Join us here everyday for thoughts, predictions, scores, and more with some of the best sports authorities in the Upstate. We have blogs from Greg McKinney of "The Huddle," Mark Sturgis and Price Atkinson from "Straight Up With Sturg" and more!
We've got a new intern for the semester at "Straight Up With Sturg." No, he doesn't have the long beautiful brunette locks or NBA-level dance moves of our former intern last semester and current Charlotte Hornets' Honey Bee Victoria Vesce (who is now also working as a correspondent for CoachGott.com). But he does have some serious hangtime.
Meet Erskine College senior volleyball player "Hangtime" Mike Michelau.
At 6-foot-5 with some serious hops on the floor, Mike will be know as "Hangtime" on the show. He's a native of Trevor, Wisc., All-Conference performer for Erksine as well as a big Kansas City Chiefs and NBA fan. I hope our love of college football will rub off on him this semester despite not being in season now.
Victoria set the bar high with her fun, quirky and dog-friendly "Victoria's Views" weekly vidoes. So here's the first installment of "Hangtime's Highlights." Got feedback? Drop him a line on Twitter at @MichaelMichelau. I'm sure you'll appreciate it as well as a follow.
From palm trees on the beach to cactus in the desert, ESPN Upstate is following the Tigers every step of the way to bring you all the best and most coverage from the road and games.
And trust me when I say Sturg and I had fun in Miami-Fort Lauderdale over the last few days. We’re both worn to the core but winning makes all the difference in the world. After a few days back home, we’ll be headed out to Arizona for the CFB Playoff National Championship between the top-ranked Tigers and Alabama.
But first I wanted to share a few leftovers from the Orange Bowl before fully turning the page to Arizona…
The Orange Bowl does it right
I had never been to the Orange Bowl until now. And I had heard Sturg talk endlessly about how awesome his previous trips were. Having now experienced it, I cannot say enough great things about the all the wonderful people, staff, volunteers and Orange Bowl Committee Members who make it special. From UK grad Steve Roberts who serves on the Committee, to Larry Wahl and Schuyler Easterling (a Clemson grad), I can’t sing their praises enough for putting together a first-class event from the minute you arrive until departing.
The media party the night before the game at Shooters Waterfront in Fort Lauderdale was a blast (which had nothing to do with the best conch fritters I’ve ever had). Post & Courier beat writer Aaron Brenner nailed it calling the Renaissance media hotel a “weeklong personal frat house” because that’s exactly what it was.
The auxiliary press box we were in next to the main press box was a home run. We couldn’t have picked a better spot because it was essentially a small private suite converted into makeshift press facilities to accommodate overflow media. Ultimately, it was a South Carolina media box filled with mostly all TV and radio friends like the WYFF/WSPA/Fox Carolina guys, radio dean Phil Kornblut from SportsTalk in Columbia to outer outlets around the state.
By the way, thanks to Kornblut for the wireless internet save last night!
Nude beaches avoided
Most of the time when we hit the road on these trips, we like to add a layer of fun to the equation that’s loosely tied to football but more for our personal enjoyment and fun.
We made a bet before the trip and thankfully there wasn’t a winner with the loser having to “visit” a local nude beach!
“The” Sturg question: Clemson or Alabama?
The Cotton Bowl wasn’t even into the fourth quarter as the question began on social media, with Sturg’s family members asking while out celebrating New Years Eve and also friends texting both me and him: “Who will Sturg be rooting for in Arizona…Clemson or his alma mater Alabama?”
It’s going to be asked a million times over the next 7-10 days. His answer: “I can’t lose. I’m going home a winner no matter what.” Translation: He’ll be able to spin it either way no matter who wins.
He’s sure to quickly grow tired up of it by the time we hit the air on Monday’s “Straight Up With Sturg” but it’s gonna be asked until the final horn sounds in Arizona. As one of his closest friends, I know he’s truly conflicted and don’t think he’ll pick a winner either way. Rather allowing the chips to fall where they may.
Sturg proudly proclaimed on the air earlier this week that he’d never ever touch a Lime-A-Rita. Because they’re gross and also because he was too much of a man to stoop that low. Well folks, that was a boldface lie.
After a quick trip to the restroom before going over to our terminal at the Fort Lauderdale Airport, I came out looking for him, only to find Sturg heading for the Lime-A-Rita stand by baggage claim. Too much of a man huh there Sturg? I’ll be sure to ask him how good and refreshing it tasted on Monday’s show.
