Happy New Year gang.
From the "Mama McNabb stage at the Al Davis Studios" here we go.
More UT headaches
We're not saying the wheels have come off of the Derek Dooley regime in Knoxville, but the lug nuts are certainly wobbling. Wow, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and up-and-coming linebackers coach Peter Sirmon left the Vols for similar jobs at Washington. That's the UNIVERSITY of Washington, mind you, and not the Washington Redskins. Ouch-standing.
Coupled with the mismanagement of DeAnthony Arnett's transfer request (Background: Arnett's dad is ill, he want to be closer to him in Saginaw, Mich., and requested a transfer; Dooley said OK as long as it's not Michigan or Michigan State, per the school's policy, and UT came out looking rather petty and harsh in the whole deal; it was not a P.R. win by any stretch of the imagination; plus it's the same type of transfer situation that allowed at least three Vols — Tyler Smith, Alex Bullard and Brandon Warren — in the last six years to come to Knoxville and play right away), this has been a trying 10 days, especially when UT fans remember that they weren't in a bowl game.
As bad as the Arnett fiasco played out in the public eye, Wilcox and Sirmon leaving is more damaging within the program. Each was a talented recruiter and each was a very talented coach. Considering the talent limitations up front and the injuries/defections in the secondary, the defense as a group overachieved, and no position group overachieved more than the linebackers. Success can be swayed/determined by talent, but overachievement is based on coaching, and Wilcox and Sirmon each coached their tails off last year. (Sirmon had true-freshman A.J. Johnson playing at an All-SEC level six weeks into his first college fall; that's doing work.)
Wilcox is one of college football's bright young coordinators and there's little doubt he'll be a head coach sooner rather than later, and if that's his path, fine. But remember, Wilcox turned down the Texas defensive coordinator job this time last year, and the Texas D.C. gig is a pretty good springboard to getting a head coaching job. Ask Gene Chizik and Will Muschamp.
From the outside, Wilcox and Sirmon leaving for the same spots at a lesser program — and no matter how far UT falls, Washington is a lesser program on financial, spiritual and perceptional levels; this can not be debated — gives the impression that there is more than a little unrest on Dooley's staff. And if it's not unrest, then it may be worse — a true fear that 2011 is not going to be much better. Plus, the recruiting hit that this will deliver will be felt in a large way.
Dooley will speak with reporters around 10 a.m., and it's fair to say that this may be the most important news conference he has given since being introduced on the Hill. Here's our suggestion: Play it straight. Say there's some things that need to be ironed out, and you were blindsided by Wilcox and Sirmon leaving. They returned to the area they grew up — each is from the Pacific Northwest — and have moved on. Admit you made a mistake with the Arnett deal — or share the unknown info as to why this was not a mistake. Announce the plan that will either get Da'Rick Rogers out of the doghouse or on the road out of town. Excuses will not play well today, and spin will miss the mark.
Either way it should be interesting.
Georgia wide receiver Tavarres King (12) pulls in an 80-yard touchdown reception in front of Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis (9) during the second quarter of the Outback Bowl NCAA college football game Monday Jan. 2, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (Chris O'Meara)
Yes, the 5-at-10 was less-than-thrilled about not having bowl games on Jan. 1. But maybe they used that extra day to better prepare the offenses, the drama, the weather, even the officials — we watched football all day Monday, and it's hard to think of a bad call; well done — for a full day of college football excitement.
One thing that was not better with the time off was a few special teams. Georgia's Blair Walsh ended his record-setting career with an overtime miss that cost the Bulldogs the Outback Bowl. Stanford's kicker blew an OT kick in the Cardinal's 41-38 OT loss, and Florida scored twice on special teams — a kick return and on a blocked punt — in its win over THE Ohio State University.
That said, the games were enjoyable and entertaining, especially the two night games where Oregon outscored Wisconsin 45-38 and Oklahoma State edged Stanford. (Although, Brent Musberger managed to step on his tongue yet again, saying that Oregon's 40-27 loss to LSU was the Tigers' toughest test. Uh, Brent, Oregon scored a cosmetic touchdown with 0:13 left in the game so that it was not a 20-point blowout, and some team from Tuscaloosa lost to LSU 9-6 in overtime. Brent, it may be time, ah nevermind, it still was a great day of college football.)
There are some Georgia fans, though, that will not recall this bowl-a-palooza as fondly. After building a 16-0 halftime lead and looking a lot like the Pittsburgh Steelers defensively, the Bulldogs let MSU back in the game. Two Aaron Murray interceptions became Spartans touchdowns and from there the game was on. Michigan State scored the tying touchdown with less than 30 seconds to play to force OT.
That said, Oklahoma State's offensive efforts did little to change the 5-at-10's mind about the BCS matchup. Yes, Oklahoma State can score with anyone — and Justin Blackmon may be the best college receiver of all time — but the Cowboys are not better than Alabama. Hey, say we're an SEC homer — we are — and say that you have to be a conference champ to play for the BCS title — we agree — and you have a point. But don't say the Cowboys are better than the Tide because that's just wrong, and frankly you're better than that.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Curtis Painter sits on the bench next to receiver Reggie Wayne after throwing an interception during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
NFL Power Poll
Wow, some surprising off the field moves in the hours after the NFL season ended this weekend. Most eye-popping was the Colts decision to cut ties with Bill Polian, the executive who helped construct the Colts into a perennial contender. (Except that is when Peyton Manning is out for the year, but really it's the executive VP's fault that Manning's neck didn't heal quickly enough? Wow, that really is a tough job if you are responsible for nursing players back to health, too. Maybe some witch doctors will apply for the opening.)
