DEVILLE: Saturday afternoon ramblings

Our latest edition (MJBrown)

Finally some football weather and no football?

As temperatures dipped into the low 40s in the Baton Rouge area, the LSU Tigers enjoyed their final open date of the 2004 season. After eight games in stifling south Louisiana heat and humidity, finally the weather cooperates and gives Tigertown its first true feeling of fall and Tiger Stadium is empty on this Saturday.

 

While it would be a nice afternoon for football in Death Valley, the downtime is just as nice freeing up some time to watch some college football on the tube. While this Arkansas-South Carolina game is teetering on the verge of being an instant classic, one can only imagine the heartache and frustration on the Florida Gator sideline as lame duck Ron Zook and his team are squandering away one of their last chances to pick up a win this season. The Gators are losing to Vanderbilt (that's right, Vanderbilt!) 17-14 at the half. Ugh…

 

A full slate of games on tap for this evening with Alabama and Mississippi State locking horns tonight in Tuscaloosa. It will be homecoming for Sly Croom as his upstart Bulldogs will venture into Bryant-Denny Stadium looking to make it three wins in a row.

 

This time actually, this writer is cheering for the Bulldogs.

 

Before delving into the topic of LSU football, which has been one roller coaster of a topic this season, there are some interesting tidbits from around the league.

 

While many felt as if the SEC was preparing for the return of the Ole' Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier let Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley know on Thursday that he is not interested in return to Gainesville. At nearly 60 years old, Spurrier said he did not want to give the Florida program a "quick fix" in terms of coming back for only a couple of seasons.

 

The program which Spurrier led to six SEC titles and the 1996 national championship will never again have the visor-wearing offensive genius patrolling the sidelines. Rumor has it though that Spurrier wants to coach again, but maybe not at such a high-profile program – it might cut into his golf time.

 

Well, if not Spurrier, then who?

 

The names are out there with Utah's Urban Meyer at the top of the list. Also in the running are Cal's Jeff Tedford, West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz as well as long shots from the NFL Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden and Cleveland Brown coach (and former Miami coach) Butch Davis. While Meyer is the odds on favorite to get the job, in this opinion, the next coach of the Gators won't come form this list.

 

Speaking of coaching, a tidbit of information surfaced last week in terms of who will follow Kevin Gilbertsen as the next coach at the University of Washington.

 

Gilbertsen, who replaced Rick Neuhesial two years ago as the Huskies head man, said he would step down at the end of the season. Washington football has tumbled to the doldrums of the Pac-10 and there was little doubt a chance was going to be mad at season's end.

 

With Gilbertsen's announcement, the search begins for a new coach of one of the nation's best football programs – maybe not the "best" in terms of success or conference affiliation – but best regarding facilities, fan base and location.

 

The first grumblings about who will coach the Huskies back to national prominence began last week and two names that surfaced were USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow and LSU's offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher. It is no doubt the powers that be at U-Dub will go after an offensive minded coach. While owning a high-powered offense is a necessity in the pass-happy Pac-10, Washington currently ranks 105th in the nation in total offense averaging just over 300 yards per game.

 

Chow would seem to be the favorite. Or would he?

 

Talk is that USC coach Pete Carroll may leave the Trojans if they win the national championship this season for another shot at the NFL. That would pave the way for Chow to assume the reigns of the Southern Cal program.

 

And don't forget who is the new president of the University of Washington – that's right, former LSU chancellor Mark Emmert. You can bet Fisher (who has hired Jimmy Sexton as his agent) would get a heck of a recommendation from LSU coach Nick Saban to be the next man in charge in Seattle.

 

And another thing you can "bank" on, Emmert isn't too tight with the purse strings so you can guess he will ante up the cash for whoever is named the next coach.

 

On the SEC front, the final ramifications of the Jackie Sherrill era were passed down last week in Starkville. Mississippi State was placed on four years probation and will face minimal scholarship reductions over the next couple of years.

 

It is obvious the NCAA didn't want to slam the hammer down on the Bulldog football program. Sherrill and most of the people surrounding him are no longer with the program and Croom seems to be doing whatever it takes to clean up a program which had grown into quite a mess.

 

Now that all the water cooler gossip is out of the way, we can address LSU football and the Tigers upcoming matchup with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

 

It has been awfully quiet around Tigertown over the last week or so concerning LSU football. Like we discussed last week about the effects of the national championship hangover, a four week stretch of Troy and Vanderbilt situated between a pair of open dates didn't help.

 

But hopefully, with briskness in the air along with a rather exciting three-game stretch to close out the regular season, Tiger fans will find a renewed interest in a season that has lacked the luster of a year ago.

 

While this final stretch includes three teams which LSU should beat, if the Tigers play the way they did against Troy and Vanderbilt, one or more of Alabama, Ole Miss or Arkansas could surely come out on the winning end.

 

It seems as if Saban will continue to do the quarterback shuffle throughout the remaining three contests. He has been quoted that Marcus Randall is the Tigers' first string quarterback, but not the team's starting quarterback. Huh?

 

It is very simple. While most critics will debate that Saban is making a mistake with his quarterback revolution, Saban has said time again it doesn't matter who starts the game, just as long as the team wins. So look for JaMarcus Russell to get the start Saturday and give way to Randall sometime around the middle of the first quarter. Saban says Randall plays better coming off the bench and is more comfortable entering the game once it has already gotten started.

 

As LSU turns down the home stretch of the 2004 season, the bowl watch begins. While LSU has no shot of going to the SEC title game, the national championship game or even a BCS bowl, the Tigers still should be bowling on New Year's Day for the fourth year in a row.

 

Where LSU lands is still up in the air though.

 

Most folks will say the Tigers will likely play the Big 12 North champion (possibly Missouri or Iowa State Ugh…) or the Texas Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl. A rematch with Texas wouldn't be so bad. But the Capital One Bowl in Orlando has courted LSU heavily over the last few weeks and the Tigers could be headed to its first Florida bowl game since the 1988 Hall of Fame Bowl in Tampa.

 

How attractive is that matchup – LSU vs. Michigan?

 

In the history of LSU football, not Tiger team has ever locked horns with the Wolverines. With Wisconsin seemingly destined for the Rose Bowl as the Big 10 champion, the collapse of Ohio State and Purdue has all but paved the way for Michigan to be in Orlando on New Year's Day.

 

In closing, we at Tiger Rag would like to extend a fond farewell to LSU center Ben Wilkerson. The senior from Hemphill, Texas was injured on the last play of the Vanderbilt game rupturing his left patella tendon, thus ending his career as a Tiger. Wilkerson was a favorite of the media and always dealt with the press with the utmost respect and patience. Ben Wilkerson – a true Tiger – will be missed.

 

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Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag Magazine. He can be reached at matt@tigerrag.com

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