Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game Winner Will Be...?

Vote in the poll on the right.

The game is off line at many Vegas books right now, likely until the UNC player availability becomes clearer.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Auburn Preview #2: Another Perspective From The War Eagle Reader

It's always nice to get some different perspectives when discussing SEC football. I was fortunate enough to get two on Auburn.

The War Eagle Reader was kind enough to respond to my inquiries on the Tigers. Their responses are below. You can view my thoughts on Auburn here.

Q: Despite Alabama winning the national title, it seems Auburn has just as much momentum going into this year after the recruiting haul in February. What is the overall mood of the fanbase going into the season?

A: Whoa, whoa, whoa, "just as much momentum"? They won a national title! The recruiting class is awfully nice, but no one's putting Auburn on magazine covers under the word "DYNASTY" just yet, you know.

That said, the Auburn faithful are probably more excited for this season than any since 2006, and arguably any since 2003. (I wish I could have picked two other years, since both of those Auburn teams finished a little shy of their preseason expectations, but oh well.)

It's not necessarily because we expect to win the SEC or go to a BCS bowl--though I think the majority of us would at least expect to be in contention going into the annual Georgia-Alabama "Amen Corner"--but because the dynamism of this staff, the likability of the players, and more than anything the potential thrill of this offense as directed by Gus Malzahn promises to be more fun than anything Auburn fans have seen since Tommy Tuberville's 2004-2005 heyday.

Q: Does Cam Newton have the job locked down at QB?

A: Oh yeah. Barrett Trotter and Neil Caudle are both serviceable (or even better) backups, meaning that quarterback is one of the deepest positions on the roster at the moment ... but neither of them have anything like Newton's potential as an all-around, destroyer-of-worlds-type weapon. At 6'6" and 250 pounds, Newton has both the size and strength to either bull his way past tacklers on the option or throw over them on Malzahn's well-honed collection of deep passes.

The only question is his touch on the shorter throws and his decision-making in the pocket; if Newton can stay accurate on the underneath stuff and avoid interceptions (though that's not an insignificant "if"), he'll rank alongside guys like Tyrod Taylor or Terrelle Pryor as one of the nation's biggest all-purpose QB threats. For serious.

Q: Who steps up and takes over as the lead back now that Ben Tate has departed?

A: Easy: Mario Fannin. Though few fans outside of Auburn or diehard SEC followers know much about him, Fannin has held the title of "most purely talented Auburn back" since his redshirt season in 2007. He's been held back first by a serious fumbling problem, then a shoulder injury, then Tate's ascension to the starting role last year.

But the flashes he's continually shown in his limited touches--see his dynamic long touchdowns on screen passes against Georgia in 2008 and West Virginia last year--have most Auburn fans salivating over the possibility of giving him the starting tailback job full-time.

Though not every Auburn fan agrees, between Fannin, a healthy Onterio McCalebb (the sophomore speedster who dominated Auburn's first four games a year ago before suffering a high-ankle sprain), and freshman mega-recruit Michael Dyer, it's my opinion that Auburn won't miss Tate in the slightest.

Q: Receiver was a very weak spot for the Tigers last year. Who could have a breakout year here?

A: It was? In 2007 and 2008, certainly, but when it comes to 2009, I beg to differ; Darvin Adams finished second in the SEC in touchdowns, third in receptions, and third in yards--the only wideout in the league to finish in the top three in all three categories--and Adams and Terrell Zachery ranked right alongside Arkansas's Greg Childs and Joe Adams and LSU's Terrance Tolliver and Brandon LaFell as the most productive receiving duo in the conference. Auburn has much more pressing problems that the receiving corps, trust me.

That said, the gap between Adams and Zachery and the No. 3 wide receiver was huge (Fannin was the team's third-leading receiver from his H-back position) and Auburn could really use a third wideout to emerge as a reliable option to take the heat off of the first two guys. There's two equally intriguing options: the first is former quarterback and current Wildcat operator Kodi Burns, whose athleticism should make him a legitimate threat in the slot now that his transition year to receiver is behind him.

The other is true freshman Trovon Reed, another jewel of the recruiting class who's drawn nothing but raves in fall camp and is by all accounts electric with the ball in his hands.

Q: What do you think it will take for SEC fans to accept that OC Gus Malzhan's offense is not a gimmick offense?

A: Given that certain SEC fans were saying Urban Meyer's offense couldn't work in the SEC even as it was winning Tim Tebow the Heisman in 2007, it's probably not possible to win them over entirely.

Personally, after it shredded Monte Kiffin's D at Tennessee last year and put up more yards and points on the Tide defense than nearly any other team on Alabama's schedule, I don't think it has a lot more to answer for, schematically. But a lot more consistency (and a few more wins) would hopefully go a long way towards earning Dr. Gustav a little more respect; the midseason swoon the Auburn offense suffered against Arkansas, Kentucky, and LSU last year (though more about the struggles of Chris Todd, in my opinion, than anything to do with Malzahn) took a lot of air out of the balloon.

Q: The defense was the weak link last year. Tell me why it will be better this season?

A: I'll give you three reasons: 1. Depth 2. Depth 3. Depth. Last year Chizik and defensive coordinator Ted Roof were extremely reluctant to play anyone from Auburn's (mostly hypothetical) second string, mainly because Auburn was gashed any time they tried it. Look no further than the 31 points surrendered to Furman--Furman!--for proof. Between that lack of viable options and Malzahn's preferred hyper drive tempo on offense, Auburn's starters faced a ridiculous number of snaps and frequently wore down in the second half as the season continued.

So as terrific as skill-position studs like Dyer and Reed promise to be, this is where the 2010 recruiting class should really pay off when it comes to the 2010 season. Guys like defensive tackles Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter, defensive ends Corey Lemonier and Craig Sanders, and cornerbacks Jonathan Mincy and Chris Davis have all stepped immediately into the playing rotation and should be capable of giving the first string the kind of regular breather they never got last season.

Combine that with the return of Auburn's two best linebackers, three of the four members of the defensive tackle rotation, primed-and-ready senior end Antoine Carter, and three-quarters of the secondary (which will also get a boost from the return of injured safeties Mike McNeil and Aairon Savage), and the Tigers should be able to take a big step forward on defense.

Q: How much respect is Clemson getting as an opponent from the ACC?

A: Probably not as much as they should be getting now that Kyle Parker's made the puzzling decision to return. At this point, Auburn fans see Clemson more-or-less identically to the way they see their in-state brethren in Columbia, who visit the Plains the week following: a solid, dangerous team, but not one that ought to be capable of winning in Auburn's house if Auburn is on their game.

I don't think anyone's expecting "Cousin Clem" to be an easy game--not with the kind of talent Swinney's got at quarterback, running back, and on the defensive front--but I also doubt anyone's got Auburn pegged for a home loss until at least the Arkansas/LSU back-to-back in midseason.

That said, it's a game a lot of Auburn fans are nonetheless looking forward to--it's the only non-conference opponent of note, and the two sets of Tigers have a long, long shared history.

Q: Can Gene Chizik get Auburn over the hump and start to turn the Georgia series back in the Tigers' favor?

