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LSU – Alabama: The View From Alabama

Brett Beaird

If many SEC fans had their wish, LSU vs. Alabama would play January 9, 2012 in New Orleans, La in the BCS National Championship game instead of November 5 in Tuscaloosa, Al. Many college football experts currently rank LSU 1 and Alabama 1A. The two teams are very similar in philosophy, talent and performance. Let’s examine each team’s schedule, coaching philosophy and intangibles to see if we can predict a winner.

LSU schedule: One advantage that LSU has is they have the confidence to win on the road. The Tiger defense also has been successful shutting down three of the top offenses in the nation in then No. 3 Oregon (40-27), then No. 24 Mississippi State (19-6) and then No. 16 West Virginia (47-21). Tiger cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu just simply know how to make plays at key times in the game. Claiborne also had the kickoff return for a touchdown that turned the game for LSU.  Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith threw for a lot of yards (463), but his passes were primary short underneath coverage completions. Tiger defensive coordinator John Chavis kept the vaunted West Virginia passing game in front of them without giving up explosive scoring plays.

Alabama schedule: The three teams that highlight Alabama’s top wins this season are Penn State (27-11), Arkansas (38-14) and believe it or not Vanderbilt (34-0). Many experts believe Arkansas was the Tide’s toughest game. The Tide secondary shut down Arkansas’s prolific offensive attack by hammering the Razorbacks talented wide receivers and providing key run-support. Penn State currently ranked No. 16 in the BCS has one of the worst offenses in the nation. However, the Nittany Lions finally settled on quarterback Matt McGloin who drove PSU 80-yards to beat Illinois 10-7 in the final one minute to get Joe Paterno’s 409th career win. No matter how much the Razorbacks struggled to beat Ole Miss 29-14 and to hang on and beat the Commodores 31-28, Arkansas is ranked No. 7 in the this weeks BSC standings. Commodore coach James Franklin has sent out a strong message to the league this year, our team will fight and scratch for 60 minutes now because we can compete at the line-of-scrimmage. Vanderbilt lost to Georgia (33-28) and Arkansas, but outplayed both teams.

Miles does not allow distractions to effect LSU: There is not a better coach in the nation in handling off-the-field distractions than Les Miles. Earlier this year, Miles’ sister, Ann Hope Browne was killed in a car accident.  But players and assistant coaches did not sense any self-pity from their coach. Miles has a unique ability to separate a major tragedy to minor distractions, and focus on the task-at-hand. This game will provide another test of his ability to deflect the massive media hype buildup. Besides the personal loss of his sister, when offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, LSU seamlessly promoted offensive line coach Greg Studrawa to play calling. When a significant number of players were involved in a bar fight, including starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, Miles termed the incident a “team violation,” and LSU opened the season by whipping Oregon 40-27. Most recently, LSU suspended three top players, including leading rusher Spencer Ware and defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon. LSU did not miss a beat by hammering the Tigers Auburn 45-10, the worst defeat a defending national champion suffered since 1983.

Miles may not be an eloquent speaker, throws caution to the wind occasionally with strange game-day strategy and sometimes his erratic behavior attracts a lot of media attention. While some of his antics may be a ploy, Miles is quietly shielding the team from outside distractions.

Nick Saban’s process: The 2011 version of the Crimson Tide has been molded to perfectly match Nick Saban’s personality. This team is a combination of five years of top-five recruiting, mental edge conditioning by Dr. Kevin Elko and the Pacific Institute and five years of being indoctrinated into “the process”. Strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran has helped morph this team into one of the biggest, fastest most agile teams in SEC history. Saban is a firm believer in controlling the line of scrimmage. In today’s high octane offensive era, he prefers to run the pro-set formation with a dominating run game lead by Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. First-year starting quarterback AJ McCarron manages the game, uses play-action passing and has ball-security as one of his primary goals. Saban’s defense is led by two 265-pound linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont ‘a Hightower who come off the edge with unrelenting ferocity.

