1. Alabama (8-0 overall, 5-0 SEC)
Is there a better annual game in the country than Alabama-LSU? We say no, and it's tough to argue with the cold, hard fact that TFP ace David Paschall pointed out in today's Sports section - including Saturday, the Tide and the Tigers have played four times over the last three years and in each one of those games, the No. 1 team in the country was on the field.
Saturday: vs. LSU, 8 (CBS)
2. Auburn (8-1, 4-1)
Do you want some even better news if you're an Auburn fan than the blissful two months of Tigers football that has been the 2013 season to date? Here are but two items of interest: One ESPN recruiting guru Jeremy Crabtree said this week he thinks Auburn will land a better recruiting class than Georgia or Florida. No. 2, want to guess how many seniors are listed on Auburn's offensive two-deep? Zero. As the surprise factor of the boomerang turnaround of the Gus Bus is starting to fade, the future looks blazingly bright on the Plains. Heck, I dressed up as Gus Malzahn for Halloween for crying out loud.
Saturday: at Tennessee, noon (ESPN)
3. Missouri (8-1, 4-1)
Can we believe in these Tigers? Absolutely. Missouri is built around two fundamental truths that apply to whatever level of football you play. The Tigers exploit match-ups on offense - yes, they ran for 3-bills against Tennessee, but the fact that the Vols had to respect the Tigers' dangerous perimeter guys opened huge running lanes - and they are nasty across the defensive front.
Saturday: at Kentucky, noon (ESPNU)
4. LSU (7-2, 3-2)
Want to know how good LSU is and how loaded that program is? This is officially a rebuilding year for the Tigers, who had to replace 10 defensive players from last year's team. Ah to be a fan of a program that rebuilds in a season that could end with a trip to the Sugar Bowl. And know this, the Pelican State is so flushed with high school football talent, that if LSU keeps half of it in house this year - including No. 1 player in the country, running back Leonard Fournette - the Tigers could have the best recruiting class in the country.
Saturday: at Alabama, 8 (CBS)
5. Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2)
Is Johnny Manziel the Heisman front-runner? Nope, he's not, and it's not because of anything he's done on the field, where he's simply been the best and most entertaining player in the country. In truth, Johnny Football's off-the-field antics aren't even hurting him too much. Nope, Johnny Canadian Football League's Heisman hopes to repeat have been quashed by a) huge interest surges in front-runners Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, two quarterbacks who have their teams in the BCS mix; b) the fact that Johnny Merchandise is chasing the image of last year's roller coaster ride of football frenzy; c) there's avery real chance that Johnny Signature is not even the best player on his team. Receiver Mike Evans is just that good.
Saturday: vs. Mississippi State, 3:30 (CBS)
6. South Carolina (7-2, 5-2)
Is the SEC definition of irony: long-time Kentucky tormenter Steve Spurrier needs the Wildcats to deliver a Bluegrass Miracle, Part Deux against Missouri this weekend? Spurrier, who has whipped more Kentucky hide than Willie Shoemaker and Gary Stevens combined, and the Gamecocks are mired in a crossfire East tiebreaker. Also of note: Spurrier will need Auburn to deliver against Georgia next week, too, which also seems somewhat ironic, since Spurrier famously quipped about a fire at the Auburn library, "It's a shame, too, because some of those books had not been colored in yet."
7. Georgia (5-3, 4-2)
Can we now make an argument that Todd Gurley is the most valuable player in the SEC? Well, if we're going to talk SEC value, there's a fair discussion. Let's see: Johnny Manziel has to be at the table. So does Connor Shaw, the South Carolina quarterback who is the ultimate glue guy. Gurley deserves mention, too, because with all the injuries Georgia has endured, the offense has a completely different feel when he's on the field.
Saturday: vs. Appalachian State, 12:30, (Pay-per-view)
8. Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3)
Want a sneaky Cotton Bowl darkhorse? Hello, Ole Miss, which could easily close with a spring to the finish and win out this month to post a 9-3 record. Year Two of the Hugh Freeze project has been an overwhelming success, and the biggest worry for Colonel Rebel Black Bear fans has to be how high will Mr. Freeze's name rank on some high-profile ADs' list this offseason.
Saturday: vs. Arkansas, 12:21 (WDSI)
9. Florida (4-4, 3-3)
Speaking of ADs coaching lists, it was what, two years ago, that current Florida coach Will Muschamp was the hottest name out there? Yes, Muschamp landed one of the game's plum jobs, but his time in Gainesville has been filled with peaks and valleys. And know this, if the Gators limp to the finish - games against South Carolina and FSU are still ahead - and Florida finishes 6-6, Muschamp will be 24-14 after three years with the Gators. Not bad. After all that's one win better than Ron Zook's 23-14 mark in his three years with Florida.
