All posts by Bird LeCroy

Pondering and Power Rating the SEC

It took me a few days to muster up my enthusiasm for college football after the brutal, inexcusable loss in Baton Rouge, and now I am actually now looking forward to the games this weekend. With that, here are my power ratings on the SEC.

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. Texas A&M
  4. LSU
  5. Auburn
  6. Kentucky
  7. South Carolina
  8. Florida
  9. Miss State
  10. Ole Miss
  11. Arkansas
  12. Tennessee
  13. Vanderbilt
  14. Missouri

Auburn has a better football team than LSU, but LSU deserves to be rated ahead of AU by virtue of its win on Saturday. That could right itself by season’s end. The Bayou Bengals could have a big letdown this coming Saturday at Ole Miss, and the Rebels had to gain some confidence by whipping Vandy. The bottom 4 teams are utterly miserable, at this point, but Auburn better watch out for Arkansas. The Tigers are beat up and have to be a bit demoralized after the loss to LSU. We’ll see what they’re made of Saturday.

Bama continues to dominate, but Georgia is for real and both teams could be undefeated entering the SEC Championship game. The Bulldogs’ schedule certainly is not daunting although there are some potential pitfalls on there, especially Auburn at Auburn and Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Texas A&M is a sleeper and has an opportunity to make some noise before it’s all said and done. Watch out for the Aggies.

“Butch Jones is probably coaching his last game as head man of the Vols.”

Kentucky? If it can get by Mississippi State, in Starkville, that could be a springboard to a very good season. The Wildcats could even make a New Year’s Day bowl game.

Conversely, if State beats Kentucky its record would be 5-2 and the Bulldogs might be poised for a run in its last 5 games. Games with Texas A&M and Alabama would loom large. The fact-of-the-matter is, State will not beat Alabama and it is doubtful to come home with a win in College Station. But win the others and that would put them at an impressive 8-4.

Cock-a-doodle-do! South Carolina is also sporting a 5-2 record and don’t forget that one of those wins came against a very good North Carolina State team. Georgia, Florida and Clemson are huge obstacles to a sterling season in Columbia.

Over in the other Columbia, the Missouri Tigers are truly stinking the woods up with a 1-5 record at its halfway point in 2017. There are a few potential wins left on the Tigers’ slate, most notably this Saturday versus Idaho and the following weekend at UConn. But Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas are winnable games for Mizzou.

Florida is a mediocre 4-3 and facing an almost certain loss to Georgia in that heated rivalry. Missouri, South Carolina, UAB, and Florida State conclude the Gators schedule and those games are all possible wins or losses. Don’t laugh at the possibility of a UAB victory in The Swamp. Bill Clark has the Blazers playing remarkably good football, especially when one considers that this team hadn’t played a game in two years before the 2017 campaign began.

We haven’t even mentioned Tennessee except by name. I don’t know if ‘dumpster fire’ is even an adequate description for what is taking place up on Rocky Top. But, historically, November has been the month when the Vols really tend to make hay. But Alabama might beat them mercilessly on this Third Saturday in October and that could complete the demoralization process in Knoxville. Butch Jones is probably coaching his last game as head man of the Vols.

After a 3-0 start the Vanderbilt Commodores have lost 4 straight games and are headed south with a bullet. The schedule is doable (South Carolina, Western Kentucky, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee) but it will have to pick up the pace to make a bowl game.

That’s my take on the Southeastern Conference here and today. A lot of football remains to be played and who knows what portends as we look down the stretch of the 2017 college football season. Good luck to you and your favorite teams!

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E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Image via Flickr/getmahesh

Auburn, Adidas and the FBI

It is a sad and sobering day. I have always been one who wants to believe that when someone talks to you they will tell you the truth, do the right thing, be honest and forthcoming. I still want to be able to do this, badly, but my innocence (or naiveté), has, once again, taken a major hit.

I am growing weary.

As I was sifting through different topics and stories on the morning of the day this column was written, the Adidas/Bribery/FBI scandal story broke. And there sits Auburn, right smack dab in the middle of it.

Really?

And this is, most assuredly, the tip of the iceberg. Oklahoma State, Southern Cal, and Arizona also had assistant coaches charged. The Auburn assistant coach involved is Tiger legend, Chuck Person.

It’s the same old story, umpteenth verse. Greed, corruption, arrogance, and pride. This reads like a tragedy of Greek proportions.

