Monday, November 30, 2009

An early Tide appraisal: Gators a clear favorite

Jess Nicholas at doesn't sugarcoat it. A lot will have to go right for Alabama to beat Florida in Saturday's SEC Championship Game rematch.

Some highlights: Alabama must get its offense back in gear after a relatively poor showing against Auburn; the Tide also goes into the game banged up at linebacker. So do the Gators, but they have more depth to compensate. And, of course, a pretty good quarterback will be riding to the game on the Florida bus.

Read for yourself.


Florida-Alabama factoids

Couple of things to consider while you're crunching numbers and matchups for the SEC title game:

* The Gators have been successful on 47.4 percent of their third-down attempts. (That's sixth in the country, and way ahead of Bama's 35.3 percent.)

* The Tide's Leigh Tiffin has more field goals -- 27 -- than anyone in the country.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What we learned from Week 13

1. It's hard to imagine one conference having a worse weekend than the ACC. Underdogs Georgia and South Carolina physically maul Tech and Clemson; Florida State looks inept . . . again; and even up and coming North Carolina coughs one up against a mediocre rival. Gee, whaddya say we all go down to Tampa to see if we can score some championship game tickets!

2. Hmmm, I wonder what the Zapruder wannabes from LSU are saying now? Three weeks ago, they stitched together a veritable film festival of the supposed missed calls against Alabama. Saturday night, they made it to OT largely on a glaringly blown stop-the-clock call on their last drive. A win's a win, you say? Except, Corndog doubts about coach Les Miles and the direction of the program were hardly lessened by LSU's performance against Arkansas. As the game turned in the Hogs' favor, ESPN's audience was treated to one lingering crowd shot after another in which Tiger fans were holding their heads and muttering what the bleep!

3. Being the students of history that they are, Ole Miss fans should not be surprised by their team's showing against MSU. Classic Houston Nutt. Score a big (albeit lucky) win against LSU, then get stripped naked in the second half at Starkville. Scary insight: Mullen's quickly improving team will leave an SEC West next season with absolutely no weak links -- except Nutt and that guy in the undersized hat to his southwest.

4. Big win for UT. Lane Kiffin's first season, for all its goofiness, has been a solid success. And who couldn't like what they've seen so far from Gene Chizik.

5. Early Gordo line on the championship game. If Florida plays pitch and catch like it did yesterday against FSU (and like it did in the 2008 championship) no one can beat them, not even Alabama, with the biggest and fastest defense the Gators will face this year. Tim Tebow is not unbeatable, but he's the best college football player in several generations largely because of what he does in the biggest of moments. Gators by 8.

-- Michael Gordon

I don't put on my homer hat very often -- being an MSU grad, there's not been much reason to through the years -- but I'm liking coach Dan Mullen's style, especially when it comes to Ole Miss. Among the things I read after State's 41-27 win over the Rebels:

* Mullen's been jabbing Ole Miss ever since he took the job, never calling them by name but instead referring to them as "the school up north" or "the team up north."

* He had a countdown clock put in the locker room to remind players when they'd get another shot at Ole Miss (last year's score was 45-0 Rebs).

* He took to the microphone after the game and told the Starkville faithful, "This is one program in this state that's definitely on the rise and heading in the right direction," a response to a comment by Houston Nutt earlier in the week.

And for good measure, at game's end the MSU scoreboard flashed a postcard saying, "From Dixon With Love," both saluting RB Anthony Dixon and mocking the now-banned Ole Miss song, "From Dixie With Love."

Nothing to get too carried away about, but still ... State was 5-7 against a schedule that might've been the nation's toughest (9 bowl teams in all), and they've got a coach who's putting some fire in the program.
-- R. Trentham Roberts

Mr. Gordon was correct in his earlier Iron Bowl postgame decompression: Alabama was the better team. The Tide's players lived up to the moment when they had to. Greg McElroy looked an awful lot like Jay Barker on the final drive - poised and efficient in a moment when it's very easy not to be either.

But for this particular game, at least, Alabama was outcoached - and Auburn fans can be heartened by what that signals. In 2009, the Auburn staff made a middling SEC quarterback, Chris Todd, into one with 20-plus touchdown passes. It made a middling SEC running back, Ben Tate, into one of the conference's top backs. What will happen when the coaches get the elite players they want - and thus far are getting on the recruiting trail?

The Tigers right now are where Alabama was when Nick Saban began - with holes to fill, with immediate playing time as an incentive to recruits, and with an energy the program hasn't felt in years. Friday, as disappointing as it may have been, was an affirmation of where the program is headed.

Peter St. Onge
I was in Tennessee all week with my wife's side of the family -- wonderful people who live in the mountains, don't have cable and don't care about football. I caught the last minute of Auburn-Alabama, just enough to see that Gene Chizik went to the Les Miles School of Time Management, but didn't go through the doctoral program in How to Win the Game Anyway.
We got home Saturday at halftime of Georgia-Georgia Tech, and saw order restored to the world once again. The big question now is whether beating Tech was enough for Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez to save his job. Probably not. Then again, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo should share some of the blame. The good: Georgia splattered Tech with a run-first offense that hid Joe Cox's limitations. The bad: It took 12 games to figure this out?
But that's for the off-season. This week Tech is back in its rightful place, behind the lead dawg, where the view never changes. This week we enjoy.
Tommy Tomlinson

Friday, November 27, 2009

The 3-hour stomach cramp that was Iron Bowl '09

Like I tried to tell my Auburn brethren all week, this one had the feel of an ulcer farm.

