Hope not for a Lighter Load, Pray for a Stronger Back
The SEC Riviera Roundup Week Nine
By Chris Warner
October 30, 2015
LSU fans, like all SEC fans, have endured a living hell. Decades of questionable calls from conference officials with ties to the Capstone have resulted in dubious losses, perpetuating the Tide’s dominance of what has been billed as the nation’s most “competitive” conference. However, upon closer inspection, it is clear that something is awry—after all, the boss of Southeastern Conference officials—the figure head in charge of hiring and training and disciplining all referees, is a University of Alabama graduate. How such an abomination—such a severe conflict of interest, can exist for so long in the wake of the evolution of high definition TV, instant replay and social media, is an unfortunate Southern reality worthy of a 90-minute Sixty Minutes expose. For disgruntled Tiger fans, it has been a nightmare epoch. Complaining the obvious to the conference office Gestapo has done little to alter the reality harmful to student athletes. Instead, the Tiger faithful have bided their time, hoping not for a lighter load, but instead, praying for a stronger back. In 2014, their ephemeral prayers were answered by the college football gods with the signing of Leonard Fournette—a super-human runner from the Crescent City born seemingly 100 years too soon—but in reality, not a minute too early for Tiger fans wanting to exact revenge for past crimes spanning generations. On November 7, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Karma finally catches up with a Crimson Tide program long benefitting unfairly from its loyal soldiers in the conference offices. The nation’s best player and Heisman favorite will showcase his amazing athletic talents, leading his visiting team to certain victory; all in spite of the Tide’s beloved, striped twelfth man.
In this exclusive, weekly column of all things SEC Western Division Football, we’ll continue to shed a much-needed light on the most pressing issue facing the SEC, as well as take our regular armchair quarterback tour across the nation’s toughest sub-conference, tagging apparent winners and losers while redefining the inside track to the SEC Championship Game and a coveted, all-expenses paid four-team playoff ticket to the winner.
Winning at All Costs – Oz Revealed in the SEC
College football is a uniquely American game that evolved during the painful aftermath of the Civil War. A contest that emulated warfare played only by the toughest young men on college campuses, it was met immediately with great fanfare, as it provided young Southern men an opportunity to recapture the pride they were stripped of during the conflict, by defeating teams of the North. The game quickly became a rite of passage for college men as well as a badge of honor for overzealous alumni wanting to ensure winning football. Furthermore, brutality and foul play—central aspects of the early game of college football—remain fountains of controversy today, evidenced by the targeting rule and the administration of the conference offices in Birmingham.
The NCAA, formed in 1905 at the encouragement of progressive Teddy Roosevelt, demanded the implementation of the Sanity Code in the late 1940’s, which limited the awarding of athletic scholarships to genuinely needy individuals—and limited the scholarships to only tuition and incidental expenses. However, this Draconian measure by the NCAA was predictably met with great opposition by the larger Southern schools bent on football dominance. Alabama, led by Paul “Bear” Bryant, was no exception. Bryant for many years after enjoyed a practice of recruiting often up to 120 players—stockpiling talent so that his competitors would not be afforded the services of the region’s most talented players.
In time the NCAA was able to affect a stranglehold on the valuable inputs, implementing the 25 scholarship rule and a host of other recruiting changes that forever altered college football. Nevertheless, Alabama was intent on maintaining the competitive advantage that allowed it to dominate Southern football under Bryant, resulting in the successful infiltration and dominance of the conference offices in Birmingham. This singular development has made all the difference, and continues to have wide-ranging impacts on the rules, regulations and referees that dictate annual SEC football competition under the guise of ensuring “fairness, consistency and integrity in athletic competition” in keeping with its sacred working papers.
Around the SEC West
Alabama – Nick Saban said this week that Leonard Fournette is “one of the best backs we’ve seen.” Nick added that LSU’s sophomore quarterback, Brandon Harris, is “a good quarterback.” So much for meaningful coach speak during a bye week, which always seems to be the case when LSU and Alabama play each other. Alabama is using the off time to heal a number of starting players and to figure out how to stop Fournette without loading the box, giving Harris a working advantage in the passing game.
