Gang, thanks so much to the slew of you who have offered up kind words for the restart of Press Row. We're going to have UTC hoops coach Will Wade today around 4 p.m., so give us a listen from 3-6 p.m. on ESPN 105.1 FM.
Because of a training session yesterday morning that lasted from 9-noon and the re-debut (is re-debut a word, Spy? If not, well, it should be.) of Press Row we were absent in Monday's comments of the 5-at-10. We will rectify that today.
So, let's do work.
From the "Talks too much" studios, let's pay tribute to the great philosophers of the previous generation, Peaches & Herb, and remember, reunited and it feels so good.
We were debating whether to ask what bowls are the league's teams destined for or a proposed 'what if' question that ultimately altered the landscape of each team's season. The we asked, "Why not both?" Why not indeed.
1. Auburn (11-1 overall, 7-1 SEC)
What if... the Tigers had not rallied to beat Mississippi State in the final 10 seconds in September? This question carries metric tons worth of perspective and hypothetical possibilities. The Tigers' biggest strength has been a steely will and an iron belief and several other metal-themed attributes that have been forged by winning close games, and the first step in that process was paramount. Plus, it was the moment that quarterback Nick Marshall started to step into his role and the big-boy shoes of being the starting QB on an SEC title contender.
Projected bowl match-up: vs. Central Florida in the Sugar, Jan. 2
2. Alabama (11-1, 7-1)
What if... Alabama had a reliable kicker the last four years? Well, the dominance that has been the Tide's dynasty would be even more eye-popping. Alabama has lost three games in the last three years. One was to Johnny Football and the magic Heisman ride Texas A&M was on last year. The other two were by single, game-winning scores to LSU in 2011 and Auburn last Saturday, and each included four missed Bama field goals. Even Harvey Updyke can do the math on those.
Projected bowl matchup: vs. Clemson in the Orange, Jan. 3
3. Missouri (11-1, 7-1)
What if... Missouri had not imploded in the fourth quarter and overtime against South Carolina? The Tigers' one loss came to the Gamecocks with the following caveats: Mizzou led 17-0 in the fourth quarter; Mizzou QB James Franklin was injured; Mizzou's kicker missed two short field-goal tries, one in the fourth quarter that could have sealed the game and one in the second overtime that could have extended the game. Despite all the talk of Auburn's magic and the THE Ohio State's weak schedule, Missouri has every bit the argument to be in the BCS title game as the other Tigers or the Buckeyes.
Projected bowl matchup: vs. Iowa in the Outback, Jan. 1
4. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2)
What if... the Gamecocks had not laid an egg in Knoxville? Man, don't you know that Steve Spurrier is playing and replaying that inexplicable loss over and over in his head. Heck, he may lean up in bed at night, awoken by bad dreams and a cold sweat and scream, "MARQUEZ North." If South Carolina topples UT, Spurrier and the Gamecocks would be getting ready for the SEC title game. Still, the fact that Spurrier has crafted three consecutive 10-win seasons in Columbia only cements his place on the all-time Mount Rushmore of SEC football coaches.
Projected bowl matchup: vs. Wisconsin in the Capital One, Jan. 1
5. LSU (9-3, 5-3)
What if... LSU had not lost close to a dozen underclassmen from last year's team, including nine defensive contributors? The Tigers reload with talented pieces year after year, and winning nine games in the toughest conference in the country having to rebuild a defense and replace 15 starters from a year ago is a testament to the program. That beat will continue next year. In fact, one of the splendid highlights lost in the wake of Michigan going for two and Auburn's second November miracle was LSU needing a 99-yard drive to beat Arkansas in regulation with freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings taking over for the injured Zach Mettenberger last Friday. Johnson delivered, meaning yet again LSU will reload, replacing talent with talent.
Projected bowl matchup: vs. Baylor in the Cotton, Jan. 3
6. Georgia (8-4, 5-3)
What if... well, Georgia is as flush with 'what ifs' as it is peaches and peanuts, so pick one. OK, here's the biggest: What if Todd Gurley had stayed healthy? Gurley is the best running back in college football and he missed a big chunk of the Clemson loss and all of the Missouri and Vandy losses. Despite all the defensive hiccups and head-scratches, Georgia is a completely different team - a top-10 team - with Gurley on the field. Period.