When will we ever learn? Can we not take the failures and flaws of such stories, past and present, apply them to our lives, and do better? Apparently not. From time immemorial, this has been the case. We haven’t learned a confounded thing, it seems.

From Cain and Abel to Jacob and Esau to Samson to King David, and right on through the crucifixion of Jesus, the Bible tells tale after tale of man’s tragic fall again and again and again.

Yes, from day one the selfish desires of hugely flawed humanity have been paraded before us in every conceivable manner, from pulp fiction to the holy writ.

“It’s the same old story, umpteenth verse. Greed, corruption, arrogance, pride. This reads like a tragedy of Greek proportions.”

“How long, oh Lord?” (Psalm 13), and also a favorite quote of the late, great Hunter S. Thompson. My answer? Today? For as long as there are homo sapiens roaming the highways and byways of good old planet earth.

We tend to fail. We tend to fail miserably. And we are usually undone by the works of our own hands. We are, all too often, more than willing accomplices. Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. The seven deadly sins, all on full display day after day, week after week, and year after year, illuminated in the news and gossip rags for all the world to see.

But what about redemption? Yes, that is the theme in many of these same biblical teachings, and it is, sometimes, the case in current tales of the fallen.

People screw up, and, unfortunately, often willingly. But people also redeem themselves. We can be a forgiving people, amazingly so, sometimes it seems. We just want those fallen, those guilty, those transgressors to come clean. We want them to be honest and straightforward. We want to forgive.

We also want our sports to be a place for escape, for joy, a place in which we can immerse ourselves and forget the travails that so closely surround and pound us on a daily basis. And yet, again, that place is tainted by the sights and sounds of another tale of the fallen, the lost, the prodigal.

There will be karma, people will reap what they sow. There will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. There will be long-lasting repercussions. Penalties will be meted out.

Yet in this modern morality tale, which is now unfolding in front of us, there is bound to come redemption. Where? Who? How? Why? When?

Corruption and redemption. The first part of that coupled pair is now playing out in front of us. I find myself already longing for the second part. Redemption.

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E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Auburn: It Hurts to Face Reality

Enough has been written and said about Auburn’s offensive woes Saturday night in Clemson. Congratulations Clemson! Auburn, put this one as far out of your mind as possible and look toward getting some clean, crisp execution for the coming game with Mercer.

This is a perfect opportunity to get well, score some points, and make some noise.

Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey moves up into the press box and offensive line coach, Herb Hand, will now work from the sideline.

Fine.

The Tigers need to win their next four games (Mercer, Missouri, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss) and they need to look good doing it. This can be done. It should be done. Auburn needs to be 5-1 as they make the trek to Baton Rouge with all of their goals still intact.

If Auburn were to accomplish this, and win in Red Stick for the first time since 1999, you really couldn’t ask for a whole lot more. I think that is probably where a goodly number of people expected Auburn to be at that juncture of the season.

Well and good.

But back to the business at hand. As I’ve stated on more than one occasion, Auburn has the talent, depth, and experience to win the SEC. One other attribute that I have mentioned on those occasions, along with the strengths above, is coaching. I thought Gus Malzahn had finally put together a staff, including both coordinators, that he was extremely comfortable with and one that could get the most out of his players. And win big.

That is no longer the case. I don’t know what to think any more. But, since the brutally deflating Texas A&M game of 2014 (won by the Aggies, 41-38), things have gone askew on the Plains. Auburn was ranked in the top four going into that game. It was coming off a huge, exciting win in Oxford against an Ole Miss team that was also ranked in the top four at the time.

And then? Welcome to hell. Since that A&M game, Malzahn’s Tigers have gone 17-16 (great score for a football game, but an achingly mediocre record for a football program of Auburn’s stature.) It’s record in conference play during that stretch is 7-12.

This won’t do.

I am typically a sunshine pumping, positive fan when I assess Auburn’s potential here in print or in conversation with others. The glass is not half full. It is full. Always. I understand how the reality of things work and what outcomes could possibly transpire, but I choose to, more often than not, side with the best case scenario.

That’s the way I operate in life itself. Positive pedal to the metal. No time for naysaying. Negativity be damned.

And then life, or football as a microcosm of life, happens and it takes a harsh turn, and one finds oneself quoting from a song penned by Robert Duvall for his brilliant, Oscar winning performance in Tender Mercies. “Because it hurts so much to face reality.”

