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 guest blogs from Regie Eller!
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.
Welcome to the 2015 season Ohio State. I thought your "season opener" would never get here.
While the SEC continues its new disgraceful tradition of tuneup Saturday prior to rivalry weekend, the Big Ten takes center stage tomorrow with an outstanding slate of games led by the Buckeyes.
With tOSU finally gets their season started tomorrow against No. 9 Michigan State, it's only fitting we give them and their ladies top billing this week (3:30 pm, ABC). Welcome to the party because it's about to get good.
While pushing its winning streak to 23, tOSU hasn't played a ranked team this season and tomorrow's test against Sparty will be the Buckeyes first against a Top-25 opponent since the national title game last season. Urban Meyer's team hasn't exactly steamrolled their way to 10-0 against mediocre competition with only three opponents currently boasting a winning record, two of which are Mid-American Conference teams (Northern Illinois and Western Michigan) and Penn State.
MSU Connor Cook's shoulder injury is likely to determine just how much of a test the Buckeyes get tomorrow. He struggled mightily against Maryland last weekend after the injury and will largely carry the Spartans hopes tomorrow on one healthy and another bum shoulder. Can he do it? It's possible but doubtful.
I've been critical of the Buckeyes for several reasons with the main two being a lack of quality or signature win(s) and winning without style. Heck, Iowa owns a pair of more impressive wins (at No. 19 Wisky and at No. 20 Northwestern) than the Buckeyes and thus has a stronger case to be ranked No. 3 in the CFB Playoff rankings.
However, the time has come. If and when the Buckeyes take care of Sparty and if No. 12 Michigan dispatches of Penn State tomorrow in State College (12:00 pm, ABC), then the stakes will be raised in one of college football's best rivalries with the OSU-Michigan winner punching its ticket to the Big Ten title game.
In the span of three games, it's possible tOSU could go from No. 3 to No. 1 overall by beating MSU, Michigan and then a potentially undefeated and No. 5 Iowa team to close the season as strong as any team in the country. Along with Alabama, they're the most talented team in the country and now have the table set to answer all the critics including me.
The Big 12 round robin "cage match" continues with No. 10 Baylor trying to rebound from its first loss of the season with a more-than-redeemable opportunity at No. 6 Oklahoma State (7:30 pm, FOX). The Cowboys have escaped defeat several times this season and face their most dangerous opponent yet. Can they do it again?
No. 7 Oklahoma is firmly back in the Playoff conversation fresh off its victory over the Bears (8:00 pm, ABC). An injury-plagued No. 18 TCU limps into town with the Sooners a win over the Horned Frogs away from an all-the-marbles matchup in "Bedlam" next weekend (if OSU gets by Baylor).
With Les Miles reportedly coaching for his job, No. 15 LSU heads to No. 22 Ole Miss looking to end a two-game skid, which would ironically clinch the SEC West for rival Alabama (3:30 pm, CBS). Don't look anywhere else around the SEC for anything palatable because you won't find it.
Look over at the ACC where No. 17 UNC tries to keep its longshot Playoff hopes alive at Virginia Tech with head coach Frank Beamer coaching his last home game at Lane Stadium (12:00 pm, ESPN). I'm glad Sturg left this one off our weekly picks below because I'd be going upset.
Moral of the story? These next three weeks will tell the story and set the table for who'll be in and out of the "Final Four." Here's how we're picking Week 12.
It's tipoff time! For college hoop diehards like myself, the wait is over.
Today marks the official start of the 2015-16 college basketball season with more than 100 games on the opening day schedule, including Clemson tonight against North Carolina Central (7:00 pm) at "The Well." The Gamecocks wait a day before tossing it up tomorrow against Norfolk State (7:00 pm) in Columbia.
Basketball is an afterthought for many of you college football diehards except on maybe a slow, football-less Sunday, Monday or Wednesday night. But we're happy to have you on those select nights you're looking for something good to watch until January arrives and you're left with nothing else 'til spring football.
