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.


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.


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."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Paul Finebaum and his love song to AU

I take no joy in posting this. Paul Finebaum is a professional cheap-shot artist. Though he mocks Auburn with this piece in Sports Illustrated, he could have easily targeted Alabama(or any other team).

In fact, he's probably well into a first draft.

Punch here if you must.


What we think we know ... Week 4

Is it just me of is the college football season having trouble getting out of the gate?

We've had one truly memorable game -- the Toon Town final minutes of Notre Dame and Michigan -- but even that highlight reel can't hide the fact that two mediocre team were playing the worst defense since the Maginot Line. Besides, too much of the season's energy has been siphoned off by scandal and its endless variations, or the unholy conference alliances drummed up by greed that could turn the sport into a total made-for-TV ersatz spectacle. Let's hope Alabama-Arkansas, among other games, seizes the microphone this weekend.

Does Auburn need to change its slogan from "All In" to "All Fall Down"?

We are watching a defensive collapse on the Plains of Biblical proportions. The defending champs weren't statistically great in stopping other teams last year, but they played harder and better in the second half, and never stopped attacking. This year they're lucky to be 2-1. The "God Thang" has quickly become a "Ted Roof Thang." The beleaguered defensive coordinator was let off the hook last year by the ferociousness of Nick Fairly and Cam Newton's knack for singlehandedly scoring a few more points than Roof's players allowed. Auburn is young, ridiculously young. And the kids weren't helped when last year's team ticked off so many opponents on their way to the streaming confetti. It's payback time, with interest, in the SEC. Will The Family get stronger from the experience or will it crumble altogether?

Should Marcus Lattimore have a chair to use between plays?

As Steve Spurrier gets older, he's getting harder and harder to figure out. I know Lattimore is a big time player, and it's clear he plays a disproportionate role in his team's chances week after week. But he is being steadily chewed up like a cheap pencil -- on pace for more than 300 carries this year. Here's a suggestion: Why doesn't the no-longer Boy Genius fix his passing game? Unless, of course, a three-year starter at quarterback and an all-American receiver leave him criminally short-handed. Get coaching, coach. If Stephen Garcia isn't working, coach up Connor Shaw. Figure out a way to get Alshon Jeffery the ball. Teach all those future NFL draft picks on your defense to guard and tackle. Otherwise, at the end of the year, you'll have a beaten up Lattimore, nothing to fall back on, and only yourself to blame.

The Book of Revelations -- Chapter 2

The Enigma Bowl kicks off in Tuscaloosa at 3:30 Saturday afternoon. Alabama and Arkansas are SUPPOSED to be really good. Defensively, Alabama is SUPPOSED to have perhaps the country's best unit. Offensively, Arkansas is SUPPOSED to be as creative and explosive as anyone. But neither school appears to have found its form. In Tuscaloosa, the believers say the Tide will play up to the level of its competition. In other words, the offensive line will try blocking for a change, and the defensive line might actually put some pressure on the quarterback. Like Alabama, the Hogs are undefeated, but they've played the weaker of the two schedules. They've been hit by key injuries. Tyler Wilson has been good enough, but he and his teammates weren't sharp last week against undermanned Troy. So will the real teams please stand up! If the Arkansas lines holds their ground, we're in for a dilly. If Alabama can run the ball and pressure Wilson, the Hog killing will commence shortly.

If not Nutt, whom and when?

The state of Mississippi has a long proud tradition of falling for the silken words of charlatans. Houston Nutt is the latest, and now he's the architect of the worst football team at Oxford in ages. Will he last the season? It would be the gentlemanly thing for Ole Miss to do. Not that manners has much to do with SEC football or with losing to Vanderbilt for the second consecutive year.

Book of Revelations Revisited

Florida is better than I thought, and the Gators could be scary by the time they play Georgia and South Carolina. Tennessee? The EXPATS prescribe a mild sedative to take the edge off the entire coaching staff and roster. The whole place is a tad too manic right now.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

And Missouri makes 14?

