5-at-10: College football's three-year cycle, college hoops big night and Michael J. Fox

5-at-10: College football's three-year cycle, college hoops big night and Michael J. Fox

November 13th, 2013 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

How'd we get to this day so quickly. You know what day it is. Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike.

Remember Friday's mailbag - we have a strong start but we're always looking for more - and fire away in the comments.

We're taking a little bit of a different spin today, so here we go.

From the "Talks too much" studios, who's the better Watson - Sherlock's sidekick, Bob Watson, Tom Watson or the man you know better as Joe the Policeman from the 'What's Going Down' episode of "That's My Mama" Mr. Randy Watson?

Three-year twitch

There is a crossroad in college football coaching. It's year three. Year three is the dividing line that can let a coach get comfortable enrolling his kids in private school or force him to polish the resume and look at NFL assistant jobs. Hi Derek.

Alabama's head coach Nick Saban walks the sideline.

Alabama's head coach Nick Saban walks the sideline.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Very rarely is season one something special. Heck, Coaching Grand Potentate Nick Saban had a very blah 7-6 run in first first season at Alabama and lost to La. Monroe for crying out loud. (Of course Gus Malzahn appears to be doing something extraordinary and the situation he inherited at Auburn was extra special in that it was supremely talented yet supremely dysfunctional. He cleaned the place up and restored some confidence and added some throw pillows and a nice running rug to jazz-up things a bit. There is no one-season fix for a lack of talent or speed.)

But season one can set the stage for special and fun things in year two. Year two has enthusiasm and rosters that are starting to take shape with at least one full recruiting class and often times most of a second class. So take hope UT fans about the second story of the Brick-by-Brick complex that Butch is trying to assemble. Big things can happen in year two. Bad things can happen in year two, too.

Season three, however, is a make-a-break year in today's college coaching world. Year three needs to be filled with at least notable positive strides and tangible success for the fan base and for the stability of the program and for the continued appearance of ascent in the eyes of recruits and the competition.

The three-year arc is treacherous to be sure, but some of the best and most promising coaches in college football - how does USC not make Stanford's David Shaw, in his third year with The Cardinal, say no - are riding the upslope in year three, which is almost always the year of the extension or the year of the intensified hot-seat talk.

Let's look at two interesting swings on three-year guys in the same conference who appear to be going in opposite directions:

Will Muschamp, Florida vs. James Franklin, Vandy

In addition to stomping on Muschamp's Gators last week in a 3/4-full Swamp, Franklin's historic run with Vandy is supremely underrated. He is in his third year and will almost certainly lead the 'Dores to their third consecutive bowl game at a time when the SEC is on a historic roll. Read that again. Muschamp, however, is in year three and these Gators likely will miss the postseason and could finish with a losing record - the last time a Florida team (1979) failed to post a winning record, the Bee Gees were the bees' knees. Several of the Sunshine state's star recruits that were considered to be leaning toward Florida are looking elsewhere, and to make matters worse FSU and Miami (and heck, even Central Florida) are rising and appear to be the preferred choice for in-state talent.

Michigan's Brady Hoke vs. Minnesota's Jerry Kill

The Gophers are 8-2 for crying out loud and while Kill's health problems have raised the respect and notoriety of his staff, the third-year Minnesota boss has assembled enough talent that the Gophers likely are headed to Florida for a bowl game. Michigan, however, has crumbled in the second half of Hoke's third season, peaking (or nadiring maybe?) with last week's home loss to Nebraska and a 29-6 beatdown two weeks ago against Michigan State in which the Wolverines ran for minus-29 yards. The loss to Sparty was so bad one Michigan man who was arrested on DUI charges blamed the Wolverines offense and offensive coordinator Al Borges for causing him to drink so much. Now, at 6-3, Michigan is an underdog at Northwestern this week before going to Iowa and the season-ending visit from THE Ohio State.


College hoops

College basketball had its grand opening Tuesday night as the cream of the 2013 recruiting class showed its stuff and served notice that bigger is better.

Bigger players. Bigger stars. Bigger stage. Bigger match-ups.

Bigger rules. (Well, the rule changes stunk, but being bigger does rule.)

Michigan State dashed UK's unbeaten dreams before the college basketball season even started to put us to sleep. Duke had no answer for Kansas and super frosh Andrew Wiggins, who looked the part of the super treat he was billed to be. Wiggins is supremely athletic and efficient (he made 9-of-15 shots and only had one turnover), a scary combination that means Duke will surely not be his last victim. Wiggins was just the headlining star of this dream-team class on Tuesday, as Duke's Jabari Parker and Kentucky's Julius Randle each showed skills and talents far beyond any trio of 13th graders in recent memory. Parker and Randle each scored 27 and on better than 50-percent shooting. Is there work to be done - Parker fouled out; Randle had eight turnovers - for each? Sure, but it looks to be a ride that could be filled with thrills.

And after watching a slew of college hoops on Tuesday, it dawned on us that the gap between the elite teams in college hoops and merely the good teams is widening.

Take any number of the teams ranked outside the top 10 that played Tuesday and try to pair them with any of the mega-powers that took center stage. Total and complete mismatch.

