Thursday, September 30, 2010

Who ya got? Week 5

Traditionally, the first weekend of October is hog-killing time -- when the air turns just cool enough to do the nasty work needed to be done before winter. The same can be said about the SEC -- the serious culling of the conference teams begins in earnest this week, with this caveat: The two schools wielding knives in Tuscaloosa Saturday night could have one more crack at each other in December.

Otherwise, many of the conference schools have scheduled breathers. And struggling Georgia, with A.J. Green back in the lineup, hopes to finally catch its breath in a 6,000-foot visit to Colorado. Woof Woof or Wheeze Wheeze?

Florida at Alabama Let's boil this down to a lowest common denominator. Assuming all else is equal, and assuming that each team stops what its opponent most wants to do . . . that would turn the game into a one-on-one between John Brantley and Greg McElroy. Me, too. Tide, 24-13.

Kentucky at Ole Miss Before last week, Kentucky was alive with hope and Ole Miss was deader than a first-term Democrat. What say we now? How about: Psycho killer, qu'est-ce que c'est? Rebs, 24-21.

Georgia at Colorado Mark Richt takes his team to Boulder where Colorado will honor its 1990 National Champions, coached by Bill McCartney, who far eclipses even Richt in the public practice of his faith. Unfortunately, both coaches had problems keeping their players on the straight and narrow. Sunday school lessons can wait in Athens. First, Georgia wants to win a game. Pray harder, boys. Buffs, 28-17

Tennessee at LSU Tennessee has no players and an inexperienced coach. LSU has no offense, no quarterback, very little coaching . . . and Patrick Peterson. In other words, it's a mismatch. Tigers 24-6

La-Monroe at Auburn Cameron Newton's one-man show gets more good reviews. Tigers. 42-7

Vandy-UCONN Big East has something to yell about. But hold it down, will you? It's Vanderbilt, for goodness sake. Huskies 24-17

Alcorn State at MSU State always plays a tough schedule, and this is the only softie left on the schedule -- besides Ole Miss, of course. Bullies, 35-10

Now who you got?


Tommy T.:

Florida at Alabama: I've been telling Gordon all year that Bama will lose three times before the season is up. I even had them figured out: At South Carolina, against Auburn and then a bowl game (assuming, of course, that they play somebody from the Mountain West). The Tide almost got an early start last week at Arkansas, but Ryan Mallett's wayward arm saved them.* I don't think Florida is a tougher opponent this year, especially with Bama at home. But beware next week in Columbia. Tide, 27-21.

*If I'm an NFL scout, I'd be drooling over Mallett's arm... but I'd also be wondering about not just those late INTs, but how he whined his way through the fourth quarter. I don't think he did himself any favors in that game.

Tennessee at LSU: LSU has Patrick Patterson and you don't. Some weeks, that's enough. Tigers, 23-10.

Georgia at Colorado: The descent continues. I read somewhere this week that Mark Richt could go to UNC (replacing Butch Davis) and both schools would be happy. I'm not ready to jettison Richt just yet... but ask me again in December. Buffs, 21-12.

Kentucky at Ole Miss: I don't have any idea and you don't either. Ackbars, 36-30.

UConn 29, Vandy 21

Miss. State 37, Alcorn State 13

Auburn 56, La.-Monroe 3

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

One more take on Bama's D

The easy take is that Alabama really tightened up against Ryan Mallett and the Hogs in The Tide's 24-20 comeback.

But is it true? In part, according to this link, but Alabama still had major breakdowns. Not that the defense didn't make some plays, but so did Arkansas, and theirs were bad. Mallett made three atrocious throws and Hog receivers had three clear drops that stopped drives.

Most importantly, the Alabama offense limited Mallett to four possessions in the entire second half.

Check the link for a play-by-play breakdown. It offers details at a geek-level, and on this board, that's a compliment.


Monday, September 27, 2010

What we learned from Week 4 . . .

1. If Alabama makes it back to Atlanta, it will be the offense driving the bus.
The Tide's Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Trent Richadson and Julio Jones overcame their teammates' glaring defensive breakdowns in the first half to rally past Arkansas, 24-20. The defense did play better after halftime for two reasons: Ryan Mallett threw his two worst interceptions of his career at the worst possible times, and the Alabama offense marched up and down the field, keeping Mallett on the bench.
The Alabama line finally began hitting Mallett in the second half - and boy did he start whining - but not nearly enough. The linebackers have been slow to react all year. And all those 5-star recruits playing defensive back have done a mediocre job in coverage and don't like to tackle. Bottom line: That must change if the Tide expects to get through its next two games: Florida and especially at South Carolina, which will be coming off a bye week when Alabama rolls in Oct. 9.

2. Let's be honest: Does anybody really want to play Auburn? The Tigers sliced up and beat up previously undefeated South Carolina by attacking on both sides of the ball on every play. Yes, Auburn has defensive weaknesses. But one of them is not effort and a willingness to deliver the wood. On offense, and led by SEC Player of the Year front-runner Cameron Newton, AU has an endless array of plays that are both creative and low-risk. The result: more than 500 yards against what was supposed to be one of the SEC's best defenses. Most of those ran through Newton, a freak of nature when he carries the ball and a much better thrower than advertised. It's early, true, but who has better odds arriving at the Iron Bowl undefeated, Alabama or Auburn?

