Saturday, August 25, 2007

THE SEASON AHEAD: WEEK 13 COULD GET UGLY


Week 13 will be violent. Blood will run freely through the streets. Roving bands will threaten the countryside. A dark cloud of mayhem will hover over the land.

Yes, this is the weekend when rivals large and small meet, when games between a team that's 1-10 and one that's 2-9 can captivate a state because it is the game of the year.


This is Week 13. Only they're all wearing helmets.

This being the week of Thanksgiving, there are several good games on Friday, continuing the American tradition of preventing things like family and friends from getting in the way of football.

At 1 p.m. ET, the Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Mississippi State still has no television home. Not that it would be a crushing below to humanity if this game doesn't hit the airwaves; we aren't talking about a clash of the juggernauts here. But the rivalry has produced some interesting games in the past.

Arkansas goes to LSU at 2:30 p.m. on CBS in a game that will be both a rivalry meeting and a match-up with conference title implications. LSU, of course, is the odds-on favorite to be the SEC West's representative in the championship game; Arkansas would love to derail that dream, and could also be in the running for the division title.

An hour later, ABC features would-be Big XII South champion Texas at Texas A&M. Yet another game where the upstart rival would relish knocking the favorite out of the championship picture, and with Oklahoma likely to be not far behind the Longhorns, the Aggies could get that chance. And don't rule out the (outside) possibility that the Aggies could also be playing for the division title.

The Friday slate finishes up with a 9:05 p.m. tilt between Boise State and Hawaii on ESPN2. Even if Hawaii could win the WAC without defeating Boise State, it would probably be an empty feeling for the islanders if they did. And there's no guarantee they won't need to beat the Broncos to claim the crown.

The Saturday schedule is too full to get into too many details. Witness:

--Alabama at Auburn, where the Tigers will awkwardly chant, "Fear the opposite index finger." Nick Saban has made it a priority to beat the Plainsmen, in part because it's that important to Tide fans.
--Clemson at South Carolina. More on this one later, though Spurrier would love to be able to win two in a row over a rival coached by a Bowden.
--FSU at Florida. Meyer is 2-0 against the Seminoles, perhaps the most painful part of FSU's recent slide.
--Georgia at Georgia Tech. Ah, C&F will miss Reggie Ball, who could find new and hitherto unimagined ways to implde against Georgia. Now Chan Gailey has to find a way to lose this game all by himself.
--Tennessee at Kentucky. Whether this is a big "rivalry" game or not, it's still another chance for a Kentucky team that lost by five in Knoxville last year.
--Duke at North Carolina. A game that could have no other conceivable reason to watch other than to see how Butch Davis will do in the second most important rivalry meeting between these two schools.
--Oklahoma State at Oklahoma. If the Sooners go in a game behind Texas, this one becomes that much more important.
--Utah at BYU, 2 p.m., CSTV. The only college football game called the Holy War.
--Virginia Tech at Virginia. The Hokies have won four of the last five.

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THE SEASON AHEAD: WEEK 12 NOT LIKE LAST YEAR


Week 12 will be the last for some who embarked on a bruising schedule with no bye weeks. For South Carolina, it will be a bye week. And there's a bit of a let-down after Week 11 and its powerful tilts, but there are nonetheless a few good games on the schedule.

If you're willing and able to stay up late Friday, you might be doing yourself a favor to look in on Hawaii at Nevada, an 11 p.m. broadcast set for ESPN2. Because C&F placed Hawaii in first in the WAC and Nevada second, he'll say this is an important game and a potential conference championship clincher.

This will undoubtedly lead to a scenario where two disastrously bad teams play each other in a rain-soaked, 27-24 (a low score for a WAC game) eyesore.

The headline game, though, is once again Ohio State at Michigan. Now, this year's meeting will not be THE ENORMOUSLY IMPORTANT, ALL-CONSUMING GAME OF THE CENTURY, as was (supposedly) last year's tilt. If the Wolerines come into this game undefeated again, the Buckeyes would like nothing better than to once again deny the Maize and Blue a shot at the crystal football.


This year, not the apocalypse.

Another rivalry with potential conference and BCS implications will be Miami's trip to Virginia Tech, which is a big favorite to take the league this year. These two teams have disliked each other since their days in the Big East; the rivalry hasn't diminished since they moved to the ACC.

The Big East, meanwhile, still has a couple of mildly interesting games, with Louisville going to trend conference pick South Florida and Pitt traveling to Rutgers.

In the SEC, revenge will be on the spelling-challenged Dawgs mind when Georgia hosts Kentucky. And Vanderbilt will visit Tennessee in a rivalry that has been decidely lopsided.

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BLOGPOLL ROUNDTABLE: OVERRATED/UNDERRATED

The first Blogpoll roundtable is about as simple as it can be.

Who is overrated?

I've already given the reasons I think No. 1 Southern Cal, No. 2 LSU, and No. 14 Georgia are overrated, so I won't belabor the point. (Brian at mgoblog also makes good points about the Dawgs.) Instead, the team called out here will be No. 6 Oklahoma.

To clarify, I'm not going to try to make the case that the Sooners aren't a good team. I have them ranked at No. 13. But I think No. 6 is a touch too high. They still have problems at QB. Granted, that wasn't a huge problem last year, but there was an heir apparent ready to step in when Bomar caught a case of viral stupidity.

The running game could, could take a step back. Even with the injury, Adrian Peterson gained 1,012 yards and 12 TDs on the ground -- can Allen Patrick pick up the load? It looks like he will, but there's a huge difference between starting five games and starting 12. And a subpar running game could lead to all kinds of problems with the passing game, etc.

