Saturdays in Athens

George Somerville. Saturday 4th July 2020

HAPPY Independence Day Y’ALL!

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

It’s been another week dominated by the Covid crisis which is shaping what the College Football season is going to look like.

Here are this weeks headlines….

False Start?

Image Credit: SEC Media


Birmingham, AL.

It is hard to write this column these days without the now obligatory commentary on how Covid-19 is impacting the college football world.

The fate of fall college football has hung in the balance pretty much since March, and it has been a roller coaster ride every week since then.

A few weeks ago when the NCAA and the SEC approved voluntary work outs, a season looked probable. Coaching staffs were back in facilities with players quickly following with strength and conditioning  work outs.

But soon followed reports of high numbers of student athletes testing positive for the virus. The season started to look improbable.

This week, the date in the diary which is traditionally seen as the start to the SEC season, SEC media days were postponed.

What might seem a relatively innocuous action, is in effect a red light to anyone close to the conference. Worse still, according to Bleacher Report no rescheduled date has been set. This is worrying, albeit multiple outlets have reported that the date will be pushed to the end of July/ beginning of August.

What does this say about the start of the season? Well in four weeks time, athletic programs are due to return from summer break to commence training camps. At that time it will be obvious, through continued testing, just how hard the virus has impacted teams. Daily stories coming out of the US showing a virus spreading out of control do nothing to convince me that the situation is getting any better.

Sleepless nights ahead for athletic directors, head coaches, and SEC Commisioner Greg Sankey? You bet.

Fingers crossed. Oh – and wear a mask.


Jumping Ship

Devonta Smith
Image Credit: Devonta Smith Twitter


Tuscaloosa, AL.

Alabama football already has a pretty good wide received called Devonta Smith.

This week the Bryant Denny locker room got a whole lot more confusing for the Crimson Tide equipment manager, when another wide receiver called Devonta Smith committed to the Crimson Tide.

Smith, a three star recruit out of Cincinnati La Salle, is a wide receiver who had previously committed to Ohio State back in March. 

He is ranked as the #30 cornerback in the 2021 class, and is the #400 overall ranked recruit.

The reasons behind Smith’s quick decommitment remain unclear, but the further recruitment of three 4-star cornerbacks by Ryan Day may have had Smith reconsidering his position amidst stiff competition.

And if you think what is all this fuss about a three start recruit? Many analysts were holding fire on upgrading their rating analysis until seeing him in the flesh during Spring practice. Many think Smith will end up being a greater contributor to the Tide than his 3* rating suggests.

Another factor in his flip is that Smith is the younger cousin of Shaun Alexander* – former Seattle Seahawk and, yes you guessed it, starred for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

However this is just another recruitment flip in what is becoming quite a battle between Alabama and Ohio State. And it hasn’t ended yet.


No Flipping Burgers!

Devonta Smith
Image Credit: Rick Dale, Getty Images


Starkville, MS.

NFL fans love their tailgating. But you ain’t seen tailgating until you’ve done it college style.

And Mississippi is as good a place in the US to test that theory. Southern BBQ and beer is tailgating sent from the gods.

Acknowledging the current situation where the priority is people’s health, sacrifices will be required to allow for sports to be played this fall. But even so there was still sad news this week out of Starkville.

In what could be described as shocking but not unsurprising news, the Mississippi State Alumni Association announced the cancellation of campus tailgating events for the 2020 season.

As I say, if this is the sacrifice that needs paid to ensure football is played this fall, then so be it. But a football season without college fans and without tailgating will be a very strange experience indeed.

So. Wear. A. Damn. Mask. 


A Whole Lot Of Aggie-Vation

Devonta Smith
Photo credit: Sean Rayford, Associated Press

College Station, TX.

The NCAA this week handed down a series of penalties to Texas A&M as a result of recruiting violations carried out by Head Coach Jimbo Fisher and his assistant, Jay Graham.

What did they do?

Between January 2018 and February 2019, Fisher and his assistant had recruiting contact with a player at his high school. However, the contact violated NCAA rules because it happened before the player had completed his junior year of high school.

In addition, as Fisher was part of these recruiting discussions the NCAA ruled that he had…

“failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance because of his personal involvement in the recruiting violation”

and that he,

“failed to monitor his staff when he did not ensure the program was staying within the allowable number of countable athletically related activity hours.”

What are the penalties?

Fisher was given a 6 months “show cause” order which resulted in

 “a previously served nine-day ban on phone calls, emails or texts with prospects in January 2020; a reduction in off-campus recruiting contact days by three for the December 2019 through January 2020 contact period; a ban on all off-campus recruiting activities for the fall 2020 contact period; additional one-on-one rules education; and a public statement from the head coach addressing the violations.

Remaining penalties levied against Texas A&M include one year of probation, a $5,000 fine and an off-campus recruiting ban for the coaching staff that took place in November 2019. The school was also forced to end its recruitment of the player and will not be allowed to recruit any players from the recruit’s high school through the end of the 2021-22 school year.

What did they say?

While Jay Graham has since moved on to Tennessee, Head Coach Jimbo Fisher had this to say about the sanctions levied against him and the team,

“As Texas A&M’s Head Football Coach, I am responsible for promoting and monitoring for NCAA compliance in our program,” Fisher said in a statement released by the school. “While I am disappointed in the violations, including an unintended one that resulted from a conversation with a high school athlete, it is still my responsibility to ensure we are adhering to each and every rule. I am pleased to have this matter completely behind our program and look forward to continuing our efforts to make every aspect of our program one all Aggies can continue to be proud of.”

What does this mean?

Well this is an interesting one, as you would think that given the current situation there is very little effective recruiting being done and therefore the 6 month restriction would have little impact. Far from it – as Jeremy Pruitt has shown, teams can recruit very successfully during the period of lockdown, so this has the potential to derail, or certainly slow down the Aggies’ 2021 recruiting drive. 

And in the SEC and Texas particularly, which is such a competitive recruiting territory, any disadvantage comes at huge price. Is this a costly error by Jimbo? Time will tell but the Aggies can’t afford to fall further behind in the SEC.


Faster Than A Speeding Drone


Tuscaloosa, al.

And finally this week, some great footage out of Alabama.

But before that, let me put this out there first.

Najee Harris will be the best running back in college football this season, and will be the scariest running back going into the 2021 draft.

Harris had the chance to enter the 2020 draft however decided to return to school for his senior year.

In his Junior year he had six 100 yard rushing performances and ended the season with 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns. In addition he had 27 catches including 7 for touchdowns, so there is no doubting his ability to play in the NFL.

But allied to this he is fast. How fast? Well as video this week shows, he is faster than a speeding drone. 

While I will be looking forward to the damage Najee does to SEC defences this year, I am pretty sure SEC defences are not looking forward to seeing Najee!


Mock Draft