Every play counts in the SEC. Now that Georgia has earned the dubious honor of pulling the Vanderbilt/Kentucky double (and almost earned the Mississippi State trifecta), it's safe to say with certainty that there's nothing free in this conference anymore. But what you saw on Saturday in Neyland Stadium was something that felt like a playoff baseball game, where every pitch, every out counted. Although the Vols came out on the losing end, that was one of those classic, hanging on every play ballgames that seems to come along only once or twice a year. If Tennessee wins what has become the most important game of the season at Arkansas next week - where the Vols are six point underdogs?! And the over/under is 47? Have you seen us stop the run all year? Have you seen anybody stop us passing? Seems like taking the Vols and the over is free money, but that's why they play the games... - if the Vols win, and win out, 2006 is going to feel a lot like 2001, with plenty of memorable victories, and the only two games you lost twist in your gut like a knife, because you were right there, and despite some glaring stats (like -12 yards rushing, or getting beat in time of possession by twenty-one minutes), you're one penalty and one 3rd down stop away from playing for the National Championship. Beating Arkansas - with ESPN College GameDay on hand again - is the difference between a good year and an average one.
Erik Ainge should be pissed...because God knows I am. In 2004, Erik Ainge gets hurt on a misfired shotgun snap at the end of the first half against Notre Dame. Are the Vols trying to score? Not really, because they ran a draw and didn't call timeout on the previous play. So why are we taking shotgun snaps? The result: Tennessee loses a game they shouldn't have lost and eventually falls out of the BCS. Two weeks ago at South Carolina, Erik Ainge gets hurt on a quarterback draw - which really needs no further analysis - and the result is another Tennessee loss that shouldn't have been the following week, and potentially missing out on the BCS. If you're keeping score, that's one for Randy Sanders, and one for David Cutcliffe. Not sure if he'll play/start this week or not, but I've never seen a more important player get hurt on a more frustrating play call and have it cost us so much. Twice.
The NFL is the $$$ version of the SEC. Need proof? The defending Super Bowl champs are 2-6. And despite the efforts of the lowly Titans to prove me wrong, all 32 teams are capable of beating anyone, every single week. It seems like there are 4 or 5 huge games every week featuring potential title contenders, and you've got a ton of teams (Bengals, Cowboys, Eagles, Panthers) who were thought to be Super Bowl contenders who are only .500. You've got a great story in New Orleans. This is the most entertaining NFL season I can remember, to this point.
Peyton Manning is a ring away from being in the "greatest quarterback of all time" discussion. The Denver defense - #1 in the league before eating 34 points from the Colts - was comparing him to Michael Jordan. He got the best of the Patriots again last night. Of the great quarterbacks of our generation, I remember Joe Montana being the surefire bet to win. I remember Dan Marino putting up insane numbers. I remember John Elway's drive and two Super Bowl performances. I remember Troy Aikman getting it done with immense talent around him. You can still check out, in limited quantity, Brett Favre's playmaking. But if/when Manning gets a ring (and as long as he does so without throwing 4 picks in a 7-6 game or something), you may not have a better combination of all of those things up there than what you get in Peyton. As a Vol fan, I try and take time to watch and enjoy him whenever I can (since he's about three dozen times more fun to watch than the Titans right now)...but you have to wonder if the general public is seeing the same thing. I remember watching Larry Bird, still my alltime sports hero, and thinking that if he missed a shot, that was a rarity. When the Colts have the ball and don't score a touchdown, you feel like the defense has really stepped it up. Manning is that good - and as my Colts-before-Titans father pointed out this weekend, well done on giving the money to Reggie Wayne and not Edgerrin James. Seriously, one ring away. Best quarterback of all time.
The money I spent on the Fox Sports Net package on DirecTV to catch the Celtics' games on Fox Sports New England was a poor investment. Let me try and paraphrase what one of the ex-Celtics (they all speak in a thick Boston accent that I don't readily understand, so I'm not sure if it was Cousy or someone else) said on the opening night telecast: "They're not playing any defense, and they can't score." Boston looks great in transition, and Paul Pierce is the only one looking great anywhere else. They're 0-3 out of the gate. Red is looking for his cigars and can't find them anywhere.
The Basketball Vols are ranked in both preseason polls. 24 in the Coaches, 25 in the AP, Year Two of Bruce Pearl officially begins on Friday night. You're going to see youth and you're going to see athleticism, but will it translate into wins? The SEC is, of course, deep (in the AP poll: Gators 1, LSU 5, Bama 11, Kentucky 22, Vols 25, and Arkansas is getting votes) and it'll be different this year than last...but anybody who hasn't put their faith in Bruce Pearl yet isn't paying attention. The simple fact that we're ranked and talking about the basketball team the week before the season opener means he's done a good job. As Mike Hamilton says, "expect to win."