Tag Archives: South Carolina Gamecocks

Pondering and Power Rating the SEC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment on this story in our free forum.

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

Image via Flickr/getmahesh

How Many Games Will the SEC Lose This Weekend?

The SEC has plenty of all-but-guaranteed wins in the first week of the 2017 college football season. But, the SEC also has multiple games that are toss-ups and some that look like likely losses.

As a lover of all things SEC football, I’ve been contemplating what kind of record the SEC will emerge from this opening weekend of games with.

Last year, the ACC proved to be stronger than many anticipated (even though I made an early call on that one). But with three at least decent ACC opponents scheduled for SEC teams this first weekend, should the SEC be worried?

There’s also that Michigan-Florida rematch from about a year and a half ago when the Wolverines annihilated the Gators in the Citrus Bowl. Should we go ahead and give this one to Michigan, too?

What about Texas A&M and UCLA? Aggies Head Coach Kevin Sumlin is undoubtedly on the hot seat this season. Will he be able to get his second-straight win over the Bruins and ease the pressure down in College Station a bit?

Unfortunately, I am not Brandon Stark and I do not have “the sight.” I cannot give you a completely confident answer for any of those questions I just posed. I can, however, give you a few game predictions along with my reasoning for my picks.

The NC State Wolfpack and South Carolina Gamecocks face off on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. This game poses an interesting offense-defense matchup for the teams. NC State has a powerful defensive line but will be lacking in the secondary. South Carolina may be lacking on the offensive line, but boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC this season in Jake Bentley. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives NC State a 62.7% chance of winning this game. After seeing how the ACC fared last season and considering the intriguing matchup, I give a slight edge to the Wolfpack here as well. Regardless of the outcome, I expect this to be a close contest.

The Florida State Seminoles and Alabama Crimson Tide also face off in an ACC-SEC matchup on Saturday in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I’ll never be one to bet against Nick Saban and Alabama, but if I were going to bet against him, I would be considering this game. ESPN’s FPI may give the Tide a 59%-41% advantage over the Seminoles, but the computers don’t know everything. Alabama returns numerous important pieces of its puzzle, and so does Florida State. Florida State seems to have the advantage on offense while Alabama has the defensive advantage. At the end of the day, this will probably come down to coaching. And in that scenario, I’ll take Nick Saban.

The Tennessee Volunteers play another ACC opponent next Monday, when they also visit Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. A few weeks ago, I would’ve said Tennessee was likely in trouble in this game. After the Yellow Jackets dismissed top returning running back Dedrick Mills from the team, Tennessee’s chances to win this game surged. After a rough 2016 season defensively, the Vols might have had trouble defending such a dynamic offense. But the loss of Mills will be insurmountable for the Yellow Jackets at this point in the season, giving Tennessee a good shot at winning this game. And for what it’s worth, ESPN’s FPI also gives the Vols a good shot here with a 68.1%-31.9% advantage.

The Michigan Wolverines take on The Florida Gators on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Due to a 41-7 Michigan win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl the concluded the teams’ 2015 seasons, there is doubt that Florida can even put up a good fight. Michigan returns almost nobody noteworthy from that 2015 team. So, I find that bowl victory to be irrelevant. Florida returns multiple starters, boasts a very talented receiving corps, and has very capable young defensive players to fill gaps left by last year’s departures. Michigan returns talent and has young players stepping up as well, make no mistake. But because of Florida Coach Jim McElwain, I’m leaning toward the Gators for this huge matchup. ESPN’s FPI isn’t any help here, being a near-toss-up at Michigan 50.5%, Florida 49.5%.

The Texas A&M Aggies travel to Pasadena, CA, this weekend to take on the UCLA Bruins. Last season, these two teams kicked off the season in College Station, TX, with an overtime thriller. The Aggies finished the 2016 regular season at 8-4 while the Bruins finished at 4-8. The Aggies lost countless starters, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Their season is as unpredictable as ever under Head Coach Kevin Sumlin. The Bruins finished 4-8 last season, only winning one game after losing starting QB Josh Rosen to a season-ending injury. With Rosen back, the Bruins could be poised to bounce back with a vengeance this season. Because of Rosen and Texas A&M’s departures, I have to give the edge to UCLA here. ESPN’s FPI will back me up on this one, giving the Bruins a 68.4% chance of winning this game.