Sturg’s junk got “cuffed” by TSA
After his refreshing drink downstairs, Sturg and I made our way thru the TSA security line. We passed thru the actual screening portion but the hispanic TSA screener that Sturg called “rude” ultimately insisted upon providing him with a free government “massage.”
Grabbing my bags, I walked over to a fuming angry Sturg who was now putting on his shoes and belt on a nearby bench. He looked me in the eye and angrily stated in a loud voice: “Dude, that guy just grabbed my f$*kin’ pecker! And he didn’t just grab it, he freakin cuffed it in his hand!!”
Add another question to Monday’s show list: Did the TSA screener cuff or not cuff Sturg’s junk this afternoon? I’m working to find the agent’s name to see if he’ll join us live on the show to settle the debate.
Several thank you’s
I big “thank you” to several people who made the trip possible starting with our Entercom Upstate bosses Steve Sinicropi and Mark Hendrix. Without their support, leadership and drive, we wouldn’t be able to leave the building and go provide comprehensive coverage for our ESPN Upstate listeners on the air and via all our social media platforms.
I mentioned two names above but thank you to Orange Bowl communication staffers in VP Larry Wahl and assistant Schuyler Easterling. They took care of us in advance starting with credentialing, providing a location to “The Xtra Point” postgame show after the game on 93.3 The Planet as well as offering assistance and help with any needs or issues during our visit in town. Thanks guys!
Arizona is next!
The trip is fully booked. And we’re locked and loaded for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Glendale, AZ. Stay tuned this coming week on ESPN Upstate and all our social media platforms for the info on where and what we’ll be doing LIVE from Arizona!
Three hours of sleep wasn’t enough but it’ll have to do. The Westin by the Atlanta airport should have charged us by the hour last night since we were hardly there.
A pair of weary and tired ESPN Upstate co-hosts made their way into and thru Hartfield-Jackson International Airport this morning and when I say we BARELY made the plane…I mean it. Barely as in Sturg and I were two of the last three or four travelers to board less than five minutes before the plane was scheduled to leave.
The fun didn’t begin until we hit the ground in Fort Lauderdale where we encountered long line after longer line. Damn it sucked. We spent more time on the airport grounds than we did actually in the air from Atlanta to South Florida en route to the Orange Bowl.
In the spirit of travel fun (and mostly frustration), here’s some of the Top 10 things you would’ve heard between Sturg and I this morning (in order)…
10. “Yep, we should’ve taken that 6:00 am shuttle instead.” (Sturg in reference to the 6:20 shuttle we took that ultimately got us thru security and onto the plane minutes before leaving)
9. “I’m sorry but this is just piss poor.” (Sturg’s reaction after waiting 30 minutes for our checked radio equipment to arrive at baggage claim…we waited at least another 20 minutes before it arrived)
8. “This just gave us another opportunity to meet another nice man here in South Florida, who could give us a hand here.” (Sturg getting cheesy with our Uber driver Claude after we decided to Uber to the rental car facility instead of standing in a 100-person deep line waiting for shuttle buses)
7. “Here we go. Time to get in another long line. Damnit!” (Sturg on finally getting to the Avis rental car counter)
6. “Maybe my idea to split up and you go get the rental car, while I wait for the equipment wasn’t such a bad idea after all?” (My comment to Sturg after 20 minutes in line at Avis)
5. “Come on bro. Don’t play Avis-tour-guide up there. Starting playing Avis—get-the-next-person-to-the-counter-and-into-a-vehicle.” (An increasingly frustrated Sturg too himself after watching an Avis attendee joke with the same couple at the counter for a LONG time as we all waited)
4. “Boomer Sooner.” (Me trying to lighten Sturg’s mood after 30 minutes in the Avis line)
3. “Did you bring your swim trunks?” (Me further trying to lighten Sturg’s frustrated mood after 40 minutes in the Avis line)
2. “This is just freakin’ ridiculous!” (Sturg when he finally blew a fuse in the Avis line)
1. “Yesssss!” (Both of us when we finally escaped the airport and could finally smell the oranges on the Interstate)
Check back again with us later…much more to come including “Straight Up With Sturg” LIVE this afternoon (4:00-6:30 pm) from the Orange Bowl’s media hotel with ESPN college football analyst Todd Blackledge, who’ll call the game tomorrow and many more guests!
