5-at-10: SEC East showdowns loom, Fab 4 picks, Jim Nantz successors

FILE - Announcer Jim Nantz looks on after NFL Super Bowl 53, Feb. 3, 2019, in Atlanta. Nantz will step away from calling the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament after next year and will be succeeded by Ian Eagle. CBS Sports confirmed the news Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, after it was first reported by the New York Post. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan, File)

SEC East stepping stones

So here we are. Halloween is looming. Basketballs are bouncing. High school football is ending for the non-playoff folks in Tennessee.

And we know the SEC has a monster Saturday on the horizon. The LSU-Alabama tilt in Red Stick is on since each has a bye this weekend.

Side question: Vader, how sweet is a mid-to-late-season bye when your team is still playing meaningful games? It’s a stress-free Saturday of ball, bets and CoColas. Good times.

In the East, the assumed winner-heads-to-Atlanta match-up of Tennessee at Georgia has one more step for each to cover before the first Saturday in November.

Georgia is the largest favorite in the game formerly known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party since at least 1980. Feels like too many points. Do I think the Dawgs win? Of course, they are stacked, and if they figure out how to get Brock Bowers 10 touches a game, they are almost unbeatable.

But no action on the WLOCP for this guy. Feels like 23 points is too many to lay, but I’m not backing a one-dimensional QB against a Kirby Smart defense, especially this Kirby Smart defense. 

As for the other, well, UT and UK are among the best teams in America in the coaches rankings and they are even better according to the Vegas scoreboard. UT is 6-1 against the number this season; UK is 5-2 against the spread.

That pays a lot of bills folks.

I like the Vols to cover the number. I have witnessed a few of these magical SEC runs — Auburn in 2010, LSU in 2019 to name but two — and when the Saturday tumblers click for a team and the belief is as strong as it is within the Tennessee locker room right now, special things can happen.

And that’s even before we discuss that Cedric Tillman, a projected first-round wide receiver, was listed as a starter on the UT depth chart for this week. More tools in the box for Hendon Hooker and Josh Heupel.

One more thing before we start picking. We have conversed around these parts about the SEC rankings of teams and such. In Vegas’ eyes, it’s quite telling to me that the folks who deal with projections with real money think Tennessee at home over Kentucky (UT minus-11.5 earlier this week, minus-12 right now) has the same divide as Georgia over UT since the Dawgs are early-line favorites of right at 12 over the Vols.

Fab 4 picks

That said, the fear of the back door cover — a cosmetic late score that turns a 42-28 UT lead into even a 42-31 win — looms large in the rivalry that was once known as the Battle for the Beer Barrel.

OK, side tangent, as if there’s another kind: It is no longer gauche for folks to call the UT-UK game the Battle for the Beer Barrel or to reference the WLOCP with that awesome nickname either. A driving force for this awakening was the sensitivity toward real problems of binge drinking at games, and the UT-UK change was hastened in the late 1990s when a UK student and a UK player were killed in a drinking and driving accident.

That’s a tragedy, and one that any and all measures to prevent should be explored. But call a rivalry game a moniker with alcohol in it seems as involved in that tragedy as college hoops’ Tobacco Road references to the Duke-UNC rivalry relate to lung cancer.

And we’ll go one step beyond. Been to a UT game this year? They are more than excited to sell you a $17 25-ounce domestic "CoCola" of your choosing.

So not saying “Beer Barrel” or playing for a painted trophy of a beer barrel is addressing student binge drinking and the DUI-related tragedies, but peddling beers marked up by 300% and 400% is A-OK with everyone involved? Cool.

And don’t get me wrong, I am for schools selling a CoCola or three to patrons at football games. 

But putting the kibosh on one and the cash register on the other is not sensitive. It’s hollow and hypocritical.     

Now let’s make Laimbeer at the elbow with Isiah Thomas with the ball at the top of the key and pick and roll.

Arkansas minus-3.5 over Auburn. Yes, I am worried about the Hogs making a trip to Provo — “That’s Provo, Spain?,” “Utah, sir” — and then to the Plains in the span of a week. But if KJ Jefferson is close to 100%, the Auburn offense simply can’t keep pace. Plus, Auburn played arguably its best game under Bryan Harsin in a win at Fayetteville last year. Payback is in play. (And yes, I’m holding out that the number will dip down to 3 before kick.)

Syracuse minus-2.5 over Notre Dame. The Orange are a couple of questionable calls from being unbeaten and a real fly in the CFB playoff ointment. Side questions: When was the last time you called Bengay or Preparation H or any of those medicines ointment? And when reaching for said ointments, has anyone ever seen a fly in said ointments? Discuss, because while I’m not sure we can use the “All the tea in China” cliché any more, I feel like the “fly in the ointment” cliché simply does not hold up to be true any longer. Where were we? Ah, yes, Syracuse, at home, against a Notre Dame team that is wondering who they are and what they can be, as Norman Dale phrased it at the season-opening pep rally in Hickory before the crowd started chanting, “Jim-ME, Jim-ME.” Those are fine questions in August. In late October, those are questions non-bowl-bound teams ponder. And the calendar doesn’t lie.

