Tag Archives: Rivalry

How Much Is Michigan State Going to Lose By?

Well, well, well. Look who we have here. How’ve you been Sparty? That record with the five losses tells me you haven’t been so good.

So I just want to rewind the clock a few years.

Mike Hart made what was essentially a harmless comment in a postgame conference about Michigan State being Michigan’s little brother and oh man, did Sparty Nation get all bent out of shape. You clung to it, letting the hate grow, and fester. It basically fed into everything that you did and stood for.

I live in Michigan so I’ve seen some of these things. Spartan fans got a billboard to declare that Michigan was now the “little sister” among other things. Fans chant it at the game, and if you listened to sports talk radio around here, oh man do you hear it all the time. It’s like they have nothing else, well except for the Michigan State PR group taking a shot at another Michigan tradition.

I warned you against this, Michigan State.

I told you that if you wanted to be the better team you had to act like the better team.

Well, well, well.

So Spartan fans, I want you to think back to all the times that you declared that Big Blue was done and that Michigan State was the new big dog. How you laughed at us when we were down and figured that you were destined to stay at the top of the standings forever.

Michigan fans learned that it doesn’t work that way. We learned that sometimes you’re going to have some down years and that you need to remember that you might have to take some lumps later on.

And we remember. We remember it all, Sparty.

We remember all the “little sister” comments.

We remember the big losses.

We remember the trouble with the snap last year.

And if the fans remember, you can bet the players remember. If the players remember… just think about what a coach who is obsessed with winning and will go for two against one of the worst teams in the nation basically just for kicks remembers.

The beast that is Jim Harbaugh has been awakened, and he is not happy. He’s never happy (but that’s beside the point).

One of the most punishing defensive fronts and one of the best secondaries in the nation are on their way to East Lansing. This is a defense that is allowing an average of ten points a game. That is the best in the nation. Where’s Sparty rank on scoring? Hang on, I’ve got to scroll a lot. Oh, there they are. Michigan State is scoring just over 23 points a game which is good for 110th in the nation.

Michigan State is 61st in passing yards per game. Michigan is first in passing yards allowed.

Michigan State is 86th in rushing yards per game. Michigan is fourth in rushing yards allowed per game.

If the season were only a couple weeks old, those numbers would be less impressive. We’re more than halfway through the season, though. Michigan has beat up on good teams like Wisconsin, Colorado, and Penn State. Wisconsin is the only team to stay within single-digits of the Wolverines and they’re ranked no. 11 in the nation.

Imagine what an angry Michigan team is going to do to a bad Michigan State team.

The question isn’t if Michigan is going to win, it’s how much is Michigan going to win by?

I have all the respect in the world for Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio, but even he can’t coach his way out of the slaughter that’s coming his way. Michigan State is not equipped to deal with the juggernaut that is this current Wolverines team. Heck, Michigan State might not be equipped to even get to a bowl game.

Maybe you’ll rebound and maybe you won’t. But this time Michigan State, beware that Michigan is going to remember these last few years for quite a while. If you rebound, the Wolverines are going to make sure that you have to work for it.


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Image courtesy Flickr via Creative Commons

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Pride Comes Before the Fall for Michigan State

If there’s any school out there in the Big Ten that’s allowed to be a little cranky about things, it’s Michigan State. They were honestly pretty bad for most of the 80s and 90s and even into the 2000s, with the exception of a couple good seasons. Even the mighty Nick Saban could only get nine wins out of the Spartans once, before he bolted to LSU to win a national title three years later.

Really until Mark Dantonio arrived in 2007 the Spartans didn’t have much going for them. They had to endure the “Little Brother” remark from Mike Hart which still endures to this day. Even now that the Spartans are competing with Ohio State to be the class of the Big Ten, they’re overlooked for their in-state rivals.

Dantonio has lead Michigan State to two of the last three Big Ten titles and an appearance in the College Football Playoffs last season, and yet Sports Illustrated can’t get his first name right.

All anyone wants to talk about is Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. Dantonio won’t say it but it clearly annoys him something fierce.

You don’t think so?

One of the favorite sayings of legendary coach Bo Schembechler was “Those who stay will be champions.” It’s built into the legends of Michigan and highly touted as almost an unofficial slogan.

What’s this got to do with Michigan State? One of the Spartan staffers tweeted out a picture of all the team’s players who come from Detroit. The slogan on the photo,“Those who have stayed are already champions.”

Now, I’d like to preface some things first.

First off, I think Mark Dantonio is a great coach and all around a good person. He took a team that was down in the dumps and made it relevant again after years of being irrelevant. That’s not easy to do no matter the conference you’re in and especially not for a guy with two years head coaching experience under his belt. I respect what he’s done and so should everyone else.

That being said, I have two things to say to Coach Dantonio and the Michigan State people that put that photo together.

The first is that pride comes before the fall.

The University of Michigan was awfully arrogant after their win in 2007, I get that. The fan base has always been arrogant. They got what was coming to them when Rich Rodriguez came to town and then again at the end of the Brady Hoke tenure. They had some downs and now they’re coming back up.

Right after Mike Hart made those comments is when Michigan started to take its dive. Everyone ran with it and made fun of Michigan for laughing at Michigan State before losing all but one meeting since then. So think about that.

Michigan State just graduated Connor Cook, the school’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns, passing yards and total offensive yards. Just like in 2007 when Michigan graduated quarterback Chad Henne, there’s no heir apparent. There’s no guy to step in and carry an offense that also graduated its best lineman in Jack Conklin.

