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Cigars & Football – A Simple Blend


The SEC West is where it’s at, the toughest, the roughest, the most talented, best coached, most anxious of all the College Football Conferences. As the SEC-West goes, so goes college football. Whoever comes out of this division as the winner as earned it.

Alabama- This might come as a surprise, but I’m picking the Crimson Tide to win the SEC, and, to do that, they have to first win the West. The 017whole world knows that they have to replace their Quarterback, three of their offense lineman and all their star receivers including Heisman finalist Amari Cooper. Actually, there are scores of folks in Outer Mongolia and the Inner Hebrides who don’t even know who Alabama is, but this blog is not directed to them. Most schools would dread this situation, but this is Bama (Think Leonidas;- THIS IS SPARTA!) where they’ve had the top recruiting classes for the past five years. Offensive linemen, they’ve got ‘em. Haven’t heard any reports of there being a shortage of great big, athletic beast. Now they need to gel and that takes time, but in the spring the coaching staff was very pleased with their progress. The running attack is going to be the main focus for the 2015 Tide. Derek Henry is the go-to running back. He is a beast, he loves to run through people and he is tough to bring down. Once the defense has been pounded enough, look for the speedy Kenyan Drake to be unleashed. He is coming off a broken leg but he’s healed up and ready to go. The passing game is causing some concern, maybe even worry, in some quarters. Last year everyone thought transfer QB Jacob Coker was going to come in and make himself a Heisman candidate. That didn’t happen, and now, still not declared the definitive starter, there are Doubting Thomases deriding his abiitiy to take command, seize the day, Carpe Diem! He is expected to start. He’s more of a pocket passer than Sims was, and he didn’t have any defining moments in the spring game. But, let’s face it, the QB of this offense isn’t supposed to carry the world on his shoulders. Pushing Coker in the spring was David Cornwell, but, for some reason, he has fallen to the rear of the five-pac, and Alec Morris has become the one pushing for the starting job. Considering what Lane Kiffin did with Sims last year, as a hardcore Alabama fan I’m not too worried. All these student athletes were highly recruited and any one of them, were they at another school, would be starting. Receivers are inexperienced and need to earn their keep. Most got playing time last year so they aren’t totally green, just mostly green. Look for tight end Howard to be the focal point of the passing game. The real strength of the Tide will, of course, be the defense. The front seven is expected to be the best in college football. They need to be, Alabama’s defense has lost the reputation of being the bastion they once were. It was just a couple of years ago that nobody wanted to go up against the defense. Since the end of last season they have been working on regaining that reputation. The other emphasis was creating turnovers. There weren’t enough takeaways over the last couple years, and now they want to get the ball. The weakness of the defense has been the secondary. They proved to be terrible against Ohio State as they couldn’t defend against the long pass. They have to, have to, HAVE TO! get the secondary to where they are decent! Making them good would be better;- becoming great might be asking too much. Alabama has the toughest schedule in the Nation, it will be hard to go undefeated, but that will make it all the more impressive when they do. Have I mentioned that I might be, just might be, a little baised? Roll Tide!

Ole Miss- Last year the Rebels almost had a great season. One or two bounces go the Rebs’ way and Ole Miss would have been in the Playoffs!500 After all, they beat Bama, didn’t they? Bo Wallace was the blessing and the curse of the Rebels. When he was good, he was very, very good, but when he was bad, he was horrid! He cost them at least two games, if not more, with his Bad Bo exhibitions. Bo’s gone, the defense is back, and Laquon Treadwell returns from his horrifying ankle injury. Leading the offensive attack will be Chad Kelly. Ole Chad’s had a troubled past, including getting kicked out of Clemson because of his attitude. So far he has kept out of trouble, which surprised CSF, would have bet money he would have blown it this past summer. He is very talented, has a cannon of an arm, he just needs to keep his mouth shut and run the offense. IF he can do that, he may be just what the doctor ordered. The passing game will revolve around Laquon Treadwell. He is probably the most talented WR in the SEC, and could be the best in the NCAA. In other words, the passing game will be great! What the Rebels need is a power running back, and they ain’t got none. If they produce a running threat to balance out their attack, this could be the Year of the Rebels – or, Black Bears, depends on which publications you read. The defense will again be powerful, even better than last year. They need to attack every play. Robert Nkemdiche can be a wrecking ball, has a habit of taking plays off. He needs to attack every play, all game long. (THIS IS SPARTA!) The other weakness of the Land Sharks is the secondary, where they lost two All-American cornerbacks. If they can stop the pass, the Rebels could return to the glory years of Johnny Vaught’s reign. (Who was Johnny Vaught? Look it up)

