The arbitrary hand of NCAA injustice strikes again.
The farcical enforcement arm of the diminishingly relevant ruling body in collegiate athletics dropped the hammer on a player who had the audacity to admit accepting roughly $3,000 over two seasons for signing his name.
The operative phrase there should be “HIS NAME,” but oddly it's the word "ADMIT."
This indignation isn’t about Todd Gurley breaking a rule (not a law), however. The real problem is Gurley apparently made the grave mistake of acknowledging what he did. The NCAA couldn’t investigate its way out of a wet paper bag without a tip from a disgruntled memorabilia peddler and the complete cooperation of Gurley when asked about it. Had Georgia and Gurley just claimed innocence even in the face of substantial circumstantial evidence (see Florida State/Jameis Winston), the NCAA would have no disciplinary leg to stand on.
Let’s just consider the last three Heisman Trophy winners – Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Winston – who all were “investigated” for everything from massive recruiting violations to autograph peddling to sexual misconduct (some accrued more than one). All the resources for those three cases led to a cumulative suspension of precisely one half of a football game, and only because Texas A&M must have felt a wee bit chagrined at Manziel largely getting away with it all. Heck, Auburn’s Newton got suspended and reinstated on appeal in the same day, which beats the six days it took the NCAA to respond to Gurley’s reinstatement application (appeal still pending).
Gurley and Georgia, however, cooperated and told the truth, which according to the good-hearted NCAA bought them some “lenience.” Gurley is being “withheld” ONLY 30 percent of the season, which means he must sit out two additional games against Florida and Kentucky before being reinstated Nov. 14 in time for Auburn.
“Additional withholding was strongly considered because the violations occurred over multiple years with multiple individuals and the student received extensive rules education about the prohibition of receiving payment for autographs,” the NCAA wrote in its statement. “However, the university’s due diligence in its investigation and the student’s full disclosure of his involvement in the violations were factors in not imposing a more severe withholding condition.”
Well, isn’t that awfully generous of the kind folks in Indianapolis? All Gurley needs to do with his extended time off is repay a portion of that $3,000 to a charity of his choice and serve 40 hours of community service as conditions for his reinstatement.
That shouldn’t be too hard for a kid who grew up in a trailer park. I’m sure Gurley invested that $3,000 over the last two years into a nice mutual fund or passbook savings account. He can even keep whatever interest he made and even get a nice tax write-off for the charitable contribution. Win-win! (I’m sure as a good-faith gesture, the NCAA will kick in a little charitable contribution of its own for all the profits it receives off the blood, sweat and talent of student-athletes like Gurley.)
Of course, a savings plan would be the only way Gurley would still have the money since the NCAA doesn’t allow him to get a job to earn a little spending cash. Hey, it would be hard to fit the work in anyway with the 40 hours of community service and maximum of “20 hours” he’s allowed to practice per week along with the “student” portion of “student-athlete” the NCAA is always boasting about.
And perhaps now would also be a good time to point out that the NCAA and NFL have also conspired to deny Gurley – and anyone not at least three years out of high school – the right to pursue a career in the chosen field he is most suited to succeed in. Without that rule, Gurley could have already been making millions in the NFL this season instead of picking up scraps of cash for his signature while ensuring that his career longevity – already for running backs the lowest on average (2.56 years) in the NFL – will be at least a year shorter if not risking his health and employability altogether for no charge against the likes of Troy and Tennessee.
The hypocrisy of all this is laughable. Jameis Winston has way more curiously sequential authenticated autographs on the memorabilia market, but he and Florida State chose the deny, deny, deny route knowing full well the NCAA doesn’t have the power to prove the circumstantial evidence means anything. Winston and the Seminoles will keep right on playing into the playoffs. Sexual assault accusations and police probes into armed robbery drug deals can’t stop a Seminole from taking the field – especially if you have a baseball season where you can dole out suspensions for crimes like shoplifting so the most important player on your football team can have a clean slate before the season opener.
When asked about it, Gurley was honest and for that he’ll pay. What a strange moral to this story. He didn’t beat up or sexually assault anybody. He didn’t steal anything. He didn’t violate any laws. But for signing autographs and receiving some cash for it from dealers intent to profit from his stardom, it will cost Gurley four games and what was shaping up as a shoo-in campaign for the Heisman Trophy. It might cost Georgia a playoff berth.
Gurley did it. There’s no denying that. But the punishment doesn’t remotely fit the “crime.”
He broke a rule imposed by an organization that has been making money off of the talents of players like him for decades. College football and basketball rake in billions of dollars annually for the NCAA and member schools while the players literally had to plead to get full meal rations and sue for the rights of their own names and likenesses.
The system is untenable and crumbling before our eyes as the NCAA both legally and morally slips closer and close to irrelevance. The biggest schools might soon get rid of the governance altogether – just as soon as the NCAA figures out how many postseason games current North Carolina players should be suspended from because many of their predecessors didn’t actually have to be “students” for the last 18 years.
Thank goodness the NCAA can throw the rule book and make an example of one last “bad guy” like Gurley “caught” in its net. Because if Gurley didn’t sit out at least two more games, what kind of lesson would have been taught to all the other kids who now know better than to tell the truth or accept meager benefits without an untraceable drop box?
Case closed. Now please tune in Thursday night to see Winston and the Seminoles take on Louisville and support those broadcast sponsors.
ATHENS, Ga. — After 14 years of covering football in these parts, something new happened Tuesday.
The Georgia Bulldogs held their usual Florida-weeknews conference, and everywhere you turned there was not a single player who had lost to the Gators – including seniors.
With three consecutive victories in the heated rivalry, Georgia has turned the page on what had become about as welcome a ritual as an annual prostate exam. Prior to this class, Georgia had won only three times in the previous 21 seasons – covering most of these guys’ entire lives before reaching Athens.
In what has been dubbed the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, Bulldogs fans were typically drowning their sorrows every time they crossed the state line for the “neutral” site showdown in Jacksonville, Fla. Succeeding generations of Bulldogs players had to endure annual questions about the failures of their predecessors.
Now the Class of 2015 heads to the old Gator Bowl stadium as nearly two-touchdown favorites – and this is before they even know whether star tailback Todd Gurley will be eligible to play. The last Georgia class to sweep Florida included Herschel Walker (even though he left his classmates to fend for themselves in a 10-9 squeaker in 1983).
“It would mean a lot,” said senior receiver Michael Bennett when asked about leaving Georgia with a spotless record against not only Florida but Tennessee as well. “Not a lot of Bulldogs can say that they’ve done that. That doesn’t happen a lot as a player. That’s something that could be said about our recruiting class.”
The one person not getting too worked up about the reversal of the series trend is coach Mark Richt, who endured his share of barbs winning only twice in the preceding decade.
“I haven’t even mentioned a word to anybody other than ... focus on your job, take care of your business,” Richt said.
“I try not to make too big of a deal of it because, again, I think if the players are focusing on, ‘I hope we win’ and all that kind of stuff, that’s just not a healthy way to be. Or we ought to win. Whatever it is.”
As for how meaningful it might be to his senior class?
“Might be for them,” he said. “I haven’t asked them. I haven’t brought it up.”
That is the safest way to go into an emotional rivalry game that holds a lot more meaning for Georgia than beating a 3-3 Gator team with an embattled head coach. The Bulldogs are in the running for a spot in the first four-team college football playoff, and any loss the rest of the way diminishes that chance.
So Florida is a means to an end more than it is a singular achievement. In terms of rivalry games, it feels more like a Georgia Tech game when the only thing the Bulldogs are really eyeing is the Southeastern Conference championship game a week later.
“It’s fun, but we have bigger goals than that,” senior linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “That’s just one of them. To accomplish our goal, we’ve got to beat them this week. Then we will have four, hopefully.”
The thing that makes this game especially dangerous is the desperation factor on the other side. If you watched South Carolina take on Auburn as a three-touchdown underdog last week, you have an idea of what Georgia is facing. Steve Spurrier, with three SEC losses already mucking up the Gamecocks’ hopes, went for broke against the reigning SEC champs and threw the kitchen sink playbook at the Tigers – fourth-down gambles, early onside kicks, some play-calling trickery. It almost worked as South Carolina pushed Auburn right to the last play in a 45-38 loss. Spurrier even promised he would have gone for two points instead of the tie if the final Hail Mary pass had succeeded.
Spurrier didn’t have his job on the line. Imagine what Florida coach Will Muschamp might be willing to try to avoid going 0-4 against Georgia. Born in Georgia, raised in Gainesville, schooled atGeorgia (where he went 0-4 against the Gators), Muschamp is only one nail away from a pink slip and the Bulldogs are holding the hammer.
“I won’t say save my job, but it would certainly help our situation,” Muschamp told The Orlando Sentinel. “I’m not going to put everything on one game, but it’s obviously a huge game for us.”
With true freshman Treon Harris – who led a Gator rally to beat Tennessee – getting his first start, Muschamp is already rolling the dice. He’s had two weeks to fashion a gameplan to play spoiler in the SEC East and not own a fate worse than Ron Zook – to never beat the Bulldogs.
“We go into every game expecting a fake punt, a surprise onside kick, trick plays, whatever you might want to say,” Richt said. “I mean, we can’t control whether a coach decides to go for it on fourth down or not. ... We look at our film and try to say, ‘If we were playing us, what would we try to do to catch us off guard?’ We try to do that every week.”
That’s the kind of thing – meshed with a little overconfidence – that draws Georgia into the perfect trap game.
“When you get complacent is when you get beat,” senior quarterback Hutson Mason said. “We have to eliminate that mindset.”
For the first time in 25 years, avoiding complacency and overconfidence are things Georgia actually needs to worry about when in comes to Florida. Who says you can’t teach old Dogs new tricks?
Considering football players are the modern-day gladiators, risking extended life and limb for our amusement, the famous Russell Crowe line from Gladiator seems appropriate at this stage of the playoff era.
Are you not entertained?
There are still six Saturdays to go before the first-ever four team playoff teams are unveiled, and there’s is no way you can possibly predict where this is heading. The possibilities are so vast and varied you could reasonably make an argument for about 15 candidates – and that’s not including non-Power 5 hopeless causes East Carolina and Marshall.
Seriously, as insufficient as the limited four-team field is, it’s already way better than the old system. The possibilities are so delicious, there’s no explanation for why they waited so long to punt the bowls and the BCS as ways of determining “champions.”
If we took the current landscape on a trip in the way-back machine all the way to late October 2013, most of the drama of this football season would be over. The BCS would already be largely locked up. We’d be waiting to see which Southeastern Conference team would prevail to take on Florida State – with its relatively weak remaining schedule – in the “title” game.
As it stands now with the first four-team playoff looming, there is no telling how this thing shakes out. The safest bet is on the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Seminoles landing one of the four spots. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.
Will Oregon make it back up the rankings ladder or yield to the Pac-12 depth? Will Michigan State, Ohio State or Nebraska give the once left-for-dead Big Ten a berth? Does a one-loss Notre Dame crash the party? Can Texas Christian, Kansas State or Baylor win out and elevate the Big 12 into the argument? Could there be two SEC reps – and if so, which two?
There’s even this intriguing possibility that seems almost ludicrous at the moment to even mention – could the mighty SEC be shut out of the four-team show?
That’s right, the conference that came within seconds of winning the past eight consecutive BCS titles isn’t the sure thing we all assume. Despite entering Week 9 with four of the top five and five of the top nine teams in the rankings all hailing from the SEC, the very real possibility looms that the sheer strength of the SEC teams could cannibalize each other to the point that NONE of them gets invited by the selection committee.
Before you laugh off that scenario, hear me out. Because it’s way more possible than you’d think.
No. 1 Mississippi State still has to play No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 4 Alabama.
Ole Miss, if it survived Louisiana State in Death Valley on Saturday night, has the Egg Bowl and No. 5 Auburn on the remaining schedule.
Alabama and Auburn – already with one loss each to Mississippi teams – have their Iron Bowl plus the alternate Mississippi team left to face. Auburn also has a road date at No. 9 Georgia while Alabama has to go through LSU.
It’s not out of the question that any SEC team to reach the championship game will already have at least two losses. If Georgia should lose to Auburn but beat the SEC West representative in Atlanta, the Armageddon scenario kicks in.
