Tag Archives: Arkansas Razorbacks

SEC Champions? Oh Lord, Won’t You Take Me to Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Rejoice! Kickoff is one week from tomorrow! Actually, the Arkansas Razorbacks will tee it up on Thursday. Their “competition?” The mighty Rattlers of Florida A&M. And then on Saturday, some of the other SEC related games include Missouri playing Missouri State, Georgia hosting Appalachian State,  Charleston Southern will play at Mississippi State… ad nauseum.

But! There are some big games on the slate for opening weekend with the monster clash between Alabama and Florida State headlining them all.

Now it’s time for me to summon my crystal ball and look into the future. I hope gazing at the eclipse didn’t blur my powers of prognostication.

Onward!

SEC EAST 

Florida (8-4, 6-2) I like the Gators’ big uglies, their defense, and their skill position players. But, just like everybody else, the quarterback position is the key. They will plug in someone who is more than capable to put them at the top of the East.

Tennessee (9-3, 5-3) The Vols will have more total wins than anyone else in the division but they will also have more conference losses than the Gators. That head to head matchup will decide which team makes the trek to Atlanta.

Georgia (8-4, 5-3) You gotta love the Dawgs’ running backs and their overall talent, but it will be their inconsistent play at quarterback and in the trenches that will cause the East title to elude them.

Kentucky (8-4, 5-3) I like the Cats as the sleeper to win this division. There is talent in Lexington but probably not enough SEC quality depth to carry them to Hotlanta. I’d love to see it though!

South Carolina (6-6, 3-5) Will Muschamp’s second year in Columbia will find an improved team, but the record will not reflect that. They’re in good shape at quarterback with Jake Bentley.

Vanderbilt (3-9, 1-7) Derek Mason has the Commodores playing pretty well. I like Kyle Shurmur as their signal-caller. But do not expect Vandy to rise any higher than sixth in the division.

Missouri (4-8, 0-8) The upside is the offensive potential, and QB Drew Lock, in Columbia. Overall, though, Barry Odom’s second year might not turn out any better than his first.

SEC West

Auburn (11-1, 7-1) Talent, depth, experience, and coaching will combine to make this one of those highly memorable seasons down on the Plains. Jarrett Stidham will, indeed, turn out to be the straw that stirs the drink. And the home finale with Alabama will finally go Auburn’s way again.

Alabama (10-2, 7-1)  Loaded. Every year. But the season will begin and end with losses which will keep the Crimson Tide from their fourth straight College Football Playoff appearance.

Texas A&M (9-3, 6-2) Kevin Sumlin steps down off the hot seat with a very good season in College Station. And the Aggies pick up some big wins on the way to a solid 9-3 campaign.

LSU (9-3, 5-3) Coach O won’t be able to bring home a ring in his first full season in Red Stick. I still have my doubts about the Tigers’ long term prospects, as well, in spite of their talent level.

Arkansas (7-5, 4-4) Bret Bielema and his Hawgs continue to battle the mediocrity that has beset them in Fayetteville. This year will bring no relief. Austin Allen provides great talent, tenacity, and leadership behind center, but the West is too strong to allow for a climb up the ladder.

And then… the Mississippis. The six and seven slots in the division are interchangeable.

Mississippi State (5-7, 1-7) I’ll go with State, Dan Mullen, and Nick Fitzgerald to keep the Bulldogs out of the cellar. And, they will probably notch more than the one conference win I have allowed them.

Ole Miss (4-8, 1-7) Two words. Dumpster fire.

So there you have it! According to my mighty powers of perception, note that I never use the term “reality” in my fearless forecast, the Auburn Tigers will meet the aforementioned Florida Gators in Atlanta, GA on December 2nd for the championship of the Southeastern Conference.

Who will win that contest? Yes, it will be my Tigers! And they will go on to make the College Football Playoff, along with the Florida State Seminoles, the Ohio State Buckeyes, and the Washington Huskies.

You may now wipe those tears away, whether they be tears of joy or of sadness. My guess is you might have sprayed your morning coffee or evening cocktail all over your phone or computer screen at the sheer hilarity of such humorous predictions! That’s ok.

For again I say, rejoice!

College football is upon us!

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Bird at bird.lecroy@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

2017 NCAA Tournament Notebook: The South – Where Everything is Fine

I’m back. I know it’s been a long time, but let’s get right into it. When Bob assigned me the South region of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, I thought it was a gift and you know what, it was. During the first two rounds (remember, play-in games aren’t part of the tournament), there were virtually no upsets in the South region. The closest call was either No. 12 Middle Tennessee (nee: MTSU) over No. 5 Minnesota or No. 10 Wichita State over No. 7 Dayton, but we all know that’s hogwash.

Any team beating a Big Ten team in this year’s tournament makes complete sense, but because anyone (me) who paid even a middling amount of interest knows the Big Ten was terrible in basketball this year. 1. So, if an undervalued Middle Tenn (we’ll just keep making their name shorter and shorter) beats an overvalued Richard Pitino (how long until he goes by Rick or Dick?) Golden Gopher team, then it isn’t much of an upset. I don’t think Vegas is necessarily the key to knowing exactly how every game will play out, but the sportsbooks said MT was 1.5-point favorite over Minnesota.

Seems about right.

The next “upset,” which, again, anyone with a brain knows is complete hogwash, was Wichita State over Dayton. Dayton is a good team, so let’s not knock them, but to even suggest that Wichita State was seeded properly might be as dumb as suggesting that Donald Trump has a chance to become…never mind. The Shockers entered that contest as 6.5 favorite and beat the Flyers by six, so maybe Vegas does know something about how this process should work?

