Tag Archives: Georgia

Ranking the SEC Bowl Games of Importance

The satisfaction of reaching a bowl game varies among programs across the SEC and college football. Having the luxury to virtually prepare for next season with a postseason game to foreshadow is how some teams may approach the bowl season as in Auburn, LSU and Tennessee returning its starting quarterbacks for next season with a talented enough roster to make an impact. Other teams like Arkansas and Mississippi State look to provide a proper send off to two of the nation’s most efficient passers along with a couple of other all-conference performers.

The once dominant SEC, yes I used that in the past tense, has taken a step down this season with underperformance and the lack of big quarterback play. The conference usually hangs its hat on its successful bowl showing and looks to capitalize on some favorable matchups heading into the new year. Making the conference look good is one thing, but individually some teams need a good showing to help boost the program’s image or to continue to ride its success. Here is the breakdown of which games I view are most important to the programs and teams individually regarding the current status of the team.

#10. Tax Slayer Bowl: Georgia vs. Penn State

With the departure of Mark Richt and the absence of eventual head coach Kirby Smart, this game is really just something to enjoy on your New Year’s Day hangover. The Bulldogs still without all-conference runner Nick Chubb can reach the 10-win mark for the fourth time in five seasons. But yet, Bulldog fans wanted Richt out and the demands were met. Welcome to college football, folks!

Game Details: Jan. 2 at Noon EST on ESPN // Jacksonville, FL // EverBank Field

#9. Citrus Bowl: Florida vs. Michigan

Frankly, just getting to a mid-tier bowl in his first season as head coach, Jim McElwain has already had a successful inaugural season in Gainesville. With quarterback issues and an inconsistent offense, not much is expected from this Gator squad on New Year’s Day. Amazingly making it to the SEC Championship Game with 10 wins, the Gators have already reached its peak this season and getting to 11 wins is just a luxury. Having that opportunity alone tells you what a fine job McElwain has done this season or the lack of a strong East division or a little bit of both.

Game Details: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. EST on ABC // Orlando, FL // Orlando Citrus Bowl

#8. Sugar Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma State

A pseudo fumble play essentially eliminated them from going to Atlanta for its first ever SEC title game appearance and the Rebels will settle for second place in the SEC with a Sugar Bowl berth. The game is important to many in the game but from an outsiders’ perspective the game will just be entertaining to watch as we know the program is in good hands with or without a win here. One thing is for certain though: NFL scouts will be aplenty.Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 5.14.13 PM

Game Details: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. EST on ESPN // New Orleans, LA // Mercedes Benz Super Dome

#7. Liberty Bowl: Arkansas vs. Kansas State

Having won its past two bowl games versus the Big 12, the Razorbacks are prone to having hot finishes as of late. The key to ending this game with a win is to carry the victory over to next season. Arkansas dominated a declining Texas squad a season ago, but failed to keep the momentum into the 2015 season. The importance of this game is to win, but to also deliver a bright spot to the 2016 season without Brandon Allen.

Game Details: Jan. 2 at 3:20 p.m. EST on ESPN // Memphis, TN // Liberty Bowl

#6. Belk Bowl: Mississippi State vs. NC State

Mississippi State was picked to finish last in the always highly competitive West division in the preseason and managed to come away with eight wins. Finding a way to get to eight wins was huge for this program and compliments Dan Mullen’s ability to hang in there with some of the top teams in the division. With Mullen’s name being tossed around for some coaching jobs it’s unsure to note how comfortable Mullen is staying in Starkville for a longer period of time. I’m guessing a win here sure would help. Oh, and we’ll miss you Dak!

Game Details: Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. EST on ESPN // Charlotte, NC // Bank of America Stadium

#5. Texas Bowl: LSU vs. Texas Tech

Pretty much having to “rehire” Les Miles as its head coach, LSU has the opportunity to get to nine wins in what has been a very interesting and lopsided season. With a win here, it gives LSU officials that doubted the direction of the program the chance to not say, “I told you so,” with a loss here motivating that comment. Regardless, LSU has the opportunity to capitalize on its impressive amount of bowl victories in its history currently at 23 wins.

Game Details: Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN // Houston, TX // NRG Stadium

#4. Outback Bowl: Tennessee vs. Northwestern

What more positive things can we say about this Tennessee program with Butch Jones? We’ve tried to embrace the new culture but the wins and intensity has yet to stick. Jones isn’t on his way out, but if an unattractive loss came to the Big Ten’s Vanderbilt, there will be some heavy heat on the program heading into 2016, but I don’t have to warn you about that happening.

Game Details: Jan. 1 at Noon EST on ESPN 2 // Tampa, FL // Raymond James Stadium

#3. Music City Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Louisville

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 5.29.28 PMThe offensive schemes in this matchup of Kevin Sumlin and Bobby Petrino are intriguing enough without whatever is going on in College Station at the moment. First off, the Aggies are going to have to find a quarterback to start the game and Sumlin will need to find a way to distract viewers and followers from the dark cloud looming over the campus. A win would of course help the rumors and exaggerations from spreading even further.

Game Details: Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN // Nashville, TN // Nissan Stadium

#2. Birmingham Bowl: Auburn vs. Memphis

The punishment of finishing with an underwhelming 6-6 record is a bus ride two hours up the road to take on the number one rated NFL draft quarterback Paxton Lynch (good luck with that). Gus Malzahn is 0-2 in bowl games at Auburn and both losses have come when failing to hold fourth quarter leads. Malzahn’s seat is getting warm and another bowl loss, even without much of a defensive staff, would be an extremely disappointing outcome and would create some murmurs throughout the fan base.

