Tag Archives: steve spurrier

Is the Big Ten Better Than the SEC Right Now?

It’s the age-old question that college football fans from the North and South love to quibble over because who doesn’t want to have bragging rights that their conference is undisputedly, top-to-bottom the best college football has to offer? Some say it’s still the SEC because Alabama won the national title this past season and is in prime position to claim it again in January. They also point to the depth and competitive balance of the conference and say its teams as a collective whole are a better product. At least they don’t have Rutgers or Maryland. Sigh. Fair enough.

However, others believe there’s been a shift in conference supremacy and that the Big Ten has surpassed the SEC with its coaching and quarterbacks.

Back in 2010, Auburn became the fourth SEC school to win a national title in five seasons and the league featured five national championship-winning coaches in Nick Saban, Les Miles, Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier and Gene Chizik. In addition, James Franklin arrived at Vanderbilt, Mark Richt had won two league titles at Georgia and Bobby Petrino led a solid Arkansas program. Fast forward to the end of the 2016 season. Out of those eight coaches, Saban is the only one who remains and the SEC athletic directors have replaced those championship-caliber coaches with unproven leaders who have struggled.

Now, it’s the Big Ten that’s filled with solid coaching commodities, from Meyer building a powerhouse at Ohio State to Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, Paul Chryst at Wisconsin, and Franklin at Penn State. Moreover, Mark Dantonio, Kirk Ferentz and Pat Fitzgerald have been fixtures of stability at their respective programs. And don’t forget in the only regular Big Ten-SEC matchup this season, even with lesser talent and by far, much less expectations, Wisconsin led by Chryst in just his second year, outcoached an LSU team that had national title aspirations and was headed by the SEC’s second-best coach, Les Miles.

In terms of quarterbacks, I think it’s safe to say this year, the Big Ten’s signal callers were better. While he wasn’t Heisman Trophy-caliber worthy as once expected, J.T. Barrett was still really solid, as well as Trace McSorley, Wilton Speight and Clayton Thorson. However, for the SEC, with its consistent misses under center, more of its teams have been searching for the easy fix, courting junior college players and graduate transfers hoping to get a Russell Wilson. But instead, they’ve found John Franklin III and Greyson Lambert. The number of transfers being used at SEC schools is incredible. I find it even more ironic that the SEC gets all the high-profile, five-star quarterback recruits and are using Purdue rejects at flagship schools. Danny Etling won the LSU job and Austin Appleby guided Florida.

There are valid points to the argument the Big Ten is better than the SEC, and depending on how you look at it, the conference just may be better. But as much as it pains me to say it as I’m a staunch Big Ten supporter, I find it hard to make an argument that our conference is clearly above-and-beyond better than the SEC. Right now while there is more parity in the Big Ten at the top and it has more high-ranked teams than the SEC with four teams finishing in the top eight of the final College Football Playoff rankings, the bottom half of the conference really brings down the Big Ten compared to the SEC and hurts the Big Ten’s depth.

Bottom line is the SEC as of today owns the national title and to me, it’s all about the hardware. Could that change in a few weeks? Absolutely. But as for now, as of today, I’d give the edge to the SEC…just barely.

E-mail Mike at  or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

SEC Links: Coaches, Dawgs and Cats

Kevin Sumlin probably has as much heat on him as any coach in the SEC this year. Questions, both on and off the field, have been swirling around him and the program like a Texas tornado this offseason. In spite of winning 36 games over the past four years, the pressure to win more continues to mount. And on top of that, he lost his father back in March.

Sumlin recently sat down with Pete Thamel, of Sports Illustrated, and candidly spoke on these and other topics, such as Johnny Manziel.

The Aggie coach is doing everything he can to improve his team by hiring Noel Mazzone away from UCLA to be his offensive coordinator, and making changes to the strength and conditioning program. There is a new athletic director, Scott Woodward from Washington, and, of course, Kyle Field was completely renovated prior to the 2015 season, and is now one of the great show palaces in all of college football.

There is no doubt that there is elite talent at A&M, it’s just a matter of pulling all of these moving parts together into one cohesive unit. Can that be done? Yes. Will that be done? It remains to be seen.

Brandon Adams, a contributor to SEC Country, thinks the Aggies could be poised to make huge strides upward in 2016. Strides that could carry them to the top of the SEC West.

Say what? Yes, Trevor Knight might work out for them at quarterback. And yes, Myles Garrett is a beast, but it’s going to take more than him to get the defense turned around and stop yielding points in bunches. The D has been the Aggies’ Achilles heel during Sumlin’s tenure and it must improve dramatically in order for them to even approach the pinnacle of the toughest division in all of college football.

I remain of the opinion that Texas A&M will finish behind Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, and Arkansas in the West. That leaves them ahead of only Mississippi State. Something is a wee bit off kilter in College Station and I don’t think all the pieces will fit so snugly together this fall.

Everyone is optimistic in May. Prove it in September. That opportunity will present itself on the opening weekend of the season when the Aggies go head-to-head with the UCLA Bruins, in College Station, on September 3.

Pressure. There’s that word again. Kirby Smart says he is feeling the pressure of the entire state of Georgia on him as he approaches his first fall as the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs.

“Let’s be honest. Georgia, if you get the best players in this state, you should be winning championships,” says Smart, who hasn’t slowed down since he returned to his alma mater in January.

Bingo!

How are Georgia fans and a new puppy similar? You can’t get either of them to stop whining.

And whine they will if Smart does not win the East soon. Yes, they are on a honeymoon that is hot and heavy, as we speak, but if the Dawgs don’t find themselves in Atlanta on the first Saturday of December, soon, that whining will become a deafening howl.

I have the Bulldogs penciled in as second in the division in 2016. If they do, somehow, manage to dethrone the already-anointed Tennessee Volunteers, then the honeymoon will transition into a full- blown love fest unseen since the early eighties.

But wait! What’s this? Is that a cat that I see sneaking up on those Dawgs?

Jay Clemons, of SEC Country, along with Kirk Herbstreit, see the Kentucky Wildcats as having a coming out party of their own. Clemons actually calls for the Cats to claw the Dawgs into submission on November 5.

Now, what was that I was saying about honeymoons and love fests? If that does transpire, in Lexington, that deafening howling will commence.

I do think Kentucky will continue to improve, and make a lower tier bowl game, but I do not see them toppling Georgia or Tennessee. Florida is a better possibility, but that game is in Gainesville. I’ll take the Big Blue to beat Southern Miss, New Mexico State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Missouri, and Austin Peay. In the last game of the season, Louisville will be favored to down the Wildcats, in Louisville, but I believe Kentucky has a very good shot in that one.

