From Sidelines to punchlines

An entertaining look at sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while wondering how many McDonald’s meals O.J. Simpson will be eating now that he’s out of prison and living in Las Vegas:

Wedding crasher

Good to know Jerry Rice is still  putting his dancing shoes to good use.

As reported this week by theringer.com, the former 49ers receiver has been crashing weddings since 2006. He told writer Kevin Clark that the first time was shortly after he retired from the NFL and after playing a round of golf at a country club where a reception was being held.

Now he claims he’s been walking in unannounced at a wedding reception most weekends. Although not an invited guest, he’s apparently always welcome to stay.

Indeed, by now, Rice must be close to earning a listing in the Guiness Book of World Records.

Here’s just a few possibilities:

 “Most Times Boogying with a Different Bridesmaid.”

 “Most Wedding Dances by a Pro Football Hall of Famer.”

“Most Times Dancing to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”

Hurricane warning

Miami’s 24-20 victory over Florida State in the final six seconds on Saturday extended a pair of winning streaks that are cherished by Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt.

First, it extended Miami’s winning streak to eight games, dating back to the Canes’ final five games last season. But on a more personal note, it was the 52nd consecutive time Richt has walked off the field at Doak Campbell Stadium as a winning coach.

A former assistant under Bobby Bowden, including seven seasons as the Seminoles’ offensive coordinator, Richt was part of FSU’s 51-game home winning streak from 1992-2000.

Meanwhile, UM’s comeback ended FSU coach Jimbo Fisher’s seven-game winning streak over the Hurricanes. The loss also dropped FSU to 1-3, which is the Seminoles’ worst start  since 1976, which was Bowden’s first season in Tallahassee.

With fan unrest growing weekly in Tallahassee, could this 1-3 start by the Seminoles foretell Fisher’s last season as FSU’s head coach?

They said it

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “Remember Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino’s restaurant scandal involving sex on a table? From what the FBI now tells us, there’s been way more going on under the table.”

TBS comedian Conan O’Brien: “San Diego has started building a border wall. Not to keep out immigrants, but to keep the LA Chargers from coming back.”

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald on singer Willie Nelson owning a golf course: “If you make a hole-in-one, you have to buy a round of joints.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “From the You Just Can’t Make Up Stuff Like This file comes word that the Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium — home of the Browns, losers of 29 of their past 31 games — was the scene of a dumpster fire last Tuesday.”

Scott Ostler in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Sales are sluggish for tickets to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. Factors include high prices, a sagging world economy, and a reluctance to buy front-row seats for a nuclear holocaust.”

Middle man

Bruce Arena’s decision to play 19-year-old Christian Pulisic in central midfield during Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Panama may have been his best decision since starting his second stint as the coach of the U.S. men’s soccer team.

Pulisic had a goal and assisted Jozy Altidore on another in the opening 20 minutes of a 4-0 U.S. victory that has the team close to clinching a berth in the 2018 World Cup next summer in Russia.

“We needed a result and we came out flying right from the beginning,” said Pulisic, who has now scored or assisted on 11 of 16 goals scored by the U.S. in this final round of qualifying.

Added Altidore: “You can’t help but see the improvement when he’s on the field, especially when he’s in the middle of everything.”

Defining roles for players like Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Bobby Wood and Paul Arriola, Arena has led a rescue effort that has seen Team USA rebound from a minus-five goal differential to a plus-five differential in the final round of qualifying.

With Panama now saddled with a minus-two goal differential, Friday’s rout created the safety net this U.S. team needed. And that might not have happened if Pulisic hadn’t excelled under pressure.

https://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2017/10/6/16439840/usa-vs-panama-final-score-2018-world-cupu-qualifying-results

Coaching excellence

Arena is 10-1-6 since his return as the U.S. men’s national soccer coach last November.

Overall, as coach of Team USA, he has won 85 games, tied 33 and lost 29. He led the team in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

Manning’s legacy

Peyton Manning was immortalized with a statue in downtown Indianapolis this week, serving as another reminder to legend-in-waiting Andrew Luck that he’ll never measure up in the eyes of Colts fans.

Especially with the state of Indianapolis’ offensive line that left Luck so banged up and bruised last season that he has yet to take a snap this season.

While most of the speakers came to praise the future hall of famer Manning during the unveiling of the statue outside Lucas Oil Stadium, comedian David Letterman took note of the fact that he is no longer winning games, either. But rather than picking on Luck, he loaded a double-barreled shot at Peyton, who has retired, and his brother Eli, the quarterback of the New York Giants.

“By the way, if you like football trivia, so far this year, Eli and Peyton have won the same number of games,” said Letterman. “I’m sorry, I was told this was a roast.”

At least Peyton could laugh but I doubt Eli found it funny.

Playing excellence

Manning, who played 14 seasons for the Colts after being drafted No. 1 in 1998, holds Indianapolis records for passing yards (54,828), touchdown passes (399), passer rating (94.9) and wins (141).

In addition to the statue, his No. 18 jersey will be retired Sunday and he’ll be inducted into the franchise’s  Ring of Honor.

Headlines

From SportsPickle.com: “Rick Pitino says he has no idea he has been running a New York crime family for the last 30 years.”

From TheOnion.com: “NHL warns hockey fans that banging on glass scares players.”

From Fark.com: “George Constanza resigns as Atlanta Braves GM.”

From TheOnion.com: “Bill Belichick’s challenge flag transforms into swarm of snakes after hitting ground.”

From SportsPickle.com: “Protestors demand Colin Kaepernick be allowed to develop CTE.”

From TheKicker.com: “To add some drama, NBA will also have captains pick teams in the Finals.”

Basketball on grass

Seriously, when Western Michigan beat Buffalo 71-68 in seven overtimes Saturday, it meant the two schools finished with 19 more combined points than the last time their two basketball teams played each other.

The 139 combined points set a scoring record for an FBS game. The previous record was 137 points set last season by Syracuse’s 76-61 win over Pittsburgh.

While Saturday’s game ended in a 31-31 tie in regulation, it still legitimately earned the “basketball on grass” description There were four long touchdown plays covering 66, 64, 54 and 48 yards and three scoring drives of 75 or more yards lasting four or fewer plays.

All is ‘Rosie’

Cam Newton thought it was funny earlier this week when a woman reporter for the Charlotte Observer asked him about the improvement of one of his receivers.

“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” he replied to Jourdan Rodrigue.

Now, Newton has declared to the world that he’s a feminist.

When the Carolina quarterback boarded the team’s flight to Detroit on Saturday, he was wearing a “Rosie the Riveter” pin on his hat. The image is an iconic one from the feminist movement during World War II, promoting the role women played by filling factory jobs.

The Panthers, naturally, used its social media accounts to let everyone know that Newton magically is no longer sexist.

If only it was that easy, Cam.

Weekend warrior

My winning percentage from this weekend’s college football games included a perfect 6-0 performance in the ACC, 5-1 in the SEC and 5-2 in the Big Ten.