It’s been a long wait but we’re finally on the road to Miami and the Orange Bowl. Feels like Sturg and I are the only ones not there yet, as a night here in Atlanta and then early-morning flight into Fort Lauderdale.
Let me quickly say this to get it out of the way: Damn...we're heading to the College Football Playoff! This is gonna be some serious fun and really cool.
Things sure got crazy earlier this evening prior to hitting I-85 down to the ATL. Just before Sturg swung by the house to pick me up, I got a call from a source stating three Clemson football players were being suspended and sent home from Miami due to a violation of team rules.
My source close to the program told me the three players in deep and headed home were Deon Cain, Ammon Lakip and Jay Jay McCullough. The info was solid so I went with it on Twitter, setting Clemson fans on social media into a frenzy while I worked to confirm the news with a second source. It's good to have connections.
Boom…what a way to start our trip with some major breaking news. And not the kind of news Clemson fans wanted nor expected to hear regarding players “focused” on winning a national title. (Thanks to Deadspin for the shoutout and hat tip.)
Through all the continuous tweets, questions and texts during the two-hour drive, Sturg and I chatted about women of the past, his love of Lime-A-Ritas and wrong turns before arriving at The Westin that he scored for us at just $43 a night. Contact him for any future travel bookings because I’m still trying to figure out how he scored us that deal. With an early flight tomorrow/Wednesday morning to Florida, it beats getting up at 4:00 am to drive down here.
We talked about some of the side fun, contests and friendly wagers we’re planning to firm-up tomorrow. I think I’ve got Sturg convinced to hit one of South Florida’s nude beaches as punishment if I can win a bet.
I’m also trying to talk him into hopping the fence and knocking on the door of Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union Miami mansion to ask for their joint autograph on his new “The Sturg” Bama hat he got for Christmas. (Shouldn’t he be flying to the Cotton Bowl instead with that new lid on?) Not sure he’s game to recreate a scene from The Hangover but then again it will be New Years Eve…what trouble could he possibly get into on South Beach.
After Sturg finishes off a drink of his Christmas present from me chased by a few Lime-A-Ritas for good measure, we’ll be turning in to get a few hours sleep before our 7:00 am flight to Fort Lauderdale.
A reminder that we’ll be broadcasting “Straight Up With Sturg” live from the media hotel tomorrow after from 4:00-6:30 pm (off 30 minutes early due to Clemson-UNC basketball). I’ll also check back in with another post tomorrow morning after hitting the ground.
Goes without saying this is what you play for. But for a team on the cusp of writing a new chapter titled “College Football Playoff,” it’s unchartered territory for Clemson or any to other team to have scaled the mountain and stayed there since the first rankings came out in November.
Head coach Dabo Swinney has pressed all the right buttons all season long, so there’s no reason to think he doesn’t again tonight in the ACC Championship Game against streaking North Carolina.
Does Dabo play the respect card with so many picking against the Tigers due to the last-three games? Does he motivate that it’s just another step and goal to THE ultimate goal?
Tonight it’s pretty simple for Clemson. Clean up the mistakes after 10 turnovers in the last-three games. UNC is gonna give up the underneath stuff with their bend-but-don’t-break defense, so ball security will be critical when Clemson player makers get the ball in space. The Tigers can’t spot UNC field position and have to make the Tar Heels earn every point.
Defensively, all eyes will be on the Clemson linebackers to play mistake-free football with limited blown assignments. UNC can run the football effectively led by Elijah Hood and quarterback Marquise Williams has dual-threat ability to tuck it and go, so containment will be critical.
Regardless, it’s been a fun ride and I’m looking forward to see what the title of this next chapter is.
The Big Ten title game tonight is nothing more than a play-in game and is basically a pick ‘em despite Michigan State being favored by three and a half. Alabama’s coronation in the SEC Championship Game is a mere formality against Florida.
Speaking of coronations, our ESPN Upstate staff picks are in its final weekend and Sturg is trying to call the race below before all ballots have been cast. However, we’ve had a couple of 0-10 weeks this year, so I’m not hoisting any trophy or Smoke On The Water rack of ribs just yet. One more weekend of fun before bowl season begins.
