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Get Ready For A Big Distraction, Bama… Report: Saban Feeling “Special Pressure” And Would Leave For Texas

nick-saban-blesses-the-massesLast January, Nick Saban’s agent talked by phone with a pair of regents from the University of Texas.  The conversation centered on Saban’s interest in trading the Alabama Crimson Tide for the Texas Longhorns.

Through an open records request, the Associated Press has gotten its hands on an email that former Texas regent Tom Hicks sent to his brother, regent Steve Hicks, about that call.  His email stated:


“(Saban’s agent Jimmy) Sexton confirmed that UT is the only job Nick would possibly consider leaving Alabama for, and that his success there created special pressure for him.”


Start your timers.  It won’t be long before Saban’s top is blown due to reporters peppering him with questions about Texas and the “special pressure” he feels at Bama.  For a man who hates distractions this — and rumors that his wife visited Austin, Texas to look at vacation property in recent weeks — will be a major headache.

Having said that, we at still don’t buy that Saban would leave Alabama for Texas.  Not at all.  Not for a second.  And we’re more than willing to throw out mega-whoopsies if we’re wrong.

First, no agent on the planet does a better job of using outside interest for leverage than Sexton.  It would only behoove Sexton — and Saban’s wallet — to use the uber-rich Longhorns for leverage with Alabama (where he makes more than $5 million per year already).  And remember, this call took place in January.  By April, Saban’s staff had been given a 15% hike in pay.  Hmmm.

“Would possibly consider?”

Yeah, that’s a real guarantee.  Even if Sexton reached out to Texas — and that appears to be the case (see the link up top) — it’s still likely that it was Sexton’s usual ploy of whipping up interest in order to re-open contract talks.

Second, the 62-year-old Saban has said many a time that he’s too old to move again.  He said as much in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired last Sunday.  In the interview he also said that he regretted his “I will not be the Alabama coach” remark before leaving the Miami Dolphins because it hurt his integrity.  Would he be willing to go down that road again?  (Yeah, OK, on that one, we’ll say perhaps.)

Finally, if Sexton or Saban believe he could alleviate the “special pressure” his victories have created at Alabama by taking on the role of savior at Texas they’re both nuts.  Want special pressure?  Head to Texas.

And would Saban want to work for guys who aren’t smart enough to keep their and his business out of emails?

Speaking of the Horns, Mack Brown has recovered nicely from a shaky start to the season.  Texas whipped its biggest rival Oklahoma and has darted out to a 5-0 record in the Big 12.  At 6-2 overall, Brown can still get his squad into a BCS bowl, though an end-of-the-season game with Baylor looms large.

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Hoops Hall-Of-Famer King Says He Faced Racism At Tennessee

double-trouble-king-grunfeldTonight, former Tennessee and NBA basketball legend Bernard King will be featured in a new “30 for 30″ documentary on ESPN called “Bernie and Ernie.”  It focuses on the friendship he enjoyed with fellow New Yorker Ernie Grunfeld while playing for UT in the 1970s.

Volunteer fans will be surprised to see the “Bernie and Ernie” tag as the duo was more commonly known as “The Ernie and Bernie Show” at the time.  Chalk it up to marketing.  King is a basketball Hall of Famer.  Grunfeld — while a tremendous player and the current GM of the Washington Wizards — doesn’t have the name recognition of King, once one of the NBA’s top scorers.

Another way ESPN promotes its programs?  By releasing controversial snippets from them.  And that’s just what ESPN has done to promote tonight’s show.

The AP is reporting today that King reveals in the documentary that he faced racism while at Tennessee.  Specifically, he states that a police officer struck him with the butt of his gun while responding to a loitering charge.  It sounds as if there will be more talk on the racism front as well.

King and the University of Tennessee have reconnected during the past decade.  King’s jersey was retired at Thompson-Boling Arena in 2007.  He began aiding the UT program with pep talks and such.  All appeared to be well between alum and school.  But one wonders what these “revelations” — Is anyone really surprised that a black man from New York dealt with prejudice in the South 40 years ago? — will have on the King/UT relationship.

“I wish the university and the basketball team all the success in the world,” King told the AP.  “I would recommend that any athlete on the basketball side or football side or any sport, I would recommend the University of Tennessee for them.  I don’t harbor any bitterness.  You can’t go through life like that.  It eats you up.”

King added: “Everyone in Knoxville has always been very warm to me during my trips back to town.  It’s a different era.  It’s a different time.  It’s a different generation.  Therefore, my interaction with everyone is quite different than it was back then.”

