Sunday, January 31, 2010

The guy is 47 years old

So go ahead, say anything you want about Herschel Walker's debut in mixed martial arts, and then just take a look at the shape he's in. (Story here).

Recruiting, a bottom line

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. And the escalating cost of recruiting in college football is nothing short of an arms race.

Nick Saban is one of the best recruiters in all the game, but he doesn't pick up the tab. In his three years at Alabama, he has delivered two top-ranked classes. On Wednesday, his fourth group of recruits will easily finish in the top 5. Saban also spends way more jack than his predecessor on the job of attracting high school talent. That's one reason why he's so much better at it.
mg

Thursday, January 28, 2010

SEC Recruiting Class: The Lizard King rebuilds his army


Florida is responding to its butt-whipping by Alabama, the loss of Tim Tebow and the long-weekend retirement of Urban Meyer by building a 2010 recruiting class that ranks with the all-time best.

The fact that Meyer has reacted to defeat with a burst of even more manic energy (the same obsessive drive that has many around him worried about his longterm health) is not so surprising. But even the most avid Gator followers have to be stunned that obvious questions about their coach's future apparently had no bearing on the decisions on so many of elite members of the 2010 class. In fact, many of the best kids chose Gainesville after Meyer's "I'm gone/I'm back" theater.


A few other tidbits.

You remember Gabe King of Greensboro? Started out as the state's top prospect; declared ineligible because of a residency scandal; moved to Oregon and was seen being fitted for a beak as an Oregon Duck. Now at the very close of recruiting, Oregon has rescinded its scholarship. Could it be that some school back east found something inappropriate about King's relocation to the edge of the Oregon campus? Well, if it quacks like a Duck. King continues his dogged pursuit of a higher education with a visit to California this weekend.

Also scheduled for a Cal visit: King's former high school teammate Keenan Allen. Allen committed to Alabama months back. But Tide fans are now sweating their star recruit's frame of mind. Allen's half brother was a quarterback at Buffalo, who transferred out after Turner Gill left to coach Kansas. Now the brothers are visiting schools together. Both have offers from Clemson (the presumed runner-up in the original KA Sweepstakes) and next comes the trip to Berkeley. Two scenarios appear to be in play here: By going on these visits, Allen is only trying to get his bro the best scholarship offer; OR the two -- and their family -- are dead set on playing together in college. The family has gone Dick Cheney this week. But Alabama hopes to get some insight tonight when assistant Bo Davis visits the Allen home. The final answer comes Wednesday when the brothers reveal their choice(s) at a joint press conference. For the time being, Alabama may have to decide if Allen is worth two scholarships

New Volunteer coach Derek Dooley seems to have found his footing as a recruiter. Dooley, who inherited a wasteland of a class after his Romper Room predecessor bailed on Tennessee for USC, appears on the verge of flipping his state's top offensive lineman. James Stone has long been considered a lock for the Tide. Why the change? Stone truly disliked Lane Kiffin and most of his staff. Now that Kiffin is gone, the in-state school has made up ground in a hurry. Dooley is also making a strong push for Da'Rick Rogers, a 5-star receiver and a longtime commit to Georgia.

Alabama's response to Stone's apparent change of heart? Nick Saban has targeted Shon Coleman, the 5-star lineman out of Olive Branch, Miss., who is visiting Tuscaloosa today. Coleman is one of the top-ranked commitments in Auburn's excellent class but has never stopped scanning the landscape. Word is he's about to find a new home in another great Alabama recruiting haul.

On the Plains, the Marcus Lattimore watch presses on. If the Byrnes, S.C., star chooses Auburn, Tiger coach Gene Chizik and his staff should be selected Recruiters of the Year. Better yet, they've already sewed up the award.

More recruiting news to come.

mg

Dexter McCluster is the next ...

... Chris Johnson. Or Leon Washington. Or Warrick Dunn. Or Percy Harvin. Or Darren Sproles. Or DeSean Jackson. Scouts and observers at the Senior Bowl have been drooling all week over the former Ole Miss star's speed and ability. Big question, of course, is his size (5-8, 165), but it sure sounds like some teams are telling themselves, "Hey, if he can survive the SEC ..."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ivy League raids the SEC ... again

Kent Austin's leaving his job as Ole Miss offensive coordinator to take over as head coach of Cornell. He's replacing Jim Knowles, who's joining the staff at Duke (headed by former Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe). Completing the Oxford-Ithaca nexus, Knowles himself had been hired away from Ole Miss six years ago.


ESPN's Chris Low writes about what it all portends for the Ole Miss offense, which is now without its OC, its QB and its two best playmakers (McCluster and Hodge).

