5-at-10: Weekend winners and losers and Josh Heupel's incredible Tennessee transformation

Tennessee running back Jaylen Wright (20) celebrates a touchdown during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against Florida on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 38-33. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Weekend winners

Playoff baseball. Yes, the season is long, and as Annie told us, you gotta trust it. But man, the pressure of every pitch of postseason baseball is so much fun.

Alabama. More on the SEC in a moment — and I did not see a lot of SEC football this weekend because I was at an all-day softball tournament (gladly) — but the Georgia corollary from last week applies this week too. Just win. See the ‘survive and advance’ tag applied to the glorious three weeks of college basketball in mid-to-late March is three months of college football’s regular season. At least until the playoff expands.

Josh Allen. I’ve already posted a slew of mea culpas about my pre-draft faux pas on Allen. But wow, he made the Steelers look like a middle school team in a first-half so one-sided Michael Dukakis had to turn the channel.

Tom Kim. Yes, golf is over for a lot of us. But the 2023 PGA season has started, and Tom Kim bested Patrick Cantlay on Sunday to win the Shriners’ event. While that — and the seven-figure check — are certainly worthy of WW status, this fact is even more impressive: In the last 30 years, the only two cats to win twice on the PGA Tour before they could legally celebrate said win with a cocktail are Tom Kim and some fella called Tiger.

Chip Kelly. Shhhhh, but Kelly — the dude that constructed Oregon into relevance before floundering in the NFL — is rightly back in college and has the UCLA Bruins at a shiny 6-0 after beating Utah over the weekend. Side question for the group: Who gets in the playoff at the halfway point, an unbeaten UCLA (or even Oklahoma State) or a one-loss SEC runner-up? Discuss.

Bonus pick: Justin Tucker. The Ravens kicker won Sunday night’s game with a last-second field goal. We all know the most-important position in the sport, but having a trustworthy kicker may be the most under-appreciated asset in the game. And Tucker should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, friends.

Weekend losers

The New York Mets. A glorious six months were undone in back-to-back weekends. First, they went to Atlanta and got swept, which dumped the Mets into the three-game Wildcard Round. (Our warnings about the perils of playing in the wildcard series proved true.) Then, at home, a season of much hype and hope unraveled with Max Scherzer being human and Joe Musgrave and his secret sauce ears being superhuman. The ‘er’ months giveth and taketh away.

Officating. Yes, it’s easy to point fingers at the refs. We all do it. And we have more camera angles and technology than ever to second-guess split-second calls that happen between athletes who are bigger, faster and stronger than ever. But, when calls decide games it’s bad enough. When calls decide games involving GOATs that greatly behoove the powers that be, well, it doesn not take Jim Garrison to ponder about the conspiracy theories and benefits for all the behind-the-scenes folks of Alabama staying unbeaten or Tom Brady and the Bucs being in first-place rather than the forgettable Falcons. Even if that’s too convoluted for what could just be GOAT bias or bad officiating, the review process (after the fact, not instant replay, mind you) at the higher levels on the calls with this much riding on them must be better.

The account that used to be known as my (planned, but now more hoped) retirement. Dear Lord, Joe, fix the economy. And yes, the market was due a correction from years of gang-busting growth, but 2022 is bordering on more of a collapse than a correction.

Fab 4 picks. We’re in the losers category because we finished 2-3, but man, how close is 2-3 to 4-1? Well NC State minus-3 was a 19-17 winner because they settled for four field goals. The over 59 in Arkansas-Miss. State was a loser because Arkansas folded up the tents and the teams accounted for six measly fourth-quarter points in a 40-17 Mississippi State beat down. Man, Mike Leach doing work in Starkville.

Oklahoma. What in the heck was that? Man, the issue about coaching turnover moving forward is the race to the portal, and we know Lincoln Riley took a slew of OU’s best to USC with him in the offseason. But 49-bagel in the Red River Rout? And know this, Brent Venables, rebuilding anything in the SEC is a chore. 

Big Orange blowout

Tennessee went to Red Stick, did not play its A game and smoked LSU.

Any questions still left about the league’s third-best team were answered. And potentially reasked, since Alabama visits Knoxville this weekend and maybe Alabama is the SEC’s third best team.

Here’s more on the historic match-up between Alabama and Tennessee on Saturday, which will mark the first time the rivals meet with each ranked in the top six. And yes, that’s 100% a Paschall-esque stat. You know the rules. 

What has seemed such an impossible trek has taken Josh Heupel less than two seasons to cover.

Will UT win this weekend? I don’t know, it’s a wide gap between wanting to win and expecting to win. And if Bryce Young is healthy, I think Alabama is better. But without him, who knows?

Because who could have foreseen this from a second-year coach and a defense that was terrible a year ago and still has struggles this fall.

But man that offense. Just wow.

And now every Johnny Vols Fan from Jackson to Jefferson City has every right to believe that this is the Saturday that the Saban curse ends.

This is the Saturday that Hendon Hooker moves alongside CJ Stroud in the Heisman polls.

This is the Saturday that Rocky Top rocks off its axis and the Vols stand-up and punch back against a hated foe that has been college football’s bully for more than a decade. 

And that’s the difference. Because more than wins or rankings or any part of the “We’re back” narrative that becomes a crutch or a cauldron far too quickly these days, convincing your fan base to believe again is the turning point.

Believe in competing.

Believe in positive outcomes on Saturdays rather than the pending implosion.

Believe in success over struggles.

Believe you can beat Alabama (or Georgia) — for those in the locker room and in the living room watching from home.

And Heupel’s there. Because Saturday’s going to be something.

And every Vols fan you know has been waiting on that something for almost two decades.

This and that

— We mentioned pre-draft analysis failures earlier with Josh Allen. Conversely, in the same game that Allen pummeled Pittsburgh, one George Pickens continued to look like the next great rookie wideout. And that one I nailed from the jump last year, saying all along he was going to be a star once he got — and stayed — healthy.

— Did you see the postgame tift between Deion Sanders and Eddie Robinson Jr. after Sanders’ Jackson State beat Robinson’s Alabama State on Saturday? Here’s more, and Eddie Robinson had words.

— Dallas likely should have made the winners list with a stout defensive effort to beat the Rams on Sunday. But man, that game was aesthetically awful. Seriously, I found golf for large chunks of it, and of course there’s the “Law&Order” marathons on the cable channels. And can we please stop with the “does Dallas have a QB controversy” already? When Dak returns Cooper Rush returns to the sideline. Period.

— So the NCAA is looking to expand the college basketball tournament too. At least the NCAA bigwigs are in discussions about it according to this story. Could have as many as 90 teams. OK, but know this — and especially now — if it damages the fun of the bracket, it’s a giant step in the wrong direction. 

Today’s questions

Weekend winners and losers. Go.

Multiple choice Monday looks like this:

Alabama is a 7.5 point favorite over Tennessee as of this morning.

What happens?

— Alabama wins and covers.

— Alabama wins and doesn’t cover.

— Tennessee wins outright.

As for today, it’s 10/10.

I think we’ve done a Rushmore of 10s. 

But it’s still 10/10 so if we stretch it and think back to Rin-Tin-Tin (or in this case, Rin 10 10), have we done a Rushmore of movie dogs?