Before breaking away to enjoy what I hope is some nice weather this weekend, let’s see what’s on your mind in the SEC mailbag:
Corey in Pensacola, Fla., writes: Chris, don’t you think it’s a little much for Alabama to already be putting up a statue of Nick Saban? What if he leaves in another year or two for the NFL?
Chris Low: Alabama’s custom is to honor all of its national championship coaches with a statue in the Walk of Champions plaza just outside Bryant-Denny Stadium. It’s actually a pretty neat touch as you walk up to the stadium from University Boulevard. They’re going to unveil Saban’s statue prior to the A-Day spring game on April 16. Gene Stallings, who won a national championship at Alabama in 1992, will be on hand as well as the families of the other three coaches who won national titles at Alabama -- Frank Thomas, Wallace Wade and Paul “Bear” Bryant. Sadly, something tells me there will need to be some serious security around Saban’s statue given what we saw happen to the Toomer’s Corner oak trees at Auburn. As for the possibility of Saban leaving for the NFL in another year or two, I think there’s a better chance that Alabama decides to go to black jerseys. In other words, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Saban isn’t going anywhere, and he’s certainly not going back to the NFL. He’s told me repeatedly that the NFL wasn’t for him, and he has as much control over his program at Alabama as any coach in America. Plus, he’d be in huge trouble at home with his wife, Terry, if he even thought about going back to the NFL.
Mitch in New York City writes: Seriously, have the nerve or decency to post even one of the numerous articles refuting the Auburn booster story. Take your pick. If you're willing to look up any former player from Auburn on twitter, you'll find a laundry list of opposing voices as well. All I'm asking is that you take the time to post even one of these stories.
Chris Low: As a matter of fact, I did one of those stories myself when I spoke to All-America offensive tackle Lee Ziemba the day the HBO Real Sports special ran. He told me he was never offered a dime at Auburn and never saw anything that would make him think other players were getting paid, either. That piece ran in the SEC blog on Wednesday. I absolutely believe that Ziemba is telling the truth, but that also doesn’t necessarily mean that Stanley McClover, Raven Gray, Troy Reddick and Chaz Ramsey are not telling the truth. It’s entirely possible that some players were getting paid and others weren’t. It’s also possible that the four players who made the claims to HBO were doing so to get back at Auburn in some way, as Ziemba suggests. But it’s difficult to imagine anybody subjecting themselves to this kind of scorn over claims that were fabricated. I’m convinced that players all across big-time college football and basketball accept improper benefits from boosters, and anybody who thinks that doesn’t happen to some degree probably hasn’t spent much time around big-time college athletics.
Scott in Knoxville, Tenn., writes: Where did Eric Ainge say he was a full blown cocaine addict while at Tennessee? The transcript only mentions pain killers while at UT. It seems you have taken some serious and irresponsible literary license.
Chris Low: Since weighing in on Ainge’s battle with drug dependency and his powerful first-person story that appeared on ESPNNewYork.com, I’ve been scolded by several Tennessee fans. And in this case, rightfully so. I went back and re-read the story, and Ainge doesn’t specify when he started using cocaine and heroin, only that he was an addict by his senior season at Tennessee and hooked on pain killers. He does say in the story that he was using a lot of drugs at a young age and mentions marijuana. But in a local radio interview he conducted this week, he clarified that he didn’t start using cocaine and heroin until he got to the New York Jets. So I apologize for confusing that part of the story. What’s important here, though, is that Ainge is taking the right steps to stay clean and is brave enough to tell his story so that maybe somebody else in the throes of addiction will read it and get help. As for Tennessee’s drug-testing policy during that time -- and coming from someone who covered Tennessee athletics on a daily basis from 1997 through the first part of the 2007 football season -- I maintain my contention that it had serious flaws and wasn’t very effective. It’s been tweaked since, and I can still recall Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton conceding to me in 2007 that it needed to be tweaked.
Jason in Arlington, Tenn., writes: Chris, reports out of Fayetteville are that Tyler Wilson has been lighting it up during spring practice, making all the throws and really controlling the game. If he’s as good as being advertised, do you think the Hogs have a legitimate chance of getting back to a BCS bowl?
Chris Low: I’m not surprised at all that Wilson is having a big spring. Bobby Petrino was extremely confident that he would step right in and be very comfortable. Plus, look at the arsenal of playmakers Wilson has surrounding him, and that’s not even counting receiver Greg Childs, who’s still recovering from his knee surgery. Replacing both of those offensive tackles will be tough, and the Hogs can’t drop off defensively. But, yes, I think Arkansas is one of the best four teams in the SEC going into the 2011 season and will again be in contention for the league title and a BCS bowl berth.
Charles in Charlotte, N.C., writes: How come nobody is talking about Marcus Lattimore for the Heisman?
Chris Low: He would be one of the top two or three on my list out of the SEC. For one, he’s a terrific player and racks up big numbers. Also, the Gamecocks are going to lean on him next season, so his rushing totals and touchdown numbers should go up. I think South Carolina has to win at least 10 games for him to be a realistic candidate. Of course, when you look at the past two Heisman Trophy winners and consider that they were nowhere on the Heisman radar coming into the season, I’m not sure preseason hype means a whole lot anymore.
Jordan in Tuscaloosa, Ala., writes: Chris, with the Fiesta Bowl at risk of losing its BCS status, do you think that the Cotton Bowl would have any chance of becoming a BCS bowl? It has a long history and a great stadium. The Big 12 and SEC tie-ins could help the argument as well.
Chris Low: The folks at the Cotton Bowl do a tremendous job. It’s a first-class experience run by first-class people, and I could definitely see it joining the BCS equation if the Fiesta Bowl gets the boot. The Chick-fil-A Bowl is another one that has really raised its stature and would also be a prime candidate. Both are located in major cities with great venues, and the people running the bowls are true pros. I’ve covered both on multiple occasions and would be 100 percent comfortable with either one of them moving into the BCS mix.