Sunday, September 29, 2013

College Football: Five Weeks In

Five weeks into the college football season, we have seen enough games that we can now arrive at informed opinions.

I could go on at length about why I have come to believe that although the SEC remains the best conference from top to bottom, there is a better chance of a Pac-12 team winning the national championship that there is of an SEC team pulling it off...Or why I believe Johnny Manziel is still the nation's best player, and still the faraway favorite in the Hesiman race unless something colossal happens to change the landscape...Or how this year's Auburn team, the first in the Gus Malzahn era, reminds me of the ones that opened the Pat Dye era.

But I don't feel like writing a whole lot today, so I will just toss those nuggets out there without any elaboration -- and go on to say that based on what has happened so far this season, this is the Stanton's Space Top Twenty:

1.    Alabama
2.    Stanford
3.    Oregon
4.    Clemson
5.    Ohio State
6.    Georgia
7.    Louisville
8.    Florida State
9.    LSU
10.  Texas A&M
11.  UCLA
12.  Oklahoma
13.  South Carolina
14.  Northwestern
15.  Miami
16.  Washington
17.  Virginia Tech
18.  Florida
19.  Ole Miss
20.  Michigan

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumn Equinox

Some thoughts about autumn on this, its first day:

I love stepping outside on that first morning that fall’s nip is in the air.

I love how changing leaves turn Appalachian mountainsides into fiery palettes of orange, red, and gold.

I love driving winding roads through those mountains, catching glimpse after glimpse of falling leaves as they twirl their way to the ground.

I love cold nights marked by the scent of campfire and the sound of wind in the trees.

I love watching my daughter skip through the pumpkin patch looking for the perfect one to bring home.

I love walking behind her as she trick-or-treats on Halloween night.

I love pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day, and how it sets the ideal tone to start the Christmas season.

I love watching flocks of birds land in Florida at the end of their migration, while others keep flying to points further south.

And last but not least, I love football, especially college games where the fans are loud and the bands are blaring…and most of all, where Auburn is winning and the fight song you keep hearing begins with the line: “War Eagle, fly down the field, ever to conquer, never to yield!”

Friday, September 20, 2013

Strap 'em up

Saturday night will bring this year's installment of one of the most underrated rivalries in college football.

It's understandable that no one thinks of Auburn-LSU as being in the same league as the big rivalry games that close out each season -- games like Auburn-Alabama, Michigan-Ohio State, and Florida-Florida State. But when it comes to mid-season barnburners, it is not understandable why so many people fail to put Auburn-LSU in the same category as classics like Florida-Georgia, Michigan-Notre Dame, and Washington-Oregon.

The two schools are high profile members of America's strongest conference; play in the same division within that conference; frequently contend for its championship; and in many seasons contend for the national championship.

Auburn and LSU have staged some of the most heated games in the entire sport over the last generation, many of which have been marked by the kind of weird happenstances that make sports appealing. Some of the happenstances are so unique that the games are known more for them than for who won.

Below are my favorite battles between the Auburn Tigers and LSU Tigers that I have witnessed with my own eyes, whether from the stands or from my couch. Rather than artificially limit the list to a "top three" or "top five," I am simply giving my favorites. Rather than undertake the impossible task of ranking them first, second, etc., I am listing them chronologically. And just to show off my fair-mindedness, I am even including ones that Auburn didn't win! Here goes:

1988:  LSU 7, Auburn 6
aka "The Earthquake Game" - 25 years ago, defenses were allowed to ply their trade with ferocity and low-scoring games were some of the most exciting around. On an intense night in Baton Rouge, two punishing defenses put the clamps on the opposing offenses for most of the night and Auburn was ahead 6-0 in the final two minutes.

Then LSU made it halfway into the red zone...Then, in classic style, Auburn bowed up, became seemingly impenetrable, and forced LSU into a 4th-and-10 at the 11-yard-line -- only to end up on the wrong side of destiny when Tommy Hodson completed a touchdown pass to Eddie Fuller in the back of the end zone...When Fuller caught the ball, the roar from the crowd was so loud that its vibrations set off a seismograph in the school's Geology Department. Hence the nickname.

1989:  Auburn 10, LSU 6
aka "We Owe You, LSU" - One year later, that is what was emblazoned on the gameday shirts sold at Tiger Rags, which were everywhere on Auburn's campus as the afternoon kickoff approached. When it arrived, the teams embarked on a near mirror image of the Earthquake Game. The defenses again controlled the action but this time it was LSU holding a slim, 6-3 lead in the fourth quarter. Despite gaining more yardage, Auburn had been unable to get an upper hand in field position thanks to the booming punts of  LSU's Rene Bourgeois.

