A Conference Tournament Spotlight On: The SEC

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Not normally thought of as basketball powerhouse, the SEC has turned some heads this year. Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt have all cracked the top-25, and Alabama has also had a decent season.

The SEC tournament is slated to kick off March 10 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, and with a slew of evenly matched teams, the title is up for grabs. The conference is split up with an East and West division which Florida and Alabama won, respectively.

With that in mind, here are some of the best rivalries in the Southeastern Conference.

The Florida – Kentucky Rivalry 
Although it does not have the intense history of some other match-ups, this rivalry has been one of the fiercest in recent years. That’s largely due to the fact that the Gators are coached by former Kentucky assistant Billy Donovan, and the Wildcats have been led by everybody’s favorite bad guy: John Calipari.

Regular season history: Kentucky holds a commanding 84-30 edge in the overall series, but that figure may be misleading - Florida has closed the gap considerably over the past few years.

Postseason history: Although they have a lengthy regular season history dating back to the 1930s, the two teams have never met in the tournament.

Best games: March 6, 2005: No. 24 Florida defeats No. 5 Kentucky, 53-52. The upset win marked a huge turning point for the Gators, who had not beaten Kentucky in several years. The win would kick-start Florida, as they would go on to win the first of their two consecutive championships.

Best players: Florida has had an explosion of NBA-caliber talent over the last several years. Al Horford, Joakim Noah, and David Lee are all making waves in the pros. As for Kentucky, the Wildcats have a rich history of legendary players including the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo, the Pistons’ Tayshaun Prince and most recently, freshman phenom John Wall.

The Kentucky – Tennessee Rivalry
Most bitter rivalries are the result of geographical proximity, and such is the case with this famous border clash. The teams have met more than 200 times, and with a pair of charismatic coaches, each time they play it’s something special.

Regular season history: Few teams have played each other more often than these two longstanding adversaries, but Kentucky holds a commanding 140-65 lead in the series. 

Postseason history: Although they have engaged in many historic battles over the years, the two teams have surprisingly never met in either the NIT or the NCAA Tournament.

Best games: This one goes back to January 18, 1969. The Wildcats faced a tough road test at Tennessee, but managed to squeak by with a 69-66 win to become the first team in college basketball history to win 1,000 games.

Best players: DeMarcus Cousins, Jodie Meeks, Nazr Mohammed… the list goes on for the Wildcats well-known players. For the Volunteers, however, you have to go back a few years to find legends that include Bernard King, a four time All-Star in the NBA.

A Weekend of Upsets: Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin and Wake Forest Hit the Showers

Wow, what an intense weekend of college football.  I had more fun over at the local tavern this weekend watching the games with a mug of suds than I did when Texas whooped Arkansas (oh wait, that was this weekend too.)  The tides turned in the record books over the course of one long afternoon, and some top 25 teams let their true colors show.  The AP Poll is changing this week, and here’s why:

#8 Alabama defeated #3 ranked Georgia on Saturday, 41-30.  Yep, the Tide pretty much rolled all over Mark Richt and the Bulldogs in their own home stadium, making it look insanely easy.  In the first two quarters, the Tide rolled ahead by 31 points.  That’s just embarrassing – to have someone come in on your turf and lay down the smack.  Never mind my preseason predictions, Alabama is making itself the exception to the rule.  After the game, Bama Coach Nick Saban expressed true skeptic’s resolve when asked if his team is a contender for the national title: “After five games?  Let’s see when we get a full body of work at the end of the season.”

QB Jevan Snead led unranked Ole Miss over #4 Florida on Saturday, in a crucial upset win for the Rebels.  Snead threw for two touchdown passes and ran for another in Saturday’ s match up.  The Gators gave up the ball three time on turnovers during the game, and Florida QB Tim Tebow took all the blame:  “I’m Sorry, I’m extremely sorry,” said Tebow, who was hoping to lead his Florida team to an undefeated season.  The fact that Snead was a former Florida recruit (who backed out of his commitment when he found out that Florida was going after Tebow) made this game especially poignant for the Mississippi team.  Though not a blowout, the game was a nail-biter to the end, as the potentially tying extra point attempt was blocked to give Ole Miss the win.

