Around the Nation Week 6: The Long Hard Slog

The long hard slog continues.

No, we are not talking about the three weeks remaining to the presidential election, although trying to watch those debates is a bit of a chore.

No, we are not talking about the NASCAR race for the chase championship, with a ten race playoff superseding a ten-month track schedule.

No, we are not even talking about the baseball playoffs, which more or less nullify a 162-game season.

Instead, we are talking about college football, the sport with a twelve-week playoff where every game counts.

Falter once and you are fighting back through the loser’s bracket. Drop two games and you better win the SEC title convincingly or you are likely out of the championship tournament mix.

The slog took its toll this week.

Top-rated Southern Cal, on virtually everybody’s list of strong national title contenders, lost at Oregon State on Thursday to begin the carnage. By the time the clock struck midnight Saturday, Georgia, Florida, and Wisconsin had joined the ranks of Top Ten teams succumbing to awful attrition as those squads lost to Alabama, Ole Miss, and Michigan respectively.

Other Top 25 teams toppling during the weekend included Wake Forest (to Navy), Clemson (to Maryland), Illinois (to Penn State), East Carolina (to Houston), and TCU (to Oklahoma).

Maybe you remember a week where more highly rated teams lost – I cannot.

The gridiron gore will get worse.

Southeastern Conference teams are just getting into league play. Envisioning a team coming out of that jungle unscathed is difficult (the SEC had five of the nation’s top ten teams last week). Alabama and LSU are the class of the conference right now.

The Big 12 is similar in depth. Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas rank in the national top five this week, with Texas Tech lingering in the top ten. Maybe a team can navigate through that southwest Bermuda triangle, but who would be surprised if they all beat each other up over the slog of the season.

Aside from those two power conferences, other contenders are emerging quietly.

Penn State is the best hope for the Big Ten to get back to the BCS title game. The Nittany Lions “Spread HD” offense looks good and has a catchy nickname. And, who wouldn’t pull for the ever-young Joe Paterno?

In the Big East, South Florida is undefeated, has a quality win over Kansas, and faces a challenging, but not overwhelming, remaining schedule.

BYU, Utah, and Boise State may not be national title contenders yet, but those squads could be BCS busters.

Of course, all those one-loss teams that fell this weekend may well climb back up through the rankings as the long hard slog continues.

Enjoy the games.

Around the Nation

The top Big 12 teams face road challenges this week.

Oklahoma travels to improving Baylor. Missouri goes to Nebraska where the Cornhuskers will try to recover from a tough loss to Virginia Tech. Texas Tech takes its air show to Kansas State, and the Texas Longhorns, fresh from a big win over Arkansas, venture to the Rocky Mountains for a showdown with Colorado.

In Big Ten country, Penn State faces a potential pitfall at Purdue. Ohio State visits Madison to play Wisconsin as Bucky Badger tries to bounce back from a dispiriting loss at Michigan.

The PAC-10 features Oregon at USC, probably the league’s two best teams, but both lost last weekend.

Around the South

The SEC simmers down after a sizzling Saturday of upsets.

Kentucky at Alabama matches two of the league’s four remaining unbeaten teams (LSU and Vandy are the others), while Florida travels to Arkansas, Auburn to Vanderbilt, and South Carolina to Ole Miss.

The ACC features what used to be a national showcase game as Florida State visits Miami.

See you at kickoff!

Professor’s Picks and Around the SEC Week 5

“I smoke old stogies I have found,
short, but not too big around.
I’m a man of means by no means … king of the road.”
Roger Miller

SEC head coaches Bobby Johnson, Urban Meyer, Mark Richt, Nick Saban, and Les Miles probably don’t smoke old stogies (or even new ones for that matter). And they definitely are men of means … by all means.

However, last week the whole bunch was similar to at least one of the lyrics in that great old Roger Miller song.

They were kings of the road.

Johnson led his undefeated Vanderbilt team to a come from behind 23-17 win over Ole Miss in Oxford. The Commodores are 4-0 and need only two more victories to become bowl eligible for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president.

Meyer and the fleet Florida Gators rocked Tennessee 30-6 in Knoxville.

The Gators scored by land, air, and (if they’d had a snorkel) probably could have by water from the nearby Tennessee River. The Volunteers struggled offensively as UT head man Phillip Fulmer fell to 5-12 against Florida.

Richt took his Georgia Bulldogs to the desert where they easily handled Arizona State 27-10. The win moved Richt’s road record to a mind-numbing 27-4. Bulldog freshman WR A.J. Green had a coming out party with eight catches for 159 yards and one TD.

Saban and the Red Elephants of Alabama readied for a trip to Georgia by thundering past Arkansas 49-14. Six of the Tide’s seven touchdowns came on plays longer than 25 yards. Two of the scores were interception returns for touchdowns.

Of all the great road wins, none was better than the victory by Miles and LSU over Auburn.

