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New Year’s Six Preview: Sugar Bowl

If I’m being totally honest, the Sugar Bowl is the least interesting of this year’s New Year’s Six matchups. It features two teams who, despite being highly ranked, failed to ever truly contend for the College Football Playoff. Neither the Auburn Tigers nor the Oklahoma Sooners had any type of eye-catching season, and this game just seems, frankly, boring to me. It’s the last of the New Year’s Six games this year, and I would be unsurprised if it receives the lowest TV ratings of the bunch.

There is no point walking around it, so let’s just cut right to the chase. This game really shouldn’t be close. I can’t say that it won’t be, because you never know how hard teams will come out and play for a bowl game, but it really shouldn’t be much of a game. Auburn is severely outclassed. While Oklahoma did drop a few embarrassing games to Houston and Ohio State, Auburn really hasn’t shown me a single bit of proof that it can beat a team like Oklahoma.

Against good teams, the Tigers have struggled mightily to score, and I seem the same thing transpiring in New Orleans this year. Let’s not forget that Auburn lost to Georgia in November! The fact that this team is in the New Year’s Six at all is baffling. It points toward a huge issue with conference bids to bowl games of such large magnitude. The SEC had the automatic bid for the Sugar Bowl, but the SEC was so uncharacteristically awful (apart from Alabama, obviously) that it almost seemed like no one actually wanted to go to the Sugar Bowl. Auburn won only 66% percent of its games this season. Yet, here the Tigers are, somehow, in the Sugar Bowl.

Anyway, my prediction is simple. This is a landslide. Baker Mayfield gets going early, and the Sooners cruise throughout the majority of the second half of this bowl game. There is a chance that Auburn could make a game of it, but I just don’t see it happening. Look for the Sooners to go back home happy.

 

Final Score: Oklahoma Sooners 38, Auburn Tigers 17

 

Email Cooper at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

Photo: Pixabay

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Predicted: New Year’s Six and the College Football Playoff National Championship

This is the third and final part of my 2016 College Football Preview. The picks in this article directly reflect my first and second article, so check those out before reading this one.

Orange Bowl (ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/ND) 12/31/16

Miami (9-4) vs. LSU (10-2)

The Matchup: Miami will get the automatic ACC bid, as the Hurricanes are the best ACC team not in the CFP. LSU squeezes its way into the New Year’s Six over the likes of Notre Dame, the second team in line who just misses the New Year’s Six due to their indecisiveness at the QB position early in the season, which cost a few games. Other teams who are in the hunt for the Tigers’ Orange Bowl spot are Michigan State, Ole Miss and Arkansas, but none of them finish over 9-3.

The Game: This is Leonard Fournette’s final game in an LSU jersey. He will eat up the Miami defense, which will have to deal with a bit of Les Miles madness. LSU will come out passing early and often, as the Miami defense gets weaker the further away from the line of scrimmage you go. Once the Tigers expose Miami’s pass defense, LSU will catch the Hurricanes on their heels by simply letting Fournette run over the competition. Fournette’s early season injury may keep him out of the Heisman Race, but he will sure look like a Heisman winner after this game is all said and done. LSU will simply put up too many points for the Hurricanes to keep up with.

Final Score: LSU Tigers 38 – Miami Hurricanes 20

Cotton Bowl (At-Large vs. At-Large) 1/2/17

Michigan (11-1) vs. UH (12-1)

The Matchup: Michigan is not happy to be here. The Wolverines believe that it belongs in the CFP. However, it ends up playing in Dallas facing off against a Houston Cougars squad whose excitement to be in this spotlight inversely mirrors the Wolverines.

The Game: The team’s respective enthusiasm for this particular game reflects into the matchup’s first half to a large degree. Michigan comes out uninterested and sluggish, which a Greg Ward, AAC player of the Year, powered Cougar offense heavily exploits. The First Half ends with the Cougars up 14-10. The Wolverines swing back in the second half, and take a three-point lead over UH with just over a minute left in the game. Greg Ward leads a final charge down the field into the red zone with time winding down. However, after two incomplete passes, Jabrill Peppers fools Ward, after Peppers fakes a blitz before dropping back into coverage. The strong Wolverine defensive line forces Ward to rush a decision, and he overlooks Peppers before throwing a pass which Peppers intercepts.

Final Score: Michigan Wolverines 41 – Houston Cougars 38

Rose Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) 1/2/17

Iowa (9-4) vs. Stanford (11-2)

The Matchup: Iowa, who lost the Big Ten championship to Ohio State, gets the automatic Rose Bowl bid. Stanford, meanwhile, wins the Pac-12 and because no Pac-12 team gets into the CFP, are the other automatic bid, which makes the 2017 Rose Bowl an identical matchup to the 2016 game.

The Game:  This game will have a similar outcome as the matchup the previous year. Stanford will let Christian McCaffrey run free, and he will single-handedly slaughter Iowa. Iowa, in all honesty, does not belong in the Rose Bowl, and once again, the game’s result shows that. This one is not even close.

