Friday, August 29, 2014

Uncle Lucky's SEC Picks

I have an Uncle from Brooklyn named Lou. Up there they call him "Lucky" Lou. I always called him Uncle Lucky. Legend has it that Uncle Lucky knows how to pick winners. Personally, I'm not so sure, because Uncle Lucky still drives a 1984 Toyota Corolla and wears really old track suits. He also smells like an odd mix of garlic and Listerine. Uncle Lucky hates bad breath, but I digress.

Because I know that I'm not lucky, I've invited my Uncle Lucky to help me with my picks this year. So here goes...

Oh, and one last thing, you'll enjoy Uncle Lucky's picks more if you read them with a Joey Buttafuoco accent. You can do it. Channel your inner Tony Soprano. Rocky is also a good voice.

On to Uncle Lucky's Picks:

Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky (11 a.m., SEC Network)
I'm insulted that my nephew wants this to be my first pick. It reminds me of the time that my buddy Lenny tried to get me to eat these chips ahoy cookies when there was a perfectly good cannoli in his ice box. But whatever. If you really need me to help you with this one you might consider doing something different with your money. Horse racing. That's an idea (don't worry about, you can pay me later). But if you insist, you gotta take the Wildcats in this one. Now back up a little, you're mouth breathing on me, and it makes me uncomfortable.

West Virginia vs. Alabama (2:30 p.m., ABC, ESPN2)
The Mountaineers have a coach named Dana. The only other Dana I ever knew is wearing concrete boots in close proximity to the beach, if you know whad I mean. What kind of mother names a kid Dana? I'll take Little Nicky to win and win big.

South Dakota State at Missouri (2:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Fuggetaboutit. Mizzou.

Arkansas at Auburn (2 p.m., SEC Network)
I once knew a mob boss that reminds me a lot of Brett Bielema, but that's got nuthin to do with nuthin. Anyway, he's in the witness protection program now. I heard on the street a few years ago that he was coaching football in Wisconsin or something. Wait a minute... Anyway, this "friend" of mine didn't know anything about football. He thought you could win by putting 10 people on the line of scrimmage and running it over and over again. That mighta worked in the Vince Lombardi days, but last I heard Vince Lombardi wasn't in the SEC. Anyway, we have this saying in Brooklyn, always bet the winner. I don't know exactly what it means, but between these two I think Auburn's the winner. I'll take the Tigers.

Again with the mouth breathing? Next time I'm bringing mints to pass around to you people.

Clemson at Georgia (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
Wha? You think Mark Richt can actually win a big game? You probly think Prego tastes better than homemade, too. Richt's a choke artist. In fact, after he leaves Georgia I got some buddies over at the docks that could use a guy like him to, you know, choke people. But that's another story. Aaron Murray is gone. Richt's a choker. Fuggetaboutit. Take Clemson.

Idaho at Florida (6 p.m., ESPNU)
My guy Guido scores more points on Friday nights at the bar than Jeff Driskel ever will, and Guido's not so good lookin' if ya know whad I mean.... Florida is a 36-point favorite. Fortunately for Will Muschamp, Idaho is as bad as gold chains with a burgandy track suit (gold goes better with the navy tracksuit I'm wearing, don't you think?). Muschamp will be swimmin with the fishes before this season is over, but not yet. I'll take the Gada's, but I'm not happy about it, if ya know what I mean.

Southern Miss at Mississippi State (5:30 p.m., SEC Network)
I have a hard time tellin' these two schools apart. Which one is the one where they stick their arms inside the cows? Nevermind. Look, Southern Miss hasn't won but one game in two years. The problem is that the Bully Dogs are 30.5-point favorites. I know that this Dak Prescott kid is in line to be the next Pope and all, but I'm just not so sure the Bulldogs are as great as the noise. That said, 1 game in two years? This pick reminds me of my Momma's Spicy Meatballs. It gives me heartburn, if ya know whad I mean. Her meat balls are so full of garlic and weird spices that I have to hold my nose when I eat them. I can't hurt Momma's feelings ya know. I'll take the Eagles, but I'm holding my nose.

Please back up from the computer. Sheesh.

Wisconsin vs. LSU (7 p.m., ESPN)
Les Miles reminds me of the time my friend Giovanni tried to eat nothing but vegetables for an entire week. "My marinara sauce has vegetables in it," I told him. He still wouldn't eat it. If that didn't make any sense, then you know what I'm talking about with Les Miles. HA! Anyway, I can tell my nephew Jake is getting impatient with me, so I'l get to it. I may be from Brooklyn, but I've never fallen off of one of those turnip trucks, if ya know whad I mean. I'm not picking no Big Ten school to beat an SEC team. No way. I'll take the Bayou Bengals.

