Gang, we've got a ton to get to, so buckle up.
From the "Talks too much" studios, here we go...
Real perceptions and perceiving reality
There are times when the spin and the hype and the hope of something different makes you see things that are not there. Not unlike the water mirage in the desert made famous in old-school cartoons, the mental picture that you want to see starts fuzzy, it develops slightly and our inner voice describes the edges and makes it sharp.
It doesn't however make it real.
Auburn is a bad football team. Tennessee is only average at best and likely below that. LSU is a national power that has been in big games and knows how to deliver in the national spotlight that comes with top-10 matchups. No matter what we thought otherwise — or wanted or needed to believe — those facts are solid. Dealing with them is up to us.
To do that we must determine if perception is reality:
Perception: The SEC is the best conference in the country.
Reality: The SEC is the best conference in the country. Six of the top 12 teams in this year's initial BCS, and Alabama and Florida in the top two spots, make this undeniable.
Perception: The SEC is the deepest conference in the country.
Reality: This may be true, but it's not as rock solid as in recent years. Alabama's dominance — the Tide have won every game by at least 19 points — damages that argument mightily. In fact, if you were going to break the SEC into a caste system, you have:
Royalty: Florida, LSU, South Carolina, Georgia
Upper class: Texas A&M, Mississippi State
Lower class: Vandy, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Missouri
Serfs: Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky
That's not a deep, healthy league thriving amid competition; that's a king and his kingdom. The SEC is better than everyone else, but this SEC is not better than the SEC of two or three years ago.
Perception: Notre Dame is back.
Reality: Notre Dame is much better, but they are not back. Too much of this team is built around one super senior linebacker and a schedule that is not as tough as we thought — Michigan and Michigan State are shadows of what we expected. There are whispers that the Irish could finish unbeaten and not make the BCS title game (And folks, if you want the four-team playoff set for 2014 to get here quicker, pray that a 12-0 Notre Dame team is left on the outside looking in at an Alabama-Oregon title game. There will be a revolt.)
Perception: Florida is back.
Reality: Florida is back and will be here for the long haul. And for anyone who believed Will Muschamp was the guy their team should have hired when their team had an opening in recent years, well, dude is delivering the goods. Muschamp entered the season with as much pressure as anyone, and the Gators have made the switch from spread to power and still have spread speed. Plus, he has a young team that will be better next year, which is saying something considering the Gators are No. 2 in the BCS this morning.
Perception: Florida is the most surprising team in the SEC.
Reality: As great as Florida's turnaround is, we'll take Texas A&M as the league's biggest surprise. The Aggies let Florida off the hook last month in College Station, and are 5-1 with a new coach and a new quarterback. How have the rest of the offenses that lost first-round QBs looked this fall, and that's with the same head coach in place? Stanford, Baylor, Oklahoma State have all regressed. First-year Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin has redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel in line to rewrite the college football record books. Manziel, who has earned the most-excellent nickname of Johnny Football, has set and reset the single-game total offense record this year.
Perception: The 5-at-10's Fab 4 (plus one) picks are rolling.
Reality: The 5-at-10's Fab 4 (plus one) picks are rolling, and hopefully that does not jinx us. After going 3-1-1 this week — Alabama was a dunk, the under the 78 in the West Virginia-Texas Tech game landed easily, and South Carolina plus-3 sneaked by in the narrowest of margins, the Troy-Western Kentucky under 57 pushed on the number, and Ohio State minus-17 went from good pick to good grief when Indiana scored two cosmetic touchdowns in the final two minutes — we're 24-11-1 against the spread. That's not too shabby, even for entertainment-only purposes.
Coaching hot seats
As our ace columnist Mark Wiedmer wrote in today's TFP http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2012/oct/15/Mark-are-au-or-ut-desperate-enough-to-hire-petrino/#comments there are fair and tough questions being asked in Auburn and Knoxville after fruitless trips to Mississippi this weekend.
The numbers are not pretty for Gene Chizik or Derek Dooley.
That Chizik is 31-15 with a national title in his three and a half years in Auburn merit the fact that he deserves a mulligan. That he's 17-15 in his two plus years at Auburn without Cam Newton delivering the single greatest season in college football history is not exactly confidence-inspiring. Plus, great recruiting classes and highly regarded recruits have not exactly been improving during the last three years.
