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SEC Spring meetings underway in Destin

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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On Tuesday, the most powerful Football Conference in the country, the SEC, will gather it’s most important conference officials, school representatives and its coaches to meet in the Florida panhandle with several interesting subjects on the table.

It’s the 2019 version of the annual “SEC Spring Meetings” in Destin. And this year, subjects like alcohol sales inside of SEC venues, legalized gambling and even the ever-growing player “transfer portal” will be part of of the discussion:

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey gave some comments to the Associated Press on Sunday at the baseball tournament championship game in Alabama previewiing that alcohol and gambling were going to be two items at the forefront later this week.

The SEC is the only conference of the “Power Five” that currently does not allow alcohol sales within the general seating at the stadium. Alcohol is allowed in the club or sweet sections of SEC venues, including at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.

This obviously represents a humongous revenue opportunity for the schools and a way to draw more fans back into SEC stadiums. This is particularly as the Southeastern Conference has seen in attendance lag over the past few years, including reaching a 16 year low in 2018.

However, the SEC still by and large has much more football attendance than any other power conference and that’s primarily because of the passion and the tradition and success of the programs. Alcohol sales may or may not matter that much.

In terms of legalized sports betting after last year’s Supreme Court ruling, numerous states within the conference have already legalized it or are in the process of doing so. Tennessee earlier this month became the latest to join Alabama Mississippi and Louisiana in legalizing betting within their states.

At this point, there’s not much that Sankey and the conference can do, except continue to be vigilant on how gambling might infect the credibility of the games being played on Saturdays

Finally, another subject that is a growing concern for the NCAA, and the Southeastern Conference specifically, is the transfer portal. That allows players to immediately depart a program and have any other institution be notified to essentially re-recruit them. Hundreds and hundreds of football and basketball players have taken advantage of the portal over the past few years.

Florida had a prominent incoming freshman defensive back, Chris Steele, very quickly and publicly depart Dan Mullen’s program earlier this Spring and landed at Oregon after being in the portal.

Further on the transfer subject, the SEC has finally relented on letting players be able to transfer to a school within the conference. This applied to year ago to Gators wide receiver Van Jefferson, who was cleared to join Florida after having played the previous year at Ole Miss.

One other subject that will apparently be discussed among the SEC football coaches but may not gain much more traction is an LSU request that the league revisit permanent opponents in the opposite division for football.

LSU has long complained with the difficulty of the SEC West that they should not be forced to regularly play Florida as a permanent opponent. Rather, the Bayou Bengals would like to see their Eastern opponents rotate evenly.

The league is unlikely to budge on their long-standing policy since going to the two division format of having permanent rival matchups. This is because Alabama has traditionally played Tennessee for over 70 years and the same as the recent 50+ years of the Auburn-Georgia Rivalry. Those are two examples of the SEC permanent schedule cross division being great for the league.

And, you have a better chance of being struck by lightning on a day in which you won the lottery then having the SEC do away with those two rivalry matchups each year.

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CFB

FAU bowl match up with SMU has intrigue

Matt Zemek

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
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The Boca Raton Bowl between the FAU Owls and SMU Mustangs is a study in two different dynamics. The two programs involved are both examples of how one’s conference status can improve. These programs also had head coaches this season, who needed to be humbled before they could become better.

Let’s start with the fact that both teams have climbed the ladder in the world of major college football (FBS) conferences. Seven years ago, in 2012, FAU was in the Sun Belt and SMU was in Conference USA. Today, the Owls are in Conference USA and the Mustangs are in the American Athletic Conference. They have both risen in the ranks and have not suffered all the while.

Both teams carry 10 wins into the Boca Raton Bowl game on Saturday, Dec. 21. FAU won its conference title Saturday, while SMU – though not winning the AAC – finished 10-2 despite having to play Memphis and Navy on the road. SMU was able to go 10-0 in its other games. Imagine what could happen for the Ponies next year, when Memphis and Navy both have to come to suburban Dallas.

FAU and SMU were both given a boost a decade ago by veteran coaches who had succeeded in other places.

FAU made bowls in 2007 and 2008 under the legendary Howard Schnellenberger, who created the Miami juggernaut in the early 1980s before handing over the program to Jimmy Johnson. Schnellenberger enabled the Owls to gain national attention. The program lost steam at the end of his tenure, but it established a foothold and was able to move up the conference ladder.