The question I posed remains. How many losses will the SEC endure in its first week of play this season? If you go by my answers here, it’s only two. But with a couple of my SEC wins being close calls, I wouldn’t be surprised to see three or four losses from the SEC this weekend.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

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

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

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

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

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

Onward!

SEC EAST 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For again I say, rejoice!

College football is upon us!

Comment on this story in our free forum.

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

2017 NCAA Tournament Notebook: Final Four Coastal War

Heading into the NCAA Tournament, not many people could’ve predicted the Final Four cast that will be on display this coming Saturday in Glendale, Arizona.  Two schools arrive from the extreme east coast, both from the Carolinas no less.  It had been since UCLA made it to their third straight Final Four in 2008 that the west coast had representation.  This year the college basketball world was graced with two left coast participants.  Each of the teams in the Final Four has at least one distinct attribute which provides an advantage over their semifinal opponent; and perhaps which will carry over into the title game.  It’s going to be a true coastal war on Saturday evening.

Standing Tall

North Carolina crushes opponents on the boards.  The Tar Heels lead the nation in rebounding margin, and that will serve as a major factor against Oregon.  Jordan Bell was a one man wrecking crew against Kansas in the Elite Eight.  How will he be able to handle UNC’s huge front line of 6-10 Kennedy Meeks, 6-9 Isaiah Hicks, and 6-10 Tony Bradley?  The ability to crash the boards, particularly on the offense end allows Justin Jackson to unleash his quick-release jumper freely, and give the Tar Heels multiple possessions.  If the Ducks can’t neutralize this quickly, it will make for a long night.

Oblivious to the Danger

Right now, Oregon is playing with absolutely no fear.  Tyler Dorsey is flat-out killing it.  Jordan Bell single-handedly terrorized Kansas around the rim, and Dillon Brooks is a willing go-to guy who is unconscious about unleashing some offense.  The Ducks have a pretty light rotation, but what they do have are multiple stars that can rise to the occasion, leaving multiple outlets if a big shot is necessary.  Oregon can play with pace to get out in transition; and have the individual offensive skills to find shots when the game bogs down in the half court.  If anyone can run with UNC, it’ll be the Ducks.

Well-balanced Diet

Mark Few’s team is the most balance team remaining.  Gonzaga can put pressure on opponents from the perimeter, slashing to the paint, or attacking the rim with size in the post.  There’s also a nice blend of veterans and young players; and more than any of the other teams remaining, the Bulldogs are likely playing with the biggest chip on their collective shoulders.  Nigel Williams-Goss is still the key cog in the machine, and he has the chops to carry the Zags for the final two games.  Gonzaga’ capacity to be multi-faceted will be crucial against South Carolina.

Up in Your Grill

Much like their coach Frank Martin, the Gamecocks have been right up in their opponent’s kitchen every single game.  South Carolina has proven to be the most physical team remaining in the field, and that will be their ace-in-the-hole.   Gonzaga struggled with West Virginia’s pressure and physicality in the Sweet 16.  While Martin’s team won’t press heavily, the constant harassment and bumping in the half court is more than sufficient to rattle cages.  Although the Gamecocks don’t have a ton of size on the front line, the guards are powerfully built, and that drives their physicality.  If South Carolina is given the freedom to play as physically as they have all tournament, Gonzaga will be battered, bruised, and possibly go bye-bye.

New Blood vs. Blue Blood

Aside from the east coast/west coast rift, the 2017 Final Four also gives us some upstart programs trying to make a name, versus one legendary program, and coach who is trying to cement his legacy.  Although Dana Altman, Mark Few, and Frank Martin have been around for quite some time, this is the breakthrough opportunity each has been waiting for.  Altman did a nice job at Creighton for many years, but never really gets mentioned among the great college basketball coaches.  Martin gave Kansas State some of its best years in the college basketball landscape, but winning a title at a football-crazed school could propel South Carolina to sustained success in hoops.  Mark Few is Gonzaga basketball.  Whether Gonzaga ascends to the upper echelon of college basketball’s elite programs, hinges upon what Few’s team does this coming weekend.

