FILE - In this file photo taken Nov. 19, 2011, Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, right, and head coach Ron Zook voice their disapproval with a call during an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. Koenning, named interim head coach after Zook was fired Nov. 27, has turned down an offer to stay at Illinois as coordinator. He will leave after coaching the Illini in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA on New Year's Eve. Zook was replaced by Toledo head coach Tim Beckman. (AP Photo/The News-Gazette, Rick Danzl, File)Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
We're back. We'd say we were rested, but a Grinch-style bout with the mother of all stomach bugs hammered us over the holidays. Seriously, we lost 12 pounds. At Christmas. So it goes.
But we're back, and while we missed some stuff, there's no time to look too far back.
From the Mama McNabb Stage at the Al Davis Studio, here we go:
College bowling for some
OK, raise your hand if you have watched three quarters of any one bowl game so far (CJ barely counts since his beloved USM Golden Eagles played one of the better games last week). Keep it raised if you have watched more than a half of more than one game.
Yes, it's been that bad. And that's coming from a college football junkie and BEFORE the bowl season's worst matchup — the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl has UCLA vs. Illinois in the bowl season's only game that includes a team with a losing record (UCLA is 6-7) and two interim head coaches. Nice.
Amazingly, the games have been somewhat competitive — six of the first 10 have been decided by a touchdown or less — but the lack of indifference has been stunning. Heck, reports have Lou Holtz watching a Sylvester and Tweety Christmas special rather than the FIU-Marshall showdown. (OK we made that last one up.)
The first 10 days of the bowl season has produced the following conclusions:
Best player: Have to go with Kellen Moore here, but we're willing to admit that it's a career award. Dude was the starting QB for 50 wins in his career at Boise State. Read that again, and enjoy it, because it's hard to believe you'll ever read it about anyone else.
Best effort: Wow, Jordan White put on a show in Western Michigan's loss to Purdue. White caught 13 passes — including a left-handed, one-handed miracle grab on a poorly thrown post pattern between three Purdue defenders — for 265 yards and a TD. There were several other eye-popping efforts, but White did his against two- and three-man coverage all game.
Worst effort (team): Hey, thanks for picking up the comp gifts there Arizona State. Talk about phoning it in. And remember, this was a team that thumped USC in October. Yes, the same USC that right now is the buzz of college football without being in a bowl game.
Worst effort (player): Vontaze Burfict, the Arizona State junior linebacker, was a preseason All-American. He's ranked as a first-round pick athletically in next April's draft. Yet, he didn't start because of discipline reasons in this year's bowl game. Hey, discipline issues happen everywhere, from college football teams to professional organizations of all genres. But remember, Burfict was disciplined by a staff that was coaching its last game with ASU. And if you are disciplined by a staff in its final game after being fired, well, you are the nerd in the punch bowl. And right on cue, on the first series when Burfict entered the game, he got an unsportsmanlike penalty. Nice.
Pro Bowling for some
When we were on SportTalk last week, Dr. B (he's a doctor after all) was spot-on that San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh will be the runaway winner of the NFL Coach of the Year. And after leading the 49ers back into the playoffs and to a 12-3 record, Harbaugh deserves the spoils of victory.
That said, we'll still put the job that Mike Munchak did with the Titans against anyone. Granted, we were among the biggest critics of Munchak's hiring, but we were wrong. Dead wrong. And while Harbaugh has the 49ers in the playoffs with Alex Smith as his quarterback — something that did not seem possible before Harbaugh arrived in the Bay area — Munchak was just as impressive.
Consider this: While Harbaugh had eight 49ers picked for the Pro Bowl, zero Titans were picked and Munchak still has them in the playoff picture heading into the final week of the season.
Among the Pro Bowl picks that were noteworthy:
Big rookie impressions: Oso's man A.J. Green made the Pro Bowl, so did fellow rookies Von Miller and Patrick Peterson. Cam Newton is an alternate, and likely will make the trip since one of two of the NFC quarterback picks — Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers — likely will be getting ready for the Super Bowl that week. And after watching the 49ers push the Steelers around two weeks ago, we're wondering why San Fran rookie defensive end Aldon Smith, who has 14 sacks this year, was not picked.
