published Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

5-at-10: Power Poll, chasing the monster and tough weekend for legends

Remember the Friday mailbag and to call your mom and say hi. It's a good thing to do.

From the "Talks too much" studios, here we go...

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    Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, top, tries to avoid Missouri defensive back E.J. Gaines while running for a short gain during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Alabama cuts the standard

How much better is Alabama than everyone else in college football today?

Well, how many points would it take for you to bet on Tennessee on Saturday? Would you feel comfortable with the Vols plus-28? How many would Alabama be favored by if they played Florida — only the nation's No. 2-ranked team in the BCS — in the SEC title game? It would start at Alabama minus-11 and grow from there.

It's sick really. And now a Tennessee program starving for a win is trying to milk the baddest cow on college football's block. That's the type of comedic timing that would make Lucille Ball and Barney Fife jealous. It's the irony that Shakespeare longed for and the moment of empathy that makes puppies go "ahhhhhh," for the Vols.

That said, as our ace columnist Mark Wiedmer pointed out here, the Vols have everything to gain and very little to lose Saturday. For likely the last time all season, there will be next to no pressure on Derek Dooley and Co. come Saturday. Even the most fervent anti-Orange Pants member knows beating this Alabama team with your top two running backs banged up is a lot to ask.

Sure, as Weeds pointed out, there was the magic of 1982. We'd also like to note that of Alabama's six loses in the last four-plus years, one of the mirrors the set-up of Saturday.

It was roughly two years ago, on the road, against an up-and-down quarterback who played a nearly perfect game and used a big, athletic NFL-bound wide receiver. Yep, Stephen Garcia, Alshon Jeffery and South Carolina were nearly flawless in that 35-21 win over Alabama two years and a week ago this morning.

Is it likely? Of course not. This is an Alabama team that hates the spread, hates its opponents, hates losing, hates winning, hates failure, hates helping little old ladies cross the street, hates the media and hates anything that dares to get in its path. It's impressive to watch, really.

Is it impossible, though? Of course not. And it will likely be something that Nick Saban mentions at least twice, since the toughest part of Saban's job currently is finding ways to make sure his team does not look past an inferior opponent — and let's be clear here, they all are inferior opponents right now.

That said, there will be a growing momentum built around the Vols this week and whether they can make this a competitive Third Saturday in October. And the memories of South Carolina will only help that thought.

The talented-and-troubled Garcia mirrors Tyler Bray in a lot of way, and the Vols have a puncher's chance against anyone — and will scare defensive coordinators across the country — simply because of the ability of their receivers. A fast start — USC jumped to a 21-3 lead 105 weeks ago — could involve and ignite a Neyland crowd aching for the rush of competing with the nation's elite.

Yes, as StuckinKent will certainly point out today, Alabama has not seen a passing game as potent and potentially powerful as the Vols.

So what if the cosmic tumblers align? What happens if these Vols find themselves locked in 28-24 game with four minutes left? That's almost as scary as the thought of playing Alabama in the first place, no?

So let's say everything plays out perfectly and it's tied at 27, and UT has the ball with 90 seconds left. How confident are Johnny Vols Fans out there that Bray, Dooley, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and the Vols kicking debacle can complete the miracle?

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    Atlanta Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel (22) runs back an interception for a touchdown with teammate Sean Weatherspoon (56) out in front against the Oakland Raiders during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NFL Power Poll

And then there was one. There's only one unbeaten NFL team, which means that the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only team in league history to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl, are on the clock. The living members of that Dolphins team wait until the final unbeaten team is knocked off and then celebrate being the lone undefeated champs.

The last perfect team in the league is your Atlanta Falcons, and something tells us that the Dolphins are not overly worried just yet about Mike Smith's team running the table. This is hardly the look of the Patriots a few years ago who lost in the Super Bowl after winning every game before it. Nor does this look like some of Peyton's Colts teams that started 12-0 and looked awfully good.