Any way you slice it, Michigan State made a bold jab at its biggest rival after losing a lot of talented players. A lot of talented players that only defeated Michigan on a flukey dropped punt after being outplayed for the whole game. You’ve set the table for yourself now, Michigan State.

The second thing I’d like to say is if you don’t want to be treated like the little brother, don’t act like the little brother.

I’m the younger of two siblings so yes, this is exactly something we would do. A younger sibling would find something that was important to their older sibling and find a way to twist it to their own purposes. We can’t have the original so we have to come up with some kind of mockery that we purport to be better. We’re kind of evil creatures like that.

You don’t see Ohio State doing anything like that. They don’t take historic statements to create locker room material. Michigan doesn’t do that with Ohio State, either. You’ve got to be pretty desperate if you’re stooping to that level and that’s usually what the younger sibling is, desperate.

Technically what the picture says is true. Everyone but the incoming freshmen at Michigan State have won a Big Ten Championship. That’s impressive any way you slice it but there was probably a better way to have used that statistic.

About a year ago, Mike Hart said in an interview that he regretted making the “Little Brother” comment and that it was a heat of the moment thing. This was clearly very thought out. Maybe in another couple years, we’ll get an interview with Dantonio or at least this staffer talking about regretting posting this picture.

E-mail Tim at tim 

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

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Tennessee and Florida: the Evolution of an SEC East Rivalry

This month, I was given the task of writing an article about “my” team’s biggest rivalry. This obviously posed an interesting question for me…which team would I be considering my own? If I were to stick with my Tennessee roots, then I would surely be writing about years of Tennessee-Florida matchups. But if I were to decide that Florida is “my” team for this purpose, then there would be no mention of Tennessee and it would be all about Florida playing Florida State. Funny how that works out! I, of course, decided to choose the option that allowed me the chance to talk about both of my teams in discussing Tennessee’s history of losses and their recent rivalry woes against the Florida Gators.

When the Rivalry Really Began

Those woes started about eleven years ago, now. But the real reason this qualifies as a rivalry is because of what happened in the 1990s. Though the teams did play before then, it was in 1992 that the SEC divisions made their matchup a permanent one. Any competitor that stands in your way of the division title is automatically going to be a rival. In the 1990s, the division title wasn’t the only one both teams seemed to be constantly chasing. Between the Vols and the Gators, they took eight out of ten SEC Championship titles during the decade. Not only that, but they also accounted for two National Championship victories during that same time period. It was safe to say that this game always had major implications for SEC football and possibly even NCAA football, as a whole.

If you ask most Gator fans which team is their biggest rival, they won’t say Tennessee. If you ask who their second-biggest rival is, they probably still won’t mention the Volunteers. But if you ask any Vol fan who their biggest rival is, they will easily mention the Gators. I know it; I grew up as a self-proclaimed “Gator hater” in East Tennessee. The only other rivalry that seems to come close is that with Alabama. But the Gators are still public enemy number one. So how did this disparity come to be?

The 1990s, the decade of VolGator SEC dominance, Florida managed to amass a 7-3 record over Tennessee. In the 2000s, they also had a 7-3 record over the Volunteers. And in the 2010s, they’re undefeated thus far and will therefore have the majority of wins in this rivalry regardless of the outcome of the next four games. Obviously, Gator fans aren’t particularly worried about the Tennessee game each year. But because Tennessee has managed to lose to them the majority of the time, and often in close fashion, Vol fans loathe the Gators. Two games come to mind when thinking about why exactly I would hate the Gators so much if I were still only a Vol fan. Their worst loss in recent memory came last year in Gainesville, and their “best” loss (if there is such a thing) came in the 2000s in Knoxville.

Tennessee’s “Best” Loss

In 2006, Urban Meyer was eager to prove himself as the new head coach for the Gators. He came into Neyland Stadium and did just that. But for the Volunteers, this was their best loss in this series. One highlight of this game was that defensive tackle Justin Harrell played his last game even though he had just injured his arm the week before. They also brought everything they had to the field, including a trick play touchdown pass and a great kicking performance. The Vols had the lead for much of the game and they didn’t blow it because of some horrible coaching decisions (I’ll get to that). They blew it because of simple mistakes in execution. To end Tennessee’s chances of possibly mounting a comeback after the Gators had taken a 21-20 lead in the closing minutes of the game, the Gators needed a big play. That’s just what they got when Reggie Nelson got an interception, allowing the Gators to eventually run out the clock.

The fact that they played such a close game with the eventual national champions is not something shameful. Think about how different things would have been that season if the Vols had been able to win on a last-minute field goal. The Gators would’ve been 6-2 in SEC play and the Vols would’ve been 6-2 as well. Since the Vols beat the Gators, they would’ve been the team representing the SEC East in the SEC Championship Game and would’ve gotten another shot at Arkansas (one of their two SEC losses). If the Vols had beaten Arkansas this time, then who knows how the season would’ve ended. Not to mention, Urban Meyer wouldn’t have gotten the same momentum over the Vols and the current win streak for the Gators would only be at a maximum of eight games, not eleven. There was another loss more recently that I would consider their “worst” loss in this rivalry, though.