Perhaps it would make more sense to have Vegas setup the brackets?

Round of 32

Chalk.

I mean my bracket doesn’t look anything like I think it should at this point, but the top four seeds all advanced to next weekend in Memphis which I guess is how it’s supposed to be. No. 8 Arkansas gave No. 1 North Carolina all it could handle until the pressure became too intense. The Razorbacks had a good season even if their performance versus Kentucky in the SEC Tournament was childish at best.

We will no longer ignore the elephant in the room, which was Wichita State and No. 2 Kentucky yesterday in Indianapolis. The game was great, in fact it was so good that it should have been played this weekend in Memphis, but again, because the people on the selection committee forgot how good the Shockers are, we watched that game yesterday.

I’m clearly in the corner that Wichita State was under-seeded and yes, they did lose yesterday and probably would have lost to Kentucky next week, but it seems to me that it makes the most sense to have the best teams playing each other later in the tournament so those games are watched by more people.

One very important side note about Wichita State: Lynn Marshall, the wife of Head Coach Gregg Marshall is apparently very animated during games. There’s a report she may have been extremely intoxicated. There is a picture of her (below) standing behind Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde yelling at screaming (not at him like all y’all do) but either in celebration or trying to help the refs get through a tough sequence. I don’t know if she was drunk or how animated she is or what exactly is going on, but that this made the national media should be worrisome to the higher-ups at Wichita State.

I understand fans will be fans and that’s perfectly alright, but the wife of the coach shouldn’t have facility security talking to her about her behavior or have media speculating about how sober she is or isn’t.

Can she have one or 10 beverages before the game? Absolutely. Should it be obvious and on display to everyone because she’s in the front row being louder than the cheerleaders? No, not at all.

How Bad Are the Tournament Officials?

Look, I officiate basketball and at one point in my life I thought I may have a chance to do it consistently at a higher level than high school. For several reasons, it didn’t work out and I have very few regrets about that, but I’ll say this: these tournament games and every game in the college ranks are hard games to officiate. Officials will miss calls and some will be very bad misses.

How those three men missed the goaltending in the Gonzaga/Northwestern game I’ll never understand, but I can say the conversation with NCAA Men’s Basketball National Coordinator JD Collins was not pleasant. I also cannot make an excuse for the amount of contact that have been “no-called” by officials this past weekend. It isn’t a good look. It isn’t what Collins wants to see happen in the tournament, because he has bosses too who are probably looking at all the news and reports and are saying how does this continue to happen?

Are there likely solutions that could make this easier or fix a lot of this? Yes. But consider this, and only this, you me and everyone at home has the luxury of HD televisions and we aren’t constantly in motion trying to get an angle on play or trying to officiate 10 men that are significantly faster and stronger than us.

As much as coaches complain about how they want younger officials, they then complain about how bad those younger officials are at communicating or how they don’t trust them. At the same time, the officials who have been around the longest aren’t nearly as good as they were 10, 15 or even 20 years earlier.

I don’t say any of that to make excuses for the number of bad calls we saw this weekend, but for every bad call we saw there were at least five or more that were correct or where people on Twitter had conflicting opinions. Block, charge, traveling…well, sure pick one…or pick nothing and play on. It’s a choice officials must make decisions in a split-second again without the luxury of replay or beer.

South Region Links:

How did he tip that in? Kennedy Meeks basket helps avert upset for UNC [Scott Fowler/Charlotte Observer]

Three-minute crash: Hogs black out with victory in sight [Bob Holt/Whole Hog Sports]

What’s next for Middle Tennessee’s 10 returning players? [Aldo Giovanni Amato/Daily News Journal]

Sweet 16 celebrated far and wide by former Butler coaches, players [David Woods/Indianapolis Star]

Bearcats can’t contain UCLA, out of tourney [Tom Groeschen/Cincinnati Enquirer]

UCLA to head to Sweet 16 after defeating Cincinnati 79-67 [Matt Cummings/Daily Bruin]

Kentucky ends Wichita State’s season with 65-62 second-round win [Paul Sullentrop/The Wichita Eagle]

Wichita State talked, Kentucky listened and the Wildcats advanced [Kyle Tucker/SEC Country]

I think that’s enough for now. Please check out the tournament notebooks from the other three regions as well as all our 2017 March Madness tournament coverage.

E-mail Damien at damien.bowman@campuspressbox.com or following him on Twitter @damiEnbowman.

  1. Yes, the Big Ten is STILL better in basketball than football. Fight me.

The Real Madness of March

Every year, I spend far more time and energy than I should filling out my NCAA Tournament March Madness bracket.  I debate whether chalk or Cinderella’s will prevail.  I agonize over which 12-5 upsets are ripe for the picking.  I look at strength of schedule and see who beat who, as if that matters.  Then, I spend the entire tournament second guessing myself.

Inevitably, I get caught in between rooting for my bracket and cheering for those Cinderella’s that capture our hearts.  It ends up being a very stressful month and at the end, I never feel like I have fully enjoyed what is truly an amazing sporting event.