On defense, the Sooners lose a lot of experience everywhere except the secondary.

Again, a good team. But there are just too many question marks to put them in the Top 10, must less place them just a step outside the Top 5.

Who is underrated?

Of course, it's a given that I'll say South Carolina is underrated, but I'm not going to complain too much. Spurrier has said over and over again that the Gamecocks have to earn respect, and I agree. I would say Auburn might be too low, but even I put them in the Top 10 on a provisional basis, assuming that Brandon Cox gains his composure, to I won't gripe.

I do wonder, though, if we're giving enough credit to unranked Oregon State. (Gasp! An SEC blog picking a Pac-10 team! What is the world coming to?) This is a team that won 10 games last year and knocked off Southern Cal. Yes, they lose a starting QB, but they bring back WR Sammie Stroughter, fresh off a 1,293-yard campaign, and Yvenson Bernard, who rushed for 1,307 yards and 12 TDs. The o-line should also be good. Plus, there's a lot of experience returning on defense. If somebody convinced me to drop one of the teams off my ballot -- or if I can just eyeball someone I no longer trust -- the Beavers are probably the first team to move into the Top 25.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

THE SEASON AHEAD: WEEK 11 IS HOT


This, college football fan, is what has gotten through the last 10 weeks. This is why you've watched regional coverage of horrid afternoon games on ABC, the questionable noontime Big Ten match-ups on ESPN, the Thursday mid-majors game.

This is a week.


Scarlett:Week 11::Katie Holmes:Week 1

Where to begin? How about on Thursday night, when there are two games worth watching. The usual 7:30 p.m. ESPN Big East game is No. 10 Louisville at No. 5 West Virginia. The Mountaineers will be trying to avenge last year's 44-34 and, if they have beaten Rutgers in Week 9, all but lock up the conference championship.

The other Thursday tilt is TCU at BYU, televised on Versus at 9 p.m. This one could be for the Mountain West crown, so it's a mid-major game worth watching.

Then we get to Saturday. At 8 p.m., in a game that's a lock for ABC Saturday Night Football, No. 1 Southern Cal travels to No. 12 Cal for a game that will be one of the best chances for the Trojans to get knocked out of the NC race and a huge match-up in the Pac-10 race. At 11:05 p.m., Fresno State at No. 23 Hawaii is probably worth watching if it's televised and nothing else is.

The unscheduled games make the rest of a great week.

No. 20 Arkansas comes to No. 17 Tennessee in a conference tilt that could just as easily be between two top-flight teams or two middling ones. Here's the key question: Which of these coaches will run the ball more? C&F's money is on Nutt.

The South's oldest rivalry is also scheduled this week, as No. 15 Auburn travels to No. 14 Georgia with revenge on its mind. The 37-15 clobbering on the Plains last year was a strong repudiation of the Tigers' claim to have a part in the NC discussion. It also put a nail in the coffin of the Tigers' SEC hopes.

No. 7 Florida comes to No. 22 South Carolina after two straight years when they either lost or should have lost to their former Head Ball Coach. Spurrier has said he wants to contend for an SEC crown in 2007, and the only way to do that is to at least be competitive in this game.

Across the state, Wake Forest comes to Clemson. Think that's not a good game? Then you've never seen Clemson and Wake Forest play. Even when they were the dregs of the league, Wake gave Baby Bowden's Tigers headaches. Oddly enough, the cow-tippers beat Wake 27-17 last year.


This is the week we play Wake? Excuse me while I cry.

But that's not the ACC's biggest game this week. No, that distinction goes to No. 18 FSU's trip to No. 8 Virginia Tech. The Seminoles and the Hokies are favorites to finish atop their respective divisions, making this a likely preview of the league's championship tilt.

The Big Ten also has a key battle, with No. 3 Michigan traveling to No. 9 Wisconsin for only the second true conference test, and the only one this year on the road. If the Wolverines are 10-0 at this point, defeating the Badgers will make them the heavy favorites when the Buckeyes come to Ann Arbor in Week 12.

And don't forget No. 4 Texas hosting Texas Tech, a not-insignificant game in the Big XII.

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GAMECOCKS 2007: vs. FLORIDA


First off, go ahead and give the Gators credit for bring the crystal football back to the conference to which it rightfully belongs.


Just remember who got Florida's first one, okay?

For the Gamecocks, last year's defeat in the Swamp was one of the most painful losses of the year. They did practically everything right. They were in a position to fell the giant, to knock the (sorta) hated Gators out of the NC race, and to notch their second straight season of beating Florida, something that I don't believe has ever happened.

And then Jarvis Moss strapped on his rocket pack and made what has to be one of the greatest special-teams plays I have ever seen.


Good riddance, No. 94.

Jarvis Moss is gone. So are, ahem, nine of the Gators' starters on defense. Nine. Not to say that's what's left are redshirt freshmen who don't have a clue. There's a goodly number of upperclassmen, and no one wins a NC because their starters are great and their backups aren't even good.

That said, this will not be the same defense that carried Florida to Glendale last year. On the other hand, the offense gets weapons Andre Caldwell, Percy Harvin, Cornelius Ingram and Tim Tebow back for what could be a second run at the SEC crown.