A: Part of me wants to say "he'd better"; I would argue that nothing, not even Alabama's re-ascension to the national elite, is more galling or frustrating to Auburn fans today than Georgia's four-game streak in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. Despite the road team's traditional success in the series, getting the Dawgs at home--in their first year of new DC Todd Grantham's schemes, with Aaron Murray still just a redshirt freshman--should be an excellent opportunity to end the skid.

But I still can't give Auburn odds any better than 50/50, since I think Murray has plenty enough talent and experience surrounding him to shine and Grantham represents such a huge upgrade on the departed Willie Martinez. Certainly Chizik has enough weapons of his own that he can and maybe should turn the tide this year, but it's my opinion the Dawgs are right there with Auburn in contention for the honor of "biggest threat to Alabama/Florida," and beating them won't come easy at all.

Q: Who are some of the freshman that are likely to contribute?

A: I've mentioned most of them already--Dyer and Reed are locks to see the ball on offense, Whitaker, Lemonier, and probably Mincy to see meaningful snaps on offense. But one "new" name to know is Phillip Lutzenkirchen, the starting tight end who played sparingly as a true freshman behind now-graduated senior Tommy Trott. Lutzenkirchen has tremendous hands and has earned a surprising number of plaudits from Malzahn this fall for his improvement in blocking and route-running. You could see him become Newton's underneath security blanket.

Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one.

A: There's no consensus here at all amongst Auburn fans--some will tell you Atlanta or bust, while my fellow Auburn blogger Jay Coulter at Track 'Em Tigers has said he'd be satisfied at 8-4. My opinion is that in the end, it's not necessarily how many wins Auburn claims, it's who they claim them against; after going 0-4 each of the last two seasons against the Arkansas-LSU-Georgia-Alabama quartet--the four biggest annual games on the schedule--Auburn fans want those kind of BIG wins above all else.

Go 3-1 against those four, and some missteps elsewhere will be quickly forgiven. Go 2-2, and there might be some grumbling depending on the final record, but we'll live. Go 1-3 (particularly with only the Iron Bowl played away from Jordan-Hare) and there's going to be some serious griping even if Chizik sweeps the rest of the slate.

Q: What is your prediction for this season?

A: Auburn's home/road split is just about as forgiving as it could possibly be. There's a lot of dangerous teams on the schedule--Clemson and South Carolina in addition to the four mentioned above--but putting the Tide aside, all of them come to Jordan-Hare save for the two Mississippi schools and Kentucky. No one thinks wins in Starkville, Oxford, and Lexington are going to come easy, but Auburn is nonetheless perfectly capable of sweeping those three. Do that, avoid catastrophe against the cupcakes, and even a 3-2 record in the home dates against the Carolina schools, the West rivals, and Georgia--games where Auburn could be the favorite in all five--would likely be enough to set up a winner-take-all showdown in Tuscaloosa for the SEC West.

At the moment, that's what I expect to happen, putting Auburn right at either 9 or 10 wins depending on how the Iron Bowl goes and whether they could maybe squeeze in a fourth big home win. But whether 9 or 10, it's too close a call for me to make.

Thanks again to The War Eagle Reader for their responses.

Other Auburn Preview from Kevin McGrady of Bleacher Report

All SEC Football Previews

Dwyer's NFL Struggles May Hurt Georgia Tech Recruiting - Chuckoliver.net

My most recent Georgia Tech contribution is up on Chuckoliver.net discussing how former Yellow Jacket great Jonathan Dwyer's NFL struggles could effect Tech's recruiting.

"Recruits saw the success Dwyer had the past two seasons and wanted to be a part of it. The biggest recruiting positive for running backs in Johnson’s system is the amount of carries they would get. But if his first featured back at the BCS level gets cut before his first game you can make certain opposing coaches will note that to future recruits. "

Read More at ChuckOliver.net

And even after an 80 yard rushing night in relief against Denver, Dwyer still can't earn the praise of his head coach.

"Asked about Dwyer’s performance, Tomlin brushed it off as “down the line guys vs. down the line guys,’’ and said stats can be inflated under those circumstances."
Read more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Auburn Tigers Preview: Excitement Abounds On The Plains

You might think Auburn Tiger fans would have been miserable this off season after Alabama won the BCS Championship, but the excitement on the Plains has been hard to contain.

After a surprising nine win season a year ago and a stellar recruiting haul in February, Auburn has high hopes in 2010.

Who is going to run Gus Malzahn's offense? Why will the defense be better? Can the Tigers win the West?

To get some answers to these questions I contacted Kevin McGrady, an Auburn Featured Columnist on Bleacher Report for his insight.

Q: Despite Alabama winning the national title, it seems Auburn has just as much momentum going into this year after the recruiting haul in February. What is the overall mood of the fan base going into the season?

A: The Auburn fan base is as excited as I ever remember them being to start a season. They showed up in droves for the spring game and fan appreciation day in August. Most of them are looking forward to an exciting and enjoyable season.

Q: Does Cam Newton have the job locked down at QB?

A: Cameron Newton will certainly be the starting quarterback. The team is behind him being the quarterback. That being said, Gus Malzahn has commented that this year is the best quarterback situation he has ever had. He thinks there are four quarterbacks on the roster that can do well running the offense.

Q: Who steps up and takes over as the lead back now that Ben Tate has departed?

A: Senior Mario Fannin will be the leading running back this year. He will be followed by sophomore Onterio McCalebb and freshman Michael Dyer. This is a very talented and effective backfield combination.

Q: Receiver was a very weak spot for the Tigers last year. Who could have a breakout year here?

A: Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery, and Mario Fannin the three lead receivers in 2009 combined for a disappointing 1,887 yards total. Auburn is looking for help from players like senior Quindarius Carr, sophomore Emory Blake, and sophomore Philip Pierre-Louis to help pick up the slack.

Freshmen Antonio Goodwin, Shaun Kitchens, and Trovon Reed have all been complemented on their preseason performance as well.

Q: What do you think it will take for SEC fans to accept that OC Gus Malzahn's offense is not a gimmick offense?

A: For the Gus Malzahn offense to be totally embraced, consistency is the key. For the most part, Auburn fans were pleased with the offensive progress, but offensive draughts in big games is an area of concern.

Q: The defense was the weak link last year. Tell me why it will be better this season?

A: The Auburn defense was snake bit with injuries in 2009. There were seven players that were either starters or high in the playing rotation that missed all or several games with injuries. All of these players return healthier this season.

Q: How much respect is Clemson getting as an opponent from the ACC?

A: Auburn fans see Clemson as a formidable foe. They will certainly be the most difficult out of conference game this year. The return of quarterback Kyle Parker only emphasized this feeling.

Q: Can Gene Chizik get Auburn over the hump and start to turn the Georgia series back in the Tigers' favor?

A: Even if Auburn wins the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” this year, the jury will be out on that. Georgia is in a state of flux while changing to a new defensive scheme. This is an answer Auburn fans will have to wait a while longer for.

Q: Who are some of the freshmen that are likely to contribute?

A: Defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker has shown promise in camp. He will play in the game rotation. Defensive end Corey Lemonier has drawn much praise from the coaching staff. He is expected to make the playing rotation. Linebacker Harris Gaston has been mentioned for playing time this year. Trovon Reed, Antonio Goodwin, and Shaun Kitchens have all drawn attention as receivers. They look to contribute this year. Michael Dyer and Ladarious Phillips hope to contribute early and often this year.

Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one

A: Eight wins in 2010 would be terribly disappointing for Auburn fans, they expect improvement over 2009. Most fans would be content with nine or 10 wins. A successful season would mean serious contention for the SEC western division at a minimum.

Q: What is your prediction for this season?

vs. Arkansas State 85 percent chance of win
at Mississippi State 80 percent
vs. Clemson 65 percent
vs. South Carolina 65 percent
vs. Louisiana-Monroe 85 percent
at Kentucky 80 percent
vs. Arkansas 50 percent
vs. LSU 50 percent
at Mississippi *
vs. Chattanooga 95 percent
vs. Georgia 50 percent
at Alabama 50 percent
SEC Championship making 30 percent

That makes five likely wins, two probable wins, and three tossups. My overall prediction is a 10-2 season with a slim chance at an appearance in the SEC Championship Game.

My Take on Auburn...
I will admit I was off on how Gene Chizik would do in his first year. I thought they would sneak into a bowl, but eight wins and nearly beating Alabama was off the radar.

The receivers and offensive line should be better this year. If Cam Newton can keep his head on straight all year they will be better on offense.

Defensively, I see an improvement in terms of depth, but they still have a ways to go to be a top SEC unit. But if they can be 25 percent better then it will take pressure off the offense to feel the need to score every time.

Auburn gets Georgia and South Carolina from the East at home while having to travel to Kentucky, whom they lost to last season.

They face an early SEC West test in Starkville in Week 2 on a Thursday night.

The week after they host Clemson in an ACC vs SEC matchup.

I can see the Tigers going undefeated at home this year and that could give them a chance to play for the West title in Tuscaloosa the last week of the season.

9-3, second SEC West

Thanks again to Kevin for his insight. Please check out his profile for other Auburn pieces.

Previews SEC Previews:
Ole Miss
Mississippi State

South Carolina

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Alabama Preview: Will Nick Saban Have The Tide Ready To Repeat?

Alabama is on top of the college football world....until September 4 when the 2010 season kicks off. That is exactly how Nick Saban wants it, having a hungry team ready to not defend, but win again.

How has the focus been for the Tide in the off season? Can Mark Ingram become just the 2nd back-to-back Heisman winner? And could the defense possibly be better after losing so many starters from last season?

To find out the answers to these and other questions, I contacted
Roll 'Bama Roll for their insight on the Crimson Tide.

Q: Take out the great players. What do you think makes Nick Saban such a good coach?

A: First, we probably ought to define the term "great players" as it pertains to Saban. We've all crowed about all the flashy stars next to the names of the most recent recruiting classes, but a lot of them have yet to even see the field despite being arguably better, at least on paper, than the guys getting the snaps.

Take Eryk Anders and Corey Reamer, two starters on a truly dominant defense last season. Saban himself said he never thought either one of them would have a place on the team, but there they were, and they did it because they worked their butts off to know the schemes and their roles in it.

There are guys all over last year's team with the same story, players who worked hard, bought in, and gave everything they had on every snap, and most of them didn't even get a sniff from any other major BCS programs coming out of high school. So when we are talking about "great players" where Saban is involved, great has more to do with their character and work ethic than their 40 times and what they can bench.

That being said, I don't know that you can take out the great players and we'd still be talking about how great of a coach Saban is. All the attention to detail, organization, game planning, and just flat immense knowledge of Xs and Os in the world (which are the things I'm sure you were expecting me to say) won't do you a lot of good if you don't have the right kind of players to pull it off, and Saban knows this. That's why he's so focused on recruiting, and specifically recruiting the kinds of players that fit his schemes and his style of football.

A lot of that is measurables, but he's also very aware that whoever he offers a scholarship to has to have the right kind of work ethic, be it at practice or in the film room, and the desire to get better every day so that they can be successful on the field.

Q: Will Saban and OC Jim McElwain give QB Greg McElroy more freedom at QB this year to sling the ball around?

A: I think they'll honestly just go with what's working. Both have expressed a desire to generate more "explosive" plays on offense, and opening up the passing game will be key to that, but both coaches are pretty pragmatic when it comes to the offense and if it's not there, they aren't going to force it.

I do believe that the passing game has the potential to be more wide open than it was, though, so in that regard I can say that I believe McElroy will be slinging the ball around more this season. He's got a year under his belt, he showed massive improvement towards the end of the season after a terrible slump, and the WR position is getting deeper each year (and that's not mentioning the RBs out of the backfield and the TEs) so all the ingredients are there.

Q: I think Mark Ingram will not win the Heisman again because he will have to split more carries with Trent Richardson. Am I right or wrong?

A: You're probably right that Ingram won't win it again, but not necessarily because of splitting carries with Richardson. Richardson is going to be a big part of the offense this year, no doubt about it, but if the passing game takes off like we think it will then that takes even more focus off of Ingram. And let's face it, if he hadn't been pretty much the entire offense during an important part of last year's run, Ingram probably wouldn't have even sniffed Manhattan, but because of his heroics against South Carolina (and then Florida), he was propelled into the Heisman race despite having zero hype at the start of the season and no orchestrated campaign from the university.

I mean, Greg McElroy was being talked about as a dark horse candidate before Ingram's name was even mentioned, so that ought to tell you a little something about how out of left field his winning it was.

Q: How healthy is Julio Jones and is there another guy who can step up and replace him if he gets hurt again?

A: He's at 100% now and hopefully can stay that way, though he's had a bit of a hard luck streak on the injury front for the past two years. You wouldn't have known it by watching him, but in 2008 he managed to play through both a sports hernia and a wrist injury (both were revealed after offseason surgeries) and then last year he was clearly bothered by a nagging knee injury suffered early on against FIU.

During that stretch he still played reasonably well, but was clearly not himself, and both Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze stepped up their games to take some of the burden off of him. Of course, that was also a pretty frustrating stretch for McElroy as well, so we really don't know what might have been with a seasoned QB spreading the ball around. Hanks and Maze are going to be significant contributors again this year, but I would also think Earl Alexander, Kevin Norwood and Brandon Gibson all have a good chance of getting into the rotation a good bit as well.

Q: Alabama lost alot on the o-line after 2008, but played even better in 2009. Which players are going to step up to keep the tradition going?

A: James Carpenter (LT), William Vlachos (C), and Barrett Jones (RG) are all back and all had great seasons last year. I'll single Carpenter out for praise because his ability to come right in from JUCO and fill Andre Smith's shoes at LT was probably the biggest single key to the o-line's success last year. He had his faults (took him a few games to get settled after a string of frustrating holding and false start penalties), but he was a serviceable SEC caliber tackle to begin with and fortunately developed over the course of the season into a more than solid player for us.

As for the vacated spots, mammoth recruit D.J. Fluker is getting a look at RT (though there's been some interesting shuffling the past few days) and by all accounts will likely wind up starting there, and Chance Warmack has effectively locked down the LG spot vacated by All-American Mike Johnson.

Warmack is an interesting case since he looked like a monster at RG during spring camp last year before being supplanted by Barrett Jones in the middle of fall camp. That took a lot of people by surprise, but he's a natural guard and has pretty well been the clear cut front runner at LG since spring camp.