Would the selection committee with an unbeaten Florida State already in its pocket bypass a potential block of one-loss Power 5 teams like Oregon, Michigan State, Notre Dame and TCU to take a two- or three-loss SEC champion or a two-loss team that didn’t even win its division?
You have to admit the possibilities are intriguing. And it makes the season that much more compelling. The only people who might not be enjoying it are the folks charged with narrowing down the final field to four.
There was so much teeth gnashing from the pro-BCS crowd that creating a playoff would “kill” the bowls and “diminish” the regular season. As expected, those fears were utterly unfounded.
Most programs like South Carolina, Clemson and Georgia Tech are still playing for various levels of bowl prestige just as they would have been with multiple losses in any other season. That carrot exists as it always has – perhaps even more so with more respected bowls available as consolation prizes for playoff outsiders.
But a few programs like Georgia – despite a loss to the Gamecocks and the suspension of Todd Gurley – are very much alive. The old system would have excluded many of the teams still in the conversation over single losses.
In a sport such as football – which with any luck will grow more balanced and competitive as the playoff era grows – “undefeated” is a standard that is unreasonable, especially when trying to compare teams and conferences with such varying schedules. Only once in NFL history has a Super Bowl champion finished a season undefeated. Why is that expected of “worthy” collegiate champions?
Turns out college football is more exciting than ever with the simple concept of inclusion.
Are we not entertained? Is that not why we came to watch college football?
Like Russell Crowe, now would be the moment BCS haters would drop the football and walk out to chants of “Playoff! Playoff!”
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — The best moment of Ben Martin’s career started in the worst kind of way – but “Worst to First” is a slogan any PGA Tour pro can live with.
“It’s only two weeks into the season, so I don’t really know if I’m playing well or not because I finished last the first week and won the second week,” said Martin, a Greenwood, S.C., native and former Clemson star. “So we’ll see what happens the third week. Obviously I’m trending in the right direction.”
Martin wasn’t really dead last in the wraparound season-opening event in California. He did beat David Carr by two shots to finish 142nd of the 143 players to complete two rounds. But with scores of 78-79, it’s hard to see anything positive.
But whatever residue of that performance didn’t linger when he teed it up in Las Vegas last week. Martin shot rounds of 68-66-62-68 to finish 20-under par and win his first PGA Tour event by two strokes over Kevin Streelman.
Even better, he finished with an eagle and two birdies on the last four holes to close it out.
“I tell myself, I’m a finisher,” Martin said. “You’ve got to be a finisher if you want to win golf tournaments, and that’s what happened. ... I finished the way that I always think that I can.”
The victory means Martin knows where he’ll be playing until the end of 2017, with the two-year exemption tacked onto the balance of the 2014-15 season. It has also changed the class dynamic of his Thursdays and Fridays, putting him in a grouping with tournament host Davis Love III and defending champion Chris Kirk at this week’s McGladrey Classic at Sea Island.
But one week in particular stands out on Martin’s calendar – the second week in April. Growing up less than 60 miles from Augusta National in Greenwood, the Masters Tournament has been the carrot Martin has chased since he started playing golf. He attended every Masters on his grandfather’s badges from when he was 8 in 1995 through his graduation from Greenwood High School. He reached the 2010 Masters as a U.S. Amateur runner-up in 2009, but now he gets to go back as a professional.
“Playing the 2010 Masters was ... I mean, that’s about as good as it gets for somebody that grew up that close to Augusta and going to the tournament,” Martin said. “Staying in the Crow’s Nest, all the perks of being an amateur that you really don’t get to experience as a pro. I’m excited to see the differences.”
The biggest difference will be Martin’s confidence level, which has never been lacking.
After an All-America career at Clemson, he earned his PGA Tour card in his first shot with a runner-up at Q-School in 2010. But he missed more cuts than he made as a rookie and fell back to the Web.com Tour in 2012 and ’13. He set very specific goals to make it back to the top level and hit the marks.
“My (2013) season on the Web.com, I had a goal to win twice and get my PGA Tour card, and I won twice and did that,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Hey, that was a good goal. I’ll do that on the PGA Tour.’”
He quickly found out that’s easier said than done. Midway through last season, he readjusted his expectations and turned his trajectory around. He had third-place finishes in Puerto Rico, Harbour Town and Congressional and reached the second leg of the PGA Tour’s playoffs.
“Even though I had a good season, I still came up short of what I wanted to do, so I was kind of having a bad taste in my mouth at the end of last year and certainly motivation going into this year,” Martin said.
Martin certainly was refreshed. He played only the British Open, PGA Championship and the first two playoff events from mid-July to early October. The light schedule, including a five-week break, might explain his less than auspicious start at the Frys.com Open.
“I want to be relaxed,” he said. “I was playing at home with my buddies, and I think I took that same kind of energy level to the PGA Tour. And it didn’t really translate well for me. ... I’m going to turn up the energy level and really focus on this week.”
It worked and now Martin will get to come “home” to Augusta with a winner’s mindset.
“I’ll know the guys better that I’m competing against,” he said of improving on his 75-80 the first time at the Masters. “Any time you get to play at Augusta, you’re looking forward to the next time you get to go. I’d love to win that one one day and get to go every year.”
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — Temperatures every day in the low- to mid-70s. Abundant sunshine. Spanish moss draped in the trees barely rustling in the gentle breezes coming from the mouth of Saint Simons Sound.
In short, late October is proving to be an idyllic setting for the PGA Tour’s McGladrey Classic.
“Fall works well for us,” said Scott Steilen, president of Sea Island where the fall event is played on the resort’s Seaside Course. “Sea Island shows itself well in the fall.”
What started out as a stepchild “Fall Series” event five years ago has grown into a welcome fixture on the front end of the PGA Tour’s new wrap-around schedule. Last year’s winner, Chris Kirk, went on to finish runner-up in the season-long FedEx Cup standings. Most importantly, he earned an invitation to the Masters Tournament, which only recognizes winners of tour events in full standing.
Whatever “regular-season” envy tournament host Davis Love III and his associates might have had when they started this thing has dissipated as the benefits of a date on the fall schedule start to grow.
“I think we have kind of embraced it,” said Mark Love, Davis’ brother and the executive director of the McGladrey Classic. “We’ve kind of bounced around a bit. We look forward to a little more consistency.”
The McGladrey has never been played on the same dates twice. The first one ended on Oct. 10, 2010. Then it moved a week later in 2011. Then a week later in 2012, the weekend before the Georgia-Florida game brings flocks of Bulldogs to St. Simons Island. Last year, they tried the week after the “World’s Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” finishing on Nov. 10.
There was once talk of Sea Island pushing to become the decompression event after the nearby Players Championship in May, filling the same family getaway role that Hilton Head Island offers the week after the Masters. But tournament officials seem less inclined to push for that kind of move that requires a greater financial commitment, preferring the boutique atmosphere that seems suited to the Golden Isles in the fall.
The exposure from being on the Golf Channel essentially provides 10 days (including the replay) of commercial for the resort and community, where Davis Love III grew up, lives and bases his foundation that benefits from the tournament profits.
“I like being in the fall,” Davis Love III said. “I don’t know if we can get that much better by spending that much more money to be in the spring.”
The fledgling “wrap-around” season, however, is not without growing pains. Most of the game’s headliners play in the high-dollar events coming up the next two weeks in Asia, leaving the McGladrey to live with the rank-and-file tour pros mixed with a few high-end local talents like Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
Its strength of field, while improving each year, only ranked better than eight other PGA Tour events in the 2013-14 season.
“The first year was too new and guys were scrambling to figure it out and we really didn’t see an impact,” said Scott Reid, the tournament director, on how being part of the wrap-around season affected attendance. “But I think that we will (get stronger) over the next two or three years.”
The volatility of the fall schedule isn’t likely to change soon, as the PGA Tour goes through some trial and error to get it aligned. Rumor has it that the McGladrey will see its most significant change yet next year, with a date finishing the weekend before Thanksgiving. There’s talk of expanding the field from 132 to 156 players and using the adjacent Plantation as a second course to accommodate the larger split field the first two rounds with the shorter daylight hours available.
“We don’t want to compete with or be up against those Asia events,” Davis Love III said. “We gained the stature that we can control and boss our way into the dates we want a little bit better.”
How that will effect the quality of the field is another unknown factor. What it will present in weather, however, is better known – the average temperature is almost 10 degrees cooler and the risk of inclement weather greater.
Who knows how it will shake out? With an engaged sponsor, respected course and host Love’s commitment to keeping the tournament in his home that has grown as a refuge for a growing number of PGA Tour pros, the McGladrey has a strong chance of surviving where in-state predecessors at Callaway Gardens and TPC Sugarloaf fell off the calendar.
“I think it only gets better,” said Bill Gorman, the regional managing partner for McGladrey,
The PGA of America put together an 11-man task force this week, tasked with fixing what ails the Americans in the Ryder Cup.
Despite not being asked to join the conversation, here’s a few suggestions for what could help the U.S. side bring a little more balance to the biennial proceedings.
Some of these ideas may be a little more ambitious than they want to consider, but after losing threein a row, eight of the past 10, and 11 of the most recent 15 Ryder Cups to the European Tour, perhaps radical is the way to go to turn this battleship around.
Ideally, the task force will cover a five-pronged approach, addressing captain arrangements, player selection and development, schedule and cooperation with the PGA Tour. While that last bit might sound far-fetched for two entities that split apart almost half a century ago, a little cooperative spirit could be paramount to the success of whatever improvements are presented.
The PGA Tour is the entity that develops and produces the players who make up the United States team (and half the European team, for that matter). And the Ryder Cup currently falls right after a very busy time on the tour calendar.
The PGA Tour also runs that other Ryder Cup-style event every other year – the Presidents Cup, when the U.S. takes on the rest of the world (oddly with much better success). A little cooperation could be a great benefit to both events while developing players and captains more proficient in team match-play formats.
So the first thing the PGA Tour and PGA of America need to do is talk about the schedule. From the British Open in July to through the Tour Championship, the calendar for the elite golfers is very congested. If players don’t skip any of the FedEx Cup playoff events and participate in two majors and a WGC event during that stretch, that means playing at least seven tournaments in roughly nine to 10 weeks before heading off to the Ryder Cup.
Switching the order up could alleviate two problems. If the Ryder Cup were moved before the FedEx Cup series, it would give the PGA Tour more breathing room to complete its playoffs without having to condense it into such a short span. Staging the Ryder Cup (and in other seasons the Presidents Cup) around Labor Day weekend, it would make the PGA Championship the perfect deadline for determining the entire U.S. team. End the points qualifying at the conclusion of the PGA and announce the captain’s picks the next day.
Then have a two-week cushion of regular PGA Tour events before the Ryder Cup, which would be played during more ideal weather seasons on either side of the Atlantic. Play the regular season finale the week after the Ryder Cup and commence the playoffs after that. A mid- to late-October finish wouldn’t conflict with football season any more than the current schedule already does in September. It could also allow a couple of the current fall starter events such as this week’s McGladrey Classic at Sea Island to move into more prominent slots in late August or September.
If they decide not to jigger the schedule, the qualifying deadlines for players must be adjusted. As much as the PGA of America wants its major championship to be the finishing line, setting the lineup six or seven weeks before the Ryder Cup makes it impossible to get the hottest players. This year’s U.S. team could have desperately used FedEx Cup series stars Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk. An extension of the captain’s picks through the Tour Championship is essential to ensure getting the best representative roster. Bring a tailor to East Lake for any last-minute uniform fittings.
That brings us to the captaincy, which has become a thorny issue after some public infighting regarding Tom Watson’s leadership in Scotland in September.
The U.S. model of generally rotating former major winners into the largely honorary role has proven ineffective. The Europeans have established a more cohesive line of ascension that has maintained a relative consistency from team to team (with the large exception of “useless” Nick Faldo in 2008).
It’s time the Americans stole a page from USA Basketball and established a long-range coaching plan. That doesn’t mean Team USA should bring in Georgia coach Chris Haack to try to be the next Mike Krzyzewski. It means establishing a system that doesn’t change wholesale every two years.
