2017 AP Top 25 preseason poll: Predicting where SEC teams will land in rankings

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The College Football Playoff rankings are what matter most, but until the first set is released on Oct. 31, the AP Top 25 poll gives us our best glimpse at which SEC teams are expected to truly compete in 2017.

Clemson is the defending national champion after toppling Alabama in January’s dramatic title game, but the Crimson Tide is the safest bet to open the season at No. 1 when the AP’s preseason poll is released on Monday.

Auburn, LSU, Florida and Georgia are among the other SEC programs with enough talent and experience to make a run at the playoff this fall.

Read on to see how SEC Country expects the first 2017 AP Top 25 poll to look.

Projecting the preseason AP Top 25 poll: Six SEC teams in the mix

  1. Alabama
  2. Ohio State
  3. Florida State
  4. USC
  5. Clemson
  6. Penn State
  7. Washington
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Oklahoma State
  11. Auburn
  12. Michigan
  13. Stanford
  14. LSU
  15. Louisville
  16. Georgia
  17. Miami
  18. Florida
  19. West Virginia
  20. South Florida
  21. Virginia Tech
  22. Texas
  23. Kansas State
  24. Washington State
  25. Tennessee

Here’s how the 2017 preseason Amway Coaches Poll looked when it was released. For reference, last year’s preseason AP and Coaches polls largely featured the same teams with similar ordering.

Now, let’s dive into the six SEC teams we expect to crack the AP Top 25 on Monday:

25. Tennessee

  • 2016 record: 9-4
  • 2017 expectations: Lukewarm
  • Key losses: Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara, Josh Malone, Derek Barnett, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Cam Sutton
  • Key additions: Trey Smith, Ty Chandler

Has Butch Jones peaked? That’s what the critics will probably say early into the Vols’ 2017 schedule, which features tough matchups against Georgia Tech (in Atlanta), Florida (in The Swamp) and Georgia. Tennessee lost a bunch of talent to the NFL draft, including its star quarterback, and retooled a chunk of its coaching staff, as well.

It’d be hard to imagine Tennessee will suffer the same rash of injuries it did last season, and the O-line should see improvement. But Jones’ squad has serious question marks on the defensive line and at the skill positions, beyond Jauan Jennings.

Tennessee will crack the top 25, but just barely, on the basis of recognition. But the Yellow Jackets stand a good chance of knocking them out of the poll after only one week.

18. Florida

  • 2016 record: 9-4
  • 2017 expectations: Reasonable-to-ambitious
  • Key losses: Jarrad Davis, Marcus Maye, Teez Tabor, Alex Anzalone, David Sharpe, Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie
  • Key additions: Malik Zaire, James Robinson, Marco Wilson

Jim McElwain is 19-8 in his first two seasons at Florida, with two SEC East championships under his belt, so why is it that the media seems to continually overlook Florida in the preseason? Reporters at SEC Media Days picked Georgia to win the East; Kentucky and South Carolina are being discussed as potential division dark horses. But are we really sure any of those teams can beat the Gators?

Quarterback has been a problem in Gainesville since Urban Meyer scooted out of town, and it’s unclear whether Zaire or Feleipe Franks can be the answer. Antonio Callaway is a great receiver but, if reports about his suspension are true, he’s also a knucklehead. The defense saw its annual exodus of NFL talent, but it also lost coordinator Geoff Collins. Randy Shannon takes over, and while his reputation precedes him, that’s still an adjustment.

The media will snub the Gators, because they’re not as flashy on paper as a few other SEC contenders, but it won’t be dramatic. We sometimes do learn from our misguided ways.

16. Georgia

  • 2016 record: 8-5
  • 2017 expectations: SEC East, maybe?
  • Key losses: Isaiah McKenzie, Brandon Kublanow, Maurice Smith
  • Key additions: Isaiah Wilson, Andrew Thomas, DeAngelo Gibbs

The Bulldogs always get preseason love, and they (almost) always shoot themselves in the foot with an unexpected loss to — SELECT ONE: Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt. This is likely to happen again in 2017, because Georgia has star power (Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Jacob Eason), promising talent (Roquan Smith and Trenton Thompson) and experience across the board.

There’s always that fascination with ex-Nick Saban assistants, too. Kirby Smart hasn’t won anything of significance yet, but he’s recruiting like his hair’s on fire, and that’s one good way to keep a hungry fan base wide-eyed and hopeful.