The harsh light of reality now beams down harshly on the fortunes of Auburn football.

Auburn was picked, at SEC Media Days, to be the second best team in the Southeastern Conference. A few of those media members selected Auburn to win the SEC. I did in this space in late August. Of course I did. Auburn could yet fight its way to either of those spots, but that absolutely and unequivocally will not be the case if it continues to play as it has in the first two games of the 2017 season.

There is another song from Tender Mercies popularized by David Allan Coe. It is titled, If You’ll Hold the Ladder. Each verse concludes with the line, “And if you’ll just hold the ladder, baby, I’ll climb to the top.”

Gus, get this thing turned around. Our defense should be able to give us a chance to win any game we play. The offense is loaded with that talent, depth, and experience that I spoke of earlier.

Get everyone on the same page. Put them in the best position possible to win each game. Coach ‘em up! Hold the ladder!

For if you don’t, we Auburn fans will all be singing the song we so badly do not want to sing, It Hurts To Face Reality.

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E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

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!

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E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Auburn: No Need to Curb Your Enthusiasm

I just completed reading an article written by my friend, and co-host of the SEC 411 podcast, Seth Merenbloom. Seth is also an editor here at Campus Pressbox. I have a great deal of respect for his opinions on sports, in general, and on the SEC, in particular.

But I am going to have to part ways with my colleague on this one. He is of the opinion that Auburn is overrated. This piece from SEC Country deals with the Sports Illustrated prediction of Auburn as the number 10 team in the country. The column also mentions the Tigers as CBS Sports’ pick as number nine in the preseason.

The only poll we have at this point belongs to the coaches. Auburn ranks 13th there.

Let’s pause for a moment and reconsider the fact that all of this is merely talk, opinion, conjecture. Teams have begun practice all across the land but no one has played a single game just yet.

But talk is what we rabid fans do this time of year in the dog days of summer. The actual games begin on August 26th and the first game in the SEC, Florida A&M at Arkansas, follows on August 31st.

Back to Auburn and my take on the matter. I am with CBS Sports. I would put Auburn in the number nine slot. Also, I would precede my Tigers with 1. Clemson (I am of the old school opinion that the number one team from the previous year remains numero uno until/if they are defeated during the upcoming campaign. See September 9, Auburn at Clemson) 2. Alabama 3. Ohio State 4. Washington 5. Florida State 6. Penn State 7. Oklahoma 8. Southern Cal.

I would put Michigan at 10.

And I do my rankings based on how strong I foresee teams. I don’t take into account schedules, conferences, etc. I ask myself, “How good is this team in relation to the other teams in the FBS? How strong are they overall? What if this team played ‘X’ on a neutral field?”

Now, here is my reasoning on Auburn’s ranking as a top ten team.

Auburn returns seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, including its three top tacklers. Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams must be replaced but there is a ton of talent to go around on this surly defense.

Marlon Davidson is a beast and with help from the likes of Dontavius Russell, Derrick Brown, Tre Williams, Darrell Williams, DeShaun Davis, Carlton Davis and Tray Matthews, to name just a few, the D is stacked with top line SEC talent. There is also enough quality depth to make this unit as good or better than the 2016 group. And Kevin Steele is back as the coordinator. That’s big.

The offense should be lethal. We all know about Jarrett Stidham but the Tigers are three deep at quarterback with Sean White and Malik Willis. Running back? Loaded. Kamryn Pettway, Kerryon Johnson, Kam Martin, Malik Miller, and C.J Tolbert give Auburn a stable of horses second to none in the conference.

The offensive line is more talented and deep than it has been in years. Pat Dye thinks they have the potential to be as good as any since he began coaching at Auburn in 1981.

Wide receivers? Eli Stove, Darius Slayton, Nate Craig, Kyle Davis, Will Hastings, Ryan Davis, Marquis McClain and, now, John Franklin, will give Auburn very good talent and depth here.

Also, the tight end position should be much improved with Jalen Harris returning and transfer Sal Cannella, and his excellent hands, making this a position of strength.

Oh! Auburn has the best placekicker in the country in Daniel Carlson, as well.

The talent, experience, and depth is all in place down on the Plains. And, I think, Gus Malzahn has put together the complete and cohesive staff he has been looking for since he took over in 2013.

When you mix all of these ingredients together along with a great team chemistry and a hunger to win, I think you might be looking at a very special season down in the Loveliest Village.

I don’t think I can “Curb My Enthusiasm.”

