Friday, December 19, 2008
An opportunity has been presented to me that I'm very humbled by, and am excited about pursuing.
I started SouthEastern Sports Blog in June 2006 a couple weeks after moving from Knoxville to southwest Virginia. And ever since, it's been an incredible release and a great joy in my life. It's enabled me to continue to share in the same sports conversations I had with friends and family when I lived in East Tennessee, and has been a great fulfillment of my spare time living here in rural America.
In the past six months, through Bleacher Report and through an association with The Big Orange Roundtable websites, SESB has increased her traffic by picking up the same 16,000 readers we saw in the first two years combined. We've been linked to at ESPN.com, are a regular on the Knoxville News-Sentinel's blog links, I've gotten to collaborate with several people both online and on radio, and more importantly, we've expanded our community to a host of new viewers. It's been largely through the networking with a handful of the Big Orange Roundtable sites - specifically Gate 21 (and lawvol, who's responsible for the graphics on this site), Third Saturday in Blogtober, and Rocky Top Talk.
While the numbers are exciting, this has always been purely for fun and not in an attempt to gain any sort of notoriety or anything like that. As such, I appreciate so very, very much those of you who've been reading here from the very beginning.
The reality of my life is getting ready to include seminary, both online and on campus full time for the next four years. Concerns of keeping things in their proper balance and not getting burned out, or seeing the site fall apart if I got especially busy, have been on my mind.
And so weighing those concerns and, simultaneously, a new opportunity that was presented to me, I've decided to leave SouthEastern Sports Blog to join the team at Rocky Top Talk.
Rocky Top Talk has been the first Tennessee website I check each day for the last six months - the quality of not just the writing, but the entire site, is simply outstanding as you can see from their list of College Football Blogger Award nominations and wins. So I was honored to be asked and will continue to be honored to serve on the team over there. I am very, very excited about all this and can't wait to get started there.
So first - thank you. Thanks to all of you who've spent some time here, at any point over the last few years. Specifically, thanks to Kory & Amy, Webb, Coach Marsh, Justin & Caroline, Ryan, my parents and all the other people who've been continuing the conversation from Knoxville with me on here.
Thanks to my man Jeff, who's also in the balance of life between ministry and a few minutes on the keyboard, for contributing some great stuff on the site during these last few months. Outside the sports world, you can check out Jeff's personal blog here.
And thanks to the new faces I've gotten to share with, from the outstanding community at Bleacher Report, to Jay & Al at Gridiron Breakdown, to all the Big Orange Roundtable sites whose work I've enjoyed.
I hope all of you, if you're not reading there already, will join us over at Rocky Top Talk - you have to register a free account at SBNation, but then you can jump right in on any of the conversations (or the always entertaining in-game threads). The stuff you'll get from me will be the same, just with a different address. And the stuff you'll get from the other guys at RTT is already top notch. I cannot imagine a better team to work with.
I'm going on vacation from December 22 - January 3, so I won't be officially starting at Rocky Top Talk until Monday, January 5. If vacation gets boring, you might find a few brief notes from me on here between now and then, before we move over to Rocky Top Talk for good at the start of the new year. But there's still excellent stuff going on at RTT right now.
So thanks again. Please come join us. And I hope your Christmas and your New Year is full of joy and life.
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Against a talented and experienced Marquette team with three senior guards that could've given them fits, the Vols wisely put the thin Golden Eagles in foul trouble from start to finish (taking advantage of a night where the refs clearly decided beforehand that every questionable contact call was going to be a charge), shook off a slow start to score 48 points in the second half, and continued to display that they're more than Tyler Smith to the national consciousness.
With JP Prince still out, the Vols turned to a re-inspired Wayne Chism, who went career high with 26 points and 10 rebounds, including an incredible seven-for-seven stretch in the second half capped by a h-u-g-e three. That gave the Vols a lead they would never relinquish, forcing the Marquette players who hadn't fouled out to jack threes instead of doing what they do best, and the end result was another 12 point win over a Big East team.
Last year, when the Vols were winning games by a smaller margin than I thought they should and Chris Lofton was struggling (and none of us knew about his cancer situation), I told several of my friends that I was worried we'd make the Final Four and I'd not enjoy it along the way. This year, I know we're young and expect bumps in the road (thought not quite the pothole Temple was)...but there's a level of grace with this team that makes it feel even better when the Vols pull out another big win like this.