B. Green vs NIU
S. Miss at WKU
Temple at Houston
WVU at K-State
Florida vs Alabama
Clemson vs UNC
Air Force at SDSU
Michigan St. vs Iowa
So. Cal vs Stanford
Troy at ULL
Note: Our weekly picks sponsor Smoke On The Water's Mike Shuler went 7-3 last week and is 82-48 overall.
Georgia fans are understandably hurt and angry with the decision yesterday to fire Mark Richt by a wide three-to-one margin against.
Getting rid of the popular Richt is tough emotionally right now for fans supporting a class individual who won the right way, but it was the right call moving forward for UGA football to get back to competing and actually contending for championships.
The obvious caveat to whether it was the right move or not lies in the weeks and months ahead depending on who Athletic Director Greg McGarity hires to replace Richt (more on that below) and the immediate success they have because this isn’t a rebuilding situation. The wrong choice and UGA could be rendered an afterthought on the national landscape much like Nebraska has ever since canning nine-win head coach Frank Solich after the 2003 season.
The UGA administration clearly could have allowed Richt to continue on, winning nine to 10 games a season and being irrelevant from the SEC title picture by November. But instead of the safe play, the brass opted to roll the dice in looking for someone who can start filling trophy cases instead of just the win column.
How many times did the preseason narrative for the Bulldogs go something like this? Top five recruiting class, preseason top 10, SEC East favorite and possible dark horse national title contender.
Answer: More times than we can count with UGA missing the mark. Oh yeah, the Dawgs still won nine or 10 games, which will get 90-95% of head coaches around the country a statue built and bronzed on the center of campus.
During the last 10 years in which Richt won exactly zero SEC titles, the SEC East has been up for grabs and the Dawgs were unable to own it. Florida was a disaster the last several seasons since Urban Meyer bolted, South Carolina gave it a brief run at the top, Tennessee was nowhere to be found but now on the rise, while Missouri played in two-straight SEC title games during their first two seasons in the league.
Trust me Dawg fans, I remember Richt and Aaron Murray taking Alabama to the final play of the 2012 SEC Championship Game and coming within five yards from a likely spot in the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame.
Enter this current season when the Dawgs were installed as the SEC East favorite almost by default because the division is down and lifeless. With one of the best running backs in the county (Nick Chubb) and a veteran offensive line, UGA was expected to mash its way to a division title.
Then along came new Gators head coach Jim McElwain, who inherited a disaster from Will Muschamp, and immediately turned UGA’s rival into an 11-2 team despite a limited offense, average quarterback play and no depth on the offensive line. As painful as Florida was to watch play many times this season, the Gators are still playing for a SEC Championship Saturday against Alabama.
McElwain was the worst thing that happened to Richt and showed the UGA brass the right guy could do the same and more. And they’re right, with the right hire.
UGA is a top-five job. It’s a job you can easily lure other current Power 5 head coaches away from their respective schools and into the Butts-Mehre Athletic Complex off South Lumpkin Street in Athens. You don’t settle for a good coach. You go out and hire one away from another successful program.
TCU’s Gary Patterson should be high on the call list as well as Jimbo Fisher, David Shaw, Charlie Strong, Mike Gundy and Dan Mullen. Why not call Chip Kelly who’ll likely be back coaching in college next year. Tom Herman has reportedly expressed interest but I’d pass on him and alum Kirby Smart, who’d basically beg for the job if given the chance.
And you don’t go the route of a retread like Mack Brown or Rich Rodriguez and you certainly don’t hire a coach without any head coaching experience like Smart.
This is a go-big-or-go-home moment for the UGA administration and McGarity. It’s unquestionable they’ve got to get this hire right after moving out a popular and successful coach. In a dog-eat-dog world of college football, especially in the SEC, there’s no guarantee they’ll nail it.
But and it’s a big but, McGarity gets the right guy, the Dawgs will return to competing for championships, something that didn’t happen over the last 10 years.
That’s assuming everything holds serve and Championship weekend goes as expected this coming Saturday. But we all know what assuming does. Except I’m going to do a lot of
Oklahoma: After dominating Bedlam last night and without any games left to play, the Sooners are all but signed, sealed and delivered for the CFB Playoff as the Big 12 champion. Bob Stoops’ team is doing it’s best Ohio State impression when the Buckeyes came from off the radar last year, played its best football down the stretch and eventually won the national championship.
