Ramblin’ 4/20/17 (And the Summer of ’73)

Have mercy! It’s been far too long since we rambled! The truth of the matter is that I have been doing a whole lot of reading (James Lee Burke) and very little writing. I need to do both. We shall strive to do better.

It’s April 20th or 4/20. 4/20 is a huge day for many who partake of cannabis sativa. Here is an article that seeks to trace the origins of  this “high” holy day.

*Disclaimer*  The editorial staff at Ramblin’ in no way condones the use of mind altering substances. But if one chooses to do so… be cool. My apologies to Jeff Sessions.

And what has Apple Music conjured up for us today? Rock Hits: 1973.

1973. Whew! That was the year that was. It started with my second attempt to master an academic agenda at Auburn University, which also failed for a second time, and ended with the University of Alabama being upset by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Sugar Bowl on 12/31. Yes, the Tide was a 7-point-favorite and there were many of us in Wilcox County who lost a goodly sum of money on that contest. I won’t name names but you know who you are.

Sigh.

From mid-March through mid-September of ’73 I was a disc jockey at WMFC AM radio in the “Hub of Southwest Alabama”, Monroeville. Six days a week. Sunday through Friday. I went on the air at 6AM and completed my shift at “high” noon.

We opened with gospel music and a Church of Christ preacher and then news, weather, and sports. At 7:08 AM we went to pop music. Suffice it to say, the powers-that-be did not care for Led Zeppelin at 7:08. Fine. Next day, ‘Shout Bamalama’ by Wet Willie. They didn’t like that either.

They also didn’t like me smoking cigarettes in the control room, speeding away, while I drummed my fingers and waited for the preachers to conclude their devotionals. There was also a Southern Baptist minister at 9 AM. I don’t think he liked me. His daughter did, though.

I was summarily dismissed from my position in September. I won’t go into details. You’ll have to speak to me personally about that little “misunderstanding.”

Sigh.

To my knowledge there was no official “4/20” celebration in the “Hub City.” If you came to 328 Lazenby St. during those days I can assure you there was one. There would have been on 4/21, 6/22 and 7/23, as well.

Also there were cattle owners in Peterman and Tunnel Springs that were puzzled by a few “long hairs” so interested in their pastures in those times.

Again, details will have to be obtained form moi.

The Psychedelic Summer of ’73 she was.

*See disclaimer above*

Some of those songs from that eventful time? Money, Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, We’re an American Band, Kodachrome, Live and Let Die, Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and Stuck in the Middle With You.

And so, late September found me running hard on my $35 per week unemployment check, falling for a young lady down there, and, then, back to Camden, AL and reuniting with my homies. As one, now prominent citizen, said as we were riding around and sipping Schlitz one October afternoon, “Welcome back to society.”

Auburn went 6-5 that fall. It was the year they went to an 11 game schedule. It was also the first year that freshman began to play, again, on the varsity. I attended the Chattanooga, Ole Miss, LSU, Houston, and Florida games. They went 3-2 with the losses coming to LSU and Florida.

My mother talked me into going back to school at Troy and I applied there and was accepted late that autumn.

It was there, in the dog days of the summer of ’75 (which was becoming far too similar to the summer of ’73) that I found myself, late on the night of August 1, prostrate at the altar of the Episcopal church in Troy begging God to forgive me and come into my life.

He did.

I was, five years later, ordained as a Southern Baptist minister. As one of my fraternity brothers told me several years after the ‘event’, “Bird, they still talk about it down in Troy.” I wonder what those long-suffering preachers who, patiently, tolerated my presence in the WMFC control room would think about that. God bless them.

Amazing Grace… truly.

May that same grace be yours today.

 

 

 

 

Bowl Wrap-up and Clemson vs. Alabama

The 2016 college football postseason is now all but completed. Only one game remains and you don’t need me to enlighten you as to which game that is. As far as the FBS is concerned, this king of the mountain game is all but done and only two teams stand at the point of the peak.

Every conference, except for two, has completed the four-month march toward the summit. The SEC and the ACC are left standing and ready to do battle. One more time.

I’ll get to that shortly. In the interim, let’s take a gander at how every FBS conference fared in postseason play. We will start at the bottom and work our way to the top.

The Mid-American Conference, or MAC, was the biggest loser with an 0-6 record. It’s crown jewel, Western Michigan, couldn’t even bring home a trophy. That boat did not row.