Ramblin’ Around the SEC, Something’s Burning

Occasionally, I do a column on my personal website which I call Ramblin’. It’s a stream of consciousness, word association, hodge-podge type of thing on which I bemuse on any number of subjects. Today, we’re going to ramble around the SEC a bit. This one will be more organized and structured but it is ramblin’ nonetheless.

One topic of discussion that tends to circulate throughout college football, in the off-season, concerns coaches who are on the hot seat. Some of those coaches’ fannies are truly scorching, for others it’s just a matter of speculation on the part of the media and fans.

Here is my take on the SEC coaches who appear to be feeling the most heat, in no particular order.

Gus Malzahn

I’ll start with Gus because I’m an Auburn guy and his situation is, obviously, the most important to me. I do not believe Gus’ hiney is as hot as many might think. Now. But, if Auburn loses 4 or 5 games it probably will be; however, I don’t think that will be the case. The Tigers appear to me as the second best team in the conference and their record should, ultimately, reflect that.

Kevin Sumlin

 A similar situation to Malzahn. A&M needs to have a big year. Sumlin needs to break the pattern of winning his first 5 or 6 games and then crashing and burning in the second half of the season. The Aggies’ boss definitely needs to take care of business or climb down off of the porcelain throne.

Hugh Freeze

 Whether the Ole Miss powers-that-be or their fans like it or not, his rump is hot. How can it not be? Regardless of the Rebels’ on-the-field performance, their NCAA situation screams for someone to take the fall in Oxford. In the end, doesn’t that fall on the head coach?

Butch Jones

 In spite of being “Champions of Life” and having “Five Star Hearts”, the Tennessee Volunteers need to win a lot of football games. Talk is, indeed, cheap, especially when the product on the field consistently fails to meet expectations.

Bret Bielema, are you listening?

Onward to some talk about some actual football games. SEC Media Days is just around the corner, July 10-13, and polls will then begin to pop up everywhere. Speculation will be like wildfires spreading across the nation. And here in the Southland is where things seem to always burn with the greatest intensity.

Yeah! Let’s keep on with that hot theme!

Here are the ‘smokinest’ games in the SEC on opening weekend. Again, in no particular order.

Florida vs. Michigan

 Both teams will be ranked (Yes, I think Florida should and will be ranked). SEC vs. Big Ten. Gators and Wolverines. Jim vs. Jim. The flamboyant Harbaugh and the steady McElwain. Jerry World.

Alabama vs. Florida State

 The biggest one of the weekend. Two top five teams, at minimum. The ACC and the SEC. The Tide and the Noles. Hotlanta, GA. First college game at Mercedes-Benz stadium. Playoff preview?

Texas A&M vs. UCLA

 Two coaches on the hot seat. Huge for both teams. Rose Bowl. Bruins house. Prime Time. Sunday! Sunday! SUN-DAY!!! Be there!

Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech

Rocky Top and Ramblin’ Wreck. Great jump-start for someone. Mercedes-Benz, again. Hotlanta Deux. Jones and Johnson.

Disparate styles. A shootout?

Missouri vs. Missouri State

Just messin’ with ya!

And now, we might as well conclude with more hot topics or burning questions.

Will Alabama keep its playoff streak alive? Will Ole Miss be sanctioned into certain, long term mediocrity? Will Georgia win the East for the first time in five years? Will Coach “O” deliver? Will Vanderbilt go bowling again? Does anybody care? Will Muschamp?

All of this and more… later!

Sieging Atlanta Twice: Will the SEC Do It?

Whoa Nellie! We may not have Keith Jackson calling college football any longer, and that is a tragedy considering some of those whom we do have to endure as announcers today; however, the game is as popular as ever and the 2017 season is fast approaching.

Over the years we have seen multitudinous adjustments to the game that many of us hold so dear. Rules have been altered. We saw the implementation of the BCS. And three years ago brought about a dramatic change that we thought might never occur in our lifetime, a playoff for member schools of what is now known as the FBS.

Yes, things have changed dramatically but our passion for college football has not.

“I believe the winner of the Iron Bowl could very well win the SEC and represent the conference in the College Football Playoff.”

When I was growing up in Lower Alabama we, essentially, had one pre-season publication to rely on. That was Street and Smith’s College Football Yearbook, and the publication continues to hold a spot near to my heart. On its cover would be a brilliant color photo of one of the players who was considered to be one of the very best in the country for the upcoming season.

