Spring flings

If anyone ever doubted how seriously Southeastern Conference fans take their football, here's a reminder: The 12 SEC spring games attracted 293,739 fans, an average of 24,478 per "contest," using the term loosely.

Nearly one-third of those 293,739 showed up to witness Nick Saban's first spring game at Alabama. A mind-boggling 92,138 fans packed Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa to watch a glorified scrimmage. Clearly, Saban has invigorated the Tide's football faithful much the way Bruce Pearl has revived Tennessee basketball's fan base.

Saban is threatening to upstage the SEC's resident golden boy, Urban Meyer. Meyer, coming off a national title in his second year at Florida, drew an estimated 47,500 to the Gators' spring game. Still, that was barely half what Saban drew to Tuscaloosa.

The Ol' Ball Coach did OK, too. Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks attracted 35,153 curious observers to Columbia.

While Saban's popularity in Alabama is impressive, it isn't absolute. Tommy Tuberville's Auburn Tigers attracted a whopping 31,757 fans to their spring game, underscoring why the annual Bama-Auburn "Iron Bowl" is one of the NCAA's premier rivalries.

There's a 10,000-fan drop-off after The Fab Four. Georgia is a distant fifth after drawing 21,407 fans to its spring game. Tennessee is sixth at 17,409 and Ole Miss seventh with an estimated 17,000.

LSU, coming off a top-five national finish and a Sugar Bowl pasting of Notre Dame, ranks eighth among the SEC programs after attracting 14,375 fans to its spring game. The Tigers lost four elite players in Round 1 of the National Football League Draft, but there's still enough talent on hand for them to challenge for the 2007 national title.

An estimated crowd of 8,000 showed up in Starkville for Mississippi State's spring game. That's a pretty strong turnout, considering how long it's been since the Bulldogs posted a winning record.

Kentucky, where basketball is king, drew just 5,000 for its spring game. That seems a bit low, considering the Big Blue welcomes back 15 starters from a 2006 team that went 8-5 and dumped Clemson in the Music City Bowl.

The real surprise was in Fayetteville. Arkansas, coming off an SEC West title, attracted an estimated 2,000 fans to its spring game. A turbulent off-season featuring the departures of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and high-profile QB Mitch Mustain, plus revelations that head coach Houston Nutt sent more than 1,000 text messages to a woman TV broadcaster in a 43-day span, has the natives restless in Hogland.

Vanderbilt also drew an estimated 2,000 to its spring game but that's pretty much the norm in Music City.


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