Tag Archives: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Pondering and Power Rating the SEC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment on this story in our free forum.

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

Image via Flickr/getmahesh

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

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

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

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

Onward!

SEC EAST 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For again I say, rejoice!

College football is upon us!

Comment on this story in our free forum.

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Alabama Football is Too Big To Fail

As the NCAA was peering over the shoulder of Hugh Freeze, the Ole Miss football coach was consistent in his vehement refutation of all of the claims against him and his program. Freeze went as far as to imply that the NCAA’s investigation was based on religious persecution as he compared himself to his Lord and Savior. Motivation aside, the NCAA has accused Freeze of having a lack of institutional control to go along with 15 Level I violations.

Paying recruits is among the specific allegations that comprise Freeze’s alleged transgressions on the recruiting trail. This allegation becomes stickier when one of those recruits in question didn’t make Ole Miss his home. A logical assumption is that if the recruit accepted payment from a program that he turned down that it’s easy to believe that the same recruit accepted money from the program that he ultimately chose to play for. This is what’s been suggested to have occurred with Leo Lewis. Lewis allegedly accepted money from Ole Miss only to turn around and commit to Mississippi State. And it’s at this point that the NCAA finds itself in the same philosophical dilemma that it has placed itself in time and time again.

As a governing body, the NCAA has been anything but fair and balanced. The NCAA has a history of playing favorites and turning a blind eye to justice when the member institution is considered to be a blue-blood program. To say that the NCAA has shown a lack of institutional control when levying justice is an understatement. This certainly doesn’t make the NCAA judiciary arm different from any other governing body but that also doesn’t excuse its practice of selective enforcement.

Alabama has been a recent beneficiary of the NCAA’s protocol of selective enforcement. There was a long paper trail documenting the funneling of benefits between former Crimson Tide player Luther Davis and D.J. Fluker. Davis acted as the go-between for Fluker, NFL agents, and financial advisors.

Yahoo Sports was able to authenticate text message records, Western Union fund transfers, banking statements, flight receipts and other financial material linking both Davis and the five college football players. Yahoo Sports also found that three NFL agents and three financial advisers engaged Davis in transactions totaling $45,550. The three agents were Andy Simms, Peter Schaffer and John Phillips. The financial advisers were Jason Jernigan, Mike Rowan and Hodge Brahmbhatt.

Even with the case that could be made against Alabama and some of the individuals close to the program, the NCAA lacked the time to go after Nick Saban and Alabama. And that poses the million-dollar question; what is the NCAA afraid of? To me, that’s an easy question to answer. The NCAA is afraid of going after one of its blue-bloods because it’s afraid of what that could mean to its overall brand. Alabama is worth too much to bring down what Saban has built in Tuscaloosa.

It is true that the NCAA placed Alabama football on probation once before, but that wasn’t under the shadow of the current economic landscape of college football. Alabama has too much market and intrinsic value in the modern day business model. Simply put, Alabama football is considered too big to fail and, because of that, the Crimson Tide are essentially allowed to make its own rules.

The Fluker accusations were not the only ones surrounding Alabama. There was also the situation that former assistant coach Bo Davis placed Alabama in. And when I say “placed Alabama in,” I really mean the situation that Davis placed himself in. Davis was accused of contacting recruits during the dead period and the NCAA did engage in a small investigation. Based on its lack of action against Alabama, the NCAA considered this a case of no-harm-no-foul once Davis resigned.

Davis submitted his resignation on April 28. He was then paid $316,666.66 on August 19. The reason given for this payment was “to resolve disputed claims related to his separation from the university.” Once that payment of $316,666.66 was factored in, Davis made more than the $475,000 that Alabama had set his 2016 compensation at. That strikes me as a payoff to keep his mouth shut about what he witnessed and took part in while on the Alabama coaching staff. But like I said, Alabama is considered too big to fail.