A thing or two about Cornellians, since we just don't get enough chances to write about the Big Red:

* RB Ed Marinaro (the immortal Joe Coffey on "Hill Street Blues") finished a close second to Auburn QB Pat Sullivan in the 1971 Heisman race, the last time an Ivy Leaguer has been anywhere near the top in the voting.

* Notable dropouts include Huey Lewis, Harry Chapin and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

So it goes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Terrence Cody expanding his presence at Senior Bowl

Terrence Cody's weight fluctuates as much as the price of gasoline. It hit 3-7-0 on the Senior Bowl scales this week, which remains well below the 8 X half a hunnert he was carrying when he arrived at Alabama. The All-American nose guard supposedly played his senior season at 354.

But something must have happened between the National Championship Game and his trip to Mobile this week. Maybe after Alabama's win over Texas in the Rose Bowl, he visited Disney Land, ran down Mickey Mouse, and swallowed him whole.

Read more about the Big Man's conditioning and his pro prospects. By the way, Nick is still complaining about being clocked in the head with the Gatorade barrel.

mg

MSU recruiting: Pony yes, rented mule no

Just now getting to the goings-on in and around Starkville (UA, UF and UT have sucked all the air and ink out of the room of late; see new poll at right), but anyways ...


* Three recruits recently availed themselves of a "establishment deemed impermissible" -- meaning a strip club just across the county line -- and then made mention of it on Facebook, which SI's Andy Staples concludes is not a good idea.

* Great quote from father of QB Cam Newton, who decided on Auburn after leaning toward MSU, on the disparity in the two schools' overall talent: "I didn't want him to be a rented mule."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Steve Spurrier's long slow goodnight . . .

This story was part of a two-part analysis of the OBC's steady fall from grace, starting in the NFL and continuing in the NFL Junior, otherwise known as the SEC.


The author's conclusions are these: Spurrier's offensive innovations haven't stood up to the faster, stronger and more aggressive defenses he now faces; more importantly, Spurrier has stubbornly stuck with them, despite the falling production.

The articles originally appeared last August. But South Carolina's offensive malaise in 2009, capped by its embarrassing bowl performance against UCONN, only corroborates the author's opinions.

What's more, concerns about Spurrier's offense may drive South Carolina's top prospect, running back Marcus Lattimore, out of state to Auburn. Eric Mack decommitted from the Gamecocks and is already headed to the Plains. John Fulton is going to Alabama. Lattimore's teammates Brandon Willis and Corey Miller have opted for North Carolina and Tennessee, respectively.

South Carolina's class is solid, but Spurrier's whiffing on the state's best players doesn't bode well for the Great Leap Forward that Gamecock fans have long expected since Spurrier arrived.

See what you think, then add your comments.

mg

Saturday, January 23, 2010

SEC as in 1, 2, 3

For the Mobile Press Register's highly entertaining numeric breakdown of the 2009 SEC season, punch here.


You might be surprised at what you learn.

mg

Friday, January 22, 2010

Another vapor trail out of Knoxville

Despite his tender years, Lane Kiffin obviously had a profound effect on his Tennessee staff. At the very least, the Little One seems to have been a role model on making a classy exit. More here.


(Update: Willie Mack Garza has, indeed, landed at Southern Cal, where he'll coach defensive backs.)

ESPN and Texas Tech

ESPN ombudsman Don Ohmeyer takes stock of how the network handled the Mike Leach-Adam James situation in this article. It's an interesting look at how a controversy (and-or a complicated story) is portrayed in words and images, particularly during a live telecast. (Try to imagine, for instance, how next season's announcers will refer to Meyer's health or Kiffin's departure.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The big cat in the hat

Coveted offensive lineman Eric Mack of Calhoun County, S.C., has said he will sign with Auburn after deciding against South Carolina. (Read more here and here.) Florida had also been in the hunt.

For Auburn fans, this brings to a satisfying conclusion the Mystery of the Visible Visor, in which recruitniks scrambled to divine Mack's intentions after he was spotted wearing AU headgear (above) at a high school all-star game in Florida earlier this month.

Democracy at work

House Resolution 1007 is now in the books, as the nation's representatives voted Tuesday to recognize Alabama's championship team. (Read it here.)


The mood was collegial, passage was swift, and a hush fell over the chamber when Rep. Brett Guthrie of Kentucky invoked the names of Bear Bryant and Harper Lee.

A few murmurs were reported when Mazie Hirono, the distinguished gentlewoman from Hawaii, referred to this title as being the Tide's "eighth since the advent of the polls in the 1930s."

The Senate, meanwhile, perhaps distracted by Tuesday's outcome in Massachusetts, will soon turn its full attention to a similar resolution.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

About that Tim Tebow TV ad

It's looking like the ad created by the nonprofit Christian group Focus on the Family and featuring Tebow and his mother, Pam, will appear during the Feb. 7 Super Bowl. MediaDailyNews is reporting that CBS has approved the script and will likely give final approval after it sees the video version.

