Hey gang, remember the mailbag. We're getting close to that time of year, and we're making our list and checking it twice.
From the "Talks too much" studios, the beginning of the end is really the end of the beginning — or it could be the middle of the middle. Discuss.
How dominant has Alabama's defense been during its championship run of three national titles in the last four years? Great question, and glad you asked: Alabama has allowed 81 touchdowns since the beginning of the 2009 season. LSU is second in the SEC over that time frame, allowing 120 TDs. Alabama leads the country, allowing just 10.2 points per game — and that number is inflated by Johnny Football doing Johnny Football things in Alabama's 49-42 win over Texas A&M.
Saturday: vs. UTC, 2 (Pay-per view)
Where does Nick Marshall's miraculous, 73-yard, tipped TD pass to Ricardo Louis rank in Auburn history? It's up there for sure, considering the stakes — the win kept alive Auburn's incredible run and set up a winner-take-all Iron Bowl — and the drama. If we had to name a Rushmore of the top four Auburn pass plays, we'd go, in no particular order, with Marshall to Louis, Cam Newton to Terrell Zachery early in the third quarter of the 2010 Iron Bowl, Reggie Slack to Alexander Wright for a long TD early in the 1989 Iron Bowl and Patrick Nix to Frank Sanders for the game-winner in the Swamp in 1994.
Are these Tigers ready to seal the deal? We believe so, considering the following: a) Missouri gets starting quarterback James Franklin back this week; b) the name Missouri in the BCS chase may still be a little surprising, but the Tigers' resume is stellar. Franklin is schedule to return to the lineup this week, and before getting hurt late in the Tigers' win over Georgia, Franklin was well on his way to SEC Player of the Year honors. With Franklin at QB, Missouri was in the top 12 in the country in scoring (45.7 points per game) and total offense (515 yards per game) and converted more than 51 percent of its third downs. And if not for a fourth-quarter debacle against South Carolina that turned a 17-0 lead into a 27-24 double-overtime loss, Missouri's accomplishments would compare with anyone's.
Saturday: vs. Ole Miss, 7:45 (ESPN)
4. Texas A&M
Are you ready for your Heisman moment Mr. Johnny Manziel? Johnny Football has had every bit as good a season this year as last. His running numbers are down, but his passing numbers are through the roof — he's completing 73 perecnt of his passes for 3,313 yards and 31 TDs. He has two nationally televised chances to impress the voters, starting this week at LSU and next week at Missouri. He should be the front-runner, along with FSU freshman Jameis Winston, considering he has carried a wretched defense to an 8-2 mark, and those two losses are by a combined 11 points to Alabama and Auburn, which are a combined 20-1 this season. The distractions of the last 12 months than made him Johnny Sideshow likely will hurt him in some voter's eyes, but it shouldn't. Dude has been better this year than last when he won the trophy and became Johnny Football.
Saturday: at LSU, 3:30 (CBS)
5. South Carolina
Will South Carolina give Connor Shaw a nice send off? Absolutely. In the SEC year of the quarterback, the most underrated will set a nice and meaningful record when the Gamecocks crush Coastal on Saturday. Shaw will set the record for most wins as a South Carolina starting quarter. He recorded his 24th last week against Florida to tie Todd Ellis, and Shaw will take the top spot this week. Depending on how Missouri fares the next two weeks, Shaw could have three more chances after this week to add to that number, too. Considering USC has Clemson Nov. 30 and USC has already become bowl eligible, a Missouri loss puts Shaw and USC in the SEC title game as well.
Saturday: vs. Coastal Carolina, 1 (Pay-per view)
6. Ole Miss
Saturday: vs. Missouri, 7:45 (ESPN)
How motivated will the Tigers be? LSU has an uncharacteristic three losses with two games still play. LSU is fifth in the SEC West. That single statement may define how tough the SEC West is. LSU — with an NFL QB, two NFL wide receivers the league's best healthy defensive tackle and a slew of athletic freaks — is the fifth best team in its division. Wow. A win against the A&M Manziels would help — and it would greatly elevate the Tigers' bowl profile, too.
Saturday: vs. Texas A&M, 3:30 (CBS)
Did you know that in historical context, the single best player in SEC history at his position currently plays for Vanderbilt? Yes, meet Jordan Matthews, the VU wide receiver who has set the league record for receiving yards (3,358) and likely will set the league record for catches — he needs but four — sometime Saturday night in Knoxville. And Matthews did this with a trio of future entrepreneurs — Jordan Rodgers, Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette sounds more like a lawyer firm than a QB lineage — throwing him the ball the last two years.
