Thursday, August 30, 2007

NOT THE END. A NEW BEGINNING

Well, this is it. The 450th and last post to Cock & Fire.

I'm moving to SB Nation. The new site is:

Garnet and Black Attack

I write this glad and hopeful for the opportunity the move presents. But it is also a little bittersweet.

I loved doing Cock & Fire this way, establishing the site on my own, the Internet equivalent of the old land claims in the West. And there was something rewarding about seeing people reading something I had worked hard to produce.

But SB Nation is a great place for sports blogs, and it's an honor to have your name up there with the likes of Sunday Morning QB, Burnt Orange Nation, Dawg Sports, Roll Bama Roll, et al. In fact, I don't think there's a college football blog at SB Nation that I haven't read at least once, and I've never read one I wouldn't recommend.

And as I considered the move, something else came to mind: I don't have the talent to promote a blog enough to catch up to the platform SB Nation offers, I don't have the technical ability to do the bells and whistles they can do, and I don't have the equipment to build a community the way an SB Nation site can. And that community is something I want to build.

In other words, I can provide the content, but they can build a better blog around it.

All that put together really made it an easy decision. I've loved my time here, and I'll always remember fondly the readers and commenters and even the hecklers that made it all possible. Thank you for finding a few minutes out of your day to look at what I did, and hopefully you figured out what I was trying to do at least half the time. Because if you did, you were doing a better job of figuring it out than I was.

It's been a fun ride so far. I look forward to continuing it, and having even more fun, at my new blogging home.

Hope to see you there.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

THE SEASON AHEAD: PICKING THE SEC


No more procrastinating. The first SEC game of the year is in less than 24 hours as C&F writes this, meaning it's time to throw the conference picks out there and allow you to feast on them, ridicule them, whatever. A note: The three toughest games are in conference, not overall.

EAST

1. Florida (10-2, 6-2)
It's easy: Everyone in the East, with the possible exception of Vanderbilt, has a reason to believe they can win. When that's the case, go with the status quo. Florida has Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and plenty of other weapons on offense -- not to mention that Urban guy. On defense? Yes, they're green on defense, but Charlie Strong can put together a good enough defense for them to win the division again. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: at LSU, vs. Georgia, at South Carolina

2. South Carolina (9-3, 5-3)
This is the year ... they compete. It's not the year they win. C&F hopes that people give him the benefit of the doubt for not being a homer here -- he's laid out pretty defensible reasons for eight of the wins. The Georgia game or a surprise somewhere along the road should be good enough to reach a ninth win. (But getting benefit of the doubt? For this? -- ed. Yeah, C&F knows; not likely.) THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: at LSU, Florida, at Tennessee

3. Tennessee (8-4, 5-3)
Fall to third by virtue of the tiebreaker with South Carolina. I think the Vols have a lot of good pieces. Just not quite enough. Erik Ainge will do fine, for all the knocks he's taken on this site. But there's not much else to the offense, with the exception of LaMarcus Coker, who came back so Tennessee has a prayer of winning on the advice of doctors. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: at Florida, South Carolina, at Alabama

4. Georgia (7-5, 4-4)
Again, just not sold on Matt Stafford or the offensive line or the wide receivers or anything else on offense, really. They've got some talent on defense -- hello, Paul Oliver -- but not enough to contend for a title. If C&F is wrong, he'll issue a mea culpa. But he doesn't think that's going to happen. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: vs. Florida, South Carolina, at Tennessee

5. Kentucky (6-6, 3-5)
C&F almost wants to be wrong on this one, because it would be such a good story. But you have to have more than one good year to prove it's not a fluke, so Kentucky still qualifies as a potential fluke. C&F is a lot more worried about getting this one wrong than Georgia. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: LSU, Florida, at South Carolina

6. Vanderbilt (5-7, 1-7)
Again, this is the one team in the division who can't seriously entertain dreams of winning. Part of this is the luck of the draw, with Alabama and Auburn rotating onto the schedule. Add to that the fact that they're in maybe the most competitive division in football this year, and it gets ugly. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: at Florida, at Auburn, at South Carolina

