SEC Football vs. The Corona Virus: Part Deux

Yes, the title of my first prediction column one year ago was SEC Football vs. The Corona Virus. Well, here we are again. Only this time, the 2021 season, stadiums will be allowed to fill to capacity. Reminds me of my favorite Delbert McClinton song, ‘Every Time I Roll The Dice’. And that is exactly what we are about to do, beginning tonight with Bowling Green vs. Tennessee.

We press on. We do love our football down here in the South. Let’s hope and pray that these massive crowds do not exacerbate the spread of the Delta variant even worse than what is raging across the geographical area that comprises the Southeastern Conference, as we speak.

This will be the beginning of my 61st season attending, and rabidly following, college football. That 1961 homecoming game against Clemson, yea those many decades ago, seems like yesterday in some respects. Auburn won that contest and I was taken like a fish on a hook.

Last season was the first time I missed attending a game since 1986 when we lived way out yonder in California, a few miles after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge, in San Rafael (pronounced rah-fell). You can read a bit about that experience right here on Bird’s Banter if you click back to the summer of 2014.

Hot diggity dank! Let’s do this thing once more with feeling! Onward to the week one SEC picks!

Bowling Green at Tennessee (-37)

Scott Loeffler (yes, that Scott Loeffler, who was Auburn’s offensive coordinator in 2012, Gene Chizik’s last season as Head Ball Coach at Auburn) leads his mighty Falcons into Neyland Stadium to face the Vols and new head man, Josh Heupel, he formerly of UCF. The Rocky Toppers will not be threatened as Tennessee will crush the visitors. The home team is not a great one but Bowling Green has been abysmal of late. Tennessee 49, Bowling Green 10.

UL Monroe at Kentucky (-31)

Our old bud, Terry Bowden, is now about to embark on his first season as coach of the Warhawks. I don’t know how they will fare in the remaining games on the schedule in 2021, but the Wildcats will pummel them in this Noon ET game Saturday. Mark Stoops has a very stout team on both sides of the ball and look for them to make a lot of noise in the SEC East this fall. Kentucky 45, UL Monroe 13.

Rice (hold the gravy) at Arkansas (-18.5)

Sam Pittman, now in his second season in Fayetteville, is building Arky back into respectability. Better watch out for the Hawgs. They will beat somebody that they’re not supposed to beat in 2021. They are supposed to fry Rice and they will certainly do just that. The fortune cookie says… Arkansas 38, Rice 14.

Alabama (-19.5) vs. Miami (in Atlanta)

Number one taking on number 14. You spell numbers one through ten and use numerals thereafter in sports writing. Although I very often stray from the AP Style Book. Traditional in some ways and marching to the beat of my own drummer in other ways. Sometimes Keith Moon and other times Charlie Watts (RIP). Beat the drum? Bama is the beat and Miami is the drum. Hurricane fans have been banging their gums a lot in the lead up to this clash. They will be silenced after keeping it relatively close in the first half. The Crimson Tide rolls to an impressive victory. Alabama 38, Miami 20.

Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State (-23)

The Pirate, Mike Leach, will have the other set of Bulldogs walking the plank in this 4PM ET game on the SEC Network. I don’t know who the head coach is at LA Tech and I’m too lazy to look it up. Don’t matter. That’s some homework for you fans to do. Miss State 42, Louisiana Tech 17.

Central Michigan at Missouri (-14)

Eliah (can I have a) Drinkwitz (you) enters his second campaign out there in Columbia, MO. I was very impressed with him at SEC Media Days. The Tigers are another team to beware of in 2021. It is conceivable that they, or Kentucky, could eke past Florida into second place in the East. Yes, Georgia should win the division. The Chippewas (Do I hear hear Gordon Lightfoot in the background?) will not roll over easily for Mizzou, which boasts a heap of firepower. Another win for the SEC (soon to add Oklahoma and Texas into the mix). Missouri 42, Central Michigan 24.

Eastern Illinois at South Carolina (No line)

Although I’ll bet there is a line in Vegas somewhere. I don’t intend to walk it though. Shane Beamer (another impressive coach from SEC Media Days) is Frank’s son. If he’s anywhere near as good a football coach as his dad, he will be a very good head coach one day. The Roosters won’t strut much this year, I don’t believe. Young Beamer has a whole bunch of work to do in this Columbia and he will get off to a good start, with his Graduate Assistant quarterback, in game one. If not, rut row. South Carolina 38, Eastern Illinois 7.