Utah State at Tennessee (Sunday, 6 p.m., SEC Network)
We have this saying in Brooklyn: "You can't cover a 6-point spread against a team that finished 9-5 the year before when you're starting entirely new offensive and defensive lines." Okay, so I made that up, but it's true. I don't see Tennessee winning this one by much. I'll take Utah State.


Ole Miss vs Boise State: Players of the Game

Offensively, my Player of the Game is slot receiver Cody Core, who scored touchdowns of 30 and 76 yards, and finished with 110 yards total on just four receptions. Core's is a neat story. A year ago the coaches moved him to safety because they were trying to find him some playing time. Throughout spring and August it was almost a given that former 4-star recruit Quincy Adeboyejo would be the starting slot receiver, but the coaches gave Core another chance to show what he could do as a receiver.

"Cody just went out and won it in fall camp, and that's the great thing about life, man, competition that you can thrive on and have an opportunity to compete, and he and won it," Freeze said. 

Core was one of few surprises on the depth chart when it was released last week. Thursday night we saw why he won the job. His great hands and break-away speed translated into two big touchdowns. Core's my easy choice for Offensive Player of the Game. 

Defensively, I have to give it four guys, which I know is cheating, but together Mike Hilton (8), Senquez Golson (8), Cody Prewitt (7) and Keith Lewis (7) combined for half the team's tackles. Each recorded a tackle for loss, and Golson and Prewitt each had an interception. Their hitting was lights out, too. Literally. The defensive backfield looked good Thursday night. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ole Miss Overcomes Self, Boise State

It was two and a half hours of ugliness followed by 15 minutes of beauty. Which was the real Ole Miss? That's what many of you are pondering as you read this, and you'll be left to wonder for the rest of the week.

Are the Rebels the team that could do almost nothing right for 45 minutes out of 60? Or are they lightning in a bottle ready to explode all over their opponent like they did in Boise State's face in the 4th quarter?

You decide.

On Thursday night Ole Miss overcame a host miscues in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game with a burst of 4th quarter touchdowns to beat Boise State 35-13, but the final score is deceiving as the heavily favored Rebels led just 7-6 with 15 minutes to play.

The way things had gone for Ole Miss through three quarters of play a Boise State upset seemed almost inevitable. But thanks to that flurry of 4th quarter touchdown passes by Bo Wallace, the Rebels pulled away and departed the Georgia Dome 1-0. A win is a win is a win, but whoa, there is a lot of room for improvement.

"Awful and hard to watch for two and half quarters," is the way Hugh Freeze described it.

For 45 minutes, it was just bad.

"There's no way we could have played any worse and still be ahead," co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said.

Anybody else who was watching would certainly agree with both coaches.

Though the Ole Miss defense looked as tough as advertised, offensively, the Rebels have a lot of work to do, starting with the offensive line and the decision-making that has plagued Wallace since he became the starting quarterback for Ole Miss two seasons ago.

The interception bug is still very much alive in Wallace's bloodstream.

"Two of those throws were not even in his progressions," Freeze said, almost shrugging his shoulders as to what happened with his senior quarterback. "They were totally not a part of the route, and I don't know if he's pressing too hard with so much that's.... He wants to do so well and have such a great year. I'm sure he felt that we've got to press a little bit."

Despite the errant throws, Wallace still finished with 387 yards and four touchdowns. The 35-13 final score makes those interceptions almost completely forgettable but for the fact that we all know Ole Miss will face much tougher opponents than Boise State in the near future. Ole Miss won't beat SEC opponents on nights that Wallace throws three interceptions. No way. No how. The hope coming into this season was that Wallace had outgrown the bad decisions. Maybe he hasn't. Maybe he never will. Maybe Wallace is the Ole Miss version of Brett Favre, and maybe we just need to learn to take the good (4 touchdowns, 387 yards) with the bad, and hope the good wins in the end like it did Thursday night.

Bo is still a work in progress. Deal with it.

There was another glaring problem, too.

The offensive line didn't open up the running game (the Rebels had 97 yards rushing, averaging a paltry 2.1 yards per carry), and struggled with false start after false start after false start. Offensive line coach Matt Luke had to be pulling his hair out. The unit simply must get better for Ole Miss to have the kind of season it wants. Wallace will be a better quarterback if the Rebels can run the football. On Thursday night, the Rebels couldn't do it. That has to change, too.

