Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2012 conference schedule is out

And here it is. It all starts Aug. 30 with South Carolina and Vanderbilt. 'Bama and Florida both get Missouri and Texas A&M. Enjoy.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bowl games are upon us

The fun starts Friday for SEC fans. Below is the list, and to the right is the LSU-Bama poll.

-- Dec. 30: Music City Bowl, Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest

-- Dec. 31: Liberty Bowl, Vanderbilt vs. Cincinnati
-- Dec. 31: Chick-fil-A Bowl, Auburn vs. Virginia
-- Jan. 2: Capital One Bowl, South Carolina vs. Nebraska
-- Jan. 2: Outback Bowl, Georgia vs. Michigan State
-- Jan. 2: Gator Bowl, Florida vs. Ohio State
-- Jan. 6: Cotton Bowl, Arkansas vs. Kansas State
-- Jan. 9: BCS championship game, LSU vs. Alabama

Correction: Obviously spoke a little too soon. The fun started Monday for fans of soon-to-be-SEC Missouri. Texas A&M, meanwhile, plays Northwestern on New Year's Eve.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Early look at 2012

New teams. New schedule. But what to make of the teams?

Jess Nicholas of Tidefans.com offers these predictions on the 2012 SEC season.

Trending upward: LSU, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi State and Vandy. Trending down: Arkansas, South Carolina, Auburn, Tennessee and, gulp, Alabama.

The Newbies? Nicholas puts Missouri and Texas A&M among the down arrows. As Dean Wormer might have put it, That's no way to start life in a new conference, son.

Read more of Nicholas' thoughts, ratcheer.

MG

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wednesday morning readings

* With Oklahoma State left on the outside looking in, Big 12 athletic directors show support for a four-team playoff and a plus-one title game. Story by Andy Staples of SI.com here.
* Georgia gets a big-time RB recruit in Keith Marshall. Story from Raleigh News & Observer here.
* Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com hands out his end-of-year awards. Story here.
* Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com lists the 10 biggest duds of the season. Story here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Next time just check the lost-and-found box

We were just wondering where those titles have been hiding all these years when we saw this headline on www.olemisssports.com. Hope the new coach polishes them up a bit.

MISSISSIPPI MAN: FREEZE TAPPED TO RETURN TITLES TO OLE MISS

SEC's new St. Louis media outpost weighs in on BCS

If SEC football fans aren't familiar with Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, they soon will be.

Since Missouri joined the party, Miklasz has been writing more about Southern football. And while he acknowledges an early addiction to the Paul Finebaum Show -- Courage, Bernie, there's help available -- he normally writes an informed column that's never short on opinion.

His take on The Rematch: Why the outrage?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hugh Freeze to Ole Miss

It's official. Go here for the Ole Miss news release and to hear from Archie himself.

Freeze himself announced it on Twitter a couple of hours ago ...

I asked for a word from God, I found Jeremiah 29:11-14. I have taken the Head Coaching Job at Ole Miss, but it's not without a heavy heart.


And for the great unwashed among you, that passage goes like this ...

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.

Who's bowl-bound and other thoughts

Who's going where:


-- Dec. 30: Music City Bowl, Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest
-- Dec. 31: Liberty Bowl, Vanderbilt vs. Cincinnati
-- Dec. 31: Chick-fil-A Bowl, Auburn vs. Virginia
-- Jan. 2: Capital One Bowl, South Carolina vs. Nebraska
-- Jan. 2: Outback Bowl, Georgia vs. Michigan State
-- Jan. 2: Gator Bowl, Florida vs. Ohio State
-- Jan. 6: Cotton Bowl, Arkansas vs. Kansas State
-- Jan. 9: BCS championship game, LSU vs. Alabama

For the record, that's 3 SEC-Big 10 matchups. That always makes bowl season a little more fun, though I wouldn't be all that surprised if the SEC didn't win a single one of them.

* Count me among those who wanted to see LSU-Oklahoma State. Here's why: If LSU were to defeat OSU, the Tigers would have played and beaten EVERYBODY (everybody in this case being the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th teams in the BCS, along with the teams ranked 16th and 23rd and a couple of other bowl teams for good measure). And if Oklahoma State were to win, they'd claim the title for beating the No. 1 team in the title game. (Besides, I have a bit of an easier time hearing Oklahoma State saying "We deserve a shot" than Alabama saying "We deserve another shot.")

* That said, now that it's LSU-'Bama, might I suggest this new motto for the Magnolia State: MISSSISSIPPI: BORDERING NATIONAL CHAMPIONS SINCE 2009.

* Congratulations to East Mississippi Community College, which claimed the national juco title with a 55-47 win over Arizona Western College in the El Toro Bowl on Saturday. (Story here.) Let's see ... No. 1 playing No. 2, on one team's home field (in this case, top-ranked Arizona Western) ... that all sounds vaguely familiar.

-- R. Trentham Roberts

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The BCS Showdown and post SECCG edition

Update: The deal is done. LSU and Alabama finish 1, 2. The Rematch is on.


First things first: Congratulations to the University of Georgia. For one magical half, they made LSU look tepid and slow. They made Jordan Jefferson look like, well, the Jefferson of yesteryear. They made the Tigers' defense look disorganized. They took the fight to a bigger team and overwhelmed them for 30 minutes. They showed, particularly on defense, how much they've grown.

But they kept dropping the stupid ball.

In the end, the Bulldogs learned what every other team on LSU's schedule already knows. Get to the Les Miles' team early. Otherwise, the window closes. The vise tightens. The chances of victory, already small, become shards, and then shards again.

LSU is that good. Only one team has traded blows with them in the middle of the ring. That team is Alabama, which lost in overtime to the Bengals in Tuscaloosa, and at this hour appears to be the last detail standing before one helluva party breaks out in the bayous.

Ah, that last detail.

An imperfect system has one job: to pick the two best teams. This year, there are two teams with viable arguments for a single spot. Oklahoma State couldn't have asked for a better closing argument than the utter humiliation of its despised rival before a national audience Saturday night. But that will have to do for this year.

The computers and the human voters and coaches and the alchemists secretly manipulating the BCS data from some castle in the Balkans all had their say on Sunday. It appears the SEC will have its sixth straight national championship. It will still be five weeks, however, before we know which name goes on the trophy.

LSU's opponent officially comes out of the hat tonight on ESPN. But the tweets have been singing like cicadas throughout the day, and the din keeps pointing toward Alabama. Nick Saban's team had its shot, true. But his team played an almost identical season to LSU's. Alabama was every bit as dominant playing an eerily similar brand of football. On Nov. 5, one team made three field goals; the other made two. That's it.

Sure it's unfair for LSU to have played an extra game and now have to beat the Tide a second time. But as deserving a titleist as LSU would be, coronations for national champs went out when the BCS came in. No more bad matchups because of conference affiliations. The two best teams settle things. Period.

And that's what will happen Jan. 9. The two best teams from the best conference. Everyone else will be home watching. Even for the SEC, that will be a first.

mg

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From Moo U to Happy Valley?

That's the rumor going around about Dan Mullen and Penn State. (It began with ESPN, a Scranton newspaper and a Jackson TV station.) Read the Clarion-Ledger story here.

Now this is how bowl invites are meant to go out

And now let us harken back to the days when there were only a half-dozen bowls at season's end (1957, to be exact) ...


LOST PHONE
NUMBER LOST
TEXAS BOWL

KNOXVILLE, TENN., Dec. 1 (UP) -- Tennessee clinched an automatic Gator Bowl invitation by beating Vanderbilt, but Texas A&M may have slipped into the Jacksonville, Fla., classic by dint of a smudged phone number.

Joe Livingston, a member of the Gator Bowl selection committee, said chairman Sam Wolfson wrote down the numbers of Aggie coach Bear Bryant and Texas athletic director Ed Olle on a slip of paper.

When Wolfson started placing his calls Saturday afternoon, he intended to call Olle first and offer an invitation to the Gator Bowl on Dec. 28. He and the rest of the 11-man committee were convinced that the Sugar Bowl already had a commitment from A&M.

He could not read Olle's number, which was smudged, and placed a call to Bryant in Houston, Tex. Bryant, whose Aggies had a better season record than the Texas Longhorns, accepted.

"Bryant appeared to be miffed at the Sugar Bowl for some reason," Livingston said. It may have been that the Sugar Bowl officials kept both Texas and Texas A&M dangling until the last minute.