The Big 10 strutted its stuff from September through November but went as cold as the approaching winds of December when all was said and done. 3-7. O(hio State), where art thou?

The American Athletic Conference (2-5). South Florida was bullish on the SEC’s South Carolina and Tulsa’s Golden Hurricane blew through Central Michigan, and that was it.

The PAC-12? 3-3. Top dog Washington could not mush its way through a Crimson flood. Upstarts Colorado and Washington State were put in their place. That left Utah, Stanford, and Southern Cal upholding the left coast’s honor.

I am concerned with the SEC in, this, my weekly slot. I am even more concerned after its 6-6 performance in bowl games. It took 5-7 Mississippi State, and its APR, to give the conference a break even finish.

Mountain West (4-3). I’ll wager that that even the least informed college football fan is familiar with the highest profile team in the aggregation. Yes, it’s the Boise State Broncos. But Baylor was its prickly opposition in the Cactus Bowl, winning 31-12.

Conference USA also wound up with a 4-3 record in bowls. If anyone can name all seven of the postseason participants, I will reward them with a ticket to its championship game. No Googling!

Things were brighter in the Sun Belt Conference. It went 4-2. Troy, Appalachian State, Arkansas State, and Idaho were your winners. Louisiana-Lafayette and South Alabama did not keep it on the sunny side.

Also with a 4-2 record was the much-maligned Big 12. Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and (cough cough) Oklahoma won big indeed. West Virginia and TCU. Nope!

And the conference with the most wins and best winning percentage (.727) in all of FBS football? The Atlantic Coast Conference! This gang of eastern USA squads stands at 8-3.

Here are the complete bowl results.

One more game is left to be played, and I absolutely will not buy a ducat for anyone who can name the two teams that will wage war in the finale.

Prediction momentarily!

But first we will tie a nice bow onto the concluded package of the great gift of games played to this point.

Say what? Yes, the nation’s independents were 100% in the slate of 41 bowl extravaganzas.

BYU and Army were victors over the Wyoming Cowboys and the Mean Green of North Texas State, respectively.

And now, finally! Our SEC will conclude its 2016-17 college football season in the College Football Playoff Championship game!

The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers will face off in a rematch of last season’s inaugural event.

There are places that you can go to get plethora upon plethora of information and analysis on this uber-event. I will only offer you a humble and simple opinion on the outcome.

All things equal, it all boils down to, for me, one final, and ever-important, thing.

Pat Dye once said that, “It all starts at quarterback.” And that is where it both starts and ends in this game.

Deshaun Watson and Jalen Hurts. The seasoned and smooth veteran versus the talented and terrific freshman.

This, from what I can discern, is what Clemson wanted, and this is what it got.

The Clemson Tigers, and Dabo Swinney, will manage, somehow, to defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide, and Nick Saban.

Clemson 28, Alabama 24

 

Tampa photo courtesy of Wikipedia

 

Auburn vs. Alabama: Tough Times at Legion Field

Our Managing Editor, at the behest of our Executive Editor, asked some of us here at Campus Pressbox to do a piece on our chosen team’s rival. Auburn has a few exciting rivalries bubbling and brewing as the 2016 season fast approaches. In the SEC West, LSU has become a very good one since the divisions were aligned in 1992. Arkansas has reared its Hawg head with Bret Bielema making noise out in Fayetteville, and this game has become a little testy at times.

Over in the SEC East, Georgia has and will always be Auburn’s biggest rival. Although, the Bulldogs have had the better of it, by far, lately, winning eight of ten in The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

Ok, ok! You know, as well as I do, where this is going…

Auburn vs. Alabama

The game is better known as… everyone, all at once… The Iron Bowl. But I don’t prefer that designation for the greatest and grandest rivalry in college football today. It’s the Auburn-Alabama game, or the Alabama-Auburn game, depending on which side you are affiliated with. Here is my take on that subject.

Back to the business at hand. We were asked to speak to which of these games are our team’s best and worst losses in the series, which ones we would like to live, re-live, do over, or delete; and the implications any changes in the outcomes would have on the current teams or traditions.

Auburn’s Best Loss

The 1981 game would have to be my choice as the Tigers’ best loss to the Crimson Tide. Pat Dye was in his first year as Auburn’s head coach. His record was 5-5 coming into this game and a win would have put Auburn in a bowl game for the first time since 1974, when Auburn annihilated Darrel Royal’s Texas Longhorns, in the Gator Bowl, to the tune of 27-3.