As for on the field in the final weekend of the regular season, there were some notable happenings. Before this season exactly one quarterback threw for 5,000-plus yards in a year. As of Sunday night, three did it this year — Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Stafford, who definitely made the leap this year. Darren Sproles set the total yards record and Cam Newton set a slew of marks. It was a year of offense, there was no doubt. Heck the top two seeds in the playoffs — the Patriots and the Packers — are the worst and second-worst defenses in football. Read that again.
The other development was the meltdown that was the Dallas Cowboys. Here's a thought: the Cowboys are bad, and they get a lot of pub because of their logo. They are not that good because — like their logo — they are heavy on stars and light on depth and guts. So it goes and let's just move on.
Here's the power poll:
1) Green Bay: Did anyone make more money last Sunday than Matt Flynn, the Packers back-up quarterback who had a record-setting performance as starter Aaron Rodgers took the weekend off? Know this, Flynn is a free-agent-to-be and threw for 480 and six TDs Sunday. In a QB-starved league, here's saying that some team is going to toss out a big contract for Flynn, who has thrown all of 132 passes in his four-year career. (Here's betting it's Washington.)
2) New England: The Pats have embraced the "the best defense is a great offense" approach. They have scored 30 or more in 12 of their 16 games.
3) New Orleans: The Saints are home-field advantage away from being the favorite. Side note: Whoever in that organization decided to draft tight end Jimmy Graham, a converted college basketball player who is now uncoverable, deserves a raise. And yes, we may have made up the word "uncoverable."
4) Baltimore: The Ravens take the Steelers place for two reasons: First, the Ravens would have home-field against the Steelers; Second, Pittsburgh power back Rashad Mendenhall tore his ACL and will be on the shelf for the next eight months. Ouch.
5) San Francisco: Here's saying that the 49ers are going to have a tough time winning three playoff games with the worst offense in this postseason.
28) Cleveland: Gross.
29) Tampa Bay: Gross, minus a coaching staff.
30) Minnesota: If you are a Vikings fan, what an awful two years. You were a play away from the Super Bowl two years ago, then the world spun off its axis starting with Brett Favre texting debacle and ending with Adrian Peterson starting next year with a litany of questions marks after shredding his knee last month. Ouch.
31) St. Louis: Wow, the 5-at-10 picked the Rams to win the NFC West and the Colts to win the AFC South. Anyone want any stock tips for 2012? Didn't think so.
32) Indianapolis: Colts win by losing, Colts win by losing. That should have been the feeling after the Colts capped a disastrously unexpected 2-14 year with a loss to Jacksonville. But the Colts get the No. 1 pick, and let the Manning-Andrew Luck debate begin. Here's saying this will get so played out, that we'll be begging ESPN to tell us more about the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry or show more hockey. Hey, we love the draft — you know this, and we're giddy about the Luck-Manning dynamic — but this feels like one of those stories that's going to get out of control. Not unlike players who are said to be underrated so often that they become kind of a star for being underrated, which means they are no longer underrated and they are not talented enough to be a star, so now they are overrated simply because they were over-mentioned as underrated. Did that make sense to anyone else?
This and that
— Tennessee topped UTC in hoops Monday night. It was a pretty good game to watch, and the Mocs were right there throughout. Trae Golden was certainly the difference. Here's UTC hoops ace David Uchiyama's report (Guard Trae Golden leads Tennessee Vols over UTC Mocs, 76-63) and ace columnist Mark Wiedmer's thoughts (Wiedmer: 'Neat opportunity' gets away from Chattanooga Mocs). Hey, Golden is a great player, but there's no reason that any UT foe should ever allow Sklyer McBee and his 'stache an open look. Ever. (If we had a fantasy basketball team, we'd change the name to
The Mustachioed Skyler McBees.)
— Hey, nice job UTC wresling. Hosting the impressive Southern Scuffle was a neat deal, and now TFP wrestling guru Ward Gossett tells us UTC could be the host school for the NCAA wrestling championship in Atlanta down the road (UTC could host NCAA wrestling tournament in Atlanta). Nice.
— It dawned on the 5-at-10 that college football is almost over. Sigh. Now we may have to start paying attention to recruiting. Stink. Thankfully this has been a pretty good start to college hoops season.
In this Nov. 5, 2011, file photo, Alabama running back Eddie Lacy (42) is tackled by LSU linebacker Karnell Hatcher (37) and defensive tackle Josh Downs (77) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
We promise to have the bowl pick standings up today around lunch. (Side pick: Love the Wolverines tonight. So it goes.)
Today's question is about the bowls: What has been the best bowl, best moment, best player, best whatever? Bring it. It's like the old-school free style rap: Just pick a beat and flow.
We'll have ours later today, but there was a lot to choose from, and here's saying Blair Walsh will not make the highlight list.
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 ...