Gang, the mailbag is open.
From the "Talks too much" studios, Provo, Spain? Provo, Utah.
1) Alabama (8-0 overall, 5-0 SEC)
How great has AJ McCarron been? The Tide are awash in talent to be sure, but the value and improvement of their senior quarterback is staggering. His numbers are off the charts both in a team sense (dude is 34-2 as a starter for crying out loud and on tack to lead his team to their third consecutive SEC title and BCS title shot) and efficiency standpoint (he has a career 65-11 TD-to-inteception ratio). With what could be six more games left in his Alabama career if the Tide when the West, McCarron needs a touch less than 2,200 passing yards to get to 10,000 for his career, and his numbers are tapered considerably since he seldom plays all of the second half and even less frequently needs to throw in the final two quarters. It's really time to start listing AJ among the best quarterbacks in the history of the SEC and college football in general.
2) Auburn (7-1, 3-1)
How high is the ceiling for the Tigers? Auburn controls its SEC destiny, but the road is anything but smooth. Road trips to Arkansas and Tennesse will be followed by home games against Georgia and Alabama, but the discussion of ceilings and possibilities compared to the sinking ship that was the USS Chizik this time last year only magnifies the dramatic turnaround engineered by Gus Malzahn and Co. That turnaround is made even more eye-popping considering the only prominent new starter on offense is junior college quarterback Nick Marshall.
Saturday: at Arkansas, 6 (ESPN2)
3) Missouri (7-1, 3-1)
How painful was that double-overtime loss Saturday night against? Off the charts, considering what was at stake and what could have been. And it was made even more painful by Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett missing a potential game-sealing field goal in the fourth quarter and a 24-yard chippie that would have forced a third OT. Ouch.
Saturday: vs. Tennessee, 7 (ESPN)
4) LSU (7-2, 3-2)
Will the Tigers be ready for their trip to T-Town? We hope so because LSU and Alabama are most likely the most talented teams in the country. Yes, FSU is in that discussion, but the Tigers and the Tide are scary talented. The bigger question, though, is whether Zach Mettenberger is ready. Good Mettenberger means LSU can be special; bad Metteneberger means LSU can be ordinary. Ask Ole Miss.
5) Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2)
Which is more eye-popping, Johnny Football's off-the-charts to the good football talents or his off-the-charts to the bad obtuseness? Johnny Manziel, the reigning Heisman winner with the big-time nickname and the bigger-time game, has been a treat on Saturdays on the field. Off it, he continues to be one headache after another for the Aggies program. His latest run-in was an admittedly tongue-in-check interview about how he wants to party with Rob Gronkowski, Charlie Sheen and Tiger Woods — three celebrities who have been linked to adult-entertainment stars in recent years. Johnny Football, love the game and hate the mouth. At some point, doesn't this start to scare NFL talent evaluators? Seriously.
Saturday: vs. UTEP, 9 (ESPN)
6) South Carolina (6-2, 4-2)
How gutsy is Connor Shaw? Dude is a flat player. Period. In fact, after coming off the bench and ignoring the pain to rally South Carolina with 17 consecutive fourth-quarter to tie the game in regulation in the Gamecocks' double-overtime win at Missouri, Shaw was named the national player of the year. Also know this — Shaw may not test well at the combine and his 'arm strength' will be questioned, but who would you rather have as a back-up quarterback right now than the gritty, gutty Connor Shaw, who single-handedly saved USC's season late last Saturday night.
Saturday: vs. Mississippi State, 12:21 (WDSI)
7) Georgia (4-3, 3-2)
Will Todd Gurley be 100 percent in the game formerly known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party? You have to believe he will play, and that fact along will offer a Georgia offense that was among the nation's best in September a much-needed jolt of energy. Even if Gurley is at 80 percent, well, 80 percent of Todd Gurley is better than 100 percent of almost everyone else.
