Tag Archives: LSU Football

The New Era of College Football: The Haves Trump The Have-Nots

The evolution of college football has created a new reality. Thanks to the college football arms race in facilities, fan support, and money as well as the nascent playoff system, there are two types of college football programs:

  1. Those that have a chance to win a national championship
  2. Those that have no chance to win a national championship

There is no migration between the types of programs. You either have a chance to win it all or you don’t. The rich teams get richer, everyone else treads water or drowns.

While there are two types of college football programs, there are three types of college football fans:

  1. Those fans who correctly recognize that their teams have a chance win a national championship
  2. Those fans who correctly realize their teams have no chance to win a national    championship
  3. Those fans who incorrectly believe their team has a chance to win the national championship, when in reality, they have no chance.

No convinced? Take a look at the following videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVC3UziHeGk and this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU4NXtu2T5E.

These are, theoretically, facilities for college students. But we all know what these really are. Recruiting tools to draw top athletes to Texas and Texas A&M. These are “in-kind” payments to players who are ostensibly amateur athletes.

I have no doubt that the other programs with a chance to win a national championship have (or will soon have) facilities on par if not better than these. We all know the names of these programs – Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Ohio St, Michigan, Clemson, Florida State, & Oklahoma. You could probably add Oregon, Tennessee, Notre Dame and a small handful of other programs to this list, but that’s it. No other programs have a chance.

It is not shocking for fans of programs like Virginia, Wake Forest, Duke, Boston College, Vandy, Kansas, and Northwestern that they have zero chance to win a national championship…ever. I think the fans of these programs understand that they will never have facilities like Texas or Texas A&M. They will never compromise their integrity to the extent that the contending programs must to get the numbers of top players needed to compete for a national championship. Fans from these programs and many more like them realize their role in the world of college football. They are fodder for the teams with a chance to win it all. They can have successful seasons and win bowl games, but they will never hoist the national championship trophy. Maybe that’s okay. The point of college, after all, is to educate young minds, not win national championships. College athletics is supposed to be entertaining, so if you recognize your place and revel in reaching the heights of success within the boundaries of your possibilities, college football is a great deal of fun.

What might be shocking to the vast majority of the fans of programs not listed above, is that their teams also have no chance to win a national championship. None, zero, zilch, nada… they just don’t realize it. Many programs fit this description…we can all name these programs with perpetually frustrated fans who mistakenly think they are on the cusp of breaking into the top tier of college programs – Virginia Tech, NC State, UNC, West Virginia, Michigan State, South Carolina, TCU, Baylor, Arizona, Missouri, Maryland, Iowa, Kansas St, and Arkansas among many others, have no chance to win a national championship. Unfortunately, their fans think they do.

Think about how excited fans of these programs are when they land a big-time recruit. A 5-star or high 4-star kid who is a “can’t miss” prospect. There are high-fives all around and dreams of winning the college football playoff. The sad reality is, the teams that have a real chance to win it all, get at least a half a dozen of these players – every year. Not one per year or every other year like the wannabe programs. So the teams with a real chance to win it all have 30 or more can’t-miss players on their teams. The wannabe teams might have 5.

None of this is lost on the best coaches in the industry either. Do you think Nick Saban is going to leave Alabama to coach Northwestern anytime soon? Urban Meyer going to Wake Forest? Which programs have huge donor bases that make space-age locker rooms possible? (hint: it’s not Duke and it’s not Virginia…nor NC State or West Virginia) The best coaches go to the programs with the biggest donor bases that pay the biggest salaries & fund the best facilities, which draw the best talent…and so the cycles continues.

Like gambling in Vegas, the college football game is rigged. Over the course of any season, there will be exciting times when wannabe teams beat the odds and score big upsets. But over the course of a full season (including the playoffs), a single wannabe program cannot beat the system. There are too many 30+ mega-recruit teams out there, getting better every day and one of those teams will win the national championship every time. It’s why house wins over time in Vegas. The swanky trappings of the Bellagio are not there because gamblers go home winners. The odds favor the house, so it always wins. The system favors the top programs, so they will always win.

As we begin the 2017 college football season, we could create a list of 18-20 programs with a chance to win it all. It would be the same list from 2016. The participants in the football championship will be from that list – with no chance for an upstart to crash the party. It’s like the list to get into the VIP section of a popular night club. Not on the list? Not getting in.

The downside of this could be that as more college football fans realize the game is rigged against them, fans will lose interest and the game’s popularity could begin to fade. Then again, Las Vegas doesn’t seem to be losing its steam and state lotteries continue to be wildly popular. Maybe the fans of the wannabe programs understand their fate better than they let on. Maybe they are like the lottery players, thinking that someone is going to win this jackpot, if I buy a ticket it might be me, so every season, misplaced hope springs eternal. Unfortunately, the odds of winning the Powerball are better than their team winning the national championship.