The NCAA has a rich and storied history when it comes to wielding its selective sword of justice. In addition to what the NCAA has allowed Alabama to get away with, there are numerous examples of the NCAA engaging in questionable enforcement procedures when it comes to its basketball programs.

Going all the way back to when Roy Williams was the basketball coach at the University of Kansas, the NCAA went easy on his Jayhawk program when investigating the ties between Tom Grant, Myron Piggie and JaRon Rush.

Once Williams left the Jayhawks for the North Carolina Tar Heel job, he played dumb as the NCAA questioned how he ran his Kansas program. Again, nothing substantial came out of this NCAA investigation.

How about the FBI investigation that Bill Self’s team found itself attached to? Yes, I said FBI investigation. Did this receive much attention from the NCAA? It did not.

And there was the ticket scandal that occurred at Kansas while Lew Perkins was the athletic director. This included the concealing of income statements that were provided to the NCAA. But, as you probably guessed, nothing came out of this.

The NCAA had an issue with one of its investigators, Abigail Grantstein. Grantstein, who graduated from Kansas, was eventually fired for bungling the investigations into UCLA recruit Shabazz Muhammad and Kansas recruit Josh Selby. Both UCLA and Kansas got off easy.

Perhaps the real cake topper in how the NCAA operates was on display as Miami basketball was being investigated. The NCAA had Nevin Shapiro’s attorney on its payroll as Maria Elena Perez was caught sharing privileged information with the NCAA.

The NCAA claims to stand for integrity and claims to support what is in the best interest of the college athletes. Nothing could be further from the truth. The NCAA cares about itself and what it considers to be in its best interest. And what’s in the best interest of the NCAA is for its blue-bloods to remain successful.

If your school isn’t on par with Alabama football or Kansas basketball, you had better hope that your school doesn’t offer a recruit an impermissible cheeseburger. But if your school is on par with Alabama or Kansas? Let the payments and benefits flow.

This is what will help contain the damage that would have otherwise have been inflicted by an in-depth NCAA investigation into the former Ole Miss football recruits. We should expect the NCAA to go just far enough as to take down Ole Miss, but not far enough to clean the entire situation up. If the NCAA did go all the way with the investigation, a school like Alabama could get caught in the cross hairs. And that’s the last thing the NCAA wants.

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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SEC Champions or “Champions of Life?”

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

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

Here are the SEC teams in the Top 25:

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

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

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

And the remainder of the conference.

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

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

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

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

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

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

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

SEC East

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

SEC West

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

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

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

Whatever. I’ll take it.

Back to the entire pack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picking Up the Pieces of the 2016 SEC Football Season

The championship games are now in the book as well as a few straggling regular season games. Army-Navy remains. That being said, let’s do some housekeeping and tidy up a few odds and ends concerning the SEC.

First, we’ll saunter back to SEC Media Days and review how the scribes’ picks turned out.

As you see in this article, Alabama was picked to win the SEC West and Tennessee was the choice to represent the SEC East in Atlanta. Alabama, obviously, held up their end of the deal but the Vols did not. The Florida Gators managed to take the division by default. The Crimson Tide steamrolled the West in dominant fashion. They won their division by three games over who? The Auburn Tigers.

Auburn was picked not second, or third, of fourth, or fifth. They were picked sixth in the West behind LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Arkansas.

Bravo for the Tigers! And they were rewarded with a trip to the Big Easy and the Sugar Bowl. They will take on Big 12 champion, Oklahoma. It could be one of the better games of the entire bowl season. More on that, and other bowls, in later columns.

What about the cellar dwellers? South Carolina was the choice to bring up the rear in the East, but the Gamecocks, modestly exceeded expectations and came in fourth. Missouri had the distinction of finishing last in the “Easy.”One of the Mississippi teams was tagged by the media to sink to the bottom in the grueling West. But it was the Bulldogs of Mississippi State that was chosen for that “honor.” Ole Miss, much to the surprise of most every football fan in the country, plummeted to the number seven spot while predicted to come in third.

