The Long and Winding Road

The Long and Winding Road
LSU vs. Tennessee
SEC Championship Game

Saturday, December 1st (4:00 ET, CBS)
November 25, 2007
By Bob Epling

LSU and Tennessee travelled long and winding roads to reach Atlanta. Our championship game preview traces the trip.

LSU

The Tigers played a decade’s worth of thrillers as they fought for a national championship game appearance and battled rumors of their coach leaving for his alma mater.

Aug. 30: LSU 45 Mississippi State 0 … #2 ranked Bengal Tigers kickoff season with Thursday night thrashing of State.

Sept. 8: LSU 48 Virginia Tech 7 … Southern hospitality extends only to the edge of the gridiron as Tigers harness Hokies.

Sept. 15: LSU 44 MTSU 0 … Tigers rest QB Matt Flynn and hold Blue Raiders to 166 yards of offense.

Sept. 22: LSU 28 South Carolina 16 … Tigers rush for 288 yards but trail for first time all year.

Sept. 29: LSU 34 Tulane 9 … Final score misleading as Tigers lead 10-9 at half. LSU moves to #1.

Oct. 6: LSU 28 Florida 24 … Repeated 4th down successes rally LSU from 24-14 deficit in fourth quarter.

Oct. 13: Kentucky 43 LSU 37 (3 OT) … Tigers blow big lead and lose in 3 OTs.

Oct. 20: LSU 30 Auburn 24 … A nail-biter that ended on a 22-yard TD pass with one second left.

Nov. 3: LSU 41 Alabama 34 … LSU scores two TDs in final three minutes to best former coach Nick Saban.

Nov. 10: LSU 58 LA Tech 10 … Tigers roll up 595 yards and regain top ranking when Ohio State loses.

Nov. 17: LSU 41 Ole Miss 24 … Offense struggles but defense and special teams carry the day.

Nov. 24: Arkansas 50 LSU 48 (3 OT) … Darren McFadden turns in a Heisman-worthy performance and Hogs hold off Tigers.

Tennessee

The Volunteers season had more ups and downs than a roller coaster but the ride ended in grand fashion.

Sept. 1: Cal 45 UT 31 … Golden Bears too fast for Vols in season opener.

Sept. 8: UT 39 Southern Miss 19 … QB Erik Ainge and receivers lead win over Golden Eagles.

Sept. 15: Florida 59 UT 20 … Second low point of early season as Vols never in game at the Swamp.

Sept. 22: UT 48 Arkansas St. 27 … Ainge passes for 4 TDs as UT heads into bye week.

Oct. 6: UT 35 Georgia 14 … Best win of season as Vols dominate Dogs for sixty minutes.

Oct. 13: UT 33 Miss State 21 … UT posts win over solid State team after trailing 14-7.

Oct. 20: Alabama 41 UT 17 … Down we go as Nick Saban debuts in Third Saturday rivalry with impressive victory.

Oct. 27: UT 27 South Carolina 24 (OT) … Vols blow big lead, but survive against nemesis Steve Spurrier.

Nov. 3: UT 59 LA-Lafayette 7 … UT clicks in all facets to prepare for stretch run.

Nov. 10: UT 34 Arkansas 13 … Vols win a game many expected them to lose and seize control of East.

Nov. 17: UT 25 Vanderbilt 24 … Vandy misses a last-second field goal and Vols stay alive in division race.

Nov. 24: UT 52 Kentucky 50 (4 OT) … UT continues mastery of UK with 23rd straight win in the series, none bigger than this four overtime thriller. Ainge throws 7 TDs and the trip to Atlanta is secure.

Prediction

While Tennessee is resilient, and the Volunteer fan base will be much more excited to be in Atlanta than their Cajun counterparts, I expect the Tigers to play better than they have in a while.

The pressure of the national championship chase is off. The coach is free to go to Michigan if the Wolverines want him. So, the Tigers should turn loose, have fun, and wrap up a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

Game Ball: LSU

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SEC Report

Note: This article was printed in Bob Epling’s “SEC Report” in Game Day Weekly on November 26th, 2007.

SEC END OF YEAR REPORT

With the conclusion of the regular season, it’s time for our annual Game Day Weekly awards and state of the SEC. Let us know what you think.

Player of the Year

1. Tim Tebow (Florida): Call him Mr. Touchdown. The sophomore sensation became college football’s first 20-20 man (scoring at least 20 TDs rushing and passing). Tebow will make more history if he is the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy.

2. Darren McFadden (Arkansas): The great D-Mac finished the season strong, leading the Hogs to an upset of top-ranked LSU and earlier in November rushing for 321 yards against South Carolina.

3. Erik Ainge (Tennessee): The senior QB saved his best for last, throwing 7 TD passes to lead the resilient Vols to a win over Kentucky and a trip to the SEC title game in Atlanta.