WEST

1. LSU (11-1, 7-1)*
C&F is tempted to go ahead and pencil in two losses for this team, by sheer virtue of Les Miles, as he has threatened to do. But this team is too talented for Miles to blow more than one game. Oh, and they've got one of the easiest conference slates in the SEC. Two losses would actually put him on the hot seat. That said, don't be surprised if the Bayou Bengals end up 12-0 or 10-2. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: Florida, Auburn, Arkansas

2. Auburn (9-3, 5-3)
It's not hard to count to five SEC wins with a schedule that includes Mississippi State, Vandy, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama (with Georgia the only one of those games on the road). But this team beat Florida, Arkansas and LSU away from Jordan-Hare? Not bloodly likely. Brandon Cox might be better, but he won't be that much better. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: at LSU, at Florida, at Arkansas

3. Alabama (8-4, 5-3)
Nick Saban takes the first step toward living up to the hype with a solid if not spectacular season. Finishing third in the division might not be exactly what the most rabid Crimson Tide fans have in mind -- particularly with a loss to Auburn included in the three defeats -- but you have to think Saban would be satifisfied with that. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: LSU, Tennessee, at Auburn

4. Arkansas (7-5, 4-4)
Who knows? This could be lowballing or highballing the Razorbacks after a bizarre offseason. It's just hard to see a team go through that turmoil and say, "You know, there goes a program that's aiming for a trophy." And you know there's another shoe to drop here. There has to be. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: at LSU, Auburn, at Tennessee

5. Ole Miss (4-8, 1-7)
Does this really need any explanation. Okay. Ed Oregeron really hasn't seemed to know where he wants to take this program since he got there. They only conference games on the schedule that look winnable are at Mississippi State and at Vanderbilt. And the Commodores are not bad enough to lose to the Rebels. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: LSU, Florida, at Auburn

6. Mississippi State (3-9, 0-8)
Don't, under any circumstances, give Mississippi State the edge in any conference game. C&F isn't saying there's no hope for this program, but it's hard to see anything to cheer the hearts of Bulldogs. Can Sylvester Croom have what it takes to turn them around? We probably won't know, because it's hard to see him surviving this season. THREE TOUGHEST GAMES: LSU, at Auburn, at Arkansas

*Conference champion

Go ahead, tear it to shreds. But C&F will not wither in the glare of criticism.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN 2007: THE NATION


1. Can anyone knock off Southern Cal? And will it matter if they do? There are plenty of suspects -- among them Cal, UCLA, Nebraska, Oregon and even Oregon State -- but someone will have to beat the Trojans at least once to keep them out of the NC game. (Yes, C&F is well aware he left Notre Dame off the list. It was intentional.) If not, go ahead and put the other USC in Notre Dame around New Year's Day and John David Booty in New York as a Heisman candidate.

2. BCS controversy. There will be one. An undefeated Hawaii or Boise State complaining about two one-loss BCS teams making the NC game? Three -- or even four -- undefeated teams? Three -- or even four -- one-loss teams with a credible case to take on an undefeated No. 1? With a Hawaii or a Boise State thrown in for fun? Keep watching; something will happen.


It will happen. But why?

3. Is the Big East for real? Last year's biggest bowl wins for the Big East (Louisville over Wake Forest, West Virginia over Georgia Tech) didn't keep the momentum going for a conference that still bases its reputation on a long-ago night in the Georgia Dome. Another strong season by Rutgers, as well as South Florida proving its worthiness to be mentioned in conversation (by beating Auburn?), could finally bring some respectability. But don't count on it -- a few bowl wins over SEC teams and perhaps well-regarded ACC teams would probably have to be thrown in to be considered a "real" BCS league.

4. Mid-major mania. Boise State's win in the Fiesta Bowl has everybody trying to figure out who will be the "next" Boise State. First of all, there will never be another Boise State -- and anyone who watched that game as it unfolded knows why. There was something seemingly unbelievable about it, something that captivated even someone with no interest in the WAC or the Big XII. And even if there is another one, it come just like it did in 2006 -- when we least expect it.

5. Can the ACC bounce back? Not back to the NC game; that's still a year or two off. But can they at least be regarded as on the same level as the SEC, Big Ten, Big XII or Pac-10? Much will depend on how a few teams perform, namely: Virginia Tech, Florida State and Miami. Like it or not, as goes these teams (in the public eye), so goes the league.

