SEC Sports Line

SEC Football and Basketball from a Fan's-Eye View

New Official SEC Website

Posted by secsportsline on September 1, 2009

The SEC has launched a new and MUCH improved version of www.secsports.com.  Throughout the season, each SEC football game will be loaded onto the site for free viewing by 11:30 PM CST. 

This is just the latest in a string of successful efforts by the conference to improve their fan-friendliness, media accessibility, and openness to online avenues of promotion from streaming video to Twitter and Facebook.  Kudos to the SEC for making some much-needed improvements.

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SEC’s Most Underrated: Malcolm Sheppard

Posted by secsportsline on August 31, 2009

Senior Arkansas DT Malcolm Sheppard is a big guy at 6-2, 295.  But he is not that huge for an SEC defensive tackle, and last season he weighed in at a mere 277 lbs as a junior.  Whatever he tips the scales at, Sheppard is an anchor for a belabored Arkansas defense that certainly needs one.

Sheppard was named Captain for the second consecutive year in this season’s fall camp, the first Arkansas player to have this two-time honor since 1958.  The other defensive captains were DE Adrian Davis and MLB Wendel Davis.

Sheppard gathered an impressive 16 tackles for loss last season, finishing second in the SEC in that statistic.  His 7.5 sacks were the most by any defensive tackle in the SEC last year.

While Sheppard was named one of the 40 interior linemen on the Outland Trophy Watch list, after being named to the watchlist for the Bednarik Award.  So it’s not fair to say he is being underrated by the very knowledgable position experts at a national level.  But amongst SEC fans, he has not gotten the respect he deserves.  Maybe it’s because of Arkansas’ weakness as a team, which was exemplified by a three week stretch in which the Hogs were outscored 139-31 by Alabama, Texas, and Florida.  Maybe it’s because he is overshadowed by All-SEC first team DLs Terrence Cody, Greg Hardy, and Carlos Dunlap — who coincedentially play for the 3 top-ranked teams in the SEC.

Arkansas returns 8 defensive starters this year and promises to show much improvement.  With Ryan Mallett coming in to replace Casey Dick at QB, the offense may also prove more potent.  If Arkansas is the SEC’s surprise team of the year, maybe Sheppard will get the All-SEC first-team treatment that he deserves.

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Week One Preview: Warmup Games

Posted by secsportsline on August 31, 2009

In a time-honored tradition, several SEC schools this year will be scheduling football games against Division 1AA (err, I mean “championship division”) teams in week one.  Some say they do this because the SEC schedule is already so tough, others say it’s a good intermediate between scrimmages and “real” in-season games.  Others, such as Michigan, say that it’s sometimes a mistake.  Whatever it is, here are some quick previews of these games in week one of the 2009 SEC football season.

Missouri State at Arkansas

Speaking of Michigan, transfer Ryan Mallett is a talent who should be a substantial upgrade over Casey Dick in Bobby Petrino’s pass-heavy offensive scheme.  Arkansas was 2nd in the SEC in passing last year, but at the cost of the SEC’s #10 running game and an abysmal 3.83 sacks allowed per game — 118th in D1A football.  The defense was similarly poor, with the conference’s worst marks in both total (yardage) defense and scoring defense, and the second-to-worst mark in turnover margin.  Missouri State will be a nice warmup game before Arkansas takes a bye in week 2.  Focus on the Arkansas offensive line as they attempt to do a much better job of establishing a running game and protecting the Razorbacks’ new asset at QB.

Charleston Southern at Florida

Florida returns 18 starters from a National Championship team.  Their last two games were the BCS title game against Oklahoma and the SEC title game against then #1 ranked Alabama.  Count on Tebow playing at least half of the season opener, even if he has to get a painkiller high to do it.  Percy Harvin is the notable departure, but when you return 18 starters from a team whose “letdown” week was a 1 point loss to the eventual Cotton Bowl champion, you are not worried about Charleston Southern.  There are still some questions about the starting offensive line that must be answered in week one, but there will be no upset in this game.

Jackson State at Mississippi State

The Mississippi State Bulldogs are rebuilding building from scratch yet again.  Dan Mullen is installing the spread offense, and a first week tune-up is just what you need when bringing a new offense to a team coming off of a very disappointing season.  Jackson State will make a reasonable opponent — they are expected to compete for the SWAC championship and can put alot of speed on the field.  While the focus will be on the offense, look for defensive standouts such as Jamar Chaney, KJ Wright, and Kyle Love to show their talent as the program looks to get its new coach off to a great start.

Western Kentucky at Tennessee

Western Kentucky, still in the process of transitioning to Division 1A after 12 straight winning seasons in the Championship Subdivision, lost all 10 of their games against FBS opponents.  Tennessee, off of a 5-7 season, brings in the controversial Lane Kiffin along with one of football’s defensive masterminds and a stable of talented running backs.  Tennessee maximizes their chances of winning by running the ball down the Hilltoppers’ throats, but once a win is in hand, WKU’s back 7 should provide a challenge for the Vol passing game to hone its skills.  WKU will be one of the worst offensive teams in the country this year, and expect Kiffin Sr.’s defense to have their eye on a shutout.  Tennessee opens as a 29.5 point favorite with an over/under of 44.  I may take Tennessee and the Under, with a pretty strong conviction that the Vols will keep WKU at or under 14 points.