Postscript: The Aggies lost 3-0 to Tennessee in Bryant's final game at A&M. Ole Miss pounded Texas 39-7 in the Sugar Bowl.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Just call him Coach. TOSU does

From Urban Meyer's contract (Go here for the PDF):


The Ohio State University, on behalf of its Department of Athletics ("Ohio State"), and Urban F. Meyer ("Coach") have had certain discussions regarding Coach's employment as Ohio State's head football coach. The parties recognize that Ohio State shall present Coach with a more thorough employment contract addressing additional terms of employment in the near future. Until that time, the parties hereby agree to the following terms as follows:

And so on and so forth. A couple of the many things of interest: Meyer's base salary ($700,000 per year) is half what he gets from "Apparel/shoe/equipment" ($1.4 million); and he gets $250,000 if Ohio State plays for the national championship.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Urban Meyer 2.0

Read THE fine print carefully in THE owner's manual for THE new coach for THE Ohio State University. Operating instructions comes courtesy of longtime Florida Gator worshipper Spencer Hall.

For starters,do not fold, spindle or mutilate. But you can press here.

mg

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Who Ya Got? The Thanksgiving Leftovers Edition

Nothing riding on this weekend's game, except the final piece for the SEC Championship Game, the BCS Championship Matchup and the future of man as we know it.

Spin this anyway you like. Cut it. Mash it. Slice it. Ginzu Knife it ... The SEC still holds all the cards in the national championship race. If LSU wins Friday, they're in -- even if something really peculiar happens next week in Atlanta. If Alabama wins at Auburn. They're in. If Arkansas upsets LSU, they'll be in if Alabama stumbles or LSU falls to Georgia. It's hard to imagine another team or conference getting back into the discussion. And if chalk holds, it's LSU and Alabama Part Deux early next year in New Orleans.

How can you top five straight championships? By having two SEC teams playing for number 6, that's how. Release the hounds!!

Arkansas at LSU
When he was alive, my father used to predict the outcome of games based on the physical attributes of key players. In his eyes, those with "weak chins" were destined for failure. Which brings us to the Hogs. Bobby Petrino's piggies have the size and skill to make this a game against top-ranked LSU. Except that the Hogs are one team at home and an entirely different one on the road. Death Valley on a Saturday can become an alien outpost, but it still ain't in Arkansas. And Arkansas, in its road unies, hasn't shown it can take a punch.TIGERS, 35-24.

Georgia at Georgia Tech:

One of the truly nasty rival games of the year finds the Dawgs paraphrasing The Clash: Should we play or should we blow? The SEC Championship in Atlanta is clearly Georgia's higher calling. But these two teams just can't stand the sight of each other. Tech's defense stinks, again, but their option has driven Georgia crazy for three years running. This one has upset written all over it, particularly with UGA's muddled tailback situation. But can Tech run the ball? Not sure. Not sure of anything on this pick. But I'll run with the Dawgs. UGA, 28-24.

Alabama-Auburn
I've seen two punts blocked. I've seen Bo over the top and Bo run the wrong way. I've seen The Kick. I've seen The Comeback. I've seen Musso best Sullivan to Beasley and the bands flee the stadium when the tornado sirens went off around Legion Field.

But I can't for the life of me see how Auburn wins this game. And that's a little scary. Weird things always happen in the Iron Bowl, sure, and Auburn is a far better team on the Plains. But Alabama is bigger, deeper, more talented, more experienced and has a mad on much bigger than the 24-point lead it blew a year ago. If it needs any more incentive, there's that little matter of having a shot at keeping the national championship trophy instate for another year. TIDE, 28-10.

FSU at Florida:
Two awfully trendy pre-season picks limp into their rivalry game like punch-drunk ham-and-eggers. Who wins this one? The team that shows up, that's who. The Good Ship Jimbo springs another leak. GATORS, 20-17.

Ole Miss at Mississippi State:
Something is rotten in the Egg Bowl. For another year, Dan Mullen's Bulldogs couldn't win a meaningful conference game, and Houston Nutt's last Rebel team is one of the worst in school history. Ole Miss laid down several weeks ago, and it's hard to imagine it getting to its feet, even for the instate rivalry game. When the new coach gets to Oxford, he's not going to know where to start. BULLIES, 24-13.

Clemson at South Carolina:
We'll make this quick. A team that got steam-rolled by NC State doesn't have the ball bearings to go four quarters against a defense as talented as South Carolina. If the Roosters don't drop the ball all over the field and the USC defensive backs do a reasonable job guarding the Tiger wideouts, and if Steve Spurrier doesn't try to steal the spotlight with some cutesy calls, the Gamecocks size and speed on defense should prevail. USC, 21-17.

Tennessee 24, Kentucky 7.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kirk Herbstreit on Urban Meyer and the spread offense

From today's "Mike & Mike in the Morning," on whether Meyer -- if and when he takes over at TOSU -- can make the spread offense work in the Big Ten ...

"Sorry, but the SEC defenses across the board are way, way more athletic and more physical ... the closest thing we have in college football to NFL defenses is the SEC. And if Urban Meyer and his offensive style can be successful in the SEC, it'll be like going up against the scout team when they go up against the Big Ten."

Herbstreit also talks about the LSU-Alabama-Arkansas conundrum. Listen here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Egg Bowl, in 140 characters or less

Pound sign of the times: What one end of Scott Field will look like for Saturday's Mississippi State-Ole Miss game in Starkville. (Personally, I would have gone with #dogtag.) In this matchup of two offensively challenged teams, perhaps it will help one of them find the end zone. State is also trotting out new uniforms for the game. Go here and here for a look. -- R. Trentham Roberts

Monday, November 21, 2011

Larry Munson: The voice in my head



The football I caught all the game-winning touchdowns with was made out of vinyl. Each section was a different color, none found in nature. It was from a dime store. It was not regulation. But I'd fire it high into the air -- did I mention I was also a record-setting quarterback? -- and track it down the length of our side yard. Sometimes I would slow down so I'd have to dive for the catch. And as I held the ball in the air to celebrate, I was also the announcer, going crazy over yet another last-second win.

Kids everywhere do this sort of thing. But I was a Georgia boy. So even though the announcer was me, the call was not really mine. The voice in my head was Larry Munson.

Munson died Sunday night at 89. He started calling Georgia Bulldogs football on the radio when I was two years old. On the Sears Roebuck stereo in my childhood bedroom, in the dorm at UGA, driving around Charlotte at night trying to pull in WSB from Atlanta, Larry called out to me.

"HE'S RUNNING OVER PEOPLE..."

"THE STADIUM ROCKS AND SWINGS..."

"MY GOD ALMIGHTY DID YOU SEE WHAT HE DID..."

In TV sports, it's a bonus if the announcer is good, but you don't need it -- the action is there in front of you. On the radio, the voice is everything. He makes you see. "Get the picture," Larry Munson said before every kickoff, and he would tell you which way each team faced and the colors of the uniforms and how hard the wind was blowing and where the shadows fell across the field. He was always worried. Auburn had that big running back and Georgia Tech was hungry to beat us and even Kentucky could pull the upset if we looked too far ahead and dropped a couple on the turf and the penalties, oh, the penalties...

He was a homer -- Georgia was always "we" -- but if he was watching a pile of manure, he never called it chocolate. One miserable night in Starkville, when Georgia was losing to Mississippi State in a lightning storm, Loran Smith -- the Bulldogs' sideline reporter -- checked in to say he was going to call it a night. Munson pondered this and said: "I don't think Loran's calling it a night. I think Loran is going to a graveyard to find a dead man named Jack Daniels."

After a bout with throat cancer 18 years ago, I ended up with a pretty good Larry Munson voice. But every Georgia fan does an impression. Lay down a bed of gravel in the back of your throat, act like right now is the most important moment in human history, and you're off. I remember the campus radio station doing a skit about Munson cooking breakfast: "And the egg CRACKS open and DRIVES into the skillet... FIVE seconds... TEN seconds... needs a block..."

If you follow sports the voices fill your head. Maybe, for you, it's Vin Scully calling the Dodgers. Maybe it's Dick Vitale at Carolina-Duke. For me it's a guy who played piano with Sinatra in Minneapolis, had a fishing show in Nashville, and found his home in a radio booth in Athens, Georgia. He told the stories of the moments I cared about. When he said "we," he wasn't just talking about himself and the team. He was talking about me and all those other listeners. He made me, and them, into us.