Game Details: Dec. 30 at Noon EST on ESPN // Birmingham, AL // Legion Field

#1. Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State

We knew Alabama would get here somehow to be the lone team to represent the SEC. The importance of this game falls on the shoulders of the SEC and the Alabama program itself. The SEC’s stance on this game is hoping to at least have Alabama win for a chance to win another national championship for the conference. As for Alabama, the loss to the later national champion Ohio State did not settle well in Tuscaloosa and if the Tide were going to drop another, I imagine there would be some uncomfortable feelings toward the football program.

Game Details: Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN // Dallas/Arlington, TX // AT&T Stadium

Started From the…and Now We’re Here

Disappointing and surprise seasons come due to the rankings the teams are knighted with in the preseason. Fair or not fair that’s how college sports roll. The season is almost half over and many fans have already started the “next year’s team” talks. On the other hand, hopes and aspirations are still alive for some of the higher caliber programs along with some of the surprise teams that have suddenly came out of their shell; at least for now they have. Comparing the preseason expectations and how they have performed this season I break down each SEC team to see how they have stacked up against their preseason accolades or premature dismissals.

Alabama Crimson Tide (Preseason Rank: #3; Current Rank: #8)

The preseason buzz that surrounded the Tide this preseason focused on the quarterback competition and not only who was going to be awarded the job but if that quarterback can sustain the always high-caliber Crimson Tide. Though the team already has one loss on its playoff résumé, the Tide look to be in good hands from here on out finding consistent play at quarterback with both sides of the ball looking sharp in Athens last weekend.

 Arkansas Razorbacks (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)

Arkansas came into the 2015 season similar to last season’s billing as looking the part but not showing its improvement on its record. Opposed to last season, this season’s version has not looked improved dropping some key non-conference games to Toledo and Arkansas and not looking good in either showdown. Bret Bielema has been a big talk guy but when is it time to walk the walk instead of just talk the talk? Time is running out.

Auburn Tigers (Preseason Rank: #6; Current Rank: NR)

One of the biggest letdowns in college football this season is the Auburn Tiger football team. Jeremy Johnson was in line to be the next big thing but has slipped out of the spotlight to find himself on the bench. The season has almost started anew with new quarterback Sean White and many defensive adjustments as the Tigers look to renew their once hyped 2015 season.

Florida Gators (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: #11)

Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Within the past ten years or so, first year head coaches have made immediate impacts at their respected school. With that said, the expectations for the Gators this season were not high as they were breaking in potentially a new starting quarterback with many personnel changes. Finding Florida ranked just outside the top ten is big for a program needing a spark and now are in the driver’s seat in a semi-weak eastern division.

Georgia Bulldogs (Preseason Rank: #9; Current Rank: #19)

It’s become a status quo for Georgia football starting the season as one the SEC and national favorites but find a way to slip up along the road in disappointing fashion. It’s not that Georgia was supposed to defeat Alabama – Georgia was favored to win – but losing by three touchdowns at home to a team that is still in the growing process on offense has left the Dogs in a weird but kind of expected season. The Mark Richt hot seat rumors have been ignited and it could be SEC championship or bust for the Bulldogs. What do you think?

Kentucky Wildcats (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)

Similar to Arkansas’ 2014 season outlook the record should not reflect the overall improvement from this Kentucky football team. Kentucky has improved mightily since Mark Stoops took over and each year we have seen the strides of getting better. Unfortunately the record has yet to be completely rejuvenated but with addition of new SEC talent the Wildcats are in good position for the future. The question is does the future begin next week or next year?

LSU Tigers (Preseason Rank: #14; Current Rank: #7)

Another SEC team that was flooded with quarterback questions before week one, LSU answered its problem without really addressing the issue directly not having to yet with a stud running back in Leonard Fournette. Doing exactly what is expected of them, the Tigers have grounded and pounded through the schedule so far and now jump into the heart of the SEC portion part of it.

Ole Miss Rebels (Preseason Rank: #17; Current Rank: #14)

Chad Kelly

The star-studded recruiting class became draft eligible week one and has hit on all cylinders for the most part. Going into Tuscaloosa and coming out with a win giving Hotty Toddy consecutive wins over the Tide set the tone for what could have been an unblemished season. Not coming away with a win from Gainesville is tough but having been completely shut down on offense is why I am currently cool on the Rebels.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)

Having a historical season a year ago it was hard to predict how the Bulldogs would fare this season based on returning only nine starters from last year. State has performed right on par in where they were expected to be riding Dak Prescott’s back with key plays from the secondary. Seemingly being out of the conference race State can play spoiler throughout the rest of the season still claiming to be a solid all-around team.

Missouri Tigers (Preseason Rank: #24; Current Rank: NR)

There was a point of good, bad, and ugly the first few weeks of the Tigers’ season and hopefully it’s back to good now. Oddly enough benching Maty Mauk, with the suspension, may have been the best thing to happen for the Tigers after struggling to score points on offense on many occasions yet still sneaking by. Though still an impressive 4-1 the season has not looked as peachy as expected, but the Tigers look to be headed into the right direction with Drew Lock taking snaps from center.

South Carolina Gamecocks (Preseason Rank: NR, Current Rank: NR)

Yuck. That pretty much sums up what has been a rough year for the Gamecock fan base. Not having consistent quarterback play, heck, any consistent play has put Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks in a really sticky situation heading forward with not much positives to throw out there right now.

