Tag Archives: Kentucky Wildcats

Pondering and Power Rating the SEC

It took me a few days to muster up my enthusiasm for college football after the brutal, inexcusable loss in Baton Rouge, and now I am actually now looking forward to the games this weekend. With that, here are my power ratings on the SEC.

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. Texas A&M
  4. LSU
  5. Auburn
  6. Kentucky
  7. South Carolina
  8. Florida
  9. Miss State
  10. Ole Miss
  11. Arkansas
  12. Tennessee
  13. Vanderbilt
  14. Missouri

Auburn has a better football team than LSU, but LSU deserves to be rated ahead of AU by virtue of its win on Saturday. That could right itself by season’s end. The Bayou Bengals could have a big letdown this coming Saturday at Ole Miss, and the Rebels had to gain some confidence by whipping Vandy. The bottom 4 teams are utterly miserable, at this point, but Auburn better watch out for Arkansas. The Tigers are beat up and have to be a bit demoralized after the loss to LSU. We’ll see what they’re made of Saturday.

Bama continues to dominate, but Georgia is for real and both teams could be undefeated entering the SEC Championship game. The Bulldogs’ schedule certainly is not daunting although there are some potential pitfalls on there, especially Auburn at Auburn and Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Texas A&M is a sleeper and has an opportunity to make some noise before it’s all said and done. Watch out for the Aggies.

“Butch Jones is probably coaching his last game as head man of the Vols.”

Kentucky? If it can get by Mississippi State, in Starkville, that could be a springboard to a very good season. The Wildcats could even make a New Year’s Day bowl game.

Conversely, if State beats Kentucky its record would be 5-2 and the Bulldogs might be poised for a run in its last 5 games. Games with Texas A&M and Alabama would loom large. The fact-of-the-matter is, State will not beat Alabama and it is doubtful to come home with a win in College Station. But win the others and that would put them at an impressive 8-4.

Cock-a-doodle-do! South Carolina is also sporting a 5-2 record and don’t forget that one of those wins came against a very good North Carolina State team. Georgia, Florida and Clemson are huge obstacles to a sterling season in Columbia.

Over in the other Columbia, the Missouri Tigers are truly stinking the woods up with a 1-5 record at its halfway point in 2017. There are a few potential wins left on the Tigers’ slate, most notably this Saturday versus Idaho and the following weekend at UConn. But Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas are winnable games for Mizzou.

Florida is a mediocre 4-3 and facing an almost certain loss to Georgia in that heated rivalry. Missouri, South Carolina, UAB, and Florida State conclude the Gators schedule and those games are all possible wins or losses. Don’t laugh at the possibility of a UAB victory in The Swamp. Bill Clark has the Blazers playing remarkably good football, especially when one considers that this team hadn’t played a game in two years before the 2017 campaign began.

We haven’t even mentioned Tennessee except by name. I don’t know if ‘dumpster fire’ is even an adequate description for what is taking place up on Rocky Top. But, historically, November has been the month when the Vols really tend to make hay. But Alabama might beat them mercilessly on this Third Saturday in October and that could complete the demoralization process in Knoxville. Butch Jones is probably coaching his last game as head man of the Vols.

After a 3-0 start the Vanderbilt Commodores have lost 4 straight games and are headed south with a bullet. The schedule is doable (South Carolina, Western Kentucky, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee) but it will have to pick up the pace to make a bowl game.

That’s my take on the Southeastern Conference here and today. A lot of football remains to be played and who knows what portends as we look down the stretch of the 2017 college football season. Good luck to you and your favorite teams!

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E-mail Bird at [email protected].com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Image via Flickr/getmahesh

SEC Champions? Oh Lord, Won’t You Take Me to Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Rejoice! Kickoff is one week from tomorrow! Actually, the Arkansas Razorbacks will tee it up on Thursday. Their “competition?” The mighty Rattlers of Florida A&M. And then on Saturday, some of the other SEC related games include Missouri playing Missouri State, Georgia hosting Appalachian State,  Charleston Southern will play at Mississippi State… ad nauseum.

But! There are some big games on the slate for opening weekend with the monster clash between Alabama and Florida State headlining them all.

Now it’s time for me to summon my crystal ball and look into the future. I hope gazing at the eclipse didn’t blur my powers of prognostication.

Onward!

SEC EAST 

Florida (8-4, 6-2) I like the Gators’ big uglies, their defense, and their skill position players. But, just like everybody else, the quarterback position is the key. They will plug in someone who is more than capable to put them at the top of the East.

