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September 2, 2013

SEC Power Rankings: Week 2

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

Not a ton of movement from our preseason rankings, as many of the opening weekend’s games went the way most predicted.

Two quick notes before getting started:SEC_new_logo

  • The rankings/receiving votes (designated by “RV”) are from the Associated Press poll.
  • Secondly, the landing spot for each team is a combination of how good I perceive each team to be in relation to the rest of the conference, with a dash of last week’s results thrown in, too. However, the former takes precedence. One example: Just because Tennessee and Missouri whupped up on tomato cans Saturday doesn’t mean they’ll rank above Georgia, which lost a tight game to a top-10 Clemson squad. Again, everything is relative.

(All games times ET)

1) No. 1 Alabama (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Virginia Tech 35-10

No, Saturday wasn’t the most convincing win Alabama has had in a season opener since Nick Saban assumed the reins of the program. It certainly didn’t come close to matching last year’s 41-14 decimation of then-No. 8 Michigan. The offense showed it needs work, and the Crimson Tide was helped immensely by Christion Jones’ punt and kick return touchdowns. But complaining about a 25-point win against a team from another major conference — especially versus a school with a winning tradition like Virginia Tech — is basically nitpicking. Then again, that’s just the absurdly-high standard Alabama is being held to these days.

Next: Idle

2) No. 6 South Carolina (1-0)

Last week: won vs. North Carolina 27-10

South Carolina jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and cruised from there. Jadeveon Clowney didn’t dominate, as he finished with just three tackles, but it’s not as if North Carolina was running it straight at him every play, either. He also looked a bit winded at times, but I’d chalk that up to the stomach virus he was reportedly battling the night before.

Hey, even Superman had kryptonite.

Next: at No. 5 Georgia (0-1), 4:30 p.m. | ESPN

3) No. 7 Texas A&M (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Rice 52-31

Johnny Football did what Johnny Football does best, Part I: create points. He threw three touchdowns (on just eight attempts) in the second half after sitting out the game’s first 30 minutes, serving his NCAA penalty for what was called an “inadvertent” violation of signing autographs during the offseason.

Johnny Football did what Johnny Football does best, Part II: create controversy. He was pulled after getting flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the fourth quarter. This followed an earlier exchange with another Rice defender, where Manziel mimicked signing an autograph. (Oy vey.)

While Manziel’s antics can easily be toned down — it’s not that hard, I swear — the bigger worry for the Aggies should be fixing their defense. Six starters on defense were suspended from playing in the first half for undisclosed violations of team rules. The unit was already a question mark heading into the season. Saturday did little to help that in the way of playing time. Needless to say, if Texas A&M gives up 31 points when Alabama comes to town on Sept. 15, it likely means the Aggies will end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Next: vs. Sam Houston State (1-0), 7 p.m. | Texas A&M PPV

4) No. 12 LSU (1-0)

Last week: won vs. No. 20 TCU 37-27

A pretty good debut for Cam Cameron as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator: 448 yards (251 passing, 197 rushing) against a Horned Frogs’ team that prides itself on defense.Auburn v. LSU Football Action

While quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s numbers weren’t spectacular, accounting for just one touchdown and completing 50 percent (16 of 32) of his attempts, those should only improve going forward.

Next: vs. UAB (0-1), 7 p.m. | ESPNU

5) No. 5 Georgia (0-1)

Last week: lost to No. 8 Clemson 38-35

Another close loss for Georgia in a big game to begin the season. What’s new? It didn’t eliminate the Bulldogs from national title contention yet.

But a loss to South Carolina this weekend will.

Next: vs. No. 6 South Carolina (1-0), 4:30 p.m. | ESPN

6) No. 10 Florida (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Toledo 24-6

Between Jeff Driskel (finally) looking like a semi-effective SEC quarterback and backup tailback Mack Brown‘s career day, Florida’s offense didn’t resemble the unit that couldn’t score to save its life last season. (Apologies to Mike Gillislee.)

Surprisingly, a defense that ranked fifth in the country last season and had to replace eight starters and its coordinator (Dan Quinn) didn’t appear to miss a beat.

Next: at Miami (FL) (1-0), Noon | ESPN

7) RV Ole Miss (1-0, 1-0 SEC)

Last week: won vs. Vanderbilt 39-35

The Rebels finally ended their three-game losing streak to the Commodores. When was the last time any SEC team had such a run of futility against the Commodores?

Now they’ll get to enjoy a breather against Southeast Missouri State before their schedule begins in earnest, with five games in six weeks. There’s not a single “gimme” among them: at Texas, at Alabama and at Auburn before returning home to host Texas A&M and LSU.

Whew!

Next: vs. Southeast Missouri State (0-1), 7 p.m. | Ole Miss PPV

8) Auburn (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Washington State 31-24

Gus Malzahn was able to walk off the field a winner Saturday night, but judging from fan feedback following the game, Auburn supporters were expecting far more. It appears they were just echoing Malzahn’s own thoughts. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said in his postgame press conference, “but we’re committed to doing that.”

Translation: “I’m happy we won, but it was touch-and-go until the Cougars’ last possession. It’s going to be a long week at practice.”

Next: vs. Arkansas State (1-0), 7:30 p.m. | FSN

9) RV Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-1 SEC)

Last week: lost to Ole Miss 39-35

There was no reason for Jordan Matthews to hang his head last Thursday. The senior receiver left it all on the field, catching 10 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown against the Rebels. Even his own body couldn’t slow him down, as he went off the field for intravenous fluids early in the third quarter. It was one of the gutsier performances you’ll ever see.

Next: vs. Austin Peay (0-1), 7:30 p.m. | CSS

10) Arkansas (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Louisiana-Lafayette 34-14

It’s easy to poke fun at Bret Bielema’s expense, for far too many reasons to detail here. What’s no laughing matter is how the Razorbacks won on Saturday, easily dispatching the Ragin’ Cajuns by 20 points. Don’t let the name fool you: Louisiana-Lafeyette was coming off back-to-back 9-4 campaigns and considered the co-favorite (along with Louisiana-Monroe) to capture the Sun Belt Conference title this season.

Next: vs. Samford (1-0) in Little Rock, 7 p.m. | Arkansas PPV

11) Tennessee (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Austin Peay 45-0

Look, I know it was just Austin Peay. But considering a Pop Warner team could have scored on Tennessee’s defense last season, the Volunteers will take a shutout any way they can get it. Tennessee doesn’t care that the Governors have lost 17 consecutive road games, either, with Austin Peay’s last win away from home coming against Tennessee State on Sept. 18, 2010.

Whatever negativity you want to throw the Volunteers’ way right now will fall on deaf ears. They’re in a Kendrick Lamar state of mind: Don’t kill their vibe.

