Saturday, September 28, 2013

Q&A with the other side: A Rebel blogger’s take on the Ole Miss at Alabama game

Dave Blevan of and I had the opportunity to trade insight on tonight’s matchup between the undefeated Ole Miss Rebels and the undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide. You can catch my take on the game here.

Not surprisingly, Rebel fans are a little nervous, but still confident.

1. How are Ole Miss fans looking at the upcoming game against Alabama? A concern or a win?

To tell you the truth. Ole Miss fans are just happy to be 3-0 right now. This the first time since 1989 this has happened, and the fans are just sucking in the glory. The fans see this game as a nothing to lose situation. If they lose, well it was expected. If they win, then it's the biggest upset of the college football season. 

2. Which player on offense that Alabama fans might not be aware of, will stand out in the game?

It would have to be Evan Engram. Engram is a freshman tight end who really stood out in the game against Texas. It's been a long long time since Ole Miss has had a tight end who really stood out as an impact player. Engram has shown he can catch clutch mid field passes to put the opposing team on edge. 

3. Which player on defense that Alabama fans might not be aware of, will stand out in the game? 

Cody Prewitt was been doing great this season and has really stood out. He could threaten with picks in deep down field passes. 

4. Which Alabama player are you most concerned about?

It's got to be Christian Jones. Like Virginia Tech, we have fallen victim to his great abilities on special teams. Hid speed and ability as a wide receiver are also feared. 

5. Biggest concerned Ole Miss position?

Our concern for the longest has been the secondary. We have given up too many points in the past with this area. Charles Sawyer is out. Players like Trae Elston, are going to have to step it up against the skilled Bama receivers like Jones and Cooper to keep the game close. 

6. What about an injury report? Any key players that will be out for the game?

Denzel Nkemdiche has been out with a knee injury for the past two games. He has been looking good in the past few practices. He could return for the Alabama game. Vince Sanders is expected to return to the Alabama game. Sanders has been out all season with a broken collarbone injury. He was the Rebels 2nd leading receiver in 2012. 

7. Were their concerns after the Texas game?

Well, BYU put up almost 600 yards of rushing against Texas. We put up half of that number against Tecas. So, we know we are half the team BYU is. 

8. Where do you think Ole Miss and Alabama will end up this season?

Alabama is expected to make history this year. Three in a row, would be unbelievable, and very well respected by the rest of the nation. As for Ole Miss, if we finish 9-3 or 8-4, it will unbelievable season for us.  

If you as most Rebel fans, they don't expect us to contend for the West this year. If we somehow upset Alabama, Texas A&M, and LSU, then our mindset might change. But, that happening this year is highly unlikely. Our hope is next year, will be the year we shake things up in the conference.  

9. Do Ole Miss fans feel the Tide will three-peat or do they think this is not the year?

Right now, Ole Miss see us being the team standing Alabama's way. All Alabama has to do now is beat Ole Miss and LSU and it is a given they will the SEC Championship game. 

10. Prediction of the game and final score?

Our writing staff has been picking games weekly for a fun record. Four out five, of our staff picked Ole Miss to beat Bama. That doesn't mean that we expect Ole Miss to go in and pull out two or possession win. It's more like a last second field goal win. 

My prediction is Ole Miss wins with a field goal with less than a minute to play. Final score: Ole Miss 33-30. Andrew Ritter kicked a 52 yard field goal in the Texas game.  

There you have it. See? I told you that they’re still confident. It should be a fun game.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

D.J. Fluker and the Three Ds

I have to preface this by saying we are dealing with a "new" NCAA and should view this situation accordingly. Alabama will face Johnny Manziel shortly. That's the bar brawling rich kid who reportedly signed a lot of autographs for a lot of money. Alabama had to face Cam Newton, whose services reportedly came at the cost of a six figure sum. Those games count, and those instances, along with recent NCAA activity has taught us one very important thing. We can't judge based on common sense, we can't judge based on reporting, or allegations, we can only judge based on "admissible evidence". 

Based on what has been proven thus far (which is nothing really, and I won't bother to link to allegations) and for thflukere sake of argument I will acknowledge one allegation, which is that Fluker took money from Luther Davis. As far as Luther Davis goes, he's largely irrelevant by himself. He's been banned from Alabama's campus, his alleged activities took place as a former player, but it is worth noting that as a former player he had a prior relationship and friendship with many current Alabama players. Now, on to the other issues.

Stipends: I won't go into depth about this issue, but there are students on scholarship at Alabama that get a $10,000 stipend. Athletes while allowed in the past, currently are not allowed to have stipends. Fluker is the rare example of kids that fall through the cracks, and a stipend would go a long way towards insuring they are not enticed by boosters or agents.

