Don't forget Friday's mailbag, and we've got a spot open.
From the Mama McNabb Stage at the Al Davis Studio, here we go:
Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive talks with reporters during Southeastern Conference Football Media Days in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday. (AP)
SEC schedule announced
The SEC announced its conference football schedule for 2012, and here's our SEC ace David Paschall's story on it http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2011/dec/29/2012-sec-football-schedule-shuffle/. It appears clear that the winners in this deal were Georgia and Tennessee, which will avoid powerful Alabama and high-scoring Arkansas respectively next fall since the league had to rework the schedules to add Missouri and Texas A&M.
The losers in this deal are clear: South Carolina and Ole Miss. The Gamecocks, who figure to be with Georgia as the favorites in the East in 2012, added LSU, which is currently No. 1 in the country and likely will start the preseason there next fall. The Rebels and new coach Hugh Freeze drew an SEC schedule that features eight bowl teams. Ouch-standing.
Here's the column the sports editor wrote for today's paper that with an easier SEC slate — and four winnable nonconference games — that UT and Derek Dooley really need to win eight games next year http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2011/dec/29/eight-wins-attainable-ut-target/.
Will it happen? Hard to say, but you have to believe that the Vols will be favored in at least seven of those games — all four of the nonconference games, Mississippi State, Vandy and Kentucky — and depending on how they play leading into the Florida and Missouri games could be favored in as many as nine games next fall.
Does favored mean victorious? Of course not, but we believe that eight should be the baseline for UT next fall.
Fab 4 (plus 1), bowl picks part II
After a 41-21-1 regular season and a 2-2-1 first trip around the bowl selections, here comes the next wave. (Side note: We'll have an extra special Fab 4 for Monday's 5-at-10 for the Jan. 2 games).
Our two wins were by going over the total — Missouri/UNC and Boise State/Arizona State — and our tie was thanks to buying the half in Southern Miss's seven-point win over Nevada. (And let that be a lesson out there to all you kids. Don't do drugs, and when ever the line is at 6.5 or 2.5 or anything within a half point of 7 or 3, buy the half. That's strong advice from your Uncle 5-at-10. And don't eat yellow snow.)
There are a couple of interesting matchups in the next few days, and by interesting we mean so bad that only family, alumni and gamblers will watch. Count us in. Yip-eee. (Side note, No. 2: The over/under for the Baylor/Washington game is 79, which may be the highest we've seen.)
We've got to break free of being 20-games over .500, so let's go with these (We liked Mississippi State over Wake Forest, too, but we questioned the Bulldogs motivation against a Demon Deacons team that has to be eager to remove the memory of the 41-7 spanking Vandy handed them to end the regular season):
Iowa State plus-2 over Rutgers: Iowa State is not exactly a bowl regular, so this trip means something. Even if it's in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. OK, we have to ask, what in the name of Sam Hill's Crazy Mustachioed Hamster Bowl is up with these bowl names? We get that New Era is sponsoring it, so they get to name it, but why add the Pinstripe?
Northwestern plus-11.5 over Texas A&M: This one simply is a numbers pick. Getting double-digits before Jan. 1 is a gift (it hits 70 percent of the time), the Big 12 is 13-26 against the number the last five bowl seasons; Northwestern has covered in three straight bowl games and a big part of that is because coach Pat Fitzgerald is a stud.
Vandy minus-1.5 over Cincy: We think James Franklin knows the value of winning here for the Commodores. Plus it's in Memphis, and there actually may be a fairly strong home-field feel there for Vandy. The more we type the more we like this game. Honey, what's the ATM code, again?
Virginia-Auburn over the 48.5 and Auburn to cover whatever the number is: On the fast turf, here's saying Auburn returns at least one kickoff for a score. Plus think of the win-win for the over here in regard to Auburn losing both its coordinators: The defensive coordinator is gone so that means there will be chances for UVA to score; offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will be calling his final game for the Tigers before heading to Arkansas State, and here's saying that no fewer than five gadget plays will see the light of day. Fumble-rooskie or The annexation of Puerto Rico or even installing an extra board and trying the Triple Lindy for crying out loud. It's all in play.
