Saturdays in Athens


Saturday , 19th August 2023

SEC football fans, we inch ever closer to the starting line of the 2023/24 football season.

This time next week the Vanderbilt Commodores will welcome the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors to, well, half of their home! But more on that to come.

The big question will be if the Georgia Bulldogs can go on to achieve something that hasn’t been done in the modern college football playoff era. The three-peat!

But, it’s the SEC and there will be a million and one controversial, crazy and downright brilliant things to discuss between now and January 8th 2024.

And here at the Touchdown we will try our darned best to cover it all!

It’s great to be back and to welcome y’all to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.

Here are this weeks headlines….let’s get started y’all!

Mertz is the man!

Graham Mertz plays in the Florida Gators Spring game/ Image credit: AP photo by John Raoux

Gainesville, FL

News out of Gainesville this week was that Florida head coach, Billy Napier, and his coaching staff had settled on Wisconsin transfer, Graham Mertz as their starting quarterback.

While this may seem early given the team has only completed one scrimmage so far, this should not come as a shock to Gator fans.

The recruitment at Florida to replace NFL-bound (and Colts starting QB) Anthony Richardson has been a well documented disaster for Napier. Meaning there was no obvious successor recruited or already on the roster to grab the starting QB jersey. Which is what prompted Napier to dive head first into the transfer portal to wrestle Mertz away from Wisconsin.

Nothing against Mertz but few saw him as an obvious successor to Richardson or a name synonymous with Gator Heisman winners Spurrier, Wuerffel or Tebow.

Prior to making Gainesville his home, Mertz was a three year starter in Madison, WI. Last season Mertz threw for 2,136 yards and 19 touchdowns.

During his time with the Badgers they never finished in the top 25. It what was a difficult period as head coach Paul Cryst’s tenure came to an end. It was an interesting move for both Mertz and Florida. Mertz is not a dual threat quarterback and does not fit the mold of previous Gator quarterbacks. 

That is unlikely to matter as Florida will have a very different offense this year under Napier.

During his time at Louisiana, Napier favoured the run game and with Florida having both Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne in the back field it is easy to see that Napier has the quality to rely heavily on the run game. So in that sense perhaps he doesn’t need a QB that runs. He just needs a game manager. Enter Mertz.

Run the dang ball!


Help! Our stadium is missing!

Photo Credit: Seth Herald for The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Nashville, TN

The Vanderbilt Commodores are in the process of rebuilding their football program.

But with two weeks to go until their season opener against Hawaii this is literally what is still happening. Rebuilding, as it appears that the construction is nowhere near complete. 

The $300m facelift to the existing First Bank stadium is not expected to be complete until 2024. Although to be fair 2024 was always the end goal for the construction but with the season on the cusp, disruption in Nashville at the Vandy football complex continues to be a daily occurrence.

Two weeks ago the field was without turf. This week the turf is down, meaning progress has been made. However, at one point press speculation was that the Commodores were considering a Nashville high school field as an alternative. This is no longer required but if true gives an indication of how close to the wire Vandy got to not having a field to play on.

However, as can be seen in the photos above and below, the North end of the stadium is still a construction site and with roads closed around the stadium the gameday experience is going to be a challenging one for Commodore fans. 

Vandy head coach, Clark Lea remains upbeat and bullish about the situation. Lea knows that the long game and the bigger picture is much more important to his team and is worth the short-term pain.

“We want to be known as a gritty team and what’s grittier than having bulldozers on the ground?”

Lea told the Tenneasan,

“We’ll play wherever they want us to play. If they want to clear the cars off the parking lot, we’ll put the ball down there and we’ll show up and play there. That’s what we aspire to. And so I think there’s a real opportunity for us here just to continue to hone in on our identity and to do it in a place that’s not going to be perfect, but that’s OK, because we’re not either. What we want to be is tough and hard-nosed and we want the opponent to feel that when they come into our stadium to play.”

Vandy will play this season with a reduced capacity of just 28,500, with temporary locker rooms and no tunnel. However, in a positive move the Vanderbilt administration has confirmed that tailgating facilities will still be available! Yeeha!


Image credit:Seth Herald for The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

SEC football runs deep

birmingham, AL.

“SEC football isn’t just a way of life….it is life”

Well if that doesn’t get you pumped for the new SEC football season I don’t know what will – and if it doesn’t you’re dead to me anyway!

I’m joking obvs but check out the hype video that SEC Network has been running all week.  It is awesome! 

SEC football runs deep!

#ItJustMeans More


Photo Credit: Blind side movie poster/ IMDB

The Plains, AL

the headline story

The headline story that I started writing about Auburn was that the Tigers head coach, Hugh Freeze had announced Payton Thorne as starting quarterback for the Auburn Tigers. 

