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Sweet Home Alabama in New York City

Alabama’s Department of Travel and Tourism staged a week of high profile promotions on the streets of New York City in June to attract visitors to the state. Similar to promotions held in previous years, this year’s event focused on giving potential visitors a vision of what Alabama offers, and provided a vivid look at its landscape via virtual reality glasses that allowed viewers to “see” Little River Canyon National Preserve on Lookout Mountain in Fort Payne.

Tristan Dersham, 16, granddaughter of DeKalb County Tourism President and CEO John Dersham, accompanied her grandfather to New York for the experience and the two wrote about their experiences for Alabama Living:

The director of tourism for the state, Lee Sentell, invited my grandpa to serve as an ambassador for the Little River Canyon promotions, which included a 20-story tall photograph adhered to the side of a building near Madison Square Garden. It was breathtaking when we walked around the corner of 34th Street and 8th Avenue and there it was…gigantic, colorful and all lit up. It made us feel so proud of our state and our area.

Just think, Little River Canyon in New York City! It was a spot of bright green in a seemingly never-ending mile of shades of gray and black. Thousands of people were here on the streets walking around night and day and there was no way to miss this gigantic view of Little River Canyon. In addition to the skyscraper art, a miniature Lookout Mountain was built at the Flatiron North Plaza. The mountain was about the size of an average living room. You would climb steps to the top and at the top put on 3D goggles to view a 360-degree virtual Little River Canyon video.

I could not believe the sensation I had as I turned around 360 degrees looking at the canyon as if floating in the sky above, looking all around, up and down feeling like I was walking about the green lush forests below. Everyone loved it. There were lines all day to see it; in fact, we stayed an hour later than planned just to allow the line to go down.

Tristan and John Dersham helped welcome visitors in NYC.

Once visitors viewed the video, they were invited to have their picture taken in front of the mountain with the Empire State building in the background. They were emailed their picture with “Sweet Home Alabama in New York” embedded in the image. People from all around the world came to see Little River Canyon in New York City and they all were impressed. They said they’d like to visit Alabama and many who have never been to Alabama were in disbelief, as we did not look at all like they imagined.

Another Alabama tourism “Sweet Home Alabama” event during the week included a media event in Brooklyn to show and sample the Alabama craft breweries. The 360 video of Little River Canyon was shown there, too.

On another day, a large Mobile Mardi Gras float was in Times Square, with a live jazz band and costumed dancers.

My grandpa and I took lots of pictures and shared them on social media all during the week to help get the word out even more. This was a very successful week with thousands more people getting to witness our “real” Alabama. I think they will come see us.

See the 360° video for yourself. Click and drag while the video is playing to get the full effect.

Salad Days

Growing lettuces in the heat of summer and all year round

By Katie Jackson

This is such an excellent time to make cool, refreshing salads with the many summer fruits and vegetables currently available from home gardens and produce stands, but don’t forget that we can also add crisp homegrown salad greens to our plates, too.

Even though lettuces and other salad greens are considered cool-season crops, a number of heat-tolerant cultivars can be grown during the summer as long as we provide them with the proper growing conditions to weather the hot weather. Plus, it’s not too early to get ready for fall salad season and establish a growing system that provides fresh salad greens all year long.

The term “salad greens” includes several different leafy greens, most of which hail from three primary botanical families. Lettuces belong to the aster or sunflower family (Asteraceae); kale, arugula and mustard greens are members of the cabbage (Brassica) family; and spinach and chard are kin to the beet and quinoa (Amaranthaceae) family. Each of these greens has their own distinctive flavor and texture qualities, from sweet and delicate to spicy and fibrous, but the easiest of them to grow this time of year are the lettuces.

Lettuces are typically grouped into four major categories: crisphead (iceberg), loose leaf, romaine (cos) and butterhead (semi-heading). Loose leaf cultivars, which includes oakleaf lettuces, are usually the most heat tolerant followed by the butterheads. Crisphead and romaine lettuces are often the hardest to grow in the heat of summer; however, a number of heat-tolerant cultivars have been developed in all four of these lettuce categories, so the options are improving.