We began this thing with coaches and now let’s end it with coaches. Edward Aschoff, of ESPN, presents his list of the five best coaches in the SEC of the past ten years.

I’m with him on Saban, Meyer, Spurrier and Les, but I’ll quibble with Fulmer for the sake of argument.

First man on his “just missed the cut” is Gene Chizik. I do love Chiz and I will be forever grateful for him bringing home a crystal football to Auburn, but the 3-9 season, in 2012, simply won’t allow that. I would take Gus over Chiz. And I thought Tommy Tuberville was a damn good football coach when he was on the Plains.

How about Derek Dooley? Just kidding!

James Franklin did a remarkable job at Vanderbilt. And sure, Freeze, Mullen, Pinkel, and Richt all deserve careful consideration.

Ok, I can see The Great Pumpkin (as the AJC’s Jeff Shultz was want to call Fulmer) as one of the top five.

That’s another edition of SEC Links in the books.

Adios!

My Favorite SEC Football Players of All-Time

Last week was a busy one for SEC football. Coaches wish it weren’t so, but it seems as though there is never a dull moment when it comes to headlines that don’t spotlight the positives in and around their programs.

Hugh Freeze got blindsided (pun intended) with the resurrection of the Laremy Tunsil debacle just as Ole Miss is about to hear from the NCAA and its investigation into their program. Also, it appears that Freeze and Jim Harbaugh will attend the same satellite camp in Mississippi.

As the football world turns. These soap operas are highly entertaining and they give people like me something to write about.

Speaking of smoking weed with a gas mask device, four Auburn players were arrested on the Plains Saturday night for, you guessed it, ganja possession, and much to the chagrin of Gus Malzahn and the rest of us in the Auburn family. How long, oh Lord?

Then there was the NFL draft. Ohio State had the most first round picks with five and Alabama had only one, which surprised many “experts”, but the SEC, once again, had more players drafted than any other conference. So there! Nanny nanny poo poo!

So much for all of that. In my last couple of blogs I, subjectively ranked, in order, SEC head coaching jobs and power rankings of the fourteen schools in the conference.

I like lists. From top tens to favorites to whatever. I think most people do enjoy these.

That being said, this week I’m going to give you my top ten favorite SEC players of all time, excluding Auburn. If I allowed my Tigers’ players on the list you would have Pat Sullivan, Terry Beasley, Bo Jackson, Cam Newton, Jimmy Sidle, Tucker Frederickson, Phil Gargis, James Brooks, Joe Cribbs, Cadillac Williams, Bobby Hunt, Travis Tidwell, and the like to dominate it.

Here we go! My top ten favorite non-Auburn players in SEC history. I will do them alphabetically.

Billy Cannon – LSU – 1957-59. Cannon is most remembered for his 89-yard punt return against Ole Miss, in Tiger Stadium on Halloween night in 1959, to give the Tigers a 7-3 win. He won the Heisman that year, as well. Cannon was also named the SEC player of the year in both 1958 and 1959. LSU won the National Championship in ’58.

Randall Cobb – Kentucky – 2008-10. Cobb was an electrifying player at multiple positions for the Wildcats including quarterback, wide receiver and return specialist. He could do it all.  He is not to be confused with boxer, Randall “Tex” Cobb. 

Archie Manning – Ole Miss – 1968-70. Archie is, actually, one of my favorite players in any sport at any level. I never enjoyed watching a player from a team, not named Auburn, more. Just go back and watch some of the old clips from his days as a Rebel. Simply amazing!

Peyton Manning – Tennessee – 1994-97. Does anyone really need to be familiarized with Peyton? He led the Vols to an SEC Championship in 1997. He was a consensus All-American that year and also won the Maxwell Award. He should have won the Heisman Trophy.

Johnny Manziel – Texas A&M – 2012- 13.  Has there ever been a more exciting college football player than “Johnny Football”? Incredible. Love him or hate him, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. The 2012 Heisman winner pulled off more incredible escapes than Houdini. I truly hope his story turns out to be one of redemption.

Darren McFadden – Arkansas – 2005-07. McFadden could flat out tote the rock. He rushed for 4,590 yards at a 5.8 yards per carry clip during his years as a Razorback.  He tied the SEC record for most yards rushing in one game, in 2007, with 321 against South Carolina. McFadden won the Doak Walker Award twice, 2006-07, and the Walter Camp Award, given to the nation’s best overall player, once, in 2007.

Joe Namath – Alabama – 1962-64. “Joe Willie”, “Broadway Joe.” These are two of the monikers that Namath was known by during his playing days with the Crimson Tide. I loved him. Most boys loved him. All the girls loved him. Bama won the National Championship, with Joe under center, in 1964. But he is most famous for guaranteeing that his New York Jets would win Super Bowl III, and they did.

Dak Prescott – Mississippi State. The best player in the history of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, no? He was a gifted athlete who could both run and throw the ball. He carried the Bulldogs to heights henceforth unknown as they topped the polls for several weeks during the 2014 season. That season he also passed for 3,449 yards and 27 touchdowns, and accumulated 4,435 total yards. He rushed for 2,411 yards in his time at State and that is third all-time, by a quarterback, in SEC history.

Steve Spurrier – Florida – 1964-66. Spurrier may be best known as the Head Ball Coach, but he was also a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback for the Gators in 1966. There may have never been a more competitive, driven player and coach in the annals of the SEC. Football, golf, tiddlywinks, Spurrier just wants to beat you. And, he was always good for a great quote.

Herschel Walker – Walker is,  arguably, the greatest running back in the history of college football. Bo Jackson is my choice for the greatest athlete of all-time, but Herschel, both a Heisman winner and a national champion, carried the mail. He rushed for 5,259 yards in only three years as a Bulldog. And he was a sprinter, mixed martial artist and bobsledder!

There is my list of favorite non-Auburn players in SEC history. Why not come up with your own list? I am also open to suggestions for future lists as they are a lot of fun, and great conversation centerpieces at home, or at your favorite sports bar.

Now, who was the greatest fighter that ever lived? 😉

Big Ten Links: We all hit Rock Bottom When Steve Spurrier is Wrong

I’m on vacation, but all that means is you’ll get more words out of me. I hope you like my words. Here are a few of the happenings in the Big Ten along with a few podcasts I listened to this week. Have a great weekend. Is it September yet?