Saturday: vs. Florida, 3:30 (CBS)
8) Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3)
Will the Rebels be New Year's Day bowling? It sure looks that way, considering Ole Miss's toughest test left is a home date against Missouri. Ole Miss likely will be favored in its remaining four games — all of which are in the state of Mississippi — and a 9-3 finish could land the Rebels a holiday in Florida.
9) Florida (4-3, 3-2)
Is Will Muschamp on the hot seat? No, according to Jeremy Foley, the Florida AD who was forced to answer that very questions this week. Muschamp did win 11 games last year and had the best regular-season resume of any team in the country. Still, the fact that the AD has to answer hot-seat questions is really more 'yes' than anything the AD says.
Saturday: vs. Georgia, 3:30 (CBS)
10) Tennessee (4-4, 1-3)
Has Tennessee overachieved? That's a tough one to answer coming off a landslide loss at Alabama — but suffering landslide losses in Tuscaloosa are as common lately on SEC Saturdays as Golden Flakes, Jack and Cokes and Bar-B-Q. In truth, Tennessee likely has overachieved, considering the win over South Carolina was a surprise to most. Of course the same could be said of the next two UT opponents — Missouri and Auburn. A split in November and bowl plans, considering UT will have played seven-ranked foes and likely faced six when they were in the top 15, qualifies as success.
Saturday: at Missouri, 7 (ESPN)
11) Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4)
The Commodores need the by week desperately, especially to let quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels heal. Yes, we believe these 'Dores are still a bowl team if they can split the final four — trips to Florida and Tennessee and home games against Kentucky and Wake Forest. And yes, we believe Carta-Samuels is one of the better hyphenated SEC names since BenJarvis Green-Ellis graduated.
12) Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2)
Are the Bulldogs ready to rally? It seems highly doubtful, at least in the coming days. Mississippi State has won three of its last four, but since the Bulldogs play in the SEC, everyone has a gauntlet they have to scale. This is MSU, which in the next three weeks will go to No. 14 South Carolina and to No. 12 Texas A&M and welcome No. 1 Alabama. Ouch-standing. The Bulldogs' bowl hopes likely hinge on sweeping the last two at Arkansas and Ole Miss. Some where Dan Mullen shakes his head and looks over his resume.
Saturday: at South Carolina, 12:21 (WDSI)
13) Kentucky (1-6, 0-4)
What's left to play for with the bowl push all but done? After last week's hard-fought 28-22 loss to Mississippi State, UK would have to win out to qualify for the postseason, and that seems unlikely. Kind of like you winning the lottery unlikely. So what's left? Two monster things: First, there's the pride that these Cats have displayed from the start. Second, there is job security and positional positioning to worry about, considering Mark Stoops and Co. are recruiting their visors off. If you want to enter spring with a a leg up on the talented wave of newcomers who have committed to UK, buckle up boys.
Saturday: vs. Alabama State, 7:30 (FSN)
14) Arkansas (3-5, 0-4)
Is Bret Bielema crazy like a fox or just crazy? We'll see Saturday when the No. 11-ranked Auburn Tigers come to Fayetteville. Arkansas has lost five straight and is on the wrong side of a 104-0 run in its last two games. Some folks may want to have a high-flying, over-achieving opponent such as Auburn to come in over-looking a team in Arkansas' spot. Not Bielema, who continued to stir the soldering stew that is his war of words with first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. After the two traded shots at SEC media days about the speed of Auburn's offense and again early in the season about Auburn coaches releasing injury information on the Hogs players, Bielema said the tape AU sent Arkansas from last week was not the same as version he watched on TV and filed a report with the league office. Only adds to the drama for Arkansas-native Malzahn's return to the Natural State. Giddy-up.
Saturday: vs. Auburn,
NFL Power Poll
The NFL is a results-driven league above all others, this upon which there is no debate. Injuries are part of the mix. So are bad bounces and good breaks. Everyone's schedules are different and their goals are the same.
