5-at-10: Baseball, SEC questions and answers and NFL power poll

5-at-10: Baseball, SEC questions and answers and NFL power poll

October 8th, 2013 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Gang, great discussion Monday. Well-played all-around.

And remember Friday's mailbag. Ask away.

Let's do work.

From the "Talks too much" studios, listen... do you smell something?

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw works in the second inning against the Atlanta Braves during Game 1 of the National League Division Series, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, in Atlanta.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Playoff baseball

We had a great friend named Mike who poured a great Bud Light and loved to talk baseball in a former life. We frequently discussed that baseball didn't really matter until the 'er' months, and we thought of him last night.

In fact, was Monday the single greatest day for fun baseball in recent memory? We say absolutely.

Unless you are a Braves fan. Wow. The pain and the shortcomings of this franchise were on hand and the collective heart was on the sleeve of every Braves undershirt everywhere.

The Braves were eliminated Monday night when Jose Uribe hit a two-run homer in the eighth after he failed to get down a bunt. To make matters worse, Uribe homered off some guy named Carpenter - it was not Chris nor Karen - while Braves super closer Craig Kimbrel stood with his hands on his hips in the bullpen.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who had a great year by all measures, said Carpenter was the right guy at the right time. Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the Braves are headed home and have now lost six consecutive postseason series, and the Dodgers move to the NLCS.

Starter Freddy Garcia pitched so far above his head his nose will bleed for a week. The good Freddy G matched Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw almost pitch-for-pitch, and if the artist formerly known as Carl Crawford had not been involved, Garcia would have been almost perfect.

And whether Kimbrel had the gas for a two-inning save or not, the Achilles' heel of this bunch was overwhelmingly present Monday. The top five in the order was 1-for-20 with 10 Ks.

And so ends another summer run, the Braves making like the leaves and falling when the temperatures drop and the days grow short. And coupled with the Falcons' faceplant, Monday was arguably the worst day in Atlanta since Sherman headed South.

It was the nightcap to a thrilling day of postseason baseball that featured a spirited 6-3 A's win over the Tigers, a 2-1 Cards' win over the Pirates that forced Game 5 and the Rays 5-4 walk-off win over Boston.

Ah, the 'er' months. Somewhere Mike is smiling - and the Bud Light is flowing.

----

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, 10, get set to throw a touchdown pass as offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio, 71, blocks against Georgia State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

SEC asked and answered

1. Alabama (5-0 overall, 2-0 SEC)

Do the biggest stars always attract the biggest drama? Apparently so, even in the realm of college football, where the Alabama Crimson Tide is the sport's monolith and procedure-protector-extraordinaire Nick Saban are not immune to the off-the-field circus. It started with a YahooSports! investigation that alleged former tackle D.J. Fluker took money from agents while at Alabama, and it continued last week when safety HaHa Clinton-Dix was suspended for reportedly taking a loan from someone in the Alabama football program. Man, if Nick Saban and his death stare (and his choice wind-blown locks) can't keep a program on the path of righteousness, well, there you have it. Maybe William Marcy had it right when he said, "To the victors go the spoils." Or maybe William C. Macy had it right in "Seabiscuit" when he said: "A hundred thousand dollars? Makes me wanna walk on all fours and put a saddle on my back."

Saturday: at Kentucky, 7 (ESPN2)

2. LSU (5-1, 2-1)

When it's clicking like it did Saturday night, is there a more balanced offense in the SEC than these Tigers? Doubtful, especially when Zach Mettenberger is playing as efficiently as he did in the 59-26 win at Starkville that was 28-26 in the second half. Mettenberger was 25-of-29 for 340 yards, and the passing game opened up lanes for a ground game that generated 223 rushing yards and six TDs. Bonus question: Is Zach Mettenberger a first-round pick? The answer is unknown right now, but it's a lot closer to yes than it was a month ago. Bonus question, II: Which name will Verne Lunquist have the toughest time with in Saturday's game with Florida? How about LSU defensive back Jerqwinick Sandolph or guard Fehoko Fanaika? Heck, there are a lot of options with LSU, but this is Ole Verne, so he could stumble over senior receiver James Wright for crying out loud. Pssstt, Verne, the 'W' is silent.