My suggestion would be the creating a four-year plan that would establish co-captains who would handle both the Ryder and Presidents Cups. One captain can take the “lead” role at each event, splitting them over four seasons. But they would continually work together and build a base of assistant captains poised to take the reins at the end of the four-year run.
They could do worse for the initial co-captains than Paul Azinger and Fred Couples, starting in 2016. Each has led winning teams before and bring different strengths to the table – Azinger’s intense organizational skills with Couples’ laid-back rapport with the players.
For assistants, a crew that includes guys like Steve Stricker, Scott Verplank, Jim Furyk and even recent past captains like Davis Love III, Tom Lehman and 2015 Presidents Cup captain Jay Haas could create a lineage that would bring consistency for the foreseeable future. There’s no need to let past captains disappear after their reign ends.
The last piece is development – something that will help hone the partnership skills desperately needed to ensure better success in rarely used formats like alternate shot. Create a new offseason event – preferably rotating through upcoming U.S. venues like Hazeltine, Liberty National, Whistling Straits and Harding Park – where both captains would lead teams of aspiring American players against each other to get them used to the formats and potential partners.
The Ryder Cup isn’t broken by any means. It remains one of golf’s most riveting events. All this “task force” needs to do is inject a little more procedural professionalism into it to enhance the bottom line of being more consistently prepared and competitive.
ATHENS, Ga. — Among the many nicknames teammates have tagged Brendan Douglas with over the past two seasons is “Buzz Lightyear.”
Anyone who knows the sturdy Toy Story hero realizes Buzz Lightyear can’t really fly.
Until last Saturday.
Douglas – the sophomore Georgia tailback from Aquinas – got airborne in a somersaulting touchdown dive that was impressive enough to earn the top play of the week in several college football highlight packages and numerous Internet GIFs.
“I didn’t think it was that crazy until I saw the video,” Douglas said of his heels-over-head 15-yard touchdown sweep in Georgia’s 34-0 win at Missouri. “I got back to the lockerroom and looked at my phone and somebody had a picture of me and I was upside down.”
His teammates kept talking about it for days, especially with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo repeatedly cueing it up in game-film reviews.
“That one where he swept and jumped over the pile, that was really cool,” offensive guard Greg Pyke said. “I saw that out of the corner of my eye. … He got pretty far up there.”
“I saw him flip and after he landed I thought, ‘Did he hold onto the ball?’” quarterback Hutson Mason said. “That’s all I really wanted to know. Saw some pretty cool pictures after that. ... It would have been really sweet if he would have landed it.”
Ball control was the thing that most impressed coach Mark Richt.
“As he was running towards the end zone I was kind of hoping he’d get airborne, but when you go airborne a lot of times that ball comes out away from your body,” Richt said. “If you notice he kept that thing tucked the whole time which I was most proud of – his ball security through it all.”
Douglas – who had costly fumbles against Missouri and Vanderbilt the year before – was keenly aware of maintaining control as well.
“That’s another thing I was thinking in the air: ‘This might turn out bad but I’m gonna hold onto the ball,’” he said.
It’s fitting that Douglas’ nicknames (“Thor” is another) tend to be superhero oriented, because for the second consecutive season he’s been summoned to help rescue the Bulldogs. And once again he’ll be joined by his trusty sophomore sidekick, J.J. Green, who got recalled out of the secondary to supply Georgia with desperately needed tailback depth.
For a player who fell to fifth on a loaded rushing depth chart, Douglas has the faith of his teammates.
“It was good that he was able to come back and play for us,” offensive lineman Kolton Houston said. “We counted on him a lot last year, so we’re counting on him right now, too.”
For Douglas, this is nothing new. He played in 12 games as a true freshman, but carried the bulk of the load during a midseason stretch when injuries sidelined Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. He led the team in rushes or rushing yards three times against Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Now with Gurley suspended indefinitely and Marshall ailing again along with freshman Sony Michel, Douglas is thrust into the rescue role again behind freshman Nick Chubb. Against Missouri, Douglas rushed 13 times for 65 yards with that 15-yard touchdown flip the highlight.
“It definitely helps to have that confidence from last year getting over that adversity to this year’s adversity,” Douglas said. “We had a lot of adversity last week and a lot of leaders stepped up. Coaches do a great job of making sure you practice every day as if you’re the starter and keep working. Running back is a position where you can lose depth really fast and that’s kind of what happened and my opportunity came.”
What teammates like most about Douglas is his unfailing thirst for contact. Built like a fire hydrant, he can take a pounding and unlike some of his teammates remain relatively unscathed. That toughness will come in handy against an Arkansas team that will be more physical than Missouri.
“I think Douglas just loves to hit people,” Pyke said. “He puts down his shoulder and gets those extra yards.”
Douglas doesn’t dispute that: “I definitely like contact. Being an SEC running back, you’ve kind of got to enjoy because there’s a lot.”
But his “Buzz Lightyear” moment last Saturday proved there’s more to Douglas than meets the eye.
“Brendan’s a good athlete,” Richt said. “If you just get him in shorts and a T-shirt and just say let’s run a 40, or do agility drills, or other athletic things, or just get him in the weight room where he’s very strong, you’ll see he’s a very good athlete who knows what he’s doing. He’s tough and he’s probably a better athlete than people want to give him credit for.”
That athlete’s instinct took over when he swept outside a wall of blockers and was left with one Missouri defender to beat at the goal line.
“Brendan usually would just run that guy over,” Houston said. “So we try to give him (grief) about trying to get some publicity.”
Douglas said going airborne was just a spontaneous response.
“It was just kind of instinct – I thought he was going to go a lot lower than he did and thought I was going to clear him,” he said.
The defender tried to lift back up, catching Douglas in-air and sending him flipping into the end zone.
“I think that guy kind of helped me out a little bit – gave me a little push up so it looked like I got a lot higher than I did,” Douglas said. “It was fun for sure. ... That was like slow motion, too. It was like I was in the air for 10 seconds.”
The Wright Brothers’ first flight only lasted 12 seconds at Kitty Hawk but proved enduring. Thankfully for Douglas, “Buzz” is a much cooler nickname to have stick than Wilbur or Orville.
ATHENS, Ga. — Mark Richt addressed the media for 25 minutes Tuesday – discussing everything from the size of Arkansas’ offensive linemen to his preferred location for an indoor practice facility – but there was only one question that anyone wanted to hear answered.
Does he expect Todd Gurley to play again for Georgia this season?
“I’ll answer that like I’ve been answering any Gurley questions and that’s to say I really don’t know,” Richt said. “I don’t know the answer to that.”
That’s not a very satisfying or encouraging response.
Gurley is practicing and taking reps with his team even as the Gurley-gate autograph fiasco enters its second game week with the status of the best player on college football still in limbo. How soon the NCAA will wrap up its investigation is unknown, but it has the familiar sheen of the A.J. Green saga in 2010 – where the NCAA managed to drag out that appeal process regarding a sold Independence Bowl jersey for four weeks. That just happened to coincide with the length of Green’s suspension.
“If there’s something worthy of reporting we’ll report it, but other than that, we’re just focusing on things that we can control right now,” Richt said.
Richt and Georgia are being cautious to the point that you figure that whatever smoking guns necessary to punish Gurley must be available. It’s a stark contrast to the aggressive stance Florida State is taking in backing up Jameis Winston despite its own investigation into a compromising dearth of authenticated bulk autographs of his own. The Seminoles are going with the don’t admit anything plan that usually works if some vindictive memorabilia snitch doesn’t turn over evidence on a laminated platter.
So we can expect that Gurley will be suspended at some point by the NCAA. The only question is – for how long?
This is not an issue the NCAA really wants to get too deep into. The footing is murky.
In the wake of the lost Ed O’Bannon case that declared the NCAA violated antitrust laws by preventing athletes from being paid for the use of their names, images and likenesses, the future of pure “amateurism” in collegiate athletics is dead.
That ruling, however, does not prevent the NCAA from creating rules that prohibit athletes from going rogue and selling their names on their own. So the rules and outline of penalties concerning players who profit off the sale of autographs remain in place.
But for how long? Gurley could be like the unfortunate soldiers who get killed in the waning hours before the terms of the armistice become official. Trust funds and stipends are all items on the pending agenda for revised legislation, but none of that helps Georgia and Gurley right now.
“It’s a completely dumb rule,” said Jay Rome, Georgia’s junior tight end. “Completely dumb. And there hasn’t been a single ounce of negative thoughts towards Todd at all. Everybody’s behind him 120 percent.”
Richt has thoughts on the subject of athletes receiving benefits, but in light of the current situation he chose not to share them Tuesday.
“I’m not going to get into all of that right now,” he said. “It would obviously be tied into what we’re living through right now. If you had have asked me two weeks ago I’d have probably answered that one, but I’m just trying to focus on trying to beat Arkansas. That’s really the only thing I can control right now.”
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has been an advocate of players receiving some kind of stipend for their efforts, but Gurley bypassing the NCAA rulebook isn’t part of the plan.
“We all know the rules,” Spurrier said Tuesday. “I guess what happened with Johnny Manziel, these guys think the worst I’m going to get is half a game (suspension). Whatever happens we’ll have to wait and see.”
Georgia’s best hope of ever seeing Gurley suit up on Saturday again may rest in the insecurity of the NCAA on this touchy subject. A U.S. District Court and the court of public opinion have already proven that the governors of collegiate sports are standing on some hypocritical legs, so some kind of audible for more lenient terms against Gurley could be in order. The last thing college football wants is for investigations against all of its highest profile players who have autographs on eBay to take away from the second half of the season.
Meanwhile, Georgia has to move on with Nick Chubb and Brendan Douglas as its featured tailbacks. The pair fared well against Missouri, combining for 208 yards and two touchdowns on 51 carries between them in a 34-0 romp.
With Keith Marshall and Sony Michel injured, Gurley is currently nothing more than an able body in practice.
“We don’t have a lot of healthy backs, quite frankly, so he got some reps,” Richt said of practicing his indefinitely suspended headliner. “As we get closer to the game I’m not sure how that’ll go but it’s kind of more day to day. We’re just figuring it out as we go.”
The Bulldogs felt they had something to prove last week without Gurley, and did so admirably. They will need to rally around the cause again on the road Saturday at Arkansas, which figures to be even tougher than Missouri despite having lost 15 consecutive conference games living in the rugged SEC West.
“We are not a one-man team, so we had a chip on our shoulder,” Rome said of the Mizzou game. “We’re going to play for Georgia and we’re going to play for Todd.”
Whether or not they ever play again WITH Todd is the one question without a good answer.
CLEMSON, S.C. — A packed house came to see the “future face of the sport” take on the nation’s No. 1 defense in Death Valley. What they saw instead was an mutual offensive horror show 20 days before Halloween.
Clemson lost its brilliant freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson to a broken finger 11 snaps into the first quarter Saturday. So the Tigers had to resort to Plan B, which was to out-defense the Cardinals in a 23-17 win that is sure to give Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris hives.
Clemson defensive tackle DeShawn Williams swatted down Louisville’s fourth-down pass at the goal-line in the waning seconds to salvage what could have been a miserable afternoon for the Tigers. Fitting that it ended with a last moment of offensive futility for two teams that combined to reach the 1-yard line three times without anyone scoring a touchdown.
The Tigers and Cardinals couldn’t muster a combined 500 yards between them and went a collective 3-for-33 converting third downs and 0-for-3 on fourth downs.
But credit should go to Clemson backup Cole Stoudt, who lost his starting job to Watson and didn’t take a practice snap all week due to a sprained shoulder. Yet he stepped in to muster just enough offense to set up three second-half field goals that proved just enough.
“Instead of pouting, crying and going home after losing his starting job, he chose to have a good attitude and go back to work,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “It seemed like the air went out on us when we lost Deshaun, but Cole went in and picked us up.”
Frankly, the game was so much worse than the final score and closing drama. Clemson led 14-10 late in the first half despite eight total yards and one first down thanks to touchdowns on a punt and fumble return. The Tigers failed to score an offensive touchdown despite twice reaching the 1-yard line on their last drive of each half.
Ahead 17-10 with 6:40 left in the third quarter, the Tigers also faced fourth down-and-an-inch at its own 40-yard line. To that point, neither team had gained 100 yards and were a combined 0-for-21 in converting third downs.
