Posted on: December 29, 2011 6:27 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:48 pm

Keys to the Game: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

AUBURN WILL WIN IF: Gene Chizik still has some of that old defensive coordinating magic tucked away somewhere. With the exception of a handful of games during his team's 2010 national title run, Chizik -- a Broyles Award winner as a DC with a long and exemplary track record at both Auburn and Texas -- has never been able to translate that acumen to his defenses as a head coach, either at Iowa State or Auburn. That continued this year, as the Tigers slumped to a 79th-place finish in total defense, their formerly stout rush defense (which led the SEC in 2010) plummeting to 98th nationally.

With the Auburn offense an out-and-out shambles by season's end (the Tigers failed to score more than 17 points against any SEC team outside the state of Mississippi) and Gus Malzahn unlikely to fix it while splitting time with his new head coaching duties at Arkansas State, Chizik's winning formula will have to be the same as it was in his team's midseason upset of South Carolina and defeat of Florida: a stifling defensive effort paired with just enough points to get by. In up-and-coming defensive end Corey Lemonier and fiery senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, Chizik has some of the pieces necessary to reprise those game-winning performances from earlier in the year. With Ted Roof out of the picture and the Dec. 31 date giving him plenty of time to work with his defense, this is Chizik's chance to prove he can still make a difference on the defensive side of the ball; if he's not up to it, it's highly doubtful his team will be up to winning the game, either.

VIRGINIA WILL WIN IF: they take advantage of their opportunities. There aren't many teams with a wider gap between their FBS rank in total offense and scoring offense than the Cavaliers, who finished a respectable 48th in yards but managed to come in 88th in points. The culprit's an easy one to spot: Virginia converted just 21 of its 42 red zone possessions into touchdowns, a 50 percent mark that placed them 105th nationally. Starting running back Perry Jones (883 yards) and sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco (2,359 passing yards, 7.3 an attempt) have been capable when it comes to moving the chains, but aren't much for the big play; Jones has only five touchdowns on 176 attempts, Rocco 11 TD throws (to 11 interceptions) on 325 passes.

Given Auburn's defensive frailties, Rocco, Jones and the Cavs are likely to move the ball and add a few more red zone possessions to their total of opportunities. But if they don't cash in, the game could devolve into the kind of diown-to-the-wire white-knuckler in which Chizik's teams have had so much success.

THE X-FACTOR: A major reason Auburn won those slugfests with the Gamecocks and Gators, or its season-opening shootout with Utah State? Its special teams, which feature Ray Guy award finalist Steven Clark at punter, dangerous kick returners Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason (who each have a return for a score this season), and touchback machine Cody Parkey handling kickoffs. According to Phil Steele's special teams ratings, Auburn finished the year eighth in the kicking game and Virginia 91st. If those numbers prove accurate, the Cavs could have a hard time overcoming what might be a decisive Tiger advantage in field position.

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Posted on: December 28, 2011 4:03 pm

2012 SEC schedule team-by-team breakdown

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

At long last, the SEC finally unveiled its 2012 football schedule Wednesday--its first with  Texas A&M and Missouri as its 13th and 14th members, and the matter of intense speculation and rumor ever since the Aggies and Tigers joined this past fall. Though the schedule isn't yet an indicator of how things will look in 2013 and beyond (Mike Slive pointedly said recently the 2012 edition is a one-year stopgap before a permanent divisional rotation is established the following season), that doesn't mean there's not plenty to parse and analyze where 2012 is concerned. Here's a team-by-team look at what each SEC program is happy about regarding the schedule, and what they're not so glad about:


Likes that: its East divisional draw doesn't feature either South Carolina or Georgia. A road trip to Missouri could be tricky, but given the way the Gamecocks whomped the Tide the last time the two teams met and how the Bulldogs have finished this season, Alabama's not going to complain about getting a first historic visit to Columbia under their belts. And of course, their permanent cross-divisional rivalry with Tennessee isn't anything to fear at this stage. Getting Auburn at home is always a plus.