Georgia’s schedule isn’t bad, and enough talent is there for a good run through it.

14. LSU

  • 2016 record: 8-4
  • 2017 expectations: Who really knows?
  • Key losses: Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams, Tre White, Ethan Pocic, Duke Riley, Kendell Beckwith, Davon Godchaux, Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural, Maea Teuhema
  • Key additions: JaCoby Stevens, Myles Brennan, Lowell Narcisse, Jacob Phillips

LSU’s 2016 season was so bizarre that I candidly have no idea how to frame the expectations. This is a school that fired consistent winner Les Miles for being an offensive dinosaur, but did so in September after a last-second loss to Auburn. In comes Ed Orgeron, who in his second bout as an interim coach goes 6-2. He then hires rising star Matt Canada and secures a top-10 signing class.

This roster lost a bunch of NFL-caliber players, per usual, but there’s depth to replace some of that. Derrius Guice is a monster. DJ Chark has given us small glimpses of greatness. Arden Key is a premiere pass rusher when healthy.

But the season’s success, once again, will hinge on whether the Tigers can find a quarterback and beat Alabama.

11. Auburn

  • 2016 record: 8-5
  • 2017 expectations: New Year’s Six, or thereabouts
  • Key losses: Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams, Josh Holsey, Rudy Ford
  • Key additions: Jarrett Stidham, Calvin Ashley, T.D. Moultry

So much of Auburn’s season rests upon the Iron Bowl outcome that it’s hard to pinpoint what would satisfy the Tigers fan base. Gus Malzahn could win 10 games, but a third consecutive loss to Alabama would further aggravate his supporters on The Plains.

Consider this: In an SEC Country coaches approval rating survey conducted last month,  Malzahn — who made it to the Sugar Bowl in 2016 — had an approval rating of 64.6, better than only Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. That’s wild, and it speaks to the program’s tremendously high expectations.

The biggest X-factor in the SEC this fall, I’d wager, is sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who was officially named starter earlier this week. If he excels under new coordinator Chip Lindsey, Malzahn should be safe.

1. Alabama

  • 2016 record: 14-1
  • 2017 expectations: Championship or bust
  • Key losses: Marlon Humphrey, Jonathan Allen, OJ Howard, Reuben Foster, Cam Robinson, Ryan Anderson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Tim Williams, ArDarius Stewart, Eddie Jackson
  • Key additions: Najee Harris, Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, Dylan Moses

No coach in the country has better job security than Nick Saban, who enters his 11th season of presiding over the Crimson Tide juggernaut he created. They may have lost a boatload of experienced players, but that’s the norm for Alabama. They may have a new offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll, but this is a team that won a championship with Doug Nussmeier calling plays. And though they finished runner-up, everyone recognizes that this will only fuel Saban to push his players harder than ever before.

Jalen Hurts returns for his sophomore season. Calvin Ridley, Da’Ron Payne, Rashaan Evans and Minkah Fitzpatrick all join him. The running backs room is insanely deep, led by Bo Scarbrough. Daboll may not be an offensive luminary, but he’s get the best set of tools in the country; he’ll make it work, most would think.

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Alec Shirkey – SEC Country


Kentucky basketball recruiting: Analysts predict 5-stars Calipari is most, least likely to land in 2019

Kentucky-recruiting-John Calipari-2019-class-James Wiseman-Tyrese Maxey-Jalen Lecque-Keion Brooks-predictions-commitment-Ashton Hagans-Vernon Carey

LEXINGTON, Ky. — You might’ve noticed that Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari has been a man on a mission recruiting elite players from the Class of 2019. He already has extended scholarship offers to 10 of the top 35 prospects in the country.

Two of them wasted no time accepting: point guard Ashton Hagans and small forward D.J. Jeffries, ranked No. 10 and 32 overall per the 247Sports composite, quickly committed to the Wildcats. Hagans is widely expected to reclassify and play for Kentucky in the fall — and he might not be alone.

Calipari has offered eight other 5-star players in 2019: No. 1 James Wiseman (6-11 center), No. 2 Vernon Carey  (6-10 power forward), No. 4 Matthew Hurt (6-9 power forward), No. 7 Bryan Antoine (6-5 shooting guard), No. 8 Scottie Lewis (6-5 small forward), No. 9 Jalen Lecque (6-4 combo guard), No. 13 Tyrese Maxey (6-3 point guard) and No. 28 Keion Brooks (6-8 small forward).