Tennessee’s Worst Loss

Last year the Volunteers came into the season surrounded by more hype than they had seen in years. When Tennessee traveled to Gainesville, FL to play the Gators, many people knew that this game could possibly decide who took the SEC East title. Those people were right. Tennessee seemed to be clicking on all cylinders and the game was all but over. But then, the Gators managed to mount a stunning comeback. Butch Jones only helped the Gators in their comeback quest by calling timeouts at moments when Florida Coach Jim McElwain could really use those timeouts to his team’s advantage. The Gators capitalized on the opportunities they were given and were leading 28-27 with very little time left. The Vols were able to get in field goal range and missed not one, but two tries at what would’ve been the game-winning field goal. That is just the epitome of a terrible loss.

Again, think about how differently the season would’ve panned out if the Vols hadn’t choked in this game. Once again the Gators would’ve been 6-2 in SEC play and the Vols would’ve finished at the same mark with the tiebreaker. They would’ve headed to the SEC Championship Game for a rematch against Alabama, a team they played very tough just a few weeks prior. Tennessee could’ve beaten Alabama and the end result of their season would’ve been entirely different. The Vols did manage to run over Northwestern in their bowl game, but imagine if they had been able to squeak into the New Year’s Six instead. All of that opportunity was lost because of poor timeout usage by Jones and some pretty pitiful kicking.

Twelve in a Row?

This year, the rivalry may prove to be relevant to the NCAA as a whole again. But that only holds true if Tennessee can make this a true rivalry again by winning a game for the first time eleven years. While Florida seems to still be somewhat of an unknown with a new QB and the loss of some defensive starters, Tennessee has everything it could possibly need to make a great run in the SEC East. Once again, this game is likely to be the one that decides the SEC East champion. That fact alone automatically makes this a fantastic rivalry to witness. And if the Vols want the Gators to respect this rivalry the way they do, then they’ll need to bring everything they have for an entire four quarters of football this season. This journey back in time proves that just one bad quarter in this rivalry can ruin a whole season.

E-mail Kristen at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @ogkristenb.

For Michigan It was the best of losses, it was the worst of losses

There’s something about rivalry games. They just always seem to stick with you whether it’s a good win or a painful loss. Sometimes the outcome really doesn’t change the bigger picture but a lot of the time it does.

Unfortunately, in the case of the University of Michigan there’s been more losses to rivals recently than I’d like to remember or more importantly, relive. In terms of the worst loss against a rival that I remember there’s actually two different ways to go. How? Because a “worst loss” can be a lot of different things.

Let’s hop in the way back machine all the way back to 2006. Lloyd Carr is still coaching Michigan and Jim Tressel is still at Ohio State. Both the Buckeyes and Wolverines ranked near the top in defense with the Michigan offense ranking 12th in rushing yards and Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith leading the Heisman talk. Most importantly, both teams were 11-0 and ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation.

What followed was dubbed the Game of the Century and in the opinion of most, correctly so. Despite boasting such powerful defenses the game became an offensive shootout that Ohio State eventually won 42-39 and remains one of the best games I’ve ever seen. That’s not what makes it one of Michigan’s worst loss.

The reason this ranks up there in terms of worst losses is because of what would’ve happened had the Wolverines won. Being the final game of the season Michigan would’ve been 12-0 and the undisputed No. 1 team in the country. They would’ve been playing for their first National Championship since 1999. It’s up for debate as to who they would’ve faced in the BCS Championship game, possibly Florida like Ohio State did or maybe then the rematch that the Big Ten was clamoring for might have happened. Regardless, Michigan is playing for the title.

It could’ve also changed history. If The Game goes to double-overtime and is won on a long distance field goal, we might have gotten a rematch in the BCS Championship. Unlikely but it almost happened in real life so why not? And what happens if Florida doesn’t win that National Championship? The SEC might not rise to power or their rise be delayed and the nation doesn’t get introduced to Tim Tebow who then probably doesn’t win the Heisman the following year. Think about it.

That’s one type of “worst” loss. For the other type, we don’t have to get back into the way back machine. It happened just this last season.

I mean do you even need me to talk about it? If you’re a Michigan fan you already know. If you’re a Big Ten fan you probably know. Even if you’re not, you’ve either seen the highlights or this kid all over the highlights reels. It’s the 2015 loss to Michigan State.

Let’s be honest here: Michigan was lucky to be up. Michigan State was the better team which I think we can all admit but Michigan was playing like the better team. The Wolverines were drinking the Khaki Kool-Aid and were believers in themselves. There they were though, up two with 10 seconds left in the game. A fumbled punt and next thing we know; Michigan State has won the game.

That was painful. That physically hurt. Michigan had the game won and an unfortunate fluke play flipped the script. The punter had been absolutely phenomenal the entire rest of the game but that play is what he’s always going to be remembered for.

The loss to Michigan State changed the tone of the season too. Gone was that swagger and that sense of invincibility. It showed against Minnesota as they only won because of some bizarre Minnesota play calling and again as Ohio State came to town. The Michigan psyche had been dealt a blow and recovered somewhat until Ohio State came to town. At least my cousin Mark enjoyed himself there.

I’m not going to kid myself into thinking that if Michigan had defeated Michigan State they would’ve ran the tables for the rest of the season and ended up in the playoffs. Maybe that would’ve been the only thing that actually changed in the season. To be honest, that would’ve been fine with me. That terrible black cloud that hung over the season after that would’ve been gone.

