True Story


True Story

At least I think it is true. My wife’s grandfather was such a huge fan of the University of Alabama he flew out to Pasadena to watch them play in the Rose Bowl. This was back in the 1930s or 40s (the legend is unclear) when nobody flew. I know as an old man he sat in the stands on a freezing wet night in Boston to watch his team play Boston College (that must have been in the 1980s). I know because my father (something of a Penn State fan) was there with him.

Such is the intensity with which we view college football here in Birmingham. In that spirit we have put together our first annual look at the college football season to come. There is something infectious about the sport, the parties, the rivalries, the jokes (mean-spirited or not), the whole extravaganza that surrounds our favorite game.

—Joe O’Donnell

SEC Football

Alabama Crimson Tide

Can they repeat? No team has ever done it in the BCS era. But somehow the fans expect that such a feat is within grasp. They are hoping it is anyway. The return of quarterback A.J. McCarron gives the team a steadying influence and leadership. Eleven other starters from the 2011 team return. So the stars and stats might align once again.

Keep an eye on McCarron, running back Eddie Lacy, center Barrett Jones, linebackers Nico Johnson and C.J.Mosely

Schedule: Highlights: Auburn at home, LSU in November and Michigan to kick off the season in Arlington, Texas. Sept. 1 vs. Michigan (Arlington, Texas); Sept. 8 Western Kentucky;  Sept. 15 at Arkansas;  Sept. 22  Florida Atlantic; Sept. 29 Ole Miss; Oct. 13 at Missouri; Oct. 20 at Tennessee; Oct. 27 Mississippi State; Nov. 3 at LSU; Nov. 10 Texas A&M; Nov. 17 Western Carolina; Nov. 24 Auburn.

Arkansas Razorbacks

First year coach but long-time veteran John L. Smith has to clean up the Bobby Petrino mess and guide Arkansas back to where their fans want them to be: in the hunt for an SEC title and beyond. They have 17 returning starters from last year’s team, which went 11-2.

Keep an eye on quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Nile Davis on offense and Tenarius Wright and Alonzo Highsmith.

Schedule: Sept. 1 Jacksonville State;  Sept. 8 Louisiana-Monroe (played in Little Rock); Sept. 15  Alabama; Sept. 22 Rutgers; Sept. 29 at Texas A&M; Oct. 6 at Auburn; Oct. 13 Kentucky;  Oct. 27 Ole Miss (played in Little Rock); Nov. 3 Tulsa; Nov. 10 at South Carolina; Nov. 17 at Mississippi State; Nov. 23 LSU.

Auburn Tigers

Eighteen starters return from the Tiger’s rebuilding year of 2011. With a new defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder hired away from the Atlanta Falcons and a new offensive coordinator  Scot Loeffler from Temple, the coaching staff has new faces and ideas.

Keep an eye on an up-for-grabs quarterback situation, defensive end Corey Lemonier, and tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen.

Schedule: Sept. 1  vs. Clemson (in Atlanta); Sept. 8 at Mississippi State; Sept. 15 Louisiana-Monroe; Sept. 22  LSU;  Oct. 6  Arkansas: Oct. 13 at Ole Miss; Oct. 20 at Vanderbilt;  Oct. 27 Texas A&M; Nov. 3 New Mexico State; Nov. 10 Georgia; Nov. 17 Alabama A&M; Nov. 24 at Alabama.

Florida Gators

Second-year coach Will Muschamp has some work to do to overcome a lackluster 2011, when the Gators had trouble scoring. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease, fresh from Boise State will have a lot to say about this season’s prospects

There is a quarterback tussle between Jacoby Briskett and Jeff Driskel, both sophomores. Watch for linebacker Jonathan Bostic on defense.

Schedule: Sept. 1 Bowling Green; Sept. 8 at Texas A&M; Sept. 15 at Tennessee; Sept. 22  Kentucky;  Oct. 6  LSU: Oct. 13 at Vanderbilt; Oct. 20 South Carolina;  Oct. 27 Georgia (Jacksonville); Nov. 3 Missouri; Nov. 10 Louisiana; Nov. 17 Jacksonville State; Nov. 24 at Florida State.

Georgia Bulldogs

Fifteen starters return from the Mark Richt team that went 10-4 last year. The team looks more than capable of winning the SEC east. The defense should again be among the nation’s best, with several potential All Americans.

Keep an eye on returning quarterback Aaron Murray, safety Baccari Rambo, and celebrated linebacker Jarvis Jones.