To heighten the drama, Alabama head coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, stood at 314 total wins which had him tied with Amos Alonzo Stagg for the most ever in college football history. No one gave Auburn much of a chance to deny Bryant his place as the winningest coach ever. Bama was an 11.5-point favorite.

Somebody forgot to tell Auburn.

Bama scored first to take a 7-0 lead, but the Tigers knotted it on a 63-yard touchdown run by George Peoples in the second quarter.

Both teams tallied a touchdown in quarter number three and it stood 14-14 entering the final stanza. Auburn kicked a field goal to take a 17-14 lead early, and the Legion Field crowd held its collective breath as the often non-functional clock continued to tick. A shovel pass to Jesse Bendross put Bama in front 21-17 and Linnie Patrick ran for a 15-yard TD to cap the scoring and give Bryant his 315th win, by the hardest.

The mood of Auburn fans, after the game, was not dejection, at least from those whom we interacted with at that time. Optimism was palpable as Coach Dye’s team had laid the foundation for what was about to become the Golden Era of Auburn football.

The Tigers did indeed upset the Tide the following year, to end a nine game losing streak, as a young freshman named Vincent “Bo” Jackson went “over the top” late in the fourth quarter to give Auburn a 23-22 victory. Starting with that monumental win, Auburn’s record against Alabama stands at 18-16 in this classic football series.

And so, if I had to re-live a loss to our arch-rivals, it would have to be this 1981 game. I could full well live with that knowing what was in the offing. If we got a do-over on it, I would have Auburn pick off that shovel pass and run it back the other way for a touchdown, take a 10-point lead, and win by a field goal, 24-21. The Bear would not have gotten his 315th win that day, and it would have been the beginning of a three-game winning streak for Auburn.

This would not have huge implications on the current team or traditions, but it would provide an immense sense of satisfaction for Tiger players and fans, and put Auburn one game closer to tying the overall series record.

Auburn’s Worst Loss(es)

Oh me, oh my. I’d rather not go there. Sigh. Ok.

Well, I don’t know how you can separate the ’84 and ’85 games. Both were last-second, gut-wrenching losses for my Tigers.

’84: Auburn was 8-3, with their only conference loss coming to Florida. The Gators were SEC Champions on the field that year, but they were on probation. If Auburn had won the game it would play in its second consecutive Sugar Bowl. Alabama was 4-6 and about to suffer their first losing season since before Paul Bryant began coaching the Tide.

Auburn came out flat that day for some odd reason. It scored first, but Alabama, the designated home team at “neutral” Legion Field, rallied and led 17-7 as the fourth quarter began to wind down. Then the Tigers’ Brent Fullwood streaked for a 60-yard TD and the two-point conversion was successful, 17-15. Later in the quarter, on fourth down, Auburn found itself at the Alabama one-yard line. I jumped up and began screaming at the TV, “Kick the field goal. Kick the damn field goal. Let’s get outta here.” Dye opted to go for it and Fullwood was stuffed for a three-yard loss when Bo Jackson thought he was going to get the ball, went the wrong way, and did not block for his teammate.

Auburn did have an opportunity to kick a last second field goal which missed badly. Game over. Nightmare.

’85: Nightmare Deux, in spite of Bo Jackson making a final, emphatic case for the Heisman Trophy. He put forth a brilliantly gallant effort, and he was playing with two broken ribs. The game went back and forth like a heavyweight prize fight. Auburn went up 23-22 very late in the game. The prospects of a win looked quite promising, especially when Alabama found itself at its own 12 yard-line with 37 seconds remaining and no timeouts on the board. A couple of plays later Mike Shula got off a pass to Greg Richardson coming across the middle, and he managed to somehow get out-of-bounds with six seconds left on the clock.

Van Tiffin then nailed a 52-yard field goal and that was that. 25-23, Alabama.

Alrighty then! That was a nice exercise in masochism.

Let’s go right to the do-overs. In ’85, either Richardson does not get out-of-bounds or Tiffin misses the field goal, and Auburn wins, 23-22, for the second time in four years. Back to ’84, Auburn kicks the 18-yard chip shot and wins, 18-17. The Tigers now, with my ’81, ’84, and ’85 do-overs, win nine-in-a-row. This trumps what would now be an eight-game winning streak for Alabama, ’73- ’80, in the series. Auburn goes 18-8 over these next 26 games, through 2006, and Nick Saban is not hired in 2007 as he wants no part of the turmoil in Tuscaloosa.

