Fab 4 picks
Well, COVID permitting, and to paraphrase Bocephus, I hope you are ready for some football.
The college bowls crank up today about noon and will fill almost every meaningful p.m. time slot from now until the NFL takes center stage Sunday.
It's also a good time to find your entertainment hunting stride, especially if you are like me and wore out the chip on your AmEx during the celebration of Jesus' birthday.
Say it again, good times.
Wednesday we went 4-and-bagel, which of course is better than good. It's highly entertaining, especially if you connect some parlays and link some outcomes.
But entertainment hunters in the sports betting world are like starting pitchers. You are only as good as your next pick and/or your next start. Yeah, there will be bad beats — having UT at plus-4.5 and not learning of the COVID absences until right before the tip of a 5-point loss certainly counts — but you take the ball when it's your turn.
Today, our plate is full. And, like Coach Gains told the Permian Panthers in the movie version of "Friday Night Lights," "Boys, my heart is full." (Side note: That Billy Bob Thornton moment is one of the five best sports movie speeches ever. Yes, Herb Brooks' "You were born to be hockey players" is there. And so is Pacino's "Life is about that inch" speech that is really the only good part of "Any Given Sunday.")
My heart is full.
North-Carolina-South Carolina under 57 and North Carolina minus-, no South Carolina plus-, no wait, doesn't UNC have that QB who is going to be the next Mitch Trubisky? Anyone with a good insight to the Carolina border war that is playing out in the Duke's Mayo Bowl, feel free to share. Here's my pick, because hey, if they are going to go to the trouble to find a fat-loaded condiment to sponsor a bowl game, then the very least I can do is throw down a couple of sheckles on one random side or the other to enhance my pleasure/pain of the experience. Ah, the purity of college athletics. I have no feel for either side in this one, but like Strap setting a high screen for Jimmy coming off the dribble, pickers gotta pick. Give me the under — South Carolina is good defensively, especially against the pass — considering the Gamecocks will start QB3 this morning. If forced to play a side, I would back the Tar Heels at minus-9 if for no other reason than how mediocre the middle of the SEC has been
Tennessee minus-6.5 over Purdue. This line has zoomed up the charts, and it's one of my heaviest plays. Let's say getting this one earlier at closer to 4 makes me smile. We know UT's defense has been susceptible to big plays. Well, Purdue's two biggest playmakers — receivers David Bell and Milton Wright, who combined for 151 catches and 2,018 yards and 13 TDs — opted out. Hmmmmm. UT has had a slew of folks decide to play, including QB Hendon Hooker who announced he was coming back to Rocky Top. Hmmmmmmmm (squared). Plus, add in what will be one of the most one-sided home-field advantages in this bowl season, and gang, I'd lay double digits on Heupel's horde.
Michigan State minus-3 over Pitt and over the 55. OK, stick with me because we are going to move quickly. This could have been a load of fun. Two surprise teams led by surprise Heisman contenders. Until, surprise, both Heisman contenders pulled out of the game to get ready for the draft. (Side note: I can remember when players first started pulling out of bowl games, and I can remember in this very space saying it's just the beginning and will become very normalized. Hate that I was so right about that. Alas.) But, speaking of opting out of bowl games, it's smart from a health point of view. It's smart from a business point of view, because any extra time spent getting ready for the underwear Olympics known as the combine can improve your draft spot by multiple spaces which is a load of dough. But Kenny Pickett, the fake-slider who took Pitt to the ACC title and was a Heisman finalist, could have played in this game against an MSU team that is dead-last in the country and allows 356.3 passing yards per game. Now Pitt turns to a dude with 14 more career passing attempts than Spy. Hmmmmmmm. How big was Pickett in Vegas' eyes? Well, the line flipped from Pitt minus-4.5 to Sparty laying a FG. Moreover, the total dropped almost nine full points, which means Vegas thinks Pickett not playing costs Pitt 9.5 and MSU star running back Kenneth Walker is not as big a deal.