That improves the season totals to 41-7 in the ACC (85.4%), 40-10 in the SEC (80%) and 40-12 in the Big Ten (76.9%).

My picks can be seen each week in my blogs on the three conferences.

U.S. men’s soccer team moves closer to reaching World Cup next summer

There was only one acceptable outcome Friday night and Christian Pulisic was determined the United States men’s national soccer team wasn’t going to leave Orlando disappointed.

Knowing Panama would have been content to settle for a draw, the pressure was on Bruce Arena and his players. But after Pulisic scored one goal and set up another in the first 20 minutes, he and his teammates were able to settle and secure the needed result.

They went on to claim a 4-0 win that moved the U.S. past Panama into third place in the CONCACAF standings.

“We’ve come a long way and we’re well positioned to hopefully qualify for Russia,” said Arena. “Again, Trinidad is not going to be easy. We have to have our team ready to go. We’ve got to get at least a point. I think a point would assure us of third place.”

The game at Trinidad is Tuesday night, and Arena might be correct that a draw would be enough to get the United States through the qualifying process since Friday’s 4-0 win has boosted the team’s goal differential edge over Panama to seven goals.

Pulisic, the 19-year-old wonder kid, got things started in the eighth minute with a breakaway goal off a flick on pass from Jozy Altidore. A few minutes later they combined again with Pulisic skipping a pass across the goalmouth for Altidore to tap past Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo,

“Christian was superb,” Altidore said. “His ability to play in between the lines, he causes so much trouble.”

Added Arena: “We wanted to pressure them early, get out on the break and get after their back line. We actually didn’t finish well. We could have scored a lot more goals.”

Altidore added a penalty kick late in the half, earned when Bobby Wood was taken down in the box after he had pushed past two defenders. In the second half, Wood finished off the scoring with a goal in the 63rd minute.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard earned the shutout. As long as the U.S. gets at least a tie at Trinidad on Tuesday, the best Panama can do is draw even on points in the standings by beating Costa Rica. But even then, the edge would go to Arena’s squad unless Panama can overcome its massive tiebreaker disadvantage.

The only other possible threat would come if Honduras manages to beat both Costa Rica on Saturday and Mexico next Tuesday, and that’s highly unlikely because Honduras also would have to overcome a minus-12 goal differential to move past the U.S.

Revisiting my weekend picks in ACC, SEC and Big Ten

One of the games I’ve been anxiously waiting to see this season finally happens on Saturday – Miami at Florida State.

In college football history, it’s a relatively new rivalry, but there are few that can match the intensity of the clashes between the Seminoles and Hurricanes.

I’ve been fortunate in my career to get a front row seat to the rivalry spanning part of three decades.

The first of those was from 1978 to 1984 when I was in St. Petersburg. It was a time when Bobby Bowden was just starting to build his Seminole dynasty. He had a 4-3 edge against the Hurricanes. Two of FSU’s losses during that span were by a single point, 10-9 in 1980 and 17-16 in 1983. He also lost 26-25, in 1987 and 17-6 in 1991. I was around for the first two of those games before returning to work in South Carolina for 14 years.

That frustration against UM once prompted Bowden to crack about what his tombstone should read.

 “As good as we were, we didn’t win a National Championship until 1993, mainly because we kept losing to Miami on missed kicks,” Bowden said. “I used to get mad because nobody else would play Miami. Notre Dame would play them, then drop them. Florida dropped them. Penn State dropped them.

“We would play Miami and lose by one point on a missed field goal, and it would knock us out of the National Championship. I didn’t want to play them, either, but I had to play them. That’s why I said, When I die, They’ll say, ‘At least he played Miami.”

My second stint covering the rivalry came when I was named the sports editor in Tallahassee and got to know Bowden a little more over the next eight years. Miami had a 6-3 edge during that stretch but five of the games were decided by three of fewer points.

So, overall I’ve seen the Hurricanes when nine times and FSU prevail seven times. I’m predicting Miami will prevail Saturday, ending the Seminoles streak of seven wins in the series.

BEARD’S PICKS

 NOTE: All times Central. The picks are first made available each week in my weekly blogs on the ACC, Big Ten and SEC. Projected winners in bold caps.

ACC

Thursday’s Game

 

N.C. STATE 39, Louisville 25

Saturday’s Games

Wake Forest at CLEMSON, Saturday 11 a.m. CT,  ESPN2

Duke at VIRGINIA, Saturday 11:20 p.m., ACC Network

Pittsburgh at SYRACUSE, Saturday 11:30 p.m., ACC Network

MIAMI at Florida State, Saturday 2:30 p.m., ESPN

NOTRE DAME at North Carolina, Saturday 2:30 p.m., ABC

VIRGINIA TECH at Boston College, Saturday 6:15 p.m., ESPN2

Last Week: 8-0 Overall: 35-7

SEC

GEORGIA at Vanderbilt, Saturday 11 a.m., ESPN

Mississippi at AUBURN, Saturday 11 a.m., SEC Network

LSU at FLORIDA, Saturday 2:30 p.m., CBS

Arkansas at SOUTH CAROLINA, Saturday 3 p.m., SEC Network

ALABAMA at Texas A&M, Saturday 6:15 p.m., ESPN

Missouri at KENTUCKY, Saturday 6:30 p.m., SEC Network

 LAST WEEK: 8-0 OVERALL: 35-9

 Big Ten

Illinois at IOWA, 11 a.m., BTN

PENN STATE at Northwestern, 11 a.m., ABC

Minnesota at PURDUE, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2

Charleston Southern at INDIANA, 2:30 p.m., BTN

Maryland at OHIO STATE, 3 p.m., FOX

Michigan State at MICHIGAN, 6;30 p.m., ABC

Wisconsin at NEBRASKA, 7 p.m., BTN

Last Week: 6-1 Overall:  35-10

ACC Landscape: Week Six

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has yet to lose to Miami in seven games, but no one has to remind him that the last three contests in the series have been decided by a combined 10 points.

Those close encounters are what Fisher says he’ll focus on as he talks about the instate football rivalry with his players heading into Saturday afternoon’s game. Last year FSU prevailed 20-19, blocking a UM extra point with a little over a minute remaining.

“You talk about past games and experiences we’ve had with them and how hard-fought all those games were and the things that we’ve had, but at the same time you’ve got to go out and play this game here,” said Fisher on the ACC teleconference this week. “I wish it could help. I wish we could carry all that over, but sometimes that’s a lot harder to do. We’re going to have to go play.”

Miami coach Mark Richt, a former FSU offensive coordinator under Bobby Bowden, believes every year is a chance to reset a rivalry. That said, he wants Saturday to be the day the Hurricanes (3-0, 1-0 ACC) get back on top in the series, which Miami leads 31-30.

“We obviously had not beaten Florida State in a long, long time,” said Richt. “I’ve been here a year of it, and our players have been here, one, two, or three years of it, so it’s time to make this a true rivalry again.”

It’s been an unusual season for both programs with Hurricane season resulting in a two-week break for both, including postposing this matchup for three weeks. Miami and FSU (1-2, 1-1 ACC) were originally each scheduled to be off Saturday.