Q: Who steps up in the NT spot vacated by Mt. [Terrance] Cody and how effective can they be in replacement?

A: You're going to see several players rotating in at NT this season, but the top two are going to be Josh Chapman and Kerry Murphy. Chapman has been Cody's backup the last two years and he's a fine NT on his own merits, often replacing Cody in passing situations and just generally providing a little more speed and athleticism from the inside. I would look for him to be the preferred guy this year against the run, though, and he'll probably see the most action, but Murphy really brings a pass rushing presence in the middle of the line that we just haven't had without having to move our ends inside and I think gives the coaches a little bit more versatility in their groupings.

You'll also probably see Darrington Sentimore getting in as well. There hasn't been a lot of talk of him this fall, but he looked good in the spring and is another high motor player like Murphy, so look for him on 3rd and longs.

Q: Who steps into the departed Rolando McClain's shoes as the captain of the defense?

A: Dont'a Hightower is the signal caller this year after missing most of last season thanks to a horrific knee injury against Arkansas. He was already well on his way to being a dominant force after starting every game as a true freshman, but I think what really speaks most about his leadership and the faith the staff is putting in him was the simple fact he was still learning and trying to help even on crutches.

Go back and look at the games from last year, and anytime the camera shows the defense huddled on the sideline he's right there with the linebackers telling them what he's seeing from the sidelines. He's moved over to Mike from his Will position, and will also put his hand down some as a DE, so he knows the defense. Now all we need is for him to show he has the same smarts and ability to get the defense into the right call as quickly as McClain.

Q: Where could the potential weak link be on this defense?

A: The secondary is giving us nightmares right now. We lost so much to graduation and the NFL, and adding insult to injury (or injury to insult, as it were) we've got guys getting banged up left and right all through fall camp. B.J. Scott and Dre Kirkpatrick pretty well have the starting corner spots locked down, and both have all the talent and athleticism in the world. Unfortunately, neither has any significant game experience.

Behind them DeMarcus Milliner and John Fulton are highly touted true freshmen, DeQuan Menzie was a coveted JUCO corner, and LSU transfer Phelon Jones is now eligible after sitting a year. Milliner is already looking like he's going to be in the mix after enrolling early, but he's missed the last several practices with an ankle sprain. Menzie injured his hamstring before spring practice even started and wasn't expected to play this year, but he's miraculously out on the practice field and by all accounts looking good, even if still a little bothered by the injury. So for the most part the corner situation is at least reasonably manned with significant talent even if it does lack experience. Safety, on the other hand, is too depressing to even think about. Mark Barron is a super star, but opposite him we have no one.

Robby Green is ineligible after a mysterious violation of NCAA rules, Robert Lester has shown some talent but is far from being as consistent as we'd like, and Kendall Kelly, who moved over to DB from WR in the spring and did a pretty good job of it, just today returned to practice after suffering from dizziness and other "heat related" issues the very first day of fall camp. Even though he could contribute later in the season, he's missed so much practice that there's no way he'll be up to speed enough by the first game.

We're down to walk on Will Lowery getting a lot of quality snaps and Saban saying he's going to probably play a significant role this season, so if there's a "potential" weak link, look at the safety position and pray with me that there aren't any injuries there this season.

Q: Who are some of the freshman that are likely to contribute?

A: I already talked about DeMarcus Milliner at corner, and beyond him a couple of guys that are definitely going to see action are true freshman kickers Cade Foster, Cody Mandell, and Jay Williams.

We graduated multi-year starters Leigh Tiffin and P.J. Fitzgerald last year, so we're looking at platooning our kickers depending on what essentially boils down to Saban's game time gut feelings. Maybe I should have put that in the 'weak link' answer, too. On offense, redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy is fighting hard to be the #3 running back behind Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.

RB coach Burton Burns remarked that he's a blend of those two, and watching him at A-Day you could see the scary blend of strength and speed that those guys possess. He's going to be good when he gets a chance, so whenever he does get into the game keep an eye on him.

There's also been some talk that true freshman receivers DeAndrew White and Corey Grant have been turning heads this fall with their speed, but WR is so loaded with experience right now that I just don't see the staff burning redshirts on them unless they manage to work their way onto special teams.

Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one.

A: As you know, we are Alabama fans, and Alabama fans can't consider a season successful unless we win it all. That's not to say that we will, but as long as I can remember the stated goal of the Crimson Tide is to win championships, both of the league and national variety, and when you have a top program that should always be your aim.

So I honestly feel like, for teams like Alabama or Texas or Ohio State or Florida, a season's success needs to be measured by that standard. Even though nine or ten wins and a New Year's Bowl would be considered "successful" by most standards, if it doesn't include at least a conference title then somewhere along the way the season went off the rails.

For us specifically, I would consider, at the least, winning the SEC a successful season (and winning whatever bowl would be nice, too). A disappointing one would be losing more than one regular season game and/or not making it back to Atlanta.

Q: What is your prediction for this season?

A: I can't make predictions when it comes to Alabama because I simply cannot pick against the Tide. I do believe we'll lose a regular season game, though, but I also believe we'll win the SEC West and play in the championship game again, though.

My Take on Alabama...

I think Nick Saban has a better chance to repeat with this program than he did at LSU. Even a control freak like Saban couldn't keep the Tigers hungry (much less Les Miles), but in Tuscaloosa I think he has a shot.

Offensively, as long as the offensive line is as physical as it has been the last two years they will be fine. Having Jones healthy for a season is just a bonus. One concern could be if Greg McElroy gets hurt. Saban has not had a starting QB miss a start due to injury since he got there and that luck has to run out some time.

On the defensive side of the ball, the talent level is higher than it was last year, but there will be more of a learning curve. I can see some bumps this year, early on especially, but in the next few years this unit has a chance to be Miami Hurricanes of the 1980s-esque.

Much has been made of the schedule and the opponents bye weeks. I think more important is the fact Alabama has gone two seasons undefeated in the regular season. Three is very tough in a league as deep as the SEC.
I think the Tide will slip up somewhere and it may be before the 'bye week palooza' hits.


11-1, 1st in SEC West

Thanks again to
Roll 'Bama Roll for their insight.

Previous Previews:

Ole Miss
Mississippi State

South Carolina

Contributing On Chuck Oliver's Website - ChuckOliver.net

In addition to writing for this site, I have become a contributor for Georgia Tech on Chuck Oliver's website.

Chuck, aka "Kang" (King), is a host on Atlanta sports station 680 The Fan and has been covering college football as long as I can remember.

He has news and opinions pieces on every team in the ACC, SEC, and Conference USA so be sure to check it out.

If you sign up for his newsletter, you can enter into a drawing for a $1,000 giveaway.

In the meantime, I will continue to post links to my stories over there.

Georgia Tech Page

UGA Page

My individual pieces:

Joshua Nesbitt's Place in Georgia Tech History

Counting Down Tech's Toughest Games in 2010

5 Things Ga. Tech Fans Should See in Game One

Tech Fans Have Good Reason For High Hopes This Season

Florida Gators Preview: Can Urban Meyer Lead Florida Back To An SEC Championship?

The past 12 months for the Florida Gator program has been full of highs and lows. From they hype of a unanimous preseason #1 ranking to the loss in the SEC Championship Game and Urban Meyer's brief retirement it was quite a whirlwind in 2009.

