VOL. 129 | NO. 234 | Tuesday, December 2, 2014
College Football Notebook
SEC Title Game One Chapter in Great Season
By Don Wade
In this, the last of the season’s weekly college football notebooks, we take a quick spin around the SEC now that the regular season is finished.
SEC championship game: Sure, a lot of people picked Alabama to be in next Saturday’s game at the Georgia Dome. But be honest now, did you have their lone loss coming at Ole Miss? No, didn’t think so.
Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper (9) scores a 75-yard touchdown reception as Auburn defensive back Jonathon Mincy (6) attempts to tackle him during Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
(AP Photo/The Montgomery Advertiser, Albert Cesare)
And you certainly didn’t have Missouri returning for a second straight season as the champion of the East Division. And losing a nonconference home game along the way to Indiana.
“We want people to respect this Tiger on our shirt and Mizzou,” said Missouri DE Markus Golden.
Of course they do. But the guess here is Alabama wins by at least 20 points. The Auburn team, despite its 8-4, 4-4 record, that Alabama beat 55-44 in the Iron Bowl, is superior to the Missouri squad (10-2, 7-1) that Alabama will face Saturday.
National title hopes: After a season full of scenarios that had two SEC teams making the first four-team College Football Playoff – and some of these even had both Ole Miss and Mississippi State in them (no harm in dreaming) – only Alabama at 11-1 is in position to make the playoff.
If Alabama can go all the way, winning the SEC title game and then twice in the playoff, they will have won four national championships in six years under coach Nick Saban. That would mean another number change on the side of the Alabama helmet – from 15 to 16, symbolizing all the national championships claimed in school history.
Amari Cooper SEC’s last Heisman Trophy hopeful: Talk of Georgia running back Todd Gurley as a Heisman contender seems like ancient history. So, too, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott.
That leaves Cooper as the SEC’s lone contender. The Alabama wideout set an Iron Bowl record with 224 receiving yards on 13 catches with three touchdowns. Cooper has a league-leading 1,573 receiving yards on 103 catches with 14 touchdowns. Not to mention the ability to take over a game.
During one of his TD catches in the Auburn game, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin saw Cooper was getting one-on-one coverage. Kiffin raised his hands in a touchdown signal on the sideline – before quarterback Blake Sims even threw the ball.
Tennessee going bowling: A 24-17 victory over a horrific Vanderbilt team that went winless in the SEC does not entitle the Vols to a parade. But getting to 6-6 made the Vols bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010 and they stopped a two-game losing streak to the Commodores.
Even though none of their three league victories came against teams with winning records (South Carolina finished 6-6, Kentucky 5-7 and Vandy 3-9), UT did make a modest, but crucial, move forward.
“A stepping stone for this program,” quarterback Joshua Dobbs said.
“It rewards everyone for their resiliency, particularly our seniors,” second-year coach Butch Jones said. “This will be their first bowl game.”
Razorback rebound: Arkansas (6-6, 2-6) shut out LSU and Ole Miss and then pushed Missouri before losing 21-14 last Saturday. The Hogs also lost 14-13 to Alabama and 17-10 to Mississippi State.
When the conversation turns to the depth of the SEC, Arkansas offers compelling evidence it is the best .500 team in the nation.
“I’d put our 6-6 football team against anybody,” said second-year coach Bret Bielema.
Mississippi bragging rights: Once upon a time, Ole Miss was 7-0 and was dreaming the biggest dreams. Then came three conference losses before beating Mississippi State 31-17 to finish 9-3 and 5-3.
It was a redemption game for quarterback Bo Wallace because of losing the Egg Bowl last season, and because his fingerprints were on those earlier losses.
“I knew this game would define my legacy,” Wallace said. “I had to win this game to be remembered like I want.”
The Bulldogs, of course, were clinging to faint hopes of making the College Football Playoff if they could beat the Rebels, and get help from Auburn, and then win the SEC title game. None of it happened.
But they still finished 10-2 and 6-2, and it was the first time they had won 10 regular-season games in program history.
“This is as tough as it gets,” Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said moments after the loss. “I do not care about the stakes. It is the most important game we play.”
Bigger picture, Mullen rejected the notion that this season was a program outlier.
“I do not plan on this team being a one-hit wonder,” Mullen said.