Now that we have 1.5 meaningful football games left — the Super Bowl of course, and this weekend's Senior Bowl counts as half (the Pro Bowl is dead to us) — we're faced with the divergent sports road. Do we:
a) Catch up on basketball
b) Pour ourselves into recruiting news and draft prep
c) Re-introduce ourselves to the family... "How's your mama and 'em?"
d) Lay in the corner, sadly moaning about when spring practice starts and late July report dates
e) All of the above
From the "Talks too much" studios, let's embrace all of the above.
College hoops catch up
We have passed the halfway point of college hoops, both in a numbers sense and in an unofficial capacity, with MLK day in the rearview.
Friend of the show StuckinKent, who is a numbers-crunching hoops hound, sent along his view on the hoop season to date. Here's the jist:
I pick six teams every year on MLK Day and predict that the national champion will come from one of those six teams. I've nailed it every year I've done (last seven years now), and normally nail at least three of the Final Four teams.
So here are my six teams for this year: Florida, Louisville, Indiana, Duke, Gonzaga, and Michigan State. Michigan, Syracuse, Minnesota, Kansas, VCU, and Butler all nearly stole Michigan State's spot, but the fact is that the Spartans have impressed me some and they almost always get better as the year goes on rather than worse.
His six have merit of course. Let's give a quick-six recap of the teams we have a vested interest in (either by choice, by job or by seasonal preference because we like the cut of their jib; we're not saying these are the teams we think will make the tournament or win the tournament, these are the teams we're keeping an eye on from now until the conference tournaments):
1) UT (9-7): As Charlotte's Webb pointed out last week, the massive struggles of Trae Golden have limited the Vols as much as Jeronne Maymon's season-ending injury. A season of much promise stands at a crossroad heading into Thursday's trip to No. 23-ranked Ole Miss, which put a beatdown on the Vols in Knoxville two weeks ago. With a manageable schedule on the horizon, UT needs a win Thursday and to go no worse than 7-1 in its next eight before Kentucky comes calling on Feb. 16.
2) UTC (8-11): If last year's team underwhelmed, it's fair to say this team has simply whelmed. It has struggled with consistency and execution — hallmarks of a young team — but it has not struggled with effort (something that plagued last year's dysfunctional bunch of talented, shoot-first, defend-last individuals). And while the results may not be up to the expected levels of the experienced and proud fan base, the energy and attention and attitude of these Mocs make them as fun as any UTC team in recent years.
3) Auburn (8-9): Hey, the crowd at the Kentucky game looked impressive and energetic, and like most Auburn fans, we believe if that show of spirit and excitement helped sway a football recruit or three, then the season was a success.
4) Michigan (17-1): The first of our three wildcard picks to make a March march. We love the experience of this team. We love the fact that the old-school claim of "Our dad can whip your dad" is pretty stout considering the Wolverines' pops 3-on-3 team features Tim Hardaway and Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson. We love point guard Trey Burke, who is playing at an All-American level with 18 points and 7.2 assists per game, and we all know the value of a point guard in the postseason. We love how efficient this bunch is, shooting 51 percent from the field. We love their balance, with four guys averaging more than 12 points per game. Seems solid right? We loathe their depth, considering only six Wolverines average 15 minutes per game, so an injury could be doubly painful or ill-timed foul trouble in March could be the death blow.
5) Louisville (16-2): An experienced bunch that went to the Final Four last year, here's why we're pick-sixing the Cardinals: If you think about Rick Pitino's approach, it's very Nick Saban-like in this regard — assemble a truckload of talent and send it in waves at the opponent. Louisville's offensive hiccups (it shoots 45 percent as a team and can become stagnant on the half-court) are reason to pause, but this team is still as deep and athletic as any in the country.
6) Butler (16-2): We almost went Creighton because of its Alpha Dog. We almost went Florida because it is so talented (but let's be honest, we have a hard time pulling for the Gators in almost anything, especially after that Sugar Bowl nap they tossed out this year). We almost went Duke because our Pop loves the Devils so much. We almost went Oregon because we believe it is a program on the rise and will be in the Final Four in three years. But Butler had us at hello Saturday, live from Hinkle. And to beat a top-10 foe without their best player? More please. (Side note: Bill Simmons, also known as the Sports Guy on ESPN.com, is a true original in online sports writing. One of his many schticks was the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars, named for a former big league baseball player who was white despite the preconceptions his name may generate. This is pertinent because Butler's best player is Rotnie Clark, who is a definite starter on the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars.
We've had a slew of good high school football players come through the Tri-State area in our decade-plus tenure in the 423.
We have not had a lot of "great" players in the eyes of the recruiting services, however.
Ridgeland's Vonn Bell certainly quailifies. As our prep ace Stephen Hargis tells us here, Bell attracted a slew of Tennessee coaches — head coach Butch Jones and the entire Vols defensive staff —to the Bell home on Monday's recruiting visit.
