Saturdays in Athens

George Somerville.

Saturday 1st August 2020

Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.

This week it’s all positive news. Well unless you’re an Ole Miss fan. But, we have the news that we have been waiting on. Football is on! Well as good as. And as you would expect there is more recruiting news.

Here are this weeks headlines… Let’s get started y’all…

It. Is. On! (Like Donkey Kong)

Image Credit: SEC Conference Media


Birmingham, AL.

Greg Sankey said many weeks ago that the end of July would be something of a water shed in terms of the SEC deciding what it’s football season would look like.

But as the clocked tick down towards the month end the likelihood of a decision looked, well, unlikely. Many, thought that the SEC would kick the can down the proverbial road to see how the containment of the virus would play out.

But the ACC thought otherwise. And this week, the Atlantic Coastal Conference declared that they would hold a conference-only schedule with one additional non-conference game included. The caveat being that this game would be held in state. Clearly, this was the ACC’s way of ensuring that some of the oldest rivalries in the history of college football could continue. So Georgia-Georgia Tech, Clemson-South Carolina, Florida-Florida State, and Kentucky-Louisville all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

As it turns out, this seemed to cause all sorts of consternation at SEC Towers and the general consensus was that the SEC Conference collectively was livid.

So, Thursday afternoon the SEC schools met with their commissioner to discuss their plans for the season. There was a widely held belief that they would postpone a decision until August. Except the ACC had stolen a march and effectively called the bluff of the SEC. As it turns out this is something you don’t do.

At Thursday evening UK time, word started to trickle through that the SEC had agreed to a ten game, conference-only schedule. With no additional out of conference, in state game.

No rivalries. None. Nada. Zip. Well, save for the Iron and Egg Bowls.

The SEC gave the reason that they were unable to guarantee a consistent level of health protocols outside of the conference, and therefore couldn’t take the risk of adding a non-conference game into the schedule. Read into that what you will.

So, SEC football will now go ahead. It will kick off on September 26th which is 2 weeks later than the ACC. However both conferences are expected to end with their Championship games being played on December 19th. The SEC Championship game will be played at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Unlike other Conferences the SEC will maintain its East and West conference structure which results in eight conference games. The remaining two conference games are still to be decided, although it has been suggested these fixtures will be made up from each team’s cross divisional rotating opponents from the 2021 and 2022 seasons. This is still under discussion and will need to be agreed by the Athletic Directors from each school.

But this is progress and of a type which will genuinely gets us excited about the prospect of college ball. However it still depends on the containment of the virus, and time is not in all of our favour. 

Just wear a mask. 


Williams Suspended Indefinitely

Sam Williams
Photo Credit: Ole Miss Athletics


Oxford, MS.

Troublesome news out of Oxford this week when Ole Miss Athletics confirmed that Senior ILB Sam Williams had been suspended indefinitely following his arrest on a felony sexual battery assault charge.

In a statement issued by Ole Miss, the University said

“We have suspended Sam Williams indefinitely from all team activities. We take these charges very seriously and will allow the legal system to run its course before making further determinations on his status in our program.”

No additional information on the charge or the incident leading up to Williams arrest has been released.

In what was a disappointing season for the Landsharks last year, Williams was one of the shining lights in the Rebel defense and will be missed during what would be his senior year. 

In 2019 Williams started eight games, registered 37 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and a team-high six sacks. He notched six tackles and one sack against rival Mississippi State in the final game of the season.

This is one headache that Coach Kiffin could do without.


Nabers Commits

Sam Williams
Image Credit: Malik Nabers Twitter


Starkville, MS.

“this is an offense I need to be in”.

These are the words Mississippi State Head Coach Mike Leach wanted to hear. And dare I say it, these are the words Leach hears often given his Air Raid philosophy.

But for these to be the words that come from State’s most recent commit, Wide Receiver Malik Nabers tells us that the Air Raid is alive and well in Stark-Vegas.

