Friday, August 31, 2007
LSU at Mississippi State
By Bob Epling
August 27, 2007
Starkville is a pretty quiet Southern town most of the time.
Main Street right out of an Andy Griffith episode. The Drill Field at Mississippi State smack in the middle of campus with pretty girls walking past and frat boys flinging frisbees and footballs.
Quaint and quiet.
Til you get to the Junction.
The Junction serves as the tailgating center for Mississippi State football games. A flat spread near Scott Field (or Davis Wade Stadium), the Junction is filled on game days with rows of tents, the smoky aroma of grilling meat, and the clang of football fans.
That’s right … clang.
The Junction might be the only place in college football where the dominant sound comes from fans greeting each other by clanging their cowbells. (Keep that under your hat because these artificial noisemakers are prohibited by the SEC!).
The cowbell tradition dates back to the 1930s. Legend has it that a jersey cow wandered onto the playing field during a game in which State thoroughly trounced rival Ole Miss. Students immediately adopted the cow as a good luck charm. Eventually, bringing a cow to the games gave way to the simpler (and louder) practice of bringing (and ringing) cowbells. By the 1960s, cowbell clanging was a recognized feature of football games in Starkville.
You can hide a cowbell in weird places.
The SEC officially banned the cowbells in 1974, but a stroll through the Junction on game day quickly shows the ruling to have little effect. Fans smuggle them in under shirts and in trousers, hiding them in places unlikely to be patted down by security. A cool cowbell on a hot day can have a soothing effect!
What the league could not do (the silencing of the cowbells), the last six Bulldogs football teams accomplished.
The Junction has been quiet as Starkville on a Wednesday night since the turn of the century. The Bulldogs’ record from 2000 to 2006 stands at an ugly 25-56. Toss out the 8-4 mark in 2000, and the Bullies are 17-52. Ouch.
Sylvester Croom arrived as coach after the 2003 season.
Rightly lauded for breaking the coaching color barrier, State hired Croom to clean up a mess that included probation and the loss of eight scholarships over four years. Croom’s first two years brought consecutive records of 3-8, with a win over Florida and an Egg Bowl victory over Ole Miss the brightest days.
At his hiring, Croom claimed it would take three to four years to bring the Bulldogs back, so last year’s 3-9 mark was a fairly significant disappointment even though the team lost several close games. For the first time, Croom caught heat from Bulldog backers.
The Junction and Scott Field now often reflect that old Simon and Garfunkel song … The Sound of Silence.
A few thousand clanging cowbells could change that noise level when LSU comes to town Thursday night.
LSU resides at the other end of the expectations spectrum.
The Tigers are a consensus #2 pick in national polls, and rated a serious contender to reach the BCS title game. Coach Les Miles enters his third season on the Bayou after inheriting a roster stocked with talent when Nick Saban departed for the NFL.
Miles’ first two years brought matching 11-2 records, a BCS bowl thrashing of Notre Dame, and the bonding process forged by the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
All has not been smooth sailing for Miles however.
At times, his first two squads displayed a certain lackadaisical quality, most notably in losses at Auburn and Florida. The Tigers also blew a big lead against Tennessee in the first game after Katrina, a game written off at the time to the cumulative fatigue of the ordeal.
Miles himself occasionally exhibits some personal sloppiness with words.
Perhaps tired of hearing about Saban’s return to the college ranks at division rival Alabama, perhaps caught up in the emotion of a recruiting rally, in February Miles used an expletive when commenting on Alabama in front of an audience that included youngsters. He later apologized.
Over the summer, he made news by challenging the supposedly difficult schedule faced by USC in getting to the BCS championship game (his comments rankled some but most SEC followers agree with him). No need to apologize for that one, but still a bit out of character.
All that talk will go the way of the fading cowbell clangs on Thursday.
The game, as always, will be decided on the field.
State fans ... expect the Sound of Silence.
Game Ball: LSU
Note: The original print version of Bob Epling's SEC Game of the Week appears as a regular feature of Game Day Weekly on Monday of each week during the college football season. The articles are posted at The Campus Game by Friday of each week. Enjoy!
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The 2007 season kicks off with all twelve teams in action, but only one conference contest (LSU at Miss State). Check back every week for league updates and game previews.
See you at kickoff!
Alabama vs. Western Carolina (7:00 ET)
Crimson Tide fans expect “St. Nick” Saban (or Nick Satan depending on your view) to have the Red Elephants rolling immediately. The strength of the Tide offense will be a passing game featuring QB John Parker Wilson (single season Alabama records for plays, attempts, completions, yards, total offense, and touchdowns in 2006) and senior receivers Keith Brown and DJ Hall. However, new offensive coordinator Major Applewhite may keep things vanilla in this one. Catamounts gained notoriety last year by being the only team to play the FBS champ (Florida) and the FCS champ (Appalachian State). They lost by a combined score of 93-9. Sounds about right.
Game Ball: Alabama
Arkansas vs. Troy (6:00 ET)
Head Hog Houston Nutt is glad to put a tumultuous off-season behind his squad, but playing the Trojans is no bargain. Arkansas features a couple of runaway Razorbacks at tailback in Heisman candidate Darren McFadden (1647 yds) and Felix Jones (1168 yds). Both are bigger homerun threats than A-Rod. QB Casey Dick should be more consistent and has a top target in Marcus Monk (50 rec; 11 TD but out until mid-September). Troy finished strong in 2006 by winning the last three - including a cooking of Rice in the New Orleans bowl. QB Omar Haugabook (26 total TDs) is the reigning Sun Belt POY and a real dual-threat. Trojans will not make bacon out of the Hogs- Arkansas wins.
