With old friends from Sportingnews.com who are writing at t-s-b-n.com and the graciousness of national sports writers Matt Hayes of Sportingnews.com and Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel, Hog Database and I are pleased to bring you the 2012 version of the College Football Rountable! — Sharp “Tusk” Williams
Guardian of the Galaxy, an unabashed Florida Gators Fan, begins:
In the late spring I was enjoying a visit with Soccer Mom’s cousin and the family in Destin. The SEC Spring Meetings were happening just a few blocks down the road, and a thought kept banging away in my mind like a jackhammer. As beautiful as the beach and family time were, I wanted press credentials to attend the SEC meetings! Sun and family and relaxation are all great, but this was Big-Time Football!
Besides, I know that I could come up with better questions than Pat Dooley or Mike Bianchi – you know, the guys who whine incessantly about the horde of air-quote-regurgitating journalists who’ve invaded the old, private, cigar room of “sports writers.” My buddies and I who write are as good as they are, so why should anyone know or care how often that I write for free?
When I returned from anxious relaxation on the Red Neck Riviera, I went to work on t-s-b-n.com head honcho Pablo de Tejas. After relentlessly hounding him, one day in July a big brown UPS truck stopped at the end of my drive way, and the driver held an envelope addressed to me. I ripped the package open before it left Brown’s hands.
Inside I discovered press credentials and a press badge for the SEC Media Days event in Hoover, Alabama! Cha-ching! I was now officially an air-quote journalist! Soon I learned that Pablo had secured a badge for himself as well. Given that the SEC was new territory for us, Pablo and I called up Sharp “Tusk” Williams who was already planning a trip to Hoover with his own press credentials. We decided to meet up in Hoover. This was getting better all the time! (Yes, I know it’s just Hoover, a suburb of Birmingham – The Pittsburgh of the South, but at least it wasn’t Dothan.)
We booked rooms in the same hotel. I drove four hours from my home to Hoover, checked in, and drove to the air strip to pick up Pablo and Tusk. We exchanged greetings and returned to the hotel to get them settled.
At the counter, Pablo excused himself and stepped to greet someone he recognized. The other gentleman, grizzled, smoking a cigarette, and sporting a cowboy hat and boots, fit right in with the Hoover elite, so I made him out to be a Tide fan.
When I heard him say “T-sip, I’ll smoke any damn place I want,” I knew I was wrong about that Tide connection. It was none other than Roy Wayne Thorton, Aggie fan extraordinaire.
Roy Wayne had come to Hoover to introduce himself to the SEC. But first, we needed to eat and settled on Golden Corral at Roy Wayne’s suggestion.
“You gotta love a place that can meet all yer daily food needs for under $10 a day and do it in less than an hour. Gold Corrals is the most ee-fishent place in all of ‘Merica. Them sumbitches in Wershington could learn a few thangs from the boys what run them Gold Corrals.”
It only took a few minutes to get from the hotel to the Golden Corral, but that was long enough for Roy Wayne to share his impression of Hoover.
As he told Pablo, “Son, I sure don’t know what hell feels like and I don’t aim to find out. But I reckon it looks and feels purty much like it does in Hoover.”
Standing in the buffet line, Roy Wayne shared his insight on the great state of Alabama with anyone within earshot.
“Smartest sumbitch to come out of Ally-bammer was that Gump feller, and he ain’t even real. All they know how to do in Ally-bammer is cheat at football and steal head coaches from them Ags. It may not be this year, and it might not be the next, but sometime ‘fore I go to my reward in heaven, I’m a gonna see them Ags give them Crimsons a little payback.”
We filled our plates and looked around the room. It seemed quite a few air-quote and other journalists had the same idea we had, as there was not much in the way of available seating. That’s when I noticed, over in a corner, two men, sitting at an 8 seater, trying to force down one more bite of their assorted deserts. I was fairly certain they were journalists, and that I knew who they were.
After a quick whisper and nodded agreements, we moved in. To the bug-eyed dismay of the journalists, Roy Wayne slid in on one side of the booth and Pablo slid in on the other. With the journalists so wedged, Tusk and I sat.
