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!

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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.

It’s Time: Opening Day In Auburn

It is a mere matter of hours before the Auburn Tigers and the Arkansas Razorbacks kick off their 2014 seasons. Anticipation and anxiety walk hand in hand as we approach what promises to be a most exciting football fall. It’s time!

There is little in sports more exciting than your team’s first football game of the season. School is back in session. The first hints of autumn have barely begun to reveal themselves. A few leaves have fallen. The sun has taken on a slightly perceptible difference. High schools have already taken the field for their openers, and the familiar sounds of marching bands practicing have piqued the memories of Fridays and Saturdays in days past. It’s time!

Saturday, August 30th, orange and blue clad faithful will converge on Lee County, Alabama by the thousands. They will be joined by throngs of supporters from The Natural State… Arkansas. It’s time!

Magnets will have been affixed to every shape, form and fashion of vehicle. Flags will be flying. Tents, ice chests, grills, food and children will also have been loaded into these cars, trucks, SUV’s, buses and RV’s. Their sound systems will emanate with recordings of games past. Fight songs will blare loudly through open windows as the battle cries of both sides permeate the east Alabama landscape. It’s time!

They will come from the cities of Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile. They will also make the trek from communities like Camden, Ft. Deposit, Pell City, Eufaula, Anniston and Autuagaville. They will come to create the sixth largest city in Alabama. They comprise the Auburn family. It’s time!

Tigers Rags, Toomer’s Drugs, Flowersmith’s, Five Guys, Ander’s, J&M, Mellow Mushroom and the local watering holes will all be teaming with patrons. They will be seeking to find that piece of memorabilia that just might prove to be a lucky charm. They will be fitting themselves with this year’s “uniforms”. They will be eating. They will be drinking. They will be seeking to occupy the hours, minutes and seconds that separate them from 3 PM Central Daylight Time. It’s time!

The parking lots and lawns, throughout the campus and beyond, will become villages of navy blue and burnt orange with smoke billowing and the smell of burgers, brats and chicken titillating the appetites of the masses. It’s time!

Laughing and squealing kids will be tossing footballs, chasing each other and pretending that they are the next Nick Marshall, Sammie Coates or Corey Grant. Even adults will don jerseys with the numbers like 34, 24, 2 among them. It’s time!

High definition televisions, equipped with satellites and driven by generators, will broadcast the games that will kickoff before and after the beloved Tigers take the field. Observer’s eyes will be affixed to the flat screens hoping to gleen a glimpse of a future opponent or check the score of a game they might have placed a wager on. It’s time!

A Volkswagon bus, garishly smothered in the home team’s colors, shakers and stickers, will roll down College St. as ‘War Eagle’ booms from it’s mounted siren style speakers. Cheers and shouts will affirm the passers-by familial bond with those in the mobile shrine. It’s time!

Long time friends and acquaintances will renew and relive the times, many or few, that they have shared on The Loveliest Village of The Plains. Past victories will be relished and the pain of defeats that occurred in days gone by will be dulled by liquid “spirits” and the indomitable “Spirit” that is unique to Auburn. It’s time!

The tailgates. The band. The Tiger Walk. The first announcements from the PA system startling the hordes. It’s time to get things in order. It’s time to pack up. It’s time to get your game face on. It’s time for that last snack or drink to brace yourself for the grand event that all have come to share and support. It’s time!

It’s time to make that old familiar hike to that old familiar place. That place where countless thousands have shared unbridled joy and gut wrenching sorrow. Jordan-Hare Stadium. It’s time!

It’s time for football!

Auburn Football!

Oh yes! Football! There is that matter of the game that is to be played.

The Auburn Tigers vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks.

SEC football.

West division foes.

The game promises to be physical. For the home team it promises to be fast. Auburn Fast. Fortunately for Auburn, they are deeper and more talented with more experience than Arkansas. That bodes well for the Tigers. It won’t be easy but the home team will prevail.

Auburn 42 Arkansas 20.

It’s Time!

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.

