Saturdays in Athens


Saturday 31st December 2022

Well, SEC fans, we are now at the end of 2022 and as you read this the New Year’s Bowl games are about to play out the final chapter of another fantastic SEC season. In the blink of an eye we have gone from the blue skies of September football to the festive holidays and the final games of the season. It’s been a wonderful year, but as usual it has passed way too quickly.

In SEC world we hope that for one team the season is not over with Saturday’s Peach Bowl, as Georgia seek immortality by winning back to back National Championships. But for the rest, the end of the 2022 season is all but finished.

SEC teams have already appeared in Bowl games with Ole Miss, Mizzou, Florida and Arkansas already action. As I write this Tennessee is still to play in the Orange Bowl, with Alabama (Sugar Bowl), Mississippi State (ReliaQuest Bowl), South Carolina (Tax Slayer Bowl) and  LSU (Citrus Bowl) all in action over the New Year holidays.

So in this week’s Saturdays in Athens I cover the week’s news focusing on the New Year 6 Bowl games, with an unashamed bias on Georgia’s quest for another National Championship. 

So without further ado here are this weeks headlines….let’s get started y’all!

Muschamp trash talks Herbstriet

Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA.

The build up to the Peach Bowl is well underway with both teams having been in A-Town since Monday. Aside from a number of team visits and events, selected coaches and players have been doing the media rounds this week.

This is one of the few occasions when the media gets to hear from coaches aside from the head coach. Kirby Smart, very much like Nick Saban, does not allow his assistant coaches to speak through the season, so it was a rarity to hear from Georgia’s defensive co-ordinator, Will Muschamp. And it was worth the wait. We know Coach Will is a character with more memes in his name than possibly any other football coach. But he can be extremely humorous at times – or can he?

On Monday, Muschamp was asked about his recollections on the last time – in fact the only time – that Georgia and Ohio State have faced off in football competition. This was in the 1993 Citrus Bowl and Coach Muschamp lined up as a safety in this game. A game which Georgia ran out winners, 21-14. This was also a notable game for a well known TV personality as it marked the end of Kirk Herbstreit’s Buckeyes career.

Coach Muschamp had a comical take on his memories of the game, well the pre game. Muschamp told the press,

“It was a good win for the Dawgs – we had a pregame luncheon and Herbstreit got up and threw a pass across the room, I knew we had a shot to win. Make sure he knows I said that.”

Ouch. Muschamp throwing the shade….


Texas Bowl Tribute to Coach Leach

NRG Stadium, Houston, TX

While there was some controversy to the end of Ole Miss defeat to Texas Tech there was no such disagreement at kick off. Texas Tech head coach, Joey McGuire had discussed a tribute to previous Red Raiders head coach Mike Leach with Lane Kiffin ahead of the Bowl game. Both coaches were unanimous in having the tribute at the start of the game. As you can see from the video, the Red Raiders lined up in “Air Raid” formation in honour of their old head coach. Ole Miss Lane Kiffin waived the delay of game penalty.

This was a nice touch.

But not to pour cold water on what was a genuine show of respect for Coach Leach who was unanimously loved across college football, many have commented that the Red Raiders are still in dispute with the Leach family over contract monies still outstanding from Leach’s departure from Lubbock. Perhaps the right thing is to put an end to this dispute.


That's a no from Beamer

TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville

As much as there has been sensational football this season, the underlying impact of NIL and the transfer portal has never been far from conversation.

As the bowl games approached numerous players announced their decisions to either play in the bowl game or excused themselves from the bowl game to prepare for the next chapter in their footballing careers. Fitness being everything ahead of the NFL Combine.

Some players announced their decision to enter the transfer portal after the last regular season had been played.The transfer portal has become something of a hotly debated subject in recent months. There is no question that some players have entered it to test the waters to see what NIL opportunities are out there. The school of thought being that if the grass isn’t greener then they can high tail it back to the team they had finished the season with. So an interesting situation at South Carolina this week where players who had entered the portal approached head coach Shane Beamer with a view to playing in the Gamecocks bowl game.

Shane Beamer who isn’t a man normally short on words didn’t hold back on what he thought.

“No I don’t let them. I don’t want someone with one foot in, one foot out. And frankly we had a couple of players on our team that entered the portal and asked me if they could enter the portal and still play and I told them no – you’re either with us or you’re not. I wish them well but I don’t want someone down here that’s already spending half their time thinking about where their next stop is.”

Which to be honest seems to be a reasonable position to hold. Not going to disagree with that.


BOB to the Patriots?

Image Credit: Kevin C Cox, Getty Images

Tuscaloosa, AL.

It’s not so often that the news of one coach moving from one team to another pleases both sets of fans involved, but this rarest of occasions is anticipated to happen after Alabama’s appearance in the Sugar Bowl.

Per Mike Rodak of the Patriots are expected to move to bring the Tide’s offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien back to Foxborough for next season.

Both Alabama offense & defense has been heavily criticised this season and the blame for their inability to make it into the college football playoff’s has been laid squarely at the door of both co-ordinator’s. However public opinion seems to be that O’Brien has been the biggest culprit in this so called failed season.

“I wish them well in their last, however many games but we’re very focused on this game and coaching this team to the best of our ability”

O’Brien told Rodak this week during the build up to the Sugar Bowl.

As much as Alabama fans have been critical of O’Brien’s play calling this season, the Crimson Tide lost their two games by a combined total of 5 points with a couple of missed field goals during these games. So calling this a miserable season is perhaps pushing things a little.

However there is no doubt that the inability to bring the best out of Bryce Young – who many consider to be the best QB Alabama has ever had – seems to be the mortal sin.

O’Brien’s two year contract with Alabama expires after the Sugar Bowl game and there appears to have been no movement from Alabama to extend this.

O’Brien coached with the Patriots from 2007-2011 before moving to become the head coach at Penn State and then with the Houston Texans.

It seems that a move back up North for O’Brien will suit both parties. Expect new on this early next week.


Hot media Yoga

Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Let’s go back to Atalanta for the Peach Bowl.

It seemed to come as something of a surprise to the Nation’s media but was no surprise to the Georgia beat media.

Kirby Smart gives nothing away during his media appearances. Nothing. Kirby often comes across as prickly, annoyed and generally unhappy to be here during his press junkets. However, away from this people, including members of the media will say Kirby is nothing like this in real life. But there is no doubting that his public persona is dour – to use a good Scottish word.

Kirby is also a stickler for routine. On Thursday’s during the season, Georgia’s practice includes a team yoga session. Every Thursday. So on this Thursday, yes the one before the Peach Bowl game on Saturday Georgia held their yoga session in the Mercedes Benz stadium during the 15 minute sessions allocated to the media.

Georgia media found this amusing, the national media did not. There was a general outcry of being treated disrespectfully, yada, yada. But let’s be honest how much does the media ever get from these sessions? I have attended numerous NFL practice sessions and the grand total of useful information amounts to diddly squat. It’s usually warm up’s and stretching. Some light drills. Never, ever anything formational.

So to get annoyed over this seems people are being a touch over sensitive.

But maybe the media did expect Kirby Smart to give away his Peach bowl secrets. Or maybe it was another reason for the media to hate the SEC team. Just sayin’.