Saturdays in Athens
George Somerville. Sunday 17th May 2020
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the biggest and best conference in College Football. It’s the Southeastern Conference y’all.
Here are this weeks headlines….
But first the intro.
You might ask, why the SEC?
I started watching College football close to twenty years ago. But it wasn’t until my first visit to the Deep South that I realised how huge, how important and how intertwined the game was in the community that I truly fell in love with it.
On my first visit to Tuscaloosa I was hooked on the spectacle, craziness, excitement and sheer scale of what was effectively an amateur game. On that trip I also stopped off in Oxford, Auburn and Nashville – gaining a real eye-opening insight into football in the South.
I have since returned to Tuscaloosa, Oxford (never miss Oxford from your travels in this part of the world), Starkville, Baton Rouge, Gainesville and finally Athens. It is Athens that this column is named after. Athens stole my heart. But that is for another day.
This column will be a weekly round up of what’s going on in and around the conference during the week. If you are new to the SEC I hope this will help you to get an understanding of the Southeastern Conference. If you are familiar with the Conference already, I hope like me it will bring you up to speed on the craziness of the best conference in all of sports.
Let’s get started y’all!
Tennessee on Rocky Top!
The Vols are on fire. It’s official.
Tennessee have just secured their 10th commitment in the last 14 days, resulting in The Volunteers soaring to #2 in the recruiting rankings behind Ohio State.
This also means that Tennessee has the top ranked class in the SEC. Wait! What?
In particular, the recruitment of Cody Brown, a 4 star running back out of Georgia and 3 star safety De’Shawn Rucker from Florida were enough to cause ripples in SEC waters.
What’s most interesting and why the other SEC teams are sitting bolt upright and taking notice of this round of recruiting is the success that the Vols have had out of state. Brown was ranked the number eleven recruit out of Georgia and Rucker was secured from the jaws of the Florida Gators.
An exciting addition is Kaidon Salter, a quarterback out of Cedar Hill, Texas who chose the Vols over Auburn and Baylor. Salter is considered one of the top QB prospects coming out of Texas and is the icing on Pruitt’s 2021 recruitment cake.
Comparisons are being made with the Butch Jones era, where Jones was considered a great recruiter but not a good Head Coach. But there has been enough in this last two weeks for Vols fans to get excited about the way Jeremy Pruitt and his coaching staff have been going about business. In difficult, social distancing circumstances lest we forget.
While the Vols remain outsiders for a shot at the SEC title this season, and let’s be honest they should be, the clever money is looking further ahead to 2021 when this class of recruits will be showing us if they are as good on the field as they are on paper. #GoVols
It was not surprising when Taulia Tagovailoa announced that he was entering the transfer portal a little over a week ago.
While Taulia seemed to have secured the back up role last season following his brother’s injury against Mississippi State, Mac Jones had been a very successful replacement for Tua. So Jones was always going to be in pole position as QB1 coming into what will now be an accelerated preparation period for the new season. However the sight of Bryce Young coming on to Bama’s virtual campus was the writing on the wall for young Taulia.
Young is a highly regarded recruit and will be expected to fight Mac Jones for the starting QB job whenever preparation for the new season returns in earnest. Taulia would have quickly realised that he would likely fall down the pecking order.
So the question really was, where will Tagovailoa Jnr end up? The State of Florida seemed a favourite, given the likelihood that the Tagovailoa camp will upsticks and move to Miami to help Tua start his NFL career.
However, a move to the Miami Hurricanes looked unlikely given that Manny Diaz had secured the brilliant talent of the highly regarded D’eriq King – which as a side note is likely to be one of the more interesting and exciting watches of the new season.
Florida Atlantic, should Lane Kiffin still have been there, would have been a fascinating prospect but as we know Kiffin has since moved to Oxford to lead the Ole Miss Rebels.
There was also a strong feeling that young Tagovailoa could end up at Michigan. Jim Harbaugh had offered Taulia a scholarship prior to him choosing to follow his brother to Tuscaloosa. So there was a connection in Ann Arbor, which again would have been a fascinating watch.