Clemson fans have much of their attention occupied with Dabo Swinney's crew making their first run at a CFB Playoff bid. However, the start of hoops couldn't come at a better time for Gamecock fans needing an injection of excitement after the rough season on the gridiron.
So let's take a look at expectations this season for both the Tigers and Gamecocks…
Clemson (16-15, 8-10 ACC)
Much has been made of the fact head coach Brad Brownell has his first returning, leading scorer and forward Jaron Blossomgame will be asked to shoulder an even bigger load this season. The junior led Clemson in scoring (13.1 ppg) and reounding last season (8.2 rpg) in his first season healthy, but an offseason of work should translate to bigger improvement or Blossomgame.
The most talented player on the roster comes in the form of 6-8 forward Donte Grantham (8.8 ppg 4.6 rpg, who can play inside or outside, handle the ball or post up. Grantham, the highest-level recruit of the Brownell era, must develop a more consisted outside jumped to stretch defenses away from the paint and center Landry Nnoko and Blossomgame.
The strength of this team lies inside with transfer combo guard Avry Holmes set to run the point this season. Holmes is a much better shooter than the departed Rod Hall and will be joined in the backcourt by streaky shooter Jordan Roper. Roper is small, often gets knocked off the ball in rugged ACC play but he can make shots. Which is the key to the Tigers season.
With Clemson shooting less than 30 percent from deep last season, shooting guard Gabe DeVoe will be looked on to step forward this year after light began to go on late last year. Freshman point guard Ty Hudson struggled from outside with the strength of his game centered on driving into the paint. Hudson's talent is undeniable and he'll see the floor in a backup point role.
One of Clemson's biggest challenges this year will be its home-away-from-home playing at "The Well" in downtown Greenville. The schedule has some solid non-conference tests (UMass, Alabama, Georgia, Alabama and Wofford) prior to another difficult ACC campaign that begins with seven-straight games against teams likely to make the NCAA Tourney.
Picked to finish 12th out of 15 teams in the ACC, the Tigers have to find a way to consistently knock down outside shots. Hitting shots from deep will provide Clemson the chance to break into a large group of teams battling to finish anywhere between fourth and 10th in the ACC.
South Carolina (17-16, 6-12 SEC)
USC posted the first winning season of the Frank Martin era and the Gamecocks should be much, much better this season thanks to four returning starters and a talented recruiting class led by versatile guard P.J. Dozier.
Plain and simple, USC will be driven by its backcourt that's four to five deep led by leading scorer Duane Notice (11.8 ppg) and Sindarius Thornwell (11.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg). Notice can play on or off the ball, while a healthy Thornwell might be the biggest factor in whether this squad can push for an NCAA Tourney bid.
A preseason second-team All-SEC pick, Thornwell battled knee issues this summer but he's the Gamecocks' most complete, all-around player. Whiel struggling to shooting the ball last, the junior does a great job drawing contact and getting to the free throw line.
The arrival of McDonald's All-American P.J. Dozier gives Martin what every coach craves - versatility. At 6-foot-7, the homegrown product can play anyone of four positions with the point being his most comfortable spot on the floor. It'll be interesting to see how and where Martin works Dozier into the mix with promising guard Marcus Stroman also returning for USC.
You won't find much quality in the Gamecocks non-conference schedule outside of Oral Roberts, Clemson and Memphis, so a strong SEC campaign will be critical for a bid to the NCAA Tourney. Picked to finish seventh by the media, I think USC will push the league's top-four teams (Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, LSU) and be squarely in the conversation for postseason play in March.
It's by far Martin's most talented team since arriving in Columbia and one that will push for an NCAA at-large bid and at worst a spot in the postseason NIT.
Around the country Player of the Year: Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga Freshman of the Year: Ben Simmons, LSU Final Four: North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Kansas National Champion: Kansas.
The epic weekend in college football delivered in a big way last weekend, providing more clarity as well as more consitency questions with the CFB Playoff rankings.
Will the weeding out process continue this weekend? In some form, yes. But without all of the marquee matchups we just had except. The "big" one Saturday comes in the Big 12 where the November cage match continues on, as we're all still trying to figure just how good these high-scoring teams without defenses are.
