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July 23, 2008

A Vehicle to Success

Folks that cover SEC have talked everything to death. Depth charts, incoming freshmen, schedules, road games, coaching changes, on and on. Now that SEC Media Days are upon us, I wanted to do something to whittle away the hours before we get our first real taste of new football news in a long while.

So, after looking over what various other writers' did with their previews of media days, and for the most part just regurgitating the same stuff we have been talking about for months, I decided to take a different angle. I wanted to look at it a different way--a very different way.

So, at the risk of making a lot of fans mad, making myself look like a fool for spending the time on such a piece, and probably setting myself back a few years on my path to being a good writer, I present to you a look at the vehicles that should carry the coaches and players to Hoover for the meetings.

If nothing else, it is something to (hopefully) get a chuckle out of until the real news hits later today ....

Alabama Ford F-150

The symbol of power. The masterpiece of a long time and respected brand. Like the storied Alabama Crimson Tide, the Ford F-150 commands respect. People who do not know anything about trucks know the F-150 is out there; it is that good.

When I googled "best selling American pickup", I had already penciled in the F-150 for Alabama, but the first answer on the link I was present with was perfect: "It is the best American Pickup Truck because of its strength, reliability, and its reputation."

Alabama has a winning record against every opponent that they have played more than 10 times, 21 SEC championships, 12 national championships, and a constant contender in the SEC Western Division all more than warrant the respect and reputation they have as one of the top programs in the history of college football.

That said, the next sentence in the F-150 descriptor is also fitting: "If it didn't have a famous name, then no one would know anything about it, or ever hear of it."

Granted, that last part about ever hearing of it, as it applies to Alabama, is way off. The Crimson Tide have been a mainstay of media coverage in recent years not because of their success on the field, but rather their potential success in recruiting as well as their coaching changes that have been as painful to watch as that skier whiping out on slow motion at the beginning of Wide World of Sports years ago (youngsters, Google that or head to YouTube, I am sure you can find it).

The Tide has had six head coaches since Gene Stallings left following the 1996 season. The previous six coaches covered a span of 49 years. In those same 49 years, in which Alabama won seven of their 12 national championships, the Ford F-150 was the best selling truck in America.

Today, times are not nearly as rosy, or should I say crimson. Producing less mileage from the same gas as smaller trucks, the F-150 has been knocked off its perch. "The news of the F-150's sales slide doesn't come as a surprise, considering the seismic shift the industry has begun to experience, with consumers shunning fuel-thirsty trucks and SUVs for smaller, more efficient vehicles," reads a recent article by Motortrend.

One truck in particular has made some serious ground. While sales of the F-150 were up 11% this past May, which is the best May since 2000, Ford's smaller truck, the Ranger, posted a 72% sales growth in May.

I wonder what kind of truck you would see on the streets about 160 miles southwest of Tuscaloosa.

Arkansas 1921 Oldsmobile Touring Car

In the early 1990s, the folks making the decisions in Fayetteville chose to join the SEC. It was kind of like Jeb Clampett's decision to move his family from the Ozarks after discovering oil. When Jeb loaded up his family and moved to Beverly in their modified 1921 Olds, he found upon arrival that he and his kin were not like other folks. Still, while they were misunderstood by most, they were good people.

Arkansas, who enjoyed much success in the old Southwestern Conference before its demise that led to the Razorbacks searching for a new home, had won or shared 13 league titles when they entered the uncharted waters of the SEC in 1992.

Since then, they have won the SEC Western Division three times and have been a consistent contender in the league.

However, to some degree they are still outsiders in the conference, as, other than their Battle for the Golden Boot game with LSU, they do not have any long lasting rivalries.

Still, they are a good team, and the highly publicized sagas from player parents criticizing the coach, to star players leaving, to the head coach leaving only to be replaced by a coach that not only takes over a program searching for a new identity but also is looking for a lasting identity himself.

Hopefully, when fans pull over to gas up their touring car on their way to the next Razorback game this fall, they can pick up the local paper that will feature Hawg headlines that do not involve text messages, transfers, or other turbulence.

Auburn Ford Ranger FX4 Off-Road

Due to their second fiddle billing in the State of Alabama and their proximity to the U.S. Army Infantry/Airborne/Ranger schools at Fort Benning, Ga., the Ford Ranger is a fitting vehicle for Auburn.

Still, the Tigers are not a pushover, and, since they have a bit of cow college in them as an agriculture school, I figured they were deserving of the souped up off-road model.

