September 21, 2012
Posted by: Capuano and Filed Under: Main
If Roberta Flack & Maxi Priest can “Set the Night to Music,” surely I can set my blog to some tunes, right?
Lovely Alberta, ever the Southern Belle, curtsies for the camera
Ah, Gainesville. With the temperature tomorrow forecasted to feel like it is over 100 degrees (did you hear? It can be very humid in Florida), I decided to pack what I now call, “The Florida Shirt.” The last time I wore this particular shirt on a game day was during our last visit to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for a September game, on September 11th, 2010, the Gators beat South Florida 38-14, on a day that was so hot, my sweat-drenched SEC Network cap dripped blue dye onto the cord of my dual-earpiece IFB, staining it permanently. The “Florida Shirt” is 93% nylon and is supposed to be perfect for hiking, fishing and outdoors activities out “in the elements,” designed to wick away moisture and keep the day pleasant. Sure. The trusty SEC Network rain jacket has also been packed, as yesterday’s “afternoon thunderstorms” verged on biblical proportions. Better safe than sorry, I say. Pays to be prepared. Sound like a coach, don’t I?
Another tune, as we transition. Do you remember… the 21st night of September? It only took me two replays to get Earth, Wind & Fire’s catchy dance step off the top of the video. Do you remember… music videos that epitomized psychedelic fabulousness? What’s funkier, the band’s costumes or the high-tech light effects? You be the judge.
With a 2-0 conference record, Florida is the undisputed leader of the 14 teams in the Southeastern Conference… of course, the Gators are also the only team to already face two league opponents. After this week’s SEC “home” opener vs. Kentucky, the Gators get a bye week to recharge for an October that should challenge their mettle (deja vu for Gators fans, who remember a 4-0 September followed by an 0-4 October in 2011.) LSU visits the Swamp on 10/6, followed by a trip to Vanderbilt, a home date vs. South Carolina then the annual game vs. Georgia in Jacksonville. Interesting that the 10/13 tilt in Nashville marks the Gators’ only trip outside of Florida for the REST of their season. Also of note: there are still FOUR top-ten opponents ahead for Florida… but that is this week. The October 6th matchup between South Carolina and Georgia could knock either out of the top ten before they see Florida. Or not. Time will tell.
WHAT THE COACHES ARE SAYING:
Spanish moss decorates trees across UF's campus
In our conversation today, Florida head coach Will Muschamp thinks this October – and the rest of the season – will play out very differently. He said that last year, “everything that couldn’t happen, happened.” The injury to starting quarterback John Brantley, whole-scale youth in the roster and the team’s adjustment to a new coaching staff created a perfect storm. This season, he’s especially impressed by the Gators’ strength on their lines, both offense and defense, and a global development of player maturity, born mostly of the reps the current primary contributors received as young players last year.
I remember conversations I enjoyed with both Lerentee McCray and Jon Bostic during SEC Media Days in July, about how the 3-5 finish in SEC play in 2011 resonated with the team. McCray called it “humbling” and “disheartening,” adding, “having a bad SEC record and losing to Florida State are two things you don’t want to do at Florida.” Bostic pointed to the team’s repeated tendencies for sloppy penalties and poor discipline on the field. Both players – now senior leaders for the defense – talked about a positive change in the team chemistry during the offseason which has trickled into the locker room. Muschamp reiterated that point in today’s meetings, when he told us he sees the guys really buying in to what the program is trying to accomplish and trusting each other. He called the players’ efforts in building solid team camaraderie a “huge obstacle we’ve overcome.”
Choosing a defined starting quarterback may be another. Jeff Driskell is starting to flourish in the role as Florida’s field general. Muschamp calls him, “talented, driven and humble, with tremendous toughness,” pointing out that when a player earns the respect of his teammates because of his toughness, it means a lot to the success of the team. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease added that Driskell is, “starting to watch more film, ask more questions and make suggestions” about the offense. After watching Driskell’s last two games, our analyst, Andre Ware, says he sees a young quarterback for whom “the sky is the limit.”
Dave & Andre's view. I had never seen the seats that spelled out "Gators" before today!
The same can certainly be said about the sophomore quarterback for Kentucky, Maxwell Smith. Let’s seque to the Wildcats with one of my all-time favorites which will make more sense later in the post, “Speed of Sound” by Cold Play.
Smith played his high school ball at Birmingham in Granada Hills, CA. That means nothing to most people in this region of the country, but resonates for this “Valley Girl.” One of the best 80′s films ever, a song by Frank Zappa (I’ll spare you that link) and a way of life. Totally. To the max! (“Square Pegs”: Sarah Jessica Parker’s finest work.)
That’s how Max has been playing: to the max. Consider that he ranks second in the SEC and 16th in the nation in total offense with 316.3 yards per game. Also in the national ranks, Kentucky stands at 13th in passing offense and 38th in sacks allowed. That means he has the time to find the throws and when he connects, there is yardage to be enjoyed. We could tell from our conversation with Wildcats offensive coordinator Randy Sanders that he is much more at ease and confident with Smith taking the snaps this season. While the game might have flown by at “the speed of sound” during Smith’s freshman campaign, it is starting to slow down for him. Commanding the majority of snaps in the spring was one factor in Smith’s development. According to Sanders and head coach Joker Phillips, Smith’s natural charisma and strong persona are others. Phillips said that Smith’s “ability to lead, as young as he is, is shocking.” Locked in a battle with Morgan Newton during camp, Phillips observed that once Smith, “got it into his mind that he was the #1 quarterback, he got everyone else to believe it.”