Armed with a 31-24 non-conference win on the road at Tennessee in the second week of the season, Oklahoma has closed out the season stronger than anyone in the country with wins at No. 6 Baylor, No. 18 TCU and yesterday at No. 11 Oklahoma State.
It would be a shock if they’re left out and is now a matter of where they’ll be seeded, which I’d guess somewhere in the top three.
Iowa/Michigan State winner: The Big Ten title game Saturday sets up a winner-take-all scenario with the champ punching its ticket to the Playoff and the loser receiving a nice parting gift and invitation to the Rose Bowl.
The Hawkeyes’ resume is one of the weakest in the conversation but undefeated at 12-0, they’ve passed every test in front of them. Iowa has won all 12 games by more than a touchdown except three times and clearly display the controversial “balance” Committee chair Jeff Long talked about a few weeks ago. We’ve got a better chance of the sky turning green tonight than an undefeated Power 5 team being left out of the Playoff.
Michigan State’s lone blemish came in a 39-38 loss at Nebraska on late controversial non-call. Sparty’s non-conference includes a 31-28 win over No. 7 Oregon and a two-touchdown victory over Air Force (playing for the Mountain West Conference title this coming weekend). Everybody remembers the miracle in Ann Arbor as well as the last-second field goal to knockoff the defending champ in Columbus with a backup quarterback.
A win over undefeated Iowa in Indianapolis Saturday would likely stamp Sparty’s entry into the playoff.
Win and you’re in…
Clemson: The Tigers are one win and an ACC title away from running their record to 13-0 and a bid to the Playoff as one of the top-two seeds. A dangerous North Carolina team awaits No. 1 Clemson in Charlotte Saturday night in the ACC Championship Game. Make no mistake about it, a win and Clemson is in. But a loss to UNC and those national title dreams are all but up in smoke.
Since an embarrassing 17-13 loss to South Carolina in the season opener, the Tar Heels have won 11-straight behind its high-powered offense. This will be the national media’s sexy choice at an upset this weekend and it’s easy to see why. UNC is on a roll, while Clemson’s defense has been shaky at best the last-three games. However, the Tigers’ defensive unit is much better than UNC’s improved defense and think Clemson’s “D” gets enough stops on third down to get off the field with a close win and the ACC trophy.
Alabama: I don’t know where the Committee ranks the Tide on Tuesday night but they’d be No. 1 if i was voting. It might have to wait another week but an impressive win over offensively-challenged Florida in the SEC Championship Game could yield Nick Saban’s team the No. 1 overall seed in the Playoff. Regardless, Alabama has everything on the line Saturday against the Gators with second loss eliminating the Crimson Tide from Playoff contention.
Florida has been underwhelming the last-four weeks since the Gators 27-3 stomping of Georgia. In that span, they narrowly got past Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic in the Swamp, hung on to win 24-14 at South Carolina and were largely non-competitive in a 27-2 loss to rival Florida State yesterday.
Smart money says Bama rolls big against the Gators and back to the Playoff.
Who’s left needing help…
Stanford: At the very top of the list is two-loss Stanford, thanks to a miracle rally to defeat No. 6 Notre Dame 38-36 last night. Should Clemson or Alabama stumble in their respective conference championship games, the Cardinal would be waiting in the wings to grab that No. 4 seed into the Playoff if they’re victorious against Southern Cal in the Pac-12 Championship Game Saturday.
Florida: The Gators would clearly have to upset Alabama and then pray the Selection Committee thinks an overachieving 11-2 SEC squad deserves a shot. It’s incredibly unlikely but you’re saying there’s a chance? That chance resides around 0.01%.
North Carolina: Like Florida, UNC would have to pull the upset against Clemson and then hope the Committee is impressive enough as the ACC champ to merit a bid. Even at 12-1 overall, I think the Tar Heels are the most unlikely team because of not just one but two FCS opponents they played as well as a weak ACC Coastal division.
Ohio State: Don’t look now but could the Buckeyes have everything fall their way like in 2007 for LSU? The answer is without a doubt yes. They’d need a loss by Alabama or Clemson and then Stanford to lose in the Pac-12 title game, all of which is possible.
Put the leftovers away and find a comfy seat. Time to shift from turkeys to touchdowns with rivalry weekend now officially here.
