Week One SEC Football Picks

We got a little taste of SEC football last weekend when Florida squeaked past Miami in one of the YOU-gliest football games I have ever seen. It actually hurt my eyes to watch that debacle. One team won, Florida, and one team lost, Miami, and that was about all you can say about it. The final tally was, Gators 24, Miami 20. I had the Gators 24-21, so I was about as close as you can get on it. It rarely happens that one picks the exact score, or that close to it, because picking college football games is a highly inexact science. Now, let’s wipe the dust off our collective feet and move away from Week Zero to what will actually be dubbed Week One of the 2019 NCAA Football Season. And, specifically, the Southeastern Conference.

Texas A&M vs. Texas State.

My bride and I will, be making our way to the Lone Star State this weekend, but certainly not for this mismatch. The Aggies will bother with nothing more than tuning up for next week’s monster game at Clemson. Jimbo & Co. won’t show much of anything and this one could easily eclipse the -33.5 line if they so desire. I think they will.
Texas A&M 45, Texas State 7

Arkansas vs. Portland State

Don’t chuckle just yet. North Texas State walloped the Razorbacks by a score of 44-17 last year, but that is where the similarities end regarding this particular game. Chad Morris is slowly building a competitive team out thar in them Ozarks and Arkansas should not struggle too very much with the visiting Vikings.
Arkansas 38, Portland State 16

Tennessee vs. Georgia State

The home team Vols are a heavy favorite, as are the great majority of conference teams, this weekend. Jeremy Pruitt’s Rocky Toppers, much like the aforementioned Hawgs, are a little bit better in 2019 and should readily dispose of the Panthers from downtown Hotlanta. LeCroy’s loser… Georgia State!
Tennessee 40, Georgia State 14

Miss State vs. Louisiana Lafayette

This is one that will be tougher for the Cowbellers than one would think, at first glance. They ‘ll tee it up in the Big Easy, but nothing will be easy for State down on Poydras Street..The Rajin’ Cajuns will be ready and it’ll be hotter than that sauce they make down there in NOLA, but the Bulldoggies should eventually outdistance the home team away after an early struggle.
Miss State 31, Louisiana Lafayette 20

LSU vs. Georgia Southern

We’ll keep it down on the bayou with the next contest. Coach Ed “Yaw Yaw Yaw football!” Orgeron has the makings of a fine team this year in Red Stick. The Bengal Tigers appear to have the potential to challenge Alabama in the SEC West. Things will begin to take shape along that line Saturday as the boys from Statesboro will return home with a case of the blues.
LSU 42, Georgia Southern 10

Kentucky vs. Toledo

The Rockets finished first in the MAC in 2018 and should bring a talented and well-prepared team to Kroger Field in Lexington. And even though the Cats lost some heavyweights off its 10 win, 2018,  team, it will have too much talent in its arsenal to allow for the upset.
Kentucky 34, Toledo 23

Missouri vs. Wyoming

This game will take place in Laramie. The Cowboys will be ropin’ and wranglin’ on its home sod. But Mizzou will be up for this rodeo with grad transfer Kelly Bryant, formerly of Clemson, leading the way. He knows a thing or two about winning. Couple that with a solid running game and a salty defense and the visiting Tigers escape the noose with a victory.
Missouri 35, Wyoming 17

Ole Miss vs. Memphis

This could very well be one of the most exciting games played, Saturday, with an SEC team involved. Mike Norvell picked right up where Justin Fuente left off with the Beale Street Bengals. Matt Luke epitomizes the ferocity, tenacity, and passion typical of one who is fortunate enough to coach his alma mater. In the end they’ll be toasting the home team at Rendezvous, Corky’s, and the like on the shores of the mighty Mississipp! The home field advantage will be just enough to put the Tigers over the top. In a close one that could easily go the other way.
Memphis 34, Ole Miss 33

South Carolina vs. North Carolina
Another of the early season “bowl” games. Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks take on the Tar Heels in Mack Brown’s return to Chapel Hill. This game, in Charlotte, holds the possibility of turning out to be a very close clash. I like South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley’s skill, leadership, skill, and experience to be enough for the edge here.
South Carolina 28, North Carolina 24

Georgia vs. Vanderbilt

The game is to be played in Nashville, but look for the visiting Bulldogs to provide more fans and make more noise than the hometown Commodores. Country music will be ubiquitous down on Broadway when all is said and done on Saturday night. And the Georgia fans will be howling at the moon as they take the first (two) step toward another SEC East title.
Georgia 37, Vanderbilt 16

Alabama vs. Duke

The Crimson Tide has been rolling in suspensions and injuries in the preseason. But don’t cry for Nick Saban and his reloaded gang of future NFLers. Alabama will win and it will probably win going away. David Cutcliffe is one of the the best in the business. No matter. Saban is the best in the business. The Devils will, indeed, be blue (and black) when this one is completed.
Alabama 41, Duke 13

And on to the marquee game of Week One…ESPN’s College Football Gameday…

Auburn vs. Oregon
Deux. Outside of Ole Miss, this is the game where the SEC has the best chance to come up short on Saturday night. From Jerry World in Arlington, TX, it’s the number 11 Ducks and the number 16 Tigers. Mario Cristobal has a most talented assemblage he is bringing to the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, especially on the offensive side of the football where he sports, arguably, the top O line in college football.