Auburn’s own Pat Sullivan graced the 1971 coveted spot and, indeed, did go on to win the Heisman trophy that season.

Back in 1971 there was no ESPN, Fox or CBS sports channels on television. You had your local news with a sports segment that lasted about 5 or 10 minutes. And I’m talking about those few minutes to cover all of sports, college and pro, football, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, et al.

And pre-season information? There is a bottomless pit of magazines, e-zines and dot com sites to gather info from. For purposes of this column I have chosen four magazines from which to draw the basis for my word to you today: Lindy’s, Athlon, The Sporting News, and yes, Street & Smith’s.

Phil Steele has not published his hard copy and that is the reason for it not being included in our ratings compilation.

What I have done, just as I did in the 2016 pre-season, is take these magazines’ ratings of SEC teams and average them into a consensus.

In alphabetical order:

Athlon has Alabama number one, Auburn nine, LSU 11, Georgia 15, Florida 16, and the Tennessee Vols 19.

Lindy’s also has Bama at one, Florida 15, Auburn 18, and LSU 11. Georgia and Tennessee are not to be found in the top 25 here.

Sporting News keeps the pattern of the Crimson Tide in the number one slot, Auburn is 10, LSU 13, Georgia 14, Florida 18, and Tennessee 23.

Finally, ol’ Street & Smith’s. Guess who’s numero uno? Yep, it’s the University of Alabama! LSU takes the 10 slot, Florida’s Gators are 13, Georgia is 14, Auburn is 16, and Tennessee 24.

And now your consensus SEC picks. Alabama 1; Auburn 13.25; LSU 13.75; Georgia 14; Florida 15, and Tennessee 22.

It is very interesting to note that no other SEC teams made any of these four publications’ top 25. Not one!

My humble opinion on this? Making Alabama tops in the SEC is a no-brainer. Why pick anyone else? In the entire country? That’s arguable. See Florida State, Ohio State, Washington, and, possibly, Southern Cal. Those seem to be the big dogs at this point in the discussion.

The rest of the SEC? I do like Auburn as number two in both the West and overall in the conference as a logical pick. What do I think will actually occur on the field? I believe the winner of the Iron Bowl could very well win the SEC and represent the conference in the College Football Playoff.

The East? Once again, this division could be won by default with it being a crapshoot between the three teams that are consensus picks in the magazines. I like Kentucky as a dark horse in the Easy. LSU will have a big say in the West.

But, currently, all of this is mere noise. Alabama and Florida State kick it off in 77 days. That’s when it gets real brothers and sisters. Buckle up! It should one heck of a ride!

March Madness – From Pistol Pete to a Magic Carpet Ride

I didn’t begin to grow my hair, longer than the crew cut I sported at the time, because of the influence of rock groups I listened to, like Steppenwolf and Cream, who were popular at the time. It was due to a basketball player who was my idol, “Pistol” Pete Maravich. I loved the way Pistol Pete’s shaggy brown hair flopped as he brought the ball up the court for his team, the LSU Tigers.

Freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity back in 1966, so Pete’s first year as a starter for the Bayou Bengals was the fall of 1967. And there were very few games that were televised back then, but when there was a game on television I was watching. I couldn’t wait for Saturday afternoons and the SEC game of the week.

I was also a sophomore on our high school’s team in ’67 (we didn’t have a varsity and junior varsity). We had an “A” team and a “B” team and I was on the “B” team.

The problem was, we had to cut our hair to play sports at Wilcox County High School in Camden, AL. I began to let mine grow in 1968 which was my second year on the “B” team (that team went 17-0 by the way). But come November and basketball practice, whack, we had to get that hair cut. Mine wasn’t trimmed short enough so I had to go back and get it snipped again. And friends, it wasn’t very long to begin with.

The fall of 1968 was also when I had my first kiss, my first taste of whiskey, and my first cigarette. I’ve since given up the cigarettes.

So those were heady days. And as the lyrics to the Grateful Dead’s Uncle John’s Band go, “Wo, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?”

It has now been 50 years since Pistol Pete Maravich was in his first varsity season down in Baton Rouge. I was fortunate to witness him play the first game in what became Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in Auburn on January 11, 1969. The home team Tigers won that game, 90-71. Sorry Pete.

And, it is noteworthy that LSU never made the NCAA Tournament during Maravich’s playing days. They did receive an invitation to the NIT his senior year.