I like to act as if I know what I’m talking about when predicting these games.  Really, I don’t.  None of us do.  Why bother pretending?  It’s not like I’m a big college basketball fan anyway.  I mean, sure, I watch the tournament religiously.  The first Thursday and Friday of games are days that I believe should be national holidays.  Why play the charade of going to work and acting like I’m not watching online?  I am.  #SorryNotSorry (I am, however, sorry I just used that expression. #NeverAgain)

Anyway, when it comes to regular season college basketball, I never watch many games.  This season though, that’s never been truer.  Confession: I watched a grand total of three full college basketball games this winter.  The complete list: Mt. St. Mary’s vs. Michigan (I was actually in attendance), Xavier vs. Cincinnati (Go Bearcats! #BeatX), and Tulsa vs. Cincinnati (Again, I was in attendance).

So, yeah, I don’t really have any idea what went on this college basketball season.  (Though, I hear tripping people has become a hot button issue.)  What I do know, from hardly following along, is that there was a lot of movement in the Top 25.  It seems to me that this is one of those years where there are a ton of good teams in the field, but not many great ones.  Is that a fair assessment?  Honestly, I’m asking.

Let’s highlight some things as I take my first look at the bracket.  (That’s right; I didn’t watch the selection show either.)

East

Hey!  Mt. St. Mary’s made the field… sorta.  The only first round upsets I have here are Marquette over South Carolina and New Mexico State over that Baptist school in Waco, Texas.  Give me Virginia over Florida in the second round.  Other than that, there’s nothing too exciting.  Looks like an easy path to the Final Four for defending champion Villanova.

Midwest

Woo, lots going on here.  First, Michigan State got lucky.  The Spartans are bad but the Hurricanes sound beatable.  The rest of the first round seems pedestrian but man, look at these possible second round matchups.  Kansas vs. Michigan State is enough said.  Iowa State meets Purdue in a battle of teams with high hopes.  Creighton vs. Oregon will be fun.  And Michigan gets a shot at revenge against Louisville.  I’m still upset about 2013 and, as a result, I’m going into full homer mode.  The Wolverines beat the Cardinals, the Ducks, and the Jayhawks on their way to Phoenix.  (#SorryNotSorry… Damnit, that didn’t last long.)

West

Smart guy alert in the 8-9 matchup as Northwestern and Vanderbilt get together.  Wait, the Northwestern Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament!  Congrats to them.  I’ll even pencil in an opening round win for them before getting smacked by Gonzaga.  Give me the other smart guys at Princeton to pull the upset on Notre Dame.  On the bottom half, I’m going a little upset crazy.  Florida Gulf Coast makes another run to the second weekend with wins over Florida State and Maryland.  And St. Mary’s finds its way to the Elite Eight for a fourth try at besting West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga.  You know what they say, “it’s tough to beat a team twice, thrice, four times in the same season.”  Well, Gonzaga will.

South

I’ve got Seton Hall beating Arkansas for the same reasons I have Marquette beating South Carolina.  I’m Catholic and the SEC is still a terrible basketball conference, until proven otherwise.  Middle Tennessee State earns its second tourney win over a Big Ten opponent in as many years, my second 12 over 5.  Cincinnati will beat UCLA with a superior defense the likes of which the Bruins have never come up against.  Unfortunately for my adopted school, the Kentucky Wildcats will be waiting in the Sweet Sixteen.  North Carolina will be able to handle Coach Cal’s bunch en route to yet another Final Four.

Final Four

Last year’s championship game was so phenomenal, why not have a rematch?  Michigan and Gonzaga fall victim to destiny.  This time around, Villanova won’t need a buzzer beater.  The Wildcats will repeat, beating North Carolina quite easily.

There you have it.  Now all that’s left to do is wait until Thursday so I can hide my internet browser behind some important-looking work stuff and enjoy this damn thing for once.

I recommend you do the same, but don’t expect many of you to.  That chance at glory is too tantalizing to pass up, isn’t it?  Yes, you’d rather drive yourself crazy trying to arrive at the perfect bracket that you’ll literally never achieve.

And to you all I say have fun losing your group for the umpteenth time to your aunt who bases her picks on the team mascots.  After all, this is the real madness of March.

E-mail me at mitch.gatzke@campuspressbox.com and I’ll send you back an invite to my bracket group.  Should be easy to beat me since I’m not trying, right?

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SEC Champions or “Champions of Life?”

ESPN’s preseason FPI (Football Power Index) was released Monday and here is how it looks. All 130 FBS schools were ranked. And here is a brief summation of how this system works:

“The model comprises four major components: the last four seasons of performance on offense, defense and special teams, with the most recent season counting most; information on offensive and defensive returning starters, with special consideration given to a team returning its starting quarterback or gaining a transfer quarterback with experience; a four-year average recruiting ranking of four systems (ESPN, Scouts, Rivals and Phil Steele); and head coaching tenure. These four components interact and are assigned different weights depending on the team to produce preseason FPI.”

Here are the SEC teams in the Top 25:

2. Alabama
5. Auburn
6. LSU
13. Georgia
15. Florida
20. Tennessee

A couple of things jumped out at me immediately. First of all, Alabama is not ranked number one. And, Auburn is ranked in the top five.

Here we go with high expectations, again, for my Tigers. More on that later.

And the remainder of the conference.

27. Texas A & M
32. South Carolina
33. Mississippi State
34. Kentucky
36. Arkansas
38. Ole Miss
41. Missouri
47. Vanderbilt

What leapt forth from the page upon my first take? South Carolina would probably be somewhere in “others receiving votes” if this were the AP or USA Today Coaches poll.

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Me thinks not but me also thought not in 2016 as I had Will Muschamp’s boys at dead last in my preseason picks.

Please don’t ponder my picks too very long, please. There are, as always, embarrassments aplenty in there.

Another thing that struck me is Ole Miss coming in at number 12 out of 14 if you’re ranking the SEC top to bottom with no divisional considerations.