E-mail David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Virginia Lays an Egg in Winston

Did you ever have one of those days on the golf course when you snap hook your first drive out of bounds on the first hole? The hooks plague you until you fix it with a power slice into the trees. No matter what you do, it’s wrong and the things you look forward to the most are the last putt on the 18th green and cocktails in the 19th hole. Ever have one of those days? Kurt Benkert had one of those days on Saturday against Wake Forest. 

I am not here to say that Benkert is not our best option at quarterback. He has a cannon arm. He can avoid pressure and extend plays with his legs. Some of his throws are nothing short of spectacular with a high degree of difficulty and perfect execution. Then there are days like Saturday.

Benkert had a dreadful day. His throws were erratic, at best. His decision-making was the only thing worse than his passing accuracy. While the offensive line didn’t have one of its best days either, at least three of the five sacks yielded were the result of Benkert holding the ball too long and not feeling pressure in the pocket. He tried to force difficult passes when he had yards of running room in front of him. Later in the game, when he realized he’d missed multiple first down runs by forcing passes that fell incomplete, he started to take off running, when there was no gain in sight.

It was simply one of those days. Benkert couldn’t do anything right, so he started to press. I mistakenly thought that his first interception throwing into triple coverage would be his last. I was wrong. A second pass into triple coverage that had no chance for success was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Bad decision, bad throw, bad result. Game over.

The problem for Virginia is that the margin for error in 2016 is razor thin. If any team cannot afford erratic quarterback play, it is Virginia. The depth charts are shallow. Multiple injuries have forced too many freshman into prime time minutes. Some have made remarkable plays that give Cavalier fans glimmers of hope for the future. The problem with freshman however, is freshman mistakes. For all the hope the first year kids have provided, they also get sucked into fakes, miss coverages, and blow routes. They are talented, but they are freshmen.

It is completely unfair for the burden of the program to rest on the shoulders of Virginia’s quarterback in his first year as a starter. Sometimes life isn’t fair. Since the Oregon game, when the defense grew up in the second half, the key variable for Virginia’s win/loss margin has been quarterback play.

Without the two interceptions which resulted in 10 points for Wake Forest, Virginia gets a nice comeback win on the road when it wasn’t hitting on all cylinders. That’s what good teams do. ‘Bama didn’t have its “A-game” against LSU, but they left Baton Rouge with a win. Virginia endured a long bus ride home with the all remaining hope for a bowl appearance gone. That’s what rebuilding programs do.

The cherry on the sundae for Benkert’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, the final putt that lipped out of the hole on 18 was the sack on the last play of the game. Working for an unlikely Hail Mary to tie the game, taking a sack was the worst possible outcome. It was the final in a string of bad decisions. Virginia fans hope that we left all the bad mojo in Winston Saturday, with a beatable Miami team on the docket for this coming week.

As tough as this game was for Benkert, there is no reason not to continue with him at quarterback. When he has been good, he has been very good. He has the tools. He has the moxie. Both of the options to replace him are seniors. Bronco’s priorities this year are: 1) Laying the foundational pieces that will turn the program into a winner in the coming years, 2) Developing existing players and recruiting new talent that fit into his systems – systems that produced winners at BYU for 10 consecutive years, and 3) Winning games in 2016.

Benkert is part of the foundation that Bronco is laying. Sometimes when laying a foundation, players who are new starters lay an egg. Unfortunately, in 2016, if Benkert lays an egg, Virginia loses. I felt bad for Benkert on Saturday. He never quit fighting, but it was simply one of those days when the best outcome for him was to be on the bus riding home, thinking about winning out the rest way.

E-mail David at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

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SEC Links: Finding Gunslingers in the Wild, Wild West

Former Auburn football head coach, and College Football Hall of Fame honoree, Pat Dye once stated, “It all starts at quarterback.” It does. The quarterback is the the leader of the offense and, often, the face of the football team. He usually receives an over-abundance of praise if the team is doing well, and he gets more than his share of the blame if his team is performing poorly.

A quarterback needs to take command of the huddle, gain the confidence of his teammates, and inspire his fellow warriors to have confidence in themselves. He needs to know not just what his assignments are, but also the particulars of those who surround him.

If the quarterback works as hard, or harder, than anyone else on the team by staying after practice to throw with his receivers or just do a little extra work on the details of his job, then that could make the difference as to how the team finishes the season in terms of wins and losses. It could determine whether that teams wins a championship or finishes lower in it’s conference standings.

In short, the quarterback is the man.

Spring practice has, for all intents and purposes, wrapped up across SEC country, and the burning question in the minds of fans is who will serve as the signal-caller for their beloved squad.

Let’s take a look at how some of the crucial races for field generals are shaping up in the SEC.

We will first turn our eyes to the best division in all of college football, the SEC West. Let’s begin with SEC and national Champion, Alabama.

