LSU Tigers

Wild West

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Let’s take a look at the SEC West and preview how each team’s season will go.

#1 Alabama: The Crimson Tide are loaded with talent like they are every year. They return Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young and add Georgia Tech transfer running back Jahmyr Gibbs.

There are also a pair of transfer wide receivers, Tyler Harrell (Louisville) and Jermaine Burton (Georgia).

Left tackle Evan Neal departed for the NFL. The offensive line gave up 41 sacks last year and they were very inconsistent. The defense held teams to 20.1 points per game last season and they should be better this year.

#2 Texas A&M: The Aggies had the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation in 2022.

The question is can they convert that into winning the West, getting to the SEC Championship and the CFB Playoff? No, but I think they can win double-digit games.

Quarterback Haynes King was injured in the second game of 2021. He returns in 2022 along with LSU transfer Max Johnson and true freshman Conner Weigman.

They need more big plays from the passing game and true freshman Evan Stewart could provide that. Devon Achane rushed for 910 yards, 9 touchdowns and averaged 7 yards per carry in ’21. He should have a breakout year and the offensive line returns three starters.

#3 Arkansas: All-SEC candidate KJ Jefferson returns at QB, four starters on the o line and a solid backfield led by Rocket Sanders.

It’s going to be tough to replace receiver Treylon Burks (66 catches) and the big-plays he used to make. Transfer receiver Jadon Haselwood (Oklahoma) and Matt Landers (Toledo) will compete with Warren Thompson for the top target.

The defense gave up 29.6 ppg in SEC Play last year but they thrived at getting third down stops and limiting teams in the red zone.

They only return four starters but they added several players from the transfer portal. That includes ends Jordan Domineck (Georgia Tech) and Landon Jackson (LSU), linebacker Drew Sanders (Alabama), and defensive backs Dwight McGlothern (LSU) and Latavious Brini (Georgia).

#4 LSU: Bryan Kelly left Notre Dame to take over this program.

The Tigers are 11-12 over the last two seasons so they have a lot to improve. Only six starters return but they typically have talented players in Baton Rouge.

The secondary finished 12th in the SEC in pass efficiency defense last fall. They have several transfer players that should be able to contribute.

Garrett Nussmeier, Jayden Daniels and Myles Brennan are battling for the starting quarterback job.

#5 Ole Miss: The Rebels are coming off of 10 wins and a Sugar Bowl appearance. They lost several key contributors like QB Matt Corrall, running backs Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner and receiver Dontario Drummond.

USC transfer QB Jaxson Dart is expected to win the starting job. They also have several transfers on both sides of the ball.

#6 Mississippi State: The Bulldogs won seven games last year and return 17 starters. QB Will Rogers returns to lead an offense that averaged 378.3 passing yards per game and 29.1 ppg.

They allowed 34 sacks in 2021 and lose both starting tackles.

Having playmakers step up to keep the Air Raid going will be the storyline.

#7 Auburn: The Tigers lost five games to end the season, several players transferred and coach Bryan Harsin is already on the hot seat.

Running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter should be the focal point of the offense.

They ranked 11th in the SEC in scoring last season.

Prove It To Me

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It is that time of the year that is dreaded and that is the official ending of football season.

Football, the greatest game on the planet, is in hibernation until August. However, it is never too early to discuss SEC football in the South. Here is a look at my top five teams in the SEC with the most to prove in 2022:

 

1: Texas A&M: All the talent money can buy. They need a good season this year, and need to prove they can win.

Can Jimbo get it done in College Station? Yes, they beat Alabama last season, but they found a way to lose 4 football games.

The Aggies must find a QB that can lead this team to the SEC title game. The new NIL landscape favors the Aggies, who have very deep pockets. If this team can’t win 10-11 games this fall, then the heat starts mounting on Jimbo Fisher.

 

2: LSU: When you think LSU, you think contenders.

LSU will have a new coach, and will have to prove they are making progress.

I think Brian Kelly is a pretty good hire. Talent is never an issue in Baton Rouge, but right now the QB position is a big question mark. If the Tigers can figure that out quickly, they could be factor in the West.

 

3: Tennessee: The Vols have not been relevant since 2007, when they last won the SEC East.