The Bengal Tigers overcame a loud crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium, a concussion to starting QB Andrew Hatch, and a fearfully bad interception toss by backup QB Jarrett Lee that resulted in an Auburn touchdown.
Still, LSU found a way late when Lee redeemed himself by throwing an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell with just over a minute remaining.

The final was LSU 26-Auburn 21.

So, what happens this week?

The Alabama-Georgia showdown has national implications, but is not the only big game of the week.

In the West, Auburn must try to bounce back at home, this time against inconsistent Tennessee.

Florida and LSU try to avoid letdowns against Magnolia State teams in home games with Ole Miss and Miss State respectively.

Finally, the SEC achieved an enviable feat last week when five of the league’s teams made the Top Ten rankings. That’s kind of like half of the Atlanta Braves starting for the National League All-Star team, or maybe the Beatles having five of the top ten hits on the Billboard list.

Enjoy the games!

Game Day Weekly Conference Ratings

1. LSU … Tigers showed toughness and creativity to overcome Auburn on the road.

2. Florida … Ole Miss traditionally plays Gators well.

3. Georgia … Dogs leap Tide on this list but Bama gets chance to beat them between the hedges.

4. Alabama … Crimson Tide is farther along the championship path than most figured this early.

5. Vanderbilt … Highest Dores have reached in our ratings since we started them a few years ago.

6. Auburn … Difficult home loss leaves Tigers no wiggle room in division race.

7. Kentucky … Wildcats have no losses but get no love either.

8. South Carolina … These ratings would be better if they could stop at #7,

9. Ole Miss … turnovers, turnovers, turnovers cost the Rebels against Vandy.

10. Tennessee … I would rate them lower but I actually saw the next two teams play this week.

11. Arkansas … Hogs coming down to earth was not pretty; Texas in Austin may not be either.

12. Mississippi State … State’s offense couldn’t score if they took Brad Pitt out to meet girls with them.

Professor’s Picks
(Last Week’s Record 6-1)
(2008 Record 28-8)

Alabama at Georgia (7:45 ESPN)
See SEC Game of the Week.
Game Ball: Georgia

Arkansas at Texas (3:30 ET ABC)
The Longhorns are quietly playing themselves into the national championship conversation and will be a solid Top Ten team when these two meet. Arkansas is anything but solid and Bama roasted the Hogs last weekend. Old timers will remember great battles between these two in the old Southwest Conference. It’d be fun to see another classic but Hogs chances may be like the league – gone.
Game Ball: Texas

Tennessee at Auburn (3:30 ET CBS)
Auburn’s loss to LSU was as tough to swallow as a dose of castor oil. The Tiger defense was strong for most of the game, but faltered late. The big problem is offense where the “system” looks mostly like read options and gimmick pass plays. It can work for a while, but not for a season. Tennessee is deeper in the doldrums than a Wall Street banker. The Volunteers really failed to compete with Florida … even after some of the Gators called them out as quitters in last season’s game. It may get a little ugly for Fulmer on Rocky Top.
Game Ball: Auburn

Ole Miss at Florida (12:30 ET Raycom)
The mighty Gators looked deceptively good against Tennessee. QB Tim Tebow put up modest passing and running numbers (96 passing and 26 rushing) but he didn’t have to do more because Tennessee kept making mistakes. The Volunteers twice drove to the Gator 1-yard line in the first half, but a fumble and an interception led to no points. Ole Miss dropped another close game, and this was of the Rebels own making. Six turnovers and 82 penalty yards cost the Rebs a chance to win the programs 600th victory and also marked the team’s ninth straight SEC loss. This week will be #10.
Game Ball: Florida

Mississippi State at LSU (7:30 ET ESPN2)
What are the odds State gets across midfield in this one. The Bullies got absolutely embarrassed on the road at Georgia Tech in a 38-7 loss, but hey they did score a touchdown. LSU won the grudge match with Auburn and should have plenty in the tank to beat State.
Game Ball: LSU

UAB at South Carolina (7:00 ET)
South Carolina could not put away tiny Wofford until late in the 4th quarter last week so no game is a gimme for the punchless Gamecocks. UAB won its first game of the year by pounding Alabama 45-10. Oh wait, that was Alabama State.
Game Ball: South Carolina

Western Kentucky at Kentucky (7:00 ET)
Kentucky should remain unbeaten although the WKU Hilltoppers will not be a pushover. UK will get another week off next Saturday before facing Alabama on the road Oct. 4th. We’ll find out how good the Cats are then.
Game Ball Kentucky

Open: Vanderbilt

A Memory Maker

Alabama at Georgia
SEC Game of the Week
September 27th at 7:45 PM ESPN

by Bob Epling
(article originally appeared 9.22.08 in Game Day Weekly)

Think of Alabama and Georgia and what comes to mind?

Here are three things: politics, civil rights, and college football.

Since we are nearing a presidential election, remember George Wallace and Jimmy Carter?

