Originally created 11/27/03

SEC, ACC notebooks



Given his preseason promise, it would be difficult for Reggie Merriweather to view the regular season as anything other than a disappointment.

Merriweather, a redshirt freshman tailback at Clemson, vaulted to the top of the Tigers' tailback corps in spring drills. During fall camp, the former North Augusta star seemed poised to make an immediate impact once the season began.

Then Merriweather became an afterthought. After getting 14 carries the first two games against Georgia and Middle Tennessee, he went five straight games without touching the football.

The lack of action had the 5-foot-8, 200-pound tailback contemplating a transfer from Clemson, but he said this week he'll stick with the Tigers through fall camp before making a decision.

Merriweather, who was named the team's most improved running back during spring drills, has 16 carries for 59 yards this season.

"I'll most likely stick it out and go with it," said Merriweather, who has been a regular on Clemson's special teams units. "I signed with them. I might as well stick with them."

Merriweather did manage to get a carry late in Clemson's 63-17 flattening of South Carolina last Saturday. He took plenty of pleasure in beating a coaching staff that told him he was too small to play for the Gamecocks.

"In warmups, it was like they weren't even into the game," Merriweather said. "They played hard for about 10 minutes, and after that it was over."

ON THE BANDWAGON: Georgia fans don't have much of an affinity for Florida State or Miami. And it's well known that the sight of Tennessee orange makes them nauseous.

But come Saturday, Bulldog faithful - not to mention their coaches and players - will be pulling hard for the Volunteers, the Seminoles and the Hurricanes.

The Bulldogs, ranked No. 7 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, need to beat Georgia Tech and hope those three teams win.

If Tennessee beats Kentucky and Florida State beats Florida, Georgia will head to the SEC title game for the second-straight season with a victory over the Yellow Jackets.

Why? Because a Vols victory would forge a three-way tie atop the SEC East. Under the league's tiebreaker, the lowest-ranked team in the BCS would be eliminated. If the two remaining teams are within five spots of each other, the head-to-head loser would be eliminated.

Tennessee is ranked No. 8 in the latest BCS standings, and Florida is No. 11. The Bulldogs beat the Vols 41-14 earlier this season.

If the Vols lose to Kentucky, that would put Florida and Georgia in a tie atop the SEC East with 6-2 league records. The Gators would be the SEC East champ by virtue of their 16-13 win over the Bulldogs.

If Georgia, Tennessee and Florida win, there's still a chance the Gators could pass the Vols in the BCS rankings and end up in the SEC title game. That's why Bulldogs fans are pulling hard for Miami, which is ranked No. 10 in the BCS.

If the Hurricanes lose to Pittsburgh, that would make it more likely that Florida would leap Tennessee.

But Florida State could make it much easier - and simpler - if it wins at Florida on Saturday. Georgia coach Mark Richt, who served as an assistant with the Seminoles before taking the top job at Georgia, said he's already made a few calls to Tallahassee, Fla.

"I've been calling their assistants, telling them to get after them," he said.

Richt played quarterback at Miami from 1979 to 1982.

"I'll be cheering pretty hard for my alma mater, too," he said.

GIFT OF GAB: Apparently, Max Starks' gag order doesn't apply to the week of the Florida State game. Starks, a talkative Florida offensive lineman who was muzzled the week of the Georgia game, is making up for lost talking time this week.

"I don't have any doubt that we are the best team in the state," Starks said in the Miami Herald. "They might have some statistics that say something else, but I don't have any doubt."

GOOD TIMES, BAD TIMES: Jackie Sherrill pulled Mississippi State from the depths of the SEC, led the Bulldogs to unprecedented success, then returned them to where he found them.

The winningest coach in school history will retire after tonight's game against No. 17 Mississippi, bringing his 13-year tenure in Starkville to an end with a third straight losing season.

"I really haven't thought about it," Sherrill said. "I probably won't really think about it until I walk out to play prior to the game."

When Sherrill was hired by Mississippi State in 1991, the Bulldogs had managed only one winning season in the previous nine years and hadn't been to a bowl game since 1981.

In Sherrill's first season, Mississippi State went 7-5 and played in the Liberty Bowl. The Bulldogs also beat Ole Miss for the first time in four seasons.

As much as any of Sherrill's accomplishments, his success against the school he always refers to as Mississippi - never Ole Miss - has endeared him to Bulldogs fans.

Sherrill is 7-5 against the Rebels. By comparison, Mississippi State beat Ole Miss seven times in the 20 years before Sherrill's arrival. The Bulldogs haven't lost back-to-back Egg Bowls under Sherrill.

"Anytime you can beat your rival team you're on the plus side of the ledger," Sherrill said. "That will always be remembered."

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

RANKING THE SEC AND ACC (previous ranking in parentheses) 1. Louisiana State (1) ... The Tigers lead the nation in scoring defense (9.4) and rushing defense (58).

2. Florida (2) ... The Gators need to put the teeth back into The Swamp on Saturday against Florida State.

3. Georgia (3) ... The Bulldogs are last in the SEC in sacks given up (36).

4. Tennessee (5) ... The Volunteers should have it easy against Kentucky. Emphasis on should.

5. Mississippi (4) ... The Rebels can't afford to slip up against Mississippi State.

6. Clemson (10) ... Tommy Bowden's massive red-shirting plan will pay off in the next few years.

7. Florida State (6) ... Will Bobby Bowden hang it up after this season?

8. Maryland (7) ... The Terrapins have a dangerous game at Wake Forest.

9. Arkansas (8) ... The Razorbacks are fully capable of spoiling LSU's party.

10. N.C. State (9) ... T.A. McClendon blew it against Maryland.

11. Auburn (12) ... The school's power brokers have embarrassed the school again with their sneaky visit with Louisville coach Bobby Petrino.

12. Virginia (14) ... The Cavaliers missed out on a bid to the Tangerine Bowl.

13. Georgia Tech (11) ... The Yellow Jackets need P.J. Daniels at his best against Georgia.

14. Alabama (15) ... The Crimson Tide has lost four games by seven points or less.

15. South Carolina (13) ... If Lou Holtz had the guts to hire his son, he should have the guts to fire him - or at least demote him.

16. Duke (17) ... The Blue Devils shouldn't be interviewing anyone. They have the man they need in Ted Roof.

17. Wake Forest (16) ... The Demon Deacons should be solid next year.

18. North Carolina (18) ... The Tar Heels' coaching isn't commensurate with their impressive talent.

19. Vanderbilt (19) ... Another losing season for the Commodores. Yawn.

20. Kentucky (20) ... Receiver Derek Abney is 11 catches from breaking the SEC career receiving mark. Former Wildcat Craig Yeast has the record at 208.

21. Mississippi State (21) ... We can't think of anything to say about the Bulldogs. Thank goodness this is the last week we have to.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

5-Previous appearances in the Peach Bowl for Clemson, who will play in the bowl a sixth time on Jan. 2.

22-Games won by Georgia the past two seasons. Twenty-three would be a school record during a two-year stretch.

146-34-Amount by which Clemson has outscored its opponents since falling behind 45-0 at Wake Forest on Nov. 1.

QUOTABLE

"Anybody but Texas Tech. I'm glad Texas Tech is not in the SEC." - Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, when asked whom he'd like to play in the Peach Bowl. Texas Tech beat Clemson 55-15 last season in the Tangerine Bowl.

"It's strange, knowing how everyone hates orange in Athens. I'm pretty sure Tennessee will take care of business against Kentucky." - Georgia tight end Robert Brannon

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larry.williams@augustachronicle.com.