SEC Extra Points: Maurice Smith Saga Shows Kirby Smart Is a Threat to Nick Saban

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterAugust 4, 2016

Alabama head coach Nick Saban (left) and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart (right) during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship
Alabama head coach Nick Saban (left) and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart (right) during the 2016 College Football Playoff National ChampionshipSean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Georgia fans, say "thank you" to Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

No, not for holding up the potential graduate transfer of current Crimson Tide defensive back Maurice Smith, who claimed that he is currently blocked from transferring to Georgia and has been ostracized by the program since asking for a release, according to Seth Emerson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Thank Saban for one of the highest compliments that a coach of one program can give another: "You're a threat." Specifically, new head coach and former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is a threat to Saban.

"We have told [Smith], 'Because we support the SEC rule, it would not be in your best interest to have to sit out," Saban said at media days. "If you want to go someplace else [outside the SEC], we'd be glad to help you do that.'"

That's a bit disingenuous.

The threat of Georgia becoming a power is the underlying theme in the ongoing Smith saga.

"Personally, Georgia, if it’s not the best job in the conference, it certainly should be," Saban told CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd in April.

Kirby Smart (right) was on Nick Saban's (left) staff at Alabama from 2007-2015
Kirby Smart (right) was on Nick Saban's (left) staff at Alabama from 2007-2015Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It isn't the "spirit of the SEC" rule that Saban is hiding behind that allows coaches to prevent players—even graduate transfers—from transferring within the conference. After all, Saban did allow former receiver Chris Black to move to Missouri as a graduate transfer this very offseason.

It's Saban protecting the rest of his roster and making a statement to the rest of the players on it that they can't follow their former coach to his new digs. It's similar to the dustup Smart got in earlier in the offseason, when he blocked former Bulldog running back A.J. Turman from the possibility of following Mark Richt to Miami.

There are two key differences in this case, though. According to Smith, he was grossly mistreated by the staff at Alabama, according to Emerson, and had his personal belongings thrown into the trash when he announced his transfer.

Smith will also graduate on Saturday. Even though that doesn't prevent Saban from installing a block on SEC programs, the spirit of the graduate transfer rule—one of the last remaining pieces of evidence that the "student" part of "student-athlete" still matters—should be more than enough for Saban to take the high road and let Smith become a Bulldog.

He likely won't, though. Because Georgia—a state with relatively weak in-state competition from other schools and that boasts 26 4- or 5-star players in the Class of 2017—is just waiting for the Bulldogs to become a power.

It's clear that Saban thinks Smart is the right man to make that happen. 

Former Alabama DB Maurice Smith
Former Alabama DB Maurice SmithJoe Robbins/Getty Images

               

Down, But Not Out

Auburn made big news on Wednesday after Day 1 of its fall camp when head coach Gus Malzahn announced that Jovon Robinson—the top running back on the depth chart and MVP of the Birmingham Bowl win over Memphis—has been dismissed from the team for violation of team rules.

"He did not meet my standards or expectations of what it takes to be an Auburn Tiger football player," he said after practice, via B/R's Justin Ferguson, who was in attendance. "We're going to have zero distractions on this team this year. I've given him his release, and we wish him the best."

If there's any coach in America who can handle this type of loss, it's Malzahn.

He has produced 13 1,000-yard rushers in 10 seasons as a college head or assistant coach and had to deal with injuries to Robinson and former Tiger Roc Thomas in last season's opener against Louisville. All third-stringer Peyton Barber did was rush for 1,000 yards on the season for a team with no threat in the passing game and jump early to the NFL, where he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson
Auburn RB Kerryon JohnsonBob Levey/Getty Images

Like Thomas, Johnson is a former "Mr. Football" in the state of Alabama. The true sophomore, who's coming off shoulder surgery this offseason, rushed for 208 yards and three scores a year ago and caught 14 passes for 159 yards. 

The 6'1" product of Alabama's Madison Academy has the confidence of Malzahn and the Tiger staff.