OFFENSE

O-line. A unit that allowed 23 sacks last year returns four starters, with right guard the only hole that needs filling. Redshirt freshman Maurice Hill is the expected starter there. Three of the starters are 300+ lbs.; the other two weigh in at 297 and 298. ADVANTAGE: FLORIDA

Quarterback. Accomplishment, or hype? Because the hype that surrounded Tim Tebow is almost unbelievable. If you're a Gamecock fan, think Stephen Garcia. Then double that. You have a good idea of how excited the Gators faithful were, and still are, about Tebow. The human bulldozer ran for 469 yards and 8 TDs last year. The question, of course, is (to quote thousands of people), "How will he do when everyone knows he's going to throw. If how he ran when everyone knew he was going to run is any indication, pretty well. And he wasn't exactly bad passing last year, going 22-for-33 for 358 yards, 5 TDs and 1 INT. Still, without having seen Tebow play a full game, C&F cannot give him the nod. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Running backs. For the most part, Urban Meyer has not exactly been pleased with his running backs since coming to Gainesville. In fact, the top two returning rushers for Florida this year are Tebow and Harvin (428 yards, 3 TDs), who's listed as a WR but moves all over the field. But Meyer seems pleased this year with Kestahn Moore. Moore averaged a touch over 5 yards a carry in limited action last year (54 carries, 289 yards), scoring twice. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Wide receivers. Caldwell returns having caught 57 balls for 577 yards and 6 scores. Harvin grabbed 34 passes for 427 yards and 2 TDs, and is (to C&F, anyway) a scaryscaryscary player who is dangerous no matter where he lines up or where he gets the ball. Ingram is the only other returning starter with double-digit receptions, snagging 30 for 380 yards and a TD. ADVANTAGE: FLORIDA


Has anyone ever told him about the virtues of transferring?

DEFENSE

Defensive line. Derrick Harvey, who was a monster last year with 35 tackles, 13 for loss and 11 sacks, returns for 2007. But the other three projected starters have total of 1.0 sack among them. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Linebackers. No starters return. Zero. Nada. A.J. Jones, a likely starter at SLB, is a redshirt freshman. Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe combined for 37 tackles last season, 2 for loss. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Secondary. Reggie Nelson, the harvester of lives, is -- you guessed it -- no longer with the Gators. Florida does have one returning starter in Tony Joiner, who had 59 tackles, 2 INTs and broke up six passes. The other starters were not statistically significant. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

SPECIAL TEAMS

This is an interesting one. Brandon James will return kicks and punts, as he did last year in a so-so performance. On the kicking side, well ...

Put it this way: Meyer offered a guy a scholarship for making kicks. (HT: EDSBS) In practice. Probably because Chris Hetland made 40 percent of his FG attempts last year. Or, put the way Meyer probably saw it, Hetland missed 60 percent of his FG attempts last year. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

COACHING

There are few coaches in the SEC that can even make you pause and think about this. Urban Meyer is one of them. He's that good. He went to Bowling Green ... and won. He went to Utah ... and won. He's now at Florida ... where he won. Meyer has the potential -- if he's not just a serial job-hopper -- to create a legend at Florida. But he hasn't been around long enough to give one of these two great coaches the definitive edge. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

RESULT

C&F's heart says to go with the Gamecocks. And this is a winnable game. But that's different than saying it will be done. These guys are the defending SEC and national champions, and you have to give them the best shot at winning this game unless and until South Carolina opens the year in excellent form or the Gators struggle. LIKELY LOSS

WHERE SOUTH CAROLINA WOULD BE

Again, given that all C&F's predictions comes true, the Gamecocks could be 8-3 or 7-4. The Clemson game, for which South Carolina will have two weeks to prepare, will then be the difference between great (9-3), good (8-4) or standing pat (7-5). Would you really have it any other way?

THE REST OF THEIR SEASON

Florida will be 2-0 after hosting Western Kentucky and Troy at the Swamp. Tennessee comes to Gainesville, and then the Gators go to Ole Miss, so Florida in all likelihood starts 4-0 before running into a tough stretch where they will play Auburn, at LSU, at Kentucky, vs. Georgia, Vandy and at South Carolina. Four of those will start with the Gators favored, but they could lose to both Auburn and LSU. The season wraps up with home tilts with Florida Atlantic and FSU. The most likely record is 10-2, but the chances of a 9-3 record also look good -- better than 11-1.

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COOK'S GOOSE ... ER, COOKED?

Um, when did we become Miami?

Emanuel Cook was invited to jail by police who found him and a friend with a gun. The University of South Carolina then invited him to leave campus.

Cook, who is charged with unlawful possession of a pistol, was released from the Richland County jail on a personal recognizance bond this afternoon.
Under university policy, students found with a firearm in their possession are "summarily suspended" and are prohibited from taking classes or living in university housing, USC spokesman Russ McKinney said. ...
As the officers approached, Gore attempted to hide something inside a 1999 Ford Crown Victoria and would not comply with commands to show officers his hands, the report stated.
Cook told officers there was a gun inside the car. Police discovered a loaded magazine while frisking Gore and found a High Point .380 inside the glove box after Gore told officers of its location.


Aww, c'mon. That doesn't look dangerous.

Chris Hampton looks likely to step in here. In three fewer games, Cook had 11 more tackles and 2.0 TFL more than Hampton, who was the starter. Hampton, though, had 2 INTs to none for Cook.

UPDATE: Spurrier voices support for Cook, but doesn't threaten to leave. "He's a good young man and obviously was at the wrong place at the wrong time. You've got to choose your friends. Supposedly, the gun was not his (Cook's) but he was with a guy with a gun. You're guilty by association."

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

THIS JUST IN: MITCHELL STILL IRRESPONSIBLE

Sigh.

What can you say?

Blake Mitchell has been benched for the first week, says Spurrier. Though it's not really anything new -- the attendance issues that brought on the suspension have already been reported, it's yet another sign of Mitchell's lagging record in the leadership department.