Wisconsin minus-6 over Arizona State. Yes, I am a little uneasy taking this many favorites, and it's impossible not to notice that the total in this game is hovering around a very Army-Navy-esque 41. Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Arizona State's best running back has opted out, and when you are a run-first offense like the Sun Devils, well, no es bueno. (Side question: Can Christians be offended at a Devils mascot? Asking for a friend. And God bless.) My entertainment investment on this one will be light, and this has several in-game but pickers gotta pick, right Vader.
Regular season: 47-46 against the spread (50.5%, hi Matt)
Bowl season: 17-10 against the spread (63.0%)
Thursday SEC hoops recap
OK, maybe it's because of the skill sets of the top-tier teams in the SEC. OK, maybe it's football winding down. Heck, it may be that because of Bruce Pearl and Jabari Smith, I will watch more regular-season SEC basketball this year than the previous few years combined.
Maybe it's some of each — especially the last one.
So we're going to go 5-on-5 on a fairly regular basis on Thursday mornings with five quick thoughts on the mid-week SEC hoops with a potential lookahead when warranted. Deal? Deal.
At the 1, and this will not be the first or the last time you read this around these parts, but I'm flummoxed at how bad and inconsistent the officiating is in the SEC. It may be that way across all of college hoops, but I pay more attention in the SEC. If I was Will Wade, I would have been T-ed up last night and likely would have been tossed. And the erratic nature of the complete unknown that is block/charge is more unknown than smoke signals. And the swinging scales of tackle football and ticky-tack calls that dotted the UT-Alabama game was nonsensical.
At the 2, UK is built better this year than any year I can remember since AD and the boys. The Wildcats have multiple ball handlers. They have role players for the first time in a long time. And they have the best rebounding college youngster since Wayman Tisdale led the country in scoring and rebounds as a freshman at Oklahoma. (Look him up young pups. Dude could ball.)
At the 3, and UK nor anyone else this side of Gonzaga should come to Auburn as a favorite. Auburn may play poorly at some point at home and it could assuredly lose because these are still 18- to 21-year-old dudes, and that's not to cover injuries or COVID or off-shooting nights or all the rest. But, the AU Arena will be a hot ticket for the rest of the season and filled the rafters. It's loud and I think the crowd and the energy helped turn the three zebras into three blind mice with home-leaning whistles. And that's not even discussing the league's deepest team. (Auburn played 10 guys last night and that's with Devan Cambridge not seeing the floor.) Or the league's best pro prospect.
At the 4, I think LSU and UT are the next two best teams in the league even if they started 0-1 in the SEC. Beyond that, there's no way to predict what Arkansas, Alabama and a slew of others are going to do on any given night. UT's effort on the road shorthanded last night was pretty impressive. Here's more from Paschall on that very topic.
At the 5, while the rest of the league may be filled with surprises good and bad, Georgia may be the most predictable team in the league. Oh my. A 17-point home loss to Gardner-Webb, which represented GW's first road win over the season? Side note: Gardner-Webb is the Run-in' Bulldogs and their logo looks like one Georgia may have left on the cutting room floor at some point because we all know Uga ain't runnin' nowhere — unless it's to get a chomp at former AU wide receiver Robert Baker. Just wow. The only other thing I can add comes from the amazing side-track combinations of movie quotes, sports facts and youth coaching tidbits that fill my brain. Back in the early 1980s, Gardner-Webb's most famous basketball alumnus — John Drew — was part of the trade package the Hawks sent to Utah for Georgia's most-famous basketball alumnus — Dominique Wilkins.
So, about that
Anyone care to guess who had the best-selling album of 2021?
No, it was not Taylor Swift. Sorry Spy.
No, it was not Frankie Valli. Sorry Chas.
No, it was not the Cantina Band from the first "Star Wars." Sorry Vader. ("These are not the droids you're looking for. Move along.")
It was Morgan Wallen. Yeah, the guy who was caught in February in a drunken rant calling one of his buddies the N-word.
