The late Jim Valvano used to tell us that the NCAA Basketball Tournament was really about two things: “Suvive and Advance.” In basketball, it’s March. In football, it’s November. You win, you move closer to a championship. You lose, you are pretty much done. So what did we learn in the first week of November?
1. This is going to be a pretty big week for the Head Ball Coach: Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina football team was pretty lousy in getting beat 41-20 by Arkansas Saturday night. The Gamecocks looked disinterested against an Arkansas team that has two losses (Alabama, Auburn) to teams that were ranked No. 1 at the time of the games. But South Carolina and Spurrier have a chance to go where no other Gamecock team has gone before if they can find a way to beat Florida in the Swamp on Saturday. The winner advances to the SEC championship game on Dec. 4 where they will probably play Auburn (Auburn needs to win one of its last two games with Georgia or Alabama to get to Atlanta). It’s hard to see South Carolina going down to Gainesville and winning, but Spurrier has a knack of coming up with something for these big games. We’ll see. All I know is that the Gamecocks are 0-12 in Gainesville.
2. TCU is pretty darn good, folks. I’ve said all season that a one-loss SEC champion would have an excellent shot of jumping over an undefeated Boise State or an undefeated TCU for a spot in the BCS championship game. But I was very impressed with what I saw Saturday when No. 3 TCU went to No. 5 Utah and won 47-7. Utah trailed 20-0 at halftime and 37-0 going into the fourth quarter. The Utes didn’t even cross midfield against the No. 1 defense in the country until the fourth quarter. TCU has allowed only 23 points in their last five games, with two of those games being shutouts. Look, if No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Auburn win out, there won’t be a huge argument. But if one of those teams loses, TCU is going to put up quite a fight in the arena of ideas. Here’s the problem for TCU when it comes to the voters: The Horned Frogs get San Diego State (7-2) this Saturday in Fort Worth. They take a week off and then their last game is at New Mexico (1-8) on Nov. 27. TCU does not play on championship Saturday, Dec. 4.
3. Quit your whining about Les Miles. The man can coach: For about a minute back on Oct. 2 we thought that Tennessee had beaten LSU in Baton Rouge. One review and one toss sweep later LSU had won the game. But I heard from a lot of LSU fans in the aftermath of that game that Les Miles had to go–immediately if not sooner. You called him everything from a clown to names we can’t repeat here. Well, The Mad Hatter coached one of the best games of his career Saturday and it was good enough for No. 10 LSU to upset No. 6 Alabama 24-21. Miles called one daring play after another: A fake punt; a reverse on fourth and one; putting Jarrett Lee back in the game just to throw a long pass out to get LSU out of a hole. Now LSU looks like a team capable of finishing 11-1 and getting back into the national championship discussion. Look, he may not have the stern personality or the rock star aura of a guy like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer, but the man can coach. He has taken a whole lot of garbage from fans and his players have decided they’ve got his back. In fact, his players gave him a game ball after Saturday’s game because of all heat he has taken.
4. Looks like Tennessee has found its quarterback: Yes, the opponent was Memphis, which is a really bad football team. But when you’re Tennessee and you’re looking for something positive to build upon, what freshman quarterback Tyler Bray did on Saturday is encouraging. Bray threw for 308 yards in the first half to set a Tennessee record for two quarters of football. He finished with five touchdown passes. Now, after a most difficult October, Tennessee can at least THINK about being able to win its last three games with Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky to finish at 6-6. Yes, the odds are against it but given what Tennessee’s been through just to be able to have the conversation should be a positive. Ole Miss comes to Knoxville on Saturday. Vanderbilt is really struggling. The game with Kentucky, which has lost 25 straight to Tennessee, will be very interesting.
5. Heisman voters must be fair to Cameron Newton: I wrote this last week and it was only emphasized on Saturday, when Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns in one half ont he way to a 62-24 win over Chattanooga. Someone has suggested in print that even if there is no evidence that Newton or his family has done anything wrong during this investigation, just the mere suspicion should keep him from winning the Heisman Trophy. How absurd. As my CBS colleague Gary Danielson said on the air Saturday and repeated it to me on Sunday: “The Heisman Trophy is not that important.” What he means is that next to someone’s integrity, which has not been proven to be lacking, you don’t just deny someone something they may have actually earned by their performance. My take: If Newton wins the trophy and has to give it back down the road because of facts that are uncovered, then so be it. But right now there are no facts that have become a part of the public record.
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“Barnhart and Durham:” Today we welcome Jeff Monken, the head coach of the Georgia Southern Eagles, who knocked off No. 1 Appalachian State Saturday night in Statesboro. We will also be joined by Gary Stokan, the President of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, who has a special announcement to share with our listeners. We will break down the latest BCS numbers and start making some bowl projections. Please join us at 10 a.m. at www.790thezone.com.