Arkansas – Bret Bielema’s team now stands at 3-4 on the year after an emotional, multiple overtime victory over Auburn. Win this weekend against UT Martin and his team is .500 on the year, needing only two victories in four remaining games to become toilet bowl eligible. Those four contests are against Ole Miss, LSU, State and Mizzou, meaning there is a good chance the Hogs could be sitting home instead of playing come late December, which could spell doom for the one Hog fans affectionately call “Fat Bert.”
Auburn – The 4-3 Auburn Tigers are two victories away from becoming bowl eligible, but the schedule dictates that it will be no easy task. The Gus Bus has a host of mechanical problems and is running on what seems like bad gas. Senior quarterback Jeremy Johnson is a bigger bust than the late Anna Nicole Smith and Will Muschamp’s defense is more disappointing than Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. The former Nick Saban protégé can redeem himself by pulling a trump card this Saturday and willing his team to victory over the Mississippi Black Bears. A&M, Idaho, Georgia and Alabama await.
LSU – During a 40-yard run against the best defense the Tigers have faced all year (Florida), Leonard Fournette was clocked at 21 miles per hour, translating into a 3.95 forty yard dash. At 235 pounds Fournette, just a sophomore, is poetry in motion and a senior-level Physics problem that confounds defensive coordinators and defensive backs alike. Averaging 195 yards per game with four contests remaining, Fournette, with 1,352 yards is on track for a 2,000 yard season, which would shatter Herschel Walker’s 1981 rushing record of 1891 yards. Had he played in the Tigers’ first game discontinued due to lighting, his numbers would be higher. On the back end of a twelve game slate, the early bye could help Number Seven perform late, as his legs surely benefit as a result.
Mississippi State – Dan “Merlins” Mullen has quietly established himself as one of the league’s better coaches. The 6-2 Bulldogs, already bowl eligible, have the week off—like LSU and Alabama. Their next game is a road tilt against Mizzou. They then face Alabama in Starkville, Arkansas on the road and host the Egg Bowl against in-state rival Ole Miss to end the slate. Win three of four and the Bulldogs have a realistic shot at a ten win season. Run the table and the Bulldogs will be hard-pressed to retain Mullen, as there are a number of teams who would love to have his services.
Ole Miss – The Black Bears are a touchdown favorite heading into the Plains of Auburn this Saturday. Coming off an impressive win over the hapless Aggies in Oxford, the Bears are flying high like their Clemson transfer quarterback, Chad “Swag” “Chaz” “Machine Gun” Kelly, a guy who told bouncers at a popular Clemson watering hole that he was going to “get his AK-47 out of his car and spray the place.” Freeze’s boyz have remaining home games against Arkansas and LSU, and a visit to Mississippi State, with an off week prior to LSU coming to Oxford.
Texas A&M – The Aggies’ defensive coordinator, John Chavis, is the equivalent of fool’s gold. The 5-2 Aggies, like last season, performed admirably on the front end of the slate, but faltered late. Should the blame for the slide be placed on the veteran coordinator, Chavis, or the head coach? Kevin Sumlin looked like a genius with Johnny Football at the helm—now, not so much. A&M has remaining games against South Carolina, Auburn and Western Carolina at home, and then at Vanderbilt and LSU to close the season. Four of the last five are winnable, giving the Aggies a shot at a ten-win season. Whether or not it’s enough to silence the drum beats for Sumlin’s head remains to be seen, as any astute football fan realizes Sumlin is playing badminton in a league that dictates big boy football.
Until next time…
*Chris Warner is double graduate of LSU and holds a doctorate from the University of New Orleans. He has blogged about SEC Football for 17 years running and is the author of over 20 books, including the popular “Tailgater’s Guide to SEC Football Volume IV” and “SEC Sports Quotes Compendium,” along with “The Wagon to Disaster,” “Bushwhacked at the Flora-Bama, Volume II” and “Saved at the Alabama-Florida Line,” a novel set at the iconic watering hole in 2010. He is currently writing, “Captured by the Brit Who Fooled Baton Rouge,” the life and times and hideous crimes of one Richard Scott Rogers, an insidious pedophile who masqueraded as a TV talk Show host for 12 years in Baton Rouge before his deserved demise at the hands of his gay lover and son-in-law in August 2014.