Tag Archives: Auburn Tigers

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.”

Curb Your Enthusiasm For Gus Malzahn And The Auburn Tigers

Hello there SEC football fans. Do you have a few minutes? It’s the off-season so I know you do. Let’s talk about Auburn and how overrated the Tigers are going into this season.

Everything that Tom Fornelli wrote about Auburn being overrated is correct. Like Fornellli stated, since winning the national championship in 2013, Auburn has an overall record of 23-16. Auburn’s record in SEC play in that same time period is 11-13. Not good. Not good at all. So after Malzahn’s first year at Auburn, the Tigers have failed to win double digit games.

Now before all of the Auburn fans reading this go completely bonkers on me, I do believe that Auburn is going to be good this year. My primary reason for believing this is due to the addition of Jarrett Stidham at quarterback.

But, and you knew there would be a “but,” I don’t trust Malzahn. Malzahn isn’t a coach that I can trust at the present time based on his track record that has previously been discussed. It’s also difficult to put my faith in any coach who coaches in the SEC West who isn’t named Saban. And third, and this is the biggest reason for my lack of faith in Auburn this season, is the psyche of the team.

No, I’m not a trained counselor and I can’t remember the last time that I stayed at a Holiday Inn. But I don’t have faith in the psyche of the team because they have to know that they are playing for Malzahn’s job this year.

An Auburn coach doesn’t average 7.6 wins over the past three seasons and possess job security. Malzahn is on the hot seat in 2017. I know it. You know it. And his team knows it. And with some big name coaches currently sitting the 2017 season out – I’m looking at you Chip Kelly and Bob Stoops – the incentive to make a bold move as soon as possible will be on the minds of administrators at a few schools. Just look at the SEC alone. Auburn, Tennessee, and Texas A&M are all believed to have coaches who are on thin ice. You wouldn’t want to be the odd program out if coaches of that caliber wouldn’t even listen to your pitch.

The schedule for Auburn isn’t great, but it’s not bad. I’m going to ignore that September 9 game at Clemson. Win or lose, it’s a non-conference game. The Tigers can lose that game and still win the SEC. That game has no bearing on Auburn’s playoff hopes. That September 23 game at Missouri will be a big one for Malzahn and his team. For starters, they have to win that game. Second, they have to win that game by a lot. If they squeak out a win in Columbia, MO., the confidence that Auburn fans have in their Tigers will be shaky. Lose that game and Malzahn should contact his real estate agent about placing his house on the market.

Circle three dates on your schedule if you’re an Auburn fan; October 14, October 21, and November 4. The Tigers play road games at LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. Lose any of those games and any hope of winning the SEC West is arguably out the door. If that winds up being the case, that season ending Iron Bowl will be for nothing more than bragging rights.

There’s a lot on the line for Auburn in 2017. The Tigers are talented and have a reasonable schedule. But I don’t trust them to win the SEC West.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It’s Time to Play the College Football Version of Would You Rather?

Summer is officially here which means only a few more months until football games so what better way to celebrate this than to have a couple of Would You Rather? questions to ponder regarding college football.

Would you rather lose in a blowout or in the final seconds?

For me, I would rather lose in a blowout than lose a very evenly matched game in the final seconds. When you’re down by a significant margin, the sting of defeat is much easier to come to terms with and accept because you have no shot at winning. Yes, it’s completely embarrassing for any program to lose by over 30 points and the level of respect your opponents and onlookers have for you drops but in the grand scheme of everything, people often forget about those blowouts. The games are often forgettable letdowns as there is little to no drama, competition or excitement. For example, in the 2014 Big Ten championship, Wisconsin, who was favored by 4.5 points and I predicted would win, was dismantled by Ohio State 59-0. Yes, the painful memory still lingers but to be honest, I often forget about that loss since it was over before it even started. I was able to get over it much easier than one particular game that took place in 2011 for my beloved Badgers.