Tennessee has not won a national title since 1998.

Skill position talent is much improved, but Tennessee does not have the offensive or defensive line talent to be a serious SEC contender yet.

Tennessee has lost 15 straight to Alabama and is 1-16 against Florida in the last 17 years.

Since Philip Fulmer was forced out in 2008 the Vols have whiffed on 4 straight head football coaches. Josh Heupel hopes to reverse that trend.

Tennessee went 7-6 in 2021. In the last five years Tennessee is a combined 0-15 against Alabama, Florida and Georgia, which are the 3 biggest games on the Vol schedule. Tennessee needs to beat one of those three teams in 2022.

 

4: Florida: Florida also has a new head coach.

They must prove they can compete in the SEC East. The East is way better when Florida can challenge UGA for that top spot.

Billy Napier was a great hire for UF. There is talent on the roster, but it is undisciplined talent. If Napier can change that culture in Gainesville and recruit then Florida will be back soon.

If Florida can win 8-9 games in 2022 then things should take off quickly in Gainesville.

Since Steve Spurrier retired Florida has missed on 4 of its last 5 football coaches. Only Urban Meyer has had consistent success since 2001.

Florida has not won an SEC or National Title since 2008. Too much talent in the State of Florida for the flagship university not to be a national player and to top it off you just lost to UCF in a bowl game.

 

5 Ole Miss: Ole Miss surprised a lot of people last season by being a top 10 team. Was it a fluke? They must prove they can maintain solid seasons with Lane for years to come.

I don’t think 2021 was a fluke for Ole Miss. If Matt Corral can be replaced then I think this team will finish right behind Alabama, and Alabama does come to Oxford in 2022.

The defense is improving, and we know a Lane Kiffin offense will produce. I think this will be the surprise team in the SEC next year. I believe Ole Miss is here to stay and 2022 will prove that.

I did not mention Auburn because Bryan Harsin is dead man walking on The Plains of Auburn. Of course, it has all been self-induced by Auburn, who set this man up for failure.

The Crystal Ball Of The SEC

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Labor Day weekend is upon us and that means the greatest game of all, College Football kicks off.

I love many sports, but college football is just special. In this part of the world, you have SEC football; which is the best brand in college athletics.

Others try and duplicate it, but they simply come up short.

Oklahoma and Texas are moving over probably next season instead of 2025. Some critics say conference expansion is bad using excuses like geography, and any other reason they can find.

We live in a generation of participation trophies as it relates to sports, and quite frankly the SEC has an ‘iron sharpens iron’ kind of mentality and that keeps them ahead of the rest in the college football world.

Here are my 2021 SEC Predictions:

Most Overrated Team: Texas A&M: The 2021 hype train has the Aggies picked by some to knock of Alabama to win the West.

I don’t think defensively A&M is there yet, and will Jimbo Fisher open up the offense to the Alabama and LSU levels of the past two seasons?

I don’t think the Aggies have those types of weapons and will come up short in the West. What happens if they lose at home to Alabama? Well, they are and I think they end up losing to Ole Miss and possibly LSU.

Most Underrated Team: Ole Miss: Ole Miss may end up having the best offense in the conference. So, when you line up against this team you better be prepared to score a lot of points.

Everyone harps on the Ole Miss defense, but I ask the question they can’t be worse than they were last year, right? I expect improvement out of the unit in 2021. This team could sneak up into the double-digit win category.

SEC West:

Alabama: Until someone knocks them off, they are the pick here.

Nick Saban is the best head coach in the history of the conference and he has the national championships to prove it in the playoff era of college football.

Ole Miss: This team is dangerous. Sleep on them if you want to.

Texas A&M: I’m just not buying the hype. This team is too conservative on offense, and do they have enough defense to be championship elite? The answer is no.

LSU: Coach O it is starting to slip away. Fix it in 2021 or your seat is going to get very hot.

Auburn: New coaching staff that wants to go from a spread offense to more of a pro type offense. Going to take some time Aubbies.

Arkansas: I love how the Hogs are building this roster, but you are in the best division of the best conference in college football.

Mississippi State: Not a terrible team, but you have six bowl teams ahead of you.

