Five College Football Questions with Sports Writer Tom Ensey
For most of his life, Tom Ensey has been involved in college football. As an undergraduate at Alabama, he worked as a student assistant in the sports information department and was in the program during Bear Bryant’s tenure.
His final Alabama football game as a student was the 1979 Sugar Bowl. That was the infamous goal-line stand versus Penn State to give the Crimson Tide a 14-7 win and the national title.
Ensey went on to a long career as the sports information director at Troy State where his office walls were cluttered with “Best in Nation” awards from the College Sports Information Directors’ Association.
From there he went on to become a sports writer, columnist and editor for the Stuart (Fla.) News, Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, WSFA-TV and Raycom Media.
These days, Ensey spends his time in Montgomery and sharing his entertaining thoughts on many topics on his blog, “The Couch Potato.” It can be found at www.thomasensey.wordpress.com. Be prepared to be educated while laughing at Ensey’s unique, no-holds-barred opinions.
TheRebelWalk.com was able to sit down with Ensey as he shares his answers to our five questions.
THE REBEL WALK: Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin’s offense continues to put up points and yards. How has his offense continued its success when SEC defenses have found a way to shut down Mike Leach’s air-raid offense at Mississippi State?
TOM ENSEY: “Kiffin has done a better job of getting his guys to buy into his system. Leach’s team appears to have internal problems – all those guys suddenly transferring and Hill “opting out” to prepare for the NFL are glaring evidence that something is wrong. So does the team’s play.
The two teams’ performances against Alabama were touchstones for the season. Mississippi State was without its two best offensive players after (quarterback K.J. ) Costello went out with an apparent concussion. The results were painful to watch. I started to think maybe Alabama’s defense was good, but then, I thought State was good after they destroyed LSU in the opener.
Ole Miss’ ability to swap punches with Alabama was an exercise in hope building, a great game to watch, and even though the Rebels lost, it was clear they played as a team and had developed chemistry. Kiffin is an excellent recruiter, too. I’ll be interested to see what he manages to do with bringing four-and-five stars to Oxford in the future.
And Leach will have to bring in guys who are invested in him to make State competitive. Recruiting will be fascinating in Mississippi for a few years.”
TRW: The Big 12 is in trouble, the Pac-12 is just beginning to play, and Clemson is going to be without Trevor Lawrence against Notre Dame. Which teams are your frontrunners for the college football playoff?
TE: “Right now – Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State look to be way out in front of everybody else. The fourth slot is anybody’s guess, though the ESPN guys seem to be in love with Cincinnati to be the team that gets clobbered in the first round and provides a virtual bye to the championship for the top-ranked team. Notre Dame is overrated, but they could get in if they beat Clemson, and if Clemson plays like they did against BC, that could happen. The winner of the Florida-Georgia game might be able to slip in if they can go on and take their division then somehow win the SEC Championship Game, which I doubt. I’ll be interested to see how Oregon does. They’re the one team in the Pac-12 I think could break out, and it’ll be interesting to see an Oregon team with a good defense, if they truly prove to have one. But a seven-game season? Get out.”
TRW: It seems we are seeing a huge growth in the numbers of players entering the transfer portal. Should it be harder or easier for players to transfer?
TE: “I think the transfer rule has been good for college football in a lot of ways. We’d probably have never heard of Joe Burrow without it, and plenty of excellent players who got log jammed behind other talented players have gone on to have success at another school and improve their position to make some money in the NFL after college.
I am leaning toward the conclusion that it’s an incentive for coaches to do a better job of keeping their guys happy where they are, and to accept the likelihood that talented players who aren’t getting in the game are going to leave. It’s just another part of the changes in the game you have to deal with.”
TRW: Which team and player are the most surprising this season and which is the biggest disappointment so far?
TE: “Mac Jones at Alabama has surprised me. I thought he would be a serviceable game manager, but I didn’t think he’d be putting up the kind of numbers he has. We’ll see how he does without Jaylen Waddle, who was the best wide receiver in the game and put so much pressure on opposing defenses he opened up a realm of possibilities for everybody else.
I did not anticipate Oklahoma’s early collapse, but I think they’ll probably win out now. I still think (Spencer) Rattler is a great talent, but he’s had the kind of problems any young QB can have and seems to be working out the kinks.
I have felt sorry for Auburn QB Bo Nix, because he was trying to do too much early on and regressed after a terrific freshman year. But he may have gotten well against LSU’s egregious defense – there’s your biggest disappointment of the year. You don’t lose 13 players to the NFL and two coordinators and not suffer a drop-off, but good Lord. They made me think State was good for a week.”
TRW: You spent a great deal of your career working at a smaller school. It seems an almost certainty no Group of Five school will ever make the playoff despite Cincinnati and BYU ranked in the top ten of the polls. Should there be a Group of Five Playoff and who would you put in it this season?
TE: “That’s an interesting idea. I, personally, would like to see it, but it’s only going to happen if a broadcast will make money, and ESPN is struggling to make ends meet with the CFP arrangement. If this season had gone away, like I thought it was going to, the network and universities who depend on football revenue would have been in a nightmare financial scenario – particularly after losing March Madness in the spring.
If there were a G5 Playoff this year, BYU and Cincy would be locks, but after them, who? UCF and Memphis, maybe? I’d watch them play again, but would anybody else? The fact that I can’t come up with four teams off the top of my head is an indicator of the kind of problems you’d have selling it to a national market.
I could see some smaller bowl games entering into some kind of agreement to host four teams and make pretty good local money, but not billions. Orlando, Florida has three smaller bowls that would be a nice place to host a playoff, it’s a great sports town, and the weather would be good.
Disney owns ESPN, right? And they went ahead and opened back up, virus be damned. They could call it the G5 Playoff/UCF Invitational. Orlando could become to G5 ball what Omaha is to (college) baseball. But if not, you might could work the Boca Raton Bowl into the rotation, and if the Bahama Bowl is resuscitated after the coronavirus is over, that would be a good one, too. Somebody is probably already working on this.”
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.