But instead of punting deep and challenging Louisville to essentially double its offensive output to tie the game, Swinney opted to go for it on fourth down. And as Clemson did twice with inches at stake against Florida State, the Tigers set up in shotgun formation. So instead of the 6-foot-5 Stoudt seeing if he could make an inch from under center, he was stuffed a good yard short after covering the 5-yard gap after the snap.
Louisville capitalized on the short field to tie the game five plays later, but Stoudt and Clemson mustered up two field goals to regain the lead. The second came with 1:24 remaining after failing to punch it in after a long march that got to second-and-goal inside the 1.
With the way Louisville’s offense was working against Clemson’s defense, it didn’t seem like a huge problem. Louisville needed to cover 81 yards in the final 1:20, a task that was made much easier after the Cardinals went 73 yards after a mistackled sideline pass on the first play to the Clemson 8.
One play later they were at the Tigers’ 1 with just under a minute left. Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino elected to run some clock and then his running back got stuffed for a yard loss. At that point the Cardinals kind of panicked, spiking the ball on third down to stop the clock with 27 seconds left and leaving only once chance to win or lose.
Of course the defense won the winner-take-all play. And by a guy named DeShawn, after all.
“They’ve got the ball on the 1-yard-line and three cracks at it, so you find out man-on-man who’s who,” said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who considered a game-winning goal-line stand more satisfying than last week’s shutout. “I guess we found out.”
Said Swinney: “We won the game with defense and special teams and juuuuust enough offense to get it done.”
Of course, this was not at all how this game was expected to unfold. This was supposed to be an opportunity to see how the other Deshaun – Watson – could handle a defense tougher than any he’s seen in his life. On Saturday morning, the experts on ESPN’s College Gameday were singing the praises of the true freshman phenom from Gainesville, Ga.
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit – a former quarterback at Ohio State – called Watson the “future face of the sport. He’s going to be the ambassador for the next two years, maybe three years, for college football.”
Desmond Howard, a former Heisman Trophy winning receiver at Michigan, stated that Watson has “a bigger upside” than the two redshirt freshman quarterbacks who won the last two Heismans – Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston.
High praise for a 19-year-old with only two starts under his belt. But even though he only took over the reins late in the first quarter against Florida State, Watson came into Saturday with more than 1,200 passing yards and the nation’s second-best passer efficiency rating.
So the top-ranked defense of the Cardinals promised to be a perfect measuring stick for Watson. He never really had a chance, however, finishing 2-for-6 passing with an interception and negative-5 yards.
On Clemson’s second possession, Watson hurled a perfect strike 50 yards in the air to a wide-open Germone Hopper in stride for what should have been an 82-yard touchdown connection. Hopper, however, dropped the ball that hit him in both hands.
On his third possession, Watson stepped away from a sack but lobbed a soft pass that was picked off at the 25 by Louisville, to set up a Cardinals field goal.
Then on his fourth possession, Watson started with a 9-yard quarterback draw that looked harmless. But as he ran out of bounds, Watson stiff-armed a Louisville defender with his right hand before falling down on the same hand. Two plays later he left the field pointing at a finger on his right throwing hand and went the to locker room. X-rays revealed a broken index finger and Watson’s day and the next three or four Saturdays were done.
“At his position he’ll be out a few weeks,” Swinney said of the future face of his team.
Now Clemson’s present is back in the hands of Stoudt.
“I honestly believed there would be a time when my opportunity would come back up again,” Stoudt said. “It did and I was ready for it. ... It wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to win.”
ATHENS, Ga. — The whole thing stinks – and nobody wins.
Todd Gurley’s brilliant collegiate career may have come to a premature end because a memorabilia dealer with an alternate agenda profited off the running back’s signature with one hand and tore him down with the other.
Gurley was suspended indefinitely by Georgia on Thursday and didn’t travel with the team Friday to Missouri. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution cited a source saying the star tailback is likely to miss the remainder of the season.
It’s all very disappointing and unnecessary.
It must be noted right up front that this is entirely Gurley’s fault: not Georgia’s; not Mark Richt’s; not the NCAA’s; and not Bryan Allen’s – the memorabilia rat who offered up the story to any media outlet that would listen (and possibly pay) for his incriminating info. Allen turned out to be the first person in the nation who could stop the Gurley Heisman Trophy express.
The blame for this unfortunate situation rests on Gurley. He knew better (or should have) than to knowingly violate a pretty high-profile NCAA rule no matter how irrational the rule is. And he should have known better than to trust the kind of people who ply the bowels of memorabilia trade.
That said, the real victims in all of this mess are Gurley’s teammates and coaches, along with Bulldogs and college football fans. If reports of his season being finished are accurate, Gurley gets to rest up his intact body for the next seven months before an NFL team will open the vault to make him a lot more than the $400 his tattle-teller allegedly paid him for 80 autographs. His value without the added wear-and-tear might be even greater once the NFL Draft arrives.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have a promising season to finish, starting in Missouri at noon. The odds of achieving anything special just got longer, which is a shame for both the
players and fans. And college football enthusiasts across the nation are deprived of watching a rare talent in action.
Sadly, the list of losers in this saga is a long one. Nobody is getting painted with glory here.
Let’s start with Gurley, who was the leading Heisman Trophy candidate averaging 8.2 yards per carry through five games. He loses the opportunity to win one of sports’ most cherished honors, and his Bulldog legacy is forever tarnished. His name could have resided next to Herschel Walker among the Georgia immortals. Now he’ll likely be just another talented ex-Bulldog who left a legion of fans hungry for more.
Second is coach Richt, whose critics have another stone in the arsenal that he and his program don’t have control of players who keep resorting to various levels of wrong-doing. It’s an unfair assessment, but it resonates nonetheless as one of the few coaches in college sports who actually punishes his players bears the brunt of the blame for meting it out.
Third are the fans, who haven’t exactly brought honor on themselves with gross overreactions. Their disappointment – and even anger – is reasonable, but it is diminished with ill-conceived “Free Gurley” candlelight vigils and petitions for a White House pardon. That makes everyone look foolish.
Fourth is the low-life who basically entrapped Gurley. You don’t hear many stories of drug dealers calling the police on their customers, so a memorabilia dealer who turns in the guy who provides the value in his merchandise doesn’t seem like the sharpest businessman. My guess is Gurley-signed eBay items weren’t on the top of Allen’s agenda. And why exactly did he need to hire a high-dollar criminal defense attorney?
Fifth – and most notably – is the NCAA, which once again shoots itself in the foot with an untenable standard of compliance in its hypocritical house of cards. The organization that recently lost in court over profiting on the labor and likeness of athletes who are forbidden to profit themselves gets another black eye.
What Gurley – and before him Johnny Manziel, A.J. Green and thousands of other guys – did should (and will soon) be legal. It’s his name and likeness. His sweat equity. He should be able to reap whatever it’s worth.
It’s no coincidence that all of the No. 11 jerseys (the number of former Georgia star quarterback Aaron Murray) were replaced by No. 3 jerseys in the on-campus bookstore this year.
On Thursday, Georgia’s official athletics Web site was still selling No. 3 jerseys for up to $134.95. By Friday, all those “3” jerseys were replaced by other notable numbers not currently under investigation. In the campus bookstore, there were fewer “3” options Friday than the bulk volume available just three weeks ago after the Troy game.
College football is big business, and the only guys not allowed to profit from it are the ones who do all the work and generate all the highlights that attract all that juicy, juicy TV money.
Gurley, like many of his peers, was impatient to get his hands on some of it. He’ll cash in soon enough.
The rest of us who just enjoyed watching a special once-in-a-generation talent play for one of our local teams are just out of luck, along with his teammates who counted on him.
Campus life went on as usual Friday afternoon. The courtyard between the Tate Student Center and the university bookstore was filled with undergrads promoting various causes – shaving heads for cancer or passing out pamphlets for Amnesty International.
And on the sidewalk behind the scoreboard of Sanford Stadium were the spent candles, tattered notes and pom-poms from a sad little vigil the night before to “Free Gurley.” Students walking by paused to take pictures of the remnants and move on.
“You’re the best we ever had,” read one message. “I’d give my 1st born to see Todd play,” said another.
It will all soon be swept away and forgotten along with Gurley’s truncated legacy. In this sports story, everyone is a loser.
Saturday marks the halfway point of the college football regular season, and the landscape already doesn’t resemble most preseason assumptions – even if you just think locally and exclude the Mississippi teams co-squatting on the national No. 3 ranking.
Be honest, raise your hand if you thought Georgia Tech would be one of the last 10 undefeated teams entering Week 7. Or that South Carolina would reside with Vanderbilt and Tennessee as the only Southeastern Conference programs not above .500.
And then there was this news flash Thursday: Georgia’s Heisman Trophy candiate tailback Todd Gurley was suspended indefinitely during an ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of NCAA rules.
Heading into the heart of the 2014 season, both “Power 5” Georgia programs remain division contenders while both South Carolina schools are playing for bowl eligibility. Granted, Clemson has its eyes on the Orange Bowl while South Carolina would settle for the Birmingham Bowl at this point, but the fact is they’re both pretty much out of their respective conference races barring unforeseen developments above them (such as Florida State’s quarterback having a Gurley bombshell of his own).
While the Gamecocks take a week off to regroup as the other three face division tests, it seems like a good time to take a look at how we got to this point and where everybody can go from here.
GEORGIA TECH (5-0, 2-0 ACC)
PROGNOSIS: Very good
Sure, the No. 22 Yellow Jackets are the lowest ranked undefeated Power 5 conference team, having just gotten the voters’ attention after last week’s 28-17 win over Miami. But that doesn’t diminish the little team that could.
Diminutive quarterback Justin Thomas – “Tall enough,” the 5-foot-10 sophomore told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution – has started to take over in consecutive wins against Coastal favorites Virginia Tech and Miami. The Jackets should be judged on the everything that’s happened since the late rally to escape Georgia Southern and not the weak start before that.
The unglamorous triple option is averaging just shy of 300 rushing yards per game and ranks No. 1 nationally in third-down conversions (58.1 percent) and fourth in lost turnovers (four). Against Miami, the offense held possession for more than 40 minutes, which is the best way to assist any defensive weaknesses.
Coach Paul Johnson likes his team’s developing character.
“I’d say they’re resilient. Nothing much seems to affect them,” Johnson said. “We get behind and nothing changes. They don’t panic. They just kind of keep playing, and that’s a good trait to have. We’d like to get to a point where we don’t get behind.”
With games against Duke, North Carolina and Pitt on tap, the Jackets should be favored to perhaps get to 8-0. Then things get real with Virginia, N.C. State and Clemson to decide their division fate.
GEORGIA (4-1, 2-1 SEC)
PROGNOSIS: Not as good as it was Wednesday
Despite getting almost nothing out of its passing game, Georgia is averaging a record 45 points per game thanks to a running back stable formerly led by Gurley.
With prime backups Keith Marshall (ankle) and Sony Michel (shoulder) also sidelined, the Bulldogs aren’t taking chances with their remaining eligible tailbacks as they wear non-contact green jerseys in practice.
“They don’t need to take any shots of any kind,” Richt said. “Saturday is enough.”
This Saturday is everything – and likely being without Gurley makes it a lot harder. At noon in Missouri, the Bulldogs are treating the reigning SEC East champs as a must-beat foe to remain viable in the division race. With Auburn, Arkansas and Florida still looming and Gurley out indefinitely, the margins are slim.
“If we lose, we’re, in essence, three games behind Missouri,” Richt said earlier this week. “That’s pretty tough to overcome. They’d have to lose three times to give us a chance. ... We want to try to get this thing and not have to worry about somebody getting beat.”
But the biggest issue is still a weak secondary getting weaker by the day. Shaquille Jones (shoplifting), Sheldon Dawson (attitude) and Rico Johnson (medical) were added this week to a defensive backfield exodus that leaves only 10 scholarship players. Yikes.
CLEMSON (3-2, 2-1 ACC)
PROGNOSIS: Pretty good
Unless Florida State’s Jameis Winston gets himself in more trouble, the Tigers are playing for a 10-win season and a marquee bowl bid. That’s not nothing.