SEC East:

Georgia: This is an elite football program that gets the underachiever label by folks who don’t hold everyone to the same standard they judge UGA by.

Could it be they know UGA is about to knock the National Title door down in the near future and what that may mean? Cue the 1980 jokes haters.

Florida: Gators will be good, but a different kind of good. One that starts with better defensive play. Florida lost 6,600 yards and 79 TDs to the NFL draft from last year.

Missouri: A much improved Tiger squad could challenge for 2nd in the East.

Kentucky: Nope, I’m not buying what you are selling Cats. Your offense is like watching paint dry.

Tennessee: Vols are building back the roster. It is going to take a couple of years.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are starting a Graduate Assistant at QB. Ouch!

Vanderbilt: We love the Dores during baseball season, but they are an instant win during the fall.

SEC Title game will be Alabama against Georgia.

The Return

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

I’m sure at some point over the past six months, most of us reached that moment where we had watched everything we were interested in and started binge watching television shows or movies we had no desire to see, just to pass the time.

(Personally, I began a weekend watching the first Police Academy and finished it with Mission to Moscow; something I’m both proud of, yet less than impressed with.)

If I may stick with the entertainment theme for just a minute longer, when the college football season started a few weeks ago it felt like watching “The Office” after Steve Carell left; the cast of characters and storylines were enough to keep watching, but it just wasn’t the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed watching some of the lesser known schools get their time in the national spotlight, but when the two best conferences in college football aren’t on the schedule the whole thing is a little underwhelming.

With the SEC beginning their season, it not only felt like another step towards some sense of normalcy, but there was a feeling of excitement about watching the games because of who was playing and not just because a game was being played.

I have to admit, even with it being the first games of the season for SEC teams, they did not disappoint, obviously with Mississippi State and Florida garnering a lot of the praise.

Speaking of the Bulldogs, me trying to find any redeemable quality in Mike Leach is like trying to find a pack of Skittles in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese.

However, what KJ Costello and the MSU offense was able to do to LSU forces me to begrudgingly give Leach credit.

I still think LSU will finish the season as the better team and I doubt the Bulldog offense will put up those type numbers again, but for right now Leach is deserving of the credit that’s come his way.

I also have to confess, I kind of like this schedule, where teams basically just play within their conference. I know we’re missing out on some of the big out of conference games we’ve started to see more of lately, but we’re also not having to be subjected to Alabama playing the Flying Griffindors of Hogwarts University, either.

I realize when you’ve got a new head coach, or new players at prime positions, like LSU and even Georgia to a certain extent, it’s nice to have easier games for everyone to get acclimated to each other.

On the other hand, it’s a nice change to essentially throw all the teams into the deep end and see who learns to swim first.

This isn’t to say the first few weeks of the season were rough to watch, they weren’t by any stretch. And there have been some really good storylines we’ve seen emerge that may not have otherwise gotten the attention. (A perfect example are the Miami Hurricanes. Imagine how much of the hype going to Mississippi State would be going to Miami after their annihilation of Florida State.)

Still, it’s nice to turn on a football game and see some of the major teams and players back in the field; it’s one of the reasons we love it so much.

I mean, we’re not watching Cobra Kai because it has the return of Daniel LaRusso’s mother, are we?

The Best All-Time

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

LSU just finished one of the most dominant football seasons in recent memory with a 42-25 win over Clemson for the National Championship.

It was LSU’s third national championship this century to go along with titles in 2003, and 2007. I have been watching college football since the 1970’s and here are my top five college football teams in the window:

Honorable Mention: 1976 Pittsburgh 12-0: The Panthers with Heisman winner Tony Dorsett drilled SEC Champion and 4th ranked UGA in the Sugar Bowl 27-3 as Dorsett rushed for over 200 yards.

1999 Florida State 12-0: The Seminoles beat a Michael Vick led Virginia Tech team in the Sugar Bowl to win Bobby Bowden’s second National Title in Tallahassee. Where have those days gone FSU fans?

2005 USC: 12-1: The Trojans were a great team that lost to Texas for the National Title. Reggie Bush and company were defending champions but this team was better than their 2004 title team.