Wisconsin (No. 6 BCS, No. 4 AP) invaded East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans (No. 16, No. 15) for a Saturday primetime matchup on October 22nd and it was a tense, back-and-forth contest with multiple lead changes. In the fourth quarter, Michigan State’s lead ballooned to 31-17 but with 1:26 remaining, Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson tied the game 31-31 with a two-yard touchdown pass to running back Montee Ball. It appeared the game would head to overtime but on a last-second Hail Mary pass, Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousin’s desperation heave deflected off receiver B.J. Cunningham’s helmet and into the hands of Keith Nichol, who lunged forward, fighting off two defenders just enough to cross the goal-line for the game-winning score. The reason this one was so painful was the fact that Wisconsin was ranked so high and whispers of a national championship run were being floated around. Now, the game was tied and was headed into overtime so we still could’ve lost but to have those title aspirations erased that suddenly was mind-numbing.

The problem with losing in the final seconds is there is this tremendous amount of hope that your team can pull it out and the agony of having that hope ripped away in such a dramatic, mind-blowing matter is much more devastating. Just the thought of these athletes putting everything on the line and getting all the way to the finish line only to fall just short is the epitome of heartbreak and these losses are much harder to forget.

Would you rather attend a college or NFL football game?

It’s the age-old question that nearly every football fan must answer at some point in their lifetime but for me, I would rather attend a college football game than an NFL game. The first reason is that nothing can replace the lore, pageantry, and tradition that so many college programs have that distinguish them from their competitors. Tailgating at The Grove at Ole Miss, the Ohio State marching band forming its famous “Script Ohio” formation, the War Eagle taking flight at Auburn, the Sooner Schooner at Oklahoma or Clemson players touching Howard’s Rock as they enter. These are things you don’t see happen anywhere else. In addition to the special traditions, think about all the unique and historic venues these programs play in from the Big House, the Swamp, the Horseshoe, the two Death Valleys and the Coliseum. Most of the NFL stadiums are rather bland, corporate, and ordinary. Also, I can’t think of any NFL rivalry that can compare with how passionate and emotional college football’s premier rivalries are such as Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, Texas-Oklahoma.

Second, there’s something for everyone. You can see dozens of different offenses and formations like the triple option, spread, pro-style, wishbones, and flexbones whereas the NFL mostly runs variations of the West Coast offense. You can also witness players being utilized like Swiss Army knives, playing multiple positions.

College football has better rules such as players needing only one foot down inbounds to complete a catch and having pass interference be a consistent 15-yard penalty. My favorite is overtime actually gives each team an equal opportunity to possess the ball whereas the team that wins the coin toss in the NFL has a huge advantage and usually wins the game as we saw in this past year’s Super Bowl with the Patriots.

Finally, the NFL boasts that it has more parity than college and any team can win on any given Sunday, adding an element of unpredictability but a balanced league means a dearth of underdogs and few epic David overcoming Goliath storylines. It also means there is no chance for the elation that comes with an odds-defying win, the type of thrill that leads thousands to storm the field and celebrate together. When a team scores a game-winning touchdown on a Hail Mary, it’s even more exciting than when the same thing happens in the pros because there are fewer games in college, four times as many teams and losing even one game can completely ruin a season. That means that every play carries more weight than they do in the pros.

These are just a few reasons why I prefer college over pros and I’m sure you can definitely think of more. Summer is great but Saturdays aren’t the same without football.

E-mail Mike at  or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Image courtesy of flickr user Virtual Eyesee

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!

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’s First Spring Practices Headlined by Quarterback Questions

For each of the first five SEC football teams to start spring practice, one of the most interesting storylines is at quarterback. Maybe it’s a wide-open battle for the starting position or maybe it’s seeing how one player has progressed since last season.

In an attempt to finally truly embrace spring practice for the drama it can bring, I’m going to discuss the SEC quarterbacks we’ve already got our eyes on in spring practices. SEC quarterbacks haven’t been known to impress much lately (Dak Prescott aside). Hopefully this spring will help get our SEC quarterbacks off to a much better start for the 2017 season.