SMU, beginning in 2009, made four straight bowl games under June Jones, who had led the 2007 Hawaii team to the Sugar Bowl, a historic achievement for the Rainbow Warriors. It was Jones, more than anyone else, who truly lifted the cloud of gloom from the SMU program since its NCAA “death penalty” sentence in the 1980s.

SMU’s bowl appearance in 2009 was the Ponies’ first since the death penalty in 1987. Jones’s ability to make four straight bowl games firmly planted the idea that SMU could once again be a consistent winner.

Neither FAU nor SMU have reached the same heights as UCF or Memphis, the two schools which have won the Group of Five championship the past three years, but they are much more prominent than they were seven years ago.

Their head coaches from the 2019 regular season aren’t more prominent than they used to be, but they have certainly benefited from a downward move in the coaching profession.

Lane Kiffin needed this job at FAU. He needed to step out of the Power Five pressure cooker and learn how to handle a program on a smaller scale, removed from the withering spotlight. Kiffin often did things at USC which reflected a childlike, even impish, behavior. He needed to show he could take a job seriously.

At FAU, he did that. Now, as he heads off to Ole Miss, Kiffin is older and wiser, having paid some dues instead of failing upward as he did when he moved from Tennessee to USC a decade ago.

Sonny Dykes coached Jared Goff at California. Cal’s offenses were great, but the Golden Bear program struggled. Dykes was not going to get better in the Pac-12. He needed to move down to a Group of Five program from the Power Five conferences. SMU – with Texas transfer Shane Buechele slinging the ball around the yard as his quarterback – has given Dykes an ideal landing spot.

The coach and the program seem to ideally fit each other at Southern Methodist. Dykes’ late father, Spike, coached quite successfully in the state of Texas. Spike made the 1995 Cotton Bowl at Texas Tech just before the old Southwest Conference was dissolved. Sonny Dykes is very comfortable in the Lone Star State, with a former Texas Longhorn pitching the pigskin around the ballpark.

FAU and SMU have risen in the conference pecking order, under coaches who made downward moves and realized there was a need for them to reset their careers. Upward mobility and downscale success form two of the many stories attached to the 2019 Boca Raton Bowl.

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Ole Miss hires Lane Kiffin after FAU title game win

Florida Football Insiders

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
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It didn’t take long after FAU’s rout of UAB in the Conference USA Championship Game for the “Lane Train” to depart Boca Raton for Mississippi.

Shortly after the post game festivities were done on the field at FAU Stadium, Ole Miss made official what had been reported Friday night that Kiffin is their new head coach:

First, Kiffin’s Owls had little to no trouble with UAB, as they broke out to a 35 – 6 halftime lead and never looked back. Sophomore quarterback Chris Robison threw three touchdown passes and FAU also blocked a punt, scooped it up and ran it in for another touchdown, as they built the large halftime advantage.

UAB did not muster a hundred yards of offense until the fourth quarter of the game and by then, the issue was settled. It’s the Owls second Conference USA title win in three seasons under Kiffin.

In the Ole Miss statement. athletic director Keith Carter, had this to say about his hire:

“I couldn’t be more excited to welcome Coach Kiffin to the Ole Miss family,” Carter said. “As we entered this process, we were looking for energy, innovativeness and a program builder who could excite our student-athletes and fans. Coach Kiffin checked every box and is a home run for our program. I look forward to locking arms with him to take Ole Miss Football to a championship level.”

Kiffin returns to the SEC, where he was formerly the offensive coordinator from 2014 – 16 at Alabama under Nick Saban. He also was the University of Tennessee head coach for the 2009 season going 7 – 6. Kiffin left the Vols controversially after just one year to coach at Southern Cal from 2010 – 13. He was fired in the middle of his fourth season with the Trojans.

As we wrote Friday night, a report in Mississippi surfaced that Ole Miss officials had been in Boca Raton to meet with Kiffin on Thursday night and offered him the job. That obviously turned out to be correct.

Ole Miss is looking to rebuild quickly and an attempt to challenge Alabama, LSU and Auburn. The Rebels went just 4 – 8 this past season firing former player and assistant, Matt Luke at the end of the year.

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