That video clip caused country music stations across the dial and on XM radio to drop him from their rotations and for him to be suspended from his record label. He was shunned by almost every music award show, as well.
But his album — "Dangerous: The Double Album," which was released in early January, a few weeks before his racial slur — topped the Billboard charts for 11 straight weeks. It was the first album in almost 35 years to debut at No. 1 on the main Billboard chart and stay there for at least 10 weeks. He's only the fourth country artist to have an album on top of the overall Billboard chart for at least 10 weeks, joining Garth, Billy Ray Cyrus and Taylor Swift.
"Dangerous" sold more than 3 million copies in 2021 to take the top spot, and that fact intrigues me.
First, the album is amazing and my appreciation of Wallen's music is not a secret around these parts.
But the ripples of the controversy require further exploration to me.
Is this the ultimate example and proof of the cliché that there is no such thing as bad publicity? Because Wallen went to a humiliated hiding hole after his stupid and racist slur was caught on video.
Also, did NOT having the album being played on the radio — and running the risk of over saturation like that "Fancy Like" song and countless others — actually help album sales? Maybe.
And, considering sales and downloads and streaming actually increased the week after Wallen's slur went viral, must be discussed.
Did Wallen become a poster boy and/or a fan fav among the unabashed racists? Maybe. Did he garner the support and the album sales from a growing number of folks who are weary of the swinging scion of the cancel/consequence culture? Maybe.
This and that
— Big stage and opportunity for the Mocs tonight, as ETSU comes to the Roundhouse for a SoCon opener that will be on ESPNU.
— You know the rules. Here's Paschall's preview on the Vols' bowl action today. Giddy-up and cover that TD Josh.
— Congrats to McCallie and LFO for claiming the hardware at the Best of Preps basketball tournament. A great community event that I am proud the paper hosts and brings back a flood of memories. We played in the Cobb County Christmas tournament at the Cobb Civic Center during my high school career. That's where Bruce Benedict T-ed me up, in fact.
— This is some kind of amazing story about a guy who created a new life and identity after robbing a Cleveland, Ohio bank 50 years ago and confessed his lifelong secret on his deathbed. You can either read this story or wait for the movie.
— Re-upping the prayers for Dickie V, who is taking some time away from his ESPN gig to continue his fight against cancer. Keep fighting the good fight, BAY-BEE.
— So Phil Mickelson is claiming he won the Player Impact Program, the PGA Tour initiative that splits $40 million to players who measure the best across a slew of social media and popularity metrics. The PGA Tour says it will be a while before it's official and that Tiger's run with Charlie at the PNC could impact the final standings. Either way, it's another brilliant move for Mickelson, who announced his 'W' on social media, which generated another run of stories in a dead time for golf. Mickelson's path to the top — allegedly — included becoming the oldest major champ ever as well as stealing the show as an announcer in the latest version of 'The Match' and picking a social media fight with golf's governing bodies about rule changes. Crazy like fox.
— COVID storyline that could be interesting. Novak Djokovic has declined repeatedly to share his vaccination status, and the Aussie Open has a vaccine mandate. Hope Joker doesn't catch Aaron Rodgers' COVID toe.
Got a mailbag spot open if you're interested.
Anyone in the championship of his or her fantasy football league this weekend? If so, how many of your players did you draft? Just curious considering the roster turnover and injury concerns of this season.
Who you got today/tonight? UT minus-6, yay or nay? The Mocs are laying 8, yay or nay?
As for today, Dec. 30, let's review.
Sinatra recorded "My Way" on this day in 1968.
Saddam Hussein died on this day 15 years ago.
Two of the short-list candidates of the biggest sports stars of my lifetime share a birthday today. Tiger is 46. LeBron is 37.
Two billionaires — thanks Nike — and two of the, what, 10 most famous athletes on the planet?
Are both of those guys the only American athletes universally known by one name?
Go and remember the mailbag.