Sounds good, but The Big Story today still ties the words “Tennessee” and “racism” together.  Now Vol fans know how Ole Miss fans felt last year.

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Tennessee QB Situation Up In The Air With Missouri On Deck (Updated)

josh-dobbs-playingTennessee’s incredible gauntlet of ranked foes isn’t getting much easier this week as the Vols head to Missouri to face a Tiger team still smarting from its first loss of the season.  Making matters worse for UT is the fact that starting quarterback Justin Worley re-injured the thumb on his throwing hand in Saturday’s 45-10 loss at Alabama.

With Worley injured, the Vols had to burn the redshirt of true freshman Josh Dobbs, a player who lacks Worley’s experience but surpasses the junior in skills.  This week’s quarterback battle at practice appears to be up in the air.  Well, sort of.

While Butch Jones will likely try to keep Missouri guessing throughout the week — Worley was still listed as the #1 quarterback yesterday — the odds seem to favor Dobbs at this point.  First, he’s healthy.  Worley is less than 100% with the thumb injury.  Nathan Peterman has just had the cast removed from his own hand injury suffered in his nightmare start at Florida.  Dobbs’ fellow freshman, Riley Ferguson, is in a walking boot.  Toss in the fact that Worley tweeted and then deleted a message saying “Everything happens for a reason,” and it would appear that Dobbs will play quite a bit on Saturday, if not start.

Just listen to Jones comments about Dobbs’ and his performance at Alabama (in which he led UT to 10 second-half point, no small feat against the Tide):


“He was poised.  He was calm.  He was disciplined.  He had a command about himself…

He’s a 4.0 student.  I think he’s got a photographic memory.  You’re either a fountain or a drain, you know?  Every day he’s a fountain…

You would never know that he played on Saturday.  He is the same Josh Dobbs that we see each day.  I take great comfort in being around players like that.”


In addition to having a stronger arm, Dobbs brings a running threat to the quarterback position, something that has been missing from Tennessee’s zone read offense.

In other injury news, Jones suggested that defensive backs Brian Randolph and Byron Moore — both injured against Alabama — should be healthy enough to play on Saturday.


Update: According to Knoxville sportscaster Jimmy Hyams, Dobbs will start at Missouri Saturday.  Justin Worley is out four weeks with torn ligaments.


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Tennessee’s Peterman Out With Hand Surgery

nathan-peterman-throwingFresh off a nightmare debut as Tennessee’s starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman is going on the shelf.  And not just because of his first-half performance in the Vols’ 31-17 loss to Florida on Saturday.

UT coach Butch Jones announced today that Peterman will miss at least four weeks after having surgery on his throwing hand yesterday.  Justin Worley — who came on in relief on Saturday — is Tennessee’s starter “as of right now,” according to Jones.  The Volunteers host South Alabama on Saturday, then run through Georgia (home), South Carolina (home) and Alabama (road) before the end of October.

Making his first start — and let’s face it, The Swamp isn’t where a visitor wants to make his first start — Peterman was four-of-11 for five yards passing.  He also tossed two interceptions and lost a fumble before leaving the game due to injury/meltdown.

Worley began the season as UT’s signal-caller but lost his job after three games because the coaching staff wanted to see more “splash plays” for big gains.  With Worley now back as starter and with Peterman out, true freshmen Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson are currently listed as co-backups on Tennessee’s depth chart.

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Fulmer Says He Didn’t Know Foster Was Paid; How Much Damage Can One Rat Do?

rat-faceIn the world of college sports, coaches, enterprising reporters and fans are often the ones to turn in and rat out alleged cheating at rival schools.  What you don’t often see is a player squealing on his own alma mater.

Last Friday, it became public knowledge that ex-Tennessee running back Arian Foster had told a documentary crew that he had received money (and several free tacos) as a Volunteer senior.  His stated goal was to expose the unfair nature of the NCAA.  Well, while his anti-NCAA message was heard, the immediate damage might be felt by his old school, not college sports’ governing body.

In squawking, Foster joins another ex-SEC player who once tried to achieve an altruistic goal, only to (potentially) wreck his old school.  Auburn defensive back Eric Ramsey tried to expose the racism that exists for black players at predominately white university.  But in the end, he  released tapes that revealed then-AU coach Pat Dye had loaned him money and called a loan officer on his behalf.  For helping Ramsey, Dye wound up losing his job and the Tiger program got smacked by the NCAA for paying players, for running a bonus program for big hits and touchdowns, etc.