Here is a complete look at how the standings shook down in 2016.

Here is how the media sized up the All-SEC selections.

And here are the coaches’ choices (the only one we have when this article was composed) for All-SEC.

Glaring discrepancies on the first team offense? Chad Kelly at quarterback, Leonard Fournette at running back, Nick Chubb at running back, Calvin Ridley at wide receiver, and O.J. Howard at tight end.

Jalen Hurts, Kamryn Pettway, Derrius Guice, ArDarius Stewart, and Evan Engram took those slots.

Defense? As you peruse the lists you will note that things went pretty much as expected. Good job media!

The coaches individual award winners on offense, defense, and coach went to Jalen Hurts, Jonathan Allen, and Nick Saban. As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!”But, in all fairness, who’d a thunk Jalen Hurts would walk off with the offensive player of the year? No one could have seen that coming.

In this interim, between the regular season and bowl season, and beyond, there are some questions we look forward to seeing answered.

What will the NCAA decide in the way of punishment for Ole Miss?

Will Nick Saban retire? (Wishful thinking)

What underclassmen might surprise us by succumbing to the lure of dollars and the NFL?

How hot is Butch Jones’ fanny?

Kevin Sumlin’s?

Will Lane Kiffin take a head coaching position? (More wishful thinking)

How about Rhett Lashlee?

Will Jim McElwain ever find a quarterback?

Will Gus Malzahn?

Will Kirby Smart be a bust?

Will Barry Odom?

Who might be the next Jalen Hurts or Kamryn Pettway?

Is anyone capable of bridging the gap between Alabama and everybody else?

And… is the SEC still the top of the heap in the world of college football.

The bowl games are upon us and, with their conclusion, the season of 2016 will be but a memory.

What does 2017 hold for us as college football fans?

In the words of a wise man… we shall see.

 

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

 

The SEC West is Wide Open

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

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

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

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

Alabama- 12-0, 8-0 SEC

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

Auburn- 9-3, 6-2 SEC

LSU- 8-3, 6-2 SEC

Arkansas 8-4, 4-4 SEC

Ole Miss- 6-6, 3-5 SEC

Mississippi State- 3-9, 1-7 SEC

 

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

 

LSU

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

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

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

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

 

Auburn

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A&M’s Chances Are Slim

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

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

 

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

Buckle up.

 

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

 

Photo: Flickr, Connor Tarter

Despite Slow Start, Kentucky Going Bowling in 2016

Before the season began, most people pegged the Kentucky Wildcats as an improving program that would reach a bowl game in 2016.  With a new, multi-million-dollar training center open for business and a highly touted four-star quarterback under center, the hopes of Big Blue Nation were soaring.  A six-win season seemed imminent, and seven or eight wins seemed entirely achievable.

Generally, the preseason hype lasts until midseason.  Last season, Kentucky was 4-1 before a five-game losing streak. Two years ago the ‘Cats ran their record to 5-1 (including a 3OT loss at Florida) before six straight losses ended the postseason dream.

However, this season the excitement dwindled after just two quarters when Southern Mississippi outscored the ‘Cats 34-0 in the final 31 minutes of the season opener to deliver a crushing blow to the chest of Big Blue Nation.  That was followed by a 45-7 stomping in the Swamp against Florida.

By week two, the “fire Mark Stoops” chorus was ringing loudly.  The attendance for week three’s match-up with New Mexico State was dismal, and the bowl berth storyline turned into a farce.

Since the loss at Florida, though, Kentucky is 3-1, losing by merely 28 points to an Alabama team that beat Tennessee by 39.

After losing its margin-of-error by falling to Southern Mississippi, could Kentucky really still go bowling?

Yes.

There are enough winnable games left on the schedule, and even if the Wildcats can’t pull off an upset somewhere in-between, they could still absolutely find themselves playing late in December.