Wake Forest minus-3 at Louisville. We should have attached the Jay’s Plays Escalade to the Deacons early on. And especially after their gutsy showing against Clemson. Wake is 6-1 against the number and overall and has a 14-year-senior QB who could lead the Demon Deacons to the promised land of a New Year’s Day bowl. That’s high cotton in Winston Salem, friends. Side question: If Colonials nickname at GW is being changed because of the "offensive" histories of past colonizing efforts, then isn’t demon references or devil monikers over the edge to devout Christians? Discuss among yourselves or with friends. Either way, give me Dave Doeren and those Demon Deacs folks.

UConn plus-8 over Boston College. There was a time in the not-so-distant past of say, 2020 or even 2021, that UConn vs. McCallie would have meant UConn was catching at least three scores. Now, with Jim Mora Jr. embracing the transfer portal and coaching like this could be his last stop if it doesn’t work out, the Huskies are not the CFB dregs of recent memory.

UT-UK over 62.5. I think UT is headed to 40. At least. Since the win over the Gators — a game that Josh Heupel let off the gas and allowed Florida to creep back into late — UT has scored 40 at LSU, 52 against Bama and 65 against UT Martin. Plus, they get a bona fide WR1 back on the field. The backdoor cover is scary for sure so 12 feels sketchy. But this game — even with UK’s deliberate tempo — will have a winner north of 42.    

Last week: 3-2 against the spread (60%)

This season: 21-19-2 against the spread (52.5%)

Filling the shoes

So we discussed Jim Nantz stepping away from the NCAA basketball tournament lead play-by-play role earlier this week.

Dude’s in his early 60s and has made a bushel and a peck of cash in arguably the best gig in sports broadcasting.

And considering that Nantz had crafted a full-time calendar — at least in the years CBS had the Super Bowl — of doing the biggest event in American sports in early February, the biggest event in college hoops in March and April and the biggest event in golf in Augusta.

That’s good work if you can get it, friends.

And here’s betting CBS splits that monster job into smaller pieces.

We know Ian Eagle will be Nantz’s college hoops replacement come 2024. Side question: If your name is Ian, would you want it pronounced eye-on? Granted that works great to be a lead dude for CBS considering its logo, but how many times did Ian Eagle not have to correct teachers when calling role those first few weeks of each school year?

As for the others, well, the NFL could be anyone’s guess.

Side note: I like the crew that includes Mark Sanchez that has filled a notable gap for Fox after Joe Buck and Troy Aikman went to Monday Night Football. It may be short-lived since Tom Brady’s broadcasting career looms sooner rather than later these days, but still, the author of the “Butt Fumble” has found a nice niche as an analyst.

The other gig — being the voice and in some ways the non-playing face of Augusta National — could be the most coveted sports broadcasting openings in a long time.

Thoughts? And yes, I’d love for Uncle Verne to be considered too, but he’s too long in the tooth people.

How about Terry Gannon? 

This and that

— When I get the links for the VegasInsider podcast I did Wednesday, I will post. When I get the details for how to sign up for today’s launch of “Plays of the Day” afternoon email, I will also post. 

— Speaking of gambling, and Brian Edwards and I covered this on the podcast, but the Texas A&M-Ole Miss game could go any number of ways because of a) Ole Miss’ ever-cute defense when it tries to tackle and b) the issues in the pot boiling at College Station. (Side note: Visor tip to Kevin’s “fired up” pregame line late Wednesday. Well played, sir. Well played indeed.) But this feels like a perfect in-game betting situation for online gamblers since I think you should be able to see very early whether A&M has rallied around Jimbo or whether they are packing their bags and looking to the portal. 

— So Stanford scientists are, by title and measure, smart folks. On this, even the Rs and Ds should be able to concur. Well, with data analysis and high-dollar educational tricks, they have reconstructed what Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus, might have looked like. And he’s the spitting image of Andre the Giant. 

— Which brings us to something I saw on social media on weird-facts.org since Andre the Giant was understandably trending. On the set of the brilliant “Princess Bride” ATG allegedly ripped a 16-second toot that to the surprise of no one brought the entire production to a standstill. No one said a word until director Rob Reiner asked, “Are you OK, Andre?” Andre replied, “I am now boss.” Buttercup indeed.

— You know the rules. Here’s Paschall on the Vols’ defensive goals to slow down UK’s star running back and his weekly picks column.

Today’s questions

It’s a fire away, anything goes Thursday. So fire away; anything goes.

We also have some mailbag spots open — can email me, too, at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com — for tomorrow.

As for today, Oct. 27, let’s review.

Dupont announced its invention of ‘nylon’ on this day in 1938.

Teddy Roosevelt was born on this day in 1858.

John Gotti would have been 82 today. John Cleese is 83. Dick Trickle would have been 81.

In the crazy world of “National days” today is National Potato Day.

Rushmore of potatoes and be creative.

Look out for the “Plays of the Day” email and have a great Thursday friends.