Georgia, Alabama coping with high expectations at top of SEC

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ATLANTA — It’s no easy task to live with expectations at the top of the Southeastern Conference.

Alabama’s 2021 season has been described as a disappointment even though the Crimson Tide won the SEC title and played in the national championship game.

Georgia won its first national championship since 1980 by beating Alabama. After having 15 players selected in the NFL draft, including three defensive linemen, Georgia now faces criticisms that its time at the top will be only a one-year stay.

The Bulldogs are viewed as underdogs to the Tide in this year’s SEC race. Alabama, Ohio State and possibly others are more popular picks in early national championship projections.

Coach Kirby Smart said Wednesday he doesn’t worry about his Bulldogs getting complacent.

“I don’t think any of our guys would rest on the laurels because we don’t really have a lot of guys that have laurels to rest on,” Smart said at the SEC Media Days. “I think that’s the biggest thing because everybody keeps bringing up you won a national championship, so do you worry about complacency. Well the guys who won it, they’re mostly in NFL camps, so there’s a lot of hungry guys on our team.”

Alabama standout linebacker Will Anderson says just winning the SEC title last season wasn’t enough.

“The biggest goal of our team is always to win a national championship and we didn’t meet that goal last year,” Anderson said Tuesday. “So that season was not the successful season that we wanted, because all the blood, sweat and tears we put in, all the hard work, all the long meetings – is to get to the national championship and win it. And we got there and didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish.”

If Smart’s read on his new starters’ motivation is correct, the Bulldogs’ hunger is most prominent on defense. There were five Georgia defensive players selected in the first round of the NFL draft, including defensive end Travon Walker as the No. 1 overall pick by Jacksonville. Three more defensive players were picked later in the draft.

Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith said he attended Walker’s draft party and wasn’t worried about the impact of the draft on this season’s defense.

“It made me really happy, seeing all my friends realize their dreams,” Smith said. “There’s nothing more that a friend should ask for than to see your other friends be successful.”

Including LSU in 2019, Alabama in 2020 and Georgia, the SEC has had three different teams win the last three national championships. That can provide encouragement for coaches trying to build championship programs, including first-year Florida coach Billy Napier.

“I think we’re all aware if you can win your division, the championship here, you can be a national championship contender,” Napier said. “The path, it’s been proven. … We’re consumed with Florida right now. We’ve got a lot of grass to mow, right? It’s our grass, not anybody else’s. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Georgia has won the SEC East four of the last five years and is 27-2 in the division since 2017.

“I think we’re all aware there’s a large gap between Georgia and No. 2, and we’re working on closing that,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said.

Florida finished 6-7 overall, including 2-6 in the SEC, in 2021, leading to Dan Mullen‘s firing. Even so, Florida finished first in the East in 2020 and linebacker Ventrell Miller insists the Gators can return to the top.

“How big is the gap?” Miller asked Wednesday. “I don’t feel like there’s no gap.

“We’re the University of Florida. I feel like we had a bad season last year but we’re moving on, and I feel like this season is going to be a great season.”

The 33-18 loss to Georgia provides ample motivation for Alabama, including its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young.

“Coming up short obviously is really tough,” Young said. “It stings a lot. Obviously it hurt a lot losing. It’s something that we carry as fuel to the fire this offseason. It’s something that’s been fueling us, something that’s been pushing us. No one wants to feel like we felt last year, so we’re doing everything in our power to give ourselves the best chance to have the circumstances that we want to have.”

Alabama suspends freshman defensive back after drug arrest

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama freshman defensive back Tony Mitchell has been suspended from the team following his arrest on a drug charge.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Monday after the first practice of spring that Mitchell was suspended from the team “and all team activities until we gather more information about the situation and what his legal circumstance is.”

The Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrested Mitchell and another man, Christophere Lewis, last week on a charge of possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a post on the department’s Facebook page. Lewis also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.

“Everybody’s got an opportunity to make choices and decisions,” Saban said. “There’s no such thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’ve gotta be responsible for who you’re with, who you’re around and what you do, who you associate yourself with and the situations that you put yourself in. It is what it is, but there is cause and effect when you make choices and decisions that put you in bad situations.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a five-star prospect rated the 34th-best player and No. 3 safety in the 247Composite rankings.

Mitchell was driving the vehicle during a traffic stop. After deputies smelled marijuana, Mitchell picked up a baggie of marijuana from the passenger floorboard, according to the department’s Facebook post.

Sheriff’s deputies found “an additional significant amount of marijuana, a set of scales, a loaded handgun between the passenger seat and center console, and a large amount of cash,” according to the department’s Facebook post.

Missouri linebacker Chad Bailey suspended after arrest

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri linebacker Chad Bailey was suspended from the team after he was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, the team said.

The 23-year-old, who was a team captain last season, was booked at about 2:45 a.m. and released after posting $500 bond, according to online records from the Boone County Sheriff’s Office.

“We are aware of the situation involving Chad Bailey,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said in a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s been suspended according to Department of Athletics policy. We have high expectations for all of our student-athletes, on and off the field, and we will follow all departmental and campus policies.”

Bailey was Mizzou’s third-leading tackler with 57 stops last season. He started all 11 games he played, missing two with an injury. He’ll be a sixth-year senior this fall after opting to return for his final year of eligibility, the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Missouri student-athlete handbook says any athlete who is arrested must serve a minimum one-week suspension.

Bailey was pulled over at about 1 a.m. not far from the Columbia campus for an expired license plate and lane violation, a police statement said. Bailey told the officer he had consumed alcohol and then performed poorly on a field sobriety test, the Post-Dispatch reported.