It's expected that the ad will carry a pro-life message and will recount how Pam Tebow refused to have an abortion when she fell ill during a mission trip to the Philippines in 1987. (You can read more about that episode in this story from the Gainesville Sun.)

Details:
Theme: "Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life."
Length: 30 seconds.
Cost: Estimated at $2.5 to $3 million.
Paid for by: A private group of about a dozen donors, and not from the organization's general fund.

Reactions:
"So far Tim Tebow's own personal charisma has served to mask some of the intolerance associated with his own religious beliefs. By taking an avowed stand against abortion on the same day America celebrates the greatest sporting day on the calendar, Tim Tebow is taking a huge risk and stepping into a new arena." -- Clay Travis, FanHouse

"For a guy entering the pros, Tebow cannot be aligning himself with groups that exist on the fringes of American politics." -- mlmintampa, Alligator Army

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Saban gets a statue; Kiffin gets ...

"Knoxville attorney Drew McElroy has filed paperwork with the Knoxville City Council's Public Properties and Facilities Naming Committee to rename a wastewater treatment plant the 'Lane Kiffin Sewage Center.' "

Click here for the story and video from Knoxville's WBIR-TV.

Comings and goings (Not of the coaching variety)

Now that Tennessee has done its Dooley diligence and found itself a head coach, here's a quick look at early draft entries and recruits across the SEC.


In sum, Florida stands to lose -- and gain -- the most.

The Gators will be minus 5 players; SI's Stewart Mandel says tight end Aaron Hernandez and cornerback Joe Haden will be the hardest to replace. (Click here for a list of all underclassmen who have declared for the draft.)

Recruiting-wise, Florida is sitting pretty, with commitments from 5 of the dozen 5-star high schoolers. (ESPN's list of the top 150 is here.) The Gators are atop most every team ranking, including this one by Rivals.com. That list has Alabama at #3, Auburn at #4, LSU at #6, Georgia at #8 and Tennessee at #13. (The coaching swirl cost UT some top recruits; go here and here for more on how the Vols' class is shaping up.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Derek Dooley . . . the other orange meat

Well, he may have been the fifth or sixth or whatever choice, but Derek Dooley finally got invited to the SEC Prom.

Vince's boy appears to be the choice for Tennessee's next coach, embodying all the qualities Mike Shula brought to the Alabama job . . . a mediocre resume topped off by a first-class family name.

Read the Knoxville paper for the latest. But an early Expat reaction goes something like this: Dooley appears to have real promise, but he was at least UT's fourth choice. So why the panic? Sure, Tennessee's recruiting class is bleeding away. But does anybody this side of Smoky think a former La. Tech coach (though he was Nick Saban's recruiting director at LSU) with a losing record is going to stop that?

Instead of racing at the speed of light to have a replacement in place, Tennessee should have learned something from its hated rival. Alabama turned to Shula without doing due diligence and learned a painful lesson. After firing him, then watching Rich Rodriguez go back on his word, Tide AD Mal Moore ignored the critics and his hysterical fanbase and took all the time he needed to get his guy. Three years later, Alabama won its 13th national championship under Saban and looks to once again dominate most of its rivals, including Tennessee.

Tennessee, on the other hand, went all in to save a handful of big-name recruits. They're gambling that Dooley will be great. If he isn't, the Vols could lose a lot more than a few blue-chippers. Did athletic director Mike Hamilton really exhaust all big-name possibilities before Dooley? Or does he think he's caught the next great coaching talent as he begins his ascent. Ask Vol fans which door they choose. Hamilton, after all, brought them Lane Kiffin.


The Rocky Toppers have this solace: Dooley spent three years under Saban, the two remain close, and, according to those who watched the introductory press conference, Dooley did a first-rate Nick impersonation, all the way down to several aights.

But Hamilton is reportedly making Dooley swallow the high-priced leftovers from Kiffin's staff, the issue that presumably ended negotiations with Cutcliffe. How well the coaches pull together and recognizes Dooley's authority is another obstacle to add to the new coach's list.

In the meantime, the Expats offer a musical interlude, in hopes of cooling the fevered brows of our UT brethren. Or not.

(Sung to Tom Dooley)

Hang down your head, Vince Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head, Vince Dooley
Your boy's about to die.

Swimmin' upstream to Knoxville
Derek's sposed to save UT
Ain't got a player worth nothin'
They're all headed to USC

Hang down your head, Vince Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head, Vince Dooley
Your boy's about to die.

Urban's down south just waiting
Knotting up a Gator noose
Saban's riding herd in Bama
Ready to stomp his orange juice.

Refrain.

Pretty boy left last Tuesday
After swearin' he loved you most
Turns out he was lyin'
All he left is burnt orange toast.