NCAA: The NCAA once had a vendetta against the University of Alabama. They violated their own rules, and gave Alabama draconian punishments. It's not clear if they still do, but their handling of the textbook situation shows that they are still more than willing to punish those who cooperate. On the other hand, Auburn and Texas A&M (amongst others) have demonstrated that lawyers and denying everything is a way to get off. Along with this, the NCAA actually has a lot of other things that they should concern themselves with. That would include the Miami cesspool, and some recent and very serious allegations against Oklahoma St. Need I even mention that Ole Miss was found to have played an ineligible player, and the only thing that happened was he got suspended a few games? The question here is does Alabama get the new kinder, more gentle NCAA, or do they get the one that would do anything to harm Alabama?

SEC: The SEC under Kramer was not looking out for Alabama's interests, to say the least. The Means case, amongst others demonstrated the SEC as a conference, and as member schools were more than willing to sell out Alabama. The SEC landscaped has changed a lot since then, and the allegations involving Luther Davis include a couple other SEC schools. Mike Slive went to bat for Auburn, and the SEC owes Alabama a lot. How they handle the situation might be the best measure of how this will go. If the SEC acts like it did prior to Slive's arrival, as well as the NCAA, then Miss. State and Tennessee will get some sort of sweetheart witness deals, and Alabama will get hammered. However, recently the SEC has acted more as lawyers for the schools than rule enforcers.

Alabama: Alabama, and Alabama fans both share a terror of the NCAA. The NCAA did scare Alabama a great deal, and since then Alabama has arguably had the best compliance department of any university. The problem with this, as the textbook issue demonstrated, is that cooperation does not lead to getting off light. Logically, if a program comes forward, provides the information they have, and cooperates fully, the punishment should be significantly less. That's not how it works though, Auburn got less punishment over Cam Newton (and players before and after that incident going on the record as taking money) than Alabama did over textbooks. The playbook is clear here.

Deny: This is something you have to do carefully, and completely. But, Auburn and A&M both did this effectively. You find what you are willing to concede, what you can admit, and then beyond that you refuse to budge an inch. In the case of Auburn, it was the open admission that Cam Newton's dad did shop him, but they adamantly refused to admit that he was actually paid. In the A&M case, they openly admitted he signed a lot of autographs, but refused to acknowledge he took any money. In this case, if there is any admission it should be that Fluker took money, but it was a loan from a friend, a former teammate, no more no less. If Alabama, Fluker, and anyone else holds this line, it should be very hard to punish Alabama.

Deflect: Fluker is a great guy from all accounts. He was also homeless after Katrina, he worked odd jobs, etc... This is not a laptop thief that got kicked out of school, this is a guy from a tough situation. Alabama, and Alabama fans can make this narrative about what a great guy Fluker is, and the hard times he's been through. The NCAA already looks bad, if they let Cam and Johnny off, but go after the formerly homeless kid, they'll look even worse. So, they can talk about what Fluker has been through, they can talk about stipends, they can talk about Cam, or Johnny, they can talk about how barbaric the NCAA was with Alabama in the past. Heck, talk about how the agents would have been in violation of the law. They just shouldn't talk about any players at Alabama getting impermissible benefits!

Defy: This is the final resort. This is if it becomes clear the NCAA is going to come after Alabama, hard. Alabama could stonewall, lawyer up (even more than already), threaten legal action, what ever it takes to rattle the NCAA. The NCAA has vulnerabilities and Alabama is strong. If backed into a corner they should act with strength. The last thing to do though? If the NCAA tries to take away wins or championships, just keep claiming them! We saw the games, we know the outcomes. Alabama has 15 championships, period.

D.J. Fluker is a mostly sympathetic figure, but there's the possibility that he knowingly took money from a runner for an agent, and did so for something in return. But, that's extremely far from  being proven at this point, especially by the new standards the NCAA has. As fans, we want the players to obey the rules, the NCAA and Alabama want the same thing. But, in Fluker's case they can't suspend him for a few hours like they did with Cam, or half a game like they did with Johnny. They might want to punish him, and to some extent even Alabama fans might want him punished, because they don't want things like this to happen, ever. However, if anything happened it is in the past. It can't be undone, and by all appearances Fluker was one of those kids that fell through the cracks, one that did come from a family in need. The NCAA needs to temper their inherent desire to make an example of Alabama, with the reality that Fluker is a sympathetic figure.

Fluker deserves the benefit of a doubt. If Johnny got it, and Cam got it, then Fluker absolutely deserves it. For those of you unfamiliar with his story, here it is. For all we know, if Fluker did get money, it could have just been seen as a loan from a friend. Remember, Luther Davis had a deal with the Bills. Fluker had no reason to be surprised he had money, and consider a prior relationship, it's hardly unusual to consider Fluker borrowing money from him. How do we know Fluker knew it was a violation, and how do we really know it was a violation? Is it really against NCAA rules to borrow money from your friends? Fluker's tough background aside, it's still not an easy case to make that borrowing money from a friend and/or former teammate is a violation. If that's a violation, then every college football program is always in violation.

The key here though is that a narrative will be set. Alabama and Alabama fans have a degree of control over it. It can be about players getting impermissible benefits, or it can be about the story of how a kid that was once homeless became a first round draft pick. The truth is, may be we all should be talking about the upcoming Texas A&M game anyway, but if we're talking about Fluker, we might as well be talking about the positive aspects.