Where are Vols going bowling?

By this time Sunday, we’ll know exactly where Tennessee is headed for the postseason. In the meantime, it’s fun to speculate.

Before we even delve into this, it’s important to remember that everyone was shocked last year when the Vols wound up in Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl. Everyone expected Tennessee to wind up in Memphis or Nashville or, if they dared dream, Charlotte. But Dave Hart lobbied hard, and Tennessee found good favor with both the SEC front office and the bowls because of its energized fan base that was guaranteed to snatch up lots of tickets.

So there’s no real way of knowing exactly where the Vols will wind up on Selection Sunday. Remember, the relatively new format means that the conference itself plays the biggest role — with input from the bowls, of course — on which teams will be placed in which bowls.

With all of that in mind, Tennessee enters conference championship week as the fifth-best team in the SEC, if you go by the latest college football playoff rankings, which sneak the Vols into the rankings in the No. 25 spot. Ahead of them are LSU at No. 21, Florida at No. 18, Ole Miss at No. 13 and Alabama at No. 2. Georgia and Mississippi State trail behind.

Things will be simplified if Alabama beats Florida in the SEC Championship Game, which is expected. The Tide are a whopping 17-point favorite, which would make a win by the Gators the biggest upset in SEC Championship Game history.

If Alabama wins, the Tide is headed to the College Football Playoffs. Ole Miss will be the SEC’s representative in the Sugar Bowl, and Tennessee will be left competing with Florida and LSU for the top remaining bowl bids.

After the Sugar Bowl, there’s one other bowl that gets exclusive say in which SEC team it gets — the Citrus Bowl. Some Tennessee fans are holding out hope for a trip to Orlando, and that probably isn’t an impossibility, but it seems pretty unlikely.

If, on the other hand, Florida upsets Alabama, the Gators will go to the Sugar Bowl as the SEC champion, and there is no way the Citrus Bowl would pass up Alabama.

Let’s assume, just for the sake of conversation, that Alabama goes to the playoffs and Ole Miss goes to the Sugar Bowl. Tennessee would sell a lot of tickets, which has to factor into the equation for the Citrus Bowl, but the bowl has indicated that it wants LSU. The possibility of an LSU-Michigan matchup would be so intriguing that it would be hard for the Citrus Bowl to pass that up. Remember, many people figured Les Miles would leave LSU to go to Michigan a few years ago, and it didn’t happen. There’s history with those two programs.

If the Citrus Bowl takes LSU, that leaves Tennessee and Florida vying for the next spot. Theoretically, the SEC’s next six bowl tie-ins are toss-ups, with none ranked above the rest. Those six are the Outback Bowl, the Belk Bowl, the Gator Bowl (Taxslayer Bowl), the Music City Bowl, the Liberty Bowl and the Texas Bowl. 

Now, here’s how it works: The SEC actually chooses which team goes where. But they do take input from the bowls into consideration. After those six spots are filled, the Birmingham Bowl and the Independence Bowl get to choose from remaining bowl-eligible SEC teams, but there’s no way Tennessee will still be in play at that point.

While the group of six bowls are theoretically none above the other, there is a difference in the bowl payouts, location and potential opponent, which means that some are preferable to others. That means the Outback Bowl — played in Tampa, with the highest payout of the bunch — is definitely preferable to going to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl, or to Nashville for the Music City Bowl, or to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl. 

Tennessee fans are lobbying hard for the Outback Bowl, and none other than Jon Gruden has made calls to the Outback Bowl on Tennessee’s behalf. It is likely that Tennessee would face a marquee opponent in the Outback Bowl — perhaps either Iowa (currently undefeated and ranked No. 4 in the country but facing Michigan State as underdogs this weekend) or nationally-ranked Northwestern, assuming that Michigan State wins the Big 10 championship and Ohio State goes to the Rose Bowl. Either matchup would be intriguing, especially Tennessee-Iowa, since it would be a rematch of last year’s Gator Bowl.

But to get to the Outback Bowl, Tennessee has to be able to outbid a higher-ranked (conceivably) Florida team. And there are persistent rumors that the SEC has promised Tennessee to the Belk Bowl to make up for what the Belk Bowl perceived as a snub last year. The Belk Bowl has lobbied hard for Tennessee. That means Tennessee’s most likely destination is probably the Belk Bowl, against an ACC opponent — potentially NC State. That, obviously, is a far cry from the Outback Bowl, but it will be what it will be.