Four young players with tremendous “big play potential” that Phillips wants to see more involved in the offensive plan this week and moving forward: Daryl Collins, A.J. Legree, Demarco Robinson and DeMarcus Sweat. Robinson is the elder statesman in the foursome – a sophomore, among three freshmen.
Defensive coordinator Rick Minter described the Wildcats defense as having a “generation gap.” Eight upperclassmen starters are balanced out in the two-deep by a vast number of freshmen (many true) and sophomores. In this matchup, Minter is trying to make his players especially mindful of Florida’s diverse rush attack, which features north-south power run options, east-west speed options and the legs of Driskell.
WHERE TO WATCH:
A list of affiliates carrying the game this week can be found here. Coverage, as always, starts at Noon ET/11 AM CT.
The addition of Missouri and Texas A&M increased the size of the SEC Network syndication footprint significantly, but the conference’s six straight BCS National Championships and increased global interest in watching SEC football also played a huge role in adding markets like Chicago, Washington, D.C. and San Diego.
Chris Martin, so close we could touch him! I finally know how the kids on Ed Sullivan must have felt when the Beatles played!
I close this blog with a shoutout to the new San Diego affiliate carrying SEC Network games this fall: KUSI. My dear friend Rick Willis (@RickWillis99) is the weekend sports guy at that station. In 2009, I joined him for the “Viva La Vida” tour – that is, indeed, the incomparable Chris Martin just an arm’s length behind us, playing in the crowd at the show. I met Rick in Peoria, AZ, covering spring training in 2007. Friends in every corner of the country, one of my favorite parts about this career.
Time to go celebrate another one. Our associate director, Jil Gossard-Cook, is taking a full-time producing opportunity. We are THRILLED for her! Go get ‘em, Jil!
September 21, 2012
Posted by: Capuano and Filed Under: Main
In week four of the season (how is that possible!? It’s FLYING by!), our SEC Network travels land us at “The Swamp” for the SEC home opener for (14)Florida (3-0, 2-0) and the SEC opener for Kentucky (1-2, 0-0).
Interesting tidbits from ESPN Stats and Info (@ESPNStatsInfo):
- This is the eighth straight season Florida has opened 3-0 – that’s the longest active streak among FBS teams.
- Florida has won 25 straight vs. Kentucky. That’s the longest active streak of wins by one FBS team over another FBS team. UK’s last win in the series came in 1986. Then again, it was ON the SEC Network last year on November 26th that Kentucky snapped another gruesome losing streak to an SEC opponent – 26 in a row – by topping Tennessee, 10-7, robbing the Volunteers of bowl eligibility in the process…
- The last four meetings have been lopsided. Gators have won each of those game by at least 34 points, winning by a combined score of 200-36.
WHO TO FOLLOW on TWITTER:
Suggestions For Kentucky:
@UKAthleticsNews is the official twitter feed for Kentucky Athletics and @UKFootball is football-specific.
@JohnClayIV – John Clay is a sports columnist at the Lexington Herald-Leader. Not only a terrific writer, he’s big on sending out links to other stories involving UK athletics – a tremendous resource for one-stop surfing!
@KyleTucker_CJ – Kyle Tucker is the beat writer covering Kentucky Athletics for the Courier-Journal.
@GatorZoneNews is the official twitter feed for Florida Athletics and @GatorZoneFB is football-specific.
@Gator_Sports – GatorSports.com offers comprehensive coverage of Florida’s athletics programs online. @GatorZoneScott – Scott Carter – is one of the writers for that service and tweets program headlines and news actively every day. @GatorZoneChris – Chris Harry – is also outstanding, but his primary focus in basketball whereas Scott’s is football.
@RobbieAndreu – According to his Twitter bio, Robbie has been “the college football beat writer for the Gainesville Sun since 1993″ (That’s AWESOME. His breadth of knowledge is impressive and extensive. I was elated that I finally got to meet him at SEC Football Media Days this past July, after reading his work religiously during my four years covering the SEC.)
@Pat_Dooley – Pat Dooley is the Gainesville Sun sports columnist. At this time of year, he’s very focused on two of his favorite things: football and golf.
@GatorHoops – Kevin Brockway has covered men’s basketball for the Gainesville Sun since 2003… but also makes a few contributions in football season. We’ve learned we have a mutual passion for karaoke. Though I’m not up for singing tonight, he is currently waiting for me at a local dining spot to enjoy some dinner and watch some football, so I gotta jet!
Plenty more on the blog tomorrow to preview the matchup, following our meetings with the Florida coaching staff.
September 15, 2012
Posted by: Capuano and Filed Under: Main
Trying something different in this week’s blog… in part because I covered a lot of the “pregame elements” for ULM at Auburn in the blog entry last night… and in part because my time is limited. You see, like all people, I am more productive following a solid night’s rest. Getting a good night’s sleep before Game Day is, as Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder might say, “imperative for my success.” (Today’s meetings were the first time I had a chance to meet with him. I like the way he talks. To quote head coach Gene Chizik, VanGorder “has an edge. He coaches with an edge and he expects players to play with an edge.” He kind of talks with an edge, too – which I totally applaud and respect.)
And so, we begin the “day in pictures” with a classic “Welcome to Auburn” photo.
Welcome to Auburn!
