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Saban Says Alabama Lost Its Identity Last Year

fake-id-mcLovinAlabama won BCS championships in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.  In 2013, the Crimson Tide came within one second — literally — of perhaps punching a ticket back to the SEC title game which could have propelled them back to another BCS title clash.  After Bama’s loss to Auburn, however, the team got scorched by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Now at most schools a 12-2 season would be a pretty darn good year.  But that’s not the case at Alabama where Nick Saban says his program lost its identity last year and will have to struggle to get it back:

 

“Alabama football’s supposed to be a tough, physical team that nobody really like to play against.  That’s been our identity.  We’ve lost that identity a little bit, I think, the way we finished the year last year.  That’s something that we’ve got to get back, and it’s hard, and you really can’t make it easy…

You have to start all over to reestablish it.  It’s not easy.  It’s not easy.  It’s difficult.  It’s tough.  To have the psychological toughness to sustain the season to play the kind of football that we’ve won playing around here, you have to pound.  You have to pound your hand in the sand until it’s tough enough to go through it.

I don’t know that we every paid that price last year, and I think it’s important that our players understand why we do the things we do so they can make it through the season and play the kind of football that we want to play.”

 

Is that an overall mental state Saban’s referring to or an actual style of play?  Let’s look at some Alabama stats from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons:

 

  Year   Rush Offense   Rush Defense   Pass Offense   Pass Defense
  2011   2788 yds (508 carries)   938 yds allowed (2.43 ypca)   2797 yds (357 attempts)   1449 yds allowed (4.3 ypa)
  2012   3185 yds (570 carries)   1069 yds allowed (2.43 ypca)   3052 yds (328 attempts)   2431 yds allowed (6.1 ypa)
  2013   2673 yds (461 carries)   1381 yds allowed (3.32 ypca)   3230 yds (365 attempts)   2344 yds allowed (6.6 ypa)

 

Saban may be referring to an overall attitude with his team, but the numbers suggest that attitude is tied directly to being a “tough, physical team” that can control a game on the ground..

The Tide ran the ball fewer times last year for fewer yards than it had the two previous seasons.  Look at the passing offense numbers and it’s easy to see that senior quarterback AJ McCarron was called on to put the ball in the air more often, making good with more yards through the air.  But did that decision to throw the ball a bit more and run the ball a bit less contribute to Alabama’s late-season stumbles?  Saban seems to think so.

On defense there’s a more obvious trend — giving up more yards on the ground.  Bama allowed almost a full yard per carry more on the ground last year than it had the previous two seasons.  The Alabama secondary (and pass rush) allowed more yards per attempt than it had the previous two years as well, but the bigger decline is in the run game.

Saban’s comments and a quick look at the stat book suggest that new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will be instructed to pound the ball more than his predecessor, Doug Nussmeier, did a season ago.  Breaking in a new quarterback that would be a smart tack anyway.  Also, it’s a probably a safe bet that Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart are putting an added emphasis on stopping the run this spring.

Run the ball; stop the run.  That was the “identity” of Alabama’s football teams in 2011 and 2012.  The 2013 team slipped a hair in those areas last season.  It slipped enough, at least, to lose two whole ballgames.

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Coaches Can’t Cut Their Teeth At Auburn Anymore

gfx-they-said-it4Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs is riding high these days.  He hired Gene Chizik who in turn brought in Cam Newton who in turn led Auburn to a BCS championship.  After firing Chizik he hired his former offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, who immediately led AU back to the BCS title game last season.  And after firing Tony Barbee two weeks ago, he immediately coughed up a hefty sum for new basketball coach Bruce Pearl.

From a fan’s point of view that’s exactly what an athletic director should do — bring in coaches who win and be willing to pay for them.

This week, Jacobs made it clear he’s done trying to find bargains:

 

“The university is committed to winning and the administrators have given me the latitude to go out and do what we need to from a financial resource.  This is no longer a place you come in and cut your teeth.  You come in with proven track records, particularly in our major sports, and proven success…

People know we’re committed to winning championships because of what’s happened to football the last few years and these guys sit and talk to me about, ‘Are you as committed to do this in basketball as you are in football?’  Absolutely, yeah, and I’ve demonstrated it.  And we’re going to continue to demonstrate it because we’re going to win championships.  That’s what I’m committed to.”