With Chism's performance tonight, you have to put him and Prince in that group of three who can each take over a game under the right circumstances. Combine that with heady play at the point (Bobby Maze is 4-to-1 assist/turnover) and a group of shooters that, while not Lofton/JaJuan (and who would be?), must be respected. We're still growing.
The W puts Tennessee at 7-2, with Belmont and Louisiana-Lafayette in Knoxville between them and a 9-2 mark entering 2009, where they'll face the most difficult month in Tennessee basketball history: at Kansas, vs Gonzaga, at Georgia, vs Kentucky, vs South Carolina, at Vanderbilt, vs Memphis, vs LSU, vs Florida.
Welcome, once again, to bigtime college basketball.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Once finalized, this move would make Atlanta shortstop Yunel Escobar one of the hottest shortstop commodities on the trade market, which should give the Braves what they need to go out and make a deal for a bigtime pitcher (read: Jake Peavy). Escobar's prowess and upside at shortstop is great, but putting Furcal back in the mix - and the Braves haven't made the playoffs since Furcal left Atlanta, for what it's worth - also puts more pop in the lineup. Adding an ace, resigning John Smoltz and putting Furcal in there makes Atlanta's chances for a postseason run in 2009 much better than they were a few weeks ago.
Monday, December 15, 2008
"May your first child be a masculine child..."
The Family is coming together.
Monte Kiffin officially announced that he will be joining son Lane in Knoxville next fall as the Vols' defensive coordinator. The elder Kiffin has been the defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay since 1996, coinciding with Tampa's rise to football relevance and the implementation of Kiffin's Tampa 2 scheme, coming soon to SEC offenses near you. He'll inherit most of the talent from the nation's #4 defense in 2008. Good times ahead.
Monte was always a big part of the Lane hire looking good, and thanks to Gene Chizik and Charles Barkley, the Vols' hire will now be less scruntinzed everywhere but Knoxville. If there was anyway to ease the pain from John Chavis' departure, Monte Kiffin was it. I like where this can go.
Next stop - this guy. Tell 'em about it, Jo Jo!
#16 Tennessee vs. #24 Marquette in Nashville
(Cortland Finnegan: SHORYUKEN!)
The bad news is that Al Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch are out for Sunday's AFC home field advantage showdown against Pittsburgh. The good news is, both will be back for the playoffs.
The Titans could backdoor their way to HFA if Pittsburgh beats them and then loses in Week 17 to Cleveland and the Titans beat Indianapolis in Indy...but right now neither route seems particularly desirable.
There are a few folks who are jumping off the bandwagon (and jumping on the "put Vince Young in the game!" ship, which is insanity.) Sunday's game will help decide not only home field advantage, but the real direction of this Titans team. The 10-0 start has turned into a 2-2 bump in the road in the last four weeks - and it may be only that - but the Steelers will be the best gage of that.
Sadly, the game won't be flexed to NBC's Sunday night slot, which goes to Carolina and the Giants.
The Celtics are on pace to win 75 games
Again, I'm just saying.
Since we've already mentioned several cinematic classics in this post, allow me to bring up another: Boston will be envoking Rocky IV next week by going into the belly of the beast on Christmas Day, for what is without question the first must-see Christmas TV NBA game for me, when the 22-2 Celtics travel to Los Angeles to face the 20-3 Lakers.
There's 3/4 of the season left to be played, and Cleveland is certainly hot as well - but if Boston beats Utah tonight, they'll match the all-time best NBA start of 23-2. That mark is currently held by the Jordan Bulls team that went 72-10, which is the best record in NBA history. For now.
...again, I'm just saying.
You didn't really think we'd show one Ed Orgeron video classic and not show the other, did you?
The man. The legend. The next recruiting coordinator at the University of Tennessee.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Playing without Kyle Vanden Bosch and struggling to slow Steve Slaton, who became only the second back this season to go for 100+ yards against Tennessee, the Titans took a potentially even bigger blow when Al Haynesworth was injured on the next to last significant play of the game - Slaton picked up a game-clinching first down on the next play.
I didn't see it because the good folks at CBS think people in southwest Virginia just love to watch the Jets and the Bills (...which was a good game), but Frank Wycheck broke a cardinal rule of announcing by speculating that Haynesworth has an MCL injury that will sideline him 4-6 weeks. So I'm breaking the cardinal rule of blogging by passing that assumption onto you.