Since lettuce seeds are relatively inexpensive and store well (in a cool, dry place), consider buying seed for lots of different cultivars. That way you can try some now and have the others ready for use into the fall and throughout the year. This time of year it may be difficult to find prepackaged lettuce seed at local nursery centers but you can order them year-round from your favorite seed supplier.

Once you’ve got seeds in hand, the biggest challenge to growing a successful late summer lettuce crop is likely going to be soil temperature. Lettuce seeds will not germinate in soil or growing media that is warmer than 80 degrees so you may want to start the seeds in growing flats that can be kept indoors or in a cool, shaded outside area until the seedlings have emerged. They can then be transplanted into the garden, which this time of year should be in an area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade.

If you don’t have such a location or if it’s especially hot outside, cover them with a light layer of mulch or a shade cloth and keep them well watered.

Another planting option that is perfect this time of year (and any time of year) is to plant lettuce in containers that can be kept outside the kitchen door or inside the house in a warm (but not directly in the sun) location. That way you can better control air and soil temperatures and you’ll have lettuce close at hand when you’re ready to harvest some for a summer meal.

In addition, lettuces and other leafy greens are pretty so they make nice, edible ornamental plants for pots and in flowerbeds throughout the year.

If you want to have a crop of lettuce growing all the time, try succession planting. Just sow new batches of seed every two to three weeks throughout the year so as one crop tapers off, a new crop of fresh greens is coming on.

As you’re exploring all the late summer/early fall lettuce options, remember that now is also the time to begin buying and starting seeds for other fall crops such as bush beans, beets, carrots, cole crops (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi), leeks, mustards, onions, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips.

If you need guidance on what to plant when, check out the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s free Planting Guide for Home Gardening in Alabama publication, which can be found at or through your local Extension office.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at

For the future

Helping preserve critical habitats to keep them wild

With vast wild acreage of diverse habitats ranging from tidal marshes to mountain forests, Alabama offers sportsmen abundant places to enjoy the outdoors.

A little help from one non-profit organization can keep some of that habitat permanently wild. Based in Piedmont, Ala., the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust helps preserve about 325,000 acres in multiple states, with the majority in Alabama and Georgia.

“Our mission is to protect land for present and future generations,” says Katherine Eddins, executive director of Georgia-Alabama Land Trust. “We look to the future with a clear vision of our perpetual commitment to land conservation. We see a future where our rivers, coastlines and wild and working forests are preserved, cared for and cherished for the future use, enjoyment and education of generations to come.”

Ken Nichols next to a pine tree he planted when he was 14 on his family’s property in Dallas County. The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust helps preserve such lands across Alabama, Georgia and other states.

The land trust uses a legal agreement called a “conservation easement” to protect property. Under such an agreement, a landowner can continue using the property for hunting, farming or similar uses, but agrees to keep the land as natural as possible and never develop it commercially. The owner can sell the land or pass it down to heirs, but the conservation easement remains, keeping the land perpetually protected.

“A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between the land trust and the owner to protect the land,” Eddins says. “It changes the deed to the property so that the landowner keeps the land, but the owner’s intentions for that land are put into a legal document.

“An easement along the Cahaba River now protects 64 rare and imperiled plant and animal species, 13 of which are found nowhere else in the world.”

Landowners do not receive direct compensation for property put in easement. However, the land trust conducts a land appraisal. The landowner can then use that estimated value as a tax deduction.

“If people give up value like development rights from the use of their land for a conservation easement, the owners get a tax deduction for the value given up,” Eddins says. “The conservation easement donation can reduce estate, income and property taxes for the landowner.”

Most acreage preserved by easements remains private, but sometimes a government organization wants an easement for such public usage as trails, parks or wildlife management areas.