Doesn't like that: what shapes up as the two biggest SEC games on its schedule, LSU and Arkansas, both come on the road. If the Tide are going to earn the critical head-to-head tiebreaker over either of their West rivals, they're going to have to do it the hard way.


Likes that: both Alabama and LSU have to visit Fayetteville, where the Hogs have been particularly feisty against the Tigers. And taking on the Tide early (Sept. 15, the first SEC game of the season for both) could work to Arkansas's advantage as Nick Saban retools his much, much younger defense. Any West team that gets "home vs. Kentucky" as one of their East games has to be pleased with their good fortune there, too.

Doesn't like that: its annual game with South Carolina is on the road, we guess. But the way the Hogs have routed the Gamecocks the past few seasons, they probably don't care too much where they play them, and that still might be their only complaint; the West is still the West, but this was as kind a schedule as it was possible to draw up for the Hogs. 


Likes that: three of its four road games are visits to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. The fourth is to Bryant-Denny, but after this year's murderous road slate, the Tigers will take what they can get--and three road games as a potential favorite is an awfully nice thing for any West team to get. As solid as Vandy looks to be in Year 2 of the James Franklin reclamation project, too, it's doubtful the Tigers will mind the Gamecocks and Gators rotating off the schedule and the Commodores rotating on.

Doesn't like that: the Alabama game is on the road, or that they have to deal with the general pain of having the East's current best team as an annual rival. But this schedule shapes up much more like the Tigers' palatable 2010 slate than their 2011 one.


Likes that: if the Gators actually haul themselves up into a position to contend for the East title, they'll get potential co-challengers South Carolina and Missouri in Gainesville. And it's an even year, which means four home games and three true road games to go with the neutral-site Cocktail Party.

Doesn't like that: they get the "honor" of being the first SEC team to visit Kyle Field for a conference game; think the Aggie faithful will be a little fired up for that one? Having LSU as an annual rival hurts there days, and even getting them at home doesn't help since the Gators would likely prefer to have a more beatable opponent in that slot. Tough to get a rougher West draw than that.


Likes that: for the second straight season, there's still no LSU, Alabama, or Arkansas on the schedule. Instead, the Bulldogs get Ole Miss at home--the single easiest West game it was possible for them to pull. In terms of raw 2011 win-loss, the Bulldogs have the easiest set of opponents in the league.

Doesn't like that: if the East comes down to one game against either South Carolina, Florida, or Missouri, all three are away from Athens; with Auburn on the road, too, it's arguable that not one of the Dawgs' four toughest opponents will come to Sanford Stadium. The Bulldogs can't complain too loudly (if at all) given the teams they're facing out of the West, but this is still a much tougher road to hoe than they faced in 2011.


Likes that: they get annual cross-division opponent Mississippi State at home; given the other options out of the West, that's not so bad. Their traditional most winnable SEC game -- Vanderbilt -- comes at home in 2012, too.

Doesn't like that: their other West game is a trip to Arkansas, two precious home games are "wasted" on the potentially out-of-reach Bulldogs and Gamecocks, or that they have to travel to Knoxville when the Vols are as vulnerable as they've ever been. (Though given the choice, they'd have surely taken them at home in 2011 rather than '12.) When you're Kentucky, it's hard to put together a schedule that doesn't immediately seem like an impossible hill to climb.


Likes that: Alabama has to return to Baton Rouge for a guaranteed night game that could -- again -- decide the SEC West. Though the Tigers would maybe rather have their dates with the Mississippi schools on the road (since they'd likely beat them anywhere), getting the Bulldogs and Rebels for back-to-back November home games should provide a nice lead-in to the critical season-ending roadie at Arkansas.

Doesn't like that: aside from the Alabama game, the SEC did the defending champs no favors. Gators/Gamecocks is almost as touch a draw from the East as you can get; the Tigers have to start their SEC season with a pair of challenging roadies at Auburn and Florida; and the long-awaited renewal of their hot-blooded rivalry with Texas A&M will begin in College Station rather than the friendly confiens of Death Valley. All together, no SEC contender will face a more difficult quartet of road games than the Tigers will.