Did Auburn deserve to be punished for the egregious violations taking place in its football program?  Yes.  Should Ramsey have been one to go public?  No.  If a player sticks his hand out, takes money and then talks about it after the fact… he’s a rat.  Finking shows no appreciation for those who tried to aid the player, whether they were right or wrong in attempting to provide such aid.

Foster is now in Ramsey’s circle when it comes to taking cash/food/aid only to do damage to those people whose help he’d received.  And he’s not exactly helping new Tennessee coach Butch Jones, either.

One of Jones’ predecessors in Knoxville has said he knew nothing of payments to Foster.  According to Phillip Fulmer:


“As the head coach at Tennessee for 17 years, I took great pride in having a program that was NCAA compliant, as did our staff and administration.  If we knew of a violation, big or small, we reported it.”


So could Tennessee be looking at Auburn-style fallout from the NCAA?  Probably not.  That’s probably not.

The Volunteer program is currently on probation until August of 2015.  That probation stems from activities during the Lane Kiffin (football), Bruce Pearl (basketball) and Mike Hamilton (athletic director) era at Tennessee in 2009-10.  All three of those figures are now gone from the UT athletic department.

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The Morning After: SEC Players Implicated, SEC Fans Fret

mushroom-cloudWelcome to the new reality of college athletics.  In this reality, college athletics — the actual athletic events — are only background noise.  The focus instead is on scandal.  One after another.  Week after week.  School after school.

Penn State.



Johnny Manziel.

Oklahoma State and Les Miles.

Alabama, Mississippi State and Tennessee players.




Saturday’s Alabama/Texas A&M clash might as well be hyped as Player Autographs versus Agent Money.

Enjoying it all?  I hope so because with more and more media there will be fewer and fewer secrets.  Some might think complete transparency is a good thing.  In theory, it probably is.  But this writer believes the fact that every $100 handshake — a practice that has gone on since the dawn of college sports — is now going to be uncovered by a website or just a guy with a cell phone camera and a Twitter account, will serve as the death blow for college athletics as we’ve known them.

The NCAA is a doomed organization, but not through any fault of its own.  If everyone has boosters who cheat or players who take money from agents — and they do — then everyone must go on probation or be stripped of wins.  With more and more schools in the NCAA hoosegow, who’ll be left to play the games?

Some of you are likely thinking, “What kind of nimrod believes it’s better if we don’t know about rule-breaking?”  But the point is this: If every jaywalker in New York City was cited or arrested Barney Fife-style, think of the backlog of cases in NYC courts.

Another example: The police in your state know that they can’t catch all speeders.  So they catch a few and hope that the randomness of their ticket-writing scares other drivers into slowing down.  Until now, that’s basically been the NCAA’s plan, too.

Now, however, the NCAA is going to be forced to act again and again by enterprising reporters… or by angry fans with internet access.  Think Alabama and Auburn backers haven’t mastered the art of mudslinging and scandal-finding?

This won’t end well, folks.  We are headed toward the day — and we’ve written this on other occasions — when college sports teams are basically semi-pro squads, complete with bi-weekly paychecks and sponsor logos on helmets and jerseys.  Schools will use them for marketing purposes and the rules will be relaxed to 19th Century Tombstone, Arizona standards.

What we’ve watched and enjoyed for generations is dying.  An omnipresent media will kill it by exposing every toe that goes over an NCAA line.


Here’s a quick wrap on what’s being said this AM:

*  As you know, Yahoo! Sports has revealed that five SEC players received extra benefits (cash) from agents/runners between September of 2011 and December of 2012.  Those players documented — key word — to have received cash were ex-Alabama offensive lineman DJ Fluker, ex-Mississippi State defensive lineman Fletcher Cox and ex-receiver Chad Bumphis, ex-Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray and current Vol defensive defensive lineman Maurice Couch.

*  Columnist Kevin Scarbinsky wonders if Fluker could be Alabama’s version of Reggie Bush, leading to the loss of a pair of BCS titles.

*  Anyone remember Fluker tweeting in April: “Yea I took $ n college so wat. I did wat i had to do. Agents was tryin to pimp me to I pimped them. Cast da 1st stone.”  At the time, his agent claimed Fluker’s Twitter account was hacked.  Uh-huh.  You can be sure that there will be plenty of angry Tide fans ready to “cast da 1st stone” at Fluker’s noggin if his decision to accept cash hurts their program.

*  Nick Saban said yesterday taht he would handle the Fluker allegations appropriately.  When pressed for answers on the Fluker topic, Saban grew angry and left his presser with the words: “I appreciate your interest in the game.”

