Weekend winners

Bo Nix. The Auburn freshman started slowly — heck, who in Auburn blue didn't — but the rookie quarterback delivered in the end as Auburn beat Oregon 27-21 in the weekend's most entertaining game. (Side question: It was a thrilling game and an awesome win, but, not to be a Debby Downer here, but how in the world dos Gus not go for 2 after the Nix-to-Seth Williams TD with nine seconds left?)

The Braves. Wow. Just wow. Freddie Freeman homered twice and drove in all five runs as the Braves completed a sweep over Chicago. Atlanta scored 26 runs over the weekend and has won four straight. In that four-game winning streak, Freeman has feasted: 7-of-15 with three homers, six runs scored and nine RBIs. Uh, Mr. Bellinger and Mr. Yellich, please make room for Mr. Freddie Freeman in the NL MVP conversation. Compare these numbers please: .310/.411/.653 with 43 homers, 102 RBIs and 105 runs in 134 games; .301/.393/.580 with 38 homers, 114 RBIs and 107 runs in 137 games; .328/.423/.670 with 42 homers, 92 RBIs and 95 runs in 122 games. Blind resumes are dead heats right? (In order those are Cody Bellinger's stats, Freeman's stats and Christian Yelich's stats.)

Transfer quarterbacks. Jalen Hurts had more than 500 yards of offense and six TDs. The former Georgia boys — Jacob Eason and Justin Fields — were aces. Heck, Kelly Bryant put up huge numbers in Missouri's loss too. 

Naomi Osaka. The defending U.S. Open winner showed the grace and sportsmanship worthy of a Grand Slam champion after bouncing beloved American teenager Coco Gauff over the weekend. It generated some chill bumps for sure.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Two weeks after escaping a fiery plane crash, Dale Jr. got back into a race car over the weekend and everything felt right with the world. It was a cool story and dude's love for his family, especially his young daughter, make him even more likable. And when he gave the small tribute to his daddy, well, good time.

Bonus pick: Justin Verlander. Hard to believe that is kind of unforeseen and random as a no-hitter will put the exclamation point on Verlander's Hall of Fame resume. He likely was in the Hall anyway, but Verlander's third no-no makes it a sure thing. There are only six pitchers with three or more no-hitters, and other than Larry Corcoran, you likely have heard of the others — Ryan (7), Koufax (4) and Cy Young and Bob Feller each with three.


Weekend losers

SEC. Wow, what a punch to the ego for the league to be handed four out-of-conference losses, and three of them from Group of Five schools. Missouri lost to Wyoming despite Kelly Bryant's huge day. South Carolina imploded. Ole Miss did not have enough for Memphis. And, well, we'll get to Knoxville in a second. 

Fab 4 picks. A sub-.500 record is hardly entertaining. We started quickly last week, but had some difficult losses. USC lost its QB and allowed Fresno State to come back. Toledo allowed too many big plays. Georgia started fast and then took its foot off the accelerator. (Dogs stilled covered, but the over fell way short.) South Carolina had a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter before unraveling. And goodness, the Northwestern setback — the difference between slightly entertaining and not entertaining at all — was an all-time bad beat. We finished 6-7 over the weekend. No es bueno.

Willie Taggart. FSU's second-year coach watched as his team did not score in the second half and turned a 31-19 halftime lead into a 36-31 loss at home against Boise State. Less than ideal start for Taggart, who went 5-7 last year replacing Jimbo Fisher.

Houston Texans. On its face, the Texans pushing all its chips in to win with a franchise QB on a rookie contract makes a ton of sense. But the details of the multiple deals made by Houston — which does not have an official GM, just coach Bill O'Brien making a slew of front office decisions — are confusing. There had to be a better market for Jadeveon Clowney, who is a bona fide dude and Houston sent to Seattle for two journeymen players and a third-round pick next year. Yes, Clowney wanted a new deal and it was clear the Texans were not going to give him one, so the 'something is better than nothing' rule seems applicable. But, Houston paid $8 million of Clowney's franchise tag and would have gotten a 2021 third-rounder as compensation when/if he left as a free agent. Plus the Texans dealt two No. 1 picks and a second-rounder to tanking Miami for Laremy Tunsil, who is a dude and fills a monster hole, and Kenny Still. That's a King's ransom for sure, and as was pointed out on ESPN, the Texans dealt the moon for Tunsil — Stills is a throw-in Miami wanted gone because if there's a position the Texans do not need help with it's WR — they did it without talking to Tunsil about an extension. As a former first-rounder, they will be faced with another holdout plot next year and this one will be a tackle with all the bargaining powers because they dealt three valuable draft picks for him.