It appears that Nick Saban and his offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, have their hands full in deciding who will be at the helm of the Crimson Tide offense. They have strong candidates but there is not an abundance of experience at the position. Kiffin worked magic with Blake Sims in 2014 and also with Jake Coker in 2015. I don’t have any idea who will emerge from what looks like a four-man pack, but I do think Kiffin will find the right guy. His track record points to that scenario.

Bama, more often than not, winds up with someone who can manage the offense. They don’t tend to find an all-world type of guy like Johnny Manziel or Cam Newton. History tells us that Bama will be just fine at the position.

Across the state, Auburn is also, desperately, in search of the player to lead the Tigers’ offense. Jeremy Johnson did not become the quarterback that he was highly-hyped to be. Sean White was serviceable but certainly not dynamic. John Franklin III, a JUCO transfer, has the skill set to become the dual-threat type of player that has succeeded in Gus Malzahn’s system at Auburn, but he needs a great deal of development to step into the role. He has a great arm and blazing speed but needs to really work on his accuracy. As much as I want Franklin to succeed, I don’t see him taking the SEC by storm and leading Auburn back to, or near, the pinnacle of the West… in 2016… 2017, maybe?

Les Miles and LSU fans are hoping Brandon Harris will finally emerge as the answer down on The Bayou. Harris has the tools to do this and his friend, former Mississippi State star, Dak Prescott, thinks the third year will be the charm for Brandon. I tend to agree with Dak on this matter. Harris will have a big year and LSU will be very much in the thick of it in November.

Speaking of Dak. What’s going on in Starkville? Mississippi State is in the unenviable position of replacing, arguably, the most outstanding player in Bulldog history. That will not be an easy task. When you throw in the factor of State’s residence in the West, then one finds little reason to believe that it will be a contender in the West. In my initial SEC column I picked the Bulldogs to finish last, and basically, having to sort through four inexperienced hopefuls at quarterback will make that a reality.

Let’s make the obvious transition to the hated in-state rival of the Bulldogs, Ole Miss. Up in Oxford things are much less complicated when it comes to quarterback. They have one. His name is Chad Kelly. Kelly had a great year in 2015 and, barring injury, he could find himself the the top quarterback in the SEC and beyond. The sky is the limit for him and Ole Miss. They will be in hot pursuit of the University of Alabama for the West crown.

Bret Bielema has an Allen returning to lead the Razorbacks in 2016. The problem is, it’s not Brandon Allen. Over the course of his career, Brandon Allen became the player and leader that everyone hoped he would be and had a very good senior campaign in Fayetteville. It’s his brother, Austin, who will now be given the reigns to help Bielema continue to build the type of program he envisions for Hawg fans. The younger Allen may be the chosen one but it will take a year of getting a true feel in the starter role before Arkansas can make a move upward.

College Station, TX will be our last stop on this tour of quarterbacks in the SEC West. Kevin Sumlin’s fanny is definitely getting warm out there in Aggieland and he needs a great signal-caller to relieve that pressure. Trevor Knight, a transfer from Oklahoma, is the man Sumlin has chosen to lead the Aggies. He had his ups and downs throughout his career in Norman and he needs his upside to assist in cooling his head coach’s backside. I don’t think it will happen. There is too much turmoil in College Station.

So, will there be an known comodity to emerge from the West and lead his team to the SEC  promised land? Could another Newton or Manziel come out of nowhere and shock the football world? Or will the SEC East produce a quarterback?

That will wrap it up for this week. Next week we take a gander at the SEC East and the interesting battles that are in progress for starting quarterbacks in that division.

Southern Miss Excited about 2016

From out of nowhere, weeks after the Heart of Dallas Bowl game versus Washington, then-USM Head Coach Todd Monken announced he would be taking over as Offensive Coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It sent power waves of shock and disappointment throughout the Southern Miss faithful and especially the football players and coaches. Yours truly was also outraged at the timing of Monken’s decision. So much so that my personal tweets on Twitter lost me my position at the radio station that I was doing a sports show at. (It ended up working out as another station hired me to do play-by-play for high school sports.) The timing was horrible as a lot of the coaches that were available had been snatched up.

The Eagle family, in general, according to Twitter, wanted then-USM Defensive Coordinator David Duggan to be the next Southern Miss Head Coach. But Athletic Director Bill McGillis told everyone that he would find the best fit for Southern Miss and a coach that would get on the progression that had been re-started. Enter Eagle Head Coach Jay Hopson, a Vicksburg, MS native and a very well known member in the Mississippi High Community of Coaches and Players. (I am from Natchez which is also on the Mississippi River). Hopson was way too familiar with the Golden Eagle family since he was the Defensive Backs Coach under former Head Coach Jeff Bower. There are still people in place in the Athletic Department who were there when Hopson coached before at Southern Miss. Hopson is also one heck of a recruiter, which is definitely an ace up his sleeve. Still learning the game of football at age 47, Hopson is in just his second head coaching stint after leaving Alcorn State where he was the first white head coach ever hired by the SWAC. While at ASU, Hopson won the SWAC title in 2014 and 2015.