LSU and Alabama do not beat themselves and force turnovers:. The Crimson Tide ranks second nationally in fewest penalties, being flagged an average of just 3.38 times per game. The Tide also ranks third in fewest penalty yards in the country, averaging 29.50 per contest. Alabama leads the SEC in fewest penalties per game and ranks second behind Kentucky in penalty yards per game (27.86).

LSU ranks second in the nation in turnover margin (plus-1.88). The Tigers have intercepted 11 passes and recovered seven fumbles. Mathieu has two interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Both Alabama and LSU are very balanced on offense. The Tigers average 189 rushing yards and 183 yards passing. The Crimson Tide offense comes in averaging an amazing 229 yards rushing and 228 yards passing per game.

Who wins: The November 5 “clash of the titans” will be fueled by a raucous home crowd motivated by a team that supported many of their citizens in the darkest hours after the April 27 tornadoes. However, putting emotions aside, blocking and tackling still win football games. One of Saban’s foundations of “the process” is mental toughness and discipline. Ten years have passed since Saban lost in consecutive years to the same coach in college. Ever since Steve Spurrier pounded Saban’s LSU teams 41-9 in 2000 and 44-15 in 2001, Saban has won 12 straight rematch games.

The difference in the outcome of the Alabama/LSU game will be two or three plays made by the more disciplined team. Alabama will make one or two more plays at key times in the game and win 24-16.

Brett Beaird and Harold Bugg are co-hosts of the Boomo Bugg Show on WYTK 93.9 FM the Score weekdays from 12:00-2:00 pm and the Sportsbuzz on WZTV weekdays at 5:30 and 11:00 pm CT. Brett is also a contributing writer for Tiderinsider.com and the Huntsville Times.

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Is Missouri A Good Fit For The SEC?

Brett Beaird

Numerous media reports indicate it is a just a matter of time before Missouri becomes the 14th member of the SEC. Missouri is not the first choice of many SEC supporters. Virginia Tech, Florida State, West Virginia and other schools have more of an “it” factor when being examined for possible membership. Curators of the University of Missouri recently granted Chancellor Brady Deaton permission to begin “divorce proceedings” with the Big 12. Now that Texas A&M is the official 13th member of the conference and Missouri and SEC officials are on course to finalize the Tigers entry into the SEC, SEC fans are asking is Missouri a good fit for the SEC?

As with any school Missouri has it pros and cons for membership.

On paper Missouri seems to be a good fit in comparison with other SEC schools. Many people have long surmised the reason that SEC officials are interested in Missouri is the expansion of the SEC footprint into two huge TV markets of St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.. The St. Louis market is ranked #21 nationally with 1,258,580 and Kansas City is ranked #31 with 974,820 households.

The University of Missouri is a flagship state university similar to the universities of Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, LSU.  State flagship universities have on the whole larger fan bases, political strength (in their legislature and board of trustees) and brand value. In other words, these universities are the power brokers in higher education with more resources at their disposal.

The University of Missouri’s undergraduate enrollment numbers (20,802 fall of 2011) are similar to other SEC members. The city of Columbia, Mo. has a population base (101,838) similar to Gainesville, Columbia, Knoxville, Lexington and Baton Rouge. Missouri is a good fit because of its academics and the University has an enormous endowment. Missouri has a $143 million dollar endowment rated #9 in the “10 Best University Endowments” in the nation.

Where does Missouri fit in the east or west division- Missouri borders three SEC states: Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas which is key for many SEC schools fan bases that travel well. Gabe DeArmond, publisher of PowerMizzou the Missouri Rivals.com site, believes Missouri fans do not have a preference for which division the Tigers are placed. Texas A&M appears to be destined for the SEC West and it would be an easier fit to move Missouri to the SEC East rather than displace a school such as Auburn and move them to the East. The majority of the SEC schools are in favor of the addition of the Tigers to the SEC if it does not jeopardize decades old rivalries. Alabama athletic officials are fierce loyalists in wishing to keep the Alabama/Tennessee rivalry going. DeArmond believes traveling another 50 or 100 miles to play schools in the Eastern division would not be a big deterrent for travel.