 

Sounds good, but there are two things to keep in mind.  First, Jacobs has just backed himself into a corner if he has to hire another football or basketball coach down the road.  There will be no up-and-comers, only guys with “proven track records” and “proven success.”

Second, there’s another AD in the SEC who’s made splashy hires that were initially met with thunderous applause from his school’s fanbase — Jeff Long of Arkansas.  But Bobby Petrino blew himself up and took the UA football program with him.  Bret Bielema has gone from a “wow” hire to an “ow” hire in just over a year.  And his big-money swoop for Missouri’s Mike Anderson has resulted in one NIT berth in three years.

The lesson?  Just because you hire someone with a proven track record, it doesn’t guarantee success.  But for Jacobs, fresh off an SEC title in football and the splashy hire of a new hoops coach, it’s easy to understand his big smile and big talk.

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SEC Headlines 1/7/2014

headlines-tueCoaching News

***Report: Vanderbilt coach James Franklin emerging as clear front-runner for job at Penn State. Vanderbilt assistant coaches now following Penn State recruits on Twitter?***

1. New Texas coach Charlie Strong - a one-time grad assistant at Texas A&M – on resuming the rivalry with the Aggies: “You’d love to.”

2. Despite the advantages of the SEC and a statewide following, the Kentucky job is not as appealing as the one at Louisville.

3. Nebraska’s Terry Joseph will be the new defensive backs coach at Texas A&M.  Joseph was at Tennessee before Nebraska.

4. Florida has a new offensive line coach.  Mike Summers comes from Southern Cal but has plenty of SEC experience.

5. Search for a new defensive line coach at Arkansas continues.

6. Mizzou’s Gary Pinkel is the only coach in school history to lead the team to two top-5 finishes. In last seven years, Tigers have as many wins as Florida, Georgia and Texas.

SEC Football

7. Did Alabama’s victory over LSU in November create a false sense of invincibility?

8. Eight recruits enrolling early at Alabama this week.

9. Why quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey rank among the all-time greats at Missouri.

10. 2013 season is in the books – time to look ahead to 2014.  Eight SEC teams make ESPN’s way-too-early top 25.

11. Can Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott live up to the hype in 2014?

12. Quarterback question for Ole Miss next season – who will be the backup to Bo Wallace?

13. A more physical offensive line for Georgia in 2014?

14. Lost in the shuffle last night – Auburn running back Tre Mason broke Bo Jackson’s single-season school record for rushing yards in a season

15. Tre Mason and what could have been? Auburn consolation prize? 

SEC/NFL Draft

16. Texas A&M junior offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi says his decision is coming Thursday.  Johnny Manziel says he’s still undecided. “We’ll see.” Manziel hung out with Tim Tebow at BCS title game.

17. Is Jeremy Hill coming back for another year at LSU?

18. Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers says he’s returning for his senior season.

SEC Basketball

19. Georgia coach Mark Fox was on a plane Saturday back to Kansas to see his father before he died.  He didn’t make it.

20. A rarity in college basketball these days.  Florida starts four seniors.  

21. Vanderbilt at Alabama. Crimson Tide guard Trevor Releford on his 6-7 team.  ”It’s a fresh start for us.”

22. Tennessee at LSU.  Tigers try to bounce back after losing to Rhode Island over the weekend.

23. Mississippi State guard Craig Sword leads his team in scoring.  Has boosted his shooting percentage 17 points this year.

24. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy on the state of SEC basketball: “Overall, the league has improved top-to-bottom.” Our view:  “The SEC is once again a pretty bad basketball league. “

25. “Arkansas has won more than 90 percent of its home games under Mike Anderson, but has won only one road game per year in Anderson’s first two years.”

Media

26. Most watched non-BCS bowl game in ESPN history?  Texas A&M – Duke game.

27. Former Texas coach Mack Brown was tweeting during the BCS title game last night.

28. Tim Tebow’s prediction for the title game last night was off – by one point.

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Conference Bowl Records During The BCS Era

gfx - by the numbersConferences have expanded, contracted, and fluctuated.  Schools have moved, threatened to move, and bluffed moves.  Spread offenses have taken over football.  Up-tempo, hurry-up systems have become the rage.  Instant replay has grown in importance.