And that provides a slick segue-way into the breakdown of the East and West.

SEC East

  1. Georgia
  2. Florida
  3. Tennessee (“Champions of Life and “Five star hearts”)
  4. South Carolina
  5. Kentucky
  6. Missouri
  7. Vanderbilt

SEC West

  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. LSU
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Mississippi State
  6. Arkansas
  7. Ole Miss(ed)

You know what? That’s pretty darn accurate as far as I’m concerned.

And you know what really concerns me most about these rankings? Auburn’s lofty perch. I refer back to my, earlier, high expectations comment. If you follow SEC football closely, and Auburn in particular, you will know that high expectations, quite often, precede a disappointing season for Auburn.

Whatever. I’ll take it.

Back to the entire pack.

The East. Georgia is my “way too early” choice to make the short trek to the happy, shiny, brand-spanking new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Hotlanta.

You have to admit that is a most impressive facility, but so was the Georgia Dome which remains a very serviceable stadium. Billionaire’s toys.

Oh well, back to the East. I might jump Kentucky to the fourth spot and that would place the Gamecocks at five.

The West? (Clearing my throat and repeating the mantra, “Always pick Bama first.”). And if you, again, harken back to my 2016 foolishness, you’ll see I had to go with LSU in spite of my mantra and knowing in my heart of hearts that it would be the Tide. Sigh.

I don’t think I like State over Arkansas and I’m not so sure about the Rebs in the cellar, but somebody has to finish last. There could be a tie down there at the bottom.

What else? LSU is loaded, as always, but I like where they are here. Number three. And… and… AND… I like the winner of the Iron Bowl to join Georgia in that happy, shiny, palace.

It’s only February! Who will win the SEC and who will be named “Champions of Life?” Stay tuned!

E-mail Bird at bird.lecroy@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Proof We Aren’t Always Right About College Football

At the end of any given football season, I always love going back through my articles and checking out all the brilliant things I said throughout the year. Then, when I come across all the completely dumb things I said, I enjoy that part even more. Laughter is good for the soul.

So, first of all, let me brag to you about the things I said that have turned out to be absolutely brilliant in retrospect. I don’t get to brag about being right about football too often, so let me have my moment.

April 2016:

“SEC East Sleeper: Remember the Gators” This was a title for one of my articles early in the year.

May 2016:

“This year, I am still cautious about all the optimism surrounding the Tennessee football program.” Good call here, even if my dad was convinced otherwise.

“With the return of Mike Williams from injury, Watson should have a great target downfield for those longer plays.” Deshaun Watson proved to be a huge asset in Clemson’s championship game, but so did Mike Williams.

“I would not be surprised to see a Heisman winner from an ACC football program this year.” It may not have been Deshaun Watson, but the Heisman winner was from the ACC.

August 2016:

“And as much as I ride for SEC football, I have to admit I do expect the Seminoles to come out victorious.” This was the one SEC game I really wanted to see during week one, even if I did expect Ole Miss to drop this game.

“Do I expect Ole Miss to get its third victory in a row in this series? No, but I do anticipate a very interesting football game.” This came from that same article and was referring to watching Alabama’s trip Ole Miss. I was right about this year, even though Ole Miss had given Alabama trouble lately.

“They’ve actually won eleven in a row in this rivalry…but who’s counting? This year I truly do expect that winning streak to come to an end.” This is yet another gem from that same article about watching only one SEC football game each week. Tennessee had been hitting a huge mental roadblock in the Florida game–until this year.

September 2016:

“ACC football is not to be taken lightly this season.” Early in the season, I warned everyone to give ACC football some respect this year. After the conference’s bowl season performance, it was definitely earned.

“To be totally honest, at this point the regular season is just Alabama getting warmed up for its playoff appearance.” This came from my Alabama-Ole Miss smackdown piece, but really was not an exaggeration at all.

“Florida’s offense is still nothing special.” Although this was from my smackdown piece before the Florida-Tennessee game, it turned out to be very true. No surprise there.

October 2016:

“I know the Auburn Tigers are ranked a little below the Arkansas Razorbacks, but they’re going to beat them anyways.” Yet another smackdown piece that proved to be correct.

December 2016:

“It will be funny to see Great Value DBU shut down the Heisman winner though. I must say…” This was a personal tweet referring to LSU shutting down Lamar Jackson, which did eventually happen.

So I was right, at least to some extent, pretty often. But what I hope you’ll find much more amusing is all those really stupid things I said. Maybe my sense of humor is strange, but I thought some of these were pretty hilarious.

May 2016:

“If Mark Richt can do that, they could have a very impressive non-conference win in his first season as head coach.” I really thought Miami’s trip to South Bend would be a noteworthy non-conference game this season. Unfortunately, beating Notre Dame wasn’t exactly an impressive feat.

August 2016:

“But if the Vols do get that win then it’s safe to say they are national contenders and Alabama better watch out for them in a couple weeks.” Remember when everyone thought the Vols were potential national contenders before the season even started? I bought into that hype when discussing how I wanted to watch the Vols play at Georgia in Week 5 of SEC football.

“I don’t know that I’m right about this but I think the Vols will have a good chance to win at home over the Crimson Tide.” I wanted to watch the Alabama-Tennessee game in Week 7 if I could only watch one SEC game. Poor choice there.

September 2016:

“Labor Day is just a welcomed day off from both work and school for most people. But for Ole Miss this year, it’s the day [it takes] down the Florida State Seminoles.” From a Smackdown Friday piece so I didn’t really mean it. But still hilarious. Plus, that whole article was hilarious if you like hating on Florida State.