Another unusual aspect of this season’s game is that both Miami and FSU will be starting first-year quarterbacks.

UM’s Malik Rosier has passed for nearly 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions. The redshirt junior leads the ACC in passing efficiency.

Meanwhile, FSU freshman James Blackman has had his struggles with six touchdown passes and seven interceptions while passing for 399 yards.

With FSU finally getting its first win of the season last Saturday at Wake Forest, Fisher would rather have his players focusing on the positives. In his opinion, that won’t happen if they spend too much time on Twitter.

“I don’t read social media. It’s poison. It’s toxic,” said Fisher. “I just tell the guys to ignore (the criticism). Because when we’re great, we’re the greatest thing in the world. Truth always lies somewhere in between.”

It’s why Fisher has had a social media ban for his players since the 2013 national championship season, although he knows it’s tough to monitor it.

Richt has similar feelings about the knee-jerk reactions that social media spreads. But win or lose Saturday, he feels good about the direction his program is headed.

“There’s a lot of great things that are happening, brand new indoor facilities coming and we’re playing in one of the most beautiful stadiums in America and we’re in a tremendously fertile of recruiting area,” said Richt. “I’ve got great staff and great kids here. We’re fired up and we’re excited about what’s going to happen here.”

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

All times Central

N.C. State 39, Louisville 25, Thursday night

Wake Forest at Clemson, Saturday 11 a.m. CT,  ESPN2

Duke at Virginia, Saturday 11:20 p.m., ACC Network

Pittsburgh at Syracuse, Saturday 11:30 p.m., ACC Network

Miami at Florida State, Saturday 2:30 p.m., ESPN

Notre Dame at North Carolina, Saturday 2:30 p.m., ABC

Virginia Tech at Boston College, Saturday 6:15 p.m., ESPN2

FAB FIVE

  1. Clemson (5-0, 3-0):Last Week – W, at Virginia Tech, 31-17. The Impact – No. 2-ranked Tigers have now beaten three Top 25 teams in first five games of season. Kelly Bryant passed for 186 yards and rushed for 94 more against Hokies.
  2. Miami (3-0, 1-0):Last Week – W, at Duke, 31-6. The Impact – Running back Mark Walton, who is averaging 113.5 yards per game, has been nursing a gimpy ankle which limited him to 51 yards on 17 carries against Duke. Showdown with FSU has finally arrived after storm delays.
  3. Louisville (4-2, 1-2):Last Week – W, Murray State, 55-10. This Week – L, N.C. State, 39-25. The Impact –. After Thursday’s loss to N.C. State, Cardinals are now 0-7 in road games when both teams are ranked. Heisman winner Lamar Jackson threw a Pick-6 in final three minutes to help Wolfpack seal the win over Louisville.
  4. Virginia Tech (4-1, 0-1): Last Week – L, Clemson, 31-17. The Impact –It took Greg Stroman’s 43-yard punt return to the 2 to finally get Hokies within range of end zone after falling behind 24-3. It obviously was too little too late.
  5. N.C. State (4-1, 2-0):Last Week – W, Syracuse, 33-24. This Week – W, Louisville, 39-25. The Impact – Wolfpack have bounced back from season-opening loss to South Carolina by winning five in a row, including knocking off Florida State and now Louisville, for the program’s best ACC start in more than a decade.

THE PACK

6. Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-0):Last Week – W, North Carolina, 33-7. The Impact – Ball-hogging Yellow Jackets had near perfect game against UNC, controlling ball for 38 minutes, producing 17- and 18-play scoring drives and rushing for 403 yards. They now have extra week to prepare for tough closing stretch.

7. Florida State (1-2, 1-1):Last Week – W, at Wake Forest, 26-19. The Impact – Freshman QB James Blackman pulled off late-game heroics with TD pass in final minute, which should boost his confidence entering Saturday’s showdown with rival Miami.

8. Wake Forest (4-1, 1-1):Last Week – L, Florida State, 26-19. The Impact – Demon Deacons squandered chance to improve to 5-0 and now appear doomed to two-game losing skid with trip to Clemson this week.

9. Duke (4-1, 1-1):Last Week – L, Miami, 31-6. The Impact: Duke had nearly 350 yards of offense, but failed to convert on 14 of 19 third-down conversions at home against Miami. Not a good sign heading to Charlottesville, where Cavs are even stingier on third down.

10. Virginia (3-1, 0-0):Last Week – Idle. The Impact: Cavaliers are off to their best start since 2007, but Saturday will begin eight straight weeks of conference games. Free safety Quin Bradley leads all FBS players with 401 career tackles and is fourth all-time in Cavs’ history.

11. Syracuse (2-3, 0-1):Last Week – L, at N.C. State, 33-25. The Impact – QB Eric Dungey had 429 yards of total offense, but for second straight week Syracuse lost a game when teams combined for at least 58 points.

THE UNPROVEN

12. Pittsburgh (2-3, 0-1): Last Week – W, Rice, 42-10. The Impact – Max Browne celebrated his return as starting QB with four touchdown passes, including 48 and 55 yarders  in opening nine minutes.

13. Boston College (2-3, 0-2): Last Week – W, Central Michigan, 28-8. The Impact – Eagles got a brief reprieve with win over Central Michigan to end three-game skid. But Steve Addazio’s seat is only going to get hotter with BC entering the next five games as an underdog.

14. North Carolina (1-4, 0-3):Last Week – L, at Georgia Tech, 33-7. The Impact – Banged up Tar Heels already have lost 13 players to season-ending injuries, including receivers Austin Proehl and Rontavius Groves, tight end Carl Tucker and defensive tackle Tyler Powell.

BEARD’S PICKS

N.C. STATE 39, Louisville 25

Wake Forest at CLEMSON

Duke at VIRGINIA

Pittsburgh at SYRACUSE

MIAMI at Florida State

NOTRE DAME at North Carolina

VIRGINIA TECH at Boston College

Last Week: 8-0

Overall: 45-7

SEC Landscape: Week Six

Arkansas has only seven sacks this season. South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley was sacked seven times last Saturday.

So, does that mean Bentley might have more time to drop back and find open receivers this week? Or does this matchup overwhelming favor the Razorbacks, who will be going up against an inexperienced offensive line that hasn’t learned how to effectively pass block?

Muschamp said the Gamecocks’ issues last Saturday against Texas A&M, particularly in the fourth quarter, were due to a combination of factors. There were missed blocking assignments by running backs and another injury that further depleted the offensive line’s depth and experience. Plus, he believes Bentley has to do a better job of dealing with blitzes.

“We’ll stay positive, we’ll move forward, we’ll learn from our mistakes and go forward,” said Muschamp.

It’s unlikely the South Carolina coaching staff will be able to address all the issues well enough to negate Arkansas’ advantage in the trenches. A strong running game has long been the starting point for Bret Bielema’s offensive playbook, including when he was the head coach at Wisconsin.

It explains why the betting line has flipped this week to favor Arkansas even though Muschamp’s team will have the homefield advantage.

