Spring Football

Leaving Sunday for Las Vegas and the annual Scout Media workshop and convention, I bought a Birmingham News to read on the airplane. I already had the unread Tuscaloosa News (which includes a five-way Sudoku that would take all four hours of the flight) and a book, but the Birmingham News had its spring football preview, and that got my attention.

The Birmingham News has been doing its spring preview of Southeastern Conference football for as long as a I can remember. When I was in the sports information office at Alabama in the 1970s it was my annual task to make the selections on behalf of Bama for Alf Van Hoose, who was the sports editor at the time.

Some people may have thought that I went running up to Coach Bryant's office to see how to rank the teams and which players to vote for All-SEC and to get help in filling out the awkward "Best of the SEC" that the newspaper still uses. "Most Versatile?" This year Rafael Little of Kentucky beat out Darren McFadden of Arkansas.


I got out the previous year's SEC final standings and statistics and media guide and started my guesses. A pretty good guess each year is that the teams that were strong last season will be strong again this season and the teams that were weak last season will be weak again.

Then, as now, I didn't pay much attention to teams that were not on Alabama's schedule. I can tell you that today I'd take McFadden over Little, because I know so little about Little. I know about McFadden.

The media relations directors of the SEC are probably more conscientious about this poll than I was. The main thing it did for me (besides give me a few extra hours of work) was give me a blue print for every other poll that came along. The next newspaper that needed a pre-season guess at the final standings would get the same one I had given to Van Hoose.

I do remember two or three or perhaps a half dozen years ago seeing the Birmingham News poll of media relations directors and then a few weeks later seeing another poll of the SEC media relations directors that was slightly different. I wondered how that happened.

I don't have issues with the Birmingham News poll. I'm guessing the media relations people have done more studying of the SEC than I have. For the record the poll had Auburn and LSU tied for first in the SEC West, followed by Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. In the East, it was Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

(Now, as always, a school's media relations director can't vote for his own school.)

They also ranked all 12 schools on "Overall Strength," whatever exactly that means. Players? Head coach? Coordinators? Assistant coaches? Team orthopedic surgeon?

That result was 1. LSU, 2. Florida, 3. Auburn, 4. Georgia, 5. Alabama, 6. Tennessee, 7. Arkansas, 8. South Carolina, 9. Ole Miss, 10. Kentucky, 11. Mississippi State, 12. Vanderbilt.

I was a little surprised so few Alabama players showed up on the pre-season All-SEC team. No Tiders were first team offense and only tailback Kenneth Darby was second team. No Alabama players were first team defense and only end Wallace Gilberry and cornerback Ramzee Robinson were second team.

The newspaper made the placekicker a member of the defensive team and Bama's Jamie Christensen, who had three last-moment (two of them last play) game-winning kicks squeezed on to the second team.

The newspaper capsuled each team and made note of Juwan Simpson's recent arrest. It was probably a deadline issue that caused them to omit the recent arrest of Auburn linebacker Tray Blackmon, who was highlighted.

Although the capsules (and most of the special section) were run-of-the-mill enlightening, I'll hang on to the section for a couple of months.

Who knows? Someone may ask me to select a pre-season All-SEC team. I'd think hard about Rafael Little of Kentucky, but the SEC's Most Versatile Player didn't make first or second team pre-season All-SEC. But I will have a list of the teams in the order the media relations directors think they'll finish to crib from.

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