On the eve of Clemson-Carolina renewing its fun and mostly bitter rivalry, college football kicks into high gear this afternoon with much better ball expected than the plate of garbage both Thanksgiving yesterday games served up (that includes Texas Tech’s 48-45 win at Texas).
Unless you’re a Gamecock diehard and refuse to lose hope in your team, pretty much everyone is picking the top-ranked Tigers to roll tomorrow (12:00 pm, ESPN). I certainly won’t be one of the few to disagree. The biggest question I think more involves the final margin than outcome.
In my opinion, Clemson’s best chance at a loss would be a team that sleepwalks out onto the field and isn’t focused to play, much like the start of the Boston College game and first half at Syracuse. But rivalries are nuts and literally anything can happen.
Despite the chasm between the two teams, a pair of rivalry games that will effect and shape the CFB Playoff in some form include No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 9 Stanford and No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 11 Oklahoma State.
Stanford’s fleeting Playoff hopes are on life support, but the Cardinal are considered to be the most likely, two-loss team with a shot. A win over the visiting Irish is obvious as well would be a win in the Pac-12 title game next weekend (7:30 pm, FOX).
Across the field, Notre Dame clearly can’t afford a loss in its regular-season finale and needs to win with some style to impress the Selection Committee. Without a conference title game, Brian Kelly’s team lacks a final chance to shine against a quality conference foe. A win won’t punch Notre Dame’s ticket but firmly positions the Irish should anyone else stumble.
In Bedlam, the stakes couldn’t be higher or more similar to the aforementioned game (8:00 pm, ABC). “Bounceback Bob” and the Sooners have all the momentum in the world heading to Stillwater with wins over Baylor and TCU the last-two weeks. OU quarterback and Baker Mayfield is expected to play, which is good news for the Sooners and their Playoff hopes.
After moving up to No. 3 in the latest Playoff rankings, Stoops’ squad will likely remain in the “Final Four” provided they can get a win over rival OSU. With a September win at Tennessee in their back pocket, the Sooners are in position to control their own destiny without a Big 12 title game to play.
What will we see from the No. 8 Buckeyes this week? We can only guess. Unless No. 5 Michigan State stumbled at home against pesky Penn State, the tOSU-Michigan winner (12:00 pm, ABC) will be left looking ahead to a “New Year’s Six” bowl game and next season.
The list of other rivalry and meaningful games are too long to list…but hopefully you’ve got a chore-free day to belly-up with a full helping of good football today and tomorrow.
The best sports week of the entire calendar year is here. And it’s gonna be glorious!
I know the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament is the best sports weekend. But from an entire week’s perspective, “Feast Week” provides seven days like no other on the docket.
Why? Well, even if you aren’t a basketball guy, the fall sports crossover with college football and basketball is enticing enough on its own. Throw in some NFL football on and maybe some South Carolina high school football playoffs for good measure and it’s hard to find anything that stacks up.
Let’s explore shall we?
One of the two best college basketball “exempt tournaments” get started today with Maui Invitational. It might take a commercial or two to forget EA Sports isn’t the title sponsor anymore but nonetheless, basketball at the tiny Lahaina Civic Center (2,400) will be rocking this afternoon with the opening game between St. John’s and No. 17 Vanderbilt (2:30 pm, ESPN).
With three ranked teams led by No. 4 Kansas, it could be a pair of unranked teams with the winner of UNLV-UCLA (6:30 pm, ESPN2) that could play tourney spoiler, especially being on Kansas’ side of the bracket.
There are several other holiday tourneys tonight but we can’t forget about our two local teams. Frank Martin’s Gamecocks ran their record to 4-0 last night with a win over Hofstra in the semifinals of the Paradise Jam and have a chance to get another quality, resume-building win tonight. Tulsa and Frank Haith’s team is one of the most experienced in the country with nine seniors, but USC has been impressive so far and tonight should be a fantastic matchup in the championship game (9:00pm, CBS Sports).
The Clemson Tigers are also undefeated in the early season and will take a step up in competition tonight against 3-0 UMass in Las Vegas. In a four-team tourney with a name too long to list, Clemson will have its hands full against the Minutemen who love to push the ball at a relentless pace, while the Tigers prefer a grind-it-out affair. Contrasting styles will be on full display with the winner/loser facing Creighton-Rutgers on Wednesday night.