No. 12 Oklahoma at No. 6 Baylor (8 pm, ABC) provides the chance for us to see just how good the Bears are. We know they can score. We know they can't stop anybody. And we know they haven't played anybody…until now.
(Kansas doesn't count because the Jayhawks' coaching staff probably used half of Bill Self's basketball team to at least have a fighting shot…yes, it's hoops season so don't worry KU).
Art Briles' team still is not getting any respect from the Selection Committee…and rightfully so with the 96th-toughest schedule in the country. The Bears finally have the chance to get that respect with a win over visiting OU. Sure, Baylor passes the eye test, even with starting QB Seth Russell gone for the year. But resume-building wins are what every Big 12 team needs at this point except for Oklahoma, which at least has a 31-24 win over Tennessee to hang their hat on.
Win out and Baylor would be tough to leave out of the Final Four, while the Sooners are one of the most intriguing one-loss teams in the country. OU laid a big fat egg at the same time Texas found lighting in a bottle in the Red River Rivalry last month. However, the Sooners close their schedule at Baylor this weekend followed by No. 15 TCU in Norman and then Bedlam against No. 8 Oklahoma State in Stillwater. In my book, Bob Stoops would have an solid case for his one-loss Sooners to make the Playoff if they can win out and depending on how the chips fall elsewhere.
Even with the backloaded schedules in the Big 12 and chance to make a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately case to the Selection Committee, I think OU, Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State will ultimately beat each other up and none of the four teams will get thru the month and season undefeated.
The other big game of interest Saturday comes in the SEC where white-hot No. 2 Alabama heads to beautiful "Starkvegas" to take on No. 17 Mississippi State and QB Dak Prescott (3:30 pm, CBS), playing as well as any signal caller in the country right now. Prescott has thrown for over 300 yards, 10 TDs and just one pick in the last three games, while completing almost 70 percent of his passes.
The Bulldogs weakness comes in the form of rushing defense and nobody mashes you like the Tide's power running game led by back Derrick Henry. Bama will have to "get up" again for the fourth game in a row. But the Tide's ability to dominate the line of scrimmage on both of sides of the ball will prove too much for State.
Below are our picks for week 11 and for the second-straight week, everybody gets a "free" win with somebody sneaking in a Wednesday night game and yours truly not even knowing Bowling Green and Western Michigan were playing. So thanks to me, everybody will avoid an 0-10 week, which shockingly has happened twice this season. Off we go..
BGU at W. Mich.
Va. Tech at Ga. Tech
Pitt at Duke
Georgia at Auburn
Wash at Arizona St.
Oklahoma at Baylor
Memphis at Houston
Kentucky at Vandy
Texas at WVU
ULL at S. Alabama
Note: Last week Mike Shuler went 9-1 and is 64-36 overall.
So as we have crossed the halfway point of the season, it is time to start looking at teams and figuring out who is for real and who is not. What specifically prompted me to start doing this now is that I happened across an article online from USA Today (I'll put a link to the article at the end of this piece) stating the case for the Minnesota Vikings being a fraudulent team with a 5-2 record at the halfway point. As I read through this particular piece, there were points the writer made that I felt were valid and others I thought were a bit more subjective. Let's dive in and take a look.
The first point the article made was that the Viking's 5-2 record, which has them only one game back from the Packers in the NFC North, is misleading. The Vikings have claimed their five victories over the likes of the Bears, Chargers, Chiefs, and the Lions twice. None of those teams are very good nor do any currently possess a winning record. The Vikings did what they should though and beat these inferior teams. Their two losses indicate two drastically different things. Their loss to the Denver Broncos was a good loss (if such a thing exists). They played them tough and only lost by three while the Packers just got absolutely annihilated by the Broncos this past Sunday night. While the Vikings lost, they showed they can hang with one of the better teams in the NFL. The other Vikings loss though, is, as the article points out, a damning one. In the season opener, on Monday Night Football, the Vikings lost to the hapless San Francisco 49ers, a team that is in complete disarray. Undoubtedly, that was a horrendous loss. However, in fairness to the Vikings, I would point out a couple of things about that loss. The first is that the 49ers played their best game of the season. They were balanced offensively and stout defensively. Adrian Peterson was playing his first game in a year after having to sit the all but one game last season due to his legal issues over how he disciplined his son. Wide Receiver Stefon Diggs had not yet broken out either. All in all, that was the worst game the Vikings have and will play all season and as bad as that loss was, they are still only one game back from the Green Bay Packers.