The Steelers should be in a dogfight for sixty minutes in Baltimore this afternoon, so I'm unsure what they'll have for the Titans in Nashvegas next Sunday. But if Haynesworth is out for an extended period of time, Tennessee's chances of extending their January football just took a huge, huge blow.
With or without the loss and Haynesworth, the game with the Steelers will be the biggest game at LP Field since Steve McNair and Eddie George wore baby blue. Hopefully, the Titans will be playing it at full strength...stay tuned.
Friday, December 12, 2008
A local affiliate in Montgomery reported that Steve Spurrier would be named Auburn's next head coach....but down in Mobile, they like their reporting with a dash of Will Muschamp.
Keep in mind that a small market Tennessee affiliate reported incorrectly that the Vols were offering their job to Mike Leach when we were going through this process last month. Obviously one of these reports is incorrect, and if they both are I wouldn't bat an eye. It is, however, fascinating to see the wildfire rumor spreading that's usually reserved for internet message boards make its way, probably in part because of them, to the affiliated mainstream media.
As always, stay tuned...
Thursday, December 11, 2008
- Tim Tebow won the Maxwell Award as the nation's best player. The gag reflex here really goes to anyone around him with a microphone; I'm pretty sure Tebow could've gone home with anyone wearing a press pass in the greater Orlando area tonight. His play and his life, apparently, brought grown men to tears. Look, Timmy, stop telling me how blessed you are. My personal theology doesn't support it.
- Dave Clawson, who was the catalyst of Phillip Fulmer's downfall in my humble opinion, has gone from a head coach at lower-level Richmond, to offensive coordinator at Tennessee, to new head coach at Bowling Green. We call that a promotion around these parts. Because it makes total sense to promote this guy after the offensive season we had.
- Lane Kiffin has told Tajh Boyd and now Bryce Petty that they're not for us. So does this mean we're going to be playing quarterback with one of the same three guys who tried it this year? Surely there's a better option out there...
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I'm not sure you call it overcorrection, but hiring the playcaller for the Gators is a good start on curing what ails your offense. And whether Mullen stays or goes, I'd say nobody likes this news more than the Sooners today.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Davey O'Brien Award - Best QB
- Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
- Graham Harrell, Texas Tech
- Colt McCoy, Texas
It's the Big 12 South's party and Tim Tebow isn't invited. And perhaps rightfully so, because the numbers on these three guys, with each playing in an elite BCS conference, are staggering. The same round robin argument can't really be used to pick a winner here because they split against each other, and the stats also leave you with questions: Harrell threw for the most yards, Bradford the most touchdowns, and McCoy had the highest completion percentage.
In such a tight race, you need something to stand out. Harrell will continue to be somewhat overlooked, even if unfairly, because of the system he plays in. Between McCoy and Bradford, the edge has to go to McCoy not only because Texas beat OU, but for the way McCoy has made plays with his feet as well all season. In other years the seasons Bradford and Harrell have put up would've been good enough to win...but in 2008 the nod has to go to Colt McCoy.
Will's Pick: Colt McCoy
Doak Walker Award - Best RB
- Shonn Greene, Iowa
- Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
- Javon Ringer, Michigan State
No disrespect to the SEC pick, but Moreno doesn't have the numbers to be in the conversation between these two. It's questionable where Donald Brown from UConn is in this race, but these are the finalists so we'll play the hand we're dealt.
Again, the numbers differ: Greene has more yards, Ringer more touchdowns. When the two teams played head to head, Michigan State won the game, but Greene outgained him by sixty yards. Therefore...
Will's Pick: Shonn Greene
Fred Biletnikoff Award - Best WR
- Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
- Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
- Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
Crabtree is going to win because he's developed a better name recognition than the other two guys, even thought they've both had outstanding seasons as well; Bryant has more receiving yards than Crabtree, and Maclin has done more from an all-purpose standpoint.
But Crabtree has the definitive play of the year in college football to go along with his name value, and outplayed Bryant head to head. All great players this season, but I see no way Crabtree doesn't walk home with the trophy.
