Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: Mizzou DT pops off before SEC debut -- he'll learn

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Dennis Dodd says Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has a lot to prove against Texas A&M. (Getty Images)  
Dennis Dodd says Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has a lot to prove against Texas A&M. (Getty Images)  

Old-man football?

Perhaps Sheldon Richardson meant old-school football. That would have been a more fair, accurate description of the SEC's style of play. Or maybe Missouri's redshirt junior defensive tackle -- by way of College of the Sequoias -- was trying to say, "I've-made-three-career-starts-and-have-no-right-to-shoot-my-mouth-off."

These things sometimes get lost in translation. Actually, there is little to mistake this week. Richardson took out everything in his path with a trash-talkin' machine-gun blast against all things football holy. Asked if he'd seen Georgia beat Buffalo last week, Richardson replied "I watched that game. I turned it off, too. It's like watching Big Ten football. It's old-man football."

Senior citizens, Big Ten, Georgia, SEC. There's not a demographic that Richardson didn't offend. As Missouri is about to break the seal on its first SEC contest, Richardson broke the new conference's code of conduct. The SEC is many things, but it usually isn't about smack flying back and forth between players.

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Between coaches? Sure. That's why they made telephones. Between NCAA investigators and compliance directors? Absolutely. Fans? Two words: Harvey Updyke. Bored boosters? Look it up.

But in the South, players mostly have been taught to run, stop the run and speak with lowered shoulder pads. Richardson, a St. Louis native, has yet to learn his manners. That's why the SEC tilted off its axis a bit this week.

"What Sheldon did was wrong and irresponsible," Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said prior to Saturday's SEC opener against Georgia. "He got caught up in the moment. We handled that internally."

Said one of those "old" men, 52-year-old 'Dawgs coach Mark Richt: "I took it as a compliment."

Richardson added, "If we execute, nobody in this league can touch us, period."

Oh boy. Missouri's Mouth of the South will learn. Sooner or later, everyone does in the Strength Everywhere Conference. Whether Richardson had kept quiet or not, Missouri knew it was about to enter a new culture. It is one where everything from the tailgate to the postgame handshake is scrutinized. Every nuance has meaning. Each statement is combed through for evidence of some sort of hidden meaning.

Remember a couple of years ago how folks lost their religion when Les Miles ate Tiger Stadium grass?

Like it or not, the worth of Texas A&M and Missouri in the nation's best conference will be determined Saturday. Three hours, that's it. That's all they have. WWL isn't saying it's right or even sensible. Once again, it's the SEC. That rep can change but on a day-to-day basis -- it's a little like high school. Missouri and A&M are walking down the hall for the first time. You are what you wear.

In this case, you are how you play. If the two newbies show any weakness -- God, forbid they lose their SEC openers -- they will be damned to the fires of irrelevance. There are hundreds of thousands of Southerners who still don't understand why the SEC expanded in the first place. Missouri hasn't won an outright conference title since 1960. The Aggies, hosting Florida, are a shadow of their former selves.

In this conference, you're only as good as your last chop block. The new programs will have to establish a level of toughness or die a thousand deaths each day -- at least on talk radio down South. Each SEC program has a reputation. Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, Georgia, Auburn, they're the big dogs at the moment. Florida and Tennessee are clawing their way back. Vandy is the traditional weakling trying to gain respect. Kentucky? Well, it has a heck of a basketball program.

The Aggies and Tigers start with a blank slate. Or at least one scrawled with graffiti that screams, "Do they know what they're getting into?" Saturday's monster day-night doubleheader was assembled to feature the Aggies and Tigers in their first SEC games. Kingpin/ringmaster/commissioner Mike Slive will be at midfield of both for the coin toss.

Good luck, Sheldon. You're going to need it. Georgia, the Big Ten and folks in walkers everywhere eagerly look forward to your fourth career start.

Read into that anything you want. It's the SEC.

It's Week 2 and we need to hear from ...

 Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier vs. Mississippi State. He completed only 1 of 6 for minus-5 yards in the red zone against Clemson. Frazier -- 2 of 8 in the fourth quarter -- must prove himself, quickly, or the Tigers' season begins to spiral down.

 Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel vs. Texas A&M. When was the last time you absolutely had faith in the Florida offense? Yeah, it's been a while. Now that the Gators' sophomore quarterback has the job, he must lead a still-shaky offense. Kyle Field is no place to be working out the kinks.

 Georgia ... vs. Missouri. The Bulldogs could be missing at least two starters (safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree) because of suspensions. UGA also has the (well-deserved) rep of choking early in the season. Mark Richt has lost at least once in the first two weeks of the season in four out of the last five seasons. His team is 6-6 in September since 2009, 18-10 otherwise.

