Tag Archives: SEC West

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 East, Where Even the Winners Are Losers

In case you’re just now joining us, we have weekly articles that we run for “Smackdown Friday” here at Campus Pressbox. I have happily smacked down many teams throughout the season, and I’ve had my fair share of fun doing so. But when I looked to this week, there was no smackdown piece I wanted to write; there was no more fun. And who is to blame for this? The SEC East. It has sucked the fun out of everything.

The SEC East has been struggling for years now to keep up with the formidable teams in the SEC West. That’s no secret. But this year, more than any year of late, I am especially disheartened by the play of all of the SEC East teams.

You see, I couldn’t write a smackdown about any of the SEC East games (or the one cross-divisional game in the SEC), because no matter who wins these games, the SEC East is still a bunch of losers.

Too harsh? No. Maybe not even harsh enough at this point. With the results of last week’s games, we are on track for the possibility of a six-way tie in the SEC East. No, this is not a joke. The SEC East, on the other hand, really is a joke.

In the spirit of smacking down a team (or seven), let me get to the fun part. Let me really explain how the SEC East teams lose this weekend, even if they do win. And no, there was no exaggeration there. I am actually going to smack down every team in the SEC East. Let’s face it; they all deserve this.

Florida hosts South Carolina this weekend. That means the seniors will be playing their last home game against the coach who recruited them, Will Muschamp. Crazy how things work out! What’s crazier: Either team winning this game does not change how awful the two teams have been (at times) this season.

Florida just had one of the most gut-wrenching losses at Arkansas last weekend. The Gators had almost no offensive production, and the defense (after being on the field most of the night) was exposed. This win would be nice to bounce back but at the end of the day, the Gators still have been incredibly disappointing.

South Carolina has done pretty well with its new quarterback. Yes, Will Muschamp has finally figured out what a good QB looks like. But, South Carolina is still nowhere near where they were earlier this decade. South Carolina could get this road win and satisfy its fans, but to the rest of us the Gamecocks will still be losers.

Georgia hosts Auburn this weekend. With the way the SEC East has been playing against the West, this game is almost guaranteed to be ugly for the Bulldogs.

Georgia narrowly beat Kentucky last weekend, couldn’t get anything going in a loss against Florida the weekend before and lost to Vanderbilt in its game before the bye week in October. What I’m saying is: Georgia has four losses and deserves to be ripped into for these losses. And even if by some miracle the Bulldogs do beat the Tigers, they still shouldn’t be ranked. They’re still going to be losers.

Kentucky pays Tennessee a visit this weekend, too. And the fact that there are a number of Vol fans who are concerned about possibly losing this game says almost all that I need to say.

Kentucky will always be a basketball school in the eyes of the rest of the SEC and probably even the rest of the country. Somehow, the Wildcats have managed to put together a season that’s actually pretty impressive by Kentucky football standards. If the Wildcats beat the Vols, they will be celebrating. But that would all but guarantee that Florida returns to the SEC Championship Game (if the Gators beat the Gamecocks). So Kentucky still loses.

And on the other side of this, Tennessee actually really needs this win. There are plenty of fans concerned that the Vols won’t get it either. My dad is one of those fans. And while Tennessee may very well win this game, after some of their recent losses (including injuries) the Vols will ultimately still be losers.

Missouri hosts Vanderbilt this weekend. This game is truly the battle of the two worst teams in the entire SEC, not even just in the SEC East. The Loser Bowl, perhaps?

Missouri has taken too many L’s too count this season. The Tigers have yet to win a conference game. And they have three of those left, including this one. Not to mention, they also lost to MTSU in October. Who even does that? Are you actually allowed to do that in the SEC? No victory could redeem Mizzou at this point. The Tigers will still be the biggest losers in the SEC this season.

Vanderbilt is only one conference win ahead of Missouri. That being said, the Commodores really have no room to talk here. They have had some “moral victories” in the numerous close games they have forced. But even those moral victories combined with an actual victory this weekend would not make Vanderbilt a winner. That record doesn’t lie.