Schedule: Sept. 1  Buffalo; Sept. 8 at Missouri; Sept. 15 Florida Atlantic; Sept. 22  Vanderbilt;  Sept. 29  Tennessee; Oct. 6 at South Carolina; Oct. 20 at Kentucky;  Oct. 27 Florida (Jacksonville); Nov. 3 Ole Miss; Nov. 10 at Auburn; Nov. 17 Georgia Southern; Nov. 24 Georgia Tech.

Kentucky Wildcats

A team that played 11 freshman, has a coach named Joker and ended 2011 at 5-7 is a recipe for a rebound or more misery. Which direction the team follows depends on whether the talent can rise to the occasion. They did not draw the easiest of schedules, however.

Keep an eye on quarterback Maxwell Smith and wide receiver La’Rod King. The defensive line features Mister Cobb and Donte Rumph.

Schedule: Sept. 1  at Louisville; Sept. 8 Kent State; Sept. 15 Western Kentucky; Sept. 22  at Florida;  Sept. 29 South Carolina: Oct. 6 Mississippi State; Oct. 13 at Arkansas;  Oct. 20 Georgia; Oct. 27 at Missouri; Nov. 3 Vanderbilt; Nov. 17 Samford; Nov. 24 at Tennessee.

LSU Tigers

Thirteen returning starters and the biggest of bruised egos create a season of burning anticipation for Les Miles’ loaded Tigers. Will they pay Bama back for the BCS drubbing? Will they lead the nation again in a host of categories? Stay tuned

Keep an eye on new starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Michael Ford, tailback Spencer Ware, and corner Tyrann Mathieu.

Schedule: Sept. 1 North Texas; Sept. 8 Washington; Sept. 15 Idaho; Sept. 22  at Auburn;  Sept. 29 Towson; Oct. 6  at Florida: Oct. 13 South Carolina; Oct. 20 at Texas A&M; Nov. 3 Alabama; Nov. 10 Mississippi State; Nov. 17 Ole Miss; Nov. 24 at Arkansas.

Ole Miss Rebels

Can new head coach Hugh Freeze turn the Rebels around. He has his work cut out or him, inheriting a team that only won two games in 2011, and they’ve lost 15 straight SEC games. The team does have returning talent so that could bode well for some improvement

Keep an eye on an up-for-grabs quarterback situation, linebacker Mike Marry and running back Jeff Scott.

Schedule: Sept. 1 Central Arkansas; Sept. 8 UTEP; Sept. 15 Texas; Sept. 22  at Tulane; Sept. 29 at Alabama; Oct. 6 Texas A&M: Oct. 13 Auburn; Oct. 27 at Arkansas; Nov. 3 at Georgia; Nov. 10 Vanderbilt; Nov. 17 at LSU; Nov. 24 Mississippi State.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Twelve starters return from the Bulldog’s 7-6 season in 2011. Four receivers return from last year to serve as targets for quarterback Tyler Russell and his pro-style approach. If the offensive line can improve that would give State some hope in the air.

Keep an eye on quarterback Tyler Russell. On the defensive side of the ball standouts are cornerback Johnthan Banks and tackle Josh Boyd

Schedule: Sept. 1  Jackson State; Sept. 8 Auburn; Sept. 15 at Troy; Sept. 22  South Alabama;  Oct. 6  at Kentucky: Oct. 13 Tennessee; Oct. 20 Middle Tennessee;  Oct. 27 at Alabama; Nov. 3 Texas A&M; Nov. 10 at LSU; Nov. 17 Arkansas; Nov. 24 at Ole Miss.

Missouri Tigers

There is a new team in town, and they are looking for a big moment to make a splash. Missouri returns 12 starters for 12-year veteran coach Gary Pinkel. The big question, of course, is whether the Tigers are ready for SEC prime time.

Keep an eye on quarterback James Franklin and his receivers T.J. Moe, Marcus Lucas and Dorial Green-Beckham.

Schedule: Sept. 1 Southeast Louisiana; Sept. 8 Georgia; Sept. 15 Arizona State; Sept. 22  at South Carolina; Sept. 29 at UCF; Oct. 6  Vanderbilt: Oct. 13 Alabama; Oct. 27 Kentucky; Nov. 3 at Florida; Nov. 10 at Tennessee; Nov. 17 Syracuse; Nov. 24 at Texas A&M.

South Carolina Gamecocks

Thirteen starters return from Steve Spurrier’s most successful South Carolina team ever. Spurrier seems to have snapped his visor on more tightly than ever and is itching to take it up another notch for the Gamecocks. He’s got on the field leadership in quarterback Connor Shaw.

