A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning.
Athlon and Lindy's will be out with their preseason football mags in about a week or so, so here are my pre-Memorial Day predictions, which, of course, are subject to change at least five or six times between now and September due to (a) injuries; (b) transfers; (c) academic casualties; (d) nights in the pokey; and (e) dates with the NCAA Clearinghouse.
1. South Carolina: Stevie Wonder has (a) won 41 games in the last four years; (b) compiled the best record in the SEC against top 10 opponents over that same period; (c) loaded up the roster top to bottom with SEC caliber athletes and (d) a quarterback he thinks he can win with. That's good enough for me.
2. Georgia: There are folks in Athens who think the Bulldogs are better off with Hutson Mason at quarterback than they were with Aaron Murray. Not so sure about that, but any team that can hand the ball off to Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall 40-something times a game can win a lot of football games. The defense might actually stop someone, too.
3. Florida: The schedule is brutal and Jeff Driskel has never made it all the way through a season without missing at least one game with an injury, things that do not bode well for the Gators. But, when you've hit rock bottom – seven straight losses, one of which is Georgia Southern is rock bottom – there is only one way to go and that's up. The Gators could be the most improved team in the league and still go 6-6. The schedule is that tough, but 8-4 is realistic.
4. Missouri: Even with the loss of Kony Ealy, Michael Sam, James Franklin and Henry Josey the Tigers looked like a potential second place finisher in the East until they lost Dorial Green-Beckham. This is a bigger loss to that offense than you can imagine. Missouri's season will be determined by a three-game stretch of (at) South Carolina; (home) Georgia and (at) Florida. The Tigers could go 0-3. Easily.
5. Vanderbilt: Derek Mason thinks he can turn Vandy into the Stanford of the SEC. He might. Someday. First, he better get some big, strong and mean linemen on both sides of the ball and recruit a lot more speed. Until then, the Commodores are probably good enough to break even thanks to a schedule that includes four gimmes (Shirley Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion).
6. Tennessee: They love Butch Jones. Now. They might not love him next year. The schedule is brutal. There is only one gimme game and that's Chattanooga. The other three out of conference games (Utah State are both losable and Oklahoma) lead into a conference schedule that begins with Georgia in Athens and Florida in Knoxville. They never knew how good they had it with Phat Phil.
7. Kentucky: Bold prediction – Kentucky will win an SEC game this year. Second bold prediction: Kentucky will be 100% improved. That means 4-8 and 1-7 in the SEC. If only they played football as well as they make whisky in The Commonwealth.
1. Auburn: Gus thinks the Tigers will be even better on offense this year because now everybody will know the plays. That's scary. So is Nick Marshall. Gus says he knows what he is doing this year. For a guy who didn't know what he was doing last year I thought Nick Marshall was really, really good.
2. Alabama: I know, I know. Conventional wisdom says Alabama will win the SEC West, but conventional wisdom said the Tide would win the national championship last year and they didn't. I've got to wonder what happens with Nick Saban if Alabama loses a couple of games and doesn't make the SEC Championship Game. Would he bolt for the NFL?
3. LSU: Folks in Baton Rouge think Leonard Fournette is a hybrid of Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker. How many times have we heard that in the last 25-30 years? But what if he is? Les Miles might be the poster child for Planter's Nuts but he never lacks for athletes.
4. Mississippi State: Dan Mullen thinks Dak Prescott could have a Tebow-like year. Dan the Man also thinks he has the kind of defense it takes to stop people, which is a good thing considering they couldn't stop anyone last year. The schedule is conducive to a very good season – four out of conference cupcakes and the (at) Kentucky and (home) Vanderbilt from the East plus Arkansas at home.
5. Ole Miss: The Rebels are probably a year away. They were young last year and will be young again this year, but improving as they go. This year they're good enough to make it to a bowl game and put the fear of God into every team on their schedule.
6. Texas A&M: The Aggies are going to score points even without Johnny Football and Mike Evans. Scoring has never been the problem. Stopping people has been and will continue to be what keeps the Aggies from winning championships. The Aggies will make a bowl game.
7. Arkansas: My first prediction for the Hogs is that once Auburn lights them up for about 60 points on August 30, the boosters will start calling for Bret Bielema's head. My second prediction is that after the Hogs lose on successive weeks to the Aggies, Alabama and Georgia I'll have Bielema somewhere near the top of my Dead Man Walking list on my Countdown to Firing Day.
The season hasn't begun, but here are my top five in my three main categories – Dead Men Walking (it's not a question of if they get fired, just when); Endangered Species List (a couple of losses away from making the Dead Man Walking list); and On Life Support list (it's a 50-50 call whether they make it or not).
Endangered Species List: (1) Charlie Weis, Kansas; (2) Dan Enos, Central Michigan; (3) Troy Calhoun, Air Force; (4) Bret Bielema, Arkansas; (5) Tim Beckman, Illinois.
On Life Support: (1) Brady Hoke, Michigan; (2) Bo Pelini, Nebraska; (3) Randy Edsall, Maryland; (4) Bob Davie, New Mexico; (5) Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech.
3. Nick Marshall, Auburn: He was learning the offense on the fly last year when he passed for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns and ran for 1,068 and 12 more.
5. Todd Gurley, Georgia: He missed three full games and the equivalent of two more because of injuries last year. He still gained 989 yards and scored 16 touchdowns (10 running, 6 receiving).
At Texas, they're debating whether or not to sell beer at football games this fall. They've been selling it at baseball and softball games so now they're thinking about selling it at football games. At LSU, athletic director Joe Alleva would like to see the SEC ban on beer and alcohol sales lifted. At both Texas and LSU – and every stadium in the country where they have sky boxes – the rich and famous can drink to their hearts content, but at most venues there are no beer sales to the folks who sit in the cheap (okay, it's not really cheap to sit in the stands but it's cheaper than the sky boxes) seats. Given the potential for having to pay players a stipend, I'll bet beer sales are a matter of when not if.
Would you be in favor of beer sales at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium?
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I'm old enough to remember when Duane and Greg Allman were based out of Daytona Beach where they did business as the Allman Joys. I also remember seeing them live and in concert quite a few times before the tragic death of Duane in 1971 followed by the death of bass player Berry Oakley a little more than one year later. Today's song is "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" from their 1970 "Idlewild South" album.