The runner in this case is ex-Alabama defensive lineman Luther Davis.  Yahoo! Sports has records suggesting that Davis funneled at least $45,000 to the five players implicated.

Some Alabama players are defending the school’s compliance department.

Here’s the breakdown of the Yahoo! story from a Mississippi State perspective.

Ex-Bulldog Bumphis hung up on a reporter from The Jackson Clarion-Ledger when contacted last night about his involvement in the story.

Here’s a look at things from a Tennessee perspective.  Associate AD Jimmy Stanton said: “We are aware of the article and are examining all of the relevant facts, and we will not comment further.”  UT coach Butch Jones has said that Couch probably won’t play against Oregon on Saturday.  (In reality, there’s little chance he’ll ever play again for Tennessee.)


Here are some quickie thoughts on the report and its fallout:

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Oregon’s Helfrich Talks Up Tennessee Ahead Of Clash

gfx - they said itIf you listen to Oregon head football coach Mark Helfrich, it’s #2 Oregon that should be worried about a Saturday matchup with Tennessee, not the Volunteers.  The Ducks are one of the fastest teams in the country.  But Helfrich feels UT’s size is a reason for concern:


“(The offensive line) is huge.  They are athletic, they are well coached, and have a great scheme.  It’s a challenge.  Our defensive line had a tough challenge last week (in a 59-10 win over Virginia) and it gets tougher this week…

They have a great skillset right now — big guys, fast guys — so it’s an unbelievable challenge.  When you look at their special teams units, it’s where that (speed and athleticism) jumps out the most as being different from the first two opponents we’ve seen.”


The first-year head coach has obviously mastered the art of coachspeak.  He must’ve majored in “Holtzing” in college.

And about that span in which Western Kentucky turned the ball over five times in six plays against Tennessee last week?  “There was one of them that was kind of a lucky, drop thing, but all the rest of them they either forced or were earned.  We preach ball security and hammer home great decision-making by our quarterbacks, and it’s going to be tested this week.”

Oregon opened as a 20-point favorite and the current line at most casinos in Las Vegas is 27.5.

On the bright side — pun intended — for fans expecting a blowout (despite Helfrich’s comments), Tennessee’s flashy orange is expected to be matched by Oregon’s lightning yellow unis on Saturday.  If only the Vols could dress in head-to-toe orange, it would like a battle between 22 six-foot Hi-Liter pens.

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D-Coordinator Jancek Eager To See How Vols Respond To Adversity

vol-defense-run-throughIn 2012, the Tennessee defense broke school records for futility.  Finishing 14th in a 14-team SEC in total defense and scoring defense, the Volunteers surrendered 2,266 yards on the ground and 3,390 yards through the air.  They were battered for a grand total of 5,656 yards, a 6.13 yards-per-play average, and 428 points, including 53 touchdowns.

The basic math?  UT’s foes averaged 35.7 points and 471.3 yards per game.

Needless to say, new defensive coordinator John Jancek wonders how his players will react when the breaks go against them:


“That’s really my concern with this group in a first ball game.  Hey, if something bad happens, maybe they get a big pass, or there’s a turnover, or they get a long run, or there’s something that happens to change the momentum on special teams — how are we going to respond as a defense.  That’s what I’m probably paying most attention to.”


Tennessee’s new defense is reportedly much simpler than the complex/confusing/confounding scheme drawn up by one-and-done coordinator Sal Sunseri a year ago.  At the very least, the Vols shouldn’t set any new lows when it comes to school history.

The Volunteers open against Austin Peay on Saturday.  That needs to be a confidence-builder for a group that will face Bobby Petrino’s Western Kentucky squad and then travel to Oregon and Florida before the end of September.

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Tennessee RB Lane: “I Live My Life Like It’s Fourth-And-Inches

gfx - they said itTennessee running back Marlin Lane is back on the Volunteer football squad after a suspension for violating team rules.  The Vols’ #2 rusher a year ago, Lane is trying to make up for lost time in fall camp:


“I live my life like it’s fourth-and-inches every day.  It can be taken from me at any second.  I just go out there and give it my all…

(The suspension) was very difficult.  The whole team became a family.  Being separate from them is being without my family.  I just learned to appreciate what I’ve got…

(The coaches) just told me, ‘What you give is what you get, hold your head up high matter what goes on.’”


Tennessee finished eighth in the SEC in rushing last season.  With a first-year starter (who hasn’t yet been named) at quarterback and with one of the SEC’s best offensive lines, UT will need for Lane and fellow back Rajion Neal to improve on last year’s numbers.