FAU at Florida (-23.5)

I do not think the Owls will roll over and play dead for the Water Lizards, yet I do expect them to lose. The Swamp will be rockin’ and this is not a good place to pick an upset. Dapper Dan will wear some fancy footwear (beads and Roman sandals won’t be seen). But maybe something “manly” like leather boots will be. Florida 40, Florida Atlantic 21.

Kent State at Texas A&M (-29)

Jamesbo should have his sixth ranked Aggies primed to play well Satday. October ninth can’t get here soon enough for A&M and Bama fans, but there is the matter of playing multiple other games before that eventful date. The Golden Flashes, what a great nickname, don’t have much of a chance. Another MAC team bites the dust. Texas A&M 49, Kent State 14.

ETSU at Vanderbilt (no line again)

The Buccaneers and the Dores (come on baby light my fire). From the West End of NashVegas.Neither team will strike the fear of God in you . I do expect the SEC gang to be much better than the visitors. The home team begins its quest for a bowl game with a victory under the lights. Vanderbilt 35, East Tennessee State 17.

LSU (-2.5) at UCLA

From the Rose Bowl in beautiful Pasadena, California with magnificent views of the San Gabriel mountains. Lord, I miss Keith Jackson. This one will be a sho nuff scrap. Or… a real dandy! With all the problems the Bayou Bengals had this week, I am tempted to pick the Bruins. Chip Kelly’s boys looked good against Hawaii last week. But it was Hawaii. Beast of a different ilk this week. Tigers prevail. LSU 31, UCLA 30.

Louisville vs. Ole Miss (-10) (in Atlanta)

Hotlanta gonna be hot on Labor Day at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Should be a good football game here too. I’m on the Lane Train. I expect some really good things out of the Rebels this season. If they can find a semblance of a defense, look out. The Cardinals have high hopes. The Black Bears have higher hopes. Ole Miss 45, Louisville 30.

Akron at Auburn (-37)

Mercy! I cannot wait to return to the Plains! The game will not be a good one from the point of view of being competitive. The Kangaroos, mascot, or Zips, nickname, will be demolished by our boys in blue. Terry Bowden, there he is again, coached this squad before he was canned and Tom Arth took the reins. Arth is 1-17 at the helm. The aforementioned Bowling Green is his lone victory in Rubberville. What the Tigers want to do is execute smoothly, run the ball downhill with ferocity, pass effectively and efficiently, and play some salty defense. If they are able to do that look for something in the vicinity of… Auburn 55, Akron Zip.

On to the Big One!

Georgia vs. Clemson (-3) (in Charlotte)

We have two top five teams facing each other in THE game of the week. Number three versus number five. Dabo and Kirby. Dawgs and Cats. Georgia is the only SEC team NOT favored in week one. I see this as a pick ’em. Both teams are loaded like a baked tater. Strong in the trenches. What should be two prolific quarterbacks. The Bullpups O line vs. the Clemmy D line ought to be a war for the ages. It should not be a wide open game. I don’t think either team will hit 30. Penalties and/or turnovers could decide it. I am leaning to the ACC on this monster clash. A shaky nod to… Clemson 27, Georgia 24.

There you have it folks! And oh! I am going to do a lock each week to assist you in hauling in some riches. Auburn minus the 37 this week.

Take care out there. I hope no one gets a blue gasket (see the 2019 season picks here at Bird’s Banter if you do not readily get the reference). And love your neighbor as yourself! Peace out.

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Poll Cats-R U Hip To The Rankings Scene?

The first USA Today 2021 coaches football poll was released today, Tuesday August 10th, and that means a couple of things. First of all, the chatter that has been picking up speed and intensity since SEC Media Days concluded back in the latter part of July will now move the needle toward warp speed. Secondly, this means that the kickoff for the first games of the coming season are within sniffing distance.

That’s right boys and girls! We have college football slated for THIS MONTH! Two of the five games scheduled on Saturday, August 28th involve Power Five squads. There’s Nebraska at Illinois (and its new coach, Bret Bielema) along with Hawaii and UCLA from the Rose Bowl in beautiful Pasadena, CA! Whoa Nellie! How bout dat!