1979 Alabama 12-0: This was Bear Bryant’s last National Title team at Alabama.

They won seven games by 20 or more points. The Tide led the nation in scoring defense and beat a very good Arkansas team 24-9 in the Sugar Bowl.

2018 Clemson 15-0: This team beat Alabama 44-16 to capture the National Title, and blew out Notre Dame in the semifinals 30-3. Dominant defense with four NFL players on the defensive line.

My Top Five College Football Teams of All-Time:

  1. 1996 Florida 12-1: This was great football team and Steve Spurrier’s only National Champion that blew out unbeaten FSU 52-20 in the Sugar Bowl to avenge a 24-21 regular season loss to the Seminoles.

Bob Stoops was the defensive coordinator and the team was led by Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel at QB and All-American receivers Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony.

The Gators outscored their opponents 612-228 during the season. The Ole Ball Coach put Florida football on the map when he took the job in 1990 and won 127 games in 12 years in Gainesville.

  1. 2005 Texas 13-0: Vince Young led the Longhorns to a classic 41-38 win over USC in the Rose Bowl.

Texas scored 652 points during the 2005 season while giving up only 213. The Rose Bowl that year may be the greatest college football game I have ever watched on television.

  1. 2001 Miami 12-0: The 2001 Canes only allowed 117 points all season, and hammered Nebraska 37-14 in the Rose Bowl for the title.

Many say this was the most talented team in the history of college football with players like Ed Reed, Jeremy Shockey, Clinton Portis, Andre Johnson, this roster was littered with future Pro-Bowlers.

  1. 2019 LSU 15-0: The first team in the history of the SEC to go 15-0. Led by Heisman winner Joe Burrow, who tossed for 60 TD’s to only 6 Int’s on the season.

This LSU team will go down as the best team in the history of the SEC. The Tigers beat Clemson for a National Title, while Clemson was riding a 29-game winning streak.

This team beat five teams ranked in the top 10 of the final rankings, and six of the top 15. This team will stand the test of time for greatness.

1.1995 Nebraska 13-0: The most dominant team in college football history. The 1995 Cornhuskers averaged 53 plus points a game and defeated four teams ranked in the Top 10.

No team all year came closer than 23 points to the Huskers, and this team beat a great undefeated Florida team 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl and it looked like men playing middle schoolers.

27 players from this team played in the NFL. QB Tommie Frazier is one of my favorite college football players of all-time. He Led the Huskers to back to back National Championships in 1994 and 1995.

There you have it folks. College Football is our greatest game. Nothing really comes close.

Down To Two

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The first round of the College Football Playoff was played this past weekend. Let’s take a look and recap what happened.

No. 1 LSU and No. 4 Oklahoma played the first game, The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Ga.

The Tigers (14-0) demolished OU (12-2), 63 – 28. Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow was spectacular, passing for 493 yards and seven touchdowns. He also ran for a TD.

“We go into every game thinking nobody can stop us,” Burrow said.

LSU scored 49 points in the first half. Justin Jefferson scored all four of his touchdowns in the first half and finished with 14 catches for 227 yards.

Tight end Thaddeus Moss, son of Hall of Famer Randy Moss, had 99 receiving yards and a touchdown.

LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger learned shortly before kickoff that his daughter-in-law, broadcaster Carley McCord, was among five people killed in a plane crash in Louisiana. The small plane went down shortly after takeoff for what was supposed to be a flight to Atlanta for the game.

Head coach Ed Orgeron delivered the news to Ensminger, who was seen with tears running down his cheeks but stuck to the task at hand.

“What a tremendous, tremendous LSU Tiger,” Orgeron said after the game. “He called a great game tonight.” Coach O gave him the game ball.

No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson was a battle of two unbeaten teams. The Playstation Fiesta Bowl was played in Glendale, Arizona. Clemson won a close game, 29 – 23.

I’m not sure how the defending champion Tigers are being overlooked but they feel disrespected by it.

The Buckeyes (13-1) jumped out to a 16-0 lead in the first half. They responded to a Clemson rally to retake the lead 23-21 in the fourth quarter.