Midway through the fourth, Shayne Wasden turned the tables by fielding a Bourgeois punt and dodging an early wave of tacklers, then turning upfield and racing 33 yards before being brought down. With good field position finally in hand, Auburn marched to the end zone in five plays, the most notable of which was a 31-yard strike from Reggie Slack to tight end Victor Hall. Stacy Danley powered over the goal line from a yard out with 6:07 remaining and the defense made the lead hold up.

It might not have been the most entertaining contest in the series, but it was a nail-biter that featured an extremely high level of play -- and as an out of state freshman, it was the first game I ever attended at hallowed Jordan-Hare Stadium.

1994:  Auburn 30, LSU 26
aka "The Interception Game" - With a score like that, this had to be a showdown filled with prolific offense, right? Wrong. What makes it a classic is that all 30 of Auburn's points were scored by their defense: a safety, a fumble recovery in the end zone for one touchdown, and interception returns for the other three touchdowns. The three pick-sixes alone make it a classic oddity, for with twelve minutes remaining LSU had the ball, was ahead 23-9, and Auburn hadn't put together a drive all afternoon. Then, inexplicability ensued.

Jamie Howard threw over the middle and was picked off by Ken Alvis, who returned it 41 yards to the house to give the other Tigers a shot of hope...One minute later Howard was picked off again, this time by Fred Smith, who ran it back 32 yards and suddenly the game was tied at 23...LSU then went on a long, clock-consuming drive that ended with a field goal to put them back up 26-23, after which Auburn went three and out and LSU took over with 3:42 remaining...Apparently having learned nothing from the three preceding series, they went right back to the passing game. This time Howard threw into triple coverage, the ball was tipped, and Brian Robinson plucked it from the air and raced to the end zone for the winning score.

The oddness wasn't over yet, however. LSU drove to the Auburn 25, from which Howard again threw into triple coverage and was intercepted by Robinson...During his return, Robinson was stripped of the ball and LSU recovered at midfield to give themselves one more chance...But of course, Howard through yet another interception, this time in the end zone to Chris Shelling.

1996:  LSU 19, Auburn 15
aka "The Barn Fire Game" - If LSU could gift a game to Auburn with mindless interceptions in 1994, the refs could gift one to LSU two years later. An Auburn receiver (I think it was Karsten Bailey) was clearly inbounds when he hauled in a would-be touchdown in the east end zone, but the zebras said he was not. ESPN sideline reporter Kellen Winslow stood over the spot with cameras rolling and pointed at the divot left in the turf by the receiver's foot, referring to it as "real evidence" because there was considerable pristine space between it and the sideline.

LSU fans will say that call did not necessarily determine the outcome because it happened in the middle of the game, and will instead claim that a frenetic turn in the final 38 seconds was the decisive moment. That was when Auburn, trailing 17-9, pulled within 17-15 on a TD run by Rusty Williams. They went for two to tie it up, but Raion Hill intercepted Jon Cooley's pass and returned it all the way, which gave the two points to the Bayou Bengals instead of the hometown Tigers.

In any event, few people mention either of those things when they talk about this one. What they remember is that a plume of black smoke billowed over the west end zone in the first half and caused some to wonder if the stadium was on fire. It was another structure across the street that was going up in flames: the antiquated Auburn Sports Arena, affectionately dubbed "The Barn" because of its woodenness and shape. It housed basketball games in days of yore and in more recent decades had been home to the women's gymnastics team. I used to walk past it on my way to class, turn my head to see through its open doors, and steal glimpses of the gymnasts practicing in their leotards. Sadly, the old barn passed into the pages of history before this game reached halftime, and the cause of the blaze remains unsolved.

1997:  Auburn 31, LSU 28
aka "The No Name Game" - A moniker has not been given to this one because it contained no weirdness or singular play on which to hang your naming hat. Nevertheless, it belongs on any list of outstanding games because it was chock full of wild momentum swings and it ranks as one of the most crisply played SEC battles I have ever watched.

Defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland bulldozed his way into the Auburn backfield all night long, but couldn't stop quarterback Dameyune Craig from finding receivers downfield at key moments. Craig finished 23 of 45 for 342 yards and two touchdowns. Rusty Williams's one-yard TD run with 30 seconds left secured the win and exorcised the ghosts of his non-tying touchdown in The Barn Fire Game.