Coach of the Year

1. Sylvester Croom (Miss State): With wins over Alabama, Auburn, and arch-rival Ole Miss, the Bullies are positioned for a nice bowl trip.

2. Phil Fulmer (Tennessee): Fulmer takes a beating from Vol fans like Dusty Rhodes used to take a beating against the ring ropes, but he rallied the Big Orange to win the East.

3. Mark Richt (Georgia): The normally laid back lead-Dawg unleashed his team by demanding a celebration penalty at Florida, and the Bulldogs kept on dancing to a probable BCS bowl game.

Freshman of the Year

1. Knowshon Moreno (Georgia): The exciting tailback sparked the Dawgs by providing a rushing attack to complement Matthew Stafford’s arm.

2. Eric Berry (Tennessee): An All-America defensive back in the making.

3. Chad Jones (LSU): This safety has size, speed, and skills … he’ll play on Sundays.

Game of the Year (LSU Only … The Tigers played so many close ones they get their own category)

1. LSU 30 Auburn 24: Bengal Tigers throw a touchdown pass with one second left (when a field goal would have sufficed) and escaped with another thrilling win.

2. LSU 28 Florida 24: Two national powerhouses did not disappoint on the Bayou. Tigers converted on about 100 4th downs (or so it seemed).

3. Kentucky 43 LSU 37 (3 OT): The Wildcats rallied late to knock off the nation’s top team.

Game of the Year (No LSU)

1. Tennessee 52 Kentucky 50 (4 OT): Volunteers extend win streak to 23 over Wildcats, and also win the East.

2. Miss State 17 Ole Miss 14: Leading 14-0, Rebels coach Ed Orgeron gambles on 4th and 1 early in the fourth quarter, loses momentum, the game, and his job.

3. Alabama 41 Arkansas 38: The Hogs rallied from a 21 point deficit, but Tide won on a last second TD pass.

Coaching Carousel

Auburn: Will he stay or will he go? This is an annual rite of late autumn for Auburn fans and Tommy Tuberville. Tub complains, but I get the feeling he enjoys (if not encourages) the speculation. This year, Texas A&M is the suitor. 60-40 he stays and gets new perks (salary bump for self and staff, facilities upgrade, etc)

Arkansas: Razorback nation is divided on Houston Nutt. He may have saved himself again when the Hogs upset #1 LSU, but you can skate on thin ice only so long before getting wet.

LSU: If Michigan offers, Les Miles goes. Not sure a majority of Tiger fans would be upset either.

Ole Miss: Coach O is out after three seasons. Among the rumored candidates: former Colorado and Washington coach Rick Neuheisel, Houston’s Art Briles, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley, and Auburn assistant Will Muschamp. Also, keep an eye on Houston Nutt.

SEC Program Rankings

These ratings reflect the state of the program, not the rankings for this season.

1. Florida … the conference gold standard, Gators could be pre-season #1 in 2008.

2. Georgia … Dogs are young, talented, and confident. A force next season and beyond.

3. Alabama … Take heart Tide fans, the coach, the resources, and (soon) the players are in place.

4. LSU … All that talent, but coaching is becoming tumultuous. Tigers will have to decide between a proven winner or someone who plans to stay a while if Miles leaves.

5. Auburn … I don’t think Tuberville will leave, but feel less sure than a week ago. If he’d quit flirting like a schoolboy seeking a date, the Tigers would rate higher.

6. Tennessee … Volunteers have the resources to always be top-flight, but the constant complaining about Fulmer hurts a bit.

7. Mississippi State … Sylvester Croom has brought toughness and discipline to the program, and now is getting some wins.

8. South Carolina … the old ball coach is not getting any younger, and his patience could be wearing thin.

9. Kentucky … Rich Brooks has done a nice job in the Bluegrass, but loses a lot of talent.

10. Vanderbilt … Bobby Johnson has the conference’s toughest job, and Vandy is lucky to have him.

11. Arkansas … Houston Nutt is a divisive figure and may be gone by the time you read this. Ole Miss would love to hire him.

12. Ole Miss … David Cutcliffe doesn’t look so bad now. Rebels seem intent on hiring an experienced head coach, but I’d look for somebody young who would stay a while … try Derek Dooley for instance.

Early Bowl Projections

Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Hawaii

Orange Bowl: Georgia vs. Boston College

Capital One: Florida vs. Illinois

Outback Bowl: Tennessee vs. Michigan

Chick-fil-A: Auburn vs. Clemson

Cotton: Arkansas vs. Missouri

Music City: Kentucky vs. Wake Forest

Liberty: Mississippi State vs. Central Florida

Independence: Alabama vs. Colorado

Pigskin Picks (2007 Final Record: 73-21; 4-3 last week)

Last season, Pigskin Picks went 78-17, so my record dropped a bit this season. Still, not too bad in a topsy-turvy year. Watch for our Bowl Pigskin Picks in next issue!