Likes that: the winnable games are at home. Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, and Auburn shape up as arguably the four most vulnerable opponents on the rebels' 2012 slate, and all four come to Oxford. If the Rebels go winless in conference for a second straight season, they can't say the schedule didn't give them a reasonable opportunity.

Doesn't like that: the road slate is just this side of completely impossible: at Alabama, at Arkansas, at Georgia, at LSU. Toughest set of road games for one team in SEC history? It's in play. And for a team as currently woebegone as the Rebels are, drawing Kentucky or Tennessee instead of Georgia out of the East would have been very, very welcome.


Likes that: their date with Kentucky is in Lexington but their dates with Alabama and LSU in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge, respectively; the Bulldogs should beat the former anyway, while traveling to the latter saves their home games for more beat-able Auburn, Texas A&M, and Tennessee. And speaking of the Vols--could MSU have drawn anything better out of the East than at the Wildcats and home vs. Tennessee? No, no they could not have.

Doesn't like that: the all-important Egg Bowl is at Ole Miss. But other than that, this is about as pleasant a schedule as State could expect.


Likes that: they host Georgia in their SEC debut, giving them a chance to take control of the East race (in front of what should be one of their season's best crowds) right off the bat. That three-week home stand in the middle of the season -- one that includes both Vanderbilt and Kentucky -- could be a springboard to bigger things down the road. And even if the middle game of that stretch is Alabama, a potentially unfortunate pull from the West in terms of the win column, might as well start off your SEC tenure with a bang, right?

Doesn't like that: games against potential East rivals South Carolina and Florida both come on the road.


Likes that: they get Georgia and Missouri at home and could use that advantage to earn a key head-to-head tiebreaker. That's about it.

Doesn't like that: they're still stuck with Arkansas as their annual West game and add a road date with none other than LSU; no one in the East faces a tougher pair of cross-divisional games. Coming only one season after the Gamecocks' West draw arguably kept them out of Atlanta singlehandedly -- they traveled to face Arkansas (and lost) while Georgia went to Oxford to crush the hapless Rebels -- that's a tough, tough pill to swallow. Going to Gainesville is adding insult to injury.


Likes that: Kentucky comes to Neyland for the best possible shot at starting a new streak over the Wildcats, and as potential West opponents go, the Vols could be facing one more difficult than Mississippi State (even on the road). Hosting Florida to kick off the SEC season could give Derek Dooley's under-fire tenure a quick jumpstart, and hey, get this--the Third Saturday in October is actually scheduled for the third Saturday in October.

Doesn't like that: road games at Georgia and South Carolina should pretty much end any hope of a dark horse SEC East run before it starts. And not that anyone in Knoxville wants to drop the Tide, but that series pretty much guarantees the Vols will have a rougher West draw than a team like, say, oh, Georgia.


Likes that: they get one of the league's glamour teams for their SEC debut, hosting Florida on Sept. 8; adding the Gators and old rivals LSU to the home slate will make season tickets at Kyle Field as hot as they've been in years. Traveling to the Mississippi schools isn't nearly as daunting as traveling to some other SEC locations.

Doesn't like that: they get a looming three-game road stretch between October and November that features visits to both Auburn and Alabama. If their date with Arkansas stays in Dallas for one more season -- the Aggies want to move it to College Station and it's all-but-certain to become a home-and-home in 2013 -- they'd have just three SEC home games total, a la Georgia.


Likes that: they can immediately announce themselves as serious SEC East players with a home date against the Gamecocks, one that will open the entire 2012 SEC season on Aug. 30. Their annual cross-division rivalry with Ole Miss has never looked better, and their other West opponent -- Auburn -- must come to Nashville.

Doesn't like that: in the event of a loss to South Carolina, consecutive road trips to Georgia and Missouri could take the wind completely out of the Commodores' sails by the first week of October. 