Many thought that the incumbent Robby Ashford would be the starter for the Tigers but it appears not.

Hugh Freeze told ESPN this week,

“The reason Payton is getting the nod is the leadership ability and understanding of the offense, and he’s been in some really good battles and just seems like he was more efficient in decision-making to this point, not that the others were terrible by any means,”

Freeze went on to say.

“It was not a slam dunk. I hope everyone will handle it right.”

Thorne’s two years at Michigan State appear to have handed him vital experience in terms of preparation as Freeze alluded to,

“The guy’s in here all the time. I can’t get rid of him. He wants to know all the ins and outs about everything … and he’s a pro at it, knowing how to prepare, and that gives you a comfort level where you feel like he has the right mindset and understanding of the game plan.”

ghosts of ole miss

Freeze then found himself being asked to comment on a story from his past. This week news broke that ex-Ole Miss and NFL star Michael Oher had filed a lawsuit against the family who had taken him into their home. This was the true life story on which author Michael Collins’ best selling book became an Oscar-winning movie called the Blind Side.

While Michael Oher went on to have an eight year career in the NFL including a Super Bowl win with the Baltimore Ravens, Oher’s football career started at Ole Miss.

In something of a spooky coincidence Hugh Freeze was Oher’s high school football coach at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis before he too joined Ole Miss as tight end coach. Freeze subsequently went on to become the Rebels head coach.

Freeze was asked this week for his thoughts on the legal action being taken by Oher against the Tuohy family.

“I love Michael Oher,” Freeze told Auburn reporters this week,

“He’s like part of our family. I love the Tuohys. I think it’s sad, and I certainly don’t claim to understand all the ins and outs of adoption, conservatory, all of that. But I know what I witnessed, and I witnessed a family that totally took in a young man. And I think without that, there is no story.”

Freeze added,

“I know this: If Michael called Sean right now and said let’s work this thing out, Sean and Leigh Anne would be they’re in a hurry to hug his neck and tell him he’s loved. I hope he feels that. Until you walk in people’s shoes, I don’t claim to have all the answers to anything, but I think whatever happens will happen. The facts will come out”.

Whatever facts do come out, the current situation is a sad one.

#War Eagle #HottyToddy

AP Pre Season Top 25 Poll

Image credit: On3

SEC Country

Yes it’s that time of year when the AP issues it’s preseason poll and lets us know its thoughts on the Top 25 teams in the country.

Like any poll it is the subject of great debate but with us still in “talkin’ season” the debate tends to be more noisy and lasts longer than other polls during the regular season which quickly become obsolete.

The AP preseason poll has three SEC teams in the top 10 and six in the top 25.  

Georgia and Alabama at #1 and #4 respectively are bookends to the 2nd & 3rd ranked Michigan and Ohio State. Tennessee is ranked #12 behind Texas, Clemson and the much fancied (overhyped?) Florida State.

Ole Miss and Texas A&M are the final SEC pairing who are ranked at #22 and #23 respectively. 

Unsurprisingly, its the ranking of Alabama and Tennessee which has got SEC fans in a tizzy.

Bama outside the top 3!

Given the talent which has departed from Tuscaloosa for the NFL and the lack of a clear cut QB1 it seems a forlorn hope that Bama should be considered for a top 3 spot. But that hasn’t stopped Crimson Tide fans flooding any phone-in radio show that will have them to complain of the injustice of it all.

Perhaps however, they shouldn’t be quite so quick to make a fuss. Surely this should be enough rat poison to fuel a full on Nick Saban led assault on the national Championship this year?

In fact the last time that Alabama was not ranked #1 was in 2020 and they went on to win a national championship in that same season. And prior to that when the Crimson Tide were ranked in the top 5 – #3 in 2015 and #5 in 2009, guess what Nick Saban’s side went on to do? Yes, they won a National Championship.

College football you have been warned!

the vols outside the top 10!

Tennessee at #12 is however, a strange one. Yes they have lost a lot of talent especially at QB. That said, the general consensus is that Joe Milton is a more than adequate replacement for the now NFL quarterback, Hendon Hooker. Remember, this was a team that beat Alabama last season and was on track to make a CFB playoff appearance until Hooker got hurt.

Texas appears one spot ahead of the Vols. A team that has lost Bijan Robinson at running back – a player who carried the 2022 Longhorns team on his back. Perhaps even more intriguing is a Florida State team ranked at #8. There is no doubting that Mike Norvell has turned this program around. But top 10? The Tallahassee hype is real.

See! I told you it created debate! And we LOVE it!