Tennessee Volunteers (Preseason Rank: #24; Current Rank: NR)

After writing a column titled “Put Up or Shut Up” for Tennessee two weeks ago, I am disappointed and a little surprised in what Tennessee has put out in the past two weeks. Having the youthful roster still doesn’t suffice an excuse of underachieving some lofty preseason expectations. Tennessee has blown three games when being up by at least 13 points, which has unfortunately set the tone for the season. A big win over Georgia this weekend could really turn things around.

Texas A&M Aggies (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: #9)

Getty Images from Washington Post
Getty Images from Washington Post

Struggling on the defensive side of the ball since its inaugural year in the SEC, Texas A&M seems to finally have some identity on defense complementing its always high-scoring offense. Meshing these two together have given the Aggies a 5-0 record heading into Tuscaloosa next weekend off a bye.

Vanderbilt Commodores (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)

It’s a luxury if the football program is relevant in Nashville in any given season and just the norm when the team fails to reach bowl eligibility. This season hasn’t been a luxury, but it also hasn’t been a letdown either. Though to the naked eye the 2-3 record looks bad but holding their own versus conference foes Georgia and Ole Miss showing improvement slowly but surely.

The NCAA and Rational Egoism; It’s Time For College Athletes To Shrug

From the time that you are born, you are who you are. You are you in mind and body. That is a simple concept. Open and shut case. At least it should be. But there are people and governing bodies in this country that believe we are who they say we are. In the case of Todd Gurely, the situation involves two entities. The primary entity being the NCAA and the secondary entity being the state of Georgia.

The state of Georgia, under the leadership of Governor Nathan Deal, has passed what is known as the “Todd Gurley bill.” The Associated Press summed it up perfectly in paragraph 1 of the linked article.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has signed into law what’s been dubbed the “Todd Gurley bill” — making it a crime punishable by up to a year in prison to entice student athletes to break NCAA rules for money.

Simply enticing a student athlete is not a crime provided that the enticement is legal under the court of law. This is an important distinction that I will come back to later. So let me repeat myself. The person doing the enticing is not breaking the law. What transpires is an agreement between two consenting adults. The athlete has something of market value and there is a person willing to voluntarily pay what is considered to be market value for what is available.

Now i’ll ask Governor Deal this; what’s the problem? The only problem I can see is the Governor’s favorite team suffered last season at the hands of the NCAA infractions committee and he intended to do something about it. My problem with this is that the Governor has essentially acted on behalf of the NCAA. Governor Deal has no rational self interest in this matter.

Now remember when I stated that this topic involved a primary and secondary entity and that the state of Georgia was the secondary entity? Well now I turn my attention to the NCAA.

The NCAA contends that the athletes do not own their own likeness and that these athletes have no worth while they are still in college. News flash NCAA…we are who we are.

When it comes to worth, the free market says otherwise. The free market has shown what these athletes are worth based on their own individual likenesses. There is one article that I consider to be the gold standard of historical timelines that shows the utter shame of the NCAA. I urge all of you to read this 2010 article from The Atlantic. The NCAA has adopted the mindset of what is yours is mine and goes about taking its perceived share, which they see as all, by means of brute force. Their brand of brute force is not physical, but it is force none the less.

With that said, the rules are the rules no matter how despicable they may be. And that means that these athletes must follow these rules. College athletes need to practice a little rational egoism. Rational egoism is the idea that an action is rational only if it maximizes your self interest.

To the naked eye, Todd Gurley acted with rational egoism. But he really didn’t. If he understood rational egoism he would have stopped himself from entering into that voluntarily agreement between himself and the memorabilia collector. Gurley would have stopped himself because he knew that he was breaking an NCAA rule. That fell on his shoulders, not the shoulders of the collector. Gurley’s rational self interest did not include flushing his Heisman hopes away.

The only way that Gurley’s transgression was based on rational egoism was if he had intended to take a stand against the immoral actions of the NCAA. At this point in his young career, that was not a reasonable expectation. Gurley may morph into Ed O’Bannon, but hold off buying that Who Is Todd Gurley bumper sticker.

The state of Georgia now places the burden of responsibility on the memorabilia collector and takes athletes further down the road being built by the NCAA. That road leads to a place where the athletes have no rights. Even when those rights are their own likeness.

It’s time for these athletes to shrug.

*feature image courtesy of pixshark.com

Post Regular Season SEC Awards

John David Mercer/USA Today Sports
John David Mercer/USA Today Sports

The 2014 SEC football season went kind of to plan or ended up as it was projected in the preseason. Alabama continued to edge out teams and found ways to win whether it was ugly or not and now are headed to Atlanta. The East was, well, the East and struggled to have a quality team all season. Missouri won when it counted and are traveling to Atlanta for the second year in a row as I write.

Many articles have been written previewing the SEC Championship Game and reviewing the teams’ success or lack of in the 2014 season. A team is based off of many indiviuduals working together to achieve the one goal of victory. But that doesn’t mean some cannot be singled out to give reason to some of their team’s success.