No matter which way you look at things, every SEC East team will be a loser this weekend. That, my friends, is why I decided to smack down the entire SEC East. Bless their hearts.

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

Photo: Joni Vanhoecke, Flickr

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Beating Bret Bielema

Auburn and Arkansas have only been playing football against each other since 1992 when Arkansas joined the Southeastern Conference. There was the Liberty Bowl of 1984, when the Tigers, behind game MVP Bo Jackson, trounced the Razorbacks, 21-15. But that was the only meeting between the two prior to the SEC’s expansion, which also included South Carolina.

As a side note, there was a freshman walk-on wide receiver on that 1984 Hawg team by the name of Gus Malzahn.

Auburn leads the series with 13 wins to Arky’s 11. There has been one tie, 24-24. That occurred in the 1992 game in Auburn. Coincidentally, Bo Jackson’s number 34 jersey was retired that day.

We now find ourselves, in the year 2016, with Arkansas native Gus Malzahn serving as the head ball coach (a nod to Steve Spurrier) at Auburn and a brash Bret Bielema at the helm in Fayetteville.

Bielema is also the focal point of a mini web television program, Being Bret Bielema.

Good for Bert (as we often refer to him here in the friendly confines of Campus Pressbox).

Our own Seth Merenbloom is particularly fond of the Bert moniker.

Seth is also sadly off base with his prediction on this game. He, mistakenly, has picked the Razorbacks to come out victorious in Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday night.

https://soundcloud.com/fourlightsfm/the-sec-411-61-alabama-just-keeps-rollin

Sorry Seth, it ain’t happening.

And with that, I welcome you to my own take, on the game, in my first installation of Beating Bret Bielema.

Auburn will defeat Arkansas, and here is how they will do it. This will be a complete team victory in the three vital areas of a football game: offense, defense, and special teams.

Let us proceed.

OFFENSE

Arkansas has given up points by the dozen in conference play and Saturday will be no exception. Auburn will be able to establish great balance between the running and passing games, and should join its fellow SEC brethren who have piled up both points and yardage on the visitors.

Click here for a glimpse at the Tigers’ now highly potent O.

We move on to our next phase of the game…

DEFENSE

I wrote an article before this football season that spoke to how Auburn would be much improved in 2016 and that it would begin with defense.

That has been the case, thus far, this year.

Check out what Wesley Sinor of AL.com has to say about the defense’s challenge to thwart Hawg quarterback Austin Allen.

And now…

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams have also been a key to Auburn’s success as it rides an impressive three game winning streak, and placekicker Daniel Carlson has been a big reason for that success.

This column from the USA Today speaks to the junior All-American’s remarkable level of play.

Auburn is coming off a bye week. It is well-rested. It is playing with great confidence and swagger. And it is playing very loose and having a lot of fun.

Expect that attitude to continue in this upcoming game.

Arkansas has played seven straight games without a bye week. It’s last two opponents have been two strong teams from the SEC West, Alabama and Ole Miss.

It was fortunate to come from behind to beat Ole Miss but it took a whuppin’, both on the scoreboard and on the field, against the Crimson Tide, the best team in the nation.

The odds makers like this Auburn team as well.

The Tigers opened in Vegas as an eight-point favorite. That line has now risen to 10. It could climb even higher before enough people begin to put down some money on the Razorbacks.

10 points won’t do. If I were a gambling man, I would take Auburn, minus 10, in a heartbeat.

I would take Auburn minus 16 in a heartbeat.

Take that, Seth! And welcome to this episode of Beating Bret Bielema.

Auburn 34, Arkansas 17.

 

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

Watching Only One SEC Football Game Each Week: Part Two

A little over a week ago, I introduced this idea. What if, for some terrible reason, I could only watch one SEC football game each weekend this season? Which games would I watch? Part one featured my picks for weeks one through six of the SEC football season. Here are my picks for the remainder of the season.