Unlike the Crimson Tide's five-star recruiting classes that lead to regular appearances among the top in the team recruiting rankings, Auburn classes are not always as lucky with the recruiting guru love. The mighty Alabama F 150 might have more power, but the Ranger gets more mileage out of the same gas, and you don't even have to put in the premium stuff.

Want proof? First off, the Tigers are a consistent contender for the SEC West, and the undersized, underrated, little Ranger has knocked off the underperforming, gas (star) guzzling, F 150, the last six meetings.

Now that is Ford Tough!

Florida The No. 24 Car

Jeff Gordon is despised by most NASCAR fans. A sport with roots in the South, its fans never cottoned to the good-looking guy from Indiana, but all he does is win.

The Florida Gators are despised by most SEC fans. A conference based in the South, many fans of the various other 11 schools do not consider the Sunshine State a Southern state as it is inundated with people from the northeast, but all the Gators do is win.

If Dale Earnhardt was the Alabama of NASCAR then Jeff Gordon is the Florida of NASCAR.

NASCAR fans hated it when Gordon passed Earnhardt in career victories, and since the SEC split into two divisions in 1992, Florida is 102-26 in the conference while Alabama is just 67-57.

Gordon is the poster boy for NASCAR. He gives great interviews, looks good on TV, and is a marketing dream. Gator quarterback Tim Tebow is much the same. He has an impeccable off-field manner with good works and being involved in the community, is a great player on the field, and, as the first sophomore to with the Heisman Trophy, is also a marketing dream.

The 2008 season will be coach Urban Meyer's fourth season with the Gators. Nick Saban is entering his second at the helm of the Crimson Tide, and both will have a few years to continue building their programs before their next regular season meeting in 2010.

Jeff might be ahead of Dale in all time wins, but his four championships come up short against Dale's seven. However, Dale and the Bear are dead; while Junior and the modern Tide are doing all they can to keep with Jeff and his alligator allies.

Kentucky Chevy El Camino

When I was in the Army a friend of mine had a 70s era El Camino with glass packs and a loud stereo, and that was very cool. The glass packs made it very loud as it rumbled down the street, almost as loud as a Harley Davidson softail, but it was still just a car. The rear half of an El Camino is like a pick-up truck bed, but it is still a car.

Kentucky is an El Camino, and while it may pull up to a football game in an imitation truck with the noise of a Harley, this basketball school prefers to ride in a car.

LSU A Mardi Gras Float

Characterizing the Louisiana State University as a Mardi Gras float is not meant to belittle the Tigers as a vehicle to success. Not to belittle the magnitude of the destruction of hurricane Katrina, but for the sake of football correlation, the rapid rebirth of the Bayou Bengals in the past several years mirrors on a small scale the way the Pelican State has rebuilt after a major setback.

Just when nobody thought that New Orleans would be able to rebound after Katrina in 2005 and host Mardi Gras any time soon, the celebration went on as scheduled in February 2006.

Just when people were starting to wonder if the proud LSU football program would be able to keep the pace with the new and improved SEC after the turbulent decade of the 1990s, they rose up and have been one of, if not the, dominant program in the league this decade.

Since 2000, LSU has won three conference titles and two national titles.

While Tiger Stadium is 80 miles from Bourbon Street, the spirit of Mardi Gras and a party atmosphere permeates gameday in Baton Rouge, and Tiger fans take that festival feeling with them wherever they go.

Ole Miss 80s era Chevy Monte Carlo SS

When Chevrolet introduce the third generation of the Monte Carlo line, in 1978, the once proud car that sat on the fence between the muscle and luxury cars was a second-rate substitute. Chevrolet should have left the past glory of the Monte Carlo collectors and automotive enthusiasts, but the mid-80s, a fancy looking car on the outside was not very good on the inside.

Archie Manning led the Rebels to a 15-7 record in his final two years, 1969-1970, and is regarded as the best player in Rebel history. Since then, Ole Miss has tried to regain their stature as a successful program, but like Chevy's ultimate failure to bring the Monte Carlo back to the forefront of American cars, there have been few happy times in Oxford in recent times.

Just like the 80s era Monte Carlo looked great on the outside but was not a very good car overall, Ole Miss, even with all the great looking Magnolia maidens mingling in The Grove, cannot field a very good football team.

Mississippi State 1951 Ford F1 4x2

The reason I chose the 1951 Ford is because that is the model that Fred Sanford owned in the series Sanford & Son.