Giving Thanks on Rivalry Week

Rivalry Week and Thanksgiving Memories
November 18, 2007

“Land of the pilgrim’s pride”
America

What are you thankful for on this most American of holidays?

We’ll get to the football in a minute, but first …

I am thankful for …

Rainy days … of which we have had precious few in north Georgia this year.

Autumn leaves and the wonderful colors that remind me of football, fireplaces, and frosty mornings.

Family and friends … those I get to see frequently, those I only see occasionally (but think of often), and those I won’t see again on this earth. What a blessing all have been.

The clutter and clatter of toys, books, clothes, and noise that means a child still lives in the house.

A nation filled with mostly good people, no matter how much some try to convince us otherwise.

Biscuits and gravy on a Saturday morning … my oh my.

Sunday morning newspapers … the thicker the better.

Christmas trees and trimmings … although some people put them up way too early.

Staying home on the Friday after Thanksgiving … you hit the malls, I’ll hit the hay for another hour!

Now, on to the great campus game … college football.

This is rivalry week and college football fans have plenty to be thankful for.

Thanks for the Egg Bowl. The nation’s most underrated rivalry gets back on television, but it belongs on Thursday night instead of Friday morning. Many Thanksgiving evenings were topped off with a last turkey sandwich and a side of Egg Bowl.

Thanks for Ohio State-Michigan. Yes it was last week. Yes the Big Ten is down and the game can sometimes be boring and low-scoring. Still, if you truly love college football, you love this Midwestern game that has grown into a national spectacle. We miss you Woody and Bo.

Thanks for Georgia-Georgia Tech. Actually, thanks for the ulcers you provide because this game is so intense it is nicknamed ‘clean, old-fashioned hate.” As a Bulldog alum, I don’t hate Tech … of course we have beaten them six times in a row.

Thanks for the great games of yesteryear. The NFL has mostly taken over football on Thanksgiving, but there was a time when things were different. Probably the most famous college game on Turkey Day was the great 1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma matchup. #1 vs. #2. National TV audience settled in after the big meal. Heisman Trophy winner (Johnny Rodgers of the Huskers). The wishbone and tear-away jerseys (Oklahoma with Jack Mildren and Greg Pruitt). Nebraska 35 Oklahoma 31.

Thanks for the rivalry trophies and nicknames. Apple Cup (Washington-WSU). Civil War (Oregon-Oregon State). Bedlam (Oklahoma-OSU). The Old Oaken Bucket (Indiana-Purdue). The Golden Boot (Arkansas-LSU). The Little Brown Jug (Minnesota-Michigan). Floyd of Rosedale (Iowa-Minnesota).

Thanks for the Fighing Irish. Love them or hate them, Notre Dame brings attention to college football, and that’s a good thing.

Thanks for Army-Navy. You know the game is important, and that these young men will soon be doing something even more significant.

Thanks for the Iron Bowl. For my money, no other rivalry matches this one in partisan interest. For Alabama and Auburn fans this game is the most intense, most anticipated, and most talked-about rivalry. These two groups see each other every day, so you know it’s been a long five years for Tide fans.

Thanks for the sports media … sportswriters, broadcasters, and radio people who keep us up to date on all the games. Among my favorites are Tony Barnhart, Pat Forde, Ivan Maisel, Beano Cook, Todd Blackledge, Kirk Herbstreit, Paul Finebaum, Max Howell, Pat Dooley, Furman Bisher, and many, many others.

Thanks for all the great stadiums. The Big House. The Horseshoe. Between the Hedges. Neyland Stadium. The Swamp. The Rock in Hattiesburg. The Granddaddy. History and tradition in all of them.

Thanks for the fans. No other sport offers the passion, pageantry, and color of a college football game. Watch one or go to one this Thanksgiving … and be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Professor’s Picks and Around the SEC

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

Next.

Not more turkey and dressing (yet). We are referring to next in line for a shot at the national championship.

Contenders are getting gobbled up like the last piece of pecan pie.

Oregon and Oklahoma turned turkey this past weekend.

Welcome to Game Day Weekly, the perfect side dish full of college football news and information to go along with your Thanksgiving dinner. Pick up your free issue each and every week, and please support our sponsors.

The Oregon and Oklahoma losses came after injuries knocked out Dennis Dixon and Sam Bradford, the starting quarterbacks for the two squads.

Dixon’s loss (a season-ending knee injury) could also cost him a potential Heisman Trophy. Bradford’s concussion ended the Sooners BCS title hopes.

As we move into rivalry week, here is our analysis of BCS conference races.

ACC: Boston College will play the Virginia Tech at Virginia winner. No ACC team has a shot at the national title. BCS Bowl Projection: Virginia Tech.