Week 7: #1 Alabama @ #10 Tennessee

This is probably the one game I’m most excited to watch all season. The Crimson Tide may have lost some key pieces to their championship team but they have plenty of recruits from their past few classes that can fill in those gaps. They also have Bo Scarbrough to replace Derrick Henry, and he definitely cannot be ignored. On the other hand, Butch Jones and Tennessee didn’t really lose important pieces to their puzzle at all. They return experienced players on both sides of the ball. The defense will be solid, and the offense has the potential to be explosive. If Josh Dobbs can pass for more than ten yards this season, the Volunteer offense will be hard to stop.

This game was a close one in Tuscaloosa last year, with Alabama obviously being the eventual victor. This year the two teams meet in Knoxville and I’m sure Neyland will be rocking. I don’t know that I’m right about this but I think the Vols will have a good chance to get a win at home over the Crimson Tide. And I’d be laughing at Lane Kiffin the whole time. He might have to block me on Twitter if they lose.

Week 8: #12 Ole Miss @ #6 LSU

There are a few Ole Miss games that will definitely have my attention this season. This game in Death Valley is liable to be one of the most exciting SEC West games we’ll get to watch all season. I’ve talked about him plenty in Part One of this duo of lists, but Chad Kelly will be huge for Ole Miss this season.

The Rebels lost Laquon Treadwell to the NFL at the end of last season, but Damore’ea Stringfellow has the potential to be just as important to their offense. Playing opposite Treadwell last year, he already put up some pretty impressive stats (36 catches, 503 yds., 5 TDs) for the Rebels. LSU returns Fournette who was mostly a force to be reckoned with last season. More importantly, their quarterback Brandon Harris now has more experience and can hopefully help balance Fournette’s rushing attack with his passing attack.

These two offensive powerhouses meeting in Baton Rouge should make for a fantastic, explosive football game. The winner? Whichever team has fewer turnovers.

Week 9: #25 Florida vs. #16 Georgia (at EverBank Field)

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will always draw my attention as a Gator. Heading into this season, both teams are expected to be strong but both have some pretty big question marks. The Gators need to actually move the ball on offense and they need to choose a quarterback to do that…again. Their defense will be as solid as ever as they retain the title “DBU.”

Georgia will have running back Nick Chubb again and an exciting new coach in Kirby Smart. That combination could prove to be very dangerous. As far as SEC defenses go, theirs may be pretty average. But an average Bulldog defense might overpower a below average Gator offense. At the end of the day, I’d give this one to the Gators. But I don’t say that with much confidence.

Week 10: #1 Alabama @ #6 LSU

Alabama and LSU are the two highest-ranked SEC West teams in the preseason coaches poll, making this game an easy choice. Last season, the Alabama defense shut down Heisman hopeful running back Leonard Fournette in this matchup. The question is whether or not they’ll be able to repeat that feat now that LSU has a more experienced quarterback with Brandon Harris returning.

For LSU, containing the Alabama offense will be a must. Last season, they allowed them to outgain the Tiger offense by about 250 yards. If they allow Alabama to gain over 400 yards again, they’ll be hard-pressed to win this game. Fournette and Harris will be a destructive duo, but I expect the Alabama defense to be able to contain them pretty well. And for this reason, I anticipate Alabama winning this game, despite LSU’s home field advantage.

Week 11: Auburn @ #16 Georgia

I honestly have no idea what to make of Auburn at this point. Last season I expected them to be solid but I would consider their 6-6 regular season record anything but solid. Surprisingly, they only lost to Georgia by a touchdown. That team they played a close game with was not the same team that Georgia has this season. Mark Richt was replaced with a shiny new head coach straight from Alabama, Kirby Smart. And since running back Nick Chubb is returning from his injury, the Georgia offense will undoubtedly be more difficult to stop.