Final Score: Stanford Cardinal 31 – Iowa Hawkeyes 6

Sugar Bowl (Big 12 vs. SEC) 1/2/17

TCU (10-2) vs. Tennessee (10-3)

The Matchup: I’m going to be honest. Even though I picked them to be here, I would be surprised if Tennessee can win the SEC East and get the automatic bowl berth. The Volunteers’ inconsistency over the last several years makes I hard to believe that it can string together a solid season and take the East over Georgia and Florida. But, that’s what my mind believed when I wrote last week’s prediction article, so here we are. If the Volunteers manage to make it to the Sugar Bowl, it will face off against TCU, winners of the lackluster Big 12.

The Game: Despite the fact that I don’t think it will make it to this game, I think the SEC will prove too much for TCU. Tennessee, behind powerhouse running back Jalen Hurd and a Joshua Dobbs who develops into a great passer throughout the season, are able to out muster the Horned Frogs offensively. Tennessee’ defense, which nine starters, will shut down the Horned Frogs’ offense. This will be a defensive battle between these two teams, but the Volunteers prevail.

Final Score: Tennessee Volunteers 24 – TCU Horned Frogs 17

Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal)  12/31/16

#1 Ohio State (13-0) vs. #4 FSU (11-1)

The Matchup: Ohio State, still riding off “The Game of the Century” Part 2, in which the Buckeyes beat #2 ranked Michigan, gets the #1 overall seed for the third annual College Football Playoff. FSU, meanwhile, campaigns hard for its spot, which the Seminoles fight Michigan, Stanford, TCU and Houston for. However, dominating wins late in the season after a close defeat to Clemson allow FSU to squeeze into its second College Football Playoff appearance.

The Game: Lead by recently crowned Heisman Trophy winner, J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes get off to a quick start, scoring quickly on a pass over the middle against the weakest part of the Seminole defense. However, the Buckeyes’ inexperienced defense will struggle to do anything to stop the Dalvin Cook Seminole offense, and FSU goes up by 10 heading into halftime. Coming out of the half, Dontre Wilson brings the kickoff all the way back for a touchdown, making the Buckeyes deficit only three. Both defenses then hunker down, with the likes of Raekwon McMillan and DeMarcus Walker dominating for the Buckeyes and Seminoles respectively. Late in the 4th, J.T. Barrett leads Ohio State down the field, but Urban Meyer has to settle for a field goal. However, with two minutes to work with, Dalvin Cook is able to take his time and rush the Seminoles into Field Goal position with only a few ticks left. Ricky Aguayo gets a perfect hold ad knocks home a 52-yard field goal as time expires to allow the Seminoles to win.

Final Score: Florida State Seminoles 23 – Ohio State Buckeyes 20

Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal) 12/31/16

#2 Clemson (13-0) vs. #3 Alabama (12-1)

The Matchup: Winners of the ACC and SEC respectively, Clemson and Alabama both come off monster season to qualify as the middle seeds for the College Football Playoff. Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson, Clemson finished undefeated, while Alabama’s only loss came to Ole Miss early in the season.

The Game: This game will ultimately come down to Clemson’s offense vs. Alabama’s defense. The Alabama offense will struggle with Cooper Bateman at the helm, but Clemson’s defense will not be nearly as dominant as years past, allowing the Crimson Tide to find holes to score both on the ground and in the air. However, the issue for Alabama is that Clemson’s offense simply has too many pieces, as if the passing game to wide outs Mike Williams and Artavis Scott struggles, Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman, both of whom were 1000 yard rushers in 2015, can simply push Alabama back behind the Tigers’ O-Line. Though Alabama remains in the game in the first half, Clemson comes out firing in the second and breaks the game wide open. Alabama, though talented, won’t have an answer for Clemson, and the Tigers win the game by a fairly wide margin. The Crimson Tide’s shot at returning to the College Football National Championship is cut one game short.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 45 – Alabama Crimson Tide 24

 College Football Playoff National Championship 1/9/16 (Tampa, FL)

#2 Clemson Tigers (14-0) vs. #4 Florida State Seminoles (12-1)

The Game: This game is going to be a rematch of possibly the best offensive matchup of the 2016 season. Earlier, Clemson beat out FSU in Tallahassee, and that is why the Tigers remained undefeated the entire year. The National Championship, featuring two teams less located less than 600 miles from the game’s location, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, will be an offensive bout the likes of which we haven’t seen in man years. While both teams have competent defenses, Clemson and FSU will look to win the National Championship with offensive firepower. This game will actually not be as much of a nail-biter as their first matchup, as Deshaun Watson, in his second straight title game, will come out firing on all cylinders. FSU will stay in the game, but the Clemson offense will prove to be too much, and keep a constant lead over the Seminoles the entire game. The Clemson Tigers will have its first National Title since 1981.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 48 – Florida State 35

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

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Bowl Me Over!

I will jump right in with a keen grasp of the obvious. It’s BOWL season! Well, duh!

We’re surrounded by bowls and they’re closing in on us ($1 to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson for that bit of inspiration). If you substitute the word idiots, for bowls, then you have the good doctor’s quote exacto.