There also remains the chance that Mississippi State or Georgia could factor ahead of Tennessee, causing the Vols to slide to either the Music City Bowl or the Liberty Bowl. But that seems highly unlikely. Worst case scenario is probably a return trip to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl. 


We see you, GFS


The above image is lifted from a computer’s interpretation of the GFS computer model. It’s pretty self-explanatory, so take a good look at it and behold the first fantasy snow storm of the 2015-2016 winter season.

With mild — even warm — temperatures continuing to be the general rule as we move from November into December, this morning’s 0z run of the GFS model painted nearly a half-foot of snow across the northern plateau on Dec. 16, as it depicted sharply colder air invading the region (including the first temperatures in the teens this season). 

Rest assured that almost certainly will not happen. The GFS is notorious for these fantasy snow storms, which are often 10-15 days off, and they usually do not materialize. 

Now, the GFS model has been fairly consistent over its last few runs of depicting a sharp cool down right around Dec. 15-16 after temperatures climb well into the 60s in the days preceding that timeframe. But only the single run of the model depicts any wintry mischief. 

So don’t go counting on any mid-month snowstorms. For now, the safer bet is a continuation of the shirt-sleeve weather we’ve been enjoying.

Oh you, Donald Trump

Has presidential politics ever known someone who handles the truth as recklessly as The Donald? 

First he claims that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the 9/11 attacks. Like many Americans, I remember reports at the time that Muslims on rooftops in New Jersey were celebrating. I’m not sure that report was ever substantiated, but I’m quite certain that it didn’t amount to “thousands and thousands” of Muslims. That seems so preposterous that you have to wonder why Trump trotted it out in the first place.

But he did. And, after he was called on it, he refused to back down. 

First, he tells George Stephanopolous that he saw them celebrating, with his own eyes, on TV: “It did happen. I saw it . . . It was on television. I saw it.”

Then, he remembers that he saw it in a Washington Post report from 2001 by Serge Kovaleski, now employed by the New York Times. And when Kovaleski, who suffers from physical disabilities, refused to corroborate Trump’s claim, Trump mocks him in his usual insulting fashion.

Finally, pressed by NBC’s Chuck Todd, Trump goes back to insisting he saw it on TV . . . but, conveniently, he doesn’t remember where: “I have a very good memory, Chuck. I saw it somewhere on television many years ago and I never forgot it.” 

Then there was Trump’s Monday meeting with black pastors. Trump sent out a press release last week saying that he was going to be endorsed by 100 black pastors on Monday. Turns out, though, he invited the pastors for a private meeting . . . then claimed publicly that they were going to endorse him. When the pastors said they weren’t going to endorse him, he had to backtrack. But then, after the meeting, he claimed that “most” of the pastors were endorsing him . . . even though only a couple have said so publicly. 

And, in the meantime, Trump said that none of those in attendance at Monday’s meeting asked him to change his tone: “The beautiful thing about the meeting is that they didn’t really ask me to change my tone.”

Except, wait a minute. It turns out that at least some of those in attendance did ask him to change his tone, even demanding an apology for his inflammatory rhetoric. Said Orrin Pullings, who was at the meeting: “Our community really wants him to be sensitive with the way he handles people and they feel he’s insensitive. We told him that you are insensitive in appearance to our community and that’s not a good position.” And Victor Couzens went even further: “We spent a lot of time just discussing the overall tone of the campaign. I personally said to him, he needs to apologize. He needs to repent.” 

It also turns out that Trump lied about the number of black pastors who were present. He claimed 100; attendees said there were maybe half that.

Again I ask: Are people really considering voting for this guy?!?

Tebow ridiculed…how is that okay?

“News” broke yesterday that Tim Tebow’s arm candy, former Miss USA Olivia Culpo, has dumped the former Heisman winner because she couldn’t handle his stance on abstinence.

Tebow, as a result, has caught plenty of flack.

Which is interesting on a couple of different levels.