Tennessee (9-3, 5-3) The Vols will have more total wins than anyone else in the division but they will also have more conference losses than the Gators. That head to head matchup will decide which team makes the trek to Atlanta.

Georgia (8-4, 5-3) You gotta love the Dawgs’ running backs and their overall talent, but it will be their inconsistent play at quarterback and in the trenches that will cause the East title to elude them.

Kentucky (8-4, 5-3) I like the Cats as the sleeper to win this division. There is talent in Lexington but probably not enough SEC quality depth to carry them to Hotlanta. I’d love to see it though!

South Carolina (6-6, 3-5) Will Muschamp’s second year in Columbia will find an improved team, but the record will not reflect that. They’re in good shape at quarterback with Jake Bentley.

Vanderbilt (3-9, 1-7) Derek Mason has the Commodores playing pretty well. I like Kyle Shurmur as their signal-caller. But do not expect Vandy to rise any higher than sixth in the division.

Missouri (4-8, 0-8) The upside is the offensive potential, and QB Drew Lock, in Columbia. Overall, though, Barry Odom’s second year might not turn out any better than his first.

SEC West

Auburn (11-1, 7-1) Talent, depth, experience, and coaching will combine to make this one of those highly memorable seasons down on the Plains. Jarrett Stidham will, indeed, turn out to be the straw that stirs the drink. And the home finale with Alabama will finally go Auburn’s way again.

Alabama (10-2, 7-1)  Loaded. Every year. But the season will begin and end with losses which will keep the Crimson Tide from their fourth straight College Football Playoff appearance.

Texas A&M (9-3, 6-2) Kevin Sumlin steps down off the hot seat with a very good season in College Station. And the Aggies pick up some big wins on the way to a solid 9-3 campaign.

LSU (9-3, 5-3) Coach O won’t be able to bring home a ring in his first full season in Red Stick. I still have my doubts about the Tigers’ long term prospects, as well, in spite of their talent level.

Arkansas (7-5, 4-4) Bret Bielema and his Hawgs continue to battle the mediocrity that has beset them in Fayetteville. This year will bring no relief. Austin Allen provides great talent, tenacity, and leadership behind center, but the West is too strong to allow for a climb up the ladder.

And then… the Mississippis. The six and seven slots in the division are interchangeable.

Mississippi State (5-7, 1-7) I’ll go with State, Dan Mullen, and Nick Fitzgerald to keep the Bulldogs out of the cellar. And, they will probably notch more than the one conference win I have allowed them.

Ole Miss (4-8, 1-7) Two words. Dumpster fire.

So there you have it! According to my mighty powers of perception, note that I never use the term “reality” in my fearless forecast, the Auburn Tigers will meet the aforementioned Florida Gators in Atlanta, GA on December 2nd for the championship of the Southeastern Conference.

Who will win that contest? Yes, it will be my Tigers! And they will go on to make the College Football Playoff, along with the Florida State Seminoles, the Ohio State Buckeyes, and the Washington Huskies.

You may now wipe those tears away, whether they be tears of joy or of sadness. My guess is you might have sprayed your morning coffee or evening cocktail all over your phone or computer screen at the sheer hilarity of such humorous predictions! That’s ok.

For again I say, rejoice!

College football is upon us!

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sieging Atlanta Twice: Will the SEC Do It?

Whoa Nellie! We may not have Keith Jackson calling college football any longer, and that is a tragedy considering some of those whom we do have to endure as announcers today; however, the game is as popular as ever and the 2017 season is fast approaching.

Over the years we have seen multitudinous adjustments to the game that many of us hold so dear. Rules have been altered. We saw the implementation of the BCS. And three years ago brought about a dramatic change that we thought might never occur in our lifetime, a playoff for member schools of what is now known as the FBS.

Yes, things have changed dramatically but our passion for college football has not.

“I believe the winner of the Iron Bowl could very well win the SEC and represent the conference in the College Football Playoff.”

When I was growing up in Lower Alabama we, essentially, had one pre-season publication to rely on. That was Street and Smith’s College Football Yearbook, and the publication continues to hold a spot near to my heart. On its cover would be a brilliant color photo of one of the players who was considered to be one of the very best in the country for the upcoming season.

Auburn’s own Pat Sullivan graced the 1971 coveted spot and, indeed, did go on to win the Heisman trophy that season.

