The Back Nine comes at you after another college football season in the books. Or as SEC commissioner Greg Sankey could have said after the final game was played Monday night, “In the bank.”
10. There are a lot of things in life I don’t get. Rob Riggle. Cheese pizza. Why my phone battery goes from 75 percent to 22 percent without it being used. And I don’t get why anyone would watch these Film Rooms or Mega Casts when you could just watch, oh I don’t know, the national championship game on a full screen with announcers who know the sport. Oh, I get that people watch different channels to see what Jim from Tuscaloosa might say or get analysis from the latest coach who got fired because he couldn’t win the SEC. I just don’t understand why you would rather watch coaches eating Chex Mix and the game on a corner of the screen. Or listen to what fans have to say during a game. Maybe it’s the old man in me. Then again, I’m the kind of guy who turns the sound down when the game is really big. Sometimes, silence is golden … but my eyes still see. (Name the group.)
11. Even though it may seem superfluous, one final vote was required for the Associated Press Top 25 very late in the evening and you will never guess who I voted for No. 1. Just kidding. You may, however, wonder what I did with UCF, the self-proclaimed kings of the college football world, especially because there was an email push to the AP voters to pick UCF No. 1 to show everybody. (By the way, we can vote for anybody we want and are not restricted by the College Football Playoff.) I had the Knights at No. 8, which I think is fair and which they will think is college football snobbery. Maybe it is. I had five SEC teams in the final poll and snuck Florida Atlantic in at No. 25 and now I feel like I need a shower. Anyway, I really enjoyed voting this year and hope the AP will have me back. Here’s who I had in the spots 3-through-10: 3. Ohio State; 4. Oklahoma; 5. Wisconsin; 6. Clemson; 7. Penn State; 8. UCF; 9. Notre Dame; 10. TCU.
12. As players decide whether to go to the NFL or come back to school for another year, the news has been pretty good for the mighty Gators because of the returns of Cece Jefferson and Martez Ivey. I thought Jefferson had a solid year in 2017, but the new defensive look could turn him into a national star. It’s time for Ivey to play at a new level, but it will help if he has a backup Florida can count for a few plays here and there on the rest his knee. At any rate, look for my first top 25 for 2018 this weekend. Where would you rank Florida in the preseason, if at all?
13. Think back to just a couple of years ago when South Carolina was ready to hire Kirby Smart and Georgia stepped up to fire Mark Richt and hire Smart instead. If the Gamecocks had hired Smart, would South Carolina have been a top-10 team in 2017? Probably not. Would Richt have survived and still be the coach at Georgia if Smart wasn’t about to leave Alabama? Would the seniors who came back this year have instead bolted for the NFL if Richt was the coach? What if Steve Spurrier had a successful 2015 season and decided to try one more year and that South Carolina job had not opened up in the first place? What if Will Muschamp had beaten South Carolina in 2014 and run the table to hold on to the Florida job? Where would Jim McElwain be now? These are the kinds of questions that keep me up at night. What if Urban Meyer had not quit Florida? What if I made that putt on 17? Did I turn off the iron?
14. You could tell that we are in conference play in college basketball just because of the intensity of the games all around the nation. Technicals and elbows were flying and the crowds were alive and everyone was mad at Teddy Valentine. TV Teddy even threatened to quit after he was blasted for turning his back on North Carolina’s Joel Berry — who was trying to get an explanation on a call — last week. That would shake up the basketball world. Not. One reason that things get a little heated when we switch over from non-conference play (and a reason there are so many upsets in January) is that college hoops has evolved so that so many of those November and December games are played either at home or at neutral sites and there are very few true road games. Those are different animals. Even the top-10 schools in RPI right now are a pedestrian 22-12 in true road games so far this season.
15. Speaking of RPI, three of Florida’s losses have come to teams ranked No. 1 (Duke), No. 5 (Clemson) and No. 25 (FSU). Unfortunately, the only other loss was to No. 111 Loyola-Chicago. But let’s face it. The games are going to be coming at you fast a furious now and every one of them has some implication. Buckle up.
16. While the wild-card games did offer some alternative entertainment over the weekend and all were fairly close, they also illustrated how bad Dr. Football can be at picking pro games. Maybe I should just be Dr. College Football. Perhaps picking against the spread is the answer. Prepare to make some money as we head to the next round:
• Atlanta is a three-point favorite over Philadelphia. Which is historic because a one seed has never been an underdog in its first playoff game. But a one seed usually doesn’t have a guy like Nick Foles at quarterback. If Keanu Neal and Brian Poole tackle like they did Saturday night on the slippery grass of the L.A. Coliseum, the Falcons not only win, they cover. Atlanta, 20-13.
• Tennessee is a 13.5-point underdog at New England. Our old pal Mike Mularkey pulled one out last week, but you can’t count on your quarterback throwing a touchdown pass to himself every week. Unless he’s Tom Brady. New England, 31-17.
• Jacksonville is a 7.5-point underdog at Pittsburgh. Last week, they served teal hamburger buns and beer at the Jags’ playoff game. The Steelers prefer theirs to be black-and-blue. It’s funny, listening to the Jags-Bills game on Sunday driving to Tarpon Springs my wife asked, “And Tim Tebow can’t play quarterback in this league?” I had no answer. Pittsburgh, 20-16.
• New Orleans is a 3.5-point underdog at Minnesota. Drew Brees is something. But to me the coolest story in the NFL this year has been Case Keenum. Minnesota, 27-21.
17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Gainesville Sun alum Brandon Zimmerman of the SEC Network — “It would be fun to go back to August and deliver this riddle to the SEC: Auburn, Georgia and Alabama will each play exactly 2 games in Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season. How does it happen?” Man, if you could have placed that bet in Vegas, think of the odds.
18. Really enjoyed a beach wedding on Sunday not only because of the perfect weather but because my pal Jack Meyers finally got hitched. I might have overdone it because the knee is barking a little bit today. Great music at the reception, although nothing from this playlist (BTW, the Tremeloes, who were two-hit wonders, sang “Silence is Golden):
• “Everybody Wants to be Famous” by Superorganism.
• “Underdogs” by Jim and Sam.
• “Kissing Tree” by The Spencer Lee Band.
• “Breaking Loose” by The Number Ones
• And for an oldie from an old band, “Mother’s Little Helper” by The Rolling Stones.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.