In the background, you’ll see Samford Hall – one of the hallmark landmarks of Auburn. It’s a warm, welcoming university with multiple architectural styles featured throughout, most of which affirm my belief that “this is a really pretty place to spend a Friday morning.” I felt very lucky to start my day with a three-plus mile walk around campus, an idea inspired by Auburn’s “Healthy Tigers” initiative. There are a pair of one-mile walking paths and a three-mile trail around campus, which are clearly marked by maps on the website and, more importantly, by paw prints which lead the way.
Paw prints keep me on track
I had the map called up on my smartphone, lest the paw prints let me down… but they did not. Even during the brief part of the path which was not on a paved sidewalk, I knew the prints would be there waiting for me on the other side. And they were. The paw prints led me to some delightful discoveries I didn’t realize existed on campus:
Sign in front of this building: Poultry Science. No, really!
"Garden of Memories" to honor veterans of WWI, WWII & Korean War.
I might have been persuaded to study in the College of Agriculture, had I matriculated at Auburn, but realistically, I probably would have been drawn to the same Life Sciences studies that filled my undergraduate career. Sadly, the Life Sciences building wasn’t terribly memorable. But my stop at Toomer’s Corner was.
Toomer's Oaks, still fighting, but a shell of their former selves.
And it made me cry. Because, yes, I’m Science Girl – and nothing cuts me as deeply as senescence. Particularly senseless senescence. I’ll never forget how joyful and hopeful I felt the first time I saw the Oaks of Toomer’s Corner – back in their full splendor in 2009. Their current state is heartbreaking. The latest update is here. Prognosis: grim.
After my stunning morning walk through campus, which included some time on Heisman Drive, checking out the new statues dedicated to Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson and Cam Newton, it was time to meet the coaches.
Auburn fans don’t want to hear that the phrase the coaches most commonly associated with this team was “work in progress.” That’s the stark reality for a team with two new coordinators, who brought two new systems, and a new quarterback in Kiehl Frazier. This much is certain: Chizik is standing behind Frazier. I’ll have more on how he is doing that in the open to tomorrow’s game.
The Auburn coaching staff isn’t making any excuses for the 0-2 start. Chizik said, “it has been a tale of two teams.” In game one against Clemson, Auburn showed a lot of promise, almost beating a talented foe. In game two at Mississippi State, instead of learning from mistakes and growing toward improvement, the Tigers regressed a bit. Chizik says tomorrow the coaching staff will get a better idea of who this team will be: the one with the potential they saw in the opener, or the one with a LOT of work to do that revealed itself in week two.
The afternoon on campus concluded with a stop at the first “Football, Fans and Feathers,” a program held by the Southeastern Raptor Center on Fridays of home game weekends. I can’t stress enough how fabulous it was! While “War Eagle” is the rallying cry on Auburn’s campus (and anywhere you’ll find an Auburn fan), this educational show is about all birds of prey who qualify as raptors. The show started with an introduction to owls,
Chaplin the Barn Owl flies, tether-free, between his keepers
moved on to hawks and vultures and falcons and finally finished, in grand fashion, with an appearance by Spirit the Bald Eagle.
Vulture duo "dancing" to theme from "The Addams Family"
Spirit is one of the eagles who can fly on Game Days, descending from the stands onto the field in the standard pregame ceremony. This week, it’s anticipated that Nova the Golden Eagle will be making the traditional pregame flight… but Spirit is always on standby, if Nova can’t go. They’re birds – you never know which star will feel like shining on any given Saturday.
Interestingly enough, that’s where the coaches are with this young Auburn team. They witnessed a lot of flash and spark in practice this week and are optimistic it will translate into the home opener.
Quite a contrast to the expectations of the coaching staff for ULM. Laden with upperclassmen, these Warhawks have already experienced their fair share of growing pains together (one of which occurred at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2010, a 52-3 win for eventual BCS National Champion Auburn.) ULM’s coaching staff told us its primary concern is that the players won’t shake their “hangover” from last week’s hallmark upset at Arkansas.
If you can’t join us tomorrow, be sure to tune into your local SEC Network affiliate station, listed here. Coverage starts at noon ET, 11 AM CT.
I leave you with my latest picture with Spirit (and his trainer, standing confidently between us. Spirit was very vocal today and nipped at this poor fellow a time or two, which he always handled with grace and poise. I probably would’ve shrieked.) I posed with Spirit (and a trainer, different fellow that time) last year and look fairly terrified. Goal today: put on a stronger face! Be brave! Inspired by the moxie of my favorite raptor, the screech owl, I’m pretty pleased with the result.
Meet Groucho. Screech owls rock!
Button on my belt loop reads: Spirit Flies Here. #nerd
September 14, 2012
Posted by: Capuano and Filed Under: Main
The SEC Network lands on the “loveliest village on the Plains” this weekend for a week three matchup between ULM (1-0) and Auburn (0-2).
IMPORTANT NOTE from ULM game notes: “In all references, please refer to us as ULM.” Not Monroe, LA-Monroe, Louisiana-Monroe or any other variation. It is the University of Louisiana AT Monroe, and the Warhawks prefer ULM. (SEC fans: See “LSU.”)
ULM made the New York Times today… reminding me of the way Warhawks head coach Todd Berry opened his call with us yesterday, “the euphoria is rampant right now.”
