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Educated Guesses Week 8: Really, it's time to break up SEC divisions

Thu, 10/16/2014 1:55 PM
By Scott Michaux

If you hadn’t noticed, the SEC West is really good. Way better top to bottom than the SEC East.

 

Which is only more reason why the SEC (and ACC for that matter) need to get rid of the divisions and adopt my proposed “pod” system so that everybody will play everybody more often and not be bound by seven-team divisions.

 

Alabama will visit Georgia next season for the first time since 2008. The Crimson Tide won’t be back again for at least 12 years. Does that sound like a good plan?

 

If it doesn’t, check out my proposal to make it better. Here’s a link. But here's a recap not behind any paywalls.

 

If the 14-team Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences would scrap the two-division system, they could maintain essential rivalries while establishing more frequent competition within the conferences.

 

With a little creative thinking, teams could be arranged to each play a group of the same four teams each year. This would include three regional rivalries annually, plus one permanent, traditional rival.

 

If they expand the conference schedule to nine games, each school would have five games annually to rotate among the nine other teams. They could either play home-and-home in consecutive years or stagger the seasons so that each program would play every school at least every other year.

 

Establishing each school’s group of opponents is simple. In the SEC, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Kentucky stick together, while you pair up Alabama and Auburn with Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

 

In the ACC, the southern wing of Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami are a perfect union. On the northern end, group conference newcomers Syracuse, Pitt, Louis­ville and Boston College.

 

That leaves six teams in each conference. The trick is to divide them regionally into groups of three, each team playing the other two plus one from the opposite trio.

 

In the SEC, Louisiana State, Ole Miss and Mississippi State would be aligned together in one base. Arkansas, Missouri and Texas A&M form the other base. The cross-pairings would be LSU-Texas A&M, Ole Miss-Missouri and Mississippi State-Arkansas.

 

The ACC is even more simple with the four North Carolina and two Virginia teams that preserve long-standing unions on Tobacco Road and the essential rivalries that trace back to the beginning of college football in the South.

 

North Carolina, Duke and Virginia make up one, and N.C. State, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest the other. The cross-over pairings are UNC-N.C. State, Duke-Wake Forest and Virginia-Virginia Tech.

 

At the end of the year, the two teams with the best records play for the championship.

 

This would require a tweak of the current NCAA bylaws covering divisions and championship games, but the new autonomy for the “Power 5” conferences makes that a simple matter to legislate.

 

And this video explaining how the ACC could look.

 

In the meantime, let’s move onto Week 8’s educated guesses:

 

Georgia @ Arkansas: Dogs’ consecutive long road trips will help Hogs snap 15-game losing streak. RAZORBACKS 21, Bulldogs 20.

 

Clemson @ Boston College: No Deshaun Watson, no running game behind no offensive line. Not a good setup. EAGLES 24, Tigers 21.

 

Furman @ South Carolina: Steve Spurrier “guesses” his team will be favored. GAMECOCKS 34, Paladins 14.

 

Georgia Tech @ North Carolina: Defense may only be a rumor in this game. YELLOW JACKETS 49, Tar Heels 45.

 

Notre Dame @ Florida State: Irish are lifetime 4-0-2 against No. 1 teams and have won 5 national titles in those seasons. Too bad Noles fell to No. 2. SEMINOLES 37, Fighting Irish 24.

 

Texas A&M @ Alabama: Aggies aren’t physical enough to slow Bama like Arkansas and Ole Miss did. CRIMSON TIDE 31, Aggies 21.

 

Kentucky @ LSU: Cats took Gators to OT in Swamp. Death Valley is a bigger proving ground. WILDCATS 27, Tigers 24.

 

Kansas State @ Oklahoma: Forget Baylor. Oklahoma is still the best Big 12 hope for playoffs. SOONERS 34, Wildcats 24.

 

Oklahoma State @ TCU: Each team’s only loss was to a still unbeaten team. HORNED FROGS 42, Cowboys 38.

 

Utah @ Oregon State: Chance for Utah to silence its doubters again on the road. UTES 31, Beavers 28.

