A few thoughts on the college season

So, except for Army-Navy next week, the college football regular season is, essentially over. It ended with a bit of a bang, especially for us folks here in SEC country. Here are few thoughts as the regular season draws the curtain.

What a game between Georgia and Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship! I’m nowhere close to a fan of either team, but Georgia dominated the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide for three quarters before a missed chip-shot field goal and a panic call for a fake punt in the fourth let the Tide back in and claim the title.

Say what you will about Georgia, but it is one of the best four teams in college football. The debate is over, however. The Bulldogs had their chance and were eliminated in what essentially was a quarterfinal game.

What does this do to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailova’s chances for the Heisman? Some say his body of work is good enough to carry him to lectern in New York City next Saturday night. But most of the voters will tell you that it’s how you perform when the stage is the biggest and the lights are the brightest.

Tagovailova laid an egg against a Georgia team that had him perplexed for most of the night. Tua was 10-25 for 163 yards, a TD and two picks and was knocked out of the game. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray was 25-39 for three TDs, zero picks and 379 yards in avenging an earlier loss to No. 14 Texas. Duane Haskins of Ohio State shone brightly Saturday in the inconsequential Big 10 title game, throwing for 499 yards and five touchdowns against No. 21 Northwestern.

The voters remember what you did when the lights were brightest. I’m afraid Tua’s performance Saturday night cost him.

Memphis watched a second-half lead evaporate against Central Florida for the second time in as many meetings this season, I might add, in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

Of course, we’ve heard all the whining from UCF coaches, administrators and fans about how unfair it is that their unbeaten team isn’t in the playoffs. It’s all about resume. The Knights’ opposing win-loss record is 62-71 and they played only one “ranked” team in No. 24 Cincinnati, who is no longer in the Top 25. UCF needs to go independent or find someone, like Memphis, to get into the Big 12 and play a real schedule, not Tulsa, Temple and East Carolina week after week.

We went through this same discussion with Boise State seven years ago.

That said, why is it that Memphis fans always have to belittle Tennessee’s lean times? On social media, Memphis fans were taking delight in the fact that Memphis and Middle Tennessee were playing football in December (sadly, they both lost, by the way). Enjoy your team’s success. That’s fine. But why poke at a program that is struggling right now and has over the last 10 years or so. I never get that.

I’m not a Memphis hater, but it’s not like Memphis is a stranger to lean times. The Tigers perfected struggling in football. And the Vols DO own a 22-1 mark over the Tigers. They last played in 2010, and UT won 50-14 … the year Dooley was fired. Besides, Memphis has been bowling 12 times (including the Burley Bowl in 1956 and the Pasadena Bowl in 1971), nine times when they relaxed the qualifications to get in and expanded the field. Tennessee has been invited to 50 bowl games since 1939 and won six national titles. It seems I read in psychology class somewhere that Freud mentioned envy…

Eight teams from the SEC are ranked in the final Top 25 rankings and 11 teams are headed to bowl games this year. That should be quite a payout for conference teams. No other league comes close. Only Tennessee, Ole Miss and Arkansas are wallflowers this year. I figure that will change in the near future.

Tennessee is still seeking, as of this writing, an offensive coordinator. The rumor mill has been swirling so much, you figure Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher were being named to the post, probably because they both once ate at Ye Olde Steakhouse in Knoxville once upon a time. Names being bandied about are Chip Lindsey of Auburn and Hugh Freeze, formerly of Ole Miss. UT coach Jeremy Pruitt has met with Freeze, but that will be a tough sell to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who denied Alabama a shot at Freeze last year.

The OC vacancy, left by Ty Helton, doesn’t appear to have affected recruiting, which is good. I figure Pruitt and Fulmer will vet and hire a top-flight guy who can help renovate the Vols back into a contender. Tennessee needs help up front before any of that happens, though. Heap a lot of criticism on Helton, but he didn’t have much to work with up front. It’s a wonder Jarrett Guarantano is still on two feet after this season.  Tennessee will need to improve up front. That’s where this off-season conditioning will be important. Tennessee hopes it can get Trey Smith and Brandon Kennedy back. That will be a good first step. The Vols just don’t lose a whole lot on either side of the ball. That could be good and bad.

Whoever the Vols hire, chances are, if he’s worth his salt, it’s going to be a temporary post and we’ll be back at it all over again in two years.

Or less, if he’s really good.

Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox, which airs 4-6 p.m. CT Monday-Thursday on WRJB 95.9 FM, Camden, Tenn.

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