Fortunately, talent was on the Rebels' side in this one, and that speed and size was eventually more than Boise State could overcome. Laquon Treadwell created breathing room with two big catches early in the 4th quarter. Freeze said it was the only time Ole Miss caught the Broncos in man coverage on Treadwell all night. That was a mistake. Treadwell absolutely out-muscled his coverage, manhandling his way to a 14-yard score that gave Ole Miss a 14-6 lead and a little breathing room with 12:26 to go. Treadwell, who finished with 7 receptions for 107 yards, looked so dominant on those two 4th quarter catches that it was almost as though he was willing the game away from Boise State all by himself.

And then, like a golden flash of lightning, Wallace struck with two more touchdown passes - the first a 31-yard pass to Quincy Adeboyejo, and the 2nd a 76-yard catch and scamper by Cody Core that put the game away.

Core, who finished the night with 2 touchdowns and 4 receptions for 110 yards, showed off some serious jets and made obvious the reason he somewhat surprisingly won the starting position at slot receiver. His 30-yard touchdown catch late in the 1st quarter is what gave the Rebels an early 7-point advantage. Freeze was proud of his new starter in the slot.

"So happy for him," Freeze said. "He's been through some tragedy, losing his mom, and going through that is difficult for a young man. I can only imagine. And to see him succeed... I'm really happy for him."

Credit the Ole Miss defense for preserving a lead with those first 7 points for the majority of the game. The Rebels grabbed four interceptions, recorded three sacks, and stopped Boise State in the red zone. They did it with great open field tackling and thunderous hitting. One hit in particular was too hard. Serderius Bryant was ejected in the 4th quarter for hitting too high. With Denzel Nkemdiche serving a one-game suspension on the bench the Rebels relied on walk-on linebacker Taylor Polk for large portions of the game. Cody Prewitt, Mike Hilton, Keith Lewis, Senquez Golson and Tony Conner all had highlight moments. As did Robert Nkemdiche, who disrupted Boise State's offense for much of the evening, just as we hoped he would.

All in all, the defense looked completely up to snuff. A good defense can take a team a long way.

But that Ole Miss offense... Are they the disaster you watched in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd quarter, or are they that super nova from the 4th?

We just don't know.

We do know that there's work to do. For now, Ole Miss is 1-0 with an extra-long week to prepare for Vanderbilt. The 35-13 final score really is all that matters.

What did you think?


The Hits

Watch Keith Lewis, Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner make the big hits.

Cody Prewitt Lays the Wood

Boom Goes Keith Lewis

Ole Miss vs. Boise State Pregame

We're about 75 minutes away from kickoff of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between Ole Miss and Boise State, and I've set up shop in my little assigned spot of the Georgia Dome. I just enjoyed a Chick-fil-A sandwich (what else, right?), and now I'm watching Texas A&M surprise South Carolina while a few Rebels and Broncos start their stretches out on the field. That's tiny Bo Wallace warming up at about the 40 yard line in the picture above. 

I've pre-gamed this thing to death, so I'm not about to do it again. You're probably tired of reading it, too. It's time to PLAY! In fact, that's what Hugh Freeze just told the guys at ESPN. He's ready to play, too. 

Please stop by the Message Board during the game, and especially post-game. A pregame thread is already up and going, and we'll launch an in-game thread a few minutes before kickoff. A Message Board is only as fun as the people who write on it, so please stop by and write your heart out. I want to hear from you!

I'll also be writing here on the blog during and after. Stop by often! 

Let's play ball!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ole Miss Braces for Boise State

ESPN, 7 P.M.

Expectations for the 18th ranked Ole Miss Rebels are just about as high as they have been in 40 years. In fact, this is only the 4th time since 1972 that the Rebels have entered the season with a preseason ranking. More than a few college football prognosticators have even called Ole Miss a dark horse candidate to win the vaunted SEC West. Put it this way, Rebel fans aren't driving to Atlanta. They're soaring. This is as good as it gets for Ole Miss in August. 

Enter the Boise State Broncos. The Mountain West school famous for its blue turf is no stranger to playing the spoiler. Ask Oklahoma, Oregon, Georgia and Virginia Tech. All were once trampled by the BCS-busting Broncos, and Boise State would like nothing more than to pop all the red and blue balloons and add Ole Miss to its list of season-wrecking victims. 

A loss to the Broncos would do exactly that. 

The preseason ranking would instantly disappear. ESPN's College Gameday would start looking for another place to set up shop on that weekend the Rebels host Alabama. Those dreams of Ole Miss making a Cinderella run through the SEC West would fade, too. After all, if the Rebels can't beat Boise State, how will they do against Alabama, Auburn and LSU?