Saturday: at Tennessee, 7 (ESPN2)
What could possibly happen next in this Bulldogs season of bad dreams? After the Immaculate Deflection that lifted Auburn to a miracle win over Georgia last Saturday, the Bulldogs are staring at a possible bowl trip to Nashville. Or worse. And who in their right mind would have thought that was possible at the end of September when the Bulldogs had just outlasted LSU in a thriller? A large part of the season spoiling can be attributed to injuries, but the defense has been bad front to back this year. Maybe the only was this season could get worse is when arriving in Birmingham for the BBVC Bowl, Mark Richt announces defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's getting an extension. No way that happens. Heck the odds on the Immaculate Deflection were higher.
Saturday: vs. Kentucky, 7 (ESPNU)
Does Florida have anything left in the tank? It's hard to think so after pushing all its chips in at South Carolina and still coming up short. The Gators' offense is so bad right now that the only way it scored in Columbia was running a Wildcat package. In fact, if Florida and Arkansas met on a neutral field this week, the over/under would be 7.5.
Saturday: vs. Georgia Southern, 2 (Pay-per view)
Is Tennessee ready for the win-or-go-home-for-Christmas stakes that are Saturday night's date with Vandy? You'd have to believe so, right? OK, we're going to buy in, and in some ways this may be the most telling game in Butch Jones' first year. Think about it this way: This is one of the most evenly matched games talent-wise. This is the game that has tangible implications — win and stay alive for the postseason, lose and, well, buh-bye. This is the game we will be able to see how much the experienced Vols have bought into the Brick-by-Brick mantra. Interesting indeed.
Saturday: vs. Vandy, 7 (ESPN2)
12. Mississippi State
Other than families, girl friends and those being interrogated at GitMo, who is going to watch the Dogs and Hogs on Saturday? Wow. It would have been fun for the SEC Network to replace its normal, professional broadcasters — they are getting paid, so by definition they are professionals, so you're welcome Andre Ware — with some true stand-up comedians and let them have their way with the error-filled circus that will be Dogs and Hogs. Dogs and Hogs... that's the sorority the Tri-Lambs partnered with in "Revenge of the Nerds" right?
Saturday: at Arkansas, noon (WDSI)
Is there a better time to get a swing at Georgia than right now? Not really, considering the emotional stomach punch that was the loss to Auburn. Still, the Wildcats are going to have to come up with a plan for the Gurley-Murray monster that is as good as any quarterback-running back combo in college football. That's the bad news. The good news is Todd Grantham is prominently involved.
Saturday: at Georgia, 7 (ESPNU)
Do you believe in karma? The Bielemas do. After Bret Bielema's wife Jen tweeted 'KARMA' following Wisconsin's head-scratching loss to Arizona State that included a questionable call and even worse clock management, Bret's team is bagel-and-7 and 0-6 in the SEC. The league losses have come by an average of more than 26 points. Ouch-standing.
Saturday: vs. Mississippi State, noon (WDSI)
NFL Power Poll
That was a fun Monday night football game right up until the end.
The "uncatchable pass" is extremely prejudicial in cases such as Monday night when Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly hugged Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on an underthrown pass that was intercepted by Robert Lester on the final play of Carolina's 24-20 win. In that case, the ball was uncatchable mainly because the defensive player was tackling the receiver. The "uncatchable" clause really should be used only when a pass is overthrown or obviously uncatchable.
The last-play theatrics marred what was otherwise an excellent game. It also was the Panthers' sixth consecutive win and forces us to evaluate them with the same critical eye we reserve for the league's upper crust, because in truth these Panthers are among the best in today's NFL. Defensively, they are top-three in the league in most every category. Offensively, they have pieces.
They also have Cam Newton, who outplayed Tom Brady in the Monday win, throwing three TDs and no picks, completing 68 percent of his throws and running for a game-high 62 yards.
We all know the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. That is going to change in the years to come, at least in part. The elite QBs will continue to demand -- and deserve -- roughly 15 percent of a team's salary cap. The rest of the teams will have to decide if their QBs deserve franchise money or if they are just the best options available at the time.
Teams such as the Tennessee Titans (Jake Locker) and the Bears (Jay Cutler) and the Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger) are going to be forced to make decisions to pay their starting QBs elite dollars. Can they afford to do it? Can they afford not to? This will change the definition of "elite" to the point that the top five to seven QBs in the league are going to have to be able to win games regardless of the pieces around them. The elite quarterbacks are going to command big dollars, and the sacrifices of the roster must be compensated for by the quarterback's talents. That's the price of their high asking price.
Teams without elite QBs should have better parts because they have more to spend. That means spending elite dollars on merely a good or serviceable quarterback -- or missing on a first-round QB pick -- can cripple franchises for years.
That also means teams will have the best chance to be complete, well-rounded teams if they can land a young QB and build around him before he is up for his first renegogiation after five years.
That's where the Panthers are now, whether you believe Cam Newton is going to be one of those elite guys who can win with whoever is around him.