“…if I had money to bet I’d be putting it all on the Tennessee Vols to win the SEC East right now.” It’s a good thing I was broke. I would’ve wasted a lot of money thinking that the Vols were really going to win the SEC East.

“I hate to break it to Clemson fans, but Lamar Jackson is about the shatter your hopes and dreams.” This Smackdown was off. Lamar Jackson did take Deshaun Watson’s Heisman trophy. But Clemson still lived out its dream of winning a national championship again.

October 2016:

“Coastal Division Is Worse for ACC Football than East Is for SEC Football” Even just the title of this article is off. After bowl season, there’s not much that can be said for the SEC East, aside from Florida and Tennessee.

November 2016:

“It’s not that the Razorbacks can’t beat the Gators. It’s just that they won’t.” Another Smackdown Friday article gone wrong. The Razorbacks could and did beat the Gators–in convincing fashion.

E-mail Kristen at kristen.botica@campuspressbox.com and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Photo from Public Domain Pictures.

2016 ACC Football: Proof That They Aren’t Just Good at Basketball

Now is when I tell you about the good and the bad from this past season of ACC football. I’ve been brainstorming for this article since the day after Clemson won it all, but I’ve still run into a problem of sorts. All in all, there was just much more good in ACC football than there was bad this season.

That isn’t to say that there was no bad in ACC football. Trust me, there was. There is even one play from one particular ACC game this season that still bothers me. I’ll get to that later, though.

What all the good did do for the conference was offer evidence that maybe these schools are capable of being among the best in the country in more than just one sport. Without further ado, I present you with the proof.

The Best of ACC Football

Clemson won the College Football Playoff National Championship game. I am sure nothing else that any conference carried out can top that. But Clemson’s victory over mighty Alabama in that game wasn’t all the good they provided for ACC football this year. The Tigers were 14-1 by the end of it all, having lost that one game by a single point. They also shut out Ohio State in their first playoff game.

Deshaun Watson, our favorite (black) dual-threat quarterback, ended up accounting for a total of 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards between passing and rushing for Clemson. Running back Wayne Gallman contributed 17 more touchdowns this season. And there was wide receiver Mike Williams who came back from injury and ended up having quite the season as well, racking up 11 touchdowns.

The Clemson defense was also nothing to scoff at, allowing an average of 314 yards per game. Clemson was very good for the ACC.

Florida State, overall, was also pretty dang good for ACC football. There was some definite bad in that 63-20 loss to Louisville early in the season, but the Seminoles still managed to bounce back and have an impressive year. Star running back Dalvin Cook was essential to Florida State’s success, with 288 carries for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns. The fact that he was not a Heisman finalist still baffles me. But aside from Dalvin Cook’s success, the team was successful as well, finishing the year at 10-3. Not to mention, Florida State beat Michigan 33-32 in its bowl game when Michigan was arguably a playoff contender at the end of the season.

There’s also Virginia Tech and coach Justin Fuente on the “good” side of things. In his first season as head coach of the Hokies, Fuente took the team to the ACC Championship Game. And, the Hokies actually gave Clemson a good game. Fuente and the Hokies finished with a record of 9-4 and an impressive comeback win over Arkansas in their bowl game. This is why Fuente, in my mind, was clearly the best coaching hire from last year.

There’s one more name I’d be crazy for not mentioning, regardless of how his season ended. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson had an incredible year. It was so incredible that he won the Heisman trophy. With 51 touchdowns throughout the season, it’s safe to say that Jackson was the key to Louisville’s success. Jackson is also only a sophomore, which means he has at least one year left with the Cardinals. That’s very good for them.

I can think of one last name I should also mention when praising the good in ACC football. Pittsburgh running back James Conner returned this season after being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. He clearly didn’t let his cancer slow him down considering he had 16 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns this year. Here’s to Conner, because he’s about as good as it gets–aside from Clemson’s championship.

The Worst of ACC Football

The few bad things I could come up with off the top of my head require much less explanation.

There are the only three teams from the ACC that did not play in bowl games: Virginia, Duke and Syracuse. Virginia and Duke both were 1-7 in conference play while Syracuse was 2-6. None of these teams won more than four games this season. When you’re a member of a Power Five conference, those kinds of records are beyond bad.

The other major “bad” that I saw in ACC football this year was Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast. Jackson did get some help from his teammates at times. But most the work rested on Jackson’s shoulders, and because of that the Cardinals had a hard time winning when their opponents could contain him.

This brings me to the one horrible play I mentioned above. The Louisville vs. Clemson game was one of the best games of the regular season. That game really did come down to the wire. And the Cardinals could’ve beaten the Tigers if it weren’t for a huge mistake James Quick made on a pass play from Jackson at the end of the game. Instead of getting the yardage necessary to get a first down, Quick went out of bounds to stop the clock only to realize he had done so on fourth down and had not gained enough to get the first down. And that was the end of the game. SO BAD!

One last fact worth mentioning when speaking of the bad in ACC football this season has to do with the North Carolina Tar Heels. They were actually a pretty good team this season with a top 20 defense. But somehow the Tar Heels managed to only grab one interception (as a team) during the entire season. For most of the season, it looked like they might make history and not end up with any interceptions at all. That one interception came against The Citadel, too, so it wasn’t even all that impressive. What gives, Tar Heels?

