Where 45 degrees in Ceres is a heat wave baby!
I'm over it
I've been trying to find ways to feel good about college football this week, as we're in the beginning stages of our relationship with Coach Kiffin. I'm trying to allow interest to overcome hatred in looking towards the SEC Championship Game. I'm trying to live vicariously through Virginia Tech up here as they prepare for the ACC Championship Game.
But neither of those two things make me feel any better about Tennessee. And though I think Lane Kiffin continues to do a good job in his three days as our head coach, reading about him tearing up the state on the recruiting trail doesn't exactly fill the void.
I thought about going back through my massive Vol Network DVD collection and reliving the good times, but there's too much Fulmer there for me right now. Eventually I will make my way around to the Perfect10n DVD box set, available now just in time for the Christmas rush for the Vol fan(s) on your list. But not right now.
Even playing the 2009 season on NCAA Football 09 on my XBOX360 is ringing hollow, because I'm pretty sure those Vols are a little better than what we're going to see in real life next year.
(EDIT: Maybe now even moreso that the Vols have apparently told 4-star Hampton, VA QB Tajh Boyd, previously a firm commit, that they're going in a different direction. Lane Kiffin: testing your trust early. Story comes from Boyd's father via Mike Farrell at Rivals.)
I'm also getting ready to start seminary, both online and on campus during the summer months at Asbury Theological Seminary outside Lexington, KY (where my theory that Kentucky fans are the second most annoying in the SEC behind Georgia will certainly be put to the test). Friends of mine who are a step ahead of me in that process have told me I'd better do any pleasure reading I want to now before it's countless pages of theology that I may or may not care about on that particular day.
But since there's really nothing that jumps out and grabs me in that realm right now, last night I picked up Dixieland Delight again and went back to that old familiar feeling of the Vols being good, reading in the first chapter about Clay Travis' experiences at the Tennessee/California game in Knoxville '06. It's a similar situation, then and now, off the heels of something so terrible and yet clinging to any reason to believe that we're still Tennessee and we're still going to compete on a national level right away.
In talking about Kiffin on Monday I called for patience. Then last night I read this on page 35:
When I went to college on the East Coast I was amazed that people at George Washington University basketball games didn't fill their seats well before the ball was tipped. I remember asking another student from the Northeast where all the fans were before one game and he looked at me like I was crazy, "The game hasn't even started yet," he said. The game hasn't started yet? Please. In Knoxville, this game started over nine months ago, when the 2005 season ended. The stadium is full.
That's right. The Western Kentucky game - or UCLA if ESPN wants some Labor Day action again - has started. 276 days. Let's go.
In the meantime, we still have Bruce Pearl
I have a shirt that just says ROCKY TOP on it that I'm wearing today, because we're channeling all this football angst into something positive. So thank God for Bruce Pearl, who's giving us a reason to beat our chests as Vol Nation even when the best the football program can do right now is Lane Kiffin's wife and a Saturday nine months away.
The Vols take on UNC-Asheville tonight (7:00 PM - SportSouth), who are playing without that gigantic dude and just got beat by North Carolina by 68 points. You can check out the game preview from The Bruce Ball Blog right here.
I will say that it was nice to see the voters in the college basketball AP poll actually do pay attention - my assumption was that the Vols were going to drop after losing to Gonzaga, but instead the voters rewarded them for the 2-1 weekend in Orlando by jumping the Vols two spots to #10. The Zags soar to #5 and perhaps rightfully so; we'll see them again for the rubber match in Knoxville on January 7.
This may be asking for it, but right now the Vols are clearly the best team in the SEC - every game I've watched our competition play, I've been unimpressed. I've seen Kentucky get owned by North Carolina, Florida lose to Syracuse, Alabama lose to Oregon...and even Memphis stumbled against Xavier.
This goes together with the following SEC losses:
- College of Charleston over South Carolina, 82-80
- Loyola-Illinois over Georgia, 74-53
- VMI over Kentucky, 111-103
- Missouri State over Arkansas, 62-57
- Mercer over Alabama, 72-69
- Mercer, Dayton and Northern Iowa all beating Auburn
The conference as a whole is down, and even if the Vols are retooling, they're the best team right now and that shouldn't change between December and March.
After tonight's test, they'll take a ten day break for finals before two tests in four days away from Knoxville: at Temple on December 13, and against #25 Marquette in Nashville for the SEC/Big East Challenge on December 16. From there, it's back to Knoxville for two lightweights (Belmont and Louisiana-Lafayette) around Christmas, before January strikes with Kansas, Gonzaga and the SEC opener.
The Vols were a bad half away from winning the Old Spice Classic, and hopefully the performance against Georgetown will continue to look good as the season plays on. Scotty Hopson needs to play with a little more confidence, and Wayne Chism continues to not quite be all that he should be in my opinion. Still, I've liked Maze, Negedu, Woolridge and Tatum much more thru six games than I thought I would. They're going to have some lapses along the way, but I still believe this Tennessee team can be very competitive in March. Hopefully the growth process continues tonight against Asheville.