Arkansas averages 205.25 yards per game rushing, while the Gamecocks are gaining only 88.6 on the ground. Once the lost yardage Bentley accounted for on the seven sacks, the Gamecocks were held to 25 yards by the Aggies.

Meanwhile, a player who could have helped the Gamecocks establish a running game will instead be a focal point for Arkansas’ attack. Graduate transfer David Williams, who is tied for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with four, returns to Williams-Brice Stadium as a visitor.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

All times Central

Georgia at Vanderbilt, Saturday 11 a.m., ESPN

Mississippi at Auburn, Saturday 11 a.m., SEC Network

LSU at Florida, Saturday 2:30 p.m., CBS

Arkansas at South Carolina, Saturday 3 p.m., SEC Network

Alabama at Texas A&M, Saturday 6:15 p.m., ESPN

Missouri at Kentucky, Saturday 6:30 p.m., SEC Network

FAB FIVE

  1. Alabama (5-0, 2-0):Last Week: W, Mississippi, 66-3. The Impact: Nick Saban’s team is averaging 508 yards of total offense and 46.2 points per game. And the Crimson Tide defense isn’t bad, either.
  2. Georgia (5-0, 2-0):Last Week: W, at Tennessee, 41-0. The Impact: In embarrassing Vols, Bulldogs got program’s 800th win and improved to 5-0 for first time since 2012, the last time they made it to the SEC championship game.
  3. Auburn (4-1, 2-0):Last Week: W, Mississippi State, 49-10. The Impact:. Tigers had seven plays covering 30 or more yards, plus a Pick-6, to take control in battle of ranked SEC West foes. But yeah, we’re still seven weeks away from the Iron Bowl.
  4. Florida (3-1, 3-0): Last Week: W, Vanderbilt, 38-24. The Impact: Freshman QB Felipe Franks won’t be looking over his shoulder after Luke Del Rio broke a collarbone, marking the second straight year he’s suffered a season-ending injury. Gators did tie NCAA record by scoring in 365th consecutive game.
  5. Texas A&M (4-1, 2-0):Last Week: W, South Carolina, 24-17. The Impact: Kellen Mond passed for 159 yards and ran for another 95, but the Aggies will face their biggest test with Alabama visiting on Saturday.

THE PACK

6. Kentucky (4-1, 1-1):Last Week: W, Eastern Michigan, 24-20. The Impact: A blocked punt and Mike Edwards’ end zone interception in final seconds saved day for Wildcats against MAC opponent.

7. South Carolina (3-2, 1-2):Last Week: L, Texas A&M, 24-17. The Impact: Jake Bentley was sacked seven times, but led Gamecocks to 17-7 lead before Aggies flipped the script. Without better pass protection and a stronger rushing attack, Will Muschamp’s team will struggle rest of way.

8. Tennessee (3-2, 0-2):Last Week: L, Georgia, 41-0. The Impact:  Odds on who will replace Butch Jones give UT favorite son Peyton Manning about as much of a chance as Georgia gave Vols last week.

9. Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-2): Last Week: L, at Florida, 38-24. The Impact: After losing to Alabama and Florida, it doesn’t get any easier for Commodores with Georgia making the trip to Nashville. Derek Mason will be anxious for his players to get shutout loss to Crimson Tide out of their system.

10. LSU (3-2, 0-1):Last Week: L, Troy, 24-21. The Impact: Tigers turned the ball over four times, fell behind 24-7, surrendered 206 rushing yards,  and saw their 49-game win streak against non-conference foes come to an end.

11. Mississippi State (3-2, 1-2): Last Week: L, at Auburn, 49-10. The Impact:. After losing last two games by combined 80-13, Dan Mullen’s team has dropped from the polls. The Bulldogs have a bye week to figure out how to jump start their offense.

THE UNPROVEN

12. Arkansas (2-2, 0-1):Last Week: W, New Mexico State, 42-24. The Impact:. Razorbacks, who have scored more than 40 points in three games, got back on track defensively in ending a two-game skid with a non-conference win.

13. Mississippi (2-2, 0-1):Last Week: L, at Alabama, 66-3. The Impact:.Interim coach Matt Luke will have a hard time rallying the troops for Saturday’s trip to Auburn after last week’s thumping by Alabama.

14. Missouri (1-3, 0-2):Last Week: Idle. The Impact: Tigers have been outscored 117-30 in losing last three games – all at home – and now get to experience life on the road. They’ve also lost their last three games after a bye week.

Beard’s Picks

All times Central; Predicted winners in Bold Caps)

GEORGIA at Vanderbilt, Saturday 11 a.m., ESPN

Mississippi at AUBURN, Saturday 11 a.m., SEC Network

LSU at FLORIDA, Saturday 2:30 p.m., CBS

Arkansas at SOUTH CAROLINA, Saturday 3 p.m., SEC Network

ALABAMA at Texas A&M, Saturday 6:15 p.m., ESPN

Missouri at KENTUCKY, Saturday 6:30 p.m., SEC Network

 LAST WEEK: 8-0

OVERALL: 35-9

Big Ten Landscape: Week Six

Come Saturday, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio will likely regret not giving his Spartans a road test before now.

The Spartans (3-1, 1-0) travel to Ann Arbor for their rivalry game against unbeaten Michigan (4-0. 1-0) having spent the first five weeks of the season sleeping in their own beds. But they also wasted their only bye week on Notre Dame, which crushed the Spartans despite their extra week of preparations.

Meanwhile, Jim Harbaugh scheduled his team’s day off so the Wolverines would have the potential advantage of an extra week to prepare for their Paul Bunyan Trophy rivalry game.

He couldn’t have picked a better time for the break since Michigan again will be without starting quarterback Wilton Speight, who was injured in a win over Purdue two weeks ago. Backup John O’Korn will get just his second start for the Wolverines, but the fifth-year senior did start 15 games at Houston before transferring two years ago.

His experience at Houston will prove invaluable, but Harbaugh has spent the past week preaching the importance of blocking out any distractions. He’s told O’Korn to “concentrate on doing his job and playing his position.”

The matchup at the Big House features two of the nation’s top defensive teams, statistically, through five weeks. Michigan is No. 1, allowing only 202.3 yards per game. Michigan State is No. 5, allowing 248.3 yards in total defense.

It’s why Dantonio believes the team with the fewest turnovers will win the contest. If Michigan State can pull off the upset, it would put the Spartans back into the Big Ten East discussion.

“We get to find out a little more about our team, our young football team, as we go,” said Dantonio. “I think there are other opportunities and challenges that are waiting for us that will further define us one way or the other. How we handle our success or how we handle our failure really will ultimately determine our outlook.”

The Spartans have won seven of the past nine games in the series, but the Wolverines won 32-23 in East Lansing last season.