Saturday: vs. Florida, 3:30 (CBS)

3. Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1)

Can Johnny Manziel get 600 yards of total offense against the Rebels? OK, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall ran for 140 yards in the Tigers win over Ole Miss last week. Now Johnny Football gets his turn, and if we step out on the huge limb of comparison, well, Johnny HotShot has a Heisman from last year - when Nick Marshall was in junior college.

Saturday: at Ole Miss, 8:30 (ESPN)

4. Georgia (4-1, 3-0)

Hey, is there a Tim Worley or even a Lars Tate somewhere on the roster? Georgia started the season with a wealth of offensive talent. Season-ending injuries to receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and running back Keith Marshall, and the ankle injury that has slowed Todd Gurley have spent a lot of that wealth. We do know this, however: senior quarterback Aaron Murray is so cool under pressure now he's downright brisky. In fact, he's nipply. Did someone say nipple? Real tomato ketchup, Eddie? Nothing but the best Clark.

Saturday: vs. Missouri, noon (ESPN)

5. Florida (4-1, 3-0)

Will the East be decided by health issues? Could be. And the one team in the country that doesn't want to hear the Bulldogs bark about injuries is the Florida Gators, who have picked up and overcome to season-ending injuries to their starting quarterback, an All-American defensive tackle, a starting wide receiver, a starting offensive tackle and a reserve linebacker. So it goes. That said, Florida may have the best secondary in the country.

Saturday: at LSU, 3:30 (CBS)

6. South Carolina (4-1, 2-1)

Is South Carolina about to fall off the rails? It sure feels like it. Star players electing not to play. Hall of Fame coach looking as interested as an pre-teen at an insurance seminar. Big leads against inferior opponents vanishing because of the perma-cruise control in Columbia. OK, to update, Jadeveon Clowney said thanks but no thanks to action Saturday against Kentucky. Maybe his dreads were messy, who knows. Side point here: Dude would have been the No. 1 overall pick last year but could not enter the draft. He has an injured foot. A serious injury could cost him millions. The pause is understandable for Clowney, and understandably infuriating for Steve Spurrier. Something else that is frustrating for the Johnny Gamecocks Fans is the quick starts - South Carolina has built 21-0 leads in each of its last two games - that become too tense for comfort late. Flipping the cruise control is a terrible habit, and a trip across the league to Arkansas seems perilous in some ways, with or without Clowney.

Saturday: at Arkansas, 12:21 (WDSI)

7. Missouri (5-0, 1-0)

Are we ready for the phrase, "SEC East champions Missouri Tigers" in two months? Not sure anyone is ready for that just yet, but the Tigers continue to clear each hurdle, the latest being a 51-28 road drumming at Vandy. We will know more after Saturday's trip to Georgia to face the banged-up Bulldogs. A win in Athens puts Missouri - a high-flying offense that has a tenacious pass rush led by SEC sack-leader Michael Sam - firmly in the SEC title race.

Saturday: at Georgia, noon (ESPN)

8. Auburn (4-1, 2-1)

Is every Auburn play called, "Run it, run it, run it," because that is what Tigers coach Gus Malzahn says 1,000 times a Saturday? Malzahn is a charter member of the pace club, shooting to get 80 or more snaps per game, and with a bevy of running options from quarterback Nick Marshall to runners Tre Mason, Curtis Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, the tempo helped the Tigers run for more than 280 yards against Ole Miss despite only getting 65 snaps - almost 25 fewer than the Rebels' 90 plays from scrimmage. Auburn's balanced running attack has produced four different 100-yard rushers in five games.