I happened to be in Athens on the day of the Georgia-Florida game in 1980. I was on my high-school debate team, and we had been in a tournament, and we gathered in an auditorium on campus waiting for the results. Some kids in the back had a radio and were listening to the game down in Jacksonville. I couldn't hear the words, but I could hear the tone of Larry's voice. Georgia was done. Third-and-forever on their own 8.

And then Larry's voice rose, and I looked over my shoulder and the kids in the back had jumped out of their seats. I know this next part didn't happen, but it's what I remember: The radio was dancing off the floor and the words were flying out of it, like you see in cartoons.

"45, 40 -- RUN, LINDSAY -- 25, 20, 15, 10, 5, LINDSAY SCOTT! LINDSAY SCOTT! LINDSAY SCOTT!"

We ran outside. You could hear hollering from the dorms, and car horns honking, and people just stood there on the sidewalk and screamed. This went on for hours. I was 16, and it was the most spontaneous joy I had ever been a part of. From that moment on I knew where I would be going to college.

It wasn't until later that I heard what Larry said after he got Lindsay Scott into the end zone. For a while, there was nothing on the air but the cheers of the Georgia fans in the Gator Bowl. Then Munson said this.

Well, I can't believe it, 92 yards and Lindsay really got in a footrace. I broke my chair. I came right through a chair, a metal, steel chair with about a five-inch cushion. I broke it. The booth came apart. The stadium, well, the stadium fell down. Now they do have to renovate this thing. They will have to rebuild it now. I, this, this is incredible. I didn't mean to beg Lindsay to run, but I HAD to. 26-21 with a passing attack that wasn't working all DAY, and Lindsay caught it, I think, the 25 or 30 or so, no timeouts left in the game.

You know, this game has always been called the World's Greatest Cocktail Party. Do you know what is going to happen here tonight, and up in St. Simons ... where all those Dawg people have got these condominiums for four days? Man, is there going to be some property destroyed tonight.

26 to 21, DAWGS on top. We were gone. I gave up, you did, too. We were out of it and gone. MIRACLE.

If that impossible, spontaneous poetry ends up being the voice you grow up with, the voice of your team, the voice in your head ... all you can do is accept the gift and count yourself lucky to hear it.

Miracle.

-- Tommy Tomlinson

The Great Munson: Rest in peace

Perhaps the last and best of the SEC's traditional voices has passed. Larry Munson, whose growling, hob-nailed boot of a voice became synonymous with Georgia football, died Sunday. He may have been the best college football announcer of all time.

Read the fine AJC.com obit here.

mg

A 1 and a 2 and a 3

So LSU and Alabama and Arkansas sit stop all the polls (go here to see 'em). Full disclosure: I'm old enough to remember when the Big 3 of the Big 8 led the way in 1971. It was all so simple then: Nebraska beat everybody. First was the 35-31 Thanksgiving classic over Oklahoma, then the 38-6 mauling of Alabama in the Orange Bowl, one of just a dozen bowl games. (And as proof that a final poll is never really final, we bring you TipTop25.com, where author James Vautravers takes another look at the rankings and does some repair work. Here is his take on the 1971 season.) -- R. Trentham Roberts

Friday, November 18, 2011

Missouri coach's road to the SEC

In light of Missouri coach Gary Pinkel's DWI charge, couldn't pass up the opportunity to show him promoting roadway safety. Click here for the Columbia Missourian's coverage of Pinkel's arrest, suspension and the $300,000 it could cost him. (And under the category of how times have changed, here's a line buried deep in the Missourian's main story: "Head football coach Woody Widenhofer was arrested and pled guilty to DWI in 1987, but he did not miss any games. Widenhofer was fined $500.")

Thursday, November 17, 2011

By the numbers: Coaches' pay

Go here for the full database from USA Today. Parse it anyway you like, but here's the headline: the SEC pays the going rate and then some. 7 of the 11 highest-paying jobs are in the conference.

Another day, another list: Brand U.

Where SEC schools rank when it comes to moving merchandise. (Go here for the full list.)

1. Texas
2. Alabama
3. Florida
4. Auburn (amazing what a national championship will do for marketing)
6. Georgia
7. Kentucky
9. LSU
14. Tennessee
17. Arkansas
18. Missouri
19. Texas A&M
21. South Carolina
39. Ole Miss
63. Vanderbilt

You'll notice that Mississippi State is nowhere to be found in the top 75 (couldn't hang with the likes of Fresno State and Wyoming). That's my alma mater: Often overlooked, always outmanned. -- R. Trentham Roberts

Recruiting update: They grow 'em big in ... Switzerland

Comes word that a couple of SEC schools are interested in the services of one Daniel Glauser, who's currently manning the offensive line at New Mexico Military Institute. The reason he gets a mention is not because of his size (6-6 and 315) but because he would apparently be the first Swiss to play D-1 football. His offers and official visits include Arkansas and Mississippi State (which just might have the inside track because, as everyone knows, cowbells are a common sight in his homeland). Here's hoping he makes it to the SEC, where the headlines and nicknames are just sitting there waiting: he's at a military school (SWISS ARMY KNIFE) in Roswell, New Mexico (CRASH) and, well, he's from Switzerland (THE BIG CHEESE or, my personal favorite, THE NEUTRALIZER).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday this and that

* Wanted to see how Stanford-Oregon played out before posting any bowl projections. Good thing. Here's how SI's Stewart Mandel sees it at the moment (go here for full list, then here for one from CBSSports):


-- BCS championship -- LSU-Oklahoma State
-- Sugar Bowl -- Alabama-Houston
-- Music City Bowl -- Vanderbilt-Miami
-- Liberty Bowl -- Mississippi State-Southern Miss
-- Chick-fil-A Bowl -- Auburn-Virginia Tech
-- Capital One Bowl -- Georgia-Michigan
-- Outback Bowl -- South Carolina-Nebraska
-- Gator Bowl -- Florida-Ohio State
-- Cotton Bowl -- Arkansas-Kansas State

That's assuming Vanderbilt and Mississippi State get themselves bowl-eligible. Vandy can do so by beating Tennessee or Wake Forest; MSU will need an Egg Bowl win over Ole Miss to get there (notice I didn't even entertain the possibility of the Bulldogs beating Arkansas this weekend). Tennessee could still get there, too, by winning out against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

2. The site Pre-Snap Read re-ranks all 120 teams every week. If you're an Ole Miss fan, hide your eyes: the Rebs come in at 105. Full list here.

3. And a couple of fun reads from the time capsule, proving there's not much new under the SEC sun:

-- 'Bama Violates Scholarship Rule (February 8, 1966)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Now THIS is a punt return

Being a naturally humble person and coming from a naturally humble university and all, I won't say much about Georgia-Auburn except WOOOOOOOOOOOOO 45-7 WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO...

(/realizes we have to play LSU)

(/gulps)

So that's enough about that. To cleanse the palate, here's Joe Adams faking out the entire state of Tennessee:



P.S. WOOOOOOOOOOO 45-7 WOOOOOOOOOO....

-- Tommy T.

1, 3 and 6

The rankings of LSU, Alabama and Arkansas in all of this week's polls (go here for a look). Tough division, the SEC West. Still wondering about that lone vote in the AP poll for Georgia Southern, though -- could it be because the Eagles (9-1 and #3 in the FCS poll, with their only loss coming to Appalachian State) are playing at Alabama this weekend? Just wondering.


UPDATE: The mystery balloteer who cast a vote for Georgia Southern has been identified. Go here to find out who it was, and here to see his entire ballot.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Need a kicker? Call the frat house

Lost in all the weekend hubbub was the great story of how Derrick Brodus came to kick for Tennessee on Saturday. Go here for the details from GoVols247. The episode also gave us one of the gameday quotes of the year, courtesy of UT's Derek Dooley:

"Just get him here and we'll do a Breathalyzer."

What we think we know -- digging out of the ashes edition

OK, so I still feel like the Scarecrow after the attack of flying Honey Badgers, er monkeys. Legs over here, arms over there, guts strewn west toward Tuscaloosa. BUT ...