Gus Malzahn, whose seat is not as hot as the average football fan would like to think, has three potential first round NFL selections on his D line. And Kevin Steele has had that group in the top 15 in scoring defense in each of his three seasons on The Plains. This is a matchup made in heaven for we fans who are now salivating for some seriously scintillating football.

That gives me pause to consider that an equally important matchup will be Auburn’s O line vs. Oregon’s D line. Gus himself has said that that gang of big uglies was one of the strong points of preseason camp. Hmmmm…

Oregon’s wide receivers and secondary could be chinks in its armor. Auburn has some stud horses in its wide receivers and secondary aggregations, and it is deep in those areas, as well.

Ok, Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert is a bona fide Heisman candidate and potential NUMBER ONE NFL draft pick. Bo Nix, and backup Joey Gatewood are freshmen. The former a true freshman and the latter a redshirt freshman. And one thing I would like to remind people of, is, that Nix was the NUMERO UNO dual threat quarterback in the country coming out of the 2019 class. He is also one of the most “football ready” QB’s to come along the pike in some time.

Oregon has a solid ground game. Auburn has a talented stable of SIX (Boobee Whitlow, Kam Martin, Shaun Shivers, Malik Miller, DJ Williams, and Harold Joiner who is someone to keep your eye on Saturday night).

Also watch for Jay Jay Wilson, an Arizona State transfer. He is said to be a great weapon, both blocking and receiving, at the H-Back position.

Although the Ducks have a good front seven, Auburn’s is quite talented and should be extremely stingy on the defensive side of the ball.

Arryn Siposs is, purportedly, on the verge of a breakout season. And our Aussie mate wasn’t too shabby in 2018. Anders Carlson should be rounding into the form his older brother took during his record breaking four years at Auburn.

When the dust finally settles, it will, most probably, come down to turnovers, penalties, and whichever team wants it most. I think Auburn is the biggest, fastest and most athletic of the two teams, and I think it’s extremely hungry to do something special for the Auburn family in 2019. This game will be the first step in that journey.

Look for the game to be very hard fought with the Tigers holding a one score lead entering the fourth quarter. And look for Carlson to salt it away with a late field goal.
Auburn 27, Oregon 17

So, that’s it for my Week One forecast in Week One in the SEC! Take care out there and be sure to love your neighbor!

And War Eagle!!!

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SEC MEDIA DAYS – RANDOM TAKES

SEC Media Days have now come and gone. I listened to all 14 coaches, their spiel and the questions they answered, and I was impressed with every coach and what he had to say about his team. They all seemed to have a vision and a master plan for their respective squads. And the league’s coaching fraternity appears to be a very strong group, top to bottom.  That being said, most of the hullabaloo and hype at the event is much ado about nothing.

Same Old Same Old

Georgia and Alabama are the favorites to win the East and West, and they should be. Both are, once again, loaded to the gills and both are stacked deep with premier level talent chomping at the bit to get to “The League.” That’s is THE goal for today’s kids. They are kids, by and large, and we should keep that in mind when tempted to speak, not so flatteringly, of their real or perceived failings and errors.

Up and Coming

I came away truly impressed with Barry Odom and his Missouri Tigers. Kelly Bryant should give Mizzou some great talent and leadership at the quarterback position. I like who it has returning, across the board, and the schedule is quite manageable.

Quick Takes

In the West. Chad Morris will be getting Arkansas rebuilt in time. You’ll se a LOT of improvement from the Razorbacks this fall.

You just gotta love Coach “O” at LSU. “Yaw yaw yaw FOOTBALL.”

Joe Moorhead has State headed in the right direction but they Bullies lost a lot to graduation.

I also love Matt Luke at Ole miss but they’re fighting an uphill battle in the West.

I believe Jimbo will do a good job in College Station, but I don’t get all the love for the Aggies.

In the East. Dan Mullen has restored the passion at Florida. I do not believe they’re ready to overtake Georgia.

Mark Stoops has really done well at Kentucky as has Will Muschamp at South Carolina. The fact is, though, these teams are not going to win the East. Ever? I don’t know.

And Tennessee. Jeremy Pruitt has a monumental task rebuilding Tennesse. Will the Vols ever return to its former glory? Probably not any time soon. You will see this team fight and claw and scratch each week. ($1 to Pat Dye).