First call went to Texas
Next Air Force and Duke
Fat Phil wanted Cutcliffe
Knoxville made him want to puke.

Refrain


MG

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tennessee inches ever closer to Cutcliffe

That's what the Knoxville News Sentinel is seeing and saying: "Duke head coach David Cutcliffe will be named Tennessee's next head coach barring a last-second snag in negotiations ..." Head on over to GoVolsExtra for the rest.

"The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last."

Oscar Wilde (and later, Willy Wonka) had it right.

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has called a team meeting in a few hours' time. Rumors abound. Stay tuned.

Update, 3:30: Calhoun's staying.

Update, 5:45: Now we're on the Cutcliffe Watch.

Fulmer releases statement on UT job

Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer (right), whose firing a year ago was handled clumsily by the university, released a statement Thursday about whether he's a candidate to replace Lane Kiffin, who left after a year to coach at Southern Cal (he's not), and makes pretty clear what he thought of Kiffin's year on the job (not much).

The statement, released by CBS College Sports Network, for which Fulmer is a contributor:

“Over the last 24 hours I have been contacted by friends, great fans and media members, and I feel it is important to comment, as a man who loves the University of Tennessee deeply and shares this love with millions of great Volunteer fans and friends.

Recent events have been painful and an embarrassment to all of us who care about UT. I love the University; I am loyal to my alma mater and am ready to help as the University makes one of the most important decisions in the history of our football program. However, to prevent any misunderstanding, I am not seeking to be a candidate for the head coaching position.

I am looking forward to embracing the next coach and have some strong beliefs about the kind of man he should be. He must embrace Tennessee’s culture and traditions, be mature and of good character, and demonstrate integrity and leadership to our young men who desperately want to be shown the way. He must deserve, earn and keep the trust of our young men -- both present and future.

Tennessee football has been successful for so many years because it has been rooted in values and traditions. We can’t take those values for granted – if we do not guard them carefully, we will lose them.”

"No, I can't coach football"

Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt tossed a few smiling darts Lane's way when she spoke to the Big Orange Tipoff Club on Wednesday. (Video from WBIR in Knoxville).

UT watch: Day 2

Now that everyone's had time to take a deep breath (meaning that all the Lane Kiffin piƱatas have met their fate), here's some early morning reading:


* The Wall Street Journal crunches the numbers on what happens to football programs after a coach makes a quick exit. (Hint: It ain't pretty.)

* The L.A. Times has more on Ed Orgeron calling players.

* While Tennessee legislators give a big fat "No" to their annual resolution honoring the UT coach, the governor calls L'affaire de Lane a "blip on the radar."

* The Denver Post talks to Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, whose name is starting to bubble up.

* Michael Ventre of NBCSports.com looks at what Kiffin brings to the USC table -- and sees plenty of positives.


* Andrea Adelson at the Orlando Sentinel dissects the eerie similarities between Kiffin and Palin.

* The Facebook fan page "Our Coach's Wife is Hotter Than Your Coach's Wife" is not hearing as much love at the moment.

* Naturally, the song parodies are coming fast and furious. Give a listen to "The Ballad of Lane Clampett," "Jump on the Lame Train" and "Runaway Lane."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hate Kiffin, help Haiti

Marketing genius at work.



-- Tommy

One word says it all


"Brief."

-- UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton, asked at a news conference how he would describe Lane Kiffin's tenure.

The UT craziness continues...

This from the ESPN Mobile Twitter feed:

BREAKING NEWS: According to Gene Wojciechowski, Tennessee has reached out to Phil Fulmer about potentially returning as head coach.

Yes, that would be the Phil Fulmer they ran out of Knoxville a year ago. You know... Johnny Majors is still alive, right?

-- Tommy

The Kiffin Era and some famous SEC turns of phrases . . .

We'll go to our death bed regretting this blatant exploitation of some famous SEC phrases. But we're cheap, visceral, obvious and lowdown, and in honor of Lane Kiffin, what the heck?


Run, Laney, run! Apologies to Larry Munson.

It's meltdown time in Tennessee! Apologies to John Ward.

Bottom! Ward again.

He stomped their face with a hob-nailed boot and crushed their nose! Munson again.

Hotty Toddy, God Almighty, where in the hell is he? Apolog . . . naw, Ole Miss, it's a stupid cheer.

"He had some nerve, and his name is mud, and there never was an ass like the Tennessee Stud . . . " Doc Watson deserves better.

Rocky Top, you'll always be, a pit stop for me . . . so long, Rocky Top, see you at USC, see you at USC."

Burnt Orange.

Pile on . . . I mean add your own.

MG

Lane, we hardly knew ye, but that was quite enough

A hot wife will only take you so far in this life . . .