However, it was a connection with another BIG10 school that won over the young Hawaiian. Mike Locksley had retained a strong connection with the Tagovailoa family since he left Alabama to become the Head Coach for the Maryland Terrapins.
Taulia lost a year of eligibility last year by suiting up and playing in a fifth game in Alabama’s 2019 season. And as well as losing the year, Tagovailoa will need to seek and get a waiver to be allowed to play at College Park next season.
Notwithstanding this, Taulia’s declaration to move to the Terps is considered a coup and further strengthens the view that Locksley is building a strong roster in Maryland. #GoTerps
USC sitting the first dance out?
University park, CA.
Rumours coming out of University Park in Los Angeles suggest that the Sports Administrators are getting very nervous about playing the season opener against Alabama. Two reasons are likely behind this caution.
Firstly, the State of California to date has been one of the most cautious states regarding the emergence from lockdown with State Governors and University Presidents alike stating that sports will not be held until a vaccination is found.
Secondly, this officially kicks off our annual debate about which coach is on the hotseat before a ball is thrown in anger. Yes, despite the Trojan’s successful end to last season, Clay Helton yet again has to put up with constant rumours about his replacement.
But in reality, USC and more importantly Clay Helton do not need a disastrous start to the season. Travelling to Texas to play in the season opener against Alabama (who are well versed in playing their season openers at AT&T) has the potential to go horribly wrong for Clay Helton and his Trojans.
Rumours about Clay Helton being replaced just won’t go away with Urban Meyer and Luke Finkell being hotly tipped as Helton’s successor.
It is clear that there is a faction in Los Angeles which wants Helton gone and a poor start to the season could easily be the trigger.
Bizarrely, it is the State of Texas which may come to the rescue of Clay Helton. TCU are due to travel to Berkeley to play Cal in their season opener. The powers that be in and around Dallas are very nervous at the prospect of two large fan bases criss crossing the country between California and the DFW area. So it may well be that the Governor of Texas is the one that saves Clay Helton. Or at least provides a stay of execution. #RollTide
SEC Football - it just means more
At the outset of the lockdown, the College Sports fraternity was in agreement.
No fans = no football.
And nowhere was that battle cry louder than in the SEC.
This last week, noises coming out SEC Headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama were a little different. And this mirrored rhetoric from various University principals and athletic directors across the SEC.
So, it came as no surprise that stories started to emerge this week that the SEC was preparing to play a season of college football maybe even with conference games only.
Geographically the SEC sits across 11 states – Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri, South Carolina and Arkansas.
However the pandemic has not had the same impact across the South East as it has had in the populous states of New York and California.
Meaning states across the South have started to emerge from lockdown. Schools in the South have started to take steps to get students and by default sports back on Campus. In particular getting football back in early September.
The SEC has confirmed that it has a number of contingency plans in place to take account of the ever changing landscape. However front and centre of this is football in the fall.
This last week, spokespersons from LSU, Auburn and Florida have made comment that they expect to have football starting in September.
Florida Head Coach Dan Mullen weighed into the debate this week when talking to @laurarutledge on SEC Network’s No Off Season* When asked the question about players returning to Campus, Mullen replied :
“As they start opening fitness gyms, we hope to open our weight room, so that the guys can come in and get voluntary lifts. I’d much rather that they train in our weight room as we know how we are monitoring our guys for health, how they are being trained and the cleanliness of how we keep the weight room.
A lot of our guys stayed in the Gainesville area over the break and are still here, we want to get them back training. And we hope to get back into the office in the next couple of weeks as coaching staff and then slowly bring our players back. We want to get back ready to get the season going and get back on the field as soon as possible”.
In fact, National Champions LSU seem to have already stolen a march on their rivals. LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward told The Advocate*:
“We were the first ones to get our staff back in football. We’re getting ready for Phase II, which is to get our student athletes back. I see some time in June, our student athletes getting back to Campus and us being able to take care of them better at home”.
The format of what a season will look like remains subject to hot debate but there is no doubt that momentum is shifting. Clearly this is about to become a regional issue with different states re-opening at different times. June will be a key month in this ongoing “temperature test”. No pun intended.
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.