Saturdays in Athens
SEC Championship Saturday
4th December 2021
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
Well it’s early December and that can only mean one thing, yes it’s SEC Championship Saturday in Atlanta.
But before we get into the clash of those SEC giants Alabama and Georgia, it’s been another crazy, unpredictable and entertaining week in the SEC.
And when I mean crazy, it has been crrr-azee!
First Florida moved very quickly to replace Dan Mullen with the Louisiana head coach Billy Napier. That was my lead story until LSU stepped into the ring and cried “not so fast my friend”…yes LSU gazumped USC’s hire of Lincoln Riley to snatch Brian Kelly away from the Fighting Irish. A move that came out of nowhere!
So on SEC Championship week, here are this weeks headlines…Let’s get started y’all!
Callin' Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge, LA
When I started writing this column, my lead was the Iron Bowl going into overtime for the first time in the game’s history. Then I moved that down to fit in Napier getting the Gators job.
Unbelievably, neither of those were the biggest stories in the SEC this week. Nope – there was one more storyline to hit our inboxes late Tuesday/ early Wednesday, when LSU did make their splash hire to secure the Tigers new head coach.
It wasn’t Lincoln Riley, it wasn’t Jimbo Fisher and it wasn’t Luke Fickell. Unbelievably, it was Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, who chose to swap 12 years in South Bend for life in the Bayou by taking over the keys to Tiger Stadium.
By the time you read this it will be old news, and my colleague Stiofan Mac Fhilib wrote an excellent summary of this remarkable story which you can read here:
On Wednesday, LSU Director of Athletics Scott Woodward introduced the Tigers’ new head coach for the first time. In this introduction, Woodward set out why Kelly was his choice and the expectations of Kelly and what he brings to Baton Rouge. Woodward said,
“He’s not here to taste success, he’s here to sustain it. His vision for what LSU can become is the same as ours. He’s not here to simply fit into our culture, he’s here to transform it”.
and defiantly Woodward ended his introduction and handed over to Kelly with these words,
“And most importantly his expectations for LSU Football are the same as ours. He’s not just here to win – he’s here to win Championships”.
Brian Kelly had a short statement in which he talked about his reasons for coming to Baton Rouge.
“this is so much about alignment. For me alignment relative to this University, the goals, what is in store for LSU Athletics and the University – that is what the draw is for me”.
From there Kelly took questions and was asked about his thoughts on moving away from Notre Dame. Kelly said,
“there was no plan in place as I entered the 2021 season that I was looking for another opportunity.
I had a great football team that we were developing but you know when you get an opportunity to talk to Scott Woodward and he presents a clear vision of the plan here – it was an exciting vision to look at.
As I got a chance to speak to more people about this opportunity I felt it was something I had to take on”.
Kelly went on to say.
“I believe that I can make a significant difference here”.
Inevitably Kelly was asked about the way he left Notre Dame and his thoughts on taking some of the Irish coaching staff with him.
“It’s never easy when you leave…I am glad that I got that opportunity to get in front of them and tell them I was going to LSU”.
“As far as coaches, there are coaches that are on the staff at Notre Dame and are still employed there. Are there coaches there that I would like to join me here? Certainly. But that’s a process we will have to work through”.
As Scott Woodward said – He’s here to win Championships – so the hard work starts now. Better get to it Brian…
Oh! and I have posted the LSU hype video below for your entertainment. I do love a good hype video. This one’s a bit pompous for my own liking but the Tigers just pulled off the greatest coup perhaps in college football history. So maybe time to give them a break.
Gators Hire The Ragin' Cajun
No sooner it seemed had Dan Mullen loaded up his cardboard box and left Gainesville, than Scott Stricklin moved faster than Jeffrey Demps to secure the services of Billy Napier.
Napier’s stock is high having taken the Ragin’ Cajuns to the dizzy heights of the College Football Play Off rankings – and had been linked with other head coaching vacancies including the LSU job.
But it was the University of Florida who got heir man.
Napier won’t take up the role in Gainesville until the Ragin’ Cajuns have played their final game of the season against App State this Saturday.
However, if you didn’t already know, Napier is a no nonsense kinda coach. He told the press that the opportunity to coach Louisiana on Saturday was “non-negotiable” as the Ragin’ Cajuns have the chance to win a conference title.
Napier went on,
“I think from a loyalty standpoint, anything less than that would be — that’s not who we are and not what we’re about,”
On the opportunity to take up the Gators job, Napier said this via press statement,
“We are humbled and honored to accept this incredible opportunity to be the head football coach at the university of Florida. Our team, staff and entire organization will work daily to establish a program with integrity and class that we all can be proud of. More importantly, we will build a culture that is centered around making an impact on our players; as people, as students, and on the field.
We embrace the expectations and are excited about the challenge ahead. We will assemble a special group of people and immediately get to work building a great program. A special thank you to President Dr. Fuchs and Athletic Director Scott Stricklin. We look forward to getting to Gainesville and starting this journey!”
We will hear more from Napier at the weekend, but Gator Nation seems to have gotten itself sufficiently excited about this head coaching hire…and so they should. I think Napier will make a fantastic SEC Head Coach.
O Signs Off With A Win
Baton Rouge, LA
Well, as you read above the LSU head coaching job didn’t stay vacant for long. However it would be remiss not to mention that Ed Orgeron signed off his tenure at Tiger Stadium with an impressive win over the much fancied Texas A&M.