Much of our chatter about bowls comes in the form of criticism. How many times have you heard or spoke this phrase? Now, everybody together. Fill in the blank. “There are too (blank) bowls.” How did you complete that sentence? I’ll bet you didn’t use the word ‘few’. Who says there are too FEW bowls? No one. Who says there are too ‘many’ bowls? Almost everyone.

It’s true that there are a glut of bowls which now comprise our postseason. There are so many, in fact, that teams with a sterling record of 5-7 are now being invited to participate in these, often meaningless, exhibitions.

Bowl names are sometimes, at once, both puzzling and amusing. Case in point. here are the bowls that have already gone into the books as I write this column. The Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, AutoNation Cure Bowl,  R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, and the Miami Beach Bowl.

That’s six down and thirty-five to go!

Bowls, bowls, bowls! Sponsors, sponsors, sponsors! And half-filled stadiums (which is being generous to a number of these contests). Or half-empty stadiums, huh? 😉

But you know what? I like bowls. Bring ’em on! Watch them or don’t watch them. Let the kids, their schools, and their fans have a big time. It’s fun! And bowl trips, themselves, are a lot of fun. That’s certainly the case as I have experienced it.

I have attended nineteen bowl games, in my lifetime, and the Auburn Tigers were participants in each and every one of them. Surprise!

Let’s take a look at two of the most memorable of these events.

Auburn vs. Michigan – 1984 Sugar BowlIMG_2569

There’s nothing like the first time. This holds true in many areas of life. This was the first bowl game I ever observed in person. And even though it was a low scoring game, Auburn won 9-7, it was very exciting. Michigan coach, Bo Schembechler, said Auburn wouldn’t be able to run the ball on the Wolverines. They did.

Bo Jackson ran for 130 yards on 22 carries and he was named the game’s most outstanding player. But, the Tigers were not able to punch the ball into the end zone. Al Del Greco kicked three field goals to account for all of the Tigers’ points. The last one came with 23 seconds left on the clock to seal it for Auburn.

As memorable as the game was, to me, it was the city of New Orleans that almost stole the show. My wife, Melodye, and I arrived on New Year’s Eve for the game which was to take place on Monday, January 2, as Sunday is pro football day and the Saints were playing at home.

Our hotel, a Days Inn in Kenner, LA, was in the grip of a most unusual cold snap that ‘The Big Easy’ was suffering through at that time. The pipes had burst in the modest facility and we were sent to the International Hotel on Canal Street. It was quite close to the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and it was a big step up from the little motel near the airport where we were scheduled to stay

To say a big time was had by all would be putting it mildly. We watched, in both awe and disbelief, at the proceedings which took place in the French Quarter, and, most popularly, on Bourbon Street. “Laissez les bon temps router!” Or, in English, “Let the good times roll!”

They did!

It seems as though we walked dozens of miles in ‘Nawlins’ those three days and nights in late 1983 and early 1984.IMG_2570

There were hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s and rum swizzles at the Seaport Cafe & Bar, but primarily there was beer at Molly’s Irish Pub on Toulouse Street. This was the first time we had ever run across those 24 ounce cans on Foster’s Beer, which is brewed in Australia.

As luck would have it, there was a group of Aussie sailors who were docked in New Orleans and we made their acquaintance through an Auburn student, from Baltimore, who was named Sarah. Sarah, and the sea faring lads from down under, combined with us to finish all of the Foster’s that Molly’s had in stock on the eve of the Sugar Bowl. Then it was into the Dixie beer, which was a step down.

There was also Shrimp Remoulade at Arnaud’s, this is where the dish was conceived, red beans and rice at Joe’s, and oysters at the Acme Oyster House.

We have since made several trips to New Orleans, including four more Sugar Bowls, but there will  never be another like that first one.

“Laissez les bon temps router,” indeed!

Auburn vs. Texas A&M – 1986 Cotton Bowl

As luck would have it, this was the 50th anniversary of the classic from Dallas. Oddly enough, that 1983-84 jaunt to New Orleans was the 50th playing of the Sugar Bowl.

The Aggies, under the leadership of then extraordinarily highly paid coach, Jackie Sherrill, laid a whuppin’ on Heisman winner, Bo Jackson, and the Auburn Tigers. Bo DID win another MVP for this game, yet again.IMG_2568

But what a trip!

We were living in Albany, NY at the time and we were accompanied by our dear friends, Don and Linda Meagher. The Meaghers were New York natives. We were about to introduce them to the world of hospitality, Texas style.

Melodye and I spent the first three years of our marriage in Ft. Worth, so we were very excited to be headed back that way for the first time since we left Tejas. We stayed at a La Quinta Inn in Euless, which is located about half way between Dallas and Ft. Worth.

We gorged on Mexican food at Raphael’s in Dallas, twice, and BBQ at the Southfork Ranch near Plano. The four of us used to always watch Dallas together on Friday nights, so this was a big treat for us.

One night, after dinner at said Raphael’s, I coaxed the crew into stopping by Carter Country in Irving, TX, the then home of the Dallas Cowboys. Carter Country is a combination bowling alley and honky tonk.

