Most compelling story lines of the week

December, 2, 2008

Here are this week's most compelling story lines:

  1. Showdown in the SEC: So Alabama is No. 1 and undefeated and yet the Tide are almost a double-digit underdog against Florida? Wow. The Gators have smashed every team they've faced over the second half of the season, putting up staggering numbers. (UF is averaging over 46 points per game, which is more than two TDs better than anyone else in the SEC.)

  2. The whole world seems to be picking UF to cruise into the BCS title game. That's kinda scary. Seems as though a surprisingly high percentage of the time we enter a big game with one team, usually the dynamic/juggernaut team, as the prohibitive favorite that everyone is touting, it loses to the team full of scrappers. Examples: Miami Orange Bowl win over Nebraska in 1984; Penn State Fiesta Bowl win over Miami in 1987; Oklahoma Orange Bowl win over FSU in 2001; Ohio State Fiesta Bowl win over Miami in 2003; Texas Rose Bowl win over USC in 2006.

    It would obviously help UF's chance if Percy Harvin is close to 100 percent. According to the Gainesville Sun, Harvin's ailing right ankle is improving.

    A neat sidebar in this matchup surrounds Tim Tebow, who apparently is still in contact with Mike Shula, the old Bama coach, according to the Huntsville Times, which threw out some very juicy what-if questions:

    "What if Tebow had committed to Alabama? What if on Dec. 13, 2005, moments before ESPN televised his announcement that he was going to Florida, Tebow had made that tearful phone call to Florida coach Urban Meyer instead of Shula? Would Shula still be the Tide's coach? Would Nick Saban have gone elsewhere? Would Alabama be ranked No. 1 and playing for the SEC title? Would Florida have won the 2006 national title without Tebow as a key backup?"

    My three cents: I suspect Shula still probably would've been fired because that would've been a ton of pressure on a freshman like Tebow, who would've played in front of an O-line not as tough as the one he has now or the one Bama has now. Carrying the theme even further out, Jevan Snead would probably then be the quarterback of the Florida Gators, which means Michael Herrick, Joe Weatherford or T.J. Borcky would've been Ole Miss' starting quarterback, and the Rebels probably don't beat the Gators in the Swamp.

  3. Can Mizzou play spoiler? No one is giving Mizzou any shot of upsetting Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. Then again, the Tigers did just lose to a mediocre Kansas team while the Sooners have been sizzling the past month. Still, Tigers QB Chase Daniel is pretty fired up for this game. Mike DeArmond asked him if he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder now.

  4. "Not necessarily a chip," Daniel said. "We want respect, and it's not going to be given to us. We've just got to go out there and get it."

    Daniel added that he had an hourlong conversation with his pal Texas quarterback Colt McCoy on Sunday after Oklahoma edged Texas in the BCS standings and claimed the South Division berth in the league title game. "He was crushed," Daniel said. "He's obviously pulling for us to win, and so are we. We're pulling for ourselves to win."

    Daniel's counterpart, right-handed Sam Bradford, will play with a splint on his left thumb, reports Jake Trotter:

    On two different occasions at the Oklahoma State 1-yard line, Bradford fumbled the center snap. Fortunately for OU, Bradford recovered the ball both times. On the second fumble late in the third quarter, Bradford scooped up the ball and dove across the end zone for a touchdown. After that, OU compressed its game plan and didn't run another play with Bradford under center.

    "You don't see the guy drop a snap in two years and then you see him drop two trying to take the snap from center," coach Bob Stoops said. "With his left hand, he wasn't able to work it. But we'll be able to prepare for that here through the week and I'm sure he'll be able to take the snap."

  5. The BCS Mess: This actually should be more the postseason bowl mess since the BCS is more about getting No. 1 vs. No. 2. Yet, there are so many tangential problems lingering under the BCS umbrella. Front and center: the Big 12's tie-breaker policy that is sending Oklahoma to play for its league title over Texas, the team that beat the Sooners on a neutral field by 10 points. If you don't like it, blame the Big 12 for roping the BCS formula into its structure. (More on the failings of the BCS criteria in a second.) Then, you have to look at who else gets into the big-money BCS bowls: Do you take a two-loss Ohio State team over an undefeated Boise State squad that has a more impressive win (at Oregon) than anything the Buckeyes have?

