Thursday, August 31, 2006

That Boy Ain't Right

Ladies and Germs, I give you Chaste Chadd, and his first Meditation of 2006:

Founded in 1890, Washington State University (Motto: Yes we still play football) is located in Pullman, Washington. The state’s land-grant research university, WSU has an enrollment of 23,000 students, and boasts well-respected engineering, agriculture, and veterinary programs. In fact, Washington State is exactly what Auburn would be like, if it were located in the Pacific Northwest, and the football team were co-ed.

Saturday, the Tigers and Cougars will meet for the first time in the history of the Earth. This will not be a home-and-home series though, because quite frankly, no one knows how to get to Pullman. In fact, when Washington State plays a road game, there are no assurances the team will ever find their way back.

And as much as I want to go on making fun of Washington State, I can’t, because these are the same people who sent that boobie-loving geriatric to coach Alabama, and for that I remain forever grateful.

I'm not even going to try and explain Chadd to the uninitiated. He ain't right, but he is funny. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Trivial Stub

This isn't exactly a shocking bit of news, but you can find some odd stuff for sale in eBay. Take this auction, for a ticket stub from a football game that was played 18 years ago; the 1988 Auburn-Alabama game.

The game itself was an unremarkable one. Auburn clinched its second straight SEC title by beating UAT 15-10, and the contest wasn't as close as the score. Bill Curry chalked up his ninth career loss to AU, on the way to a sterling 0-12 lifetime record against the Tigers. The only notable fact about that game today is that officially, it was the first "home and home" ticket split in the modern series. From 1948-1987, tickets to the season closer at Legion Field were split 50-50 between the two schools, at least on paper (Legion Field bondholders' tickets pushed the margin well over into UAT's favor). Since 1988, it's been a standard 90-10 split with the lion's share going to the home team. '88 was also the beginning of the end of the Iron Bowl at Legion Field. Auburn took its home games to Jordan-Hare Stadium beginning in 1989; UAT finally saw the light and abandoned deteriorating Legion Field by 2001.

The ticket, though, is kind of funny. It pictures UAT running back Bobby Humphrey, and is the only example I've seen of a ticket featuring an active player who didn't even dress out for that particular game. Humphrey suffered a season-ending injury early in 1988, and would never play for UAT again; he went pro at the end of the '88 season. He watched the game with his own picture on the ticket from the sidelines, in street clothes.

Humphrey's a good guy, incidentally. I met him completely by accident in the Memphis airport while we were writing "The Uncivil War," and he was as nice as he could be in agreeing to an on-the-spot interview for the book. He's more than made up for the troubles that dogged him during his pro career. He was the coach of Birmingham's arena league team for several years, and from what I gather he's a successful businessman these days.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Off The Wally

If you've followed SEC football since the arrival of Piggies-come-lately Arkansas in 1992, you've probably heard of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette assistant managing sports editor Wally Hall. In a league loaded with homer sportswriters, Wally has somehow managed to stand head and shoulders above his peers in his obsessive dedication to boosting his own team and slinging mud around at their opposition.

Oddly enough, considering the two schools rarely played before '92, Auburn has become one of Wally's more prominent targets. Ever since Arkansas hired Houston Nutt instead of Tommy Tuberville in late 1997 (the details of which can be read in this facinating contemporaneous account by the late Orville Henry, whose journalistic jock Wally isn't fit to launder), Hall has been on a quixotic mission to convince other Hogly fans that the Other White Meat didn't make the wrong decision. He's gotten quite a bit more shrill during Arkansas' recent return to the lower tier of the SEC.

Sometimes Wally complains about stuff that happened in actual ball games. In 2003, he wrote at least three columns (probably more, but I got bored and quit checking) accusing SEC refs of fixing Auburn's 10-7 win in Fayetteville. Wally's rationale, such as it was, charged that a couple of holding calls on long Arkansas runs were made by an official who lived in Alabama.

Sometimes Wally just makes stuff up to make himself feel better. After losing to the Tigers in 2000, he claimed that AU's Rudy Johnson would have attended Arkansas--after all, every kid in America dreams of living in a remote town in the Ozarks--if only the mighty U of Ark accepted "D" grades from a transfer student.

One problem there: Auburn doesn't, didn't, and never has accepted "D's" from junior college transfers. I should know--I transferred a few hours of Calculus and chemistry myself from my own hometown JuCo that I took the summer before my freshman year at AU. I checked the transfer rules quite carefully before I enrolled, and Auburn doesn't accept any transfer grades lower than a "C." (Hey, I did say that Calculus was involved).