1) Denver: The Broncos' win over the Chiefs on Sunday gave them a temporary leg up. To stay atop the heap, the Denver Peytons will have to win against New England and then make the return trip to Kansas City -- a crucial swing for Denver, to be sure, and two more weeks of Manning excellence will mean the AFC playoffs go through Denver for all intents and purposes.
2) Seattle: The Seahawks are rolling, and hey, look, they just got Percy Harvin healthy. Seattle is going to be a tough out.
3) Kansas City: The Chiefs acquitted themselves fine on the big stage in Denver. Still, this bunch has to wonder if the offense can deliver the big drive in the big spot that every elite team is asked to do in the playoffs.
4) New Orleans: The Saints are well-equipped for the big moment, with one of the game's elite quarterbacks in Drew Brees and arguably the game's best offensive coach in Sean Payton. If you wanted your son to be good at an offensive part of football, wouldn't you consider some variation of Peyton/Payton since the game's best current QB (Manning) and the game's best current offensive coach (Sean) and one of the game's all-time best running backs (Walter) all have some Payton/Peyton in their name?
5) Carolina: Defensively, the Panthers have the best front seven in football. And as Newton grows and matures, this team's Super Bowl window only expands.
28) Houston: Injuries have capsized the Texans. Good night.
29) Minnesota: This may be an urban myth, but somewhere in the NFL rulebook it says that starting three different quarterbacks in the same season is a sure-fire plan to get to pick high enough in the next draft that you may have a different QB option the following year.
30) Tampa Bay: Maybe Josh Freeman was the problem after all, huh? The Bucs have won two in a row -- break up the Bucs.
31) Atlanta: Wow. The only drama left for the Falcons is whether they go after an offensive or defensive lineman with their top-three overall pick. Here's saying if Jadeveon Clowney is on the board you sprint to the podium to get him.
32) Jacksonville: How do you feel if you're Titans coach Mike Munchack and you got outcoached and out-prepared by the Jaguars staff? Job-secure would not be our first guess.
In a photo provided by the University of Southern California, date not known, Ed Orgeron poses for a photo. USC fired Lane Kiffin as football coach early Sunday morning, Sept. 29, 2013, ending the coach's tumultuous tenure a few hours after the Trojans lost 62-41 at Arizona State.
Coach O my goodness
Ed Orgeron is now campaigning for the USC job. We think Ed McMahon wants it too. And Mr. Ed. And Eddie Monster, and Eddie Haskel.
Let's rank the Eds and where they may fit on USC AD Pat Haden's wish list — and remember the only confirmed interview to this point is former USC All-American and former NFL head coach and current Denver defensive coordinator and interim head coach Jack Del Rio (nice resume Jack):
1. Ed O'Neill — Al Bundy did score four TDs in a game for Polk High back in the day.
2. Eddie Robinson — Yes, he's dead, but what a list of accomplishments
3. Ed Harris — Dude showed real coaching chops as the head coach in "Radio"
4. Ed Orgeron — USC is on a nice run, no doubt. Tell 'em bout it JoJo. (Please remember that Coach O was 10-25 in his previous head coaching run at Ole Miss, and yes, that's even worse than Derek Dooley's 17-20 mark before getting the UT gig.)
These are only the Ed rankings, so if Haden is set and determined to hire an Ed, Coach O may have a shot. On a serious note, if/when Coach O does not get the USC job, he will be a highly coveted defensive line coach because Coach O recruits better than just about anyone any where.
This and that
— Former Braves ace Tim Hudson agreed to a deal with the San Francisco Giants. It will be tough seeing Hudson pitch for the enemy, but so it goes. He got a two-year deal worth $23 million. Is Hudson a Hall of Famer? He's 205-111 with a career 3.44 ERA. He's 38 and if he adds 30 more wins the next two years, does that change your answer?
— Dewey Arnette, a Florida golf pro, is the engineer behind the "Tebow to Jacksonville" campaign. We get it, there are a lot of folks in Florida that love Tim Tebow. He's a good dude. You know what, Ashton Kutcher has like 8 million Twitter followers and Justin Timberlake is a superstar who is selling out stadiums left and right — that doesn't mean either is ready to be an NFL QB. (That said, if he can play either line, the Falcons could use him stat.)
— Urban Meyer thinks the BCS is flawed. Hmmmm, do you think he thinks racism is bad too? Of course it's bad Urban. It's been bad from day one. Of course, Urban didn't think the system was all that flawed in 2008 when his one-loss Gators and the one-loss Oklahoma Sooners played for the title with unbeaten Utah and unbeaten Boise State being dismissed. So let's get this straight, it's flawed when you're on the outside looking in, but it's OK when you are included. Is that about right? OK, thanks.
There's a slew to discuss.
Want to discuss where Cam ranks in the QB new world order, feel free.
Want to dish on 'selfie' beating twerk as the word of the year according to the educated folks at Oxford, fire away.
If you were Pat Haden, who is atop your coaching list?
Or feel free to free flow. Discuss.
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 ...