134Auburn- Everyone and their uncle is picking the Tigers to win the West. CSF is not buying that, and, no, it’s not because I’m an Alabama fan. Well, maybe, some of it is because I’ve declared for Bama. Jeremy Johnson is probably a better QB than Nick Marshall. Johnson is more of a drop-back passer and will improve the offense. They will not run the zone read attack as much as they will rely more on the passing game. Johnson has experience the past two years, mainly in mop-up duty, and he has shown that he has a better arm. Where he needs to improve is his decision making. Not sure if he missed throws because he didn’t understand the offense, or he was trying to push the ball. He has made some questionable choices. Behind him will be…. Well, there is freshman, Roc Thomas, who will compete against junior college transfer, Jovon Robinson. This is where my concern is. The Tigers need a powerful running game for their offense to work. If they have to rely on the passing game, it is anathema to them. (How many Plainsmen know what ‘anathema’ means?) The running game must click to set up the pass. If opponents stop the run, they’ll be able to use more defensive backs and shut the Tiger passing attack down. Auburn needs to replace three offensive lineman as well, and they can do it. Last year the defense gave up 26.7 points per game;- against SEC opponents they gave up 32.75 points per game. That’s not good. To try and fix this they brought in Will Muschamp after Florida let him go. He is now back in his comfort zone of being a defensive coordinator. A lot of press has been made about this hire. Was it a good hire? Yes. Will it make the defense the scourge of the West? No. The Plainsman have a long way to go in the improvement department. They have Carl Lawson back from an ACL injury and that will help, but it won’t make them the best in the nation, or the best in the SEC. It will take more than a year to get the defense back to where it should be. On a personal note, CSF is very disappointed in Coach Gus Malzahn. Receiver D’haquille Williams has proven to be a disruptive force in the Auburn locker room. He is talented, and is a good receiver but his attitude and behavior have been terrible. Malzahn has shown that he is more interested in giving lip service to taking care of business against his number one receiver. This will cause Auburn more problems than he thinks. Shades of Jimbo Fisher, eh, Watson? Auburn will be a force to be reckoned with, no doubt, but they’ll finish middle of the pack in the SEC-West. HA! And I’m glad!

Texas A&M- Kyle Allen was upset that he didn’t win the starting job last year. Around mid-season, Coach Sumlin reopened the QB competition 042and Allen took it. From that point on there was no doubt he had arrived and was there to stay. As he gets better, the Aggie passing game is going to be devastating. To help out, they have two very good receivers in Speedy Noil and Josh Reynolds. The Aggies will be frightening passing the ball. Where they missed the mark last year was running and producing in short yardage situations. They were inconsistent at best. Tra Carson and Brandon will return to the backfield. These two did well in some games, but both went down way too easy when they had to hit the middle. A tougher hard nosed attitude is needed. The offensive line is not without blame. They did very little to push defenses out of the way. They brought in a new Offensive Coordinator whose sole purpose is to work on running the ball the way it should be. There was a time in the past that A&M’s defense was known as the Wrecking Crew. They have not done anything to earn that name in the SEC. To improve the “D” they brought in LSU coordinator, John Chavis. He has young talent, and he is known as a good coach who has proven he can make defenses better. He will make the Aggies better. I could make the Aggies better. My dog could make the Aggies better. IF everything goes according to plan the Aggies will be better this year, but they’re not going to set the world on fire. They have the easiest schedule in the SEC-West, which means it’s only slightly harder than Notre Dame’s, so they should make it to a bowl game, sure.