That'll be the talk today, what with stories from The Birmingham News (here) and The Kansas City Star (here) that an informal offer has been extended. The News goes on to say that if Missouri comes aboard, Auburn would go to the East, making the divisions look like this:

Mississippi State
Texas A&M

South Carolina

Stay tuned. The University of Missouri System Board of Curators is scheduled to meet Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, here's the yep-that-pretty-much-sums-it-up quote of the day, courtesy of Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel:

"I have a lot of opinions, but I have absolutely no control."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rumblings - make that rantings - in Oxford

A nonprofit group called Forward Rebels! ran this full-page ad Monday in newspapers in Memphis, Jackson, Tupelo, Hattiesburg, Biloxi and yes, Oxford. I'd say it speaks for itself.

Go here for the fallout and here for the group's website.

Taylor Branch on the NCAA and the sham of amateur sports

When the morning paper brings us banner headlines on NCAA investigations into both UNC and South Carolina, perhaps it is time to step back and study a little history.

Suffice to say, the basis for the absolute power that the NCAA tries to enforce over its members and the futility it displays in policing its sports will become painfully evident by the close of this piece in Atlantic Magazine by noted historian Taylor Branch.

It's long, but from this point on it's also required reading for any fan of college athletics.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Who Ya Got? -- Week 3

Fair to middlin' lineup at the picture show this week ... maybe that's because for first time since I had hair, ACC football is making headlines. What with FSU going all in down to its last dime against Oklahoma, and with every team this side of the New England Patriots lining up to join the country's most distinguished gridiron coalition, who can look away?

In the meantime, the five-time defending champs will make its headlines with a few games that everyone seems to want to watch. The SEC is parochial that way. Wait, John Swofford's phone is ringing again. Must be Belichick.

Tennessee at Florida

Win a couple of games and the expectations grow. Throw in some extreme dislike and, presto, we have us here a ballgame. What used to be the early verdict on who would come out of the East, the Vols-Gators hatefest veered for most of this decade into the realm of irrelevancy. This one will be fun, if only to see whose eyeballs pop out first, Dooley or Muschamp? Take Dooley for the ocular comic effect, and Muschamp's defense for the win. Florida, 21-14.

Ole Miss at Vanderbilt

Nutts! Again! But not for long! 'Dores, 24-10

Auburn at Clemson

The Separated at Birth Bowl has Clemson fans still pondering the narrative arc that has taken them from a dropped end zone pass and a missed chip-shot field goal of beating the eventual national champions to almost being run out of Death Valley by the Wofford Terriers. The search for moral victories continues this week. Maybe Auburn's eagle will fly into Frank Howard's rock. Tigers (Alabama chapter) 42-21

North Texas at Alabama:

Everybody wearing a red jersey plays this week, and that includes the band. Tide, 42-7.

Coastal Carolina at Georgia
Moral-Schworal. Dawgs, 45-14.

Louisville at Kentucky

In the SEC's football solar system, Kentucky remains Pluto. What a dark, cold, distant place to be. Cards, 20-13

Navy at South Carolina

The visor could have grass stains after this one. South Carolina should win, will win. But Navy won't be coming to Columbia in their dress whites, and a Gamecock defense still trying to hold someone under five scores will have its hands full.
USC, 42-28.

Troy at Arkansas

On its state of Alabama itinerary, the Hogs get Mini Me this week. But Doctor Evil looms. Arkansas, 55-17.

EXPATS' Bonus Pick

Oklahoma at FSU: Unless the Seminole defense plays out of its mind, I'll take the experienced QB over the new guy. Patience, FSU fans, your time is coming quickly. But not quite yet. Sooners, 28-24.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

LSU-Mississippi State: Who ya got?

Big SEC game on Thursday night -- perfect if you want to put off household chores, talking to family members, etc. Our predictions:

LSU 24, MSU 10: Auburn figured out in the second half last week that MSU can't throw downfield. Unlike Auburn, LSU can take away the run, too.

