Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Conference Call - SEC Style

CFRT SEC Contributor

Game of the Week

Though Alabama and Auburn have been playing since 1893, By 1980 the series had come to be called the Iron Bowl, due to the prominence the state's capital (Birmingham) as a center of iron and steel production.

No.2 Auburn at No.11 Alabama – “Iron Bowl”

This storied and tradition-rich rivalry is finally starting to get back to national significance for both teams. The passion and importance has never waned in the state of Alabama, just as in every big in-state rivalry, regardless of national implications, this is the game fans, players and coaches regard as the game that makes or breaks your season.
Some rivalries award a trophy of some sort, but what’s really being played for are the bragging rights and exposure for all the kids being recruited by both schools.
Within each program and fan base it goes unsaid that no matter if both teams show up 0-10 for this game, beating your biggest rival can render a tough season survivable or be the cherry on top of a successful one.
This is the first time in five years both teams have been ranked for the regular-season finale and the first time since 1994 both teams come in ranked in the Top 10 within the AP Poll.
Auburn – already crowned SEC West Champions with a date set with South Carolina next week in Atlanta for the SEC Championship game – have put themselves in a must-win situation if they want to make it to the BCS National Championship game. 

Rivalries like Auburn/Alabama run deep.
With a loss to the Tide, the Tigers would not have a strong enough opponent on paper in the Gamecocks to propel them back into the No.1 or No.2 spot of the BCS.
In past years, when both sides of the conference were strong, a team could afford an in-season loss (or two, thanks to LSU) and use a victory in the SEC clash to springboard themselves into playing for the crystal trophy awarded to the BCS champ.
Such is not the case in a year where the Eastern half of the conference has not lived up to the challenge. 
Alabama will have a shot at what 11 other defenses have not been able to do, stop Tigers quarterback Cam Newton.
Their style of play on defense should give them a chance to limit Newton from blowing things wide open.
But the Crimson Tide must maintain their assignments and tackle well.
And nobody gets those points across better than Alabama’s Head Coach Nick Saban.
With basically what amounted to a scrimmage last week with first-year program Georgia State and no game until a bowl game, Saban will have this team focused squarely on beating the Auburn.
A win could put Alabama in a BCS Bowl as an at-large pick.
A loss and they’ll probably wind up at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
On offense the Tide’s balanced attack should be enough to have success against the Tiger’s defense, which is sound in all areas, but tends to have trouble with good passing teams because Auburn’s cornerbacks are most likely their weakest link.
If Alabama finds success on the ground, it should open up the deep routes if they can get the Tiger’s safeties to bite on stopping the run.
However, ‘Bama’s offensive balance only works if they score early.
If the Tide can keep the game close, it is imperative to sustain long, time consuming drives to keep Newton on the sideline and far away from the end zones.
Problem is, no defense has found the Kryptonite to neutralize Newton so far.
The Alabama defense may be able to slow him down, but they won’t be able to stop him from outscoring their offense.
Auburn, 31-24.

Rest of the Match Ups

LSU player's hoist "The Boot" trophy after last year's win over Arkansas.
No.5 LSU at No.12 Arkansas – “Battle of the Golden Boot”

LSU comes into this game as the highest-ranked, one-loss team in the BCS.
The gleam in the eye of the Tiger is that of some slim hope that they wind up in the BCS title game.
It would take more than miracles, Hail Marys and perhaps somebody making a deal on a crossroads somewhere in the Mississippi Delta for it to happen.
It’s simple; three of the four teams ahead of them must lose and drop away in the next two weeks.
While that’s not likely to happen, stranger things have happened.
Auburn would have to lose their next two, at Alabama and to South Carolina in the SEC Championship game.
Current No.1 Oregon would have to lose to Arizona today or to Oregon State in the Civil War next week. No.4 Boise State would have to finally allow fate to catch up and fall victim to the Nevada (10-1).
If all that happens, and because No.3 TCU is playing New Mexico (1-10) in their season finale, it may very well be LSU vs. TCU in the BCS title game.
This is obviously a long shot if ever there was one, but how can you bet against LSU coach Les Miles?
There is only one real problem with this scenario; they must first try to beat Arkansas, the hottest team in the SEC right now (other than Auburn).
The Razorbacks are on a five-game winning streak (averaging 44.8 points during that stretch) and gunning for its tenth win this season lead by quarterback Ryan Mallet and his 297.5 yards passing per game.   
The Tigers have one of the toughest defenses around, surrendering only 151.8 yards passing per game and they will be tested on the road against a great Arkansas offense.
What troubles Tiger fans the most is this is the same defense fresh off giving up 36 points at home to Mississippi.
Against Ole Miss last week, LSU was left relying on its offense and quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who seems to have finally established himself as LSU’s full time starter, to outscore the Rebels.
If recent history tells us anything, it’s this game will be close and down to the wire.
The last five meetings between these two teams have been won with a combined 13 points, including the last two games which had to be decided by overtime.
LSU, 38-35.

Gamecock's players celebrate their win over Clemson.