So, with that said, it’s time to give out some awards:

Offensive Player of the Year: Amari Cooper, Alabama, WR

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Even with the great season from Dak Prescott, I give my vote to Amari Cooper. Cooper has been a star in the making since his first season with the Tide in 2012. It’s crazy to look back to that time and to think he was just scratching the surface. Cooper has utilized his talent to blow by defenders with a 15.3 average yardage per catch. Cooper is the top playmaker on this Alabama offense and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin found out quickly how to use this dynamic wide-out to produce one of the better offenses in the country. Heading into his final few games (we know he is going pro) at Alabama, Cooper’s stat line for the 2014 season so far is 103 receptions for 1,573 yards and 14 touchdowns. Cooper is a lock for a top five pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and will be taking a trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony.
Others to consider:
-Nick Chubb, Georgia, RB: 1,281 rushing yards, 6.9 average, 12 touchdowns
-Nick Marshall, Auburn, QB: 2,315 passing yards, 780 rushing yards, 29 total touchdowns
-Dak Prescott, Mississippi State, QB: 2,996 passing yards, 939 rushing yards, 37 total touchdowns

 

Defensive Player of the Year: Shane Ray, Missouri, DE

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Missouri grows the top defensive end guys in their backyard having a new conference sack leader each year. Shane Ray is probably their best though in recent memory. Ray has had a huge impact on the Missouri defensive success and is a big part in why the team is heading to Atlanta. Ray is a feared pass-rusher and has continued to produce each and every week with 14 sacks and 59 total tackles. A unique matchup to keep your eye on this Saturday is the matchup between Shane Ray and true freshman Alabama offensive tackle Cameron Robinson.
Others to consider:
-Preston Smith, Mississippi State, DT: 42 total tackles, nine sacks, two interceptions
-Martrell Spaight, Arkansas, LB: 123 total tackles, 8.5 TFL, interception
-Leonard Floyd, Georgia, LB: 55 tackles, 12 QB hurries, 8.5 TFL, three forced fumbles

 

Special Teams Player of the Year: JK Scott, Alabama, P

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

It’s nothing new to point out that the Tide have had some issues at special teams this season, with inconsistent kicking, fumbles in the return game, and down the field tackling. A bright spot, though, is freshman punter JK Scott. Scott has been a busy man this season with 45 total punts with an average of 4.1 punts per game. Scott averages 47.2 yards per punt, which ranks second in the FBS ranks. Whether Alabama fans want to hear it or not, Scott has been the savior for the Tide in a few SEC games this season similar to Steven Clark of Auburn last season on their journey to the SEC title.
Others to consider:
-Quan Bray, Auburn, PR: 15 returns, 18.1 average per return, two touchdowns
-Darrius Sims, Vanderbilt, KR: 31 returns, 24.5 average per return, two touchdowns

 

Newcomer of the Year: Nick Chubb, Georgia, RB

USATSI
USATSI

A few candidates could have been for this award as well like LSU running back Leonard Fournette or Texas A&M’s All-Star freshman defensive end Myles Garrett. No other freshman stood out in the spotlight of immensely talented freshman as Nick Chubb did for Georgia. Todd Gurley was suspended after week five and Chubb was next in line. The Bulldogs never missed a beat in the running as Chubb did everything that Gurley would have done finishing the year 1,494 total yards and 14 total touchdowns. Chubb could have also been considered for the year’s most valuable player based on what he has done as a freshman.
Others to consider:
-Duke Williams, Auburn, WR: 45 receptions, 730 receiving yards, five touchdowns
-Myles Garrett, Texas A&M, DE: 11 sacks, 12.5 TFL, nine QB hurries, blocked FG
-Leonard Fournette, LSU, RB: 891 rushing yards, eight touchdowns

 

Most Improved Player of the Year: Bo Wallace, Ole Miss, QB

John Bazemore/AP Photo
John Bazemore/AP Photo

The continued conversation with Bo Wallace each week was once the senior put together a nice game, the media and fans were quick to say that next week would be the “Bad Bo” version instead of continuing to play at a high level. Wallace never hit a wall this season as he has many times before in his three year career at Oxford. Even with the Rebels disappointed run to end the season, Wallace has played exceptionally well and has been a big proponent on why Ole Miss has been on the rise these past few seasons. Wallace finished the regular season with 3,085 passing yards and 27 total touchdowns.
Others to consider:
-Blake Sims, Alabama, QB: 2,988 passing yards, 63.1% completion, 30 total touchdowns
-Brandon Allen, Arkansas, QB: 2,125 passing yards, 56.3% completion, 18 touchdowns
-Cody Core, Ole Miss, WR: 38 receptions, 530 yards, six touchdowns

Virginia and Georgia: Compare and Contrast

Sanford Stadium is one of college football's greatest venues.
Sanford Stadium is one of college football’s greatest venues. Photo by author

I was among the 92,000+ woofing, screaming, deliriously happy Georgia fans at this past weekend’s tackle football contest against the Auburn Tigers.  I knew that this big game between two ranked opponents, in the nation’s best football conference, would give me lots of data that I could use to compare the football programs at Virginia and Georgia. I know that ACC football in general is about a 90-yard field goal away from the product put out by the SEC’s schools, but I hoped to find some common elements that would give me reason to believe that Virginia’s problems are not insurmountable. That’s what I hoped, anyway.

The comparisons are pretty easy.

Both schools play Division 1 football.

That’s about it.  There is little else about the two programs that is comparable other than the fact that both schools have been playing football for more than 120 years.  UVA football is free Tuesday night Shakespeare-in-the-Park.  Georgia football is a Led Zeppelin reunion concert.  Georgia plays before sellout crowds year after year. Virginia plays to half-empty stadiums filled with listless and frustrated fans. Georgia has won 768 games in 122 years, Virginia 632 in 126 years.  Virginia’s record is distorted by success in the late 1800s and early 1900s, periods that only Wahoo homers would trot out in support of Virginia’s football relevance. Virginia played football for almost 100 years before qualifying for its first bowl game in 1984.  It has but two conference co-championships to show for 61 years of ACC football effort.  Georgia, meanwhile has been to 49 bowl games and has won two national championships in its history.