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Posted on: December 28, 2011 10:14 am
Edited on: December 28, 2011 10:34 am

2012 SEC football schedule released

Posted by Chip Patterson

The most desired Christmas present was delivered a few days late for many die-hard SEC football fans.  On Wednesday, the league finally released the conference schedule for 2012.  This is the first official look at how a 14-team SEC with Missouri (SEC East) and Texas A&M (SEC West) shakes out for each school. 

One early takeaway from the schedule on first glance is how it favors the reigning SEC East champion Georgia Bulldogs. Mark Richt's squad was able to bounce back from their 0-2 start and roll off 10 straight victories to earn a bid to the SEC title game. In that run through the conference schedule, the Bulldogs avoided a matchup with LSU, Alabama, or Arkansas. In 2012 Georgia will once again dodge all three opponents, drawing Ole Miss and Auburn as their cross-division foes.

Check out each team's slate below, and drop us your comments on what stands out heading into the 2012 SEC season on Facebook, Twitter (@EyeOnCFB), or in the comments section below.

Sept. 15: at Arkansas
Sept. 29: OLE MISS
Oct. 13: at Missouri
Oct. 20: at Tennessee
Nov. 3: at LSU
Nov. 10: TEXAS A&M
Nov. 24: AUBURN

Sept. 15: ALABAMA
Sept. 29: vs. Texas A&M
Oct. 6: at Auburn
Oct. 27: OLE MISS
Nov. 10: at South Carolina
Nov. 17: at Mississippi State
Nov. 24: LSU

Sept. 8: at Mississippi State
Sept. 22: LSU
Oct. 13: at Ole Miss
Oct. 20: at Vanderbilt
Oct. 27: TEXAS A&M
Nov. 10: GEORGIA
Nov. 24: at Alabama

Sept. 8: at Texas A&M
Sept. 15: at Tennessee
Sept. 22: KENTUCKY
Oct. 6: LSU
Oct. 13: at Vanderbilt
Oct. 27: vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)

Sept. 8: at Missouri
Oct. 6: at South Carolina
Oct. 20: at Kentucky
Oct. 27: vs. Florida (Jacksonville)
Nov. 3: OLE MISS
Nov. 10: at Auburn

Sept. 22: at Florida
Oct. 13: at Arkansas
Oct. 20: GEORGIA
Oct. 27: at Missouri
Nov. 24: at Tennessee

Sept. 22: at Auburn
Oct. 6: at Florida
Oct. 20: at Texas A&M
Nov. 17: OLE MISS
Nov. 24: at Arkansas

Sept. 29: at Alabama
Oct. 6: TEXAS A&M
Oct. 13: AUBURN
Oct. 27: at Arkansas
Nov. 3: at Georgia
Nov. 17: at LSU

Sept. 8: AUBURN
Oct. 6: at Kentucky
Oct. 27: at Alabama
Nov. 3: TEXAS A&M
Nov. 10: at LSU
Nov. 24: at Ole Miss

Sept. 8: GEORGIA
Sept. 22: at South Carolina
Oct. 13: ALABAMA
Nov. 3: at Florida
Nov. 10: at Tennessee
Nov. 24: at Texas A&M

Aug. 30: at Vanderbilt
Sept. 22: MISSOURI
Sept. 29: at Kentucky
Oct. 13: at LSU
Oct. 20: at Florida

Sept. 15: FLORIDA
Sept. 29: at Georgia
Oct. 13: at Mississippi State
Oct. 20: ALABAMA
Oct. 27: at South Carolina
Nov. 17: at Vanderbilt

Sept. 8: FLORIDA
Sept. 29: vs. Arkansas
Oct. 6: at Ole Miss
Oct. 20: LSU
Oct. 27: at Auburn
Nov. 3: at Mississippi State
Nov. 10: at Alabama

Sept. 22: at Georgia
Oct. 6: at Missouri
Oct. 13: FLORIDA
Oct. 20: AUBURN
Nov. 3: at Kentucky
Nov. 10: at Ole Miss

Any games you are already looking forward to? What team has an early advantage thanks to the 2012 schedule? Let us know your thoughts over at the Eye On College Football Facebook page.

