Tuesday, September 15, 2009

2009 SEC Power Poll Ballot, Week 2

Week 2 in the SEC helped shed a little more accurate light on the pecking order of the conference this year, but not as much as Week 3 will. There was no change among my top 6, but Auburn jumped up a couple of spots as it continued to roll and the Vols dropped 3 spots after the egg they laid in Neyland Saturday afternoon.

Here's how my ballot looks for Week 2:

1. Florida
Final tuneup before the thrashing of the Vols on Saturday was a success. Now the fun begins.

2. Alabama
Like the Gators, the Tide shook off a sluggish start to roll to a convincing victory.

3. Ole Miss
Spent most of last weekend battling chills, fever, and the flu. Will coast to a win over SELA before heading to Columbia for a Thursday night showdown with the Gamecocks.

4. LSU
Jumped out to an early lead in the SEC West with a pedestrian 2 TD win over Vanderbilt. Will they have enough of a vertical passing attack to maintain it?

5. Georgia
Like most, I'm confused about the Dawgs. Was last week the real UGA team? Or was Week 1? Chances are the answer lies somewhere in between, which will land them in the middle of the pack in the SEC.

6. Arkansas
Saturday's game against Georgia is easily the most important in Petrino's tenure with the Hogs. A win announces that Arkansas is for real, a loss brings up more questions about the defense's ability to stop a team.

7. Auburn
Through 2 games, the Tigers' offensive numbers are unmatched in school history. Saturday's game against West Virginia will be the first real test of the season.

8. South Carolina
5 FGs? That's no way to win in the SEC. Some of those red zones have to produce touchdowns. Moving the ball between the 20s means little if you can't punch it in for 6. Still no running game. At all.

9. Kentucky
I honestly have no idea what to think of or say about the Wildcats.

10. Vanderbilt
A valiant effort in Tiger Stadium, though it came up short. The injuries are starting to pile up.

11. Tennessee
1... 2... Urban's coming for you. 3... 4... you're not gonna score. 5... 6... Crompton throws too many picks. 7... 8... you're Gator Bait.

12. Mississippi State
Bad. Just bad. The Bulldog "defense" was slashed for 390 rushing yards and 6.6 ypc. Still on a beeline for Jackson-State-and-11.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Weekend recap of sorts

A smaller slate of SEC games over the weekend - just 6, compared to last weekend's 12 - but a more entertaining one for sure. Here's some rambling thoughts from the weekend.

* Florida is really, really good. They shook off a sloppy start and blitzed a capable Troy team. Tebow is likely to finish his career 2nd in both rushing touchdowns and passing touchdowns. The unprecedented media fawning over him tends to blur just how good he is. Then, when stories like this one come out, you get the full picture of the remarkable career he's had.

* Tennessee is not very good. So many wanted to declare the Vols "back" after their dismantling of a hapless WKU squad, but Jonathan Crompton is still the QB. Even God was happy the Vols lost as he was tired of being compared to Lane Kiffin. No amount of coaching is going to change that. He looked utterly lost out there against a fairly pedestrian UCLA squad. The highlights of the game for me were seeing Kiffin looking lost and confused yet smug all at the same time. The Vols are in for a world of hurt Saturday in Gainesville.

* It's hard to know what to make of Auburn and Mississippi State's game, at least from the Auburn side. MSU is horrible and isn't going to win another game the rest of this season, that part I understand. But what to make of the Tigers? Kodi Burns seems to have settled into his niche as WildWarEagle operator. Is Gus Malzahn truly an offensive genius to turn a mediocre offensive attack into a potent one in one offseason? Or are the Louisiana Tech and MSU defenses just that bad? Chances are it's a healthy dose of both. West Virginia rolls into the Plains this weekend, and while the Mountaineers will have the best defense the Tigers will have faced so far this season, it won't be mistaken for the Steel Curtain.

* Like last season, Alabama followed up a big win over an ACC foe with a sluggish win over a mid-major program. FIU actually led late in the 2nd quarter before the Tide turned it on and rolled in the 2nd half. Probably nothing to be concerned with - it certainly didn't hurt the Tide last year.

* I also don't know exactly what to think of LSU/Vanderbilt. Clearly LSU was the more talented team and the defense looked better, but Vanderbilt isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut. That game was very much in doubt until Keiland Williams TD run where the only person who touched his was a teammate who failed to get out of his way. I'm no more or less sold on LSU as a legitimate SEC contender this year as I was before that game kicked off. Jordan Jefferson did complete a high percentage of his passes (20/29, 69%) but threw for just 138 yds, or just 4.7 ypa. With cupcakes the next two weekends - ULaLa and @MSU - it'll be a while before we see the real Tigers: @UGA and vs Florida will do that to a team.

* Speaking of Georgia, that shootout with South Carolina definitely qualifies as the strangest and most unexpected outcome of the weekend. Not the UGA win or the small margin of victory, but the offensive explosion. For a game that spawned the greatest game preview post of all time to turn into a 4-hour shootout with 735 yds of offense, 200+yds of penalties, 8 TDs, 7 FGs, and a safety made for one of the most entertaining neutral fan games of the weekend. I still feel we matchup well with the Gamecocks leading up to next Thursday's game. We'll generate a much fiercer pass rush than the Dawgs did. While Garcia looked improved, there were still mistakes made. USC's 3.8 ypc avg doesn't bode well for their chances the rest of the season either.

* Outside the SEC, you know it's bad when you're actually openly pulling for Michigan to win a game, but when that Wolverine win is accompanied by a Fat Charlie loss, I'm all for it. But at least he's taking it like a man and not blaming others. Or not. Weis will be fired at season's end. Urban will tell them no and the Irish will go get Brian Kelly from Cincinnati. Then the Irish will start winning again as Kelly's a helluva coach. Weis, not so much.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

You stay classy Alabama

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

2009 SEC Football Picks, Week 2

Week 2 is here. While the Rebels have the week off to get rid of the flu bug that has ravaged the team, most of the rest of the league takes to the the field, including the first 3 conference games of the year.

Troy (0-1) at (#1, #1)Florida (1-0, 0-0)

11:21am CDT, SEC Network, XM199/Sirius218
All-time series
: Florida leads 1-0
Wednesday's Line: Florida - 36.5

The Gators welcome Troy to The Swamp Saturday morning. Like last week, they'll be able to name the score. Troy hasn't beaten a BCS-conference team since rolling Brad Smith and Missouri on ESPN in 2004. The last SEC team they beat was Mississippi State in 2001. This one will be as ugly as Urban Myer wants it to be. The 5TD+ line is scary, but something tells me that Corch Myers will be a bit ornery Saturday morning.

Straight Up Winner: Florida
Against the Spread: Florida

UCLA (1-0) at Tennessee (1-0, 0-0)
3:00pm, ESPN, XM103/Sirius121
All-Time Series
: Tennessee leads 7-5-2
Wednesday's line: Tennessee -8.5

The Bruins and the Vols will take major steps towards establishing their team identities this weekend before a packed house at Neyland Stadium. Both had impressive Week 1 scores, but against weak competition. Last year's debacle in LA set the tone for the whole dismal year for the Vols, a feat that they hope Lane Kiffin and staff are ready to rectify this season.

There's a bit of history between the staffs of these two schools with UCLA OC Norm Chow and Kiffin both serving as assistants on Pete Carroll's USC staff a few years back. The story of this game though will be the Vols' defense. All-world DB Eric Berry was used sparingly last week, but he'll be unleashed at full speed this week. Expect some big hits, a pick, and a remarkably frustrated Bruin offense.

Straight Up Winner: Tennessee
Against the Spread: Tennessee

Florida International (0-0) at (#4, #4)Alabama (1-0, 0-0)
6:00pm CDT, PPV, XM199/Sirius214

All-time series
: Alabama leads 1-0
Wednesday's Line: Alabama -34

Greg McElroy shook off an ugly start to finish with a decent statline against the vaunted VTU defense. Now the Tide get to exhale a bit against an overmatched FIU squad. The outcome here will never be in doubt. FIU will move the ball a bit throwing to WR T.Y. Hilton who Nick Saban says is a "better offensive player than anybody that we played against last week." So take that ACC! The only question is how focused the Tide will be. After routing Clemson to open the season in 2008, the Tide stunk it up in week 2 against Tulane, winning by a paltry 2 TDs against a bad team. They'll roll here, but 5 TDs is too much to give up.

Straight Up Winner: Alabama
Against the Spread: Florida International

Mississippi State (1-0, 0-0) at Auburn (1-0, 0-0)
6:00pm, FSN, XM199/Sirius214

All-time series
: Auburn leads 57-23-2
Last 12 matchups
Wednesday's line
: Auburn -14.5

Both the Gene Chizik and Dan Mullen eras started off on a positive note last weekend, posting blowout wins and scoring more points than either fan base was used to seeing. Each faces a sterner test this weekend as the pressure will be greater and the defenses quicker. The last time these two were on the field together, they nearly broke the game of football with the 3-2 embarrassment that resulted.

