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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Georgia linebacker Tae Crowder (30) breaks up a pass intended for Tennessee tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson (4) during last season's 38-12 win by the Bulldogs in Athens. Crowder is a fifth-year senior, so he has witnessed the Bulldogs and Volunteers splitting the past four meetings.

A rivalry no more

I grew up a Tennessee fan. Not sure how many of you guys and gals knew it.

My mom — who died three years ago today as a matter of fact — grew up in Columbia and went to Knoxville for a while before moving to Atlanta.

I loved the uniforms. I loved the size of Neyland and the setting next to the river.

Mostly, I loved watching Reggie White play whenever possible.

Then some dude named Bo Jackson came along and I was hooked.

But I started with the Vols, and I can remember listening in 1980 when Herschel introduced himself to the world and made Bill Bates — a borderline NFL Hall of Fame special teams player, mind — a meme before we even knew what a meme was.

In fact, I still want the Vols to do well — personally and professionally. Yes, I have a connection to Georgia, too, as a whole lot of my family has UGA paper framed on their walls.

I can remember when this was arguably the biggest game in our area each season because of the border war and fan base crossovers.

Now? It feels like a middle school team heading to a varsity scrimmage. And that may be the saddest part of Tennessee's slide in the indifferent muck of irrelevance, you know.

A game like this used to generate so much buzz, so much anticipation.

Now? It's doubt. And trepidation.

It's a dentist appointment knowing you have a cavity.

It also inevitably makes you remember the good times, the times when this game was a fight and the nation watched.

When the SEC went to divisions in 1992, in the first 15 years of this rivalry, both teams were ranked 12 times, including four times when both were in the Top 10.

Now, it's no worse than the second-best team in the country against what very may well be the worst Tennessee team in program history.

If that doesn't make you long for the good ol' days, then I don't know what would.

Heck, even Bill Bates misses them.

SEC Rankings

I guess the next question is: can Tennessee return to a place that makes this Saturday resemble what it was a generation ago?

Because Georgia is not going anywhere.

Neither is Alabama. Florida has to be viewed as trending in the right direction, since a) Dan Mullen is really good at his day job and b) recruiting in The Sunshine State as the state's flagship university is always an edge, especially when FSU and Miami are languishing.

LSU is going to be a handful for a while. (Side note: Fat Vader, I was going though my old tweets — after that craziness with the Carson King deal and somehow he had to apologize for eight-year-old tweets when he was 16 even though he raised more than $1 million for a children's hospital in Iowa — and came across this dandy from September 2017: "Hiring Coach O was a huge mistake. Yes, it was his dream job. My dream job is pitching for the Dodgers. Neither of us are qualified to do it." Ouch-standing. Coach O and Rick Barnes, I owe both you dudes an apology because I was way off bashing each of those hires.)

Auburn, well, Auburn is a tortuous lot on its fans. It's dating the hot crazy girl who treats you like crap in front of your friends — did you see AU give up 400,000 rushing yards to Mississippi State last year? — but more than makes up for it in private. You know the heartbreak is coming but the highs are too much fun to walk away. Alas.

Texas A&M will be better, or at least it should be. Kentucky is better, and will be for as along as it can keep Stoops.

And being right there competing with Kentucky and South Carolina is simply not the narrative Tennessee needs, wants or strives for. But it is the reality right now.

Can they get back to being in the mix?

They spend the money. They have the facilities and the commitment.

But they are not — they simply cannot — get there without a rock star storming the sideline who then gets rock stars to play between the sidelines.

And I don't believe Jeremy Pruitt is that guy. (Sorry, Steve, but hey, considering what I had to say about Coach O and Rick Barnes and how those turned out, well, maybe you want me bagging on your coach. So there's that.)

Let's get to the unusually great top and the unusually bad bottom of America's best college football conference:

1. Georgia. The most complete team in the league. Period. And right behind THE Ohio State as the most complete team in the country.        

2. Alabama. DeVonta Smith is likely Alabama's fourth best wide receiver, and he had 11 catches for 274 yards and five TDs. How great was his day? Well, Smith caught as many TD passes Saturday as the entire BYU roster has caught in five games this season.

3. LSU. I was tempted to have Auburn move up here, but the edge in experience and production right now between Bengal Tigers star Joe Burrow and plain ol' Tigers freshman Bo Nix is still too great.

4. Auburn. How much have we gone through the looking glass when Alabama and LSU are throwing the ball all over the yard, and Auburn is winning games running the ball down people's throat and with the best front seven in the SEC?