Big 12: Kansas-Missouri winner takes the North and stays alive in the national championship picture. In the South, Oklahoma must beat OK State. Should the Sooners lose, Texas takes the division by beating Texas A&M. BCS Bowl Projection: Oklahoma.

Big East: West Virginia plays the U Conn Huskies on Nov. 24. Conn clinches with a win, but West Virginia would need to beat Pitt on December 1st. Mountaineers still in national title talk too. BCS Bowl Projection: West Virginia.

Big Ten: Ohio State clinched the title with win over Michigan. Don’t count the Buckeyes out of the BCS title game picture yet. BCS Bowl Projection: Ohio State.

PAC 10: Arizona State controls the conference but must finish ahead of Oregon because of a loss to the Ducks. ASU has USC and Arizona, while the Ducks play UCLA and Oregon State. USC is lurking. BCS Bowl Projection: USC.

SEC: LSU will play Tennessee or Georgia for the SEC title. If the Vols beat Kentucky they are in … if they lose, Georgia goes. LSU reaches BCS title by beating Arkansas Friday and winning the SEC title game. BCS Bowl Projection: LSU.

Around the Nation

The Big 12 offers up a game that could determine the BCS title game matchup.

Unbeaten #2 Kansas plays #4 Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium. Winner takes the Big 12 North, advances to the conference title game to play Oklahoma or Texas, and moves within a win of reaching the BCS title game.

Rejuvenated Texas plays at Texas A&M on Friday in what will likely be Dennis Franchione’s last game as Aggie coach. Oklahoma welcomes OK State in Bedlam Series.

Out West, USC plays at Arizona State on Thanksgiving night. The Sun Devils can win the league by beating the Trojans and Arizona, but expect SC to play with renewed vigor as Rose Bowl is potentially in reach. The PAC-10 also has banged up Oregon on the road at UCLA. The Ducks cannot afford another conference loss.

The Big East title is likely to be determined when West Virginia hosts U Conn. The Mountaineers are in good shape for a potential BCS title game appearance if somebody above them falters.

Around the South

The SEC East will be determined in Lexington when Kentucky hosts division leader Tennessee. The Vols, like a cat with nine lives, need a win to get to Atlanta.

Top-ranked LSU hosts dangerous Arkansas on Friday afternoon and the Miles to Michigan rumors should be in full swirl by that time.

There are several good ACC-SEC pairings. Florida State visits Florida at the Swamp. Georgia plays Georgia Tech at the Flats in Atlanta. Clemson travels to Columbia to play South Carolina. Vanderbilt gets one more shot at bowl eligibility when the Commodores host Wake Forest.

In Conference USA, Tulsa can wrap the West by beating Rice, while East Carolina needs to beat Tulane to win a tie-breaker in the East over Central Florida. Memphis and Southern Miss both became bowl eligible last week.

See you at kickoff!

SEC Report

Turkey, dressing, and … football!

Happy Thanksgiving and what a feast of games the SEC provides.

This holiday weekend offers a television schedule stuffed with more offerings than grandma’s dinner table at noon on Thursday.

Try to choose from a smorgasbord that includes old-time state rivalries in the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl (which returns to the tube after a couple years hiatus). Not enough? Try an East division-deciding game from the bluegrass pitting resilient Tennessee against Kentucky.

Still not full? How about the nation’s top team (LSU) trying to fend off the nation’s top running back (Darren McFadden of Arkansas) in a Friday afternoon game that might be Houston Nutt’s last as head Hog.

Need more? Top things off with a trio of bowl type games matching ACC and SEC teams with Georgia taking on Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Clemson visiting South Carolina, and Florida State’s Seminoles getting it on with the Florida Gators at the Swamp. Vanderbilt also welcomes Wake Forest to Music City, but the game is not televised.

Here are our weekly ratings – Thanksgiving style!

1. LSU … Tigers thankful the upset bug hasn’t bitten them yet, but fretting over a vacancy that might take “the Hat” to Ann Arbor.

2. Georgia … Dawgs thankful for a coach whose name doesn’t get linked to every coaching opening.

3. Florida … Gators thankful for Tim Tebow, college football’s first sophomore Heisman winner?

4. Tennessee … Volunteers are thankful for staying in championship chase another week.

5. Auburn … Tigers thankful that LA-Monroe gave them bragging rights over Bama a week early.

6. Arkansas … Hog fans thankful for D-Mac, Felix, and the Nutter because it may be the last go round for all three.

7. Kentucky … Wildcats thankful for Andre Woodson and the boys in blue who will go bowling again.

8. Mississippi State … Bullies thankful for a bowl game and redemption shot in Egg Bowl.

9. South Carolina … Roosters thankful turkey is the bird of Thanksgiving.

10. Vanderbilt … Commodores thankful for last shot at bowl eligibility.

11. Ole Miss … Rebs thankful for Jevan Snead, the QB transfer from Texas.

12. Alabama … Tide thankful Tuberville only has 10 fingers.

Pigskin Picks (2007 Record: 69-18; 5-1 last week)

A great slate of TV games are scheduled over Thanksgiving weekend … enjoy.