Like Hagans, both Maxey and Lecque — the most recent offer — are considering a move to the 2018 class. Reclassification fever and a potential logjam in Kentucky’s backcourt this season are discussions for another day. In the meantime, regardless of when they might be coming to Lexington, let’s take a stab at which current 2019 stars are most likely to choose the Cats at some point.

We polled national recruiting analysts at 247Sports, Rivals, ESPN and The Athletic who agreed to participate in a simple exercise: rank these eight 5-stars with Kentucky offers in descending order of your confidence they’ll sign with the Wildcats. All four ranked Maxey as most likely to pick UK and, interestingly, three of the four had the exact same order for the top six — Maxey, Wiseman, Lecque, Brooks, Lewis and Hurt — with prized big man Carey among their two least likely signees.

Jerry Meyer, national scouting director at 247, offered a dissenting opinion: ranking Carey as second-most likely to commit to the Cats and Wiseman fifth-most likely.

The unanimous choice of Maxey at No. 1 is no surprise, as it seems like a commitment and reclassification decision could come any day now. But Wiseman as the second-highest confidence pick on three ballots has to be encouraging for Big Blue Nation considering all the buzz and momentum lately for Memphis and its new head coach, Penny Hardaway.

Wiseman played for Hardaway’s AAU and high school teams, a relationship that has caused many recruitniks (including Meyer) to predict he’ll pick the Tigers.  So we also asked each analyst to explain why he’s still so high on Kentucky’s chances with Wiseman (or not) relative to top targets in this class.

Andrew Slater, The Athletic

1. Tyrese Maxey

2. James Wiseman

3. Jalen Lecque

4. Keion Brooks

5. Scottie Lewis

6. Matthew Hurt

7. Vernon Carey

8. Bryan Antoine

Why Wiseman at No. 2? “Kentucky has a very good chance at Wiseman, but I think you have to view Memphis as a major threat, despite the differences in track record. It’s a matter of childhood hero and family friend versus the program he grew up rooting for.”

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Jeff Borzello, ESPN

1. Tyrese Maxey

2. James Wiseman

3. Jalen Lecque

4. Keion Brooks

5. Scottie Lewis

6. Matthew Hurt

7. Vernon Carey

8. Bryan Antoine

Why Wiseman at No. 2: “I just think, right now, Kentucky is still the favorite. Most of the buzz still points in Kentucky’s direction, and I think the coaches have developed a good enough relationship with the family to the point where Penny taking over at Memphis doesn’t automatically eliminate Kentucky. Now, could things change moving forward and Wiseman decides he just likes the familiarity of Penny? Of course. But right now, Kentucky still appears to have most of the buzz.”

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Corey Evans,

1. Tyrese Maxey

2. James Wiseman

3. Jalen Lecque

4. Keion Brooks

5. Scottie Lewis

6. Matthew Hurt

7. Bryan Antoine

8. Vernon Carey

Why Wiseman at No. 2? “Two things: It’s not a done deal for Memphis [because] Wiseman is different than these other dudes. He’s the cream of the crop, someone that Calipari has gone all-in on, unlike some of these other prospects Memphis has landed. Plus, I just don’t feel good on the others they’re involved with for a variety of reasons, whether they aren’t totally sure that they really want the specific prospect or other programs are ahead of UK on the respective players’ lists.”

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Jerry Meyer, 247Sports

1. Tyrese Maxey

2. Vernon Carey

3. Jalen Lecque

4. Keion Brooks

5. James Wiseman

6. Scottie Lewis

7. Bryan Antoine

8. Matthew Hurt

Why Wiseman at No. 5? Meyer detailed his skepticism that Calipari and Kentucky can pry Wiseman away from Hardaway and out of Memphis in a recent interview with The Herald-Leader’s Ben Roberts. Hardaway is “a god in Memphis,” Meyer said. “Well, that’s where James Wiseman is living now. He played for Penny. And if he already likes the guy so much and likes playing for him as a coach, it’s just hard to see him walking away from that.”

