Saturdays in Athens

George Somerville

Saturday 22nd August 2020

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

With the start of fall camps across the SEC this week and the announcement of the SEC Football schedule, it’s been a hectic seven days across the conference. So in this week’s column we have schedule news, Coach O is both happy and sad, SEC Coaches fall out and face the media, and we finally get a decision on the Cade Mays transfer saga. Oh and how full will SEC Stadiums be this season? Here are this week’s headlines….

Before we hit this week’s headlines, this article is written as late on Friday as possible. It’s just not feasible to cover everything that comes out of Friday press conferences, but here’s one piece of sobering news before we jump on the positivity bandwagon of a new season in 35 days time.

Vanderbilt University, via Chris Lee of VandySports, reported that the football team had multiple positive covid-19 tests returned today and as a result had cancelled Friday football practice.

So listen folks, it might not be the silver bullet we all want, but wear a mask. 

But, let’s get started y’all!

It's Happening!

Cade Mays
Photo Credit: SEC Network/ Paul Finebaum Show


Birmingham, AL.

We have waited for this for what seems forever, and we are inching our way towards a college football season. And not just any old football season. It’s SEC football, friends.

But lets not get too excited. We are still after all, some five weeks away from a season opener, but this week we got news of the schedule. Which to be honest was as  exciting news as we have had this year.

So what do we get on week one…. well I’m not sure we get off to the earth shattering opening some thought, but what is obvious is that the so called smaller teams get off to a real tough start. 

Mizzou host Alabama, Arkansas welcomes Georgia, and probably the best game of the bunch – Mike Leach and his Mississippi State Bulldogs travel to the South to play those LSU Tigers. In other games, Florida go to Oxford to face the Ole Miss Rebels in what will be a tricky start for Dan Mullen. Kentucky – who many are tipping to have a good season – are on the road at Auburn, Tennessee travel to South Carolina. And finally, Vanderbilt will face Texas A&M in College Station.

But aside from week one, the schedule throws up some mouth watering games. Like Oct 17 when Georgia travel into Bryant Denny to face the Crimson Tide. Aside from this being a clash of SEC titans, it will also be the first time that Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart has returned to Alabama since he left as defensive coordinator to take the Bulldogs’ top job back in 2016.

Talking of his return to Tuscaloosa, Smart said in a radio interview for the Fan’s High School Roundtable show this week:

“I know this, they still have a stereo system. They will find a way to crank noise in there ….you will probably still have to have ear muffs, because of the sound system, so you will find a way to make it an advantage.”

And in another stand out game, also including the Georgia Bulldogs, a somewhat puzzling decision that the Georgia v Florida game which is always played in a neutral venue at the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium, will be played….in the TIAA Bank Stadium in Jacksonville. I have to say that, to me anyway, it makes little sense to have fans travelling from Georgia to this game but as we know this is a real rivalry game. So perhaps it was just too difficult to move to Georgia.

Week four of the season sees Georgia at Alabama and LSU at Florida, which is a week that will go some way to dictating who will be competing for the SEC Championship. But it’s week ten when it gets real spicy – rivalry week. Auburn travel to Bryant Denny to play the Iron Bowl (not the last game of the season as tradition normally dictates) and the Mississippi State Bulldogs head to Oxford to play Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.

Excited? You bet!

#OnlyInTheSEC #ItJustMeansMore

A Good News, Bad News Kinda Week

Cade Mays
Photo Credit: LSU Athletics/ LSU

Baton Rouge, LA.

It was a mixed week for Coach O down in Louisiana.  

First off the bat, senior defensive back Karey Vincent Jr let the Twitter world know that he would opt out of the 2020 college football season to start his preparations for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Per his official Twitter post, Vincent said:

“With thoughtful prayer and lengthy discussions with my family, we feel that is is in my best interest to opt out of my final year at LSU and begin training for the NFL Combine. I have worked long and hard for the opportunity to play in the NFL. I’m humbled and excited about attacking this next challenge with humility, integrity, and dignity and I will always be Forever LSU.”

This is a blow for Orgeron and his Tigers. Already bereft of a high number of players who left for the 2020 NFL Draft, Orgeron could well do without his starting nickel corner departing ahead of the new season. In 2019, Vincent recorded 47 tackles and 4 interceptions and was expected to feature heavily in the coming year.

But there was some good news for Coach O when offensive lineman Lucas Taylor committed to LSU. Taylor – a 6ft’4″, 315lb lineman – is ranked the #8 offensive guard in the nation and a top 300 prospect. Taylor will be a 2022 commitment which is fast becoming a blockbuster recruiting class for the Tigers, who are currently ranked first in the nation.


Cade Mays
Image credit: Coach Ed Orgeron Official Twitter Account

All Fun & Games

Nick Saban Is Nice
Image Credit: Jim Burgess, SEC Sports

Birmingham, AL.

The SEC is one big happy family. Well, it’s a family and a pretty dysfunctional one at that. And how many families do you know that get along? Yes, my point exactly.

So it is no great surprise that there were more than a few choice words and dare I say it some falling out over the new season schedule this week.

According to ESPN, on a conference call between all SEC head coaches, one coach asked for an explanation as to how the two extra games had been selected for each team. It would appear that this opened a can of worms.

According to one head coach who had spoken to ESPN, things got a little heated. The unnamed coach said,

“There just wasn’t a lot of clarity and transparency on how they arrived where they did on the two extra games, and that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. … The call got pretty wild. It would have been a good piece of reality TV.”

Who wouldn’t want to be a fly on that wall?


Coaches Face The Media

Cade Mays
Photo credit: Joshua L. Jones, Athens Banner-Herald via AP

Tuscaloosa, AL./ Athens, GA.