Western Carolina at Vanderbilt

The big question for the Commodores to answer after last season’s bowl win is whether the offense will improve.  Coach Bobby Johnson has installed a no-huddle spread offense, and all 5 starting offensive linemen return, along with RB Jared Hawkins.  The missing ingredient last year was at the quarterback position, which is why the Music City Bowl turned into a 3-QB sideshow in which half of Vanderbilt’s scoring offense was directly attributable to the punter and punt coverage team.  There has been no official announcement yet, so while most Vanderbilt faithful expect RS-Soph Larry Smith to take the reins, we may not know the starting QB’s name until he takes his first snap.  The passing game will be the focus for the Commodores not only due to the new QB and new system, but also because of the wide receiver corps.  After graduating George Smith and Sean Walker, and losing talented transwer Terrence Jeffers to academic ineligibility, Vanderbilt will need to find 6 or more WRs to rotate through their uptempo season.  Alex Washington, Udom Umoh, and converted TE Justin Green are among the best VU options at the position.

That about covers it for these games.  Except for the Vols’ opener, there are no point spreads availible.  I expect the SEC to hold steady in these games (hence the short, grouped preview), but the most dramatic game of this group may be MSU’s if Jackson State brings its best effort, as presumptive SWAC-East champs.

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SEC Growing Media-Savvy?

Posted by secsportsline on August 28, 2009

The SEC has significantly revised its media policy.  As I blogged a few posts ago, the SEC’s deal with ESPN has been paying off already — maybe this is another sign that the SEC is becoming more media savvy.  Some of the key changes:

  • Newspapers and TV stations can produce posteason specials without paying licensing fees.
  • Unlimited blogging and social networking during live game coverage.

This is not groundbreaking on its own, but I’m glad to see the conference under the leadership of Mike Slive continue to cultivate positive relationships with the media.  As long as the media has the power to manipulate the national title game, it is important that the SEC continue to develop its relationship with the powers that be in order to avoid another undefeated SEC team getting the shaft when it comes to the BCS.

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SEC’s Most Underrated: Carlton Thomas

Posted by secsportsline on August 28, 2009

UGA’s running game is expected to be led by sophomores Caleb King and Richard Samuel.  But all indications are that there will be many carries to go around.  King has suffered a hamstring injury in camp, after an early season-ending injury last fall.  Georgia’s quarterback position is a questionmark, leading many to believe that they will lean heavily upon their stable of talent at RB.  Why shouldn’t they, with all five starters on the OL returning to open up bigger holes than Knowshon Moreno enjoyed in the 2008 campaign.

That is where Carlton Thomas enters the picture:

gafoot.0412

Carlton Thomas is not only known for his footspeed, but for his pass catching ability.  A threat in open space, Thomas is a great compliment to the bruising style of starter Richard Samuel.

This runningback by committee approach is not new to UGA, nor to the SEC.  In 2005, UGA won the SEC title with three tailbacks (Brown, Ware, and Lumpkin) splitting carries. 

When Caleb King returns, expect Thomas to retain his spot as change-of-pace back and to be worked into passing situations.  This was the mentality before King was injured, as the AJC reports

In UGA’s second scrimmage, Thomas iced his position as a member of the tailback rotation with a 6 carry, 90 yard effort.  Coach Mark Richt heaped the praise on his 5’8″, 178 pound freshman:

“He’s an every down back… We don’t look at him as only a third down guy. He can play first, second, third down. We wouldn’t pigeon hole him into a situational back. People said that about Warrick Dunn when we were at Florida State.”

If Richt is right, and Thomas grows into UGA’s Warrick Dunn this season, he could prove to be the most underrated tailback in the SEC.

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SEC’s Most Underrated: Jamar Chaney

Posted by secsportsline on August 27, 2009

Mississippi State’s Jamar Chaney has the chance to be one of the SEC’s biggest comeback stories of 2009.  An all-conference talent at linebacker, his broken ankle in last year’s season opener against Louisiana Tech put a very early end to what would have been his senior season.

Chaney is a preseason 2nd team All-SEC selection, making him a bit of a stretch for a “most underrated” list.  One thing that makes him underrated is his veteran leadership in MSU’s lockerroom.  As one of the best players from the Bulldogs’ 2007 Bowl-winning team, and one who was sorely missed during last year’s disappointing 4-8 season, the new coaching staff will rely on Chaney to be a point of continuity linking the younger players to MSU’s most successful season in quite some time.

chaney

 

ESPN’s Chris Low reports that Chaney is back faster and stronger than ever before.  “Coach (Matt) Balis (the Bulldogs’ strength coach) has me in the best shape of my life, and Coach (Carl) Torbush is the best linebacker coach I’ve had and the best defensive coordinator I’ve had. I’m happy where I’m at. I’m happy with the career I’ve had, and I’m happy with how it’s going to end.”

