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Around the SEC: Big Time Opt Outs

Some big time players won’t be suiting up for a couple of Auburn’s rivals this fall

NCAA Football: Auburn at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In a normal year, Auburn would be gearing up for a trip to Atlanta to face off against the North Carolina Tar Heels. We would have already gotten a chance to see a little taste of this Chad Morris offense last weekend in the season opener against Alcorn State.

But this is not a normal year. This is 2020. A crappy year but a historic one nonetheless. Last week, Auburn was unable to practice due to a breakout of COVID-19. This week, Auburn returned to practice while a number of big time players in the SEC decided to hang it up and begin focusing on the NFL Draft.

LSU Loses More Starters

Even in a normal year, LSU’s attrition this off-season would have been wild. Both coordinators, a number of off the field assistants, a Heisman winning QB and 13 starters all gone. But this is not a normal year and the blows have kept coming to the defending national champs. Earlier this week, Ja’Marr Chase announced his intentions to skip his junior season and begin preparation for the NFL Draft.

The Biletnikoff winner put together an outrageous sophomore campaign catching 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. That’s a huge blow to LSU’s offense which already had a mighty task ahead of itself in coming close to the same type of machine that was fielded last fall.

Then later that day another starter announced his intentions to opt out and leave early. Massive nose tackle Tyler Shelvin was expected to help anchor the Tigers defensive line this fall but instead he will be preparing for the upcoming NFL Draft. Chase’s decision makes some sense considering he’s a 1st round lock and matching last fall’s production would have been difficult. Shelvin, on the other hand, probably needed another year to have a chance to move up draft boards. His departure leaves LSU with even less returning contributors from last year’s title team.

Rumors abound others could still jump ship as well. Most notably, buzz is out there that JaCoby Stevens is considering not playing this fall. Ed Orgeron confirmed the speculation that others are weighing the decision but he’s hopeful they will play.

2020 was going to be a tough year for LSU to follow up on last year’s success. Now it might be even tough to be 2018 good. Gus Malzahn is 0-3 against Ed O. No excuse to be 0-4 after this season.

Jamie Newman’s Heisman Campaign Ends

Remember how UGA landed a Heisman contender at QB this off-season? Remember how Jamie Newman was going to come to the SEC, light up SEC defenses and elevate UGA’s offense to 2019 LSU type of heights?

Well that plan has hit a bit of a snag in that Newman doesn’t plan to play a snap for the Dawgs.

Newman’s opt out is the most shocking to date. While hype has been off the charts for him this off-season a lot of it was predicated on him having a strong showing in the SEC. His decision to step away now following the first scrimmage and kickoff just 3 weeks away leaves plenty of room for speculation.

Dawgs fans have been quick to pivot from “Newman is the next Cam Newton” to “he’s leaving because JT Daniels beat him out.” However, every reporter worth their salt on the UGA beat has said Newman was the best QB this past weekend and the front-runner for the starting job. Daniels isn’t even cleared for contact yet though that’s expected to happen in the near future.

I thought the Newman hype was overblown but I still believed he was a solid QB. The two things he does really well (run the ball & throw deep) make him tough to defend in the college game. Daniels is a former 5-star with big time arm talent but threw 10 picks his freshman season. He hasn’t seen live action in two years. Throw in a brand new offensive scheme he’s only just started to practice in and it’s hard to see the Dawgs offense looking all that explosive out the gate this fall.

However, given how good this UGA defense should be in 2020 it might not matter all that much. My fear is we see a 2016 rerun where Auburn’s defense dominates the Dawgs offense but the Tigers fail to capitalize offensively. But if there were ever a year for Gus Malzahn to leave Athens with a W you gotta a think a year where the game will be played in a mostly empty stadium against an offense with a brand new scheme with a QB who wasn’t been cleared for contact 3 weeks before the season behind a brand new offensive line would be his best bet.

Get it done Gus.

Not Much of a QB Battle in Tuscaloosa

When Bryce Young flipped from USC to the Tide fans immediately began to speculate he would be usurp Mac Jones as starter. The thought is intriguing. Young was ranked the #1 overall player in the 2020 class. He was an early enrollee so would get a chance to compete against Jones the whole off-season. Fans and even some analysts believe he’s more college ready than Tua was coming out of high school while Jones isn’t as established as Hurts was back in 2017.

But that scenario hasn’t quite unfolded as expected. First, spring practice was cancelled. Second, Young has missed extensive time likely due to either testing positive for COVID-19 or being in quarantine due to exposure. He’s just now returning to practice while Jones has already lead the Tide offense in a scrimmage.

There’s a chance the phenom freshman takes over the gig as the season plays out but for now Mac “Pick 6” Jones looks to be the clear leader of the Crimson Tide offense. He will have plenty of weapons at his disposal this fall despite the departures of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs. As long as he remembers which color jersey his team is wearing, he’s likely to have a strong season in 2020.

Joey Gatewood Still Not Cleared

The NCAA is an infuriating organization for many reasons but one of the biggest has to be its seemingly insane waiver review process. A process that might allow someone like Justin Fields to transfer due to frustrations over playing time to powerhouse Ohio State without having to sit out while Luke Ford, another UGA transfer, is denied despite returning closer to home to be near a sick family member.

Or how about a former USC QB transferring to Athens over the summer being granted a waiver in a months time while a former Auburn QB transfers to UK in December is still waiting to hear anything from the NCAA? Makes total sense.

Despite having left Auburn during the middle of the season, signing with the Cats in December and been given support by Auburn to be immediately eligible, Joey Gatewood’s eligibility status is still up in the air. It makes no sense and while I don’t necessarily wanna see Gatewood start for the Wildcats Week 1 because he would obviously score 5 touchdowns in an upset win while Nix throws 3 picks in the most Auburn of all contests, I don’t understand how no decision has been made at this point.

It’s unlikely even if cleared Gatewood would start for Kentucky with Terry Wilson healthy and ready for action. But you can bet Eddie Gran will have something drawn up to get Gatewood a chance to get some revenge on his former team. But he remains in limbo and given the fact the NCAA just furloughed it’s whole staff, I imagine hope of hearing anything in the near future isn’t high in Lexington.

War Eagle!