Wallace, the feisty little Alabama bantam rooster came to prominence as a race-baiter blocking the school house door to racial integration, ran insurgent races for the presidency in 1968, 1972, and 1976, and by the time he won his fourth term as governor in 1982 garnered unprecedented support from the state’s black voters.

Carter, the pious peanut farmer from Plains, also started his career as a segregationist, modified his views to become governor in 1971, and built on Wallace’s populist themes to become president in 1976.

Since these former confederate states are deep in the heart of Dixie, remember Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Parks sparked the modern Civil Rights movement in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. The young pastor who led the bus boycott on her behalf was King, launching his famous social and political career.

Then there is a little sport called college football.

Strangely, these southern neighbors that share a long border and a longer history of great football teams have provided us relatively few memories against each other on the gridiron.

That should change this weekend.

From Florence to Florala and Decatur to Dothan, Alabama backers believe the Crimson Tide is rolling to championship form ahead of even the most ambitious schedule set by head coach Nick Saban.

From Clayton to Columbus and Blue Ridge to Bainbridge, Bulldog backers are crossing their fingers to see if Mark Richt’s canines can chomp through perhaps the nation’s toughest schedule.

Both teams have answered all challenges so far.

Georgia was actually the site of Alabama’s coming out party. The Crimson Tide traveled to Atlanta and knocked the stripes off the Clemson Tigers to open the season. Since then, Bama has not been seriously challenged in wins over Tulane, Western Kentucky, and Arkansas.

The Bulldogs went west to make their biggest statement of the season.

Opening the season as the preseason #1 ranked team, Georgia cruised to easy victories over Georgia Southern and Central Michigan, before struggling to beat South Carolina 14-7 on the road. Last weekend, the Bulldogs hardly broke a sweat in sweltering Tempe by handling Arizona State 27-10.

Here are three keys to the game.

1. Georgia O-Line vs. Alabama D-Line: Georgia has more offensive weapons than Alabama but must be able to block the Tide to launch those weapons. The Dogs have struggled up front, frequently shuffling their line due to injuries and inconsistency, while the Tide front has dominated every opponent. Advantage Alabama.

2. Offensive Backfield: Quarterbacks Matthew Stafford of Georgia and John Parker Wilson of Alabama are both seasoned and should be able to handle whatever looks are thrown at them. That leaves the running backs. The Tide is deep with freshman speedster Mark Ingram leading a stable of good runners. However, Georgia has the best player on the field in Knowshon Moreno. Advantage Georgia.

3. Kicking Game: Georgia better be careful with kick coverage. The Dogs have struggled and cannot afford to give away field position to dangerous Tide return men like Javier Arenas and Julio Jones. Georgia may have a slight edge in field goal kicking because freshman Blair Walsh has a big leg. He knocked one off the upright from 54 yards against ASU. He won’t miss that kick in this game. No advantage.

For some reason, I have a gut feeling that this game will not come down to the last seconds and that one of the teams will win by about a touchdown to ten points.

The winner remains a serious national title contender. The loser will need some help, but is not eliminated.

These occasional rivals should provide us new memories this weekend.

Game Ball: Georgia

Message from Munson

A (fictional) Message from Munson:

All right you guys get the picture.

We’ve had a pretty good run here so that’s something. Got off to a little bit of a rough start cause all these Dog fans still remembered Thilenius and even Jim Wood and back to Bill Munday and those guys, and these Dog people were wondering who the heck this fisherman from Minnesota and Vanderbilt was … took four or five years, a lot of you don’t remember that do you?

Yeah … and it was a Tennessee thing that kind of turned it around.

Not that hobnailed boot call … and I didn’t even know what one of those was by the way, even though everybody seemed to like that call pretty good … no this was when we came back on ‘em pretty good up there in 73 and won 35-31 or something and after all those years just getting the dog beat out of us when I was at Vanderbilt … well I got pretty excited about beating Tennessee in Knoxville.

Dooley always said that’s the call when I became a Bulldog. He may just be right too you know.

Anyway, this aging stuff is tougher than a dog … and I mean tough … so I’ve got to put down the mic.

Yeah, I can still keep up with the game ok and prepare for the opponents and all that stuff – and don’t think these next guys will be anything easy … this Alabama game Saturday is gonna be a monster … have you seen that 400 pound nose tackle that can dunk a basketball or something – man oh man we’re going to block that guy with a freshman? – but some of the other stuff just kills you. Just absolutely kills you.

Here’s one example … see they moved these radio booths and that’s not a little thing.

The press boxes used to be one level up from the field right about the fifty. Then the stadiums suddenly got huge and they stuck us up like we’re on top of a flag pole. Then the fat cats and college presidents wanted the midfield view and all the sudden we’re calling a game from the 20 yard line in some of these places. You try to see some of those numbers on those jerseys from a hundred miles away. Nobody much talks about that.

The travel got me too.

Up the steps to the bus in Athens and then to the airport … off one bus and onto another and then to the plane … the knees just aren’t what they used to be. Now mostly what I miss are those Friday nights on the road going out with the guys for dinner and maybe even a beverage or two … yeah we occasionally did that. The stories and the talk … I miss that, but getting back from Starkville at 5:00 on Sunday morning?