Hopson played College ball at one of USM’s sister schools (Ole Miss) and then did his undergrad at Tulane. From there Hopson coached at LSU, Memphis, Southern Miss, Florida, Marshall and Michigan. Hopson will bring a lot to the table for USM which has tons of talent returning for the 2016 season. C-USA member USM finished 2015 with a 9-5 record, losing to WKU in the C-USA Championship Game and then Washington in the bowl game.

Hopson talks about Practice.
Hopson talks about Practice.

Senior QB Nick Mullens returns for the Eagles having thrown for 4476 yards and 38 TD’s with an average of 319 yards passing per game. Incredible for just last year. Mullens only threw 12 interceptions out of 521 attempts with a 63.5 completion ratio. “Nick has so much savvy, so much high football IQ, such a fun player to watch as a Senior Quarterback” said Hopson. The first year head coach is glad to have a Senior QB. Expectations for Mullens are to just keep doing what he has been doing and to keep leading the team.

Junior running back Ito Smith will also return for his third year, playing in the backfield along with the return of Junior running back George Payne. Smith rushed for 1156 yards on 171 carries with 10 TD’s. “It is (a luxury), when you have a returner like Ito (Smith) coming back. Then you have Payne coming back off an injury. You also have Tez Parks coming back off an injury. Both of those guys have played in the past. Then you have a guy like Pat Brooks who was redshirted last year. I personally watched him every day on the scout team so I know the potential that he has. I feel pretty good about the group of guys we have going into this season,” said Hopson.

The Eagles have had a few scrimmages and most have been good for Hopson. “The intensity is there but you know its spring. I think the D has started a little slow and the O started a little high but you know its spring,” Hopson said. Defensively the Eagles will need some help at linebacker. “We have had some guys that have had a good spring, Elijah (Parker) and C.J. (Perry) are starting. Jeremy (Sangster) and (Sherrod) Ruff have really done some good things this spring. We’ve been really pleased with those two guys.”

Overall, Hopson is pleased about how things are going in spring practice. “I believe we have a few. The best thing is leadership by example. That’s what probably speaks louder than anything. I think we have good overall team chemistry and leadership. At the end of the day, I’ve been pleased with our guys, we work hard. We’ve got some natural leaders out here,” Said Hopson.

The 2016 schedule has two SEC teams that feature the Kentucky Wildcats and the LSU Tigers. The Kentucky game will be played in Lexington on the first weekend of college football and look for that game to maybe make the Thursday night special as both teams are expected to have good seasons. The LSU game will be October 15 and for LSU, its right before its nemesis  Ole Miss. Southern Miss won 20-18 in its last meeting in Baton Rouge over LSU in 1994. USM also has a favorable home schedule with Troy, Marshall, Rice and Louisiana Tech visiting the Rock.

Hats off to the USM baseball team as it beat #8 Ole Miss 5-1 in Oxford on Wednesday night to help Southern Miss to a 26-8 record and 11-1 in C-USA. Southern Miss can possibly host a regional if they can take the C-USA title but games with Rice and FAU, who are both ranked in the top 25, are still to be played. Southern Miss is currently ranked as high as 18 in one poll and 28 in another. The Rice game is a possibility for TV and will be played on EagleFest Weekend April 22-24. The spring game will be played at Noon on Saturday the 23. Be sure to catch my article in two weeks on the Southern Miss spring game and Baseball updates. SMTTT!

SEC Links: What’s Going On In The Southland?

“Way down in Alabama!” $1 to Wet Willie for their cover of the great Otis Redding’s ‘Shout Bamalama’. Down in Alabama things are happening on the SEC football front. Both Auburn and Alabama are wrapping up spring practice and turning their focus to the upcoming 2016 season. Yes in-deedy! You know how strong the SEC West is with two perennial powers, but should they actually be realigned to the SEC East?

Auburn’s A-Day game is tomorrow. The most pressing issue on the Plains is finding the right quarterback to run Gus Malzahn’s HUNH offense. Who will that person be? Will the spring game give Auburn fans any clue as to his identity?

In spite of the fast-paced, high octane offenses that are now wide ‘spread’ in the conference, defense is critical to a team’s success. Who is The SEC’s best defensive player?

Now how about the top player on offense?

Even if a team has a great offense and a sterling defense they have to put fannies in the seats, and with enormous HDTVs that is becoming more of a problem in the SEC and across the country. Or is it?

There are bound to be some big upsets this fall down south. That we know. But who will the underdogs topple?

You may or may not be familiar with the financial struggles the state of Louisiana has been experiencing. These monetary difficulties are having a direct impact on football in the Bayou State. Click here to see what LSU is up to in response to all this.