While Mike Foss, the writer of this particular piece, argues that the Vikings schedule thus far paints them as frauds, when you compare their schedule to other upper echelon teams in the league, I would say that the schedules are all fairly comparable. Look at the schedules for teams like the Patriots, Bengals, Broncos, Packers, Panthers, and Cardinals. The Vikings' NFC North rival, the Green Bay Packers, along with the Panthers and Cardinals has yet to beat a team with a winning record. The Patriots and Bengals each only have one win over a team above .500. The Broncos stand above the pack with three victories over winning teams, including as mentioned above, the Minnesota Vikings. So as we can see, it isn't like the Vikings are playing a soft schedule while all the other contenders are taking on the best of the best. Across the board it just about evens out and the Vikings are not the only winning team to collect all their W's over losing teams so far.
The other issue Mr. Foss makes that I take issue with is his assessment of the team's 2nd year quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. He states that Bridgewater has not looked very good despite the team's success, pointing out that Bridgewater is ranked 24th in passing yards and 29th in touchdown passes. As with his statements about the Vikings' schedule, let me put these rankings in better perspective for you. Yes, Teddy Bridgewater is ranked only 24th in passing yards. Do you know who is directly below and above him in the rankings? Coming in at 25 is Cam Newton of the undefeated Carolina Panthers and ranked right above Mr. Bridgewater is the great Aaron Rodgers at 23rd in passing yards. Are they mediocre quarterbacks? No, of course not. Now Teddy is on the lower end of touchdown passes and has only thrown one more touchdown than he has interception. Obviously, you would like to see that improve but keep in mind that the Vikings aren't running a pass heavy offense. They have weapons to throw to sure, but that offense is still largely centered around Adrian Peterson. Bridgewater is not going to put up the touchdown numbers a Tom Brady, a Carson Palmer, or an Andy Dalton are putting up right now.
Let's look at a couple of other telling statistics that Mr. Foss did not bring up. First, Bridgewater's Quarterback Rating is at an 85.5, good for 22nd in the league. Again, not in the upper tier but that number does put him above the likes of: Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, and Andrew Luck. We can debate the struggles two of those three quarterbacks have had/are having but Manning and Newton both lead undefeated teams at the halfway point. A similar statistic, Total QBR, has Bridgewater at a 61.9 which is good for 16th best, exactly middle of the pack. Again, Bridgewater is ahead of Manning, Newton, and Luck, along with many others. We know of the Colts' struggles this year but am I to believe that both the Broncos and Panthers are not true contenders who are led by less than stellar quarterbacks? No, that would be absurd. There are also some quarterbacks with losing records, such as Brian Hoyer and Jay Cutler, who are ranked above Bridgewater, Manning, etc. in some of these categories. Are they better quarterbacks and/or on better teams? No, they are not.
While these are interesting numbers and stats Mr. Foss has laid out, numbers without proper context can be misleading. A show called Numbers Never Lie used to come on ESPN 2, hosted by Michael Smith and Jemele Hill. The show has since changed its name to His & Hers and just TODAY, Michael Smith made a joke about how they had to change the name of the show because numbers do in fact lie, or rather they mislead when the whole picture is not taken into account. And please do not mistake this for me calling out Mike Foss. The man writes for USA Today and I do not. He is obviously an intelligent, qualified individual. I just happen to disagree with how he laid his argument out. Does that mean I disagree with his conclusion? Well let me tell you.