Wally's rantings aren't taken seriously by much of anybody (even most Arkansas fans will readily tell you that he's an idiot), but if we can't make fun of dumb sportswriters on a blog, what's the point of having one at all? So here's a sample from Wally's preseason Top 25, published today:
11 AUBURN Would be higher but there are rumblings of a major distraction that might hit the plains. Still could be the money year for Tom Tuberville. Next stop the NFL.

As Mr. Mackey on South Park would say, "M'kay." I'll let Will Woods (the "other Will") from speak to this one:
Two things are behind that comment. Well, actually three.

The two biggest are named Kodi Burns and Lee Ziemba. Hall has been known to blatantly recruit in-state kids in his columns; when Auburn got in on the top two kids in that state, Hall's venom got kicked up a notch.

The other factor is that Hall has a strong dislike for Coach Tuberville...and it's probably not so much that as it is his worship of the coaching God that is Houston Dale Nutt. Lots of Arkansas fans felt/feel that Tuberville should have been hired as their coach when Nutt was. Hall, who for whatever reason is Nutt's No. 1 fan, probably just feels like a good way to defend Nutt is to bash Tuberville.

Combine those three things with the fact that Hall is a nutjob (no pun intended), and this probably won't be the last off the wall, backhanded jab at Tuberville/Auburn we see this year.

Since I pay almost zero attention to recruiting, I'm going to take Woods' word on the kids from Arkansas, but his description of Wally's motivations fits in perfectly with the guy's previous antics. The guy's a loon, and if Nutt regime continues to slip over yonder in Fayetteville, Wally should be even more entertaining to watch as this season progresses.

News From The Left Coast

Interesting story today in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about Washington State's preparation for this weekend's opener at Auburn (actually it's a reprint from the Pullman Spokesman-Review, but who am I to quibble?). Here's an excerpt:
In preparation for playing in the early September heat of Alabama, the Washington State football team is taking every possible precaution to ready its players for what could lie ahead.

That means a gallon of water a day for players -- and even a lecture from the training staff encouraging the Cougars to put a little extra salt on their meals during the week.

"With our guys, we look at it as the same if we're going down to play Arizona," defensive coordinator Robb Akey said. "I don't think you can have your mind on it."

Odds are, it won't be any hotter at Auburn on Saturday night than it has been in Pullman in recent days. But it's sure to be humid, and that's something WSU hasn't had to deal with in August, at least not on par with what the South experiences on a routine basis.

Over the summer, WSU players made a habit of doing outdoor conditioning during the hottest parts of the day, with the idea of being as accustomed to the weather as possible. That's especially important for defensive players, who more typically succumb to fatigue late in games because of the nature of their positions.

"I wanted to stop so bad because it's hot," defensive tackle Fevaea'i Ahmu said of a recent practice in the sun. "But I was like: 'Man, it's going to be hot in Auburn. C'mon. We've got to push through it.' "

Southern teams generally avoid holding practice during the hottest part of the day (which, thanks to the humidity are probably a lot hotter in real terms than the same days in Washington state). It'll be interesting to see how much the heat and humidity actually affects Wazoo this weekend. My guess after seeing how well Southern Cal managed in 2003 is: not much.

Ted Miller, who was the Auburn beat writer at the Mobile Press-Register for a while (Miller's competence didn't fit in at the Register sports department, so he quickly moved on to a real paper) is currently a sports columnist for the Seattle P-I. He normally covers University of Washington football, but I hope he'll make the trip back South for Saturday's game. I'd love to read his take on the 2006 Tigers.

Monday, August 28, 2006

2006 SEC Thumbnails: The West

Continuing from yesterday's way-too-superficial look at the SEC, here's my quick take on the Western Division. In no particular order:

LSU: The Other Tigers lost a lot of big, fast linemen and linebackers from the last couple of years, and I think those losses will hurt, particularly in the first half of the season. I also think the three-headed quarterback situation has been grossly overblown in the press. Unless one of more of the quarterbacks turns out to be a major head case (and I guess that's possible, since some pretty big egos are involved), I expect Jimbo Fisher to crank out another solid squad. That said, I won't be surprised if the Bengals take a step back defensively from last season. They've got the bodies, but it's going to take a while to get some experience for all those new guys up front.