Spurrier said Mitchell plans to appeal. If the suspension is upheld, Chris Smelley, a redshirt freshman from Tuscaloosa, Ala., will start next weekend against Louisiana-Lafayette. Spurrier said Tommy Beecher also would see action. ...
Under the athletics department's class attendance policy, which was amended in May, athletes are assigned points for unexcused absences from class, tutor sessions or study hall. Athletes who accrue too many points can be suspended for as many as two practices and two games. ...
"I'm 100 percent behind our class attendance policy," Spurrier said. "There's no reason in the world why only one or two guys are in trouble."

First of all, I think we can all agree that it's a good thing that Spurrier supports this particular policy. Let's give ESPN a couple weeks to focus on something else.


What, I'm supposed to, like, go to class and stuff?

Secondly, humor C&F as he floats a possibility out there. What if, what if, Chris Smelley has a great game? Not a good game -- this is, after all, Louisiana-Lafayette -- but a great game, something like 300 yards passing and 4 TDs? Might Spurrier be tempted, somewhere in the back of his mind, to extend the benching?

Of course, he would. But whether he will do it or not, that's another question.

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THE SEASON AHEAD: WEEK 10 BEGS YOU NOT TO THROW THE CHAIRS


Ah, the chill of November sets in as Week 10 rolls around. Or, if you live in the South, the slightly cool but in no way shiver-worthy drop in temperatures. If you ever wondered what it tastes like to grill your Thanksgiving turkey on the sidewalk, an average T-Day in Columbia should do the trick.

And have no doubt, it will be frosty in Tuscaloosa, because No. 2 LSU is coming to town to play the Crimson Tide. And you know what that means...


It's crazy time!

Admit it: This is appointment television. (Though we don't know the time or place of the appointment yet.) It's like The Jerry Springer Show with an audience of 92,000 and a football game thrown in for free.

Oh, the plot lines. Will Les Miles drop the F-bomb? Will he berate some hapless fan? Will Nick Saban literally rip Miles' arm off after the post-game handshake? Will there be a post-game handshake?

Sure, Alabama probably won't be a factor in the SEC West race at this point, but they'll be a good team. And C&F will already unveil his prediction: Nick Saban will beat Les Miles in their first game. He's tired of listening to the guy's diatribes, mostly because he doesn't have time for that ----.

There are also some games that are interesting because of -- wait for it -- the football being played on the field. Novel, ain't it?

First, on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. ET, No. 8 Virginia Tech travels to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech. You might remember the Jackets humbling the Hokies in Blacksburg last year, and Beamer and crew would like nothing better than to make it a long night for the Wreck faithful.

On Saturday, No. 22 South Carolina visits No. 20 Arkansas in a clash that could have major implications for both. At any rate, this rivarly -- manufactured as it is, I am developing something of a hard spot in my heart for the Hogs -- is marked mostly by close games. The teams have, from time to time, traded humiliating blowouts with one team running up the score, usually saying it was only retaliation for the other guy's transgressions. It's scheduled for 2 p.m., though that could change if TV gets involved.

The only other scheduled game is the 8 p.m. tilt between Oregon State and No. 1 Southern Cal. The game is in L.A. this year, and the Trojans have some unfinished business against the Beavers, who improbably won last year to take the first chunk out of the other USC's NC dreams. Likely destined for ABC Saturday Night Football, though ESPN or ESPN2 are also possible locales.

Three other conference match-ups that could shake things up: No. 9 Wisconsin goes to No. 11 Ohio State, one of the Badgers' most severe road tests; No. 25 Texas A&M heads to No. 6 Oklahoma; and No. 18 Florida State goes to Boston College in what could be a showdown between the ACC Atlantic's top two teams.

Throw in an in-state grudge match between No. 3 Michigan and Michigan State, and it's about all you can ask for.

Even if you're still trying to figure out why Les Miles kicked Nick Saban in the shins.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

GAMECOCKS 2007: at ARKANSAS


By the way, you know they still play football at Arkansas, right?

You could be forgiven for forgetting after an offseason that included:

--The departure of the offensive coordinator under mysterious circumstances.
--The departure of the uber-recruit quarterback after the departure of the offensive coordinator, and all but certainly as a result of the OC leaving.
--Freedom of Information requests and assorted lawsuits.
--Continuing fallout from a bizarre and murky chain of e-mails, with the details filled in by conspiracy theorists.
--The revelation that (married) head coach Houston Nutt set a land-speed record for sending text messages to a notably female local television anchor.

And to top it all off, star WR Marcus Monk -- the only returning wideout on a team that wasn't exactly a passing juggernaut in 2006 -- will likely miss the first few games of the season.

So how do you feel, Houston?


We're ready for glory.

All of this chaos surrounding a program that, hang with me in the memory department again, is the defending SEC West champion. The controversy has also increased the pressure on the Razorbacks to win in order for Nutt to survive, though some believe that he is out the door even if school administrators don't dismiss him.

OFFENSE

O-line. The offensive front loses three starters, though all are replaced by juniors or seniors. Even with the older replacements, though, it seems unlikely that the line will be able to match last year's performance, which included allowing only nine sacks. At this point in the season, both teams' lines should have come together, but there's no way to tell. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Quarterback. Starting five games and playing in 10 as the Hogs adopted the always successful QB carousel, Casey Dick's performance was abysmal. Sorry, there's no other way to put. He completed 49.2 percent of his passes for 991 yards. In his quasi-defense, his TD-to-INT ratio got all the way back to mediocre, with 9 TDs against 6 INTs. Could he improve? Sure. And he has to for the 'Backs to have a good year. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Wide receivers. Monk should have returned by now, though whether he will regain his stride is always a tricky question for a WR. The only other returning players to have a number of receptions in the double digits? Runnings backs and tight ends, all. Fortunately for the Razorbacks, at least in this game, they'll be competing with a team that will also begin the year with a relatively green receiving corps. But C&F wonders if there won't be an experience gap in this game given the likelihood that Houston Nutt's playbook has 867 running plays and four pass plays -- one of them the Hail Mary. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Running backs. Scary scary scary good. If Darren McFadden wasn't in Arkansas and getting Heisman buzz, it's not inconceivable that Felix Jones would be. Both rushed for much more than 1,000 yards, with McFadden scoring 14 times and Jones putting up 6 TDs. Both also had more than 100 receiving yards and scored a combined 4 TDs. Oh, and did I mention that McFadden was 7-for-9 with 3 TDs and an INT as a quarterback? Boyd and Davis can't even come close. No two human beings can.