Next: vs. Western Kentucky (1-0), 12:21 p.m. | SEC Network

12) Missouri (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Murray State 58-14

Quarterback James Franklin threw for 300-plus yards for the third time in his career, finishing with 318 yards (completing 26 of 38 attempts) and three touchdowns in a little more than two quarters of work. This was different than his previous two 300-plus efforts in one respect: The Tigers actually won this time.

Toledo should provide a little better gauge of where Missouri is at this weekend, but the Tigers won’t see an SEC opponent until going on the road against Vanderbilt on Oct. 5. (Gotta get those non-conference wins while you can, I suppose.)

Next: vs. Toledo (0-1), 3:30 p.m. | ESPNU

13) Mississippi State (0-1)

Last week: lost to No. 13 Oklahoma State 21-3

It’s hard to come up with any positives for the Bulldogs. They went just two of 16 on third-down conversions. They racked up only 333 yards of total offense. Starting quarterback Tyler Russell left the game in the third quarter after taking a shot to the head and did not return.

The loss just continues the downward trend for Dan Mullen’s squad: Since starting last season 7-0, the Bulldogs are 1-7 in their past eight contests.

Next: vs. Alcorn State (1-0), 3:30 p.m. | CSS

14) Kentucky (0-1)

Last week: lost to Western Kentucky 35-26

Welp, that went about as horribly as the Wildcats could have scripted it for their opening game under Mark Stoops. Not only did they lose to the Hilltoppers — led by former Louisville and Arkansas head coach and noted motorcycle enthusiast Bobby Petrino — but they were thoroughly outclassed by their Sun Belt foe. Western Kentucky scored on three of its first four possessions, with each covering 75 yards or more.

One silver lining: Basketball season is getting closer every day. So there’s that.

Next: vs. Miami (OH) (0-1), Noon | Fox Sports

August 28, 2013

7 at 7: Taking a stroll around the SEC

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — In case you didn’t know by now, it’s Wednesday, folks.SEC_new_logo

(Cue up the annoying Geico “Hump Day!!” camel ad. I’m just not a fan. Hope that doesn’t offend anyone, and if it does … well, deal with it.)

But back to more important matters. Now that it’s just three days away from Auburn’s season opener, we’ve already settled into a routine here at War Eagle Extra as far as weekly content is concerned. I’ll post the finalized schedule soon enough, but until that happens, take note: Every Wednesday, “7 at 7″ will consist of links from around the SEC, both Auburn and otherwise.

Without further ado, I give you today’s batch of items from around the league:

1. To keep with a time-honored tradition (dating back to last month), I’ll begin by shamelessly self-promoting the things posted to the blog the previous day, beginning with Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s declaration that Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne are neck-and-neck at the top of the running back depth chart heading into Saturday. We also had wire-to-wire video coverage of Malzahn’s 16-minute press conference as well as a feature on left guard Alex Kozan. Oh, and don’t forget Tuesday’s notebook, which detailed Malzahn’s intrigue regarding Nick Marshall’s debut in an Auburn uniform.

2. Josh Kendall, the South Carolina beat writer for The State in Columbia, S.C., had an interesting article on Tuesday. As hard as it is to believe, the Gamecocks have only five seniors (!!!) listed on this year’s roster. Kendall explains how that came to be. And ESPN.com SEC blogger Chris Low had a good piece on Kelcy Quarles, one of South Carolina’s “other” defensive linemen, who is trying to do whatever he can to escape the long shadow of Jadeveon Clowney.

3. You’ve probably heard about the GQ profile on Nick Saban. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s your chance. It doesn’t disappoint, making Saban out to be the maniac everyone would think given his normal joyless demeanor.

4. Just how good is Robert Nkemdiche, the unquestioned top recruit in the Class of 2013? Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger tries to find an answer.

5. Speaking of highly-regarded recruits, LSU picked up a massive commitment for its 2015 class on Monday. The Tigers were able to keep hometown running back Nicholas Brossette to stay in Baton Rouge. An Auburn target, he also had offers from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Tennessee, UCLA and Vanderbilt — just to name a few — after he rushed for a school-record 2,118 yards and 44 touchdowns as a sophomore last season.

6. Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops announced that the Wildcats will play two quarterbacks against Western Kentucky in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday. It consists of the sophomore pair of Max Smith and Jalen Whitlow. And yes, they have settled on a starter — Stoops just refused to reveal it to reporters.

7. Georgia will play in this week’s marquee game when it heads on the road Saturday night to square off against Clemson. For Bulldog tight end Jay Rome, it will be an opportunity to beat his father’s alma mater. (Stan Rome lettered in football in 1975, but he was an even better basketball player, as he still ranks 14th on the Tigers’ all-time scoring list.)

And since I normally like to end these with a video when I can, why not embed a video of one player leaping over another one? Besides, when you have a video like that, I think you’d probably have to find a reason not to post it, right? My colleague at The Telegraph in Macon, Seth Emerson, talked to linebacker (and Harris County graduate) Jordan Jenkins about his leap over freshman running back Brendan Douglas during one of the Bulldogs’ preseason scrimmages.

The video is provided below. And it didn’t end up being all for show — Jenkins’ display of athleticism led quarterback Christian LeMay to throw the ball right into the hands of linebacker Amarlo Herrera.

July 30, 2013

4 at 4: Counting down the days until real, live football gets here

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Two days.

Just two more days until Auburn players report. Three days until fall camp opens. And we’re just a month away from the season kicking off, when the Tigers welcome the Washington State Cougars to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Aug. 31. It seems so close — and it is. But the closer it gets, the more anxious I am for it to finally begin. Of course, coaches, players and fans share in the excitement of a coming season every bit as much as media members do.

Ellis Johnson

Ellis Johnson

It reminds me of something defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said when he sat down for an interview with beat writers exactly one week ago today. In fact, it was the very first thing Johnson was asked: “How ready are you to get things started?”

It was a simple question, but the veteran coach gave a wonderfully detailed answer.

“We’ve kept away from them so much during this time of the year, and although they never leave, it’s not like the old reporting dates in the old days where they used to go home for the summer and you couldn’t wait to see them when they got back. At the same time, it’s still a time when you can get your hands back on them and get back on the field and get rolling again. You kind of get in these days right here, I can’t stand them. I either want to go back on vacation or I want to start practice. That in-between time is kind of hard to hold yourself back.”

Believe me, Coach, we all feel the same way.

In the meantime, let’s hit on a few small items in today’s edition of “4 at 4.”

1. A few tweets regarding myriad former members of Auburn’s football program have made the rounds on Twitter in the last 24 hours. The first, as was discussed in this space Monday, was in reference to former Tigers running back Michael Dyer. According to this tweet from Drew Deener, the play-by-play voice of the Louisville Cardinals, Dyer has not yet joined their program, per head coach Charlie Strong.