No.18 South Carolina at Clemson – “Palmetto Bowl”

The Gamecocks have a real danger in looking ahead to their first-ever SEC Championship game berth next week against the Auburn.
This may be new to the Garnet & Black faithful, but not to their head coach Steve Spurrier.
Spurrier had taken the Florida to the SEC title game seven times, and had to play a highly-charged rivalry game (FSU) prior to getting a shot at the conference championship.
For Spurrier, beating a rival is about recruiting and bragging rights, and falls a close-second behind winning championships.
Spurrier knows his best chance at beating Auburn, who they played tough earlier in the season, is to come in with confidence and a swagger.
And the best way to keep his team up is to put a knot on the head of the Tigers in Death Valley.
Spurrier also knows if he wants to keep landing players like home-state heroes Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey, he has to keep winning this game – not only on the field, but also in the living rooms of the top high school recruits in South Carolina.
South Carolina, 31-14.

Even marriage doesn't prevent Florida/Florida State battle lines from being drawn.
Florida at No.22 Florida State – "Governor’s Cup"
This is Florida’s last chance at deciding what this season means to this program.
A win and the Gators have accomplished at least one goal set each year before the season – beat your biggest rivals.
Florida has three rivals.
And the Gators have already beaten Tennessee and Georgia this season.
FSU is next on the list.
A Florida win does not make this season a success necessarily, but it does take the sting out of a lot of disappointment and a consolable bowl game.
A loss could put a Gators team already off balance and reeling in a December bowl game – hard to swallow for a team that is used to playing on or after New Years.   
Florida leads the all time series against the Seminoles 33-19-2.
The current coaches and players have never lost a game to the ‘Noles and will be looking to expand the Gators’ six-game winning streak to seven.
But FSU should be feeling good about their chances this year.
Florida is especially struggling on offense behind an offensive line that has not put in the great year that was expected from them, while the Seminoles’ defense is currently ranked second in the nation in quarterback sacks with 41, and ranked ninth nationally in tackles for a loss.
That’s not a promising thought for a Florida line that cannot create a pocket for its passer and rarely seems to open holes up only long enough for the fastest man in college football (runningback Jeff Demps) to zip through them before they slam shut to be a success.
Georgia felt optimistic about their chances against a down-and-out Florida earlier in the year, but Gators coach Urban Meyer was able to pull the rabbit out of his hat and came up with the hurry-up, triple quarterback threat of John Brantley, Trey Burton and Jordan Reed.
But will Meyer be able to “tweak” an already tweaked-out team to pull off the win in Tallahassee?
Say hello to your new State Champions!
FSU, 31-17.

You know it's a good rivalry when they write books about it.

Georgia Tech at Georgia – "Clean, Old Fashioned Hate"

If you like seeing teams run the ball, this is your game to watch.
Tech’s defensive line will be undersized against the Bulldogs’ physical offensive linemen.
Earlier in the year the Yellow Jackets gave up a combined 500 yards rushing to Miami and Clemson.
And after gaining 339 yards on the ground  against Tech last year, watch for Georgia to pound it out in the running game early to set up the pass.
While the Bulldogs’ run defense is only allowing 125 yards per game, it will have its hands full with a Tech running game that leads the nation in rushing with 319 yards per game. 
And, the Yellow Jackets run the option attack, which Georgia has had problems defending this year, having given up a combined 712 yards to Auburn, Florida and Mississippi State on the ground. 
Georgia, 31-24.

The awarding of the "Golden Egg" was instituted in 1927 by joint agreement between the two schools' student bodies.

No.25 Mississippi State at Ole Miss – "Egg Bowl"

Mississippi State Head Coach Dan Mullen is trying to follow in his mentor’s (Urban Meyer) footsteps by beating his team’s biggest rivals.
And as a way to discuss the in-state rival without calling them by name, he has picked up another trick from his old boss by referring to Ole Miss as “that team up north”(Meyer refers to FSU as “that team out west”).
Mullen will also be trying to break the cycle of the home team winning the last six in a row, and 10 of the last 11.
The Bulldogs get to keep the Golden Egg for another year.
Mississippi State, 24-21.

The original Battle for the Beer Barrel was conceived in 1925 by a Kentucky booster club for the football rivalry with Tennessee.

Kentucky at Tennessee – "The Border Battle"

In what used to be the “Battle for the Beer Barrel,” we now have “The Border Battle,” after an alcohol-related death prior to the game in 1999.
Kentucky sure wishes they had caught Tennessee earlier in the year before the Volunteers went on a three-game winning streak after starting the year 2-6.
But this is a different Tennessee team, which looks to have finally discovered how to put a full game together.
At mid season, I would have picked the ‘Cats over the Volunteers to break a 25-game losing streak in this series.
However, by playing at home and an apparent turnaround implemented, UT coach Derek Dooley has these Volunteers playing like Tennessee teams of old – at least against teams they own.
The Vols are also going for their third straight SEC victory this season, and will become bowl eligible with a win.
Tennessee, 45-27.

Wake Forest and Vanderbilt players may not be known for their glory on the gridiron, but there's none finer in the classroom.

Wake Forest at Vanderbilt – "Revenge of the Nerds Bowl"

In the spirit of “rivalry week,” I just had to give this game a name.
This is a match up of two schools who would be in the South’s version of the Ivy League, if it had one.
But in these parts, you are more likely to see Kudzu-covered walls rather than ivy-clad facades. 
At these schools, you wouldn’t be surprised to see incoming freshmen comparing SAT scores rather than 40-yard dash times, and be bragging more about their GPA than how many touchdowns they’ve scored.
Vanderbilt, 27-14.

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