MSU RB Anthony Dixon makes his season debut this weekend after serving a 1-game suspension for a DUI arrest this summer. The Bulldogs moved the ball pretty well on the ground last weekend – 238 yds/4.5 ypc – but Auburn’s defense will prove a much sterner test. The Tigers held LaTech to less than 100 yds last week. MSU QBs Tyson Lee (who’s battling some nagging injuries this week) and freshman Chris Relf will be tested from the opening snap.

Auburn will be looking to build on a dominating 2nd half last weekend. After leading by just 3 at half, the Tigers cruised to a 37-13 win. While I’m not sure how much better MSU’s offense is than LTU’s, the MSU defense will be much quicker to the ball. This game is going to come down to execution on offense. MSU will also need to limit the ridiculous amount of penalties from last week – 12/152 yds – to help get the Tigers off the field.

This year’s game certainly won’t be as ugly as last year’s, and may even be watchable by neutral fans. Neither team should expect an offensive explosion, but a something close to a 24-14 Tiger win is likely. Until I see the Tigers offense move the ball against an SEC opponent, I'm skeptical about giving up 2 TDs to anybody.

Straight Up Winner: Auburn
Against the Spread: Mississippi State

Vanderbilt (1-0, 0-0) at (#11, #9)LSU (1-0, 0-0)
6:00pm CDT, ESPNU, XM198/Sirius216

All-time series
: LSU leads 20-7-1
Last 12 years
Wednesday's Line
: LSU -14.5

Color me unimpressed with LSU. The Tigers struggled to beat a team that hasn’t won since mid-season 2007 and gave up nearly 500 yds of offense, which was worse than any single game total they had last season. The offense was average at best and I’m still not sold on Jordan Jefferson as a star QB. Serviceable, sure, but able to win close a close, important SEC game in a hostile environment? I’m just not seeing it.

All that said, I’m even less convinced that Vanderbilt is for real. Last year’s season was an aberration just like Mississippi State’s 2006 season. I know the Commodores return a bunch of starters from that team and they utterly destroyed Western Carolina last week, but until I see them perform against legitimate competition, I’ll remain skeptical. LSU is a flawed team, but the Tigers are more talented at nearly – if not every – position on the field. The Commodores fell ass-backwards into some wins against superior competition last year, but I think they’ll be tougher to come by this season.

Give Vanderbilt credit for their impressive win last week following a bowl win last year, but this is Tiger Stadium at night. It's been 58 years since the Commodores left Baton Rouge victorious. There's no way LSU drops this one. The 2 TDs seems to be a good bargain for the Tigers.

Straight Up Winner: LSU
Against the Spread: LSU

South Carolina (1-0) at (#21, #21)Georgia (0-1)
6:00pm, ESPN2, XM197/Sirius21
All-time series: 45-14-2
Last 12 Seasons
Wednesday’s Line: Georgia -7

For the 18th straight year, the Gamecocks serve as the SEC opener for Georgia. The Dawgs are 12-5 in these games and Mark Richt is 6-2, though both losses have been in Athens, where this year’s game is. Lately, the games have been low-scoring slugfests with neither team topping 20 points since 2004 and close, with only 1 of the last 5 meetings decided by more than 7 points.

I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that this is a huge game for the Bulldogs. There’s a little bit of unrest after a paltry showing in Stillwater last week and dropping to 0-2 is the last thing Richt and staff want to do. I expect this game to be similar to many recent in the series… low scoring, utmost importance on special teams and field position, and whichever team makes the biggest play at the most opportune time wins the game. Look for the Dawgs to come out on top.

***9/10/09 UPDATE*** Rivals is reporting that UGA QB Joe Cox is out for Saturday's contest (h/t Blutarsky). Based on comments on Get the Picture though, that may not be the case. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out over the next 48 hours.

**9/10/09 UPDATE #2*** Never mind. Per Get The Picture, Cox is confirmed as starter for Saturday.

Straight Up Winner:Georgia
Against the Spread: South Carolina

Terrelle Pryor is smart

Oh the many talents of Terrelle Pryor... In addition to unnecessary recruiting antics, and quarterbacking the Buckeyes to another bowl loss, the man is soon to be regarded as one of the preeminent sociology scholors of our time, or any time for that matter.

Pryor sheds some critical insight on everyone's favorite dog killer, Michael Vick:
Not everybody is the perfect person in the world. Everyone does -- kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me. I just feel that people need to give him a chance.
That's right people. You have no room to look down on Vick's hanging and electrocution of dogs, because you too have killed and murdered. You've also stolen from Pryor and apparently stolen from me as well.

For a more coddling, "Oh he's just a kid who idolizes Vick, cut him slack" point of view, click here to read Dan Wetzel. He's right of course. Pryor is only 20 years old, still years away from knowing right from wrong. Blind adulation of seriously flawed individuals has never been a bad idea. Ever.

SEC Power Poll, Week 1: Rebels at #3

No big surprises this week in the rankings, but there was strikingly little information to go on. With three conference games this weekend - and the Vols taking on a D1A opponent - there's a chance for some shifting outside the Top3.

Here's what the voters are saying about the Rebels:
Still impressed even though it took Snead late into the fourth quarter to get going.--Track Em Tigers

If Snead gets off to a start like that against a decent SEC opponent, things won't turn out so well.--Get the Picture

Didn't look like a top 5 team in the country when they played Memphis... Look for Ole Miss to lose at least 2 in SEC Play.--Hog Database
To read all the witty snark, check out Team Speed Kills.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day After Labor Day Links

* #6

* Johnnie Brown, he of the 15 tackles Saturday, was just one of a handful of Rebels battling the flu

* Here's a breakdown of Sowell and the job he did last Saturday

* Gary Parrish would like to remind everybody what a douche bag he is with this column

* Sure John Feinstein can be whiny and beat a dead horse with the best of them, but this is good stuff. The ACC is an absolutely wretched football conference. It's supporters claim parody, I claim widespread mediocrity. Is it wrong to take pleasure in Duke losing to Richmond?

* In the latest edition of the Forde Yard Dash, Pat Forde takes what I would typically call a at a fellow SEC school. Based on its target though, I just think it's funny...
Mississippi State's Dan Mullen (33). There was an epidemic of penalties and some other sloppiness against an even sloppier opponent, Jackson State. But the Bulldogs also scored more than 40 points for the first time since Sept. 14, 2002. That alone should have sent fans sprinting naked into the streets in Starkville (assuming they have streets in Starkville).

2009 SEC Power Poll Ballot, Week 1

Here's a look at my week 1 SEC Power Poll ballot. The results will be unveiled on Team Speed Kills Now which starts a 7:00pm CT tonight at Team Speed Kills. As always, my ballot was filled out by me and only me. My interns are busy with other menial tasks.

With only South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia taking on real competition, it’s hard to say we know a significant amount more about the SEC than we did last Thursday morning. All we can say for certain is that Florida and Alabama are for real. Ole Miss looked pedestrian for 3 quarters, LSU still can’t stop anybody, and Georgia looked inept while battling the flu and the Cowboys. With 3 conference games and a showdown with the PAC10 looming this weekend, teams will start to gravitate toward their rightful places.

1) Florida
We learned nothing from their romp over Charleston Southern, but there aren’t many questions that the Gators have to answer

2) Alabama
While I'm not convinced they're as good as last season - yet - Saturday's win was definitely a statement game

3) Ole Miss
Struggled for three quarters against a bad Memphis team, but the 4th quarter showed what this team is capable of with big plays from the defense and a quick strike offense

4) LSU
The Tigers had major defensive questions to answer coming in to the season and giving up 478 yards to a team that went winless last season is not the start that new DC John Chavis hoped for

5) Georgia
Sure the Dawgs were the only SEC team to lose over the weekend, but they were on the road against a top10 team and not at 100% due to the flu. Sturdivant’s injury was just the injury to insult

6) Arkansas
Ryan Mallett lived up to his billing in his Razorback debut. He’s got about a week and a half to drop another tenth of a second or two off his 40 time before he starts running from SEC defenders

7) South Carolina
A big Dead Guy congratulations to the Gamecocks and Wolfpack for their almost perfect reenactment of last year’s Auburn/Mississippi State game. A win is a win is a win, but that was ugly

8) Tennessee
After two turnovers and a scoreless first quarter, the Vols routed WKU. Gotta wonder if Orgeron is rubbing off on Kiffin the way the he went for it on 4th down inside Vol territory in the 2nd quarter

9) Auburn
The Tigers struggled with LTU early on, but romped late. I really have no idea where to rank the Tigers, but on the strength of their defense seem to be better than Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and MSU

10) Kentucky
While there are still plenty of reasons to doubt this Wildcat team, there’s no doubting CB Trevard Lindley. He’s a stud

11) Vanderbilt
The ‘Dores looked good in rolling WCU, but a night game in Tiger Stadium this weekend should shed some light on their resiliency

12) Mississippi State
The Bulldogs took that all important first step towards their Jackson-State-and-11 season

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Random thoughts from game 1

* That 28 point 4th quarter made it worth sitting through the first 3 disappointing quarters

* The defense missed way too many tackles early on, but settled into a nice groove