Anyway, since I won’t be calling these games and maybe one or two of you guys are apparently going to miss it (and yeah I am too … more than you know but I’m not gonna get emotional about this thing), I thought I’d give you a rundown of the game this week to see what it looks like.

Well, let’s look at it … Alabama looks a little tougher than what we thought at the beginning of the season don’t they. They got their own freshman receiver over there even though I might take ours, and a pretty good little senior at quarterback – the Wilson kid from that Hoover school. That big freshman running back looks good, and we sure could use one of their tight ends. So, how are you going to stop them? Can one of you tell me that?

On defense, my god almighty they’re big on the line. I like big Kade and Atkins and our guys, but this Cody is a mountain and he can move too. That McClain linebacker is a lot like our Curran, makes just about every tackle. And don’t forget we’re trying to block these guys with a brand new line. Brand new … like you just opened them up from a box or something! I’m not sure how that will work out, but I’m afraid I know and man, I don’t like it so much.

Don’t forget our kicker is a freshman too and that could be big because you gotta figure it’s going to come right down to the end like last year. This Javier Arenas looks like he might just return every kick or punt all the way … don’t forget about him either.

So it’s gonna be tough.

Maybe that blackout thing will help us get through.

Alright you guys – thanks.

Munson Retires

Larry Munson, legendary radio voice of the Georgia Bulldogs, retired today – effective immediately. He will not call the Alabama-Georgia game this weekend.

Munson began his collegiate career at Wyoming in 1946-1947 (replacing Curt Gowdy), moved to Vanderbilt from 1947-1966, and accepted a position as one of the original announcers of the Atlanta Braves in 1966 before being hired at Georgia on the way to spring training. He served as voice of the Dogs from 1966 until today. Munson also hosted a weekly fishing show for more than 20 years in Nashville.

Larry is best known for his colorful calls during Georgia games (“There goes Herschel” … “We stepped on their face with a hobnailed boot” … “Run Lindsay” … “Man is there going to be some property destroyed tonight!” … and so many more). He returned from surgery earlier in the year to call the first two Bulldog home games this season and was scheduled to call only home games as he did last season.

Here is a link to the Atlanta Journal Constitution story today.

Munson will be greatly missed in the booth by college football fans in general and Georgia fans in particular.

Around the Nation Week 5

Sport provides us all sorts of special memories.

It might be putting a football in the crib of a newborn, or watching a little girl kicking a soccer ball or diving into a swimming pool for the first time.

Maybe you remember playing softball with your buddies or the Friday night lights at the local high school football stadium.

Precious memories, how they linger.

This is a good week to get a bit nostalgic.

Yankee Stadium, America’s most famous sports venue, hosted its last game Sunday night. The House that Ruth Built was the site of memorable events too numerous to list.

These are the grounds where Babe Ruth hit his 60th homerun in 1927 and Roger Maris his 61st in 61.

This is the place where popes prayed, where Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, and Muhammad Ali fought, where Gehrig bade farewell. This is the place where Notre Dame and Army battled when both programs mattered.

This is the field where Reggie-Reggie-Reggie became Mr. October, the Mick won the Triple Crown, and the Colts beat the Giants in the NFL’s greatest game.

These are the grounds where Derek Jeter told the President of the United States “we pitch from the top of the mound at Yankee Stadium” and George W. Bush fired a strike while wearing a flak jacket to open the 2001 World Series just weeks after 9-11.

Yankee Stadium is gone and we won’t see another of its ilk in our lifetimes.

As college football fans, treasure the memories and appreciate the Big House, Sanford Stadium, the Rose Bowl, Death Valley, the Swamp, Neyland Stadium, Notre Dame Stadium, the Yale Bowl, and all the other great venues on our campuses.

They are our living history.

Let’s move on to teams making modern-day memories.

The race for the national title continues to shape up as USC versus the top team that emerges from the SEC or Big 12. Oklahoma and Missouri have the easiest paths because their schedules are lighter than all the SEC contenders, but it’s still very early.

Don’t discount an overlooked Penn State team sneaking into the BCS title picture.

With Ohio State looking vulnerable, the Lions could be favored in the rest of their games. Wouldn’t that be a nice way for Joe Paterno to answer his critics?

Enjoy the games.

Around the Nation

Top-ranked USC plays a Thursday night game at Oregon State. The Beavers upended the Trojans the last time the two met in Corvallis.

Arkansas travels to Texas in a game that was washed out a couple weeks ago. The Longhorns are rounding into form, but this tradition-rich series is usually close.

In the Big Ten, unbeaten Wisconsin goes to Michigan, and Illinois travels to Happy Valley to take on Penn State.

TCU whipped Oklahoma three seasons ago in the last meeting between the two, so the Sooners will have payback on the mind. Virginia Tech travels to Nebraska for a nice intersectional matchup.