With the start of Fall camps this week, SEC coaches took the opportunity to meet with the media for the first time since lockdown. In this section we focus on Alabama’s Nick Saban and Georgia’s Kirby Smart, who spoke to the media at the start of the week.

On Monday, Crimson Tide Head Coach Nick Saban faced the media for the first time this year.

As is now customary Saban starts his media conferences with a summary of practice, although his focus was on the medical protocols the team were undertaking to keep the facility Covid-free.

However, a couple of the more interesting questions from the media came from ESPN’s Heather Dinish and The Athletic’s Aaron Suttles , 

Heather Dinich, ESPN asked,

‘”If you are able to have a College Football Play Off this season, do you think the College Football Play Off’s should change, if at all to determine a National Championship, in a year that is so different, unpredictable and strange”

Nick Saban answered,

“Obviously it’s a hypothetical question, but in my opinion there’s going to be three conferences playing. I think the players look forward to the play-off’s. I think the players that play should have the opportunity to have a Play-Off and a Championship for the teams that are playing. That’s my opinion. Im sure there’s going to be a lot of people who may or may not agree with that. But if we are fortunate enough to be able to manage this with player safety being the number one concern for all of us. And we can go through a season, And we can figure out who the best teams are. I think there would be a lot of interest to see those teams play and I know the players would certainly look forward to playing in it.”

Saban went on to add,

“that’s one of the biggest questions our players ask us. Coach, if we play will we be able to play in a play off. Will we have a chance to play in a Championship if we have a good season.”

Aaron Suttles of The Athletic, asked

“Whats the one area of the defense you most want to see improve this year and what role will Dylan Moses play in that?”

Coach Saban answered, 

“I think we need to improve overall in Defence. We gave up 18.5 points a game last year, which is the most we have given up – the last two years we have given up the most points we have for a long time. I think we need better leadership. I think Dylan Moses can provide some of that. I think we have to play better against the run. I don’t think we played very well in the red area last year. We got a great job of getting turnovers. We got 28 turnovers last year which was first in the conference. But you know we just have to get more physical at the line of scrimmage. I think the big challenge for this team, because we lost four starters from the secondary out of five guys, is to get that rebuilt. We have some good players who lack experience, but they are good players and we have confidence in them, buts thats going to be the key to drills. Especially the fact that they didn’t have spring practice and we weren’t able to work with these guys as much as we usually are”. 

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart had his initial press conference on Sunday and opened Fall camp with one of the more intriguing but not unwelcome of problems. Georgia has five quarterbacks fighting for an opening start. According to the Times Free Press, Coach Smart had this to say of the quarterback class,

“We’re excited about all five of those guys. Those guys have done a really good job in their Zoom meetings of paying attention. We’ve only been able to walk through so far, and Jamie has done a good job of standing behind the huddle and standing behind the play, imagining taking the snap and getting the mental reps.

D’Wan has done a great job. Carson Beck has done a great job, and Stetson has done a great job. All those guys are really competing, as well as JT. They all have individual strengths. It’s a competitive room, and each one of them have been in a competitive room before.”

Smart went on to say that JT  Daniels had been able to carry out some throwing drills but confirmed the he will start camp wearing a leg brace.

#RollTide #Go Dawgs

Computer Says... No!

Cade Mays
Photo credit: Bryan Lynn, USA Today Sports


Knoxville, TN.

Some interesting, and if I’m entirely honest pretty surprising news out of the Tennessee Vols this week. You may recall the ongoing saga over the transfer of Offensive Lineman, Cade Mays from Georgia to Tennessee.

Mays’ transfer waiver has been outstanding for many months now, with questions over why it was taking the NCAA so long to rule on this waiver request – particularly when so many other applications (some received much later than Mays) had been processed. Well the NCAA reached a decision this week and one which did not go down well with Mays or his new team, the Vols,

Yes, for an organisation which mystifies us often, there were aa lot of raised eyebrows when the NCAA denied Mays eligibility waiver.

As the details of the application for immediate eligibility and the reason for the NCAA declining it remain confidential we won’t really understand what has happened.

But the Mays transfer was bizarre for a number of reasons, not least that Mays’ father continues to sue the University of Georgia. Mays Sr. lost a finger following an accident with a folding chair while on campus for a recruiting trip in Athens.

And just while you think things couldn’t get any more bizarre. Mays’ draft stock is high. So high in fact, that he could declare for the draft now, never having played for the University of Tennessee. 

Cade Mays will be a pub quiz question for decades to come.

Oh, and if you think the NCAA is all caught up on its outstanding waivers backlog, think again. The Joey Gatewood waiver is still outstanding….


Capacity Issues

Photo credit: Ross Dellenger Twitter


Birmingham, AL.

As the graphic above clearly demonstrates, SEC stadiums are going to be far from full this season. 

Per CBS Sports via Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, SEC schools are starting to publicise likely stadium capacities should the season progress.

As much as a football season has been uncertain until recently (and still is), this debate has been ongoing for some time as season ticket holders gets antsy at the thought of not getting to watch their team live in action this year.

Of course there are greater things to be concerned about right now. But this is SEC football, season tickets don’t come cheap, and to be honest it means a lot financially for the schools if they cannot sell out stadiums regularly. According to Ross Bjork, Athletics Director at Texas A&M, who was a guest on the Marty Smith’s America Show* last week, the wider College Station community will miss out on c.$50m every Saturday that football isn’t played. There is no rocket science involved to say a 75% reduction in crowd will equate to roughly a 75% reduction in Saturday income. Throw in a ban on tailgating and the Saturday experience on campus becomes a very different experience this year.

Tough times ahead.