But the stakes could (maybe should) have been a lot bigger if Dabo Swinney had trusted his first instincts about freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson.
“I knew immediately that he was special and then meeting him and seeing the type of individual he was – how he handled himself – clarified that,” Swinney said.
He was talking about Watson when he came to Clemson’s football camp as a ninth grader. In 10th grade he committed to the Tigers.
Unfortunately, Swinney didn’t commit to Watson as his starter until late in the first quarter of the Florida State game. What the rest of the world could clearly see after two plays in a touchdown drive against Georgia (perfect deep strikes), Swinney still hesitated to pull loyal senior Cole Stoudt. We’ll never know if the Tigers might be unbeaten playoff contenders if Watson had been handed the reins sooner. As it is, he ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency.
With a Vic Beasley-led defense also getting better – shutting out an N.C. State team that threw up 41 on Florida State the week before – there’s little in the way of running the table.
SOUTH CAROLINA (3-3, 2-3 SEC)
Head ball coach Steve Spurrier has said it enough times this season that it’s time we all start believing him.
“You all watched. We’re not a great team,” Spurrier said after the Gamecocks fell to Kentucky on Saturday.
Following a meltdown loss at home against Missouri the week before, a brutal victory at Vanderbilt a week before that and an embarrassing beatdown in the home opener to Texas A&M, a downcast Spurrier seems almost resigned to his once-favored team’s mediocre fate.
“I’m not going to yell and scream,” he said. “Everybody saw what happened. ... Hopefully we can play better the rest of the season. I told the guys we’re going to have a winning season somehow. We’ve got some work to do that.”
That’s an understatement with an offense lacking in big plays and a defense (and special teams) that tends to them up.
A fourth consecutive 11-win season is almost mathematically out of reach, but a winning record is a reasonable goal with road dates at Auburn, Florida and Clemson still looming.
The way this season has gone so far, there’s no telling how it might end.
It’s been a couple of days since Oliver Wilson broke into tears on the most storied 18th hole in golf, but the texts, emails and social media well wishes keep pouring in at a rate the Augusta State graduate can’t possibly keep up with.
“It’s been mad,” said Wilson of his career resurrecting victory over Rory McIlroy and two other fellow Brits in the Dunhill Links at St. Andrews. “Literally since about 4 o’clock (Monday) morning I’ve been on my phone just trying to respond to all the messages I had. I can’t possibly respond to them all. In fact, Twitter won’t allow me. I can’t go back more than six hours because I have that many messages. It’s just been incredible. It’s really overwhelming.”
The outpouring of congratulatory wishes for Wilson speak to two things. The first is his likeable nature and the level of respect the 34-year-old Englishman has fostered in 11 years since turning professional.
The second regards the depths his game had fallen to before Sunday’s revival.
“The last two years have been pretty rough and I think a lot of people understand that and I’ve managed to turn it around from pretty much as low as it can go as a professional to a pretty much a high point right now,” he said. “I think people can appreciate that and see what I’ve gone through and why I’ve been so emotional.”
A Ryder Cup qualifier for Europe in 2008 with a European Tour record nine runner-up finishes without a victory between 2004-09, Wilson lost his card in 2011 and subsequently lost his confidence – especially with his driver. His 2013 season on the Challenge Tour – Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com Tour – was rock bottom when he struggled to break 80 in missing nine consecutive cuts to begin the year.
His world ranking plummeted from a high of 35th after his runner-up in the 2009 Dunhill Links to 792nd before last week.
“Last year was massively low,” Wilson said of a season that started with a 76.6 scoring average through June. “I was very worried. I tried not to show that to anyone. ... Everybody had sort of written me off and I was just almost trying to prove to them that I’m all right. It’s just bad golf. I’m healthy and everything’s good.”
His optimistic front included conversations with his wife, Lauren Smith Wilson, who also played golf for Augusta State.
“Even this summer I kept telling Lauren I’m doing better and playing better, and it’s not far away,” Wilson said. “I’ve been saying the same thing to everyone for a year and a half, two years. You keep saying it and not backing it up you kind of start to question it yourself. That’s kind of what I’ve done. I’ve thought about doing other things and if I wanted to but deep down I believed in myself and felt like I was capable of doing what I did. But you never really know.”
The first turning point for Wilson came in the last month of 2013 when he made seven of his last eight cuts including a Challenge Tour runner-up in Northern Ireland and tie for fifth in Kazakhstan.
Then after another rough summer this season, he shot 63 in the second round of his last start in the Kazakhstan Open. Despite a pair of 76s on the weekend and finishing 47th, he brought some confidence with him to the Dunhill Links.
“I played one really good round in Kazakhstan and gave me the confidence to know I can still shoot low,” he said. “I know what to do and everything sort of flooded back that day.”
Wilson opened the week with a course-record tying 64 at Carnoustie. But unlike the previous year when he faded to 59th after another opening 64, he stayed hot all week and took a three-shot lead into Sunday’s final round on the Old Course after 7-under 65 in the third round on the same links.
“My confidence grew each day,” he said. “I was very nervous on the Saturday, probably moreso than on Sunday. I ended up with a three-shot lead but felt like I’d missed an opportunity to really separate myself from the field. I felt like I should have been five or six in front at least and I was a bit worried that that was going to come back a bit to bite me.”
After a pair of early three-putts Sunday, Wilson was at risk of letting another opportunity get away from him. He was so focused on trying to hang close playing through the loop that he didn’t even notice his wife and mother-in-law who had traveled to watch him play.
“I had no idea she was there,” he said. “(Lauren) was walking around and I never saw her, she was trying to hide. Apparently I stood right next to her and her mum halfway round. Her mum spoke to me, and I completely blanked her. I had no idea she was standing next to me. I was so in the zone and so focused.”
That sustained focus paid off. He rolled in two birdie putts on 10 and 11 to get back into contention with the leaders. Then he hit “probably the best shot of my life” from 220 yards to tap-in birdie on 16 to take a one-shot lead. He avoided disaster on the Road Hole 17th with a brilliant pitch from the rough to save par.
“That 18th hole I have to admit I was in a different place,” he said. “It was almost an out-of-body experience. I had no sort of feeling left.”
When his 15-foot birdie putt on 18 failed to turn into the cup, he tapped in and had to wait for Tommy Fleetwood’s birdie attempt to force a playoff.
“I kind of felt like here we go again,” he admitted. “I had the opportunity and didn’t take it. I fully expected Tommy to make his and thought we’d be going for a playoff. That being said I was elated at that stage to know I’d secured my card. I’ve been in that position so many times I was determined not to let another one slip by so I was concentrating on the playoff and getting myself ready for that. And then he missed and I was little in shock. It didn’t compute quick enough before my caddie could grab me and start celebrating. Then it got a bit emotional.”
Wilson’s tears flowed even harder when he saw Lauren as he walked toward the famous R&A clubhouse. The moment seemed almost surreal.
“I walked off and was looking at the ground in tears and trying to compose myself, and she was standing there,” he said. “It was an amazing experience and I’m really pleased she came up and to be able to share that moment with her was incredible.
“If you’d have told me that was going to happen to me and I would win in that fashion, I could have told you that I would have been in bits. It’s been a hard couple of years and to get back and to win that particular tournament at St. Andrews – for me it doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”
But it does get better for the former Jaguar, who jumped 636 spots in the world rankings to No. 156. Instead of taking a month off to get ready for another trip to European Q School, Wilson is exempt for the next two seasons starting with this week in the Portugal Masters. Then he’ll play the four European Tour final series events including the World Golf Championships tournament in China and the season-ending championship in Dubai. He’s also qualified for next year’s WGC event at Firestone and close to securing a spot in the 2015 Open Championship at St. Andrews.
“It’s radically different,” he said of getting his card-carrying life back. “Obviously it opens a lot of doors and opportunities with it. I’m still trying to figure that all out. Looking back it’s incredible that I was at that low point in such a short space of time and I’m now a winner.”
What Wilson learned in surviving golf’s wilderness is to take nothing for granted.
“I appreciate what we do, what we get given and our lifestyle a lot more after what I’ve been through,” he told the BBC immediately after his victory.
He also appreciated the thousands of the texts, emails and social media messages that keep flooding his in-boxes beyond capacity to respond to all of them.
“I could never imagine having so much support and congratulations – loads of people getting in touch from Augusta and all over the world,” he said. “I can’t put it into words. It’s incredible.”
Saturday’s Southeastern Conference schedule looks almost like a misprint – at least regarding the West division.
No. 3 Alabama plays No. 11 Ole Miss.
No. 5 Auburn plays No. 15 Louisiana State.
No. 6 Texas A&M plays No. 12 Mississippi State.
Meanwhile, over in the East, the lone ranked team (No. 13 Georgia) plays Vanderbilt. Guess we know where ESPN’s College Gameday won’t be this weekend.
Saturday is a show-off opportunity for the SEC West, which will feature the iconic television road show rolling onto the Grove in Oxford, Miss., for the first time as the Rebels are off to their best start in four decades.
The growing imbalance between the East and West in the SEC has never been more pronounced.
“I think it’s unquestionable, the West teams are stronger than the East teams, no question about it,” said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, whose Gamecocks were throttled 52-28 by Texas A&M in the season opener. “There’s no doubt with Alabama, LSU, A&M and the Mississippi teams playing well now. I think all of us will agree with that and that’s just the way it is right now.”
Seriously, when six of the top 15 teams in the nation (40 percent) are from one division, something is out of whack.
“It’s the best division in college football, and I don’t think it’s even close,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn told the Associated Press recently.
“All seven teams should be ranked in the Top 25 – the SEC West is that strong,” said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.
Had Arkansas held on in the closing minutes to beat Texas A&M last weekend before succumbing in overtime, it’s likely that all seven teams from one collegiate division would have been ranked in the top 25 of the AP poll for the first time in history.
As it stands, the only competition the SEC West has is itself. The seven teams are a combined 25-0 against non-West opponents this season, including victories over Wisconsin, Kansas State, South Carolina, Florida, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Boise State. The only losses so far are “in-house” – LSU to Mississippi State and Arkansas to Auburn and A&M.
By contrast, the East is collectively 12-6 against non-division opponents, including 0-3 to the West. The only notable victories to date are Georgia over Clemson and South Carolina over East Carolina, but those are sadly offset by brutal losses by Missouri to Indiana and Vanderbilt to Temple.
It’s not like this has been some overnight seismic shift in conference power. The tide turned in 2009, when Alabama handily defeated Florida and Tim Tebow in the SEC title game and went on to win the BCS championship.
Since the pendulum swung that season, the West has won five consecutive SEC Championships, leveling the overall record at 11-11.
But it’s been more lopsided than the championship game history tells. Over the last five seasons plus the first month of 2014, the SEC West is 61-29 versus the SEC East – a .677 winning percentage. Every West team has a winning record against the East in that span except Ole Miss (4-9).
Since divisional play began in 1992, the West is 27 games above .500 against the East – 219-192-2 (.530).
The West’s rise has coincided with the diminished standards at Florida and Tennessee – the two programs that combined to win a division record six consecutive SEC titles from 1993-98 when the East was king. As they try to catch back up with Georgia and South Carolina, the West keeps stockpiling the best recruiting classes harvesting talent from Georgia and Florida.
“I don’t think anybody can disagree,” Spurrier said of the talent shift. “They’ve recruited well and we’ve recruited pretty well. But maybe they’ve recruited a little bit better than everybody.”
To an extent, the relative demise of the Gators and Vols in recent years is what helped South Carolina produce three consecutive 11-win seasons. Going back to 2010, when the Gamecocks reached their only SEC title game, South Carolina is 20-5 with a winning record against every team in the East but is 5-7 against the West.
With Saturday’s top-heavy slate, the West will begin the process of beating on itself to determine which team makes it to Atlanta for the SEC title game while eliminating each other from playoff consideration. Unlike most recent years, the likelihood of a West team showing up at the Georgia Dome with an unblemished or even one-loss conference record is slimmer than usual.
That’s the norm in the East, where a lower level of parity has generally resided. Missouri is the only East team without a conference loss already this season, but the Tigers hardly look as strong as a year ago when they reached Atlanta.
