Rohan Davey answered his critics in a big way by staying healthy for the most part, and by breaking nearly every single season passing record at LSU, not to mention a few SEC ones. Josh Reed became the best WR in the country. The team overcame a lack of depth on the offensive line and a bend and bend and bend but don't break defense. The Tigers became the first team to ever win the west with three conference losses. That is most indicative of how wild the season really was.
Auburn over achieved again! Tubby has made a career of doing just that. Sooner or later he has to be recognized as a good coach. He does it year in and year out. He's had the 1997 out-manned Rebels winning in Tiger Stadium, winning the Egg Bowl in dramatic fashion, and beating Randy Moss and Marshall in the Motor City Bowl. He lead Auburn to the SEC West crown in 2000. He beat Florida and came within four quarters of becoming back to back SEC West champs in 2001. All of this with little talent. Auburn was scrappy all of last year. Their defense kept them in games they shouldn't have won and Damon Duval broke the hearts of SEC fans everywhere. Duval had a stretch of three straight game-winning kicks. You got to be sound in the kicking game to be a consistent winner and Auburn was.
Alabama had about as mediocre a season you can have and still have the fans support. After hearing all season about how poor they were, the Tide pulled out a winning season. They weren't always pretty, but they were competitive. The Tide had a lot of leadership on that squad and with NCAA sanctions looming over the program, 6-5 in 2001 may feel like the Orange Bowl before it's all said and done.
Arkansas may have been the leagues most improved team from game 1 to game 11. This team looked like a Juco squad against UNLV and Tennessee. They collectively had just over two hundred yards combined in their 1st two outings. A funny thing happened on the way to 6th in the SEC West, Matt Jones. With the QB by committee system not working, Matt Jones emerged to lead the Hogs to a huge win against UM in the marathon overtime game. By season's end, the Hogs were clicking and had a shot to win every game. While Arkansas let a few slip away they shouldn't have, they won at least two they shouldn't have either. If nothing else the team now has an identity and a QB.
If there was a more predictable team than the Ole Miss Rebels last year I didn't see them. The Rebs won every game they should have and lost every game they should have. They also won one (LSU) they shouldn't have and lost one (MSU) they shouldn't have. It was all a wash and it worked to our favor. The Rebs were entertaining. They couldn't stop anybody and they could throw the football. UM had big problems with teams that could run and teams that could cover the pass. In the games that Ole Miss lost, Eli got knocked around pretty good. Had Ole Miss had any sense of rush defense they probably would have played in Atlanta for the SEC crown. Most experts had the Rebs pegged as a one-man show and that was pretty much the verdict. The Rebs never should have pulled off the upset in Tigertown and had they not overlooked MSU late in the season, they probably would have went bowling. With those type losses come maturity. The biggest two areas of concern heading into 2001 rang true, no defensive line and no experience on offense.
While it was certainly en vogue in October, no one was doubting the MSU Bulldogs in August. Last season's debacle still has many Dawg fans fuming. There are a million ideas and everybody has a friend who has a friend who dated somebody who went to high school with somebody that was friends with a current player's cousin and they said this and that. The bottom line is we just weren't a very good squad last year. I don't know if it was pre-season hype or if September 11th took our kid's attention off football. I don't know and won't pretend to know. I do know that down the stretch we were a different football team. Our kids played hard those last few weeks and had a chance to win in the final moments in nearly every game. I liked the fact that Fant got some much needed experience and Bivines emerged as a playmaker.
Ok, we all had a little egg on our face, but we weren't as bad as we were made out to be and a few well placed field goals and a stop on 3rd down and this team was easily 7-4. The well is a lot deeper than most would have you think.
Florida was another squad that didn't meet pre-season expectations. Many had the Gators as #1 and eventual National Champs. Florida throttled pre-season SEC West favorites MSU and LSU and seemed to be on a collision course with UT in the final game of the regular season at home. Florida lost to a very game Auburn team and lost the grudge match against the hated Volunteers. Florida was relegated to the role as bridesmaid for only the third time since the SEC switched to the two division format. Grossman impressed and had a better season than Danny Weurfel did the year he won the Heisman, but Grossman got the shaft. Grossman did elect to return for his junior season despite the fact that all his favorite targets defected to the NFL. Let it also be noted that Brock Berlin fled to the University of Miami where he will have one season of eligibility left. Berlin played in 2000 and 2001. He will have to sacrifice a year of eligibility to transfer, so that leaves him with the 2003 season to show the NFL what he can do. I am sure he now regrets signing with Florida out of high school.