Biggest snub(s): Matthew Stafford has the Lions in the playoffs for the first time since Barry Sanders was known as a running back and not as the dad of a high-profile recruit; Marshawn Lynch was a monster, and he is the only person to rush for a TD against the 49ers this season (read that again, and know that we're heading to the last week of the regular season); 49ers linebacker Navarro Bowman probably deserved to be picked every bit as much as Patrick Willis, which is scary because Patrick Willis is a monster; Steelers safety Ryan Clark was robbed — he's been a huge part of the league's best pass defense and Eric Weddle was picked ahead of him; Washington was terrible, but linebacker London Fletcher led the league in sacks and was not picked, which is like leading the league in hitting and not making the baseball All-Star Game.
The SEC schedule is due any day this week, and Georgia and Tennessee fans have a lot riding on the outcome.
Hey, everyone knows the SEC West rules supreme right now. It's not unlike the latter half of the 1990s when the league was fighting for third behind UT and Florida. It goes in cycles. But right now, with the weighted schedule, the SEC West is so dominant it affects the hierarchy in the East. Think about it, which West foes that the teams in the East play likely will have a big hand in determining who will be the favorite in the SEC East.
Look at 2011 — Georgia got hot and went on a great run, but that run would not have been as successful without the cakewalk through the West the Bulldogs received this year. Georgia swept Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn and was the only East team to go 3-0 against the West during the regular season. A big part of that was that the other three West teams Arkansas, Alabama and LSU finished the regular season 33-3 and those three losses were to each other.
And each of those West warriors figures to be highly ranked again next fall, so avoiding them on the new-look SEC schedule that includes one fewer cross-divisional "at-large" team is paramount. For Georgia, which will be among the most-talented teams in the East next fall and retains its traditional matchup with Auburn, avoiding LSU or Alabama is key. For Tennessee, which is locked in with Alabama, avoiding LSU and Arkansas would be classified as a rare good break for the Vols.
This and that
— Louisville's Rick Pitino said Tuesday that he's going to coach through the end of his current contract, which runs out in 2017, and call it a career. Pitino, who has the Cards in the top 5 heading into tonight's matchup with Georgetown, has had a rocky couple of years. Say what you will — and there are a lot of jokes that can be made at his expense — but Pitino has shaped the modern version of successful college hoops coaches. Go recruit more big-time players, play full speed all the time, if they foul out or leave early so be it, and take your chances. Plus, Pitino deserves a whole bunch of credit for recharging Kentucky, and whether you love or loathe the Big Blue, college basketball is a better place when Kentucky is relevant.
— Sweet buckets of cliches like the rich getting richer proving to be 100-percent accurate: Did you see that Gunner Kiel, the top-rated high school quarterback in the country, committed to LSU? Wow, like the Tigers really needed him. Les Miles, you're a grass-chewing, quote-bending, hat-stretching son of a gun.
— We sang our praise of Mike Munchak earlier, and it appears the Titans are going to have to fight to keep him. Reports from State College, Penn., have Munchak, a former Penn State All-American, as the top candidate to replace Joe Paterno as the Nittany Lions head coach. If he wants it, Munchak would seem to be a great choice. Wow, has there ever been a tougher job to step into in the history of college sports? Dealing with the fallout from the evilness that was Sandusky and the indifference that was JoePa and Co., following the legend that was JoePa in every other football regard. Filling Wooden's shoes at UCLA was tough; picking up Bear's hat in Tuscaloosa seemed impossible; grabbing Munson's or Ward's microphone appeared daunting. But this is all of that combined.
— We promise to have updated stats on the Winners/Losers Bowl-a-palooza by this afternoon, and we're working with the Web team to have everyone's picks posted in a neat and organized way by week's end.
— Hope everyone had a great Christmas and got what you wanted. Thanks for bearing with us during our time off and the mini-5-at-10s. We're back at it through the rest of the week, though.
For the rest of the week, we're going to look back at the 2011 year, and we want your view.
Sure there's only two days and a mailbag left, but the mailbag is going to have a few questions about the year in review, too. So it goes.
Today, we want to know your athlete, coach and team of 2011. They can all be on the same team. They can all be from different sports. None of them can be Derek Dooley, however.
Let's hear it.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...
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