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Who are the SEC players to watch out for in 2018?

Regardless of what the pro-SEC fans say, a lot of stars left the conference in 2017. Just from the National Championship Game, Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama), and Roquan Smith (Georgia) are gone in their junior years, while Nick Chubb and Sony Michel (Georgia) departed after four years. The bigs are gone too, with ‘Big’ Bo Scarborough (Alabama) and Da’Ron Payne (Alabama) departing for NFL riches.

But that’s not all. From Auburn Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway are off, while at LSU Derrius Guice, Arden Key, Kevin Tolliver and Donte Jackson leave. For Texas A&M, the most exciting player in college football – Christian Kirk – is going to take his returning talents to the pros.

But despite the amount of heroes going to the NFL, there are more heroes that are going to come along. And yes, we know that we have mentioned five-star recruits that are going to start this year, but they could be arrested/dismissed/suspended before the season starts, so we’re not counting our chickens.

Here are our Top 12/13 (in no particular order):

  1. Drew Lock (Missouri): Lock exploded under OC Josh Heupel, passing for a breathtaking 3,339 yards and 23 TDs. In fact, he was the only QB to cause Georgia’s DB trouble all season long, and we’re expecting great things from him in 2018 – especially with a lot of pressure on him from NFL Draft ‘experts’ who expect him to go in the Top 5 in 2019. His only problem(s) could be his wide receivers not being able to catch, and new OC Derek Dooley (we still don’t understand why Barry Odom passed on former UCLA OC Jedd Fisch).
  2. Deebo Samuel (South Carolina): The most explosive, exciting player in the SEC last year – until he was injured. He can return punts, run the ball and receive throws, and he’ll rip a team’s defenses apart if they don’t watch out for him. He’s the next Christian Kirk and potentially the SEC’s answer to Christian McCafffery.
  3. AJ Brown (Ole Miss): Brown is going to be one of the greats of Ole Miss when he’s done with his career in Oxford. In a freakish sophomore year, Brown had 1,252 yards receiving and 11 TDs. We expect many more things from this exciting player come 2018.
  4. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama): One amazing half of National Championship may not a starting QB at Alabama make, but Tua, with his strong arm and ability to move around in the pocket, is already prepped to Alabama’s next throwing star. Don’t get us wrong, Jalen Hurts could get his job back and slice up defenses with his legs (and he could also be extremely useful on trick plays), but now the starting Bama job is Tagovailoa’s to lose.
  5. D’Andre Swift (Georgia): Swift had 771 yards and 4 TDs for the Dawgs, and now Chubb and Michel have gone to the NFL, Swift will be the No.1 running back. Expect him to get 1,000.
  6. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn): If Stidham can play as well as he did against Georgia (Game 1) and Alabama, then he’ll be one of the biggest stars in the conference. He’s got good legs, a great arm, and we think Stidham could flourish.
  7. Nick Fitzpatrick (Mississippi State): Before he was injured against Ole Miss, Nick Fitzgerald was phenomenal for the Bulldogs. Statistically, he may have had a worse year than he did in 2015 last year, but he still had SIX rushing games of over 100 yards. We expect him to flourish in Joe Moorhead’s offense. Moorhead’s great with mobile QBs – just as Penn State’s Trace McSorley.
  8. Damien Harris/Najee Harris (Alabama): Harris’ decision to return for 2018 is a fantastic one – he’ll be vying with Stanford’s Bryce Love as the best RB in the country. He had 1,000 yards and 11 TDs this year, and we expect excellent things next year too. As part of the two-headed monster, Najee Harris has the speed to match Damien’s brawn, while is going to be great for Nick Saban and his new offensive co-ordinator.
  9. Jake Fromm (Georgia): Fromm’s going to go from ‘game manager’ to ‘star’ in Athens – particularly when Kirby Smart lets him throw the ball more.
  10. Tyrel Dodson (Texas A&M): As much fun as we’ve made of the Aggies’ ‘D’ in the past, there’s no denying what a star Dodson was in his second year. The freakish linebacker had 104 tackles and 3 INTs, and he could break out as the next Myles Garrett.
  11. Kyle Shurmur (Vanderbilt): You might make a lot of fun out of me for including a Vanderbilt player, but hear us out. As terrible as Vandy was in the SEC (their only win came over Tennessee), Shurmur still managed to throw for 2,823 yards and 26 TDs. It may not have lit up the scoreboards, but he’s proved himself a leader on the team. If he remains hot, there could be NFL discussions.
  12. Aeris Williams (Mississippi State): We didn’t consider Williams until we saw his numbers for this year, and then felt guilty. The sophomore RB reminded coaches of Le’Veon Bell with his running style, and made a lot of Cowbellers happy with his 1,107 yard, 6 TD performance – as well as 142 yards receiving. Expect him with better numbers under Moorehead.