 

Georgia State @ South Alabama: Thank goodness Georgia State won that opener. JAGUARS 38, Panthers 20.

 

LAST WEEK: 8-3

Winners: Georgia, Clemson, Mississippi State, LSU, Baylor, Oregon, Arkansas State, Georgia Southern.

Losers: Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Arizona.

 

Year-to-date record: 57-20 (.740)

 

2013 record: 126-50 (.716)

 

2012 record: 117-48 (.709)

 

2011 record: 115-51 (.693)

 

2010 record: 97-49 (.664)

 

 

 

Categories: Local

Michaux Poll: Vol. 2

Sun, 10/12/2014 6:35 PM
By Scott Michaux

Michaux Poll, Vol. 2

 

Second weekly installment of how one person would rank the college football teams.

 

Subject to dramatic change every week. No slotting, ever.

 

 

 

 

1. Mississippi State (6-0) - 3 consecutive wins vs. Top 5 teams. Enough said.

2. Ole Miss (6-0) - Please, please, PLEASE, keep rolling to the Egg Bowl.

3. Florida State (6-0) - Wake me up when they impress somebody.

4. Baylor (6-0) - Not pretty, but 24-point 4Q rally was impressive.

5. Notre Dame (6-0) - Embarrassing to struggle that hard vs. Tar Heels.

6. Auburn (5-1) - You can’t turn ball over first 2 snaps and expect to win.

7. Michigan State (5-1) - Class of the Big Ten might make playoff after all.

8. Alabama (5-1) - So how’s that love affair with Lane Kiffin going now?

9. Georgia (5-1) - Todd Gurley is still the best player in the nation.

10. TCU (4-1) - So close, but you can’t flinch in a shootout.

11. Arizona (5-1) - Failed 2-point conversion blunts furious rally.

12. Oklahoma (5-1) - Not the most impressive effort against a bad Texas.

13. Oregon (5-1) - Beat UCLA bad enough to force Bruins’ in-fighting.

14. Kansas State (4-1) - Idle, Oklahoma next.

15. East Carolina (5-1) - Too bad they don’t play anyone else good.

16. Oklahoma State (5-1) - Beat Kansas. Whoop-de-do.

17. Ohio State (4-1) - Idle, Rutgers next.

18. Clemson (4-2) - Beat Louisville but lost Deshaun Watson for a spell.

19. Utah (4-1) - Idle, Oregon State next.

20. Nebraska (5-1) - Idle, Northwestern next.

21. Texas A&M (5-2) - Never had a chance at home against Ole Miss.

22. Kentucky (5-1) - If refs could read a clock, Wildcats would be unbeaten.

23. Minnesota (5-1) - Only loss to TCU.

24. Arizona State (4-1) - Idle, Stanford next.

25. Stanford (4-2) - Treading water in the good-but-not-great Pac 12.

Categories: Local

Everybody loses in Gurley suspension saga

Sat, 10/11/2014 10:28 AM
By Scott Michaux

ATHENS, Ga. — The whole thing stinks – and nobody wins.

 

Todd Gurley’s brilliant collegiate career may have come to a premature end because a memorabilia dealer with an alternate agenda profited off the running back’s signature with one hand and tore him down with the other.

 

Gurley was suspended indefinitely by Georgia on Thursday and didn’t travel with the team Friday to Missouri. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution cited a source saying the star tailback is likely to miss the remainder of the season.

 

It’s all very disappointing and unnecessary.

 

It must be noted right up front that this is entirely Gurley’s fault: not Georgia’s; not Mark Richt’s; not the NCAA’s; and not Bryan Allen’s – the memorabilia rat who offered up the story to any media outlet that would listen (and possibly pay) for his incriminating info. Allen turned out to be the first person in the nation who could stop the Gurley Heisman Trophy express.

 

The blame for this unfortunate situation rests on Gurley. He knew better (or should have) than to knowingly violate a pretty high-profile NCAA rule no matter how irrational the rule is. And he should have known better than to trust the kind of people who ply the bowels of memorabilia trade.