For instance, the land trust has been working to obtain easements to create a massive trail system connecting the Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia, just across the state line from Fort Payne, Ala., to Chattanooga, Tenn.

“We’re also working on another property just over the Georgia line where we partnered with Southeastern Cave Conservancy to create a cave preserve,” Eddins says. “We usually concentrate on more rural areas, but might work with a community to protect important property for parks or places with scenic value, perhaps for a green space plan. Even on private land, easements still help the people of Alabama because it’s conserved as wildlife habitat or for other natural uses. That benefits the quality of life for people living in that area.”

The land trust not only preserves land, but might also enhance or restore natural habitats. The organization did extensive work on restoring wetlands and critical native longleaf pine savannahs in Alabama and Georgia.

States prepare wildlife action plans that define habitat conservation priorities to protect flora and fauna within their boundaries. Sometimes, the organization seeks specific critical habitat it wants to enhance or preserve based upon those plans, but more often, individuals or groups ask for help with their lands. The organization also conducts periodic seminars on conservation easements.

“In Alabama, we need to focus on certain specific high-priority areas like parts of the Tombigbee or Coosa rivers,” Eddins says. “The Coosa River watershed, including the Choccolocco Creek watershed, is believed to support the largest number of endangered and threatened species found in any Alabama waterway of comparable size.

“We also rely upon the Alabama Forestry Commission’s guide on key working forest areas. We also look closely at soils. Food producing soils across Alabama and Georgia have been threatened by development over the past decade. Conservation easements can be used to preserve working farms and ranches.”

The non-profit organization receives funding from various sources, but most of it comes as donations from individuals passionate about conservation. Some foundations make donations. Sometimes, the land trust partners with other likeminded non-profit organizations, government agencies or corporations to collaborate on projects.

“We get a lot of phone calls from people interested in conserving their lands,” Eddins says. “The main way people find out about our work is through word of mouth. Our organization maintains a stewardship fund to ensure that we have the capacity to permanently monitor each easement annually. These funds, mainly built from contributions related to donated conservation easements, are not used for operations.”

To make a tax-deductible contribution, identify potential easement properties or obtain more information, contact the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust at 256-447-1006. On line, see

John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who writes from Semmes, Ala. Contact him through his website at

Organic Farming


Charles Walters of River Oaks Farm, now a certified organic operation, with his traveling farmer’s market. Both farmers focus on natural growing methods.

Farmers see increased interest in natural growing methods

By M.J. Ellington

An Elmore County farmer said he wanted a theological reason to explain his career choice, so he got a master’s degree from Duke Divinity School so he could explain his decision.

“I felt called to farm and I needed to have a theological basis for my decision,” Charles Walters said. The son of cattle farmers in Linden, Walters grew up hearing his parents talk about the challenges of his career choice.

Walters bought a former brick manufacturer’s worn-out clay field near the Alabama River. Years of clay and soil removal by the brick company had left the property lacking in nutrients to support healthy plant and animal life.

Four years ago, Walters began rebuilding the land with truckloads of ground pecan shell compost, humus and manure to make the soil healthy. Now Walters grows produce and raises cattle and chickens to sell on the 28-acre organic River Oaks Farm, now a certified organic operation.

Richard Dean of Gold Branch Farm harvests lettuce at the farm in Deatsville.
Photo by Albert Cesare

Richard Dean observed small farmers’ ancient growing practices while he and his wife, Jodi, were teachers in China. Now Dean and his business partner, Tyson Rogers, own five-acre Gold Branch Farm near Deatsville, a member of Central Alabama EC. They grow lettuce and other leafy produce, vegetables and fruit trees with natural growing methods and no artificial chemicals.

Dean said Alabama farmland is often thin as a result of intense heat and many years of farming. It normally takes about seven years with natural growing methods for the artificial chemicals to be filtered out of the soil. “Compost is our number No. 1 thing to help build healthy soil that retains nutrients and moisture that often washes away from soil that is unhealthy,” he says.