Predictions

In the first semifinal, I see Gonzaga’s depth and versatility being the deciding factor versus South Carolina.  The whistles will probably be a bit tighter especially early-on in the semifinal games, and that won’t make it easy for the Gamecocks to apply the physicality that Frank Martin’s team is accustomed to.  With a bit more free reign, Mark Few’s team will outlast South Carolina to reach Monday’s final.

As much fun as it would be to see an all west coast National Title game, I think the Tar Heels are going to simply be too much on the boards for Oregon’s slim frontline to handle.  It was one thing to punch Kansas in the mouth, as the Jayhawks only real threat in the paint was Landen Lucas.  North Carolina will pound the paint and the glass until the Ducks are beaten into submission.  Normally the pace that Oregon can play at would be a distinguished advantage, but the Tar Heels love to get out in transition, especially after giving up a basket.  North Carolina will meet Gonzaga for the championship.

Despite a topsy-turvy last few weeks, which provided a less than predictable Final Four, we’ll be left with two #1 seeds squaring off for the National Championship trophy.  Roy Williams, an all-time great, with an opportunity to carve his legendary status into stone.  And Mark Few, a great coach who has stayed the course at a school long considered a mid-major.  Winning a national title will validate not only his status as an all-time great coach, but will permanently remove the mid-major label from Gonzaga University.

Prior to the tournament, I didn’t like Gonzaga to advance past the Sweet 16.  However, the Bulldogs have gotten better as the tournament has progressed, and have the versatility and firepower to go toe-to-toe with North Carolina.  Without a doubt, Roy Williams’ team has the experience and the pedigree.  A year ago most of these same players ended the season with heartbreak against Villanova.  This year the Zags rip the Tar Heels hearts out once again.  Gonzaga 86 North Carolina 82.  The Gonzaga Bulldogs will be College Basketball’s 2017 National Champion.

E-mail Damon at  or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

March Madness – From Pistol Pete to a Magic Carpet Ride

I didn’t begin to grow my hair, longer than the crew cut I sported at the time, because of the influence of rock groups I listened to, like Steppenwolf and Cream, who were popular at the time. It was due to a basketball player who was my idol, “Pistol” Pete Maravich. I loved the way Pistol Pete’s shaggy brown hair flopped as he brought the ball up the court for his team, the LSU Tigers.

Freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity back in 1966, so Pete’s first year as a starter for the Bayou Bengals was the fall of 1967. And there were very few games that were televised back then, but when there was a game on television I was watching. I couldn’t wait for Saturday afternoons and the SEC game of the week.

I was also a sophomore on our high school’s team in ’67 (we didn’t have a varsity and junior varsity). We had an “A” team and a “B” team and I was on the “B” team.

The problem was, we had to cut our hair to play sports at Wilcox County High School in Camden, AL. I began to let mine grow in 1968 which was my second year on the “B” team (that team went 17-0 by the way). But come November and basketball practice, whack, we had to get that hair cut. Mine wasn’t trimmed short enough so I had to go back and get it snipped again. And friends, it wasn’t very long to begin with.

The fall of 1968 was also when I had my first kiss, my first taste of whiskey, and my first cigarette. I’ve since given up the cigarettes.

So those were heady days. And as the lyrics to the Grateful Dead’s Uncle John’s Band go, “Wo, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?”

It has now been 50 years since Pistol Pete Maravich was in his first varsity season down in Baton Rouge. I was fortunate to witness him play the first game in what became Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in Auburn on January 11, 1969. The home team Tigers won that game, 90-71. Sorry Pete.

And, it is noteworthy that LSU never made the NCAA Tournament during Maravich’s playing days. They did receive an invitation to the NIT his senior year.