Speaking of head coaches, former Tigers head man Tommy Tuberville has not returned to Auburn since 2008, if this tweet from CBS Sports national college football reporter Jeremy Fowler is taken as fact.

It would probably be smart for former offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to stay away from Auburn for a few years, too. Take a look at some of the comments he made at the Roanoke Valley Sports Club on Monday night, which were tweeted out by former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter, now covering Virginia Tech football for the Roanoke Times and Virginian-Pilot.

Needless to say, the current offensive coordinator of the Hokies didn’t think very much of the hand he was dealt last season.

Oh, and he thinks Nick Saban is smart. (Then again, what is he supposed to say when he couldn’t put a single point on the board against Alabama’s defense last year?)

Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for an Auburn player to respond, as backup center Tunde Fariyike did the honors — with an edge.

And how about one more Fariyike tweet to top it off?

2. Gus Malzahn will be making his last stop on the 2013 Tiger Trek this evening. It will be in Montgomery at Riverwalk Stadium starting at 6 p.m. ET. James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser has all the details for those who might be interested.

3. At the risk of possible Johnny Manziel overload, I cannot recommend this article by ESPN The Magazine senior writer Wright Thompson enough. While reading it, I went through every emotion possibly toward “Johnny Football.” Anger. Pity. Fascination. Bewilderment. (One thing I must note about the story: It contains some graphic language and subject matter.)

Frankly, all you really need to know is that Thompson wrote it — for my money, one of the top sports journalists in the country without question. Read it for yourself and see how you feel about Manziel. Maybe it will cement your preconceived notions about him. Or maybe you’ll end up feeling differently about the 20-year-old lightning rod known as much for off-the-field controversies as his incredible on-the-field accomplishments.

4. Just in case you’re in Auburn this weekend, take heart: Parking will be free.

Via the Opelika-Auburn News article: “In conjunction with this weekend’s sales tax holiday weekend and Auburn University’s semester break, the Auburn City Council has suspended parking meter operations in downtown from Aug. 3-20.”

Most importantly, for you fellow football-lovers out there, yes, fall camp will have already started by this weekend.

July 28, 2013

SEC Preseason Power Rankings: Day 7

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

It’s Day 7 of our preseason power rankings poll among teams in the SEC, which end Saturday as we unveil the two teams at the top of the league (in our opinion) entering the fall . The format, as has been the case all week, involves a “best-case/worst-case” scenario for each team, taking our cues from former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter’s piece from three years ago.SEC_new_logo

With 12 teams down, we are left with the last two. Which two teams are they?

Let’s  answer that question now. (And please, as Bitter said in his preseason power rankings article from 2010, remember all scenarios “are meant to be hyperbolic.) …

2. SOUTH CAROLINA

Some may be surprised to see South Carolina rank above both Georgia and Texas A&M. Yes, I know the Gamecocks lost their leading rusher (Marcus Lattimore), receiver (Ace Sanders) and top four tacklers (Shaq Wilson, D.J. Swearinger, Reginald Bowens and DeVonte Holloman) from 2012.

On the other hand, they return the best defensive player in college football, not to mention a potential Heisman Trophy finalist, in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. All-purpose threat Bruce Ellington returns, too. Some people may question South Carolina’s use of a two-quarterback system, using both senior Connor Shaw and junior Dylan Thompson in tandem with each other — and will occasionally be on the field at the same time, as Shaw has seen time at both running back and receiver in 7-on-7 workouts this summer, which he expects to continue this fall. Remember, however, that this is a squad that has won 11 games in each of the past two seasons.

The most important returnee for South Carolina is at the top, as Steve Spurrier enters his ninth season as head coach. Not that there should be any reason to doubt his coaching ability at this point, but keep these four facts in mind just in case: 1. He’s the winningest coach in Florida’s history (122 victories); 2. He’s the winningest coach in South Carolina history (66 victories); 3. In being the winningest coach at two different SEC schools, he joins Bear Bryant as the only other person to accomplish the feat. Bryant did so at Kentucky and Alabama. 4. Incredibly, Spurrier won an ACC title. At Duke. At Duke. At Duke. At. Duke. (Yes, it needs to be repeated multiple times.) No, the conference championship wasn’t on the hardwood, either. Spurrier led the Blue Devils to the ACC title in 1989.SouthCarolina_Logo11

  • Best-case scenario: South Carolina does what once would have been considered unthinkable for a team that has won only one conference championship (the ACC crown in 1969) in its history: It wins the national title. Even more impressively, the Gamecocks do so without losing a single game. They roll over North Carolina in Week 1 before Spurrier torments Georgia once more, beating the Bulldogs for the fourth straight year. South Carolina isn’t tested again until the regular season finale, when arch-rival Clemson pushes them to the brink. But Clowney pressures quarterback Tajh Boyd into throwing an off-target pass on the Tigers’ final drive, and the Gamecocks hold on for a 28-24 victory. In the SEC Championship Game, the nation gets a juicy game-within-the-game, as Clowney gets the chance to terrorize Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. In a classic conference title tilt, both Clowney and Manziel play their best football at the most important time. Clowney sacks Manziel four times and forces a fumble from Aggies running back Brandon Williams. Clowney and Manziel once again take center stage on the game’s deciding play. With Texas A&M trailing 24-20 with two minutes to play and the ball at South Carolina’s 30-yard line, the Aggies pick up a first down to get to the 18. But with no timeouts remaining, the Aggies waste more clock than they should, leading to a 4th-and-3 at the Gamecocks’ 11-yard line. Manziel drops back and looks for an open receiver to no avail. Reverting to instincts, Manziel takes off toward the first down marker. But Clowney is able to shed his blocker and make a shoe-string tackle to stunt the Aggies and seal the victory for the Gamecocks. Clowney becomes the first “pure” defensive player — referring to someone who didn’t contribute on offense or special teams, a la Charles Woodson — to win the Heisman, because doggone it, voters decided the absurdly talented defensive end was too good not to be awarded the bronze trophy. In the national title game, Clowney leads the way in South Carolina’s airtight defensive performance against the Ohio State Buckeyes, ending the Big Ten representative’s 23-game win streak in the process. Clowney does what everyone expects him to do by turning pro, but no one faults him. He’s done everything he could do at the college level, and now it’s onward and upward. Spurrier says he’ll stick around for as long as he can coach — and still play a lot of golf during his downtime. As if things weren’t good enough for South Carolina, Clemson lays an egg after being tabbed the odds-on favorite to win the ACC, finishing with an 8-5 mark following a loss in the Belk Bowl. Spurrier is equally pleased Georgia doesn’t play up the lofty preseason hype as the media’s pick to win the Eastern Divison for the third straight year, as the Bulldogs also finish 8-5. And with the “Ol’ Ball Coach” arriving at SEC Media Days 2014 as the reigning national champion, reporters anticipate Spurrier putting on the greatest performance in the event’s history.
  • Worst-case scenario: Heading into the most anticipated season in Gamecocks’ history, a team from the “other” Carolina spoils the party. In the season opener, the Gamecocks constantly misfire against the Tar Heels, who gladly take advantage of their opponent’s poor play and pull a stunning upset in Week 1. Instead of rallying back one week later, South Carolina falls to 0-2 when Georgia beats it for the first time since 2009. Already down on themselves, the Gamecocks sink to 0-3 when Vanderbilt comes into Williams-Brice Stadium and leave on top. Spurrier, caught flat-footed with his two-quarterback system an utter failure through three games, turns to redshirt freshman Brendan Nosovitch, who passed for over 13,000 yards during his prep career in Pennsylvania. South Carolina immediately responds, tearing off an eight-game win streak prior to facing arch-rival Clemson. The Tigers bring the winning streak to a halt, as Boyd and Clemson’s offense prove to be too much for the Gamecocks. An 8-1 finish after an 0-3 start isn’t bad, but it’s far from what anyone associated with South Carolina’s program — much less its fans — hoped 2013 would be. South Carolina says all the right things about being “happy to be in the postseason” and excited to “get the chance to play one more game.” The Gamecocks’ play says otherwise, as they fall to 0-3 against the ACC in 2013, losing to Georgia Tech 38-20 in the Music City Bowl. Clowney, not surprisingly, turns pro. Spurrier grimaces for a brief moment before his attention turns to hitting the links. And South Carolina fans let out a deep sigh as Clemson wins the Orange Bowl while Georgia wins the national championship.