In North Alabama, soil scientist Karen Wynne agrees. She puts organic farming methods she teaches to practice in the food her family grows on 25-acre Rosita’s Farm near Hartselle, a member of Joe Wheeler EMC. Wynne also owns Crotovina, a company that provides technical assistance, planning and development support to small farms across the Southeast.

At all three operations, the farmers emphasize building the soil naturally, practicing minimal tilling and planting fill crops that nourish the soil and retard weed growth in months between growing seasons. Their methods are tools that even people with tiny backyard gardens can use to have healthy soil without artificial chemicals.

Above, River Oaks Farm with carrots for sale; such farms are helping to meet a growing consumer demand for food grown locally.

Kirk Iverson, an Auburn-based soil scientist who works with Auburn University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on sustainable farming projects, said Alabama’s hot weather makes farming a challenge.

“The state’s intense heat can break down the organic matter that is the key to healthy soil,” Iverson says. “The key things to make our soil healthy are organic matter and good farming practices. It’s also important to test the soil to know any nutrients you may need to add.”

Both Iverson and Wynne said it’s better to do minimal tilling instead of stripping away all spent crops or weeds from previous growing seasons, and to mulch or plant cover crops. Minimal tilling helps vegetation decompose naturally between growing seasons while fill crops hold moisture and nutrients and reduce erosion, they said.

Wynne says soil is “the earth’s natural carbon dioxide filtration system, it feeds us and it can help mitigate climate change. We need to look at long-term soil sustainability.”

In town, Wynne says property owners can have healthier soil by setting the lawn mower to cut the grass a little higher, and planting low-growing plants that will help keep nutrients in the soil.

The farmers from Gold Branch and River Oaks sell what they grow at local farmers markets, helping to meet a growing consumer demand for food grown locally.

U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that the number of farmers markets nationally increased 93.3 percent between 2006 and 2014. Agriculture and Industries Commissioner John McMillan said in Alabama, farmers markets increased from 17 statewide in 1999 to 164 today.

As interest in farmers market shopping has increased, so have the number of small, natural growing farms. In a state where large commercial farms became the norm in the past 20 years, small family-owned operations seemed at risk of dying out. But the consumer push to eat locally grown and organic foods has helped increased interest in the industry in Alabama.

Iverson, Wynne and Walters are on the governing board of the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network. Founded in 2001, ASAN is a resource for more than 2,000 farms, ranches, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and households interested in sustainable agriculture.

Learn more about ASAN at or call 256-743-0742.

Pigs at River Oaks Farm are fed non-GMO feed and fresh vegetables.

A hero for horse owners

Northwest Alabama’s Life Data Labs helps horses around the world

By Jennifer Crossley Howard

On first stepping into the manufacturing plant at Life Data Labs, the clean, earthy aroma of teatree oil and alfalfa remind you of a natural foods store. But this place is actually one of the most sought-after animal nutrition and healthcare product businesses in the world.

The majority of its clients are concentrated in the United States and the United Kingdom, and the bestselling products are made in Cherokee, Ala., population: 1,050.

Along this three-mile stretch on U.S. 72 in western Colbert County sit the manufacturing and office headquarters of Life Data Labs, the efforts of a local veterinarian who took a chance on an idea.

In the 1980s, Dr. Frank Gravlee decided to give up animal medicine to study a supplement that nourishes and strengthens horse hooves. Called Farrier’s Formula, it is the business’ top selling product and is sold in more than 40 countries. Its name is an ode to specialists who care for horse hooves.

The heart of Gravlee’s business philosophy harkens back to the one he started his journey for: the horse.

“Dr. Gravlee has always said if you help a horse, he’ll help you back,” says Darryl Spencer, chief financial officer of Life Data Labs.