March wasn’t exactly bursting with madness back in those days. In fact, there were only 23 teams in the NCAA Tournament. But, the UCLA Bruins were in the middle of a three-year title run under the tutelage of John Wooden and the leadership of their star center, Lew Alcindor, who was later to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Yes, it’s a long way from those 23 teams, from 50 years ago, to the field of 68 that we grapple with today, and there are 10 of the usual suspects (North Carolina, Princeton, West Virginia, Dayton, Virginia Tech, Kansas, Louisville, New Mexico State, SMU, and UCLA) in both sets of brackets.

But interest is at a fever pitch, in the year 2017, and we are all caught in the throes of what is now termed “March Madness.”

The “Sweet 16” will have begun play by the time you read this, and here is the way I see it shaking down.

In chronological order:

Sweet 16

Michigan over Oregon

Gonzaga over West Virginia

Kansas over Purdue

Arizona over Xavier

North Carolina over Butler

South Carolina (Welcome Cinderella!) over Baylor

UCLA over Kentucky

Wisconsin over Florida

 

Elite Eight

South Carolina over Wisconsin

Gonzaga over Arizona

Kansas over Michigan

UCLA over North Carolina

 

That leaves us with a Final Four of:

South Carolina vs. Gonzaga

Kansas vs. UCLA

 

So let’s fasten our seat belts as we approach the final turn on that magic carpet ride… ”March Madness.”

 

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

Clemson Didn’t Have Softball Already?

It’s a safe bet that for most colleges in the South, spring sports programs, including, baseball, softball and lacrosse, are relatively popular options to take up. And many northern schools, attempting to flee to cold grip of late February and early March, tend to migrate south to compete and train.

So it comes as rather a surprise to basically everybody above the Mason-Dixon Line that Clemson, a stalwart of the Atlantic Coast Conference, was sadly lacking a softball team. After all, the ACC’s 13 other schools have it, and have at least one school (Florida State this season) dominating the national rankings.

Also, Clemson’s chief interstate rival, South Carolina, has long been on board with softball, and the Gamecocks make regular appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including four straight nods and currently well-positioned for a fifth.

With the sport’s popularity and success both in-state and in-conference, it was inevitable that Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich would at least take a look at putting a softball program together. In fact, the question of softball has been a rather frequent question tossed Radakovich’s way ever since he arrived at Clemson in 2012.

The answer has finally arrived, as Radakovich announced that the Tigers would field a softball team.

Unfortunately, the news of the addition of softball is not good for everybody. Clemson’s women’s diving team, the lone program left after the institution discontinued swimming and men’s diving after 2011-12, will be gone after this season. That will leave 14-member squad, including three NCAA Zone B Championship finalists, without a place to dive next season.

Considering the Tigers’ success in the pool in the years since it became a standalone program, having it blinked out of existence appears to be a rather odd. That said, it looked as if it was only a matter of time before Clemson would claim the last of its pool sports.

And as bad as it seems to replace one program with another, softball’s popularity in South Carolina was too great to ignore, in Radakovich’s summation. There is also the overriding thought that the combination of a robust recruiting based around Clemson, membership in the ACC and a strong rival such as South Carolina were justification that the time has come for the Tigers to make the move.

It also probably helps that 2020, when softball is projected to begin, coincides with the linear launch of the ACC Network, which will give all spring sports a significant media footprint to work with.

The announcement, as grueling as the decision was to add softball and drop women’s diving, was surprisingly the easy part. The real work begins in the next three years, when Clemson will need to hire a coaching staff and build a softball field that will meet the standards of a pressing conference and non-conference slate.

While the timeline to get everything done will be, to say the least, intense, the advantages that the Tigers will have even before the first pitch is thrown will give them a major boost, which, given the fierce competitiveness of the ACC, they will sorely need.

Then again, a lot of us thought Clemson already had a softball team, so it would come as no surprise that it has the potential to come out of the gates as a force to be reckoned with within the conference.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Photo: Clemson University

The Real Madness of March

Every year, I spend far more time and energy than I should filling out my NCAA Tournament March Madness bracket.  I debate whether chalk or Cinderella’s will prevail.  I agonize over which 12-5 upsets are ripe for the picking.  I look at strength of schedule and see who beat who, as if that matters.  Then, I spend the entire tournament second guessing myself.