Giving more attention to the in-state football team that deserves it:
No, not Alcoa High School.
The Titans took about two seconds to get over the Jets game last Thursday, demolishing the hapless Lions 47-10 to move to 11-1 on the year. This means only an 0-4 finish for the Titans combined with a 4-0 run for the Colts would keep Tennessee from winning the AFC South for the first time since 2002. Beyond that, the Titans have two games on Pittsburgh for the best record in the AFC (though they'll play each other in Nashville in Week 16) - home field advantage would obviously be great and should be attainable, but just getting the first round bye is the matter of first importance, and like the division it would take an almost total collapse to prevent that from happening.
I say that in part because the schedule brings Cleveland to Nashville this week followed by a trip to Houston, two teams with nothing to play for. The Browns are on their third option at quarterback (Ken Dorsey, ladies and gentlemen!) and may have quit on their coach. So the Titans should have the bye locked up in the next two weeks, and then play the Steelers with home field on the line. Then maybe we'll get to return the favor by resting our starters in Week 17 and letting Indy slide in the playoffs this year.
The makeup of this team, especially on offense, continues to amaze me. Kerry Collins is just coming to work every week, completing around 60% of his passes with a 9-4 TD/INT ratio. He's doing this in a lineup where the top two pass catchers are still the tight end and the tailback.
That tailback, Chris Johnson, will get to 1,000 yards rushing this week while continuing to make every single one of us look stupid. If you find a Titans fan who liked this kid when they drafted him in the first round back in April, you've found a liar.
And the defense continues to be the weekly high scorer on my 5-8 fantasy team: Cortland Finnegan has five picks while Chris Hope and Michael Griffin have four each. And Al Haynesworth has 8.5 sacks and is on pace to have the most destructive season as a DT since La'Roi Glover set the NFL record with 17 sacks back in 2000. The only better defense than the Titans when you crunch the numbers this season?
Pittsburgh, again: thru 12 games the Steelers have given up 170 points, the Titans 175.
Two old AFC Central rivals appear on a collision course for the AFC's best record.
You want no part of the Indiana Pacers
A complete afterthought who was given no mention of playoff contention by neither Jeff nor I in our NBA Preview is 5-10 against the rest of the league...and 2-0 against the Celtics and Lakers.
Last night they laughed off a 15 point 4th quarter hole, held Michael Jordan to three points in the second half, then capped it off with South Bend's finest, Troy Murphy, who tipped in a shot as time expired to give Indiana the upset win.
A tip of the cap to Larry Legend and Jim O'Brien, but the real story here continues to be the Celtics and Lakers. The loss last night drops the Lakers to merely 14-2, and LA is still outscoring the opposition by a dozen points a night on average. Meanwhile the C's are 17-2 and continue to dispose of the Eastern Conference's challengers on a weekly basis, humbling Orlando most recently. 17-2 is a 73-9 pace, which would make the Celtics the best regular season team of all time. I mean, these guys have to have something to play for the 80 times they're not playing the Lakers.
Actually, we make that point to say this: not so quietly, Cleveland is also off to a torrid 14-3 start (they lost to the Celtics on opening night). All anyone wants to talk about is where LBJ is going to end up, but don't sleep on the Cavs right now. I still think you're not being rational if you think this season is going to end up with anything different than the Finals matchup we saw last season, at least until we see how the trade deadline plays out, but LeBron's story will continue to be interesting from a number of angles throughout the year.
Oh yeah: Celtics and Pacers, tonight at the New Garden, 7:30. They play again Sunday in Indy. Look out...
The Braves fill a spot in the rotation
Because it's always nice when all five of my teams are relevant at the same time.
An Atlanta rotation that right now looks like Jair Jurrjens, Jorge Campillo and lots of prayer will now add Javier Vazquez to the mix after a six player trade with the White Sox. In the last ten years Vazquez ranks second in strikeouts and third in innings pitched, and I'm sure he'll enjoy the more comfortable confines of the National League.
This isn't the ace Atlanta wanted when they almost got Jake Peavy a few weeks ago, which suggests to me that they're still out there. If not Peavy, AJ Burnett's name has popped up in conversation, who would also be a welcome addition at Turner Field.
So far the Braves have managed to keep their lineup intact without selling the future for a big name like Peavy. They still are in need of an outfielder, and are continuing to work out the situation with John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. Mike Hampton signed with the Astros this week, and I wish him all the best. Tim Hudson may be able to be counted on around September next season, which would be a nice bonus if the Braves were still in contention then.
The Vazquez deal isn't overly flashy, but I like it for Atlanta and so far Frank Wren has kept it together for an organization that would very much like to be playing in October again. Stay tuned...