First of all let me clarify something. I deem you a contender if I feel you are a playoff team. Obviously, not every team that makes the playoffs has a great shot of going all the way but if you can get in, anything can happen. So I believe you have strong contenders and lesser contenders but all playoff teams are contenders in my eyes (unless you are one of those 7-9 playoff teams). So what are the Minnesota Vikings? They sit at 5-2 at the halfway point with the toughest part of their schedule ahead of them and as our friend Mark Sturgis is fond of saying, "I stayed at a Holliday Inn Express last night which helped me realize that it's not how you drive, it's how you arrive and that is why the good Lord put the eyes in the front of our heads and not the back so we can look forward and not backwards." Ok, that whole last sentence was just an excuse for me to see how many "Sturgisms" I could string together at once (tune in to Straight Up With Sturg to hear these and MANY more "Sturgisms", Monday-Friday from 4PM to 7PM). Looking at their 9 remaining games, I think they pick up between 4-6 wins which will be good enough for a Wild Card spot. Green Bay doesn't look as great as they have so it is possible the Vikings could steal the division but I do not think it is likely. The NFC as a whole is not overwhelmingly strong. The best NFC teams like the Panthers, Packers, and Cardinals, while all very good, have not looked invincible. I think the Vikings would have a chance against any of those teams on any given day but I could not see them going all the way to the Super Bowl. So my verdict for the Minnesota Vikings: Contenders!
So while I took my bye week for writing last week, a lot happened in the standings. Price, Josh, and Greg (who has been on quite the run the last couple of weeks) all have surpassed me at this point. I'm not far behind but I need to focus even more to get back to the top. I also believe we finally have someone who is falling behind too much to come back and win and that is my good friend Lonzo. Sorry buddy. Though you never know, he could go on an epic run and win it all…..but that's not likely. Also, it is Peyton vs Colts week and as always, due to my affinity for my favorite team and favorite player, I refuse to pick the game. That means everybody gets a freebie to pick up a game on me this week. Here are our picks for Week 9 in the NFL:
Alright folks, it's here. The first Saturday in November…it's a weekend that's been circled on the college football calendar since before spring practices began.
Now things get real. Now is where you make your move. And now it begins, the final third of the season and march to the postseason.
Unless you're living under a rock, you know the initial CFB Playoff rankings came out this week with Clemson on top followed by LSU, Ohio State and Alabama. Don't get too comfortable…chaos is coming.
Look no further than the epicenter of college football when No. 4 LSU battles No. 7 Alabama (8:00 pm, CBS) Saturday night in T-Town. Why the epicenter? Quite simply because both teams are ranked in the CFB Playoff's top four and this time next week, one of them won't be.
It's an annual made-for-TV primetime event and Saturday is no different. Two of the nation's best running backs and top defenses go head-to-head with each team's strengths the same. Which team will impose its will? Who'll make the biggest play?
I don't feel good about picking the Tide largely because of the emergence of quarterback Brandon Harris and his ability to finally make plays throwing the football. He's gotten better every week and will be the x-factor if the Tigers are still undefeated late Saturday evening.
The second of the weekend's titanic tilts? Of course the ACC Game of the Year in Death Valley between the league's top football powers No. 17 Florida State and No. 3 Clemson (3:30 pm, ABC). Tiger fans popping champagne bottles across the Upstate might want to take one last sip. Sure it's a historic week for Dabo Swinney's program having climbed the mountain but the second anyone looks past the Seminoles, the dream will be over.
Make no mistake about it, I think Clemson wins the football game. But rivalry games bring out the best in everyone. And FSU is one of two teams on Clemson's schedule capable of walking in and going up and down the field with the Tigers thanks to equal elite talent.
If you're a Clemson fan, you're hoping Everett Golson is the man under center for the Noles. His ability to scramble and improvise is something Sean Maguire lacks and could be key against the Tigers' disruptive front four. However, Maguire is the better downfield passer, which is something we saw Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and NC State's Jacoby Brissett repeatedly made big plays throwing the football. I smell a game closer than most people are expecting.
November means the backloaded Big 12 schedule is now being served up. It's actually more of a round-robin cage match as No. 2 Baylor, No. 5 TCU, No. 12 Oklahoma State and No. 14 Oklahoma who are 30-1 combined all do battle. The biggest question mark and wildcard in regard to the CFB Playoff is what will the carnage look like when the smoke clears in early December. Will anyone escape unscathed and undefeated?