March wasn’t exactly bursting with madness back in those days. In fact, there were only 23 teams in the NCAA Tournament. But, the UCLA Bruins were in the middle of a three-year title run under the tutelage of John Wooden and the leadership of their star center, Lew Alcindor, who was later to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Yes, it’s a long way from those 23 teams, from 50 years ago, to the field of 68 that we grapple with today, and there are 10 of the usual suspects (North Carolina, Princeton, West Virginia, Dayton, Virginia Tech, Kansas, Louisville, New Mexico State, SMU, and UCLA) in both sets of brackets.

But interest is at a fever pitch, in the year 2017, and we are all caught in the throes of what is now termed “March Madness.”

The “Sweet 16” will have begun play by the time you read this, and here is the way I see it shaking down.

In chronological order:

Sweet 16

Michigan over Oregon

Gonzaga over West Virginia

Kansas over Purdue

Arizona over Xavier

North Carolina over Butler

South Carolina (Welcome Cinderella!) over Baylor

UCLA over Kentucky

Wisconsin over Florida

 

Elite Eight

South Carolina over Wisconsin

Gonzaga over Arizona

Kansas over Michigan

UCLA over North Carolina

 

That leaves us with a Final Four of:

South Carolina vs. Gonzaga

Kansas vs. UCLA

 

So let’s fasten our seat belts as we approach the final turn on that magic carpet ride… ”March Madness.”

 

E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Auburn – Tiger Bites: Spring Has Sprung

Spring has sprung here in the Deep South, at least by temperatures and pollen counts, but I would certainly expect another cold snap or two before she gets here full throttle.

But spring is definitely here to stay by one standard that those of us who follow college football depend on. Spring practice.

Down on the Plains of East Alabama the Auburn Tigers have taken to the practice field. Tuesday, February 28th was the Tigers’ first day on the gridiron to begin preparations for the upcoming 2017 season.

Of note on that first day of practice, Sean White is not ready to practice yet due to the injury he suffered in the Sugar Bowl, a broken arm.

Head coach Gus Malzahn has turned over the reigns of the offense to new coordinator Chip Lindsey. I am of the opinion, and I am not alone on this, that Gus must follow through completely on that plan for Auburn to achieve its maximum potential. SEC Country’s Justin Ferguson reports on the matter.

That brings us to the player who will be the front and center of attention during spring drills, Jarrett Stidham. There will be enormous pressure on the signal caller to perform at a high level, a really high level, for the Tigers. As I stated on a recent SEC 411 podcast, harkening back to an old Reggie Jackson quote, “He will be the straw that stirs the drink.”

Here is what Kevin Scarbinsky, of AL.com had to say about that matter.

Scarbo is on point with that one. Sridham’s upside is tremendous and he has all-star potential, but… we shall see.

Yes, having a standout quarterback is the key to turning the engine of an offense but he has to have other skill players to which to distribute the ball.

Injuries have thrown a bit of a crimp into the talented young corps of wide receivers, this spring, and these young players will be needed in order for the passing game to hit on all eight. More form AL.com.

Talented players abound at the running back position. Brandon Marcello, of 247sports, gives us a quick preview of this position. What he does not mention, in this snippet, is the two very talented running backs Auburn signed in its 2017 class.

Both Devan Barrett and Alaric Williams are very talented and highly versatile athletes who could be a huge boost to the Tigers future fortunes.

Barrett played both ways for Tampa Catholic High School but will most likely shine, ultimately, as a running back. He’s a burner who can take it to the house in a heartbeat. Barrett averaged over 10 yards per carry and can take it both inside and outside.

Williams hails from Southside-Gadsden in Alabama. He is more of a bruiser and complements Barrett’s ability to pop the home run. Running back coach, Tim Horton, thinks he might be the strongest guy in auburn’s 2017 class.

The trenches and the defense? There’ll be time aplenty to talk about all of this throughout the spring, into the summer, and during the final countdown to fall camp.

Let’s shift gears.

As many Auburn fans know, the new oaks that were planted in February of 2015 have, unfortunately, had to be replaced again due to a fire set to one of them last fall after the LSU game. The official word from Auburn.

Another small bite. A-Day will take place on April 8th and the Tiger faithful will have an opportunity to get a look at the 2017 newcomers, the veterans, and yes, the new oaks.

Like I said in my last installment of Tiger Bites, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”

E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.