Back in 1971 there was no ESPN, Fox or CBS sports channels on television. You had your local news with a sports segment that lasted about 5 or 10 minutes. And I’m talking about those few minutes to cover all of sports, college and pro, football, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, et al.

And pre-season information? There is a bottomless pit of magazines, e-zines and dot com sites to gather info from. For purposes of this column I have chosen four magazines from which to draw the basis for my word to you today: Lindy’s, Athlon, The Sporting News, and yes, Street & Smith’s.

Phil Steele has not published his hard copy and that is the reason for it not being included in our ratings compilation.

What I have done, just as I did in the 2016 pre-season, is take these magazines’ ratings of SEC teams and average them into a consensus.

In alphabetical order:

Athlon has Alabama number one, Auburn nine, LSU 11, Georgia 15, Florida 16, and the Tennessee Vols 19.

Lindy’s also has Bama at one, Florida 15, Auburn 18, and LSU 11. Georgia and Tennessee are not to be found in the top 25 here.

Sporting News keeps the pattern of the Crimson Tide in the number one slot, Auburn is 10, LSU 13, Georgia 14, Florida 18, and Tennessee 23.

Finally, ol’ Street & Smith’s. Guess who’s numero uno? Yep, it’s the University of Alabama! LSU takes the 10 slot, Florida’s Gators are 13, Georgia is 14, Auburn is 16, and Tennessee 24.

And now your consensus SEC picks. Alabama 1; Auburn 13.25; LSU 13.75; Georgia 14; Florida 15, and Tennessee 22.

It is very interesting to note that no other SEC teams made any of these four publications’ top 25. Not one!

My humble opinion on this? Making Alabama tops in the SEC is a no-brainer. Why pick anyone else? In the entire country? That’s arguable. See Florida State, Ohio State, Washington, and, possibly, Southern Cal. Those seem to be the big dogs at this point in the discussion.

The rest of the SEC? I do like Auburn as number two in both the West and overall in the conference as a logical pick. What do I think will actually occur on the field? I believe the winner of the Iron Bowl could very well win the SEC and represent the conference in the College Football Playoff.

The East? Once again, this division could be won by default with it being a crapshoot between the three teams that are consensus picks in the magazines. I like Kentucky as a dark horse in the Easy. LSU will have a big say in the West.

But, currently, all of this is mere noise. Alabama and Florida State kick it off in 77 days. That’s when it gets real brothers and sisters. Buckle up! It should one heck of a ride!

The Real Madness of March

Every year, I spend far more time and energy than I should filling out my NCAA Tournament March Madness bracket.  I debate whether chalk or Cinderella’s will prevail.  I agonize over which 12-5 upsets are ripe for the picking.  I look at strength of schedule and see who beat who, as if that matters.  Then, I spend the entire tournament second guessing myself.

Inevitably, I get caught in between rooting for my bracket and cheering for those Cinderella’s that capture our hearts.  It ends up being a very stressful month and at the end, I never feel like I have fully enjoyed what is truly an amazing sporting event.

I like to act as if I know what I’m talking about when predicting these games.  Really, I don’t.  None of us do.  Why bother pretending?  It’s not like I’m a big college basketball fan anyway.  I mean, sure, I watch the tournament religiously.  The first Thursday and Friday of games are days that I believe should be national holidays.  Why play the charade of going to work and acting like I’m not watching online?  I am.  #SorryNotSorry (I am, however, sorry I just used that expression. #NeverAgain)

Anyway, when it comes to regular season college basketball, I never watch many games.  This season though, that’s never been truer.  Confession: I watched a grand total of three full college basketball games this winter.  The complete list: Mt. St. Mary’s vs. Michigan (I was actually in attendance), Xavier vs. Cincinnati (Go Bearcats! #BeatX), and Tulsa vs. Cincinnati (Again, I was in attendance).

So, yeah, I don’t really have any idea what went on this college basketball season.  (Though, I hear tripping people has become a hot button issue.)  What I do know, from hardly following along, is that there was a lot of movement in the Top 25.  It seems to me that this is one of those years where there are a ton of good teams in the field, but not many great ones.  Is that a fair assessment?  Honestly, I’m asking.

Let’s highlight some things as I take my first look at the bracket.  (That’s right; I didn’t watch the selection show either.)

