Our continuing look at who, what and where we have to look forward to when SEC football kicks off this season continues with Tigers, Wildcats and chickens. All of which go great with barbeque sauce, so I threw some of that in, too. Among other things I'm looking forward to the following in 2010:
15. Auburn at South Carolina, September 18. South Carolina, as you are certainly already aware, will be coming off its SEC East opener against Georgia. If we win in Columbia the week before this one loses some luster. But if (as some in Bulldawg Nation think) our new defensive coordinator doesn't have things fully coordinated yet and we drop one to the Gamecocks, this one could have real implications in the race for both the East and West. We could find ourselves in the stomach-turning position of pulling for the Auburn Tigers to help Georgia get back into the tie-breaker discussion in the East via a Carolina loss, a victory over Florida in Jacksonville, and a whole lot of magic dust. Let's all hope things never get that out of hand.
14. Kentucky at Tennessee, November 27. For those scoring at home, the Kentucky Wildcats have not beaten the Tennessee Volunteers on a football field since 1984. Think about that for a moment. For all the grief that a succession of Georgia football coaches have taken for their futility against Florida in Jacksonville, Kentucky's is a streak of epic servitude which knows few equals in all of sports. Sure, Tennessee had a great run beginning in the late eighties and running right into the new millennium. But still, you have to both play some really bad football and have the ball bounce the other guy's way many, many times in order to lose to the same squad 25 times in a row. This included the 2007 overtime loss, in which the Kentuckians managed to overcome a 17 point deficit in the 4th quarter to tie it going into overtime, intercept an Erik Ainge pass at the goal line, then promptly miss a 35 yard field goal to win it. That was the game that (in addition to the Vols' 16 point 4th quarter comeback the week before against Vandy) kept Georgia out of the SEC Championship game against LSU, and potentially the BCS National Championship Game by extension.
But this year the Vols look as ripe to be knocked off as they ever have. They have inexperience and depth issues all over the field and a new coaching staff trying to pick up the pieces left behind by Team Kiffykins. I repeat: if ever there were a year in which Kentucky could win on Rocky Top, this would be it. Otherwise, who knows? They say the talent for the class of 2021 is looking pretty sparse in Tennessee.
13. My new sauce recipe. As regular readers of the blog know, I take my barbeque pretty seriously. Smoked meats and football season just go hand-in-hand for me. This offseason I spent some significant time working on a barbeque problem that's plagued me since before Mark Richt started parting his hair down the middle: finding the perfect mustard sauce recipe. I like Sticky Fingers' Carolina Classic sauce, but it's too thick for many applications, especially pulled pork sandwiches. So I set out upon the interwebs looking for a better option. After roughly 15 attempts I think I found one, and I'll be trying it out early and often this season. The sauce has already performed admirably on sandwiches and as an accompaniment to baby back ribs and pork tenderloin. Like a first year starter under center, I'm ready to see how it responds to gameday action.
12. Mark Ingram. This is the third year running that the Heisman Trophy winner will be returning to the college gridiron the following season. I don't believe Ingram will be any more successful than Tim Tebow or Sam Bradford in defending the title. Ingram, however, may be undone by his own teammates. With Greg McElroy gaining experience under center, Trent Richardson sharing carries in the backfield, and Julio Jones beating coverage on the outside, the Alabama offensive staff has plenty of reasons not to keep feeding the big tailback from Michigan. But even if he doesn't take to the podium at the Downtown Athletic Club, I'm still looking forward to watching Ingram play football. He's not a flashy tailback. He's quick enough to find daylight, sure, but Mark Ingram is a throwback to the "3 yards and a cloud of dust" days, a bruising runner who seems to get stronger as the game goes on. And I dig that about him. You can have your tailbacks running sub-10 second 100 meter dashes at some April track meet. I like the ones with blood on their jerseys who run people the hell over.
11. Washaun Ealey. Speaking of bruising tailbacks, Washaun Ealey comes into this season with the chance to have a really special season. As a true freshman in 2009 the young man from Emanuel County ran the ball 125 times for 717 yards. That's a 5.7 yards per carry average, a truly phenomenal number when you consider that most offensive coordinators set 4 to 4.5 per carry as their goal. As a point of reference, Knowshon Moreno averaged 5.4 yards per carry as a redshirt freshman in 2007 and 5.6 as a sophomore in 2008. We will desperately need the running game to produce this season, especially early. Otherwise we could find ourselves in twin shoot-outs against South Carolina and Arkansas, both of which start quarterbacks far more experienced than Aaron Murray. Barring injury, I see no reason for Ealey to finish the season with fewer than 175 carries and 900 yards. And yes, that includes Caleb King, who could easily put up similar numbers.
Until Friday . . .