Last summer on the ITAT message boards I predicted the most improved teams in the SEC divisions would be Vandy in the East and Mississippi State in the West. So far, I've seen nothing to make me change my perception. In fact, other than Vandy's big win in Fayetteville, there have been relatively few surprises so far this season. Going in, I did believe Tennessee might win at Florida and Auburn would likely beat Georgia Tech.
Things are about to change. What goes down from here on out will be wild. Unpredictably so. And with that in mind, let's start out fearlessly with what could be considered a shocker of major proportion. In the old days Mississippi State was a regular thorn in the side of a couple of SEC powers, LSU and Florida. Then came three decades of post-modern realignment. Bellard, Felker, Sherrill, Croom, Arnsparger, Archer, Hallman, DiNardo, Saban and now Miles. By the '90s we had East and West conference divisions. Much of what used to be seems to be no more.
But it is said, rightfully, that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Georgia and Auburn, Florida and LSU, Alabama and Tennessee. Heck, even Auburn and Tennessee. Even Kentucky and Vanderbilt has a certain familiarity and even predictability of outcome, given certain circumstances.
It will be forever outside the realm of my understanding as to why these programs, with entirely new conglomerations of athletes, will continually perform in similar fashion against one another, year after year, decade after decade, century after century. I only know that it is so. Inhibition is discarded under particular circumstances, retained under others.
Some teams bring out the best in you; others perpetual indifference. Only traumatic events, like the LSU voodoo of a burning student activities building or the death of man-god Bear Bryant can alter history's natural course. And yet sometimes the greater changes bring us back to the beginning, and the natural patterns start over.
LSU coach Les Miles
The secret to understanding this mad patterning of the football universe is not found in any statistical documentation of who always beats whom, or even in mere geographical context. There is nothing concrete in the database that will get at the secret. Yet there seems to be what the Eastern mystics call "karma." A certain spiritual relationship that transcends and perhaps even dictates the material facts.
So was Aristotle wrong about "that horse in that field?" Or was Plato on target after all? Maybe perceiving the abstract characteristics of a quadruped cropping a field is enough to achieve the fullest understanding possible. Maybe we don't need the horse at all.
No, no, no. That couldn't be. In the end, the game is played on the field, with real players in a real life drama of human effort and physical reality, right? There really is that running back on that day on that field. Every game is different in time and space. The coaches clearly had a choice whether to run the quarterback draw for a touchdown on fourth and one or the toss sweep inadvertently into the blitz for no gain. This is real history in the making.
So how come the pattern?
Perhaps the answer lies in Urban Meyer after Ron Zook.
Phillip Fulmer after Johnny Majors. Les Miles after Nick Saban. And Mike Price after Dennis Franchione. Maybe the explanation is to be found in the "happy" accidents of Galen Hall, Bill Curry and Mike Shula. But at the heart of it, perhaps Pat Dye had it right when he talked about the people "who football matters to." Like a dog who loves most the smell of itself, Alabama ultimately will have their Bama coach, be it DuBose, Perkins or Shula. The same can be said of the Chauvinistic Big Oranges, who will keep with one of their own regardless. And LSU folks, likewise, will only by sheer accident marry over their heads. Intelligence is not a virtue in Baton Rouge.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. For the good old days, it's time to take a dreamy 21st century approach, no matter how unlikely it may seem. It's the Platonic spirit that moves me. MISSISSIPPI STATE 24, LSU 23.
Bobby Johnson has Vandy atop the SEC East.
So what will it be, princess or pumpkin? MTSU has beaten Vanderbilt twice in Bobby Johnson's tenure, but this isn't the same Andy McCollum team that made waves too high for Commodores past. Could 2005 really be the second coming of the Black Knights of the Cumberland, resurrected from decades of doldrums? Show your Gold. VANDERBILT 35, MTSU 30.
Speaking of cursing and fuming, Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron is likely dropping a few four letter cracks around the stomping grounds of William Faulkner. Trouble is, reality don't speak Cajun. Like the four–part novel with the Shakesperian name, Coach O has is turning out to be a football story filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Coach Phillip Fulmer
Meanwhile, the Great Pumpkin returns to the friendly banks of the Tennessee River, hot off a 30-27 overtime triumph in the Baton Rouge Bayou over a staggeringly poorly coached LSU. Remembering that former Ole Miss Head Coach David Cutcliffe was once under the employ of the Pumpkin, and is still a dear friend, you can bet the treatment of the Oaf of Oxford will be nothing short of merciless. TENNESSEE 45, Ole Miss 10.
The slick Urban has charioted into the SEC arena donning victory robe and wreath and waving at all the sycophantic admirers, male and female, from media and fandom alike. Ain't it great to be a Florida Gator? The world waits, breathless, for a sign of dominance from the new Caesar in Orange and Blue. Beast of the East? Most certainly! National Title representative from the SEC? Why, of course!
Coach Urban Meyer
On the other side, the whole world seems to have bought into Brodie, Bama and a bad offensive line. Four wins over nobody, and its Roll Tide, Roll! Even Tennessee folks, through squinting eyes and a clinched tooth, seem to pulling for a return to Tide glory, at least if it comes at the expense of Florida. As always, UT will take all the help it can get (wink, wink).
In truth, this Saturday's matchup in Tuscaloosa is a tale of two pretenders. Florida has been playing good defense, but has no running game to speak of. Alabama too plays hard on defense, but the Tide offensive line could still be ticketed for Brodie abuse at any moment now that the competition has stiffened up.
Question, can Brodie stand the pain? If so, the Tide has a chance to pretend, for another week at least, that it can contend. Rumor has it that Bama brought in Brother Oliver back in the summer to help scout the Gators. Apparently Shula and Bama are pinning all future Tide hopes on the outcome of this one game. Biggest game in Tide history? Nah. Biggest game in Mike Shula's coaching career? You betcha. Do or die.
The Bama bandwagon is now officially full. ALABAMA 19, FLORIDA 14.
Speaking of surprises. Famed former Gator Steve Spurrier would like nothing better than to re-emerge on the college football scene with a huge upset on the Plains Saturday, and he has made some dramatic changes within his lineup to further the Gamecock cause.
South Carolina quarterback Blake Mitchell went down with an injury last week and will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by mobile redshirt freshman Antonio Heffner. But either Heffner's lack of experience or Mitchell's lack of mobility, should he play, will doom the Cocks to their third SEC loss in as many games.
South Carolina does have a very talented defensive backfield, led by all conference safety Ko Simpson, so if the Tigers get the least bit careless with the ball, they open themselves up for failure. But given the Gamecock woes against the run, this should be some kind of payback opportunity for AU running back and South Carolina transfer Kenny Irons and his speedy backfield compatriot Brad Lester. AUBURN 34, SOUTH CAROLINA 18.
Editor's Note: Mark Green was 8-0 last week to improve his season record to 30-5 (.857).