An SEC summer update

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Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator

Here’s a look around the conference about what’s happening with the SEC and some of Missouri’s upcoming football opponents.

Drawing the line
People ask me now and then why I don’t ever mention point spreads or betting lines on KBIA Sports. Mark Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald recently gave a perfect illustration as to why I’ve always ignored them. His column points out that Georgia is favored in every game in this upcoming season, as it was last season — in which the Dawgs went 8-5. Too many fans (and way too many in sports media, where folks should know better) still think the “Vegas Line” is some grand expert making a credible prediction. Remember this always—the line or spread on a game is a mathematical formula designed for one purpose and one purpose alone: to maximize profits for the bookkeeper.

The Recruiting Trail
Summertime for SEC football die-hards frequently is spent following coverage and rumors about recruiting. While the importance of recruiting cannot be overstated, it’s a challenge to know when something is really news. More than ever young people change their mind at the last minute and until an official National Letter of Intent is signed (the period starts in December) everything can change.

A great example came recently from Florida, where highly touted high school cornerback Chauncey Gardner flipped. He’d given a verbal commitment to the Miami Hurricanes, but switched and now has given his verbal to the Florida Gators.

Missouri got stung by this same trend recently, when top junior college defensive lineman Eddie Heard, Jr. gave a verbal commitment to Missouri, only to change his mind and flip to Oregon.

Let this be a cautionary tale—the hardest of hard-core fans get the importance of recruiting and follow the trail of the top high school players in Missouri and the nation. But don’t get too excited about verbal commitments—they’re written in pencil, and easily erased.

The SEC culture is “football first,” except…
One amusing note as we look at summer sports coverage in SEC country is that football definitely leads the way: recruiting, the upcoming schedule, recent grads in the NFL, players getting into trouble and kicked off the team. But there’s one glaring exception.

Hoops is still king in Kentucky. Three of the top headlines on the day I looked at the Lexington Herald-Leader were about roundball: recent ‘Cats grad Julian Randle and where he’d go in the NBA draft, the date being set for the Kentucky-Louisville game next season and a men’s basketball recruiting update.

Baseball championships continue with two SEC teams
Baseball continues to be in the spotlight in Nashville and Oxford, with the Vanderbilt Commodores and Ole Miss Rebels both continuing play in the College World Series in Omaha. Both teams were in the CWS last year, but neither has ever won a national championship.

Tradition
Of the incoming class of football recruits at Tennessee, five are the son of former Vols players including Dillon Bates, son of former UT and Dallas Cowboys star Bill Bates.

There are legacies at Mizzou, as well, including defensive lineman Shane Ray (dad Wendell played for Mizzou and was drafted by the Vikings in ’81) defensive lineman Matt Hoch (older brother Dan was a Tiger) linebacker Denzel Martin (uncle Norris Stevenson was the first African-American to win a football scholarship at MU) and incoming freshman Darnell Green, the younger brother of former Tiger Dorial Green-Beckham. Oh, and there’s my favorite: offensive lineman Alec Abeln. His mother, Julie, was a Truman the Tiger while an undergrad at Missouri.

And then there’s Missouri offensive lineman Mike Fairchild, whose father played college football…at the University of Kansas.

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing
In my column last week I mentioned the emphasis Mike Alden’s placing on fundraising through the Tiger Scholarship Fund. He told us that the recent success of Missouri football has had a positive effect on revenue enhancement (our nice way of saying “please give in a generous or enormous amount”) and we’re seeing now how it can affect fundraising when football teams aren’t so successful.

Recent IRS documents show that the Razorback Foundation, the fundraising mechanism for University of Arkansas athletics, raised a bit under $28 million for the fiscal year ending in June of 2013. That was in the neighborhood of $10 million less than had been raised the year before. With two straight losing seasons and three coaches in three years, the Arkansas program is falling on hard times, with huge expectations falling on Bret Bielema’s shoulders this coming season.

The Arkansas Times also reported on a substantial deficit in 2012-13 spending by the Foundation, and a great deal of money going to top administrators and coaches for speaking fees (men’s basketball coach and former Missouri coach Mike Anderson, for instance, received $700,000 in speaking fees.)

Stoking the rivalry
With Auburn University in the eastern part of Alabama, the rivalry between Georgia and the Auburn is a pretty fierce one. And while the schools are in opposite divisions they will be made permanent rivals by the new SEC scheduling, rather like Mizzou and Arkansas. And now one can expect that rivalry to become a little more intense with news that Tray Matthews, recently dismissed from the Bulldogs because of legal difficulties, has announced (via Twitter) that he is transferring to Auburn. He’ll be eligible to play for the Tigers in 2015, just in time for their next visit to Athens.

While players who are kicked off a team are generally free to transfer wherever they like, it’s unusual for a player to transfer within the same conference or to a rival school. Rivals ranked Matthews one of the top 10 safeties in the nation out of high school, and he’ll have three years of eligibility for Auburn starting in ’15.

Knights secondary could test Missouri
Five players were named to one of Phil Steele’s All-AAC preseason teams defensive backs Jacoby Glenn and Clayton Geathers. The two are among four starters returning to an experienced UCF secondary that will test Mizzou’s receiving corps and QB Maty Mauk when the teams play Sept. 13 in Columbia.

The Knights will start their season in Dublin, Ireland, against Penn State. They will then have two weeks to prepare for Missouri. UCF was 12-1 in 2013 and beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. They will, however, be without two of 2013’s offensive stars in quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, both of whom were recently drafted into the NFL by Jacksonville. The Knights will also be without three of their starting offensive linemen from last season, Chris Martin and twin brothers Jordan and Justin McCray.

Darren Hellwege is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association and the Football Writers Association of America

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