Over the 16-year life of the Bowl Championship Series, the college football landscape has changed dramatically.  But through all the flux and turbulence, there has been one constant — the Southeastern Conference.  Last night the league saw its seven-year stranglehold on the national championship broken.  It’s no a coincidence that the team snapping the league’s streak — in the final 13 seconds of the game — was Florida State.  FSU is coached by an ex-SEC coordinator.  FSU is a defense-first team, much like the SEC teams of the past decade-and-a-half.  And FSU recruits from the same talent pool as the SEC.  Hell, Florida State should be an SEC school, as we’ve argued on many occasions.

But even though a school from the ACC ended the SEC’s unprecedented run, Mike Slive’s league has dominated the bowl scene since the BCS dawned in 1998.  The league has received more bids, rolled up more wins, and beaten more high-end competition in bowls than any other league.  (Sorry, old Big East, but playing MWC and C-USA teams at every turn doesn’t equate to playing bowl foes hailing mainly from BCS leagues, as the SEC has done.)

SEC teams won nine of the 16 BCS crystal footballs handed out.  Five different schools claimed them — Tennessee in 1998, LSU in 2003 and 2007, Florida in 2006 and 2008, Alabama in 2009, 2011 and 2012, and Auburn in 2010.  The SEC’s only BCS title game losses came at the hands of another SEC team (LSU losing to Alabama in 2011) and to a team built in the SEC mold (FSU last night).

Knowing that track record, doesn’t it seem even more ridiculous that Auburn’s unbeaten 2004 squad was left out of the title game in favor of eventual winner Southern Cal, a team since nixed from the winners list due to NCAA sanctions?

And the SEC isn’t like the Big Ten (Ohio State) or the Pac-12 (Oregon, Southern Cal) or Big 12 (Oklahoma, Texas) where one or two teams have dominated season after season.  The SEC’s power shifts from year to year.  Not since Tennessee’s ’98 national champs has an SEC squad even won back-to-back league titles.  No other conference comes close to matching that history of parity.

So as we say goodbye to the BCS — which has been awfully good to the SEC — we wanted to take one final look back at what each conference has accomplished over the past 16 years at bowl time.  Here are the overall bowl records for those leagues still alive (though altered) and those now deceased.  We’ll have some additional points and tables below:

 

  Conference   Total Bowl Bids   All Bowls ’98-’13   Winning %   BCS Bowls ’98-’13   All Bowls 2013   BCS Bowls 2013
  Big West   2   2-0   100.0%   0-0   0-0   0-0
  Big East   75   46-29   61.3%   8-7   0-0   0-0
  SEC   133   80-53   60.1%   17-10   7-3   0-2
  MWC   62   35-27   56.4%   3-1   3-3   0-0
  Pac-12   95   47-48   49.4%   13-8   6-3   0-1
  Sun Belt   25   12-13   48.0%   0-0   2-0   0-0
  Big 12   126   60-66   47.6%   10-12   3-3   1-1
  ACC   115   54-61   46.9%   5-13   5-6   2-0
  C-USA   80   36-44   45.0%   0-0   3-3   0-0
  WAC   51   23-28   45.0%   0-0   0-0   0-0
  Big Ten   113   49-64   43.3%   13-15   2-5   1-1
  AAC   5   2-3   40.0%   1-0   2-3   1-0
  MAC   54   21-33   38.8%   0-1   0-5   0-0

 

Just looking at that list, a few things stand out:

 

*  The SEC had seven more bowl invitations than any other conference, but it had 20 more wins than any other league.

*  Two defunct leagues bested the SEC’s overall bowl winning percentage, but a quick check of the bowl tie-ins over the years shows that while SEC teams were often playing teams from other BCS leagues (or champions from non-BCS conferences), the Big West and the Big East feasted on opponents from non-BCS leagues.

*  Nine of the 13 conferences sending teams to bowl during the BCS era had overall winning percentages between 38.8% and 49.4%.  Again, the Big West, Big East and MWC don’t face the same level of bowl competition as the SEC… which won a remarkable 60.1% of its games during the BCS era.

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Florida State Snaps SEC Streak, Rallies To Beat Auburn

postgame-links-150x1501Florida State 34 – Auburn 31. Video Highlights

1. Leading at one point 21-3, Auburn can’t withstand furious Florida State rally.  Seminoles score winning touchdown with 13 seconds in a wild fourth-quarter finish.