 

That said, the real victims in all of this mess are Gurley’s teammates and coaches, along with Bulldogs and college football fans. If reports of his season being finished are accurate, Gurley gets to rest up his intact body for the next seven months before an NFL team will open the vault to make him a lot more than the $400 his tattle-teller allegedly paid him for 80 autographs. His value without the added wear-and-tear might be even greater once the NFL Draft arrives.

 

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have a promising season to finish, starting in Missouri at noon. The odds of achieving anything special just got longer, which is a shame for both the players and fans. And college football enthusiasts across the nation are deprived of watching a rare talent in action.

 

Sadly, the list of losers in this saga is a long one. Nobody is getting painted with glory here.

 

Let’s start with Gurley, who was the leading Heisman Trophy candidate averaging 8.2 yards per carry through five games. He loses the opportunity to win one of sports’ most cherished honors, and his Bulldog legacy is forever tarnished. His name could have resided next to Herschel Walker among the Georgia immortals. Now he’ll likely be just another talented ex-Bulldog who left a legion of fans hungry for more.

 

Second is coach Richt, whose critics have another stone in the arsenal that he and his program don’t have control of players who keep resorting to various levels of wrong-doing. It’s an unfair assessment, but it resonates nonetheless as one of the few coaches in college sports who actually punishes his players bears the brunt of the blame for meting it out.

 

Third are the fans, who haven’t exactly brought honor on themselves with gross overreactions. Their disappointment – and even anger – is reasonable, but it is diminished with ill-conceived “Free Gurley” candlelight vigils and petitions for a White House pardon. That makes everyone look foolish.

 

Fourth is the low-life who basically entrapped Gurley. You don’t hear many stories of drug dealers calling the police on their customers, so a memorabilia dealer who turns in the guy who provides the value in his merchandise doesn’t seem like the sharpest businessman. My guess is Gurley-signed eBay items weren’t on the top of Allen’s agenda. And why exactly did he need to hire a high-dollar criminal defense attorney?

 

Fifth – and most notably – is the NCAA, which once again shoots itself in the foot with an untenable standard of compliance in its hypocritical house of cards. The organization that recently lost in court over profiting on the labor and likeness of athletes who are forbidden to profit themselves gets another black eye.

 

What Gurley – and before him Johnny Manziel, A.J. Green and thousands of other guys – did should (and will soon) be legal. It’s his name and likeness. His sweat equity. He should be able to reap whatever it’s worth.

 

It’s no coincidence, however, that all of the No. 11 jerseys (the number of former Georgia star quarterback Aaron Murray) were replaced by No. 3 jerseys in the on-campus bookstore this year.

 

On Thursday, Georgia’s official athletics Web site was still selling No. 3 jerseys for up to $134.95. By Friday, all those “3” jerseys were replaced by other notable numbers not currently under investigation. In the campus bookstore, there were fewer “3” options Friday than the bulk volume available just three weeks ago after the Troy game.

 

College football is big business, and the only guys not allowed to profit from it are the ones who do all the work and generate all the highlights that attract all that juicy, juicy TV money.

 

Gurley, like many of his peers, was impatient to get his hands on some of it. He’ll cash in soon enough.

 

The rest of us who just enjoyed watching a special once-in-a-generation talent play in our own back yard are just out of luck, along with his teammates who counted on him.

 

Campus life went on as usual Friday afternoon. The courtyard between the Tate Student Center and the university bookstore was filled with undergrads promoting various causes – shaving heads for cancer or passing out pamphlets for Amnesty International.

 

And on the sidewalk behind the scoreboard of Sanford Stadium were the spent candles, tattered notes and pom-poms from a sad little vigil the night before to “Free Gurley.” Students walking by paused to take pictures of the remnants and move on.

 

“You’re the best we ever had,” read one message. “I’d give my 1st born to see Todd play,” said another.

 

It will all soon be swept away and forgotten along with Gurley’s truncated legacy. In this sports story, everyone is a loser.