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FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN 2007: THE SEC


1. The quarterbacks. Have there ever been so many untested and/or unproven quarterbacks in this many important places in the SEC? Matt Flynn at LSU and Tim Tebow at Florida will begin their first season as starters; they lead the preseason favorites in the SEC West and the SEC East, respectively. At Tennessee, there remains the question of whether Good Erik or Evil Erik will show up. At Auburn, you have Brandon Cox. Georgia's excited about the potential (and late-season performance) of Matthew "Keg Stand" Stafford. South Carolina starts Blake Mitchell ... eventually ... maybe. Arkansas has Casey Dick. Even Ole Miss and Mississippi State have questions under center. Is it going too far to say the team with the most proven quarterback is Kentucky?

2. Darren McFadden. Yep, he deserves an entry all to himself. Opinion is divided over whether Arkansas can overcome the Trouble in Nuttistan to at least remain relevant in the SEC West. McFadden could be the difference. Yes, he is a player that could single-handedly power the Hogs to respectability. If Dick turns out to be halfway good, they could be unstoppable. Whichever way Arkansas goes, McFadden might as well reserve a plane ticket to New York -- he'll at least be on the Heisman shortlist.

3. Year of the Underdog. This is particularly true in the East, where there might not be parity, but the gaps between the teams are not that large. In fact, you could make a credible case that the difference between Florida and Vanderbilt is smaller than ever -- and far smaller than the difference between LSU and Mississippi State. That means underdogs will ruin someone's season, and there could be a shake-up in the Big Three in the East. By the way -- don't count Bama completely out in the West. They've got talent. They just need to have their brains cleared of the Mike Shula neurotoxins.


She can help you, Nick.

4. No BCS title? It doesn't look like it this year. LSU will likely suffer its usual Les-plosions and lose two games. Florida can't make it out of the East undefeated. No one else looks like they can even dream about it. And the likelihood that there will be a one-loss SEC team that can get the breaks Florida did to overcome ESPN's USC/Big Ten/Big XII lovefest.

5. Coaches, coaches, coaches. Four schools now have coaches with national titles in their personal trophy cases: Florida (Urban Meyer), Tennessee (Phil Fulmer), Alabama (Nick Saban) and South Carolina (Steve Spurrier). Another can make an argument for having been robbed (Tommy Tuberville in Auburn's couldawouldashoulda 2004 season). And this Mark Richt character at Georgia ain't bad, either.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

GAMECOCKS 2007: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH


1. Protection, protection, protection. C&F is going to try not to be too repetitive with the "5 things to watch in 2007" feature, but this one cannot be overstated: The offensive line has to keep Blake or Chris Smelley or whoever's under center (are we sure Syvelle's out of eligibility?) upright. Blake makes mistakes for many reasons, but one of the top ones is a lack of protection. There are three new starters on the line, and they have to step up, or the dreams of competing in the SEC will turn to dying hopes of remaining bowl eligible.

2. Cory Boyd tilts the balance. Boyd and backup Mike Davis have to continue to provide balance for the offense. It's pretty clear that Blake is probably not the guy to lead South Carolina to an SEC title; that said, being a solid SEC team is not out of reach. But it depends entirely on whether the running game can take some of the pressure off Mitchell. If it can, it will both help cover up Mitchell's weaknesses and divert some of the defense's attention.

3. Georgia. The State has made the point ad nauseum, but it's a point worth making. The winner of South Carolina-Georgia ends up in the SEC East race until late in the season, while the loser usually ends up in a lower-tier bowl. This is as close to a must-win as it comes if the Gamecocks want to have the kind of 8-4 or 9-3 season that would prove the program is still on the rise. If not, plan on visiting another bowl named after a word found in the U.S. Constitution.


Not just bad for a game. Bad for a season.

4. Closing things out. The story of 2006 was sickeningly similar every time South Carolina faced the best in the SEC: Get into a position to win, then make the critical mistake and watch it slip away. The 15-minute time of possession for Auburn in the third quarter; Tennessee pulling it out in the fourth quarter; the turnover to Arkansas on the decisive drive; and, most painfully of all, the decision not to permanently injure Jarvis Moss before the critical kick against Florida. Even if the Gamecocks just want to be competitive, they have to learn how to close out the wins against the Big Three and the Western powers.