The stats tell the story of Jamar’s last healthy season of football.  Leading his team in tackles with 89 allowed him to make a decisive impact on the Bulldogs’ interior defense despite his lack of forced turnovers.  In his fifth year at Mississippi State, and with a new coaching staff preaching aggressive defense, expect even more out of Jamar in 2009.

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SEC’s most underrated: Ryan Hamilton

Posted by secsportsline on August 27, 2009

Leading up to this year’s football season, SEC Sports Line would like to highlight some underappreciated players and units in the conference.  “Most Underrated” has always seemed like “Jumbo Shrimp” to me, so I’ll avoid singling out one player as THE most underrated. 
With that said, Vanderbilt safety Ryan Hamilton is clearly one of the most underappreciated defensive players in the SEC.  Left out of the All-SEC preseason teams, Hamilton is one of two veteran starters returning from last year’s stifling Vanderbilt secondary.
Ryan Hamilton: Vandy's Ballhawk Free Safety

Ryan Hamilton: Vandy's Ballhawk Free Safety

Ryan Hamilton led Vanderbilt’s secondary and was third overall on the team with 51 solo tackles and 104 total tackles.  Four year starter Rashard Langford was 2nd in the secondary with 76.  Despite those impressive stats Ryan’s crucial contributions came in creating turnovers.  With three fumble recoveries and four interceptions, he tied with now Chicago Bear D.J. Moore with seven turnovers collected on the season.
Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead is all too familiar with Hamilton’s gamechanging ability.  On their way to a groundbreaking season in the post-Manning era, in which they worked their way to an early win over once-defeated Florida and a Bowl victory over an offensively dynamic Texas Tech squad, Hamilton proved to be an obstacle in the Rebels’ path.  With Ole Miss up 10-0 in the 1st quarter and threatening to dominate the game, Hamilton returns an interception for a 79-yard touchdown.  His second interception, in the second quarter, led to a fieldgoal which knotted up the score at 17-17 at the half.  He stopped an Ole Miss running play behind the line of scrimmage on 4th and 1 to start off the second half, recovered an Ole Miss fumble on a punt return, and finally intercepted Jevan Snead’s final pass of the game to ice an upset win for the Commodores.
With Ole Miss earning a preseason top 10 ranking, and visiting Nashville in Week 5 as Vanderbilt’s first true home test of the season, Coach Bobby Johnson will be counting on more heroics from Hamilton and other playmakers on the Vanderbilt defense to keep one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks in check.  Hamilton is a player with the experience and ability to play himself into the postseason All-SEC team, even though he was overlooked for the preseason nod.

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SEC Weekly on ESPN-U

Posted by secsportsline on August 26, 2009

ESPNUDon’t miss SEC Weekly on ESPN when it debuts at 4:30 PM tomorrow (Thursday).  The first show features Lane Kiffin, Joe Cox, and profiles of Herschel Walker and a UGA women’s soccer player named Carrie Patterson.

ESPN’s contract with the SEC is already starting to pay off.  Although a midday slot on ESPN-U won’t offer a ton of extra exposure to non-SEC fans, it does offer a chance for diehards to get a bit of extra coverage as we approach football season.

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Tim Tebow has been Injured since Birth

Posted by secsportsline on August 26, 2009

Tim Tebow let the Orlando Journal-Sentinel in on a little secret — his success on the football field has been despite a laundry list of injuries that would have killed a mere mortal.

Tebow’s offseason surgery corrected a bone spur which had evidently been ailing him since the Hawaii game.  That’s right, the first game of the 2008 season.  As if to help guide Florida beat writers to the real story here, Tebow continues “I broke my hand against FSU, that hurt some… In high school when I broke my leg playing on that, that hurt a lot. The shoulder, played with that all last year. Did that in the Hawaii game. Didn’t have surgery until the end of the year. That’s football.”

What is the reaction that Florida fans should have to this?  Excitement about how good a healthy Tebow can be?  Fear that, like Henry Rowengardner in Rookie of the Year, his talent will evaporate without some bizarre injury or another effecting him.

No, there is not much room for Tebow to improve just because he’s healthy — he is already a Heisman winner and national champion.  The real story here is that Tim Tebow was evidently so wrapped up in his love for the game (and just maybe a desire to accumulate some Heisman-worthy stats) that he was unwilling to take a game off.  Maybe, say, against The Citadel?  Or maybe he didn’t need to be running the ball with a 49-3 lead over Kentucky in the 2nd half?

If I’m a Gator fan (and I’m not), I would hope that if Tebow has to take a cortisone shot to take the field against FIU on 11/21, he makes the smart call and just doesn’t take the field at all.

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