Don, not being steeped in, or necessarily comfortable with Texas culture was a bit wide-eyed when we pulled into the parking lot. Don surveyed the situation and said, “I don’t know. There are an awful lot of pickup trucks here.” I assured him that the crowd here could add and subtract and that there would be no problem. There was not a problem. But, we were familiarized with a song that played on the jukebox between live music sets. It was/is entitled, ‘The Rodeo Song’. I’m not going fill you in on the lyrics to ‘The Rodeo Song’ as they are not fit for younger eyes and ears or those who are easily offended. Google it, if you so desire.

‘Well it’s forty below and I don’t give a…”

Take it from there!

The highlight of the Cotton Bowl trip was probably New Year’s Eve at Billy Bob’s Texas. Surely everyone of you good readers is up on this world renowned country and western palace. The mechanical bull and all that. I think Gilley’s was the first of these types of establishments. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Gary Morris and Reba McEntire brought in 1986 that evening. A good, no GREAT, time was had by all. Melodye truly enjoyed the champagne that was served up to us, in twelve ounce Billy Bob’s Texas plastic tumblers, at the stroke of midnight.

Ask her about it the next time you see her. Or, better yet, give her a shout on Facebook. She is such a good sport about my telling of our adventures together. There have been countless numbers of those and I look forward to many,  many more with great anticipation.

The next one will take place in the great state of Alabama. The Birmingham Bowl. We’ll see you here, next week, with a preview of that bowl game, and hopefully, we will see some of you, who help to make up the Auburn Family, in Birmingham.

Peace on earth to one and all!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry

I have attended twenty-five Auburn-Georgia games. My record is 13-11-1. Saturday, good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise (well, the creek HAS risen, but that’s another story), will be number twenty-six for me. And I hope my record improves to 14-11-1. More on that later.

Here is a look back at some of those games I attended which were memorable and had a huge impact.

1968

The 1968 game was the first one I was privileged to view in-person. My father drove me, and my friends Frank McGraw and Mike Collins, to The Plains that rainy November morning. The weather cleared during the game.

Auburn was 6-2 with designs on an Orange Bowl invitation. Those dreams were squashed by a suffocating Bulldog defense which allowed only 3 first quarter points. The visitors scored all 17 of their points in stanza number two. The final tally was 17-3.

The Herschel Years

Herschel Walker, arguably college football’s greatest running back EVER, toted the rock at UGA for three seasons, 1980-82, and Georgia was the victor in all three. The respective scores were 31-21, 24-13, and 19-14.

I was there for all of those losses.

1982

Moral victories (is there really any such thing?) are ultimately hollow, but often provide a ray of hope. That was the case in 1982.

Georgia was undefeated and had their sights set on a second National Championship in a three-year span. They had beaten Notre Dame to accomplish this, behind the running of frosh phenom, Walker, following the 1980 season.

The Dawgs led 13-7 in the fourth quarter when Auburn’s Lionel “Little Train” James fielded a punt at his own 13-yard line and took it to the house. Tigers 14-13!

The number one team in the country responded like the champions they were with an 80-yard march that ended with Walker taking it in from the three. The two-point conversion attempt failed.

The Tigers countered with a desperation drive, engineered beautifully by quarterback Randy Campbell, that fell just short, as Campbell threw into the end zone on fourth down only to have the pass batted away with 47 ticks remaining on the clock. Game over. Georgia, 19-14.

This was the afternoon that legendary Bulldog broadcaster, Larry Munson, screamed, “Look at the sugar falling out of the sky! Look at the sugar falling out of the sky!” as the game concluded, and referencing the, now upcoming, trip to the Sugar Bowl for the SEC Champion Bulldogs.

But… BUT, also as the game concluded, Auburn fans, as often we do, chanted “It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger!” over and over and over. And the mood at our, and other’s tailgates, was not one of sadness or despair, but one of optimism and hope.

One game was yet to be played on that 1982 schedule, and the opponent was the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Auburn fans knew, in their heart of hearts, as one, that the nine-game winning streak that the Tide lorded over the Tigers could very well come to an end in two weeks at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

It did! Bo Jackson went “over the top” to give Auburn a 23-22 lead which they did not relinquish. That was Bear Bryant’s last regular season game as head coach at Alabama, and the balance of power, within the state, began to shift.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Another monster game in “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.”

1983

I was NOT in attendance. We were living in Albany, NY and didn’t make the game, but it’s tale is a must tell when one consider’s the enormity of the event.

Auburn had not won an SEC Championship since 1957. Third-year coach Pat Dye brought a determined group of Tigers to play “between the hedges”. They were 8-1 and number 3 in the country. Georgia was undefeated and ranked number 4.

Georgia was looking for its fourth straight league title. The winner of this one would decide who would represent the SEC in New Orleans.

Auburn would, absolutely, not be denied this time. They were in full control of the game, from the beginning, and the 13-7 triumph was not as close as the score indicated.

The twenty-six year conference championship drought came to an end in Athens.

Auburn went on to defeat the Michigan Wolverines, and Bo Schembechler, 9-7, in the Sugar Bowl. They would be crowned National Champions by the New York Times.

Schembechler said Auburn would not be able to run on Michigan. Auburn did, indeed, run on the Wolverines and Bo Jackson was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Fast forward to 2004. I’m back in attendance.