1. ALABAMA

What is there to say about Alabama that hasn’t already been said? The Crimson Tide are the two-time defending national championships, and have won it all three of the past four years. They annually sign one of the top recruiting classes in college football, they own a rabid fan base, and have the man regarded as the top coach in the sport leading them on to the field each week.

Yeah, Alabama lost a tremendous amount of production to the NFL, particularly on the offensive line, where All-American performers departed. But when has a mass exodus of talent slowed down Alabama before, especially during Saban’s tenure? Even after losing those three linemen (D.J. Fluker, Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack) and its leading rusher in BCS National Championship Game Offensive MVP Eddie Lacy, Alabama’s offense will be fine with AJ McCarron at the controls. The signal-caller with a 25-2 record will have a embarrassingly deep running back unit at his disposal and one of the top receivers in the country in Amari Cooper.

Oh, and seven starters are back from a defense that was the nation’s best in total defense and scoring defense.

Any questions?alabamalogo

  • Best-case scenario: Elation for Alabama fans, and groans from the rest of the country. The Crimson Tide go undefeated and win their unprecedented third straight national championship. Alabama puts on a clinic in nearly every game it plays, tossing aside challengers at every opportunity. The Crimson Tide shut down Johnny Manziel in Game 2 en route to a 38-10 victory, and the only team to stay within single digits during the regular season is LSU, which loses to the Crimson Tide 24-20. In the SEC Championship Game, it’s the same story for the second year in a row. Georgia puts up a fight, but it isn’t enough to knock Alabama off its perch at the top of the mountain in the SEC, as the Crimson Tide win 34-24. After getting to the national championship game once more, Alabama makes sure not to let an opportunity to make history fall by the wayside. The Crimson Tide wallop fellow undefeated Ohio State 41-10, cementing Alabama as not only one of the top dynasties in the annals of college football, but in all of sports. Saban refuses to crack a smile in his post-championship game interview, saying there was “work to be done” in Tuscaloosa and that he could “celebrate this accomplishment when I’m dead.” The Crimson Tide once again lose a bumper crop of players to the pros, but it just means the next batch of high draft picks get their opportunity to shine in 2014, as they gear up to make it four national titles in a row. And who wants to bet against them?
  • Worst-case scenario: Calamity for Crimson Tide supporters, joy from everyone who doesn’t own a Tuscaloosa-area ZIP code. Alabama doesn’t have a terrible season by any means — most schools would sign up for a 10-3 season any day — but not by its impossibly-high standards. Texas A&M topples Alabama for the second year in a row in Game 2, coming out on top 31-28. The Crimson Tide lose only one other regular season game, when they are caught in another titantic tussle with LSU. The Tigers return the favor from the previous season, capturing a victory on the opponent’s home field. Alabama wins its final three regular season games (Mississippi State, Chattanooga and Auburn), though the Iron Bowl against the Tigers is a much tougher tilt than many expected. The Tigers push the Crimson Tide until late in the fourth quarter, losing 34-24. Alabama makes it to the Capital One Bowl, but with its dreams of winning a third straight national title long since squelched, the Crimson Tide find it hard to get up for a game against Wisconsin. The Badgers take advantage, beating the Crimson Tide 24-14. Saban is blunt during his postgame interview, alluding to the “work that must be done” back in Tuscaloosa to avert a similar season in 2014. Every underclassman eligible to declare for the NFL Draft does so, and much to Alabama fans’ chagrin, Auburn finishes with only one less victory (nine) in a remarkable first year for coach Gus Malzahn.

July 18, 2013

SEC Media Days, Day 3: James Franklin refuses to address dismissed players, Nick Saban needles media

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — Vanderbilt coach James Franklin was asked 18 questions on Thursday during his time with reporters at SEC Media Days. One-third of queries aimed his way dealt with player behavior.

The line of questioning comes as no surprise, of course, after four Commodores were kicked off the team last month as police in Nashville, Tenn., continue to investigate whether a sex crime occurred at a campus dormitory.

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin deflected any questions dealing with four dismissed players from the football program on Thursday at SEC Media Days.

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin deflected any questions dealing with four players recently dismissed from the football program on Thursday at SEC Media Days. (AP Photo)

Franklin refused to offer any updates on the case, other than to repeatedly say it is an “ongoing” process.

Instead, the coach made sure the discussion centered around the players still on the team.

“We’ve been focusing on our team and our players and making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do academically this summer,” Franklin said. “We have taken classes in June and July. We had some guys study abroad in May, which is an unbelievable experience for them.”

One reporter asked whether success on the field and trouble off it have a direct correlation. Vanderbilt’s third-year coach replied that he hadn’t “done enough studies” to lend any insight on the matter.

“When those things pop up, I do think they’re probably magnified,” he said. “A little bit more success you have, things are magnified. I couldn’t get into the details or specifics.”