“I don’t think you can say anybody is a totally dominant team that’s going to blaze a trail and kick everybody’s rear ends,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Everybody’s got a challenge. The home field may mean more this season than other seasons. We’ll see how it goes.”
South Carolina already has two conference losses with a road date at Auburn still looming, but the Gamecocks won the East with three losses in 2010 and aren’t counting themselves out yet. Georgia lost to South Carolina but still controls its own fate in the East just a game behind Mizzou.
“There’s a race to the Eastern division title and everyone is trying to figure out how they can get there,” Richt said. “We lost our first one to South Carolina so basically we’re two games behind them. If you lose to them head to head they have to have two losses for us to have any control over our destiny so yeah, (South Carolina’s second loss) was important. It’s early and a lot of things can happen but I’m watching what everybody is doing and trying to gauge what it’s going to take to get back to Atlanta.”
The only thing that seems certain is that whichever team prevails in the East, the odds of unseating the West are more stacked against it than ever.
The Ryder Cup never disappoints.
Whether the United States blows a lead, gets blown out or (on rare occasions) wins against the Europeans, the Ryder Cup packs more drama, passion and suspense into three days than a season full of major championships.
It is, without question, the greatest second-guessing spectacle in sports. The Monday-morning captaining is one of the best traditions on the biennial golf calendar. Everyone is fairly certain they could have done a better job leading the losing team than the captain who just failed.
In this year’s case, everyone may be right.
Tom Watson is one of the greatest golfers of all time, one of the toughest competitors and arguably the most popular American to ever hit the links in Scotland. But at age 64, he turned out to be the wrong guy to lead this U.S. team at Gleneagles.
One look at the disconnect between Watson and his players at the always excruciating mass-losers press conference made that crystal clear. Phil Mickelson was wielding the microphone like a hammer in pointing out all the things his captain did wrong, and there wasn’t anybody exactly stepping up to defend Watson.
We can debate the appropriateness of the forum for Mickelson’s criticism, but there’s no denying the merit. The Americans lost for the eighth time in 10 Ryder Cups and looked more disjointed than ever before – including the Hal Sutton fiasco at Oakland Hills when the Phil and Tiger Woods partnership looked about as comfortable as Rush Limbaugh and Jon Stewart would together on Dancing With the Stars.
So here’s a special armchair edition of Birdies and lots of Bogeys:
TRIPLE BOGEY: Tom Watson. Starting with allowing Webb Simpson to text plead his way onto the team, through his nonsensical sitting of his hottest duo on Friday afternoon, to his unceremonious benching of his 4-1 career tandem of Mickelson-Keegan Bradley all day Saturday to his questioning his players’ fitness on Sunday, Captain America called more wrong shots than Jean Van de Velde on the 18th at Carnoustie.
BIRDIE: Patrick Reed. The former Augusta State star more than lived up to his “top five” proclamation on this stage, going 3-0-1 for the best American record of the week. His prickly personality is perfect for this format, as he showed with his fearless “Shhh!” to the crowds who heckled him during his singles victory over Henrik Stenson. Expect him to become a fixture under the Europeans’ collective skins for years to come.
BOGEY: Phil Mickelson. As right as he might have been answering a very specific question in the gloomy aftermath of another loss, it wasn’t the right place to do it. Plus, Mickelson’s 16-19-6 career match record can’t all be blamed on captains. If he did, as reported, ask to go back out Friday afternoon, some of the cascading fallout is on him as well.
BIRDIE: Justin Rose. If his 3-0-2 record wasn’t impressive enough, the 10 consecutive birdies he and Stenson made on Saturday morning to rally from 2 down to beat Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar was astonishing. Going back to his last few clinching holes at Medinah, Rose made 30-footers look like gimmes.
BOGEY: Bubba Watson. There may have been no beating Rose on Saturday morning, but Watson was a non-factor in his morning four-ball on Friday and his singles blowout loss Sunday. The Masters champion never saw the 17th or 18th holes all week and earned zero points.
BIRDIE: Rory McIlroy. Carrying the No. 1 ranking is burdensome, and McIlroy failed to win a full point until Saturday afternoon. But his quick 5&4 beatdown of Rickie Fowler in the third match Sunday was masterful and delivered the message that Europe would not fold.
BOGEY: Webb Simpson. He talked his way onto the team and then played so poorly in the opening match with Bubba Watson that he was benched until Sunday. A wasted captain’s pick with Chris Kirk and Bill Horschel idle at home.
BIRDIE: Graeme McDowell. All he did was go 3-0 and nurture the mercurial Victor Dubuisson. But it was the way he almost casually rallied from 3 down early to beat Jordan Spieth in the lead-off singles match that crushed American comeback hopes.
BIRDIE: Victor Dubuisson. The French rookie proved to be such an unflinching partner with McDowell that he was sent out as a backstop in the anchor match Sunday.
BOGEY: Ian Poulter. Other than his chip-in on 15 that helped rally for a halve with McIlroy on Saturday morning, Mr. Ryder Cup was Mr. Ordinary going 0-2-1. Goes to show you can’t just show up in any old form and be spectacular.
BIRDIE: Rookies. Experience, experience, blah, blah, blah. Rookies bring an energy to the proceedings that should be embraced more. Spieth (except for his Sunday retreat) and Reed were brilliant, Jimmy Walker was consistently steady, Dubuisson was a stud and Jamie Donaldson was superb. Only nervous Scotsman Stephen Gallacher struggled – though in fairness he didn’t get the nicest of draws.
BIRDIE: Jamie Donaldson. The 38-year-old Welshman deserves an extra shout out for the Cup clinching shot to a foot that was conceded. He stepped on Bradley’s throat and never let up.
BOGEY: Ted Bishop. His bold play picking Watson as captain backfired as did his over-the-top presentations such as the televised captain’s pick abomination. Keep it simple.
BOGEY: Golf Channel. Some of us woke up at 2:30 a.m. Friday to watch golf and saw more commercials instead. Shame.
BIRDIE: Paul McGinley. The European captain proved how you handle a team doesn’t require a major title or glittering resume. It requires preparation, common sense, understanding and leadership. It’s really very simple. It also helps if your team plays like Rory and Rose.
BOGEY: Centenary Course. Even in dazzling Scottish sunshine at a world-class resort like Gleneagles, a forgettable American-style layout can only do so much. Money talks, unfortunately, so we’ll never see another Ryder Cup on a great links course. Pity.
BIRDIE: Paul Azinger. Players like Jason Dufner, Billy Horschel and Mickelson are lobbying for the 2008 skipper to take the reins again in 2016. Not a bad idea.
DOUBLE BOGEY: Nick Faldo. Bad enough he lost the only Ryder Cup this century as European captain, he chose Friday afternoon for his TV tower to call Sergio Garcia “useless” in 2008 matches. The players seem to think the term applied better to the captain.
ATHENS, Ga. — As one-dimensional offenses go, you can do a lot worse than Todd Gurley.
With a passing game that was – oh, how can this be put diplomatically? – ineffective, Georgia was in grave danger of losing to Tennessee between the hedges and all but ending any hopes of competing for a division title in the Southeastern Conference.
Clinging to a 21-17 lead into the fourth quarter with a defense everybody knows could break at any moment, Georgia’s offensive coaching wizards did what all of the 92,746 people in attendance figured they should have been doing all along.
They handed the ball to Gurley.
Then they handed it to him again. And again. And 10 more times in the final 11 minutes. All Gurley did with it was rush for 129 of his career-high 208 yards, break one of them 51 yards for a touchdown, hurdle a poor safety who thought he could dive at his knees and single-handedly run out the final 2:14 including the game-ending fourth-and-3 conversion.
Problem solved. Georgia beats Tennessee 35-32.
“We came out and got like three straight three-and-outs and everybody was like, ‘We’ve got to run the ball. We’ve got to run the ball,’” Gurley said of the second-half lull. “I told coach what plays I wanted that I felt would work for me and we ran them and it started to get us going.
“Nothing matters right now but we’ve just got to get this victory. And I want to ball, so give me the ball. My line is going to poke a hole and I’m going to make it happen.”
Somebody certainly needed to, because it wasn’t going to come from quarterback Hutson Mason on this Saturday. Mason was (again, being diplomatic) not so good. He threw his first two interceptions of the season. He completed four passes for 25 yards in the second half. He was the person Tennessee was daring to beat them and he couldn’t.
So even with the Volunteers putting most able bodies along the front to stop one guy, Georgia had to give it to him.
“Every team’s going to load the box,” Gurley said matter-of-factly. “They’d be stupid not to, you know, with the running backs and the line we have. If they don’t then we’re just going to have a field day. But we’re going to get that right though – the passing game.”
Until it’s right – until Georgia gets back receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley to help stretch the field and offer some semblance of a credible passing threat – it’s good to have Gurley.
Is the 226-pound junior happy to have it all on his shoulders?
“Yeah, I guess so,” he said. “A lot of guys depend on me to get the thing rolling. I depend on the line to get it rolling. I just come to those guys and they’re like, ‘I got you,’ and I’m not going to disappoint ’em.”
Gurley packed yet another Heisman candidacy highlight reel into the last 11 minutes.
The 51-yard touchdown burst right through the middle of the Volunteer defense was one thing. The full-speed sideline hurdle of Brian Randolph on a 26-yard run the next possession was something else.
“He jumped over that guy right in front of my face,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt. “That was pretty impressive to see right there in front of you. You just shake your head.”
“I was on the field and I was looking right at him,” said receiver Chris Conley. “It kind of froze me. ... It was one of those special moments. He’s a special player and he makes plays like that.”
“He makes everything easy,” said freshman backup Nick Chubb. “When you need a big play, he makes it.”
“It just seems like something new every week he seems to wow people with,” said Mason. “Not shocking.”
What went through Gurley’s mind before he made like Edwin Moses?
“It just happened,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to go out of bounds. You know, everybody is going to try to hit me low. I was thinking about just trying to turn it back inside the field, but this instant just told me to hurdle.”
All of that stuff was both critical and fun to watch, but it was the last possession that proves Gurley’s value and resolve. The Bulldogs recovered an on-sides kick after Tennessee scored again and cut the lead to three. Georgia needed two first downs to finish it off.
“I knew fatigue was setting in and then it becomes a heart thing. How deep can you dig?” Richt said. “I knew Todd was getting tired but he was digging deep.”
On that last possession, Gurley carried five consecutive times for 17 yards, which left them 3 yards shy of that second first down with 40 seconds still left.
So on fourth-and-3 at the Tennessee 26, what do you do? Not even Mike Bobo was going to try to call a roll-out pass or something this time.
“Everybody in the whole world knew we were going to give the ball to Todd,” said Mason. “So stop it if you can.”
“If it was anybody that was going to mess up the game or cost the game, I wanted it to be me,” Gurley said. “I didn’t want it to be nobody else. I knew I got it, I knew I got it before the play.”
That’s right. Gurley knew he got the first down BEFORE the play.
Final tally was 28 carries for 208 yards – his first 200-yard game since high school.
“I feel like I’m in the Big Ten or something,” Gurley said with a smile.
Richt was smiling, too.
“That might have been his most impressive game, just from a gut check and a guy making plays when we absolutely had to have them,” the coach said.
Gurley could use a little more help from the passing game, but he understands that his one-dimensional talent is what will define this team and this season.
“When you keep running on a team, they might be stopping you but they’re getting tired deep down inside,” Gurley said. “You just want to break their will and keep fighting. ... You just have to keep pounding it and sooner or later you’re going to get that one big one.”
This is a strategy that has worked so far – at least when properly applied (see first-and-goal at South Carolina). The Bulldogs are 4-1 and still chasing big goals.
“Without that run game I don’t know where we’d be right now as far as wins or losses,” admitted Mason. “Those guys have definitely carried our team.”
But for how long and how far? Plan A is really, really, really good, but Georgia needs to find a Plan B soon.
Welcome to the Ryder Cup, Patrick Reed. For your opening act, go try to cut the heart out of the European team.
By the time most Americans wake up Friday morning, the former Augusta State star will have already made his Ryder Cup debut with fellow rookie Jordan Spieth against European stalwart Ian Poulter and Scotland’s own Stephen Gallacher.