No, these Falcons topped a shaky Raiders bunch Sunday by using the old-school Al Davis mantra of "Just win, baby." Indeed.

Here's the Poll

1) Atlanta (6-0): The league's hierarchy is governed by a simple premise — you are what you're record says you are. These Falcons may not be perfect, but they're perfect. See that makes sense in the NFL, right?

2) Houston (5-1): The Texans were humbled Sunday night by a desperate Packers team. That was hardly a shock, and while the loss of stud-duck linebacker Brian Cushing will be felt at some point this year, that had little to do with Houston's first loss of the season. Nope, that set back was because Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay needed that game more than Houston did.

3) Chicago (4-1): Another team whose only blemish was to an emotionally charged Green Bay team. Sure, it's tough to put Super Bowl hopes on Jay Cutler, but the Bears' QB has been better than expected and the surrounding pieces are there and improving.

4) New York Giants (4-2): An offense that is in the top-10 in passing and rushing gives the Giants one of the league's most balanced attacks. With their impressive whipping of the 49ers in San Francisco, the defending Super Bowl champion Giants served notice that to be the champs, you'll have to beat the champs.

5) Baltimore (5-1): This may the exception to the rule of being what your record says. In a painful win over the Cowboys on Sunday, the Ravens lost middle linebacker Ray Lewis and top corner Lardarius Webb for the season. The Ravens are waiting to see if top pass-rusher and last year's NFL defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs will be able to return this year after suffering an Achilles' injury during the offseason. Plus, stud nose tackle Haloti Ngata injured his MCL. Ouch-standing.

————

Welcome back Peyton

Anyone have any more questions about the neck? How about whether the old guy can take a hit? Any lingering doubts about his competitive fire or his ability to make plays or any part of his game?

Didn't think so.

Welcome back to the elite circle Peyton Manning. Manning was 13-of-14 for 167 yards in a dizzying second half to help lead the Denver Broncos to a 35-24 Monday Night win after San Diego led 24-0 at the half.

The 24-point rally is tied for the fourth largest in NFL history and exiled one of Manning's personal demon teams (he had been 1-5 against the Chargers before Monday's second-half magic).

Manning and the Broncos lead the AFC West after the rally, and like it or not Manning is part of the MVP short list, just like old times.

Whether it was Manning's return to form — or the halftime miss by golfer Phil Mickelson, who could not get within 5 feet of the target from 100 yards away to earn $1 million for the charity First Book — that lifted the Broncos to the dramatic win, it was fun and comforting having Peyton looking like Peyton.

Welcome back indeed.

————

This and that

— OK, if you could image a worst-case playoff scenario for a baseball club, let's try this one. Captain and emotional leader injured for the year. Check. Bats go colder than a February morning on Signal Mountain. Check. Drop the first two games of a seven-game series at home. Check. Go into an absolute must-win Game 3 against Justin Verlander. Check and double check. Ladies, gentlement and Spy, that's what's facing the New York Yankees.

— On the other side of the baseball dial, the San Francisco Giants thumped the Cardinals on Monday night to draw even in the NLCS. Of all the teams that made the divisional series, a Tigers-Giants match-up would be the worst for the 5-at-10. And after really enjoying the playoffs, that looks more and more likely with each passing inning.

— The last time Metta World Peace made this kind of splash in the stands, it was one of the worst moments in NBA history. Now, the basketball artist formerly known as Ron Artest, is kissing hands and making friends. That cute cuddly Lakers team. Add two future Hall of Famers and everyone is a good mood all of a sudden. (Side note: Even if you're a Celtics fan are you not rooting for a Lakers-Heat NBA Finals? How great would that be? We'll surely get into this more in the coming days, but we're legitimately excited about the NBA.)

————

Today's question

Three of the biggest sports icons of today had differing injury storylines in the last four days.

Derek Jeter broke his ankle. Peyton put the neck injury firmly in the rear view with Monday's highlight-filled performance.

