Archive for December, 2010

Will the UGA grad Muschamp be hailed or reviled by Gators?

We know Georgia fans — some of them, anyway — were hoping Will Muschamp would be the Bulldogs’ next coach. (He’s from here, played here, et cetera.) Tonight he’ll be introduced as Florida’s coach, and I’m wondering how he’ll be received in the realm of the reptile.

Yeah, he’d done as much as any assistant could to prove his bona fides. But shouldn’t the nation’s most prestigious program — show me another school with three national championships over the past 15 years — have been able to attract someone who’d actually won a game as a head coach?

The extremely opinionated Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel admitted Monday he was “conflicted” and asked readers to help him decide if Muschamp would be a stud or a dud. (Apropos of nothing, I feel compelled to note that Bianchi is the only writer I’ve ever read who has quoted liberally from the Wet Willie song “Keep On Smiling.”)

This correspondent, who much preferred the Marshall Tucker Band to Wet Willie, would put the hiring of …

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If UGA can’t win the SEC East next season, that’s it for Richt

If Mark Richt doesn’t win the SEC East next year, he never will again. I know how simplistic that sounds, but the 2011 Georgia season can be boiled down to these basics:

Richt hasn’t won the SEC East since 2005. Florida, which has won it three times since then,  just hired a career assistant to replace a man who took two BCS titles. South Carolina, which won the East for the first time ever, is demonstrably not unbeatable — it lost the SEC championship by 39 points — and must play in Athens next season.

Beyond that, there’s little else to know. Richt dumped three of his four defensive coaches last December and changed his strength coach two weeks ago. He has fired essentially everyone he can — Mike Bobo’s detractors will raise a howl, but Georgia did score at least 31 points in seven consecutive games to end the 2010 regular season — without pointing the finger at himself.

Richt is 44-20 over the past five seasons, 23-17 in SEC play. Jim Donnan, by way of comparison, was …

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Tech’s tall task: How to sell tickets to a bowl in Shreveport

I admire cleverness in any form, probably because I’m so un-clever myself. And the 2010 Lemonade Award — so named for the capacity to take lemon-like circumstances and render them almost palatable — goes to the clever clogs (British term) in the Georgia Tech athletic department.

Tech offered up a frankly classic press release over the weekend, the first sentence of which reads: “Georgia Tech’s special ticket offer to the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl — priced at $14 in honor of the Yellow Jackets’ 14th consecutive bowl appearance — has been extended through Christmas.”

Given that Tech fans have devoted the past 12 months to making fun of Georgia, which played in the 2009 Advocare V100 Independence Bowl, and given that the Jackets enter this postseason at 6-6 after losing four of five games and their best player to a broken arm, nobody thought Tech could give away tickets to this showcase in scenic Shreveport. (Which qualifies as a port only because the Red River runs through …

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Tech fans, what was that you were saying about Shreveport?

Let’s face it: You have to be pretty awful not to be bowl-eligible. You have to lose more games than you win. (But you don’t have to win more games than you lose.) Both Georgia and Georgia Tech made it, just, and on Sunday they reaped their, er, rewards.

Georgia gets to go play the guy who got Jim Donnan fired.

Georgia Tech gets to go to Shreveport.

Unless you’re going to a BCS game, being bowl-eligible is a double-edged sword. The good part: You get to go somewhere and play somebody. The not-so-good: You might hate the trip and you might get beat to boot. If either the Bulldogs or the Jackets lose, they wind up under .500. And both could lose.

Central Florida is George O’Leary’s latest team, and it’s not bad. Georgia should beat the Knights on talent alone, but Georgia should have beaten Mississippi State and Colorado on talent, and we know what happened there. If the Bulldogs do a sleepwalking-in-Memphis number, they’ll regret it. This is UCF’s fourth bowl, and it hasn’t won …

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Serious question: Is Cam Newton the greatest collegian ever?

Say what you will about him, but he can play the game. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Say what you will about him, but he can play the game. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

For a month, the question involving Cam Newton has been, “Did he or didn’t he?” Just for today, let’s try something different. Let’s ask instead: “Is he or isn’t he?”

As in, the greatest player in college football, and not just this year.

As in, the greatest ever.

Said Steve Spurrier, who won the Heisman and who has coached a Heisman winner: “That’s a good question. I don’t like putting anybody at the top, but he might be the best running quarterback probably ever to come through college ball.”

Gene Chizik coaches Auburn, so he doesn’t qualify as a disinterested party. But the same Gene Chizik was the defensive coordinator on a Texas team Vince Young willed to the 2005 BCS title, so he does have standing in the matter. And Chizik, asked if he’d ever seen a better college player than the one he has now, said this:

“No. It’s that simple. If you look over a 13-game span, I’ve never seen anything …

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Live from the SEC title game, now a place for Gamecocks

If I knew the South Carolina fight song, I'd sing a few bars. (Photo by M. Bradley)

If I knew words to the South Carolina fight song, I'd sing it now. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Not that I have anything against Auburn fans — like I always say, Auburn fans are the best in the world! — but I begin today’s live proceedings with a special shout-out to the folks in garnet and black.