Projected bowl matchup: vs. Michigan in the Gator, Jan. 1
7. Texas A&M (8-4, 5-3)
What if... Johnny Football comes back? Hey, if we're going to play what ifs, let's play. Johnny Football and stud duck receiver Mike Evans, who also is likely to go pro, would be the top tandem in college football - heck, they were for most of this year as it was. That said, Johnny Manziel's return to campus is unlikely, and it makes you wonder about the monster extension Texas A&M gave Kevin Sumlin, considering Sumlin's 18-6 mark in two SEC regular seasons was with the most dynamic player in SEC history on the roster and it netted the Aggies two good but not elite bowl trips.
Projected bowl matchup: vs. Duke in the Chick-Fil-A, Dec. 31
8. Vandy (8-4, 4-4)
What if... James Franklin stays and continues to build on a Vandy program that now has won eight games in back-to-back seasons. Franklin appears content in Nashville and the biggest opening on the market has been filled since USC hired Steve Sarkisian. It's impossible to put a direct gauge on the amazing turnaround that Franklin has orchestrated at Vandy, but here's a good place to start: Didn't we all expect Saturday's come-from-behind win over Wake? And if you think about the past two decades of Vandy football, we all expected them to find a way to get close and lose in emotional fashion. Franklin has changed the fabric of the program in three years. Read that again, and know that Butch Jones would be tickled with that timetable.
Projected bowl matchup: vs. Marshall in the Liberty, Dec. 31
9. Miss State (6-6, 3-5)
What if... the Bulldogs had made a play on the final drive against Auburn? It was so early in the season for two young teams, that that drive spun each program into spirals of season-long vectors in opposite directions. On the reverse of that, what if the Bulldogs had not answered the bell defensively in the Egg Bowl? Well, a loss in the Egg Bowl would have meant coach Dan Mullen would be on the second-hottest SEC coaching seat this side of Gainesville. The Egg Bowl win, however, means Mullen is now the first MSU coach to reach the postseason in four consecutive years and he now is 4-1 against Ole Miss. From the hot seat to sitting pretty in one overtime.
Projected bowl matchup: vs. Houston in the BBVA Compass, Jan. 4
10. Ole MIss (7-5, 3-5)
What if... take your pick with this bunch, good and bad for the Rebels contingent? There's the somewhat surprising wins over Texas and LSU and the disappointing loss to Johnny Football and A&M as Johnny Football did Johnny Football things and the heartbreak that was last week's Egg Bowl. In truth, the Rebels will spend a long while asking what if about the turnover-plagued overtime loss to rival Mississippi State, and right when they stop wondering about the dozen or so way that game could have been different, Mississippi State fans will remind them. Rivalries in college football are great.
Projected bowl matchup: vs. Georgia Tech in the Music City, Dec. 31
11. Florida (4-8, 3-5)
What if... the Gators had drank more milk? Not sure it would have helped, but Mom always said milk made for stronger bones and teeth, and the injury-ravaged Gators were plagued by health concerns every step of the way. And yes, four-win seasons in Gainesville go over like a screaming baby on an airplane, but what team would have been able to survive and thrive with what turned into season-ending injuries for your top two QBs, your best RB, your best receiver, your top two offensive tackles, your best defensive lineman and your best linebacker? So injuries give Will Muschamp a mulligan; but if he does not flip the script to at least eight wins next year, his seat will be nuclear-reactor hot.
12. Tennessee (4-8, 2-6)
What if... Marquez North does not make arguably the best catch of the college football season not involving two Georgia safeties and Auburn wide out Ricardo Louis? North's leaping, one-handed snare amid double coverage against South Carolina was the key piece to the game-winning drive in what turned out to be the second-biggest upset in college football this year. (West Virginia over Oklahoma State ranks as more impactful.) And without that upset win in October, year 1 of the Butch Jones era would have been the worst season ever for UT. So, yeah, that catch was pretty large, even for a 5-7 team that will spend the holidays in the weight room.
13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8)
What if... Jen Bielema had not tweeted out 'Karma' after Wisconsin's tough-luck loss in September, which came of the heels of Arkansas' last win of the season before a nine-game losing streak? In truth, that had zero to do with the Hogs' implosion. Or did it? Karma indeed. We do know this: When you can't top John L. Smith's less than lofty marks from the previous year, well, maybe some mystic forces are at play.
14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8)
What if... Kentucky got John Calipari to be the football recruiting coordinator? Dude can land major talent, and assemble galaxies of stars. In truth, Mark Stoops and Co. are doing fine on the recruiting trail, but not unlike the bunch in Knoxville, the new talent can't get here quickly enough.
Here's the best and worst in the NFL heading into the final quarter of the season:
1) Seattle: The Seahawks manhandled New Orleans on Monday, showing that they are a complete football team and nearly impossible to handle at home. In fact with Russell Wilson at quarterback, the Seahawks are unbeaten in Seattle.