Will's Pick: Michael Crabtree
Outland Trophy - Best Interior Lineman
- Michael Oher, Ole Miss
- Duke Robinson, Oklahoma
- Andre Smith, Alabama
An interesting mix that features the best lineman on the best offense in college football for a team that'll play for the National Championship, the best interior lineman on an Alabama unit that just missed the same prize...and Michael Oher, who's done more with less than both of them.
All three have NFL mega-dollars in their futures, and have had accomplished seasons, but Robinson and Smith are just part of the show...Oher is the show for the Ole Miss offense. That for me helps separate him from this crowded field (plus, did you know that an Oklahoma player has won the Outland Trophy five different times already?)
Will's Pick: Michael Oher
Jim Thorpe Award - Best DB
- Eric Berry, Tennessee
- Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
- Taylor Mays, USC
The other two guys are very good players with great name recognition. Eric Berry is a great player.
Berry owns the SEC records for single season INT return yardage and career INT return yardage. He's a sophomore.
Berry recorded seven picks this season and took three back for touchdowns, and tried to kill Knowshon Moreno, an Alabama wide receiver and three guys on South Carolina's offense during an INT return.
Even if I take off my orange-tinted glasses, Berry is a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2009. This will be a nice start.
Will's Pick: Eric Berry (son)
Chuck Bednarik Award - Best Defensive Player
- James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
- Aaron Maybin, Penn State
- Ray Maualuga, USC
If Maualuga was healthy all season, he wins this. But you can't overlook the insane production of Maybin, another sophomore who could take hom the trophy. Laurinaitis is solid and led the Buckeye defense, no surprise. But Maybin was much more destructive with 12 sacks and almost 20 TFLs. Laurinaitis may win on the career factor, but Maybin was a bigger force on a better team in 2008.
Will's Pick: Aaron Maybin
Maxwell Award - Best Overall Player
- Graham Harrell, Texas Tech
- Colt McCoy, Texas
- Tim Tebow, Florida
If Tebow wasn't good enough to make the O'Brien finalist list, and McCoy was a better choice than Harrell there...you have to go with McCoy again here. Plain and simple.
Will's Pick: Colt McCoy, Texas
Home Depot Coach of the Year
There are no finalists that I can find for this award, but let me throw some names at you:
- Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
- Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
- Brian Kelly, Cincinnati
- Mike Leach, Texas Tech
- Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
- Houston Nutt, Ole Miss
- Joe Paterno, Penn State
- Nick Saban, Alabama
- Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Now, as much as it pains me to say it...don't we have to give this award to Saban? None of the other guys on this list went further with fewer national expectations, and I'm willing to bet that Saban does more than Paterno these days, who is the only real comparison.
Will's Pick: Nick Saban
Walter Camp All-America Team
...or we could call it my own personal All-American squad:
QB Colt McCoy, Texas
RB Donald Brown, UConn
RB Shonn Greene, Iowa
WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
TE Chase Coffman, Missouri
OL Michael Oher, Ole Miss
OL Duke Robinson, Oklahoma
OL Andre Smith, Alabama
OL A.Q. Shipley, Penn State
OL Max Unger, Oregon
DL Aaron Maybin, Penn State
DL Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
DL Brian Orakpo, Texas
DL Terrence Cody, Alabama
LB James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
LB Ray Maualuga, USC
LB Brandon Spikes, Florida
DB Eric Berry, Tennessee
DB Macho Harris, Virginia Tech
DB Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
DB Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest
K Graham Gano, Florida State
P Louie Sakoda, Utah
Agree or disagree? Feel free to leave your picks for any/all of these awards in the comments. You can also vote at ESPN.com on the awards to be presented Thursday night, where the fan vote helps determine who takes home the trophy.
I hope to be watching the Heisman presentation for the first time this decade next year when Eric Berry becomes the next Vol to be screwed out of the award. It can be a bitter time to be a Vol fan, folks, and sometimes it comes out like this...what can I say.
While you'll find a little bit of everything at B/R, in my opinion you'll also find some very talented writers and excellent discussion on the full spectrum of sports throughout the site. It's a great place to find good stuff about your favorite team in all sports...