Gravlee’s business acumen follows a similar notion. Its marriage of local business and forward-thinking practices, such as solar energy that drives production and vacuum-sealed products to preserve shelf life, are what distinguish Life Data Labs.

Solar panels provide energy to Life Data Labs’ manufacturing facility.

A yard full of solar panels sit out back, but today it is cloudy. Spencer said determining how to store energy to use on such days is on the list of things to do.

“On sunny days, we make more energy than we can use,” he said.

The Northeast and California are the business’ biggest U.S. markets. Clients include breeders, rodeo trainers in Texas and quarter horse owners in the Shoals who ride the trails.

The brand’s logo that adorns most of its slick packaging — an engraved drawing of a stepping horse — fits the business’ nod to old-school values and dedication to the future. It would look at home in the yellowed pages of an animal anatomy book.

But for all its global reach, some of the most loyal customers of Life Data live down the road in and around northwest Alabama. The Robbins family that operates the Bluewater Creek Polo Club in Killen uses it on their horses, as does Bob Baffert, a thoroughbred trainer in California, whose horses have won Kentucky Derbies and Triple Crowns.

As a story of risk typically goes, critics first underestimated Gravlee when he debuted Farrier’s Formula.

“When he first developed this formula, he called it Skin and Coat,” Spencer says. “Tack stores wouldn’t sell it, so he went it to the state farrier organization.”

Changing the name to Farrier’s Formula helped by appealing to a hardworking trade, Spencer says. Farriers shoe horses every six weeks, and found Gravlee’s formula worked and liked that it was made in state.

A horse’s livelihood depends on its hooves. Properly tending to six-inch hooves that support a thousand-pound animal makes the difference between a healthy horse and one prone to illness.

“If you don’t have strong, healthy hooves, your horse is going to get down very quickly,” Spencer says.

Dr. Frank Gravlee’s company conducts research, manufactures products and provides product support from its headquarters in Cherokee, Ala.

Successful formula expands

The success of the original Farrier’s Formula led to the debut of Farrier’s Formula Double Strength Plus Joint in November.

Much of Gravlee’s research was done on site and at nearby Rosetrail Stables, a 12-acre horse farm where he studied and cared for animals from birth to maturity. His son, Scott, also a veterinarian, does most of the research now.

In Alabama, and the rest of the country, Life Data Labs sells through farriers, veterinary offices and tack and feed stores such as the Colbert Farmers Cooperative in Tuscumbia.

The Shoals boasts a thriving equine community, including a rescue home in rural Florence, says Brandi Robbins, an employee at the co-op. Horse care makes up 90 percent of business. Her brother is a farrier who’s a fan of Life Data.

“It’s one of the few foot supplements we carry because it’s local,” Robbins says. “Everybody likes local stuff, and this is a good product.”

Life Data Labs follows a streamlined business plan and employs 15 workers.

Though machinery in such factories has replaced millions of jobs in recent decades, Dr. Gravlee’s philosophy finds a balance between maintaining jobs while looking to the future.

“If we get to the point we need to hire more people, we think, is there anything we can do to make our equipment more efficient, because you can pay people more to run a machine than supervise other people,” Spencer says.

This local business is one that intends to stay stateside, specifically in Alabama. Warehouses in Canada and the United Kingdom could grow, but production will remain in the Yellowhammer State.

“I anticipate all manufacturing to continue here, forever,” Spencer says. “You can’t outsource quality. If we have any plans to expand, we will do it here.”

Nick relies on five stars; Gus relies on one

By Brad Bradford

Emeril Lagasse is one of the best chefs in the Southeast.  He has access to the best kitchens, the best meat, the best equipment and the best staff.  Emeril worked hard to get where he is today, but my Aunt Berta may be just as good, given the same resources. The SEC and the entire college football nation can relate to this analogy.

