It’s too early to push the panic button but after winning seven consecutive national championships, the absence of an SEC team hoisting the crystal football after the final game of the season has caused league critics to declare the end of an era. That 2014 national champ Ohio State returns nearly everybody important and there is no dominant SEC team on the horizon has only added weight to the debate that the SEC is no longer the big bully on the block.
Fueling the debate that the SEC is trending downward is a lack of outstanding quarterbacks and a disturbing lack of dominating defenses. Ohio State won the national championship game last season with its third string quarterback. It could be argued successfully that Cardale Jones was better than either Blake Sims (Alabama) or Dak Prescott (Mississippi State), who were head and shoulders the best two QBs in the SEC. Prescott is back this year and he rates among the best quarterbacks nationally (Lindy’s ranks him third) but Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs (#14) and Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson (#16) are the only other SEC QBs on the Lindy’s top 25 list. Dobbs didn’t become a starter until after midseason last year and Johnson’s only start last year was because Nick Marshall was suspended for a portion of the season opener.
Defensively, there were some good SEC defenses – LSU at #9 was the highest ranked nationally; Arkansas (10), Alabama (12), Ole Miss (13), Florida (15) and Georgia (17) were among the top 20 – but none of them dominated. LSU had four games in which it gave up at least four touchdowns. Arkansas gave up 45 points twice. Alabama gave up 630 yards to Auburn and 537 to Ohio State in two of its last three games. Ole Miss gave up five touchdowns to Auburn, six to TCU in the Peach Bowl. Florida gave up 42 points twice. Georgia gave up 418 rushing yards to Florida and 399 to Georgia Tech.
It is interesting that in the preseason rankings, Alabama is typically mentioned in the top four (Athlon has Bama at #2) but the Crimson Tide goes into fall camp without a clearcut #1 quarterback and a defense that had serious problems in the secondary last year. Most of the preseason magazines have Auburn listed in the top ten but the Tigers are breaking in a new QB and their defense gave up 26.7 points per game and nearly 400 yards a game last year. Most prognosticators pick Georgia in the top 10-12 teams, but the Bulldogs are so questionable at quarterback that transfer Greyson Lambert, who lost the starting job at Virginia (4-8 last year), should be the #1 when the season opens and a defense that had problems getting off the field on third downs.
Optimists say it’s still the SEC and the last two years have been an aberration. Realists look at the last two years and then what is coming back this season and see another year in which the SEC fails to produce a champion.
Florida 10, #3 Alabama 6; October 12, 1963
After Gene Ellenson gave his pregame pep talk, Jack (Panama Jack) Katz stood up and destroyed the blackboard with a headbutt. Immediately, the Gators wanted to rush out of the locker room onto the field at Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa but there was only a single door and it was almost a cartoon-like scene. On Bobby Lyle’s opening kickoff, Alabama All-American Benny Nelson caught the ball at the three. At the five he was nearly decapitated by Hagood Clarke, who launched himself like a missile and stopped Nelson dead in his tracks. That sucked the air right out of the stadium and the Florida defense did its part to make sure it never came back. Florida got a 43-yard field goal from Lyle on its first possession. On Alabama’s second possession, with the Tide facing second and one at the Florida 25, Ellenson dropped seven into coverage and Joe Namath overthrew rather than risk an interception. On third and one, Jimmy Morgan decleated Bama’s bull of a fullback Mike Fracchia for a 1-yard loss. Bama went for it on fourth down and Nelson was mobbed by several Gators behind the line of scrimmage and fumbled the ball away. Alabama only crossed the 50 into Florida territory one more time the rest of the game. In the fourth quarter, the Gators executed a three-play, 75-yard drive for the clinching touchdown. Larry Dupree ran for 17 yards and Tommy Shannon threw an 18-yard pass on which Barry Brown made an incredible diving catch. In the ensuing huddle, Shannon told Dick Kirk he was going to get the ball and score a touchdown. Kirk made a prophet out of Shannon, taking a handoff on the right side and then cutting to the sidelines where he picked up a block from Charlie Casey. The last 20 yards of this 42-yard TD run featured Kirk blowing past Nelson, a 9.9 sprinter, into the end zone. Alabama later scored but a 2-point conversion pass was knocked away by Jim Bernhardt. Bama tried an onside kick but it was touched before it went 10 yards. The Gators ran out the clock for the win. After the game, Namath, held to 10-26 passing by the stout UF defense, stepped onto the Florida bus and told the Gators that he admired their effort and that they deserved to win the game.