1. Great game. Great setting. Two great teams. So is there any need, room or moral imperative for a rematch?

I'm of two minds. The BCS is supposed to be about the two best teams standing in the final games. So if Stanford loses to Oregon, and Oklahoma State drops a game, can anybody argue that another bout between the SEC's Godzilla and King Kong makes as much sense as anything? But if I'm LSU, I've settled things. I went on the road and won. Why should I have to beat Alabama again? This kind of rematch happens all the time in the NFL and other sports, but almost never in college football. So if the tumblers fall into place, let's just look at chapter II as a glimpse of the future, when the college game goes to some sort of limited playoff.

2. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron is a fine prospect, already good enough to win 11 games on the Tide's schedule. But he's not good enough to beat LSU, not yet anyway. Saturday, he didn't see the field particularly well and his passes floated for most of the night. One of his nerf balls led to fourth-quarter interception that cost Alabama the lead. McCarron also didn't spot some wide open receivers and was never precise enough to compete against LSU's extraordinary defensive backfield.

That said, he looked like Johnny U compared to poor Jarret Lee.

Lee, the front-runner for the SEC Player of the Year at kickoff, was by the third quarter doing a passable impersonation of Jimmy Stewart in "Vertigo" -- flashing back to a nauseatingly spinning world with interceptions -- along with Kim Novak -- falling from the sky. Credit Les Miles with spotting the PTS symptoms and employing the quick hook. It won the game for his team. Whether it salvaged Lee's psyche remains to be seen. As good as LSU is, it may still need a passing game to win another BCS title.

3. Generally, cheap shots are a private affair. Which makes Tyler Mathieu's clubbing/calf throw of Dre Kirkpatrick all the weirder. The assault took place in the middle of the field, when Mathieu and Kirkpatrick might as well have been contestants in "Dancing with the Stars,'' minus a few sequins. Mathieu, who had done little in the game but yap at this point, must have wanted his name mispronounced by Verne Lundquist one more time. Why he wasn't tossed is one of the bigger questions of the night.

4. Alabama fans are still in an uproar about the goal line catch/interception that may have turned the game. Spare me. Tide tight end Michael Williams was running alone, but injured Marquis Maze threw a pooch punt instead of a forward pass. That gave Tiger safety Eric Reid enough time to leave his own man and catch Williams at the goal line. Williams still caught the throw, and the stadium erupted. But Reid came up with the ball. Did he steal it after Williams had hit the ground, meaning the play was dead? Maybe. But football is a simple game. You throw the ball. You catch the ball. You don't leave it to the officials to make the call in perhaps the biggest game of your life.

5. Good riddance to Houston Nutt, but who knows where Ole Miss goes from this point? Suffice to say a school still engaged in Civil War over its former plantation owner mascot needs a fresh start. Ole Miss. Fresh start. Try saying that with a straight face.

mg

What now for Ole Miss?

Some of the names being thrown around include Alabama's Kirby Smart, Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Houston's Kevin Sumlin and Louisville's Charlie Strong. Ron Higgins of The Commercial Appeal tries to make a case for Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez (though with Saint Archie on the search committee, I imagine the new coach will be more of the squeaky-clean variety). Fact remains that Ole Miss has the second-lowest enrollment in the SEC (ahead of only Vanderbilt) and for years some of the state's best players have been lured elsewhere. The back-to-back Cotton Bowls were more an exception than an annual expectation.

Monday, November 7, 2011

In a Nuttshell: Ole Miss coach, AD leaving

Go here for the official annnouncement, then here and here for a couple of lookbacks and look-aheads.

Upon further review ...

Catch or interception? They'll be arguing that one for a while. The photo is from The Daily Reveille. Click here for the CBS footage, which had several replay angles. Look to the right for a poll on The Play of the Game of the Century.


And Mizzou makes 14

They'll be in the SEC East, alongside Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.


Read all about it at The Kansas City Star and the Columbia Missourian and ESPN and the SEC's website.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ripped from the front pages

and a couple of websites ...

EPIC VICTORY: (Baton Rouge) Advocate
ONE AND ONLY: (New Orleans) Times-Picayune
TIDE STUMBLES IN OVERTIME: Tuscaloosa News
KICK IN THE GUT: Montgomery Advertiser website
A WORK OF HEART: SI.com
THAT SETTLES THAT: ESPN.com

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chew on this

Les Miles has been hired as spokesman for Louisiana's turfgrass industry. Story from The Times-Picayune here.


When again?

Want a playoff? OK. Want it so much that you'd be willing to give up games like tonight's?

Here's Cecil Hurt's take from the Tuscaloosa News, a thoughtful columnist writing at the top of his craft.

mg

Some perspective on the lack thereof in the South

Yes, the peg is LSU v. Alabama, but Andy Staples goes broader than that: On the South's looney-bin love affair with football.

Little wonder that the most religious part of the country follows football with a spiritual zeal. Who says there are only heavenly rewards.

Enjoy!

mg

Friday, November 4, 2011

Armageddon (a/k/a Bama-LSU): Who ya got?

Tommy here. Are y'all giddy? I'm giddy. Of course, I'm not an Alabama or LSU fan. Many of them are already curled up in the fetal position. Or drinking. Or both.

The SEC has a slew of big games every year, but this one is special. Even the New York Times decided to write dueling pieces about LSU-Alabama. The stories do get into identity and academics and other topics NOT APPROPRIATE FOR GAME DAY, but here's the Bama story and here's the LSU story if you want to check them out.

But what you really want is predictions. You should know, if you haven't come around here much, that Michael Gordon is a Bama fan extraordinare. It was a great show of restraint for him to leave out the word "we" in his pick.

Michael:
Let's save the prose and put out the same caveats I used for last year's game in Baton Rouge. If Alabama can avoid giving up Big Plays and being sucked in by the Trick Ones, it should win. Last year, it couldn't deliver on either of those fronts. This year, I think it will. Of course, that presumes AJ McCarron's head doesn't explode from the pressure and the staggering talent of the LSU team. He'll have to show more precision under a level of heat he hasn't seen all year. But the kid can play. So can his teammates. Tide, 24-21.

Peter St. Onge:
Two super defenses - but different. LSU is built on speed more than size, and it hasn't faced an offensive line with the kind of push that Bama will bring. LSU will have to work for its yards just a little more than the Tide. Nick Saban, with the football world watching, coaches his way back to an NFL sideline. Bama, 20-13. (And yes, the Saban to the NFL thing was completely gratuitous. Can't let Gordon enjoy this too much.)

Trent Roberts:
As much as anything, I'm interested in seeing the in-game adjustments by both teams -- what happens after Richardson rips off a 45-yard TD early on, or Lee hits Randle for 70 just after halftime. Gimme LSU, 18-17, with a late two-point conversion from The Hat & Co. being the difference.

Tommy:
For weeks now my suspicion has been that Alabama would win this game in a blowout, and I still wouldn't be surprised if it ends up something like 31-10. The great thing about this game is that the teams are so similar (great defenses, questions at QB) but the coaches are so different. It's like a real-life test of the old line about Bear Bryant -- "He could take his'n and beat your'n or he could take your'n and beat his'n."

So who's the better coach? The Saban X3000 or the Mad Hatter?

I want it to be Les, because we need more entertaining weirdness in the world, and especially in college football. Plus, LSU is awfully good on the road and at night. It's so, so tempting. But I just can't do it. Alabama, 23-20.

VIDEO: LSU-Alabama previews

Your video preview headquarters for LSU-Alabama:

Nick Saban's take:



Les Miles' take:



CBS Sports keys to the game:



And the winner will be ...



Fox Sports' preview:

Pregame reading and viewing

LSU's Daily Reveille has an 8-page special section today. Click here for the Reville website, then go to the lower right to flip through the pages. (And don't miss the ad for Tiger Plaza apartments on Page 8.)


In the spirit of fairness, here's this morning's Crimson White.

Meanwhile, the SEC itself has put together a blood-thumper of a video in the best tradition of John Facenda intoning "this was a war" over slow-motion NFL highlights. Go here for that.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Honey badgers, Chinese Bandits and 200 pounds of alligator meat

Continuing with items that have no bearing whatsoever on the big game:


* Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana took to the Senate floor Wednesday to talk up the game and his team. Story and video from The Washington Post here.

* Go here for a version of "Chinese Bandits" from the rock band Better Than Ezra, from their new LSU-themed record "Death Valley." (More info from the band's website here.)