Now, USC fans will learn what Al Davis and Urban Meyer and Nick Saban and millions of SEC fans have learned. There's something not quite right about Lane Kiffin. Unfortunately for the Tennessee contingent, they were the last to realize the extent of the pathologies.

The ExPats and their 2.5 regular readers will have more on this in the coming hours. But here's the take from Jess Nicholas (editor of Tidefans.com and a childhood bud of our own Courtney St. Onge). It may not be the most sympathetic eulogy for the Kiffikins' Era in Knoxville, but it will do.

The scene in Knoxville



Along with the rest of you, we'll be trolling the InterWebs through the day for details and good reads. Here's what it looked like last night outside the UT football complex. (Pictures via rockytoptalk and govolsxtra.)

* Go here for Clay Travis recounting how Kiffin brought his USC ways to Tennessee.

* Bill Plaschke from the L.A. Times: "This is who a true Trojan hires?"

* Gary Willis, father of not-a-Vol-after-all Brandon Willis from Duncan, S.C.: "You can't just follow guys like that. That's not what I'm teaching my son." (More on the state of UT recruiting
here and here.) P.S., Willis is now heading to UNC.

* And what of heralded QB prospect Tyler Bray? He's sticking with the Big Orange.

* So we'll start next season with new coaches at Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Florida State and Tennessee, among others. That's a lot of ghosts.

* Early candidate for best Twitter post: "Most secure jobs in US: Charlie Sheen's lawyer and Lane Kiffin's movers."

* Top 10 Kiffin moments, courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel. (Still kinda partial to the "pumping gas" remark.)

* "... personally comporting himself at all times in a manner consistent with good sportsmanship and in accordance with the high moral, ethical, and academic standards of the Athletic Department and the University." Hey, it said so right in his contract. (Also at govolsextra is a "Memorandum of Understanding" for both Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron.

* And if you haven't made your way to foxsports, here's a sneak peek:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Holy you-know-what: Lane Kiffin goes to USC...

That would be the one in Los Angeles, not the one in Columbia. ESPN just reported it.


SEC Expats would like to announce that we are just flabbergasted. And we would like to ask the people of Knoxville to stay away from sharp objects and flammable liquids tonight. We wouldn't wish this on anybody.

-- Tommy T.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The play that drove ol' Texas down . . .

Excellent breakdown on a Texas board of the speed option left call that led to Colt McCoy's injury.

The verdict: Less than stellar blocking, but a bad read by Colt McCoy, who apparently has never run this play very well.

So why call it? While you mull, mash here.

mg

Is it Nick or Shrek or both?

Nice column off the Toledo Blade about Nick Saban's first head coaching job. Some stuff won't surprise you. Some of it might.

Read on.

mg

Sunday, January 10, 2010

That's a lot of T's

Tommy Tuberville. Texas Tech. Click here for coverage from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, whose main headline this morning was "Welcome to Tuberville."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Insert your own joke here

The championship trophy hoisted by the Crimson Tide will be on display today at a Walmart in Tuscaloosa and then Sunday at one in Gardendale.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The morning after . . .

Not that we smelled a conspiracy -- nobody would accuse Alabama fans of having an us-against-the-world mentality, would they? -- but isn't it interesting how the anti-SEC sentiment began to coagulate in the hours before the Alabama-Texas BCS championship game: For the good of college football, the SEC has to be stopped; the SEC has a built-in advantage in a corrupt and corroded system. This morning, fans who couldn't find Boise State with Mapquest have grabbed the Broncos by the mane and hoisted them into the air as Exhibit I, challenging the legitimacy of another Alabama national title and the concept of last night's one-game showdown between two tradition-bound teams.


To which I now turn to the backside of Bevo to offer my response. Let her rip, Big Boy!

One day we will have a playoff system. Had it been in place this year, it's impossible to know if Alabama would have won it, just as it was impossible to predict that Colt McCoy would be lost from his final college game on the first series of downs.

But we do know this. No team this year ran a gauntlet as fierce as Alabama. In this imperfect system, Bama played the second toughest schedule in the country. When other teams opened with patsies, the Tide risked it all with a big-time, out-of-conference opponent. They played a nearly perfect game against Florida, the team they had been measuring themselves against for two years. Alabama won 13 games to get to Pasadena. What happens when it gets to winner-takes-all always involves some flip of the coin.

Last night against gallant Texas, Alabama took what the game gave them, then took the game back when Texas had fought to the cusp of what would have been perhaps the greatest win in UT's gold-plated history.

Now, there are two undefeated teams. This isn't a movie. Boise and Alabama won't be sneaking out to an open field Sunday afternoon to settle things. And from this perspective, they don't have to. The Broncos had a terrific year, and will likely start the 2010 season ranked in the Top 5. That will put them into the position to finally break through into the Last Game. If they do, they'll put more pressure on the sport's powers to seriously reconsider how they pick their champion.