The 4*, 6 foot, 190 pound wide receiver out of Lafayette, LA had narrowed down his choice to being a bulldog – Georgia or MS State. It appears Mike Leach’s scheme caught his eye more than the Dawgs in Athens.

In his Junior year in High School, Nabers had 58 receptions for 1,223 yards and 21 touchdowns. And bear this in mind; Nabers has only just turned 17, making him one of the youngest recruits in the 2021 recruiting  class. Exciting times are coming for the Bulldogs.


The Gold Rush Continues

Sam Williams
Photo credit: Damon Payne Twitter


Tuscaloosa, AL.

I wrote in this column last week about the successful period of recruiting Alabama had completed. Nick Saban had just sealed commitments from the Brockermeyer twins and JC Latham, to secure the future of the Crimson Tide O line for the foreseeable future.

If that wasn’t enough, Bama’s recruitment steamroller continued into this week with the commitment of 5* Defensive tackle, Damon Payne.

Payne, of Belleville High School, is regarded as the best recruit out of Michigan, and arguably number 1 defensive tackle in the 2021 cycle. 

Payne had narrowed down offers to Alabama, Kentucky, Arizona State, USC, and LSU despite also receiving offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Tennessee, Florida State, Penn State, Georgia, and Oklahoma. 

Damon Payne finished his junior campaign with 59 total tackles, 22 tackles for loss, and eight sacks.

Payne is the 16th commit to Alabama in the 2021 class and brings the Tide into line with Ohio State with four 5* recruits each. Ohio State continue to hang on to the number one recruitment spot.


I Didn't Mean It Paul

Sam Williams
Photo credit: Auburn University



Auburn, AL.

We love college football. We love tradition and we love rivalries.

It’s what makes the college game so magical.

But as in all walks of life, some fans take it too far. And this week we were reminded of one of the saddest and most bizarre incidents in college football history.

Until 2010, tradition was in Auburn, Alabama that post a War Eagle victory fans would gather at Toomer’s corner (so called because it is the intersection where Toomer’s pharmacy is located) to throw literally hundreds of toilet rolls into the magnificent oak trees.

While this tradition may seem somewhat bizarre, it is one of the most striking sights for a post match tradition, especially at night. So what happened in 2010 was shocking and rocked the SEC.

In 2010 after the Iron Bowl victory over Alabama (where the Tigers overcame the largest ever deficit to claim the Iron Bowl) the trees were poisoned and as a result were cut down by the University. Replacements were subsequently planted, however the oak tree is not a quick grower and the look of Toomer’s corner was transformed for many years to come.

How could the University be sure the trees were poisoned? Well, in what was quite the most bizarre twist to this story, the culprit called the Paul Finebaum show to confess his sins*

You see if you haven’t picked this up from this column yet, the Finebaum show is as integral to SEC football as Yellow Hammers or the hedges in Athens. It is as fundamental part to the South as you will find.

The anonymous caller said live on the show,

“Let me tell you what I did….the weekend after the Iron Bowl, I went to Auburn because I lived 30 miles away, and I poisoned the two Toomer’s trees. I put Spike 80DF in ’em. They’re not dead yet, but they definitely will die.”

The call to the show made national headlines and  was traced by police to Harvey Updyke, an Alabama fan. Updyke was found guilty of criminal damage and was initially sentenced to 3 years in prison and ordered to pay $800,000 in restitution charges. His jail sentence was later cut to 70 days.

So why is this back in the news 10 years later? Well, Updyke’s son, Bear (yes I said he was an Alabama fan) announced his fathers death this week at the age of 71.

Last year Updyke called back into the Finebaum show to talk about his deed. I will leave you with this. 

Updyke told Paul Finebaum.

“I didn’t mean it, Paul, they’re only trees. Not like I tried to kill their crow that flies around. You know, I didn’t try to kill LSU’s tiger.”

Finebaum responded,

“We’ve had this conversation privately, but now we’re going to have it publicly, you still don’t get it do you?”

Updyke responded resolutely in his defence,

“Well, Paul, I get it. I’m not as dumb as I look. It was supposed to be a joke.”