Louisiana politics. It’s always been crazy and colorful. Remember Huey Long, ole Kingfish? Things continue to lean toward insanity, on the political front, in Baton Rouge and it involves football. Check it out.

Well folks, there you have it. Your one-stop-shopping-spot for all things SEC. We’ll see you again next Friday! Y’all come!

Grateful, But Not Dead Yet

Well folks, 2015 is in our rear-view mirror and 2016 is upon us. As the Grateful Dead ponders the passage of time in their song, Uncle John’s Band, “Oh, oh but I want to know, where does the time go?”

Beats me. And when you’re well to the north side of of six decades on this spinning blue marble, that line rings ever so true. I’m running as fast as I can, but I often feel like I can’t keep up. ZOOOOOOMMMMM!!! Collecting Social Security? WHOOOOSSSSHHHH!!! Looking down the barrel of  sixty-five turns-around-the-horn in a mere twenty months?

Wot hoppened?

Life did, that’s what. Fine. Carpe diem! Rock ‘N Roll, Mick! I’ve tried to enjoy every minute of it and I plan to keep on doing just that!

Now, let’s take a quick glance back at 2015, and Auburn, before we turn the page to 2016.DSC02296

It truly does seem like yesterday that we were about to make our way to Tampa for the Outback Bowl between Auburn and Wisconsin. Auburn was flush with promise. Will Muschamp had just been hired as the defensive coordinator on The Plains and things were looking up.

That bowl game, in hindsight, was a portent of things to come. Daniel Carlson, a superb placekicker, bounced a field goal attempt off the goalpost, at Raymond James Stadium in overtime, and the Tigers found itself on the losing end of its first bowl game of 2015. They will play their SECOND bowl game of the year in the Birmingham Bowl. The opponent is the Memphis Tigers. That game is either in progress, or has been completed, by the time you read this.

Then came recruiting. Gus and company landed an excellent class. Check it out!

The A-Day game, in mid-April, gave Auburn fans more reason to hope as Jeremy Johnson, Sean White, Duke Williams, Roc Thomas, and company lit it up! Woo Hooo!

SEC Media Days ushered in a blast of unabated enthusiasm for Auburn Tiger fans all across this spinning globe. They were picked, by the media, to win the SEC and advance to the College Football Playoff. I was, and many of you were, so stoked by this time that we could hardly contain ourselves. Auburn’s in the top five and Jeremy Johnson is getting Heisman hype!

GULP! We know, all too well, what transpired next and continued throughout the entire autumn.

Mediocrity. In spades.

65098088_f133306ab5_bSo, where does that leave us? In Birmingham, that’s where.

I was once told, by an attendant at what was the old Gulf station at College and Glenn, in Auburn, when my old Pontiac Astre broke down, “You have a blew gasket.” That was, of course, spoken to me. I knew my gasket wasn’t the color blue. I knew it was busted, broken, kaput.

And as I peer at 2016 through my orange and blue crystal ball, I’m hoping this thing ain’t “blew”.

I believe Gus will get his bus up and running MUCH more smoothly than it ran in 2015, when it sputtered and spewed and belched forth six regular season wins.

I think he will locate a very good defensive coordinator that will, hopefully, give us the continuity and stability he is looking for.

I think he will come up with an exciting dual threat quarterback, John Franklin?, that will get the offense back in the mode Gus has become known for with his HUNH.

The Tigers have a good nucleus of returning players to build around in 2016. They include Braden Smith, Alex Kozan, Austin Golson, Robert Leff, and Kaleb Kim on the O line. Will Shon Coleman and Avery Young go pro?

The D line should return Carl Lawson (PLEASE!), Gimel President, Raashed Kennion, Maurice Swain, Dontavius Russell, Devaroe Lawrence, and Price Tega Wanogho, among others.

Linebackers? Tre’ Williams, Deshaun Davis, Jeff Holland, and Cameron Toney will make up the core.

How about the secondary? Carlton Davis (BOOM!), T.J. Davis, Josh Holsey, Stephen Roberts, Nick Ruffin, Johnathan “Rudy” Ford, Tim Irvin, Tray Matthews, and Montavious Atkinson.

And back to the offense. The aforementioned John Franklin, Tyler Queen, Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and, the incoming Woody Barrett, are all potential starters at quarterback.

The running back position looks great with Jovon Robinson, Peyton Barber, Roc Thomas, and Kerryon Johnson helping to make up that group.

Jason Smith, Tony Stevens, Stanton Truitt, Marcus Davis, Darius Slayton, Ryan Davis, and Gray King will return at wide receiver.

The kicking duties are in excellent hands (or legs?) with Daniel Carlson and Kevin Phillips coming back.

I expect the tight end and H-back/fullback roles to perform much better with some experience and added talent.