TIMELY STAT TODAY from our ESPN Stats and Information (@ESPNStatsInfo) department, highlighting a rather dubious 1988 campaign for the SEC:
UL Monroe faces Auburn this week after pulling off a stunning upset of Arkansas last week. In the process, it can achieve something that hasn’t been done in 24 years. The last team not currently in a BCS-AQ conference to beat SEC opponents in consecutive games was Tulane in 1988. The Green Wave beat Ole Miss on November 5th that year, then knocked off Mississippi State in their next game. Memphis pulled off a similar feat just a few weeks earlier in 1988, beating Mississippi State and Florida in consecutive games.
Here are two more to consider:
* ULM’s upset of then-eighth-ranked Arkansas on the road was just the fourth win for the Warhawks in 44 games against current SEC teams.
* Auburn is 0-2 for the first time since 2003. The Tigers will try to avoid their first 0-3 start since 1950.
Recommended Twitter Follows for ULM:
@ULMWarhawks – official twitter account of Warhawks Athletics. I especially liked this link via a tweet, which details how the tickets for ULM’s home opener vs. Baylor have been selling like hotcakes since the Warhawks upset overtime win in Little Rock last Saturday.
@WarhawkReport – covers ULM and recruiting for Rivals.com.
@soignier – Tabby Soignier is a beat writer for The News-Star. She participated in a “behind enemy lines” Q&A exchange earlier this week with one of the Auburn writers I’m about to recommend.
@WarEagleExtra – Aaron Brenner (see above exchange with Tabby) is committed to maintaining “the solid reputation of Auburn beat writers for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.”
@AUBlog – Ryan Wood covers the Auburn beat for the Opelika-Auburn News.
@JoelAEricksonAU – Joel Erickson covers Auburn football for the AL.com group (Birmingham News, Mobile Press-Register and Huntsville Times.)
@AUGoldMine – Charles Goldberg works with the same AL.com group as Joel. According to his bio, it is his 14th straight year covering Auburn Football for The Birmingham News.
@AUAthletics – official Twitter feed of the Auburn Athletics Department… and @FootballAU – Twitter feed for football.
What the tourists will be enjoying:
If you’re coming to Auburn for the Tigers’ home openers, you’ll definitely want to check out the GameDay Weekend Guide.
Birds of prey enthrall me.
Tomorrow, I plan to enjoy a morning walk on one of the campus fitness trails, followed by meetings with the Auburn coaching staff and what I already predict will be my FAVORITE part of the day: ”Football, Fans and Feathers,” hosted by the Southeastern Raptor Center. Description: Hawks, falcons and eagles will be free-flown from flight towers allowing guests to see these raptors flying close. As they say at Auburn, I am “ALL IN” for that!
Better get back to my reading so that I’ll have plenty of space for a fabulous Friday.
September 7, 2012
Posted by: Capuano and Filed Under: Main
We missed traveling to South Carolina in our first year of SEC Network syndication in 2009. Granted, we covered the Gamecocks, but on the road (and I’ll never forget the game at Arkansas – when my producer decided to change our halftime interview right before the clock ran down and I was on the wrong side of the field to snag Coach Spurrier… in desperation, I ran to try to catch him, but he was quick as a cat. #fail.)
So, when the 2010 college football season started with a Thursday night ESPN showdown at Williams-Brice Stadium, I made it a point to be there.
Field View of Cocky's Grand Entrance
Why? Because I had heard so much about the gameday traditions in Columbia that I had to see for myself. Between the much-heralded entrance to the theme of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” (should you watch that link, from some fan’s phone at the Clemson game last year, it gets really good at the 1:50 mark, when the music starts), with madcap mascot Cocky rolled out in a hidden box at center field, revealed under fireworks so he can shake, dance and rile up the crowd… to the eruption of “Sandstorm” from the student section just before the game… well, the pomp and circumstance didn’t disappoint.
While I don’t anticipate we will see the same thumping, thundering “Sandstorm” for a non-conference matinee game vs. East Carolina in over-90-degree heat tomorrow that you saw in the above link from an October, 2010 vs. Alabama (almost 83,000 in attendance that day!), I know the Gamecocks fans will still bring it. It is the home opener, after all – and after a close call in the season/conference opener at Vanderbilt last week, they are ready to see shades of the dominance they’ve grown accustomed to the last two years, winning the SEC East in 2010 and setting a new team standard in wins with 11 in 2011.
To really hammer home the culture change in South Carolina surrounding the football program, Coach Spurrier asked our crew at today’s meeting how many games we thought the Gamecocks were favored in last season. Andre Ware and Dave Neal guess 7 and 8… I figured it had to be low, so I went with 6 (clearly not thinking about the schedule last year, which he reminded us AFTER did not include either Alabama nor LSU and featured a “down” year for the East… but I digress.)
Uncage that Bird!
Coach Spurrier said, “Cara, if you DOUBLE your guess, that’s the correct answer. We were favored in TWELVE of our 13 games last year, and won 11 of them!” The only game where USC wasn’t favored in the 2011 schedule was at Arkansas (indeed, a loss)… and the only game the Gamecocks lost while favored was at home vs. Auburn (a loss which cost USC a return trip to Atlanta.)
Let’s examine some of those wins more closely. September 10th, at Georgia: 45-42. Sept. 17th, vs. Navy: 24-21. October 15th, at Mississippi State: 14-12. November 12th, vs. Florida, 17-12. Bottom line: they weren’t always pretty. But, in football, it’s not HOW you win the games that matters. A win is a win.