The implications? Auburn continues as the dominant team in the state, Alabama doesn’t win four more Natties, and all is well on the Plains.

Revisionist history. Pretty sweet, right?

Ramblin’ 7/25/16

Fall camp begins next week for all but one or two SEC teams.

Another political convention begins tonight. It will, mercifully, be over before the weekend, just like the nightmare that was last week’s circus. Deliver us, God.

I miss Hunter S. Thompson. I would truly love to read his scathing takes on these events. Fear and loathing, no doubt.

The Braves continue to hobble along.

A few of the songs on the Apple music setlist playing now. Sundown – Gordon Lightfoot, Shotgun Willie – Willie Nelson, Slow Rollin’ Low – Waylon Jennings, and 300 Pounds of Hongry – Tony Joe White.

A quick Tony Joe story. He and Tom Kimmel, a friend of mine and many of you, had been put together by the record label they shared, years ago. They hung out, did some riding around, shared ideas, and so forth. I suppose the label expected some big collaboration. One day they were eating lunch at a place famous for fried chicken in Franklin, TN. Tony Joe leans over Tom’s plate and, in his deep slow drawl, says, “I don’t see how anybody can eat that dark meat.”

Later he asked Tom when he did his best songwriting. I don’t remember what Tom’s response was but Tony Joe said that he, “…Did his best songwriting when he was driving to Arkansas.” You really need to hear Tom tell it. He has a gift for such.

Poke… salad, UNH!

I haven’t been to a movie, at the theater, in quite some time. I don’t tend to like summer blockbusters, action, popcorn movies, etc. Woooo!!! That blowed up REAL good! I do love popcorn though. Had some last night.

Bob Dylan is now serenading me with a song entitled Isis. Nope, not that ISIS.

Auburn’s first five games will be played in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium this fall.

I love Kroger fuel points.

I wonder how One-A-Day Multivitamins are holding up against the onslaught of vitamins and supplements we have today.

Supplements? I take Fish oil, folic acid (My how my taste in acid has changed! Gettin’ old!), probiotics, Co-Q 10, cinnamon,  B-6, and B-12. That’s in addition to the meds which my myocardial infarctions have necessitated. Yes, I have one of those damn trays that you load this stuff into by days of the week.

New setlist time. I’ll go with Rodney Crowell Essentials. Rodney wrote one of my favorite songs of all-time, Till I Gain Control Again. The first time I heard it was Willie’s cover on the ‘Willie and Family Live’ album. That was 1978. Goodness! What a great song!

There was, actually, an Apple Music option for me called ‘Songs With Parental Advice’.

Have y’all been getting some good home grown tomatoes?

We’re gonna get the AP and USA Today Coaches Polls pretty soon. Look for Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Florida State, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, Baylor, Stanford, and Notre Dame to jockey for the top ten spots.

Google or Yahoo?

Fallon or Colbert?

How about Kimmel and Conan?

Two different Kimmels in one short blog.

Burnt Siena is a good name but the crayon used to make me nervous, as did Periwinkle.

I really would like a couple of more days at the beach before school starts, but it ain’t happening.

What’s your favorite Beatles song? Stones? Those are really tough calls.

It’s been 41 years since the summer of Jaws. Yep, gettin’ old.

Speaking of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and gettin’ old, Paperback Writer and Paint It Black were big summer hits 50 years ago, as were When A Man Loves a Woman, Hanky Panky, and Wild Thing.

Chip Taylor wrote Wild Thing. He also wrote Angel of the Morning. If you want a tip on a great record, Chip and Carrie Rodriguez did an album by the name of Red Dog Tracks. That and/or their ‘live’ record are must haves, IMHO.

Well, my daily walk ain’t gonna take itself.

Grace and peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The March To Tampa: Let The Hype Begin

It’s that time of year. On Monday, three major college football publications, Lindy’s, Athlon, and The Sporting News, released their Preseason College Football rankings for the 2016 season. Ever since I was a kid, waiting for Street and Smith’s to publish their preseason magazine, this has been a much-anticipated time for me.