5. Florida. Love the way Mullen has coached this bunch above their collective talent level and through their roster deficiencies. If Mullen can get traditional, circa-mid-2000s Gators talent to Gainesville, well, look out.

12. Vanderbilt. Too high? Well, Do you think either of the teams below it has the weapons to put 38 on LSU? Or the wherewithal to hold Georgia to 30? Neither do I.

13. Arkansas. Again with the comparisons, and this is not about records because somehow, someway, Arkansas actually has two wins heading into a bye week before going to Lexington. Do you think Tennessee has had any type of performance close to what the Hogs did taking Texas A&M to the final play last Saturday? Neither do I.

14. Tennessee. I do not want anyone to think I am piling on, especially Steve, who with the Spirt-Red Bank cancellation, the inevitable Mariota re-signing and the malaise that has covered Knoxville since for the better part of the last decade, is having a tough football patch. But how about this numerical comparison: The perceived Vegas difference between Tennessee and Georgia (minus-25 right now) is really close than the perceived difference between Tennessee and Georgia State, which was getting 26.5 when it upset the Vols to start the season.  

Weakness or strength

OK, last night was the reason we reserve baseball talk beyond the Braves to the 'er' months.

(Side note: Is there anything that is more Southern aging white guy than talking Braves baseball? Seriously? Fixing cars, maybe? The weather possibly? Thoughts.)

Anyhoo, last night's playoff opener between the Nationals and the Brewers was pretty awesome.

Granted, the number of strikeouts and walks — and homers, which accounted for all of the Milwaukee runs — continued the discussion about the lack of live-action plays in the modern-day, throw-hard, swing-harder state of the game.

But the forever-used argument about the pace of baseball — this year, games lasted an average of 3 hours, 5 minutes and 35 seconds, a record for the 12th consecutive season and 24 seconds longer than 2018 — really does not hold up in the postseason.

Especially in win-or-go-home games like the Wildcard game.

The slowness in the eighth, with Brewers all-star Josh Hader working through the difficult part of the Pats' lineup, was truly one of those moments we live for as sports.

The drama. The intensity. The meaning of every pitch and every foul ball.

It was excellent. Welcome to the 'er' months, friends.

This and that

— David Paschall mentioned this on Tuesday's Press Row, and to be honest I am still relatively stunned by the details. Bio Kim, a Korean Tour golfer, who won the tournament he was in last weekend, has been suspended for three years for flipping the bird toward a fan. Read that again. Three years. Ron Artest and Steven Jackson got less than a third of that for the Malice in the Palace all those years ago in Detroit. Holy buckets of big-time birdies and bird fingers.

— Speaking of playoff baseball, Jeff Franceour acquitted himself quite fine in the booth on the Wildcard broadcast last night with Chip Carey and Ron Darling. Did you know that Ron Darling may be the smartest former baseball player of all time? He went to Yale and the story always was that he'd do the New York Times crossword in like seven minutes. (It took Mets teammate Lenny Dykstra about 10 minutes to read the New York Times comics.)


— Penny Hardaway is talking the talk, gang. Dude called for Memphis to the natty. Not a natty in some down-the-road vision. Win this year's natty. Game on, Chas.

— Division III Grinnell College has cancelled its football season because it has only 28 healthy players left. Those lack of numbers — and lack of success — are quite apparent. Grinnell (they are called the Pioneers for those wondering) is 0-3 this year by a combined 114-3 score and is 3-30 since the start of the 2016 season.

— Speaking of UT football, this is the last thing Jeremy Pruitt needs. Linebacker Jeremy Banks in an arrest video is quoted as saying, "Where I'm from, we shoot at cops." Well Jeremy, here's hoping Coach Jeremy sends your tuckus back there ASAP.

Today's question

Which way Wednesday starts this way:

Which way you going, Georgia minus-25 or Tennessee and the points?

Which SEC team is the best? Which is the worst?

Which is your favorite moment from the UGA-Tennessee rivalry?

As for today's date, well, I will always remember it for the day mom died. But Oct. 2 has some fun connections, too.
Let's explore.

"The Tale of Peter Rabbit" was published on this day in 1902.

Coco the Clown would have been 119 today. Simply put, I hate clowns, and to quote former SNL laugh-machine Jack Handey, "To me, clowns aren't funny. In fact, they're kind of scary. I wondered where this started, and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus and a clown killed my dad." https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/deep-thoughts-clowns/n10021

Gandhi would have been 150 today. Dude Ben Kingsley crushed that role, right?
Rushmore of actors playing real people that looked the most like those people.
Go, and remember the mailbag.

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