Game Ball: Arkansas
Auburn vs. Kansas State (7:45 ET ESPN)
ESPN travels to the Plains for the K-State Wildcats and Auburn. Tigers QB Brandon Cox has plenty of experience but the rest of the unit needs seasoning. The O-line returns only one starter, and the backfield is deep but there is no clear top-notch tailback. Quentin Groves is an A-A type defensive end for Auburn. K-State features big soph QB Josh Freeman (6’6 250 lbs) who started the final 8 games last season; his top target is WR Jordy Nelson (84 career rec.). Auburn sometimes struggles in early season non-conference games (losses to Georgia Tech in 03 and 05; losses to USC in 02 and 03), but should de-claw the Cats.
Game Ball: Auburn
Florida vs. Western Kentucky (12:30 ET LFS)
The Tim Tebow era begins at the Swamp when Florida takes on the Hilltoppers. Conventional wisdom holds that the Gator offense will carry the team while the young and untested defense finds its reptilian legs. Maybe, but the Gators could be playing possum (the D is fast). That offense should be plenty good as head coach Urban Meyer can spread the wealth among a WR corps featuring Andre Caldwell, Cornelius Ingram, and speedy Percy Harvin. The defense is young, but fast and potentially explosive. Gators chomp WKU.
Game Ball: Florida
Georgia vs. Oklahoma State (6:45 ET ESPN2)
Nice matchup between the hedges when the Dogs try to wrangle the OSU Cowboys. Georgia sophomore QB Matthew Stafford rebounded from an erratic start to lead the Dogs to season-ending wins over ranked teams Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech. Stafford has plenty of skill position help, but the O-line looks like puppies and may start three freshmen. The Cowboys ride into town with an offense featuring QB Bobby Reid (500 yds rushing, 2266 passing, 24 TD) and wideout Adarius Bowman (1187 yds, 12 TD). This is a dangerous matchup for the Dogs who lost a lot on defense.
Game Ball: Georgia
Kentucky vs. Eastern Kentucky (6:00 ET)
Kentucky will be putting up points faster than a Bluegrass band picks a banjo. The Wildcats’ biggest star is QB Andre Woodson (3515 yds, 31 TD) who led the SEC in total offense and passing. His best weapons, receivers Keenan Burton (77 rec, 12 TD) and Dickey Lyons Jr (50 rec, 9 TD) and RB Raphael Little are back, so expect the Cats to light up the scoreboards. The Colonels of EKU have seasoned QBs in Josh Greco and Allan Holland and they led the OVC in offense at 355 ypg in 2006.
Game Ball: Kentucky
LSU at Miss State (8:00 ET ESPN)
See SEC Game of the Week Post
Game Ball: LSU
Ole Miss at Memphis (3:30 ET CSS)
Ole Miss tries to whip Memphis for the third straight season. The last two have been close (10-6 in 2005, 28-25 in 2006), but Rebel coach Ed Orgeron would take any style win. Senior Seth Adams starts at QB, and 1000 yard rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis is back along with virtually the entire O-line. WR Mike Wallace is expected to be the top receiving target. Memphis hopes to rebound from a disastrous 06 campaign (2-10) behind senior QB Marty Hankins (2550 passing, 18 TD). Coach O won his first game at Ole Miss against Memphis, and counts the Tigers as victims in two of his seven total wins. He should get win #8 this week.
Game Ball: Ole Miss
South Carolina vs. LA-Lafayette (7:00 ET)
Steve Spurrier keeps imploring his Gamecocks to believe they can win the SEC. Don’t know if beating the Ragin Cajuns will help that confidence but it can’t hurt, especially if they have to do so without starting QB Blake Mitchell (appealing a one-game suspension for missing classes in summer school). The Gamecocks should still be able to handle LA-Laf with RFR Chris Smelley and sophomore Tommy Beecher at QB.
Game Ball: South Carolina
Tennessee at Cal (8:00 ET ABC)
Wonder how liberal Berkeley will welcome all the Big Orange fans from East Tennessee. Kind of like Fred Thompson at a Hillary Clinton rally. Two top QBs battle in the marquee game of opening weekend. Nate Longshore (3021 yds, 24 TD) of Cal throws to a fine receiving group led by DeSean Jackson. The Vols counter with senior Erik Ainge (41 career TD passes), but his main weapons are a deep running back stable (UT will be without leading rusher LaMarcus Coker). Cal will be a slight favorite in this one, but just like Big Fred could upset Hillary, Big Orange may cage the Bears.
Game Ball: Tennessee
Vanderbilt vs. Richmond (7:00 ET)
Shows how far Bobby Johnson has brought the Commodores when Vandy doesn’t have to worry much about an opponent. The Dores have some talent with QB Chris Nickson and WR Earl Bennett on offense, and LBs Jonathan Goff and Marcus Buggs on D. Should be plenty to squash the Spiders.
Game Ball: Vanderbilt
*Prof's Pigskin Picks are published in print each week as Bob Epling's Around the SEC, a regular feature of Game Day Weekly, a free college football newspaper based in Ridgeland, MS, and distributed by franchise owners in southern markets. Those interested in owning and operating a Game Day Weekly franchise should contact Stan Hall at email@example.com.
(2007 Record 78-17 straight up ... Doc Epling does not pick against point spreads)