More enticing games also fill the weekend docket, which I'm clueless as to why were left off our weekly picks below. Navy at No. 13 Memphis, No. 5 Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, No. 7 Michigan State at Nebraska, No. 12 Utah at Washington and Penn State at No. 21 Northwestern all have a hint of upset.
It is Week 9 in college football and it is time to release the 1st installment of the Pharaoh Poll! As many of you know, I do not believe that college football should release a poll until week 8 or 9. With that being said here is the 1st Top Ten Pharaoh Poll ! So let it be written, so let it be done!
1) The Ohio State University
The Buckeyes began THIS season ranked #1 and are currently undefeated at 8-0, end of argument! Since Urban Meyer has made a commitment to give Zeke Elliott more touches, he is 5th in the country in rushing just shy of 1200 yards and JT Barrett is back at the helm at QB, the Buckeyes have hit their stride. Couple that with the spectacular play of Braxton Miller and a defense that has found its teeth, the Buckeyes are poised to defend their National Championship.
2) Clemson Tigers
This was supposed to be the year of the Flying Tigers!! With the departures of Stephon Anthony, Vic Beasley and Grady Garret off to the NFL the #1 defense from a year ago was supposed to take a back seat to the offense this year. With the preseason ACC Player of the Year in DeShaun Watson along with the return of virtually every offensive skill player, Clemson was supposed to win games Big 12 style, 62-55, WRONG! Lead by Brent Venables,the BEST defensive coach in college football and the best coach on Clemson's staff, the Tiger defense along with a physical running game, highlighted by Wayne Gallman, has carried this team into November 8-0. I LOVE watching this team play defense, the Nasty Boys are back in Death Valley! Clemson should beat FSU this week in Death Valley. The problem is Clemson plays in the weakest conference in college football and one loss will knock them out of the playoff.
3) Alabama Crimson Tide
Many believed this was a rebuilding year for the Tide after last years SEC Championship and run to the CFP. The Pharaoh warned in preseason that Jacob Coker at QB along with Ridley, Stewart and Foster at wide receiver, the Tide would be just fine. The Pharaoh also warned this is the best Tide defense of the Nick Saban era, lead by Ragland at linebacker and Reuban Foster at safety, this is the FASTEST defense that Alabama fans have saw since the early 90's. Top to bottom this is the 2nd most talented football team in the country next to Ohio State.
4) Iowa Hawkeyes
The Pharaoh LOVES these Iowa Hawkeyes! This is the best team you have never heard of! Kirk Ferentz has reinvented himself in Iowa City, he is faking punts, going for it on 4th down, running double reverse passes. Having a Top 15 defense doesn't hurt either. The Hawkeyes are just NASTY on the defensive side of the football, holding every opponent except one to under 20 points. In this modern era of offensive football, that is AWESOME! The Hawkeyes are also very physical on offense, RB Jordan Canzeri has rushed for 700 yards and 9 tds, and QB CJ Beathard is the quintessential game manager that makes excellent decisions with the football. This is a team that will NOT shy away from punching Ohio State in the mouth.
Lets go ahead and get something out of the way. Leonard Fournette is the best running back in the history of the SEC, EVER! He has the size of Walker and the speed of Jackson, plus he is leading the country in rushing at over 1500 yards and 14 plus touchdowns going against 8,9 and 10 man boxes EVERY week! The Pharaoh believes he is the best football player in the country and should win the Heisman. That being said, the Bayou Bengals are a one trick pony, when that one pony is Secretariat, you can win a lot of football games. Kevin Steele is the second worst defensive coach in football only ahead of Charles Kelly at FSU. LSU has NFL talent all over its defense yet, the Tigers have only help one opponent to less than 20 points this season and gave up 28 to a backup QB at home.