3. Will we see a change of quarterback at South Carolina? Maybe Steve Spurrier will calm down, but his decision to pull veteran Stephen Garcia late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line could have been the Rubicon in the relationship between the coach and player. Garcia played marvelously for three quarters before reverting to his "I'll win this game by myself" pathologies in the fourth. That led to two killer fumbles that erased a Gamecock lead and put Auburn in control. Connor Shaw came in cold and made some good things happen with his feet and his arm. But he consistently threw into traffic, sometimes to his own players, sometimes to Auburn's. The EXPATS' odds makers put it at 55-45 that Garcia will be out of the dog house before the Alabama game. But has anyone ever made money trying to guess with Spurrier?

4. Let's hold off for a week before announcing the emergence of the real Florida. For the first time all year the Gators put points on the board in its lopsided win over Kentucky. But this week, also for the first time, they will leave the state of Florida to play a formidable opponent -- and it's Saturday night at Alabama. Florida's strength has been its defense; Alabama, its offense. Both teams are young and extremely talented, but Alabama has the experience where its needed most -- in its skilled positions. Tide by 9.

5. The chat boards in Georgia sound like the Humane Society at meal time. The Dawg faithless, who have never fully appreciated the gap between talent and performance, are winless in the SEC and are baying for blood. For good reason. Their team seemed largely lifeless Saturday night in Starkville. Georgia is just not very good at anything outside of their kickers. That changes when A.J. Green comes off his suspension this week. But it hard to see Green making that much difference, given the way Mississippi State pushed the Dawgs around when they were supposedly playing to save their season. Georgia capped off its lovely weekend with another arrest of a player early Sunday morning in Athens. Clearly this is a program in free-fall. Mark Richt deserves another year, but we have officially entered the realm where he may not get it.

What say y'all?

Friday, September 24, 2010

For the health of the player or the health of the team?

Interesting Wall Street Journal article on the use of "medical redshirts," the NCAA-allowed practice of keeping an injured player on scholarship but off the 85-member roster.

The school examined: Alabama.

At least one of the kids interviewed felt pressured to give up his roster spot; others did not.

See what you think.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Who ya got? Week IV

No offense to Georgia-South Carolina, a game I love, but we're approaching the first truly Big Game in the SEC this year.
Arkansas-Alabama is a strange series (Bama leads 10-8) marked by weird calls or noncalls, last-second catches or noncatches and one OT affair in which Leigh Kiffin had more trouble kicking the ball than Charlie Brown.
This game, however, has the biggest build-up of any of them. Reasonably sane people in Arkansas, a truly endangered species, are calling Saturday's matchup the biggest instate sporting event since the 1969 showdown with Texas. To put that hyperventilation in perspective, the 15-14 Longhorn win 42 years ago is the single greatest piece of gridiron tragi-drama I have ever seen.
Suffice to say both teams have a lot at stake. Bobby Petrino and Ryan Mallett will attempt saturation bombing of the Tide's still unsettled defense. The Hogs will score, and plenty. But unless the top-ranked Alabama starts leaving the ball on the grass, Arkansas can't score enough.
Call the Hogs, for sure. But get them to higher ground. High Tide acomin', 35-24.

Georgia at Mississippi State
Expectations are a funny thing. Two sets of Bulldogs with the same record. But one team comes in under withering criticism about its coaching and future, while the other is ready to play another game. For most of a quarter last Saturday, Georgia looked like a football team. But they fell apart when it was time to win. Now they are at the point of salvaging something of their season or turning up the fire already burning beneath them. I like UGA's quarterback, but I don't like their chances. State 17-14

Kentucky at Florida

Looks like Florida will be the worst-looking unbeaten team in America when it comes to Tuscaloosa a week from now. Gators, 21-10

South Carolina-Auburn
South Carolina catches the Aubies at the perfect time. Banged up offensive line and running backs will put more pressure on Tiger quarterback Cameron Newton. Two keys: Can Newton throw against the Roosters' talented defense? Can Carolina QB Stephen Garcia make enough plays so the Tiger defense can't attack Marcus Lattimore like bream after a bread crumb. This game should end in a tie. AU, 21-20.

West Virginia at LSU
Call this one the Rodney Dangerfield Bowl. Bill Stewart and Les Miles get no respect as head coaches. But one of them has to win. To quote ol' Lester, What me worry? LSU, 24-16

Fresno State, 35, Ole Miss, 31.

UT 24, UAB, 7.

-- MG

Alabama at Arkansas: According to the transitive property of football, I want the team that gut-punched my Dawgs last week to beat Alabama so we'll look better. And I still think Bama loses three games this year. But as good as Ryan Mallett is, he's not as tasty a matchup as Ingram, Richardson and Jones vs. the Razorback defense. This one will be entertaining. Tide, 38-30.

South Carolina at Auburn: I always like to make one crazy prediction early on and get it over with, so here it is: This will also be the SEC championship game. That one's on neutral ground. This one's on the Plains. War Eagles, 23-14.