AND! I was hoping this was not going to happen, but it did. I wanted to keep my expectations low and make as little noise as possible going into the 2019 campaign, but Auburn, IMHO, is locked and loaded. There is great talent and experience in the two sets of trenches. The D line could be the best in the country. The linebackers could wind up being better than last year’s senior laden group  and the secondary is also very talented and pretty darn deep with great experience returning.

The offense returns ALL seniors on the line and that group was healthy and vastly improved by the time the bowl game rolled around. They should be a strength. Also, they more than held their own against the D line in the spring.

Boobee Whitlow should be poised to have a breakout season at running back and the stable is deep there. Kam Martin, is back for his senior season and provides excellent leadership. Malik Miller is a solid role player. Shaun Shivers has blazing speed. And DJ Williams could be a future star.

The wideouts are excellent. Eli Stove and Will Hastings return from injuries. Anthony Schwartz had an incredible freshman season and should onlyget better. Sal Cannela is formidable. Seth Williams is a beast. Matthew Hill had an eye-popping spring and A Day game. Marquis McClain is also due to breakout, and Shedrick Jackson will hopefully continue to come along nicely.

The tight end position is moving toward being a strength. John Samuel Shenker leads to pack at this point and is following closely by Tyler Fromm (Jake’s brother. UGA QB) and Luke Deal.

Ah! Quarterback. Bo or Joey? Joey or Bo? One is a true freshman and the other a redshirt freshman. I asked Arryn Siposs which the team preferred. He said it didn’t matter which one started. Either would do very well. (As an aside, I also asked him how many games AU would win this fall. He, unhesitatingly replied, “Undefeated!” I love his passion, confidence, and enthusiasm.)

Speaking of Siposs and special teams. Top notch. Siposs is going to turned loose to kick 70 yard spirals and Anders Carlson provides great strength at the placekicker position.

I also feel very, very good about the intangibles and hunger this team seems to be blessed with. They want it badly and the eight guys who opted to return, led by Derrick Brown, form a tremendous nucleus on which to build. And, I do think Gus calling the plays and taking control of the team, in a big way, again will work out extremely well.

Okay! I let my newly found hope and optimism  get the best of me. But I’m really “feeling it” here in late July.

On to my picks for the divisions order of finish and who should win it all.

EAST

  1. Georgia (a lock)
  2. Missouri
  3. Florida
  4. South Carolina
  5. Kentucky
  6. Tennessee
  7. Vanderbilt

WEST

  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. LSU
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Mississippi State
  6. Arkansas
  7. Ole Miss

SEC Champion

All together now…

Alabama!!!

The Tide is an easy pick to win the West, but I do think Auburn and LSU have a chance. A real chance. I do not think anyone will unseat Georgia in the East. The Dawgs WILL WIN THE EAST.

Ok folks, buckle up! Football season is, unofficially, HERE!!!

Take care out there and be sure to love your neighbor!

 

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.

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!

To Be Or Not To Be… Consistent

The 2015 regular season is now in the books for the Auburn Tigers. It was a disappointing one, but the problems and inconsistencies did not begin on September 5, 2015, when Auburn played Louisville in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game. They began, at a minimum, on November 8, 2014, when Auburn played Texas A&M at home. At least that’s when the problems reared their ugly head.

Since that fateful afternoon on The Plains the Tigers’ record stands at 7-10. The SEC record is far, far worse. It stands at 2-9. 2-9!!! Chew on that for a moment. Two and NINE.

Prior to kickoff on January 6, 2014, when Auburn was about to play Florida State for the final BCS National Championship, everything appeared to be bright and “Rose-y”.

Since then, and in the aftermath of The Tigers’ gallant, but sobering, loss in the 2015 Iron Bowl… not so much.

Even the most pessimistic of Auburn fans could not see coming what has, since, transpired.

That would be a 14-11 overall record and 6-10 in the SEC.

I have mentioned before, in this slot, that the 2015 edition of the Auburn Tigers is not ‘2012 Deux’. Obviously. But let’s hope they respond to adversity as the 2012 team did in 2013.

The 2015 group that left EVERYTHING on the field this past Saturday is to be commended for a great effort against what appears to be the best team in the country. The “best team in the country?” did have able assistance from an acutely inept Tom Ritter SEC officiating crew. No holding calls? Seriously? Look at the tape.

That’s not the first time that Ritter and his gang of blind mice have been accused of being less than efficient. The groans and complaints on Mr. Magoo’s gang resonate loudly, from Columbia to Gainesville to Baton Rogue to Knoxville, each and EVERY autumn.

http://www.foxsports.com/college-football/story/alabama-tennessee-sec-officiating-replay-review-102514

But that is not the point. Alabama was the better team and they deserved to win. Good for them.