Saturday: vs. Vandy, noon (Fox Sports)
10. Tennessee (4-5, 1-4)
How orchestrated is UT's recruiting effort right now? Butch and Co. are running a very synchronized effort in which after each bad loss so far this season, somehow, magically, a four-star prospect commits to UT. Hmmmmm? Coincidence? Or planned assembly? Seems a little too brick-by-brick to be happenstance, no? Wonder who will be committing on Sunday? After all the Vols allowed more than 300 yards to Missouri and its back-up quarterback and the Auburn Tigers will bring a top-10 rushing offense nationally to Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
Saturday: vs. Auburn, noon (ESPN)
11. Vandy (4-4, 1-4)
Saturday: at Florida, noon (Fox Sports)
12. Mississippi State (4-4, 1-3)
Saturday: at Texas A&M, 3:30 (CBS)
13. Kentucky (2-6, 0-4)
Saturday: vs. Missouri, noon (ESPNU)
14. Arkansas (3-6, 0-5)
Saturday: at Ole Miss, 12:21 (WDSI)
It's become a common refrain to acknowledge NFL teams are the ultimate fact-driven entity in sports. They are what their record says they are. Period.
And as the Giants have proven in recent years - and even the Packers a few years ago - all you have to do is find an invite to the dance and ride a wave. That can be enough. It can be enough to raise trophies and get trips to Disney and end history, like the Giants did to the Patriots in 2007.
But if the ultimate statement is you are what your record states, if that's the baseline and the bottom line, a quid pro quo of geometry and sabermetrics that converge in parallel universes and perpendicular points of view, the hidden truth in today's NFL is you are no better than your quarterback. Meaning, that the splits in this league make you ask, how good are we at protecting our quarterback, or how much do we trust our back-up quarterback.
Take Monday night for example, when Chicago turned to Josh McCown, who out-dueled Packers replacement Seneca Wallace in a game that could be titanic come December.
So it goes, and so goes the power structure in today's NFL.
1) Kansas City: Unbeaten is unbeaten. And no there will not be an extra charge for that kind of analysis. These Chiefs have flipped the script and are comfortable with the Malcolm X approach to the Generation X NFL. Sure, the rest of the league's elite may be flush with quarterback greatness - although only two of these top five have former No. 1 overall picks at quarterback, and the Chiefs are among them - that proud serves the me generation. The Chiefs? By any means necessary, thank you very much, including last week's 23-13 win in which the Chiefs did not score an offensive touchdown. Former top-pick Alex Smith may be comeback player of the year, but even the most optimistic K.C. does not want him leading too many come-back drives late in fourth quarters.
2) Denver: The top two in the power poll will face off a week from Sunday, and we all expect the Broncos to be at least a touchdown favorite. Side note: Was anyone else expecting the Broncos to come out and issue a statement in the aftermath of head coach John Fox needing heart surgery along the lines of: "We wish coach John Fox the best, and as he recovers, the defense will be handled by Jack Del Rio, and Peyton Manning will continue to oversee the offense and the day-to-day operations of the team."
3) Seattle: Maybe we are overselling the Seahawks, who have struggled against Tampa Bay among others, but that defense combined with the maturing Russell Wilson is enough to give anyone fits.
4) New England: Pssst, look out NFL, Tom Brady's getting the band back together. And with something that resembled his full arsenal of weapons, Brady torched Dick Lebeau and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Heck, here's saying that Brady was reuniting with some many guys he had not seen since training camp that he made them wear name tags in the first half.
5) San Francisco: The 49ers have the league's most talented roster. Period. How talented you ask, well, after activating corner back Eric Wright, San Fran is set to cut former first-rounder Nnamdi Asomugha, who has been an all-pro and is married to TV star Kerry Washington. Hey, we like Kerry Washington.
28) Atlanta: The Falcons stink. And they stink in the worst kind of way. It's one thing to stink when you are expected to stink. Take the Jaguars (please - copyrighted by Shekie Green). Everyone knew they stunk on toast. These Falcons were one play from the Super Bowl last year, and now they are two plays from being winless. Was Matty Ice Ice Baby a one-hit wonder? Discuss.
29) Pittsburgh: The Steelers allowed 55 points to Brady and the Patriots. It was the most ever by the franchise. Read that again. When you are talking about the most or the worst or the what have you about some NFL franchises such as the Packers, Bears or Steelers, you have to realize those teams have been around a long, Long, LONG time. It's not like saying it's the most points Tampa Bay or Carolina has allowed. Wow.