5. Stop the run. This is the one thing that Tyrone Nix's defenses have not done well. The 146.8 ypg coughed up in 2006 were not terrible, but the numbers were worse when individual games and situations are considered. SEC rushers had considerably better luck, including 219 yards posted by (who else?) Darren McFadden. Four different backs -- McFadden, Auburn's Kenny Irons, Clemson's C.J. Spiller and Houston's Jackie Battle -- each scored 2 TDs against South Carolina. South Carolina will play two of those backs again in 2007. Success against the run will be the key to the defense this year.

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THE SEASON AHEAD: WEEK 14 WILL MISS YOU, TOO


And so we come to Week 14, when there will be one last period of joy followed by great weeping and gnashing of teeth among college football fans. At least until bowl season begins.

Yes, Week 14 is the week you want to come and the week you want to avoid. It will provide some of the championship games and some of the last-minute rivalries and wrap-ups. But it will also leaves you empty -- without college football for a whole month two weeks, if you count the jimsfriedsausage.com American Virtue Bowl. Whatever will you do?


Nothing to do, nothing to do.

But there's a fairly good slate to send you off. Rutgers at Louisville kicks off the weekend with the ESPN Thursday game at 7:30 p.m. This could decide the Big East championship, which might or might not be a bid deal, depending on what you think of the Big East. Pitt at West Virginia could also play a role, with that game not yet scheduled but likely to air Saturday on ESPN or ESPN2.

Also in schedule limbo are the MAC and Conference USA championship games -- again, if you care -- on ESPN or ESPN2.

There is tradition in the form of Army vs. Navy, a noon telecast on CBS

And there are several Pac-10 games that could end up being important, particularly if the conference race is somehow undecided. Oregon State goes to Oregon on ESPN2 at 4:30 p.m., the same time UCLA goes across town to USC on ABC, and Cal plays Stanford on Versus at 7 p.m. Arizona at Arizona State, a rivalry game if nothing else, is on at 8 p.m., but ESPN hasn't decide which network to put it on. The only consequence? Who is the best team in Arizona.

But the marquee match-ups are still likely to be the championship games. They line up nicely for those wanting to watch only the big games. The ACC tilt kicks off at 1 p.m. on ABC, the SEC game at 4 p.m. on CBS and the Big XII showdown is on ABC at 8 p.m.

Then, silence.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

FOR THE FOLKS WHO DON'T READ ON THE WEEKENDS

Shame on you.

A guide to the previews that have moved since Friday morning:

WEEKS
Week 11
Week 12
Week 13

OPPONENTS
Florida
Clemson

OTHER SEC TEAMS
Alabama
Auburn
Ole Miss

Yes, C&F is well aware that the other SEC team profiles are not nearly as exhaustive as the oppoent's profiles, but he assumed South Carolina readers -- his first responsibility -- would be less interested in these teams, so less was done on them.

Next up: Week 14, followed by all manner of picks and predictions.

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PRESEASON BLOGPOLL, TAKE TWO

Ignore the Delta arrows, as the Blogpoll apparently views these votes as the preliminary votes (again).

But after much thought, C&F has completed his actual, factual preseason Blogpoll ballot:


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



Dropped Out: Oregon
Justification, excuses, impressions:
--Auburn. Moves down from 6 on my initial ballot to 10. This has as much to do with my own uneasiness as I wrote the preview of the Tigers as it has to do with anything else. I still view them as a sleeper team, but a lot of things have to break their way. Again, bigger drops could follow when we have actual results to go on.
--Arkansas. Up to 19 from 22. Based in part on thoughtful commentary from Peter Bean at BON. Peter is right in that Arkansas returns a lot of pieces from last year's SEC West championship team. But I, like the Mayor, am worried about the trouble in Nuttistan.
--Hawaii. Up to 21 from 24, in part because of SMQ's argument that an undefeated WAC team should be high in the rankings but a once-defeated WAC team shouldn't make the poll. I disagree that a once-defeated team won't make the poll, but I do think Hawaii can run the table. The problem I have is that I can't justify moving Hawaii above teams that I currently think are better, regardless of where they might end up.
--Oregon State. I convinced myself to swap out the two Oregon teams, though I still think the Ducks could re-emerge. I just think the Beavers are the better team right now.
--Other things. I think there might have been some assorted shuffling here or there, but it was mostly to move the teams listed here up or down.