Jalen Hurts
Crimson Tide Photos/UA Athletics
Kamryn Pettway Auburn photos by Wade Rackley/AU Athletics

Nick Saban has run away and retired the recruiting championship with seven straight No. 1 classes with his latest haul. This year, there were 11 five-star recruits in the SEC. Bama signed six of them; Auburn, LSU and Tennessee signed one each and Georgia signed two.

Alabama continues to stockpile, with 65 percent of its players coming from outside Alabama. Top recruits continue the yearly trek to Tuscaloosa knowing that they must wait their turn behind other five-stars. This adds to daily competition for playing time.

When Vegas puts the odds of winning the national championship for Alabama at 3 to 1, you know that the talent and coaching is there. Hard to bet against them.

Auburn faces the dilemma that it has faced in Gus Malzahn’s soon-to-be fifth year: relying on one “star” to lead the Tigers to the promised land of the playoffs. In the past, it was Jeremy Johnson as quarterback. He ended up third string and never reached his potential.  Next, it was Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator who was going to be the answer. His defense finished 71st in the nation, giving up 405 yards per game. After one year, he was off to South Carolina.

This year, the Tiger hype is former Baylor quarterback transfer Jarrett Stidham. He showed in the spring that he has all the tools needed to get Auburn over the hump.

Two important questions: 1. Will Gus stay out of the way and let new coordinator Chip Lindsey run the offense? 2. Stidham has not played since 2015 when he played in the Big 12. The Big 12 defenses are nothing like the real bullets he is going to face against Clemson and the athleticism of the defenses in the SEC. How will he react?


ALABAMA 2016:  Listening to Nick Saban and Jalen Hurts talk about last year, you would think that Alabama finished 6-7, lost to Chattanooga and got beat in the Birmingham Bowl instead of going 14-1. Winning four of the last eight national championships and going for a three-peat causes anyone wearing crimson or houndstooth to have one simple goal: Hoist the crystal trophy in early January or it is a disappointing season.

Last year’s defense will go down as one of the most dominating in Tide history. However, it will also be known for playing 99 snaps on defense against Clemson and giving up a last-second touchdown on a pick pass and losing the national championship 35-31.

On that night in Tampa Bay, the better team made the fourth-quarter plays and won it all. No excuses. Bama won its third straight SEC title and is the only team to be included all three years in the Final Four playoff.

Freshman quarterback Hurts was the offensive player of the year. The defense finished first in scoring defense, first in rushing defense and second in total defense nationally. Except for an early season scare by Ole Miss and a 10-0 win against LSU, no one came closer than 18 points – until Clemson.

ALABAMA OUTLOOK: This is the first year since 2013 that the Tide will return a starter at quarterback. The backfield is loaded with a healthy Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. Top recruit Najee Harris can make a difference real quick. The offensive line is experienced.

Saban replaced Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator with Brian “RUN” Daboll. His marching orders are to get the ball in the hands of playmakers (like Calvin Ridley) and don’t try to “out-cute” the defense.

Defensively, the Tide lost seven starters to the NFL.  The good news is that nine of the 11 projected starters on defense will be either juniors or seniors. Concerns: finding a kicker and depth at quarterback.

Prediction: SEC West champions with a regular season record of 11-1.  Possible losses: Florida State or Auburn.

AUBURN 2016:  Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele kept the Tigers in every game by finishing seventh in scoring defense nationally, giving up 17 points per game and playing with the intensity that Auburn is known for. (For comparison, Alabama finished first in the nation at 13 points allowed, a difference of only 4 points).

Injuries to quarterback Sean White and running back Kam Pettway led to a record of 8-5. Losing by 6 points to Clemson and 6 points to Georgia shows just how close Auburn came to a 10-win season. Beating LSU at home on a last-second heart-stopper kept the Tigers from starting 1-3. Instead, that win (well-earned) led to a six-game winning streak and a 7-2 record headed into the road game at Georgia. They were ranked ninth in the playoff rankings and controlled their own destiny.