 

10/22 Mississippi State

The Bulldogs are 2-4 this season with wins against South Carolina and Massachusetts.

Kentucky and MSU are statistically very similar on both sides of the ball. The Bulldogs score 24.8 points per game compared to Kentucky’s 24.5.  Defensively, Mississippi State gives up 446 yards per game to Kentucky’s 442.7. The Wildcats give up 31.3 points per game while MSU allows just one less, 30.3.

The difference in the game will be Kentucky’s rushing attack. Mississippi State has given up the third-most rushing yards in the SEC, which will make it incredibly hard for them to stop Benny Snell Jr. (5.1 YPC) and Boom Williams (7.1 YPC).

Kentucky will wear down the Mississippi State defense and come away with the victory for win number four.

10/29 @ Missouri

Missouri (2-4, 0-3 SEC) has played a tough schedule so far this season, losing to West Virginia, Georgia, LSU, and Florida. Of all the teams Kentucky should beat on the remainder of the schedule, Missouri has the best chance of playing spoiler.

Believe it or not, Missouri has the fifth highest points-per-game average in the Southeastern Conference.  However, the Tigers’ have relied heavily on the passing game for offensive success.  While the numbers representing Kentucky’s pass defense aren’t stellar, the defensive secondary has been playing much better since Stoops took over the defensive play-calling.

The ‘Cats will have to work for this one, but will come away with win number five.

11/5 Georgia

Vanderbilt pulled off an upset of Georgia. Can Kentucky?

Doubtful.

Vanderbilt relied heavily on defense to beat Georgia last weekend.  The Wildcats’ only hope to beat Georgia is to stop the Bulldogs’ run game, which ranks fifth in the SEC.  After giving up 254 rushing yards per game through the first three games of the season, Kentucky has given up just 136 per game in its last three.

Kentucky has the potential of upsetting Georgia at home, but the Bulldogs are the safer pick on November 5. Kentucky will fall to 5-4.

11/12 @ Tennessee

Kentucky is 1-30 against Tennessee since 1985.

I can’t pick Kentucky here, although Tennessee’s tendency to play down to its competition should be noted.

Tennessee will hand Kentucky loss number five of the season.

11/19 Austin Peay

It’s always nice to have an FCS opponent sandwiched on your schedule between two tough road rivalry games, especially when you’re playing for a bowl bid.

Kentucky will cruise to its sixth win of the season, the program’s first time reaching that mark since 2010.

11/26 @ Louisville

Forget it.

Kentucky will end the regular season with a loss, finishing at 6-6.

 

Six wins for an SEC school generally means a December trip to the Birmingham Bowl or the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Either way, Kentucky fans will finally get what they’ve been waiting for; noticeable improvements from Mark Stoops and Kentucky’s first bowl berth since 2010.

 

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

 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Auburn vs. Mississippi State: From Jackson to Starkville

November 9, 1963 was a blustery, overcast day in Jackson, Mississippi. There was also occasional misty rain. But it wasn’t particularly cold.

My parents found a local downtown restaurant where we could step in, out of the weather, and get a warm beverage. Coffee for them and hot chocolate for me. Or was it a Coke? I don’t clearly recall that bit of minutia.

One thing that I do remember was peering at the front page of that day’s Jackson Clarion-Ledger newspaper and seeing a cartoon of a Bulldog cutting a rope, on which walked a Tiger, with a pair of large scissors. Under the rope was the caption “7-0 winning streak.”

The Bulldog in the cartoon represented Mississippi State and the Tiger was one of the Auburn ilk.

The ’63 edition of The Auburn Tigers was indeed riding a seven-game winning streak and were ranked No. 5 in the nation. The Maroons, as State was still referred to in many circles, were unranked.

The cartoon aroused in me a huff of righteous indignation. How dare they think they can beat us?

At this point in my young life I had attended a total of four Auburn football games. I’m 4-0! Yes, how dare the idiots at the Clarion-Ledger insinuate a win by the lowly Bulldogs over the mighty, undefeated Tigers?!