And let me be clear: These are not the only five SEC schools with intriguing quarterback predicaments. But all of these five schools that started practice before the beginning of March definitely do have this much in common.

South Carolina was the first team to commence its spring practices. To most, the question of who will start at quarterback had already been answered. Brandon McIlwain may have started the first few games last season, but Jake Bentley took over soon after. Bentley finished the season on a high note with his Birmingham Bowl performance.

Bentley’s hard work in the offseason has impressed head coach Will Muschamp. But in true Muschamp fashion, the coach had been saying Brandon McIlwain was still battling with Bentley for that starting position. As of March 1st, though, McIlwain has decided to transfer from South Carolina. That means that, barring injury or suspension, Bentley will be the starting quarterback for the Gamecocks. Bentley’s progression will still be something to watch this spring, though.

Vanderbilt was the next team to begin its spring practices. Vanderbilt, like South Carolina, doesn’t have a true quarterback battle. In fact, one of Vanderbilt’s quarterbacks won’t even be returning this season. Wade Freebeck, who occasionally started for the Commodores, has chosen to pursue the option to transfer to another school.

The starting job is then almost definitely left to Kyle Shurmur. To say the least, Shurmur was inconsistent last season. He’ll have a lot of work to do to cement his starting role with a few other quarterbacks waiting in the wings, especially freshman Deuce Wallace. Head coach Derek Mason seemed very excited about signing Wallace, and that may not bode well in the long run for Shurmur.

Auburn began its spring practice on the last day of February. Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham took reps with the first-team offense, which is an early indication that Auburn coaches have really opened up the quarterback competition. Sean White, the incumbent starter, had to sit out due to injury. Redshirt freshman Woody Barrett led the second-team offense. Last season’s backup, John Franklin III split reps between special teams and quarterback.

The biggest question remaining seems to be where Sean White will fit into this competition when he returns from his injury. Will he bump Jarrett Stidham to the second-team offense and retake his starting job? Or will Jarrett Stidham impress enough in spring practices to keep the starting job for now? And what about Barrett and Franklin? Will all four guys stick around for the season with so much competition for that starting position? This will easily be one of the most interesting quarterback races to watch this offseason.

Florida also began its spring practices on the 28th of February. And once again, the Gators are looking for someone to step up and claim the starting quarterback job. This seems to be a common theme for Florida lately. And heading into spring practice, the theme looks to be holding strong for yet another season.

The starting quarterback from the beginning of last season, Luke Del Rio, is sidelined after a shoulder surgery. That means redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask have a great opportunity to take the lead in the quarterback competition this spring. On Tuesday, Franks took snaps as the first-team quarterback. Many of those present commented on how improved his throwing motion was. Kyle Trask also took snaps at quarterback along with early enrollee “athlete” Kadarius Toney. Even after his injury is healed, I definitely don’t see Del Rio beating out all three players to regain his starting position. But Gator fans will undoubtedly be watching the quarterback competition closely this spring.

Ole Miss began its spring practices on Tuesday as well. The Rebels have their starting quarterback all but chosen for next season already. But there are still questions that Ole Miss fans will have about their quarterback this spring. Shea Patterson was originally going to observe Chad Kelly in all his glory last season but got thrown into the mix when Kelly tore his ACL. Patterson debuted well but the offense was inconsistent under his lead and the season went down the drain.

Patterson had taken very limited reps before being thrown into the game so the inconsistency is somewhat understandable. But will he become more consistent as he takes more reps with the team? And better yet, how will he respond to Coach Longo’s fast-paced offense? Patterson already had a lot to learn but will learning a new coach’s system prove to be too much? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions yet, but I suspect Ole Miss fans will be watching Patterson very closely through spring practices. After all, how can he live up to THE “Swag” Kelly?

E-mail Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Featured photo courtesy of Gainesville Apartments.