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Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, holding a clipboard, works with his assistants during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Bowl bites

Pardon me an early 2020 personal indulgence, friends, but watching that Auburn game ruined my New Year's Day.

Yes, as we said on Twitter earlier this year, we may lose the game, but the 5-at-10 never loses the tailgate.

The menu: My homemade spinach and artichoke dip, and I made some potato skins and prime rib sliders.

Dinner was perfect with the family — marinated pork chops, grits and greens (a great way to get your New Year's greens for those who may not like straight-up greens), black-eyed peas and cornbread — and the rest of the football was entertaining. (Yes, I long for the days with more New Year's Day bowls, but hey, I understand the mission of the TV folks. One game per window mostly means combining all college football fans.)

And with all that, I spent a lot of yesterday wondering: What in the bleep was that, Gus? Seriously.

Your full roster was there minus Nick Coe — and if Nick Coe was the difference in the defense that held LSU to 23 and allowed Minnesota to do that, well, Nick Coe needs to be the No. 1 overall pick — and you were flat.

Your new offensive coordinator was there, and the offense was terrible.

Your QB of the future was there and the offense took zero deep shots, and as good as we all believe Bo Nix can be, there is an undeniable truth in the room that apparently everyone can see but Gus Malzahn.

This offense is perpetually stagnant without a quarterback who is a) winning to run and b) quick enough that the defense must honor the QB run.

Period.

And until he gets inside the 5, Bo Nix simply does not run enough for the other team to pay attention to anything other than the hand-off.

That's not the option. That's a dive at left guard. And unless you are running behind John Hannah and Anthony Munoz, it's hard to drive the length of the field 2.5 yards at a time at left guard.

As TFP college football guru and Press Row cohost David Paschall noted on Twitter on Wednesday, it's pretty crazy that Malzahn has a better record against Nick Saban (3-4) than he has in bowl games (2-5).

Hey, every Auburn fan everywhere loves the fact that Malzahn has had as much success against the best who has ever done it as the rest of the league combined.

That is a wonderful accomplishment, but there is not just one thing on the to-do-list of a coach getting paid that much money at a program with those kind of goals and that makes that kind of investment.

Yes, beating Alabama regularly is going to be part of the job description, but it's just part of it.

As for the bowl games, well, the truth is worse that the facts for the AU coaching staff. Yes, Malzahn is 2-5 in bowl games, but those two are over Memphis and Purdue in lower-to-mid-tier bowls.

The 5? Let's explore, and I got a sneaky suspicion that this is not going to reflect positively on leadership.

Well, there was Wednesday against Minnesota with all of this NFL-bound defensive talent. How big was the talent gap between these two teams? Well, if we had to guess, Auburn will have close to 20 players on the 2019 team that will at the very least get a meaningful chance to play in the NFL. If that seems high, just start counting.

And while recruiting rankings are far from science, they are based in analysis and numbers. And comparing the two rosters on the field in the Outback Bowl on Wednesday through the 247sports.com talent metric, Minnesota had the 46th-best roster this year based on talent with all of 5 four-star recruits among its 85 players.

Auburn? Yeah, 13th with 46 four- or five-star commits. If anyone asked P.J. Fleck publicly if he would trade rosters with Auburn, he would of course say, "Heck, no. I love my team and the way they row the boat." But in places deep down that Fleck doesn't talk about at parties, he knows he would swap rosters every day and twice on Tuesday with Auburn and Malzahn. In a heartbeat.

The bowl other losses: An embarrassing  sleep-walk effort against UCF in the Peach in '17; a bad performance in the '16 Sugar against Oklahoma; a close loss to Wisconsin in the '15 Outback and the BCS loss to FSU after the 2013 season.

Whether that's motivation or meaning or maturity, the lack of postseason success is beyond occasional at this point.

I'm not saying fire Malzahn. Truly. Not sure who out there is better unless Urban or Stoops wants to get back into the game.

Repeat: I don't want the staff fired. I want the staff to fulfill the hope the fan base has. I want the staff to correct its mistakes — especially in the postseason, for Pete's sake. I want the staff to deliver on all that talent.