Polls. It’s a love/hate thing. You love to see them hit the sports page (old guy here), but you can get aggravated as all get out when you feel that your team has been slighted. And they truly are useless this time of year other than providing fodder for conversation about the sport we hold so very dearly.

And this game of college football has been changing at a breakneck pace in these dog days of summer. Between NIL, the transfer portal and the addition of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, our collective heads are spinning like a top. I am not going to use this space, at this time, to address that three-headed monster. Maybe later. Maybe not. I want to give it all some time to marinate because we ain’t done. There’s news daily on all of it. A great many people have a whole lot of space to fill and I will leave them to it.

And now, the USA Today coaches poll. Here she is…

1. Alabama (Surprise surprise surprise! As Gomer Pyle was wont to blurt out on occasion.)

2. Clemson (Let’s see how a Trevorless Tiger team follows the now Jacksonville Jaguars rookie’s brilliant run.)

3. Oklahoma (OK!)

4. Ohio State (How’s that case of Deja Vu going thus far?)

5. Georgia (On Clemson’s mind.)

6. Texas A&M (Jimbo! Jimbo! Slow down! Lord, I thought I talked with great rapidity.)

7. Notre Dame (Pick a conference, any conference.)

8. Iowa State (Will the new darling maintain her lofty perch?)

9. North Carolina (Can Mack and his boys dethrone Dabo’s gang?)

10. Cincinnati (A new Big Red Machine in the making?)

11. Florida (Dapper Dan! Another fast talking man.)

12. Oregon (A whole heap of NIL money out there in Nikeville.)

13. LSU (Will the Bayou Bengals rebound after following its Natty with a plunge into mediocrity?)

14. USC (Clay Helton remains. We shall see.)

15. Wisconsin (Wisky River take my mind.)

16. Miami (We will find out quite quickly as it opens with Bama in Hotlanta.)

17. Indiana (Tom Allen has done a tremendous job In Bloomington. Can the Hoosiers sustain that momentum?)

18. Iowa (Kurt Ferentz jus keeps on winning at the helm of the Hawkeyes.)

19. Texas (The Horns better enjoy being ranked for as long as they can. Welcome to the SEC.)

20. Penn State (Better put on your big boy britches come September 18th!)

21. Washington (Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, etc.)

22. Oklahoma State (The Cowboys might be searching for a conference along with the seven dwarfs that are in the same boat with them.)

23. UL Lafayette (The Ragin’ Cajuns beat Top Ten Iowa State in 2020. Coach Billy Napier continues to build this program after flirting seriously with Auburn.)

24. Coastal Carolina (Good football team last year and were ranked. Do you think it would beat Auburn head to head?)

25. Ole Miss (I have to keep mentioning Auburn as it was not ranked in this poll. The winner of the game between the Rebels and the Tigers will finish third in the SEC West behind the Crimson Tide and Aggies, according to yours truly.)

Some gut reactions to the coaches 25. Lafayette, Coastal Carolina, Ole Miss? Auburn, Michigan and, yes, Kentucky all say hello. And to be honest, I am sweet on Lane Kiffin’s troops as well. I am also sweet on Kentucky. The Cats could finish second in the East.

I’m sure the AP poll is soon to follow. All the magazines have made their picks. The bottom line is that these polls mean absolutely nothing. They will mean nothing when the regular season concludes. Yes, the polls do give those of us with insatiable appetites for NCAA (soon to be a thing of the past?) football something to talk about, argue about, and cuss about. They can shape perception, possibly, but, they are meaningless. The only poll that counts is the College Football Playoff poll.

Peace, love, football. Be safe out there and love you neighbor. These things matter.

Falling Leaves and Footballese

I was taking my daily walk, a week or so ago, when I felt a small rush of wind that was not summer like. This minor gust was a tinge cool and dry. It was then that a few dying leaves floated gently to the ground.

I immediately went into my shotgun stance, took the imaginary snap, and bolted toward right end on a zone read. I faked a pitch to my trailing tailback, tucked the pigskin, and dashed for 15 yards before I was knocked out of bounds.

First down!