That’s when we started… Well, I’ll let Roy Wayne tell you about it. He recorded the conversation for the purpose of this piece.
Roy Wayne: I am a-sittin’ here today with a couple of fellas named Matt, and I’ve been tolt that both these youngins write ’bout college football fer a livin’. That leads me to wonderin’ ’bout a few things myself.
Guardian: What’s that, Mr. Thornton?
Roy Wayne: Couldn’tcha find any fellas named John or David or Bill? Why they both gotta be Matts? How am I gonna tell ’em apart for the folks that read this here piece?
Guardian: Well, Matt Murschel writes about college football for the Orlando Sentinel.
Roy Wayne: Ain’t that where they grow all them oranges? I reckon from now on I’ll be a-callin’ him “Orange Grove Matt”. What about the other fella?
Guardian: That would be Matt Hayes, the senior college football writer for The Sporting News.
Roy Wayne: Sportin’ News? Why that there is an ol’ baseball magazine! Used to have them stats for every dang minor and major league team around. I reckon we will be a-callin’ him “Baseball Matt.” So who’s a-gonna ask them Matts questions?
Guardian: We have your friend Pablo De Tejas, our buddy Sharp “Tusk” Williams from the Hog Database, and myself.
Roy Wayne: So we got a Gator, a Porker and a t-sip asking college football questions to a fella that lives in an Orange Grove and another fella that writes for a baseball magazine?
Guardian: That’s about the size of it.
Hayes: Hold on. Not you guys again. I’m calling the police.
Murschel: Hayes, you know these people? George Diaz didn’t tell me anything about why he didn’t make the trip this year. What’s going on?
Sharp: Chill out fellas, and put your phone down Sportingnews Guru. We’re all friends here. We just want to ask you a few questions, and we won’t even tie you up this year. What cop in ALABAMA is going to arrest us when we explain to the good officer that we’re just here to talk about college football? They’re going to want pictures and probably ask hours of questions themselves just to get your complaint. Now is it worth all that?
Roy Wayne: Alrighty then. (gesturing to Sharp) We’ll let that youngin’ from the land o’ Clinton go first. Son, you got a question for them Matts?
Sharp: Although there are many unknowns regarding who will comprise the college football playoff committee, will there be a mathematical or objective way for committee members to assess strength of schedule under the new system?
Murschel: We have heard that the new college football playoff committee will take several factors into consideration including the team’s conference and non-conference schedules as well as conference championships and how the program has done as a whole. Other than that, I think a lot of decisions will be based on the human factor.
Hayes: There will probably be a tangible number, but the results will be much like the men¹s basketball committee: it will be decided on human opinion not numbers.
Roy Wayne: Did you hear the way that Ozark fella asked that question? He sounded just like a gott damn lawyer…
Guardian: You better watch out, Roy Wayne. Sharp and Pablo got into a tussle last year just because he figured out that Tejas was Mexican for Texas, and neither were a pretty sight when the brawl was over with.
Sharp: Them’s feudin’ words, Aggie. You know what a feud is?
Roy Wayne: (turning to Sharp) Damn, I’m mighty sorry ’bout that son. The Good Lord done cursed you twice, makin’ you both a Porker and sounding like a lawyer. Go ahead and ask them Matts something else, but try to put in English this time.
Sharp: Hell, you Aggies can’t understand good southern English anyway, even if I was a lawyer like the one who sponsors my posts! Maybe these fellas will tell you about the hopelessness of what you Aggies have gotten yourselves into. Can you hear it? “S-E-C, S-E-C, Oh Sh*t we joined the S-E-C!”
Sharp : Being from Arkansas and watching the Razorbacks make it to 3 SEC Championship Games over the last 20 years, everyone would say that the road for Arkansas has been rough. On the other hand, Arkansas’ partner in conference realignment, South Carolina has yet to make it to an SEC Championship Game. Do you foresee that Texas A&M and Missouri will fare any better than Arkansas and South Carolina over the next 5, 10, and 20 years?
