SEC proving to be a preferred destination for transfers

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Dart wound up landing at Mississippi and in the SEC, along with a number of other top players in the transfer portal. In some cases, such as Alabama, the rich got richer. Other teams may have picked up a new starting quarterback, runner, pass rusher or receiver.

“I knew when I was going into the portal, I wanted to go to the SEC,” Dart said earlier this spring. “So those were some of my main schools.

“Because it gets you developed to play in the NFL. I feel like if you can be successful in the SEC, then it’s an easier transition to the NFL.”

First, the SEC swept the top three spots in the recruiting rankings, according to 247Sports. Then, the league that had Georgia and Alabama in the national championship game added to those prospects with a number of transfer portal pickups who could have huge impacts this fall.

Dart was one of 14 transfers for Ole Miss, which had 247Sports’ top portal class. LSU also nabbed 14 additions from other schools to rank third. The website ranked Alabama’s transfer class fifth, South Carolina’s seventh and Arkansas’s ninth.

Dart is among at least seven transfer quarterbacks at six SEC programs, including former Oklahoma starter Spencer Rattler at South Carolina, Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels at LSU and former LSU starter Max Johnson at Texas A&M.

Auburn signed both Zach Calzada (Texas A&M) and Robby Ashford (Oregon) to compete with T.J. Finley, who arrived from LSU last spring.

Ole Miss and LSU appeared to be two of the big winners nationally in the portal lottery, while national champion Georgia may not have needed much additional reinforcements and didn’t sign a transfer.

Other SEC teams weren’t quite so well-stocked across the board.

Lane Kiffin and the Rebels mined the portal for a potential starting backfield, edge rushers and players such as ex-USC tight end and Dart’s close friend Michael Trigg. “He texted me right away and was like, `Hey bro, I’m going where you’re going,”‘ Dart said.

Dart is a former Gatorade National Player of the Year who played in six games as a Trojans freshman after suffering a knee injury in his debut. He and Luke Altmyer are competing to replace potential NFL first-round pick Matt Corral.

Tailbacks Zach Evans (TCU) and Ulysses Bentley (SMU) could be key for a team replacing its top three running backs.

– Alabama landed potential starters at running back (Jahmyr Gibbs, Georgia Tech), cornerback (Eli Ricks LSU), wide receiver (Jermaine Burton, Georgia; Tyler Harrell, Louisville) and on the offensive line (Tyler Steen, Vanderbilt). The Tide hit the jackpot last season with receiver Jameson Williams and linebacker Henry To'oto'o.

– Rattler appears to be the favorite to start at quarterback for South Carolina, but he’s not alone in potential impact transfers. The Gamecocks are also banking on help from Wake Forest leading rusher Christian Beal-Smith, former Sooners tight end Austin Stogner, James Madison record-setting receiver Antwane Wells Jr. and North Carolina State defensive end Terrell Dawkins.

Said Rattler: “I’ve definitely learned the majority of the offense. Still settling into a few things with it being a brand new system, but for me, I’m really comfortable right now. I’m more comfortable under center with the passing game.”

– Arkansas built on the momentum of a 9-4 season with a strong group of transfers. The group includes linebacker Drew Sanders, a former five-star prospect who spent his first two seasons at Alabama and started three games in 2021. Cornerback Dwight McGlothern and edge rusher Landon Jackson came on board from LSU while ex-Oklahoma wide receiver Jadon Haselwood is among those trying to help fill the void left by Treylon Burks.

South Florida transfer Cade Fortin joins the mix at quarterback behind K.J. Jefferson.

On the flip side, the SEC team hit hardest by the portal was Auburn, which had 15 players enter it while the Tigers signed five.

New LSU coach Brian Kelly lost and gained some key players via the portal. Daniels is jockeying for position on the depth chart with Myles Brennan, Garrett Nussmeier and freshman Walker Howard.

The spring game didn’t settle much in that regard.

“We didn’t clear up anything in the quarterback.” Kelly said. “We probably made it even more difficult.”

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.