054Arkansas- Two years ago the Hogs were breaking in a new coach and the Razorbacks lost every SEC game they played. They went right back to losing SEC games last year, but in 2014, they weren’t getting blown out. Alabama game, for instance, Tide – 14, Arkansas, 13. Then, late in the season, they beat LSU, followed that up by beating Ole Miss, both by shut-outs! They lost to Missouri but were able to exact some satisfaction by whipping Texas in the Texas Bowl. Razorback nation was feeling its oats and they enter this season with a chip on their shoulder and believe they’ll be able to take down everybody. The Hogs’ offense revolves around a power running game. If the running game doesn’t work, nothing does. So, make the running game work. Fortunately, they have two very good running backs who both rushed for over 1,000 yards last year. They also have four returning lineman and all of them are very big. Maybe they’ll just run the ball all the time, every game. Forget the pass. This idea CAN work just ask the Gators and Georgia Southern, but it doesn’t always work. QB Brandon Allen, or back-up QB little brother, Austin Allen are good passers. At least, they were last year when they had proven receivers and an Offensive Coordinator they were comfortable with. This year they have neither. A new OC from Central Michigan, Dan Enos, has taken over, and, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. This offense cannot fall behind, they are not equipped to come from behind. If they get down two scores, it will be very difficult to catch up. Defense, last year this defense played with a tremendous amount of confidence that only grew as the season continued, climaxing with LSU and Ole Miss. Now those confident players have all left and behind them they have left a young defense. The biggest question about the Razorbacks for the past two years has been the defense. They did play better last year but they just couldn’t stop a team when the pressure was upon them. Not to take anything away from their shut-out victories, but some of the credit has to belong to Bad Bo Wallace for Ole Miss. He performed horribly in the game, flat out Horr-ible! And LSU had Anthony Jennings at QB, and he couldn’t produce anything but a goose egg on the scoreboard. They lost their front seven and they have to start all over. They have three games to get the defense comfortable before they take on A&M in Texas. Will it be the beginning of the end in the SEC-West again, or the end of the beginning?

Mississippi State- Last year the Bulldogs struck early and struck hard, they had to get the enemy on their heels and completely off balance. It210 was a successful ploy most of the season. They had major wins against LSU, A&M, and Auburn. Dak Prescott had one heck of a season. Unfortunately, their season ended on a sour note as the limped across the finish line after winning nine in a row. It caught up with them against Alabama, and then Ole Miss, and against Georgia Tech, in the Orange Bowl they just couldn’t produce their magic anymore. 2015 is going to be a let-down year. They lose seven starters on offense. Dak Prescott has a bigger load on his shoulders as he lost RB Josh “Bowling Ball” Robinson, most of his line, and his top two receivers. Prescott can’t to do it all himself. They have some good receivers returning, but no great ones. The offense is not going to be as thrilling as they were last year. The run defense in ’14 was good for two and half quarters, sometime they made it all the way to the fourth quarter before they started to break down. Like the offense, MSU lost its key talent and has huge holes to fill. The linebackers will be inexperienced and young. It’s up to senior Zach Jackson, who has been a reserve player until now, to hold this defense together. The secondary gave up a lot of passing yards, as in 272 yards per game, the most in the SEC. They lose most of their D-backs, and without a pass rush, the Hail State secondary are going to be vulnerable.

065LSU- the Tigers, Louisiana variety, are being picked last in the SEC West. Kirk Herbstreit picked them to win the West and go to the playoffs. As soon as everyone has recovered from their gasp, and calmed down, we’ll explain. LSU has some serious problems. First, let’s cover where they don’t have a problem. Running Back Leonard Fournette is the featured back, featured offensive weapon, and the only threat LSU has at this point. The sophomore is a good running back and could be great, but he’s not going to be able to do everything for the Tigers, Swamp variety. The offensive line is not in the best shape, as some have reported. There were lots of lineman being switched around in the spring and no one became the leader. This summer there has been less switching, but If the line doesn’t get it together, it’s not going to matter how good Fournette is, he’ll get crushed. The headline-grabbing problem is that the Bengals don’t have a Quarterback. Oh, they have Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris lining up in the position, but neither of them as shown any tendency to become an efficient QB. They both struggle passing the ball. Maybe “struggle” is too light a word, they were dismal at passing. LSU will become solely dependent on Fournette. That’s a bad situation. The Defense has a new coordinator as Chavis left Baton Rouge and went to College Station and filed a lawsuit against both schools! That’s funny. Stunningly, this defense was shaky against the run last year, as they gave up 152 yard per game, seventh in the SEC. That is not a typical LSU defense. They have two tackles but the rest of the line is new and if they don’t get to the respectable level, those two tackles are not going to matter much. The secondary was very good against the pass most of last year, but not the whole year. They broke down toward the end of the seaso. CSF has very little confidence in the Tigers this year. But, their girls swimming team is going to be fantastic! Got to see them this summer, and they were impressive.

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