Murschel: Honestly, if anyone has a better road of the two, I think its Missouri. As Arkansas fans know, the SEC West has been stacked with talented teams including LSU, Alabama and Auburn. Throw in the Razorbacks and there are four quality teams that Texas A&M will have to compete against year-in and year-out. South Carolina and Georgia are hot now and Florida will be back soon but one team hasn’t dominated like in the West.
Hayes: TAMU has the best chance, if for no other reason than the high school talent level in the state of Texas.
Roy Wayne: That Baseball Matt is purty damn smart if’n you ask me. What other questions you got, Sharp?
Sharp: You got lucky, Aggie. Gentlemen Matts, if you were the AD at Arkansas, who would be on your short list of coaches to fill the Arkansas head coaching position when John L. Smith’s contract is up in eight months or so?
Murschel: Well, depending on how 2012 goes, I might put John L. Smith on the top of that list. He’s familiar with the program and the players appear to respect him. Other than him, I would go after Skip Holtz at USF. I know he said he’s not interested but the chance to coach at the SEC makes sense. If you want to think bigger, Chris Petersen at Boise State would be an option as well.
Hayes: Pete Carroll. It¹s not working in the NFL, and Pete doesn¹t like losing. Is it crazy? Sure it is. But Pete loves a challenge and there¹s not a bigger one in the SEC.
Roy Wayne: Them’s purty good answers. We’ll be a-comin’ back to you, Sharp. But let’s let my little buddy from that socialist school in Austin get a word in. Go ahead, t-sip.
Pablo De Tejas: Is there anything to the Florida State to the Big 12 rumors? If not, will the Big 12 expand and who would be potential new members?
Murschel: Florida State won’t join the Big 12 anytime soon but that’s not to say that they wouldn’t consider a move sometime down the road. I still believe that FSU is interested in joining the SEC but it appears the SEC isn’t interested in them, at least for the moment. I do believe that the Big 12 will expand sometime down the road. Louisville could be a potential target along with Boise State especially considering the amount of television revenue the Big 12 could generate for both schools.
Hayes: The Big 12 is exploring all of its options. I think they would like to get back to 12 teams and the championship game (to generate more revenue), but they¹re not going to add just any school to get there. FSU would leave for the Big 12 tomorrow if invited. I’m just not sure the Big 12 is there yet.
Roy Wayne: You damn tootin’ they broke asses would jump at the chance. Ask them Matts sumpin’ else t-sip.
Pablo: How will Texas do this year?
Murschel: The Longhorns have 15 returning starters and should be better than 2011 but quarterback issues will prevent Texas from winning the Big 12.
Hayes: The Longhorns are my sleeper team. Lot of talent on defense, and a lot more confidence on offense in the second year under coordinator Bryan Harsin. If David Ash takes the next step in his development and becomes an elite QB, Texas could be championship good.
Roy Wayne: T-sip, you look like you wanna go over ‘n’ hug Baseball Matt after that answer. But I tend to side with ol’ Orange Grove Matt. Tell you what, let’s let the fella from Flo-ree-da that’s throwing this here shindig ask a few questions. Go ahead, gator boy. Fire ’bout two or three out there.
Sharp: I may vomit.
Guardian: Was the movement toward a playoff motivated by money or by the desire to limit the SEC’s participation in championship games?
Murschel: A little bit of both. I’m sure there were some conferences who were a bit upset with the SEC’s dominance and were looking forward to using the opportunity to figure out a way to level off the playing field but, as it is with most things in college football, money was a major factor.
Hayes: Strictly money.
Guardian: What do you think is the biggest problem facing college football today?
Murschel: I still believe that one of the biggest problems facing college athletics is agents. With the exorbitant amount of money being made in college football these days, it’s not hard to see how a young athlete could be tempted to turn to an agent or an outside source for support. That’s why the NCAA is looking into the stipend, to help alleviate the problem.
Hayes: Recruiting. It’s just a dirty, deceitful business with hangers-on and street agents and advisors, third-party individuals — gaining more control with each year.
Guardian: What reforms could be instituted to improve college football?
Murschel: Honestly, I would streamline the NCAA rule book. I think that it’s too complex. I would also consider the stipend. Give some of the billions of dollars that college football is generating to the student athletes. Help them out.