David Greene hit the Athens, GA campus like nobody's business. This lefty QB showed the confidence of a seasoned signal caller most of the year. Outside of the Florida and South Carolina games, Greene looked like a million bucks, which makes 1st year head coach Mark Richt look like a genius. Richt already has endeared fans to him with the monster win in Knoxville. UGA was young, but got better each week. They laid the foundation for a great future the last six weeks. Musa Smith took over as the team's bell cow of the backfield. This team may be the team of the future if last year was any indication of what Richt brings to the table. If he can just beat his arch rivals enough to stay around long enough to build a solid program.
Some may remember that there was talk early last summer in Knoxville about Travis Stephens having to give up his number to incoming blue chipper Jabari Davis. Stephens was very vocal about the show of disrespect and stood his ground and became the SEC's leading rusher for 2001. He waited his turn and carried an offense in search of continuity early in the year. He won the Arkansas game and nearly won the UGA game. Had it not been for a late defensive collapse by the Volunteer's defense the Vols would have been undefeated heading into the SECCG. Casey Clausen improved and a new threat emerged in old man Kelley Washington who became the go to go guy while Dontae Stallworth was out for 6 weeks with a broken wrist. Stallworth declared for the draft and later recanted, but the NCAA refused to let him have his final year of eligibility back.
South Carolina did it again. They got the great start and won some games they should not have, but the result was the same; another visit to the Outback bowl against Ohio State which the Cocks won again. The season was marred by the Derek Watson saga. He stayed in trouble with the law most of the time and in Coach Holtz doghouse as well. Watson was ineffective on the field and served as little more than a distraction to his teammates.
Kalimba Edwards had a stellar campaign and rounded out a very impressive career as the Gamecocks leader at LB. The secondary full of veterans had a solid season and the 2nd teamers got a little PT themselves. The two games that made the season were the UGA and MSU games. Against UGA Phil Petty led a last minute drive to the goal line, while against MSU it was the capitalization of MSU errors that led to a victory that some considered an upset at the time. How little did we know?
Kentucky had an on again off again love affair with QB Jared Lorenzen. For a few weeks Shane Boyd became the man, but due to his ineffectiveness and calls for Jared, Lorenzen got back in the saddle and good things began to happen. To bad he didn't play defense too. UK mired in mediocrity once again now have the NCAA sanctions to deal with. Who knows if this team will ever bounce back. Most in the Bluegrass state are wondering if Tim Couch has a younger brother. Not since the days of the UK air raid have the Cats been as potent, but Mumme ball is dead and buried in Lexington and now Gut Moriss is picking up the pieces. Last year was painful to watch, but their kids showed a lot of heart making the most of a difficult situation.
Woody is gone from Nashville. I know that the Middle Tennessee loss did him in back in week one. He offered his resignation and the AD refused it, but later accepted it as the Dores closed the books on it's 19th consecutive losing season. The Dores had a chance to send Coach Woody out with a win over UM , but blew a 4th quarter two TD lead. The season had very few bright spots and, as expected, the Dores begin a new era with a new coach. More on that next week.
It was a season with several surprises and a lot of heartache for some. There are always one or two plays that make the season and I am sure that many of us have played those plays over and over in our heads as have the coaches and players. One thing is certain about last season, it is over. As difficult as it was it did come to an end and MSU showed a lot of heart in the Ole Miss and BYU games. I am excited about this season, but just like last year and every year the folks at Lindy's and Athlon's don't determine the winners they only pick them. And they don't do very well to be honest. Remember Sports Illustrated picked Oregon State as national champs pre-season. Nobody knows and that's the best part about it. Last season was tough on all of us, not just MSU fans but Americans period. Everybody felt a little funny complaining about a football game after all that had happened. This year promises to be a good one because America's back and here's hoping MSU is too.
Until next week,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is email@example.com.