And Florida, don’t think that you have a snowball’s chance in the bowels of Hades in the SEC Championship Game, you don’t. Not that you haven’t overachieved and had an SEC East best season, you have.

But there is not a remote possibility the the SEC powers-that-be are going to stand by twiddling their thumbs and allow their best shot at a Natty go by the wayside. They won’t.

Alabama has a very, very good football team and has every opportunity to become a great one. They could. They should beat the Gators, handily, under any circumstances.

But you can bet that if, somehow, the SEC Championship Game turned out to be a nail-biter, that the crimson and white could very well get close, and/or, questionable calls.

No, this is not sour grapes. This is the reality in which Auburn and the other twelve SEC participants live. I have watched it with my own eyes for the past fifty-five years. “If you need a yard against Alabama, you’d better get three.” That, according to Pat Dye.

And, let me reiterate, The University of Alabama has an excellent football team and I consider them the premier program in the country. They have the most talent and the best head coach in college football today.

I congratulate them on that and I wish them good luck in the future.

I digress.

Let’s get back to the Auburn Tigers and the reality of the universe in which the Tiger faithful live here on December 1, 2015.

But first we will take a look at the Auburn program since Pat Dye retired in 1992. (And Dye’s record in HIS final two years were 5-5-1 in 1991 and 5-6 in 1992).

Terry Bowden

1993 11-0

1994 9-1-1

1995 8-4

1996 8-4

1997 9-3

1998 1-5

(Bill Oliver went 2-3 after Bowden’s departure in the ’98 season)

Tommy Tuberville

1999 5-6

2000 9-4

2001 7-5

2002 9-4

2003 8-5

2004 13-0

2005 9-3

2006 11-2

2007 9-4

2008 5-7

Gene Chizik

2009 8-5

2010 14-0

2011 8-5

2012 3-9

Gus Malzahn

2013 12-2

2014 8-5

2015 6-6 ( to this point)

So, what’s the take on all that?

There have been some good years, some very good years, some great years, and some phenomenal years (’93, ’04 & 2014). But the one thing that stands out to me is inconsistency. Auburn simply has not been able to put together consistent stretch runs as it did, however briefly, during the Pat Dye Era when they won 4 SEC Championships from 1983-1989. ’87-’89 saw them win three-in-a-row.

Up and down and mediocre has BEEN the consistent theme.

Auburn is going to have to somehow develop that consistency that has eluded them over the past twenty plus seasons. How do they do that?

Well, you start with recruiting. Recruiting has been quite good for the past five or six classes but it does appear that they have whiffed on a few prospects that were hoped to be dynamic and impactful players. And two of those players were quarterbacks, Kiehl Frazier and Jeremy Johnson.

That hurts. It really hurts.

Again, I’ve quoted this before, Pat Dye (yes, quoting him again and with good reason) once said that, “It all starts at quarterback.” It does. And missing, for whatever reason, on that critical position has been, IMHO, one of THE most damning issues Auburn has had in attempting to put together a great program that wins consistently.

Certainly there have been other issues such as developing players, injuries, and just plain bad luck, but much of the problem in 2011, 2012, and 2015 was the play at the quarterback position. And Auburn is, at some point, going to have to recruit AND develop quarterbacks and not keep bringing in JUCO talent. The best they have done, lately, is with Cam Newton and Nick Marshall… JUCO players.

So what about defense?

I think Auburn has their man in Will Muschamp. The defense has begun to really turn it around under his leadership. They are communicating much better. They are tackling much better. And they are playing with that ferocious intensity that you would have expected them to develop under Muschamp.

The defense really got after it in the Alabama game. The overall effort in the Iron Bowl was superb. I think the team really grew up this past Saturday. Now, going into bowl season, they truly have something to build on as they approach the 2016 season.

2016 will be a pivotal year. Make no mistake about it. Gus Malzahn, and his staff, might or might not be coaching for their jobs in the next campaign. I hope they are not. But if the team does not show marked improvement next season there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Of that, you can be sure.

6-6. 2-6 in conference play. Last place in the division. What team would you have attributed those stats to prior to the 2015 season? Vanderbilt? Kentucky? Mississippi State? It sure as hell would not have been the Auburn Tigers.

But, I have faith in Gus Malzahn. I have faith in Will Muschamp (No, I don’t believe he’s going anywhere). And, I have faith in the players that will return in 2016. They became men in the Iron Bowl.

Also, there is some great looking talent coming in the next recruiting class. That group may wind up as another top ten class.

I can see the pieces falling in place for Auburn, much as they did prior to the 1993 and 2004 seasons.

No, I’m not suggesting that the 2016 Auburn Tigers will go undefeated. But next season could go a long way in propelling the program toward consistency that is long, LONG overdue.

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