West Virginia at LSU: Les Miles finally runs into someone he can outcoach. Tigers, 27-13.

Georgia at Mississippi State: I'm angrier at both the NCAA and A.J. Green with every passing day. State, 22-19.

Kentucky at Florida: Man, I want to pick Kentucky here. In Lexington, maybe. But dreams die in the Swamp. Florida, 31-21.

Fresno State 28, Ole Miss 13.

Tennessee 36, UAB 7.

-- Tommy T.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bulldog Agonistes

With Mr. Tomlinson still overcome with the vapors from watching Georgia's last-minute loss to Arkansas in person, we turn for perspective to an anomaly: a reasonable Georgia fan.

My friend Bud, who's not quite ready to give up his last name to the ExPats, still offers an archetypal voice to a growling Bulldog Nation. He writes.

I have to admit to being one of those who is dissatisfied with the coaching at UGA.
This is our 3rd disappointing year in a row (disappointing in that we were expected to do a lot better than we did).

Here’s why I’m dissatisfied:

After the South Carolina game Mark Richt said: “We’re still learning our players a little bit and where everybody fits the best and what’s our best lineup still.”

“We gotta just get more guys in the game. We gotta not have [Tyson] play as many snaps as he played,” Richt said. “That’s true of some of the others guys too. We gotta get Abry in the game more, we gotta get Bean in the game more, we gotta get Geathers in the game more. They played a lot of 3-receiver sets, a lot of 4-receiver sets or at least put us in more of a nickel situation so our nose guards come out during that time. We just gotta find a way to get them in there.”

“I think that we got to learn our personnel a little bit better. We gotta probably get our bigger people in there,” Richt said. “Just try to find the right combination in some of our looks. That’ll help us. We definitely gotta continue to improve up front.”

He’s been head coach at UGA for 10 years and the offensive coordinator at Florida State for many years before that. Why didn’t he already know all this before the USC game? Over the past 3 years we’ve learned that the GA team has not been as prepared as our opponent on several occasions.

One other thing that’s interesting is the big disconnect between our recruiting and our performance on the field, although I think that even if we have a problem with recruiting, it’s still the fault of Richt and his staff. ranks all the teams in the country on their recruiting classes each year. I’m sure they aren’t always right. But here’s their national ranks for the past 5 years for the players that currently make up our team and USC’s team:

2010 (this year’s true freshmen) = UGA 15th, USC 24th
2009 = UGA 6th, USC 12th
2008 = UGA 7th, USC 22nd
2007 = UGA 9th, USC 6th
2006 (this year’s seniors who were red shirted their first year) = UGA 4th, USC 24th

I have to ask – if our recruiting has been anywhere nearly as good as that, why were we unranked at the end of last year and why are we unranked now?

And why are we 2-6 in our last 8 SEC games?

As always, only serious replies -- and the non-serious ones we think are funny -- will be accepted. Woof away.


Monday, September 20, 2010

What we think we know: Week 3

We'll defer to correspondent Tomlinson's account of The Agony and the Ecstasy and the Agony of Georgia's loss to Arkansas. Suffice to say Georgia people aren't happy. They won't be until Georgia beats someone of note. It's that critical mass of manic-depressives that makes the SEC so good. You're up, you're down. And if we look deep inside, we can always find cause to rejoice is a rival's suffering.

Back to the lessons of the week:

1. These reports of Florida's demise may not be greatly overstated. This doesn't look like a team. This looks like a bunch of players who don't like each other, which is how the Gators came out of fall practice. I heard a caller say this morning on FNZ that Florida needed a stronger class of recruits this year to be competitive again. How do you top the consensus No. 1 class Florida hauled in last February, with mutants?

Sometimes talent doesn't get it. "Eyes Wide Shut" had Cruise and Kidman and Kubrick, plus a whole lot of naked bodies and it still stunk. Likewise, the Gators, with all those five stars Meyered in mediocrity, don't look like they've fully come to grips that Tebow is not coming to save them.

2. Let the record show that the Alabama correspondent on this board correctly picked Vanderbilt's win at Oxford. That means the name of Rebs' head coach Houston Nutt will begin popping up around every job opening this side of a substitute teacher. The Rev starts floating these imaginary trial balloons when the fires start hitting the soles of his feet in his current job.

In a breaking news exclusive, The EXPATS have learned that Nutt's name has surfaced in early conversations about possible openings at Independence High. A school spokesman refuted the claim. First off, the spokesman said, they have a coach. If they didn't, they'd want one with a proven track record. Sorry Houston.

3. Bully for Auburn's comeback against Clemson in what may have been the second best game of the entire weekend (trailing the ridiculously fun final play between Michigan State and Notre Dame). But does that really make it a "God thing" as Coach Gene Chizik called it. Did God have money on the game? If so, we want to know his bookie, and how does he collect if, say, God takes Duke and the points?

4. The real season begins for Alabama. You heard it here first: Compared to the previous two years, the Tide defense is soft and slow, its line doesn't penetrate, its linebackers are slow to the edge, and its DBs take bad tackling angles and bust coverages. When's the last time a team led 42-13 at half and the head coach blasted his defense for "playing like crap"? Except, Mr. Personality used another word - on live radio.