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* * *

Let’s say the Wildcats sign the top half of that list and that both Hagans and Maxey reclassify and enroll this fall. That would leave as an incoming freshman class for the 2019-20 season: No. 1 James Wiseman (center), No. 9 Jalen Lecque (combo guard), No. 28 Keion Brooks (small forward) and No. 32 D.J. Jeffries (small forward) — plus probably one or two more elite players the Wildcats have not yet offered for 2019.

A lot can and will change between now and the first signing period. For instance, Slater’s thoughts on Lecque came with a caveat: that he stays in this class and doesn’t move up to 2018 like so many other rising seniors. Lecque is considering that move, though, and it would change things if he does. Reclassification in his case likely means Kentucky isn’t the pick.

Stay tuned. Calipari and Co. are just getting started.

RELATED: Jeffries not swayed by Penny, trying to sway Wiseman

RELATED: Bam Adebayo told Vernon Carey UK the spot for 1-and-done 

RELATED: Could Keion Brooks be first Cats-Cards battle under Mack?

RELATED: Latest on top-10 teammates, UK targets Lewis and Antoine

RELATED: Did Cats discover Bam 2.0 watching Lewis and Antoine? 

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Kyle Tucker – SEC Country


Florida football: 6 players land on AP’s All-SEC teams; Johnny Townsend lone first-team pick

florida gators-florida football-johnny townsend

While the Florida football season ended with a 4-7 record and a 3-5 mark in SEC play, the Gators still had a share of players recognized as some of the best in the Southeastern Conference.

The Associated Press named six Florida players to its All-SEC teams on Monday. Punter Johnny Townsend earned first-team accolades while five teammates — offensive lineman Martez Ivey, defensive tackle Taven Bryan, cornerbacks Duke Dawson and C.J. Henderson, and kicker Eddy Pineiro — earned spots on the second team.

Here’s a breakdown of how each player fared this season.

Punter Johnny Townsend, first team

Townsend solidified himself as arguably the top punter in Florida football history. The redshirt senior is second nationally averaging 47.6 yards per punt, with 27 of his 64 punts going for at least 50 yards. Townsend owns every major career punting mark in the Gators’ record book.

Offensive lineman Martez Ivey, second team

Ivey was one of the few constants on an offensive line that felt the injury bug throughout the season. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound junior started all 11 games at either left tackle or left guard and was a needed mainstay.

Defensive tackle Taven Bryan, second team

Bryan had his best season at Florida this year, racking up 40 tackles and 4 sacks over 11 games as an interior defensive linemen. He graded out as the top defensive tackle in the SEC, according to Pro Football Focus.

Cornerback Duke Dawson, second team

Dawson led the Gators and was tied for third in the SEC with 13 defended passes (4 interceptions, 9 pass breakups). Dawson split his time at outside corner and nickel and ended the season as the lone healthy senior in the secondary.

Cornerback C.J. Henderson, second team

Henderson was Florida’s lone freshman honored on the AP’s All-SEC teams and was one of three freshmen overall to make the cut. Henderson had finished tied for second in the conference and tied for the Gators’ team lead with 4 interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Henderson started five games this season and served as one of the Gators’ primary corners along with Dawson and fellow freshman Marco Wilson.

Kicker Eddy Pineiro, second team

Pineiro made 17 of 18 field-goal attempts for a national-best 94.4-percent conversion percentage. He closed the season by making 16 straight field goals. Six of his 17 makes came from more than 40 yards.

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Jordan McPherson – SEC Country


Kentucky Basketball Recruiting: Can Cats land both Canadian 5-stars, R.J. Barrett and Simi Shittu?

Kentucky recruiting-UK recruiting-Kentucky-UK basketball-R.J. Barrett-Simi Shittu-John Calipari

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Two 5-star Canadian basketball recruits narrowed their list of college options this week and Kentucky made the cut for for both R.J. Barrett and Simi Shittu, the No. 1 and No. 9 overall prospects in the Class of 2018, per the 247 Sports Composite. The Wildcats are in Barrett’s final five and Shittu’s top 10.

The question, though, is whether coach John Calipari is the favorite to land either of them. SEC Country caught up with director of scouting Evan Daniels.

“They’re definitely in the mix” for Barrett, who is also still considering Arizona, Duke, Michigan and Oregon. “In terms of favorites on that list, I think it’s kind of early, but Arizona and Duke have done a really good job of recruiting him,” Daniels said. “I’d hate to say there are favorites, but if I was going to guess, I’d say those two are maybe out front right now. There’s a long way to go, though, and he’s in the process of setting up visits. I think those are coming very soon, and the recruitment will really take shape from there.”