Congrats to Auburn. Congrats to Gene Chizik. Your team played hard and competed the entire game.

That said, the best team won, and maybe learned something about themselves and the best rivalry in the sport. Now Florida.

Spencer Tillman on CBS said something interesting after the game: He said Auburn-Alabama is the only rivalry of the weekend where the stats and season records don't matter. Auburn could have won. Many of its faithful will say the Tigers should have won. But they didn't, and Alabama did, for this reason. In the end, Alabama was good enough and disciplined enough to do what it needed to do to win when things up to that moment had all been going wrong.

In a day or two, I may feel differently, but right now I believe this is one of the great Iron Bowls of my lifetime. I think I would say that even if Auburn had won. Fortunately, I don't have to find out. Roll Tide. War Eagle. Take a deep breath.
Michael Gordon

Who ya got? Week 13

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all, and that's enough of that.

Given the calendar, and given that our sport is football, there's a pretty fair chance that your team is playing someone you despise. It's Rivalry Weekend, more accurately described as College Football's Celebration of Sectarian Violence.

So here we go:

Georgia at Georgia Tech: Wounded dogs are angry dogs, and Georgia will fight hard for a half against Tech. But like a pit bull, the Engineers will keep coming, long after the Red and Black have lost their nose for the fight. Tech, 35-24.

Tennessee at Kentucky: The Volunteers' annual respectability caravan rolls into Lexington, and nobody ends a season on an easier note than Tennessee. But in Kentucky, they face a team that plays at or above its potential almost every week. This one will be close, and every team in the league is pulling for the Wildcats. I like the karma. But not the final score. UT, 21-17.

Clemson at South Carolina: I had this friend in high school who was a gifted basketball player, until he faced someone just as good. Rather than be exposed, he acted as if he didn't care. Steve Spurrier has a losing record against Clemson, and most times, it looks like he and his team could give a rip. Stephen Garcia cares, but he doesn't have enough help. Tigers, 24-21.

Arkansas at LSU: Les Miles coached the last minute against Ole Miss like a man with a severe concussion. Thus, his team once again is swooning while the Hogs are finding their legs. Worse for him, the LSU crowd may be more lathered up about his mental state than who wins what has become one of the SEC's most entertaining games. Entertain this: Hogs, 31-28.

Florida State at Florida: Let's save the print here: Tim Tebow is not losing his last home game in Gainesville. Fairy Tales don't end that way. Gators, 38-14.

Ole Miss at Miss. State: The "Egg Bowl" is a terrible farm-to-market, Eisenhower-Era name for a seething instate hatefest. This week, it shall be known as the "Houston Nutt Trap Bowl." In other words, Nutt's bigger and more talented team is about to lay an egg. Bullies, 24-21.

Alabama at Auburn: Alabama, in their coach's words, must change the way Auburn thinks about the Tide and themselves. In other words, if Alabama holds on to the ball and each player pounds away at the Auburn jersey in front of him, the Tide should take this one. But the scariest thing about Alabama's season so far is how -- the Terrence Cody block party aside -- it has lacked weirdness.
Something tells me something weird is in store at The Plains this week. It will keep the game closer. But hear this: The Evil Empire is bringing the Imperial Walkers. Tide, 35-20.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tarnishing the big rivalry games

Ron Morris' column advising Clemson coach Dabo Swinney to put star C.J. Spiller on the bench for the Clemson-South Carolina game raises a provocative/troubling point about the status of some of the best rivalry games of the college football season.

Morris believes it's far more important for Spiller to be ready for the ACC Championship matchup with Georgia Tech than to risk his turfed toe to further injury against the Gamecocks.

Many South Carolinians undoubtedly are laughing out loud at the notion that Spiller shouldn't play -- particularly Clemson fans who might find it a tad ironic that the suggestion is coming out of Columbia, even if Morris is a frequent critic of Coach Steve Spurrier and his program.

Still, is the ACC Championship game more important to Clemson than its annual Civil War with Carolina?

Emotionally? Heaven's no.

Financially? Hell yes.

There are millions at stake if the Tigers beat Tech and make it to a BCS Bowl. But what price do you place on bragging rights?

This balance-sheet comparison has been made relevant by conference championship games and the whole BCS bowl system that have made Big Bucks an even move visible influence on the fabric of college football. Sadly, one of the losers in the new system are the end-of-the-year rivalry games that involve teams from different conferences: Florida/Florida State and Carolina/Clemson.

Not long ago, the Sunshine State slugfest was one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the year. Now it's nothing more than a potential speed bump before the real Big Game: the Gators' battle with Alabama in 10 days. Most of the college football world -- and the bowls and the networks and the casual fans -- are hoping beyond hope that 1. Florida wins. 2. Tim Tebow doesn't take another blow to the noggin. In short, let Florida win by two TDs and move on.

The same traps exist for Alabama as it prepares for its Friday visit to hated Auburn. The Iron Bowl keeps more of its luster because the teams are in the same division of the same conference, and many years the game decides who goes to Atlanta from the SEC West. Besides, the level of hatred remains so high that the game is always a kind of car wreck that no one can ignore.