Messrs. McElroy, Ingram, Richardson and Jones will likely exceed anything Ryan Mallet and Arkansas can put on the scoreboard. But if the defense doesn't improve, the players will be wearing tire burns to class next Monday.

Report from the stands: Georgia-Arkansas

Your humble correspondent ended up with a ticket (thanks to buddies Zane, Michelle and Little Z) to the game on Saturday. As you probably know, it ended up as a gut punch to Georgia fans. Now that I've had a couple days, I can think about it with only mild profanity. So here's a report from Athens.

The scene: Quieter than it used to be. I haven't been to Athens in five years or so, and in that time UGA has banned tailgating next to the stadium and curtailed it on most of North Campus. So the guys who used to park their old school bus on Sanford Drive and put 30 drunk friends on the roof, all singing Hank Jr.'s "Family Tradition," are somewhere else now. Or dead from expired livers.

I'm of two minds about this. I don't miss all the examples of Obnoxious Fan No. 1 (drinks 20 Bud Lights, leers at every girl who walks by, pukes in bushes, passes out before game starts). But for my tastes it could've been about 30 percent more rowdy. Then again, we weren't in the dorms, where several unspeakable things happen every day before breakfast.

The heat: Brutal. The scoreboard kept saying it was 83 degrees, which might have been true if the thermometer had been buried three feet under the turf. In the stands, with the sun bouncing off those metal benches, it was death on a stick. Every Day Should Be Saturday went to Florida-Tennessee, and tweeted that it was like spending three hours in a kiln; same here.

The mood: Ugly early. I figured coach Mark Richt would take most of the heat for UGA's loss to South Carolina, and its general blah-ness for the past year or two, but based on what I heard in the stands, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is getting most of the blame. A guy a few seats over from me was a perfect example of Obnoxious Fan No. 2 (screams the entire game at players/coaches/refs, sincerely believes he knows more about football than the paid professionals and the athletes who have played since second grade). From the moment the Georgia offense took the field, Ob Fan #2 started screaming "Bobo! BOOOOOOOOBOOOOOOO!!!" in this fashion:

Yeah, that was fun to listen to.

The game: Terrible, wonderful, then terrible.

Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett threw two TD passes to receivers all alone behind the defense -- a 57-yarder to Chris Gragg when the game was barely three minutes old, and a 22-yarder to Ronnie Wingo Jr. at the end of the third quarter. It's easy to look like an All-American when your receivers are all by themselves, waving to you like distant swimmers.

That second wide-open TD made it 24-10, and there was no reason to think Georgia had a chance. Arkansas killed us with crossing patterns, and when we had the ball, freshman Aaron Murray kept holding the ball... and holding it... and holding it. For three quarters our best play, by far, was "Murray drops back to pass then takes off running for his life."

(It was hard to tell, watching live, if Murray was just timid or if the receivers weren't getting open. The one guy you knew could get open, A.J. Green, was on the sidelines, suspended. Yes, the NCAA laid down too harsh a punishment for selling a jersey. Even so, Green was a dope for doing it in the first place.)

Early in the fourth, when Georgia turned it over on downs at the Arkansas 30, some people headed home. But for some reason, after that, the switch flipped. Arkansas got one first down on its next two possessions, and Georgia scored two TDs set up by bombs from Murray to Kris Durham. With 3:55 left it was tied, and the stadium was about as loud as I've ever heard it.*

*My three loudest Sanford Stadium moments:

1) Kevin Butler 60-yard field goal to beat Clemson in '84
2) Herschel takes field w/broken thumb, Tron Jackson scores on end-around against Clemson (called back on penalty) in '82
3) UCLA cheerleaders take field in '83, causing several freshmen to collapse from hormone overload

Arkansas had to punt again and we got the ball on our 34. After two 10-yard runs sandwiched around a sack, we called timeout with 1:04 left, third-and-4 at midfield.

At that moment, what kind of odds would you have put on the outcome? I guessed something like this:

25 percent: Georgia wins in regulation (all the momentum, great kicker)
70 percent: overtime
5 percent: Arkansas wins in regulation

But then Murray took another sack. Drew Butler shanked a punt. And it took only three plays and 39 seconds for this to happen:

Nobody screamed at Mike Bobo after that. Nobody said much of anything.

The future: I just don't see Georgia winning many games this year. When Arkansas scored, it looked easy; every time Georgia scored it took great catches and broken tackles. With Green on the bench, there didn't seem to be a single playmaker on the field -- somebody who was simply stronger, faster, shiftier or smarter than anyone else out there. I'm trying not to be Obnoxious Fan No. 3 -- the guy who takes one loss and projects it into a decade of dread and despair. Besides, except for that last minute, I had a blast.

But I think it's going to be a long season.

-- Tommy T.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Who ya got? Week III

Mike G.: Two games into the season and we've already come up upon a killin' weekend. By the cocktail hour Saturday, we'll know if its hogs or dogs.