Turning the page into 2010, Florida must replace one of the greatest ever in Tim Tebow and replace four assistants on the staff including Defensive Coordinator Charlie Strong.

Will new QB John Brantley remind fans of Chris Leak? How does the defense look after under the new coordinator? And can the Gators get back to the top of the SEC?

To get more insight on the Gators I contacted Alligator Army.

Q: Which concerns the Gator Nation more: Urban Meyer's health or four new assistants on the staff?

A: Urban’s health, mainly because we don’t trust offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, unless Meyer is there to overrule him.

Q: How does John Brantley compare with Chris Leak, who also a drop back passer?

A: Brantley was born to play quarterback at Florida, which means he will have a lot more ownership over the position. Also, Leak was screwed by having multiple coordinators and an incompetent asshole as his head coach for his first two seasons.

Q: Who steps up and becomes Brantley's go to target as a pass catcher?

A: Andre Debose. What Percy Harvin was to Tim Tebow, Debose will be to Brantley. Not only will he be the top receiver, Debose and the Gators running game will take the burden off Brantley. Deonte Thompson will also be a prime target and I’m personally hoping for Omarius Hines, who has the legs of an Olympic speedskater.

Q: How will the blocking schemes of the o-line change with Brantley back there? How smooth is that transition going?

A: Nothing is changing. Mike Pouncey moves to center for brother Maurkice, but that has caused little difference. The guards and right tackle are set, with the big position battle at left tackle. There, incumbent Xavier Nixon might get the start with Matt Patchan as a backup. The change is that Brantley is right handed and will get rid of the ball quicker, than lefty Tebow who would try to read a book before leaving the pocket last season.

Q: How will new Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin's style differ from Charlie Strong?

A: Austin comes from an NFL background, so there might be an added level of sophistication to the defense. Strong’s strength was using UF’s depth to create multiple packages, which I’m sure Austin will do, too.

Q: Who fills the shoes of the departed Brandon Spikes in the middle at LB?

A: Jelani Jenkins should be the starter with Jon Bostic also seeing time. Jenkins is extremely fast and will be helped by seniors A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks flanking him.

Q: Who are some of the freshman that are likely to contribute?

A: RB Mack Brown, DB Matt Elam, and defensive linemen Shariff Floyd, Dominique “I realized in 9th grade I liked hitting people” Easley, and Ronald Powell.

Q: Who do Gator fans see as their biggest rival? Is it UGA, FSU, or a new team like Alabama?

A: Florida State. The rivalry with FSU is not just football, but cultural. Younger UF fans hate FSU more than anything else, with Tennessee a distant second. We don’t look at them as a cousin (like the rest of the SEC) but as the guy who lives on your street who speeds through the neighborhood when the kids are out playing, kicks the dog he leaves on a chain and complains about taxes when he hasn’t paid taxes in years.

I root for Tennessee or Georgia when they play out-of-conference. FSU could have Jesus Christ on their team and I wouldn’t root for them.

Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one.

A: Successful is beating FSU and winning the SEC. Disappointing is losing multiple home games, losing at FSU and losing the bowl game.

Q: What is your prediction for this season?

A: I know we lose at Alabama and possibly to Georgia. Plus, since these are road games, I worry about Tennessee and FSU. I think we go 10-2 (Alabama and a random loss) in the best case scenario and lose to Bama in the SEC Championship Game. As of right now, the only game UF would not be favored in would be at Bama.

I think that still might be the case during the season, but more as a function of the relative weakness of UF’s divisional opponents than how good UF is.

My Take on Florida...
I want to put a big asterisk by my prediction because it would swing based on how Meyer does during the season. Right now, nobody knows (including Meyer) how he might handle a loss or the pressure if the Gators go undefeated. But we'll go on the idea he is going to be around.

I think the offense has a chance to be more multiple in its ways to move the ball. They may actually be tougher to scheme for this season. But obviously if things break down there isn't that safety valve named Battleship Tebow to find your way out anymore.

Florida has recruited so well on the defensive side of the ball I don't expect a huge drop off. It will be interesting to see what the new coordinator brings from the NFL. Sometimes that works out great, other times not because the games are different. But having a lot talent sure does help.
The schedule is more difficult than most years because of Alabama and FSU looks to be on the rebound. Even with a loss in Tuscaloosa, all the Gators have to do to get a rematch is to beat everyone in the East where they should be favored in every game.

For once, I am going to be over on my win total than the team site.

11-1, 1st in SEC East

Thanks again to Alligator Army for their wonderful insight.

(FSU Preview for interested Gator fans)

Previous SEC Previews:
Ole Miss
Mississippi State

South Carolina

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

All-SEC Slideshow From SI; Bama, Georgia Lead In Selections


Breakdown by Team:
Arkansas - 2
Alabama - 7
Auburn - 1
Florida - 2
Georgia - 6
Miss State - 1
Ole Miss - 1
Vanderbilt - 2 (yep)
LSU - 2
South Carolina - 1
Kentucky - 1

But wait that adds up to 26 players? Add kicker, punter, and two returners and you get 26.

Seeing UGA's 6 makes me a little more confident in my 9-3 projection. They have the top line talent to win 10 games, its just a matter of all around depth and of course the play of a new QB.

Ole Miss Preview: What A Difference One Season Makes

The Ole Miss Rebels enter the 2010 season in a much different place than a year ago. Last August, Houston Nutt's team was a popular pick to win the West and even the SEC. The returning starters were there, the schedule was there, but it all fell apart in Columbia on a Thursday night in late September.

Did Ole Miss fans enjoy this off season more or less without the hype? How is former Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli going to fit in Oxford? And does the Egg Bowl have more spice this year after Dan Mullen's comments?

To get a better look at Ole Miss, I contacted Jeb Williamson an Ole Miss Featured Columnist on Bleacher Report.

Q: Compare this off season with that of last year's where Ole Miss was a chic SEC Champion pick.

A: If you were to poll the fanbase, I think an overwhelming majority would prefer this year's off season to last year's for a myriad of reasons, the simplest of which is how easy it is to buy into the idea - true or not - that Nutt's teams always perform better when no one expects them to.

The South Carolina game was a bitter pill that soured the rest of what was a good season for the Rebels. Everything from that point was still on the downside of the mountain, and there was almost a collective slumping of the shoulders through the rest of the year.

There was no news last off season at all; just varied themes on "this is the year" all summer long. In contrast, this off season has been a circus: the anomaly of a July recruiting surge, the 2009 recruiting class taking some more hits, and the Masoli affair.

The volatility of the last few weeks has really put a charge into the program, and regardless of how everything works out, the overall state of the program is perceived to be swinging upwards. The caveat is Masoli. If Masoli is not in Oxford I am not sure how upbeat fans would be about this season.

Q: Does the fact that new OC Dave Radar has been out of football for a few years make the fan base nervous?

A: It does to the extent that there have been games in the last two year's where the Rebels were beaten on the blackboard; that Nutt and his staff may have been a bit myopic in developing a game plan and walked on the field with a limited number of options on offense.

I have never heard anyone accuse Rader of being an "outside the box" offensive mind, so I think there is some apprehension that maybe someone a little more dynamic in the position might have been beneficial to the playbook. Nutt is going to call the plays, as he always has, so any rust on Rader is likely to go unnoticed schematically.