Cornhuskers riding on Armstrong’s shoulder. Let’s get right to it. In order for Nebraska to improve from 2015’s 6-7, 2016 Tommy Armstrong has to be better. Setting career records for touchown passes and passing yardage will be for naught if he has another season of 16 interceptions. Half of that in the Big Ten won’t net many more than the six wins of last season and being lackluster at the end of the spring game doesn’t exactly instill confidence heading into the summer. Armstrong was 8-of-15 for 80 yards, while backup Ryker Fyfe 15-of-21. So, Armstrong will have to carry the Cornhuskers on his arm, and I guess his legs. He’ll have to work on ‘easy’ draw plays and be more precise. His timing will have to be better and he’ll have to grow up on and off the field. In January, Armstrong proposed to his longtime girlfriend and former Nebraska soccer star Jaylyn Odermann. Many in the Cornhusker fan base probably hope this among many other off-field moves will help settle his social life so he can focus on football. Armstrong’s goal is to have a marriage ring and also a Big Ten championship ring. Good luck with the latter.

Going to the Rose Bowl ins’t cheap, especially when you lose. Iowa lost in Pasadena not only on the field but in the bank account in January when the Hawkeyes played Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The Hawkeyes are claiming a $228,000 deficit in spending that will make people wonder how a university in the Big Ten can lose money in a bowl game. The university received $2.5 million from its share of revenue for the bowl, but that wasn’t enough to cover these related costs:

  • About $1.9 million for expenses for the football team and athletics department staff.
  • About $663,500 for expenses related to the marching band.
  • About $166,000 for expenses related to Iowa officials and administrators.
  • UI is reporting total expenses of $2,728,445, leaving a deficit of $228,445.

Due to this and probably other unforeseen expenses throughout the athletic department, UI athletics will close out its fiscal year with a deficit. Iowa does not take student subsidies and is self-supporting, but its revenue is smaller than normal because its football season ticket sales are down despite how well the team performed last season. I guess, the fans want to see if last year was lightening in a bottle.

Small potatoes add up, and I’m sure none of these people could afford to pay their own way, but administrative officials accounted for $165,815 in costs related to tickets, transportation, meals and lodging, and ‘other transportation.’ You can assume ‘other transportation’ is the motorcade from the hotel to the stadium. Can’t have the president of the university or the sexual misconduct coordinator sitting at traffic lights like peons.

When the defensive backs coach compares his unit to being an alcoholic. “It’s kind of like being an alcoholic: You have to figure out where you are. If you’re rock bottom, then OK, now I’ve got a chance,” said Rutgers defensive backs coach Bill Busch. (I’m sure he isn’t related to Adolphus Busch, but it would be appropriate). Rutgers’ pass defense was not good last year, and yeah, if that secondary wasn’t at rock bottom it was obvious they can see it from where they stand. The unit could get worse, and playing in the Big Ten East certainly doesn’t make their recovery any easier, but newly hired coach Busch seems like a man on a mission. He mentions Michigan State and Ohio State as the two toughest opponents the Scarlet Knights will face this season, and yeah…that’s probably accurate, but what’s more important is the building process. Making practice harder than the games and getting players to understand the decisions making process in practice is supposed to be harder than it is during the game is the ultimate goal.

The telling number: 118. Rutgers’ defensive secondary ranked 118th of 127 nationally in passing yards allowed. 118th.

More Busch:

“I talk to them all the time about how we stress them out here,” Busch said. “We stress with the pace, how we go from drill-to-drill — everything is stress. Then I ask them, ‘How hard is it on Saturday night when you’re playing against Ohio State or Michigan?’ The guys that played are like, ‘It’s really hard.’ So you see our method and they get it. They understand that we’re trying to prepare them for this fight they’re going to be in.”

Did I mention the Scarlet Knights were 118th in passing yards allowed in 2015?

When retired Spurrier says something he probably shouldn’t. I’m the biggest Steve Spurrier guy there is. I think he’s a national treasure and definitely one of the funniest guys in college football – retired or not – but sometimes it’s better to not speak on certain things. In many ways though, I think I’m a lot like Spurrier, if someone asks me something I’ll probably just say whatever and then realize after I’m halfway through my answer that I probably should have said, ‘no comment.’ Spurrier appeared on Paul Finebaum’s radio show earlier this week and was asked about the treatment of former Penn State coach Joe Paterno. His response:

“[Paterno] was treated the most unfairly of any coach ever,” Spurrier said. “He had nothing to do with that scandal. Nothing at all, and amazingly, what they did to him was completely wrong. I’ve heard they’re having talk of putting the statute back, and they should do that. They really should.”

Well. I agree with some of this, and I agree that Paterno in the court of public opinion may have received a slightly raw deal, but Paterno did nothing to bring anyone to his side of the argument. Paterno was hung out to dry by the Penn State administration, but I still have an hard time believing he had no idea what Jerry Sandusky was doing. I’m not suggestion he had complete knowledge, but at some point you have to think to yourself, something about Sandusky and this situation doesn’t seem right. And I think this is where Spurrier and some of the Penn State fans and alumni jump the shark.

Joe Paterno was a great coach and probably a better man, but like all men (and women) everyone makes mistakes. It is not ill to talk of someone after they die if you’re simply pointing out obvious flaws and facts. It would have been better to point these flaws out while he were alive so he could respond to them, but when you’re in the inner circle I get that it’s hard to be honest with the icon in the middle. But what are friends for?

If Paterno and Spurrier were close friends, then Spurrier should have asked Paterno what the hell was going on with Sandusky, and why hadn’t Paterno done something meaningful about it when he found out about it?

And for this reason alone, I cannot support the replacement of Paterno’s statue at Penn State. I don’t mind restoring records or wins because those are reflective of the student-athletes that won those games, but until I’m convinced Paterno had zero knowledge of what Sandusky was doing, then in my eyes, Paterno let a lot of people down.

What to listen to:

  • BuckAround episode 130 with Rich and Maxwell. They preview the Badger’s spring game tomorrow and Dylan from Pennsylvania wants to know if Wisconsin is a football or basketball school. Obviously worth your time.
  • What’s it like to be a Northwestern fan as an NU student, parts 1 and 2. The gang at Inside NU podcast a two-part series asking the tough questions surrounding Northwestern’s student fandom. Part 1 and part 2.
E-mail Damien at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @damienbowman.

Photo: Corn Farmer/Flickr.

The Heisman Trophy Used to Mean Something

This past Saturday, the 80th Heisman trophy was awarded to Alabama running back, Derrick Henry. Saturday was also the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra. Frank Sinatra has stood the test of time whereas the Heisman trophy has not. Sinatra’s style is timeless. It is as great today as it was in the 1950s. The Heisman trophy has become a diluted version of its former greatness.

In honor of Sinatra, here is a list of 5 of my favorite Sinatra songs paired with the Heisman winner from the year that Ol’ Blue Eyes recorded each song. These songs are also from an era when the Heisman still meant something.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin

Sinatra recorded 3 versions of this classic. My personal preference is the 1956 version due in part to the iconic trombone solo performed by Milt Bernhart. The 1956 version is also a Nelson Riddle arrangement which further puts it over the top.