Inevitably, I get caught in between rooting for my bracket and cheering for those Cinderella’s that capture our hearts.  It ends up being a very stressful month and at the end, I never feel like I have fully enjoyed what is truly an amazing sporting event.

I like to act as if I know what I’m talking about when predicting these games.  Really, I don’t.  None of us do.  Why bother pretending?  It’s not like I’m a big college basketball fan anyway.  I mean, sure, I watch the tournament religiously.  The first Thursday and Friday of games are days that I believe should be national holidays.  Why play the charade of going to work and acting like I’m not watching online?  I am.  #SorryNotSorry (I am, however, sorry I just used that expression. #NeverAgain)

Anyway, when it comes to regular season college basketball, I never watch many games.  This season though, that’s never been truer.  Confession: I watched a grand total of three full college basketball games this winter.  The complete list: Mt. St. Mary’s vs. Michigan (I was actually in attendance), Xavier vs. Cincinnati (Go Bearcats! #BeatX), and Tulsa vs. Cincinnati (Again, I was in attendance).

So, yeah, I don’t really have any idea what went on this college basketball season.  (Though, I hear tripping people has become a hot button issue.)  What I do know, from hardly following along, is that there was a lot of movement in the Top 25.  It seems to me that this is one of those years where there are a ton of good teams in the field, but not many great ones.  Is that a fair assessment?  Honestly, I’m asking.

Let’s highlight some things as I take my first look at the bracket.  (That’s right; I didn’t watch the selection show either.)

East

Hey!  Mt. St. Mary’s made the field… sorta.  The only first round upsets I have here are Marquette over South Carolina and New Mexico State over that Baptist school in Waco, Texas.  Give me Virginia over Florida in the second round.  Other than that, there’s nothing too exciting.  Looks like an easy path to the Final Four for defending champion Villanova.

Midwest

Woo, lots going on here.  First, Michigan State got lucky.  The Spartans are bad but the Hurricanes sound beatable.  The rest of the first round seems pedestrian but man, look at these possible second round matchups.  Kansas vs. Michigan State is enough said.  Iowa State meets Purdue in a battle of teams with high hopes.  Creighton vs. Oregon will be fun.  And Michigan gets a shot at revenge against Louisville.  I’m still upset about 2013 and, as a result, I’m going into full homer mode.  The Wolverines beat the Cardinals, the Ducks, and the Jayhawks on their way to Phoenix.  (#SorryNotSorry… Damnit, that didn’t last long.)

West

Smart guy alert in the 8-9 matchup as Northwestern and Vanderbilt get together.  Wait, the Northwestern Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament!  Congrats to them.  I’ll even pencil in an opening round win for them before getting smacked by Gonzaga.  Give me the other smart guys at Princeton to pull the upset on Notre Dame.  On the bottom half, I’m going a little upset crazy.  Florida Gulf Coast makes another run to the second weekend with wins over Florida State and Maryland.  And St. Mary’s finds its way to the Elite Eight for a fourth try at besting West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga.  You know what they say, “it’s tough to beat a team twice, thrice, four times in the same season.”  Well, Gonzaga will.

South

I’ve got Seton Hall beating Arkansas for the same reasons I have Marquette beating South Carolina.  I’m Catholic and the SEC is still a terrible basketball conference, until proven otherwise.  Middle Tennessee State earns its second tourney win over a Big Ten opponent in as many years, my second 12 over 5.  Cincinnati will beat UCLA with a superior defense the likes of which the Bruins have never come up against.  Unfortunately for my adopted school, the Kentucky Wildcats will be waiting in the Sweet Sixteen.  North Carolina will be able to handle Coach Cal’s bunch en route to yet another Final Four.

Final Four

Last year’s championship game was so phenomenal, why not have a rematch?  Michigan and Gonzaga fall victim to destiny.  This time around, Villanova won’t need a buzzer beater.  The Wildcats will repeat, beating North Carolina quite easily.

There you have it.  Now all that’s left to do is wait until Thursday so I can hide my internet browser behind some important-looking work stuff and enjoy this damn thing for once.

