Here's my wish list for Tennessee football guest picker on 'College GameDay' | Toppmeyer
This is the "Topp Rope," a twice-weekly SEC football column from the USA TODAY Network's Blake Toppmeyer.
Part of the intrigue after ESPN’s “College GameDay” selects a school as its broadcast location is waiting to learn which celebrity will be tapped as the guest picker.
“GameDay” will air from Knoxville this week before No. 12 Tennessee (3-0) hosts No. 22 Florida (2-1), and most Tennesseans would agree that icon and country music star Dolly Parton, raised in Sevierville, Tennessee, would be an excellent choice.
But "GameDay" host Rece Davis suggested Tuesday on “The Paul Finebaum Show” that ESPN is unlikely to secure Parton.
“I think she is unavailable to join us, which is unfortunate," Davis said.
If it’s on to Plan B, then I have some ideas. Here is my guest-picker wish list.
1. Jeremy Pruitt – Tennessee’s former coach has not responded to my messages since I first reported his firing for cause in January 2021 amid an NCAA investigation. Maybe he threw his phone into the river and bought a burner. Too late. Pruitt was no coaching savant, but he’s a skilled gambler, and that’s more important when picking games.
2. Lane Kiffin – Ole Miss plays Tulsa on Saturday, so Kiffin can manage double duty. No one would rile up the crowd like Kiffin. I’m envisioning him squirting French's mustard onto a hotdog while on set, but he’d almost certainly pick UT to win. He enjoys flirting with the Vols.
3. Jon Gruden – Vols fans support Heupel, but Gruden will forever be UT's white whale. Gruden can enjoy some Calhoun’s on the River while in town, while his wife goes home-shopping in East Tennessee.
4. Glenn Jacobs – Knox County’s mayor doubles as Kane in the WWE, so he knows the entertainment business. He could chokeslam an inflatable gator – or a real one. Plus, Jacobs and I share an alma mater. He'd look good on set in Truman Bulldogs purple and white.
5. John Adams – Imagine Phillip Fulmer’s reaction if he turned on his TV on Saturday morning and saw the Knoxville News Sentinel’s veteran columnist, a longtime thorn in Fulmer’s side. Adams’ sarcasm and wit would shine on "GameDay."
You’ll note my list excludes Peyton Manning. While Manning is affable and a fine representative of UT, he’s on TV enough already; and, anyway, he’s a jinx.
Buyout bliss awaits Bryan Harsin
Missouri’s Eliah Drinkwitz has the chance to offer Auburn’s Bryan Harsin the best gift one struggling coach can give another: buyout bliss.
Harsin played the struggling coach soundtrack at his Monday news conference after the 41-12 humiliation to Penn State last weekend.
Auburn is practicing well, Harsin said.
Reporters who questioned Auburn’s play-calling or strategy didn't have the level of insight the coaching staff has, he added. Harsin added that the players' spirits are fine, but they must fix poor fundamentals and execution issues.
Talk about a self-own. Players exhibiting flawed fundamentals 16 games into a coach's tenure sounds like a rebuke of the coach.
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Harsin would not name a starting quarterback – T.J. Finley is dealing with a shoulder injury that may sideline him, the Montgomery Advertiser's Bennett Durando reported – but he reiterated the need for execution. That's the battle cry of the floundering coach.
The Tigers could end this by grabbing their scythe. Butch Jones (2017), Bret Bielema (2017), Derek Mason (2020) and Dan Mullen (2021) all were fired directly after losing to Missouri, the SEC’s grim reaper.
Drinkwitz, who worked under Harsin at Arkansas State and Boise State, spoke graciously this week about how Harsin affected his career.
“I owe him a lot,” Drinkwitz said.
To repay that debt, Drinkwitz can send Harsin into buyout utopia.
Email of the week
Anonymous Gator Fan writes: If Billy Napier doesn’t get this offense in gear, he’s going to find out why the previous two idiots were run off. It’s the same (dang) issue. All of them refuse to bench the quarterback for (pee)-poor performance. The ONLY reason Kyle Trask got the opportunity to play was because of an injury to the starter. Florida fans are stinking (mad) at having other quarterbacks sitting on the bench and never being given a chance. ... I swear Napier is a Dan Mullen prodigy.
My response: Florida’s top backup, Jack Miller, has been sidelined with a thumb injury. Would you have Napier hand the keys to three-star freshman Jalen Kitna?
Napier inherited a poorly-stocked cupboard. Two of Florida’s top producers, running back Montrell Johnson Jr. and offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence, are Napier additions. That’s encouraging. I don’t know whether Napier will flourish or flounder, but don't throw him overboard after three games – two of which he won.
Three and out
1. Napier was born in Cookeville, Tennessee, but he grew up in Chatsworth, Georgia, after the family moved from Tennessee when he was 2. “My family on my dad’s side were big Tennessee fans – and still are,” Napier said.
Will those family members root for the Vols on Saturday?
“I don’t know that they would tell me that to my face,” Napier said. “… Hopefully they’ll find a little soft spot for the Gators.”
Don’t count on it. You don’t get to choose your family. You do get to choose your team.
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2. To flush or not to flush? That’s the question after a stinky performance.
Harsin said his Tigers flushed the messy loss to Penn State, while Arkansas coach Sam Pittman allowed his team’s 38-27 win over Missouri State to float into this week. The Razorbacks trailed MSU in the fourth quarter before rallying.
“We didn’t flush it, I can promise you that. We’ve got some areas we’ve got to fix,” said Pittman, whose Razorbacks will play Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium.
3. Scribes will tell tales of Alabama’s latest annihilation of Vanderbilt after Saturday, but nothing they write will top this lede penned by the Birmingham News’ Jimmy Bryan after the Crimson Tide smothered the Commodores, 66-3, in 1979: “Inflation killed the Vanderbilt Commodores Saturday. Once the football was inflated, Vanderbilt was dead.”
Inflation is back. Look out, Commodores.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.
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