 Michigan's manhood vs. Air Force. The nationally televised smack-down by Alabama has now sat in the Wolverines' guts for the whole week. What do Denard Robinson (11 of 26 vs. 'Bama) and the defense have as a response? After one week, the Falcons lead the country in rushing.

 Nebraska's running game vs. UCLA. WWL is going to assume that Taylor Martinez has A: matured; B: achieved some level of consistency. That was impressive last week against Southern Miss. With tailback Rex Burkhead questionable because of an MCL sprain, the ground game falls to sophomores Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard (190 combined total yards, 7.6 yards per touch against the Eagles.)

 LSU true freshmen corners Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins vs. Washington's Keith Price. For obvious reasons. Honey Badger is stuck in class and Price is a rising star.

"This will be a big challenge," junior corner Tharold Simon said. "The young guys will learn a lot from this game."

TCU's Casey Pachall vs. character issue

It's not that the Horned Frogs quarterback has failed a drug test, or told police he used marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy in the past. WWL gets that Pachall has been contrite and paid a price. But doesn't your starting quarterback -- a leader of the team -- have to stand for something more?

TCU opens the season against Grambling.

What's the point?

FCS (Division I-AA) punching bag Savannah State hasn't scored one yet and goes into the Florida State game as a record 70 1/2 –point underdog. That’s a week after losing to Oklahoma State 84-0.

Savannah, 2-23 in its past 25, is a 61-year-old program that has played at the FCS level (Division I-AA) since 2001. In those 25 games it has been outscored by average of 30 points (41-11). The historically black college program hasn't had a winning season since 1998.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher is in a situation where he has to calculate the point where a blowout win becomes a negative (national) story in bludgeoning the Tigers -- when Savannah State will be the biggest underdog in college football history.

If it seems like there is a dearth of big games early on, you're right. FBS programs are getting the cupcakes out of the way early. Of the 70 FBS games this week, almost a third (23) will involve and FCS opponent. Anyone out there asking for a ticket discount?

Nicktator

If this is how Nick Saban is acting the second week of the season prior to Western Kentucky, what's he going to be like in two weeks against Florida Atlantic?

Revenge of the Hornets

The embarrassment needle was buried in the red last week for Pittsburgh, Penn State, Middle Tennessee and others.

Riding an upset high off WWL's pick of Ohio over the Nittany Lions, we offer Sacramento State against Colorado for consideration. The Hornets began last season by winning at Oregon State. They won only three more times the rest of the year. That's why Sac State's 30-point loss to New Mexico State in the opener doesn't scare The List.

The Buffs find themselves in 105th in total offense after one week and are 3-10 under Jon Embree.

Mike Leach breaks down Washington-LSU

You may have heard Steve Sarkisian brought a live Tiger to Washington practice this week just to get the Huskies ready for what they'll face at LSU. Leach being Leach, Washington State's coach suggested a wildlife faceoff to determine the winner.

"I think I'd put my money on the same animal everybody else would," he said.

Should be an interesting Apple Cup.

Kicking it

San Diego State coach Rocky Long (vs. Army this week) has so little faith in his kickers than he did not attempt a field goal or extra point in their opening-week loss to Washington. The Aztecs lost by nine in a game that could have been closer or, well, won.

Twice Long went for two after touchdowns, failing twice. He also went for it on fourth down after reaching Washington's 8.

"We didn't kick field goals or extra points because that was the game plan going in," Long told reporters, "and as you all know, we have done some elaborate statistical analysis on how you score the most points and that's exactly how we played the game."

Huh?

In an era when kickers have never been better (record 76 percent accuracy in 2010), opening week was not kind to the specialists. Notre Dame missed two extra points. Arizona's John Bonano almost single-handedly blew the game against Toledo. His second miss at the end of regulation caused the game to go to overtime where the Wildcats won. Bowling Green missed two field goals, losing to Florida by 13.

The inaccurate kickers are an anomaly. After one week, kickers are on a record pace converting 83 percent.

Playing for pizza

Central Florida and Ohio State certainly aren't playing for a bowl. The game is one of two this season between teams both banned from bowls because of NCAA sanctions. The other is Oct. 27, Ohio State at Penn State (note: Central Florida is appealing its ban).

To be in the Houston meeting room

Or maybe not. The mood has been more like a wake. Who is Tony "Itchy Trigger Finger" Levine going to fire this week if the Cougars lose to Louisiana Tech?

Reason No. 3,672 why the SEC rules

Delta added a one-time roundtrip flight from Atlanta to Columbia, Mo. this weekend. Do bulldogs count as a carry on?


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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