Monday, August 3, 2009

SEC has had its share of lively debates for years

Thinking about what Tennessean columnist David Climer wrote recently, controversy amongst league members is nothing new. In fact, it has been a centerpiece of the vibrant history of SEC football since its austere beginnings in 1933.

During that time, there has been a goodly amount of sniping, good-natured and otherwise, among the member schools. It's all part of the ambience of SEC football.

Consider the 1963 Tennessee-Georgia Tech game. Georgia Tech was in its final year of membership in the SEC when it came to Knoxville on Oct. 12. Coached by former Tennessee quarterback Bobby Dodd (1928-30), the Yellow Jackets won easily, 23-6, over Jim McDonald's only Tennessee squad. Tech then left the league in a rules squabble in early 1964.

Late in the first half, Georgia Tech had scored on a "hide out" play, with receiver Ted Davis not returning to the huddle after an incomplete pass, choosing instead to go to a flanked position. Tech quarterback Billy Lothridge found him wide open for a touchdown to the south end, with Vol partisans crying, "Foul!"

When athletic director and former Vol Bob Woodruff complained to the media, Dodd responded by calling Woodruff "the worst public relations athletic director in the United States."

Just before the 1968 season, it was Tennessee and Georgia, mostly Georgia, clashing in the media over the advent of artificial turf.

During the summer of 1968, the verdant Shields-Watkins Field grass, the greensward on which Gene McEver, Bob Suffridge, Johnny Butler, Hank Lauricella, Bob Johnson, John Majors, and many others had created so many memories, was unceremoniously dug up and a green carpet laid down in its place.

Tom Siler reported Georgia was informed about the change by telegram June 17, with no one in the Georgia camp being reported amused.

"It's a radical move that should have been considered by the conference," Georgia AD Joel Eaves said. "Why didn't Tennessee bring this up when all of us met at Biloxi in May? We're thinking about voiding the contract. Maybe Tennessee can just put on an intrasquad game for the TV audience Sept. 14."

In the case of UT fans, Siler wrote that Vol fans "accepted the news stoically."

The game ended 17-17, one of the "classic ties" in Tennessee history.

Then there was the battle of SEC teams going to Auburn, with no one, save Georgia, wanting to make the trip. Alabama fought that battle especially hard. It was 1989 before Alabama made its first trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium, and they've played there every other year since 1991. There were those in the Alabama camp who said "Never," but the Tide came anyway.

After the city of Birmingham put down artificial turf on Legion Field in 1970, Auburn again made overtures to Tennessee about leaving Birmingham, suggesting Tiger "home games" in the series be played at Cliff Hare Stadium. That didn't happen initially until 1974, Auburn 21, Tennessee 0, and happened for good in 1980, Tennessee 42, Auburn 0.

There was serious conflict surrounding the 1972 game. Auburn had apparently scouted the Vols twice that season, a violation of SEC rules, with the Vols responding by wearing orange jerseys against the Tigers, also a violation of conference rules.

When the dust settled, Auburn knocked off heavily favored Tennessee, 10-6, in a major upset that really wasn't. Auburn finished 11-1, despite meager pre-season expectations, Tennessee 10-2.

LSU and Tennessee created some major brinksmanship in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit southern Louisiana around the start of the football season. When it came time for the Tennessee-LSU game Sept. 24, with the aftermath of Katrina seen in all locales around Baton Rouge, LSU was insistent on playing that Saturday night.

With forecasts of bad weather and Tennessee officials understandably concerned about the safety of their team flying to Baton Rouge, there were forthright words in the media, both schools seemingly hardening their position. At one critical juncture, there were thoughts the game might not be played at all.

Reason prevailed, eventually, and the game was played Monday night, Sept. 26. The Vols flew to Baton Rouge earlier in the day, played the game, and flew home. There wasn't quite a full house at Tiger Stadium, but the game was a keeper.

LSU fans were eager for football after all the turmoil, and the Tigers on the field created excitement by bolting to a 21-0 halftime lead. Tennessee was down but not out, hanging around long enough to eventually send the game to overtime.

LSU scored first on a field goal, but the Vols won, 30-27, on a short run by Gerald Riggs, concluding a wild week.

With all this in mind, the "C" in "SEC" really stands for "Controversy."