First, why isn’t Culpo the one who is catching the snarky scorn of the countless online commentators? She’s the one who apparently told her friends things about she and Tebow’s personal relationship that should’ve been no one’s business but their own, and it was at least one of those friends who squealed to the New York Daily News and allowed this “news” to break.

Second, why the double standard?

And there are two double standards at play here.

The first one is the double standard of the sexes. We hear all the time about the double standard of women being considered “whores” or “sluts” if they’re promiscuous, whereas promiscuity in men is considered a badge of honor of sorts. And that’s true. But there’s also this Tebow situation.

Take Complex magazine, for example. Complex asks whether Tebow is “making a huge mistake” because he allegedly drove away his girlfriend by refusing to have sex with her.

Wait, are you serious? If a young woman broke up with her boyfriend because he was pressuring her to sleep with him, does anyone think she would be criticized on social media? No…if anyone criticized her, they would be tarred and feathered, figuratively speaking.

As Facebook user Amber McCarville posts:

I’m absolutely disgusted at the double standard that I’m seeing all over Facebook. If a man broke up with a woman over her NOT WANTING to have sex with him he would be trashed all over the place for being a douche bag. His name would be dragged all over the place and Lord knows ALL the man haters would be blowing up Twitter calling for his head on a platter. A woman does it and the Internet finds it hilarious and joins in on mocking him… Maybe instead of wasting time debating on whether Tebow is really a Jesus freak or secretly gay we could take a few minutes to figure out why this woman feels that she’s entitled to have sex with every man she wants. No means no and that goes for when a man says it as well.

The second double standard is the reaction to what Tebow chooses to do with his personal life. His personal belief is abstinence, and he gets scorned for it. Can you imagine that same reaction towards someone who “came out of the closet” to announce their homosexuality? Oh, there would be some folks who would scorn them, obviously…but it wouldn’t be nearly as mainstream as it is with Tebow, where you have media outlets linking the story on their Facebook pages with such captions as “poor Tim Tebow” or similar such foolishness. Those same news organizations would be raked over the coals if they said similar things about someone who was coming out.

The reason Tebow is the target of the double standard, obviously, is because his stance is based on his Christian faith, something that is no longer acceptable to a growing number of Americans.

Consider some dude named Vlad Feldman, who posts on Facebook that Culpo “dumped” Tebow’s “sorry ass,” and adds, “This is both sad and pathetic and a prime example of how one’s faith interferes with one’s daily life in a major fashion.”

The lesson here for Christians is simply this, and it’s a good lesson particularly for teen Christians who find themselves dealing with the exact same issues as Tebow: If you proclaim to be a Christian to the folks around you, you will face ridicule, you will face scorn and you will face peer pressure to conform your beliefs to what the rest of the world feels is okay.

Sadly, though, it isn’t jus non-Christians who are ridiculing Tebow. Consider this comment from a reader calling himself HairyDawg77, posted to the original story linked above:

Not trying to be an ass, but I don’t think he doesn’t have sex because of religion, I think he’s really gay. I mean knowing about how religious he is and how the whole Christian community supports him, he’s probably to afraid of what could happen if he came out. I’m Christian and could care less if he is but you have to be realistic, he comes out and that’s a big deal. It’s easier for him to fake feelings for a girl and hide behind no sex before marriage, but it’s completely different for him to come out.

This guy claims to be a Christian, yet he’s ridiculing a fellow Christian because the other guy is practicing what the Bible teaches.

You see, not even many Christians want to truly take a stand for biblical truths. The same Bible that teaches us the tenets of Christianity — that Jesus Christ is the son of God, was born of man, died and rose again to provide a means of salvation for a fallen human race — also teaches us that God commands his people to do exactly what Tebow professes to do: save themselves for marriage. That same Bible very clearly teaches that premarital sex is fornication, which is a sin. Of course, you won’t hear many churches broach the subject of nonmarital sex because it is a subject that makes too many of their parishioners uncomfortable. And, in our effort to cherry-pick from what we like and don’t like in the Bible, you get folks like HairyDawg77 who scorn fellow Christians who are doing nothing except what God commanded of them.

And that deepens the lesson: If you stand for God’s word, you have to be strong, because you will face ridicule and scorn from all angles — from what we often call “the world” and from other proclaimed “Christians” alike.

