In a conference full of great rivalries, which one is the SEC’s best?

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The SEC’s new scheduling policy was designed in part with a goal of keeping traditional rivalries thriving for years to come. The cross-division rivalries in the SEC more important to some than others of course, but Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is happy to see the rivalry with Alabama will continue. Alabama and Tennessee were locked together, keeping the series dating back to 1901 a part of the SEC tradition. Say what you will about the Iron Bowl, because Jones says it is Alabama-Tennessee that is the best rivalry in the SEC.

“I think the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry is one of the best rivalries in the country, and I think it’s the best rivalry in the Southeastern Conference,” Jones said in an interview on 105.1 The Zone in Chattanooga on Monday. “To be able to maintain that rivalry is something that we are very excited about.”

The other cross-division match-ups set by the SEC are Arkansas-Missouri, Auburn-Georgia, LSU-Florida, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt, Mississippi State-Kentucky, and Texas A&M-South Carolina. Of the cross-division match-ups protected by the SEC, the Alabama vs. Tennessee and Auburn vs. Georgia match-ups are certainly ahead of some of the other pairings, specifically Texas A&M vs. South Carolina. But is the Third Saturday in October that far ahead of the rivalry games between Alabama and Auburn or Florida and Georgia? As with most college football issues, this probably depends on your rooting interests.

So, what is the best rivalry in the SEC? Here is my top five to get you started…

1. Iron Bowl: Alabama vs. Auburn

Last year was great, but this rivalry has offered plenty of great moments in college football history and is fueled by some of the strongest rooting interests in the country all within one state’s borders. This really is the biggest game of the year in the state for a reason.

2. Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry: Auburn vs. Georgia

There is something to be said for the deep history in this one. After 117 meetings, Auburn leads the series 55-54-8 dating back to 1892.

3. Florida-Georgia Football Rivalry

The rivalry may have moved away from the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, but no worries here. This game is played on a neutral field and has its own Hall of Fame. The two schools cannot even agree on when the series started. A stake in the SEC East also tends to be on the line more often than not.

4. Third Saturday in October: Alabama vs. Tennessee

The series tends to swing back and forth in chunks but it started with a tie in 1901. Here’s hoping Tennessee can get closer to making this series mean something again soon, and perhaps serve as a preview of a future SEC Championship Game.

5. Egg Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State

The two teams may not be SEC powers, but they play for one of the coolest trophies in college football. The game has become a Thanksgiving tradition over time, and there is just something about it that feels right.

Helmet sticker to Times Free Press for the transcribed quotes. Another helmet sticker to Saturday Down South.

Jim McElwain reportedly signs deal to join Michigan coaching staff

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The Jim McElwain watch in Ann Arbor is essentially done. ESPN reports the former head coach of the Florida Gators has signed a deal to join Jim Harbaugh as a new member of the Michigan coaching staff. Michigan has not formally announced the new addition yet, but McElwain told ESPN he is getting to work right away as a wide receivers coach.

I’m excited to get back into it and am looking forward to going there and learning and helping Michigan get better,” McElwain said to ESPN‘s Chris Low, who reported the latest update in the ongoing McElwain-To-Michigan story. It has been quite a year for McElwain, who has now gone from wanting to “beat the heck out of Michigan” to joining Harbaugh as an offensive assistant (Harbaugh was 2-0 against McElwain in head-to-head meetings between Michigan and Florida).

McElwain was fired by Florida last October in the midst of a disappointing season after discrepancies in McElwain’s claims about receiving death threats could not be backed up by the coach. Florida bought out McElwain’s contract at a reported $7.5 million.

Michigan had been looking to fill the role of receivers coach following the abrupt departure of Dan Enos to Alabama. Enos joined the Michigan coaching staff for a cup of coffee, getting hired in January after the Arkansas coaching staff was given an overhaul with the firing of Bret Bielema only to leave for a job with Nick Saban. McElwain, of course, is one of many coaches to jump into head coaching off the Saban coaching tree in recent years, first with Colorado State and most recently with Florida.

Previous reports have floated the idea McElwain will call plays for the Wolverines, but that remains unconfirmed.