The Horned Frogs are winning in a very un-Gary Patterson like way. This is the first TCU team that I have saw that is struggling defensively. Offensively, Trevone Boykin is living up to the preseason hype as he is averaging over 310 yards passing a game and has amassed 28 TDs. The meat of TCU schedule is before it as the Frogs close with two road games verses ranked opponents, #12 Okie State and #14 Oklahoma before the season finale vs Baylor. If the Frogs run the table and finish undefeated they should make the playoff, BARELY!
Justin Fuentes is mentioned in every head coaching job that opens and rightfully earned. Who was Memphis before he became head coach? Exactly! Not only is Memphis winning, but they are beating the big boys, ask Ole Miss who they hung 35 on! If Memphis is to make it to the college football playoff they are going to have to win out and hope Ole Miss wins the SEC. The schedule does set up for that scenario, road games at #18 Houston and #23 Temple, who should have beat Notre Dame gives Memphis its opportunity to impress the committee. If Memphis runs the table and finishes the year undefeated, one could make an argument they have a better resume than Clemson. Paxton Lynch is a more athletic version of Ryan Mallet and is worth the price of admission! If Fuentes is smart he will parlay his quarterbacks last year and his teams run to a Power 5 job.
Just hand JIm McElwain the Paul "Bear" Bryant Trophy NOW!! I LOVED this hire when it was made although I thought the Gators would be competitive this year then make their run next year, WRONG!! This is the best coached team in college football. After McElwain coached up his running back Taylor on national TV, which I approved of, the Gators have embodied the fiery 1st year coach especially after last weeks annihilation of Georgia 27-3, in which the Gators ran all over the Dawgs to the tune of 258 yards. The Gators will wrap up the SEC East Championship this week vs Vandy and should win out culminating in a win over FSU from that 1-AA league! I wouldn't be surprised if this years Florida team made a run like Ohio State did last year!
9) Michigan State
Sparty is 8-0 and well deserved, ANY road win at Michigan, lucky or not is a GREAT win. MSU isn't as stout on defense as I thought they would be, to finish strong down the stretch , they need Shilique Calhoun to be a more dominating force and Conner Cook to continue his late game heroics!!
The Bears took a hard hit losing their quarterback, Seth Russell for the season last week. The Big 12 title and playoff birth should come down to the season ending massive showdown vs TCU in Fort Worth, the loss of Russell will be felt on the road vs the Horned Frogs.
They say sports and politics don't mix. But that doesn't preclude us from throwing out a ringing candidate endorsement from time to time.
Actually, I think this will be the first endorsement in ESPN Upstate's short history. Without further ado, we're officially endorsing the candidacy of "Straight Up With Sturg's" Victoria Vesce in the ACC Digital Network's "Guest Reporter" contest.
We know Victoria is awesome, hard working, multi-talented and now semi-fluent in Mandarin after her two-week trip to China with "The Honey Bees." More importantly she's also a senior broadcast journalism major at N.C State University and scheduled to graduate in December.
Our soon-to-be college graduate bleeds ACC sports including her Wolfpack and a touch of Clemson orange from time to time. Thanks to her experience with us in the Upstate this summer and fall that's included coverage of the Tigers at both ACC Football and Basketball Media Days. Who could fault Victoria for being decked out in red and black and cheering on her Pack against Clemson Saturday during her final NCSU homecoming game?
After a successful inaugural season, the ACC Digital Network announced the return of its popular "Guest Reporter" contest for aspiring students, journalists and broadcasters. The winner will join the ACC broadcast team's coverage of the 2015 ACC Championship Game Saturday, December 5th in Charlotte.
Job hunting time is just around and the corner for our Honey Bee dancing star. She's not going to be short on options roaring out of the ESPN Upstate starting gate next month. But what better way (besides ESPN Upstate) to jump start her sports broadcasting career than to begin working behind the scenes and on the sidelines with the ACC.
We're FULLY and completely behind Victoria in endorsing her social media campaign to triumph in the ACC's "Guest Reporter" contest. We hope you'll RT and favorite her candidacy with the hashtag #VictoriasViews and @theACCDN.
She's already made us very proud in what she's learned, accomplished and added to our team…good luck and go get it Victoria!