2004:  Auburn 10, LSU 9
aka "The Game of Kicks" - LSU was the defending national champion, and though nobody knew it at the time, Auburn was embarking on a 13-0 season that was one of the greatest in recent college football history. The Bayou Bengals led 9-3 for much of the day and would have been up 10-3 if their kicker hadn't missed an extra point. Late in the game, QB Jason Campbell led Auburn on a 60-yard, 12-play, 5-minute drive that culminated with him finding Courtney Taylor along the baseline of the end zone for a perfect 16-yard scoring strike with 1:14 left.

Because John Vaughn was the torch-bearer in an Auburn streak of 190 consecutive extra points without a miss, it seemed like a sure bet that AU was about to go up 10-9, but his kick sailed wide left and the crowd at Jordan-Hare was stunned silent. The silence was temporary, however, for LSU's Ronnie Purdue had come across the line early and committed a personal foul, so Vaughn's miss didn't count. Given a second chance, he put it through the uprights and the blue-and-orange-clad Tigers prevailed by one.

2005:  LSU 20, Auburn 17 (Double OT)
aka "The John Vaughn Game" - Vaughn narrowly missed being a goat on his home turf in 2004, but could not escape being one on the road in 2005. All you need to know is this: Auburn lost by one field goal, and he missed five...Had he made just one of the four he missed in regulation, this game never would have gone to overtime; and to make matters worse, he missed what would have been a game-winning field goal in the first OT...Auburn fans everywhere (including yours truly) called for his head and eight years later remember him only as a choker, which might not be fair when you consider that he graduated as the program's all-time leading scorer. Perhaps his gravestone should read: "If Only I Didn't Have To Play LSU."

2007:  LSU 30, Auburn 24
aka "The Fourth Down Game" -
LSU was widely considered the best team in the nation and was on its way to winning its second national title in five seasons. Auburn was a good team slugging through a mid-season slump, and was determined to reverse its course in the hostile environment of Baton Rouge. Against the expectations of all outsiders, Auburn hung tough and went ahead 24-23 in the fourth quarter, only to see LSU reach the Auburn 22 -- well within field goal range -- with eight seconds left and a timeout to burn.

Everyone who despises Les Miles's tendency to do foolish things and get away with it gnashed their teeth at what happened next. Rather than use the timeout to bring out the kicking team for a practically guaranteed win, he chose to call another offensive play and run the risk of the clock expiring if it didn't work -- except it did work, as Matt Flynn connected with Demetrius Boyd on a perfectly executed fade pass in the corner of the end zone.

2010:  Auburn 24, LSU 17
aka "The Heisman Game" - I have not heard anyone besides me refer to this as "the Heisman Game," but everyone knows it is what established Cam Newton as the can't-be-stopped front-runner for the trophy when he pulled off this run. Keep in mind that that is future NFL All-Pro Patrick Peterson he drags into the end zone at the end.

More importantly, this game solidified Auburn's standing as a national title contender, and as everyone knows they went on to win the national championship with a 14-0 record. As dazzling as Newton's touchdown was, Onterio McCalebb's winning score on a 70-yard explosion with five minutes remaining is remembered just as fondly. You can watch it here by fast-forwarding to the 2:05 mark.

On the face of things, LSU appears to be quite the better team this year. But the same was true last year and Auburn came within a whisker of winning despite fielding their worst team in six decades. Considering that, and considering this rivalry's history over the past generation, I would not be surprised to see a knockdown-dragout to the end. I think everyone should watch.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


I don't want to make it sound like the sports media failed to give a decent amount of coverage to the U.S. Open championship Serena Williams won last Sunday. However, given that it happened on the first Sunday of the NFL season, it did not receive the kind of banner attention that a title of its magnitude deserves.

Sunday's championship was Serena's 17th singles Grand Slam title. In tennis's Open Era, only Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert have more and they are only one ahead of her, tied at 18 apiece. Since there were not as many true contenders among the women's ranks when they played, there is a very legitimate argument to be made that Williams is the greatest female tennis player of all time.

The fact that she not only won the U.S. Open but dropped just a single set the entire tournament, and currently holds the planet's #1 ranking, is even more impressive when you consider that she is less than two weeks from her 32nd birthday. Serena is older now than Evert was when she won her last Grand Slam tourney. Steffi Graf did not win any after she turned 30, and while Navratilova earned a Wimbledon crown at the age of 33, every one of her other Grand Slam titles came when she was younger that Serena is today.