This year, even the Iron Bowl has been compromised. If Alabama and Florida were both to lose this weekend, the winner of their game is still likely to get a shot at the national championship.

But it hard to imagine Nick Saban or Urban Meyer holding a slightly dinged-up star out of either game, just as it's hard to see Spiller not playing against South Carolina. There's just too much at stake -- from recruiting to in-state dominance to the personal satisfaction of kicking your annoying neighbor's butt.

Money is changing the game, but not that much.

-- Michael Gordon

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

". . . A cultural war and they use football to fight it"

Tony Barnhart's take on the Iron Bowl? As with most things in Alabama, it comes with a little history.

If I were a betting man . . .

"You can throw out the records" in this one. But only if you want to lose your shirt.

Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News goes into those very records to explore the old underdog/favorite debate in the Iron Bowl and other big rivalry games.

His findings: When there's a gap as big as this year's in the season records of the two teams, the favorite has won more than 90 percent of the time.

If I were a betting man, those odds would bring me significant comfort. Since I'm not, I'm still scared to death.

Michael Gordon

Headline we had to read twice

Some positives for UGA after Kentucky game

Turns out it was about future Bulldogs, not current ones. It's from the Atlanta paper's recruiting blog. Go here for the rest.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Robbery charges dropped against UT's Janzen Jackson

No word yet on when a decision will be made as to his football future. Full story here from the Knoxville News Sentinel. (Update: Jackson has been reinstated and will play Saturday against Kentucky. See Rocky Top Talk link at right.)

Iron Bowl Week: How about another song?

Most Alabama fans detest what you're about to see, but I'm not one of them.

Yes, I'd rather chew glass than lose to Auburn. But the Agrarians' celebration at the end of the 2007 game captures beautifully the glee of taking care of your instate rival, hurting him in a way that only you and he can fully understand, and savoring the sweet, sweet peace of knowing you won't have to take any crap for 365 days.

When it comes to all things Alabama/Auburn, it doesn't get any better than utter, blessed relief.

Michael Gordon

P.S. - 10:18 a.m., Peter St. Onge: This is a difficult week for Auburn fans. We know a whomping awaits us Friday. It likely will not be pretty. We could take a Revolutionary War approach to things this week and hit the Redcoats with fire from alternate angles - Did you hear that Notre Dame has Nick Saban on its short list? - but really, it won't make us feel better. Our football ipecac is coming. Bring it on.

P.P.S - Michael: Mr. St. Onge's perspective, while appreciated, is suspect. He is Auburn by marriage, not blood. The fires are again burning in Mt. Doom, and they are the fires of Auburn hope.

This is the perfect moment for the underdog in a rivalry game. Two weeks to prepare, a high-ranked opponent, and less than nothing to lose.

For those of us old enough to not only remember but able to deal with the pain, Auburn gained 80 yards of total offense in 1972, but blocked two punts for touchdowns late in the game to win. The parallels are scary. Alabama was undefeated and ranked second in the country. Nobody gave Auburn any chance. Besides, who won the flippin' Revolutionary War?

So Peter, why don't you poll your in-laws and get back to us. And thanks for writing a sentence with ipecac. During Auburn/Alabama week, we'll need all the respectability we can muster.

P.P.P.S - Peter: If Alabama can use the equivalent of a No. 1 vote from the Jefferson County (Ala.) Junior League in claiming some of its "national championships," I think I'm on pretty solid ground in declaring myself an Auburn fan. And a quick peek at Auburn message boards, as well as real, live conversations with other Auburn fans, shows that very few of us expect to beat Alabama. But we wonder: Do you think you'll have a better go at TCU in January than Utah last year?

Iron Bowl week is upon us. How about a song?

This goes out to our AU and UA blogmates. The title sums up the emotions of the week quite nicely. Come back Friday evening for a special postgame version of "I Go To Pieces." Who'll be on the receiving end of that dedication? -- RTR

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Poll: Wildest finish of the year

Assuming that next week will be taken up with Florida-'Bama and bowl bids, let's go ahead and start the poll for wildest finish of the year. (If there's a worthy contender this coming weekend, we'll revisit.) I picked these 3 because they had folks ranting for days on end, and the endings were as much about the coaches and refs as they were about the players. -- RTR

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ole Miss 25, LSU 23

While this may make a lovely holiday gift, you really don't need to be putting a knife into the hands of an LSU fan right about now. -- RTR

Friday, November 20, 2009

There's Vandy, and then there's everybody else

Graduation Success Rates for SEC football programs, from the NCAA:

Vanderbilt: 91%
Florida: 69%
Alabama: 67%
Mississippi State: 63%
Ole Miss: 63%
LSU: 60%
South Carolina: 60%
Auburn: 59%
Georgia: 57%
Kentucky: 55%
Arkansas: 52%
Tennessee: 52%

You can read more and find numbers for all schools and all sports here.

Who ya got -- RIP UGA VII edition

First of all: Damn good dawg.

It's a lame week of college football -- unless you care deeply about Ohio State-Michigan, in which case you probably enjoy a nice bowl of cream of wheat in the morning. Just think of it as the eye before next week's hurricane -- the Egg Bowl, LSU-Arkansas, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida-Florida State and of course Auburn-Alabama.