* Pregame activities include a bid to make the world's largest pot of gumbo. Go here for the details.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Good seats still available (especially at $6,000 per)

Checked in on StubHub just to see what the going rate was for Saturday night ducats. They range from $300 for a spot in the corner of the end zone to $6,000 for the rarefied air of the Ivory Club. Or you could just go to eBay and spend 9 bucks on 2 ticket stubs from 1997. (And you get a picture of the band to boot!)


-- RTR

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What's LSU-Alabama without Gary and Verne

Quick Q&A on the biggest game of the season from the CBS crew of Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson.

I know Gary thinks highly of himself, but he knows the game and isn't afraid to tell you what he thinks and just saw. Verne stumbles these days more often than Gerald Ford, but he's still got the voice and presence to stand up to a Big Game atmosphere.

May be my Crimson paranoia, but I think Danielson believes LSU is goinna win.

See what you think.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Georgia-Florida, once more into the breach

Three and eighteen.

Three and freaking eighteen.

If you were born in 1990 and grew up a Georgia fan, you've seen Georgia beat Florida just thrice in your lifetime. You are also old enough to legally drink. Which would be perfectly understandable.

It helps, a little, to have a longer view of history. When I was a student at UGA, we were in the middle of a 15-4 run over the Gators. We beat them on Run, Lindsay, Run. We beat them 44-0. We beat them the week after they had been ranked No. 1 for the first time in their (then-)sorry history.

But all that was a long time ago.

I can't think of another rivalry like this, where one team dominated for so long only to have it totally flip the other way. It's like one of those European tides that recedes all the way to the horizon before coming back to the cliffs.

Georgia seems to have all the advantages this year. Florida is 4-3, has lost three straight and hates its quarterback. Georgia has rebounded from an 0-2 start to win five in a row. Georgia still has a decent shot to win the SEC East (although I'm not sure that's a good thing, because either Alabama or LSU will be waiting). Florida's best-case scenario is the Liberty Bowl.

But: Three and eighteen.

I won't be surprised at all if Florida steamrolls us. I won't be surprised if they win on a fake field goal. I won't be surprised if Isaiah Crowell is running for the winning touchdown and a rogue elk downs him at the 1. When you're three and eighteen, you just brace for the pain.

Having said that... the tide has to come in sometime. Why not now? The cocktails are finally going to taste good on the Georgia side. Dawgs, 27-18.

(If we lose, forget I ever said this.)

-- Tommy T.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Word from St. Louis: Missouri coming to the SEC East

The latest this morning from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has the westward expansion of the SEC as a done deal. Except, Missouri, the conference's new northwestern front, will compete in the SEC East.

That would keep many of the existing rivalries as they are, and Alabama avoids choosing between Tennessee and Auburn for their rivalry game out of the Eastern Division.

One of the most geo-sensible solutions to the addition of Mizzou would have sent the new Tigers to the West and Auburn to the East. But under the current conference rules, a team can keep one team from the other division as a rivalry game. To wit, Auburn and Georgia; LSU and Florida; Alabama and Tennessee. Had Auburn moved east, Alabama most certainly would have kept the Iron Bowl on the schedule, but would have presumably lost its annual "Third Saturday in October" collision with the Vols. And given how bitter the Iron Bowl has become, a surprising number of Alabama fans say they would have been willing to chuck that game for Tennessee. Now they apparently will not have to choose.

Under the current model, Missouri's rival from the West would appear to be Arkansas or Texas A&M, the conference's other recent addition.


mg

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Who ya got? -- Week 8

Pardon the reference, but it feels like the SEC is on furlough for the next couple of weeks. Four teams have the week off Saturday, and then Alabama and LSU sit out next Saturday to begin a bullfighters' buildup to Nov. 5.

Still, slim pickins in the SEC can still fill a plate. And after the drug-related arrests at LSU -- and Alabama -- this week, we've got a real hankering for a couple of the games.

To wit:

Tennessee at Alabama: Sshhhh!. The hushed tones you hear emanate from the leftover reverence for the "Third Saturday in October." Once upon a time, in a universe far, far away, this was as big a game as any on the SEC schedule. But then Alabama went on probation twice and Florida got good, then Mike Dubose and Phil Fulmer and Lane Kiffin eventually left a trail of slug slime all over this once marquee game. Suffice to say, the Vol-Tide affair is at a nadir, though many Alabama fans, in genuflecting to Neyland and Bryant, still elevate this rivalry over Auburn. And England and France once regularly went to war over Alsace and Lorraine. Well, maybe one day soon. Alabama, 30-6.

Arkansas at Ole Miss: The Houston Nutt good-bye tour welcomes Arkansas to Oxford. Instead of bringing their former coach a rocking chair, the Hogs hope to string the Right Reverend up like a pinata then leave him in little pieces at midfield. In administering one of the worst beatings in Ole Miss history, Nick Saban and Alabama actually showed some mercy. Arkansas will not. The Rebels do get some suspended players back, but that's like bringing a dozen reinforcements to Little Big Horn. Ole Miss will be announcing Nutt's departure very soon. Arkansas, 48-14.

Auburn at LSU: If you're Clint Moseley, you have to wonder. Am I the sacrificial lamb? Think about it: Moseley gets his first start of the season in Baton Route, against the top-ranked Tigers, and if you have an Oliver Stone, "Any Given Sunday" outlook on life, why not allow LSU to break Moseley in half, then go into the stretch drive with the two quarterbacks who've gotten just about all the snaps this season? Of course, we could take the Auburn coaches at face value and conclude that they don't have anyone better behind center. Either way, it won't be a fun night for Moseley or his teammates. Tigers, bayou chapter, 35-14

Elsewhere ...

Army at Vandy: Too much You Tube time for Vandy coach James Franklin this week portends a major letdown for Vandy against the rushing attack of the Cadets. Franklin's confrontation Saturday night with Georgia's Todd Grantham, who again came across like Fred Flintstone on a bender, may have gone viral, but it now sets his team up for the EXPATS' upset special of the week. Heck, let's go ahead and pick it. Army, 27-25.

Kentucky, 17, JSU, 14.

mg

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Suspensions II: Two LSU stars to sit following failed drug test

Just when LSU was easing the team bus into the high-speed lane toward another national championship . . .

Sophomore stars Spencer Ware and Tyrann Mathieu, will sit out the Auburn game -- and maybe several more -- after reportedly failing a drug test.

Toke, I mean, take a deep breath, Tiger fans, and read more here.

The key question in all of this is how long the players will sit. Top-ranked LSU will be a big favorite against once-beaten Auburn. Then it has next week off. Next, on Nov. 5, the Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa for what should be the game of the year, or any year for that matter.

LSU, of course, is deeper than Pontchartrain. But the absences of Ware, the leading rusher, and Mathieu, a defensive back who has dominated highlight reels all season long, would be a serious blow, er, loss, against second-ranked Alabama.

And if the reports are true, there's a lesson for all the LSU players. Leave the grass to your coach.

mg

Dogs, 'Dores hit with suspensions after Saturday chippiness

Two key Georgia starters and one from Vanderbilt received half-game suspensions from the SEC today, stemming from unpleasantries between players and coaches during and after the game.

The Bulldogs won 33-28, but now UGA losesk noseguard Kwame Geathers and safety Shawn Williams for the first half of next week's Florida game. Vanderbilt center Logan Stewart also has to sit for a half.

Read more here.

No word on how the SEC plans to handle the post-game contretemps between Vandy head coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. This is not Grantham's first trip to the rodeo. Last year he was reprimanded for giving the choke sign to the Florida kicker, just before he booted the game-winning field goal against Grantham's players.

mg

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What we think we know -- Week 8

**Forget that his undefeated team has hardly taken a punch, Nick Saban is locked in. The Alabama coach cut loose with a couple of S-bombs during his press conference this week. He didn't exactly go "Old Ball Coach" on the assembled reporters, but he certainly showed his Little Nicky side when asked a series of questions he thought stupid (and a couple of them were). He apologized -- Saban issues some of the lamest apologies in the history of sports and apologies. But as long as Saban beats Tennessee this week, he has nothing to worry about. You know what they say about the marathon ... at 20 miles, you're halfway home. It's the last six that will kill you. The same goes for the Alabama schedule. The Tennessee game will be a romp, then comes a bye week, and the defining stretch of the schedule begins. LSU visits in two weeks. Then it's SEC road trips to Mississippi State and Auburn. Then it's the SEC Championship Game. No wonder Saban is wound a little tight. He knows he has a special team this year and he has little time for distractions like press conferences, civil conversation, sleeping or eating. For now, we're told, he can still find his way home.