And then there's Ray Lewis, the 17-year veteran who will miss the rest of the season with a torn triceps muscle.

There is talk that the injury may end the Hall of Fame career of Lewis. We don't know if that's the case — especially since Lewis was such a warrior that it's tough to see him leave on any other terms than his own.

That said, if Lewis never plays another down, what's your Rushmore of NFL linebackers, modern era, say post-1980? We'll take Lewis and Singletary in the middle and LT and Derrick Thomas on the outside.

Discuss.

about Jay Greeson...

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 ...

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jgreeson said...

From friend of the show StuckinKent —

I'm just saying- I saw Alabama -21 today. I'd take that I think.

It could be close to that, but I can't help but think that there is a general sense of relaxation by the Tide. Everyone singing their praises.

But they haven't faced an offense as good as Tennessee's, a passing game as good as Tennessee's, or played a true road game against a team anywhere near the caliber of Tennessee. (Ole Miss and Michigan are the other two decent teams they've played- the Rebels were in Tuscaloosa, and the Wolverines were in Dallas.)

This may be the Tide's trickiest spot yet. And given that they may not realize it, that's got to be an advantage to Tennessee.

Tennessee has played three of the top 12 teams in the country close (Florida may not have finished close, but they were beating them in the third quarter). The Vols need to catch some breaks- a pick six of McCarron, an opening kickoff returned for a touchdown by Patterson, But the Vols haven't caught a break since Fulmer last won the SEC East. They're due....right? Maybe not. But if a couple of breaks go the Vols way, then the Vols will be able to win this game. I've been saying it for weeks. I'll take Alabama by two scores, but don't discount the Vols chances.

Alabama beat Ole Miss at home by 19. And you're saying that the Vols can't stay within 28 in Knoxville? I could be eating my words Sunday morning (or Monday morning on here), but I just don't think that's an accurate prediction.

You're talking to someone who picked Mississippi State to beat Tennessee last week and Georgia to beat Tennessee by 17 points earlier this year. So I'm not exactly Mr. Orange Shaded Glasses here.

Vols are going to get blasted by South Carolina by double digits regardless of the outcome against Alabama. Just saying....

October 16, 2012 at 11:27 a.m.
chas9 said...

Jay--If I were Vegas setting the line, 28 sounds right, but I wouldn't bet on this game at any high number. As a young pup in the Bear Bryant era I took a juggernaut Bama team minus 21 against a miserable Vandy. The margin was 20 and I learned 20+ is a lot to give up in any game. I suggest Stucky use tobasco sauce on his words.

Love, LOVE the Lucy/Barney analogy. Of course, Lucy would find to her hilarious dismay that she's trying to milk a bull, not a cow. The Vols will discover they're in a bad place under a virile bull, too, and they won't have any grip on the short hairs.

See my post yesterday after you'd all gone home for a question about lightning for Friday's bag.

October 16, 2012 at 11:45 a.m.
fechancellor said...

Ten Ring, Alabama is the standard. I've speculated on this page before that Saban embraces the total quality control program as promulgated by W. Edward Demming. There's no joy for this UT fan in admitting this truth.

Which way for 28 points: I'll take the Vols as the Tide has little to gain by running up the score, yet the Vols could quickly be shredded before the best defense they will see all year.

Doggone, I've changed my mind, Alabama -28 on the strength of Volunteer ineptitude.

The four backers you name are the best of the best. For once, I cannot offer of any substitutes.

October 16, 2012 at 12:45 p.m.
mcpell3 said...

I'd play a 3-4 and have LT with the 3 you named. Or he doesn't count give me Patrick Willis.

Any bet over 20 is a sucker bet, even if Alabama is playing Soddy Daisy Jr High.

A comment on Weed's article yesterday regarding Petrino and Auburn/TN - did he get his computer washed out with soap for suggesting that?

October 16, 2012 at 1:06 p.m.
jgreeson said...