Not all losses to rivals leave that terrible black cloud though. Let’s go back to the 2013 rendition of The Game. To be blunt, Michigan was not very good and had just lost three of four. On the flipside Ohio State was 11-0. Against all odds, Ohio State needed to foil a 2-point conversation with 32 seconds left in the game to hold on. The Buckeye fans I was with were literally jumping with joy that they had survived. Michigan was 7-4 going into that game and quarterback Devin Gardner was clearly injured pretty much the whole game. But what should’ve been a rout was a highly entertaining game that left our rivals just thankful for a win.

That’s about as good as you can feel after a loss. When you’re expecting to be blown out by three scores, you’ll definitely take that.

E-mail Tim at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @TBach84.

Image courtesy Flickr

The Big Ten’s Newest Rivalry Continued: Terps vs. Penn State

Maryland fell to the Nittany Lions of Penn State by a score of 31-30 in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Baltimore Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium this past Saturday. In a season full of uncertainty and letdown, it remained to be seen how the Terps would respond on the field after the firing of former head coach Randy Edsall. Maryland overall played well, but missed opportunities and turnovers in the red zone doomed any chances of repeating their narrow victory over Penn State from last season.

Starting quarterback Perry Hills played efficiently, leading the Terps with 124 yards rushing and a touchdown in addition to throwing for 225 yards and another score. However, five turnovers, including three interceptions and a lost fumble from Hills, dampened what could have been a solid first victory under interim head coach Mike Locksley.

Locksley, who previously served as Maryland’s offensive coordinator before taking over head coaching duties after the recent firing of Randy Edsall, instituted some new wrinkles into the Maryland offense.  Shane Cockerille saw a snap under center right before the end of the first half. While he only saw the one snap (and it was a handoff), it confirmed that the quarterback-turned fullback-turned quarterback again now stands ahead of both Caleb Rowe and Daxx Garman in the depth chart. More intriguing, stud cornerback and return man Will Likely was inserted into a few offensive plays, getting four carries and a reception for a total of 34 yards.

None of the above, however, are particularly noteworthy in the grand scheme of things, considering that the Terps are now 2-5 and are merely trying to salvage a few wins throughout the remainder of a very disappointing season. The true takeaway from Saturday’s game is that the Terps finally have a true football rivalry.

The tone was obviously set just prior to kickoff of the two teams’ matchup last year when the three chosen Maryland team captains refused to shake the hands of the Penn State captains. After a sloppy three quarters of football, Maryland outscored Penn State 13-3 in the fourth quarter. Brad Craddock booted a 43-yard field goal with under a minute left in the game to seal the victory for the Terps.

The handshake snub and the tight finish, in addition to the hard-nosed, gritty style of play, gave the Terps more than just a win last year. It gave them a rival. The 2015 version of this matchup only solidified that rivalry.

Maryland dominated the time of possession by about 12 minutes, and finished with 100 more total yards than Penn State. The Terps also had more five more first downs and nearly 200 more rushing yards. Maryland was certainly able to pace the game and move the ball with efficiency, but Penn State was able to come away with the one-point victory behind quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s 315 passing yards and three touchdowns.

The Terps had a shot to regain the lead as the final minutes of the game dwindled, but Perry Hills’ third and final interception of the afternoon came off a tipped pass leaving just over a minute remaining. In their two matchups since Maryland became members of the Big Ten in 2014, both games have been decided by only one point, with each team winning one.

This matchup is rapidly becoming one to watch in the Big Ten, and has undeniably evolved into the conference’s newest rivalry. Regardless of each team’s win-loss record when they play each other any given season in years to come, the meetings between these two teams should be close, intriguing contests.

Why Can’t Tennessee Beat Florida?

It’s a simple question. But it’s a question that is really starting to haunt fans of the Tennessee Volunteers after what happened last weekend. It’s also a question that many other SEC football fans are starting to ask. Why can’t Tennessee beat Florida? Just in case you somehow were unaware of this, Florida has eleven wins in a row over Tennessee now. The Gators have actually beaten the Vols every year since Urban Meyer’s first season at Florida. That means they somehow managed to beat Tennessee even during that one 4-8 season that Muschamp put together. This streak is full of mixed emotions for me. During half of it I was a Volunteers fan and die-hard Gator hater. But for the five most recent wins I’ve been cheering on the Gators. No, I didn’t switch sides to avoid the agony of being a Tennessee fan watching these games. Although in hindsight I am thinking that maybe it was a good idea to switch sides when I got the chance.

This year the Vols were supposed to win this game. They were #25 in preseason rankings and Butch Jones is in his third year as head coach while Florida is in its very first season under Jim McElwain. If the Vols ever had a good chance of ending Florida’s win streak and regaining respect from Gator fans for this rivalry, that chance was last weekend. For a while it even looked like the Vols had broken the curse. But then a storm formed in the Swamp and Tennessee squandered a big lead in the fourth quarter. It left me, the Vols fans sitting around me, and many other Tennesseans thinking that maybe they just can’t beat Florida anymore. But why? Maybe some numbers will have a better answer for us.

On average during the past 11 games, Florida scored 29 points while Tennessee only scored 16.3. The reason I think Tennessee’s scoring average is so low is because regardless of how bad the Gator offense may have been during certain seasons in this streak, their defense has always been solid. In fact, the most points scored by the Vols during this streak were the 27 points they racked up last Saturday. Meanwhile the Gators have had multiple scores in the 30s and even one especially high score in 2007 when they won 59-20. While Florida’s offense always seems to be taking the heat from fans and the media, Tennessee’s offense has clearly been even worse in this series. Whether you attribute that to skill, talent, nerves, or a tough defense is completely up to you.