**Have we ever seen the SEC weaker? Two-and-a-half good teams in the entire conference. When is our lifetimes have we seen Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Auburn all have a simultaneous down year? In Oxford, they're starting to dream of a winning season with the same nostalgia once reserved for the Civil War. Mississippi State has yet to win an SEC game, and South Carolina, well, after the loss of Marcus Lattimore, let's see what Steve Spurrier still has in the tank. That leaves Georgia, which appears to be the weakest pretender out of the East since Dukakis. Alabama and LSU still give the conference enough street cred, since one of them is an overwhelming favorite to vie for the SEC's sixth straight national title. Still ...

**Strange season. Is it just me or has 2011 just limped along? Sure, we can look ahead to Nov. 5. But there's been so little buzz about most of the games that we can step outside and hear Will Muschamp screaming. Besides, whatever happened to Boise State? Still undefeated, sure, but not much being said about the Spudheads.

**What is it about coaches and God? The more they cite the Almighty, the more we should check the jail log. Let's consider the two head guys most public in their spirituality. That would be Chizik ("It's a God thing") and Georgia's Mark Richt. Funny thing, though, Richt's 2010 team took the Fulmer Cup, betowed to the football squad with the most arrests. And Richt's defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, last seen offering free Heimlich training to Florida's kicker, was face to face with Vandy coach James Franklin after Saturday's close Bulldog win. The SEC was not charmed. Chizik? His team is neck and neck for this year's Fulmer award, just as it finally got untangled from another man of the cloth, Bishop Cecil Newton, who admitted trying to sell his son to Mississippi State. The ying and yang of it all harkens to former Colorado coach Bill McCartney, who helped start the Promise Keepers while his players ran amok all over Boulder. How's this for a promise, coaches. Keep your players in line.

MG

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

One more time, for emphasis...

The NCAA found no major violations by Auburn connected to the pay-for-play allegations involving Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton.

Peter St. Onge

What we think we know ... Week 7

Halfway through the schedule, the SEC season -- as well as the BCS horse race -- has been parboiled down to a handful of games.

In the SEC, the biggie, of course, is LSU vs. Alabama on Nov. 5. That will settle the SEC West. But both teams will have significant challenges remaining on their way to the National Championship game: LSU will face Arkansas at season's end; Alabama must go on the road to Auburn, where the stadium will be chained down to keep it from blasting off its moorings.

In the SEC East, Steve Spurrier this week threw a couple more logs on the fire of South Carolina's year. If he can control the flames, he may salvage the Gamecocks' pre-season ticket to Atlanta. But the 'Cocks still must beat Arkansas, which at this point would be an upset. Otherwise, South Carolina must pull for a Georgia loss against Florida or Auburn.

The end of the Stephen Garcia Era was sad but predictable. He failed his drug test Oct. 4. The announcement of his final departure came after Spurrier's banning Tuesday of columnist Ron Morris from his press conferences. Why Garcia was allowed to play his senior season will be debated to the end of the Cosmos. Suffice to say, his inability to stick within the university's behavior guidelines doesn't shine well on Spurrier, who's never been known as a strict disciplinarian.

The TOBC's brouhaha with Morris will blow over in a matter of days. But it's not a stretch to say that Spurrier could be grieving the loss of Garcia, or be upset at his inability to reach him, and he may have been directing some of that emotion at the writer.

Read the offending column from last March. The headline is far more accusatory than anything Morris wrote. But Spurrier has made Morris the bad guy, when the Gamecocks' so-far disappointing season is the real story, and the very one that Spurrier may not want to address.

Maybe this is what Carolina needs to finally gel. Nobody could look at the assemblage of talent and experience in Columbia this year and say the Gamecocks have appeared focused and well-coached. Now Spurrier can play the "us against the world" card. Maybe it will work. Up to now, little else has, and that includes coaching.

**Outside the conference, the battle of Oklahoma will determine the SEC's likely opponent in January. These championship games haven't been close. This one should be. The Sooners appear to be the best-balanced team since Pete Carroll's early USC squads. But Oklahoma State looms.

**Speaking of the Nov. 5, just when do we think college football fans will get to tune into LSU-Alabama? The ACC broadcasts, now starting at 12:30 p.m., are back to their poaching ways. There's nothing more depressing to a Charlotte-area SEC fan than turning on WBTV at 3:15, and finding 11 minutes on the clock and the officials going to a replay to settle a fumble call in a pivotal Boston College vs. Virginia game. By the time the game ends, Verne and Gary will have burned through most of the first quarter. That's an outrage most weeks. But if it happens to the LSU/Alabama game, it will be a crime.
(More on this to come.)

mg




Revisionist Th

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Ol' Ball Coach ain't happy (plus: Garcia? Gone.)

Steve Spurrier started his press conference Tuesday by getting a little something off his chest. He thinks Ron Morris, sports columnist for The State in Columbia, is doing him wrong. And the Ol' Ball Coach has decided to do something about it.



If he's really mad at Morris for a column from months ago, this seems like an odd time to vent. Maybe the real reason is that Morris called Spurrier out for botching the final drive in the Gamecocks' loss to Auburn two weeks ago. (Full disclosure: The State is owned by the same company that owns the Observer. For what that's worth.)

My quick take: Spurrier knows how good his team is this year. They could've been 12-0 going into the SEC championship. They won't be, at least partly because of his coaching. And it's eating him up that Ron Morris mentioned it.

UPDATE: Just as I was getting ready to post this, thestate.com put up a story that might explain why Spurrier is so upset -- Stephen Garcia has been booted off the team. This time, it seems, for good.

I've never been able to figure out whether Garcia was so erratic because Spurrier kept jerking him around, or because Garcia is just an unstable guy (a lot of evidence certainly points to the latter). Garcia at his best could've taken South Carolina to places they've never been. But now, even though they're 5-1 and lead the SEC East, it feels like the season is lost.

-- Tommy T.

Update: Here's the Morris column from March that Spurrier was apparently referring to.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Who Ya Got? -- Week 6

We celebrate the halfway point of the season with the best run of weekend games yet. No, Giselle-like matchups, perhaps, but a run of really knockout games throughout the day that reminds the world just how deep this conference really is. And while we're waiting for the final papal dispensation regarding Missouri's entrance into the league . . . Go CARDINALS!!!


Auburn at Arkansas
A long, long time ago and in a universe far, far away ... an Auburn team just kept winning. Nobody really knew how, but they strung together one ugly victory after another, lost badly on the road, then went back to making one key play after another. This, of course, was "The Amazins," and way back in 1972 they -- this is starting to get painful here -- went on to block two punts in the last five minutes against Alabama, win their bowl game and finish 11-1. I'm not saying the 2011 Auburn team will follow the identical path. But there's something about the way Gene Chizik's God Thangs have gotten to 4-1 that speaks to a certain manifest destiny on The Plains. Now it's Arkansas, and a sane man would never bet against the Hogs at home. Still, this was supposed to be The Year of Payback for Auburn, the year when all the SEC teams that got body-slammed by Nick Fairley or took a collective whiff at the legs of Cam Newton were to inflict reciprocal pain. And only Clemson has. The Hogs are a 10-point favorite, but the young Tiger players are getting better by the week. Is this an Upset Special? This EXPAT won't go that far, but Arkansas better pay heed. Hogs, 35-31.

Florida at LSU

In the old days, this would be the perfect occasion for LSU to sleep-walk. The Bengals have been dominant. They're playing at home. And they get an opponent that last week lost its lunch money, its backpack, and its Ipod 5G to the school-yard bully. But Florida lost more than a game to Alabama, it lost its quarterback too. Jeff Driskel will play better this week against LSU, but all those "Look-at-me, I'm a 5-star-recruit" players on the Gator defense just don't like getting hit in the mouth. While there's always a chance Jarred Lee will fall off the wagon, Florida should schedule a Monday trip to the orthodontist now. LSU, 27-13.