Alabama at Auburn (8:00 ET ESPN) (Saturday)
Auburn goes for a sixth straight win in the Iron Bowl. Expect Tommy Tuberville’s name to be associated with several jobs as teams go on the traditional post-Thanksgiving shopping spree but I doubt he goes anywhere except the bank with the pay raise he’ll leverage for his staff. Alabama has more to worry about after embarrassing loss to Louisiana-Monroe in Tuscaloosa. The Tide is 6-5, has dropped three in a row, and may be playing their way out of bowl contention. Expect the game to be close.
Game Ball: Auburn

Arkansas at LSU (2:30 ET CBS) (Friday)
Reports are that Houston Nutt will be out as head coach of the Hogs after this game. Emotional most all the time, expect him to be frothing this week which makes the Razorbacks dangerous. D-Mac will also have a last chance to impress Heisman voters so watch for him to have a big game. LSU’s defense has not played up to its reputation, but the Tigers keep finding ways to win.
Game Ball: LSU

Florida State at Florida (5:00 ET CBS) (Saturday)
Gator QB Tim Tebow became the first player in NCAA history to tally 20 TDs rushing and 20 TDs passing, but Florida was eliminated from the SEC East race with Georgia’s win over Kentucky. Get ready for Urban Meyer vs. Ron Zook-Illinois hype to begin for the Capital One bowl. The Seminoles won a convincing victory over a good Maryland team and come to the Swamp playing their best ball of the season. Should be fun to watch.
Game Ball: Florida

Georgia at Georgia Tech (3:30 ET ABC) (Saturday)
The Bulldogs finally came down emotionally a bit from the two stellar performances against Florida and Auburn, but still managed to right themselves and chew up a pretty good Kentucky team. Tech also got a win last week with a late field goal against North Carolina. Expect Tech’s defense to blitz (meant as much to stuff the run as to pressure the passer) and for Georgia to counter with screens and deep seam passes. Georgia must stop outstanding RB Tashard Choice while Tech has to contend with Dawg duo of Moreno and Brown. GT head coach Chan Gailey’s job may be on the line too, so tremendous emotion (as always) will be evident. Dawgs could get a BCS bowl bid (likely Sugar) with a win and a trip to SEC title game (if Tennessee loses) even with a loss.
Game Ball: Georgia

Tennessee at Kentucky (1:30 ET CBS) (Saturday)
The Volunteers are tougher than the turkey sandwich I’ll reheat in the microwave Saturday night. UT overcame a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Vanderbilt 25-24, and moved within a victory of a trip to the SEC title game in Atlanta. Kentucky jumped to a 10-0 lead at Georgia, but couldn’t run with the Dogs for four quarters and lost 24-13. Everybody keeps expecting Tennessee to lose, but they may still be expecting it when the Vols arrive in the ATL next week to play LSU.
Game Ball: Tennessee

Ole Miss at Miss State (12:30 ET LFS) (Friday)
The Egg Bowl, annually one of my favorite games of this holiday weekend, returns to television screens across the South the Friday after Thanksgiving. This should be an old-time southern slugfest because both teams are extremely physical and come into the game with angry intentions after losses. State should be favored and will be playing for bowl positioning (expect the league to take care of the Bullies should they beat the Rebs), but Ole Miss has come close to breaking through on several occasions this season.
Game Ball: Miss State

Clemson at South Carolina (7:00 ET ESPN2) (Saturday)
Clemson lost the Atlantic Division title of the ACC to Boston College in a game the Tigers probably should have won. Tommy Bowden’s teams have a tendency to be streaky good or streaky bad, so that loss might linger a while. The Gamecocks had a week off and needed it after four straight losses. I’ll go with the old ball coach in an upset with the extra prep time, but don’t feel real good about it.
Game Ball: South Carolina

Wake Forest at Vanderbilt (2:00 ET) (Saturday)
The only SEC member not being televised this week, Vanderbilt has much to play for … a win gets them to the magic six win total and bowl eligible. The Commodores should have qualified last weekend but let Tennessee come back from a 24-9 deficit to beat them. Wake hammered a decent NC State team and probably should win this game. Still, Vandy in a bowl is too good to pass up.
Game Ball: Vanderbilt

Standing the Heat

Standing the Heat
LSU at Ole Miss
(3:30 ET CBS)
SEC Game of the Week
November 11, 2007
By Bob Epling

“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”
President Harry Truman

LSU and head coach Les Miles move back into the kitchen this week.

Ole Miss and head coach Ed Orgeron might as well pitch a cot in there.

When LSU visits Ole Miss Saturday, the pressure on both teams and both head coaches will be heating up.