From friend of the show StuckinKent —

Tennessee lost by 31 points at Alabama last year. Is the gap between Tennessee and Alabama as big or bigger than it was last year when the Vols weren't playing Bray or Hunter? Because to suggest the line should be 28 is basically saying that. And I don't buy that. The Vols have one more legit pro wide receiver than they did a year and one more legit pro quarterback. More offensive talent on the field for the Vols. The gap has closed some between the two teams. I'm not saying the gap is small. I'm saying the gap is smaller...especially considering Hunter and Bray are playing. The Vols didn't come close to anyone (except Middle Tennessee) when Bray and Hunter were both out last year. The Vols have come close in several games this year with Bray and Hunter both healthy. To think they won't be able to stay within 28 points (unless they just lay down and quit) is strongly worded. And Vegas agrees, making Alabama anywhere from 19-21 point favorite. That's nowhere close to 28. In fact, looking at the spread this morning, I saw where the line had opened at 21 and is down to 19.5. So the line is going the other direction. Maybe that doesn't mean what I think it means. But I've pointed out Ole Miss (only lost by 19 at Alabama), pointed out that Alabama hasn't played a passing offense yet, pointed out that Tennessee barely lost by 28 points last year without Bray and Hunter, and pointed out that the game is in Knoxville. I'm just saying that a 28 point spread in this game would be unbelievable. There are only three spreads this week of 27 or more points. Boise State by 27.5 over UNLV, Georgia by 28 over Kentucky, and Utah State by 30 over New Mexico State. Does this game really fit in with those games? This year? No way. I'll take 28 points and feel really good about where I am. (I reserve the right to change my opinion if it comes out that Bray actually did lose half of his leg on that third quarter tackle against Mississippi State where I thought he'd broken his leg and would be out for the rest of the year. Or if Bray gets caught hitting someone in the head with a dart that he was aiming at a dartboard but missed badly.)

October 16, 2012 at 1:27 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Stuck —

We don’t disagree with you that UT has the best passing game Alabama has faced to date. In fact, we're starting to believe the Vols could cover in this game, but we can’t see betting on it either way.

And you have to remember what the point spread is for — to encourage betting on each side, not what the point differential is pegged or the difference between the two teams.

And that said, even if you think the Vols cover the 20, it would at least 25 and closer to 28 for us to bet on it on comfortably. For entertainment purposes only of course.

9er —

We'll get to your question, either in the mailbag or before.

FE to the C —

What's your take on the UT position above — if they had the ball down 28-26 with 2 minutes left Saturday, could they pull it off?

McPell —

Not sure if Soddy-Daisy Jr. High is on the Tide schedule, but Auburn is and we'd take Alabama minus-20 against Auburn right now. And we'd consider doing it for something with heftier stakes than entertainment purposes only.

And yes, that desktop got desk-scrubbed.

— 5-at-10

October 16, 2012 at 1:34 p.m.
Stewwie said...

TN +21 looks like a good call for reasons stated above. Semi-related question...will TN score more or less than 21 on the Tide?

A Lakers/Heat Finals would be great. How come everyone is dismissing the Thunder though? I'm not entirely convinced that the Lakers have improved on their weaknesses from last year. Howard and Bynum are about the same in talent/potential, both are injury-prone, and both are somewhat still immature. Steve Nash is an improvement at PG, but only at the offensive end. The Lakers could not stop Russell Westbrook in the playoffs, and Mr. Nash is not the answer to that problem. Will Nash even still be healthy when the playoffs get underway?

October 16, 2012 at 1:35 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Stew —

That's not a semi-related question. That is the question.

If the Vols score 21, we'd love to have UT plus-20.

We just don't know if the Vols will score that many.

And for anyone who wants to shrug their shoulders at motivation and what not, Nick Saban punishes teams he thinks he may recruit against.

And the words from at least one UT defensive tackle today will be plastered all over the T-Town locker rooms.