* The Liberty Bowl seemed very dirty this year

* Speaking of dirty, I hope somebody dives at Duke Calhoun's knees this year and rolls over onto the backs of his legs, just he did to Greg Hardy this afternoon

* Going to schools like Memphis, among others, makes you really stop and appreciate the Grove and what it means for the pre- and post-game atmosphere

* The 18000+ empty seats should be enough to convince anybody that it's time for this series to take a break. It's just not that interesting anymore

* Jevan Snead looked very tentative early on today. He seemed to lock on to McCluster and Shay Hodge and not look elsewhere

* I wasn't enamored with the offensive play calling today... very predictable. There were only a handful of times we took shots down the field on first down. Part of that may have been Snead's repeated misfires early on, but the predictability was the major cause of our ineptitude early on

* That said, we are riding a 7-game win streak and, not coincidentally, Snead has thrown for 2+ TDs in all 7

* Sure it was garbage time, but Enrique Davis looked better/quicker/faster than Cordera Eason did

* We need a 3rd receiver to step up and claim that role... .badly

* It was no fun to watch Greg Hardy go down and then see McCluster go down shortly after it. It was fun to watch them each make big plays late in the 4th quarter

* Speaking of Hardy, the announcers for ESPN need to learn to read. They referenced Hardy's eye black as "Draft Me" when it clearly said "Doubt Me"

* Ole Miss women > Memphis women

Random Game Day Thoughts

* With Oklahoma and Virginia Tech losing yesterday, the Rebels have a decent shot at moving up to #6 in the AP poll with a convincing win today. Ponder that for a second...

* Speaking of the Sooners, it's a shame to see Sam Bradford go down like he did. You never want to see that happen to one of the game's biggest stars. It also opens up the Heisman race a bit, meaning Jevan Snead may be more of a candidate than some expected.

* BYU has a chance to run the table and play in the BCS Championship game. They've got 3 games against ranked squads left - Florida State, Utah, and TCU - but the biggest hurdle is cleared.

* New Belgium's newest seasonal beer Hoptober is really good. It's no Fat Tire, but it's certainly on par with Skinny Dip.

* For Georgia's sake, let's hope that Joe Cox's flu symptoms were worse than they let on. After an impressive opening drive, that offense was just bad.

* Hats off to the three new HCs as all picked up blowout victories in Week 1. Lane Kiffin and Tennessee welcome UCLA next week, while Dan Mullen and Mississippi State travel to Gene Chizik's Auburn team. The honeymoon phase will be over for at least one coach next Saturday.

* Once they hit their stride, Alabama just manhandled VTU last night. If we - or anyone - is going to beat them, we've got to keep the defense off the field. The undersized Hokies just wore down as time ticked on. It was a perfect example of the difference between the quality of ACC and SEC teams.

* Admittedly, I was asleep long before the game ended, but LSU's pedestrian 31-23 over a Washington team that went 0-12 last season can't bolster the confidence of Tiger fans.

* I have no idea how Memphis' OL is going to even attempt to stand up against our DL. We may not register many sacks - Memphis runs a very quick drop offense - but the passing lanes are going to crumble a lot quicker than anything they could simulate in practice.

* I'm really glad this series is going on an extended hiatus and I live in the Memphis area.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Blount suspended for season

Oregon RB LaGarrette Blount has been suspended for the season including any postseason play the Ducks happen to make. As a senior RB, this essentially ends his college career, and according to ESPN's Todd McShay makes a once late 2nd-early 3rd round guy "undraftable." It's a fitting end to his career marked by troubles with fitness and the other things involved in football besides on-the-field performance. The move to keep him on scholarship is a nice touch as a last ditch hope that Blount can get his act together. More than likely it's a lost cause, but there's really no point in pulling it from him at this point.

I still fell that Boise State should have take corrective action against Hout though. He instigated contact with an already-agitated Blount and honestly, how surprised can he be with the reaction? That in no way excuses Blount for his reprehensible actions, but how does Hout skate through this unscathed? If BSU HC Chris Peterson won't take action, I'd like to see the MWC or NCAA step in and suspend him for at least 2 games.

Blount can dish it, can't take it

While the Oregon/Boise State game certainly didn't deliver the offensive fireworks many hoped for, the bad blood between the teams boiled up in the post-game celebration. Earlier this week, Oregon RB LeGarrette Blount ran his mouth this week about owing Boise State and "ass-whooping" after last year's Bronco win in Autzen Stadium. Even the pre-game handshake went off without a hitch.

Once the game started, the Broncos thoroughly dominated the Ducks, including holding Blount to -5 yds on 8 carries. As a team, the Ducks (under new head coach and alleged offensive mastermind Chip Kelly) mustered just 152 total yds and controlled ball for less than 18 minutes of the game. It was an utter embarrassment for a team some though might challenge USC and Cal for the PAC-10 title this season. Frustrations came to a head when BSU sophomore DE Byron Hout taunted Blount, who quickly retaliated with a sucker punch when Hout turned away. The celebratory dance after the punch only made it worse. Blount was literally dragged off the field by coaches, teammates, and security personnel as he was taunted by the Boise State student section on the way to the tunnel.

In a perfect world, Hout wouldn't have dance up to Blount and said whatever he said, most likely something along the lines of "How'd that ass-whoopin' work out for you there, buddy?" But he did, and as a coach-proclaimed "more mature player,"the onus falls on Blount to be the better man, which he obviously wasn't. If you're going to talk tough before the game, you've got to be able to take it back after the game, particularly if you do nothing in the game.

In my view, Hout should receive the same punishment that Blount does from the NCAA. Hout initiated the physical contact. The Boise players basically surrounded the Oregon offense as the clock ticked to 0:00, exacerbating an already tense situation.

To Blount's credit, he did calm down enough to issue this apology:
"I just apologize to anyone watching that," Blount said. "I just apologize to all of our fans and all of Boise's fans. That's something I shouldn't have done. I lost my head."
But it's too little too late. He talked smacked, fell flat on his face, and lashed out by suckerpunching the first someone who brought it up. Emotions run high, particularly in a grudge match like that, but the best players channel that emotion positively on the field. Blount let it get the best of him.

He hurt his team last night with a poor on-field performance, embarrassed himself and his team with his post-game antics, and will now be a major distraction to a seemingly fragile Ducks team as the NCAA and HC Kelly will have to decide how to punish him. Based on his spotted history at Oregon and his reprehensible behavior last night, I don't know how Kelly keeps him on the team.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

SEC! SEC!! SEC!!!

Well, I'm happy to admit that I was wrong about that one. Though I'm not sure I underestimated South Carolina as much as I overestimated NC State. Gamecock fans have to be happy with another 1-0 start and the play of the defense, particularly Eric Norwood, but that meek offensive performance doesn't bode well for the rigorous SEC season that lies ahead of them.

The only points the Gamecocks put up came as a result of a gift fumble by NC State on their own 12 yard line very early in the game. Stalled drives, a poorly thrown interception, and botched FG attempts are all the offense could muster after that.

QB Stephen Garcia continued to underwhelm with his play. The running game churned out 108 yards, but it took 42 carries to get there for a not-so-robust 2.6 ypc average. That's not going to get it done in conference. The special teams misuces didn't help the matter either. As a whole, the Gamecocks ran 64 plays for 256 yds, a 4.0 ypp average.

On the bright so though was a thoroughly dominant defensive performance. Norwood's dominance was expected, but the Gamecocks also got key plays from true freshmen Stephon Gilmore and Devonte Holloman. They bottled up a supposedly explosive NC State offense led by reigning ACC Freshman of the Year QB Russell Wilson. Wilson ended the night 12/23 for 74 yds. That's just over 3ypa.

As ugly and uneventful as this game was, it did nothing but whet my appetite for this weekend's games. It also served as a reminder that there really is nothing like college football.

Hotty Toddy

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

SEC Power Poll, 2009 Edition


Just a heads up to everyone that the 2009 SEC Power Poll will make its debut next Tuesday night on Team Speed Kills Now. The next day, Wednesday for those of you playing along at home, the full rankings and snarky wittiness will be available here and a litany of other SEC blogs across the internets.

While there's no official preseason Power Poll, mine would look like this:
1) Florida
2) Ole Miss
3) Alabama
4) Georgia
5) LSU
6) Arkansas
7) Tennessee
8) South Carolina
9) Auburn
10) Vanderbilt
11) Kentucky
12) Mississippi State

2009 SEC Football Picks: Week 1

There are no words to describe how good it felt to just type that post title. While the blog may have changed, the process has not. Each Wednesday, I'll still list every SEC game including Wednesday's betting lines, kick-off times, where you can watch it, which SIRIUS/XM station you can catch it on, and predictions both straight up and against the spread. This year, when relevant, I’m also linking to Phil Steele’s website where he has statistics from the last 12 years in the series. A little extra attention will be paid to the Rebel games - in most cases at least. I'm not breaking down the NAU offense for you.

It's finally here. SEC football officially starts tomorrow. Let that sink in for a minute... now on to the picks.