The 1956 Heisman winner was Notre Dame quarterback, Paul Hornung. Hornung was a dual-threat quarterback before it was fashionable. In 1956 he led the Fighting Irish in passing, rushing, scoring, kickoff, punt returns and punting. Hornung also played defense and led the Irish in pass breakups as well as being 2nd in interceptions and tackles.

The Summer Wind

Give me the 1966 version of this song, which like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” was a Nelson Riddle arrangement. The distinctive characteristic about the Riddle arrangement is the use of the electric organ. The story about this arrangement is that Riddle wrote it in a taxi cab as he was traveling to the recording session.

In 1966, the Heisman winner was none other than Steve Spurrier. Spurrier was the original Comeback Kid as he became known for his 4th quarter heroics to win games. Atlanta Constitution reporter, John Logue, once had this to say about Spurrier:

Blindfolded, with his back to the wall, with his hands tied behind him, Steve Spurrier would be a two-point favorite at his own execution.

The Best Is Yet To Come

The 1964 version was not only recorded with the Count Basie orchestra but was conducted by the legendary Quincy Jones. This would also be the last song the crooner would sing in public when he sung it on February 25, 1995.

The 1964 Heisman winner was another Notre Dame quarterback, John Huarte. Huarte threw for 2,062 yards during the 1964 season and propelled himself to the Heisman trophy.

Fly Me to the Moon

Let’s stay in 1964 for the next Sinatra classic. This is also another song that Sinatra made famous with Count Basie and Quincy Jones.

Luck Be A Lady

Many people try to impersonate The Rat Pack, but there was only one and that was the one that Sinatra was Chairman of the Board for. The Rat Pack performed live at the Sands in 1963 and Sinatra performed this classic from Guys and Dolls.

Army played Navy this past weekend and the 1963 Heisman winner was Navy quarterback, Roger Staubach. Staubach led the 1963 Navy team to a 9-1 record and a number 2 national ranking. In the national championship game Navy lost to the number 1 team in the country, the Texas Longhorns. Earlier in the year, Staubach led the Midshipmen to a 35-14 win over Notre Dame. Navy wouldn’t beat Notre Dame for another 44 years.

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

Photo: Jaclin Diva/Flikr

More Than A Friday: Nothing Has Mattered In College Football Until Now

Every game counts, except for the ones we determine don’t matter, under the guise of not evaluating losses.  The end of the College Football season has always had its ways of frustrating us on one level or another.  Bowl games were set up in a weird way, where the best teams didn’t necessarily play each other, and everyone was proud to play on January 1st.

I know, I know.  This New Years Eve is going to be so awesome, watching College Football through confetti…but really, is it?  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back to the old days of split-titles and what-not, but the more we try to solve the problem, the more we realize there’s no perfect solution.  I mean, it’s nice.  We reward four regular season achievers with a playoff, distinguish four other games as very important, and spend our December and early January evenings watching games of waning importance that feature slightly above average to fairly good teams.

That seems cool, but the undercard action is borderline fatiguing, and there’s such a gap between the motivation you’re going to have for a National Semifinal versus an “Access Bowl”.  Ask Nick Saban about his Alabama team sleepwalking into those consultation games.  There’s gap between the Access Bowls and kicking off in Orlando at 11 AM on the first day of the year, but being left out of the Peach Bowl isn’t quite the same as being five and wondering why a committee thought four was better than you.

That might be a problem.  For the second year in a row, I’d have to assume we’re going to see some sort of subjective cut line, and there will be a solid argument for a team playing in Pasadena1Or one of those other prestigious non-championship participating games.  I’m assuming a Big Ten team or Stanford to be competing for a title.  Ohio State and Notre Dame have only lost close games to top opponents, Stanford dropped one to an Oregon team that’s much better than their record and one hard-to-forgive road contest at Northwestern, and North Carolina is begging forgiveness for their season opening loss to South Carolina and the Ole Ball Coach2That’s Steve Spurrier, who resigned in-season this year..

There’s a few ways to look at this.  Chalk makes it easy and chaos makes it chaotic.

ACC Championship

It’s undefeated Clemson and once-defeated North Carolina.  Clemson finally cleared the hurdles created by Florida State and South Carolina in the past, and find themselves in the ACC Championship game for the first time in a while.  Quarterback DeShaun Watson will take the stage with an outside chance at the Heisman Trophy, so head coach Dabo Swinney will set him up to shine.  North Carolina has Marquis Williams, and he’s been nothing short of sensational behind center for Larry Fedora’s team, who enters the weekend on an 11-game winning streak of their own.

Chalk: Clemson wins and they’re in.  Wins over Notre Dame, Florida State, and North Carolina will make the fact they schedule Wofford as meaningless as Alabama’s loss at home to Ole Miss.

Chaos: North Carolina wins, and you start comparing them to teams on the couch this weekend.  Ohio State was underwhelming, despite holding the top spot until we recognized the committee’s rankings over the AP’s.  The Tar Heels didn’t play Florida State this season, and schedule two FCS opponents.  This might come down to style points, and while most would have to think simply taking down Clemson would do the trick, we know the aforementioned Buckeyes made an “All Sales Final” pitch to the committee in the Big Ten title game a year ago.

Big Ten Championship

With all due respect to their recent success, it will be a battle of little brothers in Indianapolis to crown a Big Ten Champion.  Iowa is unbeaten, but no one believes they are what it says they are on paper.  They’re hanging their hat on a non-conference win over Pitt and victories over a few decent intra division rivals.  Michigan State, on the other hand, has been the best team on the field in every game they’ve played this season.  They were better than the Cornhuskers, who won on a very controversial play, and they were better than the Buckeyes, who they dominated in their own building, despite the game coming down to a walk-off field goal.

Chalk: The winner goes to the College Football Playoff.  Few would argue that.

Chaos:  Enough people might get it in their head that if Iowa wins, do you automatically deem them better than all of the 1-loss teams.  Undefeated should eliminate that noise.  You could hold the Nebraska loss against Michigan State, but wins at Michigan, Ohio State, and Oregon3You could mitigate this victory a little bit by suggesting they didn’t play the same Oregon that knocked off Stanford, but it was still a good win for Michigan State., not to mention Iowa on the big stage should quiet all of that noise.  The only chaos here would be an ugly game, and an ugly game didn’t keep Texas out of the 2010 BCS Championship, in the era known as that of The BCS.

Pac 12 Championship

USC has four losses, and they fired their head coach earlier this season, but bounced back under interim-turned-full-time head coach Clay Helton.  Stanford has some momentum after the big win in their season finale over Notre Dame, and they’ll be playing close to home this weekend.

Chalk:  I’m not sure it matters, but if Stanford loses, they are out.  If they win, they are scoreboard watching.