While neither team nor either coach is facing the type pressure old Harry S contended with, there is still plenty of heat involved in this contest.

For LSU, the heat comes with being ranked the #1 team in college football.

The boys from Baton Rouge, 58-10 winners over Louisiana Tech, will find themselves on that lofty perch this week courtesy of an Ohio State loss to Illinois.

The Bengal Tigers now have a clear path to the national championship.

Beat Ole Miss on the road this Saturday. Beat Arkansas at home on November 23. Beat the SEC East representative in the conference championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 1. Win the BCS title game in New Orleans on January 7.

Easy path to plot … perhaps a tough row to hoe.

For Ole Miss, the heat comes with being the 12th best team in a twelve team conference.

The Rebels were idle last week, but saw yet another of their Southeastern Conference brethren gain bowl eligibility. To make matters worse, the team was in-state rival Mississippi State thanks to a big win over Alabama. Should the Vanderbilt Commodores win one of their final two games every team in the SEC except the Rebels will be eligible for the post-season.

That’s a pretty hot spot for Ole Miss.

The pressure on both of these coaches continues to build too.

At LSU, Les Miles faces the heat of exceptional expectations.

Nothing less than a national championship will be considered acceptable on the bayou this season, and it would help if the Bengal Tigers won every game by four touchdowns too.

Miles gained some relief by beating Alabama and (former Tiger coach) Nick Saban a couple weeks ago, but even in the victory the Tigers played sloppily.

Aside from on-field expectations, the Michigan issue continues to bake.

When the Wolverines lost two games to open the season, rumors ran rampant than Miles (a Michigan man) would be targeted to take over Big Blue whenever Lloyd Carr departed. That consensus lingers and a Michigan loss to Wisconsin last weekend only adds another log to the slow-burning fire.

LSU fans want LSU to be the dream job of their coach.

At Ole Miss, Ed Orgeron is stewing somewhere between Arkansas’ Houston Nutt (full boil) and Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer (steady simmer).

That the heat is not turned up higher on Coach O seems to suggest one of two attitudes.

Some Ole Miss supporters may believe the recruiting bonanza expected of Orgeron to be in the pipeline with better days around the corner (although his biggest coups have actually been from transfers). Others Rebel rooters may be simply accepting bottom-feeder status in the conference hierarchy.

LSU should win this game, but two factors suggest it could be closer than most might think.

First, Ole Miss traditionally plays the Bengal Tigers tough.

Four of the past five meetings have been decided by a field goal or less, including last season’s 23-20 overtime loss. Even during the LSU national championship season of 2003, the Tigers only beat Ole Miss 17-14 in Oxford.

Second, LSU simply makes a lot of mistakes.

The Tigers needed late-game heroics to beat Alabama, Auburn, and Florida. They blew a lead in a loss to Kentucky. Sometimes the coaching strategy leads us to scratch our heads.

Even with all that heat, the kitchen is a pretty good place to be in Cajun country right now.

Game Ball: LSU

————————————————————-

Quote: “I smiled on the sideline.” LSU coach Les Miles upon hearing that top-ranked Ohio State lost.

Professor’s Picks and Around the SEC

This zaniest of college football seasons stayed true to form last week when yet another highly rated team lost.

Ohio State, ranked #1 the past several weeks, fell at home to Illinois, in all likelihood knocking the Buckeyes out of the national championship race.

Still, in this unpredictable season, we should never count anybody out.

The Ohio State loss moves LSU back to the top of the heap.

The Bengal Tigers, one of ten (!) SEC teams now bowl-eligible, have a clear path to the title game.

If they get past Ole Miss, Arkansas, and the SEC East champion, the Tigers and all their fans can make the short drive to New Orleans for the BCS title game.

Who would LSU play?

For weeks in this column, we’ve predicted a LSU-Oklahoma national championship game so we’ll stick with our pick. However, several one-loss teams are still in contention … and don’t forget that Kansas is still unbeaten.

Here is our latest analysis of the BCS conference races (remember we go to print before the latest BCS polls are released).

ACC: No ACC team has a shot at the national title. The winner of Virginia-Virginia Tech will represent the Coastal division. The winner of Clemson-Boston College will represent the Atlantic. BCS Bowl Projection: Virginia Tech.

Big 12: Three conference teams have legitimate national title hopes: Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas. Oklahoma should represent the South. The winner of the November 24th Mizzou-Kansas game will represent the North. The winner of the Big 12 title game has an excellent chance to reach the BCS championship. BCS Bowl Projection is Oklahoma.

Big East: West Virginia has an outside shot at reaching the national title game. The Mountaineers and the U Conn Huskies control their destiny and can win the league by winning out (they play on Nov. 24). Cincinnati and Pitt are mathematically alive with 2 conference losses. BCS Bowl Projection: West Virginia.