That’s what makes Tim Tebow an outstanding role model for young Christians.

LSU’s dumb, stupid, very bad decision

Football in the SEC is a cutthroat business. Everyone knows that. Just ask Phillip Fulmer, one of college football’s winningest active coaches when he was fired by Tennessee in 2008. Or Gene Chizik, who was two years removed from winning the national championship when he was fired by Auburn in 2012. 

But LSU’s decision to force Les Miles out of Baton Rouge may be one of the dumbest decisions in the history of SEC football.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Miles. He’s never impressed me as being some sort of football genius. His debacles on the field — from running from the tunnel to the opponent’s sideline, or his many clock management blunders — are legendary. 

But, at the end of the day, Les Miles wins football games. And that’s something that didn’t happen very often at LSU before he showed up on the scene.

Let’s start with his career record at LSU. It’s 110-32. He’s won 77% of his games since arriving in Baton Rouge. Which is pretty darned good for any school, especially one that doesn’t have a history of being one of the top five programs in college football.

Some say that Miles won with Nick Saban’s talent (Saban led the Bayou Bengals to a record of 48-16 between 2000 and 2004, when he left for the NFL to coach the Miami Dolphins). Okay, fine. Never mind that Miles’ record his first three seasons in Baton Rouge was 34-6 (.850), easily exceeding Saban’s career winning percentage of .750 at LSU. But, yes, it was Saban’s last couple of recruiting classes who were juniors and seniors when Miles led the Tigers to the national championship in 2007.

But how do you explain LSU’s resurgence in 2010? After “only” finishing with a combined record of 17-9 in 2008 and 2009, the 2010 Tigers finished the season 11-2. LSU won the SEC in 2011, advancing to the national championship game again before losing and finishing with a 13-1 record. The Tigers then went on to win 10 games in both 2012 and 2013.

In fact, LSU has had only 14 seasons with 10 or more wins in its history, and Miles is responsible for exactly half of them in just one decade. The Tigers’ own website declares, “The 2005 season (when Miles began his tenure in Baton Rouge) served as the starting point for what has become the best 10-year stretch of football in school history, one that has seen the Tigers win more games than any other school in the SEC during that span.”

Let that sink in for a moment. LSU is the winningest program in the SEC since Les Miles arrived in Baton Rouge.

Yet he’s on the verge of being canned.


Because he apparently didn’t win enough.

When Tennessee fired Fulmer in 2008, there was at least some justification there. The Vols had suffered through two losing seasons in a four-year span and recruiting had fallen into a major slump. 

That isn’t the case at LSU. In fact, Miles is just two years removed from what is arguably the best coaching performance of his career. LSU lost nine players to the NFL Draft following the 2012 season — in fact, LSU has sent more players to the NFL during Miles’ tenure, 64 in all, than any other SEC team — yet climbed into the national championship race with a 4-0 start and ultimately finished 10-3, with three of those wins coming against Top 25 teams and eight of them coming by at least two touchdowns. The three losses were by a combined six points. 

It’s no secret that LSU has been down the past couple of seasons, and the decision of defensive coordinator John Chavis to bolt for Texas A&M after a tumultuous 2014 season added to the turmoil. 

But Miles appears to still be on top of his game. In fact, consider this: LSU’s current recruiting class is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation, behind only Ohio State. The Tigers have 10 four-star commitments in the fold. It’s a good class. So good, in fact, that it has been called by some the best recruiting class in LSU’s history

And still the athletic department big-wigs and big-money boosters in Baton Rouge appear determined to can their head coach. It is a decision so asinine that it’s hard to even put into words just how truly awful it is. 

Don’t cry for Miles, though. He has a $15 million buyout, and he won’t be unemployed for long. In fact, this is a good year to be on the market if you’re a college football coach. A number of Power 5 programs are searching for coaches, and Miles may not even have to leave the SEC to find his next job.

But LSU’s AD and boosters better hope they get lucky, or they will become the laughing stock of college football. It is said that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. What LSU has in hand is a top-of-the-charts recruiting class and the SEC’s most wins over the past decade. That’s going to be hard to top. 

