Gang, strong effort Tuesday. Remember the mailbag Friday, and we're looking at going with 10 questions and shorter answers, so fire away.
From the "Talks too much" studios, let's flip the switch.
Rupp Arena is a cool, special place. Fans that know the game. Fans that know how to lift their team and affect the opponent. (Side note: Former UT hoops standout Dane Bradshaw is a regular on Tuesdays on SportTalk on 102.3 ith Quake, Joe and Dr. B, who is a doctor after all, and last night he was talking about Rupp. It's almost always interesting stuff if you have the chance to tune in.)
Well, as magical as Rupp can be for fans, it's part jail sentence, part root canal for opposing teams.
Ask the Tennessee Vols, who scrapped and fought and dug in for a tug-of-war that featured glimpses of what Kentucky could be and what we hoped the Tennessee would be. It also featured more than a slideshow of the limitations on the Wildcats and the Vols
Tennessee played hard — Jordan McRae is performing at an All-SEC level; sophomore Jarnell Stokes is assuredly not — and had the lead at 54-53 with less than eight minutes to play.
Despite shooting 14 fewer free throws — hey it's Rupp and it's a special place after all — the Vols were in position to make the home crowd especially nervous in the final minute. Down 71-65 with 43 seconds left, Josh Richardson drew an offensive foul on Julius Mays that somehow was deemed a flagrant foul for swinging elbows.
So Richardson stepped to the line for two shots with the Vols getting the ball too. Richardson's first free throw missed everything and with the air ball the air was sucked from the Vols.
So it goes. A good effort but another loss — the Vols' fourth in a row — in what appears more and more to be a lost season.
Falcons vs. 49ers
We started Tuesday breaking down the Falcons-49ers NFC title game by comparing the quarterbacks on Tuesday. Matty "Ice, Ice Baby" Ryan had the QB edge and the one-hit wonder rap song edge over Colin Kaepernick, who looks a lot like Humpty from Digital Underground.
Today, let's look everywhere else. Deal? Deal.
Atlanta has the artist formerly known as Michael Turner, who showed some life in the win over Seattle, and change-of-pace runner Jacquizz Rodgers; San Francisco has Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon, but its best runner is likely Kaepernick
Edge: 49ers, slightly
Atlanta has the best pass-catching trio in the NFL with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez; the 49ers have one of the best ever in Randy Moss, who contributes little beyond blocking and decoy patterns, and some young, emerging talent with Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis.
Edge: Falcons by a bunch
The Falcons have been better than expected; the 49ers are as good as advertised and feature four first-round picks on the offensive line.
Another area that has surprised Falcons followers, especially since John Abraham has remained healthy and the front four delivered 20.5 sacks in the regular season; the 49ers have the Smith Bros. — Justin and Aldon (no relation) — in a group that has been able to create pressure without blitzing, which could be huge Sunday.
Atlanta has a future star in Sean Weatherspoon, and Stephen Nicholas is dependable, and Akeem Dent has been much improved in the last two months; San Fran has Patrick Willis, who many consider to be the game's best linebacker, and Navarro Bowman, who may be playing better than Willis.
The Falcons spent a lot of money shoring up this group, a move that has paid dividends all year; the 49ers have a slew of first-rounders in their back four, including busts-turned-booms Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner.
Looking at the rosters, the 49ers are more talented and a more complete football team. Maybe that's why they are the largest road favorite ever in a conference title game.
One of the reasons is the river of first-rounders San Francisco has acquired, be them its own pick or acquired otherwise. Here are the 49ers who were picked in the first round:
QB Alex Smith (1st overall in 2005); WR Michael Crabtree (10th overall in 2009); WR AJ Jenkins (30th overall in 2012); WR Ted Ginn (9th overall in 2007); Carlos Rogers (9th overall in 2005); Donte Whitner (8th overall in 2006); Patrick Willis (11th overall in 2007); Leonard Davis (2nd overall in 2001); Joe Staley (28th overall in 2007); Anthony Davis (11th overall in 2010); Mike Iupati (17th overall in 2010); Randy Moss (21st overall in 1998); Vernon Davis (6th overall in 2006); Justin Smith (4th overall in 2001); Aldon Smith (7th overall in 2011).
That's 15 first-rounders on the roster, or roughly 30 percent of the 53-man roster.
All totaled, there were 74 underclassmen who declared for the NFL drafts. Players have until Friday to change their minds.
There were 32 players from the SEC. Of the teams projected to contend for the 2013 BCS title, only Oregon did not lose any underclassmen.
The draft class is rich in pass-rushers, running backs and wide receivers. That means there will be good value in the middle-to-back-part of the first round.
It is short on shutdown corners and quarterbacks — only two junior quarterbacks (Tyler Bray and Eastern Washington's Kyle Padron) declared for the draft. That means Kansas City is left with minimal value with the No. 1 overall pick (although left tackle Luke Joeckel could be a franchise guy) and Dee Milliner is going to make a lot of coin.
Barring any last-minute withdrawals, here are the SEC players leaving early:
Alvin Bailey, G, Arkansas
Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Matt Elam, S, Florida
Chris Faulk, OT, LSU
Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Michael Ford, RB, LSU
Kwame Geathers, NT, Georgia
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida
Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn
Bennie Logan, DT, LSU
Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Barkevious Mingo, LB, LSU
Kevin Minter, LB, LSU
Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Jordan Reed, TE, Florida
Eric Reid, S, LSU
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Darrington Sentimore, DE, Tennessee
Tharold Simon, CB, LSU
Spencer Ware, RB, LSU
Brad Wing, P, LSU
This and that
— Wow, how about the stories that are surfacing about how big of a jerk Lance Armstrong was/is? This has nothing to do with doping or PEDs or what have you. We never understood why some of the people who have the world by the string act like that. Is it that hard to be decent to folks? Really?
— Cam Newton is headed back to Auburn to finish his degree. Hey, a whole bunch of us needed several "extra" years to finish Auburn. Cough. Cough. It's the Harvard of Lee County you know.
— Jason Heyward was among the 133 players who filed for arbitration according to MLB. Heyward messed around and posted a pretty stellar 2012 (27 HRs and 82 RBIs). Five other Braves — Kris Medlen, Jonny Venters, Martin Prado, Eric O'Flaherty and Cristhian Martinez — filed for arbitration. Expect each of them to get raises, and it will be interesting to see which of this group the Braves try to lock up long term.
— LeBron James needs 18 points tonight to become the fastest to 20,000 career NBA points.
— Wow, tough loss for Vandy last night when Ole Miss scoring-machine, trash-talking-machine Marshall Henderson drilled a 35-footer at the buzzer to force overtime in the Rebels' 89-79 win. Henderson finished with 26 points, and likely told everyone in Memorial Gym about each of them. That said, when UT and Vandy play, is it possible for each of them to lose?
As always, feel free to chime in, but if you need a talking point, well, here are a few:
Which SEC underclassmen will be the best NFL player? Well, other than Darrington Sentimore of course.
Bigger disappointment right now: Kentucky's freshman class or Jarnell Stokes?
If you are the Braves, who do you go after long term — Prado, Heyward or Medlen, and let's guesstimate that Prado would be five years for $80 million; Heyward would be five years for $100 million and Medlen would be five years for $60 million?
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 ...