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THE SEASON AHEAD: OLE MISS


C&F still finds it hard to believe -- even with all the recruiting issues -- that this is what Ole Miss fans had in mind when the school fired David Cutcliffe after his first losing season. Ed Orgeron enters his third year having posted a 3-8 season and a 4-8 season.

Could there be some improvement this year? Sure. Could Orgeron eventually shake off the mocking of the photosphere and lead the Rebels to the top of the SEC West? Maybe. But one wonders if the road would have been this long had Ole Miss kept Cutcliffe.

OFFENSE

Brent Schaeffer is out and Seth Adams is in as starter at QB. (Schaeffer, in fact, has been shuffled over to WR.) But this offense is built around BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who rushed for 1,000 yards even and 7 TDs while challenging Verne Lundquist's tongue. The receivers are question marks.

DEFENSE

This is a huge question mark for the Rebels this year, in part because of new faces (they lose their top three tacklers) and in part because of new coordinator John Thompson. Yes, our old friend is back in the SEC. It's doubtful, though, that Orgeron will allow Thompson to have his defenders doing summersaults, back flips and triple lutzes the way they did when Thompson was with the Gamecocks. SS Jamarca Sanford is highly regarded.


Watch this, men.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Joshua Shene was 14-of-17 on FG attempts last year, including a long of 52 yards. Rob Park averaged 38.9 yards a punt. Dexter McCluster averaged 21.1 yards a kick return, with Marshay Green averaging 11.2 yards on punt returns.

COACHING

Again, Orgeron hasn't had much success so far, and he'll need to show tangible signs of progress to stay off the hot seat. Another 4-8 season could start the grumbling in Oxford.

THE SEASON

But another 4-8 season is exactly what C&F sees, with likely wins at Memphis, against Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State and at Mississippi State. Vanderbilt could be another win. But beyond that, the Rebels play Missouri, Florida, at Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, at Auburn and against LSU. Personally, C&F thinks the Commodores are better than the Rebels, so he'll stick with 4-8.

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THE SEASON AHEAD: AUBURN


What to make of this Auburn team? This is a tough one for C&F, who might very well be more of an Auburn homer (he grew up a Tiger fan) than a South Carolina homer when it comes to analysis -- simply because there’s more of a reason to feel confident about Auburn than South Carolina, at least based on past performance. (To be clear, he still favors the Gamecocks over the Tigers when they face each other.) And it’s easier to see the warts on a team when you’re looking at it more closely, so he sees more of South Carolina’s shortcomings.

This, though, looks even to C&F like it could be a rough season for Auburn.

OFFENSE

The wild card is Brandon Cox. If he improves -- and the WR corps takes a leap forward -- it could be a big year. But the line is in disarray, something that plagued the team last year despite an 11-2 record. Auburn allowed 35 sacks, an average of almost three a game. Brad Lester is a solid running back. Al Borges is good at making do, but that will be a stiff challenge with this unit.
DEFENSE

Quentin Groves and his 11 sacks have to scare opposing offensive coordinators. Josh Thompson, with 4.5 sacks among his 43 tackles, isn’t exactly a slouch. The line backing corps is full of thin resumes. The secondary returns three starters.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicking is a question mark, as is punting. Tristan Davis, the likely kick returner, was solid handling those duties in 2006.

COACHING

Don’t underestimate Tommy Tuberville, He survived a coup that ended up claiming higher-ranking officials in the Auburn hierarchy, and his last five years has gone (from most recent to least) 11-2, 9-2, 12-0, 7-5 and 8-4, with each year capped off by a defeat of Alabama. Auburn has gone bowling every year since 1999. Tuberville also has two solid coordinators in Borges and Will Muschamp.


His ears can also generate enough wind to power a small city.

THE SEASON

The schedule this year is manageable. (Is it ever not for Auburn?) But there are two tough nonconference games to kick things off: Kansas State and South Florida both come to the Plains. Mississippi State, New Mexico State, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Tennessee Tech, at Georgia and Alabama are all good chances for wins. But at Florida, at Arkansas and at LSU all look difficult. A 9-3 season looks good, but 8-4 might be more reasonable. No one should rule out 7-5, meaning Bobby Lowder will be fueling up the plane any moment now.