Mild weather rules December

Remember that “single run of a single model” that showed sharply colder temperatures invading the Southern U.S. during early December? 

Yeah, turns out that was a blimp and not a trend.

Models are consistently advertising mild — even warm — weather for the foreseeable future, which isn’t a surprise given the strongly positive state of both the Arctic Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation . . . and which is to be expected during a strong El Nino pattern such as the one we’re currently experiencing.

Current runs of the GFS computer model keep temperatures in the 50s and often in the 60s all the way through the first half of December, and suggest that we may not see temps dip below freezing until at least the middle of the month, which is pretty incredible.

Again, that isn’t completely unexpected during a strong El Nino year. History suggests that warm Decembers will be the norm during strong El Nino patterns. 

At some point, the pattern will relax. In fact, we could very well see colder-than-average weather by the time January and February arrive. But will it relax in time for a white Christmas? At this point, that’s an impossible guess. One thing is for sure, though: Until the current pattern does relax, short sleeves are going to be more in order than winter overcoats here in the Cumberlands.

Unnecessary treatment, or a war on men?

Two years ago, Time Magazine did an interesting and thought-provoking piece on prostate cancer, saying that aggressive treatment for prostate malignancies isn’t always needed — particularly for older men. Since prostate malignancies are slow-growing, the reasoning went at the time, the benefits of prostate cancer treatment don’t out-weigh the risks and many of those men will die of causes other than prostate cancer.

That seemed interesting at the time, but there was a caveat that may have gone unnoticed by many readers — including myself. It was this sentence, important enough to be the second sentence of the story: “With a government-backed group advising that most men no longer need regular screening for prostate cancer with the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test . . .”

Time had reported on the panel’s recommendation months earlier:

Men should not get routinely screened for prostate cancer using the PSA test, a government panel recommends. The panel finds there is little evidence that testing for PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, saves men’s lives, and that it causes too much unnecessary harm from the treatment of tumors that would never have killed them.

Now there’s another take on that three-year-old recommendation, however; one that includes at least some specialists in the field claiming that the new standard is costing lives:

Even without these new proposed penalties on doctors, the task force’s misguided opposition to PSA tests already has caused thousands of avoidable deaths, according to David Penson, a urological surgeon at Vanderbilt University. Many doctors stopped the test, allowing cancer to spread undetected.

“This is a warning,” says Dr. Anthony D’Amico of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “It is likely that men will develop more advanced prostate cancer before it is diagnosed and be less likely to be cured.”

This New York Post op-ed paints the recommendation against prostate cancer screening as a conspiracy of the Obama administration. That may be true, but it seems largely speculative. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, originally established in 1984, is supposed to be an independent panel of experts. In 1998, Congress authorized the task force to be budgeted and supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. That’s a government agency under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. So the task force is appointed, funded and directed by DHS. Fairly or unfairly, that makes it a part of the Obama administration. And it’s also true that the task force’s two most controversial recommendations (the other being a 2009 recommendation to raise the age minimum for mammograms to 50) have been handed down since Obama took office.

Still, the task force claims that its decisions are not based on cost effectiveness and are instead “based solely upon evidence of medical benefit to the patient, no matter how expensive.” 

Take that for what it’s worth. But if you consider the NY Post op-ed to be a little over-the-top, this editorial from the Nov. 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association should probably carry much more weight. It also casts doubt on the task force’s 2011 recommendation.

Trump: A sad indictment of American politics

In his latest effort to make a jackass of himself on the campaign trail, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump mocked a New York Times reporter’s physical disability while stumping in South Carolina two days before Thanksgiving. For its part, the NYT has called Trump’s actions “outrageous” while Trump has predictably responded to criticism by claiming that he didn’t know the reporter was disabled and was not mocking him. 

Whatever, Donald. 

From his fellow GOP candidates to journalists like Fox News’ Megyn Kelley to whomever else Trump views as a personal enemy, his campaign-trail vitriol has surged past the level of classless and has long since become just downright ugly. 

It is incredibly alarming that Republicans are on the verge of nominating Trump to oppose Hillary Clinton on the 2016 ticket. This guy doesn’t have a presidential bone in his body. He’s a miserable, pathetic human being who spends more time lobbing insults than actually displaying his presidential prowess. 

