From the "Mama McNabb stage here at the beautiful Al Davis Studios," here we go...
College football Monday morning quarterback - Knoxville edition
This is not fun. Or easy. After the inexplicable loss to Kentucky - a Kentucky team that put a wide out at quarterback and ran the same five to seven plays for three hours - left the University of Tennessee at 5-7. That means no bowl game. That means back-to-back losing seasons, something that has not happened since the early 1900s. That means a winning streak that had survived since the Reagan administration is over. (Do you know there are newborns that have no idea what it's like for UT to beat Kentucky in football?). Here's our UT ace Downtown Patrick Brown's view of the questions in Knoxville (Questions abound as Vols offseason begins). Here are the 5-at-10's five things that Tennessee fans may not want to admit but are forced to face this morning:
- The Vols are a bottom-tier SEC program. They were super-pumped to beat Vandy then lost to Kentucky. That's not Ole Miss bad, but it's bottom tier. When what used to be viewed as an expectation is now viewed as an accomplishment, well, that's not good.
- The Vols are not even the best of that tier, regardless of whether you stack the SEC in halves or thirds. In halves it would be (in order) LSU, Bama, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn then Florida, Miss. State, Vandy, Kentucky, UT, Ole Miss.
- While the talent will be a year more experienced and the roster a touch deeper next fall, how much better is it going to be? Is eight wins possible? Maybe, but that seems to be the ceiling and how far have UT's expectations plummeted if eight wins is the perceived high-water mark (and in a season that this team has been building for the last three years).
- What is Tyler Bray? Is he a legit quarterback? Is he a talented head-case? Is he some of both? The facts show a guy that had a lot of success throwing the football to two future NFL receivers (Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter) against less-than-NFL-caliber opponents in the first month of the season. The facts also show that Bray as the starter is 4-3 against SEC opponents (wins last year against Ole Miss, Vandy and Kentucky and a win against Vandy last week). The facts show a guy that was less than good Saturday and led an offense that managed 7 points against a Kentucky team that allowed 38 points to Vandy and 14 to Jacksonville State.
- Heading into a crucial recruiting season, the questions are too numerous to name - from Derek Dooley's long-term job security to who will be on UT's staff to what happened to the bevy of NFL-caliber linemen that used to be a UT staple - but there's one looming question that will be tough to answer for Johnny Vols Fans everywhere. Which SEC program has the least amount of buzz right now? LSU and Bama are the class of college football. Arkansas and South Carolina are at their peaks as SEC members. Auburn won the BCS in 2010 and Georgia will be fully-stocked for a possible run next year. Florida's struggles with a first-year coach and a defense loaded with sophomores at least offers some optimistic angles. Vandy is working on an extension for first-year coach James Franklin as you read this after Franklin guided the Commodores to their fifth bowl game in program history. That leaves UT, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Mississippi State took a step back in 2011, but that was after finishing 15th in the country in 2010. Ole Miss is in limbo, but the right coaching hire could create a lot of talk around the Rebels. That leaves UT and UK, and well Saturday sealed that, didn't it.
College football Monday morning quarterback - National edition
The five things we learned from this weekend:
- There are no truer axioms in sports than "Coaches are hired to be fired." The names coming across the ticker - Ron Zook at Illinois, Turner Gill at Kansas, Dennis Erickson at Arizona State, Rick Neuheisel at UCLA - that are either gone or are rumored to be gone soon are not all together surprising. That said, there are a lot of jobs open that will create a lot of coaching movements this offseason. Starting with the likely announcement of Urban Meyer as the coach at THE Ohio State University, there's no telling who is headed where. Especially considering some of the mid-major guys that will get looks at some of the bigger gigs. For example, if a Kevin Sumlin leaves Houston or an Art Briles leaves Baylor or a Charlie Strong leaves Louisville for an Ole Miss or UCLA or UNC or wherever, that will open up some jobs for the better coordinators in the country. Could familiar SEC names like Kirby Smart or Gus Malzahn or even Todd Grantham be candidates? You bet they could. (Sorry, Johnny Vols Fan, but Jim Chaney is not likely to be interviewing anywhere else for the time being.)
- There's LSU and Alabama, and then there's everyone else. Hey, we've covered this three different times. You know the 5-at-10 does not believe a team that does not win its conference should play for the national title. But the goal of BCS is to match the two best teams in the country, and there is no debating that LSU and Alabama are the two best teams in the country. Yes, Johnny Virginia Tech Fan and Jimmy Oklahoma State Fan can say Alabama already had its shot, and they'd be right and have an argument. No one - not the most ardent Hokie or Cowboy or Duck or Cardinal booster - will deny that LSU and Alabama are the best two teams in the country, though.