For now we'll have to settle for what we have. The great thing about our game is that every weekend matters. Every Saturday, some team gets exposed and culled from the list. And as good as Broncos were, they didn't play in the SEC, which every year demands more from its champion than any other conference. Does the SEC have a reserved seat in the title game? Maybe. That's because they've earned it -- they always win. Based on that alone, who can argue that the BCS would be even more of a joke without the SEC taking part.

Odds are an SEC school will be trying to make it five in a row in 2010. Florida, if Urban Meyer's born-again passion holds up, will be back with a new look and just as much talent. The fires burn brighter at Auburn and Tennessee. LSU and Georgia will be back.

But all of them now will be chasing Alabama. The Tide returns almost all its skilled players on both sides of the ball. Even Rolando McClain is said to be seriously considering a return to Tuscaloosa for the pursuit of a second ring. Besides, Alabama made more than enough mistakes last night to give their driven coach plenty to stew about over the summer.

Nick Saban looked miserable through much of the celebration. He was Larry Brown without the Armani, a haunted soul in a ruined shirt on high-def display. So maybe you don't want him as your neighbor. But there are millions of Alabama fans rapturously happy that Saban is their coach.

And it was clear, from his Gatorade bath to the hairline fracture of a smile he managed when handed the crystal trophy, that he has already begun thinking of next year.

Michael Gordon

That would be four . . .

We can argue about the number of national titles. But this is irrefutable:


Four crowns in a row for the SEC.

It wasn't pretty, but neither is Nick Saban.

More to come in the morning.

mg

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tonight is for all the SEC

The first Alabama game I remember was the '65 Orange Bowl. Texas was the opponent. The coaches, I learned from my father, were named Darrell and Bear. Bear? It was a night game, college football's first prime-time foray. My family gathered in suburban St. Louis around our black-and-white, which was still TV enough to show that Joe Namath really did wear white shoes. That night, whether he got over the goal line or not, Namath won me over, and I pulled hard for Alabama for the first time.

To root for a college team is to be part of one of life's perfect unions, a relationship that deepens with time, like all the good ones do. In my house, Saturdays in the fall have become like one of those reserved sections at the front of a church wedding. My best friends, partisans of Georgia, LSU, Clemson, Auburn and even Ohio State, are allowed under the ropes. Pretend fans are politely turned away.

Two years ago, the slave trader who is my loving bride sold me into a restaurant dinner party that coincided with the kickoff of the Georgia-Alabama game. There, while scanning the menu, I contemplated green hedges and a black-faced Sanford Stadium, mulling how to salvage some part of my marriage and still get to a TV for the second half.

Just then, my cellphone went postal. The text messages and phone calls whistled in from all over the country. By the time Alabama scored to make it 31-0, in the first half, at Athens, the electronic updates were cutting through the dinner conversation like shrapnel. My friends had found me. The other husband at the table, a Gamecock guy, was laughing out loud. Even Jennifer had to smile.

Thursday we come full circle: Alabama and Texas once again, this time in a winner-takes-all showdown that turns a college football game into a prime time mutant. The Tide is the favorite, but so was Namath's team. And with so much riding on the outcome, who knows how either set of kids will play.

For that matter, who knows how adults will react? That's why I've invited Tommy Tomlinson over to see how it all unfolds. He's a Georgia guy, sure. But he's been to the big game before, and he knows how to behave no matter how the scoreboard turns out. He also brings his own bourbon.

He and Trent Roberts and Peter St. Onge, Steve Harrison, Cliff Mehrtens and I started the SEC Expats because we wanted an outlet at work to discuss our schools and our favorite sport. We've had fun, learned some things, and we appreciate those of you who've climbed aboard with your jabs and insights. My personal favorite came down the chimney on Christmas morning: This blog blows, it said.

We're down to one game. The SEC is again reaching for the crystal. This is the one day when we're supposed to close ranks, to reach for the Dramamine, swallow hard, and get behind the last team standing from the greatest conference on earth. I'll happily accept the Karmic blessings from any one-game alliances. And in Texas, which features a fan base as obnoxious as any in the SEC and a $5 million coach flashing an Alfred E. Newman grin, we have an inviting rallying point.

But relationships like ours are complicated, and let's be blunt: Many of you don't like my team, and I don't like most of yours. If you can't manage to root for Alabama, so be it. Mutual contempt, after all, is our esprit de corps, and it's those kind of feelings that remind us we're part of something bigger and more enduring than the outcome of a single game.

It's called the SEC.

RDT

-- Michael Gordon


And now a word from the Crimson King

Don't know about the rest of you, but the Expats are sorely in need of a couple of personal days.