Chaos:  The top teams bottom out in their conference championship games, and the committee has three teams locked in, Oklahoma and the champions from the Big Ten and ACC.  Fourth spot is up for grabs, with 2-loss Alabama, 1-loss Ohio State, and the 2-loss Cardinal reaching for it.

SEC Championship

Alabama was able to convincingly beat Wisconsin on a neutral field to start the year and lost early to Ole Miss at home.  They took care of business versus the rest of the SEC, but the jury is really deliberating hard on just how good the conference was in 2015.  Florida has had a good run under first-year coach Jim McElwain, surviving an unexpected year-long suspension for their opening day starting quarterback to win the SEC East, but a poor showing versus Florida State last week does not inspire anyone into believing they’ll best Alabama in Atlanta on Saturday.

Chalk: Alabama is very likely on the top line with a win and all the way out with a loss to the Gators.

Chaos:  There promises to be a lot of Gator fans in Columbus.  Realistically, a Florida win is the only obvious route for Ohio State (or Stanford) to reach the College Football Playoff, but then what do you make of a 2-loss Florida team.

Actual Predictions

Basically, because rarely does anyone ever find themselves held accountable for being wrong, I’m going to take a stab at slotting the Semis and the Access Bowls.

Orange Bowl (National Semifinal)

Michigan State vs. Clemson

Cotton Bowl (National Semifinal)

Oklahoma vs. Alabama

Rose Bowl

Ohio State vs. Stanford

Sugar Bowl

Baylor vs. Florida

Fiesta Bowl

Iowa vs. Notre Dame

Peach Bowl

Houston vs. Florida State

 

   [ + ]

1. Or one of those other prestigious non-championship participating games.  I’m assuming a Big Ten team or Stanford
2. That’s Steve Spurrier, who resigned in-season this year.
3. You could mitigate this victory a little bit by suggesting they didn’t play the same Oregon that knocked off Stanford, but it was still a good win for Michigan State.

Ranking the 2015 SEC Coaches

Putting coaches on a pedestal to dissect their each move is what us media love to do. Grading them on what they did right and of course what they did wrong by giving our own opinion as we are the Paul Bear Bryant of all our armchair quarterback strategies serving as the cream of the crop compared to these college football coaches.

Personally, I always try to stay away from critiquing coaching and playing styles because I have my job as a writer and scout and they have theirs both coming with reason (though Nick Saban may think differently on how deserving media analysts are with his own criteria of the position – but that can be addressed at a different time). The times when I throw my benefit of the doubt reasons for the coach out the window is when coaches stray so far away from the K.I.S.S. method and getting themselves into trouble.

Coaches sometimes become too cute (Gus Malzahn) while others are almost too conservative (Les Miles) not getting enough bang for their buck with the players they have on the field. Though you have to factor what those coaches have on the field in terms of what to run but that’s what practice is for.

Coaches, especially at the SEC level, are seen as gods and kings receiving luxuries and royalties when their well-coached team performs well, but once the market slips below equilibrium all hell breaks loose. Here are the top coaches in the SEC based strictly off this season’s performances and how they compare with last season’s results and preseason expectations:

1. Jim McElwain, Florida (9-1 Overall, 7-1 SEC)

Comparing the Gators’ 2014 season to this season, it’s a night and day difference in the execution on the offensive side of the ball as McElwain has increased the production of this once anemic offense. McElwain got gut punched by the NCAA when the news came out about Will Grier’s 2015 playing status, but backup quarterback Treon Harris has filled in nicely leading the Gators to a 3-1 record since taking over. McElwain had the luxury to rekindle a strong Gator defense put together by former head coach Will Muschamp, but even with an offense that looks better on the field they average less points than last season but have decreased the amount of turnovers giving them a chance to win in every outing. Well done, Coach McElwain.

2. Nick Saban, Alabama (9-1, 6-1)

Obviously the best coach in football, but Nick Saban just falls to second place because of McElwain’s immediate success in his first season at Florida. Having the quarterback controversy to deal with for the second season in a row, it seems as this narrative has already been written. This Alabama defense is one of the best Saban has possessed in his tenure at Tuscaloosa and continue to put themselves in manageable situations to win football games not making quarterback Jake Coker have to do too much. It’s another normal Alabama season that has playoff bound characteristics written all over them.

3t. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3)

Having been placed to finish last in the SEC West this preseason, Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs have been quietly effective this season with seven wins. Dak Prescott has been playing better than ever (Alabama game just average performance: 22-43, 300 yards, Int) and the defense has been just fine holding opponents to just 18 points per game. Mullen has this team contending every week and even with a couple of tough games left on the season 9 or 10 win season is not out of the picture. Dating back to the 2014 opener, the Bulldogs have 17 overall wins which is tied for second in the SEC with Georgia (Alabama ranks first with 212 wins).

3t. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss (7-3, 4-2)

Some coaches can’t even take down Alabama twice in their careers, nonetheless taking down the Tide in back-to-back seasons like Ole Miss has. Hugh Freeze has a unique style to his system scoring big and keeping opponents under 25 points. The philosophy has worked and Freeze has coached up another junior college quarterback to help guide his team. With an ample amount of NFL caliber players you could ask more of the Rebels but with another win over Alabama under their belt and potentially a road win in the Egg Bowl, the season will be a success once again.

5. Bret Bielema, Arkansas (6-4, 4-2)

Seeing how the Razorbacks started it’s strange to see Arkansas riding on a four game winning streak with wins over Auburn, Ole Miss and LSU. Hiring former Central Michigan head coach Dan Enos to run his offense, Bret Bielema has turned his run first offense into an effective balanced attack scoring 34 points per game and an increase of total yards per game of 63 to 469. With the recent win over LSU, Arkansas looks to finish out the season on a six game winning streak getting to eight wins for the first time since 2011.

6. Les Miles, LSU (7-2, 4-2)

It’s a tossup on whether LSU has either overachieved or underachieved with a 4-2 conference record. The quarterback position has been in doubt over the past two seasons with the combination of Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings and neither one of them being effective enough to control the outcome of a game. With a talented filled roster it’s expected for the Tigers to have a little more eye candy and firepower than they have produced this season with just a mediocre showing with a couple of potential losses left on their schedule.

7. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (7-3, 3-3)

In his fourth season at the helm, along with Texas A&M’s fourth season in the SEC, Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies were expected to see the Aggies contending for league titles by now with the improved personnel and coaching staff within the past few years. With another underwhelming season, Sumlin’s seat isn’t getting warm but it’s time to get going on the right road because another eight win season isn’t cutting it.

8. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (4-6, 2-4)

Taking matters into his own hands making changes in the coaching staff, Derek Mason has transformed this 2014 struggling team into a black and white difference in 2015 though the Commodores are still in jeopardy of not producing a bowl eligible season. Mason has this program heading into the right direction and could be a quarterback away from bringing back what James Franklin started in Nashville.

9t. Butch Jones, Tennessee (6-4, 3-3)

This was supposed to be Tennessee’s year. Returning quarterback Joshua Dobbs with key skills players and experienced players in the trenches, this was Butch Jones’ best shot at capturing an SEC East title crown but has fallen short with his team collapsing late in games.

9t. Mark Richt, Georgia (7-3, 5-3)

A 7-3 record isn’t too bad, but it’s just the same ole thing in Athens. Mark Richt has created this program to be on a level to compete for championships every season so this disappointment comes each season when the Dawgs fail to even scratch the surface of at least an SEC East title. Richt’s time could be limited in Athens and with the University of Miami head coaching job vacancy it makes an interesting story…potentially.

11. Mark Stoops, Kentucky (4-6, 2-6)

Sure, the expectations weren’t high for the Wildcats this season but falling apart in the middle of the season was not part of the plan. Mark Stoops’ team has dropped five straight games averaging just 16.8 points per game with poor play on all cylinders. The Wildcats can still reach bowl eligibility with wins over Charlotte and Louisville, but Stoops just has two SEC wins in his three years as head coach in Lexington. It’s time to get it done on the field.

12. Gus Malzahn Auburn (5-5, 2-5)

It’s crazy to see a Gus Malzahn offense struggle so much without having a productive player at quarterback and any big-time playmakers on offense (or we just don’t get to see them get the ball much). Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp seems to finally have his defense playing at a high level, but the Auburn offense has not even been mediocre not being able to capitalize in the red-zone. Who is to blame? I’m not sure, but the finger always gets pointed back at the heacd coach so Malzahn takes the fall with the Tigers extremely underwhelming 5-5 record.

13. Gary Pinkel, Missouri (5-5, 1-5)

Unfortunately, long-time head coach Gary Pinkel has to hang up his coaching career for now and it would have been nice to see his team end on a good note, but that’s not the case. Pinkel’s team ran into more than enough trouble at quarterback decreasing its stock value this season giving reason to its 1-5 conference record. The Tigers are possibly now in rebuilding mode, but moving forward with freshman quarterback Drew Lock can be a good thing.

14. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (2-4, 0-4)*

Well, if you tap out in the middle of season because of losing you’re not going to find yourself at the top of many lists. Steve Spurrier has been rumored to be a sore loser and we may have witnessed just that this season. The Gamecocks have found themselves in the victory circle just once since Spurrier’s departure, so The Ole Ball Coach may have been foreshadowing when leaving, but still at least finish out the season, right?

 

SEC Football Power Rankings: Week 8

Well, this is a first for me as a writer here. I try to shy away from ranking teams because of the upset fans that will inevitably tell me their team shouldn’t be wherever they are on my list of rankings. Every fan thinks that way about their team. Sometimes I think that way about my teams. When ESPN’s SEC Power Rankings for Week 7 had 1-4 as LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M, then Florida, I felt like they were wrong. Florida deserved to be third, NOT Texas A&M. Luckily for me, Florida is third this week…because even though I’m a biased fan, I was right. So there …HA! Now I’m sure at least one person will read this and have similar sentiments about whatever I rank their team, but at this point in the season I really couldn’t care much less. So here we go, my inaugural SEC Power rankings and the explanations of my choices are all below.