Also considered: David Reese (Florida), Malik Davis (Florida), Mecole Hardman (Georgia), Traeyvon Williams (Texas A&M), Devwah Whaley (Arkansas), DeMarkus Lodge (Ole Miss), Javon Wims (Georgia), Emmanuel Hall (Missouri).

Georgia star Roquan Smith declares for NFL

Georgia star linebacker Roquan Smith has declared for the NFL.

Unlike other SEC stars like Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and LSU’s Derrius Guice and Arden Key, Smith’s decision took until the deadline day for him to make up his mind.

Smith said: “I’ve had discussions with coaches and family and a lot of thought and prayer….The decision to leave is not easy but I know it is the right one.”

Smith won the Butkus Award last season for the Dawgs, who won the SEC Championship and came within overtime of winning the National Championship.

He will definitely be a first-round pick.

Smith recorded 137 tackles, 6-1/2 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries. He was also a mainstay in the Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma, when at times he buried the Sooners’ attack in the second half all by himself.

Kirby Smart said about Smith: “The accolades he has received are a testimony to his ability as a player,” Smart said. “But he has also demonstrated on and off the field the qualities of a great leader who has commanded the respect of all his teammates as well as our coaching and support staffs. As the head coach, it’s been a privilege to see him develop as a student-athlete and inspirational leader who has made immeasurable contributions to our team and to the program we are building.

Every year, it seems that Alabama’s looking for a big-time co-ordinator to go and work under Nick Saban.

But this year, it’s both of them.

After DC Jeremy Pruitt took the Tennessee job in November (but stayed all the way through the National Championship win), the Buffalo Bills announced Sunday that Crimson Tide OC Brian Daboll had been appointed to the same job in New York state.

While finding a good OC and DC shouldn’t be a problem for Saban – he’s managed to find competent people at both positions throughout his time in Tuscaloosa, it’s probably not good for recruiting – something that Nick Saban seems to crave more than winning Championships.

Some of the things that Saban can sell potential candidates are these:

  1. Depth: Alabama is deep at almost every position. A new star has been discovered at quarterback in Tua Tagovaiola, but he’ll have to battle a still-dependable Jalen Hurts. The offensive line and running back is seasoned. The wide receivers turn out prodigy after prodigy. On the defense, although Minkah Fitzpatrick is gone, things are fine.
  2. Pay: Not many people pay co-ordinators as well as Alabama. Brian Daboll was paid $1.2 million per year, while Pruitt was paid $4.2 million in 2017 before he left for Knoxville. That’s better than most coordinators. In other words, if you win for him, Saban will make sure you’re well-rewarded.
  3. Job Mobility: If you’re successful at Alabama, teams from the NFL and from colleges will come at you thick and fast to offer head coaching positions or NFL positions of similar titles. Saban’s not stupid: He knows that OCs and DCs of his will know that they aren’t going to be ‘coaches in waiting’, so they’ll get offers from other schools after one or two years, so he can definitely tell them that success with the Crimson Tide job will make them a strong candidate elsewhere. And if it doesn’t work out ‘elsewhere’, then that’s on them.
  4. Facilities: Alabama’s facilities for their players are the best in the land. So no OC and DC can complain they aren’t getting enough.
  5. Saban himself: You’ll probably hate working for him at the time, but there won’t be a guy that will teach you more about getting finite details right. If you’re prepared to learn, come to Alabama.

The sad thing for any OC and DC is the pressure. There’s the pressure to win National Championships immediately. There’s the pressure to get everything right all the time from Saban. There are time demands – Nick Saban owns your behind. Oh, and then there’s the Alabama fans, who are – in a new dimension of football fan – downright crazy.

Top Alabama running back Damien Harris has said that he will return to Tuscaloosa for his final year of eligibility, stemming a ‘tide’ of players leaving for the NFL Draft.

Harris posted seasons of 1,000 yards in 2016 and 2017, and odds-on are that he will post another one in 2018 – although you can expect freshman sensation Najee Harris to take some of the load as well.

Running back teammate Bo Scarbourgh – who ironically could have been the top player in his position at just about anywhere in the land had it not been for Nick Saban’s policy of keeping his backfield fresh in terms of touches – has declared for the NFL Draft. ‘Big Bo’ battled injuries throughout his career with the Tide, and it may well make him a third-round pick come NFL Draft time.