The scene off the field might be more interesting to watch, at least for SEC fans who don't smell like corn dogs. A fast start is nothing new at LSU; of their last few coaches, only the hapless Curley Hallman didn't do well in the first year or two. The question for Les Miles is, can he keep up the momentum from last season? The mild-mannered Miles is light years of personality different from the only LSU coach to win with consistency in the last 20 years, Nick Saban. Loss of focus on the football team has always been a problem in Red Stick, even under Saban. With just one year under his belt, the jury is still very much out on whether Miles' "nice guy" style can succeed over the long run.

UAT: When I asked my old bud Scott Brown what he was expecting out of the '06 Cringing Turds, he replied, "Very un-Alabama. They're going to score a lot of points on offense, but give up a lot of points on defense." I asked Scott just why he expected the offense to get better with sophomore Sarah Jessica Parker Wilson replacing fifth-year senior Sackie Croyle at quarterback, and he didn't have much of an answer. Suffice to say, I expect he's right about the gutted defense, and er, wrong about the offense. I'll grant that UAT has a good stock of receivers and a solid running back in Ken Darby (although Darby isn't anywhere near as good as he seems to think he is), but they're at least a year and likely a better assistant coach away from having a credible offensive line. And the less said about Little Mikey Shula's play-calling, the better.

Still, the Turds have a cupcake home schedule, at least until the Thumb Game in November. They'll have to really implode to win less than seven or eight games this year. I've seen a few Auburn folks picking Hawaii in this weekend's opener, but I don't buy it. Granted, pitting Mike Shula up against June Jones and Jerry Glanville looks something like a replay of Bambi vs. Godzilla in terms of coaching experience, but Hawaii rarely plays well on the mainland, and more importantly, they're very suspect in the trenches. This is the kind of game that UAT tends to win very comfortably, and that's what I'm expecting for Saturday.

After that, of course, the Mullet Nation will declare itself Universal Champions and start speculating on their margin of victory in Phoenix on January 8. Fortunately for me, I don't live in Alabama any more, and won't have to hear them.

Arkansas: First of all, I'd like to send all of Arkansas a heartfelt "thank you" on behalf of myself and other football bloggers who love junior-high humor. We thank you, we thank you, we thank you for having a coach named Nutt who gets to choose between quarterbacks named Johnson and Dick. Houston, you are the Great Cornholio, and we'll bring some T.P. to Toomer's Corner just for you.

Okay, (more) seriously, Arkansas is a trendy pick to make some noise in the West after two four-win seasons. I can see why some people are picking them that way, what with approximately 17 million starters returning, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the Pigs just might be the flop of the year. Nutt's decision to bring in a high school coach as offensive coordinator doesn't just smack of desperation, it looks like the kind of blunder that could make Tommy Tuberville's disastrous 2003 promotion of Hugh Nall look brilliant by comparison. Add in Darren McFadden's mysteriously-injured toe, and the Other White Meat [insert Nutt-Johnson-Dick joke here] is likely to have a very shaky offensive start, at a minimum.

I think the Pigs will be pretty good on defense, and could well make a minor bowl, but the whole high school coordinator thing (especially since the guy was apparently hired to ensure the signing of his high school quarterback) would give me the serious heebie-jeebies if I had a plastic hog head in my closet.

Ole Miss: Another trendy-for-no-apparent-reason preseason pick is Ole Miss. Sorry, don't see it. About the only thing this team has going for it is defensive superstar Patrick Willis, and he's more than legitimate. After that, it's all Ed Origami's bluster and a lot of misplaced faith in a quarterback with so many character problems he couldn't even play for Phil Fulmer. As much as I hesitate to quote from the collected works of Ratt on these pages, I suspect it's back to the cellar for the [they still don't have a mascot]s in '06.

Mississippi State: Even given the Hiroshima-like level of destruction levied upon the Other Bulldogs' program by Jackie Sherrill, I'd expected Sly Croom to be doing better than he is by this point. After two years, his only wins of note have come over Ron Zook and Ed Oregano, and let's face it--the only reason you might be worried about those guys is if you happened to taunt them at a fraternity party. If you're an opposing head coach, not so much. State's pathetic offense is unlikely to get any better after the departure of Jerious Norwood, and I haven't seen any signs that the MSU defense has improved much, either. If Croom is going to show any improvement, this is the year it has to start being apparent. If his team doesn't start winning something soon, I suspect it never will.

Auburn: The hell if I know.