Georgia has demographics that Virginia does not. Georgia’s Sanford Stadium seats 92,746 and is the 5th-largest on-campus stadium in the country. Virginia’s Scott Stadium, by contrast, seats 61,500, making it the nation’s 27th-largest on-campus stadium, a surprising fact given Virginia’s historical football mediocrity.  Athens, with a population of 112,000, is better able to support the home team than is Charlottesville and its 44,000 residents. Georgia has a strong alumni base among metropolitan Atlanta’s 6.2 million residents, who are just 70 miles away.  Virginia’s total population, by contrast, is 8.2 million and UVA must cobble together a crowd from all over the state. While Georgia’s Atlanta fans wouldn’t think of missing a game, Virginia’s non-Charlottesville fans are decidedly more, ahem, cavalier.  Noon games may be too early, night games may be too late.  August and September games are too hot and by the time good football weather rolls around, Virginia may be out of contention for…anything.

Georgia’s success has created demand for the product.  Now, to be fair, I was at Georgia for a night-game against a ranked and hated conference rival in what is billed as the deep South’s oldest rivalry, but I also have been in Scott Stadium for night games, big games, and big night games against ranked opponents.  I was in the crowd for what probably was Virginia’s biggest game ever, the 1990 game against Georgia Tech when Virginia was the #1 ranked team in the country.  I was not in the crowd for Virginia’s biggest night win ever, the 1995 Thursday night victory over Florida State.  I’m sure that the atmosphere was electric at that game almost 20 years ago, but what I experienced at Sanford Stadium last weekend is not an anomaly–it’s the norm. Virginia may not ever have had–even at the program’s peak in 1990–an atmosphere comparable to what I experienced Saturday night in Athens.

According to the Georgia Athletics website, “Georgia’s average home attendance has ranked among the nation’s top 10 for 23 consecutive seasons and among the top seven for 21 of the past 24 years. Virginia has not played in front of a sellout crowd since last year’s Virginia Tech game, and only then because Tech fans bought all the unsold tickets. It was hardly a home game sellout atmosphere.  Georgia fans did not sit for one second of game action Saturday night, allowing themselves a brief rest only during timeouts. Virginia fans will stand only when exhorted by the team or when a big play is coming. Shakespeare vs. Led Zeppelin.

Interestingly, Virginia’s and Georgia’s football paths crossed when Virginia coach George Welsh retired following the 2000 season.  Georgia also was looking for a new coach following the dismissal of Jim Donnan.  Both schools pursued then Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt, with Georgia winning the bidding.  Spurned by Richt, Virginia seemingly pulled a coup in convincing then New York Jets head coach and UVA alumnus Al Groh back to Charlottesville.  Seemingly. While Georgia got the coach it wanted in Richt, who has gone 134-47 in his time at Georgia, Virginia is still searching for a worthy successor to Welsh.  Groh and his successor Mike London have gone but 81-90 since Welsh’s fateful announcement in 2000.

If winning cures everything then Virginia needs to start winning again. Virginia must find another George Welsh. Like it or not, college sports have become big time businesses and universities must push back against the academic community’s revulsion of sports and embrace that fact. Football success and fundraising success are linked.  Football is the flagship product and UVA must find a way to win without sacrificing the academic standards that it holds above all else.  Difficult, but not impossible.  Virginia alumni want a team that they can be proud of.  In a time of dwindling state financial support, alumni support is needed to bridge the gap.  A winning football program spurs alumni support not just of the football program , but of all areas of the school.  Virginia cannot afford to play to a half-empty stadium of listless and disenchanted fans.  The financial repercussions are too great.

SEC: Who Wants It?

SEC

 

Another college football season has lived up to the fun and crazy expectations highlighted with a pinch of criticism, a dash of chaos and a big bowl of excitement. However, these ingredients could either dissolve or overpower the dish in these remaining weeks of the regular season – starting in the SEC.

A little bit of chaos is usually not a bad thing in the conference and that is mostly expected with the talent and coaches this conference possesses, but I will be the first to admit that the overall expectation of the SEC faltered just a little bit in 2014 so far.

To go into detail, the East has been a disaster this season and the storm even trickled into out of conference play with Missouri’s loss to Indiana and Vanderbilt’s loss to Temple. Making the matters worse there hasn’t been much consistency in power with the media favorite South Carolina getting blown out at home by Texas A&M in the first week of the season, Missouri’s random loss to Indiana (many didn’t even know the two were playing until Mizzou lost), South Carolina’s expected “win the big ones lose the small ones” versus Georgia, and then Florida’s revolutionary (not really) win over Georgia with 418 rushing yards.

And yet we still have no idea who will be in Atlanta, but this weekend could clear the air for a better picture of who may reign “supreme”.

The West, on the other hand, followed the mold of recent years with highly competitive games with four to five contenders battling each weekend. One would think that breaking down the 2014 West division is less complicated and has a simpler method in configuring a winner, but weirdly enough there is still a chance for four teams to make a case and win the division.

 

SEC

This weekend is crucial for the SEC.

ESPN’s College Gameday is headed to Tuscaloosa for the marquee game of the week as the Bulldogs roll in to possibly blow their unblemished season or at least that is ALL I am hearing… Alabama’s season is on the line as well. An Alabama loss gives the Tide two losses and therefore playing for “just” state bragging rights on November 29th.

An Auburn-Georgia matchup has become more of a chippy rivalry as of late and has done away with the traditional friendly brother versus brother matchup with countless personal foul penalties, more fan disputes, and crazy and creative shenanigans. Why not add in that the loser is eliminated from SEC postseason play? What more emotions can come from that?