Either Arkansas or Georgia takes a neck shot this weekend. The two play a high-noon showdown in Athens, with Arkansas coming off two so-so performances and the Bulldogs dragging a back leg after being thrown on their backs by upstart South Carolina.

Georgia players followed up their mediocre performance with all sorts of strange comments about taking plays off and not giving their all.

Maybe, their all -- minus probationer A.J. Green -- isn't good enough. Georgia's season is already on the line, and Saturday, its rebuilt defense will claim or lose the day. It certainly can't outscore Arkansas, so it better keep quarterback Ryan Mallett on his back.

Funny, good QBs have a way of finding their footing at the most opportune times. Mr. Tomlinson, who has scored a ticket, will be on hand in Athens to attest. Hawgs, 28-21.

Florida at Tennessee Better showering habits will only take you so far. Hang down your head, Derek Dooley. Gators, 21-10.

Alabama at Duke
As pessimistic as I tend to run, I can't see this being close. Welcome back Marcel and Mark. Tide, 42-10.

Clemson at Auburn
A "blue-out" is rumored on The Plains, which, should it happen, seems like a waste of a once-a-year gimmick normally reserved for bigger rivals. Auburn, which smashed mouthed its way past Mississippi State last week, faces a team that has never shown it can take a punch. Lot riding on Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker. Too much. Tigers, the Alabama ones, 24-20.

Miss. State at LSU
Bulldogs don't have a quarterback; LSU almost does. Tigers, 31-17

Ole Miss at Vandy
The Masolis continued their ridiculously easy early season schedule. This week they strive for a winning record. Nutts. Vandy, 17-16

Akron at Kentucky.
Zip(s) it ain't. 'Cats, 27-10

Furman at South Carolina
Perfect stage for a Spurrier-Garcia implosion. Auburn is next. Roosters, 28-10

Tommy T.: As Mike mentioned, it's FIELD TRIP! time for me -- one of my old roommates scored tickets to UGA-ARK, and we'll be leaving dawnish on Saturday in hopes of slipping into Athens before traffic backs up to Lithonia. Full report next week.

I'm jacked about the trip and terrified about the game. On neutral ground, Arkansas probably has the better team. But I'm hoping the home crowd and the sting of losing to South Carolina push the Dawgs just far enough. I wouldn't bet a dime on it, but I'm gonna say Georgia, 21-20.

Florida at Tennessee: Last year's Florida team would beat this year's Florida team by 50. But this year's Florida team has struggled against two early cupcakes. Tennessee's not great, but they're just good enough to get Derek Dooley carried off the field once this season (don't mess with the hair!) Vols, 23-16.

Alabama at Duke: Mike didn't tell you how secretly afraid he is that this one will be 13-10 in the third. That would be a wonderful thing. But he's got no need to worry. Tide, 45-7.

Clemson at Auburn: After this week, everybody'll know who Cam Newton is. War Eagles, 38-21.

Miss. State at LSU: I'm seeing some folks picking this as an upset special. If it were in Starkville, maybe. But not in Baton Rouge. Tigers, 29-10.

Ole Miss at Vandy: The Nutt Watch begins. 'Dores, 17-10.

Akron at Kentucky: The SEC schedule grid I use had last week's Kentucky game (vs. Western Kentucky) flipped with this week's game. But really, it doesn't matter. UK, 38-3.

Furman at USC: Crow now, Cocks. Next two weeks: at Auburn, home against Alabama. USC, 44-13.

Peter St.O:
Alabama 49, Duke 10 - Tide fans fret it isn't 69-10.
Georgia 20, Arkansas 17 - Richt bounceback. Or else.
Auburn 27, Clemson 20 - Will Auburn open up its offense?
Florida 17, Tennessee 14 - Tennesee too thin to hang.
LSU 17, Miss State 13 - Toss up.
Ole Miss 24, Vandy 7
USC 37, Furman 10
Kentucky 34, Akron 7

Thursday, September 16, 2010

'The State of Disappointment'

That's how this story in The Wall Street Journal sums up college football in South Carolina, adding, "There may be no state in America that has a worse passion-to-production ratio."

Happy reading.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Fall of the Troy

Good recap from LA Times at how the arrogance of the USC Athletic Department brought out the big guns from the NCAA.

A particularly interesting detail: former coach Pete Carroll's goal of building a program in which everybody "was coming after you."

Sound familiar? In fact, that's eerily similar to Lane Kiffin's response to the "hostessgate" scandal during his one year brush fire at Tennessee.

Nice to see the USC program in good hands. We wish them all the best.

Enjoy the read


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Crouching Tiger. Flying Runningback.

Enuff said. This is fun.

Bama-Duke: an early take

OK, so the most pressing questions might be this: Will Alabama nose out Clemson for the largest ticket margin ever for a visiting school at Wallace Wade Outdoor Stadium?

Odds say they will. The Crimson Armada, the slew of RVs that track the Tide on its road games, is already steaming toward Durham. Scores of Alabama fans bought Duke season tickets this year solely to lock up a seat for Saturday.