No, really. Sure, the Tigers look great on paper, the schedule is favorable, the attitude looks good, even the ratings are in good shape for #4 AU (#1 Ohio State and #3 Texas play each other, and a laughably overrated #2 Notre Damn could very well be 1-3 before September is over). But I have no idea how they're going to do. Seriously. Over the last four seasons, I have been almost exactly 180 degrees wrong in all my predictions about Auburn. The only exception was in the wake of 2004's first thrashing of Tennessee in Knoxville, when I did figure the Tigers would go undefeated--but that was hardly a bold prediction by then. Other than that, every time I figured AU would romp, they'd get killed, and vice versa.

So I'm out of the predictions game regarding Auburn. Not gonna do it, wouldn't be prudent. But I am damn sure ready for this season to go ahead and get started...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

2006 SEC Thumbnails: The East

Starting around 1995, I used to write a team-by-team projection for the entire SEC during the month of August, named with my typical humility "Will Interviews Will." I'd run down all twelve schools by position, tell some bad jokes, and make a projection (not a prediction; there's a difference) on how I thought they'd do in the upcoming season.

Then I got something resembling a life, and WIW died an ignominious death. I won't be bringing it back to life this year, but here's a very quick-and-dirty look at the conference, starting with the East:

Florida: The Crocs have been media favorites since not long after Steve Spurrier returned to his alma mater, and that trend didn't change much after Visor Boy left for points north. Last summer's coverage of Florida was really remarkable (and not a little nauseating for those of us who don't favor pastel tank-tops and jean shorts) for the taken-for-granted assumption that new coach Urban Meyer would levy a Spurrierian dominance on the SEC.

The utter failure of Meyer's gimmick offense to perform against SEC defenses hardly slowed down the media adulation (it was all Chris Leak's fault, you see), and the Gators are again the favorite to win their division (even though they're still led by that same Chris Leak--like they say on The Simpsons, "Cartoons don't have to be consistent"). My take is that until and unless he proves otherwise, Meyer is running a Mickey Mouse offense that will destroy bad defensive teams (like all the ones he coached against out west), but once again struggle to do much of anything against the big boys. Defensively, Florida looks like a very good team to me, and they'd better be for their own sakes. With no running game apparent and a near-inevitable quarterback controversy looming, Meyer is going to need all the help he can get to avoid the "Urban Myth" tag again this year.

Georgia: Living in Atlanta, I'm exposed to the full force of Georgia's media fan club. In most Augusts, you'd think the main question regarding the Bulldogs is not "will they win," but rather, "what will the margins of victory be, and what channel will the Heisman ceremony be on for [insert hyped running back recruit here], the next Herschell?" This year is... well, oddly different. It's a lot quieter around here. Georgia fans aren't really expecting another championship run out of Mark Richt this year, and heck, who am I to argue with them?

To be fair, I don't claim to have a great grasp of this team. I expect them to be good but not great. The biggest question in my mind for UGA is, with his options limited at quarterback, will Richt finally show enough patience to develop a running game, or is he still fixated on playing chuck-and-duck? I suspect the latter, but Richt has surprised me before.

Tennessee: To the amusement of many, many people who don't dress like traffic cones, the Great Pumpkin fell off his wall last year, and dang near shattered to pieces. If I live to be a hundred, I don't think I'll ever forget the look on Phil Fulmer's face when he realized that he was going to lose to Steve Spurrier... again. I personally think that Phil's best years are far behind him, but 2006 will be his chance to prove me and a whole lot of doubters (not a few of which wear that traffic-cone apparel I was talking about) wrong.

Given the results of the last few years, I question whether Tennessee's talent level is really as high as its billing. UT always seems to be the beneficiary of recruiting hype well out of proportion to the actual performance of those recruits in college, and 2005's slow-motion collapse didn't do anything to change that perception. Still, they've clearly got some players, and if they could just get some production on offense, it's possible that they could get on a roll and retrieve some of that lost swagger. Heck if I know whether they'll do it or not, but I will say that I don't envy David Cutcliffe's being saddled with a headcase like Erik Ainge. If "Cut" can turn that offense around with that particular quarterback, my hat'll be off to him.

South Carolina: Let me say up front that I joined the chorus of praise for Steve Spurrier in his first (official) year as a Cock. I thought he did a hell of a job in 2005. That said, I also think Visor Boy was very, very fortunate in his opposition during the second half of the season. It didn't hurt him a bit that he got to play against the worst Tennessee team in 15 years, and arguably the weakest Florida team of that same period. Still, give the credit where it's due: he did beat both of them, and turned what was looking like a horrible first season into a respectable finish.