All I remember about the Michigan – Wisconsin game this weekend was flipping the channel in the fourth quarter: I thought the game was already over.  Boy, was I wrong.  Michigan was trailing by 12, and all of a sudden the floodgates opened.  Brandon Minor ran for a 34-yard touchdown, followed by a 25-yard interception return by John Thompson to give the Wolverines the first lead of the night.  Five minutes later, Sam Mcguffie ran for 3 yards to give the Wolverines a 27-19 lead over the #9 Wisconsin team.  Wisconsin scored one final TD, but could not connect on the two-point conversion, and the upset was cast.

Navy showed Wake Forest where the end zone was located this weekend, more than once.  The Midshipmen handed a defeat to a ranked team for the first time in over 20 years, making this weekend’s game for Wake Forest an embarrassing matter.  The Midshipmen capitalized on six turnovers by the Demon Deacons, putting the ball in the end zone for three TD’s and the win.  #16 Wake Forest will be wishing it never let the ball leave its hands Saturday, as Navy celebrates an unbelievable win.

Remember to eat your Wheaties, and to get your college football tickets from TicketCity.com.

Top College Football Teams to Watch in 2008

Well, I’ve held out long enough.  It is time to look at my picks for the best college football teams to watch in 2008.  Each of the teams mentioned here is going to be one of the top competitors in the nation this season – you can take my word for it.  This is going to be a spectacular season, and I cannot stress enough the amount of talent that goes into these football programs.

1. Georgia Bulldogs
The Bulldogs are looking strong heading into the 2008 season, and are hoping to repeal a botched attempt at a national title in 2007.  The Bulldogs have a beefy, complete roster, a Heisman hopeful in Knowshon Moreno, and a knack for making big plays when it counts.  The Bulldogs are ranked #1 in the Coaches Poll heading into the season, and in my opinion, as long as the Bulldogs play some football and forget about the hype around the team, they are going to win it all this season.  Defensive tackle Jeff Owens said it in his own words: “I’d prefer to be ranked No. 25 and work our way up, than being No. 1 and everybody is gunning for you. Everybody wants Georgia. Who doesn’t want Georgia?”  That’s right, Jeff.  Watch out for these Georgia Bulldogs, because they are on their way to a national title – 21 years is a long time to be on the porch with the pups.

2. USC Trojans
This team is just swarmed with powerhouse starters.  Big playmakers including linebacker Rey Maualuga, running back Joe McKnight, and receiver Patrick Turner are going to be tearing up the field this season. Despite missing a returning starting quarterback from the lineup, Pete Carroll tends to mold the noobs with utmost care, producing big QB starters in just a year.  USC is going to take another stab at the Pac-10 title, and win it.  Period.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State has consistently produced a huge football program in the last five years, clearly dominating the Big Ten in the last two seasons.  This year is no exception, as the Ohio State Buckeyes are poised to win their third straight Big Ten Conference title – a feat that has never been accomplished by any Big Ten team in the 112-year history of the conference.  The Buckeyes are returning a whopping 20 starters – the same starters that led the team all the way to the BCS National Championship game in 2007-2008.  If they make it to the big game this year, they are going to have to deal with the Bulldogs (my pick), but it looks as if the assault is already prepared.  Yep, my crystal ball tells me the Buckeyes are going to dominate – possible repeat appearance at the BCS title game notwithstanding.

4. Florida Gators
With an outstanding offense and eight returning starters on defense, the Florida Gators are going to bring some quality football to the table in 2008-2009.  Urban Meyer promises to bring back the dual-quarterback system, drawing talent from both Cam Newton and Tim Tebow for a well-rounded offensive.  The defense also looks stronger than last season, and is poised to take on just about anything you can throw at it.  Georgia watch out: if Florida wants it, you could find yourself second in the SEC in 2008-2009.

5. Oklahoma Sooners
Last but not least, you have the boys from Oklahoma.  The Sooners are prepared to raise a ruckus this season as quarterback Sam Bradford leads an all-star offense on the ground and in the air.  Bradford destroyed the record for most touchdown passes thrown by a freshman in 2007.  Coupled with the fact that the team is returning 10 starters on offense – an offense that averaged 6.4 yards per play last season – this team is going to be hard to beat.  Although the team is replacing several defensive players, the starting defensive line is there, and is going to open up holes for anyone who wants a piece of the opposition.  Look for Oklahoma to win the Big 12 Championship yet again this year.

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