General Bob Neyland, Tennessee: .829 (171-31-12)
Urban Meyer, Florida: .813 (65-15)
Wallace Wade, Alabama: .8117 (61-13-3)
Frank Thomas, Alabama: .8116 (115-24-7)
Nick Saban, LSU/Alabama: .802 (124-33)
Paul “Bear” Bryant, Kentucky/Alabama: .797 (292-69-14)
Les Miles, LSU: .780 (103-29)
Allyn McKeen, Mississippi State: .764 (65-19-3)
G.E. Pyle, Florida: .763 (26-7-3)
Dan McGugin, Vanderbilt: .762 (197-55-19)
Johnny Vaught, Ole Miss: .748 (190-61-12)
Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee: .745 (152-52)
Paul “Bear” Bryant, Kentucky/Alabama: 292-69-14
Steve Spurrier, Florida/South Carolina: 206-72-1
Vince Dooley, Georgia: 201-77-10
Dan McGugin, Vanderbilt: 197-55-19
Johnny Vaught, Ole Miss: 190-61-12
Ralph “Shug” Jordan, Auburn: 176-83-6
General Bob Neyland, Tennessee: 171-31-12
Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee: 152-52
Wally Butts, Georgia: 140-86-9
Mark Richt, Georgia: 136-48
WINNINGEST COACH IN SCHOOL HISTORY (SEC ONLY)
Alabama: Bear Bryant (232-46-9)
Arkansas: Frank Broyles (144-58-5)
Auburn: Shug Jordan (176-83-6)
Florida: Steve Spurrier (122-27-1)
Georgia: Vince Dooley (201-77-10)
Kentucky: Bear Bryant (60-23-5)
LSU: Charley McClendon (137-59-7)
Mississippi State: Jackie Sherrill (75-75-2)
Missouri: Gary Pinkel (112-66)
Ole Miss: Johnny Vaught (190-61-12)
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier (84-45)
Tennessee: Bob Neyland (171-31-12)
Vanderbilt: Dan McGugin (197-55-19)
1972: The Portland Trail Blazers could have chosen Julius Erving or Bob McAdoo. Instead, they selected LaRue Martin out of Loyola of Chicago, pretty much based on a game he had against Bill Walton. Martin averaged playing 14 minutes per game for his NBA career.
1962: The Chicago Zephyrs (became the Baltimore Bullets which became the Washington Bullets which are now the Washington Wizards) selected Billy McGill, who averaged 38.8 points per game as a senior at Utah over Zelmo Beatty and John Havlicek. McGill scored 3,094 points in a 5-year pro career while Beatty and Havlicek had lengthy NBA careers and are in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
2007: Greg Oden was already damaged goods when the Portland Trail Blazers selected him out of Ohio State with the #1 pick. His bad knees have continually betrayed him. He’s played in fewer than 100 NBA games in his career. The Blazers could have had Kevin Durant, Al Horford or Joakim Noah with this pick. The Trail Blazers are the same franchise that chose Sam Bowie with the #2 pick in 1984 over Michael Jordan.
1998: The Los Angeles Clippers could have picked Dirk Nowtizki, Paul Pierce or Vince Carter. Instead they selected Michael Olowokandi, who lasted nine years in the league but never was worth the money he was paid.
2001: The Washington Wizards chose Kwame Brown straight out of Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Georgia. Though he stuck in the NBA for 10 years and averaged 6.8 points and 5.6 rebounds, he certainly wasn’t worth the money that was invested. The Wiz could have picked either Tyson Chandler or Pau Gasol.
2013: The Cleveland Cadavers picked Anthony Bennett out of UNLV. He was a bust in Cleveland so he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves where he hardly played after January 31. By then the Wolves figured this dog can’t hunt. The 2013 draft wasn’t very good top to bottom, but the Cadavers could have picked Victor Oladipo or Michael Carter-Williams. The T-Wolves are trying to trade Bennett but right now there are no takers.
Lane Kiffin was the only Alabama assistant coach that didn’t get a raise. It’s not because he did a poor job. What Alabama pays Kiffin ($680,000 a year) subtracts from the $3.4 million that Southern Cal has to pay him for two more years. Top salary among the assistant coaches at Bama is defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who makes a cool $1.5 million, which is tied with John Chavis (Texas A&M) and Cam Cameron (LSU) for the #2 spot in assistant coach salaries. The #1 spot is held by former Florida coach Will Muschamp, who will knock down $1.6 million at Auburn in addition to the $4 million he gets from Florida each of the next four years as severance.
Kevin Love has opted out of his contract with the Cleveland Cadavers (worth $16.7 million) and will be an unrestricted free agent. The three most likely landing spots: Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers. Love’s decision might have been hastened by the play of Tristan Thompson during the NBA Playoffs. Thompson averaged 9.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game overall for the playoffs but improved those numbers to 10 points and 13 rebounds per game in the finals series against Golden State.
Former Miami All-American Andre Johnson, now at the end of his career and playing for the Indianapolis Colts, thinks an all University of Miami NFL team could win the Super Bowl. Right. You’re going to win a Super Bowl with Stephen Morris, Ryan Williams or Jake Heaps at QB. Those are the former QBs from The U that are currently in the NFL. Try again Andre. Use your head to do something other than part your ears.
ESPN puts only three ACC teams – Florida State, Clemson and Louisville – in its preseason top 25 power rankings. In addition to ranking perennial ACC power Virginia Tech among its programs on the downswing, ESPN says Miami appears to be “on a course for nowhere. If there’s a poster child for afterthought status, it’s Miami.”
Will the SEC stage a comeback and win a national championship in football for the first time since 2012 or will 2015 make it three straight years without a title?
From the first moment I heard Rachael Price sing, I’ve been a big fan of Lake Street Dive. They followed up their “Fun Machine” album last year with the long awaited “Bad Self Portraits,” recorded in 2012 but not released until 2014 because of contractual issues. The band is scheduled to perform at Magnolia Fest at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak on October 15.