And if you've been thinking "You know, I'd love to write about some of this stuff...", Bleacher Report is a great place to get started. Anybody can contribute, and we're looking to bolster the Tennessee section as we speak. As community leader I'll be filtering through all the Tennessee Football stuff to help highlight the best out there. I'll also continue to copy and paste relevant stuff from SESB to Bleacher Report (and you still won't find anything I do on B/R that didn't make its way here first), and will continue to engage in community outreach at B/R for the growth of the site and for SESB, using other writers and community leaders there in different ways down the road, hopefully much like the interview piece I did recently with LSU community leader Justin Goar (who just won a trip to the BCS National Championship Game as the best college football writer at B/R this season, so congrats to him).
So as always, thanks so much for reading here - we'll still be putting all our stuff on SESB first, but we're also looking to increase the quality of the Tennessee stuff at Bleacher Report. Come check out the community, engage in the discussion there, and feel free to contribute some writing as well. All in the name of free speech and Tennessee Football.
Monday, December 08, 2008
For me personally, this is great, great news. Any wounds that are still open as most of Vol Nation moves on with Lane Kiffin just got healed a little more, because we won't have to see Fulmer wearing anything other than the Power T and the right shade of orange. This certainly doesn't rule out Fulmer coaching in the future, but does keep him in the program, the family, and as anything positive he can be for Lane Kiffin. This is, to me, the best news the program has had in a long time - Fulmer detractors have their new man who's working hard on the recruiting trail, and Fulmer supporters still have him in the program. Let the healing begin...even if it's slow, the Vols are making steps in the right direction.
Vol fans will also get a chance to see Monte Kiffin's defense tonight as Tampa Bay takes on Carolina on Monday Night Football. Combined with today's news that Eric Berry was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year, this is a great day to be a Tennessee Vol.
The '09 Heisman campaign continues.
The real story here isn't that Berry was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. The real story is whoever didn't vote Berry for first team All-SEC, as his selection there wasn't unanimous. This person should be hunted down and stripped of their vote. I'm sure Berry's on it as we speak.
Check out the full All-SEC teams (Anthony Parker and Robert Ayers named to the second team) and the other SEC awards from the News-Sentinel here.
In the morning hours that I've been up and enjoying my day off today, thus far I've channeled my rage into a Facebook group (Eric Berry > Charles Woodson), and have spent even more time reliving the one good thing that we've got - thought you might enjoy too:
Eric Berry vs. Knowshon Moreno & Georgia
Eric Berry vs. 360 (from Losers with Socks)
Eric Berry vs. Vanderbilt
Eric Berry vs. 2007 (via Rocky Top Talk)
Thursday, December 04, 2008
His vote goes to Eric Berry. Not next year. Right now.
Check out the article...consider this the preliminary buildup for when we're talking about this award for real next year.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Here's a resignation that, in many ways and in my humble estimation, makes even less sense than Fulmer's. If you didn't believe the Vols and Auburn were really just the same team all season, this confirmed it.
The ESPN report names Mike Leach as an early candidate, surprise surprise. Either way, this makes Mississippi State's search an even bigger grind since better jobs just keep coming open.
Set the early over/under at SEC coaches who aren't safe next year at five. But I hope the pendulum swings back towards stability for the sake of all these guys, their families, and the realistic expectations of SEC fanbases everywhere.
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...
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Please take some time to check out his story, and support this family with your prayers and anything else you're able to give. We trust that God is with Caleb and all of us each step of the way, and hope you'll join in the journey with them.
Monday, December 01, 2008
If you want to be negative today, you can use numbers like 33 or 5-15.
If you want to be positive, you see that 33 a little differently, and tack the word "experience" onto the 5-15 mark in Oakland.
Either way, as the 2008 season is officially put to bed and all Vol fans turn towards 2009 with literally the longest offseason in program history in front of us, we have to realize a couple of things.
One - putting Lane Kiffin over to the side for a moment, wasn't 2008 as bad as it's ever going to get in many ways to be a Tennessee Vol?
A team with championship expectations went 5-7. The games they won were against UAB, Northern Illinois, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky - nothing you'd write home about. The Vols fielded the worst offense in the modern history of the program that was literally unwatchable for many who just stopped coming to Neyland Stadium.
A Tennessee legend was painfully forced out after 35 years of service to his university, and a head coaching career that included a National Championship.
And Saturday night, one year after we were there in the Georgia Dome, the SEC Championship Game will feature #1 Alabama vs. #2 Florida, winner goes to the BCS National Championship Game.
This season has been in the depths of despair.
