Random thoughts on a cool spring day...
*A dozen years ago, when Roy Kramer left the athletic director's job at Vanderbilt to become Southeastern Conference commissioner, he was an unknown to most people. As he heads into retirement, he has left an imprint on college athletics that will never be erased. Near and dear to the presidents of SEC schools, he made his league the most profitable in the history of college sports. Revenue increased three-fold in his tenure.
Kramer was the driving force behind the Bowl Championship Series. He presided over the first conference championship game in the history of Division I-A football. When he spoke, everyone in college athletics listened. He negotiated a lucrative football TV contract with CBS. The SEC was the first conference to have its own national TV contract, paving the way for others.
Not every decision Kramer made was popular. Some of his decisions were wrong. He tinkered with the SEC baseball tournament for years, driving coaches to distraction. His words left some schools with the feeling that they were of lesser importance to the conference office than others. He and his lieutenants fouled up the bowl process last season, resulting in Ole Miss being left out. Every school in the league was in some sort of NCAA trouble under his tenure. He leaves with Alabama and Kentucky in the NCAA jailhouse. But all in all, Kramer was the right man at the right time for the SEC. Whoever is called on to replace him will face a daunting task.
*If tackles DeMarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson are healthy and young players come through at end, Auburn could have a dominating defense next football season. Everything else is in place. In more than 30 years of covering Auburn football, I've never seen as much speed, athleticism and depth at linebacker. There is talent and experience in the secondary. Gene Chizik's defensive scheme will, no doubt, be a hit with fans. It's all about being aggressive and getting to the football. Don't be surprised if sophomore end Bret Eddins is one of the surprise stories of next season.
*Everybody else is doing it, so I guess I will, too. Here's my guess at who will play in the Final Four: Duke, Maryland, Kansas and Arizona. The winner? Kansas. More predictions: Florida will be the last SEC team standing, going to the final eight. Alabama will go out in the second round, losing to Oklahoma State. Gonzaga, the team everybody loves to love, will lose to Wyoming in the first round.
*For the first time in years, the SEC may not be the nation's strongest baseball conference. Georgia and Tennessee, powerhouses last season, both seem to have fallen on hard times. Those close to the LSU program say the Bayou Bengals have their weakest team in years. Florida, Ole Miss and Mississippi State appear to be the class of the league going into conference play, but don't be surprised if Auburn and Alabama make some noise before it's over.
*Has any college football team ever faced a more challenging start than Auburn next season? The Tigers open with Southern Cal on Sept. 2, play Western Carolina at home on Sept. 7, Vanderbilt at home on Sept. 14 and at Mississippi State on Sept. 19. It's not that any of those teams are of national championship caliber, but four games in 17 days is unheard of in football at any level.
*Auburn coaches will give lip service to a quarterback race all the way into two-a-days, but my guess it's Jason Campbell's job. To my untrained eye, he has clearly had the better of it so far in spring practice.
*Did first-year Florida football coach Ron Zook really throw a fan off the practice field for sitting down during the Gators' first day of spring practice? Unbelievable. Just what that has to do with winning or losing is a mystery to me.
*They don't get as much attention as they should, but three Auburn teams are serious national championship contenders. The women's golf team is ranked No. 1 in the nation. The men's and women's swim teams are serious threat to win their NCAA meets.
Until next time...
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