Now, it's fair to question whether McFadden will be able to have that kind of success when every team in creation will be putting seven or eight men in the box -- nine or even ten isn't entirely out of the question, particularly when Monk's gone -- until the Hogs prove they can throw. But consider this: Arkansas failed in 2006 to pass for 100 yards in four games, those against Alabama, Auburn, Louisiana-Monroe(!) and LSU. McFadden's yardage totals in those games, respectively: 112, 145, 129 and 182 yards (that last figure against the vaunted LSU defense). He totaled 5 TDs in those games. And Jones also carried for 141 yards and a score against La-Monroe, who must have wondered why the Razorbacks were allowed to actually use the Pepsi machine as a running back.


Did somebody get the tag number for that semi?

ADVANTAGE: ARKANSAS

DEFENSE

Defensive line. The Hogs lose terror Jamaal Anderson, who had 65 tackles, 19.5 of those for loss, 13.5 of them sacks. That said, they keep Antwain Robinson, who had 68 tackles, 14.5 for loss, 8.5 of them sacks, and an interception. Ernest Mitchell is also no slouch, with 9 TFL and a sack. Other likely starters don't leap off the page, but this unit should be fine. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Linebackers. Again, a star departs, this time in the form of Sam Olajubutu, who led the team with 115 tackles, among them 10 TFL and 2.5 sacks. The returning Weston Dacus, overshadowed because of the obvious relish for announcers in calling the name "Olajubutu," had 95 tackles in his own right, including 8 TFL and 3.5 sacks. But again, other potential starters are untested. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Secondary. Chris Houston had 3 INTs and 13 passes broken up in 2006. Guess what? He's gone, as well. FS Michael Grant, the only returning starter, also had 3 INTs, but little else to recommend him. There's some talent here, but not a ton of experience. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

SPECIAL TEAMS

The kickoff unit was solid, but the Hogs will have to improve on an awful FG performance. Punting will be handed to Jeremy Davis, responsible for much of the 3-point woes last year. Jones averaged 24.1 yards per kick return; Peyton Hillis, tapped for the sole responsibility in punt returns this year, averaged 11.5 yards on eight attempts last season. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

COACHING

Houston Nutt has yet to win an SEC title, despite having his chances. And he's crazy. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

RESULT

This is a frightening game for South Carolina. It basically comes down to this: can the Gamecocks stifle Darren McFadden? Nothing in their history suggests they will -- though a late-game comeback at the WB last year almost led to a victory, and these teams often go back and forth. But the game is at Arkansas. PROBABLE LOSS

WHERE SOUTH CAROLINA WOULD BE

A loss would make the Gamecocks either 8-2 or 7-3, pending the Georgia outcome. Suddenly, the game against Florida might not be that decisive after all, depending on what the Gators have done. A good travel reputation, though, keeps the hope of a New Year's Day bowl alive. South Carolina will need to split the last two (at least) to make that a certainty.

THE REST OF THEIR SEASON

This team is a wild card. They could tank -- which would switch this game over to a probable win for South Carolina -- given the losses on defense and the scandal. But Darren McFadden is one of those rare players who just might be able to carry a team on his own, particularly with a supporting cast that includes Jones and a healthy Monk. Granting that they are as good as they should be, the Hogs will begin the season on a roll, probably winning at least four of five games off the bat (Troy, at Alabama, Kentucky, North Texas, UT-Chattanooga). Three other likely wins lurk on the schedule in the form of a road game at Ole Miss and home tilts with Florida International and Mississippi State. But LSU on the road and Auburn are likely losses, while a trip to Tennessee is treacherous. The best chance is for 7-5 or 8-4. Anything less would be a disappointment, but it's hard to count up nine wins on this schedule. But if an early-season loss ot Alabama or Kentucky gets things going downhill, that record could fall to 5-7 or even 4-8.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

INTRODUCING THE SEC POWER POLL


This year, 16 bloggers are slated to take part in the inaugural SEC Power Poll, a set of intraconference rankings with more team speed than anyone else in the country.

The concept is fairly simple. Every week, after having made the enormous sacrifice of studying a weekend of college football -- life as a blogger is hard -- our erudite pollsters will send in ballot ranking each of the teams from 1-12. Clutching a calculator for dear life, C&F will tally the results and post them here each Tuesday.

Without further ado, the bloggers who have currently agreed to take part are...

In the East: For Florida, David at Orange and Blue Hue, Mark at Swamp Ball and Orson at EDSBS; for Tennessee, Joel at Rocky Top talk; for Georgia, Kyle at The Wishbone; for Kentucky, Glenn at A Sea of Blue; for Vanderbilt, Joshua at Vanderbilt Sports Line; and for South Carolina, yours truly.