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Posted on: December 23, 2011 5:37 pm

Report: 2012 SEC schedule "expected" Monday

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The long wait to see exactly how the SEC has corralled its new 14-team monster of a league into its 2012 football schedule -- and on short notice, no less -- should be almost over.

According to a report Friday from Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun, the finished 2012 SEC schedule "is expected to be released Monday." The SEC's official Twitter feed confirmed Thursday that the schedule is in its "final stages" but would not be made public until after Christmas.

But to believe the sources who have spoken to Dooley, the process has already gone past those "final stages" to "completed." Among the impacts of the last-minute addition of Missouri to the SEC East, Dooley reports, is that Florida won't receive the returned home game from their cross-divisional rotation trip to Auburn this past season--nor will they get their new, expected rotated-in matchup against Ole Miss. Instead, the Gators will face only two West opponents (Texas A&M and annual cross-division rival LSU) while adding Missouri to their East slate.

Assuming that information is correct, it will put to bed once and for all the notion -- advanced in November by no less than South Carolina president Harris Pastides -- that the SEC is moving to a nine-game conference schedule for 2012. The SEC moved quickly to quash that suggestion at the time, and Mike Slive told the Birmingham News Thursday that he "[doesn't] sense any interest" in moving beyond the current eight-game arrangement.

But neither that statement nor the eight-game 2012 slate rules out a nine-game schedule in the league's future. Slive also confirmed that the 2012 schedule is intended as a one-year stopgap before the 2013 slate establishes the SEC's future divisional rotations, and pointedly added "Who knows what the future holds?" when asked about the possibility of nine games.

So some of the nagging questions about the new look SEC will (very likely) be answered on Monday. Some, though, are going to linger on for a good deal longer than that.
Posted on: December 22, 2011 1:25 pm
Edited on: December 22, 2011 1:26 pm

Texas is the most valuable football program

Posted by Tom Fornelli

They may have only won a total of 12 games in the last two seasons, but that lack of success hasn't done much to change the bottom line for the Texas Longhorns. Forbes has released its list of the most valuable college football programs in the country and, to no surprise, Texas is once again at the top of the list.

Forbes estimates that the program is worth $129 million.
Texas’ total value is driven largely by a football profit of $71 million last season, up from $65 million in 2009. Texas football generated $96 million in revenue, $36 million of which came from ticket sales. Another $30 million was comprised of contributions tied to amenity seating like club seats and luxury suites. The Longhorns also benefited from $10 million worth of sponsorship deals, with Coca-Cola, Nike and PepsiCo’s Gatorade giving a combined $2 million last year.
What is somewhat surprising, however, is that number doesn't even include the revenue from the school's new Longhorn Network. No, those numbers won't be included until next year, so I'm going to go out on a limb right now and predict that Texas will once again be considered the most valuable football program at the end of 2012 as well.

Yeah, that's right. I said it. I'm putting myself out there.

Here's the top ten schools listed with their estimated value.

1. Texas ($129 million)
2. Notre Dame ($112 million)
3. Penn State ($100 million)
4. LSU ($96 million)
5. Michigan ($94 million)
6. Alabama ($93 million)
7. Georgia ($90 million)
8. Arkansas ($89 million)
9. Auburn ($88 million)
10. Oklahoma ($87 million)
Posted on: December 22, 2011 11:33 am
Edited on: December 22, 2011 3:15 pm

Terry Bowden is Akron's new head coach

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

has found its next head coach, and despite the Zips' dismal record the past two seasons, the name is one that will be immediately familiar to college football fans.

That coach is current North Alabama head coach and former Auburn head man Terry Bowden, who the Zips introduced on their official YouTube channel Thursday afternoon:

Bowden spent one season at Akron as a graduate assistant in 1986 but has not coached at the FBS level in any capacity since his forced resignation from Auburn in 1998.