As it happens, the email edition of my alumni newsletter arrived today, carrying this message at the very end: "The Athletic Department would like to thank you for your cooperation and continued support in staying within the rules and regulations of the NCAA and SEC." It's that kind of attitude that will keep the Bulldogs from ever achieving true greatness. LSU, 24-16.

Until someone can force the LSU quarterbacks to make throws that truly matter, the beatings will continue. Tiguhs, 27-10.

My LSU buddy Steve says this one will be easy for the Tigers. I'm not so sure. I think we're gonna find out that Auburn is pretty good, and More Cowbell had a shot to beat them at the end. My heart says Bulldogs. But my head says LSU 24, MSU 21.
So who ya got?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What we think we know after Week 2

The SEC's version of the Book of Revelations opens this week when we finally get an idea of the relative strength of some of the teams. This week's headliner carries a small "H" with the battle of reclamation projects: Tennessee vs. Florida. More on that later.

Up to now? Well, here are some scatter shot observations.

1. Who can argue the power of the God Thang Voodoo being practiced on The Plains? Auburn is undefeated. Most of the world is happy to declare that they don't know how that's possible. But the explanation is simple: When it's time to win or lose the game, Auburn makes all the plays. Ryan Smith's tackle of Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf came straight from the Nature Channel. You know, the slow-motion footage of a wildebeest -- that would be Relf -- one stride from freedom when WHAM! the lion -- that would be Smith -- appears out of nowhere to knock him off his feet. I don't fault Bulldog coach Dan Mullen for putting the ball -- and the game -- in the hands of his best player. Relf is a so-so passer and a strong runner. He needed a yard against a bad Auburn defense. Yet, the game was on the line and Auburn, again, rose up. Smith's tackle was one of the best you'll see anywhere. Which brings us to this: There will be no easy outs against Auburn this year.

2. Alabama is 2-0 and near the top of the rankings, but Nick Saban's squad still feels like a submarine running in deep waters. True, the Tide dismantled Penn State, which after a promising start gave away any chance of winning with its ridiculous quarterback shuffle. Alabama, on the other hand, showed just enough to prove its superiority, then largely shut things down for most of the second half. This week, North Texas. Next week, Alabama throws a coming-out party for itself and visiting Arkansas, the scariest team on the Tide's early schedule. Granted, Hog quarterback Tyler Wilson will be making his first start on extremely hostile ground. But Arkansas has enough skilled players to press Bama's formidable defense. In the end, Wilson and Bama QB AJ McCarron should be the decisive figures. Alabama was lucky to beat the Hogs a year ago, and they did it by knocking Ryan Mallett into bad throws. Different quarterback this year, same blueprint for winning.

3. Bob the Rebuilder meets Bob the Rebuilder in Gainesville this week. Derek Dooley's Tennessee team faces another test in the long road back to respectability. Will Muschamp's Florida team must cover a shorter distance, but it's a path still filled with as much broken pavement as N.C. 12. Two traditional powers. Two young hyperventilating head coaches still trying to prove their chops. At home, Florida's defense appears to give a clear edge to Florida. But that assumes Gator QB John Brantley doesn't perform in his year-long clinch as he did in 2010. What used to be the conference's first heavyweight fight has fallen in class to a middleweight bout. Doesn't mean it won't be an interesting trade of blows.

4. South Carolina is 2-0. Georgia is 0-2. Georgia looked feeble against Boise State, but pushed the Gamecocks up and down the field last Saturday in Athens. Based on the performances of both teams, the SEC East race is far from over. South Carolina, with all its supposed offensive firepower, has needed turnovers and special team points for both of its wins. Its defense, again stocked with future NFL players, continues to play without discipline or consistency. Sure Georgia is winless, but the Dawgs should have won Saturday. The rest of the schedule sets up well IF ... UGA quarterback Aaron Murry can play up to expectations and IF ... Georgia can piece together a better defense. Big IFs, sure, but this team can beat anyone left on its SEC schedule. It could also lose to everyone of them. For the record, the numbers don't portend a happy ending. Georgia is 7-10 in the SEC since 2009.