- That was some serious rivalry beatdown. Alabama manhandled Auburn 42-14, and it wasn't that close. (And with every passing week of Auburn offensive ineptitude, Cam Newton's 2010 season takes another step toward mythological proportions.) USC and Lane Kiffin handed UCLA a 50-0 whipping. South Carolina overpowered a Clemson team that has limped to the finish line. Florida State beat Florida 21-7 in a game that was like watching traffic jams and train wrecks at the same time. (Seriously, how did we get to a place where FSU and Florida, two supremely athletic teams can play a game in which the winning team had 95 yards of total offense?)
- Take hope UT fans, because a quick and strong turnaround is possible. The Georgia Bulldogs proved that. Less than three months ago, Mark Richt was on the SEC's hottest seat after an 0-2 start. More than once the rest of the way, media goofballs like the 5-at-10 hinted some mumbo-jumbo like, "Richt needs to win this game to keep the temperature on his chair under control." Well, all Richt and Co. did was win every game since and secure a spot in Saturday's SEC title game. Are they ready for the machine that is LSU? Doubtful, but that makes them no different than all the other very, very good teams in college football. What it does mean, though, is that the Bulldogs were willing to play as hard as possible for a coach that was hearing growing whispers about losing his job, and that in and of itself speaks highly of Richt's place in his players' eyes. And with a host of playmakers coming back, Richt's Bulldogs will start 2012 as the runaway favorites in the SEC East and probably in the preseason Top 10.
- The final week of the Fab 4 (plus 1) picks was an overwhelming smash hit. Here's what we wrote last Wednesday (Fab 4 +1). To recap: Temple beat KSU 34-16 to go over the total; Houston beat Tulsa 48-16; Vandy beat Wake Forest 41-7; South Carolina thumped Clemson, which cost us big; Alabama covered; LSU covered; Virginia Tech covered, FSU covered and FIU beat MTSU 31-18. Officially, the Fab 4 (plus 1) went 4-1 last week to up our mark 41-21-1. (But unofficially we were 8-1 on the games we picked last week - not too shabby. Stupid Clemson.)
The NBA strikes a deal
Whether it was the prospect of hitting Christmas with no pay checks or the owners finally realizing that missing the holidays would be catastrophic, the NBA and the players struck a deal last weekend to end the lockout.
Yes, like most NBA moves of late this one was poorly executed - a deal early Saturday morning of a holiday week right before a huge college football weekend and NFL weekend does not maximize exposure. But timing is the least of the concerns this morning and at least they got a deal worked out. And at least there will be Christmas NBA action. At least.
Of course, "at least" seems to be the appropriate phrase for this scenario since the least seems to be all the fans can expect.
So with that in mind, this will be our last NBA post until Jan. 24 - 54 days from now. The silly, stupid and selfish lockout cost us 27 days of NBA games. They are in a 54-day timeout. It's the least we could do.
This and that
- Remember how we giggled about the Big East inviting BYU, and how the Big East would need to change its name if it had a school in Utah? Well, now there's this story (SDSU-Big East talks turn serious) by Brent Schritenboer of the San Diego Tribune saying the Big East and San Diego State are in serious talks. East and San Diego? Like Ron Burgandy and the origins of the name San Diego, we'll just have to agree to disagree about that. We can just see a Big East tournament final in Philadelphia between Big East champ Hawaii and San Diego State. Too bad the name Conference USA is already taken.
- The Mocs lost to Gardner-Webb, which has not been basketball relevant since former Atlanta Hawks star John Drew was playing for the Bulldogs in the mid-1970s. You can read UTC hoops ace David Uchiyama's story here (Gardner-Webb tops sloppy UTC). We have two questions: After a two-point win over Savannah State on Friday, what do we know about UTC's men's basketball team, which has now dipped to 2-4 - the other win was over something known as Warren Wilson? Why is Gardner-Webb's mascot the Bulldogs as opposed to the Spiders?
- You know what's kind of funny? Watching the rest of the NFL become accustomed to what SEC fans already knew: Don't pick against Tim Tebow. Just don't. It may not be pretty, but they don't draw pictures on the scoreboard.
- Nice wins for the Falcons and the Titans yesterday. We'll cover the NFL more on Tuesday.
Sound off college football Monday is back. What say you about the Vols, the Tide, a rematch or whatever?
Is this the low point of UT football but the high point of SEC football? Is that the definition of irony or is a wrinkled mat that covers an ironing board the definition of irony?
Did Urban Meyer get his dream job at THE Ohio State University or was he afraid of SEC life after Tim Tebow? Did he need a year off to get well or did he spend time with his family, and hey, 10 months is a lot of time? How many of his ESPN colleagues will he take with him to Columbus? Chris Spielman (yes), Kirk Herbstreit (yes), Chris Fowler (no way), Lee Corso (only if he lost a bet)?