Which teams would be a natural rival for the Tigers – Historically, Ole Miss is the SEC team that Missouri has played the most having played six times. Logically, Arkansas would be a big rival for Missouri. The two states share a large border and share a passion for basketball. Arkansas’ new coach Mike Anderson ironically coached at Missouri before coming to Arkansas. Recruiting also plays a role in this. The nation’s top prospect wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham lives in Springfield, Mo and is being courted heavily by Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas and a host of other schools. Other rivalries for Missouri will materialize through competition. South Carolina didn’t have a true SEC Rival when it entered the league in 1992. The Gamecocks quickly developed a fierce rivalry with Georgia. Certainly other schools in the SEC will develop a rival relationship with the Tigers.

Missouri must buy in to what the SEC is selling - One of the reasons Alabama is now ranked #2 in the nation is Alabama head coach Nick Saban, asks each player to buy into his program. The playbook is one of the many items Saban gives the players. Saban does one of the best jobs in the nation in building a program from the inside out. Saban brings in noted motivational speaker Dr. Kevin Elko annually to check the “mental pulse” of the team. Elko helps each player build people and life skills. How do they manage their time, relationships, money, family and romantic relationships. Saban gives them a blue print to be a successful person on-and-off the field.

Missouri must understand the SEC is all-for-one and one-for-all. Members of the SEC remind people of the iconic TV drama Dallas featuring the oil-rich Ewing Family. The Ewings would cheat on their spouse, enter into shady business deals and fight like cats and dogs every day, but when “Miss Ellie” rang the dinner bell, everyone came running and put on their “Sunday best” clothes and attitude for dinner. Missouri officials must buy into the SEC’s way of doing business. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive lives by the Teddy Roosevelt principal, “walk soft and carry a big stick”. Slive allows SEC members to bicker and argue, but he makes the ultimate decision for the direction of the conference. Missouri athletic officials flirted with the Big 10 for several years because of their concern for the long-term future of the Big 12 and the close proximity of many Big 10 schools. Once a member of the SEC, Missouri must honor their wedding vows.

Professional sports rule the state - One of the biggest arguments against Missouri coming into the SEC according to Matt Barber of Dixiefriedsports.com is many SEC fans believe the sports population in the state caters to professional sports and has casual interest in college sports. Missouri has five major professional sports teams (Rams, Cardinals, Blues, Chiefs, Royals) located in two major metropolitan areas (St. Louis and Kansas City). These teams have been long entrenched with two of them, the Chiefs and Cardinals, possessing fan bases as passionate as any in pro sports. The Kansas City Chiefs have been inconsistent winners in the NFL the past 20 years but are still one of the founding members of the AFL and the NFL. The Cardinals are in a league of their own playing in this years World Series with some of the most knowledgeable sports fans in the nation. Missouri is and always will be a a pro sports state first with college sports a distant second.

Will the Tigers be able to compete in SEC football - Missouri’s 2007 team was the best team in recent memory going 12-2, winning the Big 12 North and the Cotton Bowl over Arkansas. The Tigers ended the regular season as the No. 1 team in the BCS standings. The Tigers have a 40-14 record in the last four years and have won 3 Big XII North Titles. Since 2005 the Tigers have two bowl wins an all time record of 19-8-1 against SEC schools. However, amazingly the Missouri football program never won more than nine games in a season from 1961 until 2007 under coaches such as Dan Devine, Al Onofrio, Warren Powers, Woody Widenhofer, and Larry Smith. It appears based on past records, Missouri would be a middle-of-the-pack team in the SEC. The Tigers seem to be on solid footing now with Gary Pinkel at the helm. The Tigers are no where near the caliber of the elite teams in the SEC Alabama and LSU, but very few teams in the nation are either.