The son of Florida State coaching legend Bobby Bowden (of course), Terry spent three seasons with the Division II Lions and took them to the playoffs all three times. He coached at Auburn for six seasons, compiling a 47-17-1 record and an undefeated 11-0 campaign in his probation-saddled 1993 debut season on the Plains. Between his departure from Auburn and hire at UNA, Bowden spent several years as a television analyst and online columnist.

Though Bowden's resume and instant name recognition make this a quality hire for the Zips, he inherits a program at arguably the absolute bottom of the FBS. Akron went 2-22 the past two seasons under dismissed head coach Rob Ianello -- tying New Mexico for the worst mark in the FBS in that span -- and haven't enjoyed a winning season since 2005. 
Posted on: December 16, 2011 12:53 pm
Edited on: December 16, 2011 1:29 pm

Paul Rhoads signs 10-year deal with Iowa State

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Earlier on Friday the blog's Jerry Hinnen wrote about Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads being the top choice at Pitt to replace Todd Graham. Well, it's time for Pitt to turn to Plan B, because it doesn't look like Rhoads is going to be leaving Ames anytime soon.

The school announced on Friday that Rhoads had agreed to a ten-year contract.

"To say that I'm appreciative and humbled is a huge understatement," Rhoads said in a release. "So many people have contributed to what has been achieved in our program the first three years. I want to thank President Geoffroy and Jamie Pollard, who personally met with me to begin contract talks after the Kansas game in early November. The support of everyone in Cyclone Nation has been fantastic. It's great to be a Cyclone." 

Full details of the new contract have not been released, but the school did announce that its total value is $20 million. Whatever the amount, it's pretty obvious at this point that when Rhoads said in the past he was happy at Iowa State and wanted to stay there, he meant it.

Rhoads came to Iowa State in 2009 after spending 8 seasons as defensive coordinator at Pitt and one season in the same position with Auburn. The Cyclones have gone 18-19 under Rhoads in his three seasons, and will be making their second bowl appearance against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Posted on: December 13, 2011 10:28 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2011 11:50 am

Report: Arkansas State hires Gus Malzahn

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

In what might be the most surprising hire of the 2011 coaching carousel, Arkansas State has hired away coveted Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn as the Red Wolves' new head football coach.

The news was being reported Tuesday night by multiple outlets including the Birmingham News, AuburnUndercover.com, and others. Malzahn will replace new Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, hired by the Rebels Dec. 4 after one 10-2 season in Jonesboro.

Gene Chizik announced Wednesday that Malzahn would remain on the Auburn staff through the Tigers' Chick-Fil-A Bowl appearance against Virginia.

"I'm very happy for Gus and the opportunity that awaits him at Arkansas State," Chizik said. "Gus has always had the strong desire to become a head coach and the chance for him to return to his home state that he is so familiar with, will be very beneficial."

Though contract terms are not yet public, Malzahn is expected to earn somewhere between $650,000 and $850,000 in annual salary to coach ASU. Though that represents approximately three times what the Red Wolves were paying Freeze (who had been promoted from offensive coordinator to replace the dismissed Steve Roberts), those figures would amount to a substantial pay cut for Malzahn, who earned $1.3 million this season as one of the nation's highest-paid assistants.

As recently as last year, Malzahn also reportedly turned down offers from both Vanderbilt and Maryland, the former to have allegedly paid him in the ballpark of $3 million per season. So why bolt for a program that until this year had been to all of one bowl game as a full Division I member?

That Malzahn is a native of Fort Smith, Ark. and remains one of the state's all-time most successful high school coaches certainly doesn't hurt, but CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman also reported that Malzahn "feels like he needs to prove he's a head coach" after being passed over for the recently filled Kansas and North Carolina positions.

Whatever his reasoning, it leaves Auburn in the awkward position of having to replace both coordinators in the space of a single offseason after the recent departure of Ted Roof. Chizik received a substantial bump in salary after his national title-winning season; he's about to have to earn it.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com