In the West: For Alabama, Todd at Roll Bama Roll, Newspaper Hack at Journalism is for Rockstars, Stu at Tide Druid; for Ole Miss, Erik at Deep South Sports; for Mississippi State, Jeremy at Mississippi State Sports Blog; for Arkansas, the Hog Blogger; for LSU, And the Valley Shook; and for Auburn, Jay at Track 'Em Tigers.

Yes, C&F realizes that both Florida and Alabama are relatively overrepresented right now; this is a problem he is striving to correct by recruiting others. If you have an SEC blog that has a fair amount of original content during football season and are committed to what you're doing, drop me a line at laughin 98 (((at))) hotmail (((dot))) com. Or you might hear from me. Obviously, bloggers from the underrepresented schools will get priority.

(Coincidentally, not being asked should not be taken as a slight. Some people were left off to avoid asking more than three bloggers from one school at a time, with the choice often being capricious, and others were simply forgotten in the haze of writing e-mails at 12:30 a.m. And some of you guard your e-mail addresses like they're Dick Cheney's secure and undisclosed location.)

This is intended to be a conversation starter among SEC blogs and the public at large about who's the best team, regardless of whether their schedule or division creates an easy path to Atlanta. So feel free to cuss, complain or otherwise comment here. I'm sure most of the bloggers would also welcome comments on their individual ballots at their sites, as long as they're not death threats or offers for a GRE//AT DE@L ON V!AGRA!!!

The first poll is scheduled to come out Sept. 4. Be sure to join us.

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GAMECOCKS 2007: at Tennessee


Figuring out the Vols. Perhaps the most unenviable task I have this preseason.

Will Erik Ainge be "Good Erik," the freshman who helped lead the Vols to the SEC title game in 2004 and had a good season last year? Or will he be "Evil Erik," the one who imploded and couldn't outplay the least talented Clausen in 2005 as the Vols slouched to a 5-6 record?

And what, exactly, is up with LaMarcus Coker, penciled in as the No. 1 running back? Who is to be Ainge's go-to wide receiver with the departure of Robert Meachem? How much weight will Phil Fulmer gain if the season goes badly and he turns to food to self-medicate?

OFFENSE

O-line. There are issues here, as Ainge loses his blind-side protection but has three returning starters on the right side. The Vols gave up just 19 sacks last year, though, and Fulmer will do his dead-level best to make sure that Ainge and his perhaps fragile psyche don't get shattered by onrushing defensive ends. By this point in the season, Tennessee should have figured this out; the hope is that South Carolina will have done so as well. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Quarterback. Are there two quarterbacks anywhere in the nation that are more alike? Success, failure, success, etc. Judging from last year, though, Ainge could have a good season, going 233-for-348 for 2,989 yards, 19 TDs and 9 INTs. This is a tough call, because we've seen what both of these young men are capable of and been awed, and we've seen what both of these young men are capable of and been horrified. ADVANTAGE: PUSH


I will become one with my inner Peyton.

Running backs. The Coker suspension, if it continues this late in the season, could be problematic. Arian Foster, who averaged 3.5 yards on 91 carries for 5 scores, is the heir apparent. Montario Hardesty did about the same. That, of course, all relies on what conditions Coker must meet and what timetable he has in which to do it. With Coker, they're even up with the Gamecocks. Without, Boyd and Davis clearly have the edge. With that note, C&F will go with the average. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Wide receivers. No starter wideout returns. C&F will repeat that: No starting WR returns. Robert Meachem and his 71 catches, 1,298 yards, 11 TDs -- gone. Jayson Swain and his 49 grabs, 688 yards and 6 scores -- gone. While Lucas Taylor played in 13 games, he had just 14 catches for 101 yards. Rogers, with five catches in three games, is untested. Ainge will have to get some production out of his returning senior tight ends, Chris Brown (31 receptions, 239 yards, 1 TD) and Brad Cottam (14 catches, 182 yards). ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

DEFENSE

Defensive line. End Xavier Mitchell headlines this group after racking up 7.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks in 2006; most of the rest had either limited time or limited resumes, though end Antonio Reynolds had 5 TFL and a sack. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Linebackers. A tough corps returns two starters, who combined for 22.5 TFL and 6 sacks last year. If South Carolina's line is still in disarray and a No. 1 receiver hasn't stepped up, these guys could have good nights. Not that the Gamecocks' unit is shabby. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Secondary. The Vols lose CB Jonathan Wade's 52 tackles, 4 INTs and 13 pass break-ups, but FS Jonathan Hefney returns after a 2006 campaign that included 96 tackles, 5 picks and three break-ups. Every other likely starter is largely untested. The Gamecocks aren't as thin on experience, but they also don't have a proven quantity like Hefney. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

SPECIAL TEAMS

One word: Colquitt. This time it's Britton, but does the first name ever matter with this clan? They're all created by Phil Fulmer is some diabolical underground chamber. Neither returner did much last year, but the Gamecocks didn't either. ADVANTAGE: TENNESSEE


The first name changes. Nothing else does.

COACHING

Spurrier vs. Fulmer. We've seen this before -- many, many times. Almost every time, the Head Ball Coach gets the better of the Rotund One. The record is more even, 1-1, since Spurrier came to South Carolina, but both games were thin affairs that had more to do with lucky bounces and key plays than with one team being better than the other from kickoff to kneel-down. (South Carolina outgained Tennessee by 70 yards and seven first downs last year, and the Vols needed a 17-point, fourth-quarter rally to win.) In other words, the dynamics haven't changed. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

RESULT

This has usually been a volatile game. During the Holtz years, the Gamecocks seemed to get closer, closer, closer and yet always fall short. Spurrier got them over the hump in his first year, but couldn't outrun the luck feedback from the improbable 2005 season. Someone might look at all the times C&F gave South Carolina the advantage and say he's overestimating the Gamecocks. But if he's wrong, he's underestimating the Vols. This is a down year for Tennessee. But the game is in Knoxville. I would say toss-up, but another exemption (in addition to the Georgia game) makes the whole excercise pointless. Understand "probable" means 50 percent plus one. PROBABLE WIN

WHERE SOUTH CAROLINA WOULD BE

The Gamecocks would be either 7-2 or 8-1 going into their game against Arkansas if they pick up the win. But the difference could be dramatic between 8-1, when the collision with Florida will look decisive, and 7-2, where the Gamecocks might instead be trying to climb into an upper-tier (but non-BCS) bowl.