Kansas shot 56 percent against Duke's defensive assignments. Michigan State and Kentucky each shot better than 45 percent against swarming defensive efforts. (And as chas9 will assuredly elaborate on, the lingering problem with Coach Cal's drive-and-dish offense in the college game is you can become quite stagnant if the 3-point shot is not falling, a 4-for-20 fact that sealed UK's fate Tuesday. It also did not help that UK made a touch more than half its 36 free-throw attempts.)

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Still the gap is cavernous watching a team like Kentucky, which was picked to win the SEC, and Tennessee, which was picked third in the SEC. The Vols opened last night with a 67-63 loss and the first half was dreadful offensively. In fact, we took to the Twitter @jgreesontfp and asked, "Who knew Brick-by-Brick could be UT's rallying cry for football and basketball?"

UT closed the gap with three 3s in the final minute in Tuesday's loss to Xavier. It's a long season of course - a really long season - and this was one of more than 30 games on UT's schedule. But the limitations offensively other than Jordan McRae will be a constant theme for the Vols in a crucial third year for Cuonzo "The Conz" Martin.

For the most part it was fun basketball, especially the Duke-Kansas game, despite the rule changes to call more fouls and clean up hand-checking that made the whistles commonplace. The whistle frequency combined with TV timeouts slowed the game drastically.

That - like UT's offense - is not a good thing.


Managers of the year

It's hard to quibble the bits of baseball's selection of Cleveland's Terry Francona and Pittsburgh's Clint Hurdle as the managers of the year. Each did a fine job and exceeded all expectations.

We believe a tip of the cap is due to Fredi Gonzalez, the manager of the soon-to-be-Atlanta Braves of Smyrna, who grew measurably in his third year and guided the Braves to the postseason despite a litany of injuries and world-class and season-long slumps from two everyday players that could have easily overwhelmed the club. (Man, the year three theme is everywhere no?)

In case you missed it, the rookies of the year were announced Monday, when Tampa's Wil Myers and Miami starting pitcher Jose Fernandez.

The Cy Youngs will be handed out later today and the MVPs will be announced on Thursday.

We believe L.A. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw should get the NL Cy Young and Detroit ace Max Scherzer will get the AL award.

As for MVP we'll go Andrew McCutchen in the NL and Miguel Cabrera in the AL.


The Braves christened Turner Field for the start of the 1997 season.

The Braves christened Turner Field for the start...

Photo by AJC

This and that

- The city of Atlanta has announced that when the Braves leave town for Smyrna, they are destroying Turner Field. Wow, makes us think of that line in Better Off Dead when John Cusack was in the dumpster and the fellows looked in and said, "Man, somebody threw away a perfectly good white boy." Twenty years is the ceiling on a major league ball park now? We seriously have shirts that 20-plus-year old.

- From UTC football ace Johnny Frierson here, sad news that linebacker Gunner Miller is likely done for the season, according to UTC coach Russ Huesman. Miller is a ball-player and has been one since his days at East Ridge High School. One of the secret keys to the Mocs' turnaround has been their ability to find guys that may not physically test well or may have had up and down high school careers or even may have fallen through the cracks because they are 'tweeners.' That's a huge tip of the visor to the whole staff, especially recruiting coordinator Will Healy.

- Mike Tyson's new book reveals that he was high on drugs before several fights and was addicted to drugs to the point that one of his entourage was in charge of his whizzenator - a fake penis filled with someone else's clean urine - at all times in case he got drug tested. What exactly would you put on your business card if you were the member of the posse that was in charge of Tyson's fake member? And how big is your holster? We're reading this book for sure.

- OK, the PED culture has reached a new high point. Or low point. Whatever. Apparently a banned substance was used on NBC's the Biggest Loser, the 'reality' show where the heavy folks try to lose a ton of weight. Heck, why are we even surprised - everyone cheats on their diet right? What's the warning label on diet PED? If your hunger pains last more than four hours seek a chinese buffet immediately?

- OK, part II, how strange is the perception of what is important and what is buzzworthy? Take the following names of guys who were recently in the NFL and now are on hiatus: Sam Hurd and Richie Incognito. We all know Mr. Incognito is anything but a mister or incognito because of the hazing incidents in the Miami locker room. As for Sam Hurd, he's a former Dallas wide receiver who is facing life in prison for being a drug kingpin. Crazy, huh? We know exactly who the lockr room punk is and have no idea who is the arch-criminal. Still, we feel pretty sure even though Hurd hasn't played for Dallas for a few years, the incident can somehow be blamed current Dallas WR coach Derek Dooley.


Today's questions

We have a few talking points today, no? And we are excited to read 9er's and Stuck's UK hoops assessments.

As always, feel free to chime in on any of the above. Still, here are a couple of non-sports topics dujour (hmmm, that sounds good, think we'll have that):

The Utah Jazz ball boy who helped Michael Jordan during the infamous 'Flu' game in the 1997 NBA Finals is auctioning off the sneakers MJ gave him after Game 5 as a thank you. What piece of sports memorabilia would you like to have the most? What piece of sports memorabilia would you pay the most for, if different than the first answer?

Michael J. Fox's new show is still chugging along. Haven't seen it, but does the fact that Fox has now headlined three sitcoms get him on the Rushmore of leading dudes in TV sitcomistory (yes Spy we made that word up)?