Even though the Cardinals are the favorite sports team in the state, Missouri football does have a power base. Missouri averaged over 64,000 fans at each home game a year ago. In comparison, that number is higher than the average attendance at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and close to Kentucky football. Wouldn’t Missouri and Big 12 fans be more interested in traveling to Baton Rouge, Knoxville, Gainesville, Tuscaloosa and Auburn than traveling to see Iowa State, Kansas State and Colorado (now in the Pac 12) play the Tigers. SEC fans sometimes forget that the majority of the SEC schools have added seating capacity of their stadiums in the past 15 years.

In conclusion, adding Missouri to the best conference in college football is not sexy. Many SEC pundits still believe Commissioner Slive should expand east to either West Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina or Florida State. Missouri does not move the “fan meter” very much. The biggest concern from SEC fans is will the Tigers become as passionate about the SEC as they are. Only time will tell.

Brett Beaird and Harold Bugg are co-hosts of the Boomo Bugg Show on WYTK 93.9 FM the Score weekdays from 12:00-2:00 pm and the Sportsbuzz on WZTV weekdays at 5:30 and 11:00 pm CT. Brett is also a contributing writer for Tiderinsider.com and the Huntsville Times.

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SEC Calls “Timeout” On Conference Expansion

Brett Beaird

SEC presidents and chancellors met Monday for their fall meeting (this meeting was actually planned in advance) and pro-expansion advocates were disappointed. No expansion action was taken at the meeting which will leave fans of the 14th team waiting until the rumor mill begins again from the result of a domino effect from the addition of a team to another conference.

The SEC office released a statement indicating “the presidents and chancellors of the Southeastern Conference met on Monday for its regularly-scheduled fall meeting and discussed a wide range of issues dealing with the changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics. SEC and conference officials decided to take no action with regards to expansion.” Now what does this mean.

No one has done a better job of explaining a very complicated, confusing and at times exhilarating subject than John Pennington of MrSEC.com. His number one goal from day one was to take out the emotion and lay out a logical, common sense business model for expansion. He has used many variables to examine potential candidates to join the SEC and not just what best fits the TV expansion footprint.

The action by the SEC and conference officials comes after even more speculation surrounding Missouri’s flirtation with the SEC. After Missouri curators gave chancellor Brady Deaton the authority to explore a move to another conference rather than immediately commit to the Big 12, expansion advocates were delighted to see a possible 14th team joining the league to begin the 2012 season. However, many expansion followers realize that Missouri was interested in the SEC only after Big Ten officials did not express an interest in returning Missouri’s phone call.

Big 10 officials have been for the most part quiet about expansion rumors. Sooner or later, Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delany will be up-to-his-neck in conference expansion rumors especially if he gets any interest from Notre Dame if Irish administrators feel the Big East conference will remain on shaky ground.

Last week Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News reported that a majority of SEC presidents and chancellors would support Missouri’s addition to the SEC. However, several SEC presidents and chancellors expressed a concern that Missouri did not have the “it” factor.

Missouri has an outstanding academic institution, but the Tigers basketball program probably has experienced more success than the football program in recent years. In other words, there are other “sexier” candidates than Missouri to be courted behind the scenes. Also, others feel if the SEC has already expanded West to accept Texas A&M, would it be logical to then look East to bring in the 14th team and simply place the 14th team in the SEC Eastern division. According to sources, Alabama wants to look East and not risk losing its annual game against Tennessee, while Auburn favors adding Missouri and moving to the Eastern Division.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive is a smart man. He is an attorney with a sharp business mind. He realizes before a team comes into the SEC, patient and prudent thought is needed. Conference affiliation is not about short-term results, it is a 10-100 year process. Many SEC fans still wonder if Florida State would have joined the SEC in the mid-80′s how the Seminoles would have changed the SEC landscape. Slive and SEC officials will continue to look at other candidates such as Missouri, Florida State, Virginia Tech and others. One of the primary reasons for adding a 14th team is simply balancing the two conferences with seven teams each which makes scheduling much easier.