All the guys, just mentioned, were known quantities, for the most part. There are redshirt and incoming freshman that will bolster the talent levels, as well.

What else do the last couple of days in 2015 and the New Year of 2016 hold for those of us who are rabid college football fans.

I have Alabama over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl and Oklahoma over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

What will happen in Glendale? Will Nick Saban win one more Natty at Alabama and depart T-Town? Or maybe retire? Possibly?

Who will be the early favorites for the 2016 crown? Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Notre Dame, it appears.

The SEC West? That has to be Bama. The SEC East? I like Tennessee.

Ohio State should get a strong challenge from Michigan and, especially, Michigan State in the Big 10.

Florida State looks set for the long haul in the ACC, after Clemson.

You have to stay with Okie State, TCU, and Baylor to continue to be strong in the Big 12.

The PAC-12? Wide open. USC, Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, and, my dark horse, the Washington Huskies, should all contend.

A fly-in-the-ointment? Houston? Boise State?

And what about the Auburn Tigers? You’ve been given a look at some solid returning talent and there are some studs in the 2016 signing class. Only time will tell. But, playing in the SEC West is absolutely brutal.

Where do we find victories on that next schedule?

The Tigers open with my pre-season numero uno, Clemson… in Auburn…on my birthday. I’m not of the mind to pencil that one in as a win.

Let’s go with victories over Arkansas State, Texas A&M, LA-Monroe, Mississippi State (bye, Dak), Vanderbilt, and Alabama A&M. That’s six. I have LSU (in Auburn), and Arkansas (also in Auburn) as, at least, 50/50 shots. Clemson, Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama? You simply cannot pencil wins in for any of those tough ones. But, I do believe Auburn will have a chance to win any game they play in, with an 8-4 record a good possibility. Anything else will be gravy. Well, bring on the turkey and dressing ’cause we have that gravy awaiting on The Plains.

Happy New Year and War Damn Eagle!

LSU is Set Up For Success in 2015

The 2014 football season has not been a typical one for the LSU Tigers. With one game left in the regular season, the Bayou Bengals are a non-factor in the SEC West race and are not even ranked in the top-25 nationally. The Tigers have suffered two home losses this season, putting a couple chinks in Tiger Stadium’s armor. LSU was also fortunate to escape with a victory against Wisconsin, Florida, and Ole Miss, three games that easily could have gone the other way and turned a down season in Baton Rouge into a disastrous season. But as difficult as 2014 was for LSU, the future remains bright, as the Tigers are set well for 2015.

 

The young Tiger defense, which struggled the first half of the season, has grown by leaps and bounds the second half of the season and now looks the part of an elite SEC defense. With only a few seniors receiving meaningful playing time on that side of the ball, the LSU defense in 2015 may be able to rise to the level of the Tiger defenses of recent years that put the Bayou Bengals in contention for a national championship.

 

The LSU secondary has been exceptional this season, with a trio of standout cornerbacks in Tre’Davious White, Jalen Collins, and Rashard Robinson. All three have the ability to matchup one-on-one with nearly any wide receiver in the country, and will continue to make LSU strong against the pass. As good as the secondary looks for 2015, LSU’s linebackers may be even better. As the trio of Kendell Beckwith, Kwon Alexander, and Lamar Louis may be among the best in the country next season after strong play the second half of 2014. Finally, while the LSU defensive line has just 10 sacks in 11 games this season, it’s filled with young players that will continue to get better, as well as a blossoming star in Danielle Hunter.

 

The offensive side of the ball is not as promising for LSU, but there is still a lot to look forward to in 2015. The Tigers will lose running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, but they will return the freshmen duo of Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams, a tandem that should give LSU a potent rushing attack next year. The LSU offensive line will lose three seniors, but with the injuries that unit has suffered this year, plenty of younger guys have gained valuable experience, which should help them jumpstart the Tiger’s rushing attack in 2015.

 

Despite struggles at the quarterback position this year that have held the Tigers back, things may be better in 2015 if Brandon Harris takes the reigns, especially if he becomes the starter late in 2014. Harris has the talent to be one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks, and by the start of his sophomore season he may be ready to lead the Tigers. Of course, Harris will need some help from his wide receivers, and despite profound struggles from that group this season, LSU’s talented contingent of freshmen should show considerable improvement in their sophomore year. If the trio of Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn, and John Diarse can take some of the attention away from emerging star Travin Dural, the Tigers could have a dangerous group of receivers and a potent passing attack in 2015.

 

Obviously, there are a lot of variables and no guarantees for LSU looking ahead to the 2015 season. The Tigers will be banking on a lot of their young players making vast improvements from their freshman to sophomore season, most notably on the offensive side of the ball. But it’s a fair assumption that the Tigers will have one of the best defenses in the SEC in 2015, possibly in the country. Also, despite a lack of experience, there is also no shortage of talent to work with on offense, giving the Tigers a high ceiling on that side of the ball. In 2015, this young Tiger’s team will be a year older, and therefore much more experienced and prepared for life in the SEC West. If the defense can continue to perform at a high level, and things come together on the offensive side of the ball, the Tigers will be set up to do great things in 2015.