Thursday for the game.
Friday for Elvis' birthday.

And here's the man who can connect those two sanctified dots.

Ladies and gentlemen, GaryElvis.

Back when he went by Gary Britt, he played linebacker for the Tide. Lettered in '77. Now he lives in Florida and appears all over the country. At his shows he collects food and teddy bears for needy families and hospitalized kids, part of his Love Me Tender Charity Project.

And the rings? The two in the middle are part of his outfit, while the ones on either end are from his playing days.

GaryElvis dropped the Expats a line on Wednesday, saying he was heading up to Alabama to watch the game with a buddy of his, Ken James, a lineman from the late '60s.

You can find out more about the man at www.garyelvis.com. And we can't do any better than the way he signed off his e-mail ...

'TCB & Roll Tide Roll'

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

'If boosters stop donating to football, they will not start donating to classics departments.'

George Will weighs in on the business of the college game. Go here for the story.

He gotta funny mouth . . .

John Kelso from the Austin paper says the Horns are decided underdog on the 'neck grid. Yeah, right. One problem: He doesn't live in Texas. He lives in Austin. That would be like me writing my Texas/Alabama comparison while floating across the weightlessness room at NASA space camp in Huntsville.

But like most things Kelso, it's fun to read.
mg

More on Alabama's national titles ... with a Charlotte angle

Let's do the math, or should I say the new math, that leads to Alabama's claim of 12 national championships.

Our instructor: None other than Wayne Atcheson, director of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
As sports information director under former Alabama coach Ray Perkins in the 1980s, Atcheson started going through the records book, he says, to give his school its historical due.
The 12-titles claim drives rival schools nuts, and, admittedly, the 1941 crown comes with more than a little tin (mash here, and be sure to check out the cool graphic at the bottom by Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News). But Atcheson says other schools are just as aggressive in writing their own legacy. And if you want to argue with this fine man of God, go right ahead.
Alabama, of course, goes for No. 13 tomorrow night.
But, if you like, we can call it a Bama's Dozen.
Michael Gordon

P.S. - Peter St. Onge: A more accurate counting of Alabama's national titles can be found here. Or you can try the NCAA's count, which is nine (although they place two of those titles in the iffy "retroactive" category.) Using Mr. Atcheson's methods, Auburn fans could count themselves four national titles. We don't.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Puttin' on the Ritz with a Roll Tide

A quick note about the social festivities leading up to Thursday night's game.

First off, Charlotte's Alabama alumni group is holding a "Hook 'Em and Cook 'Em BBQ" at Mac's in Steele Creek on Wednesday. The gathering was initially slated for Mac's on South Boulevard. But Bama chapter president Chad Champion (Class of '93) says so many crimson carnivores have signed up that the Bevo picking had to be moved to Mac's bigger venue at 2414 Sandy Porter Road. Cost is $12 per, and Mark Packer will be holding forth.

The RSVPs ended Sunday. But if you want to go, and as an SEC Expats insider's special, call Shanna Jarvis at 704-516-4573, or e-mail her at shanna_jarvis@hotmail.com and she'll find a way to squeeze you in.

Thursday night, the alums will gather to watch the game at Bailey's Sports Grille, 8500 Pineville-Matthews Road. A crimson mob is expected, so Champion suggests an early arrival for a good seat.

As to Champion . . . interesting name, and he graduated the year of Alabama's 12th and last national title, the Sugar Bowl shellacking that put the Miami program in a 17-year coma. (Some limited brain activity was detected this season at the U, but the prospects for recovery remain guarded.)

His call on Thursday's game: A 7- to 10-point ballgame, if things go according to plan.

Key word: If. I'll take one point.

-- MG

Monday, January 4, 2010

Meyer vs. 'The Monster'

Good story from the New York Daily News on Urban Meyer's roller-coaster ride of a season.

Good fences make good neighbors . . .

Not that Nick Saban is paranoid or anything. He's just extremely private. So much so that he had a temporary fence built around the team's practice field in California.

You know what they say about public places. Darn, if the public doesn't show up.

For extra credit, check out LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke's take on Saban's all-business demeanor. Seems like he prefers the more laid-back approach of Pete Carroll. Seems like Saban, not Carroll, is playing in the only meaningful bowl game of the year.
MG


Sunday, January 3, 2010

About that bowl showing . . .

Some observations about the SEC's less-than-stellar showing in the bowl games.


1. It's the best league, but its top two teams are light years ahead of the rest.

2. When you send 10 teams to the post-season, you'll get some odd matchups, as in lower-ranked SEC teams vs. teams with better records from supposedly weaker conferences (Tennessee vs. Va. Tech, for instance, or LSU vs. Penn State, the No. 2 team in the Big 10).

Still . . .

