From the "soon to be determined studios" here we go...
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson performs a Lambeau Leap after scoring a touchdown against the Detroit Lions during an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
NFL Power Poll
We kind of glossed over the NFL playoffs this weekend other than Tebow's heroics and the Falcons implosion.
Here's an idea, a Power Poll of the top five teams left.
1) Green Bay: The Packers are the Super Bowl favorites — in Vegas as well as the heartland. (And we all know Tim Tebow is the favorite in the heavens. You got to admit that 316 stuff is a little crazy. Let's just move on.) That said, Sunday against the New York Giants may be the Packers' toughest test. What do the Giants do very well? They pressure the passer. What is the Pack's biggest weakness? Protecting the passer.
2) New England: The Pats host the Denver Tebows on Saturday night and New England is a 13.5-point favorite. Wow, that's a ton of points, right? Especially since Tebow has the power of the light on his side. (All jokes aside, that 316 passing yards, John 3:16 coincidence is kind of head-scratching, huh?) Here's what we know Tebow can do: He can bring the topic of religion and football together like no one else since that guy wore the rainbow wig and held up the John 3:16 sign a generation ago. He could easily swing the Republican primary any direction he saw fit. (And if you don't believe that, well, you underestimate Tebow's power in the Christian community.) He can have less than a full season as a starting quarterback and dominate the playoff discussion despite the fact that there are six former Super Bowl MVPs still in this postseason. One thing we don't think Tebow can do: Win on Saturday against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
3) New Orleans: The Saints are a road favorite — laying 3.5 at San Fran on Saturday. New Orleans has been unbeatable at home and have been football's Wilt Chamberlain — they've been scoring at record clips (thank you, we'll be here all week). But look at the game's three phases, and this is a lot closer: New Orleans is the best offense still in the playoffs, granted, but San Fran has the best defense and the best special teams left in the playoffs.
4) Baltimore: The Ravens got a very nice draw. Think Ray Lewis and Co. aren't licking their chops about getting a rookie quarterback in Baltimore after a week of rest. The 7.5 seems a little low for us; we like the Ravens comfortably.
5) San Francisco: See above. And remember this name Aldon Smith, the 49ers rookie pass rusher. If the 49ers are going to find a way to beat New Orleans, it will be because Smith and Co. have gotten to Drew Brees frequently.
Vols' DC updates
The search for Tennessee's defensive coordinator continues, and with each passing day a new name (or two) appears and a new level of consternation is added to the process.
Reports from Knoxville have Alabama linebacker coach Sal Sunseri interviewing today for the opening. Hey, we all saw Alabama's linebackers put on a clinic in Monday night's 21-0 whipping of LSU in the BCS title. Sunseri obviously had a hand in that, but we'll offer this caveat: hiring defensive assistants off Nick Saban's staff should always be viewed with a well-trained eye. Yes, new UT AD Dave Hart got an up-close view of the Alabama staff during his time in Tuscaloosa, so he should know Sunseri's skill level. But coaching defense for Saban is like coaching offense for Steve Spurrier, you may be in charge of a part of it — maybe — but that's Spurrier's offense and Saban's defense and there's no debating it. Period.
That said, if Sunseri is the front-runner, that at least allows the Vols and coach Derek Dooley to say this was all part of the plan from the beginning. Is that true? It could be. But there have been a river of unattributed sources throwing out names from Randy Shannon to Kevin Steele to Phil Bennett to Ron Zook to even Buddy Green.
Sunseri's late addition to the list at least offers some plausible explanation why the Vols have not pulled the trigger in this crucial time. Being coachless — especially a coordinator — during the recruiting days of January turn each day into a dog day — it feels seven times longer to the fan base and the potential recruits.
We thought from the start that Dooley needed a home run hire in the public view. None of the names above appear to be a home run hire, although you could make an argument that Shannon still has enough name recognition to qualify. Dooley still needs a big-time hire, but as each pitch goes speeding past, it's becoming more and more apparent that the time to swing for that home run is now. Especially with a monster recruiting weekend just days away.
Alabama's Barrett Jones poses with the Outland Trophy after the College Football Awards ceremony in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
First wave of college football recruiting is now
High school seniors will be making visits and decisions in the coming days about where they are going to play college football. Big-time college football followers (like the 5-at-10) will worry too much about which four-star is leaning toward which SEC school.
So it goes.