    Drama? Of course. You can also blame last year's Hawaii team for getting hammered by Georgia in a BCS bowl. Right or wrong, the little guys from the non-BCS conferences have much less margin for error than the big guys. So even though Ohio State and Big Ten folks feel like a lot of people hold their recent past against them, it's nothing compared to how it works for the non-BCS.

    Back to that BCS criteria issue … One thing I really like about the NCAA hoops tournament format is it appears the selection committee in the days leading up to the unveiling of the brackets meticulously considers its options. There are rolled-up sleeves, lots of coffee and that sort of thing. In football, we're stuck with the coaches' poll and the Harris Poll, which seems to be approached with the same introspection that your next-door neighbor probably has for "Desperate Housewives." Sure, he watches it but does he grasp who is doing what beyond what just happened more than a week ago? Probably not. And if you disagree, I offer you this nugget about the Harris voter (former Oklahoma State sports information director Pat Quinn), who thinks Penn State is still undefeated, according to Berry Tramel.


• Lane Kiffin had his first win at Tennessee, writes John Adams.

As I wrote awhile back I think a lot of people underestimate Kiffin because of his age and to some extent because of his pedigree. He is very focused and relentless. He also has a quality many great leaders have: He's not afraid of being unpopular. (Sorry for the double negative but it seemed appropriate.) Or at least that's not high on his priority list.

As he said in his own presser Monday, he's a great worker. Most of those who have worked with him will agree with that, although don't expect him to sleep in the office. His wife, Layla, who was raised in a football family too, made him sign a contract stipulating that he wouldn't sleep in the office.

Last year I did a story on the Kiffin family through the eyes of his mom for ESPN The Magazine and learned a few interesting things about the family.

• Kiffin certainly will face some big challenges at UT as Tom Luginbill writes.

• Lots of reasons to love Ball State. Bob Kravitz lists his favorites in the fashion of its biggest alum David Letterman:

    6) Charlie Weis doesn't coach Ball State.

    5) What's not to love about a school named after guys who are famous for their glass canning jars?

• Speaking of Weis, according to Brian Hamilton, the ND coach is telling recruits that he'll definitely be back in South Bend leading the Irish.

"He told me he'll be there," Inglewood, Calif., prospect Shaquelle Evans told after Weis' visit Sunday. "He said it's just the media spreading that he's going to get fired."

The media is also spreading the part about how the Irish are 9-15 under Weis in the past two seasons and have gotten worse in the second half of this season, not better. The media also is spreading Weis' claims that the ND team, which didn't even get a single first down 'til the end of the third quarter the other night, was really playing with a lot of emotion and was a very different team this year against USC in losing 35-3 as opposed to last season's rout.

• Southern Miss might've landed the replacement for the great Damion Fletcher in Tracey Lampley, a slick 5-9, 170-pounder, who picked USM over Mississippi State.

I'd heard a lot of great things about this back from my time down in Mississippi. His style will remind folks of Ole Miss star Dexter McCluster. Lampley comes from the same town that produced Jerrell Powe.

• One of the nation's top defensive prospects, Darren Myles Jr., is no longer considering the in-state Bulldogs, according to "They're not even in my top 10," said the No. 38-ranked player. "No one is really contacting me. Georgia is a great school and has great facilities. Coach (Willie) Martinez and (Mark) Richt really slowed down the recruiting. They use to call me every day and now they e-mail or call every two weeks."

Alabama, Purdue (his father's alma mater), Florida, LSU, Michigan and Georgia Tech now appear to be Myles' favorites. He added that a decision should be made at the end of January after his final visit.

• Louisville has been down the past two years, but don't blame center Eric Wood. The scrappy Cardinal is one of the best in the game. He's also proved to be quite an inspiration for one admirer, Rutgers NT Pete Tverdov, one of the Big East's most improved players.

The two went head to head for the first time a year ago, and Tverdov said he became a better player for the experience, reports Tom Liucci:

"He sort of changed the way I play because that's how good he was," Tverdov, a 6-4, 270-pound senior, said after practice Monday. "I had to take a step back after that game and say, 'Okay, this is what I need to do to become a better player.'"

The two face off again Thursday night and we'll find out just how much Tverdov has improved.

• A month ago I wrote about small-college star Billy Don Malone's odd path back to stardom. My buddy Thayer Evans has more on his story here.



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