This postseason thing must be addressed. (And for those who think bowl games are meaningless, well, maybe they are. But, a) if you are going to win it all — which should be every major program's goal — you are going to have to have someone who is capable of winning meaningful bowl games, and b) Ask LSU fans, who watched Joe Burrow become the leader of the entire Geaux Tiger movement last year with that gutsy performance in the comeback over UCF how "meaningless" meaningless bowl games are within the halls of a program.)

It is a situation for Malzahn, and despite having the most wins of anyone in the country vs. Saban, averaging a smidge less than 9 wins and a smidge more than 4 losses every year at Auburn — it's those facilities, expectations, resources and that contract — is not acceptable. At Auburn or anywhere else with championship goals.

Rant over. (For now.)
 
 

Final look back

We love the montages and the videos that close years and, this time, decades.

ESPN had a great one Tuesday that was roughly 8 minutes long and reminded me of the sports all-timers who left this life in the 2010s.

Pat Summitt. Ali. Wooden. Gordie Howe. Some of the forever greats.

That said, the defining sports item of the 2010s in my mind has been TV.

Never has it been so important for all the leagues and teams. And, with streaming and cord-cutting and all the other ways, who knows how much longer the TV  tail will wag the sports dog?

But in the 2010s, TV was focus No. 1.

Don't think so? Well, from replays to reviews and rewinds to research, the TV experience became so enjoyable and so much part of the priority — time changes, longer commercial breaks, et al. — teams realized they had to find ways to enhance the in-game experience to re-attract fans to the parks, stadiums and arenas.

And while much has been made about the recent tumble of the NBA numbers, the TV tale of the '10s is as simple as the dimple on Tom Brady's chin.

The NFL rules the sports world, and in large part because it ruled TV.

The NFL's dominance on the TV sports realm is so lopsided, Belichick and Brady shake their heads and mumble, "Now THAT'S a dynasty."

According to Sports Media Watch, of the 50 most-watched TV sports broadcasts of the '10s, care to fashion a guess at how many were NFL games?

Yes, the top 10 were the 10 Super Bowls, each of which earned more than 98 million viewers and a rating share north of 41.

Well, the top 40 were NFL playoff games and 47 of the top 50 were NFL broadcasts. Yes, even Auburn math tells me that's 94 percent of the 50-most-watched sports shows of the decade were under Goodell's shield.

The other three were the London Olympics Opening Ceremonies (41st), Game 7 of the Cubs World Series win (42nd), and prime time coverage — which we believe was Phelps-related — of the 2012 Olympics (47th).

As for the NBA narrative, while no one can see the future or what it will bring — other than another Tiger major, of course — the NBA's showing in the 2010s was better than most would guess.

Sports Media Watch removed the NFL and the Olympics from the rankings and the list was certainly more diversified.

After the Cubs-Indians in Game 7, eight of the next 14 were college football games, paced by THE Ohio State-Oregon national title game in 2015.

Overall of the top 50 non-NFL and Olympics sporting events, here's the breakdown (with the most watched in parenthesis):

College football — 17 (2015 THE Ohio State-Oregon)

NBA — 11 (2016 Cavs-Warriors)

MLB — 9 (2016 Cubs-Indians)

College hoops — 7 (2015 Duke-Wisconsin)

Soccer — 5 (2015 Women's World Cup Final, U.S. vs. Japan)

Horse Racing — 1 (2014 Belmont)

 

Bowl picks

Wow, those first two got long, right? Sorry about the ranting. (That said, the food was outstanding.)

Let's offer some more bowl entertainment advice. After the feedback, we're counting the mid-week picks on the ledger. (Hey, entertainment brokers are like serious golfers; they do not allow mulligans. Ever.)

So with Auburn's stinker and Michigan forgetting how to convert in the second half we went 3-2 on New Year's Day — hitting Alabama minus-7, Georgia minus-5 and Oregon plus-3, and missing AU as a TD favorite and the over in Michigan-Alabama.