Drag racing accident leads to arrest for Mississippi State commit

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Mississippi State commit Nathaniel Watson has gotten himself into some legal trouble before his arrival at Mississippi State. Watson, currently a high school senior, was charged with assault first degree and a handful of traffic violations following a traffic accident earlier this month. Another student from Watson’s high school was arrested for reckless endangerment and other traffic violations as well. The two are accused of drag racing.

“The accident occurred after Tyrone Davis, also a student at [Maplesville High School], lined up in front of the school with his vehicle along with Nathaniel Watson’s vehicle for a race, witnesses stated that they lined up side by side and floored it, and both vehicles were squalling their tires and fishtailing up the highway heading into town,” according to an Maplesville Police Department press release (via The Clanton Advertiser). “As the racing vehicles topped a hill, an oncoming car caused Nathaniel Watson Jr. to swerve and lose control striking a power pole, cutting it in half and knocking power out to portions of Maplesville.”

A passenger in Watson’s vehicle suffered a crushed femur, fractured pelvis, a broken right arm and internal injuries. Neither vehicle involved in the accident was insured. Watson currently awaits a date in court in a county court. There has been no update or comment from Mississippi State’s football program or head coach Joe Moorehead about Watson or his status with the football program at this time.

Watson signed with Mississippi State on February 7. The wide receiver and two-sport athlete signed with Mississippi State over Auburn.

NCAA rule prevents Penn State football players from participating in THON activity

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This weekend is the annual THON dance marathon at Penn State, which has traditionally done wonders in racking up donations to help fight pediatric cancer. This year, however, the NCAA rulebook is getting in the way of one of the events members of Penn State’s football team typically participate in.

A message from Penn State informed media members there would be no media availability for football players at the THON event at the Lasch Building due to an NCAA rule regarding time restrictions in the offseason.

“We were informed this afternoon that due to the NCAA Time Management regulations, our current student-athletes are not permitted to participate in the THON event at the Lasch Building nor conduct media interviews [today] as it is a mandatory day off for the team,” a statement from Penn State Associate Director of Athletic Communications Kris Petersen said.

Members of Penn State’s football team have typically spent part of the day interacting with kids benefitting from THON’s mission, but that has tended to overlap with offseason days already scheduled through the athletics department for the football program. Because this was a scheduled day off for the football program, players are not permitted to take part in any organized activity while representing the football team. Although, one wonders just how far the NCAA would have been willing to challenge Penn State on this infraction in the event there was a conflict.

Players on the team can still participate and appear at the main event in the Bryce Jordan Center, and a couple already have along with head coach James Franklin.

Georgia football coaches all getting well-deserved raises

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File this one under stories that should have been expected from a mile away. The football staff at Georgia, following up on an SEC title and appearance in the College Football Playoff national championship game, are getting bumps in pay. As a whole, the assistant coaching staff under head coach Kirby Smart will be paid roughly $2 million more than the staff received a year ago, according to a report from Seth Emerson of Dawg Nation.

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will see the biggest pay raise with of $900,000 to bump his total pay up to $1.5 million. That would make him one of the top assistant coaches in assistant coaching salaries. Based off last year’s USA Today salary database, Tucker would be the fifth highest-paid assistant coach, and that may even be higher now given some of the offseason changes in the assistant coaching pool. Last year, four assistant coaches received a total pay of at least $1.5 million, and three of them were in the SEC (LSU’s Dave Arranda and Matt Canada, and Texas A&M’s John Chavis; Clemson’s Brent Venables was the outlier).

Keeping in line with another growing trend when it comes to power conference programs and how much money is budgeted for the football staff, Georgia will give strength and conditioning coordinator Scott Sinclair a $150,000 raise from his previous contract of $300,000.

What has not been finalized, publicly at least, is what the future holds for the contract of Smart. After a wildly successful season, Smart is expected to receive a raise as well as Georgia continues to build something special under his leadership after just two seasons. Smart was paid a base salary of $3.75 million last year, according to USA Today’s salary database, which made him the 9th highest-paid coach in the SEC in 2017. That is fair, considering Smart was a first-time head coach and other coaches in the conference had more head coaching experience, but Smart has quickly proven himself among his peers in the conference and is likely to move up the SEC coaching salary ranking quite quickly. Nick Saban (Alabama) and now Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M) may still be on another playing field in terms of salary, but Smart should manage to move up closer to the high-end of the SEC salary spectrum.