Before the game, Coach O was given an emotional send off from Tigers fans, signallng what Ed Orgeron and his 2019 National Championship win means to those in Baton Rouge.
The win leaves LSU with a 6-6 record (3-5 conference) which means a bowl appearance beckons. However Orgeron won’t coach in the bowl game, instead taking some time out from coaching (perhaps permanently) – leaving to go on holiday immediately after the game.
“These guys kept on fighting. I can’t say enough about our football team and our coaching staff – so proud of this team”,
A clearly emotional Orgeron told ESPN’s Cole Cubelic immediately after the final whistle. Asked if the team had played for Orgeron in his last game
“It wasn’t about me – it was never going to be about me. One team, one heartbeat. So proud of them”.
The Kelly era in Baton Rouge starts now, but you can’t say that Orgeron didn’t leave his mark.
Wow! What A game!
Depending on which side of the state divide you sit, Saturday’s Iron Bowl game in Jordan Hare stadium will go down as one of the greatest Iron Bowl games in history.
No doubt Auburn fans will disagree with this claim, however as the game game clock ran down to zero this Iron Bowl clash entered the history books. With both teams tied 24-24, the Iron Bowl entered overtime for the first time in its 128 year history.
With a thrilling finish in the third period of overtime, Alabama overcame an Auburn Tigers team who had dominated for all but the final two minutes of regular time. In fact, Alabama required a 97 drive in the final minute to take the game into overtime. A delighted Nick Saban addressed the press immediately after the game.
“after half time it just seemed like everybody was all in – we were fighting like I have never seen us fight all year long”
Said Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban in his post match press conference.
“It’s a great feeling – the players are as happy as I have ever seen them after the game”
“Got to give Auburn a lot of credit, their players played well in the game, they played hard – their defense played an outstanding game…..but wow what a game”.
SEC Championship Game!
And finally, we have reached the pinnacle of the Southeastern Conference football season – yes, its Championship Saturday.
12-0 Georgia Bulldogs face 11-1 Alabama Crimson Tide in the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta (kick off time 21:00 UK time) to bring a conclusion to the conference season.
While this is a clash of giants that everyone anticipated, the roles are somewhat reversed – with UGA being overwhelming favourites going in to this game.
As of the time of writing this (Friday) the Dawgs are 6.5pts over The Tide with the over/under at 49.5pts, per Caesars Sportsbook.
Georgia’s dominance of every team they have faced this season has been clear for all to see, and with Alabama’s vulnerability particularly on the offensive line showing at times, the Bulldogs have their eyes focused on a National Championship.
Alabama are in the unusual position of not yet having secured the SEC West, while Georgia secured the East title at the end of October.
Ahead of Saturday’s game, both head coaches met with the media.
First up, Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart. Smart talked about the build up and their preparation for Saturday,
“We typically keep the same routine based on the game we have on Saturday. We don’t change that. It’s usually the same routine we keep throughout the season based on when the kickoff is. So we’ll stay with our traditional schedules.
We’ll come to Atlanta tomorrow, like a traditional road game for us. We’ll travel over tomorrow, very similar to what we did last week, going over to play Tech.
The mindset has been great. The energy has been great. Our guys have really been focused. I think it’s very important as a coach that you curb the enthusiasm, you have it under control.
This is one of those weeks you’ve got to be careful you don’t leave the battle out on the practice field. You want to make sure they’re ready to go. It’s going to be a really tough, physical game, and you don’t want them to use it all in practice where our guys have been pretty spirited in getting after it”.
Alabama Head Coach, Nick Saban was asked about the Bulldogs have evolved under Smart since that 2017 Alabama win,
” They’ve been the most consistent team all year long, which is a tribute to he and his staff and being able to have a sense of purpose in what their team is out to try to accomplish and do”.
Saban said, before continuing
So I can’t really point to anything because I’ve always thought they did a great job. I thought it was a great game that we had — every game that we’ve had has been a great game. I’ve had the utmost respect for Kirby and his team in those games, and I certainly have it in this game.”
Saban was then asked about his team being underdogs going into this game. The Crimson Tide head coach had this to say,
“I think what our players need to do is just focus on playing one play at a time, trying to win as many plays in a game as they can, don’t worry about the scoreboard, don’t worry about what the outcome means because we just need to focus on what we need to do to play well in this game, as you’ve said, against the No. 1 team in the country and a very, very good team.
It’s going to take a very good effort by a lot of people to be able to win those plays. So that’s what we’re focused on here now. We’re focused on what do we have to do to try to get the outcome rather than worrying about what the outcome is, which as you say, creates a lot of anxiety. So that’s basically how we’re trying to approach it.”
This is going to be a must watch game – a clash between two of the best, if not the best head coaches in the game. Georgia remain clear favourite’s but if Bama’s overtime win over Auburn reminds Dawg fans of anything, it’s that it’s not over til it’s over…
And finally, finally – it’s the end of the season and I just couldn’t help add this at the end.
You’ve read already that Kelly has taken up the reigns in Baton Rouge. In fact this is the first time that Kelly has coached in the South, with no obvious ties to the region.
Born in Massachusetts, Kelly is a Bostonian and has coached in the North in his career so far.
But as you will see from the clip above, the Southern accent seems to have affected Kelly very quickly.
As Kelly addressed fans at half time at LSU basketball, he seemed to have taken on a Southern drawl.
And so Bayou Brian was born.
The perfect December gift for the internet.
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.