Fans, who seem to have been left out of the expansion equation, has expressed their concerns about the loss of conference rivalries. It would be a tremendous shame to see Alabama/Tennessee, Auburn/Georgia and other tremendous rivalries that are the sheer fabric of SEC football go by the wayside. Commissioner Slive is smart enough to realize that. It is also unlikely the SEC will raid other conferences such as the ACC or Big East. Slive does not want to be perceived as a “predator”. Besides TV contracts prohibit many conferences from extending invitations because of complex legal issues.

Conference expansion talk will not go away. Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pac-12, is a very smart, ambitious, marketing businessman who will continue to position the Pac-12 as on of the most pro-active conferences in college sports. His actions in the next six months will merit a reaction from other conferences, because he will not stand pat with 12 members. The Big 12 members have kissed-and-made-up for the time being, but there are too many ego’s involved in the Big 12 and Texas is still the 800-pound gorilla in the room that is not going away. Many expansion pundits still believe at some point, Scott will wrestle Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State away from the Big 12.

Missouri will continue to remain a viable candidate for the SEC because of the St. Louis and Kansas City TV markets. Again, if the SEC wants to expand East, Florida State is “the brand name” in college football and Virginia Tech and North Carolina will continue to be courted behind the scenes to seek their interest level.

Conference expansion will settle down for the remainder of the 2011 football season, but expansion enthusiasts will be excited in 2012 when the next round of rumors and reports begin anew.

Brett Beaird and Harold Bugg are co-hosts of the Boomo Bugg Show on WYTK 93.9 FM the Score weekdays from 12:00-2:00 pm and the Sportsbuzz on WZTV weekdays at 5:30 and 11:00 pm CT. Brett is also a contributing writer for the Huntsville Times.

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Bama Or LSU? Difference Will Come Down To A Few Plays

MrSEC.com asked several media members from across the SEC for their take on the following question: If you had to pick an SEC champion now, would you pick Alabama, LSU, or The Field?

Brett Beaird

As the college football season enters the month of October, most teams have already established an identity and realize where their strengths and weaknesses lie. It is obvious after four games that Alabama and LSU have separated themselves from the rest of the teams in the SEC.  LSU’s impressive win over West Virginia in Morgantown, Va,. 47-21, propelled the Tigers to No. 1 in the AP poll. Alabama’s 38-14 rout of Arkansas keep the Tide at No. 3 in both the AP and the Coaches polls. Let’s examine who has the best chance to win the SEC, Alabama, LSU or the field.

LSU: One big advantage that LSU has over Alabama and anyone else in the SEC is they have the confidence to win on the road. Whatever magical formula Coach Les Miles uses must be secretly guarded inside his cap because it works on the road. The Tiger defense also has been successful shutting down three of the top offenses in the nation in Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia. Tiger cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu just simply know how to make plays at key times in the game. Claiborne also had the kickoff return for a touchdown that turned the game for LSU.  Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith threw for a lot of yards (463), but his passes were primary short underneath coverage completions.

Tiger defensive coordinator John Chavis kept the vaunted West Virginia passing game in front of them without giving up explosive scoring plays. Mathieu is a special player who steps up in key situations. He is second on the team with six tackles (five solo) and a forced a fumble, a recovered fumble, an interception and a pass break up. He also returned three punts for 34 yards.

Alabama: Nick Saban is a firm believer in controlling the line of scrimmage. In today’s high octane offense era, he prefers to run the pro-set formation with a dominating run game lead by Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson and Eddy Lacy. First-year quarterback AJ McCarron manages the game, uses play-action passing and has ball-security as one of his primary goals, Saban’s defense is led by two 265-pound jack linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont ‘a Hightower who come off the edge with unrelenting ferocity. The Tide secondary shut down Arkansas’s prolific offensive attack by hammering the Razorbacks talented wide receivers and providing key run-support.