Thursday. September 3rd

South Carolina (0-0) at NC State (0-0)
6:00pm CDT, ESPN, Sirius 218
All-time series: Tied 26-26-4
Last 12 Years Results
Wednesday's Line: NCST -4.5

SEC Football kicks off tomorrow night when the South Carolina Gamecocks head across state lines to tangle with the NC State Wolfpack. After three listless blowouts to close out the 2008 season, USC will try to get something going against a veteran NCST team looking to improve on last year's 6-7 record. The Gamecocks have won 9 straight season openers.

South Carolina returns just 5 starters from a mediocre offense in 2008 and is breaking in a new place kicker. The reins have officially been handed to Stephen Garcia, who is apparently not that far off from Tim Tebow. The RBs on the Gamecock roster have 84 total carries between them. They'll match up against an NC State defense returning 7 of its top 10 tacklers from last year, including 4 senior starters on the DL and a trio of talented, experienced LBs. The secondary has some questions, but no more than the Gamecock passing game does.

While the Wolfpack improved throughout the season, sporting a late 4-game win streak, the Gamecocks regressed. South Carolina embarrassed NCST 34-0 to open last season. While the score won't be as lopsided as that, NC State will kick off the 2009 campaign with a win over the Gamecocks. Unfortunately, this will set the ACC fans who think a conference full of mediocre teams parity makes the ACC stronger than the SEC into a frenzy.

Straight Up Winner: NC State
Against the Spread: NC State

Saturday, September 5

Kentucky (0-0) vs Miami (OH) (0-0) (at Cincinnati)
11:00am, ESPNU, XM199, Sirius 214
All-time series: 6-4-1
Wednesday’s Line: Kentucky -15

This game pits a stagnant Wildcat offense against a pitiful Redhawk defense. The Wildcats churned out less than 300 ypg in 2008, while the Redhawks were gouged for nearly 400 ypg. The UK attack should be bolstered by more experienced QB play and the return of speedy RB Derrick Locke from injury. It never hurts to have a guy like CB Travard Lindley patrolling your defensive secondary either. With the unfortunate situation surrounding Jeremy Jarmon, Lindley and MLB Micah Johnson will lead a stout UK defense against a Redhawks team that relies on the pass.

Some interesting notes about UK from SECsports.com: UK enters the 2009 season with a streak of 14 consecutive non-conference wins which is the nation’s second-longest active streak behind LSU. It is the longest for UK since a 17-game non-conference win stretch from 1954-60. That streak gets extended with a sloppy victory Saturday, though I’ll need to see this offense in action before I give up two TDs against anyone.

Straight Up Winner: Kentucky
Against the Spread: Miami (OH)

Jackson State (0-0) at Mississippi State (0-0)
2:30pm CDT, ESPNU, Sirius215
All-time series: First Meeting
Wednesday's Line: No Line

The Dan Mullen Era kicks off this weekend with the Bulldogs taking on the Jackson State Tigers. There's certainly some historical significance to this game as it’s the first meeting between the SEC and the SWAC. There's no way a first year coach in the SEC would lose to an FCS oppone... oh... right. If this was the Jackson State teams from the 90s when they won the SWAC year in and year out, this would be more interesting. Really, the only question Saturday is how many times Mullen can bring up Ole Miss in his post-game press conference.

Straight Up Winner: Mississippi State
Against the Spread: N/A

(#13, #13)Georgia (0-0) at (#9, #11)Oklahoma State
2:30pm CDT, ABC, XM201, Sirius212
All-time series: Georgia leads 3-0
Wednesday’s Line: Oklahoma State -5.5

In the days leading up this, possibly the biggest opening day in Stillwater history, the Cowboys continue to be plagued by off-the-field distractions. Mike Gundy can spin it how he wants, but this is going to hurt this Cowboy team. the Cowboys need only to look across the field Saturday afternoon to see a prime example... The 2008 UGA 'Dawgs were the preseason toast of the town but arrest piled on top of distraction on top of arrest. Georgia suffered some embarrassing losses last season in finishing 10-3, certainly not a bad season, but not what it could've been with a focused group of players.

Georgia has one of the top OLs in the country and its play will be pivotal in easing in new starting QB Joe Cox and new featured RB Richard Samuel. AJ Green is every bit as good – if not better – than OKSt WR Dez Bryant, but that promises to be an exciting duel of top-notch WRs against statistically porous secondaries.

A game of this magnitude, particularly this early in the season, comes down to the coaches. Mark Richt has thrived in game like this, particularly on the road. Under his direction, the Bulldogs are a ridiculous 30-4 in true road game and a sparkling 34-3 against non-conference opponents. They’ve won 10+ games in 6 of the last 7 seasons. Mike Gundy is most notable for his “I’m a man, I’m 40 tirade.” Gundy is a good coach and definitely has this program on the rise, but you can almost see the steam about to burst from his ears with the current shenanigans and distractions in Stillwater.

For Oklahoma State, this is being touted as the biggest season opening game in school history. For Georgia, it’s another in a long line of tough road trips into hostile environments. The pressure is sorely on the Cowboys here. The Bulldogs will be much looser and probably possess the psychological advantage knowing that these ’09 Cowboys are in a very similar situation to the ’08 Dawgs. All this points to a mild upset at T. Boone Pickens stadium.

Straight Up Winner: Georgia
Against the Spread: Georgia


Charleston Southern (0-0) at (#1, #1) Florida (0-0)
6:00pm CDT, FSN, XM199/Sirius215
All-time series: First Meeting
Wednesday’s line
: No Line (aka, Florida by eleventy billion)

Florida wins. By a whole lot. If you need a breakdown to know why, please go look for it somewhere else.

Straight Up Winner: Florida
Against the Spread: N/A

Missouri State (0-0) at Arkansas (0-0) (in Little Rock)
6:00 CDT, PPV, XM197, Sirius211
All-time series: Arkansas 5-0
Wednesday’s line: No Line

The Hogs will get their first chance to see how improved they are with Saturday’s tussle against the Missouri State Bears. The Hogs’ victory is not in question, it’s how sharp Uber-hyped QB Ryan Mallett will be against an experienced secondary and how sharp the Arkansas D will be against multi-talented QB Cody Kirby. The Hogs will roll to victory in this one, but should get a feel for where they are in a few key areas. This is their 33rd time to open a season in Little Rock (24-7-1 all-time).

Straight Up Winner: Arkansas
Against the Spread: N/A

Louisiana Tech (0-0) at Auburn (0-0)
6:00pm, ESPNU, Sirius216
All-time series: Auburn leads 10-0-1
Wednesday's line: Auburn -14.5

Louisiana Tech is coming off an 8-5 season that culminated with a win in the Independence Bowl. They opened the season at home against Mississippi State and sent the MSU bandwagon spiraling out out of control. The Bulldogs are lead by RB Daniel Porter who rushed for 1,164 yds last season. Meanwhile, Auburn is coming off a drama-filled disappointing season and is now led by a guy with a 5-19 career head coaching record.

I'm not sold on this Auburn team yet. I know that a lot of people - including college football guru Phil Steele - expect a vastly improved AU team but I'm not buying it yet. This LTU returns 16 starters, including 9 off a productive offense in 2008 and thrived in close games, sporting a nifty 5-2 record in games decided by 8 points or less. Auburn showed a knack for playing itself out of games. I believe the first noteworthy upset of the 2009 season happens in the Loveliest Village on the Plains.

Straight Up Winner: Louisiana Tech
Against the Spread: Louisiana Tech

Western Carolina (0-0) at Vanderbilt (0-0)

6:30pm CDT, CSS, XM198
All-time series
: First Meeting
Wednesday’s Line
: No Line

There’s a lot of excitement in the air in Nashville as the Commodores return 19 starters from last year’s team. The only issue is that they weren’t very good last year on either side of the ball, particularly on offense. Their punter was the MVP of the Music City Bowl. Give Vandy credit for taking advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves, but let’s not go crazy here.

That said, this veteran squad will have no issues dispatching WCU. The Catamounts weren’t particularly good last year – 3-9 in the FCS – and lost a couple of key guys off that team. This will give the Commodores a chance to work out some kinks in their offense and see how RB Jared Hawkins’ foot responds to live action play. Vanderbilt wins big and starts 1-0 for a 3rd straight season.

Straight Up Winner: Vanderbilt
Against the Spread: N/A

(#5, #5)Alabama (0-0) vs (#7, #7)Virginia Tech (0-0) (Atlanta)
7:00pm CDT, ABC, XM201, Sirius212
All-time series: Alabama leads 10-1
Wednesday's Line: Alabama -6.5

In the biggest game of opening weekend, 2 Top10 teams with strong defenses but offensive question marks will take to the field in what should be a hard-hitting, low-scoring game. To invoke the power of the sports cliche, whichever team makes the fewest mistakes will win this game.

This game took a turn for the worse for the Hokies when starting RB Darren Evans suffered a torn ACL. VTU had very high aspirations this season, returning 17 starters from last year's (10-4) team before Evans' injury. Now they'll be forced to rely on an unproven array of RBs against a Tide D returning 10 starters from last year's squad, which plays heavily in the favor of the Tide.