Illinois minus-3 over UCLA: UCLA stinks. Period. And they shouldn't. Period. That said, it never feels, shall we say, "comfortable" to have money on the Zooker. We had to pick this one, though, because we're committed to fighting hunger, and anytime we can reference a dream matchup like this one that the good people at Kraft have put together in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, well, we're in. (Was the sarcasm detectable there? And here's a question, if Kraft is so committed to fighting hunger why not send the money they're spending on a game between teams with a combined 12-13 record and two fired head coaches to the community kitchen? Or send a whole bunch of Mac and Cheese to the shelter? Let's just move on.)
Bonus pick: Georgia Tech-Utah over the 50: And what is a Ute?
One more to go
The Indianapolis Colts say they are playing to win this week, which is of course what every team says every week of every season in every sport everywhere. That said, it would be tragic — for the Colts and for the 5-at-10 — for Indy to win its final three games and play its way out of the top overall pick (and Andrew Luck).
The 5-at-10 loves the draft. You know this. And the thoughts of an offseason draft drama of debating between the next 15 years of Luck, which figures to be pretty special, or the last five years of Peyton Manning's career is exciting.
But beyond that, with the new rookie wage scale, there is reason to believe that this No. 1 pick is the most valuable in NFL history. More than the top spot in 1983 when John Elway came out. More than in '97 when Manning was the Colts' top pick. The chance to trade Luck could bring the Colts a King's ransom on the trade market or be generation next.
But, if they play their way out of it, well, then those three-plus weeks of suck-i-tude and that 0-13 start were all for naught. C'mon Colts, do this. Finish the drill. Dan Orlovsky-Kenobi, you're our only hope.
Quick question: Why is tanking not more prominent in professional sports, especially the NFL? And yes, we know the corporate structure of the league and all the "competitive juices" talk and such, and the 4-11 Jags should be trying to drop this game just as much. Think about it this way: If a team saw a way to add a free agent that was going to be a big-time difference-maker, wouldn't they make every move and take every step to add that piece? Yes we know no one would ever admit it — it would hammer appearances — but what do you do when losing is the best possible outcome for the franchise?
This and that
— Two more undefeated college basketball teams hit the deck last night as Louisville and Indiana took body shots. That leaves four unbeaten teams — Baylor, Syracuse, Missouri and Murray State (yes, Murray State) — and here's hoping the Murray State Racers enter the tournament unblemished if for no other reason than they have a boss nickname. That would be cool.
— Mike Munchak denied any interest in the Penn State job Wednesday, which is a very good thing for Johnny Titans Fan.
— Texas beat Cal in the Blah Blah Sponsorship Stink Bowl last night. There were some scores and some plays. You get the idea. The question we have is what happened to Jeff Tedford? He was like the "IT" coach like five years ago, and could have picked up a phone and had any job in the country. Seriously. Now, he's got a less-than-mediocre 6-7 team that could score more than 10 points against a mediocre Texas defense. Donovan McNabb or Jeff Tedford, who has fallen more since 2007?
For the rest of the week, we're going to look back at the 2011 year, and we want your view.
Sure there's only two days and a mailbag left, but the mailbag is going to have a few questions about the year in review, too. So it goes.
Today, we want to know your play, moment and blooper of the year. Pick any play — whether it had championship meaning or not (We'll go with Wes Byrum's BCS-winning kick, thank you). Pick any highlight — go with the one that you called the spouse in and made her watch three times (and this may stun just about everyone who knows the 5-at-10, but it's going to be tough to top Abby Wambach's tying goal in extra time of the World Cup quarterfinals). Pick any clip that you shared with your buddies (remember, we're a family-oriented, Interweb-based, sports column; we've got former Coastal Carolina coach David Bennett's rant about wanting his players to be more like a dawg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EChnZTJicw).
Let's hear it, or as Coach Bennett would say, "What are you doing in there little Kitty Kat."
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...