  1. LSU (7-0): LSU is the lone undefeated team left in the SEC and as such, there was no question in my mind when it came to their #1 ranking. Star RB (and probable Heisman trophy winner) Leonard Fournette has been unstoppable on his feet this season. And on top of that, LSU QB Brandon Harris has now had over 200 passing yards in each of their last three games. With the rest of their offense finally becoming a real threat, LSU is going to be a tough team to slow down as they head toward the end of the season. Next game: @ Alabama, Nov. 7, 8 p.m.
  2. Alabama (7-1): Alabama, as always, is a force to be reckoned with. Last week they played a dangerously close game against the visiting Volunteers in Tuscaloosa. But, the Alabama defense still asserted their dominance when it came down to crunch time. Not to mention that Alabama was coming off a brutal schedule throughout the past few weeks and Tennessee was coming off a refreshing bye weekend. What we do know about Alabama is that they’re beatable. But just how beatable can a team with such an imposing defense be even if their offense is pretty average? Next game: vs. LSU, Nov. 7, 8 p.m.
  3. Florida (6-1): We learned nothing new about the Gators last week while they had a bye. But we still know a few things from their previous games. The Gators have a dominant defense, led by one of the best secondary units in the country. They also have more playmakers on offense this year than they ever did under former coach Will Muschamp. But, their kicking game is still a huge problem. And in close games, that may just come back to bite them. Thankfully they still have a stellar 4th down conversion percentage in case they’d rather not risk kicking the ball. Go ahead and ask FSU about those risks, Gator fans. Next game: vs. UGA, Oct. 31, 3:30 p.m.
  4. Ole Miss (6-2): Ole Miss is still a very confusing team in my mind. They beat Alabama early in the season but got dominated by Florida just a couple games later. They killed New Mexico State, but then got handled by Memphis. Last week they bounced back with a big win (20-point margin) over Texas A&M. Who is this Ole Miss team? I really don’t know. I guess it depends on the week. But they’ve proven to be a tough team to beat on their good weeks and I’m predicting at least a couple more good weeks for them this season. Next game: @ Auburn, Oct. 31, 12 p.m.
  5. Mississippi State (6-2): Mississippi State is an interesting team. They actually have a solid defense when you look at their statistics. What they don’t have is a solid offense involving any player(s) besides their QB Dak Prescott. Dak Prescott is dominant. He obviously leads their team in passing yards with over 2,000 so far this season. But he also leads the team in rushing yards. Overall, he’s been responsible for 20 TDs this season and has only thrown one interception. The Bulldogs live and die by Prescott, but lately they’ve just been living. Next game: @ Missouri, Nov. 5, 9 p.m.
  6. Tennessee (3-4): I know that a lot of you think it’s crazy to rank a team with a losing record so high. And I’m okay with that because I know I can support this ranking. Their losses this season have only been by a combined 17 points. And three of those losses were to teams currently ranked in the Top 15 of the AP poll. The Vols really are on the verge of being a good team again. They finally managed to beat Georgia this season and maybe that will be the boost they need to be able to close other games for the rest of the season. Their biggest weakness right now is in their kicking game, but leave it to Butch Jones to find a way to straighten that one out. Next game: @ Kentucky, Oct. 31, 7:30 p.m.
  7. Texas A&M (5-2): The Aggies started out the season 5-0, but have since lost their last two games. Their first five opponents may have factored into how they made it so far into the season without losing a game. But after facing Alabama and Ole Miss, they Aggies have now lost by a collective 38 points…over double what the point differentials from Tennessee’s four losses add up to. And that’s why Texas A&M is barely in the top half of my SEC power rankings. But maybe if they switch things up at QB this week, they’ll shut me up. Next game: vs. South Carolina, Oct. 31, 12 p.m.
  8. Georgia (5-2): Georgia suffered more than just an L in their win-loss column when they traveled to Tennessee a few weeks ago. They lost their star RB Nick Chubb on the first snap of the game. That loss likely helped the Vols get a win over Georgia that day. But there’s still no excuse for how they fared against Alabama at home with a healthy Chubb. They also barely beat Missouri in a really ugly game a couple weeks ago. After their bye week, we know nothing new about the Bulldogs. But this weekend we should find out just about all we need to know about Mark Richt’s squad. And I don’t expect that to be a particularly positive result. Next game: vs. Florida, Oct. 31, 3:30 p.m.
  9. Arkansas (3-4): Arkansas has had four pretty bad losses…their two non-conference losses being the worst of those. They lost to Toledo and Texas Tech in non-conference play and have lost to Alabama and Texas A&M in conference play. But even two of their three wins haven’t been so pretty. They barely beat Tennessee and they also won a ridiculously high-scoring game against Auburn by only eight points. Arkansas is just an unimpressive team this season, even though they have all the potential in the world to be a solid squad. Potential doesn’t mater if you don’t play up to it, though. Next game: vs. Tennessee-Martin, Oct. 31, 4 p.m.
  10. Auburn (4-3): If Florida was the good surprise of the season in SEC football, then Auburn was the bad surprise. Although their record is still a winning one, that’s only because they’ve already played three of their non-conference games. Three of those four wins were against the likes of Louisville, Jacksonville State (in OT), and San José State. Their only conference win was over Kentucky and just by three points. They’ve already lost to LSU, Mississippi State, and Arkansas. With Muschamp’s underperforming defense and weak offense, I expect them to lose to at least three of their four remaining SEC opponents. Next game: vs. Ole Miss, Oct. 31, 12 p.m.
  11. Kentucky (4-3): For a team that’s used to being the perennial laughing stock of SEC football, Kentucky has had a decent season so far. They lost to Florida, Auburn, and Mississippi State. But, they beat South Carolina and Missouri. I wouldn’t call this a good team, but I would say it’s an improvement for their program. And sometimes turning a program like Kentucky’s around takes baby steps. Winning at least one of their three remaining conference games would go a long way in instilling confidence in this team that they can be relevant in the coming years. Next game: @ Tennessee, Oct. 31, 7:30 pm
  12. South Carolina (3-4): There’s not really much I can say about South Carolina this season. Now that Head Ball Coach (Steve Spurrier) is gone, South Carolina is really in a tough spot. Their only conference win so far was at home against Vanderbilt. Other than that they beat UNC (by 4 points) and UCF (by 17 points). They have racked up a whole bunch of losses in the SEC so far. And their three remaining SEC games won’t be easy unless South Carolina can find a way to finally get something going on offense. And even their defense could use some work. Overall, this season has been and will continue to be a struggle for the Gamecocks. Next game: @ Texas A&M, Oct. 31, 12 p.m.
  13. Vanderbilt (3-4): With their first SEC win under coach Derek Mason, the Commodores are no longer currently the worst team in the conference. Though that isn’t saying much, because of the way their schedule works out, Vanderbilt could technically still win the SEC East. Even though they don’t have many wins going for them, the majority of their losses weren’t by huge margins. And like many other SEC teams, they have a really tough defense. They may not even win another conference game for the rest of the season, but one is better than none, right? Next game: @ Houston, Oct. 31, 7 p.m.
  14. Missouri (4-4): Missouri wouldn’t have been considered the worst team in the SEC a week ago. But after an ugly loss to Vanderbilt, they get spot #14 on my rankings. Their defense has been suffocating for the entire season, averaging holding their opponents to only 12.5 points against them. But their offense has been miserable, averaging only 14 points for the team. Not to mention they’re in the 100s as far as rankings for both passing and rushing yards go. If they don’t miraculously start creating some offense, this team is going to go down in flames even though they have one of the best defensive units in the country. Maybe having QB Maty Mauk back from his suspension can give their offense the spark it needs. Next game: vs. Mississippi State, Nov. 5, 9 p.m.

If you have any comments, make sure to tweet them at me. You’ll find me as @OGKristenB on Twitter!

Steve Spurrier, Tommy Tuberville and Charlie Strong: Who are Three Coaches I’d Have Dinner With

It was a slow weekend in college football. There was nothing scheduled that I would consider to be a true marquee football game. As I sat and watched some exciting but lack luster football, the smell of simmering pot roast filled my house. The thought of food makes me think about food and the smell of food makes me think about food. I love food.

Sometimes the company you have at the table is as good or better than the meal itself. In the spirit of college football, I began thinking about 3 coaches that I would like to have a meal with and here they are.

Steve Spurrier

The meal is a no brainer as I meet The Old Ball Coach at Arby’s. You know what they say, it’s good mood food and Spurrier always puts me in a good mood. See? Arby’s and Spurrier are a match made in heaven.

Personally, i’m a medium roast beef and curly fry type of guy. As for Spurrier, none of us know what the man orders at Arby’s, but he’ll have to get his own curly fries, because i’m not sharing. I would love to hear The Old Ball Coach tell stories as we drench our beef in horsey sauce. As for what I would talk about? Well, as a Mizzou fan, my dinner conversation would bring Nihilist Arby’s to life. As Spurrier rides off into the sun set, i’m left to contemplate what lies ahead for Mizzou. I’ll let Nihilist Arby’s sum up the attitude of Mizzou football fans with this gem:

Enjoy Arby’s!

Tommy Tuberville

Tuberville, party of two, your table is ready. Two men enter, but only one man leaves. That is the nature of dinner with Tuberville.

The trick with dinner with Tuberville is actually eating a full meal with the man. As luck would have it, I am the man for the meal. You see, I am a notoriously fast eater. I basically unhinge my jaw and shovel it in. In my world, meals come “shovel ready.” While most Tuberville dinner companions could confidently get through the appetizer course, I believe that I could go all the way with Tuberville and experience dessert.

If for some reason Tuberville does sneak out the backdoor in the middle of dinner, I know that Ryan Gosling is just around the corner. Crap, that’s not Gosling?

Courtesy of USA Today

Charlie Strong

I guess you’ve heard by now. For just a quarter a day, the price of a cup of coffee, you can help feed Charlie Strong and his coaching staff.