Ultimately, Rader was brought in to develop quarterbacks, particularly Nathan Stanley. If you look at Rader's history you see game managers at the quarterback position. Ferrotte, Croyle...those weren't guys that were going to go out and beat you down from the pocket, but they also rarely did anything to beat themselves.

Turning the ball over has been the Achilles Heel of the Ole Miss offense the last couple of seasons, and I do not know anyone who does not think Jevan Snead digressed last year. Rader is going to be judged on how well his QB's protect the ball and making sure the mistakes made early in the season are not still problematic towards the end.

Q: After a disappointing year was it still hard losing Jevan Snead early to the NFL?

A: Eighteen wins (including two Cotton Bowls) in two seasons at Oxford ought to get you a hell of a better reputation than the one Snead enjoys among many Rebel Fans currently.

Yes, last season was frustrating, but anyone with two cents worth of football knowledge knows the Rebels do not beat Florida in '08 or LSU twice without Jevan Snead. Those are some of the biggest wins of the last decade for the Ole Miss Program, and people who say they would rather have someone else at quarterback than the guy who accomplished that get little credibility from me.

It is a love-fest with Masoli right now, and it will be interesting to see whether he is judged against the low expectations many had for this season before he came to Oxford, or if he is held against a mythical idea of what Snead could have done had he not decided to enter the draft.

I guess the litmus test is the LSU game. Snead beat them twice. If Ole Miss loses that game with Masoli at the helm - and it will be Masoli at the helm if the NCAA grants his residency waiver - look for sentiment on Snead to change.

Q: How does the dismissal of WR Pat Patterson effect a group that lost the SEC's top receiver in Shay Hodge?

A: From a numbers perspective, the group is scary thin and can be divided into two groups. You have The Underperformed with Markeith Summers and Lionel Breaux, neither of who found any way to get open on a consistent basis last season. Then you have The Unknowns, young players like Melvin Harris, Jesse Grandy, Ja-Mes Logan and true freshman Vincent Sanders. All will see quite a bit of action.

You can argue that Patterson's dismissal really put a lot of strain on the group and cast doubt on their collective productivity. But you can also argue that he never showed any sign of understanding what it takes to play at this level of football, much less of being the type of player he was projected to be out of high school. It is hard to miss what you never had, but you hate to see kids with that much talent have such a disrespect of it.

To revisit an earlier question, one area where Rader could have a real impact is in developing the passing game for tight ends and full backs.

Moving safeties and linebackers out of passing lanes is something the Rebels have been terrible at the last two years. I think the coaching staff likes the athleticism they have at those offensive positions, but they have to find a way to make them something the defense has to keep an eye on. Defenses are too good in this league not to be challenged, and you don't have to spend much time in the film room to understand why Snead had so many picks.

Q: How much confidence do the fans have in Brandon Bolden to pick up the slack on the ground?

A: Bolden is a known quantity and I think most people understand that he is going to be steady, but has his limitations. If you look at his stat line from his first to seasons, they are nearly identical. He can get you four tough yards, with the occasional pop. I like Bolden and think he should have gotten a lot more credit for stepping up and doing a lot of blocking for Dex last year when you know his competitive spirit had to sting, but unless there is a part of his game he has been saving, even a lighter and quicker Bolden is not a guy that can carry a team week to week.

Enrique Davis looked great in the Spring and has carried that momentum into Fall. Ole Miss Fans have been waiting for him to show signs that he "gets it" because he is the type of back you can hitch a wagon to, and maybe this is the year he lives up to all the promise he carried into Oxford.

Rodney Scott played as a true freshman last year and has some wiggle, and true freshman Jeff Scott has legit track speed that will be hard pressed to stay on the sidelines.

It's Houston Nutt...there are plenty of running backs and he will use them all.

Q: What is the major area(s) of concern on the offensive line which returns the 7th fewest career starts in FBS.

A: I think an interesting storyline this year will be how Bradley Sowell handles the responsibility of leadership. He got off to a terrible start last year, but as the youngest guy on the line (until Bobby Massie took over right tackle) he had the option of staying back and focusing on himself. This year, he's the old man of the group, and there are going to be times when he has to take over and set things straight.

Not having a center that has ever played a meaningful snap is a major concern, and the center-QB exchange is ripe to be a theme this year.

Perhaps one thing that makes Masoli a more attractive option at QB is his ability to escape trouble, and with most of the learning curve in front of the lineman, that might be the most important aspect of his game this year for Ole Miss.

Right guard Rishaw Johnson - who was suspended for roughly the last half of last season - is the key, I believe. If he stays out of trouble and can stay on the field, the line has a chance to be productive. Sans Johnson, no bueno.

Q: Can the experience on the defensive line balance out the inexperience in the secondary?

A: No offense to Houston Nutt, but I think if you were to poll Ole Miss Fans on their favorite coach, I think DC Tyrone Nix would win. The defense is and has been the soul of the Rebel Football Team since he took over, and everybody knows it. His decision to turn down the DC job at Florida this last off season only fed the love.

Schematically, I think you'll see Nix use quite a bit of quarters coverage to protect his DB's. Doing so gives them time to read the plays a little longer as the linebackers have responsibility in the flats. The front seven will hold their own against anyone this season, but the front four - especially if JUCO signee Wayne Dorsey plays like he practices - could be flat out nasty. The better they are up front, the more the linebackers can play outside the box; the more that occurs, the less the DB's have to play on an island.

Finding the fourth player at both secondary positions is the big question mark.

Q: Who are some of the freshman that are likely to contribute?

A: Jeff Scott is a name I mentioned earlier at running that will be tough to keep off the field. He runs a legit 10.3 in the 100 meters and has a pretty good football IQ...he'll get his shot. CB Charles Sawyer had a great Spring and is pushing to start.

True freshman Clarence Jackson has really impressed at linebacker in a short time and is currently working with the two's. Brishen Matthews is another true freshman that has had a good camp and may end up being the fourth safety. Necessity will get WR Vincent Sanders in the playing rotation.

That said, maybe none is more important than Evan Swindoll, a greyshirt freshman who is currently listed at starting center. Any freshman that touches the ball every play is going to have an impact on your season.

Q: Is Miss State the most important game of the year after what happened last year or is beating an Alabama or LSU more important?

A: Historically, the Bama and LSU games have had much greater impact on bowl game implications and I do not think that it is any different now. The Egg Bowl is a nice, in-state rivalry that - let's face it - a lot of people got to know because it was the Thanksgiving Night game.

If pressed, I'm not sure I could name an Egg Bowl that had any affect on the SEC race, so it is hard for me to argue that the Mississippi State game is the most important.

That said, Dan Mullen has revitalized it, and his grabbing on microphone on field last year in Starkville and proclaiming State "the one program in the state on the rise" rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Admittedly, it is tough imagining an Urban Meyer or Jim Tressell doing something similar, but hey, its Starkville, and it was a big win Mullen and his Bulldogs.

Those who argue for Miss. State being the biggest game this year for the Rebels are really just put off by Mullen.