The Auburn defense under Will Muschamp’s replacement, Kevin Steele, will be what decides this game. Steele has worked with a number of impressive programs: Alabama, Clemson, and LSU, to name a few. Whether or not he’ll be able to resurrect a defense that struggled during most games last year remains to be seen. Because of my doubts for Auburn’s defense and my faith in Georgia’s offense, I give them the clear advantage in this game. But I don’t expect a blowout.

Week 12: Arkansas @ Mississippi St.

Arkansas is in a similar position to Tennessee this season, even though their outlook isn’t quite as favorable as that of the Volunteers. Head Coach Bret Bielema is entering his fourth year here after a decent season last year. In theory, he should finally have his players and his system in place.

Meanwhile, Dan Mullen has had to return to the drawing board for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs lived and died by quarterback Dak Prescott the past two years. Last year, they had pretty much no offensive production unless Prescott was involved. Now that Prescott is gone, Mullen is going to have to completely revamp their offense if he wants any chance of surviving in the SEC West. Since Arkansas seems to be on more of an upward trend here, I see them winning this game at Mississippi State.

Week 13: Rivalry Week

Sorry guys, but I really can’t pick just one this week. There are far too many interesting rivalry matchups.

All rankings listed are according to the Preseason Amway Coaches Poll, released on August 4th, 2016. Featured photo courtesy of wikimedia via user Neomrbungle.

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

I Don’t Like Alabama, But I Sure As Heck Respect It

This is one of those rare moments when I swallow my Gator and Vol pride to give credit where credit is due. The Alabama Crimson Tide is getting all the credit I can get myself to give to it today. I will make this clear: I loathe Alabama football and I obviously cannot stand Lane Kiffin. But that does not mean I will not show them some respect when it comes to what they manage to do season after season. The Tide is consistently excelling in the hardest division of the strongest conference in all of college football. That alone is absolutely incredible.

I will be the first to admit that I tend to underestimate Alabama every single year. I always think they lost too much talent so they may need to rebuild. What I seem to forget is that they are pulling in phenomenal recruits year after year. Last year, I even went so far as to say that Nick Saban was about to be in Urban Meyer’s shadow. I am eating those words at the moment. I take it back. I take it all back. As my penance for that terrible thing I said, this year I will not underestimate Alabama football. This year I am finally ready to put aside my pride and give them the credit they clearly deserve.

Their spring game was admittedly a bit underwhelming, with a whopping ten points scored overall. When you are an Alabama fan though, I doubt you really care about what happens in the spring game. You just know deep down that your team will perform when it counts. That feeling must be nice.

Last year Alabama had a quarterback battle that lasted into the season. This year it still has quite the quarterback competition going on in Tuscaloosa. This one might last into the season as well. If last year is any indication of who will be the starting quarterback, then you can bet Cooper Bateman will get his chance to go from second-string to first-string. With other athletic contenders in the mix, namely Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts, I would definitely not give Bateman the starting job quite yet. Replacing last year’s quarterback may not be their biggest concern heading into next season though.

The Tide lost key starters on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the biggest concern for Alabama right now is the offensive line. I know we have to take spring games with a grain of salt, but let it be known that the offensive line allowed eleven sacks in that game. Now, it is definitely worth nothing that a sack in a spring game is not as physically involved as one during a real game. It is also worth noting that Alabama probably has a top ten defense again so, of course, the defense is going to get some sacks. That kind of smothering defense is just something we have come to expect from them. Still, the number stands, and eleven sacks are just too many to completely overlook. Knowing Alabama football, though, I am sure the Tide will have it figured out in time for the College Football Playoff next year. Just maybe not in time for the Ole Miss game.