The Volunteers’ 4.66 yards-per-carry average a year ago suggests that they can.  But Tennessee was a pass-first team last season.  Some of the success they did have on the ground can be attributed to change o’ pace calls that caught the defense off guard.  If they can average 4.66 yards per carry or better this season — with defenses likely daring the Vols to throw — Lane, Neal and the O-line will have done some very good work.

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The SEC’s Best Football Programs Part 5: Ranking Them From 1 To 14

mrsec stat analysis newFour categories.  Twenty sub-categories.  Numbers and data.  All-time wins and climate reports.  Heisman trophies and talent pools.  You name it, we’ve included it in our multi-part series that attempts to rank the SEC’s best football programs from #1 to #14.

You can read an overview of the project here.

Part 1 — Recruiting Base — can be found here.

Part 2 — Tradition — can be found here.

Part 3 — Campus Life – can be found here.

Part 4 — Recent History — can be found here.

And below, you’ll find our scoring chart.  Seeing as how we’ve received at least one email or comment expressing disagreement over every single one of the 20 topics we’ve chosen to include, we fully expect to hear some gripes and grumbles about our scoring methodology.  That’s OK.  We’re not trying to get this project past Will Hunting and the guys at MIT.

Rather simply providing a ranking of programs off the top of our heads — which so many folks have done in the past — we wanted to put some numbers to the whole thing.  In fact, we’ve wanted to do this for a couple of years now… but it’s a time-consuming drill.  These numbers couldn’t all be found in one site (until now).

Over the past few days we’ve shown you the breakdowns of how the SEC’s programs ranked in terms of:


* Recruiting Base: NFL Picks over Recent 20 Years

* Recruiting Base: 4- and 5-Star Signees over Last 5 Years

* Tradition: All-Time Wins

* Tradition: Conference Championships (1950-2012) (Most modern conferences began to take shape around 1950)

* Tradition: National Championships (1936-2012) (The AP Poll was launched for good in 1936)

* Tradition: All-Time Bowl Appearances

* Tradition: All-Time Heisman Trophy Winners

* Campus Life: Average Number of Sunny Days

* Campus Life: Percentage of Female Students in Campus Population

* Campus Life: Percentage of Ethnic Students in Campus Population

* Campus Life: Average Football Attendance

* Campus Life: Licensed Merchandise Sold

* Recent History: Stadium Size (Current capacity)

* Recent History: Wins over Last 10 Years

* Recent History: Conference Championships over Last 10 Years

* Recent History: National Championships over Last 10 Years

* Recent History: Bowl Appearances over Last 10 Years

* Recent History: Heisman Trophy Winners over Last 10 Years

* Recent History: NFL Draft Picks over Last 10 Years

* Recent History: 1st Round Draft Picks over Last 10 Years


So what counts most?  The category labeled Recent History.  Those accomplishments are essentially covered twice (in the Recent History and Tradition categories).  Recent success is what today’s recruits know.  So when you see the final rankings, the last 10 years will play a role.

At the same time, tradition counts, too.  A program that has lived through 90 years of frustrations to turn things around in the most recent decade shouldn’t be expected to land atop our rankings.

As for determining those rankings we decided to convert league-wide percentages into a point system.  Example: Since 1936, the SEC’s current members have won 22 “major poll” national championships.  Alabama has won 10 of those.  Percentage-wise, that’s .454 of the SEC’s national titles.  So Bama would receive .454 points in our system.

Yes, yes, there are other ways to do it.  We welcome you to have at it.  But for our fun little exercise we decided it would be more fun to say: “School X is responsible for .333 of the SEC’s conference titles in the last decade… so we gave them .333 points in this category.”

Obviously the higher the score the better a team’s rank.  Of the 20 categories we used, 19 are positive numbers (meaning the higher the number, the better).  Merchandise sold, however, was a ranking provided by Collegiate Licensing Company in which the lower the number, the better.  So for that one category, we actually subtract the percentages/points.

We counted to the third decimal place, in case you’re wondering, and all of our percentages when added together equal between 99 and 100.

You can click the links above to see the actual wins, losses, championships, etc for each category.  Below, we simply show you what percentage of a category each school was responsible for.  The final number — merchandise sold — was subtracted as part of the tallying process.

Before you get too upset about out over-simplified methodology, take a look at the actual results.  We found them to be pretty darn close to what we might have thrown out off the top of our heads anyway.

On to the scores:

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