Unfortunately, the wheels came off.  No second half first downs against Georgia led to a loss. Two weeks later, they scored four field goals but no touchdowns against Alabama. Finishing number 112 in passing offense (out of 128 teams) allowed defenses to load the box and disregard deep passing threats.

AUBURN OUTLOOK: Everything depends on the development of quarterback Jarrett Stidham and keeping the running backs healthy. The duo of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson at running back behind an experienced offensive line is going to give defenses headaches. Malzahn has recruited well on the defensive front and coordinator Steele will keep the Tigers in close games. Daniel Carlson is the best kicker in the country. This means that the offense only needs to get one first down past the 50 and it should turn into at least three points.

Scheduling Georgia Southern in the opener is off the chart on the “dumb meter.” They play a triple option offense, which requires more discipline and special assignments for the defense. (Ask the 2011 Alabama defense that gave up 21 points to them the week before the Iron Bowl). Next time, schedule someone who runs an offense similar to Clemson, the second week opponent. Concerns: finding pass rushers and a true deep threat at wide receiver.

Prediction: Third in the SEC West with a regular season record of 9-3. Possible losses: Clemson, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama.

BIG FOUR ROUND ROBIN: The top two teams in the SEC (Alabama and Auburn) and the ACC (Clemson and FSU) play each other, which will basically eliminate two of these four from the playoffs. Bama opens in Atlanta against Florida State. This can very well be No. 1 vs. No. 2. Obviously, one will be 1-0 and the other 0-1. The loser will not drop lower than 6th but has very little margin of error for the rest of 2017.

The next week, Auburn travels to Clemson for a battle of the Tigers.  Since it is the second week, one will then be 2-0 and the other will be 1-1. On Nov. 11, Clemson plays at Florida State. If either loses against the Tigers or Tide in September, this will be a second loss. The Iron Bowl is two weeks later. Unless Bama and Auburn both win earlier against FSU and Clemson, this also will be a second loss and take that team out of the playoff scenario.

Auburn and Alabama both play in the SEC West. Florida State and Clemson both play in the ACC Atlantic division. Only one from each division can make the SEC and ACC championship games.

SEC East prediction: 1. Georgia: Experience at quarterback and return of Nick Chubb. 2. Florida: Defense is good. Must develop a QB. 3. Kentucky: good run game. 4. Vandy: Derek Mason is one of the best coaches in the conference. 5. Tennessee: Farewell season for Butch Jones. 6. South Carolina: Still too young. 7. Missouri: signed 24 three-star recruits. Ouch!

SEC West prediction: 1. Alabama: too much talent and hunger from Clemson loss. 2. LSU: Guice at running back and play Auburn at home 3. Auburn: Must beat Georgia and Alabama. Otherwise, the record moves to 0-8 in these games. The natives get restless. 4. Mississippi State: Fitzgerald is one of the top SEC QBs. 5. Texas A&M: Too thin on both sides of the line. Sumlin’s hot seat gets scalding. 6. Arkansas: When is Bielema going to win a big game? 7. Ole Miss: NCAA probe has sent the Rebels from the penthouse to the outhouse.

National picture: Ten teams have a good shot at making the 2017 playoff. They are:

SEC: Alabama and Auburn. ACC: Florida State and Clemson. Big 10: Ohio State and Penn State. Big 12: Oklahoma State. Pac 12: Southern Cal and Washington. AAC: South Florida.

Semifinals: Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs Penn State (Bama 31, Nittany Lions 14). Rose Bowl: Florida State vs USC (FSU 38, Trojans 35).

National championship game in Atlanta: Alabama and Florida State open the new dome in Atlanta on Sept. 2 ranked No. 1 and No. 2. On Jan. 8, 2018, these two teams will meet again for all the marbles. Great game again. Same results again: Alabama 42, FSU 28.

Brad Bradford served on the coaching staffs at Alabama and the University of Louisville. He and his wife Susan (former Auburn cheerleader) own Bradford Consulting Group. Brad can be reached at or