"Sanford & Son Salvage, 2nd Hand Antiques" is what the regularly broken down truck had painted on the door, and salvage is what coach Sylvester Croom has had to do since taking over the program from the antiquated Jackie Sherrell in 2004.

Since then, using a collection of junior college players and a few that signed with other SEC schools but could not meet those institutions' academic requirements Croom is 8-24 in the conference.

South Carolina The Millennium Falcon

Remember that moment in Star Wars when Han Solo told everyone to hold on before he hit the button to thrust the Millennium Falcon into hyperdrive? Then, when everyone in the theater was ready to be launched into warp speed and escape Darth Vader's minions, the power dipped, sounds of failure filled the air, and Chewbacca was sent down below to start rebuilding for the next attempt.

That is South Carolina football.

There is no fan base in all of college football that expects so much but gets so little year in and year out. They are so loyal that they gobbled up all the tickets for every game in a season they lost every contest.

The avian analogy is also quite fitting, as there are four kinds of Falcons. There are also four distinct dispositions of the devoted Dominiques throughout the year.

The first, the kestrals, are smaller than are the others. They feed on small rodents and other things that are easy to catch, and are much like Gamecock fans early in the year when they are regaining their strength with recruiting successes and glowing spring camp reports.

The second are the hobbies, which is a fitting pseudonym as preseason high hopes are a widely known South Carolina pastime in the late spring and summer months.

The third group is the actual Falcon, or in this case the August Gamecock. They are powerful birds who are not afraid of taking on much larger prey than the kestrals or hobbies.

The fourth group is an assortment of birds that are slightly different. A stripe behind the ear, a little more plumage, and other variations set them apart, which is much like the course of a season following the success or failures of September.

It looked like an alliance with Darth Visor would be the answer, and last year in his second season with the program he took the team to a No. 6 ranking, but just when they went to hit the hyperdrive . five losses to finish the season.

Since 1997, the Gamecocks are tied at No. 69 with Wake Forest, just behind No. 68 Tulane, in winning percentage. You would never guess that when speaking with a kestrel or hobbie, but like George Lucas' fictitious falcon, the power always seems to dim and the sounds of failure fill the air in Columbia just as they are set to go into hyperdrive.

Tennessee Saturn

I struggled with this one, but in the end I came up with what might seem like the easy answer. Sure, Saturns are synonymous with middle Tennessee, but there are more reasons the two are somewhat alike.

First off, Saturn's are GM cars built mostly out of Japanese parts. The vast majority of Tennessee's football team hails from out of state.

Saturn was kind of a novelty in its early years, but in reality they are very good cars.

Tennessee, with the Vol Navy, the Power T, Rocky Top, Smoky, and a hue of orange that is as loud as Neyland Stadium when the Vols cross the goal line into that checkerboard endzone might be as much as the casual football fan outside of the South knows about the boys from Knoxville, but unlike those with the clicky-clack of cowbells or a stand of trees frozen in time, they have a very good football team.

After being formed in 1982, Saturn posted its first profitable quarter in 1993. In that same year, Phillip Fulmer promoted David Cutcliffe to offensive coordinator after serving at various other positions on the staff since, you guessed in 1982.

Over next five seasons, Tennessee won 10 or more games in all but one season, including a perfect 13-0 National Championship season in 1998.

In 1999, Cutcliffe hopped in his Monte Carlo and headed to Oxford to take over the top job at Ole Miss. Following his departure, Tennessee experienced some down years in the early 2000s, including losing five of six to Georgia after dominating the Bulldogs in the 1990s.

With declining sales in the late 1990s, Saturn's sales dropped and GM spent the early part of the 2000s retooling and reinventing, but nothing seemed to work.

Things were much the same in Knoxville where coach Fulmer regained some his program's steam when Cutcliffe returned for the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Tennessee once again dominated Georgia in two lopsided Vol victories.

In 2007, Saturn gave up and left Tennessee. After the 2007 season, Cutcliffe left for Duke.

Vanderbilt Mercedes S-Class

According to one source the Mercedes S-Class is the 61st bestselling car in America, which is not far off from Vandy's preseason ranking at No. 71. Nobody questions the credentials of either, and their presence raises the overall quality and sophistication of any group in which they are included.

The average age of a Mercedes owner is 55, and if that owner is Vandy fan, he or she has been alive for 66 of the Commodores' SEC victories.

Georgia - You Make the Call!

One of the things that we plan to do with our new series of lists of various things is to allow the fans to fill in the final blank.

So, what kind of vehicle is Georgia?

Click on THIS LINK and later on we will update this story with your answers.



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