Game time!

Auburn led State at the half, 10-3, on the strength of a zig-zagging 47-yard run by All-American quarterback Jimmy Sidle and a 30-yard field goal by Woody Woodall. Mississippi State’s Justin Canale tallied its only score with a 35-yard three-pointer.

The home team tied the game in the third quarter as quarterback Sonny Fisher hit halfback Ode Burrell on a 22-yard pass play.

The game rocked on as a tough defensive battle deep into the fourth stanza. I wasn’t worried in the least. Jimmy Sidle or Tucker Frederickson or somebody would step up and do something to pull out the Tigers’ eighth win in a row.

Then it became eerily late in the ballgame. My concern was not that my precious Auburn would lose. My concern was that I better haul fanny down to the playing field to secure a chin strap.

I took off from my perch in the east stands, out the portal, and broke into a dead sprint around the concourse of the north end zone.

Run, Bird, run!

I made my way to a portal on the west side that I approximated to empty into a view of the fifty-yard line.There I stopped in the opening to catch my breath and check on the action below. Holy cow! The clock had been working quite erratically all game long, but now the sporadically lit bulbs seemed to indicate that there were maybe 28 seconds left.

Oh my! And Mississippi State had called a timeout with the football spotted at Auburn’s 29-yard line!

Justin Canale and the Bulldog kicking team trotted calmly on to the slightly muddy turf to attempt what could be the game-winning field goal.

I held my breath.

The snap. The hold. The kick.

The end over end kick split the south end zone uprights perfectly. And I thought to myself, this can’t be. Auburn cannot lose a game which I attend. It wouldn’t be fair.

A last ditch effort to complete two or three passes failed and it did, indeed, happen.

Home 13, Visitors 10. The old weather-beaten clock showed zero seconds remaining.

I dutifully made my way down the stairs and through the gate to Auburn’s bench area. I was actually happy to be there but the somber looks on the faces of the Tiger players told the story. We lost. No undefeated season.

The reality was harsh but I did have to secure my souvenir. I saw number 15, backup Auburn quarterback Mailon Kent, walking toward the bench to pick up his helmet. He did so as I arrived there at about the same time he did. I meekly asked, “Mailon, can I have your chin strap?”

I thought I saw the corners of his mouth bend just a wee bit upward as he unsnapped the white foam rubber equipment piece from his head gear and handed it gently to me.

I thanked him and broke into another run. This time down the Auburn sideline, back toward the north end zone, around it, and up to the row where my parents stood patiently. But I was beaming from ear to ear.

Yes, Auburn lost. But it was their only regular season loss of that wonderful, memorable season.

Auburn won its final two games over Georgia and Alabama to go 9-1. The victory over Alabama broke a four-year losing streak to the Crimson Tide. And it wasn’t just an old losing streak. Auburn did not score at all during that drought.

Quarterback Jimmy Sidle went on to rush for 1,006 yards and set the single-season rushing record for Auburn. The Tigers played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

Oh! The 10-8 win over Bama? Sidle was hurt in that game and the second string quarterback, Mailon Kent, filled in late and threw a short touchdown pass to Tucker Frederickson to erase an 8-3 Alabama lead and give Auburn the victory. It was fitting and I, in some small, small way, felt a part of it.

The loss to Mississippi State was painful, and it remains so to this day. But an unusually short sixth grader from Camden, in Lower Alabama, most assuredly grew as a person during that special season of 1963.

This 64-year-old kid is looking forward, with the same eager and wide-eyed anticipation, to the Mississippi State game tomorrow as that 11-year-old did back then.

The game is no longer played in Jackson. State home games were moved to Starkville in 1982.

Yes, the venue has changed and one more important thing will be different from that November day in 1963.

Auburn will win.