Around the South

Alabama at Georgia is the biggest game of the weekend.

Last season the Dogs won an overtime thriller in Tuscaloosa, so the Tide will try to return the favor between the Hedges.

Tennessee travels to Auburn, Miss State to LSU, and Ole Miss to Florida in other big league games.

Maryland is at Clemson in a big ACC pairing, but most of the league’s teams are playing out-of-conference competition this week.

In C-USA, Marshall takes on West Virginia of the Big East in a Mountaineer State feud.

See you at kickoff!

Professor’s Picks and Around the SEC Week 4

Unbeaten, untied, and unimpressive?

Those adjectives will not hold true for every undefeated team in the SEC this week, but it describes the efforts of several contenders. The league has eight undefeated teams heading into the weekend and five members of the AP Top 10.

However, the play of several highly rated teams might cause their fans to simmer down on the excitement.

Georgia scrapped to a 14-7 road win over South Carolina. The Bulldogs will have to play better in the desert against Arizona State or their national title dreams may become a mirage.

Auburn mastered its new offensive “system” to the tune of 5 points against Mississippi State. That’s right … 3 for the Tigers and 2 for the Bullies on a safety. On the other hand, the Tigers pitching staff – I mean defense – hurled a shutout.

Kentucky nearly suffered another bluegrass miracle before Robbie McAtee made a game-saving tackle at the 1-yard line on the game’s final play against MTSU.

Vanderbilt won again after letting Rice move up and down the field for a 21-21 tie at halftime.

Arkansas is 2-0 and could just as easily be 0-2 (and would likely have lost last weekend had the game at Texas not been postponed).

LSU and Alabama were more impressive.

The Bengal Tigers prepared for a trip to Auburn with a workmanlike 41-3 victory over North Texas. The Crimson Tide rolled over Western Kentucky and look like the second best team (behind LSU) in the West at the moment.

This weekend offers significant games in the division races.

Out West the headliner is LSU at Auburn. The winner stands to emerge as the co-favorite (with Alabama) for the division title.

Alabama should be able to beat Arkansas, but the Tide has lost its last two trips to the Natural State.

Vanderbilt travels to Ole Miss in an inter-division game between two teams that have not lost league games.

In the East, Florida is undefeated but faces a big trip to Rocky Top.

Enjoy the games!

Game Day Weekly Conference Ratings

1. LSU … Tigers still looking good but will need a passing game this week.

2. Florida … Idle Gators get back to work with a trip to Rocky Top.

3. Alabama … When the Tide gains consistency week to week – watch out.

4. Georgia … Dogs got past a tough hurdle but did not look good in the process.

5. Ole Miss … Rebel offense gaining some momentum.

6. Auburn … Teams pay money at seminars to learn this offense?

7. Vanderbilt … Bowl watch stands at three more wins and counting.

8. Tennessee … UT finally volunteered some offense (545 yards) against a bad UAB team.

9. Kentucky … Wildcats had nine lives in hanging on by t—h—i—s much to beat Blue Raiders.

10. South Carolina … This defense deserves better support.

11. Arkansas … One positive from Hurricane Ike? It allowed the Hogs to move up a notch by not playing.

12. Mississippi State … Bully defense outscores offense by a deuce in 3-2 loss to Auburn.

Professor’s Picks
Last Week’s Record 7-1
2008 Record 22-7
* All times Eastern

Alabama at Arkansas (12:30 Raycom)
The Tide rolled on offense, defense, and special teams to dispatch Western Kentucky with ease. QB John Parker Wilson became the all-time offensive leader at the Capstone and will add to that total against the Hogs. Bama looks like a contender, while Bobby Petrino’s pigs are perhaps the worst 2-0 team in America. Hogs had a trip to Austin canceled due to the hurricane … which mostly means they get their first loss this week instead. Could be a bit closer than you think.
Game Ball: Alabama

LSU at Auburn (7:45 ESPN)
These two teams were the preseason favorites to battle for the SEC West. Auburn took a step back on offense against Miss State in a 3-2 win, although the bullpen did a good job to hold the lead. Seriously, it was bad but not as bad as it seemed because penalties and turnovers played a role in keeping Auburn out of the end zone. Defensively, the Tigers held State to only 116 yards. They will need another strong effort as LSU roars onto the Plains. The Bengal Tigers have been the league’s most impressive team, and arguably have the best lines (O and D) in college football. LSU will need to be able to throw downfield more in this game instead of relying only on short passes. Call it a close one for the visitors.
Game Ball: LSU

Florida at Tennessee (3:30 CBS)
See SEC Game of the Week.
Game Ball: Florida

Georgia at Arizona State (8:13 ABC)
Georgia escaped South Carolina with a 14-7 win that may look prettier as the season progresses. It was not a good looking effort offensively against the Gamecocks but the Dogs did dominate time of possession. Defensively, Georgia throttled SC and came up with turnovers at key times, none bigger than Rennie Curran’s fumble-forcing tackle on Mike Davis at the goal line. ASU has Rose Bowl aspirations but might have gotten caught looking ahead when they were ambushed by UNLV in a 23-20 overtime loss. Dogs win in primetime. Sorry Brent and Herby.
Game Ball: Georgia