Tuesday, November 24
College basketball holiday tournaments continue with the Maui Invitational semifinals, which should provide two outstanding games if No. 14 Indiana and No. 17 Vandy meet as expected in the first semifinal followed by No. 4 Kansas and UCLA in the second game.
LSU sports the best player in college basketball with freshman Ben Simmons living up to ALL the hype and then some so far. The Tigers should get past Marquette in the FanDuel Legends Classic opener and face the Arizona State-N.C. State winner in Tuesday’s championship game.
Don’t worry college football fans, I haven’t forgotten about you. We’ve got some #MACation with one of the best Mid-American Conference games of the season Ohio University traveling to Northern Illinois (7:30 pm, ESPNU). An NIU win would send the Huskies to the MAC Championship game against Bowling Green, so there’s something on the line more than a few extra turkey legs for winning offensive lineman.
Wednesday, November 25
We’ll have to wait another day for college football to return but never fear with college basketball helping us to connect the dots to “rivalry weekend” on the gridiron. I’m hoping for a Vanderbilt-Kansas title game in Maui (10:00 pm, ESPN), but would be satisfied to see Indiana instead of Vandy with the Hoosiers’ outstanding backcourt.
The other must-see holiday tourney kicks off with the Battle 4 Atlantis at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island right outside Nassau, Bahamas. After finishing its first, four-year cycle, teams are now eligible to return to one the best early-season tournaments that most schools dream of being invited to. Inaugural champ UConn is back and the No. 19 Huskies have tough opener against No. 24 Michigan (9:30 pm, AXS). The class of the entire field might be No. 10 Gonzaga and must get thru Washington and then likely Syracuse to advance to Friday’s title game.
Despite their football differences and no longer playing on Thanksgiving Day, at least the Battle 4 Atlantis organizers recognized the void and pitted the Longhorns and Aggies against each other in their opening game. It’s the only college basketball event you’ll see all season that looks like they’re planning for a psychedelic rave in the ballroom right after the games conclude.
Breath easier now NFL and Carolina Panther fans, as pro football is on the docket with the traditional Lions and Cowboys afternoon home games. Our undefeated Panthers will play their first-ever game on Thanksgiving Day in franchise history against Dallas (4:30 pm, CBS) with the Greg Hardy storyline expected nauseate everyone pregame, in-game and until the game’s final horn. Here’s hoping our boys (no those ‘Boys) get back to Charlotte at 11-0.
Oh and toss in a 8:30 pm kickoff between the Bears and struggling Packers from Lambeau Field on NBC and I think w’eve got a pretty nice day of football.
And that’s not including 0-11 Central Florida hosting South Florida Thanksgiving night (7:30 pm, ESPN), but it’s college football and we’ll all be watching. Unless you opt for a “better” game at the same time between Texas Tech and Texas in Austin (7:30 pm, Fox Sports 1).
Boy, what I’d do to have the Egg Bowl played on Thanksgiving again because it was fun when there were actual rivalry games with meaning played, giving me something quality to bellyache my full stomach on.
Come on guys…I know you’re not hitting the sales and stores all night, so you better sleep in to get ready rested for a long weekend of wall-to-wall “rivalry weekend” action.
Compared to just a few years ago when there were maybe a half dozen games on Black Friday, there’s more college football the day after Thanksgiving than ever before with 15 games on the schedule. It’s simply an extension of Saturday now with the holiday weekend. And it’s awesome. Why battle crowds and traffic unless it’s your hall pass to spend the following day in front of the tube or in Columbia?
Conference games with postseason implications, as well as bitter rivalry games are all over the dial starting with a pair of one-loss teams No. 16 Navy at No. 19 Houston (12:00 pm, ABC) followed by a dangerous road test for undefeated No. 5 Iowa in Lincoln against Nebraska (3:30 pm, ABC). The “Apple Cup” between Washington State-Washington and the “Civil War” with Oregon State at Oregon are both 3:30 pm kickoffs.
Highest-profile game of the day? No doubt reeling No. 18 TCU hosting No. 10 Baylor (7:30 pm, ESPN), as the Bears attempt to win out and keep their CFB Playoff hopes on life support.
Most under-the-radar game? Marshall (9-2, 6-1 CUSA) heading to Western Kentucky (9-2, 7-0 CUSA) in a battle that should be one of the very best all day long (12:00 pm, Fox Sports 1).