2004

Auburn… #3 and undefeated. Georgia… #5 with one loss.

ESPN College GameDay.

There is only one game in which the atmosphere was more electric on an Auburn football Saturday. That was in 1989 when Alabama came to town for the first time in the history of the series.

Auburn had already clinched a spot in the SEC Championship Game and was playing for a, potential, spot in the Orange Bowl in the BCS National Championship Game.

Auburn held Georgia scoreless for 57 minutes and wound up winning by a 24-6 count. It wasn’t that close. They dominated the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball.

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams carried the ball 19 times for 101 yards.

Ronnie Brown ran for 51 yards. He also caught 7 passes for 88 yards.

And how about Jason Campbell? 18 for 22 and 189 yards.

Most of us know the rest of the story.

Auburn went into Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama two weeks later. The Tigers should have played Southern Cal for it all. They did not, as the idiots in both the AP and USA Today Coaches Polls kept Oklahoma at number two, and college football fans were robbed of what would, most likely, have been a monumental ‘game for the ages’ in Miami.

Auburn WAS named National Champions by People’s National Champions and the GBE College Football Ratings, among others.

2013

‘Nuff said!!!

And that brings us to…

2015

It’s not 2004, or even 1982, but this year’s contest between Auburn and Georgia is very important. Without rehashing what is going on in Athens, with Mark Richt and his squad, Georgia needs this game… BADLY.

Auburn needs this game.

The Tigers went to to College Station and whipped the Texas A&M Aggies in a most impressive fashion.

The game plans for the offense and defense were excellent and they were well executed.

Jeremy Johnson returned as the starting signal caller and performed extremely well.

Jovon Robinson asserted himself as that ‘go to’ back that Auburn can give the ball to with complete confidence, and he will break a couple of long runs before the season is over.

The Auburn defense nabbed three picks off the arm of dynamic freshman quarterback, Kyler Murray and, very importantly, contained him in the pocket.

In short, the Tigers played Auburn Football, really, for the first time this year. Now it’s time for them to step up and do that consistently.

For the 119th time, Georgia awaits. The series stands at 55-55-8. Think it could get any closer?

There has been turmoil within the Bulldog program and Richt might be coaching for his job in these last two games, but you can believe that he will have his minions ready for Auburn. He always does. The Dawgs have won seven out of the last ten.

The stage is set.

I am of the opinion that Auburn will continue to build on what they have been doing for the past three weeks, the A&M game being their most complete one, and play their best game of the 2015 season. And I will run my record, in games I’ve attended versus Georgia, to 14-11-1.

Auburn 31, Georgia 20

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ohio State Ready to Roll in Meyer/Saban IV

When Ohio State and Alabama take the field in the 2015 Sugar Bowl, the battle between these  two iconic programs will be anything but your typical Big Ten/SEC matchup. Say what you want about the Big Ten conference as a whole, but Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has transformed the Buckeyes into an SEC-like power just like he said he would when he came to Columbus prior to the 2012 season. Meyer has Ohio State ready to compete with the best teams from the SEC and around the country, as evidenced with their 59-0 dismantling of your typical Big Ten team in Wisconsin to secure the Big Ten Championship. This kind of dominance is what we’ve become accustomed to over the years from the SEC schools and other than affiliation, that is exactly what the Buckeyes have become.

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Let’s take a stroll down memory lane back to the 2006 season when heavily-favored Ohio State faced Meyer and the Florida Gators in the BCS Championship Game, the prelude of the Big Ten’s fall to mediocrity. Ohio State was widely considered the most complete team in the country, just like Alabama is this season and for the better part of the last half-decade. Meyer relished the underdog role and exposed Ohio State and the Big Ten to a level of laughing-stock proportions. Now, with Meyer bringing the SEC brand of football to the Scarlet and Gray, can he turn the tide and Alabama and the SEC?

meyersabanClearly, regardless of what happens in the Sugar Bowl, Alabama and the SEC success of the last decade isn’t going anywhere. Instead, it is a chance for Ohio State to make a triumphant return among the nation’s elite programs. Let’s not forget that Ohio State still needs to get over the hump of defeating an SEC opponent in a bowl game, since the 2011 Sugar Bowl victory against Arkansas was vacated.

As for the game, Alabama enters the Sugar Bowl as the clear-cut favorite and deservedly so. The Tide is ranked No. 1 and have been “rolling” teams ever since coach Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. Out of the 44 combined starters between both Alabama and Ohio State, the Tide possess the best player on the field in receiver Amari Cooper. Not to mention, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones making just his second-career start in a playoff game against the defensive-mastermind Saban and the best defensive front Alabama has possessed in years seems like it would spell nothing but disaster. Rest assured, it will be far and away the biggest challenge of the season for the Buckeyes. The odds are stacked against Ohio State but let’s remember one thing. This is Urban Meyer we’re talking about. This isn’t exactly his first rodeo and if there is any coach out there that knows Saban, it’s Meyer. bellpic

Aside from the defensive line, Alabama’s defense isn’t what it used to be. Ohio State’s high-tempo spread attack should find success on the outside and against a talented, yet vulnerable Tide secondary. There isn’t a defense in college football that is going to shutdown the Buckeye offense. I don’t care who’s playing quarterback.  The Alabama defense is built to shutdown a Big Ten-style offense a la Wisconsin. Heck, we saw the return of the Silver Bullets against a prototypical Big Ten offense like Wisconsin. Auburn proved that putting up points on the Alabama defense shouldn’t be an issue, but you can expect Saban and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to throw in a few wrinkles to confuse an inexperienced quarterback like Jones.