"We're very confident in him," Malzahn said, via emailed quotes from Ferguson. "He's put on about 20 pounds. He's a guy that we've recruited to be a marquee back. He's got a great opportunity now. He's in a good spot."

While Kam Pettway and Malik Miller are bruisers and can help out, Kam Martin's sudden switch from Baylor to Auburn following the dismissal of Bears head coach Art Briles could be the ultimate insurance policy. At 5'10" and 177 pounds, Martin is the perfect option to take over some of the changeup-back responsibilities that Johnson had been slotted for prior to Robinson's dismissal.

There are options at Auburn. Obviously, losing your best offensive player one month prior to the season is suboptimal. But while there's plenty to criticize Malzahn for, figuring out his running back situation under trying circumstances is not one of his weaknesses.

It's actually one of his strengths. 

                

D-Line Who?

Missouri has earned the moniker of "D-Line Zou" after successfully creating a pipeline of defensive linemen who have achieved college football and professional football success. Those names include Kony Ealy, Michael Sam, Markus Golden and Shane Ray lately, and could include current Tigers Charles Harris and Terry Beckner in the near future. 

It won't include Walter Brady and Harold Brantley this year, though.

Head coach Barry Odom announced on Wednesday, per Blake Toppmeyer of the Columbia Daily Tribune, that Brady has been dismissed from the program for violation of team rules, and Brantley—who missed last season recovering from injuries sustained in an offseason car accident—is academically ineligible.

Missouri DL Harold Brantley
Missouri DL Harold BrantleyJamie Squire/Getty Images

Brady tied with Harris for the team lead in sacks with seven as a freshman, and Brantley was one of the most versatile defensive linemen in the entire country. With Harris lining up on one side and Beckner clogging the middle, the other side was going to see a ton of one-on-one matchups throughout the year. Now two of the options who could have played there are gone.

Plus, the 6'3", 280-pound Brantley—when at 100 percent—could line up anywhere on the defensive line and gave Odom the ultimate utility player to use in a variety of ways, depending on the situation.

There are other players to fill the void, like veteran Josh Augusta and Marcell Frazier, as well as sophomore Nate Howard. But the loss of Brantley and Brady will make it much harder to replicate last season's defensive success and put even more pressure on a Tiger offense that struggled mightily last year.

                     

Still Waiting on Callaway

When Florida head coach Jim McElwain took to the podium for his first press conference of fall camp, the biggest question centered on who might not be there.

Star wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who finished last season with 35 catches for 678 yards and four touchdowns, is still technically suspended from the program—as has been the case for the last seven months—but will be practicing.

While his actual date is still a mystery, according to Nick de la Torre of Gator Country, that's a secondary part of the story.

The most important thing is that quarterbacks Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby will get a full month to prepare for the season with their star receiver, so whenever he actually plays, there will be enough familiarity developed during fall camp for Callaway to hit the ground running.

If the Gators can pose just a small threat in the passing game, it'll be all they need to be contenders in the SEC East. 

Florida WR Antonio Callaway
Florida WR Antonio CallawayRob Foldy/Getty Images

                  

Quick Outs

  • It appears that defensive tackle Travonte Valentine is about to officially rejoin the LSU football program after many hurdles, according to Ross Dellenger of the Advocate. Valentine joined LSU in 2014 but was never ruled eligible by the SEC in 2014 despite being academically cleared by the NCAA. He was suspended during the spring of 2015, dismissed in the summer and spent the past year at two junior colleges. 
  • Surprise, surprise: Georgia made running back Nick Chubb available to the media following practice on Wednesday. Is that a sign? You bet. If he's out front now—during the first week of fall practice—it's a surefire indication that Georgia expects his injured knee to be healthy enough for the junior to play in the opener against North Carolina.
  • Alabama wide receiver Daylon Charlot announced that he is transferring from the Crimson Tide, and, as Charlie Potter of 247Sports noted, he did so with the same exact statement that former defensive end/linebacker Christian Bell used. 

               

Quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information is 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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