For the significant other in your SEC life ...

... consider a gift of "Gridiron Belles: A Guide to Saturdays in Dixie," written by Christie Leigh Mueller. From her website: "... a travel guide through the stadiums and tailgates of the South ... provides every Southern Belle with the must-knows for becoming a Gridiron Belle. Whether you have yet to develop a team allegiance, you revel in polishing the silver before kickoff, or you call pass interference before the official does, this guide to the South's most lively tradition is a must-read ..."

Go here for a Q&A with Mueller, whose in-season book tour will bring her to Columbia on October 1 for the Auburn-South Carolina game. (Turns out she's an Auburn fan.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The 'fair market value' study

The Associated Press got ahold of the report a day early, writing this on Monday:

The average fair market value of top-tier college football and men's basketball players is over $100,000 each, and the athletes are entitled to at least a portion of that, a new report from an advocacy group argues.

Instead of getting what they're worth, the players receive athletic scholarships that don't cover the full cost of attending school, leaving many of them living below the poverty line, says the report, "The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport."

A national college athletes' advocacy group and a sports management professor calculate in the report that if college sports shared their revenues the way pro sports do, the average Football Bowl Subdivision player would be worth $121,000 per year, while the average basketball player at that level would be worth $265,000.

Go here for the rest of the AP story, and here for the full report from the National College Players Association.

The study also listed the most valuable players (strictly in a monetary sense). Here's the top 10, with last season's records.

1. Texas: $513,922 (5-7)

2. Alabama: $393,251 (10-3)

3. Georgia: $387,528 (6-7)

4. Penn State: $384,082 (7-6)

5. LSU: $376,485 (11-2)

6. Florida: $375,916 (8-5)

7. Auburn: $361,949 (14-0)

8. Notre Dame: $351,010 (8-5)

9. Ohio State: $348,750 (12-1)

10. Michigan: $345,683 (7-6)

SEC commish talks expansion

Here's the money quote from Mike Slive:

"When Texas A&M joins our conference, we don't have immediate plans for a 14th member."

Go here for Slive's full statement.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

On the field, off the field

On the field: LSU's Russell Shepard could miss three games total, not just one, returning for the Sept. 24 game against West Virginia. That's the word from tigersportsdigest.com.

Off the field: We'll see what the day brings on Texas A&M's efforts to extricate itself from the Big 12. Go here for the Houston Chronicle's story and here for USA Today's report. Two more: here is a short Q&A from a few days ago with the A&M president, and here is a Q&A with Keith Dunnavant, who wrote "The Fifty-Year Seduction: How Television Manipulated College Football, from the Birth of the Modern NCAA to the Creation of the BCS."

Turns out that Tennessee coach Derek Dooley summarized it best Wednesday: "It's that old saying -- it's not about the money, it's about the amount."

Off the field: More college rankings from Newsweek / The Daily Beast: Healthiest (LSU #2, Miss. State #3, Georgia #10) and Least Rigorous (Florida #2).

-- RTR

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Texas A&M to SEC? Not quite yet

The SEC is ready and the Aggies are willing.

If only it were so easy.

The short version: the SEC will take A&M if no one from the Big 12 makes a big fuss (or, say, files a lawsuit) over it. And Baylor just might.

Go here for the full story from Sports Illustrated, then here for today's statement from Florida president Bernie Machen, the chair of the SEC's president's group, and here for the September 2 letter he is referencing.

Also, Baylor has posted this on the school website under the headline "Don't Mess With Texas Football" (go here for full version):

"Texans must stand up and call the leadership of the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech to clear-headed thinking about the state's future. Texas' flagship institutions of higher learning are the guardians of the state's future—their loyalties must first be to Texas and to her citizens. Ask these leaders to take a stand for Texas and to stop this madness that will lead to the dissolution of the Big 12 and the end of an era for Texas."