South Carolina, you are here.

I didn’t think your team could make it. Lee Corso didn’t think your team could make it. I’m sure there were times — probably in 2007 and 2008 when he was losing to Vandy — when Steve Spurrier didn’t think his team could make it. But here I sit in Ye Olde Dome, and there it is down below: “Carolina” painted in one end zone. (If you don’t believe, photographic evidence is supplied above.)

Auburn has been here before — three times, winning once. Arkansas has made it twice. Mississippi State has even graced this game, but until today the SEC East has always been represented by Florida, Tennessee or Georgia. (Most often the former, as I’m guessing you’re aware.) …

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Who you for, UGA fans? The Evil Genius or Nick UnFairley?

"Good luck, Steve. We're all counting on you." (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

"Good luck, Stevie boy. We're all counting on you." (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Three years ago yours truly paid a midweek visit to Columbia, S.C., for Steve Spurrier’s weekly briefing. Toward the end, I mentioned that a brand new AJC.com poll had just reconfirmed that the Ol’ Ball Coach was — ahead of even Urban Meyer, who was coming off a BCS title — the man Georgia fans most loved to hate.

“Glad they haven’t forgotten me,” said Spurrier, who seemed pleased.

Postscript: Four days later, Spurrier and South Carolina came to Sanford Stadium and beat Georgia 16-12.

The Bulldogs have nothing to do with this year’s SEC championship game, which will be staged Saturday at the Georgia Dome. (Fun fact: Seven different SEC schools have qualified for the title game since last Georgia did in 2005.) But Spurrier will be here, and he might actually be the sentimental favorite. Because here are your choices:

• In one corner, the Evil Genius and his Gamecock minions, who are new to this …

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What if the indispensable Joe Johnson isn’t so indispensable?

There are more flattering points of reference. (AJC file photo)

More flattering points of reference exist. (AJC file photo)

Fact: The Hawks paid $120 million to keep Joe Johnson.

Fact: Johnson will miss at least a month after elbow surgery.

Fact: The Hawks won their first game without Johnson.

Question: What if the Hawks play better without Johnson than they did with him?

I don’t think this will happen, mind you. I think he’s an excellent player. Was he worth $120 million? No, but the Hawks were always going to have to overpay to keep him, and not keeping him would have sent an even worse message to the public. (The same public, it must be said, about which Johnson said last spring he cares not one whit.)

I think his team will miss him. But it became clear recently that the Hawks weren’t adapting as well to Larry Drew’s share-the-ball offense as the new coach would like. For one thing, the $120-million man had become just another guy, which I don’t believe is what the Hawks had in mind when they paid him $120 million.

Johnson is averaging …

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For Cam and Auburn, what the NCAA didn’t say resonates

For SEC championship game purposes, the three biggest words in the NCAA’s statement on Cam Newton were these: “Is immediately eligible.” Over the longer term, three bigger words were tucked into this statement from the NCAA’s Kevin Lennon.

“Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity.”

The three massive words: “At this time.”

Just because Cam Newton has been cleared to play Saturday doesn’t mean he has been cleared forever. It doesn’t mean the NCAA can’t and won’t continue to investigate. (It can and surely will.) And if at any time it finds “sufficient evidence” that Newton himself or a representative of Auburn violated an NCAA regulation … well, we know what that means.

Forfeit city.

Folks on the outside have a tough time understanding how the NCAA works. (Folks on the inside do, too.) But the key revelation made Wednesday was that the NCAA …

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The cloud over Auburn has lifted; Cam Newton is free to play

The NCAA has reinstated Cam Newton and declared him eligible to play. Your question: When wasn’t he eligible?

The answer: On Tuesday Auburn ruled him ineligible for what the NCAA termed “a violation of amateurism rules.” Lucky for the Tigers, they had no football games scheduled for Nov. 30. On Wednesday the NCAA again conferred eligibility on him, which means Auburn can deploy him in Saturday’s SEC championship game with a lighter heart than the program has known in a month.

It had become increasingly clear that some violation had been committed in the recruitment of Cam Newton, if not necessarily by Auburn. The NCAA noted as much in its statement: “The student-athlete’s father [Cecil Newton] and an owner of a scouting service [Kenny Rogers, once a Mississippi State player] worked together to actively market the student-athlete as a part of a pay-for-play scenario … NCAA Rules (Bylaw 12.3.3) do not allow individuals or entities to represent a prospective student-athlete for …

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