Up until last Saturday’s game, Tennessee had only come within nine points of Florida when playing in Gainesville during this streak. Playing in Neyland Stadium may not be easy, but during this entire rivalry home field advantage has obviously proven to be much more of a reality for the Gators. Coach McElwain went so far as to say the fans did as much as the players did in turning this game around last Saturday. “That was what the Swamp did.” And since I was there, I can assure you that it got incredibly loud once there was the slightest glimmer of hope for the Gators late in the game. No opponent is going to be able to communicate and concentrate as well as they usually can with that kind of noise and distraction all around them, down after down.

Maybe the biggest factor here when you look at numbers is the turnovers. Florida has had 14 turnovers while Tennessee has doubled that number with 28. Should we attribute the turnovers to poor ball security on the part of Tennessee players? Or maybe the nerves contributed to their significantly higher number of turnovers in the past eleven years… As we witnessed this past weekend, turnovers can completely change a game, causing an unstoppable amount of momentum for one team. If it weren’t for Tennessee’s fumble and Florida’s subsequent momentum then I doubt we’d be discussing this inability to beat the Gators right now.

But aside from the numbers there’s one other big factor that came into play this year and last year especially. The coaches seemed to have different mindsets about moving the ball down the field and scoring. When Tennessee had the lead last year and again when they had it this year, they didn’t play to win. Instead, the Vols played to not lose. They rushed the ball often and were okay with punting and trying to rely on the defense to maintain their lead. And of course that issue falls directly on Coach Butch Jones. Meanwhile, the Gators have played to win. Last year, Coach Will Muschamp put in true freshman quarterback Treon Harris in Knoxville to do everything he could think of to win that game. And because of what happened after Harris stepped on that field, the Gators won their tenth game in a row over the Vols. Then this year the Gators made more risky calls, opting to go for it on FIVE fourth downs. And Florida somehow managed to convert all five of these fourth down plays into either first downs or touchdowns. Without this gutsy play calling and gambling mindset, the Gators never would’ve staged such a large comeback on Saturday night. Thank you Jim McElwain for having faith in your team’s performance under pressure.

Some people think Tennessee is just too inside their own heads to win a game in this rivalry now. And although I can admit that football is a very mental sport, I think this streak that the Gators have going comes down to a lot more than simple psychology. Their defense has stifled the Tennessee offense year after year, allowing their generally underperforming offense to put up enough points to win the games. The Gators have also capitalized on home field advantage, with this year being a prime example of the difference the location of a rivalry game can make. And on top of this, the Vols have played sloppy football, allowing twice as many turnovers as the Gators have over the past eleven games. If I’m being honest I have to say that part of me really thought this was Tennessee’s year to finally put an end to the streak. But if all these things didn’t do them in enough, their conservative coaching did. In a rivalry like this you can’t play to not lose, you always have to play to win.

E-mail Kristen at k[email protected] or follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Fight for the SEC East: Tennessee at Florida

This year the SEC East seemed to be pretty wide open for everybody except Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Now we can also add South Carolina to that list. So basically the race for the East will come down to Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee. This week we are fortunate enough to see our first matchup between two of those teams, a matchup that may even be called a rivalry by some (we’ll get into that later). Third-year Head Coach Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteers will be paying Florida’s new Head Coach Jim McElwain and the Gators a visit down in The Swamp.

I have a very unique perspective on this game, because during every other game throughout the season I will be rooting for both the Volunteers and the Gators. This week is where it gets confusing for me. I lived in East Tennessee, the heart of Vol Nation, for about 15 years of my life. The Volunteers and watching their teams with my dad are the reason that I love sports. But then something tragic happened during my senior year of high school. I found out that the University of Florida would basically pay for my education if I took my talents to Gainesville. So what do you think I did? My dad started calling me his “Gator traitor,” but hey…money talks. I’ve been in Gainesville for five years now and am still as confused as ever because of my overwhelming love for both athletic programs. But at least that means I know a lot more than the average person about both teams and this upcoming showdown in The Swamp.

Enough about me and why I’m particularly well-qualified to write this post. Let’s get to the actual football talk. Last year, the Gators made the trip to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville to play and obviously I had to make the trip as well. Leading up to that weekend, I was asked time and time again by my friends who I thought would win. I told them “It depends.” And of course they wanted to know what it depended on, in my little VolGator head. “IF Florida plays Jeff Driskel the entire game, they’ll lose. But if they give Treon Harris a chance, I think they’ll win.” And as ugly as that game was…it came down to just that. The Vols had controlled the game until Coach Muschamp finally let Harris play. Then the Gators ended up with a 10-9 victory in a beautifully checkered Neyland Stadium. Those ten points gave them their tenth victory in a row over the Volunteers.

A LOT has changed since that game, though. My allegiance on game day has not. I will still be wearing BLUE this year. But do I think I will still be on the right side of this “rivalry”? It depends. Yes, I’m allowed to say that about these games. I know too much about both teams to give a straight answer. So what does it depend on this year? For me, it still depends on Florida’s offense. But instead of which QB starts (both Treon Harris and Will Grier have been good enough), it depends on Florida’s offensive line. Honestly, heading into this season, Florida’s offensive line was always my biggest concern. And that’s no different now.