When asked his thoughts today on the opening week win vs. Vanderbilt, Spurrier summed it up simply: “Our thoughts are… we could play a lot better. Until we do it, it’s just a thought… a belief.”
The next test of his optimism comes tomorrow. A test South Carolina may have to try to pass without starting quarterback Connor Shaw. Shaw is a genuine game-time decision. Said Spurrier, “We will know by warmups… if he can throw it down the field about twenty yards, and not come up wincing, then he may go. I don’t know if he’ll make it or not.” Shaw’s injury is a bone bruise, low and deep in his throwing shoulder. It’s not an injury that he can really worsen by playing tomorrow, but it is a painful injury. Enter back-up quarterback Dylan Thompson, who took a majority of the snaps in practice this week. Spurrier said Thompson, “looks good in practice” and “has potential” but the redshirt-sophomore only has 5 pass attempts his whole career, going 2-2 in a game vs. Kentucky last year and 0-3 last week at Vanderbilt.
Enter running back and Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore. Said Spurrier, “I hope it’s not a game where he has to carry the ball 35 times. HOPE. The object is to win… but we hope we can balance it around.”
Cue this song in my head: Just what makes that little old ant… think he can move that rubber tree plant…
Spurrier’s bottom line on how to improve the offensive output for week two, “We gotta block somebody… throw, catch… everything we didn’t do last week.” Ah, if only it were that simple.
Alas, it could be. If/when a team’s defense wins game. Consider last year’s game vs. ECU, played in Charlotte, NC. Down 17-0 to the Pirates early, and trailing 24-14 at the half, the Gamecocks responded after the break by converting three early third-quarter turnovers into 21 points. The Pirates lost three of four fumbles on their first seven touches of the second half. A defensive score from Antonio Allen and a 68 yard punt return for six by Ace Sanders complimented three rushing TDs from Lattimore in a 56-37 win.
The forecast from defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward for this week is pressure: early, often and in many forms. Watch for superstar defensive ends Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney to move around on the D-line to show the Pirates different looks. Move Clowney to an interior tackle spot, so that his path to the quarterback is even shorter? Yikes. Evokes memories of poor Mr. Eko and his encounter with the smoke monster on “Lost” (yes, of course I watched “Lost.”)
After our calls on Wednesday, I have a whole new appreciation for the coaching staff at East Carolina, especially head coach Ruffin McNeill. He is clearly passionate about his craft, invested wholeheartedly in his team and alma mater and, to our delight, genuinely funny. I can’t remember the last time a coach jokingly promised not to “run away from me” when I seek him for comments around halftime.
Ruff has a multitude of anagrams that he uses in his coaching, the development of which he called, “putting his East Carolina education to good use” (again, very funny!) The theme most commonly referred to is “T.B.A.” It stands for “Trust, Belief and Accountability.” I also enjoy “A.B.C.” = Avoid Bad Company. But my favorite has to be, “F.I.D.O.” Forget it and drive on. A great motto for life, as well as football.
ECU’s staff is stressing poise, self-confidence, belief in each other and what they’re building toward as a team. McNeill has been to Williams-Brice Stadium before and knows what to expect from what can be a hostile, overpowering environment for a visiting team. His team’s goal, “We need to focus on us. It’s how we do what we do that we can control.” Keys he is stressing: fundamentals (blocking and tackling well, sound footwork and hand placement and gap management) and stringing together a “consistent number of 11-man plays.” He learned last year that ECU cannot compete with a team the caliber of USC if they give them any breaks (see lost fumbles above).
This trip to Columbia opens a treacherous stretch for the Pirates, who play three straight on the road, following this trip with games at Southern Miss (a C-USA favorite) and North Carolina. Both coordinators forecasted units who gained important experience last year, spent the offseason focusing on improving conditioning (to help manage the boiling temps faced last week and again expected tomorrow) and have confidence they can compete.
We will find out together! If you can’t join us at Williams-Brice Stadium for the game, check it out on your local SEC Network Affiliate. Coverage, as always, begins at 12 PM ET.
IMPORTANT PROGRAMMING REMINDER: Tomorrow features our first SEC Network Double Header Saturday, with East Carolina at South Carolina being immediately followed by Western Kentucky at Alabama. Double the fun!
FINAL IMAGE: I always enjoy the coaches meetings at South Carolina, because we meet with Spurrier in his office and we meet with Ward in a meeting room for the defensive staff. There’s always something new to see. Two notable discoveries: in the defense room, there is a fine print poster which features many specific rules and reminders about the “Carolina Football Defensive Philosophy.” Who came up with those important points? Steve Spurrier, of course – who Ward refers to as “The Boss.” Quote, “see that board there with the defensive philosophy? The Boss came up with those!” So much for all of you who think the HBC is only concerned about the offense. One of the week’s most talked-about stats: USC had 67 total passing yards amassed vs. Vanderbilt.
"Cocky Corner?" Why not?!
Spurrier also loves to show his team spirit, highlighted in a photo here of what I will call, “Cocky Corner.” (And no, I’m sure he wouldn’t call it that – but I have to show my girly side after talking the X’s and O’s of football most of the day.) My eye kept drifting over to the interesting collection of Gamecocks and the pretty USC stained glass. Hard to see what is in the case, but that is a Gamecock with its talons clutching a commemorative football (no, I couldn’t see what it is celebrating, as I’m short and was rushing, sneaking in to snag this photo with the kind permission of Rita, Spurrier’s administrative assistant.)