The Tide aren't without questions as well though. New starting QB Greg McElry appears to be in the mold of JPW: a steady QB who isn't asked to do too much... just don't lose the game. How he handles the pressure of the Hokie D - which returns 7 starters from last year's Top10 unit - and the hype will go a long way to determine how effectively the Tide moves the ball Saturday night. My guess is that Alabama uses their size and quickness to wear down the Hokie front of both sides of the ball, opening up opportunities for some big plays in the second half. It reamins to be seen whether McElroy can make the throws when need be, but having WR Julio Jones as his bailout option will be a nice plus.

Like the UGA/OkSt matchup, this game is all about the coaches, and VTU's Frank Beamer and UAT's Nick Saban are two of the best in the business. With the loss of Evans, the pressure will all be on Taylor to move the ball against what should be one of the toughest defenses in the country. While Taylor is a capable QB, he and the Hokies won't be able to sustain enough drives to score the points needed to win this game.

The Hokies are just 1-4 against Top-10 opponents the last 4 seasons. They'll drop to 1-5 with a close, frustrating loss to the Tide. Alabama dominated Clemson from the opening kick last season in the Dome. While the score won't be nearly as lopsided, the Tide open up 1-0 with a win over a highly-ranked ACC squad.

Straight Up Winner: Alabama
Against the Spread: Virginia Tech

(#11, #9)LSU (0-0) at WASHINGTON (0-0)
9:30pm CDT, ESPN, XM200, Sirius219
All-time series: LSU leads 1-0
Wednesday’s line: LSU -17.5

LSU travels to the Pacific Northwest to open the 2009 campaign. UDub was pitiful last year as the only FBS program to fail to register a single win. There is some talent on the roster though. Jake Locker is a nice QB with too little help and DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim is tough to block one-on-one, but, like Locker has little help around him.

This is a perfect game for LSU to break in QB Jordan Jefferson as full-time starter. The big Tiger OL should give Jefferson and RB Charles Scott plenty of room to work, and a mediocre defense from 2008 will get a chance to strut its stuff under new DC John Chavis. This one will be over by half time.

Straight Up Winner: LSU
Against the spread: LSU

Sunday, September 6th

(#8, #10) Ole Miss (0-0) at Memphis (0-0)
2:30pm, ESPN
All-time series: Ole Miss leads
Last 12 Years Results
Wednesday's line: Ole Miss -16.5

Alright Rebel fans, it's time to strap on your Kevlar and head to the Liberty Bowl for the final game for the foreseeable future against the Memphis Tigers.

In yesterday's Commercial Appeal, Memphis coach Tommy West laments the fact that this series is ending. This is, of course, coming from the belligerent buffoon who cussed at Ole Miss fans before the game started 2 years ago. I'm in the majority that it's good that this series is ending. There is far too much unnecessary hatred between two schools that just aren't rivals, no matter how a small percentage of either fan base wants to spin it.

Sure, the schools are only 80 miles apart, but the similarities end there. Speaking specifically about athletics, Memphis and Ole Miss have always gone in different directions. The Rebels focused on football, the Tigers on basketball. The animosity between the two schools reached its peak a few years back when the Rebels won 3/4 games from the Tiger basketball team and the Tigers took 2 straight on the football field. Now that that proper order has been restored, Pete Boone is right that the series is "stale." An extended hiatus is just what the doctor ordered.

As for the game itself, this one really shouldn't be overly competitive. The Tigers sport some big, dangerous receivers in Carlos Singleton and Duke Calhoun and QB Arkelon Hall is a big, strong-armed guy who can make some plays when given time. He threw for 159 yds against Ole Miss last year, which statistically was far below average for the early season for opponent passing yards. RB Curtis Steele is a big bruiser who rushed for more than 1200 yards last year.

While the Tigers’ offense poses some potential matchup difficulties, they compare to the issues the Tigers’ lackluster D will have trying to slow down the Rebel attack. Jevan Snead and crew will have an easy time putting as many points on the board as they want.

With an actual off week next week and a virtual off week after that (vs SELA), it'll be week 4 in Columbia before we get to see the full offensive package. There will be some Wild Rebel sprinkled in and some trickeration, but don't expect anything too fancy. The Rebels will win and cover, though unless the defense gets in on the scoring action, won't cover by much. Rebels win 37-17.

Straight Up Winner: Ole Miss
Against the Spread: Ole Miss

Monday, August 31, 2009

Devin Britton vs Roger Federer

A big Dead Guy Tip-O'-The-Hat to former Rebel netter Devin Britton. A day after this very nice article appeared in The New York Times about him, Britton went out and won 9 games against Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest men's tennis player ever. Britton was swept (6-1, 6-3, 7-5) but represented himself very well, actually hitting more winners than Federer did. Not a bad showing for his second career men's singles match.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

2009 SEC West Preview

The SEC West has as many if not more questions entering 2009. Will the Rebels finally break through and make it to Atlanta, thus robbing Mississippi State fans of their one football talking point? How will MSU and Auburn do with their new coaching staffs? Can Alabama and LSU answer their questions at QB? Can Arkansas’ defense stop anyone?

Here’s how I see the SEC WEST playing out:

1) Ole Miss: Call it a homer pick if you want to, but the talent is there in bunches and the schedule is as favorable as it comes. The Rebels have far and away the best quarterback and most explosive offense in the division and the defensive front 7 are strong as well. There are questions in the secondary and how the Rebels will handle their lofty rankings, but this is the year the Rebels break through.

2) Alabama: If the offense had as few questions as the defense, the Tide would be the pick in the division. Instead, Alabama returns just 4 starters on offense and is replacing a senior quarterback and 3 offensive linemen. That spells trouble in the SEC. I think McElroy will have a solid season and the OL will be sufficient, but in a division with DLs like the Rebels and LSU Tigers have, that could be troublesome for the Tide.

3) LSU: I’ve yet to figure out how this is a top 10 team by most accounts, but apparently that’s just me. The Tigers sport a plethora of highly ranked players at nearly every position on the field, but this team lost 5 games last year. The defense should be better under John Chavis, but what has QB Jordan Jefferson shown anyone that has them so excited. They’ll finish 3rd, but only because Arkansas has a more difficult schedule.

4) Arkansas: From hearing Arkansas fans talk, we all know by now that new quarterback Ryan Mallett is 7’3, runs a 4.5 40, and can stand on his head in one end zone and throw a football and knock an apple off DJ Williams head in the other end zone. Blindfolded. The Hogs’ offense should put up some points provided the OL comes together and give Mallett time to throw the ball. The Hogs are loaded with talented skill position players on offense. The biggest question marks are on the defense, which was just plain bad last year.

5) Auburn: After a drama-filled embarrassing season last year, the War Eagle Tiger Plainsmen are just looking for some stability. The hiring of Gene Chizik was, erm, questionable at best, and he, like Kiffin and Dan Mullen inherit a mess on offense. Chizik hired Gus Malzahn as his OC to run a spread offense with pro-style offense players, just like Tuberville did with Tony Franklin last year. While the recruits are buying in, for now, it’s hard to imagine things going well on the Plains this year.

6) Mississippi State: After suffering through 5 years of Sylvester “Media Darling” Croom and never finishing in the top 100 in the country in total offense, the Bulldogs kicked the fraud to the curb and replaced him with Florida OC Dan Mullen. Mullen plans to run a similar offense to Florida, one that teams in the SEC have had several years to adjust to, and he’ll be running it with an empty cupboard. So far, Mullen is saying all the right things for the MSU fanbase – season ticket sales hit a record last week – but it’ll be an ugly year in Starkville in 2009.

2009 SEC East Preview

The 2009 SEC season is just days away and, as usual, promises to be full of intrigue. Some of the major questions facing teams this year include: Will Florida be able to handle the unbelievable and expectations? How will the Volunteers do with their new coacheing staff? Will Steve Spurrier finally admit he just doesn’t have it anymore and retire like he should’ve done after last season? How will Georgia replace Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno? Was Vanderbilt’s bowl season a fluke or can Bobby Johnson get the ‘Dores back to postseason play?

Here’s how I see the SEC EAST playing out:

1) Florida: Yeah, I know, real original, but how do you not pick the Gators here? They return 18 starters from a national title team, including all 11 from a nasty defense that gave up more than 21 points only once last year. They have one of the greatest players in NCAA history in Tim Tebow leading the offense and one of the best OLs in the country. Anything less than another national title is a disappointment for these Gators.

2) Georgia: Sure the Bulldogs have to replace more than anyone in conference – first round draft picks Stafford and Moreno – but they return a very solid group of players, particularly on the OL, which is key to winning in the SEC. No one will confuse new QB (5th year senior) Joe Cox with Stafford, but the coaching staff won’t ask Cox to do as much. Instead, they’ll rely on a capable group of RBs to pound the ball behind the OL. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have AJ Green as a bailout option should Cox get in trouble.