East

Hey!  Mt. St. Mary’s made the field… sorta.  The only first round upsets I have here are Marquette over South Carolina and New Mexico State over that Baptist school in Waco, Texas.  Give me Virginia over Florida in the second round.  Other than that, there’s nothing too exciting.  Looks like an easy path to the Final Four for defending champion Villanova.

Midwest

Woo, lots going on here.  First, Michigan State got lucky.  The Spartans are bad but the Hurricanes sound beatable.  The rest of the first round seems pedestrian but man, look at these possible second round matchups.  Kansas vs. Michigan State is enough said.  Iowa State meets Purdue in a battle of teams with high hopes.  Creighton vs. Oregon will be fun.  And Michigan gets a shot at revenge against Louisville.  I’m still upset about 2013 and, as a result, I’m going into full homer mode.  The Wolverines beat the Cardinals, the Ducks, and the Jayhawks on their way to Phoenix.  (#SorryNotSorry… Damnit, that didn’t last long.)

West

Smart guy alert in the 8-9 matchup as Northwestern and Vanderbilt get together.  Wait, the Northwestern Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament!  Congrats to them.  I’ll even pencil in an opening round win for them before getting smacked by Gonzaga.  Give me the other smart guys at Princeton to pull the upset on Notre Dame.  On the bottom half, I’m going a little upset crazy.  Florida Gulf Coast makes another run to the second weekend with wins over Florida State and Maryland.  And St. Mary’s finds its way to the Elite Eight for a fourth try at besting West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga.  You know what they say, “it’s tough to beat a team twice, thrice, four times in the same season.”  Well, Gonzaga will.

South

I’ve got Seton Hall beating Arkansas for the same reasons I have Marquette beating South Carolina.  I’m Catholic and the SEC is still a terrible basketball conference, until proven otherwise.  Middle Tennessee State earns its second tourney win over a Big Ten opponent in as many years, my second 12 over 5.  Cincinnati will beat UCLA with a superior defense the likes of which the Bruins have never come up against.  Unfortunately for my adopted school, the Kentucky Wildcats will be waiting in the Sweet Sixteen.  North Carolina will be able to handle Coach Cal’s bunch en route to yet another Final Four.

Final Four

Last year’s championship game was so phenomenal, why not have a rematch?  Michigan and Gonzaga fall victim to destiny.  This time around, Villanova won’t need a buzzer beater.  The Wildcats will repeat, beating North Carolina quite easily.

There you have it.  Now all that’s left to do is wait until Thursday so I can hide my internet browser behind some important-looking work stuff and enjoy this damn thing for once.

I recommend you do the same, but don’t expect many of you to.  That chance at glory is too tantalizing to pass up, isn’t it?  Yes, you’d rather drive yourself crazy trying to arrive at the perfect bracket that you’ll literally never achieve.

And to you all I say have fun losing your group for the umpteenth time to your aunt who bases her picks on the team mascots.  After all, this is the real madness of March.

E-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll send you back an invite to my bracket group.  Should be easy to beat me since I’m not trying, right?

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Q Sweep Gives Cleveland State a Boost

Going into the game against Bethune-Cookman at Quicken Loans Arena, there were so many reasons to think that Cleveland State would have no problem dispatching of its MEAC foes. However, the specter of a four-game losing streak, coupled with the Vikings’ inability to win at the Q at all last season likely gave head coach Gary Waters a bit of pause.

In spite of Rob Edwards still appearing to be hampered by a hand injury (as evidenced by 8-14 from the free-throw line), he still managed to drop in 19 points. And a healthy Demonte Flannigan lead CSU with 21, allowing the Vikings to stave off a Wildcat surge, led by Quinton Forrest’s 24 points, to take their second win of the season, 73-62.

While the win was much-needed, especially on the heels of a 28-point drubbing at the hands of Arkansas State the game before, it did seem as if Cleveland State was a bit out of sorts. It probably didn’t help that the Vikings were a meager 21.9 percent on three-point shots.

Or perhaps it was because it seemed as if depth in the backcourt was seriously lacking against Bethune-Cookman. Gavin Peppers remains out with the bone bruise to his foot, and now walk-on Nelson Maxwell, who provided CSU with minutes backing up Kash Thomas, is out of the lineup with a hamstring injury.

Despite all of this, the Vikings regrouped and finally put together the kind of complete game fans have been hoping for all season with an 85-62 pasting of Western Michigan. The win game Cleveland State a sweep of the two games at the Q, a venue that gave the Vikings nothing but headaches last season, as they couldn’t muster a single win in the five games there.