 

Even with these bad things I just mentioned, it stays clear that this was a mostly good season for ACC football. Only three teams in the entire conference weren’t bowl eligible. Then, the ACC won eight of its eleven bowl games, not including the National Championship Game. Dabo Swinney took down Nick Saban in that one. I’d say that’s good—especially for a basketball conference.

You can email Kristen at kristen.botica@campuspressbox.com and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Photo from Flickr user Jason A G.

Belk Bowl – ACC Looks for Validation Against the SEC

If you live outside of SEC country there is always a lively debate about which college football conference is the best in the land. If you live in the SEC footprint, there is no debate, and there hasn’t been for decades. If you are a college football fan living in ACC country, your situation is unique. A bit of a poser.

There is no doubt that the ACC is not the best football conference in the land. Fans could credibly argue that the ACC has been the least powerful of the “power 5” conferences since such an alignment came to be. However, the ACC has a couple of programs that can frequently play with the nation’s best in Clemson and Florida State. The ACC also has a few wannabe programs that want to win against the big boys of college football, but just can’t get over that hump. These programs (Belk bowl participant Virginia Tech among them) can usually hang tough with the nation’s best for about a half. Then the disparity in the depth of the talent starts to show.

The Hokies have played well for 30 minutes against the SEC elites when Virginia Tech was close to the top of their game. These crusades into the deep end of the college football swimming pool always end badly for Virginia Tech and by association, the ACC. Maybe the Hokies just don’t have the national recruiting reach. Maybe their recruiting footprint is not as stocked with talent as the SEC. Maybe they don’t have enough bagmen.

The Belk Bowl that pits the Arkansas Razorbacks (7-5) against the Virginia Tech Hokies (9-4) will be another chance for the ACC to prove, not that it is the best football conference in the land, but that it is a respectable conference and that it’s best can win against all comers.

The Razorbacks, like the Hokies, had an up-and-down season. They had big wins against Florida and Ole Miss, but ended the year with an embarrassing loss against pseudo-SEC rival Missouri. The fact that Mizzou got an invitation to the SEC rankles a lot of the HokieNation who feel they have earned an invitation into the best football conference in the land (despite all evidence to the contrary). The Hogs move the ball well on the ground behind the duo of Rawleigh Williams & Devwah Whaley, but they also give up ground in big chunks on defense. The Razorbacks will need both success on the ground and a strong performance from QB Austin Allen to keep Bud Foster’s defense off balance. If the Hogs become one-dimensional, the Hokies defense can thrive.

All of that said, the success or failure of the Hokies boils down to the play of JUCO transfer QB Jerod Evans. If Evans plays well, the Hokies can win this game convincingly. The receiver trio of Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges, and Cam Phillips is as good as any in the country. The Hokie’s running game has been by committee but led by QB Evans. If Evans is on target throwing and runs enough to open things up for the running back committee, VT will score enough points to win the Belk Bowl.

However, the Gobbler’s margin for error is thin. The Hogs are well tested and have passed more tough exams than the Hokies took all season. Arkansas played 7 ranked teams in 2016, beating 3 of them. From October 8th through November 12th, the Razorbacks played 5 ranked teams in a row. The Hokies didn’t play 5 ranked teams the entire year.

So the question comes full circle. Toss the stats and the injury reports aside. Is the second place team in the ACC good enough to beat a run-of-the-mill SEC team? The Hokies lost the ACC title game to the playoff-bound Clemson Tigers in a close match that may have been the best performance of the season by the Hokies. The Razorbacks were never in the conversation to make the SEC title game. Not in the pre-season prognostications nor as the season progressed.

Those in SEC country would tell you this game is a walk for the Hogs. They have played by far the better schedule. They have SEC talent that beat more ranked teams than the Hokies played all year. That feeling may be the best asset the Hokies have going for them. If I know the Hokies, they will show up with a chip on their shoulder, already having lost to the SEC once this season in the Bristol Bowl. If Arkansas comes to Charlotte expecting to steamroll an ACC wannabe, they are going to be in for a long night. If they treat this game like an SEC matchup against Florida or Ole Miss they should return to the land of plentiful duck hunting with a win.

This game boils down to who wants it the most. Given that Arkansas spent their season playing ‘Bama, LSU, Florida, & TCU just to name a few and the Hokies spent their season playing Duke, Virginia, and ECU, I give the “want to” edge to the Hokies. I think that is what makes the difference in this game and I’ll give the edge to the Hokies to win in Charlotte.

 

E-mail David at david [dot] rayner [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Photo: Wikipedia

Gator Defense Will Silence Austin Allen and Company

It’s Friday, and that means it’s time for another smackdown. Interestingly enough, I have only written one of these in favor of my Florida Gators. But fear not, because this week it’s time for another one.

The Gators beat the Georgia Bulldogs last weekend in the annual World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. While the offense may have been lackluster as always, the defense was scary good.

This weekend Florida travels to Fayetteville to play the Arkansas Razorbacks. The last time the Gators traveled to Arkansas was during the Meyer era, and they won that game by 31 points.

Overall, the Gators boast a 9-1 record over the Razorbacks. And after this weekend I fully expect that record to improve to 10-1.

It’s not that the Razorbacks can’t beat the Gators. It’s just that they won’t.

The season was actually going pretty well for Arkansas just a few weeks ago. It had only lost two games to two very good teams, and not by completely ridiculous margins. Then the Razorbacks traveled to Auburn and got absolutely blown out by the Tigers. They lost 56-3. Yes, that means it was a 53-point loss. Now that is an example of a completely ridiculous margin.