 

Categories: Local

Educated Guesses Week 7: A first foray into the polling ranks

Wed, 10/8/2014 9:02 AM
By Scott Michaux

As promised back in August, I’m getting into the poll business.

 

With the advent of the playoff era in college football, polls will take on some real meaning. I don’t mean the fake BCS kind of meaning. I’m talking a way of defining which teams should qualify for inclusion in the closest thing to a legitimate national champion determinater that college football has ever had.

 

It will obviously be better once the playoff expands to at least eight teams (and it will), but it’s better than what we’ve been forced to live with.

 

In the summer, I also promised not the start any ranking until at least September was over. The decision got pushed back another week to let the super showdowns in the SEC West further define what direction some of the perceived best teams in the country are taking. That proved to be a good decision in a wild week of upsets.

 

The only preseason “prediction” I made for the final four proved why preseason assumptions are ridiculous. At this point, it’s possible only one of my four playoff picks (Florida State) will make it that far, with Oregon and Oklahoma losing already and LSU slipping into irrelevance. And I included only one Magnolia State team in my SEC top-six (Ole Miss), and it looks like they may ultimately play second fiddle to Mississippi State.

 

So here goes my first foray into polling. Also as promised, results from week to week may fluctuate wildly because these initial slottings are not set in stone requiring a loss to drop.

 

Without further ado, the Inaugural Michaux Poll:

 

1. Auburn (5-0) - Did you see what they did to LSU?

2. Florida State (5-0) - We’ll see how Noles handle Notre Dame.

3. Notre Dame (5-0) - Good QB and a shutdown defense.

4. Mississippi State (5-0) - Handled LSU and A&M back-to-back.

5. Ole Miss (5-0) - How they do on road this week will be telling.

6. Arizona (5-0) - At Oregon folks. At Oregon.

7. Baylor (5-0) - First real test vs. TCU this week.

8. Georgia Tech (5-0) - I have doubts, but Justin Thomas did beat VPI, Miami.

9. TCU (4-0) - Beat Oklahoma, but it’s about to get real.

10. Alabama (4-1) - One shaky loss doesn’t make them any less ‘Bama.

11. Michigan State (4-1) - Not a 4-quarter team, but still best of Big Ten.

12. Texas A&M (5-1) - Ole Miss this week to show which way they go.

13. Georgia (4-1) - Without Todd Gurley, this go south soon.

14. Kansas State (4-1) - Played Auburn tougher than anyone.

15. Oklahoma (4-1) - Best odds of any team to finish with only 1 loss.

16. Oregon (4-1) - There’s no telling how good/bad the Pac-12 is.

17. East Carolina (4-1) - Too bad they don’t play anyone else good.

18. Ohio State (4-1) - Offense improving even without Braxton Miller.

19. Oklahoma State (4-1) - Only loss is to Florida State.

20. Nebraska (5-1) - Nearly rallied to beat Michigan State.

21. UCLA (4-1) - Still have no idea how good Bruins are.

22. Arizona State (4-1) - Jekyl and Hyde against UCLA and USC.

23. Clemson (3-2) - Best two-loss team in nation with DeShaun Watson.

24. Missouri (4-1) - Hard to get past losing to Indiana.

25. Utah (4-1) - Did us all a favor eliminating BYU crash threat.

 

There you have it. Subject to drastic change with another week like the last one.

 

So let’s move onto Week 7’s educated guesses:

 

Georgia @ Missouri: Despite Todd Gurley suspension, the Bulldogs are still better than Mizzou. But less so. BULLDOGS 24, Tigers 21.

 

Louisville @ Clemson: DeShaun Watson will make nation’s No. 1 defense look foolish. TIGERS 38, Cardinals 20.

 

Duke @ Georgia Tech: Maybe the least impressive undefeated team in nation, but so what? YELLOW JACKETS 35, Blue Devils 24.

 

Ole Miss @ Texas A&M: It’s going to be a big letdown for those still reveling in the Grove. AGGIES 34, Rebels 28.

 

Auburn @ Mississippi State: Upset special of the week. Dan Mullen’s team keeps roling. BULLDOGS 28, Tigers 27.