Hayes: Consistent enforcement from the NCAA.
Roy Wayne: Them there was some high brow questions and some high brow answers. Sharp, you want to ask them Matts anything more ’bout your Hogs?
Sharp: How do you believe that Arkansas will fair against Alabama and LSU this season? Outside of those two games, who do you think can beat Arkansas, if anyone, and why?
Murschel: If Arkansas can put the pieces together, they can compete against the likes of Alabama and LSU. I just don’t think it will be this season.
Hayes: Best chance is Alabama. Don¹t think the Hogs can match up with LSU. (Outside of that it) depends on the emotional state of the team. If they lose early to Alabama and things get shaky, anyone can beat Arkansas.
Roy Wayne: Ol’ Sharp sure dint like that answer. Looks like he is wearing his boxers ’bout three sizes too small. We better let him ask some more questions.
Sharp: Can Derek Dooley at Tennessee get the job done for the Vols?
Murschel: I think he can but a lot depends on how patient Tennessee fans are willing to be. He took over a pretty bad situation in Knoxville after Lane Kiffin left basically in the middle of the night. He is getting the sort of players that the program needs to succeed but it will take some time.
Hayes: If he’s going to, it has to be this season. A lot of talent on offense could lead to eight wins. If he reaches that number, he should be safe for another season. If not, Tennessee is not going to sit and watch others in the ultra-competitive league get better.
Roy Wayne: Alright Sharp, go ahead and ask him the big question….
Sharp: Give us your predictions on the SEC East and West this year.
Murschel: Georgia wins the SEC East followed by South Carolina, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee, Vandy and Kentucky. LSU wins the SEC West followed by Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
Hayes: East: South Carolina. Best defense, best coach, knows how to win close games. West: LSU. Most complete team in the SEC. If Mettenberger plays well, no one can beat them.
Roy Wayne: T-sip, them Matts look like they is gettin’ tired. You got any final thang to ask ’em?
Pablo: Texas A&M, Missouri, TCU and West Virginia all have new homes. How do you see them doing in 2012?
Murschel: I believe West Virginia will be the most successful of the four programs. The Mountaineers were impressive down the stretch last season including their Orange Bowl victory. TCU has the potential to be a top 25 program with the level of talent while Texas A&M and Missouri play in a tougher conference in the SEC. The Aggies have to contend with the SEC West, which is loaded. Missouri has better chances in the SEC East.
Hayes: Texas A&M and Missouri will struggle; West Virginia will do somewhat better. The SEC newbies will be fortunate to win four league games; The Big 12 newbie could win six league games.
Pablo: Who is the most powerful man in college football, and why?
Murschel: Burke Magnus, ESPN Senior Vice President, College Sports Programming. ESPN has made it known that it will own college football’s new playoff system. The network has wrapped up rights to several of the top bowl games and if it can gain control of the rights for the semifinal games and the national championship, ESPN will be synonymous with college football.
Hayes: Mike Slive. The SEC got everything it wanted in expansion and the new college football
postseason deal. The SEC Network “Project X” is next, and the numbers will be outrageous. Slive: the baby-faced business assassin.
Roy Wayne: I got one more question for them Matts before we shut down this thang down. Who is a-gonna play for all marbles come January?
Murschel: USC vs. LSU
Hayes: LSU vs. Alabama. Tigers could have won the last two national titles if they had a competent quarterback. They may have it now with Zach Mettenberger.
We could all see the Matts were tired. I was, too. That four hour drive to the heart of Dixie wasn’t exactly a stroll down Robert Trent Jones fairway..
After thanking the Matts for their time, we air-quote journalists headed for second servings. Actually, I steered toward the chocolate fountain. After a bit Sharp said something about doing some site-seeing to T-Town Menswear and avoiding ‘Burners looking to turn him in for being on the Alabama Domestic Terrorist list, and Ole Roy Wayne and Pablo kept talking and eventually packed their bags and went to different hotels.
The Matts fled so quickly it could have been a jail break.
On Twitter, be sure to follow Matt Hayes @Matt_HaysSN and Matt Murschel @osmattmurschel !! — Sharp