Big Ten: Ohio State has a remote shot at a national title game appearance. The winner of Ohio State and Michigan this week wins the Big Ten and trip to the Rose Bowl. Bowl Projection: Ohio State.

PAC 10: Oregon has the best chance at a national title game, with Arizona State holding an outside hope. The Ducks control the league courtesy of beating the Sun Devils. I have a feeling a Big 12 team will jump Oregon at some point. BCS Bowl Projection: Oregon.

SEC: LSU will reach the BCS title game if the Tigers win out. LSU has won the West, and will probably play Tennessee or Georgia in league title game. BCS Bowl Projection: LSU.

Around the Nation

Oregon plays at Arizona on Thursday. The Ducks need to make a big splash because they are vying for votes with all the other one-loss teams trying to get to the title game.

At Ann Arbor on Saturday, Ohio State visits Michigan with a trip to the Granddaddy on the line. Both teams are coming in off losses, but this is one of America’s great sporting spectacles.

In the Big 12, Oklahoma plays at high-scoring Texas Tech so Sooners need to watch out. Mizzou and Kansas play K-State and Iowa State respectively a week before their big showdown.

Cincy at West Virginia is the premier Big East game.

Around the South

#1 ranked LSU visits Ole Miss as the Tigers try to run the table to a BCS title game.

Georgia welcomes Kentucky and Tennessee takes on Vanderbilt in SEC East games.

The ACC Atlantic division champion will most likely be crowned when Boston College visits Death Valley to play Clemson this weekend.

In Conference USA, Southern Miss makes a run to the border to play UTEP, while East leader Central Florida visits woeful SMU.

See you at kickoff!

The SEC Report
By Bob Epling
November 11, 2007

A perfect 10?

With Mississippi State’s win over Alabama, the SEC now has ten teams eligible for bowls this season. Should Vanderbilt beat either Tennessee or Wake Forest, the Commodores would make it eleven of twelve.

Those figures are great news for the conference, and an indicator of the overall depth and strength of the league. However, the number also poses a potential problem.

Who stays home?

The SEC has tie-ins with eight bowls. Once the conference fills those, there are no guarantees.

With so many bowls having automatic bids, it is questionable whether all conference members would garner an offer.

Here is a fluid set of predictions for SEC-linked bowls with two weeks left in the season:

BCS Title Game: LSU vs. Oklahoma

Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Kansas or Missouri

Capital One: Florida vs. Michigan

Outback: Tennessee vs. Illinois

Cotton: Alabama vs. Texas

Peach (Chick-Fil-A): Auburn vs. Clemson

Liberty: Mississippi State vs. Houston

Music City: Vanderbilt vs. Florida State

Independence: Kentucky vs. Texas A&M

If those predictions were accurate (of course they won’t all be) … the league would be trying to place South Carolina and Arkansas.

In the SEC title race, the East Division is still up for grabs.

Tennessee can win the division by beating Vanderbilt at home and Kentucky on the road.

If the Vols falter once, Georgia can take the crown by whipping Kentucky.

Florida could still get to Atlanta if the Vols lose twice and Georgia loses to the Wildcats

Here are our weekly ratings:

1. LSU … Tigers thumped LA Tech, and will head to the Grove ranked #1.

2. Georgia … Dogs blacked out Auburn and looked good doing it.

3. Florida … Tim Tebow accounted for 7 (!) touchdowns against SC.

4. Tennessee … Vols did what they had to do against Arkansas.

5. Mississippi State … Bullies are Alabama state champs after stemming Tide.

6. Kentucky … Big Blue still a factor in East race.

7. Auburn … Tubby lost some negotiating power between the hedges.

8. Alabama … Tide gets cupcake (LA-Monroe) before Iron Bowl.

9. Vanderbilt … Commodores need a win to go bowling.

10. Ole Miss … Rebels move up by not playing.

11. South Carolina … a week off before Clemson finale.

12. Arkansas … any rumors of Tuberville to Fayetteville yet?

Pigskin Picks (2007 Record: 64-17; 4-2 last week) Only two TV games this week … most unusual.

LA-Monroe at Alabama (2:30 ET)
With Auburn grudge match looming in a week, Tide might have overlooked the Indians until losing at Mississippi State. Expect Nick Saban to get everybody’s attention in Tuscaloosa this week and Tide to roll into Iron Bowl with a big win.
Game Ball: Alabama

Mississippi State at Arkansas (2:00 ET)
Mississippi State whipped Alabama 17-12 to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2000. The Bullies are stout defensively, and can run the ball on offense. Arkansas is already eligible for the post-season and it’s a good thing because the Razorbacks folded the tent on Rocky Top and did not compete in a 34-13 loss. The heat is sure to go up on Houston Nutt this week, but that’s when his teams usually respond.
Game Ball: Arkansas

Auburn (Idle)
Next Game: vs. Alabama on November 24.