What’s interesting about this game is in the offense vs. defense match-ups for both teams. Tennessee’s offense has been very productive this year while Florida’s defense has been smothering opponents this year. On the other hand, Florida’s offense and more specifically their offensive line has been unimpressive this season while Tennessee’s defense has been almost equally unimpressive. The end result? A) This will be a low-scoring game. Maybe not as low-scoring as last year’s game between these two teams, but it also won’t be like that Ole Miss-Alabama game we probably all watched last weekend. B) Florida’s offensive line is the key to this game. If Florida’s offensive line can hold up better than it did at Kentucky last Saturday, the Gators can put up enough points to beat the Vols. But if the line keeps collapsing and spooking whichever quarterback is playing, Florida will be rushing the ball too much and leaving a lot of potential passing plays on the field.

About those passing plays the Gators would leave on the field…Will Grier has a great arm. No Gator fan will argue against that. But in his start at Kentucky last week, he was quick to try to get yards using his own two feet instead. And that was because of Florida’s weak offensive line. Grier did even manage to put the ball in the end zone on his two feet, stretching out like Superman at the end of his run. The problem with Grier running the ball so much is that in a lot of other cases he probably could’ve gotten off a pass to a receiver. And if the receivers had caught those passes, the Gators probably would’ve gained more yards and put up more points. It actually pains the Volunteer fan in me to say this, but I’m not so sure Tennessee’s defense (or defensive line) is that much better than Kentucky’s. So maybe Florida’s offensive line can get it together and give the Gators a good chance at getting their 11th victory in a row in this “rivalry.” But on the flip side, Florida’s offensive line may not hold up. And the Volunteer offense, led by Josh Dobbs this time, would be able to put more points on the board than the Gators despite a suffocating Gator defense.

There’s only one more thing I feel obligated to talk about here. And that is why I’ve been putting the world “rivalry” in quotation marks. Considering I was basically raised as a Volunteer fan, this game was always seen as our biggest rivalry game every season. Vol fans proudly call themselves “Gator haters” just like my dad began calling me a “Gator traitor.” The mayor as well as pretty much the entire auditorium gasped when I Gator chomped on stage during an academic awards banquet my senior year of high school. But when I came to the University of Florida and saw the flip side of this “rivalry,” I was a little disappointed. The truth is, there are at least two bigger rivalry games every year for Gator fans. Obviously most college football fans know of our bitter rivalry with the Florida State Seminoles. I’m also pretty sure Marco Rubio managed to put that one on display for the entire country, football fans or not. But there’s one other game that always overshadows our face-off with the Volunteers, the Florida-Georgia game. Maybe it’s because it’s the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (so much fun) or maybe because the Georgia Bulldogs have been stiffer opposition in recent history. Whatever the reason, the rivalry just isn’t the same coming from the Florida side. It’s up to Tennessee to get Gator fans to give this rivalry a little more respect now.

That all being said, this rivalry will always have a special place in my heart. But even with my “It depends,” answer for who wins this game, I know The Swamp will act as a 12th man for the Gators. It may not have saved the day for the Vols when they had that advantage over them last year, but I think it tips the scales slightly in favor of the Gators this time around. My true answer still remains…at the end of the day, the winner of this game really does depend on Florida’s offensive line. Whoever ultimately gets that win will be off to a good start in the race for the SEC East title. Luckily for me, this is the one weekend of the year during which I’m guaranteed a win by at least one of my teams! And let’s be honest, that has hardly ever been a guarantee for me in my recent years as a VolGator fan.

E-mail Kristen at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Arkansas & Auburn: New Rivalry?

The Arkansas-Auburn series has mostly been the kind-hearted rivalry with two of the more genuine fan bases in the SEC. Have the tables turned from what used to be that heartfelt greeting or departure of “Welcome to the Plains” or “Hope you have enjoyed your stay in Fayetteville. Have a safe trip home”? The fans do not seem to be the ones in disagreement but more of the coaches involved in this now heated get together.

Ever since former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema accepted his new task to take on a rebuilding Arkansas team, he has constantly made digs at Auburn mostly for running the hurry up no huddle paced offense. Bielema is your traditional old school style coach running an offense with a single back with fullback usage, so this hurry up style offense would definitely be considered new territory for the outspoken leader.

Bielema quickly became heard when expressing his views on this version of offense claiming it was an unfair advantage and caused death? Really? The Arkansas head coach referred to a California football player that tragically passed away in a weight room accident using it as one of his body points in his speech of persuasion because death usually becomes a great attention grabber. In this case, it was straight foolish because that occurrence had nothing to do with an offensive scheme.

Bielema’s outspokenness took place at his first SEC Media Days while it was also Auburn’s Gus Malzahn’s first time appearing as a head coach in Hoover. The subtle Malzahn didn’t express anything directly but sure enough made some comments tBielema:Guso help his stance that the offensive style was not endangering players but just giving his offense more of an advantage due to the lack of substitutions that would occur for the defense. Though both sides had different perspectives on the cause, they both agreed to disagree, sort of, and carried on to their job descriptions.

Malzahn’s Tigers head into the 2015 season with a 2-0 advantage over the Hogs but not before Bielema had some other comments to project Auburn’s way. In last season’s opener, Bielema accused Auburn of cheating by stealing the Arkansas offensive and defensive sign, while he also added that the Hogs had a disadvantage at halftime because the coaching staff found themselves stuck in the Jordan-Hare Stadium elevator preventing them to make adjustments heading into the second half. Believe what you want, but this sounds like a case of the boy who cried wolf if you ask me.