The other long-standing axiom of the modern-day NFL is that it's a quarterback-driven league. This is true only to a point. Granted the better teams have answers rather questions at the most important position in team sports. Some even have brilliant answers that fit almost every question — answers like the parental "I said so," or when discussing classical music just smiling, nodding and saying, "Ah, Beethoven."
But the line between great quarterback answer and a quarterback answer that actually leaves questions is fine and more times than not divided by a season or two. And amazingly, it's the younger QBs that allow for more answers because in the salary-cap driven NFL, good-but-not-great QBs who ask for and get franchise-altering money consume a large percentage of the salary cap that limits teams' ability to fill needs and address depth.
So, as the NFL moves forward, if you have a Luck, a Rodgers, a Manning or a Brady, uou hang on to them and break the bank to do so over the long haul. But maximizing a team's winning window before a quarterback asks for cap-consuming coin is paramount, cases in point — the Ravens winning it before Joe Flacco became Joe Paycheck and the Falcons mortgaged the farm to sign Matt Ryan.
Look at the quarterback situations of some the league's elite teams. They are either elite quarterbacks that make elite plays or they are good QBs who are still in their team-friendly first contracts or they are solid QBs surrounded by talent and depth in a host of areas.
For quarterbacks, being good is enough to get a great contract. Ask Matt Stafford or Ryan or Jay Cutler. For teams, good quarterbacks that get a great percentage of the salary cap can be difficult around which to build.
1) Kansas City: Yep, the Chiefs continue to hold the top spot at 8-0. So does this mean Alex Smith is better than Manning or Brady or Brees? Of course not. It proves the model that building around a pretty good QB can lead to great results. It also proves that being elite at quarterback is the game's No. 1 goal, but getting to the opposing quarterback — something the Chiefs doing better than everyone else — is a pretty close second.
2) Denver: Here is the build-for-now model. Denver added Peyton and augmented him with young players and free agents who took less in an effort to win. It has worked on each level, and the Broncos are only going to get better as Von Miller and some of the missing defensive pieces get back in the fold. The records may say otherwise, but we all know Denver will be favored when it faces Kansas City next week.
3) Seattle: Despite Monday's debacle against a Kellen Clemens-quarterback Rams team, the Seahawks are legit. They are 7-1 and have Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Minnesota in the next three weeks. They also are the prototype to the build around the quarterback and hope to ride a cheap, young player with promise. How long Russell Wilson remains cheap, though, is what limits Seattle's window.
4) New Orleans:The Saints are pointed nose-to-nose with the Seahawks. Each is dominant at home and each is dominant on one side and getting better on the other. The Saints identified their QB and built around him — adding valuable parts like Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham on the cheap. The NFC playoffs are going to be fun.
5) San Francisco:Colin Kaepernick will be a supremely interesting test case in a few years when he re-ups. Will San Fran — a team loaded with arguably the best roster Nos. 1-53 in the league — sacrifice talent and depth to keep a running QB with a high ceiling but high-bust potential? It will also be interesting to see which teams reach into the 2014 quarterback draft pool, which Mel Kiper says is the deepest in recent memory.
28) Atlanta: Here's example Numero Uno of the quarterback cap-eater. Matt Ryan is signed through the next five years. That's the good news. The bad is that to keep playmakers around him, the defense has been gutted. The worse news is that when injuries happen to those playmakers — Julio Jones, please get well, signed the City of Atlanta — there is little hope. Atlanta is 2-5 and likely will be favored in just two — at Tampa and at home against Washington — of its final nine games.
29) Pittsburgh: Here's example 1B on the broken model of signing a quarterback to the huge deal and sacrificing depth and playmakers to get under the cap. Big Ben Roethlisberger earned that big paycheck with two Super Bowl rings, but the current Steelers are much closer to the No. 1 overall pick than being No. 1 because of the cap-eating space of his deal. Big Ben, indeed.