It’s a great show of faith by American captain Tom Watson in the two youngest players on his team.
“I told them today, I’m going to throw you in the ocean without a life preserver,” Watson said after the four best-ball pairings were announced Thursday. “You’re on your own. You get out there and you get it done. They’re all in.”
Reed is thrilled not to have to wait any longer to get started – even if the intense atmosphere on the first tee feels “almost like all the oxygen got sucked out.”
“I can’t wait to get out there and I couldn’t have a better teammate,” Reed said of the player he beat in a playoff in Greensboro last fall to earn his first career victory. “I’ve played a lot of golf with (Spieth), not only as a professional golfer, but junior and amateur golf. I think it’s a comforting factor for us and I think we’ll go out there and kill it.”
That killer confidence is unusual for a pair of uninitiated Ryder Cuppers. It’s not often that two rookies get thrown into the fire in the first session of the most pressure-packed event in golf. But it’s not an altogether foreign tactic.
In 2010 in Wales, Corey Pavin sent first-timers Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton out against European veterans Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald. The inexperienced Yanks won the match 3 and 2.
Watson hopes to get the same out of his young duo.
“I really wanted to see what they’ve got,” Watson said.
Watson is drawing on some old memories in sending out his young stars in such a pivotal match. He remembers talking to Byron Nelson about his rookie Ryder Cup experience in the 1937 matches at Southport & Ainsdale in England.
When the opening pairings were announced that Nelson and Ed Dudley would play the heavyweight English tandem of Henry Cotton and Alf Padgham, the headlines in the morning papers said “The lambs are thrown to the wolves.” After Nelson and Dudley won 4 and 2 to help trigger an American landslide, the follow-up headlines shouted “Lambs beat wolves.”
Watson hoped Reed and Spieth taking out Poulter and Gallacher could have the same effect on his underdog squad. Poulter has won seven consecutive Ryder Cup matches dating back to Wales in 2010 and is a European-best 12-3 all-time in the biennial showcase.
“They have a job to do and these kids are tough kids – both of them,” Watson said of Reed and Spieth. “Ian’s had a wonderful Ryder Cup career and it’ll give you a boost. These players aren’t dumb. They know Ian has that great reputation in the Ryder Cup and if they beat him it’s more power to them.”
The rookies are excited for the challenge.
“I don’t think you could have picked out two people that we want to play against more,” Spieth said. “I mean, get out there against Ian, obviously, with his Ryder Cup history and fire. I feel like our job is to win a point. We can do that with those two guys. We’re going to really lower their team morale, I feel like. I think our match is very important in the morning.”
It seemed inevitable that Reed and Poulter would match up at some point on this stage. Reed has often been called America’s answer to Poulter after Reed declared himself a “top five player” after winning the WGC event at Doral in March wearing Tiger Woods’ traditional red-and-black Sunday outfit. It was the kind of brash statement that people connect to Poulter, who after saying it would one day “be just me and Tiger” when he reached his full potential was dubbed “No. 2” by the world No. 1 Woods.
Now they meet on a stage best suited to their characters. Reed – who went 6-0 in match play leading Augusta State to consecutive NCAA championships in 2010-11 – isn’t likely to be intimidated by Poulter or the partisan crowds. After all, he did take out Oklahoma State star Peter Uihlein on the Cowboys’ home course.
“You look at Patrick Reed, when he gets it going he thinks he can beat the world,” Watson said. “I like that attitude in a player. That’s a good attitude to have.”
That’s a confidence shared by Spieth, who is no stranger to the international team spotlight having played in last year’s Presidents Cup. He twice played in the Junior Ryder Cup, including once at Gleneagles.
“There is a bravado to this duo that is very impressive,” Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said.
Watson plans to get every one of his 12 players on the course on Friday, and the best-ball seemed the better format to insert all three of his rookies. That meant sitting some of his best veterans – Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan – until the afternoon.
“Playing somebody who hasn’t played in the Ryder Cup before, you like to get them to play all 18 holes and play their own ball and get them out that way,” Watson said. “That’s the reason I put the two rookies out there together.”
Traditionally, Augusta State players haven’t been accorded so much respect on the Ryder Cup stage. Reed is the third former Augusta State golfer to compete in the Ryder Cup since 2006, but the first to get thrown into the cauldron on opening day.
In 2006 at the K Club in Ireland, Vaughn Taylor sat the first three team sessions for Tom Lehman’s U.S. squad before finally getting out late Friday afternoon with partner Chad Campbell and earning half a point against European titans Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood.
In 2008 at Valhalla, Oliver Wilson was benched both sessions on Friday by European captain Nick Faldo. But Wilson went out Saturday morning with Henrik Stenson and took down the American power team of Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim, 2 and 1.
Both Taylor and Wilson ended up losing their Sunday singles matches in losing efforts for their respective teams.
Reed, however, expects to deliver more for his team. He’s proved himself capable in high pressure 18-hole sprints in college as well as Monday qualifiers on the PGA Tour.
“I’ll pull from the Monday qualifiers, but I’m mainly just going to pull from the match play I’ve played,” Reed said. “NCAAs, I was 6-0 in match play throughout my career. I played a lot of things in college, because at Augusta State, half the team was international and half the team was U.S., so we played multiple times a year in a Ryder Cup kind of a format and events like that. So those are just the kind of things I feel like are going to help me this week.”
I’ve never been one to wait in line overnight for the latest smart phone. Binge-watching is my preferred method for catching up with the “it” TV shows everyone else is talking about.
But when it comes to generating new sports terminology by altering other words, call me first generation. I was on the ground floor of “Tiger-proofing” in 1997 the day after the Masters Tournament. I have long understood the subtle differences between “Normanesque” and “Vandeveldian.”
So it comes with a small dose of shame to miss the boat on the gerund that was trending Saturday night – “Clemsoning.” Especially since it was obvious all along what it means and has meant since the Tommy Bowden days.
The term “Clemsoning” has been featured in the popular Urban Dictionary since Nov. 21, 2011, but its roots go back further. The first definition was codified as the Tigers were in the midst of losing three of the last four games that 2011 football season after starting 8-0 and reaching No. 6 in the polls.
It is the only definition someone who goes by the handle “solidverbal” ever drafted:
“The act of delivering an inexplicably disappointing performance, usually within the context of a college football season.”
In fairness, the art of the intensely disappointing outcome is hardly unique to Clemson. This term could easily have been called “Georgia-fication” or “Richting,” as the South Carolina result two weeks ago illustrated. My alma mater, Virginia, is steeped in the tradition going way back, but the Cavaliers have never been prominent enough for anyone to notice. Virginia Tech is pretty good at it as well, as they showed the past two weeks by backing up an uplifting road victory at Ohio State with consecutive home losses to East Carolina and Georgia Tech.
But it’s Clemson that has seemingly perfected the craft in the most painful ways. Saturday night’s heart-breaking 23-17 overtime loss at Florida State was a prime example of delivering disappointment practically against all reason. The No. 1 Seminoles tried everything in their power to hand the Tigers a defining victory that Clemson repeatedly refused to accept.
“Every indicator we have that says we’re supposed to win we hit – and we lost,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said during his Tuesday news conference. “It’s a hard thing to walk into the office and deal with.”
You didn’t have to bleed Clemson orange to find the Florida State game hard to stomach. The Seminoles were without suspended Heisman Trophy quarterback Jameis Winston – who still commanded more airtime on ABC reacting to every twist and turn of a game he wasn’t a part of than the guys playing. His backup, Sean Maguire, was not much of a threat most of the night, even handing Clemson a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions.
Yet even with karma on their side, the Tigers failed to capitalize all night. Driving into the red zone seven times, they failed to score on four of those trips starting with the second possession that stalled at the Seminoles 6 resulting in a 23-yard field goal miss.
Late in the third quarter tied at 10, quarterback DeShaun Watson hit Stanton Seckinger for what was originally ruled a 20-yard touchdown before replays deemed him down just inside the 1. No problem, right? Except on second down with the nose of the football inches from the goal line, the shotgun snap sailed over Watson’s head and the Tigers recovered back at the 24. Another missed field goal ensued.
No worries. Maguire threw an interception on the next possession and four plays later Watson converted a first-and-goal at the 2 for a 17-10 lead with less than 12 minutes remaining.
No way it doesn’t work out this time. Clemson sacked Maguire to forced a second-and-24 only to let him hit an open receiver deep for a 74-yard tying touchdown the next play.
Then with 2:14 left, Maguire set Clemson up certainly for the last time. The Tigers intercepted and returned to the Seminoles 26. Just run a little clock and kick the winning field goal. Only C.J. Davidson fumbled at the 14, and the look on Maguire’s face as you could lip-read him saying “We got it back!” was priceless.
“THAT. THAT right there ... Was #Clemsoning,” tweeted @AuburnChopper, proving even the SEC crowd knows about it.
In overtime, Clemson made one last gaffe, failing to convert fourth down and 1 foot with a slow developing rush from the shotgun. Florida State punched in a touchdown in two plays on its possession and the Clemsoning was complete.
“Fourth and a foot – that’s on me,” Swinney said after the game. “Didn’t come here to play patsy.”
Some idiot “fanatics” sent death threats to center Ryan Norton through social media, which is not only ignorant but misguided. It wasn’t Norton who decided to utilize shotgun when only inches were needed because the coaches hadn’t prepared Watson enough under center.
And it was the coaches who took until four possessions into Saturday’s game to realize what everybody else knew after one series three weeks earlier in Athens – that Watson was the best quarterback option. Perhaps he could have made a difference at the start.
This is classic Clemsoning. Like the year before when the No. 3 Tigers hosted the No. 5 Seminoles in front of frothing faithful in Death Valley only to fumble the first snap and suffer a 51-14 defeat.
Or in the 2011 season, when Clemson sandwiched its first ACC championship in 20 years between demoralizing defeats to South Carolina and West Virginia – the latter 70-33 in the Orange Bowl.
Or when Clemsoning finally became an official thing after taking root in all those unfulfilled Bowden seasons.
The Tigers might yet run the table, end a five-game losing streak to South Carolina, reach another Orange Bowl and finish 11-2. That’s a reasonable possibility and a laudable goal.
Even so, 2014 will still be defined by what might-have-been without another moment of Clemsoning.
Today’s column is brought to you by Scotland: Scotland, putting the single malt in the UK for 307 years – and counting.
The homeland of golf is currently basking as the center of the civilized universe – a role it hasn’t played much since the days of the Reformation.
Eighty-five percent of its citizens turned out at the polls Thursday to cast their vote on whether or not to remain part of the United Kingdom or strike out as its own independent nation. That 56 percent opted to maintain the status quo isn’t the most impressive element of the balloting. The voter turnout beat every election in United States history, where we get impressed when the engagement hits 57 percent.
But independence wasn’t the only significant vote in Scotland on Thursday, and not everyone chose to stick with almost three centuries of the status quo.
The global membership of The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews voted on whether or not to finally admit women members to their ranks. After 260 years of rules explicitly barring females, 85 percent of the cast ballots voted to welcome women members.
“This vote has immediate effect and I can confirm that The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is now a mixed membership club,” said Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A and secretary of the club.
Coming two years after Augusta National admitted its first female members, the Royal & Ancient move into the 21st century is an enormously symbolic gesture. Despite breaking off its rules-making element into the separate R&A in 2003 after the Martha Burk firestorm at Augusta brought the debate about female membership in leadership clubs to the forefront, there was global confusion about a how a governing entity would exclude half of the world’s population from full status among its home club.
Thursday’s vote sends a clear message of inclusion that the game is ready to welcome all comers regardless of gender.
So good on Scotland and the R&A for choosing unity instead of exclusion. What better way to celebrate the results of both ballots than a week-long golf exhibition fondly known as the Ryder Cup.
In 1921, a team of Americans took on Great Britain in matches at Gleneagles, the British side winning 9-3. Those matches eventually turned into the Ryder Cup in 1927. Amazingly, this year marks only the second time in the 87-year history of the biennial matches that it’s staged in Scotland. The only other time was 1973 at Muirfield.
Jackie Burke’s 1973 American team won the Ryder Cup 19-13, but the team Tom Watson takes to the Jack Nicklaus-designed Centenary Course is considered a decisive underdog.