THE REST OF THEIR SEASON

Again, this is a down year for the Vols. Cal and Florida are likely losses, while Georgia and Arkansas will be tough home games. Southern Miss at home and Alabama on the road are trap games, with the game against the Crimson Tide being a rivalry to boot. The Vols also have to travel to Kentucky after edging the Wildcats 17-12 at home last year. But there are some easy wins in Arkansas State, at Mississippi State, La-Lafayette and probably Vanderbilt -- though the Commodores could be tricky. The best C&F sees for the Vols is 8-4, though neither 9-3 nor 7-5 is impossible.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

THE SEASON AHEAD: IN WEEK 9, GAMES COME WITH LIQUOR


Week 9 is crunch time. By now, the teams who are going to be in contention for conference or even the national title have run a gauntlet of eight or nine games and have more than likely seen at least one test. Conference races have taken shape; most of the teams know what they need to do and what else needs to happen for them to end up at the top of their league or in the championship game.

And some other teams, well...


They just keep getting better and better.

Two interesting games precede the official start of the weekend (unless, of course, you're at Georgia, where the weekend begins on Wednesday and ends on Tuesday), with Boston College taking on Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Thursday and Boise State traveling to Fresno State on Friday. The BC-Tech game -- both are expected to compete for their division crowns -- airs on ESPN at 7:30 p.m., while the two States meet on ESPN2 at 9 p.m.

At 3 p.m. Saturday, the other USC heads to Oregon in a game that is perpetually billed as an opporunity for Southern Cal to lose and perpetually ends up with the Trojans leaving the Ducks weeping into their neon yellow uniforms. FSN will carry the game.

The only other game actually scheduled at this point is the tilt between Ohio State and Penn State in State College, slated for ABC Saturday Night Football at 8 p.m. This could very well be little more than jockeying for second or third fiddle in the Big Ten, but it could be a big game if the Buckeyes are making enough noise to put Michigan on warning.

But the unscheduled matches are some of the best. Minnesota at Michigan will likely decide the fate of anything other than the Little Brown Jug, but there's some merit to that, I suppose.


Fighting over a 100-year-old liquor container is so stereotypically Midwestern.

West Virginia goes to Rutgers, where the Scarlet Knights will try to avenge the loss that officially ended their Big East championship dreams. The Moutaineers will, in all likelihood, still be in the national championship race at this point, and Rutgers will like nothing better than to derail those dreams.

Nebraska meets Texas in what is likely to be a preview of the Big XII championship game. You wonder if a Huskers win might be counterproductive, particularly if it's the first blemish on the Longhorns' record and gives them a revenge motive for the title tilt. Just throwing that out there.

The SEC East race will be clearly defined, and maybe decided, based on the outcome of two games this week. First, the Gamecocks head to Knoxville to take on the Vols. If Tennessee has managed to defeat Florida and Georgia at this point, South Carolina will be all that stands in their way. Besides, who wants to miss a game between Fulmer and Spurrier?

Speaking of Florida and Georgia, they're playing at the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party the Globe's Biggest Display of Debauchery and Hooliganism. Some would say this game alone could determine the SEC East champ; C&F, by this point, surely doesn't have to recount why he thinks this is nonsense.

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GAMECOCKS 2007: vs. VANDERBILT


This could be the year for Vanderbilt. And when you talk about "the year" for Vandy, you don't mean a national championship or conference crown; you mean they could actually make it to a bowl game.


Can somebody please get this man six wins?

But oh, the schedule, which C&F will discuss more in a minute. It's Vanderbilt's curse that when they don't have the talent, they have the schedule. When they have the talent, the schedule gets tougher. And when they have the talent and the schedule, they lose to Middle Tennessee State University and end up going 5-7.

OFFENSE

O-line. All but one of last year's starters return for Commodores. The line was solid, if it didn't necessarily excel, surrendering 19 sacks, including two for the Gamecocks. And with a quarterback like Chris Nickson, who led the team with 694 rushing yards, they don't have to be great, they simply have to give him a little time. ADVANTAGE: VANDERBILT

Quarterback. Chris Nickson is the kind of guy who would get some attention -- not a ton, but some -- if he were at a school that had a chance of playing its final game after Christmas. He's a mobile if not exceedingly accurate QB, completing 54.8 percent of his passes (160-292), though his TD-to-INT ratio was a less-than-desirable 15-to-13. But he averaged 57.8 yards a game last year on the ground and had nine rushing TDs. (Which, to C&F, is a 24-to-13 ratio, but nobody seems to agree with him on that.) The Gamecocks shut him down last year; he went 4-for-15 with two picks and no TDs. Look for improvement in his second year running Bobby Johnson's system. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Wide receivers. The guy who really is being overlooked by the casual football fan is Earl Bennett, who caught 82 passes for 1,146 yards and 6 TDs. But he was also shut down by South Carolina last year, catching only four passes for 16 yards. Whether they can do that again is an open question. George Smith returns, and Sean Walker is penciled in at the other WR spot. Smith had 21 catches for 313 yards and 3 TDs last year; Walker grabbed 16 balls for 204 yards and a pair of scores. ADVANTAGE: PUSH


I had 1,146 receiving yards last year. Who am I?