2. No team had ever lead by 18 points in BCS title game and lost. Kevin Scarbinsky: “They should’ve won the game.”

3. Matt Hayes: “Welcome to the new age of college football: he who has the ball last wins. It’s just that simple.”

4. Auburn cornerback Chris Davis called for interference on game-winning drive, was covering FSU receiver Kelvin Benjamin on game-winning touchdown.

5. “Auburn’s issues down the stretch of the BCS title game extend far beyond one player. ” Don’t forget special teams breakdowns in the second half.

6. FSU freshman Kermit Whitfield: “The fastest team in America was Florida State. The evidence proved it tonight.”

7. Auburn defense held Florida State to 385 yards – FSU came in averaging 529 yards a game.

8. Impressive night for Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.  ”There’s not anyone else I want playing quarterback for us other than No. 14.”

9. Florida State victory snaps SEC seven-game winning streak in title game.  Commissioner Mike Slive: “ What we have done is unprecedented. And no one will ever equal it.”

10. “It was fitting that the BCS era – and the SEC’s reign – ended in the spiritual home of college football.”

11. Florida State fans chant “We Want Bama.”

12. AJ McCarron mom’s tweet during Jameis Winston postgame interview – “Am I listening to English?” (later deleted)

13. Final coaches poll features seven SEC teams:  Auburn 2, South Carolina 4, Missouri 5, Alabama 8, LSU 14, Texas A&M 18, Vanderbilt 23. Sidenote – three of the top five teams, including Auburn and Missouri, were not ranked at one point.

14, Fina AP poll - same seven teams with two differences; Alabama is 7 and Vanderbilt is 24.

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Saban Wonders Why The Hubbub About Kiffin’s Visit To Alabama

saban-kiffinNick Saban doesn’t understand the hoopla surrounding Lane Kiffin’s visit this week to Tuscaloosa.  Alabama’s coach has had other coaches visit his program for gab sessions in the past, so in his view, bringing in the ex-Southern Cal coach for a chat is no big deal.

And he’s right.

There are two places in the Southeastern Conference that might balk at a Kiffin drop-in but Bama isn’t one of them.  His one-year stay at the University of Tennessee should preclude the 38-year-old coach from a Knoxville visit.  When he left town a students flirted with a riot, a mattress was burned — why? — and someone allegedly called his home and threatened to eat his children.  So, no, Butch Jones probably won’t invite Kiffin for a visit.

A few Florida fans would like to see Kiffin take over as offensive coordinator for Will Muschamp’s Gators — again, why? — but after he wrongly accused then-UF coach Urban Meyer of cheating on the recruiting trail, it’s doubtful Lil’ Lane will get an offer from Gainesville.

Alabama?  Hell, he didn’t do anything to Alabama.  Aside from take an undermanned team to Tuscaloosa in 2009 and lose on a blocked field goal.  If not for that last-play-of-the-game block, Bama’s first BCS title under Saban might not have come until later.  Saban saw Kiffin’s work up close and personal for one game and apparently came away impressed.  For that reason, the coach wonders what’s the biggie?

 

“Lane is a really good offensive coach, and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for him.  Just to come in and brainstorm a little bit to get some professional ideas with our guys is a really positive thing…

I can’t believe there’s been any reaction to it.  Just about every year we have coaches come in and do what we call ‘professional development-type things.’  We exchange ideas.”

 

Saban pointed out that Oklahoma’s staff — the guys his Crimson Tide staff will be up against in the Sugar Bowl — have been in for a visit, too.

One other thing that might make Saban more interested in bringing Kiffin to town than, say, Tennessee or Florida?  The young coach made it very clear during his layover in Knoxville that he had a great deal of respect for Saban and his staff.  When he joined ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew on the morning of the ’09 Alabama/Florida SEC Championship Game, Kiffin picked Alabama to win.  His rationale — Florida had the better players but the Bama team was better coached.  Clearly that comment was a shot at Meyer and a nod to Saban.

So we agree with Alabama’s head man on this one.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.

And remember, Saban didn’t hesitate to bring assistant Lance Thompson back onto his staff after he’d left Alabama to join Kiffin’s crew at Tennessee.  If someone can help Saban improve his Alabama program, well, that’s the only thing that matters to the four-time BCS title-winner.

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MrSEC.com Power Rankings – 12/12/13

mrsec-power-rankings3-300x232The regular season is complete.  The standings are final.  The SEC championship trophy has been handed off to Auburn.