 

LSU @ Florida: Just when Gators think they’ve found a potential QB... TIGERS 30, Gators 17.

 

TCU @ Baylor: Pick the pretender? BEARS 41, Horned Frogs 31.

 

Oregon @ UCLA: Many thought this would be a Pac-12 title game preview. DUCKS 38, Bruins 35.

 

Southern Cal @ Arizona: Can the Wildcats back up that win at Oregon? WILDCATS 31, Trojans 28.

 

Arkansas State @ Georgia State: Panthers developing a trend of heartbreak. RED WOLVES 35, Panthers 24.

 

Idaho @ Georgia Southern: New helmets for the newest power in the Sun Belt. EAGLES 38, Vandals 17.

 

LAST WEEK: 8-3

Winners: Georgia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Georgia Southern (with an uncounted bonus win by Louisiana-Lafayette).

Losers: South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee.

 

Year-to-date record: 49-17 (.742)

 

2013 record: 126-50 (.716)

 

2012 record: 117-48 (.709)

 

2011 record: 115-51 (.693)

 

2010 record: 97-49 (.664)

 

Categories: Local

Dunhill resurrection leaves Oliver Wilson overwhelmed

Tue, 10/7/2014 6:50 PM
By Scott Michaux

It’s been a couple of days since Oliver Wilson broke into tears on the most storied 18th hole in golf, but the texts, emails and social media well wishes keep pouring in at a rate the Augusta State graduate can’t possibly keep up with.

 

“It’s been mad,” said Wilson of his career resurrecting victory over Rory McIlroy and two other fellow Brits in the Dunhill Links at St. Andrews. “Literally since about 4 o’clock (Monday) morning I’ve been on my phone just trying to respond to all the messages I had. I can’t possibly respond to them all. In fact, Twitter won’t allow me. I can’t go back more than six hours because I have that many messages. It’s just been incredible. It’s really overwhelming.”

 

The outpouring of congratulatory wishes for Wilson speaks to two things. The first is his likeable nature and the level of respect the 34-year-old Englishman has fostered in 11 years since turning professional.

 

The second regards the depths his game had fallen to before Sunday’s revival.

 

“The last two years have been pretty rough and I think a lot of people understand that and I’ve managed to turn it around from pretty much as low as it can go as a professional to pretty much a high point right now,” he said. “I think people can appreciate that and see what I’ve gone through and why I’ve been so emotional.”

 

A Ryder Cup qualifier for Europe in 2008 with a European Tour record nine runner-up finishes without a victory between 2004-09, Wilson lost his card in 2011 and subsequently lost his confidence – especially with his driver. His 2013 season on the Challenge Tour – Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com Tour – was rock bottom when he struggled to break 80 in missing nine consecutive cuts to begin the year.

 

His world ranking plummeted from a high of 35th after his runner-up in the 2009 Dunhill Links to 792nd before last week.

 

“Last year was massively low,” Wilson said of a season that started with a 76.6 scoring average through June. “I was very worried. I tried not to show that to anyone. ... Everybody had sort of written me off and I just almost trying to prove to them that I’m all right. It’s just bad golf. I’m healthy and everything’s good.”

 

His optimistic front included conversations with his wife, Lauren Smith Wilson, who also played golf for Augusta State.

 

“Even this summer I kept telling Lauren I’m doing better and playing better, and it’s not far away,” Wilson said. “I’ve been saying the same thing to everyone for a year and a half, two years. You keep saying it and not backing it up you kind of start to question it yourself. That’s kind of what I’ve done. I’ve thought about doing other things and if I wanted to but deep down I believed in myself and felt like I was capable of doing what I did. But you never really know.”

 

The first turning point for Wilson came in the last month of 2013 when he made seven of his last eight cuts including a Challenge Tour runner-up in Northern Ireland and tie for fifth in Kazakhstan.

 

Then after another rough summer this season, he shot 63 in the second round of his last start in the Kazakhstan Open. Despite a pair of 76s on the weekend and finishing 47th, he brought some confidence with him to the Dunhill Links.