Also declaring will be top wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who caught the game-tying touchdown pass in the National Championship Game, as well as defensive tackle D’Ron Payne, who was famous for his two plays against Clemson in the semi-final.

Having been thoroughly prepared for that next step,” Ridley said, “I am truly ready.” 

Meanwhile in Baton Rouge, top running back Derrius Guice has declared for the NFL Draft. A lot of SEC West teams will be glad to see the back of Guice, who ran for 1,251 yards and 11 TDs in his junior year.

 

 

Missouri QB Drew Lock to stay for senior year

Despite having his offensive co-ordinator replaced, Missouri QB Drew Lock has opted to stay for his senior year in Columbia.

“I’m very excited about coming back for my senior year, and I’m really optimistic about we can do as a team next year,” Lock said.

Lock threw for 3,964 yards and 44 TDs last season.

As we mentioned, Lock will have to play for a new OC, though….and a strange decision for one at that. Missouri decided that they would opt out of getting former UCLA OC Jedd Fisch and instead get former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley.

To say the least, the fanbase weren’t too happy with Barry Odom’s decision – but they’ll be happier about Lock’s.

UGA’s Eason to transfer to Washington?

Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason is to transfer to Washington, various media sources have reported.

Eason, who was the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs on Week 1 before he was injured against Applachian State, never got his role back thanks to the immense play of freshman Jake Fromm.

Now that Georgia has signed five-star QB Justin Fields, Eason – himself a five-star QB out of Washington – must have felt that there was no opportunity for him to succeed in the red and black. A move to Washington isn’t a bad one for him, either. He’s from Lake Stevens, WA, which is a short car ride from UW’s campus.

In 2016 Eason threw for 2,430 yards and 16 TDs, averaging at 186.7 yards/game.

 

hat Some people in Tuscaloosa are still up and drunk. Some people in Athens have kicked their wall, door and probably the cat. But whatever you have done, Alabama is the 2018 National Champion.

But not everyone on Alabama had a great day, and not everyone on Georgia had a bad one.

So here are your good days/bad days from yesterday….

GOOD DAY

  1. Tua Tagovailoa: Came on in the second half in the place of an awful Jalen Hurts and immediately put UGA’s defense on its heels with some bullet throws. Threw the game-winning TD that looked identical to the one Todd Blackledge threw against Georgia in the 1982 National Championship Game.
  2. Sony Michel: His 98 yards on 14 carries (that’s 7 yards a clip) at times embarrassed Alabama’s defense, and made him a lot more money when the NFL Draft comes alone. We are still wondering why in the hell Jim Chaney didn’t play him in the fourth quarter.
  3. Nick Saban: Had half a good game and still won the National Championship. Oh, and his recruiting showed how good he was, since Tua, Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith are all freshmen.
  4. The Ridley family: Calvin Ridley did nothing until catching the game-tying TD with a minute left, while Riley Ridley, his younger brother was fantastic. Kay Daniels, their 49-year old single mother, is going to get to retire after these two hit the NFL.
  5. Freshmen: We’ve mentioned three of the Alabama freshmen, but how about also mentioning Georgia’s Jake Fromm, two-TD speedster Mecole Hardman two?
  6. Roquan Smith: The UGA Butkus Award winner-soon-to-be-legend led the game 13 total tackles including 9 solo tackles. Mack Wilson of Alabama was impressive too with 12 tackles (7 solo).
  7. Kirby Smart: In his second year Georgia played for a National Championship. Not bad, Kirby. Not bad at all. We think we’ll see you here again soon.
  8. Alabama (second half): After an awful first half, Saban made the adjustments, came back beautifully, and silenced the home support. At times, it was relentless and the reason why everyone thought that Alabama would win the National Championship this year. But not in this dramatic manner….
  9. Rodrigo Blankenship: GLASSES KICKER WAS PERFECT!
  10. The SEC: Yeah, so our conference was down. But two of the best teams combined for one of the best games of the season and one of the greatest National Championship of all-time. So suck it, B1G!!

BAD DAY FOR…

  1. The refs: It was like the B1G was getting their own back for Ohio State not getting in the play-off. Their refs were awful – so much so that they looked like SEC refs. Not only did they miss numerous horsecollars and facemasks, but they also missed a false start on the tying TD. They also missed late hits, holding, and numerous other things – including Hardman’s heel blatantly (after replay) touching the line. The most irritating part of it? The ref at the start of the game and at overtime making long, drawn-out speeches in an effort to put himself in the spotlight. Can we have Ed Hochuli for these big games please?
  2. Jalen Hurts: Remember when we said that Hurts would be a problem for the Tide if he threw the ball? We were right. Hurts was TERRIBLE, overthrowing Calvin Ridley easily in the first quarter when there was a sure TD and going 3-8 for just 21 yards in the first half. Urgh.
  3. Malkom Parrish: Got targeted and torched all day long by Alabama QBs, even if a lot of the throws weren’t great. He will get a lot of the blame from UGA fans, but they probably won’t see him after this year. He was beaten like he stole something. He’ll be replaced by Ryan Gosling’s character in ‘Remember The Titans’.
  4. Jim Chaney: Went waaay too conversative in the second half and pretty much gifted the initiative to Alabama. Also, we still don’t understand why Sony Michel never had a touch in the fourth quarter – despite causing the Tide trouble all night long – and Nick Chubb (who didn’t seem to grind down the Tide’s front) held the ball not only for OT but the drive leading up to it.
  5. Andy Pappanastos: Word has it that the Alabama kicker is still walking from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban can’t take imperfection.
  6. Mekhi Brown: Fighting one of the assistants on the sideline really isn’t a good look. He may have been very contrite afterwards, but he made an ass of himself. Oh, and his horror clothesline on Sony Michel should have gotten him a 15-yard penalty, too.
  7. Georgia coverage for the game-winning TD: Dominik Sanders got fooled, and Parrish went wandering. Why be so aggressive on 2nd and 26 with a kicker who’s last kick nearly nailed someone on the sideline? As much as Tua’s throw will go into Alabama lore, it really wasn’t a difficult throw to make.
  8. Nick Chubb: After all the highlights and talk, Chubb didn’t really manage to get anything against the Alabama front, running 18 times for 25 yards with a long of just 7. Sure, he’ll make money come Draft time, but Michel really shone when he didn’t.
  9. Javon Wims: It was actually a poor day for Wims even before he made his catch. He dropped two easy throws from Fromm…and then injured his shoulder which ensured that the Bulldogs lost a huge weapon.
  10. Mercedes-Benz Stadium/ Ticket holders: Locked out of the entrances because of Donald Trump’s motorcade (he left at half-time after creating the maximum possible disruption), fans missed kick-off, fought each other, and were generally really pissed off. Oh, and they all had to stand in the freezing rain while doing it. The only great story to come out of it was a member of the media meeting two elderly Alabama ticket holders who lost their tickets and he took them to guest services. Oh, and as for the stadium, there was a leak coming from the roof. Seriously, Atlanta?

 

Suck it, Ohio State. Suck it, Clemson. Suck it, Oklahoma. The SEC’s got two teams playing in the National Championship game.

That’s right – in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium fans all over America will tune into Monday to a game they most feared: An all-SEC Natty featuring Alabama and – to less an extent – Georgia.

Listen to the pundits, and they are hoping and praying that it won’t be boring. They hope it won’t be a 9-6 slugfest. They pray that Brian Daboll or Jim Chaney will come up with some offensive invention to stop that happening. They are hoping for end-zone celebrations and while craziness. They had a lot of that in two previous National Championships – and are praying for that to happen again.

The sad thing is is: It probably won’t happen.

Both Alabama and Georgia having amazing athletes. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are the best running back duo in College Football – although Damien Harris, Bo Scarborough, Najee Harris are also great too. Alabama also has a quarterback in Jalen Hurts who can run the damned ball, too.

Alabama fans might be slightly worried about putting the game on Hurts. Although Hurts is one of the best scramblers in the game, and he led the team down the field against Mississippi State that was – retrospectively – a season-saver, he’s actually got worse in terms of completion-percentage terms from 2017 to 2016. His fumble against Clemson was only bailed out by the usual immense Alabama defensive performance (kept Clemson to 3 points). Now, it’s not that we think Jalen Hurts is a terrible quarterback by any means  – he could cause Georgia hell-on-earth with his legs, but he’s not a great thrower.

On the other side, Georgia’s Jake Fromm has been a sensation. He’s got a cool head, and by reports by students at Georgia we know, he’s a pretty humble, unassuming guy – a diametric opposite to Jacob Eason, who walked around Athens thinking he was God. Fromm has played like a leader all season long. But then again, he hasn’t faced a pass rush like Alabama’s. Has he? Oh wait, he did. In Jordan-Hare against Auburn….and had he had his worst game stats-wise for the Dawgs that day. Sure, he was better in the rematch, but this is a fresher, nastier defense than he’s faced for a while. If Georgia goes down by 14, Smart’s going to have to put the game onto Fromm’s back…..and we’re not hugely confident if he will be able to take it.