What’s left but to show you our final Power Rankings for 2013?  Casting aside our usual method of rankings — assigning each SEC program to one of four tiers — we today go the old-fashioned route with a 1 through 14 countdown of the SEC’s best and worst.

 

1.  Auburn — The best roster probably belongs to Alabama.  But the best coaching job was done by Gus Malzahn this season.  As a result, the Tigers won the conference and will face Florida State in the BCS Championship Game.  For the cherry on top, Auburn beat their hated rivals on a last-second play that checkmated a Nick Saban coaching decision.  Win, win.  Literally.  And while on the subject of the Plainsmen, let’s hand out our own MVP award to Nick Marshall.  Johnny Manziel and Michael Sam were flashier at their positions, but without Marshall AU would not be heading to Pasadena.

2.  Alabama — The Tide had the players, the coaches, and the schedule to pull a BCS threepeat.  What they didn’t have were the breaks.  The reasons we didn’t pick the Tide to even win the SEC West this season were a) the fact that no one ever repeat as SEC champs (at least not since 1998) and b) every championship team needs some luck.  Saban’s bunch lost on the last weekend of the regular season.  So when this year’s big break came the SEC’s way — Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State — Auburn was the squad to benefit.

3.  South Carolina — Let’s hope USC fans aren’t so cocky — pun intended — that they’ll start complaining about not getting to “the next level.”  Steve Spurrier has led Carolina to consecutive 11-2, 11-2 and 10-2 seasons.  They have played in one SEC title game, but they’ve so far missed out on BCS trips.  No matter.  The Gamecocks knocked off a pair of BCS-bound teams (Clemson and UCF) and were one of the SEC’s toughest teams, handing Missouri it’s only loss prior to the SEC title game.  What Spurrier has done in Columbia is almost unfathomable when you consider Carolina’s history.  He deserves a heckuva lot of praise.

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SEC Headlines 12/11/2013

headlines-wedSEC Football

1. Bowl games are money makers, not money losers.  ”The perception is out there that schools are losing money going to bowl games and the reality is that’s not true,”

2. Alabama coach Nick Saban was in Ohio yesterday but that didn’t stop someone from paging him at the Austin, Texas airport.

3. Coaches All-SEC team
– Alabama with the most players at nine.  LSU close behind with 8.

4. It’s Alabama vs. Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl - OU players are already talking smack. ”No other college football game has featured two teams that have won more bowl games with Alabama’s 34 and Oklahoma’s 27.”

5. Charles Barkley: “Listen, other than LSU and Alabama fans most of the SEC fans are cool.”

6. Auburn-Missouri tied the Alabama-Texas A&M game for the highest-rated college football game this year.

7. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t set the bowl practice schedule yet but he’ll draw on the experience from 2010. Malzahn named Home Depot Coach of the Year.

8. Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s wife meets Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi – gives him hug.

9. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze no longer the lowest paid coach in the SEC West - gets a four-year deal that will pay him $3 million in 2014.

10. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel named American Football Coaches Association regional coach of the year.

11. South Carolina was the only program this year to beat two teams that will play in BCS bowls.  Steve Spurrier: “It’s been a very good year.”

12. Three Tennes see freshmen played every game this year. Six of them didn’t take a snap and are redshirt eligible.

13. David Climer says a lot of Vanderbilt fans “are looking down their noses at their destination — the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham.” MrSEC: “The bowl system isn’t fair.”

14. Just two SEC teams open as underdogs in bowl games -  Auburn and South Carolina.

15. Only two SEC teams have above .500 records over the past five years against top 25  teams in the final BCS standings.

SEC/NFL Draft

16. Does Jadeveon Clowney’s speeding ticket for going 100 MPH hurt his chances at being the No. 1 overall pick?  Mel Kiper: “Doesn’t help. He’s in a battle to be the No. 1 pick and at that level it does matter.”

17. Auburn redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Greg Robinson undecided on NFL plans. Kiper ranks him at No. 14 on his big board.

Extras

18. Issues at Texas go beyond Mack Brown.  ”The smarter questions that reared themselves again on Tuesday were about the bizarre leadership issues that could impede Texas making a hire.”