Saturday: vs. Western Carolina, 2 (Pay-per-view)

9. Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2)

Is Ole Miss halfway through the toughest consecutive stretch in the league? Quite possibly, considering the Rebels spent the last two weeks losing in the state of Alabama (at Tuscaloosa and at Auburn) and will spend the next two Saturday nights hosting top-10 foes when the Aggies visit this week and the LSU Tigers come Oct. 19. If the Rebels can survive the onslaught relatively healthy - stay upright Jeff Scott and Donte Moncrief - the Rebels still could challenge for eight wins this year.

Saturday: vs. Texas A&M, 8:30 (ESPN)

10. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2)

Should Tennessee fans be hopeful or heartbroken after last-Saturday's near-miss upset against Georgia? The answer is yes, because there is a little of both in there. That said, whether you believe in moral victories or not, a big bonus for the Vols' rebuilding model is the fact that there were dozens of high-profile recruits in Neyland for the game and coach Butch Jones can way easier sell, "Son, I needed one more player - I needed you - and we would have beaten the No. 6 team in the country," after a 34-31 overtime loss than a three-touchdown knockout.

Saturday: off

11. Arkansas (3-3, 0-2)

Will Arkansas adjust to the pressure? No, not coach pressure. First-year Hogs boss Bret Bielema is fine - regardless whether you believe in karma or not. No, the pressure that Florida threw at an Arkansas team that had allowed only four sacks in five games before the 30-10 beatdown in the Swamp. Sure, the Gators only notched two sacks, but that total - highlighted by a sack-forced fumble by Loucheiz Purifoy - and the pressure brought limited the Hogs to a paltry 3.8 yards per snap. (Side question: Is Loucheiz Purifoy arguably the smoothest name for a college football player since Eddie Lee Ivory?)

Saturday: vs. South Carolina, 12:21 (WDSI)

12. Vandy (3-3, 0-3)

Is this James Franklin's last year at Vandy? This likely will not be the last time this question is asked, but it's fair and heading into the Commodores' bye week, we believe it is the final go-around for Franklin in Nashville. What else can he do and there are going to be some choice openings this offseason.

Saturday: off

13. Mississippi State (2-3, 0-2)

Can the Bulldogs finish a close game? Granted, we likely won't know the answer this week when former UT offensive coordinator Dave Clawson brings the Bowling Green Green Bowlers (whatever) to town. But in its three losses this year, Mississippi State has been outscored 42-bagel in the fourth quarter. Ouch-standing.

Saturday: vs. Bowling Green, 7:30 (FSN)

14. Kentucky (1-4, 0-2)

Have the Wildcats settled on a quarterback? It certainly appears so, after Jalen Whitlow led a furious UK rally that pulled Kentucky within a TD in Saturday's 35-28 loss at South Carolina. Whitlow threw for 178 yards, ran for 69 and accounted for three TDs, and more importantly did not turn the ball over in the loss. It's called progress, Johnny Wildcats Fans. Progress.

Saturday: vs. Alabama, 7 (ESPN2)

----

NFL Power Poll

The value of style points and the impressions of hard-fought losses that can help generate enthusiasm and spirit in the college game are lost in translation in the NFL.

There is no style points. There are no moral victories.

There is only wins and losses and never the 'twain shall meet.

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, 18, directs running back Knowshon Moreno, 27, at the line of scrimmage against the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter of an NFL football game in Denver.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

1. Denver: The Denver Mannings are torching foes and enter this weekend as the biggest favorite in the modern-day history of the NFL. Heck, not even Joe Namath could guarantee a Jacksonville score Sunday against the Broncos. Denver is a 28-point favorite, and that line - considering the Broncos are 4-1 against the spreadand the Jags are 0-5 against the number this year - could grow. The previous record for the largest spread was Pittsburgh being a 27-point favorite over Tampa Bay in december 1976. The Steelers won that game 42-0. The biggest pre-merger spread is believed to be the Colts over the expansion Atlanta Falcons in 1966, a line that was similar to the 8 the Jags are catching.