Saturday, November 28
It’s go time. The last big weekend in college football and nothing is bigger here in the Palmetto state than Clemson heading to Columbia to face South Carolina (12:00 pm, ESPN). The Tigers put their undefeated record on the line against the Gamecocks still reeling from one of the worst losses in program history losing to The Citadel at home. You can bet Shawn Elliott’s USC team will be playing with house money and throw everything in the playbook to try and shock the college football world and derail Clemson’s postseason aspirations.
I’ll spare you a rundown of everything else college football has to offer because you know other rivalry games are also on the Saturday schedule: Virginia Tech at Virginia, Georgia at Georgia Tech, UCLA at No. 24 Southern Cal and No. 22 Ole Miss at Mississippi State.
However, the postseason will be shaped in some form by these big showdowns...
No. 2 Alabama at Auburn (3:30 pm, CBS)
Penn State at No. 9 Michigan State (3:30 pm, ESPN)
No. 4 Notre Dame at No. 11 Stanford (7:30 pm, FOX)
No. 14 Florida State at No. 8 Florida (7:30 pm, ESPN)
No. 7 Oklahoma at No. 6 Oklahoma State (8:00 pm, ABC)
Seems like Saturday is an eternity from now doesn't it?
Sunday, November 29
I think we’ll all either be decompressing (from sports overload) or depressing (thinking about going back to work). Regardless, an afternoon of NFL awaits or in my case some college basketball tourney championship games late in the afternoon and evening.
My point? This is THE best seven days of sports glory and fun on the calendar. Happy Thanksgiving or Feast Week!
Sturg checks in with his take on what was a wild, crazy and shakeup Saturday in college football...
Clemson 33, Wake Forest 13: To the Tigers credit, they started with a roar in breaking out to a 20-0 First Quarter advantage and 30-7 halftime lead, but Clemson closed with a whimper with only a 2nd half Field Goal. To their credit, Clemson played a lot of players a bunch of time in that final half, but the Tigers need to work on Turnover’s, with four on the day. All in all, not a bad “Military Appreciation Day” for Clemson as the landscape of college football changed throughout the evening. Clemson is now 11-0, and finish 8-0 in the ACC Regular Season for the first time ever.
The Citadel 23, South Carolina 22: Yes, that’s right. The Citadel physically took advantage of the Gamecocks all game long, and leading with less than a minute left with the Gamecocks pinned inside their own 10 yard line, The Citadel escapes a 94 yard Pharooh Cooper Touchdown reception on a questionable penalty. This is a crushing loss for the Gamecocks, who fall to 3-8 on the season with #1 Clemson headed in to Williams Brice Stadium for a Noon Kickoff on Saturday. Oh, and by the way, it was exactly 25 years ago the Bulldogs last defeated the Gamecocks in Columbia.
And then there were two: Raise your hand if you had Clemson and Iowa as the final two undefeated teams at 11-0, because I sure didn’t. The Hawkeyes are a win at Nebraska from completing a 12-0 run, the Tigers at South Carolina. Bama looks to be in the mix, and the rest of it seems to be a free for all and the next two weekends looks to be a lot of fun.
Drama in “Buckeye-Land”: Ohio State loses for the first time in 24 games 17-14 to Michigan State, and all hell breaks loose. Cardelle Jones tweets it was his last game at “The Shoe”, and Ezekial Elliot said the same thing in a post-game tirade at his locker. While Elliott may have been correct in theory, shhhh… those same coaches are about to make you a millionaire!!!
SEC East “Hot Mess” Weekend: Florida will likely play Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, but needed Overtime to Survive Florida Atlantic 20-14. Georgia Southern, in its second year at the D-1 level, took Georgia to Overtime before falling 23-17 in Athens. The Citadel beats South Carolina, and Vanderbilt is shut out 25-0 by the defensively challenged Texas A&M Aggies. Tennessee did beat Missouri 19-8 in a thing of beauty, excuse me while I go throw up (LOL)!!!
“Rivalry Weekend” will likely matter: Every year some crazy things happen on the weekend after Thanksgiving. My eye balls tell me Clemson smokes South Carolina, but my gut tells me something else. Alabama worked Auburn up and down the field two years ago, but now returns to “The Plains” to cleanse their soul. Jobs are apparently on the line, and that will be interesting in its own right as we move further in to the double digits with no end in sight.