— 5-at-10

October 16, 2012 at 1:47 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Stew —

Crud. forgot your hoops point. Yes, stopping Russell "Urkel" Westbrook is still a chore, but to say Bynum and Howard are similar is a stretch.

Howard is an elite rebounder and defender that can protect the rim against anyone. Bynum is neither, but has more offensive skills and elite offensive potential.

And we think the Lakers are going to follow the Spurs' rest and roll approach to the regular season.

— 5-at-10

October 16, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.
jgreeson said...

From friend of the show StuckinKent —

I know that the point spread is to encourage betting....but they get darn close to the spread it seems like more often than not. The spread is moving towards Tennessee to encourage people to bet on Alabama- doesn't that make sense? Or am I missing something?

I wouldn't particularly bet on it either. A 14 point loss could turn to a 21 point loss pretty easily (see Mississippi State-Tennessee last week for a score in the final ten seconds that changes a win for UTK covering the +3.5 to a Mississippi State win).

I tend to think it will be 14 points. I know everyone thinks I'm on some rowdy Tennessee is going to win bandwagon....and I'm close to pulling the trigger on picking the upset. But I won't do it in the end, because I have no guts. I think for Alabama, this game, the Texas A&M game, and the LSU game are their three toughest tests before Atlanta. Nope- I don't think Mississippi State can win in Tuscaloosa. I do think Texas A&M could if Manziel just goes off.

October 16, 2012 at 1:52 p.m.
jomo11 said...

Jay- some interesting numbers. Is the SEC REALLY has good as we all think it is ? Here are numbers since the start of the BSC in 2007

SEC vs. PAC-12 regular season: 10-12

SEC vs. PAC-12 bowl games: 1-0

SEC vs. Big 12 regular season: 6-10

SEC vs. Big 12 bowl games: 21-8

SEC vs. ACC regular season: 42-36

SEC vs. ACC bowl games: 16-9

SEC vs. Big 10 regular season: 7-4

SEC vs. Big 10 bowl games: 19-19

SEC vs. Big East regular season: 16-15

SEC vs. Big East bowl game: 3-8

Or maybe what IS the best is the SEC and SEC media propaganda machine . . . .

October 16, 2012 at 2:17 p.m.
Todd962 said...

Excellent point Stucky. I was able to witness the misfortune of another this weekend as a friend chose not to adhere to the entertainment only version of gambling. Its a unique thing to see someone lose a bet that involved a comma when they had it taken from them with a one handed, nearly out of bounds catch for a touchdown in the last seconds of the game. He insisted we run over his head as he lay on the driveway, but logic prevailed and we left him to ponder his flawed decision making and the pending visit to the bookie. I'd say the whole process was far better than the game itself in entertainment value. Poor fella.

I think Jon Gruden would kiss Peyton Manning on the mouth if given the chance and elsewhere if the opportunity arose. That might explain the strange part in his hair. I like watching Peyton as much as any Tennessee fan but Gruden's love fest commentary gets a little overboard for me.

Today's question doesnt leave much for discussion. You've kind of nailed it. Now if those four were involved in a prison yard deathmatch, that would be a debate. I give Lewis the edge only for the fact that he has already tasted the blood of a fellow man(alledgedly, never proven). LT would be a close second but he showed up late after the cocaine buffet had closed.

October 16, 2012 at 2:24 p.m.
fechancellor said...

Ten Ring,

First I don't see the Vols two points down with two to play. McCarron will have to throw at least two interceptions; this QB has not thrown an Oski all season. Lacy and stable don't turn it over much either.

Bray on the 2 minute drill? He threw an interception down by seven late in the Georgia game with 6:00 minutes left, and disappeared in the 4th quarter at MSU. The Tide defense is much more punishing and unforgiving than either.

If Bray is somehow successful, he gets to the Bama 30 Yard Line for a very sketchy field goal by a very sketchy kicker.

I need not mention the obvious disparities in the two coaching staffs.

October 16, 2012 at 2:28 p.m.
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