Swamp fever

Swamp fever

April 16th, 2009 by David Paschall in Sports

Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Tennessee quarterback B.J. Coleman runs the ball in the first half of their game against Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday. Tennessee won 20-10.

When it comes to Southeastern Conference football this season, CBS may stand for Come Back to the Swamp.

CBS executive vice president Mike Aresco has been coordinating SEC telecasts since 1996 and never has seen a more marketable team than Florida, which has captured two of the past three national titles. Nor has he seen a more celebrated player than Gators senior quarterback Tim Tebow, who could be making a third consecutive trip to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December, having won the honor in 2007.

THE SEC ON CBS

A projection of how SEC games could line up on CBS this fall:

Sept. 19 Tennessee at Florida (3:30)*

Sept. 26 Arkansas at Alabama (3:30)

Oct. 3 LSU at Georgia (3:30)

Oct. 10 Alabama at Ole Miss (3:30)

Florida at LSU (8:00)*

Oct. 17 Arkansas at Florida (3:30)

Oct. 24 Tennessee at Alabama (3:30)

Oct. 31 Georgia vs. Florida (3:30)*

Nov. 7 LSU at Alabama (3:30)

Nov. 14 Auburn at Georgia (noon)

Florida at South Carolina (3:30)

Nov. 21 LSU at Ole Miss (3:30)

Nov. 27 Alabama at Auburn (2:30)**

Nov. 28 Florida State at Florida (3:30)*

* targeted, but not yet announced

** already announced

"Tebow is a unique generational athlete," Aresco said. "He's also a great kid. How do you get a better human being than Tim? It makes for an irresistible combination for fans and viewers.

"It's been the best story since I've been here, and we've had Peyton and Eli Manning."

Tebow announced in January that he was returning for his final season, saying, "I feel like I'm a role model, and a lot of times people start things and don't finish them. I wanted to be loyal to the university."

The primary network for SEC football is expecting to open this year's coverage Sept. 19 with Florida hosting Tennessee, with the official announcement scheduled for this summer. CBS also has targeted Urban Meyer's Gators for Oct. 10 against LSU, Oct. 31 against Georgia, and Nov. 28 against Florida State.

CBS actually has agreed to televise the next 15 Georgia-Florida games.

"They don't want to play it at night, and we just wouldn't pass on it," Aresco said. "That game is too prominent a game in the SEC, so we're going to be doing it each year."

The SEC and CBS agreed last August to a 15-year extension at about $55 million a year, in which CBS would select the top game each week instead of sharing priority selections with ESPN. That deal was followed by an SEC pact with ESPN worth $150 million annually that resulted in the cable network and its outlets acquiring every game CBS doesn't show.

CBS has two doubleheaders and will use them Oct. 10 and Nov. 14. The network gets the first two picks Oct. 10 - Aresco labels the Florida-LSU game a "99 percenter" for prime time - and has the first and third or fourth pick Nov. 14.

One change already announced by CBS is moving the Alabama-Auburn game to Friday the next two seasons, thus bumping LSU-Arkansas back to Saturday.

"We asked the schools and the conference if they would accommodate us, and they agreed," Aresco said. "After two years, if they like it and want to continue doing it, we would certainly be open to that, but LSU-Arkansas could move back to Friday. LSU and Arkansas have had some outstanding games the last few years, but we really didn't want to pass up the opportunity of doing Alabama and Auburn."

The last time the Iron Bowl took place on a Friday was 1988, with Auburn claiming a 15-10 victory. The game was held the following year in Auburn for the first time.

So where will Georgia and Tennessee, two teams Florida thumped by a combined 79-16 last year, fit in the CBS schedule?

New Vols coach Lane Kiffin provided a jolt in early February when he accused Meyer of illegal recruiting tactics, which was followed by a reprimand from the league office. Florida is using Kiffin's charge as motivation for a matchup CBS has shown every year for 13 years.

"You have a built-in storyline for our potential opener and the ability for some real fireworks," Aresco said. "A controversy like that definitely wears out at some point, but it will obviously be on everyone's mind when they visit Florida."

Georgia had superb star power last season with quarterback Matthew Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno and played on CBS five times. Stafford and Moreno left early, however, leaving the Bulldogs looking to reclaim some clout.

"It's definitely lessened, no question about it," Aresco said. "They'll be on the radar, but not as prominent, at least initially, as last year."