Tommy Tomlinson

LSU at Ole Miss -- This game would save the Rebels' season, and Dexter McCluster is making the CFB version of a salary drive -- the footage from the Tennessee game is now on every NFL scout's hard drive. But isn't this the kind of game Houston Nutt always loses, usually in heartbreaking fashion? Tigers, 24-23.

Kentucky at Georgia -- Joe Cox's last home game. Followed by Georgia Tech and the Weed Eater Bowl. Dawgs, 38-21.

Vandy at Tennessee -- Every year the back end of UT's schedule is as weightless as cotton candy. Vols, 33-13.

Mississippi State at Arkansas -- The Bulldogs look a lot better on the field, although it hasn't shown up yet on the won-loss record. Hawgs, 28-19.

Florida 63, Florida International 7

Alabama 45, UT-Chattanooga 3

Michael Gordon

Damn fine dog is right, Tommy, and too short a life. Hope he didn't suffer . . . beyond being associated with this Georgia team, I mean.

Ole Miss 24, LSU 19. Rebs, like last year, are rounding into shape a little late in the game, but just in time to raise more Corndog concerns about Les Miles.

Georgia 20, Kentucky 15: UGA gets a decent sendoff, by a big slobbering whisker.

Tennessee 24, Vandy 10. The Vols hold on. Good thing, too. Their coach is running short on scapegoats -- and players for that matter.

Arkansas 35, Miss. State 20: Table being set for big pig expectations next year.

Florida/Alabama combined 102, Florida International/UT-'Nooga combined: 17.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Signature Wins?

In honor of this week's riveting Alabama-UT Chattanooga and the Florida-Florida International slugfests, let's recap the season's overwhelming evidence that the SEC is the country's best league.

Could it be Alabama's signature win over Virginia Tech?

Or is it Auburn's signature win over West Virginia?

Or perhaps it's LSU's signature win over Washington.

Or what about Florida's win over . . . wait a minute, Florida hasn't played anyone out of conference that's worth a chomp.

And that's a problem. The SEC's national schedule stinks.

Sure, Va. Tech was preseason Top 10 when Alabama belted them around the Georgia Dome. Does anyone think the Hokies are even Top 20 now?

For a brief while, LSU's road win at Washington had some star power. But that's before the Huskies disappeared in a snow bank. Hell, Washington even found a way to lose to Notre Dame.

Auburn took care of West Virginia with a considerable assist from the Mountaineer quarterback. Still, a win's a win. Except, perhaps, when it comes against a mid-level Big East team.

Which begs the bigger question: Has the SEC really beaten anyone yet? Here's the answer. No.

OK, altogether now, let's recite the SEC's case: Conference teams have to play each other and then survive the momma and daddy of all conference championship games.

But am I alone in feeling a little spooked by the lack of national competition the conference has faced? The exception is Mississippi State -- with games against Ga. Tech and Houston, games in which the Bulldogs gave almost as well as they received -- games they still lost.

Other notable defeats: Tennessee to a bad UCLA team. Vandy to just about everyone; and Georgia to Oklahoma State. Granted, Georgia got by Arizona State, but most believe the Dawgs will be tied to the back of the Ramblin' Wreck and dragged all around Grant Field when it meets instate rival Ga. Tech at year's end.

No one is arguing that the SEC isn't the deepest conference in the country, and CBS analyst Gary Danielson told Charlotte radio host Mark Packer last night that the league is stronger this year than last. But are Florida and Alabama really the country's two best teams? Maybe.

Three years ago, Ohio State and Michigan were the honorees of a season-long coronation. Their showdown that year -- akin to the buildup surrounding Florida/Alabama, don't you think? -- lived up to its billing, so much so that it appeared the BCS would opt for a Big 10 rematch to settle the national title.

In the end, either the computers or just enough writers blocked the do-over. Florida slipped into the game. The Rust Belt howled. Then the Gators went out and annihilated Ohio State. All the pundits were wrong. The best team all year in the sports pages was not the last team standing. The national take on the Buckeyes and the Big 10 has never been the same.

Could the SEC be setting itself for a repeat tumble? We think we're the best league, with the two best teams. But how do we know for sure until we leave our own backyard?

And here's what even scarier: The loser in Atlanta almost certainly will face an angry TCU or Boise State, still feeling the snub of the BCS. As the Sugar Bowl showed last season, that could get ugly in a hurry.

Michael Gordon

The SEC often takes heat for its terrible non-conference schedule, which will take front and center this weekend, with Alabama squaring off against Chattanooga and Florida tussling with Florida International.

Ah, Florida.

Started thinking about UF and its non-conference schedule. About the Gators traveling outside of the region for a non-conference regular season game. Like LSU playing at Virginia Tech in 2002 and at Washington this season. Alabama playing Oklahoma in Norman in 2002. Auburn going into the Coliseum to play USC the same year.

And I kept thinking. Couldn't even picture the blue and orange outside the South, except for a couple of bowl games.

So I looked it up. The Gators last played a non-conference game outside of Florida in 1991, a 38-21 loss to Syracuse.

Florida fans will no doubt point to their annual game against Florida State as the reason the Gators can't be more ambitious with the schedule, though the Seminoles have been mediocre for five years. And yes, the Gators played Miami in 2002, 2003 and 2008.