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THE SEASON AHEAD: ALABAMA


Beat Auburn. That has to be the first goal on Nick Saban's list this year. (Though removing all memory of what Mike Shula taught them from his players' minds would be a close second.)

C&F asked one of the most rabid and knowledgeable (though blatantly homeristic) non-blogging Alabama fans he knows -- that would be his sister -- what would be the minimum she would consider successful this year. Her answer was a .500 season and beating Auburn. C&F then asked which would preferable -- going 9-3 with one of the losses being to Auburn or going 5-7 with one of the defeats being of Auburn. Her reply was that she'd take the 5-7 season.

OFFENSE

QB John Parker Wilson is now expected to be the best thing at Alabama since Gene Stallings, and he wasn't bad last season in his first year as starter. He went 216-for-379 for 2,707 yards and 17 TDs against 10 INTs. Alabama's offense is stacked with returning starters, including all five linemen and star WR D.J. Hall, who caught 62 passes last year for 1,056 yards and 5 TDs. Terry Grant will apparently start at RB when all is said and done, with Jimmy Johns moving around, even at fullback. Major Applewhite should have considerably more success as OC than Shula.

DEFENSE

Say what you want to about his inability to stay in one place for more than four years, Nick Saban knows how to run a defense. He doesn't have as much returning talent on the defense. Apparently, Simeon Castille's recent brush with the law won't keep him off the field, or won't do so for very long. Good thing for the Tide; he had six picks and has the second-highest number of tackles (71) among returning players in 2006.

SPECIAL TEAMS

This was a sore spot for the Tide last year, particularly as Jamie Christensen (13-for-17 on FG attempts) and Leigh Tiffin (8-for-13 ) struggled as place-kickers. P.J. Fitzgerald returns as punter. Javier Arenas handles returns.

COACHING

Love him or hate him, Saban does the one thing that ingratiates fans to him: He wins. Michigan State has never been the same since he left, LSU still has not quite matched the success he had, and Miami ... Well, for the most part, Saban wins.

THE SEASON

There are, to C&F's surprise, eight very winnable games on the schedule: Western Carolina, at Vanderbilt, Georgia, Houston, Mississippi, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Louisiana-Monroe. Arkansas is also within reach, though Florida State in Jacksonville will be difficult. LSU and Auburn are reaches. But 8-4 looks pretty good.

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GAMECOCKS 2007: vs. CLEMSON


For Clemson fans who might wonder when C&F will stop using that picture to represent them, the answer is simple: Never.

The reason is that the Tigers sorely test one of C&F's tenets of rivalries, and often force him to break it: Always respect the other guy. Even when he was an Auburn fan, C&F respected Alabama's tradition. Even as a South Carolina fan, he respects that Mark Richt has done an incredible job coaching the spelling-challenged Dawgs. And even as he despises the razor-thin, last-gasp victories Phil Fulmer's teams always seem to eke out against the Gamecocks, he respects Fulmer's ability to consume nine boxes of Twinkies a day.


Did somebody say "Twinkies"?

But Clemson fans find a way to nullify it -- mostly because they refuse to acknowledge that the 1980s are over, Danny Ford is no longer buying players and the rest of the country does not see the Tigers as a national power -- as fans do -- and instead sees them as a very good ACC team, nothing more.

Clemson's last league title was in 1991. It's last (and only) national title was a decade before that.

None of that is to say that South Carolina is any better, or indeed even as good -- it has won the annual showdown with the Upstaters only twice between Holtz and Spurrier. And the Holtz regime produced the 63-17 nightmare in 2003.

But instead of being content to be considered as the best team in their state, the Tigers insist on being seen as one of the nation's premier programs. Sorry, it ain't so.

(Yes, C&F realizes that he's wading right back into the fray after being beaten down by the Georgia faithful. But in regards to Clemson, to paraphrase Goldwater, moderation is no virtue, and extremism no vice.)