Vanderbilt at Ole Miss (7:00)
Vanderbilt and Rice combined for nearly 500 yards of offense – in the first half (!) before the Commodores pulled away to move to 3-0. Vandy will need to be consistent on defense because Ole Miss is streaky. The Rebs struggled early with Samford then exploded for three straight scoring drives of over 50 yards midway through the game. I like Vandy, but think Johnny Reb has enough athletes to sink the Commodores ship.
Game Ball: Ole Miss

Mississippi State at Georgia Tech (12:00 Noon Raycom -ACC crew)
State scores less than a bucktooth boy at a beauty pageant. The Bulldogs had plenty of chances to beat Auburn but never could put points on the board offensively. The defense is stout but gave up some rushing yards to the Plainsmen. They will give up more this week against the triple-option flexbone of Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets took Virginia Tech to the wire before losing by a field goal to drop to 2-1 on the season. It’s tough to pick a squad from the JV (ACC) to win over the varsity (SEC), but I believe Tech will ramble and wreck State in Atlanta.
Game Ball: Georgia Tech

Wofford at South Carolina (7:00)
Wofford is a pretty little campus in Spartanburg, the football team is 2-0 after wins over Presbyterian and Charleston Southern, and the Terriers played the Gamecocks tough in 2006 before losing 27-20. Shouldn’t matter … Gamecocks will be surly after losing close at home to Georgia.
Game Ball: South Carolina

Open: Kentucky

Through the Mist

Florida at Tennessee
SEC Game of the Week

Sept. 20, 2008 on CBS at 3:30 ET

(article originally appeared 9.14.08 Gameday Weekly)

High up on a hill in Fort Sanders the view is quite spectacular.

Looking south out the window of a small two-bedroom apartment on the eleventh floor of a tall married-housing building on Laurel Avenue, here is what one can see.

Four blocks down, notice the bustle of Cumberland Avenue, the famed “strip” that has gotten many a Tennessee undergraduate – including a good share of football players – into trouble, snaking east from the big gold World’s Fair ball in downtown Knoxville toward the suburbs west of the city.

Past Cumberland, the hilly main campus of the university spreads toward the Tennessee River. The pyramid-like library, the mausoleum-like basketball arena, the wide four-lane highway named Neyland after the great Robert Reese, football coach and general. Pronounce it “knee-lund” like it should be.

Before that highway, there on the left, stands the imposing stadium honoring the same man.

Until seats were added a decade or so ago, with binoculars the southwest corner of the field could be seen, right down to the distinctive checkerboard endzone design that always brings to (my) mind dog chow.

Past the wide Tennessee River and miles to the south, the majestic Smoky Mountains grace the horizon, green and welcoming in summer, colorful and comforting in autumn, sometimes white and distant in winter, always clouded with a gray, smoky mist that burns off by the middle of the day.

When that same mist clears this weekend, more than just the gorgeous mountains will come into focus.

The SEC East race will begin to clear too.

Unbeaten 2-0 Florida, featuring the rock-star revivalist of a quarterback, Heisman winning Tim Tebow, the multi-talented receiver Percy Harvin, and the track-team speed on defense, travels to Knoxville for a game with 1-1 Tennessee.

The Gators hammered Hawaii in their season opener, but struggled offensively for more than a half before finally taming the Miami Hurricanes in week two.

Florida had an off-week to prepare for this showdown.

The Volunteers too were off early in the season. Unfortunately, their off-day came on Labor Day against UCLA.

Tennessee controlled much of that game, picking off four Bruin passes in the first half but giving up the lead with 27 seconds left in regulation. Picking themselves up, the Vols rallied for a tying field-goal to send the game to overtime. In OT, the Bruins made a field goal, Vol PK Daniel Lincoln missed one, and suddenly the defending SEC East champs were 0-1.

A subsequent 35-3 victory over hapless UAB (the Blazers actually gave up 12 fewer points to the Volunteers than their defense averaged coming into the game) was further diminished when reports arrived from the Rocky Mountains that BYU had obliterated that UCLA Bruin bunch by a tidy 59-0.

This game turns on one key factor.

Can Florida develop a running game to take the pressure off Tim Tebow?

If the Gators can, with help coming from any of a group that includes traditional running backs Kestahn Moore, Emmanuel Moody, Chris Rainey, or Mon Williams … or hybrid backs Percy Harvin and Brandon James … if the Gators get some support for Superman, they should win.

If they do not get that help?

If they do not, and Tebow keeps taking a pounding on virtually every running play, keeps having to make passing decisions after taking shots from big-time SEC defenders, keeps having to shoulder the load of the Florida offense … if the Gators do not get that support …well, I still think they have enough to win.

Scenario 1 means it will not be close.

