Buckle up gang, there's a lot to cover. From the "Talks too much" studios, here we go...
With a quick and impressive 2-0 start, your Tennessee Vols are back in the Top 25 (No. 23 with a bullet, Mr. Dufresne if you please). They are back in the national picture (ESPN GameDay is coming to town Saturday). And they are back staring at a familiar hurdle to bigger plans and bigger dreams.
The Gators are Tennessee's Newman. No matter the start, there they are, waiting and looming. Sure, Vols fans may hate Alabama more, but Florida is bigger because it's in the East. And a win Saturday sets the dominoes in place for a 4-0 trip to Athens, G-A with a world of possibilities.
But you can never look past the Gators, that's especially true for a Tennessee team that has not beaten Florida since 2004 - the last time UT started 3-0.
Certainly, this is not your prototypical Florida team, cut in an offensive shadow of fear and arrogance. There is no Fun-n-Gun or Spread-and-Tebow-upside-the-head. This bunch is young and defensively salty and - as always - supremely athletic.
Florida's impressive win at Texas A&M was paramount for the program and second-year coach Will Muschamp, who has a great deal in common with UT coach Derek Dooley, up to and including yielding the SEC's hottest chair to campuses in Auburn, Lexington and Fayetteville.
So it's Florida and its quick-twitch defense against Tennessee's high-flying passing game.
It's Florida and Tennessee with something on the line. That's how it's supposed to be.
Winner: Dan Mullen, the Mississippi State coach who officially put to rest the nagging stat that he had never beaten an SEC West team other than Ole Miss. The Bulldogs pounded Auburn 28-10 in a game that was amazingly not that close.
Loser: Gene Chizik, the Auburn coach who is going to grow forever tired of the following stat: In his three years and two games at Auburn, Chizik is 30-12 - that's 16-12 without Cam Newton and 14-0 with Cam Newton, who produced the single greatest college football season ever in Auburn's 2010 national title. We do not believe Chizik should be on the hot seat (winning a national title should get you some cushion) but to pretend there are not a lot of unhappy Auburn fans is foolish. Consider this: Auburn is 0-2 and still has Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas on the schedule. The Tigers will be fortunate to go 6-6 and make it to the Music City Bowl.
Winner: Spouses of Auburn fans. Consider how much extra time you'll have with your significant other since the season has become tough to watch. How bad was Saturday against Mississippi State? Auburn's offense was more productive in the 2008 Mississippi State game. Yes, Auburn's offense was better four years ago in the 3-2 win.
Loser: John L. Smith, the soon-to-be former Arkansas coach who watched as starting quarterback Tyler Wilson was injured and the Louisiana-Monroe Skyhawks beat the Razorbacks 34-31 in overtime. Arkansas went from No. 8 in the country to unranked - the biggest fall since Michigan went from No. 5 to unranked by losing to Appalachian State in 2007. Two side notes: One, it took Michigan five years to recover from that loss. Two, Louisiana-Monroe is headed to Auburn this weekend, and as poorly as Auburn played, if the Tigers are favored by more than 12, take the points and the money and run. As Gordon Gekko said, "Greed is good." Heck, this time next week, the La.-Monroe Skyhawks may be leading the SEC West at 2-0. Thanks John L.
Winner: Bobby Petrino, unemployed coach. With all the head scratching and head banging and headaches around the league and the country for programs that expect to be way better than their current product on the field, Petrino and all his baggage will get another shot next year and he may have choices. Heck, look at the growing list of warming seats:
• Bo Pelini, who has kind of flat-lined at Nebraska and is hearing whispers after the Huskers' loss at UCLA;
• Al Golden, who took Miami to Manhattan, Kan., and got thumped by Kansas State;
• Joker Phillips, who is a shoe-in for an Oscar nod in his portrayal of Dead Coach Walking;
• John L. Smith. Actually, Smith, the coach who replaced Petrino and signed a 10-month deal, is gone at year's end. His fate was so sealed by the Skyhawks, his seat is no longer hot - it's disinterested. (And here's saying a majority of Arkansas fans we know would take Petrino back today, and could bring as many volleyball players as he needed.)
Loser: Alabama-beat reporters. Nick Saban's bunch is so good and so much better than everyone else right now, Saban needs to find controversy. Hello beat guys, who Saban has blamed for distractions, under-respecting opponents, not doing their jobs and a potential role in the Kennedy assassinations. (We made that last one up, but the season's not over yet.)
Winners: THE Ohio State and Notre Dame. Yep, power programs who are 2-0 and in the conversation again. Sure, THE Buckeyes are in NCAA timeout but they are going to be a player for a while, considering Urban Meyer had success in the SEC, so being good in the Big Ten will be a cakewalk. (Side question: What kind of logo is B1G? Seriously? That is almost as silly as "Legends" and "Leaders." Notice we said almost.)