Auburn vs. Arkansas: 23 1/2 Days and Counting

I don’t know about you folks, but I am chomping at the bit to get the 2014 college football season underway! There are twenty one days before we get some SEC action and two days after that the first full slate of games kick off. Bring it on!

The Auburn Tigers and the Arkansas Razorbacks square off at 4:00 PM EDT on Saturday August 30th at Jordan-Hare Stadium on the new SEC Network. This will be the 23rd meeting between the two schools with Auburn holding a 12-10-1 edge over the Hawgs in this relatively young series. The first time the teams teed it up was in the 1984 Liberty Bowl. Auburn won that game 21-15 on the strength of MVP Bo Jackson’s 88 yards rushing. His 39 yard touchdown run put the Tigers up 21-9 and Auburn’s defense held on to preserve the victory.

Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992 and the teams met for the first time that year as SEC West rivals. The game ended in a frustrating 24-24 tie. Ironically, Bo Jackson’s number 34 was retired at halftime of the game. Both teams had disappointing seasons in ’92. Neither team had a winning record. 1992 would also mark the last campaign for Auburn under head coach Pat Dye.

The series has also been one of frustration for the Auburn Family. On more than one occasion a Tiger team has come into the game ranked and come out on the losing end of things. My record, in games I have attended, is 6-7-1. That will not do.

There are multiple games between these divisional foes that stick in my craw. One such game occurred during the 2006 season. The Tigers entered the game with a 5-0 record and ranked number two in the country. Visions of an SEC Championship were beginning to formulate in the minds of the Auburn faithful. It was a brilliantly sunny day on The Plains and hopes were high for the home team.

The unranked Razorbacks, under Coach Houston Nutt, were 3-1.The one loss was a lopsided 50-14 defeat at the hands of the sixth ranked USC Trojans in Fayetteville. They squeaked by Vanderbilt 21-19 in Nashville and two weeks prior to their visit to The Plains they handed Alabama a tough 24-23 loss in a game which was also played in Fayetteville. It didn’t seem that the Hawgs has developed a true sense of identity yet. They had a pair of superb running backs in Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, but they had a true freshman at quarterback in Mitch Mustain.

In an interesting aside, Arkansas had hired a high school coach as offensive coordinator for the the 2006 season. He was an excellent, even legendary, high school coach in the annals of Arkansas football history. His teams had won multiple state championships at different levels but he had absolutely ZERO college coaching experience. Some Razorback assistant coaches, reportedly, had taunted him at pre-season practices by calling him “high school.”

Arthur Gustav Malzahn was this coach’s name. But he was simply known as Gus.

Fast forward to 2009. Gus was hired by Gene Chizik as offensive coordinator at Auburn University. After the one season at Arkansas, in which the Razorbacks went 7-1 in the SEC and won the West Division, Malzahn spent two seasons at Tulsa in the same capacity. Tulsa led the nation in total offense in both 2007 and 2008.

That brings us to 2010. Auburn goes on an improbable 14-0 run and captures the BCS National Championship. During that season the Auburn offense set school records in points per game at 41.2, total yards at 6,989, total offense per game at 499.2, rushing yards at 3,987 per contest, rushing touchdowns at 41 and passing touchdowns at 31. BOOM!

Now we all know what transpired in 2013. After one season as head coach at Arkansas State, Auburn hired Arthur Gustav Malzahn to become it’s 26th head coach. The Tigers won the SEC Championship and came within 13 seconds of winning the BCS National Championship for the second time in four years.

Yes, sports fans, we now find ourselves just over three weeks from the kickoff of the 2014 college football season. The SEC and season opener for these two schools, Auburn and Arkansas, is fast approaching. They are pitted against each other. Arkansas is not ranked in the coaches pre-season poll. Auburn stands at number five. The Tigers have been established as 21 point favorites. The opinion here is that they will cover said spread. BOOM!

Good people, in 23 days, 1 1/2 hours and counting we shall hear: “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Jordan-Hare Stadium for today’s game between the Auburn Tigers and the Arkansas Razorbacks.” As I stated at the top of this column, “I am chomping at the bit!”

How about you ?

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