2012 SEC title game: the greatest in conference history?

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For all the annual pomp and circumstance surrounding the SEC championship game, more times than not the preeminent college football conference’s showcase has turned into an unabashed rout.

In the 20 such games played prior to this season, 16 of them were decided by 10 points or more.  More than half (11) saw the winning team romp by more than two touchdowns, with three of those devolving into 30-plus-point bloodbaths.  Just two had been decided by six points or less, and those were back in the pre-BCS days of 1994 and 1997.

The former game — Florida’s one-point win over unbeaten Alabama — and the latter — one that saw a Peyton Manning-led-Tennessee squad overcome a 20-10 deficit on Auburn en route to its one-point win — have widely been considered the greatest in the history of the conference, as has the 2008 matchup of No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida.  And then along came the 2012 edition of what’s turned into a BCS title-game play-in, one that can stand firmly alongside, if not above, the others in the conference annals.

In Alabama’s 32-28 win over Georgia, Saturday night’s instant classic had something none of the aforementioned could claim: a combination of what made all three of those games classics in their own right.

Lofty rankings for both teams as in 2008?  Check, with the Tide clocking in at No. 2 and Georgia at No. 3.  A double-digit third-quarter deficit overcome by the winning team as in 1997?  Check, with the Tide digging its way out of an 11-point hole.  A game-winning drive in the latter half of the fourth quarter?  Check, with AJ McCarron reprising the role made famous by Danny Wuerffel.

And the stakes for this year’s game?  Yes, ’97 Tennessee and ’94 Alabama both had titles within their grasp, but only ’08 Alabama-Florida and ’12 Alabama-Georgia had a shot at national championship on the line for both teams involved.

Mix in some late-game controversy… momentum swings that tested the hearts and stomachs of the faithful on both sides… one head coach attempting to shake the big-game gorilla off his back while the other looked to continue a seemingly inexorable march toward coaching immortality… add all of that together and add a splash of the raw emotion on display from both sides at game’s end, and you have a rock-solid case for 2012 stacking up against any other year.

Five yards and four points separating the two teams after 60 minutes of football, with a spot in the BCS title game at stake?  Case closed.

While a football game’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and knowing full well the immediacy of sporting moments ofttimes transcend the fading memories of games gone by, the 2012 SEC title showdown can lay its head on the pillow this morning armed with the knowledge that it was indeed one of the greatest of all-time.  And the greatest ever in my little corner of the college football world.

Alabama QB Jalen Hurts uses photo of Clemson celebrating title win as motivational phone background

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Nick Saban said last week that the loss to Clemson in the the national championship game earlier this year is one that he’ll never get over, although he didn’t go so far as to compare it to a death in the family. One playing member of Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide team is taking to steps to ensure that he never forgets, either.

Jalen Hurts was the Tide’s talented true freshman starting quarterback who helped lead ‘Bama into the title game and, with a 30-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left, gave his team a 31-28 lead. That lead was short-lived, however, as Deshaun Watson led his Tigers on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown pass with just one tick left on the clock for the 35-31 win.

The stunning last-second loss is something that Hurts makes a conscious effort to remind himself of daily as the rising sophomore, as the background on his smartphone, has a picture of Clemson players celebrating their win.

“We’re obviously all on our phones all the time,” Hurts said according to al.com after this past weekend’s spring game. “Every time I unlock it, it’s kind of a reminder. It kind of humbles me and keeps me motivated. …

“It’s not a grudge at all. It’s just something that keeps it on the back of your shoulder like, yeah, it’s still there. Remember why you’re doing it because at the end of the day, the goal for this team is to win the national championship.

Father of former Florida State WR Travis Rudolph killed in accidental shooting

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The father of Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph was killed Friday in an accidental shooting, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Monday.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Darryl Rudolph was working on repairs inside a West Palm Beach, Fla., when a gun accidentally fired in an adjacent room, hitting him in the back/neck area. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 55 years old.

The younger Rudolph was Florida State’s leading receiver over the past two seasons before becoming an early-entrant into this week’s NFL Draft. He gained viral notoriety after a photo snapped of him sitting at lunch with an autistic elementary school student hit Facebook.

“When I used to coach and help other kids with football, basketball and sports, Travis was small but he used to pay attention to what I was doing,” the elder Rudolph said in an interview with ESPN last year. “I told them get your education. You can be the best athlete in the world, but without an education, you’re not going very far. That’s what Travis followed through on.”

LSU QB Danny Etling undergoes back surgery

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LSU quarterback Danny Etling has undergone surgery to relieve back pain, the program announced Monday.

“Danny had a minor back procedure this morning and everything went alright,” head coach Ed Orgeron said in a statement (and not in an Arrested Development way).

Etling has played through back pain for months, according to Ross Dellenger from The Advocate, and this procedure should remove that pain.

In a possibly related story, Etling went 4-of-11 for 53 yards in LSU’s spring game.

A transfer from Purdue, Etling appeared in 11 games for the Tigers last season, completing 160-of-269 passes (59.5 percent) for 2,123 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Etling’s recovery from Monday’s procedure is expected to be a short one.

Willie Taggart defends Oregon’s offseason workouts in interview

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Things got off to a rocky start for new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart. Among the issues Taggart was forced to deal with soon after accepting the job of head coach at Oregon was players falling ill during and after offseason workouts.

Three Ducks were hospitalized in January to treat symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a product of overworking leading to soft tissue and possible kidney damage. Oregon suspended strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde following the hospital treatments to players, and questions about his certification were thrust under a microscope. Despite the unfortunate situation in Eugene, Taggart has defended his program’s workout routine in an interview with Stewart Mandel of FOXSports.com.

“We know we didn’t do anything to try to hurt our kids. We’d done [the same program] everywhere we’ve been and never had a problem,” Taggart explained in the interview. “I think our guys just overworked themselves and didn’t hydrate. … They were trying to impress the new coaches.”

It seems Taggart has been trying to raise the bar at Oregon and find a way to make his new players tougher overall. That is a common strategy for a new coach in a new program, so Taggart’s mission is not unique in that sense.

Maybe it was just a tough physical transition in the approach to workouts after years of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich running the show. Will this all pay off in the end? Taggart sure hopes so.