The Tigers (14-0) needed four plays and 1:18, with Lawrence completing all three of his passes and mixing in an 11-yard run. The sophomore quarterback, who has never lost a college start, passed for 259 yards and two scores. He also ran for a career-high 107 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown late in the first half.

OSU drove the ball to the Clemson 23-yard line, but Justin Fields was intercepted by Nolan Turner with 37 seconds left.

“Everybody kept saying we didn’t play nobody, that we blow out teams. Tonight showed what we can do,” Clemson receiver Tee Higgins said. “We showed everybody we got fight in us.”

The Buckeyes played well on offense. Fields threw for 320 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. J.K. Dobbins ran for 174 yards and a touchdown.

“I told Ryan, that Ohio State team, what an unbelievable game, their quarterback, their back, those guys played their hearts out,” Swinney said. “But in the end, our guys showed what they’re made of. They’ve got the heart of a champion; they’ve got the eye of a tiger.”

The semifinals played out the way I expected. The best two teams won and they will play the national championship game in New Orleans January 13.

This is basically a home game for LSU but don’t count Clemson out.

Play It Off

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

We are in the sixth year of the College Football Playoff.

The top four teams have been picked and I think this is the first year where the committee had an easy decision selecting all of the teams. We are going to preview the playoff games.

Both games will be played December 28. No. 1 LSU (13–0) versus No 4. Oklahoma (12–1) in the Peach Bowl.

The Tigers return to Atlanta after trouncing No. 4 Georgia in the SEC Championship. LSU is led by the clear Heisman Trophy front-runner Joe Burrow.

Burrow is the best quarterback I’ve seen at LSU in the past 25 years. This program is notorious for having poor QB play, so they are really enjoying this because I do not think they will be in this position again anytime soon.

Burrow has thrown for over 4,700 yards, 48 touchdowns, 6 interceptions with a 93.7 QBR (2nd).

Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has rushed for nearly 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also has 50 receptions for 400 yards so he makes plays all over the field.

Receivers Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase both have over 1,200 receiving yards with double digit TD’s.

The Tigers are ranked 32nd nationally in total defense.

This is Oklahoma’s third straight playoff appearance and they are looking for their first win.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts transferred from Alabama, so he’s played against LSU the last three seasons. He won’t be intimidated and their defense is not as good as they previously were.

Hurts is the epitome of a dual threat, passing for over 3,600 yards, 32 touchdowns, 7 picks and a QBR of 90.6 (4th). Hurts also ran for more than 1,200 yards, 18 TD’s and he averages 5.7 yards per carry.

CeeDee Lamb is his top target and big play threat. OU is 24th in total defense.

This game should be high scoring and both offenses should play well. Hurts has a bad habit of turning the ball over and I don’t see this game being any different. That will help LSU win by double digits.

No. 2 Ohio State (13–0) plays No. 3 Clemson (13–0) in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Az.

Both teams are led by highly recruited quarterbacks from Georgia. They were also finalists in the 2017 Elite 11 with Justin Fields finishing first and Trevor Lawrence finishing second.

Fields has thrown for almost 3,000 yards, 40 TD’s, 1 interception and his QBR is 92.4 (3rd). I must admit I’ve been labeled an ‘OSU hater’ by a friend of mine because I give an honest opinion of Fields and last year Dwayne Haskins.

I watch the Buckeyes regularly and notice that quarterbacks typically throw short passes like slants, screens and crossing routes. The receivers get massive yards after catch, which makes the QB’s stats look good.

Running back J.K. Dobbins has rushed for over 1,800 yards, 20 TD’s and he averages 6.5 ypc. The defense ranks second in total D.

Clemson is the defending national champion and they have been disrespected all year. Lawrence played poorly for the first month of the season with several multiple interception games. He finished the year with 8 picks but he improved.

Receiver Tee Higgins and running back Travis Etienne are going to be first round picks in this year’s draft. The Tigers defense is the best in the nation in total defense.

This should be a close game but Clemson will win. The Tigers of LSU and Clemson will meet in the national championship.

How The West Was Won

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Why don’t we take a look at the toughest division in all of College Football and that, my friends, is the SEC West.

Here are my SEC West Predictions for 2019:

Alabama 12-0: Tua will be the frontrunner for the Heisman, and Najee Harris may be the best overall running back in the SEC when it is said and done production wise.

