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SEC Extra Points: Ole Miss Investigation and Nick Chubb's Return

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterAugust 25, 2016

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze
Ole Miss head coach Hugh FreezeMatt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss just can't seem to get over the NCAA hump, and the latest in the ongoing saga in Oxford should be concerning.

According to Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde, NCAA investigators have met with Auburn, Mississippi State and perhaps another SEC West program to speak with players who were recruited by Ole Miss. What's more, according to Forde, the players were granted immunity from any possible violations in order to get the truth about what went down with Ole Miss during the recruiting process.

Uh oh.

Ole Miss released its response to the NCAA's notice of allegations in May, which included 11 scholarship reductions over four years, a three-year probation and a reduction of recruiting opportunities, among other penalties. It didn't impose any penalties related to the second half of the investigation, which began with former offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil's draft-night debacle in which screenshots allegedly setting up payments with Ole Miss staffers were posted on social media.

I've been firmly in the camp of the Rebels program not getting hammered much more than it hammered itself with those self-imposed penalties due in large part to the idea that it can't be that bad at cheating. That could still be the case. 

Tunsil already got suspended for seven games last season for receiving petty cash and gifts under the table. If that apparatus was already in place, Ole Miss would be out of its mind to do essentially the same thing over the table while already under investigation. Plus, the news that players at other schools are being interviewed could be nothing more than a fishing trip for the NCAA.

But this apparently has expanded well beyond Tunsil, and it should scare the daylights out of head coach Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss' administration and its fans.

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Former Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil
Former Ole Miss OT Laremy TunsilJoe Robbins/Getty Images

If players in other programs have the power to not only spill the beans on Ole Miss, but do so without the threat of repercussions coming down on them personally or the programs they play for, they have the ability to absolutely bury a division rival.

The question now becomes, though, what will those players actually say?

While immunity is a great security blanket, it might be hard to be completely honest with investigators without at least leaving the door cracked on that information being used against your current program down the road. 

That said, that security blanket and the fact that the investigation has expanded far beyond potential petty cash payments to Tunsil and further into the recruiting realm should terrify Ole Miss.

   

Guess Who's Back...Back Again

"Chubb Watch" is officially over.

After tearing his knee up on Georgia's first play from scrimmage against Tennessee on Oct. 10, 2015, Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb is officially back and will play in the season opener on Sept. 3 against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, according to head coach Kirby Smart.

"I think everybody’s in line to get carries," Smart said after Wednesday's practice, per Georgia's official website (6:20 mark). "Nick’s in line, Elijah’s (Holyfield) in line, Brendan Douglas is in line, Brian Herrien's in line, Tae Crowder’s in line. All those guys are in line to get carries.

"[Nick] has done everything we’ve asked him to do, and that’s all we can do. He’s helped on special teams, he’s carried the ball, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. Nick has done everything we've asked him to do."

Georgia RB Nick Chubb
Georgia RB Nick ChubbTodd Kirkland/Getty Images

While the three-man quarterback battle is still ongoing—and could linger all the way through game week—Chubb's health is an even bigger factor in the matchup versus the Tar Heels. With a potential workhorse back in the fold, Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will be able to grind the clock, let Chubb do what he does best and keep the potent North Carolina offense off the field if he wants to.

The question now becomes, does he want to?

Smart rattled off five running backs who are in line for carries, but the one who was noticeably absent was junior Sony Michel, who is still recovering from a broken arm suffered in July.

"I don’t know if he can play or not," Smart said. "If he can, he’ll definitely be in line. But he’s got to be cleared before I do that."

With Michel's absence unknown, Chubb is the only member of that backfield who has logged consistent first-team carries, with Douglas being the most experienced behind him. Because of that, Smart and Chaney might be forced to lean on him more than they initially planned simply to keep the Tar Heels offense off the field and prevent the game from becoming a shootout that its yet-to-be-determined quarterback has to keep up in.