In the win, Edwards’ hand appeared to be much improved from the previous game, shooting 50 percent from the field and finishing with 15 points. Flannigan, who has slowly but surely eased his way back into the swing of things since returning to the start lineup, dominated the paint and finished with 20 points.

But the big news coming out of the Q on Wednesday was the performance of Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word. The junior had struggled mightily during the four-game slide, and even in the B-C game wasn’t terribly efficient (eight points on 3-9 shooting).

The WMU game, however, was a much different story.

Word practically couldn’t miss against the Broncos, and torched them on an astounding 75 percent (9-12) from the field, including making five shots from beyond the arc. His 25 points led all scorers, and could possibly serve as the spark the Vikings need on offense.

And that need won’t be felt more than it will be when Cleveland State travels to West Lafayette on Saturday to face 18th-ranked Purdue. And while the last ranked opponent the Vikings faced, then-No. 1 Kentucky, almost felt like an automatic loss, the Boilermakers, particularly their coach Matt Painter, isn’t underestimating CSU.

Whether the Vikings can retain the momentum from overcoming their woes early this season remains to be seen. But maybe Cleveland State, especially when Peppers, Maxwell and also-injured Anthony Wright return, can get to a point where it’s not sitting near the bottom of the Horizon League standings.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State Returns Home (Sort Of) Battered and Beaten

It has really gotten to the point at Cleveland State where it’s become extremely difficult to figure out if there’s any progress happening. The initial returns did indicate that maybe, just maybe, the Vikings would avoid the fate that felled them last season. And let’s face it, nobody wants to see a repeat of last year.

But even with leaving the 101-70 drubbing at the hands of Kentucky out of the equation (since the Wildcats are putting that kind of hurting on all opponents this season), the measure of progress is looking harder to find.

And when Cleveland State continues to make the same mistakes over and over again (Read: long scoring droughts, giving up double-digit leads, etc.), it makes anybody wonder if the cycle of misery experienced from 2015-16 isn’t coming back to rear its ugly head.

Making matters worse is what appears to be a decided lack of depth, in spite of a rather robust rotation that coach Gary Waters has utilized. This has become a particularly glaring issue at point guard, where Gavin Peppers is still out of the rotation with a bone bruise on his foot.

Freshman Kash Thomas, as promising as he has been early on, has also run into some issues that his inexperience and a dearth of help in the rotation have brought to light. Kentucky and, most recent, Arkansas State have been able to target him on defense and, as a consequence, make him a non-factor on offense, as evidenced by limiting him to zero points in the first halves of both contests.

Now, the injury bug has come to claim Rob Edwards, CSU’s leading scorer, even as Demonte Flannigan and Terrelle Hales have come back from early health issues. A hand injury resulted in him sitting out of practice prior to the road trip against the Red Wolves. And limited to 22 minutes in the 78-51 rout at the hands of Arkansas State, Edwards was held scoreless.

In fact, with the Vikings sporting a 1-5 record, it seems as if the only highlight of the upcoming home game at Quicken Loans Arena against Bethune-Cookman is the return of a Cleveland State great. The Wildcats are coached by Gravelle Craig, who was part of the 1992-93 Vikings squad that tore through the Mid-Continent Conference (now called the Summit League) en route to a regular-season title.

For his part, Craig garner first-team all-conference honors (to go along with his second-team honors the previous year) and honorable mention All-American recognition from Basketball Weekly that season. His 5.5 assists per game remains the all-time record for dishes in CSU history.

The emotional boost that will be part of this Ohio homecoming for Craig, along with several members of the Bethune-Cookman roster and staff (including senior writer Dan Ryan) won’t be the only thing the Vikings will have to contend with. Cleveland State will also have to find an answer for the Wildcats’ junior guard, Brandon Tabb.

The 6-5 juco transfer has been on a tear, and was recently named MEAC Co-Player of the Week. Tabb’s 22.1 points per game also leads the conference and ranks him 22nd in the entire country, plus he is second nationally in three-pointers made.

With as many issues as the Vikings have had defending beyond the arc, even in their sole win against Canisius, having Tabb go off on them won’t help matters. And with the Bethune-Cookman faithful seemingly more excited about the game at the Q than Cleveland State fans are, the last thing Waters needs is reinforcement of his assertion that games at the home of the Cavaliers are little more than neutral-site contests to him.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Hoosiers Fall as Soon as They Rise

The Indiana Hoosiers were finally back on top.  They had beaten Kansas in their opener, and after a few years of mediocrity (relative to Indiana basketball history) Tom Crean finally had his boys headed in the right direction.