On the other side of the ball, the Ohio State defense has its work cut out for them and then some. To shutout Wisconsin was impressive, but the defense has far more weapons on the Alabama offense to worry about than just the running back. Ohio State safety Vonn Bell was heavily recruited by Saban and the sophomore will need to show Saban what he has been missing if he wants to contain Cooper and help keep the Buckeyes in the game. Alabama quarterback Blake Sims has not faced a defensive front as lethal as Ohio State’s all season. Players like Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett will need to provide consistent pressure on Sims to get the defense off the field.

As tough of a challenge as it will be, Meyer and the Buckeyes will find a way to get it done and continue their unprecedented run to the national championship . I simply cannot go against Meyer as an underdog, especially in a championship setting. Jalin Marshall will have an MVP-like game for Ohio State and will show the nation that “SEC speed” has made its way north. I’m still not sure Ohio State has the best team in the country but they may just be the hottest team. Roll Buckeyes.

Score Prediction: Ohio State 34, Alabama 30

College Football Playoff – Round One – Auburn vs. Ole Miss

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It’s on!!! The College Football Playoff committee released it’s first poll last night and the Auburn Tigers find themselves locked into the number three spot. Yes, it’s on! If Auburn wins the remaining games on their schedule they WILL participate in the playoff. The schedule is brutal, we have discussed that here before, but it can be done.
The strength of schedule is an important component in deciding which teams finish where. The stronger one’s schedule, the greater the opportunity to advance and entrench oneself in a favorable position. Auburn is in a VERY favorable position.
Now the REAL fun begins.
November should be about as interesting a month of college football as we have EVER seen. This thing is beginning to shape up like March Madness.
Saturday’s game vs. Ole Miss pits your number three Auburn Tigers and you number four Ole Miss Rebels. This is an elimination game. Mathematically that is not the case but realistically it is the case.
If that don’t get your fire started then your wood’s wet!!!
My wife, Melodye, and I will begin our trek to Oxford bright and early on Friday morning. We will set up camp in downtown Memphis and make the commute, Saturday, to northern Mississippi. It will be All Saint’s Day Eve there on the banks of the Big Muddy.
That should provide a terrific jump start to a memorable weekend!
I have been beyond fortunate to have experienced countless such weekends centered around college football and my beloved Auburn Tigers. Considering the opponent this weekend is the Ole Miss Rebels, I would like to take a look back at a few of the games pitting these two SEC West division foes.
A fitting place to start would be the 1965 Liberty Bowl game. It was the first time the game was played in Memphis after six years in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. Despite the heroics of the game’s MVP, quarterback Tom Bryan, the Tigers fell by a score of 13-7.
One of the most memorable and exciting games between these two squads came in the Gator Bowl following my freshman year at Auburn, 1970. Auburn was led by junior quarterback Pat Sullivan, and Ole Miss legend, Archie Manning, was under center for the Rebels. The Tigers jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead but the Rebels fought back to pull within seven at the intermission. The high scoring game ended with the Tigers pulling out a 35-28 win.
The first game I ever attended in the series was on October 6, 1973. It was an historic day on the plains of east Alabama. Auburn’s Cliff Hare Stadium was renamed Jordan-Hare Stadium in honor of longtime head coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan. With less than two minutes remaining in the game, halfback Rick Neel scored on a 33 yard run to give the home team the victory.
In 1985, soon-to-be Heisman trophy winner, Bo Jackson, ran for 240 yards and three touchdowns propelling the Tigers to a 41-0 demolition of the visiting Ole Miss team. Auburn wound up with 606 total yards that day while the visitors could manage only NINE.
The 1995 game wasn’t close as Auburn won 46-13. BUT Ole Miss had a new head coach. He was the former defensive coordinator of the Texas A&M Aggies, Tommy Tuberville. You know the rest of the story.
On October 30, 2004 the undefeated Auburn Tigers traveled to Oxford, Mississippi. They had played nine straight games without a break, and now Auburn head coach, Tommy Tuberville said, “We were running on fumes.” In spite of that, Auburn, led by senior quarterback Jason Campbell, pulled out a tough 35-14 win by scoring 28 second half points. And on that night, the Tigers clinched the SEC West division title. They went on to become SEC and Sugar Bowl Champions and were, arguably, the best team in the country.
Enough of the past. The future is now. The College Football Playoff committee has released its historic first top 25 poll. They have spoken and it is my opinion that they got it right…
1. Mississippi State
2. Florida State
3. Auburn
4. Ole Miss
It was the bold and proper move to place the Rebels at number four. They have a played a typically brutal SEC West schedule and they defeated the number six ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Hotty Toddy!
That brings us to the de facto elimination game pitting number three against number four.
It appears that it will be unseasonably cold Saturday night in the land of Faulkner and Grisham. The winds will be howling and the Tigers will be growling. After spending all day in The Grove, the fans fervor will be at a fever pitch. The home team’s faithful is being exhorted to wear red. Miss LeCroy and I will counter with navy blue attire.
Good friends, Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze will concoct a Strange Brew (RIP Jack Bruce of Cream) on this All Saint’s Day evening. This one promises to be a true donnybrook.
Auburn 31, Ole Miss 23
Survive and advance.