Chubb's presence not only makes Georgia even more of a contender in the game against the Tar Heels and the SEC East, but it also takes a ton of pressure off Smart and Chaney's pending quarterback decision. Whoever is taking the snaps can rest a little easier knowing that one of the best running backs in the game is back there if and when he's needed.

   

Just How Good Can Auburn's Defense Be?

For the better part of three decades, Auburn was known for defense. 

Former head coach Pat Dye produced some quality defenses in the 1980s, Terry Bowden did the same in the 1990s and Tommy Tuberville's Auburn defenses were some of the best in the SEC in the 2000s. 

But since 2008—Tuberville's last season on the Plains—things have changed. 

Auburn has become known more for defensive holes than defensive strength, and it hasn't finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense since 2007.

Dye thinks that will change this year, as he told ESPN 106.7 in Auburn-Opelika.

"I think we've got more defensive players than I've ever seen on one team since I've been at Auburn," Dye said (four-minute mark). "We had great great players and a team full of great players, but we didn't have a team full of great players with a team full of great players behind them. That's what I see this team having. I think we have 10 or 11 guys who can play up front."

It's not surprising that Dye—who works closely with the program—would talk up the Tigers. But he's also one of the few who's actually seen practice on a consistent basis. 

His general theme, though, is accurate. 

Defensive end Carl Lawson has first-round talent if he stays healthy, Montravius Adams is a monster in the middle of the line, there are high hopes for true freshman Marlon Davidson and former 5-star prospect Byron Cowart is in line for an increased role after an up-and-down freshman year. 

Auburn DE Carl Lawson
Auburn DE Carl LawsonJoe Robbins/Getty Images

With Lawson healthy last year, Auburn's defense wasn't a pushover. It was actually good. It didn't give up a point to Louisville in the opener prior to Lawson leaving the game near halftime with a hip injury, and it gave up just 339 yards per game over the final five games with Lawson back in action.

Dye is talking up his former team—that's for sure. But he also could be speaking the truth.

   

Cece Seeing a Bigger Role

Florida DL Cece Jefferson
Florida DL Cece JeffersonSam Greenwood/Getty Images

Florida defensive end Cece Jefferson enjoyed a solid true-freshman campaign along the loaded Gators defensive line, notching 29 tackles (8.5 for loss), 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. That performance earned him SEC All-Freshman honors from the coaches. 

He could become this year's Jonathan Bullard—a player who moved all over the line and was drafted in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft—for this campaign's defense.

"I have definitely embraced it,'' Jefferson said, according to Scott Carter of Florida's official website. "I'm not hesitant at all. The most challenging aspect is the double-teams. It ain't fun."

A big part of Jefferson earning a bigger role is the strength and conditioning program at Florida, which has helped Jefferson shed 10 pounds and become an even better athlete.

"I was a juicy little kid,'' Jefferson said, according to Carter. "I definitely lost a lot of fat. The way we practice, I have no other choice but to drop five or six pounds. You don't need all that Hydroxycut I see on TV. You don't need any of that. Come practice with us and you can lose as much weight as you want."

With Jefferson moving up and down the line, Caleb Brantley inside and Bryan Cox Jr. outside, this Gators defensive line is poised to be fierce yet again and, more importantly, is incredibly versatile.

   

Quick Outs

  • Freeze staged his own funeral this week, per Mark Heim of AL.com. No, it had nothing to do with the NCAA investigation. It was more to indicate to his players that their decisions now create what they'll be remembered for later.
  • Texas A&M linebacker Josh Walker was suspended indefinitely over the weekend after being arrested for assault causing bodily injury to a family member. It appears "indefinitely" means "a long time." According to head coach Kevin Sumlin, per Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle, Walker has left College Station. Texas A&M hasn't started class yet, but Walker's departure from town indicates that his return is much in doubt.
  • Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen told ESPN.com's Ed Aschoff he will announce a quarterback decision early next week, and more than one will play in the opener against South Alabama. Damien Williams and Nick Fitzgerald both have logged playing time in the past, and Nick Tiano is a freshman who's making a push. With the Jaguars serving as a tuneup, settling it on the field is the right way to go about it.

   

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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