Where is Auburn? Alabama! Again? That refrain rings true once more as Auburn is nowhere to be found in any of the three polls and Alabama resides in the top spot in all of them. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

There are a great many of the usual suspects, from years past, that also find themselves in the hunt. Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Texas, and USC would count among those teams. There are also a few teams that would not have been rated back in my younger days. They would include Baylor, TCU, Louisville, Clemson, Houston, Oklahoma State and Oregon.

And here they are with links:

Lindy’s Athlon The Sporting News
1. Alabama 1. Alabama 1. Alabama
2. Clemson 2. Florida State 2. Clemson
3. Oklahoma 3. Ohio State 3. Oklahoma
4. Ohio State 4. Clemson 4. Ohio State
5. Baylor 5. Michigan 5. Baylor
6. Tennessee 6. Oklahoma 6. Florida State
7. Michigan 7. Tennessee 7. Ole Miss
8. Florida State 8. Notre Dame 8. Michigan
9. LSU 9. LSU 9. Stanford
10. Stanford 10. Ole Miss 10. Notre Dame
11. Notre Dame 11. Washington 11. Michigan State
12. Houston 12. Stanford 12. LSU
13. Ole Miss 13. Michigan State 13. Tennessee
14. Louisville 14. Baylor 14. Houston
15. Iowa 15. UCLA 15. USC
16. Oklahoma State 16. Houston 16. Oklahoma State
17. USC 17. Georgia 17. Iowa
18. Georgia 18. TCU 18. North Carolina
19. San Diego State 19. Louisville 19. Oregon
20. TCU 20. Iowa 20. Georgia
21. Washington 21. Florida 21. Washington
22. Michigan State 22. North Carolina 22. Louisville
23. UCLA 23. USC 23. Arkansas
24. Oregon 24. Oregon 24. Texas
25. North Carolina 25. Oklahoma State 25. TCU
In the SEC, we have Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia, Florida, and Arkansas. That’s half of the league in and half of the league out. Auburn would be the most prominent exception. Now, lets take a look at all of the SEC teams that made their way in and what the average ranking of each, between the three magazines, would be. We will divide the total of each team’s ranking by three, thus, Alabama 3 divided by 3 = 1. I was hell in arithmetic.

Alabama – 1.0

Tennessee – 8.67

Ole Miss – 10

LSU – 10
( A tie. Interesting.)

Georgia – 18.3

Florida was ranked just once, at 21 by Athlon. Arkansas was also ranked only once and that was at 23 by the Sporting News. I suppose they would both fall into the “others receiving votes” in our combined poll.

And so, that leaves only four teams, Alabama, Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU as being unanimously ranked. That is not what the SEC is accustomed to. Does that mean it will be a down year for the SEC? I don’t know. I could see Auburn making it in when all is said and done. But Missouri, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M? No.

The way I’m looking at it, there would be a maximum of seven SEC teams being ranked when the final poll results are in. A maximum, but there, obviously, could be fewer than that.

I mentioned only four teams that are unanimously ranked in the three publications, and they all fall within the top ten. There is certainly a chance that some of those four teams do not meet expectations.

Will Alabama, truly, be as good as they were last year or in years before? Danny Sheridan, oddsmaker and Bama grad, thinks the Tide could lose a couple of games and finish behind LSU. Alabama also lost Kirby Smart to Georgia. How about them Dawgs? There is an entire new coaching staff, and system, that the Bulldogs have to adjust to.

What about LSU? And Tennessee? There are pundits who are beginning to surmise that these teams are overrated. I disagree. In fact, the more I think about these two, the more I like them.

Tennessee, and Butch Jones, have been steadily building this program and those freshmen that were talented, but green, back in 2013 are bigger, stronger, and experienced. The Vols are also deep. I fully expect them to win the East and play for the SEC Championship.

LSU? Same thing with Brandon Harris, Leonard Fournette and their fellow Tigers. I’m beginning to see Danny Sheridan’s point of view and I understand why he thinks the Bayou Bengals will win the SEC West. It could happen.

Hype! Hype! Hype! That’s all we’ve got until September 1 when South Carolina and Vanderbilt open SEC play. And that, my friends, is only 98 days away!