Even ESPN couldn’t ignore the hype, placing the Bloomington Basketball Boys at the very top spot of its latest power rankings (by the way, Indiana was in the 14 spot the week before).  That’s right, it was Indiana first, then Kentucky, Villanova (defending National Champs), Kansas, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina. That’s a big list of big programs.

You know what big time programs have in common? They don’t lose regular season games to mid-major opponents.

If you haven’t heard, the same week Indiana jumped 14 spots to number one on ESPN’s power rankings, they lost to the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne Mastodons, more commonly known as IPFW, in overtime.

What a way to solidify your spot at the top, right?

Well, it was an away game for Indiana, which had to shift the odds just a little bit, right?

Please.

Indiana basketball is to Indiana what Kentucky basketball is to Kentucky, or what Ohio State football is to Ohio. If Kentucky were to travel to Newport to play Northern Kentucky, the stadium would be full of blue and white.  If Ohio State were to travel to Bowling Green, you would be hard pressed to find any orange and brown in the crowd.

It was no different for the Hoosiers last night in Fort Wayne’s Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.  Bloomington, the home of Indiana University, is around a three-hour drive from Ft Wayne, so fans from the far eastern part of the state that don’t generally get a chance to see their beloved Hoosiers gobbled tickets up. In fact, tickets to the game sold out in less than an hour.

How did this happen?

Indiana’s starting five included a former three-star recruit, three former four-stars, and a five-star.

IPFW’s starting five consisted of three guys that weren’t ranked as high school recruits, plus a two-star, and a three-star transfer.

That three-star transfer, Fort Wayne native Bryson Scott, shot 50 percent from the field while scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds (he’s 6’1”).  It was the first time Scott had ever amassed over 10 rebounds in a game.

As you can expect from a 71-68 game, the numbers in each statistical category were pretty similar.  Indiana had a slight edge in rebounds, free throw percentage, and field goal percentage.  The most lopsided categories fell IPFW’s way as the Mastodons accumulated 11 steals to Indiana’s four and seven blocks to the Hoosiers’ three.  Indiana finished with 15 turnovers, seven more than IPFW’s eight.

As far as Indiana and its fans are concerned, though, none of that matters.

Indiana has been revealed as a phony and we’re only a few weeks into the season.  With a non-conference schedule that includes North Carolina, Butler and Louisville, plus a tough Big Ten slate, you can probably expect quite a few losses from the Hoosiers, and don’t even think about a national title.

This is a knee-jerk reaction based on one bad result.

No it’s not.  This is an educated prediction based on NCAA history.  I’m not claiming the Hoosiers won’t win the Big Ten or make the tournament, but you’d be hard pressed to go back in history and find a team, ANY TEAM, that has lost to a mid-major opponent and proceeded to prove itself a championship contender.

That’s my challenge to you, actually. Find me a team that matches that description and tweet it to me @evanskilliter or email me at [email protected].  I’ll be happy to hear from you.

E-mail Evan at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

CSU Is a Case Study in a Tale of Two Teams

As I mentioned in my last column, this year’s Cleveland State squad will do things that will drive fans crazy, as the young players adjust to the college game and, more importantly, each other. Little did any of us know that one of those “make you crazy” moments would come to pass so quickly.

That moment, of course, came in the first half of the Vikings’ match-up against Tennessee-Martin, which was the second of four games that are part of the Bluegrass Showcase. With Cleveland State playing horrendously on offense, the Skyhawks had no problem taking advantage. And with 50 points in the first half, it appeared that even the signature Viking defense had all but fizzled away.

Being down 50-23 to open the second half, Cleveland State fans were probably shuffling for the remote control to find the Cavs game. But much like the opening contest against Kent State, when the Vikings found themselves down 20, the comeback began.

And throughout the second half, Cleveland State chipped away at the UT-Martin lead, getting it down to single digits and, thanks to a pair of Jibri Blount free throws, got as close as 70-66. In the end, though, the deficit proved to be insurmountable, as the Skyhawks prevailed, 85-74.