Remember when late-night comedian David Letterman targeted Sarah Palin’s daughter? Republicans lashed out at him, and rightly so. Letterman crossed a line. But how is Trump any better than Letterman — whether he’s mocking a journalist’s debilitating condition or talking about blood coming out of Kelley’s . . . wherever? And here’s the difference between Letterman and Trump: One of them is running for president. One of them wasn’t. 

It is simultaneously bewildering and alarming that there are apparently millions of people who would entrust such an egotistical, bullying, low-class jackass like Trump as leader of the free world. One of the smartest, most level-headed people I know is a Trump supporter. Every time I criticize something Trump has said and done, he defends the man, usually by saying that Trump is the only candidate willing to say what needs to be said. Okay, I’ll give Trump that much: he says what no other candidate is willing to say. But is that a smart thing? Have we, as American voters, really become so disillusioned with the political process in the United States that we’re willing to vote for a self-centered asinine bully because he has the biggest mouth of them all? If so, it’s a sad indictment of the rut American politics is currently in. 

Here’s the thing that is bumfuzzling about Republicans, though: Trump isn’t electable. He just isn’t. Deep down inside, everyone knows it. Trump couldn’t beat Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head matchup in a hundred years.

But Clinton is beatable. Just look a the Real Clear Politics polling averages. Florida Senator Marco Rubio beats Clinton head-to-head. And if you’re an anti-establishment type, so does retired brain surgeon Ben Carson. Frankly, I think Carson would be a terrible president. But I’d vote for him every day of the week and twice on Sunday before I’d vote for Trump. The damning thing for Republicans? A plurality of self-described independents will say the same about Clinton: they won’t be sold on her ability to govern, but they’ll hold their nose and vote for her if for no other reason than she isn’t Donald Trump. 

That will spell the GOP’s demise this election cycle. But Republicans will lead themselves to the slaughterhouse in their rush to vote for a candidate who isn’t politically correct. Hey, I get the disillusionment, to a point. But what good are Trump’s red meat one-liners if they lead to four years of Republicans griping about Democratic policies that come out of the White House? I believe that is the perfect illustration of a decades-old idiom about spiting your face by lopping off your nose. 

Could Titans nab Manning?

It seems likely that Peyton Manning’s playing days are nearing their conclusion. He may or may not see more snaps this season before he announces his retirement. If Brock Osweiler continues to play well, it seems likely that Denver quietly turns Manning out to pasture. 

In hindsight, Manning should’ve retired after last season, when an injury that was unrevealed until the Broncos were bounced from the postseason cost him what would turn out to be his last shot at another Super Bowl ring. He has been a sad shell of his former self this season. Part of that is new Broncos coach Gary Kubiak’s insistence on abandoning Manning’s tried-and-true offense for his own, part of it is the Broncos’ horrendous offensive line play, and part of it is that Manning is simply too old and no longer has it. Regardless of the cause, watching the greatest quarterback of all time struggle to a nine touchdown, 17 interception performance this season has been painful and sad to watch.

So where does Manning end up? He made headlines two months ago when he told radio host Dan Patrick that he would consider coaching quarterbacks at the University of Tennessee. If it were any other retiring NFL superstar, you’d laugh at the notion that they would take on the pressures of coaching when they have enough money to be set for life. With Peyton Manning, perhaps the most driven and competitive person to ever play the game of football, you have to take him at least partially serious. But, still, that seems highly unlikely. So then what? 

Reports are that both the Tennessee Titans and the Cleveland Browns are interested in handing Manning the keys to their front office. The Browns’ interest is obvious. The franchise is owned by Jimmy Haslam, the Vols’ mega-booster who has maintained a close personal relationship with Manning over the years. The Titans, though, could make an ingenious move by hiring Manning. 

Since making the move from Houston, the Titans have never endeared themselves to many Tennesseans, especially Vols fans. Hiring Manning would instantly give the Titans a fan boost that the franchise would not be able to obtain otherwise. 

The idea of Manning joining the Titans franchise isn’t a new one. The Tennessean’s David Climer speculated on it last summer, even before it became clear that this season would be Manning’s last as a player.