That said, the biggest recruiting additions for several SEC schools are already on the roster. Here are the five schools that can instantly improve their outlook for 2012 by convincing the following players to return for one more college run (Arkansas is already a big winner with running back Knile Davis deciding to return):
Alabama: The Tide got an early gift when All-American offensive tackle Barrett Jones elected to return for his senior. If any of the group of potential first-rounders of Trent Richardson, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick or linebacker Dont'a Hightower, that would be a huge plus. Richardson seems like a lock to leave, considering the position he plays and that he is a top-5 projected pick and far and away the best running back in the draft.
LSU: There appears to be talk that Tigers cornerback Mo Claiborne — a projected top-10 pick — may be interested in returning. If that's the case, the Tigers secondary would be the nation's best — by leaps and bounds.
Georgia: Tight end Orson Charles and safety Baccari Rambo have last-minute decisions to make. Neither figure to be first-round picks, but each is coming off a strong year and each will test well at the combine.
Auburn: Tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen and running back Onterrio McCalebb have decided to return for their senior seasons. That's big — especially for McCalebb considering the vacancy left by Mike Dyer's decision to transfer — but there's one more Auburn player weighing his future. Receiver Emory Blake — the Tigers' only consistently productive wideout — has submitted paper work and has not made a decision.
South Carolina: Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has declared for the draft as expected (wonder if he'll send Lane Kiffin a shoutout at the draft about pumping gas), but the strength of this record-setting Gamecocks team was their defense and losing standout cornerback Stephon Gilmore hurts. If any other defenders leave, including oversized safety DeVonte Holloman, the toll will be felt.
This and that
— We have the winners and losers from the Winners/Losers Bowl-a-palooza contest. With Alabama winning the BCS title, Big Shot won the whole thing and gets a BCS prize pack that includes a shirt, a program, some cups, some other trinkets and a Visa gift card. Congrats. There was a three-way tie for last between C-Vol, BBlackmon and Uch. We broke the tie by seeing which of these three got the fewest of the higher-value games. They each had LSU in the seven-point game, but C-Vol correctly picked just one of the four-point games, so he won the losing part. Well-played — or not. C-Vol, shoot us an e-mail and we'll give you a couple of options from the prize vault.
— Wow, the 5-at-10 was bemoaning the lack of viewing options Tuesday. Yes, it was the post-bowl season hangover. Then we stopped on the Ohio State-Illinois basketball game and realized two things: Sweet shooting strokes, Brandon Paul is a big-time Big Timer. Dude went for 43 points — including seven in final 43 seconds — in a 79-74 over No. 5 Ohio State. Paul scored the Illini's final 15 points and completely took over; two conference games with ranked teams on the road are fun. Kids getting jacked up and going Dickie V-level of nuts for the camera.
— Another nice game on last night was No. 4 Baylor escaping with a 75-73 win over Kansas State to remain unbeaten. Side question: What kind of bizarro world are we in when the Baylor Bears have collected a Heisman Trophy, capped a 10-win football season, stormed to No. 4 in the men's poll and No. 1 in the women's poll and are a combined 31-0 in basketball this season? Hey, here's a thought, why has no one hired Baylor's AD? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
— According to the Palm Beach Post, Nu'Keese Richardson has retired from football, which is not unlike the 5-at-10 retiring from politics. Think about it: Richardson played less than a season at UT and dabbled at some other smaller schools before "retiring." The 5-at-10 was an SGA officer at Auburn, serving on the student government for a year. Background: Richardson was the former UT receiver that was a four-star high school recruit who Lane Kiffin took great pride in flipping from his long-standing commitment to Florida. Richardson was part of the "Hamburglary" when Richardson, Janzen Jackson and Mike Edwards tried to rob two guys who had nothing more than a cheeseburger outside a convenience store. Here's a wild prediction: That will not be Richardson's last brush with the authorities. Call it a hunch.
— Remember about Friday's mailbag and if you have any other suggested names for the 5-at-10 studio — either tributes, zingers, what have you — let us know.
LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson (9) lays on the ground after being hit during the second half of the BCS National Championship college football game against Alabama Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
We're going with two questions today.
We asked last week for predictions for the lasting bowl images from this college football postseason. Now we want to hear about your favorite moment from the bowl season. It can be your team's win in Hawaii — shoutout to CJoyner — or a big play or a tight game. Heck, if you're a West Virginia fan it could be the joy of a month's worth of offense (70 flippin' points) in four quarters.
Question Two: It's obvious the BCS folks are looking at change (granted, we believe that BCS power players reluctantly are going to bring change before change is forced upon them). What type of system should college football embrace? Yes, we all concur a playoff is better than a bowl set-up, but at what cost? Is a playoff system worth lessening the best regular season in all of sports (and you know our answer on that)? Discuss.
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 ...