Georgia at Tennessee

Barbara Dooley went on the radio again to defend her "Baby Boy" this week. Not that Derek Dooley's pants are on fire in Knoxville, but this a fanbase never known for its patience. What can we say about Tennessee up to now except Meh!! The Vols are not bad, just inconsequential, and it's hard to see how and when they'll regain their seat at the adult table. Georgia's Mark Richt and the Bulldogs has already been moved closer to Tennessee's side of the room, demonstrating that it's worse losing something than never having it at all. Georgia likes to think of itself as still being elite. Tennessee, playing its first complete game of the year, reminds them they're not. Mama will be proud. Vols, 27-24.


Vandy at Alabama
One of the Alabama boards did the Tide a favor this week. Someone put up an extended replay of the 1974 Vandy-Bama game in Tuscaloosa (I sat in the end zone, by the way). Alabama won by two touchdowns. But if Nick Saban's crew needed any reminder of the Commodores' tradition of playing UA hard, they got it in the grainy footage. Vanderbilt's defense is underrated, but overmatched by Alabama's size and numbers. This is supposedly a breather on the UA schedule, but it's a deceptively important week for Tide QB AJ McCarron. He still needs to show he can hit the long ball, and Vandy's DBs will make him work. Tide: 27-0

Kentucky at South Carolina
Kentucky football is like a small newspaper that some days can do pretty good work. But there's never enough people and the talent is always walking out the door. South Carolina is like owning a Toyota with an engineering flaw. Just when you least expect it, you and your Camry are upside down in a ditch. In this battle of dueling metaphors, the spotlight is one again on Steve Spurrier. Can he and his coaches salvage a season that has been belching smoke since the first snap? Fortunately the chickens get Kentucky, which, as the SEC's weakest team, can't get the paper out the door. USC, 20-7

Mississippi State at UAB
Almost overnight, the Bulldogs went from trendy pick to trending badly. The Magnolia State has had better falls. And now the state's best team goes on the road to play UAB? Oh, the humanity. Bullies, 21-10

MG

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Why Missouri? One columnist shows why

With Missouri's leaders voting Tuesday night to toss a shovel's load of dirt on the Big 12, Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitutions looks at the reasons why adding another set of Tigers to the SEC could stand the test of time.

Show me? Punch here.

MG

What we think we know ... Week 5

Nov. 5 will be the SEC's Election Day. Lots of games still to be played, of course, but it's appeared from the start of the season that LSU-Alabama will be a winner-takes-all affair. "All" being not only the SEC West, the SEC Championship but a shot at the conference's sixth national championship in a row as well. LSU toyed with Kentucky, like a big cat coughs around a kitten. As for Alabama, for the second week in a row, the Tide went Dexter all over a highly ranked opponent. In fact, the Swamp needed a few more plastic curtains hanging behind the Gator bench to keep the blood from spewing into the front rows. Now the two teams are ranked 1 and 2 in the polls. The numbers and order are meaningless until the two teams settle things in a month.

Let's hear it for the other Tigers. Yeah, I know, the cynics say all Gene Chizik and his staff can do is recruit and offer sound investment counseling. But fair is fair. The Expats' AU representative, Mr. St. Onge, came down from the Ivory Tower of the Observer's editorial board this week to make this point: The Tigers' defense that rooster-tied joyless South Carolina exceeded expectations for a reason: Chizik told defensive coordinator Ted Roof to play his kids. And play they did. South Carolina got a few yards, but nothing like the cartoon numbers Auburn's defense had been giving up week after week. Chizik et al has brought in talent. Saturday in Columbia they decided to turn it loose. Sure the kids will make some mistakes, but they played fast and hard. Georgia and Alabama fans take notice: By the time late November rolls around, this could be an entirely different Tiger team.

As for South Carolina, where can one start? How about with Jungian Psychology 101. Coach Steve Spurrier and quarterback Stephen Garcia have what Carl Jung would call an "enmeshment," an unhealthy relationship that chains them together and plays to the worst in each. The two have only synced in spurts. Then Garcia self-destructs off the field or makes a key on-field mistake and Spurrier starts to publicly needle and mock the player. The pair's hijinks over the off-season were well chronicled. This year, Garcia seems to have finally learned to behave out of uniform. But whatever drove him to his private excesses appears to have also fueled his occasional brilliant performances. Last year, Garcia unleashed The Perfect Game against Alabama. This year, after coming off the bench in the opener, he has labored through a season-long fog. Which is astounding, given that Garcia was handed the playbook just after Ronald Reagan left office. Spurrier's problems don't end there. His veteran, talent-laden team played at three-quarters speed on Saturday against an inferior opponent and before a national audience. Now Garcia is back on the bench, South Carolina's season is at the crossroads and Spurrier needs a new scapegoat. Your move, coach.

MG

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Who Ya Got? -- Week 5

It's a good day to be an EXPAT: Temperature dropping, significant games to be played in the chill for the first time. So much on the line at so early a point in the season (plus playoff baseball to watch during halftimes).

Alabama at Florida:

In a different sport and generation, John McEnroe ran Bjorn Borg out of tennis by beating him in two matches: Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, both in 1981. To the world, perhaps, it looked like two hard-fought battles that happened to go McEnroe's way. But the two players knew better: McEnroe had figured Borg out, Borg knew it, and the Swede took early retirement instead of a series of future beatings.

Nick Saban delivered that same message to Urban Meyer in 2009 and 2010, pummeling the Gators over six quarters by the combined score of 44-6. Now Meyer, who won two national titles over a three-year period in Gainesville, is in a TV booth, and Saban brings what may be his best UA team to The Swamp. Meyer's ghost will not be waiting. In rapid fire, replacement Will Muschamp has changed the offense and installed a defensive attack he learned as a Saban assistant. Will it be enough?

Keep an eye on the two quarterbacks. Keep an eye on the offensive lines. Keep an eye on which little man -- Marquis Maze for Alabama; Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey for UF -- has the biggest impact. In the end, keep an eye on both defenses. Florida has size and speed. UA has that plus experience. For another year at least, the Tide keeps control of this series. Alabama, 23-14


MSU at Georgia

Every week the stakes get a little higher for Georgia coach Mark Richt. Georgia has its season record back to 2-2, with wins over a sugar cookie and the worst Ole Miss team of a lifetime. Now State, disappointing in its own right, offers the latest checkpoint in the Bulldogs' road back to a respectable season. Here, we get a glimpse of how Richt's near future will play out. Close, but take Georgia and the home crowd. Dawgs, 27-24

Kentucky at LSU
When I was an undergrad in Tuscaloosa, a dee-jay with WTBC promo'd a Wildcat visit to Baton Rouge thusly: Kentucky commits suicide in Baton Rouge. That game turned out to be surprisingly competitive. This one will not. LSU, 45-6.


Auburn at South Carolina
The Payback Bowl in Columbia promises to be nowhere near the blowout the Carolina fans feel is deserved. The Gamecocks, though undefeated, have not played a complete game. While Auburn's defense has been dreadful, its offense will make enough big plays against Carolina's talented but undisciplined defense to keep this one interesting. Given the two loses Auburn inflicted last year, USC fans want blood. What they'll get is another win, but not by much. Gamecocks, 35-28.

Elsewhere ...

Arkansas at Texas A&M: Nobody plays particularly well after they face Alabama. Arkansas, beaten. black and blue in Tuscaloosa last Saturday, is no exception. A&M, 31-28.


Tennessee beats Buffalo 45-20.

Fresno State beats Ole Miss, 24-23 (The Rebs have been sleep-walking all season; with the three-hour time change, they achieve REM.)


MG

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An SEC fan's guide to Texas A&M


With A&M joining the fold, it's time to get educated about Aggieland.


* First, let's go to Monday's welcoming party in College Station -- here is the Houston Chronicle's story, here's the one from USA Today, and here we have Dallas Morning News coverage.
* A&M will be the biggest school in the SEC, and they've played LSU 50 times (for the record, it's LSU 27, A&M 20, with 3 ties). That and more from The Birmingham News here.
* What does A&M bring to the table? Eyeballs, for one thing. Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston rank 4th and 8th, respectively, among the top TV markets for college football. Go here for more on college football viewership.
* The SEC's official website has details and links here.
* A&M's athletics site here. Aggie traditions here.
* And about the photo: "Come and Take It" dates to the Texas Revolution. More on that here and here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What we think we know -- Week 4

Let's have a hearty EXPATS' welcome to Texas A&M . . . clap, clap, clap . . . Sorry, that's the best I can do.