So what else is there to think about? Worried about them replacing Derrick Henry? No need to be. Bo Scarbrough seems to be more than ready to pick up right where Henry left off and there is some pretty good depth at running back behind him. So what about the defensive talent they lost? I said it once and I will say it again: Alabama probably has a top ten defense again. Okay, they lost Kirby Smart as their defensive coordinator. Never fear. We all know Nick Saban is the one who really calls the shots in Tuscaloosa anyway. Here’s the thing: every single potential problem I propose already has a clear solution. And that is their secret. That right there is how Alabama does it, folks.

Nick Saban at the helm and good recruits from years passed make almost every personnel (and coaching) loss a non-issue for the Crimson Tide. That is exactly the thing I failed to understand when I was quick to say Alabama could not win a title last year. I mean is there ever really a year when Alabama does not have the potential to win a National Championship? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a strong “no.” Love them, hate them, envy them, doubt them…do whatever you want. At the end of the day the haters will continue hating while the Crimson Tide keeps dominating. As Birdman might say, put some “respek” on their name!

Now please excuse me while I go thoroughly wash out my mouth with soap for saying all this. I am truly sorry to all my other SEC friends for writing this article. And to my dear father who taught me everything I know about football, I hope you are not too disappointed in your little girl right now. But, if you guys want to see how much I really do dislike Alabama then make sure to follow me (@OGKristenB) on Twitter. I assure you that I definitely do not usually sing their praises.

Photo of Bryant-Denny Stadium courtesy of Latics.

SEC Links: Quarterback News Galore and More

Last week we took a look at the quarterback situation of all teams in the SEC West. This week we’ll take a peek at the competition in the SEC East. We will also cover some other SEC quarterback topics as well as checking out power rankings for all fourteen teams in both divisions. Finally, we have news on Uncle Verne Lundquist and his status as the play-by-play man for the conference at CBS.

Josh Dobbs is the only known given in the East and he appears to be, along with Chad Kelly, one of the top two signal callers in the entire conference. They both help to make their respective teams strong contenders to win their divisions. Either of these young men could, also, be a solid prospect for post-season platitudes which include All-American and Heisman honors.

Kentucky is the only team in the East, beside Tennessee, to flat out declare a starter for the 2016 campaign.

Jacob Eason wowed the 93,000 capacity crowd in Athens, but Kirby Smart is nowhere near ready to name him a starter this early in the process.

Who in the world is going to challenge Drew Lock at Missouri?

South Carolina’s situation is not dissimilar from what was taking place in Columbia at this time last year when the Head Ball Coach still called the shots.

It is also a four-man race at the position for Derek Mason at Vanderbilt.

What about the best inexperienced quarterback in the SEC? Which young player will emerge from that pack. Eason? Florida’s Luke del Rio? Austin Allen at Arkansas? My money is on whomever Lane Kiffin tabs to start at Alabama. His track record, thus far on the Capstone, is pretty remarkable.

Christopher Walsh, of Bleacher report, weighs in on the same topic. He throws Auburn’s John Franklin III into the mix. It could happen. But like I said, Kiffin’s guy is the one to beat, for me, until someone else proves differently.

Post-spring power rankings are beginning to pop up like flowers and Barrett Sallee sees everything coming up roses in Tuscaloosa. Who doesn’t? The two through fourteen positions is where it really gets interesting. Here’s my, exceedingly, humble opinion on it. As I did on my best coaching jobs in the SEC piece, I’ll go bottom to top.

14. South Carolina
It’s going to be tough for Gamecock fans this season. “Looking at the world through the bottom of a glass.” $1 to Merle Haggard.

13. Vanderbilt
Defense will be the word in Music City. Now if Derek Mason can help conjure up a decent offense.

12. Kentucky
Mark Stoops may have named his starting QB but he’s going to need a great deal more to begin to contend. Give him time.

11. Missouri
It’s really hard to differentiate the bottom four in the East. Struggles abound in all of those camps.

10. Mississippi State
Dan Mullen will have to come up with more than a new field general for the Bullpups. He’s looking up at six teams in front of him in the West.