The comments that triggered this article and headline were simply the words “I hate Auburn.” Words spoken by, you guessed right, head coach Bret Bielema when expressing some of the preseason topics heading into the opening weekend though the Tigers and Razorbacks do not face off until the back part of October. Sure, it does not really matter who hates who, but with Bielema’s rash comments it rages Auburn fans, myself included, to despise Arkansas even more when they were once just seen as the friendly annual opponent.

It’s good for the SEC to consist of a new rivalry with the upbringing of this one and possibly the formation of an Alabama-Texas A&M western division showdown with a couple of notable games to start off the new SEC series. Georgia and Missouri have created some tension with early comments from defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson of Missouri targeted at Georgia’s offensive scheme along with this matchup as of late being a potential SEC East champion. Only a couple of weeks of the college football season are pinned with the adjective of “Rivalry Week”, but why not just have it every week?

The Birth of a Rivalry

Wide receiver Stefon Diggs, tight end P.J. Gallo and safety Sean Davis walked to midfield prior to the kickoff of Maryland’s first matchup with Penn State since the early ‘90s. The three Terrapins had been selected as captains, and were met at the center of Beaver Stadium by the three chosen captains for the Nittany Lions. Diggs, Gallo and Davis stood stoically as the three Penn State players extended their hands for the customary pregame handshakes. Maryland’s players did not return the traditional show of sportsmanship, an action which compelled the Big Ten to suspend Diggs for one game and fine the university $10,000. Instead of shaking hands, the Maryland captains glared intensely at the opponent before them, keeping their hands at their sides.

I had made the short trip from Maryland to Happy Valley to see the newcomers to the conference, my Terrapins, take on one of the storied programs of the Big Ten. Word quickly spread through the stadium of the reason behind the assessment of a 15-yard penalty on Maryland before the first snap of the football had even taken place. Penn State fans in my vicinity jokingly and rhetorically asked me what the deal was with my school. I shrugged and laughed it off, although I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed that the three Terrapin captains acted in such a childish manner which reflected so poorly upon my alma mater. Despite the unsportsmanlike nature of their behavior, one thing became immediately unmistakable: the Terps wanted a rival, and the seed to create one had just been planted.

Maryland's game captains refused to shake hands prior to kickoff. Photo credit: athlonsports.com.
Maryland’s game captains refused to shake hands prior to kickoff. Photo credit: athlonsports.com.

When James Franklin was hired as the head coach at Penn State in January 2014, he immediately made headlines by making comments regarding his recruiting intentions and strategy. Franklin, the offensive coordinator at Maryland from 2008-10, said he considered several Northeastern states, including Maryland, to be “in-state” recruiting territories. These comments irked Terrapin fans throughout the state, and prompted Maryland head coach Randy Edsall to reply, “We’re going to find guys that fit the profile we’re looking for. We’re going to worry about ourselves and not worry about anything else. Talk is cheap.” It could be argued that Franklin’s comments, or even the brief skirmish between the two teams after both initially took the field on Saturday, marked the initial event leading to a recognizable rivalry between two schools that share a state border. I am of the opinion, however, that these were comparably minor occurrences which led up to the more noteworthy scene of the Terrapin captains refusing to shake the outstretched hands of Penn State’s captains. It was possibly the most awkward moment in all of college football in recent history, and a moment that set the wheels in motion for a rapidly developing rivalry.

With the seed now planted, as undeniably unsportsmanlike as it was, Maryland still needed to compete in the football game to back up their antics. The game itself was incredibly sloppy. The two teams combined for 14 penalties totaling 151 penalty yards. Neither team could find any success moving the football either on the ground or through the air, as the two offenses appeared almost as mirror images of each other’s ineffectiveness. Penn State finished with 42 total rushing yards; Maryland a mere 33. PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed just 18 of 42 passes for 177 yards, while Maryland’s C.J. Brown completed 18 of 38 for 161 yards. Maryland’s leading receiver and handshake-snub culprit Stefon Diggs tallied just 53 yards on six receptions, while Geno Lewis led all Penn State receivers with just 54 yards on five catches. The game was painful to watch at times, observing possession after possession end with either a turnover (Penn State: 4 TOs, Maryland: 2) or a punt (19 combined between both teams).

As unsexy as it may have been, the sloppy, groan-inducing character of Saturday’s contest meant everything to the birth of this rivalry. It goes without saying that had the Terps been manhandled in Happy Valley, their pre-game antics would have meant nothing more to the Penn State football team and its fans than a lesser team trying to make a name for itself in a new conference. It also wouldn’t have necessarily been beneficial for purposes of building a rivalry had Maryland somehow defeated Penn State by a wide margin. Something could have been said for the Terps crushing PSU in their own house, but the perception among both Penn State and (reasonable) Terps fans alike would have been that this occurrence was more of an isolated exception to a rule. Even if the Penn State offense had been clicking, and Maryland squeaked out a victory due to, let’s say, a couple scores from defensive turnovers or special teams, the Penn State faithful would have likely seen the win as a freak occurrence that wouldn’t have happened but for Penn State’s own preventable mistakes.

But on Saturday neither team could get anything going offensively, as both offenses finished near a paltry 200 total yards each. Both Maryland and Penn State played solid defensively. Both made costly turnovers late in the game. Both teams were hurt on numerous occasions by penalties, including a defensive touchdown called back after a highly questionable roughing the passer call on the Terps. Both teams possessed the football for nearly the same amount of time. The third quarter ended with Maryland trailing 16-7, but the Terps outscored Penn State 13-3 in the fourth quarter. The victory was all but clinched by Brad Craddock’s 43-yard field goal with under a minute left in the game.