Franklin also disputed that to “compete at the highest level of college football,” as one reporter phrased it, teams have to take chances on recruits with questionable backgrounds. While he couldn’t speak about other programs, Franklin made sure to emphasize he didn’t allow Vanderbilt to operate that way.

“It’s never been that way in the past. It’s not that way presently,” he said. “It will never be in the future. That’s not what we’re all about.”

Franklin doesn’t rule out Commodores playing at LP Field — eventually

Sharing a city with an NFL team, the Commodores are in a situation that sets them apart from their SEC brethren. In other cities, such as Pittsburgh and Houston, college teams play in the same stadiums as their professional counterparts. The Commodores play their homes games at Vanderbilt Stadium, which is located on the grounds of the university’s main campus.

Franklin was asked about the possibility of the Commodores hosting a game at LP Field, the stadium used by the Tennessee Titans.

Right now, it’s just that: a possibility.

“We have had some discussions depending on our schedule if we can get an eight-game schedule, the possibilities of taking one of those games to LP Field, which I think would be great for the city as well, great for our program,” Franklin said. “But we want to make sure that the nucleus, at least seven games, are on our campus every year.”

Saban fires back at Miles’ schedule complaints

Before finishing his time in front of media members on Thursday, LSU coach Les Miles once again expressed his frustration over the SEC’s unbalanced schedule, which will see his Tigers play both Florida and Georgia in cross-divisional matchups this season. Those two teams went 14-2 in conference play in 2012. Alabama, on the other hand, will play SEC East teams Kentucky and Tennessee, two teams that combined to go 1-15 against league competition last year. (The lone win was the Volunteers’ 37-17 victory over the Wildcats in the season finale for both teams.)

“I’d have to say there’s a repeated scheduling advantage and disadvantage for certain teams in this conference based on tradition and traditional matchups,” the LSU coach said.

Saban heard Miles’ remarks loud and clear — and responded every bit as forcefully.

“There can never be an equal path to the championship,” he said. “Unless everybody plays everybody, that’s the only equal path to championship.”

And Saban even got in one last dig at both Miles and his former school.

“I understand where Les Miles is coming from. I coached at LSU,” he said with a smile. “We played Florida every year, too. So if anybody understands it, I understand it.”

Media’s prognosticating futility turns into fun for Saban

Saban also found some time to poke fun at media members, noting their abysmal record picking the eventual SEC champion.

Media members have correctly picked the champion only four times in the last 21 years, Saban said, and the two-time defending national champion coach couldn’t help but point out what that type of record would mean in his profession.

“Now, if I was 4-17 as a coach, I would be back in West Virginia pumping my gas at my daddy’s gas station,” he said. “We don’t really want to go there.”

July 16, 2013

7 at 7: Writer recalls favorite moments from SEC Media Days’ past (and a pair of links)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — It’s good to be back at SEC Media Days.

The last time I came to the Wynfrey Hotel was three years ago, but it feels much longer than that. Back then, I was still a plucky college journalist getting his first taste of covering an event as large as Media Days. And it’s only grown bigger since then, as over 1,200 media members are credentialed for Media Days this year.

robbiecaldwell

Vanderbilt head coach Robbie Caldwell was a hit at the 2010 SEC Media Days.

We’re just hours away from the event kicking off, as per usual, with Commissioner Mike Slive, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share my favorite moments from previous editions of Media Days. (Note: This will be 2010-heavy, being that I was there and all.)

1. Before or since, I’ve never seen anything like the “Robbie Caldwell Show” three years ago.  The interim Vanderbilt coach’s Q&A session with media members was almost too good for words. From his first job (which involved inseminating turkeys) to being mistaken for a doorman to reinstating profanity at Vanderbilt after former coach Bobby Johnson outlawed them, Caldwell was a walking, talking sound bite.

When Caldwell was done — and the only reason it did was because the conference’s media rep stepped in, since the coach had gone over the allotted time in the main press room — media members gave him a well-deserved standing ovation. According to veteran scribes of the league, this is the only time such a thing has ever occurred.

If you have time, do yourself a favor and read the full transcript of Caldwell’s show-stealing appearance.

2. During his own time at the podium that year, Nick Saban compared agents to pimps. Yes, it really happened. The quote from the Alabama coach, in its entirety:

“I don’t think it’s anything but greed that’s creating it right now on behalf of the agents,” Saban said. “The agents that do this — and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?

“I have no respect for people who do that to young people. None. How would you feel if they did it to your child?” Saban said.

3. Former Florida coach Urban Meyer, while not comparing agents to any illicit forms of business as Saban did, said the university he worked at took the “war on agents” to levels probably not seen at other institutions of higher learning.

“At Florida we have security for one reason,” he said. “It’s not for the fans, it’s to keep people we don’t want around our players away. … If you see an agent on the campus at Florida, he’s probably going to be hiding behind a bush.”

4. OK, let me indulge myself a little on this one. After everything that had transpired with Caldwell (and to a lesser extent, former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips) earlier that same day, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier stepped to the podium in 2010 having to put forth a tour de force performance to become the talk of Media Days once more. I, ever the intrepid reporter, asked him if he was worried about losing the title as the league’s “most quotable coach.”

“No, I’m not worried about that at all,” he said with his patented Spurrier smirk. “I don’t think I’ve won enough games lately to have any outlandish quotes. If you win a bunch of games, it’s pretty easy to give all the answers up here. But we haven’t won enough. I’m just another ball coach trying to win a whole bunch of games that we haven’t quite done yet.”

5. Though this happened well before my time as an SEC reporter, who could forget former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer refusing to appear at Media Days in 2004? In a story by Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph I have linked to previously, my colleague provided context behind Fulmer’s no-show.

The longtime Tennessee head coach was absent from media days in 2004, because he wanted to avoid being served a subpoena by an Alabama lawyer. Fulmer had spoken to the NCAA about the Crimson Tide, and a suit had the lawyer on Fulmer’s heels. Knowing that, Fulmer’s own lawyers advised him to stay out of Alabama, which he did, incurring a $10,000 fine from the SEC.

But Fulmer did speak at media days that year, albeit via a conference call. So of course nearly every question was about the lawsuit, Fulmer’s actions and skipping media days.

At one point, after a contentious question, the moderator tried to move on, but Fulmer’s voice could be heard: “No, no I’ll answer that.”

The most awkward moment came near the end, when a young woman near the back of the room spoke up, asking an argumentative question. It still isn’t clear to this day whether that was a media member or an Alabama fan who snuck in.

6. If you want to read some of the best quotes from older Media Day gatherings, AL.com’s Jon Solomon compiled them in one place in this handy article.

7. Brad Locke, who covers Mississippi State, tweeted out the photo you see below this morning. Things will be a little busier in the main press room at the Wynfrey very soon.