Losers: Area fans of Auburn, UTC and Vandy. That's three teams that had high hopes coming into 2012, and nine days into the season, each is bagel-and-2 and looking at some tall games down the road. Each of the three lost seasonal "swing" games Saturday.
Winner: The Georgia Bulldogs and coach Mark Richt, who survived some speed bumps and suspensions and are still 2-0. Yes, the 5-at-10 liked them before the game, even though they were not among our picks. That said, the Fab 4 picks plus 1 went 4-1 last week with winners on Florida, Ohio State (by a half-point), Stanford (by a ton of points) and Cincy (by a ton of points). We lost on UNC, which could be this year's Clemson.
We will continue our NFL review on Tuesday's during the season, but we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the pleasure and passion and near-perfection that Peyton Manning delivered Sunday night.
All the work and worry, the drive and dedication, the labor and love that went into Manning's comeback came full circle.
And for every non-Steelers fan watching, it was hard not to be impressed.
Manning's numbers were fine - he threw for 253 yards and two TDs, including the 400th and 401st of his Hall of Fame career - but the fact that he was so Manning-esque after missing all of 2011 and going more than 600 days between starts was incredible.
It was not lost on Manning, either, the reserved quarterback who is normally as quotable as your power bill.
"It's just one game. I try to keep it in perspective," Manning told the AP. "I know how hard I've worked to get to this point. I know how much help that I've gotten along the way, from a lot of people. I'm very grateful for that. It's special. I will definitely say it's special."
Welcome back Peyton, NFL Sundays are better with you on the field.
- And while we're speaking briefly about the NFL, wow, how about that RGIII? Big-time debut. Huge in fact.
- How about the Nationals pulling the plug on Stephen Strasburg a start earlier than scheduled? And saying it was because of mental fatigue? If we're Strasburg, we're pulling someone aside and having a spirited chat about this. In essence, the organization is saying, "Yes, we know our future ace needs to go easy on his arm... AND we believe he needs a mental break from this big, bad, pennant racey. He'll have some juice boxes and a nap and we'll see you in the spring."
- Your Atlanta Braves are 5.5 games back of the Nationals in the NL East with 21 games to play. With three games against the Nats this weekend in the A-T-L, it's doable, tough, but doable. The Braves have won five in a row and hold the top wildcard spot by 5.5 games over St. Louis. In fact, Chipper ended his love/hate/hammer relationship with the New York Mets on Sunday and here's saying you didn't notice much of it with football everywhere. That's OK, that's why we're here. Side note: Jones ended his career with the third-most homers for a visiting player against the Mets ever, behind Willie Stargell and Mike Schmidt.
- NASCAR heads to the playoffs with Jeff Gordon sliding into the postseason. The points have been reset and here's your top 12 (the points are reshuffled to reward drivers who had the most wins during the regular season):
1) Denny Hamlin 2012
T2) Jimmie Johnson 2009
T2) Tony Stewart 2009
T2) Brad Keselowski 2009
T5) Greg Biffle 2006
T5) Clint Bowyer 2006
T7) Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2003
T7) Matt Kenseth 2003
T9) Kevin Harvick 2000
T9) Martin Truex Jr. 2000
T9) Kasey Kahne 2000
T9) Jeff Gordon 2000
- Serena Williams is the second best female tennis player ever behind Martina. And in truth, each in their prime Serena vs. Navratilova would do something that we did not think was possible: It would make the 5-at-10 interested in female tennis.
- Rory McIlroy was on target and in the money ($1.4 million for winning) this weekend. Rory appears primed and pumped for the stretch run. And we're still holding out hope that he and Tiger are the final group in the Ryder Cup with the outcome in doubt. Giddy-up.
Gang, it's definitely a free-skate Monday. That's right, pick your pleasure and do it to your old-school skating rink jam.
Need a starter? OK, here's three:
- As a fan, is your team losing a heartbreaker like UTC did better or worse than getting pounded like Auburn did? (And yes, that's "Car Wash" playing in the background at the skating rink.)
- Can you recall a weekend with more interesting and meaningful sports happening? (Why yes, that is Blonde playing in the background.)
- We talked about the quarterback Rushmore last week, and if you feel the need to share your top four QBs ever go right ahead. Here's a different question, what's the best stat to grade a quarterback? Super Bowl wins? TD passes? Yards? Here are the top six in touchdown passes:
Brett Favre - 508
Dan Marino - 420
Peyton Manning - 401
Fran Tarkenton - 342
Tom Brady - 302
John Elway - 300
(And we'll close the free skate with "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen, which is probably playing in a skating rink somewhere at this very moment.)