9. Texas A&M
This is where I differ, sharply, with Sallee. They need to get focused, and fast, in Aggieland.

8. Arkansas
The rebuilding continues for Bielema and his Razorbacks, but they’re getting there… slowly.

7. Auburn
I think Gus may be much closer than many people think. This is, very much, a “wait and see” type of situation.

6. Florida
This is another rebuilding saga that is gaining momentum. If the quarterback comes on strong, then so should the Gators.

5. Georgia
The cupboard surely was not bare when Smart arrived. But he, too, has some holes to fill before they win the East.

4. LSU
Talent is never a problem in Baton Rouge. Developing a quarterback often is. Leonard Fournette automatically makes the Tigers a contender.

3. Tennessee
The Vols are looking down at the rest of their division but they have two teams from the West above them.

2. Ole Miss
Ain’t nothing frozen for Freeze and the Rebels. All is fast and fluid. That September game with Bama will decide the West.

1. Alabama
L-O-A-D-E-D! That defense is as good as some in the NFL and the offense will more than complement it.

There it is. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health!

As I mentioned above, Uncle Verne Lundquist’s days appear to be numbered as the play-by-play announcer for the CBS coverage of SEC football. Many people will be ecstatic to hear this and some will be sad to see him go. Count me in the latter group.

Verne was a local sports guy in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex when my young bride and I resided there from 1977-1980. I watched him most every night on the six o’clock news and I saw him work numerous Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers games also. When I was in the proper position, the good seats behind home plate at old Arlington Stadium, I could turn and peer into the press box and spot him primp, briefly, before he came on camera.

Verne may have lost a little throughout his decades of calling countless sporting events, but he has always been a true professional. I actually look forward to listening to him for however long he has left in the booth. I will miss him. College football will miss him.

That’ll wrap it up for this week’s edition of SEC Links.

What’s the Best Head Coaching Job in the SEC?

Quick! Off the top of your head, what’s the best job in the SEC? We’re talking football, of course. That’s what we do here.

So, what is it?

Did I hear a goodly number of ‘Alabamas’ out there? Ok, that would be fair. But here is what the head coach at the University of Alabama, Nick Saban, thinks. In an article written by Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, Saban compliments his former pupil, Kirby Smart, and also questions him as to why Georgia does not win on a grander scale. That is something that has left many pundits and fans scratching their collective heads over the years. That has been debated, ad nauseum, over the past eleven years. It’s how long it has been since the Bulldogs won an SEC championship. They haven’t won the Big Enchilada, a natty, since 1980.

Smart now finds himself in the big chair, in Athens, and Dawg fans are howling… with glee. Time will tell if Georgia returns as a dominant power in the SEC East. We shall see.

Now back to Saban. He thinks Georgia and LSU should be the top jobs in the conference. And that brings us back to our original question… What is the best head coaching job in the Southeastern Conference?

Barrett Sallee make a a very solid and strong argument for Alabama. He thinks that is, pretty much, a no-brainer. It is difficult to disagree with him, whether you love or hate the Crimson Tide. The “Process” is hitting on all eight in T-Town and it doesn’t look like things are going to change in the near future.

What about the rest of the league?

I’m going to start at the bottom and work my way up to the top. This is what I think and you should take it with the very smallest grain of salt you can locate with a magnifying glass.

Onward!

14. Vanderbilt

A gimme, right? You don’t have to be Carnac The Magnificent to figure that one out. Vandy is the graveyard of coaching jobs in the SEC and it ain’t even close.

13. Kentucky
They play basketball exceptionally well in Lexington.

12. Mississippi State
StarkVegas. It holds no similarity, whatsoever, to the derivation of its, now popular, nick-namesake.

11. South Carolina
We’re about to be reminded, once again, how great a football coach Steve Spurrier really was.

10. Arkansas
Ole Bret Bielema has done some good things in Fayetteville but he will never win the SEC West.

9. Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze has proven the Rebels can contend but Oxford is a place where no one will win, consistently, over an extended period of time.