But with 12 total games, couldn't Florida manage to cross the Mason-Dixon Line? Yes, they have to play LSU every year and yes they play the Seminoles. But what is now arguably the country's premier college football program should step it a notch. Wouldn't it be great to see Ohio State play in The Swamp? Or the game that every college football fan would like to see - Florida-USC?

Steve Harrison

UT fan falls out of love

With news circulating of a fourth Tennessee player having gotten into a legal jam, Joel Barker writes in Bleacher Report of how he no longer has stars in his eyes when it comes to Lane Kiffin. Here's a Kiffin quote about curfews that may yet come back to haunt him: "I don't like to make rules or have things that you can't really enforce." (More Kiffin quotes about the recent incidents here.) -- RTR

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

College football movies: Oher and others

"The Blind Side," the film based on the remarkable journey of Michael Oher (former Ole Miss player, now with the Baltimore Ravens), is coming to your local movie house Friday. Before you go see the Hollywood version, better to read the story: Click here for an excerpt from the book that started it all; this ran in The New York Times Magazine a couple of years back.

And while we're on the subject of college football movies, why not spend a couple hours this weekend with one of these (unless you really, really, really feel the need to watch Florida's beatdown of Florida International and compare it to what Alabama did to them back in September): 

* Everybody's All-American
* The Express
* The Junction Boys
* Knute Rockne, All American
* The Program
* Rudy
* The Spirit of West Point
* Water Boy
* We Are Marshall

But give me "Horse Feathers" over all of them -- the Marx Brothers running riot at victory-starved Huxley College. Even in 1932 they had their priorities straight. -- RTR

"And I say to you, gentleman, that this college is a failure. The trouble is, we're neglecting football for education."


"Where would this college be without football? Have we got a stadium?"
"Have we got a college?"
"Well, we can't support both. Tomorrow we start tearing down the college."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In case you missed the game of the week

For the state juco title, it was East Mississippi Community College 75, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College 71.

In regulation.

You can read about the shootout here and here.

Everybody still refers to Gulf Coast as Perk, short for Perkinston, where the main campus is tucked away. And up in that part of the state, East Mississippi is sometimes called Scooba U.

Understand that the Great State of Mississippi has long had top-notch junior college football programs, winning 7 national championships since 1971 and sending a slew of players on to SEC and other schools (including Alabama's Terrence Cody, who played at Perk). East Mississippi is now ranked fifth nationally and Perk seventh.

Best postgame quote, from Perk coach Steve Campbell: "We'll learn something from this. I don't know what, but we'll learn from it."

-- R. Trentham Roberts

Monday, November 16, 2009

2 UT players kicked off team after arrests

Read about it here and here, and via the Rocky Top Talk link on the right.

Vol fans chime in as well, with highly divergent views on what should happen to Janzen Jackson.

What we learned from Saturday . . .

*If Dan Mullen can recruit, watch out for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs were overmatched by Alabama, but they never stopped hitting or playing at full speed. MSU has glaring needs, but Mullen has effort isn't one of them. He also has Mississippi's amazing high school talent to draw from, provided he can claim his share from Ole Miss and Southern Miss, and beat back the traditional poachers, Alabama, LSU and Tennessee. Freshman already play key roles for the Bullies, but Mullen needs impact performers in every recruiting class to become competitive.

*Can Jansen Jackson be that good? Vol coach Lane Kiffin sure made it sound that way, contending that Ole Miss's torching of his formerly staunch defense was due in large part to the absence of his star freshman safety. Jackson and two teammates did not play Saturday after being arrested last week on attempted armed robbery charges. Jackson's attorney say his client was in the car and did not participate in the alleged crime. One rumor circulating the boards last week said Kiffin wanted to take Jackson's to Oxford but was overruled by his athletic director. If he's innocent, one wonders why Jackson, his team's last line of defense, couldn't have provided the same protection for his idiotic teammates or his own career.

*Is there a more entertaining football player in the country than Dexter McClusker? Still, Houston Nutt bet the house on quarterback Jevan Sneed. Where would the Rebels be if, after Sneed's shaky early performances, he had been downsized and McClusker given twice his regular touches?

*Steve Spurrier must have mixed emotions after his team's 24-14 loss to top-ranked Florida. Carolina carried the game well into the fourth quarter and had the Gators on their heels in what should have been at least a game-tying drive. Then, Stephen Garcia threw a third-down interception that quickly led to Florida's clinching touchdown. On the key play, Spurrier sent in a call, and Garcia changed it based on something he saw in the Florida defense.
Ooops. TOBC can't be happy how things turned out, but at least he has a quarterback confident enough to change a play based on what he's seeing on the field. Executing that vision remains a work in progress, and I'm sure The Visor has a few thoughts he plans to share.

*Referee Conspiracy Part V: Mississippi State fans claim the zebras jobbed them out of a long kickoff return against Alabama. Tell you what guys, we'll give you the Chad Bumphis' TD. Does 31-10 feel better?