*South Carolina's performance against UConn takes the cake for the worst bowl showing of any team, even Cincinnati. In the great scheme of things, bowl games say very little about next year's team, but the widespread ineptitude Steve Spurrier's players displayed against a Big East opponent shows just how far the Gamecocks still have to travel, while raising further questions if at his age, Spurrier still has the want-to to make that journey with them.

*When we look at the tape of the 2009 season, one of the great surprises will always be why, week in/week out, all that physical talent at LSU played so soft and slow. Penn State buried the Tigers in the slop of Orlando whenever the Nittany Lions really needed to, and at big moments, even the Tigers' vaunted secondary offered less resistance than Rachel Uchitel. New defensive coordinator John Chavis was supposed to make a difference. Looks like the new coach needs some new players. The Louisiana heat comes early for Les Miles.

*While on the subject of problematic defenses, Auburn and Arkansas survived because their opponents couldn't kick. Who would have thought East Carolina would have been able to throw and run with such ease against the Hogs, or that Northwestern would move the ball up and down the field against Auburn? The Plainsmen didn't help their cause with their celebration penalties, but the underdogs from the Big 10 bit off huge hunks of turf against a team that was bigger and faster. That said, kudos to Gene Chizik and his staff. The excitement at Auburn didn't stay dormant for long, and the new guy looks and acts like a head coach. Chizik and Gus Malzahn must find a quarterback, but with a bunch of players returning and recruiting gathering even more steam, expectations will be boiling throughout the summer in Tiger Nation. At Arkansas, so much depends on whether Ryan Mallet stays another year. Bobby Petrino still must prove he can recruit with the SEC big boys. Otherwise, he will simply be relying on a different set of mirrors in 2010. Mallett's return could change much of that.

*How would things have been different at Ole Miss had Houston Nutt built his offense around Dexter McCluster instead of Jevan Snead? The script of the Cotton Bowl was unfolding along the familiar lines of all Ole Miss losses: When Snead struggles, the Rebs fall apart. McCluster put Ole Miss in front, Snead's mistakes kept it close. Fortunately for the SEC'ers, Oklahoma State made even more errors down the stretch, and they made several in the vicinity of the Ole Miss goal line. Next year Nutt's offensive line will be better, and he will continue to ride the benefits of Ed Orgeron's recruiting. For good or bad and probably both, it's likely he will have a returning quarterback. But he will lose the SEC's most valuable and versatile offensive player, a player who would have won Mississippi a few more games, had his head coach not taken so long to figure out what he had.
Oh yeah, Ole Miss fans, Dan Mullen has something smoldering in Starkville. Look for some maroon flames next falls.
*As expected, Lane Kiffin is recruiting like a mad man, but he faces an off season filled with more holes than a woodpecker tree. His is a meat-and-potatoes approach in which you line up against your man and whip his butt. He doesn't have a flashy offense like Auburn or Arkansas, or nearly enough depth to fully feed off his daddy's defense. Now he loses his best player, Eric Berry, a senior quarterback who played above almost everyone's expectations, and one of his best overall leaders, Montario Hardesty. Next year, Tennessee will be younger than ever. The kids have real potential, but Tennessee is nowhere near the point of winning without a quarterback who makes big plays (Georgia will be rowing the same boat). Looks like another year in east Tennessee where the head coach will make most of the headlines.

One game to go, more on that to come.

Michael Gordon

P.S., Peter St. Onge - I guess the view from the top provides clarity on everyone else's shortcomings. A dissenting view: While it's definitely self-affirming for the Tide fan to say that the problem with the SEC is the "rest" of the SEC, the Tide's close calls against Auburn, Tennessee and South Carolina beg otherwise. Alabama is the best team in the conference, yes, but only by the length of Terrence Cody's outstretched hand.

A nitpick: The Northwestern kick-that-wasn't only would have sent the game into a second overtime. And yes, while Auburn's depleted defense gave up yards and points to Northwestern, Auburn was one silly, late-game fumble away from a 14-point win.

Newton to Auburn, Favre to MSU

Junior college QB Cameron Newton picks Auburn, so Mississippi State turns to Dylan Favre.

For the record: SEC 5, ACC 4

SEC wins in '09:

Alabama over Virginia Tech, South Carolina over N.C. State, Florida over Florida State, Georgia over Georgia Tech, South Carolina over Clemson.

ACC wins:
Georgia Tech over Mississippi State, Georgia Tech over Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech over Tennessee (bowl), Clemson over Kentucky (bowl).

Looking ahead to '10:
Alabama-Duke, Auburn-Clemson, LSU-North Carolina, Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson, Vanderbilt-Wake Forest.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Eric Berry going pro

The SEC loses a good one as the Tennessee safety decides it's time for the NFL, where he's projected as a top-5 pick. One from the highlight reels: