ESPN's college football universe is home to a colorful cast of characters who come in all shapes, sizes, unfortunate tie choices, and degrees of fan following. But Rece Davis is one guy who seems to be a hit with college pigskin followers of all stripes. A former high school quarterback from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Rece actually cut his teeth in the broadcast business while he was studying at the University of Alabama, doing unpaid sports coverage (to which bloggers can relate). He moved on to WRBL television in Columbus, and eventually to the Worldwide Leader.
Rece has been so popular with viewers because he's known for bringing a fan's enthusiasm combined with a professional's perspective to college football and basketball, hosting studio segments of College Game Day and College Football Live. I caught up with him yesterday to discuss the utter chaos of the SEC, the time he watched Bear Bryant's Tide beat Virginia Tech badly enough to trigger a United Nations war crime investigation, and the weird stuff that people in northern Alabama do to good pulled pork . . .
Dawg Sports: Hi Rece, how are you doing?
Rece: I'm doing well, how are you?
Dawg Sports: Great. Thanks for taking a few minutes to speak with us today.
Rece: I'm always happy to do it.
Dawg Sports: As you know this is a really big week for us as Georgia fans. We've got the World's Largest Outdoor Demolition Derby (TM) going on this weekend in Jacksonville. I was curious, with two teams that are banged up (Tyler Murphy has a sore shoulder, freshman Kelvin Taylor is playing tailback for the Gators and I may be lining up there for Georgia . . .) do you have any thoughts on who may have an advantage in this type of game?
Rece: That's a tough one. Isn't Gurley supposed to be back for Georgia this week?
Dawg Sports: That's the rumor . . .
Rece: If Gurley is back then the edge goes to Georgia. Well. the edge is probably with Georgia anyway. They have the superior quarterback play no matter who's out there for Florida. And if they have Gurley they have in my judgment the best running back in the country assuming he's healthy. So I think that would give the edge to the 'Dawgs. I think the one thing that is really difficult to measure is to try to determine what the mental state is of both teams given the disappointment that both have endured, mostly because of injury. It's been really "The Year of the Injury" in college football, and probably the two teams at the top of the list are Georgia and Florida in terms of the number of guys lost for extended periods of time.
Granted it's not just those two teams, you look at Nebraska and Taylor Martinez, Marquise Lee (USC), De'Anthony Thomas (Oregon). But I think the difference for Georgia and Florida is that they've had an inordinate number of their key players who have been lost. So you don't have the match up that you would have anticipated if you'd looked at these rosters in the preseason. It's difficult to get a handle on who has the edge, but I would say in terms of "difference makers" Florida's defense is still really good but it's lost a significant number of its playmakers, most significantly Dominique Easley, I would still tend to give the edge a little bit to Georgia. I think they have those difference makers in Murray and Gurley (assuming that he's able to play).
Dawg Sports: You talked about disappointment in both fan bases this season. I sense there might be a broader sense of disappointment in the state of Florida with how things have gone the past couple of years with Will Muschamp at the helm. You had a promising season that ended poorly with the loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Certainly there have been some things that have been out of his control, like the loss of Jeff Driskel and Dominique Easley. But how safe is Will Muschamp at Florida, and how important are the last games of the 2013 season to keeping him in Gainesville.
Rece: I certainly can't get into Jeremy Foley's mind. But I would think that Will is safe. That said, I think that it's pretty obvious that they need to make some changes. Do those changes mean staff changes? Or philosophy changes? Or productivity changes? Recruiting changes? I don't know. But I know this. It may sound insulting, and as a Georgia guy you may not mind that (editor's note: he's not wrong here, I don't mind insulting Florida one damned bit . . .), but I marveled at Florida last year because I thought it was remarkable that they won 11 games with the players that they had. I didn't think that was an 11 win team and I thought it was remarkable that they did that with the players that they had. I thought it was really a wonderful coaching job. So if you're going to use that measure, then who gets credit for it? Will Muschamp has to. I think he won more games than he had a right to win with that group last year.
Did they have good players? Yes, they did. But they didn't have a great situation at quarterback. They weren't overwhelming on offense. They just found a way. They made special teams plays, like late in the game against Louisiana-Lafayette to win that game. So I thought he got as much as could be humanly expected out of his team last year. But it's kind of gone in reverse this year. A lot of the problems can be easily explained by injuries. But we're a knee jerk society, especially as relates to coaching, so I can understand some of the criticism that Will has gotten. But I think that really some things have to change so that they can be more consistently productive on offense. I think that's the major order of business for them right now.
But one of the things that would be really frustrating for Florida fans would be to look at their offensive play makers on the outside and compare them with the ones in Tallahassee or for that matter in Miami. Look at the playmakers they have at receiver on the edge or even in the backfield. I think Kelvin Taylor is going to be a stud, but I think if you look at those two schools you have to say they have more firepower and Florida needs to catch up in that area. Muschamp's a good coach, and I think he'll get it done. So I don't think there's really an issue with his job security right now. Of course I think most coaches would tell you that their job security is pretty much a game-to-game situation when you get right down to it.
Dawg Sports: True enough. It's certainly better to take things game by game in the SEC, but let's look ahead just a little bit, just one week. How crazy does the title picture get if LSU upsets Alabama on November 9th, and what do you think are the odds of that occurring?