*Florida still does more things well than any team in the country, but Alabama has begun playing its best football at just the right time. Still ahead for the Tide: a glorified scrimmage against UT-Chattanooga and then a short-rest range war with Auburn. With two weeks to scheme, the Tigers will be preparing the ultimate trap game. But it's hard to see AU standing up to the Tidal pounding it will face. Ben Tate's declaration that he's a better runner than Mark Ingram puts a couple of extra logs on the fire for the Alabama defense. Still, I get nervous even writing about this game. Alabama will have only six days between kickoffs, and too many seasons on both sides have been ruined by college football's most vicious rivalry.

Michael Gordon

This week's poll: Ole Miss-LSU

It's a bit of a lull week before the big regular-season finales, so this week's poll is Ole Miss-LSU, which at this point amounts to a battle for the 3rd-best team in the conference. (Georgia fans may carp, but if the Dawgs beat Georgia Tech in a couple of weeks, we'll give them their due.) -- RTR

Friday, November 13, 2009

Who ya got -- Week 11 (with bonus video!)

Lane Kiffin's team sure makes the SEC more... interesting. All you need to know about the stupidity of the (alleged) UT armed robbers is revealed in this spectacular interview with the victims. Forget that the players tried to commit a felony with a pellet gun. Forget that they tried to escape in a Prius. Remember that they tried to make a big score off of THESE GUYS.

Watch this all the way to the end. The last line is a classic.

Have you caught your breath? OK, then, on to the picks.

Tommy Tomlinson

Tennessee at Ole Miss -- Oh, THIS should be fun. Somebody needs to create a Twitter account solely to document what the Ole Miss fans say in the stands. Jevan Snead, don't screw up this week and all is forgiven. Rebs, 28-20.

Florida at South Carolina -- A win here could redeem the entire Spurrier Era at USC. You'll have to find redemption on the golf course, Coach. Gators, 31-10.

Auburn at Georgia -- Such a weird series, such weird teams this year. The road team usually wins this game and the better team often loses. The first part of that favors Auburn and the last part favors Georgia. Does Joe Cox have one great game in him? I'm hoping yes. Dawgs, 23-18.

Alabama at Mississippi State -- This one is screaming TRAP GAME. But the Bulldogs aren't quite good enough to spring it. Tide, 17-10.

Vanderbilt 33, Kentucky 27

LSU 48, La Tech 10

Arkansas 44, Troy 21

Michael Gordon

Tennessee at Ole Miss: This one swings on the emotional state of the visitors after three of the Vol players traded their burnt orange unies for the cell-block orange variety. Ole Miss doesn't scare anyone any longer. Maybe Johnathan Crompton is due for a hairball, but the Vols are just tougher. Jail will do that to a man. Tennessee, 24-20.

Florida at South Carolina: What a month ago seemed like the SEC East showdown has been boiled down to a single question: After halftime, will there be more empty seats than filled ones in Williams-Brice Stadium? Gators, 38-17.

Alabama at Miss. State: Thirty-four years ago I spent half of a homecoming game buried in the excruciating din of the Bulldog cowbells. Tomorrow, I get fitted for hearing aids. To hell with trap games. I want restitution!!! Tide, 31-14.

Auburn at Georgia: This series has had water canons and leaping bulldog jaws and games with a gazillion overtimes. This year's novelty: Nobody will punt. Check that: The Dawgs aren't very good, so they'll punt once. Tigers, 28-24.

Kentucky 17, Vandy 16.

LSU 27, La Tech 17.

Arkansas 45, Troy, 12.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So that's what they mean by UT Wild Boyz

Three of the top players in Lane Kiffin's first class are wearing a different shade of orange this morning, accused of armed robbery last night in Knoxville.

Police identified the three as burgeoning defensive back star Janzen Jackson, receiver Nu'Keese Richardson and DB Mike Edwards. They reportedly wore Tennessee garb and tried to flee in a Toyota Prius.

A couple of points: Jackson and Richardson were signing-day surprise coups for the Vols' 2009 class. Jackson, heavily recruited by his home-state LSU and Alabama, bolted to Tennessee after being expected to sign with the Bayou Bengals. Richardson went with Kiffin instead of Florida. The Tennessee coach later accused Gator head man Urban Meyer of NCAA violations concerning Richardson's recruitment. Those claims got Kiffin his first SEC reprimand, and he later apologized to Meyer.

More irony: Not long ago, Tennessee assistant Ed Orgeron had this to say about the the coaching staff. "We're not angels, and we are not going to recruit a bunch of angels." Jackson was recently suspended. Richardson recently skipped practice, setting off speculation that he was leaving the team.

Nobody in the SEC should take much joy in this, because few if any of its teams have escaped off-the-field problems. But in Tennessee's case, Kiffin's brazenness in challenging the SEC's established coaches and the league office, along with the "UT Wildboyz" framing of his program, brings double the scrutiny of the coach's next actions and words.

In the meantime, three kids handed the world suddenly face a far different future. And their arrests raise interesting questions on which schools had the best signing day after all.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

What we learned from Week 10

*That the reports of Greg McElroy's demise were greatly exaggerated. The Tide QB threw for 276 yards and a couple of TDs during the 3-Hour War with LSU. He was helped by a recovering Julio Jones and an offensive line that kept LSU's great athletes at bay. Did Patterson make the pick? Sure could have. Would it have mattered? LSU got 25 yards in the fourth quarter. The best team, clearly, won.