With Harbaugh obsessed with having his program take then next step, the Wolverines would like to make it two consecutive wins in what will be the first night game in the series history.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Illinois at Iowa, Saturday 11 a.m., BTN

Penn State at Northwestern, Saturday 11 a.m., ABC

Minnesota at Purdue, Saturday 2:30 p.m., ESPN2

Michigan State at Michigan, Saturday 6:30 p.m., ABC

Wisconsin at Nebraska, Saturday 7 p.m., BTN

FAB FIVE

  1. Penn State (5-0, 2-0): Last Week – W, Indiana, 45-14. The Impact – Receiver DaeSean Hamilton became school’s all-time receiver with 122 yards, 3 TDs against Hoosiers. Nittany Lions shouldn’t have problem getting to 6-0 going into bye week.
  2. Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0):Last Week – W, Northwestern, 33-24. The Impact – Garrett Dooley had three sacks and Badgers had eight overall, but they still got a scare from fast-closing Wildcats. A walk-through opportunity against Nebraska should clean things up.
  3. Michigan (4-0, 1-0):Last Week – Idle. The Impact – Jim Harbaugh broke his arm playing in this rivalry game in 1984. As a head coach, he’d probably give an arm and a leg to get his second win over Spartans, who have claimed seven of last nine games.
  4. Ohio State (4-1, 2-0):Last Week – W, Rutgers, 56-0. The Impact – Art Schlicter is still incarcerated on fraud charges, but prison isn’t where you will find Buckeyes’ career passing leader. J.T. Barrett has moved past Schlicter to No. 1 on school’s all-time passing list.
  5. Michigan State (3-1, 1-0):Last Week – W, Iowa, 17-10. The Impact – Spartans already have matched last season’s win total, but winning “state title” would make season a huge success no matter what happens rest of the way.

THE PACK

6. Purdue (2-2, 0-1):Last Week – Idle. The Impact – The Boilermakers will honor former head coach Joe Tiller during Saturday’s game, wearing helmets that replicate those worn during his years in West Lafayette. A video tribute to Tiller will be played at halftime.

7. Iowa (3-2, 0-2): Last Week – L, at Michigan State, 17-10. The Impact – Hawkeyes are 0-2 in conference for first time since 2008, but with Illini coming to town they shouldn’t have difficulty getting much-needed W.

8. Maryland (3-1, 1-0): Last Week – W, at Minnesota, 31-24. The Impact – Sophomore QB Max “Next Up” Bortenschlager threw two touchdowns and ran for another. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes are up next for Terps.

9. Minnesota (3-2, 0-1): Last Week – L, Maryland, 31-24. The Impact –P.J. Fleck wasn’t happy after Gophers’ run defense was bullied by Terps for 262 yards in his Big Ten coaching debut. It was also just Fleck’s fourth loss as a head coach in 27 games, and he Gophers now face a Purdue team that has had an extra week to prepare.

10. Indiana (2-2, 0-2):Last Week – L, at Penn State, 45-14. The Impact – Charleston Southern, 0-19 against FCS teams, was booked as a guaranteed win, but banged up Hoosiers really can’t afford to take anything for granted. Bucs have outscored last two opponents 124-7 and IU still can’t seem to settle on a QB.

11. Northwestern (2-2, 0-1): Last Week – L, at Wisconsin, 33-24. The Impact – Wildcats going nowhere fast. Justin Jackson was held to 25 yards on nine carries, which was actually Wildcats’ total rushing yardage on 34 carries against Badgers. That means Jackson averaged 2.8 yards per carry but Wildcats’ team total was 0.7 per rush.

THE UNPROVEN

12. Nebraska (3-2, 2-0):Last Week – W, at Illinois, 28-6. The Impact –. QB Tanner Lee, who leads nation with nine interceptions, didn’t toss any against Illini while passing for three TDs. He’ll need to match that effort for Cornhuskers to stand a chance against Wisconsin.

13. Illinois (2-2, 0-1): Last Week – L, Nebraska, 28-6. The Impact – Extra prep didn’t help Illini, who have now lost 15 of 17 games following a bye week. It doesn’t help that their offense ranks last in Big Ten.

14. Rutgers (1-4, 0-2):Last Week – L, Ohio State, 56-0. The Impact – Scarlet Knights get a week off to soothe their bruised egos. Rutgers has been outscored 83-17 in its two conference games and was shutout by Ohio State for second straight season.

BEARD’S PICKS

(All times Central; projected winners in bold caps)

Illinois at IOWA, 11 a.m., BTN

PENN STATE at Northwestern, 11 a.m., ABC

Minnesota at PURDUE, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2

Charleston Southern at INDIANA, 2:30 p.m., BTN

Maryland at OHIO STATE, 3 p.m., FOX

Michigan State at MICHIGAN, 6;30 p.m., ABC

Wisconsin at NEBRASKA, 7 p.m., BTN

Last Week: 6-1

Overall:  35-10

Note: Each week during the college football season, I’ll be  updating how things are unfolding in the Big Ten by Wednesday, the SEC by Thursday and ACC by Friday. I covered teams in each of the conferences during my 41 years as a sports journalist and I’m not ready to give it up in retirement.

From Sidelines to punchlines

Clearing my mind and notebook while noting that $450 million of renovations completed at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field two years ago couldn’t keep the toilets flushing Saturday night.

An entertaining look at sports

Jollymen remembered

Southern Illinois quarterback Sam Straub represented two universities– the Salukis and the mighty Maguire University Jollymen – in Saturday night’s 24-17 loss to Northern Iowa.

It was all done for fun and in support of a good cause. And besides, if you’ve never heard of the Jollymen, it’s a story worth retelling.

Art Duffy, a 1982 graduate of SIU and current “chancellor” of Maguire U, was the first inductee into the imaginary college’s hall of fame in 1996. But back in 1962, the heroes were the drinking buddies at Maguire’s Pub in Chicago who came up with the idea of submitting a membership application to the NCAA for a fake college.

The scam worked for two years, earning Maguire U a listing in the NCAA membership book and making the school “eligible” for an allotment of Final Four tickets.

But it’s Duffy‘s charitable work in recent years – he was the high bidder for the “Black Out Cancer” game on Saturday — that explains how “MaguireU” made it to the back of Staub’s jersey and set the college on a new course.

They said it

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com:“Wow .Washinton State Cougars upset USC Trojans. Now for bigger challenge, finding somewhere in Pullman to celebrate late night.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Rutgers’ football program was put on two years’ probation on a “failure to monitor” rap. Even more embarrassing, the Scarlet Knights broke the rules — and the team sucked anyway.”

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “Finally, the NBA is taking measures to stop teams from losing on purpose. If only they could implement a rule to help the Magic, who lose out of habit.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “One year ago, Vikes RB Adrian Peterson tore a meniscus. Now with the Saints, he’s hampered by a bruised ego and a swollen sense of self worth.”

Brad Rock of Salt Lake City’s Deseret News after a top recruit said he’d play football at Ohio State if he received 100,000 retweets: “Remember football’s simpler days when all it took was a couple of boosters to buy a kid a car?”

Jim Barach of WCHS in Charleston, W.Va.: “Rush Limbaugh says he didn’t watch the NFL on Sunday because of the National Anthem protests. Now Limbaugh knows how fans felt when he was made an announcer on Monday Night Football.”