Kevin Dougherty missed his PGA Tour card by a shot last year. This year, he was inside the top 25 in points down the stretch on the Korn Ferry Tour before missing the cut at the last three events to fall to 26th. So he entered the season-ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship 21st in the multi-stop playoff format that awards PGA Tour cards to its top-25 finishers. So a top-25 finish would clinch the career-changing entry card to the big-boy events. Dougherty made a double-bogey 6 on the final hole of his second round to miss the cut — and a shot at his card — by a shot.  

Rocky Bottom

I'm not even sure where to start on the Vols' inexplicable loss to Georgia State.

But the worst possible angle here is not that it happened. It's not even that Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said it was not the program's biggest win

It actually is not that Tennessee was outplayed by a roster full of lesser-skilled players, out-worked, -schemed and -motivated — by miles in fact — by a staff of lesser-paid, lesser-known coaches, or even out performed by a program who has been around for a decade.

The worst part of Tennessee's eye-popping, national-punchline-generating 38-30 loss to a Georgia State team that finished 2-10 last year is the continued pain and anguish it has on a fan base that has known little else in football over that decade that Georgia State has been around.

And, as more than one person has noted on Twitter, the only thing worse than the anger or angst a loss like this creates is there apathy that potentially is hanging in the balance.

Because, even for a fan base as passionate and faithful and devoted and loyal as the masses of Johnny Vols Fans are, you get kicked in the junk enough times, and eventually you have to turn your back to the kicker, right?

And to paraphrase Dean Wormer, who famously said, "That foot is me," well, that kicker may be Jeremy Pruitt. 

Yes, there will be calls for patience. Yes, there will be the understandable angst about the thought of rebuilding. Yes, there will be a sun in the East next weekend and another game to try to plant the concrete of a foundation to rebuild the Tennessee football house.

But Pruitt's actions and words before this game, during this game and even after this game brings very fair questions about whether he is the guy you want to hand the keys to your nine-figure a year corporation.

His team was clearly not prepared and worse, mirrored their coach's pregame statements and thoughts that this was going to be as one-sided as security mirror.

There were little adjustments, especially defensively in the second half, when the Panthers ran through the UT defense like a fat man headed to the Breakfast Bar at Shoney's after church. (Side point: Did anyone else see the sequence when the Vols had the ball and there was a decision for the head coach to make and Pruitt was talking with the defense? Hmmmmmmm.)

Finally, to even hint that this loss was about a lack of execution, as Pruitt did in his coach's show, displays a complete lack of awareness on almost every level. 

This was not a lack of execution coach. In fact, there was not a single thing that could lead to a debacle of this magnitude.

This was a complete organizational failure, and the leader of said organization a) should be aware of that, and b) should be held accountable — in his view and in his fans' view — for that failure.

The calls for patience are understandable. And likely right.

But this loss moved the time lines for UT fans in each direction.

It moved the timeline for a return to prominence back. It moved the timeline before Pruitt's window to fix it forward.

And if serious progress is not possible and experienced as soon as Saturday, well, these questions will then be for Phillip Fulmer.

Because losing a game is bad, and losing one as inexplicable as Saturday's is down right dreadful, especially to open a new season.

But losing the fan base is a million times worse. 

This and that

— Speaking of golf, Baylor School grad Harris English is tied for 22nd entering the final round of today's Korn Ferry and appears to be in good shape to keep his PGA card. 

— While South Carolina's meltdown cost my picks and the league some respect, Mack Brown's emotional reaction afterward was everything that is right with sports

— Do you ever think we'll get to a place that pitchers are wearing protective gear on the mound?  

— Baseball's unwritten rules apparently also include a chapter on where a player can and can't go of the field to get back to the dugout. PUH-lease. 

— Novak Djokovic could not finish his fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka.  Somewhere Roger Federer is smiling.

— Andrew Luck bought a full-page ad in the Indy Star to thank Colts fans.  

— Crazy weekend of NFL cuts, no? 

Today's questions

Weekend winners and losers. Feel free to chime in. (And Fat Vader, your boys looked stout against a better-than-people-know Georgia Southern bunch.)

As for today, Sept. 2, well, let's review:

On this day in 1864, Union general — and bona fide war criminal — William Sherman burnt the city of Atlanta on his march to the sea.

On this day 50 years ago, the first ATM was installed. Wow. Side note: Do not have an ATM card, so there's that.
Nice group of birthdays. Salma Hayek is 53 and may be the best-looking 53-year-old on the planet. Jimmy Connors is 67, and yes, I thought he was older than that too.

Keanu Reeves is 55 today.

Rushmore of Keanu Reeves movies. Go. And happy Labor Day friends.