What they might see is an actual game. UA alum David Cutcliffe will be slinging the ball around like a street corner gambler slings dice. And Alabama's defensive backfield, not exactly a weakness in the first too games, has definitely not been a strength either.

On the other hand, Alabama could score 60 against Duke's D, and with the return of Mark Ingram and Marcel Dareus, the final margin -- emphasis on final -- shouldn't be particularly close. Just expect plenty of excitement along the way.

Here's Jess Nicholas' take from


Monday, September 13, 2010

What we think we learned. Week II

1. It's a simple game. Dems who gots quarterbacks win. Dems that don't trail Harry Reid in the polls. Alabama-Penn State, Ohio State-Miami, Michigan-Notre Dame, Auburn-Miss. State ... in most of the marquee matchups, the team with the edge behind center carried the day.

What happened to Va. Tech defies any explanation -- besides the curse that's haunted the ACC since it flew too close to the sun, its grandiose expansion melted before its very eyes, and it's been in a free-fall ever since.

2. While on the subject . . . Has there ever been a worst weekend in ACC football history? Given how often it comes up, that question has become a cliche. But when the week's highlight is North Carolina's bye week, which, we're proud to add, the Heels survived without word of another NCAA investigation or another Marvin Austin tweet, well . . . that's a pretty bad week.

3. Some things to keep an eye on: The punches landed on Marcus Lattimore -- those blows add up; the pass completion percentage against that outrageously fast Gamecock secondary; Arkansas' surprising offensive difficulties; the clear loss of speed by Alabama linebacker Dontae Hightower; the ups and downs of the Auburn defense (which was clearly on its game against Mississippi State); how Georgia responds; how the great Tide runningbacks share the ball with the expected return of Heisman winner Mark Ingram; how many media members will maintain the "right attitude" given Tennessee's second-half collapse Saturday night; Florida's continued struggles against inferior opponents. So far the Gators look very soft.

4. This is not last year's Alabama defense. Sure the Tide won, and easily. But facing a true freshman quarterback, the Tide gave up almost 300 yards and lost the time of possession to the Nittany Lions. Three turnovers deep in Alabama territory made this game seem more a mismatch than what actually occurred on the field. The good news: All-American lineman Marcel Dareus returns from his two-game suspension. (As does Ingram) The bad news: Hightower, the leader of the defense, was stellar in the middle but looked sluggish pursuing sideline to sideline, raising questions about his surgically repaired knee. Is Nick Saban still holding cards? Possibly. Can the breaks in the line and secondary be exploited by a veteran quarterback? Stay tuned. Mallet and Arkansas loom on Sept. 25.

5. Boy Bozo and USC accomplished one thing: They were the only Division I opponent that made an ACC school look competitive Saturday. It's early, sure, but the Probationers of Troy don't look like a very good football team. Funny, that's what they said about Kiffin's team at Knoxville. Funny, that's what they said about Kiffin's team in Oakland. In other words, Kiffin is plowing ahead toward his next promotion.


FCS over FBS: Six and counting

Ole Miss has company. Lots of company. Only a couple of weeks into the season and we're already looking at 6 FCS wins over FBS teams:

* Jacksonville State 49, Ole Miss 48
* North Dakota State 6, Kansas 3
* James Madison 21, Virginia Tech 16
* Gardner-Webb 38, Akron 37
* Liberty 27, Ball State 23
* South Dakota 41, Minnesota 38

This Saturday it's Furman (24th, FCS poll) at South Carolina (13th, AP poll). Just sayin'.

-- R. Trentham Roberts

Friday, September 10, 2010

Week 2: Who ya got?

Ho-hum, another uneventful week in SEC football...

UGA stud receiver A.J. Green gets nailed for selling his game-worn jersey. (Feel free to stick your NCAA-is-a-bunch-of-idjits rant here... we're too tired. But we agree.)

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley thinks the really important flaw in his team is a lack of "shower discipline." (I'm pretty sure they still show "Shower Discipline" late at night on Showtime.)

Admiral Ackbar is still hopeful.

And we have three strong games to chew on. To the picks!

Tommy T.:
Georgia at South Carolina: Hey, these are my picks, so my Dawgs come first. Unfortunately, I don't see a happy ending here -- this UGA team doesn't look strong enough to win without its best player. And after watching Florida last week, the Gamecocks have to think the SEC East is there for the taking. In fact, the winner of this game might take it. USC 21, UGA 18.

Penn State at Alabama: I'm still feeling the whiff of disaster around this Alabama team (disaster meaning, like, three losses). This time, they escape. But it's coming. Bama 27, Paternos 17.

Oregon at Tennessee: Now that UT has their showering technique squared away, all they need to work on is offense, defense and special teams. They'll need more work after Saturday. Ducks 33, Vols 17.

LSU at Vanderbilt: You know I want to pick Vandy here. You know I can't. LSU 28, Vandy 24.

South Florida at Florida: If THIS one is close deep in the second half, hide the torches at the Home Depots in Central Florida. Gators 24, South Florida 13.

Arkansas 56, La.-Monroe 13

Ole Miss 28, Tulane 10

Kentucky 38, Akron 3


Alabama 24, Penn State 7: Tuscaloosa not a happy place for young QBs to visit.