30) Minnesota: Are they still here? Let's just move along. Seriously, what's the offensive coaching staff meeting like when they review the quarterback film and try to decide between a starter among the Moe-Larry-Curly trio that is Matt (Moe) Cassel, Josh (Larry) Freeman and Curly Christian Ponder? Do you think the Minnesota offensive coaches have set aside time to work on their resumes in the work day or do they do that at home?
31) Tampa Bay: The Bucs pushed all their chips in for a hard-fought, spirit-crunching loss at Seattle. Here's saying the Bucs lose this week by three touchdowns (and we're not even sure who or if they play, but we'd take Bye -15 over Tampa right now).
32) Jacksonville: Hey, let's be nice. We know the Jags stink, and to coin Stewart Smalley, that's OK. On the bright side, the mess for the other Florida team - wow, Miami, you got some issues - is way worse than being bad on Sundays in the fall.
Baseball's deadline to make qualifying offers to free agents passed Monday. It is important to know that these qualifying offers are one-year, $14.1 million deals that serve as an option to players and give the franchise draft-pick compensation if any of these players leave for a new team. (Any team that signs one of these 13 players this offseason would have to send a first-round pick to his former club, unless that pick was in the top 10, then it would be a second-round pick.)
Here are the names that received qualifying offers from their current teams:
Brian McCann, Braves
Stephen Drew, Red Sox
Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
Mike Napoli, Red Sox
Robinson Cano, Yankees
Curtis Granderson, Yankees
Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees
Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians
Ervin Santana, Royals
Nelson Cruz, Rangers
Kendrys Morales, Mariners
Carlos Beltran, Cardinals
Shin-Soo Choo, Reds
None of these names are surprising, and in the case of some of the higher-profile guys such as Cano or Ellsbury, the draft-pick compensation is an after thought.
Whether that means anything for McCann's value on the open market will remain to be seen.
Some of the noteworthy names not on this list are a slew of starting pitchers that will be interesting to follow as unrestricted free agents. There's former Braves ace Tim Hudson, A.J. Burnett, Ricky Nolasco, Matt Garza, Josh Johnson and Bartolo "Kool-Aid" Colon (Side note: The 5-at-10 has a large melon, literally and figuratively, but have you seen the size of Colon's nogging? E-gads. He makes the "Hey, Kool-Aid" pitcher look like a normal dude. Colon's A's hat looks like a green yamaka or maybe one of those clown lids after the propeller fell off. Dude should petition MLB to be the first player to wear a visor for crying out loud.)
Also among the free agents to be is 25-year-old Masahiro Tanaka, a superstar in Japan who went 24-0 with a 1.27 over there last year.
- Miami has suspended guard Richie Incognito indefinitely, and the stories of intimidation and racism that are coming from the Miami locker room are starting to build and pick up steam. This feels like one of those incidents that will only get worse before it starts to turn and likely will cost about every one there job on South Beach. Not good times. Bad times.
- Oregon speed back D'Anthony Thomas said the Ducks are going to hang '40' on Stanford on Thursday. OK, big boy, you pushed your chips in, it's time to back it up. (Side note: We believe the Ducks will back it up. Big time.)
- The AP All-America team was announced Monday, and none of the Kentucky Wildcats super kids made the cut. Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart was a unanimous pick and he was joined on the first team by Louisville Russ Smith, Kansas super frosh Andrew Wiggins, Creighton's father time Doug McDermott and Michigan's Mitch McCary. And we'll beat Chas9 to the punch and say we'll take any entertainment wager that, barring injury, Kentucky super frosh Julius Randle will be on the postseason All-American team.
- The Lady Mocs rallied to edge Lee last night in exhibition hoops action. We trust that a good time was had by all.
- We talked last week about the death of Marcia Wallace, who most recently was on the Simpsons. Here's the Simpsons' classy and understated yet emotional good-bye to Wallace, who was the voice of Bart Simpson's teacher, Mrs. Krabappel.
Free flow Tuesday is back. Pull the string on whatever you have and fire both barrels.
Here's the starter for today's discussion: With a monster weekend on the college football ledger, which game between Alabama-LSU, Oregon-Stanford and Baylor-Oklahoma will be the best?
Also, which of the unbeaten trio above has the best chance to lose?
We are late for a seminar - yes we have the TPS reports to prove it, too - so we'll fill in the other SEC asked and answered later and be back around 2 with another question.