Peyton’s place

Senator, football coach or astronaut?

If you are inclined to believe everything you read on Twitter, Peyton Manning could be the frontrunner for a bunch of jobs in Tennessee. That includes the one Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is giving up, announcing last week that he won’t seek reelection to congress.

Never mind Manning has said more than once he has no interest in becoming a politician. But football coach?

After Georgia demolished UT 41-0 on Saturday, handing the Vols their worst home loss in 112 years, the “Ditch Butch” campaign definitely has kicked into high gear. It’s difficult to see how Butch Jones survives this season.

But don’t expect Manning to come to the rescue. In an interview with Nashville radio station 104.5, he addressed all the speculation about his future interests, saying, “Someone said I was gonna run a team, somebody said I was going to be a broadcaster, now they’re saying I’m going to be a senator. Next week I’m going to be an astronaut,”

UT, of course, would be foolish to consider someone  as inexperienced at coaching as Manning. But if the university needs another informed opinion about the kind of coach the Vols do need, Manning should be considered for the search committee.

That’s a position he’d be perfectly suited to handle.

Political football

TBS comedian Conan O’Brien: “An employee for the Buffalo Bills quit after the entire team took a knee during the national anthem on Sunday. Meanwhile, an employee for the Los Angeles Chargers quit after watching them play on Sunday.

CBS comedian James Corden: “Donald Trump criticized the NFL for making efforts to prevent concussions, saying they are ruining the game. I don’t think Trump realizes how dangerous the symptoms of these concussions are — headache, emotional instability, impulsive behavior. Basically. they turn you into Donald Trump.”

NBC comedian Jimmy Fallon: “We had a bunch of big football matchups Sunday. You had the Eagles against the Giants, you had the Patriots play against the Texans, and you had the president against everyone.”

Fussburger rant

If I never hear another word from Brent Musburger, I’d be a happy couch potato.

The 78-year-old Musburger, who retired from ESPN after 60 years of sports broadcasting this year, decided to open his yap again to criticize Tony Romo’s performance as a rookie in the booth.

I was never a fan of Romo when he was playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, but I’ve enjoyed the fresh insights he brings to broadcasts. And yes, Brent, I even enjoy trying to match wits with Romo when it comes to predicting the occasional play.

I don’t think that steps on the toes of Jim Nantz at all. But Brent’s not a fan of where this is all heading and used his “Guys in the Desert” show on SiriuxXM to take shots at Romo.

“Tony, get off it, okay? First of all, you’re intruding on your play-by-play man Jim Nantz, who’s just trying to give us the scene…we like to watch the game, okay?

“And the further…the more years you spend away from the league, you’re going to know less and less about the personnel that’s out on the field. So I’m blowing a ‘stop the hype’, okay, right now.”

I do believe we just heard ol’ Fussburger tell Romo to stay off his lawn.

I couldn’t disagree more. And that doesn’t mean I think Romo is always right. He isn’t.

In Thursday’s game between the Bears and Packers, he suggested the delay between the first two quarters would give Bears QB Mike Glennon a chance to hit the reset button.

“When you are on the road and bad things happen early in the game, it just continues to snowball sometimes,” said Romo. “This (delay) gets to reset his brain and come back and play football. He’s comfortable now. He knows the scheme that Green Bay has decided to run this game. So he gets to start a football game knowing the scheme the defense has come up with, and that helps a lot.”

It didn’t work out that way. The Packers won 35-14, building on their early 14-0 lead. Glennon finished with 218 yards passing with one TD and two interceptions. He also lost two fumbles.

Better yet, unlike Brent during his college broadcasts, Romo keeps his focus on the games.

 

 Headlines

TheOnion.com: “Phillie Phanatic panics after spotting both mistress and wife in stands.”

TheKicker.com: “D-Wade traveling country with metal detector in search of ring.”

TheOnion.com: “Will Louisville be able to recruit elite prostitutes without Rick Pitino?”

SportsPickle.com: “Reebok cleared in federal corruption probe: ‘We couldn’t pay anyone to wear our shoes in public.’ ”

TheOnion.com: “Colts miss 8 tackles on drunken fan running across field.”

More weekend success

If I can could have gotten a do-over on my Big Ten picks this week, I’d have taken it after underestimating Maryland and Michigan State. Those miscalculations resulted in a 4-3 week in the Big Ten and left me with a season record of 43-14, which lowers my winning percentage of 75.4.

Meanwhile, I had a perfect week in the ACC, picking each of the eight games in flawless fashion. That ran my conference mark to 45-7 for a season percentage of 86.5.

In the SEC I followed up last week’s perfection with only one loss, improving to 42-10 and a season percentage of   80.7.

My weekend college football picks in the ACC, Big Ten and SEC

I apologize for not getting this reminder posted earlier of which teams I picked to win this weekend’s college football games in the ACC, Big Ten and SEC.

It was unavoidable. I was delayed by having to travel to a niece’s wedding.

Yes, I’m serious. There really are people in this world who clearly don’t care about college football (or sports in general), so they think nothing of inconveniencing the rest of us.

That’s why I refuse to feel guilty for forgetting to purchase a coveted wedding gift from the bridal registry. Seriously, I can’t be held responsible for friends and family who have different priorities in life from me.

 Anyway, the key matchups in each conference will have Clemson winning at Virginia Tech,  Georgia slipping past Tennessee in Knoxville and Wisconsin holding off Northwestern at home.

And yes, I promise to eventually forgive and forget. And I may even send the bride and groom some kitchen towels or cork toasters or something in a week or two.

 BEARD’S PICKS

 (All times Central. The picks are first made available each week in my weekly blogs on the ACC, Big Ten and SEC)

ACC

MIAMI 31,  Duke 6 (Friday)

Saturday’s Games

Rice at PITTSBURGH, 11 a.m., ACC Network

North Carolina at GEORGIA TECH, 11 a.m., ESPN2

Syracuse at N.C. STATE, 11:20 s.m., ACC Network

Central Michigan at BOSTON COLLEGE, Noon, ACC Network Extra

FLORIDA STATE at Wake Forest, 2:30 p.m., ABC

Murray State at LOUISVILLE, 2:30 p.m., RSN

CLEMSON at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m., ABC

Last Week: 8-2

Overall: 37-7

 

SEC

Vanderbilt at FLORIDA, Saturday 11 a.m., ESPN

New Mexico State at ARKANSAS, Saturday 11 a.m., SEC Network

GEORGIA at Tennessee, Saturday 2:30 p.m., CBS

Eastern Michigan at KENTUCKY, Saturday 3 p.m., SEC Network

Mississippi State at AUBURN, Saturday 5 p.m., ESPN

Troy at LSU, Saturday 6 p.m., ESPNU

South Carolina at TEXAS A&M, Saturday 6:30 p.m., SEC Network

Mississippi at ALABAMA, Saturday 8 p.m., ESPN

 LAST WEEK: 8-0

OVERALL: 35-9

 BIG TEN

NEBRASKA 28, Illinois 6 (Friday)

Maryland at MINNESOTA, Saturday 11 a.m., FSI

Northwestern at WISCONSIN, Saturday 11 a.m., ABC

Indiana at PENN STATE, Saturday 2:30 p.m., BTN

IOWA at Michigan State, Saturday 3 p.m. FOX

OHIO STATE at Rutgers, Saturday 6:30 p.m., BTN

Last Week: 6-1

Overall:  35-10

 

 

ACC Landscape: Week Five

Venturing into Blacksburg can cause even the best teams problems, but no matter how inspired Virginia Tech plays on Saturday this should be another road test  Dabo Swinney’s Clemson squad can handle without too many problems.