Finally, there's this from A&M President R. Bowen Loftin:

"We are certainly pleased with the action taken last night by the presidents and chancellors of the Southeastern Conference to unanimously accept Texas A&M as the league's 13th member. However, this acceptance is conditional, and we are disappointed in the threats made by one of the Big 12 member institutions to coerce Texas A&M into staying in the Big 12 Conference. These actions go against the commitment that was made by this university and the Big 12 on Sept. 2. We are working diligently to resolve any and all issues as outlined by the SEC."

Update: And now Iowa State isn't ready to let go just yet? Go here for that story.

For a moment, the cleat was on the other foot: Arkansas AD says Big 12 was interested in having the Razorbacks return. Story here.

-- RTR

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The True Top 10

Every year, especially in this part of the year, we seethe with fury at the football polls. Teams that spend their first three weeks beating up on the local vo-tech schools still get ranked in the top 5 based on nothing but hype and history. Sometimes the rankings hold up; often they flame out as soon as an overranked team faces an opponent that doesn't care what you did in the wing-T era.

So this year we're fixing that. Today we debut The True Top 10 -- a ranking based on one thing only: performance. No credit for running up the score on a bad team. The True Top 10 rewards teams that schedule other good teams and win meaningful games. Yes, the Oklahomas and Alabamas of the world will climb in down the road... but only if they earn it.

And don't worry, fellow Expats... I'm pretty sure the SEC will always be well-represented.

-- Tommy T.

The True Top 10, Week 1

1) LSU. Thumped an Oregon team that might win the rest of its games. Won without its starting quarterback. Looks scary, fast, and deep. And that's just a Les Miles brain scan.

2) Boise State. Beat an SEC team on the road (it was in Atlanta instead of Athens, but when you're playing Georgia* at the Georgia Dome, that's on the road). Also won the battle of the post-modern unis. BEWARE THE HORSEHEAD OF DEATH.

3) Baylor. Beat TCU 50-48 Friday night, meaning the game of the year might've been played before the first Saturday of the season even began. (I think this was the plot of the last "Back to the Future" movie.) Baylor QB Robert Griffin III is your clubhouse leader for the Heisman, although I wouldn't run any more trick plays where he catches a pass over the middle. It's hard to play quarterback without a spleen.

4) South Carolina. So was Steve Spurrier a genius for sitting Stephen Garcia at the beginning against East Carolina? More likely, Spurrier just likes playing Jenga with his quarterbacks' psyches. (By the way, are those tie-dye undershirts the Gamecocks are wearing? And if so, that's got to be Garcia's idea, right?)

5) South Florida. I posted this on Twitter over the weekend: How old do you have to be to remember when Notre Dame was good at football? Still, full marks to South Florida: Notre Dame is better than the cupcakes most of the top teams played last weekend. Although the Irish would probably lose to Utah State. And maybe Sacramento State. And, you know, when you start going down that James Madison roster...

6) Houston. Here's this year's TCU -- they beat UCLA in their opener and that's the toughest game on their schedule. (Next toughest, I think, is East Carolina at home.) Would love to see them play Baylor in a bowl. The game might last three days.

7) Maryland. Beat a Miami team that still looked decent, even though several players were suspended and a couple of linemen are somewhere near the Abacos on "borrowed" Jet Skis.

8) Hawaii. Doubling up Colorado doesn't sound that great. Doubling up THE SHINY NEW MEMBER OF THE PAC-12 sounds much better. Maybe the Pac-12 should have gone west instead of east. Honolulu in December, or Utah? You decide.

9) BYU. Stole one at Ole Miss on a late defensive TD, which led to much despair in Oxford until everybody got back to the bourbon at their tailgates. The Cougars play at Texas next week. If they win that, they might settle in here for awhile. (Cougs, it was nice knowing y'all.)

