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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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, 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


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.


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.


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.)