3) Tennessee: The Volunteers spot here is as much an indictment of the rest of the SEC East as it anything else. Without getting into the shenanigans coming of out of Knoxville since new UT HC Lane Kiffin was brought in, this team is basically average at best. Eric Berry is one of the all-time great DBs to play in the SEC, and if weren’t playing in the era of Tebow, he’d get a lot more publicity than he does. The staff Kiffin has assembled is impressive, but it doesn’t help the fact that Jonathan Crompton was named the starting QB for this season. That can’t bode well. With 8 home games, including 5 of the first 6, the Vols will get back to a bowl this year.

4) South Carolina: Steve Spurrier is hitching his wagon to Stephen Garcia this season, for better or for worse. I can’t imagine that this will end well for the Gamecocks. There’s no reason to believe the Gamecocks will be better than last year, which ended with 3 straight lackluster blowout losses. USC had one of the worst rushing offenses in the country last year and lost their starter from last season. With a tough schedule, I’d be surprised to see the Gamecocks reach bowl eligibility. For Spurrier’s sake, I hope he gets out while he still has some hair.

5) Vanderbilt: There’s really not a way to explain how Vanderbilt made it to a bowl last year. It’s similar to Sylvester Croom leading MSU to the Liberty Bowl or Les Miles leading LSU to an MNC. The ‘Dores were kissed by an angel last year, ranking near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive and defensive category. They return 17 starters from last season’s Music City Bowl champion team, but it’s hard to imagine them catching the same breaks over and over like they did last season. Like the Gamecocks, I’ll be surprised if the Commodores are bowling after this season.

6) Kentucky: This year’s ‘Cats could very closely mimic the 2008 version. They return 12 starters from the Liberty Bowl champion team, but, in all honesty, they just weren’t all that great last year. They benefitted from a ridiculously soft non-conference schedule and limped into bowl eligibility. This year, the non-conference slate is a little more difficult, but the SEC schedule is not as favorable. That 6th win may not come this season. CB Trevard Lindley is the 2nd best DB in the league, but that might not be enough to get UK to a 4th straight bowl.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Morning Reading

One week from today, the first SEC game will be in the books. Just one more week...

* Pot, meet kettle. Is it just me or is a Duke fan calling the 2008 Ole Miss Rebels mediocre just a wee bit silly? The fact that the groundwork for our recent 4 year coma was laid by now Duke head coach David Cutcliffe and his utter refusal to recruit or hire a competent staff makes the irony just a little sweeter.

* Nothing groundbreaking here, but a nice read on Snead's path to Ole Miss and expectations for 2009 in The USA Today.

* I wonder what Beck Campbell and her precious little snowflake Mitch Mustain think about this. It's actually a sad tale of what overprotective, overzealous parents can do to a kid.

* A couple of things struck me from this article in The Sun Herald. First, I'm impressed they were able to publish an article mentioning Ole Miss football without also publicly lamenting the fact that Ole Miss and Mississippi State won't play Southern Miss in football. Secondly, who the hell wrote the caption for that picture of Tyson Lee? His mom?
Mississippi State quarterback Tyson Lee passes the ball during practice in Starkville. Lee, the 5-foot-10 senior from Columbus, is the gutsy team leader who overcame physical disadvantages last season with brains and heart, and is the current front runner for the starting position.
* This proves 2 things: Preseason polls are worthless and Jim Leavitt is a douchebag.

* Former Ole Miss tennis star Devin Britton drew a first round matchup with Roger Federer in the US Open.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stephen Garcia is almost as good as Tim Tebow

I know it's true because I read it on the internet and now you can too. Everybody's a homer for their favorite team, don't get me wrong, but tempering your homerism is essential if you want to be taken even remotely seriously. So needless to say including a paragraph that says...
So, while Tebow may be a two time national champion, a Heisman winner, and the darling of college football fans everywhere, the quarterback of Carolina football isn't far off. He even wasn't that far off Tebow in the interception department - Garcia threw eight picks on the year to Tebow's six. If Garcia can reach his potential, USC may have a real shot to compete with teams like Florida for an SEC championship.
... it's going to raise more than a few eyebrows.

First off, Tebow only threw 4 INTs last year, not 6. Secondly, Tebow attempted 298 passes, meaning he was intercepted on about 1.3% of his throws. Garcia attempted just 122 passes, meaning he was picked off on about 6.5% of his throws. When you couple in Tebows 30 TDs and Garcia's paltry 6 TDs, you start to realize how nonsensical this statement is.

It's put up or shut up time for Garcia. His misadventures off the field far outweigh anything he's ever accomplished on the field. It's time to see what - if anything - he can actually accomplish on the football field. He's most likely a top5 QB in the SEC, which isn't really saying much this year. So far his career more closely mimics that of Ryan Perrilloux than Tim Tebow - flashes of great potential on the field, trouble staying out of trouble off the field.

New Tennessee Billboard


Truthfully, I would have loved to find a way to have EOr as DL Coach/Recruiting Coordinator. As long as he stayed away from anything offense-related, he's very good at what he does.

First Year SEC Coaches and Signature Wins

One of the real joys of college football is the unbridled – however unfounded – optimism that typically comes from the hiring of a new head coach, particularly when replacing a coach who was fired – or whatever euphemism is trendy that day. New philosophies and new attitudes abound with the influx of new blood in the coaching ranks.

2009 is a perfect example of this. Take a look at the three new hires entering the SEC, none of which has proven much of anything as a head coach:

  • Gene Chizik, Auburn: Chizik went 5-19 at Iowa State, but was DC for some very good Auburn teams earlier in the decade

  • Lane Kiffin, Tennessee: Kiffin was fired after a brief, unsuccessful stint (5-15) with the Raiders, but was co-OC for some very good USC Trojan teams earlier in the decade

  • Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: No head coaching experience, but was OC for some very good Florida and Utah teams earlier this decade

Of those 3, I can only see how Mississippi State fans could be genuinely excited. While I’m not a Mullen fan by default, his pedigree seems to be the best of the three, though I’m not sure how much he (or anybody) will win in Starkville. Chizik and Kiffin both failed miserably in their previous head coaching stints. In spite of all this, optimism rules in Auburn, Starkville, and Knoxville these days.

An integral part of the frenzy surrounding new coaches is landing that “signature win” in your first season at a school. It seems to happen for an unusually high number of first year coaches in the SEC (but never in 3 years if you’re Ed Orgeron). But what constitutes a signature win? Basically any win that a fan base can latch on to as a glimpse of the future of the program. A win that a coaching staff can point to when recruiting as an example of how their system works against top-tier opponents. A win that makes the program’s future so bright, you gotta wear shades.

Here’s a look at some signature wins by current or recent head coaches:

  • Tommy Tuberville’s 1999 Auburn team struggled a bit at 5-6 but did pick up a blowout win in Athens over an 8-4 UGA team

  • In 2001, Mark Richt and his UGA Bulldogs knocked off #5 Tennessee

  • Ron Zook was the first coach to be Croomed as Sylvester Croom led the MSU Bulldogs to a victory over Zook’s Gators in 2004

  • In 2005 Les Miles led his LSU Tigers to a comeback win over then undefeated and #4 Alabama and put a stamp on the season with a 40-3 hammering of Miami in the Peach Bowl

  • In 2005, Urban Meyer led the Gators to wins over Florida’s 3 biggest rivals: #4 Tennessee, #4 Georgia, and #21 Florida State, clearly stamping the program as his own

  • Steve Spurrier’s 2005 Gamecocks knocked off #23 Tennessee in Knoxville a few weeks before taking down #12 Florida in Columbia

  • In 2007, Nick Saban led the Tide to a now vacated victory over #16 Arkansas in his third game as head coach in Tuscaloosa. The Tide built a huge lead, watched it evaporate, but came back in the 4th quarter for a 34-31 victory

  • In 2008, Houston Nutt led the Rebels to a 31-30 victory in Gainesville and a 47-34 win in the Cotton Bowl over Texas Tech

  • In 2008, Bobby Petrino led the Razorbacks to a big comeback win over LSU in the final game of the regular season last year
So looking at the 2009 schedules for Auburn, Mississippi State, and Tennessee, which first year head coach(es)will land that signature win or wins that puts his stamp on the program? In the SEC, with so many good teams and storied rivals, the trio of new coaches will have multiple opportunities to put their stamp on their new programs.
  • Gene Chizik, Auburn: There are 3 teams in the SEC West currently ranked in the Top10 in both polls. Auburn lost to all 3 last year, and dropped a game to Georgia. Were Chizik to coax just one win out of those four games in 2009, the War Eagle Tiger Plainsmen fan base would have something to build on for 2010.

  • Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: Another team residing in the powerful SEC West, the Bulldogs are blessed or cursed (depending on how you look at it) with ample opportunities for a signature win. In addition to Ole Miss, LSU, and Alabama, the Bulldogs also welcome Florida and a highly-touted Georgia Tech team to Starkville.

  • Lane Kiffin, Tennessee: Kiffin’s shenanigans thus far have put him in a precarious situation: Win the big games and you look like a genius, but lose them big and be blasted for running your mouth. The Vols take on Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Ole Miss this year. Each will be a prohibitive favorite over the Vols and offer Kiffin and crew the chance for a signature win.
At this point, it’s tough to pinpoint which matchups seem most likely to swing the way of the new coaches. Mississippi State is nearly completely void of experienced SEC-caliber talent and faces one of the toughest schedules in the country. Tennessee and Auburn have a little more talent in place, but, at least in the preseason, have no quarterback to speak of. Both were one win - actually one bad loss – away from bowl eligibility last year and return a chunk of players from last year’s squads.