Florida vs. Florida Atlantic (12:00 Noon ET)
The Mighty Gators blew out South Carolina with QB Tim Tebow accounting for 7 TDs (5 rushing, 2 passing) and 424 yards of total offense. The sophomore sensation continues to make a strong Heisman case. The Owls of Howard Schnellenberger are no joke at 5-4, but expect Florida to whip a Hall of Fame coach for the second straight week.
Game Ball: Florida

Kentucky at Georgia (12:30 ET LFS)
Georgia looks like the best team in the East right now. The Bulldogs are on quite a roll with convincing victories over Florida and Auburn sandwiched around a nice win against Troy in the past three weeks. A win over Kentucky and a Tennessee loss would put Georgia in Atlanta for the SEC title game. The Wildcats are under the radar a bit but very dangerous. Expect the two offenses to determine the game … the one that seizes control wins the game.
Game Ball: Georgia

LSU at Ole Miss (3:30 ET CBS)
See SEC Game of the Week (posted by Thursday each week)
Game Ball: LSU

South Carolina (Idle)
Next Game: vs. Clemson November 24

Vanderbilt at Tennessee (2:00 ET)
Why is this game not being televised? The Volunteers did what they had to do in dispatching Arkansas at home last week. While they may be the third or fourth best team in the East right now, the Vols are the only team in the division to control their own destiny. Beat Vandy and Kentucky and punch your ticket to Atlanta. This one is a close call, but the Tennessee title hopes live another day.
Game Ball: Tennessee

Consolation in Columbia

Consolation in Columbia
Florida at South Carolina
SEC Game of the Week

November 4, 2007
By Bob Epling

Should we call this the Consolation Bowl?

Florida and South Carolina both need some consoling at this point, although the Gamecocks find themselves in more desperate straits.

Both teams had conference title aspirations to begin the season.

Both reached high national rankings mid-way through the season.

Now, Florida needs help in the division race, and South Carolina clings to fading bowl hopes.

Start with Florida.

Going into the Auburn game on September 22, the defending national champs were undefeated at 4-0, ranked in the top five in national polls, and only two weeks removed from a 59-20 pasting of chief SEC East rival Tennessee.

Sophomore sensation Tim Tebow was running and passing his way into Heisman contention, the Gators were a week away from a BCS-style showdown with LSU, and their opponent, Auburn, limped into the game at 2-2 only fourteen days after an embarrassing home loss to Mississippi State (the Tigers second loss in a row on the Plains).

Then, as quick as you can say Rod Bramblett, it was “See ya later Alligator.”

(Auburn radio man) Bramblett’s call of Wes Byrum’s last second field goal to beat the Gators was prophetic for the defending champs’ season.

Florida played valiantly the next week at LSU, but lost a 28-24 decision they probably should have won. A win over Kentucky righted the Gator ship briefly, but then the Georgia Bulldogs came into Jacksonville, celebrated scores like they actually wanted to be there, and danced over Florida 42-30.

Last week’s impressive 49-22 victory over a solid Vanderbilt team brings Florida into this game at 6-3, but still alive in the SEC East.

Next, to South Carolina.

Heading into the Vanderbilt game on October 20th, the Gamecocks were 6-1 (losing only at LSU), ranked #7 in national polls, and controlled their fate in the SEC East.

The Gamecocks have not won a game since.

Vanderbilt beat Steve Spurrier for the first time, completing shutting down the head ball coach’s offense in a 17-6 win in Columbia. The teams combined for less than 400 total yards.

The next game may have broken the team’s will.

After falling behind Tennessee 21-0 at Neyland Stadium, SC mounted a terrific comeback and took a 24-21 lead with less than two minutes to play. Tennessee missed a last second field-goal but had a false start, and Daniel Lincoln made good on his second chance to send the game to overtime, where another field goal won the game. Carolina outgained the Vols by nearly 200 yards (501-317) but still lost.

That game led into the 48-36 debacle at Arkansas Saturday night.

Carolina played like Darren McFadden’s agent, giving up a conference-record 321 yards rushing to D-Mac and sending him to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

At 6-4, on a three-game losing streak, Carolina now plays Florida and Clemson at home.

Five consecutive losses to end the season, in a league that may have eleven teams vying for bowl position, might keep the Gamecocks home for the holidays.

The last two games in this series have been outstanding.

Carolina whipped Florida 30-22 two years ago, Spurrier winning the first battle against his old school.

Last season, Florida blocked a field goal on the final play of the game to win 17-16 and keep national title hopes alive.

Florida will be playing to keep its SEC East hopes alive this week, and another division title is not out of reach.

The Gators need to beat SC, and wait to see if Tennessee loses to either Arkansas, Vanderbilt, or Kentucky, and whether Georgia loses to either Auburn or Kentucky.

South Carolina holds out bowl hopes. Florida holds out division title hopes.

Consolation prize goes to the Gators.

Game Ball: Florida