Maryland’s late rally, capped off by a long field goal to win by the slimmest of margins, truly captured the essence of a rivalry.

Maryland celebrates after kicker Brad Craddock hits the game-winning field goal for the Terps. Photo credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Maryland celebrates after kicker Brad Craddock hits the game-winning field goal for the Terps. Photo credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

After the game Edsall apologized for the pregame lack of sportsmanship and explained that he had no knowledge of the intentions of his captains beforehand. He was then asked about the win and what it meant for a Maryland-Penn State football rivalry. Edsall commented, “Let the rivalry begin now… There should be a trophy for this game. It’s a bordering state. Let’s have some fun.”

In 2014, Maryland found themselves facing many uncertainties as members of a new conference after spending over 60 years in the ACC. The University of Virginia was considered a rival football program before this season, although many Terps fans didn’t recognize the rivalry label that the university seemingly had to promote to create buzz and sell more tickets. Most Maryland fans viewed Duke and North Carolina as rivals in basketball, but the perspective was not entirely reciprocated. While there were many instances over the years when the Terps played well against those teams and came away victorious, Duke and UNC see each other as rivals. The two programs never quite attributed the “rival” tag to the Terrapins, a realization I could not come to accept until well after I graduated from Maryland.

So far the majority of the “rivalry” talk has come from Maryland’s side, and had the game itself played out any differently it would have been just that: nothing more than talk. Talk from a team that immaturely refuses to shake hands before a football game. Talk from a team that is just looking to generate some recognition as newcomers to an historic college football conference. Talk from a team that is attempting to not lose recruits to a more powerful, staple Big Ten football program.

As painful as it was for Maryland fans to watch the first 59 minutes of Saturday’s game, the sloppy makeup of the Terps’ first meeting in over two decades with Penn State presented the perfect recipe to give birth to a new, true rivalry.

The Death of a Rivalry

At a sports bar in Tuscaloosa on October 5, 2013, as I “enjoyed” a cold tower of bud light with a few friends, I witnessed the death of one of the SEC’s best rivalries.
Alabama had already played a meaningless game against Georgia State earlier that morning, so we settled in to watch the CBS SEC Game of the Week: Georgia vs Tennessee. This was clearly a slow Saturday for the rest of the conference if this was deemed the “Game of the Week,” but to my surprise it was actually a terrific game. The even bigger surprise was that, as Tennessee took Georgia to overtime, I found myself rooting for the Volunteers.
This alone was not enough to call the rivalry “dead;” I often find myself rooting for the underdog, and I never put the rivalry with Tennessee on the same level as the Iron Bowl. No, what sealed this rivalries fate was that I wasn’t the only one in the bar rooting for Tennessee. The entire bar was cheering on the Vols. I’d like to take this time to remind you this was a bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The residents of the Crimson Tide’s hometown were putting their hatred of Tennessee aside to root for an upset that had no effect on Alabama’s season. Tennessee lost, and no one cared.
Sometime before this season started I wrote an article looking for a new player to hate this season. In this article I explained that in order for a player to be hated, they have to be good. No body hates players that suck. The same goes for rivalries. People stop caring when there is no real threat of losing to the other team. Maybe Tennessee hasn’t completely sucked recently, but they certainly haven’t been good in a while. I often enjoy telling Tennessee fans that an iPhone has never taken a picture of a Tennessee win over Alabama, because it didn’t exist the last time the Vols beat Alabama. It’s lame joke, but it’s also true, and the only thing I have left to keep this rivalry going.
I want this rivalry to keep going. Some of my fondest memories in Bryant-Denny Stadium took place on the third Saturday in October. i vividly remember Roman Harper forcing a fumble on the goal line late in the fourth quarter. I remember wanting to shield my eyes before Terrence Cody blocked his second field goal as time expired. “Rammer Jammer” has always been sweeter when you can see the smoke from the victory cigars rising from the student section. If Alabama wins this Saturday that smoke will still rise from the stands in Neyland Stadium, but it won’t have the same meaning it once did. Smoking a victory cigar after beating Tennessee is more of an obligation at this point than an act of celebration.
The Third Saturday in October still has plenty of meaning for Tennessee fans. When you lose to a team that you already hate seven years in a row, it’s only natural to hate them even more. And if that wasn’t enough, Alabama has given the Volunteer faithful a new reason to despise the Tide, as Nick Saban’s new offensive coordinator also happens to be the last coach to finish with a record better than .500 for the Vols. I’ve heard rumors that Tennessee students have been storing rotten oranges to throw at Lane Kiffin as he enters the stadium Saturday, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it be true. They hated him enough for leaving them after one year. They hate him even more for going to Alabama. Tennessee has plenty of reasons to hate Alabama, but that hatred has to come from both sides to make a good rivalry.
Alabama fans will tell you it’s Tennessee hate week. Every single one of your Alabama-supporting Facebook friends will post this video. They’ll buy their victory cigars, and light them up after a win. But it won’t be the same. Winning a close game against Tennessee will not bring triumphant celebrations and extra rounds of “Rammer Jammer;” it will bring disappointment. The truth is this rivalry will not be restored until Tennessee beats Alabama. It will happen at some point, but let’s hope it’s not this year. I’m ok with the rivalry staying dead a few more years.