10) Northwestern. This is the only week of the year when beating Boston College gets you into the top 10 in anything.

In next week: the Alabama-Penn State winner. That's how you schedule a nonconference game, gentlemen.


RICHT: Um, can I help y'all?

AGENT #1: Well, coach, we'd like to come in and look around. Take a few measurements. Maybe have a photographer come by.

RICHT: Excuse me, fellas, but this house is not for sale.

AGENT #2 (after awkward pause): Sure. Of course. We just... you know... in case anything should happen.

RICHT: Y'all know I've won, like, 75 percent of my games, right? Two SEC championships? Anybody remember those?

AGENT #3: Coach, you know how the real-estate market goes. Sometimes you're up, sometimes you get pounded by Boise State. So... do you think you'd want to leave the chandelier?

RICHT: Get out of here! All of you! I need to get my team ready for South Carolina?

AGENT #4 (with hat pulled over eyes, wearing large sunglasses): Coach, how many square feet would you say this house is? And have you thought about running the ball a little more? Say, 50 times a game?

RICHT (startled): Coach Dooley?


Let's invite Rice while we're at it

Just for the band.

During the Rice-Texas game, The MOB -- Marching Owl Band -- spelled out exactly what jumping conferences means to confirmed flight risk Texas A&M.

Go here for the full script. It's good.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Alabama, 1961

The national championship team, Bear Bryant's first, was honored before the Alabama-Kent State game on Saturday. That was the team that allowed just 25 points all year (including a 10-3 win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl). At left are QB Pat Trammell (12), LB Darwin Holt (32) and tackle Billy Neighbors (73). Some links:

* Season summary here.
* Regular-season game recaps here.
* Roster here.
* Video of "Bear Bryant Show" after Iron Bowl here.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

First to worst -- Week 1 performances

1. LSU. I should have figured they would be ready for the moment. The only surprise was how shaky Oregon looked.

2 through 7, in no particular order, for beating up on teams they were supposed to -- Mississippi State, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Vanderbilt.
8. Georgia. At least they played somebody decent. Decent and much better.
9. South Carolina. Stirring comeback against a team that in 2010 finished last in the country in defense.
10. Auburn. The reigning king of college football is still a drama queen.
11. Ole Miss. The only reason they're not at the bottom is because I watched a little of the Kentucky game.
12. Kentucky. And the circle is complete. The team they beat, Western Kentucky, plays LSU in November.

-- RTR

Friday, September 2, 2011

Who ya got, Week 1

Time for remote-control calisthenics, improving your time in the 40 (the 40-foot dash to the fridge), and working on the cardio you'll need to hang in there from the first game at noon through Hawaii-Colorado sometime in the Sunday gray.

Week 1 is here.

On Thursday the SEC showed well (Mississippi State plastered Memphis 59-14) and not so well (Kentucky barely held off Western Kentucky 14-3). Saturday brings the rest of the conference into action, including a couple of big early games. Here's who we got. Note the total lack of cohesion in structure, style and even color. SEC Expats: Amateurish Design Since 2009! (From RTR -- I cleaned it up as best I could, but I'm an expat, not a doctor, dammit.)