A top-heavy European squad led by No. 1 Rory McIlroy, No. 3 Sergio Garcia, No. 4 Henrik Stenson and No. 6 Justin Rose is considered a prohibitive favorite to win the Ryder Cup for the eighth time in the past 10 installments.
Considering the American side is without sidelined stars Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Jason Dufner as well as the two hottest-playing PGA Tour pros Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk, the theme that this isn’t the best possible U.S. team is an easy narrative to present.
Which is precisely why I believe the United States will win for the first time since 2008.
Forget the fact that the Americans actually have a slightly higher average world ranking (16.4-19.75), more top-20 players (8-6) and an even wider average accumulation of world-ranking points this year (209.84 to 179.33).
Many of the European players have been sleep-walking into the fall. Martin Kaymer has done almost nothing since winning the Players and U.S. Open this summer. Thomas Bjorn, Victor Dubuisson and Jamie Donaldson are underwhelming. Scotland’s own Stephen Gallacher struggled to break 80 in Wales this week and has the pressure of representing his nation as a rookie on home soil.
Formidable Northern Ireland partners McIlroy and Graeme McDowell are in a legal cat fight.
And much of the perceived European edge is based solely on reputation. Lee Westwood – who is playing his ninth consecutive Ryder Cup – has had his worst season since 2002, but his year has been twice as good as fellow captain’s pick Ian Poulter.
The flashy and intense Englishman may have been the heartbeat of the European team in his previous three Ryder Cups, but his results on tour in 2014 rank comparably in between Americans Jason Kokrak and Shawn Stefani. Yes, that Kokrak and Stefani.
Frankly, Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer had better seasons and would have been more threatening combo of reputation and form.
Westwood said this week in Wales that Europe can’t rely on Poulter to bail them out again as he did two years ago at Medinah.
“I think it’s a lot to ask of him to do the same as he did last time,” Westwood said. “He turned the whole momentum of the Ryder Cup around on that Saturday night so let’s not put too much pressure on him with that, but certainly he seems to be able to raise his game for a Ryder Cup.”
The Americans may not have all the best names and look weaker to the eyeball test, but they have more depth, more gifted rookies, more motivation and less pressure.
So we may not be able to take away their freedom, but we can take away their Ryder Cup.
This is awkward.
The most important game of the Atlantic Coast Conference season – the most important game of almost every ACC season – takes place Saturday night in Tallahassee, Fla. It will start without the conference’s most prominent and marketable player.
Jameis Winston – Florida State’s career unbeaten Heisman Trophy winner – was suspended for the first half of Saturday’s prime-time showdown against Clemson for standing in the middle of campus and screaming a vulgar refrain.
Considering his track record with escaping prosecution for sexual assault allegations a year ago, Winston’s choice to shout this particular obscene Internet meme is as shocking as it is ignorant. Go ahead and do the Google search if you want the particulars. It’s not hidden.
And so Winston – who managed to get himself suspended for three games from the Seminoles baseball team for stealing crab legs from a grocery store – has once again made a mess of things away from the field. How long is Florida State going to tolerate his selfish and foolish behavior?
A year ago – before news of his potential rape charge had come to light – Winston was a growing legend when he showed up in Death Valley and dismantled the Tigers in arguably the most hyped game in Clemson history. Memorial Stadium was literally shaking through kickoff until the Seminoles quickly silenced and stilled the home crowd.
Winston threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-14 rout. Clemson players were offended before the game by a tweet from the freshman QB showing a picture of Death Valley with the words “Our house,” but they didn’t do anything to disprove his point.
Saturday they hope to go to the Seminoles’ house and make Winston pay for his lack of decorum, but Winston will be fashionably late. In his place for the first half will be 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore Sean Maguire, of New Jersey, who has completed 16 of 26 passes in brief mop-up duties.
Clemson says a half-Winston doesn’t change anything. The Vegas oddsmakers tend to agree, only dropping the favored Seminoles’ point spread from 201/2 to 17 points after the announcement.
“We’re not playing Jameis Winston, we’re playing Florida State,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “If we try to beat one player, we’re in for a long night. We’ve got to win as a team and we’ve got to defeat their team. It’s more than just one guy.”
Truth is, Winston’s partial absence could change everything – and it could be devastatingly costly for the ACC. The conference’s reputation in big postseason games was in shambles until Winston and the Seminoles ended the Southeastern Conference run with a dramatic comeback victory over Auburn in the last BCS Championship game.
Now with the dawning of a playoff era, No. 1 Florida State is the best – perhaps only – chance of the ACC being represented in the four-team field this year. Those 30 minutes could cost every conference program, including Clemson, millions of dollars. If the Tigers win, they’d be in the driver’s seat for a conference championship, but an opening blowout loss to Georgia may not look so good on the final playoff resume.
Having the most pivotal conference rivalry game so early in the season is always a danger, and with Winston out for half of it the stakes got higher.
“We’re going to play them whenever they say play them,” Swinney said of the timing. “That’s just the way it is. So I think when it’s this early in the season, you have to be careful that you have good perspective when you’re playing a big game like this where it’s been so huge the last few years from a conference standpoint. ... You have to be careful when you win this game, and you have to be careful if you don’t win it. That’s very important. If you celebrate and act like you’ve won the ACC because you’ve won this game, well, guess what? You’re going to get beat the next week and probably get beat again.”
With or without Winston, Clemson has its hands full on the road against the No. 1 team. Florida State has plenty of strengths aside from Winston, but having the best quarterback in the nation certainly helps pull it all together.
“We have to defend what they do, not who they are,” Swinney said. “Our program’s bigger than any one player, and so is Florida State’s. ... They’re a great team, with or without him.”
Winston, despite all of the stupid things he says and does off the field, seems to agree.
“We’re Florida State, not one person can change no game or no outcome,” he said. “I can’t go out there and win a football game. Florida State is going to win the football game.”
Perhaps they will. Odds are obviously in the Seminoles’ favor.
This puts ACC leaders in the awkward position of kinda/sorta hoping Florida State can survive this test without its best weapon. Because the price of losing could be dramatic. The Big Ten already knows about the consequences of losing early marquee games that have gravely diminished its conference’s chances of reaching the playoffs. The ACC can’t afford all of its own marquee programs saddled with losses before October.
Winston’s partial absence might give Clemson a better chance. Should the Tigers win and run the table, they’ll be in the playoff conversation. Should the Tigers win, claim the ACC but lose a sixth consecutive time to South Carolina, Saturday will prove to be one of the costliest days in ACC history.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – A day after finishing fourth at East Lake and second to a Gator in the FedEx Cup race, former Bulldog Chris Kirk insisted that he wasn’t too disappointed.
This wasn’t in reference to the extra $7 million on the table he left to Billy Horschel. It was about not having to board a plane the next week for Scotland and the Ryder Cup.
“I would have loved to have done it but I couldn’t be more elated with how I played the last month to get my biggest win and have a chance to win the FedEx Cup,” Kirk said Monday at the McGladrey Classic media day at Sea Island, where he triggered his breakout season with a one-shot win last November. “I came close but not quite. ... It’s not bothering me at all to be honest with you.”
Europe’s top star, Rory McIlroy, lost head-to-head weekend duels with both Kirk and Horschel at Boston and East Lake and knows first-hand what his U.S. opponents are missing.
“I’m sure Tom Watson is kicking himself at the minute,” McIlroy said after the Tour Championship.
Kirk and Horschel have been saying all the diplomatic things since stealing the spotlight of the PGA Tour’s “playoffs.” They insist Watson, the American captain, isn’t losing any sleep over not having the two hottest American hands on his 12-man roster that takes on a stacked European team next week at Gleneagles.
“Tom won’t be kicking himself for not picking me but he will probably be wanting to kick me for not playing like this a little earlier,” said Horschel, who finished second, first and first in the last three tournaments of the season.
But if Horschel and Kirk are not upset, the rest of us should be. The United States is NOT sending its best team to represent American golf. That point is not even arguable. It’s bad enough Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Jason Dufner are sidelined for various reasons, but Horschel (now No. 14 in the world) and Kirk (No. 22) are left out for tardiness?
Frankly, that’s not really acceptable. A system change needs to be made to ensure the best players make the roster and not just the more recognizable names. Picking a roster weeks ahead of time is folly.
Watson opted to take three players – Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson – with Ryder Cup experience instead of younger players in better form. That’s a tired old strategy that hasn’t really worked too well for the U.S. side in the past 20 years.
Paul Azinger, who is the only U.S. captain to win the Ryder Cup since 1999, was critical of Watson’s choices.
“I would have picked Chris over Webb, certainly,” said Azinger, who won in 2008 with six rookies including three that he selected as captain’s picks – Mahan, Steve Stricker and J.B. Holmes.
“Chris has won twice this year, he’s hot and I like hot players,” Azinger said. “Why not pick a rookie? It’s OK picking experience if you’re European but so often with us it’s losing experience.”
Davis Love III, the last U.S. captain whose team blew a four-point lead on Sunday, also offered a captain’s pick to rookie Brandt Snedeker a couple of weeks before Snedeker pulled a Horschel and won the FedEx Cup.
“We didn’t know what he was going to do the weeks after, but we sat down said it was either going to be this guy or Brandt,” Love said. “Do you pick the guy that’s hot right now and hope that he stays hot or do you pick the guy that’s not hot and hope he gets hot? We just said we’ll take the guy that’s hot.”
Watson bypassed Kirk – a former college player of the year who had by far the best 2014 season of his choices at the deadline.
Kirk had just gone head-to-head with world No. 1 McIlroy for two consecutive days to win in Boston, yet Watson didn’t even mention him in the over-the-top selection show until he was asked specifically about him.
Horschel wasn’t even on Watson’s radar at picking time, even though he’d just finished second to Kirk.
“I remember going down the list with Watson a month ago and Billy wasn’t even talked about,” Love said. “I don’t know if Billy even got fitted for clothes. They probably made clothes for Chris Kirk and Bill Haas and Webb Simpson. They probably didn’t make any for Billy. You’re taking a whole team and putting them on an airplane in a week, it’s hard to shift gears.”
Watson agrees: “Three weeks, I think that’s a logical place to make your final picks, because logistically, there are so many different things that go into it just to get the players over there, get them ready and get the things that they need done with their clothing, get their families involved and for their family and friends to get over there. It would be awfully tough to make a decision, the week before the Ryder Cup, say, after Billy Horschel wins the FedEx Cup.”
Are we seriously talking about clothes fittings as a deterrent to waiting to get the best players for the team?
Why not wait a little longer to let the players settle it all on the course? The PGA of America runs the Ryder Cup, and it wants to use its PGA Championship as a platform to launch the hype. So the points deadline has always ended after the PGA, and the captain used to make his picks the day after.
Azinger got them to extend his wild card deadline a few weeks later, but doing it in the midst of the PGA Tour’s playoff series still provides an incomplete picture.
“It’s always been the dilemma with the Ryder Cup,” Love said. “As soon as you pick then you shouldn’t play any more tournaments. Because somebody’s going to do well and you’re going to wish you had them on your team.
“It would be nice to wait. It’s a marketing machine and they want to announce it right after the PGA Championship. They want the PGA Championship to decide something.”
Here’s a thought: let the top eight players secure berths after the PGA to keep that story line in house. Then keep maintaining the points list to determine two more players before the Tour Championship. Then let the captain pick his last two guys the day after the season ends.
Surely they can find a polo shirt and khakis to fit the guy and have his name stitched on everything in the last two weeks.
Kirk may or may not maintain his current level of excellence for two more years and earn a spot on the 2016 Ryder Cup team. But guys like Kirk and Horschel deserve to let the weight of their complete résumés speak for them right up to the end.
“I know logistically that would probably be tough to do, but I guess it’s possible,” Kirk said of pushing the deadline. “It certainly wouldn’t hurt. Billy Horschel is playing better than anyone in the world right now – forget the Americans and Europeans. Just finishing second then two wins in a row, he obviously would have been a huge asset to have on the team. A very fiery guy, too, which would have been good for America. I don’t know if they will change it or not, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt.”
The only thing that will hurt is regretting not giving it your best shot. The Ryder Cup, the players and the fans deserve that.