 

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

SEC Quarterbacks Are Downright Unimpressive

Anybody who knows me at all knows that I have a special place in my heart for SEC football. I really do. But I can’t sit by and be silent about this. The SEC quarterbacks, once again, look overwhelmingly bad. At the risk of sounding cliché, watching the SEC quarterback play so far this year is like watching paint dry.

I can’t think of a single SEC quarterback who actually excites me right now. Meanwhile, I can think of four or five ACC quarterbacks that do. This is madness. How does the conference with the most ranked teams have the worst quarterbacks? I just don’t get it.

Usually, the SEC East is a mess and the SEC West is great. This year, everybody except for Alabama (and maybe Texas A&M) is a mess. Yet somehow there are still eight teams ranked in the AP top 25 at the moment. I’ll let you in on a little something, though—they definitely aren’t ranked because of their quarterbacks.

So here is where I go through every SEC team, by division and in alphabetical order, to prove a point. I’ll keep the assessment for each team brief.

The Florida Gators have been starting Luke Del Rio at quarterback. On the season so far he has 762 passing yards, 6 touchdowns, and two interceptions. But unfortunately for the Gators, he’s sidelined due to a knee injury and they’ll have to rely on Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby for now. Just when they were getting some momentum…

The Georgia Bulldogs seemed pretty well-off as far as quarterbacks go when the season started. Both Greyson Lambert (who was solid last year) and Jacob Eason (who’s a true freshman) have taken snaps for the Dawgs, with Eason taking the majority of the snaps. Eason has racked up 643 yards passing, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. Not bad…and also not fantastic.

The Kentucky Wildcats have played both Drew Barker and Stephen Johnson at quarterback, but Barker went down against New Mexico State and Kentucky has had more success with Johnson now anyways. He has 355 yards passing, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. In the second week at Florida, Drew Barker actually threw three interceptions to the Florida defense and only completed two passes to his own players. Oops!

The Missouri Tigers have mostly stuck with quarterback Drew Lock so far this season. A bright spot in the East, he has 1106 passing yards, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions. But, the Tigers are still struggling, only managing to win one of their first three games this season.

The South Carolina Gamecocks haven’t had all that much luck at quarterback between Brandon McIlwain and Perry Orth. McIlwain has been slightly better than his competition, with 356 yards passing, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He also added 80 yards rushing and two more touchdowns on the ground. But with Muschamp at the helm, I don’t know if they’ll ever have great quarterback play.

The Tennessee Volunteers have had pretty much the same Josh Dobbs they’ve been behind for a couple years now. So far his passing game leaves a lot to be desired with 486 passing yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. On the bright side, he has added 161 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground. He’s also been a great leader despite being behind a shaky offensive line.

The Vanderbilt Commodores have struggled offensively (as always) behind Kyle Shurmur so far this year. He’s had 335 yards passing for two touchdowns and one interception. If Shurmur could get it together, maybe they could actually win a couple conference games this season.

But wait…there’s more! We still have another division full of mediocre quarterbacks to go.

The Alabama Crimson Tide have had Jalen Hurts take the majority of their snaps at quarterback this year. He has 563 passing yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. He’s also added 197 rushing yards and two more touchdowns on the ground. Plus, they’re Alabama. Their quarterback play won’t make or break their season.

The Arkansas Razorbacks have stuck with Austin Allen as their quarterback so far this season. Allen has 655 yards passing, seven touchdowns, and two interceptions. He’s been good so far; he just hasn’t been outstanding.

The Auburn Tigers had some fun at quarterback against Clemson to open the season, but Sean White is now taking the snaps. He has 510 passing yards, three touchdowns, and one interception so far. Meh.

The LSU Tigers started off the season behind Brandon Harris at quarterback but have since given the nod to Danny Etling. Etling has 315 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He also does have one rushing touchdown. He may not be great, but I think he’s better than Harris.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs have played both Nick Fitzgerald and Damian Williams at quarterback so far this year. Fitzgerald has edged out Williams with 298 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception to Williams’ 237 passing yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, Fitzgerald has 219 yards on the ground and Williams has 88 yards as well as a touchdown. While they seem fairly evenly matched, neither is too exciting at this point.