2) Denver: Peyton Manning is on track to rewrite the record books. The book that could carry the most weight, though, is the Farmer's Almanac. Manning's merits this year will be measured how the Broncos fare in the postseason and whether the quarterbacking cosmonaut can handle the moments and the cold in January.
3) New England: Hmmm, a Texans player says he feels like the Patriots were 'spying' on Houston. OK. But maybe, just maybe, the fact that Tom Brady plays for the Patriots and the Texans are in line for the No. 1 overall draft pick may have something to do with the fact that New England rallied to beat Houston. No way, right? Had to be the spying? Where's Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones?
4) New Orleans: Monday's loss at Seattle speaks volumes to the difference between Drew Brees and Co. in the Superdome and outdoors in the elements in a place such as Seattle. And now, being two games and a tiebreaker behind Seattle, the Saints need to worry more about who is in the rearview than who is leading the pack. And in the rearview is...
5) Carolina: The NFL's most complete defense and one of the NFL's biggest game-changing talents have the Panthers looking every bit the part of Super Bowl contender. Plus, the Panthers are very close to the Seahawks in make-up and skill set.
28) Minnesota (projected with the No. 4 overall pick): The Vikings have Adrian Peterson, who passed the 10,000 yard mark this weekend. What would Peterson have accomplished with a QB that forced defenses to respect the pass? Wow.
29) Washington (projected with the No. 5 overall pick, which will go to St. Louis): There are always quick jokes that circulate after tough football moments. Auburn has already made "Hey Nick, got a second?" T-shirts after the Iron Bowl ending. The joke going around Washington right now is that quarterback Robert Griffin III should change his moniker to RG3 and 9 to signify the Redskins' record. And there's a real chance that joke could last all the way to RG 3 and 13.
30) Atlanta (projected with the No. 3 overall pick): The Falcons need to look at Matt Ryan and say, "Matt, the tests have come back and you have a four-week case of the mumps." Or jock itch. Or a four-week hang nail. Pick it and go. The Falcons currently have the No. 3 pick behind two teams starved for a quarterback, meaning the Falcons could get Jadeveon Clowney in this draft. That sounds like a pretty good deal. And Matt, get well soon.
31) Jacksonville (projected with the No. 2 overall pick): The Jags have so many holes it's impossible to see one draft helping. But if they hold on to the No. 1 or 2 pick what would be the odds they roll the dice on Johnny Football? If they draft him he'll be a bust. If they don't he'll be a stud. Ah, the life of being a Jags fan.
32) Houston (projected with the No. 1 overall pick): You have to believe the Matt Schaub era is done in Houston, right? The pick-six series, arguing with the franchise's best all-time player, et al. Houston should look to deal him for a late pick and push their chips in on the QB it feels can be the man.
Two interesting tidbits for Atlanta Braves moved in the last day or so.
First, the Washington Nationals traded for right-hander Doug Fister, who went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA last year. The addition of Fister gives the Nationals the best four-man rotation in the NL, as he replaces Dan Haren and slides into a quartet of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez.
Now for the scary stuff. A monster part of the Braves' current team is arbitration eligible. That means a monster part of the Braves future could be decided on how the Braves approach resigning several stars that comprise the Atlanta core.
Familiar pitching names like Beachey, Minor, Medlen and Kimbrel are part of that arbitration process this offseason. Familiar hitting names like Freeman, Heyward and Chris Johnson also are arbitration-eligible.
Wow. The future is now because the future is uncertain.
- Chipper Jones is not exactly letting by-gones be by-gones. After having to throw the first pitch to the Braves mascot in the playoffs last October because his former teammates were miffed Jones picked the Dodgers to win the series (which the Dodgers did), Jones tweeted this over the weekend about Tim Hudson signing with the Giants: "What if Huddy takes the mound for the first time in SF next yr, and no one is there to catch the 'first pitch'? Maybe the mascot? #karma." Here's saying Jen Bielema believes in karma too Chipper.
- Van Halen is back in the studio with David Lee Roth. If/when Van Halen gets back on the road, they may become the all-time kings of certain concerts' six-word dreaded phrase: "Here's something from the new album."
- After his miracle return that stunned the college football world and beat Alabama, Auburn's Chris Davis received a standing ovation in one of his classes on Monday. Heck, we'd get kudos for just going to class when we were at Auburn. Kudos or looks of, "Hey, who's that guy and where's he been this semester?"
Plain and simple - who should be in the BCS title game and why?