The Back Nine comes at you on a long holiday weekend hoping everyone puts aside the watermelon and hamburgers from the grill and fireworks and remembers what we are honoring today.
10. It kind of feels like we have come around a wide turn and we’re now heading down a long stretch of highway toward the college football season. But we can’t even pretend that we can see it in the distance. We’re going to be looking for road signs that say how many days until it starts and daydream about game weeks. Next week, it’s SEC Media Days and we’ll get all excited for a week the way you do when you pull into a gas station for cold drinks and pork rinds and stretch your legs. But then the guy behind the counter says, “College football season? Shoot, you still have 60 days to go. Don’t be fooled by the city limit signs. It’s kind of like Jacksonville. Technically, you can be in Jacksonville and still be a long way from downtown Jacksonville.” That’s the funny thing. On Aug. 26, college football nuts will find themselves watching games they wouldn’t watch in November if they were played at the park across the street. Oregon State at Colorado State? Rice-Stanford in Australia? Doing anything for you? Charlie Strong’s debut at South Florida across the country at San Jose State? Hey, I tried. Just stay on the interstate and try to stay awake. And it’s two bucks for those Slim Jims.
11. As we start to focus on football, one thing that I find intriguing are the teams I call “X-Factors.” Those are the teams who could be in the mix for the College Football Playoff, but I wouldn’t want to bet on them because there are so many moving parts. For example:
• Oklahoma: Lincoln Riley might make it a seamless transition, but Bob Stoops was a special coach and his record shows it (BTW, thanks for the helmet for The Bob, Coach Stoops). There are certainly no guarantees this is going to work, even in a conference the Sooners have dominated.
• LSU: Are we supposed to believe things will be different? You go ahead. I’ll make Outback Bowl reservations.
• Washington: The surprise of last year still has its quarterback and its wonderful head coach, but the Huskies aren’t sneaking up on anybody. Was it a one-year fluke?
• Clemson: It’s not like the Tigers’ talent has fallen off a ledge, but DeShaun Watson was a special quarterback.
• Louisville: Can a team return the Heisman Trophy winner and be picked to finish third in its own division? You might see it with the Cards, who have Lamar Jackson back but lost a ton on defense.
• Michigan: The consensus on Jim Harbaugh’s third team is that the Wolverines lost too much to contend. But he’s recruited well and if he gets by that first game with UF, who knows?
12. Boy, I riled up some Tennessee fans when I said on the Paul Finebaum Show that Kentucky would finish ahead of Tennessee in the standings. It’s not an outrageous claim. Just look at the crossover games. Tennessee plays Alabama and LSU. Kentucky plays Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Do the math.
13. One thing that was really cool on Sunday was that the SEC Network showed all 14 teams in their “Team X in 60” series. In other words, they went through each team and showed their 2016 highlights in an hour with no commentary, just the actual voices of whomever called the games. I watched way too much of the 14 hours. And here is what I gleaned from recliner time — no matter what anyone wants to say about the SEC being down last year, it was really a fun season with so many games that came down to the end. One team I paid a lot of attention to was Ole Miss and for 11 games I came away thinking the Rebels won’t be as bad as everyone thinks. Then they showed the Mississippi State highlights. Yikes.
14. Yes, I get it. The NBA offseason is more exciting than the regular season. It was a great line the first time someone used it, but now it is simply a cliche. The thing is, all of these teams scrambling around signing free agents and when the dust settles would you bet against another Golden State-Cleveland final? Me neither. But a lot of guys are getting rich(er).
15. While Florida made some history by being only the second program to play in both the baseball and softball finals, the talent is going to be there next year for a repeat. That said, it’s not easy. Don’t forget that as good as the men and women were they combined to lose eight games in the NCAA Tournament. Again, both teams will be based on pitching and defense, although Kevin O’Sullivan has to find an answer at shortstop (incoming freshman Brady McConnell is probably the answer). Bold prediction — whoever plays there will not make us forget Dalton Guthrie.
16. Please help me. I found myself on Saturday and Sunday checking out the Braves score on Contour the way we used to on Reuters back when we were kids (in St. Augustine, we had this Reuters channel that would show all the linescores and update them and, yes, we were sad little boys and you kind of had to be there). The Braves have pulled me back in … kind of. I still can’t name five players and I don’t know if I could sit through an entire game, but at least they are relevant if by being relevant you mean they can see first place with high-powered binoculars. The point is that I’m paying attention to MLB again. Where did the Astros come from?
17. The Tweet of the Week comes from college football writer Tim Hyland — “College football really can’t get here soon enough.” Now that’s a sentiment I saw a lot on Twitter this week, in part because a lot of people got excited for a boxing match and the result, they say, was borderline criminal. A lot of it is the realization that there is nothing of consequence to get fired up about other than a couple of golf majors and Wimbledon (zzzzzz) until we get to football season. But we need a break. Otherwise our heads might explode.
18. There is nothing as paralyzing as realizing you left your headphones in your bag at home when you get to the gym. So here’s the question — do you go home and get them, go buy a cheap pair or gut it out without music? Discuss. And try out this playlist:
• “The Roundabout” by Ryley Walker.
• “The Sunshine of Your Youth” by Cheerleader.
• “Keep on Keepin’ On” by Bleached.
• “Baby I’m Broken” by The Record Company.
• And for an old one, “Modern Love” by David Bowie.
— Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.