The Alabama receiving corps with headlined by Jerry Jeudy are the best in college football.

Nick Saban is the best in the business, and the Tide has the best starting 22 players in the country.

LSU comes to Bryant-Denny, but dangerous road trips to Texas A&M and Auburn seem to be the only hurdles on the regular season slate. Alabama heads to Atlanta for another epic showdown with Georgia for the SEC Title.

LSU 9-3: Coach O has got the Tigers headed back in the right direction.

Joe Burrow is back under center for a second straight season. John Emery is coming in at running back, and LSU has the best defensive backfield in the conference.

With that said this team is not going to beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. A tough road game at Texas in week 2, and dangerous SEC road trips to Starkville and Oxford in mid-season. I think the Tigers drop one of those Magnolia State road trips.

Texas A&M 8-4: This schedule is brutal with the SEC West slate plus Clemson and Georgia. Is this team ready for primetime?

The Aggies lost their leader rusher and tackler from 2018. Is Kellen Mond an elite SEC QB? Jimbo Fisher is an elite coach, but it’s still too early to proclaim the Aggies as great in this division.

The Aggies will lose to Alabama and LSU in the West this year.

Auburn 8-4: Gus Malzahn is sitting on the hottest seat in the conference.

Who is going to be the starting QB? Will a running back up to Auburn historical standards surface? The front seven on defense will be solid and Derrick Brown may be the best defensive lineman in the conference.

Who knows about this team? Georgia and Alabama come to Jordan-Hare. Brutal schedule with the opener in Dallas against Oregon and a trip to Florida make it hard to predict big things for the Tigers in 2019 which usually means they play in the National Title game right?

A lot of questions right now in Auburn, Alabama. Gus is feeling the heat.

Ole Miss 8-4: This is my SEC West sleeper team. Yes, I see 8 wins on the schedule.

This team has some talent on offense with Matt Corral at QB. Ole Miss always has productive wide receivers. Can this defense hold up is the question?

I think the Rebels come back in 2019 after the probation period and go bowling.

Rich Rodriguez may have struggled as a head coach, but he is one of the best offensive coordinators in the business. This offense will cause problems in the SEC.

Mississippi State 6-6: The Bulldogs are going to struggle in 2019.

How do you lose three first round draft picks on defense from 2018 and improve on that side of the ball?

MSU gets in a bowl at 6-6 and the heat starts getting turned up on Joe Moorhead in 2020. Keytaon Thompson has talent at QB. The jury is out on the Bulldogs.

Arkansas 4-8: Chad Morris is in a total rebuild in Fayetteville.

It is going to take a couple more recruiting classes for Arkansas to be competitive again. Proud program that let a Big 10 coach come in and drive it over a cliff. Hog fans need to be patient with Chad Morris.

Bowl Teams: Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State

Division upset of the year: Ole Miss over LSU in Oxford on 11/16. LSU suffers a letdown after losing to Alabama on 11/9.

SEC Championship Game: Georgia over Alabama

SEC Best Basketball Conference In The Country

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

For years the SEC has been known as a football conference, and with good reason.

The start of the basketball season was just viewed as the beginning of the countdown until spring football games; each passing game meant fans were just one day closer to the start of the gridiron season.

Over the past few years SEC basketball has slowly crept up the rung of high powered basketball conferences. With four teams participating in this year’s Sweet Sixteen, they may have finally arrived.

I’ve joked in the past how outside of John Calipari the rest of the SEC had basically become the “Land of Misfit Coaches”. Names like Rick Barnes, Bruce Pearl, Tom Crean, and Ben Howland; all on their own personal reclamation journeys after being dismissed from more prestigious jobs.

While it’s still too early in Crean’s tenure at Georgia, the other hires have undoubtedly exceeded expectations. Throw in other coaches like Kermit Davis and Mike White, and suddenly the SEC coaching tree is as strong as any in the country.

(Up until a few weeks ago I would’ve included Will Wade on that list with Davis and White. I do think Wade is a good coach, but I’d be shocked if he coaches another game for LSU.)