While Auburn is good, there’s no way the Tigers are that good. That’s the kind of score you expect when a major FBS team is playing some tiny FCS team. That’s not the kind of score you expect in conference play.

Arkansas did have two turnovers to Auburn’s none. But what really hurt most is its 215 totally yards on offense to Auburn’s 632.

No, Florida’s offense will probably not put up 632 yards (I can only dream of the day when it does). Actually, the Florida offense only had 231 yards in the win over Georgia. But after holding Georgia’s offense to 164 yards, that was more than enough for the Gators.

Arkansas may have an offense significantly better than that of Georgia. But it also has a defense that is much worse than Georgia’s. And because of that, this matchup favors the Gators.

My favorite game-predicting statistic, the ESPN FPI Matchup Rater, gives the Gators a 65.2% chance of winning this game. But if we dive deeper into the numbers from this season, you’ll see why the Gators are favored (and rightfully so).

The Razorbacks are averaging 30.9 points per game on offense but giving up an average of 31.4. They are gaining an average of 416.8 yards each game but allowing an average of 428.0. Furthermore, the Razorbacks average 256.4 passing yards per game while giving up an average of 206.3. And as far as rushing yards go, they average 160.4 yards per game but give up 221.8.

The Gators are averaging 29.4 points each game and only giving up an average of 11.7. They gain an average of 398.6 yards per game but only allow an average of 239.9. The Gators average 228.4 yards per game in the air but allow an average of only 134.3. They gain an average of 170.1 yards on the ground while allowing an average of only 105.6.

I’ll let all that sit for a minute. Read it again if you must.

But if you look at these numbers you’ll see an interesting pattern, a pattern that results in more W’s for the Gators and more L’s for the Razorbacks. The Gators put up more points and gain more yards than they allow. The Razorbacks put up fewer points and allow more yards than they gain, with the only exception being passing yards.

That one exception could be very significant in many games. But when you’re playing the Gators, you really can’t rely on success in the passing game. The Gators have a borderline erotic defense. Maybe even just erotic.

They have an incredibly strong defensive line, especially when the linemen are all healthy. They boast one of the best linebackers in the country in Jarrad Davis. The Gators also have Marcus Maye, who you really don’t want to throw the ball anywhere near, at safety. Not to mention they have the best cornerback duo in all of college football this season, Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor.

It comes down to this: Austin Allen is good. But he, along with the Arkansas O-line, should prove to be no match for this Gator defense. As long as this defense performs the way it has been for most of the season, the Razorbacks will end up on their knees begging for mercy, much like Bret Bielema in this lovely clip from a Hog Walk.

And just because I can’t talk about Arkansas without mentioning its first game of the season, let’s not forget that Arkansas almost lost to Louisiana Tech. No, the Gators didn’t blow out UMass, but they didn’t only win by a single point. So there’s that.

Go Gators! It’s only natural for gators to annihilate hogs anyways.

 

Email Kristen at kristen.botica@campuspressbox.com and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Bryan McDonald, Flickr

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The SEC West is Wide Open

After Alabama’s convincing, 33-14 victory over Texas A&M last weekend, the SEC West race looks all-but-over.  At times the Crimson Tide look like a tank on its way to a National Title, obliterating anyone and anything that gets in its way.

However, there are currently three SEC West teams with only one loss, and Nick Saban and his team of annihilators have four games left.  Two of those games are against those one-loss teams, and if they do lose one, then what?

LSU and Auburn, the two mentionable teams on Alabama’s schedule, definitely have an outside chance at stealing a conference crown away from the Tide.  Alabama is absolutely the favorite, but don’t put too much money on it.

My prediction of the final SEC West standings has each team in the same order as they are in right now:

Alabama- 12-0, 8-0 SEC

Texas A&M- 10-2, 6-2 SEC

Auburn- 9-3, 6-2 SEC

LSU- 8-3, 6-2 SEC

Arkansas 8-4, 4-4 SEC

Ole Miss- 6-6, 3-5 SEC

Mississippi State- 3-9, 1-7 SEC

 

Here is why LSU and Auburn each have a massive chance to shake things up:

 

LSU

The Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa in two weeks for their annual matchup with Alabama.  A win would put LSU in the driver’s seat to win the west, but the Tigers would still have a match-up with Texas A&M on the final day of the regular season. Beating Alabama and winning out would give LSU the tie-breaker over Alabama, but they would need the Crimson Tide to beat Auburn.  Gus Malzahn and his Auburn Tigers beat LSU at the beginning of the season, giving Auburn a tie-breaker over LSU if they both end the season with one SEC loss.

LSU and Alabama are very similar teams, defensively.  Alabama is the second best team in the conference in total yards given up, while LSU is third.  Alabama has given up the fewest rushing yards per game with LSU right behind them in second place, and the two are only separated by five yards in the passing yards per game category.

Offensively, Leonard Fournette is going to be the best running back the Alabama defense has faced all season.  Fournette averages 8.1 yards per carry, and 3.1 defensive backs destroyed per game.  When he needs a rest, Derrius Guice provides nearly identical relief, averaging 8.0 yards per carry.

Alabama should absolutely win this game, but don’t be shocked if LSU comes out on top.

 

Auburn

Auburn has shown shades of brilliance this season, especially after trouncing Arkansas 56-3 over the weekend.  The Tigers hung with Clemson week one, ultimately losing 19-13.  They have to get past Ole Miss and Georgia, both tough road tests, before meeting Alabama in the final week of the season.  As mentioned, a win in Tuscaloosa would give Auburn the tie-breaker between the two schools, but the Tigers will need help.