Last year, I blogged about the bold display of victory balls lining his bookshelves, and how Spurrier went through several games for us, recapping them with impeccable detail. Of course, his Heisman Trophy is also in the office, with a variety of other awards from a highly-decorated career. With that, I’m going to fire off an email to the folks at College GameDay for a future feature idea: having Spurrier go through the intricately decorated office and share his favorite things. There are many to choose from!
See you tomorrow from Williams-Brice Stadium.
September 7, 2012
Posted by: Capuano and Filed Under: Main
Week two of the SEC Network season (@SECNetwork – a must-follow, for easy tweet links to our broadcast affiliate listings) lands the crew in Columbia, SC for a matchup between East Carolina and South Carolina (game notes linked there.)
We’ve already talked to the coaching staff for the Pirates and have an early 9:30 AM appointment with the Gamecocks’ coaches today. I’ll write a preview based on those chats, as usual, after those. Meantime, some Twitter recommendations for you…
From East Carolina:
@RuffinMcNeill – That’s right, East Carolina’s head coach is on Twitter. And the tweets are his own, too. By the way – you’ll see “T B A” repeatedly in his messaging. That stands for: “Trust, Belief and Accountability” – one of the Pirates’ mantras. I have a few more I’ll share later.
@ECUAthletics – Official twitter site of the ECU Athletics Department/ECUpirates.com
@NateSumm99 – Nathan Summers is a beat writer who covers Pirates athletics for the Greenville Daily Reflector.
@TheDOB – Covers the Pirates for Bonesville Media, found here. In his Twitter bio, Denny O’Brien claims to be famous for his impersonations in press boxes. Oh yes, I will hunt him down and make him show me his best stuff. Count on it! I already enjoy his sassy side.
From South Carolina:
@GamecocksOnline – the official website of the South Carolina Gamecocks; there is also a football-specific handle, @GamecockFB.
@JoshatTheState & @DarrylSlater – Josh Kendall is the South Carolina beat writer for the State Newspaper based in Columbia and Darryl Slater covers the Gamecocks for The Post & Courier in Charleston. Both their websites are “pay sites” but they will tweet main headlines through the week, and you can read Darryl’s blog for free, too (the latest of which is on Steve Spurrier‘s comments from his radio show last night on the availability of QB Connor Shaw.)
@1075thegame is the Gamecocks’ flagship station – it even has an application so that you can listen for free on your Smartphone (which I’ve done – I relish a free app.) Their afternoon host trio of @JayPhilips1075 (1 PM- 4PM) @heathradio (4 PM- 7 PM) and @Haney1075 (he’s on both shows) are all really locked into both local and national sports (Jay being a huge international soccer aficionado, if that’s your thing.) I hope to join Jay and Michael at their weekly Friday appearance at Addam’s University Bookstore in the 3 PM hour.
Just in case you haven’t seen it yet:
If you’ve ever tuned into an episode of Sportscenter, especially at this time of year, you have seen ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton (@ClaytonESPN) report on the NFL. The latest “This is Sportscenter” spot reveals what he does after those segments. It. Is. Hilarious. A must-see to set the tone for your Friday of a holiday week.
Off to meetings – more later!
August 31, 2012
Posted by: Capuano and Filed Under: Main
The tribulations of work travel strike again. Posting today’s season opener preview blog from the Athens-Clarke County Public Library. Wi-fi at hotel was shoddy, at best – and there’s nothing worse than trying to surf the internet highway on a broken board. Thankfully, we still have fine palaces of learning to see us through such minuscule inconveniences. All those whirring and buzzing construction sounds, due to immense renovations underway at this specific location? No bother – it’s all about being able to do work with ease, and the wi-fi here is outstanding. I do love a library – and this one has an adorable statue of a bulldog out front. (If you’ve never been to Athens, such statues are found everywhere. One of its many charms!)
Our SEC Network season opener is Buffalo at (6)Georgia. On paper, it’s the defending SEC East Champions vs. a team that has finished sixth (of seven teams) in the MAC East the past two seasons. Mismatch? Probably. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of story lines to follow.
Georgia sophomore CB Malcolm Mitchell will not play in the opener, after spraining his left ankle in practice on Thursday. UGA beat writer Seth Emerson provides more information here. Coach Mark Richt told us yesterday that Mitchell would likely participate in punt return duties as well, leaving most of that responsibility on Branden Smith. Damian Swann is expected to start opposite Smith at CB. Depth at the cornerback position was extremely limited before, with senior Sanders Commings suspended for the first two games. The big question is whether Mitchell will be ready for next week’s SEC opener at Missouri. But the Bulldogs aren’t looking past the Bulls, so we won’t either.
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS from the GEORGIA COACHES’ CALL:
Richt told us he thinks this may have been the best summer the Bulldogs have had since his tenure began. He told us one primary goal of camp is to solidify team chemistry and the belief the players have in each other, the coaches, and what they’re trying to accomplish together. Richt said a high level of accountability was established in summer workouts (which are led by players, not coaches) which carried over into camp.
Richt is very interested to see how the special teams units perform. Looking at the depth chart, after return specialist Branden Smith and long snapper Ty Frix, there’s not a lot of experience, particularly in the kicking game. Following years of the steady regime of P Drew Butler (3-year starter) and PK Blair Walsh (4-year starter), it’s officially a youth movement: P Collin Barber and PK Marshall Morgan are true freshmen and holder Adam Erickson is also new to his role.