SEC Football Previews and Picks

Hello, I’m Bird and I’ll be your SEC Blogger! I really hate it when servers greet you that way at a restaurant. So why not begin this, new, weekly column in such a manner? Does that make sense? No, but neither does picking SEC football at this juncture. Being that this is my initial SEC blog, I thought I would divulge my spring divisional picks and crown a winner of the SEC Championship Game. I will also take a look at the most intriguing intersectional match-ups involving teams in the Southeastern Conference for the 2016 season. I love predictions and speculation on what lies ahead for us college football fanatics.

So here we go! Mind you, this is only April and the landscape can change, sometimes dramatically, by September. We will take another look at it when the season draws much closer and freshmen arrive on campus. Injuries, suspensions, and unforeseen events can also alter our perceptions over the next five months.

East

Tennessee (No surprise here. Most forecasters will probably lean in this direction.)
Georgia (I’m basing this on the winner of the World’s Largest…, no we can’t say that. Ok, the Jacksonville Drunk Fest).
Florida (Will lose to both the Vols and Dawgs and they need a quarterback.)
Missouri (A very good defense, per usual, and new head Coach, Barry Odom, will pull an upset or two out of his pocket.)
Kentucky (The Wildcats continue to improve and will make a bowl.)
Vanderbilt (Derek Mason will also see improvement in the monumental task he finds himself in.)
South Carolina (Will Muschamp wasn’t very good at Florida or Auburn and will not be at USC East either.)
West

Alabama (Sigh. As long as Nick Saban is at the helm in Tuscaloosa, it’s foolish to call it any other way.)
Ole Miss (Hugh Freeze is doing a remarkable job in Oxford. Two-in-a-row against Saban. Also remarkable. Chad Kelly returns.)
LSU ( Leave Les alone! He’s 112 and 32!!!)
Auburn (The Tigers will be much improved but I don’t know how this will reflect in their overall record. They absolutely must find a quarterback.)
Arkansas (Bret Bielema fields another good team but the loss of Brandon Allen, Alex Collins and others will hurt.)
Texas A&M (The turmoil in College Station mounts.)
Mississippi State (Dak Prescott is long gone. Dan Mullen has built the Bulldogs into a good program but they’re in the SEC West.)
Who will win the SEC Championship Game on December 3? The University of Tennessee will upset the University of Alabama… in Knoxville on what actually will be the Third Saturday in October in 2016. The Crimson Tide will defeat the Vols in the Georgia Dome to, once again, capture the SEC crown.

And now, the intersectional match-ups:

Alabama vs. USC West (Sept. 3)
This one has fans all over the country chomping-at-the-bit for some foot-damn-ball and the Lane Kiffin storyline makes it even more compelling. It will be played in Jerry World. Does Bama play a game there every season, or is it just me?

Auburn vs. Clemson (Sept. 3)
An enormous opportunity for Gus Malzahn’s felines to take a quantum leap in the eyes of the football world with what is, possibly, the number one team in the country coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Georgia vs. North Carolina (Sept. 3)
Larry Fedora had this thing rolling until undermanned Baylor rushed for a new bowl record of 645 yards in the Russell Athletic tilt. The Bears won 49-38 but it wasn’t that close. This is the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game in Hotlanta.

LSU vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 3)
From Lambeau Field in Green Bay! How much fun will that be? Should be a donnybrook! You need this, Les. The critics could be howling if you lose. But it’s not a conference game.

Missouri vs. West Virginia (Sept. 3)
In Morgantown. Great chance for Odom to get some positive press and whet the appetite of the Tiger faithful.

Texas A&M vs. UCLA (Sept. 3)
Jim Mora, Jr. brings his Bruins into College Station. Kevin Sumlin could, at least temporarily, quell the storm in Aggieland with a victory.

Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Sept. 5)
The Labor Day special. A huge game with far-reaching national implications and two highly-ranked teams. It will be played in Orlando. I smell a wide-open affair.

Arkansas vs. TCU (Sept. 10)
The Hawgs will be traveling to Ft. Worth for a monster showdown in Cowtown. They will win their opener, the previous week, against LA Tech. This one will be just a bit more demanding. It’s hard to see them coming away with a win.

Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (Sept. 10)
At the Bristol Motor Speedway in the tri-city area of Eastern Tennessee. The place holds 160,000. It will be strange to not see Frank Beamer patrolling the sideline of the Hokies. Maybe Butch Jones can get people’s minds off the off-the-field issues surrounding the program.