Plus, there is much more to Serena Williams than "just" her athletic excellence. She is extremely smart -- as is obvious when you watch an interview in which she opines about hard work and personal accountability. She proves that the proverbial, All-American girl next door is not a myth, because in many ways she is that girl -- as is obvious when you listen to her talk about her country (which she is proud to love) and when you think about the way she has used her own tenacity and talent to rise from the tough town of Compton to the heights of success.

To those who have frowned upon the few emotional outbursts she has had when not performing at the level she knows she is capable of, I say: Don't you want your fellow citizens to expect the most out of themselves, and don't you expect them to be unhappy when they fall short of their goals? We are a fickle society when it comes to competitors getting rankled, for sometimes we think their rancor is a sign of an admirable dislike of losing, and other times we think it is a sign of them being spoiled. In Serena's case, I am positive it's the former

To those who want their athletes to exhibit character, I say: Read everything I just wrote, and if that's not enough for you, consider that Serena has managed to coexist with her sister in an ultra-competitive individual sport where differences in trophy counts can not be blamed on teammates. Serena and Venus coexist without their relationship descending into an inferno of sibling rivalry, which is not an easy accomplishment when siblings have competitive personalities. Sports and music might not be the same, but the Williams sisters make rock-and-roll brothers like Ray and Dave Davies and John and Tom Fogerty look infantile by comparison.

And finally, while we are at it, let's be honest about something: As much as it offends some people (understandably offends them), there is no denying that sex appeal influences what we think of our athletes. I will not be called a male chauvinist for saying so, because I have heard many women speak about their admiration for Tom Brady, and let's just say that I haven't heard a'one of them talk about the way he reads defenses and checks down to his third receiver.

When it comes to sex appeal, Serena has it. I have heard some people say otherwise, but they are wrong. Yes, I know attractiveness is subjective, but I still say that those who scoff at the notion of Serena as a sex symbol are either wrong, jealous, or something else I won't bother to mention just now.

Serena Williams is still in her prime. We should appreciate it as long as it lasts, and remember it when it does pass.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reflections on 9/11

There it stood. Fifty-two months earlier, when America first saw the steel cross standing amidst the ruins of the World Trade Center, I had assumed that rescue workers fashioned it from beams found in the wreckage. I had assumed that was how it came to be a fitting tribute to those who perished on September 11, 2001, and I still thought that when I looked upon the cross in person on a cold January afternoon in 2006. It was not until shortly afterward that I learned the truth: This portion of crossbeam had fallen, as-is, from the upper reaches of the collapsing North Tower and landed upright in the debris.

As I stood at Ground Zero, it was eerily silent despite the fact that America’s largest city was bustling all around me. A gaping hole occupied the spot where the Twin Towers once stood. I looked at the cross and thought I could walk to it and touch it in less than five seconds, were it not for the chain link fence encircling the grounds.

Instead I turned and walked south, to the corner of the property where Liberty Street intersects with Church Street. Looking back to the north, I shifted my gaze from the hole to the street and recalled the images of people leaping hundreds of feet to their bloody deaths on the very pavement which was now before my eyes. How hellishly hot must the temperatures have been, for human beings to choose crushing their bodies to death before knowing the towers were doomed to fall?

I thought of rescue workers proffering aid to others at the very instant more than 100 stories of steel and concrete came crashing down to extinguish their lives.

* * *

Like most Americans, my thoughts about New York over the years had not been wholly positive. The city held poignant symbols of freedom, and hence of the American dream, which was very good. It housed many of the engines of capitalism and birthed some of the best jazz ever played, and those things were also good. Yet it swaggered with arrogance, oozed with moral ambivalence, and was the home of socialites who lived off inherited wealth while attacking the very institutions that made it possible for others to achieve success – and those aspects of the Big Apple were not good.

New York may have been the ultimate ethnic melting pot, but it was shuttered and monochromatic when it came to intellectual matters. How could a city with eight million citizens not have a single conservative? I loved the Statue of Liberty but could never bring myself to root for the Yankees.