We might have outlined this, but both teams feature absolute beasts on the defensive side of the ball. Georgia has Roquan Smith, the Butkus Award winner who’s a beast.Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter – who blocked the kick in overtime in the Rose Bowl – is an immensely-talented tackler, and so’s David ‘Humble Yourself’ Bellamy and Jordan Ledbetter. If Bellamy gets run over by Scarborough, he’ll be humbled. The Georgia players HAVE to make tackles, or it’ll be a long day.

As for Alabama, they’ve got God in the backfield in Minkah Fitzpatrick who – like Smith – is amazing. Although there’s a story going around about Fitzpatrick’s bruised kidney, which the best corner in college football/future NFL Top 5 pick dismissed as a non-story, it shouldn’t stop Fitzpatrick. Georgia’s Dominik Sanders will try and be Fitzpatrick in the Georgia secondary. We think he’ll try and play man-to-man with Calvin Ridley (good luck!). Oh, and Rashaan Evans is a freak, and Alabama has all the depth in the world to stop Georgia if there are injuries, which sadly is a sure bet in what will be a hard-hitting bet like this.

Co-ordinators wise, Jeremy Pruitt is a genius. Mel Tucker ain’t bad either (look at his defensive adjustments against Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma in the second half of the Rose Bowl). Both of them will be the busiest guys of the night – especially if they are getting their ears chewed out by Smart and Saban!

Offensive line was, it’s hard to differentiate between the two. Talk to a Georgia fan who was practically suicidal after some of the efforts of the offensive line last season, they aren’t altogether happy with this one. If you think about, Georgia has had 2 games where they have been truly tested on the offensive line, and it’s 1-1. UGA comes into the decider facing a nasty defense that could get to Fromm faster than a Daytona racecar. For Alabama, Hurts has only been sacked all season long, and you don’t see opposition defensive players in the backfield very much. There’s a good reason for that. There’s some good news for Georgia in that 6-4, 324lb Bama guard Lester Cotton won’t be playing in Atlanta after getting injured against Clemson. Cotton started all 13 games for the Tide, but we expect Nick Saban to make the changes.

So what’s going to happen?

This, ladies and gentlemen, is going to be a war. Alabama’s a 3.5 point favourite in Vegas, and to a lot of people, that looks about right. We think Alabama wins by 7 in a game that’s close, if not really exciting. Unless you like defense. Then this will be porn

The National Championship Drinking Game

Right, it’s the National Championship Game, and to keep you a little focussed on the game, we’ve got a drinking game for you.

You know the rules: If ESPN mentions this (through the sideline reporters, Chris Fowler or Kirk Herbstreit (we’ll let you off the College Gameday show if you’re too busy tailgatin’ the last day of the College Football season (sniff! sniff!)).

We aren’t expecting y’all to drink a shot-a-mention, because we don’t want to pay your hospital bills.

And make sure that your drink is alcohol, not water or soft drinks. So don’t cheat us on the fun.

So…..if ESPN mentions: 

—- This is an-all SEC National Championship Game — DRINK A SHOT

—- That tickets went for a minimum of $2,000 – ONE SHOT

—–That Kirby Smart was Nick Saban’s defensive co-ordinator — ONE SHOT

—- Ohio State, and how Alabama was 4th and used this as motivation — ONE SHOT

—- Davin Bellamy yelling ‘Humble Yourself’ at Baker Mayfield — ONE SHOT

—- Alabama’s strength coach smashing the National Championship Runners-Up trophy from last season —- TWO SHOTS

—- Any uses of the word ‘DeShaun Watson, Dabo Swinney, Clemson, Hunter Renfro” – ONE SHOT

—- Jalen Hurts and the screensaver of the Clemson loss that he uses as ammunition — TWO SHOTS

