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Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Anthony Rush (95) and Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Rob Havenstein (79) face off during an NFL Professional Football Game Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/John McCoy)

Weekend winners

Local NFL teams. Man, nice wins for the Titans and the Falcons, with both coming on the road. While the jury is still out on first-year Falcons boss Arthur Smith, I believe there is enough case evidence to support the claim that Tennessee top dog Mike Vrabel is as good as anyone in a headset this side of Foxboro. Because every pundit from Bristol to the Bay touts Rams leader Sean McVay as an offensive savant. And Vrabel's defense ran circles around McVay's O last night.

Viktor Hovland. The breakout star from the European side of the Ryder Cup, Hovland was in complete control of the PGA event this weekend. Side note: This side of the Baylor boys, Hovland is rising quickly on my list of favorite golfers. First, he's genuinely joyful. Second, he's amazingly steady. And maybe most importantly, when you get Viktor Hovland a +1600 before the tournament and dude rolls through the thing like it's the Red Bud of the Kiwanis Four Ball, then yes, that covers a lot of free-wheeling NFL picks come Sunday.

Hendon Hooker, and Josh Heupel. OK, Hooker's showing in Lexington was the definition of explosive. He's a big-play machine. And Hooker's rise to a place worthy of some big-boy postseason awards — who means more to their offense than Hooker does in the SEC? — I'll wait. It is arguably the biggest feather in Heupel's quarterback-whispering visor. Because Hooker was considered an afterthought who left Virginia Tech to some indifference from Hokies faithful. And it's not exactly like Va. Tech — which scored all of 3 points Friday at Boston College — is Florida circa 1996 these days. But under Heupel, Hooker has become a star, completing better than 69% of his throws for 21 TDs and just 2 picks. Wowser. (Side question: How great a practice player must Joe Milton be to have won the job in August? Discuss.)

Kyle Larson. Yes, NASCAR is normally a topic we skim through, but it's impossible not to note Larson's run to the Cup Series title with a win at Phoenix over the weekend. Dude won 10 races this year. Yes, 10. And, for a guy who certainly had to lie awake at night and wonder if he would ever get another chance to chase his NASCAR dream after dropping the N-bomb 17 months ago, this whirlwind certainly defies explanation. What a run.

The first episode of "Yellowstone." The season four premiere started with a bang. Several of them in fact. And we actually got to see someone kill someone with a 'loaded' Igloo cooler. The first hour was what those who have watched from the start love about the show — a wide-open spaces version of Dallas meets The Sopranos, like if the Ewings and the Corleones got together, only Sonny is Beth. And there was a lot of cussing too. (Side question: Uh, was anyone else wondering why Kayce had a live grenade in his desk drawer? Yeah, me neither.)  
 

Weekend losers

The second hour of Yellowstone. I'll admit it. I started checking scores and tried to do some phone games. Sigh. The first hour was Yellowstone; the second was an infomercial and a groundwork-laying diatribe about future Yellowstone spinoffs. (Side note: That said, I'm 100% in for the Mayor of Whateverplace with Jeremy Renner and coach Eric Taylor. One hundred percent.) And why, when I needed John and Rip and the rest of the crew to be out killin' and seekin' vengeance, did we get introduced to this vagabond kid who Beth and Rip adopted? That felt like episode six in a season arc, not No. 2 when there's so much that needs to be covered.  

Dan Mullen. Wow, the wheels have completely fallen off in Gainesville. There are few words in sports that carry a negative stigma for me as much as 'quit' and there are few terms that serve as a more damning indictment for a coach, but if you call 'em like you see 'em, Mullen's Gators quit in a 40-17 loss to a South Carolina team.

Every QB involved — and not involved — in the Kansas City-Green Bay debacle. OK, first for the guys who played. Uh, Jordan Love at least gets the inexperience excuse. There is clearly something wrong with Patty Mahomes and that Chiefs offense. A 13-7 snoozefest on what looked to be the signature game on the schedule 10 days ago? Pass. (See what I did here Spy? And that may have been the best 'Pass' associated with that mess.) And that's not even mentioning ol' Pinnochio Rodgers and his 'immunization' claims when asked about being vaccinated before the season. If Rodgers and the Packers miss home-field by one game and lose in the NFC title game at Tampa, well, what a telling self-important exclamation point on a career filled with unbelievable moments, good and bad.

The Blue Light club. Man, putting a new meaning on a Blue Light special, the relatively new club down near the Choo Choo is having some issues keeping doors open because they are having some issues following the rules set forth by the Beer Board. 

Michigan State. Oh Mel Tucker, it was right in front of you. And you could not (Pur)do it. (Huh, Spy? Huh? Cue the Kool Moe Dee, "How you like me now?")