 

“I played one really good round in Kazakhstan and gave me the confidence to know I can still shoot low,” he said. “I know what to do and everything sort of flooded back that day.”

 

Wilson opened the week with a course-record tying 64 at Carnoustie. But unlike the previous year when he faded to 59th after another opening 64, he stayed hot all week and took a three-shot lead into Sunday’s final round on the Old Course after a 7-under 65 in the third round on the same links.

 

“My confidence grew each day,” he said. “I was very nervous on the Saturday, probably moreso than on Sunday. I ended up with a three-shot lead but felt like I’d missed an opportunity to really separate myself from the field. I felt like I should have been five or six in front at least and I was a bit worried that that was going to come back a bit to bite me.”

 

After a pair of early three-putts Sunday, Wilson was at risk of letting another opportunity get away from him. He was so focused on trying to hang close playing through the loop that he didn’t even notice his wife and mother-in-law who had traveled to watch him play.

 

“I had no idea she was there,” he said. “(Lauren) was walking around and I never saw her, she was trying to hide. Apparently I stood right next to her and her mum halfway round. Her mum spoke to me, and I completely blanked her. I had no idea she was standing next to me. I was so in the zone and so focused.”

 

That sustained focus paid off. He rolled in two birdie putts on 10 and 11 to get back into contention with the leaders. Then he hit “probably the best shot of my life” from 220 yards to tap-in birdie on 16 to take a one-shot lead. He avoided disaster on the Road Hole 17th with a brilliant pitch from the rough to save par.

 

“That 18th hole I have to admit I was in a different place,” he said. “It was almost an out-of-body experience. I had no sort of feeling left.”

 

When his 15-foot birdie putt on 18 failed to turn into the cup, he tapped in and had to wait for Tommy Fleetwood’s birdie attempt to force a playoff.

 

“I kind of felt like here we go again,” he admitted. “I had the opportunity and didn’t take it. I fully expected Tommy to make his and thought we’d be going for a playoff. That being said I was elated at that stage to know I’d secured my card. I’ve been in that position so many times I was determined not to let another one slip by so I was concentrating on the playoff and getting myself ready for that. And then he missed and I was little in shock. It didn’t compute quick enough before my caddie could grab me and start celebrating. Then it got a bit emotional.”

 

Wilson’s tears flowed even harder when he saw Lauren as he walked toward the famous R&A clubhouse. The moment seemed almost surreal.

 

“I walked off and was looking at the ground in tears and trying to compose myself, and she was standing there,” he said. “It was an amazing experience and I’m really pleased she came up and to be able to share that moment with her was incredible.

 

“If you’d have told me that was going to happen to me and I would win in that fashion, I could have told you that I would have been in bits. It’s been a hard couple of years and to get back and to win that particular tournament at St. Andrews – for me it doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”

 

But it does get better for the former Jaguar who jumped 636 spots in the world rankings to No. 156. Instead of taking a month off to get ready for another trip to European Q School, Wilson is exempt for the next two seasons starting with this week in the Portugal Masters. Then he’ll play the four European Tour final series events including the WGC tournament in China and the season-ending championship in Dubai. He’s also qualified for next year’s WGC event at Firestone and close to securing a spot in the 2015 Open Championship at St. Andrews.

 

“It’s radically different,” he said of getting his card-carrying life back. “Obviously it opens a lot of doors and opportunities with it. I’m still trying to figure that all out. Looking back it’s incredible that I was at that low point in such a short space of time and I’m now a winner.”

 

What Wilson learned in surviving golf’s wilderness is to take nothing for granted.

 

“I appreciate what we do, what we get given and our lifestyle a lot more after what I’ve been through,” he told the BBC immediately after his victory.

 

He also appreciated the thousands of the texts, emails and social media messages that keep flooding his in-boxes beyond capacity to respond to all of them.

 

“I could never imagine having so much support and congratulations – loads of people getting in touch from Augusta and all over the world,” he said. “I can’t put it into words. It’s incredible.”

Categories: Local

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