Make no mistake. Beating Boise State is absolutely critical for Ole Miss to have what most would consider a successful season, and those are some high stakes for the very first game of the year on the big stage of ESPN.

Fortunately for Ole Miss the Broncos have one of the most inexperienced offensive lines in the country. Just two starters return from a unit that allowed 26 sacks in 2013. If the Rebel defensive line is as good as advertised, and Robert Nkemdiche, C.J. Johnson and Marquis Haynes are able to build 2nd homes in the Bronco backfield, that should spell certain doom for Boise State. 

Under new head coach Bryan Harsin, the Broncos will be led by running back Jay Ajayi, a 1,400-yard running back in 2013 with tremendous size and speed, but Ajayi will only rush as far as his offensive line allows. That's where Nkemdiche & Co. come into play. We'll know soon enough if the Ole Miss defensive front is what we think it is.

On the other side we'll be watching Bo Wallace and how he distributes the ball between Laquon Treadwell, Evan Engram, Vince Sanders and Cody Core. Wallace is no stranger to big games on big stages. With his experience and those receivers the Rebels should do just fine moving the football.....if...and you know what's coming next....if that offensive line can give Wallace the protection he needs and get the necessary push to create holes for running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. Wallace has always been at his best when Ole Miss is able to run the football. If Mathers and Walton have good nights, then expect Wallace to have an even better night. Look for him to go to Treadwell early and often.

Boise State's best corner is 5-9, 152-pound Donte Deayon. He's a Jim Thorpe Award candidate, but it's hard to imagine a guy that small being able to cover Treadwell.

If the offensive and defensive lines win their match-ups Ole Miss should return to Oxford 1-0, and against Boise State that shouldn't be too much to ask. 

One thing is certain - the time for speculation is over. The 2014 season is finally here. Are you ready? 

The Season: Episode 1 (2014)

Get the popcorn!

Wallace Bears Down on Senior Season

If there's one player I can't wait to see in action Thursday night, it's the new and improved Dr. Bo. All signs point to this being a great season for Wallace. He has two years of experience, is surrounded by dynamic play makers and he's finally healthy. I'm expecting big things from Wallace this year. Really big things.

"I like the demeanor he has right now," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I like the leadership he’s trying to show and the way he’s studying film. It’s his last chance and he has a chance to do something special, and when you talk about putting him in the arena of breaking records from a guy like Eli Manning that’s pretty lofty. He has those chances."

It's been an up and down ride for Wallace in his first two seasons at Ole Miss. Although he's set records, led the Rebels to consecutive winning seasons and two bowl games, there have also been the interceptions, the loss to Mississippi State and the shoulder injury that just wouldn't go away, but Freeze is right when he reminds people that there's no way Ole Miss goes to two bowls games without Bo Wallace.

Wallace played hurt for much of the 2012 season, had shoulder surgery immediately after the season and was forced to sit out the spring. He was never able to fully strengthen the shoulder for the 2013 season, and though Wallace still put up big numbers, his deteriorating arm strength hampered his play. But those days are finally in the rear view mirror. This off-season Wallace worked out, added a few pounds and even worked with throwing mechanics guru Tom House out in California. After all that Wallace entered August healthy for the first time since he was a junior college transfer competing with Barry Brunetti for the starting job, and all that work paid off.

"I have a lot more confidence this year because I feel like I have had a great camp," Wallace said. "Last year, I felt like I didn’t have a good camp at all. It took me two or three weeks to really get back in the groove of things. From day one, I felt good, and I still feel good. I’m excited about going out there and playing.”

Healthy shoulder aside, the end of Wallace's college career is now out over the horizon, and that knowledge has also been a powerful motivator. Wallace enters his senior season more focused than he's ever been.

"It’s crazy," Wallace said. "You see your last year coming and you see your goals that you want to accomplish. You kind of self-reflect and look at things in the past that may have held you back from those things. For me, it was self-reflection and looking at what I want to accomplish and what I want to be remembered for. There were some things that I needed to cut out and grow up with, and that’s what the difference has been.”

The record books will already remember Bo Wallace as a great Ole Miss quarterback, but this year Wallace has the chance to go down as one of the greatest. He even has a chance to surpass Eli Manning's in parts of the Ole Miss record books. Wallace acknowledges that those statistics are important to him, but there's one record in particular the golden haired Tennessean has his eye on. 

"One thing that no quarterback has ever done here is win an SEC Championship (Game)," Wallace said. "I want to be the first one to do that, and that’s the most important thing to me.”

That would be a big thing.