8. Missouri
The Tigers have won two out of the last three East division titles but it doesn’t appear that is going to happen again any time soon.

7. Tennessee

A lot of coaches around the country wish that they were up on Rocky Top.

6. Auburn

They have both won a national championship and played for another, in the last six years, down on the Plains.

5. Texas A&M

The resources in College Station are limitless.

4. LSU

I don’t think it’s one of the top two jobs in the conference but one could certainly argue that point.

3. Georgia

A great, great job that is begging to be the top one.

2. Florida

It’s been done here, one more than one occasion, and it, probably, will be done again.

1. Alabama

In the SEC? How about the country?

That’s my two cents on how head coaching jobs rank in the Southeastern Conference. It’s entirely subjective and that’s one reason we love to spend much of our time, as SEC fans, debating countless subjects related to college football. Everybody has an opinion and, quite often, they are strong ones. Mull it over. Chime in!

Hey! Only 127 days remain until Vanderbilt hosts South Carolina on a Thursday night!

SEC Links: Finding Gunslingers in the Wild, Wild West

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

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

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

In short, the quarterback is the man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auburn: Road Trips, Part Two – Baton Rouge

I promised back in March to deliver another road trip adventure. Here she is, folks! We go back to the 1997 season when the Auburn Tigers journeyed deep into Bayou Country for a very important conference game with the LSU Tigers. Auburn stood at 2-0 with victories over Virginia, in Charlottesville, and Ole Miss, at home. The Bayou Bengals were also 2-0. Their wins came in Tiger Stadium versus UTEP and in Starkville against Mississippi State. Both teams were ranked. Auburn was No. 12 and LSU No. 10.

My son, Luke, and I hit the trail on Friday, September 19 for the Saturday game down in Louisiana. The trip would take us from Atlanta, down I-85, eventually hitting I-65 in Montgomery, AL and on to Pascagoula, MS for the the evening. We stayed at the Fairfield Inn by Marriott there on the Gulf Coast, but not before stuffing ourselves on a buffet at a nearby casino and losing a couple of rolls of quarters. We were hoping that was not a portent of things to come. After watching some Mr. Show, with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, we hit the hay.

A bright, hot and humid Saturday morning greeted us for the remainder of the drive to the Red Stick. Our entire family had made the trek in 1988 only to see our Tigers’ national championship hopes derailed, 7-6, in what is now infamously known as the “Earthquake Game.” Luke and I also attended the 1995 game at Tiger Stadium. LSU, 12-6.

We were hungry for a road win over the other Tigers, to say the least.

We checked into the Courtyard by Marriott, rewards points are nice, and went to get some lunch at a famous place, now closed, that served up some mighty fine po’ boys. We were the only patrons representing the visiting team in that eatery, and we did not get hassled either. We were ahead of the game!

Then it was time to circle back by the hotel and check on the Bama-Arkansas game which the Hawgs won, 17-16. That was an excellent choice of scores. For the uninformed, Auburn stunned no.2 Alabama by the same score in the epic “Punt, Bama, Punt” game in 1972.

Now it’s off to the lovely campus of Louisiana State University for a night game. Shudder!

We found a good tailgating spot which was not terribly far from Tiger Stadium. We were plenty early to take time and roam around the venerable, but highly inhospitable, ole gal. On the way there, and back to our vehicle, various insults about our team and our garb, were hurled at us. Welcome to Baton Rouge.

In all fairness, we did receive some welcoming words from a group or two. Tailgating in the SEC is one of life’s great pleasures and they do it very well at LSU. The boiling pots of crawfish, jambalaya and other Cajun creations is a sight to behold and smell. Yaaaaay Heeee!

Before long, though, we had to scurry back to the ’93 blue Saturn sedan for a couple of rounds of courage and the walk to the game. This is a time when your anticipation, and anxiety, is completely off the charts and your heart is beating like a rabbit’s. The excitement is at a fever pitch!