I don't think he'll do as well this year. Carolina lost way too much off a defense that had already been decimated by Granny Lou Holtz's poor recruiting, and even though he's got a solid quarterback in Blake Mitchell and at least one great wideout in Sidney Rice, Spurrier still doesn't have a proven running back. Lest we forget, SOS's best teams in Gainesville all had thousand-yard rushers. That's going to be a tough task for USC this year. But I'll bet you he still beats somebody he shouldn't. I just hope it isn't Auburn.

Kentucky: The media consensus is that Kentucky will be better this year, and I'll give the Wildcats this: Rafael Little is a heck of a good running back. But, like most of the people who live in Kentucky, I just can't bring myself to care about UK football. I'll be very surprised if they finish over .500.

Vanderbilt: Bobby Johnson should have gone looking for a better job after last season. His stock will never be higher than it was after that Tennessee win. With Jay Cutler gone and no real expectation of anybody like him coming down the road, it's back to being Vanderbilt. Two or three wins, tops.

Tomorrow: The West.

Credit Where It's Due

Okay, just a little more not-very-football-related content.

Many, many thanks are due to my old bud Lein Shory for doing the site design. As anybody who clicked over to Will's World can plainly see, I have all the design ability and style of, er, an engineer. Without his help, this site would look remarkably like a generic Blogger template, so all together now: "THANKS, LEIN!"

Secondly, here's another big thank-you to Stephen Green, the one and original Vodkapundit, for selflessly sharing his blog and bandwidth over the last few years. Steve's forbearance in putting up with all the college football content I insisted on cluttering his political blog with clearly indicates that he's either (a) a prince of a guy, or (b) a lot drunker than even I'd thought most of the time. Steve's 2003 invitation to join Vodkapundit was a huge creative catalyst for me, and I owe the guy a lot. One of these days, we might even manage to meet up for a drink, and when we do, it'll be on me.

Last but certainly not least, many thanks to Will Woods and Bryan Matthews at for starting up the original "From The Bleachers" columns, and for their support over the years. They certainly didn't have to keep plugging my stuff at Rivals after I stopped writing for the site, but they've done it anyway, and I'm lucky to call them friends as well as colleagues.

All Aboard

Hi everybody, and welcome to, my new college football blog.

A quick introduction: I grew up an Auburn fan, and graduated from AU in 1992. By profession I'm an aerospace engineer, but like Bo Jackson, I have a hobby during the fall. I've been writing about college football on- and off-line since the early 1990's. Scott Brown and I co-wrote "The Uncivil War," about the Auburn-Alabama series, in 1995, and I've also written for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Birmingham News, Birmingham Post-Herald and Inside the Auburn Tigers along the way. In 1997, I started up my own site, Will's World, which ran more-or-less regularly until late 2000. By the time I first heard the word "blog," I'd semi-retired the site after four years of twice-weekly columns on all kinds of subjects; maybe 15 or 20% of the content there was sports-related.

"FTB" started life as a Monday-morning opinion column at five years ago, and was called "the best thing on the site" by co-founder Will Woods (and I didn't even have to bribe him for it). I continued to write the weekly columns at my own site after AuburnSports dropped all their opinion content prior to the 2004 season (a story worth retelling on another day), but I dropped the ball (and the column) last year.

After a good deal of thought and more than a little complaining from readers, I decided to ressurect FTB this year as a blog. I've been the emergency backup blogger at Stephen Green's Vodkapundit for three years now, and I've stretched Steve's good nature more than far enough by dropping in with Auburn and college football content over at VP. Needing a more appropriate place for that content and wanting to get back into the sports commentary game led inevitably to FTB, The Blog.

Besides which, I've become a big fan of Orson Swindle's hysterical Every Day Should Be Saturday, and I'm not about to let some no-account Gator lawyer have all the fun.

So that's it, and more than enough about me. The season's less than a week away, and even though it isn't quite time to head to the bleachers, it's more than time enough to get the tailgating started.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Different Year, Same Hype From A Mickey Mouse Network

Disney-owned ESPN just ran their Gameday Preview for the 2006 season, and if you've followed the the network over the last decade or so, it wasn't much of a surprise. Lots of hype for the usual media darlings, all but one of which (Notre Dame) just happen to be in conferences televised by ESPN corporate parent ABC. Teams from the SEC, which has a contract with broadcast rival CBS, were barely mentioned, as usual.

Same old, same old from ESPN, and I can't really say I blame them for it--after all, why give your competition free advertising? Still, it's too bad they can't bring themselves to admit that snubbing non-ABC conferences is de facto corporate policy if you work for the Mouse.