Still, in terms of being pushed over the course of four quarters, the second-ranked Tigers should expect to get one of their toughest challenges of the season from the 12th-ranked Hokies. .Both teams are unbeaten through four games.

The difference is that Clemson already has two conference wins under its belt, while this will be the ACC opener for  Justin Fuente’s Hokies.

And, as the Tigers again proved last week against Boston College, they have another gear when they are being threatened. It’s why most college football analysts have come to realize that despite the loss of quarterback Deshaun Watson from last year’s national championship team, the Tigers have proven that they have the makings of a team that is fully capable of making another postseason run.

With each passing week, Clemson sophomore Kelly Bryant is looking more comfortable throwing the football. And when he does struggle to find receivers, Bryant has the ability to tuck the ball and reach the end zone with his legs. Against BC last Saturday, he scored on a pair of runs and finished with 108 yards rushing on 22 carries. He added 140 yards passing, completing 17 of 26 throws, but did toss a pair of interceptions.

For the season, Bryant has just two touchdowns through the air with three interceptions, but he’s still completed 68 percent of his passes for 873 yards. Meanwhile, he’s rushed for seven touchdowns and another 268 yards.

Besides, a dominating defensive front four remains the Tigers’ ticket to the college football playoffs for a third consecutive year.

The Hokies’ Josh Jackson has passed for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, but he’s unlikely to get his feet set against this Clemson defense.

It was just two weeks ago that the Tigers went to Louisville and frustrated Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson,  so it’s unlikely Va Tech’s QB named Jackson will create many problems for  Swinney’s bunch.

As for a running game, the Hokies have five players who have surpassed 100 yards. None, however, have topped 200 yards.

Against the Tigers, they’ll find it even tougher to move the chains..

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Miami at Duke,  Friday 6 p.m. CT, ESPN

North Carolina at Georgia Tech, Saturday 11 a.m. CT, ESPN2

Syracuse at NC State, Saturday 11:20 a.m. CT, ACC Network

Florida State at Wake Forest, Saturday 2:30 p.m. CT, ABC

Clemson at Virginia Tech, Saturday 7 p.m. CT, ABC

FAB FIVE

  1. Clemson (4-0, 2-0): Last Week – W, Boston College, 34-7. The Impact – Tigers allowed BC to hang around until fourth quarter, then scored 27 points to take control. They’ll need to get off to a quicker start this week against confident Virginia Tech.
  2. Miami (2-0, 0-0): Last Week – W, Toledo, 52-30. The Impact – Hurricanes finally got back on the field after 21-day layoff and Mark Walton became just sixth player in last decade to surpass 200 yards rushing in a game on no more than 11 carries. He finished with 204, including an 82-yard jaunt. Not bad for a guy who missed nearly half the game with sprained ankle before returning.
  3. Virginia Tech (4-0, 0-0): Last Week – W, Old Dominion, 38-0. The Impact – Hokies have shut out two of three opponents, but Justin Fuente will be happy this week if his defense can hold Clemson to fewer than 30 points.
  4. Louisville (3-1, 1-1): Last Week – W, Kent State, 42-3. The Impact – Lamar Jackson now has school record 88 touchdowns and should have no trouble padding those numbers against 1-3 Murray State.
  5. Georgia Tech (2-1, 1-0): Last Week – W, Pittsburgh, 37-17. The Impact – Yellow Jackets piled up 426 yards rushing behind KirVonte Benson (196, 2 TDS) and TaQuan Marshall (112, 2 TDs), overpowering hapless Panthers.

THE PACK

6. N.C. State (3-1, 1-0): Last Week – W, at Florida State, 27-21. The Impact –Dave Doren’s Wolfpack finally held for an upset win, ending a 10-game skid to ranked teams. Ryan Finley’s 14-yard hookup with Jaylen Samuels provided a 27-16 lead to seal the deal.

7. Duke (4-0, 1-0): Last Week – was W, at North Carolina, 27-17. The Impact: Bryon Fields’ 61-yard interception return clinched win over Tar Heels and kept Blue Devils unbeaten.

8. Wake Forest (4-0, 1-0):Last Week – W, Appalachian State, 20-19. The Impact –If the Demon Deacons can beat struggling Seminoles, they’ll be 5-0 for the first time since the school won the ACC title in 2006.

9. Syracuse (2-2, 0-0): Last Week – L, at LSU, 35-26. The Impact – Orange looked lost in loss to Middle Tennessee but may have found an identity despite setback at LSU.

10. Florida State (0-2, 0-1): Last Week – L, N.C. State, 27-21. The Impact – Winless Seminoles get consolation prize of still be ranked at No. 25 in coaches’ poll, but writers booted them from rankings for first time in 89 weeks. In losing their home opener, Jimbo Fisher’s squad had only one TD in seven trips into red zone. 11. Virginia (3-1, 0-0):Last Week – W, Boise State, 42-23. The Impact: After losing 20 of 21 road tests, Cavaliers became surprisingly efficient warriors, handing Boise State its worst home loss in 16 years. It was also Virginia’s first win west of the Mississippi since 1991.

THE UNPROVEN

12. Pittsburgh (1-3, 0-1): Last Week – L, at Georgia Tech, 35-17. The Impact – Pitt got 80-yard punt return from Quadree Henderson to stay close early, but converted just 1 of 13 third down attempts to keep the pressure on its defense.

13. Boston College (1-3, 0-2): Last Week – L, at Clemson, 34-7. The Impact – Eagles need to focus on positives, and here’s one: punter Mike Knoll pinned Clemson inside 10 five times. The negative? Knoll had to punt nine times as Eagles converted only 4 of 16 third down attempts.14. North Carolina (1-3, 0-2): Last Week – L, Duke, 27-17. The Impact – Tar Heels have had fourth-quarter lead in all three home games and yet have lost all of them, including two by double digits.

BEARD’S PICKS

Friday’s Game

(All times Central)

MIAMI at Duke, 6 p.m., ESPN

Saturday’s Games

Rice at PITTSBURGH, 11 a.m., ACC Network

North Carolina at GEORGIA TECH, 11 a.m., ESPN2

Syracuse at N.C. STATE, 11:20 s.m., ACC Network

Central Michigan at BOSTON COLLEGE, Noon, ACC Network Extra

FLORIDA STATE at Wake Forest, 2:30 p.m., ABC

Murray State at LOUISVILLE, 2:30 p.m., RSN

CLEMSON at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m., ABC

Last Week: 8-2

Overall: 37-7

SEC Landscape: Week Five

Tennessee coach Butch Jones isn’t happy with the way his team is trending heading into Saturday’s home game against unbeaten and seventh-ranked Georgia.