The True Value of Tradition

The words “tradition” and “winner” are two terms which are vastly overused in college football. Despite their prevalence, both words do not hold up to any level of logic. Outside of a school that has just established a football program, every college has some level of past success and, therefore, a level of “tradition.” Like the word “tradition,” the word “winner” is used when it supports an argument and conveniently omitted when it does not. Ironically, the two schools which cite “tradition” and a rich history of “winning” seemingly more than any other, Michigan and Notre Dame, played, at least at this point, their final game in what was considered a traditional rivalry.
Recently, Michigan has been in the news for not living up to its rich football “traditions” and not winning. With rare exception, criticism about not winning is valid. However, prolonged discussion about “tradition” and how a current team or coach is not living up to it is comical. When a school does not win a conference title since 2004 and sports a Big Ten conference record of 39-33 from 2004 to the present in a conference that many regard as “overrated” and “weak,” references to how a team is not living up to a winning “tradition” seem almost beside the point. A few down years in college football can be written off as a time where unfortunate injuries struck, highly touted recruits did not develop as expected, and a few NCAA violations met with scholarship reductions. However, when a team is perilously close to .500 in conference play for approximately a decade, that is much more difficult to ignore and warrants a deeper look into the way the football program as a whole is being operated. But if you are Michigan, the talk about “tradition” and clinging harder than ever to 42 Big Ten championships amidst another season destined to end without a conference championship continues, if not increases.
The current standard is to have certain stories dominate the news cycle for a short period of time and then be replaced by another story. The past week or so has led to significant discussion about the state of Michigan football and how things have managed to get to this point. Between discussions about the disastrously botched handling of Stephen Morris’ concussion and how Brady Hoke has been largely unsuccessful is the undercurrent of how things need to return to the “Michigan way.” Using this term is intriguing as it implies that there is some sort of magical formula that Michigan had up until very recently and then mysteriously lost. For other programs, this would imply that the football program went awry for a few years, perhaps in a similar way to how Auburn struggled for a few years following Cam Newton before returning to national prominence. In Michigan’s case, the departure from the “Michigan way” has almost become a way of life with a few glimmers of hope such as the 2011 trip to the Sugar Bowl.
For a team with a 2-4 record this year, Michigan gets a tremendous amount of media attention. The losing and the speculation about Brady Hoke losing his job has led to announcer discussions during 49er games about Jim Harbaugh and his future as the head coach of Michigan. Of course, all these stories always return to the rich “tradition” present in Ann Arbor. However, the word “tradition” overshadows the fact that Michigan has been very mediocre and has managed to depart from the program’s storied past for approximately a decade by not winning a Big Ten championship since 2004. Depending on how numbers are manipulated, not winning a conference championship since 2004 can be made to seem somewhat short. To put this in perspective, in 2004, Time featured many different top innovations (a fun read if you have time and/or feel like reminiscing: Time Article). One was called “d_skin” and was a clear plastic coating that could be put over a CD to prevent scratching. Another was the Jawbone, the cell phone headset (at the time, not a Bluetooth) that featured some of the first noise cancellation technology. When thought of in relation to the technologies that were being touted as “innovations” in 2004, Michigan football has been mediocre for some time.
It is hard for fans to accept that the accomplishments of the past may not be repeated in the near future or possibly ever. As a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, I know this as well as anyone. Yet, at the same time, clinging to the accomplishments of the past does nothing. The 42 conference championships that Michigan and its fans often cite spans back to 1898. At some point, making a reference to the number of conference championships won, a statistic that includes conference championships won during the presidency of William McKinley becomes irrelevant and more of a fun fact than a legitimate argument. Yet, the company line of “tradition” and the “Michigan way” continues to be perpetuated by the media and fans as if saying it over and over will make everyone forget that the team hasn’t lived up to “tradition” and has been stuck at 42 conference championships since 2004. Or, as if saying it enough will make people stop caring about Brady Hoke, write off the 2014 season as a lost cause, and stop closely scrutinizing Michigan’s losing ways until the winning begins once more. Meanwhile, the best solution may be to stop thinking about the past, forget about “tradition,” and focus on how to improve the present.