There's certainly been a great deal of it over the past 76 years.

For Vols, Athletes in Action camp emphasizes competitive 'spirit'

On Tuesday, Tennessee opens its preseason football camp, sure to be replete with grueling conditioning drills and hard-hitting practices and scrimmages in the stifling heat and humidity of Knoxville in August.

Those occasional two-a-day practices can leave the participants drained.

For four members of the Volunteers’ football team, though, they might not seem so bad.

After all, they’ve been through “The Special.”

Chris Walker, Chad Cunningham, Daniel Lincoln and Nick Reveiz participated in an Athletes in Action camp shortly after spring semester finals at Tennessee.

“I can say it was the best experience of my life,” Walker said.

Held on the campus of Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colo., the event drew athletes from colleges and universities around the country.

“There were guys there from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wake Forest, Florida State, kickers, athletes, football players, track, volleyball, whatever,” Lincoln said.

“Being able to share things with other athletes about adversity or hardships they’ve faced, you learn a lot.”

The football quartet was part of an 18-person contingent from UT that included Lady Vols basketball players Angie Bjorklund and Alicia Manning.

“We were competing every day,” Walker said. “They wanted us to use our competitive spirit in our sport for God.”

None of those competitions was more grueling than “The Special,” a succession of races, games and competitions that lasted more than 18 consecutive hours.

“You didn’t eat or sleep during it,” Lincoln noted.

“The Special” included basketball, a swimming relay, ultimate Frisbee, calisthenics and other relay races.

Walker, recovering from knee surgery at the time, could not participate in the actual competition.

“I did everything with them. I ran around with them and did the obstacle course,” Walker said. “I was with them for the whole 18 hours that they were doing stuff.

“It just broke us down to the point that we couldn’t depend on anything on this earth and no words could help anybody,” the Vols’ defensive end added. “Leaning on God was the only thing that we could do. It broke a lot of people down.”

The weeklong camp also included a run up a mountain then back down.

“That mountain is so steep and the elevation was crazy,” Walker recalled.

The experience forged a bond among the four UT football players. According to Walker, it also put the game in perspective.

“It’s easy to get caught up in sport, period, and putting sport at the top of everything, just because that’s all we know,” he said. “Easily, football gets put on a pedestal above everything else.”

Especially in the Southeastern Conference.

And while the Vols have a figurative mountain to climb to return to their previous level of prominence, for these four campers, how hard can that be after successfully ascending an actual mountain?

UT needs to fight on with ol' SC for recruits

As you might have noticed, Tennessee keeps bumping into Southern California on the recruiting trail. That's both a compliment and a challenge for UT.

USC has one of the greatest programs in college football, and you don't have to study ancient history to appreciate it. The Trojans haven't won fewer than 11 games since 2001 and won back-to-back national titles in 2003 and 2004.

So when UT shows up alongside USC on a five-star recruit's list of official visits, that's quite a compliment since the Vols have had two losing seasons in the last four years. But the challenge is just as obvious. How does a program with UT's recent track record beat out one of the nation's premier programs for the best players?

Answer: Become more like USC.

First-year UT head coach Lane Kiffin, a former offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll at USC, got the Vols headed in the right direction when he installed USC's offense this spring. The same quarterbacks and wide receivers who are attracted to USC's offense will be drawn to the Vols'. The most recent example: wide receiver Kyle Prater from Hillside, Ill., says he will take official visits to UT and USC this fall.

Prater might already be aware that the programs have more in common than offense. Southern California offers Hollywood, the Pacific Ocean and Rodeo Drive. East Tennessee offers Dollywood, Loudon Lake, and Parkside Drive.

The similarities don't have to end there, but it's incumbent on UT to adjust. After all, it's the one playing catch-up.

I realize that many fans become nervous when you start tinkering with tradition. As a traditionalist myself, I certainly wouldn't encourage a program to discontinue any tradition, unless, of course, that tradition repels recruits.

But the UT program also could benefit from adding a few traditions. And it wouldn't be that difficult.

For example, what's one more song? Rather than have the band play "Rocky Top" every five minutes at games, it could do so every 10 minutes. With those extra minutes, it could work in "Fight On," one of USC's school songs.