RELATED: Joe Mussatto’s weekly UK basketball recruiting notebook

In conversations with people involved in Barrett’s recruitment, SEC Country has gotten mixed messages about Barrett’s interest in joining a “super team” like Kentucky (and Duke) frequently fields versus a school where he might be showcased as the clear-cut star.

“That would surprise me,” Daniels said. “I think he’s too good to get lost in any shuffle.”

Which raises another question: Just how good is Barrett, who recently reclassified from 2019 and jumped to the top of his new class? He’s one of three small forwards who are ranked among the top five overall prospects in 2018. Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish are the others, and both have Kentucky offers.

If the Wildcats could only land one of them, knowing UK’s style of play how Calipari will assemble talent around them, which should Big Blue Nation be rooting hardest to sign?

“That’s a tough question,” Daniels said, “because you’d be happy if you get any of the three. I think maybe Cam or Barrett for that style, but at the end of the day, any of the three are going to have success wherever they go.”

RELATED: Handicapping Kentucky’s most likely 2018 commitments

Of course, it’s possible that a single program lands more than one of those three elite small forwards. Daniels could see that, but it’s a small list: “The only two options for that would be Kentucky and Duke.”

The Cats could also do a double-dip in Canada — a country from which they’ve previously plucked Trey Lyles, Jamal Murray, Mychal Mulder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and for whom one of Kentucky’s top boosters is the new U.S. ambassador — with Shittu, a 6-8 power forward.

The rest of his list includes Arizona, Arizona State, Connecticut, New Mexico, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Oregon, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. All nine of those schools have offered Shittu a scholarship, but Calipari so far has not.

And yet, “I’m not sure that matters much,” said Alex Popp, his high school coach at Vermont Academy. “If the school is willing to take a commitment from a kid, what’s the difference? And that’s what they said: ‘We would take your commitment right now, but we would love for you to taken an official visit.’ That’s what Cal told me himself.”

Popp’s theory is that Calipari, who recently flew to Canada to see (and be seen by) Shittu, wants to get him on campus soon and extend that scholarship offer in person. It’s more powerful that way.

“There’s this aura about the O-word these days, when really on both sides it’s often kind of BS. A lot of kids are just collecting offers and a lot of schools throw them out there knowing something could change and they don’t have to honor them,” Popp said. “In this scenario, Cal is smart. He’s playing it to his advantage that people make a big deal about the offer. Cal is not the head coach at Kentucky by mistake. He knows what he’s doing.”

So will the Wildcats get Shittu to Lexington soon?

“My guess is they get a visit,” Popp said.

There’s still plenty of time and a good deal of work to be done, but should Kentucky snag both big-time Canadians, it would have arguably the best pair of forwards in college basketball next season.

“With Simi, it’s his energy and his athleticism and his mobility and ability to race up and down the floor. He’s also a really good rebounder. And he’s improving offensively, has good hands,” Daniels said. “With R.J., it’s his ability to score. He’s a tremendous scorer — got good size, got good length, he’s a good athlete — and the scary thing is he’s not a good shooter yet. As good of a scorer as he is, he’s not a good shooter, so there’s room for improvement.”

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Kyle Tucker – SEC Country


Texas A&M recruiting: Aggies land commitment from 4-star LB DaShaun White

Texas A&M-Texas A&M Aggies-Kevin Sumlin

The Aggies continued to build their already impressive 2018 recruiting class with the addition of 4-star linebacker DaShaun White.

White, from North Richland Hills, Texas, is the No. 22 outside linebacker in the class and is listed at 6-foot-1 and 222 pounds. He picked the Aggies over offers from Oklahoma, UCLA and Arkansas. In his junior season, he racked up 114 tackles and 18 tackles for loss.

He now becomes the second linebacker in the Aggies’ class, joining 3-star LB Brian Johnson. Texas A&M now has 16 commits in its 2018 class. The Aggies have the No. 11 class in the country with White’s addition, good for fourth in the SEC behind Tennessee, LSU and Florida.

Kevin Sumlin gave a signature “YESSIR” after White’s commitment.

Texas A&M opens its 2017 season on the road against UCLA. The two teams play on Sept. 3.

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Connor Riley – SEC Country