Despite the win and claims of what disaster it predicted for the Rebels, it has not affected the recruiting trail in-state or elsewhere, and no one will put any real amount on Mullen staying very long at Mississippi State. When Miss. State is the most important game of the year, Ole Miss Fan should remember that it means your team is probably in fifth place in the division.

One thing I've got to say though concerning Mullen, why did he get a pass on calling out Saban regarding NS's remarks about the spread offense? Mullen hinted at his first rounders Alex Smith and Tim Tebow, but considering Smith was considered an absolute bust until the last half of last season (his fourth or fifth in the NFL), and we spent untold man hours hearing about Tebow's need to re-learn the QB position in order to be a viable NFL prospect...doesn't that prove Saban's point that spread offenses don't prepare guys for the NFL? Some one get back to me on that.

Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one.

A: Pre-Masoli I think 6-6 on the low side with maybe a chance to win eight, and I'm not one to say Masoli is the missing piece on an almost completely inexperienced offensive unit that will suddenly get the Rebs to 10 wins. I don't think you move the base line, but maybe you hope for nine during the regular season and get to 10 with a bowl win. If you offered the Cotton Bowl and nine wins again, I think fans should take it.

Failing to qualify for a bowl would be a meltdown quality disappointment, and - literally - might kill my father. The schedule is soft the first half of the year, and if Ole Miss were to come out of their first five games 3-2 fans might start marching on the Lyceum. Perspective is hard to come by these days, but this is a rebuilding year for Ole Miss, which used to almost guarantee a four win season. The fact that people are talking about going to a bowl during a rebuilding year says a lot about where the program is right now.

Q: What is your prediction for this season?

A: Prognostication isn't something I spend a lot of time on, but I'll give it a shot.

Jax State, Tulane and Vandy are 3 wins to open the season. Fresno State and Kentucky both come to Oxford where the Rebs play much better and - though I like Kentucky - get 2 more wins.

Bama after a bye week should be a better game than last year, but it is still a solid loss.

I'm not sold on Arkansas, but I think they will be tough for the Rebs to beat this year; loss. Having to beat Auburn to stop a skid is tough, but my gut tells me the Tigers are still a year away. I'll chicken out and say Toss Up.

Louisiana Lafeyette is a win. Tennessee, poor Tennessee, I like Dooley a lot but they will struggle this year. Rare win in Knoxville. LSU will be tough to beat three years in a row, but Rebel Fans hope Miles stays in Baton Rouge forever. Loss.

Mississippi State will likely need this game - as usual - to salvage their season, but home team usually wins. Win

That's 8-3 with Auburn as a Toss Up, with the Rebels going either 5-3 or 4-4 in conference play. Yeah, that sounds about right.

My Take on Ole Miss...
I agree whole-heartedly about Nutt doing much better when the pressure is off and this year noone is talking about Ole Miss winning the West.

Yes, last season was disappointing, but the Rebels still won nine games. That was back-to-back nine win season for the first time since 1961-1962 to give you some perspective on the job Nutt has done in Oxford.

But Ed Ogeron's players are gone now and it is up to Nutt's recruits to keep up the winning tradition. He was basically forced to take Masoli after Raymond Cotton transferred out. It will be an interesting transition because Nutt has always favored the running game and Masoli isn't exactly a deadly drop back passer.

Defensively, they should be very solid again. Their defensive line gives them the chance to put pressure on the QB. Replacing two cornerbacks is a must because Nix's scheme leaves them on an island a lot.

If Ole Miss can win their bowl game, they will have back-to-back-to-back nine win seasons.

8-4, T3rd SEC West

Thanks again to Jeb for his insight. Please check out his work on Bleacher Report.

Previous SEC Previews:
Mississippi State
South Carolina

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Paul Johnson is a great coach and last year I undervalued the Yellow Jackets and paid the price "

Phil Steele discusses his underrated and overrated teams in the AP Top 25.

Here is his blurb on overrated Georgia Tech:
#16 Georgia Tech-Paul Johnson is a great coach and last year I undervalued the Yellow Jackets and paid the price as they not only won the Coastal, but won the ACC Title outright. This year they have to play Clemson, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia all on the road and Miami at home in which the Yellow Jackets could be a underdog in each game. Despite the tough schedule, they have 14 returning starters and could make me pay again for picking them 4th in the Coastal this year.

He admits he was wrong last year and then goes onto talk about why he is right this year. But he does a little CYA at the end for which he is very good at.

Phil also doesn't think LSU should be #21(disagree think that is about right)

I am surprised Phil doesn't mention Georgia in his underrated teams. He has said UGA could be favored in 11 of their 12 games this season and is a dark horse national title contender.

Phil's underrated list includes #21 Auburn (agree), South Carolina (eh, disagree), and Notre Dame (gosh lets hope not)

Mississippi State Preview: Can Dan Mullen Lead the Bulldogs To A Bowl Game?

Head Coach Dan Mullen begins year two in Starkville looking to elevate the program to the next level with a bowl game at the end of the season.

His first season had to be a success with an increase in the win total and most importantly a win over Ole Miss or "the school up north" as Mullen calls it.

But can the Bulldogs rebuild their offensive scheme without all-time leading rusher Anthony Dixon? What about the new hire at Defensive Coordinator? And who is this Favre guy on the team?

To get a better look at Miss. State, I contacted For Whom The Cowbell Tolls for their insight.

Q: Usually you see the most improvement in a program from year one to year two under a coach. How much better will Miss State be in year two under Dan Mullen?

A: I think his system will be more in place. It will be difficult adjusting for the loss of playmakers like Anthony Dixon on offense and Jamar Chaney on defense, but I think we have some players in the pipe that will fill in nicely.

Q: Who is going to win the QB battle? And how much platooning will Mullen do?

A: The biggest question right now is at quarterback. We have Chris Relf, who has some experience playing from last year and is a running style (Tebow-style, if you will) quarterback that has decent speed for breaking out of the pocket and making plays happen.

Tyler Russell is the red-shirt freshman that everyone expects to do great things, but he is more of a pocket passer. Then you have Dylan Favre (the nephew of a certain NFL quarterback) who certainly has the swagger of a top-level QB, but can he back it up on the field in the SEC?

I think you will see Relf start for the first game, and if we get far enough ahead in some games, Russell will get some looks under center. I can see Favre being a worst-case scenario and saving his red-shirt for next year.

Q: Will it be one guy or a committee of running backs to try and fill the void left by the departure of all time leading rusher Anthony Dixon?

A: I think it will be committee. You can't replace a player like Anthony Dixon. He was the heart and soul of the offense, if not the entire team, last year. In his place, you will see junior Robert Elliott, JUCO transfer Vic Ballard and possibly a freshman or red-shirt freshman or two.

Q: Do the Bulldogs have any difference makers at wideout to take the pressure of a young QB?

A: If Chris Relf is our starter, then we won't really be that young at QB. In any case, Chad Bumphis is a sophomore that made some great contributions to the team as a freshman last year and has the speed and ability to really break out this year.

In addition to Bumphis, you have Brandon Heavens, Leon Berry and Chris Smith. No doubt we are still thin at the wideout position, but the recent NCAA clearance of freshman receiver Michael Carr should help us out there.

Q: The offensive line paved the way for nearly 5 yards per carry last year. Can they continue to be difference maker this year?