19. The coaches pipeline known as Arkansas State loses another one. Bryan Harsin reportedly headed to Boise State.

20. NAIA basketball player hits half-court shot at NBA game and wins $20,000.  He can keep the money.

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SEC Headlines 12/10/2013

headlines-tueSEC Football

1. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, Alabama QB AJ McCarron and Auburn RB Tre Mason are among six finalists for the Heisman Trophy.

2. Athlon Sports gives five reasons why Auburn will beat Florida State in the BCS championship game.

3. Alabama led the SEC with four players on the Associated Press first team. The Crimson Tide has nine players overall.

4. Was it Alabama or Oregon that got a break by missing the other in a bowl game? Oregon fans are split on that one.

5. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is impressed with Alabama. “I appreciate good football, and they play it, and they play it the right way,” he said.

6. Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah is “banged up” as the Tigers begin BCS championship preparation.

7. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has a chance to earn more than $1 million in bonuses this season.

8. LSU needs a bowl win over Iowa, writes Ron Higgins. LSU lost to Clemson in last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.

9. Florida will delay the start of spring practice in order to make sure quarterback Jeff Driskel is healthy and able to participate.

10. Marc Weiszer takes a look at Georgia during the BCS era. The Bulldogs played in three BCS bowl games.

11. South Carolina’s win over Clemson helped create the path for South Carolina to reach the Capital One Bowl.

12. Missouri will have a chance to separate itself from that 2007 team that followed similar path as this one.

SEC Basketball

13. Florida will host Kansas tonight. The Jayhawks will be led by forwards Perry Ellis and Andrew Wiggins.

14. Florida guard Eli Carter will take a medical redshirt this season as he continues to recover from a broken leg.

15. One sportswriter left Kentucky completely off his top 25 ballot.

16. Kentucky’s learning curve is still steep as the Wildcats prepare to host Boise State tonight.

Extra

17. Auburn and Alabama will both have some freaks playing in BCS bowls this season.

18. Report: Dave Clawson is leaving Bowling Green to become the head coach at Wake Forest.

19. CBS Sports provides its top 25 (and one) in college basketball. The SEC has three teams listed.

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35 Post-SEC Championship Game And Bowl Selection Thoughts

600px-US_35Thirty-five random two-line thoughts for you on a rare day off from MrSEC.com…

 

1.  Auburn deserves it’s BCS Title Game show as, once again, the BCS system works out in the SEC’s favor.  Sure it took a last-game loss by Ohio State, but once more Mike Slive’s league will get its shot.

2.  The biggest storyline of the Auburn/Florida State matchup?  In a break from the norm the SEC brings in the high-powered offense while the opponent features the big, bad defense.

3.  Will the SEC win the title again?  Or will the crown once more go to the team with the best defense?

4.  Early verdict: I took the better defense in the SEC Championship Game and watched it get run over, around and through.  Currently, I’d take Auburn by a hair.

5.  Some teams that win on Hail Marys and last-second kick returns are lucky.  Others — and I’m beginning to think Auburn fits this bill — are “teams of destiny.”

6.  More than the SEC’s streak of seven BCS titles will be on the line when Auburn faces FSU.  An AU victory would give the state of Alabama five straight BCS championships (Alabama in 2009, 2011 and 2012; Auburn in 2010 and — possibly — 2013).

7.  So who deserves the SEC’s Coach of the Year award?  After Saturday that question is an easy one — Gus Malzahn.

8.  But can we please stop comparing Malzahn’s one-year turnaround on the Plains to the first-year rebuilding work going on at Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee?  Malzahn returned to a team built with top 10 recruiting classes; Bret Bielema, Mark Stoops and Butch Jones are having to restock the cupboards at UA, UK and UT.

9.  Due to two-team-per-conference limit, Missouri gets the short end of the stick bowl-wise.  The Tigers deserve to be in a BCS bowl after their 11-2, division-winning season.

10.  The Tigers were rewarded for their season with a trip to Texas — where they no longer recruit quite as hard — to play a former Big 12 (and Big 8) rival in Oklahoma State.  Some Mizzou fans weren’t thrilled with such a matchup.

11.  South Carolina fans will feel left out, too, after finishing with two losses and beating Mizzou on the road.  But, oh, doesn’t that inexplicable last-second loss at Tennessee loom large.

12.  The Gamecocks will head to Florida for the third-straight year to face a Wisconsin they’ve yet to play.  It just seems like they’ve played in the Outback or Capital One before because the SEC and Big Ten share too many bowl tie-ins.