Nonetheless, standing at Ground Zero I thought of how all roads seem to meet in this place. Visiting the city in person, walking its sidewalks among its inhabitants, brings a welcome realization that it actually likes the fact it is in the United States. Yes, there was the raw irritation of seeing Che Guevara's mug plastered with praise on a giant window in Times Square – but then I heard the patrons of a subterranean sports bar praise our troops.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was still up two weeks after Christmas, and the walkway to it from Fifth Avenue was lined with tall figures of angels blowing trumpets. Here, Christmas had not been neutered by any transformation to something called Happy Holiday.

One block from Rockefeller Center are the twin spires of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, from whose pulpit the late Cardinal John O’Connor delivered many of the strongest sermons in American history. Though a prominent and uncompromising foe of abortion, he was revered in this city that is considered a hotbed of abortion-on-demand secularism. Standing across the street from Saint Patrick’s, it was hard not to notice the street sign showing that this block of Fifth Avenue is officially designated as Cardinal O’Connor Way.

In the East Village we slurped beers at McSorley’s, an old Irish pub where Abraham Lincoln once quaffed ale after delivering a speech. Small and cramped, it does not appear to have been enlarged or significantly upgraded since Lincoln’s time. When our party of four made it inside, a rough-looking worker with an Irish brogue showed us to a small, thin, wooden table and asked if we wanted “light or dark.” Two of us ordered the former, two the latter, and it must have been two-for-one because he returned carrying eight mugs of beer with no tray. He slammed them onto the table in one theatrical move, and we drank them without ever knowing their brand.

* * *

And finally, at Ground Zero, we were a very short walk from my favorite New York City nexus. Head one block east and you come to Broadway. Turn south for two more blocks and you come to Wall Street’s western terminus, directly across from Trinity Chapel.

We strode onto Trinity’s grounds and wandered through its aged cemetery until we found what we were searching: The grave of Alexander Hamilton, marked by a modest obelisk. At its base someone had laid a bouquet. Amazingly, right beside Hamilton’s grave is that of Robert Fulton, father of the steam engine.

Leaving Trinity, you cross Broadway and start down surprisingly nondescript Wall Street. Just one block onto it, with Trinity’s steeple looming behind you, you come to the site where George Washington took the oath of office as America’s first president.

And across the street from that site sits the New York Stock Exchange. We’ve all seen the images of frantic traders on the exchange floor, and we know the atmosphere inside must be noisy and stressful and chaotic. But viewed from outside, the exchange building is a picture of serenity that is dwarfed by much of its surroundings. American flags fly beneath its facade of Corinthian columns, giving it the appearance of a county courthouse from somewhere in the heartland.

So here, in less than two city blocks, you can walk in the footsteps of at least two Founding Fathers; visit one of their burial sites; visit the grave of one of history’s most prominent inventors; stand at the spot where our republic’s executive branch came into existence, and see the building where more wealth has been created than at any other spot on the planet.

Here, you can feel the heart of freedom beating strong.

Update: I first published this piece in 2008. I did not realize until later that McSorley's serves only its own beer (hence us being offered simply "light or dark") and that it has a two-drink minimum (hence us being served twice what we ordered). In my mind, those facts make McSorley's even cooler than I already thought.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Between the weeks

With our outmatched president looking feckless, part of me feels like I should be opining about his mishandling of reality in Syria, but I don't really have anything to add that isn't already being said ad nauseam by commentators on both the Right and the Left. Therefore I am doing what I really want to do: Follow up on my previous post by offering some more thoughts about college football.

The Elongation
I don't mind the fact that the season's opening weekend was drawn out -- in fact, I rather enjoyed being able to watch some pigskin every day from Thursday to Monday -- but in general I am opposed to the prolonging of college football weekends that has been going on for some time now.

I liked it way back when every game was on Saturday. Then, when TV money dictated the addition of one special Thursday night game every week, I thought it was fabulous. We as fans got to enjoy a game two days earlier than normal, while the schools competing in that game got to have the national spotlight all to themselves.

But now multiple games are on every Thursday, with more taking place on Friday; and in seemingly random fashion, yet more games occasionally kick off on days other than Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Making the sport this ubiquitous dims the special appeal that was inherent when you had to wait for Saturday and one slot on Thursday to see its contests play out. Plus, I think that on some level it's not good that college games are being held on a night (Friday) that has traditionally been reserved for high school football to receive all the focus.

I hope this genie gets put back in the bottle, though I know it probably won't because it probably can't.