The Ole Miss Rebels have Chad “Swag” Kelly, who was supposed to be the best quarterback in the nation. Kelly does have 953 passing yards and ten touchdowns, but he also has four interceptions. The Rebels will live and die by Kelly this season so those mistakes are costly.

The Texas A&M Aggies have Trevor Knight at quarterback. Knight has 830 passing yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. He also has 151 rushing yards and three more touchdowns on the ground. He’s no Lamar Jackson, but he’s better than most SEC quarterbacks.

Now that you’ve made it through that, maybe you can understand why I’m just unimpressed with the SEC quarterbacks at this point. You know things are rough when Missouri arguably has the best quarterback at the moment. Missouri…a team that has lost two of their first three games. I guess you could argue that Trevor Knight is just as good since he’s more of a dual-threat quarterback. But either way, those two are the best the SEC has to offer right now and that’s not good.

Now, I understand that just looking at these stats isn’t really fair in a lot of ways. Offensive lines not giving time to throw or space to run can be absolutely devastating for quarterbacks. Receivers dropping passes can be just as bad. And facing good secondary units can also be incredibly tough for a quarterback. But even with those things in mind, there isn’t a single quarterback in the SEC that has really impressed me or excited me the way quarterbacks in other conferences have. I didn’t expect there to be a Heisman trophy-winning quarterback from the SEC, but I also didn’t expect the performances to be this lackluster.

Fortunately for SEC fans and our quarterbacks, football isn’t just about that one player taking the snaps. In the SEC it tends to be more about running backs and defenses. That’s probably why there’s still a whopping eight SEC football teams ranked in the AP Top 25, like I mentioned before. And as much as quarterback play can be fun to watch, I prefer watching some hard-hitting SEC defense anyways. So maybe I should save my complaining for the day the defenses are weak.

Here’s the big question for this year will SEC teams be able to compete in the postseason when these SEC quarterbacks are playing like this? If you ask me, it depends on the team. If you have a great defense, a solid offensive line, and a good back or two, then you can compete with anyone. That’s why Alabama is virtually unstoppable. But otherwise, you’ll just become another overrated SEC team. And nobody wants that.

And then there’s the other big question. Why is this such a problem for the SEC and will it continue next year? In all honesty, I still haven’t figured out why the SEC doesn’t have the same quarterback depth that the other major conferences do. But this isn’t something new by any means. And while it may get a little better next season as some of the guys mentioned above take more snaps and gain experience, I don’t expect the SEC to have phenomenal quarterback play anytime soon. I’ll leave that to the ACC for now.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Image courtesy of Ken Lund.

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It’s Time to Make the SEC Great Again

Any follower of my writing here at Campus Pressbox knows that I am a fervent supporter of the so-called “Make the MAC Great Again” movement. If fact, I am its only supporter.

Like a proud mother, I lovingly birthed the “Make the MAC Great Again” movement just a matter of months ago, feeding it, burping it, cradling it in my arms. And while my love for all things #MACtion will never subside, I must momentarily abandon my precious child. It seems there is an orphan in need, and that orphan is the SEC.

That’s right. It’s time to Make the SEC Great Again.

While the Mid-American Conference was but a shy, forgotten child simply searching for its wings, the poor Southeastern Conference faces far greater psychological damage. Raised by two abusive, over-ambitious parents getting regularly ejected from their kid’s tee-ball games, the SEC was raised its whole life to pursue expectations it couldn’t possibly attain. Everybody pushed the SEC to be the star of its high school basketball team. But really, all the SEC wants is a callback for the school musical.

The SEC bottled up those insecurities for years, even decades. But once the 2016 season began, the SEC could no longer bear it. Last weekend, the SEC appeared unusually shattered and broken, meaning it’s time to pick up the pieces in a step-by-step diagnosis of a meltdown that was the SEC’s Week 1.