I recommend you do the same, but don’t expect many of you to.  That chance at glory is too tantalizing to pass up, isn’t it?  Yes, you’d rather drive yourself crazy trying to arrive at the perfect bracket that you’ll literally never achieve.

And to you all I say have fun losing your group for the umpteenth time to your aunt who bases her picks on the team mascots.  After all, this is the real madness of March.

E-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll send you back an invite to my bracket group.  Should be easy to beat me since I’m not trying, right?

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SEC’s First Spring Practices Headlined by Quarterback Questions

For each of the first five SEC football teams to start spring practice, one of the most interesting storylines is at quarterback. Maybe it’s a wide-open battle for the starting position or maybe it’s seeing how one player has progressed since last season.

In an attempt to finally truly embrace spring practice for the drama it can bring, I’m going to discuss the SEC quarterbacks we’ve already got our eyes on in spring practices. SEC quarterbacks haven’t been known to impress much lately (Dak Prescott aside). Hopefully this spring will help get our SEC quarterbacks off to a much better start for the 2017 season.

And let me be clear: These are not the only five SEC schools with intriguing quarterback predicaments. But all of these five schools that started practice before the beginning of March definitely do have this much in common.

South Carolina was the first team to commence its spring practices. To most, the question of who will start at quarterback had already been answered. Brandon McIlwain may have started the first few games last season, but Jake Bentley took over soon after. Bentley finished the season on a high note with his Birmingham Bowl performance.

Bentley’s hard work in the offseason has impressed head coach Will Muschamp. But in true Muschamp fashion, the coach had been saying Brandon McIlwain was still battling with Bentley for that starting position. As of March 1st, though, McIlwain has decided to transfer from South Carolina. That means that, barring injury or suspension, Bentley will be the starting quarterback for the Gamecocks. Bentley’s progression will still be something to watch this spring, though.

Vanderbilt was the next team to begin its spring practices. Vanderbilt, like South Carolina, doesn’t have a true quarterback battle. In fact, one of Vanderbilt’s quarterbacks won’t even be returning this season. Wade Freebeck, who occasionally started for the Commodores, has chosen to pursue the option to transfer to another school.

The starting job is then almost definitely left to Kyle Shurmur. To say the least, Shurmur was inconsistent last season. He’ll have a lot of work to do to cement his starting role with a few other quarterbacks waiting in the wings, especially freshman Deuce Wallace. Head coach Derek Mason seemed very excited about signing Wallace, and that may not bode well in the long run for Shurmur.

Auburn began its spring practice on the last day of February. Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham took reps with the first-team offense, which is an early indication that Auburn coaches have really opened up the quarterback competition. Sean White, the incumbent starter, had to sit out due to injury. Redshirt freshman Woody Barrett led the second-team offense. Last season’s backup, John Franklin III split reps between special teams and quarterback.

The biggest question remaining seems to be where Sean White will fit into this competition when he returns from his injury. Will he bump Jarrett Stidham to the second-team offense and retake his starting job? Or will Jarrett Stidham impress enough in spring practices to keep the starting job for now? And what about Barrett and Franklin? Will all four guys stick around for the season with so much competition for that starting position? This will easily be one of the most interesting quarterback races to watch this offseason.

Florida also began its spring practices on the 28th of February. And once again, the Gators are looking for someone to step up and claim the starting quarterback job. This seems to be a common theme for Florida lately. And heading into spring practice, the theme looks to be holding strong for yet another season.

The starting quarterback from the beginning of last season, Luke Del Rio, is sidelined after a shoulder surgery. That means redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask have a great opportunity to take the lead in the quarterback competition this spring. On Tuesday, Franks took snaps as the first-team quarterback. Many of those present commented on how improved his throwing motion was. Kyle Trask also took snaps at quarterback along with early enrollee “athlete” Kadarius Toney. Even after his injury is healed, I definitely don’t see Del Rio beating out all three players to regain his starting position. But Gator fans will undoubtedly be watching the quarterback competition closely this spring.