Speaking of which
I also do not like the way the big bowl games are now dragged out across a week's time. The bowl system as we know it will be no more after this year, but some version of it will still exist and I hope it goes back to the way it was before the advent of the BCS. Though most of us failed to realize it at the time, there was something ineffably perfect about every single game taking place on New Year's Day, forcing you to prioritize what to watch and thereby making you sacrifice some of the games due to conflicting rooting interests.

The Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl took place simultaneously, and it was not unusual for participants in both games to have a legitimate chance to secure the national championship if they won. This made both players and fans struggle against the instinct to scoreboard-watch, since the events happening in each game were affecting what was at stake in the other. A big part of me regrets that those days, much like the man in that Grateful Dead song, are gone like a steam locomotive rollin' down the track and nothin's gonna bring them back.

Georgia-South Carolina
This showdown illustrates what is superior about college football's regular season; namely, that every game not only counts but can greatly determine the success or failure of your campaign. Georgia entered this season with national championship aspirations, yet if they lose on Saturday those aspirations will be dead only two weeks into the season.

It was not a surprise that the Bulldogs fell at Clemson last Saturday, but if they lose at home to the Gamecocks this Saturday, they will be 0-2 -- and no team has ever won the national championship with two losses. In the minds of their fans and players alike, the only way for the Bulldogs to salvage the season would be to go undefeated the rest of the way.

My Auburn Indulgence
Expectations are a bitch, and what I just wrote about Georgia shows how true that is. The Bulldogs lost lots of defensive starters, yet entered the season with a tantalizing abundance of returning stars on offense, hence the talk of a run at the national title. Nonetheless, by losing a mere two games that there is no shame in losing (for Clemson and South Carolina are both ranked in the top ten and coming off eleven-win seasons) they would already be thought of as having fallen short of their potential. Large swaths of their fan base would start grumbling for heads to roll.

Which brings me to my alma matter. Auburn was 3-9 last year and has a new head coach who turned the keys to the offense over to a 29-year-old coordinator. This clearly illustrates why I and my fellow alums should not expect much this season. However, we continue to expect a great deal for no other reason than we are Auburn and our players have that interlocking AU on their helmet. I was cussing at the TV on Saturday night when we didn't put more than seven points between us and Washington State late in the game -- even though Washington State is a tough opponent to open with; and even though our team had scored 31 points, which was more than they scored in any game last year; and even though our defense had three interceptions, which was more than they had in all of last year's games combined.

This coming week we face Arkansas State, which sounds like a game we should win -- until I remember that the Red Wolves went 10-3 last year, and have recruited strongly of late, and played well against us during our undefeated season in 2010. In other words, if we beat them it should be considered a good win, but instead, simply because we are Auburn, it will be considered something we should have done automatically. If we win narrowly, it will be remembered more as a negative than as a positive.

Expectations. I hate them and know they are not fair, but I have them anyway, and every fan base in America has thousands upon thousands of others who feel the same. This is something else that makes college football great.

"Big Game" predictions
Michigan-Notre Dame:  Notre Dame is perennially overrated. Michigan is ascendant...Brady Hoke is a better coach than Brian Kelly...Character generates wins, and while there is evidence that Brady Hoke has character, there is evidence that Brian Kelly does not....Notre Dame had a fine season in 2012, but much like the fine season they had under Tyrone Willingham ten years before, it felt like an interlude rather than a new norm...And for that matter, Willingham had more character than Kelly and was a better coach than Kelly...Prediction: Wolverines 30-24.

Miami-Florida:  This used to be one of college football's best annual rivalries, especially among those that do not occur in the final week, until the Gators famously dropped it when the Hurricanes were dominating them at the height of the Jimmy Johnson era. Although I am an SEC partisan, I will be cheering wholeheartedly for Miami, not only because Florida's unilateral termination of this series smacked of cowardice but also because the arrogance of Florida fans rivals even that of Notre Dame and Alabama fans. Unfortunately, my brain tells me that my heart is in over its head, and it tells me to predict this: Gators 23-12.

Georgia-South Carolina:  Every ounce of logic tells me South Carolina should win. They have by far the better defense, and it is defense that wins big games and championships. Their confidence has yet to be chipped, while Georgia's must surely be shaken simply because they dropped Game One and are staring at an 0-2 hole...But another part of my brain believes the old adage that a good team with its back against the wall will find a way to win regardless of the odds. That same part of my brain tells me that Aaron Murray is destined to disprove his doubters who say he can't defeat a top-tier opponent...Prediction: Bulldogs 31-28.

Until next time: Adios, as they say south of our border.