LSU Offense Still Lags Behind Defense

With its near-win against Alabama on Saturday night, the LSU football team showed that it’s capable of going nose-to-nose with any team in the country. However, this young Tiger’s team also showed that they are not yet ready to beat the elite teams in the country and the SEC, as they squandered opportunities to take control of the game and put a nail in Alabama’s playoff coffin. The reason for this is that the LSU offense is still lagging behind the Tiger’s defense. Defensively, the Bayou Bengals have grown over the course of the season and turned into one of the best defenses in the country and a unit that opposing teams should fear. But the same can’t be said about the LSU offense, which is still a unit that is short on playmakers and lacks execution in key moments, which prevented the Tigers from beating Alabama and possibly making a late-season run at a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Granted, Alabama is one of the best defensive teams in the country, but the LSU offense had ample opportunity to win the game for the Tigers and failed to do so. An unsportsmanlike penalty on offensive lineman Vadal Alexander took the Tigers from the Alabama six-yard line back to the 21, with just over a minute to play. It was just one of two penalties the Tigers committed all night, but it cost them a chance to capitalize on T.J. Yeldon’s fumble and score a touchdown that surely would have won the game. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal that the Crimson Tide was able to equal. That’s a prime example of the mistakes LSU can’t afford to make given the state of its offense.

The biggest reason why LSU has such a small margin for error offensively is because they are still not getting strong play at the quarterback position. To his credit, on a handful of occasions, Anthony Jennings used his legs to pick up a first down. This isn’t something he’s done a lot this season, but it’s a weakness of the Alabama defense that Jennings was able to exploit. However, on the game’s final play, Jennings appeared to have a chance to run for a first down, but he chose to throw the ball into the end zone, looking for a touchdown instead of extending the drive. Despite all he did to help the Tigers against Alabama, that was the second most egregious mistake LSU made on offense against the Crimson Tide, and an example of how the LSU offense is not doing enough to help the Tigers win games this season.

Of course, the blame can’t solely be placed on Jennings. Ten games into the season, LSU’s young wide receivers have not developed to the level that the Tigers have needed them to. Malachi Dupre has made some big catches this year, but he still has just 12 total receptions on the season. Trey Quinn is second on the team in receptions this year, but he had a costly drop in the 4th quarter against Alabama and has not become a steady and reliable possession receiver, which is something the Tigers desperately need. John Diarse showed flashes of promise early in the season, but he hasn’t caught a pass in over a month. The lone LSU receiver that has emerged as a legitimate threat and playmaker is sophomore Travin Dural, but even he is not close to his full potential. More importantly, with no other threats in the passing game, it’s far too easy for opposing defenses to focus their efforts on stopping Dural, knowing the Tigers don’t have any other receivers that can hurt them. This lack of receiving targets is a big reason why Jennings has completed just 47 percent of his passes this season and has failed to elevate the performance of the LSU offense, leaving the Tigers with little margin for error on that side of the ball.

No one should be expecting the LSU offense to be lighting up the scoreboard against top-flight defenses, but at this point in the season, the young Tiger’s offense should have made more progress than they have. The result has been the Bayou Bengals having to win games solely on the back of their defense. The inability of the LSU offense to execute in key moments cost the Tigers an upset of Alabama, and until the offense starts to catch up to the level of the LSU defense, the Tigers will remain a notch below the SEC’s elite.