That’s understandable after his players struggled last Saturday to beat winless Massachusetts 17-13 in a game Jones had hoped to see the Volunteers bounce back from a last-second loss at Florida with much more pep in their step.

Instead, he saw a team that lacked energy in front of home fans at Neyland Stadium.

“We had some players now who played with some energy and passion, so it’s not everyone,” Jones said. “I think we showed passion and energy in the other games, but that’s something that we will not tolerate and we will not go backwards with.”

Jones has reason to be concerned with Kirby Smart bringing his Bulldogs to Knoxville looking to keep pace with Florida in the SEC East race.

Another possible motivating factor for the Bulldogs? Last season’s 34-31 home loss to the Vols on a 43-yard Hail Mary pass – although you won’t get Smart to admit to it.

“We try to preach to our guys that every game has a history and life of its own, and every game is independent of the next game,” Smart said.

The last six games in the series have been decided by eight points or less.

Georgia’s defense has been outstanding so far, allowing just 11.5 points per game and coming off a dominating 31-3 win over Mississippi State in its SEC opener last week.

Offensively, freshman Jake Fromm will again get the start at quarterback for the Bulldogs even with Jacob Eason having recovered from a knee sprain he suffered in the first game of the season.

Fromm’s shown the kind of leadership Smart expects, and while the Bulldogs’ offense is run-heavy behind Nick Chubb, the freshman also has a better arm than Eason. Fromm has completed 43 of 69 passes for 650 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception.

In 2016, Eason finished with 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he only completed 55 percent of his passes and was intercepted eight times while averaging 6.57 yards per completion. In comparison, Fromm is averaging 9.42 yards per throw this season.

If the situation arises, however, Smart won’t hesitate to get Eason into the game.

“The point for both of them is to have team vision, to have the goal to make the team better,” said Smart. “Both are working on that. It’s not just about them individually.”

Chubb has gained 371 yards on 59 carries and has scored six touchdowns with a long run of 32 yards.

“I’ve been very impressed with their offensive line,” Jones said. “I think they have very good team speed. They challenge us schematically with the different personnel groupings and formations…their offense is going to create space and big plays.”

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

All times Central

Vanderbilt at Florida, Saturday 11 a.m., ESPN

Georgia at Tennessee, Saturday 2:30 p.m., CBS

Mississippi State at Auburn, Saturday 5 p.m., ESPN

South Carolina at Texas A&M, Saturday 6:30 p.m., SEC Network

Mississippi at Alabama, Saturday 8 p.m., ESPN

FAB FIVE

  1. Alabama (4-0, 1-0):Last Week: W, at Vanderbilt, 590. The Impact: Tide didn’t just win 18th straight SEC win, they did it in devastating fashion against proud Vandy defense with program record 599 differential in yards (677-78).
  2. Georgia (4-0, 1-0):Last Week: W, Mississippi State, 31-3. The Impact: Bulldogs barking that they are back as SEC contender after scoring on 59-yard flea flicker on first offensive play, then limiting MSU to a field goal in battle of ranked teams.
  3. Auburn (3-1, 1-0):Last Week: W, at Missouri, 51-14. The Impact: Kerryon Johnson returned from hamstring injury by scoring five TDs – all on short runs – as Tigers overpowered Mizzou.
  4. Florida (2-1, 2-0): Last Week: W, at Kentucky, 28-27. The Impact: Luke Del Rio took his turn as game-saving QB and Gators extended their win streak to 31 games over Kentucky. Does he get start now or does Felipe Franks? It’s good to have options.
  5. Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1): Last Week: L, at Georgia, 31-3 . The Impact:. Dan Mullen’s team faces third-straight ranked SEC opponent, and second straight on road, against No. 13 Auburn. That makes it all the tougher to bounce back from crushing loss.

THE PACK

6. LSU (3-1, 0-1):Last Week: W, Syracuse, 35-26. The Impact: Andraez ”Greedy” Williams is tied for second in nation in interceptions after making his third in four games.

7. Tennessee (3-1, 0-1):Last Week: W, Massachusetts, 17-13. The Impact: Vols’ offense took nap against winless UMass, causing Butch Jones to point fingers at nearly everyone but himself. Who will Butch blame if Georgia delivers SEC East knockout punch?

8. Kentucky (3-1, 1-1):Last Week: L, Florida, 28-27. The Impact: Austin MacGinnis, who a 50-yard field goal in the game, didn’t have enough leg on 58 yarder that could have won game.

9. Vanderbilt (3-1, 0-1): Last Week: L, Alabama, 59-0. The Impact: Commodores singing blues after Alabama scorched what had been the nation’s stingiest defense (4.3 points per game) for 59 points. Vandy now No. 25 in scoring defense (18.0).

10. Texas A&M (3-1, 1-0):Last Week: W, vs. Arkansas, 50-43, OT. The Impact: Aggies beat Razorbacks for sixth straight year, including in OT for third time in four years. Anemic Gamecocks don’t stand a chance of keeping up on scoreboard.

11. South Carolina (3-1, 1-1):Last Week: W, 17-16, Louisiana Tech. The Impact: Will Muschamp’s offense had to score all 17 points in fourth quarter last week to win. Gamecocks may need 17 points every quarter to beat high-scoring Aggies.

THE UNPROVEN

12. Arkansas (1-2, 0-1):Last Week: L, 50-43, vs. Texas A&M. The Impact:. Losing two in row to Texas teams puts more heat on Bret Bielema, who can start packing his bags after dropping to 10-23 in SEC games with little relief in sight.

13. Mississippi (2-1, 0-0):Last Week: Idle. The Impact: Rebels are in for long, long night if they can’t at least burn some clock against Alabama.

14. Missouri (1-3, 0-2):Last Week: L, Auburn, 51-14. The Impact: Tigers are last in the conference in total defense and No. 107 (452.5 yards per game) nationally and No. 122 in scoring defense (40.0 points per game) out of 129 teams.

Beard’s Picks

All times Central; Predicted winners in Bold Caps)

Vanderbilt at FLORIDA, Saturday 11 a.m., ESPN

New Mexico State at ARKANSAS, Saturday 11 a.m., SEC Network

GEORGIA at Tennessee, Saturday 2:30 p.m., CBS

Eastern Michigan at KENTUCKY, Saturday 3 p.m., SEC Network

Mississippi State at AUBURN, Saturday 5 p.m., ESPN

Troy at LSU, Saturday 6 p.m., ESPNU

South Carolina at TEXAS A&M, Saturday 6:30 p.m., SEC Network

Mississippi at ALABAMA, Saturday 8 p.m., ESPN

 LAST WEEK: 8-0

OVERALL: 35-9