Oregon 42, Tennessee 13:
Statement game for the Ducks.

South Carolina 17, Georgia 14

LSU 34, Vandy 17

Arkansas 42, La. Monroe 21

Ole Miss 37, Tulane 7

Florida 17, South Florida 13

Kentucky 34, Akron 13

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Auburn-MSU: Who you got?

Ahh, sweet Thursday-night SEC football... a nice appetizer before the main course of Saturday games.*

*Note to diners -- The highly-popular entree "A.J. Green" is off the menu until further notice.

Tonight it's Auburn traveling to Starkville (a/k/a America's Favorite Vacation Spot) to face Mississippi State. As you might remember, these two combined for the 3-2 game (otherwise known as the Ugly Bowl) two years ago. Who you got?

Peter St. Onge: Auburn 48, Mississippi State 45: You know those no-defense Saturday ACC games that take four hours and preempt our beloved SEC on CBS broadcast? This is one of those, with cowbells. The question to be answered: Was Auburn's defense strategically vanilla last week against Arkansas State, or was it swiss-cheesing like 2009 all over again? Probably a little bit of both, but Cam and Co. pull this one out.

Trent Roberts: It's 2008 all over again. Times ten. Auburn 30, Mississippi State 20.

Tommy Tomlinson: Somebody's got to stand up for the honor of the Magnolia State this year. And apparently it ain't gonna be Ole Miss. Mississippi State 27, Auburn 19.

Back on Friday with weekend picks... as always, add your own in the comments.

-- Tommy T.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The goats of Ole Miss

What happens when your personnel is in disarray in the days leading up to the game?

Jacksonville State 49, Ole Miss 48 is what.

Mind you, we're not talking about the loop-de-loop Jeremiah Masoli found himself riding. This is about something much bigger: the new mascot.

The field is down to five -- a land shark, a bear, a horse, a lion, and two characters to be named Hotty and Toddy. (Tragically, no Admiral Ackbar, though as this ESPN spot shows, his candidacy still has some legs.) The excruciatingly earnest selection process (go to for the details) isn't expected to be finished until October.

As for the weekend implosion, there's good news and bad news.

The good news is that because the two teams were so evenly matched, we're thinking of tucking Ole Miss into the number 8.5 spot in the latest FCS poll, right behind the Elon Phoenix and just ahead of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. (Jacksonville State jumped 12 spots to No. 5; go here for the top 25). We're looking for the Red and Blue to make some noise come playoff time.

The bad news is that the road gets no easier for the Rebels: a murderers' row of Tulane, Vandy, Fresno State and Kentucky await before the bye week.

And, finally, we're wondering if in the grand scheme of things this in fact marks the onset of the Curse of Colonel Reb: Let no title banner be raised while he is cast out, forever in exile, wandering the Square, a man without a Confederacy.

-- R. Trentham Roberts

Friday, September 3, 2010

Who Ya Got? Week I, part II

Poor Les Miles.

Facing a season-long jury trial on his fitness to be LSU's coach (much less qualify for driver's license or change a light bulb), he and his Tiger team were decided underdogs in the season opener in Atlanta. But then North Carolina pulled a Dean Wormer and suspended the entire Delta House -- up to 16 Tar Heel players, many of them starters, could sit this one out.

In a flash, LSU goes from the luxury of letting 'er rip to being expected to win and win big. Which puts Miles right back behind bars in the Prison of Big Expectations.

LSU should win, but there's no guarantee it will. The Tigers still must show they have the quarterback and the line play that all those good-looking players couldn't quite muster a year ago. North Carolina? The Heels, all 14 of those still eligible, will come flying.

LSU should win. But by gawd, they better.
Tigers: 24-17.

San Jose St. at Alabama
The defending champs can't wait to play. In the last few days, The Tide has lost its Heisman Trophy winning tailback Mark Ingram to an injured knee and All-American tackle Marcel Dareus, who suffered a rupture to that part of the brain that makes good choices. What next? Nick Saban joining a nunnery? Naw, God has his own PWAHCESS, but Nick likes his better. Tide, 44-0.

Miami of Ohio at Florida: Urban Meyer is licking his licks. All that talent, and all those people with their noses pressing against the glass seeing if he can survive the tumultuous off-season and the loss of Gator Boy. The answers ain't coming from this one. Gators, 49-14.

La-Lafyette at Georgia:
One of the worst off-seasons in Georgia history ends Saturday. Then the real fun begins. Given his record, Mark Richt shouldn't be under so much pressure to win. But he is, and he starts this pivotal season with questions on defense, an unproven quarterback and more players in police lineups than "The Usual Suspects." Now he faces a deceptively scary opener. Gamecocks already kicking up dirt. Dogs, 28-14.

Kentucky at Louisville: To quote Chuck Barris. Joker, Joker, Joker. The 'Ville, 24-14.

UT-Martin at UT-Knoxville. The Vols, who want no part of an ACC school, get to open with someone their own size. Better enjoy this one. UTK, 35-7.

Northwestern at Vandy: Losing a coach so close to the start of the season is the least of Vanderbilt's problems. Northwestern, 33-10.