LSU Makes A Statement

The LSU football team has had its ups and downs this season, with some uninspired wins and a pair of embarrassing defeats, including one at home. They’ve had plenty of detractors and critics from the very start. In fact, just last week, yours truly labeled them as pretenders rather than contenders in the ultra-competitive SEC West. But on Saturday night in Baton Rouge, the Tigers made a huge statement about the present and the future with a win over the previously undefeated Ole Miss Rebels.
With the win, the Tigers made the statement that even in a so-called “down year,” they are still one of the SEC’s elite. With the win, the Tigers made the statement that there has not been a changing of the guard in the SEC, showing that they are still a team to be reckoned with and a team others need to beat if they expect to win a conference championship. With the win, the Tigers made the statement that a night game at Tiger Stadium is still a place where opponent’s dreams go to die.
Perhaps most importantly, the Tigers made the statement that they can still win games in the manner in which they’re accustomed to winning games. The win over Ole Miss was vintage LSU; the Bayou Bengals won with a powerful running game and a ferocious defense. The Tigers still don’t have much of a passing game, and they turned the ball over far too many times, but against the Rebels they proved that none of that matters when the Tiger’s defense comes to play.
There were glimpses of it in previous weeks, but the LSU defense was utterly brilliant against Ole Miss, making yet another bold statement about how good the Tigers can be on that side of the ball. Granted, the Rebels don’t exactly have a dynamic offense, but the LSU defense was fast and furious, flying to the ball and standing up to every challenge they faced in order to secure the win. The Tigers still don’t have a lot of stars or name recognition on defense, and unlike previous years, there’s no one on the defense that figures to be a first round NFL Draft pick next spring, but the young Tigers showed how talented they are, proved that they can be just as dominant as the LSU defenses of the past, and made a statement about the ability of the current LSU team to win games on the back of its defense.
The win technically keeps LSU alive and in contention in the SEC West. However, the Tigers will have to win their final three games, while hoping that Ole Miss loses once more and that both Mississippi State and Auburn end up with three conference losses each. It’s highly unlikely that all of that will happen, but still being in contention and having the potential to still win the SEC West heading into November is a positive for the Bayou Bengals, especially considering where they were a month ago, as it’s a signal to the rest of the conference that LSU is still around and should not be counted out just yet..
Of course, the statement that LSU made Saturday night against Ole Miss is not necessarily applicable for the 2014 season. Yes, the win and the dominant defensive effort will strike some fear into the opponents remaining on LSU’s schedule. However, it is more of a statement for next season. The Tigers are young and talented, and they’re only going to get better. On Saturday, they made the statement that their time towards the bottom of the SEC West was short lived and that they are quickly ascending back to the top. For 2014, it may be too little, too late, but the Tigers proved to their doubters that they are still a team to be reckoned with and a team that should still be counted as one of the SEC’s elite, and possibly a favorite to win the league once again in 2015.

The Long Walk

Last week I encouraged Kentucky fans to dream and boldly dream big. I felt like the fan base had several good reasons to dream. Our young team was flying high after a surprising 5-1 start. The national media was saying that Kentucky was a dark horse to win the SEC East. In fact, some media pundits said the Wildcats could pull off a win at Tiger Stadium against a struggling LSU team. From the opening kickoff in Death Valley the Big Blue Nation saw our dreams become a proverbial and literal nightmare.
A failed trick play on the opening kickoff was made worse by penalties on the ensuing drive that gave the Tigers prime field position without breaking a sweat. Of course, they crossed the goal line and dared the boys in blue to play catch up. When Kentucky’s vaunted offense took the field with an opportunity to answer LSU’s young and talented defense easily dispatched the Wildcat formation that previous opponents labored to stop. By this point a familiar feeling was creeping into the back of my mind, my beloved Cats were going to get whipped.
The sense of foreboding I felt in the first quarter became prophetic. LSU’s never ending supply of physical tailbacks took advantage of UK’s weakness against the run for a handsome sum of 323 yards. Even worse Kentucky’s special teams gave up a punt return for a touchdown and failed to recover a kick that led to an LSU field goal before the half. Self-inflicted wounds such as receivers missing easy passes and the team speed of the Bayou Bengal defense stifled UK’s offense all night long. With the 41-3 lose the dreams of the early season gave way to a harsh and sobering dose of reality for the Big Blue Nation.
Now that the shine is off what do we know about this Kentucky Wildcat football team? Well, the defense definitely is suspect when it comes to defending the run against physical backs. The offense easily stalls when it does not hit the big play and may be too reliant on trickery. Kickoff coverage reared its head as a potential problem as well. When one looks at the upcoming schedule the issues I mentioned above are very troubling.
Mississippi State, this coming Saturday’s, opponent boasts not only a physical tailback but a punishing runner at quarterback in Dak Prescott. The Bulldog defense has also been able to hold high powered offenses such as Auburn and Texas A & M in check. The Athens, Georgia branch of the bulldog family also promises to bring a bevy of physical backs and a stout defense to Commonwealth Stadium in two weeks. At the end of the season Kentucky will face archrival Louisville who also brings a dominating defense to the game. Throw in two tough road games at Missouri and Tennessee the young Wildcats are facing a long walk to a potential bowl bid that looked like a cinch before the beat down on the bayou.
No one will shame Kentucky if they fall to the difficult slate of challengers they face in the second half of the season. A few noble efforts would take the sting out of a potential six game slide to end the year. Also, a number ranked basketball team also helps to heal the wounds of a potentially disappointing football season. And, like I mentioned last week Kentucky fans are used to futility on the football field. Still, despite the long odds one things remains that, in my opinion, which will make this a season to celebrate.
Going back to last season the current crop of Cats don’t seem to know the idea of the word quit. This season has seen much of the same. Already the team has overcome three fourteen point ten point deficits. Even when momentum was against them in Death Valley Kentucky went blow for blow with a physical LSU team in the first half. The will to win and physical toughness will take an underdog team many places, including a bowl game and a winning season. The road to that is a long road but one I believe that this team has the fortitude to do.