ALDLAND goes live to the Battle of Athens

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We will be in Sanford Stadium tomorrow when Vanderbilt, based in Nashville (i.e., the Athens of the South), faces Georgia, based in Athens, in a game that will decide which city will retain its Southern Athenian identity and, maybe, third place in the SEC East.

Thus far, this season has been a disappointment for both schools, but tomorrow’s game should at least allow fans a nice look at each team’s stars. For Georgia, that means the return of the combined running attack of Nick Chubb and Sony Michele. For Vanderbilt, it means the return of the SEC rushing leader, Ralph Webb, who, I am told, will play tomorrow after suffering an injury during last week’s loss at Kentucky.

The star power of Webb distracts from the Black & Gold’s numerous deficiencies and, in some sense, Webb reminds me of Earl Bennett, a Vandy wide receiver who, ten years ago, became the SEC all-time reception leader. Following the exciting and brief James Franklin era, the Commodores have regressed under Derek Mason to a team reminiscent of those overseen by Bobby Johnson: above-average defense that worked hard to keep the team in games while the offense, with its lone leader (then Bennett, now Webb) tried to keep pace on the scoreboard until the overworked defense eventually gave out and the opposing team ran away with the game. Mason and his assistants have better resumes than Johnson and his assistants did, but the results have been the same.

During the last ten years, though, Vanderbilt has played Georgia close and even stolen a few wins. Those have tended to come in home games for the Commodores, though; the Dawgs typically have routed them in Athens. Vanderbilt nevertheless goes on the road tomorrow in search of its first conference win of 2016. Kickoff is at noon on SEC Network, and we’ll be there. Follow along here for live updates.

2016 College Football Kickoff: Vanderbilt in search of hope and change in opener

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Once again, the Vanderbilt Commodores will help open up the college football season, this year by hosting the South Carolina Gamecocks tonight at 8:00 pm on ESPN, and they’ll be looking to exorcise some debut demons.

Vandy played in the first Thursday night season opener back in 2012, which also saw them playing the Gamecocks in Nashville. Vanderbilt lost that game, 17-13, as the result of a very bad officiating call, although they missed opportunities to secure a victory for themselves. The Commodores were part of the opening Thursday night in 2013 as well, again losing by four at home, this time to Ole Miss. They nevertheless were called upon again in 2014 to play on the first Thursday, losing so badly at home to Temple, 37-7, that I and a significant majority of our readers wondered whether VU should fire then-first-year coach Derek Mason. Vandy didn’t fire Mason, and the NCAA didn’t fire Vandy from the season-opening Thursday slot, where they again appeared in 2015, hosting Western Kentucky. That was a stupid game the Commodores lost by two points.

Which brings us back to tonight. Vanderbilt is seeking its first opening Thursday win in Nashville, and they’ll have to beat South Carolina, their original opponent in this series of sorts, to do so. The SEC Network’s analysts, including former Vandy QB and Bachelorette star Jordan Rodgers, predict a win this evening. They also predict a 5-1 start and a 7-5 overall record, though, which some may take as a sign of excessive optimism.

At this point, VU fans have every reason to expect a disaster in this game, but I think it’s fair to expect that Mason, in his third year in Nashville, will have his team better prepared to start this season than the Gamecocks under new coach Will Muschamp. One of these teams is going to secure an SEC win in the first week of the season, and, in my estimation, it’ll be the Commodores. Paul Finebaum agrees. If you want to place a bet, maybe take the under– it’s tough to envision these two teams combining for more than forty-two points.

Football: America’s Sport

Everyone knows that football, even college football, is all about the money. The SEC finally figured it out with their own TV network. Heck, even the Northwestern football players themselves figured it out.

What makes any sport America’s sport? Football often requires the word “American” in front of it to differentiate it from the football that the rest of the world knows. What about an option for enterprise? In major league sports, players, coaches, and the media all make buckets of money, but not the players in college football. Until recently.

Let’s take a step back. Imagine needing a source of cash flow and having some experience with the collegiate football process, but not enough skills (or motivation) to necessarily get hired anywhere as a coach or athletic director. Where is there an open source of money to be made? Well, there are those games where one team plays another of a vastly inferior caliber and division and pays that team for the right to lay the smack down. The lower tier conferences and divisions don’t rake in the cash like the top tier leagues do, so they are happy to take a loss for the money before going back to playing teams their own size (North Dakota State aside). Who is to stop me from making my own football “team” made up of eleven dropouts and getting paid to get smashed to bits every single week? Everyone else is raking in the dough in this industry, why not me?

What sentiment could be more American than that?

Of course, no legitimate team would schedule such a disreputable opponent, and there must be rules against that sort of thing, right?

The frontline journalists at reddit‘s college football discussion group, /r/cfb, uncovered just such an enterprise. User Honestly_ posted his/her findings yesterday. The post and many of the top comments are worth reading, but I will summarize a few of the highlights here.   Continue reading

Book Review: Paul Finebaum’s Conference has Beaten Your Conference (Probably)

IMG-20140814-00138For someone who spends twenty hours a week on national airwaves as the host of an eponymous radio show, now simulcast on cable television, and makes regular television appearances on a major network, Paul Finebaum sure does manage to keep himself hidden.

I am not a longtime listener of Finebaum’s show by any means. I first remember hearing about him when I moved back to SEC country during the 2012 football season and he was still broadcasting on Birmingham’s WJOX. Due largely to my own preconceived misconceptions, I was surprised when I first heard the show following its move to ESPN Radio in 2013 to find that it was an extremely caller-driven show, to the point where Finebaum rarely asserted his own voice for purposes other than briefly sparring with or otherwise egging on his admittedly bombastic callers. At that time, the majority of those callers remained Alabama-based, and the Alabama-Auburn football rivalry served as nearly every item on the host’s go-to menu.

While a lot of this struck me as fairly standard cheap talk radio tactics, I remained intrigued by this person, who had risen to such prominence and reported influence, despite, I thought, hardly taking active steps to exert much in the way of influence. I therefore read the then-recent and still-surprising long feature on Finebaum in The New Yorker with great interest and anticipation. I found the piece to be more an introduction for Manhattanites to the other SEC and its attendant culture than a deep dive on Finebaum himself. Finebaum as access point, rather than Finebaum as subject. (A long Deadspin feature from the same year had a similar effect.) It’s a worthwhile read if you like college football. Still, I did not feel like I knew or understood this man, though, or why he was so widely regarded.

Fast forward (the lazy blogger wrote) to August 14, 2014. The SEC Network, an ESPN entity, launches (on Tim Tebow’s birthday, naturally), and Finebaum’s book, My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football, arrived in my mailbox.

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