30) Minnesota: The Vikings are a turnstile at QB, having used former first-rounders Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman and former Pro Bowler Matt Cassel in starting roles this year. And there still are questions after Sunday's 44-31 loss to Green Bay that was made respectable by two Vikings TDs in the final five minutes and a 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by former Vols star Cordarrelle Patterson.
31) Tampa Bay: The Bucs were routed last week by the Panthers in a game that was worse than the 31-13 final. It also raised extreme questions about the future of Greg Schiano in Tampa. Schiano, the former Rutgers coach who is on the hottest of seats in the NFL, is the latest former college hot shot who has found tough sledding on Sundays. Here's saying Schiano is axed before the season and will find a nice gig at a major college quickly.
32) Jacksonville: Here is the perfect convergence of being bad at quarterback — when your choices are Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne, you need to start looking for different questions — and being bad everywhere else. There's a poll question on the team website that asks what the Jags should focos on most during the off week, offense, defense or special teams? Wonder if this a poll for interest or if the coaching staff needs the input. Wow. Think Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is already scouting apartments in the greater Jacksonville area.
The Red Sox made the most of a few scattered hits. David Ortiz is playing the part of Reggie Jackson. Playoff beards are becoming a fall accessory like brown shoes and pullover windbreakers.
We talked some earlier this baseball season about the role of the closer and how modern evidence can be used for a manger to use his closer in the eighth or the seventh or the ninth, and that a game can be saved without officially being saved.
This move would be embraced by the stat-jockeys that think Moneyball is the Bible and MIT education is better than graduating from the school of hard knocks. And that's OK.
It would be loathed by guys that view the game with gut instincts steering the ship and embrace 'the book' as the guide, a forged collection of memories and theories and time-tested values that, in some ways, was written many moons ago by the then-stat-monkeys who believed in the Lord, that the sun rises in the East and play the lefty-righty matchups whenever possible.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny went against that book in the Cards' 3-1 Game 5 loss Monday that put the Red Sox on the brink of another world title.
Matheny left starter Adam Wainwright on the mound to face lefty Jacoby Ellsbury, who delivered the final RBI with a two-out single.
In sports, decisions are second-guessed based on outcome. That's how it goes. Matheny eschewed 'the book' and stuck with his ace even though he had a lefty ready in the pen. It didn't work. His team is one more loss from being the first loser.
And you can book that, Dan-O.
This and that
— Amid the roller coaster/dumpster fire that has become Nebraska football the story comes out now that 15-year-veteran-starting-quarterback Taylor Martinez is battling a litany of injuries. Of course, the most recent is a hip injury, which seems to plague the elderly in every walk of life. Hope Taylor has updated his AARP.
— On a serious note — shut it Spy — while Nebraska's loss to Minnesota last week add fuel to the fire under Bo Pelini's seat, Texas has circled the wagons around head coach Mack Brown. The Longhorns have won four straight and control their destiny in the Big 12.
— Got any suggestions for the best sports Halloween costumes? Right now we're leaning toward taking the 5-at-10 tots to the rough and tumble streets of Signal Mountain dressed as Gus Malzahn. We can pull off the visor for sure.
— Tip of the Tam O'Shanter to Stewwie who pointed out the elephant in the room that the Brandel Chamblee flap with Tiger Woods could actually help The Golf Channel. It makes us think of the great line in the Howard Stern movie (good movie by the way) about how his fans listen for 20 minutes and the folks that hate him listen for 30 minutes — both saying they want to hear what he says next.
The NBA starts today. We're stoked. If LeBron played for the Hawks, would the Hawks be the favorite in the Eastern Conference?
Bad Grandpa debuted as the No. 1 movie at the box office. We feel pretty confident that it will not be nominated for best picture, and that's OK. What's your guilty pleasure comedy movie?
UT is facing QB questions because of Justin Worley's injured thumb and the promise of the freshmen. Who do you think takes the first snap Saturday — Worley, Josh Dobbs or Riley Ferguson?
We'll cover this more manana, but what are you expecting out of the Mocs this weekend?
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 ...