Bonus pick: Buffalo Bills. Losing to Jacksonville outright? C;mon man. That, and the Cowboys getting stopped as a double-digit favorite, ended the run of bettors' success against the house this NFL weekend. And crimped a lot of Eliminator pool swimmers too.

 

The ball is tipped

College hoops starts in earnest this week.

There are games up and down the ledger and across the country.

Tuesday also is the annual meeting of the perennial power brokers when Duke and UK and Kansas and Michigan State get together.

It's with that as the focal point we offer a list of five storylines as college hoops prepares to tip a season that, for me, is filled with as much interest as any season over the last decade or so.

So long Coach K. Dude is an all-timer, there's no doubt, but we have not played an official game yet and I'm already tired of his farewell tour. Certainly, his accomplishments warrant the grand parade, but man, this is going to be so over-the-top — and gloss over any or all of his shortcomings — it will feel like he's been dipped in magic waters.

How good can the SEC be? UK is legit. Tennessee is good. Alabama is star-studded. Arkansas has talent. Will Wade likely made some folks some big (bleep) offers. Bruce Pearl's Auburn bunch is deep. The league is going to be fun. (Side note: The rising tide of football has lifted the boats in almost all the other sports too across the SEC. Amazing what money can do, no?)

Can UTC be a 10 seed? I think Lamont Paris' Mocs have a chance to be a 25-win bunch that everyone is gabbing about on the selection shows that Syracuse wants no part of in the first round in Boise. Two tremendous guards. The big dude from Kansas. Yes, and yes. Paris has worked wonders rebuilding a roster and rebuilding the infrastructure of a program that was far worse off than most knew a few years ago. How about this as a testament of how folks view UTC? Three Mocs games have been picked up by national cable outlets. Giddy up.

Can Mark Few get it done? Gonzaga is preseason one in almost every poll. They will have a couple of nonconference tests and then will name their score through January and February and enter the tournament at something like 33-1. But not unlike so many before him like Boeheim or even Coach K, getting there no longer matters for Few and the Bulldogs. Getting there and cutting down the nets is the only line item on Gonzaga's checklist for 2021-22.

It's impossible not to be curious about who gets the big shoe NIL deals, right? I mean the five-star kids have been getting that shoe coin for years. Now that's A-OK in the NCAA's eyes, let's see those checks. Somehow, sooner rather than later, it feels like the college hoops superstars will be like Jefferson from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." "I hear he only flew in for games."  

 

This and that

— We finished 3-3 on the published picks but closed on a serious high Saturday night with the Vols, the under on USC-Arizona State and a couple of others. Good times. (Now the NFL Sunday? Egad.)

— Speaking of the PGA, Keith Mitchell finished T-56 and pocketed $16,272.

— Speaking of Mullen and the Gators' quitting, well, former DC Todd Grantham did not quit. He was terminated. That's got to be a wrap on Grantham right? Dude is the genesis for more scoring than anything this side of prom. Here's more on the Florida flameout in Paschall's SEC wrap-up column.

— And call it a personal preference, but I don't think Mike Bobo is very good at his job. His play-calling Saturday as Auburn managed just a field goal at Texas A&M made the folders in every filing cabinet in College Station look up and mumble, "Dang, that's extra vanilla." Add in the terrible second half against what has turned into a very pedestrian Penn State bunch and Auburn's big moments have been — and I don't know the "Z9 XY 27 Frankie banana" verbiage — Bo Nix running around like the best kid on the playground from elementary school. Can someone suggest that Tank Bigsby and Mike Bobo have lunch or something? Know this: Games Bigsby gets at least 18 carries, Auburn is 3-1, that lone loss was at Happy Valley, when Bigsby should have gotten the call on fourth down at the end. Alas.

 

Today's questions

Weekend winners and losers, go. And yes, Georgia is so good that a defensive effort that suffocating has become the expectation. (But it would have been better if dude had covered that first-half fumble rather than pushing it through the end zone for a safety, which meant Kirby's smart crew failed to cover the first-half line. Alas.)

As for multiple-choice Monday, let's do this:

At the halfway point — roughly since it's a 17-game season now — who is your front-runner for NFL MVP?

Discuss.

As for today, Nov. 8, let's review.
Wow, Alex Trebek died on this day last year.


Dang some all-time monster movies debuted on this day: "Mutiny of the Bounty" in 1935; "All the King's Men" in 1949 and "The Ten Commandments" in 1956.

In honor of the return of "Yellowstone," what's the Rushmore of TV families you do not want to mess with? And yes, gotta think the Sopranos are on that list.

Go.

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