Following the late June dismissal of Isaiah Crowell, it has been “tailback by committee” for the Bulldogs, with Ken Malcome leading the pack which includes true freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Richt told us a great story about Malcome, who once thought about leaving the team, which we’ll share in the broadcast.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo talked a lot about the continued growth of QB Aaron Murray. Now that C Ben Jones has moved on to the NFL, Murray has an even bigger vocal leadership role with the offense, which he is managing well. Murray also continues to improve his fundamentals in the pocket – a skill set not lost on Buffalo defensive coordinator Lou Tepper, who called Murray a “quarterback with unusual accuracy” (not a turn of phrase usually heard on our calls, which is why it stood out to me.)
Last year, Georgia ranked fifth nationally in Total Defense (277.2 ypg). Nine of 11 starters return, including 12 of the top 14 tacklers. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said the goals for his talented, experienced unit are to “make themselves better and improve their craft” and “take a team attitude.” 2011 SEC Sack Leader (13.5 sacks, tied for 5th nationally!) Jarvis Jones has been one of the leaders in that charge, working diligently in the film room to identify where he can improve.
ESPNU coverage of "SEC Media Days"
I met Jarvis at SEC Media Days in July. He told me he takes great pride in assuming a primary leadership role for this defense, though he’s more a “lead by example” (vs. vocal) player. Also leading the SEC with 19.5 tackles for loss, I’d say he’s setting a fine example.
STAR PLAYER to WATCH from BUFFALO:
I could write an entire post about running back Branden Oliver and what he means to the Bulls. Coach Jeff Quinn, who has been in the career for thirty years, counts Oliver among the most disciplined, driven players he has ever coached, “There is not a day I have to say a word to Bo Oliver about giving maximum effort.” Quinn tells us Oliver exemplifies the program and genuinely brings up the performance of everyone around him. Example: Before the spring, Quinn asked Oliver to improve his efforts in the classroom. He did, with his strongest academic showing, to compliment the entire team’s best academic semester. In 2011, Oliver set team records for most carries, rushing yards, all-purpose yards and 100-yard games (with 8).
I’d love to write more… but the library just dinged a bell signaling we’re fifteen minutes away from closing. Time to edit, post, and move on to my next wi-fi spot!
See you tomorrow at Noon Eastern on the SEC Network. Plenty of new affiliates this season where you can watch.
August 30, 2012
Posted by: Capuano and Filed Under: Main
This blog entry is going to be for those of you who participate in the world of Twitter.
Inspired by a recent tweet from new ESPN.com college football insider, Travis Haney (@TravHaneyESPN), which referred to a link on “who to follow” in college football on a national scale from the Pistols Firing blog (@pistolsguy pens a blog with a focus on Oklahoma-State), I’m going to give you a list of some key folks you’ll want to follow this season, particularly if you’re a fan of the SEC Network. At the end of the post, I’ll recommend some follows specific to this Saturday’s season opener, Buffalo at (6)Georgia.
GLOBAL MUST-FOLLOWS from ESPN
First, follow Travis Haney above. Even if you don’t pay for the ”insider” coverage on ESPN.com, Travis will keep you apprised of breaking news and trends to watch in the world of college football.
Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) was recently hired by ESPN as a college football reporter. I savored Brett’s savvy when he was with CBSSports.com and I’m thrilled to call him colleague. I can’t wait to eventually meet him and tell him how great I think he is. No, really. If you don’t know by now (which means you didn’t read this blog last year. For shame!), I’m a “writer groupie”… What is a writer groupie? I like to think of myself as a voracious reader who relishes the workmanship of wordsmiths, particularly when they’re writing about the world of sports. Reporting. Long form features. Game previews or game recaps. Opinionated columns, whether spiced with vitriol or sweetness. I love all of it!
To that end, if you’re a groupie like me, follow Wright Thompson (@WrightThompson). If you have time, read whatever he has linked to in his timeline, whether it is his work of that of others. He’s another colleague I’m really excited to meet. There was a chance recently, when I could’ve met Wright and imparted how incredibly terrific I find every piece that he pens…. but I didn’t want to graduate from writer groupie to writer stalker. With what are now plenty of mutual friends, it will come in time. Plus, I was really busy prepping for a Little League World Series softball game that afternoon… and work always has to come first, when a big game is on the horizon!
Anything submitted by our SEC bloggers, Chris Low and Ed Aschoff, will be linked by @ESPN_SEC and Ed keeps up his own twitter feed as well, @AschoffESPN.
The source for all things SEC Sports is the SEC Digital Network. @SECSportsUpdate is a valuable resource, often sharing both the headlines of the day in the Southeastern Conference, along with links to any new articles on the SEC’s website. Must follow.
SEC NETWORK FOLLOWS:
The first one is obvious: @SECNetwork. As well, I tweet. But if you found the blog, you probably know I’m @CapuanoESPN.
Our play-by-play announcer for the Game of the Week, Dave Neal (@DaveNealSports), joined up not long ago. Admittedly, he is still learning and more a follower than a tweeter (his last tweet from 8/20 made me chuckle. Welcome to Twitter, partner!)
SEC Network studio host Dari Nowkhah (@ESPNDari) is very active on Twitter, especially right now, as he is hosting a fabulous new show called “College Football Daily,” which airs Monday through Friday from 1 PM to 4 PM ET on ESPNU (@ESPNU).