It’s that time of year! For those of us who are rabid college football fans, excitement is abound. Every team is 0-0. No one has yet to lose a game. Anticipation is off the charts.

From “the loveliest village of the plains” to the bluegrass that surrounds Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky to the sprawling acreage of College Station, Texas. I can feel it, I can sense it, and I can almost smell the tantalizing scents of tailgate fare wafting on the breeze across the terrain of the sites where I will attend college football games this autumn.IMG_1037

“We’re on the cusp of a big year! Maybe we’ll make a New Year’s Day bowl. Can we win it all?”

But alas, the reality is those hopes, those 0-0’s will transform into 6 & 6’s, 5 & 7’s and, gulp, 4 & 8’s, for a great number of teams, by the conclusion of Thanksgiving weekend. There will not be many, if any, 12 & 0’s this fall.

Speculation. That is ALL we have right now.

Prediction. That is theme of the day.

Consternation. That is the mood of the pessimist and many a realist.

Exaltation. That is final word for all too few when the dust settles in January of 2016.

And that is a shame.

Everyone wants to know what lucky teams will make the College Football Playoff. What four teams will make it to Dallas and Miami? And the biggest question of all: What TWO teams will make the triumphant march to Glendale ?

It will be from that great Arizona desert that the players, alumni and fans of only ONE institution will hoist index fingers high above their heads and proclaim, “We’re number one!”

What happened to teams two through four who did, indeed, make the second installment of the College Football Playoff?

Many will leave the arenas of those great host cities with their heads hung low and their middle fingers raised high, or at least in their hearts and minds.

Again, that is a shame.

For all too often it is just about who is number one.

I have found myself in both of the above mentioned scenarios.

I reveled in the euphoria of victory on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, AZ.
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I wallowed in the dejection of defeat on January 6, 2014 in Pasadena, CA.

But you know what? With a bit of time and perspective I was able to put both of those experiences in their proper place. The result in Glendale was grand and glorious. The experience in Pasadena, and the greater LA area, was blissful.

My dear wife, Melodye, and I enjoyed both of these experiences immensely. Sure! We wanted ever so badly to win BOTH of those ball games, but we did not. But what we did, in each case, was revel in the moment.

Now please bear with me as I, ever the sentimentalist and nostalgist, savor and share a few small slices of those grand times…

High five-ing security, as they encouraged us to “bring it back home”, at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport when we boarded our plane to Phoenix.

Singing, in my mind, Arlo Guthrie’s ‘Coming Into Los Angeles’ as we descended into LAX.

Dining on sugar-cured duck breast at The Roaring Fork restaurant in Scottsdale. Being questioned by our server, with a laugh, if that is what we Auburn fans would be having, seeing as how our opponent was Oregon. 😉

Securing our room in Redondo Beach, CA and discovering, much to our delight, that it was number 116. Our street number, in Acworth, GA, is 116. We took this as a good sign. It typically is just that.

Chatting with the staff at Los Olivos restaurant and laughing at their descriptions of Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, who had dined there just a couple of nights prior.

And driving from our beach motel, picking up a close friend in north LA, and following her directions to the the hallowed grounds of the Rose Bowl. I could hear Keith Jackson doing his intro to “the grandaddy of them all.” I was awestruck at the beauty of the San Gabriel mountains. And as we strolled those grounds, talking and gawking and exchanging “War Eagles”, our ‘little buddy'(a nickname I gave her many years ago) remarked, “You guys are family!”IMG_1292

We are. We are indeed.

It is this family, in times of victory or defeat, that helps make every college game day experience special.

From the pen of David Housel, an Auburn man…

“What Is Auburn?

Far be it from me to try to answer that question. There are as many definitions of Auburn as there are Auburn men and women.

It would be safe to say, however, that Auburn is much more than a football game. It is much more than winning and losing.

It is a spirit. It is an attitude. It is a way of looking at life and at one another. It is, almost, a way of living. Unless you have experienced it, you will never know what it is; you will never understand it. Once you have experienced it, you will never be the same. A part of you will, forevermore, be an Auburn man or an Auburn woman.”

As we kick off OUR season here at Campus Pressbox, I want to wish each and every one of you, and your respective teams, good luck. I hope that your seasons are filled with magical moments that will last a lifetime.

Now let’s all go make some memories (and win a few football games as well)!