Ole Miss began its spring practices on Tuesday as well. The Rebels have their starting quarterback all but chosen for next season already. But there are still questions that Ole Miss fans will have about their quarterback this spring. Shea Patterson was originally going to observe Chad Kelly in all his glory last season but got thrown into the mix when Kelly tore his ACL. Patterson debuted well but the offense was inconsistent under his lead and the season went down the drain.

Patterson had taken very limited reps before being thrown into the game so the inconsistency is somewhat understandable. But will he become more consistent as he takes more reps with the team? And better yet, how will he respond to Coach Longo’s fast-paced offense? Patterson already had a lot to learn but will learning a new coach’s system prove to be too much? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions yet, but I suspect Ole Miss fans will be watching Patterson very closely through spring practices. After all, how can he live up to THE “Swag” Kelly?

E-mail Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Featured photo courtesy of Gainesville Apartments.

SEC Champions or “Champions of Life?”

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

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

Here are the SEC teams in the Top 25:

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

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

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

And the remainder of the conference.

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

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

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

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

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

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

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

SEC East

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

SEC West

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

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

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

Whatever. I’ll take it.

Back to the entire pack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Way Too Early Predictions for SEC Football in 2017

I know we still have a while to go until we get our beloved SEC football Saturdays back, but I just can’t wait. SEC football is on my mind all the time. So here are just a few of my recurring thoughts about this coming season.

Georgia will be the team to beat in the East

Let’s be honest, Kirby Smart’s first season in Athens was a little underwhelming. The worst moment of the season for the Dawgs had to be that last-minute loss to the Vols at home. Just when Jacob Eason had led them down the field to take the lead, Josh Dobbs and Jauan Jennings connected for an unbelievable Hail Mary. I fully expect Georgia fans to be able to put that pain behind them next season. Eason will have more experience, the defense will have more experience, and coach Smart will also have more head coaching experience.

South Carolina will have more than one good upset win

This past season wasn’t particularly impressive for South Carolina in its first year under Will Muschamp. But, the Gamecocks did manage to get a pretty nice upset win over the Vols. They were a huge part of why Tennessee never made it to Atlanta. The Gamecocks showed promise in most games, even many of the losses. The only game they might want to erase from memory is that Clemson thrashing at the end of the season. But with another year under Muschamp’s guidance and with his recruits coming in, I anticipate two upset wins out of the Gamecocks this season.

Butch Jones will get run out of Knoxville

This call may be a little early. But with all his press conference clichés, I think this might be the year Tennessee fans grab their pitchforks and run Jones out of town. Heck, after that Vanderbilt loss to end the regular season my dad had decided not to renew his season tickets for 2017. Guess he doesn’t want to be part of another championship of life. Or maybe he just doesn’t have that five-star heart. All this being said, the Vols may be in trouble next season. Their defense is a huge question mark and now they have a question mark starting at quarterback too. Just ask the Gators how well that second question mark works out in the SEC.

Alabama will win the West…again

No other team was truly a tough match for Alabama in the West last year, with the biggest challenges coming from LSU and Ole Miss. Ole Miss later lost star quarterback Chad Kelly to injury and its season tanked. The Rebels were more of a pretender than an actual contender. LSU had a slow start, but ended up in some good games under then-interim (now head) coach Ed Orgeron. But at the end of the day, Alabama was still dominant in the SEC. Alabama dominated all the way until the national championship game that it lost to Clemson. That loss may sting, but with quarterback Jalen Hurts having more experience, I expect Alabama to be number one in the West and headed right back to Atlanta again in December. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Alabama still has Nick Saban.

But LSU will make it close

The LSU Tigers had arguably one of the most interesting seasons out of the entire SEC in 2016. Les Miles was fired and replaced on an interim basis by Defensive Line Coach Ed Orgeron. Orgeron led the team to a 5-2 finish (after starting the season 2-2 under Miles). Additionally, LSU dominated Louisville and its Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson in the Citrus Bowl. On top of all this, Orgeron put together a top ten recruiting class in his first time recruiting as LSU’s head coach. With Orgeron leading, talent returning, and talent coming in, the Tigers are poised to finish second in the SEC West and maybe even give the Crimson Tide a run for its money.

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

Image courtesy of Sean Davis, Flickr.