Remember this:

The crunch time moments are here and the special plays await us. Time to sit back and watch some fun SEC football games. Get ready.

The Crossroads: The Season-Defining Games Have Arrived

The new college football playoff has changed the sport.

Last Saturday, from the moment the Notre Dame and Auburn games kicked off through the fourth quarter of the Oregon game, fans were treated to almost 10 straight hours of heart-racing, pulse-pounding action.

However, the increased attention on the playoff has removed interest in the other four New Year’s Six bowls. A year ago, we’d be focused on whether Michigan State or Notre Dame could still reach a BCS game. This year, I’ve heard no one discuss potential Fiesta Bowl matchups. We’ll see in January if people still tune in for these major non-playoff bowls. We’ll see this week if people still care.

You see, beyond the playoff, there are many, many seasons on the line this weekend. Sure, Florida/South Carolina may have no impact on the playoff but it will shape how both programs are perceived this year and next.

For this week’s Crossroads, we step away from the playoff – I’m sure many, many others will write about Alabama/Mississippi State – and look at a whole bunch of important games that may be off your radar.

The SEC East Title Race

I’ve always been fascinated by the SEC East because it wraps up so early. With Georgia, South Carolina and Florida ending with in-state, non-conference rivals, the division is usually decided weeks before others. This year could be no different. Or it could very different.

Who knew Florida/South Carolina could mean something? Yes, Florida has a very minute but still realistic chance of winning the division – they need 1 Georgia loss and 2 Missouri losses. Those two are both in play Saturday with Georgia playing Auburn and Missouri playing Texas A&M.

Or Georgia could win, Missouri could lose and the Bulldogs would wrap up the division. Or Georgia and Florida could lose and Missouri could essentially clinch. It will be one intriguing Saturday to see who will play in the SEC Title Game and play the role of ultimate spoiler.

East Carolina’s New Year’s Day hopes

Who will represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl? The selection committee identified the five contenders, though it feels like Northern Illinois and Marshall just don’t have enough on the resume. Colorado State might be the best team and might have the best win, but its loss to Boise State means it may not even win its conference.

It feels like this will come down to Boise State and East Carolina. Both have tricky games down the stretch, though East Carolina faces maybe its toughest test left with a road game at Cincinnati. The Bearcats have been terrible on defense but can score points and are still in the thick of the AAC race. It would be a decent win for East Carolina and it’s a must-win.

Oregon State’s bowl dreams

There is no rational explanation for picking Oregon State against Arizona State. Except it’s a late-night Pac-12 game. Except that it’s in Corvallis. Except that it’s the biggest TRAP game you could possibly imagine. Except that Oregon State’s entire season is on the line.

The ACC’s Orange Bowl spot

As long as Florida State keeps winning, there will be an undeserving ACC team in the Orange Bowl. And it’s really stupid. But we have to accept it. So instead of a Top 10, say, Michigan State or Arizona playing in a big bowl game, an ACC team on the fringe of the rankings will be playing on New Year’s Eve.

So who will this team be? There’s a very, very good chance it will be the winner of the Clemson/Georgia Tech game on Saturday.

Minnesota’s potential

How good can Minnesota be? Their ceiling has always seemed to be 7 or 8 wins. Is this the year everything changes? The win over Iowa was an eye-opener, to say the least. This week, they get Ohio State in their building for an early start – an 11 a.m. local kick that the Gophers seem to do every week while the Buckeyes seem to only play at night.

No one will fault Minnesota if they lose this game. They are playing with house money. Teams playing with house money are always dangerous.

Bo Pelini

On the Big Ten Network this week, the analysts were flabbergasted Nebraska was ranked so low and had an honest-to-goodness debate about their playoff chances. Playoffs? We’re talking playoffs??

Nebraska has been stuck in four-loss hell for years and people seem to think Bo Pelini has finally shown he can win at Nebraska. Uh, what? Do you know what the Big Ten record is of the four teams Nebraska has beat? It’s 3-18. 3-18!! Nebraska plays Wisconsin in Camp Randall on Saturday. Let’s see if Nebraska is still ranked next week.

Michigan State’s program

Michigan State could win 10 games for the fourth time in five years. There is no doubt the program has become one of the Big Ten’s elite, essentially replacing Michigan at the top of the heap in the past five years. Elite programs bounce back from bad losses.

Simply put – can Michigan State re-focus and beat Maryland on the road Saturday night? The Spartans’ goals, from the Big Ten title to the playoffs to even a New Year’s Six bowl, may all be unreachable. They need to prove their greatness by disposing of what will be a fired up Terps teams.

Arkansas

The Razorbacks get LSU at home a week after the Tigers went toe-to-toe against Alabama in an epic, low-scoring, high-hitting overtime game. I don’t see a better opportunity for Arkansas to get its first SEC win in forever. They have to get over the hump and beat a ranked opponent.

Marshall’s undefeated season

Is Rice the toughest game left for Marshall? There is Louisiana Tech looming in the Conference USA Title Game but Rice might be the better team. Rice, if you don’t remember, is the defending conference champion that opened the season 0-3 following road trips to Notre Dame and Texas A&M, ouch. After a bad loss to Old Dominion, they have reeled off six wins in a row. They are 21-point underdogs and shouldn’t win, but they may be a live longshot.

Georgia Southern’ s dream season

What a bizarre situation – Georgia Southern is 8-2 and undefeated in the Sun Belt yet likely won’t play in a bowl due to its transistional status from FCS. Their only two losses were road nail-biters to ACC teams N.C. State and Georgia Tech, the latter of which is now a Top 25 team. Imagine if they had won that.