—- Jeremy Pruitt being the next coach of Tennessee — SHOT

—– ANY MENTION OF LANE KIFFIN — TWO SHOTS

—- That Jake Fromm started the season as a back-up to Jacob Eason —- ONE SHOT

—- Jake Fromm being referred to as a ‘game manager’ —-ONE SHOT

—- ‘Big Bo’ — ONE SHOT

—- If a Fat Guy Touchdown happens —- TWO SHOTS

—-Every Touchdown — A SHOT

—- If the game beats the O/U – TWO SHOTS

—- Camera pans to UGA Spike Squad —- ONE SHOT

—- Shot of bald UGA fan with Bulldog on his head —- ONE SHOT

—- Shot of Uga the Bulldog —- TWO SHOTS

—- Shot of Alabama fan you’re CERTAIN didn’t go to Alabama — TWO SHOTS

—- Mention of the Auburn loss for either Georgia or Alabama — TWO SHOTS

—- Mention of Mikah Fitzpatrick and anything related to NFL Round One Draft Pick —ONE SHOTS

—- Nick Chubb being a former track and field star — TWO SHOTS

—- Every time Jalen Hurts throws an INT — TWO SHOTS

—- Every time Jalen Hurts fumbles — TWO SHOTS

—- Any time any of the kickers misses a field goal or extra point — ONE SHOT

—- If the ‘Rammer Jammer’ song gets song either by Alabama fans or AT Bama fans — ONE SHOT

—- If Danny Kannell gets mentioned —- ONE SHOT

—- If Lee Corso picks Georgia — DOUBLE SHOT

—- If Lee Corso pick Alabama — SHOT

 

 

At the end of this, y’all should be ‘nicely oiled’. If  you’re not, you have the constitution of a rhino.

 

SEC fans of the year: The Tennesseee fans who stayed around

In 2017, it was easy to be an Alabama fan. It was easy to be a Georgia fan. It was easy to be an Auburn fan. Hell, at the end of the season, it was easy to be a LSU fan and a Missouri fan.

But it wasn’t an easy year for Tennessee fans.

This inaugural award doesn’t go to the Tennessee fans who started up the #EmptyNeyland campaign, aimed to show fans’ chagrin at Butch Jones. It doesn’t go to the people who jumped on the ‘No Schiano’ bandwagon, like my former priest, who claimed not to care about Tennessee – or any college football for that matter – because he was ‘too busy with kids, but managed to whack a sermon of Facebook telling everybody who would listen: ‘I don’t know who runs the decision making at the University of Tennessee, but this is a travesty. I’d never let any of my sons anywhere near a coach like this”, adding: “I’m absolutely appalled the University of Tennessee would hire anyone who was anywhere near that kind of horrific culture. It’s completely tone-deaf, and a giant middle finger to ethics, integrity, and wise program-building”. It doesn’t go to people who painted the rock with hate about former AD John Currie, Butch or Greg.

It goes to the Tennessee fans who stayed.

It goes to the Tennessee fans who kept going to games, even when they knew it wasn’t going to end nicely. It’s the fans who didn’t leave even when Georgia was up 42-0 with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. It’s the fans who went to both home and away games, and kept rooting for their team, despite the carnage on (and off) the field, led by the likes of Clay Travis, ESPN and Twitter (including yours truly, who really thought Butch Jones should have gone last season).

It goes to the Tennessee fans who didn’t sign up to the #EmptyNeyland campaign. Those Tennessee fans who said: “Hell, I don’t know who’s gonna be coach next year, but it doesn’t really matter, but I’m going to be rooting for them anyway”. Those Tennessee fans who care about the team that they were willing to take the verbal barbs from the Georgia and Alabama fans at work, because whether their SEC brethren liked it or not, they were gonna keep supporting their team.

The Tennessee Fan Who Stayed Around deserves to be supported, given a round of applause and a pat on the back. We hope for the Tennessee Fan Who Stayed Around that times will be better under new coach Jeremy Pruitt. While some Tennessee fans will demand an 9-3 or 8-4 year at the worst in the first two years of Pruitt’s tenure, the Tennessee Fan Who Stayed Around will acknowledge that some things take time, like the brewing process of the moonshine he had after hunting deer in the Appalachians.

And most of all, it goes to the Tennessee students, who stayed around to say that they still believed in the team at whatever cost. Whether the fanbase likes it or not, the students have to suffer, because random SEC fans will tell them over Thanksgiving or Christmas: “Tough Year”. They won’t be talking about Grandma’s illness or even the retirement of Dale Jr, but they’ll be talking about the football team. This is the Tennessee student who’s still got three years to go, because it may not be the easiest wearing orange.

Happy Christmas, Tennessee fans, you’re our fans of the year.

Note: Vanderbilt fans came close, and then we remembered that Vanderbilt’s win over Kansas State as well as eviscerating the Vols made them the second most-suffering fanbase in the SEC. 

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