It was a late-round haymaker, swung from the floor as Jones and the Vols try to make up ground for Bell, the newly minted five-star prospect who grew up a UT fan but felt disconnected to the previous UT staff.
As Hargis tells us in the story above, Bell is one of three five-star prospects from our area in Rivals' history, joining Gerald Riggs and Da'Rick Rogers. (Side note: Hopeful UT fans will surely notice where Riggs and Rogers signed.)
Bell is as talented a football prospect as we can remember and is the best high school defensive back prospect we've watched since Paul Oliver at Harrison High School in Cobb County a previous newspaper life.
We think Bell could be a linchpin and a huge recruiting victory — HUGE — if Jones can rebuild Bell's original passion for UT and swing the tide from the Crimson Tide and THE Ohio State.
That said, we believe the massive hole left by Saban's success and Dooley's recruiting plan of indifference mean Bell is almost assuredly headed to Alabama — likely every other blue-chipper on the face of the free world.
(And as Clay Travis noted Monday at his entertaining site outkickthecoverage.com, Alabama's star-loaded class is just the tip of the SEC recruiting iceberg. According to Rivals.com, Auburn has the 19th ranked recruiting class in the country, which is pretty impressive considering the turmoil and turnover on the Plains in the last four months. Well, 19th in the country is only could enough for ninth in the SEC. Yes, of Rivals' top 21 recruiting classes in the nation, there are 10 SEC teams — Florida's 1, Alabama's 3, LSU's 5, Texas A&M's 8, Georgia's 9, Ole Miss's 10, Vandy is 17, Auburn's 19 and Miss. State's 21 — 10 teams from every other conference on God's green Earth and one independent.)
Senior Bowl update
We love the draft. You know this.
So when some of the better college football players converge in Mobile hoping to impress NFL scouts, well, we're in.
Here's some of the things that caught our eye out of Mobile as the teams prepare for Saturday's game between North and South.
— Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera is impressing scouts. Which means there's a real chance that five UT offensive players will be drafted from a team that could not qualify for a bowl game.
— Georgia will have a slew of folks drafted, and several of them are not even risking hurting their stock at the Senior Bowl. Two guys that are taking advantage of the time there are receiver Tavarres King and defensive end Cornelius Washington.
— The three quarterbacks on the South team — Landry Jones, E.J. Manuel and Tyler Wilson — really could help their standing, especially considering the vacuum atop this quarterback draft class.
— How much has the college football pendulum swung to the South? The North team features players from Florida International, Texas and North Carolina in an effort to balance the roster. Never mind the North locale of Los Angeles with USC and UCLA players on the North. And that's without several of the SEC guys underclassmen such as Jarvis Jones, Luke Joeckel, Damontre Moore, Dee Milliner and the LSU defensive linemen who figure to be in the top 12-to-15 picks.
This and that
— We're committed to sharing odd propositional bets that are part of the Super Bowl's appeal in the eyes of Vegas. We know the 49ers are a 4.5-point favorite and the total of 49. Here are the early odds for MVP (and the number in parenthesis is the payout on a $100 bet): Ravens — Joe Flacco (+200), Ray Lewis (+1000), Ray Rice (+1000), Anquan Boldin (+1500), Torrey Smith (+1500); 49ers — Colin Kaepernick (+140), Frank Gore (+600), Michael Crabtree (+1000), NaVorro Bowman (+2500), Vernon Davis (+2500). Understandably the quarterbacks are the heavy favorites, but wow, those are likable odds on Ray Lewis because of the sentimental appeal and Vernon Davis because of his athletic mismatch against most defenses.
— For the most part, we try to leave politics to the kid's table of discontent that is Clay Bennett's realm. That said, this is funny. Bill Clinton offering a fairly impressed review of Kelly Clarkson's "performance" at the Inauguration. And if Bill was that impressed with Clarkson's "talents" here's saying he likely had to have his heart restarted when Beyonce took the stage. How you doin'?
—Apparently a New Jersey woman was arrested for a DUI after crashing her car into a wall. She was wearing only an unzipped jacket. Somewhere, Randy Travis is shaking his head and saying, "Rookies."
— Part of our childhood went chapter 11 when news that Atari filed bankruptcy. Sad news indeed considering the Atari folks were the forefathers of the gaming world.
As always feel free to discuss an array of topics above. If you need a starting point, we're kicking around a new contest. Interested? We knew you might be.
We're less than two months from March 17 — selection Sunday for this year's NCAA tournament.
Without accounting for brackets or barn-storming or brain-bending over analysis, who you got in your Final Four as of this morning?
Share, who knows, there may be a contest in this in the end. Let's have all submissions by the end of the week. Deal? Deal.
Who you got in the impossibly too early x two months = Final Four contest?
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 ...