Keep an eye on quarterback Connor Shaw, running back Marcus Lattimore and receiver Ace Sanders. On defense: Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney

Schedule: Aug. 30  at Vanderbilt; Sept. 8 East Carolina; Sept. 15 UAB; Sept. 22  Missouri;  Sept. 29 at Kentucky; Oct. 6  Georgia: Oct. 13 at LSU; Oct. 20 at Florida;  Oct. 27 Tennessee; Nov. 10 Arkansas; Nov. 17 Wofford; Nov. 24 at Clemson.

Tennessee Volunteers

Twenty starters return from the Volunteer’s disappointing 2011 season. While the passing game should be potent, the running game is very suspect. Third-year coach Derek Dooley will be under pressure to improve the record in 2012

Keep an eye on maturing quarterback Tyler Bray, receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers. On defense, new coordinator Sal Sunseri.

Schedule: Aug. 31  NC State (in Atlanta); Sept. 8 Georgia State; Sept. 15 Florida; Sept. 22  Akron;  Sept. 29 at Georgia; Oct. 13 at Mississippi State; Oct. 20 Alabama;  Oct. 27 at South Carolina; Nov. 3 Troy; Nov. 10 Missouri; Nov. 17 at Vanderbilt; Nov. 24 Kentucky.

Texas A&M Aggies

Fourteen starters return for SEC newcomers Texas A&M. Kevin Sumlin’s team had a strong offense in 2011, breaking school records last year in a host of categories. The offensive line is particularly strong, and it will need to be in the new toucher SEC neighborhood.

Keep an eye on new quarterback Jameill Showers, line stalwarts Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews.

Schedule: Aug. 30  at Louisiana Tech; Sept. 8 Florida; Sept. 15 at SMU; Sept. 22  South Carolina State; Sept. 29 Arkansas;  Oct. 6 at Ole Miss: Oct. 20 LSU;  Oct. 27 at  Auburn; Nov. 3 at Mississippi State; Nov. 10 at Alabama; Nov. 17 Sam Houston State; Nov. 24 Missouri.

Vanderbilt Commodores

Eighteen starters return for Vandy and second-year coach James Franklin. Senior running back Zac Stacy is a real threat with the ball. The defense, though, has lost some key starters.

Keep an eye on an up-for-grabs quarterback situation with senior Jordan Rodgers and Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels.

Schedule: Aug. 30 South Carolina; Sept. 8 at Northwestern; Sept. 15 Presbyterian; Sept. 22  at Georgia;  Oct. 6  at Missouri: Oct. 13 Florida; Oct. 20 Auburn;  Oct. 27 Massachusetts; Nov. 3 at Kentucky; Nov. 10 at Ole Miss; Nov. 17 Tennessee; Nov. 24 at Wake Forest.

Birmingham Region Teams

UAB Blazers

First year coach Garrick McGee, 38, came onboard at UAB from Bobby Petrino’s offensive staff at Arkansas. The Blazers have had some down years so fans are hoping new blood at the top will transform this team into a winning unit.

Players to keep an eye include quarterback Jonathan Perry, running back Greg Franklin and wide receiver Jackie Williams. On the defensive side of the ball: linebacker Marvin Burdette and corner Cornelius Richards.

Schedule: Sept. 1 Troy; Sept. 15  at South Carolina; Sept. 22  at Ohio State; Sept. 29 Tulsa; Oct. 6  Southeastern Louisana; Oct. 13  at Houston; Oct. 20 East Carolina; Oct. 27 at Tulane;  Nov. 3  at Southern Miss; Nov. 10 Marshall; Nov. 17  Memphis; Nov. 24  at UCF.

Birmingham-Southern College

Schedule: Sept. 1  LaGrange; Sept.  8 at Huntingdon; Sept.  15  Ave Maria; Sept. 22  at Rhodes; Sept. 29  Austin; Oct. 6  at Wesley; Oct. 13 Trinity (Tex.); Oct. 20  Sewanee ; Nov. 3 at Centre; Nov. 10 at Millsaps.

Miles College

Schedule: Sept. 2 North Alabama; Sept. 8 Shaw; Sept. 15 University of West Georgia; Sept. 22 Albany State;  Sept. 29 Benedict College; Oct. 6 Clark Atlanta; Oct. 13 Kentucky State; Oct. 20 Lane; Oct. 25 Stillman; Nov. 3 Tuskegee

Samford Bulldogs

Schedule: Sept. 1 Furman; Sept. 8  West Alabama ; Sept. 15  at Gardner-Webb; Sept. 22 at  Western Carolina; Sept. 29 at Georgia Southern; Oct. 6 The Citadel; Oct. 13 Appalachian State; Oct. 20 at Chattanooga;  Nov. 3  at Wofford; Nov. 10 at Elon; Nov. 17 at Kentucky.

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