Fans will tell you that are no such things as moral victories, but with the type of team the Vikings have right now, you’ll take what you can get. And yes, fans should expect that no matter the circumstances, Cleveland State has to get into the habit of playing for the entire game, rather than let the opponent run of the score in the first 20 minutes.

That said, the second half of the UT-Martin game proved that the Vikings are capable of some serious damage. Cleveland State forced the Skyhawks to cough up the ball 16 times in that half, and outrebounded them, 22-17. For a Viking squad that was already short on size, with senior Demonte Flannigan still out of the lineup, being able to outmuscle UT-Martin on the boards was nothing short of a miracle.

However, with the third game in the Bluegrass Showcase coming up against Kentucky, there is absolutely no room for error. The top-ranked Wildcats, through their first four games, have been tearing their opponents apart. That includes drubbing then-No. 13 Michigan State, 69-48, on the Spartans’ home court.

And Kentucky hasn’t been taking it easy on the Bluegrass Showcase foes, either. In fact, the Wildcats essentially used its wins against Canisius and Duquesne as glorified exhibition games. Kentucky used its sensational backcourt to roll the Golden Griffins, 93-69. Then, after cruising against the Spartans, the Wildcats hammered the Dukes, 93-59.

Not helping Cleveland State’s prospects on Wednesday is the fact that its dearth of size will be exploited by Kentucky, as 6-10 freshmen Edrice Adebayo will be leading the charge in the frontcourt. And as promising as the Viking guards have been with Rob Edwards, Bobby Word and Kash Thomas, the Wildcats will counter with their three best scorers, Isaiah Briscoe, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox.

All signs basically point to a huge Kentucky win. But, as was evidenced by Cleveland State’s fight with the Wildcats in 2013, you can never count out a Gary Waters-led team.

Then again, if the Vikings don’t show up for the first half again, Kentucky, unlike CSU’s previous opponents, will have none of any sort of comeback and make things worse.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

 

Why Lamar Jackson Will Undoubtedly Win the Heisman

The Heisman race this year has been more competitive and talked about than in recent years because of the amount of standout athletes that have taken their talents to the next level in college football. While all the contenders have their cases as to why they should win, at the end of the day there is one man who stands above all the rest: Lamar Jackson.

Lamar Jackson is a freak of nature, and no one else can be compared with him, not this year, not last year and not for many more years to come. Statistically speaking he is a literal record breaker, both at the FBS level and at the university level. After the game against Boston College Jackson now becomes the first player in UofL history to break 1,000 yards rushing at the quarterback position. He has also broken the total offense record at UofL previously set by Teddy Bridgewater. With 47 touchdowns on the season and one regular season game left plus a bowl game, Lamar could be on pace to come close to the FBS record for most touchdowns in a single season set by Colt Brennan in 2006 with 63. If we do a little math that’s averaging eight touchdowns per game to tie the record. For most quarterbacks it would be a crazy number but with the talent of Lamar Jackson anything is possible.

These last two games and next week’s game also play a huge factor for Lamar’s Heisman chances because all three of these teams have winning records going into their games with Louisville, Wake Forest and Houston are already bowl eligible with Kentucky needing just one more win (over Austin Peay) to get there. This is important because out of the nine teams that UofL has played already only two are bowl eligible and one of those (Clemson) was a loss.

So, with these last two games and next week’s game coming up against teams who are above .500 (Kentucky should be 6-5 after this weekend) this will prove to be Louisville’s toughest stretch of games so far. Lamar may have not had the most dominating performance against Wake Forest but 145 yards passing and 153 more on the ground and a touchdown is still a decent performance against the 44th ranked defense in the nation. The real test for Jackson was against the 9th ranked Houston defense last night. Jackson ended with 211 yards passing and 33 more rushing as well as a touchdown in the hopes of all but solidifying his Heisman campaign.

To put this all in perspective let’s look at another dual-threat Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel. Manziel had 5,116 yards for his 2012 Heisman winning season and 46 touchdowns. On the other hand, Lamar Jackson, with one game left in the season, has 4,476 yards and 47 touchdowns. That means that, with one game left this season, Lamar already is responsible for more toushdowns than Manziel, even if he may fall just short of Manziel’s total yardage. If that’s not enough then why not look at another similar quarterback, Cam Newton? Newton had 4,369 yards and 51 touchdowns for his Heisman-winning season. So with one game left Lamar would need four more touchdowns to tie Newton’s number and is already ahead of Newton in total yards.