Texas A&M currently holds a tie-breaker over Auburn, meaning the Tigers would need New Mexico State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas San-Antonio, or LSU to beat the Aggies during the last five weeks of the season.

Auburn has given up the fourth-fewest points per game in the SEC this season, displaying consistency in stopping the run and the pass.  They rank third in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game and fifth in rushing.

Offensively, the Tigers are very impressive. Auburn leads the conference in rushing yards, averaging 303 yards per game.  The Tigers are led by Kamryn Pettway (5.9 yards per carry, 6 touchdowns) and Kerryon Johnson (5.1 yards per carry, six touchdowns).  While the combo may not be as dynamic as Fournette and Guice for LSU, the combination of speed and strength Pettway and Johnson possess has proven to wear down defenses.

To complement the rushing game, Auburn turns to sophomore quarterback Sean White to help mix things up in the passing game. White, while not the focal point of the Auburn offense, is a great decision maker and has done a nice job leading the offense.  He averages 180.5 yards and a touchdown per game, and he’s only thrown two interceptions this season.

When it’s all said and done, though, you can generally throw statistics out of the window during the biggest college football rivalry game of the year.  Alabama has dominated the Iron Bowl in the last eight years, but in 2013, the last time the Tigers beat the Tide, Auburn was a 10-point underdog.

 

A&M’s Chances Are Slim

Texas A&M needs to win the remainder of its games, including the season finale against LSU, and it needs Alabama to lose two conference games. It seems highly unlikely that Alabama, the best team in the country, will lose to both LSU and Auburn.  I also don’t anticipate A&M beating LSU, even if they are playing in College Station.

However, if A&M does win out, but Auburn ends up being the only team to beat Alabama, things get very complicated.  Alabama will have beaten A&M, A&M will have beaten Auburn, and Auburn will have beaten Alabama. Here is an in-depth look at tie-breakers.

 

So there you have it. The SEC West race is all-but-settled.  Alabama controls its own destiny, but LSU and Auburn will each have an opportunity to change that.

Buckle up.

 

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @skilliter.

 

Photo: Flickr, Connor Tarter

Beating Bret Bielema

Auburn and Arkansas have only been playing football against each other since 1992 when Arkansas joined the Southeastern Conference. There was the Liberty Bowl of 1984, when the Tigers, behind game MVP Bo Jackson, trounced the Razorbacks, 21-15. But that was the only meeting between the two prior to the SEC’s expansion, which also included South Carolina.

As a side note, there was a freshman walk-on wide receiver on that 1984 Hawg team by the name of Gus Malzahn.

Auburn leads the series with 13 wins to Arky’s 11. There has been one tie, 24-24. That occurred in the 1992 game in Auburn. Coincidentally, Bo Jackson’s number 34 jersey was retired that day.

We now find ourselves, in the year 2016, with Arkansas native Gus Malzahn serving as the head ball coach (a nod to Steve Spurrier) at Auburn and a brash Bret Bielema at the helm in Fayetteville.

Bielema is also the focal point of a mini web television program, Being Bret Bielema.

Good for Bert (as we often refer to him here in the friendly confines of Campus Pressbox).

Our own Seth Merenbloom is particularly fond of the Bert moniker.

Seth is also sadly off base with his prediction on this game. He, mistakenly, has picked the Razorbacks to come out victorious in Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday night.

https://soundcloud.com/fourlightsfm/the-sec-411-61-alabama-just-keeps-rollin

Sorry Seth, it ain’t happening.

And with that, I welcome you to my own take, on the game, in my first installation of Beating Bret Bielema.

Auburn will defeat Arkansas, and here is how they will do it. This will be a complete team victory in the three vital areas of a football game: offense, defense, and special teams.

Let us proceed.

OFFENSE

Arkansas has given up points by the dozen in conference play and Saturday will be no exception. Auburn will be able to establish great balance between the running and passing games, and should join its fellow SEC brethren who have piled up both points and yardage on the visitors.

Click here for a glimpse at the Tigers’ now highly potent O.

We move on to our next phase of the game…

DEFENSE

I wrote an article before this football season that spoke to how Auburn would be much improved in 2016 and that it would begin with defense.

That has been the case, thus far, this year.

Check out what Wesley Sinor of AL.com has to say about the defense’s challenge to thwart Hawg quarterback Austin Allen.

And now…

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams have also been a key to Auburn’s success as it rides an impressive three game winning streak, and placekicker Daniel Carlson has been a big reason for that success.

This column from the USA Today speaks to the junior All-American’s remarkable level of play.

Auburn is coming off a bye week. It is well-rested. It is playing with great confidence and swagger. And it is playing very loose and having a lot of fun.

Expect that attitude to continue in this upcoming game.

Arkansas has played seven straight games without a bye week. It’s last two opponents have been two strong teams from the SEC West, Alabama and Ole Miss.

It was fortunate to come from behind to beat Ole Miss but it took a whuppin’, both on the scoreboard and on the field, against the Crimson Tide, the best team in the nation.

The odds makers like this Auburn team as well.

The Tigers opened in Vegas as an eight-point favorite. That line has now risen to 10. It could climb even higher before enough people begin to put down some money on the Razorbacks.

10 points won’t do. If I were a gambling man, I would take Auburn, minus 10, in a heartbeat.

I would take Auburn minus 16 in a heartbeat.

Take that, Seth! And welcome to this episode of Beating Bret Bielema.

Auburn 34, Arkansas 17.

 

E-mail Bird at  or follow him on Twitter@Autull