Three weeks ago the downward spiral stopped, at some point during the off week between the loss to Wyoming and the season ending wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Beating our annual whipping posts doesn't signal that everything's going to be alright, but it certainly didn't make it worse.
And seeing Phillip Fulmer exit the field victorious - and with a smile on his face - helped me things more okay, at least for me.
We can all agree that 2008 was a disaster. And I will probably go my whole life without seeing a more difficult season on a holistic level than this one for the University of Tennessee. I certainly hope so.
But two - understand that this makes life very much easier for Lane Kiffin.
You'll see what you want to see. If you loved watching Kiffin channel Jim Tressel in the press conference today by talking about beating Florida next year (and astute fans will remember that Tressel's Buckeyes went 6-6 in his first season...but did beat Michigan. And then won the National Championship the next year. I'm just saying.) - if you enjoyed the press conference, if you wanna get all "There's gonna be CHANGE!" crazy the way many have experience in doing from early November, if you're already talking yourself into an instant turnaround whether you hated Phillip Fulmer or not...
...remember that Dave Clawson and Buzz Peterson won the press conference too. Then remember that the Clawfense was built up from that day until it hit the field in Los Angeles. Then remember where we are now.
The press conference is meaningless in September. And September is what counts.
The only thing I remember about Bruce Pearl's press conference was him saying that a number of guys had walked thru that door in the last few years and walked out 3-4 years later because they didn't get it done, and that if he didn't get it done he'd be walking out that way too.
Bruce Pearl didn't win us in the press conference. He won us in Austin, Texas. And he's been winning us ever since.
So whether you're already talking smack on the message boards, or if you're still clutching your autographed Phillip Fulmer picture close to your heart (mine's on my bedroom wall in my parents' house) - don't get pulled too hard towards love or hate based on what you know in 36 hours about Lane Kiffin.
If you're not sold on/talking yourself into Kiffin yet, that's okay. If we win, we'll all be on board. If we don't, we won't.
But no matter your personal feelings on Kiffin at this point, do understand that this is a very good time to be the new head coach at Tennessee.
Literally speaking, if the Vols go 6-6 next year, it will be an improvement.
The expectations we've built here and the bar that Kiffin referenced still exist. But don't let the pseudo-joy you might be feeling right now overshadow how bad it felt to go 5-7 this year. And don't let your disagreement with this hire get in the way of understanding that we have lots of room to improve.
If Kiffin goes 6-6 three times, he'll be walking thru that door too. But we don't know the full direction this program is going in. Right now, all we know is that we've just been through the most difficult football season of my lifetime, and we've got a young new head coach who can't possibly take us through something more difficult next time around.
There is plenty of room for this to get better.
And we'll see. I personally like to be positive. So when Pete Carroll was on SportsTalk today and called Monte Kiffin "the best defensive coordinator of any lifetime", I liked that. The fact that Steve Spurrier is already complaining about Kiffin's recruiting...I like that.
I like that Kiffin is straightforward. I think he's funny - especially when he pulled a Chandler Bing non-smile every time they tried to take his picture - and I think that 100% of the returning players on offense will be more bought into his system than they were Dave Clawson's.
Competition is good for everybody. So I think an open competition across the board makes the necessary effor to put the best players on the field. I liked that.
And I liked the respect he paid to Phillip Fulmer.
Ultimately, we'll see. Right now, I'm on board with this guy because he's our head coach. And every single other Vol fan should do likewise. This includes the ones who jumped off the ship just because they didn't like Fulmer.
We've woken up from a nightmare, no doubt. We're nine full months -and then some - away from tasting the proof no matter how your pudding looks right now.
We got a glimpse today. We'll continue to do so in recruiting, in filling out the staff and in spring practice. And as the passionate football fans we are at Tennessee, we'll enjoy the build up of that whole process.
Time will tell if this nightmare turns into a dream. But right now, no matter how you feel about Lane Kiffin, he deserves our support.
It's a new day for the University of Tennessee. You might be dancing in the streets. You might be cursing Mike Hamilton.
Wherever you are, remember what we've just been through, and then realize that this is a great opportunity, both for Kiffin and for Tennessee.
And realize we'll spend the next nine months seeing what we want to see...before the on-field result tells us everything we need to know.
It's going to continue to be interesting, that's for sure.
For what it's worth, he's got my support.