SEC Network studio analyst Kevin Carter (@kcarter57) is also learning to navigate the space.
GEORGIA FOLLOWS for SEC Network season opener, Buffalo at UGA:
Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) covers Georgia athletics for the Macon Telegraph & Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) is the UGA football and basketball beat writer for the Athens-Banner Herald.
@ajcuga – Chip Towers covers UGA sports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
@UGAAthletics – official Twitter page of Bulldogs athletics and their website, georgiadogs.com
Georgia fans definitely need to create a favorite link to ESPN.com’s DawgNation. The DawgNation team has its fingers on the pulse of all things UGA.
Hope that helps guide your pregame research! Off to chat with the coaches for both teams for the next few hours on conference calls. I’ll post a preview of the matchup on Friday.
August 28, 2012
Posted by: Capuano and Filed Under: Main
We are just a few days away from kicking off the 2012 season on the ESPN Networks and a slew of analysts are weighing in on their picks for conference champions and which two teams will play for the BCS National Title.
Missing from this initial list of predictions are the selections of our SEC Network analysts, game broadcaster Andre Ware and studio specialist Kevin Carter. I reached out to my esteemed colleagues for their picks. In the National Title Game, Kevin pits LSU vs. USC. Andre thinks Alabama will play Florida State for the national championship. Here are their conference champion selections for 2012:
August 24, 2012
Posted by: Capuano and Filed Under: Main
“Roam” – the perfect soundtrack to my opening weekend of SEC football travel.
Granted, there are no games this weekend, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty to talk about. And talk football we will, in our “SEC Kickoff Special” from the inaugural SEC BeachFest in Gulf Shores, AL.
What is SEC BeachFest?
- Stage for the concerts and Chalk Talk segments
The plan is for SEC fans, of all schools, to enjoy one last summer weekend at the beach and celebrate the anticipation of the upcoming season via ample planned events. The packed schedule includes alumni events at local restaurants, a golf tournament on Friday, a 5K run on Saturday and a “FanZone” area (which I assume will be on a smaller scale but similar to the one at the SEC Football Championship in Atlanta). With Tropical Storm Isaac’s permission, there are also planned concerts at the beach, featuring The B-52’s on Friday night and Dr. John on Saturday night. Note the Athens and New Orleans connections of the bands, a strategy well played by the event organizers.
What will separate this event from others like it is the possibility for interaction and access to a select group of SEC “personalities,” ranging from legends of the playing and coaching ranks to three current (and BCS National Champion-winning) coaches: Gene Chizik of Auburn, Les Miles of LSU and Nick Saban of Alabama. I’ll be interested to see just how much the fans will be permitted to interact directly with the wide variety of guests who will be spending a portion of their weekends at SEC BeachFest.
What is the “SEC Kickoff Special?”
- Our traveling ESPNU set
On this, I have plenty more concrete information (especially helpful, as I’m the host of the show.) New SEC Network Studio Analyst Kevin Carter will join me on set at the main SEC BeachFest venue at Gulf Shores (surrounding a restaurant called “The Hangout.”) Kevin and I will chat about the big picture topics heading into the new season. We will also enjoy in-depth conversations with each of the three visiting current coaches.
The segments of the show I’m really excited about include me leading a roundtable discussion of former SEC coaching legends: Frank Broyles (Arkansas), Vince Dooley (Georgia), Pat Dye (Auburn) and Gene Stallings (Alabama). I have a wide variety of topics planned, such as the changes they’ve seen in SEC football since their days roaming the sidelines, which players and fan environments stood out among the best and what they think about the new national championship playoff format that starts in 2014.
In between taping our show (which will be an all-day process, working around the packed schedules of all our high-profile visitors), I will also be leading spontaneous “Chalk Talk” segments with the SEC BeachFest crowd, serving as a liaison between the fans and the three current coaches.
This has sincere potential to be one of my favorite days of work yet!
The “SEC Kickoff Special” is the first of its kind and should be one of the best “preview shows” that ESPNU will air heading into the new season. What sets this show apart is the availability of the coaches at this time of the preseason, with camps complete, two-deeps already set and specific game plans for opening opponents being installed. In the recently-released preseason Associated Press poll, defending national champion Alabama is slotted at number two, just ahead of the team they beat to win it all last year, LSU. Two years removed from its own BCS Title, Auburn named Kiehl Frazier as its starting quarterback Thursday – is this a team that can challenge the “Big Three” in the SEC West (adding in Arkansas – preseason number 10 – into the triumvirate with Alabama and LSU)? Who better to ask than Chizik?
Do you have a specific question you’d like to see asked of Chizik, Miles, Saban or our panel of SEC coaching legends? Share it with me! You can comment on this blog or reach me via Twitter, with a tweet directed to @CapuanoESPN.
IMPORTANT PROGRAMMING INFORMATION:
We will tape the “SEC Kickoff Special” on Saturday, but the first time it will air on ESPNU is on Sunday, 8/26 at 10 AM Eastern/7 AM Pacific. Set the DVRs if you’re not an early riser or already have other plans!
This marks my first time visiting this part of the gulf coast, though I used to remember watching our highlights on “SEC Weekly” from the SEC Soccer Championship in Orange Beach and thinking, “I’ve got to get down there!” Check another item off my Southeastern Conference-related-travel bucket list!
And so begins the journey for autumn of 2012.
- Friendly critter I met on AM beach walk
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