Hope you’ll join War Eagle Extra for all the happenings in Hoover over the next three days.

July 15, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Alabama

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On the sixth and final day of our series, we conclude with the two-time defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tigers will host their arch-rival in the regular season finale for both teams on Nov. 30.

Who: Alabama

When: Saturday, Nov. 30alabamalogo

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.

All-time series: Alabama leads 42-34-1

When last they met: Gene Chizik probably couldn’t have scripted a worst ending to his four-year tenure on the Plains if he had tried. Entering the game 0-7 in SEC play, and not scoring a point against Georgia in their previous outing against a league foe, few expected the Tigers to be able to inflict much damage upon their arch-rival in the annual Iron Bowl matchup. And as it turns out, they didn’t. It was all Alabama from start-to-finish, as the Crimson Tide played with a resolve determined not to show any semblance of weakness as they prepared for a showdown with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. The Crimson Tide won going away in a 49-0 victory over the Tigers, which was the second-most points Alabama had ever scored in an Iron Bowl and the second-largest margin of victory in the series for either team. Only the 1948 contest was more lopsided, when Alabama won 55-0. Alabama was up 42-0 at the half, led by Eddie Lacy’s two scores on the ground and Amari Cooper’s two receiving touchdowns. Alabama pulled its starters after its first series of the third quarter, with the victory well in hand. One day later, Chizik was fired.

The coach: Nick Saban (159-55-1 record overall in 17 seasons; NOTE: NCAA adjusted Saban’s record to 154-55-1 after Alabama had to vacate its first five wins of the 2007 season due to NCAA violations relating to players illegally obtaining free textbooks for other students; went 9-2 in one season at Toledo in 1990, 34-24 in five seasons at Michigan State 1995-99, 48-16 in five seasons at LSU from 2000-04 and 68-13 in six seasons at Alabama since 2007; four national titles, one at LSU in 2003 and three at Alabama, coming in 2009, 2011 and 2012)

2012 record: 13-1, 7-1 SEC (won SEC Western Division title; beat Georgia 32-28 in SEC Championship Game; beat Notre Dame 42-14 in BCS National Championship Game)

Total offense: 445.50 ypg (31st in Division I, 4th in SEC)

Scoring offense: 38.71 ppg (12th, 2nd)

Total defense: 250.00 ypg (1st, 1st)

Scoring defense: 10.93 ppg (1st, 1st)

2012 Year-in-Review: Alabama got the season started off right, crushing Michigan 41-14 in its season opener at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide’s next seven opponents offered little resistance, winning those games by a combined score of 284-51. Alabama was finally tested when it visited Baton Rouge, La., to take on LSU. Thanks to some last-minute heroics from quarterback AJ McCarron and freshman tailback T.J. Yeldon — the two hooked up for the go-ahead 28-yard score with 51 seconds to play — the Crimson Tide left Tiger Stadium with a 21-17 victory and their undefeated season intact. That changed a week later versus Texas A&M. Dazzling redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, the eventual Heisman winner, helped the fifth-ranked Aggies upend the Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama was no longer in control of its own destiny in the BCS title chase, but got help when both Kansas State and Oregon lost on the same Saturday just one week later. Closing out the regular season with identical 49-0 victories over Western Carolina and Auburn, Alabama met Georgia in the SEC Championship, in what was a de facto semifinal for the right to face Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game. In one of the most memorable games the Georgia Dome had ever seen, the Crimson Tide punched another ticket to the national title contest after Georgia receiver Chris Conley caught a tipped pass at the 5-yard-line on the game’s chaotic final play. With no timeouts left, the Bulldogs had to watch the Crimson Tide celebrate as confetti streamed down to the Georgia Dome’s turf. And Alabama sucked any drama the BCS title tilt might have had in the early going, scoring three touchdowns by the opening minute of the second quarter. The Crimson Tide tacked on two more touchdowns before the Fighting Irish ever got on the board, romping to a 42-14 win — the second-largest margin of victory in a BCS title game — to earn their second national championship in a row and third in four years.

Biggest area of concern: Concern may not be the right word. Slightly apprehensive, maybe? A tad uneasy? Yes, they have to replace three fantastic offensive linemen in center Barrett Jones, left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker (All-Americans, all), but does anyone really think the Crimson Tide weren’t prepared for this? Anyone who doubts Alabama’s ability to reload, regardless of the amount of talent lost, does so at their own peril.

Key returning player/unit: The Crimson Tide are filled to the brim with NFL-ready talent at nearly every position. You name it, and they probably have it. But when you’re a team chasing the kind of history that Alabama is after this season, it helps to have a quarterback used to playing in high-pressure situations. McCarron certainly fits the bill. Cooper will return as McCarron’s go-to target in what should be one of the best receiving corps Alabama has had under Saban. And when McCarron feels like handing the ball off — which he should do quite often this fall — he’ll have an almost-unfair number of options who can ably handle the job. Even with Lacy moving on to the NFL, Yeldon leads arguably the deepest unit on the team, joined by fellow returnees Kenyan Drake (a speedster), Dee Hart (another burner who moved to defensive back in the spring but could still get carries in some situations) and the bruising Jalston Fowler, a short-yardage extraordinaire. Then, since they didn’t have enough talented tailbacks already, the Crimson Tide signed four of the best in the 2013 class in Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, Tyren Jones and another member of the “all-cool name first-team,” Altee Tenpenny. McCarron has lost only two games in as many seasons as Alabama’s starting quarterback (against 25 victories), and it seems unlikely many defeats will be added to his total in the coming year, barring some (very) unforeseen circumstances.

Extra point: With its win in the national title game, Alabama (2009, 2011, 2012) became only the third school in the “wire service era” (since 1936) to capture three titles in a four year span, joining Notre Dame (1946, 1947, 1949) and Nebraska (1994, 1995, 1997). No team in the aforementioned “wire service era” has won three consecutive national championships, which the Crimson Tide are gunning for this season.

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May 5, 2013

SEC Network’s future goals are bold; booming Big Ten Network’s journey is a cautionary tale

SEC ESPN Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

Bret BielemaATLANTA – Bret Bielema used to ooze Big Ten. Raised in Illinois, played at Iowa, grew from upstart coordinator to flourishing head coach for Wisconsin.

In a surprise move betraying his roots, Bielema was lured to Arkansas by the temptation of hopping aboard the “Golden Age of the SEC”, as league commissioner Mike Slive proudly christened this era Thursday.

There’s a not-so-veiled swagger about Bielema, fitting in perfectly with his new conference.

“The SEC is its own animal, its own identity, its own unique situation,” Bielema said. “It’s fun to be a part of it and be on the inside now to see the view.”