In conclusion, Lamar Jackson’s season has been by all standards incredible and a pleasure to watch. Unless some monumental collapse were to happen in this last game, Jackson is still the front-runner for the Heisman and will stay that way all the way to the ballots, even without a shot at a national title.

 

Photo: Wikimedia

The SEC East, Where Even the Winners Are Losers

In case you’re just now joining us, we have weekly articles that we run for “Smackdown Friday” here at Campus Pressbox. I have happily smacked down many teams throughout the season, and I’ve had my fair share of fun doing so. But when I looked to this week, there was no smackdown piece I wanted to write; there was no more fun. And who is to blame for this? The SEC East. It has sucked the fun out of everything.

The SEC East has been struggling for years now to keep up with the formidable teams in the SEC West. That’s no secret. But this year, more than any year of late, I am especially disheartened by the play of all of the SEC East teams.

You see, I couldn’t write a smackdown about any of the SEC East games (or the one cross-divisional game in the SEC), because no matter who wins these games, the SEC East is still a bunch of losers.

Too harsh? No. Maybe not even harsh enough at this point. With the results of last week’s games, we are on track for the possibility of a six-way tie in the SEC East. No, this is not a joke. The SEC East, on the other hand, really is a joke.

In the spirit of smacking down a team (or seven), let me get to the fun part. Let me really explain how the SEC East teams lose this weekend, even if they do win. And no, there was no exaggeration there. I am actually going to smack down every team in the SEC East. Let’s face it; they all deserve this.

Florida hosts South Carolina this weekend. That means the seniors will be playing their last home game against the coach who recruited them, Will Muschamp. Crazy how things work out! What’s crazier: Either team winning this game does not change how awful the two teams have been (at times) this season.

Florida just had one of the most gut-wrenching losses at Arkansas last weekend. The Gators had almost no offensive production, and the defense (after being on the field most of the night) was exposed. This win would be nice to bounce back but at the end of the day, the Gators still have been incredibly disappointing.

South Carolina has done pretty well with its new quarterback. Yes, Will Muschamp has finally figured out what a good QB looks like. But, South Carolina is still nowhere near where they were earlier this decade. South Carolina could get this road win and satisfy its fans, but to the rest of us the Gamecocks will still be losers.

Georgia hosts Auburn this weekend. With the way the SEC East has been playing against the West, this game is almost guaranteed to be ugly for the Bulldogs.

Georgia narrowly beat Kentucky last weekend, couldn’t get anything going in a loss against Florida the weekend before and lost to Vanderbilt in its game before the bye week in October. What I’m saying is: Georgia has four losses and deserves to be ripped into for these losses. And even if by some miracle the Bulldogs do beat the Tigers, they still shouldn’t be ranked. They’re still going to be losers.

Kentucky pays Tennessee a visit this weekend, too. And the fact that there are a number of Vol fans who are concerned about possibly losing this game says almost all that I need to say.

Kentucky will always be a basketball school in the eyes of the rest of the SEC and probably even the rest of the country. Somehow, the Wildcats have managed to put together a season that’s actually pretty impressive by Kentucky football standards. If the Wildcats beat the Vols, they will be celebrating. But that would all but guarantee that Florida returns to the SEC Championship Game (if the Gators beat the Gamecocks). So Kentucky still loses.

And on the other side of this, Tennessee actually really needs this win. There are plenty of fans concerned that the Vols won’t get it either. My dad is one of those fans. And while Tennessee may very well win this game, after some of their recent losses (including injuries) the Vols will ultimately still be losers.

Missouri hosts Vanderbilt this weekend. This game is truly the battle of the two worst teams in the entire SEC, not even just in the SEC East. The Loser Bowl, perhaps?

Missouri has taken too many L’s too count this season. The Tigers have yet to win a conference game. And they have three of those left, including this one. Not to mention, they also lost to MTSU in October. Who even does that? Are you actually allowed to do that in the SEC? No victory could redeem Mizzou at this point. The Tigers will still be the biggest losers in the SEC this season.

Vanderbilt is only one conference win ahead of Missouri. That being said, the Commodores really have no room to talk here. They have had some “moral victories” in the numerous close games they have forced. But even those moral victories combined with an actual victory this weekend would not make Vanderbilt a winner. That record doesn’t lie.

No matter which way you look at things, every SEC East team will be a loser this weekend. That, my friends, is why I decided to smack down the entire SEC East. Bless their hearts.

Email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Joni Vanhoecke, Flickr

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