Vanderbilt vs. Georgia Tech (Sept. 17)
The Dores will make the trip to Atlanta in a game both schools have to think they can win. This could result in a very good ball game.

Mississippi State vs. Brigham Young (Oct. 15)
The Bulldogs travel to Provo, Utah for a mid-season clash with the Cougars. They play Auburn the prior week in StarkVegas and could be beat up both physically and emotionally.

Now I’ve gotten myself revved up for some SEC Football! Hey, it’s only 150 days until Vanderbilt and South Carolina tee it up in Nashville!

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

2014 SEC West Division Champions: The Auburn Tigers

When one begins a discussion of the SEC West it often begins with Alabama. The Crimson Tide has proven their worth over the past seven seasons under head coach Nick Saban. Everyone knows what they have accomplished and those accomplishments have been extremely impressive. They don’t rebuild, they reload. The majority of pundits and prognosticators are, once again, picking Alabama to win the West. That’s fair.

Any debate over who will win the West has to include LSU. The Tigers have won the division three times since Les Miles arrived in the Red Stick back in 2005. They won the BCS National Championship in 2007 in spite of losing two games. LSU has lost a ton of talent to the NFL over the past few years. They lost ELEVEN underclassmen just last year to THE LEAGUE. LSU also just reloads and they have a lot of talent, per usual, but they have to replace their quarterback and fill many other slots as well. This does not appear to be THE year for the Bayou Bengals.

Texas A&M exploded on the SEC scene in 2012 with Johnny Manziel behind center. The Aggies had two very good seasons with Johnny Football as the signal caller but Kevin Sumlin’s team could not capture a division title. They will not in 2014 either.

The two Mississippis, Ole Miss and State, are receiving a lot of platitudes for the coming campaign. They both do appear to have solid teams. But the fact remains that Ole Miss has never won the West and State has only won it once and that was back in 1998. Both teams should make some noise this season and could pull a couple of upsets to make the Wild West just that, but neither will take home the crown. Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen will have to continue to build those programs in order to have a serious chance at a title.

Arkansas. The Razorbacks play what coach Bret Bielema refers to as “Normal American Football”. That phrase is a bit of a head scratcher as many of us are not sure just what the phrase means. Bielema is building a foundation in Fayetteville and the Hawgs will be a better football team in 2014 but they absolutely will not take the West.

That brings us to Auburn. The Tigers will win the SEC West in 2014.

My reasons for picking Auburn to go to Atlanta in December are plenteous and not altogether without bias. But hey, all of us have our prejudices and presumptions, and we often wear our allegiances on our sleeves. Good… let us begin.

Without boring you with black and white statistics that you can find anywhere, I’m going to give you my three primary reasons why I think Auburn will come out on top in the West.

MOTIVATION

This most unlikely aggregation came within 13 seconds of winning the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena last winter. How many people thought that would happen? I think the answer is somewhere near zero. Not even the most blindly optimistic of us even considered that a possibility.

Coming up just shy of a crystal football did not deflate these Tigers. All it did was instill a deep hunger to return to the title game. This is one motivated football team and they are on a mission… believe me. The 2014 edition of the Tigers is a more experienced, and a more talented football team than it was in 2013. They have more quality depth.

In essence Auburn will have a better team than it had last season and that spells trouble for the rest of the SEC, and for the entire college football landscape.

MARSHALL

Now this is where it truly begins to get scary. As good as Nick Marshall was last season, he will be much improved for the 2014 campaign.

Marshall is a freakish athlete with a raging inferno of a desire to win. He is brilliant and deft in commandeering this offense, and he is a magician in executing the zone read. Now that he has had a full season, off season, a spring, and a summer to further grasp the offense, and polish his passing skills, there is no reason to think he will not be the best quarterback in the SEC.

Finally, Nick Marshall could emerge as a bona fide Heisman candidate and could very well be Auburn’s fourth player to bring home that hardware.

MALZAHN

The final, and possibly the most integral, piece to Auburn’s return to the Georgia Dome in early December is its head coach… Gus Malzahn.

Malzahn is, arguably, the best game day tactician in college football today. But as good as he is on football Saturdays, his attention to detail in practices, his relentless work ethic, and his will to win, combine to make him a guy that is extremely hard to beat.

When you take all of the above factors and combine them with a coaching staff that is exceptional, you have a formula that will lead the 2014 Auburn Tigers to Atlanta and, yes, beyond.