The conferences strong showing in this year’s tournament, and the increasing possibility of having at least one Final Four team, can only bolster their upward projection.

Barnes’ Volunteers did their best to help run his consecutive tournament appearances without a trip to the Sweet Sixteen to eight, but low and behold they were able to break the streak. Now, they are probably the favorite to come out their region.

North Carolina is still the favorite to come out of the Midwest, but Auburn is as dangerous as any remaining team with their ability to stretch the floor and propensity for hitting the three.

Kentucky will need PJ Washington back in order for them to have any legitimate shot of beating Houston, and either UNC or Auburn. Still, that doesn’t mean the Wildcats will be a pushover.

And as a Duke fan, if the Blue Devils are lucky enough to get past Virginia Tech, I do not want any part of LSU. The Tigers, along with Tennessee, have arguably been the best team in the SEC this season.

My only concern for LSU entering the tournament was how they would handle all the off court distractions. After two good, but not overly impressive wins, I’m not sure they’ve quite answered that question yet. However, they are long, athletic, and talented enough to beat any one of the other remaining teams.

There was a four to five year span where SEC basketball consisted of Kentucky, and that was about it. The remainder of the league basically took turns at mediocrity, with the occasional surprise tournament run.

The SEC is still viewed as a step below conferences like the ACC and Big Ten when it comes to all around talent and depth, but they’ve made up a lot of ground in a short period of time.

The league may be full of coaches on their second or third chances, but they have all but turned the corner on being “reclamation projects”.

Basketball will never be as big as football in SEC country, but with some consistency and a few deep tournament runs, those three to four months may be actually be referred to as “basketball season” and not just “football’s offseason”.

The SEC Tournament

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Most people associate March Madness with the start of the NCAA Tournament, but for most teams the madness begins the week prior, with the conference tournaments.

You’ve got some teams whose only shot at making the big dance is by winning their conference championship. Then you have those lovely “bubble teams” that need to have an impressive showing to help sway the committee to include them. And finally, you have those teams that are safely in, but can improve their seeding with a few conference tournament wins. The SEC Tournament runs the whole gamut this year.

There are seven SEC teams entering the start of the conference tournament that need to win the whole thing in order to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

Out of those seven teams- South Carolina and the bottom six in the standings- if I had to pick one that could possibly make a run, I’d probably go with South Carolina. Not that I think they will do it, but if I had to choose a Jim Carrey “So you’re saying there’s a chance” team, it would be the Gamecocks.

The bubble teams get a little more interesting. Most bracketologists have Florida in, but I just don’t see it. Outside of their win against LSU, they don’t have another Top 25 win while having a few questionable losses.

They also have a worse conference record, and only more win, than a South Carolina team that beat the Gators in their only matchup, but isn’t even being considered to be a tournament team.

Ole Miss, and I guess to an extent, Auburn, are the other two that seem to be on the fringe. I think both of those have proven enough that even a first game exit shouldn’t prevent them from making the tournament. That said, getting a conference tournament win would solidify things a little more, especially for the team from Oxford.

Out of the “locks” Tennessee and Kentucky are playing for a possible one seed, but LSU is the team that intrigues me. With Will Wade’s indefinite suspension for what equates to a seven year old telling his teacher he isn’t chewing gum only to have the gum fly out of his mouth, how will the Tigers adjust?

They are deserving of a two seed, regardless of how they perform in the SEC tournament, but if they lose their first game would the committee downgrade them to a three seed?

The committee has shown in the past they do take player injuries and player availability into consideration when seeding; it’s not beyond the realm of possibility they could do the same thing if a team’s coach has been suspended due to recruiting violations.

As for that one seed battle between Kentucky and Tennessee, I think it depends on how Duke performs in the ACC tournament.

Gonzaga, Virginia, and UNC are all but guaranteed a one seed; if the Blue Devils were to win the ACC with a healthy Zion, I don’t think you can keep them from a one seed, either. If not, it’ll be between the Volunteers and Wildcats for that final coveted spot.

The casual fan won’t start tuning in until next week, which is a shame. For many teams their NCAA tournament has begun.

The buzzer beaters, the joy, the tears, all those things are already taking place in conference tournaments. March madness is here. Let the fun begin.