OFFENSE

O-line. This must be one of several things that keeps OC Rob Spence up at night. Four starters are gone. Line coach Brad Scott sounds relatively confident, but South Carolina fans well know that confidence on Scott's part is not a reason for the opposition to worry. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Quarterback. Will SAVIOR OF THE PROGRAM Willy Korn get to play? Maybe. But probably only as a backup. That leaves the fate of the Tigers, at the start of the season anyway, in the hands of junior Cullen Harper. Harper was 14-of-20 for 155 yards and 2 TDs in limited action last season. But Clemson could be in a full-blown QB controversy by this point of the season, and Baby Bowden's job being on the line would only exacerbate the problem. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Wide receivers. Tyler Grisham returns after a 2006 campaign that saw him get 25 receptions, 264 yards and 3 scores. Aaron Kelly, though not technically a "returning starter" by TSN's definition, had more catches (30) and yards (355). No one else on the depth chart has more than 15 catches. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Running backs. If it weren't for McFadden and Jones in Arkansas, the DavisSpiller monster would be the best returning RB tandem in the country. Read TSN and weep.

Spence wants both players on the field at the same time and for Spiller, the team's most explosive threat, to get more touches.

Greaaaaaaaaat. Combined, the duo ran for well over 2,000 yards and scored 27 TDs last year. ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

DEFENSE

Defensive line. Gaines Adams leaves, taking his 17.5 TFL and 12.5 sacks with him. Phillip Merling and Dorell Scott return, having combined for 14 TFL and 6 sacks last year. With 4 sacks, Ricky Sapp is solid. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Linebackers. Two-thirds of the corps are returning starters, including Nick Watkins, last team's lead tackler with 116 stops, seven for loss and a sack. Antonio Clay (95 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks) is another key cog in the defense. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Secondary. Another solid unit for the Tigers. FS Chris Clemons had 102 tackles and broke up eight passes. In all, the returners are responsible for 6 INTs. Overall, not much of a drop-off for a unit that allowed 177.7 yards a game last year. ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

SPECIAL TEAMS

Alas, Jad Dean has moved on.


No more of this. Sniff sniff.

The kickers are untested. But Ford is likely to be the returner again, at least on kickoffs, where he averaged 32.8 yards. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

COACHING

They might be 1-1 against each other since Head Ball Coach came to Carolina, but there's really no comparison between Baby Bowden and Steve Spurrier. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

RESULT

Davis and Spiller might be the only consistent part of the offense, while the defensive unit is solid. But even if they were stocked on both sides and the Gamecocks were starting 22 true freshman, there is only one way C&F can call this game. LIKELY WIN

WHERE SOUTH CAROLINA WOULD BE

If everything pans out as expected, they finish the season 9-3 or 8-4, a tangible sign of progress over 2006 but almost certainly not good enough to win the SEC East. A Capitol One Bowl invite might be an outside possibility, but the best chance is likely a return to the Outback Bowl, and possibly another rematch against the Buckeyes. The floor is likely the Peach Bowl, which would also be fine with this metro ATL-based fan.

THE REST OF THEIR SEASON

Baby Bowden will be hard pressed to continue his streak of eight-win seasons. Tough matches loom in Florida State, at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Boston College. La-Monroe, Furman, at N.C. State, Central Michigan and at Duke are wins. The swing games are at Maryland and Wake Forest. Give them 7-5, with 8-4 not out of the question. Even with Bowden, a 6-6 season would almost require effort. The hot seat index on him will be tremendous.

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A FEW LINKS YOU OUGHT TO READ

Because previewpalooza has left me unable to do The Thread and other linking as much as I'd prefer...

First off, let C&F do something he usually avoids and point you in the direction of a Ron Morris column. It's about Cory Boyd. C&F hasn't gotten all the way through it yet -- you'll need a while to finish it -- but it's already impressive.

Second, if you've ever wanted to see C&F publicly humiliated, here's the place to go. The Mayor cuts apart some of the poorly-formed thoughts in C&F's "Georgia doesn't own South Carolina" post. C&F's reponse is here. He posts this exchange for the advantage of anyone who might have read the original post but not seen the debate that followed.

Finally, the best CFB blog on the web weighs in on our beloved conference. Yes, SMQ is going through the SEC, including video of the Gamecocks' beating Georgia in the last seconds on the '93 games, leading Munson to sound like he's about to jump from the press box. C&F eagerly awaits the binding picks for the East -- which, sadly, will beat his own. Back to previews...

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