Utah St at Auburn: After Auburn’s almost evangelical march to the promised land, almost every team on Auburn’s schedule will treat the Tigers game like a holy war. The key word is ‘almost.’ AU, 48-27.
Kent St at Alabama: Good opportunity for the Tide’s kid QBs to chuck it around a little and hand it to Trent Richardson a lot. Bama, 48-0.
BYU at Ole Miss: Not a great way for an endangered coach to start a season. BYU, 35-21.
Montana at UT: What happened to all that momentum? UT needs a win, but somebody behind center will need to make plays. (Maybe it will be Justin Worley, the freshman from Rock Hill.). Vols, 24-16.
Fla. Atlantic at Florida: So we know new Gator coach Will Muschamp will jump around a lot. The rest remains to be seen. Florida, 24-0.
Missouri St. at Arkansas: Scary, scary team that will score every point it can in hopes of sending a message to the SEC. Hogs, 55-14.
ECU-USC in CLT: The Gamecocks almost certainly will disappoint in their opening in Charlotte. In the past, that meant a loss. Here, it means Jadaveon Clowney didn’t fly over the stadium before the game. USC, 35-21.
Elon at Vandy: Do you know how hard it is for Vandy to find an opening patsy? ‘Dores, 28-14.
Boise at UGA: Do the intangibles of a new strength coach and a new commitment from a head coach to actually do the job he’s been paid really well to do make that much of a difference? I think it will … for a half. Georgia has forgotten how to win big games. And that negates any advantage the Dawgs have in size and speed. Say what you want about the Potato Boys, but they will keep it close, then do what they do better than Georgia – win a game late. BSU, 24-19.
LSU-Oregon: Both teams return plenty. But LSU’s preseason has resembled a Mardi Gras party turned mean. There are plenty of players to make up for the suspensions. But the disruption to preparations can’t be ignored. Oregon comes in with an underrated defense and a point to prove, after the Ducks got shoved around by Auburn in the BCS title game. Chew, Les, chew. Oregon, 28-24.


BYU at Ole Miss: My gut tells me the Rebs are a touch underrated this year. Then again, my gut used to think Milwaukee's Best was good beer. Ole Miss, 27-24.

USC v. ECU: Just yesterday I picked South Carolina to win the SEC, which led one commenter to note that I must have been smoking crack. Here was my theory: They have the best back in the SEC, the best receiver in the SEC, the top recruit in the country on defense, and the quarterback who led them to the title game last season. What did I forget? That Steve Spurrier can't help screwing with his quarterbacks. Stephen Garcia is out and Connor Shaw is in, at least for this week. That won't matter Saturday. But messing with Garcia's head will cost the Cocks down the road. USC, 31-20.

Boise State vs. Georgia: I've been thinking Georgia would win this game but lose to South Carolina next week. But now with Garciagate, maybe we could go 2-0... and beat Florida... and then Trent Richardson sprains his ankle in the SEC title game... and the Oklahoma team bus crashes... and we all ride unicorns in the victory parade. OK, one dream at a time. Georgia, 26-17.

Oregon vs. LSU: Is it really such a bad thing that Jordan Jefferson isn't playing? I believe in SEC athletes, I believe in LSU always having meat on the D-line, and above all I believe in Les Miles. LSU, 31-27.

Alabama 48, Kent State 3
Auburn 48, Utah State 3
Florida 55, Florida Atlantic 14
Tennessee 42, Montana 21
Arkansas 62, Missouri St. 13
Vandy 29, Elon 6


Auburn 48, Utah St 24: Tigers fans continue annual first-game ritual of fretting about defense after an easy win.

Alabama 45, Kent St. 0
BYU 21, Ole Miss 20
Tennesee 35, Montana 14
Florida 28, Fla. Atlantic 17
Arkansas 55, Missouri St. 10
USC 24, ECU 10
Vandy 35, Elon 3
UGA 24, Boise 23
Oregon 28, LSU 14: Won't be off-the-troubles that stop LSU. It'll be Oregon's defense.


Oregon 35, LSU 19: I have a feeling that Oregon coach Chip Kelly learned a lot about SEC-style football in losing to Auburn and will figure out a way to keep his team from getting pushed around this time. LSU will fall behind by at least 10 points early and never catch up.

Boise State 31, Georgia 28
Auburn 30, Utah State 3
Alabama 42, Kent State 10
BYU 28, Ole Miss 24
UT 24, Montana 17
Florida 48, Florida Atlantic 7
Arkansas 34, Missouri State 20
South Carolina 24, East Carolina 21
Vandy 20, Elon 0

Garcia out, Shaw in at South Carolina

* Go here to read why Connor Shaw will start as SC's quarterback against East Carolina over Stephen Garcia.