Rece: I think that anytime those two teams play that there's a chance that either team can win. It's become in my judgment the premier rivalry in the SEC, and probably the premier rivalry in the game. If you win you have a chance of playing in the national championship game. I think certainly LSU has a match up that favors them in Mettenberger being able to make every throw that's ever been invented and receivers that can make plays.
I don't think Zach has been quite as sharp the last couple of games as he was early in the season, but they certainly have a match up that they can exploit because they have big, physical receivers who can make catches in traffic and a quarterback who can make the throws. Alabama has reshuffled some personnel but their better on the outside than they were against Texas A&M. Deion Belue's healthy now and they've sort of rotated at the other cornerback spot. And while they've improved, I think that's an area that a team like LSU can exploit.
In terms of the west race I think it does become kind of crazy, and actually opens up a great opportunity for Auburn. Because is still a game ahead of LSU in the loss column, so Auburn could then be put in a position where if it simply takes care of its business then they would play for the SEC Championship.
Dawg Sports: You mentioned some of the playmakers who could be big in that LSU/Alabama game. If you had to pick one SEC player to build a team around, who's the one guy . . .
Rece (before I've even finished the question) : Johnny Manziel.
Dawg Sports: No hesitation there, huh?
Rece: No. None.
Dawg Sports: Wouldn't want A.J. McCarron? Aaron Murray?
Rece: I love A.J. McCarron. He's as underrated and underappreciated, at least outside the state of Alabama, as any player who's come down the pipe in the last several years. But Johnny Manziel is unique. Once in a generation. Daring. You just don't see guys with improvisational skills like he has or who are as unafraid as he is. And sure it causes him to make mistakes sometimes. But the upside is just tremendous, almost immeasurable. And of course when you pick one guy you're slighting an A.J. McCarron or an Aaron Murray, who's put together practically every record that there is to. But I think Johnny Manziel is just a unique talent and I wouldn't hesitate at all, if you're going to build a whole team around him. Certainly being from the SEC I have a little bit of a defensive background so I'd give at least a passing stock to building around Jadeveon Clowney, but I think you gotta have the quarterback first, so I'd go with Johnny.
Dawg Sports: You of course matriculated in Tuscaloosa. I'm curious if there's one particular football memory from your time at Alabama that sticks out, that you'll never forget?
Rece: It's hard to say, there are so many great memories. I grew up in the 70's, and I think for whatever reason my biggest memory is the first game that I ever went to. I was seven, almost eight years old and I went to see Alabama play Virginia Tech. In the Chik-Fil-A Kickoff Classic, that was a great match up. In the 70's? Not so much. Alabama had more than 800 yards of offense against them and put 77 points on the board. But I think the thing that I remeber most (in addition to seeing Alabama run up and down the field from the wishbone) was just the pageantry, and the wonder, and the excitement. The speed of the game.
But I think I was in love with college football for at least a couple of years before that. I think it was the 1971 season is the first one that I can remember. I was five years old. But I think that Alabama/Virginia Tech game solidified it, to be in the middle of that environment, and how exciting it all was. I've been privileged to go to a lot of places over the years, and there were a lot of great games when I was growing up and while I was a student at Alabama, but I think that it's just unique to remember that first time that you experienced the wonders of being in a college stadium. That's just a special one for me.
Dawg Sports: You mentioned growing up in Alabama. You're from the Muscle Shoals area right?
Rece: Oh yeah.
Dawg Sports: So let me ask you: this barbecue with white sauce. What's up with that?
Rece: I'm not a big white sauce fan. I don't dislike it per se, but I didn't really grow up with it. That's more of a Big Bob's Gibson's, Decatur-type thing. I'm much more of a Dreamland, or Rendezvous or Corky's in Memphis kind of guy. Those are the sauces that I prefer. Archibald's in Tuscaloosa is a great barbecue spot (Editor's note: Again, Rece ain't wrong about this). I don't hate the white sauce. It's just not my favorite.
Dawg Sports: You and me both, brother. One more quick question. I know you're on the advisory board for the Capital One Cup. Could you talk about what that is, and why you believe it's important for college sports in general?
Rece: Well I think the easy answer about why it's important is that it provides opportunity. We talk all the time about athletics providing opportunity off the field in addition to the onfield chances that the young men and women who play college sports get. The Capital One Cup is doing that in a big way. The Cup is a competition for all Division I athletic programs to have the best overall mens and womens athletic programs at the end of the year. The winners get a grand total of $400,000 in scholarship money to be used for student athletes.
That's the reason I wanted to be involved in it, because I believe that Capital One is giving back at a tremendous impactful level. That helps provide opportunity to young men and women who play the sports that I grew up enjoying, and still have the privilege to enjoy while making a living doing so. Giving them the opportunity to pursue their goals is a great thing.
In terms of the Cup itself I think the cool thing about it is that it's not just some stuffy awards banquet, thisis something the fans can get involved in. They can keep up wih it because we update the standings at the end of the fall. winter, and spring. We do it all online, on Facebook, and Twitter. They can know that whether they're interested in football or Georgia gymnastics, or baseball or field hockey, whatever is a person's interest, those results have an impact on the Capital One Cup standings. Every alum wants to brag that they have the best program, and Capital One gives you a way to quantify that.
Until later . . .