Bill Hancock, CFP Committee Chair
Hancock was largely about staying the course during his remarks. He did note that the CFP is exactly 180 days away — already! And this year marks the 150th year since Rutgers and Princeton made Rugby an even more physical sport and played the first football contest.
There are four new members on the CFP Committee, though Hancock did not go into depth about that.
One interesting thing that the Committee does is host a media mock session — media members can sign up for a mock evaluation of the CFP Committee rankings. I have sent an email to the committee to see if we can join it. And if we’re selected it’d be pretty cool to demystify this process for you all.
Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State
Joe tried to put a brave face on last year’s underachieving 8-5 mark, mainly by highlighting how good the rest of the division was in 2018. He had quite a bit to say about recruiting as well. MSU is a hard job to recruit at for all the reasons that he identified — lack of championship tradition, geographically wedged between high profile powers, and having to convince the state’s talent to stay local. But, as he also rightly observed, the Mississippi schools get a lot of talent that flies under the radar. [This is a comment I’ve made many times in relation to Ole Miss, in particular. A lot of the starters and depth pieces at the Mississippi schools are 3-star players that would otherwise be considered for a fourth-star at a bigger program or in a more talent-rich state.]
On the offense, which lost a lot of production but which has substantial depth on the outside and at tight end:
...We lost a lot of personality and production on both sides of the ball that we need to replace. Offensively, we’re going to have a great quarterback battle between K.T. and Tommy Stevens. We have great youth at that position, a lot of talent. Kylin Hill I think at running back is posed for a breakout season. He was in the several hundred yard range last year, missed a few games for injury, but I think he is ready to go and have a great season. Backed up on Nick Gibson there, Osirus Mitchell and Stephen Guidry, both who had 400 yards. A lot of production at the slot comes back. We have augmented that with Isaiah Zuber, a graduate transfer from Kansas State, as well as JaVonta Payton. And Farrod Green, the tight end is our leader in the clubhouse. I believe tight end may be as deep as any position we have.
On O-line depth. Like Mizzou, Mississippi State is in good shape up front:
Darryl Williams spearheads our offensive line. I think with any great team, the mentality of championship-level team is dictated by the offensive and defensive line. I feel very good about our depth and our talent on that line.
Defense seems to be where the most battles are being fought for playing time. The D-Line in particular was decimated:
On the defensive side of the ball, certainly the performance of that side of the ball, being the number one defense in the SEC in the country last year led by Bob Shoop, he did an unbelievable job with his staff. I think the defensive line is where we have to find the most answers the quickest. We lost all four starters, Montez and Gary, both defensive ends in the draft as well as Jeffery Simmons inside, and Braxton Hoyett signed a contract as well. And we also lost our three primary interior guys to graduation as well.
I think the defensive end position between Marquiss Spencer, Kobe, Fletcher, and Chauncey Rivers, we have some talent there. Those guys played snaps last year. On the inside, Kendell Jones, Lee Autry, Fabien Lovett, Jaden Crumedy, Devon Robinson, we have guys that are talented. We just need a bunch of reps for them. I think our linebacking core is as talented as anyone in the conference in the country read by lead by Erroll, one of our captains, Willie Gay, Leo Lewis, and Tim Washington and certainly have some young guys there.
Defensive back, we return two of the five, Brian Cole, Cam Dantzler. Have to replace both safeties in Bobby, Jamal Peters, but I think we have some talent there. We’re certainly excited there. At the kicking position, Jace Christmann, Jordan Lawless. Punter, Tucker Day and Corliss Waitman in the battle, and certainly the long snaps and returning jobs are the ones that are up for grabs.
On Grad Transfer QB Tommy Stevens (from Penn State):
And I think Tommy is a kid with a lot of physical tools. Strong arm. He can really run. He’s accustomed to the system so he’s going to understand it for the most part coming in. And, you know, I think he brings a lot of talent to the position, and I think the competition is going to be an exciting one. It’s going to make the position better, it’s going to make our offense better, and it’s going to make our team better.
On improving the offense, which simply could not pass last season:
I think our biggest challenge for the offense this year will be our ability to balance out the run and the pass game. I think we were second in the SEC in rushing last year, averaged roughly 225 a game, and were able to run it successfully on most teams. But for us to be the type of offense we want to be and the team that we want to be to compete for a championship, we need to improve our efficiency and our explosiveness in the pass game.
And, finally, this awesome exchange about a very specific X and O issue: pass pro:
Q. Can you talk about the dynamic of shared responsibility between quarterbacks and offensive linemen in terms of getting you in the proper pass protections, and are there times where quarterbacks are restricted in sliding protections and how that dynamic works typically for you? JOE MOORHEAD: Awesome, very specific question. I like it. We do not single in the protection to our quarterback when it’s a dropback pass. So, what I learned from Walt Harris is when you do that, based on what the scheme or the play call is and what the formation is, they need to know how to set the protection.
So our quarterback has the license that, you know, he can turn the protection to where the pressure is, and he can make the change, and that communication goes through the offensive line. So certainly the quarterback in the O-line, particularly the center, have to be in concert with each other just in terms of identification of who the lines are responsible for, who the backs are responsible for; and if the protection does change based on where the pressure is coming, how maybe a big-on-big protection goes to a slide or vice versa. That’s got to be -- we want our guys to overcommunicate and underassume, and certainly putting that onus on the quarterback to make a good protection call better is something that we count on the quarterback to do.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina
It’s hard to notice it sometimes, but South Carolina is in the process of slowly revamping its offense to be a more uptempo group. There were concrete results in 2018, and Boom anticipates a faster-paced offense this season with senior QB Jake Bentley:
Offensively I thought we really improved from 2017 to 2018 in some areas. We averaged a touchdown more in our game, close to a hundred yards a game. We averaged more snaps, I think about 8 more in each game.