* More QB news: Alabama will play both A.J. McCarron and Phillip Simms against Kent State -- rotating after 3 series each. Go here for that.

You can learn a lot from Thursday night radio shows.

The dirt on each other from SEC coaches

Want to know what SEC coaches think about the other teams in the conference. Look no further.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

In which Les Miles explains the art of eating grass

SEC grandmother of the year . . .Barbara Dooley

This is just flat fun to read. Suffice to say the matriarch of the coaching Dooleys is not wearing mellow as she walks toward the sunset.

Enjoy, courtesy of AJC.com


It's football time! (with some preseason predictions)

Real football starts tonight. God bless us, every one.

The SEC is in action right away, but we all think Mississippi State will beat the Beale out of Memphis and Kentucky will whip Western KY tonight. So we'll save the weekend who-ya-gots for tomorrow. For today, let's look at the bigger picture and predict how the season will play out.

SEC East champ

Mike: South Carolina
Trent: Florida
Peter: South Carolina
Tommy: South Carolina

SEC West champ

Mike: Alabama
Trent: LSU
Peter: Ala... Alab ...(sorry, this is hard)...

Tommy: Alabama

SEC champion
Mike: Alabama
Trent: LSU
Peter: Alabama
Tommy: South Carolina

Will the SEC champ win the national title?
Mike: No
Trent: No
Peter: Yes, even with an Iron Bowl loss...
Tommy: No


Mike: "The Wilson kid from Arkansas" (he's talking about QB Tyler Wilson)
Trent: Marcus Lattimore
Peter: Marcus Lattimore
Tommy: Marcus Lattimore

Game of the year

Mike: LSU-Alabama, Nov. 5
Trent: Arkansas-Texas A&M, Oct. 1 -- think of it as a sneak preview
Peter: Arkansas at Alabama, Sept. 24 -- Arkansas has 14 starters returning from a team that was up in the fourth quarter last year on Alabama (which has 17 returning starters.)

Tommy: South Carolina at Georgia, Sept. 17 -- The winner wins the SEC East. And if South Carolina wins... well, we won't even talk about the possibilities just now.

Drop your predictions down below. We hope y'all are as jacked for this season as we are.

Making the numbers work

A good lawyer never asks a question unless he already knows the answer.

With that in mind, Texas A&M would never have bolted the Big 12 without a new address for the movers. But how does the SEC make it work?

The answer, says Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News, better be quickly.

Read here.

-- mg

UPDATE: Look here for a 13-team SEC schedule (hypothetical, of course).

Two is not always better than one

Among the biggest question marks heading into the 2011 SEC season is how will Nick Saban handle the quarterback position at Alabama.

Not only is two-year starter Greg McElroy gone, but Saban is not ready to make up his mind on a replacement. As a result, the Alabama practice field this fall has resembled Vladivostok, with all the experimentations and transmutations kept tightly under wraps.

The candidates: sophomore AJ McCarron and freshman Phillip Sims. Both will play against Kent State. But will Saban keep the yo-yo spinning when his team goes on the road in Week Two against Penn St.?

History tells us he might. History also tells us that he and Alabama have had mixed results with the two-headed QB.

Read more here.


The train's leaving College Station

News: Texas A&M tells the Big 12 that it's ready to join a new conference if invited.

* "Texas A&M to seek affiliation with new conference" (go here for official news release and here for the AD's blog post on Wednesday)
* "A&M to Big 12: We're out of here" (go here for Houston Chronicle story)
* "Texas A&M inching closer to the SEC" (go here for ESPN story)

Question: What about Virginia Tech as the SEC's 14th team? "Total poppycock," thundered a Hokie spokesman. (Don't know if you can actually say "poppycock" in a thundering way, but it's not often we get to use the word. Anyway, go here for the Daily Press story.)

The 12th Man: Go here for a capsule history from the school's website. And find out more about Jackie Sherrill's creation of the 12th Man Kickoff Team at the official website here.

-- RTR