Saban is predictable in his coaching style, but the Tide surprised the Razorbacks with some new wrinkles. Special teams have been a big positive for the Tide this season and a fake field goal for a touchdown on the game’s first series set the tone. Marquis Maze’s twisting, dancing 83-yard punt return electrified the crowd and stunned the Razorbacks. The offense used a no-huddle with a two-back shotgun T-formation set with Richardson and Lacy in the same backfield. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart confused Razorback quarterback Tyler Wilson with a montage of defensive alignments that kept the Razorbacks guessing what was coming next. The season will continue to be special if the Tide can dominant opponents with its power running game and McCarron can begin to stretch the field vertically with completions to Maze and Darius Hanks

The field: SEC East candidates

South Carolina: Gamecock Coach Steve Spurrier has one of the top reputations in the nation as an offensive guru. However, with quarterback Stephen Garcia struggling again throwing four interceptions against Vanderbilt last week, the South Carolina defense has quietly become a defensive force in the SEC.  The Gamecock defense played exceptionally well against the Commodores. The Gamecocks forced three turnovers, scored a defensive touchdown, sacked Vandy quarterbacks six times, picked up 12 tackles for a loss and only allowed 77 total yards of offense including four net yards of rushing in a 21-3win.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s group was more aggressive and terrorized Vanderbilt’s backfield all night long.  The putrid Auburn defense Saturday may be just what the doctor ordered to solve the majority of South Carolina’s offensive problems.

Florida: The Gators so far are the surprise of the SEC Eastern Division, if not the SEC.  The Gators host the Crimson Tide at the Swamp on Saturday, and then play LSU at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., one week later October  8. First-year Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis promised when he arrived in Gainesville that he’d find multiple ways to get the football to Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Weis has been successful so far, as Rainey and Demps both rushed for more than 100 yards in the 48-10 thumping of Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday. The Gators rushed for 405 yards against the Wildcats.

Weis’s other priority this season was to rebuild Brantley’s confidence. Brantley seemed to be a “square peg in a round hole” in Urban Meyer’s spread attack, throwing more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine), and being sacked 22 times.  In Weis’ pro-style offense, Brantley is a good fit, completing 64 percent of his passes for 752 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions this season. Weis has Brantley making shorter, safer throws and allowing Florida’s tailbacks make explosive plays. Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will try to contain Demps and Rainey and force Brantley to make plays throwing the ball.

SEC West candidates (besides LSU and Alabama)

Arkansas: At some point in October, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino must figure out some semblance of a running game (whether it is Dennis Johnson or Ronnie Wingo, Jr.). Arkansas will become more balanced offensively to increase their chances of making another BCS bowl game. The Razorbacks are still fully capable of winning 10-11 games and getting to another BCS Bowl game, but the Hogs must travel to Baton Rouge November 28 and the Hogs must be able to move the ball consistently to beat LSU.

Clash of the Titans - Alabama and LSU must take care of business on the field before the showdown November 5 in Tuscaloosa. But, if many SEC fans had their wish, this game would be played January 9, 2012 in New Orleans. La.

Many college football experts currently rank LSU 1 and Alabama 1A. The two teams are very similar in philosophy, talent and performance. However, the November 5 “clash of the titans” will be fueled by a raucous home crowd motivated by a team that supported many of their citizens in the darkest hours after the April 27 tornadoes. However, putting emotions aside, blocking and tackling still win football games. One of Saban’s foundations of “the process” is mental toughness and discipline. The difference in the outcome of the Alabama/LSU game will be two or three plays made by the more disciplined team.

Therefore, who will win the SEC this season, LSU, Alabama or the field? Alabama will make one or two more plays at key times in the game and end up representing the SEC West. The Tide will likely play South Carolina in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta.

Brett Beaird and Harold Bugg co-host the Boomo Bugg Show on WYTK 93.9 FM The Score weekdays from 12:00-2:00 pm and the Sportsbuzz on WZTV weekdays at 5:30 and 11:00 pm CT. Brett is also a free-lance writer for Tiderinsider.com.

***Facebook Poll Question: Who’s your pick to win the SEC?  Vote here.***

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