A: I think so. Many have said that we will have one of the OLs in the SEC this year, and players like Derek Sherrod, Quentin Saulsberry and J.C. Brignone will be ready to open the gaps for the backs or protect the pocket when needed.

Q: What style does new Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz bring to Starkville?

A: I think Diaz will really compliment Mullen. He is very high energy and uses an attacking style defense to keep the offense off balance. He also returns a good staple of players from last year, including Pernell McPhee and K.J. Wright.

Q: Miss State has just 37 sacks over the last two years. How are the Bulldogs going to get more pressure on the QB?

A: I think the style of defense will be key, as well as the line playing well.

Q: How did the tradition of cowbells start in Starkville?

A: There are many stories, but the accepted origin is as follows: sometime in the early 1930s, Mississippi State (then A & M) were playing Ole Miss in Starkville when a jersey cow wondered onto the field. State ended up beating Ole Miss and the fans started bringing the cow to all home games. Eventually, the just started bringing a cowbell, and the rest is history.

Q: Who are some of the freshman that are likely to contribute?

A: I think you will see Tyler Russell (RS) contribute under center at some point. At running back, we will depend on LaDarius Perkins (RS) and Nick Griffin (TFr) to help carry the load. You could even see Dylan Favre (TFr) at some point during the season.

Q: Has Mullen endeared himself to fans with his tweaking of "the school up North" comments?

A: Yeah, everyone loves it. Especially now that the players are using it too. It helps to strengthen the rival and get the fans behind the team. Video of Mullen After 2009 Egg Bowl

Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one.

A: I think a successful season is 7-8 wins and a trip to a bowl game. We have the chance to get an 8 win season, and even surprise a team or two. A disappointing season will be anything less than what we accomplished last year. Progress is always the key.

Q: What is your prediction for this season?

A: Likely wins: Memphis, Alcorn State, Houston, UAB, Ole Miss, Kentucky. Likely Losses: Alabama, Arkansas. Toss-ups: UGA, Auburn, LSU, Florida

My Take on Mississippi State...
Miss State is one of those teams I think may play a lot better in year two, but I am not sure how much better their record will be.

The schedule is brutal having to play Georgia and Florida from the East. In the West they have to go to Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge as well as Oxford who won't be throwing out the welcome mat after last year.

If Mullen can find a QB to run his offense effectively, they may not miss Dixon that much.

Defensively, Diaz was bantered around for higher profile jobs than Miss State so I think he will continue the tradition of good defenses in Starkville. I know UGA fans liked him too.

I see Miss State finishing last in the West, the toughest division in college football this season, but still good enough to garner a bowl bid.

6-6, 6th SEC West

Thanks again to For Whom The Cowbell Tolls for their insight.

Previous SEC Previews:
South Carolina

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Vanderbilt Commodores Preview

Vanderbilt's football world was turned upside down in July when Bobby Johnson retired. The Commodores went to their first bowl game since 1982 just two seasons ago, but last season faltered to a 2-10 record splattered with the usual heartbreak losses mentioned by Johnson in his final press conference.

New coach Robbie Caldwell won his first big event, SEC Media Days, with his humor but is this guy a serious football coach? Can the Commodores surprise and make another bowl run?

To find out more about the self-proclaimed "country boy" Caldwell and his team this season, I contacted Vanderbilt Sports Line for their insight.

Q: What was your first reaction when you heard Bobby Johnson was stepping down as head coach?

A: Bobby Johnson stepping down was nothing short of shocking. Very surprising to the entire fan base, particularly since we had heard no rumbles of any kind of coaching change at the top.

Q: What are your thoughts on Robbie Caldwell? Can he be better than Johnson was?

A: We are very optimistic about Coach Caldwell. Not only did he impress on stage at the SEC Media Days, but he has also done a few subtle things in running the program that have won him points with the fan base. Namely we appreciate his willingness to hire assistants outside of the program, and we are excited with his hiring of Herb Hand from Tulsa.

Q: Can you compare and contrast Caldwell vs Johnson in terms of style?

A: It’s hard to compare and contrast them without seeing Caldwell’s hand print on the field, but it can already be said that Caldwell has a bit more of a “hard edge” than Johnson. Not that Johnson wasn’t tough, but his style was a little more quiet and focused on self-discipline than it appears Caldwell will be.

Q: Will Vandy have a down field passing game this year and who will be slinging it?

A: We sure hope so. With one of the worst passing attacks in the nation there’s only one way to go and that’s up. Larry Smith will probably regain the starting spot out of training camp, but the fan base is optimistic about transfer Jordan Rodgers, as long as he isn’t redshirted.

Q: Can we expect a heavy run offense this year with Warren Norman and Zac Stacy?

A: I think you can expect to see plenty of carries out of Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. However, with SEC defenses adapting I doubt you’ll see such a huge splash as Norman’s year last year. I expect to see run-geared defenses stepping up. Larry Smith carries the keys to this running game if he can make some defenses actually respect us on first and second down.

Q: Vanderbilt has been known for producing top notch defensive players for the NFL. Is there an heir apparent to that line this year?

A: Losing Myron Lewis is a blow, but the next big defensive stud in this crew is linebacker Chris Marve. Kid can bring the wood.

Q: How is DT Adam Smotherman progressing from his torn ACL? Will he ready for the season?

A: The coaching staff is trying to bring him back slowly, but all signs point to him being ready for the opener, something quite heartening to Commodore fans.

Q: How do Vandy fans feel when other SEC fans say the Commodores don't belong in the SEC?

A: Without entering into a tremendous tirade about the various reasons why the proposition is ridiculous, let us just say that our academic elitism rears it’s head at any moron who makes the statement that Vandy does not belong in the SEC.

We’ve struggled in football forever, but quite honestly we’re just as competitive as every other SEC team in baseball and basketball. Football may be king, but it’s a far cry to say that a school doesn’t keep pace in football and doesn’t belong in a conference.

Besides that, last year was a tough year for a team that doesn’t have near as much depth and suffered a rash of injuries. The gap isn’t as far as the 2-10 record suggests.

Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one.

A: A successful season would be five wins with no blowout losses and with Coach Robbie Caldwell really earning that head coach label and a continuation in our recruiting. A disappointing year would be a 2-10 season, Coach Caldwell getting fired, and the program essentially having to start back over again.

Q: What is your prediction for this season?

A: The schedule is brutal. Absolutely brutal. Stanimal is going for an optimistic 4-8, but actually think it’s going to be a much longer season than that. Bobby O'Shea takes an only somewhat different view and thinks the season, and the Commodores likely success, hangs in the balance with the team's first game against Northwestern. If we beat Northwestern, Bobby thinks the Commodores can win 6 or 7; if we don't, 4-8 would be a miracle.

My Take on Vanderbilt...
It looks pretty ugly for Vandy this season. Even though the talent level has never been what the elite of the SEC have, it looks like the gap is beginning to widen again after a brief period of prosperity in Nashville.

Like Vanderbilt Sports Line said, the schedule is absolutely brutal. The 'Dores catch fellow academic elite Northwestern when they are in a upswing and they have to travel what might be toss games all on the road at Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Kentucky.

Good thing Caldwell has a good sense of humor because he will need it this season.

2-10, 6th SEC East

Thanks again to the Vanderbilt Sports Line for their insight.

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