Scenario 2 means it will be close.

Either way, when the mist clears, the Gators should win.

Game Ball: Florida

Author’s Note: As a doctoral student at UT, I watched the mist clear over the distant Smokies many days from that little apartment while writing a dissertation on Tennessee football.

What a view.

Around the Nation Week 4

Want a little straight talk?

Not the kind you’ll get from the political scene … that straight talk express stuff is too canned and practiced.

Not the kind you’ll get from the media types covering the presidential election. With a few exceptions, you know they are for Obama, they think you are too stupid to realize they are for Obama, and their support for Obama may actually help get McCain elected. I like Obama fine but jeez … a little objectivity please.

Now, here is some college football straight talk.

Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit can take off their Ohio State cheerleading skirts.

Ain’t happening again.

The Buckeyes can win the rest of them, win them all by large margins, win them with or without Chris Wells (I refuse to call a grown man Beanie), but they are still not going to the BCS title game. They don’t deserve to go, and the only reason they have gone the past two seasons is because of an easy schedule. The Bucks (and I like Ohio State too) would finish no higher than third in the SEC East or second in the SEC West.

Want more?

The national championship race very likely consists of only eight teams at this point, with two or three potential challengers still in the picture.

The PAC-10 has one contender: USC.

The Big 12 has two contenders: Oklahoma and Missouri. The Texas Longhorns might play themselves into the conversation, but I doubt they will.

The SEC has five contenders: Florida, LSU, Georgia, Alabama, and Auburn.

Auburn probably should not be listed, but we’ll wait until the LSU game this week to evaluate further. Alabama is a darkhorse, but the Tide has a nice mix of youth and experience.

Other than those teams, Penn State and Wisconsin might also merit mention, with the Nittany Lions looking better and better each week.

The Big East and ACC have no true title contenders even though a couple of teams have yet to lose (Wake Forest and Florida State).

The non-BCS conferences also have no shot, even though BYU and East Carolina deserve praise.

A final bit of straight talk?

Forget about any conference being a challenger to the SEC.

The Big 12, while strong at the top, has limited depth.

The PAC-10 just suffered a disastrous weekend with Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Stanford, Washington, and Washington State all losing to non-conference foes, not to mention BYU pasting UCLA 59-0. Whew!

The ACC and Big East rank above the non-BCS conferences but the gap is comparable to that separating the two from the SEC and Big 12.

Enjoy the games.

Around the Nation

Most of the big action is in the South, but a few national games deserve attention.

The ABC Saturday night game features Georgia at Arizona State. The game lost some luster when the Dogs struggled with South Carolina and State lost to UNLV, but it’s is still a marquee matchup.

Also out West, Boise State plays at Oregon as both teams try to keep BCS bowl hopes alive.

In the Big 12, West Virginia travels to Colorado for an interesting intersectional game and Texas A&M welcomes Miami.

In the Midwest, Notre Dame tries to stay undefeated on the road at Michigan State. Irish head man Charlie Weis suffered a nasty sideline spill last week – best wishes to him.

Around the South

The SEC slate is full of big pairings.

Florida challenges Tennessee on Rocky Top in our SEC Game of the Week. LSU travels to Auburn as the preseason favorites for the West division meet. LSU has been more impressive, but Auburn’s defense is rugged.

Alabama goes to Arkansas in a battle of unbeatens, and yet another undefeated team –Vanderbilt – travels to Ole Miss to play the impressive Rebels.

Mississippi State ventures to Atlanta for a difficult game with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and their option-running attack.

See you at kickoff!

Professor’s Picks and Around the SEC Week 3

Vandy Bowling …?

Normally, Vanderbilt is about as adept at bowling as Barack Obama (call him Mr. 37), but that comparison may be about to end.

Bobby Johnson’s Commodores looked like a dandy in handling favored South Carolina in a Thursday night game to move to 2-0. Vandy is aiming for its first bowl appearance in more than two decades and now needs only four more wins to qualify. Rice (this week) and Duke later in the year look like good chances, but Vanderbilt will probably be underdogs in the other eight games … still, it should be fun to watch.

Fun is gone from the old fun and gun offense of Steve Spurrier.

The Cock ‘n Fun at South Carolina might be more accurately known as the Cock ‘n Bull as SC’s offensive struggles continued against Vanderbilt, with new/old/sometime QB Chris Smelley tossing two interceptions and getting sacked four times in a 24-17 defeat. It was a second consecutive loss to Vandy for Spurrier, coming after the head ball coach whipped the Commodores 14 straight times at Duke, Florida, and with SC.

Ole Miss came agonizingly close to a signature win for the program (and another notch in the SEC belt) but lost on a last-second field goal at Wake Forest.

Rebel’s QB Jevan Snead turned in one of the early season’s most exciting plays as he weaved right, left, and right again before tossing a 5-yard fourth down TD pass to Cordera Eason with just over a minute left. The Rebels could not close the deal, but will be a factor in the SEC West soon.