2. New Orleans: Drew Brees looks great, but the bounce back has been driven by a defense that is focused on turnovers to complete the turnaround. The Saints are +6 in turnover ratio and are averaging more than nine minutes more in time of possession.

3. Kansas City: This team has the feel of a 12-win bunch that, because they are in the same division as the Denver Mannings, will be relegated to a road playoff game. Still, the Chiefs do a slew of things well, even if they do very few things great. That said, if you are an SEC football fan, this is the team for you, considering they have several familiar SEC names, highlighted by emerging stars safety Eric Berry (Tennessee) and receiver Dewayne Bowe (LSU).

4. Seattle: No team in the league needs home-field advantage more than the Seahawks. If there is a flaw on this bunch other than their erratic play away from Seattle, it's the need for a go-to wide receiver. Maybe Doug Baldwin can fill that hole, or maybe if Percy Harvin gets healthy, but until then, the udner-sized Golden Tate does not generate a lot of match-up problems.

5. Indy: If the Colts can find a young wide receiver to package with Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson, this could be the Big Three of the next generation. Hard not to like what Luck brings to the table. If the NFL re-drafted, right now, we'd be hard-pressed not to take Andrew Luck No. 1 overall, combining the current with the long-term promise of the future.

Bottom five:

28. Atlanta: The Falcons are cooked, be it injuries, difficult schedule or a faux facade of fuzzy feelings that preceded this season. Yes, injuries can derail an NFL season in light speed because of the salary-cap structure and the challenge of creating and keeping depth. But it also hurts when a good-but-not-great QB gets cap-crippling coin, too. Ice, ice baby.

29. Pittsburgh: Hey, the Steelers didn't lose last week, so that's encouraging. Yes, they had a bye, but sometimes saying bye is like saying hello, only in reverse. Does that make sense? No, well neither does the Steelers being in last place in a division with the Cleveland Stinkpants.

30. Tampa Bay: The state of disarray in Tampa is hard to understate considering the team is stinkified and they just released quarterback Josh Freeman, who was the face and the future of the franchise six weeks ago. If you are making a board, Greg Schiano leads the way as the coach most likely to get the axe, right?

31. New York Giants: We all know this is a quarterback league and your quarterback is Guy No. 1 on your roster. So you could make an argument that from No. 2-53 on the roster, the Giants are worse than the historically wretched Jacksonville Jaguars considering the G-boys have Eli Manning and the Jag-whiners have Blaine Whoshisbritches. Jacksonville's point differential is minus-112; the Giants' is minus-100.

At the bottom minus-infinity. Jacksonville: Is there a more definite and clear stat than this: Denver scored 51 points in Sunday's come-from-behind win at Dallas. Jacksonville has scored 51 points through five games this season. Ouch-standing. In fact, the lines-makers in Vegas say that there is a bigger difference between the Jags and the Broncos (28 points) than there would be between the Jags and the Alabama Crimson Tide (a reported 17-point spread).

---

This and that

- A-Rod is suing baseball over the steroids mess. Man, that A-Rod is piece of work, isn't he?

- Impersonators are reportedly making calls to various coaching heavyweights saying they are with USC and gauging interest in the football vacancy. Hey here's a thought: Can we have Frank Caliendo call as Jon Gruden and ask USC AD Pat Haden about the job?

- The computer-generated BCS projections have Alabama No. 1, which is like saying, "Hey, Meryl Streep is favored for an Oscar." But No. 2 on the list is Clemson. Very interesting indeed.

---

Today's question(s)

Feel free to weigh in on any of the above, but here are a slew of talking points:

* Is Fredi done in the A-T-L?

*If they re-drafted the NFL this morning, where does Andrew Luck go? Top five for sure, but could he be No. 1 overall?

* Are the Falcons done?

* What's the over/under on the attendance at UTC's homecoming on Saturday?

Discuss.