But, that same tempo which was able to move the ball, too often resulted in empty trips to the red zone and far too many turnovers:
The tempo really helped us. Bryan and the staff did a good job implementing when we felt we needed to and felt like we could take advantage in the defense, but inconsistencies and turnovers in the red zone were really what hurt us offensively and continued to take the next step. We had 56 trips in the red zone. We had 13 times and come away with no points and get eight turnovers. That’s gut wrenching. That’s psychological. That affects your football team, not just our offense, but your entire team to come away with no points. We had 21 turnovers overall in the year. We have to do a better job of making decisions with the ball and taking care of the football. We had 20 drops on the season. And if you followed our season, some of those were game changing moments.
On a defense that was not particularly intimidating last season:
Defensively, we flat-out struggled. We weren’t very good. Call it like it is.
Speaking of Nick, I think his assistants are 0-16 --
WILL MUSCHAMP: He give you that stat?
On Nick Saban and Alabama:
As far as beating Alabama, you got to go beat Alabama. They are not going to beat themselves. They are very well coached. They have really good players. They’re going to attack you in all three phases. That’s how you got to approach that game as far as beating that football team.
Nick’s doing a fantastic job. He’s the best football coach in college football history. The consistency that he has maintained at Alabama is pretty phenomenal. In this league, it’s very difficult. But you got to go beat Alabama. You can’t hope and wish something’s going to happen. You got to go beat them.
On the transfer portal:
As far as transfer portal, it really doesn’t matter what I think because the rules aren’t going to change. So I think you just have to do a good job as a head coach of managing your roster. If somebody wants to be at South Carolina, great; if they don’t, go somewhere else.
Aside from QB and WR depth, Muschamp was most excited about the progress of the defensive line, a group that features five seniors on the depth chart and is bolstered by considerable young talent this year.
As far as the position that I thought came the furthest probably would be up front defensively. Young players like Ricky Sandidge, J.J. Enagbare, Jabari Ellis, those guys made tremendous improvements. We’re going to get guys named Tyreek Johnson, who missed last year with a knee, back in the fall. I thought we made some good strides up front defensively.
Chad Morris, Arkansas
This is a team I am weirdly optimistic about, despite the 2-10 record in 2018. The difference between Arkansas in November and Arkansas in September could not have been starker: the Hogs became a much more difficult foe. And, now boosted by a Top 25 recruiting class, second-year coach Chad Morris is feeling optimistic too.
On the offense:
Offensively, our philosophy has not changed. We want to be fast-paced, hurry-up, no-huddle football team, and we’ve made tremendous strides by developing our young men on our roster, by recruiting the way we recruited and attracting the right transfers.
We’re excited about our quarterback battle that we have with the addition of Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel and the ability to bring Ben in in January and watch the development of John Stephen Jones through the spring and the valuable reps that he got, it will be an interesting battle as we go into fall camp. Running back. Devwah Whaley is here today. Rakeem Boyd, one of the top returners in our league, healthy. Chase Hayden. This is an area that we have some depth and we have experience at.
Offensive line is an area of concern for the Hogs this year, but Arkansas is trying to get around through recruiting, JUCO signings, and cross-training linemen:
We played with eight scholarship offensive linemen the entire year last year. A lot of cross-training took place. We knew this had to be a focus going into year two in how we developed and how we recruited in bringing in six, signing six offensive linemen and expecting some of those guys to contribute. Myron Cunningham being one of them, a junior college guy we brought in.
Like the O-Line, defensive line is also a concern — there simply is not the elite high-end talent, and the depth is very young. This unit will be a slow rebuild for Morris, and expect a lot of the more athletic youngsters to see the field:
Coach Chavis at the helm for year two, our defense is built on speed and stopping the run, and understanding it’s a line of scrimmage league, we, too, signed seven defensive linemen to add to an already experienced group. And I feel like we had the pieces in place year two defensively to continue to show improvements as we move into this season.
At defensive line, you’ll meet Sosa, T.J. Smith, a phenomenal leader, a senior, graduate, Dorian Gerald, Gabe Richardson, Jamario Bell, Jonathan Marshall -- these are all guys that have played and have a lot of reps underneath their belt. And it’s time to take that next step forward in this program as well as bring in the freshman D-linemen that we brought in that we’re excited about.
On expectations for the post-season:
I think when you look at expectations for year two and wins and losses, I’m not going to put a number on it. I know inside our program and talking to our seniors and our leaders, and they want to leave their legacy. And getting this program into the post season is definitely a goal of ours, and it’s something that we have talked about
A program built on transfers is obviously going to be high on the portal, and Morris is. But, like Kirby and Jimbo, he’s concerned about the guys that are going to be left out in the cold, who leave without a plan:
It’s just unfortunate that there’s more people in the transfer portal than there’s actually scholarships out there. So you try to educate your players before they want to go into that transfer portal, this is what takes place.
Morris did try to put a brave face on moving the Mizzou series to Little Rock — ask any Arkansas fan, and this is a universally despised location for a game, and usually one with crappy weather:
It will be a great environment in Little Rock on Thanksgiving weekend. That will be a lot of fun that weekend. I know when we went down there and played in Little Rock this past year, it was a driving rainstorm and cold. The environment was unbelievable. So when that opportunity gets here, we’ll be excited about it. But we got a lot of work to do between now and then.
One thing that will change this year is the move back to a grass field. Expect a slower turf in Arkansas than we have seen before. Inclement weather is a given in NWA, so expect the surface to definitely be a home field advantage for the Hogs.
That’s it for Day Three. If you missed Nick Saban’s full remarks, they are here. We’ll see you tomorrow.