Bielema will carry a one-of-a-kind perspective into the newest dawn of the Southeastern Conference, which on Thursday, hand-in-hand with ESPN, announced the creation of a 24/7 network dedicated to its league members launching in August 2014.

He’s a prior witness to a conference-centric network facing obstacles on the road to glory.

Big Ten Network

First in line

This is not an innovative endeavor. Other conferences have realized moderate success (Pac-12) or abrupt shutdown (Mountain West), but the clearest example of a blockbuster is the Big Ten Network, off the ground in August 2007 and now in 52 million homes – including more than 50 percent outside the Big Ten’s 9-state region.

“It’s very rewarding to see how far we’ve come,” BTN president Mark Silverman said in an August interview. “Our network was met with more than a healthy dose of skepticism.”

BTN wasn’t profitable until its second season on the air, and tortured its fan base when it wasn’t widely available on major distributors during a 2007-08 standstill.

Mark SilvermanFor that first year, major cable and satellite companies insisted on sticking BTN on a sports tier, forcing customers to pay extra fees. Silverman balked. Fans revolted.

“It was, to date, still the most difficult time of my professional career,” said Silverman, a former executive with ABC, NBC and Walt Disney. “We never expected full distribution at launch – that just doesn’t happen in the industry – but we also didn’t expect it to get as heated and as public as it got.”

That’s the cautionary tale for SEC ESPN Network creators, who today take comfort in the extended deadline to seal a deal with Comcast, Time Warner, DISH Network and DirecTV – who combine for 68 million viewers. (AT&T U-verse, the first company to agree with SEC Network, has 4.5 million subscribers.)

“Look, we have 16 months to have those conversations in advance of launching the network,” said former ESPN senior vice president Justin Connolly, who will handle SEC Network day-to-day operations. “We feel good about the opportunities that exist on that horizon, and we’re literally just getting into those discussions right now.”

Hell hath no fury like a scorned fan who can’t watch his or her team’s game. The SEC might be wise to take heed from that conference up north.

“I think that anytime you take on a venture in anything that’s similar to it, you can learn from it,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs conceded. “So I think we learn the good and the bad from … other conferences: what they’ve done, what they’re going to accomplish. Maybe some things, you learn what not to do.”

ESPN president John Skipper was quick to point out ESPN negotiates license fees and other transactions with distributors, not consumers. That’s why organizers are urging fans to visit GetSECNetwork.com, hoping to strike a compromise with Comcast, DirecTV, etc. and avoid egg on their face the way Big Ten Network faced five years ago.

“We feel like the network will be priced efficiently and effectively,” said a confident Connolly.

Maybe the partnership of powers prevails easier than expected. An SEC release read Thursday: “This collaboration between the SEC and ESPN will bring together unparalleled content from one of the most competitive conferences in the country with the highest quality, most innovative production partner in the sports industry.”’

Translation: It’s the SEC, it’s ESPN, so how could this not work?

“The thing that was our single biggest hurdle to get over when we started off,” Bielema said of BTN’s initial distribution struggles, “I think that glitch has already been eradicated (by the SEC).”

Nick Saban

Access approved

Nick Saban’s no stranger to attention; that’s the territory with winning three national championships in four years.

With an in-house network, however, follows additional, constant demands for access – everything from exclusive interviews to cameras in the locker room.

“I think the time that we have to spend on media-related promotion … can’t be increased because we have other things that are important to do,” Saban said. “I think the time may get redistributed – but our players need to go to class, our players need to practice and prepare for games and be able to do those things without interruption.”

Bielema recalls “the domino effect” of more commitments to BTN, as well as the immediate benefits.

“Now you’re talking to a young man, he’s like, ‘oh yeah, I’ve been watching you for years’,” Bielema said. “Before you ever met him or talked to him, he knew a lot about you and your program. So I think that’s the part that you can’t even really project or fathom until it’s real.”

Still, for sticklers to detail like Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, it’s a challenge to confront.

“It’s all about balance,” Malzahn said. “You take care of your job first, and you put your schedule up where you can be very flexible and accommodate everyone.”

Call it like they see it?

Then there’s the question of objectivity. It’s a question BTN faces, as it insists on expressing its own voice.

“The network needs to have credibility as a news organization,” Big Ten senior associate commissioner of television administration Mark Rudner said in August. “I think the network has done a really good job on reporting news … they’re not taking direction from the conference office. They’re just not.”

Will the SEC Network advocate hard-hitting journalism, pump sunshine, or somewhere in the middle?

“They ought to be able to say whatever they believe,” Auburn president Jay Gogue said. “So I wouldn’t view us as in any way involved in controlling content.”

The network spearhead’s judgment is worthy, but it does conflict with what’s written in a network release Thursday: “The Network will cover and report on sports news and information in an objective manner, but the basic premise is the Network will represent the conference and its member institutions.”

In other words, say a football team loses four straight or a program is slammed with NCAA violations. Fans will quickly find out whether studio analysts employed by SEC Network have free reign to speak their mind.

John Skipper, Mike Slive

Confident crew

The Wall Street Journal has reported ESPN will own 100 percent of SEC Network – which Slive coyly disputed on Birmingham radio Friday.

“We have structured our relations in a way that’s really in the best interests of both of us … we’re both happy,” Slive said at Thursday’s announcement. “We will not at this particular time, and I don’t anticipate in the near future, detail our financials.

“I will say this: we wouldn’t have done this if we didn’t believe the network was going to be, in the long-term, a benefit of the league in terms of distribution and revenue.”

With more than a year to prepare, SEC Network’s still ironing out how to fill out the never-ending news cycle, since live games only take up so much air time.

“We’ve been concentrating on the types of stories from an academic perspective,” Gogue said, “that we would like to see occur the next few years or after the launch of the channel.”

According to Connolly, ESPN will oversee the SEC’s official corporate partner program and manage the league’s digital platforms.

BTN has developed a devoted following for Emmy-winning documentary “The Journey: Big Ten Basketball”, Big Ten Elite, BTN LiveBig and Football Preview Tour among other original content.

“We’re quite confident this is a new and unique opportunity, and that nothing like this has been done before,” Skipper said. “The level of distribution we’ll have at the beginning, the quality of the production, the amount of the games that we’ll have, the sort of integration with digital platforms, this is taking this to a whole new level.”

For as much power as Big Ten Network lent Bielema and his yesteryear counterparts, one thing was evident in his comments about BTN – following the trend with Gogue, Jacobs, Slive and Skipper.

All of them sidestepped mentioning the Big Ten, Big Ten Network or any other conference directly by name.

That’s the “S-E-C!” way. That’s the SEC’s mission.

“I don’t think our intention,” Skipper said, “is to compare this to anything else.”