It’s tough to say when Charlie’s last meal was but I hope he shows some humility and takes it easy on my bank account. Unlike Tuberville, Strong is all but guaranteed to stick around for the entire meal and, unlike Spurrier, i’m guessing he’ll be in the mood for more than just curly fries.

Considering that Texas is starting to win again, I would splurge and take him to Chipotle. Because at this point in the season, Strong is worth the whole burrito.

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

Before He Was “The Head Ball Coach”

It was Saturday, October 30, 1965. And it was a beautiful day for football! My father, mother and I were on our way from Lower Alabama to the Plains of Auburn for a homecoming game that matched our Tigers with the Florida Gators.IMG_2355

The visitors were a heavy favorite. They were bringing an impressive 4-1 record into the tilt, while the home team, with losses to Baylor, Georgia Tech, and Southern Mississippi, was really struggling that year at 2-3-1.

The contingent from Gainesville, Florida was lead by a brash young kid from Johnson City, Tennessee. His name was Steven Orr Spurrier.

This was the first game ever televised from, what was then, Cliff Hare Stadium. It would later be re-named Jordan-Hare Stadium for, then, legendary head coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan.

Coach Jordan was given to referring to the Gator quarterback as “Steve Superior”.

“Superior” had led his team to wins over non-conference foes Northwestern and North Carolina State. They sported SEC victories over LSU and Ole Miss. Their lone setback came at the hands of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

When the LeCroy clan finally made it to Auburn, it seemed like it took an eternity to get there, they headed over to the home of Nelle and Bill Mims, my aunt and uncle. Aunt Nelle was my mother’s sister. Uncle Bill was retired from the Georgia-Pacific railroad. They had moved to “the loveliest village” where he now had a job with Buildings and Grounds at Auburn University.

Uncle Bill quipped to my father that he might have to drive the jeep that would carry the ABC television camera up and down the home sideline as this was an altogether new venture for the school.

I thought that would be the greatest thing in the world! Would I be allowed to ride in the jeep? As it turns out, this did not come to pass, but that was okay. There were some big fish to fry later that day.

And what a day it turned out to be!

The visiting Gators led the home underdog Tigers 10-0 at the half.  Junior quarterback, Spurrier, had thrown a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jack Harper and their kicker, Wayne Barfield, booted a 26-yard field goal. The sellout crowd, of 45,000, was dismayed but not daunted.

The Tigers regrouped at the break. And it turned out to be a tough second half for the young quarterback from the mountains of East Tennessee. Auburn middle linebacker, Bill Cody, intercepted a Spurrier pass and returned it for 29 yards and a touchdown. Spurrier also fumbled at the Florida 10, in the fourth quarter, and it rolled into the end zone. Cody was also the recipient of this snafu that gave Auburn an insurmountable lead.IMG_2358

The Tigers scored 28 unanswered points in that second half. Spurrier threw a late TD pass to Charlie Casey, which mattered little, and Auburn upset the Gators, 28-17.

It was a big win for the home team and a hard learning experience for the tough, talented and talkative young Gator QB.

October 29, 1966 was a horse of a different color.

Florida was celebrating homecoming this time around.

60,000 fans had jammed Florida Field, which was later dubbed “The Swamp” by an alumnus who had returned to coach the Gators in 1990 ;).

Florida was undefeated and Steve “Superior” was their senior quarterback. They also had designs on an SEC Championship, a National Championship, and a Heisman Trophy for their team leader.

The game turned out to be a see-saw battle which went down to the wire.

Auburn took the opening kickoff and Larry Ellis returned it 89 yards for a touchdown.

It’s on!!!

Florida retaliated with a 10-yard TD pass from Spurrier to Richard Trapp. They also scored on a 2-yard TD run.

Auburn stunned the old Gator grads with  a 90-yard fumble return and added a 30-yard field goal by Jimmy “Rattlesnake” Jones before halftime. They took a 17-13 lead into the dressing room. The Tigers opened the second half scoring with a 27-yard field goal.

Florida immediately tied it when Larry Smith scored a TD from two-yards out. It was 20-20.

Spurrier put the home team on top with 2-yard sneak, early in the fourth quarter, but Auburn quarterback, Larry Blakeney ran one in from the three after Yearout recovered yet another fumble at the Gator 16.

The game was tied, 27-27.

Spurrier then began to engineer a march toward the Tiger goal line, but the drive was stopped when the Gator field general was called for an intentional grounding penalty.

It was now fourth down with just over two minutes remaining in the game and Florida at the Auburn 26 yard-line.

A field goal attempt would be 40 yards and that was outside the comfort zone of the Gator’s regular placekicker.

Spurrier had kicked 40-yard field goals in practice and begged Florida head coach, Ray Graves, to give him a shot at it.IMG_2359

He did.

You can imagine what happened. It was like something out a sports novel for young kids, or maybe the popular AMC TV show, Friday Night Lights.

Yes, Steve Spurrier nailed the field goal, with 2:12 remaining, Florida captured a very hard-fought 30-27 win and, as most of you know, Spurrier went on to take home the Heisman Trophy.

Those are my first memories of Steve Spurrier, or “Superior”, and his heroics on the gridiron.

You know the rest of the story. I don’t need to recount it for you here, yet again.

Many, many tales of championships he won at Duke and Florida have “swamped” television, newspapers, and social media over the past week. And you know of his unprecedented success at the University of South Carolina, from which he recently resigned. You also know of his failure to generate a winner on the NFL level with the Washington Redskins.

I’ll never forget the great upset wins Auburn had over number one ranked Gator squads in 1993, ’94, and 2001. But those were the ONLY three wins my Tigers were able to generate vs. the “evil genius” during his tenure at Florida. Auburn’s final record stood at 3-10 against Spurrier and the Gators.

OUCH!

IMG_2357

There are many fan bases that “Darth Visor” has rubbed the wrong way over the years. Cough cough… Georgia and Tennessee.

But I have always really liked him and have truly enjoyed following the journey of Steven Orr Spurrier. My son and I have had numerous conversations in “Spurrier Speak”. They would begin something like, “Well, we found out nobody had ever scored fifty points on Georgia in Athens before, so we thought we’d try that!”

Priceless!

I laugh when I think about it and about him.

I know you’ve probably also read many of Spurrier’s famous quotes from over the years. I’ll leave you with, possibly, one of my favorites. It’s from the lips of the only Heisman winner he coached, Danny Wuerffel. This was after Wuerffel had thrown a costly interception. He then apologized for the turnover.

Spurrier replied, “Danny, it’s not your fault, it’s my fault for putting you in the game.”

So here’s to the “Head Ball Coach”!

May he not, “Go gentle into that good night.”