(While we are here, the growing sentiment that Tua will return — with what we can only assume is a Brink's truck full of insurance policies — is awesome news if you are an Alabama fan. Hey, I get wanting to come back. Could you imagine how much fun it would be to be worshiped on a football-crazy campus like these palatial estates across the SEC? It would be awesome. I understand going for the money now too, which is life changing and could be forever altered by an injury — especially for someone like Tua, who is already carrying the "injury-prone" label with him. Know this though: If Tua announces Monday he is coming back, buckets, Bama is going to be loaded. LOAD-did, And Mac Jones will be in the transfer portal by Tuesday.)

Where were we? Picks. That's right. The 3-2 Wednesday makes us 17-11 against the number, which is 60.7 against the spread in this bowl season.

That's entertaining. (And especially so considering we are 17-7 — 70.8 percent — since that dreadful 0-4 start to our bowling effort.)

Today, chief among the bowl offerings is the Tennessee Vols in the Gator against Indiana.

I smell bloodbath. Tennessee is laying 2. It should be laying at least 12. Vols big. Vols, in the words of Trump, HOOOOOGGGGGGEEEEEEEE. (Here's a preview from TFP UT beat ace Gene of Many Hats Henley.)

As for the rest of the bowl slate as we wind down the college football postseason: Give me Tulane minus-7 over Southern Miss; Give me Ohio minus-7.5 over Nevada; Louisiana-Lafayette minus-14 over Miami of Ohio; Cincinnati minus-7 over BC and under the 55.5 (could be a wet one in B-ham today). And yes, we'll buy the edge on every one of those.

Here's to happy entertainment seeking in the new year, my friends.

 

This and that

— Speaking of bowl picks, I will post the scores Monday, which means there will be all of two bowl games left. I will post the scores of everyone who has a chance to compete for first or second and their picks for the final two bowl games —

— Speaking of the NBA dips in TV, I do think that off-the-floor issues — China, competitive balance, etc. — have an effect, but also know this: Of those 11 NBA games that cracked the top 50 of non-NFL-Olympics broadcasts, 10 of them included LeBron James. And there simply is no denying that his move to L.A. — and into a time zone that means more than half his games start when most of the East Coast is getting into bed — is bad for the NBA TV numbers.

— Speaking of the NBA, the national shows are doing a much better job of framing the context of what David Stern meant and did for the NBA in his 30 years as commissioner. The numbers are staggering — adding seven franchises and taking the annual revenue from around $165 million to $5.5 billion — as Stern turned the league completely around. People also should know that Stern was ahead of the "age of TV" in sports, since when he started NBA Finals games were on tape-delay at night after regularly scheduled programming and he realized that in basketball especially stars mattered more than franchises. (Now, whether the owners agree with that these days would be an interesting story if the owners would actually discuss it.) But Stern's legacy as one of the best commissioners ever is hard to dispute.

— Speaking of bowl games, kudos to Kirby and the Bulldogs. Last year, they were dreadful in the Sugar. Wednesday night they were short-handed and they fought. All college football fans can respect that.

— While we are in the bowl talks, this must be put out there, too: Yes, we all understand why players would choose to sit out a bowl game that's not in the playoff. It could cost a player millions or, in the case of Jaylen Smith, tens of millions. But Jerry Jeudy played for Alabama and the future top-10 pick showed up and showed out. (And maybe clearly defined himself as the best receiver in this draft class.)

— To the victors go the spoils. Will Healy's staff at Charlotte takes a hit as OC Alex Atkins leaves for FSU. With Atkins and Adam Fuller on the Seminoles staff there's more than a little UTC flavor in Mike Norvell's coaches room.

— The Athletic is reporting that the Falcons are parting ways with passing game defensive coordinator Jerome Henderson. So that's who to blame for another wasted season in Atlanta. Got it.

 

Today's questions

Wow, that got wordy, huh, and there was nothing about the NFL.

On this Thursday, we will start this way:

If you are Jake Fromm or Tua, do you enter the draft?

If you are a Georgia fan, do you want Fromm back?

Was that final Alabama TD in the last 30 seconds Saban's way of telling Harbaugh to stick his camps in his khakis? (And the Michigan LB who got his helmet in a bunch, well, as Spurrier always said, if you are worried about other folks "running it up," then do not let them score.)

With the death of David Stern, Rushmore of all-time commissioners, and be creative.

Go, and remember the mailbag.

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