Running backs. Besides having one of the longest names in the SEC for a player not found on Ole Miss' roster, Cassen Jackson-Garrison had trouble keeping up with Nickson, rushing 152 times for 614 yards and 5 TDs. While having Nickson helps, Jackson-Garrison will have to do better for Vandy to have a good year. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

DEFENSE

Defensive line. Two starters return in Curtis Gatewood and Theo Horrocks, who last season accounted for 14 TFL and 12 sacks. Steven Stone, expected to start at end, had 6.5 TFL and half a sack. Would-be starting tackle Gabe Hall had 9 tackles in 2006, one for loss. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Linebackers. Starters Marcus Buggs and Jonathan Goff return to the cops. Goff led the team last year with 93 tackles with 6 of those for loss, including 2.5 sacks. Boggs had 10.5 TFL and 2 scaks. Brandon Bryant, expected to start on the weak side, contributed 2 TFL in time as a backup. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Secondary. The Commodores are stacked at safety, where two returners are located and returning starting CB Joel Caldwell has been shifted. Ryan Hamilton and Reshard Langford combined for four picks last year. Myron Lewis and D.J. Moore are expected to start at CB, with Moore having a pick and getting some starting time in 2006. Lewis was limited. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

COACHING

Bobby Johnson has done about as well as could be expected. He doesn't have as much to work with as any other coach in the conference. And he does well every year. But without even a bowl berth to his name, it's hard to define how good he is. So far, he's 0-2 against Spurrier. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

RESULT

Despite all the statements of "ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA" you see up there, don't be fooled. Vanderbilt is a decent team that just has the misfortune of being in the SEC East. And the Commodores are always in the game. Last year, Vandy's opponents scored 23.7 points a game. The 'Dores scored 22.0. Among the teams that they lost to by a TD or less: Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and eventual NC Florida. Vanderbilt also beat Georgia. If the Commodores manage to start winning some of these games, they could be dangerous. LIKELY WIN

WHERE SOUTH CAROLINA WOULD BE

If all of C&F's projections are correct up to this point, the Gamecocks are at least bowl-eligible at 6-2, and could be in a strong position for the division race with a 7-1 record. But they have yet to endure the Orange Crush, which comes next. After Vanderbilt, South Carolina travels to Tennessee and Arkansas before coming home to close out the season against Florida and Clemson.

THE REST OF THEIR SEASON

Again, the schedule is all that stands between this team and a December game. There are likely wins against Richmond, Ole Miss, Eastern Michigan and Miami (OH). Games against Alabama and Georgia and at Auburn, Florida and Tennessee are probable losses in addition to South Carolina. That would leave Vanderbilt needing to upset one of those teams to avoid having to defeat both Kentucky and Wake Forest to get bowl eligible. Worst-case scenario is likely 4-8, though C&F would put his money on 5-7 and give Vandy the slimmest chance of a 6-6 record and trip the promised land of the postseason.

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INITIAL BLOGPOLL BALLOT

C&F's initial blogpoll ballot, with some description below (The Ranks will be posted later), for your bashing pleasure. Feel free to tell me where I've been excessively stupid which, give the rate of corrections for the past few weeks, might be a higher bar for C&F than for most.


RankTeamDelta
1Texas 25
2Michigan 24
3Southern Cal 23
4LSU 22
5West Virginia 21
6Auburn 20
7California 19
8Wisconsin 18
9Florida 17
10Virginia Tech 16
11Rutgers 15
12Nebraska 14
13Oklahoma 13
14Louisville 12
15Ohio State 11
16South Carolina 10
17Florida State 9
18Southern Miss 8
19UCLA 7
20Tennessee 6
21Penn State 5
22Arkansas 4
23Brigham Young 3
24Hawaii 2
25Oregon 1

Dropped Out:


Justification, excuses, impressions:
--The Top Three. Yes, C&F is going contrarian again. Even after listing all the reasons C&F thought he might not rank Southern Cal at No. 1, he thought about doing it all the same. But that seemed too Corso-ish, so C&F went with the courage of his convictions, even to the point of dropping Southern Cal to No. 3. As forTexas as No. 1 -- Colt McCoy is leading the offense again, and the only real cause for concern in C&F's eyes is a touch of inexperience on the o-line. (And everyone has questions this year.) If Michigan avoids the "huh?" game, there seems to be little to keep them from going undefeated and being a great team.
--LSU. Don't trust Les Miles. Just don't trust him. Until he shows that he can avoid snatching two defeats from the jaws of a flawless season, the team will always debut here at no higher than No. 4. Plus: What do we actually know about Matt Flynn other than he had one good game against Miami a year and half ago?
--Auburn. This is probationary status, under the idea that Brandon Cox won't regress again this year. The first time C&F sees signs that Cox still doesn't get it, he reserves the right to knock the Tigers way, way down.
--Rutgers/Louisville. Yes, I think Rutgers is better than Louisville, particularly with the Cardinals trying to grasp a new system.
--South Carolina. Call me a homer, but I think this is about right for them this year.
--Georgia, TCU, Boise State. I've already outlined problems with Georgia. I think BYU will beat TCU this year. I think Hawaii is better than Boise State, whom everyone seems to forget has to replace most of the skill players on last year's Cinderella offense.
Again, more justification will follow in The Ranks, which will also come after the tweaking that will inevitably come over the next week or so before the final preseason Blogpoll.

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