SEC ESPN Network

May 3, 2013

Main & notes: SEC Network announced

2Auburn3 (1)

SEC Network to feed fans’ seemingly insatiable appetite

BY AARON BRENNER and SETH EMERSON

abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com and semerson@macon.com

@WarEagleExtra and @SethEmerson

ATLANTA — Mike Slive isn’t exactly sure when he changed his mind. For years the commissioner of the SEC was convinced his conference was so successful it could just rely on CBS, ESPN and other television networks.

But he eventually came to the conclusion that a league so big and successful needs its own network. On Thursday he and the biggest names in the SEC unveiled the latest move to dominate college sports.

The SEC Network is scheduled to launch in August 2014, a 24/7 home for the conference that will carry some football games, basketball games, other events and round-the-clock SEC-related programming.

“Today, we say good-bye to Project X and hello SEC Network,” Slive proclaimed at a news conference that featured all 14 SEC head football coaches, plus 18 head coaches in other sports.

Slive didn’t reveal any monetary figures, but the network, a partnership with ESPN, is expected to bring in yet more money to the SEC, and feed the hunger for content from the fans of its teams.

ncf_a_slive_b1_600
SEC notes: Movement for nine game-schedule

BY AARON BRENNER and SETH EMERSON

abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com and semerson@macon.com

@WarEagleExtra and @SethEmerson

ATLANTA — It still may be far from happening, but there is more sentiment in the SEC for a nine-game football conference schedule.

Alabama coach Nick Saban came out in favor on Thursday, and SEC commissioner Mike Slive said it needs to be discussed — even if most of the other coaches are against it.

“The league will make a decision,” Slive said. “In light of the playoff, in light of changes, we ought to be discussing how we schedule. Whether we change it or not is another matter. This league didn’t get to be where it is without opening the door and looking at everything and making sure that we’re doing everything we need to do to be as good as we can be.”

The creation of an SEC Network has led to yet more discussion of the conference moving to a nine-game football schedule. It was a hot topic on Thursday at the Hyatt Regency, with coaches once again voicing their opposition, and their commissioner essentially saying: We’ll see.

Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2013/05/02/2488312/sec-notes-movement-for-nine-game.html

February 26, 2013

Full recap: Auburn offense fizzles again, Alabama rolls to 61-43 romp

BKC-UM-AUBURN

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – During a second-half media timeout of Tuesday’s Auburn-Alabama rematch, a student fan elicited one of the loudest ovations of the Crimson Tide’s 61-43 victory at Coleman Coliseum.

By draining his first free throw attempt, his first 3-point try and his second half-court heave, the young man not only won himself a barbecue dinner for 20 people. He proved there wasn’t, in fact, a lid on the basket where the Tigers were shooting.

He needed 25 seconds to score the equivalent of seven points. Meanwhile, in a nearby huddle, Auburn coach Tony Barbee was busy drawing a technical foul from the officials, frustration boiling over from his team only having scored eight points in nine minutes since halftime.

Both versions of this year’s “Iron Ball” were hard up for scoring; on Feb. 6, the Tigers enjoyed their most thrilling win this year, in a comeback with Cam back (Newton, that is) on campus.

But Alabama (19-9, 11-3 SEC) had little trouble pulling away late, ensuring a series split and fortifying their NCAA tournament at-large candidacy before an attendance of 12,633 fans.

“We’ve talked about the importance of every game going forward, but obviously any time you get a chance to play your in-state rival, it adds a different meaning,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “I thought our guys were really locked in early – very similar to the last time we played them from a defensive standpoint.”

“I think we were a better team than we were 20 days ago.”

Alabama leading scorer Trevor Releford was splendid in his encore, following a 36-point performance in the Crimson Tide’s three-overtime loss at LSU over the weekend. He poured in 21, bolstered by four 3-pointers.

Reserve swingman Nick Jacobs produced a neat double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“We were very determined,” Releford said. “We didn’t like the way it went down in Auburn. This is our home court and we had to defend it.”

Grant is known as a defensive coach, to be sure, but he’s been particularly irritating to Barbee’s offense. In 130 series meetings from 1952-2010, Auburn failed to reach 50 points just four times. In Barbee’s six chances, Auburn failed to reach 50 points four times.

Auburn center Rob Chubb had 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting, but no other Tigers exceeded six points.

Chubb’s co-captain, Frankie Sullivan, was 1-for-9 from the floor.

“This isn’t anything new or different of what I’ve seen all conference play from Frankie,” Barbee said.

Guards Sullivan, Josh Wallace, Chris Denson and Jordan Price combined for two assists and eight turnovers. Denson, who only played three minutes in Saturday’s loss at Ole Miss when Barbee judged his defensive effort as poor, was 0-for-5 from the field against the Tide.

Other than Chubb, Auburn shot 23 percent from the floor, including 2-for-15 from 3-point range. The Tigers’ 43 points is their lowest total of the season, and their worst output against Alabama since 1949.

“Missed layups, missed open shots, missed tip-backs right at the rim, and we didn’t shoot the ball very well,” Barbee said. “I thought we attacked the paint fairly well, (but) how are you going to win a game when you miss 20 layups?”

Auburn (9-19, 3-12) only has two 20-loss seasons in its history – a 6-26 finish in 1972-73, and 11-20 in Barbee’s first year on The Plains, two years ago.

One more loss, and it’ll be two out of three. But Barbee insisted he’s not giving in.

“Nope. No, no, no,” Barbee said, asked if he’s ready for this season to end. “Anybody knows me knows I’m a fighter. I thought my team fought today. We just couldn’t get the ball to go in.”

Barbee has, in recent weeks, questioned his team’s mental toughness, which Chubb admitted afterward has been an issue his senior year.

“There are definitely some guys that can go the extra mile, the extra effort, you know what I mean?” Chubb said. “Nobody in particular – it’s just a team effort, and you can’t win a game with one of the guys out of the five not doing everything.

“The thing about this team – sometimes it changes. It’s never just one person. Just a lot of little things add up to a big loss.”

On Saturday, Alabama has a huge follow-up game at No. 8 Florida while Auburn returns home to face Vanderbilt.

THREE-POINTERS

- Six of Alabama’s 11 SEC victories have been by four points or less. Other than a 75-43 drubbing at last-place Mississippi State, Alabama had not won a league game by more than 10 points until Tuesday.

- Alabama has beaten just four teams this year appearing in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s current tournament teams, and it’s not a particularly distinguished group. Kentucky, Villanova, South Dakota State and Charleston Southern are each projected to be no better than a 12-seed in the Big Dance.

- Alabama head football coach Nick Saban and his three-titles-in-four-years squad was recognized at halftime for retaining the James E. Foy Sportsmanship Trophy, going to the Iron Bowl victor. The Crimson Tide smoked Auburn 49-0 on Nov. 24 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.