Dooley was dealt a far worse scenario than Chizik. The Vols were hollow and lifeless after the 13-month fling with Ole What'shisname. And the fact that Dooley has tried to lay a foundation the right way deserves notice. It's hard to recognize that, though, because of the neon flashing 0-13 — Dooley's well-documented record against ranked teams as the UT head coach. And this just in, you're going to play a few ranked teams every year in the SEC.
As for the dumpster fire that is your Auburn Tigers, we believe Mean Gene will survive this debacle. We believe offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler will not.
As for the underwhelming and predictable Tennessee Vols, we believe the jury is completely out on Derek Dooley. Yes, we've said that we thought seven wins and a good showing in the bowl game would be enough for Dooley and his orange pants to see a fourth year in the 865.
This morning we're not so sure. But the jury's verdict depends on the answer to this question: Who are you going to get? Who is out there that is worth the $12-plus million it's going to take to make this right?
If you think Jon Gruden is really interested, you call Big Jim Haslem and make that happen by lunch on Wednesday. You do not push the reset button, however, for another question mark. You can't. There's too much at stake.
College football dominates around these parts. You know that, we know that, even the pumpkin on our front porch knows that.
That said, there's a slew of other stuff out there. Let's do a top-5 non-college football list of sports items of interest from the weekend:
1) Playoff baseball rocks. We're hooked. This has been as enjoyable a baseball postseason as we can remember, especially considering the Braves nor the Dodgers are involved. The St. Louis Cardinals are a first-class organization that lost their manager and the best player in the game and are still in the mix for a world title. Well played indeed.
Trainer Steve Donohue, second from left, and New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, second from right, help Derek Jeter off the field after he injured himself during Game 1 of the American League championship series against the Detroit Tigers Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in New York. New York Yankees' Robinson Cano, left, and Eric Chavez stood by.
2) Derek Jeter is a stud. Dude broke his ankle and is done for the year. You know this. Did you notice the way he immediately threw the ball to second baseman Robinson Cano despite the relentless pain? Did you know that when the Yankees staff came out, he refused to be carried off the field. Hate the Yankees all you want, but you have to respect Jeter — even you Spy.
3) Dale Jr. sits with a concussion. Interesting subplot to Junior rightly sitting because of multiple concussions was that Jeff Gordon said he would have likely kept quiet about it and drove any way. Sounds like the Rainbow Warrior called Junior out, no? And somewhere, Dale Sr. said, "Tape a Goody's Powder to it and get in the car."
4) Not unlike the college football antics, the NFL reminded us about the power system and that the teams we know are good are in fact good. Green Bay and the New York football Giants delivered big-boy efforts on Sunday.
5) College basketball practice started around the country this weekend, and a slew of the usual suspects will again be the frontrunners. Kentucky, UNC, Kansas, Duke, etc. will be in the mix.
This and that
— Tyler Bray has apologized for his social media message after Saturday night's loss in Starkville. Playing off his buddy Aaron Murray, who had his house vandalized after Georgia's loss to South Carolina nine days ago, Bray tweeted "We got some bandwagon fans. Hopefully my apt. Isn't egged." The backlash was quick and direct — some of Bray's 32,000 followers rightly retorted that UT's fans were frustrated. And some were quick to remind Bray, who had an offseason of discontent that included being picked up by authorities for throwing beer containers at cars, that those who live in glass beer bottles should not throw twitter bombs (or glass beer bottles).
— This is high-quality sideline reporting right here http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/heads-reporter-takes-football-face-nfl-pregame-show-022409553--nfl.html. Dude gets hit in the face with a football and barely misses a beat. That said, he did ask if they saw the football hit him in the face. Of course we saw it dude. C'mon.
— Mediation has started between Penn State and at least 20 men who accused Jerry Sandusky of sexually abusing them. The lawyers handling the compensation discussions also handled the talks for Sept. 11 victims and those affected by the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf. Let's there are 20 claims — we believe there are least that many and could be twice that total before it's done — what's the over/under on what Penn State's going to pay? Granted the range will be drastic, because any claims that happened after 1998, when Penn State was aware of Sandusky's evilness, the price skyrockets. Let's say there are 20 claims and they average $10 million, so a fair over/under for PSU is $200 million.
We're not going to over think this one:
Derek Dooley — is he dead coach walking (or rolling) or will he be in Knoxville next fall?
Discuss — and if you want to debate the future of Mean Gene Chizik, we're game for that one too.
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 ...