I attended the Georgia-Central Michigan game Saturday, and the Bulldogs looked like a complete team.

QB Matthew Stafford puts up efficient (if not overwhelming) numbers, and tailback Knowshon Moreno is special. The Dogs have some issues with run blocking and with kickoff coverage, but otherwise appear a legitimate contender.

The division races begin in earnest this week with Auburn going to Mississippi State and Georgia taking on South Carolina in Columbia.

Down in Austin, Arkansas was to visit Texas but Hurricane Ike is hitting the Lone Star coast and the game was postponed until September 27th. I don’t guess Bobby Petrino will have taken another job by then, but it does give him a chance. All of us old-timers remember some of the great Southwest Conference shootouts between these two and the game is always worth seeing.

Finally, September 20th is shaping up as a mammoth weekend so stayed tuned.


Game Day Weekly Conference Ratings

1. LSU … a hurricane might be the only thing that slows down the Tigers.

2. Georgia … balanced Bulldogs crushed Central Michigan in tuneup for South Carolina.

3. Florida … Gators get a week off – they better use it to find a running game other than Tim Tebow.

4. Auburn … Tigers have not shown all their cards on offense yet.

5. Alabama … Crimson Tide had let down against Tulane – this year they are good enough to win anyway.

6. Ole Miss … A tough road loss to Wake will not keep the Rebs from being a factor out west.

7. Kentucky … Bluegrass backers usually only see defense like this on the hardwood.

8. Vanderbilt … Six wins and a bowl suddenly look possible for the 2-0 Commodores.

9. Tennessee … Offense struggled and defense got outflanked against UCLA in opener.

10. Mississippi State … Bullies begin defense of Alabama state title against Auburn this week.

11. South Carolina … Gamecocks must find some offense to beat Georgia this week.

12. Arkansas … Is there an uglier 2-0 team in America?

Professor’s Picks

(Last Week’s Record 7-2)
(2008 Record 15-6)

* All times Eastern

Western Kentucky at Alabama (7:07 9/13)
The Tide ebbed a lot in a lackluster win over Tulane, so the Hilltoppers cannot be overlooked completely. WKU whipped rival Eastern Kentucky 37-13, limiting the Colonels to just 27 yards rushing. Bama gained only 172 total yards, while giving up four sacks, missing two kicks, and fumbling once.
Game Ball: Alabama

Auburn at Mississippi State (7:00 9/13 ESPN2)
See SEC Game of the Week
Game Ball: Auburn

Georgia at South Carolina (3:30 9/13 CBS)
Georgia looked powerful in dispatching a good Central Michigan team with ease by a 56-17 score. QB Matthew Stafford tossed two TDs and star tailback Knowshon Moreno ran for 186 yards and 3 TDs. Georgia traditionally struggles to score against SC (averaging just over 15 ppg the past three seasons) but usually win. Let’s say that trend holds.
Game Ball: Georgia

Middle Tennessee at Kentucky (7:00 9/13)
This game looks a lot more dangerous since MTSU knocked off Maryland Saturday night. The Kentucky defense has given up only 3 points total in two games. Watch for Wildcat freshman QB Randall Cobb as he sparked the UK offense in a 38-3 win over Norfolk State.
Game Ball: Kentucky

North Texas at LSU (8:00 9/13)
The Bengal Tigers continue to be one of America’s strangest teams to follow because of the weather. The LSU-Troy game was moved to November 15th due to Hurricane Gustav, this after the season opening win over Appalachian State was moved to a morning kickoff. Bayou Bengals look pretty good night or day, and should handle the Mean Green who looked anything but mean in a 56-26 loss to Tulsa.
Game Ball: LSU

Samford at Ole Miss (7:00 9/13)
Rebels lost a heart-breaker but found a playmaker at quarterback in Jevan Snead in the tough loss to Wake Forest. The Wild Rebel formation gave Wake trouble so expect more of the same. Samford and coach Pat Sullivan have looked impressive in getting to a 2-0 start. The Bulldogs rolled up 374 yards rushing in smashing Faulkner 62-0. Ole Miss has an even better background with another Faulkner and should beat the Bulldogs.
Game Ball: Ole Miss

UAB at Tennessee (12:30 9/13 Raycom)
Tennessee is still licking its wounds after blowing the Labor Day night game with UCLA. The Volunteers controlled most of the game, picking off Bruin QB Kevin Craft four times in the first half, but could not get the Bruins off the field after intermission and lost 27-24 in OT. QB Jonathan Crompton will have to play better. The Blazers of UAB are 0-2 and giving up 47 ppg.
Game Ball: Tennessee

Rice at Vanderbilt (7:00 9/13)
Vanderbilt is fresh off a big win over South Carolina. The Dores are not a juggernaut on offense or D, but have done enough to get to 2-0. Rice is also 2-0 and the Owls have put up big points against SMU and Memphis. Vanderbilt will be much tougher on defense, but I see the Owls hooting out a win.
Game Ball: Rice

Open: Florida