The beauty of that addition: You would have to change only two words. Instead, of "Fight on for ol' SC," (which appears twice in the song) UT fans would sing "Fight on for ol' UT." How simple would that be?

It would be just as simple to add a victory bell, which the winner of the USC-UCLA game keeps for a year. Since UT doesn't have a crosstown rival, it could make do with cross-state rival Vanderbilt.

Another welcome addition would be a jeweled shillelagh, which goes to the winner of the USC-Notre Dame game. UT doesn't have an intersectional rival quite as prominent as Notre Dame but it does have Memphis, which it plays occasionally.

Don't ask, "What does a shillelagh have to do with UT vs. Memphis?" If a recruit can see a shillelagh when he visits USC, you want him to see one when he visits UT.

You also want him to see a white horse.

Every time USC scores a touchdown at a home game, Traveler gallops around the Coliseum. It's one of the great traditions in college football and would have to be modified only slightly to accommodate UT.

You could replace the Trojan soldier aboard the horse with someone wearing a coonskin cap, then substitute a musket for the sword. The only other change would be the name. Traveler would become Rocky.

Think ahead to UT's homecoming game in November. As the Vols score a victory-clinching touchdown over Memphis - and the coveted shillelagh that goes with it - a Davy Crockett look-alike rides a majestic white horse around Neyland Stadium while the UT band plays the theme song from "Rocky."

Don't you get goosebumps just thinking about it?

Then, imagine what that would do for a recruit.

Five biggest questions facing UT Football

With football players reporting to campus at the University of Tennessee on Monday. We at InsideTennessee.com decided to look at the five biggest questions facing this 2009 Football Team as fall camp and practice gets underway here Tuesday. Go inside this FREE READ to see if you agree with our take as Fall Camp gets underway.

With football players reporting to campus at the University of Tennessee on Monday. We at InsideTennessee.com decided to look at the five biggest questions facing this 2009 Football Team as fall camp and practice gets underway here Tuesday.

Lane Kiffin enters his first fall camp as the Head Coach of the Volunteers, the former Oakland Raider head man has provided a lot of energy and excitement on the Rocky Top during the spring and off season.

That leads into question No. 1.

Will Kiffin’s Volunteers be as exciting and energized on the field as they have been off the field the past seven months.

If so all Volunteer fans are in for an exciting ride.

The players have shown they have bought into the new coaching staff, a more disciplined team has shown improvement in the classroom this past semester.

“We are the most talked about football team in the country,” Kiffin admitted at the SEC Media Days. “That was our plan. Not a lot going on in the spring, we wanted every young man in the country thinking about the University of Tennessee.”

If Kiffin’s Vols provides as much excitement and energy on the field, things could be very interesting this fall at Neyland Stadium.

This Tennessee team has everyone’s attention, now it’s time to see what kind of football team Kiffin will put on the field.

That takes us to Question No. 2.

Who will be the starting quarterback against Western Kentucky and more importantly the rest of the season.

The answer might be two different ones.

Some expect Jonathan Crompton to be the starter coming out of football camp, not if junior Nick Stephens has anything to say about it. If Crompton is the starter going into Western Kentucky, the next question will be how short of rope will he have throughout the season.

Will Stephens overtake from the start of camp or will take him a few weeks to do it, I guess you can that question 2 A.

You can’t have a successful quarterback without a solid wide receiving corp. That takes us to question No. 3.

How will the Volunteers cope with the early injuries of at least three key wide outs this summer?

Who will step up and provide the needed spark for whoever is quarterbacking to be successful?

Question No. 4 leads into the next important phase of the offense.

Everyone is expecting Tennessee to have a solid running game, the Vols did indeed sign the overall No. 1 player in the nation in Bryce Brown. Will Brown start the season opener, how much playing time will he get this fall. All important questions facing this team this fall.

Question No. 5, we have to leave one for the defense.

Yes everyone is aware of the dream team defensive staff that Lane Kiffin has assembled.

The key question will be how Monte Kiffin and staff be able to parlay their knowledge into this group of defenders. There is a lot of talent at several positions, but there also are a few key holes, especially at the linebacker position.

“Our ones will match up with the best of them on the defensive side of the ball,” Kiffin said in an earlier interview.”

So lets hope for no injuries because depth on the defensive side of the ball is definitely a question mark.

Getting to the Game

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