*That something still seems amiss in the Good Ship Gator. Seemed like every time I flipped over, The Chosen One was being sacked . . . by a VANDY player. There's inconsistency in the Florida offense right now and it may all come back to their quarterback's health. Tim Tebow remains the SEC's most dominant player, but he's still not playing at the level of last year. That said, the defending champs do more things well than any team in the conference.

*Maybe this is as good as it gets under Steve Spurrier. For the second straight week, his South Carolina team caved so quickly you could have sworn they were playing Clemson. Is his team's annual November swoon because Spurrier begins to run out of players or does he run out of players still willing to listen to him? When does the head coach begin to be held accountable for his team's repeated mistakes? On another bright note, here comes Florida!

So, the SEC Championship game is set. Big Deal. Too many potential trap games remain. And let's keep an eye on Georgia/Auburn. The Fighting Chizikians' performance in that one will give all of us a reading on the kind of stand they'll make in late November against Alabama. Another loss by Georgia -- with hated Tech looming -- would obviously bring more questions to bear on the future of the program and coach Mark Richt.

God love Navy!


Friday, November 6, 2009

Assessing the bye week

Ever wonder how big a difference an off week can make? Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples, in Tuscaloosa to cover the LSU/Alabama game, offers some research.

His conclusion: Alabama is straddling a double-edge sword. While the Tide had two weeks to get ready for the Corndogs, they still face two more teams coming off byes. The Iron Bowl presents a real disadvantage: Alabama will have a short week while Auburn has two weeks to prepare.

Good read. Enjoy.


Meyer gets the SEC's first mouthing-off fine

That didn't take long.

Shortly after he joined the chorus line of SEC coaches criticizing the performances of conference officials, Gator coach Urban Meyer became the test-tube baby for the SEC's ban on discouraging words about refs.

Meyer's comments were directed at refs who ignored or failed to see a possible late hit on Tim Tebow. Those same refs missed Brandon Spikes clawing at the eyeballs of a Georgia runningback like a cat with its paw in a fish bowl, a show of sportsmanship that will place the All-American linebacker in isolation for Saturday's game with Vanderbilt.

The fine, $30,000, is chump change for Meyer and other top coaches. But let's see if it interrupts the near constant criticism of blown calls that have marred some of the biggest games of the season.

There's a simpler solution, of course: Better officiating.

Who ya got? Week 10 . . .

I just had an argument with an Ohio State fan over strength of schedule. I know, let's all enjoy the laugh. Good thing I didn't look at this week's sleight of games.

The Dog Days on the SEC season have arrived, and boy are there a pack of mange-heads.

Fortunately, our conference again offers the best game in the country. Let's take the high road and start there. Drum roll, please . . .

Michael Gordon:

LSU at Alabama: One play on either side of the ball will decide this one-day war. Two questions: Can LSU run it? Can Alabama throw it? The answer to the first: maybe. The answer to the second: just enough. Tide, 20-13.

South Carolina at Arkansas: The only other big-boy matchup of the day comes down to a battle of the offensive geniuses. The difference: Petrino and Arkansas won't act bored. Hogs, 31-17.

Vandy at Florida: Given this mismatch, Brandon Spikes' self-imposed exile hardly qualifies as Mother Teresa material. Gators, 45-10.

(From this point forward, proceed with caution, and hold your nose.)

Tennessee Tech at Georgia: Don't laugh, Georgia needs this one. OK, you can laugh. Dogs, 44-7.

Eastern Ky at Kentucky: The Bluegrass Mothership prevails, sort of. Cats, 31-17.

Furman at Auburn: Michael Dyer's commitment this week qualifies as bigger news. Tigs, 51-24.

Memphis at Tennessee: No SEC school has so easy a second half schedule every year as UT; meanwhile, the end draws near for Tommy West. Vols, 31-10.

Northern Ariz. at Ole Miss: Even the Arizona Cardinals would have problems traveling this far and this far back in time. Rebs, 45-17.

Brandon Spikes has nothing on this soccer player

Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes' eye gouge has made news this week, but he has nothing -- and we mean nothing -- on New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert. Let's go to the video:

Update, 2:13 p.m. - KRQE of Albequerque is reporting that Lambert has been suspended.

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Junior defender Elizabeth Lambert was suspended indefinitely from the New Mexico Lobo women's soccer team after her rough play in a Thursday soccer match with BYU.
Thursday, Lambert was seen elbowing, punching and even pulling the hair of her Cougar opponents.
The junior is prohibited from participating in practices, competition and conditioning activities.
“I am deeply and wholeheartedly regretful for my actions,” Lambert said. “My actions were uncalled for. I let my emotions get the best of me in a heated situation."
The Lobos were eliminated from the Mountain West Conference tournament by the Cougars 1-0 on Thursday.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mike Slive has SEC coaches shaking in their boots

The SEC's new smiley-face policy on criticizing officials has been taken out for an early test drive by Florida coach Urban Meyer, a move that can be clearly defined as "taking one for the team."

With most of the college-football world lining up against his star linebacker -- and Crest High grad -- Brandon Spikes for his attempted eye-gouge on Georgia runner Washaun Ealey, Meyer fired back. He says the zebes missed a blatant late hit earlier in the game on Gator quarterback Tim Tebow (and anybody who saw the play knows a flag could easily have been thrown.)

