in his first under Steele.

Tennessee "Head Coach" Peyton Manning?

Former Tennessee QB Peyton Manning
Former Tennessee QB Peyton ManningKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman reported this week that Tennessee legend and recently retired NFL veteran Peyton Manning is interested in coaching the Vols, according to several "NFL people."

Wait, what?

The last time I checked, Manning has no experience as a head coach, the Vols' current head coach, Butch Jones, has improved upon his record every year since taking over in 2013 and has assembled a roster that's finally capable of contending for the SEC East title after successfully escaping the dark days of the Derek Dooley era.

Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News reported earlier this month that television isn't in Manning's plans this season, so it makes sense that he might want to test the NFL waters this year.

But Jones isn't going anywhere. Nothing against Manning. He was a great quarterback, is the most prominent player in Tennessee history and will likely make a great coach if he goes down that road.

Tennessee has a good coach and momentum now, though, so don't expect to see Manning roaming the Neyland Stadium sidelines in a capacity other than as a former player anytime soon.

Quick Outs

  • I get nervous running at eight miles per hour on a treadmill. Here's Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd hitting 23.1 mph:
  • Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post found video of former Georgia and current Miami head coach Mark Richt starring in an Italian jeans commercial in 1982. How this fell through the cracks during Richt's 15 years in Athens is a travesty, and we all should feel responsible for not bringing this to the surface earlier. 
  • A big round of applause to Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight and the 29 Aggie athletes (15 football players) who are in Haiti on a mission trip, according to Brandon Wheeland of the Dallas Morning News

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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