I just don't buy the notion that the SEC needs to expand to protect its preeminence, particularly when the new teams may or may not enhance the best brand in all of football. How do you expand a footprint that already runs coast to coast? Given the damage expansion inflicted on ACC hoops, SEC football already offers the only MUST-SEE TV in college sports.

Further, it took years before Arkansas and South Carolina in the SEC didn't sound and feel totally weird. Some Hogs fans still believe they are the outlier. The Aggies, who will give us an Auburn sensibility when/if Auburn goes to the eastern conference, will certainly bring a fanaticism that's par with its new surroundings, and it's on the upswing as a team. Saturday nights in College Station could be a great 7:30 game -- with the right opponent. But that's one of my problems: How long will the SEC have to carry A&M before it reaches conference cruising speed?

The best thing that may come out of this is further isolation of Texas. The Horns lose their biggest in-state rival. Their conference continues to teeter, and if it falls apart, UT may be left sucking its thumb with its $300 million network, spending nights in the fall watching reruns of Happy Feller and Tommy Nobis. Missouri? Bigger TV market, right. Your honor, as Exhibit I, we'd like to introduce Boston College . . .

Auburn's Gene Chizik has had the shortest honeymoon since Ernest Borgnine married Ethel Merman.

How do you go from having the greatest year in the school's history, capped out by the GREATEST winning comeback in Iron Bowl history, made EVEN GREATER because the Tigers turned the Tide inside out IN TUSCALOOSA!! to drawing the level of ire Chizik is getting now for AU's struggling start? Let's review. They didn't call it "All In" for nothing. Auburn lost about everything. Somehow that's been lost on a surprising number of AU fans, or at least the ones spending too much time posting and not enough thinking. Anonymous internet heroes, as a group, show the analytical skills of an army ant. But c'mon! In this case, the so-called Family -- even the online bohunks -- needs to show some patience. Auburn has brought in very good players. The season is young. Talent + practice + game experience = Improvement. The defense is awful, inexplicably so. But it should get better. Too bad for the Tigers, the meat of the schedule is at hand.

OK, I admit it: Alabama appeared scary good against Arkansas But before Tide Nation flies too close to the sun, remember what's waiting Saturday: A stadium filled with alcohol-enhanced, full-throated obnoxiousness and a roster with just as much athleticism as Alabama. This is our Blinking Yellow Game of the Week. True, AJ McCarron was 15-20 for 200 yards against Arkansas on Saturday, but that's the most misleading stat of the weekend. He still doesn't look comfortable in the swarm. His downfield accuracy is suspect, and Will Muschamp will be firing his guns from the get-go. On the other hand, if this is the Alabama defense we'll see from here on out, McCarron can sit in a lounge chair at midfield and slug beer all night, and still walk out of Gainesville with a win. Big game for both teams. But if Alabama escapes, it will be on veritable cruise control until its November matchup with LSU. This is no gimme. In fact, I think it will turn out to be the slugfest Arkansas/Alabama was supposed to be.

How bad is Ole Miss? Maybe we can trade the Rebs' outright to Southern Conference for Wofford and App State and a Miss America Finalist to be named later. Houston Nutt ran a shell game for years in Arkansas and once again he has fielded a team in Oxford that is outgunned, undermanned and undercoached.

No way to go through life, son.

MG

Welcome, Aggies

It's official: Texas A&M is coming.


Go here for the story from the Houston Chronicle, then here for a Q&A with Tony Barnhart. And while you're in a reading mood, go here for the official announcement on Texas A&M's website (with a helpful link at the bottom to "Learn more about the SEC").

Among the many pressing questions: Who'll have a better year in 2012, A&M or its current most-famous alum, Texas Gov. and GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry? (Here's his transcript to prove he didn't spend game days at the library.)

Polls are out; LSU the new No. 1 in AP

Beating 3 ranked teams in 4 weeks will do that to a team. Go here for the AP and USA Today rankings. Guess this means we can officially start the countdown to the Nov. 5 game between LSU and Alabama. Here's who they play between now and then. (And, interestingly, both teams have a bye week before the game).


* LSU -- Kentucky, Florida, at Tennessee, Auburn.
* Alabama -- at Florida, Vanderbilt, at Ole Miss, Tennessee.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Who Ya Got? Week 4

Two big games, finally, kick the SEC schedule into gear this week -- none bigger than the Red on Red affair Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa.

For sheer gothicness, though. you'd be hard-pressed to find a deeper dive into the archetypes than the moonlight battle between LSU and West Virginia in Morgantown.

Alabama and LSU should survive. But as little as we still know about Nick Saban's current squad, he thinks he has something special. OK, show us. As former Alabama All-American Forrest Gump might put it, "Special is as special does."

Now let's open up this week's box of chocolates.

Arkansas at Alabama

Simple game, really. Arkansas has the better offense, Alabama controls the D. The winner will be the team that better plays to its strength. Of course, there are wrenches galore -- what if Arkansas forces the Tide to throw? What if Alabama's young quarterbacks live up to their billing? Arkansas under Bobby Petrino is still chasing that first truly big win. This would be it. But Alabama will make the visitors earn it. And the Hogs, with key injuries, just aren't quite good enough to get her done. Tide, 24-17

LSU vs. West Va.

In Baton Rouge, they howl at the moon for the fun of it. In Morgantown, the baying comes from a deeper spot. The Mountaineers have one of the best crowds in all of college football. And given the pre-season embarrassments brought on by their current and former head coaches, there has to be the feeling among the faithful that the program's prominence is slipping away. Don't be surprised if the home team defends its turf with a last-stand desperation. That will work for a quarter. And then listen as the baying grows faint. Tigers, 27-12.


Florida at Kentucky

With Alabama coming to Gainesville next week, this matchup, and millions more like it, explain the popularity of the term "trap game." If only Kentucky could play a lick, but it can't, so we're spared cliche abuse for another week. Gators, 30-10.

Georgia at Mississippi

If Mark Richt wants to truly experience the charms of the hot seat, let him lose to Houston Nutt's train wreck in Oxford. I'm sure the Right Reverend would be happy to give up his chair, were he not chained to it. Georgia better take heed. This is a Dawg team that speaks with a straight face about still getting to Atlanta, but it's also a team strung together with duct tape. And its way past time for Aaron Murray to play up to his press packet. Georgia, 21-17

Vanderbilt at South Carolina

With Auburn's loss last week, the Gamecocks cemented their spot as the most suspect undefeated team in America. Something is truly amiss with Steve Spurrier's squad, which despite all its returning talent, has turned into a one-trick pony. Marcus Lattimore is actually a horse who performs a pretty good trick, and South Carolina gets the surprising Commodores at home. USC, 24-14


Florida Atlantic at Auburn

A truly awful team has come to the rescue of the Tigers at just the right time. This game should be over after one quarter. If it's not, whoa boy. Calling Icon the Entertainer AU, 45-14.

La Tech at MSU

A deceptively tough team hits Starkville just when the Bulldogs may be at their weakest emotional point of the Mullen Regime. State thought it was big time. Auburn and LSU showed them they are not. This one wears a blinking yellow light. Bullies, 35-21.

MG

Big 12 saved, or is Missouri still in play?


Today's quiz: Who said it?

"... pushed me out of the stands ... eight foot drop onto concrete."

a) The Iowa State mascot, who broke his arm during the game at UConn. (Story here.)
b) Former Big 12 commish Dan Beebe.

The correct answer is a), but for the purposes of this and future posts, b) is perfectly acceptable as well.

Sports Illustrated sums it all up: "The Big 12 dumped embattled Commissioner Dan Beebe on Thursday and announced a plan to bind nine member schools together by holding a huge financial hammer -- their TV rights for the next six years -- over the heads. The plan is far from a done deal, since it must be approved by some if not all the schools' governing bodies." (Full story here; Andy Staples surveys the scene here.)

So Missouri's in lockstep with all this? Maybe, maybe not. Here's the headline from The Kansas City Star: "Mizzou doesn't commit to Big 12, SEC still an option." (Full story here.) That doesn't quite square with The Times-Picayune: "Missouri off the table for SEC's 14th team" (Full story here.)

But Texas A&M is still SEC-bound, right? Sure. We think. "They're so far down the line with the SEC that I don't think they are likely to change their mind," said Oklahoma President David Boren.

For now, the last word belongs to new Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp, who said Tuesday, "We are going to the Southeastern Conference to play with the big boys," then added, "That will come back to haunt me."