Now, let me emphatically say this. There is nothing like a night game in Baton Rouge at Tiger Stadium. Nothing! If you are a college football fan, and have a bucket list, put this at, or near, the top of it. Now! Get your pen, or pencil, and paper. Write it down. Now!

Luke and I squeezed through the crushing crowd at our gate which lead us through a portal and into a lower seating section of the south end zone.

Buckle your seat belts! Here we go!

The visiting Tigers came out on fire. They scored first on a 26 yard-pass from Dameyune Craig  to fullback Fred Beasley. Craig, oddly enough, recently departed his position as wide receivers coach at Auburn to take an assistant coach position at LSU. Hicks Poor hauled in a 25-yard TD pass from Craig to go up 14-0 with 7:28 still remaining in the opening stanza. Wow!

LSU struck back on three-yard run by Cecil “The Diesel” Collins to cut the margin to seven. Collins ran over, around, and through the Auburn defense that night for 232 yards on 27 carries. Day-um!

At halftime the score was locked at 21. It appeared that Auburn could not stop Collins and that could, very well, spell their demise in the last quarter as he would continue to pound that defense.

At halftime we happened upon some old friends of mine from down in Lower Alabama and my hometown of Camden. We so enjoyed meeting again but soon it was time to get the second half underway and break the deadlock.

The only score in the third quarter was a 34-yard field goal by Auburn’s Jaret Holmes. The score stood 24-21, Auburn, as quarter four got underway.

Cecil Collins continued his land assault on Auburn’s D and Dameyune Craig did likewise, through the air, to LSU. Collins broke off on a 42-yard scamper, early in the final quarter, to give the hometown Tigers a 28-24 lead.

Both defenses held their ground and neither allowed a score for 12 or 13 minutes. The drama was as thick as the humidity enveloping Tiger Stadium. LSU was forced to punt with about three minutes left in the game. Auburn took the ball deep in its own territory. Luke buried his head in his hands and said he couldn’t watch as the East Alabama Felines would get one more crack at the, now formidable, LSU defense.

Ten Auburn players stood ready for huddle as Craig got his last second instructions from head coach Terry Bowden. Craig then began a gallop to his awaiting band of brothers. I told Luke that our Tigers were going to win and asked that he look up as I pointed to Craig and boldly stated, “And there is the reason why.”

The noise in Death Valley rose to a crescendo and was, literally, deafening. You could not even carry on a conversation amongst the roar in that bowl. Auburn began a march toward us and the south end zone. One first down, then another, and another as the clock ticked, ticked, ticked away and Auburn made its way deep into LSU territory.

There were now 46 seconds on the Tiger Stadium clock and Auburn found itself at the LSU one-yard line.

Timeout.

As Craig, again, jogs onto the field, the 80,538 fans assembled in this hallowed venue create an ear-shattering twelfth man. One inhales and the smell of bourbon opens the nasal passages.

Auburn comes to the line of scrimmage. Craig makes every effort to communicate with his troops as he barks up and down the line-of-scrimmage. It seems as though we can reach out and touch the 22 Tigers there before us. Craig takes the snap. The visitors offensive front, pads low, makes a huge surge forward. A hole, that I could run through, opens on the right side of Auburn’s line, and tailback Rusty Williams rumbles through it and falls into the purple and gold of LSU’s end zone with 30 ticks remaining on the clock.

There is a moment of stunned silence as the LSU Tiger faithful sit in disbelief.

The Auburn band plays “War Eagle” over and over.

Shortly, the game itself is over.

Auburn 31, LSU 28.

The two teams of Tigers, ultimately, tie for the SEC West title and Auburn goes on to play the Peyton Manning-led Tennessee Volunteers for the SEC Championship.

Football on Saturday night. Church on Sunday morning.

Life in the Deep South.

Y’all come!

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

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

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

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

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

Now how about the top player on offense?

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

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

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

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

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