BCS Dominance: An Ohio State Love Story

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Thee Ohio State Buckeyes. When you hear these three simple words what comes to your mind? Scarlet and Grey? Archie Griffin? How about Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller, Troy Smith, Eddie George, or how about The Game? Well all of these are great answers but the one thing that comes to my mind is BCS dominance.
Thee Ohio State was the most dominate team during the BCS era appearing in a staggering ten games. Yes they stumbled and were embarrassed in a few of them, cough cough the 2007 National Championship game verse Urban Meyer lead Florida.  Still no team got to the dance more than Ohio State. They always found a way to get a date to prom so to speak.
There were the moments, Maurice Clarett stripping Sean Taylor after an interception in the endzone. Ted Ginn returning the opening kick off of the already mentioned 2007 National Championship. Heck even the Buckeyes making the 2008 National Championship game was a moment. They shouldn’t have had the season they did that year. Then the best moment of them all beating Miami (Fl) in the 2002 National Championship.

Ohio State won the first BCS Nokia Sugar Bowl beating Texas A&M under John Cooper. Yes Cooper took them to a BCS game. Ohio state is the first school to have three coaches take the team to BCS games, the other is Florida (Spurrier, Meyer, and Muschamp). They started the BCS era going 4-0, before losing back-to-back national title games to SEC opponents. They appeared in a BCS game in 6 out of 7 years from 2002-2009, missing the BCS dance in 2004. They also had a staggering 6 “at-large” bids.
It didn’t matter if they had Craig Krenzel, Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor, or Braxton Miller under center. The Buckeyes won and won and found their way to the big pay day of the BCS over and over. No team in the BCS era cashed in as much as the Buckeyes did.

Bulldog Nation Happy See BCS Era Leave

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With the new college football championship format set for its initial voyage in the 2014 season, programs across the country will say farewell to the Bowl Championship format that produced a high level of excitement, debate and heartbreak for the University of Georgia.
The BCS-era is kind of a catch-22 for UGA. While it enjoyed some of its greatest success since the early 1980s starting with the early 2000s, which also happened to be when Mark Richt was hired, it was also brought heartache rivaling that experienced by fans of the Boston Red Sox.
If there’s one sentence to define Georgia football during the BCS, it would be, “that team was great, but…”
On some occasions, the talent was assembled for Georgia to make a run at a national title, but that talent did not meet expectations. And then there were other instances where that talent did meet those hopes, but Georgia didn’t get the break that it needed.
2002
Georgia was a very good football team at the end of the year when it routed Arkansas to win its first SEC title since 1982. Trouble was, the Bulldogs season was tarnished by an upset loss to Florida. If you take away a dropped pass by Terrence Edwards, Georgia is in the conversation of which of three unbeaten teams would deserve to play for the national title.
2003
The cruel irony is that the 2002 team had a record that would have locked them into the national title game. Instead, regular-season losses to LSU and Florida set up what turned out to be a winner-to-the-national title game in the SEC championship. The Bengal Tigers won that one in a rout on the way to a national championship.
2004
All the pieces looked to be in place for a national title run following back-to-back SEC championship game appearances. They appeared even more so after Georgia throttled LSU at home. That fervor was extinguished the next week when Georgia came out flat and was upset at home by Tennessee. In terms of disappointing losses, that game ranks among the highest at Georgia in the Mark Richt era as it cost the Bulldogs a national title shot and the SEC East title in the senior year of David Greene and David Pollack.
2005
The Bulldogs were rolling along, unbeaten until a second-half injury to D.J. Shockley against Arkansas caused him to miss the next week’s game against Florida. Georgia lost that one as well as the next week against Auburn. One has to wonder, though – if Shockley plays against Florida and Georgia wins, do the Bulldogs top Auburn?
2007
Some crazy upsets in December appeared to place the Bulldogs in line to play for a national title, but pollsters thought otherwise, inexplicably penalizing Georgia for a rule that didn’t exist and somehow mandating that a team ‘had’ to win its own division (very few had qualms about pushing the case of Michigan the previous year, however). Both Georgia and USC deserved better than to play second-rate bowl opponents that year, but Georgia doomed itself that year with bad losses to Tennessee and South Carolina.
2008
With a core group including Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno returning, hopes were high entering 2008. The reality is that this team was the biggest bust of the Mark Richt era. It went from having high expectations and multiple players still playing in the NFL today to suffering bad convincing losses to Alabama and Florida in addition to being upset by Georgia Tech.
2012
A team needs all of the pieces to click and some luck at the right time for a national championship. All of that appeared to be coming together in 2012. Despite being routed by South Carolina, Georgia won out in the regular season, and an upset loss by Oregon set up a de facto national semifinal game against Alabama in the SEC championship game. It was, in all senses, an epic classic. After Alabama appeared to have taken control thanks to a punished running game in the second half, Georgia put up an incredible late-game rally, getting into position to run a game-winning play. With time running out, an incredible athletic play by Alabama’s C.J. Mosley enabled him to tip a pass thrown by Aaron Murray and into the hands of Georgia received Chris Conley as time ran out.
Famed Georgia radio announcer Larry Munson probably would have said something to the effect of “they just ripped our hearts out and broke them,” following that game. Most Bulldogs fans probably still feel that way and will for a very long time.
For Georgia, the BCS era was filled with the Bulldogs being close to claiming what many of its SEC rivals have, a national title. But given all of the internal gut wrenching that has come with the past 15 seasons, the Bulldog Nation would be permitted to throw a giant farewell party.