It all began Thursday night in Knoxville, Tennessee, where Joshua Dobbs proved his worth as an early-season Heisman contender. Sure, Appalachian State may have joined the FBS only two seasons ago, but that didn’t stop the Sun Belt heavyweights from taking the ninth-ranked team in the nation to overtime. Tennessee’s offensive line volunteered for a shellacking at the hands of a gritty Mountaineers unit.  Even though they escaped with a narrow victory, the implication of an SEC offense only managing 1.4 yards per carry against a Sun Belt squad can’t be ignored.

Then, before SEC Nation could even recover, this happened.

Mississippi State blew a 17-0 lead, and they blew it against another Sun Belt team. Safe to say the #FunBelt wasn’t so fun for Dan Mullen on Saturday, as he should probably be out of a job this morning. South Alabama possessed the ball for 36 minutes and threw for 285 yards, nearly doubling Mississippi State’s meager 143 yards of production. They also incurred eight penalties and missed both of their field goal attempts, but the Bulldogs still could not prevail.

Shortly thereafter, the fifth-ranked team in the country forgot how to play offense. Even with Wisconsin gifting LSU three turnovers, the Tigers’ attack never kicked into gear. One offensive touchdown wasn’t enough to outduel the Badgers in an ugly, defensive showdown. LSU and Leonard Fournette couldn’t overcome their first-half struggles, resulting in a 16-14 loss at Lambeau Field.

Tennesee suffered a gashing on the offensive line. Mississippi State got out-passed by a mid-major. LSU got out-slugged by a Big 10 school. Aren’t all those elements supposedly hallmarks of the SEC?

The bleeding certainly didn’t stop there. Missouri predictably faltered against West Virginia. Arkansas needed a late, go-ahead touchdown to survive Louisiana Tech. Kentucky blanked the entire second half in a loss to Southern Mississippi. Florida entered the fourth quarter locked in a 10-7 battle against UMass- another FBS newbie. Auburn botched every single chance it had at beating Clemson. And as the icing on the SEC’s intervention cake, Ole Miss spoiled a 22-point lead against Florida State in primetime, Monday night.

While Georgia, Texas A&M, and Alabama all registered impressive victories, these were clear exceptions to a dismal rule. Excluding the intra-conference matchup between South Carolina and Vanderbilt (not that anybody cares about Vanderbilt anyway), the SEC went 6-6 in a Week 1 full of both high expectations and terrible competition.

The SEC was favored in nine of those contests. It fared an abysmal 4-8 against the spread. It appears the conference hit rock bottom.

For whatever reason, we keep expecting the SEC to be supreme on the college football landscape. It’s time to measure those expectations. A good conference, yes, but the SEC is just that: a good conference. Its quarterbacks are no better, its schedules are no tougher, and it should be no more guaranteed a playoff spot than any other conference.

Five or ten years ago, in the heyday of the BCS, it might be fair to claim that the SEC cornered the market on skill and talent. Today, when coaches like Urban Meyer inhabit the Big 10, when teams like TCU near triple digits on the scoreboard, and when players like Ed Oliver choose to enroll at Group of 5 programs, that’s no longer a fair claim.

SEC schools should be judged based on the merit of their play, not based on some media-driven pseudo-merit of the conference that they play in.

Those truths might be hard. But only through those hard truths can we begin the conference’s healing process. Only through those hard truths can we remind a bruised and battered SEC that it’s okay to be human. So this college football season, when you find yourself suffering through yet another three-hour dose of Verne Lundquist, take a moment to reflect on a movement for college football fans, coaches, and players across all conferences. We’re all in this together.

Being a great conference doesn’t require yelling and screaming about being great, it requires proving it on the field. It’s time to let the SEC know, because only then can we truly Make the SEC Great Again.

I only hope the MAC can lead by example.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.