Instead, Georgia Southern must merely strive for a remarkable 10-win season. To do so, they must beat Navy on Saturday in a fascinating game between two options teams, which means it should run about two hours. You’ll probably be watching Alabama/Mississippi State Saturday afternoon – you should check in on this though.

The College Quickie: Conversations With The Professor

FLORIDA CRASHED THE COCKTAIL PARTY

They say people are a little bit crazier in the south. How much crazier are they? I haven’t seen the Pew Research Center study on the subject, but I have no reason to doubt what is said. As to what they are craziest about in the south has yet to be determined. What I do know, through my completely unscientific study, is that football is at the top of the list.

The south’s craziness is on full display in the SEC. And why shouldn’t it be? I mean the best football is played in the south, so it is fitting that the region and the conference have the market cornered on craziest fans. Just look at a few examples:

Paul Finebaum’s callers (Phyllis in particular)

The Alabama fan who poisoned an Auburn oak tree

Being crazy also means intense rivalries and this past Saturday offered one of the best: The Cocktail Party. Played between Florida and Georgia, this rivalry is so intense that they can’t even agree on when it was first played. Florida claims the game was first played in 1915 while Georgia contends that the rivalry debuted in 1904. And, as would be expected, the two schools also argue over what the overall series record is.

Personally, I have never attended The Cocktail Party, but I know someone who has. Allow me to introduce The Professor.

The Professor and I have known each other for 22 years. Yes, SURPRISE, I am that old and have relationships that are older than some of our faithful CFB Roundtable readers.

Without blowing anyone’s cover, let me just say that The Professor and I took full advantage of our college years. In the spirit of full disclosure, I may have taken more than my fair share of the college experience.

Remember that SEC fans poison trees, send questionable packages to ESPN hosts and draw favorable comparisons between their coach and Hitler. So it should come as no surprise that The Professor can attest to The Cocktail Party requiring police escorts for the marching bands. Yes, that’s right, the marching bands. What did a sousaphone player ever do to anyone?

While attending The Cocktail Party, The Professor once described the environment as being soaked in bourbon. Soaked in bourbon, you say? Perhaps that explains what happened this past Saturday.

Florida was considered to be dead…buried…nothing left to play for. Georgia was considered to be a contender for a spot in the college football playoff.

Florida had quarterback issues. Florida had offensive issues that were truly offensive. Georgia had their Heisman caliber running back finishing out a suspension. Georgia had a true freshman running back who has picked up where the Heisman candidate left off.

So naturally Florida won.

Georgia is now an after thought in the college football playoff conversation. There is also a rekindled spark to the fire Mark Richt conversaton. At least there is on message boards.

Florida has a marquee win for its 2014 season. Will it be enough to save Will Muschamp’s job? Only time will tell, but I don’t believe this win should carry that much weight. The Gators crashed The Cocktail party, but Muschamp’s overall body of work should have the bouncers tossing him out.

WHO’S YOUR DADDY

Oregon. To say they have an embarrassment of riches may be an understatement. They have their Sugar Daddy in Phil Knight. They have state-of-the-art facilities. They have what seems to be a new uniform for each game. And they run the spread offense better than any school west of the Mississippi.

In the past four meetings between Stanford and Oregon, Stanford had a respectable record of 2-2. The Cardinal had played their smash mouth brand of football to roast the Ducks. Stanford was to smash mouth football as Oregon was to the spread. Pure success.

Stanford had stumbled their way to a 5-3 record leading into this year’s game with Oregon. Head coach David Shaw did the improbable this year, he began using elements of the spread in hopes of sparking his offense.

Once the east coast went to bed and the game clock ticked to zero, Oregon had won 45-16. Before incorporating elements of the spread, the fewest points scored by Stanford had been 17. And guess what? Stanford won that game.

If you listened to the CFB Roundtable podcast last week you would have heard @SMerenbloom (yours truly) state that he thought Oregon would win this game by showing Stanford how the spread was intended to be run. I also warned Stanford to be who they were and not to attempt to beat Oregon at their own game.

On Saturday, Stanford found out who their spread daddy is.

I’VE GOT YOUR 12TH MAN

Texas A&M is home of The 12th Man. Or are they?

After Saturday night in Oxford, Mississippi, the Auburn Tigers staked their claim to the 12th man. Here, check it out:

12th man

That’s right, the Auburn Tigers played at least one down on offense with twelve men on the field. They say football is a game of numbers and twelve against eleven certainly gives a team a numeric advantage. You don’t have to be an underwriter to crunch those numbers.

Was Auburn aware of what they were doing? I have no clue. But what I do know is that this well publicized occurrence will place a spot light on the Tigers as well as SEC officiating crews. Mike Pereira called out the SEC and their officials earlier in the year and his comments coupled with Auburn’s 12th man will only place added scrutiny on this striped band of merry men.