13.  We still say it’s a shame the SEC didn’t cut a bowl deal with a game outside its footprint (New York City, Las Vegas) for the next cycle of games.  There will be no Pac-12 matchup, either.

14.  And no, we don’t count the Belk Bowl as an out-of-territory bowl.  Charlotte’s metro area reaches into South Carolina.

15.  Congrats to Vanderbilt.  Birmingham in January isn’t anyone’s idea of a tropic paradise, but it beats staying in-state for yet another bowl game.

16.  Alabama and Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.  Oregon might have been more interesting, but this ushers in the next era of Sugar Bowl — SEC versus Big XII — a year early.

17.  Bob Stoops has flapped his gums about the SEC being overrated since last summer.  Now his Sooners can put up or shut up.

18.  What’s it say about Bama’s season, however, that a date with Oklahoma in New Orleans is viewed as a disappointing arrangement.  Only a last-second lost to Auburn could cause such disappointment.

19.  Speaking of Auburn, kudos to Nick Saban for voting the Tigers #2 in his final USA Today Coaches’ Poll ballot.  You can be sure some Tide fans wouldn’t have been gone there.

20.  LSU draws Iowa in the Outback Bowl.  Those two schools met in the Capital One Bowl in January of 2005 in what turned out to be Saban’s final game as the Tigers’ coach.

21.  The Tigers haven’t been to Tampa for a postseason game since it was called the Hall of Fame Bowl back in 1989.  It’s just the second time a West Division team has played in the Outback game since January of ’98.

22.  Don’t expect Les Miles to be leaving the Bayou anytime soon.  That puts him in the same category with Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin (both of whom recently inked contract extensions.)

23.  The Saban rumors won’t go away, however.  Some sites claimed last week that a Saban-to-Texas move was imminent while others claimed Bama’s coach had already reached a new deal in Tuscaloosa.

24.  We don’t believe Saban will move, but we do believe he and agent Jimmy Sexton know how to turn rumors into gold.  Their brand of alchemy will likely earn the coach another raise to say put.

25.  In further proof that the SEC needed to branch out bowl-wise, Georgia will face Nebraska in this year’s Gator Bowl.  A year ago the Dawgs and Huskers met in the Capital One Bowl, about two hours away.

26.  Yawn.  Double-yawn.

27.  On paper, Texas A&M versus Duke looks to be a mismatch.  But with A&M’s defense on the field, it’s a good bet that the Blue Devils will be more competitive than they were against Florida State in the ACC Championship Game.

28.  Question: Will Aggie fans make the trip to Atlanta to give Johnny Manziel a maroon-colored send-off?  Or is the distance from East Texas to North Georgia just to far to travel for a date with a basketball school?

29.  No offense to Duke, but A&M has drawn one of the dreaded “so what?” opponents this bowl season.  Win and you were supposed to… lose and you just fell to a hoops school.

30.  Mississippi State is in the same boat as they’ll face Rice in the Liberty Bowl.  Of course, the Fighting Pilafs are exactly the type of team Dan Mullen’s squad tends to devour.

31.  While he’s made a living off of beating weaklings and Ole Miss — which counts for a whole lot in the Magnolia State — let’s give credit where credit’s due.  There’s a proliferation of bowls these days, sure, but no other Bulldog coach has ever taken the program to four consecutive bowl games.

32.  Ole Miss, meanwhile, will be involved in one of the more interesting SEC bowl games.  Georgia Tech’s triple-option versus Hugh Freeze’s hurry-up should make the Music City Bowl one to watch.

33.  The SEC finished the regular season with seven teams in the BCS top 25 standings — Auburn (#2), Alabama (#3), Missouri (#8), South Carolina (#9), LSU (#16), Texas A&M (#21) and Georgia (#22).  It was an unusual, offense-driven season around the league, but end of year results look awfully normal.

34.  Last week we took a bit of grief for daring to suggest that strength of schedule should play a role when deciding who plays whom in the BCS title game.  Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State — it’s first game versus a top 10 foe in two years — seems to bear out the old adage: Pressure busts pipes.

35.  The loss had to be a blow to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and everyone in his league hoping to be the ones to unseat the hated SEC.  Well, the SEC’s streak might end against Florida State, but it won’t be the Buckeyes of the couch-burning, rioting fans of the upper Midwest who’ll get to do the postgame bragging.

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