Meyer's comments, though, seem to violate Slive's ban on bashing refs. Will the commissioner throw a flag?

In the meantime, this is just what the rest of us need. The defending national champions shooting up with a late-season dose of "Us against the world."

Alabama-LSU; More on Spikes

More stories and thoughtful opinion -- Tide by 50! -- to come, but let's get started with a nice read on a key player in the upcoming game.

While on the subject of large and angry young men . . . Adding his voice to the hue and cry surrounding Brandon Spikes' unlicensed practice of ophthalmology is none other than his patient, Washaun Ealey. Read on. You might be surprised.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Urban Meyer on Brandon Spikes

"That's not who he is."

Right you are, Coach. He's really Moe.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Should Florida's Spikes be suspended for eye gouge?

(Updated, 1:30 p.m.) Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes, from nearby Crest High in Boiling Springs, was caught on camera Saturday reaching into the helmet of Georgia player Washaun Ealey and digging around for Ealey's eyes. (UPDATE: Benjamin Volin of the Palm Beach Post reports that Spikes will be suspended for the first half against Vanderbilt.)

Video is below. It's not pretty. (UPDATE: But was it retaliation? Click here to see Spikes on the receiving end earlier in the game.)

Fans, bloggers and prominent writers are calling for a suspension. Florida coach Urban Meyer says he'll talk to Spikes about the incident.

What do you think? Vote in our poll over to the right - and comment here.

(FYI, Tebow breaking Herschel's SEC record for rushing touchdowns wasn't the only record broken in Jacksonville on Saturday.)

P.S., from Tommy T. -- Hadn't seen this until this morning -- I've been looking for one of those "Men In Black" flashy things to wipe the game from my memory -- but that's pretty low. I wonder if somebody has charted how Ealey did pre-gouge and post-gouge. Either way, two things will happen, whether Spikes gets suspended or not: 1) Refs will now be watching to see if Spikes pulls any more punk moves, and 2) Georgia now has bulletin-board material for next year's game. I suspect that video will be played lots of times in the locker room over the next 365 days.

P.P.S, from Cliff Mehrtens:

Brandon Spikes' Top Five Excuses On His 20/20 Tackle:

5. I thought I saw a bug, and was shoo-ing it away.

4. I was retrieving a sweatband that had slipped off my wrist.

3. Hey, anyone can fist-bump. That's so passe' ….I was being innovative.

2. That Georgia runner obviously hadn't been flossing.

1. It works on WWF.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

What we learned from Week 9

*As hard as it is to say it, congrats to coaches Kiffin and Chizik and their kids. Vols continue to improve, and Saturday night they beat the quits into South Carolina early. Auburn, meanwhile, found its legs against Mississippi and may have regained enough mojo to run through the tape of its remaining games. The Tigers' problems stopping the run shouldn't be a big issue until Alabama comes calling the day after Thanksgiving.

*On the other hand: the teams of Messrs. Nutt and Spurrier ran to predictably underwhelming form. The Rebels, clear favorites after taking out Arkansas, looked lifeless on the Plains. This is what makes Nutt so exasperating a coach. Few people relish the underdog role more than he. But his teams never have mastered those itty-bitty details known as week-to-week effort and consistency. Ole Miss, a pre-season media darling, has given sports journalism a bad name.

South Carolina? Sheesh. Even Spurrier's best teams at Florida were sloppy, yet won on talent and The Visor's novel schemes. A decade later, Spurrier's players continue to perform like they don't practice very often. Plus, at Carolina he lacks the talent to take on a league that has caught up with his play-calling. In one of the biggest games of the Spurrier II era, the Gamecocks played as if they didn't like being hit and left the ball lying on the ground like so many abandoned eggs. The stadium will start emptying early when Florida comes to town this month. It's November, after all, when SEC teams begin deciding if they want their poultry baked, broiled or fried.

*The two best linebackers in the SEC, maybe the country, are Brandon Spikes and Rolando McClain. Similar size. Similar position. Similar ferocity. One difference: Spikes, too often, plays like a thug. Check this BS move.

(And we've added a poll so you can tell us whether you think he should be suspended.)

*Where did all those great recruiting classes go at Georgia? The talent gap is significant.

*Looking ahead: Don't be surprised if LSU doesn't win in Tuscaloosa this week. The Tigers are playing better on both sides of the ball, and their talent at the skill positions is obvious. Two keys for the Tide: Can they make life more complicated for Jordan Jefferson, and can Julio Jones and company get open against the superb LSU cover guys?

Say what you want about the dropoff by Greg McElroy, the truth of the matter is he's had to make far tougher throws because his receivers have trouble creating space. Maybe that explains why Nick Saban is after just about every top receiving prospect in the Southeast, including Greensboro's Keenan Allen, who's expected to announce his commitment to the Tide as soon as this week.
-- Michael Gordon

I found myself watching the annual Florida beatdown and wondering which of our guys could start for the Gators. The only two I could be sure about were A.J. Green at WR and Drew Butler at punter. Of course it's a rebuilding year for Georgia -- when you lose the #1 and #12 picks in the draft, you're rebuilding -- but I'm guessing Florida will be better next year, post-Tebow, than we are now.
Now we're 4-4 and staring 6-6 in the face with Auburn and Tech yet to play. Tough week. Tough year.
-- Tommy Tomlinson