Coaches on the Rise, Part 2

As I was watching the historically inept performance of the Pitt Panthers (6 fumbles in 5 minutes), this Saturday and realized that the roller coaster of Pitt just has taken too much of a toll on me and probably others, it hit me…I started focusing on assistant coaches on the rise because I am dreaming that one day Pitt would decide to make football a priority like it did for basketball years ago.
Last week I focused on a few head coaches on the rise and offensive coordinators and this week the defensive coordinators get their shot. A common theme for the several of the listed coaches are the big time salaries that they collect which ultimately may just keep them at their current locations until the head coaching position opens.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama Crimson Tide: any list of defensive coordinators must start with Smart, who is in his seventh season at Alabama. He is the mastermind behind the defenses that have dominated not only the SEC but all of the college football. Smart is just waiting for the perfect job whether its if and when Nick Saban steps down or some other prize job.
Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Georgia Bulldogs: Pruitt has been in coaching for only seven years but his star is definitely shining. He started as a support staffer at Alabama, moved up to defensive coordinator for a year, then spent once season as Florida State’s defensive coordinator where they won the national championship and now is at Georgia. The Bulldog fans better not get used to Pruitt staying put, buy enjoy watching his players run through the hedges for him. He will be a head coaching within the next couple years no question about that.
John Chavis, defensive coordinator, LSU Tigers: At the ripe age of 57 years old, Chavis’ head coaching window is at a crack but I think that his talent is unquestioned as he was the coordinator when LSU was top’s in the nation from 2010=2012 in defensive stats. His defenses are always good is the easiest way to phrase it. I don’t think Chavis would leave Baton Rouge for a mid major school but a Big 5 Conference team may get the steal of a lifetime.
Bud Foster, defensive coordinator, Virginia Tech Hokies: Foster has been the coordinator for 19 years and his chance at being a head coach may be fast closing, but I still think that Foster would be a fantastic head coaching bringing his schemes, recruiting prowess and dynamic defenses. Again, Foster like Smart might just be waiting for the head coach, Frank Beamer to step down.
Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson Tigers: The Tiger offense gets most of the accolades, but the defense is what keeps them going when especially injuries hit the Tigers like this year. Venables has the mind to be able to rebuild a defense or enhance an already stout defense. He is capable of adapting and adjusting which is the hallmark of a great coach.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State: Narduzzi was named the top assistant last year as his Spartan defense was ranked number I in the Big ten for the third consecutive season. His defenses make the opponents running game obsolete. He received interest from Texas A&M in 2011 as well as some interest from Texas and Penn State last year. I expect Narduzzi to be the top man on the sideline of a MAC school next year if he feels like leaving his big ever increasing salary.
Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin Badgers: Aranda joined the Badgers staff last year and made an immediate impact as his squad was in the top 10 in the NCAA in scoring defense, total defense and rush defense. His schemes make it easy for his defense to dictate the plays to the offense rather than the other way around. He has been successful in Utah State and Hawaii so he is climbing the ladder and succeeding wherever he goes.
That is the list of defensive coordinators and wow is it impressive from top to bottom and there are still may others making their names on defense as well as offense. Keep an eye on these names and their teams and what how dynamic they really are.

Top 5 Contenders Outside the Top 10

Tomorrow we finally get what we’ve all been waiting for, a look into the playoff committee’s minds. They’ll release their initial rankings which will certainly be cause for drama and ridicule. More importantly, it’ll give us a better idea of where conferences stand and which individual teams need to do more or need more help to get selected. The Top 5-10 teams clearly still have a lot of hope and would likely make the playoff if they take care of business. I’m concerned with the teams outside the Top 10.
When looking at the new polls yesterday, I tried to think of any teams that would be able to make a run at a playoff spot that are currently not in the Top 10. The teams have to have a schedule that works in their favor as well as good individual team or conference perception. Here are my top five candidates.
1. Baylor
The Bears were in clear control a couple weeks ago before being upset in Morgantown. After having a bye last Saturday, they now find themselves just outside the Top 10. They are still in a great position though. They have a huge game on the road against Oklahoma, but the rest of their games are at home. The season finale could be a de facto Big 12 championship game against Kansas State if TCU slips up.
2. Arizona
The Wildcats already have a big win this year, winning at Eugene. That win looks better and better with each win that the Ducks tally. Arizona has a more difficult schedule than Baylor, but they still have three ranked teams on the schedule, opportunities to impress the committee. Winning a potential Pac 12 championship game against Oregon would prove the first was not a fluke.
3. Kansas State
Kansas State is in a better position than Baylor currently because they have yet to lose a conference game. As mentioned before they also have the season finale against the Bears which could decide which Big 12 team, if any, makes the playoff. Going forward however, Kansas State has a much more difficult schedule, with road trips at TCU and West Virginia before that season finale.
4. Oklahoma
The running theme is how wide open the Big 12 is. Whoever wins the Big 12 is going to have a pretty good shot at making the playoff. Things look bleak now, but the Sooners should have their opportunity. They would need losses from TCU and Kansas State, but they schedule is more than manageable. Outside of the matchup with Baylor, their toughest remaining game is Oklahoma State coming to town on the last weekend.
5. LSU
LSU is coming on strong the last few weeks, and their upset win over previously undefeated Ole Miss certainly gives them a resume builder. Shockingly LSU only has three regular season games left. That could be good and bad. If they can upset the Crimson Tide in two weeks, their only remaining games are against Arkansas and Texas A&M. The SEC champ will certainly make the playoff, but LSU needs more than their share of help to make that happen. Even if they win out, they’ll need Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Auburn to lose two conference games.
Top 25 (Last Week’s Rank in Parenthesis)
1. Mississippi State (1)
2. Michigan State (3)
3. Florida State (4)
4. Ole Miss (2)
5. Alabama (6)
6. Auburn (5)
7. Oregon (7)
8. TCU (9)
9. Baylor (8)
10. Georgia (10)
11. Kansas State (11)
12. Notre Dame (12)
13. Ohio State (13)
14. Nebraska (14)
15. Arizona State (15)
16. Arizona (16)
17. West Virginia (22)
18. Utah (21)
19. Clemson (17)
20. Oklahoma (18)
21. LSU (UR)
22. East Carolina (19)
23. Duke (24)
24. UCLA (25)
25. Marshall (UR)