Tennessee Tech at Arkansas: Ryan Mallett kicks off the remake of "My Favorite Year." Hogs, 55-10.

Arkansas State at Auburn The Fighting Chizickians launch Year II with Cameron Newton taking controls at quarterback. No pressure. Newton is supposedly an amalgam of Batman, Robin, The Fantastic Four and Submariner. Sorry, that's a bit of an hyperbole. We haven't seen him swim. AU, 42-17.

JSU at Ole Miss: Jeremiah, we hardly knew ye. The team formerly known as Rebels, 20-7.

Memphis at Mississippi State: When's the last time so much excitement surrounded a perennial doormat. Bullies, 31-21.

-- MG

LSU vs. UNC: This does sort of have "Hoosiers" potential -- I can see Butch Davis sending out eight guys on defense and shouting "My team is on the field!" But I'm thinking the only SEC-caliber players the Tar Heels have will be watching from Chapel Hill. It'll be close for a quarter and a half until the adrenaline wears off. LSU, 35-13.

San Jose St. at Alabama: That ESPN special, the Ingram injury, the Dareus suspension... you can already smell the Tide's season going bad. This week, though, San Jose State plays the part of Febreze. Bama, 33-6.

Louisiana-Lafayette at Georgia: Hey, my Dawgs are on SEC TV this week! If Aaron Murray looks half as good as Stephen Garcia did last night, I'll be happy. Dawgs, 30-13.

Kentucky at Louisville: I'm going to pick Joker Phillips until he loses. Which probably won't be long. UK, 19-17.

Northwestern at Vanderbilt: Our academic school is better than your academic school. Just not this week. Northwestern, 27-20.

Arkansas 56, Tennessee Tech 10

Auburn 38, Arkansas State 7

Mississippi State 19, Memphis 12

Ole Miss 42, Jacksonville 14

Florida 49, Miami (Ohio) 10

Tennessee 33, UT-Martin 0

-- Tommy T.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Football. Finally. Who you got?

We admire The Most Interesting Man In The World. He always gets the ladies (although that one on the right might be a dude, which would make The Most Interesting Man even more interesting). But we will never be him, because while he is off feeding condor babies on the cliffs, we are watching (and yapping about) SEC football. This is what we do. And today is the day we finally get to open the box that has been sitting over there in the corner, locked up, since what seems like 8 million years ago but was actually only January.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are games. Thank you, Lord.

We start tonight with Southern Miss at South Carolina. Predictions:

Steve Spurrier has what he wants, another quarterback controversy.

Once that was interesting. Now it's a cliché. Still, it gives Spurrier another opportunity to let the world know that he's better than his players. That Spurrier has been in South Carolina long enough to recruit and coach all of these disappointments is not a fact he dwells on. (Nor does he take much responsibility for a passel of the players being on the dole at one of Columbia's best hotels.)

Carolina is a trendy pick to compete for the SEC East this year. Next week, Georgia comes to Columbia to test the thesis. This week, the Gamecocks open with a rebuilding Southern Miss. South Carolina should win. But how it wins portends for the team's chances when the live ammo goes in the chambers next week.

That Spurrier and his starting quarterback Stephen Garcia are bickering again is like one more nasty battle in a bad marriage. One of them needs to go. And maybe, this time, it's not the quarterback.

Carolina, 20-7.
-- Mike Gordon

This is supposed to be The Year for the Gamecocks -- Florida, Georgia and Tennessee are all down (or supposed to be), and Steve Spurrier has his team as loaded as it's been since he arrived. Which would make this the perfect time for USC to pratfall. I don't think it'll happen, but I do think it'll be close fairly late -- it wouldn't be a USC game without a little heartburn. Cocks 28, Southern Miss 20.
-- Tommy Tomlinson

Southern Miss 31, South Carolina 20: Golden Eagles won't get caught looking ahead to Prairie View.
-- R. Trentham Roberts

USC 24, Southern Miss 14: USC has too much at home. Party at the team hotel after the game!
-- Peter St. Onge

Add your predictions in the comments... but not just for the USC game. Who you got to win the SEC? Who you got to win the national championship? (We realize that question might be redundant.) Who you got to be a breakout star, to underachieve, to go on probation? Who you got for whatever you want to talk about?

Fire away. And rejoice, all, for the season has arrived.

Where the faithful gather

Here's an updated list of places in Charlotte where fans are watching their teams. Drop us a comment with any details, changes, or libations of choice.

Alabama -- Bailey's Sports Grille

Arkansas -- Fox & Hound (?)

Auburn -- Dilworth Neighborhood Grille

Florida -- Buffalo Wild Wings (NASCAR Hall of Fame)

Georgia -- Dilworth Neighborhood Grille

Kentucky -- Fifty-1 (south Charlotte)

LSU -- Strike City (EpiCentre)

MSU -- Hickory Tavern (Harris Corners Parkway)

Ole Miss - Picasso's, Dixie's Tavern (?)
Can't find an active link to a local club

South Carolina -- Dilworth Neighborhood Grille

Tennessee -- Dilworth Neighborhood Grille