While it’s safe to assume that Tennessee will not beat Florida in Gainesville this year, every other team on this list has flaws or at least questions that need to be answered. If the Tigers or Vols stumble onto a serviceable passing game and catch one of the other teams napping or struggling to answer some of their own problems, either Kiffin or Chizik could put his stamp on his program.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Good read from Pat Forde

More ESPN hype for the Rebels, this time from Pat Forde.

Monday Morning Munchies

* Bad day yesterday for Tony Fein. It seems that he was put in an awkward situation by some overzealous employees, but you've got to keep your cool, particularly a guy of Fein's stature where every move is exaggerated.

* The Commercial Appeal has a nice read up about Jevan Snead.

* The Quad, the surprisingly good sports blog at The New York Times, has the Rebels ranked #13 in the preseason and offers one of the most in-depth previews I've come across.

* I'm as excited as the next guy about seeing Raymond Cotton in action, I just hope it's not this year. Barring any disastrous injuries to other QBs, I think he'd benefit greatly from a year on the scout team.

* If there's a more blatant homer in the "national media" than Lou Holtz, I'd like to know who it is. The good doctor and future senator has proclaimed that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will take on Florida in the national title game this season. As much as I would like to see a 35-point Florida win over the Irish, I'd rather not see the Irish taking a BCS berth from a much more capable and deserving team.

Brittany Reese can jump farther than you

Former Ole Miss track standout Brittany Reese won a gold medal at the world championships in Berlin with a 23 feet 3 1/2 inch jump.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The easiest job in the world

It must be nice to get paid for writing articles about why Ole Miss and Mississippi State should play Southern Miss in Football. You can churn out 300-400 words without even thinking and come up with hyperbolic headlines like "No downside to MSU-USM football game."

Credit Patrick Magee of the Hattiesburg American for taking the idiocy to a new level though. Typically the argument revolves around the Rebel or Bulldog fan mentioning a lack of desire to subsidize the Golden Eagle football program with the USM fan responding with a witty retort such as "Naw, you're skeered to play at the Rawk!" But not according to Magee:
Some fans make the argument that there would be an explosion of bad behavior by fans if USM played the two SEC schools on the football field. I’m not exactly sure where this idea comes from. While I realize it’s a different sport, I was courtside for the Ole Miss-USM basketball game last year in Biloxi and there were no punches thrown or even moderate bickering between the two groups.
Seriously? That's why you think that Boone and Templeton/Byrne have avoided playing USM... bickering amongst fans? And then this closing sentence...
A simple look at the situation reveals there is no downside of the schools meeting in football. It will only generate even more excitement surrounding the sport in an already football-crazy state.
... shows how disconnected from reality Magee really is. From a Southern Miss standpoint, I'm sure that's enough to get the hair standing up on their arms. If he could step outside of his black and gold for a minute, he'd find out that this fantasy land that USM fans and media have created - the series is what both fan bases want - is just that... a fantasy. There are very few Ole Miss or State fans I know that want a series to happen. The reasons have been reiterated on this site and others time and again and aren't worth getting into again.

If only Magee and other USM-canned-rhetoric regurgitators would take the same hint.

Friday, August 21, 2009

SEC Offensive Skill Players rankings, per Chris Low

He's very high on the quarterbacks (#2) and wide receivers (#1), but not so high on the running backs (#7).

Unless you're Steve Spurrier, the quarterback ranking goes without saying. Jevan Snead is the best pro prospect quarterback in the league, but should certainly rank behind Tim Tebow as a college quarterback. The wide receiver rating wasn't unexpected either as the Rebels are extremely deep there and catching passes from Snead is going to boost anyone's numbers.

I do think, by the end of the season at least, that we will rank much higher in the running back ratings. He has this to say about our stable of backs:
7. Ole Miss: It will be interesting to see how the rotation shakes out at Ole Miss. Brandon Bolden is the No. 1 guy right now, but Cordera Eason has looked a step faster in the preseason. Enrique Davis has a world of talent, and the coaches really like sophomore Devin Thomas and true freshman Tim Simon.
It's not really the top 3 teams I have an issue with. LSU was predictably first with (overrated) Chares Scott leading the way and Michael Smith and crew landed Arkansas #2. Florida RBs, who Low ranks #3, are hard to get a real read on because of the style of offense that the Gators run, but there's no denying they'll be productive.

Low also ranked Alabama, Mississippi State, and Auburn (AUBURN?) ahead of the Rebels. In his brief synopsis of Alabama's RBs, he points out that this pick is dependent on a variety of factors. With Alabama's green offensive line this year and a new QB, I don't know that the Tide will match last year's production.

As for State, sure Dixon's a good back and he's been around forever, but how effective is he going to be in such an impotent offense?

But the biggest problem I have is Auburn being ranked ahead of the Rebels. I get that when there's a running back by committee like the Rebels have, it can tough to gauge the talent level of each back effectively, but these rankings are for units as a whole. The Rebels averaged nearly 50 more rushing ypg last year (186.5 ypg to 137.5 ypg). The Rebels ranked 2nd in ypg, Auburn ranked 6th. Ben Tate, who Low singles out, averaged 55 ypg and scored a whopping 3 TDs.

That hardly sounds like a team that should be ranked ahead of the much more explosive Rebels.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Poor, Sweet, Innocent John Calipari

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, George Santayana

Alas, the tragedy...

For the second time in his career, poor, sweet, innocent, master strategist John Calipari will have a Final Four appearance stricken from the NCAA record books. It breaks my heart to see such a fine man have to suffer through this embarrassment again. Why do bad things happen to goodf people. My heart goes out to him and...

Enough with the sarcasm... Kentucky - if you weren't before - you're now officially on notice. This is what the man does. He shows up, pours a mean glass of kool-aid, blinds his potential detractors with tainted win after tainted win, then gets the hell outta Dodge before the poo hits the fan. He's very, very good at what he does. He's now the only coach to have two Final Fours stricken from official record books. This is of little surprise to me, having suggested its feasibility the day after their (now no-longer existent) game against Kansas.

Yes, I know Calipari wasn't implicated in the Memphis scandal, just I like I know he wasn't implicated in the UMass scandal either. Like I said, he's very, very good at what he does. He was a desperation hire by Memphis in 2000. The Tiger program needed a big pick-me-up after the Tic Price Experiment went horribly wrong. The fans were desperate to field a winner, so they sold their soul to bring in Calipari, despite the turmoil that UMass was mired in because of him. Memphis AD R.C. Johnson basically turned his back and served as Calipari's "yes man" for 10 years.

Sound familiar? The Wildcats are in need of a big pick-me-up after the Billy Gilispie experiment failed to pan out. Big Blue fans are desperate to field a winner and broke the bank to bring in Calipari. While there's no way Kentucky AD Mitch Barhart will bend over and take it from Calipari like Johnson did, he knows that Kentucky has to win and win big. Given Calipari's history, is there any reason to think this scenario plays out differently? I have no doubts that he'll win big at Kentucky, but at what cost to the university? Two schools have suffered due to his... ahem... oversights, why not a third?

I hope it doesn't work out that way. Kentucky is the flagship program in the SEC and one of the Royal 5 programs in the country (along with Indiana, North Carolina, Kansas, and UCLA). They serve as something of a barometer for the SEC as a whole. When they're mediocre, it weakens the SEC as a whole. But when they're winning, it greatly increases the national perception of the conference.

After such a pitiful showing last year, the SEC needs a big pick-me-up. Just not one that turns out to be such a bummer when you realize the dirty truth.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Midweek Munchies

* Tony Barnhart thinks Peria Jerry will be missed

* Hesiman Pundit ranks Jevan Snead 8th in Heisman Poll

* Phil Fulmer wants back in coaching. When asked about Lane Kiffin he says "if you’re going to be brash you better be able to back it up". And if you have any extra donuts, you better share them.

* Check out my interview over at GatorsFirst.com

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dan Mullen still thinks about Ole Miss a lot

This is really just kind of sad. There's actually a clock in the MSU locker room counting down to the Egg Bowl. Why they're so excited about getting the chance to watch the Rebels name their score again, I'll never know.

And isn't this kind of bush league? And borderline obsessive at that? They've got 11 other games before the Egg Bowl. They've even got a chance to be competitive in 3-4 of them. So why are they so focused on Ole Miss? Do you think Houston Nutt and staff have thought about MSU for 2 seconds since last year's 45-0 rout?

They've even go so far as to call Ole Miss "The Team up North" on the Egg Bowl posters in the locker room. See more pictures here if you need a good chuckle.

Top 10 Ole Miss Football Players since 1975

Southern Pigskin has a list of Ole Miss' top 10 football players since 1975. It's a fairly solid list, though, as usual, I've got a few nits to pick...

In my view, Patrick Willis is hands down the best talent to come through Oxford in the last 35 years. Of course when you're mired on the bench behind Justin Wade (Justin Freaking Wade?!?) because your head coach is an idiot wouldn't know a defense if it grabbed him his droopy face and shook him won't start you, it severely limits the time you get to strut your stuff. What he accomplished in basically two years of steady playing time was unreal.

I also feel he is sorely underselling Deuce's value to the program, not only as an All-SEC RB, but also as an ambassador to the university. He seemed to have factored that in with Gentle Ben though.

He's also understating the shutdown ability that Kenyatta Lucas had. Sure, he played at the same time as Fred Smoot, the overrated, loquacious CB from Mississippi State, but their relative draft positions and NFL careers have seperated the two, severely in Lucas' favor.

I'm not sure that Rufus French belongs on this list at all.

My list - off the top of my head - would be:
1) Patrick Willis
2) Eli Manning
3) Deuce McAllister
4) Ben Williams
5) Kenyatta Lucas
6) Michael Oher
7) Everett Lindsay
8) Peria Jerry
9) Derrick Burgess
10) Bill Smith

Meet the Rebels Day cancelled

Well, there go my weekend plans, and probably the plans of about 5000 loyal Rebel faithful. Seems an odd move to make, particularly this close to the event, especially since the OMGWTFBBQ!?!?! overreactions to Swine Flu seemed to have calmed down a bit lately. Last I checked, campus wasn't a quarantined environment and the players are going to come into contact with hundreds of students each day.

And as for this quote...
“While we may be over cautious regarding the flu, our season opener is less than three weeks away and we can’t take any chances,” Nutt said. “We certainly regret not being able to interact with our fans at this time.”
...that's interesting considering they recruited and signed Jamar Hornsby who would've been much more destructive to this team than a mild case of the flu.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Nutt, Saban, and Coaching Trends

You can add Shane from the Capstone Report to the growing list of bloggers who are latching onto the Anti-Ole Miss Bandwagon, though, like most, he lacks creativity in his reasoning. It's not quite Finebaumian in its lack of legitimate points, but it's close:
Some of you might ask, “What about Ole Miss?” The pundits are convinced they will play Florida in the title match. Well, those of us who’ve studied Houston Nutt know that (and I keep bringing it up), somewhere in the course of the season, he’ll blow a game he’s supposed to win - it happens every year. In fact, I think that is exactly why Arkansas fired him. That’s right Rebel fans, Arkansas cut Nutt loose for “choking.” Putting your faith in Coach Nutt is futile. Under his guidance, I’m afraid Ole Miss is destined to remain a pretender.
Ah yes, the Houston Nutt argument. For those who have actually taken the time to look at things – like cocknfire did here – there’s actually a different story. But we shouldn’t let facts get in the way of this argument. Sure, Nutt’s teams have dropped some games they shouldn’t have – it’s part of the game – but I don’t recall Nutt comparing those losses to “catastrophic events” like Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 Attacks. Saban’s Tide were embarrassed last year in the Sugar Bowl by Utah in a game Alabama was supposed to win. Let's not forget that Saban can scratch losses to UAB and Louisiana-Monroe off his bucket list as well.

I do find it interesting though that he brings up coaching trends. In his 13 seasons of being a head coach in college football, Saban’s teams have won 10+ games 3 times: 2001, 2003, and 2009. His teams won 8 and 9 games in 2002 and 2004 respectively, meaning he’s never won 10+ games in back to back seasons. It’s going to take 6+ SEC wins to win the SEC West this year, meaning the Tide will need 10+ wins to secure it. According to Shane’s logic, history always repeats itself, so there’s no way Alabama win double-digit games this year, right?

Also, given Saban's inability to win double-digit games in back-to-back seasons, this statement becomes even more outlandish than it first appears:
I have no doubt that these two SEC “superpowers” will meet in Atlanta for the next three or four years in a row.
And if we're dwelling on trends, then Alabama will be back on probation in, what? 2011? Maybe 2012?

But hey, it's all just posturing at this point. All that matters is this... both teams have a legitimate shot at being undefeated when they clash on October 10th, setting up the biggest game in Oxford in decades, certainly since LSU in 2003. The winner of that game will have the inside track for the SEC Western Division crown and a shot at Florida or Georgia in the SEC Championship game.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Embrace the hype. Love the Hype. Resistance is Futile.

26 days until the Rebels hang 50 on Memphis.

ESPN SEC Bowl Predictions and some Fail

There's a good read on Chris Low's blog right now about bowl chances for all 12 SEC teams this season. He predicts a Sugar Bowl bid for the Rebels, which is certainly hard to complain about.

Then there's the relapse into the ESPN tradition of either being unable to distinguish between Ole Miss and Mississippi State or just the lack of motivation to get it right.

Monday, August 10, 2009

ESPN's Collge Football Challenge

ESPN launched a new game that's fairly similar to SEC Fantasy Football called (creatively) College Football Challenge. I've created a Dead Guy's Group and invite you - regardless of your team affiliation - to join and play.

Each week, you choose 2 QBs, 2 RBs, 2 WR/TEs, 1 team's kickers, and 1 team's D/ST and accumulate points based on performance.

Any idiot can write on the internets

The very existence of this blog should be proof of that, though I at least (occasionally) try to minimize the idiotic statements on this page. That's more than can be said for Jeremy Wood at The Barrow County News, who, as Senator Blutarsky points out, has created "easily the worst SEC preview I’ve read so far this preseason".

Here is Mr. Wood's assessment of the Rebels, with the emphasis mine:
Everyone seems to love these guys a little too much. They lucked into a win at Florida last year when the Gators couldn’t hang onto the ball, and beat an underwhelming LSU team and a we’re-not-interested-in-playing-in-the-Cotton-Bowl Texas Tech team down the stretch. Now they’re a top-ten team? They could take over for the 2008 Georgia Bulldogs as the team that was saddled with huge expectations and didn’t come through. Georgia in 2008 was much better than these guys are, and that Bulldog team couldn’t win their division. The caveat with Ole Miss is that they have the softest non-league slate of anybody in the conference – playing at Memphis will be their toughest opponent – and it wouldn’t completely surprise me to see them undefeated ... when LSU comes to town Nov. 21.
First off, you can never love the Rebels too much. But seriously, if the Rebels are undefeated on November 21st when LSU rolls into town, that's equivalent to a 10-0, 6-0 record, which would undoubtedly have any SEC team in the Top 10. I also don't get why Wood (and so many others for that matter) try to cheapen the Rebels wins over UF and TTU last season. All the Florida fans that I've talked to will freely admit that the Rebels just beat them at the line of scrimmage all day long. Sure Florida was the better team last year, but for one day in Gainesville last year, the Rebels just straight up outplayed them.

Same thing with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders just weren't ready for the team speed on defense and had no answer for the Wild Rebel. It had nothing to do with disinterest. They got hit in the mouth and had no answer. So they folded.

And as laughable as his assessment of Ole Miss is, at least he (sort of) attempts to justify it with some sort of reason. For Alabama, he just uses good old fashioned bias:
My favorite program to root against in the conference (I can’t stand Saban). They lost a veteran quarterback and four starters off their offensive line, which was their biggest strength a year ago. It definitely feels like a 7-5 team.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sunday Night Niblets

* I'll be the first to admit that when EOr hired Dan Werner, I was less than thrilled, but this is a great article about him and how's he rebounded from his wife's unexpected death earlier this year. I'll be pulling for North Delta School this year.

* The Birmingham News suggests that Alabama and Auburn should subsidize the little guys in Alabama, saying "get off your high horse and throw your neighbor a bone." Maybe Auburn will bring UNA and Terry Bowden to Jordan Hare...

* Some random college football predictions including a 7-0 start for Auburn and Joe Cox putting up better numbers than Matthew Stafford

Friday, August 7, 2009

2009 Preseason Coaches' poll released

So the coaches' poll came out today and, as expected, the Rebels are ranked in the Top 10. Alabama, as expected is ranked ahead of the Rebels at #5. What caught my attention is that LSU is ahead of the Rebels at #9.

Again, I ask, why is LSU going to be so much better this year? Sure Chavis will make a big difference on the defense - it can't be much worse - but why should I (or anyone not drining purple/gold kool-aid) believe that the offense is going to be more consistent this year? They are relying on a QB who is 0-2 against SEC competition as a starter and touted as a mobile QB despite a paltry 2.7 ypc average last year.

If not for a pair of goal line knees last year, the Rebels would've beaten the Tigers by 25 points last year in Baton Rouge. Sure the Tigers have the overrated Charles Scott to pound the ball with, but asking Jordan Jefferson to be productive enough to give Scott room to manuever is going to be more difficult than many Tiger fans seem to realize. Particularly when the Tigers draw both UGA and Florida out of the East, the two teams the Rebels avoid.

Obviously, it's all speculation at